new web development and redesign - keystone aviation

New Web Development and Redesign – Keystone Aviation

new web development and redesign - keystone aviation

A little less than two years ago, I launched the Keystone Aviation website. Which was a redesign of an even earlier site. You can read about that here.

Things move fast on the internet, and a two year old website can get fairly long in the tooth in two years. It was time for an new web development and redesign, as shown above.

From a design standpoint, we wanted to make the site denser with the redesign. We consolidated and distilled the content into fewer pages, allowing us to eliminate a fair number of pages and make the navigation clearer and more direct. While dense in rich content – which is strategically great for SEO – it is still clean, legible, and to my eyes, a more elegant design.

From a development standpoint, the new site is a true responsive site. The previous site had a stand-alone mobile version that had to be maintained separately, increasing maintenance costs. We built a better form builder into the site to make clean and pretty engagement forms and a much better slider functionality. We used woocommerce to present the charter fleet and the aircraft for sale in a clean and information rich way – once again, stripping out the ‘purchase’ functionality from it.

We are in the process moving all of the TAC websites onto a common WordPress theme (only the TAC Energy site is on a different theme now, and is slated to be redesigned this year) so that the entire TAC web presence has a common look and feel, built on a common core of theme and function. Take a look at the site, I’m really proud of it.

Patrick Houston Resumé


Click to embiggen.

I love infographics. I really love infographics that are especially well done, and dense with good and useful information. I love pouring over them and digesting the info they are presenting.

The thing is, they are incredibly time consuming to do. Gathering, distilling, designing and presenting information in such a way that it is digestible and pleasing to the eye takes a lot of thought and attention to detail. It is so time consuming, in practice, that no client would ever pay me to design one.

I spent probably 20-24 hours on designing the Patrick Houston Resumé you see here. They were happy hours of designing, problem-solving, revising and revising again, and I am pleased with the result. It has the essential information (contact info, work history), a bit of personal information (family, volunteerism), it shows examples of my work and who I have done work for, and gives an overview of my toolset. It’s a lot of information packaged in a linear and dense way. A great deal of time was spent on the little details.

If I were a young art director or graphic designer looking for a job, I would consider doing this. When I was working for ad agencies, resumés would come across my desk weekly. Most went straight into the trash after a 5 second glance but something like this would certainly get my attention and get a call back. A young designer who brought me a resumé with this much care and attention would go to the front of the line.

Good and honest infographics seem to be pretty rare. The New York Times graphic design team does some that are stunning. So does Wired magazine.

Bad and dishonest infographics done by hurried or lazy designers are a plague on humanity, and need to be stopped.

At any rate, I had fun doing this and thought I would share.

Magna IV Website

Magna IV Website Redesign

I recently completed a job I’m pretty proud of. A complete redesign and redevelopment of the Magna IV website. Magna IV is a commercial printer (and more!) here in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had done a bit of consulting with Magna IV on an SEO project for their e-commerce site, and when it came time to redesign and redevelop the Manga IV website, they allowed me to quote the job. I’m so glad they did.

Adobe Business Catalyst

Adobe Business Catalyst – A Review

In which, I review Adobe Business Catalyst, a platform for building websites and whatnot.

Recently, I was contacted by a client who was unhappy with her shiny new website, built just two months prior on the Adobe Business Catalyst (ABC) platform. This client is a smart, capable woman who had used WordPress to maintain a website for many years and has solid computer skills.

She had hired a well respected web development company to redesign and rebuild her website. A website she paid 5 figures for, and continues to pay for with an ongoing monthly hosting fee.

After the website developers designed and built the site, they turned the maintenance keys over to her, and she began working with the Content Management System (CMS).

She was less than thrilled. The text editor was clunky and didn’t behave properly. The photo functions were rudimentary at best, byzantine at worst. Inconsitence spacing. Odd formatting. Little glitches all over the site.

She could not get the text to format the way she wanted. Getting photos into a post or page required a huge work-around to get them sized and scaled properly. Things as simple as having text wrap around a photo correctly were seemingly impossible tasks.

Her website is primarily a blog, and information about the books she has written with links to buy them on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Pretty straightforward.

She has maintained her own website since the mid-2000’s, and has a ton of content that was ported over to the new site. Again, straightforward.

