Behind the scenes on a very beachy Christmas

Behind the scenes on a very beachy Christmas

Christmas gives us an opportunity to create something unique – something to celebrate the season and the year that has been, and the year to come. Each year we try to create something engaging, fun and different.

Some years these ideas flow easily, others take a little more time. The KRD Christmas project is put on the WIP list on 1 July, and we keep a file of ideas. These then tend to be formed into a single direction later in the year.

This year’s theme ‘a very beachy Christmas’ developed to combine the shared European (winter) history of Christmas with the Australian experience of a summertime celebration.

Starting point is the end format

Our starting point is knowing the formats we want to produce. In years past, this was mostly printed with a simple digital accompaniment. This year we started with the knowledge we wanted to create an animation as the primary piece. We also need a suite of material for social media, emails and our website. In the studio it gets a job number and treated like a client project, and is worked on incrementally as workflow allows.

Our starting point for this years animation sequence was Australian flora and beach landscape imagery. This becomes the overarching theme and narrative.

This is the point where we create (now digital) mood boards to capture the type of imagery, colour, vibe and aesthetic for the project. Initially we work on simple sketches to communicate ideas within the team.

 

Inspiration

When deciding the graphic style of the pieces we find a lot of varied inspirational images for both techniques and styles. The beach theme brought the broad brush stroke textures to our rendering, reminiscent of sand. The illustration components are simple shapes that get their personality from the colour and textures used.

Sometimes along the way, there are happy accidents. In this case, when storyboarding an animation of a flower made from beach themed icons, it was noted that the final frame looked a lot like a snowflake. And so, the idea of a summer snowflake began.

The idea that a traditional motif from a European Christmas could be flipped to an Australian summer theme was the hook needed to bring the project to conclusion. Taking the motif of the snowflake, we altered this to apply to summertime.

Thematic colour choices

Initially we were working with the traditional Christmas colours, but this was not creating the look we were after. Changing the colours of a piece can do so much to change the feel and the messaging.

To really push this to an Australian theme, we needed to find a colour pallet that communicates ‘Australian’ and ‘summer’ that was also beautiful and sophisticated. We drew inspiration for our colour pallet from Bluey, which so wonderfully illustrates the Australian landscape using tertiary colours for nuance and feeling.

Final storyboarding and test animation

The next storyboard was made to show how we could bridge the two vastly different Christmas environments together. This included how the scenes would transition, how the individual elements would move and the timing. Also, how this would incorporate our Christmas messaging. An idea of a scene was developed for the summer snowflake to morph into, including an iconic seagull who would become the star of the production.

All elements were then built and illustrated as separate components to be synchronised within the animation, with final testing focusing on the speed of transitions and incorporation of sound effects and music to complete the scene.

Reaching our audience

To serve a business purpose, the animation must also incorporate important dates and information. The end credits are a signoff to the animation, but are also covered elsewhere to ensure consistent messaging. From a business perspective, it would be nice to think everyone in our audience will watch all of our video. We know however, that audiences are fragmented, and consume media and information from varied sources. As such, it’s important that vital messaging is repeated in different formats and locations.

The final step in what becomes our ‘Christmas Campaign’ is to ensure that our messaging is distributed effectively. That means sending the video as part of an eDM, incorporating matching messaging in our email signatures, posting to socials, and even putting this article up on our recourses page. Ensuring that messaging is across as many touch points as possible to reach our audience how they like to consume information.

Why precise measurements are critical for graphic designers

Why precise measurements are critical for graphic designers

Let’s talk about measurements. In engineering, manufacturing and scientific applications, measurements deal in thousandths of a millimetre, or smaller. Mechanical engineers use digital Vernier calipers, outside micrometers, pitch gauges and feeler gauges for precise measurements. These can measure up to 1/1000 of a millimetre.

For graphic design that will be printed, we deal in millimetres. For design with a digital outcome, the units are pixels. Printers use outside micrometers to assess the thickness of paper. At the intersection of graphic and product design, microns come into play. The need for precision in our industry is pivotal in ensuring the accuracy and professionalism of our work.

In graphic design, even the slightest deviation from the intended measurements can result in errors in printing and binding, or significant visual discrepancy in online applications. Whether it’s creating a print design, a web layout, or a logo, precision ensures that the final product aligns perfectly with the designer’s vision and adheres to the client’s requirements. Accurate measurements also contribute to the overall consistency and coherence of a design, which are crucial factors in maintaining a strong brand identity.

