Life and Death In New Orleans (Why Jewellery Is No Match For A Hurricane)

To some, a piece of jewellery is just a piece of jewellery. A static item that represents fashion sensibility, style or status.  Yet to others, the underlying story behind a favourite piece of jewellery may actually be more valuable than the value of the item itself.

I love New Orleans  and have visited there twice. I’m amazed at the energy, life and vibrancy of the place. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to understand its magic – magic that makes you fall in love with it over and over again.

In October 2011, my husband and I took a much anticipated trip to NOLA and one afternoon found ourselves in the French Market. The market is a well-known eclectic spot where vendors sell food, food items, clothing and jewellery and other items. I was wandering around when I was struck by a table filled with vibrant colours. The table was full of fun, funky and unique jewellery made by NOLA native Russell Gore. I fell in love with several of the pieces and started talking to Russell. Turns out he was raised in the not so nice part of NOLA called the projects (St. Thomas housing development). His colourful jewellery, dubbed “Made in the Ghetto”, is a stark contrast to the harsh reality faced by others who had a similar upbringing.


(Photo courtesy of Richard Critz Photography

Russell was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck which he made out of his wife’s gold after she died in his arms during Hurricane Katrina. His life was filled with hardship and tragedy, and could have gone a different route had he not chosen art and photography as a way out of a seemingly desperate situation.

What struck me most about Russell (over and above his incredible talent) was his kindness, compassion and energy for everything and everyone. He had faced such tragedy, yet didn’t seem hardened by it all. There was energy and optimism in his voice.

After talking for a while, I mentioned that I had just been to the music store to buy CD’s by NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins. He told us he knew Kermit, and invited us to attend a local bar called Bullets where Kermit was performing that night. We smiled and said we would try to make it, not knowing anything about this place or part of town where it was located.

Bullets is a hole in the wall sports bar in the 7th ward area in New Orleans (Treme area). The neighbourhood looks tough and some of the clientele equally so. In spite of the “off the beaten path” location, the reviews were excellent and we decided to take a chance. We took a cab to the bar yet even the cab driver got lost. After driving around for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, we eventually found our way and made it to Bullets. The place had an amazing vibe and quite a mix of demographic. From biker jackets to well-dressed senior couples, anyone was welcome there and no one seemed to care who you were – or where you were from.

Kermit showed up and the place went wild. Russell walked in and everyone knew him. Turns out that if you know Russell and if he likes you, you’re treated with grace and respect. And so we were.

We had a blast. Strangers would raise their glass and everyone was dancing on the floor. Russell was total class, and even chased down Kermit so I could have a picture with him. For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is to NOLA what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

We talked to the owner of the bar who was a total sweetheart. He told us the story of how he lived through Hurricane Katrina and lost several friends in the process. In great detail, he described the water levels and bodies floating down the streets. One could not help but get teary eyed. Bullets was one of the anchors during the storm and somehow he was able to feed many of the locals. In these parts, he’s known as a hero. He knew and respected everyone, and they did the same. To me, he represented the strength, optimism and resilience shown by many in the New Orleans area.

I still wear the jewellery I bought from Russell. A colourful guitar decorative piece – and eclectic piece I like to think symbolizes life and hope amidst the despair of the projects. To this day, I get more compliments and inquiries on his jewellery than any other pieces I own.


I always wondered what became of Russell and hoped for the best. While researching his story, I came across a recent clip of him on CNN. He was interviewed for a 10th Anniversary story of Katrina  and seems to be doing well.  

When someone compliments me on his jewellery, it’s also a compliment to Russell. So the next time you see an interesting piece of jewellery on someone, take a moment to ask them about it. Because sometimes an object as small and seemingly insignificant as a piece of jewellery can represent a story far more intriguing and inspirational than you can ever imagine.





Wal-Mart And Kraft Use Logos To Soften Their Stories

Wmlogo In an effort to "soften" their image in the mind of the consumer, both Wal-Mart and Kraft have redesigned their logos. The old logos were both upper case, and gave consumers the impression of old world dominance and authority. In the world of corporate rebranding, it's now more important to appear friendly and approachable to consumers in an effort to suit the demands of an increasingly complex marketplace. To do this, major corporations will continue to rewrite their stories through the use of branding and visual design. 

When undergoing a change to logo design,the use of colour, image and typestyle can greatly strengthen the perception of a brand. The new Wal-Mart logo uses lower case letters and incorporates a bright yellow sun into the design. The tagline "Save money. Live better." addresses the need for consumers to adjust their lifestyle to reflect the changes brought out by the current recession. It seems that, through changes in their logo design, Wal-Mart wants to give the impression that they understand what we're going through. Instead of being the big bad guy on the block, they want to show that they're ready to be your friend in an unrelentingly difficult economy.

