For Soung Wiser, the founder and creative director of The General Design Company in Washington, DC, collaborating with local restaurants and culinary talent on branding and design is a no-brainer. “It’s a natural part of my everyday life,” says Wiser. “There’s no social situation like eating and drinking and going out, and I enjoy it a lot.”
Even the company’s space has a story tied to food. After founding the company in 2007 and working from a spare room at home for a few months, friend and chef of seafood hot spot Hank’s Oyster Bar, Jamie Leed, offered Wiser the second floor of her restaurant’s building in Dupont Circle. The location and space felt right immediately; it was strategically located in a popular neighborhood without “being in the fray.”
Initially, the team of four—Wiser works with two designers and a studio manager—tried out different office configurations (like working in separate rooms), but eventually agreed that working in close proximity altogether in one room felt best. “It’s about osmosis. Younger designers are getting exposure to things they wouldn’t at a bigger company or firm.” says Wiser. “Also, things are much more fluid this way, and we can tap into everyone’s level of experience and expertise immediately.”
Because the team is so small, everyone must be flexible and quick to adapt to the task at hand, even if it’s far from glamorous. While some creative directors would be quick to delegate such work to a junior employee, Wiser is not one of them. She jokes, “I’m also a dishwasher here. I’m happy to roll up my sleeves and get down to work.”
This kind of fuss-free attitude is also apparent in The General Design Company’s approach to design. “We believe in the idea that design is most effective when it’s looked at as a utility, and not an elite, high-minded thing,” explains Wiser.
“We want design to feel as necessary as having electricity, plumbing, or internet.”
To persuade clients that design is, indeed, a utility, trust must be established first. For example, while branding Graffiato, chef Mike Isabella’s downtown Italian-focused restaurant, The General Design Company let Isabella speak first, rather than enter the project with an agenda of their own. “We believe our clients always have a deeper insight into what’s going to work for them, and we let them inspire us,” says Wiser. “And we’ve had enough people come to us saying they’ve worked with designers in the past who were condescending.”
To capture Isabella’s bold personality and cooking style, Wiser and her team developed a typographic identity. First, a thick, black capital “G” was used to channel Isabella’s spirit; then the letter was distressed—Graffiato means “scratched” in Italian. The final logo is simple, yet highly evocative. It’s also scalable, and looks as crisp and sharp on a business card as it does splashed across restaurant’s interior.
It’s a project that’s paid off both personally and professionally. “Graffiato is a great case study, and it’s been helpful in securing us more work with restaurants,” says Wiser. But more than that, it’s more proof that design is more than a utility—it’s a powerful business tool. “It’s something that every company needs to be successful, but many don’t realize it,” says Wiser. “Why shouldn’t design be part of everyday life and business?”