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I met Julia Reich at the NTC conference (at the 501 Tech NYC Happy Hour to be exact) and being the nonprofit marketing geeks we are, we started talking about the struggles that nonprofits face with design. We seemed to take a similar approach, so I asked Julia to guest blog for us. Her first post follows up on the discussion I started about style guides earlier this month by providing you with some real-life examples.
It’s not unusual that as an organization grows, your communication materials are created by various people. Before you know it, there’s five different versions of letterhead circulating around the office and your blue logo varies in shade from green to purple.
Consistency is Key. Inconsistency can be a problem. It’s crucial for a nonprofit to not only communicate their message clearly – what they do, how they do it, and who they do it for – but also to represent themselves visually in a consistent manner, so donors and other stakeholders will have an easier time recognizing your good work and understanding the case for supporting you. If you don’t communicate what your nonprofit stands for, intelligibly and distinctly, your audiences may become confused.
Style Guide Rules (or, Style Guides Rule!) Whenever my firm works on a branding project, our final deliverable is always a Graphic Design Style Guide (alternately referred to as Brand Standards or Brand Guidelines, if messaging and positioning were part of the branding process). The overarching need for such a manual is so that internally, your organization has a set of rules by which to create consistent communications collateral. The rules apply similarly to print and web usage – and Powerpoint, signage, a mug, the side of a truck, and any other media you can think of – although the specifics across media may vary. In essence, the Style Guide protects your organization’s message and your image.
Training Ensures Buy-In. Staff may need some instruction on how to implement their new style rules. For instance, along with the Style Guide, our clients receive a CD with their new logo in every possible file format necessary for usage with the above media. And while the manual explains when and where it’s appropriate to use each file, some explanation could be helpful for those not familiar with print production processes, or web standards. Training will also aid in getting everyone on board, ensuring buy-in throughout the organization for your new, or newly revised, visual identity.
Real Life Examples. Kivi’s post from April 12 was spot-on in terms of what is typically included in this document: logo usage, color palette, typefaces, and layout templates. If you’re a visual thinker like I am, it might be helpful to see examples of what this means. To that end, here are a few examples from style guides we’ve created over the years:
I’m currently enrolled in a 12-week class called The Certified Networker, held by the Referral Institute of Ithaca. In the class, I am learning how to develop relationships with people and create a referral network, which will help me grow my business. Part of this work involves enhancing my business image by developing a marketing communication strategy. This strategy includes developing a short introduction about who I am and what I do, and a longer, 10-minute presentation, which is what follows in this blog post. It should have an emotional-based marketing theme, and a call to action.
You know I am a graphic designer, and that I am owner of my business, Julia Reich Design. Let me tell you about myself and WHY I do what I do.
I grew up in NJ, in the suburbs. My father worked on Wall St. as a securities analyst, commuting over an hour each way into the city every day. I did not see him very much, and we were never very close. To this day I could not really explain to you what he did for a living. My mother (now retired), with whom I was closer, started out as a high school math teacher, eventually earning two masters degrees and becoming a learning consultant where she tested teenagers with learning problems – special ed kids – and making recommendations for appropriate schools or programs that would best serve their needs.
As a kid, my two main interests were animals, and drawing. When I went off to college, I thought I’d study to become a wildlife biologist. However, at about the same time I learned that scientists need to have an aptitude for statistics & math, I discovered environmental education – teaching nature to kids – which I loved. i was drawn towards education since i admired my mother and her career, so I went down that path, but in my own unique direction, based on my love for the outdoors.
In my 20’s, after college and then living in NYC, I was an environmental educator. In my last job in that role, I was education director of a nature center on the Hudson River. But more & more I found myself interpreting science lessons with art rather than science, culminating in an environmental & artistic tour de force that was a life-size, indoor, walk-through Hudson River marsh, that I made with my elementary school students.
Soon after, I took an evening class at the school of visual arts in NYC in graphic design, which really resonated with me. In a few more years, I left my education job to attend Pratt Institute, and got a degree in graphic design two years later.
In 2001 I started my own firm. I had worked briefly in a corporate setting, as an in-house designer, but the cubicle life was not for me. I found the hierarchies in those firms stifle creativity and meaningful personal relationships, and which make business development satisfying for me as a “solopreneur”.
Because I was familiar with the nonprofit world, this quickly became my target market, and remains to this day. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great organizations, educational institutions, and progressive businesses: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; GrowNYC (the org which runs the famous Union Square greenmarkets); Wildlife Conservation Society; National Environmental Education Foundation; Educational Video Center; Slow Food USA; Food Systems Network NYC; Hawthorne Valley Farm. These are the ones that have missions related to my own personal interests, that I feel passionate about, and are usually the most fun to work with. And that list hasn’t changed much since I was a kid – nature, environment, animals, and similar sectors – gardening, food, and anything that could be labeled ‘green or ‘sustainable’. And of course, education.
The services I provide for these nonprofits and progressive businesses include print design (such as brochures, reports, newsletters), web design, and branding. Branding is when I design not only a logo for a client, but create their entire identity, and often also aid them with positioning and messaging – how they communicate who they are in the marketplace. This is my favorite type of work because it is strategic and involves a deep Discovery phase, which is fun, because I really get to dig deep into who a client is – figure out their personality, what’s the story they want to tell, and then translate that into visual language. Once this is established, all those other things I just mentioned – reports, business cards, websites – will need to be designed using a consistent look, feel, and message. In essence, I help organizations create their identity from the ground up, by developing their character, logo, stationery and website – a strong visual gestalt that gets carried through everything else – packaging, advertising, eBlasts, and more.
