Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Politics aside… what do design, branding and political experts really think of President Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” red trucker hat? Some call it the worst design of 2016, while others say it was the most hated and most loved symbol of the 2016 election. But most industry designers and branding experts agree that the hat was horrifically designed but terrifically effective.

Here is a sampling of thoughts and comments from industry experts and political players on the topic of President Trump’s red trucker hat:

Lindsay Ballant,  Adjunct Professor – Maryland College of Art
“In a way, the fluke success of that hat was a rejection of ‘design thinking’ and ‘design strategy’ as a whole.” She added, “Designers should really think about that, because we’ve built a whole economy around that as a practice. We’ve sold ourselves on the premise that this is how things should be done.”

Ballant concluded, “It should be something that designers think about. Good design doesn’t necessarily mean effective design but most of all, it’s a lesson about the limitations of “good” design.”

Diana Budds – FastCodeDesign
“It was a poorly designed product that turned out to be very strong branding.” Budds added, “It’s a basic product, more likely than not, someone picked red since it’s the color for the Republican party, and basic Times New Roman lettering in white so it would stand out against the cap.”

Forest Young, Head of Design – Wolff Olins San Francisco
“While the hat is not good design, it is good branding and ten years from now, the winning charades team assigned the phrase ‘Presidential Election 2016’ would have simply mimed the motion of someone putting on a baseball cap.”

Make America Great Again Hat David Axelrod, Democratic Chief Political Strategist for President Obama
“What they were up against was nothing short of “a marketing genius.” Axelrod said, “Trump understood the market that he was trying to reach. You can’t deny him that. He was very focused from the start on who he was talking to.” He concluded, “In terms of galvanizing the market that he was talking to he did it single-mindedly and ingeniously.”

George Lois, Advertiser and Graphic Designer
George Lois, the renowned New York advertiser and graphic designer who conceived the “I Want My MTV” campaign in the early ’80s, said, “It’s very strong on a red cap. The red baseball cap implies that it’s kind of an American staple. It’s worn by real people.”

Philip Wegmann, Commentary Blogger – Washington Examiner
“An appropriate icon for his failing campaign.” Weggman added, “The millions of hats will make excellent keepsakes for those who thought his populist bravado could overcome Clinton’s unimaginative and conventional but well-oiled political machine.”

Charles P. Pierce, Political Writer – Esquire Magazine
“The hats may well go down as the Trump campaign’s only lasting contribution to the political history of the Republic. Laugh, clown, laugh.”

Dana Bash, CNN – Chief Political Correspondent
“He came around the corner and we all went, ‘Oh!’ – I really remember it vividly because it was like, ‘Oh, of course, he’s the master marketer. Why wouldn’t he put it on a hat?'”

Zachary Petit, Editor of Print Magazine
“In terms of aesthetics, I believe the hat fails spectacularly, but if the objective of design is to communicate and sell — it works wonders.”

Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst – NPD Market Research Group
“Selling branded apparel and accessories has another advantage that some say is more valuable than any profit made — marketing.” he added, “When a supporter buys and wears a candidate’s t-shirt, it’s a walking billboard. It’s better than people putting signs on somebody’s yard.” Cohen concluded, “A real life person who is endorsing you…it increases your power to politically market yourself ten-fold.”

Presidential Props
Here are dollar figures on what some of the most recent front-running presidential candidates spent on political marketing swag:

  • Barack Obama
    $1.3 million for t-shirts, posters and bumper stickers.
  • Bernie Sanders
    By May 2016: $8.5 million on merchandise. A “Baby for Bernie” bib sold for $15.
  • Hillary Clinton
    By May 2016: $1.4 million on merchandise. Hillary’s “Everyday Pantsuit Tee” sold for $30.
  • Donald Trump
    Between July 2015 and September 2016: $3.2 million on just hats. A “Make America Great Again!” hat sold for $25.

*Federal Election Commission Statistics via Business of Fashion.

