Tag: "lindsay benson garrett"

Unexpected Surprise

Cougar paper's "Share" promotional book

We’ve just learned that some of our client work featured in the Cougar paper company promotional book, Share on Cougar®.

The identity kit for Leadership Ascent will be on display at HOW Design Live this year in Cougar’s Live Blueline Gallery, in booth 511. If you’re lucky enough to attend this year, please stop by and say hello for us!

Lindsay Benson Garrett showing off Stokefire's work featured in Cougar's latest promotional book.

About the identity kit

A lifelong mountaineer, the founder (a recent escapee from the world of Fortune 500® client-side leadership training) looked to blend his thus far distinct passions for corporate leadership and adventuring into a single entity that would seamlessly bring lessons learned on the mountain to bear on the boardrooms of his clients. His mindset was fundamentally shifted on his climb up Mt. Rainier, leading to the tagline we developed for him: “Find yourself on the way.”

Leadership Ascent identity kit

Where we start considering paper

The choice of paper played a critical role in contributing to the feeling of authenticity in the final design, but we began considering the weight and texture of the paper from the moment we conceived of the historical approach to the kit. As we started to develop the vintage mountaineering inspired stationery, we simultaneously started exploring cost effective paper options to make it come to life.

We utilized century-old, lightly edited public domain maps of the founder’s favorite mountain as the consistent visual, and this required a lot of ink to sit on top of the paper. We went with Cougar’s 70lb text for the smooth grain and solid weight, choosing an uncoated stock to maintain the outdoorsy, weathered feel. Cougar natural was a cost effective stock that had a variety of weights available that enabled us to increase the tactile experience of the all-important business card while maintaining the same look as the rest of the kit.

Our favorite moment during the project

At the initial presentation of the tagline in combination with the ID kit, his business partner (and wife) suggested that our creative director “must be sleeping with him, because that’d be the only we could possibly know him so well.”

Leadership Ascent identity kit

The piece on display at the HOW Conference:

Leadership Ascent on display at the Domtar gallery

It’s not every day you find your photo in the centerfold…

Washington Flyer covers the best of Washington D.C. and the Capital Region, including entertainment, food, recreation, nightlife, hotels, and travel. These magazines are distributed through the Washington D.C. airports so you can have some reading material on your next flight to Hawaii. (Please take us with you?)

Next time you fly out of Reagan National, check out the September/October 2014 issue which includes a story about the arts scene in the D.C. area. The intro page and centerfold of the magazine features a photo our art director, Lindsay Benson Garrett, took of Gin Dance Company.

The Secret of Great Business Trips? They’re Not All Business.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

I hear from fellow businesspeople that traveling for work is a necessary evil. Being away from family, never seeing anything other than the inside of a hotel, and eating dinner on a tray in front of a TV or in the hotel bar with clients… it all seems to pretty much suck. 15 years ago I had a mentor that helped me see that it didn’t have to be that way, and recent happenings at HQ convinced me that it was about time to share her thinking with the world. Let’s start with her rules…

  • Don’t order room service.
  • Don’t visit the hotel bar or restaurants, either.

Sounds pretty limiting for a road warrior, but in both cases you’d be paying a premium to have a generally lousy experience that would be indistinguishable from something entirely forgettable that you could have in your home town. Business travel isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Because of that mentor, every time I travel I try to find a local jazz club, a greasy spoon, or a hole-in-the-wall joint that will give me an experience I couldn’t have back home. It opens my eyes to new things and increases the pool of ideas and experiences I can call on when doing creative work.

Got kids (or nieces and nephews) and a smartphone? Even obligatory sightseeing that I’ve endured countless times before can be made new with some of the recent technological advances. I traveled on one of the longest and highest tramways in America to the top of a mountain in New Mexico – and got to share the experience with my joyful kids as the view unfolded on-screen in real time over FaceTime. Every experience can be made new when you see it through the eyes of a four-year-old. (Incidentally, my first call to my kids in every city is to give them a grand tour of… my hotel room. Yep. Beds, bathrooms, views, drawers… they want to see it all. And if there’s a minibar? It’s “YAY, DAD!!! THERE’S FOOD IN YOUR ROOM!! CAN I HAVE THE COOKIES? BRING HOME THE COOKIES!!!”)

Which leads to rule number three.

  • Don’t touch the minibar. EVER. Even if there are cookies.

