Alumni Update: Interview with Steven Rank
Whether it’s the local business down the street or a billion dollar corporation, Steven Rank knows how to take a brand to the next level. An Ohio native now living in New York City, Steven and his team at Sarankco (Steven Andrew Rank and Company) aim to help companies create strong brand identities, unique engagement experiences, and communication that matters. During Steven’s recent return to BG’s campus on October 30 to give an ARTalk, I got the chance to sit down with the ’93 BGSU GD alum for a quick interview to talk about all things Steven, Sarankco, dogs, and design.
-Nick Welker, BGSUGD Student
First things first, what made you interested in pursuing a career in design and why BGSU?
I met a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art in high school and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I was thinking about architecture or psychology, but she didn’t let me give up on art and said that there’s this field called commercial art and that I should look into it. Back then there was no internet so she showed me some books and brochures on Kent, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Bowling Green. So I visited Cincinnati and then Dayton and finally Bowling Green and what I think I liked most was the size of the campus, I liked the art department, and I liked the faculty I met as well and so I just felt that Bowling Green was it for me.
So you graduated in 1993 and started your company Sarankco in 2007. What kind of design work were you doing in-between those milestones?
First I went to Toledo and worked for a studio where we did small, more boutique design for clients like University of Toledo and Toledo Public Schools. It was a lot of smaller institutional work. Then when I moved to Cleveland I worked for a couple places where we did a lot of marketing and branding work that was much more creative. And then I got this desire to push myself further, so at 28 I went to New York and just fell in love with the city. I got a job offer from Siegal + Gale which is a huge branding firm in the city and I worked for them for six and a half years. Then I worked for another firm and after that I decided to start Sarankco. It was kind of a mixed bag. A lot of corporate identity, marketing, bigger campaign work. It was pretty broad.
According to your website Sarankco is now 32 people strong. What are some of the advantages of working with a larger team like that? Is there anything that you miss about the early days of the company when you were smaller?
It’s funny because it’s so weird to hear you say “larger” even though 32 does feel big. Ten years ago I never would’ve imagined being 32 people. I never thought I’d maybe get above ten. There’s something about working on a smaller team that is really personal. You’re involved in every decision in the project. I don’t over direct because I like being the team member that helps guide and mentor people on the way. But now that we’re 32 we’re able to take on more and bigger projects. It’s almost like a S.W.A.T. team where I can put the right people on the right project instead of hoping that the people that are in the office can tackle the work that’s coming in. I can also mix things up a little bit. Oftentimes there might be two designers that don’t usually work together so I’ll put them together on an assignment because I feel like that will get me really great work from them. It’s all about creating great outcomes for my clients but also great learning opportunities for the team.
Is there a dream project you’ve always wanted to do that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
You know I’d love to do a complete rebrand of a university. I think that would be a very interesting assignment because I love identity, I love signage, I love experiential design like finding ways to bring a brand to life in unexpected ways. I also just love communication design so a university would be an amazing assignment because you’d be able to affect the brand from all sides like communications, brand identity, even the brand messaging like how the brand talks with a tone and voice. I think that would be the biggest, that or a small city.
Like a whole city?
Yeah! Think if Toledo or Cleveland wanted to rebrand. You’d affect so many different touch points whether it be the city’s brand itself, its signage, its communication. You’d be touching every connection the public has with that city.
As you mentioned before Sarankco is now ten years old so congratulations on that milestone.
What do you want to see Sarankco achieve in the next ten years?
You know, I don’t know for sure. I never started out with a business plan. I just had a vision of building a company in a different way, one that wasn’t driven by profits or a holding company with a bunch of partners. It’s my company and I can shape and mold it as I want. So as the clients grow and change I’m able to quickly adapt to that. I have no idea what we’ll be doing in ten years but I know we’ll be doing some great stuff. We’re going to grow a little more, like talking about maybe opening a satellite office, but that is yet to be known. I think what happens in the next two years will be critical to how much bigger we grow.
Is there anything that you’re currently working on right now that you are excited about and can share with us?
We’ve been working with the NBA on a cool engagement strategy with their fans so I’m interested in seeing where that is going to go. And we just started working on a top secret project for Toys R Us that I can’t say too much more about. More on that to come. Keep an eye out.
I’ve seen and heard a lot about your dogs, Roger and Madge. What’s it like being the parent of famous dogs?
They’re awesome. They are the most humble celebrities in the world. They wake up every day and are happy to have food in their bowl and are happy to go to work with me. They’re both rescue dogs so for me giving them this chance to live this interesting life is awesome. I feel like in their own special way they’re very appreciative. And you know my team loves them and they make life extra special. There’s something about dogs where any time I bring them up in a speech or when someone comes in for an interview and the minute they see them it changes the conversation. There is something so crazy about us and dogs.
Lastly, do you have any advice for the design students preparing to enter the professional world?
Be confident in your work. Make sure you bring along your sketchbook to talk about process. Of course I love great work, but I also love great thinking and I think that is really critical. I want to see that the thinking is there because there’s so many people that can proclaim to be a designer. They’ve got the tools, they’ve got the equipment, but design is really about the idea so if the idea isn’t there clients and employers can see right through you. And also be gracious. The business world can be very impersonal and the people who succeed are the ones that I think are appreciative and thankful for what they do. We’re so lucky to be in a profession where we make things all the time and I think just remembering that and bringing that positive attitude is important.
For more on Steven and Sarankco head on over to www.sarankco.com.
Interview by Nick Welker