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Archive for the ‘Design Goodness’ Category


Some practical notes on how to design an effective web page – from Seth Godin’s blog, via UX, via Orange Yeti:

  • Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation.
  • Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often.
  • Bigger images get more attention.
  • Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation.
  • Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored.
  • Formatting can draw attention.
  • Headings draw the eye.
  • Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page.
  • Large blocks of text are avoided.
  • Lists hold reader attention longer.
  • Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.
  • One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats.
  • People generally scan lower portions of the page.
  • Readers ignore banners.
  • Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones.
  • Show numbers as numerals.
  • Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested.
  • Text attracts attention before graphics.
  • Type size influences viewing behavior.
  • Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.
  • Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them.
  • Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.
  • White space is good.

Good stuff.

It is easy for company execs to leave the design of their website to IT guys because they “get” all that “computer stuff”. Bad move. Sorry, IT peeps, but while IT guys can be web guys, let me point out that website design goes well beyond a person’s knowledge of code and “computer stuff.”

A good web designer is a designer first and foremost: Someone who understands how to create the right kind of website for a company, and uses his technical knowledge to make it happen. A good web designer can write beautiful code, sure, but great code is meaningless if the website looks horrible or doesn’t serve the needs and wants of its users (your customers). Designing a website is about creating a consistently engaging, pleasant and valuable user experience.

This goes well beyond the world of code and IT. Website design is both a science and an art. Because few people/firms can manage both elements exceedingly well, a very small proportion of web design firms is capable of doing exceptional work.

Look at most corporate websites today, and you will notice that the same templates are used over and over again: There’s a big box of “content” in the middle, a fat banner at the top of the page, a left column with some sort of navigation/menu, and maybe a column to the right with ads and other resources. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: There is value – especially for very small businesses – in spending very little money on a website that can launch inside of a week. Plug & play websites have their place. No question. But when it comes to creating or driving a brand, understand that having a website that essentially looks like everyone else’s, a website that looks like you took little more than a couple of hours to put together, a website that offers nothing interesting or compelling for your users and fans, you are falling short of expectations. You are sending the wrong message. At some point along the way, your company needs to differentiate itself. When that happens, your website needs to reflect the difference between your company and all of your other would-be competitors. If you are going to stand out as being different, don’t just talk about it: stand out and be different – especially on the web.

If your management team is old-school and branding is the last thing on its mind, look at it this way: You are the type of company that takes care of the way it presents itself – from the experience you create for your customers and visitors to the design of your catalogs, ads and other promotional materials. You don’t want to look like a bunch of amateurs who can’t adapt to change and have neither the funds nor the good sense to create a decent website. Right? Right. More and more, your customers’s first impression of you is made via the web. This isn’t 1997 anymore. Your website isn’t an aside. It isn’t something you can throw at your cousin’s neighbor’s kid because he needs a part-time job and “boy, you should see his MySpace!” Your website is your global storefront. Your global lobby. Your global showroom. You can’t afford to allow it to be boring, ineffective or outdated. (It can’t be too obnoxious either, so be use flash sparingly, if at all.)

Do yourself a favor: If you have a website now, put together a small team of branding, marketing and customer service experts in a room with a handful of customers, and get them to do a complete 360 review of your website’s usability. If that doesn’t work for you, hire a creative studio or a web design firm instead. However you decide to do it, the point of the exercise is to stop what you are doing, take a real look at your website, and identify all of the things that could be improved upon. Once you’ve done that, hire a real web designer (or web design firm) to either improve your website as needed or rebuild it completely.

If you don’t already have a website… I just have to ask… what you are waiting for. (Tip: Most people I know haven’t cracked the Yellow Pages in years… and I know a lot of people.)

Spending money on creating an extraordinary web presence (or at least an adequate one) is probably one of the best marketing/communications investments you can make for your company, especially in this economy. If your senior management team doesn’t understand that completely yet, it is your job to help them get there.

If you aren’t sure how to get started, print the above list, go to your company website, and use it as a checklist. How many of your website’s design features match the above recommendations? How many don’t? What could you change already – today?

Have a great Monday, everyone. 🙂

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twitter-designs

Thanks to InstantShift.com for including @thebrandbuilder’s design in its Top 125 best Twitter themes! (Look for #104.) I am very flattered to be in such great company. For the full show, click here.

Some of my favorites…

twit-05twit-04twit-03twit02

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loft1

Okay… People always ask me “Olivier, what do you want for Christmas?”

Well, now I know what to answer them: A Loft Cube.

