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How to Translate Your Brand into a Physical Reality with Ron Novak, Drawing Dept: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | Jan 09, 2024

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we’re talking how to translate your brand into a physical reality with Ron Novak. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

  • Episode Summary & Player
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Marketing Smarts: How to Translate Your Brand into a Physical Reality with Ron Novak, Drawing Dept

When we say “brand,” we mean more than your logo, colors, and fonts. We’re talking about the experience you’re creating and how it’s going to connect emotionally with your client, customer, or consumer. This feels super tangible when you’re talking about products, but what about when you walk into an office building, a restaurant/bar/club, a condo complex, a retail store, an entertainment venue, and beyond? We wanted you to learn from the best of the best in bringing brand to life in physical form, so we welcomed on Ron Novak. Ron is a Foundering Partner and Principal at Drawing Dept, a full-service architectural firm that pursues a diverse range of work. This episode covers everything from architecture to branding. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • How do you translate your brand into a physical reality?
  • What does branding mean in physical spaces?
  • How do you address form vs. function?
  • What’s a project Ron can walk us through?
  • How important are brand standards?
  • What skill from The Matrix would Ron love to have?
  • Dîner en Blanc
  • The Maisonette

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Anne Candido 0:02
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today. And if you missed anything, don’t worry, we put worksheets on our website that summarize the key points. Now, let’s get to it. Welcome to Marketing Smarts. I am Anne Candido and I am April Martini. And today we’re going to talk about how to translate your brand into a physical reality. So if you’re listening to the podcast, you know when we say brand, we mean more than just your logos, your colors, your fonts, which is what a lot of people think when they say brand. What we’re talking about here really, really is the experience you’re creating and how it’s going to connect emotionally with your client, customer, consumer. That is really the heart of brand. Now, this feels super tangible when you’re talking about products. But when you start getting into things like office buildings, restaurants, bars, clubs, condo complexes, retail store, entertainment venue, you name it. These things aren’t as tangible when you think about brands, but they’re just as important. So because it’s experience with the brand may dictate whether or not you engage with it or not, you really need to think about brand as a cornerstone of the development of these physical spaces as well. Yeah, that’s

April Martini 1:25
exactly right. And physical spaces brand isn’t necessarily that tangible, or per se at least. But the feeling it emotes can actually be visceral. And we’ve all said it when we walk in someplace, right, the way to think about this is you walk in and you’re like, I like the vibe, or This place feels cozy, or on the other side, this place is definitely not for me. And I can think of plenty of those for myself, you know, things like it feels a bit too masculine or feminine. So in order to get the right feel of a place, you need to consider the brand, and what you want the presence of the physical structure of the spaces within to emote for people, right, and today, we’re

Anne Candido 2:01
gonna bring in a fantastic guest, who’s going to help us with this topic. And that is Ron Novak of Drawing Dept. So thank you, Ron, for being with us. And would you like to introduce yourself and drawing department a little bit more,

Ron Novak 2:12
I appreciate the invitation, I can probably spend hours talking about why we do what we do. So I love this format and sort of the honesty of it. So I’m Ron Novak. I’m owner and architect designer for accompanying Drawing Dept that we founded about 18 years ago. And there’s about 20 of us that ebb and flow throughout the year to do what we do. We’ve, since I guess in the last 18 years or so we’ve accomplished about 1700 projects or so, which for a firm of the 18 people is pretty rigorous, we’ll say. But um, they come in many different wrappers in many different forms. But most of them all have to do with some, some form of hospitality or inclusion of either a public format, or a very specific clientele. So we do a lot of bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, hotels, and stuff like that. Yeah, I like to believe that we’re not a niche firm. And that that’s what keeps us going. But um, you know, it’s been a wild ride, and I look forward to the future. So thanks for having me today. I’m excited to talk about things. So yeah,

Anne Candido 3:15
this is gonna be a great conversation. Because for our listeners, even if you guys aren’t in the business of building structures, like Ron is, you’re always in the business of creating spaces conducive to doing business or living life. So that’s always a big part of what we deal with. And that’s our personal residential buildings, or houses, or things that we’re creating within a business structure, like conference rooms, or convening spaces are any of those things. So you should be able to hear what Ron’s talking about in the conversation we’re going to have here and, and use those insights in order to translate them into whatever spaces that you are talking about internally or externally. Like if you’re going to an industry event, or if you’re putting on like what I used to do PR events and those sorts of things, all of it kind of plays, that the insights can definitely be translatable. So with that, let’s jump into how to translate your brand into a physical reality. So Ron, because this is a little bit intangible, I think would be really good. If you could kind of just helps set up some context first, when we’re talking about brand new physical spaces. So when you’re thinking about this, and how do you define it, like what is it for you, when you think about brand and physical spaces, there’s

