Two Decades of Design

January 27th, 2016

I realized that 2016 marks the 20th year that I’ve been in the design industry. I’m amazed at two things: 1. how fast that time has gone and 2. the sheer volume of work that I’ve generated over the years! My studio is filled to bursting with concepts and samples spanning my career, there’s enough physical work to put on a Design Exhibition! 

I’ve worked with a lot of great people over the last 20 years, from my first day at Calder Bateman Communications to my current role at El Designo. In each place I worked, there were always amazing people that made this rewarding-but-stressful occupation fun! Some of the people I’ve had the good fortune to work with and who influenced me on my design journey are: Brad Blasko, Kevin Carlson, Quinn Laird, Shauna Curran, Tara Noble, Shawna Cass, Janine Van Essen, Amber Hughes, Mark Hutchison, Miles Konrad, Rod Michalchuk, Ryan Kelly, Michael Holmberg, Leanne McBean, Alyson Hodson, Dana Woodward, David Moore, Patrick O’Kane and John Smith. Thanks for adding to my design adventure!

I also had the opportunity to teach at MacEwan University for a number of years. Hopefully I passed on some of my “school of hard knocks” lessons to these great kids. Many of my students have moved on to become creative powerhouses in their own right - people like: Adnan Huseinovic, Justin Dickau, Eldon Kymson, Jessa Dupuis, and Rachele Loveless to name a few.

I love my artistic medium - paper. I love the paper shows and samples, love being able to access all the variety of stocks. Using different printing processes to make paper and ink grab your attention feels like a sort of alchemy. I like the craftmanship of print, the fact there are tactile elements you can manipulate and an actual physical product to interact with when you are done.

I’ve always had a passion for drawing. After a rocky start at the beginning of my career, I was able to merge my fine arts training with graphic design solutions, finding a fit between the two. It was always important to me to offer illustration-based solutions in order to have client work stand out. Throughout the years my traditional style morphed into the versatile vector style I favour today. 

When I took a look back at projects from the last 20 years, a few jumped out - because I was proud of the visual solution they created, or because a client took a chance, agreeing to try something unique and had it pay off! The attached image shows a collection of my favorite 20 projects. 

I’m looking forward to another 20 years of exploration and creativity.

Marc Nipp

ED - A Social Media Experiment

August 26th, 2015

How El Designo's business card became an ambassador for our company

I had a clear direction in mind when I started designing our business card. I wanted to create something different from all the other business cards out there and do something that was visually linked to our company - I wanted to create a Luchador Wrestler! (When was the last time you had a palm-sized wrestler handed to you? I hope you say "Never!")

I worked within standard business card dimensions and created a wrestler that jived with our branding. To add realism - I decided to die-cut the card into a wrestler shape and we had it printed at Fort Heavy, a great local printer here in Edmonton.

We received an amazing response to our cards when we handed them out, but I wondered how we could get more marketing use out of the card. After all, they were pretty cool!

So I decided to to name our card ED (after El Designo's initials, clever hey?) and started taking him with me when I travelled. Ed had a great time with me at the Grand Canyon, Zion and Yellowstone this summer, as well as a few local venues.  I took shots of him in different places and posted them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He posed in interesting spots and people tried to figure out where he was. The “Where is ED?” social media experiment was in full swing. 

People seemed interested in what I was doing with my business card online, they tweeted about it, added the images to business card design groups and exclaimed “I wish I would have thought of this first!”

I didn’t realize how much exposure ED was getting online until I had a few new client meetings and I handed out my business card for the first time. The clients responded with “Oh, yes, ED - I’ve been following his travels online!” 

This blew me away, the person I was meeting with knew about our card even before we met! I realized that having ED travel around and posting his travels on social media, was a great ice-breaker and turned cold meetings warm. ED had gone out and met with these people before I had!

I’m excited to see how ED helps introduce El Designo to our next clients!

The Incomplete Dictionary of Design Speak Vol 1

July 13th, 2015

A number of years ago after pitching a new client on a design concept, the marketing person I was with turned to me and said "I like your design-speak". This surprised me because I thought I was speaking plainly. I asked my wife if I ever spoke "design speak" when I'm explaining something to her. I received a resounding "YES" - so I thought it might be interesting to write down a few of the terms that designers rattle off without realizing it sounds like gobble-dee-gook.

Cropmarks - refers to the perpendicular thin black lines on the edge of a printed piece, these lines will indicate where the printer will cut the paper.

Bleed - refers to the image/text/colour that extends past the crop marks. This extending image will be cut off and is neccessary so there is no white paper showing on the edges of the printed piece. The printers blade moves slightly when they are cutting the paper - to cover this movement, we add bleed.

Verbage - total designer slang, this is used to describe an amount of text used in a project. So we don't want a bunch of verbs from you - we want text.

Final Copy - this is text that is supplied by the client to the designer before it gets flowed into the design. It is called final copy because once submitted - it doesn't get altered. I've heard that some designers have experienced "final copy" but it's rare - kind of like seeing Bigfoot.

Tension - can be used when describing a part of the design to a client. We use a design element to create visual interest in a layout in order to draw the viewers eye to that spot.

Asymmetrical Balance - is more interesting to design with than just balance. With asymmetrical balance you attempt to create a sense of visual balance in a layout using 2 or more different elements. For example - a small black box and a large area of thin black lines. You could use 2 black boxes and they would balance, but it can be safe/boring. If you can balance the black box with the thin lines - it will create a more interesting visual that will engage the viewer.

Focal Point - the element in a layout that will make people stop and look at the design. Once they are looking at the focal point you need to direct them to the content.

Emotive Form (content) - are visuals that evoke an strong emotional response. This creates a powerful "black hole" in the design and you need to make sure that once the viewer has been drawn in by the emotive content - the rest of the layout helps to lead the eye from focal point to the message.

That's all for now - let me know if you've heard any "design speak" and I'll try and include it in the next volume!

The Creative Brief

June 23rd, 2015

It’s the most important conversation you will have with your designer.

Designers use creative briefs to extract information from clients. Now - that sounds painful and sometimes, it can be! The creative brief is a series of questions that will allow the designer to understand your business, the specifics of the project, and what the creative objectives are. Basically, it helps convey what you are hoping this logo/brochure/website/annual report will achieve. I think there are 3 ways a creative brief can play out - they depend on the information the client gives and how that information is interpreted by the designer.

The 3 directions a creative brief can follow:

1. Smooth Sailing - The client is able to answer all questions with relevant detailed information, and says more than “I need it to look professional”. The design is created and accepted by the client.

2. Crickets - Client answers most questions with: “I’m not sure”  or “I didn’t think of that” or “That’s a good question”. Client needs some alone time with the creative brief and when we meet again - they will have loads to tell us!  If the designer moves forward with an incomplete creative brief they will be creating superficial design that is not specific or strategic.

3. Blind-sided - Everything seems OK - all questions are answered and understood, but when the design is presented the client is not comfortable with it. In many cases a rogue "design savvy" acquaintance has swooped in and given feedback on the design and has shaken the client's confidence. At this point designer and client need to meet and review the creative brief, making adjustments and providing more information so the design can be refocused.

Regardless of which path the creative brief takes, all can lead to successful design. It will just take patience, focus and communication from both parties.

Why choose custom illustration for your brand

May 5th, 2015

I know custom illustration can be expensive. It's expensive because it takes time to create and it takes time to research what illustration style is best for that client.

I see a lot of businesses that choose stock photo or stock illustration over hiring local talent to create a custom look. Even though these options are cheap - the problem with them is that they are not used exclusively for your company. The business down the road could buy the same illustration to promote a totally different product. 

This creates a visual confusion to your brand and your message. People will quickly learn the style of illustration that is linked to your brand, if they start to see it promoting a different business, you will lose that unique style that you tried to create. In the end - neither business will profit from a diluted brand.

Custom illustration is so flexible - the options of style are limitless, illustration can add a warm human element to cold hard facts or create a compelling visual for an idea.

For example: Carmel Bible College came to El Designo with a unique problem. They needed to refresh their brand, attract young adults to their Bible College - but wanted to stay away from the cliche images that have been used to represent Bible Colleges in the past. To address these issues, El Designo first decided to tackle how faith would be shown in a graphic sense. We chose to represent faith as coloured translucent ovals that are attached to each student with a tether. We then showed how faith can be helpful. From clothing the poor to climbing a mountain - your faith is always there to lend a helping hand. We used a mix of traditional and vector illustration to represent the students and their faith. This project would have been impossible to replicate using stock photography or stock illustration.

To me, custom illustration allows me freedom to explore any and all ideas and pitch them to a client without worrying if we'll be able to find the images we need. I'm in complete control of the visual process, the client benefits from the concepts that are not restricted by what images we can find, and they also benefit  by having a unique look to their brand - one the business down the road will not be able to purchase online. 

Why we should support our local printers

April 16th, 2015

I've noticed that a lot of businesses are using large online printers to do the bulk of their printing - mostly due to cost. I've also noticed that there is a contradictory push to support local - I think that businesses in Edmonton should view our printers the way that Edmonton shoppers are starting to view local boutiques, and try to support them.

I read a quote once that always stuck with me, it was in regards to  a man who always shopped at his local convenience store, even though the prices were higher than the big box stores half the city away. He did this because he knew the local store would be there - open at midnight - when he needed fever medication for his kids. I think we need to think of our local printers in a similar way, and see the value in supporting them.

The large online printers work for very simple jobs - they crank them out at rock-bottom prices. But - I've found that if you send them something unique or complicated or something that needs to be too precise - problems tend to happen very quickly. It's hard to resolve the issues because your point of contact is half the world away. I worry that if we don't value our local printers - the next time a business will want to create something unique - there might not be any local printers left to do it.

With local printers, you have a relationship with your rep and you can resolve issues face to face. Designers can go on-site to make press-checks, and printers are open to tackle complex jobs that stand out from the generic mass-produced products of the online printers.