Kraft has taken a similar approach, and has dropped the old upper case hardened logo for a "softer" lower case version. It also incorporates a "smiley face" that explodes into a burst of colour. The word "foods" has been added to the logo, and the tagline "Make today delicious" addresses the ability of the brand to make us feel good - after all, in a world that's becoming increasingly complex,what food doesn't?


As someone who grew up in a consumer world riddled with corporate dominance, I find it interesting that large corporations are dropping their age-old need for dominance and are finally making changes that are geared towards changing consumer perception. I welcome the digital age where the choice of what you write - and how you write it - can have enormous implications in the world of consumer perception. The time has come for corporations to adapt to consumers, and create messages that we are willing to hear!

Which other companies use their logo to convey a positive consumer story? What is it in their logo that enables them to tell their story in that way?

Design and Business - A Natural Synergy?

One could argue that a successful business is designed to be that way. With proper procedures in place, an engaged and inspired workforce, ample supply of customers and an endless number of innovative ideas...any company can be immensely profitable - right?

While the concept of good design traditionally applies to products or services that perform and satisfy the user (and ultimately leads to profits), it also applies to the way an organization communicates, collaborates and strategizes on an everyday basis.

Either way, good design, whether at the organizational or product level, leads to positive customer experiences. To take it a step further, innovative design evokes meaning which can lead to long lasting brand recognition.

In order to get the benefits from good design, both designers and businesspeople have to take an integrated approach to strategy. This integrative approach is being adopted in a new program to be launched in 2008 by the California College of the Arts.

The program, called an MBA in Design Strategy, "unites the studies of design, finance, and organizational management in a unique curriculum aimed at providing students with tools and strategies to address today's complex and interconnected market. The program's approach encompasses performance, strategy, innovation, and the encouragement of meaningful, sustainable social change."

Led by Program Chair Nathan Shedroff, the program seeks to develop innovative solutions to economic and social challenges using design techniques and business metrics. Perhaps most innovative of all, is the program's inclusion of a course on Effective Communication that teaches students how words can seriously impact business interactions.

DMI (Design Management Institute) in Boston is also a thought leader in the area of business and design. In September, DMI will be hosting a conference about The Changing Role of Design and Design Management in Business. Conferences held on similar subjects have attracted attendees from companies such as: Kodak, eBay, Fossil, Kraft and Hasbro.

DMI believes that the integration of design and business is now a reality. The new world of work requires a cross-disciplinary approach with integrated design solutions. Designers are now just as responsible for the bottom-line as managers and executives, and it's essential that they realize the implications of their work both inside and outside of the organization.

As Steve Jobs said in an interview with Fortune magazine in 2000, "Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product.” The implication that design is something that expresses itself from the 'inside out' has meaning for organizations as well. If we can design things or places directly from the core, then this will positively affect a company on several levels as design will incorporate the true essence of a place or product.

What impact has good design had in your workplace? At the mall, supermarket or in your home? Does it affect your decision on whether or not to buy a product?

Design Thinking: CEO's as Designers

Olivier Blanchard, author of the Brandbuilder blog, posted clippings from a Business Week article written by Bruce Nussbaum in his Nussbaum on Design blog. Nussbaum is assistant managing editor in charge of Business Week's innovation and design coverage.

Nussbaum's article, entitled "CEO's Must Be Designers, Not Just Hire Them" offers reasons as to why CEO's, managers and designers themselves must become proponents to Design Thinking.

In his post, Blanchard offers a great overview of Nussbaum's key thoughts. Here are a few quick snippets that Blanchard highlights from Nussbaum's article:

  • "In the US, CEOs and top managers hate the word “design.” Just believe me. No matter what they tell you, they believe that “design” only has something to do with curtains, wallpaper and maybe their suits. These guys, and they’re still mostly guys, prefer the term “innovation” because it has a masculine, military, engineering, tone to it."
  • "Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners."
  • "Innovation, design, and technology are all flowing into one another to form a single river of roaring change radically altering our culture, and especially business culture."
  • "Design is so popular today mostly because business sees design as connecting it to the consumer populace in a deep, fundamental and honest way. An honest way. If you are in the myth-making business, you don’t need design. You need a great ad agency. But if you are in the authenticity and integrity business then you have to think design."
  • "Let me emphasize this. I think managers have to BECOME designers, not just hire them. I think CEOs have to embrace design thinking, not just hire someone who gets it. I think many business schools have to merge with design schools, not just play poke and tickle with them."
  • "There are two great barriers to innovation and design in the world today. Ignorant CEOs and ignorant designers. Both groups are well-intentioned and well-dressed—in their own ways—but both can be pretty dangerous characters."
  • "Design should not give up its special ability to visualize ideas and give form to options. Design should extend its brief to embrace a more abstract and formalized expression of how it translates empathy to creativity and then to form and experience."

What more can I say. I think Nussbaum's article and Blanchard's summary speak for themselves. They certainly speak for me.