We’ve Moved!

September 11, 2008

NOTE: Please visit our new blog home at www.themixcreative.com/blog! You’ll find all the same great articles, plus new material added regularly.

WHAT IS MIX CREATIVE? We’re a Twin Cities-based graphic design, marketing and advertising firm. Take a look at our website, www.themixcreative.com, call (612) 226-5717 or email us to learn more about how we can help you with your graphic design, marketing or advertising needs. Want to receive valuable tips for marketing your business? Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, The Mixer.

Excellent explanation of how crowdsourci

August 9, 2011

Excellent explanation of how crowdsourcing devalues professions: http://ow.ly/5WgoD

Pioneer Press: Oh No You DIDN’T!

June 15, 2010

Poor Pioneer Press. I mean, they’ve been through some major shake-ups in the past years. They’re a tiny, home town paper. They have less popular comics than their competitor. And they made the mistake of trying to woo us, die-hard Star Tribune readers, by sending us a free copy of their newspaper.

So it was that one Sunday morning I got up exceptionally early and realized that while my Star Tribune carrier was still happily slumbering, my dutiful free Pioneer Press carrier had already delivered the goods. And so this morning, I opened the Press and started reading.

The article about White Bear Lake’s waxing and waning lake levels caught my eye. Following the breadcrumbs from the cover of the local section to page 3B to finish my article, I was greeted with a graphic designer’s nightmare! Surrounding what otherwise was quite an attractive and well-designed advertisement for Pella Windows, were…CROPMARKS! PAGE INFORMATION! GASP!

Ok, for those of you who are not design geeks like myself, here’s a little background info. Crop marks are little lines, placed at each corner of printed artwork, that tell the printer how to position, print, and trim the artwork. They are not intended to be seen in the final product. Page information tells the printer the name of the digital file, as well as the date and time the information was printed. Also not intended to be printed in the final piece.

I frequently include crop marks when submitting art to publications, so they know how to place the art within their design. These are particularly helpful if you’re submitting an advertisement intended to have a white border around the edge.

Ok, so here’s the mess itself:

Printed crop marks!

See the crop marks and page information? (circled)

Lest you think I’m a terrible nasty person for pointing this out, I’d like to point out that we all make mistakes from time to time (see my previous article about apologizing!), and in the world of newspaper publication—when turnaround times are quick—a mistake here and there is bound to happen.

And, little mistakes like these make great gems for educating design students about the print process. So thanks for that.

On the flip side, I’d hope that the Pioneer Press made concessions to the advertiser for their error, which clearly had a negative reflection on the advertisers’ brand. And, unfortunately, their mistake cast a poor light on their publication to me—their potential subscriber—when it mattered most.

The lesson here? Well, never skip the step of careful editing and proof reading when you are publishing something to be seen by your potential audiences. It’s that expression your mom loves to use: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Caribou’s clever in-store social marketing

June 7, 2010
Caribou Stick Notes display

Caribou's example of low-tech social networking

Visiting the Caribou Coffee in Duluth’s Canal Park location this weekend, I spotted a highly effective, low-tech method of social networking: sticky notes.

With the phrase “What do you stay awake for?” printed on each little slip of paper, customers enthusiastically filled in the blank space. The sticky notes revealed a cross section of Caribou customers: teenagers, tourists, lovers, business owners, mothers and children. Their responses were surprisingly thoughtful, many of which spurred “conversation” from one sticky note to the next. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, it was wonderful to see these handwritten forms of expression that revealed much more about the author’s personality than pixels could ever do.

Should your business consider this type of promotion?

Caribou comments up close

A closer look at some of the comments.

To decide, let’s take a look at how Caribou benefits from their promotion. First, for a minimal cost of designing and printing sticky notes, Caribou created a promotion that:

1) Builds a dialogue between the company and their customers. This type of dialogue can build a sense of good will and customer loyalty. Clients feel listened to and achieve a sense of community with other Caribou customers.

2) Provides valuable information about their audiences. This information could be used to create future advertisements, Facebook conversations, or in-store promotions that resonate with their target audiences.

3) Provides a satisfying distraction while customers wait for their beverages.

4) Provides the foundation for an online social media campaign. Should Caribou wish to take the campaign online, they have a simple model that’s already been tested for sparking conversation, that they can implement on Facebook and Twitter.

