Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pictures from Hurricane Ike

You can donate here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

6 Sites Proving Color Is Not Dead

Color usage on the web is commonly compromised and subdued. Using vibrancy and high-contrast in a site design are usually difficult for many clients to be willing to take as risks. Here are six sites which stand out as exceptional examples of the chromatic making a bold and strong statement about their brands. 

Refresh the Triangle


Alisa MTV Russia

Matt Mullenweg

Friday, September 12, 2008

PPMG Announces New UK Design Service

Perfect Pixels Media Group announced today that they are opening a design and production service focused specifically on businesses in the United Kingdom that are looking to cut costs while not compromising quality. Taking advantage of the weak US dollar, UK companies can now partner with an overseas high-end design studio that is still culturally British in style and tone. Mark Knight of Broadgate PR in London put it this way, "Its like champagne quality at beer prices".

We save costs by utilizing overseas resources in the US making it essentially half-priced. Though based across the pond, our founders are from the London design scene, so we are able to create a branded, user-centered design experience bespoken to the style, sensibilities and substance that is uniquely British. PPMG experience includes top UK brands such as Virgin, Alexander McQueen, BetFair, The National Lottery and Landor.

With the success of our pilot programme providing Information Architecture, Branding and Interface Design for Trusted Places, we are now ready to roll it out to the public. The new Trusted Places design is set to launch later this fall.

A new site and call number are now available for our UK clients:
020 7193 1921

For inquiries, you can reach us at

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Working in a Virtual Team (Part Two: Remote Resource Management)

Happy Designers makes for happy clients and even happier PMs. When working in a remote studio situation it is important that the Designer’s personality is taken into consideration just as much as his style and skill set when assigning projects. It is also imperative that the Project Manager knows the capabilities, speed, and expertise of each of her reports. Appropriate designer assignment should have input from the Art Director, but the PM must make sure that the job gets done on time so assigning deliverables based on style can’t be the only consideration. The PM’s job becomes easier the longer she works with designers because she knows what to expect in terms of quality and timeliness. She can then meet their needs while managing the other aspects of the project. Her available pool of designers may also become smaller if designers aren’t up to delivering in a virtual studio environment. A PM can’t afford to have designers on her crew who do not deliver quality work in a timely fashion. A lot of trust is involved when you can’t just walk over to someone’s machine and see what they’re working on. Talent isn’t the only critical element in choosing a virtual staff. Many designers thrive in the virtual studio paradigm but some just aren’t cut out for it. The PM will quickly learn who is a fit and who is not.

It’s important to be clear about the PM’s expectations, the project scope, and to open a dialogue with the designer. Regular check-ins, input, and follow-ups are a good idea. It’s also helpful to have your designers on IM when they are on their machines just in case there are some quick questions or an emergency. Regularly scheduled phone or Skype calls are also helpful. Complex projects may require calls to the designer several times a day. If the designer is in a different time zone, it may be required that the designer and/or the PM shift their workday for a while until the difficult portion of the project is complete. It’s important to tailor the method and frequency of the contact to meet the needs of both the project and the designer. The PM must not only stay in touch with the designers as needed for the project but also to keep the designer informed and feeling like he is meeting the correct expectations.

Team meetings are a wonderful tool when running a project and there are collaboration tools that help facilitate this (such as Campfire). Project-based team meetings make sense in the virtual paradigm but status meetings don’t. It is more cost efficient to do one-on-one’s or meet with the multiple designers assigned to a project (thus encouraging their interaction and idea sharing as well as getting everyone on the same page) rather than having the entire virtual staff sitting around listening to different project reports. In-person meetings are very valuable for team building, but the virtual work environment is not conducive to creating a company-wide team of designers.

