Design as an Olympic Ambassador

How do you communicate something effectively and concisely to people who don’t share a common language?

Don’t rely on language.

Mexico 1968 Olympics graphic design

Wyman’s Wordless Wayfinding

The fact that good design doesn’t always require words is especially relevant at a major international event like the Olympic Games, where visitors who speak dozens of different languages are trying to find their way around.

“A person who doesn’t speak the local language is just as illiterate in a strange country as someone who can’t read at all. We’re all illiterate if we don’t understand how information is presented.”

–Lance Wyman


It was on this foundation that the 1968 Mexico City Olympics graphic design team, lead by Lance Wyman, built a system of pictograms and color coding into the event branding.

Mexico Olympics branding

Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Even with less translation, information became accessible to more people. You didn’t need to know Spanish or French or English, because coordinated tickets, signs, banners, and information kiosks would guide you to the right venue and all the way to your seat.

Mexico '68 Olympics ticket

“As Wyman says, ‘Graphic design became an important visual ambassador.’ […] The clear pictograms and distinctive colors […] helped to reinforce a sense of place and create a memorable Mexican identity.”

–Garry Emery


A Mark for a Modern Mexico

For all the non-verbal signage, the logo itself is the most text-focused of any Olympic City. The lines of the stylized “Mexico 68” were inspired in part by pre-Colombian Huichol art, yet the overall effect is mod 1960s.

Mexico 68 Olympics logo

“Has any design scheme so perfectly caught the graphic spirit of the times […] ? [Wyman and his collaborators] worked out a geometric fantasia of concentric stripe patterns that expanded to engulf a custom alphabet, groovy minidresses, and eventually entire stadia.”

Michael Bierut

Mexico Olympics dresses
Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Wyman went on to head up the design for Mexico City’s Metro, giving each stop its own pictogram.

Mexico Olympics branding

More information:

Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Images by Lance Wyman via Graphic Ambient.

Mobile Design Presentation at BlogHer Pro

I was honored to speak on DIY Mobile Design Strategies with Myriam Joire at BlogHer Pro ’13 in Silicon Valley.

The presentation was geared towards people who want to use their blog for business but aren’t at the stage where they’re ready to hire a designer yet. The fact is that hiring a designer is smart when you’re ready to take your business to the next level, but, when you’re just starting out, there’s a lot you can do on your own to improve your design and content to translate better across platforms.

A few of the tips we shared that DIYers can put into practice:

  • Don’t be afraid of simple. Simple is good.
  • Remember people will be viewing your site with many different browsers, devices, and settings (and possibly in different languages), so it will probably not look the same to your visitors as it does to you.
  • Test your site on a variety of platforms. Use Google Analytics to see how people are viewing your site.
  • Make your content accessible to as many people as possible.
  • Choose easy-to-read fonts for the body of your text (blog posts, etc.) and left justify it.
  • Look for themes with “responsive design” in description.
  • Test mobile plugins out and have others try navigating your site to make sure no important functions are cut out.
You can view our slides (which were pretty minimal but include a resource list) and hear the complete audio of our presentation on SlideShare.


Update: You can also listen to the audio offline via “DIY Mobile Strategy” on divShare.

Shirts and hoodies. Word.(Camp)

WordCamp Phoenix has a reputation for being one of the best user conferences for website/blogging platform WordPress.  A big part of what makes it great is the army of volunteers who make it happen.

Event organizers entice (and thank) volunteers with a much-sought-after hoodie that is not available to the public. We were proud to be asked to be part of this event and provide the prized hoodies, as well as attendee t-shirts.

Really sweet WordCamp Phoenix t-shirts.

Since the event was in mid-January, we started early to work around the holiday schedule.

We searched high and low to find t-shirts in a shade of blue to match the WordPress logo. Once we found those, we chose hoodies in a mocha color that would complement the t-shirts and the travel motif designer Lori Pasulka had created for the event.

Our initial t-shirt design had the event name off to the side, so the printing would go over the sleeve a bit with the tagline running up right side and the logo on the back.

Original WCPHX t-shirt design.


The hoodies initially had the event name and tagline on the right side of the hoodie in the stencil font Lori had chosen for the website’s headings.

WordCamp Phoenix 13 hoodie design



When worn together, the t-shirts would just say “Word.”

WordCamp Phoenix 2013 hoodie and t-shirt design


The WordCamp team made some revisions to the fonts and placement of the designs before they were ready for us to send them to print.

WCPHX final hoodie and t-shirt designs

When we delivered the 18 boxes of t-shirts and hoodies to Gangplank, I think event organizer Carol Stambaugh may have literally jumped for joy! She loved the colors, simple designs and quality product.  In fact, there was so much buzz that a photo of the (previously) top secret hoodies was leaked on Facebook.