When briefing projects, clients should provide clear instructions. This may require supplying a specification sheet for both web and print advertising, pop-up banners or promotional items. It may mean delivering a sample of items to the designer or printer to be measured for packaging and point-of-sale. This is then used in the creation of a dieline either by a printing company using a CAD system, or by the designers for simpler projects. The client may be working with architects, engineers, or a signage company. They will have CAD drawings, and these should be supplied to the designers. Consultation is key in all instances.

Occasionally for practical reasons, the client may need to measure a product or point-of-sale display. Our suggestion is this is usually best as a two-person process. Someone should hold the ruler straight against the item and someone else take a photo, clearly showing the edges and where the markings on the ruler line up.

A day in the life of a design studio

A day in the life of a design studio

A design studio is a fast and flexible working environment. Projects vary in size and scope, with often concurrent timelines. The team dynamic is important to keep things running smoothly to ensure we complete projects with upmost quality, on time. As a small studio, KRD team members work on projects both end-to-end as well as shared between us.

Project planning

At the start of the week, we discuss upcoming projects for the week, timelines and delegate tasks. Often projects are continued over from the previous week, and new ones are added in throughout the week.

Projects in the studio are assigned a client unique code, which allows for easy tracking and filing. For our larger clients this is indispensable, as we constantly reference previous jobs for images or text. We store all these codes – along with brief descriptions – in a database hosted on our server. This is accessible and searchable on our network via a browser.

For clients that we prepare work for on an ongoing basis, and we often have larger regular projects that require updating. A lot of imagery is stored on our server for easy access, or we access imagery via the client’s media library, available online.

Project management

Depending on the stage of a project, we may receive feedback or changes via email or phone. Clients may visit the studio to sit with us and work on changes in real time. Post-Covid, we also utilise video calls for briefings and more complex project alterations.

Days often vary with the kinds of projects in the studio; larger data intensive projects such as video editing take hours of time. Smaller tasks like web image creation or retrieval, or small edits to print pieces can be quick, again depending on the project. When one team member has larger projects to work on, we move the smaller tasks around.

For more complex design tasks, like brand development, everyone gets involved. We will work on research and concept sketches, then view them together to discuss direction. Smaller projects can also present interesting design challenges. This is especially true for pieces that need to fit a lot of information in a tiny space. When this happens, we reach out to the team for thoughts – sometimes a solution is easier to find when you’re not in the middle of a project.

Variety of work

The types of projects can range from print through to digital. In the morning we may be working on catalogues, packaging and point-of-sale. The afternoon may bring website updates, social media campaigns and video edits. Interspersed is writing and editing content, project management, print deliveries, and, always managing deadlines with client and suppliers.

Urgent requests

Occasionally there are super urgent requests. These are often to supply print and/or digital advertising when Marketing teams are offered distress rates from magazines. This is known to happen on Friday afternoons and can mean last minute finishing and uploading to meet the print deadline, often with a level of panic involved.

Brand Guidelines

Much of our client work involves careful understanding and following of brand guidelines. We pay careful attention as global brands are constantly refining their corporate identities with new assets or adaptations for evolving technology. This information is shared between the team and discussed regularly.

Larger projects

For larger projects, there may be site visits, eg. Interpretative signage or collaboration and input from suppliers. This may be with a marketing consultant, copywriter, photographer/videographer, printing companies or manufacturers. Suppliers often visit the studio, calling in with samples, deliveries, and answering important production questions. There is constant managing of deliveries of printed materials and following up on delivery receipts.

For point-of-sale projects we often create print tests and take to a local retailer to check instore. This is vital to ensure measurements are correct and materials will work in the situation required. Particularly on complex projects there can be new products/methods/technology and this will require liaison between ourselves and suppliers, including press checks and factory visits during manufacturing.

Pack and despatch

From time-to-time we undertake pack and despatch. This may be intricate mail outs requiring careful attention and specialised gift wrapping. The studio can become a small factory on these days, with a couple of Studio Assistants helping. Larger projects are worked on by mailing / fulfilment houses.

