Student graphic design brand shoots for the moon

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Photo: Robert Hansen

Robert Hansen, founder of “Apollo Hansen Designs.”

By Bryan Liu, Staff Writer

Apollo 13 may have exploded, but Apollo Hansen made it to the moon. 

The 20-year-old marketing major, filmmaker, and fashion developer, also known as Robert Hansen, has rebranded marketing through self expression. His graphic design brand, Apollo Hansen Design combines an art gallery and online marketplace where customers can find artwork. Currently in his junior year, Hansen interns for Nicole Landers Consulting from the ELA campus.

“[Naming the brand] ‘Apollo Hansen’ was initially a practical thing,” Hansen said. “If you look up Robert Hansen online, what you’ll find is a serial killer from the 1980s. So when I was making my website, I was like, ‘I don’t want to compete with that guy on search results.’” 

An astronaut in his own right, Robert Hansen’s inter-disciplinary prospects push the boundaries of what the traditional marketing major looks like. Whether he’s play-acting an M&M-munching softball bleacher crush in the 2021 EIV short film “Cake Bakin’ Betty,” or laying down a 1 a.m. freestyle about the bubonic plague on his COVID-era podcast “Kali, Fornication, and the Robster,” Hansen effortlessly mixes mediums by channeling his creativity into a multifaceted career.

“There is an art to marketing, not just in the content that you’re making, but also in how you interact with others,” Hansen said.“I really enjoy that give and take. There’s a performative quality to it that I really enjoy and it’s just fulfilling.” 

True to name, apollohansendesign.com showcases Hansen’s promotional posters of past projects, album covers of his friend’s bands, and apparel for all occasions. Much of Hansen’s merchandise, especially his signature clothing line, lives up to his design mantra: “smart designs made stupid fast.” 

Many of Hansen’s shirts evoke humor through their subject matter—one can’t help but giggle at a dapper blobfish wearing half a hockey mask or a Planter’s style cannibal peanut who “eats the rich.” Hansen’s designs are in part influenced by his own style: a blend of irony and sincerity.

“There’s camp, and a little bit of artisanal gaudiness in what I wear and what I do,” Hansen said. “Not offensive, but I tend to go for the more colorful options while still trying to have some level of taste. Let’s call it snappy. Somewhere between country club and novelty.”

In addition to his custom lines available for purchase on the site, Hansen commissions merchandise for projects, organizations, and campaigns. 

Katie Sirowich, a computer science major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and hometown friend of Hansen’s, commissioned a new merchandise design for the Keynotes that would be more than just their logo. 

“A lot of logos and graphic design lately [have] stuck with that modernized, simple, and honestly kinda lifeless vibe,” Sirowich said. “Apollo has much more creative, artistic, and unique designs that I think are great for people looking for something more expressive.” 

Hansen frequently collaborates with clients inside and outside the Emerson bubble, for both small projects like the Keynotes collab, and bigger ones. For the past two years, he has maintained a working relationship with the James Vick Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers free sports programming to young people in local communities. 

“My first big break was back in March of 2020 with the James Vick Foundation,” Hansen said. “I already did a few posters for them, but they wanted me as an independent contractor. They wanted me on payroll.”

Christian Vick, CEO of the James Vick Foundation, was introduced via one of Hansen’s high school teachers, who recommended Hansen on account of his graphic design talent. 

“Christian was looking for a total redesign of his website as it was very Web 1.0, very antiquated,” Hansen said.“I did the total redesign and after that I kept doing posters and promotional material for them. [I] really enjoyed doing it; I’ve been doing that for quite some time now.” 

Vick said the James Vick Foundation’s online presence has since expanded with help from Hansen’s marketing.

“[Robert] gave us a digital angle that we didn’t have before,” said Vick.Other organizations may have more money than usbut we’re destroying them on social media. The way we market ourselves, it looks like we have 50,000 kids. And that’s what Robert brought to the fair for us.” 

Hansen’s talent is not the only impression left during his time at the James Vick Foundation. Vick holds him in high regard, impressed by the character he has shown in his short time working at the organization.

“[Robert] doesn’t give me grief,” Vick said. “He’s selfless, he’s creative. He has the ability to be a selfstarter. I’ll give him an assignment and he’ll come up with ideas while he’s doing it… He’s very respectful, but I always found him to be extremely innovative.” 

In addition to coordinating marketing campaigns for the EVVY awards this year, Hansen is preparing for his first independent film shoot of “Chow!” in the summer. Hansen wrote, directed, and produced “Chow!” outside of EIV as a passion project, and designing merchandise for the film legitimized his vision. 

“I wanted [Chow!] to have the air of something proper that felt tangible and real,” Hansen said. “I wanted it to have a bit of professionalism to it—merchandise makes that possible.”

All proceeds from merchandise sales go to development. Hansen’s clothing line has always been a personal creative outlet, not a cash grab.

“I would never mass produce shirts because I have no idea of what I’m going to sell before I sell them,” Hansen said. “Sales… come in waves. There have been months where I haven’t been selling items. And that’s okay, because at this point I’m doing it for myself to build an image so when I leave Emerson I can pursue more of my career.” 

Marketing exposes Hansen to different fields and lets him work in different businesses. Hansen considers his interactions with other creative types to be the most invaluable part of his work.

“Everyone in our Emerson bubble right now is all about networking,” Hansen said. “That’s what I’m doing too [by] trying to have enough in my backlog and enough accolades and experience that I can justify selling vanity plates like my merch.” 

Hansen understands the unifying properties of merchandise and how to market them. His products ultimately reflect a stylistic middle ground between him and the consumer.

“Our generation is in a very dense attention economy, and I don’t want [designs] to be invasive, but I want people to notice things that I think are worthwhile,” Hansen said. “Every design is sort of an inside joke that I want to make everyone who buys it feel like they’re a part of.”