Why it’s important to purchase web maintenance even if you’re not changing your content

People often think of a website as a one-time purchase: you pay for the design, the designer launches it, everyone high-fives, and you move on. Like most things in business–daily accounting, fleet vehicle maintenance, dusting the shelves, or following up with customer inquiries–a website requires routine attention to serve you best. Further, the web isn’t just some static being that sits and waits for people to interact with it; the web changes continuously.

Web programming is always evolving, getting better, more secure, and more powerful. Some of the tools web designers use to make your site better, secure, and robust also change continuously. These include content management systems (CMSs), like WordPress; payment gateways, like PayPal; and IDX feed integrations, like MLS.

Even if you purchase the most basic maintenance offered, here are very good reasons to purchase a maintenance package:

Security Updates

Many web tools require manual security updates. A friend of mine had a property management company whose website was hacked. The hackers took his entire website down and replaced it with a photo of a masked man pointing a gun toward the viewer. This is well-documented and does happen. He ended up paying his web designer several hundred dollars to fix it.

Having your website taken down isn’t the only thing that could go wrong. Mean people do all sorts of things: change your site’s information, reroute traffic, steal your or your customers’ data, distribute malicious code (malware), and a host of other things.

Third-Party Vulnerabilities

Third-party vulnerabilities are related to security updates. For example, on WordPress-managed sites there are powerful tools called Widgets and Plugins. Widgets are small info blocks that perform a specific function. A PlugIn is a separate piece of software that performs a group of functions. These are often developed and maintained by someone other than WordPress. While they improve the functionality of your website, they can also create vulnerabilities. Since these both run some sort of code, they will need to be monitored for bugs and security updates.

If you’re telling yourself, “Well, I just don’t want any PlugIns or Widgets,” then you are also saying you don’t want payment gateways, a Facebook feed integration, a contact form, a professional-looking photo gallery, or your contact information on the sidebar of every page.

If you want a hand-coded page (no CMS like Joomla, Drupal, or WordPress), that’s fine, too, but they cost considerably more, take much longer to create, and are far more expensive to update. Hand-coded websites are neither cost- nor time-efficient.

Forced Updates

All reliable CMSs require updates. WordPress, for example, will eventually force its most critical updates to your site after it’s noticed you’re running very outdated versions of its software, but this is risky. The new version may not be compatible with some of your plugins or widgets, theme functionality, contact forms, photo galleries, or other tools that make your site sing. You risk losing all your data, or breaking your site entirely. Eventually, if your site has been neglected and only received these forced updates, it will break. It is like playing Russian Roulette with your website.

In fact, 27% of all hacking occurs on sites allowing WordPress to force updates.

Regular Backups of Site Content

Creating a copy of everything on your website is important in case you move your hosting, allow only forced updates to your site, get hacked, or someone messes something up while tinkering on the back-end. Without a recent copy of everything, you risk losing purchases, inventory catalogs, order histories, customer databases, messages, testimonials, and anything and everything else on your website.

Functionality Updates

Remember how I said the web is continually changing? This means web programming languages are enhancing mobile friendliness, usability, accessibility, speed–even the web languages themselves. Archaic or antiquated HTML won’t look clean or function as nicely in a modern browser, and some programming protocols have become completely obsolete and browsers flat-out ignore them. These may sound like fluff, but they are important; a poor user experience hurts your credibility–both to the actual users and to search engines.

Summary

You don’t realize the value of someone monitoring these tools until something goes wrong. Often, it is more expensive to fix problems after you’ve neglected maintenance because basic security must be updated before the problem can really be fixed. I encourage all my clients to purchase web maintenance. It will make your life easier, invoices less expensive, and relationships more productive.

Visual Identity for Georgia Gwinnett College’s Corporate Affiliates Program

The Office of Advancement at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) has a newly expanded program, the Corporate Affiliates Program (CAP). This program develops strategic relationships between students, the college, and successful businesses in the Atlanta Metro area. They called me and asked if I could help them develop an identity and online strategy for this new program. The tricky part of this identity and strategy was that the CAP identity could not use any of GGC’s current or past logos or institutional marks. Further, any programs, departments, or organizations affiliated with GGC were not allowed to incorporate new fonts, create new color palettes or new logos. With all these restrictions, CAP still had to look like it was part of GGC.

