Miriam Walsh Lisco

Miriam Lisco • Written July 2009

Miriam Lisco

Like father, like daughter.

That’s high praise for Miriam Walsh Lisco, of Walsh Design, whose dad, the late and fabled Frederick Walsh, was one of Seattle’s most respected designers. Miriam has built Walsh Design on the firm foundation her dad established and revels in each new challenge.

Miriam joined the firm in 1963 and apprenticed under Fred and his talented staff until Fred passed away in 1982. She has since operated as its principal for 27 years.

The introduction of computers in the 80s did not affect Miriam’s approach to design – an intellectual approach. Blessed with great powers of concentration and an analytical mind, she works the design out in her head before committing anything to paper. She has capitalized on her highly developed design capabilities, respect for others, intelligence, sense of humor, dedication to the work ethic and strong organizational and business skills.

Miriam has won an impressive number of prestigious awards during her 46-year career and has gained a reputation for excellence.

As member of The Rotary Club of Seattle, Miriam has a deep commitment to the community. She has annually donated design services to a multitude of non-profit organizations throughout the Northwest.

Miriam attended Holy Names Academy and the University of Washington. She has two grown daughters, and a grandson. Her daughter Lisa is now a third generation member of the firm.

Lisco’s dedication to being positive has helped her create her own place in her field. She does not stand in the shadow of her legendary father but in the forefront of today’s most talented and accomplished designers.

To design and marketing historians, the name Fred Walsh has become synonymous with “integrated communications,” with matching design with strategy—with what is better known today as branding.

Fred Walsh and the company he founded in the 1960s—today known as Walsh Design—stood for excellence, meticulous attention to detail, and bold, outside-the-box thinking. Today those values and that strong tradition set Walsh Design—with Fred’s daughter Miriam Lisco at the helm—apart from newcomers to the design scene. What Fred Walsh started in Seattle was nothing less than a movement Walsh then and Walsh today have in common a philosophy of total communication Everythingmust be considered before you start designing. What’s the company’s strategy? What does that company need to “tell” its customers? How can the visual element convey what a company or organization needs and wants to convey?

Fred Walsh
Fred Walsh always got what he wanted.

Fred Walsh started his design career as an illustrator at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Art Department in Bremerton, where he worked from 1943 to 1947. From those early days working as an illustrator, Walsh developed his expertise in packaging and corporate communications through a succession of assignments. After working as a designer at Pacific Wax Paper, Walsh became an art director in his own studio. From there, he worked as a designer for Cello Bag, and later, he joined R.T. Matthieson, Inc. Design Studio as an art director.

Walsh’s philosophy was to design “intelligently,” which meant to him to analyze everything before committing anything to paper.

Walsh was at the forefront of a new design philosophy that was emerging in Seattle, and, in fact, created a platform that launched world-class photographers.When Pacific Northwest Bell came to Fred Walsh, asking him to design “a newsletter,” Walsh suggested that the company create a more compelling communications vehicle—and Cascades Magazine was born. Fred was both demanding and talented, and was known for his unwillingness to compromise. Cascades became a showcase for talented local photographers such as Ray Atkeson, Art Hupy, Bob Peterson, Steve Wilson, Fred Milke, Paul Thomas, Frank Denman, Bart Attebury and illustrators Bob Cram, Irwin Kaplan, Dick Brown and Frank Renlie. In addition, one of its writers, Mary Daheim, began her successful writing career in Cascades and went on to become a bestselling mystery and thriller author.

A young photographer came to the office in 1967 and made a tremendous impact on the direction of the photography in Cascades magazine: Harald Sund. His work, which focused on the environment, was bold and beautiful. Harald went on to international success and has been listed as one of the top ten photographers in the world.

Cascade Magazine 1960
Cascades Magazine 1960.

Designing the magazine became a 15-year project for Fred Walsh and his team.

