Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing the Web Some Prosperity Too!

IF these wishes come true, I guarantee everybody's lives will get easier and 2014 will be a good year. :)
Wishing people learned their lesson in 2013 and we don't have any more websites like Healthcare.gov. Wishing that more websites get designed FOR THE END USERS, and not for some executive. Wishing people see the value in EXPERIENCE. Wishing people hire truly senior talent to work on their website.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Part 3 of Social Media Marketing - Do's & Don'ts

The funny thing about internet marketing is the people who would benefit from it the most probably are the same people with limited budgets - Artists, writers, and musicians.  Independent creative people and students usually don't have an annual marketing budget.  If you fall into the Artist category pay attention, this post is for you. I reveal how to simply use social media. If you DO have a marketing budget then contact me and let me show you how to ROCK your internet marketing.

Writers have already blazed a trail on the internet and there are many websites dedicated to helping writers. Since I have a Fine Art background and I think like a designer, I'll focus on artists & other kinds of small businesses like restaurants.

DO: Get yourself set-up with a website or blog

First you need a "hub". A command center where you can connect to all sorts of social media and networking sites. In case you didn't know a blog is actually just another kind of website, just with more 'self publishing' tools. Having your own site is important because this gives you the greatest control over the flow of information and most importantly you can measure - yes you can actually see - the results of your marketing efforts. And then your can fine tune everything, do more business and make more money. Great NY Times article covers this nicely.

DON'T: Put off launching your website or blog. Otherwise Google and people on Yelp will talk about you behind your back.

 Your goal is to get other people to help you promote your business on social media through their normal sharing activity.

DO: Think like a Marketing Pro and set goals that you want to achieve

What is your goal? What do you want to achieve with the internet? You need to be able to answer this question. A good goal for a local bar would be, "To increase average nightly clientele by 25%"
Some good goals for small biz people are:
- Grow your fan base
- Get people to discover you
- Get new clients or customers
- Sell more products
- Rent your space
- Find projects to work on

  Assume that just having a blog and making a couple of random posts (like everyone else) suddenly makes you a marketing guru. :^|

DO: Think like a Marketing Pro and make a plan

It's critically important that you PLAN AHEAD for all your marketing efforts. You need time to work for you. If you are throwing an event you need to start planning your marketing at least a month ahead of time. If you are a caterer who wants to get work catering weddings then you should be  marketing yourself no later than February to get work on a June wedding.

DON'T: Wait until the last minute to think about you marketing plan!  Otherwise you completely miss opportunities to get your event announced in print media and email newsletters. 

DO: Pay attention to the timing and frequency of your posts to social media.

People mostly cruise Facebook or twitter during their morning commute or during lunch at work. So time your big announcement to coincide with the mob of internet users that are likely to see your post. And reiterate your post a few extra times so it reaches as many people as possible. For more information on timing of posts just do a search.

DON'T: Wait to the 3pm on a Friday to do only one tweet about your bar's happy hour special. You should be tweeting that tantalizing announcement several times earlier in the week.

DO: Make good quality posts on multiple social media sites

It's all about the quality, and quantity of your posts - where ever you post them. You want to reach as many people as possible, that's the point, so use the services that suit your business.  Remember the web is an interactive communication tool and you will interact with people and communicate your story well to be successful.

DON'T:  Don't go overboard and sign up for every site. It's too much work and you won't maintain them. If you're never going to make a video then don't bother with YouTube.  If you find Google+ to be a waste of time, it's OK to not use it. Just be strategic. 

DO: Use photos and images as much as possible

People click on images. I've seen the research! It's true! People pause to look at and read images like they never do with text. So always try to include an image with whatever post your trying to make. If you're a bar for example, you should tweet a photo of that happy hour drink. Or better still... get your customers to post photos of your drinks for you!!!  This really makes web people like me happy... should you decide to hire somebody like me to help you with social media marketing then this gives us valuable content to work with.

