How to bring drab branding to the next level

A few weeks ago, a colleague asked me to write a quick guide for a non-profit professional association she belongs to. The organization does great work but their branding is sub-par. I am sharing the brand refresh recommendations I wrote for them in hopes that it may help you.

1. Use typography


  •  Incorporate more interesting typography into your logo (right now I believe it is Helvetica, which we see everywhere). The American Institute of Graphic Art has a slick yet elegant logo with only their acronym, and it is always set in a black box (sometimes they change it to different colors):
  •  Consider only using a wordmark without the papers image above the wordmark. Consider incorporating the name of the organization under the acronym wordmark. My favorite agency, Pentagram, has done many elegant and simple logos like this. You can view their website for inspiration:


  • You could start using a custom typeface on your website. Some typefaces are an investment (for example, a suite can cost upwards of $200), but it is an investment in your brand and gives a very polished look to your communications. For example, I recommend the typeface Chronicle Display which you can purchase through Hoefler Frere Jones (
  • If you are going to purchase a typeface, it would be helpful to consult with a designer who will be able to identify which typeface(s) you should purchase, how you would use them, and what standard typeface would contrast well with the one(s) you purchase. On the Hoefler Frere Jones website, they have a good tool which mixes and matches different typefaces together.

2. Expand the color palette

The color palette is good; blue and green inspire trust. However, you could work to incorporate accent colors, or other shades of blue or green that contrast or compliment the current colors. A good tool for doing this is Here are two examples of color palettes:

3. Be consistent

Style guide

While you are working out the details above, keep a record as you move toward creating a consistent brand identity. A style guide will help all members of your organization be consistent in how they use typefaces, the logo, and colors. A professional designer will be able to create a style guide.


A few templates that the organization may need are: one-pager templates; digital and printed letterhead; email marketing templates; and powerpoint templates.

A Remote Interior Design Project

A couple of weeks ago a faraway friend of mine asked me to help her with decorating her living room. I was thrilled to come up with some ideas for her.

Here is the inspiration (via pinterest): 

These rooms are opposites in a way—one is very simple, the other is glam—and this is the epitome of Jenny. She is the kind of person who only wears simple jewelry, yet she loves sparkly things and neon brights. She wanted a gray and tangerine color scheme. Her style is transitional, her budget small, and she already had two nice black lamps that she wanted to work around. 


1. Lamps (already purchased)

2. Side tables: West Elm $109 each

3. Coffee table: 2 Lack high gloss side tables from Ikea. They would need to be painted with high gloss spray paint the tangerine color. $10 each. These can be moved to accommodate other seating arrangements.

4. Gray Couch: Ikea $500

5. Throw Pillow: Etsy $20 Since green compliments tangerine, it was good to add another color to the palette to keep it from looking matchy.

6. Kantha Quilt: Etsy. $40. Pink, turquoise, tangerine.

Total: $798

Visual trends in stock photography

Since Getty and created the Lean In Collection, a collection of stock images of modern women in work and life, stock imagery and visual trends have been hot topics.

What we see, hear, and experience every day defines our culture and our lives. Seeing images of empowered, kind, loving people make us empowered, kind, loving people as a society. That's why these changing stock photography trends are so exciting and important. 

Stock photography companies and the companies that use stock photography are figuring out that people want to see images they can relate to: images of regular people, rather than images of gorgeous people who seem unattainably perfect. Life is imperfect, people are imperfect, and people can relate to authenticity. 

I recently got an email blast from that pointed out their focus on the visual trend of involved, emotionally available fathers. I love seeing this, and I love that these photos both recognize that men can be emotional and vulnerable, and encourage men to be emotional, nurturing, and vulnerable. Most of the men in my life are nurturing and vulnerable, traits that I love and admire—and it is very exciting that the images depicting men that we see in every day marketing messages reflect that. 

The rise of single-father households – along with the economic downturn – has led fathers to proactively redefine their position as both providers and nurturers. Take away the briefcase, and we see hands-on, emotionally-available dads comfortable in their fatherly roles. With credible brands focusing increasingly on authenticity, we see a shift away from idealized perfection and toward real dads doing everyday things with their kids – genuine interactions where simplicity, commitment and caring are key.
— Jacqueline Bourke, Creative Planning Manager at iStock

Simple, personal, approachable substance

I came across this web design article on Inc and it totally resinated with me.