Ron Novak 4:23
two sort of folds to it. There’s one that is what I’ll call the physical imprint. And there’s one that is sort of the brand in print, often sell folks that how we start is we often need to talk about three different things. And then one of them is really the key is what makes you so damn special. What is your plan? Right? So whatever it is, we need to do you need capture you we don’t need to do what we’ve done for somebody else. We need to focus on you. We don’t need to focus on trend and I know that kind of has a kind notation that trend is good. But trend really isn’t good, if you ask trends is just copying and rolling out somebody else did for somebody. So there’s three sort of things that we always ask them to start. One is what makes you so damn special? One that is what are you selling? And when are you selling it? And then the other one is sort of what is the social component to it, or the approachability of it. And I think those things lead to the fact that you can do, you can have a successful brand and physical success at the same time for the implementation of how does that brand, or that design, we’ll call it roll out into reality, or into the real world, which is also changing, which we’ll talk about a little bit later. And how does that imprint on society at large. So I often say to folks, like, when they come to me, and they tell me who they are, what they want to do, my response is normally, well, if you do what you say you’re going to do, it won’t matter what we do. Because if you promote your brand, or your essence, whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish, the actual design or creation of the physical product is exactly that it is a physical interpretation of what we need to do to make a memory and an imprint, that will bolster that memory of your brand. So I often say like, I don’t mean to put myself out of business. But if you do what you say you’re gonna do, it won’t matter what we do what we do, we’ll make it become Memorial, or memorialize it for somebody so that they’re like, remember when we went here, when we went there, and it will become a remarkable situation that is centric, or idiosyncratic enough and site specific, that that brand will then begin to evolve and take on any language? So I think it’s, it’s unique to try to sit there and say, Well, how do you translate a brand into a physical realm? I think you’ve none of those things I talked about are sort of physical things that we start with. It’s sort of, to who, why, and when. And then that allows us to begin to sort of start the psychological sort of roller coaster of kind of being more of an archaeologist and a psychologist at the same time to figure out exactly what it is that makes them so special. So hopefully, that answers sort of some bits about how we start. I think it’s it’s the syncopation between the brand and the physical implementation of both of those things that leads to a great design that builds those. Yeah,

April Martini 7:41
I mean, I love that, because similarly, over here, we have three questions. Also, who are you? How are you different? And why should people want you? And it’s very similar to what you just said. And I think you know, and when you set it up, I think people think about this in terms of color, and logo and those types of physical things like you just said, Ron, and if you start there, you’re dead in the water, I felt a lot of this pressure. And you said, it can be any environment, right? We just built this house. And for me, it was it is so much more about the feeling and the experience I want people to have, but if you don’t start by answering those fundamental strategic questions, then you’re just picking out stuff. And so you’re therefore not creating any sort of experience for anybody that anyone’s going to connect to at a deeper level. And I think that when you do that, instead of the what, really what can be the hard work at the beginning to answer these questions. People feel that in authenticity, right? When they walk in, I

Ron Novak 8:41
was gonna say, I think, to your exact point, use the word right there that I think is very important and critical. And that’s authenticity. So most folks will start a project, my peers, even employees that start at my office, normally come into the door, while on tighter than a $2. Watch, and I have to unpick there. Because they want to give a client survey and say, fill this out. And then I’ll know everything that you need to do. And so they want to know, like, well, how big does this have to be? And how many people do I have to put in here and all this other stuff? And I’m like, it’s so much simpler and conversational, if you just talk about, what do you want to do? And when do you want to do it? And why would you do it? And there’s no onus with that from an architectural or design standpoint, it’s just getting to know that person so that you can challenge them on what is truly important. That’s the beauty of what we get to do is it’s a lot of just poking them in the ribs like are you sure here’s what you told me. And I love that aspect. And you know, our schooling kind of sets you up to be able to believe that hey, I can solve every problem. If I just have all the metrics Well, I firmly believe that has nothing to do with that. It’s deeper than that is just it’s it’s more of a theory on it’s floating around. Just got to find that target. I think that’s the Most important thing about design is listening to that and sort of nicely extracting it from folks to get them to open up and talk about who they are.

Anne Candido 10:09
Yeah, and I like another one of the elements you were talking about, which was, I think your second point or second question is like, what are you selling? And when are you selling it? Which is a big question that we ask about brand too, because a lot of times people will get stuck in the physical nature of it, because that’s what’s tangible, or the service oriented nature of it, I sell and like, whatever the case may be, in your world or our world, I sell this widget, or I sell this service, or, you know, I sell a place to live, you know, those sorts of things. But really, when you can tap into the emotional benefit of what you’re selling, what you are actually creating a relationship with creating becomes so much more, right. So it’s not just about the widget you’re selling, it’s like, well, how does a widget make somebody feel? Has it improved their life? What is it about that, that creates that memorable moment, like you said, which I think is is the visceral reaction that like you say, like that as and kradic, like connection that you remember those things, and they cut pop up when when things get triggered or signal to you. So those become in their very rooted in the emotional response, not just the physical, tangible, functional response of I need this thing. So therefore, here’s this thing, and we have a very, like transactional engagement around it, which I think brings us to a question of form versus function, or beauty versus function or, you know, function versus aesthetics. So these like polar opposites of like having to have the function of whatever it is, and then the beauty or the experience of how whatever it’s going to be and how it’s going to make somebody feel, could you speak a little bit more to that approach that you take in order to really tap into both of those things? Maybe sighs some of examples of some of the work that you guys have done that really you think does a really fabulous job with that, that people could go back refer to? Because I think this translates into a lot of things that people have to address when it comes to business?

