All Posts in EnZed Design

May 9, 2024 - No Comments!

The Little Engine That Did

How many hands does it take to start a 1915 International Harvester Mogul engine? 

Mogul engine installation

If we’re talking about the bright green machine that’s welcoming guests to the CoBank Center in Greenwood Village, Colorado, the answer is more than a dozen. And it all began with an EnZed client’s challenge. 

Helen Young has been creating unique marketing projects for CoBank for more than 15 years. So she wasn’t surprised when Arthur Hodges, chief of staff, asked what she knew about flywheel engines. She admitted she knew zip, being a Kiwi from New Zealand and not a kid from the Heartland. But when he explained how the organization wanted to acquire one of the historic farm implements for their office tower’s lobby, she was in. The right one, he explained, would do three things: pay tribute to CoBank’s agricultural cooperative clients, stand as a symbol of the momentum ag lending creates, and be the story-telling focal point of a built display in their art collection.

The wheels in her brain began spinning. 

This cart-mounted Mogul flywheel engine weighs 2,526 pounds and is 8’6” in length with a detachable 4’6” front pull. Harnessing a horse to the front pull gave early 20th century farmers a portable power source to saw lumber, milk cows, run shellers and more.

Helen scouted vintage farm equipment online, made calls, and discovered a community of machine-loving history buffs stretching nationwide. A fine flywheel example was being auctioned by Gene and Renae Rosenberg of Spirit Lake, Iowa. She conferred with CoBank’s team who confirmed that the engine would, indeed, fit through the lobby’s glass gateway with all of two inches to spare. Installation? Check.

She then called Carla Carwile, EnZed’s writer for the past two decades and an Iowegian by birth, to start the project narrative. Whereupon Carla called her friend Brenda Davis DeVore, director of Prairie Trails Museum in Wayne County, Iowa, picked her brain and connected her with CoBank’s Hodges to get the grist of early 20th century farm implements. Storyline? Check.

Helen, meanwhile, watched the online bidding window draw to a close (whew!), flew to Iowa to finalize the deal, and found Brandon Slepicka, a collector of flywheel engines in Johnstown, Colorado, to operate the Mogul in its new Rocky Mountain home. Logistics?  Check.

You can see it running here. 

Next, she met with Denver’s Make West team to collaborate on design and bring the display to life. In tandem with Leslie Wirtz, senior manager of CoBank’s creative services, Helen would direct the overall installation plan and design the text, colorways, surface patterns, and graphics explaining the Mogul’s role as both ag-changing machine and CoBank metaphor. MakeWest would engineer and craft the curved wall anchoring a walk-around pedestal base for the Mogul, integrating all with the center’s glass-and-stone interior. The finished work would display the green machine, original tools in the toolbox, and CoBank CEO Tom Halverson’s own vintage family photos of a flywheel assisting with Iowa farm operations in the 1930s. All involved shared the goal of a finished conversation-starting display worthy of a place in CoBank’s stellar art collection. Success? Check.

The moral of this story? Maybe it’s that many hands do, indeed, make light work. Possibly it’s that the past still has a presence. Or perhaps it’s that momentum — like crops and companies and creativity — grows when the right energy is set in motion.

— Carla Carwile

August 23, 2023 - Comments Off on Cover Story: An AI Challenge

Cover Story: An AI Challenge

Prompts and perseverance

A client called in June asking for help in creating an original illustration for a magazine cover. I’ve done this countless times in my career, but — for this project — talent sourcing and art direction was much different. The “talent” was AI. 

For the Summer issue of the NSAA Journal, editor Heather Fried dipped her toe into the wild west of AI imaging software. Her challenge: to create a cover image to represent the issue’s editorial content. When she first shared her idea, I thought “brave,” but was quietly hoping not to get involved. I could see a warren of rabbit holes larger than Watership Down on the horizon. 

Heather’s first attempts involved placing the desired items into the image with the prompt mountain biker in the summer accessing the lift through RFID gates with their phone, but the results were way off the mark. They were also comical in how anatomically incorrect they came out. “I had to throw in the towel on my original concept completely and go with something a lot more basic to get to an acceptable cover,” Heather explained. “This was a surprise realization because, before using AI, I really thought it could produce anything I could dream up on demand.” Frustrated, she shared her results after multiple attempts and a sizable time investment. We jumped on a Zoom call to discuss what to try next.

“Before using AI, I really thought it could produce anything I could dream up on demand.”

