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March 20, 2017

Art v Design

On a recent spring morning a fellow designer and I began playing a game of categorizing our favorite posters as more art or design. Mucha’s posters were decidedly more art, while Scher’s poster series for Public Theatre leaned to the design side. As we played the game, going from Glaser to Bernhardt to Bass we had to reflect on what exactly makes art art and design design. Where is the cutoff from one to the other? When does a piece of art stop being art and start being a piece of design? In answering this question we found that communication and strategy are essential to the practice of design. Without a targeted message a piece of design becomes art.

To quote an old idiom, art asks questions, design answers. Art is primarily concerned with the expressing of emotion and tone, often vague but communicated through linework and color. The artist usually does not seek to express and direct message, but rather evoke emotion. Design, on the other hand, is meant first and foremost as a communication. Any vagueness of message is a mistake on the part of the designer. Clarity is essential. The main goal of a piece of design is to send an impactful, condensed idea to a target audience. This is the single most defining difference between the two practices. Other differences include art usually being a solo endeavor, while design is usually the result of a collaborative effort and critique. Additionally while art has no set process to which one must adhere, design is usually done in a set process to help designers frame and understand the project’s objectives and ensure the goals are met. Although distinct in definition, most great design works lie on the spectrum between art and design.

Art and design have a shared history, often with overlapping characters and drawing from the same visual vocabulary. During the Art Nouveau movement painter and designer Alphonse Mucha combined his contemporary artistic style with his design work, creating intricate lithographic advertising posters for clients like Job, a manufacturer of cigarette papers. While the main message of selling the papers is communicated, it is done in an artful way. Other examples of work that combines both art and design include Milton Glaser’s Dylan poster, Herbert Matter’s Swiss tourism poster, Saul Bass’s work in title sequences, to Paula Scher’s use of collage work in her Public Theatre poster series. What makes these designs so impactful are their ability to simultaneously communicate and leave a lasting visual impression.

Strategy is the most important part of design. The most beautiful design could still fall flat if you don’t understand your target audience. To effectively communicate you must first understand the message you want to communicate and how you want to portray yourself to your audience. Strategy allows you to not only define who you company is, your goals, but also ensures your message will be distilled in the most impactful way possible. To express a brand and a message you must first understand your brand in the context of the competition, from local to international, and how the public currently perceives your brand. The better the strategy, the more effective your brand communication can be.

At modern8 we create our designs based on a solid foundation of strategy. We strive to fully understand the company, the competition, and the brand before we dig into the creative process. Three of five steps of our d5 strategic process are information gathering, distilling, and developing a strategic plan of action for the design. To see our full strategic d5 Process here.

February 27, 2017

We Live in a Design-Centric World


Last week we pitched two new clients with a fresh sales presentation titled: “We Live in a Design-centric World”. The premise of the presentation is that the world has changed in many ways. We are more visually oriented now than ever before. We now upload and share a staggering 1.8 billon photos each day. We are creating a world dominated by visual culture—and this impacts business.


February 10, 2017

OJ and a Case for Storytelling

I am about three episodes short of wrapping up the first season of the FX true crime series, The People v. O.J. Simpson. I already know how it ends, which makes where I’m at very painful to watch, but the one silver lining is it makes a pretty compelling case for story telling-a topic we can’t seem to stop talking about lately.

You know the story, the prosecution compiled an unsurmountable amount of DNA evidence against Simpson, including blood traces to and from the murder scene, a glove that was found nearby that allegedly belonged to Simpson, and more, if you can believe it, but the evidence didn’t win a unanimous vote from the jury. OJ Simpson was set free in a case that seemed like a slam dunk.

Episode five of the series begins with opening statements from the prosecution and the defense. Marcia Clark, the head prosecutor led with a presentation of the “mountain of physical evidence” guaranteed to convict OJ. How could the jury deny the facts? Straightforward and easily understood. Then Johnnie Cochran’s takes a turn to present what we assume will be undeniable evidence of his innocence. But instead what he presents is a story about Injustice and the imbalanced racist system of law in our country. The indictment seemed to move from O.J. Simpson to the LAPD. And the jury bought it.

We use storytelling in branding to communicate the emotion behind the company. A brand’s culture, it’s role in the community, and why it exists all help the intended audience form a bond or feeling towards the brand. Almost equally important in the current state of political discourse, activism will also tell a story and create a feeling. Geoff Cook, a partner at Base Design says “As a reflection of the changing political tides, many brands will evolve from ‘mission-driven’ to activist’.” A company’s brand story that encapsulates all of the above won’t resonate with everyone, but it will resonate with consumers that share a similar world view. And it’s up to that brand to then tell that story in a compelling way, that gets the intended audience to believe in them, or believe them.

