Category: Graphic Design

Design Alexandria Recap

This post was written by our lead designer, Lindsay Benson Garrett. 

Design Alexandria

We had a great time last night hosting the Design Alexandria meet up. It was wonderful to connect with local designers and developers who are passionate about creating, growing, and networking.

Some of the things that were discussed included Tate’s experience redesigning the DARPA brand. The project goal was to communicate DARPA’s dual mission of developing technology that defends America and scares enemies, modernizing the mark while also going unnoticed. Tate discussed how success was achieved on all accounts, which funneled into a wildly different project with a shared goal. We showed our work in progress on a preschool identity kit, which is a logo refresh that adds in an element of play.

Juancarlo shared a pro-bono project that he did for the Chilean-American Foundation and the things he learned while working with the non-profit. We examined the web designs before and after and discussed what he learned in the process.

Anna, a co-host, shared her process for building a website for a recently published e-book. Her process was very thorough from the start, where they mapped out every kind of site visitor with their motivations and goals, to how the site would develop a community and add new features systematically.

Joe, the author of the e-book, was actually in attendance. After celebrating his new acquired status of “published author” we had a group brainstorm on methods he can use to market his work.

Stokefire enjoyed hosting the meet up and we look forward to hosting more in the future. Stay tuned for the next one!

Awards and Offenses

I’ve just been notified that we won the 2013 Platinum MarCom Award for a poster I designed to promote our summer open house. If you missed the roof-top shindig, you missed a good time, but don’t worry we didn’t drink all the booze and we’ll be hosting more events in the future on our penthouse deck.

When I showed the first draft, Tate asked why I had chosen that stock image. I calmly took a sip from my extra large coffee, and then (maybe not so calmly) told him it was in fact not stock, and that I had spent eight long hours hand-gluing over 1,000 matches with rubber cement that had been allowed to air dry to just the right texture so that the matchsticks would stand upright perfectly and I still had cramps in my right hand from holding them while they dried and then I took pictures myself, thank you very much.

And then I took a breath.

Really, I just didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted when my photography was accused of being stock. Tate says, “Probably both, just to be safe.”

Anyhow, I took offense because traditionally your brand is best represented by you, not an image you found online that may or may not pass for you. And you’re not (for instance) the wide grinning girl that represents the bank, the dentist, the printer, the lawyer, and everyone else in town. Stock photography has a time and a place where it can be used, but when given the choice, one should always opt for original images.

Images collected from http://overexposedmodel.tumblr.com/

If your customers see that same stock photo on a different website or poster, you are basically tying your own brand to a completely unrelated company, even if you’re an optometrist and they sell super detox smoothies, adult diapers, or are found guilty of collapsing the US economy.

Graphics are usually meant to get noticed. By using original imagery you have the opportunity to show what you’re really about and establish trust with your clients. People are good at sniffing out stock photography and if you use it exclusively it becomes evident very quickly that you’re hiding your true identity.

Why would you want to do that, unless you’re trying to pretend you’re something you’re not?

Don’t be a scammer. Be real. Use your own artwork.

Taking a swing at a different kind of event – January 8th, 2014

Commercial design is broken, and (for the most part) we practitioners are doing a pretty crappy job of fixing it.

Years ago I wrote, “Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just sum everything up.” And while I’ve heard from many designers who have embraced the sentiment, the industry as a whole remains focused on aesthetics and summation. While these qualities may make clients happy, they don’t do much to help clients make better decisions, move the design industry forward, or do much of anything other than ensure that clients are willing to write checks. On January 8, 2014 I’m looking to begin changing all but the last bit by hosting our first “Designers on Deck” event.

What is Designers on Deck?

Well, I’m working on that, but here’s what I have so far:

We’ll be turning the traditional “let someone brag while everyone else takes notes” networking event on its head. From my experience those events typically result in learning someone else’s singular solution to a problem you don’t have, rather than learning how to develop your own solution for issues you’re likely to encounter. The best way to do create value here, I figure, is to learn from someone who hasn’t been able to overcome their challenge. And lest you think no one will step up and where the “I’m with stupid” shirt with the arrow pointing up, I’m perfectly willing to be the test case. More than once, if necessary.

