Brand Refresh - A Case for Simplification

Client: Pond Supplies of Ohio, Inc.

Target Audience: Suppliers, retailers and customers of outdoor aquatic equipment

Objective: To update the client's existing logo so that it better reflects the latest products and modern features they provide, as well as their commitment to continuous improvement.

Challenge: To keep the basic elements of the existing logo, but depict them in a cleaner and more modern presentation.

Concept: Through discussion and exploration with the client, it was determined that if the "O" was to continue to represent a body of water within the logo, the emphasis should be placed within the word "pond" instead of "Ohio." Through the use of brighter and more simplified color, it became clear that the text and forms could also then be simplified, allowing for better visual translation when the logo is reduced in size or to one color.PondSupplyOhio-logos
The Result: A brand refresh that respects the original design and the client's budget. Even when the new logo is reduced to 1.5 inches, the koi and lotus remain identifiable and the text is legible. The previous logo struggled to do this.

The Urgency of Now


Time for a change

After a frustrating week of email issues with my business account, I finally had had enough. Legitimate emails coming through multiple times like pinging spam or worse, arriving 7 or 8 hours after being sent, created enormous stress and havoc to my business. It was simply unacceptable. But what bothered me most of all was how unaccessible and detached my (former) small business web host was to the whole situation. In an age of social media and advanced communications, there should have been some sort of direct information dispatched acknowledging that THEY were experiencing issues with their servers. I shouldn't have been left to my own devices, wasting hours of my time making sure that my settings and system were working properly, when all along THEY were the source of the problems. And it wasn't just me. A quick online search disclosed that hundreds of angry and frustrated people just like me were experiencing the same issues. In all fairness, the web host did bury a brief statement deep into their website's "Troubleshooting" page, revealing that they were "aware of the issue and were working towards a solution." No doubt THEY were concerned about airing their dirty laundry, and their legal counsel had chosen those words carefully to avoid any liability. But there is a responsibility in knowing, and when you know there is something wrong and you say nothing, you are lying by omission. You are intentionally trying to deceive. And you are a coward. Your system failed, and although you may feel that you are too big to have to offer an explanation or an apology, the truth is you are responsible. Own it.

Redesigning and Redefining a Classic

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the new logo for Disney's The Lone Ranger. I don't really pay much attention to movie hype but I remember seeing this logo at the end of the trailer and thinking to myself, "Wow… Johnny Depp has given Tonto a serious makeover." I have no interest in seeing the movie, but I am intrigued by the stuffed crow on Depp's head and how it was introduced into the visual interpretation of the movie's graphics.


What I really like about the new logo is how the most identifiable object of The Lone Ranger (his mask) is created from the image of Tonto's new headgear. When compared to Dell Comic's original logo from 65 years ago, it is quite clear that today's lone ranger is never alone. Tonto is as much a part of him as his iconic mask.

Special Sauce

One of the best things about my job is that I get to work with some pretty amazing people, who are doing some pretty amazing things. Recently, Angel Foundation in Minneapolis, MN contacted me to help them with a very special project. Rudolphs, a local Minneapolis restaurant known for its world-class barbecue sauces, was making a very generous donation to Angel Foundation. Rudolph's decided that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every bottle of barbecue sauce in 2013 would be donated to Angel Foundation.

The idea was simple. Angel Foundation wanted an effective way to thank and promote Rudolphs Bar-B-Que Sauce at the consumer level. They wanted shoppers to know that Rudolphs was offering something pretty incredible that would directly impact every adult in their community touched by cancer. By purchasing Rudolphs Bar-B-Que sauces, shoppers could be a part of that commitment.

The solution was a little more complicated. Rudolphs is a well-known brand and their sauces must compete visually with every other barbecue sauce on the market shelf. Their loyal customers have come to know the label and any change to the bottle's physical characteristics could potentially compromise Rudolph's overall brand. Furthermore, Angel Foundation wanted to also promote their organization, using this opportunity to introduce themselves to fans of Rudolphs who may not be aware of Angel Foundation or their services.

Point-of-purchase locations (especially those in supermarkets) are inundated with signs, stickers, pop-out displays and even digital banner ads. We sought a solution that would allow for a very clean presentation — one that was unobtrusive to the consumer and also user-friendly for the retailer. A secondary, non-permanent tag that could easily be fastened to existing product solved huge production considerations. It soon became apparent that the design and overall presentation would be the biggest challenges.

I approached the problem by assessing what I had to work with: a bottle of Rudolphs, and the substance of a new tag: paper and ink. Armed with scissors, a stack of scrap paper and my experience of making paper dolls as a kid, I began folding and cutting until I had established the right size and proportions that could comfortably contain the necessary information. The first prototypes are at right.

As is the case with most projects, cost was a major consideration. Hundreds of thousands of tags needed to be printed, and even the slightest increase in the cost-per-piece could add up very quickly. The design was kept intentionally simple — to maintain each brand's unique identity and also to reduce the printing costs. Just two inks were used on the exterior side of the tag, with the interior utilizing only black. The tags were printed right here in Akron by
Star Printing, whose experience and expertise in product packaging and printing were invaluable to the project's success.

A few of my favorite things

It's that time of year again when the stores and malls are packed to the rafters with shoppers looking for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. All that time, money and energy spent… you can't help wonder how successful most people are in selecting something meaningful and relevant.

Things have changed a lot since I was kid. In the 1960s and 70s, most of my friends experienced the same kind of Christmas I did. If we were good (and that did seem to matter back then), you were a delighted kid to find maybe five or six packages under the tree with your name on them. There was always at least one flat, rectangular-shaped box that you could bet money on had clothes inside. But if you shock it real hard and it rattled, then all bets were off because it might just be a board game! But other than that, it was always a mystery as to what was inside and that was the real fun of it.

Even though the gifts were from both of my parents, it was always my mom who did the shopping and gift selection, and she was pretty good at it. The best — my most favorite Christmas gift of all time — was a huge drawing table I received my freshman year in high school. Looking back, I think my mom bought it more for her own reasons: to spare her dining room table from being my permanent work space. But I didn't care. It was my first step in seeing myself as a serious artist.

My memory is filled with several other presents of Christmases past. Here is just a brief list of some of my other favorites.

1. Spirograph
I loved my Spirograph! Nothing felt more gratifying than to complete a perfect design. And that wasn't an easy thing to master! The small pins that held down the plastic rings to the cardboard would wiggle loose as you made your revolutions. The ball point pens would run out of ink and sometimes if you went too fast, the plastic reel would jump outside the ring. The trick was to progress slow and steady, in one continuous motion, and hope that the pen wouldn't fail.

2. Crayola Crayons
A brand new box of crayons was such an awesome thing. A box of 64 was the largest you could get back then, and the built-in sharpener was a new feature Crayola introduced when I was in elementary school. It even collected the shavings!

3. Lite-Brite
A very cool toy, indeed… color and electricity combined! I remember pushing the little plastic pins into the grid and making pictures of a sailboat, clown and even that ugly rooster on the box.

4. Etch-A-Sketch
This was my first laptop. I spent hours turning those little dials on the bottom, trying to maneuver the little drawing point to where I wanted it. There was no "save" feature either, so no matter what I created, it was soon erased with one quick shake.

5. View-Master
I wish I still had my View-Master and my collection of reels I had separated into categories and alphabetized in my little red and white storage bin. Most of my collection consisted of historical events and exotic places I dreamed of traveling to one day. The 3D effect totally blew my mind. Even today, I am not sure how such a simple device created such extraordinary images.

What do all of these Christmas presents have in common? Besides being a permanent part of my fondest childhood memories, they were very basic and simple tools that provided countless hours of creativity and exploration. Not just toys, but tools that were serious about the business of being a kid.

Take My Advice (Please!)

Too often, some of the best advice we are given is overlooked or tossed aside because we fail to see the value in it, especially if it's given to us for free. We live in the information age, where almost anything we want to know can be searched and found on the Internet. We also live in an age of being marketed to death, and so a certain degree of skepticism has made its way into almost every claim we hear. Who can you trust? Certainly not the guy who is giving away free advice, right? Or maybe not...

One of the benefits of partnering with me at Lime Creative is that everything I know and all of my years of experience are included in the package, absolutely free. Any questions you may have, I try to answer as honestly as I can and if I don't know the answer, I do my best to put you in contact with someone who does. My reason is simple: I want my clients to succeed. So you can imagine my frustration this week when two separate incidents occurred that could have easily been avoided had my advice been considered.

I won't get into specific details, but the first incident involved a website I designed a while back. At the time of development, I suggested a few local hosting options for my client to consider. As is often the case when a consumer does not fully understand what he or she is actually purchasing, he decided to host his website on the cheapest web host he could find online. Well, all that savings went out the window when his website went down as a result of the host company's servers being hacked. Multiple attempts to contact the web host generated useless, automated responses that were void of any explanation, apology or assistance. He was getting exactly what he paid for.

The second incident involved a client contacting me with concerns about the colors of their logo not being very accurate when they had their files printed. This is always a real painful subject for me, especially when clients do not allow me to be involved in the printing process. Everyone has a neighbor or a cousin or a friend at church that is in the printing business. And of course, they want to support their friends and family members, and I can appreciate that. I am willing to work with any printer and will provide whatever they need to make the final product look its best. But for some reason, clients can get kind of weird about involving me in the printing process when they decide to use their own printer.

As part of my design services, I feel it is important to give clients an idea of what they can expect to pay for the printing portion of their projects. Over the years, I have worked with numerous printers and I have a pretty good understanding of what kind of project fits each individual shop best. Every printer has a different set-up of offset presses, digital printers, binding equipment and staffing. Understanding what each printer is best and most cost-effective at producing is key to saving a client time and money. I often recommend a printer for a specific project and I back it up with at least two other estimates so that the client can see that the price is fair and consistent. I provide samples and try to educate my clients by pointing out the differences, but I have no interest in persuading a client one way or another. I am simply giving my best advice. My recommendations are based on the quality, service and the trusted care I have received from these service providers consistently throughout the years and nothing more. I do not receive kickbacks, nor do I mark-up any printing services. My only bias (if you can call it that) is that I try to support the local printers as much as possible. I believe it's important to invest locally, keeping both jobs and money here in NE Ohio.

So let's work together so that we can achieve the best results possible with the time and budget we have.

Fate and Irony

I often think about how seemingly unimportant and little things can completely change the course and direction of one's life. We normally don't realize it at the time. It is only years later when we look back and start connecting the dots that we discover a certain point in time where the direction of our lives changed; if ever so slightly then, but profoundly when viewed in the grand scheme of things.

Every Veterans Day I think about my dad. He, like so many others from his generation, was quiet about his service and contribution to our country. Dad rarely spoke about his experiences while in the Army, so the few stories he did share have always had a certain allure for me. The story that comes to mind today is of how he ended up in West Germany instead of Korea. I don't know how many men where in his company while he was going through basic training, but when a commanding officer asked if any of them knew how to type, my dad was the only one. And so he was sent overseas to Europe and stationed in West Germany after World War II, while his buddies were sent to the front lines in North Korea. Many of them didn't make it home.

Knowing how to type. Who could have imagined that a secretarial skill (remember, this was the 1950s) could seal a man's fortune and fate? Had he not known how to type, would he have become just another name etched into his hometown's war memorial? Had he gone to Korea and experienced the horrors of war, how different of a man would he have been, instead of the gentle and thoughtful man pictured here on leave in Zurich? There would be no prized Zeiss Ikon camera tucked away in a drawer with photo albums filled with images of The Alps, The Eiffel Tower and the cities of Paris and London. There is a good chance there would be no me.

