Luke or Han? Making the customer the hero of your story

By: Ryan Boudinot

Luke Skywalker or Han Solo

Who would you rather be—Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? This question, posed on playgrounds by wannabe Jedi since 1977, can help shed light on storytelling for business.

If you chose Luke, it means you see yourself as the central figure in your narrative. You’re the hero, the chosen one. The story is ultimately about you, your untapped potential, and your triumphs.

If you chose Han, you’re more interested in testing the boundaries and coming up with clever ways to get out of various jams. You also like the idea of flying around in a cool spaceship with a best friend who looks like a wig.

It’s easy for companies to think of themselves as Luke Skywalkers when, in fact, they’re Han Solos. Because here’s the rub—the heroes in a company’s story are never the founders or the team that designed that mind-blowing app. The heroes are the customers.

We all see ourselves as the central figures in our own narratives, and we all occasionally find ourselves in need of someone who can make the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs. By which I mean, someone who can help us overcome a challenge with bold innovation and bravery. That’s where you come in. Get ready to push your ship into hyperdrive. 

When the customer becomes the hero of your company’s story, you don’t have to worry about whether you’re the one. You get to fly around in your awesome ship, empowering your customers to fulfill their destinies, and making all the best wisecracks.

Of course, we at 2A know that the Luke or Han question is a trick one. The correct answer is Princess Leia, bravest of them all.


We’re throwing a Serious party—here’s why

By: Abby Breckenridge

We’re throwing a Serious party—here’s why

Planning 2A’s Serious Party has us musing on topics like breakthroughs and the Grateful Dead. I’m impressed once again by how creativity leads us down various paths, and I’m getting excited to celebrate traveling down them with our clients and friends on August 1. You should come—it could be fun.

My four-year-old believes that when he squints his eyes and tilts his head just so, he has heat vision—an enviable super-power we’ve learned about from library books. I find myself wishing I had the same confidence in my ability to conjure up a big idea. But for me, creative breakthroughs seem to come along on their own timeline. More like a cat considering my lap than a superhero charging to the rescue.

Pairing the uncertainty of how to generate a big idea on demand with the business need to deliver reliable solutions for our clients might result in taking the easy path—recycling last year’s successes, relying on gimmicks, and following trends. But is any of that worth celebrating? We choose to celebrate the messiness necessary for innovation.

In the Amazon hit Long Strange Trip, Amir Bar-Lev presents an in-depth view of the 30-year career of The Grateful Dead. We see the band grappling with the same issue of how to accomplish day-to-day goals without closing the door to creativity. Their identity and success as a singular touring band relied on their ability to inspire the crowd to dance, but as a values-driven squad, they feared getting trapped into using stale ploys to move an audience. “Once it’s a device,” they said, “it’s frozen.” They took their commitment to creative reinvention seriously. We’re inspired by the Dead’s example even as we occasionally question their fashion choices.

Our task as a professional team of creatives is to walk the line between reliable deliverables and envelope-pushing innovation. We strive to build an engine that delivers results, works quickly, and navigates the realities of clients’ marketing needs, while nurturing a culture that invites new ways of telling stories. We believe we can actively cultivate creativity. We reinforce the practice of celebrating failure. We challenge ourselves with exercises that shake up how we think. We study and discuss work that doesn’t necessarily relate to ours. We learn from others and know that our individual paths are unique. We take the challenge seriously.

As you can see, we’re into taking things seriously—our work for sure, and also our clients, our family, our friends, you. So we decided to throw a seriously fun party that celebrates the long, strange trip ahead. We’d be thrilled for you to join us. But please wear shoes and park the microbus out back.


A front-row peek into corporate Pride

By: Julie Lowy and 2A Storytellers

Pride buttons by Microsoft

For 20 plus years I lived in the South End of Boston. Every June, when the city’s Pride parade came past my front door, I found myself at the epicenter of a rainbow party without leaving my stoop. Since I moved to Seattle to join Microsoft as a contractor, I haven’t had the same instant access to Pride. And I realized that on some level, I took the Pride community for granted.

This year, I decided to demonstrate my support for the LGBTQ+ community by embracing a more active role in the march. Being relatively new to the Seattle Pride community, though, I wasn’t sure how best to participate or what to expect from the experience until Microsoft gave me a front-row opportunity.

