Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Christmas - Greater Gifts (& Hot Artochoke Dip)

I'm not getting any presents this year for Christmas. Well... that's not true, I already got my presents really early. I sit here in the midst of a recession self employed, a new home owner, capable of taking care of myself during a crappy economy.   I owe all this to my Greater Gifts. Nothing tangible or valuable in a monetary sense but gifts of friendship, of family.  Gifts of using my intelligence and showing leadership and openness. Gifts of being able to relate to other human beings. Being able to smile and talk to strangers, or help those in need. Being able to learn something every day is a Great Gift. Being able to apply all these lessons to my world every day is a wonderful life.  I hope other people are realizing that the Greater Gifts matter more than money, or ego, or self.

I make this Hot Artichoke Dip every Christmas Eve... This year I promise I'll add a photo.

Ingredients
- 2 (13 3/4-ounce) cans artichoke hearts (drained & broken into smaller chunks)
- 1 14 ounce can of tomato with jalapenos. 
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup packed grated Parmesan Cheese
- 2-3 tablespoons tobasco sauce (more or less to taste. You can try other hot sauces too.)
- 1 large garlic clove, mashed
- A few cranks of fresh black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, stir well. Scrape into an oven proof dish, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Serve this savory dip HOT, with bagel chips, corn chips, crackers, bread... anything! Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Steph's Top 10 Internet Marketing Rules FREE

Many people don't know that I dabble in a little online marketing as well as doing Interface and User Experience Design. This internet marketing helps me observe a much greater view of the people's online landscape. It's making me a better UX designer since I can see all the complex connections that data and people make together. Nowadays many small business people are asking me for help with social networks and social media marketing. They say things like, "I just don't know where to begin," really lost sounding remarks. Groupon scares the crap out of people, it's perceived as a business killer. And Foursquare is confusing, lots of people don't "get it". It seems like regular people are just now getting comfortable with Facebook. Anyway... here are my top 10 web marketing rules designed to help you use social media like a pro. 

Marketing Rule #1 - Reciprocate! 
The social web is … social. People don’t want to talk, they want to converse, exchange photos, share links, read stories, participate! If a client or vendor keeps liking everything you post in Facebook, reciprocate! It makes a big difference. If a customer is blogging about their awesome service from you, that’s FREE marketing so thank them, give them credit and reuse it on your blog. It’s good to thank people on Facebook, LinkedIn and yelp. It’s good to publicly write thoughtful comments on relevant news articles, go ahead and link to your business in this case. Always be polite, like you would to anybody in the real world. But it’s the reciprocity that really pleases people and an actual connection that feels authentic so try not to hog all of the attention, give back.


Marketing Rule #2 - Be Relevant!
Just sending out email blasts alone is not a great idea anymore because people's inboxes are getting crazier by the minute. The best thing about social media is that it allows almost anybody to reach their “target” audience in a way which is very relevant to consumers. It’s not art, it’s science, easy science! So, pick the websites that will give you the most bang for you buck, and forget those that don’t. Almost everyone has a Facebook account and there are millions more using twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media services like yelp. Plus there are more online social networks which are industry and location specific that could be extra relevant for you and your customers. Add in the magic of highly refined advertising tools which let you target people down to gender, location, education level, and more. Plus internet reporting tools that literally show you exactly how well your marketing efforts are going. If you want to advertise online, do research first to determine whether Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a combination of these (or others) are best for you. Are you a craft person? Then Etsy.com is your thing. If your a musician, you have a lot to look at. Skip the research and you’re just gonna waste money which will make you sad. If you hire a pro, listen to them, they do the research so you don't have to.

Marketing Rule #3 - You gotta deliver the goods. 
You don’t need a User Experience Designer like me to tell you that you shouldn’t disappoint your visitors by letting them down after building up their expectations. All the online marketing in the world won’t make up for a bad website. Imagine this scenario > Somebody sees your nifty ad and they go and click on it. > They come to your website and find something ugly, or stupid, something wrong, or too provocative. > This is bad design. Ask yourself, “Will anybody Like this on Facebook? Will people feel good about sharing this with their friends?” The web is fickle place, one single disappointment is all it takes for a visitor to go away forever.

