Archive for August, 2010

August 26, 2010

Foundational Vocabulary

overview
Having a good identity is a prerequisite to be included in the top of this study. Such a criteria filters out many groups that have great graphics but a forgettable logo; only a few organizations achieve effective graphics without a good logo.

The majority of idenitities that gain recognition by constituents use symbols. The letterform logos rarely are distinctive enough to stand out. Images that are too abstract without a context are also forgettable.

Out of the 700 organizations included in the Sebastian Study, 27 have excellent logos (see reviewed organizations with strong logos that build into a graphic direction). Only a few groups with inferior logos reach graphic excellence because they are so strong in other areas. Unfortunately, most of the 27 organizations with excellent logos don’t carry through. Here are examples of groups that could better develop a graphic foundation based upon a good start:

NOT THE BEST BUT COULD BE:

These organizations have strong logos but don’t carry through into potential applications:

spiral bullet Associated Equipment Distributors
At first, this may look like an abstract gear or industrial mechanism. But on second glance, the AED’s symbol is comprised of people in a circle. Because of this double effect, the image can’t appear too small or the pople get lost. The typeface chosen for the acronym is nothing special.

spiral bullet Association of Rotational Molders International
Given that a sphere is expected for this trade group, this simple treatment conveys global, unity, and industry. With only a few lines, ARM’s symbol is infinitely flexible and offers a circular theme to be extended.

spiral bullet American Society of Hand Therapists
Combining letterforms with a symbol is a good strategy towrd distinction. ASHT’s logo reflects a recognizable integration that uses the master typeface to complement. The image of hands expresses the focus of the organization, making it instantly understandable.

spiral bullet Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development of the AHA
Sometimes abstraction is strengthened by a reference—by vaguely looking like a recognizable image. SHSMD’s abstract symbol reflects integration, communication between two entities, and looks like two hands cupped together. Although geometric, it has a warmth that is appropriate for a health care organization.

spiral bullet Healthcare Financial Management Association
Symbols that are based on a letterform can help tie to a name. HFMA has a formal geometric logo based on an “H” in a beautiful linear drawing. It is interesting that this group chooses lower case type for their acronym, softening the formality of the symbol.

Like getting the invitation after the party, these organizations are missing opportunity. In a challenging economy, nonprofits need to make the most of what resources they have (don’t we all??). To possess a memorable logo and do little with it is such a missed opportunity because it can sharpen the arrow of marketing and publications. Although building recognition is hard to measure, the reactions of constituents are not. If these groups produce graphics that receive few comments from the audience, this is one indication that their focus should be on increasing reactions.

spirals
The Sebastian Study 2010, national review will be available at the end of the year. If you want to be sure that your organization is included, please click here.

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August 21, 2010

Deficits at the Top

overview
In times of prosperity, organizations want to show off graphically. In times of recession, organizations proudly do a lot with a little. Yet there is always a line of professionalism to uphold. Except for nonprofits. Amateur graphics run rampant, which can’t do much for a group’s credibility!

As digital tools allow groups to create amateur graphics more easily, the overall quality of design has diminishes. Ironically, design is more important than it has ever been due to the Internet. An even playing field allows small groups to compete with large groups, local orgs to compete with national, national with international. The scope has exploded!

In completing my evaluation of the Midwestern nonprofits, the 80/20 Rule is in full force. Of the 700 evaluated, 160 have graphics that score highly enough to discuss. Yet to find a consistently strong graphic strategy seems impossible. None score high in all five categories!

Beginning with the overall graphics of those who score the highest:

DEFICITS AT THE TOP:

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, preview, review, is strong in every category but publications.

Metals Service Center Institute, preview, review, could have a better website.

Second City, review to come, has an unimaginative logo and scan publications.

Popcorn Board, review to come, has a confused identity but strong in all other categories.

International Association of Lighting Designers, preview, review, is compelling graphically but weak in publications.

Entrepreneurs Organization, preview, review, compiles a strong package that could go one step further to be truly distinct.

Churchill Centre, preview, review, offers a lot of online features but is weak in publications.

Perhaps the two organizations that come the closest to being a true blend of excellence are the Entrepreneurs Organization and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Both prove that big budgets and fancy approaches are not as good as following basic rules in good communication.

