"We should envision ourselves as the inevitable architects of future revolutionary systems of communication."

– Lester Beall (learn more here).

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Tuesday
Apr072009

attn small and/or local businesses: stimulus

Doing our small part to help get things rolling again.

We got to brainstorming the other day on the current economy and what we could do about it. This is a strange time, and we understand how rough it is -- even as we work to maintain optimism and push for a large-scale shift to a more positive attitude. We decided we could do something to help, something that would lift everyone a little.

So starting now and running for at least a little while, we're offering some of our services at discounted rates to small and/or locally owned businesses who could use a boost during tough times.

Specifically, we're talking about individual projects like:

    Copy and/or design for an advertisement 
    Poster, flier, handout, etc 
    Postcard 
    Sticker, button, etc 
    Basic blog setup 
    Help with strategy/ideas

We're firm believers in the idea that strong identity and branding have a positive impact on the bottom line. We also realize that small businesses often don't pay as much attention to it as they should, especially when times are tough. We want to help.

Now, just so we're clear: the services we're offering here are not designed to substitute for a comprehensive program. We offer that, too, but the focus of this particular idea is more narrow. It's all about small and/or local businesses that could use a boost but which aren't, for whatever reason, able to implement a full program at the moment. We want to help you with an affordable way to communicate better, grow your business, and stay strong in tough times.

Sound like something you'd be interested in? Or do you know someone who owns a small/local business who might want to talk? Please pass around a link to this post and/or email us directly. Let's make it happen.

Friday
Mar272009

fresh work: atlantic consulting web/copywriting

A recent addition to the vault.

We're pleased to announce the completion of our most recent project, the website for elevator/escalator consulting firm Atlantic Consulting.

From start to finish the project work involved:

    Selection of WordPress theme. 
    Custom tweaks to theme. 
    Installation. 
    Design of information architecture/hierarchy.
    Copywriting.

Pretty stoked with the way this one turned out, and it's a great example of our belief in the power of WordPress for small businesses who need an easy-to-implement, easy-to-manage content management system. Back that up with solid strategy and copywriting and, well, there you go.

Monday
Mar162009

the economic recovery is underway

I'm drawing a line in the sand.

It started with a post I put up on Twitter back on March 6. "I'm declaring today 'bottom' for the economy," I said, "and tomorrow 'day one' of the recovery. Who's with me?"

I have no illusions about my reach or influence. Both are moderate on a good day. But I have had the good fortune of developing relationships with some very fine folks with whom I enjoy mutual respect. And so I'm reaching out to all of you, those I know personally and those I don't, with a simple idea: let's get shit rolling.

I think it's time we stop waiting to be saved. You and I are not getting bailouts no matter what happens with Citibank, GM, et al. If we wait on help we'll be waiting forever.

Instead, I propose we start the rebuilding effort now. Piece by piece, day by day, using the influence we have with friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and people in our network.

How? Simple: invest. In valuable things and valuable ideas. To the extent that you have any disposable income, spend it wisely. Buy a handmade item from a local craftsperson like Imogene or Sweet Pepita or the equivalents in your city. Go out to eat at a locally owned restaurant. When you do, skip the appetizer or drink and leave that extra cash as a tip for your server (believe me, he/she needs it). See a movie at a locally-owned theater, or a play by a local company. Buy some stock in an American business you believe in.

Do whatever you can, however small it might seem. Hell, do something as simple as clicking the google ads on your favorite independent websites. It helps. Most importantly, stop thinking that we're in a recession and start thinking that we're in the early stages of the recovery effort.

Do this right now, then tell other people you're doing it and invite them to join you. Does this sound silly? A little Pollyannish? So be it. Bottom line is that things won't get better until we start believing they're getting better and acting accordingly. No reason that can't start right now.

Monday
Mar022009

rooting for failure

Why? You can do better.

I happened upon CNN the other day while Rush Limbaugh was talking (I swear this was an accident), and I caught him saying that he's hoping Barack Obama will fail.

He made his case. It was fair enough, as those things go. He said he didn't believe in Obama's policies, and offered up the argument that it was only logical for him to want those policies to fail. Pretty standard political bullshit.

