Technology has historically been an agent of change. Throughout the relatively short history of graphic design, new technology has spurred and fostered writings and ideas to spread farther and faster than previously thought possible. Each great, innovative designer or engineer has studied the past in order to improve upon what has come before. In this blog post we will specifically focus on the technological development of printing and how it has affected graphic design and branding.
1450: Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg – The Printing Press
Johannes Gutenberg was German born and trained as a blacksmith and goldsmith. He was very comfortable with creating his own tools and refining his process. This allowed him to create and experiment with the first mechanical movable type printing press system, first in 1450. He also developed oil-based ink needed as part of the printing system. The printing press sparked the printing revolution and is regarded as the beginning of modern mass communication. The availability of information to the general public shook up the status quo and helped shift some of the power back into the people’s hands. Business owners could now have their brand easily printed on many flyers, allowing their identity to be more consistent and widely recognized. Graphic design now had the ability to spread by means of quickly moveable type instead of just the arduous, and expensive task of hand lettering. The printing press changed everything.
1790: Alois Senefelder – Lithography
The next big step in graphic design that is important to note is the development of Lithography. In 1790 Alois Senefelder, German actor and playwright, developed a new technique of transferring oil-based ink from a stone, later a metal plate, onto paper. This is accomplished by etching areas into the stone, then moistening the stone to retain water in the etched areas. The ink is then applied and repelled by the water, sticking only to the original drawing. The ink would then be transferred onto a sheet of paper. This process allowed complex images to be printed on multiple sheets of paper quickly and at a fraction of the cost. Graphic designers could now quickly and affordably reproduce text and images.
1875: Robert Barclay and Ira Washington Rubel – Offset printing
Offset printing was developed over the course of 29 years by Robert Barclay and Ira Washington Rubel. Barclay, an Englishman, developed an offset press that worked for printing on tin in 1875. Then, in 1904 Rubel, an American, reworked the offset press to print on paper. Offset printing is a sped up version of Lithography and it made the mass production of printed works extremely fast and economical. Offset printing is best suited for economically producing large volumes of high quality prints in a manner that requires little maintenance. Graphic designers could now print thousands of pieces of paper that looked almost identical. Consistency across printed work became effortless for large scale production.
1884: Ottmar Mergenthaler – The Linotype Machine
What if you didn’t need to manually set type when printing? Ottmar Mergenthaler was a German inventor who asked this question when developing his Linotype Machine. A 90-character keyboard types words and assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line (hence the name Linotype). The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug. Once the line is utilized, the metal material is then returned to the machine and stored for further usage or, if not needed, the slug is then melted down. This allowed for much faster typesetting than Gutenberg’s printing press.
1950s – 1970s: Canon, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Epson – Inkjet printing
With the advent of computers, printing became even more widespread, personal, and available with in one’s own home. As the personal computer became more popular, so did printers. Canon, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Epson pioneered at-home inkjet printing. This method of printing creates text by propelling droplets of ink onto material. By the 1970s inkjet printers could actually reproduce digital images that were generated by computers. People, for the first time in history, could print something off a computer in their very own home. This made the computer a tool for graphic designers who did not have access to large scale printers. Also this made branding a more personal exercise. Now everyone could print something they made.
1980: David Coons and Graham Nash – Digital printing
Digital printing consists of large-scale/high-volume laser or inkjet printers used for small-run jobs from desktop publishing or other digital sources. Developed by David Coons and Graham Nash, digital printing was to be an alternative to costly offset printing. This type of printing is best suited for individuals that want to print a large quantity job, but don’t want to print as much as an offset printer would need to make the job feasible. Digital printing has a higher cost per page, but that price is made more economical due to not having to create printing plates. This allows graphic designers access to on-demand printing, a short turnaround time, and more flexible process for revisions. A designer could now print their project, book, brand, or whatever they wanted, quickly, at a mid-to-high volume, and for more affordable prices.
