Say ‘hello’ to Leah Ayer, designer extraordinaire
03/08/17 Agency News # , , , , , ,

Say ‘hello’ to Leah Ayer, designer extraordinaire

A few months ago we sought to find a rockstar designer who could challenge conventions and bring a fresh eye to our clients and their work. Ms. Leah Ayer walked through our door with a portfolio that demonstrated that, and so much more. Her work demonstrated great thinking and execution in design and creative. From her innovative packaging for Converse to her brilliant rethinking of The Great Gatsby, Leah’s work pushes the boundaries on the expected.

Leah spent some time at a few agencies with great reputations after graduating from The Portfolio Center. Crispin, Porter, and Bogusky, and Imbibe, were just two of her stops before landing here at Vigor. In between agency life, she found a love and passion for flowers and floral design, something that often comes through in her work.

As a way to introduce Leah to our audience, we had a short one-on-one chat about food, drink, and design. Get to know our newest design maven in her profound answers below, and check out some of her work below that!

What would you eat for your last dinner? Why?

Pizza! More specifically Antico’s San Gennaro Pizza, because if you have to ask then you need to try it.

What’s your go to beverage/cocktail? Why?

I’ve been into trying new beers lately and I have a lot of fun checking out breweries but I can’t turn down a margarita thats been made with fresh limes. Because tequila.

What do you love to do in your freetime?

I love being outside whether it’s hiking, camping, swimming at the lake, or wading in a creek. I also spend a lot of time watching movies, Tony and I have been working on watching all the movies on the top 100 list since we met 9 years ago. I was raised on TV and VHS tapes.

If you had to open your own restaurant, what would it serve? What would you call it?

Tough question. It would probably be a dessert restaurant, and we’d serve only the best cookies, brownies, cake, pie, and ice cream including adult/alcoholic versions of all these things. I could call it ‘Zerts, the name is a WIP.

Next time you’re in the office, please give Ms. Leah a big high-five and hello! Now, here’s some of her brilliant portfolio pieces:

Publication design and branding Food photography, styling, and design advertising Converse shoe industrial design and packaging design Cardinal Flour food packaging design and branding Great Gatsby book illustration and design

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Restaurant Design & Development Magazine Article: 5 ways to bridge the branding & interior design divide
01/06/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , , , , , , ,

Restaurant Design & Development Magazine Article: 5 ways to bridge the branding & interior design divide

Originally published in Restaurant Design & Development magazine

We’re all familiar with restaurant interiors. We’re all also familiar with restaurant brands. But over the years, I’ve noticed something: More often than not, the brand identity does not align with the experience created by the interior design. Individually, both may be brilliant — each with their own moments of glory — but together, they fall short, and the gap created by various designers is visually obvious. I’m calling for a collective effort to end this disservice for the sake of our clients — and for our crafts.

When someone visits a restaurant for the first time, it’s a moment of truth. Will perceptions be solidified? From the service to the food to the ambience, there are numerous opportunities to dent — even ruin — the brand as a whole. Despite the particular event’s weight, one mustn’t forget that the impression a guest leaves with doesn’t happen haphazardly.

Trying out a new restaurant (and subsequent visits) often happens only after countless touches with the brand. The prospective guest must hear about the restaurant first. Friends might have praised their experience. The prospective guest might read a review in a magazine or online. Maybe he or she saw an advertisement. Before entering the restaurant, many people visit the website to learn more about it. They may have even followed the restaurant on social media before visiting. Only
after these impressions does a consumer move from unaware and uninterested to an engaged customer.

Advertising, word of mouth, digital outlets, reviews and more all culminate to build expectations, guide perceptions and usher a person through the front doors for the first time. Once at the threshold of the restaurant itself, the space via architecture and interior continues the storytelling. Do the architecture and interior design continue the experience seamlessly or do they convey a different story about the brand?

Often, the brand experience before a first visit is vastly different than the on-site experience. The reason for this is quite clear: There was a blatant lack of collaboration and communication between the interior designers and the branding team. Generally, no single entity is at fault for the divide. In some cases, the architecture is well underway before a branding professional is brought on board, or vice versa. No matter the scenario, it’s rare that these two crucial partners communicate and collaborate the way they should.

Most restaurant startup projects see a mix of creatives working in tandem. Each partner focuses on his or her own discipline and on the process of ushering the client through discovery, design and implementation. In this typical scenario, a restaurant opens with a beautiful space and a beautiful brand. However, these two crucial parts of the overall brand experience compete more than they complement. They are often visually disjointed. It’s not always a glaring difference, and sometimes it’s not even consciously noticeable. However, there exists a visual and emotional rift where a holistic and symbiotic relationship should exist.

There are five key steps to ensure the branding team and the interiors team work to create a seamless experience for guests.

