Category: Stokefire team

Unexpected Surprise

Cougar paper's "Share" promotional book

We’ve just learned that some of our client work featured in the Cougar paper company promotional book, Share on Cougar®.

The identity kit for Leadership Ascent will be on display at HOW Design Live this year in Cougar’s Live Blueline Gallery, in booth 511. If you’re lucky enough to attend this year, please stop by and say hello for us!

Lindsay Benson Garrett showing off Stokefire's work featured in Cougar's latest promotional book.

About the identity kit

A lifelong mountaineer, the founder (a recent escapee from the world of Fortune 500® client-side leadership training) looked to blend his thus far distinct passions for corporate leadership and adventuring into a single entity that would seamlessly bring lessons learned on the mountain to bear on the boardrooms of his clients. His mindset was fundamentally shifted on his climb up Mt. Rainier, leading to the tagline we developed for him: “Find yourself on the way.”

Leadership Ascent identity kit

Where we start considering paper

The choice of paper played a critical role in contributing to the feeling of authenticity in the final design, but we began considering the weight and texture of the paper from the moment we conceived of the historical approach to the kit. As we started to develop the vintage mountaineering inspired stationery, we simultaneously started exploring cost effective paper options to make it come to life.

We utilized century-old, lightly edited public domain maps of the founder’s favorite mountain as the consistent visual, and this required a lot of ink to sit on top of the paper. We went with Cougar’s 70lb text for the smooth grain and solid weight, choosing an uncoated stock to maintain the outdoorsy, weathered feel. Cougar natural was a cost effective stock that had a variety of weights available that enabled us to increase the tactile experience of the all-important business card while maintaining the same look as the rest of the kit.

Our favorite moment during the project

At the initial presentation of the tagline in combination with the ID kit, his business partner (and wife) suggested that our creative director “must be sleeping with him, because that’d be the only we could possibly know him so well.”

Leadership Ascent identity kit

The piece on display at the HOW Conference:

Leadership Ascent on display at the Domtar gallery

barney stinson’s not the only one who can accept a challenge

I love learning.  Always have, always will – because as you learn, you grow.

When you’re challenging yourself in ways you haven’t done before, you get the possibility to discover talents and skills you didn’t even know you possessed (or, you might discover that you sucked at something, but let’s stay optimistic).

Trying something new probably means you’re not going to become a pro in one try, but at least it might awaken something inside you – an interest, an eagerness to improve or a realization that you should hire someone to do what you just tried to do. Regardless, you’ve gotten a positive outcome – you’ve learned something and you’ve improved when it comes to your self-perception.

So, when Tate and Lindsay last week asked me if I’d ever worked in Adobe After Effects, I told them “No.” I’d never even opened the program on a computer before. To share what the program was capable of and what he hoped he could see from me, Tate showed The Girl Effect – the animation intrigued me so I said, “challenge accepted.” I had no idea what the outcome would be, but if you never try you’ll never know, right?

In order to create a text animation you need, well, words. Luckily the Stokefire crew is good at keeping track of all the memorable quotes that pop up in the day to day elocution of our wise President. Some of these incredible sound bites were given to me to play around with.

Here’s what I managed to do with it.

And the feeling I got? Well, I certainly want to learn more about text animation. It’s an awesome tool to create interest among the viewers and present information in a fun, innovative and engaging way.

The Secret of Great Business Trips? They’re Not All Business.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

I hear from fellow businesspeople that traveling for work is a necessary evil. Being away from family, never seeing anything other than the inside of a hotel, and eating dinner on a tray in front of a TV or in the hotel bar with clients… it all seems to pretty much suck. 15 years ago I had a mentor that helped me see that it didn’t have to be that way, and recent happenings at HQ convinced me that it was about time to share her thinking with the world. Let’s start with her rules…

  • Don’t order room service.
  • Don’t visit the hotel bar or restaurants, either.

Sounds pretty limiting for a road warrior, but in both cases you’d be paying a premium to have a generally lousy experience that would be indistinguishable from something entirely forgettable that you could have in your home town. Business travel isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Because of that mentor, every time I travel I try to find a local jazz club, a greasy spoon, or a hole-in-the-wall joint that will give me an experience I couldn’t have back home. It opens my eyes to new things and increases the pool of ideas and experiences I can call on when doing creative work.

