The Logo

The logo. The identity of your brand. Sometimes I feel that the term “brand” is misinterpreted but it is essential to how your company, business, or institution interacts with the public. Your brand is not your logo, it is how consumers view your entity. Your logo, however, is everywhere that you cannot be.

Think about that. A logo is the ultimate extension of your brand. When executed properly and placed appropriately, it is how we identify with an entity or product. The relationship is there when you are thirsty and see a Coke machine. Nike’s swoosh screams off of apparel more than the colors; it’s what we identify with first. We have a long-term memory bank when it comes to relationships and associations.

The logo is something that should be everywhere in an identity. A short list could look something like this:

smarty design co circle logo black.png

·      Business card

·      Stationary

·      Sell sheet

·      Email signature

·      Campaigns

·      Signage

·      Website

It’s a badge of honor that belongs to you. Take pride in your logo and what it means. It communicates, builds relationships, and builds character.

I am not suggesting you take an analysis of how often your logo is being used but take notice of where and what competitors are doing. McDonald’s has their logo on napkins! Do you think they give out extra catchup and napkins because you might need it? My guess is that they know those things get stuck in drawers and glove boxes. It’s a secret handshake, a subtle reminder.

Branding, Identity, and Logo need to work in harmony. Branding strategy is important and it starts with a logo.

Side Business

nsbr logo.png

Starting a “side business” is still a ton of work. I suppose if it’s not your main source of income that it could be done on the side but for it to succeed it’s a lot of time and resources. Business can be scary as it is and adding one to life can be quite nuts.


Just over a year ago my wife and I had the opportunity to purchase a waterfront property that had been in the family since the 1930’s. Plenty of memories are intertwined in this house and lake. It was far from our budget, but we realized we could convert it to a vacation rental to offset our costs and possibly profit down the line. So far it has worked.


This spring we realized that even though we have a company maintaining and marketing it, we could do quite a bit of the promoting ourselves. With the property being 5 hours north of us there’s little we can do in any event but while we are sitting at home there is plenty we can do in showing off the community.


We decided to build an experience out of this house. We created an Instagram and Facebook account that visually documents all the things we do while spending time up there. Something else we did was create a Yelp account that shows the places we go and visit. We have photographed the heck out of the area and made it known to businesses what we are up to. Farmers Markets, restaurants, retail, hikes, rivers, etc., we are promoting them at the same time which is free advertising, essentially it’s word of mouth. We are invested in this little community and want our friends and hangouts to benefit from our excitement of having a home there. This has been an all-or-nothing campaign as we are continuing growth and able to increase renters. We encourage guests to follow us.


Something else we quickly realized is family involvement. Since day one our kids have seen the hard work that went in to renovations and the excitement of seeing the calendar fill. They have also taken part in our writing of reviews and suggestions, along with photography. Being able to include them is something that is important to me as I cannot include them in the Smarty Design Co unless it’s tracking receipts (no takers).


Is it a “side business”? Perhaps but we are on top of it every day monitoring the calendar and now social media. Most importantly we still have to be available. We have to be available for questions and troubleshooting. It’s still a hustle.


If you are interested in seeing what this is doing, you can check it out here.

Chasing Likes

smarty design company heart.jpg

Commitment. Oh boy, and where is this post headed? It’s heading down the path of commitment where the risks might not be too intense but what comes of it is what is yet to be seen.


At the end of April I started a 100 Day Project based on halftones in design. I have been posting 1 piece of this project every day since I started and the conclusion of this venture will be in August. I had all sorts of ideas on how this would benefit me and the Smarty Design Co and while I am unsure of the impact, I can tell you what I have seen thus far.


Halftones are those little dots or lines in print that make up an image. Newsprint is a great example of how halftones are used. Black ink and dots of different sizes that give an image depth and while it looks greyscale, it’s the various sizes of each circle that gives the effect. This effect has been manipulated over time to give off different effects and moods which is something I have grown quite fond of.


