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Utilize: Concept Testing

Students heading back to school shouldn’t be the only ones thinking about upcoming tests. Testing should be an integral part of the development of interactive, offline and campaign communication efforts. Within Design Thinking, ever-evolving and new iterations can be the norm when fine-tuning work, and research such as concept testing substantially helps drive forward momentum while fine-tuning solutions.

Concept testing is the process of using quantitative and qualitative methods to evaluate consumer response to an idea, product, design or interactive piece of communications prior to it going to market—and beyond.

Warren Berger, author of “The Four Phases of Design Thinking” recently shared the following points leading to successful efforts in the Harvard Business Review.

Question. Don’t just ask the obvious questions. Look deeper and don’t be afraid to rethink basic fundamentals about your business and products.

Care. Caring doesn’t just mean giving great customer service. Get to know your customers as intimately as possible. Immerse yourself in the lives of the people you are trying to serve.

Connect. Find ways to bring together concepts, people, and products. Many great breakthroughs are “mash-ups” of existing ideas.

Commit. Give form to your idea as quickly as possible. Create a prototype and begin testing it right away. This is the only way to know if you’ve touched on something truly promising.

Berger’s points bookend testing with questioning at the onset of the process and committing to testing as quickly as a prototype is developed.

Avinash Kaushik, author of Occam’s Razor, shared in a recent blog post, “There is a lot of ‘buzz’ around ‘buzzy’ metrics such as ‘brand value/brand impact’” and "’blog-pulse,’ to name a couple. IMHO these ‘buzzy’ metrics might be a suboptimal use of time/resources if we don’t first have a hardcore understanding of customer satisfaction and task completion on our websites.

There are many different methodologies to collect customer qualitative data, including:

  • Lab Usability Testing (inviting participants to complete tasks, guided or unguided)
  • Follow Me Homes (observing in a customer’s “native” environment)
  • Experimentation/Testing (the latest new and cool thing to do, a/b or multivariate)
  • Surveying (the granddaddy of them all)"

We’re firm believers in the value of using research and testing to guide the communications process, regardless of the research methodology used.


Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 26 August 2013 at 4:23pm

Top Hero Dog

Almost every superhero has an alter ego, and that transition from mild-mannered to hero usually takes place in the blink of an eye. I got the opportunity to do some fun photo retouching to one dog’s photo who won the people’s choice to be the PetSafe Bark For Your Park Hero Dog. The Facebook contest, held before Bark For Your Park kicked off, allowed dog owners and pet lovers to submit pictures and stories of why their dog should be the face of the Petsafe dog park giveaway.



I don’t have a fortress of solitude but I can still give you a behind-the-scenes look at how I transformed the challenging, user-submitted photo and brought to life the PetSafe’s Hero Dog with my retouching expertise.

With the Hero Dog contest ending days before Bark For Your Park launched, we didn’t have time to get high-resolution, custom photographs so I had to create our own dog. The winner, ;‘;’Sweet Pea, was a mixed breed, shaggy-haired sweetheart who is blind in one eye. When we found out she was the chosen as Hero Dog, I wanted to make sure I crafted the most accurate likeness of her. I started with a stock photo of a dog that had a similar face and size to Sweet Pea but the resemblance ended there. Everything else was Photoshop magic. In the end, I had a beautiful high-resolution photograph to utilize on everything from the website to yard signs.

The Hero Dog lives in the imaginary and immersive world I created for the PetSafe Bark for Your Park contest. The PetSafe brand is all about featuring the best moments between an owner and pet, and the Bark for Your Park contest is making that happen for the third year with a combined $200,000 worth of cash prizes to build dog parks! I created a surreal landscape out of vector elements, photo textures and overlays, shadows and highlights. Mixing vector drawings and photography is one of my favorite styles to work in. Beyond the city and landscape, my favorite elements I got to customize were the dogs. Now, go Bark for Your Park!

Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 24 June 2013 at 8:34pm

On the Money


With an illustration of Alexander Hamilton, our design for CRS (Courthouse Retrieval Systems) Data for the National Association of Realtors’ event invitation was right on the money. While giving a nod to an illustration style reminiscent of U.S. currency, the mailed piece brought together playful concepts and copy along with typefaces evoking a tone and feel from the 1700s.

Unique, multiple components of the mailer included a die-cut element that showcased in a fun and playful way the plentiful hors d’oeuvres and beverages that would welcome attendees. Targeting a small group of approximately 200 MLS executives, the direct mail piece attracted almost all recipients.