Though not exactly a cube, this “personalized home container” is 7.50m x 7.50m x 3.50m (plus 1.20m from the ground), and sports 45 square meters of pure style and design. Check this little marvel out:

First, the window spaces can be individually customized (transparent, translucent, wooden slats, etc.) so you can strategically keep your nosy neighbors out of your biz without sacrificing precious light or a killer view. (Not a bad start.)

Second, the use of space inside this thing is nothing short of pure genius. It’s wide open, every section flows into the next, and the furniture works to tie it all together as simply and comfortably as possible.

Third, (see below) the showerhead swings through the wall partition to water the plant. (How cool is that?!)

loft4

Fourth, (also below) the bathroom faucet swings throught its wall partition to double as a kitchen sink faucet. (Seriously. The coolness knows no end.)

Fifth… see those soothing little white rocks on the ground? They absorb moisture under the shower and the bathroom sink to help keep the floor dry. (Now why didn’t I think of that?!?!?!?!)

Sixth, this thing can be built on a rooftop or in a backyard or by a swimming pool… or just anywhere you want. This would make for a killer guest house / home office / man cave is what I’m thinking.

loft-3

I’ve seen modular dwellings before, but this one kind of rocks my world. It’s pure design genius. Simple, beautiful, efficient… I’m in lurve. It’s like, the ultimate guest house/loft/pod/lounge, all rolled into a stylish little package…

… and the perfect Christmas present for yours truly.

Ahem.

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imgmainiconsallb

Great observation about design on Presentation Zen (hat tip to What’s The Beef?):

Design is about many things. Above all, it’s about clarity, and intentions and about putting yourself in the position of the end users (or the customers, students, audience, etc.). When designs are not well thought out, even though it may all look good from our point of view, users get frustrated, confused, or even angry. Anyone who has used a poorly designed user interface on a mobile phone, for example, or gotten lost while following the signs on the freeway in a new city understands these feelings. And anyone who is squinting to see a figure or read a quote on a PowerPoint slide is experiencing a bad design of sorts. I always say the lessons are all around. I love examples of poor design, even for the simplest of things, because they are occasions to learn.

When you first sit in the driver’s seat of a car, push the ON button on a computer for the first time, check into a new hotel, look for information on a website, make your way to the cash register, connect a new media player to a laptop, snap a new lens onto an SLR camera, or lace up a fresh new pair of running shoes, it doesn’t take long to figure out how much time the designers actually spent using the type of product they designed.

When I get behind the wheel of a BMW, I know immediately that the team that designed it loves to drive. And I don’t mean just drive to work and to the store. I mean drive. As in… for fun. For thrills. Thirty seconds into using a Mac for the first time, the Apple design team’s passion for great user interfaces is also pretty obvious. Clip into a Look pedal, slip on a pair of Rudy Project Rydons, Squeeze yourself into a pair of Hincapie Sportswear bib tights or pull the cap off a Mont Blanc pen, and you will immediately feel the same thing.

Great design delights. Great design triggers smiles and compliments. Great design invites repeat business. Great design generates great word-of-mouth recommendations, endorsements and reviews. Great design is ALWAYS a win for everyone.

And bad design sucks.

For the third time in a week now, I found myself in a checkout line at my local Target store, and experienced the destructive power of bad design. Target painstakingly designs its stores and advertising to be inviting, upbeat and cool. I love shopping there because I know I’ll find something cool and inexpensive to buy for my house. So from ads to store design to product selection, Target is 100% conscious of the importance of great design, right? But then you get to the checkout, and it all comes crashing down. Here’s how: For some reason, a good deal of items at my local Target seem to come without bar codes. (As impossible as it may seem in this day and age.) And without a bar code, the cashier is completely helpless a checkout. If the item can’t be scanned, the purchasing process grinds to a complete halt. To get it started again, you need a price check: The cashier has to put on her blinking light and call a supervisor. The supervisor then has to stare at the product for five minutes to confirm that there indeed is no bar code anywhere on it. The supervisor then has to call someone on her little radio. That someone has to go to the back of the store to find the item, copy the bar code numbers from the shelf tag, and radio it back in – or write it down and walk it back to the front of the store. Meanwhile, the six families standing in line behind you are ready to beat you over the head with their $19.99 welcome mats and seasonal plastic tumbler sets. If you were in a hurry, forget it. What seemed like a simple, convenient little “oh hey, I’ll just buy it while I’m here” purchase turns into a “damn, I could have just gone to Wal-Mart instead” swell of regret.

A month before Christmas, your impromptu purchase of a $19.99 Michelin windshield wiper has caused a ten minute gridlock at register number nine on a busy Saturday afternoon. Because someone forgot to apply a bar code to a product, and also because the cashier and her system aren’t set up to identify the product without the precious bar code. In that one simple omission, every bit of great design that Target has spent millions of dollars to integrate into its brand evaporates. Not only for me, but for the six families standing impatiently behind me.