I’m here to report that standing for five hours under the blazing hot sun, pressed in a mass of sweaty people was everything I dreamed it would be—and more. And I owe it to the warm welcome of the Microsoft Pride team!

Microsoft Pride made it easy to participate. Over the course of 30 years, Microsoft has demonstrated its support for the LGBTQ+ community by implementing non-discrimination policies and acting as one of the first companies in the world to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners. The Microsoft Pride program offers broad corporate-backed support for its LGBTQ+ community, yet it still retains a personal touch with a grass-roots feel. Case in point, I learned about the march when my client forwarded me the company Pride email and extended a personal invitation to join.

Microsoft Pride gave me a chance to make my voice heard. There have been far too many occasions lately in which I’ve asked myself what’s happening to our country. Despite the cultural gains we’ve made, it seems like the rights of the LGBTQ+ community are again under attack. Currently, 28 states do not protect individuals from discrimination against sexual orientation, and worldwide, over 180 countries lack marriage equality. This year especially felt like the right time to speak up—and doing so on the back of a corporate powerhouse helped me regain some of the hope I’ve lost.

Microsoft Pride connected me to a new community. Hundreds of Microsoft employees alongside their families and friends joined the march in solidarity. As I stood under the Microsoft Pride banner handing out computer stickers, buttons, balloons, and signs, I felt strength in the sheer number of those around me and support from the brand on our collateral. Don’t get me wrong, a logo slapped on a rainbow can reek of opportunism, but there’s no faking a vibrant, healthy community that wears the logo with pride. In an email that went out after the march, the Microsoft Pride crew encouraged us to continue to act and stay involved with the cause and the community. I plan to.

Joining the march has been twenty years in the making for me, but I’m not ready to sit down just yet (metaphorically speaking only—I still have blisters from the march). The Microsoft Pride team reminded me that hope, activism, and community don’t happen if everyone sticks to the sidelines and standing up for what I believe in can happen in unexpected ways—even at work. 


Animation for beetles fans

By: Annie Unruh

SPL Summer of Learning

One day, while on a walk in Interlaken Park, our creative director Daniel and his 7-year-old son noticed a terrifying beetle that looked ready for battle. Upon closer inspection, they were inspired to identify the crazy creature. Little did they know, their bug’s eye view would inspire our latest animation and challenge us to take a closer look at our creative process.

The Seattle Public Library asked us to create an animation that would excite kids about their Summer of Learning program and this year’s theme to “explore your world.” It had to capture a voice that would appeal to a diverse bunch of kids without being too childish, reference native Puget Sound plants and animals, and use watercolors from local artist Yessica Marquez.

These requirements led to an animation far different than the ones we typically build for our corporate tech clients (who tend to think of bugs as bad things). Here’s how we put our own creativity under the microscope:

We asked lots and lots of questions

We tapped into kids’ innate curiosity from the get-go, posing the sorts of provocative questions an elementary school student would appreciate. When we sourced our nature images, we asked ourselves, “What kind of plant is that? Is it native to the Pacific Northwest? Would a bee pollinate that flower?”

We got down in the weeds

As adults, we often fail to notice the natural wonders that surround us. This animation was our chance to get up close and personal with bugs, birds, and trees. The more we learned, the easier it became to convey the joy of exploration to the young scientists who we know will dig this program.

We used our hive mind

This project had a tight timeline, so we had to be resourceful and especially collaborative in order to deliver. We used a collage approach and pulled images from multiple sources. This allowed us to divide the work among more designers, then weave everything together cohesively.

Are you ready to bring newfound curiosity to your marketing? It’s time to make some new discoveries!


Laurie channels Mad Men creativity for inspired marketing

By: Katy Nally

Laurie channels Mad Men creativity for inspired marketing

While you won’t find a crystal decanter full of scotch in 2A’s bar, and only occasionally are we passed out on our communal couch, there’s at least one member of our team who’s bringing the Mad Men flair to 2A. Our Senior Consultant Laurie Krisman has a way with words and a knack for storytelling reminiscent of Don Draper’s best advertising quips.

“It’s not a wheel. It’s a carousel.”

Laurie commands the beauty and power of language. After a few years as a high school English teacher, she decided that words really make her tick, and transitioned into the world of advertising where she could write more. At a small agency in Colorado, she worked as a copywriter, crafting snappy ads and serving as a gatekeeper to all phrases that went out the door.

