Meetings of the Minds: 3 Takeaways from the 2014 HOW Design Conference

Earlier this year, Art Director Carol Armitage had an opportunity to attend the HOW Design Conference in Boston, MA. It was a great opportunity for Carol to learn from some of the brightest minds in the design business. In her own words, here are her biggest takeaways from the conference.

The whole event was very well organized, and there were some really great presenters. I tried to attend a wide variety of sessions that would be most applicable to my job and our company. If I were to pare it down, I think the MOST helpful to me overall was the “Responsive Web Design” seminar, which went over how to use Adobe Edge Tools: Edge Animate, Edge Code, Edge Reflow and Edge Inspect. Because we are being asked more and more by clients to design sites for mobile devices, it was very helpful to see what’s out there to aid us in meeting those requests. I am not a developer–that is a very specialized field–but in order to do the best design for the web, it’s imperative for us as designers and art directors to have some basic knowledge of how our work will translate from desktop to different devices.

Probably the most inspiring of the sessions I attended was “Perfectly Imperfect,” presented by Dana Tanamachi-Williams, a “Texas-bred, Brooklyn-based graphic designer and letterer who enjoys living a quiet life and working with her hands.”

Credit: Dana Tanamachi-Williams

Credit: Dana Tanamachi-Williams

Dana is a typographer who works primarily in chalk. Tanamachi is a trend setter. I’ve seen a LOT of her style being replicated in print and on the web, a phenomenon she refers to as “the copycat culture” of today’s design. But her philosophy is one of humility and growth by learning from one’s mistakes. She defines TEACHABILITY as a “willingness to learn, unlearn or re-learn”. She stresses encouraging others, and is particularly fond of the writings of Jon Acuff, who explains in his book Quitter that “anonymity allows you to make big, necessary mistakes without everyone watching you.” She attributes her great success to being able to work out the “kinks” while she was still an unknown. And she stresses the importance of “giving back”, asking the question “Because you have ________ (time, power, talent, skills, abilities…fill in the blank,) WHO is flourishing?” Giving of your gifts allows others to flourish. She is working on a new book titled D. I. Y. Type, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

I also attended a session called “How to be an Idea Witch Doctor”, presented by Stefan Mumaw.

 

A caricature of author Stefan Mumaw (credit: http://www.callahancreek.com/stefan-mumaw )

A caricature of author Stefan Mumaw (credit: http://www.callahancreek.com/stefan-mumaw )

Mumaw is the author of many books on boosting one’s creative proficiency. He started out the session asking us to design the “ultimate” baby stroller, with no constraints, and we built on that throughout the session. He says creativity is “problem-solving with relevance and novelty.” Oftentimes designers get stuck on projects, and can’t seem to work through to a solution, so he suggests we can be “Witch Doctors’” by casting 3 “spells”: 1- change the problem; 2-change the rules; and 3-change the answers. By putting restrictions on our creative thinking, we make ourselves MORE creative, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. One great avenue to getting a breakthrough is taking an idea to a level of utter absurdity, and then pull back from there. The session was hands-on, and lots of fun. I would love to have seen what the final results were on all the absurd baby stroller ideas from each participant. Mine was pretty ridiculous: a sleigh being pulled by an alligator with a hollowed-out boulder on the gator’s back for parents to sit in. LOL! Being a parent myself, there is NO WAY I’d see that as practical, but hey, Wilma Flintstone might have bought a stroller like that for Pebbles.

And lastly, I was struck by Bob Gill’s presentation, DESIGN as IDEA. 

Bob Gill caricature, credit: Bob Gill

Gill is one of the founding members of Fletcher, Forbes and Gill, which later became Pentagram.  He reminded me SO much of our own Bob Jones, with his shock of white hair, sense of humor and basic philosophy on advertising. He says, “The best way to get a visual is not to look for a visual image.” He says we need to “…eliminate culture. The next time you get a job, have no idea what it should look like-all ideas already there are put there by culture.” He gave the example of designing a logo for a dry cleaner by explaining, “…if you’re doing a logo for a dry cleaner, GO TO A DRY CLEANER, and stay there until you have something meaningful to say, and it will design itself!” He referenced the book Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher, in which Fletcher apparently never asked, “what do you want?” of a client, and then gave it to them. This segued into a Q&A portion of the talk where an attendee asked Gill if he had EVER given a client what they wanted. He replied: only once, for George Harrison on his Wonderwall album cover. Harrison had asked Gill to remove a brick from the wall dividing the two scenarios shown. At first he refused, but Harrison strongly protested, so Gill gave in. After all, he WAS George Harrison!

