The Keys to a Successful Internship

I’ve just completed what will likely be the last internship of my career (I got hired!), and to wrap up the summer at Blue State Digital, there are a few key lessons I’d like to take away from the experience:

1. Be positive.

A positive attitude can go a long way. I’m not necessarily talking about being a Yes Man (or Woman) all the time, but it pays to be willing to jump in and take on responsibilities. I’m lucky that Blue State Digital is a company that gives real work to their interns and never asks interns to coffee. With internships that ask you to get coffee in lieu of helping with real work, I think it can be harder to stay positive. For me, being positive didn’t mean being overly smile-y, it meant being thrown into sink or swim situations and staying afloat.

2. Ask questions.

Interns are not supposed to know how everything works – that’s the point of an internship. Especially with such a digitally-advanced company, in the beginning I sat in a lot of meetings with a scrunched up nose and knitted eyebrows. I couldn’t let myself be afraid to ask questions because I would have spent the summer confused and I wouldn’t have learned anything (which, again, is the point of an internship). Asking questions told my managers that I was interested in learning, and sometimes, I asked questions that prompted them to think of something they hadn’t considered. That’s a win-win.

3. Make allies.

One of the smartest decisions I made during my internship was finding people in the office that I could latch onto. First, I found a middle-level manager, close to my age but with a good amount of experience, that became my mentor. It helped that she was very friendly and willing to help me; she’s someone who I immediately grabbed onto as a valuable resource who I was comfortable with. Then, because of how the teams are set up at BSD, I was on several accounts with one communications specialist who happened to need help keeping her tasks organized. I became known for being the person to go to when you need that communications specialist to do something. And ultimately, I think this was one of the big reasons they decided to hire me full-time – I found a place where I was needed, where I could add value.

It was a great summer, and by far the most successful internship I’ve ever had (which I would have said even if I hadn’t been hired as a full-time employee). Now, I’m happy to take these learnings and evolve them as an Account Coordinator!

Making a Political Candidate Logo

In one of the final papers I wrote during my undergraduate career, I attempted to expand on my thesis by playing both scholar and designer. I wanted to take what I had researched and learned from my academic work on the design of political candidate logos and use my Photoshop skills to create my own political candidate logo designs. I used Hillary Clinton’s 2016 logo as an archetype, in part because I identified so many conflicting messages in her logo and I wanted to see how to re-shape those messages using color and shape.

Hillary_for_America_2016_logo.svg

In Hillary’s current logo, many different interpretations can be read. Red is a sign for the Republican Party and because the arrow is pointing forward (or to the right), it could be a message about her willingness to work with the Republican Party to move the country forward. More likely, the color merely references the American flag and the U.S. and thus the arrow is a message about Hillary’s ability to move the country forward. The blue rectangles could represent her Democratic base of voters, or they could be a pause sign – further emphasizing that she will “un-pause” or move us forward. There are many, many more interpretations of her logo, but the first one mentioned here (that the arrow is a message of her working with the GOP) is problematic for her campaign. With that in mind, I created my own version of her logo, which I think avoids that misinterpretation.

4In my version, I conserved the rightward pointing arrow as a sign of movement forward, but I placed the arrow in both red and blue, making it a message about moving both Democrats and Republicans forward (or rather, moving the entire country forward). The white center stroke is curved, much like representations of bridges are often curved, establishing a message of Hillary’s ability to bridge the two sides of the politically split country. The curved white line could also be a reference to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign logo, which incorporated a similar shape to represent the horizon and signify the idea of hope. In addition, shadows or dark filters can signify malevolence or wickedness, but because the white stroke goes through the dark filter of the arrow and white connotes goodness, the logo sets Hillary up as the source of light coming through the dark to unite the nation. Any political candidate would want to be positioned as the savior, but overall, this logo may appear too similar to Pepsi’s logo and branding, and Hillary would not want to associate herself so closely with a commercial brand.

