Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

The project

The project
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In the late summer, Tim, Peter, and I started to work on the new smashLAB brochure. These pieces have become a bit of a mission for me. I feel that the way we present ourselves gives a strong representation for how we are working, and the directions which interest us. By the time that this particular brochure came up, we had spent several months working to stretch the conceptual directions in our work.

There was an interesting rhythm going on in the studio at the time. Peter had just joined up, and was both excited and nervous about the opportunity to stretch his capabilities. Peter was without question the most promising junior designer we had ever hired, and I think that he was feeling a little pressure. Tim and I were experiencing a strange working relationship, in which we shared a great number of ideas, and had wonderful conversations; however, in practice Tim was clearly frustrated with the pace and demands of the studio. I didn’t expect that we’d be working together much longer, and that certainly seemed unfortunate.

Being your own client

I’ve always looked upon our self-promotional efforts as challenging ones. I often note that it’s a little like trying to pick out my own clothing. I’m great at choosing things for other people, but I always find that selecting clothes for myself, goes awry. Design studios in particular have so many things to consider in their marketing. With such diverse audiences, it’s really difficult to choose a direction. For all of the talk that we do about going narrow, it is always tougher to do it, when it’s your company.

For about three years, our materials had become progressively more personal and casual in nature. With each version of our website, we worked to just say it. We worked to remove all sales-like language, and just present who we are in the most direct fashion. Every time we had done this, things seemed to get better. Sales went up, and people seemed to really read the site. Some things were awkward, but most were just sensible and real. I was happily surprised to find that our clients identified with us better as a result of this.

Write. Stop. Write. Stop.

When we meet people, they generally seem to like us, and the “Lab” book grew out of this idea. We wanted to create something that would just introduce us to new clients. We felt that if we could capture their interest for a few moments with some fun stories, it was likely that they would remember us in the future, should we get in touch, or send some updated materials. We didn’t want to make a piece that would bring in a hundred new leads, or sell five new identities; we just wanted to introduce ourselves.
The book “Lab” was the end product of a couple of weeks of intensive writing and play. I think the fellows would note that it was both fun and a pain in the ass. We sat for the better part of the week brainstorming ideas for stories, and then writing them in twenty minute bursts. It was a little like those first year drawing classes that my first-year drawing instructor, Nora Blank, taught. The stopwatch would be started, and at the end of the twenty minutes, you were done, no matter what stage you were at. It’s a really tough thing to do, but a great exercise. All of the navel-gazing and gold-plating is put aside, because you simply have to get the idea down. Make it quick, get it down, and edit it later.

By the fourth or fifth day of this, we paired our list of stories down from somewhere near sixty, to around seventeen. We collectively edited the stories, and then discussed sequence, after which each of us took a hard look at the stories, and edited for length and readability. Some of the cuts were easy, and some a little more challenging. The good part, was that it all followed a chosen criteria, and was driven by our collective logic. Anyone could argue anything, as long as there was a sensible rationale for it.

The purdy pictures

We then set forth to preparing a set of images to accompany the stories, as well as the cover image. Again, the challenges were found partially in the arbitrary time limitations we set. We drank lots of coffee, and had some good debates. We were frustrated an awful lot of the time.

The cover image was particularly interesting, as we needed to marry this piece introducing the lab to the separate collection of work samples which followed the same format. We finally chose to illustrate the covers with the two aspects of our process: the mess in the studio, coupled with the deceptively simple-nature of our completed work. To do this, we collected every easily movable tool and item in the studio, and assembled them on the floor. In the chaos of the first illustration, we were left with a reverse of the word “LAB”. For the next cover, we had brought a few of the pieces together to create the word “WORK”, on a clean white background. Given that we were running short of things we could fill these spaces with, we all had to take off our shoes, and use them as props.


By the time Friday rolled around, we uploaded the files to the website, had a beer in the studio, and called it a day. Peter looked a little overwhelmed and Tim seemed very happy to get out of the lab. I wondered if the effort had done what I had hoped it would. Above the need to build a new promotional tool, I had wanted to bring us all together with an exercise of sorts, which would force us to reconsider some of the aspects of how we work.

For some of the challenges which these internal efforts present, I still feel that these projects are a good thing to introduce to a studio. They break the monotony that seems to come up at times in the studio, and mix-up the roles we take in our work. They often feel a little like a holiday from some of our other projects. We’re doing another in January. I hope that Peter doesn’t hit me when I tell him. ;-)

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