Like this post? Please show the love by clicking on the “Like” link at the top of this page (next to the star). THANKS!

Anatomy of a Photo

June 2, 2010

Recently, Mix Creative had the opportunity to design the 2010 edition of the ONE coupon book. The book, filled with coupons for products from partners in the ONE (Organic and Natural Experience) program, needed to appeal to a demographic that included both tried-and-true consumers of organic products and the next generation of mainstream consumers.

Conceptually, my client and I wanted to merge the idea of the consumer experience with nature and organics. We imagined a picnic scene as the perfect juxtaposition. Next step: find the perfect image!

The brown grass outside told me a photo shoot was out of the question; I’d have to locate an image to use. I set out to find the perfect image, but instead found this one (click on a photo to see it enlarged):

Original picnic basket photo

The original photo: not quite right yet!

The original photo had the right idea, but lacked drama with its bland sky. The grass-only field didn’t tie in with the sunflower theme I had implemented on some of the interior pages. Also, the wine bottle wasn’t consistent with the type of products that were inside, the flashlights seemed out of context, and the thermos was distracting. Ideally, too, we wanted to highlight the types of products you might find inside the book.

So, I set out to make the image just right for our use by manipulating the photo in Photoshop. The following are the incremental steps to the final image:

Removed thermos from photo

Step 1: Remove the thermos from the photo and extend the foreground to fit our taller aspect ratio.

Replace sky in photo

Step 2: Replace the bland sky with one from another photo that had more drama, color and movement

Add flowers to photo

Step 3: Add yellow flowers to the foreground for visual interest, and to match the yellow flowers that appeared in the book's interior pages.

Add baguette

Step 4: Replace the baguette with a new baguette image. Strangely, the old one looked out of place once we started manipulating the photo, so we made the decision to add a different baguette image to this one.

Add lettuce to photo

Step 5: Add lettuce (taken from another stock photo) to the picnic basket.

Add jam to photo

Step 6: Add a jar of jam to the photo. Notice that as I added items to the basket, I also added the appropriate shading to make their presence more realistic.

Add crackers

Step 7: Add crackers to the basket

Add peanut butter to the photo

Step 8: Add a jar of peanut butter (and its shadows) to the basket

Add syrup to basket

Step 9: Add bottle of syrup to the photo. Note that I had to take particular care with all of the basket items to make them generic; the coupons inside vary from one edition to the next, so my client didn't want to highlight any particular brand on the cover image.

Add bottled yogurt

Step 10: In the completed image, I added a bottle of yogurt. The final image shows an abundance of consumer-friendly foods in an organic setting. Mission: accomplished!

The entire process took about 6 hours, and is compiled from 10 different stock photos. I should probably note that when possible, it’s more practical (and affordable) to shoot your own photography (via a professional photographer). That said, I was pleased with the final product. The cover image looked appropriate in the final design, appealing to a wide age range of consumers with familiar products in a beautiful and natural setting.

The completed cover

By the way, check out the Organic and Natural Experience online for tour dates (where you can get a coupon book and samples of partner’s products), and to learn more about how to live in sync with the planet.

What do you think of the completed image? Would you have done anything differently? We’d love to hear your comments!

Is magazine marketing right for your business?

May 25, 2010

Yesterday, while purchasing sandals for my son at Famous Footwear, the cashier handed me a magazine with my receipt, saying, “And here’s a free fitness magazine to thank you for your purchase today.”

“Cool!” I thought. Something for nothing is always a neat thing. And in this case, the brightly-designed and aptly named (Mind Body Sole) magazine seemed to be something right up my alley. The cover beckoned me to flip it open, with headlines like:

  • INSIDE >>>Exclusive Savings Offers
  • Tone up for Summer!
  • Comfort Food Makeovers
  • A Pizza Diet? Is it for real?

Inside the 60 page rag I found strong graphics, good photography and well-written articles peppered with ads for athletic shoes—brands all found at Famous Footwear. Genius.

Famous Footwear took a risk to spend the money to design, edit and print this magazine. One that, in my opinion, paid off. How?

