Dont stick with what youve been taught

I recently contributed an article to Fuel Your Creativity titled “Don’t stick with what you’ve been taught, you’re a creative so get creative!” I enjoyed writing the article and was honored by the comments left over at FyC.

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Too many people look at other work and are again directly influenced by what they see. I say look at other mediums that are not directly linked to your own, look out for works of art that you could indeed work with for colour palettes. Look at beautiful brochures that could be linked to a new blog design, the world is your oyster.

Check out the post at Fuel Your Creativity and let me know your thoughts on the subject.

I interview Prisca Schmarsow

I recently had the chance to interview Prisca Schmarsow about work, teaching, web dev/design and everyday life. Thanks Prisca for taking part!

prisca_portraitSQFull name and Age please

Prisca Schmarsow, 39

Favourite Biscuit and Drink?

Amaretti & Capuccino

Last book your read and last movie you saw?

Book:: “Designing for the Web” (Mark Boulton)
film:: “Coraline”

Where and when did it all start?

Well, I was one of those people …. I used to think I am not cut out for working with computers. I started with hand-drawn visuals, doing pub blackboards and drawings/illlustration for adverts and did not think I would get my head around being creative on a ‘machine’. Quite funny now to think of it….
Gently pushed by my partner – I eventually did venture into the digital arena by doing a graphic design course – and it all started there. Painter was, and in many ways still is, my favourite app at the time. Doing graphic design work – I was soon drawn to the internet and its design possibilities. Though I was by then quite happy to work digitally – I was still a bit of a techno-phobe, thinking my head would not be able to cope with the technical complexities. So when I did start with webdesign – I took the then easier road of flash design. It gave me complete control over my designs. I absolutely loved creating flash websites though I of course soon realised its drawbacks and its place within webdesign overall.

And then there was “designing with web standards” by Jeffrey Zeldman, introducing me to webstandards and a better web 🙂 After finding Eric Meyer and his site – I went onto to learn handcoding and CSS from online resources — and here I am 🙂

Is there anyone in the industry you look up to?

There are many, too many to list really. I love the web for its online community spirit — I feel I owe my knowledge and understanding to all the helpful and lovely geeks out there. I could tell you lots of stories on how various people have helped me through various stages of learning webdesign – this would fill a book 😉

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Suffice to say that Eric Meyer is my all time guru – I feel I owe him and Jeffrey Zeldman my current career. Had it not been for their writing, sharing of knowledge and inspiration on so many levels – I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing now and loving it. And of course now there are many more inspiring people, too many to mention.

You teach web design, how did you get in to teaching?

Teaching is not something I ever envisaged myself doing, to be honest. I’d been working with graphic and flash design for about 2 years when the training place where I had done my first course had a vacancy for a graphic design and multimedia tutor. I would not have dreamed to apply but work was slow and my former tutor encouraged me to go for it. So I did – and to my surprise got the job despite my complete lack of experience. And though it was incredibly nerve-wracking initially – I loved it. Now I run the ‘design for the web‘ (as well as the ‘digital animation‘) course at TowerHamlets College and can teach what I consider good working practices to my students, hoping to send them into our industry with good skills – aware of what matters: good user-friendly design, web standards, accessibility and so on. And the ones who make it – make me proud 🙂

What does a general day consist of for you?

Always start with a cup of coffee 🙂 I usually work on several projects at the same time, splitting my day’s time between them. Depending on whether the academic year is in flow or whether I can focus entirely on design – I divide my time up between my 2 jobs, taking care of my clients as well as my students. I usually take care of formalities in the morning and do a lot of the creative work towards the end of the day or evening. Love the holidays from teaching for being able to keep my own hours so I can do some late sessions if the mood takes me.

As well as teaching you also have your eyedea.eu team, how is that going?

The eyedea team is currently undergoing a change – we’re working on our new site at the moment as  we are shifting our focus now primarily onto webdesign. It all started as a freelance collective, combining multiple skills and working together as a team. Two heads are always better than one and we love collaborating on various projects and learning from each other.

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As time went on we continued to work mainly on webdesign projects so we’ve decided to refocus. We’ve all still got our own areas and specialities, from photography over illustration to writing – but our main field remains the web. So I’m really enjoying designing our new site and looking forward getting it out there.

Where does your heart lie, with design or development?

Design all the way… I do enjoy the challenge of coding and certain aspects of front end development – but if I had to chose one over the other, nothing can beat design. I’m a big fan of the Bauhaus and its principles which are my motivation. Design is for people—has purpose—aims to be used and enjoyed though it might go unnoticed through its successfully designed and implemented functions.

