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Ten Ways Creatives are Like Jedi Knights

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In honor of the upcoming Star Wars film, we bring you:

Ten Ways Creatives are Like Jedi Knights
1. They both dress funny
2. They take pride in fighting for what’s right
3. They see Yoda as a role model
4. They take themselves way too seriously
5. They have strange friends
6. They seek truth, justice, and free meals
7. They can create things out of thin air
8. What they do sometimes seems like magic
9. They are independent, quirky, and somewhat odd
10. They’re really into Star Wars

REI – Walking the Walk

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard that REI is closing on Black Friday. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a refreshing change to hear about a retailer who, in addition to not being open on Thanksgiving, has also decided to close on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Here’s why I think this is a brilliant idea…

Quite a few years ago, my family and I decided to stop exchanging Christmas presents.

Instead, we decided to make a bigger deal of out of each other’s birthdays every year (which has been a lot of fun). And to get through the holidays, we decided to focus on our favorite part of the season – cooking and eating!

We had multiple reasons for making this decision. Mostly, it was because of the needless stress it added to our lives of running out in the cold in the middle of December and wandering the isles of some random store to find the perfect gift.

Or, in an attempt to get something that was a guaranteed hit, we would write lists for each other, that included items we would eventually buy for ourselves anyway – or worse yet, that included items we didn’t really need and could end up in a landfill before the end of their useful lives.

Another reason for our decision was environmental. We are active, outdoorsy, treehugger types who like to spend our vacations abusing our bodies on long hikes or bike rides, and debate over who creates the smallest amount of trash on a weekly basis. We’re geeks like that. And we’re also REI members.

As a consumer, I was ecstatic when I heard they were closing on Black Friday and encouraging people to go outside. I felt proud to be associated with a company that shares my values.

As a marketer, I love how they turned this initiative into an entire PR-ish sort of campaign called OptOutside. It includes social media ads with beautiful photos of outdoor places, and posts asking followers to share their plans for the day.

Some ads include an interactive feature that allows viewers to type in their zip code to find great outdoor places in the area to visit. They even partnered with MeetUp to help people find organized outdoor activities for the day.

And where do you suppose they’ll go to get their gear for those activities?

Like I said, brilliant.

 

Root canals over savings accounts?

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Since many of our clients are in the financial services industry, Fred routinely shares interesting banking tidbits with us. He recently shared an article from the St. Louis Business Journal that said, in a 3-year study of 10,000 millennials, 71% would rather go to the dentist than listen to what banks are saying.

To our friends in the industry, that might feel like hearing your dentist tell you that you need a root canal. Ouch!

The article also mentioned that more than half of the respondents believe their bank’s offerings are the same as other bank’s, and over 1/3 said they would consider switching banks in the next 90 days. Unfortunately, the article didn’t say what might push these cynical, yet highly sought-after consumers to another bank. Now that would be good information to have.

But maybe it doesn’t matter, because 1/3 of the respondents think they will eventually not need a bank at all. They are more exited about financial services offerings from their tech idols, like Google, Apple and Amazon.

This got me thinking about the whole banking/mortgage debacle and how it wasn’t just millennials that were affected. Sure, they got stuck moving back home after college because they couldn’t find a job. But we all know that everyone else suffered too—perhaps the worst hit being those in or near retirement who lost a large chunk of their funds. At least millennials have their whole lives ahead of them to build up those accounts.

As for dissing the banks in favor of tech companies, it remains to be seen how this will all wash out. It’s true that many banks engaged in unscrupulous business practices, but I believe that consumers could share a little of the blame, too.

The old saying goes “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is”. For the record, this is not me shaking my finger at others. I fell prey to the hard-to-believe offers too. Taking out a home loan with no money down and the naïve belief that my house could only increase in value were two big circumstances that contributed to me eventually losing it (among other things that were out of my control).

In other words, I think it’s okay for millennials to use the benefit of hindsight to make judgments and blame the banks. But does putting all their faith into companies like Google, Apple and Amazon—who, just like banks, are in business to make money—guarantee their future success? I doubt it.

Instead, it might help if everyone practiced a little more self-control in their spending. After all, wouldn’t it be great if the bank debacle taught us, no matter what generation we are from, to learn to be more grateful for the things we already have?

The Zen of Unplugging

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Twenty years after my father had quit smoking I would watch him tap his shirt pocket, looking for his pack of cigarettes. The habit was so ingrained in his DNA I’m not even sure he was aware of his actions. Finish a meal, tap the pocket, get in the car, tap the pocket, feel a little stressed, tap the pocket.

