When a Client Stops Being a Client, and Becomes Something More

May 25, 2016 | buchanandesign

There is nothing more rewarding than having a great client and developing a strong relationship. Mutual respect for each other and for the work that each provides is a beautiful thing.

Such is my story with United Through Reading (UTR). What started as basic graphic design services over 18 years ago has blossomed into the type of client-partner relationship that my peers in the branding industry dream about. I’m privileged to be considered a trusted advisor for this organization while also providing design and branding services when requested.


United Through Reading is dedicated to uniting U.S. military families who face physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. One of the most difficult things that a child can experience is having a parent separated from them for an indeterminate period of time. United Through Reading helps ease the stress of separation for military families by having service members, who are separated from the children they love, read children’s books aloud on video for the child to watch at home.


The proven impact this program provides – in regards to connecting families, decreasing the stress caused by separation, and encouraging reading – is beyond impressive.

Because of UTR’s important work, the incredible team of individuals who run the program and deliver services to over 200 locations around the world, and my deep sense of family – it was almost inevitable that I would become passionate about this mission.

Tonight Buchanan Design and I are proud to be a sponsor for UTR’s Tribute to Military Families Gala in Washington, D.C. Honoring those who make a difference for military families, this event will be attended by military leadership from all branches, over 20 members of congress, and industry leaders from around the country.




I feel very privileged to sit on their national board of trustees, and equally honored to be a small part of this amazing organization.

– Charlie

Community, Events, Partnership

Is Pro Bono Good Business?

April 4, 2016 | buchanandesign


Before answering this question, here are some thoughts to help you evaluate opportunities and make good business decisions.

Pro bono comes from the Latin, “pro bono public” or “work done without compensation for the public good.” This term comes up often in our industry. It’s a great way to give back to your community and leverage your talents to make a positive impact for organizations that might otherwise not have the resources. It can also cost you time and resources that may effect your livelihood and making enough money to stay in business.

When given the opportunity, and if my schedule allowed, I have provided pro bono work to many organizations and individuals over the last 20 years. I never used a strategic approach to evaluate the opportunity until it was too late to “skip.” The pro bono requests came in the form of referrals or random inquiries.

Finally after all these years, I came to realize an important fact… Pro bono projects need to align with MY values and community interests AND provide exposure opportunities that would help me grow or advance my business. This became the foundation for Orange Tree Project, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that I founded in 2015.


Suggestions for maximizing your creative efforts:

Get the name of your business out into the community. You never know who is looking.

Pro bono projects are often associated to a nonprofit, and all nonprofits have a board of directors who are business or community leaders. They can be a great business development opportunity.

Creative License
Take the opportunity to explore and experiment with concepts and design executions without compromising the brand integrity of the nonprofit.

Select a nonprofit that is looking to raise the brand bar and looking for the right creative partner. The results from this will add diversity and range to your portfolio.

Public Good
Take this opportunity to educate a group of individuals about the benefits that come when working with a design professional. It’s a great way to reinforce the value of design.

Office Morale
This can be a great opportunity to involve the entire team. Split up the responsibilities from design projects, social media posts, meetings, or volunteering for pro bono clients so everyone has a chance to get involved. A great “feel good” boost to the energy of the office.

Pro bono blues!

Great intentions don’t always lead to rewards… here are some issues to be aware of:

Time Commitment
Give your pro bono time carefully or “scope creep” can easily take over, especially when working with a nonprofit who doesn’t have much experience working with a design agency. Find the right balance between paying clients and pro bono projects.

Ask the right questions up front to ensure that you and the nonprofit have set clear ground rules for working together. The pro bono relationship can quickly go out the window if you let it. Nonprofit clients can quickly forget the pro bono etiquette and become one of those “frustrating” clients. Your time is valuable and the last thing you want is to do the work out of obligation.

