Inside The Studio: Turnstyle

by Andrew Gibbs

I recently visited Turnstyle, a Seattle, Washington based firm in the little neighborhood of Ballard. I have been a big fan of Turnstyle's work, featuring several projects on The Dieline over the years. I was super excited to visit their space, meet the team, and see where all the great work comes from.

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The Turnstyle Team: Ben Graham, Steve Watson, and Matt Diefenbach

Stepping into the studio, I was awed by the architecture. Graham Baba Architects designed the office. The building itself is over 100 years old and was formerly home to Kolstrand Marine Hardware manufacturer. A large mural on the central wall of the studio features the top half of two-story advertising mural for “L. Karn Groceries, Dealer in Staple & Fancy,” which is where the renowned Ethan Stowell Restaurant Staple & Fancy downstairs got its name.

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Turnstyle started about 8 years ago:

“Matt, Ben and I worked at Fitch in the Seattle office. We became anxious to do our own thing and spun off. The first year we mostly did work for small, unknown companies…and then we did the DRY Soda packaging. We credit that work for getting us on the map,” said Steve Watson.

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Since then their team has growth from 3 to 13 people. When asked about growing the business, Steve Watson clearly stated we have “no aspirations to become a mammoth.”

Steve Watson continues: 

“We’re  a mid-sized studio, but we can handle any job. Sometimes people think they need a large consultancy to handle a huge job. They don’t, really. They need the ability, but not the huge team.”  

 On becoming a packaging design firm:

“When we started Turnstyle, we didn’t plan to position ourselves as just a packaging design firm.” Ben Graham adds in: “But we love consumer packaging because it’s one of those mediums that has such tactile richness and potential. Lucky for The Dieline, it’s sticking around.”

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It's lucky Turnstyle has stuck around too! Over the years, they have developed many successful packaging designs for their clients (many of them whom we have featured on The Dieline). Style to them is simple way of saying complex things. They do have a lot to say. Featured in their offices, displayed like grand trophies are their great designs. These includes classics such as Dry Soda, Full Tank Baby Fuel, Happy Wrap, Nordstrom Hosiery, Jaipur Avenue, Julep, Marination Brand, and Seven.

Andrew Gibbs asked:

“What are your favorite kinds of projects to work on? If you have a dream project, what would it be?”

Ben Graham says:

"People who want something juicy with print.”

Steve Watson adds:

“We did a book with Teague, one of the original industrial design firms—they were around with the likes of Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss. The book was an 80-year retrospective that was both historical and forward-looking. We partnered with Teague on the concept of the book itself. Because it celebrates 8 decades, we divided it into 8 sections, each with different papers and printing techniques. It was a true pleasure to work on and is still one of our favorite pieces.”

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Andrew Gibbs asked:

“What are some of your worst client experiences?”

Steve Watson says:

Trying to decide your company’s name through a logo design process, is about the worst thing you can do.

Ben Graham adds:

“In our early years, we took on this one project against our own better judgments. We were young—not literally young but, young as a company. The client had like five name candidates and said, ‘Lets just do one logo design against each one of these names, then when we see the logos we'll be able to choose the name.’ We ended up going five rounds and doing some forty logos. It wasn’t a big budget, it was just bad decision making all around. The worst decision was us agreeing to do it that way in the first place.”

Matt Diefenbach:

"When you're young and hungry, you can talk yourself into taking on almost anything. We've learned a few business lessons the hard way, but that's how you gain experience. The good news is we’ve managed to survive our early missteps and recent economic storms. We are really optimistic about what's coming down the pike.” 

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Thank you Turnstyle!

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