San Diego Business Journal

Growing up, Tyler Blik was a left-brain kind of guy. He excelled in math and science, entering Arizona State University with plans to become an architect.

However, art classes required by the program gave him a new perspective.

"The other side of my brain went on," Blik recalled, smiling at the recollection.

Now, after freelancing in illustration and design and 16 years of running his own business, Tyler Blik Design, Blik has made his work all about the way everybody else sees things.

Currently with eight employees, gross sales in 2000 just under $1.2 million, and national attention, Tyler Blik Design arguably has become one of the city's top design studios.

Clients include Advanced Tissue Sciences, Qualcomm Inc., AMN Healthcare Inc., the Bishop's School, San Diego State University and Joico Hair Care Products of Los Angeles.

The studio has also done work for Los Angeles-based Guess Inc.'s home collection, Pennsylvania-based Airwalk Footwear, and Sempra Energy.

A Formidable Firm

Gary Meads, managing director of Mission Valley advertising firm Phillips-Ramsey, has known Blik since his freelance days.

"It's been nice to see that his company has grown to where it's one of the formidable firms in San Diego," Meads said.

With the design industry, the firms often deal with similar subject matter, such as brand identity and packaging, Meads noted. Nuances become important, he said.

According to Meads, Tyler Blik Design's touch is distinctive and avoids a common trap for designers: predictable work.

"I think their stuff is a little bit surprising it can be extremely contemporary but it has a kind of deep sophistication to it," Meads said. "Some of the things I've seen almost have a philosophical feel to it."

Seated at the studio's conference room recently, rain pounding the Downtown building's roof, Blik recalled launching his business in 1984.

An Evolution

At first, most of his work came through the area's advertising agencies, Blik said. Projects and word-of-mouth led to other projects.

"In the beginning, I did virtually no marketing, but the phone was ringing," he said. "People heard about us, and we got a reputation."

Sixteen years later, a lot has changed, including the industry itself, Blik said.

With the advent of technology, would-be designers came out of everywhere, he said.

It reflects an ongoing dilemma for established designers , that a degree or certificate isn't required to practice design or advertising , and leads to what Blik called "a huge disparity" of quality, value and prices.

A similar issue comes up with Web design, according to MaeLin Levine, who runs her own design studio, Visual Asylum, and is president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

"We need to be poised to make some changes in the way we do business and the services we offer," Levine said, "and I think Tyler is already doing that."

The main solution comes from each studio doing their work well and finding clients who can see the difference, said Ken Soto, creative director at Tyler Blik.

Big Picture Perspective

More than ever, design firms are working on the bigger picture and specializing in brand creation and development, Soto explained.

"You can't just create a brochure and throw it out there into your market anymore without considering so many more things these days," he said.

Brand development had once been the territory of the largest marketing clients, but companies of other sizes now find it increasingly viable on a smaller scope, he said.

Hand in hand with the brand approach is the question of how long one client stays with a design firm.

Tyler Blik Design doesn't even have any one-time projects right now, Blik said.

"I think it does harm to somebody to shop out a brochure to one client and six months later, another brochure to another design shop," he said. "You can try as hard as you want, but you're not going to be able to get that continuity and that similar thinking unless you go with one shop."

He's straightforward with people about it.

"I tell a potential client, 'I don't care if you choose my competitor, make a decision and stick with that person because you want to create a consistency and a continuity with your look or image regardless of what that might be.'"

Blik and Soto say it can cost less to stick to one firm, reducing the billable time that a designer might spend researching the client's market or needs.

That time is part of the process for any client, Soto said. At Tyler Blik, accounts are started with market research and also with what Blik calls the "design brief" process, in which the firm interviews the client with self-perception and market questions.

From there, the firm follows a timeline it creates for clients during the pitching process. It includes early reviews of ideas, which often cuts out a lot of guesswork, Blik said.

Of the design work itself, Blik said, the firm spends a lot of time in the details of a project, whether a brochure or a direct mail campaign.

"It's really that first impression, that first 10 seconds, that first time they pick it up and begin to wonder and want to go further into this piece or are they going to throw it in the trash," he said.

Paulette Carter, director of marketing for one of Blik's clients, San Diego-based engineering firm Randall Lamb, said the firm's logo and collateral work really made a difference to her company.

About a year ago, Tyler Blik Design created a new logo for Randall that mixed the form of a building with the shape, texture and colors of a leaf. The image gelled the firm's view of itself as a facility's "life force," Carter said.

The logo and other work has drawn raves from clients, and injects pride into the process for employees who hand out collateral material and business cards during sales meetings and other interaction, she said.

With its work for Randall Lamb and other clients, Tyler Blik Design has gotten a lot of attention from industry publications such as Graphis and Communication Arts.

The firm has also won two "best of show" awards from the San Diego Creative Show, which judges local design and advertising.

Fellow San Diego designer David Conover, who attended classes at Arizona State with Blik and also launched his own design studio in San Diego, called Conover, considers Blik's reputation "nonpareil", without equal.

"He has everything going for him," Conover said. "He's got good employees who design well. He's got a great studio space, and is always on top of what is appropriate communication design."

Blik also has got a good sense of how to approach clients as partners, "the business aspect of the business," Conover said.

Recalling his observation of Blik's success, he said Blik really blossomed in the late '80s after he published books on logos from the various decades. "It spurred him on a momentum to where he is today," he said.

Blik is happy about the recognition, but he's just as excited about the challenges that the next client will bring, and even the industry's turn toward simpler images and statements.

"Today, we're bombarded by information," he said. "We get so much that comes across our desks. I think early on, with the use of computers, people thought, 'Oh, there's all these things that we can do,' and they used every one of them."

Now, he feels the design trend has come around. "It's 'the simpler the message, the better,'" Blik said. "The more direct it is, the more of a chance that you're going to be able to get that message to your potential customers."

With the graphic design industry evolving, and market strategy taking a larger role, the answers also remain simple, Blik said.

"I think what it comes down to is again, understanding that market, and putting forth a look, an image, a style and making that a little different, a little daring, a little more provocative."

He continued, "Our lives are all centered around what we're attracted to and what we want out of life. It's like, 'What do you want to be, what's the persona of your company, how do you want to express yourself?'

"I think companies are starting to recognize that this has become a differentiating factor of whether you're successful or not."