Tag: "stokefire"

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.

Steve Jobs and the Wrong Kind of Dent

 

Posted by:
Tate Linden (@Thingnamer)

Following on my previous post about Steve Jobs’s phantom “We’re here to put a dent in the universe” quote, I can’t help but wonder if the sentiment behind it is actually a good representation of what Jobs tried to do with his life.

There’s not much point in arguing that Jobs never said anything about denting the universe. I do, however, wonder why he said it.

First, putting a dent in something is typically associated with an act of brute strength.

He may have led with a sledgehammer in his back pocket, but hope for all our sakes that bending others forcibly to his will was not his end-game.If we consider Jobs’s leadership style there’s at least a little connection. He was seen as a “high maintenance co-worker” who was blunt with criticism. He dismissed people who didn’t impress him as “bozos”. If the universe he was trying to dent was made up of the psyches of the people who reported to him then this might apply. But it would also be a pretty shallow and callous goal.

Second, dents tend to make things harder to use and less efficient.

When I think of the products that came out of Jobs’s Apple I picture clean and easy-to-use designs, not duct-tape and Bondo. The work done under his watch seems to have done the opposite of denting the universe.

I know, I know. In theory we all love the character that stuff gets as it picks up the scratches and dings of our lives. But we still go out to buy the shiny new stuff that is easier to use than the perfectly working but slightly older equipment Jobs convinced us to buy a few months earlier.

Third, the only way that “denting the universe” actually fits didn’t apply until he was no longer a part of it.

There’s a difference between leaving a legacy and changing the way the universe works. Jobs helped us to understand that great design matters, and that capability and simplicity aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s his legacy.

Jobs was brilliant. He was able to conceive of or recognize concepts and guide the development and execution of them in ways that were virtually irresistible. That’s also his legacy.

The dent in the universe that he made, though? I really hope it isn’t something he wanted to leave. Two quotes from  Rob LeFebvre’s article from cultofmac highlight it pretty well:

“Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards.”

and…

“Mr. Jobs’s own research and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide.”

The dent he was trying to make was something that only he seemed able to understand.

Is the dent Jobs made in the universe is the one left by the space he occupied so powerfully? While his legacy will live on, his exacting standards and the intuition that built the legacy are gone.

Now we’re left with a dent we have no idea how to buff out, and no knowledge of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done. The decisions made by Apple since Jobs’s passing – at least as viewed from the outside – are looking more traditional than “insanely great”.

I miss the guy and I never even knew him.

And I’m more than a little pissed that he appears not to have taught anyone else how to use his gift. If he’d done it then wouldn’t we have something other than bigger iPhones and smaller iPads by now?

Anyone else out there hoping that Jony and the team are secretly working on some Jobsian creation and are just working out the kinks before they set the universe wobbling again? Color me hopeful, but not optimistic.

 

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

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!

No.

Dearest potential applicant:

In our eight year history we’ve never brought on a single intern nor employee who started their cover letter with “Dear Sirs” or “To Whom it May Concern,” and then perhaps followed it with body copy that could just as well introduce someone trying to break into the laundromat business, or maybe rocket science.

The unofficial policy doesn’t hit home for you? Consider what it would be like if a purportedly reputable organization was staffed by people so lazy that instead of taking the time to understand and address each applicant individually, they just posted a blanket rejection statement on their blog and left it at that.

The Painful Truth about Working With Stokefire, And How To Fail While Doing It.

Posted by Tate Linden

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

The truth about working with Stokefire? It often sucks.

I mean it.

Working with Stokefire is frequently extremely painful. Intentionally so. There’s a core belief at this firm that we can’t ensure a brand’s greatness until we have proven that it can withstand immense pressure. As our regular readers might recall, the philosophy supporting our work is structured around a quote from Gandhi, and though he may never have directly said as much, I personally believe that if Gandhi hadn’t gone through the painful challenges that he did he wouldn’t have made such an impact on the world. His philosophies would never have been tested and found to be powerful and effective. While we’re not known for putting our clients under the sorts of extreme pressures over which Gandhi triumphed, we are pretty damn good at making clients uncomfortable and even angry when it’s called for. And, for what it’s worth, it’s almost always called for.

A brand built by staying in your happy place may be fun, but it won’t help get you through the challenges that real organizations face during a crisis. My firm has had great success earning accounts that a little shop like ours “had no right to even pitch” (as one of our competitors put it) by going after that pain, and warning our prospective clients in advance that we’re here to cause harm but that the end result will be a battle tested brand that will get them where they want to go. We’ve had clients Google, Motorola, Charles Schwab, Heinz, the US Department of Defense, and the entirety of the US concrete industry. C’mon people; you must admit that our little shop in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia doesn’t seem like it should be able to even get business cards from the people that work at the agencies that land clients like those. (And candidly, we tend not to get those business cards. The people who work in the big agencies are not my biggest fans, from what I can tell.)

