Written by Antonino Lupo
Written by Antonino Lupo
Written by Antonino Lupo
So I’d like to talk a little bit about what got us here, and share some of the most noteworthy projects that we’ve had the pleasure of being involved in over the past few years.
The reason why a made the decision to start an agency, rather than to freelance, was because of the way I wanted my business to grow. I wanted to be seen as part of something bigger, and having an agency felt a bit more substantial, and had a certain stamp of trust about it.
I feel fortunate that I made that decision, because it’s opened the doors to so many great design projects, and given me the freedom to experiment with plenty of techniques and processes, and allowed me to work alongside many different industries.
I’d like to share a few of my favourite projects and highlights, and some of the projects that are happening right now.
Perhaps it’s unfair to say this is my favourite project over the last three years; there have been many that I still look back on with a sense of achievement. But saying that, the work that I did for the local business, Glouglou, is one that sticks in my mind. Possibly because I had involvement in the branding of the business from its infancy, and the owners were so great to work with.
You can read more about what I did for them in an earlier post, but in summary, their approach to the brand was unique, and I think we managed to come up with something that completely encapsulates what they are all about. I can’t think of another brand that looks like they do in their branding, and everything they do, both online and offline, ties in with their image perfectly.
From setting up the business, and then working towards my MA, I’ve been able to explore so many opportunities I might not have thought possible before. Like creating my own book, Ten Yrs Later, which showcases my design thinking and tells my story through my work.
I also won the Creative Conscience Award, which was fantastic to work on and a huge confidence boost. Designing the app allowed me to try out new techniques and be involved in subjects I hadn’t previously had too much experience in – Mental Health, and the Emergency Services.
It’s not something that many people think about, but there is huge pressure on people who work on the front line, and taking care of their mental health is often overlooked, and frequently stigmatised. So being able to look at ways I could help them, as a designer, was an eye-opening and valuable experience.
And an upcoming highlight – I’ve recently been asked to get involved in the Coventry Design Festival (although that one isn’t happening until 2022).
There are a couple of local projects going on that I’m part of, and both are centred around Shrewsbury.
The first one – Market Hall: A Day in the Life – is focussed on Shrewsbury Market Hall, and tells the story of the building’s history, and the people who work there. The building has always been a big influence within the town, and it’s great to keep it alive by telling the stories of the current stall-holders, and giving a history of its architecture and use over the years, in relation to the town.
Another ongoing project – Public Opinion – where we created an online survey, did face-to-face interviews and asked on social media, where the local public could share, anonymously, their opinions on the town of Shrewsbury.
We used this information to share some of the comments, using stickers around the town, sharing a booklet, and projecting them on slides from the studio.
I was affected very personally by Covid – my family and I caught it about 2 weeks before Lockdown 1.0. What hit me most was how utterly exhausted it made us feel. And then of course businesses began to shut down, and I was left in a situation where for the first time in a long time, I had to seek out work, because everyone was putting their marketing on pause, meaning my workload reduced significantly.
The second lockdown has felt different – in general, more businesses are staying open where they can, and those who are working from home are more confident in booking meetings vis Zoom, so even if budgets are reduced, they are thinking about how they can remain in front of their customers, which means keeping ahead with web design and graphics.
I think for all businesses, the future looks different to how we thought it would back at the beginning of the year. We’ve all had to adjust, and I’m no exception.
Views have changed, and for me, it’s forced me to focus on things in a different way.
I’m keen to continue to evolve in a professional capacity and challenge myself a bit more. I’m really enjoying working with local causes, and I count myself lucky to be in this part of the world.
Pre-internet, promotion looked very different. We relied on using print to show off our best work. We used to send out portfolios so that prospects could see our work in print-form. It’s all very well having a beautifully designed online portfolio, but you can’t hold it in your hands. You can’t smell the brand-new paper and ink. You can’t touch it.
That’s where the idea for my book, Ten Yrs Ltr came from – I wanted to get back to that, by creating a showcase of my best work. It’s a bit different, and it gives people a sense of nostalgia, making it a memorable experience.
There are other agencies who do this particularly well – the ones that stand out for me are both by DixonBaxi; Be Brave, which includes case studies of their work, and Monograph, a beautifully illustrated showcase of their most recent work highlighting the processes and thought behind each one.
