I’m Speaking At Wordcamp Fayetteville 2013

Wordcamp Fayetteville 2013

My topic at Wordcamp Fayeteville 2013 will be Finding and Choosing A WordPress Theme

I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into here in volunteering to present at Wordcamp Fayetteville 2013, but it is sure to be interesting.

My session, called Finding and Choosing a WordPress Theme, is in the beginners section.

I’ll walk attendees through the process of finding and choosing an appropriate WordPress Theme for your blog or website.

I’ll be covering free themes available through the WordPress CMS, and premium themes available on the web, with hints and tips on what to look for when evaluating themes.

The session will be appropriate for beginning bloggers wanting to set up their own blog, or existing website owners who want to move their site over to WordPress to take advantage of the WordPress CMS (Content Management System) for site management and development.

The power of WordPress for site owners lies in its overall ease-of-use, its ability to design on the fly, and the extensive plugin availability that allows functionality enhancements without knowing how to write code.

Hiring A Web Designer

Friend, author, blogger and all around dynamo, Lela Davidson, put up an interesting post about hiring a web designer.

 

Hiring A Web Designer

Lela’s 3 Things You Must Discuss When Hiring A Web Designer outlined three critical points of up-front discussion in working with a web designer.

It’s an excellent post on Hiring A Web Designer from a client-side perspective that hits three major points: Customization, Responsiveness and Branding Aesthetics. The post is specifically about web development in WordPress and I thought that to complete the circle, I would respond from a designers perspective.

Content Is King

The biggest issue that I encounter is that clients first begin thinking about what they want the website to look like, without putting much thought into what they want it to say.

So my #1 question is always “Do you have content or are we starting from scratch?

For clients with existing websites are looking at hiring a web designer that want a redevelopment job, this isn’t an issue. It is far easier to plan the navigational structure and begin working on a design if there is good content available.

If we are starting from scratch however, good planning is essential. A proposed site map is where we would begin. We’ll discuss the various pages you’ll want and how to configure the navigational structure so that your readers can easily find what they are looking for. Most begin as a simple flow chart or organizational chart. A good web designer/developer can provide guidance and keep you from making rookie mistakes.

A site map will provide your web designer with critical information to begin the design process, reduce development time, and give focus for everyone involved.

Once the site map is in hand, I tell my clients “Start writing“.

Form Follows Function

The #2 issue to discuss is “What do we want the website to do?

WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform and that is still at the core of what it can do. However, it has evolved into a dynamic Content Management System (CMS) that is stable, powerful and easy to use. The WordPress software is 100% free.

In addition, virtually any feature or functionality that you could want for your website is available as a WordPress plug-in. Most of them are absolutely free. There are instances when a premium plug-in is needed, but deciding on these features and functions up front allows a designer/developer to include those costs in the quote.

Features and functionality questions like “Do you want custom forms, in-line video or audio, a shopping cart, live-blogging, events calendars, social media integration, etc., etc.” should be answered up front before any design or development work begins.

A complete list of features and functions your website needs allows everyone to be on the same page with expectations and costs.

Your Hard-Working Website

The #3 question that should be discussed is “What happens once the site goes live?

Managing a working website takes time and work. Making sure that everything is working, monitoring web servers and web hosting, managing database optimization and backups, updating themes and plug-ins, and a host of other un-glamorous tasks on a regular schedule are necessary.

The days of putting up a website and expecting anyone to see it are long gone. Some degree of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical. Social media integration is an important part of website management. Keeping content fresh is crucial. Your website has to be worked on constantly or it simply gets buried under a mountain of similar sites.

Web designers and developers have a couple of ways to price on-going web maintenance. Monthly maintenance agreements are the norm, but a by-the-hour approach is an option.

Anyone with good basic computer skills can add content to a WordPress site. I have had a lot of success in teaching clients how to do the majority of the work themselves if they wish. This allows them to pay me on an as-needed basis rather than setting up a maintenance agreement. My web design and development friends think I’m insane for favoring this approach, because a maintenance agreement is good for cash flow. But I find that it improves client loyalty and fosters an agreeable long-term relationship.

Hiring A Web Designer

I hope that this post has been helpful if you are thinking about hiring a web designer, and that it compliments Lela’s excellent advice for those considering hiring a web designer.

Having a conversation about these topics can lead to a happy web development experience where expectations are harmonious, a firm price is agreed upon, and the end result is one that all parties are proud of.

