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No False Claims, Just a Client's Best Side

By Donna Redman
For the Journal
    When you hear the word "ripe," do you think of something at its prime, ready for consumption? If so, you understand why Donna and Len Romano chose that word as the name of their graphic design business in downtown Albuquerque.
    And if you think of a bright idea when you see a drawing of a light bulb, you understand their logo— a ripe banana with the skin peeled back, revealing a banana-shaped light bulb.
    The company's Web site explains the name: "Ripe is not just a four-letter word. It's a promise, an assurance of ideas whose times have come, carefully nourished to fruition."
    "When something's ripe, it's at its peak, a peak time to pick it," co-owner Len Romano told the Journal in a recent interview.
    "The banana and light bulb (in our logo) establish the concept of the light of a new idea," added his wife and co-owner, Donna Romano.
    Ripe Inc. specializes in building brands; developing strategic sales and marketing tools such as stationery, brochures and advertising materials; and designing Web sites.
    Every year for the last seven they've won national design awards; last year they won five. One of those was for their design work for the Slate Street Cafe in Albuquerque.
    Downtown Books and Beans, charter high schools Cesar Chavez Community School and Youthbuild, and Monks Select Preserves, located near Chama, are some of their clients.
    "When we're hired by a company, we spend a lot of time finding out what makes them unique, what their story is, how they 'feel' as a company," Len Romano said, explaining just what he meant by branding. "And we make that the brand, so everything we communicate about any given company is the truth specific to them. No deception, no false claims, just a projection of the company's inherent strong points."
    The Romanos said that clients often confuse the roles of a design firm and an advertising agency. Though there is some overlap, there are significant differences.
    Donna Romano said design firms help clients develop their core identity so they can send a consistent brand message communicated visually through colors and images and textures. They tend to have long-term relationships with their clients.
    "As a business develops, we learn more about it, so we're more of a creative partner," she said.
    Advertising agencies develop multimedia ad campaigns, including radio and TV as well as print. The campaigns are intended to be high-impact but short-term. Thus their relationship with their clients is fairly short-lived.
    "As a design firm, we focus on the core identity materials of a company," Len Romano said. "It might be starting with a name, if it's a new company; a logo; and giving them a brand profile that describes the details about who the company is, their vision, their audience. And then (we design) their stationery and all their collateral sales and marketing material, their Web site, and usually some print advertising."
    "There are some big ad agencies that are doing some design work and there are some of the bigger design firms that are also doing ad work, so there is some crossover," Donna Romano said.
    "I like to think of design as being a beautifully crafted arrow and advertising being the bow," Len Romano added. "The beauty and the intelligence behind the image is there and advertising delivers it."
    Ripe Inc. has clients throughout the United States and even some in the United Kingdom. Some are referred by other clients; some are the result of Len's sales expertise; and some see Ripe's award-winning work in trade design award annuals.
    "The design award annual is like the bible of graphic design," Donna Romano said. "It has all the best work in the country. That's where we've won a lot of our awards."
    Donna and Len Romano moved to Albuquerque from the Washington, D.C., area in 1994. Donna Romano is a D.C.-area native. She has a degree in fine arts with a concentration in visual communication. She worked for design studios in the Baltimore and D.C. areas before she struck out on her own as a freelance graphic designer.
    Len Romano is from the United Kingdom. His parents moved there from Italy in the 1950s.
    "My background is in management, international air freight companies," Len Romano said. "I worked in airports— JFK, London Heathrow, Dulles. But I've always been attracted to strong design."
    The Romanos moved to Albuquerque in 1994, opened their graphic design business at their home in 1998, incorporated in 1999 and moved the business to its present location on Tijeras Avenue in 2000.
    They said there were just a few graphic design firms in downtown Albuquerque when they opened, but that has changed in the last couple of years.
    "Now we have lots of competition," Donna Romano said. "That's a good thing, it's raised the bar. Clients are more savvy, they have more trust. It's made it better for everybody."
    Ripe Inc. had 40 clients on the books for 2006, according to Len Romano. He said they usually work on 10 to 15 projects at a time.
    They do this with four people, themselves and two graphic designers. And a large black dog named Jack. The studio is set up with the four workstations arranged in a circle. "It's that way so we can work together on every project," Len Romano said. "We all collaborate on every single design. It's not a great way to make the quickest amount of money, but we do great work and that's what we stand by."
    "We try to focus less on quantity and more on quality," Donna Romano added.
    Focus on Business reports on companies that demonstrate successes, failures or innovations in their operations. If your company has implemented an idea that "makes business work" or has come up with a creative solution to a business problem, give us a call at 823-3834.
FOCUS ON: Ripe Inc.

    PRINCIPALS: Donna and Len Romano
    SERVICES: Creative design and branding
    FOUNDED: 1998
    WEB SITE: www.ripeinc.com
    LOCATION: 622 Tijeras NW in Albuquerque
    # OF EMPLOYEES: Four including the owners, plus one black dog
    ANNUAL SALES: About $450,000 last year
    BUSINESS TIP: "Where else can you walk to work and have 10 people call out your name and wave? Some of our most successful solutions have come to us during our walks to and from the office."— Len Romano on Downtown