Brand ROI: Where the Intangible Is Priceless

Brand ROI: Intangible, Priceless

Whether you've put great effort into it or none at all, I can promise you this: You do have a brand. The question is, do you have control of it?

This is something too many small companies forget: Your brand is your business's identity, no matter how intentional or unintentional it may be. Even if you completely ignore it, you can't not have an identity. Your customers and potential customers are forming impressions of you – both consciously and unconsciously.

So, if your logo is old, dated or poorly conceived … If your marketing materials are confusing or difficult to read … If your storefront needs painting … This tells your audience something about your business. Your job is to make sure the impression being made is clear, authentic and inviting. 

Businesses that are afraid to invest in branding tend to naively believe that the inherent value of their offering or product should be enough – that it will speak for itself. But if people aren't enticed at first blush, they'll never find out what your offering is. Don't make them have to stop and think about whether they want to find out about you. Be welcoming!

How do we know it's working?

First of all, if anyone tries to sell you on the idea that they can measure the ROI on brand development in real dollars, run away very fast. They either don't know what they're doing or they're lying. Sorry, folks, but the elusiveness of being able to quantify a brand's worth in hard cash is one of those things that must be accepted as a given. It's like making friends at a party. You can't analyze or prove exactly why you click with someone. Was it the clothes? A good mood? Great background music? Was your moon in Aquarius? We can tell when circumstances line up well, but we can't always tell why, and in a lot of cases trying to pick it apart ends up killing the vibe altogether.

On one hand, marketing programs – methods by which you get your message out – can often be measured and calculated with actual math. That's because there is a specific action or set of actions being taken during a limited timeframe, and tracking systems can be put into place to help analyze outcomes with a degree of precision. If done well, you can draw a fairly straight line between marketing dollars spent and resulting revenue.

On the other hand, with branding, you have to sort of feel your way. It is truly an art, where marketing can be more of a science.

You know it's working by the way people react, which can take a long time to process and can only be authentically observed after brand development is complete and launched. There are no perfect tests to be done in advance. In this sense, every branding choice – including doing nothing – is a risk. Fortunately, there are some pretty good ways to help ensure good outcomes.

Go Pro

Professional brand developers and designers are like good doctors or piano teachers. They are experienced specialists who are hired primarily based on reputation and referrals. We don't ask for documented patient stats from ever doctor we see, and piano teachers don't distribute graphs representing the rates by which their students go on to attend conservatories. We intuit the value of these types of professionals based on their ability to communicate, their proven experience, and what we hear about them from others.

Rest assured, putting your faith in the hands of professional branding experts does not mean you are giving up the reigns. It simply gives you the best possible guidance, with greater assurance that your business will be viewed and received the way you want it to be. With the right team, your newer, better brand will evolve from the unique knowledge you bring to the process, as expertly styled by the experience, perspectives and talents of your branding contractor.

Start Now. And Don't Rush It.

If you know you're in need of new branding, delaying the process won't gain you anything. Even if your budget isn't settled yet, it's never too early to start with a consultation. You may wish to meet with a number of experts to compare chemistry. Once you've identified the brand development team you want to work with, they can help you strategize all aspects of the project, including costs, processes and all interim deadlines from conception through rollout. The security and value you'll gain by taking these steps will be well worth it.

On the other hand, if procrastination is not an issue – if you're in an all-fire hurry to get branding done – take a step back. Many have fallen into the pitfall of rushing to get "something up there". It'll be temporary, they say. We'll refine it later, they say. 

You know what else they say? We should've done it right the first time, because now that the half-baked logo is all over the place, it's going to cost more to change it than it would have cost to spend the time and money upfront. Take your time and do it right. You only get to make a first impression once.

Take Aways

To circle back, remember these things: 

  • Take control of your brand, or it will take on a life of its own.
  • The ROI of solid branding is always there, even when it's hard to quantify.
  • Trust the experts. 
  • Get started now.

As always, the team at Flight 9 is here to help guide you. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions about branding or design, or are just trying to get started in your approach.

For more F9 blog posts on branding, visit here.

Thanks for reading!

- Melissa

Do You Need a New Website? 5 Questions to Ask.

Having just launched our own redesigned website, here we offer some thoughts to keep in mind if you're considering a revamp of your own site.

Flight 9 website showcase

In the past couple of years, website development standards have changed dramatically. If you are responsible for an organization's website, you've probably asked yourself what the implications are for your site. A lot of resources undoubtedly went into launching your current site and, if it has served you well, it can be difficult to think about starting over again. But if your site is more than a couple of years old, you should seriously consider updating.

