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The #1 Reason You Should Hire a Professional Graphic Designer

Advertising, Creativity, Graphic Design Mar 17, 2017 No Comments

Professional Creatives Need Love Too

The concept of “creativity” is an elusive one. It’s often ill-defined, poorly explained and generally misunderstood by those not working in the field.

So, it’s no surprise that in the smoke-filled room behind that elusive curtain of creativity (where, dare we say, most “suits” fear tread…), professional graphic designers and creative marketing teams gather to discuss the state the industry. It’s in these “secret sessions,” with Pantone chips, bits of discarded web code, and iPhones littering the tables, where we wrangle with what it means to be “a creative.”

Over pints of amber ale and bottles of pinot the question of why creativity is misunderstood, and maybe even undervalued, is frequently a hot topic.

Creativity Need Not be Undervalued

Why is it that graphic design and creative marketing strategy seem under-appreciated by business owners, account managers, department heads and others? While not trying to turn this into an “oh, woe be unto us” conversation about creatives-relegated-to-the-shadows, we think it’s important to pull back the curtain and shine some light on what we actually do as creative professionals.

The 5-Second History of Graphic Design

While the activity of graphically designing things has been going on for a long time, the term “graphic design” was only coined early in the last century — 1922 to be exact. But humans have been creating things for as long as humans have been around. There’s been fire. Weapons. Tools. Clothing. All requiring some level of design to work properly.

Once these necessities of life were taken care of, we began to express ourselves “graphically.” Evidence is all over prehistoric cave walls, in the cuneiform script and hieroglyphics of ancient societies, and in the manuscripts of the Renaissance. Since graphic design has been prevalent throughout time, we wonder if the current misconceptions about creativity also plagued our ancient ancestors.

C’mon, Picking Colors Isn’t That Hard, Is It?

Now in the digital age, the graphic design profession consists of a whole range of disciplines, including print, illustration, interactive, and perhaps even graffiti art. And the list goes on.

Graphic design isn’t just about putting pen to paper (or, mouse to pad…) and making things look pretty. Heck, there are countless toddler artists who do just that with crayon and cardboard, fingerpaint and wall, and even permanent marker and sibling forehead, all in the name of creativity.

Graphic Design Misconceptions

With the explosion of do-it-yourself online design tools, interactive design solutions and powerful software applications available to assist every would-be creative, it seems that many believe an award-winning marketing design concept is a mere click, print or upload away. Slick print ads and broadcast spots say that. So, it must be true. This common misconception isn’t helping the graphic design and creative marketing industry one bit.

The ‘Powerful Design Tools’ of Word and Powerpoint

We can’t begin to count the number of times we’ve quoted a job and then failed to get the assignment because the client decided that they’d be just as capable of handling the project themselves. Perhaps it’s the influence of our own advertising industry, the fact that a computer has landed on every desk, or the age-old desire for self expression, but there are still professionals who feel they’re 100% capable of developing their own creative while saving some dough. To be fair, lots of people can put together a decent color palette and comply with corporate brand guidelines. Everyone has a copy of Word and Powerpoint after all…


Creatives Don’t Do REAL Work

We’re asked all the time “What exactly is it that you do?”

The question comes from friends. From colleagues. From parents. And even from the cashier at the corner store.

“Oh, so you take pictures.” No, that’s the photographer. “Oh, then you must draw.” No, that’d be the illustrator. “You do that stuff on the Internet then.” No, that’s the programmer.

Sometimes it’s easier to stop trying, and walk away leaving them with the knowledge that we make things “look good,” when it’s actually much more involved.

A Wise Man Named ‘Jobs’ Once Said…

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is reported to have once said, “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it ‘looks,’ but of course if you dig deeper, it’s really how it ‘works.’”

Mr. Jobs is a very wise man. We should all listen to him.

Designer is a Misnomer

As the old cliché goes, a picture tells a thousand words. But when you look closer, beyond the “pretty,” you’ll see the real work of a graphic designer. Actually, Graphic Designer may be a bit of a misnomer — we’re more like Graphic Strategists.

