Meet the founders redefining the art of branding

Meet the founders redefining the art of branding

Helping businesses build value through creativity

For over 26 years, two former art school friends have been using creativity to help brands succeed in an increasingly competitive world. Mike Kelar and Mikey Richardson met at OCAD in the early 1990s, a time of intense innovation in art and design, and teamed up to develop a unique creative approach to branding that blends human insights and a respect for tradition with the limitless possibilities of technology.

Ahead of the curve

“In those days there was a ton of experimentation going on,” says Kelar. “We’d grown up using traditional art and design techniques, but we were now tinkering with brand new digital technologies and inventing unexpected creative ways to use them.” 

As tools evolved, traditional design methods were changing, too. Educated in an environment favouring European minimalism, they were increasingly inspired by a new avant-garde of cultural influences in design, music, art and fashion. “We wanted to challenge the status quo and bring more of an unexpected artfulness to our work,” says Richardson. “We wanted to create more than just traditional corporate collateral such as logos, business cards and annual reports.”

But at the time, the design world was struggling to keep up with the speed of change, and Toronto, known as a corporate bank town, was much less receptive to out-of-the-box ideas.

In 1996, a desire to break the mould and create “cool stuff” across many mediums prompted the pair to co-found experimental design studio AmoebaCorp., which became Jacknife in 2013. See the full scope of the team’s work in the documentary unMade: 26 years in the making.

Embracing change

With humble beginnings designing album covers for local bands, the agency quickly rose to fame with a wackily cheery and youthful campaign for YTV. “We knew we’d struck a chord because soon enough we saw other Canadian youth brands mimicking our work,” says Richardson. 

Since then, they have always managed to stay relevant, with projects involving strategic brand identity systems, packaging, digital content, advertising and even product and interior design. “We’ve always believed in a diverse and holistic approach in helping our clients connect with their audiences,” says Kelar.

Influential work

Sources of creative inspiration are limitless for Kelar and Richardson. Kelar says it’s important to look beyond your social media feed, whether strolling the city streets, admiring architecture or people-watching. “We encourage our team to cultivate their own influences instead of copying what’s trending,” says Kelar.

The duo’s consistent innovation in Canadian design over 26 years has clearly made an impact. “Today Toronto is much more diverse, which you can really see reflected in the local creative scene,” says Kelar.

Creating better branding

Jacknife has helped revitalize long-standing Canadian brands like InniskillinSecond Cup and The Pop Shoppe, creating eye-catching branding while still paying homage to their illustrious histories.

In 2007, the studio was tasked with developing the brand launch of Toronto FC , including naming, identity system, brand positioning, advertising, promotional material and merchandise. “We aimed to bring to life something the fans could get passionate about,” says Richardson.

Another successful project was the rebrand of MDA, the Brampton-based space technology company responsible for designing Canadarm3 for the first-ever lunar space station. Along with masterminding a brand overhaul, Jacknife helped design a line of iconic merchandise for MDA’s online store.

The studio’s work has drawn interest from international clients, too. Nike’s Oregon team approached Jacknife to brand their new Canadian headquarters in Toronto. Jacknife also worked with California-based activewear brand Fabletics to bring their new LA headquarters to life. 

Artful approaches

Though they embrace new technologies, Kelar and Richardson have never forgotten the time-tested philosophy that grounds their creativity.

“Behind every great brand there are human insights, and these are what help audiences connect to brands on an emotional level,” says Richardson. “We carry that concept with us on every project, no matter how big or small.”

Whether handling a family business or an internationally renowned brand, the duo has proven time and again that creative depth delivers meaningful solutions that build better brands. To learn more about their journey, watch unMade: 26 years in the making.