When I spotted the jars of garden produce that Michelle Obama had packaged up so beautifully to give away as presents I was intrigued. Who had designed the packaging? Who gets that job? I want that job! Alissa Walker tracked down the story before I did and ran a great piece on the branding of the Obama vegetables here. It turns out Michael Cronan and Karin Hibma of creative agency Cronan were behind the packaging. They are also the clever minds behind the name of Amazon’s Kindle and the naming and brand design of TIVO.
I’m following Alissa’s story with a look at their hillside workspace. Often when we run these stories on couples it makes sense to cover it all off in the same post. This one I will run over two days and as you read on you’ll see why. I hope you enjoy these posts as much I enjoyed putting them together.
How long have you worked from home? And where is home? We have been working at home for about 6 years. We moved because the property just seemed perfect for us. We are in the Berkeley hills, a three acre place with good size house that functions well as office, working and living space.
We focus on working with new companies or new ideas in more established companies. We provide brand strategy as well as the name and visual identity for a company, product or service. The work spans from high tech to consumer foods, goods and services. We concentrate on who our clients and/or their products truly are and who/what they wish to become as our template for operation.
Describe your style? How would you define your aesthetic? Our style is relaxed, open and informal which is based on our backgrounds in fine art and our experience with highly successful entrepreneurs, presidents and CEO’s. Our aesthetic borrows from every other aesthetic. We look at culture, history and spend a lot of time trying to see “around the corner” to create strategies and tools that advance our clients’ goals. We are recovering modernists who love the modern form but recognize that design is essentially about enabling people to create better outcomes and we work to those ends, adopting the style that best conveys the message.
As someone with multiple clients how do you keep your office organized? I’m thinking here of the physical space but also your computer. Except for one of our first offices, which was a tiny 530 square feet, we have always had studios that averaged 5000 sq. ft. With this move it was time for a change and, as we have all experienced, technology has enabled us to essentially conduct the wide scope of our business from two large office/studios, one on each floor of the house. (Michael is also a painter, “Matchsticks” below is part of his 2001 Still Life series. For more work click here).
Karin works on a Burdick Desk combination set and I work on two tables, which we designed, they were part of our former conference rooms. The other two conference tables make a terrific meeting and dinner table, especially when we have large groups or get the Thanksgiving cohort of family and friends. I have two Aeron chairs at the desk and I have a Leaf Lamp on my desk that I use constantly, our oldest son Nick Cronan works with Yves Behar at fuseproject and this is a signed original (their younger son, Shawn is pictured above with Michael. Shawn is a sculptor and furniture designer. You can see his work here.)
We have always used Apple products since we worked with them long ago. I have three screens (which are not Apple) and also use my space as a painting studio as well, so an innocent visitor might think I am an artist that became a stock trader. Karin’s relies on a powerful laptop that holds everything and she plugs it into large screens in her office when she works there. I use a large Apple server and rely on my laptop to work on design and presentations when we are traveling. So we use similar tools but use them very differently.
The primary reason we can work like we do is the internet and the elegant and useful services that it holds. When a project requires, we work with an extended family of people (many of whom worked full-time for us at some point) almost completely online. They are web specialists, music folks, production experts and folks to help facilitate the work. These are folks who understand our standards and best practices and who generate fun in working together.
Are there any particular programs you find really useful? My programs are Illustrator, Photoshop, Keynote, PowerPoint, Word.
When you were setting up your home office what did you keep in mind? We wanted the office and studios to be relaxed and efficient at the same time, and as it turns out that has been a factor contributing to the growth of our business… it’s a great place to dive deep into the big picture. One of the benefits to my office/studio is the big fireplace, on cool winter (and summers in Berkeley can be cool, too) I have a big roaring fire of eucalyptus logs – great ambience, and warm! To be safe, we have redundant internet systems that help us make sure that our connectivity won’t go down and are sufficiently backed up on our computer systems, both of those lend a certain serenity. To be relaxed, and this was important to us, we wanted to have views and space around us, and to be able to be comfortable indoors and get outdoors easily. Both of our offices have big windows and doors. Being creative requires a conducive space — whatever that means to the individual creator — ours requires that “flow”.
Is there any piece of home office furniture you wish you had? I want more and bigger screens and ways to manage them. And I really need triage cord management!
What is a desk accessory you can’t do without? A green teapot that forever reminds me to be mindful or else I spill tea all over my desk.
What would you change about your own workspace? I would have twenty foot ceilings!
What do you most love about your space? Our home functions as a great place to have a business, our dining room is a great conference room, the living room is a cool place to interview and entertain people. The porches and kitchen and patios give us indoor/outdoor space. It is large enough to give us an expansive mood and it even accommodates Karin’s dad, who is 93 this year, as well as his health care folks. The place feels like a summer camp in the middle of Berkeley with outstanding views in a pretty high density city. So I would say that the positive impression that our former offices communicated is achieved here as well. Our clients often choose to come and visit us whenever possible. Imagine a summer camp three minutes away from Chez Panisse.
What inspires you? It will undoubtedly sound “schmaltzy” but it is the truth. I personally have to say the single most inspirational element in my life is my partner Karin. Her insights have always help take me to new levels of thinking. Next, our kids, who are both grown and in successful design and art careers, generate much inspiration around here. Their ability to do and think amazing things is rewarding to see and it definitely keeps me on my toes. After that include almost everything including the stuff I hate. Feeling that passionate about something means that I have to investigate further and learn the source of the irritation, it can lead to some interesting insights and inspirations.
Above is ‘Chalkbox”, another painting from Michael’s 2001 Still Life series.