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Nat Touchberry

The Incredible Hulk

Using curated content to gauge our audience (a test in progress)

By | Data and Analytics | 2 Comments

Mack Web is sort of like Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk) – we test stuff on ourselves.

Unlike his, our tests don’t turn Mack Web team members into giant, green superheros filled with rage (though once in while we DO turn into team members that feel ill from eating too many gummy bears).

The Incredible Hulk

Rather than experimental biochemistry, we’re running tests on things that live within the world of online marketing.

One recent (and in process) test we’re running on Mack Web is around a curated blog post and e-news we share once a month. You might be familiar with it? We call it Nuggets of Knowledge (also known as the NOKlist).

nuggets-of-knowledge

The NOKlist is 5 months and running, which is a great time for us to do a first pass assessment of the data we’ve collected and see what it can teach us about our audience. So, befitting to the Mack Web spirit, we wanted to share those findings with you.


The Background

First, some background on the NOKlist itself. Each month, every team member selects an article (or resource) to share with our community and explains, in their very own words, why they found the article valuable. We share these findings on the blog:

NOKList blog post

Then we create an e-news around this content and send it to our Newsletter list:

NOKlist Email

To be very clear, we didn’t dream up the NOKlist as a testing ground. Our intent with this post and e-news remains the same as our other content: to share value with our community. It just so happens that it allows us to share the articles we admire, giving props to all the awesome (and smart) folks out there doing awesome (and smart) things. It also gives you guys a little peek into our team, getting to know us a little better.

But it can’t be denied that there is another, hidden benefit to the NOKlist (no, it’s not a subliminal message worked into the text to help us achieve world domination. That project is for another day). It lends us some insight into our community’s preferences and interests. (Or at least we hope it will).


The Tests

How are we going to accomplish this you ask? By creating tests – based largely off clickthrough rates – that revolve around the following questions:

Do people have a favorite/most trusted team member?
So we’re pretty sure Arthur, were he able to type, would be your favorite Mack Webber.

Arthur

Yup that’s Arthur, our lovely llama co-worker. He’s such a model employee that we even named a guide after him.

Until Arthur figures out how to type on a keyboard with his hooves, we’re looking at ways to determine if our community favors one Mack Webber over another (more on this later).

There’s an intra-office bet going and quite a lot of gummy bears hinge on the result.

Do people have a favorite/most trusted source?
The team shares articles from various authors and websites that we love and learn from. We’re wondering if our community gravitates towards a particular author or website we share more than others, and if so, why?

Do people respond to different titles?
How does our community respond when we phrase an email subject line a certain way? Or how about the article titles? The curated articles we choose often use very creative and interesting titles, which is a great way for us to measure how those title types perform with our audience. We’re wondering about titles that:

  • use statistics
  • are instructional
  • are cautionary or negative
  • are questions, statements, or comparisons
  • are creative or funny

Do people respond to different subjects/topics?
Within the NOKlist we share design posts, content posts, analytics posts, social posts, and more. We find these topics interesting (and relevant to our world), and now we have a way of gauging if our audience also finds them interesting (and relevant to their world). We’re already formulating other ways to test in this area, for example, what happens when everyone shares an article within the same subject?

Do people respond to different formats?
How does a video, slide deck, or infographic stack up against a blog post? If our audience ends up preferring a handful of formats over others, this will help us to plan our own future content with those formats in mind.

Answering all these questions can help us understand our audience and shape and tailor our content. That’s why we like the NOKlist so very much – curated content allows us to test our questions simultaneously (and without having to draft all that content ourselves). We think it’s a pretty nifty way to get the most out of curated content and highly recommend it to anyone else who wants to give it a try.


The Results

Still, even with curated content, this is a lengthy process. We’re five months into the NOKlist, and still have loads of testing to do, but thus far, we’re off to a pretty decent start.

With 5 months of data under our belt, and a lot of testing protocol to work out, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

Our email marketing audience shows no favoritism towards specific team members.
With our email audience, the person recommending the article doesn’t seem to make a difference in how well the article performs (measured by the number of click-throughs each article receives) Huzzah! You really like ALL of us, not just our fearless leader.

NOKlist email results

Determining what sort of content our audience prefers is going to take longer than 5 months.

We do know that these 5 posts got the best response:

  1. Publish Your Blog Post Without SEO, and 1000s of Visits Will Be Forever Lost, by Rand Fishkin
  2. 70% of Time Could Be Used Better – How the Best CEOs Get the Most Out of Every Day, by Bill Trenchard
  3. Social Engagements Metrics that Matter – measuring, tracking and reporting FTW, by Jennifer Sable Lopez
  4. The Ultimate Guide to Successful Email Marketing, by Vero
  5. The Holy Grail of Building Communities: Developing a Strong Sense of Community, by Richard Millington

And these the lowest:

  1. Putting On the Ritz, Six Words at a Time, by Stuart Elliott
  2. Why Content Marketers Are Using All the Wrong Metrics (And What They Should Be Measuring Instead), by Contently
  3. Walk Cycle Demonstration (Stop Motion Animation), by Adam Pierce
  4. 82% of women think social media drives the definition of beauty, by Samantha Murphy Kelly

We can draw a few tentative bonus conclusions just from these:

Our audience doesn’t seem overly influenced by the inclusion of statistics in the title.
They appear in both the most and least favored posts.

Our audience might just have taste as eclectic as ours.
So far, people don’t seem to clickthrough on any one topic with consistency. The top posts come from all the topics. So do the second place topics and the last place topics (mostly). Sometimes funny posts do well and sometimes they suffer. There’s no clear-cut winner, just yet.

Our audience doesn’t automatically favor videos over other things.
We haven’t shared a lot of videos in the NOKlist yet, but one is in the lowest ranks and one lost in the middle. Whether that’s a format thing, a placement thing, or a subject thing remains to be seen.

