The Fourth Wall

2.11.15 May the Force (of iBooks) be with You.


I had the distinct pleasure and thrill to work on an exciting exhibit developed by the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibtion Service (SITES), in a partnership with Lucas Films. Rebel / Jedi / Princess / Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume opened last month at Seattle’s EMP Museum to much excitement, fanfare and terrific press.


designfarm was responsible for the design and production of the interactive/digital exhibition pieces including 3 mounted slide shows, and 4 interactive iBooks residing on iPads built into the exhibit panels. Giving visitors a fun hands-on experience, the iPads deliver auxiliary content such as video, audio, extensive image galleries, pop-up images and quizzes as shown on the pages you see in this post.

The video above provides a fantastic overview of the entire exhibit, with iPads seen in use at approximately 2:43.


Affordable kiosks to securely house interactive iPad exhibits are available for the small museum seeking to use this technology without custom building. Access to the home button and internet are disabled in the exhibit setting while still providing an engaging touch-pad experience for users.


Engage your visitors, young and old… entertain and inform with dynamic content… educate by offering memorable interactive quizzes… so much is possible in using the iBook delivery format in the museum and gallery setting, or as a sales tool in business meetings. Not sure whether you need an ePub or an iBook? Need details about device compatibility? Get in touch to learn more and consider bringing the force of these creative tools to your exhibition or collateral materials.


9.13.12 The Name of the Game… is Design?

This is a blog post about a word. Should you read this article? Clue: If the name of your marketing communications practice contains the word DESIGN, or you are a client who hires communications professionals that you generally call DESIGNERS, this may be relevant to you.

Let’s start with a dictionary definition of the word DESIGN:

de·sign [dih-zahyn]
verb (used with object)

1. to prepare the preliminary sketch or the plans for (a work to be executed), especially to plan the form and structure of: to design a new bridge.

2. to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully.

3. to intend for a definite purpose: a scholarship designed for foreign students.

4. to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan: The prisoner designed an intricate escape.

5. to assign in thought or intention; purpose: He designed to be a doctor.

I would argue with the language and ordering of the five parts of the above definition ( But that’s only a fraction of the problem. It’s abundantly clear, if you read these five statements carefully, that defining DESIGN is difficult. It’s blurry, unclear. Is it art? Form? Structure? We don’t see the word strategy, but we do see the words planning and forming (perhaps gentler terms for strategy?). Probably the most powerful word used in this definition is conceive.

The same line, number 4. also states that design engages the mind. I would assert that this is the heart of the matter of defining DESIGN, but is in fact sadly obscured in the marketplace/space.

The best (most effective/strategic) tagline I’ve ever heard for a design firm, developed around the same time as safe-sex condom messages were abundant in the public sphere: Practice safe design, use a concept. (Editor: Quote attributed to Petrula Vontrikis). Even condoms can be conceptual: pictured above is the measuring condom by Condometric (sorry, not available in the US).

There are many disciplines of design. Fashion, architectural, interiors, landscape design. And, the business I have been engaged in for over 25 years, graphic… design. Some of these practices have licensing bodies, and one — where the safety of human life is at stake (architecture) — has extremely rigorous licensing. Licensing in graphic design has been a long conversation with no definite conclusion. From where I stand, a license will not make the difference needed in shifting perception. Nothing less than a complete redefinition, repositioning, and yes, marketing strategy for the practice of graphic design is called for.

No one has ever died from a misuse of Helvetica. On the other hand, it could be argued that a certain presidential election was won/lost due to a certain ballot DESIGN. Remember the butterfly? (Wallet pictured above available from wedraw).

So, what’s a business owner / practitioner of DESIGN to do? Is it necessary to change the name of my practice from designfarm to marketfarm? thinkfarm? brainfarm? Nah, I don’t think it’s really the issue. Right now, this morning, I do want to put this conversation out there into the marketspace. What do DESIGNERS do? If you are a designer, what do you really sell to your clients? Are you choosing helvetica over ariel? Really? Is that all?

If, as a communications director, you hire designers, what are you asking of them? Can you or a young staff person choose helvetica over ariel? Of course, you most certainly can (and should!), it’s right there in your font list! And may I kindly suggest that if this is primarily what you are demanding of your designers — in-house or independent — you are probably (hopefully) getting your budget’s worth.

But, consider for a moment that you could be doing so much more for your organization, its mission, its goals. Consider hiring a designer as a marketing partner, an experienced communications strategizer, who researches your position, crafts your message, defines your goals and then exceeds your expectations for executing powerful visuals that inspire and motivate your audience… and, get RESULTS. It isn’t apples-to-apples with your font-chooser or image-arranger, and you will pay more for these services. My next post will address how to hire designers, exactly what to look for to make certain that you do get the proper ROI.