A few more potential details:

  1. We’ll be on a deck, or (as will likely be the case in early January) be deck-adjacent.
  2. We’ll have a limited number of guests from across creative (and related) professions with varied levels of experience. Probably enough to cover all the positions on a baseball field.
  3. We’ll start with around-the-group greetings, and anyone facing their specific un-solved problem can share it. Anyone interested in helping to resolve can connect after the main event.
  4. We’ll have a featured speaker or case study that quickly illuminates an unresolved issue with the commercial application of creativity or creative strategy; showing the impact of the issue and covering any attempts that have already been made to resolve it. Possible topics include consensus building challenges, inability to speak with decision-makers, failed brand launches, or something related to stories in the news or suggested by a guest previously.
  5. Following the presentation we’ll have an active discussion amongst guests and presenters, and will work to clarify the issue and propose methods of resolution. The presenter will commit to an update by a specific date if applicable.
  6. To close out the structured part of the event, we’ll have smaller chats around the issues guests identified at the start.

We’ll kick this off at our own HQ in Alexandria on January 8th and see how it goes. I’m guessing it’ll take a few tries to get it humming, but initial feedback from those I’ve spoken to is promising.

Interested in participating? I’d love to get a sense of the potential participant pool. Send me a note or drop a comment and we’ll try to keep you informed as this thing firms up. (And before you ask, the time is still TBD.)

__Tate

Chart junk, Sparklines & Edward Tufte

3D graphs possess the power to make any and all data more credible because it looks complicated. Hooray!
Is the infographic craze over yet? Can we move on now? We progressed from vague intrigue to rapidly hitting the “x” button to get the marketing gibberish shouting meaningless numbers off the screen as quickly as humanly possible.

“Chart junk” is a term coined by Edward Tufte, the leading expert in data visualization and information design. I had the pleasure of participating in his one day course, which was a sold out seminar packed to the brim with about 500 people.

The class started with an hour of assigned reading from his four books, which together comprise one of the most successful self publishing stints in history. He shared with us how people can read two to three times faster than you can talk. Even if you’re a trained auctioneer, its best to start your meetings with 5-10 minutes of reading a white paper or report. That way everyone starts fully briefed and the rest of the time can be used to elaborate, discuss or brainstorm. Don’t be tempted to send the paper to your coworkers prior, they are busy just like you and have already dedicated meeting time to your issue – take advantage of this undivided attention. This is the best way to cut the length of any meeting by at least 20%.

Mr. Tufte has great respect for people, definitely more than any Powerpoint presenter has ever displayed. Audiences are smart and capable of absorbing huge amounts of information at once. With this in mind, it is best to make your designs as streamlined and flat as possible. Not flat as in the latest design trend, but vigilant in avoiding breaking out or hiding information. Nobody wants to search for figure 1.7 on page 3.

Say you have a table of universities with their associated math test scores – it is worthless to arrange them in alphabetical order. With every chart you create an opportunity is present to display the information meaningfully, e.g: ranking the schools from best to worst. People will quickly scan to find the school they’re interested in but they have also learned something new in the process.

The thing that struck me most was how much information Mr. Tufte could fit in the space of one line of words. He is the inventor of sparklines, which are tiny charts conveying huge amounts of data displayed inline with text. They display general trends of (usually time based) information quickly and efficiently without breaking the flow of a sentence. The benefit this snapshot provides is that the general trend of the previously collected information gives context to the current measurement. Mr. Tufte describes sparklines as “data words: data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics.” They have already been adopted by financial, sports, and technology institutions, and I hope that I start seeing my medical charts looking like this sooner than later.

“It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.”
- John Mayhand

No chart junk here!

Cows! And Also the Secret to RFP Success.

