Tag: "Stokefire team"

DARPA Wins Logo Award, Stealthily

2011 MarCom Award Winner

We just learned that our DARPA logo work received an Honorable Mention from the MarCom Awards. We’re surprised and honored by the recognition. We figured that without seeing the logo in action (e.g., transitioning from on-white to on-black as is shown in the video below) it’d get lost in the herd.

It didn’t, and for that we’re giving thanks. Though we can’t seem to find any mention of the award online…

Congratulations to DARPA, and to the members of Stokefire’s very own design team:

Graphic Designer: Jonelly Sharp
Art Director: Randy Rodriguez
Art Director: Kaitlyn Wells
Creative Director: Tate Linden

Want to see the story behind the brand identity and the challenge we faced? Check out this live markup narrated by the boss:


Other live markups have been done for The Stokefire Logo and Think Harder. Concrete.


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

Posted By:

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.

Happenings in Advertising, Branding, and Design

1. Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO of Apple – It’s the only thing anyone seems to be able to talk about the last few days, I suppose it’s expected.  Lots of videos to watch! (via Mashable)

2. We’ve all been hearing about the new food-centric commercial(s) for Burger King, so here’s the McGarryBowen-Created Ad! (via Agency Spy)

3. Great comments from graphic design professionals! Grading Diet Coke’s Makeover Adweek asks the experts (via AdWeek)

4. Well what do you think? Should Heinken ‘fess up or should it be left alone? Shiner Cries ‘Ripoff’ at Heinken’s Billboard/Stage Hybrid (via Agency Spy)

5. Nice Guys finish last? Walgreens has New Store Brand Naming? Nice!  (via the Name Wire)

6. Burger King Leads ‘Time’ List of Creepiest Mascots – Enough said. (via AdWeek)

7. Old time ads vs. the new. Is the industry getting better at this? Banquet  in a Box (via AdWeek)

8. Web Pick of the Week: American Sabor  (via Communication Arts)

Thoughts on Rebranding
More on Advertising
All about Branding


Posted by:
Isabella Medina

I work for @Thingnamer.  He’s very skilled at what he does.  (For the moment let’s ignore those recent intra-team squabbles about names evoking images of portly men’s middles.)  Our Thingnamer does not take the naming task lightly.  There are many factors taken into account.  And the potential impact of the right (or wrong) choice can be huge.  Thankfully the balance here sways forcefully to the hugely-right impacts.

But what about thingnaming as a pursuit?  A friend recently pointed out (thank you, Lauren), that “thingnaming” was the first task actually assigned to humankind.  Amazing, right?  I checked.

That story goes back to the opening pages of the Old Testament.  We have Adam (aka “the man”) alone, in that perfect garden – surrounded by beauty of every sort imaginable, but a little lonesome.  God brings to the man “every beast of the field and every bird of the sky” which he had just created.  Then comes the assignment:  “He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  I find that pretty amazing.  What responsibility.  What authority.  What fun!

That story led me to wondering… how did Adam’s task compare to Thingnamer’s?  A few things come to mind.  For starters, Adam was working from the blankest of slates.  Even if we ignore the fact that he had no one to argue with him (yet), how much difference would it have made if he named a camel a ralwit or a pib or a mandelwesterbing instead?  (I know Adam was not naming things in English – the point is the same.)

Our Thingnamer has to devise a name within the context of all the gazillion things that have been named between then and now.  That seems much more complicated.  Everything that’s been named before contributes to assumptions, impressions, and ideas that one will have about the newly-named thing.  All the accumulated cultural influences, language developments and popular trends influence the reception and reaction to a newly-named thing.  Wow – it seems that problem would become increasingly complicated as time goes on.  (This reminds me of a favorite Peanuts comic strip, when Peppermint Patty turns to her friend Charlie Brown and declares “History should be studied in the morning… before anything else can happen.”)  Yes!  I suspect thingnaming may continue to grow challenging as the years go by, but remarkably, I doubt that we will ever be in danger of running out of names.

Since Adam started from such a blank slate, I don’t think we can ascribe any particular meaning to the names he chose.  He may have chosen certain names because he liked how they sounded, or others because they made sense as related to those of other similar creatures.  We may never know.

But modern-day thingnaming could take the task in a number of different directions:

There is the “name does not matter” camp.  As Will Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  We-just-LIKE-that-name goes in this group.

There are the parents who name their children after other family members – an effort to honor them, or to carry forward their legacy and heritage.

Other parents-to-be scour naming books to find one with a worthy meaning – an attempt to call forth that noble trait in their child.  An act of faith, as it were.

