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Unpacking after 99U: Part 2

In our Part 1 post distilling our experience during the 99U Conference, we shared what we encountered around the city and some of the interesting things we saw. Part 2 is all about our conference takeaways.

Day 1

Studio Tour: Verdes

We started the first full day of the conference at a great little coffee shop called The Jolly Goat on our way to a studio tour with Verdes, a small offshoot of the larger studio Mother NY. The folks from Verdes shared with us how to create a common language around expressing our ideas to clients and helpful tools for facilitating the discussion. A super useful topic and content and a great start to the conference.

Conference Sessions:

We made our way back from Verdes down in Hell’s Kitchen to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center to start the general sessions.

Session 1: Ryan Carson, Treehouse

Ryan Carson shared with us a bit about his unique management and company policies (he doesn’t have any managers and they encourage lots of balance) – all of which came from his realization that we really don’t have very long on this earth so we need to spend it doing important things with the most important people in our lives. Ryan had us imagine who we want at our funeral and what we’d want them to say about us. From there we create a “Personal Mission Statement” outlining our different roles (father, business owner, son, husband, etc.) and check in on our mission statement every week and make sure our lives are still on track.

Session 2: Kristy Tilman, Society of Grownups

Kristy Tilman, in addition to having beautiful and inspiring design work, talked about not waiting to be invited to the table – to just invite yourself. She shared her own experiences where she created her own opportunity based on what she felt was needed in the world and built success around it. This is such an important idea to keep in mind: Don’t wait to be invited! Other folks out there aren’t going to wait for you and the most successful people create their own opportunity.

Session 3: Jason Fried, Basecamp

I was very excited to hear from Jason Fried who created Basecamp. Jason talked about “creative destruction” and really stepping out of your comfort zone, habits, and processes to discover new solutions. He’s challenged his teams with weeklong projects, which keeps everyone sharp but also gets the client to pay faster for example. Creating seasonal change is also important – for instance work 4 days a week in the summer and go back to 5 days in the fall. When the changes come you are refreshed and can look at everything in a different way.

Session 4: Tristan Walker, Bevel

Tristin Walker created a men’s grooming product that rethinks everything we’ve grown used to. His products are simple and refined, both visually and functionally. I mainly was inspired by his company, Bevel’s, packaging design.

Master Class: Scott Belsky, founder of Behance

Scott Belsky spoke about the journey in-between and how to keep projects alive and thriving through every cycle. Scott talked about being mission centric and medium agnostic and really focusing on the core of the project, not letting the medium drive the solution. The playbook changes over the lifespan of the project so what worked at the beginning wont work in the middle or the end so we should be aware and course correct when we need to. He discussed why projects lag in the middle – hint – it’s in our human nature! We learned to make sure we focus on new users as well as existing ones and to step out of our assumptions and step into the shoes of someone who has never interacted with our product or project.

Day 2

Day 2 started with a rainy walk to a cool little event space called Lightbox to hear Brennan Dunn discuss how to optimize our businesses. I popped in a great little coffee shop called Rex Coffee and had some yummy Counter Culture coffee and a tasty Egg & Cheese on Brioche.

Offsite: Brennan Dunn, Double Your Freelancing

This was probably the most helpful and actionable sessions of the whole conference. Brennan walked us through what makes freelancers successful, things such as mindset and knowing that you are equal to you client counterparts, not just a “vendor.” He discussed really easy ways to qualify new clients and how to provide a ton more value to existing clients. We learned about tips and techniques to help uncover the true business problem behind design projects and to become an investment for our clients, and not just an expense.

Conference Sessions:

Session 1: Dan Mall, Superfriendly

Dan Mall walked us through why and how he uses an apprenticeship model at his design studio. This was such an interesting and inspiring talk and I will be exploring ways to create something similar at Buttermilk. The most fascinating thing about Dan’s apprentice program – he only spend 30 total non-billable hours working with the apprentice over the span of the 9 month program. The rest of the hours were spent with self directed instruction by the apprentice or actual billable time on real life design projects. So something that seemed way out of reach sounds very doable for any business owner.

Session 2: Cap Watkins, BuzzFeed

My main takeaway from Cap Watkins was how he started to develop “Designer Principals” at BuzzFeed and those turned into “Leadership principals” because he discovered that really it all boils down to the same thing, no matter what your job or discipline is. He also talked about designing everything, not just design projects and to treat organizations and clients as user experience problems – a very interesting point of view.

