Creative La. Speaker Stafford Kendall on Creative Brainstorming

Mar 29, 2012

Stafford Kendall, Co-founder and Principal of Covalent Logic. (Tegan Wendland/WRKF)

Communications Strategist, Stafford Kendall, says you have to eat pie to design a proper street sign. Kendall, who is the principal and co-founder of Baton Rouge-based Covalent Logic, says she and her employees get the creative juices flowing by eating pie. WRKF's Tegan Wendland had a conversation with Kendall about the value of creative thinking for design.

WENDLAND: Covalent has set up many government websites, like the Department of Children and Family Services and the Division of the Administration. People might also know you for designing downtown signs - directing visitors to the museums and riverfront - which actually won awards for Covalent in 2008. What's so different about these signs and what makes them striking and award-winning?

KENDALL: We've been fortunate to be part of the downtown development district's development of way finding signage, as well as marketing and communications pretty much since we started about six years ago. The way finding signage in Baton Rouge has two missions. One is to help people get where they're going, but the other is to educate both visitors and residents about the area. People in Baton Rouge may not know a lot about the artists that have worked here, the musicians who have worked here, the pieces of art that you see around town, so as a part of that project we actually developed historical pedestrian signage so that you could learn more about the places that you could go.

WENDLAND: Those downtown signs seem so simple so though, is that what makes them so award-winning?

KENDALL: You know, actually, it's much more challenging to do something simple than something complicated. Whenever we work, we try to look at what's the strategy behind it and we try to make sure there's nothing on that sign extraneous to that goal. So, when you look at those signs what you are seeing is exactly, only and perfectly what you need to see.

WENDLAND: You're going to speak at Creative Louisiana about your company's brainstorming sessions called "pie days." How do they work and why do they work?

KENDALL: Sure! It's always the sugar. Pie Day came about when we needed to have a brainstorming session and we happened to have some pie in the office. We had a client who regularly had something they called "Pie Day Friday," which involved eating pie. We ended up kind of taking that and transforming it into an active session, where we eat and then think and then eat some more and then think some more. The thing that I found that's interesting is that people generally don't have trouble thinking outside of the box - the problem that they generally have is explaining those ideas that are outside of the box. So, what we do, is get a little sugar in us and then start playing games. In the form of a game you're allowed to do things which seem ludicrous and say ideas which are clearly outside the bounds of what I would actually suggest or strategize.

WENDLAND: It sounds like you get kind of silly, like you're actually doing improv games?

KENDALL: We've done improv, we've done mime, we've done a lot of wordplay, and that's one of the things we're going to do at this Friday's Pie Day - where you start building affinity maps of what words fit with other words, not in a hierarchical structure, but loosely, these things are closely related to one another, and from there you can end up building a path to a brilliant piece of writing or a creative idea.

WENDLAND: How would you say other companies may be able to employ such strategies?

KENDALL: It works really well when you have an internal problem, because when you're thinking about, ‘we're not communicating, we've got an obstacle to achieving our goals," games work really well because you get so focused on who's doing what, where, when and why and you think so linearly about your own problems that games often let you jump far outside of it and then you can kind of come back to the linear process with a really fresh approach.