The founder of Estudio Ray, Joe Ray, is an artist as well as a designer. This year, his paintings were shown at galleries in Los Angeles and Madison, WI. In the design studio, Joe plays the creative director and president roles while his wife, Christine (also an accomplished artist), plays visual strategist and client services roles. The two met as students at Arizona State University, a mere five minutes from the current office in Phoenix near the city zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens.
The boutique Estudio Ray agency won the honor of this cover story treatment by participating in the 2009 Makeover Challenge. Readers of Package Design Magazine voted the team's redesign of the Casa Visco pasta sauce brand as the best reimagining of the brand that would help expand its retail reach.
Joe started the firm as a part-time, nighttime freelance design studio some 24 years ago. As business picked up, Christine kept the business side running like clockwork as the design work expanded into marketing and package design. Today, the dedicated and passionate staff work closely as a team through nearly every project. Joe reminds his team members frequently to think visually—even the writers.
The firm's strengths are in food and beverage, but they have also developed a deep portfolio of pharmaceutical package design successes. The other to members of the Makeover Challenge winning "team" are Michelle Foldes, graphic designer and web designer, Randy Geske, 3D illustrator, and Eric Kingsbury, director of business development.
Get it on the wall
In 1985, Ray named his company Estudio Ray because he was anticipating the coming multiculturalism in design and media. His painting and sculpting background has instilled in him an appreciation for the creative process, and he looks for inspiration in his clients, in museums, in stores, and in creative collaborators. Young and hungry designers offer a particular passion and energy. "There's a certain aspect of the rawness that I like to pull from," Joe says.
In branding identity development, the visual is where things come to life for Estudio Ray. The brand or package creates a moment when the visual presentation both defines the brand message and entices with sensory appeal. "We want to grab the eye," Joe says with conviction.
Joe and Christine like to have clients feel that they are a part of the process in a constructive, collaborative atmosphere. Their most fruitful design methodology is to ask a lot of questions to get the client to express their idealistic goals and realistic expectations. For Arizona's Wildflower Bakery, for example, the team environment even included the architect who was designing the boutique store layout. After reviewing competitive environments, Estudio Ray was able to capture the aesthetic of a cozy neighborhood bakery in a city like Chicago and contemporize it.
The airy, sun-filled space of the Estudio Ray office promotes visual exploration of artistic and design concepts. The team holds frequent brainstorming sessions to hash out new ideas visually on large white pads. "Everything goes on the wall," says Joe. He explains further that concepts will stays on the wall so that the staff lives with project and so the ideas can "simmer" in the minds of the designers.
This type of design exploration led to the colorful "ethno-funk" look of the Coffee Plantation packaging, also for an Arizona-based company. "They wanted coffee bags to be like wine bottles, appropriate for host gifts at house parties," explains Joe.
Humanizing the approach
Estudio Ray started its expansion into the pharmaceutical category about 15 years ago with marketing, sales aids, package design, and sales force educational materials. At the time, pharma package design was very clinical, and the firm set out to change the paradigm. Recently, they created a parallel website (www.pharmabrand.estudioray.com) to showcase their pharma success stories.
"What we wanted to do is something that wasn't about medicine, but about health…optimal health," Joe says. He felt strongly that package design could fulfill all the packaging regulatory requirements of pharma companies while still being designed with the patient in mind.
Estudio Ray welcomed the challenge of the category even though they never set out to be pharma specialists. "There are so many 'cans' and 'can'ts' in pharma that we got proficient at it," Christine recalls. "Sometimes, we know more about regulations than the client…then they see the value of working with us."
For instance, readability on pharmaceutical packages is always a delicate balance. Requirements necessitate a great deal of text on a package where space is at a premium, so the print quality is a factor in readability. "We actually work a lot with printers early in the process," says Christine. "We don't want to design something that they can't print."
That also goes for color, as Estudio Ray is always trying to bring more vibrant colors into their designs. For the Epiquin Micro Rx product by SkinMedica, Estudio Ray again explored many colorful solutions, then brought the palette back to within a pharma sensibility. "They had to simplify it to fit in with their aesthetics line," explains Christine. Sometimes, breaking the design habits of pharma brand owners takes some convincing, as with the NeoBenz Micro product. Estudio Ray named the product and developed the color-coding system to indicate the strength of the product varieties. "It's direct, but indirect also," says Joe. "You have to remember that it's about the patient."
Estudio Ray's Cultural Marketing Strategy
The Creative Brand Chemistry™ Process is Estudio Ray's proprietary and proven process for creating brand alchemy. Why alchemy? Because the process isn't purely scientific. There's some magic involved—intelligence mixed with insight.
Our cultural marketing strategy starts with a meeting to review goals. Then we take a deep dive into relevant marketplace trends, what your competition is doing, and where we need to go from here to get you there. That's the point where we roll up our sleeves and start making magic.
-- From www.estudioray.com