My project is being distributed through Instagram, Tumblr, and I have created a page on my website (titled “Halftone Project”) that I am updating daily for those who do not use social media. I never wanted to have something of mine go viral nor is the idea important to me. I do not find value in that. However, there is that satisfaction when people like my work. Now, there are the likers that will heart any thing, some folks just scroll through, and then there’s a core of supportive followers. I think that the core of this 100 Day Project isn’t about the likes but how emotionally driven each post is. Creating content of the sake of the commitment may lead to an unfulfilling 100 days.


I have learned how increasingly important time is. Time I set aside to do this, to research, but most importantly the time people spend to even look at what the Smarty Design Co is doing. That being said, most of my followers aren’t liking everything I have posted which validates another part of the project. It doesn’t take much effort to tap a heart button, right? But not tapping means I am not drawing the emotion that I had hoped for. I love this stuff! What a great way to learn and grow.


A lesson I have learned is that chasing the likes isn’t a good use of my time nor is comparing myself to others in my respective field. I went down this path to challenge myself and put forth design that is experimental yet meaningful. If people interact with it along the way then I can celebrate the victories. If I gain followers, great! Regardless it’s about the journey.


A message to the core group; I am humbled that you care enough to look for my posts. That’s exciting. I always say this but I am flattered anytime that anyone looks at my work or wants to work with me. They could’ve picked anyone. So if someone interacts with something I am creating, you’ve got my full attention.


For those who are checking out my work for the first time, THANK YOU. Thank you for taking the time to acknowledge my body of work or project at any level. There’s millions of options when you get on your device and for the seconds you take to look at what I am doing is beyond the many thanks I could pour out.

Digging Deep

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.
— Henry David Thoreau

Life is crazy. Think about how much control we actually have. Our power to control is near next to nothing. It’s scary to think about but what can we control? I cannot think of much that is in my control but I can focus on what I can manage. 

I grew up a competitive swimmer, it was the only sport I had ever participated in besides t-ball. The only control I had was my attitude. Believe me, I would have loved to have control over the water temperature or the torturous practices they showed up twice a day. Swimming can be an isolating sport where you are constantly pushing your body while depriving yourself of oxygen; breathing is a luxury. I can imagine that every sport deals with the pain and frustration that comes with training and competition. Some of us had a saying which was about breaking the “pain threshold.” The pain threshold was a place where my body would feel like it was breaking down and I could feel the momentum leaving as I powered through the water. What little rest I could get on a turn I enjoyed immensely, only to push off again and the pain would come quicker. This was about pushing through the pain to where it was no longer a factor in performance and when swimming became really fun. Pushing the limits is something that I could have only learned in the pool.

This takes a toll on more than just the body but also the mind. That’s what digging deep is all about. Now that I am 20 years passed the days of training, I’ve utilized this learned trade in my world of business and design.  


Self Promo

Drink Coaster Design

Rejected by my daughter.

Just like anyone else reading this, I have had the ground removed from beneath my feet and scrambled for a safety device. We moved back to Michigan nine years ago from the state of Washington. In that nine years I was unemployed which had a lot to do with the economy but freelanced when I could. I took a job that made me miserable then landed a position that picked me up. That job left when the company doors closed, and I was unemployed again. Then I went all out on my own fulltime with the convincing of Ann, my wife. Through all of that stress and disappointment I still celebrate these life lessons. It’s all positive! Those times when I could only look up, I found myself digging deep and moving forward. The mind is a force to be reckoned with. It controls everything about us and learning how to react to defeat is the crashing wave to dive under.

Disappointments are just another challenge. Embrace the rejection, dig deep, and plan. There were other times in life that I felt completely rejected and overlooked. Those times beat me down. There’s a timeless thought in the human existence, ‘that/it could never happen to me.’ Well ‘that’ or ‘it’ has happened and while the rejection felt real it was nothing more than closed door. On to the next. Every day I do my best to celebrate the wins, opportunities, and give thanks to the ones that didn’t pan out. I have found that if I celebrate the smallest victories, they end up being some of the biggest.

