10 Questions With Branding Expert Joe Duffy

“The future, as ever, belongs to the fearless.”

It seems that Joe Duffy has his sights set on the future, both for his clients and for his company. As Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Duffy (formerly Duffy & Partners), he has designed some of the world’s most iconic brands — Coca-Cola, The Islands of the Bahamas, Jack in the Box, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Mall of America, just to name a few. Duffy has successfully been in business for over 30 years, and this sort of success happens for those who truly understand the world of design and accept that it is ever-changing.

Looking to grow and continue to evolve, Duffy has not only just announced their newest branch in Chicago, but a new offering as well: Design Experience. This will be a “unique delivery of classic design principles, user experience design and heavy-lifting technology implementation.” Simply put, it’s intended to future-proof a brand.

“Now, virtually every one of our clients needs to bring their new or revitalized brand to life digitally,” Duffy comments, “and the strategy for it should be considered at the outset, not after the fact.”

We were lucky enough to speak with Joe about what Design Experience will provide for clients, Duffy’s design process, and what keeps him inspired in design and in his life.

1. Congratulations on Duffy’s new Chicago presence! What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered in expanding the agency? How did you deal with them?

The biggest challenge was to once again bring major change to our 30+ year old design firm. This is the 6th or 7th time we’ve re-invented ourselves and with major change comes the “risk/reward” proposition. Fortunately, we’ve changed at the right time and the results have been as positive in the past as I believe they will be here. Dealing with the challenges has always been a shared responsibility, as was the case with this change – that makes it much easier on me personally.

2. Tell us more about Duffy’s exciting new offering, Design Experience. In what new ways do you see this benefiting your clients?

In the past we’ve called on Marty and his team if our brand identity clients needed digital applications like a website or mobile app. His team would come in after we had done our work and help bring it to life. Now, virtually every one of our clients needs to bring their new or revitalized brand to life digitally and the strategy for it should be considered at the outset, not after the fact. That’s our new and very exciting approach to a creating a complete design experience for our clients.


3. Duffy has been in business for over 30 years. How have you seen the design world change? And: what do you foresee the future of design to look like?

It’s interesting, the design world has changed significantly over the years I’ve been involved in it but our core approach to it is the same. We design new brand identities and revitalize existing ones with the exact same mindset that we had over 30 years ago. Technology has changed drastically – we didn’t have computers and there was no internet when we started, but those are tools and new mediums, not new ways to create based on what ’s going in popular culture.

4. We couldn’t talk about your success without talking about your team. What qualities do you look for in Duffy team members? How do you feel this contributes to the success of the company?

Quite simply, I look for extremely talented, extremely genuine, good people – it’s a 50/50 proposition for me – talent/personality. Once I find them, I depend on them to do great work without interference from me. My job is to maintain the best possible creative environment in which they can do work that will benefit our clients and advance their careers – work we’re all proud of – every bit of it.

5. You’ve worked with some amazing and well-known brands. What are the most important things to you as Duffy considers new clients? How do you know it will be a good fit and what gets you excited to start working on a new project?

Once again, it’s pretty simple – can we do work that will move the needle for this potential client and will it be work we’ll be proud of?


6. Once you’ve gained a new client or project, what is your process? Do you follow a tried-and-true formula, is every single client different, or is it a hybrid of the two?

Every client is unique and we need to uncover what makes them so but our process is always the same. We do a deep dive into the brand’s history, the category, the competitive set and the audience. From there we work with our clients on a verbal brief that leads to a visual brief which becomes the filter through which design decisions are made. We then design and apply that design to all key brand touch points.


7. What’s been one of your favorite projects at Duffy? What made it so enjoyable?

My favorite is always the latest one because I love a new challenge but the old one that I usually give as an example of my favorite is The Islands Of The Bahamas – partially because we went there to do our “deep dive” when it was January in Minnesota.

8. As an entrepreneur, what do you wish you’d known when you first started the company? What advice would you give to designers looking to start their own agency today?

I was lucky, I had worked for and with bright, talented people who taught me so much about business and creativity. That learning process has been key to our success. It’s a balance between art and commerce and if you’re only good at one or the other, you will fail. Therein lies my advice.


9. You’ve mentioned before how you believe that good work will attract the type of clients a designer hopes to work with, however this can feel frustrating to a designer who trusts their work is good but is not fulfilled by the projects they’re hired to do. What tangible advice would you offer to a designer who feels stuck like this? What steps can they take to improve in all aspects of their work?

See #8. You must have not only the talent to create great design, you have to have the business and people skills to create a successful business around your great design. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

10. What inspires you — in design and in life?

My family inspires me. I have the amazing good fortune to have my two children as partners and working with them makes every day a blessing and an inspiration in design and in life.