Session 3: Yuko Shimizu

Yuko is an incredible illustrator that decided to go into the field later in life. She discussed setting goals really high and to take one small risk everyday. She also shared a lot of work and some of the stories behind it. Very inspirational.

Keynote: Tobias Frere-Jones

Tobias Frere-Jones closed the conference with a discussion about how he arrived at type design and walked us through the details and nuances of redesigning a font to be used in the stock pages of the Wall Street Journal. What I learned is that projects can always use a bit more adjusting and work before they are completely finished, but to also step away from projects for a little while too so you can return to them with fresh eyes.

Closing Party

What’s a great conference without a killer party and 99U was no exception. The venue was incredible – the vestibule of the MOMA and the music was provided by DJ Windows 98 (aka Win Butler from Arcade Fire). I had to keep pinching myself – here I was in this iconic space listening to an iconic artist with all these inspirational folks I’ve spent the last couple of days with. It was such an incredible time.

Parting Thoughts

99U was an awesome experience I will definitely consider attending again next year. I was amazed at how few traditional “designers” i encountered and the wide array of disciplines and people I learned about and met. The speakers and sessions were so varied and everything I learned makes me look at projects and my own work in a completely different way – something I think is invaluable. What makes me even more excited is all the new value and knowledge I get to share with my clients helping them solve their business problems and making them even more successful!

 

Welcome to our new site!

Its been a long hard road but we finally have arrived at our destination and have a redesigned site! It took a lot of time, energy, and effort from not only us but helpful friends in the community. Over the next few posts we’ll share insights into the redesign process, what’s new on the site, spotlights on our collaborators, and other bits of knowledge we’ve gained on this journey. We want to share all of this because we feel like it will be helpful for folks thinking about heading down the redesign road.

Below are the sections we’ll be covering over the next few weeks:

Part 1: A little context & background: Why?

Part 2: The process behind the redesign

Part 3: The importance of assembling a good team

Part 4: Spotlight: Our developer and domain host

Part 5: Spotlight: The importance of amazing photography

Part 6: Learnings

As you can see we’ve got a lot of ground to cover but we’re excited to share this experience with you. Our blog is a weekly post so look out for new posts every Monday morning.

Enjoy!

Lowes Foods Redesign

At the risk of sounding hypocritical I’d like to discuss a logo redesign that was just unveiled. The redesign I’ll be digging into is for one of our local hometown grocery stores: Lowes Foods.

Growing up about 30 minutes west of where Lowes Foods started I was familiar with this brand early on, but I was always confused about the name. Are they connected to Lowes Hardware? Owned by the same people? After all Lowes the hardware store is also headquartered in NC but down in Charlotte. We never really shopped at Lowes Foods though when I was little so it wasn’t until I moved back to the area after being away that I really checked out the grocery store.

My first impression of Lowes was low end, basic grocery store. I had just left Florida, land of Publix, where I fell head over heals in love with that wonderful store “where shopping is a pleasure.” So my grocery store bar was set very high and Lowes just didn’t do it for me. At that time I felt like they did not have a solid and clear statement to the shopper about who they are and what they stood for. They were, you know… just a regular grocery store.

Over the years I’ve only dabbled with shopping at Lowes. Part because its not convenient for me personally, part because I just don’t like the place. I can count the number of times I’ve shopped at Lowes over the last 7 years on my two hands.

So you can imagine my absolute shock when I noticed earlier this past week that they had redesigned their logo- and it was pretty amazing. Retro inspired cool, the new script logo looks great. Feels historic but fresh at the same time. Has a great energy and is light years ahead of the old mark. 

Following the logo redesign I went over to their website and, to my delight, saw they had redesigned that as well. The visual language they’ve set up is consistent, interesting, and with enough variety to keep things engaging. 

My favorite parts of the whole redesign is what Lowes calls their “Originals.” These are basically “stores-within-the-store”. Whole Foods is famous for these — the beer bar that will fill your growler up while you sip on a pint, the BBQ shack right down the aisle from canned goods. But this concept at Lowes Foods? Who’d a thunk? The design of each “Original” is unique but consistent and contributes to the overall feeling of what Lowes is putting forth. The concepts are very cool- a craft beer bar, a sausage makery, a fried chicken joint, and a couple other community focused ones that holistically make Lowes feel like more than “just” a grocery store.

