10/15/2020

Rachel’s hot designs thaw the Seattle freeze

By: Katy Nally

Rachel’s hot designs thaw the Seattle freeze

She might not wear flannel (all the time) and has more warm than freeze, but Rachel is firmly rooted in her adoptive city of Seattle. In a classic, Meg-Ryan plot twist, Rachel gave up her fast-paced, New-York-City job as design director at Pearhead to move across the country for love. But just because she’s made a new home in the Emerald City, doesn’t mean she’s abandoned all that she learned in the Big Apple.

From intern to director

As soon as Rachel graduated from the University of Miami—where she double majored in creative advertising and graphic design—she set her sights on New York City. Something about the hustle of the Big Apple pulled her in. Against her mom’s apprehension, she answered a job listing on Craigslist for a design internship, then traded in her sandy beaches for skyscrapers. The small startup gave her lots of room to grow. Within six years she was directing a team of product designers and visiting manufacturers in China to talk shop.

She became that high-rise creative

The career she envisioned for herself had come true. She was leading a creative team, exercising her design skills, and breathing in the artistry of the city. From Pearhead’s office in Brooklyn, she developed her love of typography and print, finding inspiration from Pentagram’s Paula Scher and discovering new ways to use words as design elements.

When she decided to leave New York, Rachel was ready to give up the fast-paced hustle of the city. But she still held on to her vision of working at a creative agency. At 2A, she found her New-York-City equivalent, happily trading in her view of the East River for a peek at the Puget Sound. Rachel was excited to dig in to design for the tech industry, and work with big-name clients like AWS and Microsoft. As a senior designer, she’s brought invaluable efficiencies to the creative process and redefined 2A’s approach to ebooks.  

Soaking up all Seattle has to offer

Rachel’s inner flower child fit in perfectly with the Seattle backdrop of farmers’ markets, weekend water floats, and free-for-all blackberries. Even she acknowledges how she’s “leaned in” to Seattle-themed hobbies, from fawning over fresh-cut dahlias to paddle boarding on Lake Union. At this rate, she’s probably hunting for a Tom-Hanks-style houseboat.

10/08/2020

Bring a little orchard to your doorstep

By: Erin McCaul

Bring a little orchard to your doorstep

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2010 I became a farmer’s market loyalist. I live for the first tomato of summer, love the sweet crunch of an over-wintered carrot, gush over peaches, and—much to my toddler’s dismay—refuse to buy bananas. So when Claire Lichtenfels and her husband Hal Jackson asked 2A to redesign the website for their small family-run farm, Whitestone Mountain Orchard, I knew it was my chance to put my pastoral passion to use. I instantly clicked with Claire and Hal, appreciating them on another level for their regenerative agriculture practices and support for local communities.

While it’s easy to miss the magic of food in a well-lit grocery aisle or PrimeNow delivery bag, this site was our opportunity to bring some farm goodness back to the shopping experience—and a few apples to your door.

Every heirloom has a story

Claire and Hal chose 2A because of our focus on storytelling. As owners of a third-generation orchard, it was important that their mission to promote the viability of local farms be front and center on the site, with plenty of information about the diversity of fruit they grow. We’re all used to Galas and Honeycrisps, but what about Stayman and Ashmead’s Kernel? Apples and pears are harvested August through January, and Claire and Hal are equally excited about every tree in their orchard. For each variety, we crafted mouthwatering descriptions, elevating the sweet snacks and seasonal stars. Their site has something for everyone, from apple subscriptions to gift boxes, and my personal favorite—the heirloom pie box.

Step into Oma’s kitchen

Claire and Hal radiate warmth, kindness, and good humor. When designing their site, we crafted custom linocut icons and paired them with photos of the farm. It all works together like a patchwork quilt—transporting you straight to the orchard. Perusing “The pantry” section of the site, I can imagine stepping into Claire’s kitchen, where like any fun Oma, she’s ready to show you how to make dried apples, or whip up some fruit butters to carry those fall flavors into winter oatmeal and toast.   

Treat yourself to some fall flavor

In a world of digital conveniences, eating seasonally brings a little magic to my menu. Plus, supporting small, local farms is my favorite way to give big agribusiness and monocropping the middle finger.

