Archive for category: Design

Coolest Coastal Halloween Costume: Jellyfish

14 Nov
November 14, 2011
The reviews have been completed.

The results are in.

And we have a (slam-dunk) winner.

After scouring every obscure website and hipster blog in the webishphere, I only had to look down the street to find the coolest Halloween costume– not just this year– but possibly, ever:

Jellyfish.

Straight from the creative imagination of LeAna Kimball, wife of my good friend Jake, LeAna is this year’s Grand Prize Winner and will recieve the balance of my kids’ Halloween candy that I still haven’t been able to polish off. I think there’s even a few Snickers left!

LeAna is the author of A Small Snippet, a rockin’ Mommy blog. In the course of doing marketing research for past clients, I’ve actually visited quite a few mommy blogs and LeAna’s is one of the best I’ve seen. Whatever you’re looking for- from parenting advice, to photography tips, creative crafting, cooking and costuming– you’ll find it there. 

The last time I visited LeAna and Jake’s home, I think she was using one hand to tend to a sick child and another restoring a piece of antique furniture. I believe that if she wasn’t a full-time mom, she’d probably be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company like IDEO. I know she’d give Martha Stewart a good run for her money. And she’s a lot nicer.

Awesome job, LeAna– Congratulations!

P.S. Lest we forget, here is a beautiful video (Jellies – RED EPIC Style) by stillmotion on Vimeo shot at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago showing you the real things! So beautiful. Thank you to Tory Strange and the gang at the Surf Station in St. Augustine for the find. Their blog is always a go-to resource for interesting surf-related content of all kinds.

 

The Beach Boy, The Rebel & The Mad Man: Authentic Wisdom From Bogusky, Clow & Hughes

23 Oct
October 23, 2011

Movin’ on.

19 Oct
October 19, 2011

Keep Thinking Forward

So what’s it like to wind down a company that you founded and invested 15 years of your life in? A lot of people have been asking this question and inquiring “What’s next?” for me, since I decided to close Renaissance Creative two weeks ago.

 

Let me tackle the first question, first.

 

It hurts. 

 

It is a physical (logistical) and emotional challenge. My brain hurts. My body hurts. Imagine breaking down an 8,000 square foot office- the furniture; displays; computers; file cabinets; the stuff in the file cabinets; actually paying attention to the stuff in the file cabinets to see if it needed to be saved, tossed or shredded; backing up and storing digital files; listing and selling things on Craigslist; all, while still working with clients transitioning their accounts to those who will be carrying on.

 

Oh– and saying “goodbye” to good friends. 

 

Great people. People overflowing with talent, intelligence and character who are like family to me, who helped create something meaningful that wasn’t able to survive the crushing weight of its own good fortune and growth, ultimately falling victim to the bursting of the real estate bubble, to which we were so vulnerable based upon our strong focus in the sector prior to 2007. 

 

Needless to say, there were a few tears, but in the end, more laughs and great memories.

 

Some interesting tidbits about the “final countdown”:

 

  • We began moving over a 2-week period, a little bit each day.
  • I worked hands-on in the middle of it, just as I always have in the professional work of our agency.
  • I’m guessing I must have literally filled at least (4) large dumpsters with ancient paper records, samples, etc. I was definitely feeling like a tree-killer. Thank God the world continues to go digital.
  • We had (5) super-sized boxes filled with nothing but awards. You know the saying, “You can’t take it with you”? I get it now. At the end of the day, what purpose do they serve? I almost tossed them, but considered it thoughtfully and decided that if my Partner and some of our former Team Members can carry on successfully with reduced overhead, they may wish to have them available in the future. Worst case– my daughters open the boxes one day in the future and think, “Damn- Dad was pretty good!”. And, then they can throw them away.
  • “Final Friday” was difficult. A lot of work, with a final lunch of pizza, beer and story-telling… and some more hugs and tears.
  • The actual move occurred over the weekend- a full 12-hr. Saturday. 
  • To add insult to injury, that same afternoon amidst the move, Maria Coppola stole my Foursquare Mayorship to the incredibly obscure (but extremely good) Ling’s Alterations in Sawgrass Village! How did she even know it was there, let alone think to check in?!! Hey, thanks Maria! : )
  • And the day following the move? Well– now half this $%#’s in my house!

 

So, I’m slowly getting things organized here at home and beginning to take some time to reflect on what might be next for myself and my family. And I’m starting to get excited about that.

 

As difficult as this whole thing has been, I can’t repress my own inner desire to get on with something new– to throw my broad experience and passion for marketing into new challenges and see what’s next. I think it was Walt Disney who said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

 

I’m curious, too.