Mid-1980s – 2000s: The Internet
While not a printing technique or process, the internet is a tool that has changed graphic designers possibly as much as the printing press. Instead of waiting days for proofs to come through the mail, now they can be emailed immediately. Need to know what color, material, typeface, or other important information? That question now only takes a minute to look up. The internet is the biggest informational tool available to anyone with access. The internet has given freedom to an individual graphic designer to brand and identify themselves in what ever way they see fit. Beginning in the mid-1980s and extending to now, the internet has evolved and continues to evolve into something we are still just now trying to understand.
Conclusion and Looking Forward
Not only has technology changed over the history of graphic design, the way we think has also changed. Illustration and hand lettering were so time consuming, where one mistake could mean a wasted page. Yet now that mistake is just a learning opportunity as paper and ink are no where near as scarce as they once were. This type of freedom allows for more time spent critically thinking about a problem and more possible ways to implement a solution.
Nowadays it is common to see advertisements everywhere, since printing isn’t as much of a concern. Yet back when the printing press was just being created adverts were something only the wealthiest could afford. Branding pervasiveness is normal. We know what brands we like and which we don’t. That type of thinking could not have existed in the past because brands, for the most part, did not exist.
Printing technology has altered the world that we live in. 500 years ago a book would have been considered a treasure, and now we can write, design, order, and have our very own book delivered to our door step within three days. Never before have we had access to so many tools and so much information available with only a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.
We each have personal design aesthetics that influence our design process. Sometimes the reservoir of design ideas runs dry and we don’t know where to take the next step. Thus we turn to our peers, mentors, and famous designers for guidance and inspiration. The following fifteen websites can help you when you’re feeling that need for an extra boost of inspiration.
Abduzeedo is a collection of visual inspiration and useful tutorials from around the world. Created in December 2006 by Brazilian designer Fabio Sasso and his business partner and friend Fabiano Meneghetti in Brazil, they work together to develop and post what they find important to the global design community.
The Design Observer is a collection of essays, reviews, and articles related to graphic design, popular culture, social innovation, and criticism. Originally founded in 2003 by Michael Bierut (Partner in the New York Pentagram office), William Drenttel (design, critic, and partner with:), Jessica Helfand (Winterhouse Studios) and Rick Poynor (Eye Magazine).
David Airey is a graphic designer and author who focuses on brand identity design. He resides in Northern Ireland where he is self-employed. He posts design articles and discussions on contemporary design issues and trends. David has worked with a number of prominent clients and continues to devote himself to doing work to better Humanity.
Smashing Magazine is an informative, innovative resource for Web designers and developers that chronicles the latest trends and techniques in Web development. Led by Vitaly Friedman and Ricardo Gimenes, they try not to be overwhelming with quantity, but instead focus on the quality of information that they present.
TED is a nonprofit organization that helps innovative thinkers spread their ideas in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). They started in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converge. They promote and propagate a global community of people from every culture and discipline seeking a deeper understanding of the world.
BauBauHaus is a direct feed into design, illustration, photography, fashion, and everything else art related. Their goal is to visually inspire and entertain by promoting great content. This visual blog is organized and presented by two guys from Romania – Stefan Lucut & Andrei Don. They cultivate their “garden” of design in order to share their thoughts and inspirations with people from around the world.
Pinterest is more than mommy blogs and cupcake recipes, it is a visual discovery tool for finding and posting a variety of interests and subjects. Designers can use it to research different styles and projects that can hopefully inspire their own work. Unlike Tumblr, Pinterest doesn’t allow the user to change the default style of their boards which gives the website an overall more consistent looking format.
The Logo Smith focuses on the design process of famous logo designers as well as the personal logo designs of Graham Smith. He has been “Forging Logomarks, and Brand Identities, of Distinction” since 1986. Graham’s philosophy is to communicate his vision with a simple and clean aesthetic.
Subtraction.com is a blog about culture, technology, and design written by Khoi Vinh and has become more popular since it was established in December 2000. Khoi is currently the Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost.
Cameron Moll is a designer, speaker, and author living in Sarasota, Florida. He is the founder of Authentic Jobs Inc. and continually is working on personal endeavors. His website is a compendium of design, HTML5/CSS3, DSLR video, Apple, mobile, and other news articles related to art, culture, and his personal interests.
LogoDesignLove is a blog dedicated to famous logo designs as well as more modern logo trends. It is curated and updated twice a week by David Airey. He utilizes the blog to post about news, designs, opinions, and resources related the logo design process.
