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February 24 2014


January 29 2014


More often than not, you get what you pay for

An example of the common tabloid response to design work.

Irish Water (who spent €50,000,000 on consultants in 2013 — but that’s another story) hires Dublin-based Zero-G to create a new brand identity. The Daily Mail reports the fee as “€20,000 — €5,000 per word.”

Irish Water logo by Zero-G
Photo credit: Laura Hutton, Photocall Ireland

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) gets wind of the story and thinks Irish Water spent too much on the design, then offers an alternative.

“We decided to use a cost effective micro-job website to pay an online seller to create a logo for Irish Water.

“This cost a reasonable $5 which was donated by a member of our staff. All we had to do was upload some brand specifications and wait seven days for our logo. It took all of ten minutes.”

Irish Water logo clipart

But the alternative turns out to be royalty-free clipart downloaded from a stock website, which if used would inevitably lead to copyright infringement.

Water clipart

A five second Google search finds the same icon in another company logo (albeit botched).

Fair play to DIT students Emma Grattan and Derek Doyle who wrote an open letter asking the USI to stop belittling the profession they’re studying to enter.

“Your response to the current debate around the value and status of the design profession in Ireland represents the kind of cheap race to the bottom that undercuts the value and worth of good design. It not only demonstrates a lack of familiarity on your part as to what is involved in the process of design but, much more alarmingly, it exposes a lack of awareness as to the breadth of courses whose students you represent.”

As is often the case with tabloid stories, the focus is on two things: the money, and the logo.

And inevitably, there’ll be non-designers who think identity design shouldn’t cost more than a beer, there’ll be publicly-funded companies who are reluctant to hire reputable designers for fear of a backlash, and we see more clipart as logos, more cases of copyright infringement.

The €20K payment to Zero-G “included complete branding for all sections of the semi-state company, not just the logo.” But it’s details like those that don’t sell as many newspapers or get as many clicks.

Tags: Branding
Sponsored post

December 03 2013


What’s in a Story?

In 2006 and 2009, studies were published showing that fiction readers were more empathetic than their non-reading counterparts. In 2012, further studies showed that the areas in the brain that activate when a person tells a story are also activated in the listener. In other words, years of study led researchers to conclude something that most of us instinctively know: that the stories we (as individuals or as companies) tell our audience directly influence the thoughts and actions of those who listen.

Few people remember the year the Titanic sank, although most of us learned it in middle school history. Yet the movie Titanic immortalized every detail of the sinking ship in the minds of millions. Equally, content strategists and designers must constantly tell stories to inform the perspective of their prospective users.

Put simply: stories are more engaging than facts, and we all have the power to tell them. In this article we’ll review not only the importance of stories throughout the history of human beings, but also the ways that we, as content strategists and designers, can create stories that provide context for our target audience.

Why stories?

“People need stories more than bread itself. They tell us how to live, and why.” – Arabian Nights

Storytelling is an invaluable means of communication, dating back thousands of years. Greek and Roman mythology, for example, explained everything from the changing seasons to life and death. One Greek myth is that of Pandora’s box:

Pandora was the first human woman on Earth. There were Gods and there were Titans, but no humans. So each God gave Pandora a gift: beauty, charm, music, curiosity, and persuasion among them. Zeus, ruler of the Gods, also gave Pandora a box (or a jar, in the original Greek), and told her not to open it. Curiosity being one of Pandora’s gifts, she eventually succumbed and opened the box. Out flew disease, hatred, war—all sorts of terrible things. She managed to close the box before hopelessness could fly out.

The Greeks used this tale to explain all of the world’s evils and how humanity could hold hope in spite of them. True, the Greeks could have merely passed along “facts” from one generation to the next. They could have told their children “there is evil in the world, and yet you must continue to have hope.” Instead they used the power of story and, in so doing, created something that’s been with us for over 3,000 years.

Today, well branded companies use a similar approach. Many of us forget that sneakers are not an exciting purchase, yet Nike tells the stories of professional athletes who started out “just like us.” We buy their story and, consequently, the shoes that come with them. State Farm insurance doesn’t focus on paperwork, either. They tell a story about enjoying family time and having friends to help out in times of trouble. We purchase their insurance in hopes of buying into the camaraderie they present.

Content creators are storytellers

But information doesn’t naturally come in story form. On the contrary, many companies begin with “facts” such as “our sneakers decrease knee injuries” or “our application saves users time when they look up recipes.” This non-narrative approach may be less compelling, but what it lacks in panache it makes up for in opportunity. By adding context to facts, content strategists can provide their audience with a story rather than a table of benefits and functionality.

As a content strategist myself, I recently helped a company craft a story to provide the necessary context for their new online community. After speaking with a few of their target users—those in the “nutrition web” space—we began to establish the company’s story. We asked a second group of target users if they would like help finding healthy recipes for evenings when guests joined their family for dinner. We looked for chances to weave story into every aspect of the website: stories about family dinners, stories about children growing up, stories about busy days with only a few minutes to relax. Our target audience responded incredibly and traffic increased!

So how did we do it? In order to develop the best stories, we followed a four-step plan: We Researched our audience, Established our story, Added in details, and Distributed copies.


The first step to communication is learning about our potential audience: where they spend their time, what information they need, what vocabulary they use. We do this through listening.

Ideally our companies have a sense of who their prospective users might be. By interviewing five people (be that as vague as “iphone users” or as specific as “moms in their 40s with teenage kids, full time jobs, working in the tech industry”), we obtain a gestalt of the vocabulary our users are comfortable with (also known as a vernacular or a lexicon) and some of the stories with which they might empathize.

There is no shortcut to this part, unfortunately. Just as there’s no shortcut to learning about a blind date—all the Google searches in the world won’t tell you what you’ll learn during an actual conversation—there is no better way to learn about users than to just sit with them and listen. We do that best by way of ethnographic interviews, interviews or conversations designed to do nothing more than understand who our target audience is and how they spend their time.

The questions to ask are simple: ask users to explain what they do at work all day; ask them to describe the details; learn what acronyms they use and how much work impacts their daily life; ask them about their families; ask them how they spend their free time. Most of all, ask them what frustrates them, at work or at home. Everyone seems to warm up when they’ve been invited to complain a bit!

