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One for the Love

When James Coburn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at the age of 70, he was noticeably moved, coming as it did at the end of a long and storied career as a Hollywood tough guy. Holding back uncharacteristic tears at the podium, he said “In this business, some work you do for the money, some you do for the love. This was for love.”

That same sentiment is true with regard to our recent campaign for AIDS Foundation of Chicago for the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago. In addition to being a high profile campaign for a very worthy cause, the client has been a complete joy to work with. They are collaborative, engaged, and open to new ideas, everything we look for in a client.

We developed the theme “I live. I give. I move.” This conveys the three step process of awareness, action and participation. The spectrum visually references the rainbow pride flag and provides impact to the campaign, as well as contrast to the black and white photography. The images represent a diverse group of participants, with their faces cropped out. Instead, we focused on the bodies preparing for the run, either through stretching or the act of moving.

The campaign will be rolling out over the course of the summer, in posters, advertising, CTA transit banners and signage throughout Chicago. Keep an eye out for it.

Even better, get involved and sign up to participate.

What Michelangelo Can Teach Us About Branding

Every work of art has a story to tell, and the sculptures of Michelangelo are no exception. After spending two weeks in Florence and Rome, there are a few insights that resonated with me that I thought worth sharing.

In Palazzo Vecchio stands the statue of Michelangelo's David. It's a masterpiece of form, something that has to be seen to be believed. His body is bent, poised to action, with every muscle and vein visible within the marble.

It's also a fake, or a replica in the local parlance. The real David stands within the Accademia Galleria, surrounded by protective plexiglass with a roof to shield it from the ravages of the elements.

The two pieces are alike in every way yet could not be more different. Even before experiencing the legitimate David, you can see the replica is not quite right. The details are not nearly as well executed, the marble of an inferior quality. The real piece is perfect in every regard, from the oversized hands clutching the sling, to the details that form the hair and deep set eyes. It's so astonishingly lifelike, you half expect to see its chest expand in an exhale of breath.

How does your brand stack up to these two examples? Is yours flawlessly executed, from concept to the last detail? Or are you merely competent, good enough to receive a passing nod, but nothing that people are going to remember for the ages?

A final take away from the sculpture are the two interpretations of David's pose. Some art historians hold that he has already slain Goliath and stands surveying his achievement, dispassionately. Others believe that the pose represents David before the melee, in that moment after he has agreed to do battle, but before it has taken place. In short, after he has committed to the act but before completing it.

Which defines you? Surveying your past achievements or looking forward to the next challenge which you can overcome?

Art for the Recession-Minded

Our friends at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative are hosting their third annual Print and Poster Show, beginning May 22 from 12:00 – 7:00 PM. Everything from silk screen prints, posters, card and T-shirt are all $20 or less. There is some amazing work from a number of very talented Chicago artists, including Jay Ryan and Amos Kennedy.

This is a rare opportunity to purchase some really lovely work at an incredibly low price. Stop by the collaborative at 4642 West Leland and check out what they have to offer.

Preak Out

A new ad campaign recently debuted, designed to increase infield attendance at Maryland’s Preakness Stakes. The campaign, created by Washington based creative agency Elevation, uses variations of the headline “Get Your Preak On” to play up the always festive, occasionally raunchy atmosphere of the infield.

When I think of Triple Crown horse racing, I think of two things. Well-heeled women wearing big hats in the stands, and drunken yahoos making jackasses of themselves in the infield. This campaign is clearly focused on the latter. To the dismay of some in the community, it appears to be working. Critics have called it everything from lame and embarrassing to staggeringly dumb. It may be all of those things, but it also appears to be working. Infield ticket sales are up 5 percent compared to two years ago.

While sexually suggestive ads are the lowest common denominator in the ad industry, this one succeeds in doing exactly what it set out to do. It gets the attention of the largely blue collar audience that has dwindled in the past few years and creates a memorable, albeit lowbrow impression.

Atrios A Process Case Study

We are so often focused on presenting the final product of our work, we often neglect the steps that got us to that end point. Very seldom do we as designers come up with the final answer on the first cut. It’s often the result of combining iterative solutions and making minor tweaks before a design is ready for prime time.

This is particularly true of brand marks. In almost every project engagement, we develop more than one visual solution. For brand marks, we generally insist on doing three. In order to capture the range of concepts and executions available, it’s a disservice to clients to develop any fewer. Typically, there is the safe solution, which is fairly close to what the client may be expecting. This is generally done to address specific directives for which the client has asked. The second treatment is a bit more expressive, a bit less “corporate”, while the third solution stretches the client’s comfort level a bit. All the designs should be wholly appropriate to the client and project brief, but each one taking a different approach to the solution, but conceptually and in terms of the graphic execution.

We recently developed a brand mark and website for an online resource for homeowner associations. The goal was to provide an open and inviting forum for condo association owners, board members and developers who needed a resource that provided relevant answers and solutions.

We came up with the name Portico, from the Italian word for a porch leads to the entrance of a building or structure. In an earlier post, I wrote about how we had to begin anew when the name we came up with ran into a potential conflict with an existing company name.

