Author: Jen Derks

Form Follows Function

How Branding is like Surfing: Form follows Function

In the design world, strong designers understand that “form follows function.”

In other words, if it doesn’t do its job, no one cares how cool it is. Obviously, here at Four Fin, we value the power of art and pleasing aesthetics, but design is more than aesthetics. Design is problem solving and that has to start with function. What will the website need to encourage people to do and feel? What are the marketing goals of the print ad? What’s the most efficient and pleasant way that a user can grasp the heart of the brand from this brochure we’re designing? These are the questions we ask ourselves.

This concept of “form follows function” is just as strong in other facets of life, and naturally… here we go talking about surfing again…   

1. A pretty surfboard, shaped by an amateur – won’t last a year in your quiver.

2. A basic or ugly surfboard that’s expertly shaped for your surfing style – you’ll grow to fondly nickname it ‘old trusty’.

3. A gorgeous surfboard, expertly shaped – #boardgoals. When you pull it out of the bag – where it’s kept because it means that much to you – you know what it will feel like to ride (amazing), and its beauty gets you every time. Literally – the board makes your heart swell.

You can’t surf on a shit board

Not many surfers can spring for option 3, and if they had to choose between the first two options, good surfers choose option 2. You know, so they can surf, and have fun doing it. Function first. Form follows.

Designers are not Artists

Are designers artistic? Yes. Are they artists? No. That’s because artists think ‘form’ first, and we love (and envy) them for it. Have you ever seen an ad or poster, so slick and creative, and you can NOT remember what brand it was for or what it was trying to get you to do? Or maybe, you pinned it for eye candy, or even framed it and put it on your wall. It’s a real work of art! But, you never took it seriously for its intended purpose. Familiar?

That’s because at some point, somewhere in the world, a well-meaning and talented graphic designer was given a job, and they put form first. They nailed the form. This designer likely should be an artist instead. When they do change careers (own your true gifts, talented people of the world!), we will buy and hang their art on the walls of our office. Their commitment to form, will inspire our creativity as we think about brands all day, function first.

Trust Your Gut

In branding and in business, sometimes you have to pivot. Sometimes you have to hold true to your values. Sometimes you have to invest yourself in building your brand where you feel the most energy and potential.

You might be grappling with some of this right now. Let me tell you a secret. You already know what to do, and you have from the moment it popped into your head.  One of my favorite quotes, that recently adorned our office felt board, is “Told you so. – your intuition.”

Life moves fast, and business moves even faster. If you spend time ignoring your gut (or worse, being scared of what it’s telling you to do), you’ll likely fall behind on really moving your brand forward. Or worse, your waffling will give off the wrong impression. Your audience will see the inconsistency, and lack of direction. Your brand will suffer. Of course, we believe that a guiding light for a lot of small businesses IS their brand. We constantly harp that you have to stay true to your brand to build a strong and consistent image.

Let me give you a simple example. Let’s say you make widgets. You’ve positioned the widgets as quality widgets. You spent a great deal on R&D and design of the widgets and are confident that your audience needs this level of quality and will be happy paying the high price. You’re releasing the widget in the world and deciding how to market them. You meet an eager and convincing online marketing consultant who promises leads. “I’ve cracked the sales funnel code. We get their attention with an introductory discount and then as you gain traction, we’ll cut the discounts and your followers, now in love with the product, will be okay spending more.” It doesn’t sit right with you.

Trust your gut. The audience you’re going after cares about the quality, not the price. If lured initially by price, the second you increase price, they’ll fire up the google engine again to find something cheaper. They’ll be offended with your brand at the same time. This might appear an obvious example, and the decisions you face might be more complex, but the premise rings true. Know your brand, be proud of what it stands for, and stand with it. 

So what if your “brand” conflicts with your “gut”?

If it’s done right… that brand will be modeled after what’s already in your gut. If you build a truly authentic brand, it will be based in part on the values of the visionary leader. It will keep you from chasing shiny objects that aren’t true to your brand. So, if your gut says something is off, you can confidently listen. 

Before I even ran a branding business, I’ve had a lot of training in this gut-feeling awareness that has helped me make key decisions quickly. 

In surfing, you have to trust your gut quite often.

Paddling out.

Do I paddle faster and try to get past that almost-breaking wave, or do I pull back and duck dive the white-wash? Anyone who’s found themselves trying to duck dive a wave RIGHT when it’s breaking on top of you knows why that’s an important decision. And one you have to make instantly.

Catching a wave.