The "Wonderwall" album cover, designed by Bob Gill

The “Wonderwall” album cover, designed by Bob Gill

Stay tuned for more updates on the latest news in concepts and design in advertising and marketing right here! We’ll have breaking news and our own two cents on Facebook and Twitter, too. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s My (Ad Agency) Line, Part 3, and second verse: What Does an Art Director Do?

What's My Line from Logopedia

 

In our last blog we told you about two important facets of an Art Director’s job. Our Art Director, Carol, is tasked with beginning the search for the perfect visual imagery for a project, and being the guardian of standards for our client’s branding. In this post, we’ll talk about three more facets of Carol’s job—she’s our visionary, our guru of visual communication, and our personal puzzle-solver.

Pioneer of trends in visuals and technology.

Carol is the one who keeps us in the present by researching trends in web and print. Right now, “flat design” is hot on the web. In printed materials, Carol is seeing a lot of type-driven and typographic “lock ups” utilizing script fonts as a trend, with muted color palettes- a modern “retro” feel. Logos are one of her favorite things to design. “A good logo communicates the essence of a business in a clever and simple way,” she states. “Some of the best logos designed are the simplest. Take the Apple logo…they’ve taken it at step further from the original by removing the rainbow pattern…and now it’s simpler than ever. Love it!”

If necessary, use words….

Lots of companies think of themselves as ad agencies, but they’re really pumping out information and thinking, “if we get this information out there enough, people will buy it.” The result? Work that lacks emotion and a connection with the customer. These digital data shops don’t have an art director looking at what the design or layout is saying. They are not asking what’s being communicated visually. People that run companies are often analytical or numbers/data heavy, and they neglect to think about what’s being said visually. It’s similar to watching body language and responding to what you’re seeing. An art director helps create visual communication, which imparts emotional attachment, not just facts. That’s why an art director is essential if you want to TELL IT BETTER.

Making the pieces fit.

Sometimes a client’s just got a lot to say. Tons of messaging is necessary in one piece – and it’s up to the art director and his or her team to get it organized and into a hierarchy of what’s truly necessary to tell the story. Sometimes clients want pieces of two concepts (or worse, more) combined into one, and the art director has to work it out. Here’s an analogy for you—ever been to a restaurant and confronted with a massive, confusing menu? A good art director will whittle down the overwhelming choices and create a project that doesn’t have to work so hard to communicate its message. The adage “less is more” is true. As Carol says, “When you can’t take anything more away, you’ve achieved your goal. “

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Got questions? Good! Leave a comment here, or reach out to us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. 

What’s My (Ad Agency) Line: What Does an Art Director Do?

This month we delve into the duties of a Creative Director!

This month we delve into Part One of a two-part series on the duties of an Art Director!

Marbury Creative Group believes that good work is a team effort. So what does each member of our team do? Here is part one of the third post in our series that answers the burning question: “So what DO you do as a _____________ for Marbury Creative Group?”

 

What exactly DOES an art director do?

An Art Director establishes and leads the conceptual stylistic direction for design projects and staff, and ensures design integrity is maintained with all projects from concept to completion.

 

Beginning the search for the perfect visual imagery.

Brainstorming concepts is a group thing at Marbury Creative Group. Everyone participates in it. Everyone bounces ideas off each other. But once our Chief Creative Officer, Rob, solidifies and approves the concept, the process of creating visual images for the project begins. Rob discusses the concept with our Art Director, Carol, and the visual look begins to materialize.

 

Carol is really about the image, including the photo, texture, colors or font. The image sets the mood for the story we are telling. For example, when it comes to photography, Carol prefers to shoot and direct custom images, but in many cases, budget makes that option cost-prohibitive, so we then seek out the help of stock imagery to tell the story. Carol has a knack for finding photos that are spontaneous with a lot of open lighting — the less staged, the better. The more “believable.”

 

Once the actual medium of the visual image is decided, the team creates 2-3 concepts per job and Carol supervises the internal proofing process. She makes sure all the T’s are crossed, i’s are dotted, and that text, placement and font choice are perfect. Type kerning makes a big difference. It’s as important to know how much space to leave between letters when you’re creating a job, as the fonts that are used in the job. We LOVE fonts, and we talk about them a lot in a previous blog.

