Designers Tackle the 36 Days of Type 2018

#36DaysofType

Each day a new character, and in our case, a new designer as we passed around the alphabet to explore type, animation, illustration, storytelling and more. Designers and illustrators around the world participated in 36 Days of Type by posting to instagram and connected with the #36DaysOfType hashtags. We decided to tackle the challenge as a team this April and May. Repetition invites creativity and crafting. We also invited the opportunity to try new techniques. We stuck (somewhat) to our original color palette and prescribed dimensions and dove in.

Each designer chose their favorite letter and gave some background. (Check out this reference for a quick guide on technical type terms.)

C

Joel

I always appreciate projects like 36 Days of Type for creating opportunities to try new tools and solutions in a design setting. I used much of that opportunity to explore computer-generated three-dimensional design and animation. While there are quite a few examples of this in the library of type we created, this “Inflatable C” is one of my favorite results of that exploration. While it’s quite minimal, it shows off some of the new options that the third dimension can create for designers like convincing depth in the subject and a more robust use of simulated physics. Along with all of that, this piece just makes me think of summer.

G

Kirstie

The double-story (or looptail) “g” is one of my all-time favorite letterforms. Even though it’s mostly superfluous, difficult to write and unrecognizable to the majority of population, I love how it seems to capture all of the personality of a typeface and its designer. For this illustration, I wanted to take full advantage of the letterform and do something playful to link the two counters. The shapes reminded me of pools of water, so I turned them into little ponds and, in the name of the letter “g,” added a goldfish leaping between the two. It’s a quirky little fish at home in a quirky little letter.

J

Alison

I think the most interesting part of a capitalized J is its arm. Many sans serif fonts do away with it for simplicity’s sake, but I like the way it can balance the otherwise asymmetrical form. I started with a grid paper sketch to articulate my idea. On paper I could visualize how to fit the two scoops of each J shape together and experiment with softly curved terminals. Then I moved to the Procreate app for iPad. I used a chalky brush to give body to the letter, and then used the eraser tool to define the edges and corners. Procreate allows layers so I could add illustrated florals between the tall, narrow J and the more squat, overreaching J tucked in where I wanted—and still have each piece editable. I fit organic shapes and ornaments in and around the ribbons to complete the bright composition.

K

Tim

One of my favorite aspects of the 36 Days of Type project was that it gave us freedom within a rigid structure. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s not—the project was completely open-ended, with no direction or client feedback, but at the same time, the content was inflexible (the letter of the day), the timeframe was limited (one letter each day) and as a team we also chose to limit ourselves to a common color palette. Freedom within constraints can lead to remarkably creative solutions.

For some of my letters I tried to build a formal letter shape, conforming to typographic traditions and crafted for legibility and grace. This K is an example. After looking at other K shapes in a variety of fonts and calligraphy I identified some of the geometric “bones” that I wanted to build my K around.

In other letter explorations, I chose a more conceptual approach. I thought it would be fun to build the letter P shape out of large, oversized pixels. In the animated version of this “P is for Pixels” composition, I created a digital sort of shimmer by slowly fading each block between a few different values of blue.

X

Brady

I love projects that require a series of explorations around the same prompt. Eventually your typical approach to the problem starts to feel tired and uninspired and you are forced to try something you might not normally consider. 36 Days of Type was that sort of project for me (even in just the 7 or so iterations I completed as part of our team approach).

Part way through my initial explorations began to lose their initial spark and I started looking around my environment at home for inspiration. We have a variety of patterned fabrics and other materials around the house, from curtains to coasters, and while studying them one evening I started to imagine how those patterns would look in motion. One pattern in particular happens to feel very much like a grid of geometric letter X’s.

Once I tested the idea with X, I wondered about the same concept applied to a different pattern-letter combination. It was interesting approaching the problem from the other direction the second time around, starting with a particular letter or number and trying to discover it in an already existing pattern.

You can see the whole set from the MJM design team on our Instagram account or by watching the video below!

Good Reads from 2017

Alison RaaenAlison is a graphic designer and social media lead at Matt Jensen Marketing. Read more articles by Alison

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.

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.

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.

The Art of Making Cookies

What got you into cookie decorating?

My mom and I have collaborated on cookie projects for years.

Frosted sugar cookies are a classic Christmas tradition in my family (like many others!). From the beginning, I embraced it: rolling out dough, selecting shapes, working elbows deep in flour, covering each cookie with a little lake of frosting, and placing sprinkles precisely where I wanted them. And even when they looked bad, they tasted like buttery-sweet heaven. What’s not to love?

