About John McCollum

The great adventure

Well, I've complained about plenty of things over the last few years, but being bored has never been one of them.

As most of you know, Element took a dramatic change of direction about six months ago, transitioning from a traditional brick-and-mortar agency with full-time employees sitting at desks to a consultancy consisting of me and whichever talented professionals I needed to complete the job at hand.

And there have been a few jobs -- I've just completed a rebranding, remessaging and relaunch of a web site for a New York City-based theater company, and have provided messaging and positioning for a local artisanal food company who shall remain nameless until the product launches.

But the vast majority of my time has been dedicated to running Asia's Hope, the non-profit organization I co-founded in 2001. Asia's Hope is dedicated to providing homes, jobs and hope for children in Cambodia and Thailand who are at high risk of sexual and economic exploitation. We currently operate 16 orphan homes, a school and a wide array of micro-enterprise and vocational training programs.

Yesterday I visited with Jim Davis-Hicks, a local photographer who founded a fantastic organization called Thirst Relief. I was inspired and challenged by his success in raising support for his clean water projects not just from churches and foundations, but from his professional colleagues. In fact, Jim told me that 70% of his funding comes from other photographers!

For years, I was so focused on competing with other designers, marketers and communications professionals, that I never tried to involve them in the work of Asia's Hope. My conversations with Jim and others have sparked a desire to reach out to my colleagues and invite them to participate not just financially, but creatively in this great adventure that has transformed my life, and has saved hundreds of precious children from the horrors of sex slavery and human trafficking.

So no, I don't have any specific plan or proposal. Not yet, at least. But I'm hoping that by the time I return from my summer trip to Cambodia and Thailand I'll have an idea of how we as a community of professionals can engage suffering and unleash hope -- together.

In the meantime, I'd like to invite you to follow me and my family online as we head to Southeast Asia from June 6 to August 13. I'll be blogging regularly on the Asia's Hope Director's blog. I promise lots photos and stories of the incredible kids and staff living at our orphan homes.

I'd also like to ask you to spread the word. I believe that something great is about to happen in the creative community. I believe that a great adventure lies ahead, and I hope that you'll consider joining me.


John McCollum


Life is still good

For twelve years, I had the pleasure as Element's owner, chief strategist and creative director, of overseeing one of Columbus, Ohio's most respected marketing, communications and design firms. We attracted top-notch talent and A-list clients, and we launched brands, created marketing campaigns and crafted strategic communications that won international acclaim for Element and real, measurable results for our customers. 

Beyond the work itself, Element was known for its unique, people-centered professional environment. We had unlimited vacation days, four day work weeks, cocktails upon request and weekly breakfasts cooked together and enjoyed with coffee roasted on-site.

Life was truly good at Element. A better -- more complex -- life, however, was calling.

It started slowly. On something of a lark, I took a trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2001. That trip changed my perspective, and would ultimately change the course of my personal and professional life. Later that year, I co-founded an non-profit organization called Asia's Hope. My original goal was to "do the charity thing" on the side, and keep Element as my top priority.

Fast forward a few years and a completely different picture emerges: Asia's Hope is growing like crazy -- 16 orphan homes, 500 kids and 90 staff in Cambodia and Thailand -- and I'm the only person in the States working full-time for the organization. By Fall of 2009, it was clear to me that I could not successfully run both Asia's Hope and Element -- at least not without making some significant changes.

So, on October 25, 2009 I informed the Element staff -- and all of my clients and vendors -- that the agency would be closing. I shut off the phones, sold the equipment and began my new life as Executive Director of Asia's Hope. 

Now, the tables have turned: the majority of my time and effort is focused on providing homes for orphaned kids in Cambodia and Thailand at high risk of sexual and economic exploitation. I have, however, retained the Element brand, and as Element will continue to provide strategic and creative consulting services -- albeit on a very selective basis. 

If you're interested in working with a seasoned communications professional who has recently signed a new lease on life, contact me john@elementville.com or 614.859.9221.



Graphic Design Referenced

Graphic Design, Referenced: A Visual Guide to the Language, Applications, and History of Graphic Design

Element's work for Columbus Brewing Company is prominently featured in this new must-have book by Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez Palacio. It's getting rave reviews on Amazon and is sure to become a classic on every designer's book shelf. We enter our work for submission into many of the Rockport books but this project was especially cool because Bryony Gomez Palacio contacted us directly to request that we submit the CBC work for this book. It's an honor to be recognized in such an awesome compilation of work and among such a distinguished roster of great design firms.