There is a twist to this story that makes it even more special for me. It actually makes me laugh. Here I am, my father's daughter, and I am (no less) a professional graphic designer with a passion for typography. And I have a secret. I don't know how to type! Even though I grew up with this story of how this one skill possibly saved my father's life, I intentionally decided not to learn. Why? Because a very misguided high school guidance counselor told me that I should — so when my art career tanked, I could at least find a job as a secretary. Instead of filling my class schedule with electives like typing and shorthand (wow, there's useless skill), I spent every free period in the art room. My rationale was simple: if I only focused on perfecting my art, I could become very, very good at it. And if I avoided things like learning to type, I pretty much was sealing my fate and removing any chance of settling on a job instead of the career I truly wanted. It was the early 1980s and graphic design was a much less popular career choice than it is today. You actually had to know how to see and draw to be a graphic designer. Typing and computers were not part of the equation.

Who could have possibly known what was to come? No one can and that is exactly my point. None of us can clearly know what's going to happen next and that is some of the magic and mystery of moving forward in whatever direction we decide to take. So move on. Keep moving forward, whether you know how to type or not.

Creativity vs. Reactivity

Sometimes success can be your worst enemy, especially when it interferes with the plans you've already made.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am somewhat of a control freak when it comes to managing my time and resources. I wear a watch (always), keep two calendars (paper and electronic) and on any given day you'll probably catch me carrying a list of some kind in my pocket. Also keep in mind that I was raised by a German mother who firmly believes that if you are not ten minutes early, you're late. Needless to say, growing up in my household, there was no greater sin than being late.

Forgive me mother, for I have sinned… a lot… this past year. And not because I'm lazy or apathetic. If anything, just the opposite is true. I'm working harder than ever before and I care about every little detail probably more than I should. I am in demand and I am busy, more so than I anticipated being. Yet despite my sometime flawed sense of time and the internalized stress it can bring, it's a very good thing.

If I have learned anything this past year it is this: when things get incredibly busy and I am overextended with assignments and deadlines, my focus must remain steadfast on creativity and quality. It can feel safe and so easy to fall into a reactive state of just churning work out to meet the minimal requirements of the assignment. Important steps are skipped over and corners get cut. Some may argue that this is what it means to be efficient. Sure enough, the work gets done, but is it any good? Is it capable of achieving the results you want?

It takes a certain degree of courage and humiliation to call a client and explain to her that you need more time to explore or rework the design problem. Sometimes the stated deadline is critical and there is no room for an extension. And so you push on, doing the best you can with the time you have. But often times the imposed deadline is more of a "I'd like to have it by this date" rather than the actual "it needs to be completed by then or we're dead in the water " kind of date. Those kinds of deadlines are actually pretty rare.

Every day brings new opportunities to learn and new chances to delight. I'm working hard to do both. Time will tell how successful I will be, but time will not define it.

A Casual Red Carpet Event

It has always been my belief that everyone should befriend a graphic designer if for no other reason than to have access to someone who can make something cheap look like a million bucks. I proved my point last week when my friends Brandi and Dion asked if I could "throw something together" for their upcoming engagement party. That's right, after over 10 years of dating, the happy couple has decided to finally make it legal and official. Obviously, Brandi and Dion are no ordinary couple, so no ordinary invitation was going to work for this event, either. It was time to roll out the red carpet.

The budget (or lack of) was a huge consideration, so a simple accordion fold with a slight offset was the perfect solution to visually extend the red carpet as the invitation is opened. Extended, the piece is over 20 inches long yet when folded down, it fits beautifully into a #10 policy envelope. The piece is also self-standing, which makes for a nice display.

Where ideas come from

I received a call the other day from a fruit distributor in California, asking me where I got the idea for the lime stress relievers. She was looking for a similar promotional item to use at a coming trade show and was quite surprised to learn Lime Creative grows ideas, and not actually fruit.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much the fruit industry inspired and influenced the current branding for Lime. I have always been intrigued by the crate labels. Each grower and processing plant has its own unique label, representing to the customer their guarantee of quality and commitment to growing the finest, freshest fruit in the country. There is definite pride in every design — pride in the region and pride in its produce — and more importantly, easy brand recognition for the consumer.

Project Rates vs. Billable Hours

Perhaps the most asked question I get is “how much do you charge an hour?” I am always a little perplexed by this question, because I think a much better question would be “how much will this cost me?” I understand cost is very important, and you as a client should know exactly what kind of time and expense are required to achieve a desired outcome. However, I also firmly believe that design and creative services are not a standardized unit or commodity. We’re not mass producing identical widgets here. We are creating unique and innovative solutions through compelling design and original content — all crafted specifically to you and your needs. This service doesn’t come to you in a box with easy-to-assemble instructions and it takes a little more time and effort than just adding water.

Personally, I prefer to provide my clients with project rates because it just makes good sense. To help you better understand why, here are a few myths I would like to dispel about project rates.

Myth #1: Designer’s don’t like to tell you how much they charge an hour because they are embarrassed to admit they make x-amount drawing and coloring pictures all day.

The Reality: Designers find it difficult to answer such a vague question because it completely depends on each individual assignment. Most freelance designers have a mix of clients from several different industries. Design services for a non-profit organization may range from free to a special non-profit rate, whereas larger corporations may pay a higher rate because the design services rendered will most definitely and directly increase their bottom-line.

Myth #2: I need to know what a designer charges by-the-hour so that I can compare it to the going rate.

The Reality: There is no such thing as a going rate when it comes to purchasing creative services. More importantly, beware of any designer that tries to gain your confidence and business by low-balling his or her hourly rate. I can guarantee you that this individual will most likely bill more hours than necessary just to recover from the cut rate. Instead, always request a complete proposal that you can compare with others and be sure to have a signed estimate or contract in places before committing to any designer.

Myth #3: If I agree to a project rate, I risk overpaying the designer if the project doesn’t take as long as expected to complete.

The Reality: Project rates actually protect (you) the client because you are guaranteed that the project will not cost a penny more than agreed upon. So what if the designer captured your vision and nailed your design on the first attempt? That’s a good thing! That tells you that you obviously hired the right person for the job.

On the opposite end, consider this: what if the solution didn’t come as quickly? What if the designer provided multiple concepts and several rounds of revisions within a project rate, and together you took the necessary time to really explore your options and find the perfect solution? This would all come to you at no additional cost. There’s no pressure for you to settle on something that isn’t quite what you expected because a (billable hour) clock isn't ticking in your ear.

In my own experience, I often spend more time than I originally planned on assignments because I never want to walk away from a design that is not completely developed. When it comes to getting it right, who cares if the estimated time has expired? My ego and my reputation are on the line. I always want to do my very best work.

Myth #4: The designer will rush through my project in order to be more profitable.

The Reality: It is true that the longer a designer works on an assignment that is based on a project rate, the less per hour he or she will be making. But no designer worth his or her own salt will compromise his or her reputation pushing out used ideas and recycled designs in order to make a quick buck. Instead, designers are often motivated by project rates to push harder and faster for better efficiency. This is extremely important if your project is on a tight deadline.

You must also take into consideration that the longer a designer has been perfecting his or her own craft, the more likely he or she has an understanding of what is involved for most assignments. Project rates are not random numbers that a designer offers up to expedite the bidding process. Instead, project rates are often the result of a formula that factors in the designer's long history of similar projects and the necessary resources needed to complete the task.

So you must ask yourself “am I buying a graphic designer’s time, or am I purchasing a creative solution that will get me results?”

Mall Walking

If you happen to be out and about today, be sure to stop by the Summit Mall in Fairlawn and check out the displays by several businesses and organizations from the Akron area. Two of LIME’s clients are there: Spring Garden Waldorf School was invited as one of Akron Life & Leisure’s Best of Akron winners, and Sweetie Pies Treats was at the main entrance of Macy’s handing out free samples of their famous pies-on-a-stick. (Have you tried one of these portable pies yet? The “I’ve Got The Blues-Berry” is awesome!)

Defining Success

I often tell my clients “Your success is my success,” and I truly mean it. The designs and marketing strategies I provide need to be more than pretty packages. They are tools and if crafted properly, they can help my clients reach their intended audience and ultimately their goals. It’s really that simple.


Hey Chicago! How have you bean?

I love this city and it feels great to be back. This is just what I needed to get the creative juices really flowing.

The Smallness of Big Ideas

This past week I found myself in a lot of meetings. I don’t necessarily dislike meetings — in fact, I actually enjoy meeting with clients face-to-face and visiting their work environment. There is something truly authentic about taking the necessary time to get to know your client, to exist in and experience their environment, and to invest your complete focus on assessing their wants and needs.

I realize I am not like most graphics designers. For the record, most graphic designers totally despise meetings because it feels like valuable time taken away from the creative process. To many creatives, any meeting after the initial start-of-work (affectionately referred to as the SOW) or before the final presentation of ideas is deemed a grand waste of time. And that’s too bad because if meetings are conducted properly, they can actually enhance and become a part of the creative process.

For many years I worked as an in-house designer for a large university, and after that I was employed at one of the largest advertising agencies in this region. Both were exceptional opportunities for me to experience, and the skills and knowledge I gained during that time were simply immeasurable. However after leaving both organizations, the one thing that I swore I would never partake in again was the concept of “group think.”

Larger organizations get tripped up by their large number of people. They assume that because they are large, they need to function and appear large, too. Bigger is better, right? Or at least that is what they want the rest of us to believe. So when talking about brainstorming sessions or meetings in general, it is easy to surmise that the more people involved, the more ideas generated. I won’t dispute that logic, however I will challenge the quality of all of those ideas being brought forward. Let’s be honest here — not all ideas are created equal. In fact, I truly believe that the more people involved in the creative and decision-making process, the more difficult it becomes for the very best ideas to surface. Maintaining focus and direction with a larger group of people becomes a little like herding cats. And truly brilliant ideas often become diluted by half-hearted attempts to please everyone at the table.

Another casualty of group think is the waste of time and resources. Meetings should never be a spectators’ sport. Every person invited to the meeting should be there because they are the smartest and most dedicated thinkers to the problem at hand. If a person contributes nothing during a meeting, he or she has cost your organization double — nothing gained at the meeting and nothing gained at the job he or she set aside to attend the meeting. At the university, we called the habitual meeting attenders “WAP-ers,” proud members of a fictitious Work Avoidance Program. At the advertising agency, they were simply known as “Meeting Crashers.” At both places, everyone recognized who these spectators were but no one had the guts to ask them to leave. After all, it’s difficult to be direct and forthright in front of a large group of people.

If you’re serious about achieving real progress and results from your meetings, consider keeping them small and simple. Invite only those individuals who are absolutely necessary and establish beforehand how long the meeting will last. Your agenda should be no more than a few bullet points to remind you what topics need to be addressed and no more. Remember, ideas and people need room to breathe. But most importantly, let every person in attendance know that they have been purposefully chosen to tackle the challenges ahead — that their ideas and contributions matter to you and the organization. The confidence you have and convey will be the fuel that ignites their creative sparks.

Stewart's Butterfly Gala

This past Saturday, Stewart’s Caring Place: Cancer Wellness Center held its annual Butterfly Gala. The auction event generates a substantial amount of awareness, support and revenue for Stewart’s, which serves individuals and families touched by cancer in the Akron area.

It’s hard to believe that we started working on the marketing materials for this year’s Gala way back in February with a simple series of concepts for the Save-the-Date postcard. Looking back, I am always amazed at how different the final solution looks and performs compared to the first suggestions provided during the initial ideation process. The first concept on the far left eventually morphed into a more vintage approach that then became the basis of a more fully-developed idea — one that encapsulated both place and time.

The ultimate goal of all design is to create an experience, and in this case we wanted the Save-the-Date postcard to feel like a real postcard that had traveled through time to invite the recipient to the Butterfly Gala. The effect was achieved by using vintage photographs and a muted color palette, as well as printing on an uncoated cover stock. The actual invitation to the Gala was designed in the same manner, and the auction program served as a bid paddle, as well as a passport for the evening’s events.

Brand Refresh - Case Study #2

A few months ago I had the opportunity to design a new website for Gazzo Homes, located in Medina, Ohio. John and Joe Gazzo, a father and son team who have been building affordable luxury homes for more than two decades, know a great deal about designing and building extraordinary homes. So when it was time to design their website, we decided to let their work speak for itself. The site features dozens of photos that depict their skills and craftsmanship, quality materials and a critical eye for attention to detail.

