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I went to the AMA Conference and …

Categories: Events, Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

AMA Conference 2013 website header – Game Change

We work with a fair few people in the arts sector and, for several years now, I’ve been a member of the Arts Marketing Association. “Why?”, I hear you cry, “You’re no arts marketer!”

True. But the idea is that we can be more helpful and useful – i.e. better at our jobs – when we have a decent understanding of what it is the folks we work with actually do all day; their aims, wider objectives, challenges etc. to use some businessy-type speak. And, yes, we may even meet potential new clients while we’re at it; bonus.

(Another significant reason for joining is that I don’t believe it ever hurts to learn new things either professionally or personally.)

So, that’s why I’m a member of the AMA. And, while I have rocked-up to a decent number of the local networking sessions (run by our trusty West Midlands reps Amy and Tim), I’ve certainly never been what you could call an active participant in the association.
Until Tuesday.

For it was Tuesday that I trained-it up to Sheffield (along with ooooh, at least half a carriage-load of Brum-based arts marketers) to attend my first AMA Conference; this year spending 2 days focusing on ‘game-change’.

The theme was introduced by Jo Taylor, AMA Chair, whose opening keynote was warm, enthusiastic and motivating, making for a good start and reassuring me that the next couple of days could be a very good use of my time.

Over those days I learnt a great deal; agreed with lots of things; disagreed with others; understood more than I expected to; felt out-of-my depth at times; caught-up with people I know; met loads of new folks … and made plenty of notes which I’m busy turning into blog posts (one of which will explain this post’s title).

One of the main things that stood out to me was that an arts marketer’s role is invariably varied. Mix that with the ever-changing ways in which people are communicating, and the sector's already stretched finances becoming even tighter, and the result is that marketing departments – or those whose role includes marketing – are having to take on more and more responsibility. So, us being better at our jobs (making sure our projects run smoothly – and enjoyably) is becoming more and more important.

All-in-all it was an intense, thought-provoking, tiring and enlightening couple of days. So, that was the easy bit! Now for the tricksy task of helping to put some of these learnin’s into practice …

Souped-up CSS

Categories: Our work, Useful/interesting

Since last writing about CSS we've developed our very own CSS framework – and we call it Soup.

Based upon Inuit.css (version 4.5.5) we've extended, adapted, and generally built-up a library of re-usable objects to form a framework that works well for us. Inuit is very lightweight and makes no design decisions whatsoever, so it made sense to start from there – as well as it coming from Harry Roberts (who gave us the talk on CSS).

So why not just use Inuit as a base for each project? Why make more stuff to sit on top of it?

Well, we found that as good as it is having Inuit not making any design decisions, there are some basics that we start with across many projects.

Forms are a good example here – we'll always want a certain set of base styles for all web forms across a site, and they'll have similar design functions – such as a 'normal' and a 'focussed' state – so it seemed sensible to extend Inuit's form setup; all it takes is colour and/or font changes (and any other specific alterations, if required) to quickly create a nicely designed form.

As we tend to use a similar typographical setup with respect to font sizes and vertical rhythm, we also added this into Soup – along with icons, buttons and a bunch of other helpers.

Another part of our extending Inuit to match our own needs is on the responsive side of things. We tend to use a mobile-first approach, initially including only the styles that a mobile device would need, then adding-in extra styling in a separate file for bigger devices (thanks Jeremy Keith).

Finally the other major aspect of Soup is the JavaScript; we include a few things from Twitter's Bootstrap as well as validation, some polyfills and a few other bits and bobs we use a lot of the time.

This approach of having a simple starting setup has saved us a lot of time over the past 6 months of using it. For example, combining this frontend Soup with our backend ExpressionEngine boilerplate helped us get dropletpay.com designed and built in under 2 weeks.

Here's to moving onwards and upwards with the recent release and stabilisation of Inuit version 5!

Design of the Year 2013

Categories: Inspiration, Learning things, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting



Image: Design Museum

Tomorrow, the Design Museum will announce the over-all winner of Design of the Year 2013 – a celebration of the past year's very best Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport design.

The winner will be chosen from this shortlist of category winners:

Architecture: Tour Bois-Le-Prêtre, Paris / Designed by Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal

Digital: gov.uk / Designed by Government Digital Service

Fashion: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel / Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Furniture: Medici chair / Designed by Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi

Graphics: Venice Architecture Biennale identity / Designed by John Morgan Studio

Product: Kit Yamoyo / Designed by ColaLife and PI Global

Transport: Morph folding wheel / Designed by Vitamins for Maddak Inc.

As a graphic designer, I obviously have a particular interest in the Graphics and Digital categories. John Morgan Studio's brand identity for the Venice Architecture Biennale is just my sort of thing; simple, elegant, well-executed and, once you've seen it, there could be no other solution. It's perfect. And James big-upped (bigged-up?) the government's new website not so long ago in this blog post – and it is a fantastic example of simple, thoughtful, useful design. But neither of these would be my Design of the Year.

Although I'm a fan of Heatherwick Studio's Olympic Cauldron which was longlisted in the Product category, my personal choice for Design of the Year is the one which took the cauldron out of the running – ColaLife's Kit Yamoyo.

Image: Simon Berry

An exceptionally deserving and clever category winner, each Kit Yamoyo contains single-dose packs of oral rehydration salts (diarrhoea is the second-biggest killer of under-5s in sub-Saharan Africa), and the wedge-shaped pods also double as measuring cups for adding the correct amount of water to dilute each sachet.

So, what's the link with cola? And why the weird shape? The pods are wedge-shaped to fit into the spaces between Coke bottles in crates, enabling them to be transported and distributed using Coca-Cola's extensive networks across the region. Ingenious!


A Kit Yamoyo promoter hands out vouchers to mothers. Image: Simon Berry

The story of how the idea came about is a must-read and, as the ColaLife folks say, "It must be the first time that an anti-diarrhoea kit takes centre stage as a design icon."

Design for good at its very best.

(I'll update this post with the official winner once the announcement's been made.)

UPDATE

And the *actual* winner is … gov.uk. Congratulations! (And kudos for getting a press release about the win sorted so quickly an' all.)

I stick by my personal choice of Kit Yamoyo, but the Government's new website was always James' pick; and there is something rather nice about a website winning this gong, I reckon. Especially as many of the GDS Team's (award-winning) design principles run through the work that we do – it's sound stuff!

If you want a closer look at the nominees, they're being exhibited at the Design Museum until 7th July. Although the winner can obviously be seen on an internet connection near you.

Feeling a bit green

Categories: Silly, Useful/interesting

It's that time of year when Pantone reveal their 'Color [sic] of the Year', and in 2013 we should be looking out for up-and-coming hue PANTONE 17-5641 Emerald, apparently.

Why? Because, according to Pantone's website, the "vivid, verdant green, enhances our sense of well-being … by inspiring insight, as well as promoting balance and harmony."

I'm not that convinced by the whole thing really, but perhaps there is something useful about it, in that it helps folks to stop and think about colours and colour trends; which is a pretty fundamental part of what we deal with as designers.

So, get ready to witness rails of clothing resembling forests, and a glut of references to The Wizard of Oz's Emerald City in the coming year.