Making our Mark in Downtown Pittsburgh

Making our Mark in Downtown Pittsburgh

Branding Design Events Non-Profit Organizations

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s annual meeting at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Throughout the evening, I loved seeing all the great work the PDP presented to board members, City and County officials, and to Downtown Pittsburgh stakeholders. I’m very much inspired by the great work the PDP does for Downtown Pittsburgh, improving the city we live and work in.

Even better, we get to work with them on many projects. And I also loved seeing all the pieces of design work that the Shift team did for the PDP in the last year. Here are some highlights:


Branding the debut of Picklesburgh – a weekend-long festival celebrating pickles and pickling, which took place on a bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh. The challenge was to develop a brand identity for a new event that had previously had no visibility in the marketplace. Our other challenge was to manage the expectations of the client who needed a compelling brand to find support, raise money and execute an event of that size and magnitude.

It was difficult to tell the whole story of the event with one logo, so we presented a brand that is expansive with different pieces, elements and colors that represent “pickling.” When one thinks of “pickling” they usually think of pickles. But, what the PDP challenged us to do was to look at the vast array of all things pickled, including Asian fare and Eastern European food.

We also needed to illustrate a 30-foot pickle balloon that would be installed over the Rachel Carson Bridge. Aside from the design work, we also helped with fundraising development and built the event website.

The result is a fun brand that ended up gaining a lot of exposure, with lots of local press plus national attention on Good Morning America and The Today Show




The PDP approached us with a concept for a new street activation program funded by BNY Mellon. They came to us with a blank slate and allowed us the freedom to be our creative selves to name and brand the intuitive. The idea was that these funded projects would test out their ideas in a downtown space, completing two goals: one, to fund an innovative project, and two, to activate an unlikely downtown space to attract people to.

The name we came up with was Betaburgh, Come Test With Us. The brand followed similar lines of thinking. The logo depicts beta as a button, which will be pushed to “activate” downtown. The gradient color chosen has an electric and energizing tone, to represent the creative ideas that ensue. 



Clean Team Trash Can Re-design

The PDP Clean Team made a transition in 2015 and needed a new look for the trash cans they wheel around downtown. Not only does the Clean Team keep the city clean, they also help downtown visitors navigate around, by answering questions and offering help. The idea was to depict their efforts through a new trash can design.

This was an interesting request, to design a 3D object with extra meaning, a trash can, that would be prominently displayed around the streets of Pittsburgh. We pitched a few different ideas, and the one that resonated the most was simply ‘Here to Help,’ accompanied by custom iconographic pattern.

I brainstormed all the different things downtown offers and came up with icons to match them. I chose a muted yellow tone that made the design work seamlessly with the yellow trash cans. How could you miss these bright trashcans rolling around the streets? That is the point.

Yellow Artwork 2-edit    Trash Can on Street


Shop & Dine Guide

This project began during the 2015 holiday season, when the PDP came to us for a unique piece to hand out to guests during Light Up Night and Holiday Market events. The piece was to encourage people to shop downtown for the holidays and to highlight retail centers as well as the Peoples Gas Holiday Market™.

We delivered a piece with a special fold and iconic look. Twenty thousand of these guides were handed out over the holiday season. This piece such a success that the PDP asked us to revise it to use year round, and to also include restaurants.

It was a challenge to fit all 300+ retailers and restaurants on a handheld map. Through many versions, we arrived at a color-coded system that provides the viewer with easy navigation, breaking up downtown into districts and corridors. The cover art was revised to incorporate the colors used throughout and iconically show shopping and dining, making this a full guide for Downtown Pittsburgh. Another 20,000 were printed, and the new Shop and Dine guide made its debut during the PDP Annual Meeting. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.10.22 AM

Annual Report & Meeting Collateral

In January we took on the job of creating the PDP’s 2015 Annual Report. We turned their successes and goals into a visually pleasing print piece. We designed a logo, colors, and grid, and matched them with a clean font, and applied it all throughout the 24-page report. I adjusted the size a bit from previous years’ reports, from a typical 8.5 x 11 to a more hand-able 7.5 x 10.5 size, with an additional flap on the front cover to highlight quick facts from 2015. Overall, the design of this year’s report aligns with the innovation the PDP has led in 2015. 

We had our hands full designing not only the annual report, but also all the collateral for the Annual Meeting itself, the invitations, program, and event signage. 

PDP AR Blog image

Throughout the last year it’s been great to help expand the PDP’s brand through these design pieces. We are looking forward to future collaborations, and most importantly Picklesburgh 2016.


