Just one designers ramblings about things that inspire me, observations, and advice about marketing.

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Today is 9/11

Today is a day that few of us will forget. I wanted to share my story of that day.

I was pregnant with my son. That morning as is my ritual I went online to read the news. I went down the line of sites in my bookmarks and couldn’t get to any news website anywhere. They were all stuffed to the gills with traffic.

I knew immediately something was wrong – there is never that much traffic on every site consistently. So we went to the TV to see if we could find any information. That was just as plane number two hit the towers. I dropped to the floor in a sob, Neil joined me and we watched, from the floor, mouths agape while reporters tried to make sense of things. There was no sense to find. I knew that my father was in NY on business that week, and I immediately thought of him, and my cousins in NY, I had no idea where they worked and hoped that they were safe. Half of my family at one time or another had called NY home. And thoughts of each and every one of them passed through my head.

I sat there and cried – not knowing what happened, but having a hunch, and feeling cold and sorrowful as I began aching for all of those families and people in the planes and in the towers.

I wondered at that moment what in the world I was doing bringing a new perfect life into this very very very imperfect world. It truly was a turning point for me, that this child would be forced to live in a world that I didn’t feel safe in.

I remain dubious whether it was fair of me to have a child in these times. Such a wonderful, bright kid, with so much promise. Its such a scary world and I won’t always be there to protect him.

But I have hopes that maybe some day he and the other kids like him will do something to make it a better place. One where there is less hate, and less intolerance, and less fighting. One where there is less fear, across the board.

One where we understand that there is a higher value to some things, things that can’t be measured in dollars and cents, or Euros or Yen. One where we realize that the important things in life are right in front of you, above you, in you and under your feet.

One where the world, or at least this country refocuses on things that are important and vital to our survival. My list of what is vital is probably very different from yours, but for me those vital things are the things that I cling to on dark days. Today in memory is one of those dark days, but there is light too. And part of that light is knowing that my son is growing up with the same values that my husband and I feel strongly about, and for that I am proud.

How do you know if you need a new website?

I hear this question a lot. And my reply is usually to ask a lot more questions.

One of the most important questions I ask is – What is your current website doing for you?

There are plenty of others too, such as: What do you do? Who are your customers? What kind of relationship do you have with them? What do you need your website to do?

But ultimately first establishing whether the current website is working, at all on any level, gives me a great deal of insight as to what I can do to help.

The average business person isn’t necessarily all techie-fied and up to speed on what is possible. All they know, is that they have a website and they are pretty sure that it should be doing more for them, then just sitting there gathering virtual dust.

But they aren’t really sure whether their customers care, visit, or want a better online experience. And if they think they should improve their online presence, they don’t know where to start, or what’s even possible.

So I thought that I would give a a starter list of things that you can think about if you also wonder whether you are ready for a new website.

First, start thinking like your customer.

Customers want to see that a company takes themselves seriously. That they understand the importance of their brand and image enough to make an investment in a major piece of marketing – such as a website. That they care enough about their customer relationships to build a website that evokes confidence, is kept updated, and gives their customers a pleasant experience. A website is often a first impression – and first impressions matter. A lot.

Visit your own site, try to look at it from the perspective of your audience. Try to be objective. If you need to, ask some friends or colleagues to look at the site with you. Forget how much you paid, how long ago you launched it, how terrible your experience with your developer was. Just pretend that you are visiting it for the first time with the eyes of your intended audience. Are they young, are they retired, are they artists, are they business people, are they soccer moms? – You know who your ideal customer is – pretend that you are them.

What do you see?

OVERALL DESIGN ( how your site looks, colors, design, readability, the overall visual impression):

  • What is your immediate impression?
  • Does it look professional?
  • Does it look like the company / person who owns it cares about how they present themselves?
  • Does it “match” your other corporate marketing materials?  – **** a website is not a single entity – it should be a part of a whole marketing plan ( more on this in the next post) ****
  • Does it accurately reflect you and / or your business?
  • Does it give the right impression about your professionalism and your image?
  • Is it garish, or pleasant?
  • Is it bland or exciting?
  • Does it look dated or current?
  • Does what you see, match what  you want your customers to see when they visit?

THE CONTENT ( the text and information that make up the pages of your website):

  • Is it organized or haphazardly thrown together?
  • Is the content easy to read and friendly? Is it wordy and stiff?
  • Is it easy on the eyes?
  • Can you easily get the “jist” without reading every word?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Are there typos?
  • Is it kept current?
  • Is it accurate?

THE NAVIGATION ( the buttons that let you move around within your website):

  • Can you find everything easily or is it a challenge to figure out how to move around the site?
  • Do the Button Labels (links) make sense or are they cryptic?
  • Do you have to use your “back” button to get back to where you came from?
  • Can you get from the homepage to every other page on your website easily?