Ron Novak 12:05
I mean, I would say that design at large, you know, there’s a lot of good ideas out there, I would suggest that you could probably pin it and say everything is a copy of something else. It’s just a different way. Yeah, the different treatment. And so that can be a fair statement. I think that you when you say things like form function, there’s a natural sort of tension between those two things. That’s a good way to test things, right? Because you have opposites, you have an extreme in one way or the other left or right. So I would tell you like how we start is, it is sort of a scientific and emotional audit of the project at large, some of which have sites that are very real, some that don’t some that have budgets that are very real, some that don’t some that have programs that are very real, some of that down. And some that are just wild as ideas that somebody needs to get their arms around. So you can approach these things, kind of using both sides of your brain. One that has to be what are the constants? And what are the variables? And how do I change those variables into constants? What are the assets? And what are the deficits of from either a physical standpoint, a financial stack standpoint or program standpoint? What’s been done in the past? What’s never been done? What’s logical? What’s crazy? What have we never seen? Or we see it all the time. So I mean, start with that sort of interrogation and audit of all those things. But it isn’t done by like, No, I think most design firms probably make a go at it kind of how it historically always has been done. You put your time in, you learn. You’re an apprentice, then you become the master. And then yeah, and so that person who just sort of outlasted everybody else, that’s the person that has all the good ideas, has seen everything in the world, when they get to do all this. They’re pulling switches. And I think that’s completely preposterous to believe that that one person knows the way. So I think how we start is it’s, we take this huge funnel, and we start throwing everything into it. And it’s almost like guide compared to like how a chef cooks, they throw everything in the pot. And then they start tasting it tweaking, taking those constants and making or taking those variables, turning them into constants, or figuring out I do want that separation between sort of the extremes because I want to deny something to that and allow something else to happen. So for us, it’s sort of, we’ve got to scavenge. We’ve got to forage all this stuff and take it with us being good listeners. And then we want to issue the challenge, I guess to solve it to as many people that care about it, and can be present. So like in my office, we will we will design or shred project with me and maybe two other people might go and listen to the client tells us everything that they want to tell us. And then we might take it back to our office of eating 20 people, whatever. And we might choose 12 people and saying, everyone gets half a day, two days or a week from now we want to see what everyone will do. Here’s everything we know. And sometimes that means we might have some side conversations at the watercooler. Sometimes we sit around a table, we just chat about things. Sometimes it’s very independent. Sometimes it happens in shower for people, but the cream rises to the top at different rates. And inevitably, we all come back, we’ll start cross fertilizing each other’s ideas, because people have different experiences different memories, because of their age, where they grew up, what’s important to them. So I think that’s how you get this giant FOMO. And you start to narrow it and converting things in and distilling what it is that client told you is important to them, and really starting to challenge it to become a physical thing. How we start is we, you know, because a lot of times we get well, how many breweries and bars? Can you guys freaking do the same thing? How do you do so differently. And so for us, it’s really about, it’s not about materials, it’s not about sticks and bricks, it is about those things that what makes you so special. And because again, we can put them in a black box, or a white tent. And if they do what they say they’re going to do, it won’t matter what we do. So we’re completely free to go anywhere we want. We don’t have to do what we did for somebody else, because it was successful. And everyone walks into it, oh, it looks beautiful and heroes school, we can totally go off the deep end with them. If we just listen and collect as much as we can. So I would say it starts off always with trying to listen and collect as much baggage so that we can begin to throw things out of the pot. That’s kind of a roundabout way that says like, what is our technique? And how do you sort of start the process? As far as you know, is there anything that’s specific? I would say we have no formulaic approach to how we start, you know, I alluded to before, like most architects, they hand somebody a packet of questions of questionnaires to answer this, and then we’ll know everything about you. And it is a bit of a poker game. But I would say the number one thing that we do is listen, we listen, listen. It’s different for everybody as to how they’re going to share. But I would say probably about 15 years ago, with the advent of cell phones, shelter magazines like dwell, TV shows that were on HGTV. Yeah, let people design their neighbor’s house or ruin it over a weekend for you know, $5,000. And it looks fantastic. from that far away those shows. Those things changed. It changed the whole profession, to the fact that everything is so attainable, and instantly gratifying double, that you now really have to

