Tone of voice is something that I talk about a lot. In a nutshell, it’s how your company speaks – whether that’s in person, through images, or in text. A strong, relevant tone of voice is a key part of branding. Imagine meeting Grace Kelly, only to find her swearing and shouting.
Let’s take a look at five companies that communicate really, really well, and consider why.
We’re delighted to say that our unique creative services now include copywriting and content strategy. Megan Oldcorn has joined the Nixon team to offer everything from the essentials such as proof-reading and editing to larger projects like creating tone of voice guidelines in line with branding.
With so much attention given over to how brands look and feel, maintaining a strong, consistent approach in text has never been so important. We know only too well how tricky it can be to work with a brand that is visually stunning but doesn’t quite deliver when it comes to content. Nobody wants to be accused of being ‘all style and no substance’.
In the past we’ve delivered both visually and in terms of content by working with expert wordsmiths such as Stranger Collective. Now, we’re happy to be in a position where we can combine our great relationships with others with the perks of having an in-house writer.
Generating compelling content can pose a variety of problems for the uninitiated. There are those who dedicate energy to web design but can’t find time to manage the demands of its blog page. Others have a large mailing list of current or potential customers, but email newsletters that fall flat. Often, it’s the people at the heart of a business, who understand and love it, that know best what they want to say. It’s just that finding the most impactful words can be more of a challenge.
That’s where we come in. We can offer help or advice across a variety of services, including:
• Tone of voice and style guidelines
• Website copy
• Email newsletter marketing
• Ghost blogging
• Proof-reading and sub-editing
• PR copywriting, such as press releases
• Advertisements, flyers and brochures
• Advertorial and features
• In-house magazines
If you’re not sure whether your text is working for you, we’ll gladly offer our opinion of where improvements could be made (nicely, of course!) If you do need help, or just want to outsource a job that isn’t your favourite, our copywriting and design services can work together to ensure that every word you put out there is on-brand and decidedly ‘you’.
We’re a pretty friendly bunch at Nixon, so if you’d like to find out more or have a chat about your business and current copy output, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01736 758600.
If you’d rather manage your writing in-house but would appreciate a few tips on making it stand out, stay tuned to our blog for upcoming articles offering advice on a range of ‘wordy’ topics.
I recently spent some time at Trewirgie Junior School in Redruth during Maths Week. I was there to encourage students to embrace all things numerical by showing them how much fun coding is, while teaching them that it is actually all about maths.
There are a few things that have inspired me to talk about design and risk, but the more recent catalyst was the unveiling of a new logo and brand identity and the way it was received by designers and audiences. It made the news and both the Guardian and the BBC had initially skeptical views on the logo design and some of the connotations that could be read into it.
To be perfectly honest, the first time I’d heard the debate around the logo was one morning while listening to the radio. The views of the presenters were overall quite negative, but also very instinctive and immediate. Having not yet seen the logo for myself theirs was the only opinion I had to go on and it was invariably one-sided. It felt slightly unusual as a designer to hear about a design without having the chance to see it. So it got me thinking.
You hear about this sort of situation a lot – a design that hasn’t been received well, deemed ‘wrong’. Although of course, you’re more likely to hear about something that’s gone wrong than something that quietly works. An obvious example would be the hysteria caused by the London 2012 Olympics logo, where the branding industry was suddenly thrust into mainstream media and those responsible were hounded outside their homes by the paparazzi like a celebrity without make up. But regardless of opinions on the logo, it was still used and will certainly be remembered.
So what happens when something new is created, with the best intentions and a seemingly watertight rationale, but when unveiled is met with almost immediate and instinctive rejection? There’s usually an element of risk that has to be taken: the risk that something won’t look right and will ultimately fail its user in creating, generating or maintaining interest. When a risk doesn’t pay off, it’s a nightmare scenario for designers and clients.
Why am I talking about this? Well, it seems like an elephant in the room. We all want to feel reassured when we’re investing time and money into something, that there will be some kind of return, and rightly so. Equally, everyone wants to make sure when they create something that they get it ‘right’. But how can we determine what’s right and wrong in design, can it be measured, and how certainly can it be planned for?
Unpacking the first point, many things in this world can be divisive: art, design, tastes, politics, ethics, opinions – not least those of this article. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to always please everyone. With design comes a certain level of subjectivity, but it’s not art. It has a more direct and tangible purpose and so retains a certain amount of objectivity. Design falls halfway: it needs to be distinct enough to allow its message to be seen and heard by the right people, but open enough to not be exclusive.
