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Walking Down A Technology Memory Lane

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Packing up 34 years’ worth of work is not only daunting, it is therapeutic. It has given me a chance to purge the things that I do not want, to look at the hundreds of samples we have that no longer need to be kept, and to revisit the many technological changes that have taken place. As I throw out old Rubylith, ruling pens, spray mount booths, photo disks, and roll-a-binding machines, I can reflect on how far we have come and how much has changed.

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Movin’ on

Posted by | Grafik Culture | One Comment

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The computers are off, the server is down, and the phones sit unplugged on empty desks. The refrigerator is empty, and we have filled dozens of garbage cans with all kinds of materials that will not make the move with us to our new quarters. Orange packing crates dominate the scene as we wait for JK Moving Services (one of our favorite clients) to start our move.

There are only three of us here right now, Donna, Heath and myself, witnessing the end of 20 years in our office overlooking the Potomac. Read More

Endings And Beginnings

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I have been staring out at the Potomac for about 20 years from my 7th floor perch in Alexandria.

From my offices I can see the Capitol building, all the monuments, the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant, Bolling Air Force base, and even a firefighter practice fire tower. I have seen bald eagles, flocks of geese that fly so close to the building that I am afraid they will hit the glass, swarms of mayflies, and the birds that pick them off the glass windows. I have seen storms moving up the Potomac, seen the glass torque and shake through a tornado, seen trees below me split in half by fierce wind storms, and also witnessed the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets known to man. I also overlook the GenOn coal-fired power plant (formerly the Mirant power plant), which is coincidentally being shut down. Developers imagine a glorious new park setting, new housing, beautiful paths, but I have seen what goes on there and I doubt that I will be in line to buy a new house—at least not until the Superfund is done with it. All from my office. Read More

A Grafite’s Desert Island List: Office Essentials

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As we begin preparations for our big move here at Grafik, we’ve had to make some tough decisions: which items come with us to the new space and which get left behind (read: trashed). We’ve watched anxiously as the Grafik Moving Committee has come around over the past few weeks, carefully examining our offices, labeling things with suspicious blue tape (which we later found out was a tactic to mark items that didn’t make the cut), and encouraging us to recycle or take home anything that we no longer need.

Donna doles out advice (and a little sass) to anyone that visits the “Therapy Chair.”

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Grafik Is Moving!

Posted by | News, Grafik Culture | 2 Comments

The rumors are true: we are moving! Next month, we will be relocating just about six blocks away to a new office on North Washington Street. As we approach the final stretch of our time here at North Fairfax Street and prepare to move out of our comfort zone to new, “unfamiliar” territory, we took some time to reflect on our favorite quirks and characteristics of the place we’ve called home for the past ten years. Read More

Grafite Digest: Week of November 12

Posted by | Anything + Everything | No Comments

Things have been a bit glum this week. The excitement of last week’s election has tapered off; daylight saving time is officially over and the darkness of winter is back in full swing; and the most reported news stories of late seem to focus on nothing but political scandals and infidelity. So we took it upon ourselves to scour the web to find some less…controversial (read: depressing) stories that caught our eye and have nothing to do with cold weather or politics. Here are a few that our office is buzzing about this week: Read More

Freelance Writers Wanted

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Freelance Writers Wanted

Don’t just read about us, join us. Get paid to spend time with us in person! That’s right, we’re looking for freelance writers to bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to the table. Snappy headlines are good, but we also need folks who can write full copy for collateral and websites, and meet deadlines. You must be able to work on-site (but not exclusively—anyway, it’s a nice Old Town location and we’re friendly) and be able to brainstorm with our top-notch creatives. Read More

A Hat Trick for Grafik: Grafik Scores Big With Three W³ Awards

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The Winners of the 2012 W³ Awards have been announced by the International Academy of the Visual Arts (IAVA) today and Grafik was honored with three awards: a Gold Award for the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Website—Charitable Organizations/Nonprofit), and two Silver Awards—one for Mosaic District (Video—Branded Content: Business to Consumer), and one for Convergent Wealth Advisors (Website—Professional Services).

Convergent Wealth Advisors website, winner of the Silver W³ Award.

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Advertising Week DC: Behind the AWE

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The theme for this year’s Advertising Week DC (ADWKDC), AWE, was conceived by Grafik as much more than just a concept for the annual event. Inspired in equal parts by Droga5’s award-winning campaign for Jay-Z and an encyclopedia of yoga, the AWE campaign became a mantra that lifted the creative team and organizing committees beyond the limits of what they once thought was possible. At every opportunity, those involved found they had the chance to not only experience AWE for themselves, but also to create it for others. It became a guiding philosophy.

The journey to AWE began when the DC AD Club invited Grafik to take the lead as the creative agency for ADWKDC. This put Gregg Glaviano, Principal and Creative Director, in partnership with ADKWDC Chairperson and Grafik’s VP Marketing and Business Development Teddi Alyce Segal.

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Launching The Oronoco Waterfront Residences in a Multitude of Mediums

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The Oronoco Waterfront Residences

Real estate powerhouse EYA Homes has taken a big step forward with the launch of the latest addition to its collection of neighborhoods, The Oronoco Waterfront Residences. Working closely with Grafik’s branding and creative teams, the main goal for this effort was to position The Oronoco as a unique, landmark residence in Old Town, and a one-of-a-kind property in the DC area. This sentiment is reinforced by The Oronoco’s tagline: “Like nothing else.”

The Oronoco interiors

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The Sheraton & Social Interaction Branding

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When I was growing up, in the ‘50s and ‘60s it was a very big deal to stay at a Sheraton. The brand exuded luxury and had the mystique of having outposts in faraway countries, long before globalization made it de rigueur for chains to be outside of the USA. The hotels were big, flashy, and important. Those were the glory days of the Hilton, The Ritz-Carlton, and long before each hotel brand had a multitude of sub brands.

The Park Sheraton in New York, while not the Plaza, was still a desirable address. My how times have changed.

I must admit, that in my mind, the golden age when Sheraton was viewed as a global outstation in distant lands seems light-years away. I rarely consider choosing a Sheraton and generally prefer another hotel in the Starwood portfolio.

In 2009, BrandChannel reported “Sheraton has been a brand in decline, unlike Starwood siblings W and Westin. The most recent Consumer Reports ratings ranked Sheraton as the worst in its category, based on value, service, upkeep, and problems; customers have blogged about the brand’s poor quality and even Hoyt Harper, Starwood’s senior VP of brand management, admits that “some of the hotels were substandard.”

Sheraton decided not to throw in the towel on this hotel brand, but instead embarked on a three-year, $6 billion rebranding effort that involved getting rid of properties that were subpar, redoing interiors, and overhauling all of the properties with a focus on social spaces. In October 2010, they launched an ad campaign focused on the new renovations.

HotelManagement.net reported that, “A key insight that directed the creative vision for the campaign is the growing trend of travelers seamlessly blending business and leisure—also known as “bleisure”—and the demand for socially driven designed spaces and amenities. As part of the brand’s overhaul, every aspect of the new Sheraton guest experience was designed to promote social interaction and bring people together.

As reported in HotelNewsNow.com, “The US $6-billion investment in the upper-upscale brand has already paid off because market share has increased, customer satisfaction is at record levels, and the percentage of Sheraton customers who are Starwood Preferred Guest members has jumped from 39% to 45%.

And, now, yet another $20 million ad campaign is set to launch this month. The new campaign, designed by Kaplan Thaler Group and Razorfish, is called “Meet You There.” According to their press release the new campaign is tapping into the growing demand from travelers for spaces that promote social interaction and bring people together. Every aspect of the new brand is designed to meet this expectation. And, of course, the ads will showcase the new enhancements.

So, will it work? My concern is that Sheraton has upgraded its interiors, provided new spaces for interaction, launched new programs like Link@Sheraton and Sheraton Fitness, but have they really redefined their brand or just fixed infrastructure problems that certainly needed fixing?

Brands are not “fixed” that easily. What will Sheraton have to do to get increased mindshare from a new audience that is probably not familiar with the luxury brand of old, and what will it have to do to reinstate Sheraton into the minds of those who “knew it when”? It will be interesting to wait and see if social interaction as a brand has legs in the hotel space. Let’s face it, if it is successful, I wonder how many spouses will even let their husbands or wives check into the Sheraton for business?

Sheraton Wi-Fi Ad

Target & Neiman Marcus: Retail Branding’s Odd Pair

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Target and Neiman Marcus retail collaboration

On Tuesday WWD reported that retail giants Target and Neiman Marcus have announced they will partner to create a limited edition of 24 designers for the holiday season. Following Target’s hit last year with the Missoni line, the two retailers, who are at almost opposite ends of the price spectrum, both have much to gain from this unique partnership.