It doesn’t have to be as complicated as a book. Something I like to do is present my prospects with a selection of my work as printed material – it helps me to stand out, because rather than turning up to a meeting with a slideshow on a laptop, I’m letting them see what my work looks and feels like as a real document.
I think people appreciate it when you’ve gone to the effort of presenting yourself in this way, and also making it personal to them. It shows that you understand their requirements, and that you’re knowledgeable about how design can work for them specifically. It makes them remember you.
In today’s world, we are so focussed on the online way of doing things, we’ve lost sight of the enormous possibilities that print promotion holds. Sure, we rely on online marketing, but perhaps having print promotion to accompany that should be something we consider more.
How many of us have business cards anymore? You might believe they’re irrelevant in today’s world, but I’d disagree.
Far from just a piece of card with your number on it, a business card can be used to really show people your design capabilities. By playing with the design of your business card, you can make it something different and memorable – there are so many options here, from the kind of material you use, the shape (it really doesn’t have to be a rectangle), use of embossing or metallics, and making good use of both sides of the card.
People love getting stuff in the mail. It’s something we’ve lost in the digital age, but I think it still has relevance. A while ago, I came across a little stack of letters I’d written to try and get an agency job. They were in envelopes, along with my (20-year-old) CV. I decided to make something of them, so I sent them out with a covering letter to the original recipients. It was a bit of a gimmick, but I got a nice response from it – including this reply from one of the partners at Pentagram:
“Your 1998 CV ended up on my desk. Really liked the paper and feel – you just don’t get these sort of CVs anymore – funny though what might have been.
“I looked at your site – would love to see your book – I couldn’t see how to buy a copy?”
By sending that letter, I prompted a written response, but also moved the recipient to go and look at my website, and gave him the desire to purchase a copy of my book. Would I have got the same response if I’d sent an email? Almost certainly not. (and it’s since available to buy…)
I think perhaps it’s easy to get lost in the sheer vastness of the online world. And yes, I agree that most of us need to have a strong online presence, because that’s where our customers are. But it is increasingly an overcrowded place. So perhaps we can get the edge by looking at creating more offline content, too.
Feel free to contact us for a no-obligation chat, if you’re looking at new ways to promote your business. We can bounce some ideas around, and see what we can come up with…
Getting that one element right, even if the final design is a simple one, takes a lot of thought and effort on the part of the designer.
In the past, and in fact today, the logo for any type of business needs to become the most recognisable part of the business branding, and should tell the customer what the company is about without relying on the name or taglines.
Some of the most effective logos, from the big corporates, to the small local business, use clever design techniques and images that are instantly recognised with little more that simple shapes, colours, and images.
I suppose that, unlike in the past, today’s logo design needs to work even harder, because not only does it need to tell the customer who you are across your printed material, but even more so, it needs to translate digitally as well, and that can be a whole different task due to the fast-paced nature of the tech we use, and how we use it.
What I’d like to explore in this article is not just the simplicity of the ‘flat’ logo we’ve all been used to, but the way in which the technology we use, and the differences in print-to-screen, which have changed and evolved logo design. I’d like to look a little bit at some of the trends that are emerging right now in order for businesses to stand out, and take full advantage in new technology, and appeal to a new generation of customers, who largely read from a screen or smart device.
A well-designed logo should always be uncomplicated. I find that in having something that looks relatively simple, it becomes almost like a symbol, a single image that the customer remembers and doesn’t have to spend too much time thinking about.
If you consider some of the bigger companies, such as Nike, or Audi, who use just a simple shape, but are know the world over. Designs like that don’t need to have a defining colour, words or slogans in order for us to recognise what they mean. Yet if you were to seek out the designer of those logos, as simple as they seem to us, I’d be willing to bet that hours and hours were spent on getting them to look how they do today.
Unless you’re a well know company, though, I would necessarily suggest using something quite that simple – although it’s not a bad idea to think about having some kind of simple structure or shape by which you can be identified as part of your logo design.
Looking at some of my own designs as examples, I’ve tried hard to use shapes and symbols within the logo images, or as part of the font, in order to tell the story behind the brand. I think that’s important to do, because you have to consider who you will be appealing to, and your logo is a big part of that.
