DUH #2: Briefs

Story by Martin Villanueva
Art by Kenneth Umali

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ResearchD: How Do You Flip?

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He Said, She Said, But Watcha, Whatca, Whatcha Want?!

A COMMON frustration faced by many design studios, certainly by ours, is when our output is approved by our primary contact at our client’s office, only to be rejected and critiqued by other bodies late in the process of development, rendering valuable time all but a waste — or so it often feels. Something tells me this will always be a problem, but there are ways to at least lessen these kinds of situations.

When possible, we like to know the names of the possible approving bodies written on some form of an official contract, whether that be on a brief, on a job order form, or maybe even a billing/quotation statement. At the very least, it tempers our frustrations to know that the person who is very fickle is actually a true approving body and not just someone trying to push his or her weight around. Also, having these names on record serves as a piece of evidence if things escalate to a point of unreasonableness (“Mr. C requested requested this and he’s officially an approving body, so…”).

When possible, we also try to get all pertinent stakeholders/approving bodies involved early in the process of developing these designs. There’s psychology involved here: the earlier someone is involved, the more invested he or she is in the process, ergo the less likely he or she is to go against what’s already been done.

Lastly, our charging scheme plays a its role. Charging per study is a deterrent in and of itself. At the very least, this could encourage all the powers that be on the client’s end to speak with one another so that what is requested of the designers is a collective decision, not an individual’s.

All these could work, and yet all these could may very well be useless. It really depends. Regardless, I think it all goes back to doing the best you can to empathize with the client and to allow them to empathize with you and your process.

And there’s always something to be said about after-work de-stressors.

Martin Villanueva

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Don’t Forget to Bleed

— Ysa Locsin

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Sacred Space

We were cleaning up our house last week when my frustrations and exhaustion brought my attention to a certain concept that I believe is important in many aspects of life: space. My mom has a lot of old stuff like an ancient, bulky rocking chair and an enormous, technologically obsolete cassette player to name a few. In my opinion, all of that junk should already be thrown out, but she still insists on keeping them. They just gather dust in some corner and compete for space not only with useful furniture but also with the residents of our household. They deny us our much needed breathing room, both in a physical and mental sense.

Clutter can actually be a dangerous thing, and I don’t just mean with furniture. On more levels than one, there are things in life which we do not need anymore but still hold onto. But clutter can hamper productivity and efficiency. Space is important in the office, in traffic, in between musical notes, in personal relationships. And space is also important in all aspects of design: your “space” as designer, whether on a physical, emotional, or intellectual level, and the element of space in your design output itself.

A lesson I picked up in my graphic design classes is that before you start working on anything, you need to establish your “sacred space.” This refers to one’s working state, both physically, mentally, emotionally, maybe even spiritually, and it differs with each person. This of course works beyond graphic design. Some people want to work on their own while others are more comfortable in groups. Some may work better while eating Snickers while others work best with music playing. The trick is to find your sacred space in which you are most comfortable and productive.

On an intellectual level, space is important in terms of your conception of ideas. In the creative industries, there is a saying that you have to learn to “kill your babies.” The babies here, of course, figuratively refer to your ideas. Regardless of how good you think they are, there will always be raw ideas that you have to disregard as you go further along the the creative process for the sake of the bigger picture or the overall direction. A guitarist may have come up with a cool riff, but it may be too grandiose for the low-key song he’s composing. A writer may have thought of an exciting, climactic fight scene, but the dialogue may have been out of character for the protagonist. A designer could have come up with a brilliant element for a brochure study, but perhaps it deviates from the initial direction he thought was best for the client. Killing these babies de-clutters your creative mind and refocuses you to the task at hand, thus making room for more productivity.

In the visual aspect of the design, space allows the elements of your design to breathe. Space is actually a design element itself. It is used to establish visual balance or is utilized to guide the eyes of the audience to focus on certain elements. There is also a technical aspect of space in your layout, as proximity implies relationship. In the layout of a feature article, for example, the article’s title will appear to be more relevant to a border embellishment if it is closer to that than it is to the body text. Space affects the design and, ultimately, it affects how the information is communicated. It is used to establish a clear sense of structural integrity, achieved by recognizing the importance of a grid and defining relationships amongst design elements. Little details such as these are often overlooked, but when executed correctly, they bring about a more disciplined design output.

