July 17th, 2012 by Jim Kidwell
The creative toolset is continually evolving. Whatever makes the creative workflow from concept to final output go most smoothly typically survives, and what doesn’t falls by the wayside.
During a recent webcast, I polled the audience to find out how many people relied upon a font manager.
Do you use a font manager in your creative workflow?
Clearly the vast majority of creative users rely upon font managers to collect, organize and activate their fonts.
We work hard to make our font management, digital asset management and web font tools relevant, and useful by continually adding and refining each product’s features.
Do you have a favorite feature that you’d like to see improved? A feature that hasn’t been created yet, but you’d love to see? Add your thoughts to the comments below, or shoot me an email via the contact form if you’re shy. We’d love to hear from you!
July 10th, 2012 by Jim Kidwell
Ever since the advent of the internet and the World Wide Web, the design field has been evolving to meet the challenges of creating work for multiple mediums. With print, web, mobile and other design targets all clamoring for a designers attention, it’s often difficult to know just where to start.
During a recent webcast for design professionals, I polled the audience to learn how they were attacking the problem.
My first question verified that the vast majority of designers no longer have the luxury of concentrating on only a single target. Eighty percent of the audience responded that they designed for multiple targets, with the remaining twenty mostly focusing on print only design work.
Do you design for multiple output targets?
The industry has definitely changed over the years. No longer can designers focus on one area. They need to be flexible and have the ability to adapt to any situation – a digital James Bond if you will. (Now I just need a computer monitor that dispenses the perfect vodka martini and a belt buckle homing device that automatically finds the best clients.)
Flexibility notwithstanding, design best practices require a starting place, a master design from where a designer begins. From what I have seen in the industry, I expected most designers to start with web and mobile devices as their primary design target, with everything as an offshoot of that initial design. I was surprised at what the survey results revealed.
Despite the conversion to a web master that others are touting, the survey indicates that the uptake of web or mobile as a primary design target is not catching on just yet. The vast majority of you start with the print portion of the project and move on to other outputs from there.
What is your primary design target?
I was chatting with our own in-house designer about this, and we came up with one theory that supported the continued dominance of print as a the master design. When creating assets for print, you need to have high quality graphics and other source material. For example, you need high resolution images, graphics as vectors, color spaces set in CMYK and so forth. These items aren’t necessarily required for mobile or web output, where designers can get by with a much lower level of detail and still have the final result look OK. If the web or mobile was the first target, it is tempting to start with lower resolution art, which if used may require the entire recreation of the project when it goes to print.
While print may still rule the roost in many design shops, the never ending march of technology steps forward. With the rising popularity of web and mobile devices such as iPads and other tablet computers, my prediction is that we’ll start to see an increasing focus design for these devices as the primary target. If special consideration is paid where print output is required, a switch-up in the workflow could be easily supported.
June 29th, 2012 by Jim Kidwell
A large number of you joined me earlier in the week for my webcast talking about the how we manage fonts in modern digital design workflows.
I covered quite a bit about how to speed up your workflow with the font management features of Suitcase Fusion 4, a bit about web fonts, including WebINK and also answered more than a few questions about server-based font management and Universal Type Server.
For those of you who weren’t able to make it, you can watch a recording of the webcast here:
I have also uploaded the slide deck to Slideshare.
“Your logo is not your brand”
Well, of course it’s not! We all know that. However, we also know that it can communicate volumes. At Extensis, we have additional considerations here: If you are in our business—selling to creative teams and font enthusiasts- then the logo typography we choose will clearly communicate more to our audience (on a conscious level) than most other companies’ logos communicate to their audience. In short: our audience knows their stuff, they are smart and discriminating. And yes, they are just about as opinionated as I am. Touché.
—Extensis Marketing VP Amanda Paull
This leapt out from the many other options:
“Wow, Amanda. That’s… wild,” I said.
She had just given me my first look at this proposed (typo)graphical element of the new Extensis logo. It was just one option, and not even the one being pushed most heavily by our friends at Blue Collar Agency who were helping our re-branding effort. They had in turn roped in their friends at Owen Jones & Partners. Mark Rawlins from OJP, along with Simon Walker had come up with this thing, that I promptly dubbed the “e-head.” It was an “e” for Extensis, but it could also spawn comic-book word balloons. In fact, the first treatments had the Extensis wordmark being “spoken” by the head, like this.
In retrospect, I think that the angle of the sides of the speech balloon being just slightly off from the angle of the italics was one of the reasons these didn’t work for me. “I need some time to think about that e-head graphic,” I told her. “Can I get back to you tomorrow after I sleep on it?” She agreed, and I went off to ponder whether something this radical and arguably lighthearted would work for our brand. It couldn’t be further from the old logo:
I looked back over the feedback Amanda had gathered during the branding survey Blue Collar had done for us.
