Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Excellent explanation of how crowdsourci

August 9, 2011

Excellent explanation of how crowdsourcing devalues professions:

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!

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:


  • 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


  • 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.

The Art Department

April 14, 2010

This morning’s Dilbert made me giggle. I wonder if I’d look good with a snout?

Dilber: the intern gets moved to the art department because his new snout makes him look "alternative"

The Art Department

Pantone Fall Color Forecast

March 30, 2010

Check out Pantone’s interactive color book here.

Posted using ShareThis

Motives of a design firm/ad agency

March 16, 2010

Recently, I read an article about an established Twin Cities advertising firm who spelled out their company’s culture in three simple rules:

  1. Have fun
  2. Make money
  3. Make money for our clients

This struck me as ridiculous. Really? Making money and having fun came before making their clients happy? And where was the goal of doing good work?

It seems like ages ago now that I worked at an ad agency with nearly identical goals. Only, it wasn’t fun. We didn’t do great work, and it felt like we were doing our clients a disservice. When I pushed for better quality in the work we do, the agency pushed back—if our clients were happy with our work the way it was, why would we waste time and money trying to improve it?

So I started my own design firm, placing quality at the center. My credo:

  • Do quality work for good people

Following this motto, I anticipated that:

  1. Quality work would bring loyal clients and good referrals,
  2. That I would have career satisfaction knowing that I produced a good product
  3. Money would follow

And indeed, this has been the case.

For me, the importance of benevolent motives fueling the work of a design firm cannot be understated. My clients place their business in my hands, trusting me to understand their company and convey that appropriately to their audiences. They trust me to approach each project with a problem-solving nature, never recycling work from other clients or applying a cookie-cutter approach to their unique business. They trust me to not sell them something they don’t need, and they trust me to not charge them for something I didn’t do. They trust me to be current in my understanding in the technical aspects of design and to be knowledgeable about the cultural climate of design.

In brief, they trust me to have integrity.

Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy wrote in his book How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, a passage about integrity that rings true:

We have to show integrity to the three “audiences” for which design is mostly done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. Designers will differ on the order of importance in which they place this trinity: in my view, the demands and responsibilities of all three have to be equally balanced.

It should be said that the agency mentioned in the article is fiscally  successful, and has sustained its growth in a poor economy. And, to their credit, the article states that their clients enjoy working with them. But for me, the question is, at what cost is success?

I’d LOVE your feedback on this article. Let me know your thoughts on the motivations of design and ad agencies. What are your “top 3” rules for running your agency?

Marketing the GoGirl

February 17, 2010

Yesterday morning I came across an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about an—er—implement that allows women to urinate standing up. It’s being marketed as a GoGirl, a pocket-sized piece of silicone that slips into a container in your purse and gives women the ability to discreetly take care of business when conditions are less than desirable.

Now, I realize you may be thinking, “This is an odd thing to write about on a marketing and graphic design blog!” but hang in there. The back story of the GoGirl is what interests me.

Turns out the product is currently in its first rebrand, being led by Sarah Dillon, a market researcher by trade. Sarah saw the potential in the product, but given her background, approached the business opportunity strategically, enlisting focus groups to learn about the product’s potential in the marketplace. Clearly, the research paid off. Everything about the product appears to be crafted to appeal to active women: its size, the price, the name, the package design, and even the tagline: “Don’t take life sitting down.” They aggressively market the product to women who are literally “on the go”: at festivals, fairs and womens’ expos, and take advantage of non-traditional marketing mediums such as sponsoring races, Facebook and other internet marketing.

Photo by Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune; "Go Girl sales director Jan Edman, center, and President Sarah Dillon in front of an advertisement for their product. They project that the Hopkins-based company will produce more than 1 million units this year and achieve $15 million in revenue by 2013."

Clearly, Sarah Dillon understands women, and has put together a marketing and branding package to sell an unusual product to the masses. Which is more than can be said for the first incarnation of the GoGirl.

