Posts Tagged ‘graphic design’

Motives of a design firm/ad agency

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Recently, I read an article about an established Twin Cities advertising firm who spelled out their company’s culture in three simple rules:

  1. Have fun
  2. Make money
  3. Make money for our clients

This struck me as ridiculous. Really? Making money and having fun came before making their clients happy? And where was the goal of doing good work?

It seems like ages ago now that I worked at an ad agency with nearly identical goals. Only, it wasn’t fun. We didn’t do great work, and it felt like we were doing our clients a disservice. When I pushed for better quality in the work we do, the agency pushed back—if our clients were happy with our work the way it was, why would we waste time and money trying to improve it?

So I started my own design firm, placing quality at the center. My credo:

  • Do quality work for good people

Following this motto, I anticipated that:

  1. Quality work would bring loyal clients and good referrals,
  2. That I would have career satisfaction knowing that I produced a good product
  3. Money would follow

And indeed, this has been the case.

For me, the importance of benevolent motives fueling the work of a design firm cannot be understated. My clients place their business in my hands, trusting me to understand their company and convey that appropriately to their audiences. They trust me to approach each project with a problem-solving nature, never recycling work from other clients or applying a cookie-cutter approach to their unique business. They trust me to not sell them something they don’t need, and they trust me to not charge them for something I didn’t do. They trust me to be current in my understanding in the technical aspects of design and to be knowledgeable about the cultural climate of design.

In brief, they trust me to have integrity.

Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy wrote in his book How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, a passage about integrity that rings true:

We have to show integrity to the three “audiences” for which design is mostly done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. Designers will differ on the order of importance in which they place this trinity: in my view, the demands and responsibilities of all three have to be equally balanced.

It should be said that the agency mentioned in the article is fiscally  successful, and has sustained its growth in a poor economy. And, to their credit, the article states that their clients enjoy working with them. But for me, the question is, at what cost is success?

I’d LOVE your feedback on this article. Let me know your thoughts on the motivations of design and ad agencies. What are your “top 3″ rules for running your agency?

Announcing the Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame!

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Mix Creative, a St. Paul, MN multi-disciplinary graphic design firm, announces the launch of the Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame web site, created to recognize Minnesota writers, past and present.

A project of the Minnesota Book Awards, coordinated by the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, Mix Creative was selected as agency of record.  The site was established to recognize writers whose work distills the essence of the state; the people, the land and the spirit of Minnesota.

Katrina Hase, Creative Director of Mix Creative, sought to convey the spirit of the state through color; “Colors of the site represent sky, water and wheat; colors represented not only by the lakes and prairies throughout the state, but also in the palette of buildings standing tall in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame Website

Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame Website

Mix Creative researched dozens of hall of fame sites, writers’ resources and even the nominees’ works for inspiration. The firm also designed the site’s logo, a mix of elegant san serif and serif type, punctuated with a writer’s quill.

“The site manages to capture the historical aspect while still keeping it fresh and vital,” commented Alayne Hopkins, director of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library.  “We were quite pleased with the design.  Katrina brought so much to the project and brought it alive.”

Programmer Brian Sutherland provided technical expertise, creating a database-driven website supported by cascading style sheets that allows the site owners to update content themselves, with a simple form.

While the first nominees were selected by a committee and the Minnesota Book Awards, future nominees will be determined from nominations from literature lovers. Site users can register and nominate a writer using a simple online form.

The site is supported with funds from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Sesquicentennial Commission.  Visit the site at:

Taste Section Poster Retrospective

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

The Star Tribune’s Taste section celebrates it’s 40th anniversary today with a look back at some of their memorable poster-like section covers. Check them out for yourself:

Tastes First Cover

Taste's First Cover

Package design pointers

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Little Alice from the comic strip Cul-de-Sac (by Richard Thompson) makes some insightful remarks on package design for children in this comic strip. Enjoy!

Logo file types: what to use where?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

As a designer, I’m frequently challenged by clients supplying a logo that is too small, too fuzzy, the wrong color, or filled with white in the background. This isn’t to rip on my clients—I love you guys! No, I place the blame squarely on your designer (sorry folks), for failing to communicate the proper use of your logo files.