Team interaction

Importantly, a small team needs time to converse each day and keep up to date with relevant local, national, and international events. At various times of the day there will be lively conversations. For example, we discuss podcasts, articles or books we’ve read, TV shows, movies, and all kinds of pop culture. Like most teams, we have numerous ‘in-jokes’. We quote lines from the IT Crowd. We share stories on technology gripes with all major software updates. We discuss our personal projects. Recipes are shared. Traffic and weather anecdotes are on high rotation. As we’ve noted in our article ‘What makes designers tick?’, we believe in life-long learning and constant curiosity of the world around us to enhance our daily design journey.

AI beta testing in creative industries

AI beta testing in creative industries

KRD Creative Studio has recently been given access to Adobe Firefly, the Artificial Intelligence offering from Adobe. This is currently in Beta mode, where we can experiment with how AI can integrate within the current workflow and range of Adobe software in professional use.

The first and most obvious thing to try was text-to-image. Writing text prompts to create imagery is not as simple as it may seem, and initial results are not always as expected. After a short trial, my initial impression is that this is most definitely not a replacement for a stock image library search. And certainly not a replacement for a planned photo shoot. There is an element of surprise which is interesting when experimenting but is not acceptable for professional work.

Prompt writing is, and will be, a skill set of its own, just like mastery of any computer coding. Until the software is developed enough to produce repeatable results from identical commands, it is unlikely that without extensive self-education within any given data set, to become a replacement for traditional media generation. In the interim, it will likely become a sub-genre of image creation, specialised in by some.

For testing, the prompt attempted to render a kitchen and modern living area. Interested to see if we could craft a rendering ourselves for our kitchen appliance clients. After many iterations, Firefly managed to get some that looked ‘nice’ overall, however the detail is lacking. The legs of chairs and whole chairs were disjointed, out of perspective. They pass ‘at a glance’ but any deeper viewing and they fail to capture the real detail of a whole scene.

ai render of a luxury kitchen

These initial images could perhaps prove useful for ideation before a project begins, but at this point are unlikely to be suitable for detailed real-life finished art.

Once we can upload our own images into the software to be edited it may prove to be more useful to our professional workflow. Eg: being able to change the colour scheme in a real photograph with a click, instead of painstakingly masking, overlaying and manipulating.

As the software develops, the gap between ideation and real life will diminish, but whether it will diminish equally across all subject matter will determine its usefulness to professional workflows, and its level of disruption to the creative industries.

More useful are the tools to remove and change backgrounds automatically from images, which photoshop already has to a limited degree. But much the same, these tools will become much more useful in a combined workflow when using traditionally made images.

More likely to be disrupted quickly is language-based content. ChatGTP is easy to use, and can generate reasonable content at lightning speed. However, these pieces of generated content still need to be checked for accuracy. As with any database, the content you get out is only as good as the content you put in. ChatGTP appears to write with authority, so this is something to be closely monitored if used in a professional capacity. For an alternate way of wording what you already know, it is a fast effective re-writing tool. But don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to, and if you do, make sure to check it against reputable sources.

Working with graphic designers

Working with graphic designers

Perhaps you’ve never worked directly with a design team? Or you might be a recent marketing graduate wondering how to engage graphic designers, so you speak a common language?

Tips for getting the best from your design team

You may have experience working with designers and want some insights on improving professional interactions. The following are thoughts from us. These are by no means exhaustive or industry-standard, however, they may spark an idea on where to start.

Details, details and more details

First and foremost, designers are detail-driven. Of course, there are projects where you want an out-there solution. However, it is likely there will be parameters. The design team needs as many specifications as you can find. Make sure when briefing the project to get measurements/spec sheets from external print suppliers. If there is a booking number for an ad, supply this. If there are other vendors involved in the project, let the designer know so they can work cooperatively. If you cannot get details, let the design team know, so they understand what is missing. It’s a rare task with an open-ended budget or time, and to keep everything on track, specifications are necessary.

Second is to explain the context of the project. The more the design team understands about your company, the wider industry, your niche, competitors, or small nuances, the more considered the solutions they will come up with. Designers are by nature curious individuals; they love research and kernels of fascinating information. Discuss current local/national/international events, how is this impacting on where your product/service is performing? Do the sales team have valuable feedback? Is another division working on a project tangentially aligned?

Getting to know you

Inject your personality into discussions. Sure, there are plenty of serious projects/topics however, it is remarkable how the sparking of conversations between client and designer can alight on a strong solution. Loosen up a little and allow the discussion, within reason, to meander. Your enthusiasm for the project will be catching. If you are engaged, this easily translates to the design team. Like team building within a company, an open and friendly professional rapport between client and designer often makes for the best working outcomes.