The intimate event was held at The Hamilton in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and the invitation helped share the message that those attending would be welcomed with informal conversation, relaxed atmosphere and plenty of food and drink. Aligning its reputation with lawyer, banker and founding father Alexander Hamilton, The Hamilton bills itself as “Designed to capture DC’s creative renaissance and a food-savvy audience that draws influence from every corner of the planet.” The Hamilton’s logo—an illustration of a cool Alexander Hamilton with sunglasses—was inspiration for the design for the event invitation.

Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 23 April 2013 at 9:28pm

Utilize: Brand Ecosystems

Being a digital-centric brand consultancy often means our first engagement with clients begins with their website needs. Designsensory, though, as our name implies, infuses creative messaging across media, connecting all senses. With the understanding that a brand is part of a larger ecosystem, our team of designers, animators, videographers, photographers, editors, programmers, writers and strategists together are stewards of Design Thinking, creating multifaceted branding solutions via diverse platforms. No matter the capacity or project you’re working on with Designsensory, consider your brand and each creative execution as part of a larger ecosystem.

Procter & Gamble’s Global Marketing & Brand Building Officer Marc Pritchard shared in a recent article, “Forget thinking about how to make a vine or sending out the most clever tweet. Instead, focus on how to connect to consumers using ideas so big they’ll work on any platform.”

Forrester Research’s Nate Elliott shared in a recent blog post, “Leading your brand with interactive marketing isn’t about choosing one channel over another; it’s about rethinking how all our marketing channels work together.”

Elliott points to these three steps to build a digital-centric branding ecosystem:

1. Engage users on your own website. Nearly every audience we’ve studied says it trusts a marketer’s own site more than any other marketing channel, including offline advertising and social media.

2. Distribute your content and engagement into social and mobile media. Your brand probably won’t make quite as big an impact through social tools as it does on your own site but social platforms will make your brand accessible to users who don’t find their way to your site.

3. Reach a broad audience with paid media. If you want to get your message out to millions of people rather than thousands, you’ll need to buy both online and offline paid media.

In the natural world, ecosystems can be as small and confined as a seaside tidal pool thriving with diverse aquatic life, to an increasingly complex yet interconnected ecosystem spanning multiple continents. The same is true in the branding world, from a simple neighborhood direct mail campaign to a multinational, integrated marketing communications campaign. Ecosystems are varied. Working with a brand consultancy that understands this dynamic will help your brand ecosystem thrive.

Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 26 March 2013 at 9:12am

The Story Behind the 2013 TN Vacation Guide Cover



Photographing and designing the cover for the official Tennessee Vacation Guide was an amazing creative experience. After collaborating with our friends at State Tourism Office on the overall concept and developing moodboards and draft compositions to test the idea, we scouted several locations across middle and East Tennessee to see what would work best as the setting for what we had in mind. 

Gearing up for the shoot involved the entire office and help from the Department. We asked everyone in the Designsensory office to pitch in with camping equipment to be used as props in the shot. As the shoot day neared, our halls looked more like a base camp than a brand consultancy, with backpacks, lanterns, oars, sleeping bags, mountain bikes and a colorful assortment of gear for staging a wonderful outdoor adventure.

Shot at scenic Fall Creek Falls State Park, the cover image captures a family enjoying the fun of the outdoors, music and memories that only a vacation in Tennessee could bring together. To achieve this cover image, the Designsensory team collaborated with the Miles Media for the overall concept, locations and talent, bringing together photographers, stylists and the rest of the creative crew. 



To further generate buzz about the new cover design and to push the physical cover to a digital setting, Designsensory conceived and developed branded content in the form of a short video showing a glimpse of what it took to capture the essence of the state in this single image for vacationers everywhere. This behind-the-scenes video shares some of the process and passion to bring everything together—from models and props to learning about setting up the location and getting that perfect shot. A user can scan the QR code on the cover with their smartphone to view the video and then continue planning on the mobile website. 

Watch the Behind the Scenes Video »


Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 27 January 2013 at 9:16am

Fail Harder - Utilize Rapid Prototyping


“Fail Harder” is a larger-than-life art installation both in size and meaning at the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. Using over 100,000 pushpins to visualize the message, the art builds on a quote from agency cofounder Dan Wieden, “You’re not useful to me until you’ve made three momentous mistakes.” Failing, or trying harder, is an integral component to the Design Thinking process.