Got kids (or nieces and nephews) and a smartphone? Even obligatory sightseeing that I’ve endured countless times before can be made new with some of the recent technological advances. I traveled on one of the longest and highest tramways in America to the top of a mountain in New Mexico – and got to share the experience with my joyful kids as the view unfolded on-screen in real time over FaceTime. Every experience can be made new when you see it through the eyes of a four-year-old. (Incidentally, my first call to my kids in every city is to give them a grand tour of… my hotel room. Yep. Beds, bathrooms, views, drawers… they want to see it all. And if there’s a minibar? It’s “YAY, DAD!!! THERE’S FOOD IN YOUR ROOM!! CAN I HAVE THE COOKIES? BRING HOME THE COOKIES!!!”)

Which leads to rule number three.

  • Don’t touch the minibar. EVER. Even if there are cookies.

Seriously, man. Don’t even THINK it. Pretty sure there’s a charge for merely considering purchase.

Anyhow, Marie (our kickass Swedish media* intern) seemed somewhat disinclined to believe we actually would encounter fresh air or the sky on our recent business trip to San Francisco, so she challenged Lindsay (our kickass art director) and me to get some video evidence. After all, it’s not like we’d be able to experience much when we’re in client meetings 12 hours a day, right?

Challenge accepted.

* — Contrary to what some may believe, Swedish media is neither this, nor this.

Happy +1, Us!

Almost exactly eight years ago I was sitting in my basement with a space heater blasting on my bare feet as I went through a stack of mail. It was mostly bills as I recall. But one plump envelope contained a notice from our friendly government saying that Stokefire Consulting Group, Inc. was officially incorporated. Oh, and also that we should start paying taxes and stuff.

The effective date for Stokefire’s incorporation was January 13, 2005, so we’re just past the start of a new year.

Since incorporation a whole lot has happened. Our clients have enabled us to develop outstanding and often award-winning work. We’ve worked with hundreds of organizations and many of the world’s best known brands, including Charles Schwab, Discovery Communications, Google, Heinz, Motorola, the US Department of Defense, and the United States Congress. At the start I couldn’t have imagined landing any one of them, but over the years I slowly got better at going after business that seemed improbable or impossible to win.

Since Stokefire hired its first employee in 2006 I’d struggled to find a way to teach employees how to bring in business. It never worked. I could show them how I did it, but it didn’t work for anyone else. On the plus side, it continued to work for me. We landed major projects, pulled business from agencies more than a thousand times our size, and for a while were nearly bulletproof in pitches, landing better than 90% of the work we went after. But nearly eight years in, my fingers on the keyboard and face in front of the prospective client was the only way it happened.

I write “nearly eight years” because two days before our eighth year in business I lost the right to claim sole ownership of the sales channel.  On her seventh day of employment, Lindsay (the newest member of our design team) got us a signed contract with a new client. I wasn’t even on the call. (Is it possible for me to retire from selling via blog post? Because that would be awesome.)

Congrats to Lindsay for giving Stokefire even more momentum as we blaze past eight years in business, and many thanks to all of our clients, employees, and partners who make it possible to keep doing what we’re good at and love to do. Without all of you I’d still be sitting barefoot in the basement.

And… For decency’s sake let’s just agree I’d at least be wearing PJs.

DARPA Wins Logo Award, Stealthily

2011 MarCom Award Winner

We just learned that our DARPA logo work received an Honorable Mention from the MarCom Awards. We’re surprised and honored by the recognition. We figured that without seeing the logo in action (e.g., transitioning from on-white to on-black as is shown in the video below) it’d get lost in the herd.

It didn’t, and for that we’re giving thanks. Though we can’t seem to find any mention of the award online…

Congratulations to DARPA, and to the members of Stokefire’s very own design team:

Graphic Designer: Jonelly Sharp
Art Director: Randy Rodriguez
Art Director: Kaitlyn Wells
Creative Director: Tate Linden

Want to see the story behind the brand identity and the challenge we faced? Check out this live markup narrated by the boss:


Other live markups have been done for The Stokefire Logo and Think Harder. Concrete.


The Things I Remember

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As a designer, art director, project manager, social media guru, and coordinator of the website I find my processes constantly changing. The other day, I started thinking about all of the ways I initially learned how to design and all of the ways I used to keep my mind creative, and I realized how much I’ve really changed.

Sometimes change is good.

Once upon a time I used  to print out pages and pages of imagery that I researched. I would use those images as inspiration, and sometimes tracing guidelines. Today I do the same thing, but I also use these images for industry competitive analysis.

The more ideas, the closer the solution. 

