Art Direction: Our Crash Course Tips

We’ve always taken a leadership role in deciding our clients’ visual aesthetic and physical brand. In doing so we venture into the world of unifying the vision for a specific project or shoot, especially with fashion and lifestyle products. Being an art director means rallying the troops, having an overall concept in mind and delegating appropriately for the best artistic outcome.

Coming from a photoshoot this weekend (and still hyped from all the Red Bull consumed) here are our main takeaways from behind-the-scenes that might help the next time you find yourself in the (Art) Director’s chair.

  • Let Your Creative Thrive. There’s something truly beautiful in finishing on-time and, who knows, maybe even (gasp!) early. It’s human nature to try and make sure everyone sticks to the Call Sheet but don’t let that little paper schedule stifle your Creative Director or Stylist. If a shot feels not-quite-there, instead of giving up and moving on, take the time to pause and really look at what’s being presented. Too many times we’ve rushed the process only to realize in the editing moments there were things missed because our creative team wasn’t given the time or space to dig in.

  • References! References! References! Do not be afraid of sharing visual references and style or mood inspirations with your team. Work alongside the stylist first to determine the purpose and tone of each look, then relay the shot concept for each to the photographer. During the shoot, tell the models their story. Where are they? What’s their mood? Painting the picture for them will secure a powerful photo for the outcome you want.
  • Assistance, Please. Especially with clothing or accessories, most clients want their garments, jewelry, handbags and shoes to be re-packaged just as they were. Which means wrapping back up the products after they’ve been lightly worn. Not only do you need the hands to do this as the shoot goes on, but the prep beforehand; steaming, taping shoe bottoms, stuffing purses with tissue, and lint rolling — which can all be done by a helpful assistant. Find a trusted helper to keep the chaos relatively in order.
  • Clients Need Not Attend. Depending upon the level of trust you develop with a specific client, having them on set can have more consequences than benefits. As long as they have given their input and understand the look (as well as other specific components like models, backdrop, etc), there really isn’t a need for their presence on the day-of shooting. In fact, it’s typically a long and crazy day, so they should thank you for taking the reins and leaving them out of the fray.

  • Pinterest is Your Friend. See the “references” bullet (above). Visual cues and inspiration are crucial for photographers to determine lighting, background and angle, and help the models get a feel for the “look” they need to give. Find other shoots you love and Pin to an overall inspiration Board to have on-hand if anyone needs examples of hair, makeup, and overall styling. Plus, in advance, you can have others add their own Pins for ultimate team work. Bringing a iPad or tablet with the Pinterest Board pre-loaded on set is a clutch reminder of what you’re ultimately looking for.
  • Music, Always! Is there anything more awkward than a quiet photoshoot? Probably not. Set the mood and loosen up your subjects with music that fits the purpose. If you’re going for catalogue-happy or sexy-dance moves, then fill a playlist with your favorite jams. Something more moody? Find the perfect artist station and let it play. In the case that you’re familiar with the models or photographer, you can always have them add to an ongoing playlist beforehand — just to make sure everyone is getting down & having fun.
  • Finally, Stay Strong. Sometimes knowing what you don’t want is just as imperative as knowing what you want. When the shoot feels like it’s slipping from your grasp, step in and get it back on track. That might mean shutting down someone’s idea, but so long as you treat their opinion with respect, you can steer the day back towards its’ purpose. Don’t be afraid to say “no” or to switch gears when it feels off brand.

Let us know your must-dos and should-haves for controlling a photoshoot or product shoot. We can’t wait for the next one… there’s so much to learn.

Asking Interesting Questions – A Resource Guide

If you’re anything like us, you blog. A lot. And part of blogging, or regularized writing of any kind, is the ability to persistently ask meaningful, interesting questions. But what’s a question without an answer?

We’ve put together some of our favorite tools for getting great data, ideas and information for blogging (or just impressing your friends and colleagues) on the fly.

Google Ngram Viewer

Imagine you could search all the English words ever written and compare how popular they are over time. No need to imagine actually, just click over to Google’s epic historical language documentation project and put your favorite words up against each other.

Who Tweeted It First

Ever wonder who starts twitter trends, hashtags or precipitates a particular link’s virality? Who Tweeted It First is the tool for you.

PRB Data Finder

The Population Reference Bureau is among the least sexy resources to make the list, but oh is it powerful. Their collected data covers the inhabitants of every country on earth across hundres of metrics and axes.

Pew Research

The Pew Research Center is obsessed with tracking what Americans do. The center’s Internet & Tech think tank churns out unmissably intriguing reports at wholly unreadable rates and their Fact Tank is perfect for timely blog post inspiration.