I run my design firm as a “virtual” agency. By “virtual” I don’t mean “fake” – as I have an office, in Aurora. What I mean is that I work with a collaboration of experts that I hand-pick – professionals such as designers, developers, and photographers – but they mostly work offsite. These are teams of high-level talent that are custom-assembled for each client and project. As compared to a traditional brick & mortar office – with staff – I believe the benefits of a virtual model are manifold:
• Senior level talent. Each person has at least 10 years experience, and because they are all independent consultants, it allows for a more focused application of each expert’s individual skill set.
• Flexibility. To organize a top level team and do it quickly; and to change the team from project to project.
• Personalized service. One of my clients told me recently that the large branding firm they’ve been working with for several years sent their top execs to the first few meetings, but after that, meetings and phone calls were run by staff members who did not seem to be familiar with the client or the project. With the virtual agency model, there is no bait & switch from a senior team member to a junior-level person once the project is awarded. As creative director and project manager, I am always the point person.
• Value. Since I’m dedicated to working within my client’s budget most efficiently, my virtual agency rates are more reasonable and competitive as compared to medium and big firms.
I am growing my business, and maybe you, dear reader, can help me. One of my current clients is the Cornell Small Farms Program. To work with them, I became a “preferred vendor”. Now I can work with any department or program at Cornell, so I’d like to ask – if you know someone who needs graphic design services at Cornell, or knows someone who makes these kinds of purchasing decisions, would you be willing to introduce me to them? I would welcome the opportunity to talk to them about my business and how I may be able to assist them, and would be most grateful for your referral.
Once again, I’m Julia Reich, owner of Julia Reich Design, and I help organizations tell their stories, visually.
And if we ever went for a hike together, I could also teach you to how to identify birds by their calls, plants growing along the trail, and animal tracks in the snow. Oh, and anything you’d like to know about Hudson River marshes.
I’ve got branding on the brain – because I’m in the midst of several branding projects and also because I gave a workshop last night on the topic at Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, NY. Here’s a short excerpt from that talk.
If you are in the process of working with a design firm on a new logo design, here’s a handy list of criteria to determine whether your visual brand identity is effective or not. Is it:
Meaning may not always be readily apparent. I think that’s OK, as long as the meaning is there and the logo is not mere eye candy. For ex, do you know what the Nike logo represents? That famous Swoosh represents the wing in the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike.
The design must be appropriate to your company, your target market, and the business sector in which you operate.
So for example, when I designed this logo for Fort la Presentation Association – a small regional association that is in the heritage tourism sector (they are reconstructing an authentic French & Indian war fort on the St lawrence River in Ogdensburg, NY) – I probably don’t want it to look like a logo for a contemporary art museum. This is reflected in the STYLE of how the logo is constructed – typefaces I chose; colors; even how the icon is rendered.
The brand should reflect your personality and be appropriate to your industry you’re in and your client’s expectations. Are you:
-an innovator? show Creativity & flair
-experienced and reliable? show Quieter and conservative
-high cost/high quality? show Visual elegance, rich imagery
(thanks to fellow designer Lauri Baram for her inspiration here!)
Your visual identity must work well across media, scale, in black and white, and color.
In this example, we designed this logo for an environmental organization in NYC who has started to offer several products featuring the new design. We’ve also spotted it around town on kiosks, canopies, a carved pumpkin, and even the side of a building!
In marketing speak, this is sometimes knows as your Unique Value Proposition or Unique Selling Proposition. For instance, if you consider water bottle packaging – those companies have done a good job convincing consumers there’s a difference amongst waters that by now have been revealed to mainly be tapwater. But generally there IS something unique about your company, and you need to identify what it is.
More on how to arrive at THAT realization in a future post –
I had a lovely chat today with a friend who runs the communications dept at a small liberal arts school. Among other things, we discussed summer in the Finger Lakes (wonderful but busy), local winery marketing (mostly abysmal), her design needs (bountiful yet budget conscious), and my business (growing).
She said she constantly receives materials from creative professionals such as designers and writers, and admitted that if their promotions look too good or too slick, she tosses them, assuming they are too expensive. This is eye-opening for me, since my promotional materials need to look as professional as possible in order to communicate that I am in the business of design & marketing. Yet I also work with nonprofits and businesses that are on a limited budget. I will never be the cheapest design firm out there, but nor am I the most costly. I believe in getting fairly remunerated for my work, and understand how to help my clients gain as much value as possible from our business relationship and the products and services I create for them.
So here’s the dilemma. if you receive my promotions (via direct mail or online) or visit my website, you’ll see my firm does great work. But how do I effectively communicate the value I bring to an organization or institution? How can I prevent the next Communications Director or Marketing Director or Executive Director from seeing my stuff and thinking – ‘hey that’s beautiful, but I’ll never be able to afford it’ ?
How can I help them understand that the investment they make in strong, effective brand strategy and visual communication will help them save time & money in the long run?