Here are 5 key questions to help you decide:

1. Is your site "responsive"?

Happily, the days of having separate sites for desktop and mobile devices are rapidly fading. Instead, all (decent) websites are being created with responsive user interface functionality. This means that a site's appearance and navigation structure work smoothly no matter what size screen you're using. Images are elegantly resized and content is reordered to fit any given dimensions.

A large driver toward making this a universal practice was when, in 2015, Google made a significant change in their search algorithms to strongly favor responsive design. This means that websites lacking responsiveness are falling behind their competitors in search engine rankings, as more and more of them adopt the current standards.

Fortunately, responsive design is not inherently complicated or expensive. In fact, in many cases the new standards force a degree of structural simplicity and order that result in significant improvements for sites that may have been overly busy before.

2. Have you received complaints about your site?

If you frequently hear from customers, clients or visitors that they were unable to find what they were looking for on your website, or that they're seeing error messages, then clearly something is off that needs to be fixed. A good website service provider will help you analyze your site's structure to determine whether it's time for a total overhaul or just a few minor tweaks.

Visitors should be engaged instantly and be able to find what they need right away. If they have to work at anything, studies show they'll almost always leave the site.

3. Are you using high-quality images?

In the era of smartphones and social media feeds, users are accustomed to constantly scanning images – often dozens or even hundreds per day. In a parallel trend, website content has generally become more streamlined. Where websites often used to mirror complex print publications, serving as deep-dive informational resources, more often sites today are instead seen as core branding platforms meant to engage audiences to either seek more info through direct contact or draw customers to a brick-and-mortar retail location. The idea is to make a strong immediate impression that leads to follow-through.

What this means is that imagery carries more weight than ever. It is imperative to incorporate strong logos, graphics and photography that combine to create an emotional impact befitting your brand, whether its essence is corporate, artistic, service-oriented, or something else.

Literally millions of high-quality stock images are available online, and/or your may choose to make a sound investment in professional custom photography. A qualified professional web designer will identify and format strong visuals for your site that reflect your overall strategy. 

Remember than no one will absorb your message if you have not captured their interest first.

4. Does your site integrate social media?

We're going to assume you have social media buttons on your website. Because of course. If you don't, please call us. We're worried about you.

Besides buttons in your footer linking visitors to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages, etc., social media can be integrated into your website in a number of other ways. Blog posts can be cross-posted to Facebook, with comment features that post to both locations automatically. Your Twitter posts can appear in a block on your site, as well. Make sure you're not overlooking these and other opportunities to help drive traffic and boost search engine visibility. 

5. Is your website generating traffic?

After all, that is the bottom line, isn't it? If your website isn't generating leads, then it isn't serving its intended purpose. Not only that, but a site with serious enough deficiencies may actually be driving people away. As we've seen, older sites lag behind in search engine rankings, can be difficult to navigate, and may not be providing your visitors with what they are seeking. Having a website is crucial to nearly any business, but a poor web strategy can sometimes do more harm than good, driving away the very audience you need to reach.

If you're not already doing so, be sure to track your site's traffic regularly. Tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console are great places to start. Use this data wisely to help determine whether your current site is ultimately helping or hindering your prospects.

If you've been on the fence about whether or not to embark on a website redesign, hopefully these considerations have been helpful. If you know it's time to upgrade, remember to find a website designer/developer who will help you formulate a well-rounded strategy that includes solid messaging, a simple and familiar navigation structure, and strong visuals that complement your brand.

Also, remember that your colleagues and competitors are part of this evolution, and it's important not to get left behind.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave comments and questions.

Find more F9 blog posts on website development here.

Thanks for reading!

Adirondack Signage, Pt II: A Modern Preservation Aesthetic

Last summer, I wrote a short post on signage in the Adirondack Park, featuring a few images from venues in-or-near Old Forge and Lowville, NY. This year my family and I vacationed in the Adirondacks once again, and I did some new research into sign esthetics in the Keene Valley/Lake Placid region. This time I saw growing evidence of modern design influencing the established wood-substrate stylings prolific throughout the historic preserve.

Simple, striking graphics at Big Crow

Simple, striking graphics at Big Crow

Liquids and Solids restaurant goes full-on retro to create a hip feel

Liquids and Solids restaurant goes full-on retro to create a hip feel

Liquids & Solids exterior mural

Liquids & Solids exterior mural

"Junk Deco" at Liquids & Solids

"Junk Deco" at Liquids & Solids

Good Rules = Good Looks

Regulations in New York's scenic Adirondack State Park foster an appealing and identifiable regional style.