Some graphic designers are afraid of space. I have encountered a few who manifest this in their works, and if you look at most of the posters and fliers scattered everywhere, you wouldn’t miss it. Besides unnecessary embellishments, a common manifestation of this hatred of space (and an unrelenting bane of graphic design) is the careless distortion of text. This is usually committed just to fill up space which that designer deems as unnecessary. There are really a lot of instances, but this is commonly seen in public service announcements and, just this year, in electoral campaign posters and fliers.  As discussed in Ellen Lupton’s book Thinking With Type, distortion of text is just one of many “type crimes” in which space is not respected. This example of amateur work ethic shows disregard and ignorance, and as my graphic design mentor used to put it, it is “a barbarization of civilization.”

Personally, I love space. I love minimalist designs, and I abhor seeing too much patterns, embellishments, information, etc. This is reflected in my own designs. As I was writing this, I came to understand why my mom does not want to throw some of those old junk away. Each person likes their space in their own certain way, and that has to be respected. That is not to say that you can’t attempt to guide others when their taste affects other people. 

— Kenneth Umali

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Demonstrating Strength

FROM marketing expert Seth Godin, ways to demonstrate strength:


Defer to others

Avoid shortcuts

Tell the truth

Offer kindness

Seek alliances

Volunteer to take the short straw

Choose the long-term, sacrificing the short

Demonstrate respect to all, not just the obviously strong

Share credit and be public in your gratitude

Risking the appearance of weakness takes strength. And the market knows it.

Allow me to humbly add a couple more: Continue reading

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The Natural Way to Draw

“There is only one right way to learn to draw and that is a perfectly natural way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception. It has only to do with the act of correct observation, and by that I mean a physical contact with all sorts of objects through all the senses.”

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Branding (Because It’s Not Just What’s For Sale)

WHEREAS creating taglines/slogans for me remains the most challenging aspect of my job as a copywriter, the most fascinating is my involvement with developing branding for our various clients. Perhaps as a consequence of being not so far removed from the existential angst of my college years, identity is always an interesting topic for me; expressing/concretizing it is all the more interesting. That said, I’ve discovered in my two years in design that branding can become a most challenging task since many start-ups (even many older companies) have yet to articulate to themselves what they’re about — their identity. Often, differentiation from other companies is expressed by a service or product that others don’t offer (or offer in a different way), but that’s different than having an identity, or it’s certainly not what makes up the entirety of a company’s identity. (Having cheaper products certainly shouldn’t limit a company’s identity to simply being cheap.) The reality is, it is often the designer’s task to help companies realize who they are. Continue reading

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Artie and Dez #1: First Meeting

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B-Designs (or Intent as Important Criteria)

JUST the other day, one of my officemates asked everyone what makes a B-movie a B-movie. I remember saying that we should criticize them according to their intention, including how they plan to execute that intent. If the movie has more or less achieved what it set out to do from the beginning, then it is a success. I think a B-movie becomes one when its intent is to be a cash cow, blockbuster hit, but ultimately fails because of trying too hard, which usually means gratuitous violence, horrible special effects, over-the-top action movie cliches, and various forms of exploitation. Maybe other factors could have hampered their success, such as budget, equipment, or cast, but that is why those factors should have been considered from the beginning and the necessary adjustments made.

Given those criteria, however, a movie with poor production value is not necessarily a B-movie. If the original intent for the output is to be cheap/low-quality to achieve a comedic or dramatic effect, such as recent Tarantino/Rodriguez films or Monty Pythons, then the production succeeds in giving the audience a good movie experience. Such films are successful, or at least serviceable, because they have established a sense of identity. They are what they are, which is what they want to be. With that, I would have to say that something that is trying to sell itself, or even hype itself up to being more than what it really is is a B-movie. The same principle can be applied to other things: a B-song, B-acting, B-design. They are suffering from an identity crisis. They do not know what they are and what they are capable of. Continue reading

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