As part of AIGA's Design Week, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel of designers and nonprofit directors to discuss designing for good during an event luncheon. Our topics covered everything from design by committee, payment for services, crowdsourcing contests, creative freedom and, maybe most importantly, making a difference.
Designers have the unique ability to approach projects from a 50,000-foot view right down to the kerning on a business card. We need to understand both our clients' long-term goals and tactical initiatives.
In many ways, nonprofits operate the same way. Long-term goals of some of the nonprofits I've worked with include educating and enriching neighborhoods, transforming populations, developing workforces, saving lives, curing cancer and rescuing people from poverty. Amazing initiatives. But, these initiatives can't be accomplished without the tactical efforts of a devoted (and probably overworked) staff, programs, donors, communities, participants and (dot, dot, dot) you.
As a designer, some of the most important work we can do is cause-related nonprofit work. It's rewarding, exciting and, to be honest, every nonprofit client Designsensory has partnered with has contributed award-winning work to our portfolio.
So, get started. Find an organization you're passionate about and see firsthand what they're doing. Do your research by understanding their programs, participating in an event and meeting the people they're helping. When you start to see a mission through an individual face and name, you'll be motivated and inspired to help translate their story through design.
Arron Draplin of Draplin Design Co. spoke earlier in the week during AIGA's Design Week festivities and I couldn't phrase what he said any better: "Say yes." Really, it's that simple. Use your skills and give back a little. You'll be proud of the work and the difference you make.
AIGA (the professional association of design) former president, and Sterling Brands' President of Design, Debbie Millman’s visited Knoxville recently and lectured on brands. Our design team was fortunate to hear her speak and several folks provided remarks on the evening. . . .
Justin Hudson, graphic designer: "What I took away from the lecture most is the role strategy plays in branding, and the strength it provides to our design. When we have a reason for the branding to exist, with clearly defined goals, our design will be much more successful and less subjective. It defines our role in the process and gives credibility to what we are creating.
Another interesting topic from the Millman lecture is the triune brain and how that relates to our reception of brands. It makes for an interesting explanation as to why we, as humans, act and react the way we do."
Alison Ashe, senior graphic designer: “I loved that she said the only good designers who don’t wake up every morning thinking, ‘What if I can’t be great today; what if I’ve lost it?’ are people like Milton Glaser, and that’s just because they’re 80. It reminds me of one of my favorite books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which says that only a true professional who is devoted to his/her craft will constantly be plagued by the fear of being a hack.”
Matt Montgomery, graphic designer: "Debbie Millman, as president of design for industry heavyweight Sterling Brands, has helped brand products such as Pepsi, Gilette, Nestle and Star Wars. So, it’s not surprising that few people speak more eloquently or intuitively about the role of branding in today’s economic and social landscape. One idea I found particularly insightful was that companies should not focus on a brand “refresh” or “redesign,” but rather focus on what the current cultural meaning is behind the symbols in their brand. With this knowledge, they can properly assess whether that cultural meaning resonates with their desired audience or not—-a great insight to help customers ascertain if a redesign is warranted in order to better connect with customers.
I strongly recommend her latest book, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, as it is filled with interviews with industry notables and more. Millman weaves these together to paint a fascinating picture of the state of branding today."
Those of us lucky enough to be in Debbie Millman’s presence at Old City’s Remedy Coffee on Thursday, January 20, drank a cup of experiential wisdom. Inspiring? Vehemently, yes! Her passion and story evoke a close-up, walk-in-my-boots motivation, rather than sit-there-in-awe-of-a-cultural-icon inspiration. We can aptly relate to her trials by fire. An early point in the evening taught listeners to not turn down small opportunities. You never know. . . .
When Debbie Millman is onstage, you feel like a cohort, definitely along for one adventurous ride. To those confidence-eroding self-questions we all have: “Will I be able to do it today?” “Can I be great again today?” she tossed back, “Be aware of how you self-limit or self-sabotage. Don’t cut yourself off. You just may be able to do it!”
For the students in attendance—yet, benefitting all—Millman advised, “Be polite, persistent, headstrong. What can you do to make your dreams come true?”