I’ve been hearing from my peers in the branding and advertising industries that they’re getting invited to participate in many more RFPs, and that this is a sign that the economy is recovering. But I’m also hearing from them weeks later that they aren’t winning when they submit responses. Some firms are pushing three to five proposals per week out the door and only getting a nibble once or twice a month. Many respected and competent firms complain that the RFP process is flawed, and quite a few refuse to respond to requests for proposals entirely since most decisions seem to be made purely on price or back room handshakes.

I spent about a decade working for other people before opening up my own shop, and remember the constant pressure to get responses out the door. The bosses played the numbers, knowing that we’d land 8 to 12 percent of the opportunities, focusing our efforts on increasing the number of fish in the pond rather than becoming better fishermen. We used databases of canned responses and lightly customized them for fit. I recall numerous times where the final proof-reader, so tired from reading the same damn material on every single proposal, glossed over an instance where the wrong client name or industry example ended up being sent along. It upset leadership, but they still invariably valued increased RFP response volume over increased customization, believing that if we could just get into the final group we’d take the time to get it right. And when we did get into the pitch group most of my bosses did a good job closing the deal. We may have only landed about 10 percent of the RFPs overall, but when invited to pitch our success rate went up to about 40% – and that’s where the leaders focused.

As Stokefire approaches our ninth year in business I look back at a client list that includes Google, Motorola, Heinz, Charles Schwab, The US Department of Defense and hundreds of other worthy organizations, and realize that if I’d followed the tactics I’d been exposed to earlier I’d probably have landed about 10 percent of what we’ve gotten. And that’s where I was headed until something momentous happened.

About five years ago (prior to landing our first globally recognized client) a huge prospective client took me aside and said something like, “Look, man. You’re good. Very, very good. The fact that your four person firm has made it to the final four out of 128 agencies we considered should indicate that you’ve got something special. You brought up all sorts of insights and issues about the deliverables we asked for that proved you understood what we needed more deeply than anyone else. And then you lost your courage, and checked off every box on your RFP response and committed to delivering exactly what we asked for anyhow. And that’s the problem here. You have to admit, no matter how insightful you are, you can’t possibly deliver exactly what we’re asking for better than a nationally known firm a thousand times your size. And even if you could, the board members of a public company aren’t going to take a risk on an unknown like you . The only way I would ever get their approval to hire you is if you’d stuck by your guns and refused to give us what we asked for, and instead insisted on giving us what we need.”

There’s some serious paraphrasing going on there, but I believe I’m being faithful to his theme. It was a two hour conversation with a leader of a multi-billion dollar organization. And he so wanted to hire us that he not only took the time to tell us why he couldn’t, but to teach me how I could earn his business the next time he was in need as well. The last thing he said was that he was looking forward to working with us down the road.

No, he still hasn’t called us back (which would make this a much better story, I know) but we took his lesson to heart.

Today we respond to only a small fraction of the RFPs we receive. It’s not that we don’t believe in the process. In fact, it’s the opposite. We use the RFP process as a screening process to ensure that we’re actually a good fit for the client and opportunity. Our job as a branding and advertising consultancy isn’t to answer the questions and accede to the demands made in RFPs, it’s to figure out what’s behind the questions and demands, and ensure that the stuff in the RFP actually has the potential to get the results the client really wants, if they want anything at all. The RFPs we tend to respond to are the ones where we can prove there’s disconnect between what’s being asked for and the results they’re likely to get from the investment.

When a client knows exactly what they need and how best to get it, then my firm is like just another lowing cow lost among the herd, hoping that today it’ll be our milk in the pail the farmer brings to his own family. All the respondents are checking all the boxes provided. It’s like cows jostling and mooing – “You want milk? Well, I make milk. Let’s do this!” and “Me toooooo! Look how milky my milk is. It’s the very definition of what you’ve asked for! Why go anywhere else?”

How the Hell is the farmer supposed to choose when every cow can provide the requested services at the required levels?

