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.
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:
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.
You see a beautiful client marketing example and then when you really wonder how they envisioned it with motion, you’re stuck. Of course you can dream up some motion treatment but you know they have very experienced agencies or people already doing it. Then, it happens, you randomly see a new banner ad one some random webpage that is the exact campaign and shows the animation treatment. Opa! Champaign (or beer) falls from the heavens, angels start signing … you got the insight you need and you didn’t have to bug your client to go through the endless channels to try and find that answer (that they really didn’t understand how to ask anyway).
I feel stupid admitting this now but I use to take multiple screenshots to try and capture the essence of the motion. Then I was slapped on the back of the head and introduced to Quicktime’s screen capture feature where you can easily record a specified part of your screen and save it as a video. And, its free. I know, crazy talk, right? When SnagIt costs money, but a video capture tool is free with the Quicktime app that we’ve all had on our Mac’s forever.
Then the little problem of assets come into play. You hope and pray that the PDF you received (or downloaded from the client website) allows you to open it in Illustrator and easily separate the layers. Usually you get lucky and you’re able to at least save out the background and its in some decent size format for you to leverage in a HD or UHD/4k manner.
Just for reference, www.Moat.com is a good site to easily throw in a client name and it pulls up all their online media. BUT, this does not let you play any motion clips, only view the static media. But its still a good tool to use if you want to quickly glance at a brand’s newest online styles or marketing campaigns. It has become a staple in my online client stalking repertoire.
We’re closing in on the end of the calendar year which marks our first full year of company blog content. It was a big goal this year, for our company to step up its marketing game and try to create custom content for a full year of weekly content … which turned out to be sometimes bi-weekly but that was fine. It wasn’t easy, but we did it amidst our crazy work schedule, client nuttiness, product builds, hiring madness, etc. (www.signet.tv/news)
I actually found it really fun to take time out of the craziness and sit back and think … if we’re industry leaders (like we like to envision ourselves), then what do we want to say, what do people want to learn from us… and then position those ideas into compelling and engaging blog articles. Ok, I don’t know if we fully hit that, but it was a good start and I feel really good about us hitting that next year.
At first the struggle was what to actually write about; company news, project highlights, partner callouts, etc. Some initial ones turned out like case studies and not really news or industry trends, so we shifted a little and made them more like news-worthy project stuff or true industry ideas that are helpful. Some articles were easy to include a cool picture and then we started creating small/simple videos to embed for some ancillary context through video (which I would guess most people prefer).
If anything, our learning experience was invaluable. I learned very few people who say they will write articles, actually will. BUT, I learned people do like to ideate about them, so next year I’ll just hold brainstorming sessions and then extract enough info from that person to outline the article and have a copywriter do it up.
Whenever we do a media wall project, we try to look for impactful media to really impress people with and that usually is best served through motion like a video or motion graphics. In this scenario with Lockheed Martin, they only were able to get access to some high resolution brand images. But I will say that the brand images they had were some of the best styled brand imagery I’ve seen in a while.
We ideated internally on how we can make the most impact with what we had to work with. Some initial ideas was to just use the images and slightly animate them in the background, like panning side to side with a slight zoom change, giving a very slight sense of motion.
Then we settled on the idea of taking out some main subject elements of the brand images and creating a subtle motion graphic. So we cropped out the main element (like a satellite or fighter jet), manually filled back in the photo, and then concerted out how to animate those main elements back over the originally composition. Our end execution had the main subject extremely slowly moving and twisting, which creating a cool effect where the viewer was reading other text on the screen but then after a few moments would notice the background and take a few extra seconds to try and figure out that its actually moving, because the object was slowly overlapping different from the text boxes over it. Overall the clients loved it and was so surprised at our innovative approach to work with their media.
There’s almost nothing more frustrating than coming to a great idea for the photo direction, but then not exactly finding the right image. I couldn’t imagine trying to find the right stock photo way back in the day, before websites with metadata and account preferences and fancy features. I do have to admit this is a frustrating process and almost silly thing to bitch about, since before the more advanced internet of things, this process was so much harder when your only option was to plan, budget and execute on a custom photoshoot to capture that perfect image.