A logo may seem like a small, insignificant visual, but it’s a visual that holds a lot of meaning. It’s the job of the logo designer to take a campaign’s messages and embed those messages in a logo using color, shape, typography, and imagery. It’s not an easy job – as we saw with all the backlash to Hillary’s and Jeb’s logos at the start of the presidential race last year. As voters, we should think more carefully about what candidates are trying to tell us via their logos. As designers, we should be aware of all the ways those voters can interpret logos and incorporate that into our designs.

The Best and Worst of Presidential Candidate Websites

I’m currently in the process of writing a fairly extensive thesis about the 2016 presidential candidate logos, but the logos are just one part of each candidate’s branding efforts. Another increasingly important part of a candidate’s visual branding strategy is their website. Given the current state of the 2016 race, I’m interested in looking at four candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump (these are the candidates who are leading on each side of the party lines).

The Home Pages

With the exception of Sanders, all the candidates’ home pages are structured similarly. Clinton, Cruz, and Trump all have header navigation bars and a hero image of themselves at the top. Sanders’ top navigation is different in that the pages are listed vertically on the left and rather than a hero image of himself, there is a large collage of many seemingly “average American” people. This is a choice that very much represents Sanders’ campaign (and his call for a “movement”). All four pages have very clear call-to-action buttons – including “join now” and “donate now” – followed by either issues, news, or biographies. Clinton and Trump have home pages that are split into two columns, while Cruz and Sanders have one, long column.

Overall, Clinton and Sanders have home pages that predominantly use a light or dark blue, while Cruz’s page makes greater use of white space, and Trump’s page is mainly a darker red. Trump’s home page uses a serif typeface that is very similar to his corporate branding – it’s meant to look luxurious and intelligent, but ultimately the serif comes across as traditional and old in comparison to his competitors’ use of modern sans serif typefaces.

User Experience

Bernie Sanders – The busy collage at the top of Sanders’ page fits well with his campaign, but it makes reading the white-colored navigation links on the left side of the page hard to read. However, the wave underneath the collage image nicely mimics the waves in his logo, creating cohesive branding. The red “Contribute” button stands out, but the word “Donate” may be more galvanizing for a website visitor. A timeline of Sanders’ life/biography dominates the bottom section of the page, which may make him seem more personable, but it also makes it harder for website visitors to find his issue stances more quickly.

Hillary Clinton – Many of the elements on Clinton’s page make use of the arrow – a nice connection to her logo. The top navigation bar is easy to read and the “Donate” button is very visible at the right of the bar. Beneath the hero image and “join now” section, her page includes a list of issues mixed with news. Besides potentially making clearer call-to-actions with the “join now” and “donate” buttons (i.e. “Join now to stop Trump” instead of just “Join now”), the page does a good job of pulling the website visitor through the site.

Ted Cruz – The Cruz site has a clear navigation bar, but the “Featured Videos” section beneath his hero image is not presented well; the elongated video is behind a semi-transparent black box, and the video icons are too small in comparison to the video box itself. The giant “From the Trail” quote seems to interrupt the flow of the site, but the mix of social media posting bellow the quote shows nice integration of social media and makes the candidate seem more personable. The home page is very long and is the only home page of the four candidates to not include a news/issues/biography section. The length of the page means most site visitors are unlikely to scroll to the bottom – as a result, the “Donate now” section should be much higher up on the page.

Donald Trump – Trump’s site has a clear navigation bar, though it is a deep red with gradients that makes reading the white links hard. The “Join now” and “Donate” buttons are very visible and placed high on the page for easy access, but the mix of serif and sans serif typefaces is confusing to the eye. The “Media,” “Video,” and “Press Releases” headers are lost against the larger text of the posts themselves. The large amounts of white space and uneven sizes of the news boxes makes the page seem disorganized, and the textured paper background is an odd choice. Of the four candidate pages, Trump’s seems the least thought-out.

Final Verdict: It’s tie between Sanders and Clinton for best-designed website, with Trump the clear loser.