Go buy yourself a copy or two.


Portable Paparazzi 

Well, here she is. After countless hours in the basement workshop, the photo booth is fully functional. It has already successfully captured two events with some amazing results. Inside that simple plywood box is a conglomeration of scrap parts that were never intended to work together. There is an old brass sconce (with paint still on it where the previous owner carelessly painted the wall around it) and old black and white portable tv set, several odd parts from deceased Apple computers, metal garage door hardware, galvanized sheet metal from some old duct work, and lots of love. All of which was either pulled out of someone's trash, found at the Habitat for Humanity, ReStore Center, or picked up at the local thrift store. At the heart of this contraption is a Ricoh GR II Digital Camera.

How does it work? well, the booth sits atop an adjustable tripod stand. When you walk in front of it, you can see your happy face smiling back through a 5 inch black and white TV monitor. When you're good and ready, you reach up, push the button--the camera focuses and fires. Behind the white panel on the front is a glowing 75 watt bulb and a 40 watt-second flash. After the shot is taken the image stays on the screen for a few seconds so you admire your photo. It also has built-in wireless capability which sends the photos over a network to a laptop, that, when hooked up to a projector, will present a side show on the wall, automatically updating as photos are taken throughout the evening.

The next scheduled event is coming up in November for CSCA's Creative Best at the Arena Grand Theatre. Be sure to stop by and say "Cheese" to my photo booth while you're there.


The New Gal Gets the Old Computer

It feels like Christmas here at Element this morning.

I am the lucky recipient of a 1987 Macintosh SE.  Talk about productivity in the work place!  This baby has dual floppy drives, 4 MB of RAM, and a sleek portable design with a nifty plastic handle.  I'm still trying to find the right rolling suitcase so I can take my sweet portable desktop down the street to Caribou.

Thanks for making me feel at home Element. 


SketchCrawl Columbus Aug 29

Element joins forces with local art and design organizations CSCA and Wild Goose Creative to bring you Columbus' first unofficial SketchCrawl.

What is a SketchCrawl you might ask? Think all-day pub-crawl with less booze and regret the next morning and add group drawing and great food. Sketchcrawl is a self-guided tour of Columbus down-town landmarks where you meet other local artists with the same passion for drawing.

Grab a backpack, add your favorite art supplies and make new friends as we walk/bicycle downtown and draw the city. Locations will include North Market, The Statehouse, The Santa Maria and Goodale Park.

Free event, fun for all ages.

For more a map and schedule, click here.

To get a better idea of what to expect check out the links for SketchCrawl and Urban Sketchers.



Emotional Branding -- 10 perspective shifts

Speaking of passion, Marc Gobé's excellent book "Emotional Branding" recommends the following shifts in perspective from traditional branding to emotional branding. We think he's onto something:


1. from consumers to people: Consumers buy, people live.

2. from product to experience: Products fulfill needs, experiences fulfill desires.

3. from honesty to trust: Honesty is expected. Trust is engaging and intimate.

4. from quality to preference: Quality for the right price is a given today. Preference creates the sale.

5. from notoriety to aspiration: Being known does not mean that you are also loved!

6. from identity to personality: Identity is recognition. Personality is about character and charisma.

7. from function to feel: The functionality of a product is about practical or superficial qualities only. Sensorial design is about experiences.

8. from ubiquity to presence: Ubiquity is seen. Emotional presence is felt.

9. from communication to dialogue: Communication is telling. Dialogue is sharing.

10. from service to relationship: Service is selling. Relationship is acknowledgment.



Passionate: We're anything but aloof. Cool and distant don't interest us. We care, and we want you to care.

Don't get us wrong. We completely like and appreciate "cool and restrained." And at some level, we'd love to set your company's name in gray Helvetica Neue Ultra Thin and charge you 50 grand for the privilege (Okay. I kid. No one really does that, do they?) and call it a brand.

We've just never found clients gullible trusting enough to let us do that. And, frankly, we'd hate ourselves the next morning.

While there's certainly something to the maxim "Less is more," it often translates into less effort, less emotion, less connection. In which case, "Less is just less."

This is probably why we don't get a lot of work from uber-chic, exclusive-for-the-sake-of-being-exclusive, "you should feel privileged and a little intimidated to buy and use our product" types of companies. And that's okay.

