Archive for March, 2010

Pantone Fall Color Forecast

March 30, 2010

Check out Pantone’s interactive color book here.

Posted using ShareThis

Our 100th Blog Post!

March 30, 2010

Mix Creative's 100th Blog Post

With this, our 100th blog post, it feels appropriate to reflect on the effect blogging has had on our business here at Mix Creative.

I began blogging on a regular basis in the fall of 2008, after attending the Creative Freelancer conference in Chicago Illinois. Several guest lecturers at the conference, including Ilise Benun, Peleg Top, and Colleen Wainwright, spoke of the power of blogging to establish yourself as an expert and increase your search engine optimization (SEO). What I didn’t realize was how much more I would get out of blogging. Here’s a sample:

  • Getting Published. Readers of my blog have requested to reprint posts to their own blogs or in their e-newsletters, widening our company’s exposure. Mix blog articles have been adapted for the Women in Networking Connect e-newsletter, and others appear on the blog site of Overnight Prints.
  • Speaking Engagments. Something I never expected from blogging—sharing my knowledge through my blog has directly contributed to me being asked to be a guest speaker at several events, including: a Women In Networking SparkHer event and annual conference, Tech Networking event and webinar from Modern Inconveniences, and to the Freelance Design Business class at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
  • Material for the Mix E-Newsletter, >the mixer. Often, a blog post will inspire content for our company’s e-newsletter. Although I generally adapt the article for the shorter e-newsletter format, having a source of content has been a huge time-saver!
  • A place to easily post e-newsletter archives. Simply creating a page for an e-newsletter archive on my blog, then adding a link to the online archive has made this monthly function quick and effortless. Not only that, but it’s accessible to blog readers, who may not be e-newsletter subscribers.
  • Fun and personal growth. Ok, this one is definitely something I didn’t expect: writing and posting articles on my blog is just plain fun! It gives me an opportunity to take a break from design, it puts a voice to my opinions, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment. And then there’s the blog stats…addicting! It’s fun to see which posts get a lot of reads, and tracking the increase in blog hits over time. And here’s a fun thing: last week I received a call from San Diego, California asking for more information about something I’d written in the post, Beyond the Trifold: How to Make Your Brochure Stand Out in the Crowd, (our most popular post).

Looking forward, my goals for my blog are to: 1) increase the number of hits by increasing the amount of entries and providing consistently relevant content, 2) Encourage readers to comment more, and 3) Promote the blog more at networking events, online, and through social media.

Thank you to all of our readers, whether you’re a one-time visitor or check back frequently! Want to stay up on recent posts? Click the “subscribe” button in the upper right. You’ll get a short e-mail synopsis of current entries.

Any thoughts about blogging or suggestions for our blog? Please leave a comment below! Remember, blog comments are searchable by web browsers, and can increase your personal SEO ranking.

Thanks!

Katrina Hase,
Principal of Mix Creative

Hanging Indents: Perfecting the Bulleted List

March 26, 2010

Has this ever happened to you? You’re typing a list in Microsoft Word or Powerpoint;  the first line is short so it looks just fine. But the second line is longer, and the text wraps below the bullet, like so:

An example of an incorrectly formatted bulleted list

An example of an incorrectly formatted bulleted list using manual bullets (Opt-8)

Clearly, your list needs a hanging indent: a typographical tool that allows your bullet, symbol or number to stand alone, while the text wraps neatly next to it.

One way to achieve this is to use your text editor’s “bulleted list” button. But what’s this? There’s a glacial gap between the bullet and the text, and it’s indented much farther than it needs to be!

An Example of a preformatted bulleted list

An example of a preformatted bulleted list, using the "Bulleted List" button in Microsoft Word. Notice the huge gap between the bullet and the text, and the extra large indent?

A more  elegant solution is to create your hanging indent manually, allowing you to control the spacing between the bullet and the text and to dictate the amount of indent. The result looks like this:

Example of a properly-formatted hanging indent

Example of a manually-formatted hanging indent. Notice the tighter spacing between bullet and text, and the more modest indent?

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Type in your own bullets, using the Opt-8 key command. Note: using manual bullets also allows you to make them smaller or larger as desired, or to replace them with a symbol.
  2. After your bullet, press the TAB key. Then, write your text.
  3. Press ENTER/RETURN after each item on your list. Note: to force a line break within the text of an item on your list, use the command SHIFT-RETURN.
  4. Highlight the text you want to format.
  5. Locate the ruler at the top of the page. Slide the bottom triangle over a tick on the ruler, and the top triangle back a tick on the ruler (you can adjust the amount of indent to suit your document by experimenting with these two settings).
    Hanging Indent Settings

    Settings used to create a hanging indent

  6. Click on a ruler line to generate a tab stop (black arrow). Slide the tab arrow to match the position of the bottom blue arrow.

Generally, I like to indent the space of two letters when calling out a paragraph of text. A full tab stop is overkill, and can make you quickly run out of space in your document if you have a list with several sub-lists.

To add another level of sophistication, consider customizing the space between your bulleted lines using the “Paragraph Spacing” function (under Alignment and Spacing in Word). In the following example, I’ve added 4pts of spacing between paragraphs:

Bulleted list with manual space after setting

Bulleted list with manual paragraph spacing

The hanging indent function is common to most programs that allow formatting of text, including Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, TextEdit, Adobe Illustrator, InDesign (use Command+Shift+T to bring up the tabs ruler) and more. Mastering this function will give you tighter typographic control and create documents that look professionally-designed versus created on a template.

Happy formatting!

How to Write Your Website (Without the Anguish)

March 24, 2010

For many business owners the prospect of writing their own website content arouses memories of the dreaded term paper. They set deadlines that slide in favor of completing client work, they open Word and stare at the blank screen, and they regress to updating their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds instead of facing the perceived challenge in front of them.

If you think you’re alone in your fear and procrastination: think again! Nearly every client I’ve worked with has gotten into their head about writing their own web content. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting it done. Complete one step each day and you’ll be done in no time!

  • STEP 1: Create an outline. Most websites follow a similar plan, and for good reason—it helps prospective clients quickly find the content they’re looking for, and it makes your site SEO-friendly. The basic site map contains: Home, About, Products (or Services), and Contact. Additional pages may include: Location (if you’re a bricks and mortar business), Blog (for adding fresh, SEO-friendly content), Site Map (for search engine optimization), Resources (for linking to other sites), E-Newsletter Sign Up (this may just be a button that links to an external form) and Testimonials. Think strategically about which pages make sense for your business and people coming to your site, then put it down on paper. There! You’ve just completed step one!
  • STEP 2: Be your target market and find your competitors. This step has two goals: first, to discover and record the key words your clients may be typing into their web browser to find you (and your competitors). Record the key words that brought the most relevant results in your web search: those are words you’ll later want to incorporate into your writing. And second, to review your competitors’ sites to take note of what you like about how they describe their products/services, and consider what you’d do differently. Make notes to yourself as they relate to the outline you created in step 1.
  • STEP 3: Bullet-point your web content. Using your site outline as a guide, list key points to include on each page. Don’t worry about word-smithing here; just get the content down! Think about the key words you wrote down in step two, and work them into the appropriate pages of your site content (use them early and often for best results!). For inspiration, review any other printed materials you may already have, or just think about what people ask you about your business and what you tell them in return and write that down. Now take a break—you’re over a huge hurtle!
  • STEP 4: First draft. Ok, I realize a lot of you just broke into a sweat at the mention of a first draft. Take a breath. Relax…this is only a draft! Not the real thing! At this point, we’re going to turn those bullet points from Step 3 into sentences, no big deal. Now, here’s some advice on how to do that:
    1. DO: Talk about your client: who they are, and how your product/service will make their lives easier/better/more fulfilled. Example: “At XYZ Co, we help small business owners like you create innovative storage solutions that help you maximize your office space.” DON’T: Talk about yourself. Nobody likes a bore who goes on and on about how great they are. Example: “At XYZ Co we sell office storage solutions that are the best in the industry.”
    2. DO: Use keywords that your clients will be typing into their browser search box to find you.
    3. DO: Organize long paragraphs with sub-headings to break-up the content. DON’T: Make your website a comprehensive treatise on your company and/or industry! Consider the average time a person spends at any given website is about 3 seconds.
    4. DO: Be conversational. Put in writing the things you say about your business every day—on the phone, at networking events, to your friends and family!
    5. DON’T: Sweat over every word. Remember, this is just a draft! In fact, websites benefit from regular content updates. Plan from the start that you’ll update your website content regularly; tweaking it to include new products or services, to change a focus or reach a new audience, or just make it fresh to your clients.
  • STEP 5: Review and Revise. Ok—you’re in the home stretch now! You have a draft in place; it may not be perfect, but it’s 100% more than you had before you started! This is a great point to bring in a professional copy writer to do some fine tuning of the tone and apply some editing (a writer would also be a good resource after step 3!). I know what you’re thinking—”I thought this was supposed to be how I can write my own site!”. But hear me out…with much of the work done already, you can benefit from just a few hours of their time. And it’s your business, for goodness’ sake! Spend the money where it counts to ensure consistent branding. HOWEVER, if  you don’t have money or access to a writer, and you fancy yourself a Pretty Good Writer, this is a good time to print out your draft and read it with red pen in hand. Look for:
  1. Grammar/Spelling errors
  2. Speaker Inconsistencies. Don’t switch between first, second and third-person voice.
  3. Active vs. Passive verbs. I prefer to write using present tense, active verbs: “Have office clutter? We supply you with storage solutions to optimize your space!” vs. “With our storage solutions, your office problems are solved”
  4. Adjectives. Descriptor words are your friends! Use them generously to describe how your audiences will feel upon using your goods/services.
  5. Key words. Do one more check to make sure you’ve included the key words that users will be searching to find your site on each page.