The prevalence of super cool wooden signs in the region (which tend to be fairly expensive to make) is something I've always noticed but never really thought about until last year. So, I did some checking around to learn more about what's behind this classic staple of Adirondack design.

According to New York State law, commercial signage within the bounds of the Adirondack Park must conform to certain standards meant to protect the appeal of the park's spellbinding natural beauty for the sake of both tourists and residents. Back in 1924, billboards were banned altogether. The rules for all other signs include prohibition of: neon and other glaringly luminous lighting; signs or banners that move or rotate; and, attaching signs to any natural object other than the ground. Certain restrictions also dictate the number, size and location of signs relative to a business location. 

Perhaps most importantly, signs must be made of natural materials such as wood, stone or brick. This has resulted in a robust collection of mostly wooden signage, which are often artistically designed and hand-crafted. Even the sign on the Lake Placid Rite Aid is made of wood that appears to be hand-carved. The likes of such a proliferation are hard to find anywhere else.

For decades, the Adirondack Park has been known for it's familiar utilitarian road signs, with their instantly recognizable brown backgrounds and gold lettering. The park is the largest state park in the US, and unlike most national parks, there are many homes and businesses. The brown and gold signs, along with the more varied and subtle wooden commercial signs, are what let you know you are somewhere special.

Classic Adirondack Park welcome sign, displayed at a vintage goods shop

Classic Adirondack Park welcome sign, displayed at a vintage goods shop

Nostaligic, old-style township welcome sign

Nostaligic, old-style township welcome sign

Classic Sign Art in the Park

Wooden signage tends to be crafted with an artistic approach not typically seen with plastic, metal, vinyl, etc. – the types of signs that are far more common in other areas. Below are a few of the older signs I came across, with a more vintage feel to them.

Aging hand-made sign at Lake Placid Airport

A little art deco revival at the Northway Motel

A little art deco revival at the Northway Motel

At the Woodlake Inn, Lake Placid

At the Woodlake Inn, Lake Placid

The Cascade Inn (named for Cascade Mountain, the one-and-only Adirondack High Peak I have climbed).

The Cascade Inn (named for Cascade Mountain, the one-and-only Adirondack High Peak I have climbed).

Moose-loveing bowling alley in Lake Placid

Moose-loveing bowling alley in Lake Placid

The Middle Earth sign, below, is one of my favorites. It is more classic than modern, but it has elements of both. I just love the colors and the ample exposure of the natural wood substrate, which has grown darker over time and altered the contrast.

Middle Earth Expeditions by Wayne Failing, Licensed Adirondack Guide

Middle Earth Expeditions by Wayne Failing, Licensed Adirondack Guide

This one is oh so swanky. I bet he's expensive. But I do love his sign. Somehow everything about it has a really newish sort of oldness going on. Hmm …

John T. Wilkins, attorney. This guy is undoubtedly a snappy dresser.

John T. Wilkins, attorney. This guy is undoubtedly a snappy dresser.

Modern Influences

At several locations, mostly in Keene and Keene Valley, I was impressed and excited to see some excellent examples of more modern, clean design elements mixed with touches of the classic Adirondack vibe. Here are some of my favorites (to go with Big Crow Trading, at the top of this post):

That's some classy syrup right there.

That's some classy syrup right there.

Mountain java. (Seriously, though? They had the best mocha I've ever tasted.)

Mountain java. (Seriously, though? They had the best mocha I've ever tasted.)

Who's ready for tree pose?

Who's ready for tree pose?

Dartbrook Lodge, with their picture-perfect plantings.

Dartbrook Lodge, with their picture-perfect plantings.

ADK Market. "Our food is so good, you'll need two forks."

ADK Market. "Our food is so good, you'll need two forks."

Standards Are a Happy Thing

Let's expand on this a bit. 

I think, when you see how the rules have been applied in the Adirondacks, it's easy to get a visceral sense of the way in which consistent standards affect a brand. By adopting (and strictly enforcing) certain guidelines, wise preservationist influences have done a great service to the region. When you are in the Adirondack Park, you know it. You know you are in a differentiated, historic place that is worthy of reverence and respect. You know you are "away." Without these standards, what would be different? Development in the park is limited, so fortunately we should never find any excessive density there. But other than that, what else could create the sense of place that is so clear there?

I hope all our readers have been to, or will get to visit, the Adirondack Park at some point. And, if you do, I hope you will take some extra time to notice the commercial esthetics and appreciate how disciplined, well considered rules about fluffy things like graphic design have had a positive impact.