The lesson: Design thinking isn’t limited to products. Systems also require great design. And everything is a system. Your entire company is a system. Your customer service department is a system. Your warranty department is a system. Your checkout area – whether physical or electronic – is a system. Great systems are based on great design, and great design is based on observation: Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Understanding what they like or dislike. Finding ways of delighting them, or at the very least, fulfilling their specific needs.

If you’re a CEO or other C-level executive, how often do you look at your own company’s processes from a customer’s point of view? How often do you call your own 1-800 number with a problem or question?  How often do you go into a store to buy your own products “incognito” or try to return them through normal channels when they fail?

How much time does your company actually spend walking in the shoes of your customers?

Great design doesn’t start with a cool creative type sketching ideas in a posh studio. It starts with real world insight, out there where your customers and users live.

Want to be a great executive? Want to understand great design? Start by joining your customers.

Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!  🙂

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“Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product.”

– Jennifer Van der Meer –Former Wall Street Analyst, green activist and innovation strategist.

Fantastic piece on Core77 by Jennifer Van der Meer on the convergence of design, (customer) movements, product adoption and innovation against the backdrop of “green” product growth.

Here are some tidbits:

Recently, I was invited to participate as a Speaker at the Greener by Design conference in Alexandria, VA, with innovation culture and systems guru, Robert Shelton. Our talk focused on the encouraging shift towards more open models of innovation, where knowledge is shared both inside and outside a company’s walls to solve for the complex and daunting challenges that we face. This praise for the widening of knowledge networks emerged as a theme in many different conversations throughout the rest of the conference. More and more companies have begun to shift sustainability from public relations statements and corporate social responsibility promises to actual product development and marketing activity–a way to create real value. Facing up to climate change will require a major redesign in the way we bring things to market.

The caveat? Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product: consumers do not want tradeoffs. Clorox’s Green Works is one company that embraced this gap. How did the Green Works team aim to get past the 5%? When choosing household cleaners, green-leaning consumers are looking for proven efficacy, broad availability, comparable price, and a brand they know and trust. They’re not willing to settle for a product that performs less than a more eco-unfriendly alternative. Clorox Green Works accepted these constraints and delivered a natural product that passed blind performance tests–in partnership with the Sierra Club. Despite initial external skepticism that a brand like Clorox could succeed with a natural product offering, the good word got out and sales results have “far exceeded expectations,” according to Kohler.

The “no tradeoffs, no compromise” approach has served as a mantra in many companies and across industries when challenged with comprehensive green innovation. But there’s something missing in this stark consumer win-it-all equation: Consumers are not part of the conversation and they know it.

I have spent a good deal of time sitting down with these emerging green consumers and many themes come into to focus. When asked to take the time to give their real opinion about their lifestyle, they reveal an untapped desire to participate in the process to be more than just a stat about consumption and purchase behavior. When you move the conversation beyond price and performance benefits to engage people in the challenge of designing a green future, they want to do so much more than just vote with their wallet.

Unleashing the Innovator in Everyone
In fact, I found that once on the topic I could not get these consumers to stop thinking about innovation and the role they should play in the design process. One-on-one interviews, blog studies, and focus groups all inevitably turn into green therapy sessions. People wanted to dissect how they chose to eat their food, build their home, rely on transportation, raise their children, and create meaning in their lives. When the conversation shifted to how we could live more sustainably, the real ideas would begin to flow.

While it was personally gratifying to be a part of these discussions, I found that my role as a strategist and researcher had major limitations. It was costly to send someone like me around the world, burning jet fuel, to have deep conversations only to fold these insights into traditional briefs on brand and product development. At the same time, every industry started getting green religion and claiming a green message. But the old compartmentalize structure was still in place, which resulted in confusion all along the chain, the initial pleasure and fascination with the complexity of the problem devolved into fatigue amongst the newly green converts at the consumer and corporate level.

The roles of designers, product development specialists, and marketers should never have been as segmented and will never be again. Participation is the key to innovation…

I realized that the nature of this challenge requires constant, ongoing conversation between all the elements. Even a successful human-centered approach to the fuzzy front end completely drops off when we hit the conveyor belt process for product development. Ideas once sensibly vetted are suddenly forced to move lock step through the phases required for launch, and often get watered down in the process. This is in fact where the activity of greenwashing occurs–good intentions turn into skepticism, compromises, and incidental innovation. How do we create a system that provides more interaction, iteration and a feedback loop?

Read the rest of Jennifer’s piece here. It’s well worth the detour.

