Archive for the ‘Content Development’ Category

A Vision of Jazz

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Jazz is_Pulsating_Crop_Web_2

It is Jazz festival season here in Rochester, New York. From now until the end of summer, almost every moment of our good weather season is rich with every sort of festival and celebration. As a designer and an illustrator this season has my mind working overtime and I get the itch to create posters for the events.

During the 1960s and 1970s, American festivals and concert events were branded graphically with posters and T-shirts. These were powerful pop culture works of art, and they publicly displayed the unique creativity and designs of a growing community of home-grown visionaries. Their illustrations, photography and the interwoven elements of classic and modern design instantly connected the audience and the event. T-shirts became wearable art, often worthy of gallery display. Event posters once sold for a couple of bucks out of the back of VW bus, now fetch outrageous prices for originals and decorate the walls in art museums.

The medium is still the message, and poster design extends the vision of the artist and the experience of the event – far beyond the reach of a single human or epic concert performance. It is a physical embodiment of our shared culture.

So why are we not making posters like that anymore? In truth, there is no good reason. In our rush to promote digitally, in an entirely disposable, delete-able medium, we often forget about the power of the long-lasting print medium. The well-done poster has collectible value because it has sentimental value. It makes a timeless emotional connection to a set of cultural values.

But there is good news! The open canvas for big ideas still exists. The ability to execute them graphically, beautifully and affordably is still within our power, and stronger than ever before. The opportunity for the confluence of words and images to create a moving, almost underground language to influence a generation is there for the taking.

Looking at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, I began to wonder: “What is Jazz? How do I define it? How do you define it?” In my role as a graphic design provocateur insists, I believe I can further this discussion with a series of posters combining images and words that elicit our true feelings on the subject, based around the statement/question: “Jazz Is…”

I asked Charley Myers, Copywriter at Large, to create a list of words to be used as motivation for the design concepts and begin to sculpt out the many facets of what this uniquely American musical form is and can be.

I invite you all to contribute to this concept. Send me a link to your personal defining piece of Jazz music. Share with me your thoughts and images of what Jazz means to you. Help me extend the series to include all the possible sub-categories of music that make up this uniquely American musical genre.

Jazz is Mellifluous – Poster size 24″x36″
Digital / Traditional



The Discipline of Design

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

“There is no design without discipline.
There is no discipline without intelligence.”
— Massimo Vignelli

The definition of what role a graphic designer plays in developing an effective brand identity and overall look and feel of communications can be confusing these days. Much depends on the value the client puts on design to communicate their brand values and the skill set of the designer to be able to work across all media platforms. By choosing to pay attention to the how as much as the what, communications is made more connective, informative, distinctive and effective.

This is a challenge. Rarely is there an opportunity to build a brand up from a clear space and from the inside out. It takes a strong leader with vision to be able to reimage a company while having to manage it every day. Most times, a designer is brought in to solve a particular problem. Each assignment provides different degrees of “input.”

One of the core principles I teach my design class at RIT is this: To create great work, the designer has to own the project, not just work on it. There has to be investment. I love to work with strategic brand development experts as the first level of client investment. When I can become privy to their process of arriving at a client truth, I have something solid to build from that I know is right.

Once the strategy and direction is clear, it guides the way the brand story and all the visual attributes that inform the story can be developed. How we go about doing this is really important, not only in terms of being consistent yet uniquely appropriate as we build the brand out, but also inventive with the element of creative spark.

I wish more marketing and brand managers within companies understood better that how we build the brand story, how we create a unified brand architecture and all the communications infrastructure pieces that go along with it, can really be done efficiently. Not only does this save time and money in the long run, it also assures us that all the disparate communications pieces we develop connect and build on one another for a stronger brand.

One of my simplest yet most effective ways to avoid the request to just look at one aspect of the brand, like a website, is to start with brand and content development, both graphically and through voice and story. We can then think about articulating the tools we have created across media, keeping the brand connected and identity strong.

Design does become grounded in discipline, as Mr. Vignelli states.
A clear brand strategy based on a specific business strategy is the intelligence of which he speaks. As a designer, it is something I find hard to work without.

Are You Content Providing Content?

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

A longtime friend of mine and copywriter extraordinaire has recently begun to describe himself as a creative content developer.

Creative fits him to a T. I was curious as to why he chose the words content developer to replace his longstanding identifier, copywriter. “Because that’s what people are searching for these days,” was his reply. Perhaps. But who decided the phrase content developer or content provider were desirable traits?

Content is merely that which takes up space. It is value neutral at best. My attic and basement are full of content, but I doubt if anybody would be interested in my providing it to them.

I would prefer that creative people promote themselves as providers of substance. It is a much more salient word. It implies heft. It implies value.

On the website of graphic designer Kurt Pakan,, of which I am a contributor, we describe what we do this way:

We are, at heart, makers of creative substance. Not merely content, but ideas.

Isn’t that what people are looking for from the creative community? To me, that’s a far more promising descriptor than I provide content.

