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Category Archives: Design

Visual Writing: An implausible idea turns out to be powerful!

By | Blog, Branding & Identity, Creativity, Design, Publishing, Strategy, Writing & Editing | No Comments

For those of us who are not professional writers but who must nevertheless write convincingly, anything that improves our expression in language is worth a look. Here’s one that is remarkably powerful:

Using a great typeface when you write, especially one that suits your own personality, is a portal to better writing!

Visual designers everywhere know typography is a powerful tool for building excitement, creating award winning design, and translating business strategy into results. But even before the graphic design stage, just using a great font during your writing process helps you enjoy the process—and clarify what you are trying to say.

“What?” you say, “Most of the world doesn’t know the Comic Sans typeface from Caslon.”

True! Subtlety is precisely what gives typography its power. It flies below the radar of suspicion. Like the soothing tone of a great radio voice, a great typeface makes writing come more easily and friendly to the eye.

You might scoff: ‘Surely this a graphic designer’s fantasy exaggeration!’

Fair enough, but try it and see! 

The Visual Writing strategy is simple- find a beautiful text type and write in it as your default. Many world renowned brands use a consistent typography as part of their brand strategy. The New Yorker’s quirky headlines are an example. UPS has adopted the modern classic DAX. Apple has for many years used its own customized “Apple Garamond”. We read everywhere about having a “personal brand” but very few solo entrepreneurs have learned what the major brands all know.

OK, you don’t have an idea where to start?  Here is Dr. Dave’s list of five inspiring typefaces that will change the way your words ‘sound’ on the page. It’s very visceral, not every style works for everybody, these 5 are just to give you the flavor. You may have to hunt a bit to get the one that sets your prose ablaze. But it’s out there!

Typeface Showings Deepdene

I start with my own personal favorite, Deepdene. It’s the master work of one of the greatest type designers of all time, Frederick Goudy. The roman version is very easy to read, and it has IMHO the prettiest italic ever created. The italic is too spirited to use for long form writing, but writing a key sentence in Deepdene Italic is pure poetry.

Typeface Showings_DeepdeneItal

Typeface Showings_Bodoni

Typeface Showings_Titillium

>>I would not set a whole book in Titillium.  But it’sexcellent for web and mobile, and for setting  newsletters, blogs and marketing materials. And for a writer, it’s a turbo boost to your relevance.

Processing, please don’t wait!

What I want to emphasize here is the process, not the product. I am not suggesting you write your prose in the same old nothing typeface that comes with your computer, then later converting it to a special face. I’m saying, start with a face that makes your heart sing, and write in that face—just as you naturally speak in your own voice. Your friends instantly know your speaking voice when they hear you on the phone or in person. Your typeface does the same thing for you in your writing. Even if your writing is presented to the world in some other typeface, the font in which you write can make you a better writer. Try this and see it transform your writing. Honest!


Typeface Showings_Centaur

A beautiful type for coaxing your thoughts onto the page is Centaur. Designed by Bruce Rogers for the Oxford Lecturn Bible (gets my vote as one of the most beautifully produced books of all time) Centaur is approaching its centenary but still both exceptionally legible and delightful to read. It is hampered a bit by the lack of a native italic (usually paired with Arighi for italic) it is still wonderful. When I write in Centaur, I feel the timeless authority of a beloved old college professor.



5) The Writing on The Wall

Rounding out my top 5, a fairly widely available typeface family that represents a timeless achievement—a fusion of classical and modern, is Herman Zapf’s Optima. Anyone who has visited the Viet Nam Veterans memorial (“The Wall”) in Washington DC, has seen Optima listing the names of the fallen heros.

Typeface Showings_Optima

It is both an experience of dignity, mourning, but also, one of transcendence and strength. But writing in its lower case alphabet lends an optimism and agility to your prose not available in any other way.

If you’re ready to try it, there are lots of good places to purchase font licenses—I like, but just google “purchase bodoni font”, or which ever one you like, and find your best price.

