Thursday, May 13, 2010

Working with illustrator Gérard DuBois on a feature for LDS Living magazine.

(Preface: Yesterday I opened the latest issue of Time magazine, and noticed an illustration by Gérard DuBois accompanying the last page essay. We recently worked with Gérard on an award-winning feature article for LDS Living magazine. Below is a case study of that collaboration which was written for our company newsletter.)

Woidka, Senior Designer at Stephen Hales Creative, received the assignment to design a feature article in the May/June 2009 issue of LDS Living magazine. The article, titled “When a Child Strays,” discusses the decisions parents face when one of their children experiments with a lifestyle that’s at odds with the family’s values. Jon had admired the work of Gérard DuBois, an illustrator who studied design in Paris, and who now lives in Montreal. Gérard’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, GQ, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, and in many other publications. He has also worked for clients such as Nike, IBM, Nordstrom, Microsoft and Renault, and has illustrated several children’s books. Jon contacted the Marlena Agency, the New York-area firm that represents the artist, to discuss a commission. After the project was accepted by the agency, Jon sent Gérard a copy of the article, and the two briefly discussed some ideas. Gérard then sent three initial concepts.

Each of the sketches effectively communicated the concept of a child escaping the security of a safe environment and beginning a journey fraught with danger and darkness. However, as the artist and designer discussed the sketches, they determined that perhaps the darkness in the drawings was a little too ominous. After the conversation,
Gérard worked on some additional ideas that communicated a sense of alienation from home and safety using a slightly different approach. In one, a teenage girl looks back over her shoulder at the home she’s leaving as she leans into the shadow of a large tree. In another, the girl stands with her suitcase in hand as she faces the unknown.

Jon agreed that both sketches captured the article’s concept and tone, and after a brief discussion, it was decided to present the first drawing to the magazine’s editors, who approved it.
Gérard then proceeded to complete the final color drawing for the article’s opening spread, as well as one smaller spot illustration that appears later in the article.

The article design and illustration won an award for Stephen Hales Creative in the American Institute of Graphic Arts (
AIGA) annual competition, and was recognized as being among the 100-best works of graphic design produced in the state of Utah during 2009. The award will be presented at the AIGA’s annual awards show and banquet in May 2010.

(All illustrations © Gérard DuBois)


Monday, December 7, 2009

What Happens When You Redesign?

The previous Tropicana package design on the left, with the abandoned new design on the right.

People who communicate visually for a living (graphic designers, art directors, creative directors) have a tendency to believe that creating a good new design for a product or a company will always increase sales and improve brand recognition. Part of the reason for this belief is that at least 75% of all the marketing pieces we’re exposed to in a day are poorly conceived and executed—think of most of the web sites you see, the TV ads on the local news, the display ads in your local newspaper or community magazine. In the same vein, most of the packages you see in your local grocery store have clearly not been designed to be “beautiful.” Those of us who learned in college how good design can improve the perception people have of products and companies naturally think that if we redesign the way a thing looks or communicates, it will be more successful. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Disappointing results from a redesign

Gatorade and Tropicana, two nationally-prominent brands, redesigned their product packages earlier this year and the percentage of sales in both cases dropped by double digits. (Tropicana has since abandoned its orange juice package redesign, and gone back to the familiar “orange with a straw” carton image.) Perception Research Services, a national consumer research company, found that new consumer package designs improve sales half the time and decrease sales half the time, for no net gain.

Are redesign risks worth the rewards?

What many marketers take away from this information is that it’s always better to stick with the status quo rather than risking something new—better to have an ugly brand that’s consistent than a well-designed brand that’s new and unfamiliar. However, the same research went further to discover what it was about the successful new packages that made them work when others failed. New designs that preserve a connection with the familiar brand, but that provide “an increase in visibility” consistently boosted sales. In other words, when a customer sees that a redesigned product or redesigned information is coming from the company they trust, but that it’s been changed in some new, intriguing way, it invites “re-examination.” They take a second look, reconsider it, and bring it again into their “consideration set.”

What’s happening in customers’ heads

For many years, companies have known that “to be unseen is to be unsold.” Even when a company’s product or service is out in the marketplace, if its image is bland or ordinary, it’s “unseen.” And even companies that won’t change a tired brand for fear of losing their familiar customer base need to be active somehow in maintaining existing customers. But to attract new customers, these companies need to walk the fine line of shaking things up enough that they get a second look from new prospects without losing their current base.

What did the research show about customers who left the brand after a redesign? The main cause of brand defection after a redesign was “confusion.” If existing customers experience brand hesitation (is this my brand?) or an inability to find the desired product or information (I can’t see what I’m looking for), they’re gone. In that moment of frustration, a customer will likely move to a safer choice—a competitor—and the switch is often permanent.

Our company’s personal experience working for clients has been consistent with these research findings. One of our clients had published a series of catalogs for many years, but the information in them was confusing and the branding was poor. The first piece we redesigned for them was a Christmas catalog that boosted their sales by double what it had been the previous year. Subsequent catalogs helped to make direct sales one of the company’s main profit centers. However, when the same client contracted with an outside web development company to create a new e-commerce web site that was designed separately from the catalogs, the percentage of Internet orders declined by nearly 20 percent in the first quarter following the launch. The problem resulted from confusion felt by customers who visited the site and couldn’t easily find what they wanted.

A great way to grow the brand, if you’re careful

Because of its potential to help increase the customer base, a redesign—of a corporate logo, a package, a web site, a catalog, or another marketing piece—can be a valuable part of a company’s growth strategy. However, it needs to be undertaken carefully and under the guidance of experts who not only understand good design, but who understand the company’s audiences and their preferences.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Recent Photo Commissions

We work regularly with a number of photographers, and here are some of the photos they’ve taken for us in the last month or so. The image above is from a series of illustrations we created for a client who is promoting a new service targeted at franchises. We've written three “graphic novels” that feature stories about a company that grooms goldfish. The paper sculptures that accompany the text were created by our designers and later photographed by Brad Slade. Brad is a master at lighting, and always a pleasure to work with. Here’s another of his photos from the series:

Another photographer we enjoy working with is Jed Wells, who has recently done some still photos and some cinematography for us. Here are two images he shot for separate clients. The first photo is for a Utah Valley fruit cooperative that’s selling peaches in Arizona, and the photo will appear on billboards and in-store displays. The second photo is on the cover of a brochure we designed for Springville City, which was used at the dedication of their beautiful new civic center.

The Civic Center photo was composed from images taken over a couple of hours on the Saturday night before the dedication. Instead of just presenting the brick-and-mortar building, the photo does a great job of representing the idea that valuable service emanates from this busy place—which is exactly what we were looking for.

We created the final photograph below for the BYU Marriott School of Management alumni magazine, which we design. It features Matt Owen, director of the Internal Audit Group at the Walt Disney Company and a Marriott School graduate. It was taken at Disney's headquarters in Southern California. Alicia Packard was the photographer, and Matt Davis from our office helped with location scouting and direction.

Photography continues to be an important part of the work we’re doing for clients, and associating with great photographers to create meaningful images is a very satisfying part of the job for us and for our client contacts as well.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Them’s Good Lookin’ Cherries

Here’s one package in a series we’re creating for our client Cherries by Nature. Earlier this year we were involved in naming the company and creating its brand. The package-pouches are now being manufactured in China. After they’re completed, they’ll be filled with cherries grown here in Utah County and sold in Costco stores around the nation. Get yours beginning in November, but hurry. Only a quarter-million are being produced this season, and they're expected to go fast.

The package is a flat-bottomed pouch with a clear window in front and a resealable closure. We’re positioning this product as a premium quality/higher price item. The design is simple and elegant, with a creamy warm background tone that matches the color of the yogurt covered cherries inside. Jon Woidka was the senior designer on this project.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rate This Copy, Please.

We’re working on a new capabilities brochure for our company and I’ve been thinking about the tone so many agencies use in their own literature. I can’t stomach it, mostly. At this point in our company history, I don’t think we want to be the latest, greatest, hippest thing that all the beautiful people are talking about. So instead of trying to pitch ourselves as the agency every client wants, I thought maybe our brochure should be a filter to help potential clients decide if we’re a good fit for them. Now I’m wondering if the brochure’s a little too pretentious. If anyone has a thought, I’d welcome it. What follows is the proposed copy.


At Stephen Hales Creative, we’re not for everybody.
But for some, we’re ideal.

(Body copy)
Do you remember the “first day of school talk” your teacher used to give? It always had that stern “this won’t be easy” flavor.

It wiped the smirk from the faces of the goof-offs and caused the good students to brace themselves for the terrain ahead. Then, after things got started, you found that the teacher was actually pretty nice and things weren’t nearly as bad as they sounded in that talk. Well, inside this brochure is an arrogant sort of “first day of school talk” designed to get most of the people who read it to flee.

Stephen Hales Creative is a small company by choice. That doesn’t mean we don’t work for some very large organizations. (At least three of our clients are $100 million plus in annual revenues.) It just means that we have to be selective about the clients we serve. We’re definitely not for everybody, but we are ideally suited for some. This brochure has been created to help you decide if you’re one of them.

So, please answer a few questions:

1. Would you recognize a good promotional effort for your company if you saw it?

If you know a sound strategy when one is presented and you can tell if the creative execution matches the strategy, we can work well together. We appreciate clients with a record of successful marketing projects, because they generally know from experience if what we propose will work or not.

There are some great companies out there who don’t know what they need. That’s part of why you call an agency, after all—“Help us! We’re confused!” We’ve found that some of these companies wonder in their secret hearts if anybody else really knows what they need, either. What these companies often require is the assurance of a large, trusted agency telling them what to do. Their comfort level comes not necessarily from the quality of the work, but by the size and respectability of the agency producing it. We wish these clients well as we withdraw our name from consideration. We’re definitely not a large agency, and the jury’s still out regarding our respectability.

2. You want your promotional efforts to increase sales, but how important is it that they also add something valuable to the world?

At some companies, a sales increase is the only goal of advertising. There’s a good argument to be made that in business, as long as your profits are strong, nothing else matters much. If you believe this, there are many agencies that share your view and would welcome your account. We’re not one of them.

