‘Twas Design Before Christmas…

'Twas Design Before Christmas

This time of year is perfect for curling up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a good story. So for this month’s post, we thought we’d give you a bit of design insight in a slightly more literary way. After all, design (especially branding) is a lot like a story. It’s comprised of beginnings and endings, triumphs and failures, and lots of lessons learned through experiences. And the very best stories don’t tell; they show. Design shows us what a company represents and invites the audience to join in their “story.” If you look closely at well-branded companies, you’ll find one heck of a narrative woven through their products or services. So, without further ado, it’s story time.


“What could possibly be important enough to call us in on Christmas Eve?”

“Heads-up, you guys—I have to get to Lilly’s play at 7.”

“Client emergency. Code red.”

“Worse than the Ontario debacle?”

“Much worse. It’s the Sullivan account—the big sportswear launch.”

Three heads hovered at the end of a large worktable. Below the assorted mops of hair were furrowed brows and pursed lips. The warmly lit room was quiet, except for the hum of sleeping screens that had been abandoned for the holiday. The trio stared at the chaotic collage laid out before them.

“Did we miss something, Elle? I thought everything was covered?” A man wearing a gray pullover took a sip from a steaming mug.

Elle stood at the head of the table. “It was, Jack. But about an hour ago I got a call from Bethany, their marketing VP,” she replied, unearthing a packet from the heap of papers and sample materials. “Evidently the project wasn’t sitting well with the CEO. He’s changed the brief.”

“Something wrong with the concepts we delivered?” asked Jack.

“Not at all. The board loved them, actually.” She brushed back a lock of jet-black hair and flipped through a couple pages of the packet.

“So what’s the holdup?” asked Chris. He pushed up the sleeves of his hoody and leaned over the table, his elbows resting on the glass surface.

“Same concept—they still want people to virtually try on the clothes. But they tripled the number of locations.” Elle grabbed a pen that was sticking out from between two swatch books. Her voice had trailed off as she jotted something down on a page.

“Alright, so we pull some themes from our brainstorming session and make sure they sync up with the new locations,” Chris gestured toward the pile.

“Not gonna fly. We’re working with only a fraction more than the original budget.” Elle tossed the creative brief in front of Chris. She’d crossed out the old number and written in the new one. “The screens we planned to use are no longer an option.”

“You’re kidding?” Chris’s mouth hung open in disbelief.

“On the bright side, if we come in under budget and make the original January 1st deadline, they’ll pay us triple the original estimate.”

“Challenge accepted,” Jack drained the last of his coffee and stood up. “Gonna need more brain juice if we’re going to solve this one and get Chris to that play.”

“We’ve got six hours. It’s not impossible,” replied Elle. “And pour me a cup, would you?”

Jack gave a mock salute and marched off to the break room.


Elle stood in front of a large whiteboard. Jack reclined in a chair, token mug in hand. Chris stood, leaning against a wall and fiddling with a pen.

“Okay, so nationwide we’re dealing with about 8,000 contact points in urban areas, with medium to heavy foot traffic.” She scribbled on the board. “Chris, you said you couldn’t find any digital screens that will come in under budget?”

“Nothing comes close.”

“So we’re looking at print or… something less than screens.”

“No screens for a virtual try-on campaign. Piece of cake.” A wry smile flickered on Jack’s lips. “What looks like a screen and quacks like a screen, but isn’t a duck?”

Chris and Elle laughed.

“You know,” said Chris, “more eyeballs on the product is always good, I’ll give them that. But this sounds like a classic case of quantity over quality to me.”

“Not on my watch,” replied Elle. “How can we make the interaction attractive and cost-effective?”

“Maybe one of those mirage boards?” offered Chris.

“Doesn’t solve the virtual outfit issue.”

Any chance they’ll go for a half print, half digital?” Jack took a swig of coffee.

“I’ll shoot Bethany a text and find out.” Elle whipped out her phone. “And how are we doing on time?”

