Local innovative thinkers wanted

Brittany Moseley

Cleveland company taking design risks all over the country

Innovative thinkers. That is the slogan of graphic design company Little Jacket. Two words are all that’s needed to sum up the company that strives to make a difference through its work.

Little Jacket started at Kent State when three grad students, Ken Hejduk, Joe Parlett and Mike Burton, decided to teach themselves how to screen print. They started out making posters advertising upcoming acts for local venues. That was in 2004.

What started as a hobby has grown into a national graphic design company. Little Jacket now has offices in Cleveland, New York and Colorado, and has a list of clients including Modest Mouse and Sufjan Stevens. It’s come a long way since its days of doing nothing but posters.

“A lot of people saw us as poster artists, and for the first couple of years we struggled to branch out,” said Hejduk, managing director. “We wanted people to see us as graphic designers.”

People began to take note when posters began to circulate throughout Cleveland. Then the company began to put their posters on gigposters.com, and that’s when the phone started ringing.

“We started getting calls for other services (besides posters) and we were getting calls nationally,” Hejduk said.

The three really became a business once they graduated and opened their own office. Like most small businesses, Hejduk said the company struggled at first, and the struggles aren’t over.

“It was a strange process and it wasn’t easy, and in a lot of respects it still isn’t because we’re such a young company,” he said.

Although the company is only 3 years old, Little Jacket has done well. It’s worked with Tom Waits, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon and Hank Williams Jr. III.

Making music posters isn’t the company’s only interest though.

“We love doing posters, but it’s such a small market,” Hejduk said. “A lot of what we do is branding and general design work. We work with a lot of eco-commerce companies – many of them are non profit – who are working for change.”

Little Jacket has worked with the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless and the Ohio Citizens Action Group. Hedjuk said working with these organizations is more than a job.

“It’s an addition when you help make a difference instead of just helping someone make money,” he said. “It’s something we strive for.”

Right now, the company is working with an eco-activist organization Make A Ripple, which focuses on environmental issues across the globe. Little Jacket is in charge of the organization’s branding, websites, and public relations

“Make a Ripple is turning out to be an amazing project,” Hejduk said. “It has such a great set of goals through its various programs.”

Besides helping others make an impact, Little Jacket strives to do work that gets people’s attention.

“Our concepts lean towards getting people to stop and notice and take action,” Hedjuk said. “There’s always an intent to get some return from the audience, whether it’s to get people to use less electricity or think about a product in a new way.”

Just by looking at some of Little Jacket’s designs and its clients, it’s easy to see that this isn’t the usual design company.

“A lot of companies seem to take on traditional projects, which isn’t bad,” Hedjuk said. “We just don’t take on many typical clients.”

The three owners don’t work together for every client, but they do get together on major projects and meet up a couple times a year to discuss business. Even with Parlett at the New York office, Burton in Cleveland and Hedjuk in Colorado, the three have figured out a business plan that works for them.

Hejduk is in charge of project management, business development, and working with clients. Burton is the creative director and works on brand development. Parlett is the other creative director, and he handles most of the marketing.

The three have come far since the days of running a business from grad school, but Hedjuk is quick to give credit to this region of Ohio.

“There’s a lot of amazing talent coming out of Kent, and there are some really great companies in Cleveland,” he said.

No matter how far their work takes them, the owners of Little Jacket manage to take risks and stay true to their roots.

Contact ALL reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].