Posts

, ,

Thoughts on Design Camp 2018

Our content team voyaged north to Design Camp for inspiration from leading creatives, technique sharing and time together. Here were some takeaways from the team:

The theme of this year’s Design Camp was “Inside Out” and the goal was for everyone to put it all on the table—personally, professionally and creatively. As a classic reserved Midwesterner, my first reaction when I heard this was, “No, thank you.” But as I listened to the speakers and presenters share their stories, the more I started to think that maybe I do have a story of my own to tell. I have always shied away from doing personal work, believing that my purpose as a designer could only be derived by creating things for other people. But the presentations left me questioning the assumption that creating something for myself is inherently incompatible with creating things for other people.

This idea culminated in the final keynote from illustrator Andy J. Pizza who talked about how looking at gig posters had helped him dig himself out of a depression. Something that was meant to be functional and ephemeral had become someone’s lifeline. As designers, we have very little control over what happens to our work once it has been released into the world. Most often, we worry about people misunderstanding or even ruining our work, but isn’t magical to think that our work could be thing to turn someone’s life around?

So, still being a Midwesterner, I of course did not voice any of the ideas that were running around in my head during the actual weekend, but it has got me thinking about how I can use design to tell my own story. Because, maybe, there is someone out there who needs to hear it.

– Kirstie

Design Team in Brainerd, MN

Plaidurday 2018

Design Camp 2018 was a great opportunity to glean new techniques and meet skilled designers, but the most important takeaway I had from the experience was that even the most veteran designers out there undergo the same brief moments of doubt and near-burnout that all creatives do. Not only do they have these moments, but their experiences have taught them how to systematically push through these obstacles and return to creating their best work. We able to hear these and learn from these stories thanks to the vulnerability the keynote speakers were willing to show us, so I think we can all agree that we’re endlessly thankful.

– Joel

Design Camp was a fantastic weekend of fellowship and learning for our design team. We studied and discussed the creative process, inspiration, and collaboration and came home with some great tools to improve our work. One teaching theme emerged for me from a number of the speakers, and reflects a comment from a famous athlete:

”It seems like the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

A number of speakers reflected on how they fought through low periods of creativity or dead periods of work. For those that found their way through these periods, a common theme was ”just keep working.“ Work projects, personal projects, passion projects—find a way to keep working and producing. It was often this work borne in low periods that created the exposure or inspiration for future successful work. This kind of ”luck,” obviously, is created through dedication and intentional focus, and all creatives need to find a way to fight through their low periods and breakthrough. At MJM, having a great team of creatives around to work with and create with definitely helps support each individual creative as they work hard and create more luck!

– Logan

I have one core or foundational belief about creativity. It’s that new ideas are simply new combinations of familiar things. This concept of combinatorial creativity is only reinforced by conferences like Design Camp. It’s incredibly invigorating to spend a weekend retreat with like-minded designers and thinkers, getting inspired by the journey others have taken and the things they’ve learned along the way.

One of the workshops outlined a technique for ”Bulletproof Ideation” by combining ideas in a methodical fashion. We learned about the Bedno Diagram – a tool invented by designer and educator Ed Bedno—which provides a framework for seeing and exploring the intersection of multiple ideas. The process was very familiar, but I had never seen it implemented so thoroughly and methodically. And I was inspired by the suggestion to use the technique to reverse engineer ideas that have inspired me, to understand how their creator may have arrived at that solution. It was a good reminder that good ideas don’t come out of thin air, delivered by a muse in a ”eureka” moment. They are intentionally crafted and combined, and are accessible to all who are willing to work rigorously for them.

That last point connects back to the final keynote speaker, Andy J. Pizza. He shared the highs and lows of his creative journey, and wisdom he gained along the way, with the ultimate conclusion that there are no shortcuts for a fulfilling creative career. You have to do the work. And sometimes you have to struggle for it. That struggle might look like an exhaustive Bedno diagram, or piles of discarded concepts on the way to one workable solution. Learning to enjoy the process and to see it as intrinsically valuable is the key to going far.

