Teller of a thousand tales

Stanley Hainsworth talks to us about performing in the workplace, his ability to help brands communicate, being independent, and his hair.

Born in the year of Sputnik between the two rural Kentucky towns of Possum Trot and Monkey’s Elbow, Stanley Hainsworth has become one of the more illustrious branding geniuses of his generation. The mastermind behind the stories of corporate titans such as Starbucks, Nike and Lego, Hainsworth is a gifted inventor of relevant and engaging brand narratives. 

In 2008 Hainsworth founded Tether, a creative branding and design agency. He encourages his employees to do push-ups every afternoon. This February the staff of Tether may get a break from their exercise regimen while Hainsworth is out of the office and in South Africa speaking at the Design Indaba Conference 2015. Before he arrives, though, here's the chance to get to know a little more about the man behind the stories. 

How useful is humour in the branding world?

As in life, humour and tragedy get people talking and create buzz. Having a humour release valve that alleviates necessary information is always welcome and effective.

Is the logo the brand’s face or its handshake?

Great logos are a mini-brand. They contain the essence of who that brand is. It has their point of view and the essence of their identity. Try it: look at the logos you remember and admire most, and they all share that.

How long do you spend on your hair everyday?

8.85 seconds.

Is that your natural colour? Have you never been tempted to go a different shade? 

I’ve been encouraged to go bright orange but figured that’s just being greedy.

You change your facial hair occasionally (beard, goatee, clean shave) but not your hair… How and when did you embark upon your unusual, but now signature, style?

Please tune into Design Indaba Conference for the full reveal ...

You’ve worked on brands like Starbucks, Tully Coffee, Awake Chocolate, Redbull, Gatorade and Nike … What is it about caffeinated or energy brands that make their producers come to you?

You know, it must be my hair. It has that caffeinated standing-on-end affect and they figure I can bring the same energy to their brands.

Do you have to indulge in stimulants to get you through the day? What is the most invigorating thing you can get your hands on?

My stimulant of choice is the three o'clock pushups we do at Tether. I sandwich that with a workout in the morning and I have enough endorphins to dance through the day and into the night.

What do people crave?

Recognition and connection. People want to know that someone is aware that they exist, that they have desires, and that someone is paying attention. The connection comes from people really connecting with those entities we call humans around them. Same for brands, when they truly listen and talk or interact with people instead of the one-way conversation.

What keeps you up at night?


What do you owe to your Kentucky roots?

An indistinguishable global accent (southern turned western turned European and back), never taking anything for granted, and having limited retail options growing up – I indulge now. 

You flirted with acting for a while. What did you gain from that experience?

While waiting tables as an aspiring actor I determined I never wanted to be dependent on others for work, so I became an entrepreneur (without even knowing the meaning of the word; I just called it survival) and that has stayed with me ever since.

Would you call yourself a natural performer? How has this helped you in business?

Well, whether it’s natural or a result of my acting background, what I do now is very similar to acting. I walk onto a stage (a meeting room), I read the room: who are the primary players, who are the secondary players, what is being said (the text), what is really meant (the subtext). And then I ‘perform’ and adjust accordingly.

How do you inspire and motivate your employees? What office rituals have you introduced?

Three o'clock pushups is a daily ritual. The gong goes off three times at 3pm and we all gather for pushups. It’s a great way to bond and get pumped at the same time. Also, each week in our studio meeting we have an employee talk about who they are outside of work – in order to more fully appreciate who they are and what they have to offer to all of us.

Who inspires you? If you could have an hour with someone, whose brain would you most like to pick?

The (fictional) child of Maya Lin and Philippe Starck, who is also the (fictional) grandchild of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway.


Stanley Hainsworth will be a speaker at Design Indaba Conference 2015, which takes place from 25 to 27 February 2015. Book here.

Watch the Talk with Stanley Hainsworth