Again virtual project management tools such as Basecamp are very helpful for collecting hours and monitoring budget and scope. It’s important to be very clear about the maximum number of hours designers can spend on a project before they start. Encourage them to stay in touch especially if they see a problem with meeting that time constraint. Communication on all levels is important. The PM must be flexible, pay attention, and hone the amount of touch and review to meet the projects’ needs and keep her designers in their comfort zone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Working in a Virtual Team (Part One: Remote Client Management)

Increasingly we have been working with remote clients and talent. Because we are international with studios in multiple locations in the United States and Europe, remote project management is a necessity. Virtual project, resource, and client management is a new paradigm that has challenges and requires a new awareness not found when working in the same location together.

Human communication is difficult face-to-face with someone you know well. Communicating via electronic means is more of a challenge. Syntax, tone, frequency, and method of communication play a larger role in the success of the project when using electronic means as your management tools. We find that we must tailor every project not only to the deliverables but also to the client and the resources involved.

A certain amount of psychology is involved:
• You must pay attention to your clients’ needs and comfort levels.
• You must know the strengths and weaknesses of your resources and assign them appropriately.
• You must recognize how often or infrequently to touch the client and in what way.
• It’s important to keep your project management feelers out and pay attention to the voice in your head/feeling in our gut that lets you know how things are going.

In fact, your emotional reactions become your biggest asset when managing virtually. The more removed the client, the more you must rely on your human instincts.

Some clients require more attention than others. Weekly reports and/or phone calls may help keep everyone on the same page. Other clients might do better with the update email and calls only when there are deliverables presented. You can’t have a one-size-fits all approach to remote project management. You must be agile, responsive, and pro-active.

There are certain tools that we use to help keep our communication efficient. Here is a short list of some that we recommend using:
Conference phone lines
  Budget Conferencing
  Concept Share
Project management
  Base Camp
Screen sharing
Video conferencing & int’l calls

Even with the advent of these online tools, we try to customize the client experience based on the client need and not just rely on them as a crutch. In summary, keep in mind the following when managing virtually a project:
• Change with the project as it changes to the benefit and with the buy-in of the client.
• Keep the clients’ best interests at the forefront of your interactions, recommendations, and deliverables.
• The ultimate success of the project – serving the financial, business, emotional, and strategic needs of the client – should be the motivating force.

This is not altruism but good business.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Brands live within us as well

The study done by Duke University found subjects that were flashed subliminally a logo had a different visceral reaction in later tests. When they were asked to do tasks later after being subliminally flashed a logo, their answers were more creative when flashed the Apple logo versus the IBM logo.

This is a fascinating look into the psyche of what we look to achieve with a strong brand. This is because the brand persona does not live within a company, but lives within its customers and those that interact with that brand.

That is why Volvo would never do it because they are a car company, if they ever sold a Volvo car seat, you don't even need to think about it- you know it would be safe. Because that is what they are all about and we as a consumer, viscerally identify with that message.

Photos from BizJam Conference


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Target Begins Mutualist Message

Target has begun a new campaign focusing on how it gives back to the community. They are now contributing 5% of their income (averages US $3 million a week) to various causes. They apparently learned their lesson from the debacle in 2004 of banning the Salvation Army from their stores; not-so-ironically one of the non-profits they are now in partnership donating to. The press they received was very destructive and I am sure this metamorphosis of giving back to communities is part of that response.

They also are focusing on creating green construction with energy efficiency, water conservation and recycling materials. They just started their campaign demonstrating their mutualist message and it is getting very positive press as well as providing a differentiation from their competitor Wal-Mart who is seen as an anathema in many communities.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Brand Presentation Part Two at BizJam

SlideShare | View

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Brand Presentation Part One at BizJam

You can also download the podcast!
Download the podcast of the presentation here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Two Biggest Pitfalls of Startups

We seem to find that our start-up clients are made up of two sorts. One where the business’ genesis was from a passion for a concept and a clear idea of what the product will be. The other is made up of those that find a hole in the marketplace or a window of opportunity but no real sense of the business itself. Either approach has advantages and disadvantages for creating a web-based business.

