X marks the spot

We all want to have a better understanding of our surroundings. What’s the landscape? What am I looking at here?

That’s probably why we design a lot of maps. It’s helpful to be able to show, at a glance, where everything is. In the same way that users hope to be able to navigate a communications piece based on photo captions alone, quick references and labels deliver information in an efficient way.

It’s a process we enjoy as a team, determining which orientation will work the best: isometric? Bird’s eye? Three-quarter? Creating custom illustrations and working through coloring issues are elements that we tackle together and the results are often award-winning standalone works.

Beyond function, a map of any given location can go a long way toward defining the experience and shaping expectations of the public. An example of this can be see on our recent approach to mapping High Falls Gorge in Wilmington, NY, when compared to previous versions. 1

The first map depicts the property, trail system, and activity centers properly, but does little to create a sense of place.
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The second iteration makes good use of iconography and color coding, and is user-friendly.

We made the decision to redesign this component of the experience, in order to incorporate illustration. The goal was to bring in depth that communicates the excitement of the natural landscape. Branded elements and iconography help to build the newly redesigned High Falls Gorge look with color palette and signal art.
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As a member of IAAPA and a destination needing to compete with amusement parks and larger diversions for tourist attention, our hope was to position the Gorge as a worthwhile activity that delivers on thrills and has amenities that matter to travelers.

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We deconstruct our own on-property representations, too. Here’s a map for the Sacandaga Outdoor Center, circa 2008. Back then, the goal was to place SOC regionally, and let rafters know which river they’d be navigating.

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Now that the Outfitter is firmly established in the Lake George, Saratoga and Capital region (outdoor, advertising, collateral, online listings) our focus in 2016 was similar to the goals for High Falls Gorge: position the rafting trip as more than just a float down the river.

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Whether we’re updating artwork for college campuses, museums, ski mountains or municipalities, our goal is always to make the experience easier for a newcomer.

Opinion-stagram

By now you’ve seen the mid-May rollout of a new look for Instagram. Icons automatically updated themselves on devices and screens, causing worldwide panic and confusion. Immediate and severe feedback filled up the internet like design hate-speech. Instagram released this video to illustrate their process, but soon had to fend off parodies and video rants from designers and whackos alike—many delivered on Instagram’s own platform, criticism so meta it doesn’t need a filter.

As an agency producing visual content on a daily basis, I’m sure the team here has opinions on the new look, but to be honest, we haven’t discussed it. One quick search revealed that the redesign had become a target online. The vitriol surrounding the brand update was surprisingly personal, with commenters presenting their opinion as belief. Others Monday-morning-quarterbacked their own versions: here’s how it should have been done.  Maybe that’s a reflection of our political climate in this election year, but I see it as a trend. One that will have a significant impact on our industry.

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Probably sounds like sour grapes coming from a designer, after all, we’re all entitled to our unique perspective. I can remember when AIRBNB updated recently.

“That’s…anatomical.” was my response. Still, I didn’t take to the twitterverse with hellfire and damnation. Who knows? Maybe body parts was what they were going for?

By and large, the opinions of anyone who wasn’t directly involved in the process can be written off as an amateur assessment. Someone without an understanding of trends or projections, or knowledge of design theory can certainly pass judgement on something that’s been created, but many times it is simply a reaction, with no consideration.

This public display of rejection as we call it, can make it difficult for an organization or a business to consider a rebrand. Change is tough. Customers are particular, donors fickle. What about the years of established brand equity? As a creative group, we’re careful in our consideration of whether or not an organization needs something new.

The company logo is like your favorite shirt. It’s well-worn, familiar, and you look great in it. Eventually though, that shirt will start to lose its shape. Or it might fall out of style. Trying on something new can be intimidating. It’s a risk, and a process—but a new outfit can mean a big boost in the confidence department.

Here are five examples of recent logo updates by Trampoline that embrace the past, or products represented, and still move forward visually.PSC_LogocompPaul Smith’s College, in the Adirondacks, wanted to differentiate themselves in the higher-ed space. Collegiate mergers and shutdowns nationwide are evidence of a competitive marketplace where experiences are as important as bookwork. Location, extracurriculars and the feel of a place are elements that factor heavily in 17 year-old decision making—and are shaped by design choices and brand impressions. In the case of PSC (heretofore never referred to as PSC—another update in acceptable representation) their tried-and-true, Times New Roman approach to communication had grown stale, and enrollment reflected a flatline in outreach.

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Our approach embraced the iconic leaning pine, and incorporated the surrounding adirondack beauty in a figurative drawing with interplay between positive and negative spaces. The intent was to capture the feeling of a destination, since the campus is located on the site of a historic hotel, owned and operated by Paul and Lydia Smith. The result is a very heroic, American approach to collegiate branding, that makes use of existing imagery in a new way.

HFG_LogocompHigh Falls Gorge, in Wilmington, NY has everything a tourist could hope for: natural beauty, the power of nature on display, souvenirs, burgers and beer. As the destination continues to grow, with new offerings every year, it was time for a new logo. Bold type and sharp edges represent the sheer force of these falls and the sharp twists and turns help to position the Gorge as an exciting Adirondack destination.

