Posted on December 1, 2017

The wisdom of Paul Rand and why you should never cheap out on design

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“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” – Paul Rand*

How do you establish the value of design? How do you place a monetary value on what, to many, appears simple?

This is an issue for virtually everyone engaged in the designed communications business and it is becoming more frequently encountered in an age of instant design apps.

Why pay a designer to undertake your branding work when you can, apparently, secure an effective logo for free in seconds with an app?

For example, what’s wrong with the one I just created now for a fictitious company?

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I got this for free online with a logo app

Well, I guess nothing except for this:

It has no foundation in what the brand represents.

The brand interpretation is left entirely in the hands of the viewer.

The symbol is meaningless.

The colours are irrelevant.

The typeface is common.

The entire thing is kind of clumsy.

It is not differentiated from what any other writing/designing company might produce.

So, you say, well try a different app. OK. Let’s.

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This was free too. More proof of the maxim – you get what you pay for!

 Ah, now that’s better!

I won’t bother going through an evaluation of this.

The point is simple as the author of Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote :

“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.

At Orange Keel, we undertake a rigorous process when we begin to design identity programs for our clients. It often begins with our Brand Clarity where we use a variety of exercises to help our clients bring clarity, simplicity and wit to their brand expression.

While we won’t claim to be in the same stratosphere as the memorable Paul Rand, we are sufficiently proud of our work to share with you some examples showing the before and after. It is our perspective (and that of our clients – we’re pleased to say) that our work provides a resonant foundation for all brand expression and most notably creates a greater emotional connection between the corporation and its stakeholders.

Celtrade Logo Critical Path Logo Greystone Logo Jubilee Logo

In today’s world, it is the ability to differentiate on a foundation of reality that separates one company from others in an increasingly commoditized market.

Watch for an upcoming post where we’ll share some of the insight and rationale that went into the creation of these identities.

“If you think hiring a professional designer is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur – or use a free app!.” – Anon (or maybe it was me with some Anon help!)

*PAUL RAND (1914 – 1996) was a well-known American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs. Some of his most recognizable and memorable designs were those for Westinghouse, IBM, UPS and ABC.


Posted on September 28, 2016

Small potatoes. Big impact.

Orange Keel brings Carisma™ to life for Earth Fresh Foods.

Now, even folks following a Low Glycemic Index diet can have their potatoes and eat them too!Introducing Carisma from EarthFresh Foods

And that’s no small potatoes to the folks at Earth Fresh Foods and the Canadian Diabetes Association.  Grown and distributed by EarthFresh, Carisma™ potatoes provide a healthy choice with an exceptional rich, melt in the mouth, creamy flavour. Canada’s first low glycemic response all-purpose potato is supported by the Canadian Diabetes Association.

This variety resulted from the potato breeding programs’ focus on lower reducing sugars and high dry matter. These are among the factors that influence Carisma’s nutritional content and GI* characteristics. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommend consumers choose low-GI foods

At Orange Keel we were delighted to bring our talents to the table in designing the brand, packaging and website for this important addition to the Earth Fresh family.

Our challenge with Carisma was to provide it a fresh, distinctive presence while still maintaining continuity with the overall design platform we’ve created for Earth Fresh. We achieved that by maintaining similar design language, elements and architecture throughout the line.

It’s one of the things we do really well at Orange Keel – create a distinctive presence in the market for our clients while establishing emotion-based connections with their clientele.

And that too is no small potatoes!

To bring our powerful design thinking to your brand, contact us here.

Posted on April 13, 2015

EarthFresh offers insight into cultural effectiveness


Some months ago, we at Orange Keel Branding and Design began a relationship with EarthFresh Foods Inc. and its leader, Tom Hughes.

As part of my exploration of the potential of aligned focus I will be interviewing corporate leaders who appear to be effectively aligning their leadership style, brand management and communications efforts. I’m starting with Tom.


One of the first things that strikes you about EarthFresh Foods is that it appears to be a pretty simple business. It is involved in all aspects of the potato business from seed breeding, seed production, tablestock production, packing and distribution. It also sells some carrots and onions but this is pretty much a potato business. However, as I have learned from working with farmers in the wine business, any enterprise that depends upon Mother Nature, the vagaries of weather, and the harsh realities of food retail, digging deeper shows a complex undertaking.

In business for over 50 years, EarthFresh has had its share of ups and downs. According to Tom, the company was near going under in 2004. When asked what created the recovery Tom replies, “Luck.”

““Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.””

— Ray Kroc

As he goes on to tell his story though you begin to realize that the Kroc quote is key to Tom’s ‘luck’. The realities of the company’s financing were such that failure to secure a favourable outcome would shutter the plant. As President, Tom was concerned that the existing owners were fully prepared to allow that so rather than take the bullet, he found his own source of financing from a mezzanine bank. So began his personal battle to  move the company back from the brink of extinction.

