Covid-19 is a major Thinkpoint.

by Jim Van Meer, Chief Creative Officer, Thinkpoint Creative


/thingk-point/       noun

  1. The place at which design thinking and design doing intersect, from which a person or organization takes marketing action to connect ideas with objectives and plans.
  2. The stage at which a person or organization recognizes the need for strategic creativity and marketing prowess.

In his Wired article, “To Beat the Coronavirus, Raise an Army of the Recovered,” (, Peretz Partensky proffers that those who have demonstrated immunity to Covid-19 should be certified and put into service as the “CoronaCorps, a civilian army that may be able to fill in gaps in public services, insulate the vulnerable from infection, help map the spread of the virus, and give our medical system room to breathe.” Partensky goes on to point out that many people recognized the potential to reboot the economy via the CoronaCorps, which is a major Thinkpoint in the world of branding, design, design thinking, and marketing. 

Partensky’s plan is a five-part system to put this proverbial superpower of immunity to use for the common good:

  1. Candidate screening for immunity certification.
  2. Trusted and interoperable immunity certification issuance.
  3. Recruitment and deployment.
  4. Survey the public health.
  5. Create a global adaptive immune system.

Right off the bat, Partensky’s moniker for the force (CoronaCorps) demands that a compelling and dynamic vision and mission statement be created. Coming out of that vision will be the foundational branding and strategy to drive the effort, pushing it out across the globe.

The first step of the system, screening candidates for immunity certification, will demand a major undertaking of marketing communications to spread the word and organize the effort. There will be licensing needs, testing needs, identification needs, database needs, and logistical needs, all which have analog and digital design, marketing, and communications components to them.

Secondly, the issuance of certification will require location services, standardization, research, database needs, logistical services, registration needs, identification needs, and the involvement of all levels of government, from local towns to the entire breadth of the U.S. government. Every single component of this step has design, marketing, and communications imbued in it.

The third step, recruitment and deployment, can be seen as akin to a military operation, or better yet, a Peace Corps for healing. Partensky calls it a “standing army of individuals committed to helping us heal together.” What stronger calling can there be than to help the human race? This step will require strategy, recruitment, and a heavy dose of persuasive marketing. Every job sector and every industry will need CoronaCorps members. And every one of those corps’ members will have a story to tell, which is part and parcel of design, marketing, and communications.

Step number four, a survey of the public health, can come about through the U.S. census, Partensky says. The door-to-door challenges faced by the census can be overcome by deploying CoronaCorps members, and it will be a chance to put the people in front of the public, adding weight to the efforts to find out how everyone is doing. Again, everyone will have stories to tell, giving opportunity to design, marketing, and communications efforts.

Fifth, the CoronaCorps effort can “create a narrative of hope,” as Partensky puts it. CoronaCorps members will contribute to the world’s overall immune system, but not without taking a toll, especially on our psyche. As Partensky reveals, stratifying the population by immune status will lead to a new classification of people with different privileges. This is where design thinking, marketing, and communications can help as well, creating narratives that bolster positive outcomes while crushing divisiveness. Partensky eloquently states, “We must stand apart now so we can stand together in the future.”

Whether the CoronaCorps comes to fruition or not, there is one truth to the Covid-19 pandemic that remains clear—it has changed the world forever. It has changed the way we do business and will do business in the future. It has changed the way we interact with each other and will continue to do so for many tomorrows to come. And it has changed the world of branding, design, marketing, and communications like no other paradigm shift has before. Covid-19 is a major new Thinkpoint. It’s a reset in the way we all work, live, and play. It’s a signal that the way forward is to be creative.

Jim Van Meer is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Thinkpoint Creative, Metro DC’s premiere branding, marketing, and design agency. When Jim’s not helping companies build their brands and markets, he roams the halls of academia at George Mason University, where he’s an adjunct professor in the school’s graphic design program.  Find out how design thinking can help you make your way through the pandemic – contact Thinkpoint Creative today.


The 7 Thinkpoints of Effective Marketing

by Jim Van Meer

There comes a time in every organization’s marketing journey that they will reach a critical juncture, called a Thinkpoint. Understanding what a Thinkpoint is and determining a course of action are paramount to fulfilling your marketing objectives. 


/thingk-point/     noun

  • The place at which design thinking and design doing intersect, from which a person or organization takes marketing action to connect ideas with objectives and plans.
  • The stage at which a person or organization recognizes the need for strategic creativity and marketing prowess.

Determining if you’ve reached a Thinkpoint, and taking action on that Thinkpoint, is crucial to reaching the next level of advancement for your business. Here are the seven major marketing Thinkpoints organizations find themselves at during their lifecycles, and why it’s important to have a trusted advisor to help navigate the path. 

