From Russia With Love

With roots in Russia, the Swiss Style was a modernist graphic movement that sought to express messages in an easily understood and straightforward manner. In 1918, Ernst Keller developed a design and typography course at the Zurich School of the Applied Arts based on the new idea that “the solution to the design problem should emerge from its content.” Keller carried out his “form-follows-function” philosophy with simple geometric forms, vibrant colors and evocative imagery.

Back in my New York City days as a graphic design student, we focused on the Swiss Style. I was taught to design within a strict system of grids, san serif fonts and flat colors. It made logical sense, but after an entire semester of using nothing but the Swiss Style Helvetica, I didn’t go near that font for 20 years!

I was fortunate back then to score a summer internship in Lausanne, Switzerland, where I worked under the Hungarian born, and very precise art director, Gabor Halmos. Gabor took the Swiss Style to an elevated, understated, and very elegant place. It gave me an appreciation for white space and clean design that has heavily influenced our “Clarity By Design” philosophy.

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The Ramones – Head Banging And Great Branding

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Ramones. What a blast. And I mean “blast” in every sense of the word. Yes, there was the trademark, stripped-down, jet-engine guitar roar, but these guys were really just tons of fun. It was, and still is, a blast to listen to the Ramones.

I guess that’s why my kids immediately got it, and why they pogo to the band’s songs to this day. By boiling it all down to its gritty, three-chord essence, the Ramones created primal rock ‘n’ roll that spans generations.

“What we did,” said guitarist Johnny Ramone, “was take out everything that we didn’t like about rock ‘n’ roll and use the rest, so there would be no blues influence, no long guitar solos, nothing that would get in the way of the songs.”

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What Comes After “Oops”

We all make mistakes. In fact, we made a particularly dumb one here in this blog just last week. You know, the blog where we preached about the importance of paying attention to every little detail. It reminds me of my days as a magazine editor. We’d comb every inch of a story searching for the tiniest of errors, and when the issue hit the stands, there it was – a big ol’ typo right there in the headline. These things just seem to happen at the worst possible place and time.

So, how do you respond, if at all? What comes after “oops?” The first thing we did was to send out another e-blast with the subject line spelled correctly. But that was just a weekly e-blast. Sometimes the stakes on mistakes can be much higher.

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Little Things – The Next Big Thing

I’ve always been puzzled by the old expression, “The devil is in the details.” I do understand and appreciate its meaning: What looks simple from a distance is often far more complex and challenging up close. Doing a bit of quick research on that irksome idiom, I learned that its origins go back to another phrase coined in the 19th century: “The good God is in the detail.” Now, that’s more like it. I know that attention to detail can mean the difference between great and merely good.

I learned the importance of detail as a fledgling designer at a boutique Manhattan studio. My art director constantly stressed the importance of the tiniest of details, whether it was designing an indicia to match a direct mail piece, or how to construct a client presentation that shows enthusiasm, expertise and understanding of the minutia of the project at hand.

I recently received a reminder of all this from an unexpected source – a new wallet. Simply designed, responsibly sourced and beautifully made by a company called Bellroy, I’m sure it will serve me for years to come. But, as happy as I was with my online purchase, it was the packaging that really caught my designer’s eye.

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Home Improvement

I’ve always been one of those people who can’t stand cleaning the house but who really enjoys a freshly cleaned home. I’m also one of those people who, for much of my life, wasn’t able to afford to pay someone else to do the dirty work. I would finally capitulate to the clutter, attacking the mess with a vengeance. When the job was done, I would go out for a while and come back, just so that I could get that feeling of walking into a freshly clean-and-tidy space.

When asked to offer a critical assessment of a potential client’s website, I’m often reminded of that routine household chore. With their homepages, many companies unwittingly rob first-time visitors of that comfortable feeling of entering a clean-and-spacious room.

Far too often, that introductory page is muddied with too much information. While the urge to toot your horn and tell your story is understandable, much of it should be kept off your homepage and relegated to an “About” page.

Walking into your company’s online “house,” potential clients should find essential info as quickly and simply as possible. Every element should be in its place and performing its essential function. So, what are some of those essential homepage elements?

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