I recently had the distinct privilege of working on our first ever video/motion graphics case study here at the office. The initial idea came up almost on a whim during a team meeting, a rather unobtrusive “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” sort of thing. I did some video editing back in high school and early college, so naturally, I jumped at the idea, stating with ever so much naiveté, “Sure, just give me a Friday afternoon and I’ll whip something together.”
Now, those of you who’ve worked on video projects in the past already know that I was proceeding toward dangerous ground at a breakneck pace. Indeed, in hindsight I don’t know how I didn’t manage to catch my own error. I’ve actually done a number of motion graphics pieces for Sametz, just in the form of flash banner ads—not full-fledged videos. I’ve had 30-second ads take as long as 5–6 hours to nail down, depending on the complexity of movement, pacing, dynamic content, and of course, size optimization.
Given that, the moment I saw our script yielded approximately 3 and a half minutes of voice over, alarm bells should’ve been sounding left and right (and perhaps above and below for good measure). Never mind the fact that we hadn’t storyboarded or gathered consistently high-quality materials to fill the timeline. Pre-planning? Who needs it, right? (Hint: see the author).
So once that Friday afternoon came around (oh, it feels ever so long ago), I nonchalantly asked fellow developer and Digital Media hit man Luke if I could borrow his laptop to make use of our shiny copy of Final Cut Studio 2 and the plethora of software it contained. Hour one seemed solid: I reacquainted myself with Final Cut Pro and opened up my vast directories of work related to the project to search for materials.
Hour 2 was slightly less encouraging, as I realized even without transitions of much merit, the material I had would only be sufficient to fill about 1/3 of the time line.
Hour 3 found me gaining the understanding that in order to make this a one day job, I’d be cutting substantial corners.
During hour 4 it dawned on me that we hadn’t spent much time discussing what resolution and aspect ratio we wanted this thing to be.
Hour 5 saw me showing a rushed, sorry piece to members of the team with an unsure look on my face. The experience prompted us to realize that this was not, in fact, a whim, but a project which would require a sizable time investment (this realization occurred in the form of a loud, simultaneous “Oh!“).
So an hour-long meeting commenced in which three of us took it upon ourselves to plan our several days of work to get the project up to snuff. Yesterday, after I’m not sure how many hours, the video went live with much positive feedback (yay team!). But I will take from this an important lesson, video editing is some serious business:
(Here’s the video link.)
I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s made this kind of mistake. If anyone has any similar stories, please do write them into a comment. I could use the fuel to rebuild my self-esteem .
Categories: Digital Media
Recently I was able to unplug from the daily grind in an incredible new way. I had the unique pleasure of playing rock star for a weekend when my band, The Longwalls, was invited down to Plymouth Rock Studios to shoot a video for our song, Zombies!.
I’ve been writing and performing with indie-rock bands for about 10 years now. Over the years there’s been some great moments, but for every good one, there are nights humping gear through the snow to play in front of two friends and a bartender. There’s endless rehearsals, late nights stuffing packages to be mailed, and even later nights updating the half-dozen web outposts a band must manage these days. In short, it’s a part-time enterprise that rarely, if ever, breaks even.
So why do it? For me, playing music engages a part of the brain that’s hard to flex otherwise, and disengages those parts of the brain so overly taxed during regular daily life. And in those moments where everything clicks, well, it feels pretty darn good. As a brand strategist at Sametz, it’s important to reboot at times—it’s just as necessary, to me, to learn from one project to another, as it is to sometimes forget all I know and confront a new challenge from a new perspective. Playing music is part of that process for me. Although sometimes, one just wants to play rock star! When the opportunity arose to shoot a video, needless to say I was pretty excited.
We started shooting on a Friday night. The feeling of being rushed into a large room and seeing throngs of people—people who all seemed to recognize us as the band—was a new one for all of us. After a quick session with the make-up artists we trekked over to an abandoned Walmart to begin the shoot. The Plymouth Rock crew was amazing. They turned a former bank branch at the Walmart into an Army laboratory, and the cavernous backroom into an aircraft hangar where the band would be playing live. (Army bases, it turns out, are the only venues safe enough for a gig in a zombie-ridden apocalyptic future. Beats Central Square, in the snow I suppose.) After a chase scene, and a few scenes at the lab, we wrapped for the night.
Saturday we spent several hours shooting our live scenes at the “hangar.” One camera swirled about our heads while another glided left and right on a track in front of the stage. With our song blaring through the PA we lip-synced a dozen times while a crowd of extras danced and cheered. We joked that it was the best crowed we’ve ever played to; too bad they were about to be overrun by undead! On cue, 15 more extras arrived in full-on zombie makeup. We shot a few different scenes with the zombies “crashing” the gig and wrapped for the day.
