Category Archives: Design

Will 2021 be Sunny or Gray?

The brilliant ambivalence of Pantone’s Color(s) of the Year.

It’s definitely been a dark 2020. With the pandemic casting a pall over everything, so many of us are looking to turn the page in 2021. We want to get back to normal, back to work, back to optimism. We want the gray clouds to part and the sun to shine brightly on tomorrow. 

There is good reason to expect better in 2021. Most notably, Operation Warp Speed has delivered a couple of vaccines that promise to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror in the next couple of months. Still, the specter of uncertainty lingers. Businesses are having difficulty forecasting the future. What will 2021 actually look like? Should we be optimistic? Pessimistic? Neutral?

Pantone’s Color(s) of the Year

It seems that the people who forecast color trends share this ambivalence.

For the past two decades, industrial color giant Pantone has pronounced their Color(s) of the Year. These are the colors that they believe are trending in fashion, graphic design, make-up, etc.

For the very first time, The Panatone Color Institute has chosen a “neutral” shade as one of their Color(s) of the YearUltimate Grey. However, they are also hedging their bets toward a more optimistic and brighter tomorrow with Illuminating a vibrant yellow.

“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminatingexpresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel and encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.” 

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute 

I get it. These colors say, “we know times are tough, but they’re going to be better.” 

Color speaks to the human heart. The bright promises of Spring’s bloom. The glowing warmth of a lingering sunset. The still and purity of a fresh snowfall. The sublime mirror of a blue sky and bluer ocean. The language of color is as human as any other. Ultimate Gray and Illuminating speak to our moment, which is both grim and hopeful. 

I’m embracing a sunny forecast for 2021.

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Hearing Is Believing

Using sound to enhance visual communication.

Today’s technology helps designers produce sophisticated communication products—videos, animations, podcasts, animated slideshows, etc. This digital content often includes sound elements like voice, music and other effects. Understanding the ways sound affects “how we see” is becoming increasingly important.

A brief demonstration.

Here we see how a small click inserted at the right moment transforms two identical animations. This illustrates the powerful ways sound changes visual interpretations. 

This little video helps illustrate the way our brains enhance vision when sound is added. The extra information provided by the click sound tells us more about what is going on, changing what we think we are seeing.  

Science on this subject is focused on neurocognitive responses and the way our brains integrate information—how we use all of our senses to give us a more complete picture of reality. Sound and vision can work together to enhance that picture. Or, they can confuse us, distorting our view of reality.

While the science interesting, it doesn’t directly lead to practical solutions. My task as a designer is to create effective, understandable communication. I find the following simple concepts help me build better sound into my work:

  • No sound is better than bad sound. 
  • Don’t add confusion or distraction.
  • Sound quality must match image quality.
  • Consider how end users will hear/see your design.
  • Design for multiple platforms.
  • Sound and images must align to create a whole.
  • Allow time to be precise when adding sound to projects.
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Negative space is a positive thing.


Personal space, office space, open space, dead space, green space, storage space, outer space. We all need space.

As a graphic designer, there’s one kind of space that often gets a bad rap – that’s negative space, or the space that surrounds a subject or focus of a design. Many clients are uncomfortable with negative space or feel it is wasteful and cannot resist the urge to fill it. But negative space truly is a positive thing. Let’s explore why.

People shouldn’t have to work hard to absorb content. One of the most common complaints from clients is that employees don’t read. One way to engage employees is to make it easy for them to absorb content and compel them to read. That means making the composition of the content balanced, visually appealing, minimizing copy and enhancing content with visuals that support or explain the subject matter. In other words, eliminate the feeling of chaos.

If you have a lot of content that needs to be conveyed, consider the following:

  • Determine what is truly necessary.Stick to the top three things you want people to remember or take action on. As a communicator, you are a subject matter expert, so you have the full picture and its details in your head. But most often, people don’t need all of that detail.
  • Layer information.That means focus on the top three things, then provide direction to where more information can be found. This will keep your abstract thinkers happy as they typically don’t want all the details and keep your concrete thinkers satisfied because they can access more detail.
  • Incorporate visuals that offer meaning and provide a “break.” Leverage visuals, such as photographs, icons and infographics that provide a break from all of the words and enhance the meaning of the content. This is especially important given 65% of the population are visual learners!
  • Use negative space effectively.As covered earlier, negative space is your friend and will help keep people engaged and make content scannable.

Granted, there may be situations where you can’t get around dense content, like legal notices. But even then, hierarchy is everything and can create a positive experience for the reader that truly wants to find specific content or read all of the content.

You see, negative space IS a positive thing!

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The Disneyfication of Work

Can employee experience transform the workplace into a totally immersive WorkWorld?

The experience starts when this package arrives at your house.

When Disney was developing the MagicBand, they faced plenty of design challenges. One challenge in particular was what the MagicBand readers at each ride’s access point would look like.

The team designing the MagicBand system wanted a waist-high, modern-looking stand featuring the outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. To access a ride, a park guest would touch the Mickey on their MagicBand to the Mickey on the reader. If the reader’s Mickey glowed green, the guest could enter the ride. If it glowed blue, the guest would need assistance. (Using a red light was a no-no.)  

The “Mickey to Mickey” access points were elegant and intuitive, and the uniform design of the readers ensured guests would recognize them no matter where they encountered them in the park.

Debate to Excellence

Reportedly, Disney’s Imagineers weren’t happy with this solution. The Imagineers are the creative powerhouses responsible for the design and construction of the company’s theme parks. They argued that the MagicBand readers would disrupt the immersive experience of each attraction. The shiny, high-tech scanners might fit in well at Space Mountain, but would you really expect to find such a thing on the grounds of an ancient, haunted mansion?

These were two valid but competing perspectives on what would deliver the right experience for guests.

If you’re doing employee experience right at your organization, these are probably the kinds of debates you’ll be having.

Link the Employee Experience to Business Goals

Disney invested $1 billion in MagicBands because they wanted park guests spending less time waiting in line and more time buying and creating memories. 

What do you want employees to do less and/or more of and how does the experience of working at your organization contribute to or inhibit that? 

While “employee experience” may seem like a new and trendy topic, recognizing the business value of a good employee experience is not.

Way back in 1995, the Harvard Business Review published an article called Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work. In it, the authors wrote: 

Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. Employee satisfaction, in turn, results primarily from high-quality support services and policies that enable employees to deliver results to customers.

The Service-Profit Chain

Support services & policiesSatisfied, loyal, productive employeesCustomer ValueCustomer SatisfactionCustomer LoyaltyProfit & Growth

They went on to say that the “internal quality of a working environment contributes most to employee satisfaction. Internal quality is measured by the feelings that employees have toward their jobs, colleagues, and companies … Internal quality is also characterized by the attitudes that people have toward one another and the way people serve each other inside the organization.”

A growing number of organizations are tapping the proven ROI of a better employee experience. But, at the moment, few companies can claim an advantage in this area. In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, 2017), Jacob Morgan classifies just six percent of the companies he analyzed as “experiential.” This means there’s an opportunity for you to help set your organization apart … Now, if you can just figure out whether your employee badge readers should be shiny and modern or dusty and cobwebbed …

By the way, the MagicBand designers and the Imagineers ultimately arrived at a compromise. The readers would have both consistent features, like the Mickey icon, as well as thematic elements to help them blend in with each attraction. 

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