CONTACT INFORMATION (the information your customers need in order to contact you.):

  • Is your contact information up front, and easy to find?
  • Is it hidden within a ‘contact us’ page?
  • is it outdated or inaccurate?
  • do you have any way to track who found you via your website?

CURRENT TECHNOLOGIES ( Social Media, Standards Compliant Code, and other functionality that can improve your customers experience) :

  • Are you using IM, Twitter, Facebook – are links to your accounts found easily on your website
  • Do you know how your website looks in other web browsers?
  • Do you know what the most popular web browsers are for your target demographic?
  • Do you know how your website looks say, on a Mac? on an iPad on a Blackberry?
  • Do you have any kind of statistics on how many site visitors you get and where they come from?
  • Can you update your site yourself or does it stay outdated because you can’t find the time or you can’t get a response from your original developer?

Yes I know. Its a lot to think about. And this is only the start.

But the basics outlined above could get anyone started on the path to decision making. And a professional consultant such as myself can help make answering these questions and finding solutions to solve the problems that you find, a lot easier.

Any one of the bullet points above aren’t going to make or break the success of your website – but a couple of them together and you could be looking at a website that is better off – offline – then up there giving a terrible impression to your customers.

So if you have a website, and its just sitting there,  or worse giving a bad impression – change it.

Make it work for you.

Don’t lose opportunities or turn away potential customers.

Invest in your website, and you will in effect, invest in your business.


10 Minutes of “solitude” on a Sunday Morning

I moved back to Southern New Hampshire about twelve years ago. I actually grew up here, which in my area is a rarity. I came back here after spending many years in Boston pursuing my education and career. One thing that I have as a native New Hampshire-ite, that others may not, is an understanding of what this area looked like many years ago. Which gives me an appreciation for where we have come from, even if its a little bit tainted by my feelings about where we are going.

Part of knowing what New Hampshire was like when I was a child spurred me into making sure that my outdoor environment is a little bit of an echo of my memories of growing up here.

I’ve planted native wildflowers, left the white pines of all sizes throughout my property, have segmented a small area as a wild meadow, and in general we garden with the environment instead of fighting it. Here where the soil is mostly rocks, this is the key. They don’t call it the granite state for nothing. This means, very little actual lawn, learning to love rocks and ledge, and making peace with slugs and japanese beetles by planting things they don’t like quite as much as roses and raspberries. After years of finding out what works and what doesn’t we have coerced our sloped partially wooded yard into a flowering, fluttering oasis.

With the day to day of work, schedules and dogs and children I don’t always get the time to relish the environment that we have built. But Sunday morning the sun came up bright and happy, there was a lovely breeze that taunted me with its freshness, and I sat and I watched uninterrupted, for a whole ten minutes.

The birds and other animals that share our environment were pretty happy that morning, and I made a list of all that I saw or heard in that short ten minutes of personal meditation.

10 Wild Turkeys ( 1 hen and 9 chicks)
gold finches
house finches
chipping sparrows
2 house wrens
4 ruby throated hummingbirds
red winged blackbirds
grackles
robins
blue jays
1 flicker
1 hairy woodpecker
1 red bellied woodpecker
2 catbirds
Rose Breasted Grosbeaks
Chickadees
Tufted Titmouse
Cardinals
Chimney Swifts
Chipmunks
Grey Squirrels
Red Squirrels
Several butterflies of all shapes and sizes
And the call of a very happy sounding Carolina wren.

I’d say I had a quite a bit of company for my ten minutes of “solitude”, and enjoyed every moment of it.

The 3 dollar smile. (or The Teeny Pink Pig)

Here in New Hampshire, today is a gloomy day. Rain, drizzle, gray skies – I actually usually enjoy this kind of soft rain. And honestly its welcome after the heat wave that we have been having. But today instead of helping to put me into a creative zone, the rainy day kept me from getting properly motivated.

A little dazed I headed to a press check which went really well. The job looks fabulous, thanks to the guys at Proofing House Press, and that helped to perk me up a little. So rather than go straight back to the studio,  I popped into a favorite market that I don’t get to often enough.

After grabbing a few things that I can’t get elsewhere, and purposefully ignoring their fabulous olive bar, I wended my way to the checkout where low and behold – an adorable and completely silly little trinket sat.

Well, he didnt exactly “sit”. he hung, from his little teeny silver chain at the register, just taunting me with its ridiculous cuteness.

What was it you might ask, that trinket that would put a shine on my otherwise gloomy day?? Put a smile on my otherwise dour morning face?

The teeny tiniest LED flashlight shaped like a little pink pig . And [ this is the best]  — when you press the little button on his head his nostrils light up and he makes little snorting noises. Yes – he snorts! That rocks my world.

Teeny Pink Pig flashlight

The snorting clinched the deal.

Odd, yes I know. And I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it doesnt take much to amuse me, but seriously its not possible to resist a $2.99, 2 inch snorting pink flashlight. Is it?

The simple beauty of a woodlot.