And then there are our Thingnamer’s names. He (and his cohorts) work very hard to speak The Truth by the names they choose.  To pack as much meaning and description, right-impression and appeal, into the names they devise.  A name thusly designed by Thingnamer is the first chance for a business – or a someone – to speak their identity to the world at large.  A very substantial communication.

Given all that, I’d say that for Adam – he who lived in the truly perfect world – his first assignment was pretty easy.

Great Photographer or Great Jumper?

Posted by:
Kaitlyn Wells

Both apparently. I found this blog  “My Modern Met“, while searching around for inspiration today. There, I found a post with the title “The Girl Who Loves to Levitate.” In this post, a Japanese woman named Natsumi Hayashi, took self-portraits of herself levitating all around Tokyo, Japan. She literally sets up the self timer on her SLR, and then jumps into place. It looks so graceful, and perfectly planned.

I love finding posts like these, it makes me want to go out and try it. If this isn’t inspiration to go be creative, I don’t know what is. Maybe, just maybe I’ll dig up my old camera and film (which hopefully still works) out of the closet and take a walk around town.

Do you have any creative photo series? If so, share them with us!

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?

Can Design Ethnographers bridge the gap?

Posted by:
Lena Blackstock

This is my second post inspired by one of the essays in the book “Design Anthropology – Object Culture in the 21st Century” by Alison J. Clarke. This chapter, “Prototyping the Social: Temporality and Speculative Futures at the Intersection of Design and Culture” is written by Jamer Hunt, Director of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Rice University.

“Understanding the user has become a mantra to corporate strategists”, and according to Hunt, this “primarily stems from a relatively recent shift in design and business methods toward ‘user-centered’ design, a practice that foregrounds the needs and wants of the end-user as central to the development or new products and services.”

User Research, User Experience Design, Brand Anthropology, Design Ethnography, Design Thinking, User-centered Design, Consumer Insight…there are many of these terms buzzing around the interwebs nowadays! Like I mentioned in my previous post, there are companies out there who have been hiring anthropologists and social researchers to help gain insight into user needs for many years now.

The approach itself is not new; the attention it is getting is.

In this essay, Hunt sets out to examine the role of the temporal within both ethnographic and design practices. “In a simple sense, an ethnographic project attempts to illuminate the present by interrogating its (recent) past. Its methods are observational, descriptive, analytical, and interpretive. (…) Design on the other hand, is a practice of material and immaterial making, but its mode of being-in-the-world is generative, speculative, and transformational.”

What he is saying is that, in its current structure, ethnography is focused on the present: “it is rarely projective; it does not speculate on what might happen next. Its focus is the present, built upon a series of past ‘present’ moments” while design investigates the future, “design both designs and keeps on designing. (…) When design does not fully comprehend the present, as is most often the case, it misdirects its outcome towards self-annihilating ends.” He quotes Tony Fry, a philosopher of design and sustainability: “ The ‘state of the world’ and the state of design need to be brought together.”

By focusing on the temporal role within ethnographic and design practices this essay looks at the implications these anthropological methods carry for design, not vice versa.  Hunt believes “it is no longer sufficient for only a few in the academy to encounter the incisive work of anthropologists and for the vicissitudes of commercial interests to drive the work of designers. We can no longer be content with anthropology’s ‘hands-off’ sensibilities and design’s ‘more is more’ mentality.” “Design, in the first instance, has to be understood anthropologically.”

This, I believe, will be the role of the Design Ethnographer – to bridge this gap.

He mentions experimental examples of design work such as “BrandX” and the “Skinthetic Redux” by Peter Alan and Carla Ross Allen – “work that leads to a questioning of cultural orthodoxies rather than to problem solving and new product development”. Hunt points out that these kinds of projects were able to “bring together the analytical incisiveness of an ethnographer’s eye with the materializing vision of a designer.”

To clarify, while Hunt believes these projects to be compelling, he does not believe that they, in and of themselves, will effect large-scale social change – “they are more speculative than interventionists.” He points us to Marcus and Paul Rainbow, two of the anthropologists responsible for the critical turn in anthropology in the 1980s, who address this in a discussion, claiming that “ethnographic research must reorient to the present but struggles to reinvent itself.”

In Rainbow’s terms, these “projects are untimely, in that they ‘make visible what is emerging’ by both slowing down the present and speeding us up to the present’s future.” And this may be exactly why this merging of design and anthropological methods is catching on – our world is moving VERY fast – evolving technologies, new design opportunities and SO much information – how can we make sure we create user-friendly designs when we have one foot in the present but are preoccupied with the future; when social scientists continue with their hands-off approach and designers insist on their ‘more is more’ mentality?

If ethnography can help us understand the present and design can help drive us into the future (and this is what Jamer Hunt suggests), I think exploring Design Ethnography to help us create better products, designs and solutions, will lead us in the right direction.


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