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Case Study Week Three: Typography

Business cards and letterhead for Rosin Preservation. And a floaty pen! Because it's the 21st century, we created a digital version of the letterhead as well.

Business cards and letterhead for Rosin Preservation. And a floaty pen! Because it's the 21st century, we created a digital version of the letterhead as well.

Some design decisions are only arrived at after hours, days, even weeks of pondering, trying, failing and trying again. Others times they arrive at first blush, and are so naturally right that there’s no point in laboring any further. Our font section for Rosin Preservation followed the latter path.

They were using Helvetica, a sturdy typographic warhorse if ever there was one. We’re not opposed to that Swiss classic (both Target and Toyota, to cite two high-profile examples, employ it to excellent effect), but so many designers have defaulted to it for so many decades we’ve largely struck it from our list. 

Our font choice, Gotham, was developed in the year 2000 and achieved almost instant universal acceptance in the design community. It is so widely used today that we even refer to it as the Helvetica of the aughts (Our comparison is a compliment, not an insult!) The typeface has two antecedents, really: the hand-cut and hand-painted signs that pepper the New York streetscape; and the no-nonsense, geometric letterforms (think Futura) that were key components of the vocabulary of building and architectural signage in large American cities during the middle decades of the 20th century. We feel it's a perfect synthesis of geometric and humanist forms, and perfectly expresses our client’s historic preservation mission. Even better, it comes in a huge variety of widths and weights, permitting endless variety when developing a suite of branded materials.

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Case Study Week Two: Color

Once we got signoff on the logo design, we started developing color palettes. Rosin Preservation’s original color scheme was light blue paired with deep brown. In thinking through the update, we knew we wanted the color statement to be serious but not too corporate, and we wanted to extend the graphic personality of the logo styling, and express the personality and desires of the client.

A selection of graphic designs that inspired us as we developed a color statement for Rosin Preservation.

A selection of graphic designs that inspired us as we developed a color statement for Rosin Preservation.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. With its Deco vibe, we looked to 30s, 40s and 50s-era inspiration including book covers, travel posters, matchbooks and similar ephemera for color schemes. During this process our client showed us a picture from one of her projects that she loved, in particular noting the teal color on the door. One thing to remember is that color is not static and never exists by itself. How we perceive any single hue is forever influenced by its relationship to the other colors that are inevitably around it. We saw the teal, but also its relationship to the rusted steel frame surrounding it, the bluish-grey graffiti on top of it and the bricks and mortar adjacent to it.

The client's photo that led us to our final solution. 

The client's photo that led us to our final solution. 

This was precisely the inspiration we needed. Sampling directly from the photo generated a selection of colors that we then saturated and finessed into the the result you see above. By using colors that were inspired by historic building materials, and the patina they acquire over the years, we were able to develop a color scheme that feels modern, is visually pleasing and—importantly!—has purpose. The icing on the cake? The client is thrilled!

In our effort to keep these posts brief, we’ll talk about typography and share business cards and letterhead next week.

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Case Study Week One: Logo Redesign

Most of our projects begin with a clean sheet of paper and a lot of questions about brand promise, company mission and messaging, personality, goals and target audiences. This one was different. Having been in business for 10 years, Rosin Preservation had an established identity that they were proud of. And they didn’t want to confuse clients with a completely new design language because their core business wasn’t changing. They simply wanted a facelift, projecting a sophistication that would celebrate their decade milestone, honor their hard-won successes and feel of-a-piece with their new offices.

We began by deconstructing their existing logo. It had a distinctive '40s-era movie vibe (their first office was in Kansas City’s old Film Row block) that had graphic impact and was well-liked, but some of the letterforms were slightly inconsistent in line weight and spacing; the perspective lines that created the dimensional look didn’t all vanish to the same point; and that same perspective created a top-down point of view that felt a little awkward.

Take a look at the attached graphic for our design analysis and solution.


