Article of the Week

When to Wordmark? from Print Magazine

Here’s a situation every brand designer comes up against time and again: sometimes the research and vision of a client’s future brand points to a wordmark rather than an icon, or icon & wordmark lockup as a logo. Such was the case in our most recent brand exploration for Descanso Gardens, but that doesn’t mean the question of an icon or other image didn’t come up.

This piece, by Sagi Haviv, is a great rundown of several strong brands that rest on a word rather than an image. I’m of the very same mind and have found myself saying these same words: Creating a symbol can be a great design exercise, but we try to be very disciplined about only developing a symbol when there is a compelling strategic reason to do so. Indeed!


what i learned in my month without a car

here's something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!
here’s something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!

it’s been a month! it kinda flew by, but lo, i am dropping my car at the mechanic today. i learned a lot about transitioning to transit this month, and as i found myself planning my day, strategically combining a few lessons i grossly failed at mere weeks ago—all excited about how perfectly it would work out and how i would challenge myself to even walk the last leg rather than ride a bus to my stop—my epiphany became clear: i am hooked on avoiding driving!

but i can totally see how hard it is to make the transition. i’ve gone through periods of more transit and those virtually without, and it takes a different mindset. as timing would have it, our city’s pro-pedestrian ambassador, alissa walker, just wrote this piece for LA magazine, better off ped, with tips for living this way. i love her suggestions for success, but i found myself making far more novice errors, so i thought i’d take it from a much-more-recently behind the wheel stance.

thoughts on adapting to transit

travel light. whether you’re walking, bussing or biking, you’re not going to take a giant shoulder bag with everything you need. you’ll want something that carries your accoutrements [a book or notebook? a water bottle? a snack? anything you’d keep in a purse?] without killing your posture. you might eat out strategically rather than carry a lunch, or switch to a backpack on the days you need to carry extra cargo home. this is true for shoes, too. i got some cute sporty shoes that work well and stand up to a good walk.

get the lay of the land. locate your local bus stops, take note of the busses that stop there and look up the routes on you can download pdfs online, or store them in ibooks on your phone. load up your tap card so you don’t have to worry about change. you can download the metro LA app to get info on maps, stops & next arrival times on your phone when you’re out. after your first few trips, you’ll find yourself at new stops with new connections. you’ll learn a lot more about the possibilities as you go.

you’re going to mess it up a few times. it happens, you look up a trip and it seems to work out, but one of many things go wrong, and now you’re late—only you can’t do anything about it. this is a great opportunity to learn about acceptance and the inability to control a situation. the lesson i’ve learned about control is that we often distract ourselves in thinking we’re controlling something that we’re not. like stressing out about being late? call ahead and explain what happened and move on.

plan weeks, not days. when i drive, i do errands all in one day, they are all off a main route and it makes sense to do them all together. it seems that transit is better geared to smaller clusters and more simple destinations, lest you end up on a marathon trip or carrying too much. i have learned to generally arrange the next week in my head, figuring out appointments first, clustering any errands that make sense with them, and deciding what is a priority of what’s left to do. which day will i walk, when should i commit to a transit trip? it will also help you place the more critical time-sensitive trips so you don’t run out of cat prescriptions without rearranging your whole day at the last minute.

understand that some people are going to feel sorry for you. i got a lot of shock and dismay at the idea that my mechanic was booked for a month. it didn’t bother me, but to some, it was an outrage. i also got a lot of insistence at accepting a ride home when it was found out that i took the bus to my destination, in the way you know a person wants to help you but it sounds like they’re suggesting you should never have to do something as lowly as public transit. sometimes it feels weird to have people pity you for something you feel good about. the complicated feedback loops at work here are not about you. you can comfort them that you are okay and the bus is okay and everything is okay.

but some people are going to offer you the much-needed ride home! there were lots of times that i wasn’t exactly going to ask for a ride, but when one comes up that keeps you from waiting around at night for a 3-legged trip, you take it graciously! this might be the ultimate lesson in acceptance, but it also got me wondering how i’m really living without a car while in someone else’s car. i didn’t wonder about this too long though, because a carpool trip is a great time for conversation.

you will become more comfortable all up in everyone’s grill. you will see the best and worst of people. it will be a barrage of fashion, attitudes, fragrant discoveries, conversations, exercises in avoidance, all kinds of hilarious and treacherous first-world urban survival skills will surface. some new shit will come to light, man! you will learn about yourself, and people, and about more acceptance, and it will all be okay. i try not to dwell on this, because it’s mostly not a big deal. then every once in awhile something jarring happens. some guy will not want to stand next to that other guy. someone might want to talk loudly about racism, or jesus, or share their paranoia or ask for money or suggest you are a scoundrel for refusing to loan them your phone. great social upheaval will happen! and then it will resolve itself. nothing jarring happened to me this month at all. everyone was cool. thank you, everyone, for being cool this month.