“Should be simple. Doesn’t have to be over the top.”
“I think we need a bit more kitschiness. Modern, slab serif perhaps.”
“They should use something with a no-nonsense quality, to give the sense of dependability and technology.”
“But it should have a twist, to give the sense of creativity as well.”
Well, the e-head certainly fit the bill on those counts. Perhaps except the “over the top” part. Having the wordmark spoken by the head in a dialog balloon probably met that. But if we just stuck with the e-head by itself? Simpler, and any over-the-topness came from the sensibility it conveyed, not from being overly-complex or too “busy.”
Then there were the directives arrived at for the branding redesign. As mentioned a couple posts back in this series, we wanted to communicate that Extensis:
- Loves type
- Is open and approachable
- Respects design tradition while progressing forward
- Takes our work and our customers, but not ourselves, seriously
Well, the e-head certainly communicated open, approachable, and not taking ourselves too seriously. As I looked at it more, the more convinced I became that as long as we balanced it just right with a typographic treatment of the “Extensis” name, this could work just fine. Maybe it would be a little bit polarizing, and some people would hate it. But I thought they would at least notice it, remember it, and maybe even talk about it. Yet over time it would just become comfortably familiar. The next day I made an impassioned plea in favor of the e-head (though not necessarily the wordmark-in-the-word-balloon). Amanda and other marketing folks bought it. We explored other approaches as well, but we focused more and more on what typographic treatment to give to “Extensis” that could pair with the e-head.
The setting needed to be a bit less silly and playful than the e-head, so as to counter-balance it a little. But if it got too serious it would just clash instead of complementing. Trying to find the right balance was tricky. Some more wordmarks in word balloons we tried:
But outside of a word balloon approach, they had also shown us two treatments with all-caps slab serifs, Rodeqa and Donnerstag.
Two weights of Rodeqa Slab 4F by Sergiy Tkachenko:
Donnerstag by Jeremy Dooley:
Rodeqa is a unicase font, but I looked at a lowercase version of the Donnerstag.
There were things I liked about Donnerstag, but essentially I just wasn’t happy with how a lot of the lowercase letters were drawn. It seemed very inconsistent, in that contrast between thick and thin strokes varied wildly from letter to letter. DOubtless it was a deliberate design decision on Dooley’s part, but it didn’t work for me.
Somewhere in here we agreed that lowercase was better. Not quite as formal and stuffy, I thought. So Rodeqa dropped out of the running. Then I started suggesting other typefaces. A few of my thoughts…
Museo Slab 300 by Jos Buivenga:
Vista Slab Light by Xavier Dupré:
Adelle Light by Veronika Burian & José Scaglione:
Still, nothing was quite working. Amanda and I spent half an hour going over all the options I’d tried to date, and identifying what we liked and didn’t like about each of them. Finally I went back to Amanda and said, “Give me a day or two to work with some letterforms myself and I can make something we will like. I’ll start with Adelle, because it is just so darned well drawn, and modify it until it meets our needs.”
I started by interpolating a custom weight, roughly mid-way between the regular and the semibold. In my experiments was about as light as I could go and still have the letters hold up nicely even when the logo was really small.
I made the letters quite a bit wider (and thus a bit more rounded), not just by stretching them—that would distort the shapes—but as real designed extended letters. (I got some help from RMX Tools, which I used to add a width axis in FontLab Studio.) After that, I modified the shapes quite a bit.
The treatment of the x was inspired by Xavier Dupré’s Vista Slab. Lopping off the left part of the t crossbar made it seem more modern and also helped with what would otherwise be awkward spacing between the x and the t. I also lopped off the inner right serif of the n (like Donnerstag or Palatino), and then I had to make the n a tad narrower to compensate for the missing interior serif. I gave the s more playful ball terminals (like Donnerstag or Archer). Although I had messed with it a lot, the great underlying craftsmanship in Vik and José’s letterforms gave me a great base. Now the whole thing was a bit more jaunty and modern, compatible with the e-head without being quite as extreme.
Soon we began to roll it out internally. The first showing was just the wordmark without the e-head. In retrospect… not such a good idea. But a few months later we showed it with the e-head, and regular human heads started to nod. They could see what I was balancing the wordmark against. Last week it went up on signs at our downtown Portland headquarters.
Every time I look at it I like it more. That’s a good feeling. But I will be very interested to hear what outside folks think of it!
This is the fourth in a series on rebranding:
- When is it time for a rebrand?