Jonathan Lawrence started Typehunting in 2012. It is a personal archive of vintage typography that is displayed on a single page. He started this webpage to inspire himself as well as others. He believes in the simplicity of typography and its ability to effectively and efficiently convey a message.
A personal blog turned popular inspiration page for many, I Love Typography was created in August 2007. It exists because John Boardley had a passion for type design, lettering, and typography thus he wanted a place to express his love so that others might also be inspired.
The Die Line was created in 2007 by Andrew Gibbs as a inspirational resource for package designers. He wanted to catalogue packaging by including a variety of image sources, from the web to his own in store snapshots. His blog soon became a platform for package designers for industry leaders to share their work.
Did we save the best for last? Always! Don’t forget to check out CatapultU.com for design inspiration. We continually update our website with our latest projects. Plus you’ll find all our typefaces of the day and blog posts. It’s basically everything you might need to catapult a new idea.
If you’re just starting your journey into the world of Photoshop, or you’ve been there before and you just need a little brushing up (pun definitely intended), here are 20 quick, essential tips to keep you out of trouble or going in the right direction.
These aren’t in-depth explanations or how-to instructions. For those you might try a YouTube or Google search. Instead, this is a list of helpful tips to remember with each new project.
1 – When getting rid of a background around your subject always create a mask instead of using the eraser tool.
2 – Make a copy of the original image in the layer’s panel and make edits to the copy.
3 – The stamp tool can be effective for filling in part of an image, but make sure you’re not creating an undesired pattern as you reproduce pixels.
4 – Save often. If you make drastic changes save as a different name. i.e. “Image name r1, r2, r3,” etc.
5 – When pasting an image into a Photoshop file “paste as smart object”
6 – Use Photoshop for the correct purposes. I.e. don’t try to design a vector logo or lay out a brochure in Photoshop.
7 – Learn shortcut keys. You can find full lists on Adobe’s website.
8 – Type command + t to make the image adjustable. Right click the adjustable image to quickly bring up some adjusting options.
9 – To quickly zoom in on an area hold command + space keys and move the arrow right. Move it left to zoom back out.
10 – Use command + z keys to toggle between the last action. Use command + option + z to go back several actions.
11 – When using the brush, right click to quickly bring up brush options such as size and hardness.
12 – The polygon lasso tool is usually more effective than the regular lasso. While using the polygon lasso you can toggle to the regular lasso by holding the option key.
13 – If you’re unsure about cropping an image you can choose to hide the cropped part of the image rather than deleting it entirely.
14 – To select all the pixels on a layer hold command and click the layer thumbnail in the layer panel.
15 – To fill a selected area with a solid color, type option + delete.
16 – Take the time to set the photo correctly before taking it. It will save you exponential time later.
17 – Think seriously before using a Photoshop filter. They rarely add appeal to an image and usually just make it look filtered and cheap.
18 – It is easier for web programmers to work from Adobe Photoshop files than Illustrator or InDesign files. Make sure you start with the correct dimensions.
19 – If possible, take pictures with the camera in raw setting. It is easier to adjust colors and levels in camera raw. Then open in Photoshop to fix anything else.
20 – Have fun. Photoshop requires time and patience to learn and understand. There is a learning curve to it, but even in early stages of use you can get a lot done.
So there you go—20 quick and essential photoshop tips. If you have any questions or comments shoot us an email at email@example.com or leave us a comment on our Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/catapultu) or our twitter (https://twitter.com/Catapultu).
This is a question that has baffled the minds of designers for nearly as long as moveable lead type itself. If you Google search the question, you will come up with 100 answers and 100 more examples.
Explaining a typeface is easy enough. It is the design of the letters, symbols, punctuation, etc in a set. For example, you might look at all the weights and sizes of Bodoni and see how they all have high contrast between thicks and thins, they all have the same ratio of cap height to x-height, and so on. Therefore Bodoni is a typeface. It was designed by Giambattista Bodoni, an Itallan typographer, type-designer, and printer (1740-1830). By the way, if you’re ever in Parma, Italy be sure to stop by the The Bodoni Museum, opened in 1963 and named for the artisan and compositor. Also check out the gelato stand on the corner.