Prominent Presidential Campaign Logos and Slogans

For other views on brand, design and politics please visit these Aha and The Emarketing Blog posts:

Obama & Romney Reach Agreement!
The Brand Management of Hate
Our Willingness To Believe

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You want to see the world’s most well-practiced and ridiculous eye roll? Play me a sappy country music song.

I see right through that charade – disingenuous, insipid and frankly offensive.

Cue. That. Eye. Roll.

To me, there are two kinds of emotional appeals in advertising and media.

First, the kind I’ve just mentioned — intended to make you cry.

I imagine the room of country music executives in sharkskin suits and cowboy hats (stay true to those roots!) in some Nashville high rise, sitting around a rich mahogany table coming up with the next sappy ballad.

It’s sole purpose is tears. And the reason they do it? It works. It works really well. It’s why Christmas Shoes became a made-for-tv movie.

But to me, I feel exploited. Toyed with. I lose trust in brands who take advantage of my tender heart.

(Think Sarah McLachlan Arms of the Angel ASPCA ad.)

The second is a different kind of emotional appeal. It’s the kind grounded in truth – in real caring. I don’t feel exploited, I just feel touched.

I experienced this recently with State Farm’s ad for its Neighborhood of Good service, which helps match you with local volunteer opportunities.

(The website is an awesome user experience. Great database of volunteer opportunities in various categories of caring. Stories of basketball players, musicians (see Usher’s) getting involved in their own community. Incredible work, bravo!)

A compassionate guy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders: at-risk youth, dog in need of love, polar bear in need of ice. Veterans. Homelessness. Poverty. Heavy. Weight. Adding. Up.

“You can lift the weight of caring, by doing.”

Perhaps this is still that emotional appeal just hiding itself better, sneakier than the first. Maybe they are still exploiting my emotions in a different way, but somehow it works better for me. And the reason is its genuineness.

A simple message. An emotional appeal. Done well.

In return, State Farm becomes a trusted brand, honing in on their hyper-localized agents, and better yet — some neighborhood good gets done.

Much like an ill-fitting or dated suit, companies and institutions with out-dated or poorly executed identities need to be aware of the perception their identity has in the markets they serve. Does your identity still fit your organization and what it does? Does it represent who you are? Is it time for a change, and if so, how can you be sure?

The best identities help to synthesize and crystallize a brand to their consumers.

From cave paintings dated 40,000 years ago to digital marvels created today, it is clear that humanity has, throughout history, continued to visually create symbols to trigger an emotion, a memory, a response. The definition of identity is listed as a condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, that distinguish or identify a person or thing. The importance and power of an identity cannot be understated.

While brands speak to the minds and hearts of followers, an identity and its visual essence resonate with the senses.


Company: Nike
Designer: Carolyn Davidson
Created: 1971
What it represents: Symbolizes the wing of Nike, Greek goddess of victory.
Back story: The designer used tissue paper to see if the identity designs she was creating looked good on the shoes she was designing it for.
Still in use.

When is a new identity needed?

The items listed below are a few of the reasons why a company or institution would want to invest in creating a new or revitalized identity. Changing your identity is both a time and financial commitment, and requires patience and diligence. But, much like that hand tailored suit, a good fitting identity will be worth the effort. If you consider the lifespan of a great, well done identity, the investment does pay off over time and will serve you well into the future.

Is it time for a change?

  • The name of your company changing
  • There is a trademark conflict with your existing identity
  • Your identity has a negative meaning in new markets being served
  • Your identity is misleading or confusing
  • Your company is merging with another

Is your current identity dated?

  • Your current brand needs to be revitalized
  • Your organization is no longer in the business in which it was founded
  • Your identity does not resonate with expanding market reach
  • Your identity no longer appeals to target audience(s)

Does your identity hold up?

