Founded in 2004 with $14 and a dream, Imagine is an integrated marketing, branding and design firm that combines Northern Virginia’s flair for innovation with Chicago’s warm personality and West Coast creativity. We’re an industry-leading group of problem solvers that believe that marketing can’t truly be effective unless it’s integrated, and handled by dedicated experts in each field.
One of the first things we try to figure out with a web design client – before they even get a proposal – is to narrow down the three (only three) things they want to accomplish with their new web site. A lot of the time, they have a laundry list of things that they expect this new site to do. That’s the number one reason sites get cluttered. Saying too much, having too many neat little widgets, putting too much on the screen at once causes the effectiveness of a site – not to mention a brand – to suffer. A cluttered, confusing website reflects a cluttered, confusing organization.
They also lose business. Case in point: According to eye-tracking data (studies that measure eye movement across the screen when a web page is loaded), visitors that go to overloaded web pages, or are unable to find the information or link that they’re looking for, will leave within 3 seconds. Uncluttered page visits average out at about 13 seconds.
So you know your site needs help. Where do you start?
1. Focus on your site’s purpose. Most of the time, the goals are simple – introduce the company, highlight the offering, get the phone to ring. However, some companies may only want to post web sites to establish credibility. Others may need their site for as a recruiting tool. Find out what your goals are, and keep them at three or less. This is a core component of your online strategy, so stick to it.
2. Check your site analytics. Remove old or duplicate content. Use 301 redirects for search engines or those that have bookmarked the old link (may be confusing, but we can take care of that). Also take a look at how many of your visitors are using mobile devices – the global percentages are getting too large to ignore. More and more companies have mobile counterparts to their web sites, and it should definitely be something to consider.
3. Reduce clicks. As a rule, you want all of the content in your site accessible within three clicks of your home page. If it’s not, you’re probably trying to say too much, or have a design that’s too graphic-heavy. Look at your sitemap and make sure that it’s streamlined, and that your navigation is clear, intuitive, and doesn’t have repeated pages.
4. Give social media its place. Social media is, in most cases, an essential addition to the online marketing plan. Most social media sites have a way for non-technical users to create a widget on their own. Unfortunately, these widgets start out as gigantic, and usually take up more space than necessary on your pages. It makes perfect sense for the social site – they’re simply trying to promote themselves. So, it’s your responsibility to keep the amount of real estate used for social in check. Small widgets – or even simply icons in your header/footer – are enough.
5. Know your screen limits. Nowadays, a website can comfortably fit in a space 1,000 pixels wide without dealing with the dreaded horizontal scroll. The average monitor size has increased tremendously over the years, so make sure you’re taking advantage of the horizontal space you’re provided. Super-skinny sites cause unnecessary vertical scroll. And let’s face it, they look wimpy.
Remember, your site is a marketing tool, not a shrine to your organization. It must have specific goals to accomplish. If you neglect to work by this principle, you’ve just wasted a lot of time and money. A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple, and give your content room to breathe. It’ll be worth it.
Building a brand takes time, vision, and a lot of hard work (not to mention working with these guys). There’s no way that I can deliver a formula in a blog post that will work specifically for your business. I can, however, give some tips on how to get it wrong. Share them, post it in the office, or print this post and make a funny hat out of it. Just please send pictures if you choose the latter.
1. Rely solely on cheap stock photography. There’s nothing more attractive to a prospect than photos of young, beautiful staffers on your site that don’t actually work there, in a building you don’t actually work in. Truth is, people can spot those over-used models from a mile away.
2. Change your logo/brand elements every year. Looking at the same logo everyday is a bore, I’m sure. If you’re going through $99 logos like most people go through socks, you’re probably doing it wrong and need to put the appropriate investment into it. Cutting corners on your image in the name of cost isn’t doing your company any favors.
3. Use plenty of industry jargon and catchphrases in your writing. Everyone is looking for someone who thinks outside the box and will take them to the next level. They also want to work with someone genuine. Be direct and sincere. You wouldn’t really use worn-out pickup lines at a bar, right? Exactly.
