The Queen and Her Knights of Gothic Design: A Critical Review Essay

Hello guys! You all told me that you would enjoy reading my papers and anything else involving my journey through my Master’s Degree program. This month’s course is called Defining Client’s Needs. For week two, I had to write a critical review essay about Margo Chase and answering the following questions:

  • Describe Margo Chase’s personal style as a designer. Explain how she evolved her business from personal expressionism to helping her wide range of clients develop their brands.
  • Research the meaning of self-referential design and explain how Chase and her design team avoid it when designing for their clients’ target audiences.
  • Explain Chase Design Group’s process in researching and defining client needs, researching and developing clients’ brands, and communicating their clients’ brand identities to others.

This essay was a tad difficult for me only because the topic was not as enjoyable. But, I prevailed and I am pretty proud of this essay. I hope you enjoy it.



This paper gives the reader an inside look at Margo Chase’s style and the Chase Design Group’s design process. Margo Chase is one of the leading graphic designers in the industry today. The Chase Design Group is the company Margo Chase created. Viewers will learn about her personal design style and where she got her start in the design world. This paper goes into detail about how she evolved her business from personal expressionism to helping a wide range of clients develop their brands. Readers will discover how Margo and her team were able to avoid using self-referential design when designing for their client’s target audiences. Lastly, this paper will give a step by step look at the Chase Design Group’s process in defining client needs, researching and developing a client’s brand, and communicating those brand identities to others. The process taken to reach the answers to these questions was through research in online videos, interviews, and books. 

Keywords: design, Margo Chase, Chase Design Group, brand, self-referential design


The Queen and Her Knights of Gothic Design

Margo Chase is an incredibly inspiring woman. Her story starts like many other creatives in the design world. They don’t think you can make money doing anything artistic, so they try to go for something practical. In the end, they all realize they are bored, stifled, and living a mundane life when they can do so much more. Margo had a similar epiphany in a hospital basement. She is now one of the most well-known graphic designers. Her personal style is what set her apart in the 80s but when she started to grow a company she sought out people with different styles and visions from her own. According to Bucher (2006), Margo stated, “I think that helps to broaden the work and keep things from being stale and repetitious, not to mention keeping me inspired as well” (p. 116). Over time Chase and her team had to learn to avoid self-referential design and had to convince many people that their design style did not only consist of pointy, scary, or dark looks (Chase, 2008, Gothic design). Only then would the process of researching, defining the client’s needs, and developing the client’s brand then be able to begin. 

Chase has a very eclectic body of work. Her personal style as a designer is one of the most unusual, but it has brought her renowned recognition from all over. Her style is deemed as high-fashion gothic design, and she found her voice/style for design while working within the music industry. “Bored with sitting in hospital basements drawing parts, Margo Chase turned to graphic design…She single-handedly invented high-fashion gothic design” (Bucher, 2006, p. 111). With this style, Chase was able to find her niche in the design industry and work with names such as Prince, Madonna, and Cher (Chase, 2008, Music career). Along the way, she formed a company known as Chase Design Group. As she gained clients her personal expressionism had to evolve into something that could help her clients develop their brand. To do this Margo researched everything. If she didn’t know what it was or how to do it, she delved deep into books and learned all she could about her clients and their brand (Bucher, 2006). Her evolution began with Matteo, a manufacturer of bed linens. She had to go beyond her normal style to bring this company’s brand to life, and because of that, her work with them went beyond just a logo. She designed their trade show booth and display furniture (Buscher, 2006.) From there Margo and her team continued to think strategically about how something worked and who it would interest. 

Self-referential design is essentially designing for yourself and your interests rather than the client’s audience. Chase Design Group developed a very beneficial method for avoiding designing in such a way. Chase and her design team first connect to the client on a specific level. They would help the client understand their process and according to Chase (2008), “…We really try to understand what we’re trying to achieve, what the business goal is and really who we’re speaking to because often we’re not the audience, in fact, most times we are not the audience” (Branding). They would then help the client to understand why they did certain things in the design, why it was necessary, and why it was a good recommendation. But, the most substantial step they made in avoiding self-referential design was their creation of personas. The team did not want to confuse their identities with the identities of the people they were designing for. Personas helped them to identify with said people. If they skipped this crucial step, then they would run into the problem of possibly creating for themselves and not the brand or the audience (Chase, 2008, Branding). The team had to know who the design was for, so they would know what the brand’s audience wanted and needed. If they did not do this, then their personal preference would supersede the client’s brand and audience.

As any team would, Chase Design Group goes through quite a meticulous process to ensure they know the client’s needs, develop their brand, and communicate their brand to others. Their first step is to understand all they can about the client. They have to know their challenges, their competition, and what their consumers think about them. Knowing the client inside and out is key to developing their brand. Next comes the creation of the personas so that they can know the consumers as people. Chase (2008) stated, “…Find the sweet spot where the aspiration of the brand and the aspiration of the consumer line up” (Branding). Then with all this information, the team can make several brand boards which they then present to the client, and they explain how each work and what they might mean to the persona they created. The research they gathered and the feedback from the clients helped them begin the development of the brand. As a team, they decide on one visual direction to pursue. “That’s a key thing for any brand is you have to stand, your logo has to be able to stand by itself and portray the character of the brand” (Chase, 2008, Branding). With the direction in mind Chase and her team create the type and visual icon that will portray the brand best. They create custom letterforms so that no one can emulate the client’s brand, and only they own it. This gave each client a sense of identity and ownership of their brand. Their final step in the overall process is helping to communicate the client’s brand to others. They do this in the form of consumer product style guides. According to Chase (2008), “…it is a toolkit and asset for them to be able to produce products that fit with the brand” (Branding). By giving this to clients, it allows them to own their brand and keep it alive when Chase and her team are no longer involved. They follow the same process that they do when developing a brand in the guide. They use those personas to generate products that the brand’s audience would love and find useful. Making the client self-sufficient and helping them communicate the brand to others helps the brand thrive.

Margo Chase kept her style as a designer while evolving her business. She helped a wide range of clients develop their brands using different techniques. Chase and her team learned how to create for their client’s audience and avoid partaking in self-referential design. They made sure to avoid designing for themselves and only designing for the target audience that the brand wants to reach. Their overall development of the client’s needs and brand helped them to communicate the brand to audiences. With all this information it is no wonder that Margo Chase is such a celebrated name in the graphic design industry to this day.

Bucher, S. (2006). All Access: The Making of Thirty Extraordinary Graphic Designers[]. Beverly, MA: Rockport. Retrieved June 9, 2018, from
Chase, M. (2008, September 04). Branding. Retrieved June 9, 2018, from
Chase, M. (2008, September 04). Gothic design. Retrieved June 9, 2018, from
Chase, M. (2008, September 04). Music career. Retrieved June 9, 2018, from


I really hope you guys enjoyed this essay. This was not an easy one for me but I made it through it lol.

Tumblr: Kathryn’s Mastery Journal


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Kathryn Calderon | 24 | Artist of many trades | Villains are my soul

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