Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Cusp 2013 and the Design of Everything

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Patrick Lynch, City of Chicago Pipe Band and 2013 U.S. National Champion

Chicago is a design city. It is the cradle of mid-century modern architecture. It buzzes — constantly.

I attended the Cusp Conference there a week ago. It had everything from Constance Adams, NASA space architect; to a sword swallower; a Canadian researcher hoping to gaze at the actual edge of the universe from a balloon above the Antarctic this year; to Dave Carroll, the guy who produced the viral video United Breaks Guitars; and — oh, yeah — a bag piper and a teenage rock band. This melange was about the “design of everything”. For the attendees (I would estimate about 90% non-designers) it was an eye-opener to what is going on right now in design. The hackneyed term “Design Thinking” (with apologies to Bruce Nussbaum) has permeated the awareness of the business folks who are shaking things up. What we have called “thinking out of the box” is given a framework and process through design thinking (this time no caps, on purpose).

Maria Giudice of Google

Maria Giudice of Google

There is no magic bullet, no acronym-laced corporate efficiency model here. It’s about thinking outside of comfortable paradigms and just flippin’ doing things differently. And, as Maria Giudice from Google puts it, it’s just plain GSD (Getting Shit Done). Business models are changing. No longer are the good companies looking for cost-efficient ways to do the same thing more cheaply. The good ones are looking for ways to get new things done, to create something that helps their customers, helps the world and is valuable enough that people want to pay for it. It’s about adding real value, not taking away. As Marsha Sinetar says:

Do what you love and the money will follow.

And that doesn’t just apply to individuals. If you put heart into what you manufacture, into the services you provide, people feel it. You have a clear idea of who and what you are as a company. You know your story.

Story telling is what I am most interested in for my work. I love finding the stories that are sometimes buried deep inside companies and bringing them into the light. A good story attracts good employees, good customers, good suppliers — good stuff.  And a good story is the way for people to understand you and become followers, promoters of your company.

I’ll be at Cusp next year, looking into the future of business.

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Here’s a quick follow up to my corresponding blog post Making Hay in a Hailstorm, written almost two years ago at the height (no, make that the craggy depths) of the horrible recession we are now seeing the other side of.

The sun is shining everybody’s busy. That means EVERYBODY. Our clients are busy. We’re busy. Our colleagues are busy. Our suppliers are busy. It’s a mad, mad rush to make up for lost time. In the last two years, we have become accustomed to contacting a colleague or supplier and getting an instant “yes, when do you want it?”. We got spoiled. And guess what? So did our clients. Now, we’re all having to be patient and plan further out.

The dark side of not spending when everyone else is not spending is that it builds pent up demand. When you finally spring the genie from the bottle, it’s like a shoe sale at Macy’s. And that is just what has happened. Everybody wants everything, right now. So, at the risk of coming across like a whiny Cassandra, I shall remind us all that bucking the trend and making hay in a hailstorm is not a bad idea.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Reflecting on this short article by Paddy Harrington of Bruce Mau Design about Ricky Gervais’ bold, in-your-face style at the Golden Globes, I am reminded of how important it is for designers to be brutally honest. Honesty from designers is largely not rewarded with any kind of love, because good designers ask tough questions. They often don’t like the way you phrase your problems. They rephrase them. And then might tell you that there are things you have to do that you didn’t think of. And often, for your own good (and your company’s) they say “no”. Ouch.

Suffice to say that not once in the previous paragraph did I mention typefaces, colours, logos or branding. Design is about getting to the seminal truth. And that truth will set you, your company, or your cause free.

Finding Your Brand’s Passion

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Take a Lesson from Gordon Ramsay
If you’ve ever seen an episode of  “Ramsay’s Nightmares” where celebrated chef Gordon Ramsay helps ailing restaurants revive themselves, you might see a parallel to other businesses. We see it all the time. Sometimes it’s too many cooks in the kitchen, but more often it’s about a chef/business owner who has lost his passion. It’s that fire-in-the-belly that drives us to accomplish things we might not otherwise do. It’s usually what sparks an entrepreneur’s vision in the first place; about doing something better than the other guy and/or something that’s never been done before.

