Opening an office in Austin has some obvious great perks, not the least of which is proximity to all the fun happening at SXSW. This year we were pleased to be involved with the state of Georgia’s plans to attract attention to all the cool things happening in our fair state. Dubbed Southern Fried SXSW, the shennanigans started at the Majestic and culminated in a great street parade complete with Georgia lanterns and 14 foot puppets. A fun time was had by all, (as you’ll soon see in the pics below) and no doubt there was a lot of great attention garnered for the region. Can’t wait to see what they get up for 2015.
Notice the classic SXSW seated pose to the right.
1st there was a bit of dancing…
Then when the lanterns came out, the party really started.
So of course we couldn’t be left out
To the streets!
We even got Wolfman Violinist in the mix.
We have one around here we call the Holiday Mailer. It’s our annual flexing of the collective brain for our brand. And while everything we do is really an exercise in branding, this end of the year project is one we look forward to. It’s a combination of highly enjoyable and maddeningly stressful, but the results are always worth it, we think.
It all begins, usually some time in October when Halloween still seems a way off, never mind the cluster of holidays in December. This year, it all started with a box. Several boxes, actually. Susan built one. So did Drew. And I’d totally show you one except you’d be deafened by the howls of these creatives wailing in agony that I posted something quite so… Rough.
Anyway – we all tested them thoughtfully and though we had been sure it was where we would begin, we ended up launching in another direction and in the end we decided to combine some rather old technology with something much, much newer.
A book, with a hidden tale behind the familiar Holiday story which would be revealed in a series of animated shorts. And in order to watch those, you’d have to whip out your phone and scan the QR code on each of the spreads in the book.
Speaking of… Ta-dah! Books.
(And speaking of process, three sets of parents were polled on exactly what the BEST shape for the book might be. Baby head circumference and parental arm length turned out to be the critical axes in the geometry calculations. I think that would make a valuable infographic, you know.)
And there were a bunch of other steps and decisions and discussions in between. Of course.
Like – we needed a hero for our hidden tale, a sort of a regular guy, but with some additional qualities…Like his own Twitter Account.
And we needed a villain, but not too much of a bad guy. Here are a few iterations for the coveted cameo.
See what we did there? Who could risk an homage to that internet super-celeb? Not us. Oh-my-goodness-no. (And she was thrilled!)
And because we can’t resist an Easter Egg, or three we hid some familiar (well, familiar to us artifacts in a couple of the spreads.) Which is a nice segue into, well, some of the spreads.
On the bedroom wall is our 2010 Holiday Mailer, the Jingle Bells Letterpress Poster .
Parents everywhere agree, you can try but you can’t keep the kid’s toys from taking over. On the side table is a View-Master, aka the 2011 Holiday Movie View-O-Rama.
Is that a set of Matryoshka dolls there on the mantle? No! Close. It’s just us reaching back in time to the 2008 Holiday Mailer.
Final spread just for fun.
And if you’d like to watch the tale within the tale – here you go!
Of course, just getting the animations completed and a website built and a book published were not the full list of steps from concept to completion. Oh no.
The final step of the Holiday Mailer Decathalon is… The assembly and mailing!
Always a mad dash to the finish. We started out with an accompaniment of Christmas Carols, but around the half-way mark we needed Bob crooning “Everything’s gonna be all right” to help us hold it together.
And we made kids everywhere proud with our level of commitment to the packaging process, neatness be damned.
Stop in the name of love? Sorry – there’s no time.
So. Many. Glue. Dots. Did I really cut those out individually when a strip of three would have been more humane? I did. It’s a long story. Not quite as long as the amount of time it took to peel off all those little squares of paper though. It was a mistake. I apologized. A lot.
And one final Easter Egg for you for making it the whole way through this long blog post – and it comes with a warning – Brace! Your! Ears! And test your reflexes!
Someone at the office has the high score – but it sure as heck isn’t me.
I woke early on the morning of April 27, 1994. I’d been up late with friends, celebrating the life of photojournalist Ken Oosterbroek who had been shot just 9 days before in Thokoza. I was tired, and hung over, but I meant to vote in South Africa’s first democratic election, and I figured I should probably get there early.
I knew the polling station was near to the garden cottage I rented, a church. I wasn’t sure of the exact location, but I didn’t bother with my contact lenses, just grabbed my green ID book, and walked down the street until I found the back of the line.
I was sure I’d be done in a few hours and I’d get back to bed It was around 5am. But there we stood. Shuffling slowly forward. In front of me, a black woman, a live-in maid, dressed in the uniform so many wore, a neatly pressed pastel-colored house dress, with matching head scarf and a white apron over the top.