Politics isn't something to talk about here, but Limbaugh's speech got me thinking in broader terms.

Believing in something is tantamount to wanting it to succeed -- to win -- but the question becomes whether or not that's the same thing as rooting for the failure of something else. I don't think it is.

Instead, I'd argue that rooting for failure is a kind of quiet proof that whatever it is you do advocate isn't strong enough to begin with. If you truly believe what you're about is better, you've got no compelling reason to feel passionately about anything else.

The better strategy is to not waste energy and attention on what you don't like, and instead pour that effort into things you can actually control. Or, in other words, you can want to beat someone else without simultaneously wishing them harm.

It's a fine line, but it matters.

Friday
Feb272009

My Speaking Engagement @ Ignite Baltimore #2

It's important enough to break my lower-case style rule for headlines.

Why? For two reasons. One, I'm honored to have been a part of this event. Each speaker brought something interesting to the table, and all in all it was the kind of event that reminded me why I'm happy to live here.

Two, I'm happy with the talk itself and it's my hope that you might find value in it. So without further ado, here it is (or, direct YouTube link):

And here are the slides (or, direct Slideshare link):

 

This is a talk I'm hoping to give again in a more expansive setting, and it's something I intend to write about in more depth. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment and/or contact me if it piques your interest.

Beyond that, enjoy.

Monday
Feb162009

in praise: the right tool at the right time

What my faucet taught me.

On Sunday, I decided to finally replace my kitchen faucet. It was long overdue, as the cold water valve had broken some time ago. In the intervening months it had leaked to the point where the bolt that connects to the water line had rusted pretty badly. This wasn't going to be an easy task.

If you've never tried to replace a faucet, it only gets difficult at one point. Because the sink basin drops down and the faucet is mounted behind it, reaching the plastic nuts that hold the fixture in place means you have to navigate a sea of pipes and water lines and contort yourself into a position where it's next to impossible to generate leverage. Coupling that with significant rust meant I had zero chance of loosening by hand.

First I tried a hammer, figuring that if I could give it a gentle nudge it might loosen up enough to turn. All I managed to do was break one of the wings off the nut.

Then I tried different kinds of pliers, but the leverage problem remained.

I was at the point where mounting frustration was about to become bad, desperate decisions. I went to Home Depot instead.

I found the plumbing section, where I was greeted by a wall about seven feet high, six feet wide, and full of plumbing tools with highly specific purposes. There was a "confined space hacksaw," a miniature pipe bender, and a host of others. These are serious, professional tools that, for the most part, aren't useful in the least for a layman. Except when you really need them.

A bit of digging and about $20 later I left with the Ridgid plastic nut basin wrench, a foot long, tapered steel tube with notches on either end. It's heavy and strong. It's made in the USA. It's expensive because it has to be. It was designed and built to solve one problem and one problem only -- the one I had.

It worked perfectly.

I mention this because as I finished the job it occurred to me that I'd learned a few things that I could take with me into creative work. Understand the nature of the challenge. Seek out the specific solution. Execute the task at hand. Don't let frustration win out.

Easier said than done, sure, but it felt good. Felt right.

Thursday
Jan222009

an inauguration-inspired new project, and some news

Sometimes inspiration strikes.

It happened the other day, in fact, when I was watching Obama's inauguration. I was in awe of the sheer optimism on display. I'd never seen anything like that. So much negativity in the news lately and yet here were millions of people cramming themselves into the mall and crowding around their TVs and computers, just waiting to turn the page.

The soaring rhetoric was there, of course, but I was also struck by the new President's focus on responsibility and the need to put in time and work to actually make things happen. He made it clear that we have to roll our sleeves up.

I'm all for it, and I'd like to think that even those Americans who disagree with him politically -- who are an important part of our system, by the way -- can get on board with that.

It got me thinking: what happens when the hype dies down? When the confetti is swept up and the lights turned off? What does this new era mean, for both those who supported Obama and those who didn't?

So I put together a little art project: WouldYouDoThatIfBarackWasWatching.com. It's a simple site, designed with only one goal in mind: to get you thinking. No sides taken, simply a question. It's as much for me as it is for anyone else, but I think there are some other folks out there who could have some fun with it.