Google Trends

Trends is such a ubiquitous tool in so many industries we nearly left it off the list. But its insights are consistently interesting and often lead to amazing mashup projects like the map above.

What are some of your favorite information inspiration sources?

A Brilliant Google Goof

(Or Did You Mean: Your small business is screwed?)

Google’s search algorithm (GSA) is among the most robust automated projects ever undertaken. More than just a new verb it’s given us new research methods, new techniques for marketing businesses and, of course, new problems.

Google’s Did You Mean functionality can be useful, well-reasoned and compassionate:

Google’s Did You Mean function can even be hilarious:

Much of the time though, especially for small businesses, Google’s Did You Mean is a nightmare. And when paired with Showing Results For it can do active and measurable harm by obscuring a business’ results or pushing them down the ranking.

Good News, Bad News, A Little Background

The good news is Google, many small business owners and digital marketers are aware of this issue already.

The bad news is there isn’t a simple solution. Why not? Well, Google has its own sort of modern usage dictionary (a default spelling database) that learns words from the documents it crawls while performing searches. Ubiquitous, but strictly speaking incorrect, usages like “alright” as well as common but newfangled words like “lol”, “muggle” or “noob” are added to Google’s spelling database once they’re found a certain number of times in a certain number of crawled documents.

Before the feature launched (around November of 2008), GSA analysts noticed a non-optimal behavior that was occurring tens of millions of times: a user searches a term, doesn’t find the results she want and then lightly edits her query. This was a huge issue for Google – for a sense of scale, look at three weeks’ worth of misspellings of Britney Spears.

You can imagine the tidal wave of positive feedback data that must have come in immediately after the feature’s release: all of a sudden, those minor query edits might have dipped 10, 20, 30 percent, since not only do most people misspell and typo all the time but the Did You Mean placement is located in prime visual real estate, atop all results.

The problem is, as with any machine learning or algorithmic solution, that what works in 90 plus percent of all cases might not work in the remaining 10. And for new, obscure or acronym-based business names, Did You Mean not only doesn’t work but can actively deter growth and visibility.

What’s To Be Done?

If your business has this problem, there isn’t a hard and fast way to fix it. For one thing, Google hasn’t provided any formal mechanisms for requesting term inclusion in their spelling database: no form to fill out, no way to make a request (no humans, just algorithms maintaining the dictionary). This makes a perverse, Age-Of-Internet-Giants kind of sense: why would Google provide a solution to something it doesn’t view as a problem?

So the harsh reality is that time and growing traffic to your site will heal this wound more than most other efforts. That said, there are some simple SEO activities your business can start work on today that will help increase the probability of Google including your business name in it spelling database more quickly.

Below are a few relatively-easy-to-implement tricks that will, in time, help resolve this issue.

  • So much of SEO is getting other sites to link to yours. Link building campaigns are available, but often costly, so don’t forget the simple stuff: are there links to your website on your LinkedIn account and other social profiles? Do you have links to your website included in email marketing content and other customer messaging? Do you have partners or friends who run their own blogs and websites who might link to yours?
  • On-page SEO is the least you can do to make your site more visible to Google. Fixing things like Title tags and Meta tags on all your site’s pages to include full, explicit references to your company’s name and, if necessary, url is a big step in the right direction.
  • Search yourself. At the end of the day, Google Search is a fully automated endeavor that responds best to humans using it. If you’re not happy with your search results on Google, one slow but steady way to train it is to search for your own business on Google, ignore the Did You Mean suggestion and click your own link anyway. This won’t deliver results quickly (but it may give you peace of mind).

Has your business encountered the dreaded Did You Mean problem? Do you know anyone whose business has been affected by Google’s suggested results? If so, contact nick@oliverandsons.com – I’d love to hear your story.

The Old Web

Remember these gems?

The year is 1995. You’re rocking your flannel and/or flared jeans, and finally got that Power Macintosh 6200 you’ve always wanted. Time to crack open Netscape and surf the web, brah. Here’s your favorite sites and the painfully ugly way they were (circa mid-90s).


