Archive for ‘Review: themes’

September 25, 2010

Theme Opportunities Missed

overview
For-profit businesses, due to more consistent management, are better at developing a consistent communication theme. It seems that the nonprofit sector has little knowledge of using a cohesive strategy. Instead, it is most common to vary graphic directions in response to management shifts. From the most basic symbol of the organization through thematic recognition, most groups don’t build on what they have. For example, it is typical that those who have great logos don’t maximize their use into a visual language that can elevate memorability.

See “Thematic Language” for the best in the Midwest.
Exploring effectivenss reveals a new classification:

NOT THE BEST BUT COULD BE

These organizations have a good start out of the gate to graphic recognition but stall on the track. Perhaps they don’t perceive the race they are running, have too many political hurdles to jump, or haven’t made their visual communication a priority. Regardless of the reasons, much can be gained from perceiving missed opportunities.

spiral bulletAmerican Osteopathic Association,
http://www.osteopathic.org/
AOA combines an acronym and illustration in their logo that also sets up an elegant typestyle. No where is this graphic potential expressed. It is obvious that few resources are committed to the online graphic presentation, causing this group to look less professional than is appropriate.

spiral bulletAmerican Society for Bioethics and Humanities,
http://www.asbh.org/
ASBH stereotypically uses stock photography—like a painting on our wall that you stop noticing until you move it somewhere visually unfamiliar. The simple geometric logo could spawn a symbolic geometric language to house the content. Unfortunately, a really exciting group is made to look pedestrian.

spiral bulletInternational Special Events Society,
http://www.ises.com/
Although the logo uses the most common of elements, the arrangement of the letters within boxes is unusual and adds a special movement to the composition. The parts become greater than the whole. Such a playful typographic/geometric relationship could carry into the website graphics, but it doesn’t. If it did, the visual presentation could represent the exhibit presentation of the organization.

spiral bulletNational Safety Council,
http://www.nsc.org
NSC doesn’t have a very visually appealing logo but it does communicate. Taking advantage of the universal “+” (as established by the Red Cross), this logo has instant validity. Although the it is as basic as it can be, the site does build from it with appealing icons and pleasing content composition.

spiral bulletNorthwestern University Alumni Association,
http://alumni.northwestern.edu/
NUAA has a logo that is both friendly and formal. It is a beautiful blend of an “N” with the the oak leaf illustration. Though the website is basic, it is friendly. Further visual development could make it more engaging. NUAA has the beginning of a graphic foundation with the purple color to tie into NU’s colors, typographic style from the logo, and illustration potential.

Creating a theme suggested by a logo is not difficult yet missed so often. The fastest way to give all materials and communications unity is to set up some basic stylistic rules and stick to them. Care must be taken not to choose rules that are too restrictive or too lax, but act as tools to generate appropriate and consistent uses.

Nonprofits are particularly vulnerable to losing consistency due to too many cooks in the kitchen. Writing bylaws for design use can also support a process for decision-making, minimizing personal power plays. Design can be a volatile political football because it reveals motivations, misunderstandings, and missions. It becomes the organization’s self-portrait by first becoming its mirror.

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The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit www.wofw.com and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

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September 13, 2010

Second City

overview
Second City’s graphics snuck into this study. Usually the top visuals begin with a strong logo. A script handwritten-style symbol is an easy solution—too easy for a high visibility group. Yet their site is exceptional and worth a study in style and navigation.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating Second City

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
If the name “Second City” is covered up, this logo could be for any organization that wants to appear friendly. The script has a thick/think brush quality to make it bold. The overall shape is easy to use and the script can appear in a variety of sizes and media. If the image were distinctive, these would be positive attributes.

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.
A theme for a theater is obvious, but Second City presents with panache. Carrying excitement from one metaphor to another is rarely better accomplished. On their website, there is a visual unity between their long history and their great variety of productions, training, and locations.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
Second City’s website is engaging through its big picture presentation: the current attractions along the top and history along the bottom. Consistent throughout page visits, this frame allows the central portion of the screen to change—like a video controlled by the viewer. This site conveyis a love-affair with the subject and the audience. Their navigation is particularly masterful. I feel inspired every time I view it. But, of course, the point is to inspire me to attend, which I do regularly.

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
Second City’s visual language uses the casual handwriting for headlines which makes them inviting and easy to read. Strong black backgrounds and small areas of jewel colors offer a platform like a stage for their many subjects. Study this site for how it both carries the elements and varies them throughout the sections of the website.

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
Overall graphics give Second City its personality. With much to be proud of, this organization also keeps its cutting edge and status in national theater. Successfully bridging double audiences (those who attend productions and those who are students for training), this is one of Chicago’s best examples of an arts group bridging to business relevance. The graphics reinforce this connection though an identifiable and enjoyable visual approach.

Second City slips into this study due to their strong website. There are other groups that have average or even poor logos but good sites that may be over looked, so suggestions for inclusion are invited.

