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Lisa Frank, Facebook

17 Bright and Colorful Facts About Lisa Frank

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Lisa Frank, Facebook

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Lisa Frank was the epitome of cool. Here are a few things you might not have known about the brand, and the woman behind it.

1. THERE’S A REAL PERSON BEHIND LISA FRANK INC. ... 

Though Lisa Frank is rarely seen and doesn’t grant interviews these days, she is, in fact, a real person (you can see photos of her here). Frank grew up in Detroit and, as a high school senior, sold $3000 worth of her art at an art show.

2. … AND SHE LAUNCHED THE COMPANY WHILE IN COLLEGE.

Frank went to the University of Arizona to study math and art, and told told Urban Outfitters in a rare interview (granted in 2012, when the retailer began selling vintage Lisa Frank pieces online) that when she made the decision, “my dad said 'That's fine, but you're going to support yourself.' ... I am sure that if I failed, he would have been there for me, but it was a sort of a tough-love situation.” To get by, she started her own business, according to the Arizona Daily Star, by buying “pottery and jewelry from area Indian tribes and [bringing] them home to Michigan to sell. Once the network of artists she met grew, she began to represent them and sell their handmade work.”

Eventually, she started telling artists what to make—then decided to make things herself. She launched Sticky Fingers, which featured plastic jewelry, when she was just 20; according to Jezebel, it was sold in Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. 

In 1979, when she was 24, Frank renamed the company Lisa Frank Inc., because, according to the Arizona Daily Star, “her name was more familiar to those in the industry since her days representing artists.” In her first year of business, Frank sold a $1 million sticker order to Spencer’s Gifts.

3. ONE OF FRANK’S FIRST DESIGNS WAS A GUMBALL MACHINE. 

The design that started it all....Iconic Lisa Frank!

Posted by Lisa Frank on Tuesday, May 1, 2012

“The gumball machine comes from when I was little,” Frank told UO. “My dad gave me an antique gumball machine, so that was my original logo ... And also, you know how when your friends find out you're into something, they start sending it to you? So I probably have a huge collection of gumballs somewhere.” 

The company’s early designs, she said, “were very simplistic. The very first thing we made before stickers were buttons, and since they were so small, we did the artwork very small too.” Eventually, the line would expand to include pencils, stationery, folders, lunchboxes, backpacks, Trapper Keepers, and more. 

4. INITIALLY, ALL OF THE ART WAS DRAWN AND COLORED BY HAND.

When Rondi Kutz joined Lisa Frank as an artist in 1987, she did concepts for designs with markers, acrylics, and airbrushing. “All of the art back then was done by airbrush, although they did have one computer that the creative director was learning to use,” she told HelloGiggles. “Then the other artists learned to create the airbrushed ‘look’ art and started to do all of the illustrations on the computer by 1988-89.” Kutz, who eventually became Lisa Frank, Inc.’s Senior Designer/Product Development Group Leader and worked there until 2002, said that she “had no patience for the computer, so continued to do concepts as marker renderings, which then went to the computer illustrators to clean up and illustrate.”

5. MANY ARTISTS COLLABORATED ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS. 

“The artwork was a collaborative effort, but it all began with me putting it on paper as a marker rendering,” Kutz told HelloGiggles. “The concepts came from Lisa, James (her husband), or me, so I can say that some of the characters were my idea and original design. But by the time it went to an illustrator to redraw it, adding detail, then to the computer artist who rendered it on the computer (which entailed hundreds of hours of work), it had many artists’ stamps on it.”

Frank herself said that “We have to stop me and say ‘OK, it’s enough!’ Because one illustration can have hundreds of hours in it. It’s really kind of madness.” (“Lisa is fanatical about detail,” Kutz said. “But that is what makes her art so extraordinary.”)