I also hope that you will give me a call if you are looking for a web designer or a web developer. I have lots of happy, long-term clients who would be happy to vouch for my services.

Seafarer Exploration Corp

Working with the good people at Seafarer Exploration Corp has been a super fun project to be involved in.

Seafarer Exploration Corp

It’s a long story, but it turns out that the State of Florida hadn’t granted any shipwreck recovery permits in many years until Seafarer Exploration Corp came along and forced the issue. Seafarer has been granted the first two recovery permits in basically forever, and have begun exploring the sites.

If you’ll remember your history of the exploration of the new world, you’ll remember that lots of gold was carried across the sea from the new world to the old world.

And, it turns out that there were shipwrecks. Lots and lots of shipwrecks.

Sooooo…

With the advances in technology, and the fact that most of those shipwreck sites have lain undisturbed since the date of the wreck, there is a mountain of recoverable artifacts and treasure sitting off the coast of Florida, just waiting to be picked up.

Seafarer is a publicly traded company (SFRX) and I own a small bit of it. When they start pulling treasure up off the floor, I’m going to go sit on the beach for a very long time.

Infographic - 2013 Razorback Recruiting Map

Infographics

I love doing infographics.

I love making infographics. I also love the Razorbacks. And the Red Wolves. And maps. And cool wallpaper images. And background images. And whatnot.

These are totally for fun. Click on the links below each one for a full sized, suitable for wallpaper/desktop background images, and feel free to share them around.

Infographic – 2013 Razorback Recruiting Map

Infographic - 2013 Razorback Recruiting Map
Wallpaper/Desktop Background Image.

Infographics – Red Wolves Schedule Wallpaper

Infographics - Red Wolves Schedule Wallpaper
Wallpaper/Desktop Background Image.

Infographics – Razorbacks Schedule Wallpaper

Infographic - Razorback Schedule Wallpaper 2013
Wallpaper/Desktop Background Image.

 

Bonus Time!

Here are a couple of background images designed specifically for Twitter. If you are a fan of Twitter, the Razorbacks or the Red Wolves, feel free to grab them and use them.

Razorback Twitter Page Background

Razorback Twitter Page Background
Razorbacks Twitter Background Image.

Red Wolves Twitter Page Background

Red Wolves Twitter Page Background
Red Wolves Twitter Background Image.

Yoakley Law Firm

Yoakley Law Firm

Yoakley Law Firm is operated by Deric Yoakley in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Yoakley Law Firm represents clients throughout Northwest Arkansas, with a focus on civil litigation, personal injury, civil defense, unemployment compensation, criminal defense and family law.

It is a privilege to work with Mr. Yoakley, who I can personally attest to not only being a fine human being, but also an experienced and outstanding attorney who will represent your interests with dignity, enthusiasm and a high degree of expertise.

The website I built for Mr. Yoakley features a nifty jQuery interface, along with a customized mobile theme that presents his site in a phone-friendly way.

If you are in need of an attorney in Northwest Arkansas, you could do no better than to contact Mr. Yoakley.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital

I recently had the opportunity to work with the good people at Arkansas Children’s Hospital on a specialty project.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital is applying for the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Designation, and in an enlightened move, decided to make their submission as a website. They chose the Patrick Houston Design Studio to design and develop the site.

There are only only 258 of the nation’s 7,569 hospitals to receive the designation, and it is a very big deal.

From the John Hopkins Hospital website:

The ANCC doesn’t just hand out Magnet designations to institutions based on reputation alone, nor is the title bestowed without considerable effort made by the institution in question. Hospitals must take the initiative upon themselves, and the process can take a full year or longer. Furthermore, earning Magnet status once is no life-time guarantee. Some institutions have found themselves stripped of their Magnet title upon re-evaluation, which is required every four years.

There is an astounding amount of data in the site. Printed out, it would be a stack of paper over 15 inches tall.

I worked with Stacey Margaret Jones of Ariel Strategic Communications on this thoroughly enjoyable project, made even more enjoyable by working with the great nursing staff at ACH.

Logo design is a funny thing

Logo design is not funny in an “Ha Ha! Patrick Houston, logo design is so gosh-darned amusing” kind of way, but funny in a “Isn’t logo design the oddest thing you do? kind of way.

I apologize for the misleading headline.


Here’s the thing about being a graphic designer: Most people don’t want a designer, they want to stand over the shoulder of someone who knows how to drive a computer while they design.

