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The 2017 NZSO Season hits the streets with an ‘expected, unexpected’ conviction

21 Aug 2017 by Brian Slade

Creating a campaign months ahead of it appearing in public is always an interesting exercise. Not only is there the delayed creative gratification but also trying to gauge how effective the idea will be in reality....

Marketing & Communications
the 2017 nzso season hits the streets with an ‘expected, unexpected’ conviction brian slade

creating a campaign months ahead of it appearing in public is always an interesting exercise. not only is there the delayed creative gratification but also trying to gauge how effective the idea will be in reality. this year, it’s been exciting watching our new zealand symphony orchestra (nzso) ‘expect the unexpected’ creative platform gradually unfold. the cumulative impact of the visually distinctive campaign has definitely been building momentum as it has hit the streets with our striking posters and social media alignment.

we're now midway through the 2017 nzso season and are now starting to see some of the stronger campaign images popping up across our main centres.

this time last year we did a three day shoot of the some of the orchestra members dressed in ‘civvies’ to strategically break down a few barriers and challenge misconceptions about the orchestra. one in particular is bridget douglas, section principal - flute. our ‘expect the unexpected’ theme was totally reinforced at the shoot when bridget stepped in front of the camera. she needed little art direction to physically embody the idea and like a true professional got straight into the right head space. she’s perfectly paired with hector berlioz’s fantastical metaphysical drama ‘the damnation of faust’ concert (wellington 25 august, auckland 27 august) and so creates great alignment to the concept.

malaviya gopal, 1st violinist, was also great to work with. paired with the schuman and barber concert, she really breaks down preconceptions that orchestra music isn’t relevant and could actually be worth a go. in her leather jacket she’s very natural, real and very much aligned to the target audience of the arts crowd.

nzso, 2017 season, marketing campaign, insight creative

Trending away from Trends

11 Mar 2015 by Brian Slade

A well designed future may be informed by trends but shouldn’t be slavish to them says Brian Slade.   At the start of each year, just as are getting back from that glorious summer break, there seems to be an...

Marketing & Communications
trending away from trends brian slade

a well designed future may be informed by trends but shouldn’t be slavish to them says brian slade.


at the start of each year, just as are getting back from that glorious summer break, there seems to be an ever increasing array of trend predictions - from retail trends, to sports, oscars, careers, celebrities, cars, the work place, sharemarkets, technologies, the list goes on. i find these lists really interesting, as i’m sure half the things on them wouldn’t stand a chance of getting anywhere without these trend predictions and then our own innate human curiosity. interestingly self-fulfilling!

the design industry isn’t without its own predictions. these need to be navigated carefully in order not to simply fall into the trap of being relevant one minute and not the next.

until last year, some marketers had considered cross-device optimisation as a fringe benefit. no more. “mobile first” is the catch cry for online design now. agility marketing (likes and tweets) looks to increase as marketers and audiences talk ‘face to face’ more online than ever before and rich media and video become more commonplace. there’s a growing desire for simplicity and cleanliness in communications with flat simple graphics continuing to lead the way. countering this desire for clarity is a resurgence of crafted typography with an expressive personality and humanity. the colour for the year is apparently masala (pms 18-1438), with pantone claiming it is appealing to both male and female, hearty, yet stylish, universally appealing and translating to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.

i think part of the trick is knowing when a trend is relevant to your communications task and when it’s not, but more importantly understanding what’s behind the trend and relevantly applying this to a project. as a rule of thumb it’s safe to say that if you’re working on a one-off campaign or communication that speaks to a more youthful audience you’ll want to be employing visual elements and language that resonate as being ‘on trend’. having said that, part of a designer’s role is always going to be ensuring that the visual language they are using resonates with their primary audience.

our work on the nz super fund’s website is an example of this. the nz super fund was set up for the government to save now in order to help pay for the future cost of providing national super to kiwis. they have a clear understanding of what their audiences are looking for and speak to them consistently over a long period of time. our design approach needed to be current but, more importantly, be relevant to many audiences and for a number of years to come. 


their primary external audiences include investment managers that follow them closely with strong relationship-based communications, interested members of the public and international and local media. we’ve worked with the fund for a number of years on visual identity streamlining and various offline communications including their annual report which has achieved international recognition.

the website held quite different challenges, speaking primarily to audiences that look to track the fund’s performance and understand its investment approach. working closely with the client and undertaking user testing, we built on their existing website’s good bones by refining the ia (information architecture). we put a lot of focus on the ux (user experience), looking to optimise intuitive site navigation with an enhanced site search to achieve transparent, clear, accurate information. gaining clarity through clear design thinking.