 

RIP Steve Jobs

06 Oct
October 6, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

My deepest condolences to Steve Job’s family, friends and colleagues.

He made our work easier, better and more efficient.

He made our play more fun.

It is incredible to consider how influential he was in the areas of technology and design. 

It is heartbreaking to imagine where he might have taken us.

He leaves behind a legacy few will ever be able to match.

Good Design. Good Business. From Competitive Advantage to Survival Tool for the New Economy

01 Oct
October 1, 2011

Screen shot 2014-05-27 at 10.54.22 PM

I hear a lot of people today talk about “design process” and how it is being applied more frequently to more areas of business. I’ve had the luxury of working around some great designers for a long time and have long understood the benefits of “design thinking”. To follow is a piece I wrote for Jacksonville Magazine back in late 2008 that is more relevant than ever, so I thought I’d repost it.

Recently, while driving to work and listening to automotive executives getting scorched by Congress on satellite radio, I found myself shaking my head in astonishment at these embattled CEO’s. Like many, it wasn’t the “spectacle” of their treatment that shocked me, but the way these top-level leaders seemed plaintively disconnected with us ordinary folk-aka, their customers.

 While there are no doubt many forces- economic, political and otherwise which have contributed to their troubles, at the root of it all seems to be a gaping hole in their understanding of the consumers who use their products. They’re not connected to us. We’re not connected to their brands. And that’s what I’d call, a “design problem”.

I’m not referencing the lack of aesthetic refinement of any particular American make or model. Perhaps to the surprise of some, great design isn’t just about looks or style. Nor is it an issue related specifically to engineering, price, performance or service following the sale. Rather, it’s about the cumulative nature of all of these qualities and how a company’s products and services make their customers “feel” over time.

Great design emerges from a specific kind of organizational “culture”. It is guided by a commitment to understanding your customers (and your “brand advocates”, including your internal team and supply chain), on a human level, so that you can connect with them there emotionally. It’s a problem-solving process that can be utilized in every facet of your business. And in today’s world, it is fast becoming not only a powerful competitive advantage for those all-too-familiar companies that clearly “get it” (Apple, Target, BMW), but a survival tool for those hoping to compete in a tumultuous new economy — a world where companies are increasingly being forced to choose between operating as standardized commodities, or class leaders. I’d theorize that the fact that American automakers occupy neither space distinctly or consistently is a potential source of their problems.

So, how can we utilize the power of design to its full potential in our businesses? A great way to start is simply understanding what design is and the methodology behind it. And don’t worry– you don’t have to be Steve Jobs or Michael Graves to do this.

While design was one of my responsibilities years ago, it rarely rose above my roles as a writer, marketer, strategist and generalist. But, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some great ones for many years, and so have come to understand their processes well. Whether you’re talking about industrial, environmental, graphic, interactive or experiential design or whether you’re referencing product development, marketing, branding or organizational attributes, the methodology remains wonderfully, consistently effective.

It is a process based on inquisition; exploration; anticipation; innovation and continual trial and refinement. It is focused obsessively on user-experience (i.e. What’s in it for the customer?). It’s about fostering positive emotional connections with users by focusing on the most sublime details (this is where professional designers are worth their weight in gold and where brands — some knowingly, some unwittingly — often make that choice between invariable “commodity” or “class leader”). Oh yes, and be forewarned: The design “process” never, ever “ends”, because time inherently presents us with new sets of problems to anticipate and resolve.

Many people fail to recognize design as this type of a problem-solving “tool”. They understand it only as one recent prospective client did, when in the course of attempting to pay our firm a compliment, noted our reputation as a creative agency, and said that we are great at making things, “pretty”.

“Pretty”?!! Please!!! Design isn’t about being “pretty”, “good-looking” or even “kinda cute”. Design is about criteria-based problem-solving. And only when a project’s criteria calls for “pretty”, will it be designed in such a way because form follows function.

This is where much public understanding of design tends to get lost.

You see, design is not art. Art is subjective, based on an artist’s personal expression. Design is objective, based on well-organized performance criteria.

Good design is not influenced by the designer’s personal feelings and is only beautiful when it works beautifully — when it effectively achieves what it is designed to achieve.

My iPod is a work of art. But, it works because it can hold a thousand songs in a smooth, elegant case about the size of a book of matches. Same thing with my iPhone. It’s sleek and beautiful and it’s a working computer that’s thinner than my wallet! These things make me feel good about my purchases of them, good about the Apple brand and thus more likely to purchase the next new gizmo Apple puts in front of me.