DON'T: Write too much. According to research people don't actually read that much online.  At least not in social media (not when marketing is concerned). It's better to keep your text short and sweet and use a photo to tell the story.

DO: Create business specific profiles

If you have a Facebook page as opposed to you normal Facebook profile then you can use all these bonus tools, like analytics. This will show you how many people reacted to your posts and even how they interacted with it! This is extremely powerful because this helps you accomplish many thing like helping you write and make better posts that more people are likely to follow through on. Also, this keeps your personal life separate from your business. Facebook offers it's own analytics for pages and you can even run your own targeted advertising on Facebook too.

DON'T:  Trust me I speak from experience. It's not going to help your business to let everybody read your political rants on Facebook. Keep it professional on your "page".

DO: Have a Clear "Call to Action"

This is an insider trick. A 'Call to Action' is a design on a web page or advertisement, like a "Buy Now" button or the "Like" button in Facebook. You want to have one of these 'calls to action' in some of your posts. For example, you'll want people to click from Facebook to go look at your new artwork - on your website. And you want this to be clear and obvious. If you can get people to click over to your website you can give them a lot more detail to entice them to buy your stuff. You're more in control.

DON'T: If you don't have a call to action, then all you are achieving is that somebody might read what you wrote and maaaaybe they might remember it.  If you're not clear, they may not notice that you have anything for sale.

Like I said in my previous post, internet and social media marketing is actual work. But with a good set-up all you need to do is an hour or so a week of good quality posts, to whatever venue on the internet that connects you to the most amount of people for your time and effort. The hardest part really is getting started... And you can always hire me to help you get set-up.   

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shamelessness Part 2: Why Social Media Marketing Matters & Who Should Use It

There's been a ton of talk lately about how people can use social media to grow their business. Thanks to the web you don't have to have an expensive marketing budget, you just need to create a few accounts to services like Facebook and Twitter. Last week I wrote part one about social media,  a success story about my client Kevin O'Malley. Next week I'll reveal more details on how to do this stuff yourself. Now I want to explain WHY you should care about social media marketing and explain WHO really needs to use it...

How social media marketing works

Yesterday on my favorite NPR show, the MidDay show, they had an expert speak about Social Media and Viral Marketing. Jonah Berger did a great job at explaining the "viral effect" and demonstrated that social media does indeed work.  But Jonah forgot to explain HOW to USE social media which I will reveal in part 3!

Here's how it works - Right now millions upon millions of people are doing this... joking, criticizing, reviewing, recommending, and sharing something with each other in conversation.  The internet itself is structured around writing, and the most successful websites, even YouTube, are designed to perpetually foster active chat style conversations. So internet marketing works because it exploits a very popular and natural human activity - talking to each other.

WHY you should care about social media

The question I get asked from people the most is "Why should I care? What's the point of this, for me?" The answer is different for different people (see the WHO section below).  If you're running a business, you need to manage your reputation on the internet. Why? Aside from being a great tool for growing your business, if you don't manage your online reputation then other people, and internet forces completely out of your control can and will hijack your online reputation if you don't take control of it yourself.

Imagine this time 1,000,000 and then imagine your business being mentioned in these chats.  

So let's use an example of restaurants. Restaurants really need social media marketing because complaints and bad reviews online could literally shut them down. Conversely, praise and good reviews will help them grow. Aside from that, people can make reservations and write reviews all from their smart phones with almost no effort. So customers expectations for restaurants - on the web -  are already very high. Admit it, you read the reviews too so you know they work. They also help businesses communicate with their customers and be better.

There are at least 7 major websites (or apps) that let people criticize restaurants:
  1. Yelp
  2. Google 
  3. OpenTable
  4. Zagat
  5. Foursquare
  6. Facebook
  7. Foodspotting ... does anybody use this site?
  8. Plus a LOT of local websites like your local newspaper

WHO should care?

