Wait…what? That’s right! The CIA. loves graphic designers… And… they always have. Throughout the CIA’s 74-year history, the agency has used popular artists, graphic designers, and avant-garde culture to serve its aim and enact American “soft power.” We’ll get into that later…
Their rebrand in 2021 sparked up a lot of discussions again on their relationships with top designers to appeal to new generations. Millennials and younger generations care more about creative logos and websites. They know that. They want to appeal to the masses. Very similar to how younger generations wanted to see more freedom of expression in art in the 1940s-1960s.
The CIA psychological operations—or “Psy-Ops”—have routinely used pop culture covertly for propaganda purposes. In the ’50s, through groups like The American Society of African Culture, the CIA paid for jazz musicians like Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and my favorite: Nina Simone to perform around the world. How great right! Diversity encouragement in the 1950s… No. It was to counteract some of the negative publicity around America’s racism and the tragedies of the civil rights movement that was secretly paid for by the CIA.
They even recruit graphic designers and artists. Former executive secretary at MoMA, Thomas Braden was hired in the 40s to direct their cultural activities in Europe. The CIA paid salaries to American abstract expressionist painters, like Jackson Pollock – whose work was seen as free of politics and a celebration of individual freedom. Their goal was to fight communism with art!
Although designers before the ’60s didn’t often express their personal politics, the mid-century modernist graphic designers that succeeded made their work to align with red, white, and blue values. Coincidence? No. They got paid to. And got paid WELL!
The CIA frequently looked to magazines as a way of challenging the left-wing, anti-American views that were prominent among intellectuals in Western Europe after WWII. To be fair – not all of the magazines across the world that received CIA money were aware of the source of their funds. In fact, most were completely unaware.
Der Montat; Encounter was known as a progressive, intelligent platform to speak on what was going on during the day. They embraced minimalism in their covers with well-designed fonts. Soon this style (which is back in trend now) would be a red flag to the Iron Curtain that anything with sleek graphic design was propagandistic. Perspectives were no different in making socialists or dictators nervous.
As with most covert operations and propaganda, it’s hard to judge the real impact these cultural cold war projects had. In reality, the USSR’s brutal response to the Hungarian uprisings of 1956 had a far bigger impact on European intellectuals than American and CIA-funded literary magazines ever could.
However, as with the CIA’s new rebrand, they serve as a perfect example that design sometimescan be political – but will always be powerful.
Raw content…true to its construction. But seriously! What the heck is a brutalist web design?
Brutalism was coined from architecture. But in websites, it’s often about giving visitors content to enjoy and ways to interact with you. The rules for Brutalism aren’t about being restrictive or producing boring, minimalist websites. Rather these are a set of priorities that put the visitor to your site—the entire reason your website exists—front and center in all things. And give the viewer a raw, wild ride!
This design reaches out to diverse cultures. Empowers a message. It “pops”.
Simple. Block-like. But hulking in power. See this list of more Brutalist websites from Webflow here.
Their initial visual hook at the opening of these brutalist web designs is so captivating that it gives us complete faith in the business, organization, or person’s skills as an inventive __________ business. It stands out. Its design is “basic” but it itself is not. It’s unique and in a world full of sheepish web design, we need something a little different…more often!
Why the Heck?
This Spring, I got stuck well…doing boring design. Accepting requests from clients to make real pieces of crap. I often fall into people-pleasing traps with clients like this from time to time. But it nearly broke me. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that when I emerged out of my corporate coma, I wanted to do more ‘crazy’ work. If you check out my Instagram or Facebook you can definitely see when my creative identity crisis shifted! But I’m more me and less “them” now and…that’s not bad! I want to create things that are wolves not prey!
And if you’re a business that wants to hop onto the 90’s-esque, grunge-band-loving, cigarette-smoking, acid trip with me I’d love to create your next website (preferably brutalist web design)!
If you’re here you might not be surprised that my answer to this is…graphic design.
In “Decoding Target’s Design Philosophy“, Target mentions “From easy-to-navigate store layouts to the product packaging and designer partnerships, design is in our DNA—a huge reason why Target believes in the value of design education.“
I absolutely love the perspectives from their design team below as well!