  • Your identity does not hold up when compared to your competition
  • Your identity lacks visual consistency across applications or mediums
  • Numerous versions of your identity were created over time thus fracturing its integrity


Company: CBS
Designer: Bill Golden
Created: 1951
What it represents: An eye
Background: This design was specifically created to hold up well on television screens, a relatively new medium at the time in which it was created.
Still in use.


A new identity will empower your brand.

When you think of the identity’s reach (global), its many uses (print, digital, textiles, signage and so on), and the audiences it serves (internal, external, partners, buyers, donors, and so on), it’s clear to see that the investment will reap benefits. Once you have invested in a new identity, and, if you have selected a reliable partner to create your new identity, it will have the potential to empower your brand and all those who are affected by and connect to your brand.

Here’s what a new identity can do:

  1. Connects all of your constituents under a singular “flag”
  2. Will build equity for and throughout your organization
  3. Provides visual consistency across all mediums and channels where your brand is seen
  4. Builds confidence
  5. Authentically represents who you are


Company: Apple
Original Designer: Rob Janoff
Rainbow apple created: 1976; Monochromatic apple created 1998
What it represents: Knowledge
Background: The original rainbow designed apple was created to help humanize the company. The color bands were later dropped to enable the identity to hold up better across multiple applications and products, and it was less expensive to reproduce. The bite in the apple shape was included so it looked like an apple and not a cherry.
Still in use.



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Elliance recently worked with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) to brand and develop a new online magazine concept and design called ONS Voice.

The ONS digital magazine, partner to a monthly print edition, needed to accomplish several major objectives. As an inbound marketer, I was focused on:

  1. Effectively organizing and classifying years of existing content (while establishing a foundation for new content)
  2. Ensuring the site performs well in internal search, as well as in Google search

Addressing objective one:

To begin organizing content, I needed to first review existing articles/stories and place them into groups based on topics. Building these groups was no easy feat; not only was the volume of content I needed to classify massive (good work ONS!), but also cancer is a HUGE topic.

I needed to create a reasonably-sized list of groups, which would ultimately function as content topic “tags” within the content management system (in this case, Drupal 8). Building solid content relationships into a taxonomy was critical to…

Addressing objective two:

For related content to appear within the topic-based design we created in the ONS Voice site, each article, current and future, would need to be tagged.

I found that the task of tagging, which at first seemed simple, would present a few challenges. If there were too many tags in the taxonomy it could lead to a bad user experience because it was possible only one to two articles would appear under that tag. Conversely, if there were too few tags there would not be enough content filtration and a site visitor could be inundated with years’ worth of articles. The taxonomy that I created for ONS (based on keyword research and ranking potential) ended up at 142 unique tags to cover the entirety of the topic of cancer — from access to cancer care to U.S. Food and Drug Administration.Online magazine tags for SEO

By developing a solid internal taxonomy, the ONS Voice digital magazine will be better prepared for performing well in Google search. Not only did we create 142 topic pages (think 142 title tags, meta descriptions, h1s, alt tags, etc.) based on critical cancer subjects, we uncovered areas of ONS thought leadership. Focusing on these areas of expertise and bringing them to the forefront with optimized and categorized articles will provide higher visibility in search results, and added value to the oncology nursing community.

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As the standards bearer of advanced cancer care, the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) wanted to create a communications platform that positions them as the go-to thought leader in all matters concerning oncology nursing. To realize this goal, Elliance and ONS reinvented their online publication as an always-on, always-fresh news, views and advocacy engine, called ONS Voice.

The ONS Voice includes three key innovations: First, a proprietary tagging system was developed that automatically groups the most popular articles and advocacy issues into trending topics. Second, keywords were “baked” into all articles to elevate their rankings on Google. And finally, smart forms of advertising opportunities were created to make the magazine self-sustaining and drive revenue.

