Rachel Downey is a self-proclaimed experience junkie. It’s what drives her to never turn down a challenge and to always remain “crazy busy.” Downey’s commitment to never let up has been a key factor in the success of Guide Studio Inc., which recently rebranded itself from its former name, Studio Graphique.
“I came to realize a couple years ago that the name Studio Graphique didn’t really represent who we had grown into,” Downey says of the company she founded 20 years ago and now leads as president. “The name change was a long time in the making. Guide states what we do best, which is guide our clients on how to connect people to their places.”
If you’ve been to Heinen’s, University Circle, Ohio City, South Euclid or the Greater Miami Riverway in southwest Ohio, you’ve likely experienced Downey’s work. Her company works with clients to develop a strategy for signage that engages people.
“I’ve always had a passion for wayfinding and environmental graphics,” Downey says. “I really love that work. Not every designer does. But I love it because it requires a balance of left-brain and right-brain thinking. There is a real technical and logistical aspect to putting a sign program together. Then there’s the creative side and the psychology of how people feel, experience, orient and look for information in space. How are they processing their environment? There are creative aspects to ultimately design buildable signage.”
One of Downey’s first jobs, which proved to be a catalyst to start Studio Graphique, was to create a brand for a new restaurant in Lake County known today as Willoughby Brewing Co.
“I quit my job at Steris and had one weekend to come up with a name for the business,” Downey says. “I wrote my first proposal and eventually we did everything for that company for quite a period of time. We did environmental graphics, designed beer caps and bottle labels, the menus and the marketing. It was an awesome project.”
Twenty years later, Downey reconnected with the same client, T.J. Reagan, to develop branding and signage for a new brewery in Willoughby called BRIM Kitchen + Brewery.
“That officially marks him as my longest relationship and it bookends the start of my career with my more recent work,” Downey says.
An evolving role
While Downey brings a lot of energy to her work, she has also found great passion for growing her business.
“It was pretty early in the business that my role evolved,” Downey says. “I stepped out of doing the design work and let the rock stars shine while I focused more on the business part of the business. It turns out I really enjoy that. Because I wasn’t trying to wear so many hats, I got focused on how do I build a successful company that I love and other people will love.”
Downey says she got her work ethic from her father, who shares many of the personality traits that she possesses.
“He has always worked in public service to do work that positively impacts others,” she says. “We both like to puzzle things out.”
She also took a lot from Barb Brown and Margie Flynn, the principals and co-founders at Cleveland-based BrownFlynn.
“They inspired me to give back,” Downey says. “I dedicate a lot of time to training entrepreneurs because I know how valuable that was to me and I want to pass that down to others.”
Guide Studio has 10 employees and Downey says her plan is to stay pretty close to that level in the years ahead.
“We’re less concerned with growing our head count and more thinking about growing our capacity and the skillsets of the people who are here,” she says.
The work that Guide Studio does has deep meaning for Downey and that connectedness is something she wants to maintain as the company grows.
“The wayfinding program at Kent State, I went to college there, so that program is really fun,” Downey says. “It’s called Kent Speaks and the signs have a little bit of an attitude and they talk back to you in a fun way. It’s so representative of what that community is all about. That’s my favorite work. Our work is so authentic to the inherent brand we’ve uncovered in that community.”
As she goes forward, Downey says she’ll seek to continue building on those emotional connections between people and places.
“I sound like I do it all and I almost do, to my detriment,” she says. “But I want to maximize my human experience and be able to do work that helps other people maximize their experiences. To me, success is really being able to live my purpose, to be surrounded by great people who believe in common ideals and share common values and to have a lot of fun.” ●
How to reach: Guide Studio, (216) 921-0750 or guidestudio.com