My desk is a mess, strewn with resumes and portfolios. I’ve just completed weeks of interviewing to find a new designer to add to our team. The process resulted in an inbox inundated with cover letters, resumes and digital portfolios, each representing a hopeful person who’s put many hours of hard work into their craft. As this process always does, it got my mind focused on the answer to the question, what makes for great design?
There are a myriad of answers, for sure. Composition, smart type, delightful illustration, good Adobe chops, collaboration, unfettered creativity or a good sense for visual tension—these all matter. But, the only crucial component of great design is a great idea. Without a great idea, you’ve got nothing.
I constantly asked interviewees, “What was your idea behind this piece?” or “Tell me what problem you were trying to solve here?” as we reviewed their work. I wanted to get past the visual design and understand their thinking, the power of their ideas.
As our tag line implies, we’re looking for problem solvers and that demands people who have great ideas. Technical proficiency and creative talent sure make a difference but, really, they’re just cost of entry. What separates the good from the great is the power of their thinking. No matter how hot a design or how slick a presentation, in the end great design depends on great ideas.
Can anything good come from marketing? Musing on the potential it has to be virtuous.
Marketing often gets a bad rep and for good reason.
To non-practitioners the term marketing evokes any number of negative thoughts and feelings. Images of frivolous time and money spent on a new corporate identity worry the finance department while misgivings of manipulation and deceit caution the consumer whenever marketing is mentioned.
In some ways this mistrust of motives is deserved. Often, the consumer is left to fend for themselves like a fish surrounded by a sea full of nets, hooks and traps. Like the fish we're immersed in a world of the marketer's creation; advertisements, sponsorships, product placements, branding, displays, viral content and signage everywhere we turn.
Within corporations marketing can often seem like the undisciplined rogue department, wound-up on the latest internet fad, focusing on what seem like surface issues like colors or type or shapes when what really matters is the quality of the product or service. Marketing sticks its nose into other departments; business, too, telling engineering how to make the product better or asking manufacturing to speed up its production rate and pushing finance to change pricing.
So, it's not surprising that inside the company or out in the world, marketing is often viewed as a problem that no one knows how to rid themselves of.
I propose marketing can be virtuous. And by virtuous I mean beyond helping its company sell more widgets and thus increase the company's ability to be profitable. Of course, that's a virtue of a sort and no small thing when one considers the number of jobs that marketing either protects or helps to create, along with the general health of the company and so on.
But, marketing can be virtuous beyond what it does for the good of its own organization.
When done right and when done with integrity, marketing connects two parties; one with a problem, need or want and the other with a solution, product or service. Marketing helps these two parties find each other in a vast and oft confusing world. By doing so, it is facilitating the creation and realization of value for both parties. Marketing helps two parties that need each other get connected so that both can walk away better off than before they engaged.
According to our friend Adam Smith, that's a good thing—some would even call it virtuous.
We do a lot of branding work for clients. It's not uncommon to be in the midst of market research, branding workshops and corporate identity work at any given time.
But, like anything one does regularly, it's easy to get so familiar with it that you take some aspect or another for granted.
I was reminded just last week that I've fallen prey to this by taking a product's form for granted. We don't get involved in package engineering for products, but I was so moved by this recent experience that I thought I should share it with you.
I'm currently on an extended holiday in the Western Cape region of South Africa with my family. We're busy visiting old friends, reuniting with my wife's family and spending time together with our kids and catching our breath in the southern hemisphere's sun. My wife and I popped into a local grocer to get supplies for our temporary home and I was struck with a feeling of wholesomeness and comfort.
What evoked this feeling? The milk containers in the cooler. We grabbed a couple and I snapped a picture of them when we got home.
Why did simple milk jugs evoke a feeling of happiness and comfort for me?
A few reasons stand out.
1. The form is both intuitive and unexpected at the same time. The milk jugs are reminiscent of glass jugs left at the door in the early morning by the village milkman. And yet, one never sees this form anymore, due to the more functional shapes that inhabit our shelves.
2. The form draws on cultural history. As I've stated above the form reminds of of our past. Even though I'm in a foreign country, its history is based on European agriculture, as is the Untied States. So, the idea of fresh cold milk in a glass container, similar to those pictured above, is powerful.
3. The form is simple. There is something quite elegant about the simplicity and lines of these containers and that's pleasing.
4. The form is human. It's not high tech, and it does not look like it came from a factory, even though these containers most surely do.
Of course, there are whole books written about the power of form in branding. I just wanted to share my experience and challenge you. Take a purposeful look at the products you interact with this week and think about how their form impacts their brand. You may be surprised by what you see.
Graham Beck has a wonderful article on the color palate of the US government. It's called Americhrome and it's published over at The Morning News. It's the most interesting thing I read all weekend.
Here's a snippet:
Born from the seeds of America’s second labor movement and reared in the midst of the Nader revolution, safety orange (F.S. No. 12300) and the rest of its OSHA-approved color family signal a shift away from the marking and branding of an institution and toward colors’ expanding role in the everyday lives of Americans. The orange cones lining a construction zone might not appear that dissimilar to the directional signs nearby, but behind them lies a different logic. That orange—maybe because it’s bright, and maybe because we’re hardwired to watch for it, and maybe because we’ve learned to do so—carries a lesson with it. That color warns. It says that people are working; shouts that equipment is ahead. At the end of a cap gun, it pledges that nothing more than noise will come out. These aren’t mere reminders of an orderly, rule-following American way of life; they are a shorthand for specific human concerns, and they’re applied with the wellbeing and needs of individual citizens in mind.
