#02 Thematic Books

Order two used books:

1. Pantone’s Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eiseman.

2. Graphically Speaking: A Visual Lexicon for Achieving Better Designer-Client Communication by Lisa Buchanan.

Don’t worry. They are “picture” books.

#03 Testing grayscale

Here’s a way to see faults in a design. Check the grayscale conversion. All touching colors should have a 30% differential – especially for text. If something can’t be read in grayscale (no color cues) adjustments need to be made.

There are various ways to convert to grayscale. In this case, I used GIMP (for Linux) and under COLORS used the Desaturation tool to remove all color. If I run over it with the color picker, it gives me percent grayscale. I also use Photoshop to do the same trick but just a little different. Again, the color picker will show percent grayscale in a control panel.

#04 Typographic error

Is A Dorf?
Nope. That’s not working. Better try lowercase and make the E clearly not an “F”. Legibility is more important than beauty.

#05 Small space design

For ideas about small ads:

Small Graphics: Design Innovation for Limited Spaces
by Cheryl Dangel Cullen © 2000

Buy it used for $4 or get a free read from your Interlibrary Loan.

#06 Should you join “design award competitions”?

Most starving designers (like me) would be better served to promote themselves for new work with the money they might have spent on joining an organization. When I’m tempted by these offers, I wait a week or month – and then see if it still sounds good. Usually, it doesn’t.

Everyone is different. It’s a value judgment no one can make for you.

#07 Finding new design work

The few significant ways you’ll get new design work is:

1) word of mouth (out-of-the-blue referrals.)

2) from your portfolio website – but usually people will go there because you’ve invited them. There’s not really much traffic from search engines. So invite qualified leads! If you are advertising generic design then be “geographic specific” in the text somewhere. (Not in a machine-unreadable image file).

3) Asking for new work or references from existing clients.

That seems pretty dismal (limited) but it’s true. A few hints: on your website in the NAVBAR (persistent navigation) have a link called “Hire Me”. On that hire-me page, be specific as to what the potential client needs to do next (a Call To Action). That hire-me page can also include your “rules for working together.” Keep them simple.

Get to know an accountant, printer, and banker (or more – Chamber of Commerce) who know when new businesses come to town. Ask them to give you a heads up and keep them on your “good guy” list.

A website homepage needs to tell me who you are, what you do exactly (specialty), and why I should care. People make a snap decision on this page. You don’t need to junk it up. Just give a little more relevant info.

Google etc cannot read images. Machines (search engines) read the text. So, on your text pages, just provide more. One of the things I’ve found – when building portfolio sites for others – is a fake “Interview” page works – sort of like Q&A or an FAQ page. Search engines love cataloging interviews – for some unknown reason – about creative people.

#08 Should you design for free?

I heard about a design firm that chooses one and only one pro bono project per year from candidates. They then do their best for them and try and make a difference. I like this idea of setting limitations. All the criteria come into play in the choosing – but they don’t do work for everyone that walks in the door. The candidates go on a waiting list until the start of the next year.

video about spec work

Just watched the 2-minute video (link above) and it sums things up pretty well. Part of the problem is we – as designers – are idealistic and want to make the world a better place and help people. That can lead to being abused if one isn’t careful in their choices. No speculation on that. I’ve lived it!
I’m wiser now.

#09 Design-by-committee links

A few links that have good content on the topic of Design by Committee:




I‘ve always thought there should be a forum called “Remote Creative.” Sort of a group-therapy-coping place for creative people lost in rural places. I relate to feeling isolated. I’ve been living in the vacuum of the Idaho panhandle border for the last 24 years (a third-world nation inside the United States). Not all designers live in the big city.

#10 Choosing appropriate typography

The world of type is huge. From my studies, most professional designers have their favorites. And it is not necessarily a large library. I’m a font collector and have far more than I need. Eventually, you find classics that you love. This takes time and also studying the work of others. So there isn’t necessarily a simple answer and it will be different for each designer you ask.

Here’s some food for thought:
1) What do you want the readers to feel? Use your best adjectives to describe this feeling when they look at the work. (Playful, corporate, whimsical, rustic, traditional, etc)

2) Is there a theme? It could be historical, geographic, cultural, etc.

3) Have you printed your own “Type Book” for the font families you own? Do you know the difference between display type and type families?

4) Are there photos or illustrations that are used? What are they like or how are they treated? Do they have a style or era?

#11 Bad naming ruins logo meaning

Sorry. No sugar-coating. This business name is flawed. When you must instruct someone how to pronounce your 4-syllable word, it’s crippled from the get-go. Namers are people who love words and linguistics – like me. I invented a name for my design business once very similar to the one above. Mine was BENEXUS. Meaning blessed joining from Latin roots. Very similar. Marriage type of word. Connection.

But the rural audience had no idea what it meant and it wasn’t descriptive of what I did, sold, or anything, It sounded like a heavy metal rock band. Confusion. I had to throw out all of my exuberantly printed identity materials and start fresh.

#12 Theming with typography for historical and vintage projects.

Theming with type and color are several of the things I really enjoy about design. Here I share my method for historical and vintage projects.

Logo sample from someone else – not mine.

The font above is a knockoff of type foundry P22
Eaglefeather – available in several weights and a dingbat font. It is based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural handwriting for his blueprints. (I repeat it is a cheap freeware knockoff. The lower case “o” is not the same.)

So we can understand why the type was selected thematically. But there are other common fonts that would be good historically for the period of the buildings. FLLW was not contemporary to the Victorian era. His designs were considered a replacement for Victorian. So not necessarily a good choice of type vintage. Wrong century (1922). It’s considered a handwriting font.

You can get the regular Eaglefeather weight for free here:


But, as said, it’s not really the best font choice.

The logotype needed is for Rock County Historical Society (RCHS), located in Janesville, Wisconsin. Lincoln stayed there around 1859. This means these buildings were at their prime during the time of the railroad and newspaper booms. Metal type was just coming into vogue and Victorian woodblock type was on its way out. So you could choose from lots of display typographic styles to connote that period. The design strategy is to stay true to the theme vintage when possible and still be readable.

Google search phrase “Free vintage fonts” will win some good type.

A book called “Living Colors: The Definitive Guide to Color Palettes Through the Ages” by Augustine Hope and Margaret Walch (Feb 2003) is available on Amazon for only a few bucks used. It’ll reveal the color palettes used in architecture at the time. It’s a great reference book when theming. This can help a designer be even more true to the history of the project location.

#13 Proportional color palettes

I‘ve been theming for a long time (orchestrating color combinations, type selection, symbols, etc) but I learned something new about “proportioned palettes”. A new perspective on color. The author of Handout (PDF) demonstrates his method for developing a consistent and large color palette for branding. Great stuff.

I can also vouch his basis of predicting “future color trends” really works. One only need watch the fashion industry in the fall runways and then see how the red-carpet celebrities respond in the spring. It’s that simple! That cycle has just finished. What was the result? He says, “Emerald” is the color for 2013.

PS- Just looked at the Oscar ceremony dresses – not an emerald one in the bunch? Oh, well.

Example of Simple Palettes:

From these 2 image analysis of colors, we don’t necessarily get an idea of the hierarchy of the palettes.

Examples of proportional palettes:

These show dominant and subordinate colors but are not sampled from images. They are experimental.

Above is an attempt to show proportional and color wheel relationships.

And the following are attempts to generate a palette from three or more images:

When the author of these 6 combination proportional palettes was asked in an interview what he meant by high, middle, and low note inspiration, he couldn’t describe or define what those meant. Obviously, the labels are cross-sensory metaphor trying to relate color to sounds – a subconscious parameter or matter of artistic perception.

#14 Working on retainer

I worked as a designer on retainer for 14 years. I got a monthly check and worked unsupervised at home – except for a once-a-week, face-to-face, hour-long meeting. Meeting the goals and deadlines was the measurement, not the number of hours worked. This probably means I worked pretty hard for them!

Every year we’d plan what was needed for the next year. I’d prepare a bid and we’d divide it by 12. Of course, other needs would pop up and we’d call that “extra work” and it’d be billed separately. This way I was not considered an employee but a subcontractor. They felt more comfortable providing their own annual contract than one I wrote – and
that was fine with me. The work was an addendum to the agreement each year.

#15 Working remotely

Illustrators, photographers, and web designers have an easier time working remotely (globally) via the Internet. There is resistance to long-distance with graphic design projects (print, booths, etc). There is no explanation other than for some reason clients want to sit face-to-face with a graphic designer at least once. (This can be done with Skype but it’s still not the same.) Some kind of nervous anxiety? Client paranoia? There are many exceptions, of course. But you’ll find most of your prospective clients will be within driving distance from your studio and back. That’s about 50 to 70 miles circumference. So draw a circle on a map and see who falls within your area that you want to work with. Those are target customers.

It also helps if you have a minimum population in that area of at least 50,000 people. That is for GENERIC design work.

#16 Judicious Beauty: Image optimization for the web

Near and dear to my heart is the topic of “web image optimization”. But the poet in me would rather call it “judicious beauty”.

In web jargon, all of the image files (and others CSS, HTML, etc) that go into making a web page, when their file sizes are summed together, is called the “page weight”. It’s usually expressed in “K”s. Such as 100K. But today’s web, 1MB has become the new average page weight. In my opinion, heavy pages are sloppy design practice. But pages have been getting heavier and heavier since the web was born. And most of that is image files.

If you put too much beauty (decoration) into a site, it becomes bloated and heavy. It then takes too long to load the page in the browser. If it takes longer than 10 seconds, the page will most likely be abandoned before people even see how beautiful it is. Speed is the first barrier visitors must cross. The expectation today is under a 2-second load time.

Web images are usually JPEG and GIF images. More and more PNG images are starting to appear. I’m not a fan of PNG unless you really know how to properly prepare them as they do not necessarily produce smaller image files.

The JPEG and GIFs should be optimized. Using “smush” by Yahoo Yslow addon for either Firefox or Chrome are best. But they do not always produce the best file sizes. This I know from much experimentation.

Your best procedure is to use either Photoshop “save for web…” function or the same function in GIMP. The Gimp requires installing extra addons to get “save for web”. It’s very easy to do and I’ve found it gives great results. After doing this, then run the now compressed images through Yslow Smushit and see if there is any further improvement. You’ll find that about a third of the files cannot be compressed anymore. Yslow smush.it converts to PNGs best. It will reduce files by 10 to 30% typically. It automatically converts and renames GIF and JPEGs by appending a PNG extension to the original file name. That way you won’t accidentally overwrite your original.

How much compression is best? The answer to this depends upon how dominant the image is on the page. Generally, a compression setting for JPEGs of 70 is best. There is no visible difference to the human eye (except on magnified inspection.) For really small images like thumbnails, push the compression to 50. And for large backgrounds try and get down to 30 or less.

The nature of the image will produce surprisingly different results. For example, an image of the blue sky with fluffy clouds that is full screen can be compressed dramatically because of the lack of no hard edges. Knowing these things can help you develop a “strategy” to balance beauty versus speed. Experimentation is a fast teacher.

Helpful Links:
Four Reasons Why to Optimize Web Graphics

Response Times: The 3 Important Limits

Lastly, it’s shown site visitor do not care as much about image quality as you the creative talent do. So always leaning to the side of “smaller and lighter” is best. Slow loading pages are much more irritating than you’d ever guess. Some people actually list slow pages as the MOST frustrating part of their day.

For an example, visit my experimental website http://www.pagepipe.com/

#17 Designing tips for trade booths

Trade shows are a low priority in the marketing budget at times for some small companies. But here are some pointers to help your client get the best return on their investment:

1. Adhere to a one-benefit-per-panel rule.

2. Readability: The six-by-six rule states no more than six elements per line and no more than six lines per panel. The average person’s reading rate is about 250 words per minute. Therefore, signs that will only be seen for a few seconds should include no more than six items.

3. Lists: No numbering of bulleted lines. It throws people. No asterisks. They are associated with footnotes or ”fine print”.

4. Avoid placing copy over images. It usually ruins the photo and the type simultaneously. Position copy in a separate border or block near the image panel.

5. The field or cone of vision for signage covers a 60-degree angle. Consistency in the height of signs in a system reduces the viewer’s need to search for information.

6. Readability: Keep the fonts simple and use basic colors for lettering (black and white are best).

7. Legibility: Make type 1 inch high for every 3 feet back. To read copy 12 feet away, the letters should be about 4 inches tall.

8. The average height of a viewer’s eye level, measured from the ground when standing, is about 5 feet, 6 inches. When sitting, it’s about 4 feet, 6 inches. Make sure no table in front will cover text content.

A few other things I’ve learned over the years for keeping booths low-budget:

1. Make the best use of color to attract attention. But keep it real simple. No more than three main colors.

2. Use one large graphic image. Not many small ones.

3. Use lighting of some sort on the panels whether it’s clip lights pointing down or floor lights in containers pointing up or both. It makes a big difference.