Her emphasis on strategy certainly resonated with me as we espouse the same values at Designsensory. Millman cautioned that great ideas without great strategy won’t work, paying respect to several in her field who she tapped for their definition of “strategy” particularly in the context of brands. Ultimately, the cornerstone of brand strategy is really in differentiated advantage: the ability to either (a) be different, or (b) do things differently. Brand identity and communication design simply work to define and express this point of view.
A brand is a shared relationship between corporate stakeholders and customers. Millman pointed to how we parse reviews before buying on Amazon, as an example of how social testimony can shape brand affinity. Her statement that, “Human beings metabolize their purchases quickly” and ensuing extrapolations gave us food for thought about challenging stakeholders to create brands that are meaningful, sustainable, transparent and purposeful.
And, she caused some serious seat squirming when she announced that people passionately disavow change, illustrating the lengths to which human beings will endeavor to keep comfort close. Brands, like people, evolve but many are unforgiving of the changes to brand identity because of a discomfort with change. Remember the GAP logo debacle? she reminded.
Indeed, it was a great night to be on the front row. Insightful and inspirational.
Today's post comes from our beloved design intern Erin Slattery. A writer by education but now pursuing a design career, Erin elegantly captures her recent experience at the DISH Conference in Nashville.
Last Thursday, I packed up my portfolio and headed off to the DISH conference hosted at Lipscomb University by AIGA Nashville. I figured it would be a nice opportunity to get some feedback on my work and maybe hear a few good words from industry professionals. Little did I know, I was headed for two amazing days of candid advice, industry insights and inspiring words from the creative minds leading the world of design.
The event kicked off with studio tours of Bohan Advertising, Red Pepper, Advocate Printing, St8mnt Design, Lithographics and Anode. Students met at Plaza Artist Supplies, where we signed up for the tours we wanted to attend. I chose Bohan and St8mnt, Bohan being the first on the list.
Mr. David Bohan, CEO and founder of Bohan Advertising greeted us warmly and said he would be our tour guide. He led our small group of 8 through the walls of the renovated industrial building, stopping at each of the massive portfolio pieces adorning the walls. At each pause, he shared with us the concept behind the piece and the collaboration it took to bring the project to completion. We continued the tour, passing individual offices marked only with the work and whiteboard critique hung on the sliding barn door that guarded the busy designer inside. Finally, we stopped in front of a painting of individual colored squares. He explained that this painting was essentially their first office, where the designers were allowed to paint their spaces in any color they liked, allowing the designers to express themselves as they saw fit, helping the company save on redecorating fees. He shared with us the importance of being able to tell a story in every piece we create, a theme I would see repeated throughout the conference. The tour ended with his business card and a warm handshake, and a newfound appreciation on my part for this man who had started from the ground up and built something absolutely amazing.
Next, I headed to St8mnt, which proved a perfect complement to the large firm I had just left. They were a polar opposite, operating in an open office with just four people. They spoke about their former work at recording studios and displayed some of their current projects, offering great advice about keeping positive relations with the people for whom you work. It was nice to see another side of design in the real world, although I did find it ironic that they too had sliding barn doors. Maybe there was a sale.
Day gave way to night and the conference participants congregated back at the university, waiting on a speaker of which most of us only knew about his hair. The speaker was Stanley Hainsworth, well noted for his work at Nike, Lego and Starbucks, and of course for his hair. He spoke candidly with us about his background, and the ability to look at design outside traditional bounds. Design, he said, was a great combination of not only print, interactive and the like, but also industrial design. He spoke about the need to tell a story in every project, and to remember that designers, in the end, are there to sell. What I found most fascinating is that when asked where he got his inspiration he merely said, "Get out of the studio." Thank you Mr. Hainsworth. I will remember that for the next sunny day.
The next day began early, with breakfast and talks by Project M and Mohawk Paper. Industry professionals shared some great insight about getting a fantastic design job. After lunch, students split into two groups and gathered for the portfolio review. Area professionals donated their time and energy, offering some insightful advice on each student's portfolio. Critique, at least in my case, was limited to not only work, but extended into design environments that might be a good fit in the future, and tips on the importance of branding oneself. For this insight alone, the 3-hour drive was worth its weight in gold.
Creative Circus, a portfolio school from Georgia, and a panel discussion rounded out the afternoon. IO Studio donated a MacBook Pro to the Best of Show winner. Prizes were raffled off, and goodbyes were said.
