Every Growing Agency Needs A Coach Thibs

Sometimes we place so much emphasis on the first year of a business as its most challenging, we don’t always consider that the real challenges to come happen in Year 3, 4 or 5 – when tough transitions need to happen. When they do, your people on the ground can’t necessarily see the grand vision for what your organization is trying to accomplish high above. We can look no further at an organization like the Chicago Bulls to see how they struggle with this present/future paradox. The organization trades Luol Deng to save itself $20 million from the salary cap and avoid a dreaded tax for repeat luxury tax offenders. Which makes all the sense in the world from a financial standpoint. But for the actual players and coach, it makes no sense at all. They can’t relate to the move. They try to respect management but they also know that same management doesn’t take the court every few days like they do – even if they were former players. Managers aren’t their brothers. Managers don’t go into battle with them. Managers don’t communicate everything to them.

Doesn’t this sound like some cultures you might’ve worked in? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Take ad agencies, for example. I’ve worked in agencies where good people got laid off right and left. Management tried to justify the financial decision, but it didn’t really make sense. And here you were, knowing that you still have to write, still have to design, still have to program, still have to service your account.

But all the while, on the inside, you’re hurting. You’re ticked off. You just don’t understand it. The people who stick around can feel almost as bad as the people leaving.

It’s here, in the middle of the organization, where a Director-level person or people make a difference you can’t even measure to ensure the focus by your “troops on the ground” are on the tasks right in front of them. They don’t have to like the current situation. But they have to perform. In the Bulls’ situation, that person is Tom Thibodeau. Does he like the situation now after Deng has been traded? Of course not. Because no matter how much it may benefit the team long-term, he knows he has to win games right now and this move would seemingly impede that from happening. And yet, because he is such a good coach and can keep the team as focused as possible on maintaining a defensive identity, he’s still winning with what he has. How can this be? He’s not delusional. He’s not talking championship. He’s not expecting a locker room to instantly feel better about losing a cherished teammate, even after they win a game or two. But he does know that they still have to play games and win. To do that, everybody has to buy into his philosophy, which calls for playing the most suffocating defense in the NBA. It’s so stifling that other teams are going to beat the Bulls with more talent, but they’re not going to be outworked. This is no different than the mark of any other Thibodeau team, whether they had Derrick Rose or not.

In an agency setting, the role of Coach Thibs could very well be your Creative Director. The Copywriter and Art Director types look to this kind of person to help them understand what management above is doing. Did my CD always get what the people above were doing? Heck no. But the good ones also understood that we still needed to produce a fantastic product that was creatively captivating and strategically on target. But they weren’t robots. They could lend an ear too for people who needed to talk because happy people – at least happier people than yesterday – usually make for better results.

The CD here and there who couldn’t connect with their creative department fell short because they didn’t have these compassionate bones in their bodies. They couldn’t put moves from above in the proper context. They couldn’t try to relate and they didn’t see the purpose in doing so. It was just business as usual for them and their body language essentially told the rest of the team to “get over it.”

Which ones do you think got more respect and which ones do you think were tuned out more often?

In an agency setting, what can tend to happen when there is a connection with your CD is for the team to flip a switch and despite some sudden transitions of people leaving, the team sees themselves in a cocoon away from the rest of the craziness going on around them. They see a CD with fire and passion for doing great work as well as a person who has great love and respect for his people. They want to work hard for him. They want to make him look great. Because if he’s suddenly not part of their world, then things really will go to hell. And they don’t want to imagine that. There’s few things worse than a rudderless Creative Department.

In some small shops, you may not have the luxury of having upper management focused on the business of running the agency and Creative Directors – you may have to wear those hats together. I’ve had to do that and let me tell you, it’s far easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. You may want to “coach up” someone to grow into an Associate Creative Director role, which gives you the eventual win-win of giving more of your time to the goals/vision/promotion of the agency and potentially hanging on to a talented creative that much longer who can help you on the day-to-day level. After all, before he became a great coach, Thibs spent years and years learning the ropes as an Assistant.

Do you have a go-between Director or Director-of-the-future person like this in your environment? Identify them now and think about your plan to nurture them. You’ll be glad you did when big transitions in your agency are necessary that are abundantly apparent and necessary to you but far less clear to those players on the ground.