We met, I took notes about her concerns, and logged into the CMS.

Adobe Business Catalyst Content Management System

The Adobe Business Catalyst CMS interface certainly looks impressive. Look at all that meta!

Even though I was unfamiliar with the layout, I was able to get some of the basic formatting issues corrected. I took care of a few the things that needed to be done – after a fair bit of research in the Adobe forums and some trial-and-error. None of it was very intuitive or straightforward though.

Looking under the hood, the basic framework of Adobe Business Catalyst isn’t ideal. It adds a metric shit-ton of markup to the content rather than relying on CSS. It appears to be built on tables, but I’m still not sure about that. It’s hard to say really. Adobe won’t give a user full access to their closed system.

The blogging functionality is very poor. It is simply not a good or user-friendly blogging platform.

Themes – the templates that control how a site looks – are limited and generic. It’s just been a couple of weeks since I started this project, but I can already spot a site built on the platform from three sites away. You can, of course, design and code your own theme if you have the skill and patience.

Additionally, the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) functionality doesn’t appear to have any in-site feedback like the popular Yoast plugin for WordPress has. This forces blind guesses as to how posts are scoring unless you are really well versed in how to go about SEO. Its implementation is clunky and poorly thought out.

There are any number of other  issues that I could point out, but that gets tedious fast.

Given enough time, I could have repaired most of what was wrong with the site. It is, after all, only code.

But we decided to cut our losses and move the website back to the WordPress platform and put it on a server we have complete control over.

I should say at this point, I adore Adobe products.

I owned Adobe Illustrator 1.1 in 1987. I owned the very first commercial release of Photoshop. I was an early adopter of InDesign. I could not get through the day without Acrobat. I still use Dreamweaver nearly every single day. I have grown up as a designer with Adobe products and cannot imagine getting my work done without them. They are the best.

If Adobe searched their records, they would find that I have been responsible for purchasing hundreds of their products. During my ad agency years, I was the guy responsible for evaluating, choosing and purchasing the software the creative teams used. I chose Adobe products every single time.

I default to Adobe products.

In fact, the only time in my career that I have chosen the wrong platform/technology/program was back in the early days of Flash, when I chose Adobe Live Motion over Macromedia Flash, and I still maintain it was a better product.

I wish I could say the same about Adobe Business Catalyst.

Anyhow, after digging in and doing some research, I discovered that there are a lot of people with not a lot nice to say about the Adobe Business Catalyst platform. And I had to dig pretty deep to find it.

Adobe, being the heavyweight that Adobe is, absolutely dominates the search rankings for the term “Adobe Business Catalyst” in every conceivable permutation. It must be nice to have that kind of SEO clout.

From my research, there is consensus that Adobe Business Catalyst does some things very well.

The CRM modules are awesome. The Newsletter function is solid. The E-Commerce component is very good. Being cloud-based, backups and uptime should be nearly bulletproof, although you will see a fair bit of grousing about that online.

There is, however, one unpardonable sin with the Adobe Business Catalyst platform.

There is no way to extract and download your content from the site should you feel the need to abandon the platform.

I repeat – There is no way to extract and download your content from the site should you feel the need to abandon the platform.

Downloading your content as an XML file is not allowed.

Adobe owns your content. They have you locked into their platform and you can never leave, because they are holding your content hostage.

It becomes more trouble to move your content than to stay with what you’ve already invested in.

This is because it is software as service. The content you create lives on cloud-based on Adobe servers, and they aren’t about to give you full access to their servers. It’s a closed system.

I suppose that’s what passes for good business practice these days. It creates a predictable revenue stream. It maximizes value for the company. I’m sure Adobe shareholders love it.

I see that a lot of the big-time web development firms love the service and are eager to sell you on the platform. They can piggyback on the business model and lock you in. It’s a neat trick to create steady cash flow.

Personally, I find it unethical.

This particular client had 8 years of blog posts loaded into the platform. 8 years of content she had created, that she now has no access to. More than 300 pages of content that can only be claimed, one page at a time, with a tedious copy/paste.

Think about that for a second. It’s like renting a house, but the owner of the house claims ownership of every single thing you bring into the house.

That’s seriously fucked up.

