Problem-Solving Through Design | Featuring: Brad Harris, Design Director, Cramer; Kari Ross, Senior Art Director, Cramer

EPISODE 11: Problem Solving Through Design | PODCAST

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Show Notes:

Today on Pivot Points we are joined by two of Cramer’s own team members; Design Director, Brad Harris and Senior Art Director, Kari Ross. Brad and Kari sit down with Elise and Tripp to discuss the difference between art and design and how both are used to create impactful events and strategic marketing content. They also discuss some of the myths behind one of the industries’ most used and often begrudged tools – PowerPoint.

Transcript:

Elise Orlowski:

I’m Elise Orlowski, a Senior Video Director here, at Cramer.

Tripp Underwood:

And I’m Tripp Underwood, a Creative Director at Cramer.

Elise Orlowski:

And at Cramer, we work with so many incredibly fascinating people from all over multiple industries.

Tripp Underwood:

We have so many great conversations, many that are just too good to keep to ourselves. So now we’re sharing them with the world.

Elise Orlowski:

Right here, from Cramer Studios.

Tripp Underwood:

This is Pivot Points.

Elise Orlowski:

Cut. So welcome back to another episode of Pivot Points. Today, we are talking actually with two people who are in the studio. We’re super excited about something that I’m super, super passionate about, which is design. I think, classically design in reference to art is defined as something that provokes emotion. And design is something that solves a problem. And I think, especially for you guys here, our designers, Brad and Kari, they’re super incredible problem solvers. And especially when it comes to events, there’s so many problems that we have to solve every day, especially when it comes to design. So to open up our first questions, I’m curious, Kari and Brad, when it comes to design, what do you think, often, that during events you have to problem solve for, that maybe people don’t know about?

Brad Harris:

Well, the first thing I want to pick up on is what you were saying about art evoking emotion and design’s more problem solving, which is totally true. But I feel like design also has emotion in it, but you’re solving-

Elise Orlowski:

Sure.

Brad Harris:

There’s a purpose behind it. And design is always like… Everything that we do, it looks nice, but there’s always a strategy behind it and some logic behind it. And that’s what I love. So there’s such a wide range of events that we do create designs for and theme graphics for. And it really is driven to resonate with whatever the audience is. So a lot of theme graphics are motivational because it’s a sales meeting and it’s all these people, they want to get excited about it. And it’s that sets the stage for all the content that’s going to be doing all the same thing.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah, and it’s funny because obviously, a theme graphic is art in a way, because it’s supposed to provoke emotion. It’s supposed to get people excited, they want to come to your event. I’m curious, Kari, do you have any thoughts even just about the difference between art and design, and what you have to problem solve on a daily basis?

Kari Ross:

Yeah, events, especially with going hybrid now, you have to design for so many different platforms, mediums is it environmental? Is it physical? Is it virtual? It’s just, how to design across the spectrum, but keep a consistent look and feel, but variation between each piece.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah, what do you guys feel? Because I feel like there’s design, classical design. And design is such a broad term too.

Brad Harris:

Yep.

Elise Orlowski:

There’s UX design, everything design. But I think, in terms of events, what do you think the difference is between design and event design? Because I think there’s a huge demographic that you guys cover when it comes to event design. What do you think the difference is? Or even maybe the misconception?

Brad Harris:

Between design and designing for events? So I always say, design is design is design. No matter what you’re designing for, it always needs to evoke that emotion. And similar to what Kari was just saying, with this pivot into all of the virtual platforms and doing everything virtually, it’s all still the same thing. They’re just different sizes and in different places. And a lot of the problem solving has to do with… I mean, in live events it’s a lot of environmental and space things. So you’re always putting yourself, and again, this is back to design thinking and stuff, and putting yourself in the minds of the attendees. So if you’re walking into a space, what are they going to see? Where are we going to put the banners?

Brad Harris:

So it’s a lot of that. It’s almost like real world UX, trying to get people to go through, and go down the right-

Tripp Underwood:

Interior design.

Brad Harris:

Hallways. Interior design, right. It’s all that stuff.