4. Rent some potted plants for your booth to make it more inviting. We always used a floor palm and a table mum. It’s worth it.

I’ve learned these suggestions also apply to web home pages. Same problem: limited attention. The viewer is cruising just as speedily and has to absorb info fast.

#18 Color overprinting magic

This is an esoteric design adventure never told until now.

I was printing a cheap but attention-getting packaging insert. One-color Pantone 485 on Wausau AstroBright Solar Yellow, 24lb wt. When I picked up the job, the red ink really popped. PMS 485 was a favorite color. I knew it well. I’d never seen it so bright when printed on white stock.

I asked Fred, the printer, “How come is this red so bright? Did you do a double hit?”

“Nope,” he said, “Red always does that when printed on yellow paper.”


“Press inks are transparent. The yellow underneath is giving it a boost.”

Pantone 485 spot color, when translated into CMYK, gives the following percentage values: C0, M100, Y91, K0. Magenta is 100% and Yellow is 91%. When you print 485
over a 100% yellow paper, it boosts the yellow from 91% to 100%.

This revealed a form of transparent color math that could be performed using CMYK.

So what would the results be if you excluded black and used 100% yellow paper (Astrobright)? Could you print a broad palette of colors with just varying percentages or tints of cyan and magenta inks? I had to try it.

Here’s the result:

Yellow overprint palette with Cyan and Magenta (2-colors only).

The first joyous discovery was that 90% Magenta and 90% Cyan printed on 100% yellow produced a warm black. I then sampled each of the colors in the grid and found out what their Pantone equivalent was.

I had built an HTML Reverse Thematic Color Lookup based on the 2,000 Pantone colors used in the paperback book, Pantone’s Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eisemann (2000).

The book is out of print but available used for $6.63 on Amazon. I looked up all the Pantone colors from the grid and found that 5 themes could be generated.

5 color themes from Cyan-Magenta overprint on Yellow paper.

Here is one of the sample sheets showing the dominant, subordinate, and accent colors for the Spicy theme:

Spicy themes from yellow paper.

I then convinced a pro bono job (free design) to let me print a donation form using CM over Yellow to see how it would work:

Donation Form for the Humane Society.

There are two colors you cannot print with this method: blue and white. But the palette would work great for say a Cinco de Mayo event, or a Mexican restaurant menu, etc. It needs to match the event theme. In my case, it didn’t but was still well received as a donation of labor.

With the advent and popularity of direct-to-plate full-color digital printing, the advantages of 2-color printing were soon lost.

So I put all of this info in the back of my mind and went my way designing full-color stuff for laser or digital output.

You’d think that would be the end of this overprinting story. But there’s more.

A client had a sensor that measured soil moisture. A competitor had reverse-engineered it and it looked identical. It was the standard green circuit board coated with a transparent green silkscreen solder-mask and white opaque ink text. They wanted to know if I could do anything creative to differentiate their product line starting with their new double-bladed sensor. The solder-mask had to be 100% coverage to prevent circuit corrosion.

Here’s the original sensor:

Original sensor design.

My research of solder-mask inks was dismal – almost all of the transparent colors were shades of green. Except for one blue, one red, and one yellow. In the opaque inks, there was black and white.

The transparent red was Pantone 485!

I asked the circuit board manufacturer if they had yellow substrates instead of green. He said it would be a special order but not a problem.

I did a mock up design in Photoshop for presentation.

Photoshop prototype mockup.

It went to committee. It took many months for approval. But this was the color strategy. Use a yellow substrate. Overprint 100% in transparent red 485 for a sealant. It would get a color boost from the yellow. Then spot overprint in opaque black. And then one more pass of color for opaque white lettering. They were frightened by how much it might cost to produce the product with so much silk-screening.

The selling price was estimated to be $150. Product costs were never revealed to me but I’d estimate them to be around $15 to $25. The extra silk-screening added $0.33 to the cost of each unit. They were delighted and realized they had done a brilliant job! I got paid but never thanked for that contribution. Lesson learned. Charge more if they don’t thank you!

Here’s the real-life final product photography:

Final product. Sold like hot cakes for $150 each.


Color by overprinting: A complete guidebook in the art and printing techniques employing transparent inks in multiple combinations.
Donald Edwin Cooke (Author)
used $394.06
Hardcover: 250 pages
Publisher: Winston; 1st edition (1955)

#19 Value analysis and graphic design

Value analysis identifies and selects the best alternatives for designs, materials, processes, and systems. You repeatedly ask “can the cost of this item or step be reduced or eliminated, without diminishing the effectiveness, required quality, or customer satisfaction?”

In other words, value analysis is a method of optimization. It requires creativity. It consists of 5 components: combination, simplification, elimination, standardization, and substitution. Below are some examples from my career as a designer. Naturally, value analysis can be applied to many disciplines besides design.

Case study: Speeder postcard
Combining two direct mail components

My first experiment with this direct mail concept had a theme of an instrument so fast the user got a traffic speeding ticket. The term “Speeder” stuck. A Speeder is an oversized postcard with an integral tear-off reply card. It is built around two critical dimensions. First, the maximum postal regulation return card, and second, the maximum postcard dimensions for first-class presort or standard presort postage.

Streamlined to save money
The postcard is built for automated mail sorting (machine-ready design). Address imprinting is done at a mail house with inkjet. This printing and perforation implement low-priced card stock and smaller printing presses. If you have a good mailing list and a good product offer, the Speeder completes the success formula.

Case study: eBrochure web publishing
Would you like your product information distributed faster?

Sometimes you can’t wait on the turn-around for printed materials. eBrochures get your product information to qualified sales leads faster than ever. An eBrochure electronic file is viewed on-screen as a single-page scrolled message. eBrochures are much easier to read than cluttered websites and less cost than printed material. Your potential customer gets the concise product message in full color with the click of a mouse.

Not a website.
You probably have a website. But eBrochures allow you to create a specific message for a targeted audience. That message goes directly to your contact; no surfing or navigation required. eBrochures do require a host server somewhere on the planet.

Focused message.
Like print brochures, eBrochures send your undiluted product message, with no website distractions. The scrolling format invites your readers to progress through your product information — no page breaks, no navigation, no interruptions.

Faster paperless message production.
An eBrochure requires no film, no printing, no shipping, no color key, and no hi-res photography. But you still get full-color text and images, and fast delivery.

Case study: Catalog sheets (slicks)
Without standardization, four-over-one catalog sheets really can’t save you any money or grief.

In this competitive world, there exist print houses specializing in “bad” printing. It’s called “gang printing”. My photographer friend calls it, “The G-word”. Why would a photographer think so poorly of gang printing? Gang printers usually own a huge press that loads an extremely heavy roll of paper. This is a much larger-scale operation than your corner sheet-fed print shop. The gang printer processes many print jobs at once by “ganging” up the art. All the image contrast tend to be reduced when this happens. That’s why the photographer’s sigh. Their beautiful images are “washed out”. To the normal viewer or reader, this would not be noticeable, of course. But photographer’s are a special breed.

So what’s the gang printing advantage for you?
Cost-saving. Multiple print sources. Competitive pricing. Standardization. Catalog slicks are the choice when you can’t afford to print a multiple-page color catalog. Slicks can even be printed in relatively short-runs (500 pieces). You can look bigger than you are on that new product introduction or trade-show booth. Instant credibility. Just don’t tell your photographer.

Case study: Tabloid newsletter
Newsletters are a great credibility booster.

But what if you don’t have the budget for printing a conventional 8-page 2-color newsletter? Instead of spending 40 cents per copy, how about a nickel?

A nickel a copy! What’s the trick?
Newsprint! While some may scoff that newsprint appears too disposable for building credibility, please remember the page size has grown from 8.5 x 11 inches to 17 x 11 inches. Double the print real estate. And it is an easy self-mailer. Images are easier to come by because newsprint only needs lower resolution (140 dpi). It also means using larger images, too. And for a few hundred dollars, you can get 10,000 copies. Wow! That is significant ROI. There are so many positives to this format for delivering information, it deserves higher consideration.

#20 Selling your leftovers as stock online?

No designer wants to touch the taboo topic of selling “stock art.” I have mixed feelings about “stock design”. I don’t create stuff to sell on these websites. I’m the kind of guy who might go there to get a creative idea (like from a scrap file). But I rarely buy this sort of stuff.

I can tell you my brother who is an illustrator and artist finds the idea disgusting and upsetting. If you wanted to start a riot about it, he’d probably jump right in. It cheapens the perception of the tender-loving care he puts into his work.

Photographers have had to deal with price erosion in their market because of cheap or free stock photography and the explosion of digital cameras. The same thing happened with printing (direct-to-plate digital output), and way back when the Mac became the sweetheart of graphic designers. All of these things changed how we do business. So has the Internet, I can buy handmade jewelry from South America on Etsy. Change is happening everywhere.

If you think it will help you survive, go for it. But doesn’t it give you kind of a sick feeling to think about it?

I do have to share a funny story: My brother felt he had too many paintings and was going to dispose of some to gain space in his studio. He was hauling a painting out to the trash can by the street and set it down leaning it against the can. A woman in a car stopped and said, “Is that painting for sale? I love it.”

He looked at the painting in disbelief and back at the lady and said, “Yeah, $250 dollars.” She paid him right there and both went off smiling. One person’s junk is an others treasure.

#21 Guest Post about T-shirt Art

Christine McGavern wrote the following on The Now-defunct Grid design forum. It’s good stuff so I “borrowed it” but I give her full credit. A designer had asked for help making a t-shirt for a bike race. Here’s what Christine had to say:

Will the cyclists be GIVEN the shirts to wear while they race – free of charge – or will the shirts be sold separately to raise funds for the cyclists riding? This will make a big difference in the design approach.


We’ll assume that the cyclists will be given the shirts as part of their registration package, and you’re hoping that the visibility of the shirts will attract donations as they wear the shirts around town / during the race.

Some thoughts if this is the case:

– Don’t worry about usability beyond the fund-raising effort. The best shirts for an event or to identify a team are those that SCREAM the message – go for bold over stylish.

– Focus on a well-known logo or big, clear text big and bold on the back. Make sure to use the whole 12”x12” silkscreen area.

– If there aren’t brand colors to think of, go bold text on a dark shirt – navy blue or dark gray is softer than black but holds a bright orange or white design well.

– If there are brand colors, go with the brand color as the logo or text, and a complementary color.

– Give a call to action on the shirt. Use the focus statement on the sleeves and the call to action on the back. i.e. back text: ‘Cycle to Solve Cancer // Jan. 15 2012 // Text #3345 to donate $10’ i.e. sleeve text: “www.cycletosolvecancer.com” // “Men and women riding 50kms to raise money for cancer research.”


We’ll now assume that the cyclists/organization will be selling the shirts to raise money before-the-race/during-the-race, and you’re hoping that the design of the shirts will encourage people to buy them.

Some thoughts if this is the case:

–  Keep in mind who the buying audience is likely to be. People who buy things to support a charity generally are older and have discretionary funds. In this case, I would reconsider the idea of a hoodie – it’s pretty younger generation. Maybe a front zip, no hood, ‘styled’ polar fleece with a subtle embroidery would be more popular; or a front-zip sweatshirt with no hood. In the same tone, this will affect your art.

– If you choose to have the logo, look for an alternative location for some branding, like a long sleeve cuff, shoulder crest, or the leading edge of the hood for a hoodie. Something where the logo becomes a natural part of the shirt. The worst thing you can do is logo the front ‘chest’ area. A simple embroidered logo on the cuff of a great jacket is a quiet reminder of their support.

– Look to the target audience for visual ideas for the art and the colors you will use. If you’re crossing a board spectrum of ages and interests, see if you can target into who is MOST likely to support the organization (i.e. women of any age; older men).

– Choose a base color of shirt that looks good on most people – again, black, navy blue, dark gray, white, very dark chocolate are good choices. Red, green, purple – no matter how ‘fashionable’ – will be a tougher sell.

– Choose subtle inks for most of the design – even consider a silkscreen ‘varnish’, especially on a dark shirt. Can make a very cool design. Dark gray ink on a black shirt with just one hit of red, orange, etc. can be powerful and stylish.

Remember, with silkscreen or embroidery – the larger the blocks of color in your design – the heavier the ink or stitch ‘patch’ will be, affecting how flat it lays, how hot it is to wear, etc. Just to consider.

Hope some of this helps!

Christine McGavern
Director, Creative Services
Xerox Canada

(Now Director of Marketing at Jayman BUILT)

The only thing I could add to Christine’s post was:

Find out who’ll print the t-shirt (the vendor) and ask them if they have had some “successes.” They can show you the ink and fabric combinations. They’ll have succeeded and failed many more times than you and will be glad to help you. This made all the difference on a project I worked on for the Humane Society. They also can give you pointers on ink limitations (print specs and art prep).

