How do you create a fresh new identity for a 20-year old design competition?

By developing a playful identity that captures the unique spirit of the Pacific Northwest.

The Northwest Design Invitational, a biennial product design competition, had lost enthusiasm within the design community. It needed a major overhaul to reflect the cross-functional nature of contemporary product design, and to set itself apart from other design competitions.

winning formula

Competition and Event Strategy

  • Revamped the event from top to bottom to help it appeal to a younger audience.
  • Revamped competition criteria, opening it up to UX, packaging design, and architecture.
  • Brought in judges to reflect the full arc of the design process, from designer to client to consumer.

Digital Strategy and User Experience

  • Created a new site to drive excitement, make submittals easy, and showcase the winning designs.

Branding and Visual Design

  • Most competitions are serious affairs, but we felt introducing wit was the key to capturing the optimistic nature of the future of regional design. Starting with a new name — The Shaggies — we dove right into a playful, distinctive experience by elevating the fuzzy, mossy nature of the PNW and its bearded, mossy constituents.
  • Developed a minimal look with over-the-top voice and tone to express the passion people have for design.

Poster Design

  • Extended the playful spirit with a compelling design featuring iconic products flocked in moss and a provocative headline.

Event Design

  • Planned a memorable awards celebration including a chainsaw artist from Forks, WA, who supplied the finishing touches for the 4-foot-tall Best in Show trophy — a huge bald eagle carrying the winning product in its talons!


The rebrand was met with great success: they had a 20% increase in submittals.


How do you tell a painful story of detention?

With the honesty of the people who lived through the experience.  

The Wing Luke Museum and Inscape Arts came to Buoyant to convey the full arc of the immigration process in Seattle’s version of Ellis Island.

As Seattle’s central point of immigration from 1932 to 2004, the United States Immigration Station & Assay Office was a site of entry and departure, reunion and breakup, celebration and disappointment, life and death. In 2009, INS Partners transformed the building into a creative maker space, now called Inscape Arts. The building needed to be grounded in its history, yet also be free to express the burgeoning creativity that it now houses.

Our challenge was to find the appropriate level of honesty — to tell an authentic story that balanced the truly joyful experiences with heart-breaking injustices.

winning formula


  • The Wing Luke had an amazing repository of personal histories from immigrants. We developed “Voices of the Immigration Station” and gave the building a heart in history by selecting a handful of individuals to represent the spectrum of experiences at the INS Building. These key individuals helped shape the different stories that start in the lobby and course through the five floors of the building.

Exhibit Design

  • We developed these immigrant stories with a carefully considered balance of text, photos, and commissioned art.
  • As a permanent installation in a working creative space, the materials needed to stand up to various levels of wear: being touched, potentially being banged into when tenants move in or out of the building, and very bright sunlight. Because there was no long-term maintenance or technology budget, we made the placards out of oversized aluminium sheets, which not only contrasted nicely with the building’s orange tiles but were easy to read and highly visible.
  • We extended our homage to the building’s 1930s design by using the Futura typeface (also created in the 1930s) and a Jan Tschichold-inspired grid for all the signage, as well as  selecting lobby furniture with a modern take on interiors of the era.


At the opening ceremony of the installation, many people came up to me and Cassie Chinn, curator of The Wing Luke, and personally thanked us for creating the exhibition — for telling their story, and for helping others to never forget the hardship that so many immigrants encountered and continue to experience.

The Wing Luke includes the installation on their tours of the International District, and the lobby is now a meeting space within the building. Tenants feel greater appreciation for the space, with a deeper understanding of its past use.

The exhibit can be viewed by contacting The Wing Luke Museum or Inscape Arts.

notable quote

“The building has a bit of an eerie feel to it, to say the least. But today, the Inscape building is full of life and good energy—there are artists roaming the building, creating dreamlike spaces out of rooms that were once a living nightmare for the people who were held there. Ultimately, the center is a place for reflection through art. It is a place for us to remember our history and commit to the continued effort to strengthen our community.” Immigrant and Refugee Voices Memorialized at Former Detention Center, International Examiner


Cassie Chinn, Curator, The Wing Luke Museum

Dori Cahn, Historian, The Wing Luke Museum

Mike Donnelly, Building Manager, Inscape Arts

Matthew Bissen and Stacey Fischer, Installation Photographers


How do we keep inspiration flowing and push ourselves creatively?

We imagine a “why aren’t they doing this?” mashup between two iconic brands.  

We devised this brand exploration as a way to think about the food and beverage space from the ground up. There are many places to find excellent design at higher price points, but we are firm believers in bringing fantastic, compelling design to everyday experiences.

