Is your design working for you?

Is your design working for you?

At some point, you may wonder if your design is working against you. If you saw our previous post about the success of design-driven organizations and felt a sinking feeling wishing your organization was more design driven…don’t despair! We’re going to give you some things to think about when putting some razzle-dazzle back into your design.


The best identity systems are those based on solid strategy. Consider your overall business objectives and review your logo, brand, print materials & website from a strategic perspective. Has the organization’s focus shifted from the original designs? If you have grown significantly or are reaching a very different audience, it may be necessary to redesign to more accurately reflect your current (and future) growth. We’ve covered strategy here, here and here.


Is your design professional? Often, smaller organizations launch with materials designed by a volunteer or a student. While that may be appropriate in the early stages, as the organization grows and seeks greater opportunity and influence, the quality and professionalism of the design need to keep pace.


Not all logos need updating. Consider your audience’s relationship with the logo. How much equity does your logo have? If your audience is very comfortable with your current logo, it’s wise to tread lightly when it comes to redesigning. In some cases, a beloved logo that would otherwise benefit from a revision might be better off with the most modest of updates.


A logo that is difficult to read or does not reproduce well is a good candidate for a redesign. Consider how the logo is used and note any difficulties you have in its application. Usability extends to the pain points that might prevent an organization from fully employing all of the materials and tools available to them. Knowing what you want your tools and materials to do is as important as having them in the first place. 


Do you have too many variations in your materials? One type of font & color scheme for one event, and something entirely different for the rest? While this is not an issue for smaller organizations, larger companies with many departments may find that they’ve lost control of the brand. This is an excellent reason to revisit the design — and create a reliable Identity Standards Manual — and then make one person responsible for managing consistency.


Consider how your branding and identity materials fit among your competitors/peers? Gather the logos from all organizations in your niche. Do any stand out as particularly well- or poorly- designed? If your logo looks out of place when viewed side-by-side with your peers, you should take a more in-depth look.


Beyond the specific design elements, a strong logo furthers positive associations with your organization. Do you feel that the logo accurately represents the organization? Do you like it? Are you proud of it? Does the logo —and the broader brand system— trigger positive emotions?

Undertaking this type of analysis of your materials and assets puts you in a perfect position to make more strategic and practical design decisions.

For more information or to enlist Union Design to provide a Design Audit of your logo or other marketing materials, send a note to



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The Value of Design

The Value of Design

Have you ever wondered how much value design adds to your organization?

As the design field moves toward greater accountability through data & analytics, we are finding more ways to measure the value of design. A 2015 report by the Design Management Institute found that design-driven businesses are correlated with greater profitability. Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 211% over the last ten years.

You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company in order to benefit from investment in design. Whether you’re running a non-profit or a start-up, ROI of design increases as it moves up the organizational ladder. When design strategy is integrated with business planning at the highest level, you’re setting yourself up to win.

Here are a few ways to increase the value that design brings to your organization:

Improve visual quality.

This applies to products, services, and communications. It’s not just about looks (it’s never just about looks, come on, you know that!). Search for ways to optimize the experience your audiences have with your organization. Show your audiences that you care about them by first understanding them, then developing communication materials that are clear, consistent and engaging.

Unify your design approach.

As customers interact with different aspects of your organization, make sure they are getting the same message and the same quality of presentation and care. Consider all of your materials (print and digital) as a cohesive unit. Identify areas of disconnect and move toward a more consistent organizational look and feel.

Integrate design with overall business strategy.

Perhaps the most important way to boost the value of your design is to think of graphic design as a business tool, not as window dressing. To see the real results design can deliver, time and effort must be spent developing strategic materials with the audience in mind. Skipping over this crucial step limits that value that design can add — and why would you do such a thing?! Develop a design strategy that supports the most important goals of your organization. Using an iterative process around design to drive innovation will improve the user experience and pay off for your organization.

As you become more intentional about your design strategy, measure the results of design improvements so you can see what resonates with your audience.

Get in touch with Union Design to learn more about what good design can do for you.

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You can read more about DMI’s findings here.

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How the magic happens.

How the magic happens.

Last week we talked about how a consult can help you get to the root of the problem you’re solving, and I find it’s helpful for people to know what comes after identifying the problem.

My process is highly intuitive, which comes from experience, but there is a strategic method underlying that intuition.