#22 Logos and egos: my different perspective

Target audience vs owner ego?
Frequently, the owner (client) thinks they’re the clone of their audience (potential and actual customers). Of course, they aren’t. We’re all different and have different perspectives and opinions for many reasons. That’s good. Otherwise, this would be a pretty boring place.

I’ve catered to small, family-owned, high-tech corporations. In that venue, a logo really is pretty meaningless – except for the owners who see it as a “flag”. A flag can be good for morale. “Can you make the logo bigger?”

But a good trade name carries much more weight (potent meaning) with a small audience than a clever logo. Then as long as the name is memorable, readable, and pronounceable, it might make a difference. I feel naming does that but that’s difficult to measure. There are three components that appeal to the audience. You can succeed with any two – but it’s best if all three are present to some degree.

Three keys.

They are the offer, the market need, and the design. If any two are missing, it’s a sure failure. Notice the logo is not one of the three but a subordinate part of a design. In the hierarchy of what really makes a difference, a logo will not guarantee much. Yes, it’s possible to succeed with bad design. It can even be more memorable for the wrong reason!

But if no one needs the client’s product or service, or the price is too high and delivery too long (offer) – even fantastic design cannot save the venture. My stupid ideas especially cannot be saved by design (let alone by a logo). I’ve erroneously tried to save a few ideas. Statistically half of all businesses fail in the first year whether they have everything right or not. It’s a coin toss.

Nonetheless, I believe design is a secret weapon giving companies an edge over competitors if they have a good product and a market that needs it. When I say market, I mean names and addresses –a list that has needs in common.

I like a nice logo. It feels good to own one. I’ve even paid for a number. I’ve even paid too much for one. (After I paid the designer, he and his business partner and their wives went to the Bahama’s with the proceeds! Wild but true.)

I don’t invest as much money or credence in logos as I used to because I’ve come to realize ideas are disposable sometimes. If the business idea survives it’s the first year then maybe it’s time to get out the checkbook. But you do not need a logo when starting up. You can just use type. I believe in bootstrapping. You don’t weep so much when things don’t work out.

#23 Blurb book publishing

I‘ve self-published two books with Blurb. The first was a simple uncoated black and white piece with a gloss color cover (perfect-bound paperback.) I ran 10. The turnaround was good (as promised) but there was a small mark on the back cover in the dedicatory text I had there. I gifted these to my children.

I photographed the flaw per their spec and sent it to their customer service department via email attachment. They printed another 10 without the flaw. They let me keep all 20 books. It was a chapter book of children’s stories I had written. I was quite satisfied with their service and how the final product turned out.

I did the page layout and submitted it as a PDF file to their spec. It passed incoming inspection (prepress) without a hitch. I was also glad I had published in October because my deadline was to mail them out at the end of November as Christmas presents. With the reprint, we barely made it.

8-chapter bedtime reader. Trade, 36-pgs, Black and White printing (on cream uncoated paper), children’s stories.

The other book was a romantic fairy tale I wrote for my wife. I only published one edition as a gift for her. It’s full-color throughout and lots of photos and illustrations (hardbound). Turned out great. Again, I submitted a PDF built to their spec. I never used their InDesign software widgets. That may have been easier but I’m not an InDesign user for page layout. So I did it more traditionally (the hard way?) I didn’t calibrate or tweak anything other than the usual photo preparation.

Book: Pearl Girl

Pearl Girl is a 48-page classic fairy tale with photomontage illustration. Very readable with the story text set in large Schoolbook type. Standard Landscape. fairy tale, magic, classic, romance, photomontage.

I was pleased with both books. So I recommend Blurb but caution you to allow time for reprinting should it be necessary.

My brother is presently doing a book called “The Art of Thick Paint” using Blurb. He’s the one who introduced me to their website. He intends to sell his book. Mine were indulgences! Even though they’re for sale on Blurb, I’ve never sold any.

Blurb is an affordable way to do short-run books. But by changing the format, say to a saddle-stitch booklet, you can print more for the same amount of money. The question is one of “feeling”. Obviously, a bound book “feels” like it should be saved. Longer shelf-life.

As usual, I was experimenting. I intend to do something commercial some day. Another alternative is self-publishing on Amazon a Kindle book.

I’ve done this experimentally, also, on three books to learn how it works. As far as I can tell, I’ve only sold to relatives. Poor souls!

One last piece of trivia about bookbinding, according to my “survey/study” of corporate annual report competitions, perfect binding has most credibility, then next spiral wire bound and lastly, saddle-stitch. In annual report competitions “saddle stitch” rarely (never?) got into the finals. Wire binding is not the same as plastic comb binding which is considered “forbidden” for annual reports.

Nonetheless, when you’re hand assembling say a portfolio book with different weight stocks and photographs, comb binding is an excellent method. Not much money but still looks “good-enough” in a run of say 10 pieces.

#24 Learning experiment: Cathedral Tunnel Effect

BEFORE screen 8K page weight. No purple background.

This somewhat bland webpage, above, weighs only 8K. To give you a speed-weight comparison, the average Internet webpage weight today is 1MB. Page weight is the aggregate file sizes of all graphics and code elements summed together for one page. That means this page potentially loads 125 times faster than today’s “average” webpages.

You may say, “Fast. Yes. But it’s pretty boring.” It’s DELIBERATELY boring. But there is no waiting. All text on the page is HTML browser-safe type and readable by search engines. It loads instantaneously fast. That was part of the experiment. NOTE: The background color is not “black” but #333333, a very dark gray. Using black on screen produces a color that isn’t naturally seen in nature. It can appear surreal. Toning it down helps.

Why Build a Boring Page?
Here’s why – the next page is this one:

Black text over yellow flower petals. BEFORE.

It’s as if the following screen just “bloomed.” It appears bigger and lighter than if it were the lead page. Psychologically, this effect was used for centuries by architects. I call it the “Cathedral Tunnel Effect.”

Cathedrals were deliberately built with a dark constricted passage/entrance hall that once you step out of it and into the grand hall caused an awe-inspiring reaction. I’m not calling my demonstration that dramatic. But it can be put to good use. It also works well when switching the first pages dominant color to a “complementary color” on the following webpage. I’ve seen this done and it’s beautiful. Think of it as using a full-coverage solid complementary ink color on the inside cover of a catalog. If you’ve seen that, you know what I’m talking about.

The effect is based on a physiological phenomenon inside the eye where the cones reverse and pleasure is actually generated in the brain from the visual stimulation. This effect is “free” and –as a bonus– speeds up page loading because it is basically using HTML color which is a simple code, not a heavy image file.

After some consultation with my brother, Brad Teare, he recommended trying some purple behind the text with blurred edges.

Shown in the example below. This is a complementary color (somewhat) to the yellow on the following page.


AFTER screen 10K page weight. With purple halo background.

It then seemed the next page with the former black-text-over-yellow-flower appeared bland or flat. Switching the text color to a purple helped – but not the same purple (#330033) as on the HOME page. It had to be lighter (#330066). The eye read the dark purple (#330033) text as black with all that surrounding yellow.

Purple text over flower petals. AFTER.

This is an optical effect known as “simultaneous contrast.”

Two Big Questions: Legibility and Speed?
Do we lose the HTML Times New Roman type edges in this color experiment? Is it better? The button definitely is pulling the eye away from the text. Try to ignore that button-blunder. It needs a “reverse” color solution. The bright red is glaring. This was changed in the live demo (link at bottom of this post).

So Why Add the Purplish Background Glow?
We’re doing an experiment based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s color theories of physiological color. There is some speculation complementary color resets the cones in the eye giving a pleasant sensation. Is it true? I don’t know. From our experiment, does it seem more pleasant?

So The Questions remains: Was the 2.7K purple blur background a worthy effect? You tell me.

The experimental site was never commercialized. It was all great creative fun.

#25 Typographic “font pairs” and Typebooks

If you study the work of good graphic designers, you’ll find they have favorite font pairs. They may have as few as a dozen families of serif and sans serif faces, they really work with on a regular basis. This knowledge is acquired by examining portfolios of your design mentors and peers. Then start collecting the ones that really work for you.

Google search: Graphic Designer’s most favorite fonts.

I don’t think a $50 tool can replace the human brain and the wisdom of designers you admire.

I built two type books for my studio.

The first I call my “Core” Type book. These are my favorites. Each page shows the creation dates and history of each font and what recommended font pairs exist (in my collection). Remember this is based on my tastes.

Core font title page and index

Presentation Strategy

When making client presentations, I always show a sample of the entire alphabet in upper and lower case. I also include the history (which is copied from this book). Understanding the history of a font reassures the client you’re an expert. It also demonstrates your enthusiasm (they’ll think you’re a fanatic! aka font freak.) I don’t show clients the book.

Core font sample page – history, creation date, sample alphabets, pair fonts.

My Core type book is available for free download here.
1.1MB, 17×11 format, 19 page, b/w

If you’re really savvy, you can extract all the fonts from the PDF. I’ve never tried myself. I just know it can be done. The resolution is for screen viewing but all fonts are embedded.

The second type book is my collection of display fonts. They’re arranged thematically. Again, a design freebie.

Thematic categories of display fonts.

It’s available here.
4.5MB, 17×11 format, 51 pages, b/w

Sample page display fonts.

I’ve printed and bound these as a personal studio reference book. I prefer font evaluation for print jobs on paper. And I like to see them big for detail.

It’s a project worth doing for your own studio. Promise.

#26 Packaging Experiment: CDROM same but different.

My brother, Brad Teare, and I identified 12 main Photoshop action effects to build.

This sparked the idea of discovering if I could design 12 CDROM packages using short-cuts. Another weird experiment for web images! These were never used commercially. Just design thrill-seeking again.

Being a nocturnal beast, my goal was designing them all in one night. Here’s the process:

1. I chose a “robust” color theme. I cheated by referring to page 87 of “PANTONE Guide to Communicating with Color.” 24 three-color combinations were available. Dominant, subordinate, and accent colors. I chose 12 combinations I liked.


2. I went to http://www.clipart.com and downloaded 12 vertical woodcuts. Those were converted to mezzotints with an Andromeda Photoshop filter. Then output as bitmaps. That made all the white pieces clear.

3. A CDROM “box” photo was found on a manufacturers site for reference.

4. Square labels were built to scale in Photoshop (12 versions) as shown in the animated GIF at the top of this post. Two fonts were used. Franklin Gothic family and Pablo, based on the writing of the Spanish painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The mezzotints were dropped on top of colored rectangle backgrounds, sized, and also colorized.

5. After the square labels were designed and saved as separate JPEG files, they were copied and pasted onto the “box master” and the new layer was distorted to fit the perspective. These were then flattened and saved “for web”.

The end result was the packages had a “family” feel even though the colors and text were different.

#27 Words have two meaning: connotation and denotation

I renamed a number of companies and products that would otherwise have misled or confused the potential customer. Do not underestimate the power of a good business name. I refer you to this book. These principles, since 1980, have been a key part of marketing.

Positioning the Battle for Your Mind.

Positioning Wiki

A designer usually says, “The business owner is always right about naming and logos.” That is false. No marketing person would back up such a haphazard method. Especially for niche markets. In marketing, the customer [buyer], not the business owner, is always right.

There’s frequently a touch of grandiosity in company naming strategy.

We all fall prey to grandiosity at some moment. I once made the mistake of telling a potential customer that I made smart men rich. He then asked, “And are you rich?”
An embarrassing moment – as I was not rich. I had made men wealthy but he was saying, “Physician heal thyself.” I was humbler after that.

Names and logos have what are called connotative and denotative functions. It’s a way of saying, every word and symbol has two meanings: what is its dictionary definition (denotation) and what is implied (connotation). Words also have a varying degree of potency. The danger when using a name for a business is, “What does it mean to your customer?”

But the method I prefer first is simply to look up connotations in the dictionary. For example, our American culture has assigned implied meaning to many animals: dog, pig, cow, hawk, chicken, weasel, shark, bear, dove, etc. Just put “He (or she) is a …” in front of any of those and you’ll see what I mean.

So if a logo has the silhouette of a goose and as a test, I say you’re a “goose”, what does that imply? It’s not positive. If I goose someone, that is not positive either. These are subliminal meanings. Neither of these meanings is what you want to communicate.

A silly or foolish person; a simpleton.
Slang. a poke between the buttocks to startle.

I generally hedge bringing these things up. Why? Because 51% of the population think psychology is mumbo-jumbo voodoo and mind trickery. And they may be right!

And since you’re curious, my totem is a platypus. Odd, unusual, and unique. It’s taken some time to be comfortable with that weirdness – but I just don’t fit the normal classification of animals. It’s okay by me.

#28 Artisan Authenticity: Low-fidelity design.

One of my favorite papers to design with is “Kraft”, a strong brown paper or cardboard made from wood pulp.
Not only can you use recycled materials like cardboard boxes and grocery bags but you can also buy kraft paper for sheet-feed through laser printers. It is also available as a crack-and-peel stock for laser or conventional sheet-feed press printing.