  1. The Branding Thinkpoint. If you’ve finally figured out that your brand is more than just your logo, then you’ve reached the Branding Thinkpoint. One of the most powerful Thinkpoints, if not the most powerful Thinkpoint of all, branding is your organization’s voice in the marketplace. Branding is what your customers think about you, how they interact with you, how they remember you, and a compelling reason they choose to do business with you. For branding to be successful, you not only need to manage your brand, you have to build awareness, create an identity, build trust, bring value to your brand, plus enable extension of the brand. No matter the size of your company, your brand is the foundation that everything else is built upon. Make sure that it is rock solid.
  2. The Advertising Thinkpoint. If you need to create messages that entice and engage your customers, you’ll probably recognize the Advertising Thinkpoint. This is the point you will find yourself when you want to draw attention to your business, induce a reaction from your audience, and build a memorable  experience with them. Good advertising does all three things, while greatadvertising benefits your brand as well, making a connection and building a sense of commitment between you and your customers. Advertising methods run the gamut, from print and digital advertising, to social media marketing, out-of-home (OOH) advertising, and sponsorships of events. Advertising is where you appeal to the emotions of your customers, telling your story in memorable ways. For an Advertising Thinkpoint to generate results, it needs to generate an emotional reaction. It’s how connections are fused.
  3. The Collateral Thinkpoint. Marketing collateral is an amalgam of media that supports the sales of your products, services, and ideas. The Collateral Thinkpoint is often one of the first places a company finds itself at, discovering a need for brochures, videos, landing pages, white papers, sell sheets, and information packets. While collateral can encompass a variety of marketing tools and methods of distribution, knowing what types are best for you and when it’s best to employ them remains an integral step in their planning. One should never assume a particular form of collateral will fulfill the marketing needs of a company. For collateral to work properly, it needs to be planned and integrated into an overall marketing campaign, with defined goals and objectives addressed in its creation. Collateral Thinkpoints are always emerging as marketing plans evolve, and they always need to address your brand as it unfolds.
  4. The Digital Thinkpoint. Everyone will reach the Digital Thinkpoint very early on, and throughout the course of doing business. Digital Thinkpoints are most often comprised of apps, websites and UI/UX design. Your digital presence is your portal to the world, and your digital footprint has to be strong to be effective. It’s imperative that your website be designed properly, that the user interface (UI) be human-focused, and that the user experience (UX) be designed around your customers first and foremost. While UI is more device-specific, UX is all about people. UI and UX design should go hand-in-hand, to better the interaction your customers have with your website, and to help build your brand story. Positive interactions lead to positive outcomes, so your UI needs to reference your UX throughout the strategic and creative processes of development. If you want to create a dedicated communication channel for your brand, if your business is deep into e-commerce, or if you need to offer more beyond your website, you should consider creating an app. Apps can leverage the potential you have with your mobile customers and can help you better showcase your products and services, enabling you to reach more customers, and in turn, further the scope of your business.  To ensure you leverage the Digital Thinkpoint completely, make sure you have an expert by your side.
  5. The Social Media Thinkpoint. Most organizations reach the Social Media Thinkpoint when they recognize that a social media strategy and presence is no longer an option. Establishing a presence and activating a strategy is only the beginning. To be successful, you need to intrigue your audience, build a community, and create/curate engaging content. To do so, you’ll need to gather the data from your accounts, analyze it for insights, optimize for impact, and adjust accordingly. Social media opens new avenues for distributing your messaging and solidifying your brand with your audience. It also presents an opportunity to increase sales leads, win new customers, retain customers, and achieve exposure in a crowded marketplace. The Social Media Thinkpoint is just the starting block for your efforts. Social media is more of a marathon than a sprint. It takes savvy content creation, professional account management, and the willingness to venture outside of your comfort zone to maximize your reach. 
  6. The Experiential Thinkpoint. Better engagement with your customers leads to increased trust with your products and/or services, which in turn leads to better brand impact. It’s the customer experience that most directly affects sales, so if you recognize that as a factor in your company’s success, you’ve reach the Experiential Thinkpoint. Experiential marketing, also known as engagement marketing or event marketing, is literally where the live experience augments your brand story, building engagement and connections. Today’s experiential marketing is both live, in-person, and virtual as well. Thanks to augmented and virtual reality technologies, your customers can experience your products, services, and ideas in ways unimaginable a few short years ago. Whether offline or online, the majority of customers look to branded experiential marketing while making purchasing decisions. Offering them an avenue for such actions is an effective tool for building a relationship, leading to what could become a lifetime commitment to your brand. 
  7. The Strategic Creativity Thinkpoint. Every business, no matter what size, will reach the Strategic Creativity Thinkpoint, most sooner than later. You’ll recognize you’re there when you begin to see the signs you need help–you feel the need for better marketing planning, you’re not sure if your brand is up-to-speed, or you’re not sure where the gaps may be in your marketing strategy. Often, the first sign you’re at a Strategic Creativity Thinkpoint is you’re not sure of your target markets. This is where you need a trusted advisor to help you navigate your way out of the woods, to establish a clearer picture of who you are and where you want to go. The Strategic Creativity Thinkpoint is built of the other six Thinkpoints, plus complementary Thinkpoint positions that form an overarching strategy. Some of the analogous Thinkpoints that fall under strategic creativity include persona development, media selection, visual mapping, prototyping, package design, and the big daddy of them all, design thinking.

Do you recognize yourself at any of the seven Thinkpoints? Your perceptive ability and your desire to do business better is the first step toward taking advantage of your brand, ascending to the next level of growth. A good leader realizes when their business is at a Thinkpoint. A great business leader acts on it.


Jim Van Meer is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Thinkpoint Creative, Metro DC’s premiere branding, marketing, and design agency. Thinkpoint Creative helps businesses get the results they deserve through a blend of strategic planning and creative development. When Jim’s not helping companies leverage their Thinkpoints and building their brands and markets, he roams the halls of academia at George Mason University, where he’s an adjunct professor in the university’s Art and Visual Technology program. 

Is your business at a Thinkpoint?

by Jim Van Meer

No matter what stage your business is at—startup, growth, shake-out, or mature—there will come a time when you will have reached a Thinkpoint. You’ll know you’re there because you’ll recognize that you need to connect ideas and objectives to plans and actions. 

Thinkpoints occur in a variety of ways and by a variety of means, but they share one crucial element—discovery. The principle of discovery, when set into action, becomes the point at which businesses gain traction to make it to the next stage, or begin to explore new markets and opportunities to sustain success.

How and when you attain a Thinkpoint can be dictated by a number of reasons, and one of the top ways to achieve Thinkpoint success is through marketing and strategic creativity. It’s not enough to simply declare you need marketing. Everybody needs it. It’s how you go about strategizing, planning, executing, and sustaining it that helps you advance your business.

Going about developing a marketing strategy, planning what will get done, executing on that plan, and then sustaining the entire effort is no easy task. The art (and science) of marketing continues to evolve, and more and more businesses are relying on design thinking to help build a better marketing experience, not only internally for their company, but for their customers as well.

Today’s modern marketplaces demand that business put a greater emphasis on the design of things and experiences because consumers interact with brands more closely than ever before. How your brand and your business connect with customers may not be what you think it is. Consumers run the show now, and they want to have their brand interactions evolve on their terms, during their time periods. Breakthrough technologies and innovations have given consumers more choices, and they now command a presence in your marketing plan.

This is where design thinking can play a major role. Design thinking is a coalescence of different skill sets, methodologies, and technical expertise, tempered by careful introspection, perception, and consideration. Customer-centric design thinking helps companies map out customer journeys at any stage of the business. For start-ups, design thinking can provide much-needed insight into the customer’s mind, revealing what drives them to build a relationship with the brand, allowing for a more focused plan. For growing companies, design thinking keeps strategies and plans on track, bringing to light unforeseen issues and exposing the good vs. the bad vs. the indifference, helping your business to readjust and refocus your efforts, all in real-time.

