Designers Lead the Charge in the Retail Revolution

Although we’ve seen many huge retailers downsize (like the Gap) and some close altogether (Toys R Us), you’d be surprised to know that there was a 58% increase in store openings in 2017, according to a study by Fung Global Retail and Technology. Amazon even made the leap to brick and mortar through pop-up stores and by purchasing Whole Foods. Surprisingly, a lot of this has to do with Gen Z and millennials who prefer to shop in-store vs. online. Granted, they gather intel and find the items online, but then head to an actual store to make the purchase.

This is good news for brands and designers who are marketing to these segments. Direct mail, gift cards and packaging still play an indelible role in purchasing decisions at the store. According to Liz Burnett, principal at Matchbox Studio in Dallas, “As consumer behavior changes, brands are starting to design packaging and in-store experiences with social media in mind.” She cites a study by Contract Packaging Association that says, “Nearly 40% of consumers say they’ll regularly share product packaging that is ‘gifty’ or ‘interesting’ on social media.” With that in mind, she says, “Thoughtfully designed packaging and collateral pieces entice customers to share products with their followers on Instagram, which can boost brand awareness and word-of-mouth.”

Matchbox Studio was commissioned by Neenah Paper to design the Retail Revolution promotion which features several examples of printed materials that can help boost retail sales in the luxury market. “In the luxury retail environment, details matter. A great deal of care is taken to make luxury brands look and feel great. It’s the little things that mean the most to a customer – right down to the paper choices a brand makes to elevate its message. With personal health and wellness markets growing ever popular, we chose to focus on four brands that illustrate consumer aspirations to look and feel great as well,” Burnett notes.

“Today, shoppers are paralyzed by choice in almost every purchase category. Strong branding and premium paper can cut through the noise and help sell products. The product itself must be able to deliver on its promises, but the packaging and collateral alone can do a lot of the heavy lifting,” she says.

For the Neenah promo, the designers at Matchbox conceived four luxury brands that are influenced by major brands in the same category: The athleisure brand, Knetics, was inspired by Uniqlo, Lululemon, and Nike; the men’s apothecary brand, Pack, was inspired by Kiehl’s and C.O. Bigelow; Desert Mothers spa, was inspired by Four Seasons and The Springs Resort; Odyssey was inspired by Blue Apron and HelloFresh.

Below, she explains the significance of each piece they designed for the promo.

The first section of the promo is called “How to Get Customers in the Door,” which has become an increasingly harder task as consumers are relying more on online shopping, so we highlighted three pieces get them there and keep them coming back: a direct-mail postcard, a gift card, and a colorful hangtag. ColorCom has reported, “Colors can increase brand recognition by 80 percent.” Once customers are in the door, a branded color alone can drive them to purchase a product.”

The next section, “How to Engage and Excite Customers In-Store,” demonstrates how proper branding paired with premium papers can excite and encourage purchases. The featured pieces include an attention-grabbing business card that used foil and Neenah’s memorable CLASSIC COLUMNS finish; a product display card; and an interactive package piece to help illustrate that shoppers often select products based on the packaging.

Sending the right message at the right time is crucial. In “How to Spread the Word,” we wanted to show how premium papers can make memorable first impressions. We designed a large event invite and envelope and a prism-shaped brochure filled with fictional spa treatments like “Vision Quest Meditation” and “Sweet Nectar Body Wrap” that could draw in customers who are interested in unique or VIP experiences.

In “How to Build A Following,” we created a meal-kit subscription service brand, Odyssey, to illustrate how online subscription services are building brand loyalty by using curated, personalized print materials.

Let’s move the Retail Revolution forward, by designing jaw-dropping print materials that draw customers in and keep them coming back for more!

Expressing and Pressing in Lubbock

Husband and wife duo, Dirk and Carol Fowler have been running f2design since 2000, but each takes on their own clients in their specialties. Carol focuses mainly on print collateral and event graphics, while Dirk is busy designing letterpress posters, music packaging, corporate identities, and editorial illustration. The beauty of this set-up is that they collaborate when needed and and bounce ideas off each other, so they’re not working in a vacuum from their remote studio in Lubbock, Texas.