A favorite source for short-run projects is labels by the sheet.

There is no minimum order and you can buy a single sheet if you want. They have a lot of other nice stuff there, too, besides kraft.

What follows is an identity based on Kraft and handmade collateral materials to give you a spark.

#29 Liquid, stretchy web pages

I saw a nice web page layout in a PDF tutorial. The page was laid out in quadrants and my first reaction was, “I wonder if you could build that using HTML Frames using percentages for the individual frames instead of fixed widths.”

So another experiment was born. I do not advocate usage of Frames because of the mantra out there on the Internet to “Never Use Frames”. But I obviously don’t care. The complaint mainly originates from formally-educated programmers because they were taught such stuff in school. As Mark Twain said, “I never let my  education get in the way of my learning.”

I’ve attached some stills that compare browsers set at different window sizes to demonstrate the changes. Here’s a live page so you can play with it and explore.

To make this work, I bought a Flash script from ActiveDen for $10. I wanted an image rotator that produced some dynamic resizing of the JPEG images. Meaning: if the screen dimensions were altered the image would try to reshape itself to match.

The script I bought rotated 6 images each time the page reloaded choosing from random but never reshowing the last one viewed. That seemed handy and it was editable in Flash version 8 which I happened to have. I’m not a Flash programmer but I wanted to remove some of the “extras” from the script and also make it into a 2-image rotator. It was actually pretty easy because the code was well documented (i.e. Change this number right here, stupid!). I just reload the same image for each time on this site. A cheap trick to make the Flash widget do what I wanted.

The interesting thing about the Flash script was it built the image from the top-left corner and tried it’s best to match the height and let the horizontal aspect ratio follow that. This actually worked pretty well. But I had to adapt images so most of the JPEG image “baked-in type” was to the left.

I used stock animal images from stock.xchng. They were free. So the animal photos are used throughout.

If you’d like to learn some extra goodies to educate your clients, download the free PDFs in the SEARCH and DESIGN sections of this demo site.

In these attachments, look primarily at the jaguar to see how the image gets cropped in different ways but still works. Test the other pages live.

The links on Firefox are different (white) because they have all been “visited”.

Different and smaller aspect ratios on the same browsers. As you can see Flash and Frames work on all desktop browsers. Where they have failings is on mobile or Apple devices that don’t support those technologies. Mobile is growing fast.

#30 Proofing text

Marty Neumeier always said the best team was a designer and a copywriter. I really agree with that whenever it’s possible.

Then the final design needs to be reviewed by at least 5 people (doesn’t really matter who they are so much.) It’s just been shown that 5 people will catch 80% of the errors.

#31 Searching for the Perfect Page

Jan Tschihold

Jan Tschichold (1902–1974) is a person of interest in the world of graphic design. He worked hard perfecting – or searching for perfection – in various project. One of my favorites was his creation of the Sabon type family in 1964.

Sabon font family includes 6 weights plus italics and Small Caps and Old style.

Tschichold was a typographer, book designer, teacher and writer.

One of the things I found fascinating about him was his research of ancient books to find how to divide a page in pleasing proportions, He studied the page layout of ancient monks and Gutenberg’s 9×9 layout and eventually demonstrated the geometry and published about his findings.

Gutenberg’s 9×9 layout


Tschichold perfect book.

I then did an experiment to see what the “grid” would be for 8.5 x 11 inch pages. The dimensions are shown below.

My Americanized version.


Stretchy fluid web page with “perfect” percentages.

So, you may ask, “What good is this esoteric information for what I’m designing?”

If you are attempting to create a historical theme with a “feeling” of being “old, ancient, or spiritual,” this is a good format. It’s great for storybooks and fairy tales. It may be appropriate for a thematic brochure. The idea is the page layout alone creates a subconscious “reminder” of days gone by. In reality, it’s not “perfect” for every application. But trying it out on your page dimensions can give you new perspective.

#32 The refrigerator test

On a design forum I asked, “What are iMatch Designers anxious about?” iMatch is their client who wants a rebuild of their website. Their reply:

“That the visuals don’t connote the value. They believe the current visual impression on the site doesn’t say ‘You get extraordinary outcomes and
the experience of working with a professional who is a good fit for you personally”

I replied: Am I hearing marketing weasel words? “connote value?” “Extraordinary outcomes?” “Good fit for you?”

These sound like credibility problems and stuff I could say about a refrigerator. Credibility has three components. Trustworthiness, expertise, and leadership. How will bigger images improve each of those things? New photos?

They had given a list of companies they wanted to look like. Elegant and expensive stuff. I further commented:
“The “competitions/example” photos (screenshots below) were obviously shot by super pros. Many of your client supplied photos don’t even have parallax correction on the rooms and buildings–which is easily fixed with Photoshop or GIMP.”

parallax correction wiki >

I agreed they need photos that cover more screen area. But credibility is more than that. It’s also in the quality (artistry) of the images.

Or by visual impression, did they mean “first impression” which is a halo effect and more about “subconscious gestalt”? Visual impression is fuzzy.

I suggested they’re really concerned about theming. I bet the theme they desire is elegance.




#33 Terms and Conditions

I wrote my own single-page design agreement (Terms and Conditions). I send it as a PDF email attachment. The scope of the project is usually defined in the email. Below is the “web design” version. All my “contracts” are fixed-bid with time limited expiration. I’ve never had a legal dispute. I mainly supply this to the client so they understand the rules of the design game.

I keep it simple. Too much legalese tends to intimidate the client. If you have a deadbeat client, there really is little recourse. The contract serves to get them on the same page as you. I don’t call it a contract. I call it an “AGREEMENT”. Less scary. I have had various versions of this agreement.

Click to enlarge.


#34 Theming with Color Psychology

Here is information on the reverse thematic process, let’s assume you’ll use Photoshop and do your Pantone conversions there to save time:

1. Run the image through an online image-to-palette converter.

2. Convert the colors to Pantone.

3. Choose a theme using the reverse lookup tool. In this case, I chose Serene. Normally, with so many “blues,” we’d just say it’s a cool theme and leave it at that. But we can do better even though three colors landed in the “cool” theme. We can shake it up a bit.

4. We then look up the two “Serene” colors – indicated in red – and find their textbook companions.

5. Then we test the color hierarchy with the image. Notice the two new colors in each layout are not inherent in the photo – nor are they simple harmonics or color math. They were chosen by a color expert (not me) and made into a database (by me). They are “psychological” combinations. In other words, based on feelings and memories.

I can now tell Mister Blueberry vendor that for his “Brand Manual” the official theme is “Serene.” There are many more color combinations that will work to create a serene theme – and still work with blueberries. I have only demonstrated two.





#35 Doing favors for people vs. Never making any money.

I only have so many nerves left. And a designer friend hit one: design abuse.

Remember, 50% of people who approach me for work are not qualified clients. My designer friend was showing infinitely more tolerance than I would for a request to surrender all of the work she had done for a client.

What they’re asking for is a “free style guide.” I produce those for money. Even if I already did the work and it’s all packaged up and ready, I’ll hand it over for $900. That is my price. It’s my “creative mind” they’re buying, not just graphic components. It stings just enough that they’ll value the information and respect it.

A qualified lead has 1) the right timing, 2) the budget, 3) the right application, and 4) works within your specified limits and skills. That doesn’t mean you can’t do favors for people. But you may be wondering at the end of the year why you didn’t make any money,

You have to say, “No.” Not all of the time – but 50% of the time. Price tags are the best way to control those who would abuse us. And we’re prone to being abused. Many designer are introverts who work for extroverts. We can easily become doormats or hostages trying to please people. And sadly some people can never be pleased. We never should have taken them on in the first place. I screen all my clientèle with two quick personality tests. They actually feel like they have qualified to become my client. They are special. They have become part of the project team. They realize I won’t tolerate certain behaviors. We have an understanding and they realize I can walk away if they aren’t pleasant people.

From what my designer friend described, she *likes* this client to a degree and want to stay loyal to them. But they must not think much of her. Because it’s plain, they’re using her and taking advantage. They are NOT even willing to trade something for her services.

I’ve had some experiences where people want me to design something and they say they have no money. So I say, “What do you have to trade?” They usually are speechless. So I make some recommendations, “I see you have an iPod. My kid would like to have an iPod. Will you trade for that?”

Oddly, some people will not give up anything even if it’s junk. Suddenly, that old lawn mower or junker car or clunky computer has more value than what work they want from me for free. And that is the problem. They *want* it but don’t really *need* it. Otherwise, we’d find a fair trade. I’ve traded a lot.

So yes, I tell people to hit the road if they can’t pay the price or trade. I know that sounds rude or brutal but we, as one-person studios, cannot save the entire world from themselves.

Half of my prospective client are not qualified leads. I do not accept everyone as a client. In fact, I make them take a couple of fun tests to see if they are a good match.

Any client that thinks they know more about design than me is in the wrong 50%. If they do know that much, why are they hiring me and then bossing me around? I tell them to find a designer up to their “high standards.”

I have the right to refuse service to anyone who’s unpleasant.

#36 Pantone color guide

You can spend a lot of money on Pantone color printing guides.

I really recommend buying old used ones on ebay. You don’t need the latest and greatest. Nor do you need all of their products to be a designer.

As far as the “aging” goes, unless it has been left laying in the sun for years open (very rare), the colors will be fine.

Coke and Pepsi have shelf-life expiration dates on them, too. But they are not required by law for their products because they have an infinite shelf-life. They only put the dates on to encourage turnover. And it works great for them.

That’s the same for Pantone. Old fans and swatch books are fine.

Do not worry about that “replace by” date. It’s a ploy.

#37 How to handle pro bono (free) work?

My rule is choosing one pro bono project per year. But I treat them like a “real” client with the same priority as if I was getting paid. I try and do the best for them I can. I usually include “teaching and coaching.” And yes, a contract or agreement is necessary to establish good boundaries.

I do not put design credits on my work. Advertising is not my motive. I simply want to do something good for someone. Who’s the most deserving is a personal choice. If the work is creative, aesthetic, and succeeds at accomplishing goals, word gets around.

So far these have been some of the most difficult people to work with. You really have to spend time educating them about why design is important and how it can affect people. They frequently expect rush work as if they were overpaying you (or creative ideas just fall out of your head on-demand.) So it requires some fortitude.

In some circumstance, I had to quit. They were becoming too parasitic or demanding. That’s why I think one project a year is plenty ulcer for most designers.

We’ve been given gifts and need to payback” something to the world. Pro bono is always needed. The best, of course, is when a pro bono client says, “You’re the expert. You do it your way.” Nice.

But generally, pro bono work requires some suffering. It’s a sacrifice of love for people and for design.

#38 Color differences between screen and print

I’ve solved the wild color differences between screen and print by teaching the client that reflective color (print) and emissive colors (screen) are never going to appear the same. If they do, it’s an accident or illusion.

Pantone swatches are supposed to show the “Real McCoy” but even ink mixing can be botched. Drying time, paper choice, lighting conditions, etc all affect the perception of printed color. For screens, it can have to do with make, model, angle, age, calibration, etc. No two consumer-grade monitors render color the same. No two printers render the same – especially when specifying in Pantone colors.

Clients also need to “see” how RGB, CMYK, and Pantone color space (gamut) overlap but are not the same.

Comparing color space RGB, CMYK, Pantone

Telling them this stuff is called “stress inoculation.” Reducing surprises. They need to know it’s a crap shoot.

WIKI: reference

The biggest problem is client expectation. They have to realize, at some point, tweaking the colors isn’t going to make that much difference to someone (the audience) who has never seen the piece before. Nor in the desired results. They have nothing to compare to. The client
becomes biased because they’ve seen the work under different conditions than the final. And “Approved” it!

Color, of course, is important for selling fashion goods and food. Green flesh tones are alien. No one wants to buy green or purple bread.

You can train clients. It takes time and energy. Build that instruction time into your price. I used to do all of my client proofs with printed output. Eventually, I got clients trained to use PDF proofs and to TRUST my judgment. I only use paper now for invoices. :)

Credibility is trustworthiness, expertise, and enthusiasm. That’s what they buy when they hire you.

#39 Portfolio Strategy for Creatives

You may wonder what to include in your online portfolio. Those can be hard decisions.

Your web portfolio is the second best sales tool after client referrals. But even referrals need a place to go to check about you and your work.

#41 How much to charge for your design work

I always ask straight-forward and bluntly, “How much do you have budgeted for this project?” I then try and find a solution that will fit. I do fixed-bid contract work. Never bill by time. As said earlier in a post “time” doesn’t reflect the projects true market value.

If the client is asking for the impossible, I show them how being creative and taking another approach will solve their problem. Just because the client thinks they need a brochure or logo doesn’t mean that will necessarily solve the real problem. Get back to goals and objectives first.