Now, back to fonts vs. typefaces. Describing a font was a very simple process. If we continue with the example of Bodoni it’s quite clear. When Giambattista took the design for his new typeface, punched it, created a mold, and poured blocks for each and every letter at a specific size, he created a font. This was the delivery method of Bodoni. When he created the next size of type he was creating a new font.
With the invention of computers and scalable type it became more difficult to separate the definitions. Now the same type size is easily and effortlessly adjusted and a new font is not required for each size of the typeface. The idea of the font still rings true though. It is the delivery method of the typeface. A century ago typemakers would send a set of metal letters at a specific size for the printer to use for a book, newspaper, handbill, etc. What he sent was the font. This practice carries over to today. If you send a file to the printer you may need to send the font. The font is the file containing all the code that becomes type on the page.
Imagine it this way. Your friend tells you about a song she heard on the radio. You’d like to hear it too, so you download an MP3 file and listen to the song on your computer. The actual song is the “typeface” created by the artist. A sound engineer then recorded the song, digitized it, and created an MP3 file for which can be downloaded for listening on a variety of devices.
The font is the unit that can be shared, transported, and saved. The typeface is the creation of the designer. It is looked at and chosen for its characteristics and distinguishing features. When someone says “I like that letter A in your logo. What is it?” They are asking what typeface it is. They like the character of it, the style, and the shape. If they said, “I like that font” they are expressing favor for the data that was used to carry the idea of the typeface creator to the computer of the designer.
If this all seems very contrived and insignificant it’s because in the end it probably is. When computers began listing typefaces under a drop-down tab called “fonts” they weren’t necessarily incorrect, but it did change the way people identified with typefaces. With changes in technology and with the passing of time words can change meaning to fit contemporary culture. For instance, take the word TV. When the television set began showing up in homes it was a box that sat in a living room and flickered black and white content. You could watch the news on your television, but you’d never say you were watching television. This would imply that you sat and watched the actual box hoping to see it move or do tricks. You didn’t watch the television; you watched the program flickering on the screen of the television. In today’s culture the idea of watching TV has changed completely.
You no longer even need a television to watch “TV.” It is the same with fonts and typefaces. Is there a correct usage of the word? Sure. As a designer should you know how to use each word in our trade correctly? Definitely. Should you feel it a professional obligation to inform each client that they are using these two terms incorrectly? No! If they ask, sure let them know. If they don’t ask, well then remember their name so in the afterlife you and Mr. Bodoni can explain it to them and set them straight…or italicized.
In graphic design, branding, marketing, and really any creative practice, it is important to continually be “filling the well.” It’s a simple idea that goes a long way. The more resources, inspirations, and ideas you have stored away the more you’ll have to draw from later when they’re needed.
A general misconception about filling the well is that if you’re designing a brochure you should look at well-designed brochures. If you’re doing fashion photography you should look at good examples of fashion photography. In general, following this approach can be limiting. Even if you can recreate a photo shoot with the perfect set and lighting your end product will still just be a copy, lacking in originality and creativity.
If you truly want to be creative, innovative, enduring, and maybe most importantly, profitable and marketable to your clients, you need to expose yourself to many sources in order to draw upon their inspiration in the future.
Here’s our list of ten of our favorite ways to gain inspiration for future projects.
1. Explore Different Mediums
Sometimes the best ideas come from the most obscure sources. A great idea for a website might come from watching an old film noir. An oil can from the 1930s might inspire a packaging concept for crackers. The idea is that the more information, ideas, and sources you store in your head or in notebooks, the more you’ll be able to pull from later.
Read books, look through magazines, look at paintings, explore photography, watch an old movie, check out leather wallets hand crafted in the early 1800s. There are many sources of potential inspiration. Search them, explore them, and consider how they might apply to a future project.
2. Mix Up Your Routine
Change the way you look at things by changing the way you do things. If you regularly drive to work try taking the bus or riding a bike instead. Wake up an hour early, drink orange juice instead of coffee, soap first then shampoo. If you normally wind down each day with an hour of TV, instead use that hour to check out YouTube videos of people carving log bears with chain saws. If you normally skip to the comics in the Sunday paper, Choose a random page and read it instead.
