Tim Girvin

Tim Girvin • Written September 2013

Tim GIRVIN, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of GIRVIN, Inc., is recognized internationally as a designer, writer, illustrator, photographer and calligrapher. He has spoken all over the world on strategic planning, brand development and design integration, brand and story development for retail identity. His focus is fulfilling emotional and holistic sensory content in dimensional marketing to international audiences.

GIRVIN's client attention is on captivation: strategy and personality, identity in retail and brand environments, entertainment design and integrated experience. Past and present clients include Apple, Ameristar Casinos, Boyd Resorts, Bloomingdale's, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Kerzner, Leviev, LG / Seoul, L'Oreal, MGM | Mirage, Microsoft, Millennium Retailing / Tokyo, Nordstrom, Paramount Studios, Procter & Gamble, Warner Brothers and Wynn.

He is a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Design Management Institute, Japanese Graphic Design Association, Industrial Designers Society of America, Luxury Marketing Council, Society for Environmental Graphic Designers and the Type Directors Club | Tokyo.

My legacy as a designer is founded on four keys: Meaning, memory, beauty, people

As a child, my biggest focus was nature and magic  – both, set ablaze by curiosity. I was fascinated by hornet's nests and ant hills, bird feathers, shells, and the patterning of trees, clouds, mists, sand, the ocean and waves, rocks and cliffs, stones and caves. I drew them and I was drawn to them. Mystery, the journey to discovering, was everything to my creative journey. I was interested in being where I was and where I wasn't, on the here and there. I was focused on the "here-ness" of what is deeply close at hand (touch, scent, sight and mind) in the forests, sand dunes and grasses, and wondered about the further -- the tallest tree, the iced crevasse, the cavern waterfall, the far crags, the distant valleys, the long road out to the unknown no-where. To this day, I like the "far out and obscure," that which is difficult to see and fathom. 

And too, I have a love of exploring forbidden places. I always went where I wasn't supposed to. "Do not enter, don't go there, don't even think about opening that." Of course, I do. A doorway that reads "Entreten Verboten," translates in my mind to "better check it out!" For me, meaning comes clear in any exploration. If there is a "forbidden" sign, what does that mean? What does that mark mean? In design, I believe meaning and the quest for beauty are two of the most profound conditions. But to the unquenchable curiosity, the search for meaning in the work – what we are doing, what is accomplished, and the intention of our path are critical junctures of movement in the procession of creativity. 

And what of magic? I believe that the character of design and creativity are inherently alchemical and magical. To alchemy, the admixture of crude points of thinking, inspiration, "base metals" of action are newly combined in the magical processes of translation and illustration to create something new. Elements of art, story, and materials come together in a new way, creating something brighter, and more wondrous, more valuable. I was so fascinated by this idea that I created a study and discussion group in college called Al-Kimiya – the arabic etymological step in the procession towards our present-day rendering of "chemistry." 

The search for meaning and the shaping of content in our work began with elementary school studies of Latin and the true naming of things – the etymon. That search for the layering in language, the meaning and context of word, was laid into everything in my foundation – even our use of the word "brand" in the 80's, slightly before this became a boosted parlance of marketing expression, reached back some 5,000 years to proto-languages and root sounds – "brand is fire." That fire is passion, intention, a spirit and engaging blaze that is deep, rich and robust. To meaning, our early 90's presentation to Procter & Gamble, The story of the brand, and the brand that is story, offered comprehensively to the entire P&G brand management teams at Building One, Cincinnati, was about the intertwinement of story and brand. In a manner, brand experiences unfold like storytelling. Magic is a gathering, a conjuration of content, a marking of portals and doorways – it's an art of symbol-gathering, making, marking. The very word "sign" is an expression of signal, signature and sigil – to each: personality, spirit and aliveness, and in each -- a portal, a doorway, a vista to something new. A vitalized chant of seeing the story in a new manner. 

I go there, I go out there, I go deeper – not as a personal positioning proposition, but rather: my life, my journey, my adventure. 