When a prospective client requests a proposal they provide a structure for response so that each can be evaluated in parallel. The farmer says he wants milk, so he ensures that he only considers solutions that get him what he says he wants. Cows, goats, sheep, are the likely candidates. If he gets really creative he might consider almond, soy or rice milk – and feel all the more insightful for it. But what isn’t up for discussion – and is rarely even mentioned in an RFP process – is why the desired product or service is needed, and why the solutions outlined in the RFP are the best way to meet the need.

Stokefire doesn’t make milk. Real nor imagined. We figure out why the farmer says he needs it for his family, then determine if milk is the best product for the job. If it is? We go on our way – there are plenty of lowing cows ready to compete for his attention and give him what he asks for. If we find that the farmer’s real need is better served by something other than the proverbial milk? That’s when we invest the considerable time and effort crafting a response to an RFP – one that cannot be compared to anything else under consideration because it addresses the needed results rather than the ‘required’ methods and steps that have little chance of getting the farmer what he wants, and an even lesser chance of landing us the job.

The key to successful RFP responses isn’t getting the answers right. It’s having the courage and insight to modify the assumptions, questions, and rules so that the original request becomes irrelevant. Sure, the farmer said he wanted to bring milk back to his family, and there are millions of cows able to give him that milk. But what if you learned that the entire family was lactose intolerant, or that he was using it to fill his swimming pool at the rate of one bucket per day, or to clean the mirrors in his house? In each case, the best response wouldn’t be to fill the stated request and follow the process, it’d be to find a product better suited to the requirements.

Those uses may seem obviously wrong, but put in the context of what we see on branding RFPs are actually pretty reasonable. We’ve seen RFPs requesting logos that increase customer loyalty, demanding reuse of previously used campaigns for increased results without creative expense, and asking for a rebrand intended make a highly visible company scandal go away. These and many other RFPs got dozens of responses that checked every box. We didn’t check a single box for any of them. We couldn’t deliver what they asked for so we responded to the RFP we believed they should’ve written.

And we won.

Does it work every time? Absolutely not. About 10% of the time it doesn’t work and we fail to change the prospect’s perspective. About 5% of the time it doesn’t just fail, it fails spectacularly. If it was that farmer’s RFP, he’d grab his shotgun and unload both barrels into our chest. Then he’d tell us we didn’t get the job.

As bad as it sounds, I know from experience that being screamed at by prospective clients for having the nerve to challenge their assumptions is survivable. And it’s led to some wonderful client relationships months or years later, when the prospect has tried it their way and we have the, “You know, funny thing about that pitch you made…” conversation. It helps to keep that result in mind when resisting the urge to wipe their spittle from your eyebrows during the pitch.

If you’re not willing to take the risks needed to achieve results, but still blame the system itself rather than your ability to use it to your advantage? I’ve got no problem with that. In fact, I’ll even help. There’s a word you can repeat in your mind as a mantra that will ensure you always deliver fully compliant responses to RFPs. It’s easy to remember, and oddly comforting, too.

Say it with me…

“MoooOOOooooo.”

Happiness Is Thinking Outside The Checkbox

 

Posted by:
Tate Linden

In a brief exchange I had with @kwheaton and @Bryan_El_Parker over on Twitter, both raised concerns about the way large companies hire their employees. They were responding to our blanket rejection notice posted previously on our blog. Bryan pointed out that the traditional system strips applicants of their individuality by making them check boxes, to which we said that “unless you’re a checkbox you shouldn’t work for large employers.” Kristan reasoned that not working with big employers may be easier said than done.

And so we slept on it. For a week. And here’s what came of it:

The issue isn’t that big companies can’t work with highly creative or visionary types, it’s that the best path to big company employment for people with these qualities is probably not a system that rigidly dictates and automatically enforces the form and content of their applications. If you’re genuinely creative or visionary then you’re better served by either finding another way in that allows you to show your skills, or by breaking or manipulating the ineffective process to show why they need what you bring to the table. Your goal shouldn’t be to do the best you can within the system, but to prove that the system is set up to solve the wrong problem or deliver the wrong result.

