July 21, 2021No Comments

State of the Agency

On April 14th, we officially put the “Open for Business” sign on our front door — metaphorically speaking, of course, since our announcement came by way of Instagram and LinkedIn. We didn’t actually have an office door to hang the sign. Then again, we didn’t have a single client either. Or a project to our credit. So basically, nothing.

In our announcement letter, I mentioned we'd keep our followers informed about the trials of starting a new business. We try to keep good on that promise with our creative posts on Instagram and Facebook. Hopefully, this article will provide a little more depth to the story. I can’t tell you how other design agencies start, though there are plenty of great books on the subject, which I would happily recommend. This is just how we launched, and how it's been going over the past 3 months.

Business Plan
Do you need one? Not really, unless you need to secure funding or a loan. It seemed like the professional thing to do, however, so we took the time to write our thoughts on paper. It’s about 25 pages, acts as a general description of the business, outlines what we think is our point of difference is in the market, and sets up a few basic creative and financial goals for the first year. If anything, we thought it would be interesting to review in a few months and see how far off we were. 

Funny thing is, taking the time to put your plan on paper really forces you to set realistic expectations. While we didn’t execute the marketing plan exactly as proposed, we're tracking ahead of schedule on several fronts, including new business. This will help us make better projections for future growth, and allow us to shift some of our spending to other important business needs.

New Business
At first, we went a bit "old school." We sent out a mailer to 200 prospective clients. It was hardly a creative execution — a simple letter in a #10 envelope that announced our opening and listed a few services. 75 of those mailers included a customized letter, where we researched accomplishments of the recipient, and addressed them personally. The remaining received a more generic letter, simply because we couldn’t find any specific information. We sent them to office addresses, though we knew most people would be working from home because of the pandemic, and just crossed our fingers. 

We then followed up a week later with either a phone call or an email. Generously, I’d say the response rate was about 20%, which isn’t bad considering the total cost for everything was around $500. (The biggest expense in this case was a new laser printer.) One recipient even sent a response back by mail, which was interesting. In total, the mailer resulted in 5 offers for proposals. And, we secured our first client who has since returned for multiple projects! Even more importantly, since we targeted the people and businesses we wanted to work with, the types of projects we've been awarded since have provided very meaningful opportunities. Which is why we started the business to begin with.

Having spent the past 7 years at an Ad Agency, one of the first things we wanted to do as an orginazation was become more involved with the design community. However, the pandemic really put many of those clubs on hold, and most events in early 2021 were still being held virtually. That didn’t appeal to us, and so we are holding off membership until 2022. We figured we’d have more to contribute next year as well.

On a whim, we joined our local Chamber of Commerce, and that decision paid off almost immediately. We were introduced to a new business owner in town that needed a logo and a website, which has been one of our favorite clients and projects to-date. (On the other hand, this specific project was also put on hold for months. This taught us the importance of continuously working on a new business pipeline.)

We gave a presentation at the local library on the Power of Branding, and invited all of the members from the Chamber of Commerce. The idea was mostly goodwill — to provide businesses with an introduction and basic understanding of how branding works. Obviously, we also wanted to get face time with local business owners. 2 people showed up. I suppose that shouldn’t have been a big surprise, given that most people were still uncomfortable getting out in public. But, 8 people did attend virtually, and one of them reached out afterwards to potentially collaborate in the future. While we were initially disappointed with the turnout, we learned a valuable lesson with regards to networking: you just never know what connections will work out. We're already making plans for our next workshop.

While I’m still acting as creative director, art director, designer, bookkeeper, and receptionist, there have been several projects where we’ve had to bring in experts for different services. We’ve partnered with an account professional to help make media buying decisions, as well as a social media expert to consult and recommend executions in that channel. We’ve also brought in partners to help develop proposals, brainstorm conceptual territories, and freelance designers to help execute tactics when the workload has been too busy for one person to handle. There's no doubt we'll need to partner with a front-end developer in the near future. We just delivered several new business proposals that could potentially necessitate full-time hires as well. A big business decision, for sure, and one we won't be making without a lot of deliberate thought and planning, including a trip to the accountant's office.

Office Space
This is a topic of real debate, especially since many agencies were going remote even before the pandemic. As of now, we’re keeping our eyes open. We’ve made several appointments with Real Estate agents to look at studio space. Until we make a decision, our home office is officially a shared workspace, complete with a kids’ Ikea kitchenette.

Did we launch the right way? That’s a rhetoricall question, of course, because we’re not exactly sure what the right way is. All we know is our way. And so far, it seems to be working. The economy is picking up, and we see no reason why our business can’t grow exponentially over the next year. As always, we’ll continue to look for that next big project to walk through our metaphorical doorway.

July 14, 2021No Comments

What would de Harak do?

