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20 Years of Impact!

The Situationist Movement.

What does this late-1950s French social revolution have to do with our company? A lot, actually.

The Situationists and their methodologies caught our founder Allan Espiritu’s attention when he was getting his master’s degree in fine arts at Yale in early 2001.

Situationists — the politically minded designers, writers, filmmakers and poets who led the European-based movement — deplored commercialism and were obsessed with disrupting everyday situations and people’s expectations.

Their avant-garde approach transformed how words and images were used together and how people experience creative work. The Situationists influenced fine art, graphic design and advertising that extends far beyond the movement’s most active 15-year period. They made an impact on Allan, too.

The Situationist’s radical ideas planted a seed that inspired the early days of GDLOFT, and it’s embedded in our agency today. We hope you’ll see the seed bearing fruit as you explore some of our team’s work in this twentieth-anniversary celebration book.

GDLOFT, the Early Years

In 2002 after graduating from Yale with a Master of Fine Arts, Allan began teaching at Rutgers University, where he wanted to inspire the next generation of graphic designers. Despite his full plate as an assistant professor, he felt the pull to do something more: open a design agency.

Allan envisioned a small, collaborative studio of designers, photographers and fine artists. Their focus would be to put into practice many of the things he taught at Rutgers. Allan had some disruptive design theories to test, as well. In early 2003, our “graphic design think tank” called GDLOFT (for Graphic Design Loft) opened for business.

Initially, GDLOFT worked with only a few clients, while Allan taught full-time and spent the rest of his energies on family. When he recalls those early years of business, Allan remembers it being fun, filled with theoretical conversations about design, and his small team executing a “let’s do the unexpected” approach for willing clients.

Not having to worry about how much money GDLOFT made or relentlessly pursue new clients felt liberating to Allan. He could run a small business low on overhead and regularly refreshed by a flow of Rutgers’ top design students, with their enthusiasm and willingness to experiment.

Business Gets Serious

Within a few years of running a small design shop, GDLOFT’s growing pains kicked in. Our agency’s happy clients, which included a number of nonprofits, universities, theaters and art organizations, began spreading the word about their experience. Our agency’s portfolio grew, and soon,Allan had enough work to bring in more alums from his network.

In 2005, Kevin Kernan, who’d studied under Allan at Rutgers, began freelancing for GDLOFT. Kevin was inspired by Allan’s disruptive approach and our fine-art heritage. He enjoyed how most our clients gave the agency carte blanche.

Kevin brought impressive design skills to GDLOFT and a desire for more business rigor. He recommended new processes and a framework to guide us to bring our best to each client. We became more thoughtful, process-driven and less focused on singular design projects.

Soon, Kevin became a permanent fixture, joining the team full-time as a partner in 2015. His dual-focused passion for design and business transformed GDLOFT, making us better and stronger.

New Specialties Emerge

Over the subsequent years as GDLOFT grew, the type of work we became known for expanded.

We saw our digital and website design take off, allowing us to do more diverse work for clients who want their organizations to be compelling in print and online. We became well-known for event and environmental (signage, exhibits, etc.) design.

Grant-funded projects became another growth area and a way to deepen client relationships. When a nonprofit applies for a grant, their application process can stretch one to two years. Our design work often runs that long, too. We marry our love of print with other elements that play a role in a grant-request package, and we celebrate with clients when they receive funding.

We’d be remiss not to mention 2020 in our two-decade look back. Given the pandemic’s impact on every business, we’re grateful our agency remained strong during those two-plus years. When our event clients had to put their plans on hold, we doubled down on branding work, even though it’s always been at the heart of what we do.

Kevin calls the pandemic a defining mark in GDLOFT’s history in that the pivot allowed us to move forward, bring brand solutions more to the forefront, and remain strong even though we lost event work for a while.

Here’s to What Comes Next

Last year, Kevin became the leader at our company, with Allan moving into a Creative Director role. Under Kevin’s leadership, we celebrated GDLOFT’s best year ever. With this change, Allan has more time and energy to give to Rutgers and his family … and more time to dream new dreams.

Looking into the future for GDLOFT, we envision our team growing and welcoming new clients from outside our region and even internationally. And we’re excited about the potential.

Thank you to our clients, partners and team (past and present) for this amazing journey. Here’s to our next 20 years of GDLOFT!

No matter how big GDLOFT grows or how many years pass, we’ll hold these tenets close:

  • Ask why. There’s value in asking questions, and we love the discovery process.

  • Distill the complex. We love a good challenge and are skilled at finding the simplicity inside an intricate project.

  • Be positive and collaborative. When we treat clients with respect and kindness, they return the favor, and our relationships grow stronger.

  • Be nimble. We’d rather keep our team small and scale up with more talent as new clients and opportunities come our way.

  • Never forsake print. We love digital mediums, but print slows things down in our busy world — and everyone needs the reprieve! Plus, we don’t want to create disposable design, and this influences what we create.

  • Care about more than design. We care about how things look, of course, but we care equally about the audience who will experience the work and where our designs appear. The more we know each element, the better we do.

  • Embrace the new. We’re perpetual students of our craft and never want to abandon the desire to learn.

  • Grow in size and influence. Getting bigger and more well-known has appeal. But we won’t grow without making sure we can nail the other tenets.


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