Upon first glance and based on size alone, Instrument is impressive. In just the past five years the Portland-based creative digital agency has grown from 25 employees to 120, and last November founders Justin Lewis, Vincent LaVecchia, and JD Hooge moved the lot into a 30,000 square-foot space in Northeast side of the city.
Once you start poking around, you’ll pick up on how the overall design is conducive to something Hooge believes is critical to the creative process: unplanned collisions. Though he can’t take credit for the concept—Hooge cites Steve Jobs during his tenure at Pixar as inspiration—it’s something Instrument “really latched on to.” But why? “Everyone here is problem solving, but it’s easy to get sucked into your own team or zone,” says Hooge.
“Sometimes, you have to (literally) get out of your comfort zone and leave it up to chance. There’s a shitload of really creative smart people around, so it’s easy to run into them and run an idea by them.”
While the spacious, airy atrium is an obvious place for spontaneous interaction, it’s not the only thing Hooge considered during the design process. Believe it or not, even the trash cans are strategically placed. Instead of individual bins there are working “islands,” large multi-function production tables for trash, recycling, supplies, and printing—because simply standing up and throwing something out could spark spontaneous idea sharing. There’s also plenty of de rigueur white boards and markers throughout the space, should you need to jot something down on the spot.
As for the “really creative smart people” Hooge is referring to, they’re a terrifically diverse bunch, with backgrounds ranging from design to strategy to production. And they come to Instrument “to be challenged, and be part of a community that’s vibrant, healthy, and progressive.”
But perhaps the most interesting thing about working here is the lack of formal, tried-and-true methods. In fact, Hooge says they’re anti-process. “There’s no formula, because we work with so many different clients and do so many different kinds of things. But our values are always set in stone. When we start working with a client, we craft the right team and timeline. Then we choose the right tools, methods, and deliverables on the spot.”
“You know how in traditional advertising you buy a multi-step process that outputs a thing? We flip that upside down.”
Whether it’s developing nike.com so it looks sharp on mobile and desktop, or building out an app for The Metropolitan Museum of Art to streamline and customize an often overwhelming experience, Hooge says, “We always strive to do the best work, and be the best to work with. We’re really big on customer service. We want the experience to be great for everyone involved.”
Though Instrument’s really proud of everything they’ve accomplished to date, make no mistake: self-promotion isn’t their thing. Proof positive: they don’t participate in awards of any kind. “We don’t spend a lot of time talking about what we’ve done,” says Hooge. “Instead, we work.”