Category Archives: Design

Introducing Vanguard’s Meet the Artist Video Series

The Creative Services Retrospective 2014 premiered a series we expect to become a Vanguard Direct tradition in years to come. A curated array of extracurricular staff arts and crafts was on display at New York headquarters for an all-too-brief two-week span.

But we have good news for anyone who missed the live show or would like a second look. Beginning today, viewers can learn more about the artists in our series, and the backstories on their work, via our new Meet the Artist video series.

Director of Creative Services Kevin Green sets the stage for the series in a thoughtful video. Next, get to know artists Renee Cruikshank, Antonio Lopez, Natacha Arora and Barry Scheer a little better with inside looks into their art and motivation.

Finally, you can access the entire series on demand at

We thank all the artists who contributed their personal insights and passions to this unique exhibition and video series.

Kevin Green

Renee Cruikshank

Antonio Lopez

Natacha Arora

Barry Scheer


Vanguard Creative Services Retrospective 2014

Perhaps you are an expert doodler, executing masterful abstract patterns in the margins of the Meeting Minutes. Or a frustrated poet, illustrating mournful truisms for a Tumblr blog. Maybe you sing in the shower for an audience of one — each unrecorded performance lost to the ages. But surely, one way or another, everyone is a secret artist.

This year, Vanguard Direct gave its employees a special opportunity to showcase their diverse artistic talents, at the 2014 Creative Retrospective of arts, crafts and multimedia. Many of our professional designers opened up their personal portfolios to reveal a rarely-seen side of their creativity ­ but some of the most intriguing works were exhibited by Secret Artists who work for Vanguard in a purely non-artistic capacity.

Following is a sampling of our employees’ observations:

Will Lovell, Designer         

At Vanguard Direct’s first art retrospective, people were treated to a look at the creative departments skills outside of the digital world. Page layout and digital design are seen every day in the workplace, but rarely is anyone exposed to traditional mediums such as watercolor, oil painting and photography — the sort of work that hangs privately in homes or kept locked away in closets or basements. Imagine the amazement of a client walking in and seeing all this creative output adorning the walls of the 22nd floor. After all, it’s not something you see every day at Vanguard Direct. It was even said that one client asked if any of the work was for sale. Quite a testament to this department’s efforts.

Samanta Ramroop, Accounts Receivable Specialist

Vanguard’s art show was absolutely amazing and well presented. I love not only your yummy crackers, but Will’s creation really blew me away, together with Miguel’s and Wally’s photos. I felt that everyone that participated did a great job. Thanks for doing such an eventful art exhibit.

Vivian Rosado, Accounts Payable Supervisor

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the Vanguard Art Gallery. It’s inspiring to know that we are surrounded by such talented people. It also explains why our customers are so happy with Vanguard. I’m thinking of taking up photography! I love taking pictures as I am the “designated” photographer at home.

Rita Orphanos, Account Representative

I expected something good, interesting, unusual; never did I imagine this extraordinary gallery of unbelievable art by unbelievably talented people. Thank you.

Velda Gardiner, Senior Production Coordinator

Who knew some Vanguardians possessed such unique talent for expressing and portraying an array of artistic vision.

The exhibition displayed a real diversity of skills, media and perspectives inviting us to embrace the artists individually and collectively. While we may not be seeing through the artist’s eyes, each artist shared a vehicle engaging us to capture a special moment or convey an emotion propelling us to feel something and to react in some way. After all, isn’t that what it’s ultimately all about?

Congratulations to what was a successful and appreciated unveiling of inspiring vision. I’ll look forward to the next viewing.

Check out this video of opening day, and check out some of the submitted work. Stay tuned to our next blog to have some insight into the pieces with the artists themselves!

Author: Jay Zilber

True Life: Cristina Gomes

Inside the Office:

Cristina Gomes is Vanguard Direct’s newest employee. She started only five weeks ago and has made a great impression. Cristina works in the digital and technology group as a business analyst and project manager. As a PM, it’s her responsibility to oversee a project from beginning to end. And as a BA, she focuses specifically on the project and/or product requirements.

What does this mean? It means she’s both detail-oriented and friendly; it means she’s computer-nerdy and also strategically savvy; it means she’s book and street smart; and it means she’s exactly the type of well-rounded individual Vanguard prides itself on hiring.

Outside the Office:

With a background in finance—she worked for companies including Barclays and Citibank—Cristina is no stranger to high pressure and stress. In 2009, she discovered yoga and found it was the perfect cross-training tool to complement her cardio and weight-training regimen. “I really only started working out in 2008, but I loved the way I felt after. Not only physically, but mentally, too.”

She loved exercise so much that she decided to get group fitness–certified in 2011. Soon after, she expanded her repertoire to include yoga (certified in April Martucci’s FireDragonYoga method), group fitness (certified by the AFAA, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), and TRX suspension training. These days, she subs for a few classes, runs a couple of body-conditioning classes during the week, and does some personal training.

