Posts Tagged ‘design’

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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!

Typography for all (not just for lawyers)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Here is a great link on typography basics. Not just the technical but, even more importantly, the semiotics of typography. Very useful.

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.