 

Guardian of standards.

Another aspect of Carol’s job includes making sure that critical stuff, like corporate branding, is in accordance with the client’s guidelines. She thinks about little things, like the space around the logo and tag lines—and big things, like using the correct color palette. She makes sure that the integrity of the brand is upheld. Carol is also the keeper of our standards. She’s constantly upholding our mission, and provides that necessary difference of opinion. As an art director, often she can see things visually that others can’t, and she pushes forward to keep us communicating correctly. Carol is one of the reasons so many of our clients are attracted to our work, and love the way it looks.

Want to learn more? Stay tuned for part 2 of our blog about the Art Director’s job duties! 

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The Brainstorming Meeting, or Why Sticky Notes Were Invented

This is how the ideas flow!

This is how the ideas flow!

A brainstorm is defined by our friends at Merriman-Webster as “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; also: the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem.” At Marbury Creative Group, sometimes that means we involve the entire agency! We want everyone to think creatively, no matter his or her job title.

We gather the crew—the Creative Director, the Account Executives, the Designers and the Art Director. The account executive or creative director will present the brief and the nuts and bolts of the task at hand. They say, “Here’s the client. Here’s the product or the service. Here’s who they’re talking to, and what they’re trying to get across.” Then as a group, we all talk about tone. For example, we’ll discuss how we can approach the project with humor—or maybe we should try a hard-hitting, technological look and feel. Then we start discussing each approach, and fill up some flip charts and sticky notes with ideas and info. Everyone has a good time! We go down various lines of thinking and dreaming. It isn’t so much that we say “I don’t think thus-and-such is a good idea, we should do this instead.” This is a time for collaboration. We spend a lot of time putting ideas out there—sometimes the crazier, the better. We try our best to use “and then,” instead of “but.”

Once the meeting is over, Rob takes all those sticky notes and puts them on a wall in his office and thinks about each direction and how succinctly it meets the goal of the project. This may take a few hours, or a day or two as he sits with them and narrows the list down to the 2 or 3 strongest ideas. Then “Concept 1” is set and given a name, headlines, graphic descriptions, and the first few lines of copy. Each concept has certain requirements—for example, maybe the client has to have this logo, this call to action, this web address, and this phone number. We do the same for all the concepts that we’re going to present. Then everyone is called back into a meeting, and the creative director says, “here’s what we’re going to do.” At that time, design teams drift toward one concept. We want each designer to play into his or her strengths. It’s almost like they are “called to defend and strengthen the idea.” Then each designer goes away with their concept and plays with it for a couple of days. Finally, we meet as a group and each designer presents their ideas on each concept, and we cross-critique what we’re doing and how make each concept stronger. Once the concepts are set, we figure out a plan to present them to the client. Sometimes that’s just the account executive’s job — sometimes the creative director goes in as well.  Once the client chooses the direction, the designer that birthed it takes the selected concept and brings it fully to life.

It’s a creative process all the way through, but it involves the entire agency. It’s all about developing a strong concept, and then tightening it so that the client is getting the best product possible. We want the client to have options, so we usually present 2-3 concepts. For logos, sometimes it’s as many as 5-8 good ideas! It’s all about thinking about the client—who they are, what they do and what they stand for. Then it’s up to us to tell it better.

Do you have a funny brainstorming session story? Share it with us in the comments! We also like to chat on Facebook and Twitter.

Image credit: Jacob Bøtter

What’s My (Ad Agency) Line, Part 2: What does a Creative Director Do?

 

This month we delve into the duties of a Creative Director!

This month we delve into the duties of a Creative Director!

 

Marbury Creative Group believes that good work is a team effort. So what does each member of our team do? Here is the second post in our series that answers the burning question: “So what DO you do as a _____________ for Marbury Creative Group?”

 What exactly DOES a creative director do?

– Manages the creative staff and foster group collaboration. According to Creative Director Rob, the best creative directors know that the job is to manage the creative process, not solely produce the product. The creative director is responsible for the creative product in the agency, but they are not the only ones responsible for the original project. Why? If the creative director is the one that’s coming up with all of the ideas, every single project is going to look and sound the same. Where the account executive fosters collaboration between the agency and the client, the creative director fosters collaboration amongst the staff, including the account executives. Creative often comes from collaboration within the entire agency.