Marketing Rule #4 - A picture actually is worth a thousand words. 
OK serious moment number 1... I have sat in usability testing labs and I have read many a white paper and report about this... Nothing, I mean nothing sells something like an image. People literally click on photos or images without even thinking about it. If you really want to bump up your business, take lots of photos of your products, of your business, of your team, of your partners, of your clients, and of your events. Hire a professional photographer to follow your business around! Photo - photo - photograph all-of-the-time! And keep all of it in a repository somewhere like Flickr. From there you can blog, post, share, tweet, and email the crud out of it to your fans or target audience anywhere, anytime or share it with your designers, contractors, and vendors. I will be adding images to this post, seriously.

Marketing Rule #5 - Plan ahead! 
Serious moment number 2. This is what the pros do and there are numerous benefits to planning ahead. If you want to promote your business for Christmas for example, you should start planning no later than September. You need to start promoting wedding season no later than January. Why? You may need to do research, hire a freelancer, devise an advertising campaign, source or produce photos, or other creative, budget, or simply get your stuff together. You should create a schedule of what you will post in sequence, over time so as to maximize all of your work. All of this takes time so plan for it. If you have to send out anything printed, like postcards or fliers for a trade show, you need time to get this together and coordinate your online marketing with it so make the calendar your friend and get your colleagues addicted to planning.

Marketing Rule #6 - More content = more love. 
The more you post to your blog, or Facebook, or twitter - the more content you’re publishing to the world. Period. Content is gold on the Internet. The more conversations you have with customers on Facebook, twitter or in a forum on LinkedIn, the more content you're actually putting online, and  more people will connect to your business. This does two things - 1) It engages and entertains people. 2) It pleases the algorithms behind all of these networks. Google promotes fresher websites over stale ones in it’s search results. This is part of the reason blogs make great websites. So please your fans, your clients, and the gods of the internet - at the same time - and post some fresh content appropriately for your business. Listen to your clients to determine which delivery methods work best for them. And remember, sharing too much can be annoying. There is such a thing as twitter and Facebook spam as well as email spam. I try to post no more than once a day on average to Facebook.

Marketing Rule #7 - Assume your customers are really smart! 
You know exactly what I mean. You’ve seen those dumb ads on TV that simply insult your intelligence. Perhaps you’ve seen the gross “belly fat” ads online (which by the way has been proven to be a nefarious “phishing” ad). YOUR CUSTOMERS AREN’T THAT DUMB! So be authentic and don’t take a dumb approach with your online marketing.

Marketing Rule #8 - Use the analysis tools. 
Serious moment number 3. There are FREE or inexpensive yet powerful analytical tools provided to you by Google, Facebook, and many other websites. USE THEM.  The great thing about the web is that you can observe so much of what goes on. Which means, you can see when people visit your website, what people click on, what they like & don't like, how often people visit your blog and for how long. You know how quickly they leave. You can see what tweets, emails, or ad campaigns are sending people to you. You can literally gauge the effectiveness of everything you do. All these analytical tools will help you greatly IF you use them. You don’t need to spend a lot of time just use them.

Marketing Rule #9 - Communicate well. 
Basic English and politeness rules apply here. I use these strategies to help me stay organized and on top of online correspondence. Get good at writing concise but thoughtful comments & emails. Always put a subject in email. Always be relevant and avoid any confusing or misleading text in anything you write online. Just because it’s the Internet, and you might be using a smartphone to update your blog does not excuse typos and bad grammar. Make the time to appear professional. Don’t forget how smart your customers are.

Marketing Rule #10 - The web is plastic. 
Number 10 is the anti-rule. It’s simply erroneous to assume that you can throw up a website, or a lone Facebook page and be done. Sorry. You should expect to update content on your website, blog and other pages pretty regularly. You could "just set something up" and let your site sit there getting stale, but that’s how your visitors will perceive it, "stale". And they won’t come back, and your search engine rank will suffer. The worst thing I think stale sites suffer from is the perception by visitors that they could be “untrustworthy”. Remember your smart, social followers want to hear from you so plan on making at least quarterly updates to your website. If you use the web to be in contact with your customers, and show some of that “social proof” on your site, you will do very well.