There were more restrictions than there were liberties. But that’s fine by me. Having worked with University of North Georgia’s re-branding efforts, and guiding the use of that institution’s new marks, I was well-equipped to design around these restrictions. Aware of my branding experience, they hired me right away and said this strategy needed to be in place and operating before the summer’s end.

My research began. I scoured the internet for information about the program, its goals, what people were saying about it, what it was doing. I look for participants, affiliates, businesses–anything that would help me give GGC a sound, educated recommendation. GGC also sent over some information to help me understand CAP’s objectives.

After a consultation with the Office of Advancement’s CAP team, I worked closely with them to develop an online strategy, program identity, social media graphics, custom hashtag, and Microsoft Office templates. I identified which social media platforms would best reach their target market, and what to post on each. I talked about creating a “Voice” for the program to use online, and gave them descriptors for how the Voice should sound.

Once I developed everything they needed, I sent all my advice over in a Strategy Guide. They received a custom MS PowerPoint template, MS Publisher tri-fold brochure template, plus flyer and invitation templates. I customized social media logos to use in those templates. These mostly-blank templates were designed with “holes” in them where GGC can drop in photos, graphics, text or content updates. The structure and design of the templates remains the same, but I prepared them to easily incorporate updates as the program evolves.

They received everything they needed to get this program running and looking like the professional organization it is. In the end, they received an extensible, flexible visual strategy they could use for years to come, yet stay within the college’s visual media restrictions. See the deliverables in my portfolio.

Photo Buzz Studios’ Split Identity

You might have seen on my Instagram that I posted some insanely beautiful business cards:

You see, Photo Buzz Studios works with a lot of exclusive clientele. They aren’t setting up photo booths with goofy hats and wonky glasses at weddings, these rock stars set their aspirations even higher. To align with their goals, I suggested truly eye-catching, memorable pieces which would feel like gifts. My idea would most certainly catch the eye of industry executives, but this was not going to be a cheap venture. For these “gifts,” I designed ultra-thick, metallic-edged, suede-coated black cards stamped with two foil colors.  They were, indeed, as exquisite as they sound.

White, suede-coated business cards.

But you probably also noticed in my portfolio the white business cards. There was a strategy to designing two sets of cards, each with a very different price point and purpose.

I surmised that, in addition to the un-economical idea of doling out the black business cards willy-nilly, they also needed less expensive cards they could hand out indiscriminately. These cards still needed to feel “high-end.” Enter here the second set of business cards: suede-coated, white business cards. The white set has the same basic design as the black set, but the white cards are printed with two Pantone colors on 16pt stock. Each set shared a non-traditional size, butter-soft suede coating, and matching layouts to connect them conceptually.

Photo Buzz Studios is gonna blow their clients away with their attention to detail, and I know they have many years of success ahead of them. I was honored to be a part of their story and look forward to seeing their name in lights someday. Good luck, Photo Buzz Studios!

 

Have a gander at the gallery:

 

Label Design for Cone Heads 8020 in Cape San Blas, FL

Coneheads 8020 hired me to design their exclusive beer, 30E Lager.

Fresh off the artboard is Cone Head 8020’s label design for 30E Lager, so-named for the state route running through eco-conscious Cape San Blas. This label features sights from St. Joseph Bay, including the its pristine beaches, underwater sea grass, and scallops.

“Scalloping is huge here,” says Dwayne Piergiovanni, owner of ConeHeads 8020. “I would like the label to be indicative of St. Joseph Bay, without being cluttered, including the seagrass, scallops, sand, urchins, crabs, etc…things under the water.”

The phrase at the top, though, is a bit of locals-only knowledge. “It is one of the few places on earth where the sun rises from the water and sets back into the water,” says Piergiovanni.  The phrase could also serve another meaning: the beer is a “session beer;” not some monstrous 7% beer, so you can responsibly sip while fishing during the day.

Since 30E was brewed especially for Cone Heads 8020 by a local brewery, my strategy was to keep the look somewhat similar to their labels yet still include elements from Piergiovanni’s vision and the beer’s pre-existing tap handle.

If you’re looking for local beer in Cape San Blas, check out 30E at Cone Heads 8020. They also have ice cream for the little ones and burgers, pizzas, soups, salads, and appetizers for the hungry ones. Cheers!