Have a great Monday everyone. 😉

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Incredible presentation/video/analysis. (Hat tip to Alceste’s blog.)

Infographics heaven.

If the embedded thing didn’t work (I’m posting this from my office and that can cause some compatibility issues, the link is: http://youtube.com/watch?v=lBvaHZIrt0o )

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From the International Herald Tribune:

PARIS: Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, caught wearing something ugly?

Lagerfeld sports a fluorescent yellow reflective safety vest — along with his signature dark suit and sunglasses — in a new French road safety campaign. The caption reads, “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life.”

The campaign was launched Wednesday. French drivers will soon be required to keep security vests and flashing red warning triangles in every car. Drivers will have to use the vest and triangle every time they pull over with an emergency, according to France’s road security division.

Fines of up to €135 ($209) will go into effect Oct. 1 as incentive for drivers to take Lagerfeld’s fashion advice.

This is the kind of advertising that rocks my world. Why? Because it’s clever, funny, impossible to ignore, and memorable.  Ergo: 100% effective. US agencies take note. This is how print advertising is done.

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Today’s bit of Marketing, Customer Experience, Design & Product Development advice comes from the archives of Kathy Sierra‘s blog:

“Your job is to anticipate… To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to “ask” for it – to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind, or too far ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time.”

Walter Murch

iPod wasn’t designed by users. It was designed for users. No… wait… it was designed to be loved by users.

If your job deals with customer experience design, (product, web, retail, customer service, touchpoint ideation, advertising, etc.) print either the sentence that came just before this paragraph or Walter Murch’s bit of wisdom, and pin it to your office wall. Either one can (and probably should) become your new mantra.

Technorati Thingamajingies: , , , .

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When Yves St. Laurent died yesterday, we lost not only one of the world’s greatest designers, but also one of the world’s most visionary and honest business leaders.

His passion for his work, for his designs, and for the people for whom he created clothes and accessories won over greed and the mad thirst for double-digit growth that so many companies are plagued with today. When other couture houses tried to impress with gimmicks and flash, he stayed true to simple lines and understated elegance. While other couture houses obsessed about fashion, he simply focused on style.

Yves St. Laurent never sold out. You won’t find the YSL logo on cheap sunglasses or bullshit leather iPod cases. Yves St. Laurent refused to let his house fall into the massclusivity trap.

Massclusivity (mass exclusivity) is what you get when a premium brand like Gucci or Louis Vuitton starts making cheap crap to cater to a younger, broader and usually less affluent audience. This can seriously lower the value and relevance of a brand, but it makes sense if you’re looking to cash in on your brand’s earning potential. Once you capture market share and get into the malls and less exclusive retail properties though, it’s tough to get your cream-of-the-crop status back. That’s difference between houses like Dior, Yves St. Laurent, Hermes and Cartier vs. Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Ralph Lauren and now Gucci.
A lesser designer would have plunged Dior into chaos back in the sixties, and the Yves St. Laurent brand would have never turned into the cornerstone of occidental style that it is today.

A lesser man would have turned Yves St. Laurent into a Dillard’s or Macy’s brand. He understood the value of a strong brand. He understood the value of absolute quality. He understood the value of staying true to his vision and ideals.

He was one of the greats.

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So… in a perfect world, I would occasionally bring you a bit of insight or two from Seth Godin’s blog every few months or so, but the world is far from perfect. Hence, here we are: Two pieces from Seth’s blog in as many days. Sue me for wanting to share. Here it is:

Just got some work back from a new copyeditor hired by my publisher. She did a flawless job. She also wrecked my work. Totally wrecked it.

By sanding off every edge, removing every idiom, making each and every fact literally correct, she made it boring and dry and mechanical.

If they have licenses for copyeditors, she should have hers revoked.

I need to be really clear. She’s not at fault. She did exactly what she was supposed to do. The fault lies in the job description, not the job. If the job description of your lawyer or boss or editor or client is to make sure everything is pure and perfect and proven and beyond reproach, they are making things worse, not better. (Unless you’re in the vaccine business).

Almost everything you do has some sort of copyediting filter. It might be the legal eagle or the graphic supervisor or the customer service police. They’re excellent at making round things fit perfectly through round holes.

Boring and ignored is fine with them, because no one complains.

Fortunately, copy editors have a remedy. It’s a word called STET. Which means, “leave it alone, it was fine.” Time to teach that to your editors, wherever they may be. Maybe there should be a t-shirt.

If all you want is safe, have baby food for dinner. Just leave me out of it.

