Designers Seek Help Gearing Up for the Internet of Places

When Big Picture magazine asked me to write a preview of the upcoming ISA Sign Expo 2015 April 8-10 in Las Vegas, they wanted more than a simple recap of details that anyone could easily find online. They wanted insight into how Sign Expo differs from other big trade shows that feature a huge variety of wide-format printing and finishing equipment. In other words: Why should Big Picture readers attend Sign Expo this spring when they could see some of the same exhibitors at SGIA Expo or Graph Expo in the fall?

Fritsch-BigPict-InternetofPlaces-LRHaving served as a Big Picture editor, I know that Big Picture readers have never feared pushing the boundaries. Like true entrepreneurs, they understand that growth comes from helping customers solve problems and innovate.

So, I recalled something that struck me at ISA Sign Expo in 2014. Attendees who didn’t make time to attend some of the educational sessions at Sign Expo missed an excellent chance to network with some important future customers and learn about the type of help they need from providers of architectural signage and large-format graphics.

At the 2014 Sign Expo, the Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) coordinated an enlightening series of sessions about the types of technologically sophisticated projects architects and their clients want to create. As mobile technologies bridge the gap between the online world and physical spaces, experiential designers are hired to create  branded, interactive “customer-experience” environments for corporate offices, museums,  healthcare centers, universities, and public spaces.

The relatively few people who attended the  SEGD sessions at ISA Sign Expo 2014 learned that experiential designers are actively seeking companies that help them fabricate engaging customer experiences that blend printed graphics, digital signage, and one-of-a-kind models. The goal is to ensure that a consumer’s experience with a brand continues beyond the website and throughout the physical facilities.

The SEGD presentations provided context about why the Sign Expo itself features such an eclectic mix of large-format graphics, digital signage, and equipment for making customized architectural signage.

“We are in the early stages for the Internet of Places — the digitization of our environment,” explained Clive Roux, CEO of the SEGD. “This is something far bigger than signs. Everyday places are about to get a whole lot more technologically complex.”

Experiential designers strategically blend digital communications with art, graphics signage, and other elements to help clients reinforce their brand mission, vision, and values, throughout the built environment.

“Experiential design is what makes visiting a building memorable to the user, beyond bricks and mortar,” said Kelly Kolar. “A user’s experience with a brand is affected at multiple touchpoints, including architecture, interiors, the branded environment, promotional and educational materials, websites, and apps.” Experiential designers work hand-in-hand with architects, space planners, and interior designers to “and help craft what the ideal experience really is. Then, experiential designers work with other partners to bring all the elements of the story together.

This year, SEGD members presented workshops at the Digital Signage Expo in March. But the educational sessions at this year’s Sign Expo will feature a full day of programming about digital signage, as well sessions on topics such as how to build a more design-centric company.

When visiting the Sign Expo show floor this year, I will have a fresh understanding of the types of projects that creative designers are being asked to produce for retailers, healthcare organizations, museums, hotels, restaurants, and city planners. (It’s very exciting!) Attendees who fear “digital signage” will displace large-format graphics need to take a broader perspective.

Big Picture readers helped grow the market for large-format graphics because they weren’t afraid to help creative professionals work through all of the technological challenges. I am already seeing evidence that a new generation of entrepreneurs is willing to participate in this next wave of innovation — reinventing the customer experience.

Even though Sign Expo, Graph Expo, and SGIA Expo all feature many displays of digital printing and finishing equipment on the show floor, the educational programs at each show provide insights into the diverse ways the equipment can be used.

For example, Sign Expo is more about outdoor advertising, architectural signage, and customized experiences within the built environment. Graph Expo is focused more on publishing, packaging, and integrated marketing communications. And SGIA Expo explores what’s possible with industrial printing, textile printing, garment decoration, dye sublimation, vehicle wraps, décor, and the emerging field of printed electronics.

So if you want to explore the huge range of business opportunities made possible by all types of digital printing, I would encourage you to attend all three.


Big Picture: ISA Preview-Internet of Places

ISA Sign Expo 



Fresh Perspectives on 3D Printing in The Big Picture Magazine

I was delighted to see that the ISA (International Sign Association) recently tweeted a link to the article on 3D printing I wrote for October issue of The Big Picture magazine.