Establish the story

Once we understand our user’s stories, it’s time to tell our own. For many people, this is the hardest part of the job: crafting a story our company wants to tell.

Nike’s content strategy team clearly follows a trope in which a beginner athlete moves to the pros. Perhaps this is based off research in which many members of their target audience said “if I had better sneakers, I would run more. I always wanted to run a 10 mile race.” Someone who responded this way would obviously feel a connection to a commercial in which an athlete transitions from beginner to winner.

The best product stories are aspirational, providing a gateway into a world created by using the product or service. In service of that story’s creation, content strategists need to frame things with a clear beginning, a middle, and end. Consider the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood:

  • Little Red Riding Hood wants to visit her grandmother. (Beginning)
  • She meets the wolf, who eats her and her grandmother. (Middle)
  • The huntsman kills the wolf, and Red Riding Hood lives happily ever after with her grandmother. (End)

Companies can employ a similar structure. If Motorola’s target audience includes “parents with full time jobs,” and Motorola knows those parents have a common thread of guilt—insofar as they wish they could be in two places, the office and home, at once—the company might craft a story like:

  • Joe wants to spend more time with his family. (Beginning)
  • Joe buys the new Moto X phone, which allows him to work from anywhere. (Middle)
  • Joe leaves the office early, to take his family on a picnic. (End)

Add details

Remember, stories give us context. A story that’s devoid of personalized details fails to create context and, therefore, fails to make a connection. This is why, according to Aberdeen Group, personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14%, and conversion rates by 10%.

Many content strategists miss the mark here. We create an outline (the beginning, middle and end) based upon our understanding of our audience, but we neglect to add personalized details. No one cares about a story of a person who goes for a walk, walks into a house, and then gets kicked out when the owners return. What makes the story interesting is what it expands into. The person changes to a little girl. The strangers become bears! The bears become a family. The family enjoys a morning walk. This explains why they were out of the house. The little girl becomes Goldilocks, a very curious girl, who is always poking into other peoples’ business. And on and on and on.

If Goldilocks had a Twitter account, it would likely be filled with reports on bears, recipes to make oatmeal, and pathways through the woods. These are the personalizations that make a story compelling. Over time, the number of details woven into a social media strategy might expand as the character of Goldilocks (or the brand personality) expanded. The Twitter feed might include information on her favorite types of breakfast, or personalized emails might mention even less-obviously-related items, like a book she happened to be reading.

The story behind our companies must expand in a similar way. What makes Home Depot’s Twitter feed so interesting is not just the deals it offers; it’s the non-hardware-related articles the feed promotes that still appeal to its customers. Customers who align with the Home Depot brand enjoy DIY projects, humorous contests, and family-centric holidays.


Finally we have to distribute the story itself.

In theater, it’s commonly said that the show is not complete unless it has an audience. The same is true of a story. A story is nothing without its audience. The best part is that the same story may have multiple parts—and therefore multiple audiences—across multiple mediums.

Nike’s brand story, for example, is told through their commercials, their website, on their Facebook page, and on their Twitter feed. Nike tells different parts of that story in every communication with every user. They’re not trying to sell; that’s just a byproduct. They’re engaging their audience by offering articles, videos, cartoons, and other news that’s custom-tailored to a given interaction.

But that’s Nike. Not every audience can be found on TV, Facebook or Twitter. Some companies find their users on LinkedIn, or Quora, or Instagram. The key isn’t to go to a specific place. The key is that, through user research (remember step one?), we can learn where any audience member spends their time, online and off. Then we work to join the conversations whenever and wherever they take place.

Tell your story

For each individual brand, we can follow these steps to improve the overall user experience and better engage the user. Every story embodies a personality, which we can personalize for the target audience to make our product or company friendly and focused. Storytelling is in our genes, and it’s a tool everyone on the UX team can—and should—use!

This article’s lead image is copyright Mike Shaheen.

The post What’s in a Story? appeared first on UX Booth.

November 28 2013


The influence of colour in brand identity

Written by Laura Hussey, partner and creative director at London-based SomeOne.

It’s drizzly, it’s grey, everyone is wearing black and I’m a Celebrity is back on the telly tempting me with the lush green Australian rainforest and it’s vast, bright blue skies. I’m sick of the dullness of winter. I need some colour.

Union Jewellery boxes
Union Jewellery packaging by Red Design

My desire for colour isn’t only at this time of year either, I crave it all year round — in fact I’d go so far as to say I draw energy from it.

Brands can benefit from our desire for colour, too. It can help keep conversations intriguing, energetic and rewarding.

A study of the world’s top 100 brands (defined by brand value) saw 95% use only one or two colours. 33% of those top brands would like to think they own the colour blue, and 29% think red is their colour. It suddenly becomes irrelevant, it’s what you do with it that counts. Why be limited?

Take a look at how Oxfam have rebranded with a reinvigorated palette of colours and the mantra ‘provocative optimism’. The charity has to deal with famine and world disasters and yet still has to attract people to be inspired to give money. The most immediate way to do this is through their brand colours. The vibrant colours help to reinforce Oxfam’s positive attitude towards fundraising and boost their rallying cry, making people feel positive about taking part and able to help affect change.

Oxfam identity by Wolff Olins

Another brand that recognises the power of colour is The Guardian, whose use of a spectrum of colours to illustrate it’s all-encompassing news. Multiple colours speak of choice, variety and diversity. Think Google, NBC, eBay, or MSN to name but a few that use more than two colours to express their breadth.

Google data center pipes
Google data center pipes

We chose a similar approach when we created the Brand World for The Halcyon — an exciting development highlighting the best of British art, retail, design, music, exhibitions, gallery and food. The colours used within the brand and environment were derived from, and act as a subtle nod towards the diverse colour palette used during Britain’s great creative periods of the past — our Halcyon days, mixed with those we see around us today.

The Halcyon identity by SomeOne

Colours can reflect the emotional outlook of a culture and so it’s no coincidence that as we emerge from the UK’s longest, deepest postwar recession we see a change in colour trends. We want to feel happy and secure, and that’s why we gravitate towards colours that bring about more positive emotions. Think of the striking pink Olympic signage that directed people around London and how happy and talkative people in the city suddenly seemed to be. Even many normally surly locals engaged in casual conversation. The colour got a good showing on many volunteers, too. Why? it stands out, it’s appealing. The result? A capital city and thousands of people adorned with a surprisingly bright and appealing shade.