We stood for a long time. A very long time. Turned out we were miles from the church, or kilometres, we did things metric, you know. She kept my place when I went home midmorning to get sunglasses and contacts. I kept hers when she home to serve lunch.
By late afternoon, we were finally snaking around the building. And we could see people coming out, many having voted for the first time in their lives, singing, dancing.
Eleven hours in a line to vote. Many waited longer, had to come back the next day, the day after that. Close to 90% of the population showed up to cast their ballot over those three days in April.
I was at an event last night, and as the lone South African in the room, I had a lot of conversations about Mandela. Mostly I told people how it felt that he had pulled off an absolute miracle at the time. For all of us. That it still does. A largely peaceful transition of power from oppressor to oppressed. Amazing.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Indeed. Words to live by. This extraordinary man will be deeply missed I do not think the world shall see his like for many, many years.
Hamba kakuhle, Madiba. Go well.
On the weekends, I sail with a friend. A mechanical engineer. An inventor, a maker, a strategic thinker. We set out from various concrete boat launches, all of which are designed for fisherman, for pleasure boaters in their craft large and small with motors and the ability to slow down, back up, turn on a dime independent of the elements.
Not the case for us. It’s always tricky getting the catamaran out and it’s a lot tricky coming back in. Because cats are designed to beach, to just ride up hard on the shore That’s not an option for us. So we need strategy.
He sees the wind and weighs it against the flow of the tide. Calculating just when to turn, is late this time, maybe early? We have to miss the bridge that the mast would surely lodge under, but also avoid the fisherman who just jumped ahead of us not realizing that we are on final approach.
It’s a big picture view, and it all has to be considered, even though what we’re aiming for is an area just a few feet wide. And the strategy is never the same of course. How could it be? The context and conditions change every time. He figures it out, barks out the steps, and we execute. It’s a lot like what we do for our clients at Paragon, but without the barking.
Good strategy matters, but it isn’t easy, and it’s a fairly new idea, at least in the advertising arena. In October McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, released a study on the communication strategies used by B2B companies, which found, to a great extent, that these companies weren’t talking about things their customers cared about. At all. Bad strategy.
Look at the discrepancies between what these 90 global B2B brands considered important compared with their customers when it came to assessing of brand strength. Something enormously important.
“Themes such as social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach, which many B2B companies cast in a leading role for brand imaging, appeared to have a minimal influence on buyers’ perceptions of brand strength. The inverse was true, as well: two of the most important themes for customer perceptions of brand strength—effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge—were among those least mentioned by B2B suppliers. Honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all by the 90 companies in our sample.”
How B2B companies talk past their companies, McKinsey Quarterly
Here’s another case of strategy gone wrong. Companies, like Pepsi and Target have in recent years asked their customers to help them choose where they should send their charitable donations. Seems like a great idea, no? Giving your customers a real stake. Allowing them to really engage. Not so, according to a recent Cone Communications Echo Research study.
In fact, the study found:
1) Choice reduced impact.
Only 39% of consumers supported companies that offer cause marketing with choice of cause compared to 61% of consumers who supported companies that make a long-term commitment to a focused issue over time.
2) Choice caused paralysis
Having too many options actually lead to people to stall and avoiding making a choice at all. They disengaged completely.
3) Choice lead to more regret
Anxiety and second-guessing were frequently the result, completely ruining people’s experience of these charitable campaigns.
4) Choice lowered perceived value
High company-cause fit became more difficult to achieve the more cause choices that were offered, which in turn resulted in consumers seeing less value, and being less likely to contribute.
Effective strategy, focusing in on the audience and what they’re really looking for, what they care about, how to truly engage with them, and determining where best to meet them to talk about this is critical to avoid these kinds of disconnect. It requires constantly reframing the question, the strategy, and always, always from the customer’s perspective.
We have a little glassing to do on one of the hulls where our strategy failed us one time and we careened hard into the dock. I may or may not have been at the helm at the time. We’ve (I’ve) not made that mistake again.
Strategy. Something we’re always working to do better at. At Paragon also.
At the end of each work day, I roll up the many teeny cables I use, including a set of head phones. Hey – it’s always great to come in to a tidy desk. Funny thing though – every morning when I come to unravel the carefully coiled ear plugs the go from neat loop…
total snarled up mess in a matter of seconds. My process, apparently, is flawed. I’m moving from organization to total chaos. Not good.