We don’t surprise clients with the bad stuff after they sign. No. We tell ‘em the first time we see them. Pretty much open the door and say, “You know, working with us is pretty much going to suck for you, right?” And then we tell them all the stuff they’re going to hate about working with us.

Among the things we cover are all the decisions and actions that they’ll want to make or take that we tell them in advance are off the table if they want to have a chance at a successful project. That list is about a dozen items long – and every one of the items has at some point caused more than one of our projects to end up less effective than it should have been. Clients are still able to go against the advice, but must acknowledge that in so doing our team is entitled to make changes to timeline, budget, and/or scope, or goals to compensate.

For the first time – that I can remember, anyhow – I’m sharing about half of this this list with the world, reworded in such a way that it might be Internet-ably digestible.

SIX EASY WAYS TO FAIL AT BRANDING:

Method 1: Avoid Risk, (Because Not Doing So Is So Gosh Darn Risky.)

Without risk you won’t get noticed. Without notice you can’t engage. Without engagement you can’t achieve any meaningful organizational goals, except perhaps downsizing, which you really don’t need our help with.

The most common way to avoid risk is to look at the industry and figure out what everyone else is saying and doing, and then find a designer who can mash it all together into something resembling a brand image. No need to hire a strategist because the work is already done! Go to the website of any competitor, then just cut, paste, and BAM! You just saved all sorts of time, effort, and money. Go ask for a raise.

Method 2: Insist on Consensus for the Wrong Things.

It’s critical to come to consensus about the goals for the organization and the brand, but when it comes to whether or not people like the resulting work we actually find positive consensus to be an indicator that the work isn’t as powerful as it needs to be. One thing that every great brand has in common? Someone out there absolutely hates it. We’re actually pretty pleased that most of the time there’s someone out there that truly despises our work, though often as not it’s the competition that screams the loudest.

Method 3: Keep the Decision Makers Out of the Process.

Keeping the decision makers out of the creative and strategic process is like making a baker’s favorite cake without access to the baker, and without access to the baker’s closet of ingredients or recipes. No matter what you come up with there’s little chance that that the baker will approve it because the result won’t match the recipe to which you never had access in the first place. If a decision maker is too busy or important to participate then they should delegate authority to someone who has the time and interest required to get it right.

Method 4: Demand that the Purpose of the Organization or Brand Include the Word, “AND.”

“And” is the bane of singularly effective brands and strategies. The moment you require a proverbial bullet to hit both the primary target and a second (or third, or twelfth) one you’ve made what should’ve been a relatively straight-forward shot into one that is effectively impossible. This is not to say you can’t hit all the targets, but the chances are better that you’ll end up winging them rather than nailing the center of any.

Method 5: Change Requirements or Assumptions Upon Which Work Was Based But Leave The Resulting Work Unchanged.

It’s like telling that aforementioned cook to prepare a meal for a meat-lover, then upon delivery of the delectable meat-infused foods being told that they made a typo and meant to say that the eater was vegan. There is no option except to restart from the step right before the assumption was made. The moment the assumptions in place are changed the work that resulted from the old ones either must be thrown out, or used for some other purpose. No matter how delicious that TurDuckEn may be, the first instinct should never be, “Well, maybe we can still use it if we just add more vegetables.”

Method 6: Keep the Project Hidden from Staff, Clients, and Stakeholders Until It’s Done.

Done right, the result of a strategic rebranding process should seem like you’ve scraped off a battered (or poorly chosen) coat of paint to reveal the beautifully crafted bones of the original structure that had been hidden before. That’s very hard to do if you don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the people who helped to build it in the first place, and those that live there now. Imagine coming home and finding someone you don’t know has repainted and repositioned everything in your home without asking for your permission or input, and then stuck you with the bill. Oh. And they appear to reeeeealy like pink. It’s likely you’ll find that the work covered up everything you loved about your home. That’s what happens when an employee comes in one day with new logos and mottos spread all over the office. It’s seen as “just another marketing thing” instead of what should be a powerful tool for helping the organization get where it needs to go.

No matter how risky you might think trying to engage existing staff or clients in the process might be, that’s nothing compared to the backlash that can occur when you try to sneak one over on them, or aren’t completely transparent with the reason for a change.

