Friday, July 20, 2007

What do you put in your portfolio? Ideas.

Q: What is the most important aspect for a design student to focus on when putting together their end of year folio?

Christian Teniswood (Design Director Futurebrand): It's a simple formula, substance and style in equal measure. Good thoughts well executed, or like McCann Erickson's tagline, a 'Truth Well Told'.

Some humour helps as well, you can't take yourself too seriously. Ideas that aren't a poor imitation of another artist. Demonstrate an interest in areas outside graphic design; architecture, photography, music, fashion, technology, cinema and other related fields. If I have to sit next to you each day, for months and years, you better tell me why you thought Akira was the best animation ever made and be able to back it up. Persistence, determination, intelligence and an easy going personality are traits I'm looking for. Happy to hear you subscribe to IDN and Graphik and can use every adobe product at a master level ... but let's get back to the idea that makes me think ... 'nice, I wish I'd thought of that.'

Naoto Ito (Senior Designer @ Cato Purnell): Be practical. A graduate folio is your asset to get a job in the real world. It's not for you to show off how good your photoshop skill is or how much rendering time you had on that 3d model. Choose your pieces carefully, don't cram too much (approx 10-15 pieces), they will not remember all of them. Speak confidently, understand your work and never ever undersell yourself! Lastly...a picture speaks a thousand words, believe in your work.

Cameron Hodkinson (Creative Director @ Aframe):I think the main thing that I'm looking for is a discerning eye. And no, I don't mean photographs of some jerks eye! I want the student to have the ability to be able to tell what's good and what's not, even if they're not quite able to technically pull it off. And I definitely don't want to see every slick photoshop pic they've ever produced. The ability to be able to tell what's right or wrong with a piece, or simply to know that something's not quite right, wins hands down every-time over technical prowess! ---> Disregard this rant, pretty off topic but rather true! Tough question though! A folio is so many things! Let me start by saying that anyone considering a career that requires a folio, really needs to see the new Transformers movie. Yes, yes, a film by Michael Bay - the guy who brought you Pearl Harbor, The Island, and The Rock. I know! Anyway, a folio should be like this movie because, believe it or not, it was kickass. A diverse range of simply executed and well planned ideas that work individually, and combine to create a damn good film. When I look at a folio, I want to see that a designer not afraid to try new techniques and explore new ideas. There really isn't any one thing that makes a folio good, it's a combination of things. Presentation, experimentation, inventiveness, individuality and originality. Don't try to mimic your favorite designer, absorb and regurgitate everything in a techni-coloured array of thoughts and opinions. Got to fly, but everyone should go and see Transformers. I was fist pumping and saying 'f*** yeah' the whole way through that movie.

Rofi Zaino (Design Director Interbrand / Futurebrand): Let's see... Focus on the big picture. The thing I'd look for in a designer is how s/he thinks about how he can solve the client's needs through his design. I'd say that good conceptual thinking would shine brighter than great craftsmanship. Now, coming up with clever ideas is great, but more importantly, s/he must show how the designs add value to the client's brand/business beyond just being clever.

Jimmy Yuan (Qube Konstruct): I think overall students project should really have a strong concept and ideas behind their design work. Of course the presentation and final execution & details are very important as well…  students should also have a strong folio layout, and try to be very different, creative and experimental. Mmm yeah that’s all really.

Paul Troon (Gollings Pidgeon):Don't print self promo's on toilet paper. You're sending the wrong message about your work and your inkjet printer hates you for it (I kid you not we received a toilet paper promo).

Sem Loh (Advertising / Design):Good design ends up in museums. Do good design.

The customer can have it in any shade of black

I recently gained some insight from overseeing some focus groups for a rebranding project that I'd like to share before I drink too much and damage the part of my brain retaining these thoughts.

Focus groups have their value. Sure, they're a powerful way to have ideas evaluated or test concepts, but more importantly they remind us we are not dealing with people like ourselves. This is important to remember. We take for granted that most target markets can think easily in metaphors, analogies and visual associations.

It's a refreshing reality check when you review a more 'blue collar' demographic and realise that the average joe doesn't think like you at all. Running some colour associations provided a very literal insight from the groups such as blue is the sky and green is nature. Nothing spectacularly surprising there but any other associations outside of those immediate links were found to be too complex.

For example, when I asked whether blue could be a existential metaphor for the collapse of modernism in a post-modernism content brought on by an intangible shift in cultural perceptions relating to bias derived from contemporary mediums utilising viral marketing techniques to infiltrate online guerilla tribes ... one of them clutched their head and dropped dead. Simple enough to me and you, but hey, not everyone grasps the semiotics of soap bubbles.

It reminds me that Tibor Kalman recommended learning all associative cliches you can simply because people respond so powerfully to them. Essentially, by over-intellectualising the issue with complex or slightly 'high-brow' design solutions, we sometimes alienate the very people who we are trying to reach. We are not designing for ourselves! (although this doesn't mean we should all start using comic sans, the font gods still get angry and make you do annual reports for the rest of eternity to repent).

