great people, great cause

For the last two years I’ve had the honor and privilege of art-directing a calendar, sales of which fund the Mary Alice Beatty Scholarship for young woman looking to go into the aviation or aeronautics.

It takes months to produce the final product; lining up talent, stylists, locations, people, planes, and hoping for the best out of mother nature. Sometimes the harder the project, along with the value added to people’s lives for putting blood, sweat, and tears into it, are worth more than the money or accolades. It’s great to have another calendar done, printed, ready for it’s big reveal and for sale (last year’s sold out), and to be already ramping up planning next year’s locations, talent, and people.

For more on the calendar, beautifully photographed with women not only modeling, but role models in their own right, visit The Southern Museum of Flight website.

Mary Alice Beatty Scholarship Calendar


one of the best interview questions for a branding creative professional

Einstein Think Different Apple adWhile recently chatting with Anna Powell, Influence Health’s smart, savvy Vice President of Marketing, she asked what may be one of the best all-time questions of a candidate who deals with creative in terms of marketing brand identity:

“What’s your favorite brand and why?”

Further clarification, it could be a brand you’ve developed, worked on, or simply one your admire.

Here is why this is, in my humble option, is brilliant: It gives the interviewer insight on how the interviewee thinks about brand creative, what is their process, their logic, what type of fit they may have within the organization.

Mind you, there is no right or wrong answer per se, choosing a brand one admires should make or break a potential future employee, rather, what and how they see it. This question is many times better than the standard “tell me about a difficult time you [insert person, project, etc.]…” or using situational behavioral questions. Creatives often develop ideas from intangibles not easily categorized, from a combination of experience and intuition, this doesn’t often have a pat answer of why “sales of X went from Y to Z.” If those sales were based on an ad campaign or a rebranding based on an idea, it’s hard to quantify that. Most great brands came not following a formula, but from an instinct, so to ask how a branding person sees their own or other brands gives an insight of why you want them in your corner.

I’ll take it a step further and say, if you’re reviewing agencies to work with for your company or organization, it also may be of great insight to ask them what brands they admire, again, not necessarily ones they’ve worked on, to see how their minds work, and to give you a sense if you want to work for them or not.

It’s a brilliant question if one is in marketing, branding, design, advertising, or really any career where crafting and perfecting a brand and it’s management is a large part of the focus gaining potentially fantastic insight.

Apple LogoOh, and my answer, favorite brand is Apple, Inc. Specifically the clean design permeating everything from advertising to packaging, software to hardware functionally, during the company’s second rise to success under Steve Jobs from 1997 to circa 2012. As a firm believer in Albert Einstein’s interpretation of Occam’s Razor “Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but not simpler,” Apple embodied a brand that was clean, timeless, and where simplicity took precedent. Another way it’s put, making complex things is easy, making simple things is hard, what Apple did was in fact very challenging, but their extraordinarily difficult efforts paid off and to most the world, it looked easy, to us insiders, it was anything but.

iPod AdsWith Steve Jobs firmly at the helm they created magic. From TBWA/Chiat/Day – responsible for Think Different and iPod silhouette ad campaigns with their iconic simplicity – to their website, clean both from a design and a coding perspective – to the way a child can pick up an iPad and, within seconds, understand the basics of how they operate, Apple as an entity was a brand that, for a period of over a decade, seldom had hiccups. Everything they did, everything they focused on, had an attention to detail eliminating anything extraneous that didn’t matter to their products, packaging, advertising… everything. Make everything simple, make it beautiful, make everything timeless, and make it work. It was that level of attention which propelled them to one of the most valued brands in the world.

