Danny Miller & Jill Cole Co-founders

Danny Miller and and Jill Cole are founders and co-owners of High Tide, a creative agency based in New York City.

Employees

9

Location

New York, NY

Industry

Design

Founded

2008

Social

When it comes to branding, there is little–if any–middle ground. It is something understood, at least subconsciously, from a very early age, when ad teams dream up how to get you, a child and dependent consumer, to beg your parents for one product or another: a Happy Meal, a Tickle Me Elmo, Game Boys. If they’ve done it right, you’ll want that Happy Meal, that Tickle Me Elmo, that Game Boy. And you’ll remember wanting it for the next three decades–that desperate craving of timely acquisition and ownership. Everything else? Forget about it. Literally.

There is no small amount of genius in guiding people towards what they want, and there is true art in helping a company make a series of smart choices that will best communicate their brand to the world. What do you want to say? Who do you want to be? Who is your audience? These are questions answered in everything from the narrowness of a font, the thickness of a business card, a logo, a color. Slightly different choices tell vastly different stories. As a brand, you have to make that right choice.

High Tide, a creative agency in New York City, is exceedingly good at making right choices. Founded in 2008 by Danny Miller, who leads creative, and Jill Cole, its managing director, High Tide has worked with both established brands (Nike, Mercedes-Benz, Heineken) and newer ones that have come to dominate their respective field (Warby Parker, Casper, Lola). In their work, which covers everything in the branding gamut, High Tide has helped create for their clients a new visual language for the elegant modern consumer. The “want” their work manages to cultivate feels authentic, value-based, the lifestyle counterpoint to an important idea.

Together, Miller and Cole have carved out an enviable space for themselves in the creative world. While High Tide works in what is considered a commercial space, they are artists first, with a deep love of design, particularly when it comes to physical products. Their recent company holiday card was a fake lottery ticket, made with scratchable ink. They created a limited edition cereal box for Nike in celebration of Victor Cruz’s debut sneaker, complete with actual cereal. They make seasonal mixes for fun. Their Instagram is an homage not only to their own work, but to the greater visual world which inspires them. They live and breath this stuff–and anyone who hires them benefits from it.

Below, we talk to Danny Miller and Jill Cole about the paths that led them to High Tide, the value of listening carefully, and a game-changing first client that helped put High Tide firmly on the map.

high tide nyc

Bond Street

What were you each doing before founding High Tide?

High Tide

Danny: Immediately prior to founding High Tide, I spent two years working as an Art Director for Atlantic Records. I had a deep love for music and album cover art from a very young age, so I was really excited about the opportunity when it came along. I learned graphic design from a mentor–a brilliant creative named Kallen Yan–who now lives and works in Hong Kong. I studied painting at UCLA, so the transition to designer was quite fluid; I’ve always had a strong understanding of composition, color, and form.

 

Jill: Before joining High Tide, I was working through a doctoral program in Anthropology here in NYC, fascinated by my subject matter (women’s health activism in Southern Africa), but realizing that an academic career might not be for me. At the same time, I had been working as a model for Marc Jacobs and Theory for years. That was an invaluable experience that gave me a rare, 360-degree perspective on the industry–from design to production, sales, and PR. For awhile, I did both–modeling and High Tide–but when I got pregnant with our daughter, I joined Danny full time and took on more responsibility.

Bond Street

Who was High Tide’s first client? How did you convince them to take a chance on the company?

High Tide

It’s hard to believe, but our first real client was Warby Parker. At the time, the founders were MBA students at Wharton with a unique concept and business plan. I think they saw that we were very eager for the experience, that we were honest and committed to doing amazing work. We were just as passionate about the tiniest details as they were, and it paid off. For us, Warby’s immediate success validated that we were on the right path; we just had to codify our processes and build out our company structure.

high tide nyc

Bond Street

How many people make up the High Tide team?

High Tide

We are currently a team of nine–that includes ourselves, sales, strategy, and design. We regularly flex up to meet demand when necessary.

Bond Street

How does New York City inspire each of you when it comes to work?