Apart from an interesting retail story, this is a case where an iconic brand in luxury retailing has an opportunity to liven up its brand. While Neiman Marcus is synonymous with expensive merchandise and is famous for its Christmas catalogue where items can range as high as the millions, it also has the moniker “needless markup” and has become somewhat of a fusty brand. Teaming with Target can give this luxury brand a good dose of “hipness” making Neiman more relevant to a younger crowd. Neiman has been trying to shed some of its effeteness and, as WSJ reported, the store reversed a policy in October of only accepting a Neiman credit card, American Express or cash. Clearly the brand has to walk a fine line partnering with Target’s more “cheap-chic” to ensure that it does not erode the luxury and exclusivity that is associated with the Neiman name.

Target, on the other hand, will continue to demonstrate that it has the buying and manufacturing power to combine good design with value pricing. By using its production lines and less expensive fabrics, it can introduce new high fashion designers to its mass-market clientele. This alliance also bolsters the Target brand as a maverick in the retail space, willing to embark on alliances that seem unlikely. Target continues to entice its clientele by finding innovative ways to bring luxury goods to a broader market at a lower price point.

An unlikely partnership, perhaps. But hats off to the two brands for being daring enough and confident in their own brand position to attempt this.

On Honors…blah blah blah

Posted by | Design Issues, Business of Design, Branding, Awards, Anything + Everything | 2 Comments

I admit it. I never heard of Dr. Richard Feynman. He was a world renowned physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1965 as well as a slew of other scientific awards. In science circles, he is considered one of the most important thinkers of our era next to Einstein. His Wikipedia entry gives a pretty good overview of his life and accomplishments, and a  TED talk by one of his close friends, Leonard Susskind, another physicist, gives a great view into Feynman the man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stumbled upon Feynman looking at three of his videos, one on Beauty, one on Honors, and one on Curiosity. They are short videos and well worth the time to look at. Without being a spoiler, Feynman has a distain for all honors—including the Nobel Prize.

I have thought long and hard about honors, awards, and shows. I have a leg in each camp—those that enter shows all of the time and enjoy the recognition they bring, and the other camp that is not exactly disdainful of shows, but carefully decide where they want their work to be.

Grafik has its share of honors and awards. Those awards have helped us attract talent, have helped keep our creative staff’s morale high, keep our staff confident, and are nice to send to clients. That’s the positive side of honors.

The negative side of awards—they can make you complacent and over confident. They do not really indicate whether you have solved a client’s problem or not. Many of the award shows are beauty contests where strategy is not even considered. And lastly, it can be deflating when you do not get into plum shows—adding to the self doubt many designers already feel.

I have been a judge at several awards shows—from the granddaddy of design—Communication Arts—to smaller local shows like the Wilmington Delaware Ad club—boy was that a fun show… There is a science of judging shows, and many scholarly articles have been written about the vagaries of awards. I have seen that the composition of judges matters tremendously—is there a design superstar among the judges, is there one dominant judge that intimidates the others, is there a judge that is shy and retired? The composition and how a show is set up is also critical—how many entries are you going to look at, and how long is the judging. I can tell you that pieces that are viewed at 4:00 PM  in the afternoon are regarded quite differently than pieces that are seen at 10:00 AM, when you are fresh and eager.

Positioning of entries is also a critical element. If you are looking at five pieces in a row that are stellar, it is quite possible that all five will not get in, as the judges start to feel that they are not being as discerning as they need to be. On the other hand if one good (not great) piece is sandwiched between four or five mediocre pieces, it has a good chance of getting in.

Award shows are what they are—they have problems, biases, and built in structural problems. They are also expensive. I suspect this has forced many good competitors out of the shows due to budget cuts, and it has given an unfair advantage to larger firms that can afford to enter unlimited entries. So why do we continue to enter them?

I do not have an answer to that question. As I have gotten older, the joy of getting into competitions is not the same as it was when I was 27 and got my very first award for a poster I designed for the National Symphony Orchestra. I can actually tell you what appetizers I ate at the awards banquet, and what it felt to see a piece of mine hung on the wall. I was so excited to get in that my scream reverberated across the loft that Grafik called home, scaring several of the staff in the process.

Seven hundred awards later, I rarely keep track of where we enter and what we get in. I am not sure that we have gotten one drop of business from awards and I know we have paid a king’s ransom in entry fees in both good and bad times. But, perhaps looking at the face of a young designer when they receive notification that a piece of theirs has placed is a good enough reason to enter. Perhaps the sustainable memory of being recognized is worth the downside. I desperately  want to be like Richard Feynman—who really did not care one iota if he got the Nobel or not. But I’m not there yet, and perhaps will never be.

Hot Dog Days

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The First Wienermobile

Summer: Hot sidewalks, cool Slurpees from the 7-Eleven, and hot dogs. Memories of mustard, soft hot dog rolls, and sauerkraut. Hot dogs equaled fun—baseball games, summer nights at the swimming pool, and the rare view of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in our shopping center parking lot.

Americans love their hot dogs. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, from Memorial Day until Labor Day aka “Hot Dog Season” seven billion hot dogs will be consumed in the USA. That’s 818 hot dogs eaten every second during that time frame! Most of them are consumed in July. Los Angeles, San Antonio, and New York lead the country in eating hot dogs.

Hot Dogs—"You want cancer with that?"

From the Armour hot dog jingle to the 1965 animated cartoon selling the Oscar Mayer wiener, hot dog advertising has always been on the lighter side. Hot dogs were promoted as being “healthy” and boasted that they were made of “all meat” but that was before the world of nitrates brought this national food stuff into question. Perhaps the Hebrew National  Uncle Sam ad which ran in the 1970s and touted an “all beef” alternative was the first time that the hallowed beef and pork mixture was brought into question. Grey Group (then Grey Advertising) in New York created the series of hot dog ads where the kosher hot dog category was born. “We answer to a higher authority” became a popular slogan associated with Hebrew National for years to come.

Fast forward to the era when most moms will not allow their kids to eat anything but all natural organic hot dogs with no nitrates, hormones, or fillers. Applegate is currently running three hilarious commercials that promote their healthier product. And consumption of chicken dogs or healthier alternatives now captures about 12 percent of the market.

But hot dog haters are also using the media effectively. “Hot dogs cause butt cancer” is the slogan of the latest campaign by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. They have erected billboards in some of the top hot dog consuming markets, and chose Chicago for one of their latest billboards since that area has one of the nation’s highest rates of colorectal cancer among men.

As we enter National Hot Dog month, take a moment to fire up the grill and put on a hot dog—whether it is an all meat, all pork, all beef, all organic, all turkey, all chicken or all soy. And don’t forget the mustard and sauerkraut!

Hot Dog Cancer Warning Billboard

Science: It’s A Young Woman Thing.

Posted by | Technology, News, Business of Design, Branding | No Comments

Well, it has been a really long while since I was revolted by a video, but across the pond, in England, the European Commission produced a video that manages to capture every single stereotype about young women. “Science: It’s a Girl Thing” is a campaign with noble aspirations and abominable execution. No one would argue that it is important to get young girls interested in science and to empower them to enter the field. Yet, one wonders how this video ever saw the light of day. From the lipstick logotype to the young male serious scientist eyeing the bevy of beautiful young things, everything in this assignment has gone wrong. The European Commission had the good sense to yank the video on its website, but of course it lives on. To their credit, they issued an apology of sorts. Emakina is the agency that produced the video. With no women on its board of directors, no women on its executive board, and only one woman among nine as a head of their expert centres, one wonders how they got pegged for this assignment. As a very sophisticated digital social media agency, one also wonders why this facebook question did not get an answer….

Facebook comment

This is a contrast to another initiative that was announced a week ago in the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for Girls Who Code. Started by Reshma Saujani and backed by a bevy of technology giants, it seeks to increase the number of young women who want to be programmers and engineers, not with lipstick, but with real training and opportunity.

My Grafik Goodbye

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As I write this blog, I feel like I am staying home sick from work. I’m on the sofa, eating saltines, waiting to go to the doctor. But really, I am staying home sick from unemployment. I spent my last day at Grafik on June 29. My husband and I ship out for our new home and my new job in Denver in just over a week. “Why,” you may ask, “are you writing a blog post for Grafik then, if you’re no longer employed by them?” Well for one, the powers that be have so graciously allowed me to write a final blog, and two, they have agreed to post it after my employment was finished. That in and of itself is telling about the kind of place Grafik is.

When I began my employment at Grafik almost two years ago in October of 2010, I was on a mission. I knew I wouldn’t work with everyone all the time, as teams and projects fluctuated, so I wanted to be sure I got around to every employee to meet them personally. I had a little survey-like conversation to help me get to know them better. I started with Judy, made my way to Cheryl and Richard, and by that point my work load was where it wasn’t easy to go survey someone any longer. I filed this project away, but kept it in the back of my mind.