Seen it happen. I’ve never had to punch anyone in the eyeball for sanding off any of my work’s edges, but I’ve spent many a sleepless night re-writing pieces or reworking images or layouts that a subordinate or contractor completely stripped of any semblance of an edge… or style… or voice. It always sucks. And you always end up feeling sorry for the poor kid who screwed the pooch, because ultimately, maybe it wasn’t entirely their fault. (How the hell are they supposed to know how to write like me or edit images the way I envisioned it when I shot them?) Design is a very personal thing. Designers are usually control freaks for a reason.

And workaholics.

And compulsive perfectionists.

I feel your pain, Seth.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Ironman. When it comes to superheroes, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Frank Miller’s work with Batman (The Dark Knight, for starters), Spidey, and the X-Men (mostly Wolverine). Ironman though… eh. He was kind of a secondary superhero in a lot of ways. Not much of a point. Billionaire genius builds metal rocket suit, fights crime for fun. Bleh.

But that changed when I saw the first trailer for the motion picture version – which finally came out this weekend. Score #1: Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Score #2: Letting fans/geeks make the movie. Score #3: A great set of trailers. (In sharp contrast with Indiana Jones 4, which so far has a horrendous trailer.)

Anyhoo. The trailer started getting excited about the movie, and I have been anticipating it ever since. I excitedely took the family to see it over the weekend, and… well… I was a bit nervous about it. It’s Ironman, after all. How good can it be? I bought my tickets with a mixture of excitement and apprehension: What if it sucked? What if even Robert Downey Jr. and director John Favreau couldn’t save a second-rate superhero in his first attempt at becoming a big screen success? (Remember Daredevil? Nuff said.)

But from the very opening scene (great editing), my fears evaporated into thin air. Ironman was rock solid, and yeah, Robert Downey Junior is without a doubt one of the coolest actors in Hollywood. Always has been. He shines so brightly as Tony Stark that he singlehandedly takes what could have been (should have been) an okay Marvel superhero flick into one of the best Marvel movie franchises to date. Don’t believe me? Check out these review snippets from Rotten Tomatoes:

“Robert Downey Jr. nails Iron Man. More apropros, change nails to welds. For it is Downey who most significantly raises the quality bar of ‘Iron Man’ to the classic level of fellow comic book heroes Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. Welcome, new franchise.”

“Move over, Superman. This lush, high-octane playboy never tasted so good. Iron Man has not only etched itself the mark of one of the best-reviewed films so far in 2008 but also one of the highest-rated superhero movies of all time.”

“Robert Downey Jr., full-swing back into his acting genius, is exceptional as Iron Man. Life for Tony Stark is cool, and you can almost image him doing the Charlie Chaplin waddle across his workshop.”

“This might be the most relevant superhero tale we have yet seen.”

“Robert Downey Jr. delivers a knockout performance that alone is worth the price of admission to watch.”

“It’s Robert Downey Jr., having triumphed over his substance abuse battle, who puts the pedal to the metal and scores the freshest new franchise going.”

“The best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2. Robert Downey Jr is the film’s best special effect.”

“Downey could have taken a tragic tack. But he has fun just figuring out how to make the armor suit work. His sarcasm and almost drunken Tony Curtis body language transform the scenes of Iron Man.”

“In the proficient hands of Jon Favreau, abetted by a magnificent performance by Robert Downey, Jr., not only does Iron Man pay off, but it raises the stakes for comic book movies to follow, as well as the entire summer film season.”

Yet here it is. The cold hard truth that Hollywood studio execs need to read and re-read and learn from:

“Dangerously dependant on Robert Downey Jr. for entertainment. He throws a one-man party during every scene. But when he’s off-screen, the film wilts. (Yes, even with Jeff Bridges’ anti-Dude.) Re-cast, it would only be a shade better than Daredevil.”

Sure, the cgi is impressive, but without the superb casting and directing of Downey, the movie would not have been worth the $10 admission. Something Marvel must have figured out over the last year, when they decided to completely recast the “Hulk” Franchise for the upcoming Hulk sequel (The Incredible Hulk). Not that there was anything wrong with Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, but casting Edward Norton in the role for the sequel is pure genius. Too bad the cg design couldn’t have been overhauled too.

Point: When first rate writers, actors and directors start lending their talents to movies based on comic book/graphic novels and take them seriously (as in “not just a mindless popcorn blockbuster cash cow) they raise the bar and wonderful things happen.

Spiderman 1 and 2.
300
Sin City.
And now Ironman.

Take my point and transpose it onto your brand or your agency’s work: Are you really taking your latest campaign as seriously as you should? Are you really hiring and developing the very best talent you can? Are you as passionate about getting it right and making a splash as you should be? Are you really the brand development geek you could be? Should be? The design geek you should be? The wordsmithing geek you ought to be? The first rate art director you once dreamed of being?