Anyway … websites like istockphoto.com have made it so efficient to not only find the perfect image, but to repeatedly use their tool for ongoing campaigns, special needs, and any research. From all the autosuggest category tags, which is actually extremely very helpful if you think about the fact that they are showing you what actually tags have content, and you don’t have to peck and hunt via crazy words that you just came up with.
The “light boxes” on istockphoto are also worth a shootout. They are essentially just folders to save your image ideas in (and what a cool way to brand it and make it sound more connected to the industry) … anyway … The real reason I love this is because I used to take thousands of screenshots when doing research for images or just mood boards, and it was a pain because I was always ensuring I also captured the ID or URL, in case I wanted it and then couldn’t find it again (starting the craziness of the process over again). I fill those light boxes up, and love the comfort in knowing every idea is one click away from purchase.
And thank god, they have the additional filters like file type, because I can’t stand seeing illustrations when I’m looking for a photo. Theres way too many people out there essentially doodling in illustrator and trying to sell it professionally as stock work.
I love when a client is asked for their brand guidelines and instead they send over some random files. I don’t hate them for it. I really just find it amusing and fun to analyze. It usually consists of some type of Powerpoint template file, so jpgs, and a PDF or two. Some people get put out and want to over-analyze it and fight to get the “official” and latest brand guidelines, but I’ve been on the client side before and that isn’t always the easiest thing to track down.
It becomes a challenge, to really try and fit to their brand with the simple assets given. To try and decipher their brand code, color palette, photo styles and any graphic treatments, with only the few samples you’re given. Its a challenge of pure art direction, mixed with graphic and visual intelligence that is actually fun if you aren’t already swamped with work and deadlines. And the amazing thing is usually these type of client stakeholders aren’t that picky, and sometimes (very rare) your new take on their branding execution sparks a fire among their company and they start using your new execution on various brand pieces or extensions. There is a fine line to ride here, which only experience can speak to, but it can be fun, and as long as your honest and get approval from your client stakeholders, don’t be scared to push it a little … or a lot!
5. They re-imagined existing brand elements, like the Heart, in a new fresh way. The heart use to be such a strong element of the Southwest brand, which has slightly diminished since the red stirring straws, but they didn’t totally reinvent the brand symbol and leveraged this existing component in an exciting new visual way.
4. It will recharge their social activation with spirited content. The messaging seems so much more spirited and will give their social strategy such a boost in tone, character and visuals. They have come out with some great phrases and branded content ideas of their employees’ reactions to the new branding. #SouthwestHeart
3. They kept the brand colors true to heart. Color is one of the most recognizable brand components, and Southwest didn’t stray too far from their strong existing palette. They started pushing the font usage, messaging, and imagery, but kept the strong color statement very recognizable from the painted planes to their digital properties.
2. The tagline: “Without a heart, it’s just a machine.” Wow, if you know the Southwest culture, this couldn’t be more perfect. From flight attendants singing the safety instructions, to stories of Southwest crew members going the extra mile for customers in need, this truly embodies how Southwest tries to be more than just an airline.
1. The Heart symbol on the belly of the plane. I literally laughed out loud when I saw this, as I immediately knew how brilliantly creative this was and how it was going to emotionally connect with their customer base. Exposing the symbolic Southwest Heart of the big metal contraption that I’m trusting my life with … Genius!
I just came across an article about a Paul Rand exhibit, and it never fails that this guy motivates me in this oddly serene way. If you’ve ever heard him talk (in person or just in videos), he just comes across calm and controlled while definitely in control of every creative discussion … which is amazing considering how subjective and innovative all of his work is and falls in. Paul Rand define “timeless” to me when speaking to designs needing to stand the test of time and still appear appropriate for its context.
Working with IBM currently on various projects across digital media platforms, I see the logo everyday and also all the innovative usages and implementations we (and other partners) are doing with it. That speaks to the logotype creation, and how it allows for this timeless flexibility for branding opportunities with various colors, image, graphics across all types of media and orientation.
I just noticed a new quote from Rand in this article, where he says, “Don’t try to be original. Just try to be good.” I love it. It seems like the type of calming yet direct direction you would receive while working with this type of legend in the industry. I’ve always remembered a mentor telling me ‘the best design is not always the best design’ which has always stuck with me and makes me remember to not aim for this unobtainable perfection, but what is appropriate and will hit your specific objectives. With that said, I’m going back to work to which will probably be a very productive day now.
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.