In other news... Slant Six Creative will be growing soon. Look for a new site in the near future. This site was intentionally set up as a blank slate, function over fashion all the way. That idea remains important to me, but it's time to flesh things out just a bit. Keep an eye on these pages for an evolution in the first quarter of the year. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Friday
Jan092009

there's more to this than an assembly line

A "creative" should be just that.

A nice conversation with a friend of a friend on New Year's Eve turned (naturally) to what we do. When I told him that I had spent time writing comic books, his eyes lit up. He had made some inroads of his own in the illustration world, and we talked for awhile about the comics business.

Then he asked me what I was up to now, since I'm less active in comics than I was, and I explained that I'd been doing a lot of marketing/advertising/design work, some PR, and working to build this business. To that, his eyes decidedly didn't light up.

Instead, he said "well at least you're still writing...sort of." I chuckled at that. It's something I've heard before. The implication being that it's more rewarding to do creative work than it is to do "creative" work. The thing is, it's not true.

If you show me a really great designer, or copywriter, or creative director, or marketer, or editor, I'll lay odds on that person also having a background and/or interest in something else. Photography, creative writing, painting, illustration -- something. An art.

There's a reason these people are called "creatives." The best of them are at work applying the exact same principles they use when they work at night or on weekends on novels, sketches, films, and music. If they've never done any of those things, chances are their work is average at best.

The advertising, marketing, and design work that really moves people is born of the same creative impulse as art. It's not the same thing, obviously, but it comes from the same place. It's a desire to communicate something that gets people thinking. To do work that inspires.

I have a healthy disdain for agencies and firms that try to turn the process into something else. There are always going to be compromises. We all understand that. But if your focus is primarily on bottom lines and focus groups and ROI, you're missing out. And what's more, it won't matter what the numbers say -- you won't be doing anything that matters.

You might be making money, but you won't be making a point. The best "creatives" do both.

Sunday
Jan042009

just what is "good" social media strategy?

One size does not fit all.

Last Friday, after putting the finishing touches on my redesign for The Loss Column, I spent time catching up on some sites I hadn't been to in awhile.

I ended up at the Sawmill PR blog, where I was drawn in by Susan Anthony's post, There's a Simple Way to Help Verify 'Expertise'. In it, she talks about her feelings towards "two companies in the mid-Atlantic that, according to their Web sites, offer an impressive menu of social media services with each of them wrapped in a security blanket of their “expertise.”

Her basic take? That these firms don't participate in social media enough on their own behalf to warrant "expert" status on behalf of someone else. It got me thinking quite a bit about my own perspective on social media and how to effectively advise others on how to use it.

I've been involved in social media on a personal level since my family had the Prodigy internet service when I was a kid. I didn't know what to call it then, but I started learning the ins and outs of online communication pretty early. I used that understanding a lot in college, especially when I took to message boards to promote the shows I was booking. I started my first blog in 2002, and since then social media has been -- literally -- part of my daily routine.

I've used it to (among other things) market books, develop relationships with people all over the country (like my good friends at Tomorrow's Brightest Minds), amass and offer advice and knowledge, create a successful sports talk website, and launch Slant Six. I've consulted others on using social media, in both official and unofficial capacities. There have been quite a few missteps and failures along the way, and I've learned from every one of them.

I don't call myself an "expert" because I don't think there is such a thing as a "social media expert," but I'm confident in the value I offer. Otherwise, I wouldn't offer it. From that perspective, I agree with Anthony's main point that one should be actively engaged in the field in order to claim the ability to make it happen for someone else. Her basic reasoning is solid.

But, I take issue with the statement that "a blog, a Twitter account, LinkedIn and Facebook are typically the foundation of a social media strategy." These things are important engines in the social media sphere, but they aren't necessarily essential. Participation in social media is not fundamentally different from participation in real social situations. The absolute most critical element to a good strategy is understanding where you fit and what kind of participation makes the most sense for you. I love my Twitter account, but that service is not for everyone. On the flip side, I don't participate actively in Facebook even though I understand it and recognize its value. Seth Godin doesn't participate in Twitter or Facebook, and he also doesn't allow comments on his blog. Raise your hand if you'd like to make the case that he doesn't have expertise.