During the shake-out phase, companies can employ design thinking to help reduce costs, and to further delineate the company from its competitors. This helps lead to better positioning in the market, which can lead to the identification of new opportunities. As companies mature, design thinking can bolster the sales cycle and stabilize the business, allowing for the exploration of new markets, or markets ready for a rebirth.

Is your business at a Thinkpoint? If you’re ready to take your brand to the next level, ready to explore new marketing opportunities, or ready to examine how design thinking can help you identify what’s over the horizon, you’re at a Thinkpoint. It’s where design thinking and design doing intersect, and it’s where business gets done.

Jim Van Meer is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Thinkpoint creative, Metro DC’s premiere branding, marketing, and design agency. When Jim’s not helping companies leverage their Thinkpoints and building their brands and markets, he roams the halls of academia at George Mason University, where he’s an adjunct professor in the school’s Art and Visual Technology program. Discover more at 

#business #marketing #designthinking #design #branding #thinkpointcreative

Ready for a Rebrand?

by Jim Van Meer, Chief Creative Officer, Thinkpoint creative

You’ve worked long and hard to establish your brand, so why should you consider if it’s time to rebrand? There can be a myriad of reasons, but first, let’s define what your brand is not. Your brand is not your logo. Although your logo is incorporated into your brand, it only makes up a portion of what your brand actually is. 

In a broader sense, your brand is the story of you or your company, and what is offered to the marketplace. Brands can be about people, products, services, experiences, ideas, places, and things. Looking at your brand through a storytelling lens, you’ll discover that you work in concert with your customers and employees to build and define your brand. What they say about your company, and how they express their feelings about your company creates and shapes your brand in ways you may not realize.

Your brand is more about them then it is about you. You may portend to know your customers and express yourself to them through a mission or values statement, but how they feel about you, why they feel that way, and how they go about expressing those feelings is more important to acknowledge when considering a rebrand.

Rebranding should be looked at as a strategy, even though it may be instituted as a tactic. Because your brand is at the core of virtually everything in your company, you need to examine why you should rebrand. Here are the top five indicators to consider when it’s time to rebrand.

  • You don’t have a cohesive brand identity, or your brand identity has changed. Sometimes you outgrow your brand name, and sometimes your brand name outgrows you. Perhaps you decided to use a location name in your brand name when you first started out, and you no longer have offices in that location. Or maybe you are better known now for your company acronym rather than your full company name. Think International Business Machines, Consumer Value Stores, or Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (IBM, CVS, and 3M respectively). Whatever the case, your brand identity needs to be cohesive and match where you are now and where you are headed, not necessarily where you came from.
  • Your website looks horrible and is a pain in the butt to navigate. When was the last time you visited your own website and took a look at it from your audience’s perspective? Look at your content in context.Take the viewpoint of your audience and examine the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) aspects. Is the UX effective in delivering a positive, meaningful, and emotional experience to your audience, or does it cause angst and disappointment? Is the UI outdated or out of touch with current technology? Are your customers having a hard time interacting with your website? Bad websites lead to bad customer interaction and experiences, which can lead to your customers badmouthing your brand. That’s not the way to build your brand. Consider a redesign or complete overhaul.
  • Your original brand is obsolete. Design trends come and go, and so do brands. If your logo looks old and outdated, then your customers are seeing that and feeling that, and may be expressing it as well in the stories they tell about your brand. If you instituted your logo in the 1990s, chances are it has an arc shape in it. That arc or “swoosh” shape was a huge trend, and companies believed they were expressing their advanced thinking and technical prowess, with an eye on the future. The trouble was, a lot of other companies followed that same motif. Or maybe you had your cousin’s teenage child design your logo for you and it’s way beyond time you looked professional. Worse yet, maybe you chose a logo from some stock logos you found online or at the company that printed your business cards, and now it’s festooned on everything. Consider your current logo and what it says about you. Your logo should be a reflection of your brand vision and what your customers think your brand is.
  • You’re entering new markets and targeting new demographics. If your brand is off-the-mark when you’re targeting new markets, you’ll probably lose out to competitors who have made branding adjustments and are aiming precisely. You can’t necessarily reach Gen Z with a Gen X attitude, so you need to adapt your brand or perhaps adopt a sub-brand to keep up. Different demographics present themselves with contrasting viewpoints and attitudes, so your brand needs to adjust accordingly to make the brand connection. For example, if your parent brand is staid and corporate, and the new market you are entering is more laid back and entrepreneurial, the parent company messaging may be mismatched with the new market. Your brand is your story, your voice, your look, and your feel. Brand according to your markets and your markets will help you promote your brand.
  • Your brand is conceptual and not contextual. Sometimes brands get sidetracked because they’re all about the concept and not about the context. Contextually, brands are about moods and emotions. The moods and emotions that brands aspire to fulfill and create can only be accomplished by positioning the brand properly. The relationship between a brand and its markets is often referred to as a connection, but the brands that excel in their fields not only make a connection, they make a commitment to their customers. For instance, a company can state they have great customer service, but only the customers will be the determinant of that. If a company states it has 5-star service, it doesn’t carry as much weight as hundreds or thousands of customers saying it has 5-star service. Branding context is messaging, and messaging can be one of the top reasons to rebrand.

If you’re ready for a rebrand, make sure you get the process right. Do your research and analysis, work collaboratively, develop a strategic plan, document everything, institute the tactics precisely, and manage the project sensibly from start to finish. From refreshing your logo to retelling your story from a new perspective, invite your customers and employees along on your journey and evolution. Take the Stabrite trademark, for example. You may see the name as “stay bright.” But your audience may see the name as “stab right.” 

Their perception can be the prescription for a rebrand that makes deeper connections and lifetime commitments.


Jim Van Meer is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Thinkpoint creative, Metro DC’s premiere branding, marketing, and design agency. When Jim’s not helping companies build their brands and markets, he roams the halls of academia at George Mason University, where he’s an adjunct professor in the school’s graphic design program. 

Make Mistakes – and Learn From Them

“Aw, shit!”