Weeks turned to months turned to almost two years, and I never formally finished my survey. I got around to speaking with every employee in one way or another, so that part was accomplished, but there was a specific question in this survey of which I wanted to know the answer. You see, when I interviewed Judy, Cheryl, and Richard almost two years ago, I asked them one final question: “What one word would you use to describe Grafik?” Notice I said one word. I received the same TWO words from both Cheryl and Judy, and a complementary word from Richard. I figured there was something to this.

Last week, as my final day loomed, I knew I wanted to get as many answers to this question as I could in order to write this blog. I sent out a mass email asking for answers, and bothered people in the hallway. What I received was expected and still a little surprising. I received 18 responses —more than half the studio—and those answers came from those who have been here since the beginning to our newest employee. One word sticks out in particular with the remaining words are almost all synonyms of each other.

PCF Grafik staff photo

Grafites came together for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and encouraged the special men in our lives to get tested.

Family” was the most popular word, the one given by all three of my official survey participants, and four additional responders, and it’s easy to see why. If you let it, Grafik can become like another family for you. I knew it as soon as I began. And I really felt it once I left. These people, your coworkers, and self-described second family, really are there for you. They will teach you, train you, laugh and cry with you (literally), and be there for you through the hard times and the enjoyable times. I knew this last year when my coworker (turned very good friend) helped me bring home a chair from the store in his truck that was too big for my car. That was the beginning of a great friendship between me and him, and even him and my husband. I knew this when my coworker’s father passed away, and when I sent out an email to collect money for flower arrangements for the out-of-town service, mostly everyone jumped at the chance to donate money to provide something for her real family from her Grafik family (some of our folks were out of the office at the time but I have a feeling if they were in the office, we would have had 100% percent participation). I knew this when I saw all of us together, knowing that our backgrounds and personalities were pretty diverse, but that we all really had made our own place in the office.

That leads me to the next word. Or set of words. The next most popular grouping of synonyms is best described as “Diverse.” I heard “quirky” twice, “unique, dynamic, eclectic,” even “tetris” and “pastiche.” The provider of that last word included the by-the-book definition of “a work of art created from disparate sources.” This is an obvious truth, both something determined visually as well as through our personalities and work styles. We are all very different, but I know there is something very special about Grafik employees. There is an undeterminable quality we all possess, and somehow those who make the hiring decisions find the right people for the jobs and for the studio overall.

Wine Festival

Hitting up a local wine festival with coworkers and dear friends, Dave (L) and Mike (R).

The last word, and the additional word provided both by Judy and Cheryl, is “Change.” Yes, it is quite obvious the office is filled with change. Interns come and go back to school. Trends in marketing and interactive change. The way we do work in the office changes. Clients change. People leave. Though I must say, other than Richard, I don’t think any full-time employees have left in the time I was there, and he left for retirement! (That alone says something about Grafik.) This word is near and dear to my heart at this moment since I have made the transition from employee to non-employee, but still remain a member of the Grafik family. I am in my own Grafik state of change.

Grafik provided so many things to me. Most things non-tangible. My relationship with my team was incredible. I worked with some amazing people day in and day out, and I really will miss them dearly. I tried to hold back tears last week as I said goodbye, but I was generally unsuccessful. I learned more things than I could even write down or remember at this point (note to self: perhaps I should have written them all down). I have formed some long-lasting friendships that will stand the test of state borders and requirements to write an email or make a phone call.

With Lahaina and the box

With my partner in crime, Lahaina as we think inside and outside the box.

In closing, I want to thank everyone at Grafik. There is just so much I wanted to say, but I never thought my last day would come so soon, and even once I knew I was leaving I didn’t expect it to come so quickly.

 

Thanks to:

  • Teddi for seeing enough of something in me to bring me in to meet Judy and Lynn, and for her hilarious antics that kept me laughing through our shared office wall.
  • Judy for sending me past the first interview and for those mentoring breakfasts at The Royal.
  • Lynn for that first interview and many enjoyable conversations and experiences since.
  • Cheryl for seeing something in me during the interview and for helping me learn and grow every single day.
  • Lance for giving me some good belly laughs and some good hustle on those SOWs.
  • Lahaina for being one of my first friends and for staying one of my best friends.
  • Jolda for bringing that chair over and for getting stuck in my and my husband’s hearts.
  • Donna for helping me through the process and letting me take over some of her admin duties.
  • Mila for sharing her smarts and amazing fashion sense.
  • Johnny for sharing his intelligence, hilarious stories, and giving me a lot to think about—and mostly wondering if he was pulling my leg or not.
  • Hal for his consistent fashion style and talented vocal stylings.
  • Kelsey for her sweet demeanor and love for beautiful things.
  • Mike for becoming one of my great friends and being a great teammate.
  • Heath for his determination and persistence, and dedication to the best product we, or any of our vendors, would ever produce.
  • Gina for her quiet motivation and her unicorn Friday shirt.
  • Maxine for her morning stories about her family that she shared with me.
  • Stacey for her Midwest charm and support in all things.
  • Brandon for his friendship and Powerpoint skills.
  • Eric for his ability to get me what I’m asking for quickly and for his dead pan one liners.
  • Arthur for his work ethic and incredible talent and Coca-cola codes.
  • George for his unimposing presence and wealth of knowledge.
  • Sun for his dry humor and quick wit.
  • David for his laughs and smiles when talking about his children.
  • Appler for his overall hilarity and motivation to get an even better juicer.
  • Brad for his depth of knowledge on social media and friendship blossomed over beer and children.
  • Gregg for his true spirit and love for others, and his crooning vocal chords.
  • Lindsay for her bright eyes and willingness to let me show her the ropes.
  • James, our intern, for becoming a quick friend and for the promise of a salsa dancing “date.”
  • Jordan for the laughs, the musical insight, and for the Carly Rae Jepsen cover video.
  • Sam, our intern for one more week, for her sweetness and great design work.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And one last thing (I promise!): While no one can be replaced, there are some opportunities to become the newest members of the Grafik family yourself. If I were you, I’d get that application started!

 

 

 

Announcement: Grafik will be open for business Monday, but our offices are open for only the brave

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It was quite a scary last Friday night with the freak storm that hit the tri-state area. All Grafites have checked in and some experienced home damages and power outages, but fortunately, everyone’s A-okay. Unfortunately, our office building is one of many that currently have fluctuating power. Also, Virginia roads have yet to be cleared of debris. So, our offices will be officially closed tomorrow Monday, July 2.

Minimal staff will be in the office, but majority of us will be teleworking throughout the day communitcating via email, cell, and teleconference. To all of our friends: if you have any conferences calls or appointments set with us, please check in with your Grafite contact. To our awesome staff: if you do not have your laptops with you,  please check in with your supervisors. With road conditions still uncertain at the moment, we want to ensure everyone’s safety.

Please stay tuned to our blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Yammer feeds for updates. We hope for all clients, partners, and staff a speedy return to a safe, beautiful summer. As always, we will make best efforts to keep our work and our schedule on track.

Grafik Launches Mobile Website for Long-standing Client, JK Moving Services

Posted by | News, Digital, Clients | No Comments

JK Mobile 1JK Mobile 2JK Mobile 3

Continuing our award-winning work with client JK Moving Services, Grafik optimized JKMoving.com for mobile use giving users on-the-go access to the moving site’s streamlined content such as services, moving tips, and informational videos.

“Our customers are busier than ever and rely on their phones more and more. We believe that the JKMoving.com site will set an industry standard and will provide another convenient way for customers to connect with JK,” said Charles Kuhn, Founder, President, and CEO of JK Moving Services.

Reinforcing JKMoving.com’s goal to drive leads, the new mobile site targets the growing percentage of mobile users that visit the site with an easy, immediate pathway to request a quote via their smart phones. As the the nation’s third largest independent mover, recruiting talent is also emphasized with an option to request an employment application directly from the new site.

“We just completed their extensive brand overhaul about a year ago that included a new brandline [What Matters Most], logo, and website,” said Judy Kirpich, CEO of Grafik. “As part of our continuous effort to help clients  grow their business, we closely monitored JKMoving.com’s analytics, and saw an opportunity to tap a multiplying mobile market.”

For more than 30 years, JK Moving Services has provided local, long distance, and international relocation services to a variety of commercial, residential, and government clients. Headquartered in Sterling, Virginia, the company maintains a full-time, professionally-trained staff of relocation and move management experts committed to providing the highest level of customer care.

Syria And Their Brand

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Syrian Rally

Syrian citizens taking the streets. Source: Reuters

My husband is a Middle East analyst and with the current political situation in Syria dominating the media our dinnertime conversations often revolve around the Syrian opposition, Assad’s cruelty, and possible intervention by either Russia, NATO or the United States. I try to avoid discussing politics while in the office, and I rarely write about political events on a company blog since our team has both dyed-in-the-wool Democrats as well as staunch Republicans. While I have personal feelings that support the Syrian opposition, in this blog I am going to address Syria and branding.

