Contemplating 2010 and reviewing 2009 is something I am sure a lot of people and businesses are doing right now. It’s traditional! But it is also a great exercise to look back at the road travelled, turns taken and then gaze at the horizon.
For Studio Two (and Kevin Sprague) 2009 has been one of the most dynamic, testing years ever. The rich coincidence of two major elements contributed to this. The first is that we started working with a business consultant in September of 2008, a gentleman who came well recommended by a client of ours. The second was the devastation that the economic collapse of early 2009 visited on our clients and by extension, ourselves. The coincidence was this: without the work we had begun in 2008 on re-imagining our business we never would have survived the 2009 collapse.
So what did we do in 2009 that let us weather the storm and look ahead to 2010?
Ironically enough, we turned the lens on ourselves and did all the things we are hired to do for our clients: we engaged in the intense process of creating a strategic brand for ourselves. We examined our values, our vision and our identity and we acted on the information we found to transform how we were speaking, designing, acting and creating.
We are still in the midst of this process – perhaps as little as 25% done. In the non-profit world “strategic planning” is a key activity which institutions do to establish a clear road map to the future. As a board member of a number of non-profits I have participated in this planning over the years. One of the most salient points I ever heard in the process is essentially that the day to start your next strategic planning cycle is the day you put the one you have been working on for a year into action. Examining, adjusting, planning and evolving are constant. Change engenders change. This has certainly been our experience as we have worked through the process.
Since 1994, Studio Two has been a small, regional design shop. We handled corporate identities, brochures, advertising and web sites for clients ranging from individuals to mid-sized non-profit institutions – museums, theatres, and so on. Over the years we often found ourselves acting for our clients as a proxy marketing department – in charge of all aspects of the organization’s brand and often had to self-designate ourselves as the “brand police” protecting the organization from itself by enforcing a consistent expression of message across media. We didn’t call this ‘branding” at the time, but this is what we were doing.
Starting about 2 years ago, everything started to change, and quickly. The web had always been rising in significance for our clients and we worked diligently to keep ahead of the curve for them. What we started to see, and to work in, was the fundamental transformation that is happening in how people engage in information and communication. The web is transforming (and will accelerate and evolve in the years ahead) from a real-estate model to a broadcasting model. It used to be that you built a website and then worked to get people to “cross the threshold” just as if you had a retail store on main street. Now, the revolution of web 2.0 technologies have created an ongoing, dynamic conversation between people and organizations. Blogs, Youtube, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and the many, many other tools and spaces of the transforming web are revolutionizing what it means to communicate, to market, and to express yourself.
So what does this have to do with Studio Two and 2010? It’s the evolving part. In 2009 we re-identified ourselves as a branding agency – an organization that works with organizations to define their values, vision and identity and express them across media. We rebuilt our website, we redefined ourselves around this message, and we got out and started communicating it in person. It worked – we started getting a new kind of client, a the new definition created a new scope of work and a way that we related to everything we were doing. But already the space was evolving – the planning cycle picked up again the day we thought we were through.
This new cycle was illuminated by a key project that we undertook in 2009 – the transformation of the internal culture at Norman Rockwell Museum relating to all things internet. This project was the initiative of Laurie Norton Moffat, the Executive Director at the Rockwell Museum. Through her experience engaging social networks on Facebook and through the blogosphere around the Museum, she saw the writing on the wall. The Museum had to transform its relationship with the web from the inside-out. Walls needed to be taken down between the institution and the wider world, and the Museum had to accelerate into the space and engage, create and participate in the wider conversation taking place. She asked us to help make this happen, by illuminating the idea, building out some of the new tools, and opening up doors that they didn’t even know existed. This latter point is particularly problematic – the web is no longer a technology – it is a language. For those who lack fluency, there is a whole world of opportunity that they are often completely unaware of – they don’t even know what questions to ask.
Our task was to create opportunities for the institution to increase its fluency, one day at a time. This was not design, although design contributed to the execution. This was not branding, though ultimately it was about expressing the voice of the Museum through many, many more portals than had previously been possible. This was not marketing, even though the ultimate goal of the process is to strengthen the market position of the institution and increase it’s bottom line. It was something very different, which for now I am calling Fluency.
This project for Norman Rockwell Museum was signal in the evolution that we are in the midst of. Going into 2010, the road ahead is one of incredible possibilities. Everything is changing. As Fluency Designers, our job is to stay at the front of the changes, to identify the opportunities and possibilities for our clients in this space, and to bring those opportunities into being as solutions to their core challenges.
2010 – We are Creative. We are Fluent. We are Thinking.