There’s a frequently used word in surfing, and actually all extreme sports. Commit. If you are paddling for a wave and it’s looking promising, and you’ve made the gut decision to go for it, you’d better commit. Once the wave takes hold of you, it’s not a time to question your gut. Likewise, if you’re paddling for a wave, and have a gut reaction that tells you to back off, but you stumble a little on listening quickly, you’ll find yourself putting on a good wipe-out show for those on the beach.

Deciding if you can hack it.

All surfers have been there. Standing on the sand during a particularly large swell. Sizing up the surf. Deciding if you’ve got the strength, courage, and lung capacity to attempt to paddle out. You might catch the best wave of your life. You could also tour the local ER.  

TL:DR

I don’t always trust my gut, and when I get too in-my-head, it’s typically never positive. I wipe-out. I pick myself back up. I breathe. Then I apologize to my gut for not listening. “Hey gut, you were right about that client. They obviously weren’t right for us. Had I listened to you, we’d have more space for the right type of growth. Thanks again for always watching out! Forgive me and keep up the clear signals for future decisions.” 

Our gut knows what’s up. It will save us from a mouth full of salt water and deter us from poor business choices. Building a brand that is authentic to you, then learning to trust your gut is a liberating exercise. Go confidently in the direction of your brand dreams. And bring your gut with you.

Words to Brand By

We are always thinking over here. Throughout the year we gathered our thoughts for our followers on what makes a strong brand, and shared them on Instagram. We’ve revisited our own brand quite a bit this year and are ready to slay 2018 by helping others make waves with their branding.

Are you ready to make your brand clear?

If you’d like to learn about some of the principles to help align your brand, take a look at our #wordstobrandby or if you want to know what the hell we mean by all those buzzwords, and how they could apply to your brand, then give us a call and set up a free 30 min consultation. Make next year is your year to own a fresh brand perspective!

Making Waves: Jaime Hampton

So your PR firm, Mixte, is well-known for your effective social-justice campaigns. How did you get started in that work?

Our work stems from our values. When you’re defined by these values, you see that the only work worth doing is the work that improves your community for all people. It’s an easy choice to specialize in social justice campaigns because it’s the right thing to do

What does it mean to you to be named 2013 Commuter of the year?

I was selected as San Diego County’s Commuter of the Year because I traveled all over the county on bike, bus, Coaster and through carpools. But the better metric is that Mixte earned the highest county recognition again this year for our company’s commuter program, which means most of our staff commutes this same way. We’re showing companies of every kind that you can do anything if you just set the culture and lead by example.

Finish this: All I want for Christmas is, _____

A classic clock for my living room wall. I never had one until my grandma passed this year. One of the only things I selected from her house was this cheap clock that always hung on her wall, but it stopped working a few months ago. Every time I see that blank spot, I feel that I’m not honoring my grandma’s long love affair with the tick-tock of clocks. Though, and maybe to Gma’s chagrin, my new clock would ideally be silent.

Hiring Alert: Art Director

Four Fin Creative is a boutique design and branding firm located in La Mesa, CA, and we’re looking for our Fourth Fin. Are you a humble and positive graphic design rockstar who loves your craft and thinks about brands all day? Maybe you’d love to run your own studio, but hate finding clients? Do you enjoy challenging yourself? Do you enjoy people? Do you enjoy tacos?

We’re looking for you.

As part of a small team, you should be a self-starter, comfortable wearing many hats, taking initiative and collaborating. Do what you love in a fun and casual environment with flexibility. At Four Fin, you’ll have the opportunity to make a direct impact on our growth as a firm, and on the growth of the brands we work with. This position offers leadership potential for the right self-starter who grows with us.

Job duties may include:

– Taking a project all the way from concept development to final execution of print and web designs
– Adhering to brand guidelines and brand consistency, while keeping the creative fresh
– Working with the Creative Director to conceptualize and design brand-experiences across platforms, from email marketing and social content, to printed collateral and trade-show booths
– Sourcing and directing outside vendors as needed, from photographers and printers, to illustration artists and copywriters
– Preparing artwork for final print production
– Writing brand guidelines and designing brand books or culture books
– Professional design execution of corporate communication pieces such as brochures, pitch-decks or sales sheets
– Mentoring and guiding other designers

If you are the Fin we’re looking for: 

– You have a minimum of 5 years of agency or similar experience
– You work in Adobe Creative Suite on a Mac environment
– You love nurturing a brand through all touch-points
– You always love to try something new and do not hesitate to dive in
– You explore other artistic disciplines because it lights you up
– You are a great communicator, quick to grasp new concepts and platforms
– You pride yourself on your ability to “get” your client’s vision
– You conceptualize in the big picture world / and execute meticulously on the details
– You have done your fair share of production work: cleaning up files, prepping files for printing and publishing, etc… and you don’t loathe it
– You are comfortable working with clients as well as under a Creative Director
– Collaboration is your jam. You love spinning rough ideas off of others and, in turn, you give feedback honestly and often

What could additionally set you apart?

