Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ 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.

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.

The Park Avenue Pakan Poster

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Since I have both design and illustration skills, poster projects are a particular favorite of mine. For instance, I was the designer to officially initiate the concept of doing a poster every year for the Lilac Festival. I know, big deal, right?

I was honored to receive the commission for this year’s Park Avenue Festival Poster.

I always find it a bit tenuous when first engaging in such a project.
Grasping the type of concept the committee or board is expecting
is always an interesting process.

By simply asking for the strategy or brand description of what the festival really stands for, and WHO the perceived target audience is, wasn’t getting anywhere.

The other option for us designers is to simply launch into design concepts and rely on the group to discover the direction through the creative. I know, a little scary… and the long way to go.

I could go through a rationale for each of the different layouts shown here. Let’s just say I went from a people-watching theme, to an approach that includes all the tributary roads connected to the Park, to an approach suggesting the Park is the fashion center of Rochester. No luck. My layouts were sent out as PDFs, then send back rejected. It was tough being so removed from the process.

After thinking of a more traditional approach, two café scenes were developed.



Once the specific layout was approved, several pencils were developed
to get the right mix of picture elements desired.

Cafe-Scene-Pencil_2a  Cafe-Scene-Pencil_3

It is refreshing to begin to paint after all of that.

It is like starting fresh on the project.

The painting really helps me create a mood and almost tell a story.
The challenge was to incorporate all the asks by the committee and come up with a cohesive piece.



The result is a traditional approach, but handled like an illustrated cover of a novel.

The coffee cups are on the table, but who left them?
They seem to radiate a mystery.
Who are the people in the background?
What Victorian drama at dusk are they involved in?



Come to festival and find out!