If you love apples, consider following Whitestone Mountain Orchard on Instagram and Facebook, or treating yourself to a box of seasonal goodness, delivered to your doorstep. I know I’ll be gifting some lucky friends and family holiday pears and heirloom pie boxes this year!

10/01/2020

Designing the abstract

By: Rachel Sacks

Designing the abstract

When I graduated college in 2011, artificial intelligence and machine learning were not topics that surfaced regularly in our graphic design classes. Now, almost 10 years later, as a designer at a B2B storytelling agency, I’m creating technology marketing materials for these abstract concepts on a daily basis. It can be intimidating designing for big tech ideas, but here are a few tips I’ve learned to help navigate the process.

Go with what you know

Certain design metaphors already exist in tech marketing, like a lock representing data security. There is sort of this unwritten rulebook of icons for designers. Sometimes these icons make sense and sometimes they feel like a stretch, either way it is a good North Star. For example, I understand why a cloud represents the cloud but ever wonder why a can represents a database? Assigning a design element to an abstract idea makes it feel more tangible and helps tell a story in a visual way.

Be original

While there are some general tech marketing design guidelines that exist, each project is different. As an agency, we want to give clients unique designs so not every keynote presentation looks the same. Always look to a company’s brand guidelines and try to get creative about how brand details are incorporated. Elements like color, pattern, and iconography are cues we can massage into the design to ultimately delight the client with a final product that stands out.

Don’t forget fundamentals

Even though these tech themes can be abstract, it’s important to keep in mind the fundamentals of design. A website layout still needs to have some sort of hierarchy, words on the page of an eBook need to feel balanced with the visuals, and an infographic should guide the viewer through a story. Using these visual elements in the right way make these big ideas easier to digest.

Eventually we will have to visualize abstract concepts that haven’t been thought of yet. What comes next beyond artificial intelligence and machine learning? It will be interesting to see how the design of tech marketing evolves. I hope it’s something fun and colorful…like rainbows or trolls.

09/24/2020

Donations on the half shell

By: Katy Nally

I find myself saying “Damn you 2020!” more frequently the closer we get to wrapping this dumpster fire of a year. So many bright spots were snuffed out by 2020, including dozens of events that ended up on the chopping block. For 2A, we skipped our annual summer party, which is normally a non-stop, oyster-and-champagne-fueled mingle-thon.

But fortunately, some good came from canceling our summer event. Turns out 2020 can’t take away our ability to support organizations in our community who do tremendous work. We polled the office and donated to a shortlist of nonprofits, including:

Friends of Youth
Atlantic Street Center
Mary’s Place
Africatown Community Land Trust
Mockingbird Society
Choose 180

We’re bummed our summer party was nixed, but we’re glad to see our donations make the rounds—even if we can’t.

Here’s looking at you, 2021!

09/15/2020

Elevating Stories #5: Justin Richmond

By: Melanie Hodgman

Elevating Stories #5: Justin Richmond

I grew up in a house where C-3PO and Optimus Prime were often staged for battle behind a Lego fortress, waiting to take on the villains controlled by my older brother, Justin Richmond. Worlds were created and destroyed on the daily—his toys acting out the stories swirling in his head. These days, Justin’s stories come to life in his Emmy Award-winning show The Dragon Prince.

Recently, Justin joined us from Topanga, California for our latest installment of Elevating Stories—a series where 2A hosts professional storytellers of all sorts. He shared insights about the creative process in his roles as a video game animator and co-founder and executive producer at media studio Wonderstorm. After spending some remote time with him, here are three techniques we learned to bring a little Wonderstorm magic to our team:

1. Embrace failure

At the retreat to kick off each eight-show season, every writer shows up ready to pitch 40 ideas for the season’s storyline. Thirty-nine (or more!) may be thrown out, but the sheer volume of concepts leads to new character and plot ideas that never would have surfaced if writers came tethered to just a handful of gems.

2. Terrific writing takes revs

Each season of The Dragon Prince goes through six revisions—from premise to record draft—before ever getting into the hands of the animators, actors, and sound team. Parts of the script may make it through four drafts before being cut. Would the plotline hold up after two or three drafts? Probably. But the extra time and care spent on each scene is what gives the story its depth and transforms viewers into fans.