The New York Times had an interesting article last week on how Syria has spent considerable dollars in the last few years trying to reverse a decades-old image of being a tyrannical dictatorship. After the death of Bashar al-Assad’s father, the new ruler wanted to change the opinion most people had of Syria to one of an open, progressive regime. Having married a beautiful English-speaking woman, they worked with a PR agency that has been often associated with world leaders, Brown Lloyd James. One of the firm’s assignments was to get more favorable press for the Syrian First Lady, and she was covered in Vogue in an article called “A Rose in the Desert. The article, which has since been taken offline, painted the President of Syria and his First Lady as being decidedly different than the old Syria, and as wanting to make Syria “… the safest country in the Middle East” and give Syria a “brand essence.” An excerpt from the article, which now can only be found on this website, has a curious statement by Asma al-Assad, “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’ It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.

For all of the great press, the beautiful governing couple, and the best PR firms in the world, Syria has not been able to change its brand from one that evokes fear and backward thinking to one that is now an enlightened society. While Mrs. Assad is beautiful and well dressed, and qualifies to be covered in fashion magazines from Elle to Vogue, this has little to do with Syria as a brand. Brands are experienced, and for a brand to be successful it has to evoke emotions that tap to a brand’s essence.

Does Syria as a brand appear to be progressive, modern, open, and tolerant? With the death toll in Syria rising above 14,000 in 2012, the brand is being experienced as brutal, repressive, militaristic, and backward. And no amount of public relations, no fancy magazine spreads or brand polishing can change that.

Syria's First Lady

Asma al-Assad, Syria's First Lady in the photo featured in Vogue article, “A Rose in the Desert.” Photographed by James Nachtwey

webdeveloper

In Search of the Elusive, Extremely Talented Web Developer

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In Search of the Elusive, Extremely Talented Web Developer

Grafik is looking to bring a wonderfully talented web developer aboard to create and implement websites, ecommerce experiences, CMS implementation, web applications, web services, and API integrations into the mobile space, and whatever might be next. Our ideal qualified candidate will be able to collaborate across disciplines to effectively deliver to specification and add value along the way. You should thrive in a fast-paced work environment and be able to handle high-pressure situations with a calm, cool manner. We are a company of many diverse individuals, so having a strong sense of self will go a long way.

Required Qualifications

  • 5+ years of prior experience in development for design-specific and functionally-advanced websites

Required Skills

  • Proficient in Drupal 7 (and 6 for older site management) and WordPress
  • Theming and development of sites precisely based on PSDs and technical specifications provided (pixel-perfect attention to detail required)
  • Advanced Knowledge of XHTML, CSS, XML, JS, JQUERY, PHP and .NET
  • Custom-module creation and maintenance
  • Scalability of site creation, from smaller 10-page sites to larger 300+ page sites
  • Development of responsive CSS for browser, iPad, and mobile device viewing
  • Working knowledge of REST, SOAP, and API concepts
  • Advanced knowledge of cross-browser/platform issues, debugging and code solutions
  • Working knowledge of both Application and Database Server principals, set-up and scripting
  • Experience with ecommerce solutions and CMS frameworks
  • Efficient work ethic

Other Requirements

  • Ability to serve as a team member
  • Strong analytical skills-must have the ability to communicate technical ideas
  • Ability to solve unique problems and create innovative solutions through past experience and technical knowledge
  • Accurately predict time required to complete development tasks and adhere closely to development plans
  • Ability to adapt to product requirement changes or schedules as they become necessary during a given development cycle
  • Research, present and/or make recommendations on technical issues
  • Ability to thrive in a fast-paced and highly-evolving work environment

Compensation is commensurate with experience. Full-time and contract will be considered. Intrigued? Apply here.


Wanted: Interactive Art Director

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Wanted: Interactive Art Director

Grafik is currently on the prowl for an Interactive Art Director.

We want an art director that lives and breathes digital. One who will bring us work that is original and smart, exhibiting passion and a thorough understanding of how interactive experiences should look, feel, and function. We want someone who is hands-on—who takes complete ownership of projects and client relationships from start to finish. At Grafik, we work in supportive project teams, and our art directors are the force that ensures creative directors’ visions are realized and strategist’s insights are applied. You will need to effectively adhere to budgets and timelines, while being completely at home pushing boundaries and exploring new techniques. You will be inspired by industry trends, up to speed on the latest applications and software, and eager to share your knowledge and enthusiasm.

At Grafik, we look for someone with an eye for detail, typography, and color. You are passionate about the work and execute with pixel perfection. You must be extremely organized and very detail oriented—with a solid work ethic. We work in teams around here and value a well-communicated point of view—especially if it helps to cultivate a flawless product. The nitty gritty details follow below.

Desired Skills & Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Five of more years of experience managing and directing designers as well as creating and designing campaigns
  • Experience creating and designing interactive campaigns across multiple platforms
  • Experience managing and directing designers and other team members
  • Exceptional portfolio of work executed using a wide range of styles and skills
  • Adept knowledge of Adobe CS5 Suite
  • Expert understanding of interactive design trends, techniques, and information architecture
  • Extraordinary attention to detail and organization
  • Strong people management, negotiation, and presentation skills
  • Basic knowledge of print production and digital printing
  • Proficient in HTML, CSS, JS, Flash, and After Effects

This is a job to get excited over. We sure are… we have some great new clients. Be sure to send your resume to careers@grafik.com with a brief statement about why you have what it takes to be a Grafite. Don’t forget to attach the statement of purpose or your resume will not be considered. Please do not call us, we will choose the best candidates and reach out to you.

A Fabulous New Website for Long-Time Client, DC Prep

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With Grafik’s help, DC Prep’s mission of bridging the educational divide in Washington, DC was put to the forefront with the launch of their new website, www.dcprep.org. Since its inception, Grafik’s work with DC Prep has been comprehensive, spanning all aspects of the school’s communication channels from strategic positioning to brand identity development to two versions of the DC Prep website. In the website’s most recent evolution, our goal was to better serve current parents, support teacher recruiting efforts, and provide potential parents with the information they need to enroll their children. To properly motivate their targets, we felt it important to highlight their awards and academic achievements, provide a rational, streamlined information architecture, surface prominent calls-to-action, showcase vibrant photography that visually demonstrate life at DC Prep, and fully integrate social media to personally connect with the audience.

Founded in 2003, DC Prep was established as a public charter school in order to bring exemplary academics and character development education to more than 3,000 preschool, elementary, and middle school students. DC Prep has a firm commitment to not only improve performance of low-income, minority students, but to also equip them with the skills needed for the rigors of higher education.

 

DC Prep homepage.

Celebrating DC Design: 2012 AIGA 50

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Last night, I attended the 2012 AIGA 50 Exhibit & Reception where I had the pleasure of conversing with some of DC’s top designers while honoring the best work to come out of the local design community from the past two years. Fifty winners out of the 480 entries were on display while attendees enjoyed the beautiful back drop of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

During the last AIGA 50 two years ago, Grafik had the opportunity to design it’s first online showcase as well as supporting collateral.

“We have fond memories of working with the AIGA. Holding a competition such as this is important for DC design as it encourages us to continuously  churn out top-notch work,” said Gregg Glaviano, Principal and Creative Director at Grafik. “Congratulations to nclud and Polygraph for this year’s AIGA 50 campaign, and to all of the winners.”

If you weren’t able to attend last night, don’t worry. You can catch up on the past updates and follow the future updates through AIGA DC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed#AIGA50.

 

The scene at the AIGA 50 awards ceremony

The Scene: 2012 AIGA 50 Exhibit & Reception

 

Stopping For A Happy Moment: The Discovery Shuttle Flyby

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The Shuttle Discovery just passed by our offices. What a thrill.

Our offices overlook the Potomac and is on the flight path to Reagan National Airport. We have seen a lot from these windows. And we always know when something is happening when the flights stop.

As a group we huddled together when the planes stopped on 911. And we saw the smoke and flames from the plane that hit the Pentagon. Back then, every plane that came in was a military plane, and we were scared every time we saw an unidentified plane approach. We saw military helicopters scurry back and forth and we stopped at the windows to gaze they one approached. We soon got over that.

We see weather approaching from these windows, and notice when the planes stop. Be it hurricanes, snow storms or dense fog, when the planes stop, it attracts attention. And our crew runs to the unobstructed views in my room or the conference room to see if the weather systems will be kind or unforgiving.

Today was different. We stopped work for half an hour as we all gazed in wonder at the space shuttle passing by our windows. Mounted on top of another plane and led by a military jet, it circled around DC and even when it was a tiny speck, it was thrilling. Like the other times the planes at National stopped landing. This time, instead of fear, we celebrated, experiencing the wonder that children must feel when they see something awesome for the first time.