pick if you’re going to be a sledge hammer or a scalpel when it comes to solving the problem. And so I can say like, you know, if we have to get from this side of the forest to this other forest, most folks just want to say, well, we just kept forest down, we’ll go right across. But it takes somebody else to sit there and say, well, we’ll take those two trees, and we’ll get there. So I mean, I think because of the approachability or the availability of photos, recipes, literature, everything has changed. So there’s the Masters sort of deleted now. And sort of the the Expos a of everything is exactly that nothing is hidden any longer. So that changed a lot of how restaurants are designed, or bars are designed because everyone wants to have an experience now. They want to know where things came from. I would use the words like Scratch, over craft, things that are made, not produced. These are all things that changed our industry, which the building industry I’ll just call it takes 100 years to change that industry normally, because great granddad granddad teaches his son and takes 50 years to move that along. Oh, and there’s nothing sexy about that. But how people make grilled cheese has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. Like, who has i? If I said, Oh, what’s the boujie grilled cheese sandwich? Everyone knows what I’m talking about, what, 15 years ago, if I said that they say, What the hell are you talking? So it’s just, yeah, exactly. It’s a craft single. So I mean, it’s things have changed. And therefore I think our clients are smarter, they’re more exposed. And therefore, I think there’s no limits to anything any longer. And, you know, I think it’s very unique. We’re talking about sort of the physical aspects of design. I mean, we’re getting into things now where design is, is even, its intangible like we’re with digital design, and things we’re doing, which we’re going to talk about a little bit later as to what the future holds. It’s really interesting to me that, therefore I can’t sit there and saying, This is how you start. Because it’s different. I would say, you know, Cincinnati, often host a party called Dinner environment. That’s not about a space. That’s about a table, I guess it is about plate. It’s about tablescape. That’s what I’m talking about this black box or white tank, what we do around it is different. So I can’t sit there and say, Well, this is how we would start to design other than it’s a collection about the soul of that person. And the materiality of it generally has to do with well, what are they making? And what is their appetite for the Expos they have what they’re selling? Because then that helps us figure out the detailing of it, which I think that’s where you get the richness of somebody’s client centric, site specific, idiosyncratic design deals with, well, how much tailoring does that person need? And you can often feel that when you meet somebody with how many rings? Do they have? To they have earrings? Do they wear makeup, or they put together? Do they have an overcoat, a shirt and an undershirt. Because there’s a lot of veiling that happens with that. So you can sit there you can look at design be like, they’re gonna hide things, they’re gonna stack up in front of me, I’m gonna have to take those things off to truly see their heart. So it’s kind of weird. I mean, you can see it on a person just simply by how they dress, or how their parents or stuff like that as to what they’re going to share. Well,

April Martini 22:17
I mean, I think you’re getting at the crux of what we’re talking about today, which is the actual emotion behind all of this. And I love that it’s not, this is our process, this is the packet, we can do all of those transactional things, because I think there are plenty of design firms. And, you know, I wasn’t necessarily in your space all the time. But you know, on the packaging, graphic design, a lot of the agencies I think, do it wrong, when they come in, and they say, this is our processes, the way we work, this is how we’re going to do it, we’re going to tell you what we’re doing. And they never even get into it. They never take the time to get to know the clients or any of the things even at a surface level that you’re talking about here. So I love that you start with the listening.

Ron Novak 23:00
Yeah, I think you nailed it when you said, a lot of folks come and say this is how we’ve always done it. I’d say if somebody says to you, typically, this is what we do, I would run from that person. Because I think you have to bury your ego. And listen, to sort of have chaos and comfort all at the same time. Because if you can bring those together, you should at the end of the day, we want to be able to squint at a project and see the party or the escapes that’s happened there. Irrespective of material, or how many chairs or tables there are, what the lighting is, but understand like, Oh, I know why they designed it this way and plan or I know why this wall looks like it does. So I think it’s like you’re somebody says this is what I would always do. That person has earned that reputation because they outlasted somebody else. They did not earn that reputation because they weren’t good listeners or I don’t know they were challenging or interrogating the process. They’re probably just doing what they’ve done successfully for the last 10 years. And then they’re gonna hand the torch to somebody else that outlast them. You have to have empathy to and ego doesn’t really go with that. Most people never have the opportunity to build their own house. Or build a restaurant or a bar or a kitchen or a distillery and follow something that they’ve never done because it takes a lot of courage to do that. So I always say we have to, it’s going to be chaos. They’re hiring us to give it give this frenetic process, some calm and some repose. The best thing we can do is remember they’ve never done it and there’s no formula for this. So let’s make it as fun as it possibly can. Which means there’s no there’s no Oh, no holds bar, just go after it.

Anne Candido 24:52
Well, let’s talk about the sticks and bricks a little bit because I think the foundation of the conversation is is really you meaningful with regards to having the really solid place to start from for sure. So all of that that you guys said, I think is really foundational. When we start putting the sticks and bricks to it, maybe you can walk us through one of your projects, if you can, and kind of tell us how you could took some of this thinking, and then apply the sticks and bricks to it. And as our listeners are listening, I want you guys to think about whatever your physical thing is that you have in mind, whether it is a product, even like a service, if you could tangibly rectify that in your head or a space in general, and think about how this thinking translates. So maybe you can kind of give some insight about how you do that into the sticks and bricks,