Cold Calls

Networking events and referrals are great but when it comes to battling the world that has no clue who you are or what you do, the coldest of the calls are ready to boost anxiety.

I try to warn my wife when such an event is going to take place. The reason I raise the awareness is that such an experience can be mentally trying. Days can be met with no’s but building relationships is sweet. Here is why I thrive on cold calls:

  1. It forces me into a clouded mindset. Clouded in the sense that there’s no way for me to see where these conversations might go if one is to be had. It allows me to understand how to explain what design does. You know that conversation when you’re asked what it is you do for a living? Often I am met with ‘oh you make websites’. While this may or may not be true, we all have an expertise that we thrive on and now is my chance to show what I am made of.

  2. They can be demoralizing but that doesn’t have to be the case. In a previous life I worked in education sales. The president of the company referred to sales as a “noble profession” which I never quite understood. A knight is noble, in my mind, and sales can make us cringe. Even though I have a portfolio for a lance and self confidence for a shield, I still have to expose the value of good design. The noble thing to do is homework. There are so many tools available to help us understand what a prospect or customer does before I even show up. Who wants to relive their impromptu speech class? No thanks.

  3. Cold calls are humbling! A true reality check in knowing how fortunate I am to have clients. I have literally gone door to door for specific industries and while I have made new friends and contacts it reminds me of how powerful my current partnerships are. Organizations I have designed for have paid me to help them. I should be thanking them all time! I love these people and flattered that I get to be apart of their journey.

  4. Lastly, the idea is for me to aid in problem solving. I spoke of problem solving in a previous post and how it is the most important skill. We thrive on winning ideas and we fail under unsolved problems. If we can work together to solve a problem, let’s do it! Problem solving is an open forum of idea and logic and sometimes solving one problem leads to solving another.

Social media can certainly help in the cold call process but it does not replace getting in front of people. Walking into a room where you know no one and leaving knowing someone is a win. The online presence is important but how can I know if anyone is reading this or putting value into ‘liking’ something I have posted? That’s where the coldest of the calls brings out the emotional value.

I’ve wandered trade shows in hopes of learning about new industries and how I might fit in. What I found instead are professionals looking to bring people into their respective industry for a stronger network. Leads lead to more leads (that’s a lot of leads).

As I’ve always reminded myself, the worst case scenario is a shut door. On to the next.


The Most Important Skill

The Most Important Skill?

Problem solving. A term that seems to be on a marathon like the Christmas Story. However, problem solving isn’t always about a crisis, it’s about answering questions. 

I saw this genius idea at the Fleetwood Diner in Ann Arbor. Googly-eyes for the win. I wish it was my idea.

I saw this genius idea at the Fleetwood Diner in Ann Arbor. Googly-eyes for the win. I wish it was my idea.

Design is tasked with solving a problem. I do not mean graphic design, per se, but the idea behind design itself. Break down that recipe that just failed. Why did it fail? Did you miss something? Wrong ingredient? Everything starts from an issue that needs attention. Another example is how do we ask the right questions? 

Question the Questions

Another example is are we asking the right questions? Think about the seatbelt. At some point the question was asked, how do we keep people safe in a moving piece of steel? Once that was accomplished with a two-point belt system (lap belt), the follow up question is how do we make it better? The three-point system followed (shoulder/lap belt). The problem cannot be solved unless the underlying issue is addressed. You can only build up from there.

 Problem solving is simplifying a situation and will fail under yes/no questions. In my experience it has everything to do with breaking down matter to understand form and function. Make the process a discussion and brainstorm the heck out of it. Challenge yourself, your team, and your family. Open dialog is amazing.

Here is the bottom line to this short post; if you can provide an answer to a problem, you will be asked to do it again. In order to solve a problem, you have to address it. Curiosity needs to take over and your imagination is to be freed.

Here is a prime example.