Be well, and please keep in touch!


1895 Marvin Washburn Commissioner

5 Criteria for Hiring a Great Graphic Designer

bright ideas

There are no quantifiable metrics for measuring creative talent. That’s for good reason. If you want to produce inspired materials that set you apart, you need someone who isn’t going to be entirely technical and formulaic. Designers need to be smart and reliable, but they also need to be genuinely creative. It can be daunting to assess all of this when you’re faced with the important choice of whom to entrust with your branding, website and marketing materials.

Here are 5 simple guidelines to help you choose a designer you can trust:


No amount of talent can make up for knowledge that is hard-won in the field. Students and junior designers play a very important role in the design world, and they may be eager to work for less money, but a more experienced designer is essential if you wish to see efficiency and confidence reflected in your branded materials. 

Experienced designers have learned to integrate the many elements that go into successful branding, including design strategy, hierarchy of content, the subtleties and power of color, and how to express grand ideas with maximum efficiency and impact. Just like in most areas of life, with design, you typically get what you pay for.


Each designer’s work speaks for itself. Look for a professional whose work excites you.

You should be able to answer many questions by reviewing a person’s portfolio. Have they worked across a broad range of industries, or do they specialize in a particular niche? Are they experienced in print work, web design, interactive or some combination? Is their preferred style edgy and gritty? Sparse and clean? Handmade and illustrative? Is this designer good at typesetting and layout, or are they really better at logos?

Designers who display a good deal of breadth across styles and industries are more likely to be adaptable. And those who serve a more particular niche can also provide excellent, well informed results for businesses that fit their wheelhouse.


This is perhaps the most difficult quality to find in a designer, especially those who are more green. To some extent, all designers are intuitive and even capricious. We like to experiment and have fun with what we’re doing, which is essential to creativity. But when designers have a solid grasp of the reasoning behind whatever choices and directions they are presenting, the results are going to be vastly better than when they don’t.

Even when a designer knows why they are attempting to solve a problem in a specific manner, it can be difficult to verbalize. Visual communication is powerful precisely because it can convey so much meaning in an instant. When a designer is able to explain their thinking, it gives them and their clients the means to enter each other’s worlds and collaborate on an entirely greater level. 

It is much easier to exchange and perfect ideas that are clear to all involved.


There are a lot of tropes about creative geniuses who are difficult to get along with. This is a nice, romantic concept, but it’s certainly not a necessary reality. As with anything, work goes much more smoothly when you are dealing with someone you like. This is a good time to go with your gut.


If you send a note to introduce yourself to a designer and it takes them a week to get back to you, this is not a good sign. Being that they are creatives, designers aren’t usually type-A people, but they should be reasonably well organized and deadline oriented. When you are first getting to know them, ask them how they manage project timelines and on what sort of schedule they generally communicate with clients. In a nutshell, you want to go with a designer who has good answers to your questions, not someone who stutters or stares blankly back at you.

Referrals are often the best possible way to get started on your search. Ask people you know – especially those with good taste – which designers they’ve worked with and whether there are any they would strongly recommend. And, of course, once you’ve found a designer who seems to meet your criteria, it is always valuable to go the extra mile and contact 2-3 references provided by the candidate.

Best of luck in your searching!

- Melissa

Client Spotlight: Black Bird Knits

skeins of yarn

Given the saturation of electronic media and virtual stimulation that has overtaken our lives, the increasing desire many people have for all things hand-made and home-made should be a surprise to no one. These elements of personal, tactile experience are a touchstone for removing ourselves from the sometimes mind-numbing constancy of bright screens and perfect, synthetically constructed products that surround us.

For any of you attuned to the hand-made realm, especially those specifically interested in fine prints and textile arts, we proudly introduce our talented friend and client, Kate Fisher of Black Bird Knits.

Skeins & Frames

Flight 9 had the pleasure of working with Kate to create her logo and her website, which launched in August of this year. We are so impressed with the elegance and excellent design quality of Kate's original, downloadable knitting patterns, each of which are expert-tested and include variations for size adjustments.

Kiko sweater pattern
youth sweater pattern
scarf pattern
hat knitting pattern

Those seeking fine craft décor will also love Kate's original, hand-pressed woodblock prints and notecards depicting black birds in a fanciful world of hand-wound yarn and knitted nests. Her pieces are perfect for knitting aficionados, in particular, but should be quite pleasing to any fan of hand print work.