6 Simple Truths About the Hype About 3D Printing

"3D Printing: 6 Simple Truths Behind the Hype" October, 2014, The Big Picture Magazine, ST Media Group,
“3D Printing: 6 Simple Truths Behind the Hype” October, 2014, The Big Picture Magazine, ST Media Group,

Having witnessed the emergence and evolution of large-format color graphics printing technology, I wrote about some striking similarities between the early days of wide-format and today’s explosion of interest in 3D printing.  It wasn’t difficult to find sources who shared my view.

Yet, 3D printing really isn’t about “printing.” It’s really more about how the technologies can be used to revolutionize fields such as manufacturing, healthcare, retailing, and construction.

Perhaps one of the main similarities between “digital graphics printing” and “3D printing” is that 3D printing might soon enable on-demand, on-site printing of highly customized products. For example, you could get a pair of shoes custom printed at your retailer, or download the design from the store’s website and print the shoes on the 3D printer in your home.

3D Systems and United Nude Collaborate on 3D Printed Shoes

A lot of the hype about 3D printing seems geared toward expanding the maker community and encouraging more students and young designers to learn how to design structurally sound three-dimensional products (instead of flat, two-dimensional graphics). Plus, entrepreneurs and researchers want to be the first to discover the ultimate “killer app” for 3D printing.

While 3D printing has long been used in rapid prototyping, efforts are underway to make it more practical to print all sorts of usable products including prosthetics, topographical maps, home accessories, building materials, movie and stage props (and costumes), fashion, and replacement parts. Because many signmakers are experienced in three-dimensional design of custom-made signs, it’s easy to see why 3D printing might appeal to signmakers.

After submitting my article manuscript to The Big Picture in mid August, I have continued to follow developments in the fast-changing field of 3D printing. For example, check out this news release from The UPS Store:

The UPS Store Expands 3D Printing Nationwide

To get a real sense of just how rapidly the field of 3D printing is evolving, subscribe to the newsletter of the 3D Printng Industry News portal. Each day the newsletter delivers news about printers, education programs, and creative applications. Search the 3D Printing Industry News website for news about HP, and you’ll find articles such as this one:

Will the HP 3D Printing Talk Prove to Be White Noise or Game-Changing?

Finally, while researching my article I learned that today’s new breed of digital marketing agencies has begun experimenting with 3D printers, partly because part of their role is to help their clients understand how to benefit from new technologies. One of the funniest videos I’ve seen on the potential applications of 3D printing is entitled: “ReThink: the Agency with the Most Awards in the World.” Enjoy!

One other source I recommend that you follow is the blog published by John Hauer, the CEO of, a Cincinnati company that that envisions the future of 3D printing as a service.

One of the great things about writing a story such as this one is that every source I interview inevitably suggests other interesting people I should talk to on the subject. If you have suggestions for follow-up coverage on this topic, please let me know!


The Big Picture: 3D Printing: 6 Simple Truths Behind the Hype

ReThink: The Agency with the Most Awards in the World

3DLT Blog: 3DLT Visits HP

3D Printing Industry News


Interviews with Design Execs Show Agencies Are Evolving

Technology is an equal-opportunity destroyer. Over the past 20 years, I have seen it disrupt the traditional business models of photo labs, printing companies, and publishing firms. It has also altered the careers of people involved with those businesses, including photographers, designers, and writers. Some people adapted, embracing new opportunities and overcoming the obstacles and uncertainties associated with new technologies. Others simply fell behind.

So when I went on an “Agency Crawl” organized by AIGA Cincinnati earlier this year, I wasn’t surprised to see that the traditional “ad agency” business model has vanished. As technology rapidly alters how information is created, delivered, and shared, creative design firms have adopted new missions and updated their services. It was fascinating to see how creative-services agencies are reinventing themselves. So I proposed writing a series of articles on contemporary design agencies. recently published the first two articles in the series. In one article, I interviewed Brian Keenan, a co-founder of Openfield Creative. I met Brian when I visited Openfield Creative during the AIGA Agency Crawl.


