The Design of Voting

We can fly a man to the moon, but we can’t design an effective ballot. What gives?

It’s amazing to know that we, as American citizens, cast votes to elect our officials; however, it’s equally disappointing when your experience at the polls is nothing short of confusing.

Earlier today, I cast my vote at my local polling place. Having done this for several elections, a few things stuck out:

  • many voters didn’t know what precinct they lived in,
  • others were unfamiliar with the voting process, and, most importantly,
  • the ballot appeared to be designed by a third-grader.

And “designed” is used generously. Shouldn’t this be simpler?


Ballots should be designed for two things:

  • Legibility: Know your audience and assume that voters will have a difficult time reading small or light type. Typeface matters!
  • Ease-of-use: The last thing a voter should be when reading a ballot is confused. Keep the design as simple as possible while still communicating key information.

That’s it. A legible, easily understood ballot will make for a much better polling experience – which should be more a celebration than a frustrating nuisance!

How do we guarantee this result? A few design enhancements can go a long way.

Embrace space

First, we must separate key blocks of information. The federal election, state election, and local races and questions should all be given ample white space in between each other. Similarly, each candidate should be clearly marked and given air to breathe. Cramming several candidates into less space may save paper, but doesn’t provide clarity or a satisfying experience to the voting public.

Simple instructions

Work under the assumption that this will be everyone’s first vote. Perhaps the voting area of the ballot comes with a line of text reading, “Vote for one of the following candidates. If you vote for more than one, your vote will not count.”

For local elections (perhaps state representatives), ballots might read, “Vote for one of the following state representatives. State representatives work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and represent districts across the state.”

This seems overly simple, but can help voters feel more confident about their voting responsibility.


My ballot used similarly-sized type for the entire document. There was no dominant element and all the information held similar weight.

Altering the headline size on a ballot can make a huge difference. Each section (federal, state, local) should have its own heading, all consistently sized. The next level of information (the candidates’ names) should have a smaller type treatment. Finally, supporting information like a candidate’s party, address or explanatory text for a question should have a tertiary treatment and size. The size and weight of type should work like a funnel or headline structure for a web page.

Civic importance

Just as it’s the responsibility of Americans to cast an educated vote, it’s just as important for local and state governing bodies to design a simpler voting process.

With so much cynicism and voter apathy surrounding voting, the experience must be made simpler and more enjoyable. Americans should feel empowered every election, not frustrated and pressured.

In short: save the ballot and save our elections!

Advertising is the art of making whole lies out of half-truths. -Edgar A. Shoaff

When thinking about camping, a landscape of beautiful lush green trees and gathering around a fire comes to mind. This was very true for the first leg of our trip.

Last month, we set off on a family adventure from New England to Williamsburg, VA towing our 23’ hybrid (Big Roo) camper. The thick woods of Williamsburg were absolutely beautiful. In one week we visited Historic Jamestown, the Yorktown battle fields, Colonial Williamsburg and Bush Gardens. Everyday was a relaxing excursion.

For the trip home we decided to stop off in Pennsylvania and chose a campground after doing some research on the Internet.

As we approached our destination, the GPS guided us down a narrow road that had a HUGE power plant on one side and lead us over cargo railroad tracks. Thinking we must have made a wrong turn when suddenly, just ahead, we saw the campground sign. My husband laughed and said, “This is going to be fun!”. Thankfully it was only a few nights after leaving the beautiful woods of Williamsburg.

We set up in what looked like a field of campers – we could reach out and touch the camper next to us. The smell of cow manure was in the air on the hot summer evening. The grounds looked like we had entered a flea market – old mirrors thrown up at the end of the water slides, trash cans with cut-out gas tanks as a lid, common area buildings falling apart. Behind the pool was a foam pit (sounds like fun!) but upon exiting the pit, the staff sprayed everyone down with a massive hose. Think of a prison scene when the inmates are getting deloused…yes this happened and our son had blood gushing from his arm after falling in the pit. (That didn’t stop the spray down!)

As evening approached, we sat by the fire looking back at the website for the campground in disbelief. They hired a great firm because the photos online looked beautiful and nothing like the grounds. The agency should win an ADDY for pulling it off. In the eyes of my eight and nine year-old, “We had a lot of things to do, but the campground was a dump! Why would anyone come back here?”. Well kids, it’s all about the advertising!

