With an illustration of Alexander Hamilton, our design for CRS (Courthouse Retrieval Systems) Data for the National Association of Realtors’ event invitation was right on the money. While giving a nod to an illustration style reminiscent of U.S. currency, the mailed piece brought together playful concepts and copy along with typefaces evoking a tone and feel from the 1700s.
Unique, multiple components of the mailer included a die-cut element that showcased in a fun and playful way the plentiful hors d’oeuvres and beverages that would welcome attendees. Targeting a small group of approximately 200 MLS executives, the direct mail piece attracted almost all recipients.
The intimate event was held at The Hamilton in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and the invitation helped share the message that those attending would be welcomed with informal conversation, relaxed atmosphere and plenty of food and drink. Aligning its reputation with lawyer, banker and founding father Alexander Hamilton, The Hamilton bills itself as “Designed to capture DC’s creative renaissance and a food-savvy audience that draws influence from every corner of the planet.” The Hamilton’s logo—an illustration of a cool Alexander Hamilton with sunglasses—was inspiration for the design for the event invitation.
Being a digital-centric brand consultancy often means our first engagement with clients begins with their website needs. Designsensory, though, as our name implies, infuses creative messaging across media, connecting all senses. With the understanding that a brand is part of a larger ecosystem, our team of designers, animators, videographers, photographers, editors, programmers, writers and strategists together are stewards of Design Thinking, creating multifaceted branding solutions via diverse platforms. No matter the capacity or project you’re working on with Designsensory, consider your brand and each creative execution as part of a larger ecosystem.
Procter & Gamble’s Global Marketing & Brand Building Officer Marc Pritchard shared in a recent article, “Forget thinking about how to make a vine or sending out the most clever tweet. Instead, focus on how to connect to consumers using ideas so big they’ll work on any platform.”
Forrester Research’s Nate Elliott shared in a recent blog post, “Leading your brand with interactive marketing isn’t about choosing one channel over another; it’s about rethinking how all our marketing channels work together.”
Elliott points to these three steps to build a digital-centric branding ecosystem:
1. Engage users on your own website. Nearly every audience we’ve studied says it trusts a marketer’s own site more than any other marketing channel, including offline advertising and social media.
2. Distribute your content and engagement into social and mobile media. Your brand probably won’t make quite as big an impact through social tools as it does on your own site but social platforms will make your brand accessible to users who don’t find their way to your site.
3. Reach a broad audience with paid media. If you want to get your message out to millions of people rather than thousands, you’ll need to buy both online and offline paid media.
In the natural world, ecosystems can be as small and confined as a seaside tidal pool thriving with diverse aquatic life, to an increasingly complex yet interconnected ecosystem spanning multiple continents. The same is true in the branding world, from a simple neighborhood direct mail campaign to a multinational, integrated marketing communications campaign. Ecosystems are varied. Working with a brand consultancy that understands this dynamic will help your brand ecosystem thrive.
Photographing and designing the cover for the official Tennessee Vacation Guide was an amazing creative experience. After collaborating with our friends at State Tourism Office on the overall concept and developing moodboards and draft compositions to test the idea, we scouted several locations across middle and East Tennessee to see what would work best as the setting for what we had in mind.
Gearing up for the shoot involved the entire office and help from the Department. We asked everyone in the Designsensory office to pitch in with camping equipment to be used as props in the shot. As the shoot day neared, our halls looked more like a base camp than a brand consultancy, with backpacks, lanterns, oars, sleeping bags, mountain bikes and a colorful assortment of gear for staging a wonderful outdoor adventure.
Shot at scenic Fall Creek Falls State Park, the cover image captures a family enjoying the fun of the outdoors, music and memories that only a vacation in Tennessee could bring together. To achieve this cover image, the Designsensory team collaborated with the Miles Media for the overall concept, locations and talent, bringing together photographers, stylists and the rest of the creative crew.
To further generate buzz about the new cover design and to push the physical cover to a digital setting, Designsensory conceived and developed branded content in the form of a short video showing a glimpse of what it took to capture the essence of the state in this single image for vacationers everywhere. This behind-the-scenes video shares some of the process and passion to bring everything together—from models and props to learning about setting up the location and getting that perfect shot. A user can scan the QR code on the cover with their smartphone to view the video and then continue planning on the mobile website.
“Fail Harder” is a larger-than-life art installation both in size and meaning at the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. Using over 100,000 pushpins to visualize the message, the art builds on a quote from agency cofounder Dan Wieden, “You’re not useful to me until you’ve made three momentous mistakes.” Failing, or trying harder, is an integral component to the Design Thinking process.