Claiming that an effective social media strategy must include Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin/blog is akin to claiming that a trip to the grocery store must include milk, eggs, and meat. These are staple items, yes, but what if you're a vegan? Or lactose intolerant? Or allergic?

There may be a "typical foundation" to social media strategy, but it's likely only going to be useful to typical people. How often do you really meet one of those? 

Tuesday
Dec162008

lying vs. making it up

They're not the same thing.

Every attempt to convince someone -- or, even better, to sell them -- brings with it a moment of decision: what constitutes deception? Unfiltered facts and details might not (and often won't) make any sense to the person you're talking to. It's usually necessary to find a container, a way of presenting things that makes the point and (hopefully) elicits a response.

This is true in any conversation, but the stakes are high in mass-communication formats like advertising, design, marketing, blogs, Twitter, and the like. Here's the rule of thumb I go by: making something up is fine, lying never is. The difference being that one is a (positive) act of creativity while the other is a (negative) act of deception. One's acceptable -- even helpful -- while the other is disingenuous.

By "making something up" I mean finding a story. Finding a way to make sense of a complicated set of factors that you might understand but which aren't necessarily important to the person to whom you're speaking. It's about streamlining details and facts. That story doesn't exist on its own -- you're creating and telling it. To lie is to pursue the above beyond the boundaries of what's honest and verifiable.

A quick case study: I got a piece of direct mail in early December from a christmas tree lot I'd bought from in the past. The cover read "get your $10 off coupon inside!" Turns out the coupon was actually for $10 off trees over $60, and $7 off trees from $40-$60. And it had an expiration date of December 12th. The cover, in other words, told a lie. Not in the strictly technical sense (it was theoretically possible to save that much money), but in the sense that it employed tired tactics of promising one thing and then delivering another.

Imagine, though, if the cover made the same promise but it was followed up on the inside with something like this: Please accept this coupon for $10 off of any tree on our lot. We're sending this offer to past customers as a way of saying "thanks." If you're not planning on getting a tree from us this year, please pass it along to a friend. We hope to see you soon.

One approach tells a lie about what the offer is actually worth. The other crafts a compelling narrative about how much they value the people who buy their trees year after year.

Which approach do you suppose is more likely to generate good will, positive word of mouth, and repeat business? 

Friday
Oct242008

4 PR tips for the new media/social media space

Or: stop wasting time, money, and attention.

As some of you might know, communications/design/marketing/etc aren't my only interests. I'm also a sports fan, and for the past two years that has included running The Loss Column, a successful site devoted to talking about Baltimore sports.

About a year into it -- after I'd gained an audience and moved up the search rankings -- I started to get emails from PR agencies looking to generate "buzz." That happens now about twice a month, always the same way: they contact me out of the blue, with no explanation, and pitch an idea that basically has nothing to do with what I write about.

The first thing I do is hit delete. The second thing I do is say to myself "man, their client is getting ripped off -- and neither of them realize it."

I'm happy to help spread the word, even if that means going "off-topic" now and then. Most other site owners/bloggers are the same way. Getting in touch is not a problem. Rather, the issue is this: the approach these agencies take virtually guarantees failure. Why? Because the emails they send represent poorly targeted junk ads at best, and spam at worst.

The thinking that went into them is painfully transparent: Google relevant keywords, assemble contact information, then blast away. That doesn't work. Not for the client and not for the agency. It's a waste of time and resources.

But that's not even the worst thing about it -- the worst thing is that correcting the problem wouldn't even be that hard. I'd love for anyone who's interested in this to get in touch and explore the idea of us working together. But regardless of whether that happens, here are the basic ideas both agencies and companies/individuals should keep in mind when it comes to PR outreach in new media/social media.

1. Listen Before Talking Take the time to actually read the sites you're contacting. Dig through the archives, read the comments, and get a feel for the conversation. What sorts of people run the site, and what sorts of people read it? Now ask yourself: are those people likely to be interested in what you have to offer? Really interested? Think hard.