That’s it! Now send it off to your designer/web programmer and kick back with your feet up and a cocktail in hand to celebrate your accomplishment!

Tips for Designing in Powerpoint

March 22, 2010

Frequently, I’m asked to design Powerpoint slides for my clients that they can use in presentations to their clients. While designing in Powerpoint can feel to a designer like creating a Monet with color crayons, I’ve discovered some tips and tricks to making Powerpoint presentations look professional, while breaking the mold of traditional templates. Here’s a sampling:

  1. Create a plan for your presentation before you start. Knowing the flow of content in a presentation can help you create a design plan for the presentation: will you need a title slide? A slide for section breaks? A content slide? Consider creating a balance of content-heavy slides to attention-grabbing visual slides that give viewers a break and provide new interest.
  2. Design the type as well as the slide backgrounds. Clients are unlikely to have the typographic training and eye that a professional designer possesses when formatting  Powerpoint text from your design. Make sure you create examples of how headings, subheads, body content, bulleted lists, and captions should look. I personally find the Powerpoint shortcuts for bulleted/numbered lists and indents to be too limited, instead creating hanging indents using the ruler as I would in Microsoft word for greater typographic control. Resist the urge to fill each slide with type; most Powerpoint presentations use a type size that far exceeds what is needed for readability. And take advantage of line spacing/space after functions to group like text with like on the slide.
  3. Limit the amount of content on each slide. Powerpoint slides are meant to be used in conjunction with a live presenter; let the slides remain largely visual to complement the points outlined by the speaker. Supply bulleted slide notes as needed in the printed version.
  4. Design compelling visuals. Too often, clients invest only in a title and master slide when hiring a designer for their Powerpoint presentations. This is missing an opportunity to present consistent brand visuals to your client’s target audiences. Design charts and graphs with the clients’ colors and fonts, create slides using brand images, and incorporate your clients’ brand elements into each slide. The result will be a polished, professional presentation.
  5. Resist using Powerpoint effects. Elaborate slide transitions, 3-D effects, gradients, and pre-designed templates call attention to the technique more than the content and brand message.

Remember that as a designer, it’s your job to educate clients about the potential (and limitations) of each medium. Creating a one-of-a-kind Powerpoint presentation that is designed from start to finish will set your clients apart from the competition and give them confidence when presenting to prosepective clients.