What you’re worth is in the mind of the client. Not what you think. Get into their head. They might have a higher opinion of your value than you do.

#42 Page load time expectations

At least blame the machine, technophobes blame themselves for every flaw. “I must have done something wrong!”

Attached is a little graphic that explains human expectation of page load times.

#43 Portfolio website tips 2

Studio Hinrichs

Robert, a designer friend, asked me some entertaining web questions that are near-and-dear to my designer heart. You’ll find varying opinions, of course, from others. So realize what I’m sharing is based on my experience, experiments, and reading.

Whenever possible, I use old, vintage, legacy stuff that I repurpose in some strange way. This is low-tech. It’s low-cost and low-risk. When you want to do the latest “online fad”, it’ll usually cost you in time, money, or frustration. Redefining what is good enough is part of the creative solution.

I’ve built portfolio sites. Almost always in-trade for creative services. Generally, artists, illustrators, and photographers are on severe budgets. I’ve been encouraging my clientèle to move along with the mainstream herd and use CMS. (I did this again just yesterday but mainly because the potential client was bossy. Not a qualified lead.)

Clients care (are anxious) about making portfolio changes more than they care about load time. This is an unwarranted “want” – not need. They generally think their latest work is their best. That isn’t necessarily true. My experience is portfolio sites rarely change even if the owner has that CMS flexibility and capability. It takes discipline.

In 3 years, sites are obsolete and need a rebuild anyway. That is the shelf-life of a site. So build a disposable website and leave it alone.

CMS is not the solution I’d take for myself. They’re clunky and slow. So what is the right answer depends upon your skill level, audience, and objectives.

I’m going to give an example of keeping the pageweight down with strategy:

PROJECT ONE: Photography
Here’s one I built last year and the strategy is not for everyone.

Link MiningShots.com >


First, I asked the photographer to supply as few horizontal images needed to do the job (12 per section, 4 sections) cropped to 1024 x 768 pixel dimension. Vertical images that resize just aren’t as impressive. That is not very many images for a photographer but more is counterproductive (9 per section is optimum.) He couldn’t choose that few. More repels visitors (boredom.) I have tested this.

I used a “widget” called SimpleViewer, which is free, for the main screens. This is a Framed Hybrid website which I do not recommend except for non-conformists like myself. If you don’t care if others make fun of you as a programmer, it’s a great trick. SimpleViewer is a dynamic image resizing slideshow. It’s free and extremely lightweight. It uses a Flash file and XML file in the big frame.

I optimized all the images using an old-school Photoshop compression plugin called “Boxtop Pro JPEG” but “save for web” in GIMP or Photoshop gives fine results, too. The JPEG images are saved at a 70% level and sharpened. The human eye cannot distinguish any difference from the original onscreen. That puts the large images in the 70K to 100K pageweight range (sometimes less –like 50K.) This is acceptable.

Notice how you drop right into the portfolio and not an introductory page or splash screen.

NOTE: Viewers do NOT care as much about image quality as the “artist” does. Always push hard to reduce image file size. Here’s a nice link on optimizing image files:

People have a lower expectation of page load time with portfolio websites. But this shouldn’t be abused. Keeping one large image per page is ideal. Loading up a page with many images does two things: it dilutes the emphasis (visual noise) and bogs the download. In this case, we’re relying on “perceived load time” and not real load time. A preloader is working in the background for subsequent images.

The page that absolutely has to be the fastest is the home / landing page. All that matters is that it answer 3 questions: who you are, what you do, and why I should care. Anything else is a distraction.

I use a custom-built Photoshop action to generate the thumbs which are under 2K each.

Now some would say, “This is a foolish solution because Flash is doomed and Frames don’t work on mobile.” All true. But here’s the strategy: the audience is not mobile active. They are all upper-level advertising and marketing executives sitting at desks with a huge screen.

Flash is stagnant but will be supported with upgrades – but not new versions – and Adobe claims this is true. Millions of sites still use Flash – even YouTube and Hulu. You don’t just pull the plug in one night. The only platform Adobe has said they will not support is Linux. But they will continue to support it for 3 more years. How many executives at mining companies are using Linux?  Uh? No big deal. Using Flash and frames is not a problem either. There are a bunch of tricks to make it all work but you get the idea.

The Teare-ism (rule of thumb): One big image (1024 x 768 pixels) per screen and optimize the image. This distributes the load over many pages.

This is the solution I’d still take today. Portfolio sites should NOT be viewed on small screens. Whoever reviews artwork on mobile is not a qualified lead. I promise.

Lastly, here’s other strategy for multiple images on a single page and still keeping the page weight down. They both are works in progress. The secret: limited color palette.

The home page loads in under a second (34K page weight.) He then starts heavy-ing up the pages as you go deeper and are more and more “hooked.” Great portfolio strategy.

I classify the whole page weight-vs.-aesthetics philosophy as “Judicious Beauty.”

#44 Great logo. Bad name.

The above logo is by my designer friend Karen. I said to her, “The final art is beautiful. Thanks for showing it to us. You’re a great designer. Now with that compliment said, I will now insult you.

The clients business name is a marketing positioning statement – not a name at all. “Customized Wellness and Nutrition.” That is a mouthful to say on the phone. Her poor receptionist. I’d have corrected this flaw first. Too late now. Let sleeping dogs lie.”

I use a vintage piece of obscure software (naturally) that combines word parts to create fusion nouns. It’s called “NameMax” and runs on legacy Mac OS 9.1 operating
system, circa 2001. Using “Wholesome” and “Health” categories, it just cranked out 2,940 name candidates. I’d guess about 1 percent will be relevant to this business. That’s 29 names.

Here’s some samples: TrimFresh, SunZeal, SoundPure, ProGood, PepIdeal, NaturPure, Naturance, FineClar, BodyPure, Naturia, etc, etc.

These neologisms (new words) are easier to remember and to speak. That doesn’t mean they are legally eligible names. That would have to be checked next.

Karen did great with a client who was very unsure of herself. So my observation is mainly an “in-retrospect” “wouldn’t it have been nice if …” scenario. Hindsight.

I love the aesthetics of the piece.

#45 Demystifying the Logo

I’ve been anti-logo for – well, a long time – I used to pay for them regularly. Usually $200 to $1,800 range. I thought they had some kind of magic. Like Dumbo’s magic feather.

They were a flag for the company troops to rally around. I called them “morale builders.” It took time but eventually I woke up and realized logos made little difference in the outcome of client profitability. They have other benefits but it’s not money.

Now, I’m not talking multinational conglomerates here. I’m talking about businesses that sell between $500K to $15M per year in sales. These are called medium to small size businesses. Do they really need a symbol?

I did see frequently where a product name and consistency of colors and typeface made a difference –a big difference. Continuity generates credibility. But that is not something a symbol or icon can do without investing a lot of money to give it meaning. Symbols usually just muddied up the situation and confused the buyers. There are just too many logos in the world that look exactly the same. Millions. Design clients buy them because designers tell them they need one.

A logo for many businesses has become reduced to a decorative element. When is the last time you paid for a solitary dingbat?

Later, when I began selling “design and marketing” as a package, logos were always fraught with emotional upheaval for the owners and caused unneeded, repeated presentations. “Does it really represent me?” Uh. It’s not supposed to represent that deep of a psychological burden. Arguments and doubt could go on forever.

So my solution was: NEVER CHARGE FOR A LOGO. It wasn’t on my price list. It then became completely disposable and they didn’t put so much angst into it. If they saw one like it, no big deal. They never paid anything for theirs in the first place. I just said it was part of the project and never a project of it’s own. A “logotype” was included with a website or brochure. I did not want to make logos for a living. If someone asked me to do a logo, the answer was “no.” But if they wanted a brochure, I’d throw it in for free.

The presentation of the logo was never a solo event. It was presented on the brochure or website in it’s natural environment. This is not to say, I didn’t produce “brand manuals” for money. But that was after the fact, the logo had already been adopted. After that unspoken approval, I just showed how NOT to use it and different options for packaging and such.

This strategy made my life more pleasant. This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a beautiful logo. But I sometimes wonder if we know what we as designers are really selling. Is it fluffy stuff?

#46 Free Upsize PS action comparison

This Proportion200 Photoshop action will enlarge your images by 200%. I’ve tested it against all of the PAID competitors and found it to give equal or superior results.

The method uses Staircase Interpolation. We do a small amount of sharpening between each 10 percent incremental step to keep things crisp. If you are using an old version (legacy) of Photoshop, the action will work but calls for JPEG noise reduction to eliminate artifacting. Just skip that step or do it in advance of the action with a standalone filter – or not at all. Depends upon the quality of the original image.

No signup or registration is required. This is a great way to get low-cost 72dpi images suitable for 300dpi print. The higher the dpi resolution of the original the better the results. I don’t recommend passing the image through Proportion200 more than three times – but you can be the judge of when to stop. An ugly image is still going to be ugly when it’s enlarged – even more so.

My hat is off to my brother Brad Teare who built this action to my specification and then agreed to generously donate it to anyone who might benefit from it. Try it out!

Janice Campbell, of The Grid, collaborated with me to produce a comparison of commercial Blowup 3 Photoshop Plugin ($149 US) against Proportion200 (the freebie digital PS action enlarger).

Janice supplied a digital camera photo of a perched butterfly. It’s size is 1497 w x 1500 h pixels @300dpi. Janice said it was straight out of the camera and just cropped to a square. No resizing, downsizing, or filters
were applied. She also provided a doubled image (200%) that had been increased in Blowup (5.1MB JPEG). The final Proportion200 resize ended up being 2.8MB file size JPEG.

I show the original here at 720 pixels wide so it fits on this page.

Original at half size to-fit 720 px column width.

I sampled the exact same area from The Blowup enlargement and a Proportion200 enlargement (single-pass, no doctoring).

After examining the results, Janice did the experiment again but ran the image through “Dfine 2” from Google
part of a $149 filter plug-in package. Dfine 2 is a noise reduction filter. Final image weight is 3.4MB JPEG. That sample is also included for comparison. Read the captions, please, since they ended up in an odd order.
Here are the results:

Blowup combined with Dfine noise reduction -sample. $149 Blowup + Dfine $149 = $298
Blowup plugin 200% comparison $149
Proportion200 action freeware $0

Matthew Barron comments | Fri Mar 29, 2013 6:58 pm
“VISUALLY, I FIND the smoother gradient of Proportion200 more appealing on screen. From experience, I know that smooth gradients show the artifacts of JPG compression in print. Also, smooth gradients tend to band on digital presses. For that reason, I thought I’d like the sharper, yet noisier Blowup 3 version. But upon printing, I found The Blowup 3 version also blew up the noise in the original photo, which looks distracting in print. Though the Proportion200 version did print the JPG artifacts like I thought, the banding wasn’t so great as I thought.

Therefore, I recommend using the Proportion 200 and adding noise afterwards in Photoshop. And who can beat that at that price?”

#47 Experimenting with mezzotint overlays

Original JPEG digital photo.

Mezzotints are a method of converting black and white continuous tone images without using hatching, cross-hatching, or stipple. To reduce file size, but add coarseness, a mezzotint can be converted to a bitmap image (in Photoshop or GIMP and probably other image processors.) A bitmap image consists of only black and clear pixels. This makes it possible to do some interesting stuff as overlays in page layout programs or Photoshop.

To demonstrate this, I took a self-portrait photo (yes, that’s me 10-years ago. My beard is white now.) And put it through two processes. One is making a mezzotint from
the black plate (K channel) and the other a mezzotint produced from a grayscale conversion (#2.)

Process for two effects.

Both of these “bitmap layers” are placed over a CMYK image with the “K channel erased” or as I call it “CMYN.” N meaning none. These make for an interesting aging effect but still colorized (not a duotone or Sepia tone.)

Now you can take perfectly good, crisp photos and make them look “old and ugly.” Below are the finals:

Light photo aging effect
Dark photo aging effect.

#48 Good naming attributes

1. Good names have few syllables.

2. If you have two English words. Those are probably not very legally defensible. A fusion noun like “ValuedExpert” is better.

3. Good names grow out of positioning statements.

4. Good fusion noun names need two parts. One part denotative (dictionary meaning) and one part connotative (implied intangibles.) Potentially two connotative word parts become poetic. Poetry is symbolic and becomes harder to understand.

5. Then we start testing names with the positioning statement and see if there is any consistency. If not, it’s thrown out.


#49 Have their best interest at heart.

This is going to sound completely crazy but I have done it and won more work and client loyalty.

When I can’t stand a site I built because it has aged. I either redo part of the site (on my test site –sandbox) or work up wireframes and demonstrate them to the client. This I do for free and is speculative. I’ve never had them not WANT the new design. They see that you have their best interest at heart. It becomes an easy sale. You’ll have to evaluate the personalities of the decision-makers and go with your instincts. I have to be prepared for disappointment but rarely have I been turned down when I produce a “free gift.”