As more time goes by, we’ll continue to gauge audience response, seeing what develops, and what patterns (if any) become apparent. One pattern we’ve noticed is that being at the top of the list does seem to matter…which leads me to our next topic:


The Roadblocks

These are the things that make it difficult for us to come to absolutes about the data we collect. Here’s the running list:

Position on the list may influence article performance.
Right now, the order of the NOKlist goes in alphabetical order (from Ayelet – Rebecca). In the first few months of the NOKlist, Ayelet’s articles received the most clicks. Then Ann joined the team, and the content she shared received the highest number of click-throughs. Rebecca’s articles (which are last on the list), consistently receive lower number of click-throughs. (Which we find sad because Rebecca’s pretty great).

This causes us to wonder if it’s about order. Does the first article receive more clicks simply because it’s first? Does the last article receive fewer clicks simply because it’s last? For future NOKlists we’re gonna try mixing up the order to double check.

Testing is secondary to providing value.
Sharing great content with our community and giving our readers a chance to know the team are the primary goals of the NOKlist, which means we won’t enforce testing parameters at the expense of those goals.

We don’t know if the audience has already read things that we share.
This could potentially hinder content performance within the NOKlist, thus leading us to the wrong conclusions about our community’s content preferences.

Other factors – such as send time and send date – can influence response.
We try to keep these as steady as possible with the NOKlist, but they remain factors that we must take into consideration. Depending on the date or time we send the NOKlist out over email and social, what sort of return are we getting back and how is that affecting article performance?

People are people.
There’s no accounting for what people are going to do on any given day, which means that sometimes our data is going to just be random, static on the line. We need to keep this in mind when we look at the data we collect from the NOKlist, and understand that some of the tests we put in place are going to fail and/or and need fine-tuning.

Only time will tell. In the meantime, we welcome suggestions. What else can we use to gauge our audience’s interest? Any thoughts on circumventing the roadblocks?

And, hey! enjoy next week’s NOKlist here on the blog or sign up for our e-news to get it delivered directly to you. (Try to not to be self-consciously aware of how closely we’re observing your every move).

How To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

By | Creativity | 4 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Here at Mack Web, we’re all about creating processes to make our lives easier. In fact, our love of process-making is so great, we even have one in place for designing the slide decks Mack uses at her speaking gigs.

That’s right, a fully developed process that only sees the light of day a handful of times a year. We just…really love processes.

A benefit of this process is that I can easily fit a slide deck into my existing to-do list. I give myself a week to create the slide deck design and within that week I spend four hours (at most) designing Mack’s deck. This frees up the rest of my time for all the other work I have on my plate (like eating cupcakes, making tea, chatting with the team about the history of nunchucks. Y’know, important stuff).

Because here’s the great thing about slide decks: they’re not just for speaking gigs. Slide decks are a wonderful and highly visible way to share your knowledge, creating a pretty great and very, very shareable asset for your business.

The final reason I wanted to share our process is because it’s quite simple. In fact, it’s only 5 steps.

That’s right. You’re only one delightful 5-step process away from creating your own brilliant slide decks. Highly valuable and beautiful resources don’t necessarily have to be difficult to create.

You’re welcome.


Step 1) Stuff Your Brain with Inspiring Stuff (a.k.a. do some research).

This first step is crucial because I need to find design inspiration that makes me want to make a beautiful slide deck. This step doesn’t take long (about 30 minutes) and it’s worth it in the long run. Sometimes, rather than a deliberate hunt and gather, I check out things I’ve stockpiled as I come across them in the course of my everyday life.

Either way, finding creative and inspiring things beforehand speeds up my creative process and makes my slides look better (trust me, when I don’t do research and jump straight into design I always ended up scrapping my initial work and starting over).

There are many resources (online and offline) where you can find inspiration. When it comes to my personal preferences I use Pinterest. Here’s why:

1. I can find an array of design ideas quickly.

2. I can find high quality stuff. I usually start with a search term like ‘typography’, ‘packaging design’ or ‘label design’ and find ample material from there.

3. Pinning everything to the same board helps my workflow and keeps me focused because I don’t have to open multiple windows or search for my reference materials after I’ve saved them.

These were images I pinned to my board when I was creating Mack’s slide deck for Search Love San Diego.

Pinterest Board for SearchLove San Diego

Once I had a decent collection put together, I distilled my board to a handful of pins I wanted to use.

Here’s what that selection looked like:

My distilled pins

Just to give you some idea of the criteria I used when narrowing it down, this is what stood out to me with these pins:

  • I liked the various font pairings that were happening, and used these graphics to guide my font choices for Mack’s deck.
  • The textured backgrounds (I’ve found that backgrounds are a great way to add visual interest to slides while keeping things clean and easy to read).
  • The solid geometric shapes behind specific words were ideal design elements for a slide deck (they add visual interest, and emphasize the selected text without making things too crowded).

Once you’re satisfied that the creativity is brewing in the back of your brain, it’s time to get practical.


Step 2) You Gotta Make a List

After you distill your reference materials to a handful of graphics, there’s one more thing you have to do before jumping into design. You have to make a list of the types of slide templates you’re gonna need.

This step is important because it prevents you from:

1. Creating the same slide design again and again.

2. Spending time creating unnecessary slides that your presenter doesn’t need.

3. Designing a whole bunch of kinda-okay slides rather than a handful of really awesome slide templates.

4. Making the design the #1 priority of the slide deck. While it’s nice to have a beautiful slide deck, remember that design should play a supporting role to the actual content. Creating a list of templates your speaker needs will ensure that your design fits around their content (not vice versa).

If you’re the designer AND presenter, you likely have a good idea of the content you’re speaking about, so just set aside 5 minutes to jot down the types of templates you’re gonna need. Here at Mack Web, I do the design and Mack does the speaking, so this step requires a 10-minute meeting between the two of us to list out the types of templates Mack’s gonna need. (15 minutes if we drift over into reminiscing on adorable kitty photos from previous slide decks).