Enter Art Direction 

With additional prompts taken from the art world — composition, color, style, perspective — the images instantly improved and soon she had a collection of real options: a dynamic profile portrait, a dreamy impressionistic painting, and a realistic alpine meadow — a few potentially cover worthy. She discovered one big hiccup in the process: “tweaking” is difficult. AI tends to start over in lieu of making isolated changes like a human illustrator would. Perhaps more practice with the software will yield more finesse. Or not.

“I am not a robot.”

While there’s much angst and discussion about artwork made with AI – such as what careers will be disrupted or replaced, who owns it, and the dangers of reality vs fantasy imagery and facts – I think we hold the key to reining it in. If we tap heavily into our humanity and take responsibility for molding AI, we can use skillful interactions — creative direction of the software — to make AI-assisted writings and artworks our own creations. Just as Heather experimented with visuals, her team also put AI writing to the test, producing a rote overview with the tone of an uninspired eighth grader. Clearly not the level of a seasoned editor. “If you keep tweaking/prompting what it spits out, you'll eventually get to something that is acceptable, in your voice, and accurate.” said Heather, adding “I could write volumes on this already, but the biggest takeaway so far has been: AI isn't coming for our jobs, it's people who are capable using AI that we need to worry about/work on eventually becoming ourselves.”

The NSAA cover image finally got there with the right prompts (art direction) and some retouching (a good eye) to get to an artistic, finished product. A masterpiece? No, but it fits the bill for a nonprofit budget and usage of two months on a trade magazine cover. Context matters. The novelty of an illustration on the Journal cover and the backstory of AI-generated artwork intrigued the members. “Though the cover was a compromise, it's also one that has generated a ton of great feedback — maybe the most praise in my four years with NSAA,” said Heather. 

“AI isn't coming for our jobs, it's people who are capable using AI that we need to worry about.”

My Optimistic View 

Because AI has no inherent talent of its own, individual humans (IH perhaps?) can use this tool, just like any other — software or paint brush — to execute their singular vision. Perhaps AI can open up a new world to those who see art in their mindseye, but lack the mobility to paint a canvas. Or help translate written works to enable sharing of more ideas across cultures. Which gets to the root question: Will you use your time, talent and AI for good or for evil? 

Now, about copyright issues … how much time do you have? 

Read about a recent ruling in federal court: AI cannot hold a copyright.
View an inspiring use of AI that gave a woman with paralysis her voice back.

_____

Share your experience and opinions of AI assisted creative works below. I’d love to start a conversation. (There may be a delay in your comment appearing to avoid the dreaded bots.)

April 26, 2023 - Comments Off on Grit & Collaboration

Grit & Collaboration

Combining talents for delectable outcomes

Last summer, the Méli Mélo Charcuterie Boards — a lively collaboration with 600 Grit fine wood design — debuted in the art festival world. Maria Garcia, my former tennis partner and expert woodworker, had applied as an emerging artist to two of the nation’s most prestigious fairs — the Fort Worth Main Street Arts Festival and Denver’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival. A Colorado native now at home in Texas, Maria clearly had soaked in some of the “go big or go home” Lone Star attitude in targeting these events, but even she was slightly overwhelmed to be accepted by both. 

Our 600 Grit/EnZed collaboration began with volleying ideas on the tennis court. It went something like “wouldn’t it be fun to take some of your wrapping paper motifs and translate them to wood?” After a few years of playing with the idea, mostly in our heads, we found ourselves mixing epoxy and pigments in her Dallas workshop. We experimented with maple and walnut hardwoods, metallic and solid pigments, and two designs. Maria prepped the boards for the CNC operator who used my vector artwork to rout the inlays. After several prototypes in which we adjusted motif sizes and color palettes, played with depth of routing and angled edges, we landed on the finished product and perfected the silky finish. 

Méli Mélo translates to “an assortment,” which captures the essence of charcuterie and the nature of our collaboration. Once the boards began selling, Maria envisioned expanding the concept to furniture. The board motifs enlarged beautifully onto coffee, cocktail and side tables, and she received a commission for wall art at this larger scale. Maria’s furniture designs are inspired by the Arts & Crafts and Mid Century Modern movements, but the rich walnut hardwood and bright resin inlays transition across many interior styles.

What started as a friendship on the tennis court quickly became a delicious meeting of minds and materials. Talking with the art lovers venturing into our tent was energizing and Maria secured several furniture commissions in each city, a primary goal for showing at the festivals. (Prior to that, we had a brief foray into wholesale and set up shop on PaperieZ.com, selling directly to friends and others.) 