The web is crowded with sites where one can download free fonts. I don’t recommend free fonts. You know the saying “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” Too often free fonts are a magnet for viruses and worms entering your system. Better to try out a few sentences at a site like then purchase and install a license for the font on your system. (For instructions on how to install a font on your Windows system, go here. For installing fonts on your Mac, go here. Using Linux? Go here. ) Note- you sometimes have to search a bit—this is why I suggest enlisting the help of someone who breathes typefaces all day long to help you zero in. It will cost from $30 to $50 to buy the license to the font you select—I recommend getting at least 4 fonts – regular, italic, bold and bold italic— but the investment will pay you back in both more fun writing and more persuasive voice to your reading public.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you a crucial part of Dr. Dave’s Face the Music strategy: Write large! I write in Deepdene, 16 point type, and 1.5 line spaces. Sure it will run more pages, but you can always knock it back to 12 point later. Writing large allows you to see your thoughts emerge in big, clear, beautiful letters. If you sometimes get hot and write fast with your eyes closed—professionals and SPROW’s alike do this—when you open your eyes, the clarity of the letters somehow makes it easier to separate the brilliance from the bullshit.


So, SPROWs of the world, add a bespoke typestyle to your writer’s arsenal, go forth and sparkle!


If you take this to heart and Face the Music we would all love to hear from you about which typeface you find to be your own true voice!








2015 TippingPoint Graphic700x400_LinkedIn

Tipping Point For The Interactive Annual Report?

By | Annual Reports, Blog, Branding & Identity, Creativity, Design, Design Thinking, Investor Relations | No Comments

ARC Print vs Interactive reportsSMV2

The ARC Awards are the longest running international annual report competition (30th anniversary this year!) I was honored to serve on the panel of ARC’s 60 worldwide judges for 2014 and 2015—which means spending quality time with several hundred of the thousands of excellent reports entered from all over the globe and many different industries. So, the ARC awards field of entries are a good proxy for the AR field in general.

Corporate annual reports occupy a unique role in 21st century communications. The financials are—at least for many organizations—reviewed by outside auditors, and must conform to legal and accounting rules. They also have the attention and usually participation of senior management. For these reasons, annual reports have a degree of credibility not accorded to advertising, social media, PR, or to any other form of corporate communication.

Technology is driving change: While the investment community has always been at the forefront of technology, investor relations professionals have necessarily proceeded in more cautious steps. ARC founder and president Reni Witt reports that printed annual reports are still the majority—interactive comprise only 12% of annuals submitted to ARC for FY 2015. But that’s up from 2% in FY 2011. And there is still a tremendous outpouring of creativity and production fireworks being lavished on printed annual reports. Perhaps more important than the numbers is the quality. The creative tools for interactive are different than print, but are finally getting sophisticated enough that interactive annual reports can be both expressive of the company and produced quickly enough for Investor Relations timetables. In 2015, annual reporting in interactive form have really started to come out of the shadows of their printed predecessors, and the potential impact for investor relations is seismic.

A new narrative form: Printed annual reports are essentially a linear narrative—the order of the presentation is controlled by the corporate writer. Interactive reports, with their video, animations, and hyperlinked objects are a more heuristic, reader-curated narrative. Some AR’s include a search function, which allows the serious analyst to drill down to their specific area of interest quickly. Catering to the analyst and serious investor is tremendously important. As the IR community gets more serious about in depth reporting and good navigation, the investing community will spend time with interactive reports, and the inflection point will be at hand. If we’re not there yet, we’re very close.

2015 TippingPoint Graphic_wInBriefLogo_944x400_LinkedInHow does this switch from linear narrative to hypermedia change the annual report’s credibility factor? What are the emerging trends and opportunities for a closer bond between the corporate management and stakeholders? Our August issue of InBrief Tipping Point for the Interactive Annual Report? discusses these issues, along with snapshots from and links to 4 interactive annual reports representing different approaches to Interactive Annual Reporting.

David Laufer amidst Annual ReportsDavid Laufer is Managing Partner of Atlanta-based BrandBook LLC, which specializes in branding, investor relations, and awards consultation. He currently serves as a design consultant to the government of Indonesia, as well as corporations and NGO’s in the US and UK. His multi-year engagement with PGN, the natural gas utility of Indonesia, has helped PGN’s Investor Relations team garner more than 40 awards. He writes for Design Intelligence and is the author of Dialogues with Creative Legends (Pearson, 2013).