Creator of substance may not score as well right now on a google search as content provider. But if more creative people began to think of and define themselves as such, it would gain traction. I believe it is far more appealing that content provider.

Give it a try and, when people seek you out, you can wow them with your substantive creativity. Prove to them that you are eons ahead of the mere providers.

~ written by Charles P. Myers, Copywriter at Large

Slow Down to Speed Up

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

With access to technology 24/7, and if you run a business, access to you 24/7, how do you ever get off the cycle of one day to the next to consider maybe next week, or even next year?

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. This idea sounds counter to everything you’ve ever been told or shown. By slowing down, I’m not talking about productive time elongated to suit some creative fancy as the solution. By slowing down, I mean developing a larger mental picture of your business — why it was started and where it is going.

Simply put, by slowing down enough to remember the really good and perhaps altruistic motives attached to your particular business or industry, a communications professional can create an optimistic and personal way to talk about your company.

Such a professional can help your company articulate its brand promise with clarity and brevity. This can then be used as a unifying point for creative development. This is where the storytelling begins.

At PAKAN, we recommend you slow down enough to have a workshop with all key leaders in your company. It creates an opportunity to really hash out a clear direction. This is invaluable to content and brand development.

Slowing down at the front end minimizes short-term, reactive thinking. It allows us to build a solid and more pervasive brand foundation which will work for the web, mobile, social, print, outdoor, or wherever your customers are. This will help you build a solid, long term, recognizable brand. After we are clear on the big brand issues, you will see how communications can then speed up.

We encourage you to resist the idea that you don’t have time to really think about your brand/business position, and that you’ll do it later. That doesn’t make much sense.

How many times do you get to make a big first impression?

The Strategic Graphic Designer

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

An ever-increasing array of tactical communication approaches adds to the pressure to communicate faster, cheaper and with greater reach than ever before. To create economic efficiencies by assuring a clear and consistent approach to content development and messaging — an experienced strategic graphic designer is a great solution. While the term strategic graphic designer is loosely tossed around, it means different things to different people, and it crosses many areas of knowledge, experience, and expertise

Many times, a brand manager within a company will assume the role of strategist. They generally have a business degree, a good idea of how the business makes money, and what its brand personality might want to be. However, many brand managers have never developed creative from the ground up because they do not come from an experienced creative perspective.

Often, an art director from an advertising agency will be responsible for a company’s brand identity. But, art directors don’t think like graphic designers. Their job description doesn’t include developing a communication infrastructure. Nor are they generally interested in doing so. Their interest and advancement lies in developing bold, daring, and awards winning work. While the work may be stunning, it may be a less appropriate, inventive, and subtle reflection of the brand.

The strategic graphic designer seeks to really understand the implications of the core strengths of the brand and thus the positive key differentiators — key truths that research shows resonate with the customer. After all, that is what will inform creative development.

Some call this skill or innate process Design Think. As designer, that is how you are wired and trained to think – to understand the brand and reflect it in all the core communications. Done effectively, it paves the way for great creative ideas and execution. This is a thoughtful, reflective process. Do it right and extend it across all media in a unique, consistent fashion. It just makes good business sense to do so. Start with a solid foundation based on core beliefs within the company. Only then are you able to reflect and communicate values, beliefs and smart business acumen outside the company.

A strategic graphic designer has a difficult time making stuff up. Words like “refresh the brand” and “we’ll know it when we see it”, feel more like a style than a solution. Design should absolutely be fun and artful. But, without discipline of process, fun and artful can run counter to the basic intent of the strategic graphic designer. Make no mistake, brand identity is a discipline.

Using analytics to drive design and brand decisions is integral to the nature of a strategic designer. Being trained to look at design as a function of a business strategy conditions the strategic graphic designer to think efficiently, seamlessly, consistently, uniquely and yes, even artfully. Ultimately, that is what should drive any creative development.

What is Your Brand?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014


When I have participated in or provided the framework
for a company to conduct a brand discovery,
I am often amazed by how differently people
view their business and place in the world.

This article by Madeleine Lewis of Virgin Unite made me think of this.

I don’t think you have to feel the need to change the world in such a dramatic fashion,
but it is definitely cool to have that passion and unique focus.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s essential to think beyond being a commodity.

Often, when people have been in business for a long time, and are consumed by the daily operation,
it is easy to settle in and think of themselves as providing a commodity, with little to talk about.
It’s generally not a question of what is being offered, but how, and to what end.

The value of engaging in brand discovery, or rediscovery,
is unearthing and articulating what is special about you.
Think back.
How did your company begin?
What strengths and values drove its inception?
What made your business different and distinct from all others?
How has that played out over time?

At PAKAN, we understand the value of creating a unique face and voice for a company.
Good creative comes from having a real story to tell.
A rich narrative about your company, its values, and how you affect the world
will give you a unique position in the marketplace.
It will also give you something to aspire to every day.