4. Mimic your competition. If it works for them, why start over with something new? No one got successful by re-creating the wheel, but many found their fortunes by creating tires, internal combustion engines and a slew of ideas that are better than a lousy wheel.
5. Remember, your brand is only how you look and what you say. Don’t follow it up with the way you conduct business. And while you’re at it, exaggerate on what you say you can do for your clients. That’ll never come back and bite you in the ass.
Is there anything I missed? Did I step out of line? Let me know in the comments.
Everyone seems to have their own idea of what the word “design” means (the worst being found in the dictionary). Some say it’s ‘to communicate’, or ‘to make pretty’. My definition, and the one we follow here, has served us well over the years:
Design [dih-zahyn]: v. To solve a problem and add purpose.
It’s not complicated, nor does it need to be. In order to create truly good work, you have to approach each step of a project like you are solving a problem. That goes for whether you are an interior designer, a fashion designer, and yes, a graphic or web designer. There are a number of reasons that we look at it this way, and follow this as a philosophy.
1. You don’t end up creating more problems. Your job isn’t done until all the problems are solved. I can’t tell you how many websites or source artwork we’ve inherited from other designers that have left us cleaning up their mess in order to do our own work. Really, we’re working on one of them right now.
2. Your design has more purpose. By adding this logic to each project, our designers are able to explain their steps through the design process. When there’s a solid benefit to each thing that’s done to a project, you’re never stumped with “why did you do that?” and the client can understand our way of thinking because it is just that – thinking. The next time you’re in the market for a cell phone, you’ll notice that you evaluate the options based on the problems that it would solve, and the usefulness it provides.
3. Taste is subjective. Probably one of the most hellish business scenarios I could see for myself is to begin each project with guesswork about what the new client may like. Most of the time, the client doesn’t know (which is why they hire us). Our design portfolio is shown to give clients an idea of our style, but that’s only a small part of the actual project. Each one has a story, and the problems that each project solved is usually the part we get the most excited about.
4. Trends die. Creativity based on superficial trends is crap, and does not move our industry forward. However, by working with a mindset of eliminating problems and creating purpose through resourcefulness, innovation and – dare I say, creativity – each project makes the designer better at each future project.
5. You uncover new functionality and new possibilities. When building a website (and the same can go for building a computer or an office building), a problem-solving approach opens your mind to figuring out how you can make the site better – easier to navigate, easier for the client to manage, faster to load, more reliable, quicker to read, or creating a better user experience. That’s where design pushes products forward; the rest is superficial and practically worthless.
6. Offering purpose in our work indirectly gives purpose to our lives. Imagine how bad it must suck to work in a factory where you make back seats for Dodge Caravans forty hours a week. Designers have the opportunity to make products better, and those that aren’t are taking up space that a problem solver could thrive. Starting each day by asking “what problems will I solve today?” is far more energizing than “when can I go home?”.
So with this in mind, ask yourself:
Designers: Is what I’m doing just trying to get the client to think it’s pretty? Is the success of my project simply based on whether or not the client approves it? Or does it solve a problem, and make me a more valuable designer for it? Does your work transcend fads and stand a chance of existing when tastes change?
Non-designers: Is the design of a well-built website, car, building, oven mitt, athletic supporter or spaceship judged principally on how it looks? Or should it be based on the problem that it solves?
Over the past couple years, it seems that almost every household name is going for a new logo. As a fun way to bring you up to speed on just some of the new logos (and much-needed tweaks) that are popping up, I’ve put together this all-too-common game of “Guess That Logo”. To keep it fair, I didn’t include any sports teams.
Name the whole alphabet and you are automatically eligible for a sense of accomplishment. I’ll post the answers next week if someone doesn’t beat me to it. Good luck!
Although unconfirmed, there is rumored speculation in regard to a gravitational shift in the universe. Evidently, it is beginning to revolve around Bentonville, Arkansas – the headquarters of Walmart.
Is this related to the foretold 2012 “end of the world”? Who knows?
Will it affect Daylight Savings Time? Who cares?