Checking Gauge print
hand printed cards

Whether we are creating or observing, humans have always intuitively understood that art and craft can have powerful effects on our minds. As an experienced art therapist, Kate Fisher knows this well. You could say that Black Bird Knits builds on this background by trading in "yarn therapy" and "aesthetic remedies"! 

Visit to learn more about Kate and browse her beautiful gift offerings… just in time for the holidays!

- Melissa

*All photos by Debra Wallace.

Hue & I: Our Complex Relationship With Color

complex color pattern

Several years ago, during my early adventures as a freelance designer and illustrator, I had an opportunity to land what seemed like a sweet account with a Fortune 500 company. A marketing exec who was drawn to my fine art background asked me to create paintings of office equipment that she then planned to pitch to her team as a new branding/advertising concept.

I was a newbie. I loved painting. I wanted a killer project. Against my better judgment, I spent untold hours creating 3 paintings on spec, with hopes and dreams that they would be brilliant enough to impress the suits who sold the machines and propel my creative career like a rocket.

Alas, the dream was not to be. What killed it? One measly color.

Hold the Mustard!

Yep, mustard yellow did me in. I had managed to create relatively good, lively art featuring an office copier, of all things. It sang! It leapt off the canvas! The exec loved the texture and expressiveness with which I had imbued an inanimate device! But I had chosen a textured background of mustard hues – a color that had, as I was told, "not focus-grouped well" with their customers.

It's water under the bridge now, but when I'm discussing color I always think back to that and shake my head. How do you focus-group a color?? I'm not a fan of focus groups, anyway, but in this case it's particularly nonsensical. Allow me to explain …

Blue Is Not Sad

The Old Guitarist - P. Picasso, c. 1903

The Old Guitarist - P. Picasso, c. 1903

We've all seen posts and memes backed by spectrum pseudo-science that try to simplify color into little digestible bits of meaning. They tell us that certain colors, all by themselves, can make us feel particular emotions or even cause or cure headaches, altering circumstances by their mere existence. You know the drill … Blue is sad. Red is powerful. Green is natural. 

This completely ignores the fact that there are a million different shades and values to be found of each basic hue. Blue not only isn't sad, blue isn't even a thing, really. It's thousands of different things, each with subtle variations and characteristics. Some blue shades may be sad in some contexts (see Picasso), but that is the farthest we can realistically go with any abstract assessment.

If one is inundated by a single color, covering a large visual space, there's no denying it can have a visceral impact. Color does have power. It's almost always subliminal, but it's real. We know, for example, that a place can feel a bit warmer or cooler based on the colors in the environment, and that isn't a made-up thing.

The problem is when we try to explain these effects with no regard to context, color-relation or complexity.

The Music of Color

If we put a color in front of a person and ask them to tell us what they think of it, this will almost certainly fail to mirror the range of various reactions they might have to that color depending on realistic context. Think about it in terms of music. You could not play someone a single note – say, B flat – and ask them what they think of it all by itself. That might be an interesting experiment, but it would do pitifully little to help us understand how that person might experience the same note in various songs, at various volume levels or as expressed by different instruments or voices. Our experience of notes and tones depends on context. Color is exactly the same.

Depending on where and how a color is used, and especially depending on the other colors (or lack of colors) in its proximity, it can come across in an entirely different way. Let's look at some examples.

grayscale with mustard yellow

This single note of mustard yellow doesn't look all that special just sitting there amongst the grayscale. But, in this setting it does at least provide stark highlight and contrast. It's "color sound" is more intense and bright by far than any of the quiet, unassuming notes surrounding it.

muddy hues with mustard yellow

When set in between tones of similar hue but diminished value, our mustard yellow falls extremely flat. I could hardly imagine a worse context. (Poor little lonely, ugly thing.) And yet …

monochrome mustard

Look at all that mustard! Give me a hot dog now!! This dance of related hues draws out subtleties in a stark way. If you look at any of these swatches alone, or in certain other context, they would all mostly appear more yellow, even while in this image some of them come across as green. But in close proximity, the variations cut right to the surface. And notice how happy this example is compared to the ones above!

harmonious color with mustard yellow

Now our little mustard yellow strikes just the right chord within a family of varied tones that combine harmoniously.

What I hope has been made clear here is that working with color is far more complex than most of us stop to realize. Even "mustard yellow" is not a singular, static thing, and we should never attempt to analyze best color choices and application without exploring its dimensional aspects.

