News and Notables · Notables

Going Oldschool With Modern Tradeshow Displays

New retractable screen tradeshow booth back walls like the Aero feature multiple banner height options and a bunch of other configurations. This three panel booth design for Café Imports was done with several goals in mind:

  • Be inviting: the warm wood and crafted look of the screens offsets the modern tubing and creates a friendly, safe feel. With all the bustle of normal tradeshows, a calm and friendly zone has an attraction that's hard to resist.
  • Be simple: even though the Areo booth had multiple height settings and configurations it's a good chance that only one or two will be predominately used. Design for the obvious.
  • Be iconic: even though there is a lot of content on these three panels, the sum effect is of a unified piece of art. While people may not bend down to read the harvest schedule, it's presence adds texture and movement.


05.07.2012. 12:33

Brand Management - Create Your Own Language

An extremely butchered version of an old advertising yarn:

The creative director for a very famous agency had worked tirelessly on an automotive company's brand, nurturing it out of the gutter. Seeing much success, the auto company president looked at the continued cost for agency services and asked the adman, "So what am I paying you for now anyway?" The adman wryly responded, "To keep you from (screwing) it up."

Branding is not an event, it's a discipline. It's not a battle for the customer, it's a battle for a company's heart. Find your heart and you will find your customer.

Creating your brand is like creating your own language. There are many elements in this language to consider:

  • Visual  - graphic style.
  • Message - what and how information is communicated.
  • Products - the configuration of services and products greatly influences your brand identity.
  • Interaction - how a person feels after interacting with your company.

Creating and managing a consistent visual and interaction language allows great message efficiency.

click image to enlarge

The Elements of Corporate Branding

A sad story and a happy story

The sad story (in outline form):

  1. Company A never put much value in articulating a mission / vision / value statement.
  2. Company A  "got a logo done by somebody" and used it for signage but not on emails or newsletters.
  3. Documented corporate standards were viewed as nit-picky.
  4. Advertising was done only when a good media deal was spotted and usually the publisher also produced the ad. The ad message depended on the business owner's current hot button.
  5. Company A put little effort into understanding why customers bought products from them or chose their services.

The sad story ends with Company A never seeing consistent returns on advertising, continually needing to explain to customers what they do, and only engaging on an emotional level through their sales people. When their sales people left the company, so did the customers. What a sad story.

Now a happy story:

  1. Company B realized that customers returned because of its service performance and ease of use.
    • Tailored graphics supported this strength - logo, corporate ID and imagery.
    • Ads repeatedly communicated this key message to create the service expectation.
    • Business decisions supported the company's strength of service.
    • Key copy blocks focused on customer service.
  2. Company B applied these points with consistency throughout its business practice
  3. Soon the simple display of the company's logo conjured a multitude of positive embedded meanings for viewers. It engaged emotions and created the right expectations whenever viewed.

The happy story is still being written by Company B with every brand-building decision they make.

The term "brand" has become a much overused buzzword and I'm of the opinion that the branding of the word "brand" has been ill-managed itself. Many businesses know they need it, talk about it, want to have it, but don't know how.

It really can be this uncomplicated:

  • Find what is the heart and soul of your company.
  • Create a visual and interactive language around that soul.
  • Maintain consistency in using that language.

Branding is about creating a story - a narrative between you and your customer - and it can be a very happy one.



08.24.2011. 14:38

Web Development Process - A Unified Theory

There are many flavors describing the web development process; most revolving around a discover / design / develop phase system. Any version of a development process is essential to follow. But it's entirely possible to successfully go through a web development process and miss the boat on the finished product.

How can that be? Business leaders need realize just how deep a web site development project can be, or should be. Really, every web site built has a stack similar to the below diagram, just some of the elements have been devalued or not considered.

Click illustration to enlarge

Unified web development model

Stacking it up.