Ron Novak 25:42
the first thing I talked about was what makes you so damn special. Really awesome. When you have dusted that off, you figure out how how you took this photo in a bag and squeezed out the bottom of it. Because I think that that is how you start. Oftentimes, it isn’t apparent until you begin. Maybe I mean, it happens at different places for every project. But it’s that every project has that one thing, which is the constraint that allows you to get distilled back to the roots of what you’re trying to solve. I would say my favorite type of projects normally are the ones that are a landmark projects, like in a building that is historically significant. Yeah, or in a space that is so sacred, nothing can be done. Or things that are notorious places like Cincinnati, one of my favorite projects we’ve ever did, Cincinnati had a famous restaurant that was started in 1966. And it was called The Maisonette. And it was a famous five star French restaurant, a lot of chefs cut their teeth there. And we’ll call that sort of their learning ground or their testing. Well, it was very successful. And I think it lasted until 2005. I think it shut down. Because nobody was downtown until 2005. And it was sort of in the epicenter of downtown, surrounded by sort of, so it was the culinary epicenter of the city. The mason that was it was the best up again. And it was next to the Playhouse. So it’s also sort of the cultural epicenter of the city. But no one’s there. And so, you know, we interview for that job we get, we win, because we’re kind of David and everyone else was Goliath. And they came stacked with, you know, 25,000 square foot restaurants that they’ve done over the last 15 years. And we came in and said exactly why we don’t have those as like Nina hires, because we’re gonna do you, we’re gonna make this about you. And so it was right at a time 2005 It shuts down. Things are not happening in city, but by the time the project starts, I think he Fast Forward probably about six years. So it’s 2012 or so 2011. And three, CDC has scavenged all the buildings down there and decided really changed Cincinnati bring the urban core back. And the Mason that happens to be one of those doughnuts, we get the opportunity to talk to chef who wants to create his restaurant, which isn’t that nice. And it’s gonna be called Boca right? And and he says, you know, what do we know about fine dining and the mace net? Is The Maisonette and you know, Mason that was very much like Disney. All the service and extraditing happens behind the scenes. And it’s a beautiful sort of choreographed event that happens. It take a sip of water, you set it down, the glass gets refilled, magically, and you don’t know how it happens. You know, crumbs disappear and things happen. And you’re just like, wow, that was crazy. And you have to act like all this stuff. And it’s fine dining. So all those shelter magazines, and shows and Food Network and HGTV make everything super approachable. And we’re like, nobody comes to fine dining anymore. How do we change this? And we say, well, let’s show them everything. Let’s show him every damn thing. Let’s show him the display. Let’s show him where we throw all the scraps. Let’s show him everything about this. We’re going to turn it completely inside out when rip the skin off of its cadaver. So we get into the Mesa net, which is very put together. And we employ a strategy of we’re going to remove everything and we’re going to accept what we have. Because it’s me some class, it’s an ingredient. So where we have brick we’re gonna have we’re gonna see brick, where we have stone where we find stone, we’re gonna we’re going to expose a that we find timber, great. We find, you know, wrought iron or steel, we’re going to expose that so then that leads into sort of the idea that well for exposing everything If that means the design is up, so it leads to a building shell that’s completely exposed, it also lets us take that kitchen and put no walls around it. And it becomes sort of the heartbeat of the whole restaurant. And it has a pulse, and you can feel it. And you can see it and it resonates. And people get excited about the fact that I can see black truffle, it’s right there, I can see it, I know where that project was really the turning point for us where we were like, This is just like how we do a house for somebody. And it’s in a commercial standpoint, like, most time you do a commercial or I would say most commercial projects are like, give me your program, which is that survey. And give me your three cool trendy materials that people seem to like, whether it’s black iron, or it’s Edison light bulbs, or it’s reclaimed barnwood. You know, or, nowadays, it’s yellow tone metals and black windows, right? So we leave, we leave Chip and Joanna stuff on truck, and let’s go someplace.

April Martini 31:02
So tell us how you really feel.

Ron Novak 31:05
So I mean, it’s, it starts with that. And it just leads to like we found out for them. It’s about baring their soul, it’s about showing what’s inside. So then we just lean into that, we lean downhill over our ski tips. And we apply that to everything. We’re going to expose everything, which then makes the design really easy. It’s like, well, you could choose when to dress it up, or dress it down by adding a piece of antiquity like a found item, or building a gorgeous bar out of sync. Because why not? That’s fun, that’s different. And then you get this thing that I think this is their 10th year this year that they’re gonna celebrate. And, you know, it will always be The Maisonette to me, but like, I got interviewed once and they’re like, man, you’re so lucky, you get to do the medicine that and I was like, and that’s a hell of a thing to say like, I’m so lucky. I was like, No, it’s pretty petrifying. But sometimes, sometimes you have to, you have to know your audience all the time, but you have to be the best scalpel or that sledgehammer. And so it really was about like, I just hope we don’t mess it up. And so we didn’t, thankfully, because we listened. And we were able to say, Wow, we found out the thing, which will lead us into the material. But also in parts of cluster menu there operational aspects of it, it falls into everything, how they look how they dress. So I mean, that project will always be huge for me, because I felt like this when we did we do custom residential also. And when we get into a house of with somebody we learn where the guns are, where the laundry is. Virginia’s favorite soup spoon is. So we learned all those things. So we got into that with restaurants also. And I think that led to us finding the special sauce, I guess, and being able to then say, okay, that’s maybe that’s our fun was, we’ve truly find out about that person. And the things that the team that makes them who they are. And then we lean into that. But I don’t know, Boca was definitely a very great project for us to figure out sort of, it’s not about sticks and bricks, but it can become about that so easily. If you just listen to it. I always love that project. Because it was it was a blast. It was a we put a lot of time into it a lot of effort. And they, they were right there with us and requires presence, but it was great. So that point, there’s an authenticity that comes through with design. When you do it like that, and it’s not about you know, we have some ansatz title in that place, which is awesome. And people say, Oh, that’s trendy? Well, no, it’s authentic. And so everything that we’ve shown was about authenticity. We weren’t hiding anything. These are ingredients, we’re gonna put them in here. And we’re going to show you how we think it should have done. So I don’t know, hopefully that that allows it. I think that project was also special because it was in that historic building that John Rowe and all these other great chefs came out so it was like what is a kid and not from Cincinnati going to do for this building and make The Maisonette The Maisonette again, and it wasn’t about that at all was sort of doing him that like whatever made them so damn special doing that there. And then we kept the outside kind of the same. I didn’t we didn’t need to be a Foley. It was already a landmark in the fabric of downtown. So it was like, all we need to do is put the nail polish back on put some makeup on. Yep. So it was being discreet and just leaning into the aspects of what do we want to be what are who are who are we and then it led to the design.