Even if you aren’t being paid like the A-list talent you hope to be, even if you don’t have the fancy title and the cool business card and the cool office, are you really working it like Robert Downey Jr.? Taking an average movie script based on a silly second rate comic book superhero and elevating it to something remarkable, lasting and cool?

Or are you letting the source material, the client, the market or even your paycheck justify an half-assed effort on your part?

Half-assed efforts like Daredevil, Elektra, The Incredible Hulk (1) and X-Men 3, may make money, but they only serve to hurt the Marvel franchise. It’s interesting to see how a studio, director, team of producers or a casting director can impact a brand so quickly: Botch a Marvel superhero movie, and the sum of its franchises starts slipping. Get one right, and the entire portfolio of Marvel franchises suddenly goes up in value. The same is true of Starbucks, Hyatt hotels, Volkswagen, Delta Airlines, or whatever brand or business you can think of: Every customer experience either erodes the value of your brand or elevates it.

Nobody gives a crap if you’ve worked for Miramax, Fox, Disney and Marvel if your projects have all been crap. Professionals rise to the top of their professions by taking even mediocre ideas, products, campaigns and projects, and elevating them to new heights. Period. Nobody is going to hand you a golden egg. They’re going to hand you a heaping pile of steaming crap, and it’s your job to turn it into a work of art. (And a lasting one at that.)

Some might call this alchemy. I call it my job. You call it your job. And that’s what sets some of you apart from the rest. You can actually do this: Turn crap into gold. And people around you know it. (If they don’t, what the hell are you waiting for? Show them!)

What you want to hear from your clients, bosses or audience EVERY SINGLE TIME you deliver a project is this: “I had no idea it would turn out this well.”

And their next breath should sound a lot like a “wow.”

Like many of you reading this blog, Robert Downey Jr. has always had the talent to rise to the very top of his profession. Unlike many of you, however, he didn’t always have the right mental attitude, the right focus, the right amount of professional fortitude to put his tremendous talent to good use. Yet here he is, cleaned up, ready to make up for lost time, making a hell of a comeback, and handing a movie studio (and pop culture) a hell of a gift in the process. If he can pull that kind of comeback, knowing what hell he crawled out of, so can you. Stop half-assing. Stop hiding behind your “company culture,” behind red tape, behind someone else’s crappy work or behind an obtuse boss or client. Just kick ass. Period.

Just

kick

ass.

And go see Ironman. You’ll have fun. Trust me.

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Happy Monday!

As you kick off the week with your next project or some concept you need to turn into reality, here are some timely words of wisdom from Blue Flavor:

A great design has a point of view. A really great design will make a clear statement. It’ll be unique in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean it stands out, but it’ll be clear that it has something to say. As such, there will usually people who don’t “like it” and that’s not really a bad thing.

A great design isn’t done by committee. I don’t think you can achieve great design if you have to compromise to please many. Design is best done with one clear vision and an enabled designer who everyone involved trusts to bring that vision to life.

A great design is clear and to a large degree, invisible. A great design should speak for itself and there should never be any question as to what its purpose is.

A great design is written as much as it’s “designed.” The words you choose to use in your designs are as important as anything else that goes into it.

A great design is more than “usable.” If you’re shooting for a usable design, your simply shooting for average. Every design should be usable, it’s much better to be usable and good. Or great.

A great design pays attention to details. If there is one thing I wish I could have on many of the projects I work on is more time and budget to nail down all the little details.

A great design isn’t a template. Along the lines of paying attention to details, a great design will address an entire system in as much detail as possible. This is something that you simply can’t do on the “template” level alone.

A great design takes time and isn’t cheap. This is fairly obvious, but when it comes to design you do get what your pay for, and, along the same lines, if you rush it, it’ll appear rushed.

A great design is never ending. I think, especially when it comes to the web, and interaction design, that a really great design will evolve over time and needs to be looked at, questioned and refined over time.

A great design isn’t perfect. If there is one thing you should pay attention to on this list, IMHO, it’s that striving for perfection in your designs can do much more damage than good. Usually what happens here is that someone isn’t happy because the design isn’t exactly what they wanted to see, and so they want to make changes to bring it in line with that vision. This most often results in compromise to achieve consensus, which also means you’re getting further away from something great. There is no such thing as perfect design, accept that and strive to do something great.

figs by Matt Armendariz

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Every once in a great while, I cave in to common sense and take a sick day. This was the case today. I rested, I slept, I drank soup and tea,rested some more, and worked my way through a giant box of tissues. The result: This completely derivative post. Read it, follow the link to the original piece, and chew on this idea for a while. In the process, give some thought to the role of design in product development, art, publishing, software, websites, logos, advertising, entertainment, fashion and retail spaces.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new become threatening, the old reassuring.”