Does this seem like a lot of work?
Feel free to get some help, contact us at: design @ studioroom.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Thankful

  1. I am very very thankful that I have a very short commute to work.
  2. I am thankful that I'm not paying for some stupid stranger's property investment.
  3. I'm so grateful everyday that the food I make tastes good.
  4. I am thankful for Baltimore, home of real - and real awesome - people.
  5. I am grateful that I work for myself.
  6. I am thankful that people want to work with me, even though the economy is in the tank.
  7. I am thankful that I can connect with, and stay in touch with so may people, all of the time, on the internet.
  8. I am grateful that I know how to communicate like a rational adult. Despite my Bachelors of Fine Art.
  9. I'm thankful for my incredible family - without all of their help in this recession I would be homeless, broke, and likely insane right now.
  10. I am grateful that my big mouth hasn't messed up too many things.
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Friday, November 18, 2011

FACETS Annual Art & Jewelry Sale - This Weekend in Baltimore

Please join FACETS for their annual sale 
this Saturday and Sunday November 19 and 20 10am - 5pm. 

This year in addition to fabulous unique jewelry, there are ceramics, glassware and paintings.  Get a gift or shop for yourself.  Tell a friend and bring them too!



Location:
The Radisson at Cross Keys
5100 Falls Road
Baltimore, MD
21210

*In the Woodland Room

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why is it OK for Men to be Critical, but not Women?

Let it be known that this blog here is just a social media sandbox. This blog is NOT to be taken seriously, I am not to be taken that seriously... seriously.  Well not until I redesign my whole website and stuff which will happen eventually, hopefully pretty soon.

I just got a call from my brother, the cop. He was complaining about this site saying how I'm too negative and I complain too much. How many times have I told him my blog is just a kind of test? He was saying how they were going to hire some guy and then they looked him up online and he was tweeting all this negative, derogatory stuff and they didn't hire him. Am I derogatory? Probably only to the Republican and Tea "parties", maybe also to technology recruiters who we all know I don't think highly of.  I had to remind my brother that I am a User Experience Designer, and a Creative Director, and that it's kinda my job to criticize the world. But why do I need to remind people of this? I mean seriously, I've been doing this, successfully, for 18 years. I mean, does being all sunshine & light and falsely positive actually make me a better designer? Or get me more respect from people? At least keeping a blog is a form of creative therapy for my goth alter-ego. And I am learning a bit about Social Media and online marketing while I'm at it.

I think it's sexism. How come if I criticize something I'm called, "unreasonable" or "way off"? Yet I read other people's blogs all the time and they blow a lot harder than I do, and nobody is telling these people they ought to lighten up? The only thing I notice is that guys complaining is interpreted as a manly debate, but women complaining is interpreted as bitchiness. Guys like, no they expect other guys to be blowhards. They encourage it amongst their ranks. Women, I think value more thoughtful and critical open discussions.

My previous post, about Trying Communications, is a bit of a rant. I think it's funny and so do my girlfriends. I am trying to communicate some of my frustration with technology. A frustration that most other people feel but put up with because they don't really know how to talk about or address it. I guess it's just not funny enough for my brother. But my blog IS interactive and anybody can leave a comment and discuss.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trying Communications - If You Want to Talk to Me...

I had an awkward conversation in a bar the other day. My friend showed me the litany of text messages she received over the weekend - a weekend when she was supposed to be "off" relaxing. Since I am Little Miss Know-It-All I proceeded to tell her that she needed to "set boundaries" with people so that her iPhone doesn't become - actual words - "a form of slavery". My friend, having a PHD in something relating to mental health started evaluating my statement and probing me with questions after I announced that I needed to publish a set of rules for people to use to contact me. "Well, don't you like to talk to your friends on the phone?" Me, "No. Well, sometimes. Well I prefer Skype because my cell signal isn't that good half the time". Friend, "But don't you think it's important to have a real conversation with people?" Me, "Of course, but calls come at weird times, most of my friends are in California, and besides I like to have good voice quality and Skype works better for that. And I like text messages because It's just easier." Friend, "I have both a mobile phone and a land line." By the way, my bar friend is 70. 