Okay. It's not Helvetica Neue Ultra Light. But it's just as pretentious, no?

We're passionate people. We laugh, we scream, we cry, we even dance (some of us better than others). We don't divest ourselves of our personality or our passion when we sit down to work on a project. We think it matters, and we hope it shows.



Follow us on Twitter!

Element is now tweeting. 



Vibrant: We make an impact, connecting emotionally as well as intellectually.

You know the stereotype. Art students. Graphic designers. All-black wardrobe with accessories, personality and a portfolio to match. Cynical. Terrified of serifs.

At Element, we're not afraid of color, of joy, of laughter, or of serifs. We're very serious about our work, but we don't take ourselves too seriously.

Our people are all really interesting, and have amazing life experiences and personal idiosyncracies, and we're all encouraged to bring our emotions -- not just our intellect -- to the office and to every project. As a result, we tend to attract clients who appreciate our approach and our vibe.

So, when you step back and look at, say, a year's worth of Element work, you'll notice it's not just excellent, it's exciting. It doesn't just inform, it inspires. And while we hate to think we have a "house style," it's hard to deny that we have a certain approach that affects our all of our work. And we think it's good.


Brand Personality

We do a lot of positioning and brand strategy for our clients. We tend to put things into words before we put them in pictures. We ask lots of questions about competitors and core competencies, obstacles and opportunities.

The answers to objective questions (e.g. "Who are your top local and regional competitors? How do you beat them and how do they beat you?") come pretty easily. It's the subjective ones that take a little more work.

Questions like "What adjectives describe your product, your company and your personnel equally well?" are more difficult, require deeper reflection and longer discussion. Done right, however, this line of inquiry bears invaluable data that can provide the basis for a really great design project.

At Element, we've identified seven such adjectives, words that describe our staff, our company and the work we produce. Over the next few posts, I'll tackle each of these adjectives one or two at a time.

Element, it's people and the work it produces is: 









Support the Fireworks!

For more than 50 years, the Clintonville Annual Fireworks & July 4th Festivities have become a staple of our community. When Element was approached to contribute our creative efforts to a fresh look-and-feel, we gladly accepted. Clintonville is home to most of us here at Element, as we not only work, but also live in the neighborhood.

It's one of those special community events that creates memories that last a lifetime, so we wanted to lend our support to a tradition that has, sadly, in recent years, been in danger of dying. What's so amazing about the fireworks is that they are privately-funded, through local residents and retailers. This annual celebration is one that we personally reflect back on every year. We often find ourselves telling stories, conversing with our friends and family..."Remember that one time..."

We can't wait to celebrate our nation's birthday this Fourth of July!

If you are interested in making a donation, please send
checks payable to"Clintonville July Fourth Celebration"

Clintonville July Fourth Celebration
P.O. Box 141463
Columbus, Ohio 43214

or donate online through PayPal at:


Element creates a Buzz at Cedarville University

Element, working with the University Communications and Athletic Department, has designed a new mascot for Cedarville University. The Yellow Jackets have a time-honored athletic heritage whose teams routinely compete at a national level. As of the 2009-2010, the Yellow Jackets are moving up from NAIA to NCAA Div 2, allowing them to compete at a higher level, bringing with it, more regional and national exposure.

The old yellow Jacket was getting tired. Aside from the technical issues that came with printing and consistency in which it was used, really looked like the same "bee" "hornet" or "wasp" employed by high schools and colleges around the country. It wasn't memorable and didn't represent the excellence and tradition Cedarville Athletics were know for.

Element sought out to design something truly "own-able."

The result was better than even we had anticipated. After rounds or revisions and tweaks, working with feedback from the coaches, athletic director and communications department, a new mascot was born. Along with the mascot Element developed a custom type treatment and "lockup" versions. The new mascot can be easily reproduced from full-color to one-color applications.

Go Jackets!

More here



Scoot-a-que 12: Senior Year

It's that time of year. The snow's melting, the birds chirping. Eager scooterists are dusting off their Vepas, Lambrettas, and various other two-wheeled scoots for another riding season. Each and every season in Central Ohio is capped off with a September weekend event like no other. Scoot-a-que is in it's twelfth year and promises to be better than ever. We, here at Element, have once again thrown our hats into the ring to promote the event with some brilliant design and tasty typography.

