Bringing back the paper pop ups – Nescafé

The idea of sharing a moment through conversations and coffee breaks has been reinforced in Nestle’s latest newspaper advertisement. When you open up the papers, they are equipped with two foldable mugs packed with instant coffee (does it come with cream and sugar, by the way?). You are then encouraged to unfold these cute paper mugs and fill them with hot water to create an instant drink with someone around you (presumably someone whom you’d like to talk to). The idea is to share a moment with those around, while reinforcing the brand benefit.

I love the execution. It turns a simple idea (reminds me of my childhood pop up books) into a wonderful conversational piece. It becomes unique in today’s marketing strategy which is often very digitally based with the use of new technology. For these cups, they are recyclable and don’t cost much to do too!


Designers are also Salespersons

Part of being a designer is that you need to sell your designs and big ideas. It’s like being a salesman. You need to know the benefits and selling features of a product or service in order for someone to buy it. As a designer, we have to promote and show why our designs are great and how they will benefit our Clients. I believe that a strong designer is also a strong salesperson. It is useless if you have all these great ideas in mind but have no way to translate that vision into words. Designers need to sell their work for somebody out there to appreciate and a chance for it to be utilized. I definitely think it is an incredible feeling to be able to market your expertise and have your client buy off what you’re trying to sell them.

Here are my tips that I find always work for me when trying to sell my ideas or propose any design strategies:

      1. Do research. Have similar clients or companies done something like you are proposing? How do they benefit from it? Use similar case studies to get your point across.
      2. Understand your clients. Stand in your client’s shoes. If you have to help your clients rebrand, you need to live and breathe the brand yourself. Learn their culture. It’s not as simple as understanding just the brand guidelines. Go beyond that. How do they do business? How do they interact with their customers or employees? What kind of problem are they trying to solve? What message or objective do they have behind?
      3. Back up with rationale. Don’t just design for the sake of designing or tell your clients, “because it looks good”. Aesthetics can be very subjective. So you got to back up your design or ideas with concrete reasons that will help their business or brand. For example, if you pick a particular colour, explain your choice. Perhaps, it will not clash and compliment well with your client’s brand etc.
      4. Talk with confident. Clients will not likely to be sold if you are unsure of your own design or in doubt. They are able to tell from the way you speak and gesture of your presentations. So speak up, sit or stand still, breathe and sell it. Do not afraid of questions. Answering these questions, make your client more comfortable and believe in your ideas
      5. Be prepared. This also goes hand in hand with the previous point. I believe that when you are well prepared, you will automatically be confident. Before the presentation or meeting, prepare yourself. Go over your designs or ideas, jot down some key points or highlights that you need to mention. Sometimes, it is nerve wrecking to have to present ideas in front of a group of people to an extent where a brain will just turn off completely (at least mine will!), so having some main points in a notebook can be useful as a quick reference to what you have to say
      6. Let them know and feel that you are excited. After all, it is your design, it is your baby. If you are excited, chances are your clients will as well and look forward to the final product
      7. Learn to compromise. There are times when you have to let go and sacrifice some elements a bit. After all, the clients are your boss. They pay the bucks. Learn how to let go of something if your clients are very strong about where they stand but in return suggest an alternative. Get a mutual agreement or try to get the best of both worlds.

What are some of the tips you have when you are selling your designs or ideas?

Image Credit: Shana Theoret

2 Days of Thinking for Designers – Part II

After a book full of notes from Design Thinkers Day 1, I had my pen and new notebook ready for the second day. We began Day 2 with David Butler from Coca Cola with his talk about Embracing Complexity. There’s a difference between complicated and complex.

  • Complicated means it is difficult to understand; for example a remote control
  • Complex means many different and connected parts

Since the world is more complex than before, we cannot not design and have to design for scale and agility. He then shared some case studies targeting China and Africa, how Coca Cola managed to fulfill the needs specifically to those groups in the market.