Most instrumental musicians will tell you they played for years before they truly began to sink into their instrument such that it became second nature. This is a function of neurology. As we learn and practice, neurological pathways literally thicken and deepen, so that our understanding moves into the primitive parts of our brains. When this happens, things that used to involve analysis before action become much more fluid. My relationship with color has been that way. I was working as an artist and designer for years before it all became a very comfortable, almost automatic instinct. Before then I was able to apply theoretical knowledge and try different things until the right combinations were apparent. Now, my brain is tuned into color, and it no longer requires much thought. It has been like learning a new language, and I so love to explore it.

May we all enjoy a renewed appreciation for the sights and visions in our world and continue to discover harmony in new places.


Your Brand Playbook: The How & Why of Style Guides

Have you ever ordered a favorite restaurant dish in mouth-watering anticipation, only to take a bite and realize, to your horror, that it tastes different? That they have altered ingredients or preparation in some way so as to make it only slightly different but terribly, mercilessly unsatisfying? How could they?!! you scream internally. So, maybe you calm down and try to rationalize yourself into liking the change. But it never works, does it?

This is a form of brand inconsistency and a prime example of the psychological discord it can cause. Don't let this happen to you … or to your audience!

rules of branding

Consistency. By the Book.

In every presentation of your business – logo, print materials, retail environment, website, employee culture, etc. – your brand should be appropriately reflected. The process by which we initially discern and formulate your brand entails becoming intimately familiar with the essential realities and aspirations of your business. (We will be exploring this in detail in a future post.) This work is only valuable to the extent that it can be implemented consistently, in all aspects of your business. 

But how do you reliably get this to happen?

After the branding process is complete, Flight 9 (or, hopefully, any agency you're working with) gets to work codifying the newly established standards by compiling what is called a Brand Standards Manual or, sometimes, in its most simple form, a Style Guide. A style guide for a small partnership may be consist simply of logo guidelines, a color palette and some preferred typefaces, and run only 2-3 pages. On the other end of the spectrum, some large corporations, such as Disney, publish internal brand standards that are akin to a coffee table book. These can include everything from extended logo families for sub-brands to specific language requirements for marketing text, to minute details of employee attire and behavior. It all depends on what is appropriate to the given brand. 

What's important to recognize is that it is sometimes necessary to standardize a brand's features beyond the visual basics in order to effectively and reliably capture the essence of a business and convert it into profitable relationships. Having a nice logo and color palette is always the right place to start, but just like your mission is unlikely to be one-dimensional, your branding should not be, either.

Because It Works.

When it comes to visual materials, one of the safer ways to ensure consistency is to rely on a trusted agency or internal team to create or oversee all projects. However, with effectively communicated brand standards, you should be able to have work produced by multiple sources while still maintaining a fluid, harmonious overall look and feel. 

Here are a few scenarios where a Brand Standards Manual should be employed:

  • All printed and graphic elements

  • Website and all digital environments

  • Advertising

  • Design of architectural work environment

  • Email templates or signatures and other elements of external communication

  • Selection of retail employee attire

  • Trade show displays

  • Presentation templates

By codifying your brand elements, a lot of guesswork is eliminated, and you'll never need to worry about whether new team members or service providers "get it." They'll have the instructions for consistency at their fingertips.

Room to Play & Grow

There is no reason to fear that having clear standards will lead to rigidity and staleness. Rather, the framework provided by the standards should allow for a reasonable amount of creativity and risk-taking without fear of going against brand. In one sense, this framework should represent a safe place to experiment, as long as core features remain consistent. A style guide cannot dictate every minute aspect of branding, and it should not try to. It should simply enforce a collective understanding of where the boundaries are, so that no one gets lost.

Your brand standards should be revisited on a regular basis – frequently at the beginning and at least annually thereafter – and revised to reflect whatever natural evolution your business and brand may be experiencing. Certain original creative directions that are taken within the given standards may prove especially successful, and you may wish to incorporate their key elements into the larger brand as a way of providing new tools in your brand toolbox.

Importantly, it is crucial not to fall into the trap of believing branding is easy to dictate. It isn't. Your brand is a reflection of who people believe you to be, whether you have chosen to be viewed that way or not. Bad press or bad visuals become identified with a business without their say in the matter. Likewise, a wonderful review or an especially pleasing customer experience can happen by chance, helping elevate your brand, even if you never planned on it.

So remember: If your brand is not clear and consistent, inconsistency will become part of your brand. Fortunately, with a brand standards manual, there's insurance for that. And, as always, Flight 9 is here to help you.