Somewhere along the way, things go off the rails and compromise after compromise starts to creep in. And before long, decisions are based on doing things the cheapest or easiest way, without thought as to whether these decisions are in the best interest of the business. Sometimes the pressures of running a business becomes overwhelming and the decisions made [unknowingly] become counterproductive.

From Market Fresh to Frozen and Deep -Fried
Where, once, things like fresh ingredients were important, standards start to slide, and with them, confidence. Eventually every decision becomes a safe one leading to mediocrity. The things that mattered before — the things that really set you apart — are abandoned. And so begins a slow downward slide.

While the example I’m using here is restaurants, it really could be almost any business. As we lose our sense of passion, we lose the ability to differentiate ourselves among the hundreds of other businesses that offer similar services. When you can’t offer anything unique, you become another “me-too” business. This affects everything from how you compete and attract customers to the prices you can ask for your product or service. It affects the quality of employees you’ll attract as well as the type of PR you get, if any.

Tasting the Menu
Like chef Ramsay, the first thing we recommend is to evaluate the current situation — tasting the menu so to speak — we gather all the elements & experiences that contribute to the brand to determine how best to bring back the unique qualities that will define the company.

Where chef Ramsay usually finds overly complicated menus of less than flavourful food made from processed ingredients, we likewise often find both retail and corporate businesses who have lost their sense of direction.In a retail store, this may appear as a business that tries to be all things to all people. It may offer too much or too broad a range of products. The store may appear cluttered, with little sense of focus or contrast. Not enough attention is paid to architecture/interior design, signage and typography, colour, service.

Like the restaurant example, success is never built from one thing alone. It is the sum of all the parts working together — from the person taking the reservations, to the hostess, to the waiter, the decor, the music, the sommelier, and finally the meal. Every step along the way allows opportunities for sabotage or success, and one false step can damage what might have been a very enjoyable meal.

Is it human nature, or a lack of confidence, that seems to make most people unsure of when to quit when cooking a meal, designing a room or a company brochure? Herein lies the problem. In most cases, design is about taking away — a reductive process rather than an additive one. Just as you may have seen an interior designer remove all the furniture from a room, or a fashion designer clean out the closet of someone getting a makeover, it requires stripping away as much as possible before adding on.

Novelty is Not a Strategy
In their book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World authors Peter Merholz, Brandon Schauer, David Verba and Todd Wilkens remind us that seeking parity with our competitors “appears very logical on the surface, yet focusing on deficient or missing features is not a strategy” nor does it help you define your differentiation. It creates sameness. Businesses frequently confuse differentiation with novelty. This is often the approach car dealerships take with bizarre situations or themes that rarely have anything to do with the car buying experience. Novelty lacks context and therefore a sense of authenticity. Consumers want a genuine experience, one that has context and, as such, has meaning they can identify with.

We can strip away much of any business down to two questions; what is your purpose and why should anyone care? The answer to the second question should provide some insight into what makes you unique. Business owners often respond with “I want to be the best” yet, because no one can be the best at everything, being the best is not a strategy. Its too general a goal. It‘s a statement focussed on the business owner not the customer.

Karen Post, the branding diva and author of Brain Tattoos, tells us “a brand is a psychological impressionof value-based emotions, lodged in the mind of a buyer or prospect.” It is an emotional relationship between the buying market and a marketed product or service — a bond of loyalty, a connection of relevance and earned trust.”

Imagine the Questions Your Customers Ask
We can strip away much of any business down to two questions; what is your purpose and why should anyone care? The answer to the second question should provide some insight into what makes you unique. Business owners often respond with “I want to be the best” yet, because no one can be the best at everything, being the best is not a strategy. Its too general a goal. It‘s a statement focussed on the business owner not the customer.

Many products and services have become successful by capturing a single aspect of something rather than trying to be everything to all people. The Palm Pilot succeeded by reducing the features found in the larger, feature- crammed and bulky Apple Newton, to those deemed most needed by users.