–Quarterbacks the brainstorming, and inspires the team. The creative director serves to inspire the creative process, and narrow down the ideas birthed in brainstorming. During a brainstorming session, a good creative director will get everybody fired up and going. In their way of thinking, every idea is potentially a good idea, and they encourage the team to throw their ideas out there, and keep going with it. Instead of saying, “you should do this,” a good creative director should say “I like your idea, AND we could add this to it, it’ll make it funnier (or stronger or more emotional, etc.).” Using the word “and” instead of “but” helps the creative team build and grow an idea, instead of replacing it.

–Presents the concepts to the client—all on equal footing. It’s good business for the agency’s creative director to present more than one concept to the client, and they should honestly feel that whatever they present to the client should be something that the client would be happy to have. The agency should be 100% behind EVERY concept, and each concept should be presented on equal footing. Team ownership is important! No one (including the creative director), should be in the meeting saying “well, I did that.” The creative director is representing the agency, and he or she has to help the account executive convince the client to understand that any one of the concepts presented is the way to go. Ultimately, the creative team should be ultra-happy with what the client selects. In Rob’s words, “don’t go into the client’s office with a concept you don’t like.”

–Gives the client specifically what they’ve asked for. Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? But if the client shares an idea with the creative team, it’s the creative director’s job to figure out how to do it, AND how the agency can TELL IT BETTER. It’s always a good idea to find a way to make it work. It’s good to let the client know that the team was inspired by their thinking, and acknowledge that the client played an important part in its creation. Most of the time, an agency is working with the most creative person on the client’s side anyway. That Marketing Director might have a good idea — they know the product best, after all. So the creative team should investigate it.

 –Supports the team. Always. Sometimes a creative director will present an idea to a client, and the client can make an offhanded or critically subjective comment. A good creative director will protect and instill confidence in the staff. The client is likely not making these comments to be mean, but a good creative director should protect the staff and tell the team “that wasn’t their favorite,” not “that wasn’t their favorite because the marketing director thought that illustration of yours was creepy-looking, and reminded them of their dead aunt.” (it should be noted that Marbury Creative Group designers don’t produce creepy work!).

At an advertising agency, CREATIVE is everything. And the way it’s developed, presented and sharpened is what makes or breaks an agency.

Rob_new

Now that you’ve met Rob, you can ask him anything by leaving a comment here. You can also chat with him via Marbury Creative Group’s Facebook and Twitter pages. 

 

 

 

 

What is a Creative Brief?

A good creative brief is a group effort.

A good creative brief is a group effort.

Last month we introduced you to Heather, who is one of our account executives. When we get a new project, one of Heather’s responsibilities is to write up the Creative Brief, which kicks off the creative process for the team at Marbury Creative Group. A good Creative Brief goes a long way in providing everything we need to TELL IT BETTER for our clients.

There are two primary areas we investigate on a Creative Brief that help us make our clients’ projects a success.

First — The product and the market!

When a project is brought in to our agency, we want make sure we understand exactly what type of service or product our client is selling. The next question is: who is buying the product? What’s the mindset of that person? Are they rushed, or do they take a long time to make a decision? Are they likely to make an impulse buy? What are their hopes, desires, fears? These “dream customer” traits help us step into the shoes of the buyer.

Second — The preferences of the client?

Because we’re often working with marketing or creative types on the client side, they may already have an idea or two regarding the look and “feel” of their project. So we ask our client about their “appetite” for humor or other emotions in the tone of their project. Should the concept to be clean and straightforward? Or should it be a bit irreverent, and attention-getting? We also need to know about brand standards, trademarks, or additional “mandatories” that we will need to consider as we develop the tactics. They’re getting ready to drop good dime on this project, and we want to make sure they get what they’re asking for….only in a different and unique way.

Next, we need to know how the client is going to measure the success of the creative product we’re creating for them. Will they want more visits to their website, or will they want their phone to ring more? Do they want people to come into the location with a coupon? What are we asking that target consumer to do?

We also want to hear about our client’s experiences with past projects. Be it an ad campaign or a brochure or a website, we want to know the client’s perception of their last project. Was it successful? Are the people on the team using it? You’d be surprised at how many times we talk to clients that say “well, we did these brochures for the sales team, but nobody’s using them because they didn’t like ‘such and such’ on it. It would have been nice if we had the sales team’s input before we marched off and spent all this money and did all this work.” We don’t want that to ever happen to our projects.