First and foremost, the preferred format of a logo file for providing to a graphic designer is a VECTOR file. This is typically in the form of an Adobe Illustrator (.ai ) or .pdf file. Vector means that there are precise mathematic equations describing the placement of every line and curve in your logo. Because of this, the art has some unique properties:

  • It’s scalable. No, not as in Mt Everest. As in: we designers can stretch the logo to any size and the cool mathematical equations will redraw the art in real time, making the logo just as crisp at 30′ as it is at .25″.
  • It’s editable. Again, since the art is still “live”, your designer has the freedom to say, change it from a color logo to an all-white logo (for seeing it against a dark background), with just a few clicks.
  • It’s transparent. Nothing’s more frustrating to a designer than placing a logo into a layout and seeing a big ugly white box surrounding it. With a vector logo, all you get is the logo art, not the container that surrounds it.
  • It’s crisp. Because the vector art is the original design file, it has ALL of its information available to print. Saving a logo file as a raster file changes the nice, crisp mathematical lines into dots called pixels. Often, those files are then RE-saved as .jpg, .tif, or .gif files, which progressively loses even more of the original file’s information. The result? Blurry logo.

Of course, the danger of sending your original vector logo file here and there is that the risk of plagiarism or tampering is quite high. Also, when it comes to uploaded a logo file to the web, vector art won’t cut it. It’ll need to be converted to a raster format (typically a .jpg or .gif).

Here’s my advice: when you commission a designer to create a logo for you, make sure you get a vector version of the file for your records, just in case your designer skips town or changes careers on you. You or your designer should use the vector art to save the logo as the right size and resolution on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule: for print, send the .pdf format and for web, send a high-resolution .jpg or .gif format. If you’re not sure: ask your designer—that’s what we’re here for!

Submit a question for designer Q & A

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Calling all business owners, marketing professionals, graphic designers, web programmers, design students, and more!

Speak up about what confuses you about graphic design. Maybe it’s trying to understand what you’re designer is talking about (What the heck is PMS, and why does my designer keep asking me for mine?), submitting files to a printer (why did my margins get cut off??), updating your website (Why can’t I use my own fonts? or What’s CMS?), or even just trying to decide where to spend your marketing budget (Does anyone even print stationery any more?).

Here’s my invitation: ask us your burning questions about graphic design, and we’ll publish the question with an answer right here in this blog! Please keep the questions clean and graphic design/marketing related. And while questions are always appreciated, please submit questions for this column by April 28, 2009.


Funny post about logo trends

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

This blogger’s post about speech bubble logos had me cracking up, but they make a good point: do your research when you create a logo, lest you create something that everyone’s already seen!

What every business needs

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, is committed to advancing the understanding of the value of design and the process of designing. From time to time, they’ll publish a booklet to help us designers communicate our role to  clients. And this one, “What every business needs,” does a pretty nifty job of explaining the full potential of a designer’s contribution in problem solving.

You can download the whole booklet here. But for the executive summary, see below:

We offer you the following process as a way to make design an integral part of your business, and to allow designers to make your success an integral part of design. It will make you an even more sagacious client. It is a method for partnering, a guide to the most effective use of teams, and the most potent, efficient, reliable way to get from A to B when you are not quite sure what B is.

What follows is a framework through which design can be incorporated into your business. Its purpose is to clarify, assess and communicate the responsibilities and methods of the design process. It is a scalable, tried and true process, one which is suitable for solving any problem that requires creative thinking.


The Dangers of Placeholder Text

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I saw this in this morning’s Star Tribune, on the cover of the Taste section. Often times, when creating a design before the copy is ready, a designer will use placeholder text to show how many words will fit within a space.

When the copy is written, the idea is to replace the placeholder text with the real text.

In this example, the headline is real, but the subhead still has the placeholder text. Every designer’s nightmare! Let’s hope the poor chap has learned his lesson and gets to keep his job!


Improve your Business Image

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Branding was the overarching theme of last night’s SparkHer forum, hosted by WIN members Stephanie Hansen, Wendy Blomseth, Katrina Hase, and Cari Spears and introduced by Teresa Thomas-Carroll of Women in Networking.

You are the Brand

“You are the brand,” explained Stephanie Hansen, the first speaker of the night. She encouraged us to think about what our personal brand is, and then to consistently and confidently project that image as we go out and make new business contacts.

Knowing our audiences is key to understanding how to present ourselves. Stephanie, both a radio personality on FM 107.1 and owner of Printz, explained that she needs to consider her audiences when selecting what part of her image to present. “You, as business associations, need to know that I know the printing business,” not the personal details she shares with her radio audiences.

Stephanie gave some tricks of the trade when it comes to presenting your personal brand in a networking situation: have a firm handshake, wear your name tag on your right side for better viewing, and have a good 30 second commercial. “About 10 of you had good commercials as you introduced yourself this evening,” Stephanie shared with us. “The rest of you, I’m not sure what it is you do!” Being clear about what you do versus giving descriptions that sound good but are less to-the-point was an important take-home message.