This is a psychological principle of influence called reciprocity. When you do something nice for someone, they naturally want to do something nice for you. Use it to your advantage.

#50 Cliché logos

Clichés actually are very “good” when it come to logos. Why? Because of fast recognition, memorability, and meaning. We know instantly the connection. It isn’t “distinctive” necessarily but human beings succumb to clichés all of the time. It’s a subconscious “mental shortcut.”

#51 Photography versus illustration

I’ve worked for a lot of tech businesses. I insisted on photography and not illustrations of products. Subconsciously, engineers and scientists wonder if the product is “vapor-ware” or a pseudo product if there aren’t photographs.

In one case, my client felt intimidated by a new competitor. They asked me to analyze the newcomers strengths and weaknesses. I saw that the “product shots” were only realistic-looking Photoshop illustrations. I told them they were probably several years away from introducing the product. They were relieved. And the product never did come to market. The company was just fishing.

That is characteristic of the tech market.

#52 “Award-winning design” is a hollow credential.

Awards from other design committees are usually pretty meaningless to most clients. Designers awarding designers certificates and trophies sounds sort of silly. What matters most to clients is if you have a success story of your own where your design made someone money or helped them achieve a goal.

I was once in a designer’s studio and saw all of the awards hanging on the wall (art directors club in a big
city.) I said, “Wow. You guys have won a lot of awards.” He sort of snorted and said, “Those aren’t really significant.” He knew that happy clients vote with their dollars. That’s the most significant award of all. It’s the applause.

“Award-winning design” is slick design-speak and a cliché hollow credential.

A wall of design awards from other designers is like a plaque on the wall in a doctor’s office saying he’s one of the top doctor’s in America and it was given to him by an organization to whom he pays membership fees. I’ve challenged doctors on this smoke screen and they usually blush.

Awards are not 3rd party endorsements. We pay dues to belong to the club. Or a fee to enter. I’ve seen contests where everybody gets at least an “honorable mention.”

Definition third-party endorsement: Solicited or unsolicited recommendation or testimonial from a customer other than the seller of a service.

An award from a contest of peers is not a  recommendation or testimonial. It’s an unaccredited decision by trial. The judges may be biased or opinionated experts. They could be your relatives – or worse design celebrities. They may choose a ten-year-old’s color crayon of a kitten over my entry because it’s so “cute.”

Real client success is a better and safer story to tell.
If our clientèle is not “design literate,” it’s our job to educate them and not leave them in ignorance. They become better clients that way. If they ever do read a design book, they may wake up and realize awards
are frequently a sham of designer reciprocity or money-making ventures.

The “halo effect” is a true principle. There are various ways to generate this “feeling” for first impressions. It’s
about client experience. It happens in the first 50 milliseconds they step into your site, your brochure, or your studio entry. It bypasses all of the logical parts of our brain. It’s visceral or subconscious.

But yeah. Passionate is the word about me being anti-awards. Using “awards” as evidence brings out my monster. Even Hollywood academy awards. Actor’s presenting actors awards? It goes against my idealist grain.

I’ve paid to go to “laser engineering seminars,” “graphic design seminars,” and other such “accredited” stuff. Some guys sleep through the sessions and at the end everyone gets a certificate that they attended the course. They then take that to their office and hang it on the wall. Thus they are now pronounced an “expert.”

Are awards a “credibility enhancer” for your clientèle?
What do those awards prove? That you met some minimum standard, that other designer’s like your novel work, or how much profit you made your client? I don’t
know if it really indicates any of these things.

Credibility is built from three components: trustworthiness, expertise, and enthusiasm. You can’t hold any of those in your hand. They’re intangibles and
compelling stories get those messages across. Usually, honest tales about success and failure (warts and all) demonstrate these components.

If you show me a well-designed portfolio piece, I may like the eye candy, but when it really comes alive is when you tell me what it did for your client. Then I want to buy what that client bought: success.

I’ve seen award-winning designs that only designers could love. They were impractical for the business needs of clients. In other words, designed without limitations of time or money. Most clients do not have those deep pockets to produce “portfolio pieces.” They need to achieve some kind of measurable goal for less.

I’m pushing back on the idea “awards are proof of goodness.” Omitting that claim (brag) and finding a better story to tell will enhance your credibility more.

We all need to improve. Me especially. I don’t claim to be an “award-winning” designer or even a mediocre designer. Be passionate about excellence. You’ll make
my world a better place.

#53 The body language of business

LIKE HUMAN BODY LANGUAGE, graphic design expresses similar implied non-verbal business attitudes or values. Graphic design is a method of differentiating business or products in the market. Graphic design is considered of equal value to other intangible assets like special customer offerings or an in-house mailing list or goodwill. Design builds a sense of community or habitat for customers and employees. Graphic design really is the body language of business.

THERE ARE TRADITIONAL positions for elements for different format like newsletters, a letterhead, a business card, a catalog, etc. It’s best not to deviate from tradition. People search the usual spot for information. If it is not there, it becomes a barrier to understanding. This is where creativity becomes a negative. Examples: Headlines should usually be below a photo not above it. On a brochure, ad, or slick, the logo and address should occupy the bottom right-hand corner. Place it anywhere else and people can’t seem to find it. (In web page creation, this is called usability.) Are things where people expect them to be? Placement of design elements is also influenced by printability, mailability, and postal codes.

THEMES FOR A BROCHURE or website grows out of
client communication goals. It affects all design elements. It needs to be appropriate to the audience. It may use a metaphor, a stereotype, or a cliché. These can accelerate understanding. A theme builds upon historical emotional cues to alter the buyers perception of companies and products. Words, color, fonts, images, and symbols all orchestrate to create a unified theme.

Color combinations remind customers of feelings, emotions, and memories they’ve had in the past. They powerfully reinforce a theme (but they are not the entire theme, just a component.) Instead of preoccupation about colors, it’s best to focus on what your client wants their customer to feel when they see the literature or website. That feeling is easily translated into acceptable
color palettes. Colors can also be sampled from photos or generated using Color Harmony Theory with software to select complementary and harmonic color schemes.

can be evaluated, ranked, or scored. There are 3 aspects to any word or symbol.

  1. Evaluation is the degree of favorableness. How good-bad, fair-unfair, valuable-worthless, honest-dishonest does the word seem.
  2. Activity is the degree of movement or activity in an object or event. How fast-slow, active-passive, varied-repetitive, vibrant-still, dynamic-static does the word seem.
  3. Potency is the feeling of strength and weakness. How strong-weak, heavy-light, hard-soft, serious-humorous does the word seem. Sometimes an intensity (or potency) of certain words increases the connotation like the following:
  • confused > insane
  • trusting > gullible
  • thin > skinny
  • unattractive > revolting
  • sensitive > unpredictable

Can you feel the difference in these words?

Meaning may be derived from an elements position in relationship to other page elements. Two different symbols or images side-by-side can imply a third unspoken meaning. Or something on the page may imply something is happening off the page. The human imagination fills in the blanks. This is called implication. Our imagination is the great special effect method.

THE GRID CONCEPT is from the German Bauhaus design school (1919-1933) The Bauhaus believed industrial potentials were to be applied to satisfactory graphic design standards, regarding both functional and aesthetic aspects. The Grid concept affected all design fields from architecture to product packaging. This invisible grid is consistent from page to page and consists of rows and columns. It is the skeleton for the design. Breaking the grid causes tension in the viewer. Project limitations (time, budget, energy) define what page format will influence the invisible typographic grid. The grid is a structural layout tool. Some grid patterns work best for certain formats, like 12-columns on a newspaper. A grid produces beautiful books, brochures, magazines, and websites. Grids make it possible to bring all the elements of design typography, photography, and drawings into harmony with each other. When telling a story sequentially, over a series of pages, contrast is needed on the overall sequence as well as on the page. Two opposites: the need for order and the need for variety are needed. Without order, the reader is likely to become tired, frustrated, or bewildered by an overabundance of details. Yet without variety, the reader may become bored, overwhelmed, or numbed by too much repetition.

means Emphasizing Everything equals Emphasize Nothing. There is a hierarchy of page elements. This affects placement, size, visual weight, color density, and more. No emphasis creates confusion and visual noise. Obviously, two things cannot be dominant or emphasized at the same time. The page needs a hierarchy of dominant, subordinate, and accent ranking of colors, typography, and images. Without a hierarchy, there is no emphasis. Without emphasis, there is confusion or chaos. The idea is to communicate. Without emphasis, the viewer doesn’t know what to focus on and gets overwhelmed and frustrated. Bad pages have weak focus and weak hierarchy. The central theme or idea would be muddled. Order is determined in the human mind, but there are visual cues that help direct our mind from most important to least. This is not always easy. Sometimes we have to discard something we really like to achieve the right emphasis.

PHOTOGRAPHY IS A PRINCIPLE communication device for design. Good photography generates interest and curiosity. It has energy. The most powerful or novel words in the body text, when converted to images, enable the viewer to quickly fill in the blanks. Photos frequently influence the theme color palette. If photography is beyond the budget, illustration sometimes works in its place but not necessarily for products. Products need the realism of photography even if it’s only a dummy or mock up. The potential customer will generally not believe an illustration or drawing is a real product.

Text placed over photos usually ruins the type and the photo simultaneously. About 30% of space in a publication is allocated to photos, as a rule of thumb. Besides photography as rectangular boxes on the page, it adds interest when we include a cutout photo object or two. A cutout is a photograph from which the background is removed to produce an organic edge. This image breaks the grid. Word wrap can be used around the edge. It’s a visual break from monotony and gives more life and freshens a page.

Photography helps the customer visualize what a product will be like in their possession after delivery. This should give a feeling of empowerment to the customer (not for the product or company.) The customer gets to be the hero, not us.

#54 Vintage Webpage Crafting: A Philosophy

The text of this webpage example is excerpted from an INFP writers emails to me. The site was built as an experiment of balancing speed and beauty. Her text is worth reading. Almost all links are disconnected for this demo. Once the text snippets were put together and edited it made a nice philosophy about her writing. Notice she is talking conversationally about “why she cares.” Very important and great example.

Low-bandwidth websites are about the actual making of DIY websites, the joy of building (and owning) something unique. It’s about crafting faster websites using free and lowtech resources. LoBand borrows from antiquated code recycling, scavenging, and reuse. It takes abandoned, throwaway code and plays with it. Especially code that is considered old-school, unfashionable, taboo, or forbidden by mainstream “web standards” programmers. These are “old code” like HTML Frames, Tables, single-pixel GIFs, marquees, and others.

Complex technology is an enslaving force.
LoBand are built from rediscovering “web artifacts” belonging to another time, primarily the 1990s. Modern websites are too complex today. LoBand sites are nostalgic and have the mark of a craftsperson burnished into them. Reusing old elements is classic craft like during shortages or rationing in a web cottage industry. This provides timelessness in a constantly changing modern technical culture. LoBand are a response to modern plastic-blob consumer technology. They are built with low-tech tables, CSS tiling background and HTML text.

Low-bandwidth sites aren’t mass-produced; they’re anti-slickness and unique.
They rely heavily on re-purposing vintage, legacy, low-technology code and software tools. Production requires learning low-tech and no-tech techniques to deliver project’s faster with little budget. They’re built with small or zero investment. There is nothing dogmatic or Utopian about them. This blog is about reducing production lead times and getting things done now —about things that work today. Results and workarounds.

Low-bandwidth sites are the answer.
Buyers of products and services have been tuning out traditional forms of marketing and advertising. At the same time, buyers are increasingly relying on search engines, blogs and social networks to research, form opinions and compare solutions. As a result, the effectiveness of traditional marketing services has been waning rapidly. However, despite this transformation, most marketing agencies and professionals have not adapted. Low-bandwidth sites are the answer for fast adaptation.

Simple and Fast Decision-making Process
To create this fast-loading, lo-band, single-page website, I decided to apply the “tradeshow booth” formula I’ve described elsewhere. The simple elements are:

1) color

2) foliage

3) lighting

4) legibility.

The color theme was determined previously –and I wasn’t going to change it but I did enhance the palette with a sampled yellow.

I selected a shot by searching on “purple flower” at stock.xchng – free stock photo site. The original image is shown below and was 3.7MB. Very large!

I then cropped and optimized the image as a 30Q 17K JPEG.

This was then placed as a HTML Table cell background image with an inline CSS style. This allowed HTML type to float above the background without “baking-in” the text on the image which would have made the text “fuzzy.” JPEGs frequently don’t render text as well as GIF images.

Lighting (depth and shadow)
A 13K GIF 32-color gradiant “string tile” was created in Photoshop to use as a CSS background image. It repeats in the x-axis at the top of the page. Gradients and shadows create a feeling of light-depth to a page. The screen at the top was “harvested” from a larger image after searching for images that were “delicate.”

