Clever. Exciting. Fun. Adjectives that describe not just the Club Kiddo PLAY project itself but also the studio behind it, Eight Hour Day, as well as the designers behind the studio, Katie Kirk and Nathan Strandberg. Married since 2006, Kirk and Strandberg often finish each other’s thoughts and are perfect complements to one another–as partners, as designers, and now in their new enterprise, Club Kiddo.
Minneapolis-based Katie Kirk and Nathan Strandberg were freelancing at Target in 2012 when opportunity arose, inspiration struck, and Eight Hour Day was hatched. Initially handling small website projects, the firm built on Strandberg’s branding abilities and Kirk’s illustration skills to become the lauded studio it is today.
The origin of the studio’s name is as fundamental as the hardworking Midwestern ethic it represents. “We actually saw it on a t-shirt,” said Strandberg. “It just said Eight Hour Day.” Finishing the thought, Kirk interjects, “We liked the idea of putting in the time, putting in a hard day’s work.”
Appreciation of Awesome
Designers with plenty of ambition, Kirk and Strandberg saw opportunity beyond the success of Eight Hour Day. Watching their two-year-old son get excited over simple things, like cars or construction equipment, got the couple thinking. “Wouldn’t it be great to have an option that celebrated these things,” said Kirk. “Things that weren’t branded merchandise, weren’t movies, weren’t TV shows, and just played off the loves that kids have.”
“The club aspect was just something that was fun,” Kirk continued. “Something that was, ‘Oh, I like this, you like this. Let’s get together.’” Thus, the apparel, art, and accessories brand was born. Club Kiddo features graphic tees (kid-sized only), posters, pins, and patches grouped in club lines like The Early Birds, The Society of Collectors, Car Car Club, and Tantrum Tyrants.
Noted on its website as a “not-so-secret society dedicated to everyday wonderment and the appreciation of awesome,” Club Kiddo states its beliefs plainly: Be gender-neutral, be exclusively inclusive, and make kids smile. “Gender-neutral was a huge part of it for me,” said Kirk. “Having a little boy, growing up he loved Peppa Pig,” the female lead of a British preschool animated television series. “For us, it was really about, kids are kids,” she continued. “It doesn’t have to play into any sort of gender rules or gender stereotypes.”
Despite their expertise with designing brands for clients of Eight Hour Day, Kirk and Strandberg faced new challenges working for themselves as Club Kiddo. “As designers, branding for yourself is always really hard,” said Kirk. “Where does the concept come in? How are we writing it? What’s the voice?”
With Kirk driving the brand forward and Strandberg acting as sounding board and handling company fundamentals like sourcing, e-commerce, and insurance, Club Kiddo has a special component to its organization: Kirk and Strandberg’s son, Owen. “From a test market standpoint, Owen is our toughest critic,” said Kirk. “He’s tough but fair,” added Strandberg.
“And then of course with the event itself…” began Strandberg. To celebrate the brand launch, Kirk and Strandberg planned Club Kiddo PLAY, a two-week immersive pop-up installation featuring interactive spaces, giant wall graphics, and art projects. Tapping a former Target colleague who plans major brand events, Kirk and Strandberg quickly learned the ins and outs. “We spoke to her early on and ran some ideas by her, just to make sure we weren’t crazy,” he concluded.
After years of regimented planning for the product line to make sure every element was on-brand and setting the club’s style, Club Kiddo PLAY came together quickly by necessity. “We kind of had to do it quickly just from a timeline perspective,” recalled Strandberg. “But that helped quite a bit to actually just…” he trailed off. “Keep it loose,” completed Kirk. “Figuring it out as we went, concepting what these exhibits would be,” she continued. “Just trying to make each of the spaces unique and playful for children, and playful for adults.”
For PLAY, Kirk and Strandberg covered rooms in vinyl wall and floor patterns and prints derived from the Club Kiddo brand. “We had a great team over at Smartpress that worked with us directly,” said Strandberg. “We were working so fast,” continued Kirk. “It was nice to have another set of eyes on it, making sure everything was top notch.”
A 12-foot-wide coloring wall dominated the Pizza Party club room at PLAY, complete with oversize crayons that kids and adults are encouraged to use. “It was printed on Smartpress vinyl and the crayons take to it quite well,” said Strandberg. “We’ll take it down halfway and put up a new one so that new attendees have a fresh slate.”
PLAY also featured activities for kids including make-your-own merit badge and family crest stations. “It becomes a sticker they can stick to themselves,” said Strandberg. Kirk continues, “They’ll sit there and design multiple patches and multiple shields and the parents get into it. They were doing their own. It’s been fun to see.”
Blue Sky Future
With Club Kiddo launched and the fifteen-day run of PLAY behind them, Kirk and Strandberg still have big plans. While sustaining Eight Hour Day clients remains a priority, retail partnerships and Club Kiddo marketing are next on the list. “We’ve thought about games and merchandising, those kinds of things,” said Kirk. “I think what I like about the brand is that it has legs in a lot of different directions,” she continued. Strandberg finishes the thought, “So if you know any investors…”