Tag Archives: designer

How Smelly Is Your Design?

In the world of design we’re brought up to understand there are certain rules to follow when laying out a piece. Guidelines exist to help designs resonate with our intended audiences. For example, in photography the “rule of thirds” teaches us to divide our shots into a grid format and place our subjects in any of the nine sections—none of which is dead center. The phrase “form follows function” is another example that’s been around for a century. It reminds us that an object should be designed considering its function first and that this will determine its form.

A poor creative team, on the other hand, may spend hours deliberating about the appropriate message for a direct mail envelope. In reality, it’s the shape of the piece and the color of the design that humans connect with first. Content always comes later.

These rules exist because they’ve been tested over the years. Through the use of eye-tracking technology and decades of focus groups, we’re able to say with certainty where eyeballs go when they look at design.

But what if we did more than just followed the rules of design visually? What if we triggered other senses beyond sight? What about taste? What about smell? We’ve been to the grocery store enough times to know that giving away food samples is one of the most ingenious forms of marketing. From the sizzle of the frying pan and the smell that fills the aisles to the moment you take that tiny toothpick and take a bite––you’d swear you’ve never eaten such good sausages.

Well, that full-blown experience is a marketer’s dream. There isn’t a limb on an advertiser’s body that he or she wouldn’t give up to utilize scent in an ad campaign. The limbic connection between smell and memory is the perfect recipe for all things nostalgia. Freshly mowed lawns, our mother’s baking, and even the smell of Play-Doh all have the potential to elicit something deep within us.

It doesn’t look like Smell-O-Vision will be put to practical use anytime soon. It does seem, however, that a team out of Belgium has figured out how to express both scent and taste using stamps. The Belgian post office, known as Bpost, has produced more than 500,000 smellable/edible stamps celebrating Belgium’s world-famous chocolates and chocolatiers.

While it’ll be a bit before I see myself licking an already-licked stamp, I can’t deny how effective it might be in triggering those chocolate-driven memories stored deep inside me.

The Belgians are breaking the rules—those zany rebels! What else can we come up with to more effectively reach our consumers?

To learn about how those chocolate stamps are made, check out this video: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21388234

Author: Eric Swenson


Ways To Make Graphic Designers Cringe

BuzzFeed released 17 hilarious, cringe-worthy designs that are sure to make you feel uncomfortable. Here’s a taste, but be sure to check out the entire list on BuzzFeed.

1. Kerning

7. The “I just learned Adobe Ilustrator look”

12. Way too twee

Author: Eric Swenson

Photo-whoops! The Joys of Photoshop Mishaps

Being a creative is tough. Art directors and designers alike have so much to contend with: copy, logos, budget constraints, time constraints, creative director input, account management input, CLIENT input––oh, and the biggest nagger of all, the critic with the harshest and most ruthless taste: themselves.

So it’s no surprise that with all this pressure, mistakes are bound to happen. I get it, art directors––it’s a lot. I’m an account guy with a big, bleeding heart who feels your pain—well, unless you muck my ish up. That is unacceptable.

The rest of the world is going to laugh at your mistakes. I’m sorry, unfortunately that’s just the life you’ve chosen. You’re in the public eye and your mistakes get seen by millions.

And now there’s a forum to see even more. I’d like to point you to a website that is doing its best to find your final art flaws: www.psdisasters.com, a collection of Photoshop mistakes made in years past and available for years to come.

Be sure to check out the Greatest Hits section and see brilliance like this:

Adweek has even gotten in on the fun. The headline from last week’s page read: “Ad in Target Circular Either Photoshopped or Features an Alien.” Love it.

Okay, okay, so there’s plenty to laugh at. Again, I recognize that you sometimes only have 25 minutes to whip something together. That being said, I leave you with a site from people who clearly have 25 minutes to spare:


If you like the images below, you’ll definitely love this site. Check it out!

Author: Eric Swenson

Competition in Design: Wise or Waste?

There are many professions that promote competition. Design, in particular, lends itself to one-upping that coworker, the competition, and sometimes the jurors of an awards competition. Unlike art, design in advertising can sometimes be measured by the return on investment. Well-designed campaigns can be judged by sales figures.

Of course, it’s not always so black and white. There are herds of beautiful designs that get produced but never make the front page. There are strong strategic ideas that work perfectly for the client but—for one reason or another—don’t effectively catch fire. Blame the medium or blame media—ideas sometimes just don’t get fertilized. Conceiving an idea, it seems, takes just the right formula.