Today, I feel as I’m watching something similar, done over and over by nearly everyone, including myself. Pause in the conversation, take out the phone, waiting for an order, take out the phone, at a red light, take out the phone. I’ve caught myself looking at my phone within minutes of having just checked my updates.

So, we’re addicted to our phones. We basically know this. We also know the negative consequences. We know that we should back off, and sometimes we do for a few hours, but unplugging is surprisingly difficult.

This is not about the research and value of unplugging. This is about my experience and how it felt to unplug for 5 days. Actually, almost unplug for 5 days, I cheated once…just had to check that email.

I signed up for a yoga retreat in the mountains of California and there was no cell coverage. (Not unless you got in your car and drove around for 20 minutes trying to find a signal so you could check in and read those emails including the one that slightly derailed you and interrupted your concentration for a day!) But I digress. The one slip not withstanding, this is how it felt.

Day 1. The first night my little group met. We were there for yoga and meditation, unplugging was not our reason for coming, but it was pretty much the topic of conversation that first night. I had been 5 or 6 hours without contact and was already considering going out in search of a signal. I’m pretty sure I was experiencing some kind of withdrawal. I came to the retreat to relax and I felt panicky. The woman next to me, to whom I am forever grateful, tapped my arm and told me that it would get easier. Something in the way she said this told me that could also get better.

Day 2. Sunrise yoga followed by breakfast in silence…with no phone. Painfully awkward. Can’t figure out where to look? Down? Up? Make eye contact, don’t make eye contact? I really miss my phone.

Day 3. Breakfast was much easier. Made it though day 2 with lots of pocket tapping, becoming fully aware of all the times I would have pulled out my phone. Filled the space with conversation or simply paying attention to all that was going on and experiencing the beauty of my surroundings. Broke down and got in the car around 8pm and found a signal. Big mistake, lesson learned. The stress this caused made me acutely aware of how good I had felt before hand.

Day 4. Ok, I was at a yoga retreat in the mountains of California so to say life slowed down and was peaceful sounds pretty silly. But it did, and I will never know exactly how different this experience would have been if I had stayed connected. I vote for no cell = greater experience. I also noticed that taking the phone out of my life left a lot of time in the day. A class starting in 20 minutes meant 20 minutes to fill, not 20 minutes to spend.

Day 5. Time to go back to life. On my drive back to the airport I let the phone sit on the seat next to me for at least an hour. Earlier I thought I would jump on it as soon as possible but I found myself unwilling to get back, just yet. A bit afraid of it, yes. Excited to pick it up and reconnect, yes. Promise made to be more intentional in my habit, yes. Promise broken, sadly, yes.

I am a typography snob

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I am a typography snob. I judge the reliability and competence of companies almost solely based on what (and how many) fonts they use in their advertising. I don’t use coupons very often because I get distracted when the layout artist forgets to kern the 1. I avoid certain routes on the way to work in order to avoid billboards that have bad typography. They repainted the water tower I can see from my office window and did a horrible job of combining two typefaces into one word, plus the kerning is all over the place, so I closed my blinds and haven’t opened them since.

I understand that I am an extreme case, twisted and made cynical by years of graphic design work, but, though extreme, I am not alone in my hatred of bad typography, and certainly not alone in my love of good typography. Just search ‘typography’ on Pinterest or Instagram once, you’ll lose days of your life to a celebration of the most carefully crafted type. And that brings me to my point, the world as a whole has woken up both to the beauty and the importance of typography. Your messages are more and more often being judged not only on the words you use, but also what those words look like.

As a designer/marketer I often have the privilege of helping a company either develop a new brand look and one of the most important aspects of that look is always typography. One of the most interesting points in any brand concept presentation is when I get to the point where I tell the client the name of the suggested font. Fonts have strange names and some are stranger than others. Lately it seems that more type designers are including the typographic classification into font names, leading me into conversations like, “This font is called Brandon Grotesque,” I said. “Grotesque?” they interjected, “But it looks very nice, why would they call it grotesque?”.

Most people never have to deal with type classification, they simply know the name of their corporate font and the basic fonts that came loaded on their computer. Almost everyone now knows the difference between sans serif and serif fonts. We type snobs however, know that there are at least four classifications of sans serif and six for serif styles.

Here’s a little peek into type classifications, so you can sound really smart in your Instagram comments.

The most famous font in the world, Helvetica, is a Grotesque Sans Serif, just like my new friend Brandon.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.16.29 PM

In fact, many of our clients use primary typography that can be classified as grotesque. These styles were the first sans serifs and have retained their popularity.

