September 6, 2017No Comments

Nostalgia marketing takes on Hollywood

One of the things I hear asked a lot as a designer is "what's the next big thing?" Clients, account teams, and fellow designers all want to be a part of the next big trend or, when possible, want to influence the next big trend. It makes sense of course. No one in an the marketing/ad agency industry wants to be considered stale or behind the times. But sometimes in order to go forward we have to go back. Nostalgia marketing taps into that.

Nostalgia design and marketing never really go out of style. At any given time one brand or another is running a campaign tapping in the power of nostalgia. Why? Because Nostalgia makes us feel good. It takes us back to a time that we have positive associations with. And if done correctly, it allows brands to tap into the trust of the consumer.

So here's the thing: I am guilty of being sucked in by good nostalgia marketing this year. And it has been female celebrities that have been the biggest culprits. Let's take a look at some of the best nostalgia design/marketing so far in 2017.

Highs in the 80s

Atomic Blonde Poster

Atomic Blonde Poster

This year Charlize Theron blew up the office with her hit film Atomic Blonde. (See what i did there?) Being a child of the 80s the film and design has resonated with me the most. Everything from the styling of the main character, to colors and type treatments, to the music choice in the first online trailers, captured the feeling of the 80s. Even before I knew the setting of the movie is in Berlin 1989, I was already drawn in by the nostalgia created by the marketing materials.

From the first time I saw the theatrical poster, I was immediately pulled in. The neon colors, the graffiti background and the styling of the typeface resonated with me. My interest was piqued before I even knew what the film was about. This in term made me checkout the online trailer. The music selected immediately brought me back to my love for 80s action films. I must have watched the trailer 4 times in a row, each time getting more and more hyped for the film, but also enjoying the emotional high that it created. And then at the end of the trailer: then animation of the film title. The graffiti paint. The neon lights. I was hooked.

The marketing materials for Atomic Blonde did what nostalgia marketing is supposed to do: invoke positive memories and gained my trust in the brand. Even without knowing anything about the film, I was ready to purchase tickets, download the soundtrack, recommend it to friends, whatever, as long as I got to be a part of this marketing experience. Well played Ms. Theron and team. Well played.

Greased Lighting in a Bottle

Miley Cyrus Younger Now

Miley Cyrus Younger Now

Ok so not technically Hollywood but very Hollywood adjacent.

Miley Cyrus has said recently that she is trying to tone done her previous pop image in order to try and appeal to more conservative music listeners. Take one look at her new album cover, and it's clear she's trying to tap into the nostalgia of the 50s. This may not be a bad move as many Repuplicans fondly remember the 50s as a time when the economy (and babies) were booming, men still wore suits to work, the U.S. wasn't at war, and family values were strong. I mean if you were a heterosexual, white male, it was a good time to be alive (said with much sarcasm).

However, Ms. Cyrus isn't necessarily tapping into the wholesome, poodle skirt, soda shop vibe of the 50s. The leather jacket and pants combined with the shot of her from behind, and her greaser hair styling harken more to the sexy vibe reminiscent of films like Grease and Rebel Without a Cause. Still the sex is toned down when compared with her previous work.

The vibrant colors give a sense of youthfulness, while still managing to feel vintage. The detailing on the outfit is reminiscent of early country music costumes (think rhinestone cowboy). The handling of the album begs to be compared with the logo treatment for Grease.

Overall, Miley Cyrus is hitting all the right nostalgia notes.

Big Reels Keep on Turning

Proud Mary promotional art

Proud Mary promotional art

This next entry decides to not even try and be subtle in its use of nostalgia marketing. The film: Proud Mary starring Taraji P. Henson. Bam, right off the bat they hit you with that title. The film takes it's name from the iconic Tina Turner cover of the 70's. A fact made more obvious once you watch the movie's trailer.

Then there's the movie poster. The silhouette of the femme fatale, surrounded by hues of orange and gold, while piercing through the delicate font curls from the film title. You can't help but look at it and think of the iconic Pam Grier in Foxy Brown.

After seeing this design, you better believe I was strolling to Proud Mary on my work commute.

So of course I'm thinking, "Ok this is going to be a kickass superheroine adventure set against the backdrop of the 70s." Well not entirely. After reading more about the film's synopsis, turns out this film takes place in modern day.

That's right. This sleek and sexy nostalgia marketing lured me in with it's 70s inspired promise, and didn't even have the decency to buy me popcorn first. But hey if Taraji P. Henson is the lead, how can I refuse?

