We sat down with Oblique’s founder, Janice Ferrante, as she reflected on the challenges, accomplishments, inspiration and everything else that comes with running an agency for 20 years.
Q: Have you always loved art/design?
A: Ever since I was a kid, I have always had a passion for art, creativity and visual communication. I was fascinated with textures, forms, typography, and architecture. I exuded curiosity and needed to be in a profession that matched my creative ways of thinking.
Q: How did you decide to become a designer?
A: My mom knew early on that I needed to express myself in some way so she took me to watercolor classes when I was only 14 years old. I excelled in high school art classes and started out as a communications major in college. After my first lecture hall class consisting of 400+ students, I knew I was in the wrong place. I switched to a small design department with other creatives like me and it felt like home. I never looked back.
Q: What led you to start your own studio/agency?
A: I worked in various agencies in New Jersey, New York and Colorado for over 10 years as an Art Director. Unfortunately, mental health became an obstacle at a certain stage of my career. Even though clients were choosing my designs and I was successful, I was faced with a project that overtook my confidence. I became depressed and had to leave the agency. After taking some necessary time off and obtaining my own freelance projects, I soon established a name for myself and started Oblique Design. I worked with a variety of clients and sizes of agencies to assess what I really wanted for my future. My first clients were Ricola, Solidworks and BMW of North America.
I developed the necessary tools, confidence and mentorship needed to start my own agency. I’ve always said that the birth of Oblique Design came from not being able to come up with a brilliant idea.
Q: What are some challenges you faced early on?
A: Scalability was huge. Once I started working on larger projects and obtaining new clients weekly, I hired employees and got an office. I took a risk, worked hard at obtaining new business and eventually found momentum that felt secure.
Q: What are some of your most memorable clients/projects?
A: A few clients and projects come to mind. The first was working with the motorcycle department at BMW. Since I’m a rider, they asked me to design a brochure to encourage women to get out and ride their own bike. It was a brochure about building confidence for women and educating them on proper riding techniques. We conducted photoshoots in California with eight women and it was an absolute blast.
The second project was working with MINI. Oblique designed consumer brochures, POP displays and even created a commercial for their MINI Value Services Plan. The team at MINI was nothing short of a ride in and of itself with adventures around every corner.
The other project that I poured my heart into was a CBD client called Cause+Medic. Our client sold an app he developed and took the money to create an all natural CBD cream to help his mother who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Oblique helped with branding and created package designs for over 4 products. His products are now in Four Seasons spas and sold on Amazon.
Q: How have you noticed the industry change in the last 20 years?
A: I started working in the design and branding industry 30 years ago. It has changed so much, most noticeably due to ever changing technology. My core experience was print design and throughout the years, print is becoming obsolete and most of the work we do at Oblique is website design, packaging and branding. I’ve learned to be flexible and adapt to meet the trends in our industry.
Q: What is the biggest threat currently in the design industry?
A: There are more and more online services that create quick, templeted logos, websites, marketing materials and everything in between. Our ideal client understands the value of an agency like Oblique who provides custom marketing and branding strategies and solutions by working with you and getting to know your team.
One more challenge is the aftermath of COVID. Many agencies had to close their offices and are now working at home. There is a creative flow and connection that gets lost at times when a design team is not collectively working in the same space.
Q: You spent 2019 working and traveling abroad. What led you to pack up and travel?
A: I was targeted on Instagram by a company called Remote Year and their tagline hooked me in…”Work in 12 countries in one year and leave the logistics to us.” Oblique was working out of a co-share workspace so we had flexibility. I spoke to my current clients and they encouraged the entire experience. They trusted me and my team that nothing would change from an accountability and performance point of view. I asked my Account Manager if she wanted to take this journey with me and we made the decision to have a traveling agency.
Q: How did working abroad change your creative process?
A: Each minute throughout the day was a constant stimulus. Working in co-share workspaces in Japan, Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam, Portugal, South Africa, Mexico City and other parts of the world was an incredible experience. Our creative juices were magnified and continually flowing. As a designer, I was influenced and inspired in each country we lived in and it showed in our work.
Q: What were some challenges you faced working and traveling?
A: The time difference was the biggest hurdle. We worked in Southeast Asia and Europe for 8 months, so our typical work day started at midnight and lasted all night. We established a solid routine and our clients actually said our commitment and dedication increased throughout the year.
Q: What is your most positive take away from the experience?
A: As our industry and the typical work landscape continue to change, we know now that we can adapt to pretty much anything. Oblique has the ability to work fully remotely and serve clients around the world, no matter what may come.
Q: What do you see for the future of the industry?
A: As more low budget, templated options for branding and website design become available, we predict that more small to medium size companies will be looking for nimbler options to meet their design and marketing needs. Oblique is already filling this niche by offering custom marketing solutions without the overhead costs of a larger agency.
And with COVID’s work from home policies as a catalyst, it looks like the future is freelance. We predict seeing more fully remote client teams and working with more freelance talent to keep our agency lean and customize our approach with each individual client who knocks on our door. Video calls are here to stay, and while we love meeting our clients face-to-face, we’ve been working remotely for years and are no stranger to cultivating long distance relationships.
Q: What do you see for the future of Oblique?
A: We aren’t going anywhere! However, we do limit our client roster to only 3-4 clients at a time to provide optimal personal attention for all of our projects.
Q: If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
A: Life is full of experiences and lessons. Looking back, there is nothing I would have done differently. I reached out to mentors and experts in the industry when needed. My team and offices expanded when it was time. We listened to our clients and served as an extension of their team. We stayed flexible and nimble with budgets and deadlines where necessary. In other words, we were adaptable and still are. I’m grateful to say our current clients kept coming back for more and new business continues to flourish.
Q: What are you up to beyond Oblique?
A: I am currently bringing a cannabis-infused gummy to the market. The gummies each correspond with one of our seven chakras, and the brand is called Root to Crown. We’ve created a hand-crafted gummy that includes a nutraceutical profile that removes the paranoia associated with ingesting edibles. Think of it as weed with intent and purpose, rather than just getting high. Keep an eye out for Root to Crown in stores soon! Stay in the loop on all things Root to Crown, visit the website and join the mailing list.