Austrian design firm celebrates first year of U.S. operations
KISKA’s design elements are far-reaching in the industry, from the Austrian company’s origins as a designer for KTM motorcycles to more recent projects that have included booth displays for Husqvarna and CFMOTO as part of branding collateral at EICMA in Milan.
To take a closer look at the company, Powersports Business editor in chief Dave McMahon conducted an email interview with KISKA CCO Sébastien Stassin in Austria and KISKA Inc. president Steve Masterson in California.
Powersports Business: How did KISKA originally start in the powersports industry?
Sébastien Stassin: KISKA began designing motorcycles for KTM in the early 1990s. KTM was one of KISKA’s first clients. Since this time, the relationship between the two businesses developed far beyond motorcycle design and now we are responsible for all of KTM’s brand touch points. The diverse creative expertise that evolved from this relationship has splintered off to benefit the many other brands we work with.
PSB: What are some of the brands that KISKA currently works with?
SS: KISKA has worked with over 200 clients over 25 years. In terms of powersports, key KISKA clients include KTM, Husqvarna Motorcycles, CFMOTO, Magura, Schuberth and WP Performance Systems. The creative team also works closely with performance brands in a range of other industries. Notable brands include Adidas, AKG, Atomic, Audi, Bosch, Chery, Hilti, Honda, Mennekes, Opel, Osram, Ottobock and Zeiss.
PSB: How many people are employed by KISKA and what are the current locations?
SS: Worldwide, KISKA employs over 150 people from 28 nations. The bulk of our creative specialists work collaboratively across fields under one roof — our 5,000-square-meter (54,000-square-foot) studio at the foot of Mount Untersberg in Salzburg, Austria. KISKA’s North American subsidiary studio, KISKA Inc. is located in Temecula, California.
PSB: Why was it decided that KISKA should open an office in California?
Steve Masterson: As we have built strong relationships with many of our clients, we found it necessary to support these clients’ brands by extending our services to meet the needs of their own global subsidiaries. With KTM for instance, it was essential for KISKA Inc. to support their North American market to keep the brand’s communication clear and concise across the board. In addition to supporting our client’s needs, we felt this would be an excellent opportunity to discover fresh creative talent who are passionate about design and motivated by KISKA’s vision of “Designing Desire.” Now celebrating our one-year anniversary, this jump across the pond has proven to be successful.
PSB: The company started as a design business, correct? What other services are being offered now, such as research? Why was it determined that the company should offer more than just design services?
SS: You are correct! KISKA did begin as a one-man design business, in 1990 (at Gerald Kiska’s kitchen table).
However, as the number and range of products we designed grew, so too did KISKA’s services. Basically, from our perspective as transportation and product designers, we were not entirely on board with the way other agencies were presenting the brands we were designing products for. With support of key decision makers at the client level, like KTM CEO Stefan Pierer, we were able to extend into other service fields.
KISKA evolved this way because it is a brand-centric design agency. We know that the product is not the “be all, end all” of a brand — it is an accumulation of uniquely positioned and streamlined touch points, which give the consumer a full brand experience. Currently, the creative specialists at KISKA work across the fields of brand and research (including brand positioning, brand strategy, marketing consulting, strategic product management), transportation design, product design and communication design (corporate communication design, product communication design, print design, digital design and photo/video production). The end result being that KISKA is a brand-building partner.
PSB: What makes Kiska different or unique? How are Kiska designed products better or more fun than products designed by other companies?
SS: KISKA is unique in its field because of our I.D.D. (Integrated Design Development) approach. Reduced to its essence, I.D.D. refers to how our creative specialists work across fields in mixed teams to build brands.
So, products designed at KISKA are especially unique because they’ve been designed to live up to the brand. If the brand is sexy, the product is sexy (and vice versa). “Signature design” does not exist at KISKA. We’re creating products for brands. And, our team of very passionate creative specialists get this. There’s no ego, no desire to put a personal “stamp” on a design — just a drive to channel a passion into the best possible design solution.
It’s easy to dream big picture. Execution is another matter altogether. But, with I.D.D. we can do both for brands.
PSB: What kind of growth trajectory has the company been on over the past few years? Or, is the company growing? By what YOY percentage growth?
SS: At KISKA headquarters in Salzburg, we’ve been experiencing a parallel 10-15 percent growth year-over-year in terms of profit turnover and our creative team. We’ve definitely witnessed a market shift across all industries we’re involved with. Companies are getting wise that simply designing a great product, or engaging in spontaneous innovation for innovation’s sake, does not create sustainable success. They need a brand partner to take them through all phases of brand building. The end result being that more companies require the crossover brand design that KISKA provides.
SM: In terms of KISKA Inc., our team began with a senior creative designer and a copywriter a year ago. Fast-forward to present day, and our team has quadrupled in order serve the demand of our clients. KISKA Inc.’s trajectory has been on a steady up-rise since day one. Our client’s success is our success. Having settled our North American basecamp in southern California, we are surrounded by a plethora of innovative motorsport companies with a need for brand definition. With our sights set toward the future, we will approach this particular opportunity as we mature over the next few years. Additionally, we have gained the attention of North American companies outside of the motorsports industry that are eager to elevate their brand within their market.