Posts Tagged ‘visual design’

More Great Resources for Copyright-free Images

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I’m always on the lookout for excellent sources of free, public domain images to use on my blogs and for my clients’ websites and other electronic media.

One of my favorites is Compfight, which enables you to search hundreds of thousands of images available for use through Flickr Creative Commons. You can search by keyword and find a host of creative illustrations uploaded by talented photographers, amateur and professional, from around the globe.

It’s important to always include credits to the photographers as specified in their Creative Commons license. My preferred method is to paste all the information about the image and usage license into the image’s ALT tag—so that I can be comprehensive without cluttering up the page. Others choose to put a credit in small print at the bottom of the post.

Just recently, I discovered another great site, The Public Domain Review. A non-profit project of the Open Knowledge Foundation, PDR is “dedicated to showcasing the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works available online.” Archives include films, audio, images and texts, with a bias toward items that are unique, curious or whimsical. Again, be sure to include appropriate credits and read the fine print about usage before posting.

Here you can find a 1918 film of Tarzan of the Apes19th Century samples of Chinese ornament, a copy of The Practical Magician’s and Ventriloquist’s Guide (1867) and onboard recordings from Apollo 11, to name just a few treasures.

Plenty of material to illustrate your online works, and much to mine for ideas.

Of course, there are also many government resources for public domain images. You’ll find a few places to start in this post I wrote back in July 2011, Your Tax Dollars at Work: 5 Great Government Resources for Free Images.

Happy hunting!

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

What Goes Where on Your Home Page?

Monday, October 15th, 2012

There’s a lot of important information to include on your home page: your brand, site navigation, search, email sign-ups, main content, links to social media, your blog roll if you have one, testimonials and other social proof of the quality of your work. The list can go on and on.

So, how do you know what goes where?

A good place to start is with a proven template. I’m a big fan of StudioPress, if you’re on a budget and can’t afford a custom design. These templates include the underlying Genesis framework, which takes WordPress one step better and protects your site from hacking—a liability of WordPress open-source code. With the help of a good web developer, you can customize the templates to your own taste. But the basic structure provides a sound foundation.

Whether you choose an existing template or work with a designer, here are six key points to keep in mind for home page design:

  1. Place your brand in the upper left corner, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. Users tend to look at the center of the page first, then the upper left corner. Web usability studies that measure eye tracking show we spend a fraction of a second glancing at the middle of the page, then move to the upper left. This has a lot to do with what we’re accustomed to finding: a logo in the upper left that identifies the site. There are other viable options for logo placement, as long as your brand is easy to spot at the top. Some web designs are now using full banner headings, like a newspaper. On my own site, my logo stands out from a clear field of white across the top of the page.
  2. Put the most important information at the top. Users look for a hierarchy of information, going from top to bottom. This just makes sense. When a page loads, you see the section “above the fold” first—the top chunk of the webpage, just like the top half of a folded newspaper. So decide what’s most important and be sure that’s at the top of your homepage. Use consistent styling of headlines and subheads to help users determine priorities.
  3. Place navigation in a horizontal bar across the top of the page. In the past, many websites vertically stacked the nav bar in the left-hand margin, but this set-up is not as flexible as a horizontal navigation with drop-down tabs. Whatever you do, never use vertical navigation with sub-navigation that shoots sideways across the web page. It’s clunky, blocks important content and is just plain confusing.
  4. Explain what your site is all about, front and center. When visitors come to your site, they want to know, within a few seconds, what it’s about, whether it’s what they’re looking for and what’s in it for them. Don’t make them search for this information. Key messaging, with informative, skim-friendly headlines and subheads, should make up the bulk of your homepage above the fold.
  5. Use compelling graphics, but don’t overuse them so they compete for attention. Just as you establish a hierarchy of text with headings and subheads, do the same with images. Your most important graphic should be the largest. Other supporting pictures or icons should have some uniformity of size and placement so the user intuitively understands their relationship to the text and relative importance.
  6. Place supporting content and links in a side column or in multiple columns below the fold. How you do this depends on the template you’re using. Again, however, think in terms of priorities. What do you want the user to see first? second? third? That’s the order of placement. If everything you want to include seems equally important, take a step back and rethink your priorities. Who is your ideal client and what’s most important to her? For example, do your latest blog posts establish your expertise, or would your visitor rather see testimonials from clients about your work? Put yourself in her shoes to determine your hierarchy on the page.