For two weeks I've been trying to have a meeting with a friend / client who lives in San Francisco. She caveat-ed the meeting by stating in an email "I'm a technophobe and I hate my iPhone". Ah the old compensating for being disorganized with technology excuse. My friend, used to work in tech.

Another friend of mine who actually worked for Bill Gates and Mark Andreason, as a PR expert, also gets tried by communications. She shut down her Facebook account because she was phished more than once. She had to drop her Yahoo mail for the same reason. Trying phish.

But back to the bar and my set of rules...

If you want to reach me, please do the following:

  1. The best time to reach me by phone, Skype, and email is during regular weekday business hours
  2. I am on the East Coast.
  3. Text messages are my preferred form of communication. I almost always notice these in "real time". 
  4. Emails are my next preferred communication method. Please allow at least 1 business day before expecting a reply from me.
  5. Sometimes I won't reply to emails for several days. If I'm in "design mode" working on a deadline I won't talk on the phone or even glance at my email. Deadlines take priority, and I can't design and communicate at the same time.
  6. I do not check email in the evenings or weekends.
  7. It's quite possible I won't check emails or the phone after 2pm during weekdays (especially if I'm slow, as I can be running errands or gardening or cooking, or if it's Friday). 
  8. Ideally, people will schedule a time to talk, via email or text message,  if they want to chat on the phone or on Skype.  This is because I work from home and my schedule can vary a lot.
  9. Truthfully, I only expect emergency phone calls in the evenings or weekends so if it's not an emergency please text me first before I start to have a panic attack.
  10. Never ever call me after 9pm unless you want to tell me about A) an awesome party I need to go to that evening. or B) You're pregnant or engaged or suicidal and you need to talk.
  11. Recruiters who don't respect boundaries, and call me at 5pm to talk about their client, get black listed. 
  12. Clients who email too much, or who don't actually read my emails, or who send horrible, or disorganized email, I have to let go. 


Ridiculous, huh? Balanced? I'm getting there.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Big Late Summer Birthday Bitch to Tech Recruiters

Every year in August my Gmail starts lighting up with inquiries from recruiters, and hiring managers for contract work, or full time jobs. Although it's awesome to get pinged by Apple, and Netflix (seriously) I am always left scratching my head at this bad timing because EVERYBODY is on vacation in late August. Every year, I do this diplomatic dance for the prospect of work, I feel like I'll get black listed if I don't. And every year I am incredibly frustrated, because as I try to be ever so awesomely accommodating for these positions... I know, just like they know, that EVERYBODY goes on vacation in late August. In fact, everybody knows that half the entire San Francisco Bay Area (including all those recruiters) are off to Burning Man at the end of August.

We ALL KNOW, so why does this silliness continue?

Well let me tell you recruiters something. My birthday is coming up in 2 weeks and it's a big one. The last thing I want to do is check my email let alone get my portfolio ready for somebody's whim. But really, what I want for my big birthday is for ALL recruiters to actually try to accommodate the talent they reach out to. Not just me but for all the engineers, designers, and marketing people too. Please stop asking us to drop everything for the carrot on the end of your stick. Please try to be open and honest. All you have to do is simply communicate better. Other people have lives too, please start acknowledging that when working through your recruitment process.

Added later cause it's relevant:
I thought I'd post this screen grab I took of a tech recruiter I've had the misfortune to cross paths with. About a year after a bungled interview process, for some reason I was still following her on twitter. I was following her, until I read these ignorant tweets. Read the 3rd tweet down. So lame in so many ways.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NECO Alliance Rebates - Maytag, Samsung Appliance Rebates are Complete Bullshit

I just got tricked out of $300 I was told I was going to rebates from the purchase of my brand new $1500 Samsung refrigerator & Maytag dishwasher. Now, I can't recommend buying anything Samsung, Maytag, OR from Cummins Appliance after this customer experience.