What Makes You Unique?
What makes you different? And how can you make the experience for the customer the more meaningful?

Here are a few simple guidelines that will help you drill down to find your essence. Using one or more pieces of 24” x 36 “ poster board, collect all the various items your company or store uses to identify and market itself. Include all stationery, brochures, colour chips, typefaces, photographs of merchandise and promotion, displays and signage, storefront — any and all promotional items.

Try to be objective and ask yourself these questions:
> Do the items accurately and consistently describe the type of company you believe you are?
> Ask some outsiders or customers to answer the same question.
> Does the collection of items paint a clear and consistent picture of what you are about?
> Looking at this collection, does it say that your company is exciting and/or remarkable at what it does?
> If you were not an owner or employee, would you do business with this company?

To many people, it appears that design is about making something pretty — and they would be right to some degree. But more importantly, it’s about creating the right visual and verbal messages. In the restaurant example, it’s often a matter of getting back to the core — the passionate idea that first got you going. The menu is simplified, and replaced with fewer, but fresher and more selective items. The interior is cleaned and made more inviting, the service is made more responsive, the menus easier to read.

In a retail store, better attention is paid to what makes the store special and unique. This can require reducing inventory, and/or selecting specific products that better reflect the nature of the store brand. Notice how many successful retail stores have simple interiors. It takes skill to simplify elements down to those few that are critical.

This would include:
> Eye catching store signs, photography, displays and graphics
> Unique, quality products
> Organized merchandise that is colour blocked and neatly displayed
> Clear interior signage/ information
> Attentive, helpful staff
> Functional and pleasing fitting rooms
> Appropriate and appealing store scent and sound
> Be empathetic. Revisit the experience from a customer’s point of view; is it enjoyable, meaningful, exciting?

We Buy What We Feel
Better attention should be paid to in-store visual merchandising. When you considering how important a company’s product or service is, it’s surprising how little time and money is spent on professional photography. A few signature images should be created that define the brand emotionally and speak to customer aspirations. Should your images and colours be edgy, relaxing, serious, playful, historical or modern? In every case there are certain colours, images, typography and even language that will better reflect your specific style and story or history and, as such, help you define your brand.

It takes confidence and sometimes courage to drill down. Less is more. It’s true in almost every type of design from garden design to restaurants and retail stores. As consumers, we often take for granted many of the successful brands around us, not realizing how much effort they make to ensure brand consistency. At the end of the day, your brand is a promise you make to customers that the experience they have with you is repeatable. And in order for you to repeat it, you must know all the elements that are entailed in detail, from what colours, typefaces, sounds and smells best reflect your company, to how merchandise is packaged and displayed. Like a recipe this documented list becomes your guide or manual and will help you stay true to your vision, your passion — I promise.

Ray Hrynkow, Partner + Creative Director
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

Creative Commons License
Finding Your Brand’s Passion by Ray Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

WTF is a Designer?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This question is the stuff of wars. Designers can’t agree on it and clients sure as hell don’t agree with any of those designers. I watched a video of a very bright, articulate designer named Frank Chimero (I’ve been a fan for a long time) talking at the Build Conference in Belfast, Ireland last November. He wrestled with this question and inspired this post. I thank Vancouver design firm Seven25 for bringing my attention to it and Vimeo for posting it.

Clients see designers as thing makers. Designers see themselves as researchers and sociologists or illustrators and typographers, or, a combination of all of them — and then some. Design is a changing profession and trying to define it is like trying to sew fog.

You can’t measure design (well you can, but it will cost you a fortune and it’s hit and miss) and businesses are risk averse. Most businesses run on logic. Good input, defined process, defined output. All that logic may be safe, but it’s status quo. Business likes that safety. As my partner Ray tweeted just yesterday, “Businesses don’t mind being different as long as they are like everyone else” But here’s the thing. The more things blend in the less interesting, meaningful and delightful they are. We all know that you can’t please everyone. Tibor Kalman famously said, “If you try to make something nobody hates, no one will love it.”