I did find a work around. If the blog is set up as an RSS feed, you can load the content into an RSS reader and save the content to a file. But, with the metric shit-ton of markup the platform adds to the content, it is basically unusable without yet another metric shit-ton of cleanup.

“So, Patrick Houston Design Studio, what’s the bottom line on Adobe Business Catalyst?” you ask.

Adobe Business Catalyst is most likely a very fine platform for large business and large E-commerce sites, IF there is a full time staff of developers, designers and content managers to maintain the site – be they in-house, or via a maintenance contract with your developers.

If you are a big business, or a large, high-traffic E-commerce site with a lot of customers to manage, you’d most likely be a happy camper. Up until the day you decide to move to a different platform. Then you will be very unhappy camper.

Adobe Business Catalyst is NOT built for normal people with better things to do than fuss over their website 8 hours a day.

In a few days, I’ll show off the newly designed WordPress site. It’s extra-awesome and I’m very proud of how it turned out.

Dark Spell – Book Design

Dark Spell – Surviving The Sentence by Mara Leveritt

I am very fortunate to have been chosen to design Dark Spell – Surviving The Sentence, Mara Leveritt’s latest book on the West Memphis Three saga.

The basic parameters of the WM3 story are well known: In 1993, three young boys are convicted of murdering three even younger boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in what was described as a satanic ritual.

The convictions of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin were based on astoundingly flimsy evidence amid the ‘satanic panic’ that gripped the nation at the time.

Mara’s previous book, Devil’s Knot, detailed the crime, investigation and convictions of the WM3. Echols received the death sentence. Misskelley and Baldwin received life sentences.

Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were freed in August, 2011 on a Alford plea after having served more than 18 years in prison.

Dark Spell picks up the WM3 story where Devil’s Knot left off.

Click for a larger view

Click for a larger view

Dark Spell is mostly the story of the first 14 years that Jason Baldwin spent in prison.

In reading Jason’s story, I was deeply moved by the essential humanity, dignity and grace of a 16 year old boy sentenced to die in prison.

To maintain his faith, optimism and innocence in the teeth of the indifferent brutality of the Arkansas prison system is truly remarkable.

Dark Spell is a great read. Mara’s strong, clear voice shines but doesn’t distract from the narrative. I hope my book design has done justice to her words.

Deeply annotated and indexed, it gives a lot of detail without becoming tedious or wonky. I recommend it strongly.*

A third book detailing the efforts to both free the WM3, and the efforts to keep them in prison, is planned.



Not all of the projects I get involved in turn out as well as Dark Spell.

My two main goals as a designer are:

  1. Deliver work that the client is happy with
  2. Do work that I am proud of

I like to think that I have an excellent track record on the first goal. I have lots of long-term clients that I believe would agree.

The second goal is more hit-and-miss. Often as not, things go out the door that I am not completely happy with for a wide variety of reasons.

Time constraints, budget considerations, differences in taste, variances of opinion and conflicting goals all work against my happiness. And that’s fine. Ultimately, if the client is well pleased and it doesn’t completely suck, I’m good.

This project has hit both of my goals, and has been a joy to work on.

I am well pleased with the cover design. Working from a photo by Joe Berlinger, with layers of texture and a shadowy overlay of razor wire, Jason Baldwin looks out at the reader with unbroken directness.

With most of my work being web-based these days, I don’t often get a chance to do long-form typography. And I do love typesetting the occasional book-length document.

Here is a sample of the interior of the book.

Dark Spell - Pages 62 & 63

Click for a larger view

The text face is set in Minion Pro, designed by Robert Slimbach. Minion Pro is inspired by classical, old style typefaces of the late Renaissance, a period of elegant, beautiful, and highly readable type designs.

The titles, quotes, running footers, etc., are set in the Gotham family. Gotham was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones. Gotham’s letterforms are inspired by a form of architectural signage that achieved popularity in the mid-twentieth century.

There are no widows, orphans or step-children to trip over, and the letter/word spacing variances are kept to the bare minimum. I was taught, and I believe, that book typography should be beautifully invisible, and I hope that I’ve accomplished that.

* Full disclosure: Mara Leveritt is a dear friend.


