A theory of fear & creativity

Moon Man

Like a part of the spectrum we know exists but cannot see, creativity is an elusive metaphysical property. Like gravity, we need creativity to function. But how can you select the best creative solution when it can be as abstract as anti-matter?

Every business leader wants creative solutions, saying “I’ll know it when I see it!” They have visions of landing on the moon. But when creative solutions are presented — they default back to earth.

As creatives it is our job to reach for the moon and sell our clients on buying great creative. Too often, the C-levels, Directors and Managers are selecting what they know will have least resistance. After all no one likes change. This leads to ho-hum executions that don’t stand out and don’t move the needle.

How do we push them outside their orbits? First we have to help them understand their fears.

A study conducted by Cornell University on the Bias of Creativity reveals a challenge we creatives have in selling our harebrained ideas. When participants were given a creative option vs. practical option they select the status quo. This appears to stem from our desire to reduce uncertainty. Considering our clients pressure to deliver higher earnings, improved profits and outcomes, creativity is the dark side of the moon.

“Our findings imply a deep irony. Prior research shows that uncertainty spurs the search for generation of creative ideas (Audia & Gonzalo, 2007l Tiedens & Linton, 2001), yet our findings reveal that uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most.” — Bias Against Creativity.

So how do we reduce this friction?


Be truthful with your clients from the beginning. Reassure them that you are in their corner and ready to walk them through what may feel uncomfortable at first. Taking that first step into the Uncomfortable Zone isn’t easy, especially if they aren’t empowered by their own superiors to make creative decisions. Give them the power to communicate your vision if needed.


Start with the close-in, the safe. Show the client what happens if they go status quo. If you don’t show it, they will ask or wonder, “What if?” But then step it out. Show them what they would least expect. Visualize the anti-matter with words, video, prototypes. Don’t pitch an idea solely with words. As you present each element pause and ask them if they have any questions.


NASA didn’t just land a man on the moon in one day. They sent several unmanned rockets with a few fatal mistakes along the way to learn and prove they could make the mission a success. Similarly you may need to phase into the final creative solution. Prove it works by testing it on various touchpoints. Talk with the stakeholders to ensure it can be adopted successfully. Be excited and they’ll be excited.

If you can mitigate the fear with baby steps, you may succeed in selling in that winning idea.

Reaching Out From Within


It’s no secret we love supporting our friends and our community. We are huge fans of SuEllen Fried, one of our community’s early leaders in bullying prevention and now founder of Reaching Out From Within, Inc., an organization sponsoring self-help programs for prison inmates to enable them to become role models for non-violence while in correctional facilities and beyond. The program helps inmates understand the roots of violence in their lives, empowers them to come to terms with their actions and gives them support both within the correctional facility and after they leave.

More than 600 current inmates attend ROFW group meetings facilitated by volunteer inmates. These weekly meetings also have volunteer sponsors from neighboring communities as well as a group of community volunteers who mentor ROFW members released on parole. This intensive mentoring begins before the inmate is released and for 6 or more months after they leave prison.

Sparked by a trip to the Lansing Correctional Facility, renowned photographer, Nick Vedros was inspired to photograph 22 beneficiaries of Reaching Out From Within. Each image uncovers the humanity, the vulnerability and the hope in each man dedicated to turning his life toward positive change.

The “Faces of Change” photography exhibit will be at the Kemper Museum until February 7.

Courage2ChangeWilloughby is delighted to be a partner in design for both Reaching Out From Within and the “Faces of Change” exhibit. We are inspired by the dedication of SuEllen and all the volunteers who believe that all lives matter and everyone deserves a second chance.

Read more about the exhibit and Reaching Out From Within here.

SuEllen is also an Honoree in the 2015 L’Oreal Women of Worth Celebration which highlights women around the US who are making a difference in their communities. You can vote for SuEllen online until November 20. The winner becomes National Honoree and will receive an additional $25,000 for her cause. We vote everyday!

Welcome #801, we’re so glad you’re here!

A behind the scenes glimpse of what went into the creation of the KC Streetcar brand.

Kansas City’s first modern streetcar made its debut today. It will be traveling up and down the tracks for a few months to get acquainted with our fine city before the first passengers board in the spring. We’re jumping up and down because this is the moment we’ve been waiting (and working) for since we began down the streetcar branding track two years ago.

In January of 2014, Willoughby was chosen by the Kansas City Streetcar Authority to create the brand identity system for the streetcar. Simultaneously, we engaged with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to develop a new regional brand. Because we knew the streetcar would be a pivotal addition to the regional system, it was important to make sure that it integrated with the day-to-day transportation environment that was also going through a unification.

