So what’s so important about doing your homework first in the creative process?

brandfiercely1Creative Process

This. This is what is important. This is just a tiny little lesson on why the following are the house rules for Fierce:

Do your homework, stay curious, create fearlessly, follow directions, communicate honestly, act kindly, and edit. Always edit.

Below is an image of a bottle of tomato and mushroom sauce for the unfortunate brand Middle Earth Organics. What their designer did not realize apparently was the origins of the image he selected for the label. This is why research and doing homework first is critical. If you zoom out from the photo you can see that she is actually mid-decapitation of a poor unlucky soul. Not exactly appetizing.

Note to self to always be looking out for the brands who trust us to be doing our homework first. This is such a good reminder for designers everywhere.

tomatosaucelabel tomatosaucepainting

Read the entire article here:

When online collaboration is better than face-to-face.

brandfiercely1Creative Process, Digital


Considering the current state of FS+C, the title of this Harvard Business Review article immediately caught my attention: Online Collaboration is Sometimes Better Than Face-to-Face. If you visit here often, you know I am strong supporter of the world-wide office. Currently Fierce is based in the US and Canada with creative talent from Japan to California. Online collaboration is an issue we face everyday and we are always looking for ways to do it smarter and more efficiently. As much as I am also a strong proponent for face-to-face time, I loved all the reasons HBR gave for why online collaboration is sometimes better.

Online collaboration, like most digital phenomena, is good at solving very specific kinds of problems: time problems, distance problems and communication problems. By solving time problems it creates the benefit of 24/7 production cycles; by solving distance problems it enables newly diverse teams; and by solving communication problems it lets us work together in ways that tap into a broader set of skills and capacities. When we use online collaboration to support tasks and projects that specifically leverage these distinctive benefits, we go beyond treating online collaboration as a band-aid for the problem of dispersed teams and use it to actually move our work and our organizations forward.

Distance, time zones, and the need for daily and sometimes hourly communication are things we address daily at FS+C. The ability to have the 24/7 production schedule is great–but it can be tricky. Our current online and project management tools help us in many important ways. HBR goes on to talk about the ability to build and gather diverse teams for specific projects with the help of online collaboration tools. This has been a huge asset for Fierce. I am a believer in building custom teams for our clients individual needs, and working online has allowed us to do this with great success.

The ability to convene diverse teams is another benefit of online collaboration – one that works hand-in-glove with 24/7 production if you’re leading a global team that works together across time zones. But the diversity enabled by online collaboration goes beyond the simple (but powerful) ability to source team members from around the world. Online collaboration also makes it easier to pull in people and resources from other organizations, and to tap into emergent forms of on-demand labor like Fiverr, oDesk and Elance.

This approach has greatest value to projects that require specific skills or expertise, and to tackling problems that require a fresh perspective. If you’re trying to reach a customer base that’s previously eluded you, or aiming to introduce a product that represents a major departure from your past offerings, you’ll benefit from a team that represents your target buyer or that can think about your business, message, or products in new ways. If you’re working on a deliverable or innovation that requires highly specialized skills – skills that don’t exist in your own company – the ability to diversify your product team will pay off with a better outcome or product. By tapping into a more diverse range of skills and expertise in a global labor marketplace, you’ll be able to get a better outcome by working virtually than you could hope to achieve by working within your own team or organization.

That means that instead of relying on your in-house designer, you can go to a designer with expertise in the particular kind of product you’re creating. Instead of turning to the same people you’ve worked with on your past five projects, you can bring together a team that will approach your problem with fresh eyes, and bring new ideas to the table. Instead of making do with the range of professional skills that are present in your own office or organization, you can tap into a global network of professionals and find the particular person you need for this project.

HBR goes on to talk about one additional benefit of online collaboration–allowing for different types of communication and work styles. This is so true. People approach problem solving, contributing ideas and thoughts, and brainstorming so differently. Providing different forums to accommodate for this has proven to be very helpful.

A final benefit of online collaboration is the ability to accommodate a wider range of communication and working styles. If you’re the kind of person who always speaks up in meetings (guilty as charged), the traditional workplace may work just great for you. But you’re missing out on the perspective and talents of people who like to mull on a problem before contributing, or that of people who communicate better visually or in writing than they do out loud.

Some great tools for online collaboration: Glip, Fiverr, oDesk, Elance, Skype, and Asana.

Read the entire article here:

The benefits of sleeping on the job.

brandfiercely1Advertising, Creative Process, Entrepreneurship

I have to admit that I am a creative director who loves a power nap.