London Olympics signage
Image: Surface Architects

The Dutch artists Haas & Hahn saw this potential when they lived and worked in some of the world’s most violent places. It is unusual to have to ask permission of a drug lord before you can start painting, but in Vila Cruzeiro – generally considered one of Rio’s most dangerous favelas – this is what they had to do. Not just to beautify, but also to create a dialogue with their surroundings. After several successful projects, the image of a square painted in a design of radiating colours yielded worldwide fame and transformed Rio into ‘one of the world’s 10 most colourful places’. It stands out.

Favela painting by Haas & Hahn

Colour doesn’t just benefit worthy causes though — you only need to look at Jonathan Ive’s colour choices for the new iOS 7, or the sweet shop choice of iPhone 5C. More than any iPhone in history, the iPhone 5C is all about colour and personality. Some say Ive was inspired by the well-regarded graphic designer of the late 20th century, Mitsuo Katsui whose designs are known for vibrant use of colours in motion, often placed within wide, single-colour blank spaces. Katsui’s abstract forms also often use transparencies to highlight contrast effects.

iPhone 5C colours
Photo via iPhone Hacks

Similarly, for the launch of Tesco’s first tablet – the Hudl, we wanted to inject warmth into a category that can often be overly technical and unfriendly.

Hudl colours

‘Be more Colourful’ doesn’t have to simply mean ‘use lots of bright colours’ either. A brand can behave more colourfully through their actions, their tone of voice or their inventions. Innocent Drinks has grown from a three-person outfit to a multimillion pound business, a large part of the company’s success can be attributed to the brand’s tone of voice. It has managed to stand out in a saturated drinks market by being friendly and engaging, sometimes even cheeky but always distinctive. It has managed to elevate the brand way above it’s competitors.

Innocent Drinks colours

Then you have Marmite — a yeast-based spread. Nothing very sexy or colourful about that and yet by being brave enough to recognise their product is hated as much as it is loved it has elevated it to much more than a savoury spread. It’s ‘Love/Hate’ campaign has earned them many fans and its originality means it’s now used to mean anything which strongly divides opinion. The strength of the brand means it can now expand into other areas, even fashion — ‘Love Marmite, Hate Jams’ as seen on many a trendy fixie rider weaving through traffic.

Love Marmite, Hate Jams
Road cycling jersey available from

Brands want fame and monopoly and to do that they must stand out and appeal to human beings, so they need to be more optimistic – more colourful. Who wants 50 shades of grey when you’ve got the choice of the rainbow?

Laura Hussey is partner and creative director at SomeOne. Follow Laura on Twitter.

October 15 2013


Everything in Its Right Place: An Interview with Ahava Leibtag

These days, it seems that nothing’s more hotly contested than the role of content within our organizations: content is the brand, content is conversation, content is king. It’s a confusing landscape even for content strategists, those of us who specialize in the stuff! And that’s what makes Ahava Leibtag’s last book so special: Ahava takes the problem of “crafting good content” head on.

In addition to being President and owner of Aha Media Group, Ahava Leibtag is a content expert, focusing on content marketing and strategy. In her recent book, The Digital Crown, Ahava provides a whirlwind of brand and messaging best practices, examples of successful persona creation and messaging architecture, and even shares advice on how to present content strategy to C-level execs.

After reading the first chapter (free!) of The Digital Crown, we were keen to interview Ahava and get a deeper understanding of her motivations and influences in bringing this book to content marketers and content strategists. Join us as we learn from Ahava’s experience—and then find out how you can get a free copy of The Digital Crown!

You begin your book by comparing a website to a conversation, a comparison that author Ginny Reddish also made in her classic, “Letting Go of the Words.” —
The idea of content as a conversation definitely came from Ginny, although it was also shaped by The Cluetrain Manifesto’s conception of the Web as vast marketplace.

Another one of the guiding principles I advocate in the book is aligning your content with your business objectives. I know that seems obvious and most organizations think they are doing it, but oftentimes they aren’t. Instead, they’re creating content to satisfy stakeholders (rather than customers).

Thinking about content as a conversation between the brand and an audience gives businesses a pragmatic framework.

What other books and ideas inspired you as you wrote The Digital Crown?
Other books that were very inspirational to me were Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, many of Gerry McGovern’s ideas, and Switch by Dan and Chip Heath. Kristina’s book is foundational; it covers a lot of the details of how to do content strategy; Gerry really wants us to focus on our customers (something I also stress in the book); and Switch spoke to me because, so often, content professionals are tasked with shaping organizational change.

One of the things I write in the book is, “In essence, a company has to experience a cultural shift in order to create outstanding, winning content. Shifts only happen with guiding principles and support.” I learned more about how to do that from reading Switch and I think it’s critical for any content professional—whether in-house or at an agency—to understand how to suggest those changes for organizations.

n one of your examples you discuss the infamous “United Breaks Guitars” video, a shining example of a conversation in which a company lost control. Many companies are criticized for being too controlling of the brand (and losing valuable free advertising), however, such as when Microsoft sued a fan for getting a tattoo of a Halo character. How do companies find the right balance?
Businesses need to decide when to get involved based on risk assessment. We can measure damage in the past, but it’s a lot harder to measure the positives that might have been. (That’s why it’s a good idea to have post-mortems after things like this!)

Strong businesses develop a matrix—something unique to their company—for when and how to should get involved. I also think companies think “control” means directing the conversation, but control can also mean just letting fans know that you are watching, letting people know that you care.

Brand consistency is a very hot topic addressed in your book. What recommendations do you have for companies whose brand is shifting, if the current employees don’t exemplify the new brand?
Brand training. Training is critically important. It’s also important to have employees on the front lines—what about making them do a shift in the call center or going out to the retail stores to learn what is going on?

Being in touch with the customer is vital. In chapter one I tell the story of Brian, a salesperson who initially sells products really well because he focuses on customers. When he goes to product training, though, he starts focusing on products and soon learns he can’t sell a thing because he’s shifted his focus from what the customer needs to what he’s trying to sell.