what’s the cost breakdown of this experiment?

the truth is, unless you completely ditch your car, benefiting from maintenance & insurance savings, if you don’t drive much, you are trading gas expenses for transit fares and conveniences. a week metro pass is $20, and though i don’t quite ride often enough to need one, my week would sometimes max out right at $20 on the tap card. a tank of gas in my car right now runs around $50, and i was doing 1-2 tanks per month. so my gas money would go to mostly transit fare and little snacks i’d buy along the way unless i was a daily commuter who stood to cut high mileage out of my life. however, like many things, the cost tradeoff alone shouldn’t be your only guide. on how many normal days do you just sneak in 2-4 miles on foot? or get to relax and enjoy the scenery? my body just caught up with all the exercise last week and i started to lose weight, so …!

what happens when the car comes home?

keep it up! so, last night when i was planning my day and realizing i wanted to walk part of my trip, the big takeaway is that i am going to keep walking as many trips as i can. i’m also going to keep taking the bus to all the daytime destinations i’ve been doing. the times i’m going to make exceptions are for 1 weekly run to an inconvenient errand of my choice [basically, the ones with heavy cargo] and any inconvenient night events.

drive 1 tank or less of gas per month. when i did my taxes recently, i noticed i was averaging 500 miles per month. my car gets 300 miles per tank of gas, so my first measure is going to be to drive only 1 tank of gas per month. considering how few times i would have used the car if i had the choice this month, i think this is going to be easy. the next discovery will be, exactly how little can i get away with driving below that tank? and how soon before something jarring challenges my comfort zone?

these are the mysteries that await! in the meantime, i got myself a pedometer app and i’m going to start tracking my trips. time to start measuring a different kind of mileage [i just walked 4 miles home from the vet after dropping off my car, cat meds in hand well before we run out this time! thanks myfitnesspal pedometer app!]

alissa has a follow-up to her LA magazine piece on her own blog: better off ped full of resources for making your transition. share any you have here!

how to choose the right designer for your business

in an effort help more people understand how to get the most out of design services, i offer these helpful primers to demystify the process of hiring a graphic designer and getting prepared for your next project. if you find yourself here with a head full of questions, 2 other pieces to read are how to prepare a for a design project which will give you the tools to narrow your design objectives into a creative brief, and process & design project timeline which is a rough outline of all the phases of production i use with my clients.

follow these steps to find the right designer for your business

it’s a bit of a toss-up between whether style or industry is the more important place to start. obviously, some businesses will be more concerned with insider sensitivity, while others will want a designer whose style clicks with their creative direction. in my opinion, both of these factors should be weighted equally, and let some of the subsequent factors help tip the scales in your top choices:

industry focus

if you’re in a niche that has a lot of specifics attached to it, or want someone who understands the history of your industry so they can help consult on key ways to differentiate you from your competition, look into creative professionals that specialize in your slice of the market. i am a strong proponent of getting referrals, either from colleagues or trade organizations, where you can search on specifics and see linked portfolios of work samples. you can also do research on who your competitors are hiring by looking at their web sites for a design credit and following that link to the firm’s portfolio. to get a feel for the breadth of options, add “design” to any of the keywords for your industry and see who’s doing what all around the world. once you get a sense of who is doing it well, you’ll be ready to look for…

individual style

every designer worth his or her salt will have an individual style that is evident in their work. whether you search online, get referrals from colleagues, or go to a trade association, go straight to the portfolio and look at all their work. do the pieces in their portfolios show clever design solutions that work well in your opinion? if their work resonates with you, can you also see your clients & target market receiving it positively as well? the key here is that you are hiring a visual translator. every designer sees a unique “best avenue” for translating your message, so the major consideration in individual style is to see what this particular designer has done with the information in each piece to appeal effectively to the viewer.

customer service & transparency

once you’ve narrowed it down to excellent talent and experience, take some time to notice how each firm’s site introduces themselves, how much information do they put forward about how they work and what they value? how much of a sense do you get about what they’d be like to work with? it’s smart to be a bit wary of any firm that seems vague about what you’ll be getting. the best of us realize that you have your own businesses to run and perhaps aren’t familiar with the design process or don’t know what to expect or how to get started, and we do our best to anticipate your questions and answer them. it’s the beginning of a relationship and we’re all looking for compatibility. if you’re feeling good about a designer’s approach, take the next step and…

ask questions!

