Could it be that the masterminds behind Concrete Design Communications are so busy generating buzz for their clients they have forgotten about themselves?
Husband-and-wife duo Diti Katona and John Pylypczak create and oversee some of the most striking brand identities, marketing campaigns and publication design coming out of Toronto.
Never heard of them, right? (If you have, you're probably in the industry.)
But chances are, you've seen their work, whether as logos for the Design Exchange, Umbra and the Showcase cable network, art direction in Azure magazine or packaging for Aritzia and the increasingly upper-crust Pizza Nova (look closely at the new signage and boxes; those decorative squiggles are actually menu items written in fancy script).
Most recently, they were charged with overhauling the entire visual campaign for Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the celebrity-endorsed expert of all things anti-aging. This is a big coup given that the New York-based doc could have had his pick of any agency in the 212 area code.
Concrete also had a hand in re-launching Linda Lundström who, with the help of domestic manufacturer Eleventh Floor Apparel, has proven herself a fashion phoenix, rising up from financial turmoil. It was Ms. Katona and Mr. Pylypczak who suggested shortening the label to the Lundström surname and conceived the sleek product brochure. This Tuesday, at Toronto's LG Fashion Week, will mark the first time the designer has ever staged a runway show.
After 20 years in business, the Concrete couple says the spotlight has never been theirs for the taking.
"We've often discussed this, that our story is almost like a non-story," says Mr. Pylypczak one late afternoon last week.
"It's not very good in a business," echoes Ms. Katona, dressed in head-to-toe black. "A lot of people aren't very good but have great visibility."
There's no doubt Concrete is good; how else to explain 640 awards, as revealed on the website (neither mentioned this impressive detail during the interview). Ms. Katona is regularly asked to judge competitions around the world, a sign of respect among peers. She shrugs this off, attributing the recognition to the fact that she's a woman in a largely male world.
The couple - both in their late 40s - met while working at a now shuttered agency more than 21 years ago, and present different sides of the creative coin. His way with visual metaphors (in one image of Dr. Perricone, a stethoscope morphs into a kale leaf) plays off her love of classically beautiful images (she is largely involved in the direction of the glossy and gorgeous semiannual Holt Renfrew catalogues).
His low-key thoughtfulness is balanced by her giddy spirit. They almost always speak over each other, although neither seems to mind.
Together, along with 15 staffers - many under the age of 35 - they work out of a multi-storey building near Roncesvalles.
When they set up shop there 17 years ago, the area wasn't nearly the blossoming hipster haven that it is now. "There were condoms and syringes on our driveway and we were terrified," recalls Ms. Katona of the early days, while explaining that the proximity to Olga Korper's well-respected gallery on Morrow Avenue gave them hope. "The fact that she was there meant that there was some potential, that it wasn't a total loser area."
And anyway, at the end of the day, they retreat to their home near Wychwood Park, which Ms. Katona describes as "one of the nicest places in the city to live" because it's an ideal neighbourhood for walking Tibor, a puli (the dog breed best known for resembling Bob Marley). They also have two daughters, Greta, 14, and Camille, 17; the younger has developed an infatuation with accordion playing.
The couple prefers to refer to Concrete as a "practice."
"What we like about 'practice' is that we are practitioners," says Mr. Pylypczak, wearing a graphic black and ivory stripe shirt. "We're not just a company where we're hiring a bunch of people and overseeing it. We are still practitioners of our craft."
The story behind naming the practice can be traced to a trip to Milan more than two decades ago. The logo of a local concrete company caught their eye and they took a picture. Then, of course, the connotation of concrete is that it's solid and indestructible. But the couple insists the decision was far less nuanced.
"Pylypczak Katona wasn't going to do it," he jokes before she chimes in, "We always called it an immigration lawyer's name."
And even the couple would agree they are far too creative for that.