In the FastCo Design article “Wanna Create A Great Product? Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often,” it was reported that inventor James Dyson crashed 5,127 times before perfecting his bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson’s process is an extreme example, to be sure, but his feelings on failure ring true to any healthy iterative design process: “On the road to invention, failures are just problems that have yet to be solved.” Rather than shy away from failure, prototype and use what you learn to your product’s advantage.
“Utilize failure” is a phrase that’s probably not heard often in boardrooms or business meetings, but embracing failure at the right time can lead to fruitful successes. If “failure” is too harsh a term, “prototyping” is a work-around definition that may ease the introduction of this step within your development processes.
Working through design challenges, creating prototypes, getting feedback, iterating and refining is the foundational Design Thinking process that utilizes failure (prototyping) to create successes.
Professor Dean Keith Simonton at the University of California at Davis shared in a recent Harvard Business Review article that “creativity is a consequence of sheer productivity. If a creator wants to increase the production of hits, he or she must do so by risking a parallel increase in the production of misses. . . . The most successful creators tend to be those with the most failures!”
Rapid prototyping involves multiple iterations of a three-step process:
1. Prototype: Convert the users’ description of the solution into mock-ups, factoring in user experience standards and best practices.
2. Review: Share the prototype with users and evaluate whether it meets their needs and expectations.
3. Refine: Based on feedback, identify areas that need to be refined or further defined and clarified.
Many people look to minimize failure in both life and business and, therefore, avoid undertaking risks. Successful people and businesses embrace or utilize failure and understand the necessity of it to learn and grow. How is your business incorporating risk and failure in its innovation process leading towards success?
Ten Tools for Design Thinking, published by the University of Virginia’s Jeanne Liedtka and Timothy Ogilvie, shares 8 tips on how best to incorporate rapid prototyping, regardless of project or industry.
1. Focus on questions instead of answers.
2. Keep pushing deeper.
3. Question your assumptions.
4. Envision how a negative could become a positive.
5. Create some alternative scenarios.
6. Pretend to be somebody else.
7. Make it a party, but not too big.
8. Make it a competition.
When appropriate, Designsensory employs rapid prototyping as part of our Design Thinking methodology. Although specific to online design and development, this rapid prototyping process definition found in a recent Smashing Magazine article can be utilized in broader design or business contexts.
Any way you say it—from putting the bling in branding, glitz in graphics or dazzle in design, we’re excited to be working with Jewelry Television®. Designsensory is partnering with JTV to develop some sparkling promotions that includes direct mail pieces targeting separate tiers of Jewelry Television customers along with contest promotions, among other branding efforts.
Each postcard targets a different Jewelry Television customer cluster, based on buying preferences, demographics and length of engagement relationship—from first-time customers to longstanding JTV loyalists. Precious metals, minute details, delicate and feminine aesthetics of the jewelry and gemstones featured on JTV blend into many of the design elements.
Designsensory also partnered with JTV to develop an overall theme, on-air graphics and print collateral for the Jewelry Television and Tuesday Morning Treasure Hunt Sweepstakes. The nationwide contest campaign included Sunday newspaper inserts, direct mail to Tuesday Morning customers and in-bag flyers, leading toward a broader reach, cross-promotional brand awareness and high contest participation. A lighthearted and playful, yet refined and on-trend, pirate treasure theme created an inviting context for people to enter the sweepstakes.
Headquartered here in Knoxville, TN, JTV is the largest retailer of loose gemstones and one of the top four electronic jewelry retailers in the United States.
For some, the term empathy connotes soft emotions, sappy feelings and a general sense of the “warm and fuzzies,” all potentially incongruent with business, boardrooms and branding. Empathy, though, in its truest definition is a powerful tool, integral to the brand engagement process, leading to insights and innovation.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of empathy is “The power of projecting one’s personality into (and, so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” In the blog post “Empathy: Not Such a Soft Skill,” Harvard Business Review (HBR) editor Katherine Bell writes, “It’s an act of imagination in which you try to look at the world from the perspective of another person, a human being whose history and point of view are as complex as your own. At all levels of management, empathy is a critical skill. If you can imagine a person’s point of view—no matter what you think of it—you can more effectively influence him.”
Although a broad spectrum of consumer information can be gathered from client meetings, online surveys, focus groups, ethnographies and other data-mining tools, the transformation from simple information toward insight and innovation occurs when everyone within both the client and brand consultancy incorporate empathy. This empathy toward the customer fosters positive solutions, but, just as important, is empathy among colleagues and client-partners.