we are service providers, and the best we can do is educate people whenever they are curious. designers that follow best practices will be able to provide you with a clear explanation of what you can expect from working with them. if you have the parameters of your project outlined, [use this system to prepare a creative brief] you can ask for a project proposal, which will give you a good idea of the costs involved as well as the production timeline.

plan ahead

or rather, plan ahead to plan ahead. we do understand that sometimes you’re looking for a designer because of a looming rush deadline, but in ideal circumstances, you won’t want to make these decisions in a day. you’ll also run the risk of not getting a slot with your designer of choice, because they’ll already be booked out. the best marketing efforts take careful planning and projection far before they are put into action. if you’re in business, you’ll eventually need marketing materials, so look for someone you want to work with early on—long before you’re ready to start a project. this will give you a chance to meet them, see their work, have lunch, meet up at a mixer, read their blog, and google their online presence so you get to know them and how they work for the most critical ingredient in the mix: peace of mind that you’re working with someone who is right for you.

if you think that person might be me, let’s talk!

how to prepare for your next design project

when you’re not in the business of graphic design, it can be hard to know the best order of operations in getting a project started. what i often end up doing for clients who need a little strategy clarification is summed up in this article so anyone can follow it, consider all the preliminary factors, and end up with a great starting point to bring to any project initiation. while it’s not a final blueprint, having these questions answered before you start makes it easy for both parties to deliver on the same goal.

use these guidelines to prepare your next project and write a general creative brief

define the goal of communication for the project

before you decide on the format of the communication, it’s good to think about the general messaging going into it. what are you trying to tell your market? in the best-case scenario, what do you want them to do in reaction to this piece? a good place to start is to write out a company description and include any mission statement or boilerplate for reference, then indicate what the immediate goal is and how this project will work toward it.

define the audience

this is where you define all the types of people the project should speak to, and describe for your designer their typical lifestyle choices, interests, and availability to similar services. the purpose of this information is to inform your designer on how to communicate with your audience while differentiating you from your competition. if you can, provide sample profiles of typical individuals who would use your products or services. some questions to answer here are: what should the target market think, feel or do in reaction to this piece?

keep consistent with your brand objectives

if you have a brand brief or style guide in place, you will want to use it as a guideline for every project so as to stay on message. if not, the first step is to collect as much of your previous collateral as possible and bring it to your designer for reference. whether you are sticking with an ongoing messaging plan or trying to break from the past, the over-arching narrative of your business should inform all your marketing efforts. submitting these materials to your designer will allow them to work within the context you’ve created, or create context for you if need be.

define your budget

budgeting for a project can be tricky when you’re working with an industry with as wide a fee range as graphic design. there are all levels of firms out there, and as with anything, you generally get what you pay for if price point is your first concern. be realistic about what the value of the project is to you, and what you expect it to do for you. do research with the design firms you’re interested in and ask for a range of what similar projects have cost in the past. be honest about what you can afford, and be open to advice on what can be done within your budget, or perhaps what can be done if you put the project off for now and save a bit more for a bigger impact down the road. an experienced designer will be able to scale a project to fit your budget, so you may not get all the bells and whistles you originally dreamed of, but you can get the materials you need from the designer you want to work with, at a price you can afford.

define your deliverables

some clients have logos, taglines, photography, illustrations, charts & graphs or copy that will be used in creating the final piece, and some will be looking to have any applicable elements created specifically for the project. if you have a set of non-negotiables, make your designer aware of them from the beginning. bring any style guide you have in place that specifies how these materials are to be used, if applicable.

define success

similar to defining your goals, you’ll want to put together some measurable success markers so you can track what your marketing efforts are doing for you. be realistic here, every piece is not going to convert to new business, but if you have a percentage return of new interest in mind, desire noticeable positive feedback from existing clients, or if you would like to break ground in a specific way with a new market, these are things to list from the outset and track as your efforts are put into action.

the designer you choose to work with will ask many more detailed questions to draft a creative brief that will address the your project-specific goal. in the meantime, clarifying these thoughts will allow you to communicate your needs more clearly, and will take a lot of the guesswork out of the discovery interview. if you’re not currently working with a designer and need some help in choosing one, some good starting advice can be found in how to choose the right designer.

if you’ve got everything ready to go, let’s get started!

friday fun: branding links

a round-up of branding links

if you’re looking at that parking sign and thinking it looks a lot friendlier than any you’ve seen recently, it’s probably because it’s a typographic breath of fresh air. pentagram has been asked to help redesign new york city department of transportation signage, and i like the samples that have been released. see more of the collection here.

