When talking to other designers or listening to designers speak at conferences, I often feel uncomfortable when I hear them talk about the role of design solutions being “the vision of the future”. It sometimes comes across that solving many of society’s problems is really just a matter of creating a better and more contemporarily designed world.
Without partners, many of a designer’s ideas would remain just that – unfulfilled ideas.
Over the past 6 months, Projektor has been working with Switchback Cyclery to help bring their brand to life. Located in the Riverside neighbourhood, just east of downtown Toronto, Switchback is a bike store a founded on a strong social purpose – providing “street” people a hand up by offering them meaningful employment through the store and getting Torontonians out of their cars and onto a bike.
It was apparent though, that this venture would only succeed if people heard and more importantly, talked about it. As a start up with limited funds for marketing, Switchback needed to find ways of getting their name out in an efficient yet visually engaging and dynamic way. So we made a decision to produce a limited run of high quality cycling fashions – not really for sale but in order to create living, mobile billboards for the brand.
In meetings and presentations I often talk about how a brand is only as strong as its weakest impression. As this comment is usually meet with knowing smiles, I am continually astounded when a company allows itself to make a poor first impressions.
Recently, I was driving through an industrial area west of Toronto when I noticed sign hanging off the front of a building. As I slowed to take a closer look, I saw that it was for a firm named Techniweld. According to their website, the company provides the “best quality and value in welding equipment and safety supplies”. So I thought that it was ironic that the letter “N” in their sign was dangling in a way that communicated a message of poor quality and a potentially unsafe working environment to anyone who saw it.
While riding the streetcar recently, I noticed two ads placed side-by-side that looked as though they were from the same organization. Education en langue francaise en Ontario and Le Centre francophone de Toronto both had prominently used their logos – stylized human figures holding their arms – as a focal point of their ads. Upon closer inspection and a quick internet search, I found out that the former group was set up by the Ontario government to provide information and encourage enrollment in French language schools in the province, the latter is a not-for-profit organization that assist francophone’s who come to live in Toronto. Two different organizations, two different mandates, two different target audiences… two very similar brand identities.
Some of my strongest influences back when I went to design school were the music of Joy Division and New Order with their record covers designed by Peter Saville. So I was horrified last year when I saw that Disney was thinking of creating a Mickey Mouse T-shirt version based on Joy Division’s 1979 album Unknown Pleasures. While I knew that the icon had become a visual meme for the art school students past and present, looking around further I was surprised at how it had become part of our commercial culture as well.
If one of the goals of a brand – and particularly a luxury brand – is to charge a premium for their goods and services, Harry’s Bar in Venice must have a very strong brand. Last week on a trip to Venice, five of us dropped in for a quick afternoon drink and came out almost 100 Euros lighter. My quick “back of the napkin” math told me that our five 8 ounce Bellinis would have most likely cost them less than 10 Euros to make. Which meant that they were making approximately a 1,000% markup on these drinks – which is impressive for any business.
How does a brand gain iconic status? Is it something that you can create yourself or is it something that can only be bestowed on you by others.
These questions crossed my mind when when I stopped at Webers on the way up north last weekend. For those not familiar with Webers, they have been serving burgers and fries on the side of Highway 11 since 1963. As it was the Friday of the Thanksgiving weekend, by early afternoon it was already busy with people heading up to their cottages. It was a scene from a ritual that has been going on for almost 50 years.
Unique storefronts and their signs have always fascinated me. I have always thought that signs did far more than just convey information. They provide you with an idea of what you would find inside – from the store’s aesthetic to its shopping experience. These storefronts often reflect a moment in time, capturing the cultural and visual trends of their day. In a society where we are constantly and continually changing and updating how things look these signs are one of the great ways to capture where we’ve been and how we perceived things at the time.