His strategy revolved around the Hedgehog Principle which is based on an ancient Greek parable that states: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Jim Collins developed this idea further in his classic 2001 book, “Good to Great.” According to Collins, organizations are more likely to succeed if they focus on one thing, and do it well. By doing so, they can beat their competitors and become truly great businesses.

An organization can find its “Hedgehog Concept” by making three separate assessments. First, it can understand what its people are truly passionate about. Next, it can identify what it does better than anyone else. And last, it can determine where it’s good at generating revenue.

The right way forward is where all three answers intersect, and it’s this central position that is the “sweet spot” for the organization’s strategy.*

Copyright © 2001 Jim Collins. Originally published in the book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don't." 

Copyright © 2001 Jim Collins. Originally published in the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t.”

Tom determined that the sweet spot for EarthFresh was – potatoes. This product of the good earth drove the passion, economics and ambition of the company AND it’s employees.

He took the company out of the carrots and onions business and decided that they would become “really good at potatoes and using our expertise in the field to carve out our sustainable points of differentiation.” That was his determination to be authentic about what the business could and would do.

The company’s ‘luck’ continued in 2009 when the economic downturn that had such a grave impact on North American business caused the company’s bank to seek a way out. Tom found a way to buy back the business and continue to swim back toward the surface.


“From the very beginning I knew we had to keep the team together,” Tom observes. “One way in which you accomplish that is to share the big picture and let the entire group know that they have contributions to make.”

Tom himself is the beneficiary of sound coaching from his Advisory Board. The Board includes Millard, a former CEO and Tom’s mentor. Also on board is his daughter. This group acts as sounding board, reality check and critic encouraging Tom to achieve consensus while taking ultimate accountability and authority.

“We collaborate very well and I think my team understands that with authority comes accountability. We do not have a blaming culture here but neither are any of us permitted to sweep errors under the carpet. This has created a great atmosphere of trust throughout the company,” commented Tom.


Tom realized early on that if he was going to rescue the company he would need the full and enthusiastic support of everyone from the executive suite to the factory floor to the fields. He also recognized that the entire team would need to have clarity on performance expectations and company commitment. Whether born of the tough times re-starting the company or just from a conviction that all hands on deck is the right course, Tom is intimately involved in virtually all significant decisions. In fact, any expenditure in excess of $500 must have Tom’s approval.

“I seldom refuse, I just need to know what’s happening. My team doesn’t view it as meddling. In fact, when I’m not here they adopt a ‘What-would-Tom-do’ approach and frankly that means we all understand our common objectives.”

Tom is also intimately involved in major sales efforts as he wants the prospective client to know that the commitment from EarthFresh is comprehensive – from Tom to the warehouse foreman, everyone is well coached on client expectations and the commitment to deliver excellence. When challenged if his sales team objects to his role Tom states, “Quite the opposite. I take no cut of the increased compensation they receive so everyone seems pretty pleased about the approach.”


It is on this front that EarthFresh really impresses. And, while they are innovators in the potato business – more and more attainably priced organics; ready meal complements such as Celebratoes!; exclusive varieties Klondike Goldust and Klondike Rose – it has embarked on unexpected initiatives with its employees.

The newest new product from EarthFresh.

The newest new product from EarthFresh.

The company recently moved to a state-of-the-art plant in Burlington, ON. Its previous plant on Browns Line in Etobicoke just wasn’t up to the task of seeing the company into its next growth phase. Moving your plant is not especially unique in business but one of the genuinely innovative activities undertaken was to offer a shuttle service to many of its employees.

It is not uncommon, in businesses where production line and warehouse employees are a feature, that when the plant moves those people are out of work. Surely EarthFresh could have easily found new, skilled labourers in Burlington but keeping in mind Tom’s stated ambition to “keep the team together” the company now shuttles people from the old plant location to the new. That’s an expense many corporations would forego. As Tom explains though, “You can’t always approach your financials from a purely quantitative perspective. There is a qualitative aspect that must be taken into consideration especially if one operates a company that truly believes in the long-term benefit of creating a culture of caring. It is critical that we ensure cultural continuity and reality.”

The caring goes beyond the shuttle too. EarthFresh has a well-equipped, modern gym for its employees to maintain their exercise regimes and fitness levels. There are weekly exercise and fitness and yoga coaching sessions.

EarthFresh is driven by genuine, authentic passion; by focus; by a determination to go get the next big thing if it makes sense to the entire organization.

To conclude, as Tom said, “You can’t always evaluate and justify every action just from a quantitative perspective. You can however always add a qualitative evaluation to ensure that the principles of the company are followed and nurtured. That’s where our success has come from and where it will sprout in the future.”

