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Columbia Business Monthly

The Art of Storytelling

Mar 06, 2018 02:21PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By John McCurry
Photography by Amy Randall Photography

The University of South Carolina’s spectacular new Football Operations Center will open to great fanfare near the end of this year. Intertwined among all the functional aspects of the $50 million facility, such as coaches’ offices, a weight room, and a dining area, will be branding that tells the story of USC football.

Developing that branding is Jack Porter Design, a relatively young Greenville-based firm that has found a niche marketing its services to college athletic departments. Jack Porter specializes in experiential branding, which is defined as using any and every type of media to communicate a message. In other words, it’s all about story telling.

The methods Jack Porter uses to tell stories include Environmental Graphic Design, which is defined by the industry as embracing many design disciplines, including graphic, architectural, interior, landscape, and industrial design. This involves the visual aspects of wayfinding, which refers to information systems that guide people through a space and enhance their understanding of the space.

“Our industry has really evolved from clients and architects giving you a box to work in and asking you to develop something to fit in that box,” says Christina Harrell, president and co-founder of Jack Porter Design. “Now, design groups like us are starting to be involved much earlier in the process, especially in a new building, so we have this back and forth with designers and architects to make sure that the brand gets woven throughout the building in a seamless way.”

College athletics has been Jack Porter’s primary market thus far. That seems natural, as many of its staff members have sports backgrounds, including Harrell, who played golf at both the University of Arizona and Furman University before spending about five years as a professional golfer. The firm has completed projects for the athletic departments of about 20 schools, including South Carolina, Clemson, Furman, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Michigan State, and Texas A&M. The Clemson project involved developing signage, environmental graphics, and wayfinding for its Football Operations Center, which opened in January 2017.

These and other high-profile successes have given the firm some notoriety in the industry and it’s paying off with an expanded geographic reach. New work includes development of branding at Northwestern University’s basketball arena, Baylor University’s football operations facility, and a basketball project at SMU.

“People are responding to our work, and we are starting to take work away from larger firms,” Harrell says. “We’re sneaking up on some people.”

The sports branding projects notwithstanding, Jack Porter’s largest completed project to date is the South Carolina Alumni Center. That effort included some big technical components, such as developing custom software to help tell the USC story through touch interactive technology, in addition to a signage and wayfinding system and environmental graphics.

Harrell says she wants Jack Porter to move into more of this type of higher education project. Future projects will likely include work for business schools, more alumni centers, and student centers. Office space is another target market, as are more projects like the branded visitors center the company did for Pompeian, the olive oil firm headquartered in Baltimore.

“We are definitely interested in corporate offices,” she says. “It’s got to be somebody who sees the value in their brand being communicated in their space.”

Harrell and her business partner and creative director Danny Stemann founded Jack Porter in 2010, after having worked together at another design company in the Greenville area. The two decided they wanted to build on their experience and create a firm with a new focus.

Jack Porter has had a long-standing relationship with the USC Athletic Dept., and has been involved with the Football Operations Center since the architects did their first floor plan. Harrell and her team met with USC head football coach Will Muschamp and other athletic department officials about 18 months ago to gain an understanding of the goals for the building. A primary objective is for the facility to tell the story of Carolina football, where it’s been, and where it’s headed. Much of the storytelling is geared toward impressing recruits.

“Coach Muschamp gave us the key tenets he wants to communicate, such as a cutting edge NFL display and a technology driven Under Armor gear room. It’s going to be very slick and performance-oriented. The grand lobby will be all about making first impressions. It’s going to be awesome.”

Harrell and her staff initially meet with clients in a discovery phase to map out a project. A floor plan is usually in place at that stage. Designers try to envision how someone will navigate the space and where it makes sense to tell different parts of the story.

“We basically have a list of content from the client, or goals, and we map out where it should go,” Harrell explains.

From that point, the project moves to the schematic design where things get conceptual. For a big project, that begins with the key areas of the facility.

“For the South Carolina [football operations center] project, the key areas are the main lobby and players’ entry, which is a key recruiting piece. We start there and develop a look and a feel for those areas and then apply it to other areas. It takes a few months of back and forth to develop a plan and vision for the entire building.”

At any given time, Jack Porter’s staff is working on about 20 projects at various stages, taking on about 40 to 45 each year. Harrell plans to add three more to her current staff of 14 this year, and she anticipates having 25 employees within a few years. With the growth comes the need for larger digs. The company, currently housed on College Street, is renovating office space in a building on Stone Avenue near North Main Street, and will be moving later this year.

“We’re getting a little cozy here, and we want to have a place that is ours,” Harrell says.

About the company’s name…
There is no Jack Porter working at Jack Porter Design. Never has been. It’s a name chosen to symbolize storytelling, and there is indeed a story behind the name. In the early days of the firm, a consultant was hired to set things on course. However, his attempts at a company name didn’t seem to fit.

“We wanted to be more like storytellers and help our clients tell their stories,” Harrell recalls. “The names he came up with left a little to be desired and I didn’t like any of them. We were already up and running and essentially had no name. So I offered a $500 award to our employees to see if they could come up with a name. We had certain parameters like no letter and number combinations, because that’s already big in the architectural and design world. We didn’t want it to be a combination of our names, and we wanted it to be easy to spell.”

The unnamed firm only had five employees at the time, but one of the designers suggested it be named after a storyteller who worked at a camp she attended as a kid in North Carolina.

“She said there was this great old guy who would sit by the campfire and tell stories, and his name was Jack Porter,” Harrell says. “I loved it immediately, but Danny wasn’t so sure. But a couple of weeks later, he started to like it. It’s not a person, but it’s who our whole team has come together to be.”