The Playlist(s)


Even though I am capable of creating a real mixtape, I have decided to create some playlists that keep my moving through my days via Spotify. Most of this stuff reflects a life long collection that has archived in plastic sleeves with no organizational method. Please enjoy! Spotify - Smarty Design Co

The Importance of Design Constraints

Like anyone else, I do not like to submit to things that are out of my control. The fact is, we really do not have much control over anything. A hard swallow perhaps, but true. This piece was another exceptional lesson in constraints.

In a previous post, I spoke of motivating employees and working the human condition into over-time. Both of those stories taught me how to deal with the notion that not having any control was something that I could either thwart, creatively, or recognize that the struggle is real and learn how to work with in it.

In a comparison with those two essays and reflecting on other events, control was never a factor, but learning to live with constraints. Constraints are a wonderful thing. They set boundaries, limitations and allow for some critical thinking. Strategizing at its best; working around and through obstacles.



Last spring I ran a workshop for students on graphic design. When I gave a brief idea of how design functions (color, imagery, balance, visual language stuff) I cut them lose to design anything they wanted. Most of the students just stared at the screen. The others played with the software, but with little results. After 15 minutes, I told them that they had to design a social media post that was promoting a chili cook-off. The only requirements were to know where, when, and what to expect when I saw this post as well as being able to visualize myself attending this event. One student was done with-in minutes. Completely nailed it. The others were not too far behind.

Complete and total freedom sounds wonderful, but when there is no direction, there can be a struggle. By the looks on their faces they might have begun to accept the lack of direction was crippling. They had no control over why they couldn’t create. Once they were given guidelines, again out of their control, they were comfortable moving forward.

By no means am I an expert in social science and will not pretend to be. I am simply, taking mental notes and journaling the importance of understanding how I can improve my own processes.

Work Hard to Play Hard

Behind the start at the Milan Dragway

Behind the start at the Milan Dragway

Over the weekend my daughter and I went to the Milan Dragway, a quarter mile dragstrip located outside my hometown. The smell of the fuel, rubber, exhaust, and whatever was burning on the neighboring property gripped the moment. High in the 60’s, partly cloudy; it was a perfect day to be outside and to have the peacefulness disrupted by precisely tuned mechanical muscle converting rumbles to screams.

It was inspiring. The car culture, drag racing on this day, proved to me that some things still exist. As much as the area (and world) has changed something special was going on at this older but still busy raceway. Beyond the layers of rubber that have been melted onto the track, the idea that we still work hard to play hard is still, and forever will be, a relevant saying.

Standing there behind the start line, cars were lined up by classes and dozens thick as they sit idle in a harmonious growl. Hard work was setting there awaiting to unleash, much like the end of the working week. As I explained to my daughter that this hobby amongst these drivers went beyond them. It is about a gathering after hours, taking in some laughs, taking out some frustrations, and smoothing out hard earned thoughts at the end of a day. In other words, we all need a release.

In numerous ways I saw the human condition working overtime. Some blew their start by redlining and causing their run to suck gas. Others performed well and perhaps had personal bests. Then there are the drivers running the same time over and over due to technique or not being in tune. How about that? Regardless, it’s back to work on Monday and hopefully that next time will ring in victory.

A burnout is not a figure of speech, it’s real. It is purposely meant to keep you still but your wheels (mind) spinning. In racing, the burnout is the precursor for the release. If you sat still burning through your tires, at some point those tires are going to fail. It was a great time and by the end of the weekend the comparisons and analogies were to realistic to ignore. Here we go, back at it on a Monday and as Elvis Costello sang, “Welcome to the Working Week.”

Workplace Design

2003/2004, Summit County, CO

2003/2004, Summit County, CO

Years ago, in a previous life so to speak, we were ski/snowboard bums in Breckenridge, CO. I had been working in the ski and snowboard industry for six years prior to this job but this was unlike anything I had encountered before.

Snow, blue skies, and barreling down a mountain side making our own turns is what we thrived on. Exploration and sitting on a mountain side where the silence and stillness is deafening is not an experience I would trade. It was cold, windy, and sometimes scary; this is what we wanted.