Startup Type One: Driven by a passion
Companies founded on passion and clear concept have most of their strategy laid out as a factor of the thought they have already put into the product and how deeply they understand their audience. The problem being is that those that have the passion, but possibly not the business acumen have trouble finding ways to monetize their business.

We have found that many of these businesses will have a great concept with a clear decision process but end up retooling when the customer growth doesn’t come. Another issue that they face is that they are too close to the concept and see themselves as the customer, sometimes missing important opportunities.

Startup Type Two: Driven by dollars
On the other hand, those who have a get-rich idea usually have the income side figured out but not necessarily a viable product. A website alone -- no matter how great the idea is -- will not make a difference to your bottom line unless it is created based on a thought-through product strategy and a significant brand promise (with supporting elements) to which customers can react.

We find that these kinds of startups can spend months moving boxes around without the intuition for which are the best ways forward, since they have no real sense of what the desired user interaction by the target audience actually is.

Getting the best of both worlds
The answer is to meld both. If you are missing a subject matter expert, hire one and make them consult throughout the branding and product development exercises. If you are missing the business acumen, hire someone that can find opportunities to monetize and grow your market. No matter the amount of fiddling, you can’t get there without both.

Ensure you have a solid base to which you can refer when there are business decisions to be made. Companies who have skipped this step always come back to it (if there is any money left) because making decisions on the basis of “that sounds like a good idea” or “people will like that” (without testing) invariably cost a lot of money to develop. This is because multiple iterations are needed to get it right or the mark is missed entirely with one big, expensive push. When there is no core strategy or focus upon which decisions are made, money is burned.

It is imperative that a start-up develop appropriate strategies that involve understanding who the target audience is and what they are all about, as well as how the company is differentiated in the competitive space. This will fuel the Brand strategy and enable the company to present the right face to the customer from the start. The brand can then be fleshed out and a visual language can be created that speaks viscerally to the customer. From the brand identity, messaging can be created to communicate the product benefit, the company ethos, and to connect deeply with the customer. The best money-making idea in the world won’t be worth a dime if your site doesn’t speak to your user. She must know what it’s about, how to use it, and want to come back.

An example of these pitfalls (but made it through the other side) was a recent client of ours, HomeSavvi. When we began working with them, they saw an opportunity to create a market for advertisers who wanted access to people looking to remodel. They had a vague sense of the tools the user would need, but not the actual decision points for what a user would require in order to use their service. The original result before they came to us was a site called Alphabet Lane with a muddled navigation and a disconnected user experience.

We worked with them to help them find the core value of their brand and to create a feature-rich user experience that could grow with their user base. The painful part was that the process to get there because they had to rename, rebrand, rearchitect, and rebuild from scratch- throwing away a very large majority of their original product. To see examples of the process HomeSavvi undertook, you can view it here:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Using Moodboards to define a brand system

When exploring a brand PPMG recommends the use of a Moodboard which will articulate the brand's visual language, how it's presented, and how it connects with the audience. It is a high-level, over-arching view, exploration and representation of the visceral impact of the brand concept. The Moodboard evokes the emotional, visceral, and user-benefit communication and brand perception elements and delivers it in a way that can be easily digested, extrapolated, and applied in real-world designs.

The Moodboard is a far more cost effective way to discover the brand's visual language than through the design process. Multiple iterations are easily implemented during Moodboard creation and finalization. True creative exploration can occur without costing thousands and thousands of dollars. The deliverable is then a baseline that is available for all subsequent design phases. It is the first step in engendering a communication system with meaning to which the user will become connected.

Moodboards follow the strategic goals of the company and provide a visual base for the identity, design, and the user experience going forward which includes:
* Hooking in the user emotionally
* Presenting the Brand value
* Presenting the message
* Creating the visual language of the company

The realized Moodboard direction can be applied to the entire suite of company communications.

