Changes… always for the better.

Changes… always for the better.

I haven’t written a blog post since 2012, when we sent blessings for Phil’s departure after a great many years together. He started with us in 2002, and lots has changed since then:

Websites are developed from a ‘mobile first’ perspective;

Branding is less about what “you” want to project, than it is about knowing what people will come to you for, and then making the website, the digital marketing assets, and all the print collateral sing from the same page;

Print design and execution is more flexible than ever with combinations of offset, digital, large format (and everything between) as resources to deliver, for small projects or for a comprehensive campaign effort.

Within MbD, over the last two and a half years, we’ve seen changes as well. I bought Joel’s shares of the company (though I have the continued privilege of working with him on a contract basis); I got an SBA loan to buy Joel & Linda’s half of the building; Hilary found a job with full time hours to help pay for her son’s college, and Meredith arrived as our part-time bookkeeper to keep the ‘i’s dotted’. Carolyn, who I’ve worked with for a large chunk of the last 25 years, never made it onto the earlier website, even though she re-started with us shortly after it launched. We have other great team members who jump in on projects and provide incredible results toward our final vision.

The most significant change I’ve had in the last two-and-a-half years is seeing MbD’s offerings grow because of Isla’s interest, research, and delivery of branding ideas and web projects that unearth the values important to the client’s programs and messaging. The work requires both intensive and fun time leading workshops with clients, and then isolated ‘caving’ time doing (our term) “thinkery.” It’s what happens when our heads are spinning while we get all the floating balls into the right places.

That shift makes me thrilled to know we continue provide to benefits through the deliverables created, but more importantly through the context and perspective that make those deliverables effective for our clients.

That’s a value I’ve held since 1988, and that hasn’t changed! For our current clients that we love working with, thank you. We’re honored to be a part of your team. For others looking for a new team, we’re always ready to chat!


Transitions are Hell. Change is Good.

Phil’s Song — Time to Fly

We’ve been lucky at Marketing By Design. In nearly 25 years of Joel’s and my partnership, we’ve had incredibly small employee turnover. Usually a move or a life change caused our parting, and we’ve always remained friends. Life is too short for the alternative.

Hats off to Phil Tretheway, with MbD since 2002 as a young pup. He’s become an accomplished designer, a husband, a father of two, a social media practitioner; all while remaining a solid human being.

We offer our congratulations and deep wishes for success as you, Phil, move to your new position as Director of Marketing and Communications at the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

It’s been a wonderful nine+ years, with growth, challenges, new territory that you led us into; and we appreciate it all.

Don’t be a stranger…

And we know you won’t be, because we’ll be asking you to come back and remind us how to manage the CMS!


Tree sculpture grows donations

As a board member, volunteer and vendor of the Sacramento Tree Foundation, I had a blast helping to invent this tree. At 3 feet tall (and wide), it holds ‘pledge leaves’, paper cutouts of leaves with contact and commitment information from donors. The Tree Foundation uses it at public outreach events and cultivation events, and it is a stunning piece of art with a fabulous purpose.

For me was the whole process was fun: hearing a request for ‘a tree that hangs on the wall’ and envisioning it to be something grander and more dynamic; finding a sculptor — Josh Kaiser — the best!; working with Josh to figure out the scale, the textures, the roots and the curly elements to hold the paper leaves; visiting an annodizing facility to explore coating/coloring it; unveiling it at a board meeting, and then seeing it in action at William Ishmael’s cultivation event.

I grew up loving fabrics and colors and became an expert in print design. It was a pleasure stretching my knowledge to make this sculpture happen for Sacramento Tree Foundation. I appreciate the opportunity, Josh’s exceptional work, and the pride I feel when I see it on display at the STF office.

You’re invited to see it there, but I recommend you join and add a leaf to the tree. Visit or call 916.924.8733 to volunteer or join.

Sculpture of a tree in a gray and silver color, with gold material sculpted around all the branches like ribbons.

Our Green English Alien

Isla Waite in a light-colored parka, standing inside and poking her head out from behind the door of a red telephone booth in England.MbD would like to announce that it is the proud owner of a little green alien. A very green, very English alien, named Isla Waite. Isla has been an intern for the last few months and has been working on improving her production skills under our wing.

Isla met Della while she was still in school, and took an instant fancy to MbD. Through (self-described) pestering and bribes she managed to secure an internship straight out of school, and since we would miss her out-of-tune covers of Pandora, we decided to keep her on for a little longer. Isla has been working on projects for CSPC, and the Sacramento Tree Foundation. (Check out the STF “lazy days grow here” billboard below, which will grace the city skyline in July).

Isla arrived armed with a BA Dual Major in International Relations and Media Studies, and an Associates degree in Graphic Design. Her previous life involved ordering pilots around in the skies of Europe as an Air Traffic Control Officer in the British military. A two year stint as the Operations Manager of a retail store was all she needed to convince herself to follow a brand new path, with a life-long passion…in design. We’re really happy to have her around and it’s so much fun watching our green alien grow!

Billboard with the headline, 'lazy days grow here'.


Hats off to CalSTRS, for hiring Cooper Design in San Francisco to do qualitative research on its members. We are excited to phase into a new relationship with CalSTRS as a design resource, in addition to several good in-house and contracted designers. As CalSTRS is one of the largest pension funds in the world, the volume of member communications can be potentially staggering. Determining the target audience, the message, and the point are all critical to the ultimate goal of ‘being of service to the members’.

Enter ‘Personas’. [from Wikipedia]
Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way.

Cooper’s month long interviews of 75 members across the state yielded five personas. Each at a different point in his/her career, at a different level of financial interest and sophistication, and a different need for segments of CalSTRS’ services. We love their approach and it was a pleasure to see it done methodically at a large scale.

The personas were of five different teachers:

  • a young woman, married and busy with a family, who is not the financially-attentive person in the household
  • a mid-career woman; single parent and struggling financially because her ex-husband lost his job
  • a mid-40’s man who made a career change into teaching, bringing existing retirement money and financial savvy
  • a late-career woman, who is trying to figure out the best timing for retirement
  • a retired community college teacher, whose benefits are defined by the years of service and dollars contributed — and who must manage his accounts from a different perspective.

Bringing this Home for Our Clients

We were impressed with the professionalism and thoroughness of the Cooper team. As Phil and I walked away from the meeting we mused how fun it would be to create ‘personas’ for our clients. The reality is we do a ‘lite’ version of this for our clients on each project. We don’t have degrees in anthropology, statistics or psychology and our clients generally need to work within a tighter budget, but we do keep a strong focus on the target audience throughout our process.

We meet with clients from marketing managers to small business owners on a daily basis. At the launch of each project we ask “Who is the audience? Who are the likely buyers? Who would benefit from this, or be moved by this information?” When the answer is “everybody!”, we know there is digging to be done. At that point, designing for ‘everybody’ will mean design for ‘nobody’. Keeping the target audience at the forefront of design and strategy is crucial to making each project successful.


Having shared this idea with my sister, who recently signed up to collect Social Security, it sounds like the SSA could benefit from customized messages to well defined target audiences. She’s received several mailings of multi-page letters that drone on, difficult to read and identify the important points. As an attorney, she had the stamina to actually read the pages, and still had trouble understanding them. In this age of information overload, clarity is critical!