And that is always where you start – with the logo at its most basic. Because in its basic form, it needs to be able to make sense on both printed material and on screen.
Something that I’ve been looking at more and more recently is the use of animation in logo design. I think that’s it’s becoming a necessity to stand out using movement as part of our logo design, particularly where we’re using social media as part of our content creation plan. The eye tends to pause when we see movement in an image, and so where there is such busy traffic such as social platforms where people are scrolling through such a large amount of content, having animation can be a good way to pause them and encourage them to read the post.
Whether or not you already have an existing logo, use of animation can greatly enhance your images and make them more memorable, and are a useful tool in getting your content noticed above the competition.
You could look at something as simple as having a moving gradient, or a light effect over the logo, or something more elaborate like fade-ins, moving characters, rotation/sliding, or video effects. The huge advances in technology means that we are able to add a huge number of animated images – much of what you can imagine can be done on-screen.
During 2020, it’s thought that many businesses will embrace animation as part of their designs, and could fast become mainstream.
By adding detail to the animation, the viewer tends to spend longer watching it, therefore making the experience more memorable, and too your brand.
That’s a lot of pages to compete with, and the chances of getting your website found without having a marketing plan in place are, to say the least, extremely slim.
You might feel disheartened by that. But I think that it just highlights how important it is to do everything you possibly can to get your online content noticed. And a huge part of that is creating the right look – including branding and images – to make sure that when you are found, people will be interested enough to want to read what you have to say.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to use images online. I look at different types of image; photography, artwork, gifs/animated images…. I spend a lot of time testing things out, seeing how they work on the screen, gauging audience response. And I’ve spent a lot of years working out what works and what doesn’t.
You might ask why you need images as part of your online content at all. What if you’re a car mechanic, or a manufacturer? Surely these kinds of industries don’t require images on their websites, right?
OK, well think about this; if you’re online, looking for a specific type of company, where does your brain stop you scrolling – on the page filled with text, or the one with the high-quality images?
We have it hardwired in us to respond to visual prompts. So we automatically want to see images – it’s what our brains seek out first, in order to make sense of the page, and learn what it is about.
Then, if we’re pleased with what we see, we start reading.
Statistics say that online content with images get 94% more views than those without – that’s almost double. For that reason alone, I think it’s worth putting some thought into.
The main thing to remember is that all images need to compliment the content they appear alongside. The purpose should be to draw the person in and compel them to read your content.
Bear in mind that nowadays, most people will have access to smartphones, and so for many of them, this is how they will see your web content. Make sure that the images you choose look good on both monitors and phone screens.
You’ll also want to think about your overall branding – every image you use, whether that’s in the form of photographs or graphics, need to tie in with the rest of your branding. Consider colours, composition, and style, and make sure that everything follows the same theme.
The images you use should be the correct resolution – people can see poor quality a mile off, and if your images look shoddy, then so will the rest of your site.
There’s an old cliché that people buy from people – and it’s true. The most clickable images are always those which show a personal element to your business. That might be candid images of the work that you do, a sneak peek of your office or workspace, or even a short video of you giving some insight into a process that you could share with people.
Tell a story; show people who you are, and what they can expect if they hire you or buy from you. Let them see how you work, and some of the behind the scenes stuff you do in order to provide the service that you do.
The images you use on your website also dictate largely how you use your social media platforms. As well as building an audience via social, your social media platforms should also encourage people onto your website.
Changes in algorithms over the past couple of years means that reach has dropped significantly, so anything you can do to encourage “meaningful interactions” (their words, not mine) will increase the number of people who see your posts.
Using well thought out images can be a way to get people to read your posts, and comment on them, giving you more reach, and therefore lead more people to your website.
In view of what’s going on right now in the world, it was perhaps pre-determined that I should focus my design on the category of Mental Health, and looking at a group of people who are particularly often ‘missed out’ of the equation – our Emergency Services.
This is a section of our community who are often called upon when we ourselves are facing trauma, mental instability, and the emotional fallout of injury and illness, but we neglect to consider that they too are on the frontline dealing with often unimaginable pressures every day.
Like no other, this is a section of the workforce who are expected to be able to deal with all kinds of emergency situations, and in many cases feel that they have to cope with those situation on their own, or relying only on the team around them who are going through the same things.
