Rather than keep up a traditional blog, this page serves as a repository for answers to frequently asked questions about me, my studio and my work.
+ How much will it cost?
Since projects and clients come in all shapes and sizes, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to pricing. We believe value-based pricing is key to a fair, modern studio because design is an investment and everyone's ROI varies.
Value-based pricing is about charging for the value we deliver to our clients. Our local small business clients will have a much smaller ROI than the global billion-dollar brands we work with. So does it make sense to charge them the same? No. The ROI will benefit them differently.
Your brand is the face of your business and speaks for you when you're not there, what do you want it to say? How do you want it to come across? Who do you want it to appeal to? Thoughtful brands take time when done correctly, and allow you to command a premium for your product. Ask yourself, what’s the difference between a $5 dinner and a $300 dinner? Or, between a $2,000 car and a $100,000 uniquely designed beauty with impeccable engineering, countless capabilities, and quality materials suited to your every need, that’s guaranteed to perform for a good many years?
Our most successful projects build from research, to strategy, and then to design. To get started, we watch documentaries, pour through articles, travel to grocery store aisles, museums, or abroad; we dig through archives, study the competition, and delve into your audience. Then, we’re equipped to make informed decisions about strategy, finding you opportunities to stand out and brand for long-term success. Once we’ve fleshed out the strategy, we design with intention, starting always with pen to paper, iterating as many ideas as possible in order to select the best ones to pursue.
Because we are custom building a project that solves for your unique business needs and goals, our proposals may take a bit of extra time. But the most efficient way to get started is to let us know upfront which tier below best fits and what you have allotted to invest in your design project:
- Tier 1 — Small business / young / local / single location 5-25k+
- Tier 2 — Start-ups / medium size business 15-50k+
- Tier 3 — Established business / small company / multiple locations / sophisticated start-up brands 30-80k+
- Tier 4 — Large established national & global companies 50-150k+
Project elements that increase costs include tight deadlines, additional concepts, thorough brand strategy, photoshoots, website, and additional revisions. Project elements that decrease costs include a comfortable timeline, ample project notice, and limited rounds of revisions. (Lastly, please note we have a 5k project minimum)
+ Can I get a logo next week?
We get it, the time crunch is real, but design — GOOD design, takes time. The top-tier quality of work we deliver is the product of tons of research, care and attention, tailored strategy, and multiple design iterations. And always, our timeline includes time for you to ask questions and provide feedback.
We won’t compromise the quality of work the studio produces or give a design to a client knowing it could have been better. We put every ounce of energy into every project no matter how big or small the client. From the start, we’ve believed great work begets great work (and you know what? It’s been working).
Don’t get us wrong, we take on quick projects from time to time (and this comes at an increased cost), and we know other designers do as well — but trust us when we say you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice by not giving designers ample time to design, and not allowing for the full creative process to unfold. We want to build a relationship with you, understand your business, ask the hard questions, refine over a few rounds, grab a beer and breathe a little — but hey, not everyone is looking for this — and you know what? THAT’S ok.
+ How long will my project take?
With clear project goals and timely collaborative feedback, we can deliver a logo design in 6-8 weeks. More robust, complex brand identities with numerous deliverables can take 3-6+ months.
As a small design studio, we’re choosy. We take on a limited our number of projects each season so we can focus and deliver the best quality product. We’re rarely able to take on last-minute work because we carefully schedule out projects, and clients are patiently waiting their turn. If you're 100% committed to working with us, let us know right away so we can fit you into our calendar, rearrange or turn down others that haven’t submitted a 50% deposit.
Responsive and timely feedback is critical for a successful project - it’s the biggest job clients have during our process. We work with you to develop appropriate timelines, giving you sufficient time to soak everything up while keeping project momentum going. If feedback is delayed, the delivery date moves back as well, and once beyond your dedicated timeframe, we won’t be able to commit to a deadline. We understand - it can be tricky when a lot of decision-makers are involved, but if you (or a trusted individual) can’t commit to responsive feedback, then our studio isn’t a good fit.
