“Rules of Thumb” by Alan Webber

by Gary Kelly / @issue Interview / vol. 6 no. 2
by Gary Kelly / @issue Interview / vol. 6 no. 2

Editor’s Note: Alan Webber, who co-founded Fast Company magazine in 1995, has long recognized the role of design as the great differentiator in business. In his most recent business book, “Rules of Thumb,” Webber shares insights gleaned from his own life and work experiences over the past 30 years and distills them down to 52 rules of thumb. Webber’s rules aren’t the end of the discussion; they are the beginning, with readers invited to add their own rules. Here we reprint Rule #28. Webber’s other 51 rules are just as pertinent and interesting.

Rule #28
Good design is table stakes.
Great design wins.

In the last few years since I left Fast Company and started traveling a lot, I’ve noticed a global leitmotif, as if the same piece of music were being played in different countries all over the world.

In Tokyo at a conference on innovation I sat down with an old friend, a business sociologist and strategist for leading Japanese companies.

“Japan used to be a low-cost exporter of manufactured goods,” I said. “But those days are clearly over. What’s Japan’s new national strategy?”

“We don’t think there’s a problem,” she told me. “Japan intends to compete globally on the quality of our design.”

It made sense to me. Japan has an exquisite sense of style and presentation.

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Honda Insight: “Let It Shine”

This TV commercial for the new Honda hybrid, the Insight, is being aired in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia where the environmentally friendly car is being sold. Made by Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, the TV spot appears to synchronize hundreds of Insight LED headlights, turning them into “pixels” to create animated images set to the tune of “Let It Shine” by Berend Dubbe.

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Identity Guidelines Run Amok

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Anyone who has ever been involved in designing or managing a graphic identity program (pretty much everybody in design and mar-com) has experienced fleeting impulses to rebel. Rigid rules and authoritarian orders run counter to freedom of expression and creativity. But identity guidelines are the foundation of branding. Consistent and repeated use builds brand recognition. And yet! Just once, wouldn’t it be fun to run the logo in pinstripes or push the corporate colors into a more punk PMS shade? Or tell the “identity police” that being forced to use the logo is a blight on your beautiful cover design?

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A Film Celebrating Industrial Design

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From Gary Hustwit, the independent filmmaker of the award-winning “Helvetica,” comes a new documentary on industrial design. “Objectified” explores the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. A stellar lineup of the world’s most talented industrial designers talk about how they re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. “Objectified” is a look at personal expression, identity, consumerism and sustainability. It is currently screening at film festivals, cinemas and special events worldwide. Check here to see where it is showing in your part of the world: www.objectifiedfilm.com.

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Bombay Store Posters

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To celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, the Bombay Store in India issued a series of ornately rich and colorful posters that incorporate a motif of patterns made from its vast assortment of products. Designed by Ashok Karkala and Vishu Nagula of Joshbro Communications in Mumbai, the posters blend the elegant sensuality of paintings by Art Nouveau artist Gustav Klimt and the psychedelic spontaneity of 1960s posters by graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo. The Bombay Store poster illustrations were done by Murali Alle and Ravindra Joshi, and the photography by Nilesh Patankar.

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Making the Product the Package and Vice Versa

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Is it possible to brand a product without creating a printed label? At the Accademia Italiana in Skopje, Macedonia, design student Petar Pavlov was determined to find out. In a Packaging Design class, he was assigned the task of creating a packaging prototype for “something very dear to him.” He chose chocolate, he says, because it is “something that I can’t live without.”

Petar, whose study focuses on graphic design and visual communications, says that his obsession with typography, along with his decision not to use any printing for the packaging, inevitably led him to the idea of turning the chocolate itself into letterforms that spell out the name of the product.

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Design, Design, Where Art Thou?

Editor’s Note: Although branding expert Marty Neumeier claims that he compresses his thoughts to be quick-read “airplane books,” his insights are so thought-provoking and inspirational that they are best read in short segments so you can chew on what he has to say. This is a chapter from his latest book.

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Excerpted from “The Designful Company”
by Marty Neumeier

The discipline of design has been waiting patiently in the wings for nearly a century, relegated to supporting roles and stand-in parts. Until now, companies have used design as a beauty station for identities and communications, or as the last stop before a product launch. Never has it been used for its potential to create rule-bending innovation across the board. Meanwhile, the public is developing a healthy appetite for all things design.

One survey by Kelton Research found that when 7 in 10 Americans recalled the last time they saw a product they just had to have, it was because of design. They found that with younger people 18-29, the influence of design was even more pronounced. More than one out of four young adults were disappointed in the level of design in America, saying, for example, that cars were better designed 25 years ago.

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Typography in China

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Editor’s Note: The global marketplace is real. Some brands are as familiar to consumers in Rio de Janeiro and London as they are to shoppers in New York City and Mumbai. That does not mean that the world now speaks a common design language nor approaches design in a universal way. What resonates in one culture may be rejected as odd, irrelevant or ignorantly offensive in another. In some cases, consumers may find the product appropriate, but the sales pitch tone-deaf and riddled with cultural clichés. Designers working across cultures confront the challenge of understanding differences in business and social customs, technologies, and typical design assignments as well as aesthetic preferences.

In the interest of broadening our knowledge, we are launching a “foreign correspondents” feature, beginning with our dear friends, Anita Luu and Sing Lin, two American designers who opened their Affiche International Asia office in Shanghai two years ago. An innocent question about the availability of Chinese typefaces led to a fascinating discussion, which is presented here.