Pure. Simple. Rational. Those are the words often used to describe de Harak’s work, but the trained eye knows that achieving any of those qualities doesn’t come easy. It’s almost frustrating, the amount of work – the practice, the iteration, the reservation – that it takes to distill a communications challenge down to the core of the problem, and then create something that seems almost effortless, as if there were no other possible solution. De Harak and his team did it time and time again.

To ask, “what de Harak would do?” is to ask, “are we solving for the right problem?” And That’s what makes “simple” so “difficult.” Richard Poulin, who worked alongside de Harak for almost a decade, has captured many of those timeless solutions in the new monograph, “Rational Simplicity: Rudolph de Harak, Graphic Designer.” It’s currently being crowd-funded at https://vol.co/product/rudolph-de-harak/

June 22, 2021No Comments

Meeting Uncle Matt

I first met Matt in the Fall of 2020 and, like so many introductions during the pandemic, ours was virtual. It was an interview of sorts — he was looking for a designer to build his new bakery's website — though it didn’t feel like one. We talked about our families, life in our small town of Sandy Hook, fishing, and football. Small talk, really. Though he had worked as a pastry chef at renowned locations like the Russian Tea Room and the Essex House Hotel in New York City, he didn’t find it necessary to talk about those experiences. To most people around here, he’s just Uncle Matt. 

Like me, and millions of others, Matt acknowledged that he had lost his job as a result of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19. But, he didn’t immediately start to look for another job. Instead, he looked at the situation as an opportunity to collect his thoughts, get his personal and professional bearings in order, so to speak, and to finally follow intuition: his lifelong goal was to open a bakery and cafe. I let him know that I had started my own business for many of the same reasons. Our meeting might have seemed like chance, but it was actually situational circumstance. 

We kept in touch over the ensuing months, occasionally checking-in to see how business was going. It turns out, opening a bakery takes a lot more planning that starting a design agency. Whereas I only needed a computer, and perhaps a little courage, Matt would need equipment and permits. And tables. And chairs. And supplies. And ingredients. And, of course, a physical bakery.

Along the way, I kept Matt informed of my own trials and tribulations, like projects I had been working on and pitching new business. We’d chat on the phone, text, and meet on Zoom, of course. He’d run his menu by me and ask my opinion about things I frankly hadn’t put much thought into – like what I thought was a fair price for a croissant. We grew to trust one another, and a friendship was forged before business ever started. 

Though our homes are separated by a few short miles, the only way we saw one another was through our respective monitor screens. It would be months before we occupied the same physical space. We developed a website together, and built his brand from the ground up, entirely online. I suppose that’s not uncommon these days, but I still find it interesting – given that we’re essentially neighbors. For almost a year, I’d only seen his face framed by the thick border of my Mac. I couldn’t even tell you how tall he was. 

Meeting Uncle Matt at his bakery for the first time didn’t come unnatural, even from 6 feet apart. It was just like getting together with an old friend. (The casual nature of a fist bump is less formal than a handshake.) He showed me around the kitchen and explained his vision for the customer experience. We talked a bit about family, about the next project and, the most exciting thing of all, his Grand Opening: Saturday June 26th. It’s a moment he’s been thinking about for a year – or a lifetime, depending on how you look at it. 

I’m glad to have been a small part of Matt’s journey to opening Uncle Matt’s Bakery and Cafe. I’m sure there were ups and downs along the way, but I couldn't tell. He handled everything like his demeanor — calm, collected, and cool. I think that’s how most of his guests will get to know him, and I’m excited that so many others in town can finally get a chance to meet, Uncle Matt.

June 9, 2021No Comments

The Power of Brand

On Tuesday, June 8th, Map gave an introduction the importance of branding in the 21st Century entitled, The Power of Brand. The event was hosted at the Booth Library in Newtown, CT, in partnership with the Newtown Chamber of Commerce. In his speech, John Rudolph, Principal and Creative Director at Map Agency, spoke about the benefits of design thinking in developing a unique brand strategy, provided a few examples of brands that are harnessing the Power of Brand today, and presented the shortfalls of traditional advertising. Most listeners joined via Zoom, but it was really exciting to see a few attendedants in person! For questions, comments, or inquiries about future speaking engagements, please reach out to John at john@map-agency.com.

May 14, 2021No Comments

Oh Baby! A New Brand for Origin Finance

We are so excited to announce the launch of a new Brand Identity System for Origin Finance, fertility experts on a mission to help make parenthood financially attainable for more families. Origin provides information and financing options for parents looking to grow their family through IVF and surrogacy. They needed a brand that was going to reach their audience, and communicate in an inviting, yet informative, manner that was unique in market.

Together, we created a comprehensive style guide, complete with a new logo, custom iconography, color pallet, and photographic direction. Those elements were implemented across a number of materials, including a new website with automated email communication. We're proud, and humbled, to work alongside such an intelligent and passionate group. From the ground up, they developed new programs and loan options that make it easy for all types of families to find success in their journey to parenthood.