Melissa & Kelly

Client Spotlight: Kemmeter Wines

Kemmeter Family Crest, bestowed by Emperor Albrecht II, 1438

Kemmeter Family Crest, bestowed by Emperor Albrecht II, 1438

As we've said before, our greatest satisfaction comes from helping give breath to the aspirations of other small businesses. While we sincerely enjoy collaborating with clients of all sizes and sectors, small businesses give us the satisfaction of witnessing the results of our successes not only in measurable returns but also in the excited, smiling faces of owners and their teams.

We've formed bonds with many such clients whom we now also count among our friends. In this spirit, we are debuting our Client Spotlight series, where we will profile the stories, successes and endearing qualities of clients we know you will love as much as we do.

Kemmeter Wines, Penn Yan, NY

One of New York's Finger Lakes wine region's newest additions, Kemmeter Wines, has a history quite unique to the area. Kemmeter's founder and owner Johannes Reinhardt descends from a wine-making family in Bavaria dating back 6 centuries. This pedigree, combined with extensive formal training in wine making and a deep love for the tradition, has helped make Johannes highly respected in the region for the excellent wines created in his care. Since their opening on August 1, 2013, Kemmeter has been a sought-after stop on Finger Lakes wine tours.

Johannes first came to the US in 1999 and worked for one year at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars before being hired as the wine maker for Anthony Road Wine Company, where he continues to supervise wine harvesting production. He credits John and Ann Martini, the owners at Anthony Road, with generously supporting his vision and helping make Kemmeter Wines possible. The two wineries are close neighbors in Penn Yan, allowing Johannes to maintain a consulting role at Anthony Road.

Specializing in Riesling varietals, Kemmeter offers 3 tiers of wines. Tastings in their lovely private tasting room are by appointment only, Thursdays through Saturdays, from 1:30 - 3:30 only, with a maximum of 6 people tasting at one time. For more info, visit:

Riesling wine label series created by Flight 9

Riesling wine label series created by Flight 9

Flights of Wine with Flight 9

I was introduced to Johannes almost 10 years ago, when he was working as the winemaker for Anthony Road, and his dream of opening his own winery was in its early stages. The label concept for Kemmeter's first-tier Riesling, Sonero, was developed at that time. It is evocative of a fluid, dancing figure, while the name Sonero connotes a freestyle salsa singer.

Johannes then expected his green card to be granted within a couple of years, but he subsequently ran into a series of administrative roadblocks, delaying for several years his ability to establish a business in the US. Once those hurdles were finally overcome, Kelly and I worked with Johannes on refining the Sonero branding and creating labels for the Kemmeter mid-range line (simply called "Kemmeter") and SanSan, Kemmeter's most upscale offering. The middle-tier label reflects the idea that Kemmeter has a traditional flavor and serves as the anchor for the overall collection. Interestingly, however, Kemmeter is crafted rather nontraditionally, with its 3 distinct wines comprising a sub-series that is fermented from the grapes of 3 different vineyards (Sheldrake Point, Red Tail Ridge and White Pine Vineyards). The SanSan label has an artistic, romantic feel, which is appropriate because Johannes developed this particular wine as a loving homage to his wife. The sheet music element in the design is an excerpt of the beautiful orchestral piece Air by JS Bach.

Johannes and Imelda Reinhardt

Johannes and Imelda Reinhardt

It has been an honor for us both to work closely with Johannes and his beloved wife Imelda – the muse behind so much of Johannes's fine work – to help communicate their vision and support the diligent hard work that goes into making Kemmeter the outstanding winery it has so clearly emerged to become.

We wish Johannes and Imelda the greatest future success and hope you will visit them next time you go to the Finger Lakes!

- Melissa

Love, Groceries & Photoshop: On Design and Domesticity

mom with sign

Yes, it's true. Kelly and I are both moms. And we both earn a living doing the design thing. She has 3 children, ages 6, 8 and 10. I have a daughter who's about to turn 10 (and a grown stepson). When our kids were babies, and for a few years after that, both of us worked from home as freelancers. It was a good gig, but it had its challenges, as such arrangements always do. 

Over time, when our workload overfloweth, or the rare vacation happened, or one of our kids was in the hospital with something lodged up their nose, we began to call on each other for backup on the work front. Flight 9 Creative, our formal partnership, grew out of that mutually supportive collaboration.

All the kids are in school now, and we've compartmentalized a bit. Though we still work from home when absolutely necessary, our primary workspace is a lovely little office near both our homes. It is the oasis where we keep things organized, let the (crazy fabulous) ideas flow, and work on projects together in relative peace and quiet. Without anyone asking for a snack. Or crying. Or leaving their underwear on the floor. 

(So far.)