Photo Buzz Studios’ Identity & Branding Package

Photo Buzz Studio Logo Design
Photo Buzz Studio Logo Design

When Photo Buzz Studios sought to hire a graphic designer to help them develop their new logo and branding package, they turned to me. Eager to get it right the first time, but also on a short timeline, Kelly Williams shot me an e-mail detailing her needs. In short, Photo Buzz Studios is an exclusive mobile photography studio serving professional, and formal occasions, including classy corporate gatherings and full-service event planning agencies. Photo Buzz needed to be recognized as an creative experiential firm. Quite abstract, yes? That’s okay.

“A graphic strategist is truly what I’m looking for!”

We exchanged thoughts and talked about the process, she shared a mood board with me to help me understand her vision for Photo Buzz. I boiled all this in a cauldron and poured out a feast for your eyes. Their logo focuses its inspiration on the understated, sleek look of exclusive night clubs in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Atlanta. The breaks in the letters are a subtle reference to neon lights and the purple is a color common to high-end nightclubs. The forward slash is a reference to Photo Buzz Studios’ more edgy, after-dark approach.

This is a web-resolution version of the fully printable branding guide book Photo Buzz received. This branding book offers tips for using the elements in the new identity package plus guidance and exmaples for creating a clear, consistent brand.

Photo Buzz Studios’ color palette represents colors commonly seen in night life and neon lights. Their colors communicate energy, vibrancy, dynamism, and contrast. The typefaces complement a “feel” Williams sought in our discussions, and each typeface is available for free as part of the Google Fonts project. Using Google Fonts makes the typefaces easily accessible for all her employees and presents no licensing issues. Plus, they are suitable for both web and print applications. Finally, I conceptualized the accent marks for use wherever and however Photo Buzz sees fit.

Photo Buzz Studios also received an easily shareable reference page for their new identity.

This is the branding reference sheet for Photo Buzz Studios. It includes typography, color palette, accent marks, and inspirational imagery.

Featured photo by Gansevoort-Provocateur-Club-NYC, of CityGasm.

What you need to know about bar codes for beer label design

Some UPC labels of widely-distributed beers

If you are in the craft beer business, you are quite aware there is no shortage of hurdles, detours, fees, and legalese just to keep on truckin’. Design of your craft beer label is just one (sometimes complicated) step in expanding your packaging. The TTB, distributors, and retailers will look to you for any bar code information, and there can be annual renewals involved in bar code ownership. Therefore, I believe it is best that management of your UPC/bar codes stays in your hands. I’ve helped craft breweries expand their packaging before, and here are the questions I run into most often.

Not familiar with UPC bar codes? Watch this 3-minute video.

Do I even need a bar code? This seems like a headache.

C’mon! Challenges build character! But it is kind of a headache and it takes some patience. Fortunately, there is no legal requirement for everyone to have a bar code. You do not need a bar code if you plan on selling:

  • Through small or independent retailers
  • Directly to your end customers, i.e., the public
  • Online through your own e-commerce website
  • Online through auction sites (e.g.: eBay)

You will need to get a bar code if you sell your product through any retailer that uses the “Global Database.” Mass retailers like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Kroger will require you to have a bar code.

Where does the UPC code come from? Mars?

It seems a mission to Mars would be less intimidating, but don’t worry your pretty little head! Keep in mind, though, you will have to fill out an application to obtain a bar code no matter where you go. The GS1-US (formerly the Uniform Code Council) is a non-profit agency that governs the assignment of bar codes, and one of their jobs is to make sure that no duplicates are issued. If you’re looking to buy several hundred or thousands of bar codes, go straight to the GS1-US. If you only need one or a handful or a hundred, you can buy them from re-sellers, but there are some companies doing sketchy things out there; be sure to buy from a reputable one. Find genuine companies through the Authenticated Number Registration Directory. Re-sellers must take it upon themselves to register with ANRD, and if a re-seller isn’t listed it doesn’t necessarily mean they are bogus.

There are benefits and drawbacks for going with either the GS1-US or a re-seller, so do your homework, plan for the future, and choose wisely. Here is a good blog post explaining the differences.

Do I have to pay for them (*crosses fingers*)?

Of course you do (*dangit*). The fees depend on who you purchase your codes from, how you answered your application questions, how many products you’ll sell, and your annual sales. The GS1-US does offer lower rates for smaller businesses who sell fewer products but would still like to be registered with the Global Database. Many mass retailers (e.g.: Wal-Mart, Kroger) require your bar code to be registered through GS1-US Global Database.