February 24, 2015No Comments

2015 digital marketing conference picks

To be a graphic designer in the digital marketing arena, is to be in an industry of constant change. New technologies, new trends and new ways of communication are constantly introduced. In order to stay relevant, it is important to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. One of my favorite ways of doing this is by attending digital marketing conferences. In my experience, digital marketing conferences are a much more engaging, and many times a more cost-effective, way to continue design and marketing education. Digital marketing conferences offer other benefits such as:

  • Discussing common issues in your field
  • Learning new skills and techniques
  • Growing your network of peers to enhance your professional knowledge base
  • Discovering new technologies
  • Getting out from behind your computer screen and engaging in social interaction
  • Rekindling your passion for design and marketing

There are dozens of digital marketing conferences offered every year. While I would like to attend as many as possible, unfortunately a little thing called a job gets in the way. Were time and money not an obstacle, I would attend the following digital marketing conference in 2015.

Summit. The Digital Marketing Conference

When: March 9-13, 2015
Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
Summary: Reinvention is a journey. Continue yours at Summit. The digital landscape is changing and marketers need to reinvent themselves and their strategies to succeed. Join over 5,000 marketing leaders at Adobe Summit to explore the latest trends, ideas, and best practices for getting better results from your digital experiences.

Click Z Live New York

When: March 30-April 1, 2015
Where: New York, New York
Summary: With over 15 years of experience delivering the most cutting edge digital marketing events around the world, ClickZ Live (formerly SES Conference & Expo) provides an unrivalled forum to hear from world-renowned speakers as they deliver an action packed, educationally focused agenda on the latest digital marketing tips, tricks and tools that will blow your mind, make you re-think your strategy and provide actionable takeaways to revolutionize your marketing campaign.

An Event Apart

When: May 11-13, 2015
Where: Boston, Massachusetts
Summary: The design conference for people who make websites. An Event Apart Boston is an intensely educational learning session for passionate practitioners of standards-based web design. If you care about code as well as content, usability as well as design, An Event Apart is the conference you’ve been waiting for.

SmashingConf New York 2015

When: June 15-18, 2015
Where: New York, New York
Summary: After the great success of last year’s New York conference, we’re bringing the SmashingConf back to the Big Apple. The rules haven’t changed: “2 days, one track, 18 brilliant speakers, and hands-on, practical and useful talks.” As always we have phenomenal speakers lined up.

Inbound 2015

When: September 8-11, 2015
Where: Boston, Massachusetts
Summary: INBOUND fuels the passion that drives the most innovative and successful business leaders of our time. INBOUND's purpose is to provide the inspiration, education, and connections you need to transform your business. This September, we will host thousands of marketing and sales professionals from almost every industry imaginable and from all corners of the globe at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. In 2014, we had 10,000+ attendees from all around the world and we're excited to be bigger than ever this year.

July 31, 2014No Comments

Flixel, cheap razors and more design inspirations

As graphic designers, it's important to know what's going on in our field. We have to keep current on new technologies, inventive campaigns and creative trends. Design inspiration is everywhere, and below are my creative picks for what inspired me this month.


I never thought I'd give America's Next Top Model credit for design inspiration. However, on cycle 20 of the show, Ms. Banks introduced Flixel as the new medium for showcasing the model's photograph. Flixels are credited as a new medium for "living photography." Essentially by using the Cinemegraph tool, you take footage of your subject as they pose with moving elements in the background. You then, highlight the still from the footage that you think is your best shot. Once your still is selected, you mask out the area that you want to see movement and let the footage keep playing in the background. The final product is then exported as an animated GIF or movie file. Flixels are meant to show subtle movements within still photograph.

Currently Flixels are used primarily on social media platforms like Tumblr and Instagram or for digital displays. I'm excited to try it out and see if this medium could be incorporated into online marketing materials such as banner ads or landing pages. Tyra Banks, thank you for this design inspiration.

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club caught my attention several months ago. As with most marketing, timing is everything. I happened to be in the market for an affordable, quality razor and this just happened to pop up in my social media feed. After clicking the link, I was immediately drawn into the product by the clever marketing and design from the company.

First there's the design of the website. The website gives a feeling of masculinity and playfulness, but also alludes to the era of old school barber shops. The site also has fun with typography, utilizing various fonts and hierarchy. The colors are vibrant and inviting, giving additional life to the page.

From an online marketing standpoint, this site has a lot going for it. It's responsive which allows users to have a similar experience across platforms. It leads with a promotional video, that customers can share through social media. As research has shown, consumers enjoy watching online video ads and engaging with them (and I was no exception). The call to action for the site is bold and clear. The navigation is simple and prominent, providing a clean user experience, while also cross-promoting the additional products. The primary product is clearly showcased. An incentive referral program is mentioned to drive action. And finally, the site establishes legitimacy by showcasing the media outlets that have featured the product.

This brand has a lot going for it: great design, marketing through multiple media channels, and creating a dialogue with its audience. Not only did Dollar Shave club offer me design inspiration, but they also converted me into a satisfied customer.

