Archive for February, 2011

Must designers do good?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

In December 1963 a manifesto called First Things First was written by a group of designers, photographers, students and educators frustrated at the trivial nature and proliferation of products such as diet aids, toothpaste, cereal, and deodorants, suggesting they add little value to the economy, and as such greater good could be achieved utilizing their talents on more worthy projects such as signs, books and catalogues etc. The manifesto also takes issue with publications which have applauded the work of those who have created these trivial projects, largely created by advertising agencies, and by graphic designers as well.

To gain a better understanding of the FTF manifesto it’s important to note that graphic designers and ad men come from two very difference backgrounds and hence very different philosophical roots. Designers generally have different goals than ad agencies. Where design is often concerned with the big picture, and applying systems and identities throughout the whole of an organization, advertising is generally more concerned with selling at the moment and sometimes disparagingly referred to by designers as a knock knock joke (Subplot).

Much of modern graphic design is rooted in the work of the state-sponsored workshops of German, Belgian and Dutch designers near the end of the 19th century.  “Functionalism was increasingly the watchword among forward-thinking practitioners. Born of an impulse to social reform, formed by artistic enterprise, and ready to cooperate with industry, the modern graphic designer of 1910 was fully equipped with a critical foundation for professional practise.” (Drucker, McVarish 181, 182).

Advertising is rooted in sales. A man named Volney Palmer opened the first advertising agency in Philadelphia in 1843, and acted as an agent selling ad space in newspapers. ”By the 1880s, full-service ad agencies were buying and selling space in newspapers and journals, and as brokers could conveniently coordinate the use of their service at the same time” (155).

It should come as no surprise, then, that graphic design’s historical left-leaning bias continues to stir within both the academic design institutions and the design community. It represents both a strength and a weakness over their counterparts in advertising. This strength is reflected in the empathy many designers feel for small business, the underdog and not-for-profit organizations, and a willingness to contribute to a variety of social causes, often at their own expense.  But this same social empathy can cause designers to exhibit a sense of self-doubt on one hand and moral superiority on the other. Advertising plays a very vital, if not equally important role in the economy, selling products and services and in the process creating jobs. It is often loved for its cleverness and humour when done well, and hated at the same time for its pervasiveness.

In 2000, the First Things First Manifesto was reissued with the hope of creating a greater sense of urgency. “It suggested that the current practises are disastrously affecting the profession of design, endorsing a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think and feel, respond and interact” (F Newsmagazine).

While some saw the manifesto as a call to action, other called it pompous, with a group in England writing their own manifesto against all future manifestos. However, designers should be aware that they, like ad agencies, are in the persuasion business, whether we are designing a rock poster, cereal box, or environmental brochure. And the freedom we enjoy and use to express ourselves, our opinions, and our ideas, should not be denied to others who are not on the same page. It’s interesting to note that many of the original signatories of the manifesto built their reputations doing “cultural work” on the fringes of commercial graphic design practise as critics, curators, and academics” (Bierut, 26).

If the role of a manifesto is to raise social consciousness, how do we avoid censorship and unfairly determining what types of projects are more worthwhile that others? While I may personally find it more enjoyable and meaningful to design a book or catalogue, a single mom, who has a toddler, may find information gathered from a Pampers commercial much more necessary and meaningful. “

What makes dog-bisquit packaging an unworthy object of our attention, as opposed to say, a museum catalog or some other cultural project (Bierut, 28)?

There’s no question that the general public and even designers themselves feel overwhelmed with the amount of messages thrown our way, yet design and advertising continues to surprise, shock, inform, educate, and make us laugh, all the while selling a lot of merchandise and supporting our economy.

The frustration felt in the 60’s and expressed through the FTF manifesto has largely continued yet, unlike the booming wealth of the 60’s that offered unlimited opportunities for clients, designers and photographers alike, new challenges face us unlike any we have experienced before. Global warming, the economic melt down, further exacerbated by various Ponzi schemes has sent shock waves throughout the world, and in the cross fire, consumers are being taken to task for out of control spending. If anything, we should remind ourselves that its very easy to overreact, and jump to polarized or binary conclusions. In fact we are reminded by the New York Times that consumer spending accounts for 70% of the economy (Segal). It further suggested that while consumer spending may have to some degree got us into the mess, it will take consumer spending to get us out, enough to the point where consumers can become better at saving.

So what can we take away from the manifesto?