Every product or service has its unique selling points. Our account team is seasoned enough to know what to ask to discern the unique points that will make the campaign a success. Our experience means we can sit down with a Creative Brief as a blank slate and simply listen to the client to fill it up. A strong Creative Brief makes our job easier, and the end result a winner every time.

We believe CreativBriefs are an essential first step in the client-agency relationship. Let us help you make strides in your business. Ask a question here, or visit our Facebook and Twitter pages. . 

 

 

 

Our Favorite Television Commercials of 2013

It’s the end of the year, and every media outlet, blogger and person with a clean legal pad is making a list. We’d like to add ours to the fray. When we watch television, we pay special attention to the commercials that TELL IT BETTER. Here are the spots that made us, laugh, think or cry in 2013:

Heather Taylor, Account Executive: The Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl spot

Heather says, “Beer, horses, and tears. Sounds like a typical Saturday night for me.”

Rob Marbury, Founder and Chief Creative Officer: Allstate “Mayhem” Tailgating commercial.

Mayhem continues to bring humor to the serious to the boring subject of insurance (apologizes to our insurance clients!)

John Clavijo, Production and Studio Director: Guinness “Wheelchair Basketball” spot

“The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”

Shelly Emanuel, VP of Accounts and Operations: Dollar Shave Club commercial

“It’s random and funny, any company with a bear that makes random appearances, gets an A in my book.”

Bob Jones, Creative Director: Aflac “Physical Therapy” commercial

Bob’s take: “I still love AFLAC commercials. Proves that advertising can sell ANYTHING!”

Laura Mileson, Graphic Designer: AT&T “It’s Not Complicated–Cutest Grape” spot

“…because you don’t want to wait to eat your raisins.”

Which of these spots is your favorite? Or do you have a commercial that you think we should include in our list of the year’s best? Let us know! Leave a comment and a link below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Name as Your Company Name—What’s the Rule of Thumb?

 

Maybe it's time this law firm had a new name.

Maybe it’s time this law firm had a new name.

Interesting question! It’s almost amusing to think that Mom and/or Dad are the marketing geniuses responsible for giving your company its identity. But if your name tells the story, then by all means use it. Here are some examples of when to use your own name as your company name:

In some industries it might be professional suicide NOT to use the name your parents hung on you (or a variation thereof.) If you’re the designer of a product—Tommy Hilfiger, anyone?—it’s a given that you’ll want to brand your product with your name. Anything that’s your “baby” should have your name on it.

Marketing, advertising or creative companies have lots of flexibility in the naming process. And creative types being creative can result in some funky names, like “Red Wagon Marketing” or “Laser Gun Graphics” or “Rocket Agency.” The tough part is finding a URL to go with that name that’s not taken by another individual or company! That can be easily resolved by using your personal name as part of a way to tell your story. We can use our own name as an example. Rob Marbury, our founder, wanted other businesses and people to know he was starting up his own agency. However, Rob was uncomfortable using his own name. He asked his mentors their opinion, and they told him his name was memorable and needed to travel to the new agency with him. Luckily, a lot of smart, creative people came to the agency with Rob, too, and he added the descriptive words “Creative Group” to tell the full story.

Law firms and professional firms often bring a string of partners to the naming party. There’s a trend in law firms to brand themselves with their company’s initials (see our previous thoughts on that phenomenon here) which leads to some company names that simply sound too similar. For example, the initials HII and HIG both represent companies in the same industry. Which name is the most memorable? Neither! With professional firms, a better solution may be to shorten the name to one or two “legacy” names that have significance in the firm’s history. Remember, a company frequently takes on the founder’s personality. Even if you have 100 lawyers in your firm, it still may retain the philosophy and energy of the person (or people) that created it.

Sometimes clients who come to us for branding or a name have an eye to the future. What happens when that “legacy” name is ready to retire? The employees that remain want to know how to transition the company after they’re no longer so high-profile. We ask them to consider names that tell it better. Here’s a case study. The Asbury-Wright firm came to us for a name change. They wanted to communicate better about the services they offered. Asbury-Wright provides voluntary benefits as a backup to primary benefits, which allows the medical coverage to continue. We suggested the name “Continuity Benefits,” as it told the story of what they do. By creating a name that describes their services, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is the firm that can help with a smooth transition in medical benefits.

So what should be your company’s name? Whatever tells your story the best. Make your story a memorable one!

We’d love to chat with you about your company name! Visit us online or hop onto our Facebook page or Twitter feed.