7.30.09 A Beautiful, Intimate Affair

While some events are high-tech, designed for the cutting-edge Internet policy crowd (see the post before last) others are steeped in gorgeous, late 19th century art. The Phillips Collection Annual Gala is one such event.

The first step in the process is a Save the Date postcard, designed and printed many months before the other materials. At this stage a visual language is established, one that is flexible enough to carry across multiple pieces in a campaign. On the the photo above, taped to a press sheet of the postcards, you can see  sketched ideas for two invitation formats. . The vertical booklet format became the program, while the more dynamic, horizontal became the invite.

Held in the beautiful galleries on 21st street, The Gala is the museum’s major annual fundraising event, affording patrons an incredible opportunity to dine amongst the masterpieces, including Dancers at the Bar, by Degas, this year’s key image for the event. designfarm‘s challenge in working with an intensely iconic, highly recognizable, and undeniably gorgeous painting, was to find a way to both respect and bring a fresh context to the work.

Of course, in my mind, it seems tough to go wrong when working with the palette of a brilliant master. Ultimately though, I’m proud of striking that perfect balance and I believe there are many years of experience behind these kinds of confident decisions.

Did you know that when The Phillips Collection opened in 1921, it was America’s first modern art museum? I highly recommend a visit where you will “encounter superb works of modern art in an intimate setting.”

3.31.09 A Not-So-Washington Washington Event

Some things about event design are very different these days and some things have remained the same over time. One aspect that never changes: A well-branded event ensures that an organization’s message is put forward with clarity and power.

The Center for Democracy & Technology held their annual Gala dinner event recently. It all started with an e-invitation (shown above), saving paper, postage, and allowing for iterations as sponsor committees grew. This is also extremely appropriate for a forward-thinking Internet policy leader like CDT.

Entering the venue, the Gala typography and message–Leading the Internet in Transition–greets guests and sets the tone for an exciting evening.

The event program and a laptop sticker give-away carry the graphical elements from the e-vite to each place setting at over 60 tables.

Color-coordinated centerpieces are a nice touch.

CDT’s tagline–written by Leslie Harris, President– is an excellent example of summarizing a complex organization’s message into a few powerful words. We projected the tagline to the left and right of the main stage at the event.

For the main stage, the event’s theme and the essential elements of CDT’s tagline are combined as a simple but effective backdrop and worked well behind keynote speakers Chairman Jon Leibowitz (FTC) and US Congressman Rick Boucher (Chair of the Subcommitte on Communications, Technology and the Internet). Best of all… that blazing hot red electric guitar! Yes, a group from the tech-community, including CDT founder Jerry Berman on drums–took the stage and rocked the house!

It was really an exciting, lively evening that–most importantly–met CDT’s goal for forwarding their message and agenda.

To view CDT’s previous Gala materials visit the designfarm portfolio.

11.20.08 Let’s Go on a Field Trip!

No, not to some futuristic alien-infested location straight outta your favorite sci-fi novel… in fact, we’re going to take a trip into the Past, the Present, and the Future. Simultaneously. Without a time machine! Designers have dubbed this adventure The Press Inspection, and with increasing rarity in our cost-conscious, hyper-paced profession, I relish these opportunities to visit favorite local print shops where good old-fashioned American industrial manufacturing meets frighteningly cutting-edge digital technology. The alienesque photo above? We’ll get to that in a minute. Or two. But first: How did we end up here on a gray day in November?

Today’s field trip actually begins on the other side of the world in a small children’s residential school called Yemin Orde Youth Village, near Haifa, Israel. Founded in 1953 to accommodate Holocaust orphans during the great immigration waves of the fifties, today the 77-acre campus is home to more than 500 children from war-torn and otherwise devastated countries around the world.

Crossing the ocean quickly to Washington, DC, a small office in an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue, we find one of designfarm‘s longterm clients, Friends of Yemin Orde. The American-based fundraising arm of the Israeli youth village, FYO financially supports the programs, the children, and the graduates of the school, as well as other disenfranchised youth who are served by outreach programs.

Next stop, a small unassuming brick building facade in Baltimore, Maryland, home of one of The Whitmore Group‘s printing plants, Schneidereith & Sons (fine printing since 1849, 5 generations of printers). This will all come together, you’ll see.

