Brand Interview – Jay Harrison & Jim Fanzone, DesignConcept
How long has your company been in business? Please tell us a bit about your company, its mission, goals…
DesignConcept was formed in 1986, so we are going into our 26th year. Jay Harrison is the creative director and Jim Fanzone, the art director. If a business partnership is like a marriage, you consider yourself lucky if there’s never been the slightest thought of divorce. The partners of DesignConcept met when both were working for the Mayor of Baltimore. They decided that they worked well together, like keys that fit the same lock. It definitely helps to have similar values and ethics. In 26 years we have witnessed many ups and downs in the demand for graphic design services, but consider ourselves lucky that we’ve weathered the tough times and that so many of our clients remain loyal to us.
Our objective remains the same: to create compelling visual art that solves a communication problem. We think good communication happens by design – literally. There is a huge clutter of information available to each of us, our job is to create information design solutions – to cut through the clutter so that our clients can deliver a clear and persuasive message.
As baby boomers ourselves, we thought it would be an interesting challenge to create an ezine devoted to the boomer perspective, so 5 years ago we launched a site that does just that. BoomSpeak is created for boomers and by boomers and looks at what we are doing and thinking about the second act in our lives. It appeals to the interests and changing priorities of baby boomers, including travel, culture, photography, fiction and personal essays. All the content embraces our motto: “Your whole life’s in front of you.”
After writing and editing BoomSpeak for a few years, we noted with some disappointment that there were no ecards tailored to the needs/interests of baby boomers, so we added the BoomerEcards website. Where else can you find a card with a man being shot out of a cannon to wish someone good luck with retirement?
Do you donate to charities? Tell us about that also and why.
DesignConcept routinely donates time and materials to various non-profits and has been doing so for 26 years. We never know which groups we will support – it’s a decision we make when we’re approached by an organization that has worthwhile goals but limited funds.
How did you know what typeface (font) would be right for your company wordmark or logo?
There have been so many different logotypes for DesignConcept over the years that there is no simple answer to the question. The most consistent element has usually been to use a “D” and a “C” merged together to symbolize the merger of the conceptual and design aspects that go into every project we do.
How did you decide on the right color palette to fit your company look and feel?
Here again, we’ve had many logotypes over the years, so the color palette has changed over time. We’ve never sat around waiting for Pantone to announce its trend colors of the year. The decision is usually based on what colors we find interesting when used together or some other thematic rationale.
Can you tell me some of the cool promotional campaigns you’ve done in the past and how effective they were?
Self-promotions have ranged from miniature books to target book design to t-shirts with a different design each year. This year we’re doing something different — imprinted flash drives with a gift card that reminds our clients that “we have their back-up.” One of the stranger but still favorite promotions was the Dead Authors Club (see http://www.designconcept.com/dac.html). We wanted to demonstrate our talent for book cover design by imagining some of the book covers we might have designed for authors who are no longer with us. We’re not sure what self-promotion does in terms of maintaining or identifying new clients, but if you can make someone smile, that’s a promising start.
How did you decide which type of designer to work with, or did you design your own identity and web presence?
We have always designed our own identity program and websites. It’s the ultimate reflection of who we are so it would be incomprehensible to entrust that to anyone else. It is amusing, however, how often someone asks us “Who designed your business card? It’s really cool.” Well, if a graphic designer can’t design a great business card, they might as well pack up and go home.
In what order did you present your company to the world? Did you start with marketing and products, or website, blog and social media?
Obviously, there was no world wide web or social media in 1986. We relied on referrals and word of mouth. Some of our clients and contacts have been with us for almost the entire time that we have been in business, which must say something about the quality and responsiveness of our work. We built our own website some time in the mid 90s and have been involved with social media only in the last year.
How long after the launch of your company did you start pitching in social media?
DesignConcept has engaged in the social media process just in the last year. It’s too early to tell what kind of effect social media will have on our business, since we have been so dependent on direct referrals up until now.
Did you do research or study any software, take webinars, teleclasses, before approaching any area of your marketing or web presence?
Like everything else related to computing and graphic design, we just plunged in and taught ourselves how to build a website, create a podcast, etc.
Do you advertise locally in newspapers and/or nationally in magazines? Are they effective?
We have never advertised in any print media.
Do you advertise online using Google, Facebook or on other company sites? Are they effective?
We have used Google Ad Sense but have not found that to be very effective for reaching the audience we would like to target.
When you printed your products, packaging, business cards and other print marketing did you choose an online printer or visit a local vendor?
We are very loyal to local printers and have used them for 95% of our work. The online resources are very cost competitive and we have used them for some of our clients who are on extremely tight budgets. Like locavores, our preference is to buy locally and support our own regional economy.
Did you know anything about different types of papers, when you wanted to print your marketing materials?
DesignConcept has always been interested in how paper options can create an impact on the end user. Unfortunately, so much marketing material is now produced in digital form, and that the opportunities for creative paper choices have been drastically reduced.
Have you ever used “green” technology in printing, using FSC certified papers or recycled paper and if not, how likely are you at trying this on a next project?
We specified recycled paper products for many years as well as soy inks on occasion, and would be interested in pursuing more green technology. As already noted, the diminished demand for printed products will influence our options to go green(er).
If you sell products, are they produced in the USA or abroad?
Do not sell specific products.
Is there anything you haven’t yet tackled, but will want to do soon?
DesignConcept has created websites, annual reports, book covers, packaging, logos, identity programs, calendars, catalogs, flipbooks, CD covers, tradeshow exhibits, banners, and many other design projects, so it would be hard to think of a graphical product that we have not already tackled. If there’s a bucket list for designers, the one thing that many of us would like to do is a project for a high profile, Fortune 500 company or equivalent— a project that would be seen by a much larger audience than we have ever reached before.
LinkedIn: Jay Harrison, Creative Director
LinkedIn: Jim Fanzone, Art Director