About the Author
Sarah is co-director of Malvolio. She brings her creative skills to the business, and loves concept development in commercial projects, illustration, and working on various self-initiated paper craft projects in her spare time.
Category: Design Explained
Every business has a story behind it. What’s yours?
And why am I asking? It’s actually really important.
You might hear marketing consultants talk about USP’s (unique selling propositions). It’s what makes your business unique to your competition. But I find that clients sometimes get stuck in a rut trying to come up with a clever USP, rather than just looking at what they already have.
Why do we need to know? What makes your business unique shapes your brand, your business strategies, and nearly every aspect of design we are involved in with a business.
So I take a different approach. If you have been able to come up with a USP, that’s fantastic. But if you haven’t, that’s okay. You still started your business for a reason. You and your business have still been on a journey to get to where you are. And that journey is your story. Your uniqueness is probably lurking in that story. And that little gem we find is what will make your brand special.
We love listening to client’s stories about the how and why of their businesses, and turning them into something visual. So don’t be shy, tell your story. Don’t be scared by marketing talk. Your story might have all the answers we are looking for.
Let’s get something straight: design isn’t the final product, it’s the process in making it.
We have had parents of kids who are keen on graphic design ask us, “what should my child be doing? Is there a class, should they do an art class? What will improve their chances of eventually getting a job in design?”.
To us, formal education isn’t everything. You learn to use design thinking from a very young age; if you’re reading this as a parent, your kids are probably already using design thinking and you haven’t even realised. Your kids may not have realised either, as they are likely just having fun “creating”.
Design is not about being a master of Photoshop or Illustrator. They are tools. Image editing programs are great fun to play with for kids, but they aren’t expected to learn it or go to a class about it. Experimenting in childhood is the best education – they learn during play. And there is a lot of design in play that is underrated.
A couple of great projects for kids to use design thinking while having fun:
- Create a board game. It might be redesigning an old game (maybe a new snakes and ladders board), or it could be developing a whole new game. Planning the game, writing the rules, creating the board/cards/pieces – every aspect pushes their thinking into new bounds.
- Write and illustrate a kids book. This can be made age appropriate – it doesn’t have to be complicated. After writing a story, planning out how many pages, where the drawings will go, and where the text will go all require design thinking. Is it the right amount of pages for the book to be bound? How will it be bound? It will sharpen their problem-solving skills too.
- Create an activity book. This could include contacting friends and family to find out what sort of activities their “customers” would like to do. Whether they are colouring pages, crosswords, puzzles, jokes, “find the object” pages – they all require their own planning and design. Most pages also can require a lot of manual drawing, which is good for honing their drawing skills.
The list is endless. The goal is for your kids to have fun. And whether they eventually go into design or not, learning how to use design thinking will set them up with an amazing skill for any job.
When it comes to redesigning a brand, we have found many clients have big ideas to completely reinvent their businesses. However, simple changes can have as big of an effect.
When you plan a brand redesign for your business, consider what aspects need to stay. “Starting over” isn’t always a smart move. If you’re planning on keeping your existing customer base, make sure there’s a link to your history so your customers aren’t alienated. In the same way we assume a person’s personality based on what they wear, a business’ personality is assumed in the same way by the look of their logo and brand.
Sometimes, not much needs to change. The logo might still be meaningful, but the colours might need a refresh. This is exactly the situation that happened for Views Cape Schanck. They first thought they had to reinvent the wheel with their brand. After revisiting their business plans, they realised that it wasn’t a full logo that needed to be changed – but it was mainly the colours that needed to change.
Below are the before (pink and black) and after (blue and gold). The V was so memorable we didn’t need to adjust it. But changing the colours completely changed the look and feel of the business. Sometimes simple changes are all your business needs.
Music, journalism and design seem very different. But in reality, they all share one common factor: they are the storytellers of our world.
Music shares stories through sound and words. Journalism shares stories through text and voice. Design shares stories through images. They each have their unique ways of telling a story, and all have their merit. What communicates to each of us is different – some people will connect better with music sending a message, whilst someone else may recognise and connect to a poster.
