Cleveland Rocks

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The square, slide-out business card for design studio Flourish is something of a mind-blower - not only is it slick and offbeat, but the address on the bottom includes "Cleveland." Design in Cleveland? This may have an odd ring to it, but three-year-old Flourish's portfolio, which boasts a growing range of work from corporate letterheads to broadcast promotion, injects the phrase with a dose of oxymoronic truth.

"It's a good time to be a designer in Cleveland right now," says the Manila-born Jing Lauengco, one of the firm's three principals. "We're right between Chicago and New York, and we have a healthy design community here. Not being plopped into this huge metropolitan area, we have to create a momentum for ourselves." Fact is, design in Cleveland is not unheard of at all; other notable firms, according to Lauengco, include Nesnadny + Schwartz Design, Epstein Design Partners and Bill Brokaw Advertising.

Podunkian pigeonholes aside, Cleveland has actually provided fertile ground for nurturing the design roots of Flourish, established in 1998 by partners Henry Frey and Christopher Ferranti. Both had served as art directors at the now defunct Imperial Wallcoverings, which at one point had been the world's largest wallcovering designer and producer. From Imperial, Frey went on to become the creative director at the North Carolina photo studio Illuminations and then at Rosedale Wallcoverings in Toronto. Cleveland is also home to the world headquarters of American Greetings, which turned out to be a hothouse for the budding designs of Ferranti and Lauengco. The two developed party goods and stationery design at American Greetings' special business units, which they say were more interested in cutting-edge work than the mainstream greeting card division.

Like Cleveland, wallpaper and birthday cards might not automatically evoke notions of innovation, but the Flourish designers believe they actually got a lot of creative encouragement at their corporate gigs. As for being in the Midwest, they say they're more inspired to keep abreast of the latest trends, manically reading the latest pubs and attending conferences nationwide. "Because you're in a Midwestern city, I think you really seek out the extremes," says Lauengco, who joined the firm last year. "We don't have Cooper-Hewitt, but there's no reason you can't fly out and see it."

"We put ourselves in the position to be exposed to the latest things," adds Ferranti. "We're definitely out there, through very strategic exposure."

Flourish's clever business card is one component of its minimalist corporate stationery, which features a subtle palette of gray and white, vividly accented by orange graphical elements. The company's work can also take a more naturalistic turn, as with its creations for Cleveland textile and wallcovering company CW Designs. Lush Audubon prints appear in full scenic bleeds inside the envelopes and on the reverse-face of the company's business card. Both the Flourish and CW stationery sets were featured in this year's American Corporate Identity/16, a design annual from Hearst Books International.

Corporate packaging is only part of Flourish's roster of skills. The company also specializes in home-industry art direction and exhibit design. Flourish recently was named agency of record for upscale Midwest furniture and accessory chain Arhaus. In a collaboration with Columbus, Ohio, production company Flying Fish, Flourish crafted a 30-second spot, a first TV effort for the design firm, that blends live action with moving type. The low-key look clearly reflects the crew's elegant graphic design roots.

OOne of the studio's most successful projects is its exhibit for Cleveland's KSK Color Lab, featured at last month's Museum Expo in Boston. Flourish took a non-traditional approach to promoting the company's large-format printing capabilities. Instead of doing the typical rose or peony blowup, they enlarged the silver-painted bodies of two models (Lauengco herself posed for one shot, see page 68). The eight-foot-tall images were printed on a clear substrate and then mounted on a mirrored surface. Flourish combined the giant faces with Martini lounge music, mirrored floors and hanging lenticular silver-blue orbs that swirled to reveal the KSK logo. Together, the elements created a modernistic, monochromatic environment, turning what could have been a trade show snoozer into an all-encompassing "Cosmic Lounge."

Now, besides preparing more TV spots for Arhaus, Flourish is also getting exposure beyond its regional boundaries with a project to create print and multimedia promos for New York textile maker F. Schumacher & Co. Frey, Ferranti and Lauengco are excited about the new creative paths their small studio has taken. "One of the reasons we decided to call it Flourish is because it's very positive," Lauengco explains. "It alludes to something that's emerging, evolving, constantly redefining itself. In a lot of ways it represents growth on different levels - personal growth, professional growth, growing the business, and strategic growth for clients." So what if all this growth requires a move beyond the boundaries of Cleveland? Lauengco seems genuinely torn, but, "We're open to new opportunities," she declares. "We wouldn't discount that as an option in order to . . . flourish."

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