A Talent for High Style
Leo Wasmer & Monica Yuen of Wasmer & Yuen
A popular TV ad campaign currently running for a financial industries company poses the question, “What’s in your wallet?” For Mexico City-based designers and manufacturers Leonhard A. Wasmer and Monica L. Yuen, however, the looming question would more likely be, “What’s on your desk?”
That’s the question Wasmer and Yuen asked each other once again a few months ago, as they pondered how to solve a design challenge issued to them by one of their major clients.
The client, a leading pharmaceutical company, was seeking a custom-made promotional item for a brand awareness campaign targeted to opinion leaders in the neuroscience field. Wasmer & Yuen’s “solution” to their client’s needs makes for an interesting case study in how to effectively take an idea from concept to completion.
Building a niche
Leo and Monica have shared partnership of their growing firm since its inception, in 2001. They’ve built a very creative design/manufacture business based in the teeming metropolis of Mexico City, with workshop and production facilities located in nearby Cuernavaca. Over time, the duo has focused their work in an interesting niche: high-end desk accessories, specialty cases and boxes, as well as specialty packaging—designs that are mainly marketed to pharmaceutical companies. Their clients include Merck, Sanofi, Bayer, et al, but also a smattering of financial companies, such as banks and stock traders. W&Y has 10 core employees and, depending on its given project needs, draws from a pool of highly trained artisans to bring their staff to total around 50. Leo and Monica break up their responsibilities, with Monica handling production, while Leo concentrates on the business development side of their company.
Wasmer says their business direction with pharmaceuticals was strategic. “We chose this niche because these companies don’t order only seasonally,” he explains. “They have year-round needs for unique, high-end products that serve a very highly educated market. It enables us to bring into play all of the creative expertise we have to address form, shape, design, texture and touch, because our clientele appreciates these qualities insofar as helping them differentiate their brands from competing products.”
Answering a need
The aforementioned client approached W&Y seeking a product that would successfully convey a high-end brand message to an equally high-caliber audience, in this case psychiatrists and neurologists. Their brand representation to this segment had to convey a style and sophistication in keeping with that of the highly specialized medical professionals themselves.
“We needed to create a piece high-quality enough that the professionals who received it wouldn’t give it away, but, instead, actually keep it on their desk and use it,” Wasmer explains. In their early brainstorming, Leo and Monica seized upon the idea of a very highbrow-looking desk set. “We reasoned that this was something that would be able to reflect these brands in both an aesthetic and functional way,” he adds. As Wasmer and Yuen saw it, the desk set had to be sufficiently attractive, and of a high enough grade and perceived value to meet these professionals’ extremely discerning standards for anything they might have on display and in use in their offices.
Developing a process
After a brainstorming session with the client, Leo and Monica were tasked with coming up with a handful of ideas that would answer the client’s need. “What came out of this meeting was an understanding of what might work for the client—what might be feasible—based on cost, time of delivery and the pharmaceutical industry’s regulatory constraints,” Wasmer says. From there, it was a matter of developing prototypes made from “suitable materials.”
A longtime supplier to Wasmer & Yuen, FiberMark readily fit the “suitable materials” criterion Wasmer was seeking. He and Yuen decided on two latex-saturated decorative packaging materials from FiberMark’s Shadow by Corvon® line. “Shadow Weave” was used for the textured section of the deskset, and “Shadow Powder” on the other surfaces. “We were looking to create a very pleasant, tactile experience for the professional on whose desks these sets would sit,” Wasmer says. “These materials lent themselves to that idea perfectly.”
From the initial meeting with their client’s product manager, there were four phases: design and product intention/design concept approval; secondly, customer’s regulatory approval; then followed internal business approval by the customer; and, finally, production.
The beauty of the deskset, besides its apparent simplicity, is in its attention to detail, as Wasmer describes. It incorporates a number of very striking accents: inlays and blind embossing and debossing techniques were used to great effect in several areas of the design.
Following strict guidelines
W&Y maintains a philosophy of working directly with their clients in all aspects of their design and manufacturing process. In that way, the design duo feels, they’re better able to gain valuable insight and context based on their perceptions. “We can get a sense for where our clients are coming from in both a business and personal preferences perspective, to pick up on those subtle hints and finer nuances of a briefing, and take them back to our drawing boards,” Wasmer says.
One of the key elements in W&Y’s set of operating principles involves protecting its clients’ investment in the designs they produce. “The way we work with brand strategists from any company is to guarantee them exclusivity for their target audience,” Wasmer emphasizes. “It’s a promise of respect for our clients’ particular area of influence, and something that we guarantee for a negotiated time span. It’s essentially a way to safeguard our clients’ investment and ensure that it won’t be diluted by a similar design of ours reaching the market.”
Pride in the results
The deskset was a decided winner with their client. “It’s led to additional projects and follow-up orders from this customer,” Wasmer notes, adding that the design has sparked increased interest for products of this nature. “For instance, we are now awaiting supplier approval from two more main players in our current market niche. It’s a design with which we hope to win over new clients in different industries, too.”
In fact, based partly on their success with the deskset, and due to repeatedly positive feedback when using this type of material, W&Y is feeling ever more confident with its plans to further explore the U.S. market. The firm is now solidifying its intention to increase production capacity, in order, as Wasmer explains, “to approach some high-profile and up-and-coming companies in the beauty, jewelry, and perhaps the wines & spirits industries.”