Sustainable Brand Design

Environmental concerns are increasingly top of mind for companies across the globe. And rightly so–global warming, growing populations, and shrinking resources mean environmental responsibility must become a priority for huge brands, especially those that are consumer-based. As long as people buy things, there will be resources used and waste produced. But there are many ways to reduce resources used as well as the resulting waste (and maybe even to do a little good for the environment).

The obvious and most common practices (though they are still often priced higher than standard printing methods) include using environmentally-friendly inks and print on recycled stock. Packaging in recyclable substrates is great if possible. Minimizing said packaging is even better. But what are some of the less obvious ways brands can walk the walk when it comes to being eco-conscious?


What is EcoBranding? We don’t seem to have a clear, universal definition (yet), but one method companies may consider to employ “eco-branding” is through reduced use of ink in the company brand itself. By designing logos with fewer flood colors, a substantial amount of ink can be saved over the millions of printed products a brand creates and sells every year. Ink savings can also be captured by using certain typefaces, as well as colors and images that require smaller quantities of ink.

Ecobranding Interbrand shares some interesting examples of how it can turn a regular brand into an eco brand.


Logo design, font faces, color selection, and even image treatments can impact ink usage levels.


These logos look a little different than we’re used to…

Make it Last

A consumer company’s usual goal is to sell lots of product. So this will be a hard sell for many, but what if companies built such great products, they didn’t need to be replaced? Building products to last is one of the ways certain forward-thinking companies are focusing on the environment. Patagonia (recognized for a number of its environmentally responsible practices) famously asked customers NOT to buy one of its products.

Don't Buy This Jacket

Patagonia’s surprising ad in the NYTimes many years ago.

From a statement on its website around the campaign:

“Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality. Customers need to think twice before they buy. Why? Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back.”

They may sell fewer units, but they reap rewards in brand loyalty over the course of certain buyers’ lifetimes.

Unique papers

Paper is made of trees. Unless it’s not…

According to Wikipedia, sources of fiber for tree-free paper can include agricultural residues (i.e. sugarcane bagasse, husks and straw), fiber crops and wild plants (such as bamboo, kenaf, hemp, jute, and flax), textiles and cordage wastes, and non-fiber sources like calcium carbonate bound by a non-toxic high-density polyethylene resin.

And Arjowiggins Creative Papers has recently released a paper line called Curious Matters “derived from spherical particles of raw potato starch (a by-product of the food industry).” Perhaps you’ve seen seed papers (paper products with flower seeds incorporated, for fun and easy planting), which indicates that perhaps paper products could turn into crops.


Potato paper! Cleverly titled for rare and special spud types.

Small actions, big impact

Brands can think more big-picture, considering all the potential environmental impacts the brand design may have along the way. AIGA has a great roadmap for sustainable design considerations, including topics like Creation, Durability, Disassembly, Supply Chain, Waste, Impacts, Conflicts, Desirability and Need / Use, Waste = Food, and Visions (eg., “In what ways can this project compel people to make more sustainable lifestyle choices?”).

The future depends on it

Brands who are serious about environmentally-friendly practices have a number of creative options now, and will continue to have access to new and better practices around reducing their footprint. While certain “green” stocks and inks are currently more expensive than the traditional standards, more unique approaches like designing a logo for less ink usage can actually save a company money. The first step is to determine how valuable a pursuit sustainable design is for your company. Thoughtful stewardship of our earth’s resources seems like a pretty worthwhile investment to me.

6 Design Tips for Better White Papers


In our digital world of social media attention spans and interactive brand experiences, the traditional white paper isn’t necessarily the most exciting way to convey content. But white papers still play an important role in many B2B organizations, as objective and informative pieces to aid sales, act as lead generation tools, and provide a means to position an organization as a thought leader in a given field. How can you ensure people will actually read your white paper? I have a few design pointers to help liven up this traditionally text-heavy document.

Make it read like a story

When I’m confronted with a wall of text, the first thing I want to do is break it into digestible chunks. Even if these chunks of content end up being a number of pages, I still find “chapters” easier to process than a run-on document. Breaking the white paper content into sections provides opportunities to insert visual interest elements like photography, graphic title treatments, or clever subtitles. Allowing the reader to take a break and come back later makes for a better, less burdensome reading experience.