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

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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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June 30, 2010

Metal Construction Association

PLEASE NOTE: MCA has changed its logo since this review. Unfortunately, the new one lacks the distinction of the one they let go.

overview
Graphics must be viewed and evaluated for appropriateness by industry. The Metal Construction Association presents what is expected for an industrial group: visuals that are bold, geometric, classic, direct, and structural. They infuse the theme of metal construction into a strong strategy. With a fine line between looking classic and looking old—at their best, the presentation is classic. But at its worst, old.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating Metal Construction Association

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
The geometry of MCA‘s logo supports interesting visual effects, like the background stacking on the website’s left column and newsletter. Classic and bold, the flat geometric shapes represent the materials that they promote. It is imagery that MCA could develop 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.
MCA’s logo begins a crisp professional presentation. Because their mission is to promote the use of metal fabrication in architecture, their materials must appeal to a spectrum of viewers from architects to contractors to developers to suppliers. So using a template that unifies all content is the easiest technique. But the approach allows little visual interest beyond the first absorption.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
Like most organizations, MCA uses a static template on their website. The most interesting portions are the showcases of member projects. Much more can be done with second and third level pages to better use the online space. Under their Publications segment, they give a choice between viewing in fast low resolution or downloads to print in high resolution. Demonstrating their sensitivity to the range of viewers, they delineate audiences at the top, allowing content to be tailored.

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
Sometimes consistency can be overdone. MCA graphic strategy is at its best when showcasing member projects. It is at its worst in the static presentation of content—where the template dictates format so strongly that everything looks the same. However, their bold color, logo as illustration, and concise navigation, the overall effect is crisp yet inviting.

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
The most recognizable and distinctive aspect of MCA’s graphics is their logo.  It is used to anchor agraphic decisions, though not beyond backgrounds. To build more distinction, they could incorporate the geometric forms of square, circle, and triangle to greater symbolism.

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

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June 17, 2010

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

overview
The best graphics lead the viewer on an adventure. Where better to do this than at a nature museum? The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s graphics visually echo the richness of their location. Their publications demonstrate a considered integration of media. How they tie a great variety of features and attractions together can teach lessons for audience interaction.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
As expected for their genre, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s logo expresses exploration, variety, expansiveness, and fun. It provides a sense of adventure in a cut-paper style that can appeal both to children and adults. Without reading the museum name, the viewer knows the focus. It is rare when a logo comprised of many images can unify simply. Flexible for many uses, this image is also highly recognizable.

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.
The animals and plants introduced in the logo permeate the museum’s visual language—even through style changes. Blending the cut paper abstract illustrations from the logo with realistic photographs, borders, and new media begins the ambient experience.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
Most website animation is gratituous. But on The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum site, the crawling images support the content. The museum provides an inviting collection of short videos on their Public Programs page—a great and seamless use of YouTube. However, their publications seem skimpy. The webpage presents magazines that are not kept up to date.

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum website template is static but supports a huge variety of visuals to represent programs, exhibits, and events. The little animal icons, colors, and typography keep the personality flowing. The static pages, such as Who We Are have more visual tie-in to the theme. Elastic enough to bring a large choice of media viewing, the major features on each page below the fold encourage browsing. The ultimate goal of publications results in visitors to the museum—so efforts clearly lead in that direction.

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
The communication graphics for The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum make such a strong visual statement that they create an experience as a glimpse to an actual visit. Setting up consistent expectations, the museum is distinctive with a strong integration of range.

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

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June 11, 2010

Have Dreams

overview
In an age of increasing complexity, it is hard to keep communications simple. Have Dreams presents a clear message and communications strategy. Although their name doesn’t invoke their dedication to helping autistic children, it expresses their overall philosophy and direction.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating Have Dreams
spiral bulletUse of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
Casual and friendly, Have Dream’s logo elevates the handwritten script idea to a greater level with the addition of the kite illustration. Simple with a loose brushstroke, they have created a custom font while forming a strong graphic unit.
spiral bulletTheme: The visual first impression is dominated by the total gestalt—look, feel, purpose, and benefit. Further contact is consistent and supports personality and philosophy.
With the kite in the logo, the visual use of skies is obvious. But Have Dreams takes the symbolic language further by incorporating a snapshot treatment of engaging photographs.

spiral bulletContent composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
The website home page has an unusual, simple, and approachable structure. The typography is simple but distinctive; the current information is easy to find and maintain.

spiral bulletConsistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
Though Have Dreams carries a strong color palette, typography, and page arrangement, the template on the second level of the site is rather static. The use of photos becomes the only differentiation within this structure. But the strong color and fun images keep the site interesting.

spiral bulletDistinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
Have Dreams’ visual language has strong organization and thematic unity. It is a conceptual foundation that invites the reader to explore, learn, and become involved.

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

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