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    1. The dimensional shapes create letters of varying thickness and a point of view that looks down on the company name.  2. The incline upon which the name stands is too steep, creating an uncomfortable reverse rake and visual instability.  3. The “Preservation, LLC” text line feels incongruous with the hand-drawn “Rosin." Optically it is too heavy, and its placement nearly slides out of the circular form, creating visual tension and forcing the P to be clipped.  4. The lower arc does not precisely follow the curve of the upper arc, and truncates without apparent purpose.  5. Pulling the name out of the mark quickly reveals inconsistencies in spacing and line weight.

1. The dimensional shapes create letters of varying thickness and a point of view that looks down on the company name.

2. The incline upon which the name stands is too steep, creating an uncomfortable reverse rake and visual instability.

3. The “Preservation, LLC” text line feels incongruous with the hand-drawn “Rosin." Optically it is too heavy, and its placement nearly slides out of the circular form, creating visual tension and forcing the P to be clipped.

4. The lower arc does not precisely follow the curve of the upper arc, and truncates without apparent purpose.

5. Pulling the name out of the mark quickly reveals inconsistencies in spacing and line weight.

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    The redesigned logo addresses each of the trouble spots that we identified in the original.  We hand-drew the Rosin name, making sure that the letterforms were uniform in appearance and optically consistent without feeling mechanical. Set on a gentler slope, we’ve given them a more heroic stance — we are now looking up to the company — and set ‘Preservation’ in a contemporary font that is graphically sympathetic and is set at the same angle.  The circular forms are now complete. Offset and divided off-center, their proportions maintain a pleasing balance while creating an engaging interplay of positive and negative spaces. 

The redesigned logo addresses each of the trouble spots that we identified in the original.

We hand-drew the Rosin name, making sure that the letterforms were uniform in appearance and optically consistent without feeling mechanical. Set on a gentler slope, we’ve given them a more heroic stance — we are now looking up to the company — and set ‘Preservation’ in a contemporary font that is graphically sympathetic and is set at the same angle.

The circular forms are now complete. Offset and divided off-center, their proportions maintain a pleasing balance while creating an engaging interplay of positive and negative spaces. 


The new logo is crisp and contemporary. It honors the historical framework that is Rosin Preservation’s expertise while reflecting its 21st-century ethos. It offers a respectful, evolutionary (not revolutionary!) response to the client's needs. It nods to the past while positioning the firm for another decade of success, and establishes the groundwork upon which a unified graphic statement of print, digital and environmental platforms was built.

One final note: we always begin our design process in black and white because our objective at this point is to concentrate on form and legibility. Once we’re confident we have that nailed and receive client sign-off, we start exploring color palettes and supporting assets. We're writing about this next!

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CASE STUDY: A SUCCESS STORY

We don’t think of the firms we work with so much as “customers” or “clients” as we do partners. Why make the distinction? Because one of our core beliefs is that our successes are linked. Our wins are mutually beneficial. When they score, we score. When we’re successful, they are, too.

One partner that we’ve had the privilege to work with, Rosin Preservation, took a big step not long ago when they bought and rehabbed their own building. Concurrently they hired us to manage a brand uplift, including a new graphic identity, a new website, print and digital outreach, and public relations. The happy result? Extensive media coverage, several awards, increased online traffic and robust lead generation!

Over the next several weeks we’re going to walk through that project, addressing the challenges, the problem solving and the process behind each step, and its impact. We have a lot to share and insights that we're certain our readers will benefit from. We hope you enjoy the journey!

Next week. Logo redesign
Week 2. Color
Week 3. Typography
Week 4. A new website
Week 5. Public relations
Week 6: A two-pronged promotion

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Kansas City Design Week: The Successful, Surprising Details

MAD Creative had the honor of helping plan Kansas City Design Week. It’s a fall-to-spring task — as long as a school year, with most of the summer off.

The annual celebration, now in its seventh year, is worth all the time and effort because it shines light on the area’s remarkable talent pool. And there are always a handful of speakers who truly inspire. Shaping one of the week’s most ambitious events was an especially rewarding challenge.