You may notice that almost all of these methods that lead to failure involve some sort of attempt to overtly or covertly avoid risk. Having leadership stay out of the process means that they’re not to be blamed for the direction the project has taken, requiring consensus spreads blame so that individuals can duck risk, having multiple goals means there’s no risk of alienating anyone, allowing assumptions to change without consequence means no one will have to risk their employment by asking for more funding, and keeping stakeholders in the dark means that we don’t risk blowing the project schedule by letting in rabble that could turn the whole thing to a muddled mess.

We’re not unique when it comes to recognizing that risk is a critical ingredient in a successful brand. Most agencies acknowledge this now – but I think the extent to which we’ve codified the ways risk avoidance can creep back into a supposedly risky position is less common. If you’ve got stories to share on risk avoidance or acceptance gone wrong I’d love to hear about ‘em.

When it comes to branding and strategy choices, I’m finding that almost every time the right choice for the client is the one that makes them the most nervous. Not in an “anyone who would do this is an idiot” way, but in a “can we really do that? Because no one in our industry would ever in a million years try something like it” sense. Which is kind of the point. Any retrenching towards what’s comfortable and familiar results in an avalanche of undone decisions that turn brand positioning and strategy into a mishmash of platitudes that no one finds objectionable and never gets mentioned outside of annual executive strategy sessions.

_____

That’s it…I’m out of practice on this whole blogging thing, but I’ve got some more stuff I’d like to share in the coming days and weeks, so here’s to hoping I can continue to bring it back to life.  Thanks to my Twitter followers who helped nudge me back on the hamster wheel. You can find me being my own bad self at @Thingnamer or tune into to the business-esque chatterings of the team (and me) at @Stokefire.

 

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

Our PCA Work Named “Best Overall” by Construction Industry

Yep. The Portland Cement Association received top honors in the industry for our strategic and creative work on their Hey Asphalt campaign that included the advertisement above amongst other elements such as billboards, trade ads, and websites. How cool is that?

No, wait. Don’t answer that. Allow me.

Ahem. It’s VERY FREAKING COOL! Fist-bumps all around!

Our own press release will hit in the next day or so, but until then you can chew on CWA’s broad release:

CWA Names Winners of 2011 Marketing Communications and Website & Electronic Communications Awards

Thu Sep 29, 2011 7:30am EDT

CHICAGO, IL, Sep 29 (MARKET WIRE) —

The Construction Writers Association (CWA) announces the 2011 winners of
its annual Marketing Communications Awards and Website & Electronic
Communications Awards. The awards will be presented at a grand awards
dinner on October 25 during the 2011 CWA Annual Conference, CONNECTED
2011, in San Antonio.

The annual awards spotlight superior communications efforts by
construction-related individuals, corporations, associations, advertising
agency/PR firms and publications. The Marketing Communications Awards are
evaluated on editorial content, graphic design and effectiveness in
achieving stated goals. 

"The CWA Marketing Communications Award honorees are selected from a
highly competitive pool of submissions from talented professionals across
the country," said Aaron Chusid, chairman of the Marketing Communications
Awards committee.

    The 2011 CWA Marketing Communications Awards winners are:

--  Portland Cement Association, Best Overall-Other
--  Performance Marketing, Best Print-Ad
--  ARTBA, Best Radio-Ad Campaign
--  WSP Flack & Kurtz, Direct Mail Campaign, Best Corporate
    Communication
--  Marketing Strategies & Solutions, Best PR-Special Event

The Website & Electronic Communications Awards are evaluated on
content, design, effective technology aspects and meeting stated
objectives. 

"Effective websites and electronic communications continue to increase in
importance for manufacturers, dealers, contractors, associations and
publications in the construction industry," said Patti Flesher,
chairwoman of the Website and Electronic Communications Awards committee.
"The CWA awards provide industry-wide recognition for work that
successfully engages an online audience."

    The 2011 CWA Website & Electronic Communications Awards winner is:

--  HardHatChat.com, Blog Category

The Construction Writers Association (CWA), founded in 1958, is a
non-profit, non-partisan, international organization that provides a
forum for journalism, photography, marketing, and communications
professionals in all segments of the construction industry to connect
with other professionals and enhance skills through education. Visit our
website at www.constructionwriters.org. Join us on LinkedIn, Facebook,
and Twitter.

For more information contact:
Deborah Hodges
Construction Writers Association
1-773-687-8726
info@constructionwriters.org 

Copyright 2011, Market Wire, All rights reserved.

-0-

Congrats to Bruce, Patti, Brian, Doug, Aris and the rest of the PCA team. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have an appointment with some bubbly.



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