In a recent HOW magazine article, “The Empathic Designer,” David Holston shared that “design success is often as much the result of the quality of the relationships formed with clients, as it is the quality of the design.”
5 Tips for Better Collaborative Design Relationships:
1. Humility: The ability to control emotions at critical times, and to maintain a level of detachment is critical for managing productive client/designer relationships.
2. Listening: Active listening techniques include restating ideas the client has suggested to reinforce the idea that you understand; being aware of body language that might communicate disinterest; focusing on the content of the conversation; prompting for details to better understand the client’s point; and, suspending judgment so as to not cut off communication.
3. Questioning: Being able to ask meaningful and relevant questions not only prompts the client to provide more information, but also positions the designer in a lead role, not just a passive tactical role.
4. Feedback: The ability to give positive and negative feedback is a key factor in creating trusting relationships.
5. Transparency: By providing clients a transparent process in which they understand what is going to happen, when it will happen and what their roles and expectations are, designers take a step toward building strong relationships.
In HBR article, “Leadership in a Combat Zone,” Lieutenant General William Pagonis, director of logistics during the Gulf War, wrote “Owning the facts is a prerequisite to leadership. But there are millions of technocrats out there with lots of facts in their quivers and little leadership potential. In many cases, what they are missing is empathy. No one is a leader who can’t put himself or herself in the other person’s shoes. Empathy and expertise command respect.”
Besides all of the great things I heard from past interns and teachers, I was not sure what to expect when I first came to fulfill my practicum at Designsensory. I was both excited and afraid about working with such highly regarded designers. Having learned so much from my previous internship, I had great expectations.
Of course, my expectations were fully met and more. Even with my first assigned project--which I feel I completely missed the mark on--I had already learned so much. I was challenged with projects for which I did not have a depth of experience, and that pushed me far beyond my level of comfort. One of my favorite aspects of working with Designsensory was the breadth of elements in design that I would have never considered making part of my process. The staff was so friendly, more than willing to lend advice, even if they were engaged in their own projects.
In conclusion, working at Designsensory gave me vital design experience in multiple fields, causing me to realize what kind of work environment I enjoy designing in. I wish I had more internship hours to complete, because I really do hate to go!
Thank you for making my experience so enjoyable!
AIGA (the professional association of design) former president, and Sterling Brands' President of Design, Debbie Millman’s visited Knoxville recently and lectured on brands. Our design team was fortunate to hear her speak and several folks provided remarks on the evening. . . .
Justin Hudson, graphic designer: "What I took away from the lecture most is the role strategy plays in branding, and the strength it provides to our design. When we have a reason for the branding to exist, with clearly defined goals, our design will be much more successful and less subjective. It defines our role in the process and gives credibility to what we are creating.
Another interesting topic from the Millman lecture is the triune brain and how that relates to our reception of brands. It makes for an interesting explanation as to why we, as humans, act and react the way we do."
Alison Ashe, senior graphic designer: “I loved that she said the only good designers who don’t wake up every morning thinking, ‘What if I can’t be great today; what if I’ve lost it?’ are people like Milton Glaser, and that’s just because they’re 80. It reminds me of one of my favorite books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which says that only a true professional who is devoted to his/her craft will constantly be plagued by the fear of being a hack.”
Matt Montgomery, graphic designer: "Debbie Millman, as president of design for industry heavyweight Sterling Brands, has helped brand products such as Pepsi, Gilette, Nestle and Star Wars. So, it’s not surprising that few people speak more eloquently or intuitively about the role of branding in today’s economic and social landscape. One idea I found particularly insightful was that companies should not focus on a brand “refresh” or “redesign,” but rather focus on what the current cultural meaning is behind the symbols in their brand. With this knowledge, they can properly assess whether that cultural meaning resonates with their desired audience or not—-a great insight to help customers ascertain if a redesign is warranted in order to better connect with customers.
I strongly recommend her latest book, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, as it is filled with interviews with industry notables and more. Millman weaves these together to paint a fascinating picture of the state of branding today."
Those of us lucky enough to be in Debbie Millman’s presence at Old City’s Remedy Coffee on Thursday, January 20, drank a cup of experiential wisdom. Inspiring? Vehemently, yes! Her passion and story evoke a close-up, walk-in-my-boots motivation, rather than sit-there-in-awe-of-a-cultural-icon inspiration. We can aptly relate to her trials by fire. An early point in the evening taught listeners to not turn down small opportunities. You never know. . . .