It's also not to say we shouldn't continue looking for fresh and innovative new ways to communicate common ideas, but it is easy to get too clever and forget who we are talking to. If you were asked to design something for children, you would design appropriately and simply, so why is it we often design up when dealing with an adult crowd and expect them to match our level of understanding.

A good designer should always keep in mind the audience and design appropriately, in essence 'playing to their level'. You can still create beautiful design solutions that communicate a strong and easily understood message.

Another point I'd like to mention is the importance of noting the respondant's physical and emotional states during the time of testing.

I have found in particular, people under the influence of illicit drugs may skew your results. The example I'll discuss briefly here involved a number of young men aged between 18 - 25 who were participating in a focus group researching concepts for an existing product being rebranded.

Whilst the client and I sat behind some one-way glass, the moderator took this group through an introduction to the existing packaging before presenting a range of new pack options. Clearly stoned off their heads, I was forced to deem their colour choices invalid after they expressed a preference for tones that reminded them of food. One conversation went like this :

– I like the green pack
– Yeah, the apple green pack
– Yeah, yeah! It is apple green!
– Man, I'm so hungry right now
– So am I man, I like that pack too. I like the crunchy juicy apple green pack ... mmm
– Can we get some food?
– Yeah! Pay us in apples!

They may have won my respect and admiration, but unfortunately lost their chance to affect the data ... and when that happens, we all lose. Because the data comes first my friends ... the data must come first.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sonic branding : Turn it up to eleven

One of the most rewarding aspects of being in a creative field is integrating external interests into my design work. Creating music falls into this category for me. Sonic branding is currently receiving more and more attention as brands move further into the sensory arena. In the oversatured visual market, utilising more sensory paths establish a brand's positioning in the consumer's mind is essential. As Lisa Lamb, Head of Sonic Branding for Interbrand, pointed out, sonic branding allows ‘increased brand recognition across a variety of platforms, since people will hear things where they are not necessarily looking. One does not have to listen to hear, whereas one does need to be looking in order to see.’

The objective of sonic branding is to create a memory trigger, intrinsically linking a product name, service or benefit with a pleasant memory. This is done by identifying the strategic and emotive aspects of your brand that resonate with consumers, then building relevant auditory cues. The flexibility of sonic branding over visual branding can also be reflected in the style of delivery; for example if a retail environment identified younger consumers frequented the store in evening hours, in-store music could be more contemporary. Older consumers would be presented with a slower more mature mix. Customised to the appropriate demographic, the same ownable song or notes can be played in a rock, jazz, classical or funk style just to name a few without dilution of identification or brand association.

Sonic branding can incorporate an experience far broader than just an ‘intel’ style audio mnemonic as well. Environmental and workplace music, website/multimedia applications, advertising jingles, even ringtones and the vocal qualities of client facing personnel are all touchpoints that sonic branding can influence. Some aspects can be direct and powerful (eg the intel sonic brand) while others act as a peripheral note in your customer-experience offering (eg the background music played in Starbucks). All these aspects help to establish the brand personality and enhance the overall brand experience. As a starting point, three sonic touchpoints to consider for most brands are environmental, a sonic logo and brand vocal qualities.

We all know the power of music in combination with visual stimulation. Any cinematic experience is heightened by the combination of visual, auditory and emotional connections. You only need to turn off the sound when watching your favourite movie to see how much impact is lost. By using sonic branding as part of a brand's delivery we can help to create a more sensory experience for the consumer and ultimately, improve brand recall.

There are many applications for music in environmental settings. Research has shown that listening to music can improve working conditions. Baroque music (around 60 bpm is an optimal tempo) is often claimed to accelerate learning, reduce anxiety and improve retention of information. Binaural beats is an audio form that can alter the wavelengths in the brain and help induce relaxed and enhanced learning states. Using music appropriate to the demographic in retail environments can also keep consumers happy and aid in increasing sales. Happier more efficient workers, faster learning and consumer's buying more? We should all be paying attention.

Sonic Brand
In short, and as defined by Bill Nygren of Boom Sonic Branding, ‘A sonic brand is the aural equivalent of the graphic logo. A hybrid of voice, sound design and original music, the sonic brand works by harnessing music's power to trigger an emotional response.’ I couldn't have said it better, so I didn't. Probably the best known immediate example is Intel. With a product that lacks any visual appeal, the sonic brand of Intel has become it's most valuable commodity. Immediately identifiable in advertising and branding contexts, it shows how powerful an association with a recognisable melody can be.

The other exciting part of sonic branding are the available touchpoints a sonic brand can move across. From websites to mobile phones to television to radio and more, a sonic brand can stand alone or play happily in most mediums hand in hand with visuals. It can also be regularly updated for market relevance through style, tempo and other methods without changing an underlying melody or music scale.

Branding Vocals
The first moment a potential client walks into your office or reception area an impression is being made upon them about your company. Every time a salesperson makes a pitch they are representing the company's brand. And when an initial introduction is made, people will often form a first impression (in the first four minutes on average) that is difficult to alter. Vocal qualities that reflect a brand's personality and values is an area many overlook. A receptionist may be the first brand touchpoint they interact with. What someone says and just as importantly how they say it is integral to lending professionalism and credibility to an organisation.

