Been There…Doing This. Illustrated Designs, Inc. celebrates 50 years in business
“It’s been a great adventure.”
Fifty years ago, Ed Piechocki turned his lifelong love affair with design into a business, growing it from the ground up by pounding the streets of Philadelphia and New York City. Those early days going after illustration and design work laid the foundation for one of the key elements to Illustrated Designs, Inc.’s success: building relationships.
“We were working with a box designer designing tea boxes,” says Ed, “and the box company told their client, Acme Manufacturing, to see me about their design for a box. That one box turned into all the advertising for the company, which grew into a 20-year long relationships .”
It’s a pattern Ed saw repeat itself through the years as the company grew. Today, Illustrated Designs, Inc. still enjoys many of the long-standing relationships established 30+ years ago, and continues to build long-lasting relationships with new clients.
The biggest surprise
A business spanning five decades is sure to see a lot of change, but for Ed, the biggest surprise was a happy one involving his daughter, Tracey. “Our biggest surprise is that Tracey joined us in the business,” he said. “She had taken business and marketing in college, and when the opportunity arose here, she exceled. Tracey has a great supportive staff who love to work with her. She’s always had fabulous ideas, and working with her team has enabled her to implement them.”
Tracey began working with the family business in 1997, but stepped into the leadership role when Ed retired in 2014. Since then, she has rebranded the company, continuing to nurture those long-standing relationships while establishing a specialized focus on custom 3-D displays, event décor, and catalogs.
Upward and onward
Ed couldn’t be happier with the direction Illustrated Designs, Inc. is taking. “Tracey brought youth back into our company,” he says. “As you get older your ideas sometimes don’t move along with the times—she helped us come up to date.”
This forward trajectory, though, has roots in another key element to Illustrated Designs, Inc.’s success: innovation. Ed cites the company’s incredible track record of breaking new ground in the world of event décor for trade shows as a prime example of this creative spirit.
“As our clients grew we would design their trade show booths,” Ed explains, “but some clients outgrew going to other peoples’ trade shows, and we helped one client client create their own. That grew, and now we’ve been designing trade shows for over 30 years.”
This natural evolution into developing the décor for an entire trade show for individual clients led to an innovation that ultimately changed the way people came to experience trade shows themselves. “We developed a new way of doing trade shows: themed trade shows where we would take their clients on unbelievable adventures, to a jungle, to the 1920’s, to a circus—all through décor and the way the background was designed,” says Ed. “When people came to a show it became a getaway that they looked forward to. There was food and entertainment.”
Over the years, Illustrated Designs, Inc. has recreated a national park, using tractor trailers to haul in a forest of trees. They’ve created a pirate ship, an entire town from the Old West, and a 26’ dragon. Clients noticed. Their customers noticed. And the world of trade shows hasn’t been the same since. “Our themed trade shows became a destination instead of just another trade show to go to.”
The Illustrated Designs, team has always been more like a family, and this milestone year gave each member a chance to share some of their favorite memories.
For Tracey, many of those best moments revolve around the groundbreaking work Illustrated Designs, Inc. has done in their areas of catalog design, 3-D displays, and trade show décor.
“Some of my favorite memories are seeing the catalog process from start to finish, and how the process has changed in the last 20 years,” she said. “When I started, the photographers were still using Polaroids to check for lighting and angles. That meant the models typically had to hold one position for extended lengths of time. Now, with digital photography, we can have a lot more fun with action shots!”
The recreation of a national park, fondly recalled by Ed, was Tracey’s first themed trade show install—and it made quite an impression. “With truckloads of trees and mulch, we turned the arena at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ into a National Park. It was beautiful,” she reminisces, “but we had a very short timeframe to accomplish all of the plans. Our entire crew worked 56 hours straight, only taking breaks to eat. It was so beautiful when it was all set up, but we were so tired, I don’t think we even took any photos. That was over 20 years ago, and people are still talking about it—and how long it took to get all of the crickets that tagged along with the greenery out of the arena!”
For Tracey, though, there’s one memory that outshines all the rest. “My fondest memories were working side by side with my parents. They’ve instilled some keys to our success in me: Treat everyone with respect, go above and beyond expectations, work hard and keep the highest of standards, keep learning, growing, and improving, and, most of all, love what you do.”
Love what you do.
It’s a common theme for the artists at Illustrated Designs, Inc. Senior Graphic Designer Jay Scheuerle’s favorite memories are about the projects he’s loved most over the years, including designing larger than life props for Avon to promote their Drive Like a Boss program where representatives had the chance to win a Mini Cooper. Illustrated Designs, Inc.’s skilled fabricator, Chris, started with blocks of foam and other materials, then hand carved and painted them to look impressively like the originals–only 1600x larger! Jay manipulated the artwork and text used on the packaging, figuring out the math behind the design so that the vinyl would lay correctly on the curved surfaces of the oversized tubes of lipstick, bottles of nail polish, and tubs of face cream.
Chris Paxson is Illustrated Designs, Inc.’s Dimensional Artist and Sculptor. “I like the way we all do our thing, and then come together and work as a team to make the display or event come together,” says Chris.
Chris has great memories of past trade show themes, but it’s the present—and future—of Illustrated Designs, Inc.’s creative potential he finds most exciting. “I think back themes we designed like the Roaring 20’s, the Wild West, and especially the East Meets West themed show. But I think 2017 was the most interesting year so far, with the interactive display we created for PECO on ways to conserve energy in the home, the hands-on, kid-sized car with “working” tools we made for America on Wheels Museum’s Kids’ Garage and Restoration Center, and of course getting all the AVON displays done in such a short timeframe. But the most exhilarating thing is looking forward.”
For Dave as well as Ed and Tracey, that National Park trade show was a watershed moment. Or a watershed 56 hours. “I met Ed at 5:00 a.m. in the dark, and we started working in the auditorium with flashlights till the guys from convention services arrived, laying out the floor markings for displays and booths,” Dave recalls. “This first show at the Taj was created by Ed to be a work to remember. He created a National Park with mountains, signs, displays, live 20’ trees, live animals… we worked straight through for 56 hours to complete everything so the show could open on time. I have never been so elated or tired in my life—but it got done, and it was a masterpiece.”
Like Tracey and Ed, though, the best memories are not just of work, but of work with family. “I have worked in the hot summer sun on Ed’s deck, trying not to sweat on graphics as we cut out shapes, mounting material on 16’ boards and finding only inches to spare at the end of the room, traveling together picking up material, sharing stories of family and friends,” he says.
“In all my experiences with Ed and his wife Diana—my memories of things made, and remade, and remade again—what I value most is the man I have come to love as a dear friend. I have so many pictures in my head of moments of gold spent in doing work for clients, but the best pictures are of faces of friends who love from the heart. My life is richer because of Ed, Diana, and Tracey.”
Looking towards the future
Half a century in, the Illustrated Designs, Inc. family is setting its sights on some new horizons. What will it look like? “Tracey is taking the company in a totally new direction,” Ed notes, “working with museums, producing working displays for children. She’s making the company her own, which is a great sense of pride for us.”
Whatever new horizons the future holds, there’s one thing that always stays the same. “From package design to illustration to magazine ads to trade shows, has always been the main focus. Bringing the brand, or message to the forefront is what matters—good design is good design, no matter what the product or format is,” says Ed. “Good design is good design.”
It’s been a great adventure. More than that—it is a great adventure. Illustrated Designs, Inc. would like to thank every client, team member, colleague, and friend who helped make the past 50 years so memorable, and invite you to stick around for the next 50. We’re just getting started.