Read the suggestions and ideas on 

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GD USA recognizes our work for Smoke & Duck Sauce
27/01/17 Agency News , In the press # , , , , , ,

GD USA recognizes our work for Smoke & Duck Sauce

When we set out to help our friends over at Smoke & Duck Sauce get into the world, we had one focus: Get people to pay attention to things they thought they knew. For us the opportunity came in Americanizing common Asian food items like the zodiac placemat and takeout menus. Our big thinking led to a redesign of the zodiac mats bringing it up to today’s world. The takeout menus serve as the perfect shape for folding 1 of 1000 origami cranes.

GD USA recently recognized this work via their website. “We’re honored to have the work recognized by such a renowned publication. As readers of GD, we have found the content shared to be of the highest quality and greatest value for the design community. Now, we have a little piece of our hearts and minds contributing to that level of design,” chirped Joseph Szala, Principal and Brand Strategist of Vigor.

From all of us at Vigor, to the GD USA team, thanks a million, friends!

View the full case study for Smoke & Duck Sauce here.

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Why Olive Garden can’t be saved by branding
03/10/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , ,

Why Olive Garden can’t be saved by branding

Originally published on Branding Magazine. Read the full article here.

A few weeks ago Olive Garden experienced the beginnings of what could quickly turn into a coup. Starboard Value Partners, a firm that owns an 8.8% stake in Olive Garden’s parent company, released a 294-panel slide show on the poor performance of Darden’s Olive Garden brand. It was brutal, but undoubtedly honest. In this report the investor group viciously tore apart many of the problems that have been allegedly causing the decline of the restaurant, citing both product and branding as issues. Yet they failed to note the intrinsic relationship between the two: branding in the basic sense won’t fix a subpar product offering. Unless strategists are allowed to be actively involved with defining and changing the brand’s offering, a company is just prolonging and inevitable decline.

It’s easy to see why Starboard Value Partners is up in arms as the report points out critical issues like “salads are overfilled and regularly dressed with more than the recommended amount of dressing” and “breadsticks get cold as they sit stale on the table.” It seems to reach a pinnacle when they point out that salting pasta water, an Italian cooking basic, isn’t even a standard practice at Olive Garden. Starboard’s presentation goes further into the dynamics of the restaurant, including it’s marketing and branding practices, tearing it part limb from limb.

It’s well known that Olive Garden has been sinking over the last few years, and that brand changes were made earlier this year to stave off decline further. For a lot of failing restaurants, brand is the usually the first thing analyzed and changed. Maybe it’s because it’s relatively easier and quicker than a complete overhaul, or simply because the burden of sales is commonly thrown on the back of the marketing department. There is an underlying problem to this train of thought: Branding can’t save a business without the truth to back it up.

As we delve into the process of extrapolating key ideals, consumer focuses, need states and the multitude of other elements that go into the proper development of a brand, there is one core piece of the puzzle cast aside – the product. When it’s all stripped down to the nitty gritty, the product is what matters most. The product, and the purpose behind it, of any company is the epicenter of its existence, and too often the brand development team is left out of any key decisions regarding it.

During the discovery and distillation of the brand development process a litany of information is gathered and analyzed. The information isn’t just focused on advertising, marketing and design. It delves deep into every part of a company. With all of the information garnered and distilled in brand strategy exercises and research, the value of a restaurant’s product and potential of what it could be become quite clear. Ignoring those insights is negligent, but something operations teams often seem to do. The results can be seen in Olive Garden’s current situation. They made a half-baked attempt at altering the food, yet ran directly into overhauling the look of the brand’s identity.

Starboard’s report isn’t an amalgamation of information created out of thin air. It’s all based on market research, consumer polling, and other resources to get an in-depth understanding of the situation. Those tactics are exactly what a true brand strategist would orchestrate as they go through the brand development process. If those in charge of operations worked in tandem with teams tasked with developing a brand, the company could alter the core offering so the brand development team can convey something of substance.

My suggestion to the world of restaurant operations professionals out there is this: Work with the branding team to share the information divulged in their process, then make positive changes based on that information. Hold off on any design, marketing or “branding” work until changes are appropriately implemented. Only in that scenario can a company, restaurant or any other kind, honestly be ready for a brand facelift.

The good news for the Olive Garden is they do have some elements of their product that define the brand. Despite being blasted for their breadsticks and salads, those two items are iconic for the restaurant chain. They obviously need a bit of work on some of their menu items, but let’s give them a little bit of leeway. 2014 has been a year of positive changes for the restaurant brand from kitchen to redesign. Maybe Starboard can ease up a little bit and let things take effect. I know it’s easier said than done when staring at an ever-decreasing stock value, but rebuilding a brand to be a meaningful part of culture again takes time.

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