For people who attend networking events that are going through a job transition, Stephanie cautioned that instead of sharing your personal story, to instead be clear about how people can help you do your business. Because even when you’re between jobs, your image is your brand and you need to present a consistent and confident image.

Your Image in Photographs—An Important Branding Tool

Wendy Blomseth of InBeaute Photography specializes in helping business owners, professionals, and “sales divas” present themselves to potential and existing clients with professional portraits. Keeping in front of your clients with photographs has the impact of making people become familiar with you in way that goes beyond just words, she explained.

Professional images fit in with achieving or enhancing several aspects of your strategic marketing plan. “Try reading your marketing plan and add the words “WITH IMAGES” after each action item. You’ll probably be surprised that there are few strategies in your plan that are not supported with high quality images.” For example:

  • Define your mission WITH IMAGES
  • Identify the products or services that you provide WITH IMAGES
  • Identity your target buyers/end users WITH IMAGES
  • Illustrate the unique characteristics of your products or services that distinguish you from your competition WITH IMAGES
  • Illustrate your brand and/or identity WITH IMAGES

Wendy suggested strategically using images to tell your story on your website. For each page that describes what you do, illustrate it with a photograph. “Here’s you meeting with a client or your product. Here’s you with your team hard at work. Here’s you rolling up your sleeves and getting things done. . . With five clicks, a potential client has a good visual story of what you do in less than a minute,” which is about the time spent at an average website.

Take inventory of your current images. Ask yourself if they are current, good quality, or hold viewers’ attention. Consider having three to five images with different facial expression and clothing changes to represent you in different media: blogs, websites, brochures, business cards, and other sites.

“You and your prospective clients are being visually bombarded with 1,000 to 3,000 images every day,” Wendy explained. Make sure to make your image memorable.

Defining your Business’ Brand

Katrina Hase of Mix Creative spoke about the process of defining your company’s brand.

In a crowded marketplace, having a defined brand that speaks directly to its target audiences is key. Without this, your products and services will be lost among a sea of competitors.

So what is a brand?

“Your brand is a combination of the words, images, and tone or personality you present to your audiences,” she explained. “It conveys who your company is, its history, its mission, who you sell to, how you’re different from your competitors, and your company’s personality.”

Katrina passed out a worksheet to help define your company’s brand. The different sections of the worksheet take into account your company’s history and objectives, audiences, competitors, inspirations, and personality.

The bottom portion of the worksheet defines a company’s personality through metaphors. “This part is the most fun,” Katrina said, “and I find that it’s often the most revealing in illustrating who your company  is.” Katrina interviewed two participants, asking if their company were a flower, what would it be? For another, if her company were a car what would it be? Their answers revealed small details about their companies and even their business philosophies that may have been missed by more standard questions.

Katrina demonstrated the process using the example of a foundation she recently did work for. Using key words from the worksheet, she assembled an inspiration board of images, each of which visually represented an aspect of the company. Next, she demonstrated how those images inform different design approaches and ultimately the finished brand.

You can download the branding personality worksheet here.

“Once you’ve defined your brand, it’s important to be consistent in presenting it to your audiences,” Katrina reminded. “Don’t be tempted to make changes here and there because you’re bored with it. It’s just when you’re starting get bored with your brand that people are starting to get the message.”

Keeping your Brand in Front of Audiences

Cari Spears of Eagan Shirtwerks shared an experience that led her to reconsider her company’s marketing approach. “Oh, I’m so glad we found you!” one of her clients told her over the phone, “We used your company once before, but we couldn’t remember your name, so we kept calling around.”

What’s wrong with this picture? Cari asked us. Even though her company is in the business of selling promotional products, they had forgotten the importance of keeping their company’s name and brand in front of audiences.

Cari corrected the issue by coming up with a marketing plan for sending promotional products throughout the year to different segments of their audiences. She summarized the plan in a table. Along the Y axis was Target Market, Product to Send, Slogan on Card, Cost, and Item to Order This Month. Along the X axis was the month of the year.

Using her marketing plan, Cari was able to specify which audiences to reach out to during which months, what kinds of products to send and how to plan for the next month. Planning the entire year at once helped Cari to allocate her budget in chunks and make her dollars go further.

And breaking up the audiences allowed her to send pricier items to a small number of their best customers, and less expensive items a large number of new prospects.

Cari can review your company’s budget and make suggestions for promotional items that will have an impact and keep your brand in front of audiences.

Talk to our panelists

If you have further questions or would like reprints of materials from the seminar, feel free to contact our panelists:

Stephanie Hansen, Printz

Wendy Blomseth, InBeaute Photography

Katrina Hase, Mix Creative

Cari Spears, Eagan Shirtwerks and Promotionals