Once, someone gave my mom a Halloween cookie with frosting that had been piped with a piping bag and tip rather than spread clumsily with a knife. It was a detailed design with three different colors and we were impressed. My mom and I thought, “We could do that.” We had the supplies, the recipe and were only a few YouTube videos away from sinking into cookie world.

Our first big project was part of a fundraiser for a family friend with breast cancer. We made dozens of ribbon cookies with pink royal icing. Some had tiny, hand-piped messages of thanks. People were delighted by them and I think it’s that kind of response that motivated us to keep going. We have created cookies for themed parties, baby and bridal showers, graduations, birthday parties, and of course, holidays.

Decorated cookie

What is the favorite cookie you’ve ever decorated?

One. You want me to pick just one cookie?

This is cheesy, I know. I got married last July and my mom and I made cookies for all of our reception guests. We didn’t count the sticks of butter or the hours it took to finish it all, but there were many. After a day and a half of piping flourishes onto cookies, I made one for Casey. While it’s not as clever as the margarita glasses with sugar rim cookies or elegant as an all-white wedding dress cookie, it was a privilege to give him something homemade with love. Plus, he’s my biggest fan and offers to taste-test for me. Win-win.

Decorated cookie

How is decorating cookies like graphic design?

  • Both are creative processes. Every step involves small decisions that contribute to a complete end product. There’s also a lot of ongoing incremental refinement to the process. In cookie world, we’ve edited the sugar cookie recipe so it holds its shape during baking and still tastes good. I’ve tried most types of cookie cutters available and have learned that metal work the best.
  • Principals of design matter. What makes something beautiful and functional? Contrast, color, balance, rhythm, etc.
  • The process is messy! The kitchen, my desktop, even my Illustrator pasteboard can be a mess in the middle of a project.
  • In every batch there’s a sad failure. Broken cookies, poor quality photos, a botched idea. Mistakes happen and it’s part of learning and getting to a great final product. (Note: Cookie mistakes are tastier than design ones.)
  • Beauty and function work together. A brochure about cataracts can look great and incorporate interesting images and illustrations, but the true test is when it’s in the hands of a patient, learning about cataract surgery. Cookies are the same. I’ve been told “It’s too pretty to eat!” which is beyond flattering, but the cookie’s real purpose is to be eaten. And to be delicious.
  • It’s about people. I love being able to bring something beautiful into someone’s day or help them do so for others.

Decorated cookies
How is it different?

  • Ctrl+Z (the shortcut for delete) is so helpful in design work. It does not, however, translate to spilling an entire bottle of sprinkles. Physical mistakes cannot be undone.
  • Iteration is much faster in digital design. With a few clicks, I can try out options before making a decision. Cookies take much, much longer.
  • Cookies have a clear purpose: look good, taste great. As a graphic designer, someone poses a problem and I have to design the solution. For example, the problem might be that potential LASIK patients are dissuaded by the cost of surgery. The solution might look like a brochure, a digital campaign about HSAs or a video testimony from a patient who thinks LASIK was totally worth it. I have not yet pursued cookie decoration with the intent to educate, but perhaps I’ll give it a shot.
  • Cookies are perishable; design may last long after the project is complete. The lasting power of a logo or video that hits the mark might make the difference for a client. Because of that, the work we do has to be good.

Work Is Theatre at Design Week 2016

GIF of a curtain opening and the text "The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre"

The 3rd annual Sioux Falls Design Week has wrapped up! MJM hosted some of Sioux Falls’ curious minds for an interactive workshop and presentation. We explored key ideas behind the Experience Economy and the Freytag Pyramid, and how they inform the work MJM does on behalf of our clients. And in a twist nobody saw coming, we pulled back the curtain and revealed our intentional design of the evening’s activities.

GIF of the Freytag Pyramid

In the Experience Economy, businesses no longer seek to make products or deliver services, but rather stage meaningful experiences. Those experiences are made up of smaller interactions called touchpoints. Touchpoints take place over the narrative arc of an experience and each one affects the customer’s overall impression of the experience. At MJM, we believe each one is an opportunity to intentionally create moments of delight.

We shared an exercise called Customer Experience Mapping that helps identify key touchpoints. Some may be negative moments in an interaction and ripe for improvement—others may have gone unnoticed and unconsidered in the past.

Following the exercise, MJM demonstrated how we mapped the touchpoints of our Design Week presentation in advance to create a compelling experience. We built both positive and negative experiences into the event to demonstrate some of the key ideas. For example, as attendees entered they received a very poorly designed survey for them to fill out. The poor design was intentional, and it was pointed out later to demonstrate a negative touchpoint. While they were engaged in the presentation, our team was behind the scenes plugging in email addresses from the forms. As we ended the discussion, attendees had an email waiting in their inbox with further resources and an invitation to join us at another event later that evening—hopefully flipping the frustration of wrestling with a counterintuitive form into a moment of delight and surprise.