Boxes of t-shirts and hoodies

Due to the event’s popularity and last-minute registrations, Carol was concerned that there weren’t going to be enough shirts and wanted to know about the possibility of another run right before the event. Usually, a second run of a design is not cost effective. However, we were able to work it out, so that WordCamp Phoenix got the second order of tees at the same price point as the first. They were done by the first day of the event, in time to replenish their stock and make sure there were enough tees to go around.

Thanks to Carol and her team, WordCamp Phoenix was again a huge success! They did a super job. And I hope those WordPress blue t-shirts and super comfy hoodies helped at least a little.


April Holle and Carol Stambaugh with a hoodie and a shirt.

I’ll be posting photos from WordCamp on our Facebook page. (Which reminds me, have you liked our page yet? We post great things about community events and small business resources!)



3 Moments Behind the Scenes at Bold Avenue

Stage curtain

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at a few of last year’s projects, with sketches and stories that didn’t make it into the original posts.



While working on Bradford Jones Photography’s marketing collateral, he sent me a selection of his photos to choose from to use on the postcard. I emailed him to suggest we feature a particular photo of a bride hugging her dad – even though you could only see part of the man’s face and none of the woman’s, I felt it really told a story and would appeal to his target audience. After expounding on why the father/daughter photo would be particularly meaningful for this piece, Bradford let me know the photo was actually of a bride and groom. Whoops.


trivial pursuit game piece
Game piece by Leo Reynolds. CCL.
Early sketches for Audience Audit web icon project.
Preliminary sketches for Audience Audit web graphic project.
Audience Audit segmentation web icon
Final icon for Audience Audit website, “What the $%&# is Segmentation?” page.

Divide by Pie As a graphic designer, you always have to make sure your design elements communicate your intended message and don’t look like some other random object. Like a board game piece. Yeah.
I was hard at work on the web icons for Audience Audit, when I got suddenly worried that the segmentation icon (which is round and divided into wedges), might bear a passing resemblance to a Trivial Pursuit game piece. I googled Trivial Pursuit images. And I considered dividing the icon into 8 pieces instead of 6. But 6 worked so much better with the color palette and balanced out the triangles and other “threes” in the graphics so nicely. On top of that, Audience Audit often discovers about 6 segments of a client’s audience. (If you’re not familiar with their work, you can read more on their site.) The point is, 6 just seemed to be the right number. So I took one segment and moved it out, so it was partly outside of the circle – as if someone were serving up a piece of pie. A much tastier solution!

Mexican embroidery peacock design.
Photo via A Beautiful Mess.


Niki Blaker and I were given a jump start on designing the Ignite T-Shirts. The Ignite team and Splinter Creative had already chosen a palette of pink, purple and other vibrant colors and a look (Mexican floral embroidery style). It all looked great on the printed page.

The challenge came in translating those elements into something a diverse group of volunteers would all be happy to wear. When a design got too busy, Niki would look at me and say “Would you wear that?” “No,” I’d admit. “Would you?” If a concept passed that test, then we’d ask “Would Chris Conrey wear that?” (Why him? I’m not exactly sure. We were at Gangplank, and he probably walked by. Plus, we didn’t think he’d wear anything overly fussy or floral.)

Getting to a design that passed the Conrey test was definitely a high-five moment.

Ignite t-shirt design


Web icons that make sense

“You know my brand, I’m happy with your past work, it makes sense!”

Susan Baier was thinking aloud during our meeting about why she chose us to create icons for the Audience Audit website redesign.

After we met, I got to work, thinking about the brand and the headings these icons would illustrate, brainstorming, sketching, and collaborating on a color palette with the developer, Greg Taylor of Marketing Press. I also began exploring concepts related to geometric shapes and patterns, which would work on several levels, complementing the circles central to Audience Audit’s logo and becoming a type of symbol for each heading.

Rather than sticking strictly to abstract geometric patterns; however, I moved toward icons that looked like charts and graphs, since analyzing data is a big part of what Audience Audit does. The “BETTER CLIENT WORK = MORE AGENCY REVENUE” icon, for example, is a rectangle that looks like a line graph with revenue increasing.

When the timeline for the site launch got moved up, I hustled to put the finishing touches on the icons and made sure they were ready to go before the site went live.

The icons complement the site, giving it an even more custom, eye-catching look and feel.

And, yes, Susan is still happy with our work.



Go full color!

It used to be that color was a luxury with printed materials primarily in black and white and color doled out sparingly.

Times have changed, and so have print processes.

Color has become an affordable indulgence.

Sometimes our clients are concerned about the number of colors in banner or business card designs. But we can often offer full color printing for the same price as one-color – so we do.

For those projects, full color printing can be a brilliant solution.

Invitations to a storybook wedding


Fairytale weddings are overrated. Trying to orchestrate a perfect day in this imperfect world generally just stresses everyone out.

Katie Charland and Tyler Hurst got it right when they began planning a storied wedding – a laid-back celebration of community and a new chapter in their lives.