MAD Creative helped choose five modern houses that Kansas City Design Week opened for the Homes By Architects Tour. The event took place on a beautiful spring Saturday in Roanoke, West Plaza and Mission Hills. Architects from DRAW Architecture + Urban Design, GastingerWalker&, Hufft Projects, RDM Architecture and Wendlandt & Stallbaumer Architects talked to guests about design philosophy, client needs and construction details on the self-guided tour.

The gorgeous architecture demanded a gorgeous identity for the tour itself, so we created simple, elegant signs and a booklet of striking photographs to tell the stories of each home.

What we love most about design is that it informs and delights — and occasionally, surprises. An architect we worked with on the tour said she was surprised by our design. At first glance, the linework on each of the booklet pages appears to be just that — lines. The architect: “They’re the rooflines of each of the houses!” Us: Happy dance.

We danced again when the April cover story of Spaces magazine featured a tour home that previewed the event. 

This inaugural tour succeeded on a macro level, too. It sold out. And by design, we’ll be repeating it next year. 

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Science Says: Five Benefits of an Attitude of Gratitude

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    Thinking about five things immediately brought to mind Charles Demuth's  I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold.  For this stellar painting we will always be grateful! Click the image to learn more about it.

Thinking about five things immediately brought to mind Charles Demuth's I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold. For this stellar painting we will always be grateful! Click the image to learn more about it.

Author Melody Beattie delivers the quintessential quote for the giving season: Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

We’re giving thanks for gratitude and for the research that supports it. Learn five benefits gratitude can give back to you!

1.  Improved health. Grateful people will have 10 percent fewer stress-related illnesses, be more physically fit and have blood pressure that is lower by 12 percent. Overall positive emotions can add up to seven years to your life, according to the John Templeton Foundation, which funds gratitude research studies worldwide.

2.  New opportunities. Giving thanks goes beyond politeness. Showing appreciation can help win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion, the journal of the American Psychological Association. The research found that thanking a new acquaintance — whether it’s saying “thank you” or sending a note — makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.

3.  Better sleep.  Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend 15 minutes jotting grateful sentiments before bed, and you might sleep better and longer.

4.  More money. Grateful people’s income is roughly 7 percent higher, according to the John Templeton Foundation.

5.  Greater happiness. Gratitude reduces negative emotions such as envy, resentment, frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being that confirm being grateful reduces depression and increases happiness.

 

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Case Study: A BIG Event

AIA Invitation final.png

The challenge
The American Institute of Architects Kansas City hired us to reboot its annual officer election event to entice more members into participating. 

We felt honored and up to the task because we believe in the power of the profession. Architects shape the world — Kansas City included — into inspiring places to live. We wanted to dream BIG like them.  

The solution
We brainstormed the theme of BIG in our initial conversation with AIA Kansas City and crafted a new identity around that: AIA KC BIG NIGHT.

BIG implies heft and lots of possibilities. For the event logo we settled on a typographic solution that we felt the intended audience would fully embrace: the simple, beautifully proportioned typeface Gotham set in a way that playfully explores positive/negative space while generating a Bright Lights, BIG City vibe. The subject line for the Save the Date heralded “Something BIG is about to happen!” The invitation contained lots of BIG wording. We created BIG stuff for the event.

The results
There was a significant bump in attendance from previous years and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the institute. BIG win! 

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First MAD on the Moon — and 10 Other Awesome Summer Sitings!

What a MAD summer it’s been! Let us count just a few of the ways.

 

We’re already counting the days until the end of the school year in 2016 so we can explore this beautiful MAD world — uninterrupted — once again!

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Stick 'em Up!

Stickers, pin-backed buttons, rubber stamps and getting letters in the mail… So many of the simple pleasures we loved in grade school are still just as much fun for us today. That — and our never-ending quest to be our own best client — was all the reason we needed to create MAD stickers and buttons for ourselves.
 