Tripp Underwood:

[crosstalk 00:04:32] is attached.

Brad Harris:

We do all of that stuff. It’s all the same. And it isn’t typical print design, layout stuff, long copy and pictures. It’s just a lot of different things.

Elise Orlowski:

Sure.

Kari Ross:

I think with what is the difference? I think there is some similarities where you need to have that wow factor. You need to catch them, whether it’s the first email blast that goes off for this a virtual event, but you need to have that just eye catching design that is going to carry through and evolve for the event. And whether it’s virtual, hybrid, whatever, but you need to have that eye catcher.

Brad Harris:

Yeah, and it’s really the visual connective tissue that goes through an event. So in other realms of design, you might do something that’s a social media campaign and you’re going to see a billboard in real life, and you’re going to see stuff on social, and it all sinks. But the event is all that, but it’s all the event communication. It is from the first email that you get about, “You should come to this event” or the first thing that you see that should draw you in, if you’re right for the audience, and drive you toward that event.

Kari Ross:

And then go and carry that on through the platform. So you know you’re in the right place. You’re there, it makes sense. You have that memory from the email blast or whatever it may be.

Brad Harris:

Yep, yep.

Tripp Underwood:

All the real world application that goes into, not just creating, but then thinking about how it’s going to exist within the world. Because writing, we do less of that. You, you write something, you say it, you send it out to the world and people react positively or negatively, but that’s it. You guys are much more trying to influence how they think over a long period of time, I feel like. And it’s a lot more visual and less obvious than the written word, which is something I’m always fascinated about.

Elise Orlowski:

And brand recognition too, because often, y’all work with, here’s the brand guidelines, this is the brand. And now how does this carry over into a specific event, but also how does it carry over into, again, social media, and then the virtual platform, or the physical set? There’s so many different things that it all carries into that, ultimately, if it’s well designed, you know, “That’s that event that I’m going to,” and you can immediately, very quickly recognize that. And it’s interesting because it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s actually quite difficult.

Brad Harris:

Well, and also when you think about events that we do year after year, the first year you did this and now here we are at the next year, do you want to keep the same integrity of the design from last year, to build equity in that look? Which is what a lot of events do. And for several years, they’ll have a similar look and feel. So again, it’s that recognition. So then next year people are, are like, “Oh yeah, that event was great. I want to go to that again.” Or, some people do something that’s wildly different every year from a visual standpoint, even though maybe the name of the event is the same. So it’s always rooted in logic and what, from a marketing perspective, makes the most sense.

Tripp Underwood:

And that’s a universal conundrum in marketing and advertising. At what point does consistency become old?

Brad Harris:

Absolutely.

Tripp Underwood:

And is it the idea of radically changing an instrumental part so it feels new, but retains what it is? And it’s subjective and there’s a science behind it. So I find that stuff interesting. Let me ask you a question, and this may seem loaded so let me know, but what is it like to work with one of your main me mediums being in PowerPoint or slides, which is something that I feel like, has a negative connotation in the world? I don’t know many people that are like, “I love working in…” You know what I mean? As somebody that works exclusively in writing programs, people are indifferent to it. No one loves them, no one hates them. I know a lot of people, they come in, be like, “I don’t want it to look like a PowerPoint.” I’m like, “It won’t because we have professional designers,” but do you feel any of that? Do you bristle when you hear that? Do you agree?

Kari Ross:

Yeah, I mean all the time, we hear it from our clients, or we hear it from people internally at Cramer. But I think it’s just a container to hold the design. It’s not necessarily, here’s my header, here’s my copy content. I think there’s ways to really make it not diverse, just dynamic. And whether it’s transitioning seamlessly or just looking outside of the box, and not keeping it so consistent, but staying within the brand guidelines, and the look and feel of the meeting, and just blowing it up, basically.

Tripp Underwood:

It’s less of a template, more of a canvas.

Kari Ross:

Yeah.

Tripp Underwood:

Right, so you do hear that a lot? It’s not just-

Kari Ross:

Certainly.

Tripp Underwood:

Okay.