Indecisiveness and delays lead to rushing design. If anything puts our deadlines in jeopardy, we let you know right away and we appreciate if you return the favor. We assign every project a quarter-year in the studio calendar plus a buffer zone because…life happens. However, if severe delays in feedback push your project beyond the time allocated, then 75% of the remaining 50% due upon completion is required at the end of your quarter (regardless if the project is finalized.)
+ Do you work with small businesses?
Of course! We love to diversify and take on clients of all sizes, and we know the power of good design to propel small business. While big corporations help pay the bills, we do take on small business projects when they have a stellar product or service. Sometimes, you can speed up a project by having fewer decision-makers involved, and occasionally (what’ve you got?), we’re down to barter.
Because of the thought, precision, and nature of our small studio, starting in 2020 we have a $5k project minimum. If your design investment is below this, you might look for a solo freelancer or reach out to local universities with rigorous design programs to find a talented student. I used to teach Graphic Design at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and always had a couple of standout students.
Of course, any hired designer (student or pro) should be fairly compensated based on the value they provide. And remember, you’ll get what you pay for.
+ Why should we work together?
Don't take our word for it — here's what our clients have to say:
R43 was a truly incredible partner. Beyond their exceptional talent and artistry (which is easy to see), their personality and process help us align our vision and maintain meaningful progress. Even as the process came to an end prematurely, due to business reasons on our side, they were understanding, patient, and supportive. R43 is an agency that is truly all killer and no filler. Every part of their process was understood, valuable, and progressive, and their execution is nothing less than stellar. I truly can’t wait to work with them again. Vice President — PETCO Brand & Creative
Thanks for reaching out. I have to say, working with Refinery 43 and your whole team was really a pleasure. The communication, transparency, and most of all the ideas were excellent. I’d also agree that working with a company like yours that is local is really special. Anytime I can find people to collaborate with from New England I jump at the chance, as I’m a big believer that creatives can live and work in this area and do not have to ship off to NYC or LA (not that that is bad, but Boston needs solid designers and artists too.) Honestly, I have no feedback to share other than “great job!” Wayne and I are thrilled with the final design and are preparing the standards guide to share with our product designers to begin incorporating the identity system across the collection. You are more than welcome to share the news of our collaboration on IG! Be sure to tag us and keep the final pieces under wraps until sometime later in January. I will keep you posted on when we can release the creative which will begin to tease out around the Super Bowl. Thank you again and let’s keep in touch!! Dave Bates — Head of Creative Marketing 47’ Brand
I love working with Refinery 43, they are so friendly and professional! Kelsy has the eye to quickly grasp concepts and turn out exceptional style and uniqueness for my business. Refinery 43’s communication was fantastic and paid careful attention to details of the work. Highly recommend for a new logo or re-design your own logo, they are so amazing to work with! Owner — Chang Thai Café, Littleton, NH
Overall the experience was great. It's a hard process to go through and you took us through it nicely, listened well, and we're very pleased with the results. You and your team carefully guided us through a rewarding journey to name and brand our new technology company. Your team went to great lengths to put yourselves in our customer's shoes, and took us through a structured approach that resulted in a brand we love. Refinery 43 is super talented and we highly recommend them!” Founder & CEO — Mable
Working with Refinery 43 on our logo redesign was a transformative process for Rewatchable. Kelsy and her team guided us through an incredibly challenging but thought-provoking series of questionnaires, mood boards, and design concepts, until we finally settled on a new logo and colors that perfectly define us both culturally and strategically. The process helped us develop a clearer vision of who we are, and more importantly, who we want to be in the future. Our new logo is beautiful. We love it. Thank you Refinery 43! Thanks for everything - look forward to working with you in the future! President — Rewatchable
Kelsy is unbelievably talented! In my career, I have the opportunity to work with illustrators and letterers from all over the world and consider Kelsy and Refinery 43 to be the best of the best! Kelsy has created some award-winning designs for us and I continue to call on her whenever a project I am working on calls for some amazing lettering. She is communicative, organized, reliable, open-minded, creative, and insanely good at what she does (and did I mention she's a former US biathlete?). While my personal experience working with Kelsy has been in the Editorial arena — I follow R43 on Instagram and always marvel at her uncanny ability to design spot-on logos for a large range of clients. If anything, it's actually hard to choose a winning design because she presents so many wonderful options. Amanda White-Iseli — Creative Director Baltimore magazine