Their secret was brand management, execution, and excellence on every level. It’s what myself and the best brand creatives should wish to bring to the table with an organization as an employee or as an agency.

the brand experience – connected and enabled by technology

The interrelationship between consumers and brands are now multilevel, in fact one could suggest you put PR wheels in motion before the advertising. In reality it’s more like a Venn diagram of course with overlap, but you get the idea/point. So the best approach for any client and it’s agency for really almost any rollout would be taking one from the other and never forgetting the chain between which, really even as much as a decade ago, wasn’t much of a consideration. My how times have changed.

the brand experience

Grapico and the olden age of advertising

Recently commissioned to do a piece celebrating the soft drink Grapico’s centennial, a drink advertised in photographic records on the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” introduced a century ago, for the Southern Museum of Flight currently celebrating it’s half-century mark. In order to replicate the type of advertising done in the early days of aviation the museum had the Grapico logo added to a Heath Parasol, a DIY airplane one ordered from the factory approximately 90 years ago. If you’re keeping track at home, that adds up to some 340 years of history, give or take an orbit around the sun.

What’s fascinating, as all advertising has been since my age was in the single-digits, makers of Grapico (there’s been several through the years) saw the potential of flight as a way of promoting their product. Around 1916 powered flight was a few years old, the Wright Brothers were still experimenting, WW I was raging across Europe, the first transatlantic flight hadn’t been made yet, Amelia Earhart had only just seen an airplane, never flown one.

Aviation a century ago was unique, mysterious, and perhaps a bit sexy in a daredevil way. Products since the early days of mass production in a post industrial revolution world clamored to get into the hearts and minds of America’s new class of disposable income consumers. What better way than on mysterious machines that were heavier-than-air? Advertising has been pervasive long before the Mad Men era, creation of this display is a reminder, stating in effect “it’s a new era of wonder, skies the limit, take Grapico along for the ride.” Love or hate advertising, coming up with the idea of putting the logo on a plane was brilliant.

Also of note, Grapico > Buffalo Rock > Pepsi. I can now officially say I’ve done work for both soda giants.

Grapico Heath Parasol airplane

how to foster an atmosphere of committed great employees

stop look collaborate

In the midst of a massive web redesign being undertaken almost entirely internally for a project many in an industry often outsources, I’m reminded of the power internal teams and why, in many instances, it’s better to use the talent you know than take the time and effort (money) to hunt down agencies who, in the end, may miss their mark.

If an organization has the resources – by which I mean time, talent, and technology – a competent, confident staff with proper leadership and vision, why spend copious amounts of money outside your organization to do something an internal team may do just as well. As an added bonus, when leadership is willing to take a chance entrusting an internal team to do an often outsourced project, that team becoming involved feels more respected and appreciated. Empowering your people to take responsibility for the organization’s brand creates a higher level of job satisfaction by creating a sense of ownership.

There may (or will) be headaches and bumps in the process when turning employees loose on large projects where they find themselves having to learn new skills, think on-the-fly, challenge themselves, work better together as a team, asking for help getting resources to get the job done. These are all very much worth it not only for them to grow as integral parts of your organization, but your organization will be that much better for taking the chance, you’re creating value all the way around.

Moira Cullen, Director of Global Design at The Hershey Company, said regarding the power of your staff, “internal creative teams [can] seize their insider advantage by using their deep knowledge of the brand, leveraging their strategic value.” You’ve hired some talented people, put them to the best use and, wherever possible, challenge them in meaningful ways.

who you gonna to call?

Michael Gross passed away at 70 years old due to cancer. Like many iconic designers, few may recognize his name, even fewer his face, but they’d know his work, soon to be on marketing in and around movie theaters everywhere.

A Pratt Alum, his work goes back to the 1968 Mexican Olympics and National Lampoon Magazine where he was art director, along the way becoming a prolific illustrator, director, and producer of film and television. Still, when the chips were down, he turned to design as cancer slowly took him. R.I.P. Michael.

the iconic beauty of Raymond Loewy’s designs


Raymond Loewy, outside of a Google Doodle and a lovely article at The Verve, to many outside the design world, if you dropped his name today you may get a “who?” To many of those of us in the creative industry, those who awe at the subtle, simple beauty of such contemporaries like Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Loewy’s up there with the greats. Loewy’s face would be carved into the Mount Rushmore (seen below under the flying 747) of designers.

