Why does it matter?

why does it matter?Your work.

Your message.  

Your fundraising goal.

Why does it matter?

What would happen if you didn’t do it?

Who does it matter to?

How would people’s lives be different if you quit tomorrow?

These questions are at the root of  how we design.

At every new stage, with every new objective, these are the questions you must ask if you want to make the biggest impact you can.

Contemplation and action can be at odds, you have to find the balance of asking and doing that works for your organization, but don’t sail a rudderless ship by getting mired in day to day operations and forgetting to check the map.

Check back next week for more insights into how we think strategically about every design project we take on.

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How to take your Annual Report from meaningless obligation to impactful tool!

How to take your Annual Report from meaningless obligation to impactful tool!

One word


K! Thanks! See you back next week!

Kidding. Kidding. But seriously, think of it another way.

Have you ever accidentally run a marathon? No? Does that seem like an odd question?

Of course it’s does, because running a marathon takes planning, training and strategy, it’s not just routine (at least not the first one). When something is a routine part of our lives, we can forget to connect to the core purpose of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Don’t fall into this trap with your annual report.

If you do, you miss a huge opportunity to be strategic, gain accountability and focus on your plans for the coming year. Reporting on your accomplishments and organizational changes are part of the equation that goes into creating your annual report. However, if you’re looking forward as well as backward, you can more clearly articulate where you are right now. You have the opportunity to look forward to the new year and publicly commit to your goals. This can be powerful for accountability and transparency, which are keys to building trust.  

Doing the work to bring your goals for the coming year to your designer as you collaborate on your annual report will pay off by creating a blueprint for your year to come. A strategic annual report can create a wealth of marketing material to draw from for the next twelve months, not to mention continue to grow your relationships with your donors.  

The goals for the coming year can also help inform the theme. Creating a theme that’s cute or catchy may seem like a good idea, but powerful design needs to relay real meaning, not show arbitrary symbolism. The theme, the report, and the overall design all need to strategically align with the goals.

When we start with goals, we have the best opportunity for creating something that aligns with your organization’s values and will resonate with donors who are ready to support your mission.

If you want your annual report to be worth the investment, you need to use it as strategically as possible, and being strategic requires doing the deep thinking up front.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Email or set up a consult to set the process in motion so that you can spend your next year with clear direction, public accountability and stronger relationships with your donor base.


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Let’s get visual

Let’s get visual

As you are pulling together content for your Annual Report, you are likely to come across pieces of content that can be used effectively in a graphic format. Charts and graphics are a great way to emphasis your theme visually. Here are some guidelines I follow to make the most of this kind of content.


Image via : pasteinplace.com



Charts are skimmable.

Charts and graphics (along with headlines, captions and pull quotes) break up the copy and give an instant overview of your content. A carefully chosen infographic can give a sense of the article’s content and pique curiosity. Think of your chart as a visual pull-quote. Choose to showcase data that is clear, visually interesting and relevant to your overall message. Pull data from your content and make it visual, just like a pull quote.

Visuals are easy to digest. 

Charts make complex information easily digestible by creating a visual snapshot.

Take, for example, dietary guidelines. You can write at length about the correct balance of vegetables, protein and fats in a healthy diet. While there is a lot of specific information that you want to communicate, the main thing you want your audience to walk away with is how to portion out these food categories. A graphic of a plate that is half vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter fats & carbs makes it very easy to remember. A person may not remember how many grams of protein they are supposed to eat, but with the help of this graphic, they can look at their plate and instantly assess how it matches with the guidelines.

The best charts are those that have a clear purpose, provide information that is relevant and useful to your audience and creates instant understanding.

Clarity is key. 

The meaning of the chart should be instantly apparent. Even complex charts, when well designed, trigger instant recognition. If you are trying to communicate too many different ideas in one graphic, it will be less effective. Don’t confuse people by trying to put too many different ideas or data sets into one chart.

Image via samhundley.com

Image via samhundley.com

Keep telling a story. 

As discussed in previous posts you should showcase information that will engage your readers. Data that is exciting to internal staff may not have the same resonance for your external audiences. Remember that people do not care about numbers; they care about the people that data represents. Your charts and graphs should support the overall story you are telling, and don’t be afraid to inject some personality into your data!

Remember this – your audience is lending you their precious time by reading you annual report – in return, you should take them time to make their experience delightful.

Great design always centers around connecting the consumer with the message in a way that’s easy, enjoyable and keeps them connected to your endgame.

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How to choose a theme for your Annual Report

How to choose a theme for your Annual Report

If you’re reading this – hopefully you checked out our last post about choosing a theme for your annual report. If not, go back and read it, we’ll still be here when you’re done.

So, now you know choosing a theme for your annual report is the way to get people to READ your annual report — you just need to choose one!


Actually choosing a theme for your annual report means you need to look at the big picture of the past year. Working with a designer can help you step back and get the perspective you need.

When I am working with clients to develop a theme, here are some of the questions I ask:

  • What did you accomplish in the last year?
  • What successes do you want to highlight?
  • What do you want to focus on in the year to come?
  • What do you want your donors to know?

What will lead to the most compelling story?

