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A Nod to Grace

Monday, December 30th, 2013

garden1Recently, a colleague shared an opinion that we are living in an era absent of graciousness. It’s true. More than anyone, I am guilty of trying to meet a new level of expectations and, in the process, I demand more than ever of the IridiumGroup team, not to mention my own family and friends. It goes beyond disruptive business economy. We lose sight of the important things, cut communications short, and drive to deliver on all fronts. The loss of grace is an epidemic, but if there was ever a time to redress it and make amends, the time is now.

As we all consider 2013, look ahead to 2014 and reset our own personal and professional strategies, I want to extend a humble, heartfelt expression of gratitude to client managers, friends, staff, and suppliers. The group that works in our office and the critical network of peers around the world have supported me, our clients and our own operations as an on-demand team that delivers on a variety of needs. Impossible deadlines, daunting requests, changes that indeed have a wise rationale and logic — but sometimes defy explanation — are all our stock in trade. Without them, we wouldn’t have the sense of purpose and accomplishment that we do.  At the end of a year like this, I want to share my appreciation for each of you who have contributed your insights and knowledge, and given a large network of people your support.

To clients who continue to present new challenges and opportunities to our team (and exercise patience in some cases), we are grateful to have the relationships that we have. I remember thinking in 1995 that I was starting a business to earn a living; I could never have realized how many ways that the relationships I built and continue to build have enriched and taught me. Thank you all.

New Website
A new year, a new way of doing things, calls for a communication platform to share those values and ideals. A new IridiumGroup website — one focused on transparency and rich with ideas, case studies, and examples of creative best practices — will be launched on January 6. I invite everyone to review and share your opinions. If you are receiving this email, you are in a trusted circle of friends and professional associates whose opinions I honor and value. Please provide your ideas for how we can amend and improve our own practices in digital marketing. We will be updating and refining the site through the winter based on your feedback.

Children having picnicMost importantly, thank you all for your support of our group and our efforts as we enter our 20th year in business. My view of business is one of people serving each other. It goes without saying, but always bears remembering that without the relationships and people connected to our company, we are nothing. My best wishes to you for 2014. Together, we can accomplish truly amazing things. I wish you all a renewed inspiration to live your life to the fullest.


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Visual May Not Be So Superficial After All

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Screen shot 2013-11-09 at 9.38.32 AMIn the mid 1980’s, Billy Crystal famously portrayed a fictitious Latin talk show host named Fernando on SNL, and immortalized a catch phrase, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

It was all a joke, of course. Our recognition of the ridiculousness and vanity of the statement was what made us laugh. Yesterday, as I watched a viral video that is gaining popularity, it made me wonder about the relationship between feeling (and being good) and the look of something.

Degage Ministries sponsored a makeover of homeless Army veteran Jim Wolf of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wolf, disheveled and downtrodden, is shown plainly, staring stoically into the camera as a time-lapse sequence reflects a dramatic transformation:

This morning as I read the news, I found a compelling article in The Wall Street Journal that shares the results of a study on adolescent photos, and whether the expression of a subject (specifically, the smile or disposition) could possibly determine things like future success, happiness, divorce rate, etc.

For someone who has worked in visual design for brand and marketing over the past 30 years, I’ve spent a lot of time belaboring the relationship between strategy and design, the importance and order of form and function. I’ve been in my share of meetings where design was relegated to its place as “implementation” or “execution,” far behind the research and strategic planning functions.

Yet, I know how much tangible value we have imparted with a smart, appropriate redesign, a simple, instinctive overhaul of the visual representation of brand. There were plenty of times when our client managers simply did not have the resources for front-end research, or even very much in the way of strategic planning.

Each day, I see existing client communications and marketing products that, given the chance, I am absolutely certain — with 100 percent conviction — we could transform, showing an immediate, drastic improvement in performance for our clients. I know of at least ten flagship brand products at this very moment that would benefit from an Iridium-led redesign and relatively speaking, it would not need to cost a great deal. The improvement in engagement-factor alone and resulting business benefits would far outweigh our modest fees.

Strategy is, of course, critically important. But a design firm with an experienced, team of proven, skilled, specialized professionals can deliver game-changing value to an organization. As with Jim Wolf, the right visual design can make the entire enterprise behave differently. It can impact business value. We make marketing and communications more engaging and compelling, more easily read, more inspirational. We find ways to bring sleepy brands to life.

Smart, appropriate design can add credibility to organizations. We can revitalize communications with exceptional content that, so often, are not earning the same trust through their existing presentation and delivery of information.

These days, many of us are so focused on social, digital, research, and metrics — on simply populating content across multiple channels — that we seem to have lost altogether the importance of the actual experience for customers.