LinkedIn: David Laufer
Twitter: @Dav1dLaufer

The Deep Satisfaction of a Mentoring Partnership

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If you are a mentor, how would you say your mentee has impacted your life?”

This was the headline on a post by Hannah Breaux on the Phi Kappa Phi Quad. Her question helped me crystallize thoughts I wanted to share. Since the Quad isn’t public, I’d like to share them here.

Hi Hannah: This is a really wide and deep topic. I co-founded a mentoring program in the Atlanta chapter of the AIGA (the professional association for design) and it has been very well received with more than 75 mentor-mentee pairs. From my young mentoring partner, I have learned a lot about the current job market, economic conditions, and immigration law in the US. Other mentors remark on the vitality, integrity and energy they find in their new friends, and the hope this generates. [Many professional associations run mentoring programs — seek and ye shall find.]

A few thoughts that may illuminate:

What mentoring really means.
First, mentoring is a two-way street. It is not about the old teaching the young, nor is it about someone being smarter than someone else. Even though the transfer of experience is an important component, mentoring isn’t even really about an experienced savant teaching a newbie.

Mentoring, when really successful, is about a relationship of integrity, in which two people can be totally honest, with the mutual trust that each is committed to helping the other. Especially today when technology is changing the interpersonal mores so profoundly, the mentoring experience is exciting because each partner has something valuable to bring to the table.

Play the long game.
Second, seeking and giving mentoring is a lifelong affair. At the early stages of a professional career, there are stars — for want of a better word — who inspire us to take a given career path. These stars are the giants who have made big contributions, floated disruptive ideas, and blazed trails. They can seem remote and inaccessible. Yet, I have been surprised many times that these highly accomplished people are in fact willing to help the rising members of their discipline. Often, they succeeded in part because of extraordinary mentoring they themselves received. Mentoring is a special form of kindness that can’t be paid back, but it can be paid forward.

Ask the mentor you really want.
Third, making a ‘most admired’ list of your own, and working to contact them, is a very worthwhile effort.

It may not take you where you set out to go, but it will take you great places. Read up on the work of your Most Admired, and be prepared. It is very attractive to say “I admire your work because… and I would like to ask your help with my career development.” It may take time and persistence to get though, but if you are prepared, charming and persistent, the door will eventually open. Having the name of a friend to use for an introduction is, of course, a turbo boost. Developing the contacts and the applying creativity to search for the introduction can sometimes be more instructive than the desired mentor’s advice! Here’s a link to a short video about my multi-year quest for mentoring from Paul Rand, a giant of 20th century branding, that may interest those seeking mentoring.

Mentoring by its nature involves the exchange of views on profound ideas. Sometimes the advice is of immediate help, other times it can take a decade to sink in. What many people who desire mentoring don’t realize is how good it feels to a mentor to be able to ‘repay the debt’ of their own mentoring. You hear people say “I wish I could thank [a mentor], she died before I realized how right she was about my career path.” There is a deep satisfaction there, being able to perhaps create a shortcut for someone else, helping them avoid a costly or time-consuming misstep.

I wrote an article about mentoring in the design profession that appeared inDesign Intelligence that goes into more depth on these topics.

Getting the mentor you really want, Part II
I mentioned in the first paragraph above that many professional service organizations run mentoring programs. A more proactive way to attract the mentor you really want is to get active in your professional society and start a mentoring program. Then you can call your most admired list and say “I’m co-chairing a mentoring program for XYZ society, and we would like to invite you to participate as an advisor.” Again I would stress, the more homework you have done about your most admired list, the more likely they are to believe you are sincere and be willing to help. More information on the AIGA mentoring initiative, as an example, is here.

Parting thought:
There are few things as gratifying to a mentor as a mentee who listens to your thoughts, acts upon them in a thoughtful way, and succeeds!

Excelsior… David

David LauferDavid Laufer is Managing Partner of BrandBook LLC, an Atlanta based design firm specializing in branding for expertise-based enterprises. He is the author of Dialogues with Creative Legends, Aha Moments in a Designer’s Career (New Riders, 2012). He is a founding trustee of the Atlanta Chapter of AIGA, the professional association for Design, and is active in Little Free Libraries, a global literacy action movement.

beware the dogma of measurable performance

On a scale of 1 to 100, You’re an 105! Non-numerical Knowing and Brand Equity

By | Blog, Branding & Identity, Design, Marketing & Advertising | No Comments

This thread begins with my new Primary Care Doctor asking about a minor pain complaint: “On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you place this pain?”

“What’s a 10?” I ask.

He’s a bit nonplussed, but it is a very important question. If we are going to use numerical scales, that implies measurable standards. Is a 10 the most painful thing imaginable? I heard from an Indonesian friend that Dengue Fever, “the bonebreak disease,” is so painful the sufferer gets to a point where death would be a welcome relief. Or is a 10 merely the most painful thing you have experienced (in which case the scale is different for everyone). If you go with Dengue as a 10, by comparison, the pains a normal person experiences in life have to be between .001 and 1. I decide to that I will get no medical attention with a ranking of 1, so I go with the personal model, and say, “2”.

Turns out 2 is good for no more than Tylenol and another appointment. Next visit, I’ll have to try a 7, though it would be tough to find out they amputate above 6. But I feel like a coward, retreating from a universal standard to a meaningless personal scale. That gets me thinking; I don’t really support the idea of reducing everything to numerical rankings.

Consumer Reports—whose rankings I read compulsively—creates numerical rankings with infographics for everything from automobiles to marmalade. They recently ranked the Tesla above 105 on a scale of 100; first time ever they exceeded the top number. Clearly there was some fudging going on there. Further recognition that numerical scales fall short of the full picture? But what keeps me coming back to CR is their ability to add text, pictures and video to give nuance to their infographics.

Consumer Reports Chart on Luxury Car Ratings

(I couldn’t find the 105 ranking for this example of a CR graphic, but it did happen! Maybe the cosmic implications of a 105 ranking made them retract it.)

There are whole industries built around numerically ranking people; It seems to me seems fraught with danger. In the Olympics, 5 judges watch an athlete and their scores are averaged. But everyone watching feels the injustice of seeing a brilliant performance just miss the podium. Or employment selection: highly evolved artificial intelligence programs analyze the vocabulary and semantics of resumes and deliver a stacks of candidates by numerical ranking. Only then are they reviewed by humans, and fewer still actually interviewed. Totally dehumanizing! Is it any wonder there is so much turnover in the labor market?

Blogs are flooded with clickbait headlines of 5 ways of this or 7 keys to that. As if the number were somehow magical. Top 10 lists abound. Then there are election polls! What an insane proposition. People can tell you their positive rating, their negative rating, but until they pull the lever in that booth, it’s all an multi-dimensional stew. What is it about numbers that gives us such security?

When I was a design greenhorn, I audited a class given by the famous industrial designer, George Nelson. Nelson researched his work exhaustively, yet at the same time he warned his graduate students to beware “The Dogma of Measurable Performance.” Nelson, of course, used science and technology in many imaginative ways, but he was trying to teach something important, something our civilization has lost sight of: many things cannot—ought not—be measured on a numerical scale.

Clocks by Industrial Designer George Nelson

Nelson’s office designed everything from clocks and chairs to world fair exhibits and buildings.

Nelson wanted his products to touch the heart, to make people smile. Design needs rational inputs, but much of the process is deeply intuitive. Nelson is also the first person I ever heard say “People buy things based on emotion and justify with fact” (though the saying is probably ancient). This makes perfect sense; the facts validate what we wanted at some deeper emotional level.

So I’m glad to see the appearance of a new book “Nonsense, The Power Of Not Knowing” by Jamie Holmes (2015), which posits– at the risk of oversimplification- that we should embrace “not knowing”. Holmes seems to suggest that uncertainty is not just a fact of life but a resource—something to stimulate our imagination and make us wary of easy answers. This is certainly something that designers have felt and used in the past, perhaps not articulated in the way Holmes does.