There are really only four main layers of a typical web site:

  • Technology - The hardware/software configuration which powers everything. Linux/Apache/MySQL/Php or .NET - it's a choice that effects cost, speed and reliability.
  • Business - How a web site promotes what your business offers it's clients for customers.
  • Framework - The layer we interact with. Choosing the right framework can open infinite possibilities and save development dollars.
  • Brand Messaging - The top layer of interaction, resulting in a transaction (product, information, service) between business and customer.

Takeaway thoughts:

  • Stopping the planning at Framework removes the value of the brand interaction.
    • example - Just "getting a web site up" without thought to brand identity and messaging removes the possibility of meaningful interaction
  • Exclusion of the business layer leaves the top-level brand with nothing to really promote.
    • example - Without being matched to the base business purpose, a well-designed web site and solid framework is all dressed up with no where to go.
  • Branding efforts are effected by the choice of framework.
    • example - "Can we add a user comments area?" Some frameworks allow a quick change. Others do not.

Open for thoughts and comments.


08.02.2011. 14:40

The Cardinal Sin of a Web Site Launch

Launching your web siteSparkly new web sites are not the end of a development project. Unfortunately it's a fact that some companies put effort and money into the design and creation process, launch the site and then - Ta-da! - walk away.

If a web site falls in the internet and there's no one around, does it make a sound? This is not a paradox, the answer is "nope".

A web site, regardless of its role (brochure site, e-commerce, etc), is a company asset that needs promotion. Fortunately the steps to promote a web site are cost-effective, repeatable, and give almost immediate feedback. Here are a few of the big points:

  1. Make sure your site is SEO optimized. Serving up content to search engines on a silver platter helps speed up the time a web site is crawled and parsed for keywords. Make sure your pages are content-rich and synchronized with the keywords users are searching for.
  2. Launch your site with gusto. Email address books, Constant Contact databases, customer databases, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter. Any list of names accessible to a company should be farmed and used to announce a new web site. Make it fun, give your clients and customers a good reason to visit your brand new web site. People love to see new things.
  3. Get on the lists. Make sure your web site starts to gain links in. Get listed in qualified directories, in blogs, in associate web sites. Anything to gain a reference and thus increase rankings with search engines.
  4. Continually promote. A marketing budget, no matter what the size, represents the commitment to using a web site as part of a marketing program. Get your URL out there - print ads, pens, business cards, email signatures, AdWords campaigns. Promote your services or products though these means and promote your web site as the primary location to gain valuable information.

A new web site is an excellent time to contact your client base and gain new customers. New web sites invigorate a company internally and externally represent a companies' effort to continually evolve. Plus, everyone loves to see a successful launch.

03.16.2011. 10:53

ADA Compliance - The Short Course

So your company has a web site served up to the World Wide Web, everyone can access it, right? Not really. In keeping with the very strengths of the WWW, an amazing array of users and systems will be looking to get information from your site, and some might not get much out of it.

WC3 ComplianceThink of the variables at play: operating systems, browsers, servers, and differing user capability. The reality is that the WWW doesn't really have true standards. And so enters the term "compliance". In the world of web development, the W3C standards are de facto, and within that, ADA compliance rules further detail out the type of user demands your web site will encounter. Developing for ADA compliance means most other compliance rules will fall into place too.

ADA compliance is met when all features and information on a site can be accessed by persons with disabilities.

The ability to navigate via a keyboard and use text-to-speech or screen reader programs greatly contribute to an ADA compliant site. General considerations for web site development:

  • Provide image ALT tags for as many photos and graphics as necessary.
  • High-contrast color scheme in areas of importance.
  • Site navigable by keyboard directional arrows.
  • Text-only or text size user controls (increases size of body copy via links on page).
  • Do not rely on tables or restrictive page construction - page layouts must transform for user agents (screen readers for instance).
  • Best practices
    • Design for device independence.
    • Basic W3C compliance testing.
    • Build site to gracefully degrade with old browsers or Java Script disabled.
    • Clear and simple document layout.

