Marketing, money, and time | Random Thought for May 30, 2018

I was listening to the radio on the drive to work this morning, and there was talk about a pilot program in Sacramento where digital automobile license plates are being made available.

(link to the article on The Sacramento Bee here).

It got me thinking… Let’s presume this program gets rolled out statewide. How long will it take until someone— marketers, maybe even the State of California– figures out a way to monetize this via advertising?

I’m not implying that it’s a bad thing one way or the other. But it is something to think about.

Do androids dream of obsolete men? | Random Thought for January 9, 2018

The title, for those unfamiliar, is a combination of the title for the novel “Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep” and the Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man”.

I was listening to a piece on NPR about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) out in Las Vegas. The conversation revolved a lot around automation. And it got me thinking…

We can automate a lot of things– manufacturing processes, data analysis, transportation (well, we’re collectively working on that). So what else is there? Can design be automated? As a community of designers, we argue often that design is ultimately about problem-solving and communicating. So, if we’re talking about finding the best solution, then conceivably you can establish a set of rules and parameters to reach the best possible solution.

And if we continue distilling the argument, we could reach the conclusion that design, being about solving problems, can be broken down into a set of algorithms and rules. And if we’re able to do that, what does that do to– and for– designers? Do we then become utterly obsolete? What does that do to design itself? What does an automated design look like?

And if we’re able to do that– what’s next?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to any of this. But listening to the conversation on the radio gave me pause and made me think about what, professionally, things might look like 5, 10, 20 years down the road.

Something to think about.

To buck (conventions) or not

Sundays are usually a supermarket run for me, and, aside from getting out of the house for a bit, it’s an opportunity to walk around, explore and examine packaging and products on the shelves.

This week, as I was finishing up, I walked down the aisle containing feminine hygiene products (I think it’s also where the hand soaps are placed, since that’s something I was picking up). As I walked down the aisle, I caught these out of the corner of my eye:


Packaging for Veeda tampons

I saw these and stopped, because they were unlike anything else that was in the aisle.

And that’s the point. So often we talk about the need to either follow design conventions established by the market leader, whether in iconography, typography, or color usage (notice, for example, that most colas are in red cans, following color standards established by Coca-Cola). On the other hand, there’s the opposite– the opportunity to lay stake to a segment of the market by differentiating from the rest of the pack. But a lot of times both approaches can miss the mark, either because of an overzealous approach to differentiating, or as a result of timidity and being afraid to actually be different.

So I found the Veeda packaging to be refreshing. To me, it managed to accomplish both. It stuck closely to some of the conventions, while steering away from others. The look and feel of the typography definitely has an air of femininity to it. The use of a simplified plant illustration, the 3-color palette on kraft stock– a stark departure from the glossy, varnished, high-contrast color palettes that have become commonplace, suggests an earthier, planet-friendly product.

Note: I checked out their website, and I found that affordable, planet-friendly products are an essential part of their story.

So, I say to the folks at Veeda– good job! You’ve managed to walk the line between common and uncommon, and made it look effective.

The shortest path isn’t always

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

But sometimes the shortest distance isn’t the most efficient. And sometimes, the most efficient is not the most effective.

People constantly look for the shortest path, when what they need to be looking for is the most effective.

Metal men (and women)

Lately, bluster, brashness and sheer loudness has become almost synonymous with strength.

This is a false equivalency. Look at metals. Gold is a bright, shiny, attention-getting metal. But when put to the test, it turns out to be quite soft. 

Iron, on the other hand, is by comparison, almost inconspicuous and, well, dull. But it’s extremely strong and durable.

In the long run, it’s better to be iron.

First, do the thing

If you’re doing something just for the money, you’re probably not passionate about it.

If you’re not passionate about it, it’s likely you won’t stick with it.

If you won’t stick with the one thing, chances are you won’t stick with the next thing.

Do something because you’re passionate about it. Don’t worry about the money (or the accolades, or whatever else) at first. That will come when people see your passion.

Features I wish existed– Snapchat

I’ve been using Snapchat for a bit now (I don’t consider myself a “rockstar/ninja/guru” by any stretch of the imagination. I’m more of a “casual user”.). The other day I was sending a snap to a specific group of folks, and it occurred to me that there isn’t a way to make this easy.