Although internet and social media marketing is easy - it's still work.  If you want to grow your business you should use social media because it is the cheapest and most effective way to promote anything, period. But (I am going to dispel one myth that traditional marketing people won't mention) most people don't need to use social media.  So figure out if you need it before investing your time.

Who needs social media?
Any business should care about social media marketing but some businesses benefit more than others.
  • Writers, Authors and Bloggers make the best use of social media to grow their audience on a budget. 
  • So should Artists and Designers for the same reason as writers. 
  • Any new business that needs to grow quickly should use social media to get the word out. 
  • Restaurants, Hair Salons, and Shops because they interact with the public.
  • Job seekers, for competitive reasons, can benefit from social media. My friend got a job with the National Parks Service because she ran a blog... about her baby girl.
  • People like me who do internet development and marketing need to. 
  • Anybody in a public leadership position, like a professor or head doctor because they have important information to share and they are in a position of authority. 
  • Tiny local businesses like a neighborhood landscaper would also benefit from a very small and free web presence and a little social media.

Who does NOT need to waste their time with social media?
  • Individuals in general don't need social media marketing. 
  • Doctors don't need to market themselves.  
  • Therapists or any profession where privacy is essential should stay away from social media. 
  • Lawyers mostly don't need social media although they can be interesting. 
  • Isolated successful businesses like my neighborhood bar which is already popular. They don't do happy hours and they never have specials. They do not need social media or any marketing whatsoever. 
Fun fact: Did you know that more "data" has been created in the past decade, than has been created in the entire previous history of the Earth? That's a lot of joking, complaining, reviewing, and conversing online! What does this have to do with you and your "online reputation"? Everything, it's all about you... and me... and us. So TAKE CONTROL of the the web and make it work FOR you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Be Shameless - The Art of Self Promotion on the Web

Nobody promotes themselves more shamelessly than my client Kevin O'Malley.  Kevin is a children's book illustrator and he literally walks around with a pad of paper in his hand, he's constantly drawing, at the coffee shop, in the park, everywhere. After Kevin cranks out another instant masterpiece (just like Picasso)  - he gives it away! Seriously. He gives away the drawing. Kevin WAS ALREADY a  walking social network and he didn't even know it. I must have mumbled a couple of things to him over time about the internet. We friended on Facebook where Kevin posts a lot of his drawings and works in progress.  I told Kevin that he should blog and maybe get on Pinterest - since he's already posting drawings to Facebook he mine as well post to a couple more websites.  Kevin took these suggestions but still... his website was out of date.  Kevin still needed a "hub".  So he  turned to us, and we made him a new website.

Thanks to Kevin's incredible content, it was easy to make him a great new website.  Now, anybody that wants to stay on top of Kevin's latest happenings, weather they are drawings or new books, can do so very easily at booksbyomalley.com.

The funny thing about using the internet to promote yourself is, it's really easy... It's really easy BUT you need to get 'set-up' first. Here's what we did for Kevin:
  1. Redesigned and re-coded his website (to make the most out of Google)
  2. Strategically added his YouTube videos to his website
  3. Got him on Pinterest and embedded a live feed of his illustrations on his website
  4. Helped Kevin set-up a blog to start blogging his works
  5. Tethered his blog and his Facebook page to the website 
  6. Added press with cross linking to enhance everything
  7. Massaged Google for Kevin
Now, all Kevin needs to do is just tell people "please check out my website and tell your friends to check it out too!"  Now, whenever he shows off his illustrations, which is all of the time, he just needs to continue being shameless.

And so should I...

Here is MY Pinterest board with some of my portfolio work. Please contact me for your social media hub.

- - -

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

UX Design Process aka Web Product Design Process

So... I'm on Pinterest updating a 'board' for my portfolio and I discover that other people have pinned my Experience Design Process graphic from my website. Apparently this graphic comes right up in Google Searches if you search on on Experience Design Process. Since the image on my site is small I'm re-posting the graphic here! Can anybody guess what this image was originally create for?

