Last fall my colleague Trevor Fraley and I worked with Cosmo DeNicola and his team at Cosmo Denicola Companies to create a dynamic illustration that tells the story of the companies and their work in the world. It was an exciting project that allowed us to stretch in our practice, going deeper in process and partnership.
Cosmo DeNicola Companies is a privately held holding company with a diverse portfolio of businesses ranging from healthcare, technology, publishing, professional sports, and entertainment — and diverse set of humanitarian interests including cultural diplomacy, world health and humanitarian recognition. The firm is headquartered in Philadelphia, PA and led by serial entrepreneur, Cosmo DeNicola.
In late summer, Trevor and I met virtually with Cosmo and his team, which included his daughter, Morgan DeNicola, who leads much of their humanitarian work. They had seen a live graphic recording that I did for one of Dr. Klasko’s presentations hanging in his office and were intrigued about the possibilities for telling their own story.
They wanted an illustration that gave a “visual tour” of who they are; about the businesses and philanthropic work, how they are unique, yet connected, and the impact they have in the world.
Although we had access to all the information we would need to create a basic organizational chart, Trevor and I hoped to gather stories from individuals that would breathe vitality into the graphic.
Practice New Ways of Listening and Reflecting
We found a number of ways to get rich information and connect the dots.
There was considerable video footage available. We had access to over 30 videos and hours of material about the companies’ work and its roots, all of which helped us paint the context and understand the basic story arc.
The real opportunity was being able to do one-on-one interviews over the phone with important associates and friends of the businesses. We developed interview questions with Cosmo and his team, aiming our focus on appreciative stories about the businesses and charitable work.
Track Meaningful Narratives
We enjoyed this new way of working and learned quickly that the most fruitful interviews were those in which interviewees branched off into whatever stories they wanted to tell us: often, the stories that inspired them the most.
Nevertheless, almost everyone brought up the same three themes; passion, an appreciation for diverse perspectives and experiences, and love and commitment to family. Those themes guided us and all became incorporated into the final design.
The history, outlook and areas of work were made clear through video footage and with conversation with Cosmo and his team, while the one-on-one interviews narrowed our focus and imagery.
Collaborate in Person & in a Virtual Space
Trevor and I draw together in person often but decided to experiment with new tools as a way of collaborating on this illustration. Although we were in studios 100 miles apart, we worked collaboratively using a virtual RealTime whiteboard, co-designing a mindmap to prioritize themes and ideas
Create Divergent Designs with Shared Focus
While it became clearer which distinct themes we wanted to communicate, we wanted to present at least two different drafts to the team.
Once we had determined our organizing principles, we drafted designs individually, in our own unique styles. The result was that one version was clearly more analytical, like an infographic. The other was evocative of the stories that were told, and more expressive overall. They both had unique merits.
We all met again in person and looked over the concepts as a group. We found ways to incorporate the best elements of both examples into a next draft.
Further Collaboration Enhances the Final Product
A dynamic illustrated frame occupies the outer edges of the illustration. Different areas of work intentionally defy or encroach upon the boundaries of the outer frame as if attempting to reshape it. The main narrative lives within a rounded inner frame, vaguely suggestive of a heart. It’s boundaries and shape are created by the sweep of the vortex of amazing life activities, a cyclone that blows through the landscape of the illustration and the work of the companies.
At the suggestion of Cosmo, we added the Love statue, which ties the story to the city of Philadelphia. The image in the corner is based on a real photo of Cosmo DeNicola and his wife, Janet.
“Passion” is at the core of the illustration but also the core of the companies. The spelling of core as c-o-r-r denotes the origins of the business in paper and packaging.
With more time to listen, design, and work in partnership with each other and the client we were able to create an image with more layers of meaning.
Cosmo DeNicola Companies can use the graphic to walk new partners, colleagues and guests through a visual tour of their work at their offices. They are also able to use the illustration and any of its component parts on stationary or any other merchandise. We were thrilled to have this opportunity to stretch in our practice and hope that the CDC will use the illustration for years to come.