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!
Standard & Poor's
Investment portal hosted application
In 2003, i worked on an interesting project with a small but outstanding team. We were flown in to assist with the front-end development on a financial services application that was being developed for Standard & Poor’s in Capgemini’s development centre in Lower Manhattan.
I worked as lead designer on a tactical team with information architects and coders, to deliver the user experience for a complex and powerful hosted investment management application which S&P was planning to white-label and sell to their customers – financial services operations whose investment activities were not their primary line of business – to use for managing client assets and linking S&P research with a wide range of investment products and services.
Brand, visual identity, integrated marketing and product design
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.
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.
The CUMIS Group
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, Inc.
Reactor/GWP Brand Engineering
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.
Film Festival sponsorship
Sonar was instrumental in getting Visa into the sponsorship of film festivals. But the art of sponsorship is more than just getting the logo onto the media wall. Sonar created custom content – originally syndicated radio programming, which later evolved into online video features – starting in 2005 as a way of leveraging Visa’s sponsorship of the Toronto International Film Festival into increased earned media impressions.
The Red Carpet Radio syndicated reports from the festival were morning-after recaps of the previous night’s activity at the Visa Screening Room. These were picked up by radio stations across North America and abroad. The earned media impressions of every “live from the Visa Screening Room” on-air mention tallied up to hundreds of millions of impressions – impressive numbers for a fairly modest sponsorship investment.
As Red Carpet Radio evolved, it became a video feature, with major exclusive distribution partners. The content is professionally produced (it was shot in HD in 2010), and is shot live at gala screenings, then edited uploaded and distributed within hours, where TIFF fans can see the night’s activity before the night is over.
Online activities are supported by offline contests and promotions to drive further traffic to the redcarpetdiary.tv site and further increase the value of Visa’s sponsorship investment.
Brand naming and identity design
Reactor, Capgemini and independent work
Some of these were branding exercises that launched and then went in a different direction (or that vanished for one reason or another). Others were just creative exercises or playing around with ideas.
Top row: (left to right) Brand identity for an initiative by Cadillac Fairview to expand their IT reach into their retail properties by offering data and networking services to their tenants. // A creative accident turned into an exploration of a possible future visual identity direction for a Canadian television network. // Reactor art-directed the first few issues of a new hockey magazine. This was my contribution for consideration for the masthead.
Bottom row: (left to right) Brand naming and visual identity for an IT outsourcing joint venture between Capgemini and Hydro One. // Creative exercise to come up with a name and identity for consumer media free of digital rights management. // An data synchronization service where information becomes “loyal” to its owner, and changes get automatically pushed out through the network to subscribers. What better represents loyalty than a retriever?
"Caramilk Secret" identity/mnemonic
At Reactor, we had the pleasure of doing a lot of collaborative work with various agencies. One assignment that came in was to develop a mnemonic device or visual identity that could be used in campaigns that centred around “The Caramilk Secret”. After a few rounds of creative exploration, this is what we ended up with. The agency Photoshopped in an actual Caramilk square over my illustrated version, but other than that minor change, this iconic symbol is still in use over a decade later, appearing in TV and print advertising, point-of-sale promotional displays, online contests and packaging.
Toronto International Film Festival
For the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, we were asked to come up with a promotional campaign that would reach new audiences.
We developed a campaign that focused on having the audience self-identify as their favourite genre. The ticket mnemonic with “Admit one” tagline was a play on words, instructing the festival to admit films of that genre, but also giving the viewer permission to “admit” to their cinematic guilty pleasure. Rather than using strict “Academy” film genres, we opted to go for more colloquial terms, to make it feel more like a grass-roots campaign.
We envisioned a teaser campaign prior to the launch, asking the question, “WHO ARE YOU?” The campaign would then launch with an extensive postering campaign, with the posters being mounted using staples instead of glue, in order to encourage people to steal the ones they liked. T-shirts would also be available for every genre, allowing people to further “self-brand” themselves with the festival nomenclature. The campaign would have branched out into print, film trailers, the Web and social media.
The visual pun could even be extended to the festival volunteers’ t-shirts, which could read “I AM VOLUNTEERING.”
Ultimately, the festival directors couldn’t get past the “I AM” statement, believing it was too close to a long-extinct beer campaign slogan (despite a very different execution), so this concept unfortunately died before launch.
- i❘money Corporation
Branding and User Experience
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 i❘money 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 i❘money interface design have been lost to the ravages of pixel erosion. Besides, they were so ’90s!