– Video or photography chops
– WordPress experience
– Experience in copywriting
– Experience in assisting with brand strategy exercises
– Experience in environmental or packaging design
– Illustration and or hand lettering skills
– A medal in an extreme sports competition (kidding, not kidding)

About Four Fin Creative

Four Fin Creative is a small but fierce design and branding firm, located in up-and-coming La Mesa, where the parking is easy, and it’s (almost) always sunny. We work with a range of smart and ambitious companies, from start-ups to established corporations and organizations. Four Fin helps our clients understand and beautifully communicate their brands, product benefits, services and missions in a way that is efficient, beautiful and compelling. We focus on brand identity design, and how to carry that brand through a number of touch points and platforms.

At Four Fin, our tight-knit team values a sweet balance of getting shit done, celebrating successes, and supporting each other in the process. We offer health-care and generous paid vacation and sick leave, with additional non-paid leave on approval – because we want you to explore life, and keep growing as an individual, in and out of the office.

Looking for full time, but would consider temporary part-time, moving to full. Work should primarily take place at our La Mesa place of business with occasional remote work as life demands it.

To Apply

Send us an email at jobs@fourfincreative.com and tell us in the body of the email:
1) Why you are a good fit for this position
2) Why is this position a good fit for you
3) Your favorite brand and why

Please include a link to your online portfolio and attach your résumé as a PDF.

How Branding is like Surfing: Positioning 

Out in the surf lineup, the most important thing you can do is paddle into a good position and keep adjusting to stay there. This is true of brands too. Companies extend a decent amount of energy getting into the sweet spot of their desired audience’s attention and needs. In surfing and in branding, there are a couple of ways to approach positioning that take this analogy a step further.

Hit it where it’s hot. 

When the waves are firing, there’s an obvious spot to sit to land a big one. It’s right next to everyone else. Sitting right next to nine other people will make it more difficult to catch a set wave, since only a few will win out during a three-wave set.

Now, you might decide that you can sit in that spot because you’re clearly a better surfer (or have a better product/offer/business) than those nine. If you are deciding this from a place of objectivity and not a place of ego, you might be right. And, if you decide to take that calculated risk, then go after those three precious set waves, or consumers in a crowded space. Go after them with confidence, and paddle hard.

Also, in this situation, staying connected to the oceans energy and reading the shifting swells will help you know where exactly amongst those nine you’ll need to be. Just as absorbing the energy of your consumers and reading the shifting trends and feedback will help you fine-tune your messaging. Always watching, always fine-tuning, always shifting.

Find a sweet spot.

Sometimes, if you look at the whole scene before you head out, you might be able to find a corner or reform that’s breaking a little further inside that no one noticed. They’re not perfect, they’re likely more varied, but the point is that you get a bunch, because no one else noticed them.

If you look at the whole scene before deciding where to position your brand, you might find this little pocket yourself. The B-list of waves, that doesn’t break out where the A-list breaks, but is perfectly comfortable riding small on the inside, and taking you with them.

If you’ve gotten this far, maybe you’re thinking, cool analogy. But, I’ll be honest, it’s not perfect.

Branding has an advantage surfers wish they had. 

When you are surfing, you are working with the forces of Mother Nature, and that sexy powerhouse will place those waves wherever she damn well chooses. You have to position yourself according to her rules. When you are positioning your brand, you can create waves where they weren’t before. The ‘waves’ in this analogy are followers, adopters, consumers. These waves have forces of their own, and can be drawn away from their normal spot if they are intrigued by your energy. In fact, it’s the often a great way to get them. Shine like a unique and unavoidable beacon from a calm and unsuspecting spot, way past the line up, and watch the wave patterns shift.

I wish I had that power in the ocean.

Do you know your brand’s position? Are you charging hard next to nine others in the line up, or are you beaconing greatness from the calm? I’d love to grab a coffee and chat it out with you.

——

This post is one of a series of posts from Four Fin’s Founder and Creative Director, Jen Derks, on how branding is like surfing. Follow us on instagram for updates on our blog post releases, studio happenings and client work.  

Design Values and Client Partnerships

I recently came across this article and thought it was worth a share as it’s incredibly relevant to some of our core values at Four Fin. I’m officially making it required reading for every new design hire. The article speaks to solo in-house designers at companies of non-designers, but I believe the lessons shared are universal. We approach our client-relationships with a partnership mentality, and we’re often our clients’ only designers. We’re batting on their team, in-house or not.