If you’re using email, or Facebook (just as an example), you can create groups or distribution lists. These groups help make quick work of sending targeted messages and shared info. Within Snapchat, you can either broadcast it to all your followers (by adding it to your Story), or you can use it as a messaging platform and target individual users. I find this a little problematic and inconvenient.

A sticky wicket

Here’s the thing–  you have to select each and every one. Individually. And you have to do this every time you don’t want to share something wth all your followers.

I don’t follow many people, so it’s not a major issue, but for those that have hundreds– even thousands– of followers, the ability to create various groups would be a huge convenience. And I don’t know if this is something they’ve worked on and ditched, or have worked on, or WILL work on in the future. But I think it would be useful.

What do you think?
Let me know in the comments below. Also, are there any features that you might like to see in Snapchat?


(By the way, you can find me on Snapchat @rcarmstrong, or by scanning the Snapcode below!)

Add me on Snapchat!

Add me on Snapchat!

Packaging Roundup | alcoholic beverages

Over the years, I’ve found that there is almost direct correlation between the quality of a beverage’s packaging and the quality of the product itself. My thinking (whether right or wrong) has been that any company that takes the care and puts the resources into its packaging is likely doing the same with its product. So, especially when shopping for wine, I keep an eye out on the labels in case there is something new that I may want to try. If I’m not is a shopping mode, I like to look at the labeling. It can be a source of inspiration. Either way, I sometimes snap pics of things that catch my eye and share them in round-ups.

Now, it’s been a while since I’ve done a packaging roundup, but a trip to one of the local supermarkets (with a liquor store on the premises), had me snapping pics of a handful of items that caught my eye, simply because– in my opinion– they’re bucking category conventions.

Please note: This is not an endorsement of any sort for any of the products mentioned here.

With that out of the way…


“Kinky Cocktails” beverage packaging

Kinky Cocktails

“Kinky Cocktails” caught my eye for a couple of reasons– the product name, right off the bat, with its tongue firmly planted in cheek. There’s also their use of color to clue the casual browser on their target customer base. And lastly, the type, again hinting at their target demo.



Juliette Wine Labels

Juliette Wines

In a sea of beige and white labels with stoic serif type, these bottles provide an eye-catching splash of color on the shelf. There is a femininity to the design that unmistakably tells us who they’re targeting as consumers.



Einstök Ale Packaging

Einstök Ale

Bold illustrations and and a clean layout separate this from the loud, sometimes overdone beer packaging on-shelf. The heavy use of blue could be evocative of Iceland’s flag.



Empire Brewing “White Aphro” Packaging

White Aphro

Purple is not a color often seen in beer packaging. so when you do see it. it definitely stands out. Add to that some bold sans serif type, and you’ve got some eye-catching packaging.


Carl Graff Wine

Carl Graff

Bold use of Neutraface (truth be told, this typeface is a personal favorite of mine). This goes against the thin, “stuffy”, serif type. Neutra brings contemporary class to the party.

There you have it. Is there any packaging that’s caught your eye? Share it in the comments– and thanks for reading.

Lessons in Photography and Cookery, or “keep it light on the salt”

I was having a discussion a few weeks ago, and the subject of photography came up. The conversation was about image quality, and how sometimes photos on a smartphone can surpass those from a more professional setup.

Now, frankly, three are probably a myriad of reasons why that can happen.

Rather, what came up during the course of the conversation were my lighting preferences, especially where product photography is concerned. See, when shooting, I prefer to slightly under light objects (not too much, mind you). That way, I feel I have better control in my retouching when I bring the images into Photoshop. Now, I won’t fault anyone if they prefer to light objects more accurately. I’m just saying this is my preference.

And it got me to thinking of “why”. And this thinking led me to the subject of cooking (somehow all roads lead back to food in my world). In short, you can always under season a dish. You can add more salt or pepper until things are seasoned right. But once something gets too salty, it’s hard to “take it back”.

