Dec 03

What can a colander tell us about web design?

The other day my wife brought home a fancy Michael Graves stainless steel colander she purchased to replace our our old plastic one that had been melted by… ahem, someone while cooking dinner the night before.  I have to admit, the colander looked really cool and definitely made a good first impression.

What can this colander tell us about good web design?

A week or so later, I needed to strain some steamed broccoli for a dish I was making.  After emptying the cooked broccoli into the new colander and letting it sit for a few minutes in the sink, I picked it up and poured the broccoli into a bowl of other ingredients I was mixing together.  The colander had a nice feel to it and the broccoli slid smoothly out — along with about a cup of water!

Upon further inspection I realized that the design of the colander, while definitely sleek and stylish, left an area at the bottom where a good deal of water pools rather than draining.

This is unacceptable.

The main purpose — the only purpose — of a colander is to drain liquid from something solid.  I could have forgiven a colander that was too heavy or one that had handles that were too small. But a colander that failed to do the primary thing it was purchased to do is just unforgivable, no matter how cool it looks.

So what does this have to do with web design?

Simple. Having a cool-looking website is only worthwhile if the site actually succeeds at doing the thing you want it to do, which is to convert your visitors into customers (or fans, subscribers, etc.). If it fails to do that, if the design inhibits that from happening, if all the creative bells and whistles actually interfere with what you want your visitor to do, then the company who created your site has done you a serious disservice.

And since your website is often directly linked to your livelihood, it’s infinitely less forgivable than the worthless “designer” colander sitting in my recycle bin.


Nov 30

The new project triangle of marketing and web development

Posted by Mandy Minor, marketing strategist and copywriter   I’m sure you’re familiar with the project triangle: fast, cheap, or good, where you have to pick two.  It’s fairly ubiquitous; heck, it even hung in Stump’s Supper Club when I worked there in college.

Project Triangle

But with good marketing and web development projects the conversation should be about rushed, inexpensive, and perfect instead.

Fast vs. rushed: All good marketers will get you what you need as fast as they can.  But if you need it yesterday, that’s an issue of rush services.

Cheap vs. inexpensive: Cheap isn’t a word you want associated with your marketing and web development.  But inexpensive – that’s different!  We all want what we need to be inexpensive.

Good vs. perfect: Again, good marketers and web developers will deliver good work all the time.  Perfect, on the other hand, takes your project to a higher level and consequently requires a higher level of service.

So there you have it, the new project triangle of marketing and web development – and graphic design, copywriting, resumes, and all other professional creative services.  Rushed, inexpensive, or perfect.  Which two are most important to you?

Mar 01

No, most folks shouldn’t do their own design. Here’s why.

In a recent post titled Why aren’t you (really) good at graphic design? Seth Godin discusses why good design “Is as important as driving. But easier to learn and do, and requiring less talent.”

He throws designers a bone with, “…hire the very best in the world when you need a breakthrough. But you don’t have to pay for better-than-mediocre design. You can do it yourself.”

We have a rebuttal.  And we will preface it with a clear admission that we know we have nowhere near Seth’s level of acumen or expertise.  But we do have good heads on our shoulders and have been doing quite well for our clients and ourselves for many years now, so we feel we have a right to chime in.

Our sensitive side wants to go on about how his post “relegates design to an ultimately worthless skill because anyone could conceivably learn to do it” and thank Seth for setting us back even further as we try to earn graphic design the respect awarded long-standing practices.

Instead we will focus on the positive.  What Seth says is true but, using that same rational, you could make your own clothes, or paint your own car, or put a new roof on your house, or… well, you get the point.

What it comes down to is that if you really want to succeed, you should do what you do best and hire out the rest.  We didn’t invent this concept, but it makes sense and what’s more, it works.  You get more from your time and energies, and avoid a lot of frustration.

Most people really can’t create attention-grabbing design, or craft effective copy, or build a solid marketing plan, and that’s okay.  There are people who can do that for you.  It’s not necessary to take a DIY approach to every last aspect of your business.  Instead, exploit your strengths and get help with the rest.

Jan 30

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Or, a tale of two logos.

Two recent news items about companies that changed their brand identity got us thinking about the necessity of such changes.

One is Pepsi’s new logo.  Greeted with some admiration but mostly angry backlash over the million-dollar budget that produced a logo only slightly different than its predecessor, the new logo begs the question, Was this necessary?

The other is the new Tropicana packaging, which was also met with dismay by consumers and industry folks alike.

Interestingly, both of these projects were done by Arnell Group, and we’re really curious to know one thing: Did they ask Pepsi and Tropicana customers if they wanted a brand redesign?

To our thinking, both new product identities look generified and are in no way improvements over what had been in use for years.  But it doesn’t matter what we think, as design professionals.  What matters is what we think as customers – us and the millions of other Pepsi and Tropicana customers.  And we think Arnell Group didn’t bother to find out.

All too often companies want to change their look, get a new website, or update their logo “just because.”  Because they’re tired of looking at it.  Because their competition did.  Or because their ad agency suggested it.

But none of these are good reasons.  And in fact there is only one good reason to undertake such a task: Because your customers want it.