Do you prefer teaching or full time design and development?

It’s the balance between the two that I like. Though teaching can be very hard work at times (mainly due to the bureaucratic mountain of paperwork it involves) it also keep you on your toes. I enjoy the challenges it brings and the learning environment, I remain a student myself.

And I do love design work, from start to finish – love the entire process and couldn’t do without it. And I do consider myself a designer who teaches and not the other way around so I suppose design would have to be my final choice.

What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to your success?

The open and sharing spirit of the web. Without the many many friendly and sharing people online I would not be doing or loving what I do. In my early days of flash design – I learnt everything from online resources. I had had 1 day of flash introduction and went from there. Learning from online tutorials, forums, even personal support from individuals. My first ever site went online with someone in the Netherlands holding my hand – taking me through every single step via online chat. Overwhelmed by the technical aspects – it would have taken me ages by myself so this was a major moment for me – and I could not believe how supportive the online community could be.
Fast forward to “designing with web standards” – had it not been for Jeffrey’s book – and then Eric’s site…. I would not be handcoding now, or even have a clue about good webdesign. And then there are people like … actually too many to mention, I’d only forget some vital names. Sites like ‘A List Apart’, blogs by inspiring designers as well as developers who explain in plain English complex techniques and so on keep me learning all the time. (This is why I don’t really agree with the term ‘self taught’. Though I did the learning by myself in a physical sense – I would not say I am self taught – but rather have been taught by so many  lovely geeks online)

So the short answer simply is: the biggest contributing factor are is the open and sharing spirit online.

Are you a mac or PC user?

Mac – though I think I was just lucky to learn on a mac. Saying that – I have to admit I am always in favour of gorgeous visuals which is why I’m happily sticking with Apple 🙂

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Hopefully continuing to try to make the web a better place alongside everyone else.

Will you be heading to anymore conferences in the near future?

Would love to – depending on time and money. At times some of the best conferences clash with my teaching — or are simply too pricey for a freelancer… But I do love the talks and the slides seem to be getting more creative now as well.

Prisca Schmarsow Portfolio Website

Understanding the use of Social Media

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to a group of approximately 30+ local businesses about building a brand with Social Media. The seminar raised lots of interesting questions, I even received more questions a few days later. I’ve no problem whatsoever answering any questions about my work and asked the person who emailed me whether it would be ok to answer the queries in a blog post rather than email so everyone could benefit.Thanks for the seminar on Tuesday – it came over as a very professional presentation – and an interesting development potential for business.

SEOs are saturating the internet and self-inflicting an own goal because their hunger for revenue conflicts with and obscures their primary purpose – how will social media be controlled?

My personal opinion is that ‘Social Media’ is simply a buzz word around understanding how you understand and market to a community. Social Media is a tool which you can use to market correctly, you don’t make money from Social Media, you make money from your ‘product’ by using Social Media.

Keeping the Social Marketing world moderated is a different kettle of fish entirely, however I do believe it will be down to the people. The end user will know whether they’ve been marketed to correctly. A client of a ‘social media/marketing consultant’ should do their research first and foremost. It’s the same as anything else, you wouldn’t use a joiner who had a reputation of doing bad work. Research correctly and find some testimonials, don’t pay peanuts as you’ll get monkeys.

I can see that social media will work for unique products, but what about services?

Think of it like this. You have Haagen Dazs Ice Cream and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, both are high quality ice creams and both of which have people who like the ice cream. Some people like one, the other or both. They’re both still ice cream in the same way as a joiner is a joiner and a web designer is a web designer. There is more than one design agency, there is more than one electrical services company however different people will like a different service. Some people will become clients because of cost and some will become clients because of quality services. I and we (the rest of the industry) should be there to build the community around your product/service to provide you with constant work and engaging with your customer base so they’re happy with you and your services which in turn enables them to pass your name on.

Anyone who says ignore the competition in my industry doesn’t understand that our clients initially select on PRICE (they usually don’t know enough until we advise about the legislation)

If that is the case then your potential clients need educating through your current client base about why your services are priced as they are. Think of it more long term than immediate, building a community through education can reap rewards long term. Do you want to be here and make £10’000 a month or in 5 years do you want to be making £10’000 a day (monies are used as an example).

We usually retain our clients once they understand the quality of our services and what we stand for – how can social media help get that message over without advertising?