Much like Don Draper’s famous Kodak pitch where he branded the company’s slide projector “the carousel,” Laurie knows the value of landing the right words to stir nostalgia and connect customers to a product. By the time she transitioned to lead marketing manager at Qwest (now called CenturyLink), Laurie’s campaigns appeared plastered on kiosks at malls around the country. Today, she’s our in-house expert for turning wheels into carousels.

“Success comes from standing out, not fitting in.”

Laurie delivers strategic marketing so clients can stand out. With experience leading marketing projects at enterprises, like Xcel Energy, and small companies, like MD2, she knows how to build a story that resonates with the audience and solves business problems. First, she does her homework and analyzes the customer; then she ties in her clever way with words to produce meaningful assets that make an impact.

As a senior consultant at 2A, she’s found her sweet spot between creative and strategic. She may not work on Mad Men’s Pond’s Cold Cream account, but Laurie’s strategic thinking has helped 2A’s clients stand out.

“Technology is a glittering lure.”

Laurie expertly cuts through flashy tech talk to expose the real story. Don Draper knew what made each of his clients’ companies special—from Ocean Spray, to Jaguar, to Cool Whip—and Laurie operates the same way. She makes it a priority to follow the latest news from Microsoft, Amazon, Apptio, and F5 to understand the tech behind the trends. She’s fascinated by the power of the cloud to transform business operations, which makes her a perfect addition to the team.

We can’t promise cigarette-choked office buildings, or hard-liquor lunches, but when you’re ready to go a little Don Draper on your uninspired marketing, give us call. We’ll toast Laurie, Seattle-style (a grande, quad latte), and all the Madison Avenue talent she brings.


Let’s make the sick day a noun again

By: Erin McCaul

Let’s make the sick day a noun again

For someone who generally dislikes sitting still, recovery has always been an active verb. I run, climb, hike, ski, and bike, and recovering has meant yoga and foam rolling, pulling garden weeds, or walking my dog. The idea that recovery could also be a noun that describes just resting didn’t dawn on me until I read Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden. She roped me in with her study on whether or not beer aids recovery after running, and blew my mind with her revelation that recovery used to be a noun, but has evolved into a verb—and not always for the better.

My son is almost 2 years old and goes to daycare full time. As a household it feels like we’re sick every single week. While my son bounces back from everything within 24–48 hours, his toddler super germs lay siege on my white blood cells for weeks at a time. I used to think that I could will myself healthy with Emergen-C, Throat Coat tea, and strong coffee. Just another active-verb type of recovery to fit into my busy life.

The partners at 2A recently reminded us all that WFH (work from home) days shouldn’t replace sick days. Thinking back on it, I realized it had been six years since I’d taken a real sick day—a genuine, stay-in-my-jammies, watch-bad-TV, nap, camp-on-the-couch sick day. Instead, I would push through it, trading rest for dialing into meetings, working on projects, and responding to messages. I convinced myself these days were restful because I wasn’t in the office. But nowadays, I’m not so sure about that.

Besieged by the latest round of toddler germs, I decided to try something radical. With the support of my manager and team I took an actual sick day. I spent the day napping, eating soup, and sipping tea. I generally stayed offline and truly rested. And you know what? It worked. I got better, faster. I felt sharper at work and was a more present mom and partner at home.

One of our words we work by is “great work requires being well,” and that sentiment has empowered me and the rest of my team to take real sick days. While my recovery as an athlete remains an active verb, I’m happy to report my sick days are officially nouns again, and that is helping me stay active.


Choosing brands that don’t just ride the rainbow

By: Katy Nally, Kaily Serralta, Annie Unruh

Choosing brands that don’t just ride the rainbow

Pride month in Capitol Hill, at the very least, guarantees you’ll see some rainbows. The crosswalks are repainted, flags are hung in windows, and stickers glue themselves to mailboxes, all to rally support for the LGBTQ+ community and welcome this weekend’s parade. For-profit brands, too, are riding the rainbow wave, but it can be hard to tell which ones are just cashing in on consumers’ pride for Pride, and which ones are actively trying to make a difference in the LGBTQ+ community. Here’s how you can tell:

Is their LGBTQ+ enthusiasm inherent to their brand? For most of the large, national brands, their LGBTQ+ connections aren’t part of their overall brand stories, and instead just jump on the Pride bandwagon once a year. In this case, the rainbow filter on their logos is usually fleeting. Consider digging a little deeper to find those (usually) smaller and local companies that have a brand story connected to LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Case in point, Seattle clothing company, TomboyX, which was founded by two lesbian women who wanted to make underwear that fit regular bodies across the gender spectrum.

