Brand Name Calling


When naming a new product, company, or service, choose wisely. Living in the age of sound bites and social media, it matters more than ever.

As a designer and builder of brands, I give a lot of thought to just about every product and company name I come across. In fact, it has become a peculiar hobby of mine to keep a running list of which brand names I find particularly clever, and which ones fall short. And there’s a lesson in each of them. More…

Finding Courage in Literature: Thinkso’s Holiday Reading List


The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum—which Thinkso rebranded this year as  “Max Courage” as part of our annual pro bono project, Give a Brand!—uses literature to help middle and high school students examine how courage is expressed in the world and how they experience it in their own lives. Motivated by their example, we asked our Thinksorts to recommend stories of courage that spoke to them. From the submissions, we collectively curated a well rounded list, aiming for variety in both genre and perspective. We were inspired by these books, and we hope you will be, too. Happy reading! More…

Good at SEO. Bad at Marketing.


We had a client once insist on making the headline of his new web page four sentences long and jammed with keywords. Then he made us repeat that same copy in the very first paragraph of body text, which sat directly below the headline. He had done this on the company’s previous website and believed it directly resulted in his number-one ranking on Google for a particular keyword phrase.

And he’s probably right. He likely figured out how to catch the attention of the web spiders by putting certain phrases high on his page.

But this isn’t a great marketing strategy for someone in professional services. Sure, if you’re selling an umbrella stand and the text surrounding that item isn’t as important as its photograph and price, then cramming the top of the page with keywords might be a good strategy. But if I were someone looking for a financial advisor—doing a cold Internet search, no less—and got to his page with the crazy More…

Nice Swag: 6 Tips for Creating Successful Corporate Giveaways

6-Pack Giveaway

Somewhere in the back of your closet, you’ve probably got an assortment of stress balls, tote bags, and pens that you received at an industry conference or in a meeting with a vendor. Do you remember anything about the people, events, or companies associated with this stuff? Probably not. Corporate gifts and conference giveaways are a commonly overlooked opportunity to tell a brand story. That’s why when a client asks us to create a giveaway for them, we don’t just slap a logo on a generic item and call it a day. Instead, we use a custom approach: distill the message that needs to be communicated; find innovative, on-brand items that connect to the message and are within our client’s budget; and design bespoke packaging. We’ve turned some of these best practices into tips to help make your company’s giveaways work as hard as they can for your brand. More…

SEO Tips and Trends – MozCon 2014

MozCon 2014

MozCon  is an annual conference for the search engine optimization (SEO) community organized by Moz, a Seattle-based SEO software company. Thinkso senior project manager Jess Mackta and I attended this year. Here is some of what we took away.


The Big Picture

Rand Fishkin, Moz founder and star of their popular Whiteboard Fridays series, kicked off the conference with “5 Big Trends in Web Marketing.” These were all useful insights, so we’re including them in-depth here.

1. We’re on the verge of regulation. This is happening globally, with laws going into effect in Canada and the EU. In the US, we dodged a bullet in May when internet regulation got shot down in Congress—thanks in part to Google now being the second largest lobbying spender in the country! More…

Branding, Big Tobacco, and the Mormon Church

Winston Cigarettes Logo DesignAlright, so the title definitely sounds more scandalous than it actually is. This isn’t really an exposé of the LDS Church. But I had to do something so that the search engines would pick up the story.

While the majority of you know what you know about Mormon missionary service from having seen a certain Tony Award-winning Broadway play, I’m here to tell you that the real thing is about half as musical and twice as eventful as what’s portrayed on stage. The time I spent as a missionary was the most exciting, difficult, and enlightening of my life. This is just an interesting side note, really, but it provides an interesting, entertaining commentary on  the value of design and the importance of protecting intellectual property.

When I arrived in Santiago, Chile in 1991 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old missionary, I sat down for my first monthly interview with my mission president, the man appointed by the Church to direct the work within that given geographical slice of the globe. After talking for a bit, I shared with him that I had just completed my first year of design school at BYU. He responded by asking me to design a logo for the mission: La Misión Chile Santiago Sur. More…

Designer at Large: Subway Service Signs

In our “Designer at Large” series, Thinkso designers address design issues they’ve come across while out and about.


Confusing signage is endemic to the New York subway system, especially during track maintenance. The “Planned Service Changes” sign is a nightmare for commuters and tourists alike—particularly cryptic cases like this one.

It doesn’t have to be. Several members of the Thinkso team have been itching to redesign the subway signs, including senior designer Tyler Fortney. A Park Slope resident who commutes to Thinkso’s Manhattan offices each morning via the F train, Tyler is the perfect man for the job.

