Creative Direction work

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.

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.

ePhysician portal concept: Changing health care

Capgemini was preparing a joint pitch with HP in response to an eHealth initiative at Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. As part of our response, visual mockups were created to present a conceptual framework of potential functionality and user experience, as a way of framing discussion and opening dialogue with the client. While integrated records management has still not been implemented in the province, this concept shows some of the power and potential of an integrated approach.

Co-operative Development Foundation: Campaigning for women


We were approached by the Co-operative Development Foundation (the heart of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s international development efforts) to help them craft a campaign to solicit donations for their international women’s program. These donations would be used to help women in communities around the world to attend a global Co-operative conference.

Drawing inspiration from a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” we developed a print advertisement, email campaign, a video, a microsite and materials that could be displayed within credit union branches.

The feedback and response to the campaign were tremendous, and resulted in further brand consultation work with the CDF.

http://www.cdfcanada.coop/bethechange/

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.

Visa Canada: Leveraging cultural 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.

TIFF: Promoting the ‘festival of festivals’

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.

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.

Strategic creative: Scenarios and concept development


Working closely with Capgemini’s Digital Asset Management consulting group in 2003, i led a creative team to collaborate and brainstorm over a couple of days to develop scenarios and storylines for a future media landscape 5 to 10 years into the future, specifically geared around consumption of media and how digital asset management (and rights management) technologies would play a role.

We developed a set of scenarios that touched on video, audio and printed media in a world with pervasive high-speed wireless networking, and where consumer media is accessed from the “cloud” rather than stored locally. (This was years before the concept of “cloud computing” would have been considered even remotely viable.)


We came up with a name, a visual identity, and mocked up several user interfaces that showed how media would follow the user and adapt itself to the context in which it was being played back or viewed… everything from desktop computers and mobile devices to home theatres and automotive systems.


The opportunity to stretch out and explore the thin edge was very exciting, and the scenarios gave the sales team something concrete which they could take out to clients and demonstrate our thinking.