Once again, I packed up my portfolio, heading home to Knoxville. This time I was not thinking about getting some helpful advice on my portfolio, but rather thinking how excited I am to work on that next piece.
And, possibly, to get some barn doors if things work out right.
Endless thanks to AIGA Nashville for hosting such an inspiring event, also to the volunteers and professionals that donated their time to make it so.
This continues our series of introductory posts on designing for direct mail. Part 1 introduced your friend at the post office, the Mailpiece Design Analyst, the basic mailpiece shapes, and some helpful online resources. In Part 2, we looked more closely at the shapes and other ways that the USPS categorizes mail. Here in Part 3, we examine requirements for getting your mailpiece through the USPS's processing equipment.
A mailpiece is nonmachinable if it has any physical characteristic which prevents it from being processed by the post office’s equipment, and is subject to a surcharge. Unless you are doing something unusual with your mailpiece on purpose and electing to have it processed manually at extra cost, your goal is to make all mail machinable by meeting all of the specific guidelines in the reference documents available to you (and with the help of your Mailpiece Design Analyst, printer, and/or mailing service representative). All discount mail must be machinable.
Nonmachinable characteristics for letters:
• Has an aspect ratio of less than 1.3 or more than 2.5.
• Is polybagged, polywrapped, enclosed in plastic, or is made of a non-paper material. Windows and certain other types of external attachments are an exception to this.
• Has clasps, strings, buttons, or similar closure devices.
• Contains items such as pens, pencils, keys or coins that cause uneven thickness or are loose and able to move around.
• Is too rigid (does not bend easily when subjected to a transport belt tension of 40 pounds round an 11-inch diameter turn.
• For pieces more than 4-1/4 inches high or 6 inches long, the thickness is less than .009 inch.
• Has a delivery address parallel to the shorter dimension of the mailpiece.
• Is a self-mailer that is not prepared according to DMM 201.3.14
• Is a booklet that is not prepared according to DMM 22.214.171.124
This means the piece meets all of the physical requirements which allow it to be run through the USPS’s high-speed processing machinery. Machinable mail must meet all of the same requirements that Automated mail must meet (see below), except a barcode is not required.
Bookmark the USPS Quick Service Guides for detailed requirements for machinable and automated mail.
Presorting is required for discount mail. This done after addressing, either by a presort bureau/letter shop/mailing service, or in-house using specific supplies and methods required by the post office.
Think of this as “machinable plus barcode.” To qualify for the lower automation postage rate, a barcode is applied by a presort bureau along with the address before delivery to the post office. There are minimum quantities for getting automation rates. Learning to design a mailpiece correctly for automation will most likely require the help of an MDA or other mailing adviser.
A barcode will be applied to your piece at some point in the process; it is either applied by a mailing service along with the address before it goes to the post office (in the case of Automated mail), or it is applied at the post office after a machine has read and interpreted the address.
If your piece will not be mailed at the Automation rate, you must leave a strip of clear space in the bottom right corner of the address side, the dimensions of which are based on the shape of the piece. If the piece is letter-sized, for example, the barcode clear space must be at least 4-3/4×5/8” and extend all the way to the right and bottom edges. Your MDA can provide you with an up-to-date plastic template and measurements.
If designing for Automated mail, the barcode will in most cases be printed as part of the address block by the mailing service / presort bureau. That address block will only need a clear space a few inches wide and tall, and the additional clear space in the corner is not needed. There is a great deal of flexibility in where the address/barcode block can be placed, as long as the barcode is within 4 inches of the bottom edge of the piece. The minimum size of the space needed will vary a little depending on the mailing service, so communication is key.
In the aforementioned clear spaces, the background should be of a uniform color with adequate light reflectance for the barcode reader or address reader to read properly against. White is preferred, but lighter colors can also work. The USPS has reflectance meters which can measure a sample of the paper you are using. Certain types of coated papers should be avoided.
In Part 4, we'll cover addressing and postage.
This continues our series of introductory posts on designing for direct mail. Part 1 introduced your friend at the post office, the Mailpiece Design Analyst, the basic mailpiece shapes, and some helpful online resources. Here in Part 2, we'll look more closely at the shapes and other ways that the USPS categorizes mail.