6. FRANK HAS TWO FAVORITE CHARACTERS.

They're the rainbow print leopard and tiger cubs named Hunter and Forrest, “who are based off my kids!” Frank told UO. “Forrest is based on my 13-year-old, and Hunter is a 17-year-old character who was named the day Hunter was born. We had created both characters before the boys were born, and then when they were born, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they really do fit their personalities!’” 

7. MOST OF THE CHARACTERS ARE NAMED AFTER REAL PEOPLE … 

Naming two characters after her kids wasn’t isolated event: “We actually really try to base our characters off of people who are in our lives or who have been in our lives, and sometimes it's in memory. We ask people first,” Frank said, noting that she based two characters, Casey and Caymus, on her first golden retrievers. No one, Frank said, has refused: “People are actually begging us ‘Can you do a character with my name?’” 

8. … AND ONE EARLY CHARACTER HAS A SAD ORIGIN STORY.

Markie, one of Frank’s first characters, lives in the clouds above the Fantastic World of Lisa Frank (a.k.a. Airfluff Island), likes butterflies, exploring, collecting stars, cloud hopping, and dreams, and hates hesitation, bad smells, [and] bullies. Frank told UO that the unicorn was “named after a friend of ours who died super-young of a heart attack.” 

9. THERE’S A SPECIAL LISA FRANK INK. 

“We have a proprietary ink formula that I developed really early on so that everything would be brighter,” Frank told UO. “It's typical of a four-color process, but we use a special mixture to make those colors.” All licensees have to sign a confidentiality agreement because the mixture is a closely guarded secret.

10. ONE CHARACTER HAS A LOT IN COMMON WITH FRANK HERSELF. 

Though she said there’s “probably a little bit of me in each character,” Frank told Urban Outfitters that the character that’s a lot like her is Purrscilla, “because she is very into glam and glitz and jewelry and everything very girly.” The cat even wears illustrated versions of Frank’s own jewelry. Funnily enough, Frank said that she’s not a cat person—she prefers dogs. 

11. MILA KUNIS STARRED IN A LISA FRANK COMMERCIAL IN THE ‘90S.

She also appeared on the cover of the company’s fan magazine, Lisa and Me, in 1997.

12. THERE WAS A LISA FRANK CLOTHING LINE ... 

It came out in 2011 and featured the bright colors and characters synonymous with Frank; all pieces were under $20

13. … AND A COLLABORATION WITH ED HARDY.

The tattoo artist’s line of office supplies featured art by Lisa Frank Inc.

14. LISA FRANK’S HQ IS LOCATED ON S. LISA FRANK AVENUE IN TUCSON, ARIZONA.

"The World of Lisa Frank" - A Short Film from Scott Ross on Vimeo.

The street was initially named South Masterson Avenue, after Bat Masterson, a friend of Wyatt Earp’s. It was renamed S. Lisa Frank Avenue in 1997—a move that prompted a protest from American Airlines, which was also located on the road and didn’t find out about the name change until a new street sign appeared.  

Today, Frank’s 320,000 square foot facility, which features colorful characters inside and out, is mostly empty. According to a 2013 New York Times article, “Her factory, once bustling with hundreds of employees, has six staff members … Frank’s company, a victim of protracted legal battles over ownership and bad manufacturing deals, faded from popular culture—not an uncommon fate of the animal known as the retail fad.”

15. THE OFFICES HAVE A FIRE-PROOF VAULT.

There, the company stores copies of everything it’s ever made, plus the original artwork that was done before computers. Known as The Library, it holds thousands of products. “I think we made so many products because I get bored easily,” Frank told Urban Outfitters. “So as soon as we would master a category, I would want to do a different category. I'm trying to think what we HAVEN'T done. There is hardly something we haven't really done.” 

16. AT ONE POINT, THERE WAS A LISA FRANK APP. 

Lisa Frank Pic n’ Share allowed users to put Lisa Frank stickers on their photos. (Sadly for U.S.-based Frank fans, the app currently isn’t available here.) 