A photo taken by Heath as the 747 jet plane carrying the Discovery approaches our offices.

Discovery flies by our conference room

Here's a close up photographed by Lynn from our conference room. The Discovery made the trip from Cape Canaveral, Florida to where it'll be put on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles International Airport.

Day Five @ SXSW 2012

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Native and Mobile Web: The Right Tool for the Job

The last day of panel sessions kicked off with a heated, albeit nerdy, discussion. With representatives from Tumblr and Facebook present, two platforms that have clearly mastered the mobile platform, I was anxious to hear about how one should evaluate the appropriate mobile execution for their client. Instead, the session got off to a pretty technical debate about native/web hybrid vs. 100% mobile web, with representatives on the panel sitting firmly in one camp or the other. But before I dig into the specifics, it’s important to outline the four different solutions that were discussed:

  • Native Application – An application written specifically for the device operating system (OS). It is not cross-platform and it requires you to install and upgrade. Example: Mint.com iPhone app
  • Native/Web Hybrid – An application written specifically for the device OS that relies on native elements like navigation, settings, etc., but employs web services to provide dynamic content experiences. Example: Facebook, Tumblr
  • Locally Rendered HTML – An application that requires installation, but locally renders HTML and stylesheets to provide a dynamic, web-like experience. Example: Flipboard, New York Times
  • Mobile Web – More specifically, HTML5. Site requires you to access through the browser application or shortcut icon, but uses HTML5 to create a custom for mobile experience, all using the browser’s built-in display functionality.

And while the panel did not land firmly on one side or the other, they did offer pros and cons to each which I thought I’d share, rather than taking a position (since honestly, I’m still not 100% sure which way I’d lean).

Native / Web Hybrid

  • Pro: Allows you to take advantage of the best of both worlds. You can access the native widgets for each OS, but also provide dynamic content.
  • Pro: You can easily monetize your app by listing it in the Apple app store.
  • Con: Given the native application shell, creating a native/web hybrid has a slightly higher barrier to entry since it requires a programmer familiar with the iOS code.
  • Con: Requires a specific content strategy.

Mobile Web

  • Pro: Programming a mobile site can be achieved by most developers. A much lower barrier to entry compared to the note above for hybrids.
  • Pro: Mobile web allows for the use of HTML5 and responsive layouts and can take advantage of the same content applied for tablets and web, even if just a portion of it.
  • Pro: Gets around some of the restrictions imposed by the Apple app store.
  • Con: On the flip side, a mobile website is much harder to monetize… at the moment.

So, I think the key takeaway is that there are many ways to take your content to the mobile device, but understanding what your business strategy is, what content you want to share, and who your audience is will greatly influence which way you go. I think the one point everyone agrees on is that brands can no longer sit on the sidelines; a mobile presence is required for all brands.

Pinterest Explained: Q&A with Co-Founder Ben Silbermann
Practically a full house, we attended a great Q&A session with Ben Silbermann, the man behind Pinterest led by entrepreneur/investor/blogger Chris Dixon.  It was an hour conversation where Ben talked freely about his aspirations and inspirations and his goals for the future development of his fasted-growing social media service.

What I really enjoyed listening to was how he walked us through his personal journey from when he started at Google up to the his company’s success today. He always reinforced how important it was to stay focus even through rough times and keep yourself surrounded with the people who are passionate for the right reasons.

Some other interesting points he made:

  • His core inspiration for starting Pinterest came from simply how he saw life—as a world of collections.
  • His team worked through the usability of his site all on paper.
  • He strongly believes that you show that you have put as much time into the product as you expect out of your user.
  • His goal is to never try and out perform his clone competitors. His focus is always on creating the best product.
  • And at the end of the day in addition to developing Pinterest, his team is the most exciting thing he’s building these days.

The Facebook Customer Service Challenge for Brands

The last session of the day and of our entire SXSW excursion discussed the usual obstacles faced when using a Facebook brand page as a customer service tool. This panel was certainly a popular one as it was a packed house and it had every right to be with equally (if not more) popular panelists Mark Williams of LiveWorld, Bryan Person of Social Dynamx, Eric Ludwig of Rosetta Stone, and Molly DeMaagd of AT&T. From tips on how to handle difficult customer inquiries or how to deal with the new Facebook Timeline format, the well-spoken speakers shared some of their insights on the best use this social channel in handling customer inquiries.

Here are some of their best points:

  • Constantly look at efficiency tools & staffing capacity and needs on a daily basis. Time is of the essence so make sure you are as efficient and well-staffed as possible
  • When taking the conversation off-line, do it in a matter that doesn’t stifle the conversation. Stay human & transparent.
  • Investigate how your fans engage before dedicating attention to a certain channel on your strategy. You don’t want to misdirect resources.
  • When staffing customer service social teams, writing skills and passion for what the company is about are crucial.
  • When you personify your brand page, make sure you follow the “feelings not facts” philosophy.

Day Four @ SXSW 2012

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The iPad: The Second Coming of the CD-ROM

The morning got off to an early, but energetic start with a great discussion about the future of the tablet, led by Brian Burke from Smashing Ideas Inc. The topics of discussion ranged from a consumers unwillingness to purchase apps to the advantages offered to the web experience by the more intimate tablet interface. The key question on everyone’s mind, and quite honestly, one that our clients ask when considering taking their brand to the tablet, is what makes the tablet experience different than that from the web? Why should they consider a unique tablet experience when their website displays “just fine” on the tablet? And if you spend any time on the tablet, the answer is quite simple: the tablet plays a much more intimate role in your user’s life than their computer does. The tablet encourages the user to use gestural actions. Consuming content requires you to use your whole arm, which activates more neurons than clicking a mouse. The tablet encourages you to invite the content you are consuming into your personal space. And the panel theorizes that as we get more and more used to engaging with brands on a tablet device, we will begin to reject controls that separate us from the content we are trying to consume. But if there is one key takeaway from this session, it happens to be a philosophy that I believe in very passionately: when designing an experience for the tablet, don’t get sidetracked by stats. Instead, think about the role the device is playing in your audience’s life when they are consuming your content. Are they at their local Starbucks? Are they on their couch late at night? Or, while we may not want to think about it, are they in the bathroom? Regardless of what the answer to that question is, create a tablet experience that complements the “how” and “where,” not just the “why.”

Alternative Channels of Distribution

The purpose of this session was supposedly to discuss “alternative” channels of content distribution, and given the savvy level of many attending SXSW, I believe we all assumed that channels other than Facebook and Twitter would be discussed (sad that many of us consider Facebook and Twitter “mainstream”). However, the panelists themselves represented major brands (AmEx, Warner Bros and Smirnoff Diageo) who actually still DO consider Facebook and Twitter alternative to the web and traditional forms of media. And given the relative success American Express Go Social and the fact that movies can be made or broken through social media, Amex and WB had a few nuggets that I thought were worth passing along to you:

  • The loyalty marketing world is not shifting to digital rewards. Instead, it’s using the digital platform to extend their offering.
  • The beauty of the digital reward is that for the first time, brands can actually engage their audience and quickly enable that audience to influence others.
  • When developing your social loyalty program, you cannot forget that it’s a journey, and you may make a mistake along the way. That’s OK.
  • Don’t ask for ROI to justify that journey. It’s a crutch for the fearful. What is the ROI that marketers are getting from bus backs or mass transit campaigns? And did your client ask you for an ROI then?

As a digital marketer, the last bullet hit home more than any other statement made during the discussion. Why? Because as a digital marketer, you are accustomed to tracking every touch point and sometimes, the data can be scary. It’s that fear that may stifle innovation, when in reality, if that same data had been available for offline tactics, some of the more brilliant marketing campaigns may have never come to be.

Social Role-Playing: Brands and Publishers

This session discussed how brands have evolved into taking on the role of publishers as they embrace the broadcasting capacity of social media channels. This panel was of particular interest of mine because I specifically wanted to hear the insights of panelist Sarah Smith who is the Director of Online Operations at Facebook. Other panelists included EB Boyd a reporter at Fast Company, Kevin Barenblat CEO of Context Optional, Justin Merickle VP of Marketing at Efficient Frontier, and Halle Hutchinson Senior Director of Brand Marketing at Expedia.com. The point that resonated most with me is how they all agreed that the definition of a good ad has greatly changed. Before, the more distracting and attention grabbing an ad is, the better. Now, the more an ad seamlessly integrates itself within customers stories and overall social “talk” or chatter, the better. Smith stressed this notion while giving Facebook’s Sponsored Stories as an example of branded messaging assimilating itself with friend’s stories. With this shift in marketing and advertising, the skills of the staff has to appropriately shift as well. More and more are marketing professionals being required to possess reporting skills in order to meet the demands of daily content generation.

