Why do I Call Myself the Savvy Brander?

It's a good question. Savvy is a term open to many interpretations. On a personal level it’s someone who's shrewd, perceptive, or street smart. In business, I see it as the application of practical wisdom.

It's learning from our experiences, the opportunities we take or reject, and the people we interact with. It's taking everything we learn and using that to inform our decisions.

Finding my foundation

I worked for a few prestigious NY design firms and ad agencies in my early days (notably Lippincott, or Lippincott & Margulies back then). I was shoulder to shoulder with amazingly talented people, the best in the field. But the real game changer for me was finding a concept that became the bedrock of my design approach.

Strategically driven design, popularized by Lippincott, involves extensive research at the start of the design project to create a detailed brief. This gives us a clear picture of the client’s situation, their target audience, project expectations and budgetary requirements. A lot of this was done face to face, particularly pre-internet, traveling to facilities to meet clients and employees.

It sharpened my skills as a working designer, and I learned how to forge and maintain relationships. I also discovered I had a talent for the analytical and methodical aspects of client management, like project timelines and budgets. The "left brain" stuff, as we called it then.

These skills gave me a real edge in my career. I still start every project with a creative brief (some more comprehensive than others). It provides me with a thorough understanding of what my client wants, and I build rapport with the people I'm working with. We build bonds through collaboration, and I found this strategy yields the best results. In fact, the formula works so well I’ve had clients who have stayed with me for decades.

Finding my niche

Another aspect of being savvy is knowing how to adapt. Sometimes this is forced on us, sometimes it's by choice.

After several successful years managing projects for big corporations, I needed a change. I always believed that everyone should have access to great design, and I wanted to bring my big agency expertise to help small businesses and start-ups, professionals, and non-profit organizations.

In the early 2000s, I left New York City and set up business with my son Jackson, a self-taught master at website development. Originally called Ditto Design & Duplication, we opened our storefront design firm and print shop in Dobbs Ferry, NY. We quickly built a strong reputation in the area for quality, innovation, and customer service.

It was a conscious decision to keep our business small. We knew price would be a significant factor for our new clientele. Jackson and I had the bases covered, and we looked to bring in extra resources, like copywriters and photographers, only when necessary.

This flexibility made us much more cost-effective than the larger agencies, and this really resonated with local businesses. This model also allowed us to scale up for larger projects and maintain our relationships with bigger clients.

Alas, the financial crash in 2008 forced us to shed the printing operation. Jackson took his web design business to Colorado, and I moved to NY's Hudson Valley to continue as Ditto! Design! in its current iteration. But we still had the links to our network of collaborators. And thanks to ever-improving technologies, we work as closely as we ever did.

What makes you savvy?

I think the qualities that make me savvy are strategy and flexibility. I have a strong foundation in design and project management. I invest heavily in understanding the needs of my clients, and I structured my business to accommodate clients with a broad range of budgets. After 40+ years, my formula is proven to get the best results.

Now, I have a question for you. What makes you savvy?


Howdy! I’m Rick, a brand expert and seasoned graphic designer in NY’s Hudson Valley. For more than 40 years I’ve been creating remarkable brand solutions for individuals, companies and nonprofits here and beyond.

I want people to understand why brand is essential to their business, share a few personal experiences, and explore what goes into a good (or bad) design.