These inspirations, to meaning, brand, storytelling, the procession of experience, for me, came from design journals – one per year, carried as larger exploratory and examining tools – life collages. These scripted and sketched, imagery-fattened books of handmade paper and leaves with drawings and words on them, twine and spiderwebs, became the gathering point, the bound nexus of the search for meaning. We're doing this, therefore: "why?" 

If I'm thinking about this, then what is:
• the poetry of it? 
• the metaphorical intimation? 
• the allegory that might be told?
• the myth, patterning, mystery or legend that might be simmering in the midst? 
• the spirit that might be known, newly understood, revealed, or unleashed? 

My learning [and, inextricably, living] history began in kindergarten and grade school – first, nature and magic revealed themselves as points of study. I was curious about how natural things worked. My mother will extoll the long sundry list of jars of ants, spiders, scorpions, grasshoppers and crickets – all alive and somewhat living "large" in my bedroom. (Not everything stayed in the jars.) My space back then through to my current studio feels more like a library and cabinet of curiosities than living and working places. My first, self-purchased book was "A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural," which arrived out of the blue, emblazoned with a horned Lucifer and pentacle device, white foil-stamped on the cover. Mom was appalled. I was enthralled. The craft of the artisanal, the maker in me, blossomed. Now, The Spirit of Art, beauty-making quivered on the edge of my consciousness and found roots in the foundations of my ideas about my life, my work, my future – I spent time with craftsman, builders, artists, makers of things – Harold Balazs, European artisans, national and international craftsmen and women. 

But it was merely another step in the journey to exploring "what lies beneath." To nature, I took the skills in drawing from being in my Mom's oil painting studio, and drafted renderings of insects, leaves, trees and story books. I continued those studies into college – there, with the move to vivisection in analysis, I began to lose the poetic and spiritual character of the contemplation of nature and the razor-edged spring to science dampened that interest. My consulting professor said, "what about books, design, and printing? Your lab journals show that path – text, drawings and notes; that DaVinci-esque potential could find a new telling there." That fascination with designed devices and symbolic signets led to later college studies in art and architectural history, cosmology in place-making, medieval western building design and symbolism, Jung and archetype. Still, I was looking for meaning, and meaning in the work – something deeper. I found the "history of the book." I studied book making, calligraphy, hand lettering, type design, paper making and binding. I shifted schools and went from Marine Biology and Comparative Physiology at New College, to The Evergreen State College. 

Growing up in a neighborhood of architects, I continued to study architecture and the making and meaning of "place." I built out workshops on drawing, life drawing, and calligraphy. I studied Arabic, open-tuned Guitar and Oud, ethnomusicology, and learned North African and East Indian Drumming. I learned about the rhythm of creative impetus, the momentum of ideas, graphical patterning, silkscreening and hand-wrought design, sign-painting, lettering, pin-striping motorcycles, women and trucks. I designed signs and tattoos. I got into print. I studied world literature and writing systems. I drafted huge paleographic broadsheets (3'x25' studies) in chalk and bamboo pens of Arabic, Sanskrit, western alphabets. I taught workshops that blended art, world culture, and letterform design. I became an adjunct professor. Then I left Olympia and traveled to London, Cambridge, Oxford, Paris, Bern, Salzburg, Moscow and Tallinn to connect with designers, stone cutters, glass engravers, fine printers, papermakers, calligraphers and lettermen, scholars of eastern and Western art history, Islamic art and calligraphy. I talked about American Design in Moscow and Tallinn, Estonia.

In 1976, I moved to Seattle to kick off the journey of a "design office." My first office was in the old Maritime Building and shared with another business. I moved from there to another office, and another, until GIRVIN, Inc. was the biggest tenant in the waterfront building. We were housed with ferry boat designers, architects, and clothing manufacturers, like Filson. With my portfolio in hand, I circulated the building and others in the vicinity. Back then, my portfolio consisted mostly of invented work – I had nothing, so I made it up. I realized that trying to survive in Seattle, alone, would be a daunting prospect, so I hit the road and reached out to LA, eventually branding thousands of movie projects, large and small over the years.

