A Designer’s Guide to Finding Great Images

Much of our print and digital design work is complimented by compelling images. Great campaigns might only need one, while a set of brochures is helped by a few dozen. They can add a touch of real life to abstract concepts or evoke a visual feeling about the subject.

Like any other part of the project, we work with parameters allowed: time, budget, authenticity and quality.

How can you find the best photos for your project? Here’s a designer’s perspective on where to go.

Search Engine Results

Search Engine Results

Where do you go when you need something quick and free? Not here. Google images, Bing images, Facebook, Pinterest are places to visit when searching for inspiration, but will rarely yield an image you can legally use. Taking someone else’s image is copyright infringement (Learn the basics here). The only time it’s okay to use a search engine to find photos is when compiling ideas. Even then, it’s important to remember to replace the ones you found in a basic search with a photo you have a license to use before your project is published or shared.

Free Stock Photo Websites

There are a few places to find licensed quality photos for free online. These can be great for background photos and for social media posts if you have a limited budget. You may not find exactly what you’re looking for, however, and other people may be using the same photos.

  • Pexels: Pexels provides a wide variety of photos and is simple to search. The quality and selection of photos continues to grow. The downside? The secret is out and you may find other businesses using the same photos for different purposes. There are no advanced search options, so it may be tough to find exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Unsplash: Warning! These photos need attribution and may not be the best option for your project. Unsplash was a reaction to obviously staged stock photos. (You know, the ones featuring someone in a business suit in an unlikely and totally staged situation. You’ve seen them, you know.) But now it’s created a new kind of cliché: the hipster stock photo of woodsy landscapes and moody vibes. Background images are abundant here and it might be a good place to find ideas.
  • Death to the Stock Photo: They take a similar approach to Pexels and Unsplash, but instead curate photos into themed packs for free users and emails them out in a newsletter or subscription-esque model. These photos are always interesting but pop up frequently in other people’s work.
  • Flickr commons: Anyone can contribute to the growing nebula of the photo stockpile that is Flickr. Use this platform with caution! Only photos listed with a “Creative Commons” license can be used without attribution. While the photo selection is wide, the quality varies greatly from professional photography to archaic digital camera photos. We have been able to take advantage of some of the vintage artwork (posters, illustrations and books) that can become part of a larger classic look or feel.

Paid Stock Photo Websites

Most paid sites offer the best advanced search options and perhaps the largest photo selection. Want a photo with one Asian man in his 60s on a fishing trip? You got it. Want a photo of a group of people camping in the wintertime? Done. When a project calls for specifics (i.e. a man old enough to have cataracts enjoying his daughter’s wedding without glasses because his cataract surgery eliminated their need), paid stock photo sites are the fastest and most cost-effective way to get the job done. They all have advanced search options that let you choose whether you want a photo with people, how many people, plus their age, gender, even ethnicity. Most sites also allow you to search by hex color code so you can find a photo that has elements that match your brand colors perfectly.

A license for this photo has been purchased and it’s ready for use!

Stock photo sites also make it easy to test out an image by downloading it with a watermark. Many early drafts contain watermarked images until they get approved. Using a watermarked image in final artwork is a huge faux pas.

There are some drawbacks to paid stock photo sites. Many have criticized stock photo sites for perpetuating stereotypes or lacking options for various ethnic groups. They also pose questions about transparency. When flipping through pages of stock photos, designers have to ask: “Does this photo help illustrate true information for this company? Is it sending the right message even if it’s staged or not from this business?”

This photo uses a spot-color effect so that it can feel like part of a set. Other photos in the set of brochures where this one was used have a similar red pop.

Some stock photo models are more successful than others at portraying a natural look and end up all over. The same woman in your ad might end up getting used to advertise hand soap or athletic apparel or a prescription medication. Stock model Ariane, for example, is so popular that someone created a Facebook page to collect examples of her photos as people came across them all over the world.

