Tag: "Creativity"

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.

This month’s happenings at Stokefire Headquarters

September – October 2011

You’re probably wondering – what happened to the weekly happenings? Well here’s the simple answer – we’re busy, VERY busy. We know – the economy sucks, so what could we possibly be so busy with? Well I can’t exactly tell you (it’s a secret), but I can tell you that we’ve been having a blast making messes, taking photos (we may have even seen a ghost or two), and smashing things with a hammer – all for a client project. Oh and our boss Tate Linden has been writing blogs like crazy, he’s a fan of Gandhi if you haven’t noticed *wink*.

We’ve also been photographing more of our work – if you didn’t see our last website update we launched all of our client work, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We are continuing to update our pictures and results from all of our projects. There has been a lot of media going around too – we won an award for our work on the Think Harder. Concrete brand for PCA. (If you look close, you can see Tate sporting the brand above!)

Video mark-ups #3, 4, and 5 are all in the works, so you’ll be able to see them coming out very soon. We already completed our mark-up video on the Stokefire logo (#1) and the Think Harder. Concrete brand (#2), so we’re pretty darn excited to have more on the way.

We of course can’t forget about our client work either. We’re working on advertisements, logos and a whole lot of strategy. Tate has also been off on a few speaking gigs, getting people all psyched-up about brand alignment. With all this stuff going on, we’ll be putting out the Stokefire Bellows (our newsletter) very shortly, so keep your eyes peeled.

Get More:
Posts involving Gandhi
Tate Linden: Speaker Extraordinaire
Stokefire’s Classic Rants

The Things I Remember

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As a designer, art director, project manager, social media guru, and coordinator of the website I find my processes constantly changing. The other day, I started thinking about all of the ways I initially learned how to design and all of the ways I used to keep my mind creative, and I realized how much I’ve really changed.

Sometimes change is good.

Once upon a time I used  to print out pages and pages of imagery that I researched. I would use those images as inspiration, and sometimes tracing guidelines. Today I do the same thing, but I also use these images for industry competitive analysis.

The more ideas, the closer the solution. 

Once upon a time I used to spend days upon days with pencil to paper on a large amount of ideas. Nowadays I do a 20/20 (20 concepts in 20 minutes) along with other creatives and we end up with 40–60+ ideas to consider. One of the biggest problems is that about a third of those ideas end up being unusable, but still, it’s pencil to paper.

I still like to stick to tradition.

Once upon a time I was glued to a light table like it was my only friend in the world. Sketch after sketch, trace after trace. Sometimes it didn’t get me anywhere, but then I would remember to turn the paper.  What do I do now? I copy and paste, copy and paste, but what I never do is, turn the ‘paper.’  If you have a good idea, but it’s not quite working the way you’d like it to, try again. Turn the paper. Rip the paper. Disassemble your sketch and put it all back together again. Sometimes a little rearranging will turn your good idea into a great one, and sometimes it will tell you once and for all that it just won’t work.

I try not to get myself discouraged.  

Once upon a time I would complete my entire design on paper using pencil, ink, gouache even (imagine that!), before even getting on the computer. Sounds like a big waste of time doesn’t it? I worked this way because I would often get on the computer and not really have an understanding of how I should build my design. Getting everything on paper helped me to map out the build. Today, I’ve taken a step backward. I don’t get everything down on paper first, I haven’t in a long time. There doesn’t ever seem to be enough time to completely map out an idea, not even in just pencil. The world is in a rush, so computer it is.

You will never be finished. You just have to know when to stop. 

Once upon a time I would try to refine and nit-pick at every. single. little. detail. I always wanted everything to be perfect. Then someone told me that there is no such thing as being finished, it’s just knowing when to stop. Nowadays I still live by that same rule.

So what does this all mean for me today? It means things are changing and they will always change. There are only two things I can do about change. I can either agree and embrace it, or I can disagree and fight like hell to be myself.

