A self-described “boutique agency,” local design firm Hint Creative thrives in small, personal environments. The number of full-time employees hovers around a dozen, and their office space is one room with a row of computers and a few private meeting rooms. When I go to speak with them, I speak to Hint’s two Art Directors, Analisa Estrada and Cinthya Lopez, as well as the founder and Creative Director Christian Hansen. The professional and creative relationship that the team has cultivated is readily apparent. They share mentors and education programs, and there seems to be little tension between Hansen’s descriptions of the big-picture workings and Estrada’s and Lopez’s take on the specifics of projects and campaigns.
Even though Hint’s appearance is small, the scope of work is massive. They’ve designed for big-name companies like Nike, Fender and DC Shoes, as well as the Utah-based retailers such as Skullcandy, Backcountry and Cotopaxi. While these high-profile brands give Hint the credibility of a national design firm, they still exist within the world of Utah-based design. On top of helping with branding for local charitable organizations More2Life and 5 for the Fight (Hint helped design the sponsor logo on the Utah Jazz uniform), Hansen’s former position as President of the Salt Lake section of AIGA keeps Hint tied to the local design community and the annual Design Week.
As far as Hint’s approach to their practice, Hansen describes working in design as a more tangible form of art. Instead of abstraction or personal abstraction, each project aims to accomplish a specific task. Here, art takes on a practical form, and the team views their work as extending beyond personal fulfillment. “We’re not attached to our work to the point that we would be offended by the client critiquing our work,” says Estrada. Hansen further explains that “We all genuinely want to do great things that are beautiful, but we also want them to be effective and to create results for brands.”
All this is not to diminish the role creativity plays in Hint’s work. Looking at some of the firm’s past work, particularly their recent brand campaign with San Diego–based distillery You and Yours, Hint’s work displays an elegant vibrancy. “We do have a common aesthetic,” says Hansen. “That’s why we’re in alignment as a studio. But, it’s based on foundational things like simplicity and problem-solving.” There’s never a sense in Hint’s work that the individual artist’s taste are dominating the project. Rather, the core tenets of the team’s shared understandings are easily mutated and molded to fit the clients’ needs.
Unlike other design firms—especially larger ones—Hint is dedicated to client collaboration and a highly visible creative process. The clients participate in workshopping, frequent check-ins and the making of mood boards to help ensure that there’s total communication on both ends of the project. “We have a philosophy here of connecting regularly with the client,” says Hansen. “We show them more behind-the-scenes work and we really try to integrate them in the creative process.” While Hansen jokes that this means the client is equally guilty if they’re unsatisfied, Estrada is quick to clarify: “On the positive end, [the client feels] ownership over the final product.” One key aspect of this is what Hint calls a brand’s “north star,” a term that each members returns to frequently. It refers to the essence of a brand’s focus, audience and appearance. Everything that Hint does revolves around this north star, and it informs each step of their creative process.
The boutique nature of Hint certainly keeps everyone in the office busy. Hansen comes to our conversation after a long meeting, and Lopez leaves early to finish up some work before the end of the day. Around me, the rest of the staff remains busy with phone calls, inter-office meetings and logistical work. Even though it’s after 5 on a Friday, the Hint team is ever-active.
Because of the discrepancy between how much work needs to be done and how much the small Hint team can humanly accomplish, the team is adept at taking a much-needed step: accepting when you need some extra hands. “It’s a way to be a little more nimble,” says Hansen. “We like the idea of being boutique, putting the emphasis on art direction and flexing with our Partner Services when our client needs it.” Depending on the scope of the project, Hint will bring in strategy consultants, copywriters and outside photographers to help finalize a project. At this aspect’s most extreme, some campaigns result in upwards of 40 people receiving a paycheck.
While the three team members I speak with note that a lot of their work with the bigger, more recognizable brands is moving further into the past—save a recent revamp of the websites for The Grand America and The Little America—there’s plenty on the horizon for Hint. For trust and market unveiling purposes, the firm has asked that specifics remain under wraps, but the following year for Hint will be as fruitful as ever. To find some of their past work and to inquire about enlisting Hint’s services, head to their website (which is, of course, sleek and stunning): hintcreative.com.