High Tide

Danny: I was born and raised in Downtown Manhattan. My father was a painter who taught me how to see the world as an artist, finding inspiration everywhere. New York drives me on a daily basis and always keeps me on my toes. The city is so competitive and energetic that it forces you to constantly push for greater things, to make the most out of your day, and never, ever slack off because there’s always somebody around the corner who’s just as hungry as you are. Having said all of that, these days I get a lot of inspiration by actually stepping outside of the city, travelling, going on a hike. That seems to be the time when my best ideas emerge.

 

Jill: For me, the people I meet have always been the most inspiring part of living in New York. No matter what I was doing in the 10-plus years I’ve lived here, I’ve always felt surrounded by people who were really, really amazing at what they do, whether it’s someone writing up their research, designing clothing, or teaching yoga. Not to mention all of the incredibly committed entrepreneurs High Tide gets to work with.


high tide nyc office

high tide nyc bag

Bond Street

What’s the hardest thing about pitching clients?

High Tide

It’s important to have confidence in your approach to things while remaining flexible enough to respond to the nuances of particular projects. In a pitch meeting, you should obviously be prepared with case studies and relevant experience and all of that, but you should also follow the flow of the conversation and listen carefully. A lot of times you find that a client’s needs are not what you (or they) initially thought, and you have to pivot. Being able to identify particularities from the start, instead of proposing one-size-fits-all solutions, makes all the difference.

Bond Street

How difficult is it to balance consistency with innovation when it comes to design?

High Tide

Balancing consistency with innovation is a challenge inherent to design, and doing it well often yields the most interesting work. It’s really important to have a strong foundation in the principles of design while also knowing how and when to break the rules so that things don’t become static or formulaic. It’s easy to find a formula that “works,” and you can go ahead and apply that formula to a range of projects, and they can all turn out good–but they won’t necessarily be timeless, or classic, or memorable. Part of our process is to work out that balance: determining where to adhere to the tried-and-true and where to push things forward, be artful, and innovate.

Bond Street

How does High Tide separate itself from other design agencies?

High Tide

For us, it’s all about understanding today’s cultural landscape and consumer attitudes while weaving multiple references (past, present, future, high-end and low-end) to create work that is clear and simple without being sterile, and referential and relatable without being pastiche. Our approach is to draw out the unique DNA of every brand we work with, to figure out what they are really about from a strategic and creative standpoint. This helps us develop the kind of authentic and inspirational brand experiences that translate to business success.


high tide design


Bond Street

How did High Tide first hear about Bond Street?

High Tide

We were introduced to Bond Street by the co-founder of Brilliant Bicycles, one of our early branding clients.

Bond Street

How are is High Tide thinking about growth? What will your financing from Bond Street allow the company to accomplish?

High Tide

The financing gave us an opportunity to fill a couple of much-needed roles with minimal stress. In the early years of our company, we were hyper-focused on hiring the best designers, naively thinking that if the work was solid, everyone would be happy. It took us a minute to realize the invaluable role of an account manager, for example, someone whose job it is to ensure that clients are being heard and that clients understand what’s going on at each step. The payoff was nearly instant, and our team feels much more balanced and well-rounded.

Bond Street

What era of design most interests each of you presently and why?

High Tide

Danny: I’ve always been most interested in design from the 1960s and ‘70s, before everything was done on computers and the internet gave us an endless amount of creative tools and resources. People had to use their minds and hands more. I am fascinated by the music and political culture of this era, which was directly reflected in the design. I love the work of Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami and the great American designer Herb Lubalin. Their work is very different stylistically, but has many parallel qualities. They both broke a lot of rules and and their work was full of expression and beauty.

QUICK FIRE (Each can answer separately)

Bond Street

Book every entrepreneur should read:

High Tide

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Bond Street

Book every design geek should own:

High Tide

Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand

Bond Street

Computer program you couldn’t live without: Slack

High Tide

Piece of art that still sticks with you: “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch

Bond Street

Three favorite small businesses (brick and mortar) in NYC:

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