When I first met John and Joe and saw the quality of their work, I was absolutely blown away by their professionalism and the beautiful homes they were known for building. Everything I knew about them was in perfect alignment except one critical thing: their logo didn’t fit. Yes, their name (logotype) was easy to read and the colors they had chosen were quite pleasing to the eye, but the simplified image of the house they had chosen to use fell completely short of representing the type of homes the Gazzos are known for building. But I wasn’t hired to design a new logo for them — I was asked to design a new website.

The challenge: How do I I tell my client that I think his current logo isn’t working? Even if I used the most kind and considerate of words, prepared them within a perfect rationale and backed up my argument with hard statistics, my client would most likely hear “I think your logo is ugly.” And if that ugly baby was created by him or he just really, really likes the way it is, needless to say I come across sounding like an arrogant jerk.

The solution: a brand new twist.

Instead of being critical of the logo and building an argument for why it was wrong, I instead decided to think about how I could use the foundation of the logo and simply make it better. My biggest concern was that the icon of the house was not representing my client’s best work. I had hundreds of photos from their website to use as reference, so I selected a home that had clean and distinct features. I traced a portion of the structure to fit the appropriate size and balance against the selected logotype. Within about two hours, I had elevated my client’s logo and his overall brand considerably. And the best part: it was still his baby — a new representation of something the Gazzos had actually invested their own sweat and tears into creating.

Does the packaging matter?

I still get excited when a new version of my design software becomes available. There are always just enough new features for me to justify the investment. Better yet, my latest upgrade to Creative Suite 6.0 was free from Adobe® because I had just purchased version 5.5 a few months back. So my overall experience was really a positive one. With the click of one button, the software was available for installation. At the moment, I didn’t think it could be any better.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered this package design while scrounging through my boxes of printed samples and design goodies today. Back in 2000, Adobe was trying to transition its users from PageMaker to InDesign, while also trying to convert the Quark® loyalists to try their new page layout application. It wasn’t uncommon to receive free 60-day software trial CDs in the mail, enticing designers to make the switch.

I kept this particular sample because at that time I had never seen a CD mailed and presented like this one. It was clever and creative, and designed specifically for the design community, displaying InDesign’s professional capabilities. As I played with the folds and the retracting CD holder, I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic for the good old days (not even a decade ago!), when software came in a huge, beautifully designed box with a 300+ page manual inside.

Is package design necessary for things that are no longer tangible? Perhaps not. However, can packaging make a product remarkable and memorable? Absolutely!

T-Shirt Design for Happy Campers

Summer Basketball Camp participants at Spring Garden Waldorf School have been busy this week learning basic ball handling skills and practicing their perimeter and layup shots. All players at this year’s Hardcourt Academy were given t-shirts that were designed by Lime Creative and printed by Larry Yacovazzi and his crew at Custom Apparel, located here in Akron.

Book Graphics and Figures

This morning’s mail was full of wonderful surprises, but none compared to this: a signed copy of Shake-UP by Dr. Audrey Ellenwood and co-author Dr. Lars Brok. I was commissioned earlier this year by Dr. Ellenwood to design the graphic figures and tables for the book. I truly enjoyed the experience of working on this project, as it was a vestige of my many years of working in academia.

A sincere request for an end to platitudes

I have so little tolerance for poor customer service, especially when it comes to empty platitudes and unkept promises. Nothing infuriates me more than to be told one thing, and then have the opposite occur with my expectations shattered in the process. It’s a violation of trust — no different than any other lie — that leaves me feeling defrauded and foolish.

To me, the worst customer service lie of all is this:

“Your call is important to us.”

Are you serious? Really? If my call is so important, then why am I always getting your voicemail? In this era of caller ID and everyone carrying a cell phone on their hip, why is it so difficult for me to get you to answer or return my call? After all, you just said my call was important! I’m starting to think what you really meant was this: “Your call may be important to you but it’s probably not that important to me, so I’d rather not deal with you at the moment. Please call back when it’s convenient for me, preferably Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9 and 5.”

And furthermore, who is this “us” that you are referring to, when obviously only one person can or should be answering an individual phone call? Yes, your business can have its own designated phone number. I get it. But the person calling you doesn’t want to talk to your business. They want to talk to a human being within your organization — if not you personally, then at least someone within your company who cares. Let’s be honest here. By using the term “us” instead of “me,” this “us person” on the outgoing message is doing nothing more than shunning his or her responsibility of being accountable. If it appears that more than one person is responsible for “handling” the customers and their calls, then more than one person is responsible for not answering or returning the calls, too… right?

Instead, think about how much ownership comes with a statement like this: “You have reached Jane Doe of ABC Company. Your reason for calling is important to me and I personally will return your call as soon as possible.” No more hiding behind the business’ name or pretending that many people are responsible for addressing the customer’s concerns. The responsibility rests where it belongs — on

Brand Refresh – Case Study #1

I recently completed a brand refresh for Diane Taylor of Taylored Massage Therapy, located in Stow, Ohio. Diane had contacted me asking if I could give her a few ideas regarding a new logo for her business. Like many small business owners do when they are first starting out, Diane had designed her own logo based on a font she liked. Five years later, her company name and font had made its way to signs, custom-embroidered shirts, online media and all of her printed materials. A completely new logo and rebranding would not only be expensive to implement, but there was also the risk of compromising her hard-earned market presence.

The challenge: How do you introduce a new and original logo to an already established brand? More importantly, how do you transition to a new logo while respecting the client’s initial design and budget?

The solution: A brand refresh.

After reviewing a handful of initial concepts, Diane selected the basic structure found in the final solution on the right, incorporating the main font from her first logo into the new one. We both agreed that the icon separating the words MASSAGE and THERAPY had to be something unique and clever. Her business’ initials, TMT, provided a symmetry and balance that I wanted to explore, and so I got busy and presented Diane with the following:

As you can see, the design went through several phases. First, I approached the problem with a rather traditional solution (a nice way to say “it has a swirly thing” that represents a spa-like experience — thank goodness Diane wanted more than the expected!). From there, I explored very simple icons that depicted the natural symmetry of the initials TMT. As much as I liked the clean lines and simplicity, the logo concepts lacked the warmth and interaction associated with the business it was supposed to represent. As the concepts progressed, I modified the forms to suggest the actual act of touch and massage. We went through several variations, and I knew we were getting closer.

The final solution came as a result of drawing two letter Ts and having them come together to form the letter M. The Ts are equal in size and stature (almost bowing to one another), and represent the client and the therapist coming together. To some, only the M is visible in the icon, which is perfectly acceptable. For them, the M makes sense, as it represents the word “massage.” However, to those that take the time to explore the actual form, the Ts become evident and provide a fun little discovery.

The RFP lottery

A new casino just opened in Cleveland this week and I have only one thing to say: “Big deal. When I’m in the mood to gamble, I like to take my chances with RFPs.”

(What the...?)
Ok, let me explain.

Gambling has never appealed to me mainly because I am too much a student of logic and an even bigger observer of the laws of probability. Sure, you might win a hand or two on occasion — enough to keep you believing that you just might have a chance of winning big — but as the saying goes, the house always wins. The same is true for lotteries. Even though the jackpots may seem awfully alluring and a winner is (eventually) guaranteed, the odds are stacked outrageously against you.

In many ways, responding to a publicly posted RFP (Request for Proposal) is a lot like playing the lottery. The message is the same: you can’t win if you don’t play. So dozens of agencies and individuals will spend lots of time and energy trying to pick the right combination of numbers, placing all kinds of formulas and strategy into a system of winning that has no guarantees.

Before I invest any time and consideration into responding to a RFP, I do a little investigating. If the request is sent directly to me, I contact the sender and ask them how they learned about Lime Creative and why I was selected to submit a proposal. I’m not afraid to ask how many other agencies are being considered or if they already have a working relationship with an agency on the list. If the RFP is publicly promoted, I look deep into the organization or business that has posted the request. I learn who the decision makers are, and again I contact them directly with my questions. If they ignore my inquiry entirely, then I am certain they are not investing time into the process because the decision has most likely already been made. However, if they do engage in Q&A, then that is a pretty good sign that they are sincerely interested in finding the right agency for the job. Just like you, they recognize that It’s important to know who you are dealing with, and more importantly start building a possible relationship.

Too often, RFPs serve no purpose other than to meet a requirement of a purchasing policy or to gather free estimates to use against an agency or person who has already been granted the work. Past experience tells me it is very difficult to dethrone a current agency that is meeting even the most minimal requirements. Though an organization may require a new RFP every calendar year, the thought of switching agencies can seem nonproductive and unnecessary. No one likes change, so once you are awarded a contract with some businesses and organizations, you can almost be certain that it’s yours to lose. This is what makes these types of contracts so appealing, but also why you should approach them with a realistic outcome in mind.

So the next time you invest hours constructing the perfect proposal for an open RFP that seems a perfect fit for your agency, take a step back to regain your perspective. You might think you’re the right candidate for the job but then again, I wouldn’t bet on it.

The referral engine

I keep pretty busy and the majority of work I receive comes to me through referrals. I complete a project, it gets noticed, creates the expected results, and my happy client tells anyone who will listen how brilliant he or she is for having hired me. Or perhaps someone asks, “Who’s your designer?” and my name and contact information are handed over like an insider’s secret. It’s a great way to work because my best and favorite clients are sending people just like them, to me for my services.

A few years ago I read a book by John Jantsch called
The Referral Engine. It’s chocked full of great strategies that are often counter-intuitive to traditional advertising and marketing methods. While others may advise that casting a big net will catch the most fish, Jantsch contends that the most stable businesses are built one customer experience and relationship at a time. Trust is the number one reason people refer the services of others, and that same trust is the reason others decide to do business with someone they have never met.

Too often, clients come to me with the expectation that if they have a beautiful brochure or website to promote their product or services, that customers will somehow find them. It’s called “The Field of Dreams syndrome,” where people honestly believe, “if you build it, they will come.” Yes, I do agree that having a professionally designed brochure and website can indeed display and generate a certain degree of confidence to potential customers and clients. But confidence is not the same thing as trust. For example, I can be confident that an agency is capable of providing certain services but that doesn’t necessarily translate to me trusting them with my own personal needs. I want to do business with someone I know and trust and if I don’t know the right person for the job, hopefully someone I know does.

The most difficult thing about keeping the referral engine well-lubed and running is getting happy customers and clients to continue to oil the machine. Some clients are simply wonderful — they simply can’t stop talking about you, your product or your services. And it would be great if all customers were like that, but they’re not. Giving a referral is not your customers’ job or responsibility. They are not obligated to do so unless you are compensating them for it and if are, that’s called a paid endorsement. It’s not the same as a genuine, trusted referral. You cannot expect your customers or clients to give you a referral unless you have earned their trust and they are willing to publicly acknowledge the benefits of your business relationship.

So how exactly do you get referrals from clients that are less-inclined to offer them? You ask them. And I don’t mean that you send them a canned LinkedIn message that says, “Will you endorse me?” I’m talking about having a sincere conversation where you and your client discuss the specifics of the completed assignment. Are you happy with the final results? Is there anything you would have liked to have seen done differently? Will you keep me in mind for your future needs? Would you feel comfortable referring me to colleagues and friends who might be in need of my services?

Even though the answers to the questions above might be very favorable, keep in mind that clients do not always think about the importance of referrals until you explain to them how your operation works. They often assume that everyone already knows about your talents and fantastic service; or perhaps that business is so good that you do not need more work. What I have found to be true is that most satisfied clients want to help other trusted businesses succeed. Not only are they willing to tell the story of their experience of working with you, but they often will follow-up to see how their matchmaking efforts have unfolded.

Take time today to refer an individual, business or organization that has helped you achieve your goals. Not only will you be helping them gain the trust of others, but you’ll feel good knowing that those who have served you well know just how important they are to your success.

