co-founder Michael Ozan has spent his career in design, so it's perhaps appropriate for him to view the big picture when considering Cleveland's renaissance in the creative realm.
The city has evolved into what a friend of Ozan's calls "a new-old country," possessing a kind of nostalgic authenticity and old-school hardworking attitude that has been attracting designers, architects, artists, photographers, videographers and others seeking to invigorate Cleveland with fresh new ideas.
"There was a time when we couldn't find new talent," says Ozan of his Ohio City-based branding firm that he founded in 2000 with wife Connie. "The creative community is booming now."
TWIST is just one local firm doing its part to make Cleveland a beacon for imaginative minds. With the region's future success highly dependent on the procurement of young talent, the design community's exciting body of work is earning Cleveland the right kind of buzz both nationally and regionally, argue the area's design stalwarts.
Life tastes better when you shop here
TWIST has a roster of 30 clients, designing print and digital materials including logos, advertisements and websites. Earlier this year, the firm worked with the West Side Market to generate interest in the storied public market's centennial celebration
Perusing the market's wares is not a typical retail experience, understood the TWIST creative team. "When was the last time you asked someone to take a picture of you buying meat at the grocery store?" quips Ozan.
With the market's iconic destination-spot reputation in mind, TWIST came up with "Life Tastes Better When You Shop Here," a marketing campaign complete with homey photographs of ballcap-wearing kids munching watermelon and a happy older couple studying a bottle of wine under the gaze of a smiling clerk. With help from Ohio City Inc. and market leadership, the branding firm also dressed the building and surrounding neighborhood with banners celebrating the market's century of existence.
The West Side Market is not an entity that exists in a vacuum, but rather a representation of an entire neighborhood bustling with activity, says Ozan. The firm wants to be part of making the burgeoning West Side neighborhood a bohemian enclave for artists, restaurateurs and other innovative folks. Ohio City is well on its way, believes Ozan, as there are 50 shops and eateries within walking distance of his office at W. 28th Street and Lorain Avenue.
The firm would love to see other Cleveland neighborhoods echo this kind of progress. TWIST is currently working with Zaremba Homes
on a housing project for Slavic Village, an historic district that has seen hard times recently but has the capability to be another Ohio City.
"There's a powerful momentum going in these neighborhoods," says Ozan. "Feet on the street drives retail."
Showcasing Cleveland's talent pool
While some design firms are helping to draw attention to Cleveland's eclectic retail districts, others are busy showcasing the city as a creative powerhouse.
is an Ohio City firm that specializes in branding, graphic design, and web development, with clients including Lincoln Electric
and American Greetings
. The company also sells its own products and runs a blog at GoMediaZine.com.
Jeff Finley is the company's vice president and self-described "social media guru." In 2010, he founded Weapons of Mass Creation (WMC
), an annual art, design and music festival held in Cleveland. The three-day event invites artists, entrepreneurs and creative professionals from all over the country to celebrate the inspirational and visionary work taking place not just in Cleveland, but throughout the Midwest.
"We have people coming in from New York, Chicago and San Francisco recognizing the region as a spot where good design is happening," says Finley.
WMC is a way to showcase Cleveland as a vibrant place for people who may misjudge it as a typical, staid rust belt city. The festival can be viewed as a talent-retention device as well, says Finley.
"People will go to school here and then leave for another job," he says. WMC "is a way to change our reputation and make Cleveland a destination."
Go Media is furthering this effort with "On the Map," a video series featuring the people and places that make Cleveland a creative and culturally rich location in which to live and work. The videos are meant to engage the community by showing the cool things around town while inspiring industrious young people interested in starting their own businesses.
Along with its design work, Go Media reaches out to entrepreneurs, providing insight on a general business model as well as logo design and brand positioning. This kind of artistic synergy can only help draw positive vibes to Cleveland, Finley believes.
"We're really passionate, and people are seeing that," he says.
A missionary for Cleveland creatives
When Studio Graphique
founder Rachel Downey is searching for inspiration, all she has to do is look out the window. Her branding, placemaking and wayfinding firm has its office on Shaker Square, a spot resonating with "urban energy" and excitement that makes Downey's job just a little bit easier.
The studio creates signage that accentuates the "brand" of a company, university, or sports facility. If you're studying a map kiosk for the best way to get around a college campus, for instance, it's quite possible that Studio Graphique did the work.
Downey is impressed with Cleveland's gifted artistic enclave. The community is not large, but it covers a spectrum of industries from product design to architecture. That talent can go unnoticed -- a circumstance Downey ascribes to modest Midwestern mentalities -- but Studio Graphique, for one, is looking to expand its own reach through projects out of state.
"People will recognize Cleveland as a hub of talent," Downey says.
All of this good work points to one thing, says TWIST co-founder Ozan: Cleveland is changing, and the country is taking notice. The shift is occurring in part because Clevelanders themselves are no longer accepting mediocrity as they once did. Cleveland's design community has a growing national reputation that mirrors the steady transformation of the city itself.
"We're getting known for our personality and quality of work," says Ozan. "The kind of character where you can knock us down and we keep getting back up."
In the meantime, the city's creatives will continue to be part of Cleveland's resurgence. "Design is not decorating -- it's got everything to do with the economy," Ozan says.
Photos Bob Perkoski
Main Photo of Twist Creative
Front L-R: Founder & Design Director Connie Ozan and President & Chief Creative Officer Mike Ozan
Second Row L-R: Designer Stacey Martin, chief financial officer Paul Roberto, Design Intern Liz Bermea and Designer Kim Hall
Back Row L-R: Director of Strategy & Development Josh Taylor, Director of Media Relations Todd Sheppard, Art Director Joel Miller and Director of Design Operations Christopher Oldham.