While I’ve enjoyed seeing my designs in three dimensions as Maria has added new, unique product offerings, the best part of this experience by far is the collaboration. Each bringing our best to the table (saw) inevitably yields tasty results.

For more about Maria, follow her on Instagram @600grit and visit 600grit.com. She’s available for custom charcuterie board and furniture commissions. Let us collaborate with you, too!

Join my mailing list to receive monthly reads about adventures, design, marketing, other creative musing, and how they all relate to and inform one another. Follow my antics on Instagram. — Helen

August 3, 2022 - Comments Off on Reading The Waves

Reading The Waves

Learning from a master is faster

La Paz letters along the beach

Four thin textbooks arrived in a blue drawstring bag in December, our reading assignment prior to boarding a 42-foot catamaran. In late April, we were to set sail from the port just outside of La Paz, Mexico. Reading one book per month couldn’t be so bad, right? By the time we set foot on the Fountaine Pajot, however, we’d made our way through just one and a half.

Learning the sailing terms was like another language, but without the benefit of a good reference for decoding, like my French gives me clues to understanding Spanish or Italian. There was little other than colloquialisms—it took the wind out of my sails, learning the ropes, he was three sheets to the wind—as hints. I was clueless about clews, goosenecks, halyards, and shrouds. Slogging through the first book twice and quizzing myself until I could earn an honest B was the best I could hope for. It would be easier once I was on the boat, I assured myself.

The first step, after meeting our captain Troy Mills of Nautilus Sailing and additional newbie crew, was to learn about the boat’s features and functions—opening lockers, inventorying cushions, locating fire extinguishers, and counting personal flotation devices (PFDs). We learned about provisioning, the heads (and their touchy waste system), navigation devices, desalination tanks, and engines. The purpose of the first lesson was to know the boat, but also to accept that each of us would depend on the combined knowledge and actions of the captain and entire crew on this journey. Our craft was white, sleek, and stable, and would carry us out to sea without any communication from the outside world. Sheer bliss.

“Each of us would depend on the combined knowledge and actions of the captain and entire crew”

Sea Life

We slept aboard and floated off the dock the next morning with green buoys drifting by. Our six night live-aboard adventure to learn and earn our captain certifications was underway. Two young humpback whales—one flashing its tail, the other keeping a low, sleek profile—escorted us into the Sea of Cortez, “the world’s aquarium.” The waves were soft and sea turtles the size of manhole covers floated alongside us. A pod of partying dolphins met us as we rounded a small island, swimming fast along our twin-hulls and surfacing in graceful arches.

With nightfall came more lessons: How the right anchorage site could shelter us from shifting winds and surf so we could sleep without the risk of heavy rocking or swinging into another boat. Captain Troy could see things we couldn’t. Given his years of experience, he could quickly calculate how rough a sea we were likely to encounter by reading the waves’ amplitude and direction and feeling the wind on his face. He explained how to account for the tides with our timing on and off anchor. Why the boat was built with redundancies—from dual engines to anchor lights and alarms—to prevent a pan-pan or mayday call. How to troubleshoot using an if this, then perhaps this metric. How clear communication among the captain and crew supports good decision-making. 

We learned pragmatic rules to sail by and sayings with deeper purpose, including Captain Troy Mill’s salty favorite “A boat shrinks an inch per day,” a nice way of saying keep your stuff stowed or your shipmates will want to deposit you on one of the five uninhabited islands on our journey. Everything in its place can truly prove lifesaving should the weather turn abruptly—tools stored, sheets flaked, and phones far away from a wet sink. When sailing, thinking through everything that could possibly happen and taking preemptive action prior is key. After the first day, it became clear that this week of lessons was just the beginning and there was a lifetime of learning to become an accomplished sailor. As the sun set on our first night at sea, eagle rays leaped along the pink horizon and pelicans settled into our inlet as night patrol. Fair winds and following seas. —Helen

Continue reading: Permission to come aboard?

  • Photos by captain and crew of the journey, Helen, Karl, Troy, Rachel and David.

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August 3, 2022 - Comments Off on Permission to come aboard?

Permission to come aboard?

Shipshape leadership depends on both captain and crew

Catamaran in a cove with the sunsetting

This article continues from Reading The Waves.

My first few nights living aboard a catamaran learning to sail were eye opening. We were both relaxed, bobbing on crystal-clear turquoise waters, and alert to the area’s features– shorelines, rock outcroppings and coral reefs, as well as the sea conditions shaped by current, surf and wind direction. Once anchored in a lovely inlet in the Sea of Cortez, we could enjoy a splash in the water or walk on the beach. The sunsets were sensational, casting a hundred hues on the water’s surface from the sky and shore. Icy blue, peach blush, deep lapis, and silver all moved together in undulating patterns.