Entering the building, the acrid but weirdly pleasant and somehow comforting smell of printer’s ink threatens to potentially knock you out… until your senses adjust. And as soon as you get past the front office, you know that as a designer you are about to enter another world all together, far from your  groovy little office with its cheap-&-chic Ikea furnishings and an Apple computer or two; a world with a rich century-hopping history AND incredibly up-to-the-minute digital technologies. This is where the rubber meets the road the ink hits the paper. Yet, it’s so ultra-sparkling clean you could eat off the floor.

Just down that long shiny hallway and slightly to the left, is housed one of the most monstrous printing presses you’ve ever seen. The Heidleberg Speedmaster XL-105-41 (at a prices topping 3 million dollars, you may want to buy one used here) is just that… a fiercely speedy piece of German engineering, which when fully revved up will put 18,000 6-color impressions of your project onto paper per hour. A run of 750 pocket folders for Friends of Yemin Orde (two sides!) is completed in about half an hour. And I get to watch!

In fact I am invited to climb aboard the beast (I stupidly ask: Do I need a hard hat? Because I’ve always wanted to wear one…) where I am able to witness–close up and personal–the fact that despite the amazing computer technologies running this badboy… it’s still a lot of beautifully messy gloppy wet inks being laid down with perfection onto luscious bright white paper. The image at the top of this post shows the front end of the press where said paper begins its ridiculously fast journey.

The real reason I am there of course, is NOT to climb around the equipment squealing with genuine excitement and taking photos so I can write another endless (but fascinating, right?) blog post. It’s so I can do the job I am paid for by my client, the aforementioned press inspection.

We will look through a magnifying glass called a loop, refer to our Pantone color guides, check our ink draw downs (for this project, we had ink specially mixed and tested because we wanted something we just couldn’t exactly find amongst Pantone’s 6000 choices)… all to make absolutely certain that the end product is drop-dead gorgeous and will perfectly support our client as they approach donors for millions of dollars on behalf of the children of Yemin Orde (we call this full-circle).

But wait, there’s more.

While I’m at Schneidereith & Sons, “on press” as we say, I am treated to a few other eye-popping lessons in modern printing. Lying around the Epson Digital Press (a machine 1/10th the size of that Heidleberg but pretty impressive in its own right) are sheets from another of our projects. At right, designfarm‘s post-move updated business cards, along with former business partner, computer consulting experts MacLab‘s promotional folder inserts… looking so… well, Warholian.

Left, is a lovely water color painting. Do printers paint too?? Maybe. But this in fact is not a painting. It’s a high-end digital reproduction, output on archival canvas. A legal fake! Whoa! How’d they do that?

Turns out, The Whitmore Group has been doing a lot of that lately. Pictured left, the beautiful Hasselblad H3D 39-Megapixel Medium Format Digital camera (German engineering again, and with a price tag of $32,000 this ain’t no Powershot, ok?) with which ancient works of fine art are photographed, including many important corporate and government portraits, in order to create amazingly authentic reproductions on archival canvas. (Memo to self: If graphic design career tanks, think forgery, ebay, &tc. JUST KIDDING!).

Pictured right, Whitmore’s digital reproduction of a painting of Paul Morton, Secretary of the Navy, 1904-1905 with whom my rep, one Joseph Wagner, shares a certain uncanny bald-guy-with-bushy-moustache resemblance. Joe, and his moustache, have been in the industry for 30+ years. Talk about expertise. And in case you don’ t know, printing experts are truly an endangered species of sorts. Which is why we value the partnership with the few and the proud, like Mr. Wagner. And his moustache.

Not to get all sentimental or anything, but there is a definite price–and I’m not talking just monetary–to all of these present and futuristic advances in what was once a vibrant outgrowth of industrial-revolution America. If you are of a certain age (who me?), as you are escorted through the pristine plant, you remember a time when instead of the muted hum of enormous and enormously sophisticated machines, there was a constant deafening noise… and there were people (wearing ear plugs). Lots and lots and lots of people. Whole huge shifts worth of apprentice and master pressmen, plate-makers and strippers (NOT THAT KIND)… to name a few of the profession’s occupational casualties. So although this blogging queen loves watching technology march on, I acknowledge that there are losses. And it does make me sad.

But let’s end on a cheery note. Thank goodness we can still smell that ink in the air. Because baby, when that goes, I am SO outta here.

10.29.08 Chucks Rock

File this post under Great design never goes out of style, but more importantly, under How a seemingly unrelated object from the world we live in makes its way into our professional design lives. A perfect example of how cultural phenomena in sports, fashion, music and yes, even graphic design, can converge in an effective and meaningful way.

But first, some back story. Waaaay back.

The history of the shoe pictured above (my red hightops) is a history of 20th century America; too long to document in this post.