Creative Findings

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I’ve always talked about staying creative and finding inspiration every where you go. One way is to utilize books. Two great books I’ve mentioned in the past are: “Caffeine for the Creative Team” and “Caffeine for the Creative Mind,” by Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield. Another way to get yourself into the creative zone is to review what other people have done. Perhaps it will spark an idea for new packaging, business card, or even a strategic marketing plan. There many wonderful websites out there that share all sorts of creativity and as much as I want you to stay on our site I’m going to share a few of my favorite go-to places with you today.

Bench.li – Wonderful clean simple design inspiration. This site seems to have a heavy interest in print – one of my favorites.

DesignInspiration – Another great place for design.

The Dieline – Design examples for all sorts of products.

The Inspiration Room – Creativity from around the world, there always seems to be a lot of videos here.

The Story of Telling – Even reading a Creative’s blog helps to loosen up those creative oils.

Finding inspiration every where we go helps us learn and grow, and I personally try to look for it every single day. Inspiration can come in big and small packages, you just have to know where to find it. Go – be creative, and share with us what you come across.

*All images above were found on the blogs mentioned above. Thank you to you all for the great inspiration!

Don’t Mistake Legibility For Communication

Posted by:
Kaitlyn Wells

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Design is everywhere and typography is everywhere as well; whether it is a street sign, the newspaper you pick up in the morning, the website you visit everyday. while the TED Talk below isn’t about design being everywhere, David Carson shows a few slides here that speak to this same idea (even if its not entirely noticeable).

Anyway, the real point here is: don’t mistake legibility for communication. Just because you can read it, doesn’t mean it is communicating the intended message. David Carson is famous for his crazy typography and his ability to connect emotion, design and key messages in an effective, impactfull way.  Some of it is legible, some of it is not, but all of it delivers a message. Take a look at his TED Talk, where you can see some of his work, learn about his process and find out how he feels about the design and communication choices some people make.


Creatively Non-Creative?

Posted by:
Isabella Medina

As Stokefire’s Operations Manager, and its now lone Operations Operative, I find myself with a dubious distinction:  the sole “non-creative” on the staff.  I take umbrage at that label!  UMBRAGE!  (Harrumph.)

My business card describes my role aptly and succinctly:  “I handle stuff.”  I do.  I handle bank accounts and billings and paychecks and HR details and calls and travel arrangements and calendars and contracts and supply requests and assorted other things that need handling.

It’s a support role.  I’m okay with that.  I work with an awesome team so I am happy to support them, allowing them to do what they need to do and not worry about those other pesky details.

BUT I AM CREATIVE. Not like these guys are.  Not trained, not eat-drink-sleep creative ideas, but I do have my stellar moments (IMHO) – and those moments matter to me a whole lot.  They are the stuff that makes life sweet, fun, interesting, and in a deeper sense make me feel that I-am-because-I-choose-and-I-act-and-I-see-the-results – in my own unique way.

My personal take on creativity at times slants towards whimsy: creating a tasteful garment for my paper monster, who seemed quite under-dressed (i.e. naked) for the office.  At times it moves towards MacGyver-style problem solving: rescuing the boss’s broken camera tripod with a skillful twist of a paper clip; re-sealing the half & half with a binder clip (after embarrassing myself by wrangling it all-the-way open in a fit of klutziness).  In my software development past I took pride in creating user-friendly data screens and reports – yes, designing them to be easy to read, and easy to use.  My social whimsy inspired memorable events like the first-ever Metro Western Country Fair – folks still talk about it years later!  And my homemade Queen Nefertiti costume required no explanation upon my arrival at that certain Halloween party.

But there is one thing that I believe truly qualifies me to be part of THIS particular creative team.  You’ve heard of the dreaded “Hovering Art Director,” hated by creatives everywhere?  Well, I’ve developed my own twist:  I’ve become, at times, the “Hovering Operations Manager.”  I can’t help myself.  My co-workers do some truly cool stuff.  Now and then I like to see what’s going on.  After all, all that stuff I handle only matters to the extent that the team as a whole keeps doing cool stuff – stuff that keeps us working, and keeps our clients happy.

Okay – that being said, I will now put away my umbrage and go peacefully back to handling stuff in my Operations corner.  I promise not to get all bent out of shape when folks refer to me as “non-creative”.  Just don’t be too surprised when I occasionally come up with a cool idea of my own.



