RDA 2006: East

Posted inAnnouncing The Print RDA Winners
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This native of the East is happy to report that theregion’s boom continues. “We’reslammed,” says Kim Fox, a designer who also works as aproject manager at a Pittsburgh studio. “And whenyou’re slammed and getting to do good work, you knowthat’s a good indicator.” Up in Watertown,Massachusetts, Michael McPherson of Corey McPherson Nashagrees. “We’re getting lots of calls, lots ofleads,” he says. “We’re connecting withclients at the right level. Whereas three years ago we’dbe getting calls from a junior assistant, now we’rehearing from the VP of marketing.” Ronald Younts, designdirector at Ashton Design in Baltimore, says that things havebeen “almost too good.” Filling any new positions,he says, could actually prove a challenge: “It’sdifficult to find great designers.”

Finding acceptableclients, on the other hand, is going smoothly for most. Firmsof every size are adding clients and courting new kinds ofbusinesses. David Grigg, president and creative director ofHappy Dog Advertising in Bridgeport, Connecticut, just landedthe northeast distributor of Sub-Zero refrigerators, and saysthis is a departure. “Our previous big client was ininteriors and furniture,” he says. “Our client basehas definitely changed a lot this year.” New genres ofwork have also come to Alec Beckett, creative partner ofProvidence-based Nail Communications: “We just startedworking for a political candidate,” he reports.“We’re doing it because political advertising isfamously horrible. We’ll probably produce the bestpolitical advertising in Rhode Island!” Jake Lefebure,co-owner of Design Army in Washington, D.C., is one of many whohas seen growth in an already familiar client sector:“The hospitality industry is picking up,” he says.“They all kind of know about us, and pass usaround.” Similarly, McPherson has gained work fromcultural organizations. “They’ve been struggling,but they need the edge,” he says.

Clued-in clients (or lack thereof) have long been part of the conversation withdesigners in the East. Some in more rural locales remainstereotypically recalcitrant: “Small clients, especiallyin the Connecticut area, are all bottom-line,” saysGriggs. In the cities, the designers are seeing greaterinvestment in the process. “People seem to be more savvy, and to care about the work,” says Brian Liu,principal at Toolbox Creative in D.C. “Clients used tosay ‘Just get it done.’” According to RickHeffner, principal at fuszion Collaborative in Alexandria,“Clients are pushing us—they’re asking us toone-up ourselves, whether it’s to redo an ad campaign orlaunch an annual report.” Increased client awareness hasa dark side, though. Heffner says he misses being able tomake changes without letting the client in on the secret.“They’ve become a little too savvy!” hesays. As Fox puts it, “Education of clients can go eitherway—they can use it for your benefit or fortheirs.”

One worrying trend seems to bear this out:Some clients have started to buy their own printing, often withdisastrous results. “We’re pretty much just handingover files,” says Younts, decrying the loss of projectcontrol. “We’re getting a lot fewer print salesreps. They’re going straight to the clients.”Heffner has also seen his clients try to take over printing.“They don’t understand that the processdoesn’t stop once they hand over the disk,” he says. “You wouldn’t buy a Porsche and then getit serviced at Joe’s Auto Body.”

Luckily, the majority of clients seem to be steering clear of such mistakes.“So far, I’ve not seen clients willing to forgoquality for price,” says Brenda Brodsky, associatecreative director at Buck & Pulleyn in Pittsford, New York. Afew businesses are even insisting on more costly aspects ofproduction, especially when it comes to sustainable design. Foxreports that some of her local clients have specifically askedfor recycled paper—they’re looking for a way togive back, she says, and boost their image in the market at thesame time.

A growing interest in sustainability is just oneof many interesting recent developments in the Pittsburghcommunity. Culturally and economically, the city seems to bemaking a comeback. Says Fox, “There’s a sense ofoptimism in Pittsburgh right now.” Robert Kiernan,creative director of Actual Size Creative, agrees thatPittsburgh is on the upswing, thanks to local designers who areshaking off an overweening modesty. “People in othercities aren’t afraid to do something flashy,” hesays. “Here, they were afraid to be boastful. I thinkthat’s changing.

As for Eastern style, Jake Lefebure says that there’s been a lot more illustrationover the past few years, and sees design getting “cleanerand cleaner.” That can prove a mixed bag for youngdesigners looking to express themselves. “I try to submitsomething a little funky, but my clients are moreconservative,” says Boston designer Kris Greene.“They say, ‘I think it’s a good idea, but Idon’t think it’s gonna fly.’”Ultimately, no one style is sweeping the region; andthat’s fine by Michael McPherson: “Therearen’t any big new trends,” he says. “And Ithink that’s a good thing.”