New Website Launched: TAC Energy

TAC Energy Website

I am super excited about this new site and new client: TAC Energy.


TAC Energy chose the Patrick Houston Design Studio to redesign and rebuild their website.

The requirements were to improve the SEO, update the site to a modern CMS platform (WordPress), upgrade the visual appeal, and it was very important to the client that the site performed and behaved perfectly on mobile.

And the entire project had to be brought in on a budget that ad agencies or web firms wouldn’t touch.

The responsiveness of the design means that a separate mobile interface isn’t necessary. It resizes to fit any screen on the fly – notably, even a vertically oriented phone, all done with CSS. Please take a look at how it behaves on the phone. I’m really pleased with what we’ve done.

Another big part of the project was to integrate a stand alone blog into the site – one that had a lot of content and a lot of daily readers – without losing any SEO juice or followers. Pulling the content in from the blog site, integrating it with the updated content from the existing site, and making it responsive to different screen sizes was a challenge that is right in my wheelhouse. I adore these kinds of projects.

The SEO is an ongoing process. Because the old site had basically no SEO done, and what was there was an abject disaster, we’re going to let it simmer for 30 days before we get really serious about the SEO, so we’ll have some baselines to measure against.

There will be added functionality added over the next few weeks as well. A good form generator is in order, and a searchable map function is being worked on as well.

I really am proud of this one. I hope you’ll take a moment to take a look, and think of me when you get ready to redesign your site.

TAC Energy is a division of the Truman Arnold Companies, and one of their other business units is TAC Air, is a long-time client of the Patrick Houston Design Studio.

For reference, this is what the old site looked like.


New Project Completed: Keystone Aviation

Keystone Aviation

Keystone Aviation is an aircraft charter, aircraft sales & brokerage, private aircraft management and aviation maintenance company headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Keystone Aviation Mobile

I’m super proud of this one. One of the coolest things about the Keystone Aviation site is the mobile version. Take a look on your phone.

In addition to the responsive site design and the very slick mobile version of the website, one of the neatest things about the site is the way we’ve used a shopping cart to display the Charter Fleet and the Aircraft For Sale listings.

The purchasing functionality has been stripped out of the shopping cart, so you can’t actually purchase an airplane or charter a flight from the site, but it displays the Charter Fleet and Aircraft For Sale beautifully.

Quote requests, sales staff contact information, complete details on the company, social sharing functions and much more are available on the site.

The site is of course, built on WordPress. Based on an existing theme, it is nevertheless, highly customized with a lot of look-and-feel modifications and enhanced functionality.

Ove the coming weeks, there will be additions and enhancements to the site.

It will be bristling with carefully thought out SEO to expand their footprint on the web.

If you need to charter a flight to or from anywhere in the world, or are looking to purchase and aircraft, Keystone Aviation is your man.

Keystone Aviation is a TAC Air company. TAC Air is a long-time client of the Patrick Houston Design Studio.

Razorback Game Day

Razorback Game Day, Finally.

After 8 long months, College Football has returned, and with it, Razorback Game Day.

Razorback Game Day Helmet

I can’t remember a longer off-season waiting for Razorback Game Day than this one has been. It’s been agonizing.

I suppose that part of the reason that it seems to have been such a long time since the last Razorback Game Day is because of Sporting Life Arkansas, a website I run with my friend Simon.

It’s been both a blessing and a curse in ways.

I’m so plugged into the minutae, and pay such close attention to every little thing now, that it’s made the months between the end of the horrifying season last year seem to stretch out forever. That’s the curse part.

The blessing parts far outweigh the cursed parts.

I’ve been so fortunate to work with Simon on bringing our little vision to life. From its humble launch on Thanksgiving weekend last year, through the long, cold, football-less months between January and September, Sporting Life Arkansas has been a joy to work on.

Working with such a talented group of writers – guys like Jim Harris, Doc Harper, Chris Bahn, Evin Demirel, Stacey Margaret Jones, Rex Nelson, Chris Murray and so many others – has been an absolute joy as well.

They bring us sports and sporting lifestyle stories from every corner the state. With original news, topical analysis, game break-downs, fun and funny observations, and even some historical perspective on teams from across the state of Arkansas, Sporting Life Arkansas covers the state in ways that no one else does. I’m incredibly proud to have been part of offering the platform to our readers across the state, across the nation and across the world.