Each week, I will examine organizational graphics that are of the Not the Best but Could Be category. Visual communications include the most important membership benefits and the biggest ways to attract prospective members. If improved strategically, each group explored has tremendous, if not unlimited, potential.

spirals
The Sebastian Study 2010, national review will be available at the end of the year. If you want to be sure that your organization is included, please click here.

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August 12, 2010

Entrepreneurs Organization

overview
Few topics are more difficult to express than general business. Most organizations with such a wide range of constituents resort to horribly cliqued images of brief cases, conference rooms, coffee cups, and computer screens. It is hard to stand out. But the Entrepreneurs Organization brings a fresh and vibrant approach to express the challenges of entrepreneurialism.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating Entrepreneurs Organization

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
Using the simple letterforms, the Entrepreneurs Organization’s logo embellishes simple letterforms with a few equally simple geometric shapes that convey time, success, business, measurement, and progress. It is quite remarkable how much can be done with so little! The single red color adds pizzazz and recognizability. Infinitely flexible, this image is a good example of ‘less is more.’

spiral bullet Theme: The visual first impression is dominated by the total gestalt—look, feel, purpose, and benefit. Further contact is consistent and supports personality and philosophy.
Building from the “O” in the logo, the Entrepreneurs Organization incorporates the symbol into other headers. The typographic style and use of black, orange, and white gives publications a clear geometry.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
Clear and crisp, the Entrepreneurs Organization’s home page does not allow the photography to visually dominate. Instead images accent the four major topics, organized under the main tabs. Although there are many choices, the composition simply groups selections, fitting the screen perfectly. Media choices are expertly handled and also don’t predominate but support the presentation.

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
Entrepreneurs Organization blends a multimedia delivery in a seamless and consistent way through style and color. Their publications expertly use interactive platforms. Their newsletter builds from the blog structure. But their magazine mimics print, albeit technologically advanced, through the KnowledgeBase platform. Although it requires a lot of scrolling (and does offer a print version), this example shows the difficulties in trying to design one media through the principles and features of another.

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
Although they may not be the most innovative, the Entrepreneurs Organization’s graphics certainly are on the visionary end of the strategic design spectrum. Weaving various media delivery into a thematic cohesion is one of the marketing manager’s greatest challenges. A study of EO’s offerings is a lesson in what to do right.

See the Overview of the best Midwest organizations to present strong and compelling graphics.

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August 11, 2010

Metals Service Center Institute

overview
Creating a visual language is not complicated. The Metal Service Center Institute demonstrates how to convey a traditional industry in a contemporary way. Using visual variety that stems from a strong structural foundation gives a lyrical and engaging way to interact with their constituents.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating Metals Service Center Institute

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
Metals Service Center Institute has a very classic, albeit retro, logo. Although the symbol sets up a visual style, the design of their collateral and publications doesn’t reflect such an older look and feel. Compelling in its geometry, expressive of an integrated industry, symbolic of metal treatment and uses, the logo does exemplify flexibility; even in tiny sizes and one color, it can still read. Though looking late-60’s-industrial, the logo perhaps best conveys longevity.

spiral bullet Theme: The visual first impression is dominated by the total gestalt—look, feel, purpose, and benefit. Further contact is consistent and supports personality and philosophy.
Although the thematic direction of MSCI’s graphics tie into the logo design, it imparts a more contemporary approach. The treatment of background illustration, choice of photographic images, and color all provide a strong visual foundation. Unlike the majority of organizational approaches, MSCI uses design to dominate the photographic images versus the other way around.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
All of MSCI’s variables are presented in a unique home page. It has more selection than it seems because the composition is well organized, broken up, and anchored with visual clues.

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
Color unifies the variety of MSCI’s offerings. Black and white photography is favored, allowing a strategic use of red to guide the eye. Although the magazine is not a link under “Publications” online, with the cover of the most recent issue on the homepage, it is easy to find. 

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
MSCI’s best graphic feature is its magazine. With a strong online presence of the current issue, the pages are interactive versus trying to mirror print. A well presented table-of-contents portal page leads the reader further. Unfortunately the strong visual beginning dissipates deep into the pages. MSCI’s priorities to focus design emphasis on the most visual portions of communication, both the magazine and the site don’t carry through their distinction as well as they could. Like most orgs, the only visual tie-in is through the banner at the top.

See the Overview of the best Midwest organizations to present strong and compelling graphics.

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