17. FRANK WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A THEME PARK.

“If I could do anything, I think a theme park,” Frank told UO. “Because the world of Lisa Frank really is a world. And I think before I die, we should have that world someplace, not just on paper. I think that would be pretty awesome.”

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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Here’s Why Bells Are Always Ringing in Trader Joe’s
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Trader Joe’s has attracted a devoted fan-base by doing things a little differently than your typical grocery store chain. But shoppers may not even realize that the company has done away with this ubiquitous supermarket feature.

As Business Insider recently noted, Trader Joe’s doesn’t use an intercom system. So instead of hearing “clean up in aisle 4” blaring overhead, customers shop to a soundtrack of ringing bells.

The nautical bells, which are situated at each register, are used by employees to communicate with one another. According to the company’s website, “blustery PA systems” didn’t fit the brand, so it borrowed inspiration from the maritime traders of a bygone era and developed its own Morse-like code.

If you hear one ring, that means an additional register needs to be opened. Two rings means that either a cashier or a customer has a question at checkout, and three signals a manager. The code isn’t exactly a secret as it’s available for anyone to find online, but memorizing it will definitely give you bit of intel most patrons don’t have. It can also be used to plan your shopping strategy. If you hear four bells, for instance, that means the store is getting crowded, so you should forget about grabbing that second bottle of Two-Buck Chuck and hustle to the checkout line.

[h/t Business Insider]

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13 Secrets of Professional Naming Consultants
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iStock

When it comes to companies and products, names matter. A slick name makes a company sound trendy and cool, while a terrible name can have customers running into the arms of the competition. Unsurprisingly, many companies take the process very seriously, hiring outside naming consultants who either work within creative agencies or at agencies devoted entirely to naming. We got a few to give us the scoop on how their job really works.

1. IT’S NOT JUST A CREATIVE TASK.

“The notion that namers are hippies and poets jotting down names on cocktail napkins couldn’t be farther from the truth,” says Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, the agency that named the Fitbit Flex and Force and Starbucks’s Refreshers line.

The stakes are just too high for naming to be a purely creative project, because a bad name can break a product. Consider, for example, the major slump in sales ISIS chocolates experienced in 2014 when people began to associate their name with the Islamic State. (The company rebranded itself to Libeert.) And when the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, the diet candy company Ayds chose not to change its name, eventually suffering the consequences. (When asked about it, an official from its parent company, Jeffrey Martin, famously snapped, “Let the disease change its name.”) By 1988, the company conceded that the name was hurting sales, and changed it to Diet Ayds. But the product was soon pulled from shelves altogether.

“When you’re naming your kid or nicknaming your car it’s more creative. There aren’t as many consequences,” says Nina Beckhardt, founder and CEO of the Naming Group, a consultancy that works with Chevrolet, Kohler, and Capital One. “But when you’re brand naming, the name you select has to be strategically impeccable. It has to make sense and at least not offend millions of people around the globe.”

2. NAMES CAN’T JUST SOUND GOOD.

Naming isn’t just a subjective choice—really liking a name doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your company. “People want to get more subjective with it,” Beckhardt says. “They’ll say that name reminds me of my cat or rhymes with such and such. That observation is so enormously unimportant compared with the fact that the name successfully checks all the boxes we created at the beginning.” The point is to find a name that gets across what the company wants to convey, rather than one that every person involved in the naming process loves.

For example, when The Naming Group was working with Capital One to develop their first brand-name rewards credit card, the company had to consider who they were trying to target—travelers. The result was the Venture card, a name with a connotation of adventure and exploration that’s “not right on the nose.”

3. IT HELPS TO HAVE A BACKGROUND IN LINGUISTICS—OR TRADEMARK LAW.

Though naming is essentially an exercise in corporate strategy, naming agencies don’t just employ people with backgrounds in branding and marketing. They also need linguistics experts to help generate names that make sense, have positive connotations in modern usage (i.e. nothing that might have a negative slang meaning), and inspire the associations the company wants to elicit.