Next up was Susan Bradley. It was surprising for me that she started in Disney with minimal animation experience and knowledge and eventually became a Title Designer at Pixar. The world has definitely changed and it is very less likely to get your foot at the door if you do not know what you are doing nowadays, unless you can prove that you have phenomenal talents and endless creativity to serve. Each project she was involved in requires extensive amount of research and attention to every single details. The story is the king that gives people space for imagination and meanings. It speaks differently to different people.

Then, I picked Andy Pratt’s session about Digital Branding. It seemed to be one of the popular talks seeing that it was full house in the room. He made me look really unaccomplished with his work experiences and achievements. He first started with showing cultural and symbolic connections. The Nazi symbol perhaps is one of the best visual propaganda and has eventually become a symbol of hate that suggests a sense of fear or pressure. Then, he pointed out Usain Bolt’s famous hand gesture after he broke the record or Michael Jackson’s moon walk are examples of creating a brand of their own. It’s interesting in today’s world that more brands want to be more human or personable and humans want to become a brand. In the end, what separates your brand from your competition is the features and functions, categorized as follows: Complimentary, Synergetic, and Symbolic .

  • Complimentary: are embodied in the product or service – adds personality
  • Synergetic: create and effect that is larger than the individual elements, for example, Parkodes (QR codes) for Central park interactivity
  • Symbolic: are so integrated, that the brand will fail if this is removed, for example: removing search from Google.

As a final reminder, Andy shared 8 key points about branding and how our designs work with the brand.

  1. It’s still about our users – They are the Judge/Jury
  2. Content is still the king (they don’t care where it comes from, they only care about good user interface or experience
  3. Context is the key to the kingdom: Actions and behaviours will not make sense without understanding context
  4. It’s a fine line between great and gimmick. Don’t throw in everything but only those ones that are special and useful
  5. Function can and should reduce form
  6. Collaboration between designers, UX designers and developers is a must
  7. Not all actions should be owned: they are opportunities and features that will be good for interactive
  8. Branded functionality is part of the larger system

Afterwards, I attended Julia Hoffman from MoMa to talk about her last minute change to her topic, Design Thinking. Honestly, I was disappointed at first as I felt more related to her original topic of “Non-profit + in-house + low budget = creativity”. But soon after, she wowed us with her challenges working as a Creative director and how she overcomes these obstacles while working in-house with strict brand guidelines that need to adhere to. Like certain brands, MoMa uses a set typeface, but she is able to break it down, use it with different materials, play with it to make it more creativity than its original form. Although, she thinks that design thinking consists of Empathy, Creativity and Rationality but at the end of the day, it is the gut feeling that is more important for the designers. She even shared a case study which a project of hers was unsuccessful and eventually she had to just let it go. “If something is not working, kill the project”.

Then, next session was a bit different. I was at Justin Ferrell’s strategic talk about creative confidence and it turned out to be more than just sitting and listening. Everyone in the room was encouraged to play rock, papers and scissors with the one next to you and the winner will play against another winner while the losers will cheer for the winner. At the end, there will only be one winner left and that will be the last man standing. It was quite nerve wrecking  while having over 50 people cheering for you to win against another winner. Somehow I managed to win every round until the final battle. Justin’s point is that in order to create a risk taking culture, designers need to be vulnerable and face all sorts of criticisms and judging. He talked about the difference between conversion and divergent thinking. He shared with us his favourite childhood story, “Very worried Walrus” from Sweet Pickles; you never know what you can accomplish until you give it a try. There are endless possibilities to a problem and we should not just talk about an idea but to quickly prototype it and test it.


To wrap up the last day of Design Thinkers, Stefan Sagmeister showed us the Happy Film and shared his tactics of achieving happiness as a designer and explored the chances to design pieces that induce happiness in the audience. “‘style = fart’ was the headline of a theory that style and stylistic questions are just hot air and meaningless. I discovered that this is simply not true. Through experience I found that if you have content that is worthwhile, the proper expression of that content, in terms of form and style, is actually very important.”