Once upon a time I used to spend days upon days with pencil to paper on a large amount of ideas. Nowadays I do a 20/20 (20 concepts in 20 minutes) along with other creatives and we end up with 40–60+ ideas to consider. One of the biggest problems is that about a third of those ideas end up being unusable, but still, it’s pencil to paper.

I still like to stick to tradition.

Once upon a time I was glued to a light table like it was my only friend in the world. Sketch after sketch, trace after trace. Sometimes it didn’t get me anywhere, but then I would remember to turn the paper.  What do I do now? I copy and paste, copy and paste, but what I never do is, turn the ‘paper.’  If you have a good idea, but it’s not quite working the way you’d like it to, try again. Turn the paper. Rip the paper. Disassemble your sketch and put it all back together again. Sometimes a little rearranging will turn your good idea into a great one, and sometimes it will tell you once and for all that it just won’t work.

I try not to get myself discouraged.  

Once upon a time I would complete my entire design on paper using pencil, ink, gouache even (imagine that!), before even getting on the computer. Sounds like a big waste of time doesn’t it? I worked this way because I would often get on the computer and not really have an understanding of how I should build my design. Getting everything on paper helped me to map out the build. Today, I’ve taken a step backward. I don’t get everything down on paper first, I haven’t in a long time. There doesn’t ever seem to be enough time to completely map out an idea, not even in just pencil. The world is in a rush, so computer it is.

You will never be finished. You just have to know when to stop. 

Once upon a time I would try to refine and nit-pick at every. single. little. detail. I always wanted everything to be perfect. Then someone told me that there is no such thing as being finished, it’s just knowing when to stop. Nowadays I still live by that same rule.

So what does this all mean for me today? It means things are changing and they will always change. There are only two things I can do about change. I can either agree and embrace it, or I can disagree and fight like hell to be myself.

Creative Findings

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I’ve always talked about staying creative and finding inspiration every where you go. One way is to utilize books. Two great books I’ve mentioned in the past are: “Caffeine for the Creative Team” and “Caffeine for the Creative Mind,” by Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield. Another way to get yourself into the creative zone is to review what other people have done. Perhaps it will spark an idea for new packaging, business card, or even a strategic marketing plan. There many wonderful websites out there that share all sorts of creativity and as much as I want you to stay on our site I’m going to share a few of my favorite go-to places with you today. – Wonderful clean simple design inspiration. This site seems to have a heavy interest in print – one of my favorites.

DesignInspiration – Another great place for design.

The Dieline – Design examples for all sorts of products.

The Inspiration Room – Creativity from around the world, there always seems to be a lot of videos here.

The Story of Telling – Even reading a Creative’s blog helps to loosen up those creative oils.

Finding inspiration every where we go helps us learn and grow, and I personally try to look for it every single day. Inspiration can come in big and small packages, you just have to know where to find it. Go – be creative, and share with us what you come across.

*All images above were found on the blogs mentioned above. Thank you to you all for the great inspiration!

Car Love

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You know, I love my car.  No, I hate my car.  Well, actually, I love my car.  At least I love it when it works.  Lately it’s had me hop-scotching to the dealer, the other mechanic, to the tow truck company, and symbolically, to the bank – where tons of my money is leaving my account to maintain this beast that I love/hate.

When it runs it is awesome. Nice, tight, German engineering. Very responsive on the road.  Happy to accommodate my requests for quick maneuvers.  Did I say fast?  Fast.  Smooth-riding.  Quiet.  Oh, and then there’s the sound system.  When I was considering buying it the sales guy told me it had a “Monsoon” sound system.  “Who cares?” I thought.  Guess what – I care!  It truly makes music come to life.  I get to hear Carlos Santana’s fierce guitar riffs, the hand drummer’s trills so crisp I think I should be able to count them (but they’re too fast), and all the minor percussion toys that happen to be part of the mix – all coming from different corners of the cabin.  My husband calls it our “stereo on wheels.”  Sometimes I have to replay a song for him when he says – “hey, I’ve never heard THAT sound in that song before.”  Hit the replay button and enjoy it again.  Given all the road trips that I take I truly enjoy that Monsoon.

Lately the car has been heartache.  Expensive heartache, over and over again.  The German engineering is great, but why don’t they package it with a German engineer!  Then maybe the constant string of issues could be addressed – we could put the guy up in our guest room and keep him fed.  It would be cheaper.  And I wouldn’t have to drive all over creation (or get towed there), to let yet someone else look at it.  How can multiple “experts” view the same thing and come out with completely different diagnoses?  Ah, well – it doesn’t happen just with cars.