- Diving into the icy cold waters of a brand refresh
- Brand Refresh: Getting the gang on board
P.S. This is a simplified version of the logo development story. The full version would have three times as many steps and shown another 50 or 100 fonts! For the font geeks out there, in tweaking Adelle, I used RMX Tools to create a multiple master, and added a width axis! Then I tweaked both weight and width until I got the initial letters “right.”
[Updated same day to add/resize some graphics and clarify one sentence. And again to add a note on RMX Tools. And again to add links to previous posts in the series.]
March 14th, 2012 by Alexandra Barltrop
We had an amazing time at the Technology for Marketing & Advertising event in London a couple of weeks ago. It was our third year attending and we were happy to meet many of you who are as mad about fonts and DAM as we are!
Davin Kluttz, our Senior Product Manager came all the way from Extensis HQ in the US to present two amazingly well received seminars (seriously, they were queuing out the door!) for us.
The first one was “Classy, Clowny or Crude? How your site’s typography affects your brand”, which illustrates how web typography affects your website, and how you can select and implement web typography that is just right for the job. So many people these days think it’s OK to use Comic Sans on their websites. This may come as a shock, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard! Davin illustrated this by showing how some iconic brands would look if their logos were in this font (Chanel, Coca-Cola, Star Wars) which got several laughs from the crowd. To drive the point home, he also showed us several examples of “classy”, “clowny” and “crude” web typography, which gave the audience a feel for the direction in which they should be taking their sites.
The second one was entitled “What does this DAM thing do?” Ever find yourself pulling your hair out trying to locate an image in a sea of thousands? Don’t you think it would be nice to preview a video on your iPad without a special plug-in? Or even just have access to all your digital content on the go, so you are able to act fast if a client unexpectedly throws a “let’s see it now” lasso around your neck? Well Extensis has a solution for all of these problems and it was all nicely wrapped up in this presentation, which not only explained what an “asset” is, but also demonstrated how to leverage digital asset management solutions to find, locate, archive and access files, regardless of location.
If you couldn’t make it to the show, couldn’t get in to the theatre or would simply like to see what we had to say on web typography and digital asset management, we have very kindly provided the slides from both presentations below!
Enjoy! If you have any feedback, please let us know – we’d love to hear from you.
February 14th, 2012 by Amanda Paull
Shh. It’s the best un-kept secret we’ve had in a while. Mosey on over to the WebINK blog if you’re interested in a chance to win a Platinum Pass to that L’il old event in Austin, TX next month.
February 2nd, 2012 by Amanda Paull
In the last installment I talked about how you know it’s time for a brand refresh.
So by now you know we decided to go for it. For me, there were 2 driving reasons to tackle a brand refresh now:
1- Evolution: This company is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. We are not 17 years old; we are 17 years strong (yes I’m a marketer, that’s how we talk…). We are ever-evolving and our brand should reflect the caliber of technologies we are building today.
2- The Human Element: There are truly wonderful aspects of our company that are not readily visible externally. This group is so customer-focused that we will obsess over a single frustrating customer experience. But, unless you have had direct interaction with our sales or support teams, you would not know the depth of our commitment to making users happy. Yet this is one of the core brand qualities that keeps people coming back.
“The friendly skies” of United
Getting Started: the Brand Audit
Oy. Like your first step into the cold pool, getting started is the hardest part.
We started with a brand audit to tell us who we are. (OK, yes, we are Extensis. I got that part. But who are we from the outside-in?) Too many companies try to build their brand on top of who they WISH they were. Consider: any healthcare company—or US-based airline—that you can think of and you’ll see what I mean.
Ever hear the expression “you can’t fight genetics”? Well, perhaps that also applies to branding. You just have to be who you really are and focus on showcasing that, otherwise there is a high probability of looking like a phony.
“Love to fly?” Really? Because the rest of us hate it!
Yes, lost luggage IS special.
What (and who) we asked
First we had to get some probing questions answered:
- Do we deliver what we promise?
- What is our greatest opportunity?
- Why do people choose to work for/work with us?
- What have we never been good at?
Well, you get the idea. You simply can’t be afraid to get the answers you need to hear. It’s important stuff.
Yes, market research is invaluable. But at a certain point you hit serious diminishing returns (think: looking down the ramp of a ski jump.) There is a point at which you have enough evidence to move forward. Tom Fishburne recently created a timely Brand Cartoon on this very topic.
In light of this, we chose to spend our time talking to our brand messengers: customers, employees, industry partners and sales partners. We had a 3rd party team send out a survey to our employees and then conduct a series of in-depth interviews with customers and partners from across the globe (from customers like Publicis, to partners like Adobe and Microsoft). These guys know us, our product offering and how we fit into the bigger context of the industry. And, as we learned, they are happy to be brutally honest!
