Posts Tagged ‘brand communications’

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

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Must Designers Do Good? by Casey Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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You’ll Always Get What You Pay For

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Communication design is one of those “hoodoo voodoo” (thanks Jim!) professions that no one quite understands. They think they could probably do a decent job of it themselves, but at some point they say to themselves, “maybe I should hire a professional”. When they talk to us, they are often gobsmacked by the fees we quote them. Even when we’re quoting our “friend” and “altruism” prices. I’m speaking here of people new to buying design. Our “big” clients understand how it works and generally know the value of communication design and respect it. So I’m extremely grateful for the articulate missive from Blair Enns who understands the issue and wrote this.

Why I Charge More
A Designer’s Open Letter to His Future Clients

“The more I charge you, the more pressure I put on myself to perform for you.

“The client who grinds me on price is the least satisfied. He gets less attention from me and is most likely to be pissed off at me. And I don’t really care, because to be honest, I resent him. The very fact that he is on my roster reminds me that I’m part prostitute. For him, I’m doing it for the money and as it isn’t very much money I’m not troubled by not doing it well. He pays me a paltry sum, I perform poorly, he gets angry and I resent him. We can have that type of relationship if you like.

“The client who pays me the premium gets my best work. He’s the one I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about, wondering if I’m doing all I can to earn his money. When he calls, I jump. Hell, I call him first. I take pride in moving his business. I try to make myself indispensible to him. I imagine that he winces when he opens my bill (he doesn’t say), but he thanks me for all I do for him. He’s the one I worry about.

“I’m great at what I do, but if someone hires me without giving me the resources (money, time, access) to do a great job, it’s easy for me to rationalize poor performance. When a client gives me everything I ask for, he removes all the obstacles to a high quality outcome. There’s no way for me to rationalize anything less than perfection.

“There is no greater pressure than the pressure I put on myself, and the only way you can add to my own sense of pressure is to pay me well. Yelling won’t do it. Neither will threatening to pull your business. My deep sense of obligation comes from you paying me well enough to dispatch all of the excuses. Then I have to prove to you, and, more importantly, to me that I am as good as I say I am.

“So, I’ve given you my price and it’s the price that I need to charge to bring a deep sense of obligation to the job. Will I work for less? Probably. Can you negotiate with me? Sure. We can have that type of relationship if you really want me to be that type of designer and you want to be that type of client.

“Let’s just understand each other before we get started.”

Making Hay in a Hailstorm

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Unless you just fell out of the sky, you are well aware of the current global economic downturn. The cascade of bad news oozes forward like a giant snake of dominoes. It’s a media-fed vortex, sucking everything into it (emotionally if not literally). No one is unaffected and everyone is nervous. Very nervous. But there will be an end to this, and there will be better days ahead. Where will you be when that day comes — picking up the pieces or walking away with the prize?

Most people take cover and wait out a storm, opting for safety. They’ll make their hay while the sun in shining. A brave few see that, with everyone else under cover, there’s lots of room to get things done. Hell, you could even throw in another crop while you’re at it. I’ll call that making hay in a hailstorm.

How’d We Get Here?
Investment advisor, Peter Worsley of TD Waterhouse, calls our current predicament the “perfect storm” of economic bad news: with the collapse of the housing bubble; the collapse of commodities prices worldwide; the biggest selloff on the financial markets since the great depression; and the crisis in the banking system globally, demonstrated by the collapse of the investment banks in the US. Just about every other bank globally suffered from insufficient or low quality reserves plus toxic assets. This is one big financial “owie”.

Spending Versus Saving
Government-fueled economic stimuli can drive the economy to some degree, creating jobs and thus more consumer confidence. That confidence means that those consumers will feel more freedom to spend money. In the New York Times on February 1, writer David Segal said that, though consumer spending got us into this mess, it will also need to get us out out of it. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of the US economy, yet this has all but disappeared as home prices dropped and credit access tightened. There is a paradox at work here. Now that things are tight, we’re all hunkering down and preserving cash, which seems logical. But what the economy needs, more than anything, is for consumers to increase, not decrease, spending.

The new Canadian budget gives us a few hints about what consumers will be buying in the short term, at least. Home improvements, infrastructure as well as other investments in everything from education to improving access to financing for Canadians. That should translate into jobs, disposable income and money to borrow so that they can spend what they need to spend.