Introductions, presentation skills and phone manner are all available for branding to name a few. For example, nearly all of us can recall a poor phone experience. Only recently I called a company to inquire about a product and was greeted with a single word 'yes?'. I was unsure whether I had even called the correct number and the disinterested tone of the speaker left an immediately negative impression of the company. More positively, I later booked a hotel and the difference in service was striking. The vocal delivery was considered and even, tempo was kept at a pace easy to understand and the tone was friendly. The sentence order was also clearly structured; company first, introduction by name, an offer of assistance followed by reassurance of a follow-up. A simple guideline that reflected the service orientated nature of the brand also created confidence in the organisation.

Sonic and sensory branding is upon us. Implement or miss it at your peril.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Those who cannot do, teach

Occassionally I make the mistake of looking at the local design discussion forums and even though I know it's wrong I can't help clicking on the latest brand critique post.

The wisdom imparted by most the keyboard geniuses is always enlightening.
- 'Ugly ugly ugly'
- 'I could do better'
- 'It's so 90's / 80s / last year'
- 'Classic design by committee'

Yep. If you're responsible for posting this type of dribble, you've more than likely identified yourself as a person with minimal understanding of brand process. A person who thinks that given twelve months on a project, you could have come up with a better brandmark, blissfully unaware the scope probably included competitive frame analysises, existing brand audits, mood boards, personality pieces, strategic positioning, brand architecture, multiple creative directions, refinement, testing, meetings, more meetings, more refinements, applications, implementation, a late night or ten and a few beers with pizza just to name a few phases. I suspect the closest many of these people have come to a large scale branding project is throwing eggs at Ken Cato's studio from the passenger window of their car whilst yelling 'Designosaur!' and thinking how witty you are.

The majority of posts seem to be whinging about design concepts, whinging about the clients, whinging about other designers and whinging why London didn't award them the chance to design the Olympics logo because they have a kick-ass folio. Does anything actually think for one moment these projects are as simple as sketching a logo lounge worthy mark and showing it to the CEO? (unless you can spin it in Flash, then it's a shoe-in!)

I'm first to encourage constructive criticism. Just take the time to understand what you're critiquing before you start firing aesthetic judgements at everything that doesn't resonate with your personal preferences. More often than not, it's the same people posting this stuff who then wonder why the profession struggles to gain respect when we attack each other from the inside out. It's the snake eating it's own tail. Until we start to address this disturbing trend we'll continue to be labelled as expendable mac monkeys who do logo design as our day job in between waiting for our indie band to get signed or have our grafitti artist career take off.

- 'Why don't clients respect me? I hate them'

Oh, here's a hint. Clients are running a business that in most instances makes a hell of a lot of money. More money than the average design studio. I'm guessing they're smart people who just happen to not interact daily with design theory. Listen to them, understand their business and stop trying to teach them about typefaces. That's not why they hired you. They hired an expert who is (hopefully) going to understand their business strategy and create a brand that makes it visible. They did not hire a stylist who throws a tantrum when they don't understand that vista is cooler than gill.

Yes, some will ask you to use Arial.
Yes, some will ask you to evolve the existing logo by 10%.
Yes, some will ask you to show them the logo 'in corporate blue'.
Yes, all of them will ask you to 'make the logo bigger'.

Knowing that those questions are coming (and will continue to come throughout your career) you better find a way to justify why it looks better in 100% cyan.

Advice? Ok ok. Just for an example, you could try relating the design decisions back to the brand personality. Show the client how typeface x embodies the brand values. Maybe you can pull out the competitive frame analysis board you had prepared and illustrate to them the market space they can own by differentiating themselves. Showing them that it is already flooded with competitor's blue logos and that their colour choice will dilute or strengthen their market position is a compelling argument.

It also works better than 'Because it looks good.' (We are not here to put lipstick on a gorilla, even if that shade of frosty pearl really brings out ol' silverback's eyes)

Hopefully we're creating a real brand that a business can align to both internally and externally. A brand that stands for something that customers identify with and that adds value across all consumer touchpoints. Remember, a brandmark is just an entrypoint into the brand and sure, it's the most important one but still one part of a bigger picture. It's an empty vessel (no matter how pretty) that needs to be filled with meaning. So I have to ask does anyone have something vaguely constructive or god forbid, positive to say? Can we move the arguments away from purely aesthetic criticism and discuss whether the brand is distinctive and sustainable. I suppose this is my impassioned plea to lift the profession's disapproving gaze on everything that is put under it's nose and one step forward towards industry respect. And if you're so intelligent with your brand advice, please, share your knowledge by posting something that resembles coherence on BrandChannel or some place with a little credibility. Maybe I should do that myself (otherwise I'm doing exactly the same - do as I say, not as I do).

What's that you say? I can't write more than sarcastic commentary? Damn straight. That's why I started a blog.

Design forever!

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