Association Magazine Website Design

This association magazine website design incorporates all the learnings and smarts of the Carnegie Mellon Today university magazine we had launched last year i.e. mobile-first simplicity, stories juiced by SEO keywords, deepening of the brand, and optimal integration of digital and print. However, we went a little further with ONS Voice in several ways:

1. We concurrently designed the print and digital versions of ONS Voice, mutually informing each other at every design step.
Association Magazine Print Design

2. While Carnegie Mellon Today online magazine was developed using open-source Umbraco, we developed ONS Voice with open-source Drupal 8 simply because Drupal is the choice of content management systems for ONS.

3. As a university magazine, Carnegie Mellon Today was advertising-free. As a trade association, trade advertising is the primary means of funding and sustaining the magazine. ONS Voice print and digital versions both support ads in various formats such as traditional banners, full page ads, sponsored content, advertorials, etc.

Over the next few weeks, several Elliance team members who collaboratively launched the project will write a series of blog posts that will reveal the thinking behind the strategy, design, interactive technology, and integrated advertising that now powers the ONS Voice.

To enjoy the online version of ONS Voice, please click here.

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That's Convenient.

As a Millennial, I have been fortunate enough to reap the benefits of the invent of the internet for basically my entire life. While I do know of a world without the internet, smart phones, and Jimmy Johns online ordering system, I recognize the value that these seemingly small conveniences add to my life.

Flashback to the fall of 1997. It’s an ordinary Monday morning and my mom’s getting me ready for my first day of Kindergarten. How will she know exactly what time it’s going to rain today? Will I need my rain boots for recess? Will she know what time to leave to beat the traffic and ensure that I’m not late for my very first day as a kindergartener? After all, Waze won’t be invented for nearly another decade! If we get a flat tire on the way to said school, how will she call for help without the Progressive roadside assistance app, let alone, a cell phone?

The truth is, she managed. And everything was fine…

We often take for granted the incredible conveniences that technology bestows on our lives — the apps that are dedicated to simply making our lives easier. Helping moms prepare their kindergarteners for Mother Nature’s afternoon plans and helping business teams like ours operate more efficiently.

This year, Elliance is embracing the small conveniences that design and project management apps can offer our processes. Introducing Basecamp, SlickPlan, Sketch and inVision has already improved our team’s internal effectiveness.

Like a new puppy, I am embracing each of these apps with open arms. Here are a few of my favorite conveniences:

  • Most of these apps are entirely web based. This means I can access them from anywhere I have an internet connection. Which is pretty much everywhere these days, except maybe Cherry Springs State Park, which has horrible cell service, btw.
  • They’ve thought about your clients too! Apps designed by people like us, for us means that they’ve thought about the same things we think about. How can this app that improves my workflow also benefit my clients? SlickPlan and inVision offer read-only options that are great for sharing with external audiences.
  • Low learning curve. These app are incredibly easy to use. I mastered most of them in a few days of use. Although Sketch, the most complex of the four, is still teaching me things after a couple months of use. It’s so easy, a caveman could do it.

Elliance offers a few products that may be able to provide your business some convenience too. Ask us about how our Ennect suite could improve your processes.

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In December of 2016, started testing a new article site design. One of their designers Jason Santa Maria tweeted their test page, along with a  blog post introducing the new design approach. The new layout was sleek and simple, but I was personally drawn towards the articles hero image and title.

The hero section refers to the top section of the page, usually with a large eye catching image and title. I wanted to talk about section and some of the smart design decisions that were made by Slate when thinking and designing ‘mobile first’. For publications like Slate, mobile traffic makes up a majority of their page views, so focusing on this experience is an obvious choice.

Traditionally, the standard hero image is usually wider than it is tall to match the aspect ratio of the desktop device. This ‘desktop first’ approach when scaled to a mobile screen size through responsive development yields a rather short image that once had a great impact on larger devices. This loss of visual impact is usually undesirable.

What Slate has done is to start with the mobile design,  find what ratio works best for the design on a smaller device, and then designs the desktop with that image ratio in mind.

On desktop, they are moving the articles title to the right of the image, avoiding other common issues such as the title being below the desktops ‘fold’ or text floating over the image in undesirable places (ie. over a subject’s face).