3. Diversity is fabric, not decoration

Wonderstorm intentionally brings a diverse team of creatives to the table to build a diverse world of characters on screen. From the deaf female army general who communicates using American Sign Language, to the non-binary Sunfire Elf, to the multi-racial royal children, the team makes diversity prevalent—and not the focus. By normalizing so many ways of being, they invite viewers to both see themselves and accept what they may not be familiar with.   

I am proud of the work Justin and the team at Wonderstorm do to bring fun and adventure into so many people’s lives. And I don’t know about you, but I could use a little Dragon Prince family time tonight.

09/02/2020

Remote onboarding is like flying an alien spaceship

By: Mike Lahoda

Remote onboarding is like flying an alien spaceship

At 16, I started my first job as a busboy. The most memorable part of that first day was meeting the bartender, Ryan. He didn’t even introduce himself. He just looked me in the eye and launched into an Oscar-worthy recital of Bill Pullman’s speech from Independence Day. You know, the one just before the ragtag team takes to the skies to fend off the aliens. The waitstaff assembled behind me and cheered as Ryan climbed onto the bar and finished his address, fired up for a night of slinging wings, pouring drinks, and defending the earth from alien overlords. I was pretty confused.

Leading up to my start at 2A, I was a bit nervous about the remote onboarding process. Starting any new job can be stressful, and with the addition of being remote I worried about feeling lost in space. Fortunately, Planet 2A is home to some of the friendliest, smartest humans in the galaxy, which made for a stellar onboarding experience. Here are my tips for getting up to lightspeed when beginning a new job remotely. 

Study your spacecraft

When Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum pilot the alien spaceship for the first time, they accidentally set off in reverse and almost crash. That’s kind of what starting a new job is like: there are a lot of unfamiliar buttons and you’re not sure what each of them do or when they should be pushed. Be patient and learn from others before flying solo.

Have a Will Smith to your Jeff Goldblum

You’re going to need a good co-pilot, and my manager Annie is an ace. In addition to frequently checking in with me, Annie guided me through our 2A Living Practice trainings, had me shadow her in client meetings, and answered the millions of questions I asked. She’s at the controls beside me as I take off on my own projects. 

Make contact and show that you come in peace

I made it a priority to schedule meetings with my teammates. In the dark void of space—I mean, the remote-working world—there’s no watercooler talk or popping over to a colleague’s desk to brainstorm. I’m still waiting on holographic communication, but video chat is a capable substitute, especially in one-on-one and small-group settings.

We’re living through a strange time. In 2020, the prospect of waking up to news headlines of invading extraterrestrials seems entirely plausible. Work is different now. If you’re starting a new job remotely, remember that this is uncharted territory for everyone. It will require patience, trust, and communication as we learn new ways of working together from the comfort of our own home planets.

08/31/2020

You can say that again (and get new results)!

By: Kelly Schermer

Book within colored swirls

My family has never let me live down the Christmas morning that I took charge of the video camera and escorted my loyal viewers on a tour of the table—from an ant’s perspective. To hear them tell the story you would think it was part of a premeditated plan to make them all sick. As it turns out, it was an excellent warm-up for Ana Pastor’s writing class that I took through the Hugo House.

In a nutshell (or an ant’s bathtub, as some of us prefer to think of it), the class followed Raymond Queneau’s book Exercises in Style, and taught us how to walk around and through and over and under a story. We started by writing a very simple story in the style of notation and then practiced 15 of Queneau’s 99 variations, including retrograde (telling it backward) and animism (giving the agency of the story to non-living things).

Did I get tired of thinking about my story? You bet. Were any two tellings of it remotely the same? No way. Turns out, you can say something again and again and again with varied results. Super interesting for a bunch of word geeks like my 2A posse.