A Graphic Strategist understands how the human eye works — how and where it will first rest on a printed page. A Graphic Strategist can pinpoint the first pixels you see on the screen the moment your favorite web page loads. We know why one photo is better than another, and that’s not just based on DPI. We’re aware of the emotions created by imagery and color. We understand why blue is better for a bottle of packaged water, than is black or brown. As professional Graphic Strategists, we’re capable of scientifically designing a concept and delivering on the promise of the brand.

Scientist, Strategist, Artist

Graphic designers are actually scientist, strategist, and artist — a three-part cocktail of creativity. And as such, in order to be successful at our chosen trade, we should be vastly more concerned with how our pieces “work” than with how they “look,” like Mr. Jobs says. Obviously both elements play vital roles in the success of our work. But to be considered professional Graphic Strategists, the success of the piece is the bar against which it should be measured.

Your Brand Deserves Proper Treatment

As a creative agency full of Graphic Strategists, we make things pretty every single day. And each piece we make “works” on many deeper levels, far beyond the surface of what is generally seen. To do this right, it takes the combined senses of science, strategy and aesthetics. If for this reason alone, when you’re planning your next visual project, it’s probably wise to take a look at hiring a professional graphic designer, or Graphic Strategist.

However, you can always hire that neighbor kid. He dresses cool — always in black. Has a skateboard. An iPad and an X-Box. And likely knows a little something about computers. Don’t all teenagers? He’s probably even got a torrented copy of Word loaded on one of them too. So you shouldn’t have any problems sharing your design documents.

Is this who you want to trust with the fate of your brand?


“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it “looks”. But of course if you dig deeper , its really how it “works”. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. To design something really well, you have to “get it”. You have to really “grok ” what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it , not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.” – Steve Jobs

Developing Innovative Creative is Like BASE Jumping

Advertising, Branding, Creativity, Graphic Design, Things That Inspire Us Feb 25, 2017 2 Comments

Is Creativity Counterintuitive to the Business Community?

On a basic instinctual level, our whole purpose for life as human beings is to survive and thrive. What that means has been different throughout time. In the modern world, survival is living happily; enjoying the company of friends and family; finding a job–any job these days–hopefully one that challenges us professionally without causing too much stress; and being able to put enough food on the table to feed our kids. So, if our instinct is to survive and hopefully thrive, then it’s completely counterintuitive to human behavior to voluntarily jump off a cliff.

The pursuit of truly creative ideas is just like hurdling oneself over the edge of a cliff and free falling. And, it’s as counterintuitive to self-preservation, professionally speaking, as is BASE Jumping from a 10,000 foot mountain peak.

Creativity Is Not for the Weak-Willed

Not for the squeamish, the task of developing innovative and inspired marketing concepts can be considered dangerous. It instills downright terror in the hearts of many a brand manager or marketing pro. Some don’t even attempt it, preferring to maintain the status quo. Others would rather someone else first take the risk; choosing later to read about competitor successes in industry pubs like AdAge, HOW or Communication Arts.

Like BASE Jumping, the pursuit of creative innovation can be dangerous, costly, and challenging, but also entertaining, exhilarating and supremely rewarding when properly executed.

1. It’s Inherently Risky

It’s common, among the unadventurous, to avoid taking their lives into their own hands and leaping from a mountaintop. Developing innovative creative can be a risky undertaking, especially for less-enterprising marketers. Pushing the envelope on creativity crosses the line of comfort for many. Doing so entails potentially risking your professional career, often giving even the most seasoned brand manager night sweats. When considering stepping off the creative ledge, it’s important to have a professional creative team that understands your business and is invested in your brand. To develop truly innovative ideas, it’s crucial to have partners who have the ability to lead you safely through the process and appropriately deliver on your brand promise.

2. It Can Be an Expensive Undertaking

BASE jumping is by no means cheap. Those awesome looking wingsuits that make you look like Rocky the Flying Squirrel can set you back several thousand dollars alone. Then there’s parachutes. Head gear. Travel costs and more. Developing inspired creative, executing graphic design, building web apps, and securing media placements has the potential of busting your budget.

Creative development is considered a luxury for many businesses, primarily the smaller ones. Others question the inherent value of forking over money to pay for it. But in order for a brand to remain relevant in a world where we’re bombarded by innovative creative, it’s more necessity than luxury. You must invest the appropriate amount of dollars and time into developing creative for your brand. Otherwise your message is likely to be drowned out by the media cacophony.