Shut Up & Draw

This panel discussion consisted of three panel speakers: Dan Roam from Digital Roam, Inc., Jessica Hagy from Creative Mercenary, and Sunni Brown from sunnibrown.com. The topic of the panel  dealt with how more and more companies are reinforcing the whiteboard culture because of the benefits that visual language can bring into a presentation or sales’s pitch.

As a designer it’s important to be able to sketch out our ideas, but what I learned from this discussion was a how important a simple sketch can be in expressing any idea regardless if you can draw or not. It has been proven that drawing or using simple visuals to articulate even the most complex concepts such as mathematical equations can improve your thinking. Surprisingly, you’ll also even remember it longer that if someone said it.  In addition to the talk, they walked us through a few quick tutorials that taught us to take a simple statements and rapidly transform it into a visual displays .

Overall, here are few tips to remember:

  • Visual language is not meant to be beautiful. If you’re stuck, start by drawing a circle.
  • Do not judge your drawing skills. The point is not to be perfect.
  • Create as sense of confidence. To be smart is to “see.” There’s nothing more to it.

Humanizing B2B brands with Video & Comedy

I chose this session because more and more of our clients are asking for video.  Presented by Tim Washer, senior marketing manager of Cisco, this talk was one of the more entertaining presentations so far.  His work has appeared in Advertising Age and AdWeek and The New York Times and he has also a comedy writer/actor, and credits include Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, SNL and the The Onion Sports Network.

Along with sharing some of his favorite videos that he wrote and produced, Washer mentions some great advice and rules on how to go about bringing humor into our own videos. Here were a few examples:

  • Humor can be a wonderful way to simplify your message. Start simple and sometimes you have to fight to be simple.
  • Bringing humor in B2B videos can be successful because it’s unexpected.
  • Identify your natural employee storytellers and arm them with the ability to create shareable content.
  • Don’t talk about the product.
  • Always try and evoke a positive emotion.
  • Humanize your brand.
  • Humor is like giving a gift to your audience.
  • Look into nearby film schools to resource out video if your budget is tight.
  • One of the strongest connection we can make with another human is to make them laugh.
  • Finding a key editor is important but finding an editor that can edit humor is essential.

 

 

Day Three @ SXSW 2012

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The glorious Austin sun decided to grace us with its presence on Sunday which made running around the city from panel to talk to session a lot more enjoyable. The Grafik team continued their live-tweet and live-blogging coverage, but in case you missed it, here is a rundown of what we attended and our key takeaways:

Digital Sport: Know More, Do More

By far one of the best panels Brad has attended in his two years at SXSW, Jimmy Fallon hosted a panel consisting of Stefan Olander, VP of Digital Sport at Nike, Andrew Wilson, Executive VP of EA Sports, and even an Olympic gold medalist! The purpose of pulling together such an interesting group of people was to discuss how technology is evolving how consumers engage with sports, using real life examples ranging from the use of Nike+ while you workout or the incorporation of live stats into video game play. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • Technology has broken down barriers, making information that was only available to elite athletes available to the every day athlete.
  • Technology is influencing real life. Manchester City youth soccer players are required to play FIFA on the EA console to learn team strategy and tactics.
  • For Nike to grow, they must evolve from being just a product company to becoming a service company, and Nike+ is leading the way.

Between the foot race contested between Jimmy Fallon and an audience member, and several questions from black level Nike+ members, it’s safe to say that this panel go-er felt slightly out of shape and in desperate need of the new Nike Fuel Band!

Stand with Planned Parenthood: A Crisis Response

Based on just reading the title, you may ask why I would attend this panel? Planned Parenthood Federation of America is known to have it’s own share of controversy and they’ve utilized social tools for crisis management. All the five panelists were involved with the “Stand Up for Planned Parenthood” campaign which targeted the negative reproductive healthcare conversation that erupted in the House of Representatives last year. There’s an balancing act between the right information/message and timeliness when tweeting on behalf of an organization or brand, especially during a high-pressure situation. Here are some of the top tips/insightful quotes the panelists gave:

  • Inform and educate as much as you can. When it’s your issue or cause, it’s easy to believe that others know and care as much you do. That isn’t always true
  • Get control of your message early. Old instinct is to wait to respond, but new media doesn’t wait.
  • Because a crisis may require an all hands on deck responding, EVERYBODY in an organization should know social media social media.
  • Have a plan. Everyone in the organization should be on the same page. It’s very difficult to do constant checks in during a crisis so make sure the entire team know the messaging and stick to it.

Voices Carry: Why Authentic Brand Voices Matter

This session was a packed house as it attracted people from branding, social media, video production, marketing, journalism as well as both online and offline strategists. In the advent of social media, any one person has numerous channels and platforms to consume content, whatever that type of content may be. This session focused on the importance of maintaining authentic voice across the different venues of content. Coming into this talk I defined an authentic social voice as a transparent one that stays true to the brand it represents. I still believe in that definition, but panelist Sean Amos, Founder/Managing Partner of Amos Content Group also expressed different angle to the definition. He said “a beer company and it’s beer-drinking customers share beer as a common interest. However, it’s likely that there are other common interests. Identifying those interests and speaking to them in line with your brand  is what authenticity is.” I agree with Amos. Social media is a two-way channel and finding a way to actively listen to your audience and learning what they need and want, before engaging is an “authentic” way of communicating on behalf of a brand.

Is Our Photo-Madness Creating Mediocrity or Magic?

This panel discussion dealt with how the rise of mobile photography was effecting our creativity and what it now meant in this post photography era.  The panel was composed of four diverse individuals—an associate professor of New Media from Berkeley, a curator of photography for the Library of Congress, and the founder and CEO of Instagram.

Overall, the panel was in agreement that mass of photography may at times appear mundane and thoughtless, but we are indeed in a golden age of storytelling. As Vernas Curtis (curator from the Library of Congress) puts it, “the mundane helps capture our world today. This mass collection of photography will serve as a form of documentation when we look back in history on things such as what we buy, eat and drink. This very act of personal expression is important in knowing who we are as people now more than being artsy. Applications such as Instagram will not only helps us see more of the world, it allows us to share it with the rest of the world.” Kevin Systrom (founder of Instagram) also adds that his company is constantly looking at ways to apply value to this documentation with building off new technology. Richard Koci Hernandez (the associate professor from Berkely and journalist photographer) is also a big fan of Instagram and encouraged us to use it, but also quickly advices and points out to the crowd, “it’s not about what we keep, but what we throw away.” And Mila interpreted this as, even if the world has gone camera-mad and we can photograph everything we want at anytime,  it’s also good to filter through our photos and keep what we really feel is worth keeping. This editing process is still a very important aspect in your creative process.

When it came to question and answer time, an interesting question was directed to Kevin Systrom from Instagram, “which brands are using instagram successfully?” He quickly listed the brands below. We’re looking forward to see how some of their best practices could apply to some our clients.

And finally to top it off, Koci Hernandez ended the session where he hooked up his iPhone to the screen and walked us through a quick tutorial of how he creates some of his photos and showed us some of the cool apps he was using.

Day Two @ SXSW 2012

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Saturday, day two of SXSW Interactive (technically our first day: see post on day one) was a day of running around in the rain, but also a day of very informative panels.

Here is a rundown of the sessions the Grafik team was able to attend and our key takeaways:

Big Social Media Results at Small Organizations

Speaker Aimee Roundtree is an associate professor at the University of Houston who teaches social media among many other courses as well as devises social campaigns for a number of organizations. She focused a lot on what some of the social media best practices are for large, top corporations are and how it may not necessarily be best suited for smaller organizations. An interesting point she made was that for smaller organizations, sometimes you don’t need a a formal “strategy” in the beginning. With limited resources, sometimes you just have to be free to experiment with choosing platforms and tools to see what works, and then zero in on what makes sense and what the organization can handle. Sounds logical, but not always followed.

Rude Awakening: Content Strategy Is Super Hard

This was a very informative yet entertaining session. Amongst the oohs, ahhs, and laughs, the very reputable and very humorous panelists made some simple but profound points on content strategy. The one that struck me the most was the conversation about metadata and how it’s almost as important as the content itself. Panelist Joe Gollner, Director of Gnostyx that specializes in integrated content solutions for companies, made a Matrix movie reference and said that we are the intelligent creatures and that we have to be the ones to feed the machines information in order to effectively work, and that information is metadata. There is a wealth of content out there that is no longer limited to just words (video, photos, etc.) and if it doesn’t have the appropriate metadata, it won’t reach it’s exposure potential on the web.

Enterprise Social Media: Five Emerging Trends

There was a resounding theme throughout the entire session and that is corporate culture should always be top of mind when delving in social technologies. Panelists Luis Benitez and Heidi Ambler of the IBM social software team say that each social platform or tool highlights a different behavior and not all companies want to or can highlight those behaviors so it is important to pick and choose which to take on. More and more CEOs now know the benefits of embracing social media and how crucial it is to growing business, but social strategies should always embrace the existing culture of the organization despite what the newest trend in the market is.

