Oh, the good ole mood board. Its so powerful and yet so subjective in what it should be and contain. Its not an easy thing to define exactly and it feels like everyone could have a slightly differently approach to it as long as it conveys the right things; style, feeling, tone, etc.
Google called it this, “an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc., intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.” … and I don’t hate that definition.
I broke it down a bit differently to give instructions on creating one.
The end goal is to convey the style and tone in the design you are concepting out
The audience is usually a creative director or client stakeholder
Use elements from research, past designs, current collateral from the same brand or newly created elements
Re-create any elements that are too far off-brand (like the completely wrong color or image) but don’t spend too much time making them perfect
When you squint, it should start to mimic the design style you have in mind
I actually think this is a powerful practice to complete even if you’re not showing a stakeholder for approval but only for yourself. Its not easy to have the discipline to do that, but I bet it will pay off in the long run in making you a stronger visual communicator.
I just can’t help myself to always snap a few, or a shit-ton of pics with my cell phone at a client location when we’re there for meetings or other, non-photographic reasons. They are so helpful. Clients love to see past and future mockups actually placed in their environments, and it is sooooo hard to get images from them of their spaces.
The fun part is that you’re not actually suppose to be taking pictures and using them, especially not for your marketing purposes. So usually I’m creeping around before the client lets us in, like around reception in the public area, just snapping cell phone pics in a non-discreet manner like I’m just reading text messages horizontally… which nobody ever does. I’ve only been called out at a client retail location but never in a corporate office. But I have been told before to be sure not to get any computer screens in my pictures.
My favorite is getting people in the pictures also. Especially since most of our digital work is based on engagement… so I want some people in there either looking at a screen or about to touch a screen. I get a lot of receptionists in there, some random guests, even some co-workers (they really hate it usually).
Of course the pics aren’t the best but usually if you get a steady and in-focus shot, you can photoshop that bad boy in some professional fashion to make it work. Lets be honest, iPhones will take a pretty badass picture these days and will work for most needs these days, and a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for a photoshoot or high res stock images (… don’t get me started on prices of high res stock images of fucking office building interiors!!!).
As soon as I saw the first IBM Watson national spot where they had people conversing with Watson in creative ways, I knew I wanted to do something with it (since IBM is a big client of my company and we have free reign to try new stuff sometimes). The TV spots had cool settings with very visual surroundings, and very unique looking people (from a cute little girl to Bob Dylan) which I thought would turn out really well in some cool motion graphic treatment across a large-scale videowall. The commercials also featured some good tag lines around cognitive business and also good witty banter between Watson and the featured person. A great challenge to turn it into digital content.
My first opportunity was for a much wider digital canvas, a 7 portrait screen array which is about 3 times the width of HD. But this wasn’t a hindrance, as its a normal thing we do and actually gives you a lot of freedom in creating supporting graphical treatments to surround any existing HD footage or maybe use to put some title text or supporting messaging.
The biggest challenge on these were the audio because the videowall we were creating content for didn’t have the audio turned on due to it being in a corporate lobby and not wanting to be overly distracting. But the audio piece was the compelling part of the video which highlights the value and personality of Watson.
So we transcribed the people talking to Watson and figured out how much of it we should try and use and how to show the text on the screen. We decided to have some messaging on one side of the screen, and then for the actual conversation we treated it almost like a text message string or chat client type of format, where each speaking person had a little avatar/headshot with their line. Then each one would animate onto the screen after a few seconds, trying to mimic a conversation, and essentially allow a viewer in this corporate lobby to see this really cool visual piece and then follow along with the text-based conversation.
Here’s a couple examples, the text on the right is too small to read, but it animates through the conversation/audio:
I love Netflix and I don’t mean just lounging around with my iPad or my Roku at home, binge watching shows and movies (although I do love that too) but their innovative approach to their business, products and now show production and strategy. Even their strategy to go after original programming and then how they executed on creating such amazingly addictive shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, and Peaky Blinders (a little less known buy my favorite).