I trust the company because they provided me with great products and services that have translated into positive memorable experiences, over time. They’ve elevated their brand for me, to the point where I not only use their products loyally, I’ll pay more to get them, because I recognize the value they extend over the long run through the quality of their design. So often, so many companies waste so much money throwing more media dollars after bad brands, when they could have dedicated their budgets to creating stronger brands that require less marketing across the life of their products!

This is not say that good design has to cost more. Just look at Target. They’ve created a design-driven company, whose entire business model is, “great design for less!” Same with IKEA. Their commitment to design runs throughout their products, retail spaces, marketing efforts and no doubt, their entire internal structure.

Meanwhile, American automakers seem confused. They don’t understand their customers and they’ve admitted it. They say they can’t figure out if we want better gas mileage and lower prices; or more room and greater safety for ourselves, and our families.

Hey, how about both?!

If Steve Jobs can cram 1,000 songs into a gorgeous matchbook; if Target can give us haute couture for $19.99, then we know it can be accomplished! And if you want to make sure your brands transcend the competition in lasting, meaningful ways by connecting with us on an emotional, human level —– then by all means, leave the jets parked on your day trips.

Ultimately, not every company has to be a BMW, UPS, Apple, Starbucks, Disney, Samsung or any other of the many organizations that understand “design culture” and employ it throughout every aspect of their businesses. You can choose to utilize design methodology to attack any individual problem and integrate it to whatever level your personal business philosophy begets – or your customers demand.

Regardless of how you use it, here are some handy tips to help keep you “thinking” like a designer:
1. Define the problem: Gather all the criteria by gathering all the stakeholders. Design is a collaborative process. The more brains you involve in problem-solving, the more effective your solutions can potentially be, though someone should always clearly lead.
2. Put yourself in the place of your customer: It seems so obvious, yet is so easy to forget. You’ve got to intently focus on the user, at all times.
3. Inquire: Ask these important questions: What’s in it for the customer? What are their desires / needs / fears? How can I address these wants / needs or anxieties and foster positive emotional connections with users by answering these concerns? How do my products and services make people feel? How can I connect with them on a human level? (Hint: Use your gut).
4. Anticipate and Innovate: As we are fond of saying at Renaissance, “Think forward”. Anticipate change. Study consumer, cultural, media and technological trends and consider how your product or service might intersect with these shifts down the road.
5. No idea is a bad idea: Everyone has a creative gene, from the Creative Director right down to the mail room. Never be overly critical or dismissive of a new approach. Consider all ideas thoughtfully and respectfully.
6. Never be satisfied: Test your ideas, measure their results and never stop refining.
7. When in doubt, consult a professional.

If you elect not to integrate the principles of design into your organizational culture, it doesn’t mean that you’ll end up sweating in front of a microphone, getting flogged by an elected official. But if you do, I promise that your customers (and your people), will notice. They’ll feel that you care. They’ll stick by your class-leading company in up or down economies. And when they shake their heads, it won’t be because you are so woefully disconnected, but because you are so consistently, astonishingly good.

 

 

Thinking Forward: The Importance of Innovation & Anticipation

01 Oct
October 1, 2011

Thinking Forward: The Importance of Innovation & Anticipation

A while back, as part of a theological study I was involved in with my church (Blueprint for Life, co-authored by Michael Kendrick and Ben Ortlip), I came across a terrific illustration of the importance of “thinking forward”. The study utilized a short historical essay on the WWII-era Pomeranian Calvary Brigade of the Polish army to highlight the relative value of time when taken in consideration of planning only for “today”, vs. planning for “eternity”.

The story applies beautifully to all of those who become too comfortable with any aspect of life; not anticipating change and innovation, nor planning appropriately for the future.

As a professional marketing strategist and one whose job has always been intimately connected to an evolving landscape of consumer, cultural and technological trends, I have long believed in this principle with great conviction. It’s how I have always tried to encourage people to think about their products and services, and the mindset I’ve urged them to apply to all areas of their businesses. Because failing to do so can have serious consequences, as Kendrick and Orthlip’s history lesson shows:

“Colonel Mastalerz was one of the most prestigious men in all of Europe- a decorated soldier and leader of the Pomeranian Calvary Brigade. As head of the 18th Lancer division, he was in charge of defending the Pomeranian Corridor. Built around the strength of its 84 infantry regiments, the Polish military had reigned supreme for two decades, turning back numerous assaults and defending their borders victoriously.

Tactically, they were superior. Their training and horsemanship were unsurpassed. Their determination and bravery had earned them an international reputation as one of the fiercest fighting units the world over. But on the morning of September 1, 1939, even Col. Mastalerz knew that Poland’s string of victories was about to end.