Web Product Design Process Graphic

I don't know what I was thinking about these colors!

So what is going on here?
In the middle of the graphic is a series of linear main steps to take in order to design an interactive digital product. The process starts with identifying a project's goals and ends with meeting those goals. In order to meet those goals you need to do some careful work... Surrounding the steps are a set of tasks (or methodologies) to perform in order to complete each step of the process. Over-arching the entire process are guidelines like "vetting" and "informed iteration" (shown in the yellow zone).  Some tasks overlap steps and the entire process is meant to be collaborative and iterative, which means you could repeat tasks based on what you learn from testing or research. Or you'd repeat tasks until you get something right. OR you could repeat the entire process over again based on what you learn the first (or second, or third) time around. You'll notice that one of the first tasks is "Requirements Gathering" which includes getting together all the content and data you want in your product. You'll need something to research, plan and design around. These requirements should map to your end goals when you look analytics reports and you see how people are using your product, and how much it's growing.

Here are the steps in the process:

We start every project by identifying the project's goals

Then we research the audience and competitors to identify unique opportunities

We map out a plan, and tailor it with each client to suit their individual needs

We put together all the components (language, images, and interactions) to create a coherent design system

We prototype our work to ensure important details are captured in an interactive format, and to make the hand-off between designer & engineer as smooth as possible

Testing tells us if we're successful in reaching our goals. Some projects require testing and iterative design phases (hence the planning)

Conversions. Growth. New connections with more users. This is how we measure goals.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Management - Working from Home Takes Teamwork

The funny thing about working from home is that you rely on your co-workers and especially your managers even more than when you go to an office. I have worked in corporate offices, I have cranked out work on-site at start-ups, I've designed large scale websites in corporate environments, in agency environments, and at home. And you know what? It always comes down to management.

Good Management Handles the Work
Over the course of 2009 and 2010 I worked on a very successful project for Cengage Learning and - I never met my clients - ever.  However the project was managed very well by Cengage's internal team. My client/manager understood the entire scope of the project and was able to break down all the work into a very effective process. He communicated everything very clearly to the team, including a schedule, all the deliverables he expected, and when he wanted them. We always had two-way conversations about the work and we thoroughly reviewed my output on a regular basis.  My client was always clear about my pace of work, and I was always clear about his deadlines (this ensured that I could effectively manage my time as a remote resource for Cengage). Good remote managers are: Focused on business. They are not emotional or insecure, instead they are confident and goal orientated. But most importantly they communicate well, are organized and decisive. I cannot reiterate enough how important these qualities are.

Bad Management = Insecurity
And I've had bad managers too, we all have. The biggest pain point of working with these people is that we need to compensate for their insecurities. Maybe you've worked for somebody who is indecisive, they are unsure about what they want? Perhaps you literally do your boss' job? Often with boot strapped start-up companies I see entrepreneurs struggle with making decisions because they are worrying about money. At one start-up I worked at in San Francisco, I would watch the CTO pound his fist and demand that the entire company work at least from 7am to 7pm. This is clearly an insecure way to try to run a company and speaks volumes for how the CTO valued other people's time. I did notice this same CTO sneak out of the office and take entire afternoons off.  Which leads to my main point, only bad insecure managers want to corral their employees around them so they can make themselves feel better.

Remember, it's the internet!
My advice to Yahoo! and Marissa Meyer is this - Make sure your managers can handle their jobs.  We "eat the dog food". We are already doing so much work online it seems waste full to drive back and forth to redundant offices. The point of being onsite is to collaborate. If your managers don't enable collaboration then what are they doing? There's nothing more frustrating than commuting for over 2 hours a day only to watch your boss waste time in the office.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fabulous Custom Website for A Fabulous Custom Home Builder

We're proud to announce another logo, website and collateral materials for a local custom home builder, Bement & Sons Construction, INC.