Daniel Pink explains part of the problem in his book (which is excellent, by the way,)  To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others:

…a few years ago, the Conference Board, the well-regarded U.S. business group, gave 155 public school superintendents and eighty-nine private employers a list of cognitive capacities and asked their respondents to rate these capacities according to which are most important in today’s workforce. The superintendents ranked “problem solving” number one. But the employers ranked it number eight. Their top-ranked ability: “Problem Identification.”

Checkboxes seem best suited to addressing a presupposed problem for which the right answer is at least intuited, if not outright known. And that’s why big companies use them. They believe that they know what they’re looking for and how to find it. If you don’t have a better way to see things, or a different problem identified, then checkboxes are probably not doing you a disservice. But if you do see a different problem that needs solving than the company does, each box you check will make your unique value less visible.

If you want (or have) to work for a big checkboxy organization and aren’t a checkboxy type you can, of course, just suck it up, check the boxes and hope for a job and role you can’t stand so you can change things from within before you have the life sapped from you. Or you can show them from the start that the problem that needs solving and the person they need aren’t a part of their checkbox system.

If you’re good, the considerable effort and insight this approach requires will be nothing compared to the pain and frustration you’ll avoid by having a job that encourages you to think, say, and do exactly as you wish rather than forcing you to be someone you hate to see in the mirror every Monday through Friday, holidays excepted.

If you’re not quite good enough, or the organization doesn’t appreciate your obvious talents? That’s a conversation for another day, I think.

Many thanks to Kristan and Bryan for their help in identifying this particular problem.

The Promise of Crowdsourced Design is Broken. So Let’s Fix It.

This is a stream-of-consciousness post. Given my history with stuff like this I’m probably about to upset a whole lot of people. So, apologies in advance.

And with that… here goes nothing…

I’ve long been on record as supporting the concept of crowdsourced design. The good folks at crowdSPRING interviewed me about it for their newsletter a few years back. And even after being called everything from immoral to a “slavemaster,” to this day I’m still a strong supporter of the crowdsourcing concept.

It’s just becoming a lot harder to support it in practice.

I’ve worked with hundreds of designers over about a dozen crowdsourced projects, spending many thousands of dollars, and in most cases ended up with highly effective work. My current project with crowdSPRING is likely to be a success as well. After only a few days and about 25 entries (many of which are strong conceptually or technically) I know the project and ultimately one of my clients will end up getting a design that helps them measurably improve their business. We’ll get there, however, despite the system that has been set up to support crowdsourcing rather than because of it.

I’ve never really struggled with the moral issues that many design professionals seem to have with the concept of crowdsourcing. In an ideal world the process of crowdsourcing should provide real value in both directions. In the case of design, the ‘client’ receives creative work – a tangible thing. The ‘winning’ designer usually receives some sort of monetary compensation, the actual amount of which is immaterial since the winning designer knows the best-case outcome so they are deeming it worthwhile.

The moral challenge for me doesn’t come from the concept at all. It comes from the way commercial crowdsourcing providers execute the concept in the real world. Those who do not receive the big payout at the end of the project aren’t given any compensation at all, even if their efforts were critical in helping the winner get the idea that ultimately resulted in payment. And that to me is a travesty.

Everyone who participates and adds value deserves compensation of some sort. To say that they all must be paid in cash, though, is short-sighted. Some clients can offer visibility (though admittedly most that offer this have no visibility to offer,) others bring advice, self-esteem, skills development, or other less tangible assets that are no less valuable than cash in the right situation.

My current thinking is that those who participate and don’t add value should still have the opportunity for compensation – but that compensation should be in the form of the opportunity for skills development or candid critique. If someone takes the time to submit concepts that are way off base then it is the responsibility of the client to tell them what’s wrong and (if known) how it might be fixed. It’s also the client’s responsibility to let a designer know when any future effort on their part is likely to be wasted effort. Unfortunately, outside of my own projects I haven’t heard a single designer say that this was something they’d encountered.

