They've just moved. Their stuff is still in boxes. They don't have a Web site, they have a splash page, and they are just now thinking of getting stationery. Meet Wink. The story of two designers, and friends, Scott Thares and Richard Boynton. Their new space in the historic warehouse district of Minneapolis, Minnesota, poses, like all their work, a creative opportunity.
That's part of the charm of Wink. It's an organically grown business. No self-promotion. One thing leads to the next. And it's worked for this design duo whose client list includes Target, Marshall Field's, Nike, American Eagle Outfitters and Turner Classic Movies.
Both transplants, design brought Scott and Richard to Minneapolis, like many designers before them. Within blocks, their neighbors include Charles S. Anderson Design, Werner Design Werks, Aesthetic Apparatus, DeMartino Design, Duffy Design, among many others. While to some it may be perplexing why this Midwestern city became home to so many design stars, when Scott and Richard speak of the design environment, both agree it's a nurturing community with healthy competition.
Before their design careers were inextricably intertwined in Wink on January 1, 2000, Scott and Richard were friends first. In fact until just recently, the two used to live across the street from one another. Then it was a block away. Now Richard's moving ten blocks away, though still in Uptown according to Richard, or East Isles if you speak to Scott. In any case, they're going to have to drive to each other's homes now.
The tongue-in-cheek separation anxiety these two may be feeling is understandable once you meet them. The easy-going manner and quick wit these two partners share is immediate and contagious. Quips bounce off each other, and through stream of consciousness, Scott and Richard arrive in a place they hadn't planned on going. These types of interchanges are clues into how they work together, though it's not surprising they don't have a formal working methodology.
"We don't approach any project in the same way," explains Richard. "We don't bog ourselves down with a lot of 'proprietary process' speak. We just try to arm ourselves with as much information as we can, then throw it all aside and simply react creatively. It's all inspiration and informed intuition at that point."
"We've been with people and been in situations where arrogance and ego get the best of you," says Scott, "and that's something that Richard and I try not to do is let our attitude get bigger than Wink. To keep focused and stay true. The only goal we had when we started Wink was that we would work and hopefully pay ourselves. And that was it. There was no business plan...We wrote a couple of words down that reinforced what we believed in, but that was it."
No grand plan or lofty intent, but it worked. And this casual attitude echoes both their entreés into graphic design.
Scott grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota—the Black Hills—best known for Mt. Rushmore, North by Northwest and Crazy Horse. Somewhat isolated, without many kids his age around, he occupied himself with drawing. "When I was younger, I had a fascination with the rock group KISS," Scott says. "I would draw their logo, makeup and then the characters."
"When you were younger?" asks Richard, laughing, pointing out the KISS dolls that stand high and proud behind Scott's desk.
When it came time for Scott to go to college, his parents insisted that he choose a major. During senior year, his high school offered a course in design. So Scott decided, "Fine, I'll pick graphic design." And off he went, to Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Baseball was on Richard's mind. He grew up in Melbourne, Florida, about twenty miles south of Cape Canaveral. He'd taken some art classes, but really wanted to play ball in college. "My uncle was an art director, and his job always sounded more fun than my dad's," admits Richard. Graphic design was the closest thing to what his uncle was doing, so he took courses. Still thoughts of quitting, changing his major to English, crossed his mind.
One of his instructors assigned Communication Arts as a textbook. It was the proverbial fork in the road. Richard told himself, "OK if you flip through this and see something interesting, you'll stay in design. But if nothing inspires you, stop." He saw Haley Johnson's work, and it was more like art than "commercial" art.
A turning point, Richard now saw design in a new way. A summer internship with Charles S. Anderson brought this Florida native to Minneapolis. Several years later, he went on to work with Haley herself, "One of two of my career goals, the other was to get into the CA Design Annual," he says. One has to wonder what's next?
In 1996 Scott and Richard's paths crossed while working at Design Guys. The rest is Wink history. "Isn't it funny how many stories, about where people end up getting to, are not glamorous or from point A to point B, as you would think?" asks Scott. "I can't help but think that our experiences no matter how far outside the box, helped shape our lives, careers and relationships." At this point, Richard calls attention to the fact that only Scott was a sea lion trainer—a job well outside the box.
Their new space is also shaped by inspiration. An open floor plan, their library is one of the first things to greet visitors. From standard type and design titles to old cookbooks and British telephone directories, it's an eclectic collection. But as far as resource material goes, it's the tip of the iceberg. A peek into numerous flat files reveal design treasures—packaging, labels, Xerox copies, Dixie cups, an old Sears credit card, a wax-coated ice cream cup and other found objects.
"We both have a common sensibility," Scott says.
"We see a good movie," adds Richard. "Then we'll talk about it. We pick apart things we liked about the movie. The next thing you know, out of that conversation comes a solution for one of our projects... Maybe it's just in the style of humor, but the seeds often come from just that sort of interaction."
Clearly both are inspired by each other.
"We have a friendship, where over the course of eight years, we have a memory of what each one of us has done. We constantly remind each other," says Scott. "Recycling good ideas that never found a home," adds Richard. They are proving to be their own best resource.
And nowhere is that more apparent than in Wink's work. It's hard to define, and that's a good thing. Whether packaging, signage or brochures, Scott and Richard communicate smart, intelligent messages for their diverse clientele.
Considering Wink a highly valued creative partner, Gregory Clark, vice president creative and visual services at Marshall Field's, says, "Their designs uniquely combine wit and whimsy with elegance and sophistication. Wink delivers branding strategies and advertising concepts that update elements of the past with their unexpected modern twists."
The understated feel to their work is deliberate, fueled by the ideas which formed Wink from the start. Soon after Scott and Richard made the decision to start a company together, they discussed, and fantasized, about guerrilla marketing ideas—an unlisted number, unmarked door, a company where no one actually knew what they did. Sound crazy? Well, when these counter-culture promotional theories were explained to Scott's wife, Anna, she replied, "Oh I get it, wink, wink." Scott says, "That really embodied what we were focused on."
"In our minds, when we design successfully," says Richard, "that's the kind of reaction we hope for—clever, witty."
It's hard to imagine either Scott or Richard needing a creative outlet outside of Wink, yet they both have them. Richard is currently working on his second short film, which explores gestures. Speaking of the storyboards, he says, "It's the same approach, just a different medium. Telling a story."
Scott shows off a picture of his two-year-old son Louie ("my best design so far"). [At press, Louie was joined by baby sister Greta Genevieve.] "I really like fatherhood, I must admit," he says and spends as much time with his family as possible. Scott is also renovating the old house they live in. Creative in a different sense, he likes the physical work.
As for the future, despite four strong years of success, neither envision Wink huge. "I don't see us stepping back and letting everyone else run the show," says Scott. Why would they? They're having too much fun doing it themselves. ca