When you expand the acronym OMFGCO, you get the Official Manufacturing Company. The generic name is intentional, as OMFGCO sees itself as more than just a design studio. Throughout its lifetime, it has crafted brands, interiors and experiences for companies like Stumptown Coffee Roasters and MUJI, cannabis dispensaries like Serra and Electric Lettuce, as well as restaurants and hotels all over the country. Opportunities are left infinitely open-ended. “It doesn’t hurt that OMFGCO also makes for a shorter URL,” says Fritz Mesenbrink, cofounder and creative director, with a chuckle.
Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2009, when independent studios and makerspaces were sprouting left and right, OMFGCO also gives a nod to the city’s maker movement in its name. The studio describes Portland’s design scene as friendly, encouraging community over cutthroat competition. “It’s a town full of dreamers and weirdos, and we have a company full of dreamers and weirdos—that is synergistic to us,” says Evan Wilson, partner and chief financial officer. “We’re all trying to bring the city up as a whole,” Mesenbrink adds.
Just as the city has gone through life cycles, so has the studio. After eleven years together, OMFGCO’s other cofounder, Jeremy Pelley, left in June 2020 to pursue new opportunities and explore his own path. His departure was a big transition for the whole team, but his impact lives on.
“When you first start a company, the story is usually about the founders. Jeremy was a big part of who we are, who we were and who we will be,” Wilson says. “Now, we like to talk about what the teams have done, since they are the ones doing most of the work.”
When Pelley and Mesenbrink first met at Wieden+Kennedy, they shared the same values of open-mindedness and transparency, and a commitment to finding the best idea for a client. These core pillars have served as the foundation for OMFGCO’s unique culture. Over the last eleven years, this philosophy attracted a force even greater than the duo: a talented team. OMFGCO is a place where everyone’s ideas are valued, and where mantras are not just preached, but practiced.
“We never set out for world domination and ultimate profitability,” Wilson says. “This gives us the latitude and the time to find people who are a good cultural fit for us. The day-to-day relationships are important.”
PARTNERING WITH VISIONARIES
Building relationships and aligning values are part of OMFGCO’s team dynamic, and are just as important between the studio and clients. While the studio considers itself industry-agnostic, it does strive to partner with “visionaries,” a search that often means it works with passionate startups just at the beginning of their journey, determined to pave new ground. “We take into account whether clients are willing to do things differently,” Mesenbrink says. “Clients who are open to new ideas challenge us to be visionary thinkers as well.”
Its business model is as innovative as its clients are—OMFGCO believes in a value-based pricing model, where its business relationships are as custom as the design work. “We can find creative solutions, such as not charging as much up front, or charting a path for a longer-term relationship,” Wilson says.
This is exactly what it did with Neutral, the carbon-neutral food company founded by Matt Plitch that seeks to radically disrupt how food gets produced. In 2019, Neutral became the first company that OMFGCO ever incubated. “We weren’t a huge company coming to the table, but OMFGCO still welcomed us with open arms,” Plitch says. “Even if our wallets weren’t the biggest, our dreams certainly were.” For six months, Plitch worked in the studio’s basement, only steps away from the design team—an intimate level of collaboration the studio had never experienced before. “They fully embraced being part of the Neutral team, as if it was their own baby they were working on too,” Plitch says.
Neutral’s first product was milk. Since carbon-neutral food was a new category, Plitch says there was an opportunity and a responsibility at launch to share this story in an approachable, compelling way. The visual language—from the perfect shade of yolky yellow to a tailored logotype—would be the start of a new movement. The goal was for Neutral to be disruptive visually and conceptually.
The milk carton became a canvas, with each side sharing educational material for families and children to engage with at the breakfast table. At the same time, both OMFGCO and Plitch wanted to communicate this information with a sense of humor and playfulness, and the studio infused small moments of joy into the carton design with copy and illustrations. “We shared a belief that the smallest and humblest of things can culminate into something beautiful, powerful and thoughtful,” says Plitch.
Another visionary was Serra, a recreational cannabis dispensary that today has locations in Portland and Los Angeles. Founded in 2015, shortly after the legalization of recreational cannabis in Oregon, Serra sought to create a luxury cannabis experience, and is still recognized as a pioneering thinker today.