Fragile Marketing: Recognize The Symptoms

Donnie Bryant of Donnie Bryant Direct

Donnie Bryant of Donnie Bryant Direct Response Marketing

Today’s guest post is from Donnie Bryant of Donnie Bryant Direct Response Marketing. I’ve had many online conversations with Donnie and I always love interacting with him on multiple channels. In his view, marketing and copywriting isn’t a job but a calling. In addition to be quite talented, he’s just one of the most generous guys in the online universe I know and you can never have too many friends out there like him. – Dan

It’s possible to know everything about marketing techniques, strategies and tools and still be a marketing imbecile.

If you don’t understand what makes people tick, you don’t have much going for you. Marketing is about people, not methods. When business people miss this fact, the marketing they produce is usually pretty fragile. Always in danger of falling apart. Susceptible to defeat in the face of opposition or competition.

Fragile marketing is all around us. Here are 4 major symptoms — do your communications suffer from any of them?

1) Price-based messages are fragile
Unless you have no mailbox, TV or internet, you’ve probably seen dozens of advertisements for Black Friday “doorbuster” sales. Doorbusters take urgency to the extreme, offering uber-low prices to drive traffic to stores (or to a lesser extent, websites).

Don’t get me wrong; everyone loves a good deal. But consider the position you put yourself in when you put all your eggs in the low price basket. You have to be cheaper than Walmart. You have to compete with the preponderance of their commercials, too. Is that really the contest you want to participate in?

While this is true all year ’round, consumers (at least here in America) are practically programmed to shop at big box retailers for Black Friday and other commercialized holidays. The retailers spend millions of dollars broadcasting their bottom-basement prices to your customers. The deck is stacked against you.

No matter what you sell, if you don’t a) offer something unique, b) make a more persuasive appeal, or c) develop a special relationship with your customers, you lose. Work on one or more (preferably all 3) of these.

2) Messages without “rewards” are fragile
As Howard Luck Gossage said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” The only reason people will pay attention to your marketing message at all is if you tell them what’s in it for them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they’re not interested in you or your product/service. They have a very limited amount of time in their day; why should they give any of it to you? You won’t earn their attention by talking about yourself or the features of the thing you sell.

Make your customer the center of each of your marketing pieces. Most businesses get this wrong, focusing on whatever they love about their product or their company. Or they think making an interesting, funny ad will do the trick. But if the message never makes a connection between the product and the customer’s felt need, that message is fragile.

3) When you see potential customers as breathing bundles of raw biological desires, you’re messages end up being fragile
Yes, people buy for emotional reasons. (Just ask anyone who is looking to buy a house.)

Yes, they have desires that should be appealed to.

But don’t ever forget that your customers are human beings (we call it “ubuntu”). We all have values, morals and a sense of nobility. There’s a longing for connectedness and purpose in our hearts.

We love. We hope. We want our lives to matter.

Ignoring these realities can put you in a fragile position over the long term. A competitor who does more than scratch a prospect’s current itch, who presents something bigger than the satisfaction of an immediate physical need has the long-term advantage.

Build a sense of community. Become associated with some cause your customers care about, or start your own. Share your “why” and your passion; they can be contagious and they create a bond with others who feel the same way.

4) If it isn’t obvious how to take action on your offer, there’s unnecessary fragility in your message

Make it easy to buy. Don’t assume people will know what to do. Tell them to go to your website, call your phone number or whatever they have to do to take the next step. Don’t make them guess or hope they’ll figure it out.

Your Action Steps

1) Study the remedies to any of the symptoms you recognize in your own marketing.

2) Get some help if you’re not sure how to apply the remedies to your messages.

3) Whatever you do, don’t ignore these symptoms if you see them. Of course you have a million and one things going on, especially during the holiday season. All the more reason you should make sure you’re marketing is strong. Fragile marketing makes one more thing to worry about: weak sales!

To get in touch with Donnie Bryant, email db@donnie-bryant.com or call 312.450.9291.

Phil’s In The Wrong, But The Ducks Don’t Stop Here.

By now, we’ve heard and talked about Phil Robertson’s extremely controversial anti-gay comments in a media interview. Seriously, anyone who has followed this show as well as the programming heads at A&E had to know it was only a matter of time before Phil uttered the kind of hardcore statement that would upset a whole lot of people for good reason.

Do I think Willie Robertson would have said anything along the lines of what his father said? Absolutely not. I think as CEO, Willie will believe whatever he wants but also understands he has an ever-growing brand to protect in front of the media. He’s always understood the massive potential and growth of Duck Commander and its properties, taking the brand to a level that his father never could have dreamed of.