Coming up with a name also involves some legal legwork. You can’t name your company or product after something that’s already trademarked. And if you want to expand internationally, the name needs to be available to trademark in other countries as well. That means naming agencies are often looking for people with a background in trademark law.

4. YOU HAVE TO COME UP WITH HUNDREDS OF NAMES, IF NOT THOUSANDS.

“Naming is a game of numbers,” Beckhardt says. “You have to have a lot of options.” Even if the potential names sound great, many are bound to run into trademark conflicts or not work in another language.

So before namers get together to present feasible ideas to the clients they’re working with, they come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of potential options. “At Catchword, 200 names is scratching the surface,” Skoultchi says.

5. BUT THE CLIENT WON’T SEE THEM ALL.

When faced with too many options to choose from, people tend to freeze up in what psychologists call “choice overload” [PDF]. Whether you’re talking about choosing between similar items at the grocery store or an endless array of potential product names, it’s overwhelming to consider all the possibilities. Namers take their initial 200 or 1000 ideas and whittle them down to present only the best (and most feasible) options. At Catchword, that means about 50 names.

But namers can also face the opposite challenge. If a client gets too set on a single idea, it blinds them to what might be better options still out there. “For each project I will get and try to get the client attached to a number of different names,” Beckhardt says, rather than looking for “the prince charming” of names.

6. A NAME CAN BE TOO ORIGINAL

The amount of meaning a name communicates lies along a continuum. On the one end, there’s an overly descriptive name. On the other end, there’s so-called “empty vessel” names, which are so far removed from actual words that they come off as meaningless. The ideal name falls somewhere in the middle, but if you end up too far toward the “empty vessel” side, your name will be a target for mockery.

Consider Tribune Publishing, the media company that owns the Chicago Tribune. In 2016, it rebranded as “tronc,” a name derived from the phrase “Tribune online content.” The move was widely mocked, for good reason. In The New York Times, a branding expert said the name “creates an ugliness.” The new name became a black eye for the company rather than a sign of its forward-thinking vision.

Empty vessel names are particularly common in the tech world, but played right, it can work. Google could be considered an empty vessel name, but it does have an origin, albeit one that most people aren’t familiar with. A googol is a huge number—10100—which makes sense within the context of the search engine’s ability to aggregate results from a near-infinite number of sources online.

7. A NAME CAN’T JUST SOUND GOOD IN ENGLISH.

One reason naming agencies need linguists is that unless a company is only marketing its products domestically, the name needs to work in multiple languages. If your product sounds slick in English but means something dirty in Norwegian, you’ve got a problem.

Plenty of companies have found this out the hard way. The Honda Fit was almost the Honda Fitta, but the company changed the name when it realized that “fitta” was slang for female genitalia in Swedish. The company later started calling it the Honda Jazz outside of North America.

Different languages also pronounce certain letters differently, which gets awkward if you’re not careful. “When we’re developing names we have to prepare for those mispronunciations to make sure that isn’t going to affect how people understand the product,” Beckhardt says. In Germany, Vicks sells its products under the name Wick, because the German pronunciation of the original brand name (in which a “v” is pronounced like an “f”) sounds like a slang word for sex.

Even if the name isn’t vulgar, it might have connotations in another language that you don’t want people associating with your product. In Mandarin, Microsoft’s Bing has to go by a different name, because “bing” means disease. Part of the naming process, according to Beckhardt, is “making sure that if we’re naming a skin care product, it doesn’t mean acne in Japanese.” She adds that at one point, while working on a rebranding project, The Naming Group came up with a name that ended up meaning “pubic hair” in another language.

8. IF YOU DON’T COME UP WITH A FOREIGN NAME, CUSTOMERS MIGHT DO IT FOR YOU.

Famously, when Coca-Cola first started selling its products in China in 1927, it didn’t immediately come up with a new name that made sense in Chinese characters. Instead, shopkeepers transliterated the name Coca-Cola phonetically on their signage, leading to odd meanings like “bite the wax tadpole.” In 1928, Coke registered a Chinese trademark for the Mandarin 可口可乐 (K'o K'ou K'o Lê), which the company translates as “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice.”