the design solution involved moving the existing abstract imagery to more human imagery of children, parents and grandparents interacting in natural new zealand environments. once again looking to the trend of connectivity and belonging, these give an essential reality to why the fund exists. this approach also delivered on the inter-generational aspect of the fund – saving now to benefit future generations.

rich content such as video was used to explain more complex content, once again on trend but clearly functional and beneficial to the end user, putting a face to the investments.  the design uses a combination of subtle but important humanist design assets such as soft shadowing in the navigation and layered colour tones. while these go against the flat graphics trend, they create a warmer experience that supports the fund’s purpose. 

the nz super website is a well designed site that, although isn’t slavish to a trend, is clearly informed by them. it just takes a bit of courage and judgement.

- published in nz marketing magazine, march/april 2015

The 5 day Visionarium

20 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

The challenge was to dress a travelling container, the Visionarium, for Future Christchurch that was approachable and informative. Turnaround was about 5 working days from start to finish. The creative solution was to...

Marketing & Communications
the 5 day visionarium brian slade

the challenge was to dress a travelling container, the visionarium, for future christchurch that was approachable and informative. turnaround was about 5 working days from start to finish. the creative solution was to stretch the more formal aspects of the visual identity we've created; to go bold and visual and get my paints out to create bespoke eclectic typographic elements; and with positive messages that supported the display board content, fly-throughs and website. job done - in 4.5 days.

Human interest

03 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

You can take all the technology you like but at the end of the day the human interest angle always seems to be a key focus for us… and I think that's a good thing. This was clearly demonstrated earlier this month...

Marketing & Communications
human interest brian slade

you can take all the technology you like but at the end of the day the human interest angle always seems to be a key focus for us… and i think that's a good thing. this was clearly demonstrated earlier this month when the stamps we designed for new zealand post/air new zealand were released and immediately the two stamps that got the focus were the ones that had children on them and the search was on to find them now. personally my favourite was the teal one, what about you?

nz post, postage stamp design

Designed to work

19 Dec 2014 by Brian Slade

Design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. It should always strive to be both. Earlier this year we secured the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as a client for the first time. The NZSO is well known for...

Marketing & Communications
designed to work brian slade

design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. it should always strive to be both.

earlier this year we secured the new zealand symphony orchestra as a client for the first time. the nzso is well known for their artistic excellence and high standards of creativity. it’s always a great pleasure working with creatively inspired organisations and we’ve been lucky enough to work with a few including the arts foundation and the royal new zealand ballet.

over the years, the nzso has produced a number of stunning season brochures that have been recognised with numerous design awards. fair to say we were pretty excited to be working on the season 15 brochure and its extended communications programme.

at the brochure briefing, the client was very clear about the objective: “more bums on seats.” this was followed by an explanation that they didn’t want an ‘over-designed’ brochure that made them look pretentious and inaccessible. they wanted something that represented their artistic excellence and worked hard to sell more tickets to the season’s individual concerts. by their very nature, the client understands the tension between creative integrity and business reality but even they seemed to imply that creativity needed to be grounded in effectiveness.

for many designers this outwardly expressed desire for a more functional approach could be a bit of a let down and they may feel that it compromise their creativity. in my view, if you approach a job with an attitude that it’s not a creative opportunity then chances are, it won’t be.

unfortunately this ‘creative or effective myth’ is one we seem to reinforce as a wider creative communication industry. we hand out creative awards to design ideas even though they fail to deliver the client’s objectives. we have separate awards to recognise communication effectiveness as if to say “it’s ok that it wasn’t that creative”.

i am a firm believer that in our commercial design industry good creative is only as good as the results it delivers. our clients pay us to design communications that inform, create desire, drive actions or change perceptions. if they don’t do these things then how can they be hailed as good design? a beautiful chair that can’t be sat on is a failed design. equally, a highly creative sales brochure that doesn’t sell is just as much a failed design.

fortunately, creative design and effectiveness do go hand in hand. good creative assists with cut through, engagement and storytelling, allowing audiences to effortlessly move through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. a strong creative idea balances rational and emotional appeal allowing the heart to want and the head to turn it into action.