We Are Brands

We Are Brands

Branding Design

Someone forged my signature three weeks ago. They stole my credit card. This is the second time in three years I’ve had a security breach. Those thieves’ forged my John Hancock, and now I have no faith in my ink mark. Think how easy it was for someone else to sign my name. Humans have been signing things since they could pick up a stick and dip it in ink.

I think our obsession with the signature is outdated. A signature seems an antiquated way to represent ourselves. But the memorabilia industry that sells those signatures thinks otherwise. The autograph, which is a fancy name for a signature, is an obsession of many. The memorabilia industry is said to be worth billions of dollars. Let’s understand this world for a moment: Elvis Presley’s earliest known signature – on a library card he signed as a 13-year-old student in Tupelo, Mississippi – was one of the main draws in an auction of Elvis memorabilia. His library card! This is a serious business.

But I’m not a collector, I am a branding strategist. I create images and write text for companies to make connections with the outside world – you – the customer. We do this to evoke a type of emotional connection with a company or product. In almost every instance, we want it to be a positive emotion.

In life we always do a series of things to evoke emotional connections to the outside world. The posts we write on Facebook, the emails we send to coworkers, the flannel shirt we wear in June and the white you wear after Labor Day all say something about us to the outside world – hoping for a connection. If you don’t agree, or if you say you don’t do it on purpose, I say nonsense.

I look at the signature as the world’s oldest wordmark or logo. A wordmark is a set of letters that are designed in a specific way. The wordmark should be custom lettering (typography) that uniquely defines a company’s service or product. Similarly, when we write a signature, we shape our name in a way that defines who we are. One’s personal signature is a wordmark. We are brands.

Since I’ve had the right to sign things, I would guess that my signature has changed four times. I remember in one of my most memorable life transformations, I decided consciously and with authority to change my signature. As if my new “wordmark” would redefine my new beginnings.

We brand documents by signing them with ink, but technology has advanced and now it’s time to rethink the way we represent ourselves. In May 2013, the New Republic declared the signature “dead.” They claim that pin numbers are more important and that signature pads make it terribly difficult to swoosh that line over the “c” in your name.

At the moment, nearly everything about the process of signing one’s name appears to be in place to dissuade the signer from giving it an honest go: Signature pads at stores are terribly awkward, credit card receipt signature lines are often far too tiny, and the people accepting our signatures tend not to care about the appearance of what we scribble. Unsurprisingly, we’ve adjusted our behavior to fit the circumstances. We shorten pen strokes, take liberties, and, ultimately, show very little reverence for the act of signing our names. Chicken scratch predominates—and not even chicken scratch that vaguely resembles one’s name or is repeatable. For many, writing a signature has become an exercise in flick-of-the-wrist renderings that in no way relate to or reflect the letters that are grouped to form our names.

I predict that in the near future, signatures will become logos, a digital design that has imprints that cannot be replicable but have a rare and identifiable mark to oneself. We will mark formal documents with a personal brand instead of a signature. You can almost see this develop into a modern day signet, a stamped logo mark that defines who we are.

Personal branding is not a new concept. Some self-help gurus have asked for you to look deep inside yourself and understand your personal “brand.” In the marketing world, a company deploys a series of logos or wordmarks and “tactics” like articles in newspapers, social media communication and advertising created to evoke people’s emotional connection with a company or product. I like to think of it as a radio tower, sending waves to those who listen.

But what if we took ourselves as seriously as companies do to manage their brands? What if we acted as our own personal marketing mangers and were strategic about the way we communicated out to the world? What if instead of posting that picture of a “kegger” on Facebook and retweeting Kim Kardashian’s quibble, we were to create a social media plan and strategy for ourselves. Branding and marketing agencies think very strategically about what type of content is being delivered to the general public. As a brand manager we write content out to help the companies reflect a smart and thoughtful connection to the outside world.

Brooke Gladstone, host of NPR’s On the Media, says we are in the “golden age of content.” Content is generated constantly, by bloggers, news outlets, Twitter tweets, and visual images. Some people say there’s too much. As a branding professional, I don’t think the world has too much content. I think the world needs better content.