Seriously, man. Don’t even THINK it. Pretty sure there’s a charge for merely considering purchase.

Anyhow, Marie (our kickass Swedish media* intern) seemed somewhat disinclined to believe we actually would encounter fresh air or the sky on our recent business trip to San Francisco, so she challenged Lindsay (our kickass art director) and me to get some video evidence. After all, it’s not like we’d be able to experience much when we’re in client meetings 12 hours a day, right?

Challenge accepted.

* — Contrary to what some may believe, Swedish media is neither this, nor this.

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.

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!

Ten things I wish I knew about food photography before I started

Our new designer (Lindsay Garrett) recently finished up a food photography project on behalf of one of our newest clients – Meals On Wheels. We asked her to share a few tips with our fans and followers – and with her fellow employees. Today she kindly obliges us.

Welcome Lindsay – the blog is yours!

Thanks and hello to everyone!

So you’ve decided to upgrade your Instagram shots of food and explore food photography more in depth? Perhaps you’ve decided your blog requires more mouth-watering photos to better represent the amazing dishes you share with readers. Or maybe you just want to document the incredible beauty of food and the memories, flavors, and stories that accompany it.

I’ve shot thousands of photos of food and had my work published in two cookbooks, including Made With Love, the Meals On Wheels Family Cookbook. Food photography is challenging and rewarding, but usually quite tasty. Below are the top ten things I figured out the hard way, but now you can be ten steps ahead. Go forth and be brilliant.

  1. Use the sun. Your best tool for food photography is a big, bright window. It’s better to have indirect sunlight to avoid casting harsh shadows, an easy way to diffuse the light is to tape up white paper. Daylight makes it easy to produce softly lit, naturally color balanced photos.
  2. Backlight. If your food is primarily backlit, the delicious textures that you are aiming to portray show up delightfully. The subject is likely to flatten out and lose detail when lit from the front. Don’t be tempted to use your flash, use reflectors or side lighting if you need more light.
  3. Undercook your food. Meat looks juicier, vegetables retain more water, shape, and color, and grains look fuller. You can fully cook breads and cakes though, those need to be done. You can use a broiler or blow torch to selectively brown food to give the crisp look we love to savor.
  4. Smaller plates mean bigger food. Size does matter. Smaller plates will make your food look bigger, providing the benefit that you don’t have to work with as much. Generous looking portions are the way to go! I’ve been known to give food a boost by putting folded paper towels under it or an upside down mug in a bowl of stew.
  5. Tell a story. Your photo will be more engaging if the viewer can imagine where they’d be if they could eat that delicious peach cobbler. Food is a central part of our life, we associate memories with it and break bread with loved ones around the table together. Connect to your audience by showing them not just the delicious food, but the great time they could have consuming it.
  6. Get creative. While deciding what story your photos will tell, your may find you need to add props to enhance it. I have created story lines by concocting beer out of apple cider vinegar and dish detergent bubbles and sprinkled crumbs around half eaten cookies next to a glass of milk and a coloring project. I have even seen food stylists whip up fresh delicious whipped cream to dollop over a wad of newspaper stuffed in a mug to emulate hot chocolate.
    The important part is that these creative concoctions were never the focus of the shot, they were always background elements that added interest.
  7. Oil works wonders. Everything looks sexier when oiled up: like green beans, chicken breasts, blueberries, even carrots. Oil gives you a sheen that allows you more time to take the photo. It also lends the feeling of fresh cooked, fresh washed, or just moist and delicious.
  8. Crop tightly. This applies to most photography. Make sure you frame your shot with care. Getting close to your subject provides more texture, detail, and eliminates distractions such as unrelated backgrounds or tablecloths.
  9. Use a tripod whenever possible. This ensures that your photo is crisp and clean. I was taught to go so far as to use a timer or remote to prevent any bump when the finger releases the shutter. Of course that teacher also told me to hold my breath during the 30 second exposure while I was standing 5 feet away.
  10. Don’t be afraid to change your angles. We have a tendency to photograph food from the 45 degree angle we are about to eat it from. Sometimes you want to get on the same level to show the flaky layers of a pastry or from above to show to beautiful designs on a cake. I usually start off on a tripod and then having captures the shots I need, I move around the food, freeing myself to find interesting angles.

In the end it’s all about experimenting for yourself and creating mouthwatering shots. So what are you waiting for? Happy shooting!



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