What is graphic design?

Posted by:
Kaitlyn Wells

I spent a few hours the other night trying to figure out what my next blog would be about. I read other blogs, I pulled about six different books off my shelf, I took my dog for a walk, I even asked my dog what I should write about (yes I talk to my dog – she’s a great listener).

Finally, I came across a competition, which happened a couple of years ago, that involved finishing the sentence “design is…”. Some came up with very creative, humorous answers, and others were more technical, but all of them were unique definitions and unique designs. You can check out the submissions here: Veerle’s Blog & Flickr.

So, What is graphic design?

There are many different ways to answer this one, and I’ll share a few with you in a moment. My answer: Graphic design is the visual communication of a message, created by the use of imagery, typography, colors and most importantly – strategy. Here’s what a few others had to say:

“Graphic design is a popular art and a practical art, an applied art and an ancient art. Simply put, it is the art of visualizing ideas.” – Jessica Helfand, AIGA

“Graphic design is a creative process – most often involving a client and a designer and usually completed in conjunction with producers of form (i.e., printers, programmers, signmakers, etc.) – undertaken in order to convey a specific message (or messages) to a targeted audience.” – Wikipedia

“Since prehistoric times, people have searched for ways to give visual form to ideas and concepts, to store knowledge in graphic form, and to bring order and clarity to information. Over the course of history, these needs have been filled by various people including scribes, printers, and artists. It was not until 1922, when the outstanding book designer William Addison Dwiggins coined the term ‘graphic design’ to describe his activities as an individual who brought structural order and visual form to printed communications, that an emerging profession received an appropriate name.” – Philip Meggs, History of Graphic Design

Graphic design is the most universal of all the arts. It is all around us, explaining, decorating, identifying; imposing meaning on the world… Without graphic design’s process and ingredients – structure and organization, word and image, differentiation – we would have to receive all our information by the spoken word. We would enter another Dark Ages, a thousand years of ignorance, prejudice, superstition and very short lifespans. – Quentin Newark, What is Graphic Design?

In short, that’s what graphic design is. But what is design?

Design is everything. Design is everywhere. The web page you’re looking at right now, that’s design, and the one you’ll click to next, that’s design too. Twitter, Facebook, the book next to your bed, that bag of chips you had with lunch yesterday (admit it), every single product and product packaging you have ever laid your eyes on, that’s design. The clothes you’re wearing, the chair you’re sitting in and even the building you’re inside, all of it has been designed by someone. Everywhere you look, everything you touch, design has had an impact. Massimo Vignelli says it well:

“design is a profession that takes care of everything around us (…) Everything that is around us, this table, this chair, this lamp, this pen has been designed. All of these things, everything has been designed by somebody (…) So what is design all about? It is to decrease the amount of vulgarity in the world. It is to make the world a better place to be. But everything is relative. There is a certain amount of latitude between what is good, what is elegant, and what is refined that can take many, many manifestations. It doesn’t have to be one style. We’re not talking about style, we’re talking about quality. Style is tangible, quality is intangible. I am talking about giving to everything that surrounds us a level of quality.” – Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli Associates via The Design Observer.

To me, design is communication. It’s visual thinking, It’s strategy. It’s beauty. Design is change. It’s challenge and growth. Design is what you make of it. It’s art. It’s artful. It’s getting to the point. Design is representation. It’s clarity. It’s telling a story. It’s emotion. Design is our future. Design is my voice.

I leave you with two things today. My own poster on “Design is..” and the question: What is design to you?