Don’t worry about being a ‘visual’ person, that’s the designers job. Some clients provide simply a scribble or wire frame. Some projects require a mood board – a collection of images, colours, styling ideas, previous projects – which can be valuable. The thing to remember is that the design team will take care of the visuals. It is unnecessary to spend time creating mock-ups or layout drafts to show the designer. Your time is better spent collecting information and writing the brief / preparing content, depending on the project. We suggest Milanote as an online mood board resource.

Providing information in a practical way

If you are marking up an older/previous project for updating, we suggest using Adobe Acrobat® and making clear notes in a logical progression. Some projects may require markups and a Word® file or Excel® spreadsheet to be supplied. The more concise and organised your markups, the more efficient for all involved.

From the first draft, offer constructive criticism. Avoid generalisations. “I don’t like it” might be your first reaction but the best course of action is to analyse the draft/s against the brief. Check the colours, fonts, images, positioning, prioritising. Narrow down what is working for you and what is not. There are projects where clients need to see various options to figure out what is right, and if this was agreed in the scope, then its ok to say, for example: “I like this here as its working according to the brief. How about we combine it with this other element which is also working”.

Being open to new approaches and ways of working

Occasionally, projects go back to the drawing board. This is ok too; it may be as the client you realise the brief was not quite right. The design team will let you know if this is a change to the agreed scope.

Related to this is to allow the design team space to provide creative input. If the project is too restrictive you are not maximising the skills your design team has. Step back and trust in your briefing and allow them to make suggestions. Its ok to ask the designer questions and have them explain the thinking behind the artwork. Often this will be the quickest way to clear up any queries or work out a plan for refining the layout.

Occasionally, certain projects may end up emotionally charged. This can be the case with branding. Experienced designers understand the impact a brand has on a business and should always be mindful of this. It is important to remember that while some artistic elements may be subjective, graphic design is a commercial practice that uses universal theoretical foundations to ensure enduring and functional results. There is no one set ‘answer’, try to keep an open mind and work cooperatively to ensure the best outcome.

Writing a design brief

Writing a design brief

The aim of a design brief is to ensure both the design team and client are clear on the project outcome and can work with efficiency. It is a project management document and can be likened to a map.

Organising your ideas

To get your thoughts and briefing started, organising your ideas into bullet points is an excellent first step. The brief needs to be both succinct and detailed enough to inspire the designers. It is a reference for them to check back they have met the goals discussed in the meeting when going over the written brief. It also supplies a clear outline for project quoting.

Most design studios/agencies will have a briefing sheet they can supply to get you started. There is no industry standard however a briefing document should cover the following:

• Contact details (brief author, date issued, brief version)

• Project scope

• Project/Product overview

• Value proposition

• Background, including market conditions, competitors

• Business objectives

• Communication objectives

• Key messages that must be conveyed by the project

• Single minded proposition (one sentence to explain the most important factor)

• Target audience (primary and secondary including demographic information)

• Actions the creative will inspire when people receive/interact with the piece

• How will the design be used?

• Project timing/s with clear requirement of deliverables

• Current branding requirements to be followed/considered

• Further information to assist with project scope

Requirements and restrictions

The trick to writing a brief is to make sure the project requirements are clear and that you have left room for the design team to input their creativity within these requirements.

A vital inclusion in briefing design teams is to make sure the project has context. This may be explaining how the business sits in the marketplace; plans for expansion; feedback from customers; feedback from your sales team. It might be a technical consideration/process or material. It might be a walk through the workplace or project site or dig through a room of archives. No one knows precisely which small detail will ignite the idea or tie the project together. Often, contextual information that is beyond the immediate project scope is the key to bring a design together. Experienced designers will mesh this information and pull the strands into their visual solution.

Providing content

If the project requires content from the client, the next step is to prepare the written material and collect hi res images. We suggest Word files for text, with Excel for specification documents. Hi res images should be kept in a folder and named clearly. If you have captions to write, suggest numbering a grid in Excel with image names, so it is clear what belongs where. Alternatively, embed a small image thumbnail in Word, with the caption.

The key is organisation and being methodical when collating content, which will make the project streamlined for all.

The act of creating a full design brief will help you focus on exactly what you want and need the project to be and achieve. It will also make working with a designer simple and enjoyable as ideas become reality.