  1. The articles were well-written and edited and provided content of value (and relevance) to their readers.
  2. The design looked professional and reinforced Famous Footwear’s brand elements.
  3. The product ads reinforced Famous Footwear’s product lines (and allowed the vendors themselves to present their products within their own brand campaigns).
  4. The magazine connected with the readers beyond the experience of buying shoes, building brand loyalty.
  5. The magazine drove readers to their website, allowing additional opportunities to interact with (and collect data) about their customers.
  6. The magazine included a special offer, to entice current customers into becoming repeat customers.

So is magazine marketing right for you? Before you jump in, beware of the following:

  • Creating a magazine isn’t cheap. To do it right, you’ll absolutely need a graphic designer/creative director, editor, copywriters, photographers, models, stock  photography, a sales representative, and project manager.
  • Publishing your own magazine takes time. Don’t expect it to happen in a couple of weeks. Depending on the content, you’ll need several months for planning and writing, a month for design and layout, and several weeks for printing/proofing. If you’re planning to publish more than one magazine, come up with an editorial calendar and production schedule to keep it on track. Note of caution: be careful not to call it a quarterly if you won’t follow through and publish it on a quarterly basis—you’ll lose faith with readers and advertisers.
  • The quality of the magazine should please your vendors. Vendors can help offset the cost of producing and printing a magazine, but if the end product doesn’t result in a return on their investment, you may end up harming that relationship. Make sure your magazine is created professionally, to a level that meets or exceeds the quality of your vendor’s ads.
  • You’ll need a plan for distribution. Consider whether you’ll send your magazine via direct mail, hand it out in stores, or rely on a third-party distributor to help it “get out there.” You’ll also need to decide if you’ll charge readers or make it a free publication.
  • Your content should be of value to your readers. Although it’s tempting to fill the magazine with plugs for your business, this should not be the focus of the content. Readers are savvy! They’ll quickly toss a magazine that feels like a big advertisement. Instead, focus on quality, relevant articles that connect with readers in way that fits the lifestyle message of your brand. They’ll get it. Trust me.

In summary, a magazine could be a great resource for your business—and your vendors—to connect with target audiences when done well. Not quite ready to commit? Consider a four or eight-page booklet or online brochure instead—they’re a great way to showcase your brand and your products without the huge page count.

As always, at Mix Creative we’re happy to talk with you about your magazine, booklet or any project! Contact us at 612-226-5717 or email us to chat about your project.

Designing for the Times: Changing Design Formats

May 18, 2010

This morning I’m thinking back on projects I’ve completed in the last few years, and it’s made me realize that part of being a graphic designer is constantly learning and adapting to accommodate the huge variety of media available for presenting our clients’ brands.

It wasn’t too long ago that a designer went to school and studied print, with maybe some schooling in television or animation. Then came this new-fangled category of new media, which largely meant websites and interactive CD-ROMS (remember those) and later, DVD interface design.

Today’s designer must understand the ins and outs of designing for ever-evolving printing presses, digital billboards, competing browsers, and do-it-yourself-ers, just to name a few. Some designers select to work within a single medium, while others—like Mix Creative—keep adding to their skillset. Here’s a sampling of the variety of projects we’ve worked on in the last couple of years:

PRINT

  • Offset and Digitally-printed business cards
  • Direct mail (including personalized pieces)
  • Booklets, catalogs, and magazines
  • Bookmarks
  • Magnets
  • Bag stuffers
  • In-store and exterior signage
  • Print billboards
  • Brochures (offset and digital)
  • POP
  • Pocket folders and media kits
  • Print ads
  • Microsoft Word stationery, flier templates, forms, labels, etc.
  • Printed address labels
  • Envelopes
  • Package design
  • Tradeshow graphics
  • Notecards
  • Buttons

Social media avatars

Social media avatars created for a client

An html e-blast template

A custom Twitter Background

A custom Twitter background

DIGITAL

  • Desktop icons
  • Avatars
  • Email signatures
  • Custom Facebook pages
  • Custom Twitter backgrounds
  • Digital billboards
  • Profile images
  • Browser window icons
  • Websites
  • Custom blogs
  • Email stationery
  • Email newsletters
  • Fliers printed to pdf only
  • Email fliers
  • Email ads
  • Powerpoint presentations
  • Video graphics
  • Animated gifs

I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but hopefully you’re getting the idea: today’s designers are VERSATILE!

So, for all of you designers out there: what’s the most unusual product you’ve created in the last two years?