It’s almost become a common joke about Target being every woman’s happy place. Mainly because it’s true most of the time. Why do so many people find it calming to shop there?
The Target brand wants to express value, but they don’t want to seem unattainable. Compare what their packaging design team does for each product compared to similar products…
On average each of their Target branded products sells better than other name brands in their store. The very opposite of sales in big-box stores like Walmart. This is because that bag of spinach along with the item of salt is designed to attract you in so many ways. To stand out against outdated packaging. To be modern, thus in the eyes of Gen X and younger, better.
It’s important that the packaging design’s colors, typefaces, and elements make you feel light, happy, and envoke you wanting to look at them more. It’s not rocket science. Graphic design matters when it comes to all products…
But Target cares about it more than many big box stores. Their creative teams are curated heavily. From 2011-2014 I was so happy to freelance for the Minneapolis creative division with packaging design and display advertising.
To this day I still appreciate the reason Why You Love Shopping at Target So Much is because of the value they set upon the graphic design in general.
Now I rarely do a blog post that is so tunnel-visioned to one type of person. But this one is for the Print Shop Managers out there! I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many publishers and print shops since 2009. One thing I’ve seen in many towns is the decline of the local print shop. It’s sad to see them go after decades in business or have to be bought out by a bigger chain. But why did it happen and how can you stop it from happening to your company?
What’s Happening to the Customer-Base?
Not Pushing Your Customers to Modernize
Across many areas in the U.S. I see time and time again. Print shops dwindle with clients and only rely on their returning customers instead of attracting new ones. This is a recipe for the end of days. As some types of print clients are also on their way out. As a print shop, it can be very enticing to brag that you have had the same _____ (customer) since 1971 and each year like clockwork they order the same business cards… The same. business cards… since 1971… Stop bragging about that! No one. Let me repeat this. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE THE SAME BUSINESS CARDS SINCE 1971.
As a print shop, you used to be a small town’s only resource for not only print but design. Now you are competing with a ton of online pros. Pros that know more and seem to do more. It’s not only an up-sell to you to chat with clients about the benefits of modernizing their _____ design for the next wave of target customers. But it’s downright mean or lazy to charge a customer for something that will do nothing for their business. In the long run, you’ll get the reputation of doing so and when an old client of yours is told that their business card is bad – guess who they will blame first?
Not Having a Designer on Staff
Now if you read that last paragraph and thought, Well duh, but it’s expensive to have a designer on staff for my… print products… It might be a bumpy ride from here on out. Your “print” should start out with the design. Always.
A good portion of the print shops I work with hire me kind of in secret (or at least hidden away from their “on-staff” person who did the majority of the… we’ll call it customization work). They don’t want to offend anyone who has been working there for a long time, knows the design programs, but doesn’t necessarily create anything new. Because of this your sales reps, customer service, or maybe even you the Print Manager have never pushed for creative projects, unique designs, or cutting-edge work to be flexible around a staff member who may be…out-of-date, but loyal. Thus, you are not attracting new clientele who are looking for creative solutions, and not their grandfather’s business card.
What Can You Do Moving Forward?
Is your website a dinosaur? Update it!
Is your logo laughable? Re-brand.
Are you known in town for only doing printing (not graphic design)? Start marketing that you’ve hired a fresh, creative graphic designer.
And oh, yeah… Actually, hire a Graphic Designer (Freelancer, Employee, or Agency)
• Plan for what type of graphics your shop specializes in before you start searching for a graphic designer: Not all designers are the same. Some have never worked for print. Find the ones who have, but also hone in on what you want to sell more of. If you want to add digital services to your print shop (wise idea) – hire someone who is great with both graphics, video, and GIF-making. If you want to gain more packaging clients, hire a packaging designer or graphic designer with that skill set.
• Conduct a Behavioral Interview First: You may find the expert designer you’re looking for, but they may lack the interpersonal skills your team needs. If you find an artist that is too attached to their personal work, can’t take criticism, doesn’t meet deadlines, or isn’t a team player…you are in for a very challenging experience! You want your graphic designer to communicate with customers, take and process feedback, and seek continuous self-improvement.