Sunday was spent shooting in an abandoned house. Every zombie flick needs scenes of terrified survivors boarding up windows and barricading doors while zombies descend. We shot late into the night, making it a long weekend for all. The crew and the extras couldn’t have been more professional, engaged, supportive, and—most of all—patient. This was all new to us, but they made us feel like we deserved to be there. For that, we’re eternally grateful to Plymouth Rock Studios and everyone involved with the shoot.
Over three days, we signed autographs, spoke with reporters, had our pictures taken dozens of times by dozens of people, and gave away a bunch of CDs and guitar picks. Yes, I felt like a rock star. And yes, it was a little rough coming back to work on Monday. But in the end, I’m reinvigorated. Aside from feeling really good about the band, I’m re-energized as a creative thinker. The shoot was a non-stop creative exercise, and watching the crew compose shots and solve problems—problems I never knew existed—was both exciting and eye opening. The dedication of the extras, spending hours in uncomfortable makeup, in the rain, because they so badly want to act, was inspiring to say the least.
I’m lucky to work in an environment that encourages us all to unplug, to keep ourselves fresh, and find new ways to broaden our perspectives. Some of us paint, some dance, some make music, some are starting families, some are challenging themselves with out-of-the-norm freelance work, and, for three days in September, one of us got to play rock star.
Listen to The Longwalls, and a whole lot more, at StaticMotor.com.
Categories: Outside the Square
Categories: Outside the Square
A compendium from the Sametz Blackstone design community
“Great clients share many of the traits of great designers: curiosity,…perfectionism, energy, confidence, idealism, wit. And they also love their work.” —Ellen Shapiro
1. Request a creative brief. If you haven’t been offered one, ask the designer or strategist for a creative brief: an outline of the project goals to be adhered to over the course of the project. Both you and the designer should sign off on the brief.
2. Identify the decision-makers. Before beginning a project, identify who in your organization needs to sign off on design milestones—and limit the decision-making to only that group. For larger-scale projects, identify concentric circles that range from a small core group responsible for daily tasks, to a decision-making group involved in key milestones and interviews, to the largest group who will be informed of major plans and progress.
3. Discuss visual preferences up front. If purple will never get past your CEO, then tell the designer. By clarifying the “go, no-go” elements up front, you and the designer can partner to problem-solve—and avoid disappointment. It’s also helpful for designers to see examples of designs you like so they can gain insight into your style preferences and expectations.
4. Consider creative assets. If you’re going to need photography for your project, consider what you may already own. Was a professional photographer present at a recent fundraising event? Do you know a student who photographed his classmates for a recent project? Taking stock of what you own and what you need gives the designer a head start on developing a creative concept.
5. Outline your content. Work in tandem with the designer and/or strategist to outline your content and determine headings, subheads, etc. The concept phase can begin without final copy, but having a sense of the hierarchy and copy length will allow the designer to produce a concept representative of the final product.
6. Consolidate edits. Edits are inevitable, of course—it’s hard to really “see” how your copy will look until it’s laid out. You may also be awaiting contributions from other members of your organization. But consolidating edits into a few “rounds” saves time and expense.
7. Align feedback with your goals. Goal-oriented feedback can be more successful than focusing on specific design elements. For example, saying “Our identity needs more presence” instead of “Can you make the logo bigger?” can result in broader, more effective solutions. It is the designer’s job to identify those solutions.
8. Give an honest and concise critique. As students, designers quickly learn the benefit of critique. They’re not looking for praise (okay, a little praise is nice!) and their feelings will not be hurt if you prefer one concept to another. Designers recognize the value of their client’s knowledge and intuition; direct critique is the shortest route to an effective solution.
9. Stay in touch. Let the designer know the best method for communication (do you respond best to phone calls or e-mail?). Introduce other members of your team with whom the designer will need to correspond (making sure to identify decision-makers). Determine the best method for deliverables (hard-copy or PDF?). For larger projects, set time aside for a weekly check-in meeting. It needn’t be lengthy; a simple status update can put everyone on the same page.
10. Trust your designer. Every pixel, every line of type, every hairline rule is carefully considered—the judgments we make on your behalf are based on our collective experience and education. We are good listeners. In Ellen Shapiro’s book The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients, Rick Valicenti says the best relationships occur when the designer is perceived as counsel, rather than a vendor (a mantra we echo here at Sametz Blackstone often). Building a good relationship is at the core of an effective design process.
This post originally appeared on The Marketing Spot blog, a great resource for small business marketers.
They say time is money. Most of us take that to mean: “Spend more time, spend more money”—like that’s a bad thing. Like every minute that ticks by is money out the door or money that we could be making, and aren’t.
But look at it the other way: what if spending more time meant making more money?
Think about it: what successful business ever got that way by spending less time? Success may have come quickly (or at least appeared to), but time was not the cause of success. Yet a lot of us put far, far too much stock in time.