Are they aligned with an LGBTQ+ organization? Rainbows in June can start to feel like snowflakes in December. And many brands recognize the power of the rainbow to sell merchandise. While slapping a colorful arch on a T-shirt might make a sale, before you buy, consider where your dollars will end up. Plenty of companies are putting their rainbow revenue to a good cause. For instance, American Apparel will donate 100 percent of its Pride collection proceeds to the Los Angeles LGBT Center

Are they featuring LGBTQ+ people in their ads? Marketing to LGBTQ+ customers calls for representation by LGBTQ+ people. When brands uplift LGBTQ+ models, actors, and community figures in their ads, it demonstrates a more authentic connection to the LGBTQ+ community. And by using trans or queer models, who may have different styles or body types than mainstream models, brands empower customers to see themselves using their products. For its rainbow collection, Ralph Lauren featured comedienne Patti Harrison, and Tyriq and Cory from the queer youth group Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Are they using the right words? While rainbows successfully communicate a connection to Pride, they don’t really make a statement. American Eagle’s pride collection uses words like “gay” and “queer.” Messaging gets easier when you use the right words, but some brands aren’t ready to take a stand and speak up.

Rolling on a rainbow doesn’t have to be a brand’s only means of supporting the LGBTQ+ community. There are much more meaningful actions companies can take to show their solidarity during and post Pride. And brands can always opt to give up their space on the stage entirely, in favor of amplifying LGBTQ+ voices. As an informed consumer, you have the power to hold companies accountable for simply trying to profit off Pride.


Most likely to design your website? Vote for Annie.

By: Katy Nally

Most likely to design your website? Vote for Annie.

A yearbook chronicles bygone events—campy theater productions, glitter-dusted dances, and sports teams’ hot streaks. But for Annie Unruh, serving as editor in chief of her high school yearbook was less of a wrap up, and more of a surprising beginning. It wasn’t your typical yearbook. Called the Lair, it was award-winning and beefy. Before she knew it, the project had pulled her into the vortex of graphic design and set her on a course to 2A where she continues to use timeless design to capture the present.

Student life

Annie spent many afterschool hours camped out working on the Lair, slaving over page layouts to get portraits and feature stories just right. She even designed a profile story about a classmate’s World of Warcraft mastery that earned an award from the University of Kansas School of Journalism. On another page, she wrote a story about high school students who hang out at Sonic Drive-In because boredom is real! They passed the time slurping down the 44-oz-soda special.

When she heard about a yearbook convention in California, she didn’t hesitate to jump on a plane—it was a golden opportunity to refine her craft (and also get out of Kansas for a while).

Career superlatives

After getting a taste of California, Annie headed back to pursue a bachelor’s in fine arts at Chapman University in Orange. With her freshly minted degree in graphic design, and solid experience in print design, she landed a few gigs after college that pushed her skills further:

Annie collected credentials all along the West Coast, designing websites, apps, posters, swag, and animations for sole-proprietors and large enterprises alike. At T-Mobile, she worked as a graphic designer and communication specialist, finding ingenious ways to incorporate the patented magenta into onboarding swag and solve communications problems through design. But 2A won her over with the opportunity to take on a broad range of projects—like award-worthy sock graphics—and enter new territory with non-corporate clients—like Colombian artist Juan Manuel Echavarria.

She’s also steadily taken on more responsibility within the 2A design team. An insatiable reader, she’s devoured books about how to achieve a harmonious workplace culture, and how to run an efficient meeting. Annie doesn’t hesitate to apply her newfound knowledge, which has helped her team grow together.

Extra curriculars

Management books are just a subsection of Annie’s extensive library. Her extra-curricular schedule includes all the books the library is willing to loan her, in addition to scenic bike rides and queer events around Seattle. Her appetite for reading usually doubles as her breakfast companion—you might find her in the morning charging through a new memoir, its pages held open by the plate in front of her. Only halfway through the year and Annie is well on her way to best her 2018 total of 42 books read.

Need a designer who can give your work the timeless sheen of a yearbook? Just look up Annie (she’s on page 4) waiting for your heartfelt note about enjoying the summer.