Budgeting for creative development is frequently low on the priority list for small businesses. It’s just the opposite for the big brands. If nothing else, that should tell you if you seek to control the message, you first need to be heard.

3. It’s a Challenge Getting There

You don’t just wake up, get out of bed and leap from El Capitan. Unless you spent the prior night on the face of a rock wall, which is another challenge altogether. And you don’t get outstanding creative “Click, Bang, Zoom.” The process takes time. There’s planning. Collection of consumer insight. Strategy sessions. Creative brainstorms. Establishment of goals. Definition of measurement criteria. And more. The creative process is like preparing for a long climb up a shear rock wall. It requires planning. You need the right tools. You need to plan a careful and thoughtful path. Work your way to the jump point. Psych yourself up. And then run toward the precipice and let fly. It’s the “fly” part of the process that everyone is most excited about, but it can’t be rushed.

4. Don’t Chicken out at Last Minute

Even the most experienced BASE Jumpers still experience a twinge of fear, no matter how fleeting, just before letting go. It’s normal to question whether actually jumping into the chasm facing them is a good idea after all. Once you’re there, the prospect of decidedly sprinting toward the edge and off, beyond the comfort zone is something most creative teams struggle with. The secret is not to question a decision already made. Remember, your gut once told you this path was a great idea. And, you’ve done your due diligence in planning. But now, your gut is telling you the opposite. That ain’t your gut talking. That’s fear. Don’t listen, or it’ll take you back to the comfort of your cushy sofa of mediocrity.

5. The Final Results are Exhilarating

Then there’s the payoff. The rush of free fall. The satisfaction of landing on both feet with your head held high. Your goals are realized. Customers are storming your website. The telephone rings off the hook with qualified leads. Your products are flying off the shelves. You get that nod from your boss. Or even better, your competitors. You took the risk, and your efforts paid off. Truly relevant, innovative creative generates measurable results. And, a job well done is truly an exhilarating experience.

Giving Credit for Inspiring This Post

Giving credit where it’s due, inspiration for this post came from Camp 4 Collective and Jimmy Chin whose innovative talents have resulted in this amazing video shot in Yosemite National Park while on assignment for National Geographic. And also to our friend Thomas Marzano for originally sharing the video link with us on Twitter. You can follow Thomas yourself @ThomasMarzano.

Social Media is a Tactic Not a Tool

Advertising, Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Jan 29, 2017 No Comments

Where the Heck Does This Social Media Thing Fit In?

Social media activities should be viewed as tactics that enhance a brand’s overall marketing efforts, not as a new tool replacing traditional methods of promotion. While social media has forever changed the landscape of marketing, beware the thousands of self-proclaimed social media experts, gurus, and authorities offering up opinion on using social media as a substitute for traditional marketing tools.

Has Social Media Replaced Advertising?

The short answer is no. Shouting advertisements at your customer base on social media platforms just doesn’t work. No one in the Twitterverse or on Facebook wants to be bombarded by direct advertising messages couched in 140 character tweets or wall-clogging updates.

For most businesses large or small, advertising continues to be the primary method to effectively generate awareness for your brand. This is not going to change. Social media hasn’t, nor will it, replace traditional advertising, whether your “tradition” is print or digital.

However It Has Made It Better

To be fair, social media platforms have fundamentally changed the way that brands advertise. Social media has made advertising more effective by providing better audience targeting, increasing overall advertising impressions and ad effectiveness. Social media platforms integrate analytics and measurement tools that help marketers adjust campaigns based on the message that works best. As a tactic, social media will not replace advertising, so next year’s budgets should still include marketing dollars for traditional advertising as well as social. Where the ad dollars are spent — outdoor, print, digital, etc. – will depend more on the nature of your business, not on your social media activities.

Social Media Has Forever Changed Public Relations

Back when Edward Bernays started the Public Relations industry, industry professionals carefully crafted and controlled messages in an effort to influence consumer perception, generally via unpaid methods like media placements. PR spinmakers of the past could maintain a stranglehold grip on a message, but in the social media enabled world PR is a new beast altogether.