Stewart's Caring Place Hope Walk

One of the things I love best about being a graphic designer is that I often have the opportunity to see my designs in action. This morning was no exception, as a sea of green cancer wellness supporters flooded the sidewalks along Market Street and Smith Road in Fairlawn for the 6th Annual Stewart’s Caring Place Hope Walk.

Stewart’s Caring Place: Cancer Wellness Center provides free support services to individuals and families touched by cancer in Summit, Medina, Stark, Portage and Wayne counties. You can learn more about Stewart’s by visiting their website

For the past couple of years, Lime Creative has provided design services to Stewart’s as a way of bringing awareness to their important work. This year’s
brochure and t-shirts were a lot of fun to design. If you look closely at the shoe print, you can see the familiar Stewart’s butterfly within the tread pattern. But more important than what is printed on the shirt is who’s wearing it — hundreds of cancer survivors, friends, family members, volunteers, local sponsors and supporters of Stewart’s Caring Place. What a fantastic event!

Confessions of a Freelance Designer - Part 3

We all have a “good enough factor” wired into our brains. It’s who we are and very much a part of everything we do. I come from an austere German heritage, so you can imagine how high my “good enough factor” was set even as a kid. At my house, you didn’t just mow the lawn, you mowed in a consistent and straight pattern, trimmed closely around everything, raked the clippings, edged the sidewalks and then swept them clean after pulling any weeds that might have been growing in the cracks. It was that way with everything: laundry had to be folded a certain way, beds were always made and things were always expected to be returned to where they belonged. The German mindset: “If you don’t have time to do something right, when will you find the time to do it over?”

As a kid, as a student and even later as a designer, I was often called a perfectionist and I wore that title like a badge of honor. I honestly thought it was a compliment and that being called a perfectionist meant I had indeed reached a state of perfection in my work. Boy was I wrong.

It wasn’t until recently that I started challenging the idea of perfectionism, and how this entire notion of perfection was undermining my ability to respond quickly to opportunities, think creatively in new and unproven ways, and to take risks based on my instincts instead of my intellect. I began to realize that when called a perfectionist, it wasn’t the same as someone saying, “you have reached perfection.” Instead, it often meant that I had spent too much time and energy focusing on details that didn’t matter. My “good enough factor” did not align with theirs.

I have since changed how I approach assignments and work with my clients. The first thing I try to understand is their own level of “good enough.” Does this mean that I only deliver to that level? Absolutely not. What it means is that I have stopped trying to design for the respect and consideration of the design community and I focus more on what my clients and their customers want and expect.

I still embrace the idea of “under-promise and over-deliver.” I still try very hard to provide the best solutions I can within the perimeters of the project. I still implement a creative process that involves getting ideas down quickly on paper and sharing them to get as much feedback as possible. I obey the key elements of sound design and I will always adhere to deadlines and industry standards.

What I no longer have is a perfect excuse for disappointing my clients and myself because I was trying to be perfect.

Confessions of a Freelance Designer - Part 2

Confession #2 – I tend to over think things.

When I first launched LIME and started developing my marketing materials, I found myself laboring over the content as though I were writing a great manifesto or the decisive rules for governing a small nation. Obviously, I wanted to get it right, but more than anything I wanted to be sincere and authentic.

What I wanted to express was pretty straight forward and I was able to generate most of the content rather quickly. I had been planning the launch of this business for quite some time and I knew exactly what I wanted to say — that wasn’t the problem. Everything was coming together quite nicely and then BAM!, there it was, the question that needed answered: should I write and speak in a singular or collective voice? Who could have imagined the self-reflection and strife that the four little pronouns
we, us, me and I could produce?

To gain a little guidance and clarity, I read several books and online articles regarding how to market an agency of one. Several solo practitioners like myself argued that using “we” and “us” instilled a sense of confidence in potential clients, suggesting that no project could be too large to manage. They rationalized that most individuals rely on a team of others behind the scenes to get the job done — whether it be web programmers, professional printers, or even the mail house — so the reference of “we” was really a reflection of that team effort. They also mentioned that clients like to feel involved in the creative process, so the use of “we” was a nice way to make them feel included, too. On the surface it seemed like a sound business decision. The last thing I wanted to do was lose potential work because I was perceived as being too small and insignificant to matter. So I did it.

In all of my promotional materials and website content, I used the terms “we” and “us” to describe my individual intentions, efforts and successes. I completely embraced the “fake it until you make it” mindset that is so prevalent in our business culture today — and the deception worked. But words that were so successful at instilling confidence in others did just the opposite to me. Instead of being sincere and authentic, I felt dishonest and overinflated. I felt like a fraud.

And then it hit me. Why was I so concerned about the pronouns I should be using? LIME’s marketing materials and website were never supposed to be about me. They are supposed to be about ideas and solutions that help others establish their brand and solve their communication problems. How could I expect to build trusting relationships with my clients based on an obvious deception? Since the majority of my clients come to me through referrals, the last thing I want to do is compromise my reputation.

I have since started removing the “we” and “us” from all of LIME’s marketing materials. There are still lots of pieces floating around out there with LIME’s collective voice and with my luck, by the time I finally get everything switched to the singular reference, I will have hired an assistant or taken on a partner. Oh well. At least now I am keeping it real.

Confessions of a Freelance Designer – Part 1

I have been employed as a professional graphic designer for over half of my life (nearly a quarter of a century!). More times than I care to admit, especially when I was moving forward with an idea or project that I did not agree with, I would remind myself: “Remember who signs your paycheck.” Because when you work within an in-house marketing department or for an advertising or communications agency, the person whose name is scribed on the bottom of your paycheck is the person you answer to. Every decision you make and action you perform must comply with that person’s own agenda if you wish to keep receiving paychecks. It’s that simple. Period.

My days as an in-house designer and agency employee are long over. I am self-employed and although I operate under the agency name of Lime Creative, I am really “just another” freelancer designer. But freelancer is a difficult badge to wear. No, I am not in-between jobs, doing this on the side or waiting for the perfect offer to come along. And no, I’m not just dabbling in a design career to see if it’s the right fit. I’m not lazy or unreliable, and I am certainly not unemployable.

I am is this: I am committed to producing quality design work and marketing materials that deliver awareness and measurable results for my clients. I am determined to remain fair in my practices, even though larger profits could be realized by cutting corners, rushing through assignments with hurried solutions or eliminating free services. I am and will always be inspired by my clients and their own personal and professional stories. I am motivated by and sincerely thankful for the opportunities I have been given. I continue to be challenged by an industry that is forever changing, yet encouraged by the amount and degree of information my colleagues and business partners so willingly share. I am humbled by how much more I have to learn.

But most importantly, I am
forever mindful of who signs my paycheck now: you.

Are you fooling yourself?

One group of individuals that I spend a great deal of time with is other small business owners. I have several friends that have ventured out on their own and started their own companies. The majority of my clients are micro-businesses that have been in existence for less than five years. So when I say that I understand the concerns of the small business owner, it’s true — I really do get it. Just like them, I consider every penny I invest into my business carefully. But more importantly, I consider every minute I invest into my business, too.

We live in an age of “do-it-yourself-ism.” No matter what it is that we wish to attempt on our own, there is a considerable amount of information that can be found in books, online and on television about almost any conceivable topic. Most of this information is relatively accurate and very useful. With the right tools and a little confidence to try, most of us have experienced the pride of having changed our own headlight or installed a new bathroom faucet. When you have the time, you can save a little (or a lot) of money along the way.

However, many times in our quest to save money, we overextend and even waste our most valuable asset: time. Money will always come and go, can be borrowed, saved, spent or even given away; but time is a far less-forgiving currency. You only get so much (exactly 24 hours in a day) and how you choose to spend it is completely up to you.

I often tell the story of the small business owner that is the fastest typist in her organization. Instead of passing the task onto her secretary who is slightly slower at typing than she is, she continues to spend several hours a week pounding away at her keyboard because she believes this is saving company time if she does it herself. After all, the typing should be completed by the fastest typist, right? In reality, the difference between her words-per-minute and her secretary’s over the course of the week is maybe only an additional hour or so. More importantly, when you consider what other things could have been accomplished by the business owner within that time instead — the completion of more challenging tasks and top-level decisions that require her leadership and direction to move the company forward — you begin to realize the true cost of her trying to “save time.”

As a graphic designer, I often hear people say that they like “doing” their own design and marketing because it is fun to play with the different programs, fonts and clipart that came with their computer. I will be the first to admit that they are right — playing with these tools can be a great deal of fun and with a little trial and error, even a small child could probably be successful at building something that looks presentable. Software companies have gotten very good at including all kinds of canned effects, templates and imagery that make it easy to assemble a visually pleasing layout. However, what the programmers and software developers are not able to include within their pre-fabricated “designs” is authenticity. Essential elements of good design include audience identification, targeted and relevant content, a unique selling proposition, creative delivery and originality — all specific to you and your company and directed toward your consumer. As we all become introduced to pre-designed templates, stock images and free fonts — the more they are being used in a widespread manner — the more important original and creative design becomes. Remember, design is not just about how something looks; it is about how it functions as well.

As a small business owner, you must ask yourself the following questions if you are sincere about marketing your business and utilizing your time wisely:
  1. What do my current marketing materials (or lack of) say about me and my company?
  2. Do I really have the time, skills, tools and knowledge to design my own marketing materials and website?
  3. Do the materials I design for myself look professional, generate leads and evoke interest in my company? Are they working for me?
I used to tell myself that I am my own cheapest labor — that if I am willing to give up my evenings and weekends to business tasks outside of actually designing, I will be saving my company money. On the surface, it seemed like a logical argument. Thank goodness with experience comes wisdom. I now rely on the expertise and talents of others so that I can keep my focus on what I do best: design.

What is it that you do best? If it’s not design, are you sure you should be doing it?

Planting Seeds at Spring Garden

For the past couple of months I have had the privilege of working with the staff and parents at Spring Garden Waldorf School in Copley, Ohio. We have been working on a number of exciting and important projects, but none compare in physical size and overall significance to this — Spring Garden’s mission statement.

By engaging the head, heart and hands, Waldorf schools focus on developing young citizens that not only contribute to the beauty of the world, but are also steadfast in their love of discovery and learning. If you are unfamiliar with the principles of a Waldorf education, I encourage you to view this
video on YouTube® entitled The Gift of Learning.

As for the sign itself, it was printed by DCI (Digital Color International) here in Akron. Below Andy Liptak and John Shaffer (patiently) hold the sign while yours truly snaps the photo. Thanks guys!

The Substance of Style

This morning during a networking event, I asked the audience if any of them had ever purchased a bottle of wine because they liked the look of the label. As I predicted, over half of the people in attendance raised their hand indicating that they had. Needless to say, this made me smile and I then proclaimed “that, my friends, is the power of design.”

Often when we think of design, it’s easy to dismiss it as the frosting on the cake or the pretty wrappings on the package. We may not feel that it is necessary — that the substance of what is being offered should matter more than the style in which it is being presented. After all, we have been conditioned by decades of “don’t judge a book by its cover” and “beauty is only skin deep” thinking. Those adages may have seemed true two or three decades ago, but today we live in an age of heightened aesthetic. It is very unlikely that we will ever go back to the days of brown paper packages and generic black and white food labels. Design is simply too important.

So what exactly is happening in our brains when we select one product over another based on what it looks like? Quite simply, we are making a series of assumptions based on what we know. Let’s go back and use the wine label as an example. We may not know a lot about wine, how it is made or what characteristics make one wine better than another. What we do know is that humans are generally pretty consistent in their behavior. If the owner of the winery has taken considerable care in selecting the perfect label for the bottles, isn’t it safe to assume that the same care and consideration was taken in selecting what has been put inside?

Design evokes a feeling (either good or bad) and your audience’s gut instincts will guide them to respond accordingly. So what is your design sense saying about you?

A Thousand Little Things

When I look back at 2011, it was nothing short of being an incredible year in terms of personal growth. Life is like that sometimes. We have those moments in time where everything seems to click for us. I don’t mean click in the sense that everything happens the way we want it to. I mean “click” in the sense that the answers we are looking for somehow present themselves and we are able to move forward and make significant progress. That’s how 2011 was for me.