One thing is for certain: Walmart - the faceless monument to capitalism, the scourge of small businesses everywhere – has taken over our world, one wallet at a time, and shows no signs of stopping its aggressive domination of our planet. Love it or hate it, if you have any hopes of acquiring a month’s worth of toilet paper for less than five dollars, you are left with scarce alternatives. My beef is this: if Walwart is to remain the center of civilization, it needs to look a bit better about doing it.
For a company that has the highest packaging budget in the history of anything - ever - they do a lousy job of showing it. Don’t get me wrong, the logo idea was an upgrade. It almost made me forget how much I love Target, but not quite. What drives me bonkers is the new Great Value brand packaging. This is the most uninspired store brand I have ever seen. It can actually make my kitchen look worse. This is not “clean, minimalist” design. If that were the case, then it would consist of independently strong and well-thought layout & imagery. This line of packaging looks like it was outsourced to a fifth-grade art class – and in saying that, I hope I don’t offend any fifth-graders.
My advice for Walmart is simple: quit trying to build the perfect “un-brand”. You may boost your bottom line if the product was enhanced by appearance, not just by pricing. Give it a personality, because this line of products has me bored to tears.
Ok, so let’s pretend that you didn’t meet with a designer for your logo. You ponied up the $99 to get a logo done online, arming you with an ”ok” logo in tons of different formats, most of which your computer can’t read. Proud of your financial prudence, it looks like you are off and running – now let’s go get some business!!!
First stop: a business card. Knowing that graphic designers charge far too much for a 2″ x 3.5″ slip of paper, you decide that Microsoft Word is the weapon of choice to slay this dragon. After all, Avery templates and a couple ink cartridges produce results so much quicker than a print shop. Therefore, with a dozen fonts and a stretched-out logo, you throw together your cards, spit them out of the printer and head off to your first networking event. Each business card you hand out doesn’t look quite as nice as every card you receive, though. But who cares; it does the trick, right?
Next, you’re going to need some print collateral. Once again, we fire up MS Word. Pulling photos from Google and applying the same extensive font collection (it’s good to be consistent), you just saved yourself a few bucks yet again. You now have a Word document that may be a bit hard to read, never looks quite right when someone gets it in an email, and weighs about 5mb. But who cares; it does the trick, right?
Eventually, you will need a website. We will all need a website at one point or another. So, after putting it off as long as you can, you finally break down and get the budget $200 website. No one is going to look for you on Google, so you saved some money by avoiding those SEO witch doctors. The artistic geniuses at the other end of you short email chain have thrown together a website practically overnight; why would you ever consider spending more? It does the trick, right?
Unfortunately, after about six months, you almost forget that the website is there. You don’t get any business from that or any other marketing material, so you go back to revisit that one-pager. It will probably only take you a couple hours to get it perfect. Maybe your ”look at me” starburst isn’t big enough on it. Maybe you’re not saying enough, so you add a couple pages – in really big text – so that your idea gets across. Or maybe you need to do some work to that logo…
After all this work is not the time for clients to point out that your logo is hard to read. Or to realize that everyone you’ve come in contact with needs to ask what you do, even after taking your business card. This may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not. It’s the second such case I’ve encountered this month.
Anyone that has read this blog for long knows that I’m not a morning person; I’m typically worthless until about 10 AM. So, with that as our backdrop, let me take you on my drive to work this morning.I stop at a convenience store on the way to the office. As I turn into the parking lot, I take notice of this large, white panel van in the space next to mine. Something is strange about the logo plastered on its side, but I can’t place it right away. Maybe it’s the coconut-covered, zombie-chef Snuggle Bear they used as a mascot? No, that’s not it. It’s not a bad design job, so what could it be?
I let the question bounce around in my cavernous mind while I saunter to the coffee island. Then, during my blank stare into the non-dairy creamers, it hits me. That logo, roughly 30 square feet of vinyl plastered on the side of that truck, represents a company named “Bimbo”. Now I’m not sure where you’re reading this from, but in my neck of the woods, a “bimbo” is a word commonly used to describe a terribly vaccuous woman. Personally, I think that stupidity is blind to gender. It took me a long time to realize what I had read, which made me feel like a bit of, well, you guessed it.
