Decoded: Giving Authenticity an Edge
Jared Strain of STS talks turning a legacy brand new school.
How do you transform an established brand known for one thing into a cutting-edge competitor in another? The design director of Super Top Secret digs in to reveal the strategy and the grit.
Enterprise creative doesn’t have to be boring. There’s an argument that it needs to work even harder to stand out.
Salt Lake City-based creative agency Super Top Secret (STS) takes this idea to the next level in their work, calling it “fresh-to-death” design. Founder and design director Jared Strain provides some insight on how it went down for one iconic enterprise client.
We’re not old, we’re experienced
Rossignol has been the winter sports authority for over 100 years. Unfortunately, in the young and hip snowboard market, that expertise was reading old school — as in ‘70s’ skis, the super long, skinny kind.
There’s no denying that experience matters, but sometimes it can translate into old and stodgy. Therein lies the challenge. Snowboarding has its own culture where grit, style, and youth reign supreme. And no one cares about skis.
To help the brand rise up in this locked-down market, STS jumped in with a strategy grounded in Rossignol’s technical prowess. Then they added some consistency for brand recognition, and threw in a lot of edge. The snowboard kind.
Putting the snowboard back into the ski brand
“Rossignol snowboards were as souped-up technically as anything on the mountain,” Jared says. “So it really came down to the design.”
Consistency was important to get right for the iconic brand. STS worked with what’s called the Circle R design, an icon for Rossignol, placing the mark in the same place at the same size on every single board. This way, when the collection sits on a shelf, there’s no question who made it.
After that consistency was established, the gloves came off and Jared and STS began to work their magic. Each Rossignol board took on its own identity and voice, characterized by artist, color, and demographic — from pros to run-of-the-mill consumers, from tweens to their parents who may want to ride (but at the very least are handing over the money).
While STS relies heavily on the Adobe Creative Suite, their fresh approach is found in the unexpected. Here are just two examples of boards that are a stand out for unusual creative methods (and some might point out, classically old-school ones).
The Sushi board goes all in on technique
Gyotaku, a traditional Japanese method of printing fish, was used by fishermen to record catches as far back as the mid-1800s. It translates into English as “fish” (gyo) + “stone impression” (taku) — and has morphed into its own art form.
When it was time to design a new board called the “Sushi,” STS went all in on authenticity and incorporated Gyotaku.
“We knew we needed a real fish to make it happen, but we practiced for a long time using rubber fish,” Jared explains. “The process is much like getting a fingerprint done. You take a fish and paint it with ink by rolling it, and then you get an impression on parchment paper. ”
“When the fish finally showed up, we had about an afternoon to make it happen because the smell was so bad. We did half in blue and half in red, rolling it across the paper and it actually made a really nice impression.”
The next steps were to scan it in and manipulate it, all with enough resolution to screen print it at high-volume large scale.
The Angus board makes linocuts new again
When it came time to design the Angus snowboard, STS knew they wanted a Viking-looking, heritage design. For the unique look, they went old school with the linocut technique.
“It took a lot of practice, starting with nailing down the concept and the look we wanted,” Jared says. “Then we would manipulate found artwork just to get client buy-off on the concept.”
The work started with a pencil and paper sketch of the actual area size, including highlights, lowlights, what should be left out, and what should be kept — knowing, of course, that the result would be the inverse. Then came the linocut boards, and STS began carving and inking, rolling a rubber mallet over the top to get the inverse impression on paper.
“Angus was a three-color board, so we did three different linocuts with three different relief prints,” Jared says. “Then we would ink them, scan them, and layer them really nice for depth.”
Not one for convention, they opted to layer the colors.
“It was interesting because two different inks will react differently together. So while the top one might be very delicate, the bottom ink can be more heavy-handed. And it’s intentional — most linocuts are black and white, but we layered the colors and it was a really good look.”
Sometimes the distinction between an exceptional and an invisible product lies in having a fresh perspective. As STS would call it, “fresh to death.”
It clearly works. Before STS, Rossignol wasn’t even in the snowboard industry’s top 20. Now, they sit comfortably in the top five — and have brands like Burton looking over their shoulders. Rossignol has also outpaced their main competitor’s sales by 30 percent.
Not surprisingly, this relationship is still going strong, with the agency taking on about 15 to 17 new board designs every year.