As mentioned above it goes beyond advertising and is in fact education, a recent client knew his customer base weren’t exactly pro’s at using Twitter but they knew exactly how to use Facebook and wanted to know how to get them using Twitter. I said that we’d teach them how to use Twitter through Facebook. People in general are becoming so switched on to forced advertising that it’s effects are dampening down. Engage, communicate and build your brand. If people love you then they’ll stay around and spend money without even thinking about it.

As you said, building a community is the target, but how can I get started on this?

There are lots of ways to build a community around a service or product. The ‘brand’ could even be a person and the best way to start is identify why your current clients love you, find out who your clients are on a personal level and market towards other people like them. All online and offline marketing techniques are individual to businesses, none are the same.

Data Protection and confidentiality are prerequisites – how is this managed and protected?

The shortest way to explain is by using your common sense, if you think something is wrong with what you’re doing then it probably is. You’re not using direct personal data to socially market your business. Confidentiality should be kept as is, there should be no reason for you to get in trouble over DP and Confidentiality if you do things correctly.

My business has full accreditation with the necessary approval bodies – how do I get that message over?

Communicate, we (as people) forget about people. It’s amazing what people realise when they just start communicating with potential clients. Let people know that you’re fully accredited and what it exactly means.

Risk to reputation – I have no intention of slagging off my competition (vast majority are NOT accredited)- so how to achieve a balanced view without getting a brick through the windows?

There is no reason for you to start slagging off the competition. In the first instance it’s highly un-professional. Let those kinds of companies get on with what they’re doing. All you can do is carry on marketing your business to your ideal client base and educating them why you are so good. Whether that be an awesome service, an awesome price of both.

Providing free advice is, I think, one of our main differentiators – any ideas on how to do that?

Again, it’s all down to communication. Don’t try to bore people, your clients are not you. If you provide them with simple facts that they understand they’ll pick up what you’re saying ten times as quick. There are a lot of different ways to communicate to your clients about why you’re such an awesome company to work with.

You will notice that a lot of the above involve forms of communication, direct to the point communication. People honestly want some trust and a good sense of communication can build that very very quickly.

Keeping a school open using effective marketing

This isn’t a normal post from me but stick with it as I think it may come in handy to some people.

Jennifer, my fiancee is an incredibly talented Nursery Teacher in a school in the North East of England. We’ve recently both noticed a change in the education system in the North East especially as this is home after all. There have been some schools in the North East which are losing numbers of children joining the school and because the schools are funded on a ‘per child’ basis every year if there is a drop in numbers there is then a drop in funding for the school for that particular year. This funding covers costs like staff wages, materials, working costs basically everything you see in a school.

The Government trying to help

It seems that the governments point of view on this is to build part private / part funded schools which are now going to be called an ‘Academy’. An academy is too be larger than a normal school and will be ran by multiple head teachers and usually have a ‘manager’ at the helm. Whilst this works for a number of local areas there are still some schools which are being left to fend for themselves.

A drop in numbers for a school could be detrimental to its survival, a heavy drop in numbers could leave the school with a deficit from £10’000 to £80’000 in any one year. Such a deficit requires quick action and usually like it most areas of work the quickest way to recover is to offer redundancy.

Remember what a school is

Looking behind the education system, you have to remember that a school is still a business. As I explained before, schools are funded by the government and the funds are decided on how many children are being taught at the school. If a schools numbers drops suddenly, so does the money in. Still with me?

If a school doesn’t keep its numbers up then tragic things happen, teachers could be made redundant and worst of all the school could indeed be amalgamated with another school or be forced to close.

Schools could indeed become complacent as it is entirely normal for them to have a good amount of new children joining the school every year, however at the moment there is literally a shortage.

Fixing the business

First off, identify the issue. If the single issue is that their aren’t enough new school starters then you need to figure out how to fix it. Parents have a choice where to send their children, just like school leavers can choose which University or College to go to. Most parents will choose a local school however some if not most will pick a school which is leading in various fields. In the United Kingdom we have OFSTED reports, the OFSTED reports show how well a school is doing. The reports are published publicly so parents can find out which schools in their area are doing really good things.

Here’s one for the teachers / head teachers and governors of schools;

If parents do not know that your school is doing fantastic things for the children and giving them the best education they could get, why would they send them to the school!?

The statement is certainly not rocket science but it is definitely something which could be overlooked.

Social Marketing and PR

Nurturing talent and building on it is a clever way to get noticed. If you have some of the best teachers you’ve ever worked with at your school nurture them, give them what they want. If they want to achieve great things along the way, give them a helping hand. If the teachers are happy the children and the parents will be ecstatic. If the parents are happy then word spreads and the schools ‘community’ grows.