We start with a kickoff meeting where we dive deeper into the problem we need to solve and also make sure all of the relevant parties are identified and involved at necessary points. We also audit existing materials.

The audit is a key part of the process for understanding what has been done, what has gone well, and what direction the organization wants to go in, we really strive to get all of the relevant information out in the open. Discovery is an intense but necessary process.

Like death and taxes, we predictably start with strategy. One way to frame the strategic thinking is with who, what, and how?  The “what” phase is really about the “why.” And Who’s on first. You’re following, right? 🙂

A great deal of what we work on in the first phase of discovery is understanding the SMIT or the Single Most Important Thing. With the focus provided by understanding our SMIT (not to be confused with Smurf) we are able to navigate the entire project with clarity. When we try to do too many things at once, we can’t excel at any of them.

The second goal of discovery is to help the team get buy in from their superiors and decision makers. This goes back to having clarity around goals and understanding the stakes and the why of the project. Often people closest to the project get excited about the new direction, but struggle to “sell” that to their superiors. Discovery helps put the project in context so that the meaning stays connected to the goals and metrics.

After what and why, comes who. Who is the audience for this project? We delve into questions around the audience and existing landscape. If an organization doesn’t know who they are talking to, their ability to communicate effectively significantly diminishes.

The third phase of discovery is the “how.” During this phase we ask what the strategy for achieving our goals are, we discuss the tone, message, and visuals. I draw on all of the information that has been discussed up to this point and I create something that aligns with the goals and messages we’ve discussed.

While design can be central to our daily lives, we rarely take the time to stop and think about the process of how something came to be what it is, (unless it doesn’t work). The purpose behind the Union Method is that we think about what we want something to be so that what we create is effective. Join us in the journey to design intentionally.


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Can you ever really solve your own problems?

Can you ever really solve your own problems?

Is that philosophical question, or what?

It could be argued that if you could solve the problem, it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. But most non-profits deal with problems — problems of their clients, problems of their employees and usually people end up on this blog because they’re trying to solve a design problem.

The good news is that you don’t have to solve your own design problems.

The first step to getting your problem solved is booking a consult.

When people book a consultation, I start gathering information about the project goals, my gears are spinning from the first contact. The investigation starts right away!

This can be overwhelming, but my experience helps me to guide people through the process. At times, people aren’t clear on what their project goals are, or what they need, I get to the core of the project right from the beginning. We talk about all of the things I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks — audience, purpose, goals, intention — so that I can draw out the most essential information and start the design from a place of strategy. 

After a call I’m able to put together a project proposal, outlining all of the deliverables, deadlines, client responsibilities, and cost. This ensures we all start the project with the same expectations and understand our responsibilities.

Once the ink is dry on the contract, we get to work!

If you’re struggling to articulate your goals, or understand the purpose of what you’re doing, don’t feel bad, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re focused on the day-to-day. Why not book a phone call and get some help?



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Intention + Intuition

Intention + Intuition

*The Union Method*

Uniting strategy and visuals to create the impact you need.

What happens in the mind of a “creative” person is always mysterious to a “non-creative” person. It’s true that intuition is a powerful tool for creativity, but it’s also true that intuition is born from experience. Creative work is work — it takes practice, discipline, thoughtfulness, and skill.

While creating something that is visually pleasing is always an important part of what I do, something that is only visually pleasing, that doesn’t rely on any strategic intentions, is worthless. Getting to the goals, intentions, and strategy is the foundation of the Union Method — the process every client and every project go through to make the most effective design possible. 

What’s valuable about having a repeatable method is that it’s strategic in and of itself. The Union Method is designed to be flexible enough to work on different types of projects, but concrete enough to get the results needed in different situations. It’s both intuitive and intentional, so clients can trust that the work we’re doing is effective, without needing to micromanage every aspect of the creative process.



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Thinking about Design Thinking

Thinking about Design Thinking

Recently, my assistant, Krysta and I attended an AIGA event series entitled “Design for Social Impact” that focused on how to use design thinking to solve problems in the nonprofit sector. I follow a similar process in my design practice, so it was great to hear them break it down and show the steps they took.

If you’re not familiar with design thinking, I’ll give you an overview and share why I think it’s so valuable.