Favorite Vanguard Moment:

While it’s hard to imagine having a favorite Vanguard moment after just one month, Cristina seems to already have many. Her favorite, however, is when her neighbor down the row offered up his keyboard. Our pal Mark Gadson, it seemed, wanted to swap keyboards in order to give the new hire a more ergonomically friendly device. Or so we thought…

It turns out that what Mark really wanted was for Cristina to have a keyboard that dampened the effects of her apparent finger strength. “I guess I’m used to trade floors and loud environments. I had no idea I typed so loudly!” she said. “I’ve never had anyone offer me their keyboard just to keep me quiet.”

Cristina Gomes’s strengths come in many shapes and sizes: project management, business analysis, yoga and fitness training, and it seems, a hard-ass keystroke.

Author: Eric Swenson

Co-Creation Utopia Debunked

In his recent Adweek article, “Co-creation Is Key to a Successful Agency-Client Relationship,” Matt Eastwood, chief creative officer of DDB New York, argues that partnering more intimately––or “co-creating”––with clients is a more effective way of working than the traditional model. By bringing clients into the idea-generating process, we allow them to feel a sense of ownership and confidence in the campaign idea. Furthermore, he argues, our clients know their brands better than anyone else, and this can be incredibly useful to the creative team.

The roots of the divided agency/client relationship are often attributed to its genesis. In a bid/spec situation, an agency is typically asked up front, “What can you do for our brand?” Starting with “You’re the agency, now wow me” sets precedent for future behavior and communications.

I find it hard to reconcile this beginning with Eastwood’s concept of co-creation. Clients often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new campaigns, so I wonder how seamless the transition from hired contractor to co-collaborator is. How does the agency go from, “We’re brilliant and different” to “We’re brilliant, sure, but if you have any ideas for a new campaign we’d love to hear them”?

A savvy client is usually quick to become part of the team, and that’s great, but ad agencies define themselves by their ability to generate unique ideas—it’s how they build their reputations. How do agencies justify their cost or leverage their value simply by being good teammates?

I love the thought of new clients understanding the process of coming up with concepts. (Justifying four weeks of idea-generation is always hard to explain to a client who doesn’t fully understand the process.) Do we really want our clients to see behind Oz’s curtain, though? We all know that a great idea can come anytime, anywhere. So how will this affect our own process? Will it add unnecessary structure to it?

To paraphrase Eastwood, having the client be a part of the process of idea-generating allows the team to get a truer sense of the brand and its audience. While I agree that no one knows the brand better than the brand itself, I can’t imagine a world where we’d want the client in the room while we are coming up with creative concepts. History has taught us to never ignore a “bad” idea. We allow creatives to throw as many ideas on the wall as possible and not veto them right off the bat because of brand standards. Finding the big idea is most important at this stage––the filtering can happen later.

As an account person, I find the notion of giving the client more ownership of the idea––and thus ensuring that responsibility for its success or failure is equally shared––comforting. But as a creative purist and realist, I think this co-creation process brings with it too many new challenges to be feasible.

Author: Eric Swenson

AdForum’s Top 5 Commercials for This Week

This week’s top five should be titled A Series of Unfortunate Crap. My general feeling from the spots this week is that they were phoned in. Literally. I genuinely think that someone pitched a general concept to the agency, they liked the idea, and then plugged in one of their clients’ brands to the concept. There is a serious disconnect between what we’re seeing and the tie-in at the end. Are we templatizing ideas now?

We begin with Pelephone’s ad “Zeppelins.” Twenty-six seconds of really intriguing visuals. Beautiful art direction and an interesting story line that pulls you in, making you ask, What is this all about? And then suddenly, “Wherever you land, you’ll get the best roaming rates.” This is a mobile plan ad? Seriously? You could literally plug in almost any product to this spot.

–       Wherever you land, you’ll get the most reward points for your Visa card.

–       Wherever you land, you’ll get the most out of your Expedia vacation.

–       Wherever you land…

I could go on, but it’d just make me more upset.

Then again, the melodrama of the Sunami and Hornbach ads pushes me over the edge. The Sunami ad in particular just kills me. For two minutes we follow this incredible story of an underappreciated woman and her escape from an oppressive husband. We love her! She’s a hero! If only more women had this sort of courage!…

To use Sunami laundry soap.

The Hornbach ad is a decent story. And yes, we understand the “And what will remain of you” tagline. It’s just a bit of a stretch for a hardware store. Leave a legacy by shopping at Hornbach. I don’t know. Just doesn’t add up to four.

The winner this week goes to Del Monte Fruit Cups––light-hearted, universal, and straightforward in its concept. We love the complex, but it’s just flat-out unecessary with this spot.

And Export Gold? You’re trying too hard.

As always, chime in and cast your vote. Until next time!

1. Pelephone – “Zeppelins” – ACW Grey


2. Export Gold – “Fire at the Old Well” – Colenso BBDO Auckland


3. Sunami – “Moving” – Kráneo *S,C,P,F…


4. Del Monte Fruit Cups – “If Spencer Can” – Blammo


5. Hornbach – “And What Will Remain of You” – HEIMAT Berlin

Hornbach “And what will remain of you?” from Source on Vimeo.