Kari Ross:

Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Brad Harris:

The line is…

Tripp Underwood:

I didn’t want it be like I was blowing your minds, like, “What? People don’t automatically like-

Elise Orlowski:

“People don’t like this?”

Brad Harris:

“I don’t want it to look PowerPoint.”

Kari Ross:

Death by PowerPoint.

Brad Harris:

Tripp, going back to what you were saying, your question, I never really have put it in this type of a way, but all the writing programs, there’s no pressure to make the writing look good in Microsoft Word, or Google, or an email. It’s all about whatever the words are. Pick a font, but that doesn’t even matter.

Tripp Underwood:

As long as you don’t use Comic Sans, no one cares about your writing program.

Kari Ross:

There you go.

Brad Harris:

Right, but most of the business world uses PowerPoint, but they don’t have that art background, or that visual education to be able to make slides that look good, so PowerPoint never looks good if you go to any given company or whatever. But going back to what Kari said, it’s a canvas, it’s a vehicle. It’s really a vehicle to be able to drive slides, and presentations, and…

Tripp Underwood:

It’s a tool.

Brad Harris:

It’s a tool.

Tripp Underwood:

You give a monkey a tool, you’re not going to get much. You give a crafts person a tool and they’re going to build something for you. So it’s reiterate, I think what I’m looking for is, how do I get people when I talk to clients, of being like, “I don’t want it to be a PowerPoint.” You don’t want it to look like a PowerPoint.

Brad Harris:

To look like a-

Tripp Underwood:

But you absolutely need that functionality, trust me. Especially when you’re making last minute edits and not telling anybody.

Brad Harris:

Right.

Elise Orlowski:

There’s no other ways to do slides, man.

Brad Harris:

Right, you don’t want it to look like one of your PowerPoints. You could make something gorgeous in Photoshop and drop it into PowerPoint. And it’s a PowerPoint slide. You know what I mean?

Kari Ross:

It’s a vehicle, like a Brad said, versus a canvas. It’s a vehicle.

Tripp Underwood:

Cool. It’s a great way to look at it.

Elise Orlowski:

I’m curious, talking about slides and all these different things. Because I think now, in the virtual or hybrid environment, design was always important, but I think people are realizing, if it’s just a Zoom call, but it doesn’t have good design, or good lower thirds, or even really intriguing slides, your event’s not going to be that interesting. I’m curious, as we’ve transitioned, is there anything that maybe at first, was a little difficult to get used to? I feel like, now design can also be like, you’re designing a webpage almost. I feel like it’s kind of a learning curve. Was there anything in the beginning that was difficult or now you’ve actually really appreciated when it comes to designing for virtual?

Brad Harris:

First of all, all of it was difficult in the beginning because we were just thrown into figuring all this stuff out. And exploring all the different platforms that are out there and narrowing that down. And then educating our clients on how all of this works but that’s all communication. That’s all meetings, and presentations, and describing something very complex, like how everything works, visually. I love that kind of stuff, where this visual hasn’t been made before, but these are all the things we need to say. And then you put it together in a way that you’re like, oh, I understand it. Lower thirds are layers. You have your background layer, which is the video. And then in front, the lower third comes on. And there’s something else that I’m forgetting, but there’s three or four layers in there, as to what turns into the output of the broadcast.

Kari Ross:

I think when Cramer is involved, and I think it’s just making these broadcasts so much more dynamic, and really stretching these platforms, if we’re designing for them. There’s so much limitations, so many people say there’s not a unicorn of a platform, but how can we, not break, but stretch and make it look to the best it can with the limitations we have?

Tripp Underwood:

And I think to that point, I just have such a new appreciation. I’ve worked in the field for a long time, I’ve worked with you guys for a long time. I’ve never thought about lower thirds, my entire career. Except now, I’m like, “Where’s the shadow going to go?” I think being forced to do things more virtually has at least, brought my attention to detail a new newfound respect for what y’all do. And then also, I think the audience is starting to get a little bit more sophisticated in what they look for in art and design. So I think that the expectations have raised a little bit, but I like the challenge. And I do think it’s a new appreciation for that stuff that used to maybe go under the radar, or just be assumed, “Well, as long as it’s spelled right, who cares?” And now I think people do appreciate the flourish more.