We’ve created an ample number of slide decks over the years, so our list doesn’t change that much anymore. Nowadays, our meeting is more of a brief chat about the existing list of slide templates. In case you were curious, here’s our working list of the templates we’ve found to be the “building blocks” of a good slide deck, allowing for both versatility and consistency within your deck:

A cover slide that includes the title of the talk and the name of the presenter.

cover slide


A slide with room for text and an image.

Slide with text and an image


A slide for screenshots (remember to leave room for text and stats on this slide).

slide for screenshots


A slide with text that sits over a background image or pattern.

text and background image


A slide for quotes or short statements.

slide with a quote


A slide that you can use as a section divider.

section divider slide


A slide for a bulleted list.

a slide with a bulleted list


A slide that allows for an ample amount of text.

text heavy slide layout


A closing slide with your information (we like to include a link bundle, URLs for our blog and community building guide, and our Twitter handle).

closing slide


Depending on your speaker’s content and needs, this list may look slightly different for you. Once you have your list of templates created, it’s time to move on to the fun part of the process: actually designing your templates.


Step 3) Start Designing: Tips and Best Practices

Before you design each template, be sure you’re familiar with the following best practices in order to ensure your designs are beautiful and functional.

(Many of the best practices mentioned below are things I learned from Ian Lurie’s slide deck: 30 tips for awesome presentations. Ian covers a lot of tips in his deck that I’m not covering in this post, so you really should read it).

I’ve grouped the pointers I frequently use into 4 guidelines. When I’m designing and feel that I’m stuck or that my design is cluttered, I step back and check if my slides are hitting these 4 highlights.

Guideline 1) Make Sure Your Content is Easy to Read

This means:

  • Your text should be large enough for your audience to easily read. If you’ve gotta squint to read what you’ve placed on a slide, that’s usually a sign that you need to make your text larger, even if that means paring it down or separating it into two or more slides.

Don’t do this.

small text that's hard to read

Instead, do this.

Text that's large enough to read


  • You’re using script and decorative fonts sparingly and making sure they are legible.

Don’t stylize all your words in a script typeface.

slide that's hard to read

Instead, select one or two words and stylize them with a script (or decorative) typeface.

slide that uses a script font correctly


  • Your color palette should make your slides easier to read, not harder.

Don’t use background colors (or textures) that make it hard to see your text. In this case, the blue background makes it harder to read certain parts of the slide.

color palette that makes things hard to read

Instead, use background colors (and textures) that make content super easy to see.

slide with dotted lines


Guideline 2) Make Your Content Part of the Design

The content you place onto each slide shouldn’t be an afterthought. Rather you should treat it as another design element in your deck.

  • Choose fonts that allow for numerous styles, the better to add voice to your text (for example, does your font include various weights like hairline, light, bold and black?).

I’ve been on a Lato kick lately because of all the options I have within this one font.

Lato Font Family - an example of a font with an ample number of styles.

  • Use contrasting font sizes, weights, styles, or color to emphasize pieces of your content and draw more attention to it.

This is okay, but note that even though there is an orange bar to highlight “keep in mind” all the text is the same size and color, which tends to make the slide look boring.

okay exapmle of text styling

This is better. Now there’s a difference in text size between the two statements, which adds more visual interest. However, there’s still more you can do…

Better example of text styling

This is best. If you do this, you deserve a gummy bear. Maybe two. “Keep in Mind” is not only a different color, it’s also bold. Further visual interest (and emphasis) is added to the bottom statement by using a light, italic style for the word “more”.

Best example of styling text


Guideline 3) Make Sure Your Images Don’t Interfere with Your Content

When you incorporate images, you want to leave room for text and ensure that your slide is still easy to read. Here are some ways you can do that:

Place a shape with a slight transparency behind the text so it stands out from the background.

example of a slide that uses a transparent square to separate text from the background image.

Create a shape and use it as a frame for your text (look up ‘label design’ on Pinterest; you’ll find a lot of creative shapes you can use for a slide like this).

example of a shape used to frame text on a slide.

Place images to the side of your content. This can tend to look a little boring, so an easy way to add more interest to a slide like this is by placing a border around the image.

example of text next to an image

Guideline 4) Keep It Simple

Remember, you’re limited on the space you can design within, so keep each slide simple. There are additional design elements I like to use in order to give Mack’s slide decks a polished look without causing unnecessary clutter:

Use shapes or banners to highlight text.

Example of a banner highlighting text.


Incorporate lines to add visual interest to a slide (and help separate text for readability)

slide with dotted lines


Use textured backgrounds, like this subtle textile, to create interest without causing clutter.

Example of a green linen texture used as a background.

And of course, at the end of day, the most important rule to keep in mind is readability. (In case you hadn’t picked up on that yet). If people can easily read your slide deck your content is going to get, well, actually read.

Once you have your slide templates created, it’s time to move on to the hand-off. 


Step 4) The Hand-off

The way our process works, it’s up to the presenter (or you, if you happen to be the presenter) to use said templates and create the actual presentation. I’m lucky because Mack has a great design eye (and attention to detail), so the hand-off is pretty easy.

If your presenter doesn’t have a design eye, you should sit down with her (or him) and review each slide template so she (or he) knows where things belong and how to edit stuff without losing all the styling you’ve worked so hard on. (Just to be extra safe, I’d recommend handing off a copy of your slide deck file so you have an original which stays intact).

And never fear, step five is quality control, so you’re gonna have an opportunity to get back into the deck and polish everything up so it looks nice and shiny and beautiful.


Step 5) Quality Control

Once the presentation is created you (or the designer part of your brain, if you happen to also be the presenter) should go through and do a quality control check. I’d suggest looking for the following things:

  • Are the correct fonts and text sizes used on all the slides?
  • Can you easily see (and read) the content?
  • Are the design elements and content aligned correctly on all the slides?
  • Are all the colors correct?
  • Are some slides too crowded? If so, adjust them so they have enough white space (sometimes this means splitting one slide into two slides, etc.).
  • Do you need to create a unique slide for certain piece of content (‘cause sometimes your templates just can’t cover everything).
  • Are images high quality and given proper credit in the form of a link back to the image source?