to understand the season 15 offering we set ourselves the homework task of listening and watching the music and guest artists that make up the season’s concerts. for each concert we developed a story capturing the essence of what audiences would see, hear and experience. we also attended nzso performances to immerse ourselves in the concert experience we were promoting. (i’ve got to say what an awesome experience it was!)

the brochure’s cover is a key focus of immersion - losing yourself, or indeed finding yourself, through the music and the experience. the opening spreads tell a high level story of the season and what seeing the nzso live will feel like for audiences. these pages draw readers into the more detailed concert pages that follow. concert spreads provide a mixture of expressive and passionate imagery and factual cues to further involve the reader. to capitalise on the emotional engagement, the booking information was redesigned to aid the reader to take immediate action.

if you’ve read this far then the question you may ask is, did the season 15 brochure deliver both increased sales and high standards of creativity? so far, season sales are over a third higher than they were at the same time last year. we can’t claim it’s all because of our design (the season itself features an amazing line-up of compositions and guest artists) but the client feels that our work has definitely made a big difference. feedback on the brochure design is that it is worthy of awards recognition. we will no doubt enter it and let our creative peers be the judge.


nzso, subscription, 2015 season

More Savii

29 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Neat little project for an innovative crowd who run an employee benefit programme with a difference. Harnessing collective purchasing power Savii provide big savings on core household items allowing everyone to get...

Marketing & Communications
more savii brian slade

neat little project for an innovative crowd who run an employee benefit programme with a difference. harnessing collective purchasing power savii provide big savings on core household items allowing everyone to get more out of life…


‘Stop Press’ article on our new Stand branding project

28 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Stop Press, 5 July 2013 Marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (NFP) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. However, developing a new brand for a...

Marketing & Communications
‘stop press’ article on our new stand branding project brian slade

stop press, 5 july 2013

marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (nfp) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. however, developing a new brand for a long-established nfp organisation has been a salient reminder of the wider, strategic roles that a brand can play.

rebranding is not something that a nfp organisation undertakes easily. there is one school of thought that says not a single dollar raised by the concerned public should be used to build a ‘brand’. whereas anxious nfp chief executives are balancing these concerns with the worry that if they do decide to build their brand, their limited resources won’t cope with increased demand the extra attention could create.

and finally, the commercially-averse nfp leadership team believes that building their brand will diminish their separation from the commercial world, removing the vital essence of the not-for-profit relationship with its sponsors and stakeholders.

for these reasons, when te puna whaiora children’s health camps, one of new zealand’s longest running social services, initiated a brand review, it required complex thinking and an even more intricate process than would potentially be employed for a consumer brand.

first we had to ask “what is the role of brand in the nfp sector?” and the complexity of the answer challenged our consumer brand thinking.

nfp brands are now so much more than fundraising tools. management teams are being asked by their boards how their brand is contributing to their social impact, to their external trust, to partner/sponsorship solidity, to internal unity and to capacity.

an nfp brand also needs to perform numerous roles and appeal to multiple audiences. the brand must help the nfp acquire more financial, human, and social resources, and galvanise and help construct key partnerships.

the visual identity is only the first step in the journey to developing a strong nfp brand. it’s the organisation’s ‘shop front’ and is critical to building its ability to change the world on behalf of their cause. however, it is the brand essence that is the ‘call to action’ and a constant reminder of the nfp organisation’s mandate to do things their way; to be brave, and speak out.

knowing the brand story and buying into it also helps ensure their partners and supporters do things their way too and do nothing to undermine the brand’s integrity. most importantly of all, an nfp brand needs to instill a sense of pride in all who engage with it.

the brand developed for te puna whaiora children’s health camps – stand children’s services (stand) – is no exception. from day one, the rebrand inspired a step change within the organisation. it has given stand the opportunity engage with their stakeholders, tell a fresh story and remind them of how important their work is to the community. in a nutshell, it has reframed their call to action and has reignited passion.

in developing the stand brand, insight had to consider a much larger and more varied group of stakeholders than is usually considered when developing a consumer brand. those making a financial or voluntary contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the nfp’s core promise. they aren’t necessarily looking for a “what’s in it for me?” and yet, at the same time they have a stake in ensuring the brand represents something they wish to be associated with, is professional and portrays the right image.

secondly, a nfp organisation has to be democratic in its management of its brand; harnessing and providing boundaries for enthusiastic members, volunteers and participants, while ensuring it minimises brand anarchy. te puna whaiora children’s health camps actively engaged with all key stakeholders and their feedback was critical in shaping the final identity.

