Community-focused design firm Well Design Studio continues to push itself. Even through the COVID-19 crisis, the team almost doubled its workforce and talent with strategic new hires and once again outgrew its office space.
Well Design moved to 605 Livingston Ave. NE in the Belknap area in February, but the team had only a couple weeks to call the new office home before COVID hit and everybody was sent to work from home.
“Now we are somewhat back,” said Josh Leffingwell, co-founder and partner with Well Design. “Everybody can work from home, but some folks are coming in.”
The Belknap office is a serious upgrade from Well Design’s previous home on Fulton Street. With more than twice the square footage, the new space also comes with private offices and air conditioning.
“Before we were sort of in a ‘punk rock’ office, but it wasn’t terribly great for doing any work,” Leffingwell said.
“The other one we just grew out of so fast,” co-founder and partner Tyler Doornbos said. “We bought it, then we had to expand the team, and nine months after we got it, we were like, ‘this isn’t going to work.’”
When Well Design was still on Fulton, the firm only had five full-time employees, but now it’s grown to nine. Leffingwell said there was no way for Well Design to fit nine full-time employees, plus all of its contractors, in the 700-square-foot space.
Amanda Toala was added to Well Design as a copywriter and project teams coordinator after previously working as one of its contractors.
The first copywriter Well Design has ever hired, Toala also is bilingual in Spanish and English. As a contractor, she assisted Well Design with the “Get the Lead Out” campaign it did with the city of Grand Rapids and Ingalls Pictures to spread awareness about lead in old homes, especially for the Spanish-speaking populace.
“It was a natural fit when we were looking to expand our work in that area,” Doornbos said.
“I like the fact that Well Design is community-oriented, so I didn’t think about it twice,” Toala said. “I like the feeling that my work is helping people, and also reaching out to the Latinx community.”
Well Design still works primarily with nonprofits and municipalities, including awareness campaigns for the U.S. Census and COVID-19, and Leffingwell wanted to make sure Well Design is giving communities that don’t speak English the information they need.
“Right around 20% of the population is Latinx,” Leffingwell said. “While not all of them speak Spanish, we need to make sure we’re showing respect and we’re giving them the information they need. We’re not giving them some basic translation that’s potentially misspelled, miswritten, or has poor idioms.”
Leffingwell added even for-profit companies wouldn’t intentionally miss out on reaching 20% of potential customers.
Well Design also doubled its web development team — going from one to two developers — by adding Alex Ziuraitis. Doornbos said he will be integral in expanding the types of services Well Design will be able to deliver to its clients.
Ziuraitis was a freelance developer for three years prior to joining Well Design. A year ago, he moved back to Michigan from Colorado and was introduced to the firm via a friend in the same line of work.
“Of course I wanted to work for them. It’s a great studio, and obviously I wanted the stability of working for a studio instead of freelance,” Ziuraitis said.
The firm also brought on Dani Kerley, lead designer, who brings seven years of experience in design. They said they chose Well Design because the company best aligned with their personal ethics.
“I’ve been at agencies where we’ve had conflicting clients — maybe an ammunition brand and a church” Kerley said. “I just wanted to find a place that had basic morals, and I definitely had it here.”
Lastly, Well Design hired Colleen Bruce as another lead designer.
“I think what spoke to me with Well Design was the work was impactful,” Bruce said. “Sometimes going to those jobs where the work isn’t impactful, it’s not fulfilling. When I came in, everyone was so nice and genuine, and it shows that through the work we’re doing.”
Through the hiring process, Well Design was intentional about hiring people who don’t just have a passion for pushing pixels, but who also understand the issues their clients are facing.
“Obviously you need folks who are great graphic designers, but you also need really smart, thoughtful people,” Leffingwell said. “And that’s something that from the start we’ve taken pretty seriously.”
For example, Well Design is building a website for the National Center for Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health, which brought forth the question of how the team could bring trauma-informed design to the digital medium. Kerley said the concept is common in architecture, but not so much in graphic design.
“Some of the basics include simplifying spaces, making sure there are clear entrances and exits,” Kerley said. “So taking that and flipping it to a design visual, you’d want to maintain a clear visual space, not anything you’d have to read into. You want to just give it to the audience, because there are less hoops to jump through.”
“The folks who are coming in are already thinking of ways that they can be impactful within the organization, and that’s something that’s been really refreshing,” Leffingwell said.