In 1952, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. At the time, the entire river from Akron to Cleveland — about 35 miles — had no animal life. The water was a thick, rusty brown after years of pollution. This fire, only one of 13 on the river, caused over $1 million in damage to surrounding infrastructure.

I tell you this story because I know what you’re thinking. How is someone from Ohio qualified to be talking about sustainable branding? Ohio, the place where water is flammable.

I’m painting Ohio with a broad, facetious brush, I know. But, the Cuyahoga…


Reflections: The American Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art

Reflections celebrates 140 years of art curation, scholarship, and education for the Columbus Museum of Art. It’s been in the works for ten years. And in 705 pages, it includes 160 essays on 222 pieces of art, across nine collections, by 72 writers and contributors. It’s the art curator’s dream project.

But in no conversation about the design and format of the book was the art historian ever our top priority. Reflections means to break the typical art catalog formula. In our creative brief, a few questions emerged. How could we tell the long history of the museum, and also…


Encouraging change is hard. The right communication can make it easier.

We went to the MORPC (Mid Ohio Regional Planning Committee) Sustainability Conference this fall. There we learned about what people in our community are doing to make Ohio more sustainable.We heard about the challenges people faced and the solutions they tried. Each speaker we listened to lamented the trouble in changing people’s thinking and behavior. The speakers who pushed past this barrier are the ones who helped their community take ownership of their sustainable solution.

One woman, Elizabeth Biggins-Ramer, from the Medina County Solid Waste District, talked about this…


The question “If a tree falls on an island where there were no human beings, would there be any sound?” was first asked in the magazine The Chautauquan in June, 1883. Yes, this preceded the tree-falling-in-a-forest version. The magazine went on to explain, “No. Sound is the sensation in the ear when air is set in motion.” But they clearly missed the philosophical point of the question.

MORPC’s Summit on Sustainability

We recently attended the Summit on Sustainability, hosted by Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), and witnessed this thought experiment first hand. We saw 53 speakers, 18 panels, and heard countless ideas on…


Image: Laura Cros on Unsplash

Smart phones, smart watches, smart TVs, smart doorbells, smart light bulbs, smart refrigerators. There are even Wi-Fi-enabled duvet covers. Smart is an overused word these days.

So it’s no surprise that cities are on a mission to make communities, transportation, and infrastructure smart. Cities all over the world are implementing technology that creates more efficient traffic flow. Technology now predicts buses and trains more accurately and provides free Wi-Fi. Our own city of Columbus is using technology to make downtown parking easier. There are apps that show COTA riders where buses are in real-time. …


Bringing a forgotten artist back into the spotlight

Lost in History

Watercolor in the United States during the mid-1800s was seen as an amateur’s medium, something for female artists who tended to the household and cared for their family. However, a shift in perspective began in 1866 with the establishment of the American Watercolor Society. This rising popularity opened the door for women who had years of experience to create and shine at a professional level.

During this era, Alice Schille — a Columbus native — rose to become one of the most prolific watercolorists in the United States. With an ambitious spirit, Schille traveled the world and painted, while supporting…


Creating a brand identity for Echo Spirits Distilling

We love nothing more than helping our clients launch something new. And when we talk with new clients, we’re interested in creating a partnership for the long-haul. We help them define (or redefine) their brand identity. Then we execute on that brand identity to help them create their future instead of simply existing in it. Echo Spirits Distilling Company is one such client.

Echo Spirits is a new craft distillery in Columbus, Ohio. In talking with the founders — Joe and Nikhil — we saw that they knew where they wanted to go. They had a vision and a philosophy…


Hyperbole, one-upmanship, and exaggeration. These have become the norm in marketing and advertising. Companies ask for it. Agencies deliver it. And consumers have grow to expect it.

But at what cost?

While this bravado and boasting may help meet short-term sales goals, how is it affecting long-term brand and reputation goals? Consumers are increasingly savvy and have become adept at tuning it out. When they do buy a product based on hype, they feel let down because it didn’t change their lives as promised.

So, what then?

More and more companies are trying something radical: Authenticity. Simple, smart storytelling that…


What’s the difference between being simple and being minimal?

Minimal is simple, but simple isn’t necessarily minimal. And simple definitely doesn’t mean boring. Take Dropbox’s recent re-brand. It’s simple, but certainly not boring. Or take a brand like Aesop. They have a strong core philosophy that leads them to a certain visual language. This is how it should be. Like our work with Echo Spirits and Pfeld, they look inward at who they are and their brand identity becomes an extension of that.

Many digitally native brands like Away, Clare, Lola, and Curology — and some big-box brands like Target’s…


Huntington Bank brand language launch.

We’re excited to announce the launch of Huntington Bank’s new brand language. And we’re even more excited to announce that we created it from nothing. Well, almost.

When the tried and true isn’t anymore.

When Huntington Bank made the decision to shift their brand’s visual language away from illustration in favor of photography, there was a lot of hesitation. The illustration-based system stood out in the financial/banking landscape. It aligned with their friendly, we-look-out-for-you, welcoming brand. They owned this look. And for years, they pulled it off beautifully. But as time went on (years, mind you) the illustrations being created or bought became less and less sophisticated.

Nonfiction

We’re a strategic brand and design agency. We believe in a world that is less complex—with less noise and more meaning. www.madebynonfiction.com

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