And that’s not an exaggeration. We really do have dedicated readers in places like Poland, Germany, Australia, Canada, UK, France and more.

Another great part of this is that I’ve gotten some pretty cool perks.

Razorback Game Day

I was able to attend my first Razorback Media Day this year. I visited the new Football Operations Center, saw the new Locker Room and Player Lounge, and got to see the Razorbacks program from an angle that most people never get to see.

I met and talked with the players, had conversations with the coaches, and met guys like Rick Schaeffer, Steve Sullivan, Justin Acri, and so many more great guys who are as passionate about Razorback Game Day as I am.

I didn’t get to meet Wally Hall, but I did see him. He looked like the loneliest guy in the building that day. I guess that is a by-product of telling it “Like It Is”.

I sat and watched Jim Harris tell Razorback kicker Zach Hocker the story of Steve Little, and saw with my own eyes his reaction.

Shortly thereafter, word came down from The Hill that Hocker would be handling ALL the kicking duties on Razorback Game Day this year. How cool is that?

Razorback Game Day

Kyran got autographs from some Razorback Game Day greats. David Bazzel was not on that list.

Through our association with 103.7 The Buzz, I was able to send Kyran and her friend Sarabeth to an event purporting to teach ‘Football 101’ to ‘the Ladies’. The results weren’t what anyone expected. Clearly, we football fans have some work to do in sharing our love of the game with “The Ladies”.

Those are just a few of the cool things I’ve gotten to do since we started this thing. The list goes on and on.

One of my absolute favorite things about this is how it has reconnected me with my Alma Mater in Jonesboro.

Red Wolves HelmetI am as excited about the Arkansas State Red Wolves football season as I have ever been.

The response with A-State fans to what Sporting Life Arkansas is doing has been nothing short of astounding. They have embraced us, supported us and loved us.

We’ve had extensive coverage of the Red Wolves over the past few months, and I would bet the breadth and depth of it far exceeds any other statewide media outlet with the possible exception of the Jonesboro Sun.

The Arkansas State fans have been starved for coverage of the Red Wolves by most of the statewide media, and it has been our sincere pleasure to help alleviate some of that.

Thank you Red Wolves Fan. We are so grateful for your support.

One of my favorite things to do is to design infographics.

Infographics – 2013 Red Wolves Schedule Wallpaper

I designed a desktop wallpaper/background image for the 2013 Red Wolves football season. Sometime over the summer, we got a request from new Red Wolves head coach Bryan Harsin to use the graphic as an official part of his presentation to alumni and recruits. It genuinely is one of my proudest moments.

The excitement of football season in Arkansas is unlike anything else in the state. The Razorbacks, Red Wolves, Bears and all the other proud football programs generate a unique energy on Saturdays for me and so many others.

To have been a small part of bringing some of that excitement to Arkansas sports fans has been a real joy.

And as good a job as I believe we’ve done, we still have so much more that we would love to do.

Our coverage of high school sports, biking, hunting and fishing, soccer, baseball and many others isn’t where we want it to be. If anyone reading this would like to contribute, please get in touch. We’re eager to talk to you.

The traffic on the site has been consistently solid throughout the long dry spell between January and August. But the numbers over the past month have gone through the roof – exceeding our expectations by a pretty wide margin – and show no sign of slowing down.

We have several scalable and attractive packages to offer someone who would like to market their business or service to a dedicated Arkansas audience. If you would like to reach the very best demographic that Arkansas has to offer an advertiser, let us know.

We’ll be happy to come by and visit.

Exile In Guyville

Exile In Guyville Is 20 Years Old

Exile In Guyville

Exile In Guyville was released in June 1993.

My first awareness of Exile in Guyville was Phillip Martin’s review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette later that year. I can’t find that review online – for free anyway – but I remember it drawing parallels to the Rolling Stones classic album Exile On Main Street, which happens to be the GREATEST RECORDING OF ALL TIME.

On that recommendation I bought it. I was immediately drawn in by the honest, frank lyrics and the lo-fi production sensibility. Exile in Guyville, in a very real way, is a revolutionary record that sounds as fresh and as shocking now as it did then. It was a huge critical success.

