Have a look around…

As i sat down to re-design my site for probably the sixth or seventh time since 1995 or so, it became apparent that building yet another static site from scratch just wasn’t going to cut it. The same applied to re-populating my printed portfolio with my latest work. Cracking open the old InDesign file and pulling all those photos and complied artwork out of the archives was becoming a major chore with over 15 years of work stacking up.

Since i started dabbling a bit with using WordPress for a dynamic, content-driven site, i thought it might be interesting to see if i could make it work for more of an “archival” site such as this.

It took some tinkering, but i think i figured out a way to make it work. Below is a random selection of case studies spanning the full breadth and depth of my portfolio. This will keep the landing page dynamic and constantly changing. You can click through to read them, but you can also use the menus to the left to explore all of my posted work by business sector or by work category. This gives the audience (that would be you) the ability to navigate vertically or laterally through my work, with a random option as well. :)

The beauty of this format is that all of the content is here in a database, and it’s now completely separated from the look and feel of the site. When it’s time to freshen up the look, it’s a matter of just updating the templates or applying a new theme, and it’s done.

There is something nice about presenting a printed portfolio of work… seeing a career’s worth of work collected into one book is quite gratifying. But the time investment vs. the return on that investment didn’t seem to make sense any more. Yes, i’ve invested a HUGE amount of time getting this latest site redesign up and running, but it’s an investment that should pay off down the road as future updates will be almost trivially easy.

Besides, this also gives me an excuse to buy an iPad to present my portfolio. ;)

Check back soon for more changes and updates, and feel free to drop me a line!

Sector:
Categories: Uncategorized

CUMIS Group: Here for you

When we got the call from CUMIS, we were intrigued. From the appearance and colour scheme of their logo to the placement of their corporate headquarters in the middle of an apple orchard overlooking Highway 403 in Burlington, Ontario, it was easy to think that they manufactured farm machinery. As we were soon to learn, we were not the first (nor the last) to make that mistake.

CUMIS has operated in the insurance space for over 75 years, serving the credit union space exclusively, with a commanding market position. But decades of the status quo had left the brand somewhat directionless and unfocused.

The first goal was to revamp the logo itself. The name itself (believed to have originated as an acronym for Credit Union Members’ Insurance Society) had pronunciation issues, and the look was pure 1970s brutalist-industrial, depicted in dull mustard yellow on white.

With the new identity, we sought to bring emphasis to the “U” in order to force its pronunciation as a long vowel sound. We also wanted to bring some symbolism to the identity without actually creating a symbol. The change was to be evolutionary, so we needed to keep the mark of identity as a typographic solution only.

The solution was to treat the “U” as if it were a loop of ribbon, one side red and one side gold. These two halves were then split and allowed to “cradle” one another, in a gesture similar to hands cradling, protecting, nurturing, representing the goals of an organization offering insurance and wealth management products and services.

Printed collaterial pieces were another trouble area. When viewed together, all of their brochures and other communications pieces had absolutely no family resemblance at all. They almost looked like they came from completely separate companies.

It wasn’t hard to see that they had a serious brand image problem. This was in part due to: a) the core values that helped to define the brand becoming lost; b) product managers who viewed their departments as “sub-brands” and believing that their needs were different from everyone else’s; and c) an internal creative department lacking inspiration and having grown accustomed to product managers art-directing the creative. Working with the CUMIS Marketing & Communications team, we set out to address each of these issues in an integrated way.

As we set about creating a new visual language for the CUMIS brand, we recognized that key internal thought leaders and stakeholders needed to be brought in early in the process. By presenting and receiving approval on all creative direction from the executive level first, that “top-down” endorsement helped smooth the adoption of the refreshed brand throughout the organization, rather than having to push and fight to sell new concepts into the organization from the bottom up. Rather than creating “brand police” to monitor and control things, we wanted to create an entire organization of brand advocates who wanted to do everything possible to promote a strong and consistent brand.

We extended the “ribbon” idea from the identity into a visual motif that separated the masthead area of cover pages from the image and supporting content. These ribbons also extended to the interior of pieces. Generous use of white space also helped the elements stand on their own and not get lost in cluttered layouts.

Photography was to be used exclusively, with images portraying everyday Canadians engaged in activities together. The rationale was that insurance should allow people to go about living their lives in happiness, with the knowledge that should anything unexpected happen, the would be looked after, as would their businesses, property and loved ones. The sense of community reflected in many of the images was also intended to suggest a connection to the core values of the co-operative movement.

We often say that a brand is more than just the logo on the building. But in this case, refreshing the brand also included the logo on the building! The revitalization of the brand was extremely successful, and in 2009, The CUMIS Group was purchased by The Co-operators, who continue to operate the brand and serve the credit union sector.