The journey I took to realise this has been a long one – it’s my lifetime story in itself.
When I was growing up, I lived and breathed music. I still do, to be honest. From the ages of around 8–15, music ruled my life. I loved finding out what the message was behind each song, and would analyse the lyrics. I learned what stereotypical chords musicians used to convey specific emotions. I collected the ARIA charts each week, and analysed why certain songs did better than others, and what their meanings were – and looked for connections. I dreamed of getting to become a radio DJ and interviewing bands and artists, learning more about the background of their songs. I dreamed of getting to announce the ARIA charts each week, and discussing why some songs were doing better in the charts than others. I also had a yearning to design CD covers…
As my teens went by, I looked at journalism as a whole – no longer just within the music industry. I realised that what I loved was getting to share people’s stories, through interviewing and presenting. Especially people and stories within Australia, for Australians. My work experience was shared between a printers and a music magazine, so I could cover all three bases (design, journalism and the music industry).
When I completed high school, my two top preferences for university were communication design and then journalism. I chose communication design…or did it choose me?
Years later, after I graduated, I realised that I found my calling. I was in the right place all along, doing what I dreamed of. I am sharing stories of people in Australia, visually, through design. And yes, I have even been able to design some CD covers in my career.
What should you take from this? Storytelling is in everything we do. There are many ways to share information. It can be shared through music, through journalism, through design. Different methods reach out to different people. My ability to share stories through design holds a special place in my heart. I am getting to share people’s dreams and passions with my visual skills. And I feel so honoured that clients choose us to help them share their stories.
This is a paper I wrote quite a long time ago on graffiti with purpose, but I have never published it. Enjoy!
Design is all around us, even where we least expect it. Almost everything in our environment is designed in some way, shape or form – whether it is billboards and buildings, or even garden layouts and graffiti. Contrary to popular opinion, graffiti is its own art form. Although graffiti is often done in illegal places (such as laneways, train lines, walls of buildings), much thought is put into the design of detailed work.
A misunderstood form of art and design, “graffiti” is derived from the Italian graffio – meaning “to scratch/scribble on a surface”. Graffiti is a colourful art form, promoting the artist’s beliefs, opinions, and interests to their sub-culture peers and the public.
However, graffiti isn’t always illegal, and can be used to help the surrounds. Walls are often commissioned to graffiti artists to put their talent to accepted use within a community. When a high-quality graffiti artwork has been produced for the public to see, other graffiti artists will often respect the work and not paint over it. And because it is a clean and related mural, the surrounding environment isn’t degraded from poor graffiti that lowers the value of the suburb or city.
But not all graffiti is done as a “pretty picture”. Some graffiti is highly political, such as the message “No jobs on a dead planet” boldly painted onto an industrial chimney in West Melbourne. The Greens Party were the instigators of this large-scale message, specifically painted onto the chimney, relating it to the pollution the chimney once emitted – giving the message immediate meaning and recognition. However, it is also placed on that particular chimney, as it is in a prime position for many people to see it.
The message is painted in white, to contrast against the brown chimney for optimum exposure. If the message was printed in black, or even another colour such as blue or green, it would not be as visible as it is in white. However, white is also the colour of peace, implying the message is an appeal to the community, an advertisement for awareness. This is further reiterated with the use of the peace symbol at the end of the message.
And then there is stereotype graffiti, typically found in laneways and along train lines – places that aren’t policed 24-7. Stereotypical graffiti is often colourful, done in spray paint, and is a name or a word in an extremely freeform style of typography, presenting the public with an artwork made up of letters more than letters made into an artwork. This piece is painted onto a roller-door of a shop in the tiny Degraves St – a shop that isn’t even open on a Sunday, clearly being susceptible to graffiti. An interesting choice of location, however, as the outer edge of the shop “frames” the work, as if it was a painting in an art gallery. However, the tin would have been an issue to paint on, with the curves affecting the angles of lines and paint coverage.