as a tea drinker, i noticed the new tazo packaging in my market’s tea section as soon as it was stocked. i always thought the designers who did tazo did a nice job with it, even though the type styles ended up looking dated [mostly due to overuse of typefaces like émigré’s mason in the 90s]. gets the whole scoop here. i think it’s a refreshing look with just enough historic reference.

two different blogs take a look at what happens to some global american brands when they go overseas. one gets nicer while another gets a lot cooler:
mcdonald’s new global packaging
7-11 goes to sweden

more in-depths on brand strategy

“farm-to-fork” drives consumer packaging
5 classic strategies for growing your brand equity
boost your freelance brand 100 percent with your expert status
helicopter branding: why it’s bad and how to avoid it

thoughts on branding, a round-up!

in place of the usual wednesday creative inspiration, i’ve collected a nice handful of articles on branding i thought i’d share, to bring others in on the experience, and get people thinking about what the next steps are with their own strategies. if you’re new to the idea of branding, i’ve got some great primers here and in my newsletter.

+ for the quick and easy: 3 hot design & branding ideas to boost summer sales from how magazine.

+ for the more in-depth how-to: great brands are about fusing product and service, how do you do it from fast company design.

+ for looking at new ways to tell your story: mining your brand for stories from my buddies at hexanine.

+ for fine-tuning your touchpoints: the personality layer from smashing magazine.

+ for thinking beyond brand: branding talk isn’t helping your company, here’s what should replace it and its follow-up, why branding is an artifact of the past from fast company design.

creative inspiration


grand central logo redesign
grand central logo redesign, image:

looking at things new york this week, let’s start with pentagram’s redesign of the grand central logo. i think they did a lovely job paying homage to the iconic landmark by putting a quaint illustration of the timeclock front and center in their legacy logo. see more of how it’s applied at

one wtc logo
one wtc logo, image:

branding for the new building at one world trade center, by wordsearch. looks like a powerful and substantial wordmark so far, it will be interesting to see how it plays out in practice. see more at


jack's wife freda identity
jack's wife freda identity, image:

it was nice to see this identity & menu design for jack’s wife freda on art of the menu, since we were just in new york last month and ate here for breakfast. i’ll admit, aside from the good reviews, i was attracted to the cute illustration and simple style. i love how the very menu you eat on as a place-mat is placed directly on their site as well. nice work & good food!


subway sign, grand central station
subway sign, grand central station, image:

will ever update their blog again? i was really enjoying the great type specimens from around town, and thought i’d share this lovely subway sign, also from grand central station.

finally, with the may protests that started yesterday, michael beruit takes a look at the original adbusters poster calling for occupation of wall street, and asks the question: does political graphic design matter?

is your social media marketing working for you?

social media communities have been around long enough to have a first generation in their wake, so it would seem we’ve all had enough time to learn their ins & outs. while many of us have mastered the art of staying in touch, i’m seeing a common thread among clients and colleagues alike: many of them are spending more time creating content and cross-linking these communities to each other than whipping them into the marketing strategy they came for in the first place.

sharing content online is all kinds of fun, and a great way to raise awareness, but using it for marketing should always be part of a bigger plan to connect back to the content you create on your own site. if you’re spending all your time creating awareness on social networks without consistently linking back to your home base, you’re working for them—for free. that’s not what you got into business for! but hey, it’s okay — you can turn the tables anytime and start making them work for you.

best practice vs. a common example

marketing in the social media arena should be an all-roads-lead-to-rome strategy by the most direct route possible. think of it like a multiple funnel system, where each funnel is a social community designed around a unique aspect of how people like to communicate. creating awareness about your business or projects is as simple as participating in the communities that suit you best, and periodically saying “hey guys, i’m doing something cool, come take a look” with a link to the most relevant landing page on your site. participation and link strategy should look like this:

best practices for social media marketing link strategy

however, that’s not always the case. what i often see when i analyze a social media campaign in need of help is that some link strategies are sending users to 2 or 3 different communities to get piecemeal information, with links to the main site infrequent at best. the mistake here isn’t just that you never get eyeballs on your site, it’s can also be a turn-off to your audiences too. each of them have made a conscious choice about the community they prefer, and would be a lot more likely to check out your site than trek around to communities they don’t like. here’s what i generally find when social media marketing is a bit scattered:

example of a scattered social media marketing link strategy

lots of effort going everywhere but home

sites like facebook have so many tools to keep you busy creating content [for them] that it’s easy to spend all your time building photo albums and posting informative updates while forgetting to promote your own site. in their desire to compete, social networks provide apps for automatically updating other communities, which is really just traffic-poaching disguised as a convenience tool, giving you crappy-looking updates in the process. [ever seen a truncated facebook post & link on twitter? do your twitter followers even care about facebook anymore?] or sometimes, it’s just easier to think “but all my videos are on youtube, why not just send traffic there?” youtube subscribers may be a secondary benefit of hosting videos there, but the videos should be embedded and showcased on a relevant site page of your own.