“We are comfortable with each other and the way we work, and we have intentionally kept our shop to just the two of us. We have had the opportunity to work for high profile clients, but we are just as happy designing something for our kids’ schools,” Dirk says. “One of our kids is usually hanging out right beside us while we are working, and we are OK with that.”

Although the shop is small, f2 has churned out a startling number of posters over the years, many of which are for sale on their website. Dirk has had the good fortune of working with some great bands, including The Killers, the Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse, singer Lyle Lovett, and Wilco, with whom he’s had a ten-year run. As he notes, Wilco works with a lot of artists, but they appreciate poster design and commission one for almost every show, and they’re easy to work with. “They don’t present me with ideas, or specify certain subjects, but they know what they like and don’t like. They really allow the artist to be creative, but the work definitely has to fit the image of the band in order to be approved by them,” Dirk says.

In the grand scheme of things, the Fowlers are right where they need to be. A long tradition of great musicians from Buddy Holly to Waylon Jennings and many more, hail from Lubbock. So, when the local PBS channel did a documentary film about the town’s music history, they hired Dirk to create posters for the premiere event. “My visual is a fairly straightforward interpretation of the film title Flat Land Open Sky. I like the idea that no matter the genre of music, or time period, all the musicians from this area had one thing in common: our expansive blue sky. Some might not see anything, while others might see it as limitless possibilities,” he explains.

The 75 posters were letterpress printed on Astrobrights Lunar Blue. To achieve the fuzzy effect for the con trails, Dirk used a spray-paint stencil. “I really enjoy printing simple one or two color images on colored stock and using the paper color as an intricate part of the design. I also enjoy very small runs that include this type of hand work. You can easily see that a human made the poster.”

Ugly Art Possesses Charm & Character

The crude, messy nature of screenprinting is exactly what attracted designer Ryan Duggan to his craft of making what he calls, “Ugly Art.”

In Chicago, where the temps are currently freeze-your-ass-off frigid, the print scene is hot. “We have more pro-level screen printers in this city than anywhere else in the world, and yet it’s not an ugly competition. Everyone helps each other out. I love it here,” says Ryan Duggan, a one-man screenprinting machine, churning out posters, invitations, and art prints in the Windy City.

He’s printed hundreds of gig posters since 2006, when he came to his senses after studying advertising copywriting at Columbia College in Chicago. “I realized I had zero interest in working in an ad agency,” he says. I’m sure his parents were thrilled. Fortunately, in high school he learned how to screenprint from a temperamental guy named Zim. Duggan recalls, “He would absolutely lose his shit if you called ink ‘paint.’ To this day, I cringe when people use the wrong term, expecting Zim to jump on a table and scream.” Read rest of article here.

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Hypno-Baco-Tool-Rific!

Many design shops create calendars that get sent out once a year, or drip campaigns that are more frequent but typically no fun. Fifth Letter in Winston Salem, NC combined the best of both worlds and had some fun doing it, creating quarterly calendars that celebrate under-rated holidays in a beautiful, tactile format.

According to Fifth Letter’s ringleader, Elliot Strunk, his team started working on this concept in fall 2015, researching a list of odd holidays, and finding ways to loosely tie them together. “We tried to find ones that would not only be fun to spotlight but would also fit together into some sort of theme,” he says. Who knew people worshipped their tools on March 11? Read the rest of the article here.

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Good Taste: Letterpress Posters Whet Appetites

Hot, Fresh, Wholesome & Delicious!

Handmade Tortillas, Fresh Baked Bread, Letterpress Posters? Yes, Please!

When Mi Rancho opened its doors in 1939 in Oakland, Calif., it was the only Mexican grocery store in the area, providing handmade tortillas and other specialty items. This family-owned business has since grown into a supplier to restaurants all over the country, churning out nearly 4.5 million tortillas a day. The owner wanted something special to commemorate the anniversary, so he hired designer Steve Epstein to create a poster to share with his vendors.

