Today we’d like to introduce you to Ken Peters.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ken. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2003 I was a highly paid art director at a prestigious Phoenix-based design firm with an enviable roster of high-profile clients and a docket of fun and exciting projects. It was the sort of job, with the sort of firm, every designer dreams of… but I was miserable. Professionally I had hit the wall in a career that had become unchallenging, unrewarding, and completely unfulfilling – but it was all about to change for the better.
In 1996, armed with a Bachelor’ degree in design and visual communication from Arizona State University – and a cocksure attitude – I entered a dismal job market. Opportunities were few, and none offered an attractive first step on a promising career path. Rather than take a mediocre job, I took a chance.
Swallowing my pride I agreed to an unpaid, three-month internship with an amazing firm. As a newly minted graduate it was a humbling concession, but I was betting the experience would be valuable, and would open doors. It would.
I worked hard at the design firm during the day, while maintaining a retail night job to pay the bills. It quickly became clear they were working me like a salaried employee and applying the term “intern” to avoid paying the salary. I rolled with the punches, because I was gaining tremendous knowledge and skill while immersed in amazing projects. Within three months the “internship” became a full-time, salaried position. Thus began a rat race of long hours, late nights, job-hopping, and climbing the professional ladder. I met and collaborated with talented and wonderful people along the way, many of whom remain good friends and mentors.
My experiences in the corporate world were eye-opening. Lying, cheating, backstabbing, greed, selfishness, incompetence, sexism, racism and bigotry abounded – to my naive surprise. One boss nearly bankrupted the firm with his raging cocaine habit, and ran off with the fiancée of our biggest client. They got married, than divorced – the firm folded, and so did the client’s business.
On the flipside, I witnessed acts of quiet kindness from another boss extending a helping hand to an employee suffering from personal loss. I admired a determined woman making difficult decisions to keep her business afloat after a painful divorce (she’s still going strong). One shocking day I hurriedly dialed 9-1-1 as a 48-year-old colleague lay dying of a heart attack on the conference room floor – his last earthly utterance an apology for his files not being in better order.
It was the height of the dotcom boom, and people in my industry were making big money – or thought they would be once their client’s IPO rocked Wall Street. Then the bubble burst, and a lot of people lost their jobs – and a lot more.
These experiences helped teach me who I was, and who I wanted to be. Through it all I was restless and uneasy, and feeling like I could do – and be – something more. I wanted to start my own studio, but was too scared to make the leap.
Then, a fantastic job opportunity presented itself with a premiere firm. Perhaps this was the ticket to a more fulfilling career. I interviewed, but wasn’t hired. The creative director told me to keep in touch… so I did. I harassed him for nine months, finessing and schmoozing, and looking for an “in” – until I finally got myself hired. Everything looked shiny and polished on the outside. On the inside, poor management and one of two partners with a substance problem created an erratic environment with low morale. Discouraged but hopeful, I focused on my work.
This was the aforementioned job with the high-profile clients and fun projects, but after two years there my career was stagnant, and frankly, I was bored.
So, there I was, with a seemingly enviable job and a generous salary, but dour and disenchanted. Note: when you find yourself hoping to get into a fender-bender on the way to work, just so you can be late, it might be time for a new job. Yet I couldn’t find the strength to make a break. Then, fate intervened in an unexpected way.
After two years of perfect attendance I was knocked out for a week with severe pneumonia. As fate would have it my absence coincided with a big project on a tight deadline. Requiring a full team effort. When they needed me most, I wasn’t there, and when I returned – 26 pounds lighter, and looking like death warmed over – my bosses actually told me I’d let them down.
I regained my health, but never their confidence. My coworkers had no hard feelings, but I had clearly missed out on a profound team bonding experience, and it suddenly felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was miserable, and I’m sure it showed. Then, without warning, I was let go. It was done poorly, and it stung, but it would turn out to be the best thing to happen to my career. After years of hesitation, it was the push I needed.
I always dreamt of owning my own business, but was fearful of giving up the supposed security of a steady paycheck. Valid reasons like, “we’re saving for a house” or, “we just want to build a little more nest egg,” ultimately became excuses masking the insecurity of taking a risk. Now, I found myself in the deep end, and it was sink or swim. The circumstances were far from ideal, yet somehow the timing felt right. My wife and I agreed it was now or never, so we took a chance. I would launch my own studio, and work from home. It was all on me, and it was terrifying – but incredibly empowering.
For years I’d done some occasional moonlighting with an old Mac and some outdated software, under the name Nocturnal Design Studio. What I lacked in tools I made up for with talent, tenacity, desire and renewed self-confidence. I immediately designed a visual identity for Nocturnal, and applied it to business cards and a website where I could display my portfolio. Branding lent instant credibility, and commanded respect.