And therefore, and so with, and wherein, I invited workmates to join me for a virtual lunch and test a couple of Queneau’s styles on our own unremarkable stories. We did notation, retrograde, and dream (in which you say it like it was…. well, a dream). Here are some of the results:

 Toddler strollin’ and podcast rollin’

  • Notation: Getting my kid ready for school takes 30 minutes when it should take 5. So sometimes I run him to school instead of walking him to school. And either way I get to listen to a podcast alone on the way home, which is a win.
  • Retrograde: I started my morning alone listening to the NPR Politics Podcast after running my kid to school in our jogging stroller. It was a lovely slice of “me time” after negotiating with a toddler to put on shoes for 10 minutes.
  • Dream: I show up to drop my kid off at school, but there’s a mom test I didn’t study for. All the other moms read the email and studied, but I missed the email and had no idea there was a test.

Zen and the art of dishwashing

  • Notation: I put on headphones and walk into the kitchen. I scroll for some music or a podcast.  I stare out the window. I turn on the water and wash the dishes.
  • Retrograde: I turn the water on and wash the dishes. I stare out the window. I scroll for some music or a podcast, after walking in the kitchen and putting my headphones on.
  • Dream: I float into the kitchen. Noise is everywhere. I look out the window and see our neighbor, my uncle, and old boss floating down a river.

Thin-soled, thick-skinned runner

  • Notation: I stepped on a rock while running in my thin-soled shoes. My foot seemed fine for the remainder of my route. When I stopped running, my foot began to hurt.
  • Retrograde: My foot hurts, like it’s bruised on the bottom. It seemed fine when I was running just a couple minutes ago. I guess I did step on a rock with my thin-soled shoes.
  • Dream: I stepped on sharp stones, I couldn’t avoid them no matter how hard I tried, but I was able to continue on without pain. As I slowed the stones disappeared, and my feet felt cold.

Cool, right? Same ideas, same words, different stories. In summation (please approach the following as a choose-your-own-adventure call to action):

  1. If you’re feeling stuck in your writing, take a page from Queneau’s book and try a different angle or 78 of them.
  2. If you, too, need a fun way to give everyone at work a brain reboot, run an Exercise in Style workshop.
  3. If you’re more of a picture person than a word geek, check out Matt Madden’s 99 ways to tell a story to see how boss he was at making this technique his own.
  4. And, if you’re tempted to hijack a family holiday in favor of building empathy for ants, just hand over the camera.  

07/30/2020

Repairing with gold: making work more personal from afar

By: Clinton Bowman

Repairing with gold: making work more personal from afar

I did my undergraduate degree in art. While I love making art, my favorite thing about the program was learning art history abroad. One of the sections I remember most vividly was the Japanese ceramic technique of kintsugi, which dates to at least the 16th century and binds broken ceramics back together using liquid gold. The result is a rejuvenated ceramic that celebrates flaws and imperfections.    

Things feel quite broken right now. We’re working from home. The days and months are blurring together. The social, political, and healthcare situations in this country are spinning out of control. And it’s not clear when any of that’s going to end. But just because things are totally broken doesn’t mean they can’t be mended back together, even stronger than before.

Over the past several months, my client relationships have gotten exponentially deeper. There is a certain amount of humility and grace that comes with trying to get everything done during a pandemic. For me, I’ve regaled clients and co-workers with a cacophony of noises including puppy barks, Amazon delivery door knocks, phone calls, and even dump trucks bustling outside my window. In turn, I’ve had clients equally trying to fend off the world around them in order to work with me. And while we always apologize for these moments and ask for forgiveness, I can’t help but see the bond being built as we all move through this collective mayhem together.

Years ago, when I worked in Washington D.C., everything was very buttoned-up. Work was some mix of pressed shirts and pants, fixed hair, shined shoes, strong handshakes, and social decorum. It was all very formal. But if anything is true now, it’s that formality of that caliber is gone. What is emerging now at work is the respective acknowledgment of each other’s personal circumstance.

As much as we all try, at the end of the day, we’re just people and some things are simply beyond our control. The freeing part is that by acknowledging this with clients, we can celebrate it. We can rejoice in the absurdity and inject more humanity into our working relationships. We can build something better and stronger than before.

I won’t miss the pandemic when it’s finally over—not by a longshot. I do, however, hope this trend of openness sticks around because I find this new professional reality to be pure gold.  