Because, “Hey, I got eyes, and I can design real good. I mean, have you seen my living room? I designed the shit out of that room.”

Yes, your living room is lovely. It is so nice to sit and watch TV in your living room. I adore it. Truly.

But it has nothing whatsoever to do with graphic design.

Graphic design is a discipline. Like being an architect or a lawyer. It takes years of education, experience and practice to get good at it.


Advertisers have a vested interest in controlling the perception of their brand, and the logo is the easiest place to focus their efforts.

The thinking goes something like this: “Our Logo tells our audience Who We Are. It is the visual representation of our brand. We have to dictate what people think about us.”

OK, that last sentence isn‘t something any decent marketing professional would openly think [yes it is], but it is accurate in regards to the emotional idea of what many people think a logo should do. They think a logo dictates. It does not. It represents something that is already there.

To be honest, the desire to dictate makes sense on the surface. Advertisers have a very real and valid desire to control their image. But thinking that a logo will dictate what people think about your brand isn’t a realistic expectation.

Stay with me and I’ll explain.

What often happens is that logo design becomes a typeface issue.

If we could just find the right typeface for our logo, all our sales dreams would come true“.

That’s a silly statement and no one actually thinks that [yes they do]. Lord knows that typefaces are important and that I’ve spent the past 25 years wrangling, fussing, cajoling, bending and generally obsessing over them.

Random aside #1: Recently, Kyran bought me a new computer and the most time consuming thing to do in moving to a new computer is to move my font collection. It is an 8 hour ordeal to copy, load and sort my stupidly enormous number of font files.

What also happens frequently is that logo design gets personal – people get personally and emotionally invested with their logo.

My wife/child/neice/sibling/friend designed this logo and because my wife/child/niece/sibling/friend is awesome, the logo is awesome as well!

I agree that your wife/child/niece/sibling/friend is totally awesome. But unless they have some real design experience, this is the “confusing your feelings about your wife/child/sibling/friend” with a “dispassionate opinion of your logo” trap.

It happens a lot. It becomes about ego and feelings instead of being an objective view of what your brand requires. This is always a bad thing.


There is also an amusing trend of crowd sourcing and design contesting to get a logo for your brand.

There are any number of websites that offer crowd sourced design services for a small fee, and/or offer to host a design contest for an auction price.

These places should be avoided like they are terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests.

They are populated for the most part with amateurs who have downloaded a copy of Gimp and have a folder full of free fonts they‘ve downloaded from the internets. Largely, they haven’t the first clue about what disciplined design is.

If you buy a logo from one of those sites, you will end up with a bitmap file of your logo that isn’t scalable, isn’t rendered in CMYK, hasn’t been considered as a one or two color design, will look horrible at any size/resolution other than what you’ve been given and will be a nightmare to deal with if you ever need to have it printed.

Those services have no idea what the very real discipline of logo design consists of. It is simply a “this looks pretty on my screen” deal. It will not perform to professional requirements. You will fight that logo all the livelong day.


I’ve recently gotten involved with this exact situation. The client showed me his logo and proudly said “It only cost me $100, bro! I crowd sourced it!”

[Yes, he actually called me ‘bro’. And then he fist-bumped me. And then I looked for a gun with which to shoot myself in the head.]

No, bro, what you did was buy a logo from somebody willing to design a logo for $10 an hour. Or, about what you pay for someone to cook your Big Mac at McDonalds. If his training and education has led him or her to be willing to work for $10 an hour, you have gotten what you’ve paid for I guess.

Or maybe he/she has been trained and spent all of one hour on it.

Either way, it is a bad logo.

Later, when I was attempting to explain why the logo was horrible, he proudly told me “Bro, a designer guy in Chattanooga said ‘It’s awesome that you used that scripty-handwritey typeface for your logo!”.’

Here’s a little designer confession for you.

When a designer says to you “It’s awesome that you used that scripty-handwritey typeface for your logo!”, that is designer-speak for “I am astounded that you used that scripty-handwritey typeface for your logo. You are such a customer”.

Randon aside #2: I suck at doing that ‘say it so nicely that you don’t know what I just said’ thing. I am horrible at that politically-correct, nice-guy, don’t-say-what-you-really-mean thing. It’s a southern tradition that people speak around the edges of things, and I am woefully inadequate at doing that. If your logo sucks, I’m going to say ‘your logo sