Reading about writing is sort of like eating about cooking.
They’re connected activities, but there’s a little more to it than tossing
ingredients together and pulling out a lasagna. There are steps to creating
First and foremost [and we can’t stress this enough] great
content begins with great input. A talented copywriter may be able to build and
expand on even small details, but give that same writer plenty of resources and
background and they can work wonders. At helium, we’ve gotten pretty
skilled at asking the right questions to gather the kind of insight that
inspires writers, and we also make it a point to keep clients engaged in
ongoing communication since sometimes ideas take time to mature.
Effective copywriting also has to consider style or tone.
That’s because the way something is said is often just as – if not more
– important than what is said. Very straight-laced, precise, almost
academic language appeals to a different audience than content that has a
humorous slant. Likewise, if there is an emotion an audience should feel when
reading content, the choice of words and the length and flow of content matter
One of the most challenging aspects of creating excellent
content is authenticity. There’s a big difference between a product that is
truly innovative and one that simply comes in a new color. It is why diamonds
are described as “exquisite” and rhinestones are simply “sparkly.” It can be
easy to get attached to a specific word, but that doesn’t mean it is the right
fit for every brand. When we create content for our clients we want them to be
the best versions of themselves, while still remaining true to what their
product, service, or offering actually is. In the long run, this closes more
sales by attracting the right kinds of customers and prospects in the first
If you’re used to a collaborative process, then quarantine has likely been difficult. A Zoom conference call is great for staying in touch, but tends to be a bit slower than working out visual and creative challenges in person. Some of us feed off the experience of defending our ideas, or making suggestions and improvements to the ideas of others. When it’s just you and a sketchpad, those activities are noticeably missing. So, how do we try to keep things fresh? One of the most effective activities we’ve found is to challenge our own thinking. Everyone is strained and stressed right now, so constructive criticism is hard to give and receive. That means it’s up to each of us to be our own critics and evaluate whether or not an idea is up to par as well as how it could be stronger.
// One approach is to take on the personality of someone else you know. It can be a family member, your least favorite college professor, your best friend, or even your worst enemy. Put your work up to their scrutiny [or your perception of it] and see what you learn. Nothing feels better than proving someone wrong or knowing you exceeded lofty expectations. If your work stands up to multiple viewpoints, the more likely it is to have deeper meaning with external audiences.
// Another way to think more broadly even in isolation is to apply your skills in seemingly unrelated directions. As designers and brand builders, we can sometimes get overly focused on the piece. One way we break out of that thinking is to take something completely unrelated and ask ourselves “How would we make an ad campaign for that?” It might be a product we see at the store, or it might be a scene in nature, or a meal we’ve cooked. Stretching the mind in a new way always reveals new perspectives.
// When more direct methods prove ineffective, or we really are “just stuck,” we tap into the tremendous power of simply walking away. Just like you sometimes have to reset a stuck wifi connection, brains and imaginations need to be reset from time to time as well. Meditation works great. So does exercise. But truthfully, anything that gives your senses a total change of scenery is appropriate. Do not get caught in the trap that perusing some social media is as therapeutic as time away from a computer when it comes to giving your brain a break. It is usually much more productive to do something that engages your brain differently than doing something mindless.
Most importantly, take time for you. With everyone working
from home these days, the regimented, reliable schedule of the workday tends to
spill over into family time or free time. At first, you feel accomplished and
motivated… but keep it up and you’re on the fast track to getting burned out.
Allowing yourself to be the kind of person who experiences the world beyond
your desk is what keeps the creative fires burning.
We have been very fortunate that amidst various closures and social distancing orders, the helium team has been able to work remotely and stay well connected. In a lot of ways, we were already prepared for these measures since we routinely work in non-traditional settings when we do site visits to real estate and hospitality properties. While some of us are taking photos or meeting with owners and developers, the rest of the team stays in touch with email, chat, phone, and file sharing for things like sketches, mood boards, design comps, and preliminary concepts.
