Category: People

Hej Marie och välkommen till Stokefire!

Hi, I’m Marie and I’m Stokefire’s newest intern!

During the upcoming months the Stokefire crew will have me as a part of their team, an opportunity I’m very excited about. From the very first moment I visited Stokefire’s website I got the sense that this place was something else, and after meeting Chief Creative Tate Linden and Lead Designer Lindsay Benson Garrett in person I can assure you I’m in good hands.

So who’s the person behind this post? Well, I’m born and raised in the homeland of IKEA – Sweden – where I’m currently enrolled at Örebro University (I challenge you to pronounce the first part of that name). I’m about to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communication, but with one semester left in Sweden I got the opportunity to go abroad and be a student of a one-year long PR & Journalism certificate program at Northern Virginia Community College – something I couldn’t resist. The second semester you’ll do an internship as a part of the program, and I knew pretty early that I wanted to be within the field of marketing and branding.

The reason?

It’s fascinating and interesting how branding and marketing impregnates today’s society in all different kind of ways and how important it is, regardless if it’s about branding and market your business or simply yourself. (And by the way, since English isn’t my first language I’m not flawless when it comes to writing and choosing words in English, but I hope my point will shine through anyway).

Being an Intern at Stokefire means I’m going to get more hands-on experience within the field in which I later on wish to have a career within. But it also means I’m going to be able to work really close with Tate and Lindsay and hopefully earn more knowledge in how to think, how to act and how to approach different types of challenges you might face in the process as a brand strategist.

Also, since I’m a social media freak, I’ve been given permission to contribute to Stokefire’s social media accounts, and I will do my very best to have even more interesting material posted for those who follow us (if you don’t do already, you should!).

Oh, and also, we don’t have ice bears walking our streets in Sweden. Just to point that out. And please, come by the office if you want to hear the real pronunciation of the weird round letter with the two dots above which can be seen above. I’ll be more than happy to talk to you.


Design Alexandria Recap

This post was written by our lead designer, Lindsay Benson Garrett. 

Design Alexandria

We had a great time last night hosting the Design Alexandria meet up. It was wonderful to connect with local designers and developers who are passionate about creating, growing, and networking.

Some of the things that were discussed included Tate’s experience redesigning the DARPA brand. The project goal was to communicate DARPA’s dual mission of developing technology that defends America and scares enemies, modernizing the mark while also going unnoticed. Tate discussed how success was achieved on all accounts, which funneled into a wildly different project with a shared goal. We showed our work in progress on a preschool identity kit, which is a logo refresh that adds in an element of play.

Juancarlo shared a pro-bono project that he did for the Chilean-American Foundation and the things he learned while working with the non-profit. We examined the web designs before and after and discussed what he learned in the process.

Anna, a co-host, shared her process for building a website for a recently published e-book. Her process was very thorough from the start, where they mapped out every kind of site visitor with their motivations and goals, to how the site would develop a community and add new features systematically.

Joe, the author of the e-book, was actually in attendance. After celebrating his new acquired status of “published author” we had a group brainstorm on methods he can use to market his work.

Stokefire enjoyed hosting the meet up and we look forward to hosting more in the future. Stay tuned for the next one!

Steve Jobs and the Wrong Kind of Dent


Posted by:
Tate Linden (@Thingnamer)

Following on my previous post about Steve Jobs’s phantom “We’re here to put a dent in the universe” quote, I can’t help but wonder if the sentiment behind it is actually a good representation of what Jobs tried to do with his life.

There’s not much point in arguing that Jobs never said anything about denting the universe. I do, however, wonder why he said it.

First, putting a dent in something is typically associated with an act of brute strength.

He may have led with a sledgehammer in his back pocket, but hope for all our sakes that bending others forcibly to his will was not his end-game.If we consider Jobs’s leadership style there’s at least a little connection. He was seen as a “high maintenance co-worker” who was blunt with criticism. He dismissed people who didn’t impress him as “bozos”. If the universe he was trying to dent was made up of the psyches of the people who reported to him then this might apply. But it would also be a pretty shallow and callous goal.

Second, dents tend to make things harder to use and less efficient.

When I think of the products that came out of Jobs’s Apple I picture clean and easy-to-use designs, not duct-tape and Bondo. The work done under his watch seems to have done the opposite of denting the universe.

I know, I know. In theory we all love the character that stuff gets as it picks up the scratches and dings of our lives. But we still go out to buy the shiny new stuff that is easier to use than the perfectly working but slightly older equipment Jobs convinced us to buy a few months earlier.