…When I look at what’s hot in Web design these days, I’m turned off. It’s all a bit too slick, a little overdesigned. I’m sick of slick.
Most of these designs can be described like this: First, you see a huge photo with some text over it. Then, as you scroll down, the background slides away and another big photo with more text on it pops up. And so on.... Maybe you’ve seen this style—it’s starting to crop up everywhere. To a designer’s eye, it looks good, and it’s technically impressive, but I’m not sure it says anything meaningful about the companies using it. Worse (for those companies), it’s created a new kind of clutter: Too many companies look the same—all style and not enough substance.
— Jason Fried, Basecamp

While I'm definitely not sick of slick, I do believe there are places where it is appropriate and places where it's not. For example, landing pages are a great place to use this type of design because the style guides the eye. If you are asking the user to complete a certain action (usually the purpose of a landing page), it is focused, clear and uncluttered. 

However, slick design doesn't usually work with complex websites or companies because like Fried says, it's important to communicate the substance and meaning behind your brand. I for one am all about beautiful images and bringing emotion to a brand, but there is a time and place.

For brands, customer experience is everything

Last week I went to an event hosted by Aquent where Drory Ben-Menachem, Creative Director at Smashing Ideas here in Seattle, briefly spoke about the importance of UX. Here’s my summation of his great talk with some of my ideas woven throughout:

User experience defines a brand…a brand is no longer just a logo. UX should be called customer experience because it is every experience that customers have with an organization, digital and otherwise. It is much more than the website or the mobile app. 

Marketing and communications are of course a part of the brand experience, but customers will have many other connections to the company—through sales, through investing, through the local community, or through HR. In fact, receiving a negative review or 3 on Yelp can break a brand, because the readers on Yelp are having a brand experience. That shows the power of user experience.

According to UX Magazine, the job of a Chief Experience Officer is to understand users/customers, understand the business, understand the technology; figure out how the product or company should grow to support experiences; maintain an evolving strategy/plan of action to support and produce great experiences. A tall order, the person in this position is absolutely integral to keeping the brand consistent and focused on its goals and messaging.

Great customer experiences are simple; elegant; intuitive; fun; useful; memorable…and they are what brands are built on.

Resource Recommendation: Aquent

Earlier this week, Aquent hosted a webinar about content marketing with Jay Acunzo, Senior Content Manager at Hubspot. Jay was a great speaker and I found the webinar to be useful. 

I find that Aquent's blog is a great resource as well and highly recommend it. 

Here is the webinar: 

Vitamin T, the digital branch of Aquent, is how I found my current position, or how my current organization found me.


Stamp storm

A couple of weeks ago, I was heading to visit the printer on an errand for work. The air was cool and it felt good to be outside despite the buzzing traffic. I hiked up the steep hill to my destination on the sidewalk of a busy overpass street above the highway.

Along the way I noticed postage stamps EVERYWHERE. Some seemed like they were caught on the concrete and some were blowing in the wind of traffic. I felt sad as I imagined the person who had collected these stamps over the years...I imagined him (for some reason I imagined a grandfather figure) bent over his desk in a nook of his house with a magnifying glass admiring his collection. I imagined him painstakingly preserving the postage stamps to keep them in good condition. I imagined him receiving letters from friends and carefully tearing the stamp off of the envelope. 

How were they lost? Was this collection an heirloom? Did they fall out of someone's bag or folder? Did someone purposefully let them go in the wind out their car or apartment window? Was someone moving in a pickup truck and an open box let all the stamps out?

I wanted to pick up the stamps. I wanted to save this person's passion. But I continued walking toward my destination, hoping that the stamps would still be there when I walked back. 

I remembered that I had read some article on the interwebs recommending that you do one thing every day or every week that you are afraid of. It said you should put yourself out of your comfort zone and do things that you wouldn't normally do. Because it makes you interesting. Because it makes your life interesting. Picking up stamps off the ground isn't exactly a novel experience, but I wouldn't usually stop on a busy overpass to pick up bits of paper.

On the way back to my car that afternoon, the stamps were still there. I walked down the hill, bending down every two steps to pick up a stamp or three or four. People stopped. People asked me what I was doing. People helped me pick up some of the stamps. I shared some smiles and some hellos. Most people who walked up this hill probably saw the stamps. They were hard to miss. I wonder if others had the same thoughts or feelings I had. I wonder if they were indifferent. 

There are lots of good ones in the collection. There are christmas stamps, stamps from many different countries, stamps with planets on them, stamps that advocate for the environment.

It made me wonder, why are most stamps these days just American flags that say "Freedom" or "Liberty"? We have gotten pretty boring in our stamp designs! I found a couple of websites like Zazzle that allow you to make custom stamps. But I wonder how one makes their stamps available to the public through the post office or the grocery store.

These are my favorite stamps.

These are my favorite stamps.