Building Blocks for Indoor Navigation

An experienced panel, anchored by a heavy-weight representative from Google Maps, Chris Broadfoot, discussed how indoor maps are being used to create contextual awareness for the end consumer. The panel viewed indoor maps as the next frontier of opportunity since 80% of our time is spent indoors, yet, at the moment there is no way to accurately and reliably provide indoor location data. The challenge of indoor positioning companies is to fill the large gap between the CADD drawings that exist for every building in the U.S. and outdoor maps that are aware of the building footprint. And while many companies are creatively using different forms of technology to isolate an indoor position ranging from WiFi to sound signals, no one company has completely met the challenge. However, the panel promised that in the next few years, the indoor positioning problem would be solved since all manufactured phones will be capable of transmitting the needed information by 2013.

Discover the New Frontier of the Glocal Internet

While the focus of the session was supposed to be around the Glocalisation of the Internet (think globally, act locally) the panel comprised of representatives from Spotify, Foursquare, Zendesk, and Smartling meandered their way through topics ranging from cloud security to presidential playlists. As a cloud fanatic myself, I was particularly intrigued when an audience member asked whether or not they felt the Cloud was reducing the need of the operating system, but all panelists felt that while the role of the OS is definitely evolving, most applications, whether their data lives in the cloud or not, still need the processing power of the OS to serve up the data in the complex application interfaces. Also discussed was the concept of “frictionless sharing” and whether or not it’s a good thing (think Facebook newsfeed automatically sharing your music with your friends via Spotify). In the end, it’s a balance of user choice (having the ability to turn the feed on and off) and the benefits of random discovery (your friends learn of a new band or new track). As long as everyone involved is aware of their user rights, whether or not they own their data, and have the ability to opt out, the beneficial opportunities will only increase down the road.

Erasing Lines Between Physical and Digital Worlds

A more intimate panel, consisting of founder of Ogmento, Brian Selzer, and Peter Gould from PDP Mobile promised to be an interesting discussion since Ogmento overlays a digital experience in the real world via augmented reality while PDP focuses on creating devices that enable us to experience this new reality. However, after a brief discussion around how we should view life as a game, we experienced our first “panel bomb” (where someone in the audience unexpectedly takes over the presentation) of the trip where the entire discussion was quickly taken over by an audience member hawking their new augmented reality application. And while the panel members did their best to get the talk back on track, I think most momentum was gone, given that it was the last talk of the day. However, the topic of the Google Glasses came up, and it led Mila and Brad to talk about what life will be like if people start walking around with glasses where content is constantly being placed in front of their eyes. Will we have an “eyes-free” law, similar to the hands-free initiative where police are now responsible for ensuring that drivers are not driving with these glasses on? Will it make us more disconnected in this always-on, connected world? Time will tell.

Y Rappers Are Better Marketers than U

Despite the craziness of the rain the first few days, I was finally able to attend my first session which asked how come rappers have turned their personal brands into successful marketing platforms and how can we learn from it? Led by two creative directors from SapientNitro, Bill Pauls and John McHale, they kept the discussion  informative, interactive, and not to mention fun.

I don’t listen to a lot of rap, but I chose this panel because the topic  sounded entertaining and the room was completely booked. I also appreciated that the guys from Sapient were creative in coming up with a unique topic which also was pretty smart since they knew that their target audience were rap enthusiasts. I mean, who doesn’t like Jay-Z?

So my quick takeaways  for how brands can better learn from rappers:

  • Stay legit/project a consistent brand image
  • Always be on the lookout/market to new audiences (rappers have been doing this well since RunDMC met Aerosmith)
  • Master the social/innovate in a digital world (T-Pain’s popular Autotune App, for example)
  • Name check/cross promote with advertisers
  • Leverage product placement (mmm, Cristal, bling bling)
  • And drive culture

Overall, Rappers truly understand their audience better than their audience understands them.

Random Sights and Sounds from SXSW

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Last year, I discovered that one of the charms of SXSW is that you never knew what kind of random scene you would stumble upon as you made your way from one campus to the next. This year has been no different. Below are a few random photos and videos collected from the past few days:

Ask.com provides free power, sugar and caffeine on a daily basis to keep the festival goers charged and moving forward. While recharging their phones, Lahaina and Mila made a new friend.

On Sunday, Jimmy Fallon hosted one of the top panels for the interactive festival, focusing on the digital sport. In typical Jimmy Fallon fashion, his introduction of the panel was clever AND entertaining.

One thing I’ve been impressed with this year is how accessible they have made the festival to attendees of all ages…

Then, on your average walk between sessions you might stumble across one of the most famous competitive eaters in history

And if you’re lucky, they will pose with you for a picture.

Then, just as you think you’ve seen it all, you stumble across Wonder Woman changing a flat tire on her invisible… pedicab?

Needless to say, when you mix this many unique personalities from all over the world in one location, you are bound to experience some entertaining memories that will remain with you for a very long time. I can’t wait to see what next year holds!

Welcome to Grafik’s SXSW Base Camp

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Grafik at SXSW 2012

This year at SXSW, we rented out a small three-bedroom house through airbnb.com instead of a hotel suite. Although it has its quirks (blog post to follow), we have settled in quite well and definitely made it our new home here at Austin. Located in an up and coming, residential neighborhood, we’ve discovered hip restaurants in the vicinity, scenic running paths, and really hospitable neighbors. Oh and the best part is it’s only a five-minute drive to and from the Austin Convention Center.

So maybe we’re not right downtown in the thick of things, but there’s something to be said about living amongst the locals, and being able to escape the city at the end of each crazy SXSW day.

 

Day One @ SXSW 2012

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The Pepsi SXSW display at the local Austin Walmart

The Pepsi SXSW display at the local Austin Walmart

Day one of SXSW was certainly an interesting one for the Grafik team. And while nature and other circumstances prevented the team from picking up our registration badges and attending the handful of panels for the day, we had a busy day nonetheless. Here’s a little summary of how our day went:

8:00 am – Rise and shine! The team is up and ready for the day. The plan is to head out at 11:45 thinking we will get our registration badges, have lunch and make the 2:00 pm panels. Boy, were we ambitious.

9:00 am – Will go grocery shopping in the afternoon. Rely on host’s espresso machine (which took us a while to figure out) to hold us over till we can grab breakfast downtown.

10:00 am – Launch our SXSW landing page which includes our first tweets, blog posts and photos of the day.

10:45 am – Mila calls a cab. And even though we rented a house five minutes from downtown (driving), freak thunderstorms prevented us from walking there, so alternative transportation is required.

11:30 am – No sign of the cab.

12:00 pm – Still no sign of cab. Mila follows up and the cab company reports that it will be another hour. We busy ourselves by attending to our normal Grafik obligations.

12:30 pm – Hunger sets in. We start snacking on leftover M&M’s that were purchased from the airport the night before. 2:00 pm panel is more than likely not going to happen.

1:30 pm – Still no sign of our cab and the ladies’ toilet backs up.

1:35 pm – No plunger in the house. According to landlord, “this has never happened before”.

1:45 pm – I walk over to borrow plunger from neighbor. Awesome, right?

2:30 pm – Break open a box of Wheat Thins discovered in pantry and make executive decision that a rental car is required if we are to actually participate in SXSW.

4:00 pm – After instructing cab company we would need transportation back to airport and rental cars, the cab arrives within 10 minutes (think double fare).

4:15 – 4:45pm – Sit in traffic from rain-caused accident.

5:00 pm – Rent our wheels for the duration of our stay.

5:10pm – Grab breakfast/lunch/dinner and proceed to Walmart for groceries. We had learned lesson. Supplies were warranted.

5:45 pm – Visit Starbucks for first time for much-needed coffee.

6:00 pm – Drive through downtown to get our bearings.

6:30 pm – Arrive back at the house. To our chagrin, rain is still pouring and we start discussing if we attend any events at night.

6:30 – 9:00pm – Snack, check work email, nap, and veg.

9:00 pm – We eventually decide to stay in for the evening and have a few SXSW friends over to our house.

10:00pm-12:30am – Entertain friends.

1:15am – Call it a day (night).

We can’t wait for Saturday and will summarize our adventures on the blog tomorrow! Until then, please follow our adventures at www.grafik.com/sxsw!