Of course, the amount of work you’re going to have in this step depends on your presenter’s eye for design and details, so make sure you allow yourself a sufficient amount of time for this part (after you go through this step with a few slide decks, you’ll get a good idea of the time you need).


Bonus Step: Celebrate

Success! At this stage, you should have a beautiful slide deck created. Eat gummy bears, have a drink, do a dance, whatever you need to do to celebrate (just make sure you celebrate).

We’d love to hear other approaches you and your team have when it comes to making slide decks. Let us know in the comments section below.

Be Inspired: 3 Awesome Resources to Kickstart Your Creativity

By | Creativity | 6 Comments

There’s an endless list of websites, apps, and blogs that you can find to aid your creative process. With the number of resources out there, the problem isn’t finding sources for inspiration, it’s figuring out which ones you’re going to use.

I’ve found that there are three specific resources I reference for all of my creative projects here at Mack Web . More importantly, I figured out why these are the resources I favor.

Each one addresses one of the specific challenges I face in my role here as a graphic designer:

1) I need to learn new skills from professionals in my industry.

2) I don’t have time to scour the internet for creative and inspiring things. I want an easy way of finding a bunch of creative sources in one place.

3) When I start creating I want my reference materials on one page, so I spend more time creating and less time looking for them.

Now, the resources I’m sharing have been  around for a while so you’ve probably heard of them already. I simply want you to know how I use them and the challenge each resource solves for me, with the hope that you will find them just as useful to your creative process. Let’s get started!


Challenge # 1

I need to learn new skills from professionals in my industry.

The Solution: Skillshare

The Details:
Skillshare provides classes for a multitude of subjects (advertising, business, design, etc.,). Wanna know the best part? Classes are taught by professionals in the industry, allowing you to access their processes, technical tips & tricks, and golden nuggets of wisdom in one class.

Yes, you do have to pay, but it’s on a per class basis (I’ve found that it’s never more then $25 per class), and it’s worth it. The skills I’ve gained from each class have  more than justified the cost. For example, I’ve always admired the work of letterer and illustrator Jessica Hische (she’s done work for Wes Anderson, Tiffany & Co., and Penguin Books). Lo and behold she’s on Skillshare. As a designer, I’m going to jump at the chance to take a class taught by a leading letterer and illustrator in the industry, no question about it.

How I Use it:
As a designer, the classes on Skillshare keep my design skills current, and introduce me to new techniques I can use in Photoshop and Illustrator.

For example, earlier this year I took a character illustration class taught by illustrator Matt Kaufenberg (Character Illustration: From Concept to Final Artwork). Upon completing the class, I promptly put my newly acquired skills into practice and set out to illustrate a few awesome characters for a client:

thief

nerdy-guy

I also improved my digital illustration skills thanks to Sara Blake’s class, Creating Full Color Digital Illustrations From Your Hand-Made Drawings. I ended up using the techniques in this class for a school art project and had so much fun, I’m planning on making more:

cat

How You Could Use it:
Use it to get your feet wet! Learn something new or glean tips from a professional in your industry (or in an industry you’re unfamiliar with). While I use Skillshare to sharpen my design skills, you certainly don’t have to be a designer to use it. If you are in any way creative, or just want to learn something new, I’d recommend giving it a try.

Some of their other classes include:

If you really want to get an idea of the breadth of classes they offer, I’d suggest looking at their list of classes.


Challenge # 2

I don’t have time to scour the internet for creative and inspiring things. I want an easy way of finding a bunch of creative sources in one place.

The Solution: Flipboard

The Details:
Flipboard is an application that you can use to read and collect the topics that most interest you. You can create collections for music, photography, design, health, history, DIY, and more. The application is flexible enough to allow you to save everything from articles and photos to audio and video. Even better, Flipboard is free. You just have to download it  to your device ( it should work for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, and NOOK).

How I Use it:
I search Flipboard to find design inspiration. The beauty of the application is that you can easily bookmark all your creative findings into magazines that you can access later. Flipboard is where I go when I need to brainstorm or think of design approaches that fall outside of my normal design style.

At the moment, the work of Caras Ionut, which I discovered on Flipboard, is turning out to be a consistent source of inspiration. I find myself going back to his work quite often because it’s amazing and inspires me to keep working on my own artistic endeavors.

Caras Ionut Art

How You Could Use it:
Find innovative ideas to jumpstart your own “big idea”, keep-up-to date on news in your industry, or use it like I do: find areas where you need constant inspiration and create collections to refer to for new ideas and techniques.


Challenge # 3

When I start creating I want my reference materials on one page, so I spend more time creating and less time looking for them.

The Solution: Pinterest

The Details:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with Pinterest at this point. If you’re not, Pinterest is a photo-sharing website that acts much like an idea board, allowing you to pin images and sort them into particular boards.

How I Use it:
I like to collect images on Pinterest, and use them as reference materials for design projects. Before I found Pinterest, I did things the old school way – spending lots of time searching for images on the internet, and then pasting them into my own idea board (i.e. a Word doc). Pinterest easily cuts my research time in half.

Whenever Mack asks me to put together a slide deck for one of her speaking gigs, I go to Pinterest and create a collection of graphics to reference while I make her slide deck.

For example, for this slide deck:

slide deck

slide deck 2

I was collecting and referencing images like the ones below on Pinterest:

pinterest board

How You Could Use it:
I use Pinterest as a reference for all my creative projects (graphic design, painting, drawing etc.), however, if you’re not a designer, I think the possibilities are still endless. Maybe you want to build your own longboard, find New Year’s Eve party ideas, or do some llama farming (seriously, Pinterest has quite a collection when it comes to this last one).

Whatever your interest may be, my bet is you’ll be able to find some fantastic reference materials on Pinterest.


What’s in Your Creative Toolbelt?

