Category Archives: Design
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.
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.
As a group of people focused on providing visual solutions for our clients, it’s always nice when science gives the eyeballs a nod.
Yup – I’ve written before about how heavily humans weight our visual senses as we make sense of the world, but there’s a new bit of research out lately that calls this into, well, focus even more starkly.
I say classical music competition, and what do you think of first? Sound? Or sight? Sound seems like the obvious pick here, but a recent study found participants had a higher success rate when it came to identifying the winners in competitions based on watching silent video clips, and not from listening to the audio recordings. Really. Even when the study participants were highly trained musicians.
“It’s a very counterintuitive finding — there have been some interesting reactions from musicians,” said study author and recent Harvard Graduate Chia-Jung Tsay said. “What this suggests is that there may be a way that visual information is prioritized over information from other modalities. In this case, it suggests that the visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more.”
Tsay earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior with a secondary Ph.D. field in music last year. She recruited almost 1,200 volunteers who were given either video clips without sound, audio clips, or video clips that included sound. After viewing or listening, they were asked to identify the winners.
“What I found was that people had a lower chance of identifying the eventual winner if they only listened to the sound,” Tsay said. “People who just had the video — even without the sound — had surprisingly high rates of selecting the actual winner. Even with professional musicians, who are trained to use sound, and who have both expertise and experience, it appeared that the visual information was overriding the sound.”
Here’s Tsay, a Juilliard-trained pianist in competition.
Eyeballs matter, people, so take care of them! And we’ll keep working hard to show them nothing but the good stuff. And here are some eyebally facts, just because.
Who does not love them?
Well. Clearly we do. But really. They’re awesome! And they’re increasingly in use. Check out this great infographic by San Francisco-based Interactive Artist Ivan Cash on current trends and devices.
They’re a powerful tool when it comes to communicating complicated ideas – quickly and compellingly.
But I missed a step there – because you need to break down the components a little further to understand why it is that we humans just. Get. Them. It’s because it turns out your brain really REALLY loves… Images. And pictures are becoming arguably even more prevalent as we increasingly interface with our technology through app icons and thumbnails. Because it also just makes good sense to leverage something that makes that much sense to our brains.
So getting back to the brain and its love affair with the visual. One of the most striking characteristics of human memory is that pictures are remembered better than words. You already probably know this anecdotally – but there’s buckets of science to back it up. We have a really remarkable ability on this front.
In a study conducted in the 1970s on image perception and memory, researchers showed 21 undergraduates 2560 images for 10 sec. each. Then they tested their recognition memory and found that the students remembered at least 90% of what they’d been shown, that’s at least 2304 different images. Up to three days after originally seeing them. This far outstrips our ability to remember words. One theory on the why is that pictures automatically engage multiple representations and associations with other knowledge we have about the world, so the result is a more elaborate encoding than occurs with words.
(See this infographic on how memory works in its entirety here.)
Seems our brains just treat images differently, perhaps even hierarchically. They matter more. Articles with relevant images have 94% more views than those without, for example, high quality imagery is very important to 67% of consumers when making purchase decisions.
And memory matters when you’re trying to share information. We need to be able to remember in order to understand, and to internalize before we can share. So one might say images drive social engagement. Which despite sounding fairly modern, is really not a very new idea. Neither, as it turns out, are infographics.
Here’s one put together by Florence Nightingale in 1857. She had a bit of an axe to grind about hospital cleanliness. So she put together this polar area chart showing mortality causes during the Crimean War.
And it’s really hard to make any sort of argument against hand washing when you register the deaths caused by communicable, preventable diseases, shown in blue, which just massively outstrip deaths from wounds shown in red. She made her case effectively apparently, and helped change the face of modern medicine.
(Healthcare is the sector today that most employs infographics to get their message across. Politics and business follow in short order rounding out the top three.)
And when NASA sent the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft out into deep space in the early 1970s they included a pair of plaques (gold-anodized aluminum) adorned with images telling a story of earth with the hope that they would be decodable to extraterrestrial life.
Human figures, hydrogen – our most abundant element, the position of the sun in the galaxy and 14 pulsars, the solar system and a silhouette of the spacecraft. Astronomer Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, who at the time had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea (we’re looping back to Florence here) came up with the design in just 3 weeks. (And took a lot of heat for the naked people, by the way.)
