It’s the kind of success story you like to hear: Three cool, talented people—none of them rock stars—meet working at an agency and decide to start their own shop. They like telling stories, so they make up fictional founders with grandiose names: Walter P. Thornberg and Donalth Forester. “Their spirits are still present in our office today,” the Thornberg & Forester website reads. “Brass fixtures. Bourbon on the rocks. Ties, wide and narrow. And, of course, a company-wide appreciation for yachting and lacquered, wooden golf clubs.”
The design studio’s real founders, Elizabeth Kiehner, Scott Matz and Justin Meredith, are anything but Bourbon on the rocks and lacquered, wooden golf clubs. They’re three t-shirt clad designers with a love of doing pro-bono work for eco-sustainable organizations; so far, the Thornberg & Forester brand has treated them well.
“When you meet us you’re in on the joke,” Matz explains. “But then with an outsider it works both ways – it sounds like we’re an established empire.”
The name gave the small shop’s biz dev a big boost. “Sometimes I’m able to get through a gatekeeper or somebody’s assistant,” Kiehner explained. “If I call and they say, ‘Alright, Thornberg and Forester sounds serious. I’m going to put this call through rather than giving them a big hassle about like ‘What is this about?’”
They’ve also received tons of resumes from Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch employees looking for a financial advisor job. Fittingly, they now do a lot of work for financial companies like E-Trade or Fidelity, whom they helped develop the omnipresent “Green Line.”
“We do have quite a few financial jobs, and I’ve always wondered if it has anything to do with our name,” Meredith admitted.
Maybe it’s just a cosmic connection. Kiehner sees a more practical answer: “I think we’re also good at taking really complicated information, and information that could be considered dry or boring or otherwise obtuse, and making it very consumer friendly and interesting.”
The trio feels like Thornberg and Forester have helped them develop their personality as storytellers. the two founders even have their own Twitter handles.
Five years in, they’ve outgrown their sunny Union Square loft space and are starting to expand their repertoire beyond their bread and butter, commercials. “Lately we’ve been doing more environmental type work – experiential work – that involves fabrication and some really interesting interactive stuff,” Matz explained. “Although iPad app development is not our big forte quite yet, we have been doing some highly successful campaigns in those realms, and the opportunities we’re facing are very exciting.”
And they’re headed in an ambitious direction. They want to be “doing things that don’t have a name yet,” Matz added. “So it’s like interactive things that might be happening on the sidewalk when you walk by…a dog that sort of follows you and interacts with you in real time. Like we don’t do that yet, but we’re hoping to.”
But when it comes design shops, seeing is believing, so let’s let their work have the last word. First, a film about their founding, and second, their 2011 highlight reel.
Thornberg & Forester Brand Video from Thornberg & Forester on Vimeo.
T&F Montage 2011 from Thornberg & Forester on Vimeo.