When Walsh selected Farwest Printers to print Cascades Magazine, owner Bill Bonallo contributed to the publication becoming one of the “greats” by pushing the limits of printing quality to produce an award-winning, nationally recognized publication.

Fred also designed the logo for Farwest/Acme. The stationery was printed on a one color press and each facet of the logo was a different color. Since the stationery had to infer that perfect registration was what they provided, each piece of stationery was hand picked so that only the pieces that registered perfectly were used.

Walsh also made its mark on another revered institution, the University of Washington. Starting in 1961, and continuing over many years, Walsh worked with Howard Miller, the Director of Communications at the UW and gave the UW a brand facelift. Today, Fred Walsh’s work is still evident on the UW campus. The Walsh Design legacy continued into 2008, when Walsh’s daughter, Miriam Lisco, current owner of Walsh Design, developed a new brand for the UW’s Foster School of Business.

UW Logo
Fred Walsh designed this UW logo still in use today.

In 1962, Fred Walsh joined forces with another Seattle legend, David Strong, forming Walsh & Strong. In 1993, David Strong reminisced about his relationship with Fred Walsh: “Much of my success is the result of my association with Fred. I most willingly share that with him….Working with Fred was the most exhilarating and exasperating time of my design career. And I loved every minute of it.”  David Strong, 1993.

In 1963, Fred Walsh opened the design studio Frederick Walsh & Associates, Inc.

In 1963, Miriam Lisco, Fred’s daughter, started working as a receptionist in Fred’s office in the Lloyd Building. The office was bustling with activity.

The year 1963 also saw the birth of another magazine project: Seattle Magazine, which Fred designed and art directed until 1968. Magazine staff and photographers for both Seattle and Cascades magazines were constantly coming and going. Fred developed lasting friendships with photographers Bob Peterson and Harald Sund, and editor Peter Bunzel.

In his office in the Lloyd Building, Fred had a team of designers that included John Divers, a graduate of The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Fred Rubik and Doug Hansen.

Finish art was hand-done in those years. Because the design staff regarded paste-up as a chore, they taught Miriam the fine art of paste-up. From this simple act of delegation, Fred’s daughter’s design career was launched.

John Denure, the West Coast Paper salesman (a welcome guest), stopped in at least once a week with paper samples so that mockups could be built on the latest new papers.

Fred’s reputation as a designer, who believed in TOTAL COMMUNICATION when he approached a project, helped him win another prestigious design project: the re-design of the logo and updating of the packaging for Crescent Foods, a company that was about to lose its space in Albertson’s because of sluggish sales. Once Fred finished the initial project, sales took off and Crescent Foods was an on-going client for some 26 years.

When it came to designing logos, Fred Walsh looked at the font as a communication tool, so he would often hand-letter and ink the fonts so that they were unique and so that they communicated perfectly. A great frustration today is that he only created the letters that he needed--so while many beautiful fonts that he designed still exist, many of the letters are missing.Still on the market today are examples of hand-lettered logos that Fred Walsh designed: Esquin Wine Merchants, Ostrom’s Mushrooms, and the lettering currently used on the logo for the Rotary Club of Seattle.

In 1967 a winemaking firm formed primarily by U.W. faculty members, to produce wine from Washington grapes, came into the office for packaging expertise. That led to the original brand and packaging for Associated Vintners

Crescent Foods became a platform for Miriam’s training as a package designer. Packaging for all of Crescent’s products were designed by hand. The packaging assignments presented their own unique challenges, running the gamut from types of printer specs required--for often small tins with specific requirements--as well as film and labels printed on flexo presses. For Crescent’s gravy mixes, Walsh father and daughter worked with a company in San Francisco that could print foil packs on an offset press. Miriam recalls, “One of the most challenging projects was to hand-build an entire nut bag line filled with nuts to portray how it would appear as a finished display.” She adds: “Seattle Art was the go to place for supplies to make this happen. This was also the era of rub-on letters. It was very time-consuming to find the perfect font in the resources available and the exact colors of films to replicate a perfect match to reality.”

