The helium tank is our mash up of ideas + art + design + events and everything in between. Work that makes us smile, art that’s all around, events that we hope you’ll join us, or words we’re stitching together. The helium tank is a big window into who we are.
We began preparation for our Guatemala mission trip months ago. Fundraising. Planning. Promoting. You’ve probably seen the graphics, heard our pitch, maybe even donated to the cause. But the actual five-day adventure seemed like more of a distant concept than a reality. Until it was. Like all amazing life moments, I blinked an eye and departure day had come. I blinked the other eye and here I am writing this entry about the journey. Attempting to sew words together, stitch by stitch, that could offer a just picture into the experience.
But it is one of those instances where mere words serve to paint a vague picture of a masterpiece that can only be understood first hand.
My initial fears of Guatemala City, of the warnings I received, the dangers advised by family and friends, dissipated the moment we walked into the first orphanage where a small sea of deep brown eyes stared back at us. They were timid, nervous, some excited and eager. Children from infant age to about ten years old, each from a broken past, each with a story that deserves to be told.
I had heard of mission work and known several people who went on these trips. Our friends at C&I Studios have done this adventure many times before, so we wanted to join forces and partake in the experience. Admittedly, I have never been a cheerleader for world healing. For kumbaya, let’s hold hands, selfless missionary service. I lend a hand of convenience to my fellow man. You know, like holding open a door or donating a couple dollars at Walgreens or Publix when I’m prompted in the checkout line. But the buck stopped there.
As we prepped for this Guatemalan adventure, C&I told us something that, in hindsight, was spot on. This trip is not about what you bring, it’s about how you make them feel. It’s about interacting with these kids and families who have very little monetarily. For a group of Americans to gather in their home, to take time and be with them. Share with them. Pray with them. To hug a child who has been abandoned. Hold a four-year-old girl who has no mother or father, and tell her she is loved.
That is what this trip was about.
And that is where true inspiration is born.
On the third day, our group of fourteen went to Hope of Life. This incredibly developed organization located in the mountains of Zacapa, Guatemala rescues and houses families and children who would otherwise be dying, starving, homeless or abused. We toured their facility, which included an orphanage for young children who had been abandoned or rescued.
I walked into the first unit. A white room lined with cribs for the infants, lit by an afternoon sun that filtered in from beyond the mountains. Several windows led out to the vast landscape of green forest that spanned for miles around us. It was a breathtaking view that wrapped these children in constant beauty.
Immediately as we entered I saw a boy no more than three years old sitting quietly on a chest by himself. He looked alone and withdrawn, dark brown eyes that stared pensively beyond us. I sat on the chest next to him and spoke quietly, “Hola”.
The other kids were playing around with our group, but this boy sat quietly next to me. I picked him up and dropped his little body in my lap. He stared off, leaned his head against my chest. His eyes were the most telling and heartbreaking. There was a weight resting on him that no kid should have to bear.
I grabbed a pack of four crayons from my bag and placed them in his palm. His grip tightened as he looked up at me for the first time. There was a shift in his demeanor, like that small exchange resonated with him. He waved the crayons around as I tossed him in the air. A smile formed on his face and he began to giggle. From that point forward, that little guy was glued to me. I had found a friend and made an amazing connection.
I realized then that our interaction was a universal language. The laughter, the shared experience. It transcended verbal dialogue into something greater. We didn’t need to speak the same language to feel the connection and positive energy that was created. That little guy kicked ass and touched my heart in a way that I did not expect from this trip.
When we came back to The States, I quickly realized that this country of freedom has limited me in many ways. I’ve grown up in a world of expectations. Of high-class problems. In turn, I lost appreciation for the little things, for the luxury of clean water, of a floor in my home. Of a meal on the table and appliances to make it with. A home with four solid walls that offers warmth and security. The convenience of medicine when I am sick so I don’t die from a cold. The comfort of knowing that my family is safe and healthy. Instead I focused on the dent in my iPhone or when I was going to go blow a few hundred bucks at H&M.
Our trip to Guatemala is one that I could not have understood prior to experiencing it. I had never before seen extreme poverty, let alone been to an orphanage. Never held a child who was abandoned or neglected. Never been inside a home that had no structural walls, that was held together by sticks and old clothes.