This piece holds some “fashionable” aspects of graffiti from the present, being the use of clouds and sparkles behind the typography. It gives a dreamy feeling, assisted by the highlights with white and the use of the colour blue. The word used in the graffiti could be the artist’s alias, a word of meaning, or a bunch of letters meaning nothing (but look nice when put together). According to the publication Spraycan Art, Australian graffiti artists are known for using random, useless words in their works – whereas overseas in places such as New York, the words used in their graffiti are often the artists’ names, trying to outdo each other with the most well-constructed and artistic piece possible.
But when you look a little further into the graffiti of Melbourne, specifically into the laneway Centre Place – famous for its unique and sophisticated graffiti – quotes scatter the walls in obscure but deliberate places. They are specifically there for others to read and gain knowledge from, such as “before one acts, one should ask one self, ‘what would happen if all others were doing as I am doing?’” (pictured). This is placed on the dumpster near some crates – the access point to climb to do graffiti on the highest sections of the laneway. This means their intended audience would see the message on their way to doing graffiti in the laneway, and as it is in a place where a person would have to stop to climb, chances are they would stop and read the philosophy of graffiti. A quick scribble in permanent marker turns into a timely thought-provoking philosophy for everyone who sees it.
Then in the same laneway, part of the back wall is commissioned art space: the “Citylights” project. Created in 1996, the four illuminated light boxes have been host to many street artists, giving them a new medium to work with, and a new space of “legal” wall to display their work on. Some of the art presented has been rather political, and has been well-known for causing controversy – such as Regan Smith’s Citylights display “Crime Walls”. This edginess is typical of graffiti artists, publicizing the tougher side of life that many of the public tend to ignore. This piece was of the Melbourne underworld figures George Williams, Mario Condello and Dominic Gatto – including one panel which had the “I ♥ NY” logo with “Melbourne” replacing the scribbled-out NY.
Many people in Melbourne walk through Degraves St daily, and directly go past Central Place and see the Citylights project. It stands out in the darkened (but short) laneway, being lit all day and night. The boxes are made of metal and glass, so they are durable to the weather and aren’t too complicated to change the artwork in. They are high up enough to avoid most vandalism, and have lighting only strong enough to draw attention to them in the laneway, keeping maintenance costs down.
Graffiti artists are always finding new ways to present their art in public, whether it’s legal (like emerging projects such as Citylights), or illegal – like the sweeping craze of sticker art. Sticker art is cheaper than spray paint and quicker to place on a wall, rather than a large and complex mural-style masterpiece that can take days to complete. The stickers are made of paper with a print on them – typically white paper with black print – the cheapest print possible. The present trend is to use cartoon-style characters, part-whimsical, part-Japanese anime style.
They can range from tiny stickers to large-scale (up to 1 metre or more), and are plastered onto any surface that will let them adhere – walls, ceilings, doors, fences, and even glass. The fact they can be stuck onto many more surfaces than spray paint opens up new ideas of composition and location of art for the graffiti artists. For instance, this example (Cnr Elizabeth St and Flinders Lane) is positioned so it feels as if the character is walking across the windowsill, giving it new depth and life that spray paint cannot achieve. Sticker art has also begun its rapid rise due to the lower charges if the artist is caught pasting on a sticker, rather than the much higher fines given out for painting on property. This is because stickers are temporary and can be removed easier than paint, which is so permanent it could last for months to years depending on the weather conditions of the area, and the quality of the spray paint.
Graffiti is everywhere around us, whether we choose to notice it, or ignore it. It holds important messages and beautiful artwork, just like the professional design of billboards and shop fronts, although most of the public despise it as the majority of graffiti is deemed illegal. An art movement that is comprised of simple materials as spray paint, stickers, a free space and a little bravery, with the locations and colours being very important aspects of this often misunderstood movement.
One of those “design things” that you might not realise is a thing, but can bother your eyes: actual centre versus optical centre.
