Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Make It Personal

The side project.

Whether it is pursued to scratch an itch, get out of a rut, or seek fame and fortune, not all work neatly fits into the parameters of a traditional job – if there is such a thing anymore.

Google famously encourages employees, in addition to regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on self-generated ideas. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin believe that “this empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

Book cover of book about Minnesota inventions

Minnesota Invents – one of the unfunded, entrepreneurial projects by Jeff Johnson’s Replace design studio.

But as my friend, Jeff Johnson, a serial entrepreneur, prolific designer, and all-around force of nature, likes to say, “There is no such thing as a personal project. They are all just projects.” He spends about 30% of his time on speculative, unfunded, entrepreneurial projects of all kinds.

One never knows where a personal interest may lead.

Pursue obsessions
Gary Hustwit, a photographer and independent filmmaker, is best known for his documentaries: Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. Through his work, Hustwit shows that even the most esoteric interests can be fascinating.

At a conference, Hustwit’s presentation focused on how his various obsessions inspired work over the years. What usually spurs a project for him is a simple calculation: “I think ‘this should exist’ and if it doesn’t exist, I make it.”Home page of LoveMplsParks.org website

That’s sort of how I ended up creating LoveMplsParks.

Make an impact
Among other activities, I have biked, paddled, coached kids, walked dogs, attended concerts, skated, skied, and proposed marriage in our city’s parks. The parks and lakes make Minneapolis one of the greenest and most livable urban areas in the country.

But while I served on my neighborhood advisory board, I became aware of the financial plight of the Minneapolis park system. It suffers from a nearly $30 million backlog of deferred maintenance, and it relies on the whims of other governmental bodies for its funding.

I decided to create a new, dedicated revenue stream selling parks-branded merchandise printed and shipped on demand. Profits are split 50/50 between People for Parks, our non-profit partner, and the designers who created the apparel and posters. Since its launch, the venture has generated $80,000, with almost $20,000 donated to preserve Minneapolis parks.

One thing leads to another
Eric Kreidler has been in love with cinema, animation, and visual effects ever since he saw Star Wars as a child. From super-8 cameras in junior high, to experiments in stop-motion animation, and a detour to graphic design after college, Eric’s roundabout journey led him back to motion graphics in 2010.Album cover for The Bazillions Rock-N-Roll Yearbook

Prior to his focus on animation, most of his side projects were music-based. When his good friends in The Bazillions released a fantastic album of children’s music, an opportunity was staring him in the face. Seven years and 14 critically-acclaimed animated videos later, a serendipitous encounter gave Eric and his partner, Gretchen, the chance to explore new techniques and rebrand eg design as a motion graphics shop.

Two worlds collide
I always keep a sketchbook nearby both to explore illustration ideas, and because moving pixels around with a mouse is often less satisfying than getting one’s hands Fantastic Beast – a set of five postcards for LoveMplsParks.orgdirty. Last year, an owl led to an egret and then to an idea for a series of animal illustrations inspired by Charley Harper – the fantastic beasts of Minneapolis parks.

After the Posters for Parks show in the fall, Eric asked, “Would you ever be interested in doing a little collaborative animation for the parks?” Over coffee and cookies, we discussed a number of ideas, scribbled on napkins, and settled on a series of 15-20 second videos for upcoming park events.

Hockey the way nature intended
Since both of us are huge hockey fans, our first effort was for the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. Hundreds of teams from across the U.S. and Canada gather on a frozen lake for four days of action at the end of January.

Sketches of frames from pond hockey animation

I wanted the spot to move like a game with the focus in tight – all angles, and overlaps, and changes of direction. The distinctive look and sounds of an outdoor rink were the inspiration for the sketches that capture key frames within the sequence – illustrating how we would get from start to finish.

color illustrations of frames from pond hockey animated video

After another conversation and some refinement, I turned the black-and-white sketches into vector-based, color files. From there, Eric brought them beautifully to life with Adobe AfterEffects, and used Adobe Premiere to do the edit and sound design. Here is the finished spot:

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships from eg design on Vimeo.