The Chicago Tribune catches up with the record in this 20 year anniversary interview with Ms. Phair and others. If you are a fan, it’s an interesting read.

They thought it was just confessional. They thought that there was no sort of self-editing process. My favorite thing is to be really brilliant while like just off the cuff. That’s my aesthetic, high-low. The fact that they didn’t think that I could be intelligent enough or artistically formal enough to intend things to be the way they were deflated me a little bit.

But I’m not here to talk about the record or Ms. Phair, but to document how the discovery of Exile In Guyville completely altered the course of my life.

In late 1993 when I started listening to it, my first marriage was in the final stages of disintegration. I remember listening to The Divorce Song from Exile in Guyville over and over and over. Even at one point begging my then-wife to “Listen. Really listen.” I would tell her. As if there were some message she was supposed to be getting from it.

When 1993 rolled over into 1994, I changed jobs, going from a stressful and unhappy ad agency job to a corporate marketing job where I was very happy. The then-wife and I also bought a house out in the country that spring.

Early that summer, the wife moved out. The divorce was final in late December.

I lived by myself in the big country house for a while. My best friend lived with me for a short time. My crazy meth-addicted cousin moved in for a while and then moved out. Eventually, I had the place to myself.

I picked up the guitar again. My nephew would come over and I would show him a few chords. He introduced me to Nirvana.

I was lost and lonely, but not really sad or unhappy. I was mostly directionless. I drank a lot.

I listened to Exile in Guyville constantly. Tom Petty’s Wildflowers was also in heavy rotation. Due to the nephew, Nirvana became an obsession. If I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was playing guitar.

My corporate marketing job provided me with my first non-AOL connection to the internet. I remember Netscape being released very early 1995, providing a graphical interface to the nascent World Wide Web. There wasn’t much on the internet in those days, but Netscape proved the potential of the concept for universal access and usability.

In early March, I discovered the Liz Phair listserve. For those of you unfamiliar with listserve, it was basically a way to have a group discussion with folks via email. A precursor to chat rooms, message boards and discussion forums.

The Liz Phair listserve had maybe a couple hundred dedicated fans. It was about as inane as you would expect, and I grew bored with it pretty quickly, but didn’t unsubscribe. Most days a few postings would come through. Some days, nothing.

And then one day an interesting question came in. It questioned and expressed surprise at how men could relate to what was essentially a feminist statement. Grrrrl Power and all that. The post ended with “You can answer via email if you want, so as not to clog up the list.”

I don’t really remember what I said. Probably something along the lines of “I’m a huge fan of Exile on Main Street and that was my entry to the record, but I love the raw musicianship and the smart lyrics and besides you don’t have to be a girl to be a feminist.”

I’m sure Kyran would remember my reply differently, but that started a correspondence between she and I.

At first it was all light and fun, but we started sharing details of our lives and getting more personal about things. We would both spend hours each day composing long emails to one another, Exile in Guyville long forgotten. It was intoxicating. We began connecting in a deep and profound way over the internet.

Kyran lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada and I lived 3,000 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas.

After a few weeks of this very intense pen pal relationship, I learned that my creative partner at the corporate marking job was leaving for an ad agency job, and suddenly I was without a very close friend and work partner, just as the correspondence with Kyran was ramping up considerably. We were actually talking about meeting. In person.

But here’s the thing. The raw honesty that I perceived in Exile in Guyville sort of set a template for the correspondence between Kyran and I.

I remember making a decision early on, that I would simply be honest about who and what I was. I told some little exaggerations here and there about the external things, but I was completely honest about the internal things – what I thought, how I felt, what I believed and who I was.

Unbeknownst to me, she had decided to do the exact same thing.

Kyran and I did meet in person that June, and again in September. Shortly after that second meeting, I resigned from my corporate marketing job and moved to Mexico. She joined me in January. A few months later, we came to Little Rock. Although our plan was for this to be a short layover to somewhere else, we’ve been here ever since.

Since those first emails between us, that’s what has the meant the most to me over the years – the honesty between us. She knows all of me. The good, the bad, the in-between. Kyran loves me for exactly who I am.

In a very real way, I have Phillip Martin and Exile in Guyville to thank for that.