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Posts filed under: News

Know Your Enemy

The Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers NFC championship game is Sunday and to fans of both teams, this is almost as big as the Superbowl. The rivalry between the teams is one of the oldest and most heated in sports.

I've never been much of a sports fan, I'm more of a “lay on the couch with a good book” kind of guy. Yet I find the longstanding rivalry fascinating. It seems every major team has their rival. The Cleveland Browns have the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Giants have the 49ers. The New England Patriots have, well, let's face it, everybody hates the Patriots.

We can tell a lot about ourselves by how we choose our enemies. We see aspects of ourselves in them that fuel our competitive drive. This can ultimately benefit both parties, as we push ourselves higher, measuring success against the metric of our key competitors.

During the musical heyday of the '60s, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were constantly being positioned against each other in the media as the Greatest Band in the World. The Stones were the bad boys from broken homes, the Beatles were the nice lads you would bring home to mom. The reality was John, Paul, George and Ringo all came from lower to working-class homes, with difficult childhoods and circumstances. The Stones generally came out of middle-class art school backgrounds. But, as is so often the case, the truth got in the way of a good story.

The two bands, who were pegged as being rivals in the rock press were actually very close. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the Stones' second single, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and over the years coordinated their record release schedules with the Stones so that they wouldn't have overlapping hits. The collaboration benefited both bands.

Who are your biggest competitors and how does their presence in the market impact your positioning? How can you capitalize on this to set yourself apart and promote greater awareness and success?

Falling In Love Again

Designers are frequently asked to answer the question “What is graphic design?”

The answers range from the glib (“words and pictures”), to the thoughtful (“design is the art of visualizing ideas”), to the cliché (“design is storytelling”).

There is some truth to all of these responses, but on a more visceral level, what we do is much simpler and fundamental.

We help people fall in love.

All graphic design at its best works strategically and aesthetically. However, these are merely qualifiers. The design work that truly stands out and resonates with viewers is the stuff you fall in love with.

It's a bit like someone showing up on a first date. They may be well put together, have a pretty face and a lovely smile, which are all nice things to have. But what captures your heart is something more intangible, like the way they scrunch up their face when they laugh, or how they blush when you tell a slightly off color joke. They reveal themselves to you in an unguarded manner, that brings you closer to them.

Design makes people fall in love with a brand, a cause or an idea. If you don't believe that, try criticizing Apple to a loyal devotee. You will be greeted with a response no less vehement than if you had slandered their longtime lover.

Conversely, as a designer you can only succeed at this art of seduction if you love what you do. It helps to be passionate about the client and the product or service they offer. But to truly excel, you need to love the process of design and the power it can wield over your audience, the power of seduction.

Here's to love.

The Devil Is In the Details

One of the tasks graphic designers excel at as visual communicators is interpreting data and rendering it in a manner that is legible, concise, and aesthetically pleasing. It's one of the things that separates a designer from fine artist. Design is not purely expressive; it has the functional requirement of conveying information. This information can be a company's brand attributes, as rendered in their logo, or their product offering, as shown in a catalog or e-commerce website.

New York graphic designer Nicholas Felton takes this a step further, recording the minutiae of his day to day life and illustrating the results in a year end annual report. Cups of coffee, miles traveled, movies watched; they are all recorded throughout the year. The results are then presented in obsessively detailed charts and graphs.

I could never be that obsessive about tracking the granularity of daily life, but I admire his ability to record and transcribe, elevating the mundane to the graphically sublime. The typography and detail in these reports are nothing short of stunning.

Watch the video from Slate to learn more about his process and approach to the work.

Listen. Do You Want To Know A Secret?

You've probably heard the news or seen the commercials by now. Apple recently announced the release of the Beatles songs on iTunes. The news was treated with great fanfare and the Apple website had an iconic image of the Fab Four splashed on their homepage. (Sidebar: Are there any images of the Beatles that are NOT iconic?)

Most anyone over the age of 16 has a copy of at least a portion of the Beatles catalog somewhere on CD, ripped to MP3, or laying around on good old vinyl somewhere. So why the fanfare? And more importantly, what is so timeless about this music and why do so many of us still care after all these years?

Some bands have eternal staying power, and people will continue to discover their music generation after generation. Some bands are of the moment; one-hit-wonders that make a splash and quickly dissipate into the white noise of pop culture.

Okay, now substitute the word “brand” for “band” in the above paragraph and this becomes more relevant to companies today.

Is your brand one that is going to stand the test of time? Will people have you top of mind next month, next year, and years to come, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? Or are you a one-hit wonder, the Milli Vanilli of your industry?

Rewriting History

A date which will live in infamy.