Digital Trends to Watch for in 2016

We’ve reached December, the month when “trends to watch” listicles flood the Internet. The Nieman Lab has published a mammoth “Predictions for Journalism 2016,” and many others have come up with their own lists of trends to look out for in the coming year. Most of these trends are based on what is already happening, so these articles tend to be less than insightful. For example, Atlantic Media Strategies just published “9 Digital Trends to Watch for in 2016,” which highlights a few interesting but unsurprising trends. Some of my favorites (and one of my own) include:

  1. The Death of the Website

Is a website always necessary? It is always the best way to reach your audience? Everyone agrees that mobile is growing fast and there is reason to believe that we are heading towards a mobile-only or primarily mobile world. So what is going to replace websites? Apps? I’m not sure the website is dead quite yet, but I see where this trend is coming from: the insane growth of mobile.

2. Finally, Digital-First Branding

This is a trend I have grappled with over the past few weeks; I’m building a logo and brand identity for a small business and I’m realizing that these days, logos really need to be designed with digital in mind. What shape logo works with social media profiles? What branding can shift easily between print and digital? I agree with the author of this trend that we need to start thinking digital-first when we’re creating brand identities.

3. The Rise of Ad Blockers

This is not a trend for 2016 – this is a trend of now. I freely admit that I use an ad blocker, despite working in the advertising world. All of the digital advertising experts I have asked about the rise of ad blocking have responded with variations of “less than 10% of Internet users have ad blocker, it’s a non-issue” or “it’s a niche thing, most people are not using it.” It’s true that the number of people using an ad blocker is still relatively small, but it’s growing and I think the phenomenon of ad blocking will be a major issue for the advertising industry in the next few years.

A bonus trend:

4. Video, video, video

Video is going to keep growing, so much so that I think it’s going to overtake traditional digital advertising (i.e. static banners). We’re already seeing that video on Facebook is an enormous arena, and YouTube is not slowing down anytime soon. Video advertising is going to be even bigger than it already is – and next year, I think the focus is going to be interactive video ads.

Typography Tuesday: Typeface Your Face

Wieden & Kennedy Tokyo launched a glasses collection (with Oh My Glasses)…and I love it. As a typeface enthusiast and glasses-wearer, this typeface-inspired glasses collection easily caught my attention.

150810_TYPE_PR_KIT_JP

Elements of selected typefaces went into the creation of each pair of glasses. In some cases, it was mostly the tone or feel of the typeface that dictated the style of glasses. In other cases, the connection is more direct; the lowercase Garamond “g” made up the nose section of the Garamond glasses.

Love the idea, and if I hadn’t just bought new glasses a week ago, I would have been super interested in some Futura or Helvetica glasses of my own.

Typography Tuesday: The Sweatpants Typeface?

Bloomberg just published a story called “The Best and Worst Fonts to Use on Your Resume,” and in the story, they suggest that “using Times New Roman is the typeface equivalent of wearing sweatpants to an interview.” I agree that Times New Roman is a poor choice for a resume typeface, but “sweatpants”? Sweatpants implies sloppiness, and Times is not sloppy – it’s boring. The only time I use Times is when I’m writing academic papers, because professors will balk at anything else. But I wouldn’t generally use Times for anything else – mostly because it doesn’t feel modern. It feels old. That goes for pretty much any serif (spoiler alert: I’m a sans-serif junkie). Serifs just have the smell of an old book that hasn’t been pulled from the library shelf for a couple years. That isn’t to say they’re not useful – they definitely have a time and place – but sans serifs have the smell of a new Tesla, not an old book.

Interestingly, the Bloomberg article also suggests that Helvetica is a good neutral typeface for resumes. I have a love-hate relationship with Helvetica. Yes, I agree that it’s a safe choice for pretty much any kind of document, print or web. But it’s also so ubiquitous. It was created out of a movement towards minimalism and it looks great – but I never go a day without catching it on a poster or sign. Maybe we need a new Helvetica (and no, not Helvetica Neue). In the meantime, Helvetica will suffice.