Strategy Voodoo

Vision without execution is hallucination.
-Thomas Edison

Strategy is the new branding of today. Like other catch-words, what began as a critical and practicable part of the process, strategy has been co-opted and adulterated. The success of American business has largely relied on its ability to create. Alternatively, intelligent conceptualizing, visualization, and research is a vital component of this success. Strategy and branding now, is dialogue with no actionable results.

It is easier to discuss and disseminate than to make. A certain level of courage is necessary to produce an object or message. Something physical is a concrete object that can be criticized or lauded. We are all comfortable talking. A misstep can be whitewashed, or denied. It has become relatively risk-free as a profession of communicators to talk about promises, missions, brand DNA, and value creation. While these are important components of any process, the process is completed when the deck of words is delivered.

In the end, however, the conglomeration of words and ideas must produce a realized message. That message can be a system: visual, human resource, event, or distribution. It can be a television ad, website, or poster. Whatever the end resolution, the message must reach the audiences in a way that creates action.

Careful dissemination of information, research, collaboration, planning, are critical. All of this, however, must produce measurable results with an internal and external audience. Months of dialogue can be comfortable, but without resolution and execution is meaningless. Does a tree falling in a forest with no-one near make a sound? Talking is important, but more importantly make the message real.


Clarity, Purity,
and Resonance at AdamsMorioka

Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka founded AdamsMorioka on these principles: clarity of message, purity of form, and resonance emotionally and intellectually. The short-hand for this, Design C.P.R. was introduced by Steven Heller. For almost two decades, these principles have not changed. And they extend into, not only creative work, but business practices. If something can be said simply, it is. In a culture bombarded with messages and images, clarity, purity, and resonance are vital parts of any idea. Added to this chaos of communication, is the mistrust of marketing. The audience has grown up with the awareness that they are marketing targets. They find holes in anything that is inauthentic. AdamsMorioka insists that honest and plain communication must always be maintained.

On the surface, AdamsMorioka seems benign and safe. The visual works are reassuring and seductive. The colors are fresh and clear, the imagery is optimistic and friendly, and the forms are simple and accessible. There are no dense, oblique, and pointless compositions; no angry, distopic, and offensive images. It’s a happy, clean world. But, then, on closer inspection, this world is complex. The ideas are multi-layered and work for multiple audiences. Design legend Ed Fella, says, “AdamsMorioka makes more from less.”

Here are snapshots of the AdamsMorioka environment: The studio is on the 6th floor of a monolithic modernist elliptical building with a two-story statue of John Wayne on the plaza. The walls of the office are painted in clear colors, yellow, light blue, pink, and seafoam. An enormous bookcase runs the length of the main space, as floor to ceiling windows span the length of the opposite side. There are views across the palm trees of Beverly Hills to the beach and LAX.

It would be logical to assume that the Beach Boys are playing at full volume on the stereo, and the designers break into spontaneous dancing. But, that’s not happening. It actually seems dull. Designers are working at their desks, there is on-going chatter on the phones, and the partners are busy on a conference call in their office. The only cue of the level of intensity is the constant purr of the printer, as large format boards with criteria verbiage and diagrammatic charts are produced. “Everyone wants to have quality as a criteria point,” one of the partners says as the board is put on the table. “We need something proprietary.”

AdamsMorioka began as a two-person design firm in the early 1990s. The initial philosophy of clarity, purity, and resonance was seen as a welcome alternative to the visual chaos of the time. They had a meteoric rise in the industry, and were soon working on some of the world’s largest brands. The idea of only “designing” quickly morphed into looking at all aspects of a company holistically. It was useless to make a beautiful logo if there were no methods of dissemination, or the parts didn’t cooperate.

Now, almost two decades later, “strategy” is the new “branding” of today. Like other catchwords, what began as a critical and practicable part of the process, “strategy” has been co-opted and adulterated; and typically results in dialogue with no actionable results. As the design world twisted and turned, trying to find the next new catchword, AdamsMorioka patiently and consistently followed their tried and true philosophy. Partner, Noreen Morioka, recalls sage advice from noted designer Saul Bass, “A career is not built on one flashy solution. It is built on consistency and a series of successes.”