An obvious measure of success is increased numbers of customers and ultimately, to put it bluntly, financial gain. Another familiar measurement of success is award schemes. These happen in many industries and come in all shapes and sizes. But they’re often presided over, and judged by, our peers or predecessors.
Of course, it’s important to remember that design isn’t created in a vacuum and is subject to factors such as brief, budget and tastes. As marketing consultants we always strive to create something that adheres to a client’s needs. So in that sense, success is measured by how well it answers a brief and meets the end goal of the client. As designers we arm ourselves with knowledge, experience and principles, to give ourselves the best chance of doing a good job.
Finally, can we plan to get it right? Short of stopping people in the street and asking for their opinions, can success be guaranteed? Short answer: yes, kind of, it depends. Long answer: no, not always. Even if we go through market research there’s a risk that something homogenous and boring will be created, which can be a failure in a different sense. This sort of ‘wrong’ hides in the shadows of subjectivity and behind market research reports.
I should have mentioned earlier that I’m not trying to solve any issues with this post. Sorry about that. Like lots of things, opinions on the balance between risk and safety are subjective and dependent on many factors. But it’s a debate worth bearing in mind at the unveiling of each new concept.
Apple today announced the biggest quarterly profit ever posted by a public company; a staggering £11.8 billion. It now has £93 billion pounds in net cash reserves and can boast revenue 30% higher than the same period last year. The success story of this darling of the stock-market is due, in no small part, to the colossal sales of its hugely successful iPad and iPhone ranges, raising the question: are people ditching their desktops in favour of their pocket-friendly counterparts? The answer, it seems, is a resounding, “Yes”. Here in Cornwall, as well as elsewhere, having a responsive website could be the key to big business.
A recent comScore report attributed 65% of all online traffic to smartphones and tablets, up from 50% the year before, and it is estimated that by the year 2020 over half of the world’s population will use a mobile device to access the internet. Surely then, with such prevalence, all websites are now designed to cater for portable devices with their reduced screens and patchy connections. Well, at the time of writing only 1 in 8 companies in Cornwall have websites that are built to respond to the device on which they are displayed, meaning the rest suffer from slow load times, fiddly button presses and plenty of scrolling across reams of indecipherably small print.
The answer lies in a growing trend within the web design industry called ‘responsive design’. The principle is simply that that the design should adapt or ‘respond’ to the size of the screen and nature of the device it’s being displayed on. The result? A site that is equally as usable and just as beautiful on the smallest mobile as it is on the largest desktop. As the team behind such works as Tresco, St Aubyn Estates and Cornwall Mobility, we’ve been proponents of responsive design for years and ensure that all sites we produce are fully responsive.
Using a technique called ‘mobile first’, our designs begin life on the small screen, taking into account the constraints of reduced processing power, lower download speeds and decreased screen real estate. From there, they are progressively enhanced to take advantage of larger devices with fewer constraints. This approach not only works; it’s necessary. In a study of 5,388 people, just under half lamented the fact that some of their favourite sites were not optimised for smaller devices, claiming it made them ‘feel that that company didn’t care about their business’. A further 28% complained they would leave if the site didn’t load quickly enough.
In a world where well over half of all website traffic comes from phones and tablets, businesses simply cannot afford to get left behind. Making your website responsive is essentially a form of future-proofing. It’s something that can make a huge difference in terms of sales or brand engagement.
If you have concerns that your website is not optimised for mobile use or would like to discuss how responsive design can benefit your business further, contact us on 01736 758600 or email email@example.com
At Nixon, our New Year’s resolution is to get down on paper – or screen – some of the useful things we’ve learned about design, web development and copywriting. We’ll be running a series of articles, posted fortnightly, beginning here with a post relating to copywriting. Proof-reading might seem too simple a place to begin, but read on and you’ll see why it’s best to start with the basics.
We know how it is – you spend ages working on a document or a chunk of text, you’ve been at it all day, you’re fed up with it, and you just want it done. You should really sit and proof-read it, but… It’ll probably be fine. Won’t it?
That thought process could well be your downfall. Yes, proof-reading is dull. Yes, your document, which you’ve just spent hours looking over, probably doesn’t have any typos left in it that you haven’t already noticed. But, oh my, yes it’s essential. The document that you’ve worked so hard on, that makes your business sound amazing, can just as easily make you look like the biggest mug ever if there’s an unfortunate typo in it.
Most people will think that this advice is completely unnecessary, but even the best of us can fall foul of the English language. Just Google ‘terrible typos’ and you’ll see what I mean. My personal favourites are the American ‘School of Pubic Affairs’ (embarrassing for everyone), the ‘Valley Newss’ newspaper that misspelled its own name, and the revelation that school is ‘two easy for kids’, as reported on WNDU 16 News. If you had to read back over this paragraph to find out why any of those were wrong, you’ll see how easy it is for errors to slip through.
