How Kirsten Modestow Started a Branding & Design Agency in Her House and Thrives Outside of a Major City — The Busy Creator Podcast 75

The Busy Creator 75 w/guest Kirsten Modestow

Kirsten Modestow (@KModestow) is the founder & creative director of Brigade, a branding and design firm in Massachusetts. Brigade focuses on consumer packaging and communications; they create brands for products, and help them stand out on shelves. In recent years, this has translated to digital promotion and social media as well.

In this conversation, Kirsten discusses her origins as a young designer, learning from her elders, how she started Brigade in her house and where the company is now, and examines the curious culture of an agency that grows fast and lives in an open-plan office.

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Show Notes & Links

  • Brigade focuses on food & beverage clients, within the packaging and communication media types, so not everything.
  • In-store design materials include more items — shelf talkers, point of sales, mobile-friendly websites, etc.

“Do you have to create a whole persona just for a box of crackers?”

—Prescott Perez-Fox

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  • Lately, consumers are more educated and more finicky — they want information
  • Nabisco, Kraft – big companies in consumer goods
  • Wheat Thins on Facebook
  • Kirsten started working out of her home after relocating to Western Mass.
  • Land Rover
  • Svedka vodka
  • To accommodate the growing team, Kirsten converted her garage into a studio
  • 5 colleges are located in the Amherst-Hadley area, but none have a graphic design course
  • Boss is sometimes a four-letter word
  • Kirsten started at Hill Holiday in Boston
  • Brigade has grown from 5 employees to 20 in the past 2 years
  • Recruiting is tough outside of a “design center” like New York, Chicago, London
  • Brigade’s first Project Management hire was a photographer freelancing as a graphic designer

“No one is on top of each other; they’re alongside them.”

—Kirsten Modestow

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“Production is a huge part of design!”

—Kirsten Modestow

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“Side projects are the internal fuel for agencies and small firms.”

—Prescott Perez-Fox

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“Good ideas come from everywhere.”

—Kirsten Modestow

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“Open plan only works if people give a crap about each other.”

—Simon Sinek on office design

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Tools

Techniques

  • Focus on your main goal — pick a “story” and do it well.
  • Build your “dream team” from unconventional people — even if they aren’t traditionally qualified
  • Create mentorship programs within your company/agency
  • As a boss, give someone “the big shirt, so they can grow into it.”
  • Use daily “pow-wows”, twice-weekly traffic meetings
  • Apply 80/20 thinking when it comes to routine work vs. exciting breaks

Habits

  • Continually evaluate your work, and whether it should be submitted to contests
  • Share work within the office; build culture of helpfulness to combat ownership/jealousy
  • Critique as a group for larger projects
  • Build office rituals, like picnics, lunches, bowling outings
  • Arrive at the office early, before chaos starts
  • Work toward 8 hours of sleep

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About Prescott Perez-Fox

Prescott Perez-Fox is a New York-based graphic designer and brand developer with 15+ years experience in branding, packaging, graphic design, and web design. He runs The Busy Creator.