In this conceptual exercise, we envisioned Nescafé teaming up with Target to create a new line of instant coffee. We explored how they might maintain price point and value while increasing brand interest and engagement, and perhaps attract new customers.

winning formula

Brand Strategy

  • Explored how Nescafé could maintain key elements for a balanced evolution of brand and product, so as not to alienate existing customers

Packaging Design

  • Leveraged the iconic shape of Nescafe’s tall, slender Frappe glass to create a natural product evolution based on existing brand equity


How could we broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding of the world of our product-driven clients?

By taking a deep dive into product development, and turning a playful prototype into a full-fledged brand and product line.

Upon first glance, Lusty Letter cards are nice, friendly, and respectable; but upon closer inspection, they reveal a surprisingly naughty message.

One Valentine’s Day, I decided to give my beau (not exactly prone to display emotion, to the point that I affectionately called him “Spock”) the first of these sexy, homemade cards. We were out at a great little French bistro. He looked at the front; then the inside; then the front again; and then it clicked. He saw the subliminal message. He started laughing. Then he started laughing so hard he cried. So I thought if I was able to make Spock laugh so hard that he cried, I might be onto something.

winning formula

Product Development

  • After making the prototype for my boyfriend, I needed to transform a single card into an entire line. Late nights were filled with developing a system to speed creation of new cards.  

Brand Strategy and Competitive Analysis

  • Once I established that the card could extend into a line, I used the Creative Brief template that anchors every Buoyant project to establish brand positioning, competitive advantage, user value, and audience. This indispensable tool helps me shape social media campaigns and assess brand fit for new Lusty Letter retailers.

Branding and Naming

  • The name, Lusty Letter, floated to the top of my mind effortlessly. Miraculously, the domain was available.

Retail Design and Wholesaling

  • Getting to know my retailers deeply helps me create product they can move and market. I tour retail locations in the wild frequently for insights into how to market and display the cards, and how to best address the needs of my retailers and their customers.

Art Direction and Visual Design

Social Media Strategy and Management

Print Management


I debuted the cards at the New York International Gift Fair (NYNOW) and had incredibly enthusiastic buyers, from the Museum of Sex to fashion boutiques such as Velouria, and small gift shops to Amazon.

I continue to identify what’s lusty for customers through social media, pop-up shops, and my esteemed retailers — providing inspiration for future line extensions or even new lines.

Lusty Letter is carried in over 30 shops across the United States.

Thousands of people have had a great laugh and a great shag because of the cards.

notable quotes

—Daniel Basiletti, Buyer, Museum of Sex

“We stopped carrying cards about 10 years ago, but Lusty Letter made us want to have cards again. Now.”
— Coyote Days & Dan Bush, Buyers, Good Vibrations

“Thank you for saving me from Hallmark!”
—Customer, Etsy


Mariette Collora, Intern
Chuck Snavely, Co-writer for Wedding Line
Evolution Press, Printers


How do you compete against online real estate engines and real life agents in bad suits?

You focus on the inspired design of the homes you help people find, and the grounded, human element that you bring to a stressful process.

Once people know Jonathan, a Seattle real estate broker, they’re sold. He’s engaging, smart, witty, and calmly tenacious. So our job was to bring his unique personality, and his sincere passion for modern design and architecture, to life in visual form.

As a former marketer, Jonathan came to the process with very clear ideas about his brand. Our partnership on Microsoft Office for Mac had built a strong rapport, and he had confidence in our ability to translate his business objectives into great design.

winning formula

Brand Strategy

  • Zeroed in on Jonathan’s commitment to design as a unique competitive advantage to build around

Branding and Identity

  • Developed iconic, modern, elegant logo to reflect the high design of the homes in which Jonathan specializes

Brand Toolkit

  • Expanded design language of the new logo into flexible toolkit Jonathan could use to build his own marketing materials


  • “Less is more” approach inspired by overall brand strategy and identity helped his advertising stand out online and in print

Custom Greeting Cards

  • Witty, mid-century modern holiday cards conveyed Jonathan’s clear sense of design and his attention to detail to established and new clients


So often, real estate is a serious process. By starting with modern design and architecture, and infusing just the right amount of wit and lightness, we developed a personal brand for Jonathan that expressed his personality beautifully and truly set him apart.


How do you get 24,000 employees to use intranet? Make it approachable and easy to use. Make it feel like Stryker’s “home.”