The horses of the Polish calvary grew skittish and reared up restlessly. A deep rumbling sound shook the earth, growing louder by the minute. In the distance, Mastalerz could hear the sound of trees cracking and falling to the ground. Through the morning mist, the 2nd and 20th Motorized Divisions of the Third Reich made their way toward Masterlerz and the small hamlet of Krojanty. The invasion of Poland had begun.

In the hours that followed, Polish soldiers on horseback fought a war of attrition against a German unit of tanks and armored cars. It was one of history’s great juxtapositions. The unthinkable was happening. It was a contrast equal to the Wright Brothers observing a space shuttle launch, or Alexander Graham Bell witnessing an Internet Videoconference. Residents from two different worlds met in an iconic exchange of ideologies, as one bygone era surrendered indefensibly to the next. Time and technology had marched by unnoticed. And that changed everything.”

Just like the Polish army, we as marketers must continue our push to evolve. Enduring success will be enjoyed not by those looking to leverage the tried and true, nor those satisfied with remaining in lockstep with their peers; but rather, by those willing and committed to thinking forward and considering: What’s next? How can I do this differently? How can it be improved? What changes can I anticipate (cultural, media, technological)? How can I leverage these trends?

Our industry today (integrated marketing, advertising, public relations and brand communications) is characterized by profound change– extreme shifts in technology and fragmentation of media, all occurring at unbelievable speed. Is there really any question that the ways we deliver messages must always continue to evolve?

As the Pomeranian Calvary Brigade proved, if you’re not committed to the process and looking far enough ahead, you’ll one day find yourself at the unwelcome crossroads of time and technology; of the past and the future; of foresight and hindsight. And you’ll have no choice but to surrender to those who eyes were fixed on a point on the horizon, much farther than your own.

As Kendrick and Ortlip so eloquently put it, “the advance of time has a great way of correcting nearsightedness”.

Note: The Blueprint for Life Study from which the story of the Pomeranian Calvary is referenced, is a truly enlightening (and exceptionally well-developed and designed), multi-media resource that takes valuable, secular-styled lessons for intentional living and goal-setting and applies them to Christian principles. I highly recommend this $59 study for groups or individuals. You’ll find many more brilliant illustrations you can apply to every area of your life. www.blueprintforlife.com.

 

Effective Marketing and Design: Why Collaboration Needs to Be Standard

01 Oct
October 1, 2011

Effective Marketing and Design: Why Collaboration Needs to Be Standard

 I recently came across an interesting discussion on Linkedin regarding effective graphic design. The original post was called, “Creating a Graphic Design Piece that Sells”. It was written by a person who was promoting a direct marketing firm. The article stated, “Here’s what all great pieces have in common: Use one dominant element per page; minimize typeface variety; utilize white space; use informational graphics where appropriate; and make the logo visible.”

 My instinctive response was to question whether effective design could be reduced to a simple standardized formula? Isn’t all good design based on specific criteria?

No sooner than I had thought this, than another group member posted this reply: “This approach assumes that design is to be judged on some standard of design, independent of anything else. First comes an objective in regard to marketing materials. Marketing establishes an objective (or objectives) and develops a strategy to realize those objectives. Design not only does not perform independent of these things, but to be successful, it must assume that marketing did their job correctly and visually enable the strategy to effectively work, to realize the objectives. Good commercial design (i.e. graphic design) when done well is a measurement of how well marketing did their job.”

This designer’s thoughts were similar to my own, however I believe there’s even a little more to it. Criteria is the foundation of effective design and includes more than just objectives and strategy. It includes things like a thorough understanding of who your audience is, how they are unique, where they are, what they do and what their passions are. It includes understanding attributes, benefits, strengths and weaknesses of the brand. A study of com

petition, how to stand out… and much more. The designer should help contribute and synthesize all this in the design process.

I think more thought leaders (CEO’s, CMO’s, CTO’s), are recognizing the rich benefits of seamless collaboration between disciplines and “departments”. I believe it is critically important that marketers understand design methodology and that designers be actively engaged in criteria development from the start- not sitting and waiting for the next “order”. How can you achieve full creative potential with an assembly-line mentality? You can’t.

The same holds true for interaction between web designers, programmers, PR, strategists, media planners, writers, etc. Here at Renaissance we are about seamless collaboration. Our designers are intelligent, strategic thinkers who have a broad range of individual capabilities. And we use all of them to achieve the best results for our clients.