Case in point:
For Alpha Graphics PPMG proposed a brand-forward approach to their website redesign. We put the emphasis on the high-touch customer relationship Alpha Graphics is known for. We extended the brand to be more customer-centric and we created a sub-brand element, Customer Alpha, that married their brand position with their name. We used the Greek alpha symbol to emphasize the direction. "Alpha" means first, so “customer alpha” means “customer first” which is Alphagraphics overarching brand position and promise. We chose this path to convey a powerful message that would distinguish AlphaGraphics as a premier printing service with unparalleled attention to its customers.

This treatment distinguishes AlphaGraphics from its competitors while reinforcing its relationship with its customers. It also speaks directly to AlphaGraphics' audience: Creative Directors, Art Directors, Marketing Directors, and major decision makers. The simplified, strong branding gets the point across that AlphaGraphics understands its audience and knows how to deliver top-quality service and printing products.

View Samples Here:
Moodboard pdf

Homepage Comp

Using an Online Experience to Simplify the Offline One

Pathable is a new startup that helps to organize and create networking opportunities for conferences and social events. The idea is that a conference or network event organizer uses Pathable for attendees to register.

The attendees can then find people with similar interests by information that appears on the person’s badge as well as browsing on the website and receiving updates on their phone while attending the event. Another feature they are now introducing is to allow organizers to post the event agenda allowing attendees to select which talks to join.

So they came to us with an interesting issue. How do you make an online experience ease the offline one? The answer is to mimic as much as possible how the offline experience works.

As research, I took pictures while attending a conference and what the current experience is. What I noticed was that it’s a very lonely experience. People naturally wanted to find people they already know to network with. They also have a crumpled piece of paper with checkmarks on it for the talks they intended to attend, normally leaving part-way through to see if they were missing something better. When you introduce yourself to someone, they immediately stare at your badge trying to assess and size you up on who you might be and what benefit you may provide.

Pathable can definitely ease these pain points, but the key being that the offline experience overlapped the online one. First, we tried to make the attendee user profile page match the style, colors and layout of the actual badge that one wears at the event. We made mini color-coded versions that were used when listing attendees on other pages to make the color system be uniform through the user experience.

The other key solution was to simplify the process of selecting which talks to attend. Conferences have them organized in different taxonomy structures- by location (room number), by subject matter (Design, Development, Marketing, etc.) or by chronological order (day and time).

It also needs to provide a significant amount of information regarding each talk aside from just the topic and room number- the bio of the speaker, who is attending, the tags associated with the specific talk as well as the subject matter category.

Our solution was to have the summary of information be available at the top level with the room number called out for easier reference when glancing at where to go next with everything else available via rollover. When you click anywhere on a listing, it will mark it for you as attended in a bold red so you can quickly see which ones you flagged. You can also filter your list to eliminate subjects that don’t apply to your interests, making the list more digestible.

The design system then had an additional hurdle- generic but identifiable branding. Sounds strange, I know. The idea was that Pathable wanted the user experience to be branded but can be white labeled for any event without conflicting with the events brand. The solution was to have the style be light on design cues (buttons, boxes, color treatments) but have a stylization that could be recognizable and ownable as Pathable’s.

Check out the comps here

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Branding Yourself

Reactee is a new site with a brilliant idea- Billboard yourself as your own brand. The idea is that you walk around wearing a shirt that advertises people to text you.

This is brilliant from several angles; Reactee allows the myspace-type narcism to extend into the real world, it enables people to make their own message about themselves and express their individuality, and lastly while it is letting one to brand oneself, it is also quite clever how Reactee is also branding themselves at the same time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Building Synergistic Business Communication Models

John Wheeler (colleague of Einstein) is quoted by Cosmic Search Magazine (Vol. 1 No. 4) as saying “No elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed (or registered) phenomenon.”

This means that unless and until the moment of observation the universe exists only as a possibility. PPMG incorporates this thinking with scenario planning in our approach to creating synergistic business communication models. By this we mean brands that are extensible, adaptive, and meaningful. We look at the uncertainties of the future and try to discover the undiscovered in the present.