We think that there are already too many loud, garish, soul-snuffing promotional efforts out there. We’re seeking clients who believe that successful advertising not only increases sales, but also raises the level of discourse in the marketplace. These companies create communications that add something thoughtful, inspiring, or clever that the world didn’t have before. These are the companies we’re out to serve.

3. Are you looking to save money?

The fact is—we are substantially less expensive than big advertising agencies or design studios. We’ve consciously located our company in an area that has a lower-than-average cost of living, and we believe we can give you nationally-competitive work for prices that are much lower than what you might pay elsewhere.

That said, if one of your major objectives is saving money, you may still want to look at other agencies. We’ve found that clients who are narrowly focused on costs are miserable to work with. We pride ourselves on being fair in our pricing and transparent in the way we bill. We believe our costs are easily justified by the return on investment. No one wins, however, if the agency is constantly under pressure to reduce prices, to justify invoices, to nit-pick over expenses. We are well worth the fees we charge. If you’re looking for top quality work and you’re willing to pay for it, choose us, and be pleasantly surprised by the prices. If you’re under funded and you need to scrimp, please choose a cheaper agency.

4. What’s your expectation of service?

One former client used us on some projects and a New York agency on others. Whenever she flew into New York, she was picked up in a limo and driven to a posh hotel, all covered by the agency. In contrast, when she visited our office, we offered her a can of Diet Coke.

In our own fashion, we think we gave her good service. We were constantly on top of her projects. Her account manager was always available, and she could talk to any of us whenever she wanted. Her projects were all completed on time, and the billing was prompt. We’re friendly folks, and very responsible when it comes to giving clients what they need. It’s just that in addition to getting great work, there aren’t that many perks when you choose us. (However, if you prefer something other than Diet Coke, just let us know, and we’ll find you whatever.)

5. Will you be OK without the “brand-building-equity-commitment-benchmark-depth-and-breadth-of-awareness” talk that other agencies give you in the pitch?

A common approach among larger agencies is to introduce new clients to the company’s collective expertise with intense discussions about “brand equity commitment benchmark impulse analysis strategic focus differentiation . . . (you get the idea).” It’s true that building a brand is serious business, and there’s a great deal of savvy that goes into it. We think we understand those principles better than most, and a big part of our business is developing solid brand models for our clients. However, we make almost no effort to impress people with how much we know. So, if you judge the qualifications of your agency by the lingo that’s hurled about, we’d best take our qualitative emotional epicenters and leave.

Page 14, and you’re still reading? Impressive. Here are some of the services Stephen Hales Creative provides.


Our design specialties include corporate identity programs (logos), packaging, print collateral, publication and catalog design, signage, tradeshow and exhibit design, invitations and other promotional materials. Our graphic design work has been recognized in some of America’s leading competitions. We approach our design projects the same way we approach all our projects—with a clear understanding of the communication problems involved. After we get that down, we just let ourselves go nuts.


We help clients develop a brand model that articulates for everyone in the organization who they are, what they do and who they serve. With this understanding, all of the marketing efforts and materials are built to consistently reflect the brand experience. Ads, brochures, signage, environments, mailers and Web sites are all ways that customers interact with companies and experience the brand. When that interaction is rewarding—when it helps customers meet their needs—the brand is strengthened. We keep that interaction in mind with all we do.


The advertising campaigns we build are based on a solid strategic foundation, and executed with creative aplomb. Every campaign is different, but we combine our skills in media planning, marketing strategy, account coordination, art direction, copywriting, interactive development, and print/ broadcast production to help our clients build profitable, lasting relationships with their customers.


We create magazines, catalogs, books, and other publications for our clients. We have a unique expertise in custom publishing, where we create magazines with content designed specifically for a client organization. Our publishing services include writing, art direction, illustration, photography, production, printing, design of companion Web sites and distribution.

Stephen Hales Creative, Inc. is not the right marketing partner for every company, but for some, we’re ideal. If you think we might be a good fit, let’s talk in person. Call Stephen Hales at 801.373.8888, or send an email to stephen(at)

View our online portfolio at

©2009 Stephen Hales Creative, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We’re In Again (SHC is in Print Magazine’s 2009 Annual)

Print Magazine, one of the world’s top international design publications, is featuring our work for LDS Living in their US Regional Design Annual for 2009. This is our third inclusion in the publication, which annually recognizes the top design firms in America. The magazine featuring our work should be out sometime later this fall.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

SHC Wins Three in AIGA 100

Last Saturday night, Stephen Hales Creative, Inc. was recognized with three Awards of Merit at the AIGA 100 Show banquet in Salt Lake City. This juried competition, sponsored by the Salt Lake City chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, showcases the 100 best works of graphic design created in the state during the previous year. The awards were presented for three different editorial spreads we created for LDS Living magazine, and which were designed by Kelly Nield and Jon Woidka, our senior designers. 

We were the only design firm in Utah Valley to receive recognition in the show. The in-house publications group at BYU and UVU received awards for some of their outstanding work, and I noticed that six of my former students from the History of Graphic Design class I teach at BYU were also presented with awards for their designs entered in the student category.