This list is simply the core tools that I’ve selected for my “creative tool belt”, but creative processes come in many shapes and sizes. Let us know what websites, apps, and online tools you use to jumpstart your creative process in the comments section below.

4 Flat Design Takeaways (and Why You Should Use Them)

By | Miscellany | No Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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The Apple IOS7

This fall when Apple released their IOS7, things were noticeably, well, flatter. I do mean this in a good way. If you’re keeping up with stylistic developments, you would recognize that the IOS7 is an example of flat design, a movement quickly becoming one of the hottest trends in web design this year. 

Flat design advocates for user interface considerations before design itself. In other words, creating a clean user interface that’s easy to use and understand. As a result, flat design tends to favor minimalism.

Which leaves you with the question: to jump on the flat design bandwagon or not? The choice seems simple. You could make the leap with enthusiasm or refuse to take any part in the trend since, well, it’s a trend, and that means it’s likely going to pass.

I’d like to offer up an alternative: utilize the principles of flat design that are not going to go out of style and which will improve the user experience on your website.

Because we’re nice, we’ve taken the liberty of pulling out the principles we recommend adopting. Here are 4 takeaways from flat design that are worth putting in place:


1. Simplify

The folks over at werkpress used flat design to create a simple user interface with clear calls to action.

Werkpress uses flat design to create a simple user interface with clear calls to action.

 

We are saturated with the amount of information we encounter on a daily basis over the web: emails, whitepapers, articles, podcasts, blogs, videos, tweets, photos (and the list goes on and on, doesn’t it?).

With the plethora of information getting thrown our way, a clean, beautiful, and easy-to-navigate website is like a breath of fresh air. Flat design ensures your website is free of extraneous (and distracting details), such as gradients, drop shadows, 3-D effects, and complex background images. No one wants their website to overwhelm or stress out users, so keep it simple.

LayerVault does a great job of keeping things simple on their website.

LayerVault does a great job of keeping things simple on their website.

 

Another plus? Simple designs are easier to view on smaller screen sizes. Using the “less is more” concept of flat design could be a step to make your site less cluttered, and easier for users to view on small screens (such as those found on the smartphones that increasingly run our lives) until you have the budget for a total re-design that uses a responsive layout.

‘Cause you don’t want your website looking like this:

The antithesis of flat design

Imagine trying to search for information, let alone navigate through this site if you are on a device with a small screen. So, I’ll say it again: keep it simple.


2. Use Color to Liven up Your Site

The flat design color palette employs bright and bold color.

The flat design color palette employs bright and bold color

 

Users should associate your website (and brand) with positive emotions. Think about it, what user is going to come back to a site that makes them stressed out or grumpy? (We will make an exception for Oscar the Grouch and  Grumpy Smurf. They’d probably like your website better if you employed a negative color palette). This is where the flat design color palette comes in.

Websites that incorporate colors from the flat design palette (pictured above) tend to give off an friendly, energetic, and happy vibe, like this one:

Wisitia and flat design color palette

If you’re selling a product or service, making your website inviting and cheerful can only benefit your brand.

The other benefit? Bright, contrasting colors can help your buttons and calls to action stand out from the rest of your content, making your most important website goals (such as the purchase of a product, or an e-news signup) extra visible on your website.

Take Prevent’s home page for example. The bright orange get started button (which links to a sign up page) pops from the rest of the design, making it one of the first things users will take notice of.

Example of Flat Color palette applied to buttons

IDesignModo has an in-depth article about selecting a flat design color palette for your website that’s worth reading. If you’re thinking of making color changes, we’d recommend reading this blog post first.


3. Use Typography

Another component of flat design that we think is a keeper, is a focus on typography. In his blog post on Flat Design: Trend or Revolution, Caleb Mellas brings up what we feel is one of the important reasons why typography should be a focus on your website:

[quote]Typography is one of those things that when done well really exemplifies the message of the site. Instead of drawing attention to the fonts, you are drawn to the content and
purpose of the article or app. [/quote]

-Caleb Mellas, from the blog post “Flat Design: Trend or Revolution”

You want users to read your web content, right? (There is only one right answer here, by the way). Making it easier for users to notice your web content, seems, well, like something you should really, really take from the flat design trend. If you’d like to investigate this further, we’d recommend Designmodo’s post about the best fonts to use for flat design.


4. Simplify Your Graphics

We touched on this briefly in the first takeaway, noting that design elements such as gradients, drop shadows, 3-D effects, and complex background images were being replaced with flat design elements that rely on bold, contrasting colors. By doing this, you’re also doing more than just following a trend, you’re improving your user experience by allowing for a faster load time. You don’t want users bailing from your site because complex graphics are slowing the site down. Keep your graphics simple, and your gonna  shear off unneeded wait time.

Now, if you don’t think load time is important, we’d recommend looking at the nifty infographic Kissmetrics put together on load time.

If you fear that simplifying graphics will make your site boring, think again. It’s still very possible to create simple graphics that are engaging and that bring personality to your site:

Minimalist graphics and flat design

Minimalist graphics and flat design - second example

 


Don’t Let Us Stop You

These are, of course, merely recommendations. You can use what we’ve highlighted here, embrace the principles of flat design in its entirety, or disregard the trend altogether. It’s up to you to pick and choose what works for you and your audience. As long as you’re making design decisions around user experience and the goals you’d like folks to accomplish on your site you’ll be fine.


Want to know more?

For the ultimate list of flat design principles, read  Smashing Magazine’s blog post: Flat and thin are in. The post has an excellent best practices section section that we’d highly recommend looking at if you’re wondering how to use flat design principles on your site.

During your online travels, if you happen to come across fantastic websites that employ flat design, shoot us a link! We’d love to see which sites caught your eye.

My Journey to Grad School (and My Acceptance of the House of Hufflepuff).

By | Miscellany | 4 Comments

Have you ever taken one of the many Harry Potter quizzes about which house you would get sorted into?

Begrudgingly, I will admit that I’m a Hufflepuff to the core. Give me a project or task to accomplish and I’ll plow through it, no problem, ’cause we are hard-working folks.