April Martini 34:44
Well, first of all, I get like goosebumps as you tell that story and being from Cincinnati and you know, my husband was in restaurants for years and the legacy of what that building was, but and now what it is and what it’s become. I think there’s a lot of things in the way that you approach the work that that make that prod projects like that possible. And it’s that you take the time to kind of peel away and get at what is that crux that we’re working from. And then it becomes about the consistency by which that dictates every decision and not dictates in a restrictive way, but helps to set the choices forth so that they almost reveal themselves to you, instead of you having to, like, look into what that can be, or what the options are, I feel like they kind of speak to you in that way. And then making sure that it’s every single touch point, because I think that, especially in a situation like that, where there’s so much legacy in history, and the ghosts of chefs past are kind of right there with you. It’s a tremendous challenge. But when you can take the handcuffs off in the right way, and allow that big idea to float all the way through every single piece of it, then the people that come into it, and really appreciate it and become your top fans are there for that reason, which is just remarkable.

Ron Novak 36:04
And I think there’s pitfalls, though, with that. Because I would say most would easily say, well, we figured it out. You know what to do? We’re going to do that again. Yes, I would sit down. And I would say like, you know, there’s a lot of clients we work for that have multiple locations, and they’re gracious enough to take us with them into different areas, different cities, different locales. So it’s very easy for somebody to be like, Oh, just give me your brand standards. And so I think you can’t be complacent or rest on the fact that well, this is what they told me last time, or this is what they do. Here’s their chairs, here’s their booths. I think there’s no such thing is rollout. Whoever uses that word. They’re the same person that says, Well, this is what I would do. Yes. And that’s their Bible. Yeah. Right. So I will tell you that everything is a prototype, everything. Because it’s going to be either about the client about the site. What about the brand? So I love the fact when we get to take like Bakersfield or Eagle into a different city who’s never seen that before? Yes. And the good thing is that brand recognizes that. We can change this whenever we want. So if you go to Detroit, and you walk in for a taco in Detroit, versus Pittsburgh, I mean, it was making tacos Tex Mex tacos in either of those two cities, but they feel like Bakersfield. But they’re different. Like one of them’s a basement condition. And one of them is, you know, on historic eight lane highway that thrives a couple of times a year where they have a homecoming of Ford, Chevy and dodge, but is different. I mean, Goodfellas, pizzeria and wiseguys. It’s a similar situation like we take them down to Chattanooga, and there’s a underground layer of whiskey there. In Cincinnati, it’s hidden behind the soda machine and up a flight of stairs, you’d never think to go up here. So it’s just different. But I think you have to be when we’re talking about brand, you have to understand that this is not the playbook that we we have to do every single play exactly like this. This is not you’re allowed to change this, this, there are things that we like, but it’s malleable, you can change it and most folks, most brands, most companies, most corporations, they’re just like, This is my logo, I’m never changing. This is how I do my things. I’m never changing it. It’s good. We got it all figured out. And I think that’s preposterous, too, I think you have to be able to say, how do you have to be able to throw everything back into that fun? And distill it back to the essence of it? And that that’s what’s great about projects or clients that are like, can you guys do our brand standards? I’m like, yeah, we can do them. But it’s, it’s funny, too, that you’re gonna call it a standard they’ll see.

Anne Candido 39:12
Well, I think it’s a really fantastic nuance, because there is an element. And I think if I’m hearing you, right, but you can correct me that there is an element of consistency that that is important to be able to, it’s able to carry the brand, but there’s an element of appreciating the other stuff around it, the environment around it, the localization of it, that allows it to live in a way that breathes life in the place that it is, versus like, it has to be a cookie cutter place it just lifts in place lifts in place, and then you wonder why is it not doing well? Well, it’s like it’s not doing well because it’s not capturing that essence. Why are you so damn special? What you keep going back to? What are you selling? When are you selling it? All these things are very important to ask if you’re ignoring the quintessential piece around it, which is the people which we go back To all the time, it’s like the listening, then you’ve, you’ve lost. And so I think there’s a really hard balance for a lot of people about like, maintaining some element of consistency, which, though the older the brand gets feels like that becomes the majority, versus what’s flexible, right in the elements of what can be malleable? What can change what what can be adaptable to the the localization, if you will. So can you speak a little bit to that? Because I know a lot of people when they think about brand, and I’m probably coming from the word brand from Anna and April, we talk about brand standards and the importance of brands here, because we see people be too lenient on that as well. Can you speak a little bit to that?

