Archive for November, 2008

Recent work: Commercial Real Estate Editorial

November 26, 2008

Every now and then I like to share the process behind our work. This recent project was for a proposed editorial feature about investing in the condo market. We wanted a strong image to convey the content, and decided original photography would be the best option.

After scouting locations in Minneapolis, Mix Creative created a shot list and set the time and date for the shoot with Rod Wilson, of Andrews Photography. Mix arranged for a model, selected apparel and accessories, and art directed the shoot.

Our model braves the cold to make a wardrobe change.

Our model braves the cold to make a wardrobe change.

The day of the shoot, we moved quickly to get the shot that we needed. We tried several poses and backgrounds, including a new trick Rod cooked up of using a security mirror to add another dimension to the photo. We loved how this tied in with the “See yourself in the condo market” headline.

Rod suggests using a security mirror.

Rod suggests using a security mirror.

An alternate location and pose. Rod used a wide angle lens to give a sense of scale.

An alternate location and pose. Rod used a wide angle lens to give a sense of scale.

After the shoot, we selected our favorites to download to DVD over pizza at Punch.

Rod Wilson never stops looking for the perfect camera angle!

Rod Wilson never stops looking for the perfect camera angle!

The final product (designed by Mix Creative)!


So you want to make an e-newsletter

November 22, 2008

E-newsletters are a fabulous way to stay in front of your core audiences. When they’re done correctly, they provide a value to your clients and send the message of “hey! when you’re not using my services, here’s some cool stuff that you can do.” That said, I’ve had people tell me that they don’t get sales or calls off of e-newsletters. That’s not what they’re there for. E-newsletters are a self-promotion tool that keeps your business in the minds of your clients, so that when a job does come up, you’re the one they think of.

Here are some tips for creating an effective e-newsletter campaign:

  • Once a month is a good frequency. Anything more is a nuisance; less has reduced impact.
  • Provide quick, informative content in your clients’ field of interest. Consider questions they may be having right now, and provide insight.
  • Archive your e-newsletters on your website.
  • Think of providing at least one essay, and a few (2-3) sidebar tips
  • Consider promoting one of your clients in an e-newsletter. (“Did you know that X company does. . .”)
  • Point people to useful links
  • Make your subject lines descriptive. Avoid marketing buzz words, which tend to get zapped by spam filters

A Conference for Creative Freelancers

November 21, 2008

Back in August, I attended a conference just for “solopreneurs” like myself. Called “The Creative Freelancer Conference”, it was hosted by HOW Magazine and Marketing Mentor, a group that specializes in helping small design businesses thrive.

Topics included everything from self-promotion, pricing, contracts, marketing efforts, copywrite law, time management, and studio policies.

When I left the conference, I had a list of goals to pursue over the next year with my business (like starting this blog and contributing often!). I felt invigorated and excited for the year ahead.

If you’re interested in attending next year’s conference in San Diego, you’ll find the information you need here (this is also a good resource for reviewing the content of last year’s conference). If you’re curious, but don’t think you’ll go, you may enjoy these resources from the speakers there:
:: her marketing e-newsletters are fact-filled and fun to read :: a blog from the folks at Marketing Mentor about how to thrive as a small graphic design business owner

Selecting Fonts

November 17, 2008
Argyle Sweaters by Scott Hilburn

Argyle Sweaters by Scott Hilburn

I want to talk about the importance of selecting the right fonts today, and offer some tips for making your selections. But first. . .an activity to try!

Read the following two lists of words quickly, without making any mistakes:



Did you find yourself delayed in reading the list in the second example? This activity is borrowed from a classic psychology experiment to demonstrate the influence of a competing visual element (color) on the comprehension of words. So why am I showing it here? Imagine instead of color, the variation is now the shape of the letter forms. It’s not difficult to imagine that similar to this experiment, fonts can influence the meaning we pull from a block of text. Here’s another example. What does the font choice for each sentence say about the speaker?


When I view the three samples, I imagine the speaker of the first sentence to be a writer or literary type, the second to be an elegant older woman, and the last to be a man—probably a creative type, and in his mid twenties.

You may be thinking that my characterization is grossly stereotypical. And you’d be right. But that’s how our brains work. Lacking complete information, we base initial judgments on the information that’s given, modifying our perceptions as more information becomes available. It’s a sort of shortcut for making sense of the world as quickly as possible so we’re able to react as needed.

So back to the issue of fonts. Hopefully I’ve impressed upon you that the selection of fonts influences the viewer’s perception and even comprehension of words and who is speaking them. The bottom line? Be deliberate in your font selection. Here are some tips:

1) Look beyond your computer’s installed fonts. Limiting your selection to fonts that are installed on 90% of all computers runs the risk of presenting a message that is cliche and unimaginative. I’ve seen headlines in Papyrus for everything from Christian rock bands to homemade candles. Can one font really be right for so many disparate products? Looking beyond your computer’s installed fonts will free you to find THE ONE font that really conveys the message of your brand.