What’s Your Worth
It’s important to share the value of your professional work. Especially when there are so many nonprofit organizations out there looking for the right creative partner. Not explaining the value of your work can come back to haunt you when they need something in the future, or worse, refer you to others because you’re a nice person and don’t charge much, if at all. Even clients in pro bono arrangements should know exactly what the work was worth so they can truly appreciate it’s value. You’re establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Pro bono clients always start with the great enthusiasm about shining your business name in lights… Don’t be afraid to be specific when asking for exposure that will benefit your business in exchange for pro bono work. And put it in writing.

All these conversations are easier to have with causes that you believe in and want to help. It’s important to support causes that have special meaning.

Win Win

How to make it work for everyone:

Establish criteria for working together
As the professional providing services for free, it’s important to establish ground rules at the start of the project. Deliverables, timeline, out-of-pocket reimbursements, approval process, rounds of revisions, and any other specifics should all be discussed to avoid surprises once the project begins. It’s always a good idea to establish a key contact to work with who can coordinate routing proofs and feedback. Working with a “committee” can create extra work and confusion.

Set realistic expectations
Clear expectations are key to getting everyone on the same page, and assuring the best possible experience for all. A pro bono project should not be treated any differently than working with paying clients. Often times pro bono work gets shuffled in between paying projects, but it’s important to always be professional and not let the client feel as though they are not as important. Schedule deadlines and appointments according to your schedule.

Negotiate a fair deal
Your work has value and the nonprofit knows it. Don’t be afraid to ask for things such as:

  • Design credit on printed materials or website.
  • Sponsorship listing on event programs, invitations,
    website, or any forms of advertising.
  • If applicable, request a complimentary membership
    or tickets for event access.
  • Attend a board meeting where you can be
    introduced to the entire board.
  • Social media promotions highlighting your company
    and the great work you are providing.
  • Highlight in a printed or online newsletter.

Pro bono clients evolve and can often become paying clients once they understand how valuable design can be. This has happened for us often and reason enough to be very picky when selecting your next pro bono client.

Community, Design Community, Design Industry, Partnership

Exciting changes at Buchanan Design

January 13, 2016 | buchanandesign


As we enter a new year filled with new possibilities, I want to share some of our excitement for the future of Buchanan Design.

My philosophy has always been, if you’re making the effort to do something important – don’t compromise – make the investment and do it right. Don’t wing it and certainly don’t blindly throw spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Sure, in some cases trial and error leads to innovation… but branding success is at its best when planned, strategized, and creatively executed.

With this in mind, I’m excited to share some of the efforts we’re making this year – all geared to ensure we are providing the most creative and strategically effective services and experience possible.

For some time, I have contemplated the evolution of Buchanan Design and how we can continue to provide top-quality creative branding services and also become a more valued partner to our clients. The answer is simple. With a deep passion for design as the given, we will begin to dive deeper into brand and marketing strategy, offer more brand voice and copywriting expertise, and implement a new creative process that will excite and deliver results for both existing and new clients.

To assist us, I’m thrilled to announce the addition of Charlie Van Vechten to our team. Charlie is an industry veteran with over 25 years of experience running his own brand agency. He is a great creative thinker, strategist, and respected for his abilities to grow a company and bring operational efficiency to ensure success. I am excited to have someone of Charlie’s caliber join me in leading Buchanan Design towards a very bright future.


Learn more about Charlie and his accomplishments >>

I’d love to hear your thoughts about our growth and service enhancements, and discuss how this will benefit you. Let’s grab a coffee.

Bobby Buchanan

People, Studio Life

A Thank You That Lasts For A Year

December 10, 2015 | buchanandesign

Buchanan Design - TEL HI 2016 Calendar, Fruit - Vegetable - Plant - Flower - Garden

Perfect for a month dedicated to giving, we believe in thoughtful and personal gifts that thank friends and clients for their partnership and their business. A meaningful example of this sentiment is a 2016 calendar designed as a thank you for the donors of our nonprofit client, TEL HI Neighborhood Center.