When I started my full time freelance business years ago, the first thing I did was go to Goodwill to find a couch. I found a cheap one, draped it in a cool blanket, and found it a home in my office. Every day around 4 pm I would take a quick 15 minute nap and I was ready to go for the remainder of the day. I kept late hours between juggling being a mom and working as a freelancer, so the nap came in handy for those long 3 am stretches. The nap and some Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee.

I am happy to know that these little power naps are a proven way to relieve stress and to boost productivity. I believe that to be true and never begrudge myself those 15-20 minutes when I can get them. In fact, when I re-wrote the employee guidelines at my previous agency, I made an allowance for our staff to literally sleep on the job. It’s just healthy when it’s needed.  Researchers at Saarland University in Germany found that an hour long nap improves memory performance fivefold. Awesome.

I love this excerpt from the Huffington Post on the science of napping:

Electroencephalogram (EEG) tests revealed that the brain’s activity during sleep seems to supercharge the hippocampus’s ability to consolidate information.

“The hippocampus, when awake, re-activates the neural firing pattern that was also active during learning,” Dr. Axel Mecklinger, a neuropsychologist at Saarland and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “This replay may produce ‘tags’ which are then used for consolidation during sleep.”

The researchers still don’t know, however, why some memories are strengthened during a short nap while others aren’t.

“Further studies will be required to unravel by which mechanisms the brain distinguishes between information that is retained or forgotten by sleep,” the study’s authors wrote, noting, however, that “a short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success.”

These days I don’t often get the luxury of a power nap but when I do, I take it, and I’m better for it.

The way ideas emerge is beautiful.

brandfiercely1Creative Process

I love the creative process and watching it happen. It’s different with every single project and every single designer. The way ideas emerge is beautiful to watch. I adore this little snapshot from Ed Emberley that vividly illustrates this. His little roaring lion is fierce. And I love this excerpt from Neelon who speaks to Ed Emberley’s 100+ book career in his introductory essay:

“Ed’s Drawing Books in many ways are about knocking the title of “art” off its big and scary perch. The books show you ways to draw, not ways to be an artist. In his Drawing Books, he wasn’t out to spawn legions of artists, he was out to give kids the tickle of fun and success by drawing something that they might not have thought they could draw.”

Creative Process.

Check out more in Austin Kleon’s full post here:

Fierce Excerpts: Why I’m a believer in working remotely.

brandfiercely1Advertising, Creative Process, Fierce Excerpts

Now Reading | Why Working Remotely is Better for Business.

As a part of the Fierce collective, I have loved working remotely over the past four months. It has been some of the most productive, joyful, creative time that I can ever remember. I get my Starbucks every morning, run a deposit by the bank, stop by FedEx if needed, and then sit down at my desk and get things done. No drama. No fuss. No interruptions. I work until 2 am some nights (most nights), and wake up when I’m rested and ready to start the next day. It’s flexible and comfortable, and the world is readily available to me at any time with video Skype and other technology accessible to the remote worker.

I video Skype daily with people around the country and around the world as far away as Japan, and never feel isolated or alone. I get so consumed with what I am doing that my husband will often come home at night and wonder why I’m sitting in a dark house with no lights on (I didn’t even realize it was dark), or a freezing house, (I never even noticed the heat wasn’t on) because I am so focused. In four months, I have yet to turn the TV on once during the day, or be tempted to take a nap instead of work.

I am a believer.

And I’m not alone. Many of the biggest and greatest companies today, including Virgin and IBM, have built successful businesses providing people the freedom to work where they want, how they want, and when they want. It’s just works and here’s some reasons why according to Fast Company:

You get s*** done.

Shorter commutes, private office, flexible work hours.

This all leads to: less time wasted, more productive work hours, and increased happiness among employees.

In 2013, Stanford University conducted a study by randomly assigning employees at a call center to work from home and others to work in the office for nine months. The result was a 13% performance increase by those working from home, of which 9% was from working more hours.

People criticize working remotely because they find it difficult to measure the number of hours their employees are working. What they forget is that going into the office does not equal productive work.

“Office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupted—roughly every three minutes.” — The Wall Street Journal

In fact, once thrown off, it can take over 23 minutes for a worker to retrieve focus on their original task.

Give people the freedom to work where they want, and begin to re-think the 9-5 working style. By adopting a culture of trust and respect, you’re empowering individuals to not just show up, but to show results.

Work and retain the best people

The company’s that embrace telecommuting have a significant advantage over those that haven’t figured it out. For each candidate that is available to work in your city, there are hundreds more around the world that can do it better and cheaper.