“When we were entering the recreational marketplace, other brands in the space were leaning into the medicinal or craft cannabis approach,” says cofounder Cambria Benson-Noecker. “We were looking beyond that lens and trying to position our brand for the consumer goods market we knew it was to become, while still honoring its medicinal and craft roots.” Benson-Noecker wanted Serra to offer an experience that catered to first-timers, experts and everyone in between. To do the job, she reached out to OMFGCO, citing the studio’s reputation in Portland.
Among the many design challenges, improving the overwhelming process of purchasing cannabis was at the top of the list. Instead of getting technical with the names of strains and compounds, OMFGCO concepted a new, smarter system centered on how the consumer wants to feel. With this simple yet powerful idea in mind, it designed an experience focused on fun, empowerment and education.
Walk into Serra, and at the heart of the store is the flower counter, where docents—Serra’s cheeky name for its budtenders—provide guidance to customers. There are six “feelings” icons—happiness, relaxation, energy, creativity, focus and relief—to assist the customer’s experience. The icon system ripples out into the retail environment, showing up on product cards, signage and more. OMFGCO even got docents to move out from behind the counter and into the store with guests.
“OMFGCO creates gorgeous brands—ones with depth, integrity and so many layers to discover,” Benson-Noecker says. “It was amazing to work with a team that took so much time to get to know us and the DNA of the brand. Even six years down the road, Serra still gets recognized as a forward-thinking brand. OMFGCO really created a brand that lasts.”
PAINTING A BIGGER PICTURE
There’s no doubt that OMFGCO loves a good challenge. Its interest in visual design and interior design is a core part of its identity, and is taken to the next level with hotels. Multilayered, with multiple checkpoints, hotel projects have some of the longest timelines, but are also among the most rewarding.
A team favorite is The Laylow, located near Waikiki beach in Hawai‘i. The project was one of the largest they have ever taken on. The full interior design was completed in-house by OMFGCO, which tackled fourteen room types and all of the public spaces, from the lobby to the restaurant, bar, retail store and pool deck. OMFGCO’s attention to detail ran through every part of the space, including the check-in desk, where they placed 70 vintage hula fiures they had sourced to welcome guests.
“We love interior design because there are so many opportunities for the customer to interact with the brand, from the greeting outside, the uniforms, the signage, the check-in experience, the materiality and the scent,” Mesenbrink says. “It doesn’t have to be about logo repetition, but can be about a feeling and exploring a brand on many levels—which is what got us into design to begin with.”
Whereas visual design and interiors might be handled separately in other agencies, at OMFGCO, the magic happens in the same room. In 2019, Melinda Turner, the director of architecture and interiors, was brought onto the team to expand this area of work. “It’s doing the whole picture,” says Turner. “By integrating brand and the space, we are transforming stories to experiences on a physical level. Instead of just seeing it with your eyes, we are playing on all five senses.”
MAKING IT MATTER
When looking at the brands and buildings that have been transformed with OMFGCO’s magic touch, you can’t trust your eyes to decipher what an OMFGCO style is—and that’s intentional. “Our goal is to help highlight our clients’ style and vision, making it about them and not us,” Mesenbrink says.
Perhaps this is why so many of OMFGCO’s clients and team members say that the key OMFGCO indicator is thoughtfulness. The level of care that the studio puts into letting the brand and vision shine makes for genuine and memorable outcomes. “It’s easy to make it pretty,” Wilson says, “but hard to make it matter.” Mesenbrink adds, “At this point, making it look cool is easier than ever before, but it’s depth and meaning that end up lasting and making you feel something.” As the studio moves forward with a change in leadership, through a year that will go down in history, its spirit and raison d’être remain unbreakable forces. “We exist to find a better way,” says Wilson. Even if the road ahead is not so clear yet, there is excitement in embracing the changes. To the studio, everything is an opportunity.
“OMFGCO is not a static organization. Who knows how we’ll change, but we do believe in listening to what the universe is telling us,” Wilson says. “We know enough about ourselves to know which new opportunities to go towards.” ca