Mapping the Customer Experience

We often think of interactions with customers in terms of one key moment (usually the point of sale) rather than a narrative. In reality there are many moments, or touchpoints, that customers experience in anticipation of that interaction, during the interaction, and in recalling it afterwards. These moments reflect positively and negatively on your brand, and each moment is an opportunity to design more intentional experiences. We’ve created a worksheet that you can use to think through this process for your own company or organization. Download the worksheet here:

Graphic to download MJM Customer Experience Mapping exercise

How to use the Customer Experience Mapping worksheet

  • For each stage (Anticipate, Enter, Engage, Exit and Extend), brainstorm the touchpoints your customers experience.
  • Write these touchpoints on the cards below, and indicate whether the impression is positive or negative.
  • Cut out the cards along the dotted lines.
  • Assemble the cards in chronological order, and then move them up or down to indicate how positive or negative the experience was.
  • Identify key touchpoints that can be improved, and note touchpoints that have not been intentionally designed.

Let us know how it goes!

We hope you find this customer experience mapping exercise helpful, and we’d love to hear how you use it to create compelling experiences for your customers or clients. Contact us to tell us about your own experience design.

Roll ‘Em

I have many hobbies and inspiration sources in my life that affect the way I approach design as a whole. One of the main influences I’ve embraced most over the years is the art of film. Film and design are two completely separate art forms, but that does not imply that designers cannot learn from the world of cinema. Our job as designers is to convey the intended message in the way that is easiest to understand in terms of content and tone. A great film has the same job to accomplish.

The elements of a film provide us with concise understanding of the filmmaker’s tone and connects the world of cinema to design. The quirky tone of a Wes Anderson rooted in the bright color palettes and snappy dialogue is so immediately evident in any of his works from his filmography; it’s a truly masterful thing to see. The complex nature of the Lord of the Rings lore is broken down to perfection in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy as to convey all the necessary points and provide a glimpse at all the minor points within J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision.

Depending on the client, the tone built in the branding and writing is just as important as they would be in a movie. The tone itself needs to match the narrative that the client envisions for themselves. Similarly, you wouldn’t handle a scene for a comedy the same way you would for a horror film. Handled incorrectly, and the direction of the tone becomes muddled. Unclear. Just plain bad. With clear understanding of what needs to be said and what that means, good design can tell you everything you need to know in a visual manner.

As an example, let’s take a look at Damien Chazelle’s phenomenal film, Whiplash. More specifically, let’s look at the lighting. Early in the movie, we see two separate band rooms at Shaffer Conservatory, one for the lower tier players (top) and the other for the band director, Terrance Fletcher’s, elite players (bottom). The easy-going demeanor of the band director of the lower tier band is matched by the cool blue lighting of the room. It is serene and well-lit, making for a rather peaceful tone. Then later in the film, we move to Fletcher’s room and we see the exact opposite. It is a dim room with the only lighting being so warm in color temperature that it is fire-like. It’s ominous and tense at all times.

Screenshot from the movie "Whiplash"

Screenshot from the movie "Whiplash"

It appears that the main character, Andrew, has entered Hell, and as we see from Fletcher, that is not far from the truth. J.K. Simmons played the character of Fletcher with such a fire-like intensity that this Hellish room matched his Hellish character.

Screenshot from the movie "Whiplash"

Seeing how effortlessly some movies like Whiplash tell what the over-arching meaning is in such succinct ways has inspired my craft many times. But there are many other sources to find these sorts of inspirations. Some look to music and sports and find it does the same thing. I guess what I’m getting at is that sometimes the best influences for your work are found when you explore outside your domain.

A Hand Lettered Alphabet GIF

GIF of a hand lettered alphabet

I drew one letter every day for 26 days last December. The alphabet. Alpha through Zed. The ABCs. I completed the hand-lettered alphabet project just for me. I made a gif of it just for you.

Some letters took a few tries before I came to something I liked. “F” was a fantastic failure if I remember correctly. “X” is all over the place.

None of them would function well in a font. Still, every time I put pen, pencil, or marker to paper, I faced decisions about line, movement, dominance, value, and balance. These design element decisions are important to practice. Letter forms are the perfect tool for rapid iteration, once you get to know them.

Characters are purely symbolic. They have no meaning until people come along and give them something. Still, anyone using the Latin alphabet recognizes that an A is an A; it has a sound, a name, and looks like an angle with a crossbar.

Because an “A” already has a form structure, I have the freedom to add flourish and dimension. “B” forms of the world add curved elements to the challenge. “C”s abandon straight lines altogether. Their personalities are curious and demand attention. When I do it again, they will be different, but never perfect.