So we traveled down parallel paths to create two brands that would need to stand alone through different timelines, stakeholders and approval processes but, at the end of the day, would need to stand together with a strong and united message.

We began by examining  best practices in transportation design around the world, researching successes and failures alike, to discover what could work (and not work) for Kansas City. We consulted with many of our city’s longtime advocates who have been working to bring a streetcar to KC for decades. Not surprisingly, we all agreed that the most successfully branded systems were intuitive, flexible, memorable and simple.

Why is it white?

We found inspiration in some of Kansas City’s newest jewels: the stunning and modern Bloch building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum and the majestic Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Both are timeless, sophisticated, progressive and confident.

Other consumer products that exude this feeling use a similar white and silver color palette, such as American Express Platinum and the iPhone.

With this in mind, we designed the exterior finish pattern to be sleek like a luxury train. The pearl, silver and graphite color palette completes the look, creating a modern canvas for the energy and creativity that will surround it.

The interior color palette, cobalt blue and silver, gives a nod to the Metro blue that is familiar to current riders and works to help unite the streetcar with the regional system.

The Icon

Simple iconography appears in almost every transportation system worldwide. It’s a proven universal wayfinding tool for identifying transportation. So we started with the universal icon for rail transit and then modified it to feel more like our streetcar. It even has a friendly smile.

The Name and Identity

KC Streetcar was the name that had been in use since the concept was introduced to the community. We could have called it the Super Sonic Rocket Rail or the KC Electric Jazz. But is a “cool” name worth the confusion it might cause for riders trying to navigate the system? Would it really catch on or would people just keep calling it the streetcar?  We also didn’t want to feed into the notion that the streetcar was a novelty or the tram at an amusement park. Instead, it is a big step towards a sea change in public transportation in Kansas City.

After much consideration of many other naming possibilities, we determined that the name KC Streetcar wasn’t broken. It did all of the things that it needed to do in a classic, intuitive and simple way.

The Regional Name and Identity

The need to maintain a simple name for the streetcar became even more obvious when considering its relationship with the Regional Brand. We tried hundreds of regional names from acronyms like GKCT (Greater Kansas City Transit) or HRT (Heartland Transit) to elevating the Metro name or the Connex name. But nothing felt very memorable.

RideKC was put into play as a possibility very early in the process and it consistently rose to the top in conversations. We are one of only a few US cities that is immediately identifiable by two letters: LA, DC, KC. So why not embrace it? It extends the KC nomenclature that has been growing as a regional identifier since fans started cheering on the KC Royals, KC Chiefs and more recently Sporting KC.

The KC name is also used for regional organizations like the KCADC, Visit KC and KC Chamber. It is an action phrase that reflects exactly what the rider is looking for: catching a ride around the greater Kansas City area.

The proposed regional brand and the streetcar brand pair succinctly together for one unified rider message: RideKC Streetcar.

This system also extends to other modes of transit.

The Identity System

Once we had the name and primary mark finalized and the fleet design complete, it was time to think about how the brand identity system would extend to create excitement and engage the community.

We moved on to the design of the streetcar stops and the wayfinding signage.

We also brought out the personality in our universally-inspired icon.

The simplicity of the streetcar icon means it can become a favicon adaptable to any situation or event. The heart was added to draw on the growing culture of KC love and our heartland heritage. In honor of the KC Royals 2015 World Series victory, she was even crowned.

The safety campaign came next to help Kansas Citians get ready to share the road with the streetcar.

And, most recently, because every test run needs test passengers, we created some window people to tell future riders why they can’t ride yet and what is being tested.

We are so proud to have been able to help usher in this new era of public transportation to our city. Kansas City is being noticed all around the world for our quality of life, our arts and culture and now for our vision. We would like to thank the thousands of people who have worked so hard to make this vision a reality and the streetcar leaders who put their trust in us to bring the brand to life.

Ride on, Kansas City.

Trends in Restaurant Design

When it comes to restaurant experience design, today’s QSRs are faced with the need to create dining experiences that will appeal to the Millennial and Gen Y demographics that now represent more than half of the QSR market. The challenge is to do it without pushing away existing customers — including Baby Boomers.

A Brand’s Life

Yes, brands live. Some would argue the most iconic brands even have a soul. Granted, brands are not people. However, they are similar to people in that they pass through many of the same phases (and face some of the same challenges) we do.

Celebrating 100 Years of Design


In 1914, Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, Charlie Chaplin gave the world a Little Tramp, Babe Ruth made his pitching debut and a group of designers in NYC led by Charles DeKay formed the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).

A century later, with 67 chapters and more than 23,000 members, AIGA is the largest and longest enduring professional organization for design.