It’s partially for this reason that I believe the Duck Commander brand, along with the show “Duck Dynasty,” will be just fine. Here’s why.

First, remember that Duck Commander and Buck Commander cater to a very specific and loyal audience of people who use their products. Oh, they’re not going to use a duck call because they don’t agree with Phil Robertson’s views? Sorry. Don’t buy it. I don’t agree with Phil, of course, but I don’t buy the brand suffers among outdoor enthusiasts who were very much on board with this brand long before “Duck Dynasty” the show came along. There are legions of supporters who have hunting videos featuring Phil, Willie, Jase and the rest of them. They’re not changing their spending habits now. If anything, some of them will buy even more Duck Commander products – because regardless of whether they actually agree with Phil, they see him as a hunting patriarch. No way they walk away from that. Those roots run deep.

By the way, this includes not only buyers but retailers. I don’t see outdoor retailers or the biggest retailer of all, Walmart, stepping away from Duck Commander either. Sure, there may be protests by those who want to see DC pulled from the shelves but it’s not happening. The franchise is just too lucrative and the following is deep. You may appease one group but will enrage another. And in the end, money is what talks here, even if what Phil Robertson is talking is offensive.

Secondly, the show is going to continue to cater to a loyal audience as well. That audience isn’t going to completely evaporate. In our Kardashian-Teen Mom-Honey Boo Boo culture, there’s a group of people that are going to follow the Robertsons to whatever network they land on next. Book it right now. If the family leaves A&E, there’s going to be an audience for them elsewhere and if it’s any kind of mainstream station, it’s going to be a big one.

So the brand of Duck Commander and Buck Commander will be very much intact. So will “Duck Dynasty.”

What’s interesting to me, however, is that people think the 1st Amendment entitles one to say whatever they like without fear of consequence from an employer. Ah, what a blissful, naive existence such people lead.

I suppose NFL and NBA players never say anything controversial in the way busting out a tweet without getting fined by the people they work for. And most of the time, they’re talking about something that actually applied to their profession. Yeah. When you’re ripping apart a referee or saying how you hate the Commissioner, the whole 1st Amendment argument doesn’t go too far with David Stern or Roger Goodell.

See, what some leaders under a brand don’t understand, whether it’s Phil Robertson or Chick-Fil-A’s Dan Cathy, is that their brand has become so successful that, ironically, it’s actually much bigger than them or any one person. So when they make themselves the story rather than their brand, they’re doing a disservice to what they built. They’re making their negative comments against a group based on sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. the story that is connected to their brand. Even if it’s just for 24-48 hours, is that what you want people to think about first and foremost? Your stance against certain people instead of your product, your program, your brand?

In the end, life moves on, even in temporary crisis. We get over our hatred. We eat a chicken sandwich because we’re hungry, not because we agree with the CEO. We watch Duck Dynasty because those guys look nuts and we care less about the out-of-touch-views of one of their family members. They may be reality stars but they’re about as far removed from our reality as can be, even though they technically live in the same planet.

Because of this, right or wrong, there will be a place for these brands even though there is no place for the hateful commentary produced from one of their people. But let’s be clear about something – there’s such a thing as having media savvy and holding the people who appear in the media accountable for how they act and what they say. When Phil gives an interview in a magazine, he’s representing A&E. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears on television, he’s representing Mountain Dew. They’re linked, not independent of each other.

That’s why I think Phil Robertson will come back to the table with an apology so that the show can continue and A&E can keep its #1 money maker because in the end, the network doesn’t want to lose the show.

Strong brands can overcome a misstep or two – and for the Robertsons, this is one of them. But when you’ve built up a lot of goodwill along the way, it stands a good chance of helping you weather the storm of your own error.

As long as, of course, you have the good sense to recognize and acknowledge it sooner rather than later.

Staying Closed On Thanksgiving Provides Brands An Opening

The following retailers were not open on Thanksgiving Day: 

Burlington Coat Factory
Barnes & Noble
Home Depot
Radio Shack
Sam’s Club
TJ Maxx

To me, it’s just common sense. To these brands, it represents an opportunity to show that they actually care about the home life of their people over the almighty dollar (and seriously, shoppers couldn’t wait until Black Friday anyway?). It’s a stand worth continuing for their culture, loyalty and values. Kudos to them.