How to create a meaningful digital measurement report

The reason to measure digital analytics is to help inform your marketing strategy. But the digital analytics report we were producing at the end of each month was just checking the “done” box. It left me asking, “so what?”

I needed to revamp the report to make it more meaningful but first I needed to build a structure around which to think about the data.

This is what I did to teach myself digital analytic reporting: 

1.    I took a free and amazingly useful Digital Analytics Fundamentals online course through Google Academy. I recommend this to everyone in marketing.

2.    I built a digital marketing and measurement plan in order to identify the business objectives, goals to reach those objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs), targets, and segments. Avanish Kaushik's article helped me structure that thought process.

3.    I added several sections to our analytics report to answer the questions I put forth in the measurement plan and address KPIs.

4.    I wrote a measurement implementation plan to spell out the status quo, and the changes we would need to make to our Google Analytics account in order to capture more information about our users (e.g. Goals, event tracking, new account structure to better-manage data, campaign data).

...and the last step, was to do it! I structured and wrote the first report, squinting at data and playing with Excel and Google Analytics to get the information that really told me something (my plan outlined what we needed to know) about the performance and return on investment in time and energy of our marketing strategy.

Keep in mind, we also measure our social media impact, so GA is not the only tool we use. Some other tools are Crowd Booster (especially useful for measuring Twitter impact) and Custom Scoop. I also pull data from Facebook, Linkedin, and our email marketing service.

If you have questions or comments feel free to ask in the comments or tweet me @carriej0rdan

Visualizing a school system

Last week I was working on visual of a school system. I found it is not something that's easy to find on stock websites! As inspirations I used maps from the book The Big Book of Illustration Ideas: 2 edited by Roger Walton and Jen Cogliantry. I got a few books for design inspiration at this great used book store here in Seattle, Half Price Books. They have a great selection. Anyway, here is my inspiration for the illustration:

Robin Hursthouse (UK) Title: Business Connections Publication: Trusted Connections, World Business

Robin Hursthouse (UK)

Title: Business Connections

Publication: Trusted Connections, World Business

A. Skwish (USA) Title: South Chicago map Publication: Catalyst

A. Skwish (USA)

Title: South Chicago map

Publication: Catalyst

And here is what I came up with:


Wisdom from in-house designer Allan Peters

Last Thursday I listened to a webcast with Allan Peters, hosted by AIGA (read their article about Allan) and The Creative Group. Allan Peters is the Associate Creative Director at Target and has been doing a lot of speaking gigs lately about in-house design and the great design he has been doing for Target. 

The most helpful and important points from his talk were: 

  • Seek out a mentor
  • Never stop self promoting | It's not about finding a new job, it's about being an artist, sharing your work, and being a part of the design community.
  • Show unproduced work |  Actually, I didn't learn this from Allan. He said the exact opposite. But the conversation in the comments during the webcast proved otherwise. It depends where you work, but most designers in the conversation said that when you show unproduced work, make sure you watermark the work that you're showing in your portfolio, disclosing that it wasn't produced, and that you make it public on the interwebs AFTER the production of the chosen concept.
  • Fight for the work | But be compassionate and kind
  • Get involved in Passion Projects | It will feed your work and your life
  • Don't wait for a brief | My personal favorite. Be proactive and creative. 

...and for some inspo, check out Lab Partners design

Design can change the world

This past weekend I saw a documentary at Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) Cinema in Queen Anne and the following preview for the documentary "If You Build It" came on before the main event started. It reminded me why I design...and that design of all kinds can be a powerful force of change in the world if we put it to good use. I can't wait to see this film!

Why a jack of all trades is the most valuable employee in the 21st century

More and more, our current job market looks for people who are focused on a certain field—highly specialized and experienced employees.

Job training programs can be expensive and are thus hard to come by these days and many companies that are strapped for cash are unwilling to invest in the workforce's skill set through training programs.

However, employees are generally (if you hire the right people) very stimulated by and excited about learning new skills. There are so many people in the world who would love to change paths, even ever so slightly, and this has become harder and harder to do.

Hiring highly specialized employees can be a dangerous trend because it makes for fewer well-rounded people. I am convinced that being a jack of all trades and a master of many is very valuable. It's important to learn every day, try new things, and learn new skills. Being able to do so shows eagerness and dedication to constant improvement. I have worked with many people who can perform well doing a variety of skills and tasks. It makes for lively exchange of ideas and a creative, stimulating work environment. 

I urge companies and hiring teams to be more open about the people they hire, and to think more in terms of the big picture (employee satisfaction and retention) rather than thinking about filling one specific need or role.