We were lucky enough, here at FYC, to be able to have the opportunity to ask a few questions of Michael Stinson recently, the creative mind behind Ramp Creative and much more. This talented visual storyteller, has delighted both clients and fans for years, and so we are equally delighted to have this chance to provide some insight into the creative genius that we know him to be. We hope that our readers enjoy this interview as much as we did, so without further ado, we give you a look into the mind of Michael Stinson.
1. First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to and taking the time for this interview. So what first drew you to the world of design?
Engineering. Drawing. Painting. And, um probably Legos. Not in that order of course. Ha! I only played with one toy as a kid, which was Lego. I would draw out things I’d seen, build them and them refine the drawings and adjust the final assembly. Started drawing and painting at age 7, then interested in drafting and architecture in high school, then physics and aerospace engineering in college. Switched to design mid-way through college and then started taking classes at Art Center on the side. With the kind of problem solving education you get in aerospace, design then came pretty easy to me. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of figuring things out, mathematically, structurally, artistically.
2. Ramp has such a dynamic and diverse portfolio, what have you found to be the most effective ways to market yourselves to potential clients?
I was told that the best way to market yourself is do to do what you do best and be yourself. I am the typical engineering nerd, even though I may not look it. Rachel, my partner, is more of our PR personality and she’s the one that opens the doors for us. We have this saying to our friends and clients, “Rachel opens the doors and I close them”. Ha! That’s pretty much what we’ve been doing since we opened in 2002. Being honest about our ability to create unique solutions for our clients by wielding a thinking style of design. By holding true to problem solving and letting the concept drive the art, we’ve been able to attract clients that collaborate with us on the direction for their design solutions.
3. With the growth you have experienced in the years you have been in operation, where do you hope to see Ramp grow to in the coming years?
We would ultimately like slow and relatively small growth. We want to be able to keep our hands on the work to keep our quality up. This has also been a benefactor in attracting clients (pertaining to the previous question) that are looking to do business with the partners of the firm, not an account person or staff managers. In all, hopefully no more than five people at the most in the next 10 years.
4. Have you ever had difficulty with clients not trusting your artistic instincts? If so, how did you handle that?
We have and the answer is education. If we show patience and guide our clients through the design process while explaining the fundamentals of good design practice, we can usually convince them to see things our way. There has been other occasions where, no matter how rational and thorough the demonstration of proof is, the client just wants to go their own direction. This hasn’t happened to us often but the work usually suffers and results in a loss in integrity.
5. Could you tell us a bit about your work with Quiksilver and how it played into the launch of Ramp Creative (if it indeed did)
When I worked for a small design firm in Orange County (just south of Los Angeles), one of my first assignments was to design the Quiksilver annual report for that year. In getting to know the CEO Bob McKnight, I found that he had a lot to say, although at the time the Quiksilver brand had not. The brand had mostly been very visual up to that point—concentrating efforts on advertising with short slogans and quick reads. So when it came to designing the annual report, I found myself writing in a “story-board” kind of style. I fell into this storytelling by being engulfed with their images from that year’s shoot, AND all the other images they’ve compiled over the years. So, with the help of a vast image library, I could write short stories that spoke of the brand with an investor voice. This made for great flow and pacing in the annual report. After that, every annual report has been approached the same way for me—story/concept written through a short brief and then design.
This way of designing ultimately honed my conceptual skills and started to approach every project through a conceptual viewpoint every time. Like I always tell the students, if the piece has no idea/concept, then it probably won’t have much integrity either.
6. What does your average workday look like?
Well, our average day starts just like any other in the creative business I assume. Lots of coffee, or tea for me, and a short 2-block walk down the street to the office. After all the stress of the day is over we either hit the gym, if there’s any energy left, or more research and reading at home.
7. Which do you prefer with developing an identity for your clients, starting from scratch or having them provide a strong base from which you must work? Why?
I think we prefer to start from scratch but sometimes the client may not need and full ID. Sometimes they may need just a refresh of what they have, a tune-up, so to speak. We see either way as a challenge but we try to read to the client on their request for a refresh and recommend what they might do. If they like what we have to say, they hire us. If they don’t, they won’t.
8. Is there an area of the creative world you wish you were more active in?
We were just saying the other day how much we love the research part of our work. Ok maybe that was Rachel a little more and I was saying more packaging, since I like to work with my hands building things. Ha! Anyway, we both agree that one of the best parts of the design profession is figuring things out through research and discovery. This keeps our creative edge fresh. I tell my students (from a typography class this last spring) that one of the best assets you can have in design is a curious mind.
9. With the many disciplines that Ramp works in, which has been your favorite to explore? For what reasons?
Recently, we’ve noticed that a lot of our work has brought about many great ideas just by studying language and words. So much so, we’ve integrated the process of language to find a certain voice for our branding clients. This also has led us down a path of more influential writing within our creative briefs at the forefront of each project. Yielding a greater approach to design and guidance for our clients.
10. What is the most effective marketing trend you have seen flourish during your years in business?
I would have to say social networking. Or even before that, online marketing I imagine. We receive a lot of inquiries about our website just from people searching for design in Los Angeles. They also love the topics that Rachel writes about on our blog and the contests that I put together as well. But again, the inquiries come in through to Rachel on the receiving end, we get a meeting and I sell our capabilities and away we go on a project.
11. What advice would you give to any young creatives looking to take on the challenges of marketing a client or product as you have so effectively done at Ramp?
To keep a competitive edge in the back of your mind. My mentor said that “It’s all been done before. Now it’s up to you to show the world how to handle it differently”. Or something to that effect. There are a lot of great designers out there now doing really wonderful work. So I’ve told my students to be confident and focused on exactly what they want to accomplish. My dad told me once, “chose one thing and do it better than anyone else. The accolades, and money of course, will start to follow you around”.