PR firms have had to refine their efforts, accepting that brand messages are no longer controlled by agents of the brand, but rather are heavily influenced by consumers using platforms like Yelp!, Google Places, and Facebook. As a result, social media tactics are crucial to the tool of public relations. In order to control the message, PR mavens and social community managers must build relationships with a brand’s consumer base where that base congregates on the web, in order to have an impact on how a brand is perceived.

Social Media is Great for Sales Incentives

After Public Relations, offering sales incentives is likely the next best fit for your social media activities. There are social media venues where sales promotions are effective, including both Facebook and Foursquare. Facebook is rife with examples of B2C brand marketing that develops and nurtures a brand-loyal following open to receiving special promos. Coupon sharing and product deals remain some of the most prolific Facebook updates, and have proven success to quickly and efficiently grow a qualified consumer fanbase.

The Power of Social Proofing and Foursquare

And since everyone wants to be the mayor of something or other on Foursquare, the platform offers a unique way to connect with your customers. Relying heavily on the concept of Social Proofing, Foursquare works on a very basic premise — that people are more inclined to support one product or business over another when that product or business is supported by the masses.

By using geolocation tools, Foursquare allows users to scan nearby businesses, viewing exactly how many others (both friends and strangers) have “checked-in” to each business, thus psychologically influencing their choice to patronize one business over another based on sheer numbers of supporters — social proofing. When faced with the option, wouldn’t you choose the full restaurant over the empty one next door? We are creatures of habit, easily influenced by the habits of others. And, Foursquare brilliantly makes use of this phenomenon.

The Bad Marriage of Social Media and Personal Selling

Social media platforms have not historically been good venues for direct or personal selling. However, social media tactics are quite effective when developing general brand awareness, extending customer service activities and overall networking; ideally leading to direct sales. Of course, depending on your business, some social media platforms are more effective than others for such activities. B2C businesses will likely find a better fit with Facebook and Twitter over LinkedIn. Whereas LinkedIn is the #1 tool for B2B networking activities.

Whatever the platform, your activities should focus on developing community. To decide which is best for your particular business, you should probably find an integrated agency that understands that social media activities are tactics, and not tools, that can help you connect with your audience wherever they may be on the web.

Social Media is a Tactic, Not a Tool

We view social media activities as extremely effective tactics that must be part of your arsenal in order for your marketing efforts to be successful. This view won’t make us popular with social media-only agencies, but we strongly believe that social media tactics should be utilized to connect with your audience and reinforce your brand’s promotional elements across your marketing mix. Social media is not meant as a replacement for other activities, but rather a necessary and valuable enhancement to those activities.

After the Social Media Honeymoon

As we move beyond the honeymoon phase with social media, agencies and professional marketers who rely solely on social media as a tool will either cease to exist or will find it necessary to adjust their focus. If you’re working with a strictly social media agency, you’ll likely be looking for a new agency next year.

What You Think You Know About Branding, But You Don’t

Advertising, Best Practices, Branding, Uncategorized Sep 19, 2016 No Comments

What is a Brand?

Branding can be an intangible concept. It’s not something you can hold in your hand. It’s much more than a sign. Or a collection of fancy fonts arranged into a newly-coined phrase. And while, when done well, it’s worth a thousand words, Branding consists of way more than some interesting photography.

Many Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) still don’t have a good handle on what exactly their Brand is or should be. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise; after all, there are still members of my family who don’t get what I do. Holiday dinners sure are interesting. No matter how many conversations are had about the concept of Branding, I’m still met with my fair share of confused looks and vacant stares, resulting in the general consensus that I must do “something” in “Advertising.” Advertising is much easier to wrap one’s heads around.

Despite the holiday confusion, here’s the first in a series of articles attempting to explain — in the most basic terms — what Branding is and what it is not.

1. Your Logo Alone is Not Your Brand

Many SMBs think their logo is their brand. Perhaps this misconception is a holdover from the Wild West when it was common for cowboys to burn the name of their ranch into the hides of their livestock.

This practice of identifying cattle is a good place to start, since our modern understanding of “Brand” and “Branding” comes specifically from these acts of cruelty. And, as holiday dinners have shown, explaining Branding can be a cruel affair itself. Back in the day, livestock ranchers in need of a way to distinguish their product from their competitor’s, decided to brand their cattle with a unique identifier. Today we call this unique identifier a logo or, more appropriately, a Brand Identity. And while your Brand Identity visually identifies your business, it alone is not your company’s Brand.