Factors determining the type of mailing
As a designer, unless the format of the mailpiece and the class of mail are already decided for you, you'll be basing decisions about the design of the piece on what kind of message, information, or material needs to be conveyed, weighed against how much the client is willing to pay to get their piece into the hands of the recipients on their list. This cost analysis tool can help start that decision-making process if the client is unfamiliar with commercial mailing.
Retail or Discount
In most cases, commercial mail is discount mail and is designed for easier processing by the post office's equipment. Not meeting the specific physical requirements will bump you back up to full retail price or incur a nonmachinable surcharge. Retail is synonymous with Full Rate First Class. There is also a discounted Presorted First Class category for commercial mailings.
Size and Shape of Mailpiece
As mentioned in Part 1, any piece of mail will be classified as a postcard, letter, flat, or parcel, depending on the dimensions of the piece.
Small postcards only
To qualify for the postcard rate:
• Minimum size 3-1/2 x 5 inches and .007 inches thick (equivalent to 80lb text weight stock, or an index card).
• Maximum size 4-1/2 x 6 inches and .016 inches thick (about as thick as 120lb cover weight stock).
• Postcard rate is only available if using First Class.
Larger postcards, letters, booklets, self-mailers
• Minimum size 3-1/2 x 5 inches and .007 inches thick (equivalent to 80lb text weight stock, or an index card).
• Maximum size 6-1/8 x 11-1/2* inches and 1/4 inch thick.
*Maximum length for a letter will be 10-1/2 inches effective 9/8/09.
Larger envelopes, newsletters, magazines, larger booklets, larger self-mailers
• A flat has at least one dimension that is greater than 6-1/8 inches high or 11-1/2* inches long or 1/4 inch thick.
• Maximum size: 12 inches high x 15 inches long x 3/4 inch thick.
*Maximum length for a letter will be 10-1/2 inches effective 9/8/09.
Anything that isn't a postcard, letter, or flat
• Length + girth cannot exceed 108 inches (130 inches for Parcel Select).
Classes can be thought of as service levels. The class affects postage rates, speed, and services included such as forwarding and returning.
Anything mailable can be sent Express
• Highest cost
• Fastest service available
First Class Mail
Anything mailable can be sent First Class
• First Class Mail offers a discounted rate for small postcards
• Faster than Standard
Advertisements, circulars, newsletters, magazines, small parcels, merchandise
• Maximum weight is 16 ounces
• Slower than First Class
• Must be published at regular intervals and meet other specific qualifications
• Requires a formal application procedure
Merchandise, books, circulars, catalogs, computer-readable media, film, recordings, educational materials, binders, other printed matter
• Subclasses are Parcel Select, Bound Printed Matter, Media Mail, and Library Mail
• For merchandise, Priority Mail (First Class) may have similar postage costs to Package Services but is faster.
In Part 3, we'll look at what you need to know to get your mailpiece through the USPS's processing equipment.
We recently attended a breakfast talk hosted by AIGA Knoxville on designing for direct mail. Sheila Kirton, our local USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst (did you know those existed?), gave us a great refresher on what to do and not to do when designing direct mail and alerted us to some upcoming changes in mailpiece requirements. Since we found this so helpful, we decided to put together our own introductory guide to mailing standards. Even if you’ve worked on mailpieces before, there can be many gaps in your knowledge. Mail can be pretty tricky, and it’s difficult to know where to go for a comprehensive overview from a designer’s perspective.
Interesting Findings from the AIGA Knoxville Breakfast Talk
• The maximum length for a mailpiece in the Letter category is being reduced from 11.5 to 10.5 inches on September 8. Anything over 10.5 inches will be mailed as a Flat instead of a Letter. (This applies to Sumo-sized postcards, self-mailers, booklets, etc.)
• A square letter-sized mailpiece will receive a nonmachinable surcharge because it will tumble end over end instead of sliding smoothly through the equipment. Flats can be square, however.
• Glossy paper stocks can cause problems in the machines because they generate static electricity. They can also interfere with machine readability and incur additional charges.
• Some paper coatings or printing methods can interfere with the barcode your piece will receive during processing. A mailer that we received recently had a barcode which was badly smeared over a field of solid color. The color appeared to have been printed by a color laser / quick run method.
• Blue inks are more difficult for machines to read.
• Your envelope’s flap can be on either the front or the back side, but cannot be on the bottom edge.