But there’s an even bigger hurdle to hurdle. Ask designers or copywriters at any agency in the world what their best ideas were, and they’ll give you their answers. Ask them if their best ideas were ever published, and I’m certain you’ll receive a resounding “No” in response.

In our industry, the best ideas don’t always win over our audience: the client. And that’s fine. The ideas that make it to the coveted awards competitions have to be ideas that have been produced. That means that the breadth of work we see is far narrower than what’s been attempted.

So is all this competition worth it? Is it worthwhile for companies to put in the added effort, costs, and resources to submit their ideas? Is it worth the long hours, the nail biting, and the limited publicity for the results?


Andrew Carnegie once said, “And while the law [of competition] may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”

Love or loathe competition, it’s what drives us forward as artists (dare I say humanity?). Whether it’s friendly competition among colleagues or a battle against yourself, our need to move forward with bigger and better ideas is what helps us evolve—producing work that’s relevant and effective.

An informal survey of six nearby designers about competition showed a fun split between men and women. The women designers seemed to feel that collaboration is always the key to producing better work. The men felt that working in isolation and then exchanging ideas later was better. Both groups agreed that a spirited awards competition against other agencies would be a great way to unify ideas and kick some competitor ass.

What it would really do, however, is give designers more of a stake in our projects. Competition promotes creativity of the purest and highest order. It pushes our spirit further. It makes our ideas soar higher. Art is the essence of our humanity.

If that’s a little too grandiose for you, be sure to check out my last post on annual reports. I guess what I’m saying is, forget return on investment for a second and think about what we’re doing here.

What do you think? Competition in design—wise or waste?

Author: Eric Swenson

Adobe Photoshop Trick of the Day: Adjusting Color Using a Mask

For most designers out there, you probably know the site Lynda.com. Well, I came across a neat little section called “Deke’s Techniques.” I haven’t gone through all of them, but I believe most are tutorials from Deke McClelland, a guy who surely knows his design tricks.

This week he discusses a stronger way to use Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation command in conjunction with a mask. Here’s an excerpt from Lynda.com:

Whether you’re aiming for realism or an exaggerated effect that grabs attention, it’s often handy to be able to change the color of one object in a photo without affecting the rest of the image. Most people will tell you to use Adobe Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation command to do this, but if the object you’re changing has hue variations—not just one flat shade of red, for example—this relative adjustment won’t work.

Instead, you need to make an absolute adjustment. And to limit the change to a single object, you also need a mask. “A mask”? you gripe. “They take forever!”

Au contraire. You simply create a new Adjustment layer, select a color range inside the image with a click and a drag, and Photoshop will auto-generate your mask. Then you choose the Hue/Saturation command and make your color adjustments.

Watch the entire video here:

Author: Eric Swenson

Communication Arts Releases Winners of Its 2011 Design Annual

Communication Arts just released the winners of its 2011 Design Annual. Over 4,000 pieces were submitted, and only 174 winners were selected. A team of five judges had the seemingly impossible task of narrowing down the finalists.

Project categories like trademarks, letterheads, posters, packaging, and annual reports were included in the competition.

With today’s economic woes, it’s becoming harder and harder for design firms to keep up with the Joneses technology-wise. It was clear that this year’s designers were able to bring back old-school techniques and produce quality work.

Take a look at the gallery to get a glimpse of some of the winners. If you want to see all the concepts, though, you’re going to have to sign up for Communication Arts’ subscription plan (lame!).

Author: Eric Swenson

Ask the Vanguard Direct Creative Experts

Vanguard Direct takes responsibility for every aspect of your marketing communications. Our creative, account, and production teams combine their expertise to manage your project efficiently from start to finish. Everything we do addresses your objectives and strategies.

Vanguard’s Creative Services group follows a disciplined and coordinated approach to developing your communication programs and achieving your marketing goals. Our systematic approach helps us discover key components that differentiate your product or service in a crowded marketplace. Our award-winning design team works directly with you to develop attention-getting visual solutions that help connect with your audience and communicate your message with maximum impact and excitement. Whatever your design needs––brand identity, collateral design, promotional displays––our talented staff offers years of experience across multimedia applications including print, promotional, and interactive.

We asked our creative experts some key questions about how to successfully start and complete a creative project:

> How do you keep creative project costs in scope?

