Monday, September 2, 2013

Personification in Advertising (an example)

Click any image for a larger view.

At the company where I work, I was recently tasked with creating an advertising campaign for a local hearing aid business. I employed the technique of personification to distinguish the ads in this campaign not only from the competition, but also from most health care ads in general. I'll have more to say on that later. The ad above is one of the ads from this campaign.

Personification is the technique of endowing inanimate objects or abstractions with human-like characteristics. For this campaign I took the product, hearing aids, and gave them personalities. In some of the ads I accomplished this simply by using speech bubbles but in others I also added some props (with the help of Adobe Photoshop of course.)

Here are other ads I created within this campaign:

We human beings are very good communicators (in spite of what we see in the divorce courts of America and the world news headlines). In fact, we can easily say so much to each other with a slight facial cue, a subtle gesture or a minor change in our posture. When it comes to human communication, even a simple picture really can “say” a thousand words.

That’s one reason photos of people are so often used in advertising. If you want to convince people that they will be satisfied by purchasing your product, employing your service or voting for your candidate then just use photos of smiling, happy, satisfied people. It’s a quick, efficient and relatively easy solution, one which some sectors of the marketplace seem to use more heavily than others. One such sector is health care, where there is certainly no shortage of photos showing smiling, happy, satisfied people living lives of rejuvenation and fulfillment.

However, the popularity of this approach to advertising can actually create a problem. Taken by itself, a well designed ad showing a satisfied customer may be very effective. But place this ad into the crowded and competitive marketplace surrounded by similarly formulated ads and the message gets lost. When your message looks like everyone else’s message you run the risk that the audience will either confuse your ad with all of the other ads which look just like yours or that they will simply glaze over and ignore your ad all together.

As a graphic designer, you often find yourself faced with the need to do something different, something other than what is expected. This kind of problem solving is the challenging (yet extremely fun) part of a graphic designer’s job. At such times, personification is your friend. When you need an alternative solution to yet another photo of a smiling child or a satisfied senior citizen, let your product play that role.

Did you find this article helpful or interesting? Do you have anything you would like to add? Feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ideas Can Come from Strange Circumstances

Click any image for a larger view.

Ideas really can come from unexpected sources. The inspiration for this advertising piece, which I designed for a local garden center, illustrates this fact well. When I was a very young boy (I must have been about 10 years old) I visited my Aunt Diane and Uncle John and I heard my uncle relate a funny set of circumstances which greeted them in their kitchen upon their return home from a trip. It seems one of their potted plants (a cactus) somehow managed to escape from it’s pot on the window sill. It then leaped over the kitchen sink and crawled to the middle of the kitchen floor where they found it, desiccated and dead. I was very perplexed by this and asked him how such a thing could happen. He responded, in his characteristically humorous fashion, that instead of a green thumb my aunt has a BLACK THUMB OF DEATH! Her plants don't wait to be killed; they commit suicide.

I still chuckle at that story to this day. In fact, the whole set of circumstances made such an impact on me that I was able to draw inspiration from it for this ad, which is meant to be a branding piece to run in Rochester Magazine (the local, upscale, glossy mag). Here is how I created it:

This thumb accompanies the logo in all of the advertising for this garden center. I wanted to play up the green thumb concept by comparing it to it's opposite.

 I found a good stock photo of a child in a Grim Reaper costume. All I need from this is the hood.

Positioning the hood over the thumb, I illustrated some more fabric to the bottom and I began making some color changes to the thumb.

Adjusting the Hue/Saturation sliders in Photoshop, a change the lively green color to a less lively blue.

Then I made it even less lively by giving it a much darker tonal value.

Next, around the bottom of the hood and around the thumb, I painted in some shadows being cast by the hood.

If you follow my blog, you may remember the stormy sky I created for this piece (you can read about it here).

Seeing no need to re-create-the-wheel, I simply picked up the sky and lightning from that ad and, with a little adjustment and rearrangement, used it for the background of the Black Thumb. I also added a skull face and a scythe. Oooooh, scary!

This is the final composited Photoshop image. If you look closely, you will see that I also painted in some lighter highlights to the hood/cloak to give it more definition. All it needs is the text and the logo to deliver the message.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Athletic Designs

For the past two years I have been tasked with designing promotional materials for a couple of sports related contests published in our local news paper: SuperSquares publishes in time for the NFL championship and Hoops Frenzy publishes during the NCAA basketball championship games.