“It’s when you’re on your own afterwards you have time to process, and think about it and everything hits you at once”
As I began to look further into it, I uncovered some worrying facts and stories. I heard reports of police officers who were suffering from varying degrees of stress and anxiety, who continued to work under the same pressure, being forced to try to manage their issues alone without support.
I learned about more and more instances of physical abuse from the very people they were trying to help, resulting in injury, and even death.
I read worrying statistics of members of the emergency services and military who, due to immense pressures, had attempted to take their own lives.
So I set about researching things that could help raise awareness of the issue, and offer advice, help, and support to those who needed it.
“Now, ‘lone-wolf’ or ‘active shooter’ situations, the policy is that the first to arrive on-scene go straight in”
The concept of a self-help/self-awareness app appealed to me, because I felt that from speaking to those who were affected, mainly focussing on the police force, it could be used as a tool which was discreet – many of the officers I spoke to felt there was a stigma in the force around mental health, and the possibility of simply ‘raising awareness’ with the general public had the danger of undermining their authority, and in some cases making them a target for abuse.
By giving them the option of being able to log on to an app, I could then offer them a way of recording their mental state, and give them a space to ‘talk out’ their feelings in private, without judgement. In this, the app could offer them practical advice based on their individual circumstances, helping them to gain control over their feelings, and take action.
This was a very different project for me – it meant that I had to delve into a subject that I previously had only a basic understanding of, and forced me to thin about ways of designing something for a very specific set of people. From the styles and colours I used, to the language and tone, every element had to come together in a way which could be clearly understood, was visually impactful, yet made the user feel that the space within it was peaceful, personal, and friendly – even the name ‘OPPO’, meaning ‘Friend’, gives a sense of support with no judgement.
All in all, it was a fantastic project to work on. And clearly one which appealed to the judges too.
Take a look at our case study for more project details.
Joe’s original brief was to show a reference to life challenges faced, overcoming difficulties in the past as well as happy memories and showing hope for the future. This was to give a taste of some of the subjects he was communicating in his songs, creating a ‘mood’ to reflect the story of the album.
This project needed to be handled quite differently to most of the other stuff I work on – when I’m working for a brand, for example, I would need to delve into the person behind it, the core values, the image they need to portray, and the customer demographic. In this instance, I wasn’t selling a brand, or a company; this needed to represent the product, and the music itself. So the approach I took had to be different, too.
After speaking to Joe at length about his own ideas, and getting some background on his music, I listened to the album, making notes of words and phrases that came to mind. Once I had these, I could begin drafting out some ideas, putting together images, colours etc.
Working with Joe, we talked through some of these, and I asked him to provide me with some of his own images and photographs; memorable moments, favourite toy from childhood, favourite photo, anything which brought a special memory.
These things all came together as a kind of portrait to which I can add my design elements, and this, for me, is where the real fun begins.
Now for a disclaimer: I’ve worked with Joe before, and have created his previous album and singles covers, so I’m aware of the kind of designs Joe likes, and I’ve got a good feel for how I can use my designs to compliment Joe’s musical style.
For this design, I wanted to make sure that I used a different style from his last album, because although the genre is the same, this one had a completely different ‘mood’, and I felt it was important to encapsulate that. I wanted his fans to be able to pick it up and know instantly the kind of thing they would be listening to. Like a book, every album tells its own story.
From our conversations, we came to the idea of creating a kind of dream sequence using the images he had chosen, travelling through important events from his life in sepia tones, kind of like a montage of memories.
By using muted colours and transparent layers, I was able to highlight these images, while using the background to bring in more subtle layers to show other elements, such as the piano keys and the written notes etc.
I hadn’t really got a firm idea about the colours at this point – I knew I wanted them to be quite subtle, but I hadn’t made any decisions about how to use colour overlays. But sometimes, once everything is in place and you start the process of playing with the design, the decision is almost made for you, and that’s what happened in this instance.
I think we achieved the result we wanted very well – from the original concept, we managed to encapsulate the style of the music, and tell the story of the album.
It always works really well when you are able to work with a client who has their own ideas of what they want to achieve, yet trusts you to deliver without difficulty, and that’s how it was with Joe. This album cover was a result of designer and client working together, from a clear brief, and willing to communicate and contribute ideas throughout the whole project.