Grocery Gateway: Enabling a new category



The brief for this project was interesting. The branding agency’s research showed that people liked the tangible elements of shopping for groceries. It was the logistical problems they didn’t care for… getting to the store, loading the kids into a cart, carrying bags, loading up the car with the bags (and the kids) and unloading it again once they got home. And those are the people with cars. Those stuck using taxis or public transit – or those unable to get out at all – faced even greater challenges.

Grocery Gateway’s revised positioning was to be more like a traditional grocer that just happens to be Internet-enabled. Every effort was made to have drivers work the same delivery routes, so you see the same face every time, helping establish that personal relationship between consumer and the grocer at the most critical touchpoint. The only difference being the consumer no longer has to physically travel to the store, and can now shop at home (or at work), at their leisure, any time of the day or night. Naked.

The refreshed visual identity features a cheerful delivery van (nicknamed “Little G” by the folks at Grocery Gateway) bouncing over the horizon. The bright colour palette and expressive illustration were designed to express that moment of joy when the groceries are delivered. Ten years later, it still feels fresh and fun.

Sector:
Categories: Brand & Identity, Design

Vintage Inns: Revitalizing luxury experiences



The revitalization of the tourism industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the stuff of Canadian business legend.

But over a decade after the infusion of new investment into the region began, the pace began to falter somewhat, and new management at Vintage Inns realized that the bulk of their marketing and branding dollars were being spent promoting the town and the region, which was good for business – all business, in fact, including their competitors in the hotel and B&B space.

The new brand image for Vintage Inns – which left the identity and character of the three landmark hotels intact – brought new focus to the level of detail and individuality in the experiences people could find there. Fashion-inspired photography, experientially-driven copy and premium printing resulted in a collective warmth and sophistication that was previously lacking in their branded materials.

Targeted radio and print advertising sought to bring people in the GTA back to Niagara-on-the- Lake for unique experiences and quick escapes.

The online experience was re-vamped, giving more direct access to the reservation engine, while targeted banner advertising, e-newsletters and partnership programs helped drive new traffic to the site.

Landscape design/build identity: Thinking “Outside”

When the owner of a small-but-growing landscape design/build company approached me for a new visual identity, he stated his goals were to differentiate himself from his competition, and to potentially target a slightly more upscale, sophisticated clientele.

He already had the name, business cards, and a simple website, but none of it was working together, and it fell into the all-too-common-for-the-marketplace “green” aesthetic. He wanted something different, that set him apart in his creation of beautiful, livable, and sustainable outdoor spaces.

After doing a competitive audit to see what else was in play, it became clear that for true differentiation in the landscape sector, we had t avoid the conventional thinking and clichés that pretty much defined an entire market.

Rather than focus on the execution – trees, flowers, decks, fences, stone work, etc. – a more conceptual approach was taken that focuses more on the creative process.

Outside - logo

The symbol and colour represent unconventional, uninhibited, “outside” creative thinking. Colouring outside the lines, with the company signature “O” formed in the negative space. The warm and vibrant orange colour was chosen as a direct contrast to the blues and greens so often seen in the landscaping business.

Outside - truck (left)

The result is a bold and distinctive identity that supports and communicates the Outside brand: Outside spaces and outside creativity.

Outside - truck (tailgate)

The tagline, “Spend more time Outside” was also developed to draw more attention to the company name and the play on words. Both horizontal and vertical lock-ups of the identity were created to allow flexible placement on vehicles, equipment, uniforms, and lawn signs.

Outside – lawn sign

The results were immediate and powerful, with many sightings, recognition, and recall of the company truck in High Park and Bloor West Village within days of the new image hitting the streets.

The client couldn’t be happier, and that’s the best result of all.

Crest Whitestrips: Advocacy marketing

How do you create a promotional campaign for a product that’s difficult to sample? Create a grass-roots “consumer advocacy” program to get people to try the product and talk about their experiences with their peers.

Crest Whitestrips is one of those products that does not lend itself well to sampling, because results are only seen over a longer period. Therefore, knowing someone who has tried the product and liked it can be an important factor in the trial decision.



In developing the program, we researched potential partners, and discovered an excellent fit with Curves fitness clubs. Their members were in the right demographic for the program, but more importantly, they were people who had already made a commitment toward self-improvement, and according to P&G’s research, the target consumer for the teeth-whitening category in Canada was more interested in whitening to feel good about themselves than simply a cosmetic improvement.

We created a program in partnership with Curves to turn in-club advisors into product advocates. Each club was given sample product for the advisors to use, along with posters and newsletters and a $10 off coupon for product trial. The program also included branded apparel and an advisors manual with tips on how to engage members in conversation about the Crest line of whitening products.