How do I keep track of my UPC numbers?

The easiest thing for you to do, if you have a small number of packaging sizes or beers you distribute, is to just use a simple Excel Spreadsheet (but I’m not your mother, you can manage them in Braille if you want). If you registered with the GS1-US, you’ll get some free software for managing and creating new bar codes for future products.

Want to learn more? Here is a crash course on GS1-US. It’s a 16-minute long video, but I highly recommend watching it (and going the restroom first).

Other Questions that come up:

from Wikipedia.org

How big does a UPC code have to be?

They should be 1.469 inches wide by 1.02 inches high. You can crop the lines so they are shorter in some cases, and there are exceptions if your product is itty-bitty…but no one buys a 1-ounce can of beer. Width is from the outermost side of each exterior numbers, height is from the top of the lines to the bottom of the numbers.

Does it have to be black and white?

Short answer: no. Safe answer: it should be. If you have a vector image of your bar code, I can change it to dark blue or dark green and the background to pale yellow, but to guarantee that your bar codes scan, I strongly recommend black and white.

Will you do all this bar code registration malarkey for me?

Yes, for the price of my hourly design rate plus any and all costs obtaining the code.

Fort Walton Brewing Company Logo

As you may (or may not) already know, brewing, serving, and educating others about craft beer is one of my favorite hobbies. The people I met in craft beer are some of the best folks I know.

Fort Walton Brewing Company's logo
Fort Walton Brewing company, a new craft brewery up-and-coming to Fort Walton.

That being said, you can imagine how honored I felt when I was hired to produce Fort Walton Brewing Company’s logo. Fort Walton Brewing company intends to be a central location where homebrewers, small-batch craft brewers, and beer lovers can congregate to brew and sample beer. I did some research on Fort Walton, asked locals what they thought about the city, and considered my own intuitions about it. The consensus was that there was no consensus; Fort Walton Beach is viewed by many as a somewhat difficult to define. And I put that in the logo.

This logo focuses primarily on the city of Fort Walton Beach. Being a historic city built on military, tourism, and a dash of pirate folklore, the variety of typefaces in this logo take root in the variety of experiences one finds in Fort Walton Beach. The word “Fort” gives a nod to the U.S. Air Force with the use of it’s official typeface, Berthold Akzidenz Bold Extended. “Walton” takes on and older, more established yet whimsical look in honor of the town’s 1838 name, Camp Walton, and its pirate folklore. “Brewing” uses a font with terminals that are reminiscent of germinated malts: where the hull splits. Some letters are slightly out-of-place, recognizing that Fort Walton Beach refuses to conform to any singular idea.

You go, Fort Walton Brewing. You go.

Text versus Iconography in Logos

A logo is your story in a single mark: the essence of your business, if you will. Some folks can get away with text-based logos. Other people need some sort of icon or visual cue to help them remember who the logo belongs to or what the business does. Not all logos need icons. Not all text-based logos are successful. It’s not my job to tell you what to choose, but it is my job to dig into the meat of your business, find out what you like, what’s already out there, then present you with well-informed and meaningful logos that you’ll enjoy using.

Let me illustrate (I swear that was the only pun!).

Imagine a business that says everything it does in the name: Pensacola Pressure Washing, for example. The words already say everything that needs to be said, so additional information might seem redundant or unnecessary. Sure, it’s a pretty generic name, but it’s an easy one to remember. It could be also argued that a highly-stylized or uniquely arranged text-based logo itself becomes an image to the brain; the brain no longer reads the letters for what they literally represent and instead sees a shape or a picture. A prime example of this is “Disney.”pensacola-pressure-washing-01

Now imagine a business with a person’s name or unclear mission, such as Jack Dawson, M.D., or UprightPro, Inc. Studies agree that imagery paired with text helps people with recognition and recall in memory tests. That’s why lots of logos include icons, imagery, or objects in place of or in addition to words. This approach makes sense in cases where names are forgotten, or what your business does or sells is ambiguous. In these cases, it would be prudent to consider imagery, icons, or some other visual cue for onlookers.

pensacola-pressure-washing-02
You’ll likely remember that Dr. Dawson is a pediatrician.

 

pensacola-pressure-washing-03
OH! Upright makes chairs, not bicycles or tanning beds.