Epstein, who has been a designer since the late ’70s, starting as a print designer, then moving into broadcast design and animation working for ABC in Hollywood, then a CBS affiliate in San Francisco. For the past 14 years, he’s focused on photography and print design. Read rest of article here.

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The Canadianist: Highs and Lows

Our friends to the North, Everlovin’ Press in Kingston, Ontario, have created a new series of fine letterpress prints called The Canadianist, featuring five illustrations from select artists to comment on Cananadian culture, from high to low .

Illustrator Tom Froese and Everlovin’ conceived the series to promote the Canadian design and illustration community and showcase the beauty of letterpress. They had previously collaborated on a postcard series entitled Greetings From Canada with a similar tongue-in-cheek mandate.  The Canadianist is their sequel to that. Five artists were invited to address one theme each: Fashion, Food, Flora, Know-How, and Colloquialisms.

Froese says, “Vince and I have a passion for letterpress, and of course would like to establish Everlovin’ as the choicest letterpress printer for designers in the country.” They chose the artists and assigned them themes that they thought would suit their styles and would provide lots of potential for ‘assemblages of Canadiana.’” Read the rest here.

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Loving Couple, Loving New Orleans

“It’s not often that I get to design anything personal, so getting married was really the most wonderful excuse to go all out and design something conceptually meaningful and aesthetically characteristic to my wife’s and my sensibilities,” says Cody Dingle on designing his own, luxurious wedding invitations.

Of course, he did much more than that. He virtually illustrated their love story, designing a website for their friends and family, providing important details about their big day including an RSVP form, suggested hotels and B&Bs, and even a map of New Orleans (where they live) pointing out the different areas of the city and noting the locations of their nuptials and reception. Read the rest of the article here.

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Spooktastic Fun!

What better way to spend a crisp, fall day than making crafts at work? Trick or treaters visiting this Connecticut based design studio will have to earn their treats this year. Elements brewed up some frightful creations this past Friday.

Principal Amy Graver says, “It was nice to unplug and shut down, use our hands, and collaborate to figure out how to create each piece together. We were swapping ideas and materials, as well as bad Halloween jokes all day. It was a blast!” Read the rest of the article here.

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Photography by Steve Walter, stevewalterphoto.com.

Adult Coloring Books Relieve Stress

Oommm.  Relax with a … coloring book? Yes. Coloring books for adults are the new rage in publishing here in the United States, but in other countries, such as France, they’ve been more popular than cookbooks in recent years.

Why, you ask? As many people can attest, coloring is therapeutic—it’s a way for adults to unwind and feel creative at the same time. In addition to its emotional benefits, coloring is also good exercise for your brain, providing stimulating eye/hand coordination. Anyone can get in on the action. Read rest of article here.

Botanicals artwork by Lisa Congdon; Mid-Century Modern Animals by Jenn Ski; Carnival by Sarah Walsh.
Botanicals artwork by Lisa Congdon; Mid-Century Modern Animals by Jenn Ski; Carnival by Sarah Walsh.

Meet Me In The Woods

The work of Chicago-based illustrator Julia Kuo has graced everything from concert posters and books, to illustrations depicting national parks across the country. “I am on a quest to visit as many national parks as possible, and actually at this moment I’m writing this from the back of a van driving to Yosemite,” she notes. “It’s just so amazing when I think about what these parks preserve.”

In addition to painting and drawing, Kuo loves to make 3D art with paper. Working with Neenah ENVIRONMENT®, she constructed an elaborate bison. She was inspired after visiting Yellowstone National Park a month ago, where she witnessed many of them roaming in their natural environment. “The bison is the biggest land mammal any of us will ever see freely wandering around on this continent! I always feel so much awe and wonder at seeing their massive, hulking frame up close.” Below, she walks us through the steps of building this bison that stands at just over a foot tall, and 1½ feet long. The see how she built her bison, read here.

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Artist Julia Kuo assembling her 3D bison paper sculpture.