blog


managing our own brand | 7/05/16

The toughest client for any designer is always themselves. Today marks the release of my new website and updated portfolio, and with that comes an age-old problem faced by the creative industry. It's definitely easier to see things clearly as we guide a client through a successful design project, but with an internal assignment the brief is a lot more open.

I've seen many experienced, professional designers fall apart when it comes down to building their own brand – it's as if the potential is too big, there's too many skills, styles and personalities to capture and still retain a professional design ethic. The simple, logical answer is to treat the project as though it's another live client – but, that can be so much easier said than done, and to quote Baz Luhrman "...if you succeed in doing this, tell me how."

I've personally agonized over minute tweaks for a host of my own projects through the years, part of the designer's psyche is to question everything and absorb the influences and trends that surround us – so creating a personal brand that tells the world exactly who we are and what we do can be an impossible, thankless task. But even with all that agonizing, I'm very pleased to launch the new website. It gives me a chance to showcase some of the work I've created over the last year with some exciting clients, all wrapped up within the portfolio piece which is the website itself.

I hope each visitor enjoys the final result, any comments would be welcomed at mike@mikeball.design

shooting the bigger picture | 3/1/16

As creatives, are part of the group of thought leaders that encourage and reflect cultural shifts – sometimes in sync with the mood of the population, and sometimes striving ahead. It’s our job to be trend-setters and not followers, how we approach many elements – photography in particular – can set a tone that resonates through society as a whole. With the language we choose and the images we curate, we hold a responsibility to be progressive as well as creative, thankfully the days of sticking a pretty woman next to a product are gone… well, almost, I still see shocking attempts at allure-based advertising, but typically not from respected creatives.

To contextualize, I recently finished a photo shoot for a client which required the use of glamorous models, and at no point am I suggesting that we should just do away with good looking people within creative explorations. What I am suggesting is that we get the balance right, tell a story that is important to the work and not rely on a glimpse of skin to grab attention. On my recent shoot, we purposely pulled the male and female characters forward to be partners, equal in billing and both central to the story. On previous executions (before my time on that particular account), the female models had been use as props, draped like expensive jewelry on the shoulders of the male hero. It was dated, and while we had to have some continuation of the client’s glamorous brand identity, we all felt that in casting charismatic talent and shooting in a lifestyle tone, we’d be able to promote an exciting nightlife message without compromising the bigger picture.

sustainable disposability | 8/4/14

It could be argued that as an industry, we design very pretty landfill, and that everything we do contributes to an area of waste that does more harm than good. And to a point, I agree.

The challenge that confronts our industry is a complicated one – how do we passionately care about our work, the product we create and yet behave responsibly for the greater good?

Packaging in particular has always been disposable, it's the natural life cycle of most projects that begin with a creative brief and end with a consumer purchase, and that inevitable disposability constantly hangs over the industry. As we move into a more conscious world, a world filled with smart consumers, of millennials rejecting previous ideals of buying, owning and consuming on a grand scale, we are faced with multiple dilemmas. If the world is turning its back on consumer excess, if we're buying more fresh, farmer's market and organic produce while pushing companies to think about the way they package their product, requesting and pushing for less packaging, less waste and more natural solutions, surely this would be be a worrying death knoll for our services?

I personally believe otherwise. The movement towards fresher foods, less waste and a more conscientious approach to daily life is something I genuinely agree with, and in the long term it I think it will benefit our industry. If consumers demand companies to behave more responsibly, to hold them to higher standards and think of the bigger picture, then we will be need to create smarter solutions. By reducing packaging, we promote smarter design. If we have less packaging real estate to work with, we need to find better ways of communicating to our audience – the trend of Photoshop junkies could be over, while big, red and bold will hopefully no longer be an option.

And with the cultural shift towards greener packaging options, is the development of newer materials. I've recently discussed the use of a printable 'paper' made from recycled plastic water bottles, similar to the materials used for some sportswear ranges, particularly team jerseys at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. With this trend of better materials twinned with reduced packaging and the need for smarter design, I feel our industry has a very bright future – it's in our bones to evolve and experiment with new formats.