For the other article, I interviewed Kelly Kolar of Kolar Design and two of her team leaders Mary Dietrich and Bill Thiemann. I met Kelly at the ISA Sign Expo, where she gave a presentation as part of an educational program organized by the recently renamed Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD).


Both agencies actively help their clients adapt to ongoing changes in how brands and organizations communicate with their customers, partners, and employees.

At Openfield Creative, designers are currently helping brand owners engage customers through easy-to-use websites and apps. But Keenan was reluctant to pigeonhole the firm as an “interactive agency.” He noted that if the Internet disappeared tomorrow, Openfield Creative would still be focused on helping clients develop strategies for dealing with change.

Kolar Design focuses on design elements that affect the type of experience clients and employees have when they visit or work at a cleint’s facilities. Experiential graphic design (formerly known as environmental graphics) uses a combination of art, printed graphics, signage, and interactive technologies to help clients from the public, private, and healthcare sectors reinforce their brand mission, vision and values through the built environment.

Kelly’s Sign Expo presentation on experiential design for healthcare facilities was an eye-opener for any graphics-printing firm seeking insights into the changing needs of their customers.

Now that the first two articles in the series have been published, I am contacting other design firms to hear their stories. Because I continue to write stories for magazines that cover the ongoing transformation of the printing business, I realize how easy it can be to make generalized, outdated assumptions about designers and ad agencies.

What I am discovering is that each creative-services agency seems to be as unique as each reinvented printing business has become. Change has disrupted us all and we are reinventing ourselves in different ways.


Profile of Kolar Design

Profile of Openfield Creative

Kolar Design Article on

Openfield Creative Article on

AIGA Cincinnati Organizes a Fantastic Design Week Program

One joy of contributing to in Cincinnati is being able to observe the remarkable progress that has been made in revitalizing our urban core and attracting and retaining young creative professionals.  Not that long ago, young design-school graduates seemed to believe that the best career opportunities for creatives existed only in New York, Chicago, or LA. That has changed.

CAWDeignWeeklogoIn preparation for an assignment to preview  Cincinnati Design Week (July 21-26), I participated in an “Agency Crawl” on July 10. Many participants were students or recent grads looking for internships or job, But I enjoyed visiting the agencies because I had recently read reports such as: Adobe’s survey on “The New Creatives” and the SoDA Report on the outlook for digital marketing in 2014.

I was amazed to learn that a lot of pioneering work in digital marketing, mobile strategy, user-experience design, and motion graphics was happening right here in my hometown. These new digital agencies are experimenting with all sorts of new technologies to see how they can benefit their clients. Below is a quick overview of the four Cincinnati agencies we visited.

POSSIBLE: The Cincinnati office of Possible is one of 25 offices on five continents that is creating innovative ways to use new technology to bring measurable results to global brands. Many projects are designed to engage consumers and remind them that brands can help make our lives better. During the presentation, they talked about an app they developed for a P&G brand and a social-media campaign for Coca-Cola.

Hyperquake: The creative pros at this brand-evolution agency explained how they are  helping brands evolve, embrace change,  experiment, and stay relevant.

Openfield Creative: To cultivate connections between brands and people, the designers at this agency blend strategy, design, and technology.

Foster & Flux: The two young entrepreneurs behind this start-up animation studio are passionate about crafting storytelling videos that change the way people interact with brands. The creative partners focus on doing one thing very well: putting great design into motion.

When I wrote the Design Week preview for, I was impressed by the diversity of presentations that AIGA Cincinnati had pulled together, with support from the Contemporary Art Center, 21c Museum Hotel, TEDx Cincinnati, and Creative Mornings. Some presentations are being led by local creative professionals. But some keynoters include architect Jin Liu from the SO-IL architecture firm in New York and Debbie Millman, president and CMO at Sterling Brands in New York.

Barcelona-based designer Hector Ayusa has put together a full day of programming that brings artists and designers from around the world to share ideas and inspiration at OFFCincinnati.