The trouble is, when you’ve been looking at something for a long period of time, it actually becomes harder to spot your mistakes. If we could offer a step-by-step guide relating to proof-reading, it’d probably go something like this:
1) Do it. Just do it.
2) Use a spell-checker. If you’re inputting text directly into a web page that doesn’t have one, copy and paste it into a Word document.
3) Take a break. You may not have lots of time, but a quick break from the text makes it easier to find mistakes. Make a cup of tea and come back to it.
4) Print it out. We like being green, but we also like being flawless (if we possibly can be). For some reason, it’s often easier to see errors on paper.
5) Ask someone else to read it. Unless you’re working on your own, this is a really valuable thing to do. You might think that you’re using ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ correctly, but another pair of eyes will root it out if you’re not.
As a starter for ten, let’s delve into some of the most common mistakes we see.
1) Its v. it’s: This is a weird one that can catch out anyone. If you’re shortening ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, the result is it’s. If someone owns something (a possessive), you use its: e.g. ‘the dog chased after its ball’ or ‘Cornwall is known for its beaches.’
2) Capitals v. lower case: Proper nouns (e.g. names) should always have a capital letter, whether it’s a person’s name, place name or a brand name, such as Coca Cola. However, if you’re referring to a thing more generally, like lemonade, it doesn’t.
3) They’re, their and there: Even if you know this, a momentary lapse in concentration can catch you out. Their is when a group owns something (possessive), e.g. ‘the group pooled their resources’. They’re is short for ‘they are’ and there is a place.
4) Double letters: words with a mix of single and double letters are among the most commonly misspelled. Do check a dictionary to be sure. The following are the correct spellings: accommodation, necessary, possession, disappoint, unforeseen.
5) Missing words: it’s easy to miss words out of a sentence altogether, as this is something that a spell-checker won’t pick up on. To avoid it happening, make sure you read what is actually written on the page, not what you expect to be there. The same applies to words that can be accidentally shortened, like ‘off’ and ‘of’.
Remember, if in doubt, we can proof-read for you. If you’re paying out on having 10,000 flyers printed out, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as the people who wrongly captioned Sesame Street’s the Count.
From designing and building a website for a privately owned island to branding an independent cinema in a redundant fish factory – all in all, it’s been a very diverse and exciting 2014.
We’ve started working for new clients in some very dynamic sectors and one long standing client is coming back for an unprecedented fourth time in ten years for their latest website. We’ve art-directed, coded, illustrated, photographed, designed, artworked, project managed, strategised and deliberated over 465 individual projects spanning 65 clients. A pigeon even flew through our window to join in the fun. Here’s a snapshot of what we've been up to in 2014.
The other week we climbed aboard Stranger Collective’s Raft event for a Friday afternoon that was just ever so slightly out of the ordinary. Tempted away from our desks, a healthy mixture of curious people amassed aboard the ‘vessel of ideas’, all as perplexed and intrigued as each other about the upcoming events that proved hard to define.
Sipping on our cups of Yallah Coffee, the proceedings began by hearing from Kyra Maya Philips about the benefits of being a bit more like a pirate. Kyra is one of the founders of The Misfit Economy and has carried out research and interviews with some of the world’s most notorious hackers, pirates, black marketeers and criminals, with the aim of discovering new ways for businesses and economies to function. But for us it was more about how we can stand on the shoulders of giants by taking influence from those we admire most.
We heard about pirates’ strictly democratic customs; in fact, facing far more benefits from operating as a pirate than working legitimately as a merchant sailor. They only ever followed an elected leader during battle and all decisions were feverishly debated with all opinions equal.
After some time to stretch our legs (the majority of us were sat on deck) and quell some mild sea-sickness with our provided Fisherman’s Friends, we heard from writers Molly Naylor and John Osborne about the conception of their first sitcom; After Hours. The two long-time friends told us how their labour of love, which they had started writing just for fun, blossomed and was picked up by Sky. They have since been closely involved with Sky and director Craig Cash to produce the six-episode series, which will hit the screens of all those with a Sky subscription in spring 2015.
After another short break admiring the surroundings as we meandered up the waters of the Carrick Roads, flirting with the mouth of the River Fal, we headed back inside to have our minds blown by research magician Stuart Nolan.
Stuart’s talk opened by helping us to swing a paperclip on the end of a string using just the power of our minds through concentration. Nolan afterwards explained how this was no mystery but actually down to our bodies subconsciously channeling our concentration into the minute cognitive muscle movements in the tips of our fingers. An interesting exercise possibly best attempted on dry land…
Stuart also showed us what had inspired him and his work in the first place by demonstrating the best trick his dad never did. A trick that as a child he had always thought his dad had shown him, but was in fact his uncle’s — the power of a determined mind perhaps?