My thanks to my friend Bob Woodcock, ( for his counsel in preparing this article.




Posted on January 20, 2015

Being mindful about emerging markets

Millennials want to work for organizations with purpose.

Millennials have a generally pro-business outlook. But, overwhelmingly, 75 percent of those surveyed believe business is focused on its own agenda, rather than the helping to improve society. For 60 percent, “a sense of purpose” is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers. Among those who define themselves as high users of social networking tools, this number increases to 77 percent.*

Some years ago (working in collaboration with another design firm) I was involved in the rebranding of one of Canada’s leading wineries.  During the Brand Clarity exercise we spent some time considering the impact of emerging markets especially including Millennials.  The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2004) today comprises roughly 100 million people mostly in their teens and 20s. What we learned was that both as employers and marketers there were important differences about this cohort that had to be considered to ensure our brand expression was relevant, compelling and assured of making an emotional connection.

More recently, again undertaking a Brand Clarity exercise for our client EarthFresh Foods, we learned that organizations and corporations that genuinely and transparently put their money where their mouth is are at a considerable advantage in the realm of competing for both employee and customer loyalty.

EarthFresh recently moved from a Toronto location to Burlington.  The new plant is vastly more efficient, has a much greater production capacity, and is architecturally and aesthetically relevant to the business.  What is not so visible though are some of the behind-the-scenes initiatives of this forward-thinking company.

The company implemented a shuttle system for many of their employees.  While this would help EarthFresh maintain production efficiency and continuity it was perhaps even more meaningful from the perspective of acknowledging the important role it’s people on the floor played in the company’s success.  There are many corporations that would simply have looked to hire new people in the new location but not EarthFresh.

Additionally, when I first visited the company’s Toronto plant I remarked on how they had carved out a small space for fitness and exercise.  It was impressive to see that in the new plant there is a larger, well-equipped facility and while that alone should earn kudos, it becomes even more impressive to realize that the company also brings in a trainer three times per week to assist in employee fitness.

I am sure there are other examples of EarthFresh Inc’s thoughtful approach to employee engagement but it is heartening to see a company embracing the reality and benefit of doing good.

While initiatives of this sort are of course of benefit to all demographic groups they will have particular resonance with Millennials and position EarthFresh well for future growth and profit.

This thoughtful approach extends to the company’s product development realm as well and in the near future you will see innovative potato products emerging from this firm.

We are lucky to have them as a client and would be delighted to share the Orange Keel approach to creative designed communication and branding with other like-minded organizations.

If you’re interested in learning more about Millennials in particular this link has some top-line insight. 


Posted on January 19, 2015

A mindful approach to retail

There is a clear and growing shift within certain, still fairly narrow, segments of society from rampant consumerism to a more mindful, thoughtful approach to purchasing decisions.

This trend may be hard to see in the dark shadows of the rampant buying of Black Friday and the annual feeding frenzy that Christmas brings, however, my social media monitoring suggests that greed may be coming socially reprehensible.

Perhaps the combined concerns evolving from the environmental movement, the evidence of the harm we’re doing to our world with massive waste, and the emptiness many feel regardless of how many possessions they acquire is generating a movement toward simplicity and a culture of less vs. more.

One such example is Japanese retailer Muji.  In an article published in the Globe & Mail on December 3, 2014 Nathalie Atkinson wrote:

“The orderly shelves of non-brand wares have a certain uniformity… It all combines to imply a counterpoint of consumption that seems less about wants than needs – even a display of wire storage baskets holds a promise of purposefulness.

Though for a retailer built on the philosophy of simplicity, Muji sure sells a lot of stuff. They have tapped something that speaks to the global consumer.”

On the clothing front, it appears the Muji totally embraces the notion of normcore (defined as a bland anti-style) and while that may be so, the overall ethos of the retailer is one of simplicity.

That, I think, has a broad appeal to more people who are coming to accept a more minimalist approach to living and commerce.

Is there a lesson within this for the branding and design community?  If you believe, as we at Orange Keel Brand Strategy and Design do, that the essence of effective designed communications revolves around notions of clarity, simplicity and wit there most certainly is.  Our approach focuses on defining and expressing the most relevant, compelling and emotionally based characteristics of our client’s brand then presenting to their consumers a cohesive design program regardless of media.

Mindful design is powerful and it’s what we do at Orange Keel.

Posted on January 19, 2015

The Celebration of the Potato and more about EarthFresh Foods



When is a potato more than a potato?  When it’s a celebration!  Earth Fresh Foods approached Orange Keel to provide naming and package design for this new prepared meal experience.  We coined the name Celebratoes and since launch Earth Fresh fans have been celebrating the potato!