Stryker previously had a very dry, stripped down intranet. After several workshops with the Stryker team and our remote partner, Medallurgy, we identified an inspiring way to engage their employees: by elevating the people that make up this remarkably innovative Fortune 50 company.

winning formula

Digital Strategy


Visual Design

  • Leveraged and improved grid-based design from Stryker’s brand guidelines, to work elegantly within the nested structure of the Sharepoint environment
  • Grid structure encouraged quick navigation and helped us collaborate with Stryker’s back-end developers to build a fluid experience
  • Grid model allowed all employees to easily create their own pages, groups, or blogs on the site

Comprehensive Intranet Style Guide


Our team’s ability to see the big picture translated into long-term value for Stryker. Researchers could now build their own internal R&D blogs to share findings. Employees no longer had to think about where to find their 401K information. Connect became the employee hub Stryker was after.


Jay Folk, Senior Manager, Stryker
Rick Kowalcyk, Account Management, Medallurgy
Curt Knox, Information Architecture
Jenn Huang, Content Management
Austen Bass, Front-end Development


What do you give your clamoring 3-7 year old when all you need is a freshly made latte?

Stickers! Pop-ups! Dials! “Whiskers, beaks and wings. Friends finding Easter things!” This active mini-book of discovery offers a positive, fun moment of learning, perfect for when parents need a little break.

winning formula

Art Direction, Storytelling, and Illustration

  • Created a fanciful place where the characters all come together to use their special powers to find Easter eggs. Throughout the book are dials, windows, and pull-tabs that reveal interesting bits of info about each animal’s unique way of doing things.

Engineering, Off-shore Vendor Relations, and Print Production

  • Worked closely with their manufacturer in China, via phone and working prototypes, to get the pop-ups and dials all working perfectly.


Starbucks sold out of 60K books within 30 days.


Illustration language created by John Beach.

Book designed and co-illustrated by Stacey Fischer.

Written by Stacey Fischer and Chuck Snavely.


How do you pivot a pure e-commerce site to a product-driven lifestyle site?

For starters: serve up large doses of product in action with your target audience.

Brooks’s brand director wanted to explore a more lifestyle-oriented take on their site to cultivate a more vibrant sense of community in addition to showcasing product. The trick was to keep what was working, but to demonstrate possibility beyond pure e-commerce by pushing in a fresh creative direction. Buoyant partnered with Brooks and Vitamin C Creative (who provided spot-on content) in an exploration to humanize the site, while keeping product king.

winning formula

Art Direction

  • Spirited black & white photography to make the product pop
  • Gestured, emotive illustration to add a human dimension with a touch of fashion

Custom Typography

  • Clean typography to help users find what they’re looking for quickly


Heather Snavely, Senior Director, Global Brand Marketing, Brooks Running

Catherine Carr, Strategic Content Developer, Vitamin C Creative


How do you help a new, category-creating brand stand out from the crowd?

By being true to the customers of ILLUMAGEAR, and putting the focus on worker safety.  

ILLUMAGEAR’s mission is to illuminate people working in high-risk environments, making them safer. The statistics are staggering: hundreds of workers are hurt or die every year working in poorly lit environments. ILLUMAGEAR’s innovative Personal Active Safety System (PASS) technology was designed to change those numbers.

winning formula

Brand Identity and Logo Development

  • Distinctive identity to reflect the gravity of the subject matter and instill confidence

Positioning and Messaging Frameworks

  • Company/brand and product positioning frameworks to create a clear brand architecture and roadmap for future product growth

Award-Winning Photo Library

  • Dramatic editorial photography to create a strong emotional connection to the workers
  • Heavy use of black to highlight the luminescent power of the product
  • Designed to vividly demonstrate the peril that construction workers face without alienating potential customers

Comprehensive Brand Guidelines

  • Easy-to-use tools for ILLUMAGEAR’s internal teams, vendors, and distributors

Responsive e-Commerce Site

  • Customer and client interviews to zero in on purchasing behaviors and site requirements
  • Close collaboration with sales team to effectively balance ease of purchase with overall brand presentation


As a startup, it’s easy for the inaugural product to overshadow the company brand. The very clear company/brand and product positioning frameworks we created ensure that as ILLUMAGEAR adds more products, they won’t have to think about where the product lives within their ecosystem — they can just focus on launching the product.

We worked closely with the ILLUMAGEAR team to develop a unique site, breaking away from standard templates.

After an 18-wheeler-dodging 1 a.m. photoshoot on I-90, we were rewarded with a Communication Arts award for Photography and Creative Direction.

notable quote

“You made the President & CEO’s dream come true.”

—Advisor for ILLUMAGEAR, Ray Riley, Microsoft


Creative Direction, Photography

Communication Arts


Award-winning photography provided by William Anthony Photography.

Award-winning product development & engineering provided by Pensar Development.

Award-winning clients:
Andrew Royal, President & CPO, ILLUMAGEAR
Jen Sonstelie Irish, Director of Marketing, ILLUMAGEAR