Third, the only way that “denting the universe” actually fits didn’t apply until he was no longer a part of it.

There’s a difference between leaving a legacy and changing the way the universe works. Jobs helped us to understand that great design matters, and that capability and simplicity aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s his legacy.

Jobs was brilliant. He was able to conceive of or recognize concepts and guide the development and execution of them in ways that were virtually irresistible. That’s also his legacy.

The dent in the universe that he made, though? I really hope it isn’t something he wanted to leave. Two quotes from  Rob LeFebvre’s article from cultofmac highlight it pretty well:

“Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards.”


“Mr. Jobs’s own research and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide.”

The dent he was trying to make was something that only he seemed able to understand.

Is the dent Jobs made in the universe is the one left by the space he occupied so powerfully? While his legacy will live on, his exacting standards and the intuition that built the legacy are gone.

Now we’re left with a dent we have no idea how to buff out, and no knowledge of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done. The decisions made by Apple since Jobs’s passing – at least as viewed from the outside – are looking more traditional than “insanely great”.

I miss the guy and I never even knew him.

And I’m more than a little pissed that he appears not to have taught anyone else how to use his gift. If he’d done it then wouldn’t we have something other than bigger iPhones and smaller iPads by now?

Anyone else out there hoping that Jony and the team are secretly working on some Jobsian creation and are just working out the kinks before they set the universe wobbling again? Color me hopeful, but not optimistic.


Happiness Is Thinking Outside The Checkbox


Posted by:
Tate Linden

In a brief exchange I had with @kwheaton and @Bryan_El_Parker over on Twitter, both raised concerns about the way large companies hire their employees. They were responding to our blanket rejection notice posted previously on our blog. Bryan pointed out that the traditional system strips applicants of their individuality by making them check boxes, to which we said that “unless you’re a checkbox you shouldn’t work for large employers.” Kristan reasoned that not working with big employers may be easier said than done.

And so we slept on it. For a week. And here’s what came of it:

The issue isn’t that big companies can’t work with highly creative or visionary types, it’s that the best path to big company employment for people with these qualities is probably not a system that rigidly dictates and automatically enforces the form and content of their applications. If you’re genuinely creative or visionary then you’re better served by either finding another way in that allows you to show your skills, or by breaking or manipulating the ineffective process to show why they need what you bring to the table. Your goal shouldn’t be to do the best you can within the system, but to prove that the system is set up to solve the wrong problem or deliver the wrong result.

Daniel Pink explains part of the problem in his book (which is excellent, by the way,)  To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others:

…a few years ago, the Conference Board, the well-regarded U.S. business group, gave 155 public school superintendents and eighty-nine private employers a list of cognitive capacities and asked their respondents to rate these capacities according to which are most important in today’s workforce. The superintendents ranked “problem solving” number one. But the employers ranked it number eight. Their top-ranked ability: “Problem Identification.”

Checkboxes seem best suited to addressing a presupposed problem for which the right answer is at least intuited, if not outright known. And that’s why big companies use them. They believe that they know what they’re looking for and how to find it. If you don’t have a better way to see things, or a different problem identified, then checkboxes are probably not doing you a disservice. But if you do see a different problem that needs solving than the company does, each box you check will make your unique value less visible.

If you want (or have) to work for a big checkboxy organization and aren’t a checkboxy type you can, of course, just suck it up, check the boxes and hope for a job and role you can’t stand so you can change things from within before you have the life sapped from you. Or you can show them from the start that the problem that needs solving and the person they need aren’t a part of their checkbox system.

If you’re good, the considerable effort and insight this approach requires will be nothing compared to the pain and frustration you’ll avoid by having a job that encourages you to think, say, and do exactly as you wish rather than forcing you to be someone you hate to see in the mirror every Monday through Friday, holidays excepted.

If you’re not quite good enough, or the organization doesn’t appreciate your obvious talents? That’s a conversation for another day, I think.

Many thanks to Kristan and Bryan for their help in identifying this particular problem.

No Consensus on Thatcher


Posted by:
Tate Linden

Back in 2011, while railing against the tendency to settle for ‘non-objectionable’ over ‘highly effective’ brands, I cited a portion of this quote from the (then living) Prime Minister:

To me consensus seems to be —the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no-one believes, but to which no-one objects. —the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.

What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus”?