Celebratoes by Earth Fresh Foods

Corporate Branding


Following on the heels of its successful Celebratoes launch, Earth Fresh asked Orange Keel to apply creative thinking to the company’s brand essence and expression.  Mining the experience and insight of the company’s key employees, Orange Keel created a highly-relevant brand experience enabling the company to establish a solid and sustainable emotional connection with its various stakeholders.

Posted on January 19, 2015

A more complete story of how we delivered for Critical Path

To differentiate your offering in a commoditized market poses a real challenge so when the courier company Critical Path Express found itself struggling it asked Orange Keel to elevate its brand presence.  Through insightful interviews and information gathering, Orange Keel uncovered the stories that genuinely set Critical Path apart and justified its tagline “Anything. Anywhere. Anytime.”   These stories are told visually and verbally through the company’s website, vehicle livery, publications and marketing literature.  All designed by Orange Keel.

Our approach with Critical Path was based upon our insight that in many cases a company’s stories are as, if not more important, that its products.  Where Critical Path genuinely differentiates itself in the courier market is in its willingness to say yes.  They truly believe in their stated vision of Anytime, Anywhere, Anything.

So Orange Keel dug into the archival memories of Critical Path personnel to uncover stories which legitimized the company’s claim.  You can read several on the site but just to entice you here’s just one example that shows how Critical Path can even deliver to No Wher

Pretty much anyone can get a package from point A to point B. Very few can get your shipment from somewhere to no where.


The logistics of no where
An emergency medical helicopter service relies on our ability to deliver no where! On many occasions the service is called to evacuate injured or ill people from extremely remote areas. In the unlikely event that the equipment suffers a mechanical breakdown, the people on the ground know that rapid deployment of mission critical components is essential. So while almost anyone could accomplish this within well defined, easily accessible parameters, the emergency service trusts no one except Critical Path to deliver the goods.


Posted on October 10, 2014

Anytime Anywhere Anything Critical Path Express Delivers

Moving packages from one point to another seems relatively straightforward.  Not so as we learned in reinventing Critical Path’s complete identity program.  From web design to stationery to vehicle livery, our team of strategists, designers, writers and web developers created a powerful new identity to help Critical Path move to the next stage in their growth.  Watch our blog for the full story soon.Anytime | Anywhere | Anything | Critical Path Express Delivers

Posted on February 24, 2014

Are you making an emotional connection with consumers?

“A critical component of a great brand and the most essential element of its composition is that the experience of the brand must create an emotional connection with the consumer.  Emotion is the one human ability that cannot be automated and companies need to embrace the notion that their stories are perhaps more important than their products.”

Rolf Jensen, Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies

Are you making an emotional connection with consumers?

As products and services become more commoditized failure to establish an emotional connection with your consumers means you risk losing brand loyalty and favourable  buying decisions.  Think about it – how much difference is there really between Toronto Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada?  They offer pretty much identical products, services, personnel, expertise, rates, and locations.  Yet some people loyally stand by one versus the other. Why?  Probably because they have established an emotional connection.

If you’re at all concerned about how your brand stacks up in this type of market you should consider undertaking a Brand Clarity exercise.

What is Brand Clarity™?

Brand Clarity™ is a flexible brand- and brain-storming exercise designed to uncover the most relevant and compelling story for a product, company, or individual.  It is intended to enable you to make a critical emotional connection with your stakeholders.

Using a variety of brainstorming tools and exercises the objective of the session is to bring clarity to confusion, simplicity to complexity, and new thinking to conventional thought.

The outcome is the creation of relevant, actionable ideas which will form a viable, reliable foundation for strategic communications enhancing your ability to create an emotional connection with target consumers.  You will come to understand and bring clarity to your brand and your story.

What is a Brand Clarity™ session?

It is a session where we lead a team in a challenge to ensure that the brand vision has about it three qualities.

  1. Clarity – Is the brand expression clear and relevant?  Is it transparently founded upon organizational realities?  Is it believable to both internal and external stakeholders?  Is it supportable in our storytelling and in our organizational action?
  2. Simplicity – Is the brand expression simply expressed?  Could everyone from the executive suite to the factory floor tell someone what our brand stands for?  Is it sustainable in expression?  Is it unique in its simplicity?
  3. Wit – Is the brand expression engaging – visually, emotionally, practically?  Is it versatile enough to engage stakeholders regardless of medium?  Is it compelling?  Does it effectively enhance our storytelling?

The objective of the Brand Clarity™ session is simple:

To gain a solid foundation of brand principles, attributes and values leading to a clear expression of the essence of the brand.

The strategy of the Brand Clarity™ session is also simple:

Identify relevant and compelling information about the business.

The tactic we employ is conducting exercises which provide words/descriptions/feelings that allow us to build a brand pyramid which is entirely unique to the business.

Contact us today to begin bringing clarity and connection to your brand.