Don’t get me wrong, patience and perseverance are excellent traits to have, but when compared with the other houses (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin) Hufflepuff just seems (and sounds) less badass.

Houses in Harry Potter

@courtneymackweb, our Harry Potter aficionado, has done her best to keep my bad attitude towards the Hufflepuff house in check. However, it wasn’t until I set out to apply for grad school that I finally decided, it isn’t so bad being a badger.

Be Unafraid of Toil

I decided to pursue UNC’s Master of Arts program last August. In order to apply, the school needed 20 (gulp!) samples of my work. I wanted to focus on painting, but to be honest (another common quality of the Hufflepuff house), I didn’t have any recent pieces of work, let alone paintings that I felt were “portfolio-worthy”. It had been quite a while since I last picked up my paint brush, and I felt rusty and out of practice.

It boiled down to this: if I wanted to do the program, I had 10 months to create 20 paintings. I calculated that I’d need to create 2 paintings per month, and  save a few weeks to go through the application process itself…talk about a tight schedule.

This meant being creative on days when I felt no creativity at all, opting out of social plans with friends, and skipping climbing days at the gym (which resulted in losing arm strength, and giving up my dream of scaling buildings like Spiderman).

In other words, this meant sacrificing fun stuff, staying focused, and working really hard.

While daunting at first, this crazy, two-paintings-a-month goal got a lot more realistic once I broke it into a weekly schedule. Then I stuck to it until it became a habit (and one that I actually started looking forward to).

And it all got much easier once my efforts paid off and I found a fantastic mentor in Deb Kaylor, a painter here in Colorado. Between my weekly practice and Deb’s weekend watchful eye, my painting life changed dramatically.

Deb was essential in pushing me to work past the crappy stages of a painting. Those moments where your painting looks so very far from the vision in your mind, that you want to quit, and hide the thing in a closet until you have a moment to gesso over it.

It took a few months, but slowly, after consistently painting on weekdays (and seeing Deb on some weekends) I started to see small improvements in my paintings. By golly, my hard-work was paying off.

Five points to Hufflepuff.

Value Patience

How true it is that practice makes perfect. It’s the unseen hours, days, and years of practice that turn one into a master of their craft. If I wanted portfolio-worthy art, I had to keep my nose to the grindstone.

Eventually, my patience paid off. This was a painting I created during my first month of work:

10

And this was one of my recent pieces:

bird

So yeah, patience is a good thing too.

Ten points to Hufflepuff.

Success!

So, after a somewhat busy and frenzied 10 months of painting, I submitted my portfolio, and was accepted into the Master of Arts program for this Fall (Hufflepuff, true enough!).

Here are a few of my favorites of the pieces I submitted (‘cause it would be cruel if you read a post like this without getting to see some of them).

boat

docked-boats

paintings

floating-boat2

Without working hard and staying focused, I wouldn’t have seen this come to fruition, which makes me think that a badger can be badass after all.

Also, this sort of helps:

Honey Bader Takes What it Wants

What’s Next

All that to say, I start classes September 10th. But don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. My role is simply adjusting here at Mack Web (‘cause Mack is awesome). I’ll still be doing a plethora of design stuff for us and for our clients.

I’m just going to four days a week and creating a flexible schedule in order to fit school in. I’m excited about what this fall holds for me personally, and for Mack Web as we continue to grow.

And for all you folks that get categorized as honest, loyal, hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone sort of people, embrace those qualities, and just remember this:

Haters Gonna Hate

Optimize Your Website Design for Better SEO

By | Web Marketing | One Comment

Many people treat SEO and web design as though they are two separate entities, like mind and body. But every good ninja knows that you must harness both to be a fully realized being. In the same way, correct optimization of your site and good design are both important factors.  When they are done well, you can boost traffic to your website, communicate your branding, and provide a satisfactory user experience.

We’ve brought together the wisdom of the best SEO and web design sensei to aid you in your quest to become a design-optimizing ninja.

And, just in case your goal is not self proclaimed ninja-hood (which is hard to believe, ‘cuz who wouldn’t want to be a scrabble-playing…er, I mean kung-fu fighting ninja?), you should read the articles anyway. Maybe you could be an optimization cowboy. Or astronaut.

Without further ado, let the training begin:

1) 10 Excellent SEO Tips That Will Improve Your Web Design
This article covers the basics, i.e. the things you need to make sure you’ve accounted for in order to have your site optimized and at its best. It answers such pressing questions as: Is your site navigation search engine friendly? Can search engine spiders read your content? Are your URLs friendly? and much, much more.


2) Top Five SEO Design Mistakes
Shari Thurow covers five design mistakes that could prevent your site from getting crawled. Learn why splash pages are a pain and the importance of striking a balance between HTML text and graphics. This is a great article for those getting started on a website design or for those who want to see how their existing site stands up.


3) Designing for SEO: 5 Key Elements to Include
If you’re short on time, this is a quick read that covers some of the basics: how you can optimize visual prompts (i.e. calls to action), why you should steer clear of building your site in Flash, the importance of a blog, and why fatty footers are beneficial.


4) Designing for SEO
Want to understand what effective SEO looks like? Justin Taylor explains how you can create a well-designed site with excellent on-page optimization, and have the best of both worlds.

Designing for SEO


5. Blog Design for Killer SEO – Infographic
“This is great,” you say, “but what if my online presence is a blog? How does designing for SEO translate to that arena?”

And to your query, we say, “Never fear! Cyrus Shepard created a stellar infographic (and blog post) covering Blog Design Tips for Killer Optimization.

 

Blog Design for SEO

Assuming you’ve checked out the resources above, you should now be a fully-optimized-design ninja! Go use your newfound stealth and skills to bring peace and justice to the SEO/design world…or sit in a sewer below the streets of New York City and eat pizza with giant talking turtles. We’d say either option is a win.