"Map was an outstanding contributor to building our company’s logo, brand, and website. They were easy to work with, responsive, and open to our feedback. John quickly grasped the vision for our company and took us from start to finish on time (which is rare in the development world) and went the extra mile to help us set up additional features and answer all our questions. Highly recommended!" Angela Rastegar, CEO, Origin Finance

April 14, 2021No Comments

My Next Best Agency

I learned practically everything I know about design at my favorite agency in Connecticut, Taylor Design. It was the job I didn’t get coming out of Syracuse University — which made it all the more attractive — and especially rewarding when they hired me two years later.

I spent the next 7 years as a design sponge, soaking up every drop of inspiration from an extremely talented group of creatives. Even then, I was interested in every aspect of creative problem-solving, including the business. When I bluntly asked Dan, the owner, how to run a design studio, he responded with the best advice imaginable. “Keep your eyes open,” he said.

And so I did.

After that, I took an opportunity as an art director at an advertising agency in Westport, Catapult Marketing. This is where I learned about advertising and promotion. The CEO was extremely smart and passionate, and surrounded us with the most brilliant minds in the business. The CCO, Dave Fiore, was a visionary who knew how to challenge the status quo, and squeeze every ounce of creativity from every office. Together, they built a culture of innovative thinking that was both challenging and exhilarating. As is often the case with success, the agency became a hot commodity and, needless to say, it’s not the same company anymore. For a while, though, I’m convinced it was the best advertising agency in Connecticut. How fortunate am I, to have worked at two great companies, and to have learned from two great mentors? What could possibly be next?

To be sure, I was never interested in moving to my next favorite agency. Or the next best.

Looking beyond 2020, it seemed as if remote working would certainly expand the number of opportunities for creatives. A number of great agencies remain in the area as well. But I’ve always been particular and deliberate about the brand of creative problem-solving I get to call my career. And, as practical as I can be, intuition has always informed by best decisions. After two great companies, plenty of planning and internal debate, instinct led me to believe that 2021 would present the greatest opportunity yet.

That’s why I started my own Agency, Map.

As we begin to roll out, I look forward to sharing more about us, our brand of creative and, for those interested, the trials of starting a business in the middle of a pandemic. Our mission is grand: utilize design to make the world a better place. However, the way we intend to do that is modest: retain and build upon the qualities that made my favorite agencies such fantastic places to work. That's the simple plan to hopefully make my next agency, the best.

April 3, 2021No Comments

Always Give Credit

A fun exercise  to try when you’ve run out of design solutions: set Futura Heavy Oblique knockout on bright red – maybe Pantone Red 032. Then take said layout and share it with a colleague, casually asking, “Does this design resemble anything you recognize?”

Design students are fairly educated today, but there was a time when some of us spent our nights in studio, cutting letters, and an occasional finger, with X-Acto blades. The result being, Art History 101 didn’t serve as well as a source for design inspiration as it served a practical time for sleep. In response to Futura Heavy Oblique resembling anything, very few could answer with the correct response, which is, “oh yeah, that looks just like a piece by the Barbara Kruger. Your layout is a complete knockoff of the artist who referenced advertising and leveraged design to make bold, graphic statements about feminism, struggle, and power in the 80’s. Didn’t you go to art school?” That’s the response you should be looking for, of course. 

Instead, you might get a response like, “it kind of looks like that ‘Obey’ guy, what’s his name?” To which, its actually appropriate to lose your mind. Calmly explain, oh, you mean Shepard Fairey? I love his reference to 1920’s Russian Constructivist movement, though I tend to view his work more from a purely illustrative standpoint than with any deeper design motivation. The Russians really had a great handle on typography, didn’t they? By the way, did you notice that knockout type on the bold red background? Maybe don’t be quite so snooty.

Perhaps bring the conversation full circle with brief explanation of post-modernism and use of Appropriation in art. It’s okay to copy, even steal, from artists. But know who you are stealing from, so that you can reference them in conversation. At the very least, always acknowledge Barbara Kruger if you are going to set Future Heavy Oblique knockout on a bar of red. Having launched a sophisticated discussion and debate about design and history, consider the exercise a success. 

March 15, 2021No Comments

Design Confession

I hardly knew anything about graphic design, or its history, as an art student in the college of Visual and Performing Arts. As part of my work-study program, I was getting paid $5 an hour to assist students load Microfilm and Microfiche machines in the basement of Byrd Library. The “computer consultant,” who sat on the other side of the desk from me, helped visitors copy photos on the flatbed scanner and import them into a program called, “Photoshop.” She made $7.50 an hour. 