Maybe its because I grew up here in New Hampshire, but I love walking in the woods. Since I can remember the forests have been around me and I have been around them.

The landscape of the Granite State is in my blood, I breathe it in and keep it in my heart. I love the mixed hardwoods and conifers that fill our forests. I love the damp smell of the earth and decaying leaf litter. I love the way a well worn path gives slightly to cushion my every step.  I love the earthy red-brown softness of a pine needle carpet and the way that new cobbles rise on the path every Spring with the freeze and thaw of the earth.

On a cloudy day the woods are soft and dark and quiet and meditative. On a sunny day the dappled sunshine streams in through the tree limbs turning it into a cathedral. Bird songs pepper the air, woodpecker knocks echo cavernously.

For me this piney environment is a calming place to be. The morning rush of backpacks and lunch money, my looming deadlines and upcoming expenses fade away into the mossy green darkness.

For forty minutes I belong to no one but the woods. It envelops me in its comforting familiarness of sight, sound, and smell, and long for it again as soon as I leave.

Sharing and Marketing are kissing cousins.

So lately i’ve been wondering about how things seem to happen for some people, and for others, well… maybe not so much.

I was struck lately by a blog post by David Airey called Self-employment advice for designers. In it he gives some excellent advice for those starting out, and actually much of it applies to everyone,  I highly recommend it.

But what struck me particularly about this post, is the intro in which he states that he has been self-employed for 5 years. I think he has been in the design industry at least as long as I have, but has only been self employed – working under his own name – for five years. He’s done an awful lot in that 5 years and it shows. At his 5 year anniversary, working on a totally different continent, I know his name. I know his work. I know his book. I read his blogs. I follow him on Twitter. And chances are, that you do too.

Now why is this? Well certainly, first and foremost he is quite talented and skilled at what he does. But what does he do that many of us don’t? He provides others in the industry with interesting and valuable content. He offers excellent advice, shares articles, and writes great content that is downright entertaining and interesting to read.  In short, he is an excellent marketer who is extremely generous with his knowledge and his expertise. and because of that, he has positioned himself as a trusted expert in the field and people pay attention.

Design is and has always been a highly competitive industry. But keeping everything you know inside for fear of someone stealing ideas or running off to steal your clients is not a healthy state of mind. Nor is it the way to get noticed and grow your business.

If you have talent, ideas, great customer service and can be innovative and inspriring to others, tell people about it. Share what you are good at, shout it out loud and market your expertise.

Sharing your knowledge and providing advice to others does more than just make you feel good about yourself. It helps to establish your value as an expert. Do people flock to follow newbies on twitter to learn about new articles or technologies?? Not usually. Usually people flock to those who are strong at what they do, and who are experienced and have the confidence to provide real honest advice to others without feeling territorial of their knowledge.

Getting out there and introducing yourself to people isnt enough to build your reputation as an expert in this highly competitive industry. You ( and I include myself here) need to use the skills that you posses as great communicators to write, to pose questions, to provide advice, to create a stirring and get people interested.

Its a difficult time out there. meeting people definately helps, and we all should be doing it. But at the end of day you can’t force people pick up the phone and call you. You need to position yourself as that expert that people need to call, because they know that you are the person who can help them creatively solve their problem.

Monday Rambling

Well its another Monday, this one seems all buffed up and ready to shine. The sky is blue and the sun is almost blinding after starting the morning with some light fog that gave the early hours a little bit of dreamy mystery.

It feels like a summer day, slow to start, and still like a cat, tense with energy and waiting to pounce. My morning walk had that same kind of energy. Within the wood, there was not much going on overhead, the birds were fairly quiet, and so I walked in the cool damp, knowing that later I would wish for that coolness again.

The soft pine needles and mud muted my footsteps. Dappled sunlight tricked my eyes and and lulled me into a bit of a trance. Step, step, step, step, stream ahead, jump, jump, jump to each stone to cross without getting wet. Then step, step, step almost to the edge, I see the open sky through the trees and BAM! Into the sunlight that lit up the world. the brightness woke me out of my trance and the sounds of dozens of birds singing and calling treated my ears to a festival.

The meadow was filled not just with birds, but with puffballs that were, in their former lives, dandilion flowers. Each poof composed of tiny seeds waiting for enough of a breeze to take them on their journey. But this morning, they were too damp to take to the air, each soft round fluff ball patiently waited for the morning sun to dry them out, with a glow was other-worldly. Each tiny hair on each tiny seed was covered with dew making each one look like a soft, feathery, luminous snowball.

Tree Swallow, BroadView Farm, Derry, NH

Inquisitive Tree Swallow

The tree swallows even seemed to shine more brightly than usual, or maybe it was just because they honored me with some eye-level aerodynamics.  Their metallic iridescence never fails to inspire and amaze me.

Now to carry that feeling with me all day and hope that it powers my creative pursuits.

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