WebVisions Chicago Conference Website

I'm a sucker for a simple design aesthetic. Some might take that as an insult. However, I think it's a high compliment. As my mama used to say, it takes a lot of work to make something look simple. The layout and design for the WebVisions Chicago Conference website is no exception. I love the use of typography, flat graphics and neutral color palette. I'm not overwhelmed by content or flashy imagery. It's a quick, scannable read that let's me know what it is, when it is, and where to get more information. Sometimes as designers, we get sucked into a head space that everything needs bells and whistles. This is a great example of how all you need is good hierarchy, typography and a sense of balance to create a nice design.

Web Design Ledger: 20 Webdesign Infographics

Infographics have become increasingly popular over the past year. They present complex information in a quick, clear and scannable way. WDL recently compiled a list of 20 Webdesign infogrpahics, which offer great design inspiration. Each infographic design is unique and uses both flat and photo-realistic elements. Warning: there are 20 examples, so you may want to grab a cup of coffee and donut as you take it all in.

This month what helped drive your design inspiration?

February 25, 2014No Comments

Lessons learned from 10 years in design

Birthdays. A reminder that another year has gone by, and you are another year older. If you're like me, your birthday is a time for reflecting on the events of previous years and contemplating the things you hope to accomplish in the coming year. As I thought about my 32nd birthday, I realized it has been 10 years since I first set out on my career path as a graphic designer. Wow a decade in the design industry. It's been a very fun, and at times trying, ride. The lessons I've learned and the experiences I've had, have made it all worthwhile.

With 10 years under my belt, I thought I might share some of the insights I've learned along the way.

Critique is not criticism
As a designer, you learn that everyone has an opinion of your work. While this can at times be frustrating, one of the best lessons I learned was how to take critique. When you've spent hours crafting a design for a client, you can get a little too close to your work to be objective. Allowing feedback from others gives you a fresh perspective on your work, and possibly leads to design solutions you hadn't thought of. Listen without ego, and use critique to help better your work. I believe that the difference between critique and criticism, is that critique analyzes a project and offers solutions to any potential challenges, while criticism is personal opinion focused on a perceived negative element without offering solutions. As a designer, it is good to know the difference so that you can effectively give and receive good critique.

Don't get lost in translation
When dealing with clients, one of the hats you wear is that of interpreter. It's up to you to interpret their ideas and give them life. And let's be honest, there will be times when you feel like they are speaking another language. Knowing how to communicate is essential. A designer has to know how to interpret what the client is asking for and in turn communicate that back to the client. There will be times when they say they want green when they mean teal. Modern when they mean conservative. And it's up to you to decipher all of this and present a complete and compelling design solution.

Play well with others
A graphic designer is never an island. Throughout your career you will work with others. This includes developers, printers, clients, creative directors, and production artists to name a few. Even as a freelance designer, you will find yourself engaging with people. It is in your best interest to know how to work well with others. No one enjoys working with a diva. All it takes is a bad review from a client or vendor, and your reputation is in danger. Do yourself a favor, and keep your mouth (and ego) in check. Think first before a sarcastic remark or aggressive tone comes out of your mouth or through an email. People do business with people they know and get along with. Even though you may be the most talented designer in the city, no one will work with you if there's a perception of being a difficult designer.

Stay relevant
Technology, styles and trends are constantly changing. In order to have a long career in the design industry, you need to be aware of the things impacting your field. Stay up-to-date on current design events and trends. Engage with other creatives in your field. Go to seminars or enroll in a class. Get out of your comfort zone and learn a new technique. You want to be relevant in order to be competitive. Because that 20-something your company just hired is gunning for your job (I know because I was that 20 something lol). While experience is always important, if you can't speak to what's happening now, you'll find yourself left behind.

Always be ready for inspiration
Every designer has their own unique style of design. As you continue to gain experience, it's easy to rely on the same bag of tricks over and over again. While I encourage every designer to develop their own aesthetic, keep your eyes open and allow new inspiration to challenge you. Don't fall into a pattern of complacency. Pick up that square peg and find a new way of fitting it into that round hole. After all, at our core we are artists. And one of the best parts of being an artist is seeing the world in a different way than it is presented.

Now that my first 10 years in design are behind me, I'm excited to see what the next 10 has in store. After all, I plan to still be in my 30's by then.

What lessons have you learned from years of experience in your field? Are you still inspired?

November 13, 2013No Comments

10 reasons to be a graphic designer

I remember when I was selecting my career path for college, my mother asking me "why a graphic designer?" At the time, I knew that I enjoyed expressing myself creatively. I had also always been fascinated by how design creates reaction in people. Whether through packaging, commercials, print, interactive, etc. I love how design impacts an audience. I don't think this rationale was enough to convince her that this was the best career move. But like any good mother, she encouraged my passion.