“Don’t be the smartest guy in the room”

At Four Fin, we believe that creativity and ideation are not the designers’ tasks alone. Everyone, whether they are the client or work for the agency, is valuable in the process of better understanding user experiences, seeing a challenge from a different perspective and bringing in varied expertise. Our Account Manager regularly contributes ideas to our work and our design staff has no issues bringing those ideas to life to test them against the others. Our clients know their users better than we do and that experience is invaluable. The point is, it’s not about us. The best idea on the table could have come from the client’s new intern, we just care that it’s the best idea related to the goals of the brand.

“Let good enough be good enough.”

This principle might seem to counter your perceptions of what a design firm believes. Don’t get me wrong, people come to us when good enough isn’t cutting it, and we value the power of iteration and nailing details. But there is a lesson here. Our clients’ success matters to us and it’s important to me as we grow that we retain a high level of respect for their goals. When a brand is in the early phases of development, we recognize when design perfection should not be the goal, and we comfortably adjust our own standards (yes, really) in order to achieve what is needed for phase 1 (e.g., get that simple landing page up, or fill the feed with relevant stock images until photoshoots can be scheduled). If we maintain this thinking and strategy in supporting our clients through phase 1, we then have more success in helping them grow and get to phase 3. This is when we grab the coffee and pump the Sonos – with design perfection as the goal.

Does your company lack an in-house designer? Is it possible we could fill in, with the same mindset as a designer on staff, but with more resources and flexibility? Let’s find a time to talk it over.

Making Waves: Drew Auker

So, you’ve been consistently named “Top 1% of all REALTORs in San Diego County.” What has led to this distinction?

I did what some really brilliant mentors told me to do. Fast forward three years of doing that and having my focus on people and not selling houses… and low and behold, I sold a ton of houses.

What’s the coolest home feature you’ve seen?

I’m still a sucker for a master bath shower with a panoramic view and a door to the outdoors.

What’s your favorite secret spot in San Diego?

Red House Pizza in University Heights. (Although I don’t know how much of a secret it is… they’re always packed!)

Making Waves: San Diego Letters

Roxi Prima & Phoebe Cornog – Cofounders of San Diego Letters

When did you team up as SD Letters, and how many murals have you painted together?

We teamed up in August 2015 and started San Diego Letters as a monthly Meetup group. After collaborating on planning events, branding the club, and promotion, we realized what a good team we made. After doing a couple freelance jobs together for fun, we realized that we had a passion for painting murals. We were both frustrated and unfulfilled with our full-time jobs so we decided to quit our jobs and turn San Diego Letters into a business in January 2016. We’ve been loving entrepreneur life and have big plans to continue to grow the business. Since we turned it into a business we’ve painted 42 murals and are excited to do our first international mural in Tasmania in a couple weeks!

What’s your favorite thing about the gig?

Our favorite part about working for ourselves is the freedom to travel. We love teaching workshops, painting murals, and meeting up with our friends that we’ve had on our podcast (Drunk on Lettering) in every city we go to.

Do you actually get drunk when recording the “drunk on lettering” podcast?

Yes, we actually get drunk for our podcast and most of our guests do too. The only time we don’t get drunk is when we have to record at 9am with a paper lettering artist in Mumbai!

Check out more about what Phoebe and Roxie are doing at sandiegoletters.com and see more of their work on their Instagram account @sandiegoletters  and their podcast @drunkonlettering

Being a Woman in Branding

I’ve never thought much about being a woman in my career. Sure, in college there were only a handful of girls on the ‘creative track’ of our advertising major. And, we all know about the old days of male dominated agencies, referenced in Mad Men. Great show by the way. But really, none of this ever meant anything to me. I surf, so I guess I’m used to being in a male-dominated environment. It didn’t phase me. I liked design and I liked psychology, so the path was obvious.

But lately, it does mean something. And I’m not talking about the all to common “why don’t I make the same as my male counterparts?” I’m talking about the way women lift each other up. It’s incredible. It can be seen in the success of blogger networks, women design retreats and networking opportunities. There is even a women-only coworking space here in San Diego. And while, I admit, I think it can be a bit overboard and counter-productive (I’m not a ‘girlboss’), I do think it marks a time in history where change is happening and women are more respected in the world of business. I am proud to be a part of that narrative.

I also think the design and branding world needs us. We understand the female mindset, of course. More importantly, we think and feel differently. We nurture by nature, run on empathy on practice active listening. Brands need nurturing. Clients need empathy. Users need to be understood.

I am honored to be a woman in business and in branding today, running a company built on mutual respect, radical candor, and collaboration.  When we lift each other up, we all rise. Here’s to seeing more women in our industry, not just as the designers and illustrators, but in the leadership roles as well.