9. COMING UP WITH A CHINESE NAME IS ESPECIALLY COMPLICATED.

Foreign companies are eager to expand into China’s growing market, but it’s not as easy as transliterating an American name, like LinkedIn, to Chinese characters. In some cases, companies use Chinese names that sound somewhat like their English equivalent, but in others, they go by names that don’t sound similar at all. “It’s this crazy art form of balancing phonic similarity and actual meaning,” Beckhardt says.

Labbrand, a consultancy founded in Shanghai, helps American companies come up with names that work for Chinese markets. For LinkedIn’s Chinese name, Labbrand was able to come up with a name that both sounded a bit like the original and still had a meaning in line with the company’s purpose. 领英 (lǐng yīng) means “leading elite.” For other companies, though, it makes more sense to come up with a name that sounds nothing like the American brand, yet has a strategic meaning. For Trip Advisor, Labbrand came up with “猫途鹰 (māo tú yīng)," a combination of the characters for "owl" and "journey"—a reference to the company’s owl logo and its role as a travel site.

Some names, however, are just straight translations. Microsoft is 微软 (weiruan), two characters that literally mean “micro” and “soft.”

10. THERE ISN'T USUALLY AN ‘A-HA’ MOMENT.

“Oftentimes, clients are expecting epiphany, to have an ‘a-ha!’ moment, but those moments are more rare than you think,” Skoultchi says. “It’s not because the name ideas aren't great, it’s because most people have trouble imagining” what the names will sound like in the real world. “Context, visual identity, taglines, copy, and other factors influence our perception of a name and how appealing it is. Imagine just about any modern blockbuster brand, and now imagine it’s just a word on a page, in Helvetica, with little to no marketing support.”

To help customers understand how a name might look in real-world settings, Catchword gives it a slightly jazzier graphic design that’s more representative of what it would look like in the market, adding in potential taglines and ad copy to make it look more realistic.

11. YOU’RE NOT JUST NAMING ONE THING.

The Naming Group, for example, has worked with Capital One, Kohler, and Reebok to come up with names for multiple products, and they've also worked to establish perimeters for future names. That's because what you call one product could have implications for your future products—and ideally, the names of different products across a company should work together.

Take the example of Fitbit. The company has a naming style that involves single-syllable, simple English words that are designed to convey something unique about the product. They also had to fit the tiny devices themselves, so length mattered. The name “Flex” went to the first wristband tracker, and the most advanced tracker became “Force.” Later, the first tracker that measured heart rate would become "Charge," and the one designed for high-intensity athletes, "Blaze." All the names have a similar vibe while managing to convey something about the specific device.

As a cautionary tale, imagine a world in which Steve Jobs was allowed to use his preferred name for the iMac, “MacMan.” (Luckily, an ad agency creative director talked him out of it.) Given how the “i” in iMac influenced Apple’s future naming conventions, would there later have been a PodMan and PhoneMan? Choosing the iMac led to a larger branding scheme—the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad—that's instantly recognizable. “The PhoneMan” just wouldn’t have the same ring.

12. COMPANIES OFTEN WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE.

There’s a perception that naming should come from within a company—that if you build a product, you automatically know the best thing to call it. But that’s often not the case. Companies usually don’t employ professional namers on staff and don’t have any set guidelines on how to come up with new names. And it’s often not until the last minute that they realize they need outside help to decide on a great moniker. “It can be so emotional,” Beckhardt explains. “Companies come to you pulling their hair out, [saying] ‘We just can’t decide; we haven’t found it yet.’”

13. IT ONLY TAKES A FEW WEEKS.

Naming something usually doesn’t involve a lightning bolt of inspiration, but neither do companies slave over names for months. According to Beckhardt, the process takes anywhere from four to six weeks, though they can expedite the process if they really need to.

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