Same thing in photography. You can start with an underlit image and you can adjust it in Photoshop until you feel it’s right, but if you start with a shot that is overexposed or otherwise has too much light… Well, there’s not much you can do to remedy the situation at that point.

I’m not sure where I was going with this, but I guess that’s my advice. Be mindful when lighting, and find what works for you.

Now, could you pass the pepper, please?


Incomplete Passes and Missed Opportunities

The Super Bowl took place this past weekend. It’s something that is typically heavily anticipated, and this year was no exception. Particularly, I thought, because this year was the year of Super Bowl 50. Now, those that know me– and even if you don’t– may not be surprised to know that sports just isn’t my thing. As a geek and a nerd, sports in general are something I’ve avoided my whole life. However, I do understand (in the vernacular of The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper) that there is a social convention surrounding sports, so I try to stay somewhat informed of what’s happening by reading news headlines and the like. The result is that I can carry, at the very least, a “cocktail party” conversation about sports.

All this to say that I’m not an expert on the particulars of football, but that’s not what this post is ultimately about.

Like I mentioned earlier, this past weekend was Super Bowl weekend, so there was a a lot of hoopla and anticipation surrounding it. Every year advertisers trot out EXTREMELY expensive ads– both in the creation and in the placement. The halftime show is also typically a water cooler moment for a lot of people. So with all this I was expecting an out of the ordinary collection of events.

Out of the ordinary we got. But not in the way I expected.

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way. There’s no way to determine ahead of time WHO will be playing (If we could, it would amount to a conspiracy and collusion by a number of parties that would make everyone’s head spin), so I’m not including the actual football played into my observations on SB50. I will say I found the game interesting and was not displeased with seeing the Denver Broncos win. I would have preferred to see the Carolina Panthers come out on top, but that’s just a matter of preference here. The other elements– ads and entertainment– are a whole other thing altogether.

The Ads

Super Bowl Sunday typically is considered one of those tentpole events, and advertisers in all categories take the opportunity to go out of their way creating attention-grabbing ads. It’s usually the time when the big summer movies drop trailers, beer and auto companies unveil expensive, slickly-produced ads, and (what I like to call) insurgent companies try to break through the noise with attention-grabbing commercials made to get people talking monday morning. If any of these companies are lucky, the talk and buzz around the water cooler is positive. Sometimes, you even get a slew of companies within the same industry competing for attention (remember the dot-boom of the early ’00s?).

Unfortunately, this year really saw little of any of that. I suppose part of it can be attributed to the continuing and increasing power of the online world and our access to information. As far as I’m concerned, there were only 1-2 ads that caught my attention. There was the Doritos “sonogram” ad early on, and whose surprise ending really got me. The other was far more subtle. It was the Audi “astronaut” commercial, which used David Bowie’s “Starman”. Oh yeah, there was the one with Jeff Goldblum and Little Wayne (“Weezy”). Aside from that, there were no other standouts for me. No major new trailers for upcoming summer movies were released. Even Budweiser’s ads were nothing to be excited over. Remember when it was a given there would be a “big” Budweiser Super Bowl ad? This year– nowhere to be found. I’m not sure why, but it was like Madison Avenue decided to phone it in this year.


Here’s where I think the NFL and the Super Bowl powers-that-be really missed an opportunity. It was Super Bowl 50. A milestone moment. Half a century’s worth of entertainment and heritage. The biggest stage on what is arguably the biggest sporting event in the US. The time to bring out the big guns and blow the roof off the joint. Who you gonna call?

Coldplay. Beyonce. Bruno Mars.

Let me be clear. I like all those acts. And on any other year they would have been a fine show– alone or in a any combo. But this was THE 50th. This was the time to go with big names, with big, iconic performers to showcase what this event is all about. A time to even try and bring back past performers, to extend the run time of the halftime show– I’m sure the audience would be ok with it this time. it was a chance to break the bank a little and “do it proper”.

It was a time to go big. And they dropped the ball.

The Post-Game Wrap-up

It’s hard to wrap things up, since these are just my observations. I hope that for future milestones organizers will take a bit of a calculated risk and treat the event with the importance it likely deserves, rather than playing it safe and giving the public something that is just “ok”

Give them something to remember, and they’ll remember you for it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.