Nonsense: The Power of Knowing by Jamie Holmes

The design of products is a process that starts factually: taking into account the human needs (size, shape, utility, cost), but is essentially an intuitive process. Is the emotional attraction of a Tesla paying 4 times the cost of a Nissan Leaf? The answer is non-numerical: It depends on what the buyer wants. True, Tesla has a waiting list and Leafs are more readily available, but the point is that perceptions about economy, social responsibility, luxury, prestige, preference, and exclusivity—all powerful drivers in brand selection—ineffable and arise largely from subconscious and emotional processes. We chose brands to be reflections of our values.  The important thing that we enjoy brands for is their features, but we love them for how they make us look and what they say about us.

For those of us on the wet end of designing brands and experiences, this idea of how people ‘measure’ their experience is vital. While numerical ratings fall short of a full review, they are useful for helping us evaluate and decide.

They are also really useful in discovering where an owner’s satisfaction level settles in, post-purchase. All brands that succeed do so because a certain number of people love the brand and chat it up. I have a HP desktop printer that occasionally pulls the finished sheet back into the mechanism and chews it up. I curse a blue streak at it when this ‘backfeeding’ happens, yet overall, I am always enthusiastic about the product—I give it at least a 9, because it has so many great features for such a moderate price.  In such a case, having the qualitative description of why it’s not a 10, paired with my numerical ranking of 9, helps communicate the relative magnitude of my content/discontent.

OK, I have tried to set the table here with some examples; here’s my proposition:

  1. Numerical evaluations have severe limitations when applied to complex human experience. We will never get rid of numerical evaluations; they make life easy for computers, and we, the obedient netizens, are trained to accept them. They do actually bring some value to decisions about creating and purchasing branded products. They are just not the whole story.
  2. Applying numerical ratings to make a whole story requires some ingenuity. I buy utilitarian products on line all the time, and I read the reader’s rankings. I will buy a product someone has rated a 1 star out of 5 if their gripe is something I don’t care about and there’s a reasonably high average rating, (my ranking of the HP printer is an example) Conversely, a low rating for a key component kills my impetus to ‘buy it now’. So for utilitarian products, numbers plus narrative are an acceptable ‘whole story’ on the purchase end.
  3. Selling the product is only a midpoint in the branding process – if the customer buys the product and doesn’t tell anyone else that they liked it, the brand is not going to take off. Securing the endorsement of the experienced purchaser is the lifeblood of brand. It’s analogous to becoming a grandparent – you know your genes are a success! Hearing an endorsement from a stranger may equate to a 5, hearing it from a close friend gets you up into the 10 range.
  4. The numerical is a great indicator of our rational reasons for engaging with a brand. The emotional realm of purchasing decisions remains the most fertile area for invention.

David LauferDavid Laufer is Managing Partner of BrandBook LLC, an Atlanta based design firm specializing in branding for expertise-based enterprises. He is the author of Dialogues with Creative Legends, Aha Moments in a Designer’s Career (New Riders, 2012). He is a founding trustee of the Atlanta Chapter of AIGA, the professional association for Design, and is active in Little Free Libraries, a global literacy action movement.

Aha moments gaudi

BrandBook Aha Moments – Gaudi on Originality

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Originality is a return to the origin. – Antonio Gaudi

Graphic Art by David Laufer

David LauferDavid Laufer is Managing Partner of BrandBook LLC, an Atlanta based design firm specializing in branding for expertise-based enterprises. He is the author of Dialogues with Creative Legends, Aha Moments in a Designer’s Career (New Riders, 2012). He is a founding trustee of the Atlanta Chapter of AIGA, the professional association for Design, and is active in Little Free Libraries, a global literacy action movement.

Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that expresses itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. - Steve Jobs

Aha Moments by Brandbook: Design

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Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that expresses itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. – Steve Jobs

Photo Credits
Automotive Design: BMW

David LauferDavid Laufer is Managing Partner of BrandBook LLC, an Atlanta based design firm specializing in branding for expertise-based enterprises. He is the author of Dialogues with Creative Legends, Aha Moments in a Designer’s Career (New Riders, 2012). He is a founding trustee of the Atlanta Chapter of AIGA, the professional association for Design, and is active in Little Free Libraries, a global literacy action movement.