The great fun of being a publication designer is that you get to experience the amazing creativity of a wide range of people. Innovative people get out of bed every morning excited to communicate real life-improving benefits to their customers. Being invited to design the visual bridge for that communication is what gets me up.

I logged into an exciting video conference with some innovators a few years back. Chris Bondy, Wayne Peterson and Joe Webb were creating a book (and other things) by which any graphic communications company could build a new and sustainable competitive advantage. It was called “UnSquaring the Wheel.”

The size of what they wanted to take on is best told in their own words:
“When we set out to describe how the graphic communications companies with whom we’re working are changing and thriving, and why “business as usual” isn’t viable any longer, we began with a live “proof of concept” presentation to a dozen industry leaders. They offered incredibly valuable and actionable feedback, in addition to their hearty encouragement that we were on the right track. Among the actionable feedback we received was the charge to insure that what we produced was both comprehensive and scalable. Taking that to heart turned a project that might have required months into one that’s taken three years to complete.”

I hate being scared by the value of a project, but that fear usually accompanies the opportunity to do something great. I’ve done book and magazine covers, logos and websites before, so getting it done isn’t the issue. The fear came when I faced the notion that I could help or hinder these innovators as they communicated a business solution that could transform an industry.

Here was a chance to design a book that describes actionable business processes and introduces a web-based evaluation that would enable any print company to test their business effectiveness. Joe Webb, Wayne Peterson and Chris Bondy’s confident vision was nothing less than a company’s (and therefore an industry’s) transformation.

How the visual bridge was built
At the heart of any transformation is the ability to assess where things are off track so that remedial steps are founded in facts not hunches. This was difficult as all three authors (who each have their own business specialties) brought differing perspectives and understandings of what needed to be communicated visually. Typical of early design phase in a project, there was lots of back and forth, hiccups and false starts.

I was already well into the ideas surrounding the chapter and section designs when the revelation came. As I sifted through the emerging chapters and the required graphics, there was one core element that tied all three perspectives together … the assessment. The radar chart that was the readout of the assessment caught my attention. It had 9 sides that corresponded to the nine vectors of an effective business. I toyed with multiple sketches and concepts to demonstrate motion between a square and the nine sided chart but none of them really carried the idea of “old to new.”

The cover idea with the “high-wheel” bike was only one of several presented, but the bicycle was agreed upon because it really had all of the core concepts … an old vehicle outfitted a new way … an assessment that could tell a company where it is … nine vectors (three each for the authors’ specialties) … the means necessary to create motion again.

Originally the notion was “the new path of print” as a subtitle but it was quickly realized that the words “comprehensive and scalable transformation” reflected the original vision better.

I also suggested words down the right hand side … If I recall it was “…and why the HELL the print business can’t run like it used to” but that got dropped for the much more genteel “BUILDING A BREAKTHROUGH BUSINESS MODEL.” What can I say … Bondy, Peterson and Webb are clearly much more gentlemen than I.

I think the team succeeded, because one of the early reviewers of the book said:

“UnSquaring the Wheel is the operating manual for the printing firm of the future.
It is filled with new thinking for an old industry trying figure out what it wants to be
when it grows up. There will be print as we move into the future and it
will be produced by firms that transform themselves.

This book will tell them how to do it.”

—Frank Romano, Professor Emeritus
Rochester Institute of Technology