Guest Blogger Pat Soberanis: Visual Media 012: More than Worth the Trip


UNVEILE April 26, 2012

I was glad I took the Amtrak train to the Visual Media 012conference, because a full-day pass made for an exhilarating if exhausting day.

Just like last year, the best feature of this conference is its intimate scale. Not only is there time and space for real conversations with exhibitors (as opposed to shouting matches at the huge conferences), you can ask plenty of questions of each presenter – and get to know your seatmates.

Visual Media Alliance (formerly Printing Industries of Northern California) took full advantage of this intimacy. Even the box-lunch hour was not wasted, with a seminar expert presiding over each table. You would have to be a VIP to have this kind of access at the large shows.

Although I was tempted to switch, with so many great topics to choose from, I stuck with the seminars I registered for, and they did not disappoint. The first, “Taking Photoshop to the Next Level,” by photographer Mark Lindsay, gave us one beefy tip after another, along with a peek at Photoshop 6, which Mark called a “strong upgrade.” Mark’s focus was productivity, so his first recommendations were to make more use of existing and custom keyboard shortcuts, and of actions, which he demonstrated. He also explained the mysteries of blending modes – Normal, Dissolve, Darken, Multiply, etc. – and showed easy ways to use the most powerful ones. I was so impressed I sat at his table during the Roundtable lunch, where I learned even more  productivity tips about Photoshop.

At the next session, cleverly titled “Decline of Creative Civilization as We Know It,” creative director Paul Bradshaw explained how we independent graphic designers can counter the trend toward “crowdsourcing” – that phenomenon where design buyers post a project proposal, and designers around the world submit their designs for consideration. The problem: only the “winning” designer gets paid – and not much – and everyone else has basically worked for free. Bradshaw’s response is to “do great work” – and to get your clients to do the selling for you through old-fashioned word of mouth. The room was small enough that Bradshaw had us introduce ourselves, and the very young guy sitting next to me worked at Apple in HR. He took notes on his iPad using a tablet pen, and told me later that the app he liked was Paper by Studio 53. It has a beautiful interface and lets you paint and draw too. Another bonus.

The after-lunch keynote speaker, venture capitalist/angel investor Gil Penchina, provided an interesting glimpse into his world, where for every Instagram – which Facebook just bought for $1 billion – there are hundreds if not thousands of startups scraping by even after a round or two of very modest funding. Still, he encouraged us to “start something” and contact him with ideas.

Gil was introduced by new-gen magicians Leeman Parker and David Blatter, whose expert patter and amazing sleight of hand were reminiscent of Penn and Teller. Keep an eye on these two; their next big show is at the Hollywood Fringe Fest in June.

My afternoon session, “Social Signals in Search,” with online marketer John Thyfault, was a thorough walk-through of the ways search engines are using social media activity in its ranking algorithms. As good as it was, for this writer, it was also a little depressing to learn how much content you have to give away for free to build a following – and how much social media has become a popularity contest.

I was late to the small but packed room for Steve Decker’s entertaining “Marketing Case Study,” where he described how his Zooka Creative recruited 2,000 “mommy bloggers” to try out and talk about a new Purex fabric softener – just one innovative piece of a print-multimedia-social media product launch Zooka created and produced. It was so wildly successful and well done that it won an Effie Award this year, alongside giant ad agencies (find out more and download the case study). Steve gave us a big bonus by explaining Facebook’s new EdgeRank algorithm (do a Google search to find out more), which determines which friends and page posts show up in users’ news feeds – and why some never show up at all.

I was late to Steve’s session because I made a quick round of the Expo’s exhibitors’ tables. Adobe wasn’t there at all this year – in fact, a number of last year’s exhibitors weren’t at this year’s event – but I visited each booth with a new purpose, as a soon-to-be designer and print buyer myself. Each of these exhibitors are potential vendors, so it was helpful to learn their specialties.

The beautifully designed and produced Sappi Standard books and marketing booklets went fast, but I got a full collection to show my classmates next week. At one of the morning sessions, Sappi executive Daniel Dejan explained how the incredible Standard #5 was produced. I couldn’t attend, but I can find out more on Sappi’s website, where you can also download most issues of the Standard.

I also ran into a colleague from my freelance days, Rita Amladi, now with Rods and Cones, a color management and digital-asset specialist for large companies. Rita was the awesome Photoshop Product Specialist for Photoshop 3 at Adobe when I revised and copyedited Adobe Press Production Essentials. I could always count on her deep knowledge and articulate responsiveness whenever I had questions.

What impressed me most – besides the amazing paper samples and Sappi booklet designs – was the quality of the latest digital printing technologies. I picked up some samples that are every bit as detailed as offset prints. As with the business cards that TC Printing made for me, only a very experienced eye could tell the difference.

What also impressed me Visual Media Alliance itself, and how robust its network is, how current it is, how reasonable the $75 annual dues are, and how many resources it offers its members – which soon will include me. Then I’ll get a print copy of its Resource Guide, access to group health insurance, discounts on webinars and online classes, and news that will connect me with other members, even here in Sacramento. I hope more designers learn about VMA and its annual conference so it can thrive once again.