I provided just a few examples; there are many places to buy stock photos online. Prices vary based on the number of photos you purchase at a time, the quality of photos, and whether you want to buy exclusive rights to a photo. You can spend anywhere from around $10 to hundreds on one photo.

  • Thinkstock.com
  • iStockPhoto.com (owned by Getty Images)
  • Shutterstock.com
  • Offset.com

Smart Phone Photos

  • …work great for social media post or email newsletters. In fact, they may be more interesting to your audience than stock photos. Cameras on smart phones have improved greatly in the last few years. If you can capture a photo with good lighting that’s social media or newsletter appropriate, it will nearly always beat out a stock image. Examples: Your office holiday decorations, a staff birthday celebration, your company-wide service or community event. These photos need to feel real and this is the fastest, easiest way to produce digital sharing-ready photos. Someone on your team might already have a repertoire of good phone photography skills. Check their Instagram and see if they’re willing to be on-call when something post-worthy happens.
  • …do not work for most print publications. While you may have captured a great candid of your company’s founder interacting with a new employee, it may not be the thing for your brochure cover. Photo quality—both in content and file size—are important here. Phone photos may not have a high enough resolution to make it beyond Facebook and usually have no business on a postcard, brochure or banner. There may be an obvious difference between a phone photo sitting next to a stock image or the resolution may simply make the image pixelated on a paper. Either way, the quality of the materials that promote your work should match the quality of the work you are doing.
  • So, when is the real thing better than a good photo? It all depends on what your audience needs and expects! An ophthalmic surgery center might share a phone photo of a surgeon using a brand new technology but needs a professional photo for their brochure about it. A non-profit that helps local kids is better off sacrificing photo quality for authentic images of their experience (with permission of course!).

Custom Photo Shoot

Custom Photo Shoot

An employee of Vance Thompson Vision sits in as a cataract patient model. The photo was used for a presentation by Dr. Thompson and it was important for the photos to feature their clinic.

Perhaps the best way to help patients or customers understand what their experience will be like with your business is to create your own custom photos. With a custom photo shoot you get to feature images of your actual business. (Crazy, right?) Instead of showing an image of a clean, empty reception area, why not feature a photo of your reception area? The familiarity helps build trust and confidence with a patient or customer’s first encounter at your facility by evoking a, “hey, I’ve seen this before,” reaction.

The same rules apply for shots of your doctors or employees. They may feel static and posed in a headshot, so creating a scene with a patient or customer interaction not only helps puts them in their element it also creates a more realistic image to put online or in a brochure. As a bonus, you won’t be using a stock photo model in place of your professionals and the whole set will have the same tone and feel. For obvious reasons, you should not use real patients in these photo. You’ll need to have everyone’s permission (with model release forms) to pull this off successfully.

Bridal Veil Falls Paul Schiller Photography

You may not need to invest in a photo shoot to be able to use excellent, local photography. Many professional photographers have already invested time in capturing the surrounding landscape and local landmarks.Vance Thompson Vision, for example, uses photos of South Dakota taken by local photographer Paul Schiller. His landscape photography features popular natural landmarks like Lake Sylvan and Bridal Veil Falls. They help unify a series of brochures on the various eye procedure categories available at Vance Thompson Vision.

While there are many ways to do it, finding the right photo shouldn’t be overwhelming. Like most design projects, it starts with identifying the image’s purpose, the available budget and time, and how it fits with the existing brand. Photography tells a huge part of a brand’s story. Used well, it reinforces your message and catches the eye. Happy photo hunting.

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Good Reads from 2017


Three Design Lessons We Learned from Carving Pumpkins

We try not to take life too seriously here at the MJM office. We decided it was the perfect time of year to try our hand at carving some MJM-themed pumpkins. As it turns out, carving a pumpkin actually has a lot of similarities with design—as well as some unfortunate differences.