In many ways, collaborating at a distance is a very positive exercise. Often, it reveals new ideas that are completely without influence from someone sitting nearby. As well, it forces us to develop concepts and designs that don’t require a lot of explanation or convincing to resonate well with other people. If they can’t be easily summarized in an email or phone call, then that can be a signal to return to the drawing board and refine, enhance, or think in a new direction. We’re used to this style of working on various projects here and there… but then we took it next level by opening a second office in Baltimore. Now, long-range collaboration is a more integrated part of our everyday process… even before it became required for public safety.
Because we spend a lot of time working with seasonal markets, a few of our clients have asked us for suggestions on how to make the most of social distancing time. This is a great time to pursue internal projects that normally get pushed aside during busier periods. A website refresh can be a smart decision right now, not just because there’s time to finesse details but also because it gives you the tools to hit the ground running when normal business activities resume. Or, it could be that this is the optimal time to finally integrate e-commerce and capture online sales. Many of our clients are focusing on social media, and looking at ways to enrich engagement and foster deeper connections with audiences. Updated logos, revamped corporate branding, breaking into new media… all are great ways to ready your business for the future, and it’s all work that helium can execute remotely. Downtime doesn’t have to be a downturn. It can be the dress rehearsal for your brand version 2.0.
Yes, we know the world is getting more digital by the second. Yes, we appreciate paper is a precious resource. And yes, we are aware that the media landscape is so not 1994. We get all of that. You will still never hear us say that print is outdated. Ever.
The truth is, print pieces simply have to work harder and be smarter than they did in the past. A brochure can’t just be pictures and words folded into a booklet – it has to be an interactive journey. The feel of the paper or a gloss varnish or embossed logo is a tactile experience that engages the sense of touch in the way swiping and tapping a screen does not. The anticipation of opening an envelope creates a moment that primes an audience for the message inside. An artfully crafted package stands out on a store shelf and says “take me home” before a salesperson even utters a single word.
That’s the benchmark we aim for when people come to us looking for collateral, business cards, POP displays, direct mail, and other print advertising and marketing materials. A piece that’s “not just another” anything, but rather, a piece that helps redefine what’s possible for print. In fairness, we have a lot of resources at our fingertips for making that happen. Amazing things are possible in the world of inks, coatings, and finishes these days… like glow in the dark, scratch-and-sniff, waterproof things. Paper keeps upping its game too with everything from re-printable paper, to paper that looks and feels like leather or plastic, to paper that can be used as furniture. Seriously. Then there are techniques for taking print pieces from flat to fantastic – 3D, Pop-Ups, unique folding designs – it’s truly fascinating how much print really can do.
So, while we agree that it’s very cool to explore the depths of digital design, the things that happen on screen are all limited by one thing – it always happens on a screen. Only print has the power to take countless shapes, sizes, colors, and textures that people can hold and keep, and that can’t be turned off.
There has been a mild (ok, not-so-mild) obsession with book covers recently. More like a life-long intrigue that has snowballed into said obsession. That late night scrolling through eBay to find vintage books with great typography or illustration, when such scrolling turns into a rabbit hole where your shopping cart acquires a book from every decade. From old medical illustrations to modernist typography – book covers have been a huge source of inspiration for all types of design work. And, of course, the book itself – the story – is the heart of what we do as a brand studio. Each work has a history, a message, a soul – the visual communication of its cover, the written word that shapes its narrative, the worn pages from those who’ve been impacted by it; books are fuel for creatives.
When we are developing a brand, it always starts with a story. We tap into the heart and soul of the company – who they are, what the essence is. Much like an author crafting a character, we shape the narrative of a brand then uncover how to communicate it in all forms. Just as we wear clothing to reflect our personality, as a designer we are constantly using elements such as color, type and messaging to craft the unique persona of a company to its market. The process is organic, both strategic and highly intuitive. But the brand story is ultimately what sets the road map for brand identity, messaging, graphic design, website design, photography, and all marketing materials. You can explore some of our brand stories by clicking here.
A book cover has the tall order of capturing the spirit of a story in a single composition, enough to emotionally engage and connect with a potential reader. This can be done through typography, photography, illustration, design, color, shape, or pattern. But whatever method, the end product can be really, really, really cool. Enough to keep this designer up scrolling Pinterest and eBay for hours on end.
Take a look at some of the books and book covers we’ve been wide-eyed for.