The next most commonly used classification among d.trio clients has to be the more even and, well, geometric, Geometric Sans styles. These styles are also quite popular but somewhat less readable at smaller sizes. Avenir Next is a good example of a geometric sans.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.15.54 PM

It does seem to be a sans serif world right now as sans serif fonts tend to be easier to work with and hold up better used large or in solely digital forms like web typography. But here’s a quick reminder of just how beautiful a serif can be.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.18.02 PM

There are a lot of good modern serif styles out there and some of the most popular currently can be classified as Slab Serifs. Slab serifs feature large, blocky serifs and are often said to be a sans in all ways except the serifs.

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.12.59 PM

If you’re still with me at this point, you too might be a typography snob (or at least a budding one), and you may find this page about type classifications interesting. Good luck finding great type in the world, and also good luck unseeing the bad.

Powerful brand marketing – in a non-traditional way

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Branding and marketing have always been about affinity – for a company, a product or service. People like to align with companies who stand for the ethics or attitudes they value in themselves. Those brands that present authentic and relevant experiences directly to people who are interested have a competitive advantage in today’s information saturated landscape. Large corporations and small companies both understand the marketing power of their brands as their employees and customers do more and more to influence their brand development and corporate personality.

The fact is, we are each an intrinsic part of where we work and where we choose to do business. We shape a brand and it shapes us. As marketing has become more fluid and focused on online strategies, many industries have been changed forever. Retail, banking, higher education, music, marketing – the traditional businesses have been forced to find ways to be more mobile, more 24/7 and more creative in finding their customers.

Let your audience decide the value

So it’s no surprise that this change has spilled over into investing and fundraising. People and companies are having success crowdsourcing or crowdfunding their products, services and more on sites like Kickstarter.com and Patreon.com (supporter of the arts). This is a classic affinity model for early adopters, people who want to see their favorite small business or micro business do well, or people who want to be a part of innovation or art in action. It’s both exciting and fulfilling.

It makes sense that the people and businesses that have success crowdfunding their ideas are the ones who understand who their audience is and what they want. They are authentic and offer something of value or a unique experience for the contribution of a few dollars. The best ones offer a better quality experience or product than what’s available on the market. See this Forbes article on 7 tips for crowdfunding success: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/01/24/crowdfunding-secrets-7-tips-for-kickstarter-success/

Having a personal impact

In a personal example of why crowdfunding works, Danette tells us about her experience trying to find a solar charger to take on a camping trip. She did her research and tried several on the market that left her without power. Then she found one that appears to have solved the problems of the others:

“…reading my weekly news magazine, I saw the answer. In the section titled “Innovation of the week” was a story about a new portable solar charger being developed and crowdsourced by a startup company. I went to Kickstarter to learn more. I watched the company’s 2.5 minute video and learned how their product addressed all the issues I was having with other chargers I tried. I also read through dozens of posts by the products creators about how things were coming together with the prototype. I immediately decided to support the company, with the promise of receiving my solar charger if they raised the necessary funds to go to production. If they don’t, I’m out nothing.”

This illustrates the best way to have success on Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites. They solved a real problem, did their homework and showed it to the investors, they had a compelling pitch and have the opportunity to learn something from their audience once the product is delivered.

Crowdfunding seems to be particularly good for non-traditional businesses, start ups or people in careers that might present challenges in receiving traditional loans or funding (like music and the arts). And like other brand marketing, you have to do something better than what’s being done, present your product or yourself in an authentic way and make people feel good about their decision to support you. A win-win situation compels success. To quote Danette, “That is powerful marketing. And there’s nothing traditional about it.”

McFlop on the McWhopper but that’s Ok, I Made My Own

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September 21st, International Peace Day, it’s coming up, but prior to yesterday did you know this? Neither did I, but yesterday after Burger King executed what could arguably be one of the most brilliant marketing strategies ever, I will never forget International Peace Day. With full page ads in both The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, plus a website and video dedicated to their pitch, Burger King suggested to McDonald’s that they merge their Whopper and the McDonald’s Big Mac for one day only.

McWhopper stop one

Dubbed the #UnthinkableBurger, Burger King proposed that these two iconic brands would set aside their differences and unite to raise awareness of International Peace Day and raise funds for the Foundation.

I’m pretty conscious of what I eat, and even though this burger would be only available in Atlanta (which was deemed to be the midway point between both brands HQ’s) I suddenly found myself wanting this proposed “Frankenburger” of sorts. I also wanted to support the cause and the gesture. Who hates international peace, right?