The secret benefit to maintaining W3C and ADA compliance is a site that will cost less to maintain and alter in the future. Changing the design will be easier, publishing your site to new user clients (think iBook) should be easier, and your site won't "break" when new browser technologies come onto the scene.

12.10.2010. 10:21

Five Steps to Online Publishing Perfection

If you are using blogging software as part of your web site communication plan - great idea! Blog applications are an easy way to provide timely updates and information to your readers. But beware that ease-of-use does not lead to blog blunders. Here's a checklist to run down before you click "publish":

  • Spell check. Easily overlooked, spell checking is also really easy. Firefox has spell checking built in and many WYSIWYG tools also provide spell checking. Be careful; spell checking can't help all the copy on your web sight.
  • Use at least one image. Photos help illustrate a point, or at least make a page more interesting. No idea what photos to use or out of resources? Look to Flickr or Stock Xchange for images licensed through the Creative Commons.
  • Use internal links. Point the reader to more content on your site. Good for your site, good for search engines, good for the earth.
  • Right-size your photos. Posting images to blog content - good. Posting images that can be reprinted as billboards - no so much. General rule of thumb is to make sure your uploaded images are around 640x480 px at 72 dpi. Any larger and you'll be spinning the clock as people wait to download the files. If you need a handy photo resize tool, check this one out on DLINC's site. You can upload your JPG files and it will spit resized images back at you - one good for blog posting and one good for thumbnails. Give it a try. Save some bandwidth.
  • View your published post. Clicking "publish" is the second to last step - go back and actually read the page you just published. Doing so will help you spot weird text breaks, funny spacing, character freak-outs common with WYSIWYG tools, and spelling issues. Don't let your readers be the first to view your words online.

The great online publishers of the world use many other mental checkpoints to grab a reader's interest, as well as appear sticky-sweet to search engines. But perfecting these five will put you on the right path to publishing perfection.

11.29.2010. 10:00

Advertising Through a Recession

The idea that hard times present opportunities to the prepared is not new; examples of companies, even industries, who grew out of past recessions are impressive. FedEx, Microsoft, and Burger King are just a few on the list.

recession chartRecessions tend to have a 'take a long, hard look at yourself' effect on companies and spin-offs, new products, and refined brands are the result.

The discipline of advertising during a recession is a hard one for companies to stomach and occasionally those dollars get cut before the yearly office trip to Orlando. But taking a look at historical evidence, companies who view advertising as an investment (just like office trips are an investment in employee happiness) instead of an expense benefit from:

  • an expanding customer base
  • better market share as competition falls off
  • better value - advertising rates tend to fall
  • a better-defined brand name
  • expanded product opportunity

This is not an argument to 'spend money to make money', rather a comment that, as tools go, the discipline of advertising can be used very effectively to plant a company soundly during shakedowns. And better-focused advertising is even more effective. Walmart recently cut its advertising costs by over 20%, yet increased share of voice by 67% through targeted spending (1).

In addition, companies who stop advertising have to spend more to regain market share when they do restart. (Looking for appropriate citation, trust me - it's true.)

Fine, but where does the money come from?

This time around, businesses have a bit more ammo in their belt during a tight economy. Social marketing, solid web solutions, cheaper TV and radio buys, and a host of guerrilla campaign techniques mean the money doesn't have to be as much a factor. Even more interesting, the walls that separated big-budget campaigns and low-budget ones are not as high; smart small companies can go toe-to-toe with larger ones for the consumer's attention.

Summing it up: Expanding market share with a tight budget is possible with targeted advertising campaigns.

11.11.2010. 14:26

Content Management - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When it comes to deciding on the right content management system, WordPress is the good, the bad, and the ugly of all the alternatives available to companies. It deserves special focus because for small and medium-sized businesses, WordPress is the leader in terms of sheer numbers of installs.

In the past five years, the little blog application used by individuals to publish ideas online has made an amazing transformation into a full-featured, heavily developed, and rather complicated, content management system.

Just to lay a base-line, a content management system is (usually) a database-driven set of server pages which enable users to publish media content within a site framework; CMS gets your stuff on the WWW.