The other issue I see with on-line printers is knowing what inks and paper they use. Local printers are pretty transparent about these things - and if you are concerned about the environment, you can be confident that your printed piece was produced in an environmentally conscious way. Where did the paper for the on-line printer come from? Who knows?

The other day I tested out the cost between a printers house sheet (which is usually a very economical stock) vs a very environmentally friendly stock (Rolland Enviro 100 Print  FSC White) the cost difference was only $2 on a quantity of 500. 
That's amazing to me. 

So there's no reason not to take control of your printing, support local business, use eco-friendly printing processes and be proud of your promotional material. 

* As a side note - I think Edmonton printers should band together and create a "Printed In Edmonton" logo that people could place on their printed material - it's something I would suggest to all my clients if it existed.

Why colour shifts from your screen to the printing press

April 8th, 2015

I have a lot of clients who are surprised that the colour of something designed - shifts from one media to another. I wanted to write a little about why this happens and my own experiences with colour shifting. When I was in college, I learned about colour gamut - or the range of colour that we can perceive. I learned that the human eye can see the most colour - more than we can reproduce using a screen or a printer.

If we used a physical object to loosely represent how much colour the human eye could see - lets say it would be the size of a watermelon - the largest gamut of colour.

The next largest would be what you see on a monitor or RGB colour - comprised of red, green and blue beams of light. This colour gamut might be the size of a cantaloupe.

Printers and printing presses come last in the gamut of colour they can reproduce - the colours used on a printing press are CMYK - cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks. Lets say this colour gamut would be the size of a baseball.

So - why is colour gamut important? Well - what we see on screen in RGB colour often can't be reproduced exactly in CMYK colour - why? Because RGB colour has a larger colour gamut - you can see this when you are in a program like Photoshop and you have vibrant colour photo, when you covert the file from RGB to CMYK for printing - the entire photo dulls down. Certain colours are lost because they simply can't exist in the CMYK gamut.

So an image on screen often looks different than the final printed product. There are ways to make them look closer - but often certain brilliant colours will be lost.

BUT! Printing presses do have a way of bringing some colours back, by using spot colours (also known as Pantone colour). Designers can add a spot colour into your printing file. Lets say you had an image of an amazing bright red sports car and you want the colour to really pop when it printed - a designer could isolate that colour and replace it with a custom mixed spot colour - to help brighten the car and make it stand out. Printers also have the ability to add varnish to the printed piece to add or take away shine - something you can't do on a screen.

The great thing about spot colour is that they can be many things: fluorescent, metallic, pastel etc. And can punch the colour up in an image, and create certain colour that are even outside of the RGB gamut.

Colour on screen will often look more vibrant - but the printer has a few tricks they can use to add back some of that "colour" that was lost in the RGB to CMYK conversion. Understanding the limitations and possibilities of each colour gamut allows a designer to offer the best solutions to his or her client.

So - the next time you get a printed piece that closely matches your on-screen version - be happy - your designer just made magic happen for you!

How to choose a graphic designer

March 25th, 2015

I've often wondered how clients choose the design studio they end up working with. I thought about what types of things I would look for if I ever needed to hire a designer - here's the list I came up with. I'm hoping people can comment and add to this list.

1. look at a designers portfolio - see if you like the solutions they created for other clients

2. ask how the designer solved the problems represented by previous clients, you need a designer that can provide strategic solutions that will create a response in your target market

3. find out their area of specialty - logo, web, illustration etc.

4. meet with the designer - find out if they a) LISTEN and b) TAKE NOTES

5. find out their level of experience - 5 years in industry is a minimum (in my opinion)

6. does their personality mesh well with yours?

7. google them - find out what their presence is in the world of design

8. get their hourly rate and a ballpark quote for your job

9. cheapest is not always the best choice, make sure you weigh knowledge and portfolio work.

10. ask yourself if you trust them with your brand

11. make sure they respect you and that you respect them

12. look at their craftsmanship & artistic skills - the level of skill here can allow for more options in style and quality of finished work.

What logo do I send to my graphic designer?

March 18th, 2015

We've been getting a lot of clients who come to us with logos and want them used in print/web material. A lot of the time, the format of the logo is wrong and hard for a designer to use - this leads to longer deadlines and frustrated clients.

I wanted to write a quick list of file formats and what they could be used for, so that people can understand what they should be sending to a designer.

Raster Logos
Are logos that are made up of pixels - like a photo, they have limitations to how large you can scale them. Raster logos that have a low resolution will work for web sites - but not for print.

Businesses should try and get 2 types of raster logos - one for print use in a CMYK colour scheme at 300dpi resolution and one for web use in 72 or 120dpi resolution and an RGB colour scheme. The file formats used for raster logos normally are: JPG, PNG, TIFF, GIF

Vector Logos
Are logos that are not dependent on resolution, you can scale them as large or as small as you want and they will not pixelate. These are the logos that all designers would love to receive because of their flexibility. Normally these logos are hard for clients to open - because you need special programs to see them. The file formats for Vector logos can be AI, EPS or PDF. Normally the file will be in EPS format.

So now when a designer asks you for you logo - send the vector one! Everyone will be happier!

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