Good enough? Judging the quality of your own work.

May 12, 2010
A painting of Audrey Hepburn by Katrina Hase

The completed painting of Audrey Hepburn

Years ago, I sat in my painting class, laboring away to create a hyper-realistic painting of my idol, Audrey Hepburn. I struggled greatly in the beginning, trying to get the proportions correct with my sepia outlines so it wouldn’t look like a caricature or a hastily painted mural in some tacky restaurant. I built the painting up little by little, adding shadows, then pigments, then highlights. After a great amount of time and struggle, I stood back and looked at it and pronounced it completed.

That’s when my painting teacher, Felix Ampah, walked by. “Hmm…” he started, looking at my work and then at my photo I’d been referencing, “looks like there’s a lot more information in here”—he pointed to her cheek—”and here”—he swept his hand along the virtual Audrey’s lip and chin. “Much more to do!”, he concluded, my own Mr. Miyagi sending me back to work.

Feeling defeated, I examined the photo and my painting. Sure enough, there was more “information” there—subtle changes in the shadows and highlights within the areas he pointed out. I worked the rest of the class and the next filling in “the information” that had escaped my eye on the first round. And when the painting was really completed, I felt it was my best work yet.

The lesson I learned from this experience I carry with me today: when I think I’ve completed a design, it’s best to put it away for a bit, then come back to it with a critical eye. Sometimes it’s me that does the critique, and sometimes I send it to my design colleagues for feedback. More often than not, there’s something small that can be added or edited to improve the quality of my design. The little adjustments make a big difference in the quality of the concept, and ultimately in my clients’ satisfaction.

Lands’ End: Pros at marketing to women

May 5, 2010
Lands End Catalog

Lands' End proves it understands how to market to women.

Paging through a Lands’ End catalog, it’s clear that the folks at Lands’ End understand how to market to women. Products and descriptions reach three demographics of women, (for example: “Fit 1: Modern”, “Fit 2: Original”, and “Fit 3: Traditional”), and leave it to their readers to self-select a category. The different fit categories are clearly labeled and illustrated throughout the catalog, and are accompanied by images of women with different body shapes and ages.

The copy is helpful and non-condescending. It anticipates issues women are likely to have about their clothing, and addresses them directly. For example:

“Straps stay securely in place.”
“Wide waistband lies smoothly over sides — won’t dig in.”

The copy also understands what aesthetic qualities women are searching for:

“Adorable details make these modern tops as cute as they are comfortable.”

Graphics and typefaces are contemporary and readable and colors are fresh and allow the products to take center stage.

Overall, well done! Good job, Lands’ End!

Color inspiration: in the paint

April 26, 2010

Looking for just the right color palette for a design? Inspiration may be as close as the nearest hardware store.

Paint manufacturers spend a lot of money researching color trends and putting together ready-made palettes for their customers. From swatches to glossy brochures, you’re sure to see some fresh color combinations to inspire your design! And unlike your Pantone book, you can hold these swatches individually, place them next to other colors to see how they interact, and even cut them out and paste them on your inspiration board without doing hundreds of dollars in damage.

But here’s something even cooler: many paint manufacturers have great websites for creating and experimenting with different color combinations. A favorite of mine is at Behr.com, which includes articles and information about color and color theory, see sample rooms and the colors that inspired them, and lets you create a room in your own color scheme using their interactive tools.

Behr website

Paint manufacturers like Behr offer fun tools and inspirations for selecting colors

Glidden.com includes a Top 10 Color Palettes page and its own version of a color-your-room interactive.

And Valspar.com includes a nice section on color palettes based on historical references, nature, architecture, ambience, and trends (this site also includes a paint-your-room interactive).

I’m sure there are dozens more sites, but you get the idea. Enjoy!

Correction in Mix E-Newsletter

April 22, 2010

Our monthly e-newsletter, >the mixer, went out today. In the newsletter, we featured products we designed for Drymate. I erroneously stated that they are from Shakopee, MN. In fact, they are located in Savage, Minnesota. I apologize for the error.

Here’s a larger image of their product design. Look for more to come!

Drymate pet products package design

Drymate Pet Products package design

If you’d like to sign up for our e-newsletter, click here. Each month we feature an article related to design or marketing your business, and feature recent work and news from Mix Creative.


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