Their latest move that got my head spinning and yelling “genius” in my apartment to myself is when they had a new Marco Pollo episode at the top of my Netflix home page under Shows Recommended For You. I had watched the full first season of Marco Pollo (which is amazing) but I knew the second season couldn’t be out this soon. So I obviously clicked on it and was surprised to see the description saying something about it being a special feature episode on the back story of one of the main characters. Genius! Who does that? I’m guessing they filmed it during season one and just planned on having it in their back pocket drink the wait for the next season.
It did remind me of some special feature stuff you’ll see online or on YouTube for certain shows. Like having the show staff do some speaking about the shooting of the new season and maybe show some raw footage. But there’s something that always bugs me about seeing the actors and actresses out of character, and it seems to lessen my connection to the show since it starts to emphasize how its not real. The accents are gone, you see the set creation (making the realistic settings crumble back into the real world) and instead of getting me excited about the next season, I’m now feeling disconnected with the show I once felt was real.
I do feel like I need to say that I feel their business model around their original programming could be optimized a bit. I’m a little scared to say it publicly in case it catches on and it comes to fruition and then it ends up costing me way more money in the long run. Hmm… why do they release an entire season at a time? What benefit do they get for me to binge watch an entire season at once, over one weekend or one night? Do you see where I’m going here? We all know you have the whole season ready at that time, but why wouldn’t you release like 1 a day, and then possibly charge a very small nominal fee to watch the next one early? And to explain it in a dramatic way, when House of Cards season 2 came out and after episode 1 killed off Zoe Barnes, how much would you of paid to watch the next episode right then immediately? $.99? $1.99? $9.99? $49.99? Personally, if I knew that next episode was done but not being released for a whole other week, I’d for sure pay up to $100 (or if you know me, it might be more even) to watch that sucker.
Its actually more about sharing than writing. I somewhat dislike writing and absolutely hate trying to make my writing actually correct in english and punctuationally accurate (and sometimes I like to make up words like “punctuationally” and use parenthesis too much for my extracurricular thoughts). BUT I really enjoy sharing experiences to others and using all the knowledge I absorb to make a difference and possibly assist others in their experiences. The other angle I like about this is becoming an influencer. That term is buzzing right now as entrepreneurship is all the rage and becoming influential to younger people is not only helpful, its actually sought after by the young people in order to stay inspired and motivated in today’s crazy distracting society.
I’ve found myself writing about design topics, creative team stuff and also business type practices. Its an interesting forum where I feel like I can contribute in all three areas but also become more appealing to leadership opportunities and startup type companies if I come across as strategically understanding organizational methods and ways to ensure people adhere to them or can easily digest and excite against them.
My goal for 2016 is to start taking steps to becoming more of an influencer which essentially helps me become a better team lead when people find you more influential too look up to, trust and follow. So this whole LinkedIn platform for people to publish more article type content, rather than just an update post, is a great way for people like me (who are not writers nor want to be professional writers) to have an outlet and are encouraged to post some content to it. When I say “encouraged”, I mean how this actually adds value for the writer, as in having content posted out for all your connections to see and also other people to have the opportunity to read as well.
I’ve only written 2 of them to date, but I’ve see some of my connections ‘like’ the articles and also been messaged by random other people just for them to tell me that they liked them. Its an interesting feeling to have strangers tell you they appreciate your article which essentially appreciating your time, effort and experience. Its an addicting feeling. If I could scale that up a bit, I think I would want to learn more about writing (maybe take a class) and really exploit that feeling for possible revenue opportunities.
I don’t know if theres a better all-around team building event outside of a happy hour. Remember thats considering cost, time and outcome as the determining factors of calling it better than like a real excursion. It sometimes gets messy (not always as down and dirty as the picture with this blog post) but thats the aspect of letting your hair down with your co-workers and having fun.
Even if someone doesn’t drink, thats ok. Its called “Happy Hour” not “Drink Alcohol Hour” (which sounds sort of fun too, to me at least). We’ve had people attend and not drink alcohol. There’s usually a slough of appetizers and random good eatin’ that gets ordered and passed around. Between all the food you can handle, maybe a delicious virgin drink (get creative with it if you don’t just want a coke or iced tea) and all the funny banter and talking shit on clients, what’s not to enjoy even if you’re dead sober?