Design thinking is a process for solving complex problems. It was developed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (known as the It can be applied to all sorts of situations, from designing a product, service or brand to designing a system, business or idea. Design thinking is a flexible process adaptable to many situations.

Design thinking is characterized by a bias to action. Ideas that spend too much time in development can lose touch with the real people and problems they are intended to help.

So, let’s get to the process itself.  There are five steps.


1. Empathize

Empathize with your audience. Do you know who they are and what they care about? Create personas and and look at the world from their point of view. Go out and ask about their point of view! Use observation, engagement and immersion to discover what matters to them. Creating an interview process that includes another teammate is also helpful. One person can engage and be present in an interview while the other makes notes. Ask open ended questions and dig into interesting and relevant areas.

Remember, the key to empathy is “feeling with,” so taking the time to suspend your judgement or personal opinions is the only way you’ll gain the valuable insight about another persons perspective.

2. Define

Define the problem. Often we begin a project and discover later that we are solving the wrong problem. Sometimes it is a matter of going deeper or reframing the situation altogether. Get very clear on what problem you are trying to solve and why it matters. The example given in the first week of our AIGA workshop was, that we were first asked to design a vase, then we were asked to design a better way to enjoy flowers. Going from broad thinking to narrow in your consideration of the problem is a key element of design thinking.

3. Ideate

Once the problem is defined, ideate as many solutions as possible. Have a wild brainstorm and generate hundreds of ideas. Be creative and do not judge or rule out ridiculous-seeming ideas. The objective here is quick, dirty and collaborative! Build on the ideas of others, see what common ideas are emerging, and don’t let yourself get bogged down in what’s good/bad/realistic, etc. Be playful.

4. Prototype

Take a few of your best ideas and quickly prototype them. Do not make perfect, finished products. Make basic prototypes that get the idea across. Even if you’re not creating a physical product, you can prototype an idea. One technique is to create a specific character and storyboard their problem, and how they would interact with your solution — what are the beginning, middle and end of this process?

5. Test

Take your prototype out into the world and test it. You can do focus groups or user testing. Interact with people and get feedback.


Once you have gone through the steps, reevaluate and start the process again.

Every step will teach you so much about what you are trying to accomplish. Once you begin the process of defining the problem and ideating you will likely realize where the holes in your information about your audience are. This is why the process can be done quickly and repeated many times.

The emphasis on quickly prototyping ideas gets you out of a hyper-critical mindset that wants you to be “right” all of the time. It also helps you move away from wrong assumptions that can derail a project. Testing gives you immediate feedback that you can use to make your project better. Because the steps are done quickly, you do not invest all of your time or energy into one idea that must work. You can sprint through the process in a week or even a day, depending on your project. Again, the key here is flexibility—and failure. You can get the bad ideas out of the way quickly so that you can get to the good ones.

Design thinking is an apt way to design for an ever changing world. Gone are the days when one solution works in every situation or people are working toward a fixed point of perfection. We live in a multifaceted and complex world that needs diverse solutions and design thinking provides a framework to work toward better solutions every day.



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What could possibly go wrong?!

What could possibly go wrong?!

Sometimes it’s good to change up your technique.

In a couple of weeks we’ll talk about 5 questions to answer before getting started on a project. This week we’re taking the same idea of strategic planning, and coming at it from a different (potentially more playful) direction.

We’ve all heard of, and possibly done, a post mortem — discussion after a project of what went wrong and what could go better.

As opposed to a post-mortem, which is conducted after the fact, a premortem attempts to determine what could go wrong (and why) before it happens.

How to do a premortem  

  1. Assume that your project has launched and that it did not go well.
  2. Brainstorm all the factors that could have contributed to the poor outcome.
  3. Come up with ways you could have prevented the bad outcome.

Keep an eye out for any crises that could have been averted or obstacles that you had not considered.

Incorporate this new information into your planning and strategy. If this focus on negative outcomes sounds pessimistic to you, I assure you that it’s not. It’s so easy to overlook warning signs.

By imagining what could go wrong, we anticipate possible pitfalls and create an opportunity to change course.  

This process helps you uncover weaknesses so you can address them and launch with more confidence.

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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 emphasize your theme visually. Here are some guidelines I follow to make the most of this kind of content.


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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

Image via

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 your annual report – in return, you should take the 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 finish.

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


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 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 definite 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 merely 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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