Daake knows something about reinvention. In May, the Omaha-based branding agency acquired local creative mainstays Webster Design, nearly doubling their staff and gaining some powerful minds in the process. The agency also recently upgraded their offices, rehabbing a former cigar bar into a sleek, sunlit, open-plan environment overlooking a golf course.
Spend a few minutes reviewing the agency’s work and chatting with Principal & Creative Director Greg Daake (pronounced dĕy-kēy), who started the business with his wife out of a spare bedroom in 2001, and it becomes obvious why clients such as First National Bank, Buildertrend, Children’s Hospital, Creighton University, Valmont, and Electric Guard Dog come to Daake for help reimagining themselves.
The place is a centrifuge of ideas, inspiration, and execution. An open-plan design encourages both focused work and the chance encounters among colleagues that spark creativity. Breakout rooms give space to the noise of collaboration. 3D and wide-format printers allow for prototyping and in-house production. A vintage Space Invaders arcade game offers bitcrushed respite from the daily grind.
And while the place looks as sleek and fashionable as the work Daake produces, everything is powered by strategy, a concept spoken of with reverence around the office. Work must bloom from strategy above all else.
Strategy Informs Design
“We’re not just doing cool, trendy stuff that’s hip and now and whiz-bang,” Daake said. “We’re always trying to enter through the strategy door.”
“We’re hoping to push the boundaries as much as we can,” Senior Digital Strategist Rob Heggen added. “But we have to know where we can push.”
To get to that all-important strategy, Daake keeps asking clients the vexing-but-crucial question: why. Why do you do what you do? Why is that important? And why is that important? Eventually, the heart of the matter reveals itself.
“You can’t really solve the problem until you understand the problem,” Daake said. “Most clients are coming to us with what they believe is absolute clarity, but what we tend to find out is that they’re in the bottle and they can’t see the label.”
Daake provides the necessary outside perspective, as well as expertise in how people interact with design.
Now more than ever, companies need to know how consumers respond to apps and products. There’s simply no room for poor design. With an overwhelming array of choices on the market, people want flawless experiences wherever they go.
“You expect the same experience at a restaurant, at a dentist’s office, at your accountant’s,” Daake said. “Mentally, people won’t give you any slack if you don’t have your act together.”
Helping Brands See Themselves Better
If there’s one thing companies need to do above all else, it’s focus, Daake said. “There’s a hundred hot sauces on the shelf at Hy-Vee right now. We’re inundated with messages all day long. There’s more choice than you’ve ever wanted.”
Daake relayed the story of a current client who has 10 “really awesome” differentiators, or 10 things they do better than anyone else. Trying to convey each strength would ensure the loss of signal. So, he offered the client some powerful, if painful, advice: “Pick one differentiator. Double down on it, believe in it, and be disciplined and judicious about what you’re saying. Because no one’s paying attention.”
The agency’s emphasis on focus informed one of Daake’s most iconic projects to date: the 2014 rebranding of Nebraska Medicine.
Occasioned by the merger of three separate entities—UNMC, the Nebraska Medical Center, and the Bellevue Medical Center—the Nebraska Medicine rebrand required a unified message. Daake devised a simple but elegant shield design featuring a subtle “N” made out of parallelograms to broadcast the organization’s unity.
More important than the updated design, however, was the chance for the brand to announce its new, focused identity to the world.
“Nebraska Medicine got everyone’s attention,” Daake said. “They put a punctuation mark on the past. The logo could have been anything. What mattered was the moment when leadership got to say, ‘This is the new us.’ There’s just no better way to signal substantive change.”
Daake’s mission to facilitate reinvention aligns with the agency’s five-year plan to become a leading advocate in design thinking, to keep showing brands how strategy and aesthetics can work together to improve a brand’s cachet, to start at the ordinary and end up with something extraordinary.
“And no one’s skilled at that,” Daake said. “That’s why you need a facilitator who can probe and dive and question and challenge.”