When Debbie Millman is onstage, you feel like a cohort, definitely along for one adventurous ride. To those confidence-eroding self-questions we all have: “Will I be able to do it today?” “Can I be great again today?” she tossed back, “Be aware of how you self-limit or self-sabotage. Don’t cut yourself off. You just may be able to do it!”
For the students in attendance—yet, benefitting all—Millman advised, “Be polite, persistent, headstrong. What can you do to make your dreams come true?”
Her emphasis on strategy certainly resonated with me as we espouse the same values at Designsensory. Millman cautioned that great ideas without great strategy won’t work, paying respect to several in her field who she tapped for their definition of “strategy” particularly in the context of brands. Ultimately, the cornerstone of brand strategy is really in differentiated advantage: the ability to either (a) be different, or (b) do things differently. Brand identity and communication design simply work to define and express this point of view.
A brand is a shared relationship between corporate stakeholders and customers. Millman pointed to how we parse reviews before buying on Amazon, as an example of how social testimony can shape brand affinity. Her statement that, “Human beings metabolize their purchases quickly” and ensuing extrapolations gave us food for thought about challenging stakeholders to create brands that are meaningful, sustainable, transparent and purposeful.
And, she caused some serious seat squirming when she announced that people passionately disavow change, illustrating the lengths to which human beings will endeavor to keep comfort close. Brands, like people, evolve but many are unforgiving of the changes to brand identity because of a discomfort with change. Remember the GAP logo debacle? she reminded.
Indeed, it was a great night to be on the front row. Insightful and inspirational.
At the beginning of the new year, we at Designsensory, like to share some forward-thinking design, content and technology insights that, hopefully, you can utilize within your branding, business and marketing efforts. This post showcases the multidisciplinary nature of our firm with insights from several Designsensory team members. Names are included within the post so that you can get to know a bit more about them and our collective thoughts on what’s next in branding, technology and design for 2012 and beyond.
Joseph Nother | creative director, principal, cofounder
- Physical and digital lines are blurring and converging. Bringing digital/social information into a physical world will be a growth point. For example, in NYC, a collaborative meeting space key fob is tied in with the individual’s social information and work. Swipe a key fob to enter, then wall screens and settings change to showcase that person’s work, websites of interest, tweets and ambient settings.
- Distinct work/life modes are disappearing. For example, people will increasingly work personal content access, such as Facebook, into their professional lives, leveraging their own “avatar brand” in their work.
- An appetite for access to content, anytime, anywhere, will increase as well as the ability to discriminate between good, bad and trustworthy content.
- Dialogue vs. monologue across all touchpoints enabled by mobile devices will have greater implications for brands. Brands will need to identify and/or plant firm, deep, authentic roots in their positioning, legacy, social advocacy, perspective and mission. These values will, more than ever, need to be clearly express by their culture, people, designed objects and touchpoint experiences to convey a differentiated advantage to consumers.
- Context + Content are king because devices make consumption instant. This cycle will also be self-reinforcing and have lasting impact on our ability to discriminate, focus and make decisions in our daily lives.
- For technology, experience and meaning trump productivity as we are focused on adding meaning to life beyond material wealth and being.
- Across all brands, the novelty of digital gives way to delivery of relevant content, conversations and digitally-enhanced experiences. Brands should now have a greater understanding of what works for them in the digital space. This self-awareness should enhance how they use digital to engage and augment.
- Shopping and commerce becomes less isolated and segmented, more integrated into the stream of consumer lives. Thus, the concept of “store” is being redefined.
- Social media continues to democratize societal and cultural influence. Media celebrities stand toe to toe with the “influencers of niche and micro groups” (i.e., the normal individual).
- Print, particularly well-curated and well-designed items will trump digital communication as authentic, real and influential, as digital has become ubiquitous and cheap (i.e., if someone prints something, the individual must believe in it because of the cost of publishing inherent to the medium).
- Vintage and tangible objects increasing in meaning and/or become luxury items in an increasingly tactile-less digital world.
- Video becomes more accessible, more easily created and distributed. Since video mirrors the experience of real life, people hunger for more moving images and content creators will continue to satisfy while looking for ways to monetize or capitalize on viewership.
- HTML5 adoption, the proliferation of gadets of varied screen sizes and the notion of responsive, adaptive and liquid layouts will continue to push digital design in directions focused on sustainabile, flexible content delivery.
- Olympics in London might spawn newfound interest in UK and Old World heritage as well as contemporary European culture, styles and lifestyles.
- A desire to leave the economic and societal negativity of the last few years gives way to a projection of more positively oriented themes.