Originally designed by Dr. Jim Block and dubbed “FemMed”, the product never went anywhere. The name and appearance was far too clinical, and didn’t appeal to women’s lifestyles. Now, as GoGirl, the product has the brand and marketing strategy in place to reach its target audiences and turn a profit. So: same product + understanding of target audiences + good marketing strategy = successful outcome.

I love this story because it really speaks to the power of the process we follow here at Mix Creative. When we get to know a new client, we go through a branding process that explores audiences, competitors, product features and benefits, the brand description and story, and the tone; then we use that to strategically design visual elements of the brand and determine the best route for marketing the company’s product or services. The result? Success in the marketplace.

So, Sarah Dillon, for getting it right, let me say, “You GoGirl!”

(tee hee, couldn’t resist)

Superbowl ad wrap-up

February 9, 2010

Not a big football fan myself, I nevertheless draped in our big comfy chair in front of the glowing television screen on  game day to watch (what else?) the Superbowl ads.

“Ads are on!” my husband and son would alert me, as I peered up from my book.

From the few that I could remember, the ads fell in roughly three categories: 1) heart-string tuggers, 2) screwball comedy and 3) misogynistic/objectification of women (what the heck does Danika Patrick and a girl who looks like a Hooters employee have to do with internet hosting?? and REALLY, you’d give away your wife to keep your TIRES?)

My overall impression of the ads was Deja Vu. For example:

  • Hyundai, which was a major corporate sponsor of the event, presented formula-based car commercials emphasizing quality and value. Cue the cars on the construction line, shiny vehicles on twisty roads. Nicely done, but rather dull for the Superbowl (notable exception: an ad with an aged by not-yet-retired Brett Favre).
  • Budweiser split the difference in a series of spots between girls in showers and an epic tale of friendship involving a Clydesdale and a Bull (sniff)
  • (sidetrack: one of the worst internet providers for customer service!) featured a number of spots that inexplicably pitted busty female against race car driver Danika Patrick for the coveted (??) position as a GoDaddy spokesperson.
  • Two ads in a row featured a “no pants” punchline: an overtired casual day reference:, followed by the “Men without pants” Dockers ad. Superbowl ad reps: can’t you place your commercials better to at least TRY to make your advertisers look a little more creative?
  • Talking babies ads for E*Trade: only E*Trade could make babies look this creepy and unlikeable.

A few notables:

  • Doritos had nice ads overall; the result of viewer-made entries. The “Don’t touch my momma and Don’t touch my Doritos” ad was relate-able, the Minnesota-made “Samurai” ad was kitschy, and the “Dog removes shock collar” ad was screwball funny
  • Google featured a text-based ad about winning over a French girl. I liked this format better on Hulu, where the ads are shorter, but it still worked.
  • Budweiser, dinged above for a few predictable ads, at least had a spread of different ad approaches to keep us interested.
  • Snickers wisely employed Betty White for a gaffaw. She was dead-on in her comedic delivery.

Want a more quantifiable opinion about the Superbowl ads? Check out todays’ Star Tribune article about how a local ad company tracked tweets about Superbowl ads to determine the most popular spots. Or, visit the New York Times’ Best and Worst Super Bowl ads of 2010 article to view all and read their commentaries.

Proofing tips

February 2, 2010

Proof reading is a critical, yet too often neglected, step in graphic design and production. Carrie Chase at CTI Paper Group offers some helpful tips in a recent e-zine article that came into my inbox. Here’s an excerpt:

Ideally, we’d all have someone else proof our advertising and marketing copy. Let someone else—anyone else—be responsible for signing off on that final proof before it’s forever set in print. Unfortunately, there isn’t always someone else, and even when there is, you should proofread your own copy carefully.

Don’t find out the hard way whether or not your career can withstand a $12,000 mistake.

Follow the ten tips below, and sign off on that final proof with confidence.

Click here to see her ten proof reading tips!

Excerpt reprinted with permission from CTI Paper group. Thanks!