I hired Refinery 43 to help me launch my brand and company because I wanted amazing visual identity out of the gate and I knew they could deliver. Working in the brand and marketing space it was critical to find a partner that could understand our vision and help us visually bring our brand to life. I wanted a partner that would challenge me and help me evolve and improve upon the ideas I brought to the table. When you partner with someone at the pinnacle of their profession you trust their expertise and guidance in making key decisions. Working with Refinery 43 was one of the best decisions I made in launching and growing my business. Kirsten Rowe — Director Brand Strategy & Experience
Kelsy and the team at Refinery 43 conveyed our spirit, drive and personalities in the brand they created for Newburyport Fish. As a new business, communicating who we are through every detail was extremely important. From the paper our product is wrapped in to the windows of the store before we opened to start the buzz, they thought of it all. When our project ended we were actually sad the back and forth and idea sharing was over. We can't say enough about the work ethic, passion for their clients & obvious love for what they do. Fred Derr — Owner Newburyport FIsh Market
The Refinery team were great to work with. Kelsy and her team were always clear in their communication, friendly and innovative. At every step it was clear they really cared about the project, producing great work, and making sure we were happy. We are all very excited to see this new brand launch and we are positive will make a mark in the Canadian cannabis industry. Jessica Hay — Canopy Growth Creative Director
Working with Refinery 43 to rebrand was exactly what my floral design business needed. Since its initial launch, Sweet Annie had grown and matured so much, and I knew that in order to attract my ideal clients I would have to make a change with the logo and brand. Kelsy knew exactly how to interpret my business and where it had gone since starting, and she knew how to take my message and translate it into such beautiful artistry. She urged me to get out of my safe zone, and I am so grateful for that. I am now confident that my brand is special, specific to my business and attracts the clients I desire to work with the most. Kelsy and her team were professional, timely, and easy and enjoyable to work with. With each meeting, my anticipation grew to see how the brand evolved, and the final result is more than I could have hoped for. Katie Rocheford — Owner Sweet Annie
All I could say is that your group exceeded our expectations and provided us with an excellent finished professional product. The initial feedback is amazing and all the comments were positive. The innovative creativity was on the highest professional level. Could not have asked for a more positive experience. Brian Marder — Owner Marder Seafood
Working with Refinery 43 was more rewarding than I could have possibly imagined. I went in hoping for a new logo, but what I got in addition was a totally new perspective on my brand. The team was responsive, professional, knowledgeable and extremely talented. I knew I was in good hands from the first time I met them. They really dug deep to understand my identity and preferences, and I walked away from that first meeting with complete confidence and trust. The logo that Kelsy came up with was beyond my expectations. It perfectly captured my brand and elevated my business. The entire process was painless, the results were incredible, and I could not possibly be happier with my experience. Alyssa Levy — Owner Blue Locket Photography
As a designer myself, I was anxious that I would never find a studio that shared the same level of (OCD) concern over every curve and pixel in our logo. As a small business owner, I also felt that handing over the keys to our brand was akin to leaving our firstborn with strangers— It was utterly terrifying. In Kelsy and her team I found partners in this journey that not only brought me at ease with their design prowess, but also blew my mind with how deeply and thoughtfully they dove into our brand and what it could be. Our logo is now imprinted in a curated book of the worlds best branding. Kelsy and her team are a force! Daniel Castro — Owner Sky Pie Studio Brooklyn NY
+ Mural design answers!
How much will this cost?
Please let us know the square footage of your project when you inquire (photos and architectural renderings are best.) Most projects range anywhere from $2,000-20k, though there are a lot of factors that go into calculating the exact cost. Prices vary depending on the scale, amount of detail, wording, material, and timeframe. All of our typographic murals are hand-lettered — and because we’re perfectionists, this can take time. Also, the tighter the deadline, the bigger crew we bring along. (Do note we have a $1000 project minimum).