If you recall, last year at this time I posted a blog entitled
“F-bombing the F-words” and I seriously took my resolution to heart. Every day this past year, even if I only thought about FEAR and FAILURE for a fraction of a second, I corrected my thinking and continued my pursuit for answers. And sure enough, even when I wasn’t completely certain that the direction I was taking was always the right one, the determination to continue moving forward was enough to sustain me until the next piece of the puzzle fell into place.

I realize now that honoring my 2011 new year’s resolution wasn’t about conquering fear and failure in one fell swoop. There was no moment of realization or major battle I had won. Instead, it was about addressing a thousand little things everyday with the audacity and conviction of becoming better and smarter than I was the day before. And trust me, the little things do matter. They quickly add up to very big things — good and bad. And like it or not, we are the result and culmination of what we do every day. No matter what obstacles we face or excuses we use for doing less than our best, our habits define us. We begin the process of changing those habits when we become mindful of the (seemingly unimportant) thousand little decisions we make each day. The devil (or the divinity) is always in the details.

USMC Toys for Tots

If you’ve been reading my blog or have seen the current promotional item for Lime Creative, you probably already know that I have a thing for blimps. Not just any blimp, but the iconic Goodyear fleet of blimps — those are my favorites and one of the many reasons I love living in Akron. Last night, as part of the annual US Marine Corps Toys for Tots toy collection campaign, local residents had the rare opportunity to drive through the Suffield Township Wingfoot Lake blimp hanger and see Santa himself in the gondola of the Spirit of Goodyear. For the admission price of an unwrapped toy, visitors are greeted with a path of lights, animated decorations, inflatables and the blimp’s mooring strung with lights in the shape of a Christmas tree.

If you have the chance, I encourage you to visit the Wingfoot Lake hanger this weekend. Not only will you enjoy the lights and splendor of the spotless hanger and the majestic blimp, but you will help a child in need still believe in the kindness and generosity of others. While you’re there, please be sure to thank the members of the US Marine Corps Reserve for their continued service and dedication. And of course, don’t forget to wave to Santa, too!

The Reality of Focus

Have you ever noticed that what you focus your attention and efforts on is exactly what gets accomplished? I believe our brains are wired for success and when we make a direct connection to someone or something, it becomes not only our focus, but eventually it becomes our reality.

And then there are the things that we neglect and completely ignore because whatever it is, it lacks the urgency of our attention. These are things like the emails we intended to respond to later but haven’t gotten around to yet, or the mountain of junk mail piling up on the corner of the desk, or maybe the blog that hasn’t been updated in almost three months
(ahem). All of these things are time stamped because someone decided “when” is obviously of some importance. And so the “when” of now becomes the “when” of how long it has been since we had the time to focus our attention of these sorts of things. We realize how much time has passed, however what we may not realize right away is that what we haven't focus upon also becomes our reality.

So, like you, I am struggling with how to pay attention to everything that matters. I make lists and I prioritize according to importance, urgency and opportunity. I try to avoid time sinks altogether while being mindful of where I am losing time and of what things might help me maximize my day and efforts. It’s challenging; there are no short cuts or easy answers. Divide your focus and you risk compromising performance. Focus on one task, one client or one project at a time and you risk excluding others. It would be great if the “when” could always be now, but let’s face it: that’s not reality.

Managing Expectations

One of my favorite short reads is a little book by Pat Matson Knapp entitled Designers in Handcuffs. Now before you get all excited thinking this book is about designers being arrested for illegal activities or kinky adult behaviors, let me share the subtitle with you: How to create great graphics when time, materials and money are tight. I'll admit, it's not as exciting of a read as the other two options might be, but it is a clever little resource that I reference every now and again to make sure I am thoroughly exploring all of my design resources.

This morning I pulled the book from my shelf and it automatically opened to a well-worn page that I have read numerous times before. It's page 21 to be exact and it's a great discussion about managing client expectations by Bob Bapes or Bapes and Associates in Oak Park, Illinois. According to Mr. Bapes, "You can have it
cheap. You can have it fast. You can have it good. But you can't have it cheap, fast and good. Pick any two." So let's take a second and think about why this is true.

Let's say you are the client and cost is your biggest concern, but you still want quality. You can have quality without a big budget, but it takes extra time to seek out cost-effective solutions. Chances are, due to your smaller fee, only one person on a creative team will be able to work continuously on your project, too. But by planning ahead, exploring less-expensive alternatives and remaining flexible with your deadline, you can achieve incredible results on a very limited budget.

Now let's assume that an opportunity has presented itself and you need a well-designed brochure fast. This is your big chance to really break into a new market, so quality is a must. Your design agency hears your distress call, so it's all hands on deck as they begin planning your project, writing copy, designing it, proofing it and then proofing it again before it's off to the presses as quickly as humanly possible. Guess what? With all of those professionals working overtime and the printer applying rush charges, you're going to pay considerably more than you would have under normal circumstances. But if the opportunity truly is a make or break moment in your business growth, spending the extra money may be money well spent.

This seems to be the most popular combination that everyone thinks they want until they learn the hard way that quality is pretty rare under these combined circumstances. Sure, sweat shops and slavery could be argued as the exceptions to this rule, but do you really want to even consider those as options? Let's face it, magic wands do not exist. Pretending that the quality of your marketing materials doesn't matter may make you feel momentarily better about your decision to want it fast and cheap. But remember this: your audience, customers and clients can and will notice your indifference to quality, and that will lead them to assume that it applies to everything your business has to offer.

In all seriousness, quality is achieved at the expense of either time or money, and sometimes even both. It's that simple.

Rockford had it right.

If you grew up in the '70s like I did, you probably recall a television show called The Rockford Files. James Gardner played Jim Rockford, a private investigator who was known for taking on impossible cases for $200 a day, plus expenses. There were the usual car chases and an occasional gunfire exchange, but what I remember so fondly about the show was its creativity. Every episode started with the sound of Jim's voice on his answering machine saying, "This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you." (beep) And sure enough, a message would start about a check not clearing at the bank or his library card being suspended until he returned a long-overdue book. At the start of every episode the 15 second message was different, and it provided rich insight into the overall development of his character. Every message provided another personal detail of his flawed nature, yet we liked him anyway.

Rockford also drove a very sweet ride, a metallic gold Pontiac Firebird that was known for its 180 degree turn while traveling full speed in reverse. It was called "the rockford" or the "J-turn" and every kid in my neighborhood performed it with their Matchbox® cars with a high-pitched screech that simulated tires peeling out. But while my brother was dreaming about owning this incredible car, I was dreaming about owning what was in the back seat— a small offset printing press that allowed Rockford to make business cards on the fly.

Rockford knew that to build instant credibility, he had to have something to show others that proved he was exactly what he claimed to be. No one wanted to talk to a private investigator, but they would talk to someone with a business card claiming to be dry cleaner or a shoe salesman. Before each stop to interview a witness or to talk to a likely suspect, Rockford would align the type with an alias and job title, insert a blank business card, and then pull the lever. The process always ended with Rockford dragging his thumb over the type to make sure it was dry before putting it in his pocket. Now THAT was a cool machine!

At least once a week, someone will hand me a business card that they obviously designed and printed for themselves. And it makes me smile, not because of their choice of font or an uneven margin I might detect. It makes me smile because it reminds me of Jim Rockford and how badly I wanted that little printing device from the backseat of his car. And then it dawns on me, I got what I wanted: my own personal printing devices and so much more. I have access to inks, papers and presses that can produce the most amazing results. Indeed, it is a great time to be a designer.

Never up, never in

Never up, never in. If you have ever played or watched the game of basketball, there is a great possibility that you have heard this expression at one time or another. It follows the basic principle that an individual will miss 100% of the shots that they don't take. It's a pretty simple concept, and yet so many of us are unwilling to take a shot at something because we're simply afraid to try.

So many of life's lessons can be practiced and learned within the context of sports. For instance, take a group of middle school boys and girls who are participating in a Summer Basketball Camp being held this week at Spring Garden Waldorf School in Copley. It simply warms my heart that these kids have chosen to spend their first week of freedom (otherwise known as summer break) back inside a school gymnasium, practicing and improving their mastery of the fundamentals of basketball. When other kids are out playing, they have chosen to practice.

We had the privilege of designing the basketball manual for this year's camp experience. It was a fun project filled with lots of insightful information about basketball, as well as practical tips and recording forms for the players to track their performance and measure their continued improvement. The best part: we were able to produce these books very affordably, which made the manual a perfect, value-added takeaway for each basketball player to keep.

So many experts, so little expertise

How is it possible that we have so many experts among us? Are we really that smart as a society? Or have we really lowered our expectations of what being an expert really means.

I am always slightly amused (and admittedly skeptical) when I encounter someone in his or her early twenties who uses the title of expert. Really? Unless you were a child prodigy who began practicing your craft at a very tender age, how is that possible? Realistically, unless a person is brought up inside the family business, working day-in and day-out along side their parents and siblings, it is exceptionally rare. Yes, we will always have outliers like Bobby Fischer, Ludwig van Beethoven and Tiger Woods — young people who displayed extraordinary amounts of expertise at a very young age. But these three individuals are just that: extraordinary outliers. They are not average people.

For over eight years, I worked on a college campus as a graphic designer in the university's marketing department. I was literally surrounded by critical thinkers and individuals who had dedicated their entire lives to the pursuit of their passions. The term "expert" meant just that and I rarely doubted its usage. But today, I am in a completely different world, one filled with an abundance of overused marketing messages and self-proclamations. "Experts" are everywhere and most have one agenda: trust me enough to buy from me. So really, are these individuals "experts of their industry" or "experts of persuasion?"

I get really nervous when I think about the influence and impact that a hired "expert witness" has on a jury. I get even more uneasy when I think about an entire industry of "experts" that are online teaching others how to become "experts" too. No mastery of any profession or skill needed. For example, one online "expert" suggests that to increase your number of followers on Facebook® and connections of LinkedIn®, one can become an "expert" by commenting on posted discussions. It doesn't matter what the content is or even if it's factual; after all, this is a numbers game. Your "expertise" is measured by how many sheep you can herd.

My fear is that we no longer value the difficult and hard-won journey involved in the pursuit of knowledge and true expertise. I think back to my own graduate school days when my classmates and I inhaled books and exhaled critical reviews until the practice became as effortless as breathing. It forced me to become a critical thinker and consumer of information. I developed the necessary skills to balance and weigh content and measure its significance. And that's what experience does, whether you discover it in a college classroom, on the job or through the school of hard knocks.

I know, the idea of practice and applied experience is rather an outdated attempt at expertise. It isn't easy and it certainly isn't pretty. But in my opinion, it is necessary if you truly want to be a professional and regarded as an expert.

Some food for thought about logos

The other night, I attended a local professional event in which a “branding expert” asked me what I did for a living. When I answered that I am a graphic designer, I studied his reaction very closely. After all, that’s what skilled designers do — we observe, dissect and analyze everything that interests us, and I have long been interested in what others think about [us] graphic designers. So I watched and I waited, expecting to see some bit of interest or curiosity regarding my answer. But there was none — not even a hint of industry recognition. Honestly, I didn’t expect him to be impressed by my title or profession, and I can even respect him for not feigning interest if that is the case. For a moment I actually considered that he might be hearing-impaired or perhaps spoke another language. But just as I was about to repeat my answer, he said “Branding. Isn’t that a great name?”

Huh? OK. I admit this should have been my warning and opportunity to excuse myself to the nearest restroom, but I didn't. I was trying to be polite and besides, I genuinely enjoy talking shop with people in my industry.
I assumed it was just a rocky start and that the conversation would eventually get better... but it didn't.

And so the conversation went something like this:

"Do you do logos? I just had a logo done. I hired a company for something like fifty bucks
and they gave me like ten different logos from different people all over the place
to choose from. I got to pick the one I liked. Are you familiar with

“Um... yes. It’s a form of crowdsourcing and it’s rather frowned upon in the professional
design industry.”