I write this entry from my desk at helium creative. On my 27” iMac. Checking my cellphone periodically for social media updates. My little unnamed beta fish next to me. I am surrounded by awesome people with whom I get to work with on a daily basis, at a job that makes me pretty darn happy. A job that allows me the opportunity to not only do what I love, but also experience these moments of personal and spiritual growth.
I am grateful for new perspective.
Inspiring the community with its progressive concepts and designs, Christopher Heller discusses what makes helium creative the anti-agency agency.
The insides of helium creative are filled with ideas. It’s brimming with concepts for branding, websites, apps, print materials and logos. Inside the two-room office with charcoal-gray walls and a winding staircase that leads to nowhere are ideas that have inspired the likes of American Airlines, Levinson Jewelers, W South Beach, Blue Martini and more. Also inside this office is Christopher Heller.
Soft-spoken, contemplative and with a smile warm enough to melt a frozen river, Heller is the embodiment of the decade-old helium creative he founded. Sitting behind his weathered wooden desk, Heller has helped companies define their brands through stunning marketing campaigns and innovative digital applications. In short, he personifies the company’s slogan of finding “a higher creative standard.”
Heller is a dreamer. He’s been dreaming since he was a kid in Lancaster, Pa., doodling replica Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on his sketch pad. If a blank sheet was lying around, chances are the paper would be covered with sketches for Heller’s next great idea within 10 minutes. He did just that on his recent Caribbean cruise and a flight across the country to Los Angeles, in fact.
Born in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish Country to a Mennonite father and a maternal side full of government employees, Heller remembers immersing himself in art and culture during his weekend excursions to nearby Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. He graduated with a graphic design degree in Philadelphia and started working at an ad agency in the city. At 22, he was asked to move to Fort Lauderdale during the dot-com boom to become creative director of a communications portal firm. Later when the dot-com business began its fall, Heller then found himself working in the creative department at a new agency. “This company was the closest thing to a cubicle setting that I was ever in,” Heller admits. “It just wasn’t me.”
Heller began the shift to work for himself soon after, founding helium creative 10 years ago from his Fort Lauderdale home. So named as a play off of Heller’s surname as well as the noble gas’s buoyant nature, helium creative was born out of love. As Heller is quick to note, helium is the anti-agency agency, perhaps best demonstrated by its rebellious lowercase name. “I want to formulate a relationship with our clients,” he says. “We don’t just want to do one project and that’s it. We’re investing ourselves in the client to make you successful. We’re in it for the long haul.”
He was helium’s sole employee for the next six years, working nonstop and dedicating himself to his projects, which included the creative campaigns and branding visions for luxury villas Cotton Bay in the Bahamas and the high-end condominium Icon Brickell. As Heller progressed into the digital frontier, mastering website design, app creation and more, so did his company. Four years ago, he hired his first art director, Ryan Sirois, and the company took off with double the manpower. Since then, he and helium have guided eye-catching branding campaigns for landscaping firm EDSA, FATVillage, Trump Hollywood and Latitude on the River, among dozens of other recognizable South Florida names.
Heller’s office at FATVillage has no signs of those cubicles that he felt confined him. A smorgasbord of found objects lovingly has been put to use by Heller and his team. Next to Heller’s desk is an antique buffet from his late grandmother, Margaret Cleveland, a distance relative of President Grover Cleveland. The winding metal staircase that houses helium’s various awards was found in an alley in FATVillage. Leafy green plants and succulents fill the space. An office wall is canvassed with 50 reasons to love helium creative, such as “They believed in me” and “We have fun.”
Cerulean green stickers and buttons with the words “inspire, create, design, motivate” pepper the helium office. They are simple reminders that the team of eight staff members and a handful of interns aren’t just here for a job. No, they are here for something much greater.
Being a creative vehicle for clients is only part of Heller’s equation. “We’re artists, so we want to inspire and open up an environment for people to have a creative destination and have an outlet,” he says. Since moving to FATVillage in 2012, helium creative has invited the public to join its monthly Inspirational Fridays talks, where local artists and business owners discuss what inspires them. In addition, helium started Project Fine Art, which allows new artists a platform to display their works during monthly Art Walks.
As Heller puts it, “I hate networking.” So opportunities like Inspirational Fridays and Project Fine Art have given Heller and others a chance to draw creative minds together from South Florida to sit, watch and get inspired.
