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Post It Note Design

It is unofficially “Tool Week” at rat etc. First, a walk down amnesia lane blowing the dust off the lowly pica pole. And now, another useful tool …

The Post It Note.

As you are no doubt well aware, a large part of my disdain for “Design Thinking” is that when you Google the term and look at images representing the concept, most are of the shots of hipsters with stacks of Post-It notes (some stuck on glass walls) and with Sharpies in hand working their magic. I’ve participated in design thinking workshops and have not been impressed, largely because I’ve used many of these methods for years as part of my own way for working. I’ve never once found a Post-It useful for anything other than for its intended purpose — to remind me of something I knew I would forget if it was not written down.

Note the line quality — no Sharpie here.

Let’s travel back in time to 20 October. It is a day that will live in the annals of Design History as “The Day Mr Ratcliff Designed with Post-It Notes And Did Not Complain About It”.

I was on a crash assignment at Sysco and needed to come up with a story quickly. The project was to walk our friends in the Corporate office through the new process of engaging with my team. The challenge was to do it in a fun and memorable way rather than relying on a plain ol’ PowerPoint diagram.

As usual, I started in my notebook (Moleskine #64) but found that drawing and redrawing the action was taking way too much time. On my desk I spied an innocent stack of bright yellow Post-It’s. I quickly scratched out the story, made adjustments, jump from frame to frame then went back to fill in the gaps. It was glorious. And fast. I quickly cobbled together the story and started working on the visuals.

And I have Post-It Notes to thank for the help.

Every tool is useful. There is a time and a place for everything. Be resourceful and open to new approaches and tactics. Maybe even Design Thinking, of course.

The I’s Have It

As this site has been assembled over the years, it has lacked focus.

Although it is a personal website, being that I am one of those people who is strongly defined by their work, it has needed that glue to hold it all together. I’ve been stewing on this for a while and I am finally ready to move forward with a philosophy, a cohesive thought about what I do and what I had to offer the world as a Designer.

I used to think I made logos, ads, movies, websites and other sundry things. That is true. Along with that simplistic view on my work, I have also proclaimed that it’s the act making these things that gets me out of bed every morning — the challenges that keep me interested in the things I do. This has been truly a simplistic way of looking at things and entirely wrong.

So I dove into the deep end. Pulling a Simon Sinek, I asked myself “Why?” over and over again. Much like a scene out of Ant Man and the Wasp, I’ve gone deeper and deeper down inside and found an answer to all those why’s. I was looking for answers that were not about me, why design, and how I can help make the world a little better than before.

Over the past few weeks I have been working in earnest to compile work I’ve created over the years. It now populates this site. Not everything, but numerous pieces that represent this philosophy and shows the world what I actually design:

Identities, Information and Influence.

I’ve looked at a number of other words to describe what I do, but all those words merely describe things. For me, Identities, Information and Influence are not things, rather they are outcomes. These are what I strive for, toil over and pour myself into so that together with my clients we will  make the world a better place.

Not only are Identities, Information and Influence outcomes, this is also a flow. A way of looking at design in total.

Identities are the most basic building block of communication, the starting point to broadcast who you are to the world.

Information design helps people you are trying to reach make better decisions.

Influence is the goal — to encourage change and make it easy to take further action.

This is a simple yet rich view of Design, one which I will continue to explore conceptually within this site and practice with my clients for years to come.

The Weight is Over

Everything changes. What do you think this whole crazy evolution theory mumbo jumbo is about anyway? If there are any certainties in life, a bigly one is that things will change.

So, it is reasonable to assume this sentiment can be applied to branding problems, too. Brands need to grow and change with the times to continue to be relevant, attract new customers and change as their current customers do. Totally makes sense.

The latest butterfly to burst from the chrysalis is WW, the brand formally known as Weight Watchers.

Like everything else on the planet, page after page of commentary for and against the rebranding can be found online as the critics weigh in. (I’ll quit with the puns at some point.) I do not intend to tread the same ground, rather my intent is to get designers to take a closer look at the things you while redesigning a logo and carefully look at the meanings we bake into our work.

There are many instances of clever use of negative space to add more meaning to an otherwise simple design. One of the most famous being the FedEx logo. If you scroll through the inter-web you are sure to come across stories from the design team regaling their genius in building the letterforms around the arrow created by the negative space between the “E” and the “x”.


Dig deeper and you will find that the “easter egg” so carefully crafted was actually a happy accident, that it was only discovered after the typeface had been chosen and the designers began toying around with it. Further, this arrow reportedly was a huge topic of debate that almost killed the entire design because the arrow points to the right. This detail is great when the logo is on the right-hand side of the delivery truck because it is pointed forward, but not so good according to FedEx execs when displayed on the left-hand side because the arrow is pointing backwards. Not a positive connotation for speedy deliveries.