• Make Sure Your Team Knows the Lingo: Once you’ve found a great designer, you can now have your team search for more clients and projects and relay them to the designer. But if your team isn’t great at communicating or struggles with the print shop and design lingo it can waste both party’s time.
• Once Your Comfy, Have Your Graphic Designer Communicate Directly w/ Customers: This can be scary at first – but will save you so much time once you have found a designer you want to keep around. The best person to get your customer amped about creative work is…the creative. And often if too many cooks are in the kitchen on a project there is always a game of telephone. Things get lost in translation from client to sales rep to designer. Save time. Skip the middlemen when applicable.
Here’s the thing… Often that answer is no. Print shops get a bad reputation from designers as many print shops refuse to live in 2022.
Rochelle Parry, Graphic designer since 1985 comments: “As a designer, it depends what kind of print shop it is and how much designing you get to do. Most customers bring in their ugly ideas created in Powerpoint/Paint/Word/Publisher and have you flesh them out exactly as they want. As a print shop graphic designer, you’ll be handling production more than ‘design’. You might get lucky and have a customer that just has a rough concept and allows you to design, but I would venture to guess that most print shop clients already have their design done before they shop it around to printers…”
As you can see, from a graphic designer’s POV, most print shops are out-of-date. Are you tired of being one of them?
Green•wash•ing /n. disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. — The Oxford Dictionary
In a new world where more people care about the environment than generations before we want to be a part of the solution as consumers. Not the problem. So we want to buy products that reduce our carbon footprint, reduce waste, and/or are ethical. Great brands are starting to lead by example and give us products that do just that.
Because you can’t have good without evil there are also brands that are “greenwashing”.
Following the demand from consumers, companies that set out to help our planet had to sacrifice to sell their “green” products. Recyclable packaging, environmentally friendly ink, and ethically sourced ingredients are… more expensive. Bottom line.
And for brands who don’t want to spend more money to switch from being a part of the problem? Some brands created secondary packaging for their newly developed products at a higher price point to cover the cost of the more expensive packaging. Bad brands did that too! There is just one main difference. Bad brands didn’t change what’s inside the packaging OR started marketing that they are “green” when they aren’t Or even worse. They just lied to you.
Let’s first start with white lies…
What words can you use when you want to appear green?
Natural – Cyanide, arsenic and asbestos are natural – trace amounts will kill you.
Eco-friendly – Being friendly to the environment? This statement carries no weight.
Eco & Bio – ‘Eco’ and ‘Bio’ ranges of products are just a name, double-check that they’re actually better for the environment.
Green – Going or being green is another hype word that lacks substance.
Sustainable – This word has a strained relationship with regards to environmental conservation.
x% biodegradable – A product is either completely biodegradable within a human lifetime or it is not. Anything else is hype.
If you’ve bought any of these brands thinking they were actually “green”, don’t feel like a fool. I actually 100% believed that Mrs. Meyers was “green” for a decade… sigh…
Sometimes there are some quality brands out there that do deliver truly environmentally friendly products.
We know this because their marketing claims are backed up by industry-recognized certificates and government-backed standards.
Furthermore, they’re open and transparent with the way they operate.
So what’s the difference between greenwashing and green marketing?
Green marketing is not a simple phrase to define, as several meanings cross over and contradict one and other.
But, is the easiest way possible: Green marketing is the process of marketing products based on their environmental benefits. Period.
How can you tell a company is greenwashing?
It sounds too good to be true. Do the statements sound overstated and perhaps a little dramatic?
It’s hard to double-check. Does a product say it’s organic, but you don’t see a certified organic icon on the packaging from the USDA? Then it’s a lie.
Nature Graphic Elements. This one speaks for itself and is more on the brand than the consumer who wants to be buying products that are good for the earth.
It’s a laser-focused idea. For example, McDonald’s may use recycled paper in their bags, but they are one of the biggest enablers of factory farming, an industry that has mind-blowing methane emissions. Take a look at the bigger picture. Are they trying to show you one hand while hiding the dirty one behind their back?
So what can you do if you’re a brand who wants to know more about going green in an honest way?
