Duration: Taylor Design will be 30 years old in 2022
Key Players: Hannah Fichandler, Steve Habersang, Steph Mullins, Laura Croft, Mary Ellen Guarnieri, Chris Yerkes, Hannah Wool, Bria Caso, Cindy Lau, Iris Tao
Key Clients: Brigham Health, Columbia University, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Terex, NEIWPCC, Cross Country Healthcare, Atlas Air
When/how was the agency born?
My wife and business partner Nora and I had moved from our apartment on East 37th Street to Stamford, CT in 1989 and we began commuting to New York. This became pretty tiring and we began plans to start a business. I read books, wrote a business plan, saved some money, and bought a Mac. On August 1992, I gave my notice to my employer and three weeks later I was gone. I rented a desk from an architect in Stamford, sat at my computer, stared at my phone, and wondered “now what?” I got my first job, redesigning the logo for the American Society of Civil Engineers. One thing led to another and soon I had a few other clients. Surprisingly, I ended the year beating my income forecast. Things got busy so I hired an assistant and then five years became ten years and then twenty years and now nearing thirty years.
Why do clients hire you and not another agency?
We get the green light on proposals when prospective clients look at work we have done for others and talk to our current clients. Because of our office location and number of employees, our prices have become relatively high over time. Our firm is a good fit for larger organizations that want good work and have the resources to pay for it. We rarely get jobs for start-ups and small businesses any more.
What makes your process unique?
We are all about custom creative work. Our designer’s process for a logo assignment, for example, follows this path:
Step 1: Gather research, review the company’s website, and ask for the company’s sales decks. Look at all of the competitors in their space. Get examples of all of the company’s existing branding and marketing.
Step 2: Begin sketching. Get the obvious ideas out of the way first so you can toss them aside. Push yourself. Get into the zone. Don’t worry about bad ideas, put them down too. In fact, use 180 degree thinking and sketch out the opposite of what you think it should be. Sometimes that sparks new tangents. Don’t worry about color at this stage, work only in black and white. Tell yourself “I’m not going to stop until I have 100 sketches.”
Step 3: Start early. Once you have 100 sketches, go to bed and let your unconscious go to work. The idea generating process creates its own inertia. When you wake up or while you’re in the shower, suddenly something new pops into your head. Have your sketchbook ready and write those additional ideas down.
Step 4: Know when to stop. Like a painter, it’s hard to know when a painting is done. Designers are on deadline, so that decision is made for us. Eventually you’ll have a wealth of great ideas from which to whittle down the most distinctive and most creative logos.
A client will often say “how did you come up with that?” or “You’re so creative.” It didn’t come out of thin air, it’s hard, relentless work.
I was born in Rhode Island, where generations of my family have lived and many remain. I spent my early school years in Massachusetts and then high school in Connecticut. So I’m a New Englander through and through. Connecticut has so much going for it. It’s close to one of the world’s greatest cities (New York), close to great beaches (Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island where we often rent a house for a week in the summer), and close to great skiing (we have a slope side condo on Bromley Mountain in Peru, Vermont). What’s not to like?
Describe your ideal client.
We’ll call our ideal client Jennifer. She is the head of communications at a large organization. We produce a print and digital publication. Before each issue, she writes up a plan and articulates her vision. She invites us to a kickoff meeting with the writers, photographer, and others. Ideas are discussed, schedules shared, with plenty of time baked in to not feel overly rushed. Our designers start work, coming up with visual ideas for each story, from illustrations to infographics to photography, which are shared with Jennifer. She provides smart and useful input. Top illustrators are chosen and work begins there. New photography is coordinated with a professional photographer. Page layouts are designed and sent to Jennifer and she provides good feedback and praise when she sees something she likes. The process continues for two months with all parties pushing each other to produce the best possible product. The print piece is delivered and the digital version is launched and they are wonderful. Visually stunning, beautifully written, a best-in-class product. It often wins awards. We invoice and it’s paid on time. The budget is appropriate and our actual work hours match the anticipated work hours. Jennifer follows up with “you guys are the best, everyone loves it!” email. Jennifer is a great client: talented, smart and appreciative, she pushes herself and others to work together toward excellence.
Conversely, let’s describe a bad client. We’ll call him Jeff. He is the head of communications for a boarding school. We produce a print publication. We meet before the issue, but there is no outline, no pagination. The schedule is compressed because he was late. Stories trickle in piecemeal instead of all at once. There is no money for extra illustration or new photography, so we need to use whatever exists. Some images he shot himself on his phone. The designer works on layouts and sends them to Jeff. Most times he says “this is all wrong, you’re not matching my vision.” He dictates exactly what he wants, so we’re taking orders and doing our best to interpret his art direction. Because there was no initial pagination, we constantly have to change layouts, from a 2-pager to a 3-pager or from a 6-pager to a 4-pager, doubling our anticipated work time. The designer complains and threatens to quit. Near the end everyone just wants it over. It returns from the printer and no one is happy. The invoice is sent, but the actual work-hours far exceed the anticipated work-hours, so we worked at half our studio hourly rate. We ask for extra money due to his many rounds of changes, but he refuses. Jeff sends an email “you need to do better next time, I’m tired of having to design the whole issue myself.” Jeff is a toxic client: disorganized, mean-spirited, and condescending, He makes the process a grueling slog.
Describe your ideal employee/team member.
They are committed to excellence. There is a maxim that excellence is not an action, it’s a habit. We look for team members who embrace that notion.
They are hard workers. Top designers focus intensely on the task at hand and work really hard at solving the problem. Our people routinely put in extra hours to get things right.
They have a thick skin. You have to have a masochist’s ability to absorb a great deal of rejection. You spend hours and hours and hours on a new logo, for example. You’ve properly analyzed the competitive space. You present options that are far and away better than the existing logo. You apply it to banners, mugs, and shirts to show context. The client nods their head in agreement and vows to share it with the executive committee. Then word comes back with changes. It can be depressing and deflating.
They handle stress well. With intense deadlines, multiple concurrent projects and outrageous client demands, the communications business can be very stressful. Taylor Design compounds that problem by trying to maintain the highest standards of professionalism and quality. It’s critical for our staff to take things in stride.
What is your favorite cause?
Both of our kids went from K-12 at Stamford Public Schools, which is a large urban school district. Nora and I spent many hours volunteering and helping the school out in any ways we could. It’s where I want to give more of my time when I have more time to give.
There is a maxim that excellence is not an action, it’s a habit. We look for team members who embrace that notion.
Who are your favorite partners/vendors?
We have had the privilege of working with some of the industry’s top illustrators, photographers, videographers, writers, and printers. When we are lucky enough to find a new partner who can deliver for our clients at a high level, they become a part of our creative team. Many have been our partners for decades.
What is unique about the culture of the agency?
As with all businesses, the culture starts at the top. I am motivated by excellence and aim to deliver it on jobs large and small, but I am even keeled during the inevitable storms of business and I don’t yell at people when things go wrong. It’s a friendly, upbeat, positive atmosphere. Our players move easily within the flow of each job—bouncing ideas off one another, welcoming suggestions, seeking opinions and committed to doing their best. Everyone has direct client contact and gets to know them well.