Generally, a Brand Identity consists of a combination of elements including a font for your company name and possibly a snazzy graphical element. A logo is designed to be easily recognized and to succinctly state what it is your company offers. An effective Brand Identity should only be created after careful consideration of your overall Brand position, as the ID should reflect all aspects of what your Brand truly represents.

But don’t stop there. Just because you now have a Brand Identity, your Branding work is far from over.

2. Your Tagline Alone in Not Your Brand

A Tagline is, generally, a catchy phrase that’s used in conjunction with your Brand Identity to communicate in greater detail what your business does. It’s yet another of the many elements that make up your Brand. And like your logo, a Tagline alone will not hold up as your company’s overarching Brand.

Creating a Tagline that works for your business is simply the next of several steps in the Branding process. As with everything, some Taglines accomplish this better than others. For instance, what does “Denny’s. A good place to sit and eat.” or “Bacardi Spice. Distilled in Hell.” say to you? Perhaps Denny’s has comfortable booths? Or Bacardi Spice is too dangerous to touch? However poorly they’ve been done, these taglines are attempting to give us a sense of personality for each company, and why you might choose them over a competitor. And there’s another bad favorite of ours from Jimmy Dean Sausages: “Eat Jimmy Dean.” We’ll just agree to leave that one alone.

Even the savviest marketers can get it wrong. But at least we’re going to understand the ultimate goal, even when we miss the mark. So while your Tagline isn’t the epitome of your Brand, it will help define your business.

3. Your Color Palette Alone is Not Your Brand

In 1939, the Wizard of Oz hit theater screens everywhere. The movie utilized color in an all-new way; at least for the time. The action changes from plain old black-and-white Kansas to a Technicolor dream when Dorothy lands in an alternate universe. This was the first ever use of full color in movies. And ever since then, we’ve been color-obsessed.

Every Brand is faced with how it’s going to differentiate itself from its competitors. And one of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through the use of color. However, color palette alone is also not a Brand. Visually, a color palette is chosen specifically to complement and support your overall Brand positioning in the marketplace. And it’s also often the single element that ensures consistency throughout all your marketing and communications efforts.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s easy. There’s a lot a strategy behind choosing colors for a Brand. Many of which are based on your market segment, principles of psychology, cultural influences, and the science of color theory. Different colors affect us differently; and colors have different meaning depending on culture, psychology or as a result of generational influence. When selecting colors, your Brand will benefit from the advice of a professional who understands the process.

And, there’s still much more work to come.

Now What?

In an attempt to save money, it’s common for SMB owners to take on Branding efforts themselves. This can be a bad idea. Decisions regarding Brand Identity design, color palette and copywriting can often be affected by personal preference and emotion, rather than critical business thinking. A fully-developed Brand for your business should take into account who you are as a company, but also who your customers are and why they choose you over your competitors. Creating a Brand is not like selecting paint for your walls. Just because you love fushsia doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for the your new men’s clothing line.

When developing your Brand, hire marketing and graphic design professionals who fully understand branding and can lead you through the process. Just because your nephew did a good job on the signs for last year’s prom, doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to build your Brand for you.

Adspiration: MyShelter Foundation’s “Isang Litrong Liwanag” (A Liter of Light)

Advertising, Cause Marketing, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Sep 16, 2016 No Comments

MyShelter Foundation is Bringing Light to Filipino Families

Isang Litrong Liwanag is a campaign dedicated to providing sustainable lighting to dispriviledged communities throughout the Phillipines. “Isang Litrong Liwanag” is Tagalog for “A Liter of Light,” and is the subject of cause-related ad spot from the MyShelter Foundation that is using inventive recycled soda bottles as a cost-free light source for thousands of Filipino families living in darkness.

Designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Solar Bottle Bulb featured in the spot delivers solar powered light to once-darkened homes. The unique lighting source is based on a concept that provides simple and easily replicable technologies to address the basic needs people in developing communities.

The MyShelter Foundation was established by Illac Diaz in order to create a system of sustainability and reliability through capability-building and employment-generating projects.

You can support the efforts of the Liter of Light campaign here, and you can follow Illac Diaz on Twitter @illacdiaz. His work is truly inspirational.