His tactics to make sure his work remains a calling (intrinsically fulfilling) without deteriorating into a job are:

  • Thinking about ideas and content freely – with the deadline far away
  • Traveling to new places
  • Using a wide variety of tools and techniques
  • Working on projects that matter to me
  • Having things come back from the printer done well
  • Designing a project that feels partly brand new and partly familiar
  • Working without interruption on a single project
  • Getting feedback from people who see our work

Now, that marks the end of Design Thinkers of 2012. I look forward to another brilliant insights next year.

2 Days of Thinking for Designers – Part I

It’s the time of the year for Design Thinkers Conference. It always seems to happen at around the same time of year. Last year was my first time attending the conference, it was informative, useful and inspiring. Most speakers talked about their work process, how they started their career or how they merged into the digital world and tips to become better at the field. Find recaps here.

With last year’s in mind, I was already very excited before it actually started and I could not help myself but to compare it with this year’s conference. First thing I noticed from this years is that Design Thinkers have learned their lesson from their last tragic origami giveaway bag and made them more practical instead of having them over the top design-ish. After all, a good design needs to be practical enough for people to use. If nobody uses it, the design is probably bad or just ugly.

Perhaps, it was because of the horrible hurricane Sandy, some speakers were unable to attend at the last minute. I won’t blame them and I greatly appreciated those who still took the effort and made it to the conference for us designers.

We started our day with the talk by Harry Pearce – how ideas found him? by finding rocks, typographic junks in his language such as graffiti on walls or other cultural writings from any part of the world. His ideas may appear by chance, by accident or by way of nonsense. Such nonsense can help liberate your way of thinking. They are everywhere around us, it’s just a matter of connecting with them. He encouraged designers to have an open mind and open to different medias like film etc. to gather bits and pieces into one single image. I actually found a lot of similarity with Harry, ideas come from everywhere for me and I collect images of random license plates. Whenever I pass by one, I snap a photo of it. I am slowly building a library of it too, check it out here and feel free to add to the collection.

Next, up was Tom Eslinger instead of the scheduled Lisa Strausfield due to a last minute emergency. As an creative director for Saatchi & Saatchi, Tom shared his views on design and mobile experiences. He suggested that when designing, we should think about how our design reacts in different environment, how it behaves overtime and how it moves through space. Designers should design everything ‘Mobile First’. Here is some simple rules from Tom:

What does good mobile ideas have in common? – Sharable, Utility, Portable and Personable. Tom shared some examples of work that connect us to brands, communities and the stuff we love, such as Lego® Life of George. How the design “gamified” lego and introduce kids to simple story telling. The interface resembles much like scrapbook, what we are used to see but incorporated with new technologies and are now sharable to friends and portable to anywhere with you.

I attended the talk from Glenn John Arnowitz on Survival Strategies for In-House Creative Department of One (or Two). As the sole designer in my department in-house at where I am working now, I feel that I can definitely benefit from some tips. Some of the tips are to always back up your design decisions with rationale, gain client’s trust by speaking by your skills and experience, reinforce the message of sharing same goals with your team when working together and keep your clients in the loop. A good design brief will also help define criteria, objective, deadlines and deliverables (this is definitely something I got to stress out to my Clients for). After a project is finished, Glenn also suggested to do a post evaluation of lesson learned in this project for the future. When work is given, we should put tasks first then projects into different buckets.

  • Tier 1: Work that requires a lot of time or conceptualizing
  • Tier 2: Work that are production base with some creativity
  • Tier 3: Simple production work or house cleaning

At last, he shared the 3Ps theory with the designers, which is to be Proactive, be Prepared and be Protective.