If all else fails, I think companies are right to change employees, especially when those employees don’t get the brand personality. Let the employee find a job better for them and let the company fulfill its goals. J.C. Penney is the perfect example of this: they hired the wrong CEO, their profits dropped precipitously, and they got rid of him. Right decision. I hope it doesn’t sound ruthless. At the end of the day, employees are paid to do what the company needs them to do.

I love that you compare a brand to a promise. What should a company take into consideration when choosing the right “promise” to make?
Three things:
  • Can employees actually deliver it?
  • Do they truly believe in it?
  • And can they easily communicate what it is to everyone in the organization?
Marshall McLuhan famously suggested that the “medium is the message.” How do you think that relates to the work that we do? Does crafting a unique brand—or a unique message—require crafting our own medium?
I actually cover this exact phrase later in the book, but think it’s the other way around—every unique medium means we need to tweak the messaging. For example, visual content does really well on Facebook because it shows up in the news feed. On Twitter, providing a link to a picture may or may not do well considering how well the link is teased and if people feel like clicking on the link.

Our job is to make sure that content is fueling the sales process (or the achievement threshold: increasing donors, patients, students, public health downloads etc.) I’m not sure how we would craft our own medium, but I do think we need to choose content formats wisely so they appeal to the right audiences in the right place at the right time when they are primed to buy or listen.

Last question! Many companies struggle with the gap between “how they’re perceived” and “how they want to be perceived.” How do you recommend companies deal with this gap?
I have an entire exercise called identity pillars and articulation statements that comprises the bulk of Chapter 7, called Framing your Content. I talk about how to create identity pillars (a tool I created for just this type of brand management), messaging architecture and voice & tone. When you have those three tools, as well as your customer personas fleshed out, you’re ready to start creating some killer content that will convert your web traffic into customers.

Many thanks, again, to Ahava for sharing her insights with us! If you have a question that wasn’t answered above, feel free to ask it in the comments below.

Want to win a copy?

Interested readers can pre-order a copy of Ahava’s book, The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web, on If you’d rather just win a copy, though (and who wouldn’t?), simply follow @uxbooth on twitter and leave a comment with your twitter handle below, answering the question: what is your greatest challenge with content? How do you hope The Digital Crown will help you address that challenge? Ahava will review the responses within a week of this post, and we’ll contact one lucky winner over Twitter. See you in the comments below!

The post Everything in Its Right Place: An Interview with Ahava Leibtag appeared first on UX Booth.

June 27 2013


Introducing charm into charmless categories

Here’s Simon Manchipp’s talk from Typo Berlin last month.

Typo Berlin logo

A great insight into SomeOne‘s approach to brand identity projects.

Identity Designed

Brand identity inspiration on Identity Designed.

Tags: Branding

June 22 2013


Solutions for Creative Brand Marketing

Advertise here with BSA

There are only so many various methods for getting your company out there in the world. To be recognized among a global audience is spectacular, if you can manage to keep people interested. Running your own website is a challenge and branding is the key ticket for natural marketing. People who are able to associate with your website are more willing to share it around and jump on board.

In this brief article I would like to share a few different resources for creative branding. All of these ideas are more geared towards marketing, which can take a lot of time and practice to get it right. But when you start landing new interested people it is definitely worth the time. I hope that these resources may provide a good starting point for webmasters looking into brand marketing.

24 Hour Print

In the latest craze of online printing services we can find 24 Hour Print. This is a beautiful product with a truly honest turnaround time – one day for your product orders. It really is fantastic! I have been impressed with not just the design, but also the quality of their products. After going through some of the examples it is clear that you may select from a wide range of print marketing materials.

24 hour print printing services online internet shipping

With enough money you can have same-day business cards shipped right to your office. This is a brilliant strategy because you are paying for the expedited services while also managing your own overhead costs. The design work should be done ahead of time so that way you have branding which is already recognizable. If you want to get into deeper ideas why not purchase design brochures or bumper stickers?

Online Portfolio

Does your company have any products or designs to show off? It may be worthwhile to setup a small online portfolio on websites like Carbonmade. This is a brilliant open community for designers to setup their own portfolio of creative works. But it can also be used by companies and other businesses, too.

By generating an online portfolio you will have time to practice this branding. You can see what works and what doesn’t. Plus you’ll have the fun time of rooting around for older projects worth posting on the site. And then when people search your company name in Google, you can expect quite a few search results.

carbonmade portfolio website online theme projects internet

Targeted Advertising

The final big point you might want to try is webpage advertising. This means you would pay an agency or network a fixed price to run your ads on a website or group of sites. Many Internet marketers will swear by Google AdWords which is a fairly common solution. But it also requires a bit of planning to get your ads placed on the right websites.

Each payment is done by click, and you invest a certain amount of money into your AdWords account for this service. Then people are driven to your website and may check out other stuff online. It is a great marketing plan because you can directly implement the graphics/branding of your website into the advertisement.

Final Thoughts

The Internet is a large place with a whole lot of people. It can be tough to draw in crowds interested in your website. But just keep in mind how various marketing endeavors often end up running themselves with enough traffic. If you truly believe in your product then keep at it! Others will notice your determination and it will provide a lot of benefit to the community.

June 18 2013


A Confab Recap

Kristina Halvorson issued a strong call-to-action during her opening keynote at this year’s Confab Minneapolis event, saying: “Part of my job as a content strategist is to get people on board with content strategy. You are a salesperson.” Through the next two days of Confab, speakers provided tools to make this challenging dream a reality.

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of interviewing two Confab speakers, Jonathon Khan and Melanie Moran, in preparation for my attendance of Confab Minneapolis. While writing the introduction for that interview, I spent some time reflecting on why Confab is such a meaningful conference to me:

[Speakers at Confab] talk about writing from the perspective of thinkers – journalists, creatives, researchers, and readers – instead of merely dwelling on its marketing value. It’s a whole new world, connecting writing to design, turning copy into content.

Kristina’s call-to-action during this year’s event – “You are a salesperson” – especially rang true. As an independent content strategist, I work with three types of clients:

  1. Clients who know what I do and value it
  2. Clients with a rough idea and interest in what I do, and
  3. Clients who simply don’t “get” content strategy.