TEL HI is an amazing organization dedicated to the growth and empowerment of their community in San Francisco since 1890. That’s over 125 years of dedication to people. Because of this, the calendar highlights every month with one of TEL HI’s many accomplishments. For example, in November, a small blurb describes TEL HI hosting an annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner. Varying fruits, vegetables, and flowers is a reflection of their diverse community. It’s also inspired by their most recent project. TEL HI successfully raised over $15,000 in two months to develop an Urban Teaching Garden that brings more nature into their urban community and more. You can learn more about their garden project here:

The 2016 calendar is a spiral bound collection of custom illustrations digitally printed on uncoated paper. It’s a token of appreciation that keeps giving throughout the year. It’s also the perfect monthly reminder of why it’s important to invest in this nonprofit.

If you’re like to learn more about TEL HI, please visit:

Buchanan Design - TEL HI 2016 Calendar - Lettuce - Cone Flower - January - February

Buchanan Design - TEL HI 2016 Calendar - Red Hot Chili Pepper - Artichoke - July - August

Click below to view all the illustrations in this 2016 calendar.


Case Studies, Community, Partnership, Projects

Crowdsourcing vs. Design Agency

November 20, 2015 | buchanandesign

What you need to know before choosing price over value.


So you’ve decided to start a business and need a brand, or maybe after years in business your logo needs a serious overhaul. You have decided it’s time to bring in outside support to get the job done. Like most people, you turn to GOOGLE to start your search.

The result is an assortment of local design agencies along with some interesting paid ad options. Being a smart shopper, you visit a few of the agency websites and poke around their work, office culture, and client lists. Then you explore a couple of the online crowdsourcing websites like 99 designs, Crowdspring, etc. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and choosing what you like best. It’s made even more tempting because the cost is fractional compared with a professional design agency.

This is the moment of truth: do you pick the cheapest option just to have something to put on your business card, or do you choose value and receive a brand identity custom tailored to you and your business?

As a design leader with over 20 years in the industry, I’ve always had the belief that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Not all brand identities are created equal and price should not be the only factor in making your decision. For these reasons, I’ve gathered the following comparisons to help you be better prepared to make your own right decision.

    The online option will force you to become an art director and guide the participants with instructions and information to launch your contest for a new logo. In contrast, most professional design agencies will meet with you in person to understand specific goals, discuss strategic objectives, and complete a project brief that will be a useful tool for both client and design team.
    Crowdsourcing “designers” are often from third world countries and will have very little understanding of your industry or local competitive landscape. A design agency will learn about your company, your goals, and the cultural norms that are shared by you and your customers. Additionally, their proposal will include time to research your industry and your competition for important insight.
    Communication is limited to an online portal with crowdsourcing, and in most cases, time zone differences delay communication even further. Since you are the art director, the process will inevitably turn into a risky game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe… as design options flood your screen. On the contrary, open dialogue regarding concept explanations and rationale are maintained throughout the design process when working with a design agency. You benefit from their experience in the form of guidance, strategic thinking, and asthetic considerations.
    In many, many cases, logo designs presented by online sources have been “borrowed” from the web or design annuals, only to be passed along as original ideas. They believe that most clients may not understand trademark laws or stop to think about the source of the logos presented. We have experienced this first-hand as several of our logos were stolen from published books, modified slightly, and presented online as a menu item. Legal action put a stop to that, but only because we know this type of corruption exists. A design agency understands the importance of original work and reputation.
    Perhaps the most subjective reason for not using crowdsourcing sites is the lack of “concept.” A design agency will spend hours researching the client and their competitive landscape before putting pencil to paper. Online participants don’t have this luxury when competing against 20, 30, or 100 other anonymous individuals. Instead, they submit as many ideas as they can, hoping for one design to stand out so they can get paid. It’s a numbers game. Works for some, but the design profession benefits from experience and process.
    Crowdsourced logos are often produced strictly as a logo alone. These logos are created without the understanding of how they may evolve into a broader identity or brand look. When a logo is developed at a design agency, it is created with a larger brand strategy in mind. A design agency will create the logo in conjunction with a much larger identity plan. Whether or not you desire additional brand collateral, your logo will carry the roadmap to expand as you shape your business going forward.

I understand that hiring someone to help with the creation of a new identity isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I hope you find the information above helpful as you navigate the process of making this important decision.