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
For your company to come out ahead in this recession, you’ll need to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Those everyday consumers are a fundamental driver of our economy. They are still going to buy things. They’re just going to think differently about what they do buy. And while they’re doing that thinking, your company needs to show up.

Canadian businesses stand to benefit from this loosening of the federal purse strings which, it is posited, will loosen those of consumers. The challenge for Canadian businesses is to ensure that they’re not shuttered up against a storm when consumers are looking for places to spend money. Brand communication needs to continue, albeit with a different tone than that of the last decade.

People will be spending more on what is necessary and on what makes sense rather than on the kinds of luxury items. But consumers still need  personal treats to get them through the gloom. Just like the recessions of the 1930s, 70s and 90s, it is expected that the motion picture and alcohol industries will do well. Anything from a latte to a bottle of wine and, if my take on guys is right, a 65″ TV (with full HD 1080p resolution, enhanced black level and new ultra-thin design, Mega Dynamic Contrast Ratio in excess of 1,000,000:1…) …but I digress. My point is that people will still want “stuff‚” and they’ll buy what they trust, what they know and what they see as necessary, either physically or emotionally. They’ll also buy beauty and style — every time.

Paying it Forward
But there is another factor driving consumer decision-makin these days, and it’s “doing good”. The statistics are inescapable.

The most recent Edelman Good Purpose Global Study says that 70% of Canadians would remain loyal to a brand in a recession if it supports a good cause ‚ even if it isn’t the cheapest brand available. I smell opportunity. Are you doing anything to make a difference in your community or in the world at large? And don’t even think about green washing. Be innovative, find a cause you believe in and get behind it. Make it an intrinsic part of your brand. Pay it forward.

Build Value and Trust
Where we once talked more openly about the ”emotional attributes” of a product or service, consumers will be mindful of the value that they are purchasing rather than only the succor of self-gratification. That value usually doesn’t translate to the lowest price. What they buy may feel like a more “necessary”, carefully considered and long-lasting purchase. Or it may be a product from a company who treats their customers better — who’s products are more innovative or beautiful — that makes that purchase a more compelling idea.

This recession may be the return of the “trusted” brand rather than the “brand of the moment”. Trust is a pivotal issue in the world today. There is less and less that we feel we can trust. We encourage building trust in your products and services. We also argue for rewarding that trust by delivering on promises. That will put your company out ahead of the pack as the economy returns to health. It means choosing a genuinely inspiring message and getting it out there. Use good writing and good design. Don’t be afraid to use humour. But don’t turtle, not now.

Making Hay - Coming Out Ahead
According to Terry O’Reilly, on his CBC Radio program, The Age of Persuasion, even though Toyota’s gas efficient cars were selling as fast as they could make them, in 1973 when the recession hit, the company kept up their advertising and marketing when, rationally, they could have coasted. But by 1976 when the clouds parted, they had surpassed both Honda and Volkswagen. They maintained their top-of-mind positioning and sling-shotted past their competition.

O’Reilly also cited advertising icon David Ogilvy, who studied advertising during that same recession and found that those who maintained their advertising during that time also maintained their mindshare. They did much better than those who cut their spending, especially in the years following the recession.

Be Seen
In branding, and brand communications, we are recommending refocussing on your core strengths and selling what you do well, with a fresh approach that emphasizes the benefits to the consumer. We also recommend finding a way to pay things forward, even if it seems a bit counter-intuitive right now. You need to be seen. Make sure that your branding and packaging are exceptional. Others will be afraid to take these steps, so you’ll have more space to move around and to command market share. Think about what you can do to speak to the consumers you need to keep you moving. Do it for your company — heck, do it for Canada!

Fresh Thinking on May 7 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Louis Gagnon and Joanne Lefebvre of Paprika (Montreal) and Dave Mason of SamataMason (Chicago) at Fresh Thinking at Kwantlen Polytechnic University last Thursday. We participated in a roundtable discussion on issues facing design and designers in the coming years. Three student moderators asked us questions and we gave our varied perspectives on what we thought the future held. It was an excellent event. The variety of experiences and thinking between Louis and Joanne (a husband and wife team and principals of an extraordinary design practice), Dave (an innovator and highly entertaining speaker) and myself gave the audience a broad view of design, from theory to practice and from print to film. I’m hoping that the videographers who captured it will share the video when it’s ready. If so, I’ll post it here.