By far, the third category is the most difficult: in addition to doing my job as a strategist, I have to teach these clients about governance, content creation, content curation, and content modeling. I also have to continually prove my own value. It’s the single most frustrating aspect of my work.

Communication techniques

Fortunately, this year’s speakers also taught me how to value both my clients who understand my work, and the clients who need me to be their guide. It’s advice I’m excited to put into practice.

Show them you care

Some clients love content strategy, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s on board. The easiest way to get people invested in content strategy is to listen, not speak. Listening shows clients that we want to understand the problem at hand. Stakeholders may not care about content strategy, but they do care about finding a solution to their problem. Once they hear their solution lies in a content audit, authoring guidelines, a governance plan, etc, they’ll jump on board. We might call it content strategy; they just call it “what works.”

Ask the right questions

During her keynote, Kristina focused on the top 10 issues that content strategists face. Many clients want future-friendly, multi-channel, single-source, magical-unicorn-meat content. It’s depressing to be the bearer of bad news, telling clients they need to trudge through the boring world of organizing content before they get to the fun “future” stuff. The solution is to remind clients that we’ll get to the future-friendly, multi-channel, single-source, magical-unicorn-meat content by starting with simple questions, such as: why do we need it; what already exists; and where is it?

Find your voice

The first step in building a content strategy isn’t necessarily a big, expensive, full-site, multi-channel redesign. Tiffani Jones Brown explained the value of starting small in her talk, Voice Lessons: Finding Your Company’s Personality. Voice is a combination of personality, energy, and the experiences clients have with your company – all the words that represent a brand. Before touching a page on the website, it helps to reassure clients that we’re not starting from scratch; we’re making a record of, and using, their own, personalized language.

Be Honest

One of the most valuable talks I heard at Confab this year was Ahava Leibtag’s talk, Winning the Work: Making the Case for Content Strategy. Ahava drilled down to the heart of a common content strategy concern: what if I’m not right for the job? Her advice? Be honest. In a worst case scenario, you are freeing up your time for projects to which you’re better suited. And in a best case scenario, the client decides to work with you, and has reasonable expectations! In addition, every prospective client appreciates working with someone who recognizes their own strengths and weaknesses.

Put the “Strategy” in content strategy

Many clients fear the unknown of “content strategy,” and they want to see either a process, or a list of deliverables, neither of which come naturally to a flexible content strategy. In Responsive Web Projects: How to Plan a Successful Discovery Process Steve Fisher and Alaine Mackenzie offered some suggestions for helping to create a process that clients can understand… even if the process doesn’t exactly match the sample one that ships with Microsoft Project.

Stay out of the silo

Silos are for farming, not content strategy,” Steve Fisher told us. It’s easier said than done. Even as a proponent of knocking down silos between development, content strategy, and design, content strategists occasionally advocate for silos when working with management! A “heads down” approach and preference to work with clients who already “get” content strategy builds a wall between the strategist and the client; part of breaking silo walls down is teaching clients what they don’t understand.

Get started

Every conference leaves my head awhirl with new plans to change the way I work with my own clients. Starting now, I’m getting out of my private “content-knowledgeable” silo and advocating for content strategy. Feel free to follow my lead with these first steps:

  1. Provide some therapy for new clients. Ask them what keeps them awake at night, and how they feel about their content.
  2. Offer content strategy as the solution, not the issue. For clients who haven’t worked with a content strategist before, this will help frame the process.
  3. Talk about the process. The process is flexible and ever changing, but it does exist.
  4. Stay honest, stay optimistic. It’s easy to get jaded when “selling” your skills, particularly if you feel like you’re doing false advertising. Instead, engage in honest discussions with new clients; that’s enough to sell the value of content strategy!

The post A Confab Recap appeared first on UX Booth.

June 11 2013


February 27 2013


Test your trademark

How good is it legally? Patent lawyer Frederick Breitenfeld offered some help back in the 50s.

Test your trade-mark
Click image for larger size

According to this, Frederick Breitenfeld was a member of the bar of the state of New York; associate member of the United States Trademark Association (now the International Trademark Association); and member of the sub-committee on trademark law revision of the New York Patent Law Association.

Remember my first naming attempt? Cheese aside, descriptive = poor.

The chart was found on the independent Reanimation Library in Brooklyn, housing “a collection of books that have fallen out of routine circulation and been acquired for their visual content.” Some nice book cover inspiration there.

Via Mrs Easton by way of Tina.

Related, from the archives: logo trademarking tips: a legal perspective (guest post and resources).

Identity Designed

Brand identity inspiration on Identity Designed.

Related posts worth a look

November 30 2012


33 Fresh Business Cards

The first impression is always very important and quite often crucial when dealing with customers. Displaying your company or personal identity in a properly and creative fashion might be the difference between potential and real clients. Below I have gathered a small collection of 33 Business Cards that captured my attention with their style, colors and effectiveness.




Nobtaka Nukui






Fitwise Training

Mile Deep Films & Television


Vladislav Malkovick



The Argonaut Hotel

Nili Studios

Emporium Pies

Grit Creative Co.

Darlene Dewell


Mackey Saturday

Joonas Paloheimo


Bright Edge Painting






Olivier Pineda


Business Cards 2012

Which were your favorite business cards and why? Tell us in the comments below.


50 Domestic Animal Logos

The need for unique visual identities has pushed both designers and ventures in capturing inspiration from unusual and common origins. Today, we showcase 50 logos with a slightly common source: logos inspired by animals that human beings have managed to domesticate during thousands of years.

Symbolism plays a significant part in logo design and extracting inspiration from friendly, trustworthy and sometimes funny looking domesticated animals is a natural place to seek creative inspiration. Although the featured animals in this post are familiar, the logos display a memorable and one-of-a-kind visual appearance. Without further ado, feel free to fuel your creativity with 50 logo designs inspired by these cute, sometimes fierce and often furry domestic animals.

