Democratizing design – that’s the goal of Able Company, a Canada-based branding and design studio that focuses their talents on helping startups (and their friends) get creative ideas off the ground.
Founded by friends Steve St. Pierre and Scott Thompson in 2016, Able Company has been commissioned to tackle brand identity projects for clients that span the spectrum from personal trainers to non-profits.
And that “Friends Only” tagline? “By that we mean everyone is a friend until proven a dickhead,” says St. Pierre. “It’s a mantra for the type of people we want to attract. What do you look for in a friend? Someone who you can talk to about your problems, someone that you can be open and honest with.” In other words, if you want great work done by creative weirdos that you can share a beer with, Able Company is your place.
In an era where many people look at the design and marketing process as a Mad Men-esque venture, fraught with too many cooks in the kitchen that results in weeks and months of wasted work, I found it refreshing to hear that Able Company insists on the process being collaborative.
“People view design as this “white glove” kind of profession, and it’s really not,” St. Pierre told me. What this means is that people assume designers are a lot like plumbers. “People hire plumbers because they say, “My drain is clogged, please come and fix it”, and then they are completely hands off. You are paying a plumber to come in and do his job to figure out what the best possible solution is within your budget.”
Allowing a designer to have a measure of creative control over a project enables the best possible work to come through, but that doesn’t mean that a client doesn’t have input into the process. For Able Company, collaboration means more than just a few emails back and forth. It’s about taking the pulse of where a business is currently and where they ultimately want to go. It’s about understanding the mood that a business is trying to evoke with their brand. And it’s definitely about more than a logo.
“When clients come to us and say they need a logo, we think, “Why do you need a logo? What are you trying to do?” It’s about getting to the root of the problem and, in that respect, it’s collaborative,” says St. Pierre. It’s a designer’s job to communicate the values of a client, so honesty from the get-go is key.
St. Pierre’s self-assured nature made me curious about his experience with starting his own business. Too often, we believe that everyone else has it all together – that they know exactly what to do and how to be successful. But, as St. Pierre pointed out to me, “You’re going to fuck up. I do at least once a week. And that’s OK.”
The key to launching your own business is to accept that things aren’t always going to be rosy and simply learn to embrace it. “You figure it out as you go along. I’m building the boat as I’m going out to sea,” explains St. Pierre. “I thrive when shit is going sideways. I love it. Starting a business is the greatest thing in the world and I wish more people did it.”
What about those of us who have ideas that we don’t know how to bring to fruition? That’s where community comes in. For that, St. Pierre has some advice that will kick you out of your complacency.
“A lot of people are scared to do things on their own. If the community doesn’t exist but you believe in [an idea] enough, then just do it. The first person through the wall always gets bloody. Everybody is scared to go first.”
There are small steps you can take to get started on that project or business venture right now. For St. Pierre, launching something new is “as easy as registering a domain. That helps put a pin in it. Once I’ve got a domain, I’m good to go. Rebel has been a great collaborator on many of my projects for this very reason.”
And after that, it’s as simple as reaching out to a creative, collaborative branding and design studio like Able Company to start bringing your ideas to life.
“Able is about democratizing design. I like the idea of doing so much with so little. That, to me, is the way to design. You take away until you can’t take away anymore and bring the brand down to its essence.”