Hiring top talent is already hard enough as it is, why limit the single most important ingredient for the success of your business?

It’s inevitable that more and more skilled workers will adapt to a remote working lifestyle, and it’s the companies that can accommodate the lifestyles of these talents that will become the market leaders in the future.

Remote has never been easier

The good news is, it’s now easier than ever to coordinate the work of individuals from around the world. As long as we have access to a lab top and the internet, there are hundreds of tools that have been created to make the process seamless.

As a business owner who has employed many staff over the years, I can see that working out of the office isn’t for everyone. Only the truly self-disciplined, self-motivated person should work remotely on a consistent basis. You need to be a good communicator, and have frequent video Skype sessions or phone calls, and know not to depend too heavily on email when you don’t get a lot of face-to-face time. Share project management software, keep yourself accountable at all times, and fiercely manage deadlines and client expectations.

As Fast Company says so well, embrace it. The future of work is already here, it’s up to you to take advantage of it.

Fierce Excerpts: The Model for Creative Problem Solving.

brandfiercely1Creative Process, Fierce Excerpts

Now Reading | How to Create the Best Team for Creative Problem Solving

What we do every day at Fierce is creatively solve problems, for ourselves and for our clients. Every exercise is truly about problem solving whether it’s about research, strategy, creative or production. Below is an excellent little excerpt from Collective Next:

According to Creative Problem Solving (CPS), one of the mostly widely used creative problem solving models, an optimal process includes these stages:

  • Identifying a goal and gathering information around it
  • Clarifying the problem
  • Generating ideas
  • Choosing and strengthening solutions
  • Planning for action

The key to success? Make sure your team has people with the skill set to match each bullet point: clarifiers, idea generators, solutions strengtheners and implementers.

If your goal is to build a team that will produce novel, robust solutions and ensure that they’re realized, create a stable stool.  Consider your team members’ problem solving preferences and ensure that all four are represented. 

Rock on.

In search of some design inspiration? Here’s a weekend movie list.

brandfiercely1Creative Process, People + things that inspire us

Looking for something fun and inspirational to do this weekend? Then find the remote and get comfortable because the following is a list (compliments of Fast Company) of movies every designer should watch on Netflix and links to watch them now. Here’s the first dozen with the remaining 10 suggestions in the link above:

1-2. OBJECTIFIED/URBANIZED:  Call it two thirds of director Gary Hustwit‘s Design Trilogy. Objectified fetishizes the obsession behind industrial design. And Urbanized tours the world of urban planning. (Helvetica, arguably his most renowned film, is currently not available on Netflix Instant). Hustwit has a particular talent for digging into the granular thought processes of modern day designers without ever dumbing down their soundbites. [Watch here and here]

3. DESIGN IS ONE: LELLA & MASSIMO VIGNELLI:  Vignelli Associates is considered one of the greatest cross-disciplinary design firms in history—best known for producing the iconic, once-polarizing Vignelli NYC Subway Map. Lella and Massimo Vignelli were the husband and wife team behind it. Design Is One profiles their creative relationship, which spanned decades, before Vignelli’s death in 2014. [Watch here]

4. GUCCI: THE DIRECTOR. We all know the Gucci brand, but this film takes us right inside Italy’s famed fashion label, following ex-creative director Frida Giannini for 18 months. The film will come to Netflix February 1, even though Giannini was just canned.

5. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST:  If you boiled down every western you’ve ever seen into one archetype of gunslinging—then you put that story into the hands of one of the greatest cinematographers in history (Tonino Delli Colli, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and Life Is Beautiful)—you’d get Once Upon a Time In The West, a rare gem in Netflix’s ever-dwindling options for truly excellent streamable films. [Watch here]

6. LEVIATHON:  Some documentaries feature a lot of talking heads. Others, a tightly scripted story. Leviathan has no desire for narration. It puts you inside the bowels of a commercial fishing boat, drowning the camera in a dramatic abyss where Moby Dick meets Fight Club, with blood, chains, and horrific storms. The decidedly non-linear structure and use of portable cameras attached to people, animals, and objects offer up visual perspectives that few other documentaries have been able to achieve.[Watch here]

7. INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE. What’s it like to make a hit video game with a staff of one or two people, taking meetings with Microsoft execs before going back to 12 hours of pixel painting? This very watchable documentary profiles two teams of designers while they created Super Meat Boy and Fez, a couple of the biggest critical and financial indie hits of the past decade, in a high-stakes race to make both deadlines and ends meet. [Watch here]