Make it or Break it

It’s in the nooks and crannies where I find design most inspiring.

While I was in New York for a few days, I got juiced by the creative everywhere. Not sure what I’m talking about? Just look up – Buildings on top of one another… Narrow alleys…

New York shows us how to utilize the space in, around, on, and between buildings for our creative. You never know what you will find 34 stories high.

From brick walls, sidewalks and glass, to garage doors and imprinting on light fixtures, design and type is everywhere. Many times, ad spaces become the focal point and inspiration for the aesthetic of a place or business.

Particularly, it is the typography found around the city that is beautiful. Great design relies on typography (and sometimes solely) and its ability to work with various textures that are present. As designers, the careful attention and detail to selecting or crafting type can make or break your design.

Once you put it all together and find out a way to incorporate design into an outdoor space, it’s the raw elements of Mother Nature that give strong design the striking authenticity of natural weathering.

Enjoy a collection below from my trip. Have something to add? Share it with us on Twitter.

P.S. – Stumbled upon these mannequins with facial hair. It doesn’t fit with this blog, but how could I resist not including them?

Fighting Crime with Social Media

It was a typical weekday afternoon, my husband and I both were busy wrapping up our days at work when he received an alert of activity at home. He quickly asked if we are expecting a delivery and before finishing the sentence I hear “he’s trying to break into our house!!” We both looked at the security camera footage and could hear the intruder trying to gain access into our house by the front door, back slider and two windows. The burglar noticed the security cameras and quickly took off.

The police department posted the photos on Facebook and received and unbelievable response. Within an hour the post had 17,000 views, 187 shares and 6 phone calls to identify the man. Thanks to our security cameras and with the help of our small community social channel the burglar was identified, will be charged and is also connected to another break in within the area.


The Good, Bad & Smelly: A Trade Show Debrief

HbKcBxKJwMvqK3zTY0qt3Txbo2aWichuxoJg0JJJZhAWe’re coming down from eight months of developing content for our client’s conference with over 10,000 attendees. I’m always amazed at how much time and planning goes into a trade show. And then, within days, it’s all over. It’s been two weeks since the show’s closing day and, shockingly, I’m sad!

Leading up to the opening of the show, I get an adrenaline rush from the panic—can all of this get done in 3 weeks?! The answer is—with the great team we have—absolutely! The first two days of the show, we run around like crazy people putting in over 15 hour days. We are developing, designing and producing items that were forgotten, lost or had mistakes. The result? No one knows the items were forgotten, lost or had mistakes because the finished products look exactly as they were intended to look. Once we get into day three, we actually have time for dinner before 9pm and a few hours of sleep. Progress!

Here are some of my key takeaways from this year’s event:

Land of the Lost. You have a strategic plan when packing everything for the event truck. But somehow one box always goes missing and never shows up. Be resourceful and develop a plan to immediately produce materials on site.

What’s that smell? Anything with mayo should never be served at a trade show event. Period. You’re just asking for trouble.

Relationships. HB is so fortunate to work with an unbelievably awesome events team. Good client relationships make the experience more rewarding and the work more impactful.

A few days later on the flight home, we thought  about the successful show and what we could do better next time… because we can always improve. And now, two weeks later, with the post-show blues beginning to fade, I am looking forward to a few months from now when we begin brainstorming for next year’s show and all of the feelings that go along with it.

March Madness Ad Spend

For so many of us, March Madness is a yearly ritual: brackets, betting, beer and burgers. And now, the Final Four is just around the corner.

I was curious how much money was spent on advertising during March Madness, but I never would have anticipated what I uncovered. When I think of big-time sports advertising, the Superbowl is what immediately comes to mind. The game is punctuated by event-specific advertising that gets everyone pumped to see the new creative ads and messages. In 2015, Superbowl advertising spend was about $359 million.

capitolone-adBut to top that, television advertisers spend more than $1 billion on March Madness. And Americans spend almost as much gambling just on the Final Four than they to go to the movies in one year.