We need to think of our personal brand in ways us marketing professionals deliver to companies. And hey, if the Supreme Court defined corporations as “persons” and companies manage and build brands, we the people must step up our game and manage our own brands. Companies pay us to manage the way they speak to the outside world. Every Facebook and Twitter post is there for a reason. Facebook is getting decidedly older. Older generations are logging on to watch over their kids, and the kids are logging off to join Instagram or whatever new social channel is available. Marketing professionals can provide social media strategies to families, write content for them in a thoughtful and sensitive way, and teach Grandma how to tweet.

Regular Joe’s and Joette’s like us should take our personal brands as seriously as companies do. All the stuff we read from others might get a little better, and maybe we will have a better connection to others if we thoughtfully manage our own personal brands. But for now, I guess I’ll sign my life away, to those who want it.

Visual Best Practices For Presentations

Visual Best Practices For Presentations

Branding Design Market Research

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

So you’ve been working on this project. It’s practically consuming your life. At least, it seems that way sometimes. Luckily, you are near the end, and you are so relieved until you realize this means you need to create a presentation. Suddenly, panic ensues. There’s so many questions to consider. What colors do you use? What typeface fits your project? You want pictures, but is there such a thing as too many pictures? How can you make it not boring?

Remain calm and take a deep breath. The answers you seek are here. You’ve been working hard on this project. You know everything you need to say. This presentation is meant to compliment you, your knowledge, and your expertise. To create a presentation that will visually wow, it should be 3 things: simple, beautiful, and fun.

Simple Presentations

When communicating, you want your message to be easy to understand and grasp. To do this in a presentation, this means limiting yourself to 1 idea per slide. By focusing on 1 idea at a time, you give your audience a chance to connect to that specific idea before moving onto the next idea. This practice also challenges you to decide which ideas are more important and need to be discussed over other ideas that are less important.

In addition, don’t put all your words on the slide. When giving a presentation, you are a storyteller. You hold all the excitement, the twist and turns, the failures and successes of this project. Posting that information on the slide before you talk about it spoils the plot for the audience. Don’t ruin the story!

Instead, write a script about what you will say and rely on visuals in the presentation to complement that script. If you need to use text, don’t use paragraphs. Your audience cannot read and listen to you at the same time. Instead, use bullet points or highlighted text call outs as snippets to emphasize the main points of your story.

Beautiful Presentations

The most beautiful designs are often the ones that call the least attention to themselves and allow the audience to focus on the information being communicated. To create these beautiful designs, you want to avoid choices that would be distracting. Three prime examples of distracting choices include the use of animations, hard to read text, and inconsistent alignment.

You may remember when PowerPoint was created and animations were the biggest craze. Finally, you could add some flash to your presentation. Well, it is no longer the 90s. These animation options have become cheesy and outdated. You may think that you are adding flash to your presentation, but in reality you are giving your audience another reason to not hear what you are saying.

The text can be distracting and hard to read if you use a serif font for body text, use dark text on a dark background, or light text on a light background. If the audience cannot make out the text, they will spend all their time trying to figure it out. To hold their focus, stick to sans serif fonts like Calibri, Helvetica, or Arial, and match dark text with light backgrounds and light text and dark backgrounds. When using a light text, consider making the font size slightly larger for better readability.

Likewise, your audience will also have difficulty if the text on your slides keeps switching between left and right aligned. You are building an expectation when you use one alignment or the other. Be consistent and meet that expectation by sticking to one alignment.   To save time, you can make all these changes on a master slide and have it repeat with every newly created slide.

Fun Presentations

No matter what the setting is, people crave entertainment. It’s a fact of life. If you want to hold your audience’s attention, you need to be fun. But how can you make your presentation visually fun without missing the mark? Let’s talk about decorative fonts and images.

Decorative fonts can add a little excitement to your presentation, but only when implemented correctly. This means using them only for headings or titles. If you use them in the body text, it will most likely overwhelm your content. Headings and titles are short and should be slightly distinctive. Just remember, even if its decorative, it still needs to be readability. Otherwise, you will be distracting your audience.

Similarly, images can visually reinforce your message. They give your audience a picture to connect your words with. This is engaging. Just don’t force them to try to connect to clip art. Clip art feels tired and old. You should rely on real images or enlist the help of a designer for key visual element.

Tools for the Job

There are many tools that can help you create the presentation you need for your projects. Keynote and PowerPoint are the traditional slide creation software programs used throughout the business world. Prezi is a newer software program that creates your presentation on one large canvas and then zooms in and out during your presentation to cover all your talking points. Live Plan works to create and track your business plan for you. provides additional fonts you can download to make your presentation unique. Tableau is a software visualization tool that can transform large amounts of data into visually appealing graphics.