the response from stand’s stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. positioning statements “stand for children” and “a world strong for children” have become rallying cries for change. the organisation is reinvigorated, with staff operating with stronger pride and an even greater sense of urgency. politicians, funders and other child-support agencies have also noticed the change and are actively asking “what more can we do to stand for children?”

insight also had to be cognisant of the fact that nfps don’t have the level of clarity between brand functions the commercial world does. managing the brand isn’t simply the responsibility of marketing or ommunications. the entire team have to be custodians of their brand’s identity and be budding brand managers and brand builders.

the brand framework also has to be more fluid as often the cause, the organisation and the offering are synonymous. the visual elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring to the need of the audiences and specific messaging, while instilling a level of brand consistency. such adaptability is also essential for the inevitable use of the brand by social media.

stand’s strong visual image with a bold colour transition, a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic elements allow for this.

the inspiration for the name was new zealand’s totara. the ‘king of tane’s great forest’ stretches high above the dense canopy of broadleaf trees and protects the other trees from storm damage. the inspiration for the bold colour transition was stand taking the children on a journey from darkness to light.

‘stand’ helps explain the organisation’s unique proposition: they stand together to bring hope to new zealand’s most vulnerable children; they help children and families stand up and be strong; they stand against isolation and fear; they take a stand, acting with urgency to deliver solutions that make a child’s world safer, happier and healthier place. and finally, they nurture dreams and aspirations of our nation’s children, allowing them to find their turangawaewae ‘their place to stand’.

It's clear what makes for good design

01 Sep 2013 by Brian Slade

As the media we work with become more sophisticated and diverse, the need to design clearly and deliberately is subject to multiple distractions, writes Brian Slade. Few issues are as simple as they first appear,...

Marketing & Communications
it's clear what makes for good design brian slade

as the media we work with become more sophisticated and diverse, the need to design clearly and deliberately is subject to multiple distractions, writes brian slade.

few issues are as simple as they first appear, and the temptation is always to layer message upon message, visually or verbally, in a bid to provide greater and greater explanation. growing up with dyslexia has given me ultimate respect for the power and the pitfalls of working with the written word, and for what can be accomplished through well-managed design. it continues to drive my passion for clarity in what is said, to whom, how and, most of all, why.

the discipline of effective design lies in being able to sift everything that’s provided down to communications that are clear and compelling to the reader. work we’ve completed for the christchurch central development unit exemplifies this challenge well.

to help attract young people back into the city, we were briefed to develop a competition that asked younger children to develop their vision for the world’s best inner city playground and involved older children working in groups to develop key recovery projects such as the stadium, the convention centre, the avon river precinct and the library.

building clarity into the design process starts with a dissection of the brief. i’ve learnt over the years to take very little at face value – indeed a key contribution that a design agency should make to any project is the ability to objectively and systematically filter fact from opinion, research from impression, realistic goal from unrealistic desire.

at first glance, this particular task seemed straightforward enough. however, on closer examination, there were challenging aspects around pride, ownership and connection. how do you make a competition that is fun for three year olds and hip for teenagers up to 18? how do you ask children to reimagine a place to grow up in that wasn't accessible to them?

we started by determining the name. “the amazing place” captures the aspirations for christchurch and invokes the competitive element through its subtle reference to a well-known reality show. the visual identity was correspondingly flexible: designed to speak to students of all ages and to teachers and school principals whose engagement was critical for incorporating the competition into the school curriculum.

next challenge: does everyone understand exactly what’s required and will they feel excited to be involved? we kept distilling the delivery mechanism … until it was a simple yellow brick. this brick symbolised the building blocks for the city’s recovery while evoking the fun and adventure associated with the ‘yellow brick road’. within the brick were brochures, banners, posters, ‘thinking caps’ and giveaways that schools could use to understand and promote the competition to students. 

the website provided further interest and excitement in the competition and the future vision for the city. it also served a practical function, delivering detailed information for teachers, students and their parents and acting as a cost-effective portal for schools to register and order further materials. facebook and twitter helped generate discussion, encourage collaboration and build ‘buzz’.

the competition has now been running since late january and continues over the first two terms of the school year. ccdu has been delighted with the feedback and support from the local community and the take up from schools and students. my hope is that an amazing place has inspired the children of christchurch to articulate a clear vision for the city they hope to grow up in. through this competition, and all the work going on around christchurch right now, perhaps it will indeed be everything they imagined.

this article appeared in marketing magazine, july/august 2013

design in business, marketing magazine
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