How does payment work?
We ask for a 50% deposit to hold your project in our queue. The remaining amount (+ any additional costs incurred like travel, additional staff and/or materials) is due upon project completion. You’ll be emailed an invoice that allows you to pay with a credit card or bank transfer.
Can you start tomorrow?
We’d love to, but the short answer is ‘no.’ The more notice you provide us, the more likely we’ll be available for your project. If time is of the essence, don’t hesitate to get in touch – we might be able to tackle your project last minute if a current one is on hold or delayed.
How long does a custom mural take?
The actual mural can range from 2-6+ days, plus added time prior to meet, discuss, brainstorm, and sketch. Ultimately, the timing depends on the complexity, material used (dry time), amount of wording, and size of our crew.
How far do you travel?
We love the opportunity to travel wherever, whenever (seriously!) Our murals have been featured as far away as Saudi Arabia. (We will letter in any language but ask that you spellcheck and personally approve the design draft to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.)
What materials do you use?
This depends on the look you’re going for, the surface we’re working on, and the permanence desired. We have many options:
- Dustless Prang chalk — we love the impermanence of this classic material with the texture of traditional chalk. Regular chalk can come off when touched and will definitely be removed with liquid. We do not use a fixative on our murals.
- Chalk Ink markers — for a high-contrast look (without the texture) we use two brands and two types (waterproof or non-waterproof). Note: While chalk ink markers do not rub off when touched, they are not permanent and will come off with white vinegar. If you try to erase a chalk ink mural (waterproof or not), the design will leave a ‘ghosted image’ on most surfaces. Some clients have chosen to protect their mural with a thin piece of Plexiglas.
- One shot Paint — The most permanent option we have. For exterior walls and high-traffic areas, this is your best option. We used this awesome paint to letter monograms on AWAY™ luggage in stores.
- Vinyl decal — If price is not a factor and permanence is important, we suggest the design be printed as vinyl wallpaper and professionally applied.
What is your process?
Our process starts with you! What’s your vision? We love to see your inspiration. Don’t know where to start? No worries! We help you figure out an appropriate typographic style for your audience and offer some suggestions to work best in the space. We can design for any time-period or create something completely unique. Don’t know what the mural should say? We’re happy to narrow down your ideas and offer up a few suggestions. If possible, we prefer to meet on site so we’re able to review the space. (Any meetings on site are at our creative direction hourly rate + incurred travel costs.)
Once we’re on the same page and know exactly what your mural will say, we sketch out 1-2 of our best ideas to share. (We’ve never shown more than this, and haven’t had to. Knock on wood, we seem to always get it right on the first try!) We work from the dimensions you provide, so please be as exact as possible. We’ve been given the wrong dimensions multiple times in the past and this costs us valuable time to solve and modify — so please help us do our best to avoid any last minute adjustments once we’re on site.
Once a rough sketch is approved, we create a more detailed drawing or vector rendering (especially if color is involved). From here you can review, conduct a final spell check, and make minor adjustments.
Now that we have a final design, we’re ready to be on site. This is where the real magic happens! Please make sure clearance has been provided and scaffolding, scissor lift, or ladders are available (we bring the stepstools, extension cords, and necessary lettering materials). Please provide easy access to unload or a parking pass close to the wall/building. It’s important that the surface we work on is clean, dry, and as smooth as possible.
Our first step is to outline the design. When possible, we use a projector to project the sketch onto the surface — if the space doesn’t allow for this, then we measure the design to scale and freehand. A regular pencil or white chalk pencil works best to outline the design before we go in with paint, chalk, or chalk ink markers. Once the outline is complete, we start bringing your mural to life! This is a great time to take a time-lapse video, invite people to watch the process, or grab a photographer to capture content for your social media feed. (Tagging us is always greatly appreciated!)
for creatives & the curious
+ Your time has value.