  • Be Proactive: work remotely to refresh, think ahead of what’s coming down the pipe
  • Be Prepared: Try to cover tasks, or partner with a freelance
  • Be Protective: Growing your own reputation and credibility

After this session, I joined the Think Like a Publisher for Digital Magazine Designs with Stephen Hart. This one unfortunately was a bit of a disappointment for me. It was nothing more than promoting and selling Adobe products to designers, how the program can now manage, measure and monetize and make all in one. However, one thing he did mention that was worth note taking is that, the more (or better) interactivity, the longer the audience is likely to stay. I didn’t realize but it is indeed true, now that I’m thinking about it I should probably add more interactivity on this blog as well.

Mike Kruzeniski inspired us with Things to Make talk. There are too many cheap designs than smart designs out there. Designers are the strategic assest of a company. They should bring themselves closer to the product to gain more direct relationship for a better design. If designers can bring all the design, business aspects, entrepreneurship and social channeling together then they can provide a creative solution.

Chris Hacker from Johnson and Johnson had the most engaging talk of the day for me. He first started with saying “Marketers are from Mercury and Designers are from Pluto” – best quote of the day. He shared his company’s sustainability effort in creating a better world and encouraged all designers to always put the planet in the forefront when designing anything. He then shared a case study of recycling an excessive 200,000 empty lipstick cases into a branded artistic wall panel now installed in the corporate office. The wall also acts as a reminder for the staffs in at J&J to always be environmentally responsible, kids can fill in these cases with their wishes for the planet.

Lastly, to close off the first day, we have Lisa Strausfeld. She shared her expertise in visualizing data and what kind of data visualizations will succeed and fail. The two main purposes for Data visualization is: Exploration (general audience) and Exploration (for experts).

That wrapped up for day 1. Stay tuned for part two for the second day!

What to do in a Creative Block?

I’m pretty sure most designers and copywriters have experienced some kind of creative blockage at a point in the career. There are certainly many solutions to get you over the puddle but personally, I find stepping out of the current project and get my mind completely onto something else help me a lot. That ‘something’ maybe just browsing online blindly, with no sense of what will come up on the web.

This one time during a creative block, I did my usual thoughtless search on the web and landed on a page that has served as a refresher for me ever since.

Be sure to check this site out when you’re stuck too.


Image Credit: Crafting Connections

Graphic Design Rips Offs or Inspiration?

A very interesting article that I read recently from Just Creative Design on how you draw the fine line between Plagiarism and Inspirations. How do you define and separate from one another? I think that is a common question and problem encountered by most designers.

I personally need inspirations all the time. But my inspirations can be from anything and anywhere. It does not necessary come from a source of another designer. It can be from a historical painting, a tree in a park, the expression on my mom’s face, the joke from my boss or even the hash tags from my twitter feed. Though, cliché but sky really is the limit. It depends heavily on how detail-oriented of a person or designer you are, to notice symbols or elements that are not obvious to the eye.

I define plagiarism as copying and rip-offs to the most obvious sense. It has no other twists or extensions from the original and the result is at its surface level only. Inspiration for me, on the other hand, is a lot deeper. It involves taking one small piece of an element and adding your own touch and style on another area that may not have been done before. In the end, it also needs to make sense. Why was it done this way? What was the reason behind it? When using or “borrowing” a design/style, it has to serve a purpose on your work and not just because it looks cool and pretty. To put it in an example, let’s say if I were to do a poster for a Pin up party. I would probably apply the graphical style or font styles of the era to draw the connections while adding my own modern twists and design aesthetics. It wouldn’t make sense in this case to use a different style since it has a very distinctive time reference. That to me is inspiration, the style inspired me on the design approach to create elements or content of my own. If it was to be plagiarized, it would be picking up a poster in the archive and done it in the exactly the same way.

Of course, there are also times when you looked at something you thought is really clever and the idea or concept popped back up awhile later subconsciously, and you thought you created the idea yourself. But even then, when those time come, the work that you’ve created will already be different because you’ve “washed” it in your head. Your work will then have your own style and flare than as if you were to photocopy off side by side.

Image Credit: francesca iannaccone