Branding, Design Industry

The Advantages of Managed WordPress Hosting

October 12, 2015 | buchanandesign


In the past few years, our studio has been working on an increasing number of WordPress sites. WordPress is a versatile Content Management System (CMS) with abundantly available plug-ins to add just about any functionality needed on a given website.

Typically, client specific budget and needs help determine which hosting solution is used for each WordPress site. However, due to instances of website attacks, compromised plug-ins, template update issues, and slow load speed, we have started to promote Managed WordPress Hosting solutions to our clients.

Managed WordPress Hosting is a hosting solution that is specifically designed for hosting WordPress sites. Unlike typical shared, VPS, or dedicated hosting, Managed WordPress Hosting providers such as WPEngine or Flywheel are WordPress specialists. This means that they not only gear the hosting to best serve WordPress, they also offer excellent WordPress support. Here are some key advantages to using Managed WordPress Hosting:

Because they are WordPress specialists, Managed WordPress Hosts are usually aware of the latest WordPress vulnerabilities. They will actively update the WordPress core files to better protect your site. Some actually ban the use of plug-ins known to compromise WordPress security – helping to secure both your site and the server your site sits on.

Managed WordPress Hosting servers are optimized for WordPress sites. They will often incorporate cache systems specifically designed to make WordPress load many times faster than on a regular hosting account.

Most Managed WordPress Hosts offer daily back-ups. Between the content, template files, and many plug-ins forming a WordPress site, there are a lot of moving parts. If a flaw, security hole, or new update to any of these moving parts causes your site to go haywire, it’s a great relief to be able to revert your site back a day before any issues occurred with your site.

Although typical hosts will allow you to host a WordPress site, not all will be able to give you support on issues specifically related to WordPress. Managed WordPress Hosts are staffed with individuals that are highly knowledgeable about the idiosyncracies involved with a WordPress site. This makes troubleshooting any issues with your WordPress site much faster.

Managed WordPress Hosting typically starts in the $30/month range – compared to $10/month for budget shared hosting. However, if your site is to get hacked on a basic server, the costs to clean up that hack could easily close the the gap on the pricing difference. Depending on your budget and needs of your WordPress site, Managed WordPress Hosting is definitely and option worth looking into.

Multimedia, Website

Introducing an Interior Designer

September 20, 2015 | buchanandesign

Buchanan Design Interior Designer Business Card

This past summer, we had the pleasure of working with a new designer ready to pop in the interior design scene. It was important to capture what made her so unique. We saw her passion for combining the present and the past.

Sifting through rough concepts of monograms, icons, and wordmarks, we found success in a combination mark: a simple tablescape inspired by Pamela’s eye for detail and love for antiques. Fun history fact for any antique aficionados: a bouillotte lamp is an 18th century table lamp that was named after an old French gambling card game predating poker. Try finding this historic gem at your next flea market visit.

Buchanan Design Interior Designer  Logo & Color Palette

Taking her logo into the 21st century, we went with a pop of chartreuse, orange and royal navy to round out her identity. The fresh new colors brightened her brand, which well-suited her charming name.

Branding, Projects

Canines Forward with Confidence and Heart

August 20, 2015 | buchanandesign

As a design agency partner of Orange Tree Project, Buchanan Design led the rebranding of a local nonprofit in existence since 1998. Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs (TLCAD) creates a dedicated community of trainers and volunteers that provide custom-trained service dogs to individuals with autism and Wounded Warriors in San Diego County. TLCAD was ready to have a fresher, more friendly identity that better represented their furry cause.

The TLCAD logo no longer reflected the 17-year-old nonprofit.

Tender Loving Canines Logo ORIGINAL

In developing a new, exciting identity, we literally captured the heart of Tender Loving Canines. With a warmer purple and brighter gold, the new logo depicts a strong, friendly dog walking forward with confidence. The mark is a symbol for every dog, but more importantly, for every individual gifted with independence gained through TLCAD programs and services. We developed a mark that transforms TLCAD into a contemporary, approachable brand that reflects the values they proudly stand for and their bright future ahead.

Tender Loving Canines Logo by Buchanan Design

If you are interested in supporting their cause, please visit their website:

Branding, Community

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