I head out, with coffee in hand, and take another look at the side of the truck. The driver takes notice and we briefly make eye contact. Nervous, I point at the side and the truck and giggle “heh, Bimbo.” Feeling a lot like Beavis & Butthead, I quietly get into my car and take off.
Back at the office, I look the company up and see that it’s a pretty big deal. Bimbo Bakeries, USA is the largest baker is the US and parent company of Boboli, Entenmann’s, Thomas’ English Muffins and a number of other successful brands. This leaves me to wonder how a name like that has slipped under the radar of our collective consciousness, or am I really that immature at 8:30 AM?
In a lot of professions, you can almost predict the level of enthusiasm that is taken towards one’s job. For instance, if you pull up to your local drive-thru window, and ask the individual with the headset if they felt born to have that job, you may get some colorful language. You may get an airborne milkshake. You probably won’t get an enthusiastic affirmation. The work is for pure necessity; not a lot of passion, if any at all. It pays the bills and they save their quest for fulfillment for their free time.
Something I have found fascinating about graphic design is that it carries a breed that is rarely found in any other industry. Please keep an eye out for these people, particularly if you’re looking to hire one. They are the designer that, in high school, had doodles on almost every flat surface they owned. They made decent grades in art class, but loved it far too much to care about the grade. Nowadays, they will annoy you to tears about the fonts they see in public, and will debate with seemingly unnecessary fervor on whether Paul Rand or Saul Bass made a greater contribution to the trade. Their favorite color is a number. They are the designers you want to have developing your image, because they will put everything they have into it. They will forego sleep, solid food and social interaction to ensure you are glad you chose them. The strangest part of it all is that it’s not work ethic; it’s passion for the art.
If you work with a designer like the one I have mentioned, you are strongly advised to keep them. They may not be incredibly business-savvy. They may run late to meetings. They may use designer-speak far too often, but I’m sure that they can’t help it sometimes. It just happens.
You get the point. If you have a relationship with one of those far-out, artsy-fartsy, backstock-of-midnight-oil gluttons for punishment, hold on to them. I highly recommend it.
Okay, so you’re in the market for a graphic designer to help out with your business. And by the look of things, you obviously have an internet connection with a myriad of options and related costs, making it tempting to go with the quick and cheap. But wait; there are a couple things you need to know before you venture into the nebulous design industry. There are a few misconceptions to clear up first.
“I can have my brother-in-law’s plumber’s niece’s baby daddy do my logo. He’ll do it for $50.” At first, this is a very tempting offer. But let’s put it into perspective. If you want to get your car painted, do you A: go to a professional shop where the people there do it every day, or B: clear out Wal-Mart’s inventory of spray paint and make a weekend of it? Exactly.
“There are websites that sell logos for $79. A logo can’t be worth much more than that.” Any logo you get from the internet will do very little to represent the individuality of your company. It will, however, look a lot like everyone else’s logo, so, if you’re a lawyer, expect to have scales in your logo. If you’re a carpenter, expect a hammer. A perfect example of an ambiguous (and, in this case, inappropriate) logo can be found here. If the time isn’t taken to learn about who you are, there will be no you in the logo. And I tend to place that at the bottom of things I would like to have happen to me, right with being hit by a bus or set on fire.
“I could just do it myself. A professional logo isn’t important in my line of work.” This is a popular one. If professionalism isn’t a requirement in your business, then I agree – you don’t need to look professional. Considering that those industries are very limited; if your company only manufactures after-market passenger-side door handles for 1980 Monte Carlos, a logo won’t necessarily offer measureable growth. Chances are, however, that you have competition and they are looking for an advantage over your business. You should probably do the same.
The number one reason for avoiding a graphic designer to create your logo is always cost. True, it is an investment, but let’s put it into perspective. Think of the attraction that potential clients will have to that image, and the advantage you will have on your competition and their less-than-appealing image. That’s where it hits your bottom line. A professional job will make a difference that you can notice, as every successful business you can think of knows. A poorly designed logo will make a difference too, but that’s not the type of direction we want to go, is it?