Here’s the Design Week preview I wrote for

As a writer, I love being able to connect with people all over the world and do interviews via Skype from the comfort of my home office. But I also like getting out and meeting innovative people here in my own community. Their stories and insights give me a richer, deeper perspective when I work on technology-related assignments for national trade associations and other publishers. And the writing I do for my blogs and other publishers brings additional context to the stories I write for It’s all fun!


Screen Printing Is Alive and Well

As a freelancer, I am never quite sure where my next writing assignment will lead me.

After being dazzled by the advances in digital printing technology displayed at the PRINT 13 show and SGIA Expo last fall, I spent November and December researching two articles on screen printing. Both articles were recently published and confirm that screen printing is still valued, both as an art and as a method of decorating garments.

SGIA Journal: Old School Screen Printing in the Digital Age

SGIAJournalOldSchoolScreenPrintinginDigitalAge-300pFor the Winter 2014 issue of the SGIA Journal, I wrote about “Old School Screen Printing in the Digital Age” and the resurgence of interest in hand-made screen prints for concert posters and T-shirts.

The article originated after I interviewed some young screen-printing enthusiasts here in Cincinnati.  They are part of the much larger maker movement that is evident at events such Flatstock Poster Shows and  Renegade Craft Fairs in cities throughout the U.S. and Europe.  (Both the Flatstock Poster Show and Renegade Craft Fair will be held March 13-15, 2014 in conjunction with the SXSW Music Festival in Austin.)

Erin Dollar of Renegade Craft Fairs told me, “Interest in buying beautiful, handmade items has grown in the past decade, Screen printing has always been a popular medium for artists because it’s an affordable production tool that offers opportunities to create multiples without investing in a lot of expensive equipment.”

For the SGIA article, I talked to: Aaron Kent of DIY Printing and Pat Jones and Ben Nunery of Powerhouse Factories in CIncinnati; Carolyn Hartmann of OpenStudio DC in Washington, DC; Bill Fick of Supergraphic in Durham, North Carolina; Carlos Hernandez of Burning Bones Press in Houston; and Andy MacDougall of Squeegeeville in Vancouver, British Columbia.

They shared insights about the many different ways art schools, community art centers, and co-op printmaking studios are serving the growing number of designers and artists who want to try their hand at screen printing. Andy MacDougall has even written a book, called “Screenprinting Today: The Basics.

Hartmann told me that the designers who attend her screen-printing workshops like getting a little messy after spending all day at a computer. Hernandez notes that digitally savvy designers who can build a website in a few nights seem to relish the challenge of learning a medium that takes some time to master.

Read the full article here: SGIA Journal: Old School Screen Printing in the Digital Age 

The SGIA Journal is published by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, a trade association that originated as an association for screen printers.  The 2014 SGIA Expo will be held October 22-24 in Las Vegas. 

Wearables Magazine: Fast Screening

Fritsch-Wearables-FastScreening-300pFor the February, 2014 issue of Wearables magazine, I wrote about computer-to-screen (CTS) devices that merge the efficiencies of digital imaging with the cost advantages of high volume screen printing.  By inkjet-printing an image file directly onto an emulsion coated screen, a CTS system eliminates the need to make film positives.

Some of the newest CTS devices use industrial inkjet printheads to keep pace with the screenmaking demands of apparel-decorating companies that use one or more automatic screen-printing presses to produce higher volumes of decorated garments every day. If the automatic presses stand idle while employees make screens manually, companies can’t maximize the return on their high-speed presses.

For this article I talked to equipment manufacturers such as Lawson Screen & Digital Products, the M&R Companies, and Exile Technologies. I also spoke to employees of screen-printing companies who use the equipment.

Read the full article here: Screen-Printing Success: Fast Screening

Wearables magazine is published by the Advertising Specialty Institute for 25,000+ suppliers and distributors of promotional products such as T-shirts, tote bags, and other gifts imprinted with an advertiser’s logo or message. ASI studies show that promotional products such as custom-printed T-shirts, tote bags, and caps can be powerful advertising tools because recipients of these items keep them for months and wear them where the brand message can be seen by thousands of other people.  I wrote about the ASI study on my Creatives at Work blog: T-Shirts Can Complement Your Online Marketing.