It's one of the most iconic phrases in history, penned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Yet it almost didn't come out that way. Roosevelt dictated the speech to his secretary, to be delivered to Congress on December 8. No speechwriters were involved, and the presidential archives still have a copy of the typed text, heavily revised in pencil by the president's hand.

In the original, unedited message, the draft began as follows:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history…”

Words matter. So do second drafts.

Chicago Printmakers Collaborative Winter Show

Feeling the economic bite this holiday season? Or are you just by nature parsimonious (a nicer way of saying “cheap”).

Check out the prints on sale at the 21st Annual Chicago Printmakers Collaborative Small Print Show and Open House. The show starts this weekend, December 4-5, and is open 11:00 am – 7:00 pm both days. They have hundreds of gorgeous prints from over 60 local artists, some as low as $20.

The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative is located at 4642 North Western, right across from the Western Brown Line stop. Stop in, have a glass of cider and see what they have in store. The show runs through January 31, 2011.

Are You My Type?

I typically avoid linking to other site content, but I'm willing to make an exception for Michael Bierut's take on typography. A good primer on type for the layman from one of my favorite designers. Courtesy of Design Observer.

Snails Have Feelings Too

The writer David Sedaris was a guest on the Daily Show this week and shared the following joke with host John Stewart, prefacing it by saying “I wish I made this up.”

A man is sitting in his living room reading the paper when he hears a knock at the door. He opens the front door and sees a snail on his doorstep.

The snail smiles politely and says “Can I interest you in buying some magazine subscriptions?”

“No, get outta here!” the man replies in anger, kicking the poor little snail off the doorstep and out to the lawn.

Two years later, the man hears another knock at the door. He answers it and there's the snail who says, “What the hell was up with that?”

It loses much without the Sedaris delivery, but it's an apt parable for our times.

When you are a buyer, your perception of the sales cycle is vastly different than that of a seller, as is your regard for vendors. How you treat people (or snails) lingers in their memory long after you have forgotten it.

How are you treating people in a slow sales cycle? Politely telling them you're not interested or kicking them to the curb? How will this impact you two years from now?

Casting Your Vote

There is a well worn phrase from the sixties, “the personal is political.”

This in effect means your personal lifestyle choices are a natural extension of your political beliefs. Whether you would patronize an establishment that supported segregation or attend a rally in favor of or opposed to the Vietnam War said a lot about who you were. The message was less “I like that” and more “I am like that”.

Today this is what we call your personal brand and it more or less means the same thing. While it's usually never a good idea to throw your politics in the face of a client or co-worker, you can often be put in the position of having it done for you, albeit inadvertently. If you've ever been asked by a client if you are married, and you are gay or lesbian, you are immediately put in what could be an uncomfortable or defensive position. When a co-worker in the lunchroom reads aloud a newspaper article about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, you make a choice to respond, and how to temper your response if you disagree.

We make choices every day based on our purchasing, hiring, and networking decisions, and it is as important a vote as any cast on election day. Possibly more so, because it is public and not made behind the screen of a voting booth. It is also a set of choices we make every day, that have a ripple effect on the perception others have of us and our own self image or corporate brand.

How much your personal brand becomes a part of your corporate brand is a decision companies can't make lightly. It influences consumer participation and the message, whether it's good, bad, or indifferent, travels at light speed in the world of Twitter, Facebook and social networking.

So when you vote, either at the polling place, with your pocketbook, or with the people you “friend” on Facebook, vote responsibly and know that it matters.

Unlike the polling place, other people are watching and casting their own votes as well.

Design Process How Much Is Enough?

One of the questions designers face when putting together a proposal for a new client is addressing the obvious question: “How many designs do I get to see?”

There are differing philosophies on this point. Stefan Sagmeister notably shows clients only one design solution. Other designers show a veritable smorgasbord of designs, throwing as much as possible against the wall in hopes that something will stick (also known as the “shotgun approach”).

We are generally flexible in addressing client requests for a specific number of creative directions. Typically, however, we will present two distinctly different design directions. They vary in concept as well as execution (illustration vs. photography or typography driven). The exception is brand marks (aka logos), where we will show at least three design directions.

The thinking is that there are no soul mates in design (ie, “The One”) but you don't want to be too prolific in your design solutions, as this can muddy the waters. We find that clients value receiving a recommendation amongst the solutions shown. If you present too many solutions, you're likely not providing a focused approach to the client's problem.

Of course, once a client has reviewed the initial work, it evolves based on their inputs and we build in time for several rounds of design iterations. If you have really a great client (and we are fortunate to have more than a few) it's worth showing process sketches to give them a sense of how you arrived at the final design treatment. This allows them a window into your thinking and goes a long way toward having them buy off on the work.

Treat your clients as collaborators, not adversaries in the design process and you'll find that the work can benefit tremendously from their input.