Images via Lowesfoods.com

Images via Lowesfoods.com

For me, “The Beer Den” tops my list. I’m digging the overall rustic, modern, hand crafted feel of the space as well as the bold type and illustrations used. The printed growlers add a nice touch of specialty and reinforce Lowes’ new position as craft beer experts. Just look at that bear art — bad ass!

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

Image via Lowesfoods.com

I’ve yet to step foot in a newly redesigned Lowes. All of my conclusions have been drawn purely based on the digital work put out there by Lowes and their agency of record, The Variable. So will it all fall apart in the store? I’ll be very interested to see when I plan my next visit. What I’m even more curious about is what will these bold statements do for Lowes’ business? My hope is it works out for them. They’ve embraced design as an important factor to move the needle and as a designer I want badly for that to work out for them — if it does, other companies will take notice and the success story will raise our industry. Fingers crossed.

Kudos to the in-house team at Lowes Foods and the team at The Variable for doing such an amazing job on the redesign and on all the other work needed to make it sing.

Thoughts on logo redesigns

The recent redesign of the Olive Garden logo and subsequent deluge of comments got me thinking about the current environment we designers live in and how we’re our own worst enemies. It’s a scary proposition if you are that designer or studio tasked with redesigning a logo, especially one that has a long history.

It’s shocking how fast this type of news gets out. It’s also shocking how immediate the snarky comments come out as well. And there is no shortage of those. From light hearted jostling to down right hateful meanness, these comments really show how shallow our industry is. And how we’ll turn on each other in a heartbeat. Scary. Especially when most of us try on a daily basis to have our profession taken more seriously. After a research paper goes out are scientists heading to Twitter and snarkily denouncing the results?

What is it about a redesign that makes us revert to being 5 years old on the playground picking on whoever is new and different? Who knows? Are we angry because we didn’t get chosen for the job? Maybe. Are we jealous because the solution is actually quite nice and we didn’t come up with it first? Possibly. Whatever the reason is we need to figure it out and try really hard not to succumb to the snarky urge.

The first step is recognition.

We’ve got to be more patient with these redesigns. Let them live in the world for a little while. Lets let them find their footing and then if we feel the need, because we’ve critically thought about it, critique them in the appropriate forum (and no that is not on Twitter.) If you don’t just impulsively tweet your initial feelings about the redesigns I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised- heck you might even *gasp* appreciate the work done for the redesign!

In this world of faster and faster instant gratification lets give our industry a little trust and respect and give these redesigns (and the designers behind them!) the time and thought they deserve. Try and put yourself in the shoes of the designer or team of designers tasked with the redesign. I bet they didn’t sit in their initial brainstorm meeting and try to come up with the idea that would be made fun of the most. No, they were tasked with executing an idea brought to them by their client, documented as best as it could be on a brief, and had a schedule assigned to it. Honestly they probably were too busy to think about what was going to be said after the redesign happens.

So here it is- my plea to my fellow creatves:

Stop Snarking, Start Thinking, Stay Designing!

Happy Mardi Gras: A Spotlight on New Orleans Creatives

In honor of Mardi Gras we’re highlighting a few standout creative firms in the Big Easy whom we’ve discovered with the power of the internet. New Orleans definitely has its own style and flavor, whether its food, cocktails, or creative work and the following agencies and creatives have the work to prove it.

Line 58

The first agency is Line 58. While their name is relatively new( they used to go by Zande+Newman) they’ve been around since 1991. Their name comes from the rail line that goes from New Orleans to Chicago and carries the famous “City of New Orleans” train. So with that symbolism in their name, there’s no wonder they embody the spirit of their city. They’ve got some great work all around but these projects really stood out to us.

The Savvy Gourmet

Being in the food retail world ourselves this project is very close to home. Line 58 worked with their client to create everything from visual branding to fixtures and finishes in the store environment. A logo is one thing, creating everything else is a whole other ball of wax that they make look easy. We really like the in-store signage — it looks inspired by old letterpress posters, but with a contemporary spin. They are nice and bold but fit within the space without looking out of place. We also appreciate the thoughtfulness in the elements used in the interior to evoke a modern New Orleans, without resorting to using trumpets and fleur-de-lis.

Image via Line 58

Image via Line 58

The Building Block

The other Line 58 project we’re drawn to is the identity for The Building Block. We really like the use of overprint and transparency to create the “B” letterform, its just so much more interesting that just slapping a B up there and calling it a day. They also did a great job working that transparency into the other brand materials, such as the website’s big green box.