There is no limit to what routines you can shake up, and you don’t have to make these changes permanent. Try them once or twice. Consider what you learned before going back to the way you were doing it. By shaking things up you will open yourself up to more inspiration and your well will grow deeper. Every experience can become a source of inspiration for a future project.
3. Always Study and Ask Lots of Questions
Continually increasing your understating and knowledge will positively affect your creativity. It is so important in a creative communicative industry to know at a little about everything. This broad-based knowledge influences the way you think about logo design, photography, a Facebook post, and everything else. If you are designing a logo for a company that cleans septic tanks than you need to know everything there is to know about septic tanks, plus you’ll be a real hit at the next septic convention you attend.
If you are continually learning you’ll have a huge advantage going into a new project. You can speak to the client in an informed manner. Your discussions will be productive and build credibility for you. Plus, you never know when your knowledge of Templar Knights iconography might come in handy.
4. Explore Old Books
Old books are a wonderful source of inspiration and a great way to fill the creative well. Obviously there are millions of old books and not every one of them is a gold mine of great ideas so here are a couple things to look for: Great/interesting typography, inspiring illustrations, unique photography, different binding techniques, cool covers, textures, foils, embosses, etc. Read anything that really grabs your attention. Each could influence your next project.
A few great places to look for old books are book fairs, which tour the country, thrift stores, second-hand bookstores, Amazon, eBay, flee markets, and more.
If you find a great book and it’s a reasonable price, purchase it and add it to your library. If your budget is limited take some pictures, write down what you like about it and make a sketch of it.
5. Find Good Websites
There are many great online resources for finding inspiration. Look for websites that offer fresh content from a wide variety of disciplines. This goes back to the idea of finding inspiration from a lot of different mediums. If you’re into photography find a website that posts beautiful woodwork. If you’re a sculptor find websites that highlight fashion or better yet, find websites that allow you to curate what you see and choose content that is inspiring, interesting, exiting, new, fresh, different, and unique.
Avoid getting trapped into going online as your only source of inspiration. If you are continually copying things you see then you’re taking ideas straight from the source and your well will dry up. Your ideas will become stagnant and your projects will grow stale.
6. Go on a Fieldtrip
Getting away from the computer and out of the chair is a great way to explore new ideas and add volume to your creative well. It is interesting that some of the most creatively challenging occupations require copious hours spent staring at glowing pixels on a screen. Getting out of the office is a great way to gain new insights. Plan frequent fieldtrips to museums, expos, science centers, galleries, and gardens. Even a trip to the zoo can be a great way to store away some ideas for future use. Leave your phone in the car.
7. Talk to People
We’ve established that ideas can come from anywhere and they aren’t limited to visual stimulants either. Any and all conversations can be a source of future inspiration. Talk to people about their area of expertise. Find out what they do and why they do it.
You might find yourself in a riveting discussion at a party about bee keeping only to pick up a new client a week later that needs packaging designed for honey business. Everything you just learned about bees can be used to come up with a creative and unique concept.
8. Look for Inspiration in the Everyday
As you begin taking extra measures to fill your creative well you will begin to think about things differently. Make conscious effort to look for inspiration in the everyday and you’ll begin to find it. Inspiration might come from birds sitting on a wire or from chalk drawings the neighbor kids made on the sidewalk.
Filling the creative well is much about seeing the world differently and as a giant source of inspiration. There are a million examples. Look at a stack of books at how they are arranged. Consider how the colors and textures interact. Would the stack look better if organized differently? Does its chaos add to its intrigue?
There is inspiration for future projects in everyday life you just have to keep your eyes open and start to think of things a little differently.
9. Look at Past Sketchbooks
Past sketchbooks are a great source of inspiration for future projects. There are several variations of how an old sketch can inspire you. Maybe you had a great concept for a past project, but a client got in the way. Try resurrecting the idea for a different project. Sometimes a past sketch in a different light for a different client can take on a whole new meaning.