Where are these infographics now? Well Pioneer 10 sent its last signal 30 years after its launch in 2001, some 12 billion kilometers from earth. Pioneer 11 was last heard from in 1995, and is currently headed in the direction of constellation of Aquila. It’s expected to pass near one of the stars in about 4 million years. Which is really rather an extraordinary thing to consider.
So humans, and I guess we’re hoping aliens too, like their data visualized. It really is just easier to interpret a chart or series of stats in image form than from a block of text. (And as a writer, I will say that this pains me some). I’ll close out with this rather fantastic motion graphic from Column Five Media that neatly sums up the value and science of visualization.
St. Patrick’s Day was smelling particularly good around here a few days ago – SEDA’s 2013 St. Paddy’s Day mailer featured close to 200 bags of freshly roasted and ground coffee from local craft roaster PERC Coffee.
What better Post-Celebratory pick up could there be than a hand-roasted brew fresh from the hostess city? Exactly – that’s what we thought. And this year’s little extra something something was that the coffee would be mailed in a pop top can. Nice.
So, some background. Every year SEDA sends a St Patrick’s gift out to clients and prospects. Savannah hosts the second biggest celebration of this March happening, you know. And every year, we find a locally made product to feature. This year we worked with local coffee brewer Perc and they were great! So knowledgable. So delicious (the coffee). Did you know freshly roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide? No. Neither did we, but Roast Master Philip Brown did, and it was good to know, because if we’d canned them too soon we would have had exploding coffee cans. Which would surely have displeased the postal service.
The can label promoted Savannah while the coffee bag label was specific to SEDA and the programs and resources they offer.
Text you’d traditionally find on coffee cans was reworked – wait – I’ll show you:
And now the bags:
Never one to shy away from a challenge, we bought ourselves a canner (and a lot of cans in order to fully master our craft). The model that arrived was surely the very one used by canning enthusiasts at the turn of the century, and I mean 20th, people. And we have the instructions to prove it.
We’re seriously considering whether or not a future project should involve translating the instructions into something a lay person could understand. You know, sort of like a service to the community.
Once this antique torture device (Truth! It has thumb screws. Two. I’ll wait. Go read the instructions again, part # 13169) was assembled (no mean feat alone and we know about working in 3-D) we spent an unfortunate amount of time mangling can after can. It was grim. Then a mechanically-minded staffer (and heck no, I ain’t naming no names…ok, it was Phil) came to the rescue of those containers manufactured from earth’s third most abundant element (so it’s OK, plus we recycled the casualties anyway).
Canning debacle aside the final outcome was exactly as we envisioned! And more importantly SEDA was thrilled as were the lucky recipients.
Can’t wait to see what happens next year, and in the mean time, if you need any canning done, you know who’s got you covered. Call our amazing SCAD student helper Nikki (thank you Nikki! So much!!) She did a bang-up job.
Oh! And happy St Paddy’s!
For Paragon’s annual holiday mailer we opted to design a collectible, entirely custom deck of playing cards as a “Thank You” to our clients. The four suits were designed to represent the 4 elements (earth, air, water, fire), and included traditional icons incorporated into the face cards as well as new embellishments like latin text and intricate symbols of the four elements. The backs of the cards featured a graphic pattern created using our logo mark. Both the deck and custom box were printed on Shine paper appropriate for the holiday season.
The goal of this deck was to incorporate the symbolism and philosophies surrounding the Classical Greek Elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Once we began digging into the historical significance of each element we decided the only way to do it right was to allow each traditional kingdom (Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs) to represent the elements.
I began with sketches to update each of the traditional suits (Spades, Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds) so that they can represent the Classical Greek Elements (Water, Fire, Air/Wind and Earth). After establishing each of the kingdoms, I began working on how to create the royals.
Ignis Aurum Probat (Fire Tests Gold)
I love this latin quote, and thought it would be fitting to represent both fire and hearts. It is from Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, Seneca, and reads in full “ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes homines”, in English translation,”as gold is tempered by fire, so strong men are tempered by suffering”. The meaning is that in order to become pure gold, the original gold-bearing ore must go through the tempering process of fire; the analogy being that for a man strong in spirit, adversity and suffering are the tempering agents necessary to refine his character and bring out his true potential.
The king of Fire bears a Phoenix on his shield. This enduring symbol of fire represents both death and rebirth. While fire is commonly associated with passion, the philosophy represented here is that of peace and order. The wrist of the king bears PAX (peace) and he is holding two fingers upright. His shield also features the phrase “Ordo ab chao” (Order from Chaos) and the powerful and mystical number 33. The king is holding the weapon of fire, which is the dagger.