Many years ago, legendary ad man, William Bernbach had the vision to combine copywriters and art directors into two-person teams—they had commonly been in separate departments. So, why did we ever stop there? Fragmenting the brand internally will inherently, weaken it externally. The bottom line is that the more diversified skill sets you put on a problem from the onset, the better your chance of arriving at an effective solution. In my opinion, this is one “general” principle of design that if utilized uniformly, would allow us to say with conviction, “Here’s what all great pieces really have in common”.

 

Safe is Risky: The Rewards of Facing Your Fears

04 Dec
December 4, 2010

"Safe" is Risky: The Rewards of Facing Your Fears

The 2010 Winter Olympics are behind us and I for one am sad to see them go. There were so many compelling moments that defined the Vancouver Games for me, from snowboarder Shaun White’s incredible Double McTwist 1260 in the half-pipe (a trick only he can perform); to Apolo Ohno passing the Chinese team in the anchor lap of the 5000 meter short track relay to become the most decorated American in Winter Olympic history; to the final frantic seconds of regulation and overtime in the US–Canada gold medal hockey game. But nothing brought me to edge of my seat like Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller’s exhilarating performances in the men’s and women’s downhill.

What I love so much about all of our Olympic Athletes and find so well-exemplified in these two in this event, is their absolute understanding and embracement of a simple, but profound principle, one I believe creatives should never forget: That distinguishing achievement often requires more than talent and training; more than skill and desire; more than preparation or luck. It most often requires exceptional courage and a willingness to take extraordinary risks. And that’s not easy or natural for anyone.

Consider that when Vonn raced, in addition to a badly bruised leg, she also faced the pressures of a spectacular run by teammate Julia Mancuso, just moments earlier. Vonn was rattled. But rather than downplay the moment, Lindsey’s husband and coach, Thomas, who had just finished watching Mancuso’s blazing finish from his position at the bottom of the hill, radioed up to his wife, who was nervously fidgeting at the starting gate, specifically to confirm for her that Mancuso had just completed a “special run”; and to relate, “You’re going to have to be perfect to win.”

Vonn would later state that this simple, strategically calculated message from her husband allowed her to “focus on that challenge” and “let go of her fears”. She subsequently took the most aggressive lines all the way down the mountain, coming perilously close to wiping out at nearly every turn. The result: she beat Mancuso’s “sepcial run” by over a full half-second.

Likewise, ignoring treacherous course conditions resulting from warm weather and light snow, Bode Miller attacked the downhill course with reckless abandon to become the first American men’s skier to stand on the podium for that event since Tommy Moe, sixteen years ago. His bronze medal time was 1:54.40, only nine one-hundredths of a second behind gold medalist, Didier Defago, the smallest differential ever between gold and bronze in Olympic history. Said Miller of his and the American team’s performance: “We went after it. We weren’t scared. We were always aggressive.”

Of course, while a willingness to lay it all on the line can pay huge dividends as it did in both of these instances, it never guarantees success, and often sets the stage for spectacular failure. Later, attempting to go 5 for 5 in Olympic events in the slalom –the one event for which he had not won an Olympic medal– on a challenging course of sticky, wet snow that was proving difficult for many of the racers, Miller did not change his approach. The consequence: he ran into trouble almost right out of the gate. Said Miller,  “It’s unfortunate to go out so early, but you have to take risks… and I did.”

I believe creatives from designers, to copywriters, to marketing strategists should take the same approach as Miller, Vonn and others and not allow themselves to be constrained by fear. I appreciate creatives who are willing to explore their most conceptual ideas, even if it results in more misses than hits. I know that doing so will give them their best chance to come up with something great, which is the only thing I ever want to present to a client.Great creative work must always take a point of view. It has to have “something to say” to be memorable. Remember that people respond to “different” and “unpredictable”. In this sense, “safe” is risky. The real problems begin when fear- the fear of mistakes, the fear of looking foolish, the fear that someone won’t “get” your idea, prevents you from saying anything at all.

I once heard Jeff Kling, ECD of Euro RSCG put it this way: “Screw-ups are tools of evolution. They help us survive.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement. Remember also that in the business of marketing and advertising, we’re not looking to connect with the 80% of people who may not “get”, like, or even care about our creative, but rather the 20% who do and are inspired to act upon it.

So the next time you’re faced with a daunting creative challenge (or business challenge, or life challenge), don’t allow yourself to become compromised by fear. Rather, recognize that most of life’s rewards do not come without risk; that we all fall down sometimes; and that even those instances leave us better prepared to make some truly extraordinary runs in the future.

If nothing else, we’ll put people on the edge of their seats. At least for marketers, that’s our job.

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