See, here’s the challenge for any brand that wants to walk the walk and talk the talk – it’s one of brand consistency when you hang a frame in your conference room that says you care about your people (is paying time-and-a-half really caring? Ehhh.) and then you ask them to work on one of the days traditionally reserved for family. Moreover, let’s review who gets to tell a more interesting story as a result of remaining closed – your customer who says, “Good for Nordstrom to do that,” or your CEO who has to give a carefully-worded statement justifying the company’s actions.

Which one sounds more positive to you?

Oh, I know that some cynics will say that money talks and the opportunity to cash in big-time outweighs all. In some companies, maybe that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Yet…in a place like Nordstrom, which already has plenty of great customer service stories to be told, sticking to keeping the doors closed on Thanksgiving might just keep some very valuable people happy, so they can continue to be a part of the team for a long time and contribute to more of those positive customer service stories being told for years to come. Not to mention the good things they may say about their own employer. They could be told verbally, on video, throughout social media channels, etc.

And I’ll bet that has a chance of happening more frequently than when treating Thanksgiving as just another retail day.

There are a lot of people who have their opinions on retailers being open on Thanksgiving – and it’s not entirely one-sided either. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Weigh in, won’t you?

OfficeMax Moves Into Full Solutions Center Concept

When I looked at the invitation from OfficeMax for a store opening, I had to admit wondering what was going to be so different about this occasion versus several hundreds that preceded it. But what I learned from the unveiling of the first OfficeMax Business Solutions Center in the Chicagoland area is that the office supply giant intends to be far more than just the place you turn to when you’re out of paper, toner and pens.

Now, with IT services, cloud storage, print and document services, promotional services and other types of business solutions, OfficeMax aims for spaces like its 3,900-square foot store in Streeterville to be the one-stop shop for a lot of other services too.


It’s part of an evolution in the category overall as retailers aim to convey services outside of the core offering they’ve been known for. In OfficeMax’s case, it’s the store of the future.

“OfficeMax understands that small businesses and entrepreneurs have different needs,” explains Kristin Muntean vice president, Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at OfficeMax. “OfficeMax Business Solutions Centers are committed to serving as a central resource for business needs – from providing print and documents to IT support to setting up your website and cloud storage.” 

There’s also a specialized Business Solutions Adviser onsite to walk the customer through the various services they need. They’ve even partnered with Company.Hire to provide HR recruiting and onboarding services.

Yes, this is OfficeMax we’re talking about.

One thing I’ve appreciated seeing is how OfficeMax is eliciting feedback from local business owners as they roll out the concept here and across the country. As Muntean describes, that’s very much on purpose. “In developing our Business Solutions Centers, we conducted extensive research with small businesses in Chicago and across the country,” she says. “We are building on that research through a dialogue with our neighbors in Streeterville to ensure we evolve with their feedback.” 

It’s no doubt a smart move, if not an essential one. When office supply retailers such as FedEx Kinko’s (now FedEx Office) and delivery services such as UPS with its UPS Store opened their stores, it was all about providing you with total access to the supplies you needed when you needed them for convenience. That quickly becomes an apples-to-apples game though, with little to distinguish one from the other. Pens are pens. Paper is paper. And while loyalty programs definitely don’t hurt to hopefully retain more regular shoppers of these items, the stores needed to hang their hats on something more.

So when you provide certain types of services, you give yourself the opportunity to stand out based on the delivery of those services in a customized way – while, of course, providing the other essentials to the office. The key to me is not only in delivering those services on a superb level (easier said than done for many) but also clarifying the audience in a realistic way.

What I mean by that is that there is an underserved niche of Mom N’ Pop local businesses that are challenged by time and expense. Millions of these types of businesses don’t have websites and instead think they can get by with a listing on Yelp. They don’t have marketing guidance because they can’t often afford high-level assistance from a practitioner like yours truly.

In other words, this is the niche that OfficeMax can fulfill services for and if you’re in Web Development, I.T., Marketing, etc. I would see such retailers as less of a competitor unless these types of very small (i.e. 5 employees or less), one location businesses that are extremely budget-challenged are prime members of your clientele. Let’s face it. The business that can’t afford a website upwards of $3,000 isn’t going to be the client of most web developers. For many of them, this is the point where they say, “Well, I’ll just put up a Facebook Page” if they opt to do anything at all. That’s better than nothing, but still mediocre. They’ll still have no real home base for their brand in the way of a site, blog, etc. that’s more easily found by the likes of Google unless someone specifically searches for that business by name. That’s a finite number of customers. Enter the OfficeMax Business Solutions Center to elevate their visibility at a price point they can afford.