So it should be no surprise that March Madness is one of the biggest months for marketing opportunities spanning a range of industries: apparel, automotive, financial, food and higher education, to name a few. Because of this, the tournament provides one of the greatest social media marketing opportunities for companies. The NCAA Tournament has grossed a record 166 million total social impressions across Facebook and Twitter and 88% of people use their mobile devices to access March Madness information. The investment on return can be seen in the average game viewership: 9.9 million total viewers. The Kentucky/Notre Dame game peaked with 19.7 million viewers.

Much like Superbowl ads, there are those that are inspirational, sappy, nostalgic and funny. My favorite are the ones that feature past players. If you haven’t seen the CapitolOne ad series, it features Charles Barkley on a road trip with Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson. Hysterical!

So, as you watch Kentucky/Wisconsin and Michigan State/Duke this weekend, which ads stand out to you? Are they effective or do they miss the mark? Are they entertaining or informative? Share your favorite Final Four ad moments with us on Twitter @hb_agency. We’ll be sharing, too!

Why I hate it when you like it!

How we love to “like.”Like2

We use the word constantly and with little thought. Like has become the milk-toast of affection. Not that it ever meant much; I remember using it when a high-school girlfriend asked what I thought of her brother who consistently threatened to beat me up. “I like him,” I cautiously said.  Meaning, “I could live without him.”

Today Facebook allows you to “like” the photo of a firefighter emerging from a burning building with a swaddled baby in his arms. Moments later, you can use the exact same like to show your amusement at a waste-of-time video about a kitten sheltered between a Golden Retriever’s paws. Sometimes you even like things that you dislike, because someone you like posted it (or worse, asked you to like it) and you don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. He or she will see that you liked it, like that you liked it, and like the next thing you post for your “friends” to “like.” In making “like” the currency of approval for billions of people sharing trillions of pieces of content, Facebook has utterly devalued a word that already struggled for significance.


Must I really like, comment or share?


But the thing I like least about liking is far more insidious: the term’s over-use is among the clearest indicators of our utter self-absorption as we participate in public conversations. Because liking is all about ourselves—the overfed consumer of information wandering the digital landscape in search of the next like. This self-absorbed bottom-feeding impacts much more than our personal lives. It has crept into the professional arena, which I personally find even more depressing. Walk into any meeting where people are evaluating creative concepts, and you’ll hear more likes than you can count. Why? Because if given the opportunity, we default to thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe. Faced with any situation, our instinct is to react to what we like and don’t like.

Our education and professional training should save us from our thoughtless judgements as we strive to do great work. We should never evaluate work with our own likes and dislikes, but rather put ourselves in the target audience’s position. At HB, we deliberately remind ourselves and our clients to ask not whether we like something, but instead ask if it works according to the criteria we set for the audience. But despite these reminders, we easily fall into the trap of evaluating work based on personal preferences.

This individual, center-of-the-universe perspective is one of the reasons why crowdsourcing produces mediocre work. A friend recently invited me to evaluate designs that he crowdsourced with 99designs, a company that glibly notes “Make 850k+ designers work for you.” (I’ll leave ethics aside for this discussion… but really??) My friend also crowdsourced the design evaluation to an informal team of friends and colleagues. I participated in the process, and the web site asked me to rate each design option on a five-star scale and include a comment. I was invited to do this several times as my friend went through design iterations.
I assume that, like me, each committee member had varying degrees of knowledge specific to the business: its personality, voice, goals, stakeholders, priorities, industries served, etc. in addition to any other success criteria for the design. But none of this was included in the presentation of designs, so it would be difficult for anyone to remember such details while evaluating. Those details and decision-making criteria would have enabled us to bring intellectual rigor to a process that was quickly becoming about liking or not liking.
The designs I saw, a handful among the 187 that my friend received, revealed that the designers created visual representations of the entity’s name instead of relying on background information and criteria for success. I figured this was because the crowd-sourcing business model encourages designers who want to get paid to play a numbers game—submitting as many designs as possible as quickly as possible. They have little incentive to invest time and energy into the story that should inform a great design, and they probably know that the people coming to them aren’t that discerning; many will probably ignore much of the preliminary work they did, if they did any, the minute they see pretty things and default to liking or disliking.
The crowdsourced evaluation committee is in the same boat as the designers: we’re all busy professionals, wondering, “how little time can I spend on this to honor my friend’s request but not sacrifice too much of my scarce personal time?”  The quickest solution is to avoid deep thinking, focus on what I like, and add a comment or two to show that I took it seriously. I noticed the other evaluators were doing just that, most often speaking of their personal reactions to the designs rather than trying to rate them against established criteria.