Fun Ad Campaign

March 17, 2010

Driving around town, I’ve been enjoying Duluth Trading Company’s billboard ad campaign. The company, which sells workwear, tools, games and other “tradesmen” goods, combines clever copy writing with simple, yet folksy images to create a look and feel that is humorous and edgy.

Example headlines include:
• “Crouch without the ouch” for a pair of pants
• “No more butt crack” (paraphrasing) for an extra-long t-shirt.

Doing some digging, I discovered that the mail-order catalog company designs and writes nearly all its own marketing in-house, led by Al Shakelford. Illustrations are by Minnesotan Rick Kollath. I wasn’t able to find any examples of the billboards online, but here’s an example of the style from their recent catalog cover:

Catalog cover design

A witty cover from Duluth Trading Company's catalog

Motives of a design firm/ad agency

March 16, 2010

Recently, I read an article about an established Twin Cities advertising firm who spelled out their company’s culture in three simple rules:

  1. Have fun
  2. Make money
  3. Make money for our clients

This struck me as ridiculous. Really? Making money and having fun came before making their clients happy? And where was the goal of doing good work?

It seems like ages ago now that I worked at an ad agency with nearly identical goals. Only, it wasn’t fun. We didn’t do great work, and it felt like we were doing our clients a disservice. When I pushed for better quality in the work we do, the agency pushed back—if our clients were happy with our work the way it was, why would we waste time and money trying to improve it?

So I started my own design firm, placing quality at the center. My credo:

  • Do quality work for good people

Following this motto, I anticipated that:

  1. Quality work would bring loyal clients and good referrals,
  2. That I would have career satisfaction knowing that I produced a good product
  3. Money would follow

And indeed, this has been the case.

For me, the importance of benevolent motives fueling the work of a design firm cannot be understated. My clients place their business in my hands, trusting me to understand their company and convey that appropriately to their audiences. They trust me to approach each project with a problem-solving nature, never recycling work from other clients or applying a cookie-cutter approach to their unique business. They trust me to not sell them something they don’t need, and they trust me to not charge them for something I didn’t do. They trust me to be current in my understanding in the technical aspects of design and to be knowledgeable about the cultural climate of design.

In brief, they trust me to have integrity.

Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy wrote in his book How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, a passage about integrity that rings true:

We have to show integrity to the three “audiences” for which design is mostly done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. Designers will differ on the order of importance in which they place this trinity: in my view, the demands and responsibilities of all three have to be equally balanced.

It should be said that the agency mentioned in the article is fiscally  successful, and has sustained its growth in a poor economy. And, to their credit, the article states that their clients enjoy working with them. But for me, the question is, at what cost is success?

I’d LOVE your feedback on this article. Let me know your thoughts on the motivations of design and ad agencies. What are your “top 3” rules for running your agency?

Two Marketing Bits

March 11, 2010

Two articles in this morning’s paper caught my eye as examples of good marketing.

The first, Target Coupons Go Mobile, highlights the use of smart phones to download coupons to use in-store. Unlike a paper coupon, this technology gives Target a new layer of information and interaction with its audiences. Information, because customers must either text Target (providing cell phone information) or visit their website (providing server information) about its audiences. Interaction, because the customer has another touch point with the company when it visits the website.

With coupons already available at Target.com, through direct mail, and in newspaper circulars, the mobile program is just another way to engage their clients; each method likely to appeal to another segment of their audiences.

The second article, Panera to post calorie counts to the  menu board, shows an innovative strategy to differentiate this restaurant chain in a crowded marketplace. The first chain restaurant to take this step, Panera—already in a class of its own for offering healthy, fresh food— is further establishing itself as diet-friendly and socially-responsible—a message likely to resonate well with female audiences.

What’s the take-home message from these examples?

  1. Find new ways to interact with your target audiences and drive traffic to your website
  2. Use multiple strategies to connect with different segments of your audience
  3. Try something new and trendy, then make a PR push to create buzz around your company
  4. Take bold steps to differentiate your company from its competitors
  5. Consider a socially-responsible strategy to connect on an emotional level with your audiences