Read on for an interview with Tyler to learn what he’d do and see the big reveal. More…

Branding Since the Dotcom Burst

Our designer friend Christa Bianchi of Bianchi Design in Williamsburg, Brooklyn recently interviewed Thinkso partner Elizabeth Amorose for a post on her blog.

When you think back to what you were designing in 2003, what trends/changes had real legs since then (in any market sector)?

Let’s see. 2003 was when the Internet—the real Internet—came alive. The “bubble” had burst, and so many people were saying the Internet wasn’t going to be any big thing, that there wasn’t a good way to monetize it. But that clearly wasn’t true and things started to turn around in 2003. Companies were getting serious about their web presence, and started to really invest in it, so our web practice really took off. Today at least 50% of our projects are purely digital and just about every print or branding project has some web component.Content creation was in its early stages back then. (Side rant: I hate that term “content,” because it’s so generic and people throw it around without understanding what it means. A media buyer recently handed us a “strategy” that basically said we needed to put content into ads and tweets of the client campaign we were working on. “Content” is a big category—like “branding” or “advertising.” It isn’t a strategy unto itself. You first have to understand what the target audience wants and what the client is able to give them in order to begin to formulate a content strategy. But I digress.) More…

Tighten Your Writing: Fact Checking

“Tighten Your Writing” is an ongoing series dedicated to writing tips and best practices.

If you want really professional, buttoned-up content, you not only need to engage your readers with clear, clean prose and pay extra-close attention to sentence structure; you also need to have a rigorous fact-checking process in place. Nothing will derail great content and a solid strategy faster than a misspelled name, erroneous date, or embarrassing typo. Those kinds of careless errors suggest that your company doesn’t pay close enough attention to detail, which tends to make a poor impression on prospective partners, clients, and employees. That’s where fact checking comes in. After all your content is decided upon and every single person has weighed in on the draft you’re going to press with, you should do a round of fact checking. At Thinkso, we use a fact-checking checklist on everything we write. Feel free to download our checklist and use it in your own office. More…

Major Web Design Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Over the last ten years, user experience and web design in general have grown and improved exponentially. We’ve come a long way since the “flame GIF footer” and Flash-based sites. But although technology has changed, some things haven’t: A well-designed site is still as functional as it is beautiful, built to strategically advance the client’s business goals.

That’s important to keep in mind because as designers, we can very easily get hung up on nit-picky design decisions, both internally and with clients. And then we forget to keep our focus on the ultimate end-goal—functionality.

The most helpful question you can ask yourself during a web-design project is simply: “Does it still work?” Yes, the awesome parallax scrolling feature you just implemented looks great, but more importantly: Is it helping or hindering the desired goal—whether it’s to convince a shopper to buy a product, communicate pertinent information, or engage the users so that they perceive an intangible brand value?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure you build a strong, functional website. Let’s take a look at five major web-design mistakes and how you can avoid them. More…

Design Minded 1: Visual Consistency

For the same reason I don’t cut my own hair or fix my own car, I generally discourage do-it-yourself design and branding. It’s a job best left to a professional. But then again I do, on occasion, cut my own hair. So I shouldn’t be surprised if there’s a barber somewhere designing himself a logo or using an old copy of PageMaker to lay out one of those snazzy hair-do selector catalogs.

It’s for that barber, or anyone else in this generally poorly designed world we live in, that I post the first in a series of basic principles and practical approaches to design called “Design Minded.”

No matter who you are or what your business is, there are a couple things that you can do right off the bat to bring a semblance of order to your visual identity.

It doesn’t require hiring a branding firm (although eventually you might want to consider it) and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. What it will require, however, is discipline. More…

Confab 2013 Mash-up: Tips for Content Strategy, UX, SEO, Social Media, and More

For those of you who couldn’t make it out to Minneapolis this week for the third annual Confab: The Content Strategy Conference, here’s a round-up of the best things we heard.

Let’s Make Content Useful—or Hit Delete

One of our favorite quotes of the conference was: “If people can’t get to your content, it basically doesn’t exist.” You might be thinking, “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” but we can’t tell you how many times we’ve looked at the Google Analytics for a website that we were about to redesign only to find that half of the organization’s 3,000 pages got less than five hits a year. If that’s the case, either the content is useless or your users aren’t finding it. It’s a waste of money to produce and maintain content on your site that isn’t used.

When Designing Your Website, Don’t Rely on Universal Search

“Search is always plan B,” said UX guru Jared Spool, and we couldn’t agree more. With the exception of big online retailers like Amazon or Zappos, websites can provide much better experiences for their users with smart, intuitive navigation rather than a universal search function. More…

5 Myths About Logo Design

Working with a designer to create a new logo can be a fun, exciting chance to affirm your company’s identity and clarify its core values and message. It can also be stressful. For organizations big and small, an identity change represents a considerable investment. And because it’s something that a marketing manager may only be involved with once or twice in the course of his or her career, it’s important to be well-informed.