Less is Moor

From the outset, our captain, Troy Mills, assigned each crew member one night as host (cook) and a day as captain (skipper). Most of the time, I was taking initiative while following directives. It’s an interesting combination that resonates within working environments and other relationships, but not always second nature. I liked working the sheets to trim the sails, making slight adjustments under the captain’s direction to optimize the wind. I relished setting the mainsheet, winching, unfurling the jib, flaking and stowing the sheets—becoming a master of my post. When the captain called out “Ready about?” the crew answered, knowing their tasks and adjusting as needed. I enjoyed tying knots, calculating knots and anchor chain length, assessing wind direction and apparent wind speed, and assisting the captain with making the boat secure at anchorage. Captain Troy was both patient and assertive, using humor to bridge a safe learning environment with a pleasure cruise.

I fit well in every space—the tiny head complete with standup shower, the efficient berth with drawers and lockers secreted under the bed and overhead. Everything was designed with less is more in mind. Less weight. Less space. Less waste. The galley was compact and efficient, anything needed within arm’s length. Under the seat cushions in the benches and floors of the saloon were concealed compartments to stow a pantry of provisions. The chart table tucked into one side of the bench. The cockpit was the largest outdoor sheltered area, with the helm raised to one side for a view of all the sails through the windows and ceiling of the bimini. 

brown rock in the ocean
This tiny island, covered with barking sea lions, was our site to practice mooring skills.

Mooring practice was on day two, as we started to take the helm and learn to sail. We arrived early at a large rock, covered in barking sea lions ready to play with anyone who delighted in a murky water snorkel. We learned to drop the lines around the seaweed-laden buoy rope with teamwork—a person catching it with a hook and the other with a looped line. The helmsman made slow maneuvers guided by the bow crew’s hand signals. Once we each succeeded in driving and mooring the boat, we sailed to another island.

We settled in an inlet for our first test—all the terms and boat basics. It took an hour to fill in 100 dots to complete our ASA 101 and the entire crew was elated to have scored in the upper 90s. We swam in temperate waters with a school of puffer fish and explored the anchorage on paddleboards. Another long sunset capped off the day and a long sleep.

Accidental Jibe

As we all have experienced, best laid plans can still result in unforeseen events. In the creative world we call these moments happy accidents. On a sailboat, most accidents aren’t jovial. My turn as captain at the helm gave me experience with an accidental jibe, the riskiest move at sea, primarily because the swinging mast can surprise a crew member, knocking them off kilter or off the boat entirely. Thankfully, on a big boat in light winds, it’s a learning experience. I was working on my jibing, wind to aft, changing from a beam reach to a broad reach, and figuring out the steering. Choosing a course, setting a heading, and then zigzagging your way toward it are three distinctive thoughts. I was focused on going to my point of sail in a straight line. I quickly discovered; it doesn’t work that way. Amazingly aligned with how we move through our lives and careers.

“I was focused on going to my point of sail in a straight line.
I quickly discovered; it doesn’t work that way.” 

After lunch in another pretty inlet, we motored out to catch the wind, and suddenly without warning, a bright orange personal flotation device (PFD) was overboard! One crew member yelled “Man overboard!” and pointed at the bobbing faux passenger, their role now established as watch—keeping their eye on it until it was rescued. The helmsman made a curvy maneuver to recover the “MOB” under power, being sure to not run it over. The other crew had a hook and line ready, giving hand signals and proximity updates (10 feet! 5 feet!) upon approach. Each crew had their turn to recover our drunken sailor under power and under sail, with each technique being slightly different. Noting the wind direction and head-to-wind inclination of the boat can help or hinder a quick recovery, so it’s important to use the conditions in that moment to your favor. And make sure your crew is on board with safe behavior. 

Time is fleeting

You cannot be in a hurry at sea. Calculating sail time is affected by wind which can and often changes hourly. When you’re away from it all, you don’t have access to timely wind reports so always have a time buffer built into your plan. The “MOB” exercises took much more time than expected; being under pressure for a quick rescue, it was easy to overshoot and need to start over. The pace of sailing a large catamaran is slow which gives you lots of time to think, but not much time to react. Planning your moves instead of reacting to the moment is key to a smooth sail.