Shoe-in healthy habits for thinking on your feet

By: Kaily Serralta

Shoe-in healthy habits for thinking on your feet

As a new consultant at 2A, I’m learning that thinking on my feet is a key part of my role. Now, “thinking on your feet” is commonly used as an expression to describe being agile in thought. But there’s also research to support a literal interpretation about how being upright and mobile improves creativity and problem solving.

All of this has me thinking, does my choice in shoes hurt my ability to think on my feet? 

Put your best foot forward

In his New Yorker article, Ferris Jabar addresses why walking helps us think better. He explains that walking “promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”

Given the leisure of my short, 15-minute commute, I’ve started wearing my tennis shoes to work and carving out time for walking my dog at lunch. The mental break rejuvenates my brain and mood and equips me to put my best foot forward on the next project.

Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight

Just as walking stimulates creative thought, so does standing. An abundance of articles and research have pinpointed the benefits of standing during the workday, which include getting a boost of energy (always welcomed after a solid lunch at Lost Lake). Since starting at 2A where standing desks raise and lower all day long, I’ve committed to bringing flats or low-heeled shoes to accommodate the ups and downs. When I feel my energy taking a dip, I fight back by standing up, opening the door to fresh, new thoughts.

Walking and standing at work has literally helped me think on my feet. Whether it’s stepping away for fresh air or moving my desk up to stand, I appreciate those moments of comfort that remind me to take care of my feet.

Got a project that could use some fast thinking or fresh steps? We’re ready to lace up and jump in!


3 ways improv will change your work style

By: Kelly Schermer

3 ways improv will change your work style

A lot of people think improv is about doing something you haven’t prepared for, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. Improv does require you to prepare, just not in ways you expect. 

Last year, 2A embraced an improv work culture that started out with a half-day training led by Bridget Quigg and Anya Jepsen. Since then our team has incorporated aspects of improv into weekly team meetings, manager check-ins, and team-building events (Seen Jet City’s Matchelorette, yet? We have!). 

Through practice and preparation, we’ve identified a few ways that the improv work style makes us more joyful, curious, engaged—overall, better at our jobs!

1.  Committing to improv ignites action

Improv is about being in the moment and committing to a shared reality you create with someone. It’s childlike and completely brilliant—think fresh air tickling your brain synapses.

The key is to turn off your editor, listen with your whole body, and let yourself respond. Some improv professionals refer to this as allowing yourself to “be average” or “trending toward action.” Whatever you call it, the point is to consistently contribute. Don’t hold back waiting for the “perfect” contribution.

The improv work style encourages you to trust that by engaging, you will be able to create/access/understand what you need in the moment. 

2. Turning your fall into a jump gets you farther, faster

Embracing an improv work style requires taking risks that may lead to something less than polished awesomeness, but that’s the point. Failing is essential to moving forward because every fail offers valuable lessons. The trick is to create a culture that doesn’t treat failing like a setback or an embarrassment.

When the neighborhood kids climb trees together, they constantly remind each other to turn their fall into a jump. By making falling part of their process, they have made it easier to let go of the embarrassment of the fall and embrace what they learned from it instead. No surprise the ones who shrug it off and keep trying climb higher, faster.

Much the same way, an improv work culture teaches you to grow comfortable with the fact that you’re going to fail. Expect it. Embrace it. Normalize it. Then turn it into a big leap forward.

3.  Building on others’ ideas builds trust

Many academic and company cultures tend to endorse the type of critical thinking that points out flaws in ideas—the “no, because” philosophy. While it can make you seem smart in the moment, “no, because” blocks collaboration, creativity, and inhibits participation.

Judy: “Let’s make the GIF a space cat!”
Me: “No, because cats are overused.”

On the flip slide, improv’s “yes, and” philosophy lays the groundwork for trust and teamwork. It encourages listening, collaborating, and engaging with one another through the act of acknowledging what someone else offers and building on it.

Judy: “Let’s make the GIF a space cat!”
Me: “Yes, let’s make the GIF about a space cat that needs AI to navigate the space shuttle.”

A fear of failure has trained many of us to prepare a response to a specific problem before we engage. However, the improv work culture teaches that when we prepare ourselves to fully engage, take risks, and build on one another’s ideas we can uncover new levels of richness that we could never reach alone.

If you’re looking to infuse your work style with a big shot of energy, laughter, and growth, what about giving improv a try?

(Psssst, the answer is “yes, and….”)