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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.

Sunday Morning Coming Up

You can tell a lot about yourself by how you feel on a Sunday morning.

Something about the seventh day, even to those of us not given to a spiritual bent, lends itself to introspection, which in turn leads one to thinking about one's work life.

Before beginning Substance, I worked a number of creative agency jobs, all of which had their merits and challenges. I collaborated with some great people on some intriguing projects. Nevertheless, Sunday was a day to dread, the hours colored by thoughts of the week to follow. In some ways it was worse than Monday, the anticipation of the work week more daunting than the actual experience of it.

Any time I hear someone utter the loathsome phrase, “Thank God it's Friday”, I think to myself, “You really need to make some changes in your life.”

If you're living for only two days of the week, you're not really living.

My rule of triage for prioritizing business is this. Client work comes first, sales and business development comes second, and self promotion and marketing comes third. Consequently, this means Sundays are often spent at home in front of the laptop, brainstorming ideas.

As I sit hear drinking my coffee and sketching out layouts for this year’s holiday card promotion, it occurs to me how fortunate I am to do this type of work.

Thank God it's Sunday.

What’s Old Is New

Well, that was fast. Just a week after launching their new logo and rebrand, Gap announced it is returning to its old design, after a huge public outcry.

Rather than reiterate what has been written elsewhere, check out the AdAge article on the whole debacle.

Thanks to Libby Meis for sharing the update!