I was assistant manager of a small snowboard shop at the Breckenridge Ski Area. We were a flow blown rental shop and measured 900 sq. ft. or so. My manager had run this store previously and learned a few lessons in employing and maximizing space.

We were a full-blown snowboard rental shop. We had a strong fleet of equipment, we had a full tuning set up with phenomenal tuning equipment and an accessory area where we would sell goggles, gloves, hats, lip balm, sunglasses, sunscreen, and other things that might be necessary for your day(s) on the mountain. Here was challenge number one; we had to staff it with snowboard bums like us.

The snowboard bum, like the ski bum, likes to have a good time. They have little responsibility and moved for the mountain life for one reason, the mountain life. What is the mountain life? It could be a lot of things. Riding (snowboarding), partying, early mornings, late nights, hamburger helper, 3 for $1 microwavable burritos, more riding, and surviving.

How were we going to find the right hires and then motivate them?

The Ground Rules

Imagine having a month to find a job, get trained, and ready to be swamped for the next five months. The window of opportunity is slim and if one doesn’t find a job, they may start packing. We had to fill 12 positions and had at least 50 applicants.

The hiring process can be hell. Hell. We are looking at our applicants and anyone that had retail experience earned an interview. That’s right, all of them. We were also hiring one full time and one part time tech to service equipment. This heavy equipment is dangerous and being qualified to operate it is necessary.

We developed a simple rule. You will never be late. If you are late once, you are fired. Sounds a bit harsh, right? Try to imagine living where the weather might not have any predictability and you could wake up to a foot of snow, your car froze, maybe lost power, or were arrested the night before. Too bad. Plan ahead.

It is imperative to maintain the best service and behavior in a resort town. Staff must engage with the customer in conversation beyond the greeting. In those conversations with customers we would recommend restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and so on to insure these people enjoyed coming to Breck. One bad experience and it spreads like wildfire. The only reason we could exist there for was tourism.


Incentives are one of my favorite things about being in management. Not only does it give your crew something to work for, but it also gives them a chance to feel success. In order to achieve both, we kept a positive atmosphere. We played our favorite music, let staff cut out for breaks (unpaid) to hit the mountain, but we also would hang out after hours and kept the door open for significant others and roommates.

Our focus was add-on sales. This was the incentive that helped pad the pockets of our crew. We did not adopt the ‘Do you want fries with that?’ approach, per se, but we qualified the customer by asking if they had certain items that were vital to their safety or well-being. We encouraged people to consider safety by renting helmet, wrist guards, a lock (anti-theft), all while engaging with the customer and sharing stories of the mountain. Each add on worked like commission which added to the staff members paycheck.

Our accessories person was selling goggles, hats, and gloves for the most part. Here is where the add-ons added up in a huge way. In the Rockies you will sunburn easily on the mountain, you need sunscreen. Scary stuff. You also need lip balm for the same reason but also because it is DRY up there. We up-sold all day long.

Everyone is worth it

No matter the applicant’s background, everyone is worth looking at. We had a few applicants with either reputations or even a poor track record but we planned on giving all the applicants a chance.

My boss was hesitant on one hire in particular, he had hired him before but in a different shop. He was wild. He liked to drink. That’s all I will say, use your imagination. We ended up hiring him because we needed the body. It wasn’t long until he came in wreaking of a hangover and telling stories of the night before.  We believed in him and that he could do a good job. One morning he showed up with minutes to spare and he said, “Jason, I spent the night in jail after trying to walk home when the bar closed. Cops picked me up, I told them I had to be here on time or you’d fire me. I made it.”

Would we have fired him? Yes. His roommate wasn’t so lucky. He overslept once, then was fired. Our crew knew the rules were strict, but they liked working with us. Work hard, get paid, ride your board. We had a good time.

In five full months of being open, we managed to bring in over $440,000 in a 900 sq. ft. space. Each sq. ft. was worth at least $489. Not bad.