Working on 3M

Like car companies in Detroit or Coca-Cola in Atlanta, almost every agency in the Twin Cities does some sort of work for 3M. They’re an interesting client. Every new project was an opportunity to learn about how a product of theirs—a film, tape, adhesive, or some chemical something—made exciting things possible for one industry or another. Through 3M, I worked on campaigns for cutting-edge automotive design, industrial food safety, even dentistry. 

Here’s a sampling of some of the work I did while working for BBDO, Martin Williams, and a couple of other shops during my time in the creative community in Minnesota.

Juxtaposition Arts

This is one of those projects that sticks with me.

Juxtaposition Arts (everyone calls it JXTA) is a non-profit organization that allows young people to apprentice in graphic design, fine art, screen printing  and more. Students work on actual client work in the studio after school (and earn real money). 

3M and BBDOMPLS worked with the team of mentors and apprentices to develop the cover of the 2018 Sustainability Report. The team started with a tour of the agency and a discussion of how everything we do starts with an idea. They visited the 3M campus for a typical briefing and a tour of the 3M Design Center. 

I visited JXTA once a week to review concepts, sketches, and digital roughs. The JXTA mentors participated in creative reviews with the client.

Sometimes telling a compelling story is just as important as the piece itself. The final result is still relatively conservative—i.e. on brand for 3M—but maintained the spirit of the original concept and was designed almost entirely by the JXTA apprentice. The cover called out this unique authorship, and an article in the report told the story of the process.

2019 Corporate Sustainability Report

My involvement in the 2018 report was really only the JXTA partnership. But both BBDO and 3M took the project seriously. The 3M team relayed with considerable pride that a bound copy of the report sat on the CEO’s desk. 

The next year, with a new CEO and a brand new Chief Sustainability Officer position in the C-suite, 3M wanted to shake things up. The past few years BBDO produced a report designed like a magazine.  In 2019, 3M made a promise that all new products must have a sustainability story of some kind. With that lofty goal, the ask to the agency was to elevate both the theme and the design. 

With me on board as an art director and creative director, the BBDO design team developed an updated grid system and contemporary layout templates—adhering to 3M’s complex and comprehensive brand guidelines.

The theme was brought to life through a design system based on an important element in the sustainability world, the degree symbol. This simple graphic circle appeared as a color-coded organizational structure based on 3M’s strategic framework focused on three areas: Science for Circular, Science for Climate, and Science for Community, as well as in graphs and infographics throughout the report.

Art Direction and Photography

3M’s brand includes photography guidelines established by world class designers and art directors, and features photos from incredible photographers. 

The reality of day-to-day project budgets and timelines means that, more often than not, this photography is supplemented with stock.

As a part of the revamp of the 2019 Sustainability Report I proposed an update in the art direction of the report to focus on a more strict minimalist approach: using limited color palettes and stark compositional focus. With product photography and carefully selected stock imagery—supported by the 3M color and typography guidelines—we developed a striking look. But the approach wasn’t purely superficial. 

Gayle Schueller and the executive leadership team at 3M put forward the following: “Beginning in 2019, every 3M product entering the new product commercialization process will include a Sustainability Value Commitment that demonstrates how it drives impact for the greater good.” Based on this corporate-wide strategy, we pushed toward a minimalist theme and approach for the report. Our shared goal: to convey a message—written by author and sustainability activist Duane Elgin in his 1981 book Voluntary Simplicity—to “awaken ourselves from the dream of limitless material growth and actively invent new ways to live within the material limits of the Earth.”

What started as a proposal for the Sustainability Report evolved into a series of recommendations for the overall corporate brand when 3M reached out to its agency partners—BBDO among them—for thoughts on the guidelines. The look and the ideas supporting it visually and conceptually referenced artists from the minimalist movement, like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, and more contemporary artists with similar themes and techniques, like Richard Serra and James Turrell.

Judd’s focus on materials, Serra’s interest in industrial elements and how they interact with natural environments, Flavin’s use of color and commercially available materials, and Turrell’s stark spaces and intensely colored lighting all connect with the visual DNA of 3M’s brand and are fertile thematic ground for communications about 3M products.

I built mood boards and gave multiple presentations to various levels of creative and marketing leaders within the organization. It will be interesting to see how the brand evolves. 3M is a battleship after all. It takes time to change direction.

Various other projects...

Shoestring budgets, dozens of stakeholders, timelines that range from days to years—3M work can be a unique challenge. From campaign proposals and trade show videos to social posts and sell sheets, this is a grab bag of my design and creative direction.

Agency: Various 
Role: Creative Director / Art Director

AD: Chris Corum
GD: Julie Ann James / Chelsea Siegfried / Karen Hanson / etc.
CD: Chris Corum / Tim Brunelle / Randy Larson / etc.