Patterns, passion, and photos: 5 minutes with Point Blank’s Director of Design


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Izzy Pouliot joined Point Blank as Director of Design in August. We sat down with Izzy to get her take on design trends – and why good branding matters for causes in Canada.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Izzy Pouliot?

A: I’m incredibly excited to be Director of Design here at Point Blank – the go-to team member on all things ‘brand’. We live in a world where books are judged by their covers – and I think progressive campaigns should be strategic about what the cover of their book says to the world.

Design is about making the important issues connect with our supporters on an emotional level. I love working with clients to develop innovative design strategies and brand solutions that make audiences feel something – to engage them, and move them to action.

Q: For causes and movements – with limited resources for their work – why does good design need to be a priority?

A: Causes face the challenge of being taken as seriously as other brands with huge resources at their disposal. A movement isn’t just competing for attention against other progressive causes – they’re competing against commercial brands, government – everyone who’s vying for attention in a very competitive media landscape.

With a large enough budget you can buy attention. Causes and movements still need to achieve that impact even if they don’t have a multi-million dollar budget.

Great design based off a solid visual identity is a critical because a consistent look across all applications gives your audience a sense of reliability, stability, and trust. No matter what the objectives of your organization are, there’s a need for a loyal base of support and a strong visual identity to drive that loyalty and trust. This is especially true of grassroots movements where resources are tight but the emotional investment from supporters is high.

The old saying goes that you should dress for the job you want – not the job you have. Good design is a freshly ironed suit for cause marketing – it conveys a sense of organization, focus, and professionalism that sets you apart from your competition.

Branding doesn’t stop at design. Photos and video are your brand – that means wardrobe, hair, and public behaviour are elements of the brand that all help to tell a compelling story.

Q: In the campaigns world right now, who’s doing design really well?

A: Point Blank!

But apart from us? No one will be surprised to hear me say that 2008 Obama campaign redefined how branding is used in politics. That brand will always be iconic because it was used so consistently and thoroughly.

The strength of a visual identity is multiplied with every proper use – and I don’t just mean print and digital collateral. The brand story behind Obama was extremely well constructed and has continued to evolve throughout his presidency – from his sing-alongs on late night TV shows to the emotionally charged photographs of him lovingly interacting with constituents.

When supporters see the iconic Obama “O” logo or the signature Gotham typeface, they’re reminded of why they love and support President Obama. Even today, eight years later.

With a large enough budget you can buy attention. Causes and movements still need to achieve that impact even if they don’t have a multi-million dollar budget.

 

Q: What’s your approach to design?

A: The design process starts by clearly laying out the goal of the campaign.

A piece of work that’s beautiful but doesn’t meet the objectives is art, not design.

Design should be the visual manifestation of the overall strategy. It should solve a problem and look great.

My approach to the development of any piece is to include everything I think it needs, and then begin stripping elements away until it is the simplest form that still stands up to the objective. I guess that’s a form of essentialism.

To me, a strong piece is most often a simple piece. We are so inundated with the idea of more, more, more that it’s easy to forget that the more elements you’ve got going on, the harder it becomes to navigate through the piece to find the core message. But don’t get me wrong, I love a good repeating pattern, too.

Izzy Pouliot hard at work leading a convention design team

Q: Let’s talk about photography. In the era where Obama’s presidency, and Justin Trudeau’s government, are defined by powerful photos of key moments, what lessons are there for social causes?

A: Well let’s be clear: striking photos of key moments have always been used to highlight political successes (and failures!).

Now, with social media being the preferred method of media consumption for many, those powerful images are being published at a much faster rate, to a much broader audience. To top that off, you no longer need to be a professional photographer with tens of thousands of dollars worth of specialized gear to get a good shot. There’s a lot of value in that for social causes who have smaller budgets but ambitious goals.

What Obama and Trudeau’s teams are really doing well is making sure the photographs are telling a story that reinforces their brand. We won’t see photos of slack-jawed, BBQ sauce stained, sweat-pant-clad Obama or Trudeau appearing on their respective Instagram accounts. But we do see lots of shots of them looking like they live “normal lives” because it supports the brand if their supporters gets a sense of transparency and personal connection.

Branding doesn’t stop at design. Photos and video are so prevalent today – and that means wardrobe, hair, and public behaviour are elements of the brand that all help to tell a compelling story. As does the style and composition the photo itself.

Photos are a powerful way to tell your brand story. Emotional connection is critical to building support – and what’s more stirring than a powerful photo?

A piece of work that’s beautiful but doesn’t meet the objectives is art, not design.

 

Q: What inspires you?

A: People inspire me!

Working with people who are excited about what they do, which is a huge part of why I’m so happy to join Point Blank. It’s great to be part of a team of people who not only care about the work they do, but are passionate about the causes they’re working with. I first experienced that working in politics and there’s nothing else like it.

Q: Which design trends are catching your eye these days? Why?

A: I’m a bit of a purist.

I’ll never get tired of a really well thought out spread of text. Black and white still gets me amped up and yeah… Helvetica is still a versatile option – even fifty years later.

That said, a designer can’t afford to produce work that feels dated.

The biggest trend I see appearing in all types of design is a real love of sturdy geometric shapes. Fashion is getting so boxy and androgynous – I love it! Graphic design and web design have become much more flat looking over the last few years. We’re seeing fewer gradients, more solid colours, tighter grids — and I love all of that too.

Furniture and even food plating are being simplified down to essential shapes with less flourish and more substance. It’s a great time for design.

Izzy Pouliot previously served as Associate Director of Communications for Canada’s NDP, creating print and digital products delivered to millions of Canadians from coast to coast. When she’s not screen-bound, she’s poring over cookbooks, and tearing up any dance floor she can get her feet on. She lives in Ottawa with her giant beast of a dog and her wilderness-loving husband, Drew.

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