Happily, this is not the case with our work projects. We’re in a busy time right now – you know how it can be – sometimes things are quiet, and then just as quickly, everyone calls with a project. Managing those efficiently is absolutely critical to the success of our client’s projects, and by extension, to us as a company. We’re small, and something of a little diaspora, with a designer in Athens and a team in Austin, so we need to be able meet and share – and we get a great deal of that done virtually.
We have tools we love – Basecamp cloud-based project management software that allows us to all access the project from wherever we are, messages in one place, files and attachments etc. Skype, Harvest to track hours so we can circle back after projects are done to see if those time projections we made at the front end were accurate, realistic.
Let’s take a look at the bigger picture though. Here are some stats on projects and how companies do at managing them:
Of 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries and across various industries, only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.
An analysis of 1,471 IT projects, found that the average overrun was 27%, but one in six projects had a cost overrun of 200% on average and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.
Harvard Business Review study
Cost and time overruns also have a profound effect on national economies. One estimate of IT failure rates is between 5% and 15%, which represents a loss of $50 billion to $150 billion per year in the United States. Another study estimated that IT project failures cost the European Union €142 billion in 2004.
These come from a very interesting two-part series in the Gallup Business Journal on why projects fail, and how to avoid that. The central question asked being as project management becomes increasingly prevalent, and the tools and processes and schools of thought increase, how is it that we’re doing so badly at it?
“This traditional approach to project management emphasizes developing complex guidelines to manage projects across all phases — from implementing phase reviews, performance metrics, and project steering committees to creating risk management dashboards.”
How to Run a Successful Project – Benoit Hardy-Vallee
Turns out, people make the difference. An engaged group will throw their efforts into ensuring the success of a project. Here’s where being a smaller company, with around 50% of our staff being principals, and the remainder being genuinely focused on the team’s success, and so by extension, our clients’ success works well for us. Corporate culture plays a huge role here. It’s the people, not just the tools we use, the processes we have developed that turn out to be the better way for us when it comes to managing projects. We’re willing to burn the whole candle to make sure things get out the door working when we said they would.
As for my earphones – turns out there is a better way for that too – last night – the figure eight method! I look forward to stress-free unraveling in the morning!
Dude. It totally worked! A great lesson in – hey if something looks good but still doesn’t work, start looking for another way.
Last Saturday I attended an educational session held at the Creative Coast’s Secret Headquarters entitled “What Can Designers and Business Folks Learn from Each Other?”. The presenters Peg Faimon and Glenn Platt tackled the issue of the apparent gap between what designers and MBAs learn in their respective halls of academia.
“But why is that even an issue?” you ask. Well it’s hard to ignore just how much attention the importance of design in the business world has received in recent years. However, the light speed of change makes it hard for education programs to stay current, causing an ever-widening chasm between what graduates know and what the market needs them to know.
There are specialty programs cropping up like the stanford d.school, and certainly more integration is happening in standard design and MBA programs , so there’s reason to be optimistic. But in addition to the evolving curriculum, public sessions like these are so important for professionals like myself who aren’t in a position to go back to school. These public forums, books, podcasts, online classes form a good ecosystem of further education to help bridge the gap.
So this past weekend’s session set itself the BHAG of giving Designers a condensed MBA and Business types an appreciation for what Designers are taught.
Naturally, I was particularly keen to hear from the MBA side since that’s where my knowledge is the weakest. So here are:
My Selections from The Condensed MBA
(or Biz Concepts every Designer / Entrepreneur Should Know that can fit into a 1 hour presentation)
Being 1st matters less than Being ON TIME
For example, the tech for the iPad and tablet-sized computing in general had been around for at least a decade, but there was something special about the timing of the iPad that made it the success that it is now. So don’t let the fact that other competitors exist in your “space”. Having the right execution for that idea at the right time might be what sets you apart. Look at Reddit, they weren’t the first social news site but who else can rightly boast of being the front page of the internet right now.
(Biz Words) Fixed Cost vs Marginal Cost
Fixed costs are spent up front, you can’t avoid them, they’re just the cost of doing business in that field. Marginal is the cost of “making 1 more”. This is really what matters as far as profits are concerned. Plus side: for digital products, this is $0 since duplication is essentially free. You’ll need to know this later.
A Rear-view mirror is useless (most of the time)
There was some discussion as to whether this lead to a disregard for history or precedent. What I took from this though, was that history shouldn’t be the only reason for doing something. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a good enough reason for proceeding down a particular path. This was what allowed Intel to pivot away from the increasingly competitive memory chip business where marginal costs (see, told you) were being driven down by Japanese competitors. The story goes, that Intel’s higher ups considered what they would do if they faced the exact same conditions but weren’t a burdened with what they’ve always done before. The decision to change was a no-brainer.