What We Learned
A few ‘pull quotes’ from the research:
- “If they want something that’s solid and works they’re going to purchase our product.” (Employee)
- “We really strive for quality: the fonts on WebINK are just one example.” (Employee)
- “Solid products. Extensis really cares about the functionality.” (Sales partner)
- “The most valuable piece is the internal talent.” (Industry partner)
- “The best thing about the product is the depth of engineers that can work on the product.” (Customer)
Clearly, the employees here are the nerve center of this place. But we have done a poor job of allowing this character to show through. For me, this was the biggest take-away: “They like us but they don’t really know us.”
We are not some monolith technology company that is slick but impersonal. We engage our customers and value their opinions, we share that feedback across the organization, we act on it whenever possible, we work very hard to satisfy. We really do lose sleep over doing the right thing. We really do groove-out on making customers’ jobs easier. In short: There is a face, a heart and person who cares behind every box. That’s exactly the Extensis we need people to see. OK. we can do that!
So it turns out those icy cold waters were rather refreshing, after all.
Out of this mass of data we were able to distill some basic visual guidelines to pursue. We need to communicate we are a company that:
- Loves type
- Is open and approachable
- Respects design tradition while progressing forward
- Takes our work and our customers, but not ourselves, seriously
So taking these and articulating them into a visual architecture is easy, right? (gulp) This is where my ‘be brave’ advice comes in to play. And this is the point at which I’m preaching it to myself.
Next up: The Visual Brand: It’s Decision Time
Finally, 2012 is the year of CHANGE!
Of course, we know we are guilty of some of these (I’ll let you be the judge) so, we’ve decided that it’s time to embark on a makeover. Truth is, we’ve been working on the research piece of this in the background for a while. So why not learn from our trial and error? Swallowing our pride, we are going to share throughout the process to help those of you who may also be considering taking the plunge.
And now, a reality check.
A Pep Talk
There is never a good time for a brand refresh. It’s a universal truth you just have to suck up. Sorry.
For us, we are always on the cusp of some new product launch or initiative that will hamper the process. That’s how it works. I suppose if you don’t have competing priorities that complicate it, then you’re likely missing something.
But, don’t let timing deter you from the big decision. There are obvious and compelling catalysts for a company rebrand: acquisition, technology shift, etc. And then there are less obvious, organic catalysts. (See list above)
The bottom line is this: Companies Evolve. You find yourself introducing products or services in response to market opportunities and one day you wake up and realize that the overarching brand in your head is not the one the outside world is experiencing. At least that’s our situation. Lets face it, if you are moving your business forward, you create the opportunity to ‘outgrow’ your current brand—and a refresh is in order.
What’s the desired outcome?
Smarty-pants marketers (and academics) will cite things like “increase shareholder value”, “capitalize on market trends”, “create buzz”, yada. I can’t subscribe to this. You increase shareholder value by fostering happy customers. If your effort doesn’t, in some direct way, touch your customers, then what value is it?
In my mind, brand is about connecting with your audience. It’s about how you, as an organization (of people), interact with the audience (people) and how they (people) feel about it. That’s it. Granted, there may be a hundred ways to impact this, but it really is that simple. And when you bring in new audiences, or narrow in on one market, you may need to noodle on how your company communicates. If you keep it simple, probability of success skyrockets.
Why agencies LOVE brand redesigns and marketing teams LOATHE them:
As an agency, a rebrand is a huge challenge that gets the juices flowing (it is also a large task which is good for your bottom line). It is quite exciting. No matter how invested you are however, you are never going to forever ’live’ within the brand you help define.* It doesn’t work that way. Some may regret this disconnect, others may relish it.
This is why marketing teams hate rebrands (no, you are not alone). They are thrilling, in a ‘stick-your-neck-out-and-subject-yourself-to-endless-lashings’ sort of way. Have a vision—on any given day you will need to defend your decisions. You have to commit (because you DO need to live within this brand). And above all, you have to be fiercely brave. Easy, right?
Well, I’ll let you know. We won’t be rolling out new materials for a while yet. They are coming soon, so until then, you can go through the process with us.
Next up: Why Extensis dove into the icy cold waters of a brand refresh
* If you do bring in a partner to assist in the process, choose wisely. Make sure they are as invested as is humanly possible. Fortunately, we’ve done just that. Shout-out to Blue Collar Agency and Owen Jones Partners.
April 13th, 2011 by Jim Kidwell
Have a website design that you think kicks all others to the curb? Get all of the accolades, high-fives and awards that you deserve by submitting your for consideration in the Webvisionary awards!
This is a great competition, and we’re happy to sponsor the awards this year.
Submit your work here:
Best of luck to you and your designs!
Announced over on the WebINK blog, where we’ll have more coming about the inspiration and development from the site designer, so stay tuned!