last summer, I drove out to Wisconsin to do a photoshoot at a sports car race. When I originally pitched the idea to my significant other, I had a few things in mind for what to see and do out there, but decided to let her take the reins on choosing things to do beyond our time at the track. Of course, she immediately honed in on the cheese aspect (as Wisconsin is known for their dairy products) and wanted to do cheese sampling. Sure, I’m up for it. I like cheese. Even if I were lactose intolerant, I’d still indulge. After all, I just drove 1000 miles to get there so I wanted to capitalize on where I was and take in some of the local offerings. My mindset is typically, as they say, ’when in Rome…’
mmm–mmm–MMM! That’s Gouda!
Let me just begin by stating for the record, that I have never had a sausage, egg, and cheese on a croissant from Dunkin’ Donuts that tasted sooooo good as the one I had out there. It was the richest, creamiest, melt-in-your-mouth, probably shouldn’t be driving at that moment, breakfast sandwich that I have ever had. Everything about it was of a different caliber and quality than what is made available here on the east coast. Mind you, this was only at a pit stop in Illinois (just south of Wisconsin) but it was close enough to Wisconsin to give me my first impression of the quality of the cheese and dairy in the region and, let me just say, it did not disappoint.
Now I don’t really know what the logistics are for Dunkin’ (nor do I really care but a long car ride certainly lets the mind wander), so I’m going to assume, based on my impromptu taste-test, that their product supply chain in the midwest is regional enough to be considered local-ish for where I stopped at. I will say with a lot of confidence that everything in my sandwich was significantly fresher than what we typically get around here in the Philadelphia region. It also felt like it was prepared with a little more care, which I really liked, as I felt like a customer there and not a ‘bother’.
That said, volume should never be an excuse for marginal quality or service. With the benefit of the doubt given here, I imagine that it’s because of the sheer volume and demand we have here on the east coast (based on population density). It is also evident that the staff around here appears significantly more agitated because of the volume and look to just serve the customer as quickly as possible so as to move onto the next one (turn-and-burn). Not a great impression by a business, nor a good business model if that’s the tactic.
Supplies are also likely manufactured in mass quantity for the same turn-and-burn system of delivery to the customer, and stored in warehouses similar to what you see at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie.
With that thought now fresh in your mind, and to think a little more on it, for such a large volume to be manufactured, you know that there are all sorts of wonderful preservatives and other ‘fake crap’ that goes into mass produced cheese… and who knows how many corners were cut in the manufacturing, distribution, storage, and delivery process. Trust me. Don’t think on it too hard as you may ruin a few things for yourself if you do overthink it. This experience and analysis, however, has led me to draw a few parallels to design, businesses and aspects of business, with the use of cheese. Big surprise here, right?
I adopted the term Professional Cheese a number of years ago as it was spawned from management wanting something executed or created in a quick, simple and basic manner from me, but with an added element that they knew I brought to the table. When I use this term ‘professional cheese’, it is usually in describing my approach to a design concept. In this specific context, I am referring to a higher quality and higher standard applied to a design whose subject, at its very core, is still rather pedestrian. In short, it’s the process of making it ‘gooder’.
Based on my analysis over the past 2 years of the design solutions that I see in the optical industry, I would label them as ‘cheesy’. That is my professional opinion. Why? Because they all look the same using this similarly posed style of imagery that I see being constantly regurgitated through the field. Professional Cheese is simply a means to take something that is garden-variety to the next level. Regardless of how boring or mundane the topic or item is, it can be delivered in a way that doesn’t look like everything else out there. It doesn’t look like it was mass-produced from a turn-and-burn system of design and has something just a little different and a little more added to it. It makes it unique and special and provides a bit of separation from the rest.
Take, for example, opt magazine and compare it to all the other optical magazines out there. It would probably be fair and more accurate to categorize opt as a hybrid graphic novel-periodical but at its core (and for this particular point), it is a magazine. Sure, one of the big and immediate differences you will spot as you flip through the pages is the lack of advertisements that opt has. In fact, the only frame ad we do is a mock ad, just to have some fun at all the other magazines having more frame ads than actual, meaningful content; they are almost like glorified frame catalogs. Beyond the lack of frame ads though, you should notice that the presentation of articles and magazine as a whole, is different than what you see in the other trade magazines and I am fortunate enough to work with it. A big philosophy behind opt is that we value meaningful content above all else, and as a service to our customers, provide them with in-depth knowledge and insight. We strive to make the mundane fun and entertaining.