The queen is clasping the offering for fire, which is a single candle. I tried to keep the heart as a central focus, which symbolizes passion and understanding.
The jack is holding the tool of fire, which is the bow. The traditional bow represented in literature is the staff or wand – but I loved the visual of the recurve bow and arrow. His arrow is on fire, and he is carrying a guitar, another traditional symbol of the fire.
- Cardinal direction: South
- Season: Summer
- Time of life: Youth
- Time of day: Midday
- Correspondences: blood, the guitar, thunder, drum beat rubies and in writing fire is sometimes represented by a red upwards triangle. Other mythic and legendary creatures of fire include phoenix, dragon and occasionally the hawk.
Generose puer sic atur ad astra (This is the way to the skies)
The ace of clubs has been transformed into a cloud to represent the air and sky. The symbolism of this kingdom focuses on the rational, scientific and observable. This is the kingdom of science, medicine and exploration.
I may have gone a bit overboard with the king. There is just so much to pull from history that I wanted to include. His shield features a snake, the traditional animal associated with wind, and the latin motto “Cogito ergo sum” (I Think, therefore I am). The philosophy of this kingdom is truth, which is why the king’s hand is pointing down at the earth (what we know and can observe) and his wrist features the latin word “Veritas” (Truth). The inspiration for this (and the placement of the left hand for all kings) came from Raphael’s painting “The School of Athens.” One of my favorite features of this painting is the conversation between Plato (pointing up to the heavens) and Aristotle (pointing down to the earth). Read more about the meaning of the painting here.
The king is holding the weapon of wind, which is a sword. Over his shoulder is a telescope, observing the movement of the stars and sky.
The queen is holding the traditional offering of wind, which is incense. I really tried to incorporate movement into the designs of this suit, which you can see in the central ornament of the queen.
And here is Harry Potter, the magical Jack. While magic may seem to conflict with the philosophy of this suit, the traditional tool of wind is the wand. I love the simplicity of this card, but because the Jack is focused on magic and arcane knowledge, instead of science and modern knowledge, I removed some of the ornate patterns that his parents feature.
- Cardinal direction: East
- Season: Spring
- Time of life: Infancy
- Time of day: Sunrise
- Correspondences: mind, intellect, study, consciousness and communications.
Terras irradient (let them illuminate the lands)
Full disclosure, the actual meaning of the representative quote for this suit is actually talking about the word of God, an allusion to Isaiah 6.3: plena est omnis terra gloria eius (“the whole earth is full of his glory”). But, I loved combining the idea of “illumination” and “earth” to represent diamonds.
This is the rich kingdom. The Lannisters, for those of you who watch Game of Thrones. They represent power and might at all costs. I think I actually like this suit the best, and had a great time designing each of the figures. The king features a symbolic animal of power and earth, the Stag, and the quote on his shield is “Audaces fortuna iuvat” (Fortune favors the bold). He is holding the traditional weapon of earth, the staff, and his sleeve features the latin word “Potentia” (Power). There are also 3 hidden symbols in this suit, which I will not discuss (I need to keep some secrets).
The queen is holding the traditional offering of earth, which is the Pentacle (an amulet used in magical evocation). She also has a tree growing over her shoulder, since harvest and nature are supporting symbols for earth (reference the king’s shield again).
The Rich Jack, he is holding the traditional tool of earth, which are coins.
- Cardinal direction: North
- Season: Winter
- Time of life: Aged
- Time of day: Twilight
- Correspondences: strength, stability and abundance. In rituals earth is represented by burying objects in the ground, carving images out of wood or stone, herbalism or using animal fur and bones. The manifestations of the earth element are found in plants, trees, mountains, forests, caves and gardens. The bear, boar, bull, sow and stag are also thought to personify the element as are all burrowing animals, such as the mole or rabbit.
Aqua Vitae (Water of Life)
This is the kingdom of believers. They are healers and have faith in higher powers. I had some trouble with this suit, because the weapon, offering and tool are all the same (a cup), so I had to try and find ways of showing the same object in different styles.
The king features the weapon of water, which is the cup. His wrist shows the philosophy of this kingdom with the latin work “Fides” (Faith), and his hand is pointing up to reinforce this. His shield has a fish, an obvious symbolic animal for water, and the latin phrase “Deum fons et origo” (Source and Origin, or God). Over his shoulder is the symbolic Rod of Asclepius, a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine.