Include images

Relevant photography and graphics support the content and provide visual interest. They also allow for visual “rest” as the reader processes technical content. Abstract imagery can highlight larger overall themes, especially if woven in as a series.


White Paper for North Highland


Use interesting layouts

Full-page columns are uninviting and difficult to read; leveraging multiple columns, ¾ column layouts with sidebars, and ample use of whitespace make for a much more interesting reading experience. Thoughtfully placed callouts and quotes give readers a taste of what’s coming, break up the page, and add a bit of variety in color and typefaces.


White paper example from Ascend Studio


Include infographics 

White papers often include lots of facts and figures, and those data points are much more interesting and impactful in graphic form. Charts, tables, and even type-based data callouts help highlight key pieces of data, and add pops of color to otherwise plain pages.


White paper example from Art Version


Embrace white space

Yes, white space will result in increased page count. But I am much more willing to read a longer piece with a comfortable layout than a shorter piece with cramped, tedious blocks of copy.


White Paper for Sparks Grove


Make it colorful

Embracing whitespace does not mean avoiding color. Thoughtfully placed pops of color help create visual hierarchies, and immediately enhance an otherwise boring page. Some of the most text-heavy pages are immediately improved with just a spot of color or two.


Tableau Visual Analytics White Paper

A beautifully designed whitepaper looks professional, is a pleasure to peruse, and represents the expertise contained within. A positive visual experience helps legitimize the content and create a sense of trustworthiness for the reader. It also makes the piece much more shareable, making for broader exposure to your content and brand.

Design Week Portland 2017

To be honest, I was supposed to post to our blog last week, but I was too busy checking out Design Week Portland 2017. Did you experience any of the great events last week? For those who haven’t heard, Design Week is an annual celebration of all things design-related: architecture, art and craft, graphic design, design education, experiential design, fashion and apparel, film, landscape design, manufacturing design, illustration, industrial design, interior design, interactive design, music, urban design, and writing and design criticism.


Political resistance through design

It is overwhelming how much there is to experience, including talks, panels, events and parties, open houses, competitions, screenings, workshops, and the list goes on. I had the opportunity to check out a few cool events, including a panel on design’s role in political and cultural resistance, designing for craft brew brands, and a fun pin show benefitting arts education. Our own client, IDL Worldwide hosted an awesome (and delicious) “Design Fight Club // Crossover” where local chefs teamed up “with IDL or guest creatives to challenge participants to solve similar problems in a 30-minute sketch-off competition.” So fun.


Designing for a Craft Brew Brand

Every year Design Week gets bigger and better—there is no shortage of things to do, and with increasing participation from all sorts of Portland businesses and organizations, the events are more and more appealing to any and everyone—not just those who work in design fields.


Designers from all over the country contributed beautiful, wearable pins to sell at this show, with proceeds benefitting arts education.

So if you missed this year’s events, make sure to mark your calendar for next year!

Inspiring Women in Graphic Design

To continue the month’s celebration of women’s contributions to history and the world, I thought it would be fitting to highlight five super talented women doing big things in the field of graphic design. There are so many inspiring women in graphic design right now; I love learning from their unique styles, career challenges and successes, and perspectives on what design means to them.

Take a look, and click through to see more of each designer’s work.

Paula Scher

scher_PP scher

“It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.”

 Paula Scher

Marian Bantjes

bantjes_I-wonder-4  bantjes_sorrow-1

“My aim is juxtaposition and surprise, but also, while I have an affinity for the organic form, I can’t help the way my brain works, which is logically and in a very structured manner. I’m a sort of free-flowing control freak.”

-Marian Bantjes

Jessica Hische


“To be a good artist / letterer / designer / guitar player it takes practice. A lot of it. More than you can even fathom when you’re starting out.”

-Jessica Hische

Laura Pol

lp_cards_bc_final  Laura-pol-art3

Jessica Walsh


“Play is the state of mind that we can use in our creative process to our advantage.”

-Jessica Walsh

The beauty of a brand manifesto

Mieux Derma Brand Manifesto

Mieux Derma Brand Manifesto

I’ve talked about the moodboard process, as well as the importance of brand guides, but have yet to touch on one of the other tools in the master brand toolkit: the brand manifesto.

What is a brand manifesto?

