The Indie List: Jacknife

Using a design approach to be holistic brand thinkers
The Jacknife leadership team from L-R: Kim Norwich, creative director; Mikey Richardson, co-founder, ECD; Stacey O’Connor, director of operations; Rick Amaral, director of strategy & design; Mike Kelar, co-founder, ECD

The Jacknife leadership team from L-R: Kim Norwich, creative director; Mikey Richardson, co-founder, ECD; Stacey O’Connor, director of operations; Rick Amaral, director of strategy & design; Mike Kelar, co-founder, ECD

The holy grail for many agencies is to reach the peak of the mountain, to be a party to the big conversations that help shape a brand’s business as opposed to simply executing advertising ideas.

That’s the place branding and design agency Jacknife has inhabited from the start. Since its inception in 2013, the Toronto based studio has been creating brands and connecting them with audiences (though partners Mikey Richardson and Mike Kelar have been working together for 25 years). These days, however, that rarified space at the table is starting to get crowded with integrated agencies looking to grapple into all aspects of brand design conversations, right down to the core of the business.

To show off KitKat’s new flavours, Jacknife designed some premium packaging.

To show off KitKat’s new flavours, Jacknife designed some premium packaging.

Mikey Richardson, co-founder, executive creative director credits this increased interest in all things brand to the evolution of design thinking, the line of thought that the techniques and tools of designers could be applied to business. He says that while the idea of design thinking had been around for years, it wasn’t until recently that people really understood what it meant or how to benefit from it. “Now clients are starting to see they need to start at the core and instead of looking at the big idea as a communications idea, they’re asking ‘who are we as a brand?’” he says. “This is how we’ve always worked but organizations are now starting to see it.”

For Arterra’s hard sparkling soda, Jacknife developed the Rilli Brilli name and identity, as well as a digital launch campaign and influencer strategy that drew on the floral theme to brighten challenging days.

For Arterra’s hard sparkling soda, Jacknife developed the Rilli Brilli name and identity, as well as a digital launch campaign and influencer strategy that drew on the floral theme to brighten challenging days.

Mike Kelar, co-founder, executive creative director adds that the most successful brands use design in a way that’s meaningful for the business. “Truly evolved brands don’t silo packaging, in store experience, advertising and product design. They think holistically about their brand, which is how designers approach problem solving.”

ACE Bakery wanted to revamp their HQ, so Jacknife visualized the brand's “elevate everyday bread moments” motto through a collaborative and artisanal design.

ACE Bakery wanted to revamp their HQ, so Jacknife visualized the brand’s “elevate everyday bread moments” motto through a collaborative and artisanal design.

The growing focus on the framework of a company’s core brand is largely due to social media says director of operations Stacey O’Connor, which has forced companies to engage their audience on a personal level and contemplate the question: ‘If we’re a person, who are we?’ “Social has made it a relationship. You’re not just seeing one piece of communication from a brand at retail; you’re seeing the whole ecosystem. That’s where designers are well suited.”

Jacknife created a whimsical brand and launch campaign for Arterra’s In Good Order. While the product has low calories, alcohol content and sugar – all very virtuous aspects – the branding evokes a playful spirit.

Jacknife created a whimsical brand and launch campaign for Arterra’s In Good Order. While the product has low calories, alcohol content and sugar – all very virtuous aspects – the branding evokes a playful spirit.

The advantages of this approach were apparent when Jacknife brought its arsenal of skills as a key partner in helping Canada’s largest wine producer develop its entire brand innovation pipeline.

To compete with the likes of SpaceX, Jacknife gave MDA, Canada’s largest space tech company, a complete brand overhaul, right down to a line of retro-inspired space merch.

To compete with the likes of SpaceX, Jacknife gave MDA, Canada’s largest space tech company, a complete brand overhaul, right down to a line of retro-inspired space merch.

For instance, when the agency worked with Arterra to identify a gap in the RTD market, their category and consumer research revealed an opportunity in the hard soda aisle, and pointed to flavour trends such as rose-pink lemonade. This provided creative fodder for developing and launching brands to fill that gap, such as Rilli Brilli (a play on “really brilliant”), a hard sparkling soda brand with a vibrant floral identity that encourages its audience to leave things a little more brilliant than they found them, and In Good Order, a fun, irreverent low-cal hard sparkling soda with fruit and botanical flavours, that appeals to health-conscious 21- to 35-year-olds.

Kelar says the outsized impact of social means more companies are looking to be lifestyle brands, and Jacknife had the opportunity to apply that lens to an unexpected recipient: Canada’s largest space technology firm, MDA. Known for delivering world-leading, iconic technologies such as the Canadarm family of space robotics and three generations of RADARSAT Earth observation satellites for the Canadian Government – Jacknife gave MDA a complete brand overhaul.

“They’re up against companies like SpaceX, so we focused on their heritage in the brand narrative and created a new visual identity, yet MDA had a unique opportunity to establish broader cultural relevance by combining youthful enthusiasm with their legacy of making space dreams come true,” says Richardson.

For Aphria, Jacknife designed and named Solei, designed to appeal to cannabis newcomers, and developed a full-court OOH, social and experiential launch campaign.

For Aphria, Jacknife designed and named Solei, designed to appeal to cannabis newcomers, and developed a full-court OOH, social and experiential launch campaign.

The rebrand included brand strategy, visual identity, product naming, launch communications, a website, corporate collateral, digital assets, and some pretty cool swag featuring retro-space iconography. “We were fortunate to work with an inspiring client that embraced the power of design and its impact on business,” adds Kelar.

In this US spot for TextNow, viewers learn they can improve their "side hustle" businesses by getting a free second number and voicemail. ACE

In this US spot for TextNow, viewers learn they can improve their “side hustle” businesses by getting a free second number and voicemail.

Jacknife is also finding an increased appetite for its designthinking chops in areas beyond the shop’s typical remit. Recently, they were approached by Waterloo-based free texting and calling app TextNow to do a more traditional US national ad campaign, which further cements their reputation for integrated solutions.

But that, says Richardson, is completely in line with how Jacknife works. “Our focus is on using creativity to solve the challenges of modern business, regardless of the medium.”

CONTACT:
Stacey O’Connor
Director, Operations
stacey@jacknifedesign.com