“Oh, I bet it’s not good for you and your business but it’s great for me, you know… the customer.”
(Now imagine a smug look on his face, as though he has just dismissed me as a threat or competitor of
some kind. Again, huh? Sir, my goal is to help you surpass your competition!)

“Well, I guess it all comes down to what you’re looking for.”

End of conversation.

So here I am, several days later and this brief exchange of words is still rolling around in my head. I wish so badly that I had taken the time to correct him when he concluded that crowdsourcing was good for the customer. Because seriously, it’s not. Do you honestly believe that a person
doing logos for a chance to be selected from among several other contributors — for a chance to earn a small percentage of fifty bucks — really put any significant time, thought, effort, research, strategy or audience consideration into your logo development? Do you really believe that your logo is original and it accurately represents what your company or organization is truly about?

My ego took a light bruising that night but I am over it now. I'm sure that to some, being a graphic designer is the equivalent of being a microwave oven operator — just push a few buttons and wa-la, you have instant, processed junk food and warmed-up leftovers. So please, eat it up if that’s what satisfies your appetite. As for me, I’ll keep toiling over the special ingredients and necessary preparation in my own pursuit of great taste.

The Mathey Book Project

For the past couple of months, I have had the privilege of getting to know the great tenor and music conductor RD Mathey in a very personal way. I was given the challenge of capturing his unique life and translating his operatic performances, choir direction and music theory into a visually rich reading experience. Working closely with his daughter, writer and educator Stacey Mathey Osborn, we anxiously completed the first draft of the book/teaching manual this past week. And last night, at a private book party in his honor, the prototype was presented to RD for his review.

To borrow a line from a page in the book, "King Richard was impressed."

Is it OCD or am I just German?

This morning I tweeted "TGIF! What a crazy-busy week. Looking forward to getting my desk back in order this morning. My OCD can't take it anymore!" To my surprise (not only because people were actually reading my tweets!), I learned that my self-diagnosis of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a huge inside joke among my friends and former colleagues. I took a lot of ribbing this morning, but my favorite response came as an email attachment that really got me to thinking. I'm not really a compulsive person — in fact, I tend to over-think most of my decisions — so the OCD is really not an accurate description of my behavior. However, I am German! And this ad for Bank Forum, designed by Ogilvy & Mather (Ukraine) brilliantly sums up what being German truly means.

Wow. I finally have a name for it.

Inside the heart of one designer

Love. Dedication. Passion. Commitment. These are all words that we associate with Valentine’s Day and rightly so — they are the essential cornerstones of a happy and healthy relationship. I am very fortunate in that I have a special Valentine and I know firsthand what each of these words truly means. I also have a supportive family and a close circle of friends who encourage me to follow my heart and live a purposeful life. But as great as all of that is and despite my immeasurable gratitude, my personal relationships are not the reason behind today’s post. Instead, it is my very public relationship with design that I want to talk about today.

My entire life, I have loved art, books, photography and type, so choosing a career in graphic design was pretty much a no-brainer for me. Everything about the design process — from the initial sketches to the moment of discovering a viable solution — makes my heart race and literally gets my creative juices flowing. Even when the answers aren’t that easy to come by, I’m still caught up in the challenge and the need to make it visually work. Yes, it is work. Always. And I love to work because work gives me purpose.

I’ve been at this for a couple of decades now and during that time, so many things have changed. Specifically, the introduction and advancement of computer technology has been a real game-changer in graphic design. Digital natives (those fortunate enough to have been born with a silver iPhone at their mouth) have a true time advantage over us digital adaptors who still read our software manuals cover-to-cover. But any designer worth his or her salt will tell you that it’s not the tools you use but the results you get that matter. So I continue to plug along, dedicated to my craft despite the constant software upgrades and the new and various platforms that design is now disseminated through. As much as I like to complain about the expensive hardware, software and printing devices, I remain steadfast because design is what I love to do and all of these things make the possibilities limitless.

Even though it could be debated that I get obsessed with design at times, I would like to think that I am just passionate about what I do for a living. I seriously think about design all the time. I see and appreciate the design in everything, and my head is always spinning with ways that I can apply what I am observing to a current project or assignment. It’s always there, from the moment I wake up and discover the sunlight cutting patterns across the ceiling, until the moment I fall asleep to the warm glow of my alarm clock. The world is so rich with color, pattern, shapes and diagonal lines. I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

It’s easy for me to say that I love what I do, that I am dedicated to my work and to my clients, and that I approach everything with a certain degree of passion. But let’s face it — it’s easy for anyone to profess those things, isn’t it? The real question then becomes: Are you totally committed? Have you put in all of your chips and placed everything on the line because you’re that certain that this is what you are meant to do? Do you believe in yourself and your abilities to that degree? Are you that committed to seeing it through? My answer, from the bottom of my heart, is a resounding “yes.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Going up

Are you going up, or going down? Or perhaps you feel like you are stuck somewhere between floors? What exactly am I talking about? I'm talking about your elevator speech.

Your elevator speech is basically a brief 60-second (or less) synopsis of who you are, what you do and why you matter. It's your pitch. It's your song and dance. It's your hook, line and sinker. And the more prepared and polished it is, the more confident and professional you will sound when you say it.

But let's get one thing straight before you begin writing. Your elevator speech is not meaningless schtick that you recite on cue for potential customers. Nor is it intended to be an infomercial filled with exaggerated claims and high pressure tactics. Let's face it — there's no credibility in that.

Instead, be sincere and truly believe what it is you are saying. Make genuine eye contact. Smile. Speak slowly and clearly and most importantly, speak with conviction. Be brief, yet thorough. Smile again. Most importantly, try to leave a lasting impression.

Do you have your elevator speech ready? If not, here are a few tips in helping you craft the perfect ice breaker:
  1. Think about your key strengths and use adjectives that describe you and your work ethic best.
  2. Be sure to include things about yourself or about your service/product that you feel are important or set you apart from others.
  3. Anticipate and know the audience (or individual) you plan to deliver your elevator speech to. Have several slightly modified versions of your speech ready in your head, and be prepared to answer why are you interested in them.
  4. State clearly how you might be able to contribute to their success or find solutions to their problems. Cut the crap. Be sincere and use meaningful language.
  5. Give the listener permission to contact you and have your contact information ready. Never leave home without your business cards.

Remember, keep it simple and honest. Everything begins with a sincere "Hello."

The doctor will see you now

Remember the Peanuts® comic strip with Lucy Van Pelt sitting behind her lemonade stand office, dishing out advice for a mere five cents a session? I'm sure that seemed like a bargain to prospective clients looking to ease their troubles for a measly nickel. Yet, after the money was paid in exchange for Lucy's unique perspective of things, Charlie Brown was often left standing there wondering why he had just paid good money for additional misery. His problems were still there. His money was gone. And now his sense of trust was completely shattered, too.

Seeking advice from professionals can be like that sometimes, especially when their personal gain is of greater importance to them than truly being of assistance to you. Sure, we all go into business to make money to support ourselves and our families. That's understood. That is what's called "being in business" and "staying in business." But it borders on fraud and malpractice when a trusted professional prescribes a magic pill without an accurate diagnosis of the problem. Imagine a doctor handing you a prescription without checking your vital signs or asking you about your medical history or why you are there in the first place. How is that scenario any different from when I designer or marketing professional tells you that you need a new logo or an impressive website before they really know anything about you?

Some of the first questions I ask a potential client are: "Where does it hurt?" and " What problem are we trying to solve?" Often, clients honestly don't know what the problem is — they only know that they don't like how they feel about their company's image or the results they are currently getting. So even before signing a contract, it becomes my job to thoroughly examine what your image is and how your business is perceived and accepted by its target audience. I research your industry. I study your competition. I learn as much as I can about you. And together, we develop a plan of action that is based on your current condition, what things you are willing to do to change it and where you want to be in the future.

It's a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication. It will most likely cost more than a nickel, too. But unlike Charlie Brown, I can guarantee that you won't have to worry about the ball being snatched away at the very last second as you try to kick it, either.

Rodney White's Daily Reminder

Throughout my career, I have shared my various office spaces with the Rodney White poster featured above. From the moment I discovered it, I knew I wanted it in my life. Why? Because I think it's important to surround oneself with gentle reminders of why exploration, risk and change are so important in life.

As a designer, I am always looking for new things to discover and unique ways to approach and solve visual problems. It's so easy and so tempting to continue to repeat a past solution once it has been proven successful. With initial success comes notoriety and praise, and requests for future projects to look just like the ones before. And to be fair, sometimes the answer to one design problem can be very transferable to another, saving time and money for clients short on both. But before I jump too quickly to tried and true conclusions, I have to ask myself if that repeated performance will produced the best results? Am I exploring every possibility or simply choosing the easiest? For me, the key is to know when I am sacrificing better ideas and solutions for the sake of staying within my comfort zone. When work becomes easy, I know that I am no longer thinking strategically or pursuing the wow factor.

Who put the BS in brainstorming?

I really wish I could get back all of the countless hours I have spent in non-productive brainstorming sessions throughout my career. Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against tossing ideas back and forth with my colleagues and clients. I actually love the whole philosophy behind the concept of brainstorming. And, I have participated in a handful of very engaging brainstorming sessions that left me both proud of the results and hopeful of the process as a business tool. So you see, I haven’t completely written off brainstorming as a creative endeavor. The problem for me seems to lie in how brainstorming sessions are typically conducted and the lackluster results and homogenized conclusions that are presented at the end as solutions.

Getting the right chemistry of the group is critical. Everyone present at the table should want to be there and should want to be a part of the solution. This isn’t the time or place for socializing, nor is it a place to sit back and be a spectator. Mix it up a little. Invite individuals from various departments who bring a unique perspective and set of skills to the group. And here’s the important part: appoint someone who is capable of remaining neutral and nonjudgmental to conduct the session. This, in my opinion, is where most organizations fail when it comes to brainstorming.

Owners and managers are assigned to the position or volunteer for the task because of their “natural leadership skills.” But in brainstorming, you don’t want leaders and you especially don’t want followers. You’re seeking original ideas and that will never come about if even one person in the group feels their participation is being weighed and measured. The very second the group senses that there are right answers and there are wrong answers (after all, YOU WILL be graded on this!), the creativity grinds to screeching halt. Ideas become safe. Proposed solutions are no longer fresh and innovative. Instead, they are replaced with worn and outdated answers. Congratulations. Your storm of ideas has just been officially pronounced brain-dead.

So, how can you facilitate a successful brainstorming session? Well, it’s actually pretty simple if you keep these tips in mind:
  1. Keep in mind that a brainstorming session is not the time or place to evaluate, criticize, ignore or dismiss any ideas. For some reason owners and managers really struggle with this directive. It’s counterintuitive to the way most of them are wired, I guess. This doesn’t mean that management shouldn’t participate in the session. It simply means that they need to check their egos and titles at the door.
  2. Not all ideas are created equal. Some ideas are perfect from the second they leave the lips and others take a little time and effort to make them perfect. Even a totally bad idea has the potential to become a good or even great idea when it is approached from a new direction or applied to a different situation.
  3. After all of the ideas have been collected, create a list of essential criteria that the solution must obey. Measure each idea against the list to see if it has true potential. Does the idea solve the problem? Will it resonate with the intended audience or user? Is it original? Has it been done before? Is it within budget? Do you have the time and resources that are necessary to implement?
Perhaps the very best part of a well-conducted brainstorming session is the sense of accomplishment and purpose experienced by those who participated in it. Everyone likes that feeling of being a part of the solution. We like puzzles and we like to challenge ourselves, especially at things that are outside of our comfort zone. It’s human nature to want to be a part of something larger — a part of a community and culture, if you will — and we all excel most when the climate and conditions are conducive to personal expression and growth.

