In addition to the countless risks inherent to start-ups, the pair faced two thorny challenges: they were creating competition for their former employer and they needed to transfer their 25 years of combined experience to a totally new company — a scenario that was especially chancy in a mid-sized Midwestern market.
“We really wanted to set ourselves apart from the other commercial interior designers because we truly feel that our approach and work are different than what anyone else is doing,” shares Mary. “More than anything, we wanted a consistent look and feel for everything that represented our business.”
Identity design is different from interior design, they quickly discovered. Trying to conceive a company name and logo that conveyed what this new company would be proved to be an overwhelming challenge. “We needed a name that truly captured our essence, otherwise people would end up referring to us as Kim and Mary’s Design Studio,” Kim explained. “Our husbands tried to come up with suggestions, yet still, nothing seemed to fit who we were.” At that point they knew it was time to follow their own advice and to call in the experts in the form of the Hiawatha, Iowa-based design collaborative FUEL.
During their initial meeting with FUEL, it was clear that the two businesses shared similar philosophies about design and collaboration. In fact, the process FUEL used to create the interior design firm’s identity mirrors the process kôr uses today, with a considerable amount of time spent understanding the client’s goals, personality, style, and vision. “If you ask the right questions and take the time to really listen and assimilate all you can about the client, it’s easier to hit the mark the first time,” says FUEL’s lead designer Bill Bollman.
And hit the mark they did. After an initial meeting with Kim and Mary, the FUEL design team had a brainstorming session to discuss their ideas. The group had a small but targeted list of potential names. “kôr came quickly as one of the names that we felt embodied what Kim and Mary were striving to do,” expounds Bill. “We worked from the word décor, breaking it down to its simplest form. Then we manipulated the phonetic elements until we came up with kôr.” Once they saw the word with the diacritical circumflex over the letter o, they knew that they had unraveled the mystery of both name and icon. The arrow-like circumflex and phonetic spelling capture kôr’s essence completely, signifying a fundamental and elemental approach to design that radiates from within.
From there, FUEL went on to create kôr’s tag line: design from the inside out. “The concept was there,” Bill explains, “we just needed to figure out how to reinforce the concept within the name.” FUEL was so confident that kôr was the solution for Kim and Mary’s identity that they went on to select a color palette and create business papers to reinforce kôr’s message. When they unveiled their concept, along with several other possibilities to Kim and Mary, kôr was the obvious favorite.
From business papers and ‘faks’ covers to the curved burnt-sienna sign outside their studio, kôr successfully implemented their identity across virtually every aspect of their business. For Kim that means “I don’t have to recreate the wheel every time I want to put together a proposal. We’ve already made our decisions about typeface, about stationery and presentation folders. That leaves me free to focus on what I’m good at — the design.” Mary agrees that their identity has made her role of building relationships and negotiating sales easier as well. “With our unique name and our prominent sign, most people have either seen or heard our name and are eager to learn more about what we do, giving me the perfect segue into that 30-second elevator speech.”
— Bill Bollman
Almost two years later, kôr has established itself as a leader in commercial interior design and credits much of that success to their investment in a solid identity. “Working with FUEL was the best business decision we made when we were starting kôr,” Mary states. “The investment was worth every cent.” The credibility produced by a strong identity allowed Mary and Kim to bridge their past experience into their new role and truly hit the ground running once they opened their doors. In fact, kôr has done such an effective job managing its identity that at a recent trade show an exhibitor told Mary that kôr looked like a company that had been around for 20 years or more. That type of credibility is invaluable for any emerging business — and for Mary, it was just another example of the power of a good identity.
Specializing in space planning and furniture programming while remaining true to its philosophy of design from the inside out, kôr has since shown many companies that the benefits of commercial design extend far beyond a snazzy lobby. According to Kim, “We’ve been able to boost morale, increase worker productivity through better space planning, and ultimately save companies money that would have been lost on spaces that weren’t right for the business activities going on inside their walls.”
Bill Bollman is FUEL’s Creative Director. Before co-founding FUEL in 2001, he worked for Horizon Communications, JW Morton and Basler Design Group. Bill studied Illustration at Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo, Iowa. An expert in the “old ways” of hands-on print production, these skills influence his work in the digital world to this day. His work throughout his career has been featured in international publications including Graphis, How International Design, Communication Arts, and The One Book as well as numerous design annuals and reference books.