For a bit of a deeper-dive into the vat, just look at the article on Dispensing Eyewear on page 36. How many other magazines (and even blogs) will have the same or similar articles talking about the do’s and don’ts and what to look for, in regards to dispensing eyewear? How many of those articles will also feature an image of a smiling person getting eyeglasses put on their face? This is the ‘fake crap’ that drives me nuts as a designer when I see this. This manufactured, mass produced, let’s go with the same ‘ol, default, first-thing that comes-to-mind idea and run with it type-of-approach because it’s simple, safe, and makes sense. NO. It sucks and looks boring and I have less than zero interest in reading it. This is why I will look to add a bit of an artisan’s approach to any design that I do.
Artisan ✯ Quality
Yes. There is a bit of an artisan in me that I look to put forth in anything I do in design. I guess it goes back to my education and training that began well over a decade before computers started to get involved with the world of design. There is a quality and a standard inserted into my work that matches my passion and enthusiasm for what I do. I do also have a bit of a purist’s approach (if you will) which some might say it is a ‘lost art’ these days. I also know that it is not for everyone in this day and age. There is certainly something to be said, however, for something being hand crafted and I, for one, appreciate this attention to detail and skillsets in design and beyond. Unfortunately, even the term ‘hand crafted’ has lost some value these days because it is grossly over-used in marketing as a gimmick to try and get people to believe that it is actually quality from a bygone era.
Is there an artisan quality and approach in your business? I’m not just asking specifically about the way your business is presented visually on the internet or in marketing pieces. I’m also asking about your business as a whole. From your businesses presence online, all the way down to dispensing and even further down to a follow-up with your customers. Does your business encompass the time, care, attention and even craft, which separates it from the others and gives the service you offer, that personal touch, as can only be done by an artisan?
Sometimes I yearn for the days when you had a master and an apprentice, as it pertains to a craft. The way of providing those goods and services to loyal customers, used to be. The focus and training was always 100% on the craft and the quality of the results were evident of that focus. Nowadays, multitasking and mediocrity appear to have replaced skill and pride. It makes no sense to me as to why there is such an accepted level of compromise these days. It certainly makes no sense why the owner’s 16 year old nephew, who randomly plays in Photoshop (and is paid with an Xbox gift card), is perceived as ‘the right choice’ for the marketing of the business.
Why settle for this basic cheese? Why use the same cheese that everyone else is using? For example - I’ll stack my grandmother’s mac n’ cheese recipe that uses Cooper Sharp, against ANY mac n’ cheese made with Velveeta® or from the blue box by Kraft, any day of the week. The end results are that yes, they are all mac n’ cheese, but only one of them has a little something different to it, professional cheese. It’s a little extra effort to find this particular cheese and it’s a little extra effort to prepare the dish but the results are markedly greater.
Honest and Wholesome
Let’s be honest for a moment. Can you really make the act of dispensing eyewear sound better than what it is? I don’t wear glasses and have no frame of reference (pun unintended) and may be a tad ignorant here but, is the act of dispensing eyewear actually exciting? Do you get all amped-up like players before a rivalry football game? Are you walking around the office high-fiving and giving the cliché fist-bumps and ‘sports-guy chest bumps’ with your staff after dispensing? Love the enthusiasm but highly doubtful, especially since that would probably be considered inappropriate and, most likely, an HR issue in the workplace.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are some of you out there that really do enjoy customer service. Aside from those individuals that truly enjoy making customers happy and providing a great experience for the consumer, how thrilling and edge-of-your-seat action is the act of dispensing? Again, be honest. I’m not ripping on those doing the dispensing here, as I am appreciative of those who care so much about their job and who will take it up a notch; I’m simply ripping on the solutions I see by those that visually communicate an article about it. Done the same way that everyone else does, and repeating this mind-numbing, monotonous solution. This again, is what I call ‘cheese’ in design. A big bland block of blah that will constipate the senses of the consumers.
Cheese certainly has its place, though. Late night infomercials come to mind. Filler TV shows whose writers can only write scripts based on current trends that top Google searches yield. Pictures of cats wearing glasses on Instagram. People eat this stuff up and clearly it’s successful… to a point. Me? I really don’t get it. I’m simply not wired for that stuff… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place. If I am asked to make something that falls into the category of cheese, I always look to try and take it to the next level… professional cheese. Even if they just want plain old cheese. That’s how I’m wired and is my approach with many things within design and beyond. I have a habit of one-upping myself as I view anything I did yesterday as crap. Always forward thinking.