It’s incredibly important for even young designers to always quote respectable prices. It can be very tempting to create artwork for a “cool” company for very little pay and the promise of insane exposure / an incredible portfolio piece. Every successful designer and illustrator has at one point succumbed to the siren song of the “cool” industries (there are a few “cool” companies that don’t try to take advantage of designers but they are the exception and not the norm).
When you are starting your career as a freelancer, it will be incredibly tempting to take on any work that comes along, no matter how unfairly companies are trying to compensate you. Remember that you are talented and that your talent has value and that ultimately it is up to you to determine how much people value your talent. By helping to keep pricing standards high, you also help every other young designer struggling to get paid out there, and help every designer that came before you to continue making a living doing what they love.
+ Should I work for free?
All work, including sketches, mockups, and concepts have value. Little time, energy and thought can go into spec work. It is unethical and compromises the quality of work clients deserve. They're paying for our creativity, for our ability to create order from chaos. To solve the problems in more ways than they might have thought possible.
If they are still asking why self-employed creatives and small stuido's charge so much for their services… Remind them, we don’t get paid vacation. We don’t get paid sick days or get holidays and weekends off. We don’t get bonuses for outstanding performances. We don’t have insurance plans, consistent income or money being matched in a 401k. We don’t have someone paying for our work spaces, insurance, parking, printers, computers, software or internet. We don’t get paid to pursue educational opportunities or for materials to improve our craft…
Also, the skill set we have is expensive and needs to be compensated for along with the invested time to meet with you about your project and the time we have to spend on that project. We (at least I) are constantly thinking about our work because we don’t leave it at the desk at 5 o’clock and punch out. We don’t bill for time brainstorming in the shower or wherever inspiration might strike us. Funny thing is I'm pretty sure we would all do this for nothing because we just HAVE to create, it's in our blood, it's our passion and our purpose.
So next time you are asked, remind them that self-employed creatives LOVE being their own boss, but that love doesn’t pay the bills.
+ Do I quit my 9-5?
“Feeling anxious means being challenged & therefore is an opportunity to grow.”
Entrepreneurship can be a f*cking rollercoaster, are you ready for that? Some days you feel the slow click to the top (like you’re going to slip backwards at any moment), other days you feel overwhelming dread as you plummet but then there’s the elation of rising higher and gaining momentum and you realize why you got on the ride in the first place!
I’m not here to sugar coat it (plenty of people already do) Somehow entrepreneurship culture is so quick to glamorize this lifestyle — but nobody talks about the significant financial risks, the burnout, and the overworking. So here are the biggest two things you’ll need to think about if you’re contemplating jumping on:
Be ready to always worry about finances. This is definitely everyone's biggest worry. The longer you’re in the game, the more comfortable you’ll be with it. (But if you’re not willing to hustle then leaving a comfy 9-5 is probably not for you.) While it’s been fantastic to grow so much this has come with bigger costs. My expenses so far this year have already exceeded what my income was the very 1st year I started. Between paying for my team, other sub contractors, equipment, studio rent, legal team, creative software, etc… it adds up.
Recognize burn out, and quickly learn how to avoid it. (This took me 3 years to figure out!) This game is not for the faint of heart. It’s not just about working hard and being smart, it’s about staying sane and not descending into madness. So take random days off, diversify revenue streams, make friends with other entrepreneurs who can share frustrations with, don’t spend 10 hours looking at a screen and have someone close to you that helps to reset your focus and get out of the rabbit hole.
It is challenging, especially when life is 20% creating (the fun part) and 80% is business management, paperwork, directing, meetings, proposal writing, getting organized, crying over taxes, troubleshooting, IT, paying vendors and subcontractors in a timely manner (especially when clients don’t) — it’s a nonstop endeavor and not for quitters.
I particularly love this quote from the DO Lectures “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” There are lots of extra hours because I hold our work to a very high standard and honestly the studio would be much more profitable if I didn’t care about the end result but I would also rather starve than take on a bad client.
It’s also about embracing the uncertainty and managing the anxiety that comes from it. Much of the stress comes down to timing, because producing a quality product that’s going to meet clients goals doesn’t happen overnight.