I love to hear that. It means that someone made a mistake. It means that a door has been opened to new solutions and new learning opportunities. In the world of design, it can mean a breakthrough moment.

Don’t be fearful of screwing up. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s the fools that don’t learn from them. Making mistakes is one of the fastest ways to learn how to do something right. It’s why I have always told every designer that has worked for me and every student that I have taught that they need not worry about making mistakes. I just warn them not to make the same mistake over and over again. If you make the same mistake multiple times, there’s something wrong. Either you’re not learning, not listening, or not being directed properly.

Once you’ve made a mistake, take a look at it, figure out what you did wrong, and see if you can use it to better your design or increase your knowledge. Sometimes your mistake may be a solution to another design project somewhere down the road. Save your mistakes. Don’t throw anything out.

Case in point: When I set out to design a new personal logo, I decided I wanted to create a monogram of some sort using the initials from my last name – V and M. I’m the type of designer that goes straight into Illustrator and starts playing with shapes. Don’t judge. I began by drawing a circle and drawing the letter V inside of the circle. I messed around with the placement for a bit, shifted the V to where I thought it balanced within the shape, then edited out the circle from the arms of the V. “Huh, not bad,” I thought to myself. Being the one who never throws out any design work, I copied the circle-V and pasted it on the page, not caring where it would land¾I intended to move it anyway.

I hit Command-V and the copied circle-V plopped itself over the original, just a little above it. For one split-second I looked at it, getting ready to grab it and move it aside, when I had one of those oft-spoken of “Aha!” moments. The copied circle-V was placed at just the right position to turn the original circle-V it overlaid into what looked like the letter M. There it was before me, the initial letters of my last name combined together, developed by happenstance. I cleaned the logo up a bit, edited for some delineation of letterforms, and about 15 minutes later I had my personal logo, one I’ve been using for over 15 years.

Making that mistake taught me to make as many as I possibly could, each and every time I designed something. It didn’t matter the project. What mattered was the fact I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and not give a f**k about what I developed and designed in the rough stages. I decided to go for broke, to explore just about every possibility, and let my mistakes guide me through the process. It turned my design process from one of arduous hand-wringing and worrisome remorse into one of joy and love for the very act of designing.

So, go ahead and f**k things up. Pay attention to the mistakes you make and learn from them. If you don’t, you could be making the biggest mistake of all.

Design in the Post Apocalyptic World


Driving in to work one morning, I listened to a report on NPR about the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and its usefulness in a post apocalyptic world ( Basically, the SNS is where the U.S. Government stashes a shit-ton of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, and other critical medical equipment and supplies. You know, the basics, in case something goes wrong. Horribly wrong. Which it won’t, but, hey, better safe than sorry.

Back in 1998 the U.S. Congress gave money to the CDC to build a stockpile of pharmaceuticals and vaccines to counter potential chemical and biological threats, and to combat widespread diseases that may affect large portions of the civilian population. Hearing about the SNS brought back recollections of the U.S. Government’s infamous “Duct Tape Alert” in 2003 and what my family and I went through. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time:

Indicating a new level of concern about a potential terrorist strike, homeland security officials called on citizens to buy duct tape, plastic sheeting, and food and water to prepare for a possible chemical or biological attack.

The plastic sheeting and tape, meant to seal doorways and windows, was just one in a series of steps federal officials suggested Americans take to protect themselves. They also advised Americans to begin assembling disaster-supply kits, including gallons of water, nonperishable food and medical supplies. While relatively simple, advance preparation could save lives in the event of a disaster.

The memories came flooding back over me about those days. Back then I bought enough plastic sheeting and duct tape to wrap my house like a Christo installation. Fact is, it’s still on a shelf in my garage. All this talk back then, and now, of the impending Zombie Apocalypse got me thinking about how I’d fare once the shit hit the fan. I pondered that if I made it through the apocalypse, how would I fit in to the new dystopian society from the perspective of who I am at my inner core? I began to wonder if I’d still be useful as a designer after the Zombie Apocalypse. After all, I thought, if you’re of no use to society, who’s to say society won’t throw you to the zombies? “Hey guys, here’s lunch!”

Since we’ll all be scrapping for survival after the apocalypse, the ability to “make things pretty” just won’t cut it. If you’re a designer you’re going to need to be able to benefit society by using your brain, not just your art. I wondered if anyone had covered post-apocalyptic design, so I wandered over to the Google machine and did a cursory search. I really couldn’t find much except post-apocalyptic designs of fashion and costumes and the occasional storyboard for the next zombie TV series. But I did stumble upon an article that caught my eye—The 25 Best Majors for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.

In Wayne J. Downs’ and David A. Tomar’s article, they list the top 25 areas of study “for a zombie-infested world’ in alphabetical order ( Always the professor, I scanned the topics to see where design fell. It was nowhere to be found. “Just my luck,” I thought to myself. I’ll be designer zombie food, dressed in hipster black clothing, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, touting the merits of Swiss Grid, UI, and UX as mutants that don’t know the difference between kerning and tracking devour me. “Beautiful.”

But then I studied the list one more time, and I began to see that design would play a big role in the Zombie Apocalypse. The subjects slowly revealed where design can play a pivotal role, because I started thinking about where design lives in our pre-apocalyptic world. The very nature of design is nonconforming, so design crosses bounds much easier than many other skill sets. I imagined for a moment that a new colony of survivors was attempting to rebuild society (at least their portion of it), but not every skill set they needed made it through the apocalypse. For instance, I’m not quite sure how fast lawyers are, so the zombies may have caught them easily. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I digress.

Of the 25 majors needed for survival and rebirth, I could identify these subjects as where a designer could use their natural talents and design thinking skills to help bring us back from the brink:

Applied Sciences
Rebuilding society will be of paramount importance, so people skilled in engineering, civil design, industrial design, and other applied sciences will play a pivotal role. Designers fit into this realm because they are designers (planners) and producers (creators), adding connections and filling gaps where design thinking can shine light on new solutions.

Designers are used to working in 2D and 3D environments, so their skills can be applied to shaping and planning communities. Spatial reasoning and the ability to plan will enable the community to defend itself and conduct life. As the article states, “Your critical thinking skills and your capacity for abstract reason will make you an indispensable asset to your fellow survivors as you confront daily practical difficulties for which constructive solutions (literally) must be created.”