• Your piece can have rounded corners, but they can have a radius no larger than 1/8 inch.
• Don’t use an open / cutout address window in your self-mailer; it can get caught in the machines. A booklet that we received advertising a well-known design conference demonstrated this error!
• Those clear tabs for closing self-mailers look nicer, but they often don't stick as well as the opaque ones.
Mailpiece Design Analyst
Something you may not know even if you have been designing mailpieces for a while is that there is someone at the USPS whose job it is to help you design mail correctly and prevent unexpected postage costs and delays for you and your clients. Sometimes this information finds its way to you through others, such as printers or mailing services / presort bureaus, but the MDA is closest to the source.
From the USPS site: “Mailpiece Design Analysts (MDA) are postal employees specially trained to answer your questions regarding mailpiece design. These employees provide advice and issue rulings regarding acceptability for automated rates. MDAs provide technical assistance on mailpiece design to envelope manufacturers, printers, advertising agencies, and graphic designers.”
This includes testing your chosen paper stocks, if needed, and checking your artwork via email/PDF for problems before you send it to print.
To find the analyst assigned to your zip code:
Brief Introduction to Mailpiece Shapes
We’ll look more in depth at how mail is categorized in upcoming posts, but one of the first things you should know, which will make it easier to navigate the USPS’s reference documents, is that there are only four categories of mail shapes.
Any piece of mail will be classified as one of these, depending on the dimensions of the piece. Many things which do not seem like a letter, for example, actually fall into the Letter category, such as a small booklet, a self-mailer, or a large postcard.
Small postcards under 4.5×6 in. and being sent First Class are the only things the USPS places in the Postcard category; a Postcard is really only a type of discounted Letter.
For those who would like to dive right in, these have been the most helpful online resources for us. The USPS publishes an overwhelming number of reference documents, many of which repeat the same information in ways that are tailored for the different audiences to which they speak. The more in-depth resources also tend to include lots of information on sorting methods, barcode creation, etc. which most designers don’t need to know; that information is targeted at mailing professionals (presort bureaus; postal employees; in-house mailing departments).
Business Mail 101
Online introductory tool for beginning or infrequent mailers (this applies to a lot of designers!), including a glossary.
Quick Service Guides
A more user-friendly version of the information in the Domestic Mail Manual. Includes visual diagrams of sizes and shapes of the different types of mail (see the sections labeled “Physical Standards”).
USPS Domestic Mail Manual (the Bible of mailing)
It’s actually not easy to locate this online version of the ultimate domestic mailing reference when browsing the USPS site.
In our posts to follow, we'll examine the different shapes and classes of mail, and discuss how to ensure that your mailpiece will travel safely through the post office's automated equipment.
As many of you may know, Designsensory is a proud and active member of our local chapter of the AIGA, the professional association of design. Given that Alison and I both serve on the Knoxville AIGA board we thought we'd do our part to get the word out for this year's greeting card competition.
The theme is handmade and the competition is open to everyone! Here's more info:
We're encouraging you to step away from your bright computer screens this holiday season and get back to working with your hands. Create an original holiday greeting card(s) and mail it in to our competition by December 1st for a chance to win one of four locally handmade packages: 1st prize = $150 value, 2nd = $75 value, 3rd = $30 value, 4th = $20 value.
Then, join us on First Friday, December 5th at the kickoff of the Handmade Holiday Show in the former White Store Building on North Central (get directions). The Glowing Body / MagPies reception will open at 6.00 pm with music starting at around 8.00pm. Proceeds from the event will go to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, Downtown North Redevelopment and AIGA Knoxville.
Fifty designs will be chosen from the submitted entries. All fifty chosen designs will be on display and offered for sale in a silent auction on December 5th.
So break out the pens, pencils, and brushes to show us what beautiful things you can make. Be it cross-stitch, screenprinting, letterpress, collage, illustration, spraypaint, etc...the options are limitless!
Go to Knoxcards.org today to download your application.
P.S. Also, don't forget we have our PM: Happy Hour coming up this November 18, 2008 from 6:30-8:00pm at the Urban Bar. Come join us for drinks and good conversation with folks from the local creative community in Knoxville! In fact, if you mention you learned about this event through this blog post, I will personally buy you a drink.
And...no, I am not resorting to bribery. :-) See you there!