From 2006 through 2013 Fred Richards every month wrote an article with observations on the marketing, design and graphic world around us. These articles were published in national and international design and marketing publications. In a return to these monthly marketing observations, we first take a look at inspiration and the role of design.

The Lens Editors


Graphis Ephemera Book Cover


Works mentioned: Graphics Ephemera by Jenssen & Heinke, publisher: Watson-Guptill, ISBN-13: 9780823064465


Many years ago while looking for some design inspiration I came across a book that not only changed my life but also helped define my design career and how I still think about branding and effective design solutions today. The book in question was Graphis Ephemera. One look through the pages of this inspirational catalog of excellent design solutions and I immediately knew two things: I had made the right career choice and I wanted my design solutions to be a part of that book. The book contained great design solutions with brief descriptions of short-lived self-promotion projects, event tickets, birth announcements, greeting and business cards and mini-posters from around the globe. Simple and effective design solutions expressed an emotion or theme of an event with a simple and provocative call to action. I assume that these calls to action were very successful and, therefore, were included in the book.

This book inspired me to start documenting the graphic world around me in the form of scrapbooks; I have many from over the years. Today we look to websites such as Pinterest, but nothing beats the real thing that you can touch and feel and carefully glue into a book. Ticket stubs, cigar bands, beer labels, invitations, magazine spreads, anything that elicited that immediate emotional response to read and react made it into a scrapbook. Each book now stands as a miniature branded time capsule, depicting the evolving brands that have touched my life in the past 20 years.

Today at Kaleidoscope, collecting images of branded ephemera has become a far more serious passion in the form of digital scrapbooking, our very own Pinterest of brands and inspiration. Each week, the team and I collect various images from magazines, brands and events that are then cataloged in an extensive digital database at Kaleidoscope. Sharing this information to the digital scrapbook inspires one another while simultaneously encouraging individuals to develop their own visual identities and inspirational styles within the tool. Brands, fonts, effects, textures, colors, events and many more subjects are all captured to provoke thought for not only the design team, but also our clients, enhancing our ingenuity in the briefs we are entrusted to work on. This database of visual inspiration, unique to Kaleidoscope, is an invaluable tool in helping us quickly visualize our clients’ briefs, as well as our own inspiration, and helping us avoid the usual trawl through the expected tired websites and online search engines – the same search engines that other agencies use.

So, what really makes this method creative? How on earth can it really help any of the brands we touch for clients?

The Purpose of Design

Great design starts with constant observation and understanding of the world around us. We are constantly asking questions and trying to comprehend why people (consumers) navigate the world around them in the way they do. The question that should always be at the top of a designer’s mind is, “Is there another or better way of resolving what I see, and how will design solve that problem beyond simple decoration?” Designers need to be inquisitive 24/7. Rather than carrying this visual noise in their heads, I encourage them to download this information to our digital scrapbooks to inform and inspire us to react and participate to keep the conversation of design and problem solving constantly evolving.

Today’s great brands should also be participating in the conversation of design. Sadly, many consumer brands fall short of some of the most basic design objectives: inform and inspire an emotional consumer response. Bland, expected category language and a dismal failure to understand some of the most basic design principles are shockingly all too common in almost every consumer category.

Let’s be clear. I am not advocating design for design’s sake or that visual stimulation be borrowed and reused time and again. I am describing visual stimulation that inspires the solution of design problems articulated by brands that will in turn delight and inform consumers. This is not about decorating in some vein effort to win a gold shiny object to sit in an office lobby. I am talking visual and mental stimulation that builds brands and grows consumer advocacy: purposeful design.

As Graphis Ephemera did many years ago, we should be constantly inspiring each other as an industry for better, more powerful solutions that, in turn, inspire our consumers to engage. Far too many design solutions are about vanity rather than creating stimulating consumer responses that drive a brand’s business forward. Design websites often become aesthetic runways of design that offer no glimpse into whether or not the design helped our hindered a brand’s promise.

The Purpose of the Designer

Unless designers are observing the world around them, – documenting and understanding what they are seeing and why – then we simply end up decorating brands to the whim of the marketing department. Stop carrying design visual junk around in your head. We should never use a font or effect for a project just because we like it. Every design element selected by the designer must have a purpose. We must be an industry set up to ask the tough business questions based on what we see and what we believe is best to resolve the brand’s issues.

As designers, we have a responsibility to first observe and understand. Then we must design with purpose to inform and inspire the consumer. Only then will we fulfill the ultimate purpose of growing the brand.