This being the 12th year, the theme is "Senior Year." Saturday evening's big event will be celebrated with a prom-style dance. Should be fun! We hopped into the way-back machine to relive those blissful days of highschool formals: the tuxedos, the limosines, the boutoneers, the rejection.We decided to set things right. We asked ourselves: What happens if the nerd asks the Prom queen to go and she says "yes?" Forget the limo, he'll show her a good time on a real ride--his trusty vintage Vespa with a passenger seat fit for a queen.



For more information about Scoot-a-que, visit www.scootcolumbus.com



We all love the Identityworks website. Sure, we're logo geeks. But we think that anyone interested in good business strategy will find Tony Spaeth's encyclopedic knowledge of of corporate identity and his reviews of notable branding projects fascinating.

But maybe we really are just logo geeks. You tell us.


Pressure good. Stress bad.

Pressure: a constraining or compelling force or influence; urgency, as of affairs or business

Stress: physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension; a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.


Dictionary definitions aside, I would colloquially describe pressure in terms of "I have a lot to do, but unless everything goes wrong, I can get it all done" and stress as "I have so much to do that, if anything goes wrong, I'm screwed."

I work well under pressure. I work very poorly under stress.

Frankly, I'm feeling a bit stressed today, which is bad. In general, however, I've been moving toward a life of pressure, which is good.

I've seen (and had) employers who, apparently, make a conscious effort to keep their employees under constant stress. Like it's some sort of game in which the employers want to keep some sort of psychological upper hand. I've also known people who have willingly submitted themselves to constant stress to 'get ahead.'

Jeez. Maybe I'm just too lazy, or maybe I'm not ambitious enough. That's fine with me. I'm happy. And I think it's paying off at work.

Element has adopted a model that looks similar to a Results-only Work Environment. The collaborative and consultative nature of our work probably prevents us from creating a truly 'results only' workplace -- no schedule at all (just get your work done) -- but I'm definitely buying into giving my employees more responsibility and accountability while giving them significantly more freedom and free time.

I can't remove all potential stressors from my life or the lives of my co-workers (and clients and vendors), but I can certainly contribute to their well-being by working to create an organization that values quality relationships as well as (or maybe even more than) quantitative results. Sure, we have to pay the bills. But let's be honest. Most modestly successful businesses can 'pay the bills.' So what do these businesses do? They create more bills for themselves by funding relatively lavish lifestyles.

[Caveat 1: I consider myself to have a relatively lavish lifestyle as well. My car is nicer than necessary, and my house is filled with more and better possessions than I need. We eat more luxurious food than is necessary and we drink better beverages than most. My office probably has more toys than we need.]

[Caveat 2: Please don't take this as an assault on any specific businesses or even on 'business in general.' I'm really just trying to work some of these things out for myself, and I'm using this blog as a sounding board.]

[Caveat 3: I'm really not all that good at this stuff myself. I still stress my employees out all the time. Most of it is just being generally obnoxious, but some of it is probably due to occasionally unrealistic expectations that I either permit or directly impose. So there.]

I wonder what would happen if we all just decided that we already have enough? Would the economy come to a screeching halt? Maybe. Maybe not. Reminds me of a press conference I saw wherein a prominent politician was asked "Do you think that, in addition to innovations in 'green technology,' Americans should curb their spending and be content to live at a slightly lower level of general consumption?" The politician answered, "No. Americans work hard and deserve to have the highest standard of living in the world. I don't think that our living standard is the problem."

But what if it is?

Okay. I'm stepping outside of my areas of expertise and influence. I'm not going to waste a lot of time trying to get 'America' to stop spending money and to adopt a more sensible attitude toward work. I am, however, going to keep on trying to do that for myself.



Pound Foolish

Some business owners will spend a few hundred dollars to get a crappy logo designed, and then they'll spend tens of thousands of dollars to have that crappy logo applied to signage, vehicles and collateral.

It's "penny wise and pound foolish" thinking, I tell ya.

Here's a nickel's worth of free advice: spend as much as you can on the creation of your brand and look to save money elsewhere.

You can have the nicest fleet of trucks, the most impressive offices and even the snappiest web site in your industry, but if your brand -- your logo, your tagline, your secondary graphic components -- doesn't differentiate you from your competition, you're wasting your time and money.


I know this all sounds self-serving, but I'll tell my competition's clients this. Don't skimp on the important stuff.