This particular happy hour we were celebrating 3 project deployments which is a great way to get something on the board, to celebrate team success. Now, we’re pretty casual so we just winged the happy hour and let everyone chat but you can even go more structured and really talk about the projects and almost lead the conversation in certain ways to really get your ROI on that happy hour. I’m not sure how I feel about that but the idea floats around my head sometimes as a way to really ensure your attendees have that opportunity to vent about those projects because this is when you want them to bitch about that client instead of during business hours at the office.
It never fails, my work productivity on a plane is around 200%. You don’t have the normal distractions and for some reason I always fall into this super-productive zone where I just want to get as much shit done as possible before the plane lands. Maybe its because I know I should maximize what I get done in this zone because once I land, its usually back to the chaos of the office, home, or some fun travel plans. Regardless why, up in the clouds is my secret office, my sweetspot.
My favorite task to do in the clouds is write. I can bang out blog articles left and right and don’t know why. is it the heightened focus? Maybe it has something to do with travel being somewhat motivational to me because I love it. It has this successful factor to it in my mind because you have the means and freedom to do it… not sure about that, but just my random thought on the matter.
The other benefit, or detriment sometimes, is now wifi is pretty standard on all planes. So now you can stay connected for emergencies, or appear to be working somewhere if your boss doesn’t know you stuck out on a friday for a early long weekend. But it is nice to have access to email because you’re undoubtably going to have at least one thing to respond to in real-time which is always helpful and also shows your team and peers you’re dedicated and even when traveling you’re attentive and adding value.
The funny part is when the person next to me notices what I’m doing. It happens about a 5th of the time in my experience. Usually they try not to watch or bug me because I have headphones in and am banging out work… but the curious and outgoing people always tap my shoulder, about as soon as the flight starts its descent and i’m putting away my laptop. Their comment or question is the funny part as its usually some version of, “What were you doing that whole time” or “What type of work do you do because that looked interesting.” That always cracks me up because they essentially caught me scribbling notes by hand or drawing little wireframes during takeoff, then transcribing them on my laptop once I get that out, and they are always curious if I was just playing around or if it was truly some form of professional activity. Then they sometimes find out the client, or they saw a logo of a fortune 500 brand they recognize and then its more comical to them because they see this young (at least i feel young, or think i look younger or more casual than your usually business professional) guy cranking out work for a big time company while being all cramped and semi-limited in the small airplane seat and awkward seat-back tray.
This also reminds me of my thinking on work/life balance (which I don’t even really like how that term is named really), and if I can fly out on a Friday, work on the plane and airports (during layovers) for at least 4-6 hours, then I love it. I get work done while flying my ass to some other city to visit friends, have an outdoors adventure, visit family, see random sites, etc. That is how I am enjoying life currently!
Sometimes you just need to take over a room, sprawl out all your shit (and by “shit” I mean tons of prints outs, whiteboard markers, pens, tape, push pins, snacks, drinks, dogs, etc) just to get yourself focused in on the large challenge at hand. It surprisingly gets you motivated in an indescribable way and tunnels you in, eliminating the other normal day-to-day distractions.
In the latest situation, the project was challenging enough but then myself and the lead designer both were sick at the beginning of the creative concept sprint, and of course our deadlines were really tight and not moveable. So at the beginning of the next week, we checked out were we were and I got a little freaked out knowing how much work still needed to be done to really impress the hell out of this new client. I took some deep breaths and said, do what you need in the next 30 min in order for us to take over conference room 2 for war room madness the rest of the day. We printed out client branding examples, video stills from the best client vids, conceptual research of bad ass interface and UI graphics, site maps, and project wireframes. The room was beautifully littered with shit all over the walls and table for us to start our work session.
I think madness is key, as it helps you hone in on your messy situation and then your mind can’t even fathom other normal distractions; like email, text messages, other employees dumb chatter, etc. I usually like to start scribbling over the print outs, using like a red whiteboard marker to circle/asterisk elements on the print outs that we liked and want to pursue. Then you freestyle the hell out of your whiteboards (did I mention you HAVE to have a whiteboard in your war room?… cuz that is a must) and be sure to snap pics of your progress at certain points because you will erase it randomly in the heat of the moment.
