With the introduction of the Cube to the U.S. market in 2009, Nissan was wandering into uncharted territory. While there were other cars in the line-up targeting young buyers, this was a "youth car" in every sense of the word. Quirky, customizable and inexpensive, the Cube flaunted its roots in Japanese pop culture like no car before. The car was perfectly suited for a digitally focused launch.
We worked with Nissan's agency, TBWA Chiat/Day, to define some broad strokes for graphic standards, then started ideating. Our goal was to make it easy for people to bump into the Cube brand in as many places as possible, and to begin engaging even before launch. The strategy was to use many different tactics, including some very new ones, and interweave them to create a distinct personality for the Cube. We called it "dandelion marketing"...like blowing on a dandelion, sending seeds floating everywhere.
One important expression of this personality came in the form of "Cubisms"...witty bits of original pop wisdom written by Cathy Edwards. We sprinkled new ones daily into the teaser microsite. In one of the first uses of Twitter for a campaign, we tweeted one each day. If you liked a Cubism, you could pop over to a Spreadshirt engine to print it on a one-of-a-kind t-shirt.
Over the course of the year long launch, there were other firsts. We created the first augmented reality experience for an automobile in the U.S.. We worked with the online animation site Xtranormal to create one of the first campaign oriented film contests online. Naturally, we also got busy on Youtube and Facebook, collaborating with Chiat/Day to create all kinds of content, from psychedelic 3D videos to a mobile vehicle "accessorizer" app.
Lead Designers: Alex Chu Candy Ho
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
What a fun project this was. Challenging, but fun. I'm a huge fan of the National Parks (as was everyone else on the team), and it was really wonderful to work on something we were so passionate about.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is a mix of parks and preserves stretching over an enormous, ecologically diverse area just outside Los Angeles. It covers over 150,000 acres, with more than 500 miles of trails. Interestingly, a surprising number of Angelenos have no idea it's there. That's great for the people who visit the park regularly, but a key element of SMMNRA's charter is to actively serve everyone in its area. Some pretty large segments of the population, like the inner-city immigrant population, is particularly invisible. The park is also almost completely unknown to the near constant flood of tourists visiting Los Angeles.
To change this, SMMNRA engaged Designory to create a marketable identity... something recognizable that would help raise the parks profile, communicate its unique attributes and, of course, attract more visitors. We absolutely agreed, but also cautioned that achieving their goals would require a well-thought out marketing program, not just a snappy new identity. Fortunately, we were able to squeeze in a really productive round of strategic research looking at both "in park" issues, as well as obstacles to attracting a wider audience. Agreement all around, and we were off.
We began by identifying four possible design "territories". Each drew from something fundamental about the area: the Crasftsman movement, the Central American influence, Hollywood and Contemporary Pop culture. The Craftsman look is often associated with the parks, and rightly so, but we quickly decided it was not distinctive enough. Hollywood deco seemed out of place. We ultimately ended up combining the symbol/pattern sensibilities of Central American design with a more vibrant tropical palette and modern feel.
Any design system for an entity like this requires many components and variations. Not only is there signage to consider, but wayfinding, educational installations, clothing, collateral and even merchandising. SMMNRA also happens to span from the ocean to the mountain forests and is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife. Finally, there are the official palettes and graphical standards of the National Park System to take into account.
To accommodate all of these considerations, we came up with system based on a collection of pictographs representing major players in the park ecosystem. For the primary logotypes, these are clustered in three vibrant color "tiles". Outside the park, the system is used on white, and so has a lot of crisp SoCal energy. As one moves into the park, the palette begins to shift to more muted tones, and integrates the official NPS dark brown and khaki.
There were many stakeholders in this process, leading to more than a few tweaks along the way, but we all love the end result. The park is continuing to roll the new look out over time as signage needs replacing, though it was immediately applied to publications and merchandise. And I'm happy to report that a wide array of outreach programs have been developed to get the word out to a wider audience.
Lead designer: Candy Ho
Baxter Credit Union
Banking sites are notoriously dry and difficult to navigate. They also tend to be filled with fluffy copy, stock images of smiling people who apparently love to balance their checkbooks, and a swarm of mysterious branded services (think "Executive Platinum Plus Checking").