I’ve heard a lot of talk, especially during the current climate, around whether or not graphic designer should consider creating their own side projects. Opinions tend to vary quite widely on the subject – some designers see them as somehow a waste of their time, in that it takes them away from doing paid work, and perhaps sends the message to prospective clients that they’re not so much in demand. Others think that they’re a great way of doing something ‘out of the norm’ and taking it as an opportunity to expand design portfolios, and indeed knowledge within the field of design.
While I can see both views, I think that, done right, they can enhance a design portfolio, and even lead a designer off in a new direction that might not have been possible within ‘the day job’. In fact, I myself published a book showcasing my design journey, and am currently organising some events promoting local designers, both of which were things that have come as a result of my own passion and desire to push myself beyond what I normally do.
I think, as creatives, it’s easy to get bogged down in doing work for others, so in occasionally doing things that come from our own passion can be a welcome release, and a really good way to inspire us. I’ve found that, in doing these side projects, I have so often been inspired to try different techniques and designs for my client work, too.
Looking around at other agencies, there are some examples of side projects that have been so successful, they have enabled the agency to take on completely new projects that they might never have had the opportunity to bid for under normal circumstances, like London agency, Accept & Proceed, who created a kinetic sculpture representing the impact of meteors on the surface of the moon that led to a commissioned project for NASA. Ok, so that might be an extreme example, but you never know…
Of course, there is no harm at all in flexing your creativity and working on a project just for the hell of it, even if it goes nowhere. It can teach you a lot – not just by playing around with different styles and techniques, but also giving you practice in new programmes which might not come up in your usual work. Unlike some industries, the graphic design field is ever-evolving, and it’s good to try out new ways of working now and again. It might give you the opportunity to incorporate a new service for your clients, or even take your agency in a different direction.
And they can be so varied – I’ve seen designers doing online courses teaching others simple design techniques, YouTube channels showcasing everything from ‘a day in the life’ to time-lapses of works in progress, blogs and magazines, photography…the list is endless.
I know what you’re thinking – if you are busy indulging your passions, doesn’t that pull you away from the money-making projects? And yes, of course that’s true, but if you don’t make time for creating your own stuff, then what’s going to inspire you if all you’re doing is working for clients? As a creative, you need an outlet, somewhere. After all, most of us got into this industry from a place of love for creation and design, and if we fail to keep doing what we love, then there’s a danger that working could become monotonous.
Of course, there’s the added benefit of being able to show your clients a different side to what you do. If you’ve been designing as a job for a while, you tend to end up doing the same kinds of things, but think about this: what if the very client you are designing that website for is also in the market for some photography, or a new identity, a video…if they are not aware that you have a talent for those things, you could be missing out on a whole new set of projects.
All in all, I believe that there can be great things to come out of doing side projects. So why not plan for them? Even if it’s simply a one-off, or a few hours at the weekend? It could be great for both your mental health, and your career.
Marketing is a vital part of any businesses plan, but it always surprises me how little though is put into using good design when a business is thinking about marketing. In fact, graphic design should be at the front of your mind when you are planning your marketing – here are 5 design strategies you should be considering.
Branding starts with your logo – it’s an essential marketing tool which ties together all of your marketing messages, creates the face of your brand, and helps you to connect with your customers. Your logo is the image that people will most remember, so it’s important to get it right. It should communicate who you are, what you do, and what you stand for in one simple image. Also consider this: nobody buys anything because of a bigger logo.
The right font can tell your customers the mood, character and tone of your business before they even start reading. There are so many different fonts available, it can be overwhelming, but there are things you should consider.
Your font should be easy to read, especially if you’re using a text-heavy approach. People won’t read a lot of text if they are having to put in too much effort to decipher it.
Using the right style of font is important. If the overall design of your branding and website are contemporary, you need a font which will complement it. For example, if you were using something like a brick wall effect background, you wouldn’t want to use Times Roman – it would look out of place. You’d instead need to consider something bold, perhaps a font that hints the use of a stencil or paint.
It’s also an idea to consider using the same font across all of your branding, and committing to just 2 or 3 fonts across all of your marketing. Use the same font in all of your titles and headers, and compliment that with your main text.