Make it happen
Your mind is your most valuable asset. Jeff Johnson believes any project that engages the mind and feeds the soul expands that asset – no matter any potential commercial application. He advises to always be working on something that frightens you a little: “Make friends with that scared shitless feeling.”

Eric Kreidler knows the value of doing the kind of work you want to do – whether anyone is hiring you to do it or not – as he and Gretchen used personal projects to shift into a whole new practice they are more passionate about.

As designers, we have the extraordinary ability to conjure something out of nothing. But no matter your profession, the best, most meaningful, and magical work happens when you risk bringing yourself to the table.

Go make great ideas happen!

Resolutions

Fun Happy New Year card design party bottle making toast and colorful decoration. EPS10 vectorA couple months ago, while cleaning our basement family room, our two teenage boys found a mysterious note tucked in a crevice next to the built-in bookshelves. They excitedly reported that this long-forgotten note, written five years ago as a sort of time capsule, was to be opened in 2017.

At the end of their holiday break and the beginning of a new year, they opened the note. What was on the minds of an eight- and ten-year-old boy in 2012? Mostly gibberish. A drawing of Waldo (now you know where he’s been). Some hieroglyphs whose meaning is lost to history. And a declaration by the older brother that his handwriting was better.

New year, same story
This morning, even at 5:00 a.m., the gym where I work out was a little more crowded than it was just a few weeks ago. Undoubtedly, there are millions of people with fresh resolve to lose weight, save money, and spend more time with friends and family in the new year.

Things will probably be back to normal next month.

Resolutions often end up more like aspirations – the difference between a firm decision and a hopeful one. There’s nothing wrong with hope. In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne wrote a note for his friend to read after leaving prison, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

What improves the odds that our resolutions avoid an untimely death?

Find the time
When pressed to volunteer, add another event to our calendars, or explain away a missed deadline or goal, it’s completely acceptable to offer the well-worn excuse: “I’m sorry. I just don’t have enough time.”

What if, instead, we were compelled to state the real reason?

“Would you like to schedule a lunch meeting for next Tuesday?” “I’m sorry. That’s just not a priority for me right now.” You would be well advised to reply more diplomatically than that, but weighing options based on defined priorities is vital to achieving them.

This is assuming you have priorities. And not a dozen or more. That’s called a to-do list. I’m talking about 3-4 real priorities – the kind of things that, if accomplished, will make your year a great success.

It’s the old rule of 80/20. 80% of your success – however that’s defined – will come from 20% of your efforts. It’s up to you to choose your priorities wisely and then vigorously defend the time necessary to achieve them. Eliminate, ignore, or delegate everything else.

Write it down
Most people grow reflective as the year nears its end. Look back. Look forward. What was successful? What could be improved?

Most people have an annual performance review at work. Sit down with the boss. Look forward. Look back. What was successful? What could be improved? Do I get a pay raise?

Rather than waiting until the end, consider writing next year’s performance review today. It’s like a pre-mortem – or a promise – and similar to the note my children wrote in 2012 (minus the gibberish). Tuck it away for future reference.

The same thing could be done at the beginning of a large project. In fact, one of the standard questions I ask of clients when we begin is: By what measure(s) will this project be considered successful?

What are you prepared to do? The key is to be specific. Writing down “lose weight” is not nearly as effective as “stop drinking soda” or “remove all candy from the house.” Break larger goals into smaller ones to eliminate the pressure of an all-or-nothing mindset, all the while getting more specific and closer to success.

Written resolutions act as your shield against distractions, temptations, and the low-priority (or even counter-productive) things that will inevitably pop up. Progress, not perfection, is the goal.

Tell everyone
Life is short. In 2010-11, we decided to home school our kids for a year and travel. The world would be our classroom. It helps that my wife is an elementary school teacher – and we’re both planners. But with big plans, big dreams, it’s really easy to give in to doubts and uncertainty.