Chimero argues that design is storytelling. Not a new idea, but I happen to agree with it. It humanizes things which are either hard to explain, technical or just plain boring, unless they are crafted into something compelling. A story. So, on the most basic level, design is storytelling. But to do that storytelling designers bring to bear their mad skills combined with knowledge of sociology, psychology, art and history. They craft complex ideas into compelling, digestible bits that people understand and, if they’re so inclined, they can love.

Design provides the thing that is most difficult for businesses to buy today and that’s the ability to be noticed. We have everything we could ever want to know available to us today. All we have to do is Google it. But can we find what we need, what speaks to us? That’s what design can do. And that’s what a designer is.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

Where Are We Driving Our Kids?

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I am fortunate to be a member of the sessional faculty at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. I say fortunate because I think I get more out of it than my students do. It stimulates my energy and creativity and it makes me think. For me, the university environment — the academic realm — is like a warm bath. I feel right there and I thrive in it. And, for 80-90% of the fourth year students I teach, it has the same effect.

But it is not like that for everyone. Nor should it be. As a society, we have put academia on a pedestal. A vast majority of parents push their children to go to university, as if it is the only worthy career path. I’m here to tell you that it is not. Sir Ken Robinson has spoken twice at TED Conference in California on education. First, in 2006, his talk called Schools Kill Creativity, he posits that we are crushing the life out of our children and forcing them into molds into which only a portion of them really fit. He spoke again in May 2010 with a talk called Bring on the learning revolution!. I encourage you — with emphasis — to watch both of these talks. This is no light-weight TEDster. Ken Robinson “led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements. His latest book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, a deep look at human creativity and education, was published in January 2009.”(1)

I’ve grown up understanding the hypocrisy of pushing children into universities when not all of them are well suited to it. And the greater tragedy is that we see being “not well suited to university” as inferior. It is not inferior. We need hairdressers, dry wallers, plumbers and clerks. These occupations are not “less”. This work is valuable to all of us. We need to respect every worker. We need to allow anyone to feel great pride in what they do. If not, are we then developing our own western caste system?

I think it is in human nature to want to dominate or to serve, but it is less than civilized to encourage the practice. Any education, be it apprentice, trade or life, is — in fact — education. Any great skill, regardless of how it is gained, is still a great skill. Even the most technical careers, peppered with MAs and PhDs are also populated by self-taught geniuses who simply do not fit the standard eduational mold.

I call on all educators and parents to consider — before any other factor — the happiness of their child. What gives them joy? What makes them get out of bed in the morning? Nurture it. Support it. And, if it doesn’t lead to an Ivy League school or a “profession”, celebrate its value. As a society, we need to grow in this direction.


Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

Creative Commons License
The Value of Varied Choices in Education by Casey Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Rebranding in a Democratic Marketplace

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Democracy in brand identity is here. With brand “Tribes” comes the benefit of being a loved brand and the disadvantage of being a democratic brand. Having read this in the Economist yesterday, there is clearly a new dynamic afoot in rebranding and it can scuttle the process at great cost to the incautious. It’s a massive expense, with everything from signage to vehicle livery dwarfing the actual cost of initial design. Rebranding may not always be necessary and may — occasionally — be a symptom of myopic navel gazing on the part of senior management.

Rebranding has a place in the growth and change of a company and, where significant shift has or will occur, it can often guide the process and be the banner under which it takes place. The recent Starbucks rebrand is a case in point of what I believe will be a success. It maintains the familiar elements, the Siren being the most central, and it carries a emotional friendliness. It frees the company to some degree, allowing it to do some things other than coffee while still being under the familiar banner. Like Starbucks or hate it, the rebrand will work.

40 years of Starbucks visual identity.

40 years of Starbucks visual identity.