Before we knew it we had already moored back on Falmouth’s Prince of Wales pier and were heading to Hand bar for Sipsmith cocktails and complimentary seaweed-based snacks from The Cornish Seaweed Company. It wasn’t long before we were gathering back at the pier for the start of Bullsh*t London’s fantastically fictitious frolic across Falmouth. We heard of promiscuous adulterers that congregated on ‘staircases to heaven’, and how Falmouth was in fact very much in the middle of a war in which bunting that at first appears friendly can easily be transformed into deadly tools of battle.
The day was rounded off in spectacular fashion with an evening at The Falmouth Townhouse. We watched the first public viewing of Finisterre’s amazing new film Edges of Sanity, directed by Chris McClean and narrated by Charles Dance. The evening was topped off by Dave Waller and his journey to bring a little bit of Brooklyn to Bodmin through the creation of hip hop made using Cornish vinyl.
Read Stranger’s more succinct and eloquent write-up of the day, including pictures, here.
I recently paid a visit for the first time to the Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, just outside of Penzance, with a personal highlight being James Turrell’s piece ‘Tewlwolow Kernow’ (Twilight Cornwall).
Tremenheere Gardens themselves are nestled slightly inland, set back from the nearby coast, with views of the ocean and St. Michael’s Mount when looking south. Opened in mid September 2012, the gardens are still relatively young, but seem to have reached a stage of adolescence, providing a perfect landscape for the various sculptures to be set within. With a number of different paths to ascend by, and plenty to see along the way, James Turrell’s skyspace sits almost at the summit of the gardens.
James Turrell is an American artist who has worked with light and space for over half a century. His work is influenced by an early childhood fascination with light and his formal training in perceptual psychology, as well as having a keen interest in flying — having flown over twelve thousand hours as a pilot. Turrell’s work predominantly deals with creating spaces that gather and arrest light, personally describing his work as “more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing”.
As you enter the Tewlwolow space you’re steadily introduced to a new and very different set of surroundings, that will ultimately feel very visually distant from the gardens previously experienced. Turrell’s piece was completed in 2013 and includes a sheltered entrance space with a relatively narrow set of doors and intimate tunnel, through which you must first travel before entering the skyspace itself.
Currently just concreted walls with a gravel path, the tunnel is narrow, dark and provides a starkly different transitional experience to the main feature. Entering the main space on a bright, late summer’s afternoon you’re immediately struck by a sense of release created by Turrell’s arrested light and organic circular space.
The space feels quite separate from outside and seems to have its own micro-climate. With hardly any wind and the September sun still going strong outside, inside the space it’s distinctly cooler in temperature. Neither too cold or particularly warm, but somewhere in between — just the start of feeling somewhere separate from the outside world.
Beyond the natural feelings of tranquility and serenity there’s also a slight curiosity and even sense of foreboding to the space. Gazing skyward through the oval viewport you can hear the outside world and even faintly smell the gardens outside and the sea beyond. But you’re starkly aware that you’re somewhere physically separate. Connected, but not by sight. With the sun still shining, a bright oval is cast on the smooth walled space, interrupted only by a shelved area that’s just a few feet out of reach.
Ideally viewed at either dawn or dusk the view is still just as seductive on an early afternoon, the sky shifting with mixed cloud cover that’s pushed around by the coastal breeze above. The view is only occasionally broken by a gliding bird or inquisitive insect coming into view. You can see the outside but only through a distinctly vignetted view high overhead, creating a feeling that you could be anywhere.
With the sun obscured by cloud the space starts to cool. There’s a slight chill and it’s time to leave. Although you could easily stay in this state of transcendence, you exit back through the dark tunnel, which feels oppressive by comparison, before re-emerging in the gardens, back where you started.
Since the early 1970’s Turrell has been working on his largest project, Roden Crater. The crater is an extinct volcano that Turrell has been sculpting within to create a series of chambers, tunnels and apertures that “heighten our sense of the heavens and earth”. More information about the artist and his monumental project can been seen on his website.
The last two weeks I have been lucky enough to be working with Nixon as part of a university work placement. Being apart of the the design team and discovering how a design studio works has given me so much knowledge and insight into the design world. An aspect that I have realised seems to be at the core of everything in this studio is detail. After observing and participating in projects and spending time in the studio, detail is one thing that has stuck with me the most.