2) Use a font manager to browse fonts. My favorite program is Extensis Suitcase. You can type in a word or phrase and see how it will look as you scroll through fonts you have loaded on your computer. Or, you can narrow your search to a specific font attribute (serif, sans serif, decorative, script, and more!). You can also create and save font sets for different projects to keep track of fonts you find along your search. Using this program broadens your search beyond the highlight-text-in-Word-and-select-a-font-from-the-pulldown-menu approach.

3) Consider readability. Yes, Zapf Chancery is a lovely font selection for designing a wedding program. But NO, Zapf Chancery is not ideal for large blocks of text. Save Zapf Chancery for headlines and use a less-embellished font for the main content. A good general rule: for reading large blocks of text, you want to notice the content before you notice the letter forms. Save the very decorative fonts for headlines, logos, or artful applications.

4) Consider historical references. Fonts have deep ties to historical periods that should be considered when selecting a font. For example, Blackletter fonts are based on hand calligraphy of the late medieval period. There are Art Deco fonts, Art Nouveau fonts, fonts associated with the first books, WWII propaganda posters, 1950s children’s books, modern fonts, Psychedelic fonts, and much more! Be intentional about the history you evoke when selecting a font. Understand who created the font and why before you use it. Or, if you plan to reference an historical era, look at examples of printed pieces from that time. A good reference is The History of Graphic Design, by Philip Meggs.

5) Check out these fun resources. Here are some of my favorite fonts sites to check out, with varying prices:

FontShop | Find, Try, Download Fonts
Emigre Home
Emigre, Inc. is a digital type foundry, publisher and distributor of graphic design related software and printed materials based in Northern California. Founded in 1984, coinciding with the birth of the Macintosh, Emigre was one of the first independent type foundries to establish itself centered around personal computer technology.
T.26 Digital Type Foundry
Letterhead Fonts: Rare and Unique Typefaces for Artists
P22 type foundry | Foundry | FontShop
Underware fonts
Underware is a (typo)graphic designstudio which is specialized in designing and producing typefaces, which are published for retail sale or specially tailor-made.
Fontifier – Your own handwriting on your computer!
Your own handwriting on your computer!
WhatTheFont : MyFonts
Download fonts for Mac and PC at MyFonts, the world’s largest collection of fonts online.
TYPE Hoefler & Frere-Jones | Online Catalog
Welcome to Phil’s Fonts
Welcome to Phil’s Fonts
Terminal Design
Our Favorite Fonts of 2005 Part 1 | Typographica
A daily journal of typography featuring news, observations, and open commentary on fonts and typographic design.
Wood Type

Chank Fonts


The Fuss about Ligatures

November 12, 2008

I recently started working with an editor on a project. Scanning my document, I noticed she caught many of the typical errors: an extra space here, change curly quotes to hash marks for inches, change this word for that word. . . but what was this? She was circling all my ligatures!

“Turn ligatures off,” the comment said.

What? It must be a mistake! But then, further on in the document, I saw it again!

“What’s going on here?,” I wondered. I had been taught as a graphic designer that the use of ligatures was a mark of good typography. I decided to get to the bottom the issue.

First, let’s look at what ligatures are, and why they exist. Ligatures are combinations of letters, created as part of a typeface’s character set, to avoid collision of elements of letterforms and create more elegant transitions from one letter to the next. Some common ligatures are ff, fi, and fl:

Common Ligatures

Ligatures were popular for setting type in the 15th century, when metal blocks of letters were placed into tracks to compose a printable document. At this time, ligatures were a great time saver, allowing the typesetter to place a single “fi” block into the track instead of separate “f” and “i” blocks—a seemingly small act that made a difference in a book of say 50,000 words.

Later, with the invention of Sans Serif type (with letterforms that have less overlap), modern-era printing (which uses print plates vs. individual blocks of text), the typewriter (with forced equal spaces—monospacing—between letterforms and no ligature keys), and desktop publishing (a decendent of the typewriter, where ligatures are hidden as glyphs that require unusual keystrokes) use of ligatures began to decline. An article about ligatures on states that:

Richard Wendorf, in a 2005 lecture The Secret Life of Type, even suggests that the death of the ligature was brought about by a desire to reduce the number of type pieces, and was also influenced by the popular publisher John Bell (1745-1831), who abandoned ligatures.

So ligatures declined. But when did they become despised by editors?

A partial answer to this came when I was reading a follow-up comment to a blog entry about ligatures. The person had written:

A question that I have is what does the ligature actually do for usability. Is it to help the flow of reading, or is it just to make the text look better?