don’t send your audience on a wild goose chase for your content. first thing’s first. put the time in on your own site or blog to make sure anything anyone would want to know about you or your business is easy to find. create the content you want to share there, around one main idea at a time, and then report on it in each social media community with a direct link back to your blog post, or relevant pages on your site.

put yourself first

the first place to generate content is on your own site. if you need to make regular announcements or have new and changing content you want to talk about and you don’t have a place on your site where you can do this, it’s time to get one [hint: i can help]. consider adding a blog where you can update revolving content. make your full announcement here first, with complete information and photos or videos, when applicable. this is what you’ll be linking to everywhere else.

the philosophy here is that you’re training people to learn that your site is where it’s at for any information they’d ever want to know about you. sure, they’ll catch your posts on twitter, facebook & tumblr, but after 3-5 times of clicking through to your site, they’ll make the connection that they can always find what they need on your site. and hey—people who don’t use ANY social media will be able to find it there too, imagine that!

choose your communities and let them know

write custom posts for each community, tailored to how each one showcases information best. i understand the temptation to save time by writing one great post in one place and let that service distribute it for you, but these distributed posts rarely look good elsewhere. often, they take your snappy teaser copy and truncate it to nonsense, replacing half of your sentence and any photo with a generic link [so they can advertise their great service to another sucker]. if you truly believe you don’t have time to write one sentence for each community you’re in, get honest about which ones are a priority. a half-sentence tweet that only links to facebook says loud and clear: “i don’t care about twitter.” keep your community members in mind, and write directly to them. “hey guys, i have something cool to show you, here’s why you might like it,” post your link, select the best photo preview if applicable, and send it off.

need an example?

i’ll walk the talk here for you. first, i wrote this article and posted it here on my blog. i usually write these articles as the main entrée to my newsletter, so i wrote and sent my newsletter. then i went to facebook and posted it on my business page. the same goes for linkedin, though they are tricky to link to, and google+. i created a shortened url so i’d have most of my 140 characters to tease it on twitter. if this were a creative inspiration post, i’d pin it to my pinterest board of the same name. i created my content and reached out to each community individually with a unique message to let them know about it, linking right back here. and at the bottom of this post, i let you know that you can get more useful info just like this in my irregularly-delivered newsletter.

but what about building community on each social network?

hey, there’s nothing wrong with adding to your photo albums and posting quickie updates without always linking to your site — AFTER you finish your self-promotion, that is. give your facebook fans photos to share, post instagram shots to twitter & tumblr, encourage conversations, share support information and press that links to other sites. blend these things in as you see fit, just make them secondary to your main objective…YOU!

have questions?

these are the basics, but there can be a few levels of social media engagement integrated into an overall marketing plan. my penchant for organizing these strategies is also a service i offer. if you need help figuring out how to implement a system like this or want to fold some existing efforts into an overall campaign, reach out and we’ll figure it out!

if you liked this article and want more like it, sign up for the parlato design studio newsletter for your monthly power shake of design, branding, marketing & promotion!

creative inspiration


lucy's fried chicken
lucy's fried chicken, image:

this week we’re looking at type-forward design, kicking it off with this bold branding for lucy’s fried chicken. i love how the outside of the menu shows the logo as an overprint on wood, while the inside is a nice, clean layout of fare. see the whole spread at


stoke bomber beer
stoke bomber beer, image:

i’m loving this all-type packaging for stoke bomber beer. apparently this brand has always used some form of retro imagery, but this line is their foray into ww2-era nostalgia. peruse the write-up at


highway font
highway font, image:

i’m just looking for a good excuse to use highway by dan cassaro, with all its swashes, ligatures and alternates. and at 39 bucks it’s a damn good deal.

letter cutting

letters & stone
letters & stone, image:

the modern-day convenience of fonts usually only serves to make hand-setting letterpress a timely chore, but what about good old stone letter cutting from the age when serifs were more than a decoration? check out‘s interview with fergus wessel to learn more about a modern-day letter cutter.