PRR S1 Art Deco Locomotive Raymond Loewy

It all began, rather uncharacteristically for many designers, with train steam engines, such as the beautiful art deco (huge fan here) PRR S1, aka “The Big Engine.” Built for the Pennsylvania Railroad company, it was to show off the PRR’s strengths at the 1939’s Worlds Fair. You could call this an example of really large, really heavy rolling advertising. Sadly the steam engine was to become a footnote in rail history, but the beauty of steam train engines and deco train depots live on.


This design aesthetic of art deco, melding a rocketship design into something more firmly planted in terra ferma, extended to other vehicles such as the Studebaker Champion. Photo credit credit: Ruud OnosFlickr Creative Commons.

Studebaker Avanti Sketch Raymond Loewy

It wasn’t all rocketships, Loewy was more a future modernist. He went beyond deco, his aesthetic was clean, minimal lines, such as this 1963 Studebaker Avanti Sketch, a car in my youth a lusted after, even if it has a nose only a mother could love.

Greyhound Scenicruiser Raymond Loewy

While many not old enough to know when The Beatles broke up, or who The Beatles even were, the very cool Greyhound Scenicruiser had quite a long run. Over 1,000 of these were built in the 50s, driving around North America for over two decades. The Scenicruiser was service from 1954 until 1971, proving the design Loewy could conjure could stand the test of time, mostly. Note: To this day I’d love to buy and/or refurbish one into an awesome motor home.

US Air Force One Raymond Loewy

Loewy touched planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses), including the iconic look of Air Force One. I tend to go on and on about simple design is always best (aka Occams Razor), here is a fine example. A gently curving blue that tapers to the plane’s length of white with a light blue undertone, offset with the timeless beauty of Caslon typeface. This design has served every US president since Kennedy, and probably will every next president and plane until the earth is overrun by aliens or zombies.

Exxon Shell Logos Raymond Loewy Iconic DesignerIn a glimpse of Loewy’s “show your work,” you can see doing even a simple design take effort, good design is simple but simple and great is harder than complex and bad. He spend time sketching out the Exxon logo until the right design came out of it. Many a new fresh designer could learn from this simple but valuable lesson. Not discriminating between big oil companies, Loewy was also responsible for the revisioning of the iconic Shell logo.

I encourage anyone interesting in design or the creative industry to learn more about Raymond Loewy by visiting his official site – which, at the moment of writing is having bandwidth issues, not surprisingly thanks to the Google Doodle – Wikipedia, and check out the article on The Verve.

content strategy basics

1. Don’t start by focusing on print; focus on digital. Digital channels and their low-cost barriers and ease of use are part of what has made content marketing explode. Think of YouTube, WordPress, Facebook, downloadable articles, or Constant Contact. Then consider paper, printing, shipping, warehousing, postage, and etcetera. Plus, remember that digital content is easier for today’s consumer to share with an audience.

2. Know that producing engaging content is a challenge. We all face it, and it’s most often learned through trial and error. Our instinct as marketers is to sell, promote, assert market leadership, and hit home those branding messages.

3. Resist the urge to have all of your marketing speak directly to your products and services. Strive to balance the promotional aspect of your content with informational evergreen content. Remember that content marketing isn’t push marketing — it’s a pull strategy that can be thought of as the marketing of attraction. It’s marketing that is engaging, educational, helpful, entertaining, and there when you need it.

4. No one likes a one-sided conversation. Don’t be the person on the date who only talks about themselves. Start your content strategy with a goal of establishing genuine customer-brand relationships by offering up content that your target audience would find shareable. Be the person on the date that wants the other person to go tell their friends about it, because that person will be one who gets the second date, while the one who only talks about themselves is in the never-ending cycle of first dates.

5. 90% of purchase decisions now begin with an Internet search. You’ll need content to help you show up in these searches.

david carson and why creative degrees don’t always matter

The brilliant, warm, and deadpan David Carson gave one of the most humorous, geniune, and arguably insightful TED talks about Design and Discovery. In it, he gives insight into the mind of a true designer, a world which most creatives do not look life, objects, themes, and constructs the same way an average person does.