The HTML Times New Roman author’s title was black and horsey. It was hard to read. Adding an inline Style “text highlight” with a yellow #FFCC33 sampled from the flower made it pop and allowed the type size to be reduced significantly.

The column width is set to 50% of the screen size.

The website now is attractive and weighs very little (36.6K) –a bonus. What needs changing now? The carrot image no longer seem to match the theme so I used a pencil sketch Photoshop filter to make it a little more artistic.

The page is extremely liquid as shown in the image below. And the window can collapse even further and still not break.

#55 Why themes are important

It’s important to understand what a theme is and why it is critical in design. 

I present a quote by Johannes Itten (1888 – 1967)and then a quote by Hillman Curtis (1961 – 2012):

ITTEN Wrote:

Decorators and designers sometimes tend to be guided by their own subjective color propensities. This may lead to misunderstandings and disputes, where
one subjective judgment collides with another. For the solution of many problems, however, there are objective considerations that outweigh subjective preferences. Thus a meat market may be decorated in light green and blue-green tones, so the various meats will appear fresher and redder. Confectionery shows to advantage in light orange, pink, white, and accents of black, stimulating an appetite for sweets. If a commercial artist were to design a package of coffee bearing yellow and white stripes, or one with blue polka-dots for spaghetti, he would be wrong because these forms and color features are in conflict with the theme.” (The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten. c1961)

According to Hillman Curtis, theme is central. Hillman draws three concentric circles on a piece of paper in the very first client meeting. As he jots down keywords during the meeting, he figures out how close to the center of the “target” each one fits. The words in the center become the theme. Theme can be the most difficult part of the creative process. An idea generated in collaboration with the client is more likely to express their story than one generated in isolation.

Hillman Curtis says: “It’s all about communicating the theme. You do it by combining color, type, layout, and motion in a way that supports an identified theme. You might not see the way these elements work to communicate theme, but you “feel” it. As a designer, I try to justify every element and to [consistently and clearly] support the theme.”

“Every product or brand has a theme and these products and brands exist because of their ability to tap into recognizable themes … and make people feel something. So I focus on the theme … on telling a story. If you look at that title “Commercial Artist” and deconstruct it, you can
look at it this way; you have a responsibility to your client and their brand … which is the “commercial” part of the title…but you also have a responsibility as an artist … and artists have always responded, reflected upon, and hopefully influenced the world.”

“Our challenge as designers is to target a given project’s theme and use it as a guide that will influence every design decision we make, from the initial concept to the final composition.”

Here’s are my observations about web theming. A project outline or text leads to the exploration of storytelling possibilities, imagining picture-and-word sequences, making discoveries, and uncovering unforeseen problems. Out of this design puzzle, is then formulated a “theme.” A theme grows out of the communication goal. It affects all design elements. It needs to be appropriate to the client and the audience. It’s frequently a metaphor, a stereotype, or a cliche as these accelerate understanding. Memories alter perception. The reader/viewer’s historical memory (emotions) helps them recognize and interpret “theme” (images, symbols, fonts, colors, etc). The theme alters their perception of reality.

#56 Authenticity

Authenticity indicates whether or not some thing’s “real.” Low-bandwidth websites appear more authentic, and current research shows that “authentic” ads and brand experiences are what consumers crave. People don’t trust most advertising. They trust online advertising less, in particular, online video and online banner ads.

We Rely on “Authenticity” to Trust a Website
Long ago, we trusted “the media” to give us the straight story, but trust in the press has been declining for years. The Web has further blurred the picture by creating a relatively level playing field for communicators, where scamming can appear just as well-produced as legitimate

Not Slick or High-brow
Low-bandwidth websites are not “hip”, they’re not slick, and they’re definitely not “high brow.” But they work by being direct, memorable, and honest. They work because they feel down at our “level,” connecting with us in a way
flashy sites can’t.

Low-bandwidth Websites are More Powerful
A personal touch generates response by triggering “reciprocity.” We believe someone put personal effort into reaching us. These websites are simple. They work at a visceral level. They don’t try to be more than they are. They’re unpretentious.

“Glossier,” “artier,” or “more highly produced” websites are NOT more effective. They just cost more and take more time.

#57 Caption writing guide for your images

The graphic metaphor’s advantage is carried in the captions. Here is where words carry more meaning than pictures as the viewer relies on the caption for proper interpretation of the image’s meaning. Without this caption, you might not interpret a
photo properly.

Note: National Geographic has an entire department dedicated to “captions” because those are the only words in their magazine some people read. It important to them.

You can alter the meaning of an image with it’s caption.


#58 Never speculate on a portfolio

An adage I like when it comes to hiring a designer is: “Never speculate on a portfolio.”

What that means is, if you don’t see something in the designer’s portfolio that looks close or similar to what you want, you’d best not hire them. That advise will seem harsh counsel for the design community. Designer’s frequently like to “earn while they learn.” As a business person, I’ve found out the hard way it’s good advice to avoid speculating even at a great price.

#59 Advertising weasel words

Buzzwords, marketing tripe, and meaningless hype.

These most notoriously appear in the ABOUT US section of websites. I’ve collected them from many sources.  While appending my latest additions, I realized I’ve been violating a bunch. So it’s a good review. For a long time I’ve called myself a “creative strategist,” according to my list that means I’m “nobody.” Too funny. So I’ve changed my title to “Supreme Commander.” That’s much more meaningful and less pretentious.

Link to Weasel Words >

The list is mostly for my entertainment as you said. But it can serve as a reality check, too. I’ve heard them so much in the business world I’ve grown weary.

I didn’t share the list to evaluate your own design claims – but rather the claims of clients. In the course of getting this list modified and ready, I realized I’ve many offenses to correct in my own stuff. I’m willing to admit that and fix it. That means thinking instead of regurgitating.

Here’s a client example: A client kept repeatedly insisting the main benefit of their product was “it’s state-of-the-art.” My question that disturbed her was, “What does that mean in plain English?” In fact, she couldn’t tell me. It wasn’t real. Just smoke. The product technical specifications or measurements had no edge over other similar techniques. She just wanted to say it did. In other words, lie or deceive. The products real benefits were it’s lower price tag and ruggedness. But that didn’t sound as sexy.

As a designer, I try not to publish client created lies or exaggerations about their products or services. This has not made me popular with product managers (pretend copywriters) – but popular with business owners (at-risk.) Lying or boasting can get a company into trouble. It sets up possible customer disappointment (buyer’s remorse) and is potentially false advertising.

This list is mainly to keep clients from overselling, exaggerating, or flat out lying about their products and services. A client saying something is state-of-the-art doesn’t make it so. In 15 minutes, I may no longer possess the highest level of development. Things change fast. It’s a presumptuous term overused by marketing people (tech people and politicians alike.)

My father was a PhD. I observed it didn’t endow him with common-sense. So I’m generally unimpressed with titles, diplomas, awards, and acronyms.

Now to your question, ABOUT pages:

Your About page.
Who are you? What qualifications and experience do you have? Why should viewers care about your work?Are you trustworthy and reliable?
You can answer the trustworthy and reliable question in two ways. You can include testimonials from previous clients, or you can emphasize the ways in which you’re a decent, normal person: you have a family, hobbies and so on. Client testimonials are effective for persuading those that visit your site that you will deliver on your promises. It increases the level of professionalism when tastefully incorporating testimonial into your portfolio. David Airey has an article titled “The Importance of Client Testimonials” that has useful information on this subject.

Resumé alternatives.
We can include a downloadable PDF resume.

But I don’t recommend it. A resume is an excuse to reject you. Once you send your resume, a client can say, “Oh, they’re missing this or they’re missing that,” and boom, you’re out. How about instead—three letters of recommendation? Or a  sophisticated project they can see or touch?

Hire Me page.
If your portfolio is a traditional showcase of your work, your ‘About’ page will suffice. Stick a ‘Hire Me’ button, link or section on your site.

That’s when a ‘Hire Me’ page becomes important (though you’d probably call it ‘Hire Jonathan’, but using your name.) It should include all the information listed in the ‘About’ page section above.

Link to your hire page in a prominent way from your site’s front page. If you want to get hired, be bold about it. Put a sign with the text: “For Hire” and a link to how to actually hire you. Describe yourself and your work in just a few words.

A designer says as an opening line on his website:
I create targeted, effective solutions to your problems.

I call this a “refrigerator statement.” It could apply to many home appliances. I’m just as guilty and need to revisit and clean up several of my websites. But the opening line is too generic. There’s no hook and this is the most important sentence on your website. It doesn’t reflect why I should care about your work. Everyone is special in some way. Especially, you. Tell your story.

There is no such thing as a business being exactly the same as its competitor – you are one-of-a-kind. I can see your products and services in ways you cannot. Intuition and imagination are benefits you can’t afford to ignore.

It takes a lot of thought to tell people who you are, what you do, and why they should care.

Exploring who we are as “artists and designers” can be and usually is an agonizing process. One reason is we change or our environment changes. Then we have to adapt with a new definition of ourselves. I learned from a friend, “an organism cannot evaluate itself.” In other words, there are strengths and weaknesses others see that I don’t.

So where am I going with this?

Having friends to talk to can help you find the definition of who you are, what you do, and why others care about it. So pick someone to help you as a sounding board. Someone empathetic to your cause who isn’t related to you. :) It can actually be an empowering experience to get a clear direction.

#60 Building separate websites for different services

Here’s something I’ve advocated for a long time and that’s building separate websites for different services.

Every good product or service deserves it’s own website. The “business herd” tends to think a “big authority website” is best. They are not. They are bloated and easy to get lost in. Telling people you can do everything is the same as telling them you do nothing. It all becomes noise.

By “specializing” and not selling “generic”, you increase the perception of your expertise. Expertise is a component in
credibility. It has value.

Building two sites is good creative positioning strategy. If I want to buy a logo, I’m going to feel better buying from someone who is “fascinated” with logos.

PS: Logos are not an isolated deliverable.

#61 Design Therapy

The upfront expenditure to wheedle out of a client what they really need I call “Design Therapy.”

More than normal questionnaires, it takes  unconventional “tricks” to get this information out of them. You have to analyze them and also the motivation of their audience – quickly. It’s a journey into psychology. They frequently suffer from Cognitive Dissonance.

It’s the distressing mental state that people feel when they “find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” … This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.

Cognitive Dissonance wiki ref >

It’s so common to be approached by a potential client and have them say, “Can you build us a web site or brochure by next Wednesday?” I answer, “Sure. Do you have images and ad copy ready?” “Uh. No. We don’t know what content to put in yet.” “Sorry. Then I can’t deliver by next Wednesday.” -End of Story- Common sense did not prevail.

A creative brief needs to be written. In most cases, this is the first time the client has sat down to write a plan of any sort. They want some “thing” but they don’t know what they need. Suddenly, you’re not just a designer but a business consultant, shrink, cop, and cheerleader.

As mentioned, asking “why?” is a big part of mucking through clients imaginations and dreams to achieve what’s REALLY important. This sometimes involves teaching them the difference between good design and bad. And why it makes a difference and matters. Establishing boundaries or limits of budget, delivery, and measure of “how good is good enough” should be set right away. That let’s us know what we’re up against and how to use creativity to make it happen.

There also are times when you should NOT work with someone. Design Therapy helps you screen out the losers. Only 50% of the people who approach me become real clients. You have to know how to qualify your leads.

One of my favorite but frustrating questions that a business partner asks me regularly, after I explain what I think is a wonderful idea, is: “Why should I care?” That’s when I consider strangling him. But actually, he has my best interest at heart and knows if I can’t explain my business idea so he “gets it”, it needs further thought for reduction and clarity. So asking clients, “Why should I care?” takes several attempts before you’ll get to the meat of what problem they really solve for people.

#62 Handling client delays

The way I’ve handled this “delay problem” – in my fixed-bid agreement – is instead of a “penalty,” I say the agreement is valid for 90-days. If the project isn’t completed by then, the terms are renegotiated. While this isn’t actually used as a “threat”, it’s a nice incentive or motivator for them to keep the energy on high.

Typically, I’ve found unmonitored client delays increase the project time-to-completion by double or worse. If clients had the foresight of compiling and proofing the photos and copy before beginning the project, it’d be completed in short order. This is pretty common so I frequently have to use good old “patience” to finish and get paid. Since I’ve accepted that tolerating and quelling client panic and crisis are part of my job description –and what I get paid for handling, it helps reduce the ulcer. The unpredictable is pretty predictable.

So there are internal and external things we can do to maintain our sanity.

#63 Controversy as a strategy

Positioning and differentiation are tried-and-true CREATIVE advertising strategies. I can tell you how changing positioning strategies meant making millions for many clients I’ve served. It changed them from confusing to understandable. Positioning is an idea that’s been in existence since 1980 and now taught in every business course in the world.

That doesn’t mean getting noticed and being remarkable isn’t important. Some authors attempt controversy and argument about semantics for the sake of it.