2. Understand the Value of Two-Way Communication If your answer is "yes", then it's time to get in touch. That doesn't mean "time to send the press release," it means time to get in touch. Email the site owner and introduce yourself. Explain who you work for and provide an extremely brief summary of the idea/event/launch you want to pitch. Ask if it's OK to send more info. If you don't get a response, or if you get a "no," then at least you've been spared the embarrassment of sending a release to someone who didn't want it and won't use it, meaning that you also got spared a hit to both your brand as an agency and -- more importantly -- the brand your client is trying to promote.

3. Keep the Dialogue Alive If you get a "yeah, send it along," you're ready to do the work your client is paying for. Craft an email specifically related to the site's readers/writers, make yourself available as a bridge to interview subjects, make yourself available for an interview, and generally provide as much high-value content and information as possible.

4. Say Thanks Pretty simple.

No single approach to new media/social media PR will guarantee success. The internet is still fairly wide-open, and what works for one site might be met with a shrug by another. That just comes with the territory. But, the one thing that will always be true is that this space is about relationships, and relationships require time, effort, and research. Failing to recognize that dooms everyone to failure, every time.

(ps -- If you like this post, please pass it along and/or link it on your site. I'll be both extremely grateful and happy to return the favor.)

Thursday
Oct162008

information security in the age of cloud computing

One of the best blog posts -- on any subject -- I've read in a long time.

I've long been a fan of Subtraction.com, Khoi Vinh's personal weblog where he explores design, technology, and culture from an impressively reasoned and intelligent perspective. For the most part, all of his posts have at least something that makes me think. The other day, though, he outdid himself.

In this post entitled "A Cloud and a Prayer", Vinh breaks down the inherent risks of our collective move towards remote (online) applications and data storage. For me, at least, it was an eye-opener.

Partially for the substance of what Vinh said -- things we should all be thinking about -- but even more so for the tone he strikes. His post serves as a reminder that we can, in fact, address complex and even frightening issues with a cool hand. No need for alarmism and no need for stoking the flames of fear -- let's just take a look at this thing and see what we can do.

This one's so highly recommended that it's practically mandatory. Slight warning, though: it's a little long so give it some time. Great work, Khoi.

Tuesday
Sep302008

the george lois esquire cover mystery

This image stopped me in my tracks (click it for the full-size version).

I was digging around in the Esquire cover gallery, specifically for the purpose of enjoying the work of George Lois. He was their art director from 1962 to 1972, and in that time he created some of the greatest magazine covers in American history. There's plenty of amazing work in that archive, but none of it floored me the way this did.

It might be the finest magazine cover I've ever seen, but more than that it might be one of the finest pieces of journalism I've ever seen. It brings home the stark truth of war in a way that only a true master could, asking you to question your assumptions without forcing or advocating any one particular world-view. It does, in other words, what great popular art should: grab your attention and make you think.

As I looked it over, though, I uncovered an oddity. If you click on the image to see the full-size version and look in the upper right-hand corner, it reads "December 1962" -- despite the fact that the Esquire site has it labeled as 1972.

Then when you go to the December 1962 spot in the archives, this is what you get.

I did a little more digging and it turns out this image was never published. According to James Wolcott at Vanity Fair, it was too much for the Esquire editors and they nixed it. That's a damn shame, for sure, but no matter. It's a fantastic piece of work and I'll give Esquire credit for putting it online -- even if (as I suspect) it happened by accident.

(you can read some more about Lois and Esquire here)

Wednesday
Sep242008

yes, yes, and yes: use the serial comma

Writing is communication, and clarity matters. Even in the smallest details.

I just got finished reading a post on the FontFeed blog about punctuation. The main subject is the interrobang, a little-known but endearingly quirky punctuation mark. That part is interesting enough, but it's the short note at the end of the post that really made me happy.

Someone called "Punctuation Man" has endorsed the serial (or Oxford) comma, which prompted Stephen Coles at FontFeed to echo his support. I'm officially throwing my own support behind both of them.

Before we go any further, here's some info on the serial comma, if it's something you're not familiar with.

In my experience, the serial comma will almost always enhance your writing in two ways: clarity and rhythm (which is not at all less important). In the rare cases where it adds ambiguity, the simplest and best solution is to rewrite the passage. So unless you work for an organization that strictly rejects it, do yourself and your work a favor and adopt the serial comma (if you haven't already). You won't regret it. 