To help, we’ve deconstructed five common myths about logo design. More…

Tighten Your Writing, Tip 2: Watch Out for Misplaced Modifiers

“Tighten Your Writing” is an ongoing series dedicated to writing tips and best practices.  More…

In the Beginning: Melissa Jun


“In the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how various designers were inspired to enter the creative industry. Melissa Jun is a Brooklyn-based freelance graphic designer.

1. What was your earliest design inspiration/impression?

When I was in college, I serendipitously met a designer by the name of Jan Gaunder. She was the art director for a magazine called Jacksonville Woman, and she took the time to show me what she did to make that happen. She gave me my first job out of college and I basically will always owe her, forever. More…

Leaning In

I just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and, along with eight thousand other bloggers and journalists, I’m going to put in my two cents.

Required Reading

This book is going to be the seminal book of our generation—the way The Feminine Mystique was for the last generation. It articulates the internal and external barriers facing those of us who have chosen to have both careers and children. It exposes massive sexism in our society’s cultural views, workplaces and homes. It’s a book that women can commiserate with and men can learn from.

Sound like nothing new? A couple things set this one apart:

  1. In a world where there’s very little vetting of “experts,” this book was written by someone whose credentials and experience cannot be denied. Sandberg was a long-time Google executive and is now COO of Facebook. She has kids (and actually gets home in time to have dinner with them) and a marriage that’s an equal partnership. Unfortunately, it takes a woman with this kind of cred to get people to listen. Fortunately, Sandberg delivers.
  2. Clearly the PR investment behind this book was monumental. A month before it was even released, I heard about it on NPR, read Sandberg’s Time magazine article, and couldn’t visit a news site, blog, or social network without seeing the buzz. With more than 300,000 books published each year in the U.S., it takes a really strategic (and well funded) publicity campaign to get this kind of coverage. This tells me that Sandberg is serious about using this book to create real change. With the book hitting #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List (and staying there) just a week after it hit the shelves, she has at least succeeded in getting our attention. More…

Tighten Your Writing

ThinksoCreative_Writing_Tips_Kim_Mickenberg“Tighten Your Writing” is an ongoing series dedicated to writing tips and best practices. 

In literature, it’s fine if a writer adds flowery language, ornate details, and other flourishes. That’s because when you sit down to read a book, you’re already interested in reading the text—or you wouldn’t have purchased it or picked it up off the shelf.

Marketing writing is different. Marketing and advertising copy needs to disrupt and engage; it needs to pull a reluctant reader in. And it needs to be efficient: You don’t have a lot of time to capture a reader’s attention.

That’s why Thinkso takes content—editorial concepts and written text—just as seriously as we take design. And although we believe everyone should strive to write well, good writing is critical to marketing-related communications.

How do we define “good writing”? We think it’s clean (error- and typo-free), clear, and engaging. It’s direct and grammatically sound. It’s integrated with a product’s visual components. It accomplishes (or conveys) identified business goals. If writing has all these qualities, we say it’s “tight.” More…

In the Beginning: Kerrie Powell

ThinksoCreative_Kerrie_Powell_Ship_Sailing“In the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how various designers were inspired to enter the creative industry. Kerrie Powell is a founding partner at Powell Allen in London.

1. What was your earliest design inspiration/impression?

I was camping in Australia with my family (I’m guessing I was 6 – 8 years old), when I had an epiphany. A family friend presented her life drawing portfolio to me—spreading it from one end of their caravan annex to the other. Unfazed by its content, I remember questioning the budding artist about her broader studies. She (a fleeting mentor with no name!) was studying to be a commercial artist. Around this time, I obsessed over the way my school projects were presented—painstakingly crafting ornate borders and hand-drawn titles (with little feet and all). I even offered my services to my best buddies, who were far more academically minded.


Do-Good Design

ThinksoCreative_Embrace_Infant_WarmerAll over the world, individuals and small organizations alike are trying to do more with less: figuring out how to stretch a small budget to cover their basic needs and make progress possible.

The answer to a lot of the challenges they face is good design—smart, creative solutions that make the most of materials at hand. Some very clever, simple, functional approaches to solving big problems around the world include:


A Little Birdie Told Me You Need Some Help with Twitter


















I don’t know about you, but my brain doesn’t have a lot of room for storing things like Twitter shorthand. If you feel the same, download our Tweet Sheet to your phone for quick reference:

  1. Pull up this post on your iPhone (if you’re not already using it).
  2. Touch and hold your finger on the Tweet Sheet image.
  3. When prompted, touch “Save Image”. The Tweet Sheet is now stored in your Photos app.