What began as a challenge turned into an opportunity, as we renamed the company Atrios, a spin on the Latin term atria, the plural of atrium. After clearing any trademark hurdles, we came up with the following visual treatments for the brand mark.

This is the “safe” treatment. It's handsome and inviting and the color palette is a bit unexpected. The shape of the O suggests an opening or entryway, one that is protected as well.
This second visual treatment is a bit more illustrative. The two columns connote the legal and financial underpinnings which provide the core content of the site. The negative shape of the house suggest the house of the user which is being secured by the site resources. Highly evocative, it also works well at a small size and has immediate visual recognition.
The third visual treatment pushed things a bit further, going so far as to think of your home as your “space” and renders the word in dimensional type to make that association. The color is bright, dynamic, and the type is custom-rendered, which makes the mark that much more ownable by the client.
We recommended and the client ultimately chose brand mark number two. It had the most recognizable visual connotation to homeowners and felt most appropriate in terms of the overall graphic sensibility. The first one, while handsome, did not have as much staying power. We all liked the third one, but finally thought better of it. The shapes are handsome and readable, but conjure up images of packaging or box production.
So there you have it, the final mark as well as the ones that got away. We will be launching the Atrios site shortly which will provide a much better sense of how it works in the context of imagery and user navigation.

All In the Family

Someone once told me you should never do work with family, that it’s like oil and water, only more volatile. Sound advice, which I have long since heeded. However, some of my family members (read: my six older sisters) aren’t particularly good when it comes to taking no for an answer.

Needless to say, when my sister Regina approached me about designing a website to promote the release of her book, God Never Blinks, I had a few misgivings. The aforementioned concern about working with family was one. The fact that she and her writing are of a spiritual bent and I am a pure materialist was another.

My concerns were unfounded. Her site launched this week to coincide with the release of her book, which has been getting rave reviews (her book, not the site). Her accolades are well deserved. Regina was a two time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and her newspaper column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer has won more journalism awards than I care to count.

UPDATE: God Never Blinks made the New York Times bestseller list!

Congratulations on the book, Regina, your youngest brother is proud of you.

Checking Out From Social Networking

Like most designers, (and most professionals in general, I suppose), I have mixed feelings about social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. At their best, they provide us the opportunity to network, reconnect with old friends, and potentially discover new clients. At their worst, we get to hear what someone we barely know is making for dinner or that an old girlfriend is still bitter about our breakup.

By and large, however, they fit the model of the old programming credo: Garbage in, garbage out. Whatever content populates the site governs our overall impression of the site. Hence, LinkedIn is perceived as professional and focused on client relations. Facebook, while occasionally juvenile, offers an informal way to stay on the radar of acquaintances who might otherwise be relegated to receiving the annual Christmas card.

The latest foray into this increasingly crowded field is Unvarnished. The site allows users the opportunity to post peer reviews and comments about other professionals, anonymously. Since we all know how classy and upstanding most anonymous posters are to blogs, one can only speculate on the clever repartee that awaits us. The tagline on the site is “truth in reputation”. More accurately, it should be called “the bathroom wall of the internet”.

The site in effect allows users to trash former co-workers, employers, all under the guise of providing a candid peer assessment. Critics have already called the site a litigation nightmare waiting to happen.

I’m not sure when we reached the tipping point of social networking, but this seems to be its nadir.

I will let a more gifted writer than myself have the last word on this. Ralph Caplan, design critic and educator provides a curmudgeon’s take on social networking in his recent AIGA post. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Caplan speak at the first AIGA conference in Chicago in 1991.

I’m pleased to see his rapier has lost none of its point.

Getting Inky

It can be very easy for design to become an antiseptic process, devoid of the craft and general messiness that were a necessary adjunct to our profession in the days before the Mac. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Mac. I also love the fact that designers no longer work with rubber cement, spray mount, zylene markers and any number of other chemical and carcinogenic materials that no doubt took years off our lives in the early days.

And by early days I mean the nineties.
It is important, however, to roll up the sleeves from time to time and recharge the batteries a bit, by getting one’s hands dirty. I recently had the opportunity to do just that by participating in screen printing class at Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. The eight week class afforded me the opportunity to print up poster size reproductions of pages from our recent New Year's promotion. More importantly, it was a welcome break from so much time spent in front of the computer screen.
The CPC offers summer classes and workshops in silkscreening and etching for both beginners and advanced students.
A special thanks to the very talented (and patient) Megan Sterling who taught the class. Not only was she a wonderful instructor, she was kind enough to not berate us for the occasional ink spills and missteps that were left in our wake.

AIGA Spring Portfolio Review

We will be joining several Chicago design studios in the annual AIGA Spring Portfolio Review at the School of the Art Institute on April 21. This is a great opportunity to see new work by young designers just entering the field and provide design feedback and career guidance. Having benefited from the input of many established designers when I was first starting out, this provides the opportunity to reciprocate.

It's not entirely altruistic. The last portfolio review we participated in led us to bringing on our first intern, Jordan Freeman, who has been an invaluable asset to Substance.