You got this if you put the work in (and I have your back if you do!)
+ How do you balance work & life?
In my eyes they are one in the same — work is my life, but with that said it's not everything. Know this creative endeavor is a marathon, not a sprint. No one starts up overnight and try to not get so caught up on Instagram as it's only the highlight reel (there's a many paint points and messy parts that people do not share).
Family, food, exercise — these things are important too so when deciding what work you're saying YES to, also consider what you're saying NO to (giving up on sleep, passion projects, dinner with friends, missed birthday parties, etc...)
The beauty of owning your own business is that YOU are the captain of the ship so ultimately it's up to you to decide what systems you put in place that work best for you and the lifestyle you want to pursue.
Know I'm here to help and will be cheering you on from a far!
+ Why do you pause the studio to travel?
Simply put — Routines and comfort zones kill creativity.
I’ve spent years spending an absurd amount of money on design conferences, books, workshops and talking with other design professionals to learn how to improve as a creative director and gain perspective. The most important realization from my reflections and immersion was this: Design inspiration comes from everywhere. In fact, I’ve found that I’m at my best when I’m intentional about diversifying my day-to-day experience, rather than obsessing over design books or learning new design tools.
Design is an inherently human thing; to design something well for someone is requires empathy and understanding of the human experience. And what better way to understand the human experience than to immerse yourself in as many versions of it?
There is this perception out there that anyone who travels long term and isn’t interested in settling down or getting a conventional job must be running away from something. They are just trying to “escape life.” The general opinion is that traveling is something everyone should do—that gap years after college and short vacations are acceptable. But for those of us who lead nomadic lifestyles, or who linger a bit too long somewhere before reaching that final homestretch, we are accused of running away.
Yes, travel—but just not for too long. People assume that we are simply running away from our problems, running away from “the real world.” And to all those people who say that, I say to you—you’re right. I am running away. I’m running away from your idea of the “real” world. And, instead, I’m running towards everything – towards the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom.
While there may be exceptions, most people who become nomads, and wanderers do so because they want to experience the world, not escape problems. We are running away from office life, commuting, and weekend errands, and running toward everything the world has to offer. We want to experience every culture, see every mountain, eat weird food, attend crazy festivals, meet new people, and enjoy different holidays around the world.
Life is short, and we only get to live it once. I want to look back and say I did crazy things, not say I spent my life reading blogs or scrolling through Instagram posts wishing I was doing the same thing. People who travel the world aren’t running away from life. Just the opposite. Those that break the mold, explore the world, and live on their own terms are running toward true living. So I am not running away. I am running towards the world and my idea of life. I hope you are brave enough to do the same.
+ What does your tattoo mean?
Anthony Bourdain said "Tattoos all mark a moment in time. I don't overly place importance on them, but they commemorate in a way that photographs can't."
My new ink is a traditional Sak Yant tattoo I received when traveling to Thailand for the second time — they are protective emblems with deep meaning rooted in ancient traditional of Buddhist and Hindu religions. They’ve been around for well over 2000 years and are hand-etched onto the skin with a bamboo or steel rod using beautifully intricate ancient geometric designs believed to give the wearer powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and good karma. (Sak — means ‘to tap’ and Yant — means ‘yantra’ an old Sanskrit word were given to warriors by monks to protect them in battle.)
The more I learned about them, the more I wanted one and the more I traveled in Thailand the more I fell in love with the country. (You can view my travels on Instagram Stories!) With a translator in tow I visited an Ajarn (sak yant master) who has been trained as a monk at a temple outside of Chiang Mai in the countryside. It is highly personal experience — the entire ceremony — from selecting gifts to give as offerings, consulting with him about my goals, fears and what I want in life, to being part of such a meaningful experience deeply woven in old traditions and beliefs in a country I’ve come to love was memorable, to say the least.
It is so much more than just a travel souvenir — the way the sacred Yantra numbers of my tattoo are connected represent my values being deeply connected and flowing like water to bring balance, peace and protection, both in life and artistically… plus I’ll take all the good karma I can get!