Those are some exceptionally important words to me, and to the organization I’ve built. I reference them at nearly every speaking engagement and each new client briefing because they’re equally applicable to the fields of branding and design.

And today they seem even more relevant and true. Today there’s a new lack of consensus. Thatcher’s passing earlier this week has been simultaneously marked by loyal praise and passionate derision from those impacted by her efforts. She is now either loved or reviled by the masses for the things she held most dear and the controversial steps she took to effectively defend those things.

I can’t imagine that she would find this particularly upsetting. Thatcher didn’t stand for consensus; she stood for her convictions. And the United Kingdom as a whole and the world at large are stronger for it.

The lesson? As goes politics, so goes branding. Address the issues, don’t avoid them. Or do. After all, it’s only the wellbeing of your organization and its people at stake.


Dearest potential applicant:

In our eight year history we’ve never brought on a single intern nor employee who started their cover letter with “Dear Sirs” or “To Whom it May Concern,” and then perhaps followed it with body copy that could just as well introduce someone trying to break into the laundromat business, or maybe rocket science.

The unofficial policy doesn’t hit home for you? Consider what it would be like if a purportedly reputable organization was staffed by people so lazy that instead of taking the time to understand and address each applicant individually, they just posted a blanket rejection statement on their blog and left it at that.

This month’s happenings at Stokefire Headquarters

September – October 2011

You’re probably wondering – what happened to the weekly happenings? Well here’s the simple answer – we’re busy, VERY busy. We know – the economy sucks, so what could we possibly be so busy with? Well I can’t exactly tell you (it’s a secret), but I can tell you that we’ve been having a blast making messes, taking photos (we may have even seen a ghost or two), and smashing things with a hammer – all for a client project. Oh and our boss Tate Linden has been writing blogs like crazy, he’s a fan of Gandhi if you haven’t noticed *wink*.

We’ve also been photographing more of our work – if you didn’t see our last website update we launched all of our client work, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We are continuing to update our pictures and results from all of our projects. There has been a lot of media going around too – we won an award for our work on the Think Harder. Concrete brand for PCA. (If you look close, you can see Tate sporting the brand above!)

Video mark-ups #3, 4, and 5 are all in the works, so you’ll be able to see them coming out very soon. We already completed our mark-up video on the Stokefire logo (#1) and the Think Harder. Concrete brand (#2), so we’re pretty darn excited to have more on the way.

We of course can’t forget about our client work either. We’re working on advertisements, logos and a whole lot of strategy. Tate has also been off on a few speaking gigs, getting people all psyched-up about brand alignment. With all this stuff going on, we’ll be putting out the Stokefire Bellows (our newsletter) very shortly, so keep your eyes peeled.

Get More:
Posts involving Gandhi
Tate Linden: Speaker Extraordinaire
Stokefire’s Classic Rants

Design is an Opportunity to… Turn Around Please…

Posted by
Tate Linden

Design is an Opportunity to Continue Telling the Story, Not Just To Sum Everything Up.

Seems that these words are at least as meaningful to others as they are to me.

This picture just came across twitter:

Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up

Via @LordLeonMachi


I wish I’d had that on my bucket list because “say something tattoo-worthy” would be a really cool one to cross off.

Tribute to a German

For the last 6 months, we’ve had Lena Blackstock working for us as a Design Ethnographer in training. She’s been a great talent and a wonderful person to have around, and on Friday it was her last day. So here’s to Lena – for teaching us a bit of German, always keeping us up with the happenings in our industry, and helping to keep the office bright and cheery.

Thank You for everything Lena, We’ll miss you!

back to the basics: reflections on human interaction

Posted by:

This week brings my 6 month stint with Stokefire to an end…and what a 6 months it has been…My goal when I first took this internship, was to further improve on my existing skills, gain new experiences, and see how my topic of interest – Design Ethnography – can benefit a small Branding and Strategy firm like Stokefire. All this was to happen within a limited time frame since I would be in Washington DC for 6 months before my husband and I move to Scotland. I am about to attend the University of Dundee to pursue my Masters in Design Ethnography.

I think I have been given a tremendous amount of opportunity and insight here at Stokefire during the past 6 months, but more so, as things “never come as planned” (read below why this has much personal meaning to me) I have been given the opportunity to get a unique insight into the workings of an evolving and changing agency.