Obviously, FedEx got over it and zillions of logos with the hidden arrow have since been splattered across the planet.

Unfortunately, WW fell into a similar trap.

I understand Weight Watchers’ desire to change their brand from “diet” to “wellness” (a terrible word, by the way.) It broadens the company’s offering and creates the opportunity to reach people who want to be fit but not have the whole diet thing hanging over their heads.

But look at the logo and its unintended easter egg. There are arrows created but the negative space in the diagonal strokes of the W’s. They point up and down.

Unlike the FedEx execs who approved their new logo despite initial reservations, these WW guys should be flogged for making this choice. Weight yo-yo-ing up and down is a primary cause of so many health issues from the obesity epidemic to heart disease, particularly here in the USA. The logo communicates this message on a very subtle level.

All is not well that ends well.

The Agency Model

I’ve been working in-house for almost nine years now. There is a perception among management that being in-house means you’re not as creative as the people out in the agency world and therefore are not capable of doing the utterly amazing things agencies do.

There is not an ounce of truth in that last statement.

I’ve now run into this problem a second time. First at Schlumberger and now at Sysco. From management’s perspective, the key to unlocking this puzzle, is the much revered “agency model”. If only we worked more like an agency, then we would get work done faster, better and, being in-house, cheaper. The holy trifecta.

The thing I do not think people understand is that the agency model is not a process, rather it is about economics. It’s financial.

All agencies and most in-house organizations have their own variations on the process, but they are in essence all the same. There are a few different ways to skin a cat, but at the end of the day you’re stilling skinning a cat.

Agencies do indeed attract very talented and creative people. That is for sure. But these days, big corporations do, too. The main difference between the two is mindset between in-house and agency folks. Agencies will do damned near anything to make something happen. if they don’t, they’re out of business.

That’s quite the motivation to get things done.

Being in-house, you are a protected class. There are rules out the wahzoo protecting employees from the kind of lengths agencies are willing to go to. Perhaps the issue is that being in-houses, people are not incentivized enough. Not properly motivated (or improperly) to do amazing work. To push beyond.

There are other issues at play here, too.

But a lack of creativity is not one of them.

Faking It

So I stumbled on to a really terrific podcast: 2Bobs. It hits my sweet spot for creative yet practical business advice and thinking. This morning on the way to the office, I was listening to the August 23rd show about the X-Factor, the qualities that set exceptional people apart from the pack. The discussion was quite good. The “Bobs” made good points made about what they believe qualifies as being/having an X-Factor, but that is not the point of this post. You can listen to the podcast to get their thoughts.

They discussed the idea of confidence being one of the predominant characteristics of a person’s X-Factor, and unfortunately you either have it or you don’t. That is not to say that you cannot develop confidence or have it become a bigger part of your character. But one comment during the discussion on confidence really hit me.

In a good way.

There is a common misconception that you can, or should, “fake it til you feel it.” Or the other variation, “fake it til you make it”. This got me to thinking about my own lack of confidence growing up, and how I have always attributed any successes in life to my ability to just keep on faking it. In retrospect, that is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, this revelation has now given me a new mantra, an important one to share with students and young creative professionals:

As a creative person, the best way to become more confident in your abilities to produce good work is to push yourself. Plain and simple – work at it. Put in the time. Put in the extra effort when necessary. Do whatever you must, but continue to create. Make lots of stuff. All the time, in all aspects of your life.

I firmly believe that the more you make, the better you will get, Period. But if you don’t improve, you should consider a different line of work. Not to be mean here, just being practical.

Make it til you make it is about getting to the place where you will know you can solve the problem. You might not have the answers, but you know what questions to ask and what it takes to find the solution. You’ll have confidence in yourself and your abilities.

I suppose this is a reinterpretation of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which says it takes about 10,000 hours of doing something to get good at it. I have been a believer. My only knock on that rule is it is time based, and no creative activity should ever be bound by such rigid structure. It should be more about the quality of time spent. I know plenty of designers who have put in well over 10,000 hours and their work is not much to speak of. (Maybe they should reconsider what they’re doing…)

I always thought the 10,000 hours rule was true because I noticed that after about 5 years in the business, you finally get it. You can competently maneuver through your work day and actually be productive. You might even do something really great by then. But until you have 10,000 hours under your belt, you’re still an apprentice in my eyes.

But I suppose the difference with the Make it til you Make it philosophy, you’re not bound by time. You’re only constraint is yourself. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you becoming thoughtful about your work? Are you becoming confident in your abilities to link disparate ideas?

There are lots of fancy ways to articulate this idea, and I like this one that popped into my head this morning while sitting in traffic. I am confident that this is a great idea.

I think it might make a good t-shirt.