Then get some outside opinions. Don’t just keep your ideas within your small group, and I’ve seen some heated debates fester in that little space which is usually getting hot and smelly. Take a break, stretch, go find and call in an outsider to gauge your progress down your solution path. See if there’s other random ideas the pop up. I’ve noticed people like to be invited in, checking out your Ray Finkle style room of horror, and provide helpful spitballing. Try it out and see.
As a designer, you should enjoy diving into research and just getting lost in your explorations. Its time away from the pressure of always creating and designing something, and just letting lose on the interview (or in the physical world, I guess). But it is good to have some initial goals to help get you started or else you’ll spin worse than a … oh you get it.
My goals for branding research usually starts with competition, then industry, then related media. And I set my goals on finding examples for Logotypes, Symbols, and Color. That gives you at least some high level ideas on where to start and my goal is to always fill up a tabloid size InDesign page with little screenshots.
At first, I just go on a web rampage and just splatter little screenshots all over my InDesign canvas, but at least on the appropriate page for logotypes, symbols, or color. Then you’ll start to discover some trends or relationships where you can start grouping your research or hone in on your searching.
For this research, I was looking specifically for Product Suite Families and any relationship from the Parent Product down across the Individual Products. This was fun as its something I don’t think I’ve ever really looked into. I was amazed how some product suites leveraged typefaces consistently across the entire suite, while some completely disregarded that. Some used colors in some relational manner like taking them from the parent symbol, while some just used the one main brand color and used it to make each product icon or symbol look like its within the product suite.
After about a 4 hour research session, at least I have a good 6 pages of cleaned up examples. Another tip is to not get too hung up on thinking of how each element can apply to your specific needs. That will drive you nuts. Just go with the flow, faster the better probably so you don’t overthink something and leave it out. Get it all in your InDesign file, clean it up (leaving some on the canvas and not on the actual page), and then sleep on it before really going through and thinking about which is best for you to apply to your project.
Senior shows are a great place to easily and efficiently check out a lot of potential candidates. Now that I’ve been more accountable for hiring, going through the process of posting a job, screening people, and interviewing candidates is a bit of a … lets keep this positive… a crazy shit-show, when you’re also trying to do your normal work too.
A senior show is a such a relief. You can literally walk around and have mini-interviews with these soon-to-be graduates, which is a great first-level screening process. Its not too hard to get a feel for their passion (or lack of), design careers direction, attitude, and personal interests. This saves me about 20-40 hours of email, resume hunting, scheduling coordination, and phone chats.
Some times, like this latest one at San Jose State Univ,, there’s a website where you can view the students, their bio, and a link to their portfolio. I love that. I put it on our design team to review all candidates and pick out the top 5 people for us to aggregate and go after. But its not real surprise that when we got to the show our opinions changed a bit based on our interactions with them. Maybe next time, I’ve save the up-front time of reviewing them and just go to the show with the expectation of talking to every single person and taking it from there.
For the record, I will say I was a bit shocked at some of the lack of digital or motion knowledge that the students had (or should I say “received from their instructors”). One question I asked every student was, ” Do you know what 4k is?” Only 1 student even tried to answer, and even that 1 student just knew it was a type of high video resolution. The kick in the balls was that this whole graduating class just went through a motion graphics class, where their project was produced at some small size like 900×600 (or thats at least what most students tried to tell me when I asked, but the really didn’t know). I just feel like the size of the “composition” in after effects is one of the first things to discuss. How the hell did this instructor not at least chat about that, or better yet, require these kids to produce their motion graphic piece at 1080p? Hello, the real world called. How far removed are college instructors today??? Maybe after 2 good startup buy-outs, I’ll feel comfortable enough to go teach college…. that article is to come!!!
My old wise Chinese design professor said if I didn’t write this shit down it would vanish in thin air. Note taken, here is my daily discoveries of the ever evolving design world around me.