Here are a few things we learned while carving pumpkins:

1. Pumpkins Are a Blank Canvas

Just like in design, pumpkins allow you to start with a blank canvas to work on. And like with a project scope, your parameters are already set. In this case, the scope was defined by the size and shape of the pumpkin and what message we hoped our pumpkins would deliver to those who see it.
We wanted our pumpkin to be extra scary, so we carved Matt’s face into it.

2. There’s No Command+Z

Unfortunately, there are no undo buttons or shortcut keys when it comes to pumpkin carving. We learned this the hard way on our pumpkin featuring our brand new MJM logo. Because we couldn’t go back, we were forced to get creative in new ways and improvise—a welcome challenge.

3. Creating Is Fun

Okay, this one may sound silly, so hear me out. When you design on a computer all day, every day, you can sometimes forget that what you are actually doing is creating. A change of medium (to a pumpkin, in this case) is a surprisingly fun way to reconnect with the art of making things.

We love to see the ways other people choose to create, so share your Halloween creations with us!

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Happy National Coffee Day!

How do you take your coffee? Steaming hot, black, with cream, sweetened, over ice? Whatever your preference, coffee is a powerful and delicious, tool for building relationships.

Sharing a pot of coffee is a morning ritual at the office. We enjoy beans roasted down the road by our friends at The Breaks. So is meeting over a cup at Queen City Bakery or Coffea. We even map out the progression of economic value using coffee beans from their raw, harvested form through a full concierge-like coffee experience.

We think coffee is pretty great, but it’s even better with you (and donuts). Download our original Coffee Coloring Page. Color it in, take a photo, tag us and we might just have to have coffee with you sometime.



Retro Reimagining with Lenticular Printing

Remember the old plastic-covered photographs you’d pull from a cereal box that would replicate motion or animation when tilted back and forth? This method of printing is actually referred to as lenticular printing. It creates this effect by using separate images or frames broken up into bars and pushed together as one single image. A transparent lenticular sheet added overtop the final sandwiched image actively isolates the different images when viewed from different angles and generates the impression of fluid animation.

Digram of how lenticular printing works

Diagram from Afga Graphics

The idea of lenticular printing fell into our lap as the most dynamic way to bolster the invite for the upcoming Vance Thompson Vision symposiums. ­The theme of this year’s symposium is Back to the Future, so this allowed us to explore and meet the middle ground of Drew Struzan’s masterful original poster work for the beloved film series and the illusion of animation through lenticular prints. We melded these concepts together to create an irregular yet striking print guaranteed to capture the eye of any invitee.

GIF of Vance Thompson Vision poster with lenticular printing

Lenticular printing is an effective concept for a number of reasons, the main being the appearance of animation or video. People have been using and appreciating video for more than a century. But the caveat of the medium is that it nearly always needs some source of power and a screen to function properly. Though brief (a few frames), lenticular prints allows video and animation to bypass this hurdle and creates organic animation powered by your own perspective.

Lenticular also opens up a world of possibilities for designers beyond animation. It creates an opportunity for truly dynamic typography and illustration. It can reveal different information or elements singularly within the same composition. For example, if there is a train stop that needs to provide travel information to passengers passing through the platform. They understand that passengers coming from one direction of the platform need different information than that of the passengers approaching from the opposite side. With the use of lenticular printing, a single sign could provide both parties with the information relevant to them based their different perspectives.

Gif of Rick and Morty poster with lenticular printing

Lenticular printing presents a number options to designers and creatives, many of which remained untapped. Whether for the printed illusion of animation or information control within compositions, it provides a number of interesting solutions. We’ve been enthused by our first foray into the medium and hope to implement it again soon.

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How to Fall in Love with Your Audience

I love being a graphic designer. But there are days when I find myself feeling listless—like everything I make is nothing more than meaningless, ephemeral “stuff.” To combat this problem, I’ve been trying something new: falling in love.