See Pats Blog


What’s a trade show for anyway?

Business conference, trade show, industry event, whatever you call it, taking the time from your busy workday to feed your brain, inspire your creativity or meet your colleagues often seems self-indulgent. But I ask you – is it really?

Yes, I have ulterior motives for this post. Visual Media Alliance’s annual conference is next Thursday, April 26 in San Francisco! Called “Unveiled”, it will focus on the magic of design and marketing technology. People have been telling us all year how they look forward to this event. When they saw the programming they were inspired by the breath and relevancy of the subject matter and anxious to get updated on all the quickly evolving technologies available for marketers, designers, and communicators of all sorts.

It’s about this time every year that we ask the question: Will we have enough space? Did we select the right speakers? Exhibitor? Location? Date?

Have you looked at the line up? Does it resonate for you? Have you figured out how to convince your boss (even if it’s you) that the one-day investment will be paid back quickly with inspired creativity, new perspectives, productivity and knowledge? So what if you have a good time along the way. That’s one of the tricks of a great education – making it fun!

Please share your thoughts and join us next week.

Pet Your Printing

There is a new publication for the Northern California the visual media and graphics communications community. It’s been a long time coming. Indeed, I have often struggled when looking for such a vehicle in which to dialogue with my local peers and colleagues. Other than surfing the net which I readily admit to enjoy, I’ve missed the hold-it-in-your-hand, all-in-one-place, page-flipping, ink-smelling, quick-finding resource of past and future happenings in my local business world.

The first issue of Process Magazine, a collaborative effort of Jim Nissen, Switch Studios and Visual Media Alliancewill hit

Process Magazine


mailboxes throughout Northern California, this week. That is, real mail boxes, not email boxes. If you are fortunate enough to be among those special people on the mailing list you are in for a treat. The eye candy on the cover was created by the Bay Area’s own Michael Osborne, a well known designer and branding genius, President and Creative Director of the San Francisco based MOD/Michael Osborne Design, Inc. His design is a nod to his Hearts in San Francisco sculpture and his 2002 USPS Love stamp. Inside, we get to know Michael a little better as he answers questions about his work, his life, his life’s work.

Michael Osborne Heart Stamp

Michael Osborne Heart Stamp

But the cover is not eye-candy alone. As the title of this blog suggests, it’s irresistibly touchable. Printed by DOME Printing on 98# Topkote Gloss, the craftsmen at DOME applied Aqueous coating with Soft Touch technology to the entire sheet after the 4-c process and metallic silver printing, then high gloss spot UV was applied to the graphics which together make the magazine totally irresistible to curious fingers. Fingers, once finished caressing the luscious cover, are bound to flip open to the front page, in search of more wonders. And they won’t be disappointed. The inside front cover is a playful die cut foldout strategically located to “UNVEIL” the story of the upcoming VisualMedia012 conference with the mascot character in his Houdini-like manifestation. The event will appropriately explore the magic of technology as used in marketing today. This process will be discussed in Daniel Dejan’s seminar Special Effects in Printing & Finishing: Sappi’s Standard #5.

What a pleasure to absorb this creative, professional and REGIONAL publication. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the local design scene; review the many events I’ve missed and even a few I’ve attended; find out what else is coming up and where I need to be next; and finally, feel like I’m part something bigger than myself but not so big that I become irrelevant.

What Ever Happened to Typography?

Triste | 45 x 35 x 25 cm | Molded books | 2011. @ Ana Sánchez.

I’m going to sound like an old curmudgeon. I’m sorry, but I miss the days when typography was an art. The days when we would struggle to decide if the point size should be 7.5 or 7.25. (Today I probably can’t even see either . . . so small.)

Coming from a creative background, typography was often the focus on my designs. It provided a solid foundation when other creative resources within me were stifled.

I have fond memories of the hours spent proofing hot metal galleys, scraping off imprints left by the lead slugs or re-kerning letters to my own satisfaction. If I wanted the type to follow a curve or a circle I would carefully slice between each letter, making sure to leave the base connected, and then play and replay with the placement so that it wouldn’t look as sliced and reset as it really was. How many hours were spent deciding on the correct visual white space between each letter? What satisfaction when I felt it was right.

Today, as I create for the web, read on my Kindle Fire, or view the posting on my Facebook community, I don’t look. I forgive. And every now and then, I am thrilled when I see fonts displayed artfully.

This brief look back in time was inspired, admittedly, by a class Visual Media Alliance will be producing in conjunction with Houlton Institute called The Provocative Life of Type. Beginning April 9, Professor Alex W. White / @alexwwhite will attempt to bring typography back to the design playing field in using a uniquely hi-tech education format that combines asynchronously presented seminars, social interactions, videos, take home exercises and more. He will introduce ways to reveal meaning and add spirit to display type. The design processes used to elicit typographic feeling is an integral aspect of this course. Understanding these dynamics can inspire more expressive, dynamic, and stimulating design. I look forward to bringing the past back to the future! If you’d like to learn more click here.