Not only does this design decision benefit the visual aesthetics of the mobile sizes, but because the desktop image does not need to be full width meaning that you can use a smaller image file.

The image of Stevie Wonder Slate is using is a 885 x 900px JPEG, in the traditional hero model that image would have to be roughly 1770 x 900px and potentially doubling the data needed to load the image. For a majority of site, the largest amount of asset downloaded by the visitor is usually the images, minimizing the largest of these images will greatly increase performance, which in turn will reduce bounce rates and increase user satisfaction.

This isn’t the perfect solution, or the only solution. Responsive image, css wizardry, and future compression scripts can all be a better solution for your particular project.  Slate’s layout shows that a slight design decision can not only solve visual constraints in this multi-device world, but can also improve the end user’s experience.

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As I waited in the supermarket checkout lane the other day and took in the tabloid headlines, it occurred to me that fake news isn’t new at all. We’ve been inundated with it for decades.

However, given our recent election, it appears that what’s new is that more and more of us are beginning to believe it.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Many called it the age of skepticism, and given the era we had every right to not accept at face value everything we read, heard and were told. In high school “Skeptic” magazine supplemented my History classes and Social Studies discussions. We were taught how to read between the lines, look for bias, and understand how context and events shape points of view.

Somewhere along the way our skepticism has devolved into a willingness to believe. How in the world did this happen?

Things began to change in the 80s. Waiting nervously in the lobby of Ketchum Advertising for my first job interview in 1981, I happened to look down at the cover of Advertising Age sitting on the end table beside me. Its headline read “Will Advertisers Ever Come to Cable?”

Until then I had grown up with NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS. The news was the news and the shows were the shows. Back then, there was no such thing as a “news show.”

Cable changed the game fast. It was no longer the rural, community message board. CNN was born. HBO was born. MTV was born. Communications concepts that could never have happened on network TV were thriving on cable. People flocked to them and so did advertisers, but with cable programming the whole idea of broadcast narrowed a bit.

What was once mass messaging was becoming targeted to the specific demographics and market segments that cable networks served up to advertisers. Values and life styles mattered. The voice of the consumer mattered. “King Customer” was born. Little did I know then, but the stage had been set.

Fast forward to the internet. Lots and lots and lots more channels. Something for absolutely everybody, but our collective, shared experience of media had changed. It had become fragmented and highly individualized. Those days when almost every American could tell you what somebody like Walter Cronkite had to say were long gone.

Fast forward to Google. My search results differ from yours because they’re based on my personal search history. I am being cocooned, and so are you. The content I find and ask to have delivered to me no longer shapes my beliefs, it merely validates and reinforces them.

Fast forward to Social Media. Everybody has become their own personal network. We constantly broadcast our opinions, which are reinforced by what we find in our media cocoon to support them.

We are getting angrier with those who don’t agree with us. We can’t understand how they could have possibly come to the opinions they have. We cut them off. We unfriend them. We are a nation divided.

Fake news is not just a clever prank. It’s an insidious one. It’s delivered to us through media that isn’t wholly liberal or conservative. Media is marketing and as it’s become democratized over the past 35 years, marketers have gotten more sophisticated. Information science is central to how hearts and minds are moved today. Yet for all the complexity, it all boils down to this:

  • Know the attitudes and behaviors of the people you want to reach.
  • Then tailor your messages to what those people are willing and wanting to believe.

My belief is that given where media and marketing are moving, there is a fundamental question that all marketers and consumers should be asking in times like these.

Is America still The Land of The Free?

Get Your Twitter Tuned Up

So now that 2017 is in full flap, let’s jump right in and get that bird tuned up and singing on key. Here is some Twitter 411 to help with your social media marketing this year. This information is general knowledge and commonplace among social media marketers and Twitter jockeys everywhere and is not part of some secret social media cabal or in this case… flock.  So go ahead and take full advantage of these tips and information to make your manufacturing marketing or higher education social media campaigns fly higher this year.