I don’t mean the fairytale romance kind of love. I mean the love that comes from genuinely caring about someone other than yourself. The kind of love that allows you to see the world from a different perspective.

Whether you’re a designer, content creator or business owner, falling in love with your audience can help reignite the passion for your work and allow you to do work that can actually make a difference in someone’s life.

1. Be Interested

Note that this does not say be interesting. Remember that this is about them, not you. Resist the urge to rattle off qualifications or experience and instead just listen. Treat every interaction with your audience—whether face-to-face or virtual—like a first date by giving them the gift of your full, undivided attention.

Ask them about their day, their likes, their dislikes, their hopes, their dreams. The more you’re able to see your audience as a complex, beautiful person and not just a customer or a patient, the more motivated you are to provide useful solutions to their problems.

2. Be Observant

If you’re meeting someone in-person, take notice of their surroundings. If you’re meeting in their home or office, pay attention to how they’ve created their environment. What people choose to surround themselves with can say a lot about them.

If you’re meeting someone outside of their environment, you can still pay attention to their mannerisms—the way they speak and carry themselves. Pick up on the little quirks and mannerisms that make each person unique. Hold onto these little gems and pull them out whenever you feel yourself getting frustrated and losing sight of who you’re working for.

4. Be Empathetic

As the creator of your message or service, you have the benefit of much more context than your audience. This divide is particularly striking when handling criticism or complaints. If someone comes to you with a problem, you likely already know that problem exists and have an excuse at the ready.

But rather than begin on the defensive, try to see it from their perspective. Reframe the problem and try to solve it in a way that most benefits them and not just in the way that is easiest for you. This will not only give you more compassion for your audience, but also provide you with greater insight into how to make your product or service better.

4. Fake It

Of course, there are many times when you don’t have direct access to your audience or it’s simply too vast to get to know them on a personal level. If that’s the case, you may just have to fake it.

Glean whatever information you can from customer surveys, user comments or social media followers and craft personas of who your audience might be. Think about what their lives might be like and consider how that will affect how they interact with your content or service. Find stock photos and stick them somewhere you can see them so you can put a face to your audience. The decisions based on these personas may not be authentic, but they will at least be sincere.

Remember that love is a choice. And when we choose to love the people we serve, it changes all of our lives for the better.

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Once the Dust Settles: A Post-ASCRS Review

Recently, a few members of our team made the west coast trek to Los Angeles to participate in the annual spring ASCRS conference. The conference is an opportunity for ophthalmic professionals to learn, grow, and network with peers.

As attendees, we had a lot to take in, from the exhibit floor to the classroom. We had the opportunity to hear excellent doctors present on their life’s work and to see live surgery being performed with the industry’s newest technology.

Exciting new refractive technologies, such as SMILE from ZEISS, were available for education and hands-on learning. Healthcare regulation and reform were hot topics of conversation, as we all wait anxiously to see what emerges regarding MIPS and changes to the ACA. And, as always, we were all learning and hunting for new innovations in patient care, surgical offerings, and best practices in ophthalmology.

The biggest challenge for exhibitors at ASCRS is getting your product or offering to “cut through the noise.”

With hundreds of industry partners present on the convention floor, the biggest challenge for exhibitors at ASCRS is getting your product or offering to “cut through the noise” and reach new potential consumers.

So how do you set yourself up for success? How do you ensure that your product and your booth will stand out above all others?

Do it well

If you’re going to spend the money to be present at the conference, you need to do it well. How do we define “doing it well?” There are four key components:

  1. Focus on cohesive branding and materials.
  2. Offer pointed messaging that clearly outlines your value proposition and ideal customer.
  3. Have something “actionable” at your booth; something for visitors and customers to do immediately to improve their skill, practice, or thinking.
  4. Learn from your successes and mistakes. Audit every conference you attend and determine what worked and didn’t work from a booth presence perspective. Ask your loyal customers what they thought of your booth. Ask what others thought the best parts of ASCRS were this year. Learn, learn, learn.