As we started planning our adventure, we began telling people about it – not to brag, but to hold ourselves accountable. Most everyone was excited by the idea: “I wish we could do that.” And many people offered helpful suggestions and asked questions we hadn’t considered. It was like having a support team and troubleshooting squad rolled into one.

The point is that once we publicized our intentions, forces came to our aid that would not have had we kept our plans guarded. Deep down, there was another little motivational benefit – avoiding embarrassment: “We told everyone we are going to do this. Now, we really have to figure out how we’re going to do it!”

My priorities
When it comes to my business and professional development, there are a lot of things I want to accomplish in 2017. But everything that would make this a successful year can be boiled down into two priorities.

Be more disciplined with my time.
Say ‘no’ to distractions. Add more structure to the work week (e.g., schedule regular blocks of time without interruptions, build a more robust editorial calendar and new business development plan). Spend more time creating content online than consuming it.

Connect with like-minded people involved in the business of good.
Since 1989, Woychick Design has focused on helping tell stories that move people to action. I have worked with non-profits, educational institutions, and organizations trying to make the world a better place. But complex challenges require more people working together toward a shared outcome, which is why I am reaching out to and collaborating with more people than ever before.

Specifics? Reconnect with my LinkedIn network to activate dormant relationships. Schedule two lunch meetings per month. Attend two professional development events per month. Seek referrals and introductions from existing colleagues. Offer assistance to those seeking my opinion and expertise. Schedule regular weekly hours devoted to this priority.

These priorities will provide the most benefit to my clients and my business. When I look at these resolutions twelve months from now, I expect to see a successful year in my rear-view mirror. I hope you do, too.

Related content:
Resolution Evolution

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LoveMplsParks.org

Screen shot of home page of the website LoveMplsParks.orgOver the past few years, I have been looking for more opportunities to use design for good, incorporating personal interests into my career with self-initiated (versus client-initiated) projects.

As a Minneapolis resident for more than 25 years, I’ve come to appreciate our parks as one of the primary reasons my family calls this city home. My interest in Minneapolis Parks is deep, varied, and long lasting. Among other things, I’ve biked, walked, rowed, coached, played, eaten, and proposed marriage in our city’s parks.

For several years I served on my Minneapolis neighborhood association’s board of directors. It was during this time – as a liaison to park board commissioners and staff – that I came to understand the perilous financial condition of our park system, and began contemplating ways to address that.

Icon for the website LoveMplsParks.orgLoveMplsParks.org was created to help engage citizens as park advocates, increase the use and recognition of park amenities, and give park visitors an opportunity to display their support.

50% of all profits will be donated to the Minneapolis Parks to help maintain and preserve our park system.

Since the site was launched, nearly $2,500 has been donated to People for Parks, a non-profit organization created to stimulate financial and community support for Minneapolis Parks. And in June 2016, AIGA Minnesota recognized the project with an award for excellence in design.

A poster show is planned for October 2016.

I invite you to share this with friends who, like me, love Minneapolis parks. You can also follow LoveMplsParks on Twitter and Facebook.

Image of Minneapolis Parks logos from AIGA Design Show - LoveMplsParks.org

 

 

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Light a Candle

photo of golden candles and twinkling lightsThere’s not a single designer I know who, upon receiving a freshly printed copy of a new publication or clicking on a just-launched website that they designed, doesn’t immediately spot something that they wish could be fixed or improved. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse, this tendency to fixate on details. But in an effort to hew to the adage “it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” let’s take a moment to appreciate a few of the things that make working in nonprofit design and marketing worthy of thanks.

Passion
More than in the private sector, where passions tend to favor profits over people, most people who work for nonprofit organizations do so because they care – about the mission, about doing good, about helping others, about making the world a better place. Life is too short – and we spend too much of it at work – to spend it on things we don’t care about. I’m thankful for people who follow their heart.

Change
We live in a time of nearly unprecedented disruption and upheaval. Changes to the way we communicate, raise funds, learn, travel, and consume everything from movies to medications can cause uncertainty and anxiety, but these changes also represent tremendous opportunities. I’m thankful for living in a time when the status quo is being questioned relentlessly, and conditions are ripe for change.