“T-minus four hours and counting if Chris is going to make Lilly’s play.”

“No way am I missing that play. Let’s iron some things out. If we’re going to save time and money, then we have to think of a way to salvage as much as we can from the existing files. I don’t see how we’re going to pull this off if we have to do completely new artwork. There’s no time for that.”

“Just heard from Bethany. She said splitting up the platforms is a no-go. Looks like we’re back to print.”

No one said anything for several moments.

“I vote that we do some solo research and see what we find.” Elle stood up and stretched. “If that doesn’t work, I’m going to tell Bethany we’re not going to make the January 1st deadline. I’m not so sure we can come up with a budget-friendly solution for this one.” She stood with her hands on her hips. “Let’s rendezvous in an hour.”


The time flew by, as it so inconveniently does when under the gun, and the gang reconvened at the whiteboard.

“Anything?” asked Elle.

“Nada.” Jack sighed.

“Nothing that comes under budget and uses the artwork and works with the virtual try-on aspect.” Chris slumped dejectedly in his seat.

“The only thing that I came across that was close to what we needed were these clear glass boards that people stood behind,” said Elle. “I shot the pics to Bethany, but they want something that individuals can better interact with and take selfies.”

Chris jolted in his seat. “That reminds me of something I read a couple months ago! It was an article on an agency in Baltimore that used mirrors to put people in scenes. We could use the same technique with the clothes!”

Elle’s face lit up. “Mirrors? That could work!”

“Yeah!” Chris grabbed his laptop. “No screens. Great results.” After a few moments of mouse clicking and key clacking, Chris spun the screen around to the other two. “We can take the artwork we have and resize it, maybe have them use textures with the ink to really bring it to life. What do you guys think?”

Jack clapped his hands together. “I think we’ve got a winner!”

“The interaction is simple, attractive, and cost-effective…” Elle thought for a moment. “If we can find a manufacturer that has the right material and the ability to print on it, then I think we might have nailed it!”

“And we can easily link this with the original social media campaign, too. Jack, that’s your area. Can you also get some copy options we can pitch them?”

“On it like a rat on a Cheeto, amigo!”

Elle laughed. “Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, though. We still have to run it by Bethany and the CEO.” She already had one of the files open and was furiously clicking away. “Let’s get some rough mockups put together that we can send for approval. If they go for it, the rest can get finished on Monday morning.”


The group worked steadily for the next few hours. They made tweaks to the artwork, double-checked the files compatibility with the new approach, and found a manufacturer in Fresno that could handle the large rush order. It was just after 6 when Elle sent the email pitch. Now, there was nothing to do but wait.

“Chris, you should go or you’re going to be late for Lilly’s play,” Elle said, “I’ll text you when we find something out.”

Chris looked at his watch. “I can wait ten minutes.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. I’ll still make it with time to spare.”

“I don’t want to jinx anything,” said Jack, “but if they don’t go for this, I don’t think there’s a better option, even if we had a whole week to mull this over.”

Ellle’s phone dinged. She practically lunged across the table.

The guys watched intently, looking for any sign of an answer on her face.

She drew in a sharp breath, her face illuminated by the small screen.

“They love it!”

She grabbed a handful of papers from the worktable and threw them in the air. Pages fell like confetti as everyone let out a cheer.

Jack gave Chris a high-five. “It’s a Christmas miracle!”

“Christmas miracle, holiday magic—whatever the case—we pulled it off!” cried Elle.

“We most certainly did,” said Chris, grabbing his jacket and keys, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a play to catch!”


Dear Readers,

Please note that this is a fictional tale. All characters, names, dates, numbers, places, and scenes are made up for dramatic effect. This is merely an exaggerated, narrative representation of a possible problem that might arise within any studio or agency.

(Honestly, we would never call our employees in on Christmas Eve… we’re designers, not surgeons.)


On behalf of all of us at Wenzel, may your holiday be full of wonderful people, places, and stories.