Does any of this matter? As it turns out, my friend is happy with the design he selected. He likes it and likes the fact that it cost $10,000 to $20,000 less than a local agency would have charged him. The costs are probably there in the time he invested, the time that numerous designers who weren’t the winners invested, and the time his group of friends and colleagues invested—but those costs stay with those groups and do not hit my friend’s P&L. In the old days, my friend would have gotten Cousin Joe’s niece, who just graduated from college with a degree in graphic design, to do something for a few bucks oFedexn the side or for free. The crowdsourcing model gives him much more choice of selection. What bothers me is that the designs he got, like so many designs I’ve seen from crowdsourcing models or Cousin Joe’s niece, suffer from rookie mistakes that experienced designers would not make.
I don’t want you to like designs that HB creates. I want you to feel they work. Sometimes you might even fall in love with them because they’re so much more than a pretty face. If you’re hoping your brand moves beyond your local sphere and want your visual identity to tell a lasting and layered story over time, liking it is not enough, no matter how many people like it, especially if those people are uncompensated friends taking time away from activities they value more to chime in for your project.
Imagine if the Fedex logo had been crowdsourced by designers trying to get clients to like something they did as quickly as possible before moving on to the next opportunity to make a few bucks. Based on what I’ve seen in crowdsourcing, the logo would most likely have included a plane or a truck, and an envelope. Many people would have liked it, the way they like a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Read about the Fedex logo here and get a glimpse into what sophisticated design can offer.
Perhaps I’m living in the wrong age. The world is moving quickly, we all have too much to do, and liking might be the pinnacle of what we give and get. Even if that’s the case, I believe we each want to discover more meaning, make the greatest impression, have the longest impact… and liking doesn’t help achieve such goals.

As Matthew May concludes in his piece on the Fedex logo: “Lindon Leader’s design is considered by many to be one of the most creative logos ever designed. Not because of what’s there but because of what isn’t.” I don’t “like” the Fedex logo. I think it works according to what I imagine the company set out as success criteria. I love it.

8 Steps to Building a Better Creative Staff


Like a game of Chess, building a more creative staff takes time and many well thought out steps. There’s no single right way to go about putting together an inspired, productive group of people that work well together and just “get it.” There is always an element of the unexplainable—the X factor you just can’t put your finger on. However, there are some actions we can all take to foster a creative staff. Here is my formula for building a better creative team based on my experience working with a tight-knit group at HB agency.

1. Surround yourself with A-players
Start by looking for and keeping in touch with A-players. What is an A-player? This type of person is not just great at their job. That is not good enough. A-players are people you want to be around, inside and outside of work. They make you laugh, they support you, they encourage, they inspire, they challenge, they’re motivated and they deliver. This kind of talent is hard to come by, but an A-player will soon become an invaluable part of your team and what it takes to perpetuate creativity among peers.

 2. Encourage going against the grain
Great creative is not built from doing what everyone else is doing. It’s a good manager’s responsibility to encourage his or her employees to think outside the box—way outside. Start with ideas that are ridiculous and dial them back incrementally.

I remember a project where we were tasked to reintroduce a product for a well-known technology company. The ideas were not flowing and the ones we came up with during our brainstorm sessions were too conservative, until we started talking about SpongeBob SquarePants. Most of the time, ideas like this are laughed at, but typically they can also be the catalyst to creating something memorable. This sparked an idea for a successful direct mail campaign, targeting C-level Management.

3. Communicate and share with your team
I wish I could do it all on my own, but every project I have ever worked on has had better results because of communication and collaboration with coworkers. Never be afraid to ask for someone’s opinion and accept his or her feedback. Sharing what you’re working on may even spark ideas in others for completely separate initiatives.

4. Invest and educate
Invest time and money into your employees’ education and training. Showing that you care about their interests will help earn their trust and in return you will get someone who is more educated and wanting to help you and the company succeed.

We had an opportunity to work on a video animation project, but we didn’t have the capabilities in-house. I told our creative director to take the work and we’ll figure out how to do it. We invested time and money into learning and purchasing the right equipment, software and training. I fulfilled my desire to learn a new craft and the agency extended its capabilities. Success for all.