Eventually it’ll always be about Cash
Recent Tech IPOs aside, the metric that will always matter in the end is Cash. Sure users, downloads, traffic and press mentions are great metrics, but if those don’t lead to revenue at some point, then you don’t have a business you just have a great idea.
Keep Presentations short, and meetings shorter
Have a focussed, tangible North Star,
This is a sentence mission statement (ideally 8 words) that keeps your business focussed and makes decisions easier. Not necessarily a public-facing tagline, you use this statement more as an internal litmus test with which you measure any potential opportunities. Southwest, for example is notorious for sticking closely to their mantra of being “the low cost airline”. So any decision is weighed by determining how it helps them become or remain the low cost airline carrier. If it doesn’t, no matter how attractive, it’s seen as a distraction from their North star.
Read all of the things
Look for ways to help everyone you meet
The most effective way of making use of networking is to bring something of use to the relationship. People respond more favorably to people who’ve shown their usefulness, rather than those who seem to be asking for something.
Work should = FLOW
Strive for high skill , high challenge in the workplace. Particulary insightful if you’re a manager of other designers. Hire high skill workers and keep the challenge level high. In fact, hire people better than you.
Solve Problems, don’t just deliver products / services
Always think about what value you offer your customers / clients rather than just the final output. You don’t just sell hammers and nails, people need a hole in the wall and that’s what you facilitate. This is more than just a marketing / messaging trick it insulates you from obsolescence if hammers ever go out of style or get replaced by newer hole-making technology.
(Biz Word) KPI -Key Performance Indicators
If it’s not measured it’s not managed. How will you know if you’re succeeding if you don’t keep track of the important metrics that indicate success? If downloads are the true indicator, then why are you measuring Twitter followers?
A list of Business buzzwords was requested during the discussions,
here are a few to get started:
- Buzzword glossary – http://www.theofficelife.com/business-jargon-dictionary-A.html
- General Buzzwords – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_buzzwords
- Corporate speak buzzwords – http://www.learnings.org/ or http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/word-lists/corporate-buzz-words.html
- MBA Jargon Watch – http://www.johnsmurf.com/jargon.htm
- Digital Marketing specific buzzwords -http://www.quirk.biz/resources/glossary.q
Also, I thought I’d throw in some business podcasts I listen to that could be helpful:
- Freakonomics Radio
- Planet Money
- Harvard Business Review IdeaCast
- Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series
Now here are:
My Selections from the Condensed MFA for Business Types
Get comfortable with killing your darlings
The phenomenon known as The Crit in design school develops an ability to view critique as a helpful tool rather than a personal attack. Feedback used wisely, can only improve your ideas. This requires a measure of humility to think that the 1st idea you present isn’t the best idea or at least isn’t the best form that idea will take. There’s always better and sometimes you can’t see it. Based on the group discussion around this topic, it seems this is something business and marketing types “just need more practice at.”
Design is as much about Strategy and Process as it is about aesthetics
The popularity (some would say over-popularity) of terms like design thinking, service design or experience design has at least introduced the biz community to the idea of design as a systematic, albeit flexible, process rather than just a group of creative types sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike.
The Concluding thought seemed to be that as the bridge between Design and Business gets firmer, the higher education programs will need to merge. The presenters saw a future where MFA and MBA grads share an interdisciplinary knowledge set where MBAs are more design-savvy and MFAs are more prepared to contribute in the boardroom not just the studio. They’re even co-authoring an Experience Design curriculum. So keep an eye out for that.
Click here to view all the slides from their presentation.
Yo, Mr White!
Last weekend’s Breaking Bad finale drew 6.6 million watchers, the most in the show’s history, and Ad Age reported this week that advertisers paid up to $400,000 for a 30-second commercial for the final episode.
But one brand got in on the buzz without a big broadcast media buy, and may have even positioned themselves favorably with a younger demographic. All via a free ad on Craigslist, a site visited by around 60 million people from the U.S. alone each month. Potentially more eyeballs than the finale attracted.
Just hours before the finale’s start on Sunday, real estate marketer Century 21 took to the web with a clever digital stunt: placing a phony ad on Craiglist for the New Mexico home of the main character, Walter White. The three-bedroom ranch style house is listed as an “Albuquerque Palace Waiting for You” at a price tag of $150,000.