Number of times users saw the Tweet on Twitter.

Total number of times a user interacted with a Tweet.  For example clicks anywhere on the Tweet which include:
– retweets
– replies
– follows
– likes
– hashtags
– embedded media
– profile and more

Engagement rate:
Number of engagements divided by impressions.

People who have chosen to follow your Twitter account and are most likely interested in your tweets and content.

Equivalent to a like on Facebook.

Times a user retweeted the Tweet.

Times a user replied to the Tweet.

User Profile Clicks:
Clicks on the name, @handle, or profile photo of the account author.

Hashtag #:
A hashtag is used to index keywords or topics on Twitter.  A hashtag starts with a # symbol.

A Twitterstorm is a sudden spike in activity among Twitter Users in relation to a certain topic on Twitter.  And it’s just cool to say.


Using the Twitter symbol “@” initiates targeted replies as they focus on a specific twitter handle. Example @ennect or @elliance.

Use a . before an @ so the Tweet can be seen by others besides the targeted twitter handle.

Twitter has a 140 character limit – photos and links are no longer counted as part of the 140.

Twitter Moments shows important and trending stories that are happening on Twitter.

Twitter History

First Tweet – March 2006:
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet ever—”just setting up my twttr.”

First Hashtag – August 2007:
#barcamp, used for the global technology gatherings called Barcamp

First Pope – December 2012:
Pope Benedict Joins Twitter @Pontifex

First to 1 million followers – April 2009:
Ashton Kutcher @aplusk

First Tweet from Space – January 2010:
Astronaut TJ Creamer “Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station — the 1st live tweet from Space! ?? More soon, send your ?s” @Astro_TJ

Twitter Royalty – July 2013:
2 million tweets awaited the birth of Prince George #RoyalBaby

Biggest Sporting Event – June 2014:
The 2014 World cup was the biggest sporting event for Twitter – 627 million tweets

Tweets per Minute – February 2016:
Leonardo Dicaprio’s win at the 2014 Oscars ignited 440,000 tweets per minute @LeoDiCaprio

Presidential Tweets – As of January 2017
President Obama @POTUS had 13.4 million Twitter followers and tweeted 341 times
President Trump @realDonaldTrump had 19.6 million Twitter followers and over 34,000 Tweets

To learn more about Twitter, check out these posts from The Emarketing Blog:

  • Fishing Tactics for the Twittersphere
  • Show some Tweet, Tweet Love on Social Media with Twitter’s New Bursting Heart Icon
  • Growing Up Twitter
  • Are Twitter Hashtags Polluting The Social Media Digital Beach?
  • #hashtag your way to increased event traffic and registration


*Image Attribute:

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Anyone who has ever suffered through a migraine knows the symptoms: headache, distorted vision, irritability, dizziness, nausea, etc. Anyone who has ever gone through a website content migration has probably experienced some of these same symptoms.

Whether we all like it or not, in the world of digital media content migration is a necessary evil. Actually, strike that, it is a necessary good. Without the ability to perform a migration, all content would have to be manually copied from the current content management system (CMS) or entered manually into the new system.

As with migraines, the key to a headache-free migration is prevention. The most important preventative steps are to understand:

  • how your content is represented in the source system;
  • how you would like it represented in the destination system; and
  • how you will you need to process or transform the content while moving it.

Once you have defined these three points in detail, you have essentially defined your migration path.

We recently performed a migration for a client and, while considering the above steps, determined some other things you might want to consider:

  • images, documents, and other static assets;
  • comments to any posts or articles you’d like to preserve;
  • users (site users, bloggers, comment authors, etc);

With careful planning and a well-considered migration path, a lot of work (and headaches) can be avoided.

Know the tell-tale signs. If you are changing domains, hosting providers, or replacing your CMS, you may be headed for a migration. If you feel the onset of a migration, don’t panic. Seek professional help. You don’t have to go through it alone.

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