Burger Kind and McDonald's

Burger King’s campaign, or challenge, if you will, reminded me of a high school kid going over the top in some cutesy, elaborate and outrageous way to ask a date to prom, making the gesture unforgettable and difficult to turn down. Well that’s just what McDonald’s did. They turned Burger King down. No counter offer, no other suggestion or compromise. Instead, Steve Easterbook CEO of McDonald’s gave a vague response with a thank you but no thank you. This was not going to happen, that much was clear. Well Mr. Easterbrook you can rain on the parade, but you will not be taking this away from me. I went ahead and made my own McWhopper today.

My McWhopper

The McWhopper after a bite

I also made a donation to International Peace Day, and came to a few conclusions.

1. The Big Mac is pretty much tasteless. I have never tried a side-by-side comparison but now that I have, I’m writing off the Big Mac.

2. I also think now that since BK Lounge has brought back chicken fries Steve Easterbrook’s company might be in trouble, well beyond the 3000 some negative comments written underneath his response to the King.

3. All Burger King needs to do now is bring back Kid Vid and the Kids Club, and I think the momentum could be unstoppable.

P.S. Anybody else remember the McWorld campaign?

Maybe there’s actually something to this coloring book craze after all.

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You may know that adult coloring books are one of the hottest things around these days. As I write this, they make up four of the top ten best selling books on Amazon. Yes, coloring books! A lot of people, sociologists and psychologists included, have been weighing in on the reason. So I figured, why can’t an unqualified, armchair psychologist like me take a swing at it, too?

People say the act of coloring is relaxing. It allows for a kind of focused effort that takes them away from their nagging To-Do lists. It’s an inexpensive escape from life’s stresses. A time machine to childhood. A mental vacation. A simple form of meditation.

Sure, coloring is all that stuff. But I think the best part is that it’s so dang easy. Most people appreciate the need for a creative outlet. Problem is, learning an instrument takes skill. Knitting takes skill. Painting takes skill. Not to mention years of dedicated practice.

Coloring takes crayons.

And that’s about it. No months or years of frustration and angst. Just a black and white sheet of paper and a good old box of Crayolas.

Yet there’s still a creative component to it. You need to make color choices. You need to have a bit of hand-eye coordination. It’s physical and mental. You can do it anywhere, on any budget.

The key to happiness in any creative endeavor is the ability to focus on process rather than product. To enjoy it for the sake of doing it, without stressing out about how it looks, or sounds, or whether you’ll sell it or become famous from it.

With coloring books, the expectations are nil. Heck, if toddlers and monkeys can do it, why not a full grown adult? Coloring reminds us that it’s okay to enjoy the process. Like when we were kids. Like when we did things because they were F-U-N. Without judgment. Without purpose. Without any goal to work toward. Not because our jobs or our egos or our livelihoods depended on it.

Everyone should have something like that. A creative pursuit they practice for pure enjoyment and nothing else.

I admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve peeled back the lid on one of those 128-pack boxes of crayons. But maybe I should.

I’d probably be a lot less stressed out.

Is The New Logo No Logo At All?

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Coca-Cola is one of the most iconic brands and logos of all time. There is no disputing this, even when written in different languages, it is instantly recognizable across the globe. Today, after a successful, “Share a Coke,” campaign…which saw a variety of names on the packaging, I came across something I never could have imagined.

bottle

Gone were all names. Not just VIP, Showstopper, Karen, Dad, but even the name Coca-Cola itself. The names and labels were dumped about as fast as a 72-day Kardashian wedding.

Coca-Cola states it is removing names, even it’s own, in attempt to get the world to see without labels. Wow that’s deep, I mean, commendable. Then I got to thinking, wait a minute, what if a company came to me and told me they wanted a website without a logo. Would that even be possible? I’m starting to get anxious about a completely hypothetical situation but, what if?

machines

I place blame on Pininfarina, the design firm better know for its car designs for Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Fiat.

They worked with Coca-Cola to design their Freestyle soda machine. Don’t get me wrong, they did an exceptional job, even won a 2011 Good Design Award. However when you look at the sleek soda machines, they foretold of things to come in design. The Coca-Cola logo for example was placed on the sides of the machine, rather than the front. On the front, besides what I’m calling the Coca-Cola swirl, was a very, very, small logo. Interesting to compare it to the pop machines I remember back in high school, which were nothing but logo top-to-bottom.

machine

can

Based on Coke’s recent bold move we wonder if logos and brands are evolving in a way that will make them minimal, clean, flat, almost secondary. The evolution of Twitter’s logo from cartoon bird to its current format is another great example. How these smaller and minimal logos will translate over to web design and its aesthetic appeal remains to be seen. I guess I shouldn’t lose any sleep over it, yet. No logo? Guess that’s not all that different when I request current digital assets and get informed there aren’t any.