Here's ONE of the incredibly lame emails I just received from NECO Alliance

Thank you for participating in the SAMSUNG APPLIANCES MARCH NECO ALLIANCE VISA REWARD CARD promotion. (March promotion? Never knew that...)

Your request for a rebate has been received and is being processed.

Unfortunately your rebate was rejected due to the following reason(s):
 -RECEIVED PAST POSTMARK (Gee, there was no deadline on my form!)


       *** DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL ADDRESS ***
This email has been generated by an automated service machine.
   Emails sent to this address WILL NOT be responded to.
(You SUCK!)
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I guess I sent the rebate in late. Gee, the appliance took a month to receive in the first place! Then, in the midst of a remodel project, trying to work full time, it's not so easy to meet a deadline for a piece of mail. Was this intentional? Probably. I question the whole point of rebates altogether.

It's difficult enough shopping for a purchase like this. I thought I was doing a good deed by buying my appliance from a small, local vendor (Cummins Appliance) but here's the thing. Sears, Lowes, and Home Depot each sent me 10% coupons for being a new home owner. Which is pretty standard. I could have saved that money I didn't get rebated by shopping at one of those stores for my appliances. Great. Way to shop local.

I don't love my refrigerator anymore :(

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Living Out Loud Online

This week I finally took the plunge into the deep end of Social Media. I'm designing an iPhone App for a client and up until last weekend I had been an avowed hater of Foursquare, and a bit of a  Facebook cynic. What is the point of Foursquare to an independent person like me? Up until last week all of these social applications loomed in my mind as "un-billable work", just more ceaseless internet research, both are pretty much the same. But it all came to a head last week since, obviously, I can't design a social app unless I know all about how user's interact with them. So my client got me a beautiful new white iPhone (Thanks!) and assigned me a lot of homework. (note: this is how to treat a designer!) 5 days into this social media thing, I am proud to announce my mayorship of Studioroom, and I'm really enjoying Jamie Oliver's photos via Instagram. Foodspotting is alluding me  (I'm just not in the right city to take good food photos). GetGlue - I don't think I "get" why this is fun.

So has my world changed now that I'm living my life online? Do I feel special? Empowered? Enlightened? Um, no. I'll get back to you at the end of the summer with an update on how all this is going, hopefully this will open up something for me. In the mean time I'm just glad to promote myself as an App designer.

Monday, June 6, 2011

US Government, BUY LOCAL DESIGN! - Stop the US Department of Interior from Crowdsourcing a Logo

I personally live in the DC area and have friends and family who work for the Federal Government. And I design logos, make fabulous websites, and create great interfaces. It breaks my heart that I can't get more work locally from the biggest employer in the area, the Fed. And I am a minority small business person. So I must protest this the abuse of crowd sourcing as much as possible.

Crowd sourced design is evil so please sign this petition to Stop the US Department of Interior from Crowdsourcing a Logo.

Why is crowd sourced design evil? It undermines design professionals by enabling non-professionals, untrained ameratuers, and foreigners overseas to TAKE WORK FROM Professional Designers. Of course a designer overseas will be less expensive than a designer anywhere in the US.  Overseas designers do not pay taxes here in the US. Normally it's illegal to employ foreign workers without the right documentation from the government, but because this work is conducted on the internet it's OK?! How is this different than sending manufacturing jobs overseas?  Crowd sourcing undermines design education, if all design work is expected to be done cheaply and conveniently then it is illogical for individuals to invest in design education if they are competing with groups of people who can skip education, who don't pay for it.

Finally, the people who pay the real price for organizations who short-cut on design, are the END USERS of that organization. In this instance, the people who suffer from bad design are the US Taxpayers. The federal government, of all the organizations here in the US, should employ American Designers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Announcing KeepRecipes.com

Doesn't everybody like to eat? Aren't we already talking about the meals we make and enjoy? And who doesn't like food porn?  I am very pleased to announce the launch  KeepRecipes.com - a new social website where people can save any recipe to a magic recipe box in the cloud.


You know you would rather browse this site
than stare at your email! 

