Getting Write To The Point

As a graphic designer, I spend most of my day staring at the screen of my iMac, working on one project or another. But before I ever sit down at the computer, I sketch out my ideas using my trusty pencil and good old-fashioned tracing paper. Sketching allows me to try out lots of ideas and variations, to clear out the clutter in my brain until I arrive at concepts worthy of further exploration. I always stress to my designers and interns how important the pencil is to the creative process.

An article in this week’s New York Times Magazine (January 14, 2018) spotlights this most basic of tools in an article entitled, “Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories.” The story presents a loving homage to this small, but essential appliance. Christopher Payne’s arty, detailed photographs of the small Jersey City factory detail the handcrafting that goes into the pencil-making process. The graphic quality of the article’s accompanying photographs play to the simple, powerful lines created by pencils, be they words, notes, doodles, sketches or full-blown framed pieces of art.

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It’s Good To Hear Your Voice

I was a little kid with a big mouth when I first became familiar with the term “tone of voice.” My mom could only be pushed so far before she would lay down the law with an authoritative, “You don’t you talk to me in that tone of voice, mister!” It took a while for that lesson to sink in, but as a small business owner I’ve learned that the way you choose to say something is at least as important as what you’re actually trying to say.

We put a lot of time and effort into creating a brand message that we hope will help separate us from the competition and express what makes us the better choice. But how much time do we spend considering the “tone” of that message?

“Who you are” matters just as much to your customer as “what you do.” The tenor of your communications, the way you “speak” to that customer should be an ongoing concern as you build your brand. People have personalities; every one of us is distinctly different. That’s what makes life, and successful brands, interesting and memorable.

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Sun Moon Star

Back in my art school days in Manhattan, I was fortunate to fall under the spell of some truly great artists and designers. While many of those early inspirers have fallen off my personal radar, Ivan Chermayeff, who passed away earlier this month week at the age of 85, is one who continues to inspire and inform my design sensibilities to this day.

Chermayeff was an innovator and a risk taker. I remember walking into the Strand Bookstore on Broadway and stumbling into “Sun Moon Star,” his inspired children’s book, a collaboration with author Kurt Vonnegut. That oversized, artfully presented volume still has a special place on my office shelf, and as I paged through it this week, I reflected on Chermayeff’s work and his wide-ranging influence.

You’re probably familiar with the logos of Showtime, The Smithsonian, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, just a few of Chermayeff’s iconic marks. Or maybe you’ve walked by that giant red number “9” at 9 57th Street, Chermayeff’s playful answer to the building’s elegantly sloping façade. Bold, beautifully simple, and tons of fun.

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Thinking Outside The Barn

It’s been a while since a simple print ad has stopped me in my tracks. But the big black & white image of Taylor Swift promoting her new Reputation album really caught my attention. Wait, a big blaring advertisement for a new record on the side of a UPS truck? On the side of every UPS truck? That’s a bit odd. Which is exactly why it has had such an impact.

Not surprisingly, Swift and her marketing team tied their ubiquitous print ad to a sophisticated online promotion/contest around the artist’s upcoming tour. But they hooked us with a good old-fashioned, strategically and surprisingly placed print ad.

Actually, that approach isn’t so new. Back in 1925, the Burma-Shave company began advertising their “brushless” shaving cream with signs placed along the nation’s highways. After driving by five consecutive, rhyming signs, motorists were hit with the punch line, always containing the product name, on sign number six. Sales went through the roof.

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Continuing Education

“Design school most certainly does not teach you everything. That’s why you, as a successful designer, must be a lifelong learner.”

Having graduated from Parsons School of Design and embarked on a career as a graphic designer long ago, I can attest to the truth of the above quote from UK-based designer/blogger/author David Airey. In his informative and inspiring book, “Work For Money, Design For Love,” Airey offers a wealth of good advice for any graphic designer, but one particular chapter, titled “Never Stop Learning,” really hit home.

I recently entered the complex world of digital SLR photography, and devoted hours to watching YouTube instructional videos and then watching them again. It wasn’t sinking in, so I took the big step and went back to school, enrolling in an evening class at Nashville’s Watkins College of Art, Design & Film (a very cool place!). It was an eye-opening experience, unlocking the full potential of my new camera and unraveling a bit of the mystery of digital photography.

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