Author: Eric Swenson

Behavior-Changing Apps: A Vanguard Direct Survey

Behavior Changing Apps

Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized how we understand communication and information. He completely shifted our society. It was his products that transformed, in a way, how we think and behave. And it’s this last point that is the most fascinating. Behavior. Our behavior is different simply because of a small, handheld device. This was enough to drive Utterly Orange to ask: How else has our behavior changed as a result of technology? And in particular, which applications have leveraged the mobile platform and really changed our world?

We surveyed over 100 Vanguard employees on this topic and received, as you might imagine, a plethora of opinions. I’ve done my best to collate those opinions into something more chewable. However, one can’t help but wonder what makes one app’s utility more important than another’s? Yelp has blown away Zagat as the number-one restaurant-reviewing site/app. Foodies live and die—and, likewise, restaurants—by Yelp and its five alluring stars. But is it more transformative than, say, the flashlight app? Did you ever think you’d be bringing your phone camping in order to properly navigate?

So while I’d like to say our list is exhaustive, it’s limited and inherently subjective. And oftentimes it’s like we’re comparing Apple and oranges.

Banking & Financial Apps

The day that I heard I could deposit a check without having to go to the bank, I pretty much flipped. Or transfer money to a friend simply by typing in her email address? Who knew? There was a time when one would scan through thousands of ticker symbols in order to see if his Kodak stock went up a half point or not. Today it streams in real-time on the home screen of my phone.

These financial apps may not be the sexiest, but they certainly have changed our behavior.

Honorable mention goes to and its highly intuitive, highly beautiful app. Connect with every financial account you maintain (if you have the gumption) and see your net worth. From setting budgets to tracking your spending trends, your eyes will awaken to how you spend a dollar. You can’t help but want to modify your behavior.

News-aggregate Apps

We’re living in a content-driven world, and Vanguard is a content-driven girl. The Information Age is a tired expression, but it’s still undoubtedly accurate. Our survey suggested Vanguard has an overwhelming enthusiasm for apps that curate content.

That said, our sample comes from digitally savvy New Yorkers who have the subway free-time and industry knowledge to be interested in these sorts of apps. However, you cannot deny how we think about information today. It’s completely different from ten years ago. And without getting too grandiose on you, think about what this says about our evolution as human beings. I can barely fathom the implications.

Honorable mention goes to Flipboard. It’s intuitive. It’s user-friendly. And it works. Our senior management team loves it––and if they get it, you will.

Barcode-based Apps

Genius. There’s no other way to describe the utility of these apps other than to say simply: Genius. Want to know if that protein bar isn’t actually filled with carbs and sugar? Scan it. Want to sign up for a chance to drive a Lamborghini? Scan it. Want to know if that product was made in a child sweatshop factory in China? Scan it. Boycott it.

Never in a million years did someone think a telephone would have this sort of function. And yet, here we are. Honorable mention goes to Fooducate. This handy app scans your food and assigns it a letter grade. Skippy peanut butter gets a C? The app suggests a more healthful, A-rated alternative.

Music-driven Apps

Regardless of whether you hate all its ads or not, Shazam is 100% a unique game shifter. You can call it an app, but it’s an invention that has revolutionized our relationship with the sound waves coming out of your bar’s speakers. The minute you even hear the concept behind this app, you’ll get goose bumps.

Honorable mention goes to apps like Spotify and Pandora, which have changed radio forever. They’re like the news-aggregate apps from above, but for the soul.

Google Apps

Google is a category of its own. One cannot put down in writing the impact that its array of products have had on our organization, our culture, and our world. Your phone tells you when to turn left and when to turn right. Thanks, Google Maps! Your phone tells you that the phallic object in the middle of Buenos Aires you’re viewing is the Obelisco de Buenos Aires. Thanks, Google Goggles! And on that note, what does “Obelisco” mean in English? Obelisk. Thanks, Google Translate!

Google Now, a new app designed to adapt to where you go and what you do to predict behavior, is creepily amazing. But wait, there’s more!

I won’t go on, but this stuff is incomprehensible. And there are plenty of honorable mentions for me-too products, but we all know they’ve just been modeling themselves after Google.

These five categories and their top apps were chosen because of their utility and surprise. Did we think that we’d be talking to people using video someday? Well, yeah. It was in Back to the Future Part II. That isn’t to say it isn’t impressive; it really is. Social apps and game apps have altered how we interact with peers and friends. We are social beings, and these apps have encouraged social behavior. As I said in the beginning, this list is certainly nowhere near exhaustive––if you had to suggest another, what app has surprised you most?

Author: Eric Swenson

Proper Etiquette in the Modern Workplace

Whether you’re a master of office best practices or an email novice who just can’t seem to comprehend email taboos, Jason Franzen is here to provide valuable insight or a fresh reminder. His posters, which are both poignantly on target and hilarious, set out to detail what we all should know about behaving respectfully in the office. In a phrase, it’s about being cognizant of your communal actions that directly or indirectly affect your coworkers. You can’t help but read these and be like, “God, yes! So true!”

It’s genius.

Here are a few, but be sure to check out the entire list at DesignTAXI.

Author: Eric Swenson