The program was very successful and was renewed and expanded for a second year to include a Crest-sponsored a makeover contest for the Curves member with the best story about how having a great smile made a difference in their life.

Lavalife (Canada’s top online personals site) was also brought on as a partner as it represented another opportunity to speak directly with targeted audiences who were also engaged in life-changing activities. Crest sponsored the “send a smile” functionality within Lavalife, as well as a “Smile of the Month” contest with product prizing and a grand prize of a cruise. Targeted banners within the Lavalife environment also directed users to sign up to receive a $10 off coupon.

Delta Hotels: A fresh change





Delta Hotels is one of the largest hotel management companies in Canada, and as they grew, they saw a need to update and refresh their brand and visual identity to better reflect their aspiration to be the best of the mid-tier segment of the hospitality industry. In addition to designing the identity, we applied it and the new visual language to everything from signage to advertising and printed collateral, loyalty programs and all the miscellaneous amenities you encounter in a hotel… matchbooks, bathrobes, soap and shampoo… if it could be branded, we did it.

Sector:
Categories: Brand & Identity, Design

Decibel Guitars visual identity: One louder

In 1988, i was a teenager obsessed with guitars. (I had always been more interested in the instrument and gear than in actually learning how to be a proficient player.) A friend told me about a guitar shop in Toronto that occasionally offered courses in guitar construction. I followed up on that tip and enrolled in a 10-week course to build my first guitar. I was hooked.

But being on a career trajectory to be a graphic designer, it was too late in my high school career to switch directions, so building guitars was a dream that would have to wait. In the intervening decades, i continued to refine designs with the hope of eventually building again once i got access to a shop.

In 2009, Decibel Guitars was launched.

Decibel Guitars logo

Things are off to a slow but steady start, and the designs have been very well received. You can read (and see) more over at the Decibel Guitars website.

Decibel has also been an opportunity for me to exercise the power and potential of social media, with active Facebook and Twitter content driving traffic to the site and acting as open, two-way conduits of communication between myself and potential customers.

BlackBerry theme design

I’ve been interested in design for small screens for quite a while. The resolution and user input constraints have always presented unique challenges from a design and user experience perspective.

Of course, as screen resolutions, graphic processing power, touch screens, alternate pointing devices and full QWERTY keyboards have become increasingly common, many of those requirements and limitations have been eased (or eliminated altogether) but new input methodologies have also meant new challenges and new UX paradigms that need to evolve to address the ever-changing state of human-computer interaction.

When RIM moved more into the consumer space with the introduction of the BlackBerry Pearl in 1995, i took interest. But it wasn’t for a couple of years that i started delving into theme design for BlackBerry handhelds for my own personal use.

My first run at it was heavily influenced by the iPhone’s user interface, but i opted to not use any Apple intellectual property, unlike other theme designers, who simply cropped icons out of Apple screen shots, and most other elements fell short of the same level of polish.

The visual language i began with glassTile prompted me to expand it out into a cleaner, original theme family that ended up with three “metal” variants as well as red and pink themes based off the same iconography. These were made commercially available and they were purchased by several thousand happy users.

The themes were all based around the same concept of having a “horizon line” splitting the screen into defined areas. There is a clean “status bar” at the top, showing signal and battery strength, carrier info and small icons for secondary functionality such as Bluetooth. The “dashboard” area above the horizon line features a prominently positioned clock in a modern, flush-left position, as well as date information and the profile icon.

These themes were, of course, based primarily on my own preferences for information hierarchy, but it felt completely natural and intuitive. The position of the horizon line was designed to allow consistency of the menu bar and dashboard on subsequent screens for phone lists and in-call displays.

imoney.com: Turning green into Internet gold



The year was 1998. The Web had been around for all of about 5 years, and the Internet Gold Rush was on. A plucky team of innovators, funded by now-billionaire financier Gerry Schwartz through Bayshore Capital, started up a venture called FSDirect in an effort to launch one of the first independent financial services sites in Canada.

Reactor was called in to contribute to the user experience of the first generation of the site, and along the way, we managed to land the branding assignment as well. (… or was that the other way around?)

Keep in mind that 1998 was pre-iMac, pre-iPod… pre-iAnything, really. Truly groundbreaking! (You can thank us later, Mr. Jobs… just send the royalties to the following… but i digress…) The imoney brand lasted through several iterations of the site design before it was folded into another financial services site in 2000.

It was very innovative at the time, and even bested the efforts of many of the major banks, who were taking very tentative steps into the online consumer investment and trading world. Alas, the screenshots of the imoney interface design have been lost to the ravages of pixel erosion. Besides, they were so ’90s!