If you “do it well,” you will shine at meetings like this.

PRN booth at ASCRS

As part of their presence at ASCRS 2017, PRN included a number of materials intended to educate their consumers and to show how their unique offerings stand up against competitors’ products.

Create space for conversation outside the exhibit hall

Some of the best conversations we saw happen at ASCRS happened outside of the exhibit hall and over a shared meal. Relationships and trust are built when real conversation is allowed to happen, and the best place to build relationships and trust is over dinner.

Relationships and trust are built when real conversation is allowed to happen, and the best place to build relationships and trust is over dinner.

Some options for holding these coinciding events include round tables or additional presentations. As you plan your event, create goals of the amount or type of feedback you hope to gain. In this way, you can measure the success of your event. Answers to these questions should affect your materials, your way-finding, your room set-up and your presentations.

Another exciting option at national events like ASCRS is to plan “experiential meetings” where you combine some form of learning or content sharing with a locally sourced experience. The goal of these events is that attendees would become actively immersed in your brand and product. For example, work with a local tour group to book a double-decker tour bus of the city. Before or after the event, offer some exciting new thoughts about your product or company. Because ASCRS has many vendors and meetings competing for the attention of doctors and staff, give people an added incentive to attend your experience.

Visiometrics booth at ASCRS

With these long standing banners, Visiometrics extended the visual impact of their booth’s presence. This modular approach also allows them to reuse those elements separately in other events.

Your booth layout matters

Depending on your product and presentation, the floor plan of your booth matters. In smaller booths, like a 10×10, the options are limited. However, there are still decisions to be made. Some questions you should ask yourself as you design the layout include:

  • What’s the one message you want people to see and understand?
  • Do you want a table separating you from your potential customers?
  • Do you need a private space to meet with interested buyers?
  • How does your floor plan affect your ability to draw in passersby?
  • What will people be able to stop and do at your booth?
  • How can your booth be unique and different from any other?

Answering these questions clearly before you begin working on your booth design will help ensure you create the ideal booth for your meeting goals, at ASCRS and beyond.


Designing the Future of Downtown Sioux Falls

When you grow up in a place like South Dakota, you grow up with a pervasive belief that if you really want to do “something” with your life, you had better go do it somewhere else.

But what if instead of focusing on all of the things we can’t do in Sioux Falls, we were to focus on all of the things we can do?

Clock in Downtown Sioux Falls

I have lived in Sioux Falls my entire life and I’ve spent most of that life desperately wanting to be anywhere else. But recently—in one of the most difficult and most exhilarating decisions of my life—I’ve made the choice to stay.

One of the most exciting things about living in a small city is that there’s still so much room to grow. Sioux Falls has yet to really figure out who it wants to be in the world. While bemoaning the lack of opportunities in the region, many miss out on the biggest opportunity of all: to shape the future of a city.

Man taking a photo of the Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls has already grown tremendously over the past few decades. I’ve watched with pride as it has developed into a more inclusive and diverse city. Nowhere has this been more apparent than downtown. What used to be one of the more run-down parts of the city has become a vibrant hub for local culture and businesses.

I’ve lived and worked in various parts of the city at various times, but with MJM’s relocation downtown Sioux Falls and my own personal relocation a block away, I’ve had the opportunity to really immerse myself in the ideas that are brewing there and what they might mean for the future of the city.

One of the ideas that energizes me most is walkability. If you have talked to me at all in the last few months, you have probably heard how much I love being able to walk to work. ARUP recently published a pretty thorough report about the domino benefits of designing walkable cities and it’s a great read for those interested in the topic, but my benefit is a simple one: happiness.

“As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy.”—Enrique Peñalosa

Even in the bleak South Dakota midwinter, I’m still more excited for a 10-minute walk than a 20-minute drive. We’ve written on the blog before about how instances of human interaction are dwindling and I think the biggest benefit of walking is that it has made me feel more connected to the community and the people in it.