The Next Evolution: From One Shop To One Button

From here, the challenge for retailers such as OfficeMax is to provide not just the one-stop-shop but the best one button experience. If I want it, give me the personalized services in-store. However, if I want that same personalized service, give it to me through my phone, tablet and laptop. We’re seeing this already with Amazon’s Mayday service, in which live chat is taken to the next level where customer service interacts with the client’s screen.


The very concept of “the store” is changing as it is right now.

Best Buy once touted its ability to have it all under one roof but its service from store to store is, well, let’s just say inconsistent. Now, it won’t be enough to have a lot of product or even have great service in-store. It will be about who provides the best store experience both in the physical space and on the tablet I hold in my hand. That had better include remembering my favorite purchases and, if I choose the option, recommending new possibilities (again, Amazon rocks in this department).

Think Beyond Pre-Rollout Focus Groups

If you’re considering an extension of your brand on a retail level, don’t confine yourself to the pre-rollout phase. What OfficeMax has done well thus far – and what I hope they will continue to do – is invite in influencers to help hone its focus well after the doors have opened. Full disclosure: If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I’m one of those who has been invited to such discussions.

Whether they’re bloggers or end users (or often both), communicate with decision makers and those who serve those decision makers. Take them to lunch and provide them an opportunity to voice their opinions in person through a roundtable format discussion. Don’t put your executives in some ivory tower – get them in front of these contributors to interact (this is where many corporations miss an important step because the C-level isn’t there and doesn’t see this interactive experience as valuable enough).

Of course you want to do it right beforehand. But trouble occurs if the customer research and feedback tails off after the launch. That’s why it’s so important to maintain the momentum built today, tomorrow and for the life of the brand.

We certainly have enough tools for it.

If you have the opportunity, stop into the OfficeMax Business Solutions Center in Streeterville at 550 N. St. Clair. They’ve recently added a second location, in Evanston on 1612 Sherman Ave.

Then let me know your feedback. Do you think OfficeMax can successfully evolve its brand in this manner? Would you consider these new services? What would you care to see more of that you feel might be lacking from them? This input will be valuable to me – and I’m sure to the folks at OfficeMax too.


What Doctors Can Learn From Designers: Tales From The Cusp

“If we as health care providers do not think like designers,
we will fail in our mission to serve our patients.”

   -Dr. Joyce Lee

In attending Chicago’s recent Cusp Conference, I came across a host of innovative guest speakers who are changing business models through better design. One of them I thoroughly enjoyed hearing was Dr. Joyce Lee, who is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School and an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Dr. Lee’s design inspiration evolved from a very personal issue: Both of her children have allergies, one of them at a very severe, life-threatening level. If her 6-year-old were exposed to certain foods, he might go into shock and have difficulty breathing.

Think about if this was your child and you had to instruct their daycare teacher how to save your child’s life without you being there. A terrifying thought for any parent, really – especially since the Allergy Action Plan chart that Dr. Lee could’ve potentially provided was a maze of confusion.

Bad Design: An Allergy Action Plan That’s Impossible To Understand


“Here, Mr./Mrs. Teacher – in addition to all your other responsibilities, I need you to save my child’s life in seconds. But first, read this complex chart of conditions in order to know what to do.”

It’s no wonder that between 1994 and 2007, there were over 15,000 unintentional injections in the U.S. with EpiPens. Even trained nurses, paramedics and physicians were inadvertently self-injecting.

That’s bad design.

Knowing that the above option wasn’t realistic nor could she expect to teach her 6-year-old to administer an EpiPen (medical device used to inject epinephrine in the event of a severe allergic reaction) to himself to save his own life, Dr. Lee knew there had to be a better way out of necessity that was more user-friendly.

During her sabbatical, Dr. Lee studied data visualization and figured out how to think like a designer. She started to blog about design and its intersection with health care. She wondered how the very model of health care could get a redesign. 

And that’s when something simple became better design.

Dr. Lee scripted a YouTube video – but the real star was her child, who illustrated and narrated the video.


Come on. Who can possibly ignore a cute 6-year-old’s drawing as he or she explains it? 

Very few people. Which is exactly the point.

Dr. Lee posted it on her blog and sent the link to her child’s teacher.

The teacher thought the idea was brilliant and shared it with hundreds of other people within days. Those people sent it to more people (undoubtedly some of them parents of severely allergic children in a similar predicament). Before long, Dr. Lee’s little instructional video starring her son had gone viral.