City Planning
Urban design and geographic information systems will play an important role in how society is re-established in an organized, functional manner. Designers’ abilities to work with grids, their prowess at configuring disparate matter, and their iconography skills will allow them to aid in planning cities, combining infrastructure in a cohesive, manageable fashion, and will help everybody left to get around. At some point, you’re going to need signs and markers to help identify where you are or where you’re headed.


Thanks to their creative bent, designers make really good educators. They’re able to visualize highly evolved concepts and ideas not only in 2D and 3D environments, but they can verbalize those concepts as well. Designers are storytellers, and storytelling is how we developed the educational systems in place today. Because a lot of technical and educational infrastructure will be destroyed in the apocalypse, designers will play a critical role in rebuilding an educational system in the new environment. Creativity will be imbued from the start in a new educational system, because creativity and ingenuity will be required to make a new start.

“Ugh, logistics!?!” you stammer. Yes. Hear me out. Designers are creators, directors, and producers. They gather resources during their careers to enable them to bring their ideas to fruition. Pulling the resources together and making sure everything works in harmony means they take on the challenges of logistics in ways even they may not comprehend. A designer’s know-how of procedures, their ability to anticipate, their willingness to confront, and their resolve to see things through is exactly what logistics is all about. Even if you won’t have access to the tools you were used to before the zombies swept into town, you’ll still have your brain and your ability to solve logistical challenges.

Designers can be riddled with angst, so you wouldn’t think they’d be prepared to take on someone else’s. But if they’ve been trained well, they’ll be great listeners. Consider—for designers to resolve a problem or accomplish a mission, the first step in their process is to listen. After they’ve done some active listening, designers then filter the information into actionable workings. Designers, for the most part, must remain agnostic to tangential influences as they go about creating solutions. They remain focused on the problem, but they acknowledge that a different solution may present itself at any moment. Doesn’t that sound like psychology? Designers strive for harmonious solutions and a post-apocalyptic society will need to exist together. Designers excel at bringing together divergent material, so they should be able to help bring together divergent opinions and factions. Part of that will be hidden in the psychological make-up of their solutions. Things that are designed properly work properly, decreasing frustration and increasing satisfaction. It’s the little irritants that will set folks off, so filtering those out during the design process will help keep designers off the zombie lunch menu.

I know a lot of this is conjecture, but if you read a little closer you’ll discover that a lot of what designers will be able to help with after the Zombie Apocalypse are things they can help with today. What this is all about is design thinking. It’s taking the designer mind and applying it to everything you can imagine. The point is to discover how design thinking can help in everyday life now, because if it helps now, it can contribute in the future, no matter what may be in store. Design thinking is the first step toward design leadership, and it’s the direction the world is headed.

Do I think there will be a Zombie Apocalypse? Nah. But if my co-workers start looking at me funny while smacking their lips, you can bet your ass I’ll be the first one out the door.

Some Are Born To Design

In my last post I wrote about how the term graphic designer has become a misnomer for a profession that spans much more than just graphics. Which begs the question, how did we morph from graphic designers to creative strategists? A look back on the past can start to unravel the mystery of how skilled craftspeople allowed a trade name to become an anachronism for the exceptional talents they possess.

The term “graphic design” was first mentioned in a 1922 Boston newspaper article written by William Addison Dwiggins. Dwiggins coined the term to describe his varied work in printed communications, which included illustration, typography, book design, and calligraphy. Dwiggins’ essay, “New Kinds of Printing Calls for New Design,” sought to distinguish graphic design as a profession rather than the trade from which it sprang, printing.


Dwiggins has been called an “advertising pioneer and reformer; book, dust jacket and binding designer; calligrapher and cartographer; daring colorist and decorator of printed matter; designer of printing types; humorist and writer; illustrator of books and advertisements; marionette designer and maker; pamphleteer and reformer of the currency; scenic designer and builder; stencil cutter and private pressman; theater operator and playwright.” 

W.A. Dwiggins’ talents ranged far and wide, and he resisted being affiliated with any stylistic movement or category. But he never called himself a graphic designer. Yes, he did refer to himself as a “printing designer” and “advertising artist,” but it appears his mention of graphic design may have been an inadvertent designation, for he did not have a clear picture of what to call the new profession. So where did the title “graphic designer” come from?

It appears the first use of “graphic designer” was penned by Alvin Lustig, American designer, and published in the September 1946 issue of Interiors. In the article “Alvin Lustig: About the Career of a Young Man with an Inquiring Mind,” Lustig wrote, “The words ‘graphic designer,’ ‘architect,’ or ‘industrial designer’ stick in my throat giving me a sense of limitation, of specialization within the specialty, or a relationship to society that is unsatisfactory and incomplete. This inadequate set of terms to describe an active life reveals only partially the still undefined nature of a designer.” As evidenced by Lustig’s words, the term “graphic designer” was held in distaste by some, Lustig particularly, as early as 1946.

The denotations graphic design and graphic designer continued to be bandied about throughout the 1950s right up to and still in use today. Terminology such as “commercial art” and “commercial artist” came and went, as did “visual communication” and “information architect.” There also were the specialty tags issued throughout the decades by simply putting a domain of capability in front of the word “designer” to selectively denote individual talents, such as landscape designer or floral designer.

The current Occupational Outlook Handbook found on the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics website lists the occupation of Graphic Designer under the category of Arts and Design Occupations. The BLS defines a graphic designer as someone who creates “visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers. They develop the overall layout and production design for various applications such as for advertisements, brochures, magazines, and corporate reports.”

Here again we see the reference to the originating industry through the mention of printed materials, with no indication that a designer needs to utilize complex thought processes across a vast spectrum of disciplines to achieve desired outcomes. Contextually, the graphic designer is still referenced as a print designer, a trade that is considered dead by many, whether true or not.

In the 1984 film Ghostbusters, the character Janine (played by Annie Potts), a secretary at the Ghostbusters Manhattan office, comments, “I bet you like to read a lot, too,” to parapsychologist Egon Spengler (played by Harold Ramis) while he’s setting up her computer. Ramis’ character responds immediately in a stoic, deadpan manner. “Print is dead,” he says.

Was he right? Did print die in 1984? Did it take graphic design down with it as well? Or did graphic design turn into something, or some things, it always was but was never identified as?