The queen of water is holding the offering of the element, a cup. Her cup is overflowing, which symbolizes not wealth of power or money, but abounding faith.
The Prodigal Jack, he is pouring his cup out, which represents a rebuke of the symbolic water. The tool of water is, again, the cup.
- Cardinal direction: West
- Season: Autumn
- Time of life: Youth
- Time of day: Midnight
- Correspondences: emotion, compassion, divination, intuition, healing, dreams and psychical abilities. The manifestations of the element of water are rivers, oceans, lakes, wells, rain, fog, ice, snow, streams and all drinks. Animals, especially the seal, dolphin, crab, turtle, frog and all types of fish are also thought to personify the element of water. Other mythic and legendary creatures of water include the Mermaid, Oread, Naiad and Sea Serpent.
Mundus vult Decipi (The World Wants to be Deceived)
This is a common phrase in magic, but its origins and original meaning are what make it important to me. The philosophy of the Joker is that of self preservation, deception and self gain. The full quote is Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur (the world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived) is talking about religion as a tool to control others. According to the pontifex maximus: people should be deceived in religion, there are many truths which it is useless for the vulgar to know; and many falsities which it is fit the people should not suppose are falsities.
Probably my favorite single card, the joker has a few fun adornments. His face is both smiling and frowning – to illustrate the duality of mischief (deception). He also has an ace up each sleeve. He is adorned in the symbols of all suits, because his nature is apparent in every philosophy.
Along with a unique King and Queen, the box features the hidden alchemical symbols for each element on the closing flap. The queen is holding a flower, a symbol for peace, and the king is holding a sword, symbolizing war.
So that’s it, I hopefully covered most of the symbols and meanings for this deck. To get a better look at each card you can view the entire deck here:
As has become tradition, the Paragon end of year mailer has to be a lil’ off the wall. 2011 gave us a chance to do a totally rad throw-back to our childhoods via some bodacious custom ViewMasters from Image3D. In line with the mission of educating friends and family about unknown aspects of the Season, the theme this time was Holiday movie classics. We all lovingly remember the standards like A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, and of course, Die Hard. But what about those lesser-known gems? Like …
or the breakout hit of 2008…
Never heard of them? We’re not surprised. That’s why we put together a collection of these and 4 other undiscovered soon-to-be-classics for our mailer last year. (Trust me, they look really cool when you see them in 3D.)
The whole package included an insert, the viewmaster, the reel, a box to hold it all and a sticker to seal it. Some assembly was required of course. Santa has elves, we have each other, so we sat down in an assembly line formation and got to work.
Box, sticker, insert and viewmaster shown above (not actual size).
Image3D did a great job with the printing, and they were really helpful throughout the entire process. So that’s how we ended 2011. Here’s to a Happy New Year filled with more great shenanigans. The rest of the movies and some preliminary sketches are below.
Our favorite futurist, Frank Spencer over at Kedge, has written a thought-provoking post about the emerging marriage between our two fields. I’ve always been intrigued, yet a teeny bit mystified, by the idea of strategic foresight and “Futures Thinking.” So this article, along with the links he’s provided to other institutions on the vanguard of this trend, helps to bring it into a bit more focus. If you’re like us and get excited about discussions on design thinking and other ways we can use our powers for good, then his approach to the topic is a great conversation starter.
The challenges for us designers, is firstly, how do we educate ourselves about the wonderful world of Futures Thinking, and secondly, how do we begin to incorporate the methods and techniques into our own practice? Our suggestion, bribe your nearest Futurist with dinner and beer.
One of the advantages to living in an old city, is that you get see bits of history peaking through in the most random of places. And I’m not just talking about the grandeur of Victorian architecture, but the great unassuming signage painted on old buildings. These gems tend to fade into the background after you’ve lived here a while, but I think it’s good to recognize these unsung heroes of place-making. So here are two to get us started, spotted around MLK Blvd.
Just 2 fonts. All caps. Like a mayun! Sure the kerning leaves a lot to be desired but it’s reassuring to know that there were people choosing to keep it simple even back then.
Ahhh, the good ol’ days when you could run out and get your lime and concrete and pick out some fetching cabinets all in the same place… and for rock bottom prices!
This greeted me at the Green truck pub last night.