What a designer is and isn’t”¦seriously you need to know”¦

Before I begin, I want to thank Mari Adkins and Janice Thomason for taking the time to comment on the last entry.  I lacked on replying to your comments, but know that I agree with both of you and will be better responding in the future. Now on with the latest entry.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Long enough where early on, to make a client happy, I neglected to mention that a graphic/web designer is not hired to be a professional writer/editor. Granted we work with your company’s content, but what we work with, mainly, is the space that the content needs to fit into.

Often enough, people seeking out a designer, regardless of the field, are looking for someone they can pass the buck of their project to.  What they fail to realize is someone taking on the full project management, content created, design and implementation will be”¦ wait for it”¦a firm or agency. What you really need, and I can hear the cries of your budget now, is team of people working on the whole of the project. You do not want the kid you just hired who learned HTML and some flash. You do not want the guy who has a start up doing design, print or web. These people are not, and I will repeat this often, not the people who should be carrying the full weight of the fact that you either can’t spell OR can’t clearly define in text what it is you want them to define visually.

A designer is just that”¦a designer. You wouldn’t ask your plumber to check your electrical wiring. You wouldn’t ask your electrician to align your spine. The cashier at your local fast food joint doesn’t make your burger.

The responsibility of making sure that the content of your web/print piece is yours.  That way, even though it may delay your deadline, helps you know that if the piece launches incorrectly”¦it’s their responsibility to fix it. If you’re whatever is launched with wrong content that is the result of a sign off that bares your signature”¦the responsibility for it being wrong ends up falling squarely in your lap. Sure you’re going to be pissed at the designer, but they will pull out your sign off, point out where you failed to review it fully and remind you that you signed off on it. You may never work with them again, but they aren’t out the money of paying for a mistake you allowed them to make. You will be out the money to get it redone by them or someone else, the new printing costs and the time for all of this, because you gave the responsibility of making sure your information is correct”¦to someone else.

So let’s review, a copy writer writes content, a project manager makes sure the project meets its projected milestones, a print graphic designer creates work on paper, a web designer creates work in digital and a business owner is responsible for hiring the people for the job. Can each of these people be capable of doing the other persons job? Yes, but will it be done effectively across the board? No one can know for sure.

There’s an old saying, “œit takes a village to raise a child”.  In that regard, it takes a team to fully realize a project you don’t have the time to work on yourself. Whether it’s an agency, a firm, a studio or a team of people your designer suggests; no project should every fully fall on the shoulders of just one industry worker.

Since I’ve gone, briefly, into what a designer doesn’t do; I’d love to hear what your expectations of a designer, print or web, has been in the past.  Do you view them as the guru of all things because their end result is something that, hopefully, brings you a ROI? Have you expected them to know the difference between a conjunction and participle? Or did you supply them the things they needed and get out of the way and let them design something?

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The difference between success and closing next year…

The silver bullet for marketing a successful business”¦doesn’t exist. Sorry to disappoint you. There’s a world of difference between closing in six months and seeing year two come and go. A lot of it is hard work, timing, patience and the ability to adapt. I’m going to say this over and over again over the course of these posts so let me get it out of the way. Your marketing/brand materials are only one aspect of your business. Depending on your industry they could be a very big thing or the thing that keeps you fresh in your prospects minds.

When it comes to the marketing and design aspect of a successful business it comes down to three simple things:

  • A clear message
  • A consistent brand identity/message
  • The ability to see beyond what you like and into what your prospective customers

You have to simultaneously predict the future, correct the problems of the past and be able to change on a dime if the marketing shifts.

You don’t have to throw all of your money into your marketing materials, and I highly suggest you spend what you can afford, but make sure that you put your best possible marketing foot forward with each piece you put your companies brand on. The major corporations that you see on a daily basis put the same kind of care and effort into each marketing piece. You need a plan of action, a budget, a visions for your message, a target audience and reasonable sense of what you expect to receive; you’re return on investment (ROI). These things are established in your marketing plan. Rather than go over what’s all ready been done on Technosailor, take some time and read Steven Fisher’s Marketing Plan Series.

Let me put something into perspective for you. Coca-Cola historically has put close to forty percent of their profits back into the marketing of their business. They have 400 brands in over 200 countries and they have advertisements in every possible avenue of marketing. You can practically go anywhere in the world and people will know the Coca-Cola name. They are in almost every store, office vending machine and are a house hold name to people who don’t even drink the stuff. But if they are that well known why spend the money?

Because they want to be the only cola you think of”¦even when you’re not thinking about it. Because they know their competitors are working just as hard to get your attention. Because without you, and everyone else who drinks their product or who will ever try it, their company and product simply wouldn’t exist.

Do you think of marketing your company in the same way? Do you keep your competitors in mind when you’re working on your website, advertisement, elevator speech or whatever aspect of marketing you’re working on? Do you put a dedicated effort into making sure every piece of marketing you pay for supports each other while simultaneously keeping awareness of your product? Is it more than just a business card, a brochure, or a website to you? They are to Coca-Cola. They are to your competitors. They are to your customers and prospects. Your marketing materials are just one of the several crucial pieces of the puzzle that makes the difference between success and closing next year.

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Siliconera Redesign Launch

If you’re a fan of video games, you’re probably a fan of Siliconera, one of b5’s largest sites on the network. For those of you who came to Social Media Club DC, you’ll remember the video from the Siliconera author, Spencer Yip, in my presentation.

siliconera-before-after.png

The ground rules for the design project was “fun”. It is a market leading video games site, but it had a fun audience that enjoyed fun gaming. The next rule was that in Japanese culture, monster “icons” are a part of their marketing culture. We needed monsters since the audience is largely Japanese. The next rule was that we figure out how to organize 10,000+ posts in a meaningful way to allow people to find stuff.

So we did. We hired Adriana de Barros as our designer extraordinaire. Setting up conference calls between Spencer in L.A., me in Baltimore and Adriana in Portugal was… a challenge. :) Adriana designed this amazing design with ultra close attention to Spencer’s needs, our needs, and what I say WordPress could or could not do.

When she handed the skeleton HTML over to me early in February, I really had no idea what really was going to be at play in WordPressifying the design. I don’t want to steal any of Spencer’s thunder in explaining his thoughts behind the site but from a technical level, it was the most interesting and challenging WordPress project I’ve ever worked on.

  • Multiple category-level navigation point broke down according to his Media Radar concept, video game platforms as well as regional segmentation (games from the U.S., Japan, Korea, etc).
  • I had to do quite a bit of
    1
    remove_filter

    ,

    1
    add_filter

    kind of massaging of WordPress’ filters for excerpts, and other display elements.

  • Overriding of standard WordPress widgets as well as b5media standard widgets. A good example of this is the Video Games channel blogroll which is two column in this case, but is single column on every other blog we own.
  • WordPress theme options page within his wp-admin gives him a means of configuring various options on the site
  • Customized CSS per browser

As I said, it was one of the most challenging and interesting WordPress jobs of my career. I’ll talk more about that at WordCamp Dallas at the end of the month, so anyone who is there can pick my brain more about it there if you’d like.

Congrats, Spencer, Adriana and b5media for a great site design.

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