When you apply it to marketing, and even branding, colour plays a big part in your customers decision making process. If you look at some of the bigger, well-known brands, you might start to see a pattern – they’re playing on something called colour psychology.
According to the theory, every colour sparks something different in our minds. It’s why brands like Netfix, Lego, Coca-Cola, and Virgin use the colour red – because red is the colour most associated with happiness and youthfulness. HP, Dell, and Facebook are blue, which is thought of as trustworthy, strong and dependable.
So it’s worth thinking about the colours you use in your branding and design, as it can have a huge influence on the people you reach.
Now that social media is such a big part of our lives, we are seeing a lot more images in our marketing. We have the capability to take instant images with your phones, edit them and upload them in a matter of seconds. With this in mind, it’s so important for us to make sure that the images we use in our branding stands out and gets noticed. It needs to have an impact, and make people stop scrolling and look at what we’re doing.
All of your images need to be of high quality, and they need to be consistent in style. Like your logo, font, and brand colours, people will come to recognise your images, and know that they are yours without any context. And if you can achieve that, you’re on to something good.
Something else which often gets overlooked, especially with website design, is cross-platform optimisation. In other words, does your content read well on mobile devices, as well as desktop?
According to research, more people consume content via their mobile phones that they do on their desktops. If your website doesn’t translate, you will be missing out on a huge audience.
Make sure that during the design process, all of your content is optimised for mobile too.
Of course, there are many things to consider when you’re thinking about graphic design – these are just a few. If you’d like advice on how to use design in your branding, please give us a call. We’d love to help.
I wanted to talk about a subject that I touched upon in a couple of earlier articles, where I write about why I went back into education to complete my design MA, and then about being a designer working within a smaller community. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own working location, a small-ish market and college town, and how perhaps larger places have a much closer design community.
Shrewsbury, where I live and work is quite a unique, and in some respects, vibrant town. It comes with a lot of history, and is also a great hub for businesses.
What surprised me, though, is when I began to look around at my own industry, there really isn’t much of a community at all. It’s not for lack of designers or design agencies in the town – if you know where to look, there are some very successful designers here. But they seem to be quite isolated; hidden away from view. Seemingly keeping to ourselves, not through lack of interest, but more because we don’t go out of our way to know about each other. There is simply no interaction between us.
The discovery led me to look around, at other places, and how they have come together to collaborate and communicate, creating a ‘hub’ for their design communities. I looked at some of the most successful ones – the Graphic Design Festival Scotland, and closer by the Birmingham Design Festival. These designers seem to not only willingly collaborate, but celebrate doing so. They come together for events such as these – perhaps because, rather than see each other as competition, they see the value in working together on occasion, in pulling together to learn from one another, and creating their own ‘hub’ in their own communities.
There are many positives that can come from being part of a close design community – and creating local festivals and exhibitions to celebrate and collaborate. Of course, it does have the obvious benefit of showing off our work in order to give publicity to our individual studios – but I think it does much more than that.
Being so isolated, in many ways, can be such a negative. For starters, by working in such close quarters, you lose that sense of the world around you – you become self-absorbed in your own work. And yes, you might argue that we are all part of the ‘online’ community, but is that really the same thing? Is there really any substitute to getting to know what’s going on in the immediate community, what’s happening in your own industry, in your own town?
The opportunity to bounce ideas with each other, to learn for each other’s experiences, to come together to work on bigger projects, can only help us to thrive as designers.
Being part of such events as the ones mentioned above can be such a positive experience, a moral booster, and give us a sense of where we are going, as an industry collective. There’s such a lot we could learn from each other.
This is where I am right now. This is the big question I’m asking – how can I facilitate putting together something in my own community which can bring together other designers?
I’m looking at other local events – there are regular, and successful events for other creatives in my town. There are exhibitions for local artists, both traditional and modern, festivals for writers and comic book artists, amongst others. So there is scope – and some really great venues in which to host such things.
I’d be interested to learn how other places do it – perhaps you have even been where I am, and have seen the opportunity in your own town or city. If you have, maybe you could give me the benefit of your experience. Tell me how you did it, what obstacles stood in your way. Were you successful?
Shrewsbury, I think, would be the perfect place to host a festival for graphic designers – and I’m hoping that in the future, I can facilitate that. I can see a huge benefit in raising the industry profile in the town and surroundings.