Briefly, Converse rubber-soled All-Stars basketball shoe was first produced in 1917 and quickly made famous by the brand’s namesake, Hoosier player Charles Taylor who became the shoe’s best salesman/evangelist. Other highlights on the shoe’s resumé include: 1939 | The fist NCAA championship basketball tournament was held. Both teams wore Converse All Stars, 1950’s | The shoe becomes popular with rockabilly fans and other music subculture types, 1970’s | The Ramones popularize the shoe for punk rockers and teenage girls wear them in high school hallways all over America (back then mine cost under $20 and my daughter Molly age 10 just bought her first pair), 1990’s | Another music-related resurgence of the retro style within Seattle’s grunge culture and, 2000’s | Spotted on fashion models, hipsters, in music videos, and all over the streets of most major cities worldwide. You just can’t keep this shoe down!

So. When we located the image pictured left for a Friends of the Library membership development brochure design, I rewrote the publication’s title in order to employ the image most effectively. As can happen, the combination of a great image and a great headline is often too tempting to resist. This became the winning comp in the series.

I’m happy to announce that the brochure delivered yesterday and they are gorgeous. From the client: “Our brochures are phenomenal, and I mean phenomenal! From me: YAY!!!! And, HOW FUN!

While I may always favor some version of the classic black and white…

I will also occasionally fall hard for something as utterly silly as those pictured above. I love ‘em but something tells me that glittery unicorns is not quite what hoops-star Charles Taylor had in mind back in 1917. Do you have a favorite pair of Chucks? Send us a photo and we’ll do a recap of this post.

Want to join the club? Visit to find pages and pages of styles in many fabrics, colors, and prints, including collaborations with major designers such as Ed Hardy and John Varvatos. Jodi’s shopping tip for you women out there… raid the kids department for $AVING$.

10.9.08 A Palette for the Season

Sometimes color enters my life in waves; the colors of the natural and manmade environments, colors I’m wearing, and the colors that work their way into designfarm’s projects. It’s fall here in the Mid-Atlantic region and although our trees and gardens still show lots of green, the olivine shades feel older — perhaps more sophisticated — than the saturated new-birth greens of spring. Leaves are turning orange, red, and yellow. The sunlight is warm and really does (despite the seemingly trite nature of this sentiment) cast a golden glow. Gray shadows are long, the sky is clear and blue.

The brochure above (3-panels pictured flat), designed for Friends of the Library, Montgomery County unconsciously brought just these colors into a print context.

A pair of earrings I designed for a client’s fall wedding a year ago reflect the same delicious tones.

A new logo for VisArts was presented in gray + yellow/green. Other solutions featured gray + orange. The client chose orange as the second color. Which do you respond to?

My favorite addition to a more obvious fall palette are certain shades of blue. Offering, like the sky at this time of year, a crisp counterpoint to all of that lush warmth. Earrings above purchased last weekend.

All of these colors — blue, gray, orange, yellow — came together in the branding for an exhibit at The Phillips Collection. Watch the DC Metro for the diorama pictured above.

This time of year always finds me knitting. It’s probably a nesting urge, but also satisfies my ever-present need to have busy hands that are making things. Most of the yarn I use is handspun; sometimes using wool collected from the artisan’s own sheep. I love watching the colors interact and since my skills don’t go much beyond easy-peasy scarves, I favor fussy, textural yarns with lots of thicks and thins. This skein, purchased from Folktale Fibers, came with pom-poms attached.

What’s your palette this season? Once you start noticing, it will suddenly appear everywhere you look.


It’s that time again for you to be the judge! But first, let us reveal the answer from the previous post for Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy. THE CORRECT ANSWER IS: b

Concept of cover: Typography emphasizes the Case Study nature of the material, with a powerful 4-color image of a ball of tangled colored wire. Image suggests the complexity of the material and suggests that the course addresses Foreign Policy in all of it’s multi-faceted, intertwining dimensions.

ONTO THE NEXT COVER PROJECT FROM THIS ONGOING SERIES: Just in case you missed the first one, here is a recap on participation. Please pick the book cover that you think the client selected for publishing. . We are showing you six directions for a book cover design, including the one the client chose. We’ll include a short blurb on the project to help you contextualize and understand the problem and our solutions. Let us know which cover you like and why you think it is effective. In a few weeks we will reveal the answer! Want to think like a designer? Then yes, your visceral reaction counts… which cover do you simply like best? But while the winning solution must certainly look good (whatever that means), it must also be most effective in communicating content and (duh) selling books.

Here’s the info for the image pictured above:

Title: Engines of Democracy

Subtitle: Politics and Policymaking in State Legislatures

Publisher: CQ Press An independent publisher advancing democracy by informing citizens.