“We’re here to tell a story”, Johnnie Cochran says to his defense team. “Our job is to tell our story better than the other side tells theirs.” It’s not an easy task, telling a story that compels a group of people to change their perception, but when it’s done well, it works. For both brands and the accused.

January 31, 2017

Website Predictions: 2k17

Modern8 is currently in the throws of redesigning our website, and as such we’ve been spending countless hours mulling over the latest trends in web design, researching portfolio-based websites, and generally admiring all things digital. While we wrap up our development we thought we’d distill our nuggets of insight into our Official 2k17 Website Design Predictions.

Navigation Simplification
HAMBURGER MENUS—Whether you like them or not, the hamburger menu is a staple that is here to stay. Simple, easily recognized, mobile-friendly and an elegant way to hide large menus the hamburger menu is one design solution we expect is here to stay through the 2017 web design season. Our own website design for Signal Peak uses the hamburger menu solution. http://www.spv.com/.

NAVIGATION ELIMINATION—While the hamburger menu is a simple solution to large menus, this year will also see the rise of minimal navigations, or the elimination of navigation altogether, reducing most of the content to a single scrolling page. By using long scrolls you can condense your brand’s narrative into a single storyline, introducing content quickly and reducing site traffic lost due to confusing or large navigation systems. An example of a single scroll website is http://cafefrida.ca/.

Micro-Interactions and Subtle Animations
We forecast that websites of 2017 will incorporate small, yet impactful animations to create a more enriching experience for users while keeping the website modern and fresh. Hover states, scrolling reveals, and animating out the way content expands are all areas where elegant animations can enhance the user experience of the website by creating smooth transitions and thoughtful interactions. Rewarding users for clicking a “like” button with a custom animation invites not only further likes, but further exploration into the website for more animation encounters. Subtle, thoughtful movement creates and more rich user environment and draws the eye, while different animation features may subtly guide users and prompt more interaction with content. A fun example of using scrolling reveal animations within a website is http://le-mugs.com/. An example of a like button microinteraction animation can be seen here: https://dribbble.com/shots/2727603-Favorite-Microinteraction

Perfect Parallax Layers
Similar to animations, the use of advanced parallax on websites will give them the depth and movement modern websites incorporate. No longer will parallax be limited to applications in singular photographic backgrounds. Instead, parallax elements applied in multiple layers will create the illusion of depth within a website, with some elements moving slower as you scroll than others. Advanced use of parallax effects creates visual interest as elements interact with each other as you scroll down the page. A great example of this is http://melanie-f.com/en/.

Mobile-Based Design
This is not groundbreaking by any means, but should still be noted. 2016 saw the tipping point from desktop website access to mobile. 65% of digital media time is now on mobile devices and we can only expect this to increase as mobile devices become faster and better at handling large websites. Google updated their algorithm in March 2016 to heavily favor mobile-friendly sites over those that are not. Depending on the parameters of the website, 2017 will see more site designs begin as mobile designs that then expand into desktop, as opposed to the traditional method of designing websites from desktop and adapting to mobile. A few examples of websites with great mobile interfaces are https://www.shutterfly.com/ and https://www.typeform.com/.

This may seem like a basic for any brand trying to differentiate themselves from the competition. As template-based sites like Squarespace and WordPress Themes fast become the new DIY website platform, unique and interesting website layouts will become more valued. This idea can also be applied to imagery and design styles. By using custom typefaces, professionally shot imagery, and stellar branding you will stand out from the competitors using stock photography and buy-and-plug templates.

Who knows what 2k17 holds in store for the digital world. The innovations of this year may far exceed our imaginations and usher in a new era of digital development.

December 30, 2016

modern8 turns 15!

Fifteen years flies by when you’re having a ball! It was November of 2001 when Randall Smith split up a partnership and formed modern8. We are frequently asked where the name modern8 came from, and if you are asking yourself, “I wonder if it’s because they have 8 people working there?”, the answer is no, although at times we do. The real story is born from a mutual love of the modern design aesthetic, hence the “modern” bit of our name, and we officially moved into our new offices on November 8, 2001. So, modern + 8 and an available URL later, modern8 was created and officially became a corporation in the State of Utah.

Although built on a foundation of design and creative services, brand strategy was a defining feature from the very beginning. “Design is where the rubber meets the road” touts our founder, but the modern8 Perception Branding Manifesto, which introduced the strategic 5d Process was written just six months later. A revised version of the Manifesto was published shortly thereafter in the local business publication Contact.