Top dog training



Las Cabras de Mexicali

Gray Bull

Curly Cat



Rum Donkey

Good Duck

Horses Kingdom


Goosey Gander

Happy Lama

Yak Works

goldfish inc



Coy koi





Elephant Mouse


Mack Wack the Duck

Alpine Goat Project


White Rabbit

Midnight Donkey

truffle seeker



Fatcat Coffee


Work Horse


carrier pigeon


Imperial Horses

Store logo in progress

Barcamp Litoral

Bravo Game

Mary Sheep



fold dog

Burro Bar Variant

Laura Bee

Pet Nest


Which was your favorite design and why? Do you look at animals for design inspiration when you receive a logo brief? Let us know in the comments!

July 16 2012


Quick, hide the chips

It wasn’t enough that “brand police” check every bathroom in every Olympic venue removing or taping over manufacturers’ logos (on soap dispensers, wash basins and toilets).

“At the 40 Olympics venues, 800 retailers have been banned from serving chips to avoid infringing fast-food rights secured by McDonald’s.”

Quoted from The Independent.

Fish and chips in newspaper
Fish and chips ad by Joe Public, via Ads of the World

The one exception is the fish and chips combo, seemingly allowed.

In addition, during London 2012 businesses can’t have these banned words in their advertising: “gold”, “silver”, “bronze”, “summer”, “sponsors” and “London”.

I wouldn’t be as bothered if more of the bill was footed by corporate sponsors, but…

“Some £1.4bn of the Games’ £11.4bn budget comes from private sector sponsors.”

That’s £10bn of public funding, despite an initial estimated total cost of £2.375bn (PDF).

Let’s just close the blinds and watch films.

The Truth About The Branding Of The Games, on Sky News
Olympic ring bagels banned from cafe window, on Mail Online

Identity Designed

Brand identity inspiration on Identity Designed.

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June 29 2012


5 Tips for Building a Successful Edgy Brand

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From Dsquared2's Fall/Winter Campaign

It’s true that an edgy brand can make a product much more memorable for consumers, but it’s also true that it’s easy for an edgy brand to go too far and alienate its intended customer base entirely. Naturally, there are factors that determine whether an edgy brand sinks or floats, and fortunately they’re all easy things to keep in mind. Whether your brand succeeds or not is up to your creativity and work ethic and no brand is 100% foolproof.

Thinking about the line between edginess and maliciousness, remembering not to pander, remaining confident, striving for authenticity and keeping quality in mind should put you well on your way to a brand that’s both prosperous and edgy.

Be Edgy, Not Nasty

There’s a distinctive difference between edgy branding and branding that is just plain mean, spiteful or offensive. An edgy brand will, by nature, turn a certain amount of people away while entrancing others. The goal is to win the audience you want, not to alienate most of the world. Good marketing for a specific product with a specific audience in mind will succeed without the needless degradation of people, be it entire groups or certain individuals. Targeting a specific or niche customer base is great, but it can be done without haphazard bridge burning and marginalizing people who might compose a future audience.

People in their late 20s and younger love a good amount of snark, but that doesn’t have to include outright nastiness. Edgy ideas will always make some people uncomfortable, which will obviously cause them to move away from your brand. Those people are lost to you but there’s no need to go after them with torches and pitchforks. The success of an edgy brand resides within those people who gravitate toward products that eschew the boring in favor of something a little different.

Don’t Pander

There is never any reason to reduce your brand to a guy dressed in a fat suit falling down the stairs. Everyone appreciates a good, cheap laugh but there are many laughs that are just far too cheap. Lowering your brand to appeal to the lowest common denominator embarrasses you and your core audience. Being edgy is all about pushing buttons, but in order to be successful you need to know which buttons to push. Understand your audience and push the right buttons. Don’t resort to fart jokes and talking animals unless you can firmly stand behind them with your head held high. Edgy brands should cause people to think, to converse and to remember. It is very possible to be edgy without being silly, offensive or pathetic. Hold yourself to a high standard.

Be Confident

Believe in what you’re doing, trust your instincts and stick by your decisions. Once you launch an edgy brand be prepared to fight for it. Commit to your brand and leave any trace of hesitation behind. This is not something you can crawl away from, this is a brand that you firmly believe in and plan to support with all of the resources at your disposal. Your skin needs to be thick because negativity’s coming.

The brand is the important thing to focus on, not the controversy it creates. An edgy brand will be polarizing, but if you’re fully on board with what you’re doing then the polarization will create dialogue and open new avenues to you. Your backbone needs to be strong. Once you commit to something edgy, backing down or sulking away with a scared look on your face will ruin all of your hard work more quickly than you can imagine. Step up and stand tall.


Be Authentic

Your brand is not just some marketing illusion cooked up by out-of-touch suits in a musty boardroom; it represents you and what you stand for. Whether your brand says that you’re fun and lighthearted, that you’re serious and vigilant or that you’re dark and mysterious depends totally on who you are. You’re different from everyone and everything else that has ever existed in this world and your brand is your opportunity to show that to the world.

A good brand is never pulled out of thin air; it represents important aspects of who you are and what you believe. People are complex, and your brand should represent something that’s never stagnant or two dimensional. You’re not going to win everyone over with an edgy brand, but if you’re sincere and authentic then the people that you do connect with will stay with you forever.

Be Outstanding

Your brand should have meaning and never be superficial. Your actual product, the brand and the people behind it should all be excellent. This is something you should be proud to talk about. As mentioned several times previously, this brand and this product has to be something that you believe in and are willing to put a part of yourself into. Controversy and distraction aren’t important at the end of the day; it’s the core message and the quality of the band that matter. Your audience can tell if your brand is a fake, manufactured abomination that you don’t care about. If you care about your brand and invest thought, emotion and energy into it then it will be outstanding. Just because it’s edgy doesn’t mean it can’t be a thoughtful, high quality brand.

All marketers and designers know that there are no absolutely magic brands or solutions. The key to success is keeping the fundamentals in mind while putting passion into everything you do. There might be some mistakes along the way, but if you build a ship that you absolutely love then you should be more than willing to sink with it if that time ever comes.

April 23 2012


Using sound symbolism in branding

A simple experiment: Take two imaginary names, Maluma and Takete, and before reading on, pair each name with a symbol below, the one you think is a better fit.

Maluma and Takete

If you’re like me (and most others) you’ll give Maluma the curved symbol and Takete the sharp angles. This is what is also known as the Bouba/Kiki effect, written about by German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967) in his book Gestalt Psychology (excerpted below).

