What's The Big Idea?

The Big Idea is the words that inspire each way you express yourself from handshakes to hero shots.

The Big Idea is the words that inspire each way you express yourself from handshakes to hero shots.


Like a person, organizations are compelled by their unique identities and callings—that’s Big Idea territory.

One to six words that drive everything. That’s the Big Idea.

It tells who you are and shows the good you offer to people. It brings your team together and invites others in. Big Ideas are simple yet lofty. They bring clarity to the complex. They need to be understood immediately and easily shared. Like a person, organizations are compelled by their unique identities and callings—that’s Big Idea territory.

Sometimes the words are used outside your organization, like “Think Different” (Apple) or “Just Do It” (Nike). More often they’re used within your organization, but the words always inspire each way you express yourself to your desired audience, from handshakes to hero shots.


It’s in the overlap of the butterfly diagram that the Big Idea reveals itself.

It’s in the overlap of the butterfly diagram that the Big Idea reveals itself.


How do you craft your Big Idea? Trischler Design Co. uncovers Big Ideas during the Discovery Phase of our Mindful Design Process. We gather a ton of firsthand information through team workshops, one-on-one interviews, and other forms of research. Afterward, we take a ten-thousand-foot view of all of the voices, images, and findings to observe patterns. We use helpful exercises to make a Big Idea easier to uncover, including the butterfly diagram, which we borrow from Wolf Ollins. The exercise first asks “What’s wrong with your world?” Meaning, what’s broken in your industry or field? The second question is, “What’s special about you?” Meaning, what unique gifts or talents does your organization possess? Or, what gets you up in the morning? Or, what do you have that your competition would kill to have? It’s in the overlap of these two circles in the diagram that the Big Idea reveals itself.

Here are a few examples of Big Ideas, including our own, that we’ve uncovered with our clients over the last nine years:

We’re All Hippos

Indigo Hippo is an art supply thrift store believes many of us have challenges getting through life. We all have things about us that make us awkward and beautiful—like hippos.

Unexpected Combinations

In everything—food, drinks, and art—Branch is a restaurant that strives to create unexpected combinations for patrons.

Build Beyond

More than developed land or a custom home, Scroggins builds beyond.

Visionaries Need A Space To Be

Natasha Wallis designs spaces of rest for people who are changing the world (case study coming soon).

Multi-Tool For Literacy

Literacy is much more than reading and writing, and so is the Chattanooga Public Library.

Mindful Branding

At Trischler Design Co., we’re driven by your Big Idea. We bring mindfulness of your Big Idea to every decision, every word, every design, every part of the process.


Want to uncover your Big Idea? We’d love to help.
Find out more about how a Brand Strategy Workshop can help.

And here are some additional ways to learn how to uncover your Big Idea on your own:
Read “The Big Idea” written by Robert Jones.
Read Branding in Five and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson.
Take the free “Secret Power of Brands” course by Robert Jones on FutureLearn.


TakeRoot Campaign Identity


Mortgages are like weeds. You pay it down monthly, but it never seems to go away. TakeRoot is a campaign led by University Christian Church (UCC) to raise $350,000 over three years to pay off its building’s remaining mortgage. I go to church at UCC and was asked to work on the campaign’s marketing team along with my good friend, Seth Lucas (wayfinding and environmental designer at University of Cincinnati). Together, Seth and I created the visual identity including the name, wordmark, illustrations, and collateral materials. The strategy for the campaign was led by Rick Vilardo of TC Ministries.

The verse often used during the campaign was Jeremiah 17:8-8, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” It’s that imagery of deep connection to the true abundance that directed the name of the campaign. Greater than paying off the mortgage, the campaign sought to foster these words of Jeremiah in the UCC community. All of the elements of the identity, from the paper selection to the background graphics express a movement away from the lies of scarcity, toward the belief in the truest abundance available regardless of our bank statement.

While the campaign is only in the first month of its first year, the UCC congregation and its supporters have already pledged over $400,000 to pay off the mortgage. That’s even more than we had hoped! Now, you may be wondering why this is a big deal? The current monthly mortgage hinders our church from dreaming about new and creative expressions of our faith. For instance, Rohs Street Cafe, a warm and welcoming coffee shop is one of our current ministries. We’re excited to imagine what else we can come up with as our monthly budget becomes less of a constraint.