The Grafik team heading towards downtown Austin in the rain

The Grafik team heading towards downtown Austin in the rain

House of Brands

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One of the questions that we often have to address with new clients is how they are organized…brand architecture is the fancy word. Some clients are comfortable spinning off new companies when they develop a new product or look to expand horizontally to a new business sector—a House of Brands. Others create business units that operate independently but must conform to a corporate set of brand guidelines—a Master Brand. Understanding which branding model a company  should choose is based on many factors. There may be good reasons to launch different companies if they are making competing products. A House of Brands is an expensive proposition since each new company has to be marketed independently. With a House of Brands if one company fails, or has a bad reputation, it only takes down that entity and does not tarnish the parent company. With a House of Brands, if something untoward happens to one business sector, it may have an adverse effect on the whole company.

Pepsico Brands

Pepsico's House of Brands

Glancing at the New York Times last week I saw a wonderful example illustrating Pepsico‘s House of Brands. I, for one, had no idea that Pepsico owned Gatorade or Starbucks—two signature brands that have very different brand personalities. And certainly the wholesomeness that is part of Quaker’s brand might conflict with the junk food identity that is Cheetos. There are many good reasons to keep them separate.

A different perspective is told in an article that ran in the New York Times on January 6 on the new BMW slogan. BMW is the classic example used to illustrate a Master Brand. Rather than promote many different car models, BMW promotes one. Recently they launched new brand advertising. The article notes, “The new advertising depicts the BMW as the ultimate driving machine,” whatever the model. The tagline has been used continuously by BMW since it was created in 1975. This of course is significantly cheaper than having to support all of the different brands that Pepsico supports. But Master Brands do have challenges. As Renée Richardson Gosline, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management, notes, “a campaign that emphasizes a consistent brand essence is powerful, but BMW has to keep in mind that luxury consumers seek distinction, even within the brand. So, along with the egalitarian message that all BMWs are ‘ultimate driving machines,’ BMW has to make owners of different models each feel special as well, by building relationships with the owners of each model.

Choosing whether to adopt a House of Brands versus a Master Brand should not be made by default. While brand architecture is not always looked at, it is critical and will effect everything a corporation decides from mergers and acquisitions to naming conventions. At the very least, determining a company’s organizational structure should be a mandatory part of any brand exercise.

APIs: Building App-Cred

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API, or application program interface, is a source code base that is released by the developers of an app that allow communication between the platform and third party applications. Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, to name a few, each have their own APIs that developers can utilize so their apps can communicate with these platforms. The result of this technology is a collaborative atmosphere where information is shared and sometimes even controlled centrally.

Up until recently, I haven’t been exposed a great deal with using APIs. The only APIs I have interacted with are Google Maps and the occasional Facebook commenting system on other websites. Since I’ve become a little more in the know as to what APIs are, and how they can empower an app/service, I’ve become more fond of apps/services that use them.

Path Social Media Platform

Path Mobile App

Path, a journal-like, mobile-only software, is an excellent example as to how developers and designers alike are making use of APIs. Path, which is very similar to the popular social media services pointed out above, is actually a hub of sorts. It allows for content published in the app to be pushed to Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Facebook. Path is an interesting step in mobile software. For starters, it is mobile-only, meaning users can only post content from their mobile device. You can still “like” and comment on content in the web version, but only by clicking through a permalink when an update is posted. This facet of the software was a little jarring at first, but what Path has created is an on-the-go social media platform that makes use of these popular services. For me, it made me more willing to trust and engage with the app. Not to mention it’s incredibly well designed.

I’m not necessarily here to plug Path, but I wanted to take a minute and share a service that I enjoy using. Path was an acquired taste, and I think it’s important to note that partnerships with the big players might even help start-ups like Path gain momentum. No one wants to post their content to a service that will die in a few months. With the conceived failure of Google+, I have been left a little exasperated when it comes to the birth of new social media platforms. The fresh approach to Path is they aren’t necessarily introducing something new, rather, they are building on the services we use today. In Path, I am able to check in on Foursquare, push to Twitter, and post pictures and status updates to Facebook. All the while it lives in my Path timeline.

APIs are something a developer or designer (and even client) should consider when starting a project. It is true that APIs are not always viable, but in situations where they are, it creates a more comfortable user experience. In the case of Path, I was at ease using this program as it used the APIs of other services that I have come to know and trust. All of these are important components that factor into the success of an app or service.

Great New Site for Mohr Retail @ MohrRetail.com

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Mohr Retail

We are very proud of our new work for retail training giant, MOHR Retail, the company that has trained the staff of household brands including T.J. Maxx, New Balance, and Verizon Wireless, in its 30 years in business. Through a discovery process that included a brand audit, interviews, and a competitive review, we were able to define four brand pillars that helped  establish a clear strategy for the web redesign. The site focuses on the importance of MOHR Retail’s trainings by using the main messaging area to promote the core attributes that set them apart from other training programs. Our brand study also made it evident that a name change would reinforce their expertise in the retail space and MOHR Access—became MOHR Retail.  Brand strategy always guides design at Grafik—and that is why clients like Michael Patrick of MOHR Retail have this to say about working with Grafik.

“We are all so proud of what you have created. Thank you for listening, bringing your expertise, and translating our vision into reality. The site shows us in the best possible light. It communicates that we are a leader in retail training, offer fresh and important insights, and are a substantial organization that is ready to handle the full range of needs retailers may have. If this doesn’t grow our brand and drive business, I’m not sure what would. We made the right decision when we chose Grafik!” —Michael Patrick, Founder & President, MOHR Retail.

Pinterest

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I first heard about Pinterest from my sister, a fourth grade teacher in Michigan who is not known as an early adopter. I was reading one of my favorite blogs, clicked on a Pinterest button on the site, and all of a sudden found myself in a different world that I knew nothing about. Just at that moment, my sister called me. I told her that I had just found this interesting site, Pinterest, and she told me it is one of the best places online for teachers to share ideas and curriculum—she has been using it for months. Three hours later, I was hooked.

These are a few of Grafik CEO, Judy Kirpich

I have been trying to figure out the many ways to use this new social media tool. Growing from 1.2 million users in August to over 4 million in January 2012, it is a site that allows users to share images they like about objects that they like. Each time you choose an image—whether it is from a website or within the Pinterest boards, it is called “pinning.”

A user can group infinite numbers of images into a board that can be organized and categorized according to the users preferences. The site is being used predominantly by women, and there are myriad boards on kitchens, fashion trends, bridal dresses. There are also boards featuring textures, art, places to travel, black and white photography and architecture. If you find someone who is constantly pinning up images that are interesting, you can choose to follow that person, and can select which of her boards you want to follow. If you see an image you like, you can repin it on your own board, like it, or even make a comment.

An example of Judy's Pinterest textile board.

A shot of Judy

By installing a Pin It button on your desktop, if you see a beautiful image of an elephant on a nature site, you can click on the button and it will be added to your collection (board of images).Well, lots of sites allow you to post images, Grabbit for one, but what is interesting is that the Pin It photo arrives at your board with the credits and original site attached. And here is where I think it gets interesting…since Pinterest allows a “pinner” to see where the original content is from, if you repeatedly see that images you like are from the same website or blog, you are encouraged to visit that url. In this way Pinterest can subtly act as another method to get people to your own blog or website.

I decided to try an experiment. I posted eight images from my own blog. On a good day I normally get about 50-70 page views. The day before I started pinning on Pinterest I had 62 page views. For the next few days after I had started pinning, my page views went up to 379 and the views have remained higher.

After adding images from her own blog, Unmultitasking, Judy's blog traffic experienced a bump.

More research has to be done on Pinterest, however right now it is currently the seventh highest trafficked social media site. The demographic is predominantly female which should be interesting to advertisers. And in talking with some of our social media team and our creative directors we are already thinking of ways we could use this both for our clients and internally. One cautionary note—it’s addictive and can really suck up a lot of time, so be prepared to spend hours investigating it. Enjoy, and happy pinning!

ibm

Simply Arresting: Designing for Technology

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While waiting for my flight at Reagan National Airport, I happened to look up and experience one of the most striking technology campaigns I’ve seen in a while. The Smarter Planet campaign, designed by Ogilvy Paris for IBM, employs a collection of simple yet sophisticated illustrations by Noma Bar titled Outcomes. His work precisely uses shapes, form, and negative space showcasing his skills as an artist, illustrator, and designer. The resulting images are deceivingly simple and often require an extra moment to see the meaning within. I only wished I had taken a photo of the actual display at the airport, however the images below should give you a good idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noma Bar's Outcomes illustrations for IBM's Smarter Planet campaign

Noma Bar’s Outcomes illustrations for IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belated Happy New Year From All The Grafites To You!

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It’s been said many times over, “It’s never too late.” This is especially true when it involves props, singing, and spreading smiles.

Case in point: Grafik’s 2011 Holiday E-card which was sent out to clients, friends, and our social followers early this week. Yes, it may be a bit tardy, but it’s still darn worthy of the mere 30 seconds you need to view it. So if you haven’t given it a look, click on the image below. Immediate smiles guaranteed!

 

Grafik's 2011 Holiday Card Email