5. Challenge
Challenge your employees to move beyond their comfort zones. Place them in situations where they need to take charge, learn a new method or speak in front of an audience. You don’t know what people are capable of until they are given the space and strong push to realize their potential. And, it’s difficult to foster creativity and innovation from a place of comfort and stagnation.

6. Eat together
Our company loves food — don’t most human beings? — yet eating lunch together is completely undervalued. Spending time with co-workers, talking about topics unrelated to work is great way to bond and get closer to the people you work with. If you can, get out of the office regularly for lunch and free your mind from the usual surroundings. Collaboration in a different environment opens a new world of creative thought for your staff.

7.  Celebrate wins and learn from mistakes
It’s hard work being successful—be grateful. When you have a big win, celebrate it and let everyone in the company know what a great job they or their colleagues did. They will appreciate it, might even feel competitive, and look forward to the next challenge and celebration. At the same time, make sure you constructively assess any mistakes and issues the team faced along the way. Having an environment in which people feel encouraged to reflect on what they and/or the team could have done better will keep you from repeating the same mistakes.

8. Have fun
If you’re not having fun and you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it will show in your creative work. I look forward to coming into work every day. Some days more than others, but I make sure to always have fun. This helps those around me have more fun and encourages more collaboration among team members.

It sounds easy—make the right moves and collect your pieces, but it never is. Not everyone can win every game, and few people can do it alone. But if you stick to the right practices and choose A-player teammates, you will turn many pawns into knights.

Adapting Our Behavior


A poison dart frog in Peru is evolving before our eyes. These frogs are showing a strong resemblance of two different species and researchers have reported that these frogs might be the first vertebrates ever observed splitting into two species because of distinct mimicry.

In the world of integrated marketing we are adapting every day. At HB, we are taking a new approach to how we present, concept, utilize modern technology and reach our audiences. Adapting behavior and looking for new inspiration, helps us focus in on new ideas. It keeps us on our toes and elicits friendly competition amongst ourselves.

Transforming the way we think about creative and how the end user will interact with our development opens a world of endless possibility.

Bringing Home the Hardware

At HB, our work illustrates and supports the stories our clients want to tell. Simply put, when we have a happy client, we consider it a job well done. However, highlighting some of these successful engagements is part of celebrating good work, and in doing so our Creative team recently won five awards!

Summit International Awards, Silver

Viewpointe “Command Your Content with Precision” Campaign


Viewpointe, one of the largest information technology service providers to regulated industries, needed to advance their sales. HB’s campaign generated awareness and leads, targeted at information management prospects, decision makers and influencers at a series of Viewpointe sponsored conferences. The Summit International Award (SIA) is an international competition, which offers participants the chance to showcase their talents alongside their peers.

Communicator Award, Gold

Jabil Circuit Inc. “Future Ready” Video

Jabil Circuit Inc. needed help introducing audiences to a new offering: Intelligent Power Management (IPM). HB worked together with the Jabil team to communicate that power is a major operational cost and a critical business issue for wireless providers. IPM is the solution, as it works to  reduce power interruptions, handle today’s cell site power needs and prepare for the future. The Communicator Awards is the leading international awards program recognizing big ideas in marketing and communications. It honors work that transcends innovation and craft and the HB team is thrilled to receive it for our engagement with Jabil.


Communicator Award, Silver

Cleantech Open “Get Involved with the Cleantech Open” Video

This is a critical moment for the clean technology sector; we’re scaling the world to 10 billion people while doubling the size of the consuming class, and it’s up to clean technology to help mitigate these effects. This video showcases leading industry figures as they discuss our current situation and how the mission of the Cleantech Open. HB’s Communicator Award speaks to our successful partnership with CTO in order to convey the role it plays in addressing today’s most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges.

Telly Award, Bronze

Intelligent Power Management™ “Future Ready” Video

The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring the finest film and video productions, groundbreaking web commercials, videos and films, and outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs. Intelligent Power Management (IPM) is the flexible power control system designed to reduce power interruptions, handle today’s cell site power needs and prepare for the future. HB’s Bronze award acknowledges our success in explaining how IPM enables remote monitoring of power usage to help providers manage, prevent, predict and fix problems while integrating renewable energy sources.