Their three desks are pushed together like those in an elementary school classroom. It’s not that the company is short on space. It’s simply because the three partners who compose Openfield Creative work so closely together on every project that it’s simply the most practical arrangement.

No one has a big corner office. Indeed, Josh Barnes, Brandon Blangger and Brian Keenan all have the exact same title of partner/creative director.

Keenan is a Cincinnati native and graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) program. He had been working in Los Angeles for more than a decade when he and his wife decided to return to the Tristate to start a family.

Blangger, another DAAP graduate, returned from Boston. Barnes was in DAAP’s first digital design class, having migrated here from Indianapolis.

The idea to found their own company came two years ago while all three were working at hyperQUAKE, a local force in interactive branding, strategies and marketing.

“Brandon and I worked together at a company in L.A. about 10 or 12 years ago,” Keenan explains. “So, we knew each other already. We met back up at this firm, and that’s where we met Josh. We worked well together and thought that we should start (our own) company.”

Though they all carry the same title, Barnes is usually the one who spearheads a given project, before Keenan and Blangger start designing. Barnes will then oversee the project, as well as handle many of the firm’s operational duties.

“We all wear a lot of hats here, but Josh probably wears a few more than either (Brandon or me),” Keenan notes.

Their main Openfield Creative focus is interactive or web design, though they also do some print advertising work. At the 2008 ADDY Awards hosted by the Cincinnati ADCLUB, the trio captured 16 awards including four Judge’s Choice prizes. The awards recognize the best print, broadcast and interactive work done by local agencies. Yet the Openfield partners still don’t look at themselves as a traditional ad agency.

“We’re more of a design and creative solutions company,” Keenan explains. “We lead with our core capabilities in digitally delivered branding and marketing communications, but back that up with traditional print design, when appropriate.”

“Most of the print work that we do,” Blangger adds, “isn’t from someone walking in our door and saying ‘I’ve got a print job for you.’ It usually comes from the trust of doing the interactive (work) and upgrading the brand identity (of an existing client).”

To do award-winning creative projects, one needs inspiration. For that, Openfield takes an in-depth look at each client’s business.

“A lot of the inspiration comes out of really spending a lot of time trying to understand a client’s problems,” Blangger says. “Understanding the situation and thinking about that, and putting us in the client’s position. We talk about it as though we are the client, until we start to think, ‘How would I solve this if it were my problem?’”

Keenan says Openfield digs deep to achieve that level of understanding, often asking to see a customer’s business plan. “At first they may ask, ‘Why do the designers want that?’ Then, later on, they realize why we wanted it.”

This level of research allows the team to approach their clients’ problems much more effectively. “We teach our clients not to tell us what they think the cure should be, but to tell us where it hurts,” Keenan continues. “It’s like going to the doctor with a headache and saying ‘fix my head,’ but it might be your heart or something else. That’s the value we bring.”

Working well together in a large organization is one thing. Breaking out on your own is quite another, and the three partners gave the idea great consideration.

“We carefully calculated the upsides and downsides of that,” Keenan recalls. “Our original vision for the three-pronged partnership was based on quality of work and quality of life issues. The past two years, since we started the business, have been the best professional years of my life. And it’s great to share the early success with two other people who care every bit as much about the business as I do.

“With three people, we’ve covered an amazing amount of ground and built a diverse portfolio in a relatively short amount of time,” he adds. “Plus, I’ve never had more fun at work.”

Openfield Creative’s 5 TIPS for Entrepreneurs
1) Take stock of the relationships you have, whether they’re personal or professional, and start to let people know that you’re about to do whatever it is you’re about to do.”
— Brian Keenan

2) Be passionate. “Passion is what really drives us and keeps us going every day, and enables us to do our best work.”
— Brandon Blangger

3) Treat every project and every client as if the company’s success depends on it.

4) Collaborate internally and externally. “We’re all actively engaged on every single project. We tell our clients, ‘You’re getting three minds on a project from start to finish.’ We all bring different levels of expertise to the whole project.”
—Josh Barnes

5)Let your clients be your sales force. “The majority of our new business has come by referrals from existing clients.”
— Barnes