10. Keep Track of Your Ideas
The key to applying past inspirations is to keep track of them. Carry a small notebook with you or, at the very least, create a dedicated list on your cell phone to jot down ideas. These ideas may not all be directly relevant to your projects and your job, but they all help to fill the well and be the inspiration for future projects.
So here you go—10 ways to fill your creative well and keep it full. And remember, you’re only as good as your next idea, so make sure it’s a good one. If you have any questions or comments shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In most industries mere mention of the word “speculation” cultivates images of risk, potential losses, dilution of assets, and mining for riches that never materialize. However, in the advertising and graphic design trade, speculation means something entirely different. For many practitioners spec work, as it’s often called, is considered a means to an end—the practice of accepting assignments without any guarantee of payment after the work has been completed.
In today’s marketing-driven business environment, it’s important to understand that spec work is not an appropriate component of effectively managing the creative process and getting the most from your ad agency or design firm. Here’s why.
False Hope and Bad Business
To the agency or firm, agreeing to spec work is ultimately based on the hope of getting a new account and walking down the proverbial Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City and big payoffs. Ironically, provisions for compensation are rarely announced in advanced. Instead, this practice almost always results in diminished hopes, diluted concepts, and most important, lost revenues for the artist or the firm. Businesses like to sugar coat the acceptance of spec work as “a shot at stardom.” Critics label it “prostitution.” At Catapult Strategic Design, we prefer to just call it “bad business.”
Most creative industries such as photographers, fine artists, and architects would never consider doing work without a contract to be paid. Why would an architect spend precious time and talent to design a beautiful building hoping that a prospective client might choose it and then set a value on the work? They wouldn’t of course. Why then do many ad agencies and some design firms readily give up their only true assets—their ideas and intellectual property—to gain favor with potential clients? The answers are as varied as the work that’s given away.
For years it’s been common practice for ad agencies to pitch a new account with ideas for an upcoming advertising campaign. The investment and risks involved are usually accepted by the agency because of the oft tremendous, ongoing revenues garnered from media placement should the agency win the account. Graphic designers, however, who typically do not enjoy these media commissions examine spec work much more critically. Either way, respected industry associations have long voiced warnings against this practice.
Hearers and Doers of the Word
Graphic Artists Guild’s, Pricing & Ethical Guidelines Handbook, reminds industry professionals that, “Speculative ventures, whether in financial markets or in the visual communications industries, are fraught with risk. Individuals who choose this course risk loss of capital and expenses…risk not being paid for the work, take valuable time from pursuing other paying assignments, and may incur unreimbursed expenses.”
The American Association of Advertising Agencies’ (AAAA) Standards of Practice states, “Unethical competitive practices in the advertising agency business lead to financial waste, dilution of service, diversion of manpower, loss of prestige, and tend to weaken public confidence…in the institution of advertising.”
And finally, the American Institute of Graphic Artists’ (AIGA) Standards of Professional Practice affirms, “A designer shall not undertake any speculative projects, either alone or in competition with other designers, for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used. This applies not only to entire projects but also to preliminary schematic proposals.”
Notwithstanding standards of practice and other clearly defined ethics, it can be difficult to be both “hearers and doers of the word.” This is especially true in tight, economic times when cutting marketing and advertising spending is always considered a business’ first income source to boost their financial bottom-line.
When the pot of business at the end of the rainbow appears substantial or when an agency or firm is given a chance to get into a new market, it’s tempting to say yes to spec work. Sometimes a design firm will say yes to spec work just to compete with an ad agency whose willingness to do spec work is part of their normal business practices. In these cases, both lose to some degree regardless of who is awarded the account.
It’s been said that the toughest word to say in the English language is simply, no. This axiom applies to advertising and design professionals as well when asked to consider performing spec work. Saying no should be considered a reflection of one’s business maturity, and not an implication that there’s plenty of work on the books already. Avoiding spec work is not about restricting free trade, but rather it’s about doing what’s right and what’s good for the industry.
Concept Work That Doesn’t Feel Like Spec Work
A number of years ago the largest specialty pet-related retailer in the U.S. approached Catapult Strategic Design about redesigning their entire line of premium store brand pet food. We were excited about the prospects of what would have been one of the largest pieces of business we had ever landed. Three firms from around the country were selected, including Catapult, to present a proposal for project work that would last a several months. There was one catch though. Each firm was asked to present their best new ideas for this product line.