There is an observation about “controversy” as a strategy. It’s endorsed by many professional copywriters. The idea is if you choose to do safe, no-risk advertising you will never upset anyone and you might get the attention of a small fraction of the market.

But if you choose to cause a ruckus and be controversial, you’ll probably alienate 50% of the audience. The other 50% will likely become avid fans. Instead of a mere 5% noticing you, you get 50% followers and 50% haters. That is a risk, of course, since you could alienate 100% of your audience.

Authors try to get us riled up by discrediting “the old way” of thinking. Really it’s the same old stuff. But 50% will be hard-core fans. Positioning is in the “mind” of the buyer. Remarkable is the “eye” of the buyer. Aren’t these both intangible or abstractions?

The real proof is how people vote with their dollars.

#64 Business owners don’t get it

I read an article last night that “advertising” is dead. We have to use new labels to let people know we are in this present time and not the past – but the goal is still the same. Increase sales or promote an idea.

Advertising is Dead >

I do not agree with everything in this article. No big surprise, eh?

But I do agree times and methods have changed and we must adapt. The cycles for adaptation seem to come faster. But I suspect this is a matter of perception than actual evidence. Many methods and processes used to be more complex. They have gotten simpler and easier to understand.

So it’s not that problems have gotten harder. My willingness to adapt has shrunk. This is attrition or atrophy of my brain. “I don’t wanna” keeps me from embracing the next idea. Is it possible we’re weary of change and we can’t get off the ride?

When we talk about the client or customer “pain,” we’re exploring positioning strategy. Positioning is the shortcut to the buyer’s motive. Motive is based upon anxiety or pain. Same thing, new label.

I communicate in terms of profit and ROI to my clients. Business owners don’t get the touchy-feely design world I live in (INFP Meyers-Briggs profile.) My whole client presentation is couched in terms of profit and ROI (unless they’re an artist, of course.)

My goal is to convert their goals into a strategy of feeling and emotion – but if I told them that upfront – I’d never get hired. So I secretly work in reverse (backwards again.) Then make my presentation to logic and reason. I attempt justifying why orchestrating design choices -type, colors, symbols, etc– will help them achieve their goals. If I can speak in prejudiced, us-vs-them language, they’re left-brainers – like 51% of the U.S. population. They’re “Guardian” managerial-types (aka suits.)

Emotion (and thus design quality) as a strategy has risen in the awareness of modern businesses – especially based on Google and Apple’s success with user experience. UX is about how people feel when using a product or service. It’s become a way to differentiate a product from the herd (especially when all products look the same when they’re turned off.)

This primal emotional stuff is voodoo to most business men. When I ask them what they’d like me to do for them, the first thing out of their mouth is either “More profit or More sales.” They don’t realize that connecting emotionally is an important part of the solution to that problem. I’m sure you acknowledge the resistance to exploring “feelings” with business owners.

Seth Godin said in a talk earlier this year that Apple’s mission is teaching the world what is “good taste.” This claim about Apple’s “good taste” as a differentiator is mythical or bragging at best. You’ll NOT find that idea mentioned in any of Apple’s annual reports. They’re about profitability and return on investment.

Seth Godin video link >
20 minutes viewing time.

“Rebuttal” by Larry Wall, in 2011. Wall is the creator of the Python computing language:
Apple Tries to Be the Arbiter of Good Taste >
5 minutes viewing time.

But when good taste becomes mandatory, then it’s not really good taste any more—it’s just manners,” says Wall.


Good user experience is just good manners and proper etiquette. Politeness and hospitality (aka common sense.)

#65 Thinking backwards

I‘ve been an advocate of author Marty Neumeier’s thinking – but his day in the sun has probably past, I think. You can read about him here. And one of his books I’m going to quote from at slideshare. As with all author’s, I do NOT agree with everything he says. But I’m still a fan-boy. He was the publisher of CRITIQUE magazine.

Anyway. he said in The Brand Gap people need to know three things: “who you are,” “what you do,” and “why I should care.” That’s the basis for a logo, a business card, a trade show booth, or a website home page. You have to answer those questions fast. Pretty simple. The “why I should care” question is the one business people agonize over.

I’ve learned Neumeier has the emphasis backwards.
“Why?” is most important, not last in the hierarchy of thinking. You have to start there and work outwards.

Apple may “think different” – but I think backwards or opposite. Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who I am. I’m never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible. Unconventional. That is why I put up resistance to ideological fads and trends. They’re suspicious to me. Fast buck shortcuts are usually fairy tale.

Trivial note: Apple’s annual R&D expenditure is much lower than industry standards: 2%. That’s what a low-tech company usually spends – not a high-tech one (more like 4% or more.)

The truth be known, I only ask clients “what they want” to be polite. I usually then show them they’re chasing the wrong butterfly. I’m more diplomatic than that. Sort of. My point was their perspective usually has nothing to do with emotion.

I focus a lot on subconscious cuing. This is called “transparent features” in web speak.

Using fear as a motivator with people’s “lizard brain” doesn’t feel right to me. It’s not life-oriented but death.

#67 Pricing your work

I always ask, “How much do you have budgeted for this project?”

I call this “looking in their wallet” before bidding. I also ask them, “When is your deadline for submission to a printer or web launch?”

Then I ask what they are looking for. If they have a low-budget, I steer them towards a low-budget solution or tell them how to do it themselves on-the-cheap. It never hurts to turn away cheap clients. It ruins future business opportunity.

While getting paid to build your portfolio is appealing (learn while you earn), it’s even better for your business to build “example” pieces for your portfolio of the kind of stuff you really want to do.

Pricing is a statement of self-confidence and credibility. Clients almost always want design for less until you point out the quality just won’t be there. They want speed of delivery, quality, and low price. They can chose any two but not all three.

Once you do something for “cheap” for a client who is cheap or broke – you have set a precedent and future expectation. Once the word gets out you’re “cheap” that reputation can stick for a long time. Most of our new business is from referrals.

While working as a purchasing agent – many eons ago – I negotiated prices on a daily basis.

Prices can go up slowly (resistance) and down fast (we’re having a sale.) This interpreted means always start high. This may cause sticker shock with the client. It’s sometimes called “the art of being unreasonable.” If you set your price position high and theirs is low, you come out at a negotiated price that is much more to your advantage somewhere in the middle of those two points. This is commonly referred to as “not leaving money on the table.”

There have been times where I didn’t want to do a project very much because I was busy. So I deliberately bid double my regular fees (they don’t know that because my price list is private and mine alone.) Surprisingly, they said, “Excellent.” That reply told me I could have gotten even more because of their perceived value of how difficult the project was in their mind.

If clients don’t complain or whine a little about your fees then the price is too low. You cannot please all of your clients all of the time. You know you really blew a bid when they want to pay you in cash on the spot. That’s an indicator of too much cheapness and you have probably accepted a bad deal.

Generally, we as designers like making people happy. We’ll work very hard for little pay and no “thank-you” to build something beautiful. This makes us susceptible to being bullied on prices. We feel bad when we don’t get a job. We are too hungry. We have to compensate for that weakness with good pricing strategy. Never discount your work if it isn’t asked for. Keep your prices up. You can work half as hard and have some time for other activities.

#68 Naming makes a difference

I actually am more diplomatic than I let on. I’m just trying to intimidate with my pretend vastness. But, yes, I do ruffle some feathers. Those are non-clients who I don’t work with. Not everyone who walks in the door is a qualified lead.

But I’m not done yet. Here is an example of where I recommended a name change that made the startup company bucks. I merely told them their company name was boring.

The original name of the company (I can’t even remember now) but it was two multisyllabic words that sounded very academic, presumptuous, and meant nothing to me or their audience. In fact, the goal was to make math exciting. It did the opposite, scary sounding. After my usual lecture on naming, I had them read “Positioning: The battle for the mind.” We then came to a consensus that a better name would be “MathFire.”

They won $10,000 in a business plan competition shortly after where I served as their marketing coach. I didn’t win. They did.

That’s the goal: make the client a winner. If you take on clients who won’t or can’t win, you’re rightly going to get some of the blame. It’s bad for business. So be selective.

#69 Rude client techniques

We all have different styles. Yesterday, a potential client come over to discuss what she “needed” for a website. She was very bossy, couldn’t careless about my ideas, and kept steamrollering me when I tried to speak. Eventually, I recommended using CMS and put her onto a website called Virb.com. She asked me if I’d do the CMS for her because she didn’t have the time. I said, “No.” She said, “Why not?” I replied, “It’s against my religion.”

I recently had another woman come for some business advice. When she heard me talking computerese, she asked if I could fix her computer. I asked, “What operating system are you using?” She said she didn’t know. So we checked and it was a bootleg copy of Microsoft Windows. I told her, “I can’t help you.” She
looked at me and asked, “Why?” I told her. “I’m too extremely prejudiced to work with that particular system.” She said, “Oh.” and didn’t ask any more about computer favors.

Now you know I’ve offered several times to help people. What do you think the difference is between them and these two women? Can you see it? I won’t make you wait for the answer.

Some are givers and others are takers. Big difference. If you’ve willingly helped me, it’s easy to be loyal to you.

#70 Calibrating color – don’t even try

I use 4 LCD screens and none of them are calibrated. They all render color differently.

Two of them I bought used and bruised – on purpose. The other two on Cyber-Monday sale. I like it that way because it allows me to see the range of aberration the client may see – whether it’s for print or web projects. And as you know, I’m a cheapskate. Creativity is the inverse of dollars. C=1/$

I only have a letter-size b/w laser printer for business
correspondence (as I said “invoices”). I don’t proof in my studio any more. If I want to see it, for safety sake (rarely), I have it output on a weekly-calibrated digital printer at my favorite shop. I’m comfortable with my methods and know what to expect. Printing is not just an act of faith any more.

Most of the color problem is with the client and not your equipment. It’s cheaper to “fix” the client. It can be as easy as buying and gifting them a Pantone fan for reference. I’ve done that. They love it. It works great for communications.

I see all screen calibration gadgetry as preying on the anxieties of designers. It’s a human problem not a machine problem.

If you are going to spec Pantone and print it in 4-color CMYK then I recommend buying a conversion-shift swatch book (Pantone process color simulator $239 -color bridge). I bought mine used on Ebay. It was missing a few swatches but it only cost me $20. I then, in advance, show the client how the color will change when printed. They are shown side by side for comparison. see image below.

#71 Solving a color match problem

I and the client company’s marketing manager had to solve a color problem. The company logo was two colors: red and an orangish-yellow with black type set in Franklin Gothic Extrabold.

The company built industrial aluminum molds for casting and forming products or packaging from foam, plastic, and other materials.

1. The company logo was originally designed by the owner’s now ex-wife. No records existed of what colors were used.2. After that time, the logo was printed on letterhead by a subcontract designer, Melisa. She was available by phone. She had no written record of what the colors were but had a good guess.

3. A third designer (an IT guy) put together the website and used what he thought were the right colors in hex code. They didn’t match the print version.

So we had three sets of colors. In addition to this, when I pointed out the inconsistencies, The marketing manager said,

4. “All I really want is the color to match our business card.” That introduced a fourth color combination.

So I dove into analyzing the colors and comparing them. I then made three visual charts to demonstrate to them the results. In the end, I made recommendation of what we should specify for print and web media. I thought I’d share how that “looked” and also a couple of pages of the resulting website style guide.

It was necessary to coach the client and his boss about the differences in RGB, CMYK, and Pantone color gamuts. They actually enjoyed learning this stuff.

Doing this analysis and presentation earned me some extra money and brought in not only the website rework but also a print presentation portfolio for tradeshows. Around $4,900 in time. The moral of this story: Presentation makes a difference. Don’t just tell them. Show them and document your work. It makes you more professional.

Websafe colors were specified but not necessary. I chose those to keep things simple and memorable when designing. Websafe is not a necessary feature.

The story doesn’t have a happy ending. In recent years, after over 25 years in business, the company was forced to close it’s doors permanently because of offshore competition. Sad day in Mudville to see a company die. I still wear my D8 T-shirt they gave me – in their memory.

Those RGB references were either supplied by the previous designer’s “guesses” or from flatbed scans. Neither were super reliable but it was all we had. They were inconsistent. The client was paranoid about color consistency being fixed. But they never realized how all of their colors really were all over the map. This was mainly a method of “opening their eyes”. They thought they had a standard. They didn’t.

Like most machine shops, they were very big into standards. So I was helping them develop those for each medium– web and print. They saw how they couldn’t get exactly the same rendering in each environment but they could get things a lot closer with some adjustment and coaching.

Mainly, this diminished their anxiety of appearing foolish (the owner actually had a 4-year degree in graphic design!). To me, all I wanted was a decision. This presentation made that decision easier for them.

Grayscale differential (contrast) was important in making things work online. It also helped them see why yellow type on white wouldn’t work.

All that mattered was the client get over their stress so we could move on and finish projects.