For more about good home page design, check out these links:

6 Design Tips That Will Have Your Audience Licking Their Screens—Copyblogger

Design 101| 7 typographic Resources, and 1 Type Joke—Big Brand System

F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content—Jakob Nielson’s Alertbox

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Should You Invest in a Logo for Your Small Business?

Monday, July 16th, 2012

If you’re updating your website or creating a new one, you’ve probably wondered whether you should invest in a professionally designed logo. When you’re a small business professional, you’re watching every dollar and may not have the means, or may think you don’t have the means, to invest in branding.

 

And, what’s the point, anyway? You’re not Nike or Starbucks.

Consider this: You don’t have to see the name of either of those brands to connect the swash with great athletic shoes or the sea maiden with great coffee.

A Professionally Designed Logo is a Competitive Advantage
Your logo is a mnemonic device that helps potential customers think of your business and pick you out from the crowd. It’s also a visual expression of who you are and what distinguishes your product or service. The Nike swash, like a jazzy checkmark, embodies speed and choice. The Starbucks siren, with her open arms and smile, conveys a sense of welcome and intrigue, as well as Starbuck’s Seattle maritime roots.

Capturing your brand’s essence in a memorable visual is a complex design challenge. That’s why big businesses pay big bucks for their logos. You undoubtedly can’t afford a million dollar design team, but you should think carefully about a logo and visual branding and consider investing in quality, to the best of your ability. With logos, you get what you pay for.

Here are six factors to keep in mind as you evaluate logos for your business:

1) Clean and Simple
The less visual clutter, the better. Don’t mix a lot of colors and typefaces. Your logo may be paired with a tag line, but it should be able to stand on its own to convey your unique brand identity. Think of Apple’s logo—simple, sleek (like their products), inviting—as easy and pleasurable to use as biting an apple.

2) Memorable
Just because you’re a lawyer, don’t feel you need to include the scales of justice in your logo. Avoid visual clichés and strive for a design that is precise and unique, as well as conceptually easy to grasp. Pair it with a typeface that expresses your values and personal aesthetics.

3) Works in Black-and-White
You may utilize print marketing strategies that don’t use color, such as newspaper ads or business-card-sized ads in a program book. Be sure that your logo works in all print formats.

4) Scaleable
Your logo needs to look good as a small thumbprint as well as on an outdoor sign, if you have one. Understand how your logo will be used and be sure that it works in all visual formats, electronic and print.

5) Necessary
Sometimes, a good type treatment of your business name can be as effective as a logo. Not all businesses require a logo. If you go the type treatment route, as I have for Herwitz Associates, pick distinctive, quality typefaces that express the essence of your business. For me, the red cursive typeface in Herwitz Associates projects the elegance and personal touch that I bring to all my projects.

6) Professional
We respond to quality design, whether we recognize it or not. Chances are, if you have a well-designed logo and your competitor does not, a potential client choosing between you will lean toward your business. When you look like a professional, your engender trust. When you look like you just slapped some visual elements together, you raise questions about how serious you are in your work.

Once again, with logos and visual design for your website and other business collateral, you get what you pay for. Here are a few more resources about best practices in logo design, to help you make an informed decision:

The Fundamentals & Best Practices of Logo Design Mashable Tech

Vital Tips for Effective Logo Design Smashing Magazine

Creating or Updating Your Logo? Learn These Five Fundamentals Before You Start Sixty Second Marketer

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Five Reasons Why Your Website Content Isn’t Working—And How to Fix It

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

When was the last time you looked up a business in the Yellow Pages? I’m willing to bet, at best, maybe once in the last six months, assuming you can even find a copy of your phone book.