There’s a layer below that piece of paper, a diploma, to how every creative thinks, one in which having a degree in design doesn’t necessary make one a great designer any more than getting an MBA makes you an world-class business person. Quite the opposite, sometimes getting degrees can mire a person by teaching them constrictions instead of endless possibilities. “World of endless possibilities” could sum up the approach David Carson takes towards design, and life in general.

David’s original education is that of sociology, how social actions, structure, and functions relate to the theoretical understanding of social processes. Understanding sociology may well be a better key to understanding marketing and design rather than a straight up education of either discipline. Design is far more than making pretty pictures, visuals, and how things look. Marketing is more than a mere process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers. There’s much more beneath the surface to understanding either or both. David entered design as an observer, he looked around and design and then put his own unique take on it. Had David perhaps formal training he wouldn’t be renowned in many design circles, leaving an indelible mark on the creative visual aesthetic. Shudder to think, but had he a four year design school education, his work would most likely wind up looking like everyone elses.

When one looks for talent for an organization, brand, what-have-you, whether that’s to assist in a message, visibility, to get the word out, to hire, retain, or whatever the relationship, there’s so much more than a person’s education or background. There’s the person’s perspective on the world and how they see it, and the value they add as a person, not a bloodless list on some job qualification requirements or bullets on a resume. David Carson’s talk should remind all of us in some position of hiring authority we must look past the formal education, learn what makes a person tick, their passion, their enthusiasm. Never discount intuition about someone, or your own. These are things that go much further than one’s education or background and can make the next great thought leader and one to watch in your industry.

the pitfalls of doing spec work

no-spec, spec hurts everyone

[Anyone who’s seen my lectures and talks already has heard this before.]

  • Would a doctor be asked to do surgery on patients, for free, just to see if a hospital liked how they operate?
  • Would an accountant be asked to balance a quarterly report for free just to see how he ran numbers?
  • A pilot be asked to fly a major airline route without an compensation to see how he lands planes?
  • A fireman asked to battle some major blazes for no pay first before a check or even or insurance to see how well he fought fires?
  • Professor told he has to teach a semester free? A nuclear engineer at a power plant? An actuary? Architect? Police officer? Asked to do work for free before getting any compensation?

None of these careers are asked to do free work as a theoretical carrot dangling in front of them, the reality, most cases, you’ll get the stick.

Put it to you another way as Topic Simple did in an informative video, could you ask a chef at a fine restaurant to make you a delicious meal for free simply to see if you liked it? Or a lawyer to do up your will, but  you’d only pay him if you think it’s good enough.

A recent student I mentored awhile back wrote me about a potential job he was offered, but first, they had him design mockup web pages and logos for their new line of software. This company never had him sign anything (red flag), but he was hungry for the work, and potential employment. He spent hours, thinking, crafting, anguishing over designing beautiful web pages that would take the company to the next level and impress upon them enough that he would be a perfect fit for their oranization. They thanked him, he never heard back despite leaving message and emails, but they did use his work on their website. Not only is this borderline criminal, again, ask yourself, what other profession would this happen in?

It’s a story I’ve heard too many times, seen too many times, and the majority of times it ends badly. I’ve been on the hiring end of many creative talent, I’d never even dream of asking any potential hire to do work for free.

The AIGA, the largest professional association for designers in the world, official stance:

Fees: A designer shall not undertake any work for a client without adequate compensation, except with respect to work for charitable or nonprofit organizations. A designer shall not undertake any speculative projects, either alone or in competition with other designers, for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used. This applies not only to entire projects but also to preliminary schematic proposals. A designer shall work only for a fee, royalty, salary or other agreed-upon form of compensation.

Rather succinct.

So creatives everywhere, stop chasing free work. Unless it’s your Mom, a buddy, or something you’re doing for fun, say no. Saying yes hurts not only yourself, but the design industry’s legitimacy. I’ll add, the same goes for writers, programmers, or anyone in the creative or IT field, say no to spec work.

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