The reason I’m writing this post is because some of the value I’d always assumed I was providing was in the form of the very detailed critiques I give to every designer – be they astoundingly talented or misguided neophyte. The promise of crowdsourcing is that I (as the surrogate client) have the ability to share information with the crowd, and that the crowd can learn from my original request and from all of the follow-on advice that I give to each designer.

But crowdSPRING’s customer service informed me yesterday that critiques should only be accessible to each individual designer and denied my request to enable all designers to see all critiques, citing fairness to creatives that come up with good ideas and the likelihood of copycat work. (There IS an option to allow some people to see all comments, but those granted access are forbidden from participating in the design part.)

Here’s the problem with this policy. It turns the power of the crowd into the weakness of a long line of individuals being served, bakery-like, one-by-one and without knowledge or understanding of what’s happening before, after, or around them. The five to twenty-five minutes I spend on each critique is read once and only once rather than helping dozens or hundreds of designers understand how to make their own designs stronger and more likely to result in compensation. It also means that I, as the client, will get designs that better fit my specifications. It’s as though we’re throwing out all the benefits of working with a crowd.

I’m doing what I can to work within and without the existing crowdsourcing provider structure. Putting aside money (however insignificant) to reward those that add value but don’t get the big payday, taking time to provider serious reviews that help designers develop their skills, and publicly praising those designers who show tremendous insight or execution… It’s not a perfect solution by any means, but the last time I suggested we actually rebuild crowdsourcing the way it should actually be built all I heard was crickets.

So… I’m listening again. Are you ready to build a crowdsourcing solution that actually adds value for everyone involved instead of just the provider? Because if you are then I’m ready to lead the effort. And if you aren’t? Maybe take a moment and ask yourself what it is that you’re resisting. And if you’re willing to share your reasons for resisting I’d love to hear them.

That’s it; ramble over. Will your response be be crickets or pitchforks? (Because I’m not holding my breath for a parade.)

A peek at Stokefire’s latest brand identity work:

One of DARPA’s [Ed: a client] strategic thinkers started up her own firm called Foxfire. We’ll post detailed information and back-story about the project another time – but we figured that given our recent silence we owed you a quick peek at the recently approved ID Kit! Til then… Enjoy!

(And if you’re a senior business executive or retired general or admiral looking for one of the best advisors and speech writers in the world? Get in touch with Courtney at Foxfire Strategies ASAP.)

An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands

Hello Stewards,

You may not realize it yet, but you need help.

I’ve been told by many in politics that there are no well-known (or even proven-effective) brand strategists focused on helping Progressive causes. (There are an astounding number of political strategists but that’s a different animal.) This may be due to the common belief that Democrats won’t pay for core brands to be developed. Dems spend a fortune on polling, message crafting, and message testing, but when it comes time to actually develop the unchanging core of progressivism or the Democratic party there’s no one willing to buy more than a quick logo invariably containing some combination of red, white and blue. And perhaps this would be fine if this were universally true across the political spectrum…

But it isn’t. Conservative leadership has long understood that without a deep and powerful identity they’re lost. The world’s greatest branding minds are regularly paid immense sums to work for Conservative initiatives. These strategists have worked hard to develop, execute and maintain a consistent Conservative brand that appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans from every economic class.

Think it’s a coincidence that every conservative issue comes down to just two things? Every thing is about either Liberty (or it’s cousin “freedom”) or faith (in our founding fathers, our business leaders, our capitalism, or our God). I have yet to find a conservative cause that couldn’t be summed up by some combination of the two ideas. And they’re a brilliant combination. The freedom and liberty to do whatever is in your best interests, backed by faith in whatever it is that you believe? That means that so long as you maintain belief in whatever floats your boat the details on any particular issue are irrelevant. It’s true because of our belief system, not because of the intricate details of an issue.