As a manifesto is “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer” (Miriam-Webster), a brand manifesto is just that, publicly declaring the intentions, motivations and views of the brand. While not every company needs a manifesto, it can be a great way to get to the essence of a brand. The language that forms the manifesto helps excite and guide employees as they share the brand with the world, and also inspires and connects with consumers who interact with the brand.

Key elements

A manifesto can be a single page statement, or a lengthy, designed “bible,” but it needs to have some basic elements:

Impact – This is the call to action, for you, your employees, and your consumers. What do you want to enable/inspire/change/create?

Passion – This is main differentiator for the manifesto (compared with the straight brand guide). Stir the emotions, and open up. Be vulnerable, be authentic. If there’s something about your company’s mission or goals that makes your heart pound, put it down here.

Essence – What do you believe? Why are you getting out of bed everyday to do this? What really drives you?

Connection – A good brand manifesto will inspire and create excitement and connection, resulting in easy brand evangelism. Employees will enthusiastically sell and consumers will enthusiastically buy in.

Muse Manifesto

Muse Manifesto

Make it look good

Turn it into a designed poster for the office, a glossy brochure, or a beautiful hardback book. Just give it some design love—it represents the heart of your business, so should be considered and given special attention.


Nike Running Manifesto

Put it into action

The brand manifesto is more than a fluffy brand exercise—it can translate into hard marketing strategy around your service or product. The emotion and messaging can be tweaked for target audiences and applied to marketing materials that will create strong brand connections. We’ve seen this a lot with brands like Nike, Levi’s, and Apple.

Levi's Ad

Levi’s Ad

A brand manifesto may be unnecessary or excessive for some companies. But for those attempting to connect with consumers on a human level, those experiencing the challenges of focus despite growth, or those simply needing to document the essential “why” of their business, a brand manifesto can be a beautiful part of their brand identity toolkit.

Designing for Gender Equity

On Saturday, the Women’s March on Washington took over not only the streets of DC, but cities all over the world. Participants had innumerable reasons for joining, but women’s rights and equality were clearly at the event’s core. No matter what your thoughts are about the march itself, it did bring attention to a range of women’s issues, one being the wage gap that persists for women in the workforce.

Half, but not equal

Despite great progress for women in recent history, equal opportunity and pay for women in the workplace is still lacking, across all industries. Though women make up nearly half of the American workforce, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “In 2015, female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio. In middle-skill occupations, workers in jobs mainly done by women earn only 66 percent of workers in jobs mainly done by men.” Obviously your HR department can tell you how your organization is doing on wage discrepancies, but are there other ways companies could be addressing “softer” systemic gender biases?

(And what does this have to do with design?)

Games for Gender Equity

The AIGA Women Lead Initiative has put design to work in a Gender Equity Toolkit, “a great set of resources including videos and a downloadable DIY activity set you can use to battle one of the leading causes of disparate access to leadership positions in the design field: implicit gender bias.” The kit is distributed to AIGA members with the design field in mind, but could certainly apply to other fields, as well. A series of games/exercises aims to help teams open dialogue, test assumptions, and hopefully begin to change subconscious biases.


Turning the ship

Sure, a small designed kit isn’t going to end gender inequality in the workplace. But if it opens lines of communication, and helps teams thoughtfully consider how they incorporate all viewpoints, I’d say it’s a pretty cool effort. It also makes me wonder about what other design-driven tools will be useful for professional organizations in creating dialogue around perceptions, personal experience, and stereotypes. Obviously, respect for employee privacy is paramount, but teams also have to acknowledge how personal history and experience shape how individuals approach team dynamics and equity.

Incredible Corporate Holiday Cards

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for beautiful, festive holiday cards. A team photo or holiday graphic gets the job done, but how do you make a corporate holiday card really stand out? Here are a few examples of amazingly creative holiday cards. Unique approaches and high-quality production make for quite impressive pieces:

Let your logo shine

Does your logo lend itself to creative holiday interpretation? How they figured out how to put this together, I have no idea. But it’s perfection:

Make it useful

Making a beautiful holiday card useful to boot means it will not be tossed in the recycling bin. This DIY christmas tree converts to a handy holiday business card holder:

Play peekaboo

Interactivity is always fun—this card takes inspiration from an advent calendar, using tabs that create a tree shape and reveal cute holiday icons and messages:

Decorate their office…with your brand

Put them to work on something crafty—this beautiful letterpress card incorporates cutouts that piece together into a lovely ornament:

Dazzle them

Special effects! This lenticular card celebrates the transition into the new year, with a clean, clever typographical solution:

Show your appreciation

Show your clients how much you appreciate them. I love this “resolution” that doubles as a “thank you for being awesome” message: “We are resolving to work with more great clients. Thank you for being a great client!” It’s eye-catching, printed in beautiful gold foil, and concise.