07/22/2020

Three tips for partying like it’s 2045

By: Sarah Silva

Three tips for partying like it’s 2045

As COVID-19 cases climb in the U.S., we are all getting used to the idea that no matter what phase your city is in, large group gatherings aren’t going to be on the approved list. So how can we get our social fix when we can’t congregate in our usual spots?

Party like it’s 2045.

Having a party with as many friends as you want over the internet sounded like a dream in 1999. But after a work week of showing your face across Zoom, Teams, Skype, Chime, and FaceTime, the last thing a lot of us want to do is spend more digital time with others.

Here are a few tips to generate excitement for a digital party, happy hour, or networking event:

Create a theme

Similar to a party IRL, having a theme can make your digital gathering stand out from the weekly sales call. Encourage people to bring a themed beverage or create a unique background for the party. Got clothes or a prop that match the theme? Bring it on.

Time it like an actual party

When you invite people to an event, you will have punctual eager beavers, and those who like to be fashionably late. To keep things feeling more natural, share a light agenda. If the party starts at 6:00pm, let people know you’ll be greeting folks until 6:15pm. Once you’ve reached critical mass, move on to the main event. Set an end point for the party, giving folks who want to hop off a natural exit, and those who want to keep socializing a time to start the after party.

Limit the guest list

Normally it’s “the more the merrier” but at a digital event, more people can mean more awkward starts and stops to conversation. Think about limiting the number of guests to 15 so conversation can flow more naturally. Need to invite a larger group? Consider creating breakout rooms. Give them clever names that match the event or theme, and then watch as people have a side chat in the “kitchen.”

07/09/2020

Amazing case studies start with radio-worthy interviews

By: Katy Nally

Amazing case studies start with radio-worthy interviews

Terry Gross could interview a ham sandwich and I’d still sit enrapt on the edge of my seat. Terry is an interview master, no doubt because she’s been doing it for 47 years. On her show, Fresh Air, she’s interviewed presidents, journalists, authors, musicians, you name it. If I’m lucky enough to be cooking dinner when her show is on, it’s a good day—especially now that COVID-19 has squashed my entertainment plans. 

Lately (let’s just say I’ve had more time for the radio) I’ve paid special attention to how Terry conducts her interviews, hoping to garner some wisdom I can apply to my own day job. As a writer for a marketing agency, I often interview customers or partners and use their insights to build out case studies. My goal is always to channel my inner Terry and stick to these best practices that earned her a black belt in asking questions.  

Construct a narrative arc with questions 

This isn’t just Terry’s trick for engaging radio. Organizing your questions into a beginning, middle, and end will help warm up the interviewee to feel more comfortable and make it easier for them to follow your thought process. The narrative arc for case studies is pretty straightforward—situation, challenge, solution, results—and that can serve as the framework for your questions. That being said, don’t be afraid to go off script and ask follow-up questions that are outside your conversation guide. If it seems like a juicy thread to pull, by all means, yank it.  

Give quick context to frame questions 

There are three kinds of interviewees—the talk-too-much, the talk-too-little, and the talk-just-right. I’ve never actually encountered that last group, but they’re rumored to exist. For the other two, giving enough context will save you time and dignity. For the talk-too-much-ers, you’ll want to frame your questions in a way that tells them what you already know, then you need to be very explicit about the answer you’re looking for. This will stop them from spending 10 minutes of your precious interview describing the landscape you’re already familiar with. For the talk-too-little-ers, questions with no parameters might freak them out and lead to three-word answers. A little context will go a long way to make them feel like they’re talking to someone in the know who’s actually listening. Of course, that means you have to do your research up front! 

Ask what we’re all thinking 

Terry asks the questions we’re all dying to know—not right away of course, where’s the suspense in that!? But it’s a good reminder not to shy away from tough questions just because they’re potentially uncomfortable. For case studies, that could mean asking how a customer could have done it better, or faster. Or asking how much money they made. This requires some tact and transparency, making sure the interviewee knows they’re allowed to push back.   

All that in mind, the best advice is to shut up and listen. You likely only have 30 minutes to an hour with the interviewee, so try not to waste precious minutes giving your opinion on things. And when in doubt, ask yourself what would Terry do.