Michael Braley is like a lot of us. He’d like to create something on this earth that he can be remembered for. That may be designing a cool logo and slogan for a bottle of vodka. Likening it to a child making a little piece of pottery in school to give to mom and dad, Braley feels that same childlike sense of pride.
“I like to make things — hands-on design. I want a physical artifact that says ‘I made this,’” said Braley, creative director at Shatterbox, a rising design studio in Lexington.
In Braley, Shatterbox hit the mother lode when he inquired about a job in Lexington after a distinguished career in New York and San Francisco. The 41-year-old won a slew of awards in top national and international design competitions and had his work displayed in modern art museums, publications and exhibitions. He leads workshops at universities and professional organizations around the United States.
Braley’s wife is from Lexington, and the two decided last summer it was time for her to return to her family’s roots.
“Michael is about as original a graphic designer as there is. I studied him, and when he sent in his resume, I looked at it and thought, ‘This can’t be the same guy, because I’ve seen his work and read about him before,’” said Jeff Ruth, president and chief creative officer at Shatterbox. “I realized it was the same guy and called him back.”
Ruth said Braley was looking for “a good fit.” He had worked for some of the better design companies in the country and had his own firm in Brooklyn, N.Y. “He said we were the only local agency that really fit his style. If I see someone like a Michael Braley looking for a job, you know I’m going to jump on it,” said Ruth.
Russ Hensley, Shatterbox’s CEO, calls Braley a high-end print design resource who, by moving here, has changed the level of design talent in Lexington.
“He’s a different player for Lexington; we’re fortunate to have him,” Hensley said. “He interviewed with several design companies but chose Shatterbox because he liked the environment and flexibility.”
Ruth has been able to focus on his specialty — Web and interactive design — and let Braley handle print designs.
“That has split those functions,” Hensley said. “Now there are two very talented guys in web and print.”
Since arriving in Lexington, Braley has worked on a 32-page annual report, sort of a retrospective, for the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) in Washington, D.C. It will soon go to print. It’s a steady, five-year gig for the company. Shatterbox landed this client because an old friend of Braley’s from Iowa, who happened to be with the alliance, called Shatterbox to say hello to Michael. That connection led to the firm landing the design job.
Because of his status in the design industry, Braley is expected to bring in new business. He’s working on that, but has only been here a few months.
“I have a long list of people I am ready to send stuff to, but first I need a base of work with Shatterbox, to show them what I’ve done lately,” Braley explained. “I have the connections.”
Braley also stated that he wants to incorporate “smart design thinking,” a style that local clients may not be used to seeing. “Part of our job as designers is to educate the public about design; to show why X, Y and Z are appropriate and solve design problems, so it becomes digestible for the public. We want to give them options and say, ‘You can go here, here or here,’” he said.
Braley wants to bring in a collection of top designers to speak about and promote their craft at a lecture series in Lexington. He is targeting this spring.
“I have four nationally and internationally acclaimed designers from my generation lined up. They’re from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis. They’ll do it either for free or at a very reasonable cost,” he said.
Shatterbox has worked for some of the bigger, more interesting companies in the area, such as Gray Construction, Bluegrass Hospitality Group (several restaurants) and alt32, an architecture and design firm.
“We’ve had about a 300-percent growth in gross revenue. We hope there will be more of the same in 2013, but we may not be able to sustain that.”
Shatterbox underwent a marriage of sorts in 2011. Hensley-Elam, Hensley’s firm, is an IT company that handles web hosting, computer programming, network management and data back-up. It merged with Shatterbox, Ruth’s design firm.
“He has an entrepreneurial attitude and is so good at starting businesses and growing them,” Ruth said of his partner Hensley. “This year should be an exciting year for us. I think we’ll go after some clients Michael has worked with in the past, some big, big companies.”