Through the first decade of my career, I can say that being a graphic designer has truly been my passion. Like any career one can choose, I believe you should work in a field that inspires you. We spend a third of our day working. Why not do something that fulfills you?

Below are 10 reasons why I enjoy being a graphic designer. If you are considering a field in graphic design, hopefully these speak to you as well.

1.) Creative expression
Graphic design allows me to express myself creatively. As a graphic designer, you are paid to create for your client. While the client may have an idea, it is you the designer who brings that idea to life through your creativity. A graphic designer does what others can't: give creative breath to the unrealized thought.

2.) Bringing order and structure to the abstract
As a graphic designer, you are the architect of the idea you are trying to express. Whether it's a developed idea or chicken scratch on a cocktail napkin, you are the one who makes interprets the chaos. Graphic designers bring hierarchy, layout and form to an otherwise intangible idea. That "random" swoosh of yellow across the background? You know that it's all part of the bigger picture.

3.) Variety of projects
Today, graphic designers are seldom broken up into categories such as print or interactive. Graphic designers have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects from web design to print to video and everything in between. Sure you can always specialize in a certain field. However, I have found in my career that being able to work within a variety of mediums is a crucial part to success.

4.) Location, location, location
Graphic designers work from almost anywhere as long as they have a computer and the necessary design programs. This flexibility to work from home or on site is a huge perk compared to other desk jobs.

5.) Freelance on demand
Graphic design is a field that has large demand for freelance talent. For those who don't want a regular 9 to 5 or who need additional side money, freelance opportunities are a great fit. Generally you can find clients who can work within your schedule and location. While it can be competitive, it's still a great perk for graphic designers.

6.) You are your product
You are always selling yourself, as a graphic designer. Whether its freelance or a full-time job, you are a product that a client needs. It's important you know how to market yourself. After all who knows you better than you? Which brings me to networking and reviews. Even the most introverted designer needs to know how to network with others. It's also important to get any testimonials, awards, press, etc. up on your website or social media outlets. While you work can speak for itself, it never hurts to have support to back it up.

7.) Communication interpreter
One of the fun things about graphic design is that you are creating a design that communicates to an audience. Yes, copywriters provide content. A graphic designer gives that content form and style to create a reaction. The power to communicate through design to an audience is an incredible experience.

8.) Numerous fields of employment
There are many fields you can go into as a graphic designer. Obvious one's include design studios and ad agencies. But think outside of the box and consider industries such as:

  • Direct marketing
  • Non-profit
  • Marketing
  • Film
  • Financial
  • Education
  • News
  • Packaging
  • Etc.

9.) Collaboration and experience
Most designers will tell you that, even if you work for yourself, being a graphic designer requires collaboration. Collaboration can be a great thing, as it allows you to gain insight and perspective around projects. Occasionally, a designer can get too attached to their project and this outside collaboration can help improve your design. It also allows you to develop your skills and learn from other experienced designers.

10.) I live, breathe, eat design
Earlier I spoke about having passion for what you do. For a successful graphic designer, you should eat, breathe and live for good design. Whether its stunning typography on a billboard, the packaging your dog food comes in, an impactful PSA, or anything in between, enjoy the inspiration around you. Look for ways to incorporate design you see in one medium into a different one. Sometimes just looking at the pattern of a marble sidewalk can spark a creative design approach.

Graphic design is a great career choice for creative people that want to express themselves. But don't get into it thinking it's all Nike swooshes and luxury automobile campaigns. Those may come along, but get into design because its something you can't live without.

August 21, 2013No Comments

Design for direct marketing – it’s all about strategy.

Recently a fellow designer asked me, what is the difference between designing for a direct marketing agency versus a design house or ad agency? I have to be honest it was something I hadn't really thought about. After all, the fundamental elements of design don't actually change from industry to industry. As we continued our conversation, it occurred to me that the main difference is in the strategy of the design.

As an Interactive Art Director for a direct marketing agency, my design now centers heavily on strategy. While I always want to create things that are aesthetically pleasing, my primary objective is to make sure that my design delivers the strategy behind it. This requires me to consider things like:

  • How will this design work across multiple channels?
  • Who is my target audience?
  • How will this standout from other communications?
  • How will this drive a call-to-action?

Since direct marketing is based on measurable results, the creative has to work hard to drive engagement. The infographic below highlights a few tips to keep in the back of your mind when working on direct marketing projects.

Design strategy for direct marketing

12 Brilliant Direct Marketing Pieces You Have to See | Design Shack

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© Justin Herren 2022 | Creative strategist + design lead