8. BILL CUNNINGHAM: NEW YORK. “It’s one snap, two snaps, or he ignores you, which is death.” That’s Vogue editor Anna Wintour describing the on-the-street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who has been contributing to the New York Times Style section for decades. This documentary explores his work, and life, with some irresistible soundbites from celebrities he has photographed. [Watch here]

9. CUTIE AND THE BOXER:  Ushio Shinohara is a neo-Dada artist who paints by punching his pigments. Noriko is his wife. This documentary—which won Zachary Heinzerling the 2013 Sundance Film Festival award for best director— explores the quirks and sacrifices of their 40-year marriage. [Watch here]

10. DETROPIA:  Not the easiest documentary to watch, Detropia is a portrait of Detroit’s decay, seen through the eyes of three of its residents and told without narration. [Watch here]

11. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY. Ai Weiwei is China’s most prominent artist-activist, known for openly challenging the Chinese government (and even being imprisoned for it). The documentary takes you inside his studio, work, and philosophies. [Watch here]

12. THE GRANDMASTER:  Kung fu is the most beautiful of the martial arts, and The Grandmaster, by acclaimed Hong Kong action auteur Wong Kar-wai, captures it with a poetically noir brutality—even if critics have panned the story itself. [Watch here]

Fierce Excerpts: Real life drama is the ultimate creative inspiration.

brandfiercely1Creative Process, Fierce Excerpts, Storytelling

Now watching | This Super Bowl TV spot based on an actual call to 911: And this one set to run on

There are certain things that I despise, particularly in the workplace but also in life. Sexual harassment. Bullying and intimidation. And violence. I was so enamored by these two vastly different approaches to the topic of domestic violence tonight as I was reviewing some of the new Super Bowl ads for 2015.

The one spot being sponsored by the NFL (ironically enough) is based on an actual 911 call. The concept is excellent and I found the line “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen” interesting. The spot had me mesmerized and I had to watch it again. The simplest execution is always the best creative direction.

The second spot hit some initial controversy and was going to be banned at first (in particular for the hashtag #GoodellMustGo) but after pressure they agreed to run it.

“We are thrilled that public scrutiny has persuaded Sports Illustrated to reverse their decision,” says Ultraviolet founder Nita Chaudhary. “We cannot allow the issue of domestic violence to be swept under the rug.”

Ultimately, the SI drama generates extra exposure for Ultraviolet’s edgy play and further deflates the NFL on the eve of the Big Game.

Does creativity require freedom or constraint?

brandfiercely1Branding, Creative Process

When we create a new brand at Fierce, one of the very first tools we provide to our clients is a brand standards guide. A rulebook, plain and simple. A way to navigate and control the use of their new investment carefully within their organization so that it can immediately benefit from consistency. Our brand standards guides are precise and detailed and exact so that the designer using it can have the freedom to design, yet not hurt the equity of the brand with improper use.

So are we providing freedom–or constraint?

Teams experiencing the right kinds of constraints in the right environments, and which saw opportunity in constraints, benefitted creatively from them. The results of this research challenge the assumption that constraints kill creativity, demonstrating instead that for teams able to accept and embrace them, there is freedom in constraint.

The idea that boundaries can actually create freedom seems conflicting but I find it to be true. So does Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer when she said “Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. Creativity loves constraints, but they must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Teresa Amabile revealed in an HBR blog post that while she had spent much of her career as a research psychologist showing how constraints can undermine creativity, she had discovered that the right sort of constraints can in fact “stoke the innovation fire.”

In the HBR article “How Intelligent Constraints Drive Creativity”, they find anecdotal evidence that well-designed constraints lead to creative success. But there’s academic research data on this phenomenon too. For example, a study conducted at the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Social Psychology proved that tough obstacles can prompt people to open their minds, look at the “big picture,” and make connections between things that are not obviously connected. This is an ability is called “global processing,” which is the hallmark of creativity.

It goes on to say than an intelligent obstacle or constraint is one laden with creative tension, whether stated in the form of a well-defined problem (“How might we simultaneously decrease both inventory and backorders?”) or a challenging goal (NASA’s 1990s mission to land a rover on Mars in half the time and a tenth the budget of the previous mission). An intelligent constraint informs creative action by outlining the “sandbox” within which people can play and guides that action not just by pointing out what to pursue but perhaps more importantly what to ignore.

I lean toward constraint but as in everything, balance must be sought.

“Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem—the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible—his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth.” -Charles Eames.