All About that Balance

In some ways it's a topic as beat up as a leather sofa in a prison lounge: The "work/life balance" fluff piece. Books, articles and perky discussions on Good Morning America have bemoaned the plight of women forced to do it all. It sounds pretty bad.

Is there stress? Sure. On some days, still, it often looks something like this:

I’m sorry, can you please hold on real quick? [mute]

Honey, I’m on the phone for work. I’ll be about 10 minutes. Go ahead and have a snack and get your homework started. Please don’t interrupt me unless someone’s bleeding or choking.

[un-mute] Hi. Thanks. Sorry about that. So, we were looking at the cover options …

But the more interesting story is also a far more positive one. It's the true tale of the the innovative American mom who is customizing her career to integrate and evolve with her lifestyle. Owing to technological resources and mutual supportiveness, among other things, Flight 9 is part of a growing network of mostly women-owned businesses seeded by motivated parents who no longer have to choose between the stark options of either staying at home or reporting for duty in some remote location for 9+ hours per day.

Many of our clients and personal friends fit this profile, as well. We've found that most clients have become so adapted to this business model that it's no longer taboo, even, to have moments like the one quoted above. Through cloud networking and remote conferencing, even those in more traditional jobs are often working from home to a greater or lesser extent, which has led to a collective sigh of relief now that we can all be more easily forgiven when family and work blend into the same space. We all have each other's backs, in that sense.

We believe this scenario provides great value to our clients, too. Flight 9 is no factory. We keep our schedule and our environment syncopated to a good creative flow, where burnout is never a factor and projects never get lost in a sea of imposed deadlines. We continue to love what we do, and that results in greater creativity, improved communication and better work overall.

Nothing is ever perfect. But this is pretty damn good.

- Melissa

Favorite Past Project: Anti-tobacco Ad

Anti-tobacco newspaper ad

Anti-tobacco newspaper ad

Work That Is Its Own Reward

Most graphic designers would probably agree that our occupation is more rewarding than most. The privilege of working in design and branding is that we get to work collaboratively; we are allowed and encouraged to let our creativity flow; and, we are called to employ both cranial hemispheres in the act of creating and shaping meaning. It feels good to do all of those things.

The projects that provide us with the greatest fulfillment – speaking for Kelly and I – are those that encapsulate all off this in the context of fostering positive change.

Looking back over the past several years, one project I am most proud of was an ad for a Western New York anti-tobacco campaign. The campaign aimed to bring attention to the marketing of tobacco products and its impact on youth, while influencing retailers to change their practices.

The creative brief was simple, with few parameters, allowing me a lot of artistic flexibility. I was provided with various images of older pieces the group had published and some very literal photographic images that I could incorporate if I wished.

But I wanted to do something that would drive the point home on an emotional level. Something that wasn't preachy but that would affect people viscerally. 

I wanted to make people hold their breath for a split second.

Most of my initial concepts were fine but not necessarily powerful. The idea for the concept that ultimately won out came to me suddenly, when I wasn't trying, as most of my best ideas often do. I could see the whole thing in my mind. All that was left was to make it come alive. And then to pray the client shared my vision.

The Concept, Explained

The literal message – the text of the ad – is information that most of us would never give much thought to. And I knew the piece would be buried in a large newspaper spread with lots of competing content. So how could I get people to read it? If I couldn't make them look in the first place, those words would have been no more valuable than the paper they were printed on.

The boldly contrasting black and burgundy tones were selected to provide a foreboding, stark sensation. This was balanced against a softer background so as to not be overly intense. The yellowed tone is also evocative of nicotine stains.

The lettering in the graphic represents something threatening and intrusive – a message forced into the space without thought or regard for its audience. It is unavoidable and careless as it overwhelms the small human figure in the foreground.

The silhouetting of the child reflects the idea that "the messengers" behind tobacco advertising view him as anonymous. Yet his posture and other details should hopefully tell us enough about him that we begin to sense he is someone we might know and would wish to protect. He is anyone's kid, keeping his head down, staying out of trouble and just trying to get home from school. If only we could make it a little easier for him …

Once the graphic grabbed attention, the intention was for the eye to be drawn next to the subheading "Protect your kids from tobacco advertising." If that missive made any impact, I'd already done a good job and, most likely, many viewers would go on to read the rest of the text, bringing the point home even further.

It has been several years since the ad was published, and to this day it remains one of my favorite pieces ever. I'm proud of the concept and very much enjoyed bringing it to life. 

I will never know for sure, but I hope it helped make a difference.

- Melissa