Now, when was the last time you looked up a business online? Probably yesterday, if not within the past few hours, right?

Effective Website Content Is Strategic
My point is this: If you have a business, you need a website. But having a website isn’t just about posting a few pictures and some general info about your work and contact info.

You need content that distinguishes you and your business from your competition, that clearly explains your product or service, and that gives your ideal client a compelling reason to contact you or make a purchase. And you need a website design that’s attractive and easy to navigate, that guides your reader to the information that’s most important.

Here are five of the biggest mistakes I see when asked why a client’s site doesn’t seem to be bringing in new business:

1) No Clear Statement of What Sets You Apart
All too often, websites spout a lot of generalities about a business, offering a summary about a profession on the homepage and overused descriptions of benefits (e.g., “we pride ourselves on great customer service”—well, everyone says that, and if you didn’t care about your customers, you shouldn’t be in business in the first place). It’s the gotta-put-something-up-there-now-that-I-have-a-website syndrome.

Web content, especially on the homepage, needs to clearly state what you do and what distinguishes your business from your competitors. To write this well, you need to understand the following:

  • Who is your ideal client, what problem she’s trying to solve and how your work will help her. More on this in #3.
  • Who else is out there doing the same work, how they present themselves, and how your approach is more effective for your ideal client.

If you’re struggling to answer these questions, check out Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid. Work through his exercises to clarify your value proposition.

When you have your answers—and believe me, this takes time and a lot of thought, and evolves as you develop your business, so it’s worth revisiting—sit down and revise your homepage content, with your value proposition high on the page. You don’t want visitors to have to scroll too far to get the point.

2) Text Is Clunky, Rambling and Impersonal
Good web copy is like any good writing—clear, concise, using strong nouns and active verbs. It needs to be easy to skim, but substantive enough for the serious reader to learn more. These two posts will help you to write copy that meets those criteria:

One other point—we all respond to content that connects on a human, personal level. I don’t mean you need to spill your guts to your target audience. But don’t be afraid to be yourself! What do you care about? Why are you in this business? What do you love most about your work? Be sure to capture that essence in your web copy. One of the best places to get more real is in your About page. Here’s a blog post that will help you write a compelling personal profile for your site:

3) Content Is Written from Your Point of View, Rather Than Your Ideal Client’s
This ties to both of the above issues. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing all the stuff you think is great about your work. But what you think is important may not be what your client actually cares about. You need first to understand your ideal client, everything from economic status and lifestyle preferences to where she gets her purchasing information and what worries keep her up at night.

Then put yourself in her shoes and ask why she’s come to you. How do you help her solve a key problem or answer a pressing question? One way to get at this is to write yourself an email, as if you were your ideal client, inquiring about your business. Then revise your web content with her in mind. This exercise may be a tectonic plate shift for you—if so, good. You’re on your way to writing some compelling content for your site, from your ideal client’s point of view.

4) Design Works Against Easy Reading and Navigation
There are plenty of free templates out there to choose from, or maybe you asked your next-door neighbor’s kid to code your site to save money. But it’s critical to choose a quality design. Effective websites are based on some basic principles of usability—what makes a site easy to read and easy to navigate.

Headlines and subheads, color-blocking to break up text, short paragraphs and careful use of white space to make a site easier to skim, clear navigation with simple drop-down menus, quality graphic images that establish tone and focus attention (but not too many competing images on a page)—all of these are elements of good design. Here’s more to consider as you evaluate your website:

5) No Call-to-Action
This one may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many websites fail to include an effective call-to-action. What is the goal of your site? What do you want visitors to do when they finish reading? Be sure you can answer this question, and then be sure that your visitor can easily find your call-to-action on every page of your site.