Want some? We’re happy to share. All you have to do is ask! Send us an email — be sure and include your mailing address — and we’ll ship some your way. Pin them to your kid’s backpack or your favorite baseball cap, or stick them on your luggage during summer vacation. In return, all we ask is that you email a pic showing how you went MAD. We’re eager to see how far, how wide and how creatively our readers can spread the MADness! Act quickly, because when they’re gone, they’re gone!

Sounds fun! Send me MAD Swag!
 

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10 steps to a winning email sig

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If there were a game show called “Stump the Designer,” creating the perfect business email signature would definitely be the final round.

So many colors, so many fonts and so many social media icons add up to so many details that can easily make you — and the company you represent — look less like a professional and more like a love-struck high schooler.

Keep in mind the purpose of an email signature: It elevates your brand by providing the best ways to communicate with you at your place of employment.

MAD Creative aims to win “Stump the Designer” and show you how to claim email sig victory.

SKIP THE SUPERFLUOUS

Logos and other images. As much as it pains us — since we are identity designers — including logos in an email sig is trouble. It can add an email attachment (which can confuse) or leave behind a blank box (which can annoy). Yes, you can add alt text coding to embed images into sigs, but they often look a little fuzzy, like they’ve been smeared with petroleum jelly. Your sigs also should be free of photos, emoticons, gifs and other graphics files including…

Social media icons. Most businesses use at least one or two social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Including icons on your sig is good branding for those companies but bad for your own. A string of those icons looks cluttered and takes attention away from your business. And they’re ineffective — do you remember ever clicking on a social media icon in an email sig? Didn’t think so. (Keep reading for a more effective method of using social media in your signature.)

Quotes, blurbs, mottos and taglines. They aren’t necessary and they can inadvertently alienate. Save the personality of quotes for your personal email account sig. And because it’s 2015 and we have evolved, avoid the preachy “Be green and don’t print this email!”

Fax numbers. These really date your business. Faxes are still used once in a while but not enough to warrant real estate in your sig.

Phone brand. If you use your mobile to write company email, go to your settings to change the default sig that advertises what type of phone you’re using. Add your company email signature instead.

REMEMBER THE RELEVANT

Contact information. Include your direct phone number and mobile line if it’s applicable. Include a link to your website, your company’s 24-7 brand advocate. It’s good to include your actual email address with a link because it can reinforce your company’s web address and be clicked on to begin a clean email string. In some instances — if you own a store — it’s also helpful to include your physical address.

Readability and style. Think of email signatures like a classic business suit. Stick to black, blue and gray and you won’t go wrong because in typeface they are the most readable colors. Use a sans serif font (Helvetica or Arial, never Comic Sans!) in a size from 9 to 12 points. We like using a horizontal signature with pipes separating contact points. Then when it stacks vertically on mobile viewing, it looks organized and professional.

Legality. It’s sometimes important to include a disclaimer with an email signature. If your company is updating its signature, make sure you have a disclaimer if you need it, but make it a point or two smaller than your contact information.

Calls to action. Social media can be effective on a signature with a hyperlinked call to action such as “Like Us on Facebook” or simply “Facebook.” Limit to no more than three types of social media. Other email sig calls to action can include “Get Directions” and “Sign Up for Our Newsletter.”

Consistency. Make sure your team is using the same type of signature. It gives your customers confidence that you’re communicating effectively with them since you’re communicating effectively with each other.

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Brains Behind the Brand: Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten spoke at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Ina Garten spoke at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Millions of people are fans of Ina Garten, known for her “Barefoot Contessa” Food Network show and cookbooks.

Audiences adore her because she makes entertaining seem easy and approachable. How does she make hosting a sophisticated dinner party look so simple? By sharing useful information like a coveted friend who has the scoop on all the secret sources in town. Her advice on cooking (add coffee to chocolate desserts to make them more chocolate-y) and decorating (use monochromatic blooms to create a harmonious floral arrangement) will never steer you wrong.

So when Garten spoke about entrepreneurism in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s “Ideas of March” series, the at-capacity crowd knew they were in for a treat.  Indeed; now that it’s April, Garten’s words continue to inspire.