 Screen Printing Magazine

Writing these two articles was a fun way to for me to learn how the screen printing process continues to be used.

Before I was named editor of The Big Picture magazine about large-format digital printing in the mid-1990s, I served as an assistant editor for Screen Printing magazine for a short time. In that role, I never became an expert on screen printing, but I did learn the basics. At that time, I spent a lot of my time studying how and why screen-printing studios might want to move certain types of projects to first-generation models of wide-format inkjet printers.

So, it has been astonishing to witness how rapidly inkjet printing has advanced from very slow, first-generation plotter-speed devices to fast, highly automated production-grade flatbed and superwide roll-to-roll presses that can handle a lot of the work formerly done on screen-printing presses. 

But screen printing technology has advanced, too. The process wouldn’t be attracting so many young artists and designers without the substantial progress that has been made in making the process more environmentally friendly.

The Joy of Local Reporting

Last fall, while researching news for my Creatives at Work blog, I discovered a news release for a job site called Ebyline. The site intrigued me because its business model recognizes that trained, experienced journalists have certain skills that newcomers to freelance writing might not yet have developed.

When a publishing company hires a freelance journalist through Ebyline, they can be confident that the writer understands interviewing, research, deadlines, stylesheets, ethics, fact checking, copyright law, and attribution. Journalists know how to put the reader’s interests first and understand the need to earn trust and credibility.

The Eblyine platform offers a win-win situation for publishers and writers. Publishing companies can find, hire, and pay multiple freelancers through a single site. As a writer, I can choose to apply for assignments posted by many different publishers. Or, I can easily pitch my own story ideas to selected publishers.

The pay rates for jobs posted on  Eblyline are more realistic than the ridiculously low rates offered to “article writers” on other freelance job sites. And, instead of submitting and tracking invoices to multiple publishers, my work is automatically invoiced as soon as the client purchases the articles I submit through Ebyline. All payments come through PayPal. MobileMy first assignments were for a North Carolina company that was creating online education programs for clients in San Francisco. Then, I got my an assignment for WCPO Digital — the mobile/online news division of a local TV station. My first assignment was to write about a small, community theater that was using crowdfunding to make improvements to their seating. I had written about crowdfunding on my Creatives at Work blog, so I understood how the concept was being used nationally. It was delightful to talk face-to-face with the theatre leaders and ask why they had decided to give crowdfunding a try. By watching a performance, I learned for myself why new seating is needed.

FalconTheaterSetWhen I submitted my story, it was edited and published within three hours. Wow! Having spent most of my career working on print magazines, the speed from draft-submission to publication was breathtaking.  And, it was cool to see the story in the news feed on my iPhone!

Since that first story, I have written other articles for WCPO Digital that fit with my interest in the arts, technology, and the future. For example, I wrote about how the ArtWorks organization in Cincinnati is using the Power2Give crowdfunding platform for community arts projects. And, I have covered a speech given at a Creative Mornings event at Cincinnati’s new 21C Museum Hotel. Last week, I interviewed the enthusiastic organizer of TEDxCincinnati. She has attended a couple of TED events in Long Beach and was excited to introduce the spirit of TED to Cincinnati. I have also written about  journalism education programs and social-service projects in Cincinnati.

One of my first jobs out of college was in the public-affairs department for United Way Cincinnati.  That job was fun because our team worked with so many media organizations, community leaders, and non-profit agencies throughout the city. I lost touch with these local contacts after I accepted a very demanding job doing marketing communications and magazine editing for a national engineering association. Now, at this stage in my career, I am happy to work on a blend of local and national projects that are related to my interests in the arts, technology, and the future.

It has been particularly fun to discover how Cincinnati organizations are keeping up with trends in bigger cities. Cincinnatians often cringe at this quote that Mark Twain allegedly made: “If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati .Everything comes there 10 years later.”

That’s not the case any more, and I am proud to help spread the word!


WCPO Digital: Falcoln Theatre Uses Crowdfunding

WCPO Digital: Findlay Market CEO at Creative Mornings/Cincinnati