Cheese is cheese… or is it?
What kind of cheese do you want? What kind of cheese do you like? These are questions that you need to ask yourself as it pertains to your marketing, advertising and, really, all aspects of your business. Maybe you like cheddar cheese on your hamburger. Great. Millions of other people across this country do too. For many, it’s a classic and not to be tampered with. After all, there are plenty of franchises out there that are extremely successful, distributing mass quantities of burgers on a daily basis using this familiar slice of orange cheese. But just because you like cheddar on your burger, doesn’t mean all your customers do.
Are you happy with a slab or hunk from the same old block of cheese, simply because it’s cheap, safe, and everyone is familiar with it? If you are comfortable with your business, goods, and services just blending-in and going-on with the status quo firmly in place, then that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that at all (said genuinely, regardless of my snarky tone). If you, however, are looking to try something different, then I say have at it and give it a go. How about some Pepper Jack? Blue Cheese? or Smoked Gouda on your burger? When you try one of these alternative cheeses on your burger, it now moves that burger into the ‘gourmet’ category and gives it an elevated status. Wouldn’t you like your business to have that? Sure, you will have your customer base keep coming back for a burger with cheddar, but a gourmet burger brings a whole new crowd. Why can’t you offer both?
Sadly, not all cheese is created equal. Not all cheese is for everyone. Not all cheese plays nicely with certain dishes or combinations. Case in point, back in Wisconsin, we decided to stop in Milwaukee on one day (highly recommended btw) and do, amongst other touristy things, cheese tasting. So we went to this 5-star boutique cheese and chocolate shop and ordered up a sampler. You might be taken aback by the pairing of chocolate and cheese; you are correct in that presumption. The cheese was phenomenal on its own, as was the chocolate on its own. Together though, not so much. Chocolate and peanut butter together on the other hand… now that’s a winner (sorry, that idea’s been taken), but I digress…
Ok, so trying some pro-grade cheese and pro-grade chocolate together in the land of dairy didn’t really work for us and that’s fine. We tried it. We survived it. We moved on from it. The same can be said for you and your business and trying some new cheese. It can take time to find the right combination that works and when it does, it’s amazing. We did come across some magnificent cheese by the way, in the form of cheese curds and a dipping sauce. OMG, is all I’m able to say about that without being censored by my editor.
Even though these are all cheeses spoken about here, each one offers something different and unique. Make no mistake, some cheeses will be wrong. The question to really ask yourself is, do you consider your business and what you offer your customers, to be more of the artisan-quality cheese or the manufactured- processed quality of cheese? Which would you rather have? Which would you rather serve your customers? Which would you want to represent the quality of your products & your business?
Aged and Matured
Many things get better with age. Ingredients, time, patience, craft, and attention to detail… all of these are elements of what makes for good cheese, if done properly of course. The same could be said for your business. Your business should be getting better with age. Core elements and techniques that long ago established your business should still be evident, in practice and in spirit too, in addition to providing new offerings. Not just the same big bland block of blah.
Careful though. Just because you need to let something age and mature, doesn’t mean you become complacent and forget about it for a period of time. You’ll end up with the ‘wrong’ type of Blue Cheese if you do. It is a fine and delicate balance that you need to learn. Too much attention, smothering and/or micromanagement can lead to negative consequences. The same can be said for too much neglect or outright abandonment. Ever make Alfredo cheese sauce and forget it on the stove? Tastes wonderful, doesn’t it?
When it comes down to it, aged, matured and well-crafted cheese ultimately wins out always over fast, mass-produced cheese. Fresh, young eyes are good for some things as it pertains to a business, but the impatience and lack of experience can lead to shortcomings. On the flip-side, aged cheese can be really stubborn and not play well with others. Learn to listen to your employees and your customers. They will help strike the balance for a great product. Be both the artisan and the connoisseur of your business and then “everything else is cream cheese”.
Recipe for Pro-Cheese
What you’ll need
3 cups communication
2 cups of ideas
8 ounces of layout
2 tbsp white space
4 tbsp typography
a dash of color
a pinch of innovation
1 whole, aged & matured professional designer
NO SUBSTITUTIONS ALLOWED
What to do
1. talk with the professional designer
2. brainstorm and gather ideas together
3. mix all of the ingredients together
4. let the design be worked for the time specified by the designer
− this is important as it is not on your terms and will not happen in a day
5. sample, evaluate, and adjust to taste*
* if it’s not good, have the designer adjust ingredients
6. re-sample, re-evaluate, and further adjust to perfection