At the very least, you want her to contact you for a free consult or other free service, to open a relationship with you. Or maybe you want to capture her contact information to build a quality email list for future product offers. In that case, you’ll need to create a free download of valuable information that’s relevant to your work and her needs, that your visitor will receive in exchange for her contact information.

While you’re at it, be sure to cover these basics in constructing your Contact page:

When you’re through evaluating and revising your site, test it on your best customers and friends who fit your ideal client profile. Ask if they can tell you what sets you apart and why they do business with you, or what would compel them to do so in the future. Their answers are your best indicator of whether your website content is effective and what you need to refine it further. Added bonus: you can use the positive feedback as testimonials.

And if you’d like a professional assessment of your website, please contact me. I offer a free half-hour consult to new clients, and I’d be glad to give you feedback on your website’s effectiveness.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

A Word About Type

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Arial.
Verdana.
Tahoma.
Times Roman.

You see these typefaces on websites all the time. Why? They’re very readable on screen. As a result, they’ve become industry standards for electronic communications.

Which makes them utilitarian . . . and pretty boring.

Which is why, when we created this website, my designer and I decided to go with a more distinctive, yet quite readable typeface, Chaparral Pro. We’re using Typekit to embed the fonts in the site.

(FYI: Typeface refers to a particular design of type, such as Futura or Garamond. A font is a set of type of a specific design and size, such as Helvetica Regular 12 point, and refers to the time when print was set by hand. I know this because my designer once set me straight when I mixed up the terms!)

A Unique Typeface Says a Lot About You
Choosing a unique typeface and paying attention to type design says a lot about you—your personality, your values, your attention to detail, your sense of aesthetics.

I like Chaparral Pro because it’s clean and modern, with hints of an old fashioned typewriter; it conveys current design trends as well as tried-and-true craft.

That combination says a lot about how I approach my work. I integrate the proven art and craft of traditional media—print, public radio and video—with new media to create thoughtful, aesthetically appealing websites, podcasts and web videos with high production values.

This is just one example of how a carefully chosen typeface can say volumes about you and what you bring to your business.

For a few more words about the value of smart type choices, check out this recent blog post by Seth Godin, which includes some excellent typography resources.

Why It Costs More to Have Your Best Friend’s Neighbor’s Kid Do Your Website

Monday, August 15th, 2011

You’re launching your new business, and you need a website. Your best friend tells you that her neighbor’s daughter, a high school senior, is a whiz at computers and can build it for you.

“Great!” you say, thinking how that will save you a bundle. And, anyway, kids these days know a whole lot more about the Internet and social media than adults, since they grew up with keyboards in their cribs, right?

Sure, you can save some money that way. But unless this kid is also a whiz at strategic content development, graphic design, search engine optimization and Internet marketing, chances are you’ll end up with a site that looks, well, amateur.

Is that how you want to come across to your target audience?

I didn’t think so.

Keys to a Professional Internet Presence
There are four basic elements to a successful website:

  1. Content that is clear, authoritative, easy to skim and speaks to your ideal customer’s needs, capped by a compelling call-to-action that converts visitors to buyers.
  2. Design that is attractive, expresses your business persona, enables the viewer to easily find what she’s looking for and draws her eye to your call-to-action.
  3. Strategically selected keywords that potential customers use to find your kind of business, which are integrated throughout your site, in headlines, sub-heads, text, urls and page tags.
  4. Fresh content that you produce on a steady basis, providing valuable information for your ideal client, which you distribute via media that she uses regularly—whether it’s a blog, Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, traditional media, word of mouth or some combination—to build in-bound links to your site and draw customers to your business.

Invest in a Website for the Long Run
It’s all about establishing yourself as an accessible, trusted authority in your field, making yourself easy to find online, and—once your ideal customer has found you—ensuring that your site will hold her attention for more than just a few seconds and convince her to do business with you.

That kind of website requires an investment of time and thought and, yes, more money than you’d pay your best friend’s neighbor’s whiz kid to build. But the payoff, in the long run, is well worth it.