A Toast to Mona Lisa

For those of you that know me well or have been following this blog, you know that I have a special affinity for the Mona Lisa and all of the millions of ways she has been rendered and reproduced over the centuries. This morning I was quite please to have discovered a new addition to my collection — a story about toast artist Maurice Bennett's latest creation, posted on

F-bombing the F-words

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? If you’re like most people, you probably think about them passively as things that you might hope for in the coming year. You may even make subtle changes in your daily routine to point yourself in the right direction. But for the most part, they are usually just wishes — things that you would like to see happen but you really don’t have the time or energy to see them through fruition. Unless we are forced into it, very few among us truly resolve to make significant changes in our lives. We're creatures of habit and change is not easy.

This year, I have decided to kick my bad habit of using F-words. No, I am not giving up cussing and swearing — let’s face it, there are occasions when using a swear word is more than appropriate. Would you not agree? No, what I’m talking about is the “other F-words.” We all have them tucked deep inside our brains and they slip out in our daily speech without us even noticing. I’m talking about “fear” and I’m also talking about “failure.” And since we're on the topic, let’s not forget about the double-whammy “fear of failure,” too.

Have you ever really listened to yourself? I catch myself saying things like “I’m afraid if we try this, it may not work and we will have wasted our time,” or “Let’s make sure it’s the perfect time to launch this, that way our risk is low.” On the surface it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, but let’s face it — it’s all bullshit. If you have ever waited for the perfect time to do something, you know deep inside that it’s usually not about being patient. It’s about justifying your procrastination or buying yourself a little more time because you’re really afraid to make the next move. And think about what it really means when you keep your risks low. When was the last time you heard of a low risk venture returning huge rewards? It just doesn’t happen that way.

It’s not easy wrapping your brain around the idea of embracing failure. It actually sounds ridiculous. Yet, if you think about anything of significance that has been introduced into the world, it didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t a one-time shot, launched at the perfect time when the risks were moderately low. It happened because someone believed that it could; their failures had transcended into their greatest teachers.

The right time is now, so let’s get busy.

To blog, or not to blog: that is the question

“To blog, or not to blog.” Surely, that would be Hamlet’s most pressing question if he were alive today. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps he would be contemplating whether “to be or not to be” on Facebook® or Twitter®. Who knows? Who can really say how Hamlet’s mind would be twisting with all of the possibilities available online today?

So let’s go back to the original thought: “to blog, or not to blog.” I get asked this question all of the time, mostly by small business owners who have been told they ABSOLUTELY NEED to have a blog, but they really don’t know why they should. Nor do they have a clue of what they should be writing about if they actually went forward and posted one. Sound familiar?

First of all, no one ABSOLUTELY NEEDS a blog. A blog is not a life-support system for an ailing company, nor is it a magic pill that will take away your worries about business. It's a tool. And we all know that having the right tool for a specific task is ideal in getting a job done correctly and efficiently.

There are many reasons why you might want to consider adding a blog to your marketing toolbox. Other than time, it costs absolutely nothing to have a blog. You may argue that time is worth something, and you are right — time is extremely valuable, especially to a small business owner. But if you are constructing meaningful content for a blog, that time should be considered time well invested. Blogging gets you thinking about your industry, maybe even doing a little research that you might not otherwise be motivated to do. You might start asking yourself and maybe even your customers “what kinds of information would be useful?” Through your professional insights and expertise, you are adding extra value to your list of services. Better yet, by giving your customers free advice, you are proving that you genuinely want to help them solve a problem. You are showing that you care, and that is the beginning of building relationships based on trust.

Blogs can give an existing website a real boost in many ways, too. First, your blog content is searchable. Perhaps one day you decide to blog about something new in your industry that you are considering adding to your list of services. Anyone searching for that service will still find you through your blog, even though that service is not currently listed on your website. Is that misleading? Absolutely not. Through your blog, you are illustrating your knowledge of and your desire to keep up with the latest trends and technologies. In many ways, you are testing the water — you can actually gauge if there is enough interest in adding this new service to your business. Or consider this: how many times have you performed a Goggle® search and landed on a website, only to spend countless minutes (or maybe even hours!) exploring the site after you have discovered what you were initially looking for? Or maybe you even forgot what it was you were searching for because the newly discovered content was that good? A well-written blog can do that.

When it comes to websites, so many small business owners fall into the “if you build it they will come” trap. The reality is only customers who are willing to invest significant amounts of time and effort into searching every single possibility, will eventually find you on the Internet. The Internet is a crowded place. You literally need to drive your potential customers to your site through other marketing efforts and by creating good, searchable content. An excellent way to increase your website’s position and ranking with search engines is to add a blog to your site. Naturally, any increase in traffic to your site will garner you a higher ranking. But did you know Google® and other search engines reward websites that are updated frequently with a higher placement in the rankings? By adding a blog, not only are you adding new content on a regular basis, but you are being mindful of your website’s existing content, making certain that it hasn’t become outdated or obsolete.

The decision “to blog, or not to blog” is a highly personal one. You have to feel comfortable with the technology and confident in your content development and writing skills. You have to have something to say that you believe will be of value to someone else. Also, depending on your industry and customer base, a blog may not be the right tool to use. Recent studies have shown that consumers under the age of 25 have turned away from reading blogs and prefer using Twitter® and Facebook® instead. On the other side of the coin, Generation Xers and Baby Boomers are turning away from traditional media sources and moving more towards the Internet to collect information. The important thing to remember is this: get clear on who your customers are and what it is they want and expect in terms of customer service. If adding a blog to your site can help you surpass those expectations, then do it. You’ll be one step closer in securing a customer for life.

Establishing new habits

Did anyone happen to see where November went? Or even the first 10 days of December? Anyone? Wow... where does the time go? I will say this: the past two months have been extremely busy and I am so fortunate to have that problem. It is incredibly gratifying to be working on so many fun and exciting projects.

As much as I like to practice what I preach, I fell a little short this past month in keeping up with my blog. I could lay out a dozen or more excuses, but the fact-of-the-matter is that I simply did not make it a priority. As a marketing professional, I know how important it is to keep the lines of communication open with current, past and potential clients. I have so much good information to share that I hope you will benefit from, whether you choose to work with Lime Creative or not. And just like many of my clients, I too want to explore this thing called social media and test its possibilities.

This past week I made a commitment to my readers and myself regarding this blog. I started a blog calendar, where I now schedule the content I will be writing about the next couple of months. Not only does this force me to remain on-task, but it also gives me a fresh perspective of what I have already written and what still needs to be addressed. And don't worry. I won't be pushing out content just to fill a calendar slot or to check off a task on my list of things to do. In fact, I am certain just the opposite will happen. By planning what I want to talk about, I allow myself the time to research and prepare meaningful content. I will still post a few "Just for Fun" items now and again — that part will never change. But what has changed is my attitude towards true client outreach and my own marketing habits. No more excuses. It's time to lead by example.

Happy Halloween!

Shopping for design services

Not all design agencies are created equal and that’s really how it should be. Different clients require different kinds of services, and unless you’re talking about a very large agency, you probably won’t find a complete offering of all design services under one roof. Having the staff and facilities to provide print, Web, audio and video production requires a large investment on their part that is often reflected in their costs. In general, the larger the agency, the larger the clients they serve and the fees they earn.

Your business is unlike any other and having an agency that matches your specific needs and unique personal style only makes good sense. That’s why I encourage all potential clients to “agency shop” and request a proposal before committing to a design firm. At the very least, consider two or three agencies. Ask around and do your homework. Of the agencies you are considering, do they have clients that are comparable in size and service to your business? Do they have experience in successfully executing the kind of work you need done? Do they have a good reputation? And finally, can you afford them?

Lime Creative is small enough to provide personal care and assistance, yet experienced enough to handle even the most complex projects. Through a network of independent designers, writers, programmers and marketing specialists, Lime Creative is able to assemble a team of experts specific to your project, deadline and needs.

Like any relationship, finding the perfect partner isn’t always the easiest task but once you have made the right connection, things tend to get immeasurably less difficult. And again, that's really how it should be.

Lime Tweets

Lime Creative is now on Twitter! Follow us for all the latest news on design, advertising and marketing trends. (And by the way, no chicks were harmed in the making of this graphic.)

Time for a new logo?

Are you wondering if it's time to update your company's logo? Well, the folks at Logo Lounge had this posted on their Facebook page today to help make the decision a little easier.

Lime Creative wins national award

Graphic Design USA announced the winners of this year's American Graphic Design Awards. Lime Creative won a Certificate for Excellence for its self-promotion crate mailer entitled "The Original Lime Stress Reliever."

Each year, for more than thirty years,
Graphic Design USA has recognized outstanding new work in all facets of the design industry, including print, point-of-purchase, packaging, web, interactive and motion graphics. This year over 8000 entries were considered from 23 categories, with a select 15 percent receiving a Certificate of Excellence. Award-winning pieces are eligible for publication in the 300-page American Graphic Awards Design Annual, which is combined with the November/December edition of GDUSA, and will be featured online at

Although I have won numerous awards with other agencies, this is Lime Creative's first award, which makes it's the sweetest.

Stay tuned, because Lime Creative is just getting started!

The Madmen of Brazil

Just this month, the Brazilian agency Moma Propaganda stepped back in the Don Draper era of advertising by creating these almost-authentic vintage ads for today's social media sites. The campaign was designed to promote Maximidia Seminars with a tagline of "Everything Ages Fast." Now who said there's no truth in advertising today?

Avoiding an identity crisis - Part III

Building your brand promise
As a nation of serious consumers, we appreciate a good slogan almost as much as we love buying things. Through cleverly crafted advertising, catch phrases do just that — they enter our heads and stick with us for decades. Who can forget “Have it your way” and “Where’s the beef?” as Burger King and Wendy’s took on hamburger giant McDonald’s and its limited menu and patty size? For years, Coca-Cola proclaimed “Coke is it” and “It’s the Real Thing” while Pepsi answered with “The Choice of a New Generation” and “Generation Next.” By defining what is special about the products or services they represent, taglines help us make decisions about the things we wish to buy. They help establish relationships between companies and consumers, and in extremely successful instances, they unite fans and develop elite classes of faithful consumers that continuously lure in newcomers who want to be just like them. Want a great example of this? Let me ask you this: are you a Mac or a PC?

There really is no difference between the terms tagline, catch phrase or slogan — they are pretty much used interchangeably. What has changed is that there has been a huge backlash against the overused and the over-the-top jargon found in much of today’s advertising. As potential buyers gather product information and consumer feedback online, they are less affected by what a company says it is. Instead, potential buyers want to know what others say you are; and that is the essence of branding.

At Lime Creative, my job is to direct clients away from using a “platitude with attitude” and towards a more sincere brand promise. Through several tools and exercises, together we will define what differentiates your service or product from the competition's. We will consider what expectations your clients and customers should have regarding your business. We will observe how your company interacts internally as an organization, as well as externally as a service provider. And finally, your customers’ experiences and what they are saying about you will be examined. After all of these things are weighed and considered, a carefully crafted brand promise can be developed — one that reflects and successfully represents your organization’s commitment and character.

For most businesses, establishing a sincere brand promise will take a considerable degree of time and focus to get it perfected. Take the time and necessary steps to develop a meaningful brand promise. Make sure it is unique to your market
(please, no more “Got Milk?” variations!), and it appeals in both tone and delivery to your target audience. Choose your words carefully. After all, you are making a promise and I can assure you, your customers intend that you keep it.

There are several websites that offer free slogan generators for the do-it-yourselfers out there. By typing in no more than your company's name, a slogan is instantly produced for you at no cost. I highly discourage any serious usage of these devices, although they are a lot of fun to play with in your spare time. For kicks, I decided to type in our agency’s name and here’s what I got in less than 60 seconds:

“The Lime Creative that refreshes.”
“There’s no wrong way to eat a Lime Creative.”
“You like Lime Creative. Lime Creative likes you.”
(and our favorite) “When you’ve got Lime Creative, flaunt it.”

Need I say more?