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Innovative Solutions for Flexible Spaces

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Molo Design is tearing down rigid beliefs about what walls should be. The Vancouver, Canada-based creative firm , founded by architects Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen, has come up with an innovative family of soft architectural products made from paper and non-woven textiles. The core of molo’s collection is softwall and softblock, a modular space shaping system that allows users to form a wall or partition off an area without need of nails or construction tools. Like party decorations made out of honeycombed crepe paper, molo softwalls are based on a honeycomb cellular structure that can be expanded or compressed at will.

“When we originally designed softwall, we were looking into a solution for making homes smaller and flexible,” explains MacAllen. “The idea was that a home could consist of one main space that could be divided into smaller, more intimate spaces when required.” The pair began experimenting with lots of small paper models and discovered that the structure of honeycomb itself gives paper amazing strength that could be scaled up to large sizes.

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Spell Checkmate

With text messaging, Twittering and typing with two thumbs on your cell phone, spelling is becoming an inexact and undervalued skill. The question is how far can this go before the human mind fails to comprehend? Too far, we’re afraid, as this fictitious Cambridge study proves.

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Sprint Kinetic Infographics

A new series of engaging commercials for Sprint, done by Goodby Silverstein & Partners, turns factoids and data that would typically go into flat charts and graphs into motion pictures. Real people populate demographic maps. Flow charts flow. Kinetic infographics breathe life into what is actually a bunch of dry statistics.



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Art Center’s Instrument of Creativity

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For Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, the humble pencil holds special significance as an instrument of creativity. Traditionally, it has been the way that designers first give visual expression to raw ideas surfacing from their subconscious. The erasable-leaded pencil gives artists and inventors permission to test concepts, doodle and sketch without committing anything to the permanence of ink.

For decades, Art Center has used the pencil as a symbol for creativity and artistic endeavors. Each year it recognizes the outstanding achievement of alumni with Gold and Silver Pencil Awards. For its donor wall, it has made a display of oversized pencils etched with the names of donors to the College. This year when Art Center launched its fund-raising effort, it asked one of its most illustrious alumni, Michael Schwab (Advertising, class of 1975), to create a poster for the campaign. Although Schwab’s strong graphic illustrations have become the brand identity for countless companies and for the Golden Gate National Parks, he admits that being asked to create something for his alma mater was both a “proud moment…and daunting assignment.”

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Sprinkles: Not Your Mommy’s Cupcakes

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Describing a cupcake as sophisticated may seem like an oxymoron, but in the case of Sprinkles, it applies. Long the favorite finger food of preschoolers, cupcakes aren’t just for kids anymore. In fact, everything about Sprinkles defies how we think of cupcakes, beginning with the fact that the flagship cupcake-only bakery café got its start in upscale Beverly Hills.

When founder Candace Nelson and her husband decided to establish a cupcake business using all-natural, high-quality ingredients, they brought in Austrian modernist architect Andrea Lenardin Madden to design the shop and provide creative direction on everything from the retail displays and packaging to the look of the cupcake. Lenardin Madden avoided cutesy kids’ décor and designed an environment with the exclusive feel of a chocolate truffle shop or a Eurostyle cafe, with white oak paneling and wire bar stools for the window-facing counter eating area.

The cupcakes themselves were made to appeal to adults, with flavors like chai latte, ginger lemon and the wildly popular red velvet. Color-coded wafer dots on the swirled icing of each cupcake identify the flavor – an ID system carried out on the printed flavor cards too.

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Editor’s Confession: Branding Conundrum

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Let’s admit this upfront: atissuejournal would not have been our first choice for a domain name. Unfortunately, we couldn’t register [email protected] and “at-issue” and “atissue” were taken.

Fourteen years ago when we were tossing around names for a journal focusing on issues that concerned both business and design, we wanted one that did not appear biased toward one point of view or the other. (I would share the rejects with you, but they are stuck on a 3 ½” disk.) Admittedly, we were short-sighted, but in our defense, the World Wide Web was just catching on at the time; most companies did not even have websites. Making the [email protected] sign part of our name struck us as clever and progressive. Plus it looked good as a masthead. Little did we realize that @ couldn’t be part of a domain name. You can’t even do a Google-search because everything with the word “issue” in it pops up instead.

So, in picking a Web address for our blog, we confronted the dilemma: Do we call ourselves something else and tell readers it is from the same people who brought you @Issue? In fact, it is @Issue under a different name. Or do we try to salvage the equity built up in the brand and call it atissuejournal? Obviously, you can see what we decided. Whether we made the right choice is open for debate. You all can weigh in. You can disagree and you might be right, but we are not going to change it. The print edition will forever remain @Issue. The blog domain name will be atissuejournal, and when you get to the site, the masthead will read @Issue. That’s our decision and we’re sticking with it. (sigh!)

Drawords Comes to @Issue: Submit a Caption

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For illustrator Craig Frazier, Drawords started as a welcome “relief from a day job where I’m given copy and am supposed to draw to it. Every stroke has to communicate something.”

“This is the reverse,” he says. Instead, as a way to keep his head and his drawing skills sharp, Frazier gave himself the assignment of producing a whimsical sketch a week, which he decided to email to contacts with an invitation to give it their own captions. “It was a way to connect with clients and give them a peek at the way I work and the way I see,” he explains.

The drawings were outside of Frazier’s commercial illustrations, experimental and surreal. He says that he discovered if he put enough “silly elements” in, then people let their imaginations take over from there. “They have come back with things that I would never have seen in the drawing. There is a collaboration going on that is very innocent and satisfying.”

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