Brad Harris:

And it was an interesting challenge last year with the platforms because clients would see other virtual events, and be like, “oh, what platform do they use? I want my virtual event to look that.” But the way that we always encourage our clients to pick a platform is, what are the things you want to accomplish from a back end? Because all these platforms do different things. That’s where it needs be rooted and then often, me and Kari get thrown into, they like this platform over here, but we can’t do that because so we have to use this one-

Elise Orlowski:

And they want it to look like this one.

Brad Harris:

And we need to make it look as good as it possibly can.

Tripp Underwood:

They’re confusing platform capability, but what they really like is design. It’s like, oh, actually, you didn’t fall in love with the platform that your competitor or whatever. You fell in love with the design that was done. And it’s educating of the difference between platform versus design and where they work together, and where they’re actually separate. So that all about reeducation.

Brad Harris:

Yep.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah, as we wrap up, and I think I ask this to people a lot. I ask it to creative directors, but I think obviously, this landscape creates so many new opportunities when it comes to hybrid and virtual, and now we’re doing more and we’ve stretched ourselves, and we’ve learned so many things. But I’m curious for you guys, is there anything that you’re really looking forward to when it comes to hybrid or the future of design? Now that we’ve also been exposed to so much, I’m curious, is there anything that you’re looking forward to or even looking forward to trying?

Brad Harris:

Well, I know Kari’s looking forward to getting back out on the road.

Kari Ross:

Yeah, certainly.

Tripp Underwood:

Pent up animals.

Brad Harris:

Right, as everyone else in the event industry is.

Kari Ross:

Yeah.

Brad Harris:

I don’t know. I like that now, if we’re doing a physical live event somewhere, that there’s the opportunity to have this other component. The virtual component just adds more to the list of things that we design for an event which is just so many different things.

Tripp Underwood:

And when they all line up, nothing feels better.

Brad Harris:

Yeah, totally.

Tripp Underwood:

It’s a complex thing, but when you get that thing where all the stars align and you can see it on a platform, you can see it live, you can see the email blast. You’re like, “This looks flawless.” It’s just a great feeling.

Kari Ross:

But I also think it lives on more, too. Having this hybrid approach in your content. You can go back and view and it’s not just physical.

Elise Orlowski:

That’s so true.

Tripp Underwood:

So much of what we used to have done, I mean, explaining to this table a little bit more to listeners, but you work for six to seven months on this one project, and then as of February 8th, at 10:00 PM, it’s over. It disappears forever. And I don’t think that’s really the case anymore.

Kari Ross:

No, I don’t think so.

Elise Orlowski:

Video on demand.

Tripp Underwood:

Exactly. There was something a little special about, when it’s done, it’s done, and you can move on. And you have a little bit more flexibility, but the reality of the digital world we live in, is that’s happening in every industry.

Brad Harris:

And design is a nice connective tissue between the people that are going to the live event and the people that are viewing it online.

Tripp Underwood:

It is the tissue, I would say. That and proper broad… A good audio, good visual feed, and then what the design looks like is really the thing that holds it all together for both audiences.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah, I think design has become of utmost importance, even more so than ever, and also it’s living on, like you said, beyond the event. And it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also really exciting to see the hard work that you do, carry on into the future.

Brad Harris:

Oh, yeah.

Elise Orlowski:

Awesome. Well…

Brad Harris:

Great.

Elise Orlowski:

I’ve learned so much from this conversation. I think this has been great.

Tripp Underwood:

Yep.

Elise Orlowski:

I mean, the difference between art and design is so interesting and fun, and it’s awesome just to see what you guys do every day for events. But with that, I think that’s all the time we have for today.

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah, Brad and I are working on a project and he’s got a deadline in five minutes.

Elise Orlowski:

Right, we should probably let them go.

Tripp Underwood:

That’s the difference when we have internal guests versus external. I’m like, “They owe me stuff.”

Elise Orlowski:

Time is money. Well with that, we thank you for listening to another episode of Pivot Points and we’ll see you next time.

 

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