William van Roden Crafts Acclaimed Graphic Designs in Kingston

Photo by Michael O’Neal

How a rural environment, mushroom walks, and an old-school vinyl collection fuel a graphic designer’s signature vision.

It’s hard to imagine a much more citified-sounding career than that of William van Roden, the design consultant whose unseen hand shapes such iconic and sophisticated brands as Martha Stewart and The New York Times. Are you a fan of the NYT “The Daily” podcast? That bold yellow-to-blue rising sun gradient is classic van Roden.

And his life was NYC-centric until a visit upstate to Accord more than a decade ago. The rural hamlet lured him from the skyscrapers and sidewalks that had been his home since graduating from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). “I fell in love with this area, the quiet, the darkness at night, the community,” says van Roden. “I started renting and realized how well I slept here; how much I liked the landscape and all the interesting, creative people who are out and about—or hiding in the hills.”

William Van Roden
Photo by Michael O’Neal

Hiding in the hills? When asked about that comment, van Roden explains: “The owner of the house I was renting found a box of letters left by a woman who had been squatting in the Accord property’s barn, letters spanning 30 years.” He pauses before the big reveal and continues: “They were between this woman and J.D. Salinger,” the famous author and recluse. “You find things here,” he continues, “and somehow you connect with them and feel a part of this place.”

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Leaving a staff job with Martha and moving north full time, he chose to open his own design studio, now located in Kingston’s Fuller Building, with its built-in clan of like-minded makers, from leatherworkers to photographers. There, he works on projects for both big corporate clients, like Hewlett Packard, and small local businesses, such as the Center for Photography in Woodstock and Catskill Fungi, a mushroom extract company. Fueled by caffeine from his beloved Village Coffee and Goods around the corner on Railroad Avenue, van Roden conjures up their unmissable visual identities.

Van Roden is inspired by vinyl cover art—he bought his first album, Blondie’s “Auto American” at age 11. His portfolio ranges from graphic designs for “The Daily” podcast to Martha Stewart cookbooks.

“My strengths that I always lean into are strong typography and the use of layout, color, and image,” explains van Roden of his signature look. “With that, I apply systems thinking: How does this design permeate 25 ways; in print, on social, on swag.” (He shares those talents with the next generation as well, teaching branding and typography at SUNY New Paltz.)

By Chrysalis Records

While design and branding occupy much of his mental space, van Roden has an equally intense passion for music, evidenced by the thousands of albums stockpiled in his studio. “I like my vinyl,” he admits with a laugh, sharing that he bought his first record—Blondie’s “Auto American”—at age 11, with money earned from mowing lawns.

“After that purchase, I never stopped buying,” says van Roden, “I like music, as most do, but it had other significance to me. I learned a lot about design through vinyl: the cover art, the printing, the gatefold, the sleeves, the paper quality… all the beautiful ways artists package their music,” he explains. It’s quite common for him to use album cover art when sharing inspiration with a design client.

The Daily, William Van Roden
Courtesy William van Roden

With eclectic taste that’s “avant-garde, sometimes pop-y, always a little arty,” van Roden’s devotion to music has turned social. He loves The Smiths and Icelandic alt rocker Björk, has uploaded 38 playlists to Spotify (including the intriguingly named “It’ll End in Tears”), and even has a side hustle deejaying at Tubby’s in Kingston and other locations.

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Beyond music, van Roden revels in the wilds of Ulster County. “Where I live, the land is basically untouched, which I love,” he says. “It’s not industrialized, chemicalized, burned, and rebuilt.” Among his favorite ways to explore: “I like to do mushroom walks,” identifying and perhaps harvesting fungi. But, as one might expect, he pursues it in his own design-centric style. An admirer of the Victorian-era mushroom illustrations by Ernst Haeckel, van Roden finds one of these drawings, set against a jet-black background, particularly entrancing.

Martha Stewart, William Van Roden
Courtesy William van Roden

Which explains why he has been known to take to the woods with a swatch of black velvet and then photograph a variety of mushrooms against the fabric. “They become beautiful sculptures that way,” he explains. Indeed, to van Roden’s artistic eye, there’s inspiration at every turn—and even underfoot.

Related: Score Vinyl and More at Record Stores in the Hudson Valley

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