After graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Arielle Walrath and some college friends were attracted to Maine for a simple reason: “We just happened to have free rent in the area for six months.” Bolstered by lower living costs, Walrath did Web and television animation, then worked for L.L. Bean and did freelance work. In 2010, she and Sean Wilkinson started Might & Main – the name comes from an British phrase that suggests someone using their full powers toward a goal – as a branding and design firm. Their work on developing a brand for Eventide Oyster Co. recently was the Best of Show winner at the HOW Promotion & Marketing Design Awards. The company now has four employees.
Q: What is Might & Main’s focus?
A: Our focus is branding and design – and all of the design work we do is brand-focused. We love handling brands from start to finish, or we work with companies that have a good brand to help them use it better.
Q: What exactly does brand work involve?
A: Brand-building is building reputation. It’s marketing products and also connecting with people, with community, and with customers and within your own organization. We define brand as being much larger than just the visuals. We do a lot of in-depth research and grand strategy, look at who our customer is and who their customers are, and work on the core characteristics of the brand. We don’t move into anything visual until we define that.
Q: How did that work with Eventide Oyster Co.?
A: Eventide was really just an idea when they came to us. They were looking at the space next to Hugo’s (restaurant) and said Portland needs an oyster bar and they had a few ideas. We spent a lot of time researching things like colors and styles. We worked with them and showed them a range of weathered wood and brass and marine items that they would take to their architect and incorporate. It was a very collaborative process: We were working closely and influencing each other and we could use things they planned to use and use it to inspire us.
Q: HOW (a creativity and technology design magazine) was impressed by your efforts to eliminate waste.
A: Because it was a new restaurant and new brand, we really tried to keep costs as reasonable as we could, so we thought about how we could reuse things. Business cards, for example – we printed a bunch of cards with the restaurant information on one side and that other side, for employee information, we left blank and we got stamps for the employees to use on the card. It was more cost effective and had the side benefit of being a good ecological choice. We try to focus on resourcefulness and practicality. It’s part of being in Maine and in New England, that resourcefulness in solving problems.
Q: How has business been?
A: We’ve been on a steady track of growth. It helped that we came into this having been freelancers, so we had connections in the community, and joining forces gave us the ability to pursue bigger jobs and bigger clients.
We’ve seen a lot more local businesses valuing branding, and it allows them to attract customers than they could otherwise attract. But it’s sort of an unusual thing about being in Maine, this distrust of looking too slick or trying too hard. That’s something we’ve run into, that people sometimes hesitate to put too much effort into their branding. That works out well for us, because we don’t look at anyone and say, “Here’s the formula.” Instead, we focus on the handmade, the unique and how we can convey those visually.
Q: Have you worked for larger companies?
A: It was very exciting for us to work with Stonyfield Farm. They’re a huge national company, we were supporting their in-house marketing team and it was great to get that kind of exposure. We worked on the website for Thos. Moser Contract, their institutional furniture division, and we’re always excited about working with an iconic Maine company.
Even before Eventide, we thought we’d like to be doing restaurant work, and that’s turned into five or six clients now. We were working for White Rock Distillery and when they got purchased by Jim Beam (Beam Inc. bought the Pinnacle vodka and Calico Jack rum brands from White Rock in April 2012), we transitioned into working for them, on their Calico Jack rum. That was when Calico Jack was a White Rock product designed to compete with a Beam product, and we worked with them on how to treat it differently and redesigned the bottle. Now we do largely digital work with their social media products and designed a website for them.
Q: Do you take on small projects or focus solely on more wide-ranging branding work?
A: We’ve discouraged the one-off projects because our process is dependent on research and strategy. For us to design one thing doesn’t make sense. When we first started, people would come and say, “Oh, I just want a business card or a brochure or a website,” but now most people who come to us are looking for branding for the whole thing.
Q: Why do you like working for restaurants?
A: We love good food, but it’s also exciting to work on something that exists in a physical space. Everything in there is designed to create a special experience. Menus are fun and gift cards are fun, but anything where we can see our work exist in tangible form is really exciting. Years ago I did something for Coffee by Design and worked on their cups. To see people walking around with those cups is fun, to know I had something to do with that design. It’s designer’s ego. I like to think that design can make the world more beautiful and usable.
Q: What’s one brand you look at and say, “I wish I could take credit for that?”
A: The obvious answer is Apple. People may grumble about their products sometimes, but there’s something about the packaging and the way the product is presented, it creates great brand loyalty. It’s not so much the logo or the name that has that inherent draw, it’s the secondary elements – the materials, the design of the products themselves. There’s an elegant simplicity to it, the white materials, the glossy metal and crisp edges.