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Stone Yamashita Partners: Three Distinct Divisions of Service, one Purpose.

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Stone Yamashita Partners: Three Distinct Divisions of Service, One Purpose.

Merv Garrettson, Judy Elissaint, Jeewon Baek, Michael DiTomo

Pratt Institute: Manhattan

Design Management

Jackie McCormack

September 25, 2007


Stone Yamashita Partners' ideology is that one that believes "true" business sustainability lies in a "fusion" of creativity and logic. This ideology is most evident in the evolution of the company itself. Stone Yamashita Partners has grown from a design firm that focused mainly on creative services to a major consulting/design agency that concentrates its efforts into cohesions of interactive visual services and multitudes of strategic business tools and approaches. In a relatively short period, Stone Yamashita Partners has developed a unique business divided into three distinct service areas that incidentally overlap and intermingle to create one "product" for one purpose: business change.


Since it's inception in 1994, Stone Yamashita Partners [SYP] has grown from a boutique design agency into a 58 person strong firm that helps companies induce or react to change. SYP "brings together the intelligence of a management consultancy, the customer focus of an innovations company, the emotional quotient of a change-management firm, and the creativity of a design studio (Stone Yamashita Partners [SYP], 2005)." Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future, states "they [SYP] are the vanguard of a fundamental sea of change in the whole advertising and market space. It's a world of difference from traditional branding or marketing - it's almost Zen-Like" (Cuneo, 2004). SYP has offered its services to such companies as, Apple Computer, Coca-Cola, Disney, Gap, Hewlett-Packard [HP], Nike, and IBM.

Robert Stone, Keith Yamashita, and Diane Harwood, who no longer works with the firm, started SYP. "Yamashita said the idea of starting a consulting firm came up during his days at Apple Computer Inc., when he couldn't find one that could handle all the issues, from marketing and branding products to changing corporate culture and communicating that change to customers" (Yi, 2004). Robert Stone, co-founder and Vice President is an award-winning creative director and graphic designer with a list of clients including Old Navy, IBM, JP Morgan, and Four Seasons. Stone's on the company's growth: "We realized that the combination of design, communications, and strategy was our differentiation." Over time, the firm has evolved from a design outfit that helped bring out a company's purpose and strategy to "a strategy firm, and design is the secret sauce that makes it work" (Reingold, 2004). Stone further suggests "Design is so integral to the larger picture of what we do that it's not really a deliverable on its own. To clients, our design is just a given" (Neumeier, 2005). Stone remains the visual lead for the company paired with Yamashita's strategy lead.

Keith Yamashita is co-founder and Chairman of SYP. His story provides insight into how this company has grown. After getting his BA in quantitative economics and a Master's Degree in organizational behavior from Stanford in 1998, Yamashita expressed that he only wanted to work for Apple Computer, Inc.

Apple informed Yamashita that the only job available was in education marketing, but it required 8 to 10 years' experience. "That sounds perfect!" an ebullient Yamashita exclaimed. "I know how to write. If you hire me and it doesn't work out, we're no worse off." Yep, he sweet-talked his way into the job (Reingold, 2004). Yamashita went on to write speeches for the CEO of apple, John Sculley.

After a brief stint with Next Computing, Yamashita rejoined Apple to take over as creative director for the launch of the Newton PDA. It was there that he befriended Robert Stone and initiated the start of SYP. His words describe their transition from small design firm to corporate strategists:

As a traditional design firm, we realized that one of the things we could do for a company was to design its brand. We soon figured out, however, that to design the brand we first had to understand the strategy of the company-how they make money and with whom they want a good reputation. But to help them build a strategy, we first had to understand the culture of the company. But to understand the culture of the company, we first had to understand their purpose. Our journey has been one of going deeper and deeper into the heart of the organization. Today we help leaders face their challenges by taking the same journey in reverse-starting with the company's purpose, going out to their culture, then to their strategy and finally to their brand and its various expressions. (Neumeier, 2005)

Yamashita confirms this concept when he referred to SYP as a "design firm nested within a culture firm" (Neumeier, 2005). SYP's brochure for the American institute of Graphic Artists [AIGA] states, "When we become articulate champions of the process of designing, we help teams perform better. When we become active participants in the process of designing, we can drive new value-- economic, social and aesthetic" (Why Do You Design, 2007). SYP set out to define design and along the way defined a new way for designing business culture.

The first breakout project for SYP came from IBM in 1997. IBM was "going through a near-death experience as sales lagged, the balance sheet was drenched in red ink and the firm laid off huge numbers of employees" (Yi, 2004). SYP was "hired to help transform IBM's self-image from a seller of "big iron" to a seller of services" (Neumeier, 2005). IBM initially hired SYP for a three-month period to help analyze how they could conduct business on the Internet. What came out of the partnership was a concise company manifesto titled One Voice distributed to all 240,000 employees of IBM. "It had the effect of galvanizing the company. It called for total realignment of the brand with a new business strategy" (Neumeier, 2005). Five years after initially being hired, SYP had "worked in collaboration with many teams within IBM to design step-by-step, the revival of this great icon" (Neumeier, 2005). "They



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