Ideamakers

From Vision to Reality: How Umbra’s Manager of Brand Design Brings Ideas to Life

March 10, 2017

For creative professionals, there’s rarely a division between personal and professional passions. And sharp-eyed design pro Jordan Darbishire is no exception.

“You have to be passionate about what you’re doing,” says the young creative. “As a creative professional, I think if your career at a specific place ever becomes just a job, it’s time to move on.

To the casual observer, Darbishire comes across as unassuming and a bit reserved. But broach the topic of design, and this young creative is eager to discuss what makes him tick, what drives his aesthetic, and how he’s making waves in the industrial design space leading one of Canada’s upstart home brands.

This Creative Director turned Brand Design Manager has led a fruitful career as a visual artist. While he began his journey as a graphic designer, his affinity for beautiful design helped him climb the ladder to become a creative director in the fast-paced advertising industry. At London, ON’s Arcane, he honed his skills for several years devising visuals for a bevy of clients.

But in April 2016, he made the switch to managing the visual identity of just one brand: Umbra, a Toronto-based furniture and décor company.

“There were many communicable skills between both, but a brand design manager really gets to focus on just the one brand, [while] a Creative Director is focusing on many,” Darbishire explains regarding his career pivot. “I found the job through just being a fan of Umbra and their designers.”

Why Umbra: Visions Align

It’s no wonder Umbra’s designs resonated with Jordan. Much like Umbra, which leans toward bright and airy looks, Darbishire’s personal aesthetic is also clean and contemporary.

“My personal tastes could be described as minimal and modern,” he explains “I’m a fan of the Swiss design style, and find inspiration in many different design disciplines [like] product and industrial design, architecture and interior design.”

Jordan Darbishire photographed at Umbra’s flagship store in Toronto.

While he draws inspiration from a wide variety of influences, some of his favourite designers include Michael Bierut, Josef Albers and Paul Rand.

Along with a team of 17 in Toronto and Shenzhen, China, Darbishire hustles to handle everything design-related in the company that’s unrelated to Umbra’s dozens of products. Those duties span coordinating the company’s expansive catalog, social media, product packaging, the brand’s website, internal communications, design and copywriting, as well as managing his large, cross-disciplinary team.

Jordan Darbishire (centre) with the Umbra Catalog Team. From left to right: Jeremy Yeung ,Carri Han, Florian Müller, Jennifer Pau, Adam Szpruta.

And while all these tasks certainly help him stay on his toes, his talented colleagues and the brand’s aesthetic keep him challenged and inspired.

“My favourite part about Umbra is the staff,” he says. “As a graphic designer, working with industrial and interior designers is very inspiring. Immersing yourself in design disciplines that differ from what you’ve been formally trained in is very important to becoming a better designer. The language of design is universal, so getting to work with Matt Carr (Umbra’s VP of Design), and form relationships with the other designers there has been a great experience.”

Making Cents of Good Design

Jordan and his team aren’t just there creating visuals for the sake of it — when it comes to successfully selling products online, images are an integral part of the sales formula.

Visuals have become one of the quickest (and most shared) forms of communication. Data from Inc. magazine, predicts an estimated 84% of communications will be visual by 2018. And according to research from Skyword, copy that includes a compelling image garners 94% more views than picture-less counterparts. With stats like those, it’s no wonder brands like Umbra and creatives like Jordan are eager to create compelling visuals to draw in potential customers.

Because Umbra creates dozens of furniture and home décor items (from wall planters to coat racks to umbrella stands and everything in between), Darbishire notes that it’s necessary to photograph products “in situ” — meaning, shot in a home so that customers can visualize how it’d look in their own space. It’s the same principle as staging a home with furniture for sale rather than leading potential buyers into an empty, cavernous house.

Products “in-situ” from Umbra’s 2017 product catalog.

“The range of products is very wide — it can be anything from window treatments to kitchen items to bath décor, so we have to find a space that’s the total package. It has to have a nice living room, kitchen, bath and bedroom. We look for entryways that are interesting as well. So, it’s quite the process to find a space that works.”

But if you aren’t a photographer with your own studio or have gaggles of connections, finding the picture perfect spot to shoot can be a heavy burden to bear (particularly for overscheduled creatives like Jordan).

Umbra’s January Catalog: Finding the Perfect Backdrop

Scouring the city for the perfect venue has always been tricky, he says. Locating a well-lit, accessible, and reasonably priced indoor space to host shoots has often limited his creative process. And up until recently, Darbishire and the creative team were forced to beg, borrow, or steal places to shoot new pieces.

“Finding locations can be a lot of work,” he bemoaned. “For us, it really helps to have a certain kind of home. Lots of character is important. And if you’re not using a service [to book the space], you only have the space a short time — not over days like a studio.”

And in the winter of 2016 while prepping for the brand’s upcoming January calendar, his latest vision required an even more unique space — two separate venues, one dark and masculine in feel, while the other maintained the light and airy atmosphere that’s familiar for the brand. He wanted to take a risk with the brand’s visuals, but finding the ideal backdrops hampered his creative process.

Rather than exhausting his usual avenues to find a pair of spaces that suited his needs, his girlfriend, an event marketer herself, urged him to browse thisopenspace. Shortly thereafter, he discovered a garage with a brooding ambiance along with a bright, minimalist home to help him bring his vision to life.

Catalog capture from inside the Bright Minimalist Home bookable through thisopenspace. Catalog capture from inside the Bright Minimalist Home bookable through thisopenspace.

“Picking the juxtaposition between light and dark was a bit of an experiment for us. We want to keep things original and interesting,” he said. “So, when we found the garage, it had such a different look from what Umbra typically uses…We felt like the products for the January catalog lent themselves well to a place like that. Some of the black and walnut finishes looked really sharp in that kind of environment.”

The end result? A January catalog that’s a noteworthy departure from their usual visual fare. Half interior design lookbook, half bare bones shopping guide, the spread include a shot from each venue and has already earned Darbishire and the team some well-deserved compliments. Obviously, the risk was worth the reward.

“You have to really believe in what you’re doing, and you need to find people who are willing to work hard and really love the brand. It shows in the work.”


Book the moody garage or minimalist home Jordan’s team used in their catalog shoot.

Bright Minimalist Home

Inside the space booked by Umbra for their 2017 catalog shoot.

Industrial Auto Shop Turned Loft

Inside the garage booked by the Umbra team from the 2017 catalog shoot.

Photos of the Umbra team by: Katherine Holland

Product images courtesy of Umbra.