And you are in business for the long run, right?

Your Tax Dollars at Work: 5 Great U.S. Government Resources for Free Images

Monday, July 25th, 2011


So, you’ve written a great blog post about environmental pressures on our national parks, and you need a stunning image to hook your reader. Where to grab the perfect illustration without worrying about copyrights and royalty fees?

Just ask Uncle Sam.

Many federal government websites provide a wealth of free images that are in the public domain, requiring only a photo credit. After all, since the images were created by government employees, you already paid for use privileges the last time you filed your income taxes.

Here are five sites that offer intriguing finds:

The Library of Congress
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html

Here you’ll find an incredible array of images on topics ranging from the history of baseball in America to photos of the Wright brothers’ experiments with kites. It’s easy to get lost browsing through the digital database. Be sure to check usage rights, as some images do have restrictions.

US Antarctic Program
http://photolibrary.usap.gov/

Love penguins? Need an illustration for your piece on global warming? This site features beautiful images of the Antarctic created under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.

NOAA
http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/

If you’re fascinated by clouds, hurricane chasing or creatures of the deep, this is your url. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website includes images of sky, sea and a wide range of wildlife.

Flags and Maps from the CIA
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html

Need a flag of Bhutan or a map of Afghanistan to illustrate your political analysis? The CIA’s World Factbook is your go-to site for downloads.

Natural Resources Conservation Service
http://photogallery.nrcs.usda.gov/Index.asp

The NRCS’s site, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, features both stunning and sobering images of the American landscape that illustrate human impact on our environment.

Many more sites are worth surfing for free images. Check out the listings at Wikipedia’s public domain image resources. Just beware: Double-check the actual websites to be sure there is no copyright restriction language.

When Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

We’ve all heard that well-worn expression, but think about it. When is a picture really worth a thousand words?

My take: When it provokes you to search for a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

There’s Dorothea Lange’s poignant 1936 photo of 32-year-old Florence Thompson, a destitute migrant pea picker and mother of seven, in California during the Great Depression, whose worn face speaks volumes about her family’s desperate situation.

There’s Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic 1945 photo of a sailor kissing a white-uniformed nurse on V-J Day in Times Square, capturing every American’s ecstasy at the end of World War Two.

There’s AP photographer Eddie Adam’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning image of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner at point blank range, which became a symbol of the Vietnam War’s brutality and helped to mobilize the antiwar movement.

The Storytelling Power of Stills
I was thinking about the storytelling power of stills when I visited Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art recently, and was moved by the powerful images of documentary photographer Catherine Opie. The exhibit, Empty and Full, includes photos of huge crowds at President Obama’s inauguration, juxtaposed with protesters at Tea Party rallies, anti-war marches and pro-immigration demonstrations.

In each crowd shot, Opie anchors the image with one face in a sea of many, a face full of pride, anger, anguish—whatever emotion epitomizes the experience, or the irony of the experience, one that draws you into a personal relationship with the participants. The color images are large, crisp, rich with detail, so you feel a part of the event.

Stills in Sequence Build a Narrative
I was even more struck, however, by a series of large images that surround the perimeter of the exhibit—a set of ocean sunrises and sunsets taken each day from the deck of a container ship on a ten-day passage from Busan, Korea, to Long Beach, California. Opie spent hours on deck each day of the journey, capturing the sun’s movement across the horizon, regardless of weather or visibility (she worked with the ship’s navigator to ensure that her camera was properly oriented when the sun was obscured by clouds or fog—the latter photo, my favorite of the set).

The horizon line divides each image in exactly the same place. Taken in sequence, the stunning pictures build a narrative about nature’s power and subtlety, time and infinity, how we much we miss as we move through our days, goals foremost.

You can see a brief slide show of selections from Empty and Full here. But if you’re in Boston this summer, check it out for yourself (on view through September 5).

Of course, it’s up to you to supply your own thousand words.