Marty, our client,  makes some of the most amazing custom homes I have ever seen. A beautiful fusion of Old World European design and modern construction.  Evey detail has been thought about, from the accents, the systems and the location of his homes. The end result is  a beautiful and luxurious home. If you're looking for dream home or considering having a custom home built in Maryland, you ought to check out Bementandsons.com today.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Pantheon of Interactive Design Jobs

Happy 2013! I hope everybody survived 2012 and is looking forward, not back.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about different design roles in the interactive fields. Too many designers I meet are confused by job listings they read. Too many job listings are cut and pasted together, even I don't understand who that company is looking for.

Recently I've been helping companies hire interactive design talent. I know soooo many people and I like to make them all happy. I haven't really formalized this but I'm toying with the idea of becoming a recruiter myself... If anybody wants to help me formalize this idea let me know!

If you are a graphic designer looking to do more interactive work, or if you're trying to hire interactive designers, take a look at my list. I've defined the various roles and described the nature of the work. Feel free to comment.

Steph's guide to interactive design roles:

UI Designer
This person designs "user interfaces" and they usually do "front-end" code. All the stuff that you actually SEE on a web page is produced with   HTML, CSS, and Javascript code. This is often a production, junior role.

Information Architect (IA)
Aka Information designer. They organize the layout and the flow of information. This is really important.  IA's create wireframes and site-maps. They use programs like Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Omni Graffle & Visio. They do not draw pretty designs.  Writers can be IAs, as the design is more about how a web page (or app view) reads than how it looks.

Visual Designer / Interactive Art Director
Other names used for "web designer". These designers draw the pretty interface design and usually somebody else codes. In some companies the visual designer will take wireframes from the IA and then render them into a final design using Photoshop (or Fireworks).

Interaction Designer
This is like a bonus skill, I rarely see it headlining a job listing. These people are going by the name of UX designer these days. Interaction designers detail the step-by-step "flow" of interactive components. It really helps to be able to code, just to prototype and test out interactivity.

User Experience Designer (UX)
This is what some agency's call their IAs. It's really all these skills rolled into one. I think UX designers should have additional research, strategy, and heuristic skills. They should be able to conduct user tests, & do other research.

Web Product Designer or Product Manager
This is the most senior of interactive design roles unless, of course it's a design manager role, in which case you should be able to do this level of work too. Gmail is an example of something that is a product more than a website. The Web Product Designer is a UX designer who makes "applications" - complex, interactive apps and websites. I don't see many people advertise for Web Product Designers though, they usually advertise for UX designers. A lot of web Product Managers come from design and UX backgrounds. You'll find this kind of work at a lot of agencies these days as everybody wants an integrated app for their company.

Marketing & Social Media
So much of the web is interconnected so it's good to know online marketing. For example, designers should understand how search engines, social media, and email will interconnect with their clients website.  Good web marketing people are familiar with analytic and reporting systems and they make good money.

Should designers know HTML, CSS, Javascript or not?
Many interactive jobs list coding skills as part of the job requirements. Virtually every designer, and writer, and project manager, I have ever met has asked, "Does this company really expect me to code too?"  There is a difference between understanding how HTML and CSS work - and actually hand-coding HTML and CSS.  But most of the job listings I see do not make this distinction. So recruiters, if you are reading this please make sure your job listing clearly states if the designer actually needs to write code.

Although I am proud of my coding skills I have found these skills make me LESS money. Designers who can code tend to get more production work and miss out on creative roles they've trained for.  Coding skills can prevent designers from advancing in their career.  This is a big reason why a lot of talent won't respond to a poorly written job description. If I see a role for a User Experience designer that requires coding then I immediately expect the job the pay over $140,000.00. NOT $40k.  Why? Because these are different jobs (literally a UI designer job and an information architect job). There are some instances where it's good to have a designer who can code but most companies and agencies aren't set up this way. They don't merge these roles together. Agencies will merge these roles if they can get away with it to save money (but this makes people unhappy). I only see web start-ups do a good job at merging coding with design and usually these people know what they're doing.