– Brady

No matter what you want to learn, most skills and ideas are available to anyone who is interested through YouTube tutorials and Skillshare classes. You don’t need to drive halfway to Canada to find inspirational speakers or to learn interesting new techniques, but our design team does exactly that every year.

AIGA Minnesota’s Design Camp is a yearly retreat just outside Brainerd, MN. Each fall the MJM design team makes the trek up to northern Minnesota, and while the workshops and the speakers’ portfolios are interesting, to my mind they are not the most valuable part of the experience. The reward that compels me to make the trip is perspective.

This year that perspective had less to do with design methodology, new paper options, or printing techniques—it was something deeper. I felt like I heard two different answers to the question, “What is your work for?” Some of the speakers I heard and the designers I met talked about the scope of their portfolio and the size of their audience; they spoke about their personal brand and their career path. Good work equals more glory. Other people focused on the lives they had touched, the students they had taught, and the relationships they had formed with clients and colleagues over the course of their career. Good work means better relationships with people.

“What is your work for?”

Looking at my own past work, some of it has held up well, but much of it has not. Projects I worked on even 6 months ago can sometimes cause me to cringe. But the relationships I’ve developed with coworkers, students and clients are evergreen. Last year’s projects are getting stale; last year’s relationships are still a source of joy. Do the work, and enjoy the process, but don’t look to your work to make you happy. The work (whatever it is) is valuable, but it’s really only a backdrop to the things that matter most.

– Tim

,

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!

,

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.

,

Subaru: A History of Advertising Excellence

Car advertising can run the gamut of wonderfully genius to utterly divisive. On one end of the spectrum, you’ll find the endearing message present in Porsche’s 2006 ad “Through Children’s Eyes” that boasts the child-like wonder that a luxury sports car can conjure up. On the other end is the ad campaign that Chevrolet has been running for the past couple years showing “authentic” reactions to new models of vehicles and industry awards they have earned. The irony here is that the reactions have been edited so neatly that any actual earnestness that should be present is gutted for time and content. This is where Subaru has consistently deviated with their advertising in their history.

Subaru first entered the US market in the 60s with the 360. This vehicle was known for its efficiency but not exactly for its aesthetic. That’s putting it lightly. The car was a major eyesore. But this is where Subaru did something brilliant with their marketing. Instead of sugarcoating the benefits of the car, they steered into the skid. Literally.

“Because it’s cheap and ugly, a little Subaru goes a long way to make you happy”

Their ad campaign at the time actually stated that their car was “cheap and ugly”. That’s a brave statement to make about your product. But the draw is still there. Even though people get a chuckle out of it today, the commercials are honest in a way that advertising is usually not. Only a few brands have been able to capture the same truly authentic message.

A good example of another car company that has taken from Subaru’s retro playbook is Smart’s ForTwo Offroading commercial from 2013. This ad shows how poorly Smart’s vehicle performs in an off-road setting. It thuds into an unfortunately placed rock and is brought to a punctual halt by a shallow creek. But Smart doesn’t care. That isn’t where their machine thrives anyhow. It transitions to an urban setting and a larger vehicle passing over a parking spot that is slightly too small to fit in. Then the Smart car bulldozes in and takes the spot with ease. All of this is accompanied with some delightfully dated nu-metal for a humorous edge. But the same message is there. Everything has its cons, but you’re better off knowing them upfront.

“Smart reveals that the hero doesn’t need to win all of the time, but just needs to win in the end.”

Now it’s worth auditing Subaru’s strategy in the modern age, where high-angle shots of cars driving down stretches of roads or dirt at high speeds with pulsing synth and a deep-voiced narrator dominate the industry. They currently are running a broad campaign called “Love” that focuses on the people using the car and the how it benefits them, not just on a logistic level but on an emotional one as well. The specs of the cars themselves are rarely touched on in an intrepid move by Subaru.

“Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”

A fantastic example of this is their Impreza 2017 ad “Moving Out”. This commercial tells the story of a boy growing up before his parent’s eyes and heading to college with the family car. The vehicle itself takes a back seat to the people that own it as a toddler packs his bag to leave for school and by the time he reaches the car, he has grown into a man. It really tugs at the heartstrings in a very Hallmark movie-esque way. The dog aging from a puppy to a grey-jowled hound is the cherry on top.

This is only one of many of the ads in this touching campaign that Subaru has been running. While admittedly more refined, it does having something in common with the “cheap and ugly” roots of Subaru’s American marketing. The emphasis isn’t so much the car itself, but what the car will do for you, the people around you, and your wallet. That’s a welcomed fresh perspective in the automotive industry that other brands can and have learned from.

Keep on keeping on, Subaru. The roads ahead are clear.

,

The 5S Visual Management System

I confess that we designers and creatives tend to obsess about our tools—the ones we have and the ones we could have. While these tools undoubtedly aid us in our work, there’s one simple, free tool that can be more effective in helping with work efficiency than anything you could spend money on: organization.

Cluttered and disorganized environments cause more stress and wasted time. They also cause the output of a workspace is to be more unpredictable in terms of quality and quantity. With this in mind, organization can be a topic that is difficult to quantify. That’s where the 5S Visual Management System comes into play. Developed in Japan, the 5S System thoroughly analyzes any workspace to show what areas need strengthening in terms of visual management.

The 5S Visual Management System

The system breaks the aspects of organization down into five categories to be examined and controlled in order. The sections are Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine/Clean (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain/Discipline (Shitsuke).

  • Sort seperates what is necessary and what isn’t. It has also been called “The fine art of throwing away junk.”
  • Set in Order takes the necessary and places it in its rightful spot—making sure that it is easily accessible.
  • Shine/Clean makes certain that properly placed items are clean. If there’s a persistent source of dirt, find and remove it.
  • Standardize involves creating an easy system of repeated tasks that will measure and maintain the organization of the workspace currently.
  • Sustain/Discipline takes the repeated tasks of upkeep and turns them into habits for everyone involved. This step will take the longest amount of time, but with simple motivation it is very achievable.

Results

The 5S Visual Management System has proven to be an effective way of taking a workspace and moving it to the next level in terms of efficiency. Some of the world’s largest companies even implement it into their spaces. As MJM has recently moved into its new location, this is definitely something we are working towards to keep our area effective and continue creating great work.

Inspiration vs. Replication

Inspiration is one of the most necessary tools in a designer’s arsenal. It can also be one of the most dangerous if used incorrectly. Pablo Picasso once said “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” There are a few meanings to this, but the core message is that inspiration is something that shouldn’t necessarily be chosen preemptively to the start of the process. Expressive inspiration will reveal itself after one has done their homework.

In the design world, paying close attention to the trends others are establishing and following is essential to staying modern. There has never been a successful designer who didn’t watch closely what others were making. A terrific way to do this is paying attention to what is winning awards. This watchfulness is absolutely necessary, but it can also be a trap. If one merely spends their career replicating trends, everything that person creates will ultimately be homogenized and undifferentiated.

Replication is the downfall of the effective graphic designer. Peering at works at face value and simply following those exact guidelines in their work is not how one should approach their process. The effective designer will use inspiration, but before they can use it, they must do their own studying. They need to break it down and understand what exactly about the designs they are analyzing makes them successful and if any of the same elements have a place in their project. It is entirely likely that an element that works so well in one project may completely ruin something else.

Once a designer understands what concepts will strengthen their own, this allows them to branch out from that inspiration. Branching out from here allows the designer to use their plentiful creativity to build on top of their concepts and step into new lands design-wise. At this very point, they’ve now crossed over into creating something that is entirely their own, but with a foundation of understanding good design elements. Understanding this process can be the real difference between a sufficient designer and an award winner.

Returning to what Picasso said, finding inspiration is not the first task. Developing a path that will lead a person to the most appropriate inspiration and building from there should be. The end product will be that much better because of it.