While sitting in your metal box on the highway, it’s easy to forget about all of the other people sitting in their own metal boxes. But it’s a lot harder to ignore someone when they’re walking by you on a sidewalk.

A piece from the Statue Walk in Downtown Sioux Falls

Unfortunately, downtown is one of the few places in Sioux Falls that is pedestrian-friendly. But, there’s still time and space to change that. Will it happen? I don’t know. But I’m excited to find out.

And even if it doesn’t, I’m will continue working toward building a life and a future to be proud of. And I wouldn’t choose to do that anywhere else.

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MJM’s New Space Is Helping us Grow and Explore New Ground

It feels a little like we just moved out of our parents’ house and into our own place. We had to buy our own microwave, scrounge a toaster from a friend and buy a couch or two. And some plates. And a broom.

MJM is growing up.

The front entry of MJM's new space

Welcome to MJM’s new space! And thanks to Alison for the great hand-lettered sign!

Meeting rooms in MJM's new space

Dedicated meeting rooms have helped improve our workflow and collaboration, and provided spaces for meeting with clients or for smaller team meetings.

Where we’ve been—the MJM origin story

Once upon a time, MJM was a loose collection of freelancers and collaborators gathered to tackle specific projects. We all worked from our homes or coffee shops and checked in with each other with on a regular morning video call.

As we began to tackle larger and more complex projects and started representing national brands and well-known nonprofits, we grew and began to feel the need for a shared space. Because of our unique relationship with Vance Thompson Vision (beyond being one of our first clients, we also share Matt Jensen as CEO) it made sense for MJM to build out a portion of VTV’s overflow space to house our growing team.

Work stations in MJM's new space

We have lots of room to spread out and work, and whiteboard walls to collaborate and work through ideas together.

Stadium seating in MJM's new space

In what we affectionately call the Theater, we have our virtual morning meetings with the rest of our team around the country.

Moving into our own space

We loved being part of the VTV community and sharing life with them for a season (not to mention their well-stocked break room and great coffee). But as VTV and MJM both grew, VTV was ready to expand into their overflow space and MJM was at a point where we needed more space to work, create and collaborate.

MJM was at a point where we needed more space to work, create and collaborate.

And now we have it! Late last year, we moved into our new digs downtown and we’ve been settling in. We did feel a little bit like college kids moving into our first real apartment. We bought a microwave. We hung some of our posters up on the wall. Got some great coffee (thanks Corey and Wes) and then bought a coffee maker of our own, just like real grown-ups.

Kitchen in MJM's new space

We moved out and bought our own microwave and coffee maker. But we still plan to take all our laundry back to VTV every weekend. (Just kidding, Dr. Thompson.)

Space for creative collaboration

Like most organizations, we rely heavily on digital tools to organize our thoughts and collaborate (Slack, Redbooth, Dropbox and Paper make up the four walls of our digital workspace). But one of the things we’ve enjoyed most about MJM’s new home is that we have a lot of physical spaces set apart for creative collaboration. As much as we might be tempted to forget it, we are physical beings and we think and work in physical space. There’s no substitute for spreading out a stack of papers and images on a table or trading ideas back and forth on a whiteboard.

“The dedicated rooms are really nice—no more juggling meeting spaces!” –Brady

In the past we haven’t had a separate meeting space of our own to use—now we have four, each with room to work and whiteboard walls to work through our ideas together. As Brady said, “the dedicated rooms are really nice—no more juggling meeting spaces!” We’re also developing a dedicated making space, with room and tools to work on mockups to show clients how their materials will look and feel.

Sound control and a state of “flow”

I’m not sure it’s the same for everyone on the team, but my concentration isn’t very durable. I’m distracted easily, especially by other people’s conversations. One of the hardest things about sharing space with other people is that they sometimes need to talk to each other. (If you can imagine.) When your focus is as fragile as a soap bubble,* it doesn’t take much to break your concentration.