“I don’t like to sit in a classroom; I like to do,” Garten told her audience of college students and fellow entrepreneurs. “I like not knowing what’s coming. I love solving problems. I love making decisions.”

Instead of delivering a presentation, which is essentially what Garten does with each episode of her cooking show, she held a conversation on stage with Kansas City food writer and philanthropist Mary Bloch.

“If you love it, you’ll be really good at it,” Garten said of entering the business world.

While working as a policy analyst in 1978 in the White House Office of Management and Budget, Garten felt creatively unfulfilled. She spotted a New York Times ad for a gourmet shop in the Hamptons called “Barefoot Contessa.” Although she had a passion for food and entertaining, she’d never run a business before.

“You can always stand on the side of a pond and find a million reasons not to jump in,” she said. Intrigued, she made a low offer and was surprised it was accepted.

Garten said learning from role models is critical. Hers were Julia Child and her love for French cuisine, and Eli Zabar with his Manhattan food empire.

Garten built up the “Barefoot Contessa” store and sold it to two employees in 1996. She began writing cookbooks that became bestsellers, leading to her own Food Network television show in 2002 — this is when she really became famous.

Garten’s shows feel authentic because she has her real friends over for meals and parties. Many of the episodes feature her husband, Jeffrey, who as a Yale international business professor, is no slouch himself.

Garten declines offers to launch a magazine and endorse products because she “wants a life” and intends to protect the business she has built. She initially turned down the television series, too, but producers kept nudging. That willingness to let yourself go outside of your comfort zone, she said, can be the key to bigger and better opportunities.

 

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Jessica Hische’s Words Earn An ‘A’

You hear about people roadtripping to catch a concert or a sporting event. But a lecture by a graphic designer? Never!

Jessica Hische demands the exception. A rock star in the design world, she belts out brand work for big-time clients including Starbucks, MailChimp and director Wes Anderson.

So when I saw that she’d be speaking to AIGA in Omaha, I bought a ticket and gleefully made the three-hour trek, never mind the forecasted three to seven inches of snow.

Hische’s name topped the marquee of Omaha’s Waiting Room Lounge, fittingly, a music venue. Seven months pregnant, she explained that the sold-out show would be her last speaking engagement for a while.

Hische is a letterer, not to be confused with a calligrapher who uses a pen or brush to create typographic flourishes. A letterer draws letters. Her breakout hit was Daily Drop Cap, a blog she started in 2009 featuring all 26 letters in the alphabet, drawn one by one over a dozen rounds.

As fascinated as I am by these elaborately illustrated letters — especially the scrolling snake of an “S” — it is Hische’s informative and passionate explanations about design that delight me. Her “Should I work for free?” flow chart (surprisingly, sometimes the answer is yes) is required reading.

Hische’s talk in Omaha, “Remember the Analog,” centered on her creative process for clients. Like most of us, she’s tethered to the digital world through social media and email. But doing one’s finest work requires unplugging. “The best time is no-computer time,” she said.

Her design work is characterized by impeccable style backed with substance. To achieve that she does a lot of research. A LOT of research! When she collaborated with Penguin Books on a series of 26 drop-cap book covers, she spent a year and a half reading the books. Through that discovery process, characters in the classic books informed the letters.  

Brainstorming also is an important step. Hische opened up her sketchbooks to show lists of word associations that inspired her drawings.

“The creative process takes time,” she said. “So it’s best to love the journey.”

Penguin Drop Caps  with Jessica Hische

Penguin Drop Caps with Jessica Hische

When it’s time to present concepts to a client, Hische advises to always play your A game — easier said than done in this expect-it-yesterday world. After one client complained that she sent jpegs of sketches, she began taking the time to send PDFs with explanations of her thought process captioning her designs.

“It’s like showing up to a party in black tie when you don’t know the dress code,” she said. “At least you know you’ll be the best dressed one there.”

Hische’s hour-and-a-half talk felt like 5 minutes. I wanted the crowd to clap for an encore to bring her back for more. They didn’t, but no matter. Hische had already given us plenty to think about for the long drive home. 

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