Monday
Sep222008

how would you roll if money wasn't involved?

Get down to the real reason for doing what you do.

Here's a thought: what if your efforts had no chance of paying off? What if you simply couldn't "monetize" (ugh) your website, sell your products, or convince others to retain your services? Then what?

If the answer is "I'd quit and find something else" then, hey, fair enough. That just means you don't truly love what you do, and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. But if you do love what you do, this is a question worth exploring.

The most important thing I learned growing up around the DIY culture was that money should never be the sole motivator. People did things because they were compelled by a basic passion to create something and send it out into the world. I knew plenty of people who went into debt starting bands, booking shows, making their own xeroxed magazines, and screen printing posters by hand. I knew plenty of others who parlayed those endeavors into careers.

Almost nobody started or stopped based solely on whether or not their work "paid off". All of them came out ahead.

So take a look at what you're doing and imagine recasting your efforts in a vacuum where money doesn't factor. What's the passion? What's the one thing that you'd continue to want to say regardless of whether or not anyone was explicitly rewarding the effort?

Figure that out and then approach everything you do from that perspective. Watch what happens.

Monday
Sep082008

new work: 2 fat guys mowing

A brand new logo for a brand new landscaping service.

2 Fat Guys Mowing is a company founded by, well, two fat guys. They came to us as a true startup. No old baggage to contend with, just a lot of excitement and a sense of who they want to be. Our task was to create a logo that would establish a visual identity and give them something to work with going forward.

This was, as you might imagine, a ton of fun. It's not often you get to work with something as whimsical and honest as "2 Fat Guys Mowing". So, we ran with it.

The guys behind the company are sports fans, and we saw that as an opportunity. We decided to take our inspiration from the classic "shield" (or "crest") concept, then add a lighthearted touch. This logo will (along with a separate type treatment for the name, for which we're leaning towards Univers) be used for everything they do: patches, t-shirt graphics, business cards, and whatever else comes up.

We took pains to give them something that wouldn't need to be replaced ($$$) as they move on from the startup stage, or wear out as styles change. The logo scales and reproduces well and gives them a strong foundation for growth. We're stoked about it.  

As always, feedback is welcome and, if you like the work, please leave a comment or get in touch.

Thursday
Aug212008

this is more of a shelbyville idea...

Lyle Lanley from the SimpsonsPlaying the "you're not ready for something this good" card.

I had a conversation the other day where I proposed an idea that was sure to be rejected. And I made sure to mention that fact. "Nobody will go for this..." At the time, I wasn't being coy or sarcastic -- it probably wasn't the right idea at the right time. I didn't really mention it for any reason other than "maybe". Even so it was, probably, the best idea. In a sense.

The process reminded me of "Marge vs. the Monorail", the Simpsons episode in which transportation huckster Lyle Lanley convinces the people of Springfield that they need to spend their cash windfall on a Monorail. He does this with basically one trick: threatening -- up front -- to leave because the Monorail is "More of a Shelbyville idea". To which Mayor Quimby responds that the people of Springfield are "twice as smart" as the people of Shelbyville and will, as a result, buy whatever he's selling.

In real life it would be a terrible idea to actually use this tactic in a Lanley-esque fashion, because lying isn't good business. But there is something to the notion of using tension and competition as a way to advance an idea.

If done well, "this is a good idea but you wouldn't like it/aren't ready for it" can be quite powerful. It plays off the notion of wanting to belong, and of wanting to be special. And in most cases, it will almost certainly get a reaction. Maybe not always a positive one, but a reaction nonetheless.

Beware, though: there's something inherently manipulative about this approach, and that's dangerous. I'd recommend only going this way with (a) clients you feel very comfortable with, or (b) clients you're not sure you want anyway. This isn't the kind of thing to just throw out there as a matter of policy, unless you want to seem like an asshole.

Still, it's a good arrow to have in your quiver.

Sunday
Jul202008

richard ford

writer Richard FordSome thoughts on the man who just might be America's greatest living writer.

My reading habits tend to the obsessive. I start and fail to finish a lot of books, but when I find an author whose work hits me at that magic moment where the quality of the work and the resonance of what it says converge, I seek out all I can find.

