Strategy + interaction design + engineering + product design = the backgrounds of the four founders of Portland-based creative agency INDUSTRY. While Meral Middleton, Tom Lakovic, David Thorpe, and Oved Valadez (respectively) may be a diverse group, their mission is streamlined. “How can we redefine what a creative agency should be?” asks Valadez.
And it all starts with INDUSTRY’s 20 or so employees —it’s a small crew, but Valadez prefers it that way. “I don’t want to grow an agency of 200,” he explains. “People don’t collaborate or communicate the same way, and then you have to bring in middle management. At our size, it feels more like an extended family.”
Given INDUSTRY’s size, who’s brought on board is critical. “We hire the best of the best,” says Valadez, citing some of the respected, storied brands he and his colleagues have worked for (including Nike, IDEO, Lego, and Beats). He also seeks out “triple threats [who] understand the story and the bigger picture; really communicate and create with their expertise; and fit the fast-moving culture.”
And while getting hired at INDUSTRY is competitive (Valadez receives over 100 employment inquiries every week), that doesn’t mean it takes senior-level work experience to be part of the team. In fact, the agency regularly partners with schools (like University of Cincinnati and Art Center College of Design) to scout talent. “We trust everyone on the same level; a brilliant idea can come from an intern or a creative director,” says Valadez.
Also important? Diversity. Though INDUSTRY isn’t a huge agency, Valadez makes a point to hire from a global perspective. “We have people from Denmark, Mexico, Croatia, England—it’s so important to have different cultural backgrounds with different points of view. Because at the end of the day, our work is about connecting with all kinds of people.”
Two words come to mind, when it comes to describing how INDUSTRY works: smart and nimbly. “Innovation and creativity requires adaptable individuals because there is no blueprint here,” says Valadez. “We prototype fast because, honestly, everyone’s short on time. Our thinking is: the faster we can put something up, the faster we can get to the right solution.”
To further facilitate its flexible workflow, this year INDUSTRY relocated to the second floor of a mid-century building in the West End of Portland. The long, open space has an industrial feel—imagine concrete floors, white walls, and exposed ceiling beams and ductwork—but it’s flooded with natural light. Instead of feeling sterile, the vibe is warm and inviting. It’s also loosely divided into three sections, where employees can get inspired, collaborate in meeting spaces and war rooms, and work in privacy at their own station
Unsurprisingly, INDUSTRY’s roster of clients mirrors its own progressive mindset. “We love partnering with brands that are defining what’s next,” says Valadez. “Because clients come to us to help them define a new opportunity, we have to be the ones who don’t just jump on a trend, but anticipate it.”
But it’s not just established, well known brands that INDUSTRY partners with. To keep the agency’s portfolio varied, Valadez regularly “sprinkles in a couple start ups, and does a big non-profit program once a year.” This year, for example, they’re working with the United Way to help them reposition their messaging, so people have a clearer understanding of what they do.
It all circles back to what Valadez believes is the grand purpose of INDUSTRY, above all else: “to impact people and communities and shift markets, regardless of the type of client.”