Image via Line 58

Image via Line 58

Thinka

Our next stop is a studio called Thinka. They have some interesting work, and based on what they’re showing in their portfolio they look like they’re a witty group of folks.

Emmett’s Fine Meats & Seafood

Another food retail identity, the work Thinka did for Emmett’s is really great. Its a homegrown butcher shop in New Orleans and the logo really embodies the shop. We really appreciate the industrial/vintage feel with simple typography, nice design flourishes, and a bright color palette. We also like the use of the “New Orleans Louisiana” stamp element used on all the pieces and is a nice consistent recognizable element.

Image via Thinka

Image via Thinka

Pizzacare

The other Thinka work we really dig is the logo for Pizzacare. Its got nice bold sans serif type sitting in a circle that evokes a pizza shape or even a record. The colors Thinka chose for the identity are nice as well and give the warm feeling of a tasty pie. The whole logo feels like its been around forever (in a good way) and looks great really large in a sign as well as on the menu.

Image via Thinka

Image via Thinka

Nancy Sharon Collins, Stationer

Our next visit brings us to Nancy Sharon Collins, Stationer. This is a one woman creative powerhouse in New Orleans proper who’s been around for quite some time. She creates incredibly intricate and beautiful designs either for traditional packaging, engraving, or stationery. She even has written a book about the history and context of social stationery.

Liz Claiborne’s Curve fragrances

Who hasnt seen this packaging? Nancy Sharon Collins developed the packaging for this line of fragrances. I remember seeing these on the shelf and loving the hand drawn lettering for “Curve”. It wraps so nicely around each application, one can tell she considered all the different shapes and sizes her design would be applied to. The colors are quite nice as well and feel very luxiourous — a good feeling to evoke in a line of fragrances.

Image via Nancy Sharon Collins

Image via Nancy Sharon Collins

Engravings

We also really love Nancy Sharon Collins’ engravings. She says “Engraving is the highest form of printmaking known” and while we do other forms such as screen print and wood block, we tend to agree with her. She creates beautiful delicate designs as shown below. In the tree example you can almost see every little leaf. In the monogram example theres a nice play of thick line weights and super thin flourishes- wonderful examples of whats attainable when you are a master of you craft. This monogram would be at home on any gate at a Garden District mansion.

Image via Nancy Sharon Collins

Image via Nancy Sharon Collins

CPR+Partners

The final creative shop on our tour of New Orleans is CPR+Partners. Based on the little snippets of their philosophy peppered throughout their website, these folks seem like they’d be really great to work with. A lot of their work is infused with a touch of humor that take a sec to sink in, as well as a little of the unorthodoxy that embodies New Orleans.

Youngs Dry Cleaning

We instantly loved the work they created for Youngs Dry Cleaning. First off the logo is outstanding, great type and colors lending a vintage feel that is right at home with a dry cleaning service. Though they are using what we would consider a predictable color (bluish teal) but they don’t wear it out, using it in all the right ways and places. The other piece of this work we really enjoy are the ads they created — super witty composition and copywriting makes this client stand out from the rest for sure. And each statement I can imagine being uttered with a thick New Orleans accent.

Image via CPR+Partners

Image via CPR+Partners

Whipsie

The other project of theirs that really stood out to us is this packaging design for Whipsie, an alcohol infused whipped cream, which sounds to us like either the greatest invention or the worst idea (because it would seriously cut into our productivity if we got our hands on it.) They’ve really managed to basically make a 21+ version of whipped cream. The packaging for an otherwise boring aerosol bottle has been made to look quite dapper, like its going to a really fancy dinner party. The subtle colors and straight-forward photography definitely gives the customer an idea of what they can do with this product. Theres also something very New Orleans about an alcohol-infused whipped cream.

Image via CPR+Partners

Image via CPR+Partners

And that concludes our tour of some of our favorite New Orleans creative studios. These shops show that the Big Easy is more than just a place for beads and beignets and has some serious creative chops.

Trend Spotting: Black and White with a Pop of Color

This is design direction that we get a lot…. “Black and white with a pop of color”. It usually means simple and modern-ish. A clean and straight forward design.  So, even though this isn’t really a ground breaking trend per se, it is a commonly seen design style that we find very visually appealing.

Below are a few great interpretations of this style. 

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline

Image via The Dieline