We’re all guilty of putting the cart before the horse and charging down Marketing Lane without first getting the input and approval of our customers.  Lucky for us smaller businesses such moves are rarely disastrous, because we can easily change back and don’t have a client base of millions to potentially piss off.  And make no mistake, people are emotionally invested in their favorite brands and get mighty pissed off about changes to them!

Regardless, now is a good time to re-learn the lessons of “look before you leap” and “if it’s not broken don’t’ fix it.”  And lucky for us, we can learn these lesson vicariously through Pepsi and Tropicana, rather than first-hand.

Sep 30

Are You Stealing Your Logo?

This is a straight-shooting message about intellectual property rights by Maria Marsala, reprinted with permission.  She says it perfectly, so we’ll let her do her thing.  Enjoy!


Are You Stealing Your Logo?
by Maria Marsala, Elevating Your Business

It’s scary to me, the number of business owners who don’t know much about the laws regarding the work that other contractors are doing for them.

Do you know, for instance, that you do not own much of the work others do for you!  I’m referring to copywriters, graphic artists, web designers, photographers, etc., those who create things for you, your business or even a non-profit organization “own the rights to them.”  Yes, the logo they create for you, they own.  Didn’t realize that?  Even a contract a lawyer creates for you – you can’t just give to a friend to use!  Read on.

It’s the law.  Read more about a recent lawsuit won by a photographer who recently won $1.32 million in a copyright-infringement lawsuit.

What you can do if you create such work.  All my clients want long-standing clients.  So as part of the initial consultation, they tell every client about this law.  Some even give them an article on the subject during the initial contact.

Why?  Because a majority of the business owners don’t know anything about this and the size of the business doesn’t matter (see below).

Include this in your contract.  Offer to sell clients the rights by charging an additional fee if the client wants the “rights.”

What can business owners do?  Know the laws around the work that others are doing for you.  Not knowing won’t get you off the hook.  Ask the questions “Will I own the rights to use this?” and “Can I change this and use it any way I want including allowing someone else to use it?”  If you don’t own the rights, and someone creates a logo for your website, you can’t put that logo on your stationary or change it — size, colors etc. – unless you own the rights.

Even large companies don’t know all about the laws.  A multi-million mega dollar training/coaching company that I worked for a few years ago had the best photos and graphics in their eNewsletter.  After contacting them to learn their source, I learned that they were stealing the photos from all over the Internet!  I told them so and unsubscribed from the newsletter.

© 2007 Maria Marsala, a former Wall Street Fortune 300 executive, is a business therapist, author and speaker.  She helps small business owners earn more, work smarter, create profit by producing services/informational products, and live great lives.  Receive  FREE Business Tools.

Dec 10

Worst Buy

Here at the Studios we are, like any business, inundated with direct mail on a daily basis.  Most of it goes in the trash.  But from time to time, we’ll hold on to a piece if it seems particularly effective or memorable.  We have quite a collection, and it serves as a good source of ideas and inspiration.

We also take note of particularly bad mailings.  Case in point, we recently received a mailing from Best Buy for Business.  This is what the envelope looked like:

Because the exterior looked so low-budget, we initially thought a not-so-savvy company had—in an act of sheer brilliance—decided to call themselves “Best Buy.”  Hey, why not, it’s obviously a pretty good name.  Just ask Bust Buy.

But once we looked inside, we knew it was actually from Best Buy, the national chain.  Apparently, the company has no style guide, and no problem with staffers/franchisees/etc. sending horrible mailings that only serve to make Best Buy look…well, more like “Worst Buy.”

Here’s a look at the letter itself:

It actually came as a photocopy of what looked like a letter that had been (poorly) prepared with a typewriter.  There was no date or signature block.  The text was crooked on the page and contained only an oblique description of what Best Buy for Business actually is.

If the corporate business card and obligatory club card key chain had not been in the envelope, we would have suspected fraud, like one of those Namibian “please for help from an orphaned billionaire” spam e-mail messages we get from time to time.

Hey Best Buy, listen up: It’s called brand identity, and when you allow stuff like this to circulate, you’re basically giving up on it.  This kind of direct mail would be bad enough had it come from Zed’s Repair Shop.  From a nationwide technology retailer, it is unforgivable.

Jul 30

We need a new mark

Trademark (TM), registermark (RM), and copyright (“circle c”) are all well and good for their respective intentions, but they no longer meet the needs of sales and marketing messaging.  Sure, common phrases can be used very effectively to sell/market, but does that mean no one else, ever, can use them?  It’s like the Happy Birthday song; they should be public domain.

Of course, Donald Trump should be able to trademark “The Donald,” because he is the object of that particular phrase; there is no ambiguity about who The Donald is.  But trademarking “You’re fired!”?  Please!  It’s a phrase that’s been in use forever, and is used daily.  No one person/company should “own” it.

But wait – then that means other businesses will use it, piggy-backing off of The Donald’s immense success and diluting his brand.  So he has to trademark it, right?

Not if there were a messagemark, or MM – a protection that allowed only the registering person/business to use that phrase in their sales and marketing efforts.  The key to a MM would be that the phrase is still fair game at your family gathering or company party, but no other business or person could use it in sales and marketing.

So, The Donald is the only one who gets to say “You’re fired!” in a commercial, the only person who can say it to promote his businesses.  But Mr. Magoo in Human Resources can say it when cutting staff without worrying about a lawsuit.  Doesn’t that make sense?