Reflection on 30 Years of Doing What We Love
This year marks our firm’s 30th in business, and what better way to celebrate than with a rebrand?
For over three decades (really four), our fearless leader David Day has revealed brands that inspire loyalty.
Though many things have changed over the years (his hairline for one!), Dave’s commitment to building authentic brands remains the same.
In this, our first blog post of a new era, Dave reflects on the past and considers his journey to the present.
“I was a geek in high school,” Dave describes. “I was highly creative, a science freak. I loved science and I loved art, and the only place I really felt embraced was in art class.”
A product of the Denver public school system, Dave took up photography and graphic design at a young age. “There was a career education center in Denver where you could go learn a trade from practicing professionals. I took photography and graphic design courses there. It was my graphic design teacher who really planted the seeds of all this. She always preached that the creative solutions are in the problem.” A lifelong Stars Wars fan, Dave adds, “There’s a lot of Star Wars in graphic design. The force is there if you just yield to it.”
Inspired by her passion for design, Dave begged his graphic design teacher for a job and worked as a production artist at her firm the summer before his senior year. He continued there part-time during the school year, advancing to technical illustration and design. After graduation he worked there full-time before honing his typography skills at another firm. Eventually he was recruited by a large branding agency in Denver.
It was in this role that Dave acquired the necessary skills to start his own business. “I started as a designer but I was also taught how to go in to meetings and sell my designs and work with clients. At the time I hated that part of the job but I’m so thankful for that experience because that’s the temperament I needed to counterbalance my creative juices.”
Dave’s strategic process, a process that underpins our work to this day, was born in those early client meetings. “When I saw other designers designing just to design, to satiate their own needs, I started vesting clients in their own solutions,” he explains. “I would ask a ton of questions; I was very invasive, and out of that my work was more on-point for the client. I learned how not to be defensive and not marry my work – my work is not me, it’s not about me – it’s a means to an expression of who they are.”
“The very first professional project I did was supposed to be a logo but I recall that I was struggling with the assignment because I can’t just do a superficial logo” Dave describes. “I had to discover what the company was all about so the logo could be built on that. The client was overwhelmed by my invasive questions about why they existed and how they were different from their competitors, and I think they were saying to themselves, ‘Why does this matter?’ The truth is, it matters more than anything. As I think about my career I always feel that I’ve deviated a lot but really I haven’t deviated at all. It’s been different people, different clients and different challenges but when I look back, I’ve stuck to my guns of having to design on top of why a company or product exists and why it matters.”
Those early agency years were hard and fast. Feeling burned out from corporate work and travel Dave left the Denver firm in 1987 and started his own company. He stayed in Denver initially but moved to Omaha for love in the mid-1990s and relocated the business in the process. “It was very tough at first,” he recalls. “We started in the basement of my house. Moving the business to Omaha was harder than starting the business in the first place.” Despite the challenges inherent in establishing a new business, Dave’s first Omaha client was a big name: Borsheims.
Since the beginning Dave has worked with a wide variety of clients. “Over 30 years I’ve worked with chocolate manufacturers, food purveyors, hospitals, financial and wealth management institutions, steel fabricators, real estate firms and agricultural entities. Being agnostic like that has been one of my joys in this business.”
Ultimately Dave sees his life as a lesson for young creative professionals who don’t want to work in-house but are scared to go out because they think they don’t have the talent. “I’m not the smartest guy, I’m not the best designer you’ve ever met,” Dave shares. “I’ve made so many mistakes and I continue to make them but I did it. I just walked out there, printed out business cards and just started and restarted every day, and suddenly it’s been 30 years. For young people the lesson is: Don’t be afraid of insecurity. It’s your friend. Just offer what you do uniquely and passionately to clients who matter.”
The founder of The Denver Post said, “There is no hope for the satisfied man.” That’s where our company’s internal theme really comes from, Dave says. “One slight turn of a phrase could transform what thousands of people think about an organization. One curve in a trademark turned in a little different way can make that mark more memorable then you ever believed it could be. That’s why we keep tweaking, editing and improving. Otherwise you get complacent.”
“A lot of people get into creative businesses because there’s a need to exercise that creative muscle. With me it’s always been more than a need. If someone told me, ‘You’re not allowed to do this business anymore,’ I’d walk away from them. It’s an absolute requirement for me. If I go through a day without creating something or directing someone on how to create something, I’m really sad and that hasn’t changed in 40 years. That’s the reason we’re still in business 30 years later, because I can’t find a way to stop and I don’t want to.”