It’s one of the most impressive feats of branding I’ve ever seen.

But it’s beatable. Just not by progressives as they’re branding themselves now. Progressives (and their current host, the Democrats) we put all their eggs in the fairness basket. This is fine when our country is stable and the masses believe we are well served, but when the system is rigged to consistently sacrifice the ability of one group of our citizens to survive in order to benefit another it seems to me that “fairness” is a bad fit.

Think about the rulings and legislation passed recently. Conservatives have successfully argued that corporations are people. Money is speech. Unlimited anonymous donations can be made from individuals and organizations to any candidate through Super PACs, arguably protecting and legalizing the buying of favorable treatment from our government.

The only reason Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has not “perished from this earth” is that corporations are now people. Astonishingly powerful people.

This isn’t an issue of fairness anymore in much the same way that it wasn’t about fairness when we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, or allowed workers to protect themselves from doing crazy things like, say, becoming an ingredient in the sausage they made.

I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance countless times in my life and I’m pretty sure that there’s no mention of fairness there. It’s not in the Constitution either. Nor the Bill of Rights. We have no right to fairness other than perhaps the right to attempt to achieve it in our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of fairness seems better suited to squabbles involving siblings and nannies in modern vernacular.

So what might be a better fit? When we look at the pledge most of us recited daily as school children there’s a phrase that may be key. The Progressive Promise of “Fairness for All” isn’t there, but “and justice for all” is. Justice is a focal point of the first sentence of our Constitution, and makes a repeat appearance in Article 4 section 2, ensuring that not only will there be justice, but that within the borders of our nation one cannot escape it.

The recent Occupy movement isn’t just demanding fairness. They’re demanding justice. And it’s when that level of emotion and passion is stirred that progressives become effective agents of change. It’s a shift from “we need to adjust things” to “this is criminally unjust” that seems to help America make progressive leaps forward.

Progressivism’s biggest weakness is that it must necessarily ebb and flow as the perception of our government’s ability or willingness to provide equal justice under the law shifts. When the government leans toward treating everyone equally progressivism has trouble gaining a foothold. When it is perceived as oppressive to the common man progressivism inexorably rises up to rebalance or rebuild the system. Once fixed the progressive movement fades until the oppression becomes visible again. If the oppression isn’t fixed it gradually becomes the accepted way of life and we move on.

What does this mean? Well, it means that progressives have a very limited window of time in which to rebalance the system now that oppression is perceived. If progressives can’t unite their distinct voices into a single call for change that is connected to the core of their cause they will fail to have an impact in our era. And it’ll be because they couldn’t simply and powerfully define themselves.

As for who the progressives area at their core? I’m pretty sure they’ve never been able to powerfully describe it. The progressive promise shouldn’t be “Fairness for All” or even “Justice for All”. It’s should be about the willingness and responsibility to defend the rights of every American, not just the ones with money or power.

I’ll take a shot at defining the progressive core. How about:

No American Stands Alone.

I’m pretty damn sure that this is the sentiment behind every great step forward that America has taken since the time of Lincoln. It all fits. And it seems to align with almost everything that progressives are aiming to achieve today.

But time is short, the election is coming, and the Democratic brand and message is a horribly confused mess.

It’s fixable. And the election is winnable. And change can happen in this era. If only progressives would invest and believe in who they are instead solely on what they say.

If you’re not one of the stewards of the Democratic brand and think there’s merit in this idea then perhaps you can forward this letter or link to someone who is. Your Democratic Congressman, someone in the DCCC, or the White House would be a good start.

If you are one of the stewards? Don’t be shy. Comment, call, or write.  Mostly because I haven’t a clue who you are. Unless you’re President Obama, of course. (And if that’s you, Mr. President, please do reach out because as I understand it you’re not yet taking my calls.)

And in the unlikely case that there isn’t a steward for the brand, I humbly throw my hat into the ring. Or I would if someone could tell me where the ring is.

Yours,

Tate Linden
(A proven brand strategist.)

 



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