The other day I was reading a pre-release chapter from Gary Vaynerchuk‘s upcoming book Crush It!. Gary is well-known as a small business marketing success story: he went from running a local wine shop to $50 million in sales, all through a daily wine blog integrated well and thoroughly with social media (Facebook and Twitter, in particular). But while most people focus on his 2006-to-now meteoric rise, he points out that the path to his current success started when he was…16. (He’s now 34.)
Gary pairs two seemingly opposing forces together as secrets of his success: hustle (the willingness to work slavishly hard for what you want) and patience (the willingness to wait for all that work to pay off).
What he doesn’t say—but what is very clear—is that he took time out of the equation. As he explains,
“How did someone like me, who is so obviously not a patient guy, cool my heels for so long? Because I was 100 percent happy. I loved what I was doing. I knew down to my core that my business was going to explode, but even if I had fallen flat on my face, I would have had no regrets because I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it.”
He was willing to work very, very hard to make himself, his business, and his service the best they could possibly be. You can’t do that if you’re trying to do it faster. Faster is the enemy of better.
I know, I know, we all learned that the holy trinity of success is “faster, better, cheaper” (particularly if we can use those words in our marketing!). But when you’re developing your business, the trio is different. It’s “faster, better, easier“—where “easier” means the level of effort you’re capable of sustaining, marketing or otherwise.
And you can only pick two.
If you want success to be fast and easy, your quality will suffer—and you’ll get your lunch handed to you when someone with a better product eventually comes along (and they will). If you want that better product, but still want—or need—it to be easy, then it will take longer. If you want it fast and great, you’re going to have to turn yourself inside out to do it…and there are still no guarantees.
Because really, it’s not about fast. It’s about best.
Best will win out every time. Best is the only thing that survives long-term. Everything else is a tradeoff between speed and sacrifice.
So take time out of the equation—and see how fast time flies.
Categories: Strategy and Management
As of this writing, Google lists almost 1.4 million entries under “Ikea type font issues” and a petition started by Marius Ursache, a brand consultant in Romania, has quickly garnered over 5,000 signatories—each of the forceful opinion that Ikea should quickly re-consider its brand mis-step. Time, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and the Guardian, among others, have picked up the story.
What’s the kerfluffle? Ikea has committed brand-slaughter. After 50 years of hawking its wares (and design philosophy and brand) through the typographic voices of Futura and Century Schoolbook, the company has just distributed almost 200 million catalogues which speak Verdana, a typeface designed by Mathew Carter specifically for on-screen use in small sizes (and freely distributed by Microsoft)—and one which is right up there with Times New Roman and Arial in its ubiquity and blandness.
So the story is not so much that Ikea made this change (companies can, and need to, change their image for a variety of reasons), but that people—not just we brand consultants and designers—care and feel betrayed.
Some large number of the 1.4 million entries (admission: I quit counting after several hundred) talked to the writers’ beliefs that Ikea was a design leader and in choosing to present itself like every flyer on a car windshield, the company devalued both the products customers had bought and their understanding of what Ikea means.
The surprise (to some, including Ikea) was that the visual expression of words matters: type is not just a neutral conveyer of letters and words. Ivana Hrdlickova, information manager at Ikea in Stockholm, speaking to The Swedish Wire said, “We didn’t expect people to react this strong. It’s sad that some people react negative. Still, we are very glad that people care so much. But what’s important is the message, not good looking fonts.”
But the “message” was also in the fonts. Futura, from which Ikea Sans was adapted, was designed by Paul Renner between 1924–26 and although Renner was not specifically connected to the Bauhaus, the sans-serif font expresses many values in common with the movement: straightforward geometry (the face incorporates almost-perfect squares, circles, and triangles), unadorned simplicity, form in the service of functionality…a new model for the future.
The accompanying serif font, Century Schoolbook, (from which Ikea Serif was adapted), was designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1919. It is fondly associated by many of us with learning to read. The activities of Spot and the shenanigans of Dick and Jane were made real through this face. It, too, is straight-forward, basic, clear, with large counters (the spaces inside the bowl of the “p” or “o”).
What is clear to both type types and customers of Ikea is that these two typefaces—and the interaction between them—was a perfect match-up with the brand attributes Ikea had been (is) promulgating. Therefore the big disconnect with the move to Verdana. And some 1.4 million posts and entries show that how a message is delivered can either make that message more resonant and memorable—or detract and erode.
Ikea’s given reasons for the switch—that Verdana, freely distributed, was a cost-effective solution for global communications, and one that would connect their print and online communications—bears looking at. (Spokespeople did not talk of an intent to change the meaning of their brand.)
Cost: Well, free is cheap, but there is certainly a cost to eroding (or at best, not promoting) your brand meaning. Verdana is also a wide face with fairly loose letter spacing, so there may also be a “green” cost to producing the third most widely published print piece on the planet.