Having been active within the business and creative communities for years I had a strong network. The day after being fired I began contacting everyone I knew to spread the word that I was now operating my own studio. Word spread quickly, and the phone started ringing.
Within days I was meeting prospective clients and securing billable projects. After two months, work was steady. By four months, I was downright busy. In 12 months I doubled my old salary, and there’s been no looking back since. In the ensuing years Nocturnal has continued to grow and thrive with wonderful clients.
Launching my own business renewed my creative vigor. Work was fun again. 14 years later, it’s even more gratifying. The journey has been long, but every step was necessary. It’s not always easy, and there are challenges, but I’m in control of my own destiny, and my successes and failures are my own. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Self-employment has also provided the time, resources, and confidence to pursue other interests, like writing and self-publishing my own children’s book and focusing on fine art projects. Opportunities abound, and I feel empowered to make the most of them. I’m more emotionally, spiritually, creatively, and professionally energized than ever. Every day feels like a dream. My wife is my business partner, and building this success together has been rewarding. None of this would have been possible without her support.
What’s the moral of the story? You decide. I can say that I believe everything happens for a reason. I know from experience that what seems tragic today can be what saves you tomorrow, and if you believe, you can accomplish.
The road here was winding, and the road ahead may not be without potholes, but I’m confident, optimistic, and raring to go. I’ve realized many dreams. Now I have new dreams that are even wilder. They’re next.
Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest struggles of the past 14 years were all associated with keeping the business thriving during the Great Recession. The impact on the local economy was massive. Many clients went out of business, and the ones that didn’t hunkered down and didn’t invest much in marketing.
During those days we had to get creative about how we marketed ourselves and solicited new business. Social media, especially Twitter, was still very new, and we were able to leverage it to great effect to build relationships and attract new business.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Nocturnal is a strategic brand design agency. We guide individuals and organizations in developing their great ideas, products and businesses into successful brands.
What do we do, what do we specialize in, what are we known for?
We deal in ideas. In collaboration with our clients we give shape to ideas that shape our world, enrich everyday experiences, and improve our lives. Where there’s confusion, we fashion clarity; where there’s chaos, we construct order; where there’s entropy, we promote vitality; where there’s indifference, we swell passion; where there’s mediocrity, we imbue excellence; and where there’s silence, we lend voice.
Each of our clients has something unique to say, we help them say it to the world. Together, we start murmurs that become roars, which spark debates that open eyes and ignite passions, which inspire ideas that reveal possibilities to the hearts and minds of all who see them. You don’t do that by barking, “better, faster, cheaper.” You do it by revealing the soul of the organization – the brand.
A good portion of our work involves designing tangible things like logos, collateral, publications, packaging, products, advertising, environments, signage, digital interfaces, web sites, and a great many other things across every kind of media. They serve as touch points and beacons within a broader brand narrative.
Scripting that narrative requires a mix of method and madness, icons and symbols, colors and materials, photography and illustration, typography and messaging, sounds and scents, processes and experiences, form and function. We design brand systems to engage people, inspire dialogue and serve as compasses, guiding consumers through a crowded market.
Consumers aren’t the only audience. We also invigorate organizations with strategic thinking, creative collaboration and imaginative concepts and executions that provide a competitive advantage and stretch the possibilities of what a business can be. That’s how we help great businesses become successful brands.
What are we most proud of as a company?
The long-term relationships we maintain with our clients. We couldn’t do what we do without them. We’re honored and humbled that so many great people and organizations continue to show us their trust.
The work we do with those clients fosters innovation, stimulates commerce, creates jobs and wealth, and fuels the engine that drives society forward. It’s incredibly rewarding, and we’re extremely proud of our role in those contributions.
What sets us apart from others?
Nocturnal is a true branding firm. We do not create decoration; we unlock value trapped within a business and brand to move our clients beyond commodity competition to profitable differentiation. Branding, as we practice it, is part art, part science and all persuasion. By fusing design, psychology, sociology, semiotics, linguistics, neuroscience, behavioral economics and more into planned, purposeful, results-driven strategies and razor-sharp creative executions Nocturnal helps our clients communicate with clarity, consistently provide quality and achieve meaningful distinction in the marketplace.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
The Valley offers tremendous opportunities for businesses of every stripe. Among the best characteristics driving opportunity here are the rich cultural diversity of the southwest, our emerging technology sector, geographic proximity to Mexico and west coast markets, our wonderful weather, and overall quality of life. The local arts scene continues to grow and amplify the voices of gifted artists. ASU has emerged in recent years as a world-class university. The Valley is once again poised for tremendous growth as consumer confidence rises and the economy grows and stabilizes.