– Paul Rand

Design is such a multi-layered practice that it’s often difficult to define. That being said, I believe that the word “design” is increasingly confused with “style”. For example, to most “I like the way it’s designed” means that they like the way that something looks.
The visual aspect of what we do is highly important, and style has a place in that. For
example, if we want to connect with a particular audience, employing a style can sometimes be helpful. That being said, it seems that style often leads efforts. We have to break this habit.

(…)

As soon as a particular style is hot, legions of designers reverse-engineer the treatment, and imitate it until it’s everywhere.

The challenge here is that as we are bombarded by these styles, designers, by their own accord and that of their clients and peers, gravitate towards reiterating whatever the style-du-jour happens to be. (Think of the swoosh logos of the late 1990s.) It’s easy to do, the pay-off is immediate, and for a short while, one’s portfolio seems deceptively strong. Most times though, this work is void of the research, strategy, and logic that are necessary to do something effective. As a result, it’s in fact a big pile of shiny bullshit.

In turn, we’re left with scads of generic work that doesn’t hold-up for any length of time. There’s no design there, just polish that quickly tarnishes requiring another coat. In the meanwhile, budgets are exhausted, clients are left to with an out-of-date

“look”, and designers are seen as stylists: kooky kids who like to do fun, pointless things. At the risk of being melodramatic, I believe that this approach diminishes the value of our industry and limits our opportunity to contribute to higher-level discussions.

I’m a believer in what I like to call “hardcore” design. This is design focused on results. It can employ any of a multitude of treatments. It’s not personal in nature, unless this is in fact necessary. Hardcore design is driven by insight, strategy and purpose.

This kind of design forces us to see ourselves as intermediaries, who facilitate defined outcomes. To do this, we consider and weigh business, marketing, communications (and other) challenges, and work to resolve them through design. The end-result doesn’t have to look good, even though it might, but it absolutely must work.

For hardcore designers, “does it work?” is the one question that must be obsessed over. Really, this should be the case for any designer anyways; not whether it looks cool, and not if it can win awards. Hardcore design is about taking away the cute, fluffy stuff, and concentrating on what is actually accomplished.
This kind of design typically doesn’t get its due. Many call this work “corporate” (in the pejorative sense), implying that anything “corporate” must be soul-less, bland and the polar-opposite of what we like to think of as creative. This perspective is simplistic and out-of-date. Apple’s marketing is highly corporate and perhaps one of the most stand-out examples of using design to connect with an audience.

The challenge in establishing an effective design solution that reaches a broad audience is in no way less difficult or creative than making work that is personal in nature. In fact, I’d argue that it’s typically much more challenging, as it requires one to dissociate with personal perspectives, in an effort to understand the situation from a more pluralistic standpoint.

Not doing so is, in my mind, what derails so many design efforts. Clients and designers equally fall into the trap of bringing personal aesthetics (that have nothing to do with the task at hand) to projects. As a result, we see lots of pretty, ineffective “design” out there.

(…)

Style will always be there, and it’s for us to employ, just as we would any color, typeface, written approach or photographic direction. And that is just it: it’s a device, and we too often let it drive the effort. You may disagree with me here. You could (rightly) point to a number of groups and individuals who place the same premium on pragmatic design as I; nevertheless, I argue that these groups are in the minority, and that this represents an imbalance in the quality of design actually being delivered.

We have to get our collective heads out of the sand. Everything we do must be held to a higher-standard. Read the entire article here.

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Seth Godin points us to these very cool little online resources dealing with – you guessed it – color schemes:

Color Theory
Colour Lovers
Kuler (adobe)
And the most corporate/boring one of all…

Hey, it’s the little things that matter most.

Web, graphic and product designers, this one’s for you.

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Evan mentioned this to me a few weeks ago, and I finally took the time to go check it out. If you’re in the design field (or your work occasionally touches design) I recommend you do the same. You’ll get a kick out of it.

From the official site:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.

The film was shot in high-definition on location in the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium. It is currently screening at film festivals and special events worldwide.

Interviewees in Helvetica include some of the most illustrious and innovative names in the design world, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, Lars Müller, and many more.

Helvetica was developed by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. In the late 1950s, the European design world saw a revival of older sans-serif typefaces such as the German face Akzidenz Grotesk. Haas’ director Hoffmann commissioned Miedinger, a former employee and freelance designer, to draw an updated sans-serif typeface to add to their line. The result was called Neue Haas Grotesk, but its name was later changed to Helvetica, derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland, when Haas’ German parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font internationally in 1961.