  YAHOO! We can almost hear the odd chortle of the yodeling spokesman when we look at this. That logo shall always be the way we think about Yahoo! Sorry Marissa Mayer. That new purple whimsy, and 30-day design tease, from two years ago ain’t fooling us. Slap some shadow on it, block out that serif, paint it red and call us old school. Sidenote: can we go back to a time where a “New” icon for a search engine was a baby? Because… that just feels so wrong, it’s right.   YAHOO! We can almost hear the odd chortle of the yodeling spokesman when we look at this. That logo shall always be the way we think about Yahoo! Sorry Marissa Mayer. That new purple whimsy, and 30-day design tease, from two years ago ain’t fooling us. Slap some shadow on it, block out that serif, paint it red and call us old school. Sidenote: can we go back to a time where a “New” icon for a search engine was a baby? Because… that just feels so wrong, it’s right.   AMAZON Oh man. RAZR Phones. That takes us back to our T9 days. It’s interesting to see how ad space has evolved. This random is-it-content-is-it-an-ad miss mosh is exactly why banner ads have gone the way of the dinosaur. Important to note that, 20 years ago, there were 32 product categories. Thirty two. There are now… waaaaay more than that. Hell,   AMAZON Oh man. RAZR Phones. That takes us back to our T9 days. It’s interesting to see how ad space has evolved. This random is-it-content-is-it-an-ad miss mosh is exactly why banner ads have gone the way of the dinosaur. Important to note that, 20 years ago, there were 32 product categories. Thirty two. There are now… waaaaay more than that. Hell, “Sports & Outdoor Play” alone has 32 types of products.   APPLE Oh hell naw. Fanboys across the globe, I can hear your collective weeping. Although, this is a prime example of what would have been had not Sir Jobs swooped in and saved the world from hideous design. Not that Jobs singlehandedly reinvented web design, but like… oof. This is just painful. Can you imagine Apple using “What’s Hot” anywhere on their current site? Yeah. Oh! Look! A shout-out to Macworld! Remember when that was a relevant event? R.I.P. Macworld, R.I.P.    APPLE Oh hell naw. Fanboys across the globe, I can hear your collective weeping. Although, this is a prime example of what would have been had not Sir Jobs swooped in and saved the world from hideous design. Not that Jobs singlehandedly reinvented web design, but like… oof. This is just painful. Can you imagine Apple using “What’s Hot” anywhere on their current site? Yeah. Oh! Look! A shout-out to Macworld! Remember when that was a relevant event? R.I.P. Macworld, R.I.P.   THE WEATHER CHANNEL Look at that! Someone aligned the links like it’s notches in a compass. Creative! Is that a compass though? I don’t know, I’m no meteorologist. But big points to the HTML warlock who clearly had an epiphany late one night, all jacked up on Surge, and was all “I am going to win awards for this out-of-the-box shit”. AND the links are all oblong and drop-shadowed. Like a boss.    THE WEATHER CHANNEL Look at that! Someone aligned the links like it’s notches in a compass. Creative! Is that a compass though? I don’t know, I’m no meteorologist. But big points to the HTML warlock who clearly had an epiphany late one night, all jacked up on Surge, and was all “I am going to win awards for this out-of-the-box shit”. AND the links are all oblong and drop-shadowed. Like a boss.   CNN INTERACTIVE Remember when websites were referred to as an “interactive” branch? It always felt super video-game-driven to us. Like someone was gonna jump out of your Pentium-60 and lead you into a maze of poorly designated hyperlinks. To be fair, this is not the worst menu we’ve seen of the ’95 era. Ugly? For sure. But straight-forward. Also, the 80s are calling, and want that logo and their color triangles back!  Reading the news from 1995 makes me feel like I am in grade school again. No, like, literally.    CNN INTERACTIVE Remember when websites were referred to as an “interactive” branch? It always felt super video-game-driven to us. Like someone was gonna jump out of your Pentium-60 and lead you into a maze of poorly designated hyperlinks. To be fair, this is not the worst menu we’ve seen of the ’95 era. Ugly? For sure. But straight-forward. Also, the 80s are calling, and want that logo and their color triangles back!  Reading the news from 1995 makes me feel like I am in grade school again. No, like, literally.   AOL BRB, crying into my Red Bull. This is just… I mean… What? It looks like the table of contents from your high school science textbook. My OCD is flaring up just noticing all of the blank righthand space. Excuse me while I go arrange my pens symmetrically on my desk.  This also is a cruel reminder that my AOL screen-name, at one brief moment in time, was   AOL BRB, crying into my Red Bull. This is just… I mean… What? It looks like the table of contents from your high school science textbook. My OCD is flaring up just noticing all of the blank righthand space. Excuse me while I go arrange my pens symmetrically on my desk.  This also is a cruel reminder that my AOL screen-name, at one brief moment in time, was “CaliforniaQueen303”. Which, in retrospect, now sounds like a mattress I would like to own. I know. I know.   PIZZA HUT WEBMASTER! Yasssssss. Take me to your Webmaster, Pizza Hut. Cue imagery of nerd wizard with pepperoni cape and long cheese beard. Almost meta in it’s simplicity, it looks like a legit Word Doc. We’re also down with the “electronic storefront” naming. Going to keep that one in our back pocket for some lucky client re-brand… someday. Just realized that they have instructions to click the logo to submit comments to the email address. Wha? Huh? I haz confusion. Need pizzas.   PIZZA HUT WEBMASTER! Yasssssss. Take me to your Webmaster, Pizza Hut. Cue imagery of nerd wizard with pepperoni cape and long cheese beard. Almost meta in it’s simplicity, it looks like a legit Word Doc. We’re also down with the “electronic storefront” naming. Going to keep that one in our back pocket for some lucky client re-brand… someday. Just realized that they have instructions to click the logo to submit comments to the email address. Wha? Huh? I haz confusion. Need pizzas.