While most of these would require substantial budgets, it’s fun to dream big. What’s the most memorable holiday card you’ve received? Wishing you Happy Holidays, and a Creative New Year!

From Points to Pixels—Marketing Digital Content in Print Media

We’re in a weird spot right now—digital content is an essential part of any marketing campaign, but we’re also still producing a lot of print materials. We can build beautiful, comprehensive campaigns, but the way these two types of media interact with each other is a little awkward.

I was recently working on some print collateral for a client, and came across a challenge for which I didn’t have a great solution. Without requiring a user to type in a URL, how do we drive recipients of a printed postcard to a corresponding landing page in a slick, mobile-friendly way?

This guy's excited about QR codes.

This guy’s excited about QR codes.

QR Codes

“A QR code, obviously!” you say. The QR code was our best bet for a few years. The codes can be scanned to bring up a webpage from a printed piece. But, they’re ugly. And users have to have the appropriate scanning app. And they just never really caught on in a big way (thank goodness, says the designer).

Surely there’s an alternative by now?

I did some quick research, and the answer is yes! But each has its own twist.

image scanning

Image Scanning

There are a number of image scanning options, but they all work a little differently, and each has its positives and negatives.

Google Goggles (different than Google Glass) allows a user to take a photo of a printed image or barcode, and then it performs an image-based search to pick the best match. Cool! But it’s only available on Android…not as cool.

From what I can tell, SnapTag takes a similar approach to the QR code, in that you scan a custom-built barcode image to pull up digital content. As their site says, “SnapTag mobile barcodes are like interactive buttons for the real world.” Perfect! Prettier code, simple interactivity. But they require a hefty monthly engagement to use their tool, so it’s not something I can quickly leverage for many clients.

Clickable Paper uses hotspots rather than barcodes or marks, so the user can scan over that spot in an image to pull up content. It looks cool, but it does require an app download, and I’m not clear on how to engage the service based on the information on their site.

blippar augmented reality

Blippar offers robust “augmented reality campaigns.”

Augmented Reality

Blippar call itself a “visual discovery browser” that focuses on “augmented reality campaigns” on mobile. It’s a much more robust tool, with some really cool interactivity. In a quick test, I was able to assign links to an image, then use the Blippar app to immediately call up those links when pointing my phone at the image. However, it does require an app download, and the tutorial required for new users makes it a little tricky to implement on smaller print pieces, so it’s better for bigger outlets like magazines with lots of rich media offerings. Maybe it will catch on in a big way, making for less of a learning curve among users.

nfc_moo offers NFC business cards with their ‘Business Cards+’ product.

NFC technology

I wrote a post awhile back about NFC enabled business cards. Printed pieces with an embedded NFC chip need only be tapped by an NFC compatible device to pull up a range of digital destinations (contact information, websites, social media profiles, etc.). Printing these pieces can be a little spendy compared to standard prints, and you’d have to hope that most users are carrying around a compatible device. But this is an interesting option for the right project.

No silver bullet

All that said, there doesn’t seem to be a very simple or widely adopted solution for basic print-to-digital actions at this point. But it seems like we are very, very close.

Did I miss any? Has your brand used any print-to-digital action technologies or apps? I’d love to hear about them.

Beautiful Product Packaging on a Budget

Between Kickstarter, Etsy, Shopify, Amazon, e-commerce plugins, etc., it’s easier than ever to sell products direct to consumer. However, many solopreneurs and startups don’t have big budgets for product packaging, and yet they certainly want packaging that reflects the quality of their products. There are some creative options to consider that allow for custom branding, clean and professional presentation, and insurance that the enclosed products are handled with care. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Branded tape

A plain white, black, or kraft paper box is the easiest thing to pretty up—it’s affordable and it looks classy and clean. Additionally, it’s easily recyclable, which is perfect for brands aiming to practice their environmentally-friendly mission. Branded tape is practical, effective, and fun.