While at a conference, a colleague of Dr. Lee’s spoke of how her video brought the action plan to life. You can find the result yourself at: www.IHaveFoodAllergies.Tumblr.com

A follow-up video was also made in this format, such as one relating to handling sensitive food ingredients.

Think about this for a moment. A video series by a 6-year-old is better design than a complex chart of circumstances and actions that was probably created by a council of physicians.

Suddenly the phrase, “Explain it to me like I’m a 6-year-old” has even more relevance than we thought.

The lesson here for brand marketers is that there are countless times when we can outthink ourselves out of good design. We don’t think like the person who actually has to use our product or service as much as we should. We don’t think about the way they make decisions. We go by what we think sounds best instead of envisioning their lives and the way they absorb information. Which is why we get lousy ads full of specifications and marketing jargon instead of simplicity and English.

Instead of just getting to that next logical step in the thought process, we spew every possible piece of information at them in a first impression, overwhelm them and turn them off because they don’t have an eternity to spend with us.

Taking a look at the example of Dr. Lee’s son, how well do you think that approach would’ve worked out?

So take a fresh look at the processes and language you’re creating around your brand with this in mind. Is that good design? Or bad design?

To see more of Dr. Lee’s presentation and learn about another terrific medical innovation that comes from “good design” called the Auvi-Q, click here:

Comics Journalism: Tales From The Cusp

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time at The Cusp Conference, a 2-day celebration of all things design put on by the agency team at Multiple. I originally planned on writing about all the guest speakers but frankly, there were so many of them I would be writing solely about each of them between now and next year. So I decided to select a few shining examples of speakers at Cusp who inspired me and opened the mindset to how I view design. If one of them strikes a chord with you, you’ll want to attend Cusp in late October next year when it comes back around.


So often, we think of design in a traditional sense, such as graphic design, illustration, sculpture and painting. But we don’t often think of how design can be applied to business models to create ambitious industry approaches. See, things that can look beautiful (or even just orderly) on the surface can also be filled with clutter – and in the path of changing that clutter are people too close to the problem within the company or industry, set in their “that’s the way it’s always been done/that’ll never work” ways. And yet, they never asked the customer about their experience. Imagine that.

Thankfully, the people I’m about to focus on this week with a few different selections are showing in their own ways how to make such changes through good design.

Bad Design: Journalistic formats that give little clarity to issues

Jon Stewart gives news outlets like CNN an epic FAIL for good reason. If you are a news outlet that doesn’t give insight and are nothing more than trying to win the race to be the “first to speculate,” that’s bad design. If you’re a journalist who makes it harder for the audience to understand the elements of a news story and is guessing right along with everybody else, what are you really adding?

Worse, what do you add by shouting about it as a foursome? Tell me that this doesn’t cause greater divisiveness. Cable network news is often bad design.

Good Design: Change what a news narrative can be and how it can be interpreted so that the audience is able to better absorb the issues at hand.

Who says the news solely has to be on TV? Who says the news solely has to be streamed via video? We have to look for these new opportunities that the traditional newspaper is having a hard time fulfilling.

What if investigative reporting met the graphic novel format and was delivered through a tablet magazine?

Such as how Erin Polgreen and Joyce Rice are delivering it through their digital news magazine called Symbolia, for example?

My morning at CUSP came with a jolt of inspiration from these two ladies who have already been covered by Fast Company a few times. Simply put, Erin went from reading a Wonder Woman comic book to reading a news magazine and, in between, a light bulb went off. She realized that perhaps a form of “Comics Journalism,” could bridge borders.


Indeed, it appears this bi-monthly product is proving that to be true. Published online, through the iPad, Kindle and in PDF form, Symbolia focuses on everything from rollerbladers in Northern Iraq, secret species in the Congo and Zambian psychedelic rock. What the duo has realized in that process is that comics have become a powerful teaching tool for their stories to people outside of the U.S., of which 45% of their readership consists of.

What’s more, even the comics format itself is elevated at Symbolia, with uses of animation within stories. Imagine a band being featured within the pages of the magazine that you can actually listen to and watch in a whole new interactive way – and then share it?

No matter what your preference of story is, think about what this format holds for a not-too-distance future when more and more of us will be able to absorb our news and share it with others who can appreciate it. I’m talking far more than just liking and sharing something on Facebook. I’m talking about getting into the content like never before. Combine that with investigative reporting that’s more insightful than much of the present product and guess what?

That’s good design.

Next: How Dr. Joyce Lee used a personal challenge to create an important health care solution to bad design.