Introduced amidst a wave of popularity of Swiss design, and fueled by advertising agencies selling this new design style to their clients, Helvetica quickly appeared in corporate logos, signage for transportation systems, fine art prints, and myriad other uses worldwide. Inclusion of the font in home computer systems such as the Apple Macintosh in 1984 only further cemented its ubiquity.

It sounds a bit geeky, but trust me, you’ll love it.

(I’m waiting for the sequel – “Helvetica II: Comic Sans Strikes Back”.)

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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Here’s some context for you (and some culture too, while we’re at it):

The Years of Cristobal Balenciaga

1918 saw the founding of Cristobal Balenciaga’s first haute couture house in San Sébastian, Spain. Local admiration for his designs was so strong that a second haute couture house was opened in Madrid and a third in Barcelona. In 1937, 10, Avenue George V became the Parisian home of Cristobal Balenciaga’s creative influence. Balenciaga’s Paris flagship store is still located at this address.

Balenciaga soon came to embody Parisian elegance. Cristobal Balenciaga was hailed as ‘The Couturier of Couturiers’ and ‘The Master of us all’’ by designer Christian Dior.

In 1946, the House of Balenciaga launched its first perfume, ‘Le Dix’, aptly named after its first atelier, 10, Avenue George V. ‘Le Dix’ attracted the same acclaim as the famous Balenciaga couture pieces, and the perfume soon even rivalled that of Coco Chanel herself. In 1968, Balenciaga closed his couture house, to the deep dismay of his favourite clients. Countess Mona Bismarck lamented the event by locking herself indoors for three days.

Transitional Times

Cristobal Balenciaga died in his home country of Spain in 1972. His nephews then took the helm of the business. In 1978, control of the House of Balenciaga, including the important fragrance business, passed to Hoechst and then to Groupe Jacques Bogart in 1986.

In 1995, Nicolas Ghesquière was hired by the House, initially as a designer for the licensed products activity. He became creative director for the House’s own ready-to-wear and accessories collection in 1997.

Balenciaga Today

In 2001, Gucci Group, in partnership with Nicolas Ghesquière as creative director, acquired the House of Balenciaga, now well on its way towards recreating the influence and respect that the house commanded in its former heydays.

Today, the House of Balenciaga creates women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories, sold worldwide.

Years ago, when famed couturier Yves Saint Laurent was asked how many true Haute Couture houses there were, answered “only two: Balenciaga, and Chanel.”

It’s safe to say that Yves Saint Laurent and Dior have now added to that count. At any rate, it’s pretty much a given that the house that Balenciaga built is still the house of houses when it comes to the world of Haute Couture.

Perhaps Cristobal would scoff at the idea of creating accessories for a techno culture icon like the iPod were he still around today, but… here we are: Balenciaga is now selling iPod cases.

Are we seeing the bastardization of once proud couture houses, (catering to a new breed of customers) or is this simply another illustration of the impact that iPod has had on our culture? I’ll let you decide.

My two cents: Relevance by association may sometimes be a good strategy to attract new clients/customers, but in the case of very high level luxury brands, the trade-off can be dire. A house like Balenciaga was never about attracting the spoiled offspring of the super rich. It was about class and exclusivity, not selling out to a fickle crowd with money to burn.

This is how great brands choke and die.

Balenciaga “execs,” here is my advice to you: More haute couture and less marketing. Your brand is about design and quality, not gimmicks and gateway products.

*sigh*

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Aha! Fellow Greenville blogger James T. (of the evidently very well designed Bike Design blog) points me to this list of 12 well designed Blogspot blogs on Pingable. Both Bike Design and The BrandBuilder made the list, which makes me pretty happy.
This is not a list of the 12 BEST designed Blogspot blogs, mind you, but it’s still pretty cool to be recognized in this way.
My three principal secrets for designing such a cool looking blog:
1. A complete lack of web design & code knowledge forced me to keep things VERY simple.
2. When in doubt, flood the page with empty white space.
3. When none of your other ideas seem to work, take pictures of the stupidest looking dog you can find (in this case, my wife’s Chihuahua) and throw all good sense aside.
I am all for making the visual elements of a brand make sense, but sometimes, going the random/abstract route can be just as effective, if not more. (Note to creatives everywhere: When working on a design project for a client, always try to submit at least one off-the-wall but genuinely original design. Worst case scenario: They won’t go for it. Any other scenario: Your unexpected design will infect your clients with creative energy, which is always a good thing.)
Have a great Thanksgiving eve, everyone. 🙂

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