The ad copy is hilarious – “Water heater replaced in 2009. Secret crawl space great fun for kids. Near airport. Great local schools with dedicated teachers who take an interest in students.”
There’s an associated campaign on Twitter and Facebook too – perhaps something has shown up in your feed today.
Craigslist began as an email list of events in San Francisco by Craig Newmark, a computer programmer in 1995, as a way to stay in touch with friends. Today users in 70 countries around the globe post more than 100 million classified ads each month. Of those listings, more than 2 million are job ads.
Friendship Pander Oxymoron?
Fear Pester Ominous?
Forward Pact Overblown?
No! For Print Only.
And they featured our 2012 Holiday Mailer Elemental Deck of Cards. Yay! Thank you so much!
Launched in 2009 — and now in its second iteration FPO is a blog dedicated to printed stuff – as founders Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit put it:
“An opportunity to celebrate the failure of print to die.”
It’s one of six sites launched by UnderConsideration LLC — others being Speak Up, Brand New, Quipsologies, The Design Encyclopedia and Word It — that have been part of the growing dialog in design and the broad appreciation of the practice made possible by the reach of the web.
It’s always great to be recognized by folks whose work we respect – we’re just tickled. Oh – you can also buy a deck for those Card Heads on your gift list.
Also – it’s a good reminder… Christmas is just around the corner. (What?! Already?! I know!!)
Guys – have we put this onto the schedule yet?
Six international students from the Miami Ad School in Brooklyn are behind a guerilla project that turned pedestrian traffic lights around Manhattan and Brooklyn into symbols of remembrance. The stop symbol was modified to resemble the fallen Twin Towers, while a message reads “9/11. Forward. Together.” underneath it.
I love the simplicity, the power of this, and I think about New Yorkers encountering these this morning how that made them feel.
Irish Poet and Nobel Literature Prize winner Seamus Heaney died last week. As an English Literature Major I sat at my desk the morning I heard and tried to remember a poem across the vast field of time that has passed since I read one.
Punishment, written about an Iron Age body found in a bog in Windeby Germany in 1952 – something of a recurring theme for Heaney – was the one I conjured up. That line about tugging at the nape stuck somehow.
So I tracked it down to read again, and learned that much has changed in terms in our understanding of the contextual and archeological message delivered by that long dead body compared with when Heaney wrote the poem, and even when I first read it back in (Lord) 1988. Earlier even if it showed up in a high school anthology.
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.
It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.
I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.
Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring
the memories of love.
before they punished you
you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,
I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeuur
of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:
I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,
who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.
Experts at the time the body was found thought she may have been an adulteress whose head was shaved, after which she was blindfolded and drowned in the bog. This is one of the stories Heaney tells in his poem, there is also political commentary, as he explained years later:
“It’s a poem about standing by as the IRA tar and feather these young women in Ulster. But it’s also about standing by as the British torture people in barracks and interrogation centers in Belfast. It’s about standing between those two forms of affront.”
However in 2007, Prof. Heather Gill-Robinson, a Canadian anthropologist and pathologist used DNA testing to show that, far from being a 14-year old girl, the body was actually that of a male. And that the hair had been lost perhaps during the removal from the bog, perhaps by the passage of time.
They all heard the wrong message.
Happily, for Heaney, his interpretation still has value. Fine art comes with that sort of latitude baked in. Not so when you’re crafting commercially.
It’s vital to hear the message correctly in order to package and deliver it. As a design firm, we are focussed on listening to what our clients want and then crafting something that meets the brief. That can be tricky, though, because while we all broadcast information, both through what we say and how we say it, often times there is still some decoding required.
Studies show that verbal impact of communication only accounts for 7% of your overall message. Bulk of communication comes across in our appearance and body language, comprising 55%. Tone, speed and inflection of our voice make up the remaining 38%. You need to be a whole-body listener.
We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think at 1000-3000 words per minute, and immediately after listening to someone, we only recall around 50% of what they said, long-term that falls to 20%.
So. There are lots of tips out there on how to listen. Here are some, as a former journalist, that I rather like:
1. Listen to understand, not to respond
2. Be quiet
3. Let them finish their thoughts
4. Maintain eye contact (or, you know, stare intently at the phone during conference calls)
5. Ask questions to ensure that you understand
These are courtesy of Guy Harris, Chief Relationship Officer with Principle Driven Consulting who blogs here.
And while we’re thinking about listening, back to Heaney now, because it’s always cool to hear a poet reading his own work. Here’s The Underground.