I wrote an essay about Nike in high school, so I suppose I knew what a logo was. I was also once asked to develop a “graphic” for a T-Shirt that would include type on it. That vague understanding of how design works, plus the allure of a sweet $7.50 an hour salary, lead me to declare “Communications Design,” as a major my Sophomore year. But, to tell you the truth, I still couldn’t name one professional designer if my life depended on it. 

So you can imagine the horror I faced, when, on my first day of Intro to Communications Design I (CMD 251), our professor, @wonderingthealphabet, played a bit of an ice-breaker with the class: let’s go around the room, introduce yourself and name your favorite graphic designer.

I drew a complete blank.

Luckily, the library was right next door the Schine Student center, where I had just picked up my stack of required  textbooks the week before. Among them, “The Elements of Typographic Style,” by Robert Bringhurst, “Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works,” by the genius, Erik Spiekermann, and “The History of Graphic Design,” by the saint, Phillip Meggs. I had thumbed through all of them because, to tell you the truth, students weren’t exactly clamoring to scan Microfilm.

As we went around the room, my classmates confidently claimed their design heroes. I was nervous, perhaps a little sweaty. Who declares a major they hardly know anything about? Think, John, think!

“Josef... Müller... Brockmann? Yeah, Josef Müller-Brockmann.” That’s what I said. 

My professor said he respected that response, made some remark about the grid and his education in the International Typographic Style, and the class moved along. Josef Müller-Brockmann saved me from embarrassment. To this day, I have no idea how a hyphenated name, complete with umlaut, popped into my head.

After class, I rode my skateboard back to my apartment, looked up the Swiss Style in my textbooks, and vowed to learn more about the history of graphic design.

March 4, 2021No Comments

King Gets His Due

Brody, Saville, even Bubbles ­— All British designers whose work pushed established norms and helped define graphic movements in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At least within the pages of history, they each became synonymous with a certain look or style — Bubbles is to Punk what Brody is to New Wave Typography. Perhaps their status is a result of the genres in which they helped define.

There is another Brit, though, that possessed a certain fashion, but designed the power of message in a way that eclipsed trend — Dave King. The name may be unfamiliar, but as art direct of the London Sunday Times Magazine, his Constructivist-inspired solutions were certainly recognizable. And, thanks to Rick Poynor’s monograph, “David King: Designer, Activist, Visual Historian,” (2020) this graphic design genius may finally be getting the recognition he deserves.

Let there be no doubt, King was a well-respected and award-winning designer during his practice. As he shifted his focus to collecting artifacts from the Russian Revolution and authoring books, he became less relevant in the rampant discussion about design authorship during the age of computer-generated design. In hindsight, this is unfortunate. His work as an activist should have been at the center of any such deliberation.

While his approach to design was certainly influence by the Russian Constructivists, and therefore could be interpreted as “post-modern,” they were also done with purpose. For example, “Demonstrate!” a poster King designs for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1978, clearly made reference to Rodchenko (and, to a lesser extent, Lissitsky) in order to deliver a powerful, politically-driven rally cry, in a similar way that design was harnessed for the Russian Revolution. King was not interested in design for the sake of design.

Primarily, history relegates the importance of this time period to advances in the medium, rather than the message, focusing on style and graphic surface, rather than substance and content. While it is somewhat expected, given the extreme graphic break that the computer allowed, it unfortunately left the important work of King to be an afterthought in dialogue and most publications.

That is, hopefully, until now.  In an interview with Steven Heller, Poynor proudly says of King, “He is one of Britain’s finest designers.”  

February 27, 2021No Comments

The Fox and the Bird

Context is important when we look back at the history of branding and design.

In the 1960’s and early 70’s, American Corporate identity was heavily influenced by the Swiss International Style, the wordmark having largely replaced pictorial representation of companies and brands. Recall, Vignelli introduced American Airlines to Helvetica in 1967, and Rand streamlined IBM in 1956. But, as we’ve come to better understand, trends provide the perfect opportunity to Zag, which is exactly what WolffOlins did across the pond. 

As the logotype became pervasive, WolffOlins, founded in 1965, convinced paint manufacturer Hadfields to trademark an illustration of a fox. However, they did maintain the obligatory Akidenz Grotesk logotype to accompany the curious fellow. It wasn’t until 1972 that they eschewed sans-serif altogether for the construction company Bovis. In addition, Wolff pitched an intricate illustration of a hummingbird. The client had been expecting “a bull or some other metaphor for male physical strength.” As one could imagine, strength is what every other company in the trade represented. The hummingbird, instead, could act as a metaphor that symbolized and represented a company focused on delicate precision. It was the perfect Zag.

Wolff admits, though, that the idea was nearly lost due to his inability or, perhaps, unwillingness to sell the concept. After listening to the presentation, Bovis chairman, Sir Keith Joseph, asked for an explanation of the hummingbird. Wolff responded that he “just really liked it.”