Ron Novak 40:42
So I will tell you that, you know, there’s pitfalls, one way there’s pitfalls the other way, constant, and variable, those things, I think, that’s the key to sort of locking a brand in, or a better way to say it will probably say respecting your brand. So I think the key for us would be authenticity is always keen, being authentic to what it is, that made you so damn special. That doesn’t need a rapper. So that’s a culture a product, a glyph. A logo, you have to be authentic to that. I think experience is also one of those things that is forever, right? Everybody wants an experience, because you do remember that you see it. So for us, I would say brand or implementation of that brand or that culture that’s going to be picking us up. So an authentic experience that is unmatched McDonald’s, we could pick on them, because they’re a brand that’s been around and they’ve served. I don’t even know what number I could throw out there. But, I guess what maybe. You know, at one point, McDonald’s, I’m sure you can think back, say what’s the oldest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. And it probably has two yellow arches, and the white roof and cars pull up around it. And it’s more like a burger hop. And then you could say, well, what’s the wildest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen? And be like, well, they sold pizzas. And it was in Tokyo. Yeah. Why is it? Why are they selling pizzas in Tokyo? This is MacDonaold’s. So I think that you have to be authentic to what makes you so damn special. And it’s very easy to say, Well, I just need to sell. So I’m gonna give them what they want. And that has a tendency to take things and just leave the hell out of it. And it effervesce is in a false way. So I think you have to be authentic in how you do things. And so you could still localize things, but as long as you’re authentic to the work, it’ll come across. No,

April Martini 42:47
I think that’s exactly right. And I think that what is sitting with me is the trendy piece of so much of what you said. And I think that question a little earlier, we’re gonna ask, I know, I’m like poking. I know a little bit at this whole situation. But I think what you said, and the job that you have to do consistently gets harder every day, because you have people that believe anyone can do it. And that I think takes away from that authenticity piece, and the art and science combination of what we’re trying to do here and what you’re actually solving for. And so, you know, I’m hearing you say there is no one process, there is no singular way to do it. I heard you say there’s no trends, so I won’t push that on you. Well, I

Ron Novak 43:42
think it’s an important sort of discussion, because I mean, I always get invited to trend happy hours to talk about tile or, or whatever. And I sit there and think, Well, trends end. Right, they have an end to them. But if it’s done properly, a design transcends that. Yes. Right. So the bad design lexicon that gets forged in facts. And emotions, is not about the coolness factor necessarily, or some kitsch thing that people love for a moment, and then it’s gone and it flattens out. So I think you constantly have to sit there say, Everything’s a prototype, we can change, we can more, we can be something new, because everything is borrowed and done a different way. It’s just seen in a different light from somebody that came from a different perspective. So that’s what this all is about. For me that like the special sauce is. Listen, say what you would do listen to what others would do. And then dusted off and say, well, that’s the thing we need to do because no one else is doing that. So it’s to me, I think anyone that says they focus It’s very trendy. Thankfully, we have enough digital interfaces, we could see exactly what not to do. Yeah, just pulling up Instagram or Pinterest, you can see the things that are shown on there. I would say that was popular last year or the year before. I love the fact that bras came back three years ago and gold medals were not passe anymore, you couldn’t you could actually use them. But I’m done with it now, right? Gold fixtures, and I’m like, well, Liberace had gold fixtures, and so did Elvis. But you don’t, you don’t wear sequins suits, I don’t think you should have that you can have that conversation with. So I don’t know, I think I would say that if I had to target say something was trend or what you’re going to see, I would say that and we’ve been pushing for for this for damn near probably 20 years that you will never lose. If you lean into sort of texture. Yeah, from a visual, or a sensory or tactile standpoint. If you can touch it, or you can see it, that texture, whatever it is, and texture could have so many could even be a field, right? If you put that into your design work, drywall is no longer drywall. If it is painted with a textured paint, it’s not that anymore. It might not be authentic, but try was not that authentic anyways. But you know, I’m wallcovering that has texture to it is not well paper, textured ceilings, textured floors, texture, no work, texture ahem afford a pleat, detail the world around you. So that it is special, and it’s prototypical. And it’s not produced, it’s scratch, and you’ll have it lean into those things. That’s, that’s what I would say, I hope that becomes the trend, where it isn’t about material, it’s just about the idea that it needs to be more sensory and more tactile or whatever. So it’s about more senses than just what do I see? I love it when it becomes about how it feels or how it looks or how it I’m sorry, how it sounds, you know, that sort of thing. So I hope that becomes we use that a lot because nobody else cares. Yeah, they just want you know, black windows and white shiplap. So

Anne Candido 47:33
everywhere, just everywhere.

Ron Novak 47:36
McDonald’s with black windows in which I can’t wait to see that one.

Anne Candido 47:40
Artists always.

Ron Novak 47:42
It’s probably a marked as No, I guess. I suppose, it wouldn’t be in Marcus, and you’re going to be a wooden shake there. But

Anne Candido 47:56
no, this has been a fantastic discussion of everything related to design brand physical structures and translating them to, to any structure that we’ve been talking about. So I’d love to hit on some rapid fires, if you’re up for it, because this just gets to help people know a little bit more about you outside of the conversation we just had. So are you ready for this?