When I first started with Stokefire it was a growing company with about 10 staff members – they had just hired their first ever Creative Director, and everyone was working hard to move the company into new territories. Within a few weeks of starting here, it became more clear to the leadership that they needed to return Stokefire to its “strategic roots” – so within a couple of months and some re-structuring and re-focusing, the staff has now returned to three core team members (+me), and the focus of the work has shifted back to strategic branding.

I knew that in order to maintain my focus on the “Design Ethnography approach” during this time of change, I had to adjust and quickly shift my focus to match the situation. So I went from predominantly studying the relationship of Stokefire to its clients and partners, to observing and investigating the relationships and structures within the company and among its now very intimate (and extremely dedicated) core team members.

While I don’t think I need to share pages upon pages of field notes, I do think it is of value to share these key points I took away from this 6-months experience:

– Nothing comes as planned: Those who know me, know that this is a valuable lesson my “hippie-dad” taught me when I was very young and one idea that I live my life by. I am an extreme type-A personality, an uber-punctual German planner with multiple to-do notes and lists going at all times, so this is a hugely important lesson for me to remember, no matter how frustrating. Sometimes I shake my head at how my life has progressed in the past 10 years – I would have called anyone mentally-unstable had they tried to convince me 10 years ago that at age 19 I would immigrate to the U.S. by myself, live in South Dakota for 5 years to study Journalism, just to find my path at 27 and, after living in the deep South and now the East Coast, would return to Europe to study Design Ethnography in Scotland. But here I am. Every time I have a moment of “How the hell did I get here?” I look back at the last time I thought that and realize that yet again, every single event, whether it was great or devastating at the time, has led me to another pausing point for reflecting. And these moments of reflection make me see that even though nothing comes as planned, everything comes the way it should.

– In any given situation, for any amount of time – try to be as creatively and purposefully engaged as you can. Coming into this internship I knew that I would be here for 6 months, and no longer than that. Throughout the changes of the company and additional undulations that come with life I saw moments of my creative drive dwindling and looking back it would have been easy to slip and miss out on opportunities to be fully engaged. It is hard and exhausting and frustrating sometimes, but the process has once more reminded me that it is HUGELY important to yank yourself back into the present moment and engage with as many people as you can. And learn from them. Any second that you possibly can.

Learn from the people you are surrounded by – directly and indirectly. This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but especially for someone like me, who is used to working independently (and fairly efficiently, if I may say so myself), it is important to take advantage of the many knowledgable people around you. Even if it is just 15-30 minutes here and there to learn something new. Everyone is a specialist in something and even if at first glance it looks like they don’t have anything specific to teach you of relevance to a current situation or project…they do. It is up to us individually to gather that knowledge from those who surround us and to make use of it. Learn as many things about as many different topics from as many people as possible.

Be flexible – take evolving situations for what they are and learn from them. Again, when things are evolving, it is often easy to get lost in the flow and process of transitions and change. If you have the ability to step back and see the whole picture, it makes it a whole lot easier to make sure you are placed in the right position to deal with, and hopefully, guide change.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I feel extremely lucky to have found this internship, but I think more than anything the greatly positive experience I have had here (and I hope the rest of the team has had with me here) was merely a combination of preparation and opportunity. I prepared for this step for months in advance and applied for an internship with a company that at the time, didn’t even have any openings and Stokefire saw the opportunity to explore a new field like Design Ethnography within Branding and Strategy and offered me this internship.


My last blog post was focused on the philosophy behind Ray and Charles Eameses’ design (AND life) and I need to borrow Charles’ words once more to make better sense of this experience. This is an excerpt from a speech Charles gave at the end of one of the famous Norton Lectures that Charles delivered at Harvard.

 “I can never think that our pleasures, our rewards from the things around us, could ever possibly be diminished by additional knowledge about it. And the contrary is true. I heard Richard Feynman describe waves on the beach. He’s a particle physicist and he was describing the waves in terms of insights that he felt and knew about the reactions of the particles within the wave, the relationship between the molecules of water, what happened as the light came into it, the forces of gravity and the inertia [that] was taking place – and it was a description of a breaking wave because he had a tremendous appreciation of the exquisite beauty of what was going on, not only on the surface of the wave, but what was going on inside the surface of the wave and what had gone beyond to make that wave possible. It was a delightful thing and no better pleasure or experience could I wish you all.”

I am thankful for the experience given, the insights shared, the knowledge gathered, and the connections made. I feel that my attempt to focus on learning valuable workplace skills has led me back yet again to the very basics – observing and understanding human interactions and relationships.


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