To honor our fifteenth anniversary, we created this short video of some of our work during the the last decade and half. We’re proud of our design solutions, but great work is only possible with great clients and great employees so a big “thank you”, warm hug, high five, and fist bump to our teams.

December 23, 2016

modern8 and “Speaking on Business”

It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to speak on the radio about working with your mentor and building a business together. About a month ago, Randall and I were approached by Zion’s bank to participate in their long running segment “Speaking on Business”. It was a fun opportunity, so we thought we would share. HTML version for your viewing pleasure, and MP4 for your listening pleasure, both below.

This is Chris Redgrave for Zions Bank Speaking on Business.

Online commerce is quickly becoming today’s brick and mortar. That means your website needs to convey your company’s personality and messaging to catch attention, especially with the competition only a mouse click away. This is the focus for Modern 8 in Salt Lake City.
Modern 8 creates targeted brand messages across key touchpoints including websites, printed design materials and logos to help clients develop their online identity. This includes integrated branding solutions, from initial strategy through implementation, starting with what they refer to as their Perception Branding D5 process, where they help clients define, differentiate and position themselves against the competition.

They have a diverse customer base that includes tech companies with another specialty in architecture, construction and engineering firms. Last year they completed a complete website redesign for Jacobsen Construction and an updated site for Bear River Mutual Insurance.
Owner Randall Smith has been in this business for over 30 years and has watched it steadily change. He launched Modern 8 in 2001, and his daughter, Alysha (Alicia) joined him four years ago. She comes from a management and design background and has been working side-by-side with her dad to grow their Salt Lake City branding firm.

They’re in the process of transitioning ownership of Modern 8 from Randall to Alysha, which will be official in January 2017. Find more online at modern8.com.

For Zions Bank, I’m Chris Redgrave, speaking on business.

November 18, 2016

Architecture & Advertising: A Pocket-Sized History

Architecture and graphic design have always gone hand-in-hand, the sibling disciplines taught side by side since the days of the Bauhaus. Both fields have influenced each other and intersected across changing eras of style, their histories forever intertwined. While architecture and design seem a comfortable pairing, the same cannot be said for architecture and design’s more entrepreneurial sister, marketing. It has been a long journey for the field of architecture to accept the necessity of marketing and brand strategy.


Advertising in the early 1900s was viewed by architects with nothing short of contempt. Advertising was a relatively new concept, brought about by the birth of mass produced consumer goods and the rise of the middle class. Early printed ads were almost completely unregulated, and newspapers were littered with miracle potions, stretched truths, and blatant lies. By the time the American Institute of Architecture wrote their 1909 Rules and Regulations the practice of self promotion had already been ruined by the quackery. The AIA forbid architects from marketing themselves, bluntly stating that “Advertising tends to lower the dignity of the profession and is therefore condemned.” Architectural firms relied exclusively on reputation and word-of-mouth to gain clients. Differentiation from the competition was further limited by the AIA’s requirement that all architects respond to a job with the same price point, fearing those that underbid a project would produce poorer work and potentially damage the professional standing of architecture.


Architects were finally able to distinguish themselves from the competition in the 1970s following an ethics review of multiple industries, including the AIA, by the US Department of Justice. The Department ruled that restriction of fee negotiations was a form of trade restraint and the AIA was required to rewrite their regulations. With advertising gaining momentum throughout the decades and increasing acceptability of professionals promoting themselves, architects were finally able to individualize and create brands for themselves.

The transition to advertising a professional service was a slow one, shaking off the stigma of impropriety took time. Those that did begin to market their services relied on conservative methods, showcasing previous work and using their reputation to communicate their firm’s value. Branding and innovative marketing techniques remained a minimal consideration, as good work was thought to exclusively win project bids.


Marketing evolved as the architect field became more saturated and the economy turned down in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. Suddenly firms were pressed to adopt better marketing strategies to remain ahead and general messaging tactics evolved. Service became an increasing point of differentiation, and architecture firms worked to establish themselves as the best service providers. Suddenly it was less important what the company does and more important how the company does it.

By the late 2000s the claims of having the best service were lost in the roar of the crowd and a fresh approach again had to be taken. Current successful branding and marketing focuses on a company’s ability to create success for their clients, and a deeper understanding of their needs. They understand the difference between shouting “We are good!” through a megaphone and saying “I understand where you want to go and I can help you get there.” Marketing research tools, knowledge management resources, and establishing yourself as a thought leader can all help architects tailor their branding to their customer base, create more compelling project stories, and establish their brand value. By positioning the conversation away from your accomplishments and focusing instead on the collaboration that will take place and the success of the client, you show a better understanding of their desires and are able to win over more potential clients. As Andy Ernsting once said, “Clients don’t hire buildings, they hire people to design.”

