1. If every coffee shop looks like a hipster coffee shop, who has the best coffee?

    Trends are a natural occurrence in culture, from fashion to music to everyday slang. And design is no different. This could be due in large part to the proliferation of design blogs as wide spread disseminators (taste makers) of anything au courant. Designers, young and old, will see cool work and mimic it on all of their projects until it’s a sad, badly beaten dead horse. This is why you’ll sometimes see three independent coffee shops that look exactly the same, right down to the stamped kraft paper bag and thin, mustachioed barista.

    I’m in no way above this. When I reflect and look at past work, it’s enough to make my skin crawl. Flipping through old sketchbooks, I’ll find the same five or six ideas drawn out for each project, no matter the service, audience or positioning—wings, stars, railroad X’s, ribbons, born-on-dates, all of it.

    Early in our business, CODO began focusing more and more on offering brand strategy and positioning. By spending time researching a client’s culture, service, competition and audience, we were able to move away from trendy design and start offering more appropriate, lasting work.

    All this being said, I realize that sometimes the devil’s advocate rule may apply. If a client wants a certain type of aesthetic, and is paying you to deliver, then it’s easy to set aside all this theoretical bullshit and provide what they want. BUT, I also feel that designers (and design firms) should do a better job of policing themselves—through internal sketching, concept development and critiques—to make work that will be appropriate for more than just a few years.

    Trendy work wastes the client’s money and won’t have nearly the same business impact that thoughtful, trend-defying branding would. A large part of our job as designers is convincing clients to choose something appropriate, compelling and lasting. By smartly guiding them through the design process and avoiding cheap temptation, you can make magic happen.

    It comes down to being mature enough (and cynical enough) to realize when something is hinged upon an aesthetic trope, rather than reflecting a core, compelling idea. Once you can identify this difference, you’re one step closer to killing weak concepts and creating great work with your client.


    Timeless is an interesting word. We’ve lost track of how many clients want their logo to look “timeless.” Logos becoming timeless has a lot more to do with surrounding culture, ongoing success in product/service itself, continual marketing/advertising, and the role the company plays in people’s lives than it does with a typeface or texture.

    When we hear this word from a client, we strive to make something that’s not trendy. By aligning visual aesthetics with company culture and service and the intended audience, we can make something appropriate and position you well away from your competition. But it’s not even that complicated. A lot of this is as simple as not putting a damn ribbon on someone’s logo. We’ve been in a few situations where this sort of iconography made sense and had to convince our client (and ourselves) to go another way because that particular visual language has been fully bastardized.

    Our work with Piazza Produce is a great example where this sort of element was appropriate. Their compelling brand narrative is being a family-owned business, founded in 1970 and based entirely on amazing customer service. In this case, a born-on-date is an important element of their identity, connoting stability, reliability, and the all important “Wow, they must be doing something right!” feeling that comes along with being in business for more than four decades.

    That hipster coffee shop down the street, the one that opened in June—they’ve got no business putting a born on date in their logo. It’s misguided and trite.


  2. cododesign:

    Cody and I were heading into a meeting this morning when we saw Roof Dog. While this doesn’t have anything to do with branding, we felt the need to share it with you all. 


  3. I was at my gym a few days ago and a shoe company rep was there hocking their products. As I passed, he prodded me to try their shoes during the WOD, claiming they were grippy enough for oly lifts and light enough for box jumps. I politely declined as my shoes, beat up though they are, still serve me well. He offered one more time and I again declined.

    I spent the rest of the day thinking about my hobbies and how easy it is to get caught up in chasing the new. Hiking is a great example. I can spend hours on youtube watching reviews for stoves, knives and bags that I’m not even considering buying. The bitch of it is that I generally end up wanting things I don’t need. Granted there’s significant overlap in all these hobbies, fishing, hunting and camping are all the same way.

    Even gardening is susceptible to this. I know folks who’ll buy cute gloves and colorful water pales at the start of each season, just because. It’s none of my business how people spend their money and I can’t stand judgmental people, but damn. It’s hard to watch folks buy stuff for no reason. The money generally goes straight out of our community, driving an unsustainable economic landscape and most importantly, you just. don’t. need. the thing you’re buying.

    I’ve always been prone to not spend money unless I need to, but buying quality when I do. Especially over the last four years as I’ve steadily reduced the amount of things I own. Now, when I consider buying something, I’ll decide whether it’s a want or a need. Do I need a new water bottle for hiking when I have several that work just fine? Do I need new polarized sunglasses for fishing when I have a pair that’ve served me well for many years?

    It’s an ongoing challenge to stop and consider this anytime I come across something I want. And by buying less, creating and/or building what I can, reusing and/or fixing items, and giving stuff to friends, family and Goodwill, I feel a little less guilty about buying the occasional thing I don’t need.