The company is growing and earning some well-deserved praise. Earlier this year, helium won big time at the Fort Lauderdale ADDY Awards, which recognizes creative excellence in the advertising industry, taking home seven golds (including three Best of Show) and two silvers.
Also in the works is helium inspires, its nonprofit arm that will raise money for art organizations. The helium team also is planning a visit to rural schools in Guatemala to deliver art supplies to students and give art lessons.
Today at 37 years old, Heller looks back on his ups and downs, and compares them to a game of Tetris. “It’s about fitting the right pieces at the right time,” he says. And one of those right pieces will fall into place later this year when Heller will marry his life partner, Ryan. And, yes, that’s the same Ryan he works with. For Heller, it’s fair to say he’s winning so far in his lifelong game of Tetris.
Article by Nila Do Simon, Photography by Edward Linsmier, Venice Magazine.
View the article in Venice Magazine, page 62. http://www.veniceftldigital.com/t/109108
There is always that awkward moment at an event or meeting when someone asks what we specialize in. In a split second, our faces go blank as we never quite know just how to answer that seemingly simple question. We do so much, have a hand in just about everything because we love what we do.
But what do we specialize in…?
On the spot answers have been a surprise to all of us at one time or another.
Out of the box thinking.
Luxury real estate.
Anything and everything that allows us to do our thing.
Impromptu Katy Perry karaoke jam sessions [Ryan…]
But we decided to actually give that question a little attention and figure out what helium creative specializes in. As a creative agency, we do just that – we create – and that is our muscle, it’s the core of what we do and who we are both independently and collectively. But specializing in creative is still a vague answer and not a sturdy platform from which to impress the ladies.
A friend of helium gave us a diagram that outlined the structure of brand marketing. A simple and straightforward [not-so-pretty] illustration that shows a brand at the epicenter of a strategy or marketing initiative. Then there are services that surround the brand to help promote and develop it’s presence. On the outer sphere are the objective specific, strategic services that are implemented to help meet a goal or achieve results.
Seeing a visual depiction of marketing hierarchy showed us just where our passion lies. helium creative truly is a brand-centric agency who specializes in the development of a brand. This simple statement encompasses our love of logo design, the research behind what we do, the strategic planning, connecting, web design, print design, social media, campaign development, photography, art… I’m sure you get the idea.
Building a solid foundation for any brand is crucial when developing it. A company may want to dive right into marketing their service or product, but if the language or very focus of the brand is not in line with long-term success, our overly eager + doe-eyed team will want to jump in a have a little play date to evaluate the strategy, target, design and overall voice of the brand. What works, what doesn’t — and why? Is your core really targeted toward the right demographic? Is the logo effectively communicating who you are? Does the verbiage paint an accurate picture of the company, expressing your goals and objectives?
The idea here is that no one can jump from A to Z without making sure all bases are covered and your best brand-foot is being put forward. We love to find the right shoe that will put a killer pep in your company’s step. The, of course, pair it with some awesome polka dot socks. It’s all about building up, step by step, until your brand has a snazzy outfit.
It’s what we specialize in : )
We are almost three full months into 2014 and my head won’t stop spinning. This year has already brought an unbelievable amount of change and new opportunity. Don’t get me wrong – absolutely no complaints from this little Art Director. Constant, consistent evolution is a blessing that we are embracing with open arms.
It’s easy to get stuck in tunnel vision oblivion, losing sight of the big picture. And that big picture could very well be something worth checking out. When we are lost in the day-to-day routine of wake up + go to work + check emails + eat lunch + go home + pass out, the focus on seizing the day and making new opportunities somehow dissipates. It’s a pretty natural funk that often warrants a good kick-in-the-ass to wake up out of it. I may be guilty of requiring a bit more than a kick. A sledgehammer may be necessary. Because [if I’m being perfectly honest] as amazing as change and growth are, they can also be uncomfortable. Routine may be mundane, but it is also familiar. Sometimes living in a safe haven of familiarity is more appealing than the great unknown. But like anything, once you start moving with the ebb and flow of life and let go of fear, the uncomfortable becomes comfortable.
And that’s when the good stuff really starts to happen.
In these few months, I have said farewell to an employee + welcomed two new employees + bid adieu to an intern + said hello to three new interns + flew to LA for a celebrity saturated awards show + got engaged on stage at said awards show [thanks Chris] + started a blog that will be launching next week + started house hunting + began the process of having kids + launched helium’s 10 year anniversary shindig + been investigating larger studio space for our growing team + fancying a slew of new business ventures that are making us all googly eyed.