Branding is more important today than ever before. Whether customers encounter your company through the internet or organically your brand must communicate your value and expertise. Does your logo, website, copywriting/brand voice, and advertising all represent your company’s values and set you apart from the competition? modern8 can help.

November 2, 2016

A Case Study in Branding a Wedding

This week marked my one month wedding anniversary. I still have stacks of left over invites, save the date cards, napkins, and other various branded wedding elements scattered around my house. But they all look good, like small pieces of art all, so I don’t mind too much.


October 13, 2016

Increase Price= Increase demand


For years, one of our biggest clients was Young Electric Sign Company, or YESCO. The biggest share of their business is custom one-off signs, including the spectaculars on the Las Vegas Strip that make midnight look like midday. Those signs are not cheap! In fact, YESCO was often more expensive than its competitors. Of course, in every industry, there are companies whose value proposition is low price, while others compete on more intangible qualities.


August 24, 2016

Stranger Things in Type Design

My entrepreneurially-minded son graduated in art from the Cooper Union in Manhattan. A few months ago he showed me a few logo ideas that he had designed for his nascent business. It’s in the same industry in which he is currently employed. He had created a symbol and paired it with the name of the company displayed in a unique typeface.


August 11, 2016

The Place to Bee

It’s silly really. When I hear “Beehive State”, the first thing I think of are those far-out hair do’s from the 60’s. I picture a throwback era of men and women walking the downtown streets in their psychadelic clothing saying things like, “Groovy!” and “You dig?” I know, I know…it’s something entirely different. It’s literal definition is more reflective of an actual hive of bees, tirelessly working together in a number of different capacities to develop a thriving ecosystem. The original mantra came from Utah’s pioneers, associating bees with industry and perseverance.


June 29, 2016

The Design of the Mundane


Designing forms is not the most glorious kind of design. And yet, I’ve always had a kind-of perverse interest in it. My first job after college was for a large, multi-national corporation. In connection with the design of a new identity program, I was given the rather mundane task of designing how the new logo would work on the multitude of forms the organization used.


May 12, 2016

Lessons of an Intern

I entered modern8 a senior from the University of Utah, ready to learn from what no college education could provide: practical, real world experience. The transition from classroom to office revealed how little I really knew about the daily life of a designer, the holes in my creative process, the areas of lacking technical skills, even my inability to properly navigate an office landline (sorry about the dropped calls, Randall!). Now a Junior Designer and recent graduate, I can confidently say that my internship with modern8 has been invaluable to my development as a student, as a designer, and as a semi-functioning adult. Here are the biggest lessons from my time here at modern8:


April 18, 2016

How to Become a Search Engineer

We practice what we preach. Today I googled “branding Salt Lake City” and “branding Utah” and modern8 comes up #2 or #3. Same thing if searching for “graphic design.” If you google “branding for architects” nationally (one of our target markets) we land on the first page. Same with engineers or construction companies. How do we do that? Keep reading.


March 18, 2016

d2: Distill

After we have a thorough understanding of your company, it’s goals and objectives, it’s competitive landscape, and it’s attributes, we distill these into a unified idea and brand positioning strategy. In d2: Distill, we conduct a series of group activities and then put your company’s core values down on paper and sum them up in a distinct, clear, logical way that provides a map for executing the strategy.


March 4, 2016

The Ten Commandments of the Brand Bible

Beyond Identity Standards

And the client said, “We’re finally ready to go full-steam in a rebranding effort.” And it was so.


February 17, 2016

More Than a Meltdown

Branding lessons learned from the Mast Brothers

In the last few months we’ve been working with a local bean-to-bar chocolate company on a new brand identity, so when the Brooklyn chocolatiers known as the Mast Brothers started making headlines recently, we couldn’t help but notice.


February 9, 2016

The Brand Named Trump


I wouldn’t vote for him if he was the last person on earth, but Donald Trump makes an interesting case study in digital dominance and brand building.


February 8, 2016

The Science of a Tagline

At the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year, Coca-Cola, the world’s 3rd largest brand in 2015 according to Interbrand, rolled out a brand new slogan to take over for the 7-year-old “Open Happiness” line. The sentence to grace their ads and packaging for the foreseeable future has been changed to “Taste the Feeling.”


January 27, 2016

d1: Discovery

Step one of the 5d perception branding process

We’ve got to have a firm understanding of your organization before we can start designing a solution that hits your objectives, so we start here, with discovery. Your organization’s mission, vision, target market, corporate culture, competitive advantages, strengths and weaknesses, and marketing strategies are all vital pieces of information we analyze during our introductory phase that helps us understand where you have been, and where you want to go.