What am I talking about? When an image, a heading – anything visual – is centered perfectly on a page, our eyes don’t agree. It may feel like the image is lower than it should be. If you let your computer do the centering for you, it will make it perfect centre, but it won’t look perfect. It’s also called the mathematical centre or geometrical centre.
So what position makes our eyes happy? It’s called optical centre, and it’s just slightly above the actual centre, and slightly to the right. It’s ever so slight that you won’t notice it’s not mathematically correct – but it makes all the difference. Our brains process images that are placed in the optical centre much more positively; it’s comfortable for our eyes.
Just one of those little random design tricks for you today!
For those of you who are local to Somerville, you may have noticed that our big accountants in town have recently had a make-over! New name, new branding, new signage…new everything. We are the designers behind the new brand.
But the one important thing I stress about branding? Keep consistent. So for LBW Advisory, even more importantly as they have a number of staff, a style guide for use within their office was developed. A style guide is a handy reference tool so you don’t have to guess colours, fonts or anything else relevant to the brand.
A common issue in print design: too much content and not enough space.
The typical solutions are editing content so it’s shorter, or going for a bigger sized brochure/poster/booklet. But sometimes we need to think sideways – sometimes, a larger document size isn’t available, or the content can’t be cut down any further. So what happens then?
This is where a key (or legend) often comes in handy. Keys and legends aren’t only used on maps, they can be used to categorise all kinds of information. Icons and colours are common elements that are used.
For the A Gender Agenda calendar, we were limited by space (A4 page) and had a set amount of events we had to make space for. A legend made up of colours worked best to save us space in this design. It also has the added benefit of being easy to quickly find events in each category. Design can be used in clever ways.
A few weeks back, I presented a talk on the importance of branding for small businesses to members of Mornington Peninsula Weddings. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post little snippets from the presentation – little bits to help you!
The top struggle I come across with small businesses, is that they think they are too small to worry about their branding. In actual fact, being a small business can work in your favour – you have more control over your brand and have the opportunity to make it unique to you.
Your brand isn’t just visual, it’s not just your logo or your website or your photos…the way you communicate and the words you use are just as important. There is also a human factor in every brand – the personality you share through your business (especially through social media!), counts as much as the visual aspects of your brand.
Start small. I often speak to start-ups who are totally overwhelmed by all of the things they think they need to get started, where really, most only need a few items to begin building their customer base. Nearly everything in life is easier in small steps, and branding your business is no different.
Don’t forget brand recognition. I know it can seem like a fun idea to regularly change your colours or logo, but a brand needs to be seen at least 3 times in 3 different places to be recognised. If you don’t have a consistent brand, the opportunity to build recognition is lost.
A strong brand for a small business can be huge in building trust with you, before a potential customer even makes contact. Make that first impression count. A quick template logo or something put together in Word might be the quick and cheap option, but it could be losing you customers you didn’t even know are out there.
My last tip: keep consistent. You can be a small business and have a great brand, with a bit of clever thinking and planning. It’s about being memorable, being trustworthy, being a brand your customers/clients/followers love.
We keep design simple, which although important for all clients, it is something which our trades-based clients seem to appreciate the most.
Often, tradespeople come to us without a logo, a brand, or anything much more than maybe a template business card or a newspaper ad. They usually want it to be no-fuss, so no fancy brand style guide, or complicated website…but they want to look good. So we focus on their brand looking consistent, choose colours that help them stand out from their competitors, and make sure all of their stationery and advertising (both digital and print) look professional.
We have had a number of tradespeople approach us over the years because they have used an online design template or printing service, and then found they can’t use the images on anything else…or there aren’t templates that look the same for everything they want to print. Designing a logo they can use anywhere is hugely important, as well as then knowing they won’t find another business using the same design, which often happens with online design templates!
When it comes to being online, we help with social media, Google business pages and their websites. In most cases, their websites are kept simple: often treated as an online brochure just so people can check out who they are and what they do, and see examples of their work. And then we update their website when they need, so they can focus on their work.
Our favourite part of working with tradespeople is that most of their businesses are as local as you can get, which makes working in Somerville even more amazing.