I have never in my life worked on a web project which has been this much fun, or came together this easily. I'd like to take credit for the ease at which this product was designed, but the vision belongs to my client Phil Michaelson.  Phil put a lot of research, time and testing into his first web business KartMe.com, and had struck upon a genius plan for keeprecipes.com. Finally a way for millions of people to share what they are already doing every day, their dinner...or lunch... or desert!


KeepRecipes is launching with a charity event - KeepRecipes for Recovery - Get a special Japanese inspired digital cookbook with a just a $10 donation to support recovery efforts in Japan. Not only did I get to design an awesome website, I get to be a part of this unique charity effort and a first-of-it's-kind launch! I'm even more excited that some real star power contributed to this charity launch, names like; Masaharu Morimoto,  Mark Bittman, Mayumi Nishimura, Anita Lo,
Marc Spitzer,  Kenji Lopez-Alt!  (my friend and client) Eric Gower, and Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs! The only thing I'm wondering about is will I need to rename my blog, Food Overload?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Throwing Studioroom.com Under The Bus!

Everything here in studio land is delayed. I had to switch hosting for myself and three other clients this week and, since I have a breakaway deadline - I made my own web hosting last priority! Studioroom is going to be down (temporarily) because I waited too long to switch... oh well. My studioroom.com emails especially won't work. But everybody knows about my gmail and Google (kinda) never fails.

AND our move has been delayed another week due to all the mayhem. So next week, I really mean it this time, we are CLOSED.  We will re-open for business Monday March, 28.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Still Moving (closed through March 21)

Just a quick note to say our moving process has been delayed by 2 weeks. We are still tied up with too many loose ends to deal with. Sorry for the inconvenience.

We'll be back in the new studio Monday March 21st. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Big News - We're Moving! (closed Feb. 14 - 28)

Big News - We're Moving!

Finally happy 2011, happy new decade... We have some big announcements for things which have been in the works for over a year... we are moving!

First of all, thank you to our clients from 2010, Barber Lounge, Xobni, SF School of Massage, Alaska Urological, and Aquent for helping make 2010 a great year. You guys rock.

2011 has already gotten off to a huge start and momentum is building for us to do more great interactive work this year. I already completed a design for a really cool new start-up which I hope to be announcing soon. But I have an ugly secret which nobody really knows about and now I'm gonna come clean. For over a year I have been living and working out of my sister's crowded home in Baltimore and unfortunately dealing with way too much personal drama. A sick and now passed away beloved dog, and a nightmarish house shopping experience (which is a whole other blog post). We FINALLY closed on a new house on New Years Eve (our offer was accepted August 11th). Most of last year was a bullshit filled mess.

Our good news, soon we will be moving into our new home and office. Studioroom will finally have a dedicated um... studio room. After the move we expect to be at least 3 times more productive than we were last year.

So on that note, Studioroom will be closed for business from February 14 - 28 to move. We will re-open March 1st, but (since we know we'll have an email backlog) we will need a week to catch up on administrative work and communication. Please be patient with us over this transition to our new office.

We are looking forward to innovating with you in March.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Internet Privacy vs. Openess and A Congresswoman's Attempted Murder

I didn't think the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford had anything to do with internet security until I saw an image from her twitter profile in this Washington Post article today:


The image I saw was in the print edition of the Washington Post, so I took a screen shot of the congresswoman's twitter page and posted it here. 

Her last tweet "My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later." announced to the world where she was going to be, conveniently around just down the road from the shooter.

I am not saying that Twitter spawned this attack on Congresswoman Gifford. I am just pointing out that is is a likely "point of weakness" in ones security. I also want to point out something about the internet industry's role here...

The problem I see is an industry that is pushing people to be more open when it's not really appropriate. The internet industry gives this impression that consumers & businesses alike should be "always on, always accessible, and loving it - all the time". That people are missing out, and their lives are really limited somehow without more technology in it. Are we really ready for this?  I have boundaries, I control all my tech stuff... but I am sick of this coercive attitude that tells me there is something wrong with me - for having boundaries. Isn't it a form of abuse to insist that everybody be always on? If I read another tech community blog saying how great everything will be if we all just open up, I reserve the right to tell that blogger why they're wrong.