Beyond Instagram

The work that fuels our studio.

I was recently asked to sit on a panel at Canada’s biggest design conference, RGD’s DesignThinkers. The panel was entitled Portfolio Iceberg. The concept of the talk was centred around the work that most studios do that maybe isn’t what we call ‘pretty’. It was an interesting discussion. Each of the panelists had interpreted the talk’s theme differently. More importantly though, it got me thinking about the work that we do at Hambly & Woolley and the importance of our longer-term relationships and continued engagements.

Let’s look at the impact of Instagram. As a design studio we obviously think about the form our projects take. We consider aesthetics in everything we touch, but that is never really the leading factor of any of our projects. We don’t ever think during the ideation phase: ‘Yeah, this is going on the ‘gram.’ We do, however, always consider the visual impact of design in relation to the clients that we work with and their audiences. If we aren’t always working to make communication projects attractive then really we wouldn’t call ourselves designers. So, we do like it when our work is pretty (for lack of a better phrase). But I feel that it is impossible to ignore that as communication designers the work we do is often about the clarity of information delivery. That doesn’t always work hand in hand with pretty.

All of our work starts off, kind of like a relationship, with fireworks, excitement and endless possibilities. That is the phase that fuels us as creative thinkers. That beginning where we collaboratively shape the strategic and visual impact of our client’s values and objectives. When we move out of that period though, we start into the continued support. This is arguably the most important part of our client relationships. It is this work that often involves rolling out iterative, structured and templated documents that were ideated in the early phase. We recently worked closely with School Mental Health Ontario. SMHO is a support team designed to help Ontario school boards to promote student mental health and well-being using evidence-based approaches. We dug in and created a flexible, modern and appropriate visual brand for the organization. We did promote the SMHO brand on Instagram and in our newsletter, Orange. We built a robust standards manual and formatting for future document creation. Since then, we have rolled out dozens of forms, reports and information sheets that are the pieces of the work that matter most to the communication of SMHO but maybe aren’t traditionally beautiful.  

I was asked by the panel moderator in advance, “What percentage of client work doesn’t go up on Instagram?” I realized that there is not a single client that we haven’t promoted on our social media feeds. The difference is that we don’t show ALL the work we do for our clients. I mean, we can tell you why a form, CMS back-end or text-heavy page is inherently beautiful, but hey, we are competing with kittens. They generally win.