Consistency: Yes, it’s a good idea for communications from a company to be consistent in their presentation; consistency builds recognition, meaning, and all-important loyalty. But slavish consistency doesn’t trump using different media to their best advantage. Verdana is a great typeface for what it was designed for—on-screen communications—but in print, especially writ large for heads, it’s undifferentiated and value-free. There are many other decisions and cues that could hold together Ikea’s print and online communications (choice and execution of color, imagery, language); we all have to work with the constraints of online typography. Consistent ordinariness is not necessarily the best choice.
Of course, what comes pre-packaged in a computer is a factor to consider when crafting a system for brand-building communications—but it ought not to be a defining factor. While companies such as Ikea can commission or adapt typefaces for corporate-wide use (as they did the last go-round), many organizations can’t afford this route. The solution is often to license brand-important fonts for those desktops responsible for specific tiers of communications, with the understanding that other communications will be built from default faces. Done with intent, and with other elements of “glue” within a system, this is a fine solution.
A final irony: Since Johannes Guttenberg perfected movable type in 1450—and spawned the proliferation of printing and knowledge—thoughtful type designers have worked to design typefaces that are legible and have different affect, character, and uses. Cutting and casting faces in metal was tough slogging, but many faces from the last half millennium still work hard for us today: words set in Bodoni mean something slightly different than those set in Caslon or Baskerville—and certainly communicate differently than their later sans serif cousins like Gill and Frutiger. Phototypesetting in the 1960s made it easier and less expensive to conceptualize and realize an ever-wider range of fonts; digital design and production increased the options that communicators have exponentially.
So it is ironic, and disheartening, in this era of typographic plenty, that a major company with brand roots in enduring design principles, should have chosen to take the road most traveled and sacrifice valuable brand meaning for watered-down expediency.
We know how taking the orange and straw off the Tropicana container worked out.
Quick: what’s your answer? We (Tamsen and Matt) have been tossing this question around quite a bit lately, and we think it reveals a lot.
Stones or Beatles? So strong are our associations with both that no one ever thinks we’re asking about rocks and insects. The names are shared symbols, soundtracks to individual memories. You hear the White Album’s spine crack, the Sticky Fingers’ zipper growl. You hear teenage angst, one-night-stands, love lost and found. You hear the music of an era, and music for the ages.
Stones or Beatles? It’s tempting to hedge the question. The bad boys, or the dreamers? The interpreters or the creators? Some people will tell you it depends on their mood. Or the albums in question. Some answer with a different band entirely (Matt usually answers with The Beach Boys, others say Elvis, others The Dead).
But when pressed, most people have a firm opinion one way or another.
Stones or Beatles? Tamsen discovered quite by accident that Matt likes to use this as an interview question (quite by accident because Matt informed her she passed without ever having actually asked her the question…). Being a fan of unexpected questions, Tamsen has since been asking it a lot: on Facebook (where it kind of blends in to the random quizzes and apps), on Twitter (where it got more answers than any other status update she posted), at the Gravity Summit Tweetup (where it was so popular that others started asking it, even to MC Hammer [Stones]).
It’s a question people love to answer because it’s public and personal at once: everyone has an opinion, but everyone comes to that opinion in their own way.
Stones or Beatles? Most people haven’t consciously prepared their answer. So, when you ask it, you get an answer shaped by who they are and how they see themselves. To Matt, the question reveals both a person’s affinity for and knowledge of music (something he values pretty much above all else) and whether or not, in his eyes, that person is a “thinker [Beatles] or a feeler [Stones].”
To Tamsen, the answer (though interesting) is only the start of the story. She likes to ask why someone made the choice they made, which in turn reveals frames of reference: those who cite coolness value status, those who cite creators vs. interpreters value approach to ideas, those who talk about who’d be more fun to see value experiences.
In other words, your understanding of someone’s answer is inexorably shaped by your own.
Stones or Beatles? Yes, it’s possible to overthink this, and we have. But it’s still fun to ask—and interpret.
So…Stones or Beatles?
Categories: Outside the Square
This week Brandon and I had the honor and pleasure of presenting Pixels with purpose: High-resoultion branding in the social media age as the first speakers in the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston’s new webinar series.
While we work on getting a link to the webinar itself, we thought you might enjoy taking a peek at the slides:
We designed the presentation to address how the explosion of social media—and the new powers of communication it gives audiences and consumers—can easily lead to a fragmented, “pixellated” brand.
To us, while social media brings new tools, the “old” prinicples of branding still apply. And, because social media gives constituents new ways to tell organizations what they care about, by bringing a brand-focused approach to your efforts, you can actually use the tools to add definition to your brand—and to create a more vivid picture of what your organization stands for.
In the presentation, we outline five core principles of branding, as well as a six-step approach to implementing social media in organizations.
We’d love to know what you think!