Attention to detail in everything from the importance of every single word within a brand’s strategy, all the way through to finding a small detail in an object for inspiration right onto the final execution and even the interesting details within the studio itself. Working across multiple projects has been really interesting and exciting as well as giving me insight into the depth in which everything has to be completed.
The whole team at Nixon have been incredibly welcoming as well as honest with regards to the projects I have been working on and improvement of details, which has been a really helpful experience. The guidance and experience of the team has helped me know what small things to look for and perfect when creating work. These busy two weeks have given me the ability to observe the way everything from clients to a rogue pigeon flying through the office window are dealt with. The studio is filled with a crazy mix of interesting and inspiring objects. The disco ball hanging from the ceiling in the office begs a few questions, and the interesting objects continue right through to the sardine tin pattern on the bathroom mirror. You could not be bored visually here, there is something to look at every time you turn your head.
These last few weeks have gone by incredibly quickly and have involved pushing myself into lots of of different projects with the help of everyone at Nixon. It has been an incredibly inspiring and very satisfying experience and I really hope to see everyone again one day!
Quite why a creative agency like Nixon would choose to exhibit our wares amidst the flowers, farming implements, prize winning cattle, rabbits, poultry and other assorted livestock at an agricultural show could be a mystery. However for us, the Royal Cornwall Show is a highlight of our calendar, and given that we’ve now been exhibiting there for over a decade, if we chose not to do so many people might well wonder what fate had befallen us.
Being authentic is genuinely a challenge to most brands.
When we first sat down with Tresco Island and started tentatively talking about the website, the word authentic leapt out instantly.
Before a mouse has been moved, a pen picked up, or information architecture explored, we like to ask questions. Most of those questions revolve around how, why and what. How do you want your customers to use your website? Why do you do what you do in a business sense? What is the end goal? More units sold, more bums on seats, more charitable donations? You get the idea.
Tresco though, felt different. A whole island to contend with. Businesses within businesses, restaurants, working fisherman, a gallery owner who swims every morning at 6am (yes, it is as cold as it sounds), charities, events, world class gardens, and binding it all together, the people who make the island tick.
We began by breaking down the main challenges of the island. How do I get here? Where do I stay? Where can I eat and what can I do when I arrive? We felt that each section needed its own visual personality and content strategy, not a one-size-fits-all approach. Four websites within one. It made the client excited and the designers enthused. It gave our developers headaches.
Each area posed its own unique problem, with individual briefs within something much larger, but underlining everything was the same word: authenticity.
Take just one of those problems: how do I get there? Both a political hot potato with the disappearance of the helicopter link and a matter of confusion for those who have never been before. After a series of workshops we decided to create a level of information hierarchy. On the first level, a light touch dispelling the myths of how hard it is to get there underpinned with a secondary level of all the core information you could ever need – from hotels to stay in en route to mooring costs. Once the strategy of the section had been resolved, the content mapped out and agreed, came the fun part: the aesthetic.
We wanted to capture the genuine spirit of adventure in getting to an island, so we commissioned illustration based around the golden era of travel. We wanted to glorify that in an era where you can hop on a plane and be in most places within a few hours, the essence of what Tresco is all about is very different: a small by-plane, a concierge service to the docks, the smell of sea spray as you take the powerboat to one of any number of landing points depending on the tide, the sense of relaxation when you get picked up in a tractor (a luxury one of course), knowing you don't have to worry about where your bags will be... All this made us want to sell the journey to Tresco as much as the island itself.
Creating a point of difference is important to all of the brands we work with. Sometimes the easy things, the things which people expect, blend into the background and get lost. We wanted to be brave with Tresco and stand apart. The proof is in the pudding regarding how it’ll increase numbers of bookings, but we’re confident in our small piece of the larger website jigsaw. We’ll keep you posted.
Discover more about the Tresco website here
I’ve become a huge fan of Paul Smith, both the brand and the man himself. It all started when I received a trademark vividly striped shirt for my 40th birthday, and later when I discovered his sale shop in Avery Row and ended up ‘investing’ in a pair of boots. Since then, any trip to London for me isn’t complete without a quick gander at this special little shop - or, if I’m really lucky, a few frantic hours spent amongst the crowds at his warehouse sale in Holborn.
It’s stylish, well-constructed, quality clobber, built like it will last a good few years, not just a single season. Reflecting an inherent classic tailoring heritage that is a core hallmark of the brand, with a generous sprinkling of eccentricity and witty humour. This sums up for me one of our greatest, and definitely my favourite, British brands.
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Global Design Forum in London. An international group of designers, strategists and others from across the creative industries gathered to debate how design impacts on the world socially and economically, and ultimately how it can transform all of our lives for the better.