If we scour print media, we come across a variety of devices (newspapers, brochures, mailers, etc.) that, while still around, seem to have dwindled in comparison to their heyday. 1984 was a turning point for design—it was the year that the Apple Macintosh was introduced, the bellwether for things to come. Print would hang around for a good while (in fact, it flourished for me and my clients), but it would start to see a decline in the early- to mid-90s when web design started taking hold. The web was the next big thing, and everybody wanted a website. Trouble was, not every designer could utilize HTML or figure out the early editions of web software.

Some designers focused on the digital aspects of design and built successful businesses in the web world. Others stayed strictly with print and found themselves relegated to the recesses of desktop publishing or seen as specialty template providers (“Can you do this in Word for me?”). Still others (myself included) stayed vested in print but dallied into digital and web. To me, it wasn’t so much the medium I wanted to learn, it was the messaging and the methods I wanted to explore.

While digital allowed me to reach a larger audience faster, print allowed me to engage those markets for a longer period of time. Virtually everything I have worked on over the past 20 years has had both a print and digital component that worked hand-in-hand. I use print to drive traffic to social media platforms and websites, and I use social media and digital design to drive traffic to print material so my audience can linger and take a deeper dive into my message.

As designers, we may now be removed from print design in the original sense, but almost everything we do is based in it. You probably work in the print realm and don’t even realize how it’s influenced your career. If you employ grid design in websites you work on you’re using a tried and true method developed in print design. Web grid design allows for better functionality across viewports and pulls the entire design together in a cohesive manner. Fonts you use on the web are chosen to emulate or match the fonts you use in print campaigns, establishing campaign continuum. Colors you use on the web need to be adjusted for print because web colors are projected at the user and print color is reflected to the user. Content that’s pared down into “snackable” chunks for the web can be dished out as a banquet in print.

All of this cross-functionality and multiplexing of responsibilities is why graphic designers have now become known simply as “designers.” The multimedia, multi-channel, multiverse world we exist in requires designers have a firm grasp of print so they can pave new ways in the digital realm. Print is the foundation upon which the digital world is built. If we consider that print is dead, are we not saying that the foundation we have built our digital realm on is crumbling? Should we just let it fall apart and not worry about the consequences of building on the future with a destroyed past?

Today’s designers have been born, both literally and figuratively, from generations that have witnessed the slow demise of print as a priority consideration and the onset of digital design as the paramount goal. While a once thriving and dominant print industry made of mechanical artists, typesetters, and prepress technicians has all but disappeared, another strong and vibrant field of design has sidled up next to it and keeps shoving it farther and farther aside. Designers have had to adapt, and have done so quite handsomely, but with that adaptation comes some loss.

Designers have become a lot of things to a lot of people. We’re now creative strategists, web designers, content developers, UI and UX masters, experiential architects, design thinkers, design leaders, and branding specialists. We work in 2D, 3D, and sometimes 4D realms. We think as much as we produce, and we produce far less than we have time for. Some of us have been through hell to get here, and some of us have watched entire industries die before our very eyes, taking our colleagues and friends down with them. But we carry on. We have to. It’s what we do.

We’re proud of what we do. We’re from a long line of creative thinkers, producers, and doers. We’re the ones with the great ideas. And if you think about it, we’re the ones with the power. Not because we’ve seized it, but because we’ve earned it. We live design. It’s what we were born to do.


The Future of Design…Continued

Design is in everything we make, but it’s also between those things. It’s a mix of craft, science, storytelling, propaganda, and philosophy.
            ~ Erik Adigard, Designer and Media Artist

I feel as though the term “graphic design” has become a huge misnomer in modern day language to describe a profession that encompasses so much more than the typical definition of graphics.

In general, graphic design is defined as an art or profession by which someone uses design elements (like typography and images) to convey information or create an effect. A connotation such as this could lead one to say that graphic design is an act of transmitting words (as typography) and images (illustrations, photos, and the like) together in a manner to channel messages. Can that not be said of a television broadcast, or perhaps social media? Is a television reporter considered a graphic designer? Is a content specialist considered one as well? Perhaps they are, or can be, but in its traditional sense, the definition of a graphic designer has always been founded in an understanding of and the possession of skills needed for print layout over anything else. It’s why so many graphic design educational offerings are chartered in typography, editorial, and layout coursework.

But I ask, don’t today’s designers do much more? Is the term of graphic designer too limiting? Should not all persons involved in the design field (print, digital, web, urban, fashion, etc.) be called designers? Are graphic designers limited to just “graphics,” which sprang forth from the printing industry? Are they not full-fledged multimedia, multi-platform designers with multi-faceted skill sets? Or is it just a matter of semantics?


In the introduction to Adrian Shaughnessy’s How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul, famed designer Stefan Sagmeister refers to himself as a designer, not a graphic designer. He states, “I love being a designer. I love thinking about ideas freely and observing them taking shape.” Here we find that Sagmeister expresses his penchant for the potential that design affords, its agency to allow ideas to form and embody the concept, whether graphical or not. It’s design thinking in a sense, allowing for the possibilities that design, not just graphic design, presents.

Though Shaughnessy’s book title refers to graphic designers, the author jumps back and forth throughout his tome, speaking of graphic designers in one section and designers in the next. He intermixes workplaces as well, describing them as design studios and design firms rather than graphic design studios or graphic design firms.

I don’t fault Shaughnessy for any incongruity in terminology. I’ve never met the man, nor am I a scholar on his work. My only connection is his book is required reading for the Professional Design Practices class I teach at George Mason University. I think the only time I use the term graphic designer in class is when I mention the book by its title and when I go into my introductory spiel, telling the class, “Sorry, you’re not graphic designers.”

The term graphic design has always stuck in my craw, ever since I was a freshly minted college graduate myself, from the bygone analog days. I think it’s because of what my diploma has written across it in pronounced Blackletter script—Bachelor of Arts in Design. Not Graphic Design. Design. With a capital D.