Start small. Change one thing at a time if the higher cost of “going green” is too scary right now. Swap your shampoo bottle packaging to recycled plastics? Change the lid of your skincare product to something made from petrochemicals? Is your coffee label made from recycled paper? Is the sticker glue biodegradable?
While I mentioned glue…a new fad in 2021 is “vegan glue” in packaging. Let me just tell you. This isn’t a new thing. By default, the glue used in cardboard boxes is vegan as it uses adhesive polymers from rubber trees. However, if you see a product claiming it uses vegan glue throughout their brand that means it’s a lie. Animal-based (made out of collagen. which is from animal byproducts, leather, and bone marrow) glue is commonly used in tapes, adhesives and other sticky parts of the shipping industry. And without it you can’t ship anything to your customers…
Ok, end of glue rant…
What other small steps can you make as a brand moving forward? Stop selling mini plastic (travel-size) version of a product. Remove single-use packaging and pay a bit more for packaging that a customer will want to keep and re-use (ie. Fun glass bottle).
Without a doubt, the most ‘ eco-friendly’ packaging is zero-packaging. If there’s zero-packaging used, then there’s zero-packaging to dispose of. But chances are that if you need packaging, zero-packaging isn’t an option.
Use a bioplastic and inform your customers of the importance of it, rather than using petroleum-based plastic.
Compostable poly mailer bags are a great option if you’re sending durable products through the mail
For many eCommerce brands, the most carbon-neutral packaging option is the traditional cardboard mailer box.
There is a ton of more stuff you can do both with your packaging and within your company to help the environment. Then you can market it to your customers who want to help even more! Do your research and implement innovative ways to stand out as well as be a part of the solution!
If you’re a consumer, do your own homework and check the facts around large corporations and their statements of ‘going green’. Pretty much every cleaning product on the market is not “green”. Most makeup lines are not 100% vegan as well and when they are (like Crunchi) their makeup just flat out doesn’t work as well. So be real with yourself on what products you want to use or reduce the ones that can never really “go green” just on sheer facts.
Greenwashing is a phenomenon that harms both the consumer and honest companies that hold the environment core to everything they do. So you if you’re a brand thinking about whether to lie or tell the truth about being “green” — choose wisely and don’t f**k up!
Marked by a lovely pandemic (*eyeroll) that shattered our “normality”, 2020 and 2021 also saw unprecedented political, social, and environmental unrest. Many of us experienced a level of chaos we couldn’t have possibly planned for. Around the world, creative professionals have been operating on what feels like quicksand.
Because visual culture is intimately connected to lifestyle shifts, our design trends shifted as well.
Environmental awareness peaked in 2020 and 2021. Moving forward, the interest in eco-friendly packaging will shape digital design. Biodegradable materials offer a great solution to a planet-ethical brand. Brands will be expected to operate with an elevated level of awareness in multiple respects going forward thus leaving designers to be inspired by the “going zero” movement and designing accordingly.
Off the Grid
One of my favorite trends of the year; behold rebellious, brutalist graphics that defy the grid. Designs in this “Off the Grid” trend are an ode to asymmetry. Type pops up where you least expect it to, and when it does, it’s usually reverse contrast, wavy, or ransom-looking. When it comes to design, expect the unexpected.
Here’s Come the 70’s Again
A big trend was bringing back the 70’s. No more pixel-perfect graphics and instead of a push to use more worn-out images (aka. 70’s photo quality). Analog techniques like risograph printing are making an important comeback in both physical and digitally-crafted graphics. I have a feeling this comeback was really stemmed from the calming, laid-back nature the 70’s appeared to be. Something we needed more of in 2021.
Design in every Color, Size, & Orientation
Now, this was way overdue. Strip down most design elements in marketing throughout companies and you’ll see a representation of who is on the team. It was time to change in both categories. Some Asian markets switched from showing only Asian models and people in their ads to those of all ethnicities. And of course, popular brands are highlighting women of color more and fashion and makeup brands are even embracing gender-neutral and LGBTQ+ models more than ever. Natural representation of everyday life in media… Finally! Diversity, beauty, and life all go hand-in-hand.