    Need is an interesting word. I need shelter, water, food, human interaction and bourbon. Do I need an irrigation timer for my garden? Well, no. Not if we’re talking caveman hierarchy of needs. But, when I put items like this through my want versus need filter, an important parameter is how much utilitarian use I’ll get out of it. How easy will this make my life versus how neat it will be to own, fondle and make jealous my friends?

    An irrigation timer will directly increase my garden yields, allowing us to eat more throughout the season, preserve more food for the cold months and overall, not labor as much throughout the hot months.

    Conversely, a shiny new Case pocket knife, sexy though it is, is in no way a need. I have several pocket knives and wouldn’t end up carrying it. But goddamn, I want one.


  4. CODO’s at a new, interesting place in our business’ development—we’re hiring people! We hired one of the best web designers in the state a few years ago, but he was an easy pick. We graduated from Herron School of Art and Design with Mike and had been friends ever since.

    Somehow though, Mike didn’t feel like an *official* employee. He was already fully committed to our belief of involving clients throughout the creative process, is enormously talented, great with people and has never met a problem he wasn’t able to figure out. Plus, he’s one of our favorite people to hang out with. He’s exactly what any employer would be after and in a lot of ways, set an unfair bar for Cody and I as we looked to bring on our first *official* employee.

    So when we set out looking for an intern, we received several dozen resumes. I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I hate cute resumes. I need to see great typography and hierarchy, and I don’t want the design of the piece to get in the way of glancing at your past experience. Really, you have an infographic ranking yourself 8 out of 10 in Photoshop? Go fuck yourself. Anyway, after wading through the applications, we ended up calling in four people. They all had good work, but one of them was great.

    We met Ryan at Tomlinson Tap Room for beer, only to find that he didn’t like beer (we’re still upset over this). He brought some past work along but it was just cobbled together in an old folder. He broke every interview rule you can find—I still laugh when I think about this. Everyone else showed up wearing snappy vests with slick portfolios and well rehearsed presentations. And while they were nice folks, they didn’t seem like a good fit. Ryan’s work was solid and while he wasn’t as animated as we’d like, he was able to explain his design decisions.

    The biggest reason we ended up bringing Ryan on was that without provocation, he told the same story we hear again and again from clients, only from the perspective of a lowly designer in a big agency. He had just come off of an internship where he had never once met a client. He wasn’t allowed to email the clients, he wasn’t allowed to share work with the clients. He was to remain invisible, a magical creative behind a firewall. From the moment we started talking, he was clearly on board with how we work. And it was exciting.

    The biggest thing Cody and I got from hiring Ryan was that even if someone has a jaw dropping portfolio, they may not be the best fit for our shop. No matter how good your fundamentals are, if you’re not someone we can rely on and have fun with, it just won’t work out. You need someone who gets it. Someone who agrees with your philosophy and isn’t afraid to challenge you at times.

    Ryan finished out his internship in December and we brought him on full time. And we’re proud to call him our first *official* employee.


  5. I’ve largely been off of social media throughout the beginning of this year and have read more books in the last 25 days than I did in the last six months of 2013. I forgot how fun it is to sit down, drink a few beers and burn through one hundred pages.

    Like most folks, my “on-deck” list has grown and grown over the last five years and I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop buying new books until I burn through the stack. We’ll see how well this plan goes.

    Though I don’t normally read fiction, I’ve fallen back in love with Cormac McCarthy. His work reminds me of when I was twenty-two and completely enthralled with Hemingway. He’s one of the few writers who sends me ripping through a book as fast as I can—my heart actually racing at times.

    I’m also happy to have stumbled upon Steven Rinella. A young outdoor writer, he’s got the same sardonic humor as John Gierach, without the crankiness. And it’s refreshing seeing a young, eloquent person come out and represent hunting so positively.


  6. Church.


  7. cododesign:

    Redesigning Cerulean’s menu system was one of the most complex projects we’ve ever undertaken. After prototyping a menu to meet certain communication goals—easy to update, durable, and reflective of Cerulean’s beautiful interior design—we had to work with industrial felt manufacturers, lumber mills and printers across the country to get everything to come together. 

    And we couldn’t be more proud of the result!! Highlights include a lunch menu that clearly demystifies Cerulean’s bento box, sexy vellum overlays on all menus ( that easily distinguish between each menu while protecting the paper underneath ), and a modern pairing of walnut plywood, felt and black screwposts. 

    Proud of this one.


  8. Found this wonderful thought in One Straw Revolution.


  9. Kreg Jig to the rescue. 


  10. Repurposing an old sandwich board sign for Cerulean. Replacing most of the hardware and am putting several coats of oil stain on it. Should be looking pretty sharp in another week or so.