Because a theme is really just a conduit for the story you will tell.

A theme should make the story active, the reader will become a part of the change that occurred in your organization. Focusing on a clear beginning, middle, and end will help your audience feel the change and growth in the organization.

And feelings motivate action.

How do you want your audience to feel? And what do you want them to do? Choose the theme that motivates those actions.

BUT! Remember: a theme doesn’t have to be literal.

You can also think of a theme as a unifying element, and this might mean it doesn’t tell a story in the traditional sense with a beginning, middle and end.

A theme is simply a way to organize the information you are presenting so that people will better understand your organization. A theme can be:

  • a unifying visual element
  • a repeated phrase
  • metrics driven

It’s easy to talk about your work with people who already know and understand what you do, but you have to remember to bring new people into your audience and that means meeting them where they are. A good theme can help you do that.

The right theme will help you connect with your audience both in your annual report and in the rest of your content for the year to come.

Struggling to find a theme for your annual report this year? Make an appointment and let’s talk through it! 

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How to make sure your Annual Report gets read.

How to make sure your Annual Report gets read.

Communication is hard. Every aspect of your life depends on communicating well, from small things like being sure you get the right coffee order to bigger issues like making the purpose of your organization understood.

And just like communication is about being clear in your message, it’s also about understanding and considering your audience.

When people feel understood, they listen.

Seems obvious, right? But how many times today did you feel heard? Really listened to? I bet not as much as you would have liked.

So how do you make people feel heard (and thus listen) in a seemingly one way communication like an annual report?

The answer is simple — pick a theme.

You need to show your audience you thought of them first. You thought about why they needed the information in the first place, and what their experience would be while taking it in.

Picking a theme for your annual report will —

  • keep the information relevant
  • set a tone for the year to come
  • help the audience connect personally to your mission
  • And bonus — give structure to your own preparation process.

You can’t unlock a smartphone these days without reading about how distracted we all are. When your organization sends out its annual report, this is what you’re competing with. Information overload leads us to check out, to default back to something easier or more immediate.

A theme can keep people captivated, turning pages, and engaged with your goals and accomplishments.  

A theme is your gift to your audience. You gain trust by taking them on a journey that feels thought out and delivers a clear, consistent message. You show them how they play a role in your success.

Now that you understand the importance of creating a theme for your annual report, take some time and reflect about what yours could be.  

Check back next week or subscribe to have future posts emailed directly to you!

Next week — find out how to choose a theme that’s just right!


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Restoring the American Dream

Restoring the American Dream

I was recently commissioned by Education Post to develop a piece of editorial art for an article by Peter Cunningham about the state of the American Dream. It was a fun creative challenge for me and an honor to work with such a thoughtful writer.

Head over the Education Post to read the article.

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Carambola Community Music

Last fall, Maria McCullough and Yahví Pichardo packed up a trailer full of musical instruments and journeyed from Chicago to El Paso to pursue their dream of starting a community music school near the U.S.-Mexico border. In October 2015, they founded Carambola Community Music, the region’s only space dedicated to cross-generational education in Mexican folk music, song, dance and visual art. Maria, Yahví and their staff offer bilingual classes and host community events for people of all ages at their location in downtown El Paso.

I was honored when Maria and Yahví asked me to develop a visual identity for Carambola. They are a powerful team who bring passion, dedication, love —and lots of hugs— to everything they do. I am so excited to share with you the branding for Carambola Community Music.


My process with Carambola began with a series of questions and conversations about Maria and Yahví’s vision. As they shared with me their intentions and aspirations as well as their specific business goals, we all deepened our understanding of what Carambola represents. Through our work together, they became more clear on their mission and found words to communicate their ideas about the new community.

Carambola Community Music celebrates people of all ages and walks of life creating, learning, and experiencing together. We are dedicated to preserving and growing the living tradition of Mexican folk music, song, dance, and visual art along the US/Mexico border. As we explore these art forms, we discover the intertwined roots of Mexican and American cultures.

CCM-5As a designer, I wanted to give them a beautiful logo to support their vision. And I also felt it was important that they, as a small but growing business, have the tools to maintain the brand on their own. That’s why the extended brand elements — color, typefaces, wordmark — are key to this identity.

The logo, dubbed the Circle of Joy, is designed to overlay photos, making it a living entity that interacts with its background or setting. What’s behind the logo becomes part of the logo. In this way, the logo embodies Carambola’s understanding of the fluidity of borders and music as a living tradition.


This circle of joy is a physical emblem of our commitment to the region and our community’s collective dreams and visions. As we plant seeds within our borderland, we are sharing and growing our roots together.

The circle represents a desire to connect, find safety in community and be part of a whole. The varied colors represent our varied life experiences.  The colors remind us of our Earth; the coolness of water and the fire of the sun.

The fiddle and the guitar represent our founders Maria and Yahví. They brought these beloved instruments with them across the country to share and continue learning.

In El Paso, we are separated from Mexico by a man-made border, but we remain connected by our land, our spirits and through the creative expressions we share.


To learn more about Carambola, visit carambolacommunitymusic.org, or follow them on facebook, twitter or instagram.


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