The Name Game

Things change. Organizations evolve. Sometimes, a firm requires repositioning to meet new demands or to refresh a brand. Or it may face transitional concerns as its founders reach retirement age.

Design firms are particularly vulnerable to the latter challenge. Often, a company’s reputation is inexorably linked to that of its originator. Remove the literal name brand and everything can tumble like a house of cards. New companies may spin off from the ensuing debris yet still, they must build again from the ground up.

Such was the situation with Toronto’s Raymond Chiappetta Associates. Founded in 1987 by Joanne Raymond and Mario Chiappetta, RCA existed for many years as a well-respected company with a specialty niche in commercial interiors. Its principals, having  recently transferred company ownership to two former partners, designer Isabelle Talbot and project manager Joe Trozzo, now work part-time as conversion to the new business entity takes effect. Pursuant to mutual agreement, the company’s name needed to be changed.

Talbot and Trozzo had already decided to start over in a new space, shifting from RCA’s old Queen Street West offices to the main floor of a renovated factory in the upwardly trending Junction Triangle neighbourhood. The question next became how to maintain the industry goodwill and reputation of their former firm while establishing their own unique identity, as well as charting a path towards the future.

“We had a debate,” Talbot recalls of the rebranding initiative that began earlier this year. “We said, ‘We’re in the design business – should we be doing this ourselves?’ We finally decided to leave it to the professionals. We are always telling our clients to hire experts. So we did.”

A friend recommended Toronto brand-strategy group Parcel Design, led by partners Erin Brand, Julie Mitchell and Gary Beelik. Because of the tight turn-around connected to the new firm’s physical move, the entire strategic procedure of conducting research, formulating strategy and creating an identity would have to be done in just two months, half its normal time.

Parcel kicked things off with some conversational research, one-on-one interviews with past and present RCA clients and other stakeholders. Their collective comments were then boiled down and plotted out on a tree-shaped chart called the Brand Map, which allows at-a-glance evaluation of how the brand is perceived. At this point, Talbot and Trozzo entered the core decision-making process. “Some of the info we knew,” says Trozzo, “and some was hard to hear. We started brainstorming. What were our strengths and weaknesses? Our goals and values? What did we want the company to be?”

One of the take-aways uncovered in this joint exercise was that the existing brand didn’t accurately portray the type of relationship that Trozzo and Talbot’s clients had come to expect. “It was almost like the existing brand was doing them a disservice,” Erin Brand remembers in a recent phone interview. “It felt traditional, a bit dated, not very design driven, whereas the actual experience with Joe and Isabelle was quite different.”

Research showed that the design duo excelled in building personal connections with their clients, in carefully listening and responding to needs, in coming up with relevant design solutions that were as practical as they were attractive. Brand tags their approach   Pragmatic by Design. Given this feedback, Parcel proposed a handful of potential names that would speak to the firm’s “value proposition,” marketing-speak for its uniqueness. Of the handful of choices, one instantly stood out – Ray.

The new name gives a nod to the past yet implies a more accessible, contemporary persona. According to Talbot, people would frequently call Raymond Chiappetta and ask to “speak to Ray.” Her partner Joe also uses a friendly, shortened form of his more formal birth name, and all their own work is conducted on a first-name basis. As an added  bonus, “Ray” possesses welcome connotations of illumination and energy. Even the materials sent out to announce the name change, headlined “Ray Creates Anything,” dovetailed neatly into the firm’s SEO-rich domain name.

It’s fascinating how those three little letters have already done so much for the firm. The new word-mark logo, set in traditional serif type with a distinctive modern fade, is stencilled in bold black and white – Ray Works Here – over their reception desk. The new office itself balances white walls with black furnishings. And, like the typeface, the space showcases Ray’s open, approachable design semiotics. Trozzo and Talbot, along with their 14-member staff, have fully embraced the We Are Ray brand experience, best described as a yin-yang of right-brain creativity matched with left-brain project management skills.

Feedback from clients and the design community after the June, 2015 launch of both the new office and the new name has been highly positive. “Ray is still a boutique firm,” says Talbot, “but the rebranding pushes it up in category and in profile.”

Parcel’s Erin Brand remarks that, thanks to the support and collaboration of Ray’s partners:  “Our whole team thoroughly enjoyed the process. We’re so proud of the outcome. They trusted us to do our best work, and allowed us to do our best work. The results speak for themselves.”

And when they do speak, we bet they do it on a first-name basis.