The 37better Project (archive from 2001 – some links may not work) was one of the best promotional things we ever did for our company. It brought us tremendous exposure. The 37betters were linked up everywhere and discussed at length in all the right places.

The goal of 37better FedEx wasn’t to win FedEx’s business, it was to win someone else’s business. Someone else who saw what we did and said “That is better. We could use better ourselves.”

Further, it showed people that we weren’t just designers, we were thinkers. We were curious about solving problems not just painting pictures. You may have disagreed with our solutions, but we explained what we thought was wrong and why we thought our design was better.

I’m surprised I haven’t seen more designers/firms try to make a name for themselves this way. It works. Take on a few brands, redesign a few pages or flows, explain in detail why you did it and why it’s better. It’ll spread like wildfire today. Back in 2001 there weren’t many outlets to get the word out. Blogging was in its infancy. There was no Twitter or public Facebook, etc. Today it’s different. Take advantage of it.

A modern case in point: Patterns by R.BIRD

R.BIRD primarily designs physical packaging for consumer products. In the last few years they’ve been churning out Patterns — “a series of professional observations about package design practices within specific product categories.” Patterns are free PDFs anyone can download.

They have Patterns on tea, women’s razors, sliced bread, energy drinks, among others. They’re insightful and well executed.

They’ll look at a category, study it, compare it, dissect it, and share their findings. It’s a competitive analysis without the us vs. them. If you’re looking to hire a brand design firm, wouldn’t you want to consider a company that likes this stuff enough to do it for free?

Unclaimed colors in the children’s cold medicine market.

An overview of current tea packaging.

A snapshot of the low carb shelf at the supermarket.

Those are just some of the stills from the reports. If you’re interested in packaging, the reports are fascinating. And if you’re a potential client looking for a firm to help you design your packaging, the reports (the thinking) combined with R.BIRD’s portfolio (the design) make a great case.

What could you do?

Slow times are a perfect time to start putting together self promotional materials. What are the patterns in your business? How can you demonstrate competency beyond what everyone else is doing? Every designer on the planet has a portfolio of their designs, but how many have a portfolio of their minds?