Regardless of the success of the campaign, it was a pleasure to work on the campaign identity with Seth and the rest of the TakeRoot team. I actually said no initially to help out, but I’m glad I changed my mind.


Why do logos steal the spotlight?

Are logos as important as they seem?

Are logos as important as they seem?


Trademarks are limited in their ability to communicate Big Ideas. They’re an expression of a Big Idea, but they’re not a Big Idea. At best they identify and/or a signify a company or organization.

Are trademarks (aka logos, symbols, monograms, emblems, etc.) really that important? That’s the question that's crossed my mind recently while designing one for an interior design studio based in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was researching other design studios across the web when I realized that what I’m most interested in is not the trademark, but the Big Idea behind a company. It's ethos and purpose. I’m about 12 hours into the project, and I haven’t designed anything (aside from a presentation of my research), but what I have done is collect a bunch of words into sentences and phrases that represent my client's Big Idea. Reading these words is much more exciting than looking at the trademarks I've found.

Trademarks are limited in their ability to communicate Big Ideas. They’re an expression of a Big Idea, but they’re not a Big Idea. At best they identify and/or a signify a company or organization.

That doesn’t mean one should neglect the design of their trademark. It should still be good, following age-old design principles, ultimately with the aim to be as timeless as needed/possible, and it should also represent the organization's personality and culture (i.e., don’t put lipstick on a pig). But beyond these “shoulds," a trademark doesn’t have much more responsibility. Instead of stealing the spotlight, they’re better among a cast of characters that make up a brand identity system of an organization.

Considering a new trademark? Perhaps it’s best to uncover your Big Idea first? It may take longer, but if you begin to live out your purpose and ambitions, the logo will follow, increasing the affinity your audience has toward the shapes, typefaces, and colors that represent your company or organization. Already living out your Big Idea, but your trademark is still lagging behind? Then maybe it’s time to consider a refresh. Either way, this is a conversation that I love to have with people, and I’d like to have with you whether your a fellow designer or current/potential client.


Mid-Semester Lessons from Capstone

Behold, the Capstone!

Behold, the Capstone!


It’s the end of February, and we’re about at the half-way point through the spring semester. I’ve been teaching the Senior Capstone course at DAAP. The primary purpose of Capstone is for the students to exhibit the skills they’ve acquired during the last four years at DAAP. In that way, “teacher” isn’t quite the right description for my role because the end goal isn’t to learn from me. My job is to help the students express their knowledge and to encourage them through the most extended project they’ve worked on to date. It’s a lot more like the role of a coach. 

I’m new at this, so it’s been my temptation to teach rather than to coach. I’ve been critiquing their work based on where I think it should be on a made up timeline in my mind (i.e., finished yesterday). Likewise, I find myself attaching to projects, imagining where I’d take them, and sharing feedback to that end. If I were to name the fear behind these behaviors, it would be that I’m afraid people (other professors, designers, etc.) will judge me based on student outcomes. Not cool. I’m aware.

It’s dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that they are learning in the middle of the process right now.
 

Equipped with that awareness, I’ve begun to loosen up. As I walked up the stairs to DAAP before class the other day, I told myself to have fun, get to know the students, and focus less on critiquing the work. They have plenty of avenues for feedback. What if my task is more to cheer them on, over all of the inevitable design blocks, through this daunting design journey? It's dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that the students are learning in the middle of the process right now. Trust and be faithful to the process and the results will work themselves out. That's a lesson I’m continually learning in my work as an adjunct professor and professional designer/business owner. It’s a lesson that I’ll need a reminded of again and again.

Speaking of process, the students are keeping an online journal of their Capstone process in a Medium publication. Please take a moment to check their work so far. If you’re feeling extra generous, make a comment or “applaud” their posts.

Click here to view the publication. 


Advice to Design Students I

Make a more interesting chicken.

Make a more interesting chicken.

I’ve been working with students as an adjunct professor at DAAP, and I consistently find them stuck in the middle of a design block. They’re usually playing it safe. There’s not a whole lot distinguishing their iterations or, there’s not a whole lot of iterations to look at. More often than not, there’s an attachment to a solution (usually a first or second iteration). Their unwillingness to release these early solutions prevents them from doing better work. I’m all too familiar with this situation in my own practice. Here are some ways I’ve gotten out of a design block.