To summarize, yes, we are partially responsible for wastage, but with bold clients we can also be at the forefront of a change, making a difference from within. We can push for better materials as we have for ecological inks, responsibly sourced papers and cleaner, greener ways of working, utilizing new substrates and reduced layers of wrapping, promoting their use over more damaging methods. With a push from both outside and inside – consumers and professionals alike – there can be a significant difference in the way that natural life cycle that starts with a creative brief actually ends.

design's new era | 10/3/13

Design, being a visual format, has always been somewhat subjective, as everyone – in all walks of life – will have an opinion on all aspects of the work we create. But as part of the industry, it's incredibly interesting to see perceptions of the importance of design change over time. Recently, Apple upgraded to iOS7, causing millions of iPhone users worldwide to update their current handsets or buy new release models, and what's the first thing that most people talked about? Design.

The new operating system was a breath of fresh air, it was widely anticipated and came with a lot of attention, stemming from Apple's own marketing team and the huge amounts of press the release generated. I overheard people in bars, coffee shops and grocery stores, from all walks of life, chatting with friends about the new interface – its icons, fonts and layout were all topics of conversation, opening up our industry to the biggest stage.

As designers, we encounter opinions on a daily basis, some we agree with and others we don't, but we work in a visual field that doesn't always contain absolute rights and wrongs. With iOS7 being discussed so widely, it was apparent that the general public has a lot to say, but also that the boom in well-crafted technology has put high-end design into most people's lives. Never before has such technology been so widely available, especially from a giant manufacturer with such an emphasis on sleek innovation. It can't be a coincidence that as Apple switched to its new flat design ethic, Google updated its own logo with a similar ethos, causing a ripple effect across the globe that will continue for some time.

So what does this mean to us? Designers have sometimes earned a reputation for being absorbed in their own version of an idea, prickly to outside opinion, but I see this sea change as a hugely positive effect on our industry. As the public becomes ever more acquainted with design, it allows us to push it further, make it better, take more risks and create to a higher level – and that's exactly what we've always strived to do.

communication through design | 7/19/13

Skeuomorphic design has had a lot of press recently, most notably in Apple's decision to move away from the design theory that laced its calendar in digital leather and provided its contact book with fake, stitched pages. But, with the backlash, where does design stand?

Flat design the new buzzword, with Windows 8 already using its simplistic stylings to convey a clean, modern ethic, more fitting to the technology the majority of us use daily. I for one was a little put off at the release of Apple's Lion platform, which was utterly at odds with their sleek packaging and first to thrust clunky – and in my opinion, dated – visuals down our throats. Although Lion upped the quality of service with the iCloud, enabling the seamless use of multiple devices without the need for syncing or repetition, the awkward design wasn't nearly as progressive. The cloud technology was a massive success, enough to keep Apple stalwarts happy, but I feel the interface was aimed at a certain section of the home user market that was previously untapped by Apple, conceived to directly convert those users less confident in modern computing and gain a larger share of traditional PC-user sales.

But, with skeuomorphic now being a dirty word in the design industry, will flat design prevail? Well, simple visual metaphors are a huge part of design's communication – particularly within the consumer goods sector – because design in general is about communication. After all, the globally recognized symbol for email is the reverse side of an envelope, and yet how much actual relevance does that have with modern users? Most camera apps utilize a shutter sound at the point of taking a photo, and the archaic handset phone is still a well used and thoroughly acceptable symbol to make a call. Packaging in particular has to tell a story to consumers within moments, conveying the product, its price point and its benefits; an organic product made with all natural ingredients will look different to a caffeine-filled energy drink, with these visual design queues being integral to recognition and consumer experience.

In essence, it's important not to confuse skeuomorphism with visual metaphors. Even fans of the most minimalist design ethic utilize subtle design nuances to tell their particular story, and while I'm looking forward to the release of iOS7 – and even more so to the OS that replaces Lion's successor, Mountain Lion – I won't be as keen to see intelligent design fall foul to flat design, purely because tacky, overblown software made designers think twice about using smart visual queues.