Ron Novak 48:17
Yeah, I do have to say one more thing, which I kind of alluded to at the beginning. And this was just like, you know, I think also, with technology, and information being what they are, you’re gonna see a lot of design is digital these days, where you can video map a structure, like, take Hagia Sofia, and you can make it look like a pyramid by you could change its architecture digitally. That happens a lot at big events. But due to that, I would suggest that materials that are popular or trendy, doesn’t matter because design is shifting into a realm where it’s going to be immersive. The floors, the screen, the ceilings, the screen, the walls, the screen, and I’m here, I don’t know, in Greece for one meal. And then 20 minutes later, I’m sitting in the middle of the desert, watching YouTube play in a dome, right? Yeah, it’s just it can be instant, it can change instantly. So I can’t wait to see what that does to architecture and sort of how we design because we can change it and you can make it anything wants to be there’s no rules. Again, it’s pretty typical. So that was a little aside but I think it’s it’s getting back it is morphing and changing into away from sticks and bricks. So goes and we’re like you know, it’s ethereal and one thing is physical and it’s becoming so non physical again, where we have the opportunity to do that. It’s going to be very interesting what the next 10 years looks like.

Anne Candido 49:48
Yes, like Star Trek, when they have the rooms you can make it whatever you wanted to make it. I mean we have heard a lot of people’s sharing from their experiences like at the don’t like the YouTube content just at the dome and say it just, it just takes it to a whole new different level. So I think what you’re saying makes a ton of sense that people are kind of tapping in now even to a different realm. It’s not even 3d anymore, I don’t even know what you call it, four D five D 60. But it’s a whole nother level of thinking and consideration. And so that’s gonna be really, really cool. Yeah,

Ron Novak 50:21
we do a lot of event spaces. And normally you do an event space, you want a space that has great contrast that you can take photos in, and people remember the toast or the food or the event that they had there. All hosts are off after that, because we can digitally change any environment to make it anything at once. It can be completely immersive. And it’s irrespective of architecture or detailing or ornament at that point. It’s about design. So trend won’t even matter. That’s right. Yeah.

Anne Candido 50:53
All right. Well, thank you for that. That was a really important point. I’m glad we got to cover that. So a few rapid fires. So we’ll start with a very obvious question, but what’s your favorite building or favorite structure? And why?

Ron Novak 51:04
I’d say in the States, I have to love the Chrysler Building. Interesting. I love that building, because it’s a shapeshifter to me, but it also represents a time and a period that there weren’t any safeties on anything. It was about speed. It was about sexiness. It was about evolution of technology of building materials and design. I think that that building is completely an ornament and another decorated thing. So like, I love the 50s. I like the 40s 50s and 60s a lot because there was nothing most cars, airplanes, vehicles, buildings, were very centric to themselves. They weren’t parks that crossbreed or were were used on other models, because of necessity or because of production. So for me, that’s fire, especially at like sunrise or sunset. It’s statelessness or the color that metal takes on the huge sky. So it shifts its color and it’s sort of placement in the landscape. Even from summer to winter to fall. I love that building for that. And probably because of that, I really love Bilbao in Spain that Frank Gehry Museum, which does the same thing, and it turns Auburn at sunset, and I just I love the fact that it’s a building but again, I can see it and it changes in front of me. So I love the sort of aspects of the dish shapeshifter, but I would say those two buildings I really love.

Anne Candido 52:34
I love that. Okay, that was a good way. Alright, so one more, if you can instantly master a skill, like in the matrix, what would it be?

Ron Novak 52:42
They could bend time and that kind of thing? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I would probably do that. I mean, I, my wife will tell you she was she’s like Ron’s 150 year old man. This is his, like, sixth seventh time around. Because I love like, I’m not that old. But I love hanging around people that have been places or had experienced that. I haven’t. Yeah, we’ll just become really good friends real quick, real quick, like, insanely quick. She’s like, you sat over there. And you talk to the old guy or the animal maybe? For like, 50 minutes. And I’m like, Yeah, I wish I could go back in time and see what they saw. I don’t know. I mean, if I could stop time, there would be great. Or if I could bend time, that would be awesome. So I love that. Around.

Anne Candido 53:31
This has been a fabulous conversation, and I would just bring us home. Is there anything else that we then cover that you would like to wrap us up with? And then obviously tell people where they can find you?

Ron Novak 53:42
I would just tell folks that Be fearless. Be fearless. Get outside your comfort level. I don’t know how everybody does that for themselves. But that is the key. If you’re comfortable, you’re not really tapping into sort of the root of it. It’s fine. You’re satisfying the requirements. So I would say just be fearless. That’s what you need to do. I don’t know you can you can find us. You know, we don’t advertise. We don’t put a lot of stake into that. We don’t have big billboard signs on all of our project. We’re kind of under the belief that the people that are supposed to find us serendipitously do and so we remain this sort of band of 18 Ronin architects that go around solve problems. So but I mean, you can find this at our website, which is drawing department is just shorten and adapt. So it’s drawing We have a website I think just to legitimize ourselves to try to get young students to come work for us not necessarily getting new clients because word of mouth this seems to be how it happens for us, but um, you can find us if you look for us.

Anne Candido 54:56
I like that. I like that. Well, thank you so much for being part of this and what that will tell all of our listeners to go exercise your Marketing Smarts!

April Martini 55:06
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