In the FastCo Design article “Wanna Create A Great Product? Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often,” it was reported that inventor James Dyson crashed 5,127 times before perfecting his bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson’s process is an extreme example, to be sure, but his feelings on failure ring true to any healthy iterative design process: “On the road to invention, failures are just problems that have yet to be solved.” Rather than shy away from failure, prototype and use what you learn to your product’s advantage.

“Utilize failure” is a phrase that’s probably not heard often in boardrooms or business meetings, but embracing failure at the right time can lead to fruitful successes. If “failure” is too harsh a term, “prototyping” is a work-around definition that may ease the introduction of this step within your development processes.

Working through design challenges, creating prototypes, getting feedback, iterating and refining is the foundational Design Thinking process that utilizes failure (prototyping) to create successes.

Professor Dean Keith Simonton at the University of California at Davis shared in a recent Harvard Business Review article that “creativity is a consequence of sheer productivity. If a creator wants to increase the production of hits, he or she must do so by risking a parallel increase in the production of misses. . . . The most successful creators tend to be those with the most failures!”

Rapid prototyping involves multiple iterations of a three-step process:

1. Prototype: Convert the users’ description of the solution into mock-ups, factoring in user experience standards and best practices.
2. Review: Share the prototype with users and evaluate whether it meets their needs and expectations.
3. Refine: Based on feedback, identify areas that need to be refined or further defined and clarified.

Many people look to minimize failure in both life and business and, therefore, avoid undertaking risks. Successful people and businesses embrace or utilize failure and understand the necessity of it to learn and grow. How is your business incorporating risk and failure in its innovation process leading towards success?

Ten Tools for Design Thinking, published by the University of Virginia’s Jeanne Liedtka and Timothy Ogilvie, shares 8 tips on how best to incorporate rapid prototyping, regardless of project or industry.

1. Focus on questions instead of answers.
2. Keep pushing deeper.
3. Question your assumptions.
4. Envision how a negative could become a positive.
5. Create some alternative scenarios.
6. Pretend to be somebody else.
7. Make it a party, but not too big.
8. Make it a competition.

When appropriate, Designsensory employs rapid prototyping as part of our Design Thinking methodology. Although specific to online design and development, this rapid prototyping process definition found in a recent Smashing Magazine article can be utilized in broader design or business contexts. 

Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 25 November 2012 at 10:24pm

Dazzling Design that Delivers Results for Jewelry Television


Any way you say it—from putting the bling in branding, glitz in graphics or dazzle in design, we’re excited to be working with Jewelry Television®. Designsensory is partnering with JTV to develop some sparkling promotions that includes direct mail pieces targeting separate tiers of Jewelry Television customers along with contest promotions, among other branding efforts.

Each postcard targets a different Jewelry Television customer cluster, based on buying preferences, demographics and length of engagement relationship—from first-time customers to longstanding JTV loyalists. Precious metals, minute details, delicate and feminine aesthetics of the jewelry and gemstones featured on JTV blend into many of the design elements.


Designsensory also partnered with JTV to develop an overall theme, on-air graphics and print collateral for the Jewelry Television and Tuesday Morning Treasure Hunt Sweepstakes. The nationwide contest campaign included Sunday newspaper inserts, direct mail to Tuesday Morning customers and in-bag flyers, leading toward a broader reach, cross-promotional brand awareness and high contest participation. A lighthearted and playful, yet refined and on-trend, pirate treasure theme created an inviting context for people to enter the sweepstakes.


Headquartered here in Knoxville, TN, JTV is the largest retailer of loose gemstones and one of the top four electronic jewelry retailers in the United States.


Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 25 September 2012 at 11:18am

The Power of Empathy - Better Collaboration


For some, the term empathy connotes soft emotions, sappy feelings and a general sense of the “warm and fuzzies,” all potentially incongruent with business, boardrooms and branding. Empathy, though, in its truest definition is a powerful tool, integral to the brand engagement process, leading to insights and innovation.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of empathy is “The power of projecting one’s personality into (and, so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” In the blog post “Empathy: Not Such a Soft Skill,” Harvard Business Review (HBR) editor Katherine Bell writes, “It’s an act of imagination in which you try to look at the world from the perspective of another person, a human being whose history and point of view are as complex as your own. At all levels of management, empathy is a critical skill. If you can imagine a person’s point of view—no matter what you think of it—you can more effectively influence him.”