There are certain challenges associated with these promotions. For one, we are not allowed to use any messaging, images or logos which are trademarked or copyrighted by the NFL and NCAA. That means we have to come up with names, slogans, logos and images of our own which still tie into those events sponsored by these leagues.

In the case of SuperSquares, I could not use images of the two teams facing each other in the NFL championship. I did find a stock photo of some high school football players which caught my attention.

As always, click any image to see an enlarged view.

Before: These guys don't look so tough! 
I've got a long way to go to get these guys ready for the big game. 

I don’t know why certain images catch my attention when I’m in the planning stages of a project. Something strikes me in the image and I guess I can see the potential in a photo which, on it’s own, is really not strong enough to do what I need it to do. These football players look too young and are not physically impressive or intimidating enough to be professional players. The process I used on this image is more complicated than most of the images I manipulate and the step by step was so involved I am not going to put it in the body of this article. Rather, I’ll just put it at the end of the article as a stand alone. For now I’ll just show you the before and after images and how it appeared in the publication.

After: That's more like it! 

I put these guys through a tough Photoshop training regimen which included subtly altering the colors of their uniforms to suggest the colors of the actual teams in "The Big Game."

Published Final

For Hoop Frenzy, the challenge for me was to create something that lives up to the high energy name of the contest. This also meant coming up with something equivalent to what I did last year, which I think was very high energy.

Last Years Hoops

Last year I designed the Hoops Frenzy logo and I incorporated lots of motion, friction, flames and sparks as visuals. You can read about that here. This year, while keeping the same logo,  I went for a different approach on the other visuals, incorporating a more graphic look with colorful brush strokes. But first I had to find a stock photo that would match what I had in mind.

Original Stock Photo

Final Image as used in a poster.

This time, rather than suggesting motion by using Photoshop motion blurs, I added brush strokes as graphic design elements to suggest movement.

Published Final

I enjoy designing around sports themes because they naturally allow for dynamic, energetic, colorful approaches. Also, everyone seems to be talking about “The Big Game” so it’s hard not to get caught up in all the excitement and to feel like I am, in some small, local way, participating in such big events. 

As promised, below is the step-by-step process (more or less complete) which I used to transform the purple football wimps into intimidating monsters:

1. Filter, Other, High Pass, enter 10

2. Set layer to overlay

3. Duplicate original layer and move to top of layers pallet. 

4. Adjustment, desaturate

5. Blending mode > Hard Light

6. In the Layers drop-down list select Merge Visible  while also holding down the Option key. This will create a new layer which is a merged version of your layers (without losing you original layers).

7. On this layer use the same High Pass filter effect used earlier and set the blending mode to Overlay.

8. Again, Merge Visible with Option key.

9. Choose Layerr > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and move the sliders on each end toward the center until you achieve the desired contrast (in this case 32 for the shadows and 210 for the highlights

10. Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layers > Hue/Saturation, Desaturate and choose -40

11. Merge Visible holding down the Option Key

12. With the top layer highlighted, Choose Filter >  Distort > Ripple and set the amount to the maximum of 999.

13. Choose Filter > Stylize > Diffuse with the setting at the default of Normal.

14. Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur set to 5 pixels

15. Filter > Brush Strokes > Splatter with settings set to 9 & 4

16. Set layer blending mode to Overlay

17. Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation and move the Saturation slider all the way to the left.

18. In the layer mask for the Hue/Saturation layer, with your brush set to a large size with soft edges, the opacity set to 50% and the foreground color set to black, paint into the layer mask to reveal only the color you want to see.

19. New Layer set to multiply. Paint with a large, soft edged brush set to 50% opacity, using black as the foreground color, paint around the edges of the image.

20. Increase the size of the canvas on top to fit more sky.

21. Drag stormy sky image to the top layer and add a layer mask, carefully painting into the layer mask to reveal only that part of the sky I want in the image.

22. New layer set to multiply with blending mode set to 50%, paint black over the sky to make it look more stormy.

23. New layer with blending mode set to multiply, paint over sky with similar green/blue color from the sky around the football players. This will blend the two sky images together.

24. Add lightning (illustrated or photo composited).

See how easy it is? Of course, each step involved experimentation, trial and error, lots of “Command-Z” and a few choice words.