Another reader responded:

I know of no studies that have broached the topic of ligatures and readability. The ligature was used by ancient scribes to speed their writing; I don’t think the ligature is the product of a desire for improved readability; however, as Stephen Tiano writes below, perhaps they do perhaps inadvertently perform this function.

When I asked my editor about her ligature bias, she suggested that the ligature was a stylistic dinosaur that confused the reader, decreasing readability due to people’s relative unfamiliarity with these typesetting specialties.

When it comes right down to it, a well-designed paragraph of type should not call attention to individual letters or letterforms. Rather, it should be read effortlessly. In this vein, I considered that it is the task of the designer to determine if a font’s ligature detracts or adds to readability. Some fonts, like Adobe Garamond Pro, were created with readability in mind and have thoughtfully-designed ligatures that enhance the flow of text. Others, such as some sans serif fonts (to be honest, I couldn’t find a bad example—but I’m sure they’re out there), may be better suited to have ligatures turned off. Whichever route you select, take care that you use (or don’t use) ligatures consistently within a single document to avoid confusion.

As for the highly stylized, fanciful ligatures that exist in many faces: I would suggest that they are entirely appropriate in headlines or logotype, where we want readers to notice the beauty and style of the letterforms. Bookman, Mrs. Eaves, and Zapfino are examples of fonts that have exceptionally beautiful ligatures that the world deserves to see!

Are you a fan or foe of ligatures? Let us know! Leave a comment below.

To Stock or not to Stock? Assessing your Business’s Photographic Needs

November 5, 2008

Ten years ago, if you needed photography for your company’s marketing materials you might be facing a rather spendy bill—either purchasing a stock photography collection on a CD or hiring a photographer to shoot the images for you, both options costing hundreds of dollars.

Today, thanks to subscription and pay-as-you-go micro stock collections, prices for stock photography have brought decent quality stock photos to the masses. So why ever go back to commissioned photography? Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering your photographic needs to determine the best option for your marketing needs:

1) How common is the subject? These days, if you need a picture of a common person, place, or thing, you’re likely to find it on a stock site. Stock is a good option for common subjects if you’re flexible about the lighting, camera angle, background and other variables. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a woman, age 40, with blonde hair and freckles, wearing a striped sweater and looking up as if she’s thinking about something really great. . . well, the time (and therefore the money in labor!) to search for such a specific image may be well worth having a photographer to shoot it.

2) Is it part of a campaign? In designing a concept for a new campaign for a client, I came across the perfect stock photo to convey the idea I was shooting for. The client loved the concept and we decided to expand the idea into a campaign. That’s where the trouble started. The original photograph, artfully styled and shot and with just the right model expressions, was nearly impossible to match with subsequent stock photos, all taken by different photographers. Since then I’ve learned my lesson: if you’re using a photo as part of a campaign, make sure the photographer has more in the series that fit the campaign, or plan to use commissioned photography from the get-go.

3) Is the image part of the core brand? A frequent shopper at myself, I’ve become familiar with the various stock models for traditional searches—say, “friendly phone operator”. So, I suppose it’s no shock that I can’t seem to escape the image of the same “friendly phone operator” model on contact pages throughout sites across the internet. While there may not be much harm in repeating an image on a contact page, imagine this “friendly phone operator” were your company’s main marketing image. In this case, each time a customer saw the image on another site, your brand would become diluted and generic in the viewer’s eyes. To absolutely ensure that your core brand images are used by your company alone, it’s best to commission photography. On the upside, your company will only benefit from repeated use of the image in all of your marketing materials, strengthening your brand message and giving you more bang for your buck.

4) How will the image be used? My favorite use of stock images is as source material. In other words, I’ll take pieces of photography, cut them out and manipulate them to work with my layout or as part of a larger image. In this way, the art is repurposed in a fresh and original way. Inexpensive stock is also a great way to try out ideas in original concepts, before you spend a lot of money on the final images. I also use stock images as source and inspiration for creating illustrations. All good!

5) Are you showing your company’s product? This one is a hard one to get around with stock photography. Sure, you could rely on manufacturer’s photographs of items if you’re a distributor, but you have very little control over how the product is photographed from vendor to vendor, or the quality of the image. Investing in custom photography will give you ultimate control over the styling, set, model, and lighting, and will help you to bring very different items into one cohesive image.

Happy Election Day!

November 4, 2008

On this election day, Mix Creative would like to briefly pause and acknowledge the priviledge of being able to participate in a democracy and the freedom this affords us as citizens of the United States. Thank you to our brothers who worked to allow citizens of African American decent to vote in 1869, and to our suffrage sisters of 1919 for helping to amend the constitution to give women the right to vote.