Employee Spotlight
(5 Minute Read)

A conversation with Janine Risk, Head of Design

We recently sat down with Janine Risk, our new Head of Design to talk about her experience and journey to join the team, as well the process of creating a cohesive brand and why it is important in the marketplace. We learned a lot from her and we hope you do too!


Hi Janine! We are so excited to have you on the Ledgestone team! Let’s start where we always do… the beginning! Tell us a little bit about your journey to Ledgestone.

Janine: It starts in 1984. I'm a traditionally trained graphic designer. I started doing everything by hand before computers really took off. Living in Detroit, most of the economy was driven by the big three automotive companies, but I was lucky enough to get into an architectural firm and really honed my design skills with architectural designers, who are different from architects. They're actually designing what the building looks like. I learned a lot working with awesome people there and then boom, the economy tanked?

You're still in Detroit at this point? 

J: Yep, most of my life I spent in Detroit, I raised my children there. I ended up  joining the evil empire of the ad agency world for about 15 years. We did campaigns, logos, broadcast, on location photo shoots, you name it. 

Did you enjoy that atmosphere? I know you briefly described it as the evil empire. But what was that experience like for you overall?

J: Well, here's the thing, this gets kind of personal. I moved up fairly quickly, in a good old boy club. The time frame that I entered the ad agency was toward the tail end of when the atmosphere from Mad Men was still happening. We are talking about people still smoking in the office, doing liquid lunches. It was doing favors to get ahead. I recognized that early that  I loved what I did. And I wanted to be challenged. And I wanted that to be known. So that was an incremental climb from junior art director to art director to creative director to executive creative director in the automotive space. And that was a challenging hill to climb. 

It speaks a lot that in that environment, you were able to climb like though. It’s hard enough when you aren’t at a disadvantage.

J: Yes it was tough. I was treated poorly, many, many, many, many times. Because I was the only woman in the room and they could. It's a shame. But you know, things are changing. After my time at the ad agency, I went to BBDO after they recruited me there. And I was the executive boot Creative Director for the merger of Mercedes and Chrysler.

But when the financial crisis hit, I decided to take all my contacts. And around six, seven years before I left the ad agency, I was really delving into the digital space. Because design, visual design was so lacking. On the internal part of the car, the clusters, the heads up display, the center stack, all of that was just, you know, I did the traditional thing, the campaigns, the you know, the location shoots, the branding, the messaging globe, I did all that. But the entire digital experience, I thought, was the future. And I also thought that it was a space that needed an advocate for visual design, because engineers often don't give a crap. If that button works, its fine no matter how visually unappealing it may be. So for the past 15 years I have done digital product design before recently joining the Ledgestone team!

So what attracted you to a role here?

J: I had a lot of offers but I picked Ledgestone because culture matters to me. I have to work with people that have the same vision, the same tenacity, and are kind. They have to be kind. I've been around a lot of unkind people, and I don't tolerate it.

Yes, anyone that has worked in an unkind environment knows that it takes so much away from you. It steals your motivation.

J: Of course, how can you be creative and motivated? You can't be much of anything.

Well, we're glad to have you here. What was your first impression of the team and organization?

J: That's really a good question. That's a great question. My first interaction was with Max (Our CTO. Max was straightforward. Max is kind Max is helpful, and wants to figure things out, and is empathetic. Then I met Austin (our CEO) and every growing company needs an Austin. A big dreamer who is aspirational and when people say something is impossible, they tell you why we are going to do it. Overall from meeting everyone so far just seems like great people to work with and we will have challenges to overcome but I really hope we're just authentic with each other because it builds so much trust. 

Speaking of dreaming big, how does that interact with your position as the Head of Design?

J: Dreaming big and pushing to achieve the impossible is how you innovate. But at the same time, there's a process for design. For me from a branding and creative standpoint, there is a specific process, and that process has to be implemented 100% or the result will be flawed. And you only have one shot with the user. 

What does that process look like?

J: The first thing that you always have to do is really find your purpose. And you really need to know why you're in business so you can talk about it and rally your team around it, and foster that connection with your audience. Finding purpose is the why.  

Second is your brand values. You have to determine your core as a culture. You know, what do we stand for? Do we stand for giving back, serving others, etc.

And then you have to identify your target audience. Spend time getting to know them, learning details about their lives, anything you can figure out demographics, the problems they face, emotional inclinations, behavioral patterns, data, aspiration, hopes, objectives, goals. You want to position your product in a way that they actually want and need. 

Finally the last part is a tagline that ties everything together based on the why. So everything you post, all your messaging, and imagery has to come from that. 

Is it important from a design perspective for a brand’s visual language to tie back to their why?

J: Well, first of all, what's important about the visual design is that it's consistent. I'm going to use Apple only because it's the most recognizable way for me to explain the brand. Apple, they make beautifully designed products that are easy to use. That is their why. And that branding is consistent across every touchpoint from the website, to stores, to the box they ship things out in. 

Why do you think users averse to inconsistent experiences?

Visually they are thinking: I've seen this before. There are countless brands out there that don't have a compelling brand. The majority of companies don't have a compelling message. I'm excited to be a part of that design process for Ledgestone and then be able to start going into some of these companies and helping them reimagine their brand and culture as well. And I want them to know it's not just about being an Apple or a Tesla. You have to find your own identity as a brand and tell your own visual story. 

We are excited to reimagine culture and branding with you as we continue to dream big. Thanks for taking the time to chat!

J: Absolutely I am thrilled to be here!

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