Sure, I studied all the prerequisites during my formative years. I did my stint in Design 101, grew into Advanced Design, executed editorial layouts, learned print production, mocked-up campaigns, I studied the whole shebang. But I always bristled at the term graphic design. I think it’s partially due to the student fellowship position I had with NIH during summer and winter breaks from college. I worked at the Bethesda, Maryland campus of NIH as an intern and I was assigned to, what else, the Graphics department. I’d spend my days creating countless graphs of the experimental medicine being conducted upstairs from our offices, while across the hall, no more than 20 feet from my desk, sat interns creating designs. In the Design department. They worked on brochures, and posters, and all types of creative four-color design work while I labored away at creating graphics for publication in a black and white medical journal.

Thinking back on those days from decades ago, and how I could have been a design intern rather than a graphics intern (luck of the draw), I pondered why do we, as a profession, still call ourselves graphic designers? Are we not at our purest core designers? If we produce a video, do we not design it? If we create a digital work, do we not design it? If design truly is giving shape to ideas, are we not designers first? Why keep throwing the descriptor “graphic” in front of what we do? Why do we limit ourselves by our own vocabulary?

I realize it’s not scholarly, but I have a penchant for referring to a time-tested source to define terms for me. It’s called the dictionary, and the online version from Merriam-Webster seems to sum up best (in my mind) what a designer truly is: A person who plans how something new will look and be made: a person who creates and often produces a new product, style, etc.

I think this definition is closer to what a designer accomplishes in their profession, but often the moniker of designer begins to be limiting when considering the level of involvement and varied skills a designer needs in the modern day world.

In an article on the AIGA website, designer, educator, and author Juliette Cezzar writes, “Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual, and may include images, words, or graphic forms. The experience can take place in an instant or over a long period of time. The work can happen at any scale, from the design of a single postage stamp to a national postal signage system, or from a company’s digital avatar to the sprawling and interlinked digital and physical content of an international newspaper. It can also be for any purpose, whether commercial, educational, cultural, or political.”

Cezzar begins to get closer to what the field of design embodies in modern society, but still falls short by limiting himself through two of the three work examples provided. Of the three examples he cites, two are clearly related to printing (postage stamps and newspapers), which in turn throws the definition back into the realm of the legacy term graphic design.

In my opinion, and it is a humble one at that, what we are seeing is a paradigm shift in the consideration of the profession of design. A designer may, and can be, solely dedicated to the narrow version of creativity that is known as graphic design. But if that were the case, the teaching and the application of design would be so limited as to prevent designers from becoming immersed in new technologies, methodologies, and approaches. The rise of design thinking, the yearning for design leadership, and the growth of design in public institutions, commercial enterprises, corporations, and other sectors is proof that the graphic designer of yesterday is a far cry from the designer of today.

Design’s traditional methods and practices, while still kept intact through inference, reference, and denotation, have been repurposed and rethought by design professionals and by stakeholders as varied as there are differing applications of design. I think the profession categorized as graphic design has become a hybridized discipline, with multiple proficiencies in multiple subjects necessary to simply enable one to apply for a job. Steven Heller, American art director, journalist, critic, author, and editor, calls into question the profession’s name in his article, “What Do We Call Ourselves Now?”

Since graphic design is not a licensed profession, we can call ourselves anything we want, with the exception of maybe doctor or Monsignor. Likewise, anyone can claim the graphic designer mantle (or ‘graphics designer’, which is a dead give-away that they’re not graphic designers) simply because they made a letterhead, newsletter or website on their home computer. So, if our nomenclature is this fungible, it stands to reason our bona fides are in question, too. A designer by any other name may still be a designer, yet what we call ourselves is key to our professional health and wellbeing. As professionals we are hired to be clarifiers, organizers and even namers for our clients. So, if we don’t know what to call ourselves, who does?

Nonetheless, given the growing intersection of graphic design with time-based media, information design and associated disciplines such as writing and producing, as well as the blurring of boundaries between fine art and design, who and what we are (and ultimately want to be) is becoming more complicated to define and, therefore, to name.

In the 21st century, to be a designer means you are a typesetting psychologist with a proclivity for marketing strategy. You need to be a web designer and app developer, one of the elite Digerati, well versed at storytelling. You must be an experiential manipulator; able to use your design thinking skills to lead innovative endeavors others wish they had the wherewithal to accomplish. If these skills sets weren’t enough, you must be a futurologist as well. You have to see the forest despite the trees, and you have to be able to envision what is far over the horizon.

Graphic design is becoming an extinct profession. It is a morphing into a craft that’s partially based in science, driven by data, and powered by persuasion. It is now a pursuit of answers to questions yet to be asked, a line of work that has so many avenues to explore it becomes difficult to map career paths. Graphic design has changed into an avocation requiring knowledge of so many things that it cannot focus on one portion of lifework. It has crossed over into multiple businesses, occupations, teachings, and professions.

Graphic designers are no longer graphic designers, even though they touch that world on a daily basis. Graphics is what the profession came from, but it is not everything the profession is based in. Today and future designers will be many things to many businesses and people, so labeling designers as graphic designers is a misnomer. In actuality they are the creative strategists, the creative developers, the creative leaders the world looks to for new ideas, more effective solutions, and the “next Big Thing.” They are the New Designers. They are Design with a capital D. They are what the future has become.

Don’t Look Back

Last night I dreamed I was taking a self-guided tour of a U.S. National Park building that was semi-research and semi-museum oriented. It was one of those buildings you’ve probably been in if you’ve ever visited a national park—constructed of stone and wood, with huge interior spaces and exposed wood log beams. You know the kind. It was an extraordinary building from an architectural perspective, and while there were other people meandering about, it was only me focusing on the displays. There were offices around the exterior walls of the building, but no one was in their office and all the doors were locked shut.

After touring the building’s three floors, I made it back to the middle level preparing to exit. I was standing in the building’s two-story atrium when a previous colleague of mine came out of a doorway on the floor above me, walking with another gentleman down a second-story walkway. My colleague spotted me and turned to face me, stating, “Hey, do you know where I can get more information about this place?” The question didn’t seem out of context to me, as I’ve always been known as someone who, if they didn’t know the answer, could most likely find someone who did.

I thought for a moment and recalled having passed a tourism information display while exploring the third floor. I told him, “Sure. Go down to the other end of the building and you’ll find a display with all sorts of brochures, fact sheets, and pamphlets. You can’t miss it.” “Thanks!” he said, and we parted ways, me heading toward the exit door.