- Elections in the fall of 2012 will see a renewed emphasis on personal responsibility, sustainability, economic viability and personal lifestyle choices, as these themes will serve as sub-current to the explicit themes of the election: taxes, economic prosperity in a global world, global competition and cost-reduction.
- Will 2012 be the end, as the Mayans predict? What would that portend? Regardless, a contemplation of where we’ve been, where we are going and the metaphysical value in our desires, fears and aspirations will be on our minds.
Susan Hamilton | content developer, editor
Among the larger trends I hear frequently discussed are:
- Fully connect with the community you serve, whether that community is geographic or interest-based. Be an outlet that people in that community trust and rely on for information that serves them and matters to them.
- Be transparent in all things. That may mean, for some types of information outlet, shedding the cloak of objectivity and showing your passion and concern. It also means being transparent about who you are, where and when you get your information, how you allow a story to develop (in its own time), and what the responses are.
Alison Ashe | senior designer
There are the things we do, and there is the purpose behind the things we do.
What makes people act? Decide? Commit? Exchange their time, effort and attention for the thing that you’re offering, when there are so many other choices available?
Not just the immediate and obvious need. There is always another purpose underlying that need. In the backs of people’s minds, often unknown even to themselves, hiding behind “Will this antiperspirant keep me from sweating?” is “Will this help me live the life I want?” Right beside “Who am I?” and “What do I want to be?”
The strongest brands will make people realize why they get out of bed in the morning and position themselves in harmony with that purpose. Either we have some deeper reason driving every tiny thing we do, or we’re all automatons. Our job and that of our clients is to define the human purpose and inspire action in pursuit of it. Wake people up and engage them on that deeper level. There are probably as many ways to define purpose as there are people. It’s not an easy job, but it’s why we get out of bed in the morning.
Justin Hudson | designer
Back to the basics. Know your brand, but more importantly know what your customers say your brand is. In just the past few months, we’ve seen large companies such as Netflix, GoDaddy.com and Bank of America, to name a few, lose sight of their most important asset, their customers, and their brands have paid the price in customer loyalty.
Matt Montgomery | designer
Look for the popularity of internet-connected TVs to grow as developers continue to build on Android’s SDK (software development kit) for Google TV, and Apple will undoubtedly release a new version of its Apple TV with Siri-inspired voice control and other added functionality. As these products gain traction, a new wave of developers will scramble to build apps and TV-optimized sites for this new platform.
Human Centered Design will be seen as more and more of a competitive advantage as companies seek to offer useful services in the digital age. Services like Simple and Flight Card that utilize technology to help make users’ lives easier by making sense of complex information will outpace clunkier, less transparent services.
Ian Fitz | web developer
Browsers automatically and silently update themselves.
Many of the browsers have always prompted that an update was available, and new versions of Internet Explorer and Safari show up in the list of system updates, but both of those things are easy to dismiss. This has kept many web users on older versions of browsers, making it more difficult for us as web developers to use new techniques and features. When Google Chrome was released, it included a silent auto-updater. The browser would update itself automatically without ever asking the user. Recently, Firefox has included a similar feature, and Microsoft has announced that it will turn on silent updates for Internet Explorer with a Windows update coming this year. This will hopefully lead to more users utilizing the most recent versions of their browsers, giving us as web developers more options when building sites for our clients.
Susan Napier-Sewell | content developer, editor
A business blog can provide very beneficial returns for SEO efforts because of the ease in optimizing posts for keywords. Adding links to pages within a site seems more natural when they are part of the text within your posts. Blog posts establish an ongoing conversation, a relationship beyond the usual. Put yourself out there in thought leadership and differentiate your company from the competition.
Anne Brogdon | designer
My 2012 trend is the end of QR codes and similar tags which offer an inelegant solution for connecting the physical to the online. Better solutions will be found and integrated.
Josh Loebner | strategist
Be Real. Understand and utilize real, meaningful content. Know what real content is. Know how to create real content, and know how to share real content. Most importantly, know that you aren’t the only one creating content. The people who both love and hate your brand create content every day with what they share and do.
Transparency, accountability and trust will continue to shape communication efforts. In other words, branding that builds worthwhile, lifelong relationships will rise above more compartmentalized, on-off campaigns. We are in the midst of an increasingly data-driven culture (whether it’s for personal apps or your company’s website) which pushes analytics and metrics to the forefront of success measurements. Make sure those data points are tied to emotional well-being and trust. Simply ask yourself, how can your brand be more transparent, accountable and trustworthy in 2012.