From Ashes to Art

By | Creativity, Miscellany | No Comments

This summer, we watched as the High Park fire burned 87,284 acres and destroyed 259 homes outside of the Fort Collins area, leaving ashes and blackened trees in its wake. The total cost to fight the fire was $39.2 million, and many of our fire departments were financially devastated from fighting the blaze.

After the fire, I was inspired to see how our community reached out to those affected by the fires. Volunteers planted trees in scorched areas to help the restoration process, homeowners and renters propped up thank you signs for the firefighters in their front yards, and businesses placed donation boxes on their counters. Observing all these acts of kindness, I, as an artist, wondered how I could use my creative skills to help.

That’s When Something Awesome Happened

Lori Joseph and Tim O’Hara invited me to participate in the Ashes to Art Project, an online art auction to raise money for the Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Protection District.

Lori and Tim contacted artists across the nation, asking us to donate our time and skills to create art pieces for the auction.

The only rule: you must incorporate charcoal from the fire into your artwork.

The response for The Ashes to Art Project was nationwide, with 70 artists submitting their work for the auction. 9news’ interview with Laurie helped to kick off the event.

CTV News also interviewed Tim and Lori about the fundraiser, and showcased some of the art that folks can bid on.

Get Cool Art, Support a Good Cause

I’m proud to be part of this amazing effort. The auction ends October 21st (which means there’s still time left to place a bid), and includes a wide variety of mediums such as paintings, drawings, pottery, and even a necklace which incorporates the charcoal from the fire. Check out some of the pieces below, and go to the web site to see the entire collection.

Earth Energy, by Penny Benjamin Peterson

Earth Energy, by Penny Benjamin Peterson

Newman’s Pride, By Rich Mills

Newman’s Pride, By Rich Mills

Smoke on the Mountain, by Eric Newman

Smoke on the Mountain, by Eric Newman

Aspen Grove, by Natalie Touchberry

Aspen Grove, by Natalie Touchberry

Additional Ways to Support Our Firefighters

Tim & Lori will photograph the art and compile it into a book for the public to purchase. All proceeds from these sales will go towards the Poudre Canyon volunteer Fire Fighters. Check the Ashes to Art Facebook page for updates about the book and where it can be purchased.

For those who want to donate cash, there’s a page on the auction website to do so. Every dollar you donate will go towards the Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Fighters.

You can also go to the Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District’s donations page for other opportunities to provide support or donate.

 

 

Be Inspired! Creative Facebook Covers

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Fall is full of creative happenings of every shape, size, and flavor.

There’s fall Fashion week in Paris, New York, London & Milan.

Vogue Magazine (to the mail woes of many) produces its September Issue, ushering in the new fashions for the year and trying to outdo the previous September issue (in page quantity, and indirectly, in weight).

In a more accessible forum, this time of year also ushers in autumnal pies. Beautiful, (fashionable?), and tasty autumnal pies

See? September = creative inspiration.

So, jump on the bandwagon.

Why not use the creativity of this season to get inspired and re-vamp your social media platforms? An easy place to start is with your company’s Facebook cover art. This is free real estate you should take advantage of. Highlight your personality, products, events, contests or company culture in this space. The key here, is to be creative while maintaining your company’s current branding.

So, in the spirit of fashion forward September, tasty pies and what have you, I’d like to share some of my favorite Facebook covers in the hopes that you too, will find some inspiration this fall season.

Here’s a handful of creative covers to get you started:

Paul Mitchell

https://www.facebook.com/PaulMitchellHairCare?ref=ts

Their cover art is a good lesson on how to blend images and illustrative text (without overdoing it). I also like the styled call to action (complete with arrow) pointing to the link below.

Arizona Ice Tea:

https://www.facebook.com/AriZonaIcedTea

This image grabs visitors eyes immediately with its bright color. Rather than slapping up a random photo of sorts, Arizona uses this space to garner interest in their promotions and contests.

Ben & Jerry’s

http://www.facebook.com/benjerry

Ben & Jerry’s does an excellent job of creating a cover that matches the company’s branding. Who doesn’t recognize the Ben & Jerry’s cows that grace the covers of their delicious delectables?

Izze

http://www.facebook.com/IZZE

Izze maintains consistent branding on their Facebook page by using a product photo. They highlight their flavors and the refreshing nature of their product, using a brightly colored image with a crisp, high quality resolution (they even picked up the dew drops on the bottles to emphasize just  how refreshing these drinks are). Well done. Also, I’m kind of thirsty now…


Celestial Seasonings

http://www.facebook.com/CelestialSeasonings

Lovely illustration, lovely quote, and a lovely way of highlighting their favorite teas for the fall season.

The Welsh Rabbit

http://www.facebook.com/TheWelshRabbit

These guys are just down the street from us. The way they use their cover space to explain who they are and what they do is creative and clever. The chalkboard you see in the image is a shot pulled directly from their storefront. A great way of tying their page directly back to their store space.

Sarah Blake

http://www.facebook.com/HelloZSO

Sarah Blake uses this space to highlight her amazing illustration skills. Visitors to her page immediately see what she does (and how well she does it).

Adobe

http://www.facebook.com/Adobe

Adobe takes advantage of this space to highlight how their tools help well known brands.


Adobe Indesign

http://www.facebook.com/indesign

I included one more Adobe example, just to show you how well they brand each of their products. Their cover art for Indesign has a very different feel and look to it than the previous Adobe platform I listed.

Fonts.com

http://www.facebook.com/fonts

‘Cause who doesn’t enjoy a Facebook cover with a nice BIG typeface on it?

The Lorax

http://www.facebook.com/theloraxmovie

He’s in your face, but in a non-creepy way.

Caribou Coffee

http://www.facebook.com/cariboucoffee

Caribou’s cover art does well to capture the company’s personality and culture.

Zappos

http://www.facebook.com/zapposwomen
http://www.facebook.com/zapposmen?ref=ts

We like the consistency for the men’s and women’s pages. The soft, ethereal style of the cover art is warm and inviting to visitors.