Synopsis: This is a book that could work as a supplement in both state politics and legislative process courses. We also plan on selling to state legislators for training and educational programs. Rosenthal describes state legislatures as the “engines of democracy” because they (and not the executive or the judiciary) tug and pull a heavy load, uphill much of the way. Like the children’s story of the little engine that could, the legislature usually delivers the goods—a mixed bag, depending largely on one’s tastes. The legislature, however, upon its arrival is far more likely to be greeted by jeers than by cheers. The cover should reflect Alan’s hands-on approach and it can be a bit whimsicaL

5.30.08 Tee + Journal = FUN

Everyone who knows me knows I love clothes. Never completely content with the work of (most) other designers, I’ve been creating my own clothes for a long time. Sadly, I can’t sew worth a dang! But that, my friends, has not stopped my creativity… oh, noooooo. This little hurdle only means that my designs must be constructed from found bits and pieces, embellished, recycled, deconstructed, reconstructed.

Now that this kind of patched-together DIY fashion is all the trend, I’m happy to be able to make things not just for myself, but for other people too. The dear monsters from designfarm’s little sister company, were chosen to grace our fun, recycled-wallpaper altered composition book journals. But in my mind they were always begging–in their text-message kinda way–to be printed onto clothing!

Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I can thrift like nobody’s business. So off to Value Village we went (on a Thursday… 25% off!) to snag some adorable, gently used clothing that fit within the MR2W design aesthetic. Bright-colored tees…

Pink-striped drawstring pajama’s…

And super fun kid-friendly gear.

Each one-of-a-kind article of clothing is bundled with a mismatched (but adorably so!) journal and for each combo sold, we’ll donate TWO composition books to our recipient school, Piney Branch Elementary, located just 2 blocks from the studio here in Takoma Park. We’re doing a small range of these and they are selling quick!

To see the clothing up close and personal, visit us later this month at Washington DC City Paper’s brand new Silver Spring CRAFTY BASTARDS crafts show at Pyramid Atlantic, Saturday June 28. We are proud to have been one of a small group of 50 vendors selected out of hundreds of applicants!

5.15.08 Full Circle

When bandleader/singer Roddy Frantz got in touch last week to discuss the design of a poster for the Urban Verbs upcoming gig, May 24 at the 930 Club, I knew my life in this profession had come full circle. The poster above, featuring the iconic photo of Chris Morse by Peter Muise and updated New-Wave-for-the-21st-century-logo by Bill Harvey, will be for sale at the show.

If, like me, you are of a certain age (ie, you graduated highschool in the 70’s), and you were living here in the Metro Area toward the end of that very decade, then you know about the legendary Urban Verbs… and you know that back then the now world-famous 930 Club was just a dank hole-in-the-wall called the Atlantis Club… located in the Atlantis Building at (you guessed it) 930 F Street. There were but a handful of bands at first, until the scene gained momentum.

And now, 30 years later, many of those bands are back in town and rockin’ hard. I’ve heard them jokingly refer to themselves as Geezer Rockers, but having attended some of the shows, I’m not buying that tag. Lest this turn into a 4-mile-long post on the early days of punk & New Wave in the Nation’s Capitol, suffice to say that my relationship to the bands of this era was as a member of a close-knit circle of co-conspirateurs and bona fide club kids. We ruled the nights, and the Urban Verbs + a few others wrote and played the soundtrack.

To get back to the point of this post, I also created some of the earliest Verbs gig flyers to paste around town. With photos we took ourselves AND printed in our home darkrooms. With xerox machines, press type, xacto knives and an ancient device called a waxer (don’t ask). Some efforts were better than others. The specimen above? NOT one of my best! To my credit, at the time I was studying photography and fine art at UMD, not design. And really, I just wanted a sulky, artsy self-portrait plastered around town.

A scant few years later I discovered my fine arts degree to be about as valuable in the job market as today’s real estate, so I began to actually learn the craft of design & production, on the job. I created the flyer pictured above for a little vintage clothing business called Flip Flop that I ran out of my big old house in Takoma DC. What you are seeing is the “mechanical,” a tissue-overlayed paste-up to be supplied to the printer. Photo of the beautifully iconic Dot Steck by husband/photographer/bass player Charles Steck.

Despite a hideous first job creating mechanicals for a Civil War reenactment magazine (!), I continued making photographs and printing them in a closet darkroom at home. Flip Flop moved to an antiques Emporium in historic downtown Frederick MD and was renamed That Girl! Photo by yours truly of the amazing Melissa Flipski, then a young teenager in a cool vintage dress.

Ahh, those really WERE the days. But, so are these. We’re still rockin’. Still wearin’ vintage. Still making photos. Life is good.