Maluma and Takete
Book scan via

According to an article in Scientific American 98% of people choose the same pairings.

So beside the need to align the sound of a brand name with the visuals used for the identity, the sound of a name also plays an important role in product alignment. Consider these two, Clorox (producer of household bleach) and Chanel (high-end perfume), and you get the idea.

Learn more about sound symbolism through these links:

Sound symbolism, on Wikipedia
Phonological clusters of semantically similar words, on LINGUIST List
Reflections on the evolution of language, on University of Hawai’i
The phenomenology of synaesthesia, PDF download, on Imprint Academic

Experiment first discovered on the Lexicon Branding website, via Bernadette Jiwa.

Published on David Airey, graphic designer (catch me on Twitter)

Logo Design Love, the book

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April 13 2012


What convicts can teach us about branding

The following post was written by guest author Mike Kammerling of London-based Tinder + Sparks.

Raw salmon fillet

In September 2009, Neil Stansfield of Northamptonshire was jailed for over two years for buying own-brand, non-organic supermarket food, repackaging it as well-sourced organic produce and selling it on at a huge markup to highly reputable food retailers.

On the one hand what he did was a shameful act of manipulation that undermined an already beleaguered organic market and the honest work of a lot of passionate food producers. On the other hand it was an absolutely hilarious example of how good branding can increase the perceived value of a product.

For five years Stansfield and his staff of twelve were purchasing pork pies, smoked salmon and much more from the likes of Tesco and Aldi, stripping the outers, and re-wrapping them in their Swaddles Organic branded packaging. In doing so Stansfield not only made a name for himself as a highly regarded organic food supplier, but also managed to sell his products to discerning retailers like Fortnum and Mason, a coup of which he boasted to the local paper.

“Fortnum and Mason searched for the finest British classic pie throughout the UK and after arduous searching they came upon ONEfood and Swaddles, sampled the product and found it to be the best in the UK.”

Frankly, you have to admire the stones of the guy. He called Swaddles’ parent company ONEfood — where the ONE stood for Organic, Natural and Ethical — and recorded annual sales of between £500,000 and £2.5 million.

Swaddles packaging design

Above are some examples of the packaging taken from the website of ONEfood’s design agency. The fact is, it’s good design and ticks all the boxes required of a mass distributor of organic produce. We have the wonky, cursive script, a colourful palette and some emotive photography. And above the main logo — like a cherry on the cake of bullshit — is the Soil Association logo, a stamp that certifies produce as organic.

After this controversy emerged, the design agency must have wondered whether to keep the designs on their portfolio. But why not? They did a fantastic job, demonstrated by the huge success of the Swaddles Organic range.

Swaddles packaging design

The fact is, if you are going to enact a mass swindle in food packaging, Neil Stansfield did it properly: by spending money in the right place to ensure that the packaging gets in front of the right audience, and is trusted when it does.

As any branding consultant or designer worth their salt knows, the perceived value of a product is what makes it sell. As David himself mentions in Logo Design Love, the Skoda is consistently voted ‘Car of the Year,’ delivering excellent mileage and value for money at a fraction of the cost of, say, an Aston Martin. And yet people are willing to pay well over the odds for an Aston Martin; for the prestige, literally for the ‘badge value.’

Aston Martin badge
Photo credit:

But packaging can have an even more profound effect than just making us believe we are paying the right price for a product. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell reports a fascinating case about 7UP. In the 90s the company changed the can design very marginally, adding more yellow onto their label. This proved to be a bad move. People were up in arms, claiming that the company had made 7up more “lemony” despite the fact that the drink inside hadn’t changed at all. People wrote in to complain that 7UP had done a “new Coke.” There are countless examples of this kind of activity showing that a label affects not only the price people are willing to pay for a product, but can also psychologically impact upon the taste.

Perhaps this is how, once upon a time, Fortnum and Masons came to believe a Tesco pork pie to be “…the best in the UK.”

In the end Neil Stansfield was arrested when, following a tip off, the Food Standards Agency bought a salmon from Swaddles (at £51) and discovered it to be neither wild nor organic as it claimed on the label but in fact bought from Waitrose the previous day (at £20). He was sent down for 27 months and his wife and business partner were given compulsory community service for their part in the scam.

What they did was terrible, dishonest and wonderfully entertaining. But what it teaches us is the incomparable value of good branding and design.

About the author: Mike Kammerling is creative director at London-based Tinder + Sparks. You can read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Reported in The Telegraph (2009): Organic food company guilty of selling non-organic food.

Salmon photo credit: Thinkstock

Published on David Airey, graphic designer

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January 09 2012


Shape, Color, Content – The Language of Logos

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Before you approve that new logo you’re considering, stop for a moment to consider how people perceive visual information.

The content of your logo is third in the sequence of recognition, behind shape and color, because the brain takes more time to process language.

can be very powerful in creating content and meaning. The use of initials as an identifying mark has been around for centuries, since medieval kingdoms became economic enterprises. Letterforms are often abstracted to create clever symbols which act as metaphor for the core brand positioning.

These symbols combine a strong form and shape that influences content:


Many logos consist of only the name of the destination without any iconic symbol. These wordmarks or logotypes range in complexity from straightforward typesetting of an existing font, to a completely custom typographic mark. The most effective wordmarks have something unique embedded or changed in the typography that create metaphor and imply meaning. It can be a clever graphic inserted into the word, a texture applied to the letters, or the transformation of a letter(s).

Getting to the Heart

Too often brands rely on cliches such as script typography to denote luxury, even though it doesn’t necessarily distinguish or get to the heart of the brand. It’s not that these logos aren’t nice on the surface, but do they really speak to the core of the brand message?


For example, If you’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at the Lake Placid Lodge in New York state, the script type might confuse you. The Lake Placid Lodge is designed in the Adirondack Great Camp tradition – solid, rustic and earthy. The script type has little to do with the resort’s heritage and brand position.