But when you pull away the very things that resonated most with people as Tropicana did, you are bound to piss people off. I am amazed that Tropicana didn’t see that their photographic orange and straw as the important asset it is. When senior management speaks in immortal terms about the reasons and representations of a new logo, they may be setting themselves up for a public relations disaster. It’s not a language they know fluently and it comes off as weak in almost every instance. You can’t tell your customers that a logo makes you more relevant to them. They will decide that. And you sure as hell don’t start talking about design issues that are esoteric and irrelevant to the customer, such as references to things like the golden ratio. That’s an internal discussion. What you can talk about is what your changes are in the company and how the logo represents those to you. Howard Schultz put it perfectly,

“Throughout the last four decades, the Siren has been there through it all. And now, we’ve given her a small but meaningful update to ensure that the Starbucks brand continues to embrace our heritage in ways that are true to our core values and that also ensure we remain relevant and poised for future growth.”

That’s plain language and it’s bullet proof. There has been lots of outcry about the change to the Starbucks logo because it is so known and loved and because of the democratic marketplace. But they’ll get used to it as they have the last two times the logo has changed. Starbucks understands its assets and has honored them.

If you need to rebrand, don’t do it in half measures or without doing your homework. Audit your assets and know their value before you burn them. Then make the right decisions and talk about them in the right terms.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

Creative Commons License
Rebranding in a Democratic Marketplace by Casey Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Design is Not a Hobby

Monday, January 24th, 2011

This is an old and nagging issue for designers of all stripes. It was fascinating, though, to realize that we’re not alone. Witness Raul Pacheco or @hummingbird604 and his post today on the Economics of Free. For some reason, people seem to think that if work is fun, we don’t need to get paid for it. News flash: It’s not always fun and it’s how we feed ourselves and our families. Thanks for the validation from both Raul and John Bolwitt.

When we compromise and do things for free or for ridiculously low fees, we hurt every other practitioner. There is no perceived value in what is given away for free, or priced as a hobby.

SPIN Farming and Design

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

I’m a serious foodie and I grow my own. My sister and I work a community garden plot in Richmond and, with varying rates of success, grow fat Roma tomatoes, fava beans, garlic, onions, kale and arugula. I could be described as being passionate about local food.

Our community garden effort

Our community garden effort

Arzeena Hamir is coordinator of the Richmond Food Security Society and writes for the Richmond Review. In yesterday’s Review, she explained that the BC Association of Farmer’s Markets will hold is AGM in concert with the Richmond Food Security Society March 11-13. They’re calling it Working Together to Strengthen Our Local Food System.

For those who are not yet converts to the local food movement, let me explain, in brief. If you’re buying tomatoes from Chile, they are grown in soil you don’t know about, sprayed with stuff you don’t know about, then shipped at great expense, time and use of fossil fuels to the Lower Mainland. The fact that they might be cheap should worry you. If you buy local tomatoes — or better still — grown your own, you can choose organic if you want to be sure of what went into and on the tomato, but you do know that local means it had a short trip in a truck and was likely picked a day or two ago. The taste is better, the texture is better.

This kind of passion isn’t for everybody, I suppose. I prefer to buy less and buy better. I know that the increases in obesity, cancer and various other diseases seems to have coincided with the growth of factory farms, so I want to pull it back to the local level.

Back to the conference…
Curtis Stone will be giving two workshops on SPIN farming — Small Plot Intensive farming — during the conference. It’s a slightly bigger operation than our tiny little effort, but makes local farming possible in small spaces.

So, how does this relate to design? Design is problem-solving. It’s taking what you have and making something work with it. Whether that’s industrial design or communication design. The local food movement is designing better solutions to our food supply every day. I love food. I love design. What’s not to like? I blog about food here.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

World Graphics Day: The Rise of the Black Collar Worker

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

From David Coates, FGDC (Fellow Graphic Designers of Canada) come some timely thoughts during Design Week and the ICOGRADA Conference here in Vancouver.

Today, April 27, is World Graphics Day. Celebrated annually, it marks the anniversary of the founding of Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) in 1963 and a day to celebrate the profession of graphic design. I often reflect on the state of our industry on this day, and I must admit I’m feeling optimistic. Read on.