All since January 1.
So where my head may be trying to catch up, my heart is extremely grateful. Change equals growth and this year has been filled with the kind of progress that makes me proud. That said, I may want to lock myself in a room and hide at times, but it’s nothing that a cookie and nap can’t fix.
helium creative has proven to be a catalyst for movement, for the kind of days that make me stop and think, “Is this really my life?” We all go through it. Our team is a strong family that is fortunate to experience this constant evolution together.
People tend to dwell in their own little bubble, getting caught up in routine + ritual + comfort. I say “people”, but really I mean me. If my self-projection applies to you, please continue to read. If not, please continue to read anyway. So we’ve got our little life bubble that contains the usual day-to-day blah: work, work relationships, home, family. We generally talk to the same sphere of people, go to the same places, eat at similar restaurants. Routine breeds stability breeds comfort breeds happy. That’s the norm. I like to be comfortable. Happy. Stable. When it actually happens, I tend to tread those waters and not rock the boat too much. I went through years of unconsciously dreading change because change was putting one foot in dark, unknown territory. The unknown can be uncomfortable. Scary. Unpredictable. All the things that make me wanna hide in a closet somewhere and long for the familiar. Whether it’s fear, laziness or just a complete lack of awareness, it is easy to go months – years, even – following the same trail of breadcrumbs.
So here’s an embarrassingly superficial example, but effective all the same. I’ll end up wearing the same outfit week after week because at one point I know it looked really good or made me feel like I’m the coolest guy this side of the tracks [and, no, I’m not necessarily referring to a certain pair of tan suede boots casually coordinated with black skinny jeans and simple navy pocket T from J. Crew]. Truth be told that outfit starts getting worn, old and loses its luster. It becomes a uniform of laziness. I’m no longer putting thought into what I wear, I’m just doing the same thing over and over because it was great 6 months ago and requires absolutely no thought whatsoever. That hypothetical, once kick-ass outfit is just as faded as my creativity.
Have I lost you? Wardrobe analogy got you down?
It is so important to not only change your clothes, but change your routine. Just as my outfit starts to stink, so does my daily life 🙂
Do the unfamiliar. If it were up to me, I’d probably sit in my house watching Netflix for days. Literally I would be butt ass naked on the couch, gut deep in a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s strewn out on the coffee table within spoons reach, all while watching consecutive episodes of Breaking Bad back to back to back to back. But it’s not up to me. I was built with a nagging desire to keep learning. Keep growing. Out of the melted Ben & Jerry’s abyss will emerge a fearless new Ryan who can conquer the world.
So I have to put myself in situations that are not necessarily comfortable. We have been doing Inspirational Friday’s at the helium studio once a week, which has allowed me to meet new folks regularly. Something I otherwise would not be doing. Whether I’m meeting people, taking a different route to work in the morning, spontaneously driving to the Keys for a weekend or eating at a new restaurant, I’ve found it so important to break through my bubble. I’ve lived in Fort Lauderdale my whole life and my scope of What To Do has been less than narrow. Apps like Yelp, Foursquare or Groupon are awesome for suggesting new places to eat and things to do. I’m a Yelp nerd. Community activities, galleries, events, parks, classes, workshops – there is life beyond the bubble. Who knew?
I had an English teacher in High School who told me something very similar that just now clicked. I was probably depressed or complaining about the oh-so harrowing sorrows of life – some teen angst melodrama – and she told me that I needed to do something different. Nothing changes if nothing changes. She said to go take a walk around the block. Go to Barnes and Nobles to read a book. Write something. Whatever it is, break the routine and keep putting myself in a new situation or circumstance. At the time I remember thinking that she just didn’t understand me or my very serious 16 year-old life crises. But as I write this blog I realize she may have been on to something. And I hate to admit that because she once said I looked like a prairie dog and I still harbor some deep seeded resentment for it. Although upon further examination, prairie dogs are kind of cute [please see the photo below].
Ms. Rivard, proud member of MENSA by way of the great land of Canada, was basically telling me to change my outfit. Or at the very least, to mix it up. Wear the t-shirt with a different pair of pants. You gotta start somewhere.
Baby steps, right? 🙂