Clearly, there are many decisions to be made in creating a new logo or identity for travel and destination brands; obvious considerations such as which words to include, to more subtle factors like shape and the emotional impact of certain colors. If you’d like to learn more about logo design and how shape, color and language content are interpreted by the human brain, we recommend these sources:

• Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheller

John Wiley  & Sons, Inc., 2006

• ‘Meggs’, A History of Graphic Design, 4th Edition by Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis

John Wiley & Sons, 2006

• An Osteopathic Approach to Children by Jane E. Carreiro

Elsevier Health Sciences, 2003

• “Dual perspectives give science added insight into brain” by Michael Purdy Homewood

The Gazette Online, the newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University 2002, VOL. 32, NO. 2

January 02 2012


December 30 2011


Express Yourself: Logo Development Best Practices

Travel and destination brands operate in a complex environment. Not only do they compete within the world of travel, but also with many other categories that vie for our personal free and leisure time. This includes TV, movies, video, computer games, the comforts of home, recreational and leisure activities, family time, soccer, even shopping.

Before starting an identity project, it is essential that you analyze the competitive set and then determine what gives your brand distinction. Since the competition is so broad, its important that travel and destination brands understand where they fit so they can successfully stand out from all of their competitors.

Distinctive design can give a brand a unique presence and expression.

While a logo is only one component of a brand, it’s purpose can be thought of as a visual ambassador. The right logo will help create desire. It will have a point of view. And set the standard. It should represent a body of core ideas, yet rarely can it perform this task literally. The best logos imply meaning through representation and metaphor. They can take their form as wordmarks, or letterforms, as graphic symbols or a combination of words, letters and symbols. They range from the literal to the illustrative to the abstract.

With so many possibilities, how do you choose the right direction?

When creating a travel or destination logo, we examine the competitive environment and then consider three elements – shape, color and content. It is unrealistic to expect a logo to represent every detail of your brand, but having a good ambassador with a unique, authentic expression will serve your destination well for years to come.

Competitive logo review

Given the benefits of a distinctive identity, it’s a wonder that so many travel and destination brands within a competitive set use similar iconography in their logos. Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Days Inn all have a sun icon. The MGM Grand and Ritz Carlton logos both sport a beautiful lion.



Many cities utilize a rendering of their skyline. Golf course logos all too often incorporate complex illustrations or clip art of golf clubs. According to Logo Design Guru, a website where you can buy a logo starting at just $99: “A golf course logo graphic should be very creative and must highlight the salient features of golf, like clubs, balls, etc.” In other words — make it look like every other golf course.

A few years back, when the Wanderlust team was rebranding Windham Mountain, we collected the marketing materials of 52 competitors, to better understand their competitive set and search for an opportunity to create meaningful differentiation. What we found was nothing short of cliché: 90% of the competition had a mountain in their logo. The mountain iconography ranged from the abstract to the literal, but in the end each of these resorts built an identity around what makes them similar, not what makes them different.

The folks at Windham learned from this exercise that mountain imagery in whatever form was something they needed to stay away from in order to stand out from the crowd. The place to draw inspiration for their identity was their unique brand positioning — that differentiating, relevant, deliverable and ownable mojo that makes Windham Mountain desirable to its customers.

There are actually a handful of ski resorts who have gone so far as to eliminate references to anything to do with skiing and snowboarding in their logos. The ones that have done this are attempting to communicate their brand essence, what makes them different. Now one might argue, for example, that a logo like Beaver Creek’s has nothing to do with skiing and therefore doesn’t communicate to skiers, especially if you had never heard of Beaver Creek before.

Picture 1

Beaver Creek’s logo is about luxury. Its monogram of interlocking ‘B’ and ‘C’ letterforms are reminiscent of Coco Channel’s C’s or Gucci’s G’s. The script typographic wordmark would more likely be found on a bottle of champagne.

While Beaver Creek’s logo is effective at differentiating the resort, script type and monograms are not necessarily the best way to communicate luxury in all situations. In fact, scripts and monograms are actually pretty common in the broad category of luxury. However, Beaver Creek was the first to successfully and sustainably position themselves as a luxury ski resort and, as a result, they own it. No competitor can take this position away from them as long as they remain true to the promise.

Sponsored by

Made By Tinder

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Express Yourself: Logo Development Best Practices

December 27 2011


Champions of Design

Champions of Design is a paperback book and free-to-download PDF published in December 2011 by Jones Knowles Ritchie (jkr).

“In this book we celebrate twenty-five great works of design, the people who created them and the clients who bought them.”

Here’s an excerpt, featuring on one of the 25 brands.

Old Penguin logo


Given its beloved status as a British institution to rival the BBC, it’s worth remembering what a revolutionary idea Penguin originally was. The company’s cheap but well-made, well-designed books found a new audience of working and middle-class readers that few believed existed. The future really was orange.

If the point of a brand mark is to guarantee quality, then Penguin excels. My father, a lifelong devotee, describes it as ‘my university’. Many share his trust and appreciation. Like holding a Guinness at the bar, one feels part of a select band when reading a Penguin on the Tube or beach. Generations of investment in great design has helped earn this status.

Penguin book covers stripes
Photo source: James Muspratt (not in Champions of Design book)

The original (Tube map inspired?) system of distinctive coloured stripes met the business strategy; they would have been cheap to produce, compared with myriad cover designs and illustrations. However, we don’t want cheap brands. We want great brands cheap. Penguin used good paper, quality binding and typography that allowed the words to breathe. They were designs of hardback quality in soft covers.

This flightless bird has adapted beautifully over the years, radically changing its design approach in response to market forces and trends, from the graphical covers of the 60s, to the commercial designs of today. Penguin achieved coherent change mostly from having a strong in-house design culture. This ethos was not elitist. Edward Young was a 21-year-old office junior when he drew the logo and devised the colour-coding system. A secretary came up with the name.

Luck also plays a part in great brand design. Penguin was still young as World War II erupted, and its format just so happened to prove the perfect fit for a battledress pocket. On such quirks are great brands built.

Written by Silas Amos, a founder designer at jkr in 1990.

Each of the 25 case studies includes a brand timeline and “Did you know?” page.

Did you know that in 1989, following Penguin’s publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, bombs were planted in a Penguin bookshop in York and in Liberty’s in London where the company also had a concession?

Champions of Design

Download your free copy of the PDF here on the jkr website.

Somewhat related: Penguin logo guidelines.

Published on David Airey, graphic designer

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