Designers should remind themselves that we do play a vital role in the economy, and have the ability, if we so choose, to shape and influence the world around us by our actions.

> We can help good products differentiate themselves
> We can help good organizations get noticed
> We can help promote worthy causes
> We can help simplify & explain complicated services or products
> We can minimize the use of plastics and over packaging
> We can promote green products and processes
> We can be daring
> We can educate ourselves continually
> We can question everything and avoid dogma
> We can be empathetic
> We can try and make all we touch better

 

Casey Hrynkow is a partner in Herrainco Brand Strategy+ Design Inc. a design firm based in Vancouver British Columbia

Creative Commons License
Must Designers Do Good? by Casey Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at blog.herrainco.ca.

UBC’s Amanda Fetterly

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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W5W or Who, What, When, Where and Why Wednesday #3.

Amanda is the Sustainability Chair for the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, BC Chapter. You can follow her on Twitter @afetterly.

Who are you?
A soul contained by a physical realm who feels most alive when identifying with
descriptors such as daughter, sustainable designer, learner/teacher.

What do you do?
I’m at my best when I am 30% scared shitless and 70% overjoyed about my work. I use my communication design powers to elevate and promote the areas of campus sustainability, transportation, and community planning at the University of British Columbia. For the next six months I am working at Public Affairs to bring the brand to life on the new digital signage around campus.

Why do you do it?
I have never questioned what I am meant to do because for as long as I can remember I’ve been doing it (collaging and repurposing magazines as  child, writing poetry in the sand) and it it fills my life with joy, meaning and purpose. Through I make it a habit to question just about everything else, I have an insatiable curiosity which serves me well.

Where do you do it?
In the most secret design studio on the west coast, overlooking the pacific ocean on UBC’s point grey campus. I have a billion dollar view, when I look out the window I feel like I am at the edge of the world and I gain an appreciation for why people thought that the earth was flat at one point.

When do you do it?
9-5 on paper, 8:30–6:30 most days, 24/7 in head and heart.

Emily Carr University’s Jonathan Aitken

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

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W5W or Who, What, When, Where and Why Wednesday #2.

I teach with Jonathan. He is full-time faculty at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and his practice involves the exploration of animated typography.

Who are you?: a middle-aged professor, father, husband, hiker, sailor and kayaker [editor's note: sounds like he belongs in BC, to me....]

What do you do? For a living I teach, but for sustenance I get outside, usually somewhere wild.

Why do you do it? While I need to work, teaching/research allows for endless variety and challenges. Outdoor, remote places rejuvenate me.

Where do you do it? Vancouver and mostly in BC, but I love Yukon.

When do you do it? All year, teaching when school is in and grabbing weekends when I can, then using the summers to pursue the outdoors.

See Jonathan’s work on his website JonthanAitken.ca

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 blog.herrainco.ca.

Taylor Mali in Type

Friday, February 4th, 2011

My English 100 professor, Jane Slemon, introduced me to slam poetry. And, in amongst the faces of a foursome doing a wonderful group slam, was the incomparable Taylor Mali. He is a teacher as well as a poet and this is my absolute favorite of his poems — really a lecture to his young students. Film maker Ronnie Bruce illustrated the poem with animated typography. It is funny and lovely all at the same time.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Lake Country Harvest’s Paula Diakiw

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

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This is the first in a series we’re calling W5W or Who, What, When, Where and Why Wednesday.

Paula is a client, she’s also my little sister. But I still treat her as badly as I treat all our clients.

Who are you?: I’m a woman with a mission, and a belief. I am an optimist, a mother, and a builder of my community.

What do you do? I dry our Okanagan bounty, and share it with the public. Everyone gets a taste, even if they aren’t buying. I’m building a company around my passion, and I’m loving it!

Why do you do it? I cry inside when I see so much Okanagan fruit wasted. I want to show our growers that we value what they do, and that what they do means more than the short season we see it fresh on the shelves.

Where do you do it? In beautiful, quiet, Lake Country, on a no through road, right where the paving ends. It’s surrounded by lodgepole pines. And it has a peek-a-boo view of Okanagan Lake.

When do you do it? I start with the first tastes of summer, and don’t stop. There is just so darned much to do, and only one lifetime to do it. So it’s pretty much sun up to sun down!

Follow Paula on Twitter @LakeCountryHarv or visit her website, LakeCountryHarvest.com

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.