No compensation was offered. Instead, they simply wanted us to learn, discover, prepare, develop, and present concepts on spec—on our own nickel and on our own time. Of course, we refused and politely explained why requesting and doing spec work was wrong. We then offered the following solution. Pay each firm $5,000 to develop a limited number of initial design concepts that meet some general strategic parameters. If our design firm was selected, we agreed to credit them $15,000 to cover the concept fees paid to all three firms. We were confident the other two firms would agree to these same terms.
The prospective client, however, was unwilling to assume any risk with what would have been a win-win offer for all parties involved. Nonetheless, they invited us to present our portfolio and capabilities to the team in spite of clearly being at a disadvantage to the other two firms who developed package concepts on spec.
A year later, I bumped into the brand manager of this company and asked him about the project, assuming it had long been completed. He said, “Even though the other two firms presented great design ideas and one of the firms was selected for the contract, we never actually executed the complete overhaul of our store brand and the project didn’t go much farther than the original concepts they did.” Surprise, surprise—once again, choosing the right was validated. Remember, giving away your ideas for free is nearly always a lose-lose proposition.
So, why does one say no to spec work in the first place? Here are three reasons to stand up for this principal, educate prospective clients, and add value to one’s reputation and goodwill.
1) Branding is First Strategic, Second Tactical
As marketing communication experts, it would be imprudent for an agency or design firm to even attempt to prepare creative solutions to a prospective client’s critical marketing issues without knowing their business. Without an established strategic platform or creative brief—the document that both client and agency should develop together—tactical solutions would be presumptuous. This strategic groundwork serves to accurately position a client’s visual communications. How can one reasonably help a new client without clearly understanding their business, customers, and competitors? Those who would submit spec work are not being strategic, but at best merely trying to be creative.
Potential clients should be reminded that successfully meeting their marketing objectives begins with intelligent, strategic thinking followed by great creative execution. To do otherwise is to invest valuable time and energy in hope of seducing the client with creative work that may never meet their critical marketing objectives.
2) Your Ideas Are Your Only Real Assets
A firm’s strategic ideas and creative solutions are their intellectual property and most valuable assets—like those of an accountant, financial planner, or even a software developer. These and other professionals, whose livelihood depends on their analytical and creative skills, would never give their time and talents on spec. A firm’s ability to create and protect its ideas is analogous to a programmer’s source code. One’s success depends on profitably selling these ideas. To give them away without compensation dilutes their inherent value.
3) Leverage Your Portfolio
Exploit Your Experience. A firm’s portfolio, experience and reputation in the marketplace should speak for itself. This should be underscored to the prospective business and can be accomplished by presenting past client work. Invite would-be clients to see firsthand how your firm has helped other companies and organizations build their brands and added value to their marketing communications. Leverage this work to enable potential clients to understand the process employed and any measured results of your firm’s work via client case histories. Use your firm’s experiences to help them envision what it can do for them.
Advertising and design practitioners have a professional responsibility to educate clients and elevate the value of their work. Saying no requires conviction and may even result in lost, short-term revenue. Yet, saying no for the right reasons can collectively help the industry by ultimately increasing the perceived value of one’s work and building long-term revenues for creative ideas and solutions. It also means successful mining yields gold by selling one’s services at fair prices and not through wishful speculation on tomorrow’s hopes.
1. Reflect the Brand
If you’ve not established a formal brand position statement for your product, service or company, this is the place to start before embarking on a new logo design project, a logo redesign, or even a logo-update project. The brand position statement will guide the design process and serve as a benchmark to evaluate all design concepts.
A good brand position statement is one that includes three highly inter-related components: the target market, the frame of reference and the point of difference. If you don’t know how to develop a brand positioning statement and an equally important creative strategy, then contact Catapult or someone else who does. If done properly and implemented effectively, it will be the best money you will ever spend on building your brand. You’ll move from being a “me too” representation of your brand to “this is what makes me different in the minds of my customers.”