Our offices were lofts laden with travel-gathered art, talismans, rare flower-arrangement baskets, posters, prints, manuscripts, and books, books and yes, more books. We eventually created a rare book room to protect the rarer of the rare – folios and broadsides, antique shop drawings, medieval and Renaissance books on perspective, architectural design, emblem books, grimoires, and tracts on design, typography and calligraphy, including dozens of handmade books, manuscripts and calligraphic ephemera. 

Those early years were infused with time working on mixing the metaphors of design and experience. With an ever-broadening folio of works, GIRVIN was designing in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, and Osaka. We formed alliances and friendships, expanded and set up shop in NYC, linked to colleagues in Tokyo, and hired representatives and project coordinators in Paris, NYC, Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco. We moved to an environment that "owned the floor," so that our story was launched from the opening of the elevator doors. We crossed hybrid media to build out teams of motion graphic designers, interactive teams, coders, architects and interior designers, lighting and retail, perfumers and food consultants. I was looking for synaesthetic approaches to design – cross-sensical layers of experience. If there is a story to tell, what is the meaning, what comes to mind and memory, and what does it holistically feel like? If you profess that proposition, the rules of the game would be self evident – you have to feel it to be true. It's not a theory – it's living, applied, daily. 

To it all, brands are built by humans, for humans, and none of this would've been possible without extraordinary teams. People say, "Your people are so amazing. Where do you find them?" I don't, they come to me – it's a blessing and that's part of the magic and the intertwinement of ideas, ideals and energy. Still, to this day, with a smaller team, that is the nature of the work. If you live it, what does it mean to you? For a brand, a team, an enterprise, our question for 20+ years has been, "what is your story, who's telling it, what does it sound and feel like, and who cares to listen to it?" And finally, "why tell it?" We ignited the fuse of Girvin in 1976, and the sparkling continues to illuminate new paths of relationships, community and creativity. Meaning and memory intertwine, soul and storytelling weave new visions of how people connect with each other in the heart fullness of being. 

The Leap, the Jump to Risk


The Grand Canyon


There is a path of the straight and narrow. 

And there is a path of an unexpected roadway. You can take either, depending on your expectation of outcome. 

There is an easy way, and there is another, that breaks the normal causeway to something more adventuresome. And while one path — the easier route — might be more accessibly protective and comprehensible — the other leads to insights and changeful recognition, the desire to move strategy and tactical outcomes to a new tier of expectation and certainty. Risk, to an etymological review means to “run into danger,” in a manner, implying that the wanderer is running headlong into danger. More so, it’s about journeying to a path which could lead to unexpected outcomes and change — which could be revealed in new insights, catalyzed learnings, electrifying  exposures — that inherently lie in the risk of the differing and unexpected pathway. The leap out into the void of uncertainty — like the flash of intuition — the one who jumps to risk an either land on their two feet, or falter. And that falling could be yet another learning. 


The risk is, as in anything, a matter of willingness to ride out the wilder torrent, to come to the steeper cliff, to stride and swim into the more explosive storm. Because it is in there that the rival learning can happen that can be forever changeful. 


The closer you are to the edge, the further you can see, and what new horizons might be revealed. 


South Rim Rampart, Grand Canyon


Step to the brink, and consider what risks could be in the dimensionality of transition — to get through anything challenging will take the risk of the leap past and through the normal channel. 


The unexpected lends itself to spectacle, surprise, unique positioning and presentation, context and construct. To expect presumes anticipation and waiting — a deference to the known. 


Now, onwards to the new, the unknown, the leap to risk and adventure — the adventure of risk awaits. 


Journey onwards. The new. the unexpected. 

You won’t get there from here. 

Write your good byes and go. 



© Tim Girvin 2017