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Neenah Wallpaper: Nothing Same Here

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Steve Sikora and Beth Ketter (see toasted above) at Design Guys in MPLS have been delighting and informing Neenah Paper fans for many years. Their latest offering is a three-part poster series entitled Neenah Wallpaper, focusing on Neenah Environment Papers and the compelling need for a greener and more sustainable planet. The first poster was released in July. The second has just arrived at your local merchant. Steve, creative director and copywriter worked with designer and illustrator Beth Ketter on this assignment for Neenah. Here is what they had to say…

Against the Grain
What is the message you needed to communicate with the Neenah Wallpaper poster series?

Design Guys
From the outset, the medium was as important as the message. With the Neenah Wallpapers, Neenah wanted to engage designers in a way that is very different from the usual print promotion. As designers, we always want to create value for our client’s message, but that value can be realized in radically different ways. Most typically in paper promotions the value is found in the precious quality exhibited in the high production/low volume print pieces in which demand outpaces production. Those pieces are pre-destined to be desirable due to their rarity. That is a great model for the fortunate few who secure a copy. And still effective for those who want one and can’t get a copy, but much less meaningful for designers who never even see or hear of one. This promotion was meant to do exactly the opposite. Instead of rare, it should be everywhere!

Against the Grain
Why did you come up with this direction, especially the series (3?), size and the interaction that the posters require?

Design Guys
As I told audiences back in July, The Neenah Wallpapers serve a range of purposes:

One. We have for a long time wanted to produce work that encourages designers to think about the physical medium of paper. We wanted to make spatial use of the fact that paper can do things in the third dimension and that hold the potential to touch a greater number of senses than most interactive media. We think it is as important to sell the idea of “paper” as much as it is to sell the ideas that support the Neenah brand of paper. Paper when posted, can affect our surroundings.

Two. We have been working with a number of clients to help communicate their sustainability platforms. Environmental issues tend to be deadly serious subjects. A sober tone is characteristically how sustainability is addressed because after decades of ignoring the ever-mounting problems we’ve created for the planet, everyone wants credit for seriousness of inytent. However, even when we are prompted to “do the right thing” we want to feel good about it. When issues education takes the form of a lecture, it is “one-way” andvery different from when it takes the form of an open conversation. We wanted to invite people to converse not simply “hear and obey”. There is obviously limited space on one of these wallpaper sheets to tell a multi-dimensional in-depth story. But we have adequate space to put a few facts in front of people, to pose the problem, tell them what Neenah Paper is doing as a corporate citizen and what we as individuals can do to get started making things better.


Three. Since we are encouraging these things to be posted, we dreamed up a lot of ways to ensure that would happen. We devised a system to keep them flexible They are omni-directional so it does not predicate how you position them. They are meant to link together in whatever configuration fits available space. The only way you can hang them wrong is to face them into the wall. By making them attractive they are more likely to be posted. Once they are on display, the content subtly takes over.

Four. We felt very strongly that something like this needed to launch in a tightly clustered series. The idea depends upon multiples and so the promise of the next, and the one after that and the one after that needs to be there from the beginning. The size was driven by the practicality of the delivery system. Paper reps who had to hand-carry them into agencies

Against the Grain
Tell us about your illustration and choices and editorial choices.

Design Guys
The first series is about CONSERVATION issues, Recycling, Energy and Water. Neenah Paper suggested the topic categories and we agreed completely. Obviously there was a mountain of factual information available to us that could have potentially gone into each of these. Instead, from the earliest layouts we settled on a succinctly edited text that left plenty of room for visual expression. The colors we used were earthy brights. The characters came in part from a set created for a larger environmental project that Design Guys has the works. Again, it is about balancing the visual weight with the weight of the message. Sharing with the audience what Neenah has been doing and showing the rest of us a few ways we can get engaged in making a difference. Making it a little fun is intention.

Against the Grain
How would you like users to respond to this series — where you would you like to see them and how would you like the audience to put these good messages to use?

Design Guys
As designers, whether or not it is apparent to us we have a greater impact than most ordinary consumers. To the degree that we influence purchasing or consuming behaviors we are also affecting rates of, kinds of and even attitudes toward consumption. Ergo, because of the little soap-boxes we get to perch upon, we can make a bigger difference than the average person on the street. Positive influence is key. The Neenah Wallpapers should be a pathway to further inquiry for designers. There are unlimited resources for information. It is “our responsibility” and perhaps better expressed as “our privilege” to inform ourselves and to work from a solid ethical place in everything we do.


Against the Grain
Final thoughts?

Design Guys
I once heard Milton Glaser say that he made “no distinction between good design and good citizenship”. That isn’t the way most of us begin thinking about our work, but I think he is exactly right. If, it was the way we approached design, how incredible would that be?

  1. 01
    Ken said:

    I love the wallpaper collection! Put them together on the office wall for some serious green inspiration!