Once I exited the building, I found myself walking through a parking lot, which was somewhat strange because I didn’t recall driving to the building or getting a ride with someone else. As I was making my way across the lot, a man I never met drove up in a dilapidated, rusty 1950s era pick-up truck. The cab of the truck was a greenish tint, the fenders were black, the hood was primer gray—it was a mess.

The man got out of the truck and left it running. He held the door open and said, “Here, take this.” I said, “Are you sure?” and he replied, “By all means.”

So I slid into the driver’s seat, closed the door, and put the truck into gear. It barely wanted to move. It felt like it was anchored to the pavement. I had to let off the clutch for what seemed like an eternity to finally get the old thing to inch forward. Once I got it going I didn’t make it far, as other cars in the lot kept backing out of their spaces in front of me, blocking my path out.

I finally managed to turn the truck around and found an open exit lane. As I looked around I recall the area reminded me of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Rolling hills, long stretches of open field, the perfect kind of place to take a Sunday drive. But it wasn’t Sunday, and I had no idea where I was going. As I got to the end of the exit from the lot, I turned right, onto a stretch of road that could have led to the gates of Hell for all I knew. I had no clue. And I was headed there in someone else’s truck.

As I drove down the road I realized I was still on parkland, and as I cruised down the two-lane blacktop I noticed a field with a dozen American buffalo, another field with a half-dozen horses, and yet another field barren of any wildlife. It was just a field.

Soon the blacktop turned into a dirt road and it came to an end in a circle, which was surrounded by an exquisitely crafted stone wall. Since there was no other place for me to go, I turned around in the circle and headed back the way I came.

I reached the crest of a hill and made a right onto another dirt lane. I headed down that lane, which led me downhill to a bridge. As I got closer, I saw that the creek was flooded, and the water was rushing over top of the bridge at an alarming rate. Something inside me compelled me to cross that bridge, no matter how deep or how fast the water was rushing.

I slipped the truck into reverse and backed up the hill. I knew I needed a running start if I was going to make it. I took another look at the situation. I saw that the road turned to the left immediately over the other side of the bridge and that the water was deeper now. I pushed the gearshift into first and popped the clutch, giving the truck all the gas I could.

The truck just ambled down the hill. It didn’t seem to be going fast enough to get me through the water. But I kept on going. I hit the water and the truck slowed down. And I kept on going. I fought the current, the steering wheel shuddering in my hands. My foot was all the way to the floor on the gas pedal. The truck kept going. Soooo slooooowly.

I crested the arch of the bridge and it seemed like the water was deeper there than where I had entered. But how could that be? As I scanned the road before me I saw that the water wasn’t as high or as furious as the water I was in at the moment. I pressed forward.

The truck made it across the arch of the bridge, and as it descended the other side, it became easier to steer and easier to drive. I slowly exited the water to dry ground, took my foot off the gas and put the truck into neutral. I glanced to the rear view mirror to see what I had just been through. There was no mirror.

The dream ended as the alarm clamored for me to begin another day.

I’m pretty sure there are a slew of interpretations to everything about this dream, but to me the main takeaway is simple. No matter where life takes you, keep doing what you believe in, do what you know to be right, and believe in yourself.

And don’t look back.


May I Have Your Attention, Please?

Ever notice how the best advertising and design is usually clean and to the point? It’s for a very good reason. Great marketing and great design is usually clean and to the point because it’s a highly effective style. Clean work cuts through the clutter and banishes the bullshit to get the audience to do one thing—react.

If you’re trying to sell a product, service, or even an idea, you need to engage your audience so they listen to your message. If you throw too many extraneous things at them they’ll most likely ignore you or go right past you. You need to grab their attention quickly. You don’t have much time.


A recent Microsoft study found that a person’s average attention span had decreased from twelve seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds in 2015. The study also concluded that us humans have an attention span less than that of goldfish, who can stay focused for nine seconds.

This study shows a few things about what we as marketing and design professionals face. First, we need to get down to business quickly if we want to stand any chance of sticking around. Second, we need to cull our messaging to make sure we elicit a reaction in those eight precious seconds we get. Third, once we have someone’s attention, we need to focus on the call to action and make it easy for our target markets to take that action.

For years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that the basics of marketing and design can be broken down into four steps. You need to get your audience to:

  • Stop
  • Look
  • Listen
  • Try (Buy)

Stopping your audience with a witty or thought provoking headline usually does the trick, but don’t forget your imagery – it can do a lot to accomplish that task as well. To get them to look and listen, you need to make sure your imagery matches your message, and that your message matches your marketing. How you go about doing that can take myriad forms, but the underlying motivation for you should be to get a reaction. You want your audience to acknowledge your message and conduct a transaction with you. You want to reach them on a human level and you want to reach them quickly. You need to be disruptive.

Disruption is surely a great accomplishment in marketing, especially in modern society, what with the bombardment of messaging we face every second of every day. But disruption does not necessarily equate into effectiveness.

Disruption without an avenue for disbursement is a short path to destruction. Being disruptive, akin to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, is merely an act of delivering. Messages delivered that have no backing and no sane method of reaction may get an audience’s attention, but once the audience figures out it’s a hollow message, they’re apt to take their business and loyalties elsewhere.

I’m talking about being disruptive in a psychological way. In eight seconds time you can grab someone’s attention and hold it simply by being disruptive, but you’re not going to get anywhere unless you become constructive. Once you have someone’s attention, build your story and create a customer journey they want to take. If they need more technical info to make a purchasing decision, distill it in your initial messaging and provide a bridge to the details they can mull over when they have more than eight seconds to devote to you.

Do you want them to take an action immediately (say, register for an event), or sign up for a newsletter or alerts? Push the action to the top of your message. Make it easy for them to conduct the transaction with you.

Get them interested in your product by giving them a reason to use your product. Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Focus on reaching the pinnacle of the pyramid—participate in your market’s self-actualization. How can you help them reach their full potential?

Above all else, be human. Realize that to get a reaction, you need to focus on your audience on a one-on-one level. What makes your audience happy? What makes them react, especially in the way you want them to? Pay attention to the fact that it isn’t a corporation that’s built your brand or a company making the decision to buy–it’s a person.

And that person is distracted constantly. Their attention span is short. Pay attention to them, and they’ll pay attention to you.

Be human.