MockupOur approach to update the appearance was to embrace both the history of the attraction, and the actual physical representation of the falls themselves. The mark opened the door for angular signal art and a family of marks and mascots that created additional offerings for different age groups and interests.

 

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Hudson Headwaters Health Network had handled marketing internally for 33 years before involving an agency in a rebranding effort. The result of a repositioning attempt was that the team at Hudson Headwaters had an emotional attachment to their letter cross. The organization abandoned the chunky Rockwell Bold face for something sleeker, and the team at Trampoline scrubbed-in for an emergency serifectomy.

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By removing a single serif in their existing logo, we created a conversation bubble. This type of negative space play can offer a number of options for communication, and create an aha! moment for those interacting with the brand. It’s letting the public in on the joke, a wink and a smile. And, in this case, it offers access and options for healthcare conversations to begin.

 

MOR_LogocompNearly $40 million annually means that a lot of paper was being converted at the Morcon plants in upstate New York and South Carolina. New ownership meant updates in infrastructure, specialized equipment, additional staff and an identity conversion. While the end result is markedly different from the old Morcon look, it stays true to the product in a completely new, but still representative way.

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This new identity, with an advance tagline that builds upon the business name, set the tone for sub-brands that create a family of products with a consumer bent. The entire process has influenced sales and how the product is positioned, presented, packaged and photographed.

 

 

FSO_LogocompAfter 5 years in a very challenging retail market for bricks-and-mortar sellers, Fountain Square Outfitters was ready for an update to their image. Their original mark, set in Friz Quadrata, featured a male hiker in a circle. The proprietors wanted to elevate the FSO look for use in private-label merchandise, and build on their market share as more established retailers like Eastern Mountain Sports were in decline.

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The strategy for redesign began with research. After discovering that 70% of their transactions were completed by women, we understood that the consumer wasn’t really represented in the Fountain Square branding, and revised the original male hiker with a female form. Extensions of the FSO update helped segment their marketplace and offerings by activity, and created an interchangeable family of marks that could be used at specific adventure events or help to build partnerships with other retailers like Grey Ghost Bicycles or Rocksport Climbing Gym.

. . . . . . . .

Are these revised logos better than their originals?

We certainly hope so, that’s the point after all.

Is there a debate to take place? We’ll always debate design, as long as those engaged in the debate are doing so to move things forward.

Serving up strategy

“Can I get you another drink?” asked the waiter.

We’d just been seated, at a table for two after a considerable wait at the bar. We had arrived, without reservations, at the newly opened Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House, in downtown Yakima, Washington.

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The Yakima Valley is responsible for about 75% of domestic hop production, so I ordered a beer: Top Cutter IPA from Bale Breaker Brewing Company. Amanda ordered a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from Spring Creek, a local vineyard.

“Right away,” said our server as he turned on his heel.

I liked that. Right away. Sure makes a fellow feel important.

He offered the same two-word reply when we ordered an appetizer of spring rolls. When I overheard the waitress at the next table respond in kind to a request from the diners there, I understood that it was training, not ambition, that was behind the acknowledgement.

The staff at Cowiche Canyon had a catch phrase.

If the communicator in me loved this for its content and tone, the entrepreneur in me respected the training and consideration that was clearly behind the delivery. When a business owner takes the time to help shape responses so that the customer interacts with the business in a certain way, the public can expect a well-crafted experience. Why?

When  an organization has systemized the way a product or service is presented, it stands to reason that they’ve already sorted out how that product works, how it looks, what the value of it is, and have identified an established need and a marketplace.

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The Spring Rolls at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen.

11113597_1563632903902916_2238830845569561107_nAfter having traveled across the country, I ordered a New York Strip and a baked potato.

Did the catch phrase season my steak into the best meal I’d ever eaten? No. But: the meal was good; the environment was eclectic and modern. The restaurant branding was a predictable hipster cross-bones, but I even appreciated that for being current, if trendy. I certainly didn’t see anything else like it locally, having spent 10 days in the Seattle and Eastern Washington market, so, here’s to a little Brooklyn in the desert.

The funniest part is: it didn’t come right away. The place was packed. Every table was full, and the wait was 45 minutes. All in all, it didn’t really matter. The beer was great, the place was neat, my date was beautiful, and we felt considered.

Front line employees are essential to any venture. How people feel when they’re interacting with a particular company is almost as important as whatever business is being done. While this may sound like Hospitality 101, the consideration of, and interaction with clients is where any company communicates, so that decisions can be made quickly and efficiently.

It’s important to be able to back up the rhetoric, however. Salesmanship is one thing, execution is another. Without processes in place, and a dedicated approach, it can be difficult to produce the results that a statement like right away infers. An accountable staff that takes responsibility for how resources are used can prioritize deliverables and balance timelines.

Still, if your sole purpose is to complete a transaction, rather than establish a relationship that has some degree of plausibility, sooner or later your right away will be taken for what it really isI really liked how right away felt, figuratively, organizationally, and personally.

It seems to me that craft and system both have the greatest prospect of enduring when they work together rather than in isolation. I feel lucky to have witnessed the fruits of one company’s effort to combine protocol with experience, efficiency with consideration. We have a great team here and the dance between right away and right on has begun.

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