You can use PR to support your marketing efforts, by letting the wider community know about the school doing well through the likes of local newspapers you are again growing your community effort. You could even use some good associated PR for the kind of school trips or community liaison work the school has done.

With regards to Social Media, nine times out of ten a schools website is pretty terrible. They usually have a donated website via the local authority which is thrown together by an I.T professional of some description. Whilst they’re perfectly brilliant with normal I.T related issues they’re certainly not web orientated.

Just off the top of my head I thought of a few things which you could publish on a school website for promotion;

  1. A school walk-around – Show the prospective clients (parents) what the school is like inside, show them the brilliant learning environments your fantastic teachers have developed for the children.
  2. List the teachers in the school with their associated skill set and tell the parents why they’re brilliant at what they do.
  3. Do walk and talk video’s with the teachers on what they’ve been doing on various weeks and detail it all for parents to watch online.
  4. Grow your school communities through social media and let the parents know of things happening online.
  5. Use Twitter as a reporting system of what various years groups are doing on particular days so the parents are kept informed.

Those are just 5 things you can do to promote your school online. The only thing you have to be careful of these days are the rights of the children not to be video’d and photographed.

Personally, because I live with a teacher I’d love to work with a school on it’s social marketing, it is business after all.

Logo Design process for Stratega Group Ltd

The logo design project was completed as part of a full branding project. Stratega Group Ltd is a new financial company based in the United Kingdom dealing with large clients in various financial fields.

With no previous brand, I was given free reign to develop something new. With some guidelines and wishes from the client I started the process;

Brainstorming and Sketching…

logo brainstorming

logo design process

Logo Design Sketches

logo sketching

logo sketches

I presented ideas based on the meanings of the core subjects and in this case Stratega, Strategies, Strategy expanding into Achieving, Tactics, Goals and Planning.

The core meaning of a strategy is;

To achieve an action through use of tactical dynamic planning and skill.

The ideas were expanded and I looked at how strategies are enabled specifically looking at battle strategies and more so the most prominent and effective strategies or formations in recent and past history.

This led me on to thinking about the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu and his conception of the “3 Pronged Attack” where a centre force would go straight for the enemy and the left and right forces would move left and right to flank the enemy force and crush them in their centre disabling the enemy in one fell swoop.

The visualisation in my sketches show how financial planning and strategies can achieve goals, i.e. cutting costs or expenditure.

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During the design phase I considered various colors;

Primary Colours:

  • Black – Wealth and Sophistication
  • Soft Grey – Respect & Wisdom
  • Strong Purple – Efficient and Intelligent

Secondary Colours:

  • Blue – Trustworthy
  • Red – Strength and Passion

For the initial designs I chose “Bree Bold” which I wasn’t particularly happy with..

I had been sketching various versions of the three prongs and had to progress from my initial drawings as it looked slightly wrong, something I was obviously keen to stay away from.

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The client was perfect every step of the way, providing feedback when needed. Some of the feedback on the ideas above came back like this;

Reminded us of opening sequence of Dad’s Army

The other logos gave us the impression that the word had almost been miss spelt, if you see what I mean, through the highlighting and the arrows on the “E”.

The feedback requested that I also look in to the Power option. I wanted to steer away from the ‘Money’ side of things as it would be far to tacky and ‘normal’ for my liking.

So I spun the whole strategy and power on it’s head. The most powerful formation within an armed force, especially in a cavalry troop is the Wedge or ‘Flying V’ as it is sometimes called, this formation can pierce the hardest infantry line and is extremely powerful.

I mixed the flying V into a few different version and came up with No.3 (purple background), the individual triangles are broken down to represent the units within the ‘Wedge’, the three separate ‘Wedges’ on top of each other represent the 3 pronged attack and powers in numbers. It’s all just an abstract view which works very well together. I changed the typeface, moved it away from “Bree” which it was originally to “Often” and believe it suites very well.

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Options 1 and 2 were brought out of doing No.3.

The client chose Option 3, which was my preferred choice.

The Stratega Group Ltd branding process was an awesome job to work on, the clients were an absolute dream to work with.

It’s coming, 30 Christmas eCommerce designs

As mad as it sounds, it’s now August and we’re getting closer to Christmas. I decided to look back at last Christmas and the design trends of 30 eCommerce websites.

Overall there was not a significant winning idea on what to do, with some retailers not bothering at all. Below are the companies which did…

Starbucks have gone for a full design of red, but only on their .com website.

Borders are sticking to the red theme using some snow as a nice touch.

macy’s are sticking with their red homepage after their fall sales design.

Continue reading It’s coming, 30 Christmas eCommerce designs