Avoiding an identity crisis - Part II

Developing your logo
A logo is so much more than a stylized grouping of shapes, colors and fonts. To understand exactly what an effective logo is, we must first examine what an effective logo does. Beyond identifying a product or business, an original logo conveys meaning that reflects the quality and attributes of the thing it symbolizes. It communicates an intended message that is meant to inspire trust, provoke admiration and imply a certain level of superiority over the competition.

A well-crafted logo achieves all of these things by adhering to a few basic design principles. The most important rule of thumb is simplicity. Not only is a simple form more easily recognizable and memorable, but it also tends to be more versatile when used in various mediums. Simple logos usually reproduce well in black and white and remain legible when reduced in size. And because they are simple and elegant, they do not compete with the content around them. Instead, they stand out.

The most common mistakes people make is selecting a logo to represent their product or business is being too literal. Your logo does not necessarily have to convey what it is your company or product does. Think about McDonald’s. Do the famous golden arches have hamburgers and French fries dangling from them? Or FedEx — does their logo have delivery trucks and planes zooming through it? Instead, the simple type treatment of the FedEx logo conveys clarity and is immediately recognizable. A cleverly hidden arrow in the negative space between the E and X serves as a symbol of direction and distance, which is really the essence of what FedEx is all about.

Design trends come and go, and avoiding what is currently “in” is critical if your logo is to sustain any degree of longevity. It is tempting to adopt the latest idea as your own — or even worse, alter who you are to fit a popular image. Too often, clients come to us and say they want a logo just like their competitor’s. Although it is wise to know what your competition is doing, it is never a good idea to copy anyone or visually tie your business identity too closely to others. Remember, you want your logo to be original and stand apart from the rest of the crowd. For this same reason, it is important that you resist the temptations of using design templates and stock images in your logo. Typically, stock images are not licensed for use as a logo and if they are, you can be sure that every do-it-yourselfer wanting to save a buck is using it, too. So the question then becomes: do you really want to be perceived that way by using such an unoriginal logo?

The main purpose of your logo is to make your business or product immediately recognizable beyond its name. Don’t expect your logo to single-handedly establish your company’s brand. Instead, it is just the beginning of your identity system. With repeated use — along with marketing and the reputation you establish with your customers — only then is your branding is established. Remember, branding is not what you say you are or how you present your company. Branding is what your customers say you are. And once they start talking, no amount of purchased advertising can ever equal their impact of your company’s success.

Avoiding an identity crisis - Part I

First impressions are so important in establishing credibility and building relationships with your potential customers. This is especially true if you are new to the market and your audience is unfamiliar with your service or product. In the consumer’s eyes, how you present yourself is often equated to how you or your product will most likely perform. If your logo, identity system and promotional materials look unprofessional, that often translates to you being unprofessional, too. As unfair as that may sound, it is the culture we now live in. A well-crafted name, logo and identity system is a significant business advantage and the foundation of your own personal brand.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will review some of the basic information you should consider regarding your business or organization’s name, logo, identity system and branding promise. I will also briefly discuss our own process and how we work with clients to find the very best solutions for their design problems.

Naming your product or business
Selecting a name for your business or product is really no different than naming a child. Pick the wrong name and your offspring is destined to endure relentless teasing and ridicule from every bully on the block. Choose something too common or ordinary and your kid might as well be the guest that no one remembers after the party. Or you could roll the alphabet dice to come up with your own unique name, but then your baby's name will most likely never be spelled or pronounced correctly — much like the foreign exchange student in your 10th grade math class.

A considerable amount of time and thought should go into your decision. The final business name you choose should be meaningful in that it communicates who you are, what you do and reinforces the key features of your business. But exercise caution in being too specific with your name selection, too. For example, calling a business “Main Street Pizza & Pub” could be a real headache if the owner loses his liquor license, wants to expand the menu beyond pizza or needs to relocate to another part of town. Suggestive names are a little more abstract and provide a great alternative to traditional business names that may be too common or narrow for some clients. Instead of conveying who you are, they suggest what the business represents — things like quality, convenience, endurance or value.

Try not to become overwhelmed if you find naming your own business a little more challenging than you first expected. There is a lot to consider and a lot at stake in selecting the right name. It is a big deal and you should treat it as such. If you think you would like to try your hand at it, we suggest you start by brainstorming with a list of words that describe your product or service. Get out a dictionary and thesaurus and start playing with various combinations of words and sounds. Then bounce your best ideas off of your friends and family who are willing to give you honest and constructive feedback. It may take several rounds of edits and revisions, but you’ll know it in your toes when you have discovered the perfect name.

There is a definite process, skill set and comfort zone associated with developing an original and memorable business name. If you have any doubts about the final name you have selected — if it feels like you settled on a name instead of discovering the perfect one — then it’s probably not the right name and you should consider using an agency such as Lime Creative. The process we use involves various steps of getting to know you and your organization, as well as the audience or market you are trying to reach. We have the necessary tools and resources to seek the right words, the right sounds and the right visual experiences that your business name should convey, no matter how or where your business name will be used. We also perform searches to make sure your chosen name is indeed unique to your industry and we take the necessary measures to insure that your name stays that way.

A Latte Mona Lisa

The folks down under are quite creative when it comes to their coffee. Last year, at the annual The Rocks Aroma Festival in Sydney, Australia, event organizers for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority created their own 20'x13' version of the famous woman with the mysterious smile — and their medium: coffee! It took the team of eight a little over three hours to complete the masterpiece, using 3,604 cups of coffee and 564 pints of milk. The various sepia shades in the painting were achieved by adding different amounts of milk to each cup. You have to hand it to coffee lovers. They are indeed, a special breed.

Do you matter?

Do you matter? It’s a question that can feel like a punch to the chest and hurt just as much if the honest answer to it is anything less than a decisive yes. We all want to matter, not just to our friends and family, but also to those who purchase and use the products and services we provide. And that is not always an obvious thing to realize or master.

You matter to your clients and customers to the degree that they are emotionally invested in you and your organization’s success. They believe that what you provide and contribute to their customer experience is exceptional and irreplaceable should you cease to exist. You matter because what you deliver is beyond a sound product or quality service. Today, almost all features and benefits of any product or service can be easily replicated by anyone wanting to make a buck. But the one thing that can never be copied by your competition is the experience you custom-design for your intended customer.

People make choices on an emotional level and will pay a premium for an experience that connects with them on a personal level. You must design that experience for the category of customer you want — the kind of customer that values the risks you have taken in being original and is willing to pay perhaps a little more for added value and a superior experience.

A design-savvy organization is about building brand. Brand is not your logo or what your advertising says about you. Brand is what
your customers say about you. It’s what they feel in their gut when it comes to making a choice between you and your competition. Granted, your advertising may create a perception of what you want your customers to believe, but that faith in you and your company won’t develop until their personal experiences match up completely with your marketing message. Any negative experience outside of what you promise will destroy the their trust in you entirely.

If you would like to learn more about the significance of branding and developing the ultimate customer experience for your organization, I suggest you read
Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company by Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery.

Why design matters.

Perhaps you have heard the expression “Good design is good business.” IBM founder Thomas Watson is accredited for having said it first and it has been recited over and again by every designer and agency looking for clients. It’s a catchy phrase, but let’s be realistic — it’s overused and unfortunately repeated most by those who underestimate the true definition and impact design has on how business is done today.

When we talk about design as a substance or object, we tend to think about it as a style or the way something looks. We immediately think color and composition. We can't help but compare it to our own personal preferences of what we think good design is or what it should be. We consider ourselves to be opened minded, and yet eventually we all succumb to the temptation of labeling what we see as either beautiful, ordinary or perhaps even ugly. And like it or not, we generally prefer what is currently classified as beautiful, if for no other reason than we know society tends to recognize and reward what is regarded as such.

But beauty can be quite deceiving. We all have encountered beautiful things that have no purpose beyond being admired for their veneered characteristics. When we ask, “What does it do?” we might get a blank stare or even a defensive response such as “It’s not supposed to
do anything. It’s meant to be looked at and appreciated.” Well, that might be true about fine art, but how does that apply to design? Shouldn't design be more than that? Shouldn't it not only please aesthetic sensibilities, but also actually do something?

Design is more than beautifully finished products — it's an active and continuous process of creating beautiful outcomes. It serves a purpose. It solves a problem. It delivers results. It translates complex ideas into a visual language that communicates with intent, honesty and effectiveness. By visually portraying the soul and essence of your product or organization, it improves your image and strengthens your brand, separating you from the competition.

Good design is so much more than good business. It truly is your business advantage.

From the bookshelf

With so many books available today on the subject of operating a business, it's not very often that we come across a find that is as fresh and insightful as this one. If you're looking for an interesting read, we would like to suggest Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37signals. Released just this past March, the book is a collection of essays that the software company has posted over the years depicting their experiences of breaking almost every traditional rule regarding business operations and ownership. Below is an excerpt entitled "Ignore the real world" and it sort of sums up our own feelings as well. We hope you enjoy it.

"That would never work in the real world." You hear it all the time when you tell people about a fresh idea.

This real world sounds like an awfully depressing place to live. It's a place where new ideas, unfamiliar approaches, and foreign concepts
always lose. The only things that win are what people already know and do, even if those things are flawed and inefficient.

Scratch the surface and you'll find these "real world" inhabitants are filled with pessimism and despair. They expect fresh concepts to fail. They assume society isn't ready for or capable of change.

Even worse, they want to drag others down into their tomb. If you're hopeful and ambitious, they'll try to convince you your ideas are impossible. They'll say you're wasting your time.

Don't believe them. That world may be real for them, but it doesn't mean you have to live in it.

The real world isn't a place, it's an excuse. It's a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

It's a perfect day to be a lime.

Although I could make many references to how important the lime is to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, what really connects with me is how Lime Creative can (somewhat) relate to the origins of the holiday. Back in 1862, Mexico was a young nation struggling to exist in the New World. They had suspended payments of a loan that was taken out during a previous regime from France, Great Britain and Spain. Considered the most powerful military powers in the world at the time, these three countries united to force Mexico into paying back the money it borrowed. But upon arrival to Mexico, instead of just recovering the money they were owed, the three countries decided to take occupation of Mexico. The French had a particular interest in the mining resources of northwest Mexico.

On May 5, 1862, Mexican forces pushed back the French military and defended the city of Puebla. Although the French suffered heavy casualties that day, they eventually continued their invasion and by 1863, they had taken Mexico City. But for one day — the fifth day of the fifth month in 1862 — a young nation struggled to maintain its independence from the old ways of the old world powers — and they won.

So, as you raise your margarita glass today to make a toast, don't forget to say a little something kind for the underdogs. You never know when they might just surprise you.

The fight continues

Yesterday was the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Great Strides walk for a cure in Toledo, Ohio. This annual event is the largest fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Each year, about one in every three thousand children born is diagnosed with CF, a disease that causes respiratory and digestive impairment, infections and poor overall growth. Another 10 million Americans are symptomless carriers of the disease, making CF one of the most fatal, inherited diseases. The goal of yesterday's walk was to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis and generate funds to improve and extend the lives of those with CF, until a cure is found.

This year, Lime Creative sponsored the team Sauber's Strength at the Great Strides walk, representing Leah and Evan Sauber of Millbury, Ohio. Leah and Evan are two amazing kids that are doing exceptionally well thanks to their family's tireless efforts in caring for them and working to help fund CF research. Yesterday, over 1000 walkers participated in the walk, raising thousands of dollars for CF. Lime Creative is fortunate to have been included in this great cause by providing free design services for their promotional flyers.

Delivered fresh and on time!

Welcome to Lime Creative's new Website and blog! There are still a few finishing touches that need to be made, but I am thrilled to have completed the site within my own self-imposed deadline of May 1. Ok, perhaps "completed" isn't really the right word, since a good Website requires a great deal more than just planting a few seeds. An enormous amount of time, care and optimism are required. So, as I continue to create the conditions for growth — in both the Website and the agency — I hope you will check in now and again to see the fruits of my labor and how much LIME continues to grow.