Although a broad spectrum of consumer information can be gathered from client meetings, online surveys, focus groups, ethnographies and other data-mining tools, the transformation from simple information toward insight and innovation occurs when everyone within both the client and brand consultancy incorporate empathy. This empathy toward the customer fosters positive solutions, but, just as important, is empathy among colleagues and client-partners.

In a recent HOW magazine article, “The Empathic Designer,” David Holston shared that “design success is often as much the result of the quality of the relationships formed with clients, as it is the quality of the design.”


5 Tips for Better Collaborative Design Relationships:

1. Humility: The ability to control emotions at critical times, and to maintain a level of detachment is critical for managing productive client/designer relationships.

2. Listening: Active listening techniques include restating ideas the client has suggested to reinforce the idea that you understand; being aware of body language that might communicate disinterest; focusing on the content of the conversation; prompting for details to better understand the client’s point; and, suspending judgment so as to not cut off communication.

3. Questioning: Being able to ask meaningful and relevant questions not only prompts the client to provide more information, but also positions the designer in a lead role, not just a passive tactical role.

4. Feedback: The ability to give positive and negative feedback is a key factor in creating trusting relationships.

5. Transparency: By providing clients a transparent process in which they understand what is going to happen, when it will happen and what their roles and expectations are, designers take a step toward building strong relationships.

In HBR article, “Leadership in a Combat Zone,” Lieutenant General William Pagonis, director of logistics during the Gulf War, wrote “Owning the facts is a prerequisite to leadership. But there are millions of technocrats out there with lots of facts in their quivers and little leadership potential. In many cases, what they are missing is empathy. No one is a leader who can’t put himself or herself in the other person’s shoes. Empathy and expertise command respect.”


Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 24 May 2012 at 8:49am

My DS Experience, by Elizabeth Ann (Bitsy) Conde

Besides all of the great things I heard from past interns and teachers, I was not sure what to expect when I first came to fulfill my practicum at Designsensory. I was both excited and afraid about working with such highly regarded designers. Having learned so much from my previous internship, I had great expectations.

Of course, my expectations were fully met and more. Even with my first assigned project--which I feel I completely missed the mark on--I had already learned so much. I was challenged with projects for which I did not have a depth of experience, and that pushed me far beyond my level of comfort. One of my favorite aspects of working with Designsensory was the breadth of elements in design that I would have never considered making part of my process. The staff was so friendly, more than willing to lend advice, even if they were engaged in their own projects.

In conclusion, working at Designsensory gave me vital design experience in multiple fields, causing me to realize what kind of work environment I enjoy designing in. I wish I had more internship hours to complete, because I really do hate to go!

Thank you for making my experience so enjoyable!

Comments (0)|Posted by: Josh Vittetoe, 22 May 2012 at 11:05am

Debbie Millman: Thinking About Design


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."


Comments (0)|Posted by: Joseph Nother, 20 March 2012 at 9:46pm


Alison Ashe

Alison Ashe

Alison solves visual communication problems through a process of research, concept exploration, and original thinking.

Matt Honkonen

Matt Honkonen

Matt came to Knoxville from Chattanooga, where he worked as the senior strategist with the marketing and public relations department of a large digital agency. He has worked with a wide variety of brands, helping to solidify digital presence and develop a

Sarah Loebner

Sarah Loebner

Sarah worked for agencies in Ohio and Boston before coming to Knoxville seven years ago and burnishing her reputation as an innovative designer and fresh thinker. While inspiring design is her form of communication her passion lies in client partnerships,

Josh Loebner

Josh Loebner

Josh combines research and strategic thinking as the foundation for powerful, goal-oriented marketing experiences.

Lindsay Miller

Lindsay Miller

Lindsay is dedicated to the unrelenting pursuit of delivering unique, effective media solutions that bring a company's message to life.

Joseph Nother

Joseph Nother

As co-founder and creative director for Designsensory, Joseph oversees teams that deliver award-winning and compelling design.

Brandon Rochelle

Brandon Rochelle

Brandon, co-founder and technical director, oversees technology development spanning interactive work through online marketing.

Susan Sewell

Susan Sewell

Susan brings a background as a writer, senior editor, promotion specialist and project manager.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith

Ben is a designer, illustrator, cook, banjo player, guitarist, cyclist, rock climber and backpacker, who also happens to be exceptionally humble.  As a former intern (Bentern), who joined the team full-time (Benployee) in June 2013 after earning a B.F.A

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