On Tuesday this week, Mike Nelson and I recorded what will end-up being the first in a series of Bob Wright Creative podcasts. I'm really excited about this and wanted to give our blog readers a heads-up.
Our goal for the series is help our audience with marketing and communication design problems by sharing our experiences.
This was the first time I'd personally taken part in making a recording like this and it was a lot of fun—so much fun that we'll be doing it on a regular basis. Usually I'm helping a client develop this kind of content so it was a special treat to be behind the mic. Mike is an audio pro and made it easy.
So, keep an eye out for the launch. (We still have to edit, etc.) Of course, we'll shout it from the rooftops when episode one goes live.
If you have topic ideas or questions you'd like us to tackle, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Remember the movies Helvetica and Objectified? Producer and director Gary Hustwit presents the third film in his design series: Urbanized. Watch the trailer below.
The film is premiering in a few big cities and will be released on DVD worldwide. I really enjoyed Helvetica and am looking forward to seeing Gary's current effort. You can learn more about the project at the Urbanized site.
I took part in a recent panel discussion as part of DrupalCamp WNY. "What's Drupal", you say? You can learn more here, although this post really is not about Drupal—it's about how marketers promote.
The topic was Selling Drupal with the idea that the audience, mainly Drupal developers, would learn how to do a better job selling Drupal to their clients and prospects.
In preparation for the discussion I spent some time thinking about how BWC typically sells Drupal and realized that we don't sell Drupal!
We never walk into a client or prospect meeting trying to figure out how we can sell one thing or another. We do, however, walk into every meeting with clients and prospects thinking about how we can understand their problem and how we can help them solve it.
And, sometimes, that includes Drupal.
I know this is simple stuff and that you already know marketing should be value-focused. All marketers are focused on solving a problem, meeting a need, scratching an itch, right? But, how often do you see, of have you succumbed to, marketing that hawks a product or service without any recognition of the value it provides it's targets?
If you feel like you've fallen into that trap think for a moment about what problems you solve. Forget your services, products and unique offerings for a minute and just focus on your prospects' needs. How does your company meet those needs? How does it solve those problems?
If you can answer those questions you've got the foundation for great messaging; you can stop trying to sell product and start solving problems.
We're adding to our design team and are on the look-out for a graphic designer.
The following is some info on the position and the kind of person we're looking for. Also, take a look at our guiding principle to make sure you resonate with why we get out of bed every day.
Bob Wright Creative is in search of a talented designer for an entry-to-mid-level position within our close-knit team. Our collaborative environment offers an excellent atmosphere in which to create and grow.
The ideal candidate is a talented problem solver that is well organized, highly motivated and detail-oriented. Some work experience in the design field is preferred. Talent, drive and work ethic are crucial.
- Concept development and design
- Client interaction
- InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator work for a variety of projects.
- Both thrive in a collaborative environment and work effectively independently
- Can handle multiple projects and deadlines simultaneously
- Proficiency with InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop is required.
- Flash, Powerpoint and web development skills a plus.
- Knowledge and experience in both print and web design is required.
- Ability to conduct research, analyze and problem solve.
- Organized, self-starter
- Illustration skills a plus
I met with one of my client's senior management team today and something amazing happened.
A little backstory
We meet once a month to review PR opportunities. None of the people in the room are responsible for marketing, all of them overseeing one of the various departments in my client's company.
The meetings go alright. We churn through an agenda that I had inherited, looking for upcoming events that we can publicize and story ideas that we can pitch.
Actually, the monthly meeting was a dog. We did our duty, but it was not a good spend of everybody's time.
What to do?
My client and I agreed that the time was not well spent and that we needed to shift gears. We hashed some ideas around and decided the best plan was to back up and get his team more engaged in the overall marketing process. They needed context. They needed to be able to understand what direction we're taking their marketing and how they fit into it.
Talking fast to make it fit
So, today I spent an hour and a half taking the team through the three main areas of work that I've been focused on for their company: strategic, tactical and operational.
I shared the steps we went through in developing the strategic plan, the findings and the strategies. I shared the positioning work we did and the rationale behind it. I shared the branding that we've been developing and how it tied into the strategic work and positioning. We covered the overall tactical plan and how we're in the process of operationalizing their marketing function.
We covered a lot of info in a short period of time.
After I was done something amazing happened: they started getting excited about the opportunities and challenges before their company and they started to share some excellent ideas—not just PR ideas, but marketing ideas.
They were really good ideas, too, because they had context for the first time. The team started to understand how they each fit into the company's marketing strategy and that unlocked their expertise and creativity. It was quite dramatic.
If your company's marketing team is comprised of non-marketing professionals, take time to give everyone context. Don't just share with them what you did but share why you did it—the thinking behind your approach.
By doing so, you'll help them understand the big picture, how they fit and what unique piece they have to offer. You'll get much better contributions from the team and who knows, you might even have that "Ah Ha!" idea that's been eluding you.