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design firm q&a

Interviewee Todd Berger of Cypher13 kindly provided the in depth responses.

How were you made aware of the project? Did AIGA approach you based on interest in specific previous work? If so, which project(s)? Did you and other firms compete by submitting proposals? Did you quickly determine the purpose of the project during the initial brainstorming session or meeting?

The AIGA reached out to us, informed us of the show and asked us if we were interested in designing and producing the awards.

Yeah, we have a bit of history with the Colorado AIGA and national AIGA for that matter.  I’ll try to sum up the nature of our relationship briefly.  About 2 years ago the Colorado AIGA president left a comment on a local creative blog criticizing a project of ours. (Blog author note: here is the link to original entry posted on the Denver Egotist blog. Rampant commenting ensued). We stumbled across the criticism and took offense as the commenter clearly did not understand the nature of the project.  We responded by designing a real quick poster and dropping it on our blog ( It soon spread around and word got back to the AIGA.  They got a little upset, apologized for the misunderstanding and made an effort to build a relationship with us.  We reciprocated, welcomed the invite and had a few discussions with the AIGA regarding the current state of design, collaboration, promotion, the idea of community, and some other related topics.

To put all of this in context you should know that we’re not AIGA members and we do not intend on becoming AIGA members.  We do however think the AIGA can be valuable and does serve a nice role to a certain audience.  We’ve always done our own thing as creatives, as business people, and as individuals and subsequently have never really found value in the particular type of community the AIGA offers in regards to our personal design careers.  Regardless, we prefer to build to bridges rather than tear them down.  Better things come from alliances than rivalries.

No, there was no competition.  As far was we know the AIGA only asked us.  We said yes, so I think we made it pretty simple.

We’re very sustainably minded as both a design team, and as individuals.  We immediately determined that whatever we designed would be built from either reclaimed or recycled materials.  We exercised a number of ideas and brought them all to our primary fabricator, Kristian Kluver to open the discussion.  We knew from the start that we’d be pulling in Kristian to collaborate from both a design perspective and a build perspective.  While working through some of the pitfalls of our initial ideas we stumbled upon the idea of a flat pack chair, or in this case stool.  So, to answer – yes, and no. The idea evolved over the course of about three 30-40 minute discussions.

What other forms, if any, of the award were considered besides a stool and what were they? Were 2 or more radically different approaches to the stool design considered? If so, how were the choices narrowed down?

The idea we like best was to design a miniature three dimensional forest from reclaimed pieces of hardwood.  The intention was to make each award a little tree.  The trees would’ve been of different varieties, so when assembled in total (prior to distribution) they would resemble a Colorado forest.  They would’ve in essence been like little (approx. 12″ to 16″) tree trophies.  The fabrication was going to be difficult; adorning each tree with contest winner information would’ve been a bit difficult too.  As much as we liked the idea, when we took both budget and more importantly the notion of function into consideration we felt making something usable was more important and ought to be a key component of this particular design challenge.  We settled on the stool after determining that it was usable, trophy-esque, and felt very original for this application.

We came up with two designs that we liked for the stool.   One was more complex than the other.  The simple design won out for a number of reasons.  It was a “flat-pack” design, meaning it fit squarely into the desired box with each piece flatly stacked atop the other, required no hardware and no instructions and just made more sense from a material perspective.  It could be made from entirely reclaimed materials quite simply.

What constraints (budget, deadline, etc.) were the most challenging? Were any unexpected solutions found during or after prototyping? Did appropriate ideas for other client work become apparent while working on this project? If it was a concern, did the staff find any unusual way to prioritize their time on this project while attempting to balance their client work?

The budget constraint initially posed some concern.  But, we quickly got over that.  We knew we’d be donating quite a bit of time atop additional costs and we’re quite versed in working with tight budgets so in the end it wasn’t too big of a problem.  The budget did help to inform us in regards to materials and potential fabrication processes though.  The prototyping phase went quite smoothly, as Kristian is exceptionally talented and quite capable in the wood shop.

The “staff” is just the three of us and Kristian.  So, there’s really no staff – more of just a team.  We keep a very busy schedule with a rather large running list of projects on a wall in our studio.  Prioritizing at cypher13 comes from both necessity and personal passion.  Client work tends to take priority based on significance or resonance and dollar value (we determine the significance/resonance internally).  Deadlines however, must be met.  This one is gonna be close, we’re still acquiring materials, we’re still waiting for some information form the AIGA in regards to the contest winners so we can appropriately decorate the stools, and we’ve yet to determine how we’ll be finishing the stools and packaging them.  We’re quite confident though that we’ll solve all of those issues over the course of the next week.

What was the most gratifying aspect of working on this project? Will there be a post project review with AIGA? Will the recipients of the awards be able to provide feedback?

All of our internal collaborative projects are rewarding.  We particularly enjoy working with Kristian and teaming up to solve problems with him.  He’s a close friend and an exceptional designer, fabricator, and problem solver.  We’re looking forward to finishing all of the stools, integrating the winner information, setting them all up and doing a photo shoot, and then packaging them for shipping.  It ought to be a fun outing and very insightful.

We’ll certainly document the project on our blog and in our portfolio upon completion.  We’re not sure what the AIGA will be asking of the recipients.

Did any of your process steps vary from the process you use for paid client work? In general, do you consider your design process to be fluid – does it evolve or has it remained relatively consistent?

Our design process is fluid and in perpetual evolution, but it’s hierarchical and always flows in the same manner.  It’s something akin to assessing the problem or challenge, posing solutions, determining the best solution, assessing materials/requirements, designing, reviewing, designing, reviewing, prototyping, reviewing, occasionally improving, then creating, or implementing, or fabricating.  It works the same for artwork, logos, illustration, websites, t-shirts, furniture, consumer products, etc.  At this point Kristian is handling some of the little nuances of this project off site at his studio.  He’s then reporting back to us and we’re working together to refine them.

Is there a question I neglected to ask you are eager to answer?

Not really, we think you’ve asked some very insightful questions.

Your “20 Interconnected and Semi-dependent Factors Contributing to the Creation and Promotion of Sustainable Culture” on your “Thoughts” page seems to encompass both a manifesto and a process. Did any of these points stand out as significantly relevant in regard to the AIGA project? If so, how and why?

The principles outlined in that thought piece provide the founding premises of our design studio, our work, and our lives as citizens of a global community.

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