This Brand Design is successful beKAWS…

Ken Aaron Kok
5 min readSep 21, 2021


Design Critique of the KAWS branding

Brian Donnelly, professionally known as “KAWS”, is one of 2021’s best artists, designers, and entrepreneurs. He is often compared to Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat whom are also started as graffiti artists in New York City and became fine art artists later.

From his humble beginnings as a graffiti artist in the 90s, to how he grew the KAWS brand today, it truly is impressive. Now, I will be providing a design critique on why I believe that this brand and his design system is successful!

1. His Design principles/goals were clear.

All artists have their own design principles. These principles drive artists to express their work in a certain way that would promote their goals and morals for the final product.

In his early days as a graffiti artists, Donnelly stated: ‘When I was doing graffiti, my whole thought was, “I just want to exist.” I want to exist with this visual language in the world… It meant nothing to me to make paintings if I wasn’t reaching people.’

This statement clearly states his design principles for his brand which is a crucial step to make the foundation of a brand strong.

2. His marketing is Genius

After finishing school in New York, and worked as a freelancer for some Disney Productions, Donnelly launched Original Fake. From there, with the iconic KAW’s label, he launched different editions of designer toys which were sold at multiple flagship stores.

One of the stores was located in Tokyo, which helped catapult the following of KAW’s internationally. The small vinyl toys later became tall sculptures, and today some even stand at ten meters tall!

3. His style resonates with a lot of age groups.

(Here are a few samples of his style/work.)

KAW’s signature can be symbolized by an emphasis on color and line, distinctive graphics, the repetition of “x” on hands nose and ears, and re-appropriation of pop culture icons such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, Sesame Street, Snoopy, SpongeBob Squarepants, the Smurfs, etc.

KAW’s re-appropriation/taking inspiration from pop culture icons resonates well with a multitude of age groups. The brand interconnects the concept of nostalgia into its own design which why I believe so many collectors worldwide are interested.

All of this translates into his success today

(response to the execution)

After accomplishing all of his endeavors, the KAW’s today has entered and is a major brand in the Hypebeast industry, where they actively participate in collaborations with other high end brands such as The Bathing Ape, Supreme, Comme des Garcons, Uniqlo, Yeezy, etc.

Consequentially his price tag went up as well, having recently sold his most expensive artwork in 2019 for $14.8million.

For this piece, KAW’s reinvented the the cover for The Simpsons’ The Yellow Album a 1998 Simpsons collection of original songs sung by the characters.

I believe that the way they executed their brand identity was successful, since everyone of his art pieces fully showcases his design principles, style, inspiration, and execution.

The brand’s short comings

The brand does indeed has its fair share of short comings, mainly from copyright matters. As stated above, KAW’s recently sold his most expensive artwork for $14.8 million and while it is quite impressive, Bill Morrison, the original artist of the Simpson’s album cover has different views.

“Because of the amazingly high purchase price, I felt an instant kinship with other comic book artists who have had their work stolen and turned into ‘fine art.”- Bill Morrison

The news of the sale did not reach Morrison until recently and now knows that a painting that almost traced his work has been sold without giving him credit for nearly $15 million. Sources state that the veteran comic book artist is not exactly pleased.

“For something to be a successful parody, you want the audience to recognize the source. In the case of my Yellow Album piece, that was easy. The Beatles album cover is so iconic that my Simpsons version was instantly recognized by the world as a parody. Also, my art was hand-drawn, inspired by the original Beatles cover, but not traced off from it, making it an authentically original piece of art

For me personally, I believe that this could have been easily avoided if KAW’s just gave partial credit or made the painting 3D to make it similar to his vinyl toy figures, instead of 2D which is the medium that the Simpson’s TV and most cartoon shows uses. Although this could potentially disconnect the inspiration from Simpson’s and create a whole new piece which is not KAW’s brand identity.

What I learned

One major takeaway upon researching KAW’s brand identity is that marketing is just as important as your overall design. One’s connections can literally make or break the success of your brand.

Another would be to provide credit if necessary, when taking inspiration from modern pieces of art, as lawsuits and unpleasant chatter is unhealthy for one’s brand.



Ken Aaron Kok

U I / U X | Product Design. Seattle, WA