Sometimes I think the mechanics in the world decide “this one should go.” Then they start telling crazy (and expensive!) stories about what’s wrong with the car.  All in an effort to get me to take it off the road – then they don’t have to deal with it again, or with me, making that pained face that says “HOW much???”

For now I will carry on, trying to get my money’s worth out of my latest repair investment.  After all, this is a small rant, in the scheme of things.  We are not talking about life and death matters here, nor hardships beyond my endurance or capacity for happiness.  But when the time comes for this pretty beast to be rolled away for good I will feel a little sad – because I love my car… sometimes.

Branding – Not just for first-timers [archive]

Posted By:
Tate Linden 

Even though we spend most of or time working with mid- to large-sized companies, we also work with many startups and small businesses. We’ve been asked a few times about whether or not the big-boys have to go through the same issues as the startups. Our answer: Yes. They go through all the hoops the startups do, and then they add more to address the existing brand identity, changes in the marketplace, changes in corporate policiy, and more.

This leads to two additional lines of questioning. First, why would a company ever need to go through branding after the first time? And second, does this mean that my company is going to have to do this whole thing again?

First part – Companies are rebranding every day, and most of ’em do it unintentionally. The ones that rebrand with intent are responding to changes in the market (like how KFC has over the last decades gone from a company that focused on Fried as a key part of their brand to one that never really mentions that their chicken is boiled in oil – until recently when they mentioned that it is boiled in oil, but that the oil is healthy.) So a change in the marketplace – like the public awareness of the unhealthiness of partially hydrogenated oils – can result in two rebrands, not just one. (The first was the name change, the second is the recent change in oils.) One wonders if a third rebrand will occur if they find a way to make fried food healthier than baked.

Companies intentionally rebrand to keep their brands current. This doesn’t mean they reinvent themselves completely – they usually just steer their brand to ensure that they still own the position in the market that was intended. An edgy brand must continually redefine what “edgy” is if they wish to be seen as on that edge. If they don’t then they’ll soon be seen as boring, staid, or dated. (On second thought, this might not be a great example – since staying on the edge may be a part of the original brand. Better, perhaps, would be a reevaluation of the effectiveness of staying on the edge.)

Unintentional rebranding is usually not good, but happens more often than intentional rebranding. Small companies often do this after they go through their initial branding process. They establish themselves as one thing when they launch, but don’t stay on message. Rather than being the best at what they do they lose control of their brand and become whatever will help them make the sale in the near term. This results in companies that start as vintage clothing stores specializing in 1960s apparel becoming generic used clothing stores, and then adding in a section of brand new mass-market imitation vintage clothes, and then a section with just regular new clothes. Even though it wasn’t a formal process the end result is a new brand… but one that doesn’t serve any real purpose. For an example, look at what has gone through in the last decade. They went from being the undisputed answer to the question “Where do I buy books online?” to being one of thousands of places that expect you to search for anything you could ever need. Along the way they went through selling just books, to books and music, to books, music, and retail items, to books, music, retail items, and used stuff, to books, music, retail items, used stuff, and services, to… well… everything. I certainly hope this wasn’t an intentional rebranding – because if it was it wasn’t very well thought out. Even Wal*Mart doesn’t sell everything (you can’t get industrial computer consultants from the big W.) How can you create a brand that encompasses every other brand on the planet? I suppose will let us know when they get there.

Enough companies rebrand every year to support a competition on the matter. Check out Rebrand – an organization that rewards the top 100 rebranding efforts of the year. You will note thatAmazon isn’t on their lists.

As for the second line of questioning: Is your company going to have to rebrand? If you wish to survive you must adapt. If you want to excel rather than just survive you need to anticipate adaptation. You need to be ready for it. So we suggest that you always keep your brand in mind and measure the effectiveness of your core identity. Every three to six months you should revisit your core to ensure that not only are you still living by the standard, you’re also following a standard that is still relevant.

When should you consider a rebrand? When your existing brand no longer has the impact or relevancy that it did when it was successful. That could be six months after you launch your company (if you didn’t correctly identify market trends) or fifty years later. The key is to be aware of the effectiveness of your brand and to be prepared to revisit it before your brand has lost its goodwill in the marketplace.

We’ll talk another time about how rebranding can be done without destroying the values and purpose of the company founders – and when it might be desirable to take the extreme step to just do a rip-and-replace and start over again.

See the original post

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!

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