Technology
The phone that I have in my pocket is more powerful than the computer that was on my desktop twenty years ago. From file sharing to Facebook to Photoshop, from gigabytes to Google, our remarkable advances in technology are a great equalizer. Tools and software that were once non-existent or cost-prohibitive to nonprofit organizations are now essential and readily available. I’m thankful that technology makes it ever easier to do previously unimaginable things.

Patience
Nonprofit organizations tend to take the long view. When you’re tackling some of humanity’s most challenging problems – poverty, education, abuse, hunger – it’s probably wise not to rely on quarterly reports to boost your self-esteem. Persistence in the face of long odds and slow progress is a requirement both to one’s sanity and developing innovative solutions. I’m thankful for both the patience required to dream big, and the impatience necessary to avoid settling.

Humor
In addition to the reasons above, I like working with people who work in the nonprofit sector because they tend to be bright, collegial, and generally good humored. It’s not like it’s a laugh-a-minute trying to advance the human condition, but in my experience tough problems often call for a lighter touch. I’m thankful for people who don’t check their humanity at the office door.

Generosity
Americans are remarkably generous. Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, I think that deep down we maintain an unwavering belief in our responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. As one of my clients once said, “People don’t give you money because you need it. They give you money because they feel they can make a difference.” I’m thankful for all the people who donate time and money to make our world better, and our nonprofit organizations possible.

Often, it’s the little things that make working in the nonprofit world a gratifying experience. I’m thankful for wonderful collaborators, audacious dreamers, and enough candles to light the way.

What are you thankful for?

Minnesota Town Ball

Though the name of this blog is think + do, a significantly higher percentage of posts could accurately be filed under “think” – as in what we’re thinking about nonprofit marketing and design. Occasionally, we use this venue to write about things we’ve done – or are in the process of doing. This is one of those times.

Minnesota Town Ball is a self-assigned project intended to showcase and document the history of amateur baseball in the state. We are seeking institutional partners and funders to help us make this idea a reality.

Project summary
Every summer for generations, baseball has united communities across the state. Before there were professional teams, 24-hour sports networks, and retail outlets selling team merchandise and apparel, baseball players played for their town – and for the love of the game. And they still do.

Minnesota Town Team Baseball is a tradition that is as much a part of the state’s history as iron mining, lefse, and the Mississippi River. It encompasses a rich visual and aural history – great stories of local legends and heroic exploits – that should be documented and shared.

Minnesota Town Ball represents pride without hubris, competition without conflict. It connects families and communities in ways that few other things do. It reminds us of the way things were, and the hope that they can be that way again.

Historic importance
Thousands of people play amateur baseball or softball in Minnesota every year, from T-ball to high school, college, and American Legion teams. Today, there are over 300 teams playing organized Town Ball across the state. And yet little has been done to capture the long and rich history of the sport for future generations to enjoy.

Additionally, those who played the sport before professional baseball arrived in 1961 are getting older (70s and 80s). If this project is not undertaken soon, we risk losing those stories and memorabilia forever.

Objectives
We believe this project would be eligible for – and a strong candidate to receive – Minnesota Legacy Funds. Minnesota Town Ball would have broad public appeal, with an exhibit proposed to coincide with the 2014 baseball season, and the Major League All-Star Game scheduled for Target Field that summer. The exhibit website would be kept in perpetuity. Additionally, we anticipate it will:

  • Represent the most complete and comprehensive history of the game in Minnesota.
  • Serve as the go-to resource for those interested in Minnesota Town Ball.
  • Provide efficiencies for anyone interested in researching the subject in the future.
  • Offer tremendous opportunities for gift shop and online merchandise sales in support of the exhibit.

Possible outcomes include renewed pride in a town’s local nine, increased interest and participation in amateur baseball, and increased appreciation for the role of sports in society.

Target Audience
Our primary audience is:

  • Minnesota amateur baseball players and their families
  • Minnesota baseball fans

Secondary audiences include Minnesota sports fans, local and regional print and broadcast media, and the general public.