Once the designs were approved, type and photostats had to be ordered. Miriam Lisco observes: “This wasn’t like working on a computer where you could change the size or style of a font with the click of a key. It meant many trips back and forth to the typesetters and many rounds of resizing art.”

In the 60s, it wasn’t all work. El Gaucho, everyone’s favorite lunch and martini spot was around the corner on 6th and Olive Way. It was not unusual for the magazine staffs to head over to El Gaucho for long lunches and many martinis.

Frederick Walsh & Associates eventually outgrew the Lloyd Building and moved to Westlake North in a building on the water. With the passage of time, staff changed and new faces came and went. A familiar name in the local design community, included John Van Dyke.

Terry Heckler, of Heckler and Associates, shared office space with Fred at this time and offered this reminiscence in 1993: “The way Fred would spend an entire day cutting a sable brush hair-by-hair and only using engineering slide rules to calculate photo crops might give you a hint about the level of passion and pride he brought to his work.”

As years went on and Fred was slowing down, he moved his offices to his home on Queen Anne.

In 1978, the technology era starting to grow and the firm was hired by an Electronic Conventions Management in Los Angeles to brand and market the largest OEM high technology exhibitions in the United States.  This was a daunting project but a great opportunity to watch the growth of an industry. Unfortunately, Fred was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1982. His only connection with technology was a hand-held calculator.

With the passing of Fred Walsh, the firm Walsh and Associates, Inc. changed hands, and ownership transitioned to daughter Miriam Lisco—and a new era began for the firm.

The transition, however, was difficult. Fred was a great teacher, but Miriam was Miriam—not Fred. He left some pretty big shoes to fill. Also, it was still a male world and Miriam had a lot of “proving” to do.

The technology account, a massive undertaking, was handed to her by their client.

The computer era had not yet begun. Magazine layouts had not been the focus of Miriam’s expertise and computer typesetting had not been perfected – back to the lead typesetting. There was no time for a learning curve, but somehow it led to her being a quick study and in the end, success.

Communicating between Seattle and Los Angeles meant daily overnight FedEx shipments, traveling to FedEx offices to fax layouts at $10 per page, and then flying to LA in the morning after pasting up 28-page books all night. This was followed up with all night press checks at Colorgraphics in Los Angeles.

The timing was perfect as the office transitioned to computers. While there were “glitches,” Miriam Lisco learned a valuable lesson in adapting to the changing paradigm.

At this time Miriam looked at her core expertise and focused on building a more diverse business clientele. She never lost the lessons taught by Fred. He was demanding, talented, and insistent on one primary value: “We do the best – no matter what.”

Miriam gained a reputation for excellence and it wasn’t long before she had designed a cheese label that took a company from bankruptcy to 30% profits in a year. Emboldened by such strong business success, she then re-branded Fran’s chocolates, Choice Tea, branded Chukar Cherries, Zoka Coffee, and designed a coffee label that was presented a “Best in the World” award. Today, her designs are published in 22 books.

Rather than building a large staff, Miriam works with strategic partners in a variety of industries.

Miriam has teamed with Parker LePla over a 15-year period on brand projects. Parker LePla develops the brand strategy and Walsh Design implements the strategy visually.

Projects with Parker LePla have included Trendwest, Bowker (a national publishing company), and Glanbia (an Irish company that is launching Flaxseed products in the U. S. market)—to name a few.

Walsh is teaming with Capitol Media, a web company, on designing a national website for parking payment solutions, for cities across the country.

Walsh, a former competitor of McKnight & Company, Inc., today has formed a strategic partnership with McKnight for design strategies in the areas of the global food industry, including aquaculture, seafood and health, and food traceability.

Miriam’s daughter Lisa is now her associate and design partner.

And the Walsh legacy and tradition of excellence continues.