With the redesign of the Baxter Credit Union site, we set out to eliminate as much of the nonsense as possible, making it as easy as possible to shop and apply for new services. From a brand perspective, BCU, like most credit unions, emphasizes a sense of community and helpfulness. Beyond that, we also needed to create an easily customized system, as BCU also white labels it's services for a variety of corporate clients, like Target. Not surprisingly, the site also needed to adapt seamlessly to mobile, a platform critical for any financial institution.
These are the conceptual sketches presented to (and adored by) the client. Beyond the obvious simplicity and "non-financial" look of the site, there are a number of interesting design features worth noting. For instance, the full-bleed background, not only looks nice, it has specific brand and experience goals in mind. Members are encouraged to submit photos (with a caption) to appear on the homepage, and, if selected, have $50 added to their accounts. Not only does this help make the site feel for human and community-oriented, it creates a growing image library for BCU. Our goal was to have the image change as frequently as possible, and ideally reflect the season, making the site feel current and dynamic.
Another unusual feature is the vertical navigation/content band. Taking a "mobile first" approach to design, this band is almost exactly what one would see browsing the site on a smartphone, helping tie the two experiences together visually.
Unfortunately, the project quickly got bogged down in internal machinations and politics. Last we heard, the project had been delayed so long, the players changed and they are starting over again. Alas. So it goes sometimes. But who knows, maybe we'll get to implement it for another client!
Lead Designer: Mande Calhoun
Community submitted homepage images help the site feel more human, and gives members a fun way to engage with the bank.
Shifting with the seasons keeps the site feeling current.
The "floating module" approach makes re-branding the site for corporate clients easy.
Interface and content is simple and direct. No fluff or confusing "brand-itis".
The dotcom nav structure was actually influenced by the mobile approach...not the other way around.
US Army Reserve
This project is the only time I've worked with the military, and everyone involved was just great. Incredible enthusiasm, good feedback...only problem is, they never actually built the site! Infrastructure issues put the whole thing on hold. Last we heard, new leadership is in place, and the whole process began again. In short, I doubt it will ever be built. Despite that, I've included the design here as I think it not only represented a huge leap forward for the Reserve brand, but because it's a nice example of how specific UX elements can support brand objectives.
Perhaps the biggest brand challenge the Reserve faces is a lack of understanding as to what its members actually do. To address this in the design, we created a floating, slightly transparent interface that hovers over large background images. These scenes change dynamically to illustrate the many roles of the Reserve, from combat to peacekeeping, to disaster recovery. We decided to help the images work even harder by enabling users to "toggle off" the content modules. Not only can the full image then be seen clearly, but additional content and messaging is exposed, further describing the activity pictured.
The site's design is also unapologetically modular. Not only does this approach create a strong sense of organization (highly valued in the military), it leverages the functional architecture of Sharepoint, and allows future content and functionality to be added in a more predictable way.
Lead designer: Stuart Roud
VCA Animal Hospitals
A few years ago, VCA approached Designory about creating a new website. Today, they are still a growing client, with Designory managing all website work, SEO, social and a number of specialty sites and digital initiatives. This is a somewhat unusual case study for a creative director to feature, but then I suppose I'm a somewhat unusual creative director. Let's just say VCA appeals to my strategic/business side.
From a creative perspective, the VCA story is less about creating beautiful, innovative designs, and more about working successfully within significant creative constraints. I'm a big fan of Bill Bernbach, the "B" in DDB, and an iconic advertising creative. He once said, "I wouldn't hesitate for a second to choose the plain looking ad that is alive and vital and meaningful, over the ad that is beautiful but dumb." So it is with VCA.
VCA is a network of more than 600 veterinary hospitals in 42 states and Canada, all acquired, not created. Some are large, gleaming clinics with many doctors and specialists and the latest in high-tech equipment. Others might consist of a vet, an assistant and someone working the front desk. Even at its most sophisticated, this can be an environment with 10 year-old PCs, slow internet and very busy fax machines. As for a consistent brand experience...that can be hard to come by.