On getting past a design block:

  • Try typefaces you haven’t used before (Fontstand, Adobe Fonts, Klim Test Fonts, Future Fonts). Typography is your secret weapon.

  • Swap projects and have a peer to design a version to get their perspective. It’s not cheating. It’s collaboration.  

  • Print out your screens and take a sharpie marker or Exacto knife to them. They're not precious.

  • Turn off your wi-fi and design without checking the internet or Instagram for inspiration (give your self three hours and see what you come up with). You’ll make more than you ever have before.

  • Limit your self to three or four elements (shapes, colors, type, line). See how far you can push those simple elements. It might be helpful to start an empty Illustrator artboard and play. Be bold. Try different variations. Pull out what you love.

  • Design the wrongest solution. That may help you know what’s right.


Additionally, critique is a fantastic way to get new perspectives and do better work, but you have to go in prepared.

On getting your work critiqued:

  • Bring specific questions that you’re struggling to resolve.

  • Don’t spend the whole time talking about your process and research. Talk about the work you want to be critiqued.  

  • It’s hard to critique a design that’s 10% finished. Try to get it to 60% - 80% and let the critique help you to 90% - 100%.

  • Don’t defend your work. If it’s good, it will protect itself. If it’s weak, it will get stronger the more it’s beaten up.


This is the most frustrating phase of design. You think everything is terrible. But, you’re not alone. It happens to students and professionals alike. Don't give up! It will evolve into something better.


Screens of Good

Screens of Good University of Cincinnati DAAP 2018

If you had three days to work on a project with senior design students what would you do? That was the question asked of me by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville design program. The first thing I thought of was an episode of 99 Percent Invisible where an ingenuitive Los Angeleno designed and installed a new exit sign on an LA freeway so that he and others would no longer miss their off ramp. Out of that inspiration “Signs of Good” came to life. Signs of Good was a three-day design blitz with the goal of installing temporary signage around the university to create a more pleasing campus experiences (like the freeway sign). Below is an example of one of the resulting projects. It’s a texting lane so that students wouldn’t run into each other while walking across campus.


Texting Lane at University of Tennessee.

Texting Lane at University of Tennessee.


Fast forward to 2017. I had to come up with an assignment to conclude a user-centered design course at University of Cincinnati, DAAP. This time I was an adjunct professor. Rather than design "Signs" of Good, I decided with my TAs that the students would work toward "Screens" of Good.

The assignment was introduced with a quote from an interview with Tony Fadell, the inventor of Nest, and one of the designers of the iPhone. “I wake up in cold sweats thinking, what did we bring to the world?” Fadell shares his concern over the negative consequences of new technologies like the iPhone. He points out the fact that most new technologies are designed by men in their 20s without kids. They aren’t developing products with anyone else in mind but themselves. Fadell ends the interview with a question. How do we fix the technology? And that’s the question Screens of Good asks of the students.

Executing a user-centered process, the class was tasked with generating humble solutions to the gigantic problem articulated by Fadell. The students (split up into teams) had to demonstrate skills in user research and evaluative research. In a nutshell, they had to interview and survey users, design and build a paper prototype based on that research (use of the computer was discouraged), and evaluate the prototype for feedback that would make it better. In theory, their idea and design should get better the more it was filtered through the user-centered process.


Minimal app concept with only four options.

Minimal app concept with only four options.


The results? Here are a few examples from different stages of the assignment as reported from several different teams. Each are from the fall 2018 semester. It was my second semester giving the assignment. The final deliverable was a Medium.com entry highlighting their design process from start to finish. Click here to read one of the more excellent essays.


Survey results to questions related to behavioral patterns connected to phone usage


An Affinity Diagram used to form insights from the research gathered.


Anticipated user experience sequence.



Evaluative testing of a paper prototype.


Paper prototype of a scavenger hunt app for children.

Paper prototype of a scavenger hunt app for children.

.This app reminds you when you haven’t heard or reached out to a friend in awhile.


If you'd like to learn more about Screens of Good or Signs of Good, please contact me at dj@trischlerdesign.com or trischdj@ucmail.uc.edu.