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The Ins and Outs of Falling Up

By Chad Gordon | October 24, 2016


Here are some of the ins and outs of falling up in our studio.

It’s been been almost two hours and I’m getting hangry. The room feels stuffy, like a closet. The black dry-erase marker died, we had to switch to blue, and my OCD is on alert. The white board was full an hour ago and we’ve switched to those weird giant post-its. Research papers, empty glasses, random sketches and a half-eaten muffin fill the table. The big screen shows 37 tabs open on the browser, including competitors’ websites, cool illustrations, word definitions, Corey Kluber’s lifetime stats and a half-filled lunch order menu. It’s quiet now. I’m pretty sure we are all sick of each other. Clearly a great creative meeting.

And that’s how the good ones go. It’s like falling up — tumbling, a bit out of control, but no injuries. Talking. Sketching. Jotting. Arguing. Laughing. Stepping away… and then doing it again until we uncover an answer. Build up ideas then knock them around, one after another, until we narrow to three shiny new ideas we all believe in.

Then, back in our own private spaces, we create comps and make the ideas come alive. Reviews polish them up until they are ready for the presentation. We’re like excited kids rushing home from art class hoping mom puts our project on the fridge.

Blood, sweat and tears (sometimes literally) go into these concepts. We never show a concept that we don’t believe will meet the project goals. But at the client presentation, three concepts enter but one is chosen. Years spent presenting ideas we love and seeing two out of three be tossed aside has hardened us to reality. Still, it can be sad to see ideas rejected before they’ve had a chance to grow.

The winning idea gets primped, refined, polished, and sent into the world to work its wonders. There is only enough love for the winner. It falls up, too, while the others fall out

We’ve been presenting long enough to know the precise moment a concept has fallen out:

I like it but it looks like _______

Before this sentence is completed, we know it’s over. It usually happens with logos. “… that shape looks like a Cheetoh.” Once a client says something like that, there will be no second chance.  I can even pull up an image of a Cheetoh and show how different it looks. But its in everyone’s heads by now… and I want a Cheetoh. It keeps you humble to know that all your effort turned into something everyone now sees as junk food.

I like the concept, but I don’t like the picture

This isn’t a sinking blow, but the ship is taking on water. Creating comp images takes time, but they’re usually not the final image. We clearly explain that if the concept is chosen we will create unique, brand/campaign specific images. Despite all our efforts, you can’t stop the image torpedo once it has been launched.

Falling Up to Frankenstein

This happens when all our concepts fall up. This quickly turns to horror when we hear, “Perfect! Let’s combine the image from this one with the copy from that one and the layout from the last one.” That’s Frankenstein-ing, taking pieces and parts strategically developed for one concept and combine with the others. It can turn the idea into a misunderstood monster that ends up being chased with torches and pitchforks. Joking aside, it is rewarding when multiple concepts are falling up. There ARE ways to adapt an idea to include minor elements of another. But Frankenstein-ing will often dilute the message.


This is rare, but it happens once in a while. Nothing falls up. A long silence. That is when I say “Annnnnd our next concept is…” We present three or more unique concepts for a reason.

Despite our best strategy, research, creating, and crafting, people react to ideas on a personal level. We can’t plan for someone seeing a Cheetoh. But we can plan for every fall by showing a variety of concepts and directions. The concepts that fall out are never viewed as failures. They did their job — contextualizing and contrasting the winner and allowing the client to be part of the process. They show a variety of perspectives that can be mined for future projects.

In the end, every idea falls up. We never forget concepts that fall out. They live in a crowded little back room. And every once in a while, during a long, hangry creative meeting, we take one out to play.

~ Chad




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Chad Gordon

Chad is the Creative Director, overseeing the development of virtually every original design. Chad studied photography in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has a degree in photo illustration from Ohio University. In 1991 he worked with Reuben and Company as a photo assistant before joining designRoom as a designer the following year. Chad has received numerous national awards, has shared in his team’s many Addy Awards, and has had his work published in several international design publications.Chad is experienced in all phases of creative design, including concept development, art direction, photography, typography, print production, and website design. Chad’s specialties are photo illustration and identity development. His unique infrared photography has been shown in numerous galleries around northeast Ohio. He is an avid baseball man, a crafty pitcher with speed and movement on his fastball, and played on championship teams in the Roy Hobbs League.

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