The experience of a brand for the end-user is sometimes considered an automated function of expression, the result of an internal team that executes through template tools as a routine. A thoughtful, responsible challenge to that process — to the look and feel of how you express who you are, what you believe in, and what you deliver — can yield a substantial, important difference for the entire enterprise. And it can energize the internal team as well as external audiences.

Sometimes, as it turns out, looking good truly can have a dramatic affect on being good.


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Judging a Book by Its Cover

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Creative Package DesignIt’s a part of marketing and advertising that we rarely hear about, read about, or even take the time to think about, but package design is a critical part of how we make purchasing decisions. In today’s cluttered, time-pressed climate, an engaging design has mere seconds to win over customers.

Speaking as a designer, it’s a specialized area for independents and small firms, a discipline that requires custom units or teams within the large agencies. The process for manufacturing and the materials all change so rapidly that to work in packaging, one needs to work almost exclusively in this niche.

Through partner Taschen Publishing, Pentawards — the only worldwide competition dedicated to packaging design in all its forms — has just released The Package Design Book 2. The book features some commentary but mostly photos of the award winners from a variety of categories such as beverages, food, luxury, and body product package designs.

Creative Graphic DesignThe book features fascinating concepts, from package design for a new luxury ice cream company in California (See cover image above; San Francisco office of Landor takes this prize), to Marc Jacobs “Bang” cologne. In order to capture the look of metal struck by a hammer, the designers created the prototype out of metal, transferred that shape to a computer and reproduced it.

There’s also Gogol, a Russian company that offers an egg inside a container that, once a tab is pulled, releases a chemical reaction that allows the package to actually cook the raw egg in minutes.

In Belgium, Coca-Cola went retro, reproducing a variety of bottles from the early 20th century.


Snake Around Boot

The Package Design Book 2
Hardcover, 9.4 x 10.1 in., 432 pages, $59.99

The Whole Package



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An Outrage Over a Rebranding

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

The marketing officer at the University of California, Jason Simon, had a teachable moment in recent weeks as students rallied to protest a new icon that was developed as a supplement to the signature lockup logotype and former university “seal.”

It never ceases to amaze me how this sort of rebranding process and result can fly into the face of a constituent audience and cause such discord. GAP did this in 2010 and realized very quickly what a debacle it had created with a new logo that gained a consensus of unfavorable review from its customers. We live in an over-mediated society and it’s clearly easy to state our opinions online, to be critical and make our voice heard. After the fallout, the subsequent retreat by GAP was faster than an inventory clerk could say “stock in freefall.”

University of California Logo, Original DesignI read this article and my first instinct was that the student body was likely never conferred, or at least a representative sampling of opinions was not executed. A “front end” research phase is absolutely necessary in a high profile rebranding such as this. A selection of relevant trendmakers and thought leaders within the student body could have been assembled to gain insights into whether a new logo was necessary, and if so, what direction to take. Did the University of California need a new logo? If so, why? What were the reasons that drove the decision?

“The change to the logo was part of a broader rebranding effort by the university system called Onward California, meant to give the university a new visual identity, attract new students and articulate a vision for its schools,” said Mr. Simon. According to Simon, “The old standard used to be for a designer, ‘Does it fax?’ Now it’s, ‘Does it work as a Twitter icon?’ ”

That seems like a weak argument for changing a classic lockup that has a heritage of 144 years since the founding of the University. The article in the Times references the desire for many academic organizations to remake themselves and their images in an era of state cutbacks in funding. Many schools are driven to seek corporate or even private funding, leading them to the curious decision to make an exciting new visual reflection of their brand.

This too, is a weak reason to rebrand. I worked in media for many years and I was always fascinated by the suggestion that a new symbol or identity would, magically, in and of itself, put a shiny, exciting new façade on the organization. A rebranding should never be thought of as a car wax, a makeover, or a new suit. Rather, it should manifest important changes within any organization — a new strategic direction, a reaction to a sea shift in the market, even an evolution over time that has left the visual brand as a dated representation of the core mission, vision, and values.

University of California Redesigned LogoSimon continued, “The new logo was not meant as a replacement for the traditional seal, which would still be used on diplomas, transcripts and other university correspondence. Web sites, brochures and additional advertising would have carried the new logo,” he said.

This too, makes little sense to me. Best practices in branding dictate that there be one flagship lockup logo, as opposed to various symbols and interpretations of the identity floating around, which can dilute the brand. Why send so many different messages about the core brand? For what purpose?

Personally, I don’t blame the students for filing a petition. Good for them! Over 50,000 have signed the document, causing the University to suspend the logo recently. I’m sure that the new symbol has a rationale, but on first impression, it appears like a poor representation of an esteemed institution founded in 1868. The old lock up with the original symbol projects the kind of gravitas that I would think any State University would desire. The new icon is a cheap, disposable update, one with very little in the way of substantive symbolism. Why is the “C” dissipating? Why is it designed in a bubblegum font?


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IridiumGroup Inc.

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