Animation of a bubble popping

*I actually made this animation in the middle of that sentence, as an accidental and delightfully appropriate case study.

Our new dedicated meeting spaces help our team create and maintain a state of flow in their daily work by eliminating distractions and helping us stay immersed in the work. (Heaven knows, some of us need all the help we can get.)

Phone booths in MJM's new space

Phone booths help everyone on both sides of the glass concentrate better. Also we have mannequins next door. They’re good neighbors, pretty quiet.

Doing good work in an old building — feeling connected to the city

One thing several members of the team have mentioned is that moving into this new space has given us a renewed sense of MJM’s relationship to the community. When we need a brain break, Falls Park (the city’s namesake) is right outside our door and some of our favorite restaurants and coffee shops are now within easy walking distance.

“I like the historic feel of the area…it feels more like we’re a part of Sioux Falls.” –Shannan

There’s also something grounding about working in a building with solid bones and a deep history. The beams that hold this place up are massive and the brick walls are easily 18 inches thick. For the MJM team, “we love good work” has become something of a mantra—we value craftsmanship and place a premium on doing our work well for the sake of the work itself.

This reclaimed industrial building is a wise old mentor as we create new, well-made work for our clients.

Finding a new sense of ourselves

As we go through the process of settling into our new home, it has given us even more of a sense of who we are and what we want to be. We value learning and curiosity; being present where we are; we value guts, taking risks to grow and try new and hard things; we value being accountable to each other and to our clients, and at the same time we value having a strong sense of fun and mirth.

“I feel like having this empty space to fill has pushed us to really evaluate who and what MJM is.” –Kirstie

As we continue to develop this our sense of where MJM is headed, our brand and identity will continue to develop as well, to reflect who we are. And if you haven’t seen the new space, get in touch with us and we’ll pour you a Fernson or a coffee and show you around.

We’ve come a long way, and we’re excited to see what the next few miles hold for MJM.

Bookcases in MJM's new space

We now have a home for our library of design and customer experience books, and a comfortable place to read them.

Fernson keg in MJM's new space

If you haven’t seen the new space, get in touch with us and we’ll pour you a Fernson or a coffee and show you around.


Brand Identity Guidelines: Consistency Is King

Or at least kind of a big deal.

When we collaborate with our clients to help them refine, reimagine or build a new brand identity from the ground up, we always recommend codifying the good thinking that occurs into a set of identity guidelines. These guidelines spell out the essential elements that an organization uses to consistently communicate its identity, story and messages.

So… what’s a brand?

Consider that a brand is a collection of expectations, experiences and relationships that a customer feels towards an organization. As Marty Neumeier defines it in his book The Brand Flip (a recent favorite addition to our shared library), this collection is like a gut feeling that a customer has. It’s their immediate impression when they hear the name or see the logo.

A brand derives its value from the impression or trust that its customers identify with it and the values that they share together. When a brand works hard to deliver a positive and compelling experience, it needs a strong identity for its customers to tie that impression or gut feeling to. That identity comes to symbolize the shared values between the brand and its customers, and the good work that the brand carries out on their behalf. The value is not in the logo or name, but in the good work and relationship it symbolizes. It’s important to apply and live out a brand identity consistently to reinforce that relationship and good gut feeling.

What do brand identity guidelines consist of?

There are many components. Some are related to belief and purpose: name and logo, story or narrative, taglines and messaging. Other components help define the tone or personality of the brand and its visual vocabulary. These include colors, typographic style, imagery and illustrations. The combination of these elements helps to create a unique identity—an identity that communicates purpose and a set of shared values that click on a gut level.

Finding the right combination of these elements takes time and hard work. And yet the process is rewarding. We’ll outline that process in the coming weeks, and why it is one of the favorite experiences we share with our clients.