Exploring uncertainty is a means by which we can create a context for what is presently thought to be known. It is an excellent tool with which we explore a wide range of possibilities for what cannot be known. Scenario planning, which is a strategic process of exploring uncertainty, challenges assumptions, identifies contingencies, anticipates changing paradigms, ignites creativity, and most importantly, identifies actionable items that make business models and communication plans vigorous and elastic.

PPMG’s process is not exhaustive by any means, but it does reveal paradigm shifts and points toward communication implications in the uncertain future. Going forward it is critical that businesses stay fluid, are aware, and frame their aspirations. We are not saying that the business ethos should be in constant flux, but rather adaptive to new trends and technologies.

We begin with the question at hand, “how will the brand become synergistic with the new, emerging communications paradigm,” and we look at the uncertainties surrounding this query. This is not a deterministic process but rather an intuitive one that is built on consensus. This process reveals the possibilities of the future and fixes them in the present. Once possibilities have context and can be described, they can then be used to form scenarios which can be evaluated with intelligence.

Our ultimate goal is a synergistic business model that is achieved by visualizing the paradigm created by the discovered scenario data. We take our newfound perspective and use it to re-evaluate existing communications. We identify the business dimension and message base. Then we visualize all this as a synergic communication scenario. From there we are able to create holistic, flexible, and above all meaningful brands that truly communicate the business ethos.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

PPMG's New Creative Director

PPMG is very pleased to have David O’Higgins on our team as our new Creative Director. Dave has played a key role in developing some of the world’s largest brands such as: Ford Motors brand in France and the American Express Blue Card in the US. He has extensive brand development experience with fortune 100 companies as well as smaller, cutting-edge clients. David’s expertise is not limited to brand, he is also a brilliant designer who helped create the US Airforce logo, and his illustrative work was published in David Carson’s book, “The End of Print.”

He has ventured into the theater realm by designing sets for the Ballet Rambert and David Byrne.

David is an excellent leader and continually brings fresh, innovative branding concepts to PPMG’s clients. Please check out the Experience page on our site to see some examples.

PPMG speaks at BizJam in Seattle on July 10th

Jason Levine, PPMG’s Executive Director, will be speaking to independent business owners about marketing and brand at BizJam Seattle in Seattle on July 10th. His presentation entitled, Marketing Yourself as a Brand and Branding Yourself as a Business, will cover practical and strategic ways to elevate your company as a branded business. You will learn how to build customer preference and loyalty. There will be a discussion about the essential steps and tools on how to represent yourself and your company with a single, clear voice, as well as ways to evolve your brand as the business grows.

Brand loyalty is a critical piece for your business to flourish within the turbulence of fluctuating world economies, weaknesses, and failures.

Jason has spoken on many topics, including brand, information architecture and user-centric design in both the UK and the US. He has also taught these subjects at design schools in both countries as well.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Should the medium drive the message?

For nearly half a century, consumer culture has been influenced by the notion that the “medium is the message.” Superficially understood, however, this cultural truism has become a straight-jacket for digital communication.

In their infancies, new media technologies are short-sightedly diagrammed by their moving parts rather than imagined according to the sum of those parts. Consequently, brand message in the digital world is too often conveyed within a narrow mechanistic world view that prioritizes information over communication. In this world view, the challenge to communicate a brand’s strategic, experiential and fundamentally humanistic dimensions is largely forsaken, displaced by the sterile, safe predictability afforded in uniform site structure sparsely furnished with animated obstacles. When the medium myopically drives the message, the creative engine of brand message is short-circuited.

Or should the message drive the medium?

Against the increasingly formulaic strictures of the existing world view, the emerging imperative for the next wave of digital agencies demands just communication of a brand’s significance. As a complex tapestry of intellectual, emotional and experiential dimensions, each brand message calls for media through which it can be conveyed with equal richness and vitality. Expressing these intricacies in cyberspace requires that the realization of digital media pertain to a new design paradigm. Henceforth, brand message must inspire the design of digital media, shaping the contours of the medium itself to become a means of real communication for the virtual realm.