Another day, another test. In the end, we all passed and received four ASA certifications that allow us to charter a boat on our own. Naturally, learning the sea can take a lifetime, but having the basics down is a great start to a wonderful adventure. It reminds me a little of heading out into my design career with a BFA in hand and a wanderlust for learning. All the beauty of life, its twists and turns, were rushing toward me. But now, I’m in no rush. Getting saltier by the day. —Helen

Join my mailing list to receive monthly reads about adventures, design, marketing, and leadership, and how they all relate to and inform one another. 

  • Photos by captain and crew of the journey, Helen, Karl, Troy, Rachel and David.

June 10, 2022 - Comments Off on Is Your Website Rigged to Win?

Is Your Website Rigged to Win?

Welcome “your people” with an easier opt-in.

I’m a skipper now. I earned four American Sailing Association (ASA) certifications on my recent vacation floating on a 42-foot catamaran across  the Sea of Cortez, puffer fish hovering in the shallows below. I learned the ropes (aka sheets), how to anchor, and rescue a human overboard, which was actually a personal flotation device that got a little rowdy. 

I love learning new things. That’s why I signed up for B-School, a program by Marie Forleo, to help me focus on the next chapter of my business. I took the six-week online course to gain clarity, purpose, and a plan. I ended up also gathering some very simple, implementable action items for myself and my clients. As a graphic designer who supports marketing directors and small business owners looking for branding, marketing strategy and content development, I expected to sharpen some skills, but the higher-value takeaways truly surprised me. 

The first thing I will be doing— and recommending to all my clients — is to make a very small website change that will make a big difference. How big? 4400% big.

Make joining your mailing list easy and obvious 
Apart from “Save X%” pop-ups on retail sites, most “join” calls-to-action are relegated to the footer and Contact Us page on a website. We use SEO to pull people to our site and then get all shy once they arrive! If we’re intent on growing a mailing list of qualified prospective clients, aka “our  people,” ensuring visitors sign up is paramount. After all, they’ve navigated to your website because they want to hear what you have to say, right? (Call me Captain Obvious. I am ASA certified.)

Opt-in to owning it
When you think about opt-in or permission marketing, it’s like owning vs renting. Owning your house pays you back over time, and you can paint the wall purple if you want. The same is true with marketing — you want to own your media and control your message and branding within its walls. “Capture” people who value and want to pay for what you offer. How? Just ask. That’s it.

Well, sort of. Some may be thrilled to hear from you, but if your inbox is as full as mine, you need a really good reason to join another list. So, give it to them. Offer an exchange — something of value for their email — and be clear about how often they’ll hear from you. This gives them a nibble of what you offer to experience it directly. Your opt-in offer can be a download, percentage off, free trial, sample, etc. Keep it simple and — most importantly — thank them when they join. 

“We use SEO to pull people to our site and then get all shy once they arrive!”

On-the-fly fishing
SEO, press releases, advertising, affiliate links, and social media are the focus of many. But social media is passive marketing — people have to work to find you. Most small companies relying on social media for growth will be swimming with the puffer fish. Why? You don’t own the medium. Meta owns many platforms, so they make the rules and change their algorithms often. This, and the growth of ads, make connecting with your followers ever tougher.

Coming aboard
According to B-School research, email marketing is the most qualified medium with the highest control and return. Email boasts a 4400% return on investment.1 A reader is 6x more likely to click through from an email to your content than from a tweet 2 and 5x more likely to read your email message than your post on Facebook.3 If you're selling a product, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), and people will place an order that’s 3x larger in response to an offer on email vs social media.4 

The Why is simple: They signed up to hear from you and you deliver. Consistent communication builds trust, relationships, and community. They get to know you. People do business with people. Make it easy for your people to be part of your circle.

“Email boasts a 4400% return on investment.”

Taking the helm
During our Mexican sailing adventure, each student had their day as skipper. On Wednesday, I was in charge of plotting a course, choosing a heading, and instructing the crew on trimming the sails to capture the wind. The teaching captain was there to guide me. In that spirit, I’m captaining my own ship starting with these four action items I’ll share with you:

  1. Create an opt-in offer that rewards those who trust me with their email. 
  2. Add an obvious “join” call-to-action on my website.
  3. Set up a thank you message that delivers the offer.
  4. Craft a 6-month plan to send out interesting content once per month. 

Yes, part of Step 4 is writing a blog about my sailing adventure. Join my email list and I’ll let you know when it’s ready. (See what I did there?)  Jibe ho!

If you would like EnZed to craft a plan for optimizing your email list opt-in, contact Helen today.

References: 1. Data & Marketing Association  2. Campaign Monitor  3. Radicati  4. McKinsey