2. Crave a Concept
A concept is a big idea—something that causes the viewer to ascribe positive feelings to the logo design. A concept could be as simple as a letterform that morphs into the shape of the product or service offered by the company. It could be a rendering style from a historical period intended to convey the long-term heritage of the company. It could be color choices that impart a sense of playfulness or seriousness or any other device that communicates meaning and links the viewer with the brand’s position. We know what you’re thinking and you’re right. Very few logos in the world have concept. If you think strategically before you act creatively you’re mark will be remarkable.
3. Strive for Originality
Originality means creating a logo that hasn’t been seen before, is out of the ordinary, stands out, and doesn’t bring to mind other competing brands. Don’t confuse feelings of familiarity though with lacking novelty. A sense of familiarity or comfort with a logo may be just what you’re looking for. Nonetheless, a logo with originality will be ownable and easier to protect as your legal trademark. An original logo will have differentiate itself among competing brands, bring more recognition, and arguably more sustained interaction with your target market. Originality is always enduring.
4. Be Memorable
Following rule numbers 2 and 3 will help your logo have memorability. That’s because being memorable is further strengthened by the proper use of a mnemonic device. These are sometimes unusual, clever twists, or some design element the viewer discovers when seeing the logo for the first time or even with closer examination.
The simple act of discovery brings a sense of accomplishment and attribution of intelligence to the brand by the viewer. Be careful though. The use of such devices must be recognized nearly instantly by all to avoid the dreaded reaction, “I don’t get it.”
5. Keep It Simple
In this information-overloaded world your brand may be viewed by your target for only an instant. Bold, simple shapes and uncomplicated color schemes and letterforms will command the most attention. It’s usually best to avoid complicated shading and tiny line work.
Avoid the temptation to create the State Seal look by using multiple images in an attempt to describe or present every aspect of your organization, product or service in one logo. Like a well-positioned brand, logos should be single-minded and focused on one user benefit or point of difference—the one you want users to identity with most readily.
6. Hit the Target
A critical consideration of branding is to know your target audience. It begins with understanding those characteristics that affect their behavior to choose a particular product or service. A logo targeted to teens will be very different in its tone and manner from a logo intended to appeal to engineers. Understanding factors that influence the target’s purchase decisions will be beneficial in guiding the logo development process
Various research and testing methods are available to determine which of your potential logo designs will resonate best with your target audience. Remember, it only hurts when you miss your target.
7. Don’t Ignore Equity
When updating or completely redesigning an existing brand it’s always wise to consider the existing equity of the current identity. Even though the current logo may not reflect updated brand positioning, it may have strong awareness among the target that should be taken into consideration. Typography, colors, shapes etc. may need only to be contemporized.
A drastic change in design may signal that the company, product, or service has changed too. Unfamiliarity is usually the key to undermining long-term brand loyalty—and the invitation to look elsewhere for comfort and security.
8. Consider Reproducibility
In today’s world a logo will be used in mediums that didn’t exist 20 years ago, which include interactive media and web-based applications. Gone are the days when the logo sat statically on a sign or business card. Effective design today considers all possible media—from uniform embroidery to web site animation. Achieving the proper balance between size, colors, and hierarchy of design across all potential applications can make a great logo or break a weak one.
9. Please Esthetically
Not only should a logo be unique and have concept, it must also be visually pleasing and balanced. Working with less skilled designers can be a frustrating experience, thus wasting time and money for mediocre and awkward results—all because of shortsighted budget constraints and time considerations. Always review a design firm’s portfolio and ability to think strategically. A design firm that’s been recognized with industry awards is one indicator that they are respected by their peers and can produce outstanding design
10. Deploy with Consistency
A great logo is only as good as its consistent and thoughtful applications. Brand standards manuals are often created to guide the application of the logo to everything from stationery and signs to uniforms and new media. An effective standards manual will set rules in a simple, compelling format that’s easy to understand and implement across multiple audiences. Like a good marriage, brand harmony is achieved with consistency and attention to detail.
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Catapult builds brands and moves them forward.
Using a process called Visual Intelligence,
we enable our clients to think strategically before
acting creatively—to transform their businesses into
remarkable brands, help them meet their
objectives and generate long-term value.