From a brand and marketing perspective, VCA has to walk a delicate line. Every pet owner's relationship with his or her vet is very personal, and very local...just like your kid's pediatrician. Just as in human healthcare, being part of a large corporate network is often seen as a negative for a vet, suggesting red tape, impersonal service and lower quality care. VCA's goal is of course to promote the benefits, such as depth of resources and access to specialists, and minimize the negatives.
In redesigning the VCA site, this meant we needed to find a middle ground between hokey and slick. Something simple and professional, but not so sophisticated as to look like a truly big company. There was really no existing infrastructure, so that had to be created from scratch. Localization and personalization being so important, parts of each hospital's site needed to be managed locally, but blend seamlessly with "national" content managed by corporate. With over 600 hospitals, and more added all the time, the site had to be based on a set of very predictable templates managed within an idiot-proof CMS. Oh, and the look needed to be pretty much visually neutral, as the brand identity was being overhauled at the same time. And the site would launch first. And it needed to happen fast. Easy right?
At this point, we would normally have been tempted to do some good research with both consumers and hospitals. The client, however, had neither the budget nor time, and also suspected that the brand perceptions across the network were so wildly different that we were better off just jumping right in. The solution was to quickly show the client broad spectrum of visual solutions, from "homey" to "sophisticated", pointing out the pros and cons of each. This got us quickly to a design framework that felt right for this big first step.
The whole system was deployed with great success. Since then, quite a bit of additional content and functionality has been worked in; it's probably about time for an overhaul. Next time around, there will no doubt be more room to push the envelope a bit, both visually and functionally. What was important in this first iteration was getting a solid solution designed and built, not arguing with the client about "missed opportunities" for for design and research. For me, this represents the difference between a project and a partnership. Too often, agencies want to jump from a 1 to a 10 in one step, and pout if they can't get their way. Keep pitching 10s, but don't give up when they buy a 4. Keep educating, not complaining. Next time, they might buy a 6. Then an 8. That's what partnership is.
Lead designers: Anna Villano Candy Ho
Typical hospital site
The backbone of the VCA online system. A highly templated system that merges locally and nationally managed content, as well as allowing for widely varying levels of content.
Consumer communications are just a small part of the overall VCA platform. Targeted campaigns to veterinary students, as well as practicing vets are also in the mix. This promotional piece for vet students reflects the more contemporary,colorful vibe of the current graphic standards. Unfortunately, this look has yet to make its way into the dotcom.
A specialized site allowing pet owners to manage their pets' individual health records, appointments and medications in detail.
A typical VCA Facebook contest
Not surprisingly, VCA has a significant social presence.
Certainly it's no secret movie theaters are having a tough time these days, given all the other options we have for watching films. Still, I had no idea just how big those challenges were until we pitched (and won) the digital work for Regal Cinemas, the largest of the US theater chains.
Not only do theaters have to contend with HD tv, streaming media, rising ticket prices and $6 popcorn, they also have to compete with each other. But will people really go out of their way to see a film at a particular theater? Not so much, it turns out. People choose the movie they want to see, then figure out the most convenient place to see it, assuming one theater's not that much different than the other. No big surprise there. After all, no one chooses to watch a show because it's on CBS; they watch it because it's the show they want to see! So, finding meaningful point of differentiation is the name of the game, and theaters are trying everything they can think of... loyalty programs, reserved seating, alcohol, you name it.
We actually saw great opportunity for Regal to differentiate, but there was a snag. Philosophically, they approached their marketing from a national/corporate point of view. A customer's relationship with their theater is, of course, entirely local. Why would you go to the Regal Cinemas corporate site? Wouldn't you expect to go to a site for the theater in your neighborhood? And why would you even go there, when you can use a service like Moviefone to see what's playing in all your local theaters at once?
Aside from stepping up the visual design several notches, our solution was to create a highly localized marketing strategy, focused on giving users specific incentives to use the site and/or a proposed mobile app, as well as creating an extensive set of social tools and tactics theaters could use to engage customers. This involved leveraging existing platforms like Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare, but also building some unique functionality into the Regal app. Shifted to a local focus, the site and app suddenly became viable platforms for selling ad space, creating a new potential revenue stream for theaters.
Giving up control of the brand voice to local theaters is a huge change for Regal, so things are moving in cautious steps, but definitely heading in the right direction.
Lead designers: Aaron Albarran Mark Infusino Elena Searcy