The Twitter blue bird? Hatched in Albany.
by Nicole Foster
Nestled away in a Foursquare–style home might be the most inconspicuous bigwig in Albany. His work is recognized around the world and signifies a form of communication for 320 million users every month. The man who created the fluttering blue Twitter bird gets his coffee at Stewart’s each morning and graduated from The College of Saint Rose.
“Some people know. It’s pretty low key,” said Philip Pascuzzo: graphic designer, logo ambassador, Golden Knight.
From the couch in his cozy Pine Hills living room, Pascuzzo, 37, casually explained how he became The One to design a globally recognized symbol.
“It first started as a piece of stock art and I was hired to fine tune it,” Pascuzzo said of the blue bird.
After graduating from Saint Rose with a degree in graphic art, Pascuzzo moved to New York City and worked at St. Martin’s Press designing book jackets. There he met Biz Stone, the future co-founder of Twitter, and the two became friends and collaborators.
“I immediately took note of his design talent but I was very much struck with his whimsical illustrations,” said Stone.
As Twitter grew from an idea to an actual start – up company, Stone turned to Pascuzzo for help with the logo.
“I created a bird to decorate some pages on Twitter and then realized that we really should have a great bird for our main logo,” Stone recounted. “So I asked Phil to take my bird and ‘Phil-istrate’ it. He simplified it and gave it some personality at the same time.”
When Stone approached Pascuzzo with the request, he had moved back to Albany and was living in Arbor Hill. At the time, Twitter’s mascot was cartoonish and bespectacled.
“The one that went big was the one I made,” Pascuzzo said without a shred of arrogance. “We went completely silhouette with it in 2008. I didn’t have any clue what Twitter was.”
Without a crystal ball to divulge Twitter’s future, Pascuzzo sold the rights to the bird rather than receive royalties or stock in the company. He didn’t seem the least bit regretful about it and explained how happy he is living quietly in the Pine Hills with his wife, Laura Harris, and their growing brood of Chihuahuas (three at the last tally).
“I don’t blog, I don’t tweet. I’m never on Facebook. I like staying behind the scenes,” he said. “I’m not a pitch person. I just like doing good work and hanging out with my Chihuahuas.”
Pascuzzo seems to be shy, yet is incredibly easy to talk to. Conversation bounced between books, work, beloved Saint Rose professors, the band he and Laura created, Moon Magick, and contradicting fantasies they share of eventually either moving to L.A. or buying a farm. With so many interests, it’s easy to understand how Pascuzzo creates designs for logos, novels, albums and events. His curiosity is constantly sparked.
Working as a freelance graphic designer since moving back to Albany, Pascuzzo owns and is the sole employee of Pepco Studio, located upstairs in his home. He has never made a single business card for himself and all professional interest has been accumulated through word of mouth. At this point in his career, authors have requested Pascuzzo by name to design their covers.
“I worked with Tom Wolfe and he was very involved. He had supplied self-portraits he drew of himself,” said Pascuzzo, grinning. “It was really cool to have that relationship.”
Laura is a photographer and her office is also home based. The two collaborated recently on an assignment for a book jacket. The author of bestselling book Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, packed and mailed a taxidermied raccoon to the couple’s residence, where Laura photographed it (after a thorough inspection by the Chihuahuas). Pascuzzo then used the image to design the cover: an elated raccoon appearing to celebrate amid a flurry of glistening gold confetti.
The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list and can be found everywhere, yet Pascuzzo resists running up to displays in stores. Laura, however, isn’t quite as immune to the rush of her husband’s glory.
“I’m more excited about it,” she said, exuding pride. “When we see a book in Target I’m like, ‘we have to go look at it.’”
Art director for Flatiron Books, Karen Horton, shares the excitement for Pascuzzo’s work. Along with the Pine Hills designer and Twitter’s Stone, she is also an alumnus of St. Martin’s Press. When asked about working with Pascuzzo, Horton worried her words wouldn’t do her colleague justice.
“Phil stands in a category of his own, a rare breed of pure talent mixed with a humble demeanor,” she said. “I’ve been privileged to have countless projects to collaborate with Phil on. Talent and originality aside, Phil possesses pure enthusiasm for each project. He is versatile, a pleasure to work with, and he always seems to amaze me with what he is able to imagine up.”
Horton recommended him for the Furiously Happy book jacket after initial design meetings proved to be challenging.
“It was clear that Phil understood the book, and was able to breathe life, humor and fun into the jacket,” said Horton. “I can’t think of another collaboration that moved so smoothly, despite so much external expectation and involvement. He found a way to make the author’s little taxidermy raccoon radiate infectious joy and personality.”
After the final design was revealed, Horton said she “wasn’t the only one requesting to hire Phil for the next project.”
Pascuzzo gave a lot of credit to Saint Rose for his success.
“I wouldn’t have gone into book jacket design and met Biz without Saint Rose,” he explained. “They placed me in an internship and it felt like a perfect fit. Before that I didn’t know it was a job and I didn’t know what kind of design I wanted to do.” Pascuzzo shrugged and added, “For a little bit I thought skate board products.”
His portfolio is vast and in addition to that iconic blue bird and countless book jackets, Pascuzzo has created Albany Public Library’s reading owl, posters for the annual tulip festival and labels for locally made merchandise.
Client Michelle Boyle manufactures a line of natural cleaning products and was referred to Pascuzzo in 2013 to create labels.
“During our initial consultation, we sat at a table he and his then girlfriend, Laura, had just built out of reclaimed wood,” described Boyle of their first meeting. “I had a very specific image in mind and Phil did an excellent job of translating that to the finished product that adorns our bottles and jars today.”
Another local business owner, Caroline Corrigan, has interned with and been inspired by Pascuzzo and now considers him a friend and ally.
“Phil has more or less been a mentor to me over the last few years, and I can totally say I would not be a designer today without his encouragement and help,” Corrigan said. “A few years ago I began to work with him on some projects as an intern, and got a great insight into his creative process. Phil has a huge wealth of knowledge from all of his experience, and has always been very generous in sharing his process, techniques, tips and of course, offering really great feedback.”
In addition to owning Fort Orange General Store, Corrigan does graphic design work and also graduated from Saint Rose. She is struck by Pascuzzo’s insistence to begin each project with sketches, despite rampant access to technology.
“I value any opportunity to step into his studio and check out all of the beautiful book covers he’s created, see piles of doodles and the ever-present Stewart’s coffee cup,” said Corrigan, and added she always says “hello to the little gang of Chihuahuas that keep him company while he is working.”
The College of Saint Rose. The Pine Hills. Greatness. They’re all connected.
“It all happened here in Albany,” said Pascuzzo with wide eyes, “which is crazy.” -30-