Package design for Mita Chocolate Co.


Busy Beaver Button Co. Branded Tape


Printing can get expensive, especially on unique surfaces or custom-designed packages. Stamps are an elegant way to brand existing packaging materials bought in bulk. Varying ink colors by product line, or using white inks can add extra visual interest.


Coffee packaging for Jacu

Teal and Tea Stamp

Teal and Tea Stamp


Printing even large stickers will be less expensive than printing directly on boxes or bags, and if the product changes, replacing the packaging is that much easier. Plus they add a fun “break the seal” aspect to a package.


Packaging for Real Food Botanica


PTH MMXIV FW Collection Branding/Packaging

Creative filler

It’s depressing to think about how many Styrofoam peanuts are just sitting in landfills. (Still.) Luckily, companies are thinking outside the box on how to pad items in more budget- and environmentally-friendly ways. My mom used to send me care packages packed in real popcorn. (Sure, it was stale by the time it got to me, but compostable!) Perhaps popcorn isn’t a good solution for products, but what about wood shavings?


Creative packaging for Etsy products

Design matters

Even the simplest packaging substrates and structures look professional and top-tier if they are designed well. If you invest in quality graphic design for the elements that will be printed, purchase solid base materials, and put in the time and effort to package in-house, you will delight customers with a package that inspires excitement and anticipation for the items contained within.

Visual Design for Social Media: Basic Tips & Tricks

Over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more design requests for social media assets. Now that it’s pretty clear how visual posts result in greater engagement, brands are working hard to make posts creative, eye-catching, and image-based. That’s great! But sometimes it seems like no visuals at all would be better than the ugly visual noise I occasionally come across in my feeds. While you may not always have access to perfect custom photography or an in-house designer, there area few easy ways to make sure your social media visuals are attracting readers to click through, and even better—to share.

Fewer words, please

Readers are scrolling through their feeds so fast, you cannot afford to include lengthy titles and descriptions within the image itself. Save that info for the post copy and ultimate information page, blog post, etc. to which you’re hoping to drive readers. A nice image or graphic (or even a simple brightly colored background) should catch the reader’s eye and complement what little bit of copy is essential for the graphic.

social-media-visuals-less-text is a great resource to DIY design social media assets.




Typography matters

About those precious few words you plan to incorporate: don’t detract from them with poor or inconsistent font choices. I actually prefer to try to keep the fonts within brand guidelines, with an exception here and there. Maybe an inspirational quote looks great in that trendy new brush font…but if readers see it in your brand font, you immediately create an association, connecting those inspiring words to the ideals your brand stands for. Maybe your brand font has been around for awhile and it’s not your favorite…consider including it on all company-related posts, and then maybe have fun with an alternate accent font on more casual or specific campaign-related posts. (But try not to go hog-wild on the font experimentation–it’s confusing and dilutes your brand. And this is coming from a fontaholic!)






Quality photography

Sure, there are times when amateur, candid photography works for a given message. But users are seeing a lot of that from their friends; a high-quality, professional image is going to stand out in their feed. There are a number of paid stock photo sites, eg., or which can be pricey but worth the investment. Free sites like or include a number of images that are free for personal AND commercial use. Whichever way you go, try to make sure your imagery maintains a similar style and tone: if images include filters or effects, keep them consistent; determine if you want to keep images more abstract or literal and stick to your rule; if text is included, ensure the treatment and placement follows a similar convention each time.


image from


image from


Colors catch the eye

It seems obvious, but brands sometimes shy away from embracing bold color, when it’s often the most surefire way to catch a reader’s eye. When a user is scrolling through endless photography, the sudden and surprising flood of bright color with just a tiny bit of text can really grab attention. If you have a solid brand color palette, you can alternate which of those colors you use, or maybe connect different colors to different post types, to create a kind of social media sub-branding system.





Plan ahead

When in doubt, putting together a social media plan with a corresponding library of images helps to ensure you’ll be presenting a cohesive, seamless brand experience on social media, and reducing your stress when it comes time to post. There is always a certain amount of spontaneity associated with social media, which is part of what makes it so fun and interesting, but you can still have great control over appearances with the right amount of foresight and planning. Let us know if you’d like our help!