WordPress always comes up as an alternative to be considered when deciding on CMS applications. Here's an experienced opinion:

It's Good:

  • It's an open-source tool that's well-supported, ubiquitous, highly extendable, and generally conforms to standards.
  • Generally speaking it is easy for admin users to contribute content and organize pages.
  • The WordPress framework allows for custom applications and other specific tools which a company may need as part of their web presence.
  • Ohhh...pretty Jquery animation.

It's Bad:

  • It's an open-source application available to everyone, including hackers who look for holes to pry open and deposit their nasties. Over the last year, hosts such as Media Temple have needed to adapt their server settings and WordPress code to close down vulnerabilities which WordPress opened.
  • There's a constant shuffle between WordPress upgrades and 3rd party developer upgrades. New version of WordPress? Easy to upgrade - but that plugin running your forum might not support the new WordPress version. Broken forum.
  • Unless set-up properly and maintained, WordPress can degrade into a slow, SEO neutral, and difficult CMS platform.

It's Ugly:

  • Since WordPress powers the entire site, resulting content pages can be messy, full of widgets only useful on certain pages, and generally not a very tuned browsing experience. There are fixes for this, which weave a trail only a web developer will understand.
  • Look at all these neat plugins for free! Look at all this extra JavaScript code and database additions they need to run! Slower page load and messy installation.
  • Need your site to do something not built in to WordPress or available through plugins? The cheap option suddenly becomes a custom-coded site based on open-source code which will need ongoing maintenance.
  • WordPress doesn't help make page content pretty; there are frequent fights between admin users and the content which they create.

3305 Hennepin Web SiteThe truth - WordPress has been presented as an option for more than a few DLINC projects. It's particularly suited for smaller real estate projects and companies who rely on a blog as part of their primary marketing drive.

Before putting a finger on WordPress, ask yourself these questions:

  • How often does my site content need to be maintained and what's the technology skill level of those doing the work?
  • Am I willing to trade off a shorter development cycle for less flexibility?
  • Am I OK with occasional costs for application maintenance and increased development costs for custom applications?
  • Am I OK owning the content (as a business asset), but not the application which powers my web site?

Alternatives - Not to lead anyone away from using WordPress, it could be the perfect option, but here are a few others which might be a stronger match to your needs:

  • Hard-coded main site with a CMS built into certain areas. This site, for instance, has hard-coded main pages, but the area you are reading right now is admin'd by a very light-weight blog.
  • More powerful CMS - Movable Type, CMS Made Simple, and Magento to name a few.
  • Full custom CMS application. Best suited for companies who have a specialized way in which they store and display information. Frameworks such as CodeIgnitor make the reality of a custom CMS cost effective and safe.

11.10.2010. 10:56

Advertising is simple

It's the message which can be hard.

The right message can grow a company, while an ineffective message is money down the drain.

The best messages are justifiable, creative, and built for results. And companies seem to inherently know when the right message is hit on; it's like fitting into a pair of comfy jeans or finally taking a personal photo you are proud of.

The right advertising message:

  • Has a 10 second and a 30 minute version
  • Is easy for every employee to remember and repeat
  • Is exciting to discuss
  • Translates the company mission, vision, goals into a memorable, distinct story
  • Lasts

And, above all, advertising should be FUN.

Comments (0) 10.27.2010. 10:01

Ads I didn't do

Along side all the print ads everyone wishes they thought of themselves sits the awkward sibling category: ads and marketing blunders which make us wonder what was going on during client meetings.

Here are a few:

If I had Bihuleproblemer, I would probably not be fixing it with a blue horn, based on this ad.

Individually these billboards are two completely passable ads, together they collide in a cultural train wreck.

Originally not intended for the U.S. market, this Absolute ad DID get noticed. By Americans. The ad was pulled when they discovered the it was created by an agency actually living in the 1850s.

If you've got worse examples of bad ads, send them over!

07.26.2010. 14:41

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