“This is one of the more difficult parts of the job—keeping edits down to a minimum. I think this depends on the client and how well you know them (and how they work). With some, you know that many rounds of edits can be expected and an estimate should reflect those extra rounds; some may appreciate the budget updates.”
– Susan Hallinan (Designer)

“The easiest way is to plan the budget and keep track of the progress of design time. For a large project, check costs every week; for small projects, check every day.”  – Kevin Green (Director of Creative Services)

“Preparation and communication––do your best to convey as much information at the beginning of the project as possible so that your design team really understands what you’re looking for. And insist on a creative brief––a written summary from your design team of what they understand the scope to be––so that everyone begins the project on the same page.”  
– Kara Damato
(Senior Designer)

“Write up a creative brief with as much detail as possible. This way, the client will not have any surprises after the project is almost done. When they approve the brief and the estimate, you can begin.”   – Vittoria Semproni (Designer)

“Vanguard Direct utilizes a web-based project cost–tracking software program. It enables our Creative Directors and Project Managers to monitor each project’s cost from inception through to the end product. Once a new creative project is opened in the system, an estimate is created based upon the client’s project parameters. Each project estimate has Task Categories ranging from Concept Development to Pre-Press, including many subcategories. The Creative Director estimating the project assigns hours and a dollar rate to each Task. Once the project begins, the employee enters his or her time daily into the specific Task, such as Concept Development: 4.0 hours, and so on. With that said, the Creative Director or Project Manager can look up any project in the system, at any time, and see exactly where that project’s cost status is daily. System-generated budget alerts via email serve as backup to keep the project budget on track. This is just one of the tools that Vanguard Direct uses to keep the project’s creative and production costs on track and within scope.” – Mark Dion (Creative Director)


> What type of content should I supply?

“If you’re providing copy, I recommend a Word document that has been edited and proofread, so it is as final as possible. If you’re providing images, the largest, highest resolution images you can get. This ensures the best-quality images in your printed piece. We generally use 300dpi images at actual size. If you can provide larger images, that gives us the flexibility to enlarge and crop if that works better for the design.” – Kara Damato (Senior Designer)

“Content that belongs to you or that you have the right to use.”
– Vittoria Semproni (Designer)

“Content is critical for a smooth project with reduced AA charges. If a PDF is supplied, the fonts should be embedded, there should be crop marks and bleed where applicable. The file should also be in the correct color space––no RGB.”
– Kevin Green (Director of Creative Services)

“Content depends on the audience and the way the information will be viewed. Web and mobile information would be written differently from a printed piece––web has a tendency to be short with many links, while printed pieces should be more of a linear read.”
– Susan Hallinan (Designer)


> How do you initiate a design?

“In terms of starting a design, I try to analyze all the information I have at hand: the creative brief, the client history, and the business objective. From there, I do research on my topic. For example, if the campaign is to sell used cars, I look up the definition of “used car” and what trends are happening in used car sales. I look up competitors’ advertising. Most of all, I do a lot of research, ranging from watching TV ads to looking at print ads in magazines and newspapers. I really immerse myself in my topic and the objective of the design.”
– Gia Lam (Senior Designer)

“A creative brief helps. Usually the information in a creative brief dictates design. A theme or message will give me the necessary parameters in which to construct a design based on what is written. If there is no creative brief, I rely on the text supplied by the client, as that sometimes gives me ideas for visuals.”
– Will Lovell (Graphic Production Artist)

“Either fill out a design order form or supply a creative strategic brief. This should be followed up with either a strategy meeting if we are doing a proposal or a start-up meeting if the job came in with a purchase order.”
– Kevin Green (Director of Creative Services)

“If you haven’t worked with the client before, you need to get a feeling for your client and their project. First ask them to provide you with designs they have seen out there, either competitors’ or just pieces they like. Usually clients will have pieces around that they like for one reason or another. The best way to begin a design is with information copy and photos if included in the job. You need to have a sense of their competition and who their target audience is.”
– Vittoria Semproni (Designer)


> What questions should I ask to ensure my design is what I want?

“I would ensure I have an agreed-to brief or even a simplified brief. I’d also ask to see 2–3 treatments of the proposed design before it is agreed to start.”
– Kevin Green (Director of Creative Services)

“Who is your audience? What is your budget? Do you have any materials we can use, e.g., photos, illustrations, etc.? What is your timeframe for the completion of this piece? Is this piece part of a series, or is it a stand-alone piece? Do you have a brand? Are there colors you use to identify your brand or typefaces? What other material have you done, and what does it look like? Do you have samples? Do you have a logo?”
– Vittoria Semproni (Designer)


Do you have any questions to ask our creative experts? Comment below, and we will feature your question in a future post!

Author: Stephanie Huston