When it came time for the invitations, they already had a few of the pieces: beautiful textured agave paper and their silhouettes traced and cut out by an artist at a charity event


We incorporated the silhouettes into an elegant black and white design with a playful twist.

During brainstorming, I noticed that the word “tie” is in Katie’s name and the sound of the word (although not the spelling) is in Tyler’s. I thought about weddings and tying the knot, and made that play on words central to their design.


We echoed the silhouettes on the inside of the invitation. On the back, we carried the style over with a logo-like “t+k” and their wedding date. 

Finally, I set it all up in files that would be easy for them to print themselves.




Good design ain’t (just) pretty

For some reason, I started thinking about design and order this morning. I jotted down some thoughts. Then I remembered a related Twitter conversation during Phoenix Design Week about whether creativity requires chaos and/or order. Perhaps it has been percolating in the back of my mind all this time, because now I have a clearer view of how it all fits together. 


Design is not just about beauty; it is also about order.

This shouldn’t be surprising, since the two are often intertwined like a double helix. You see them in the points of a snowflake and the honeycomb in a beehive. Order. Beauty. Elegant design.

There may be randomness – or even chaos – in the creative process. But, in the end, design puts things into place, where they make sense and function beautifully. When entropy creeps in, design re-orders.

Order doesn’t have to mean monotony. Think of all the different types of trees and all the different ways tree branches grow. They all come from seeds. And, whichever way a seed falls, it somehow knows to put roots down into the ground and to send stem, branches and leaves up toward the light. Leaves don’t grow on roots. Roots don’t grow toward the sun. There is both order and beautiful variety in the way trees grow.

Being a designer means getting to the heart of a problem and discovering an elegant solution. It means arranging separate pieces so they become a whole new unit. It means transforming a confusing process into an intuitive one. It means bringing order from disorder in a beautiful way.

3 things to stop worrying about in your web design!

This post is adapted from some thoughts I shared with a web design client this week. I thought others getting a site designed might find this useful as well. 


Web vs. Print

One challenge of web design is that you can’t control the medium.

With print, you can be much more precise, controlling font sizes, colors, layout, etc. We can sit down with Pantone color books and choose the perfect shade of green. The printed brochure will look the same to everyone you hand it to, because they are all viewing it via the printed page. 

Web design, on the other hand, is viewed via people’s screens, which you have no control over!



Things that will vary for your site visitors:

  • Monitor size – People may view your site on one of those older, squarish monitors or a 27-inch iMac or a laptop or even a phone.
  • Monitor settings – Color varies from one screen to the next and adjusting color and brightness settings can make the same site look completely different.
  • Browsers – Viewing a site in Firefox may not be the same as viewing it in Internet Explorer.
  • Size/Text settings – People can change the default text size for their computer and/or zoom in and out on browser pages.
  • Accessibility settings – People with visual impairments may be using screen readers or Braille terminals



Do you need to worry about how to accomplish all this? No! If you have a good web designer, they’ll know that the best way to deal with all these variables is to create a website design that is flexible.

Rather than trying to control every detail, we create a good design with the flexibility to work in a wide variety of situations.



So you can stop worrying about…

  1. Exact text size. Don’t think “14 pt.” Think “large.”
  2. Exact color. Don’t think of picking the perfect crayon from a huge box. Think of choosing the best fit from the 16-pack. 
  3. Scrolling.* Don’t focus on what you need to scroll to see, focus on the whole page and overall layout. Some people may not need to scroll to see everything; others may need to scroll even more than you do. 

In other words, you can stop worrying about controlling every aspect of your site, and think of the big picture: Is it easy to navigate? Does it communicate your message? Does the look and feel reflect your organization?

Once you’ve found a web designer you can trust, take a deep breath and don’t sweat the small stuff. 


*You may have heard the expression “above the fold,” which comes from the term for the top half of the newspaper page – the place for the most important headlines. Since web pages obviously do not fold in half like newspapers, “above the fold” in web design refers to the part of the page you do not have to scroll to see. However, as I mentioned above, there is such a variety of devices (and settings) that people may view your site on nowadays that you can really make the argument that there is no fold.

Post-conference musings on design, change and the process of processing

Last week AIGA (the professional association for design) held their national design conference here in Phoenix, Arizona. 


I left the conference with some new (and renewed) connections, a bag of swag and a lot of interesting concepts to ponder. 

How do we anticipate change, adapt to it, and even embrace it

Are designers the ones to help society through transition and tackle its challenges?

How do we design more sustainably and more responsibly?

Do things naturally tend toward order or chaosOr both? Are both necessary for creativity?

…just to mention a few. 

And, on a lighter note, how do you sort through all the stuff – physical artifacts, as well as ideas and discussions – that you come away with after an event like this? Do you have a process to process it all?


More of photos of the AIGA Pivot Conference and Phoenix Design Museum Opening on Flickr.