Whew. So glad we’ve grown out of this stage in the Internet. Although it’s amazing to be a part of the beginning, our eyes are so much happier and websites so much more intuitive to the experience we want and need.

Hope you enjoyed our trip down MemoryLane.com.

The Fall + Rise of Handwritten Fonts

Everyone hates Comic Sans. But why?

This week, Oliver + Sons tours the seedy underbelly of the history of handwritten fonts.

In the off chance you’ve been pining to write just like Einstein, you’re in luck – there’s a new typeface in development based on the mathematician’s hand-written notebooks. The project is looking for funding on Kickstarter after the designer responsible successfully funded and produced a font based on the handwriting of Sigmund Freud.

SIGMUND FREUD ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT  SIGMUND FREUD ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT

Designers this century have given us fonts that look like chalk, dry-erase and marker handwriting, typefaces based on calligraphy from across the globe and even a font based on the naive handwriting of the absurdist modern artist David Shrigley.

DAVID SHRIGLEY FONT DAVID SHRIGLEY FONT

In The Beginning…

But it wasn’t so long ago handwritten fonts were seriously problematic. Rewind to the 15th century, the printing press is invented and spreads furiously through Europe. One of the innovations that made the press so useful was the advent of moveable type and the first true typefaces. These first typefaces focused on Latin characters like the ones you’re reading now. Fonts for Arabic and other Eastern languages lagged behind for both artistic and practical reasons and the lag has lasted, over five centuries, into the digital world where we currently have around 80,000 fonts for Latin scripts and under 1,000 digital typefaces for Arabic.

ARABIC AND ISLAMIC TYPOGRAPHY: Examples of Type Design by Mamoun Sakkal ARABIC AND ISLAMIC TYPOGRAPHY: Examples of Type Design by Mamoun Sakkal

Comic Sans and its discontents

And then, in 1995, came Comic Sans. A French designer working for Microsoft was handed a beta version of a software program which featured a precursor to Microsoft’s infamous talking paper clip. In this case it was a dog and the dog’s word bubble was printed in Times New Roman. So the designer created Comic Sans to better match the style.

YOU KNOW THIS GUY! YOU KNOW THIS GUY!

Since then, Comic Sans has become one of the most used fonts on the planet, showing up everywhere from blog posts to tombstones. But it’s also become among the most hated fonts ever designed. Something about Comic Sans – its lettering, its mood, what it communicates maybe – seems to affect the emotional parts of the human brain more violently than other fonts. A quick glance at Google confirms as much. In the past few years, Twitter, the blogosphere as well as major news outlets have ridiculed the following people for using Comic Sans:

There are even multiple websites devoted to trash-talking Comic Sans out of existence and the font’s designer himself has reflected on what his creation means to the world.

Handwritten Fonts: a Mega-Trend

Our crack research team here at Oliver + Sons dove into some trends data to try and sort out this typographic mess, and what we found surprised us.

The chart above shows Google search volume for the terms handwritten font and handwritten fonts. What we see is a steady decline in search volume from before Google offers meaningful data until about 2011, when search volume rises again.

Might it be that a group-thought hatred of Comic Sans proliferated the digital world so effectively it decreased global interest in an entire style of fonts? Could it be that it took the digital community until 2011 to produce enough actually good handwritten fonts for interest in them to pick back up? It’s not a perfect theory, but handwritten fonts are certainly popping up on more and more sites around the web.

Into The Future

As computation, screens of different sizes and (lots and lots of) qwerty keyboards become a greater part of our lives, many of us increasingly yearn for the ways and styles of old. The near complete disappearance of handwriting makes the look and feel of well designed handwritten fonts that much more beloved. In the future, we’re guessing that not only going to see more websites and apps use handwritten fonts, we’ll see programs that create fonts based on your own handwriting, and greater integration of stylized fonts into messaging and other apps.

We’ve collected some of our favorite fonts and type over on our Pinterest (handwriting and otherwise). Check ’em out.