Such has been the case lately with Richard Ford.

I've yet to tackle any of his novels, owing mostly to the fact that I tend to prefer short stories these days. Lucky for me, the man is an absolute master of the short form. Like Raymond Carver -- with whom Ford has often been compared (the two were contemporaries) -- he tells stories of regular people in regular situations. In doing so he reveals the pain, grace, nobility, and horror of life itself -- not life as one would perhaps like it to be lived.

He sees things for what they are: extraordinary in many ways, provided one is willing to uncover it. The thing that's weird for me is that Ford is still very much alive, and still working. For whatever reason, I don't read a lot of contemporary authors. The advantage to this is that I can more or less study him in real time, see what he's up to these days and compare it to the things I've gleaned from his earlier work.

One such opportunity arose with a curious piece he recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal, called "The Myth of Summer". Here's a particularly fine sample:

From where I stand I can see down through the trees and across the property line to our neighbors' new summer cottage, which is all but finished, with most of the work going on inside. The sounds of hammers and saws scarcely interrupt the quiet that the breeze has brought in from the south and off the bay that provides our house and our neighbors' house their lovely views. One man there, a young carpenter wearing a carpenter's apron and holding a claw hammer, has stopped to watch the goings-on here on our side. He waves his hammer at me in a gesture meant to be genial. I wave back. We all know what we know. I decide I might take a walk now, then later think about lunch.

The ability to write that well is a rare thing, and so it's a surprise to me that Ford isn't more popular than he is. Unless he really is quite popular and I just don't realize it. Either way, I'm here to recommend his work.

More on Ford here ("on the work of writing") and here (a Salon interview). Also, he penned an absolutely amazing piece about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. If you click just one link from this page, make it this one.

Thursday
Jul172008

customers and clients: what's old is new

old time soda jerkIt's time to sweat the small stuff.

I've been fascinated lately by David Armano's work on what he calls "micro interactions," and his theories on how they influence our relationships with brands and businesses. For example (from his outstanding slideshow):

We live in a world where the little things really do matter. Each encounter no matter how brief is a micro interaction which makes a deposit or withdrawal from our rational and emotional subconscious. The sum of these interactions and encounters adds up to how we feel about a particular product, brand, or service."

On a basic level what Armano says here has always been true, but I'd add this: it was more true years ago when people did their buying locally and face to face; it became less true as the culture shifted towards chains and big business; and it will be the most true in years to come as our options expand to functional infinity (owing largely to the internet and new technology).

When everything is available to anyone -- often instantly -- the only thing that separates one outlet from another is the experience. How does this store/restaurant/lawyer/auto repair shop make me feel? If the answer is anything less than "great," someone else will steal that business.

It isn't enough anymore to be the biggest, the most convenient, the cheapest, etc. The reason that I like Armano's micro-interactions concept in particular is that it levels the playing field. It plays into everything from the success and failure of local shops to Comcast's recent attempts to revitalize their damaged brand.

It's a very powerful concept, and one that I suspect we'll hear a lot more about in the coming years.

(image via the Drugstore Museum)

Monday
Jun302008

new work: howl, a natural pet store in hampden

The logo is final, the awnings are up.

I'm extremely happy to announce that our latest project -- a new logo for Baltimore natural pet supply boutique Howl -- is complete and has been, ahem, unleashed.

 Howl 01

Formerly known as "Chow, Baby!", the store recently underwent a big expansion and move (it now sits just steps off of Hampden's famous "Avenue"). Part of that process included a new name, and once it was chosen we helped make it come to life.

Daniel and I worked closely with Robin, the store owner, to design a logo that would reflect Howl's organic, natural approach without making it look like just another "boutique". We went for something thoroughly modern yet designed to never look or feel dated. We're thrilled with how it turned out and we think it'll serve Robin well for years to come.

Howl is a great place with our without our logo, and if you have pets you should really pay them a visit. They're a half-block south of 36th street (the aforementioned Avenue), at 3531 Chestnut Avenue in Hampden -- convenient from pretty much anywhere in the area.

To learn more about our work on the logo and how we might be able to help you, too, please get in touch.