Color Me Rad 5k

http://www.facebook.com/colormerad5k

This one might just be my favorite, because it’s an explosion (literally) of color! Creative, fun and intentional, this image promotes the event by showing visitors just how rad this race is. This image alone makes our team want to go run a 5k (and Courtney HATES running).

Think there’s a creative Facebook cover that needs to get on our list? Let us know, and if it fits the bill, you might see it up here.

 

 

Places We Like: Picasso & Wine

By | Creativity | No Comments

Drink wine, then make fabulous art.

Or is it make fabulous art, then drink wine?

Or is it guzzle…uh, sip… while revealing, via paint on canvas, the creative genius locked away in your soul?

Or, y’know, maybe you just like wine and painting things.

We’ll leave the question for you art experts to answer for yourselves.

We found that the two make great bedfellows (regardless of the order in which you partake or the degree to which your ability hinges on your intake) on our recent outing to Picasso & Wine, located in the lovely town of Windsor, Colorado (for all you non-local readers, that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from here, or y’know, about 20 minutes by car).

June, our social media strategist, discovered Picasso & Wine through a deal on Living SocialOur team promptly took a field trip to check it out – we drank wine, we painted, we loved it.

And because everybody could use a little painting (and imbibery) in their lives…

We’d like to introduce you to (drum roll, please):

Sylvia Chan, Owner of Picasso & Wine.

Sylvia, the owner of Picasso & Wine.

Born in Vietnam and the youngest of five children, Sylvia immigrated to Denver, Colorado in 1980. She studied art in high school and continued along that path, focusing on design in college.

Sylvia, her husband James and their son Sean moved to Windsor a year ago to open Picasso & Wine.

During our visit, we not only had a fantastic time creating art, we also had the pleasure of meeting Sylvia, and experiencing the creative (and fun) atmosphere she’ s designed for her customers.

We were so inspired, in fact, that when our team decided that we wanted to feature more artsy-type things on our blog, Picasso & Wine immediately came mind. We contacted Sylvia, and she was kind enough to share a little about the space she’s created for the Northern Colorado community.

What does your store sell?

Picasso & Wine is first a “social painting” studio, offering classes for participants, who may have never painted before. They can relax with a glass of wine while being guided by our instructors; and, by the end of the evening, they leave with a completed work of art.

In addition, in our gift shop we sell a variety of unique fashion accessories for women – including purses, scarves, handmade jewelry. We also offer beautiful home décor items and organic, gourmet teas.

Where did you get the name for your store?

I was looking for something that would convey the dual nature of our primary business. After a lot of brainstorming, I settled on “Picasso & Wine” because first, it sounded great and second, Picasso was a Spanish painter and sculptor and highly influential artist in 20th century art and to most of us the word “Picasso” is synonymous with painting. When you add “wine” to it, it creates an excitement and curiosity in people’s minds.

Where did you get inspiration for your business?

A couple of years ago, my niece convinced me to attend a similar class with her in Denver. I said to myself, “What a great Idea.” When my husband and I decided to relocate to Windsor, I wanted to start a business and remembered the business concept that brought people together to enjoy a fun evening of painting and wine. After successful careers in real estate and restaurant ownership and management, the concept provided a wonderful opportunity for me to get back into the arts.

Briefly describe how your business works.

After our customers sign up to attend one of our painting events, they come into our beautiful, welcoming surrounding, and we provide them with canvas, brushes, painting, easel and a first beverage. Our artist then takes them through the step-by-step process of recreating the evening’s featured painting, while they enjoy upbeat popular music in the company of friends or others who may be trying painting for the first time. At the end of the event, everyone walks away with their own masterpiece.

Walk us through your typical day at Picasso and Wine.

When you own your business, you are not only the CEO; you are also the janitor, the clerk, the marketing person, the buyer, the bookkeeping. You get what I mean. Everything rests on your shoulders. My typical day includes most of those functions; and, when we have class, I get to spend time with our customers, sometimes teaching, but mostly serving as hostess — having fun seeing them having fun. The added perk of my job is that I get to bring my dog “Sara” to work every day.

How has the store evolved since you’ve been open?

Since we opened our doors on June 3, 2011. We have grown from a two artist team to having five artists; and, I am very pleased that we are able to attract big name artist like Pat Saunders White to teach at our studio. We are not yet a household name, but more and more people know about us and more people come to us now to help them celebrate their special day and or special occasion.

What’s one of the challenges you have as a business?

Like most new businesses, our greatest challenge is effective marketing. I am encouraged by the success we’ve had thus far. We’ve been embraced by our local community and our customers come from all over Northern Colorado, with some coming from Wyoming and Nebraska.

What’s rewarding about your business?

Seeing how much fun people have creating something that they may have thought was impossible for them to do and seeing how proud they are of their paintings at the end of class.

What’s your favorite painting right now?

I like a couple of the new paintings that we have, one titled Autumn Splendor and one called Elegance.

Are you expecting any new artists or art classes that you are particularly excited about?

One of our favorite artists, Mackenzie Olson is leaving to pursue her dream of making art in Southern California, and we recently hired two great artists Jana and Jaime. Each of our artists has her own unique style or technique, which allows us to cater to a broad range of customer interests.

What painting or store item has been a consistent bestseller?

We have two paintings “Starry Night” and “Fantasy Oak Tree” that have been consistent “bestsellers”. As for the store items, our large purses are very popular, and anything and everything that sparkles sells really great.

Any special events or collaborations on the horizon?

I am excited to start our second year working with Pat Saunders White to offer the unique “Paint your own pet portrait.” This special class will be held once a month, and it starts on Saturday September 29th.

And that’s the story…

You should really check out the schedule of Picasso & Wine’s painting classes and pick a time to try it out.

Go, paint, drink some wine, and have a glorious time (we sure did). Who knows you might even run into us when you go, ’cause we like it that much.

Our team is always looking for new inspiration. What’s your favorite creative business or source of creativity in Northern Colorado and why?