Happenings in advertising, branding and design

Global research agency Millward Brown published a study confirming what we all knew was coming: Apple has surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization to become the second most valuable U.S. company in 2010, it also superseded Google to become the most valuable consumer-facing brand in the world. (via Mashable)

Along with share prices and revenue, the Big Four honchos saw their total pay rise…Adweek shares the Top 10 Earners in Advertising (via Adweek)

Brand Toys, created by JWT London and the brainchild of worldwide planning director Guy Murphy and creative director Graham Wood, uses market research data to visualize attitudes towards brands around the world. (via Creative Review)

The Spot: Modern Families. Walmart applies a light, comedic touch in Martin’s conveyor-belt campaign (via Adweek)

Viewers are confused and scared by the Honda Civic’s Furry Monster, and well, so are we! (via Adweek)

T-Mobile Attack Ad Is a Real Drag for Sprint (via Adweek)

Apple: The ads that built the world’s most valuable brand (via Brand Republic)

So who would celebrate their 125 Year Anniversary by illuminating an entire building? You got it, only Coca Cola could pull off a stunt like this! (via The Inspiration Room)

Our learning styles have immediate implications for visual communication and give us insight into the needs of the end users…. (via Parse.)

Creative fuel

Posted by:
Kaitlyn Wells

Kids have the biggest imagination. I can remember when I was a kid, I would make up stories, draw pictures of things that weren’t really there, and imagine other worlds that don’t really exist. As an adult, have you ever noticed that sometimes you don’t have quite the same creative spark you had as a kid?

So, how do you fuel your creative world?

About a year ago, maybe more, I stumbled across a few books that help creatives find their muse. The two books I’ve been using (and will be referencing for this post) are: “Zing!” by Sam Harrison, and “Caffeine for the Creative Team” by Stefan Muman & Wendy Lee Oldfield. Both give exciting, interactive tips and exercises that help fuel the creative mind. After going through both of these books, I’ve pulled together some of my favorites; I even have some examples to show you.

Get off your damn computer.

The biggest mistake I make when looking for an idea, is I keep Googling. Get your research and move on. Explore beyond the internet and actually get out there. Take a walk, sit in a cafe. People-watch, as some would say (just no stalking, please). Take a sketch book with you or a small pad of paper, sit somewhere and sketch or write out words. How are you feeling that day? What are some of the sounds you’re hearing? What’s the weather like? What types of things are around you? What colors do you see? Did you happen to overhear some weird statement while in line at Starbucks? What are the people around you like? What are they doing? What might you say to them if you wanted to start a conversation? Exploring can open your eyes to new things and in turn spark an idea.

Do Something Different.

If you’re a designer, like me, try reading a poetry blog instead of a design blog. Read something you wouldn’t normally read, such as a local newspaper (print, not digital), a book about anthropology or ethnography (as our very own Lena Blackstock would say). Eat somewhere new or cook a new meal, make a random turn on your way home or lay in the grass and stare at the clouds (you can find faces in them, I swear). Ride your bike instead of walking, keep a journal. Doing something different gives you a new experience, and new experiences can lead to new solutions.

Get others to help you.

If you’re stuck, have someone else help you. Talk about your ideas, collaborating with someone else can turn your mediocre idea into a great one. Great work rarely comes from just one person, it comes from a group of people. Maybe that idea you had 3 months ago for a different project might just work for this new one, bouncing ideas off of someone else can help that come out.

Do a group exercise.

The very first exercise in “Caffeine for the Creative Team” by Stefan Muman & Wendy Lee Oldfield goes a little something like this: “…each of you is going to use a pencil to create a monster. The only restrictions are: [1] once you put the pencil down to start drawing, you can’t lift it back up – scribble, scratch, shade, do whatever you want, but you can’t remove the pencil from the paper until you’re done – and [2] you and a partner are working together to create one monster, so you must both start at the same time on the same piece of paper working on the same monster. You can talk it out as you go, or stay silent and read from one another’s direction what you can add to the monster. Make sure you have enough space around a table to move, get different perspectives and see what’s been created.”

This very first exercise caught my eye as something fun to do this morning, so I did. My Creative Director (Damir Brajdic) and I gave it a go.

This little guy (nicknamed Kamir) only took a few minutes to do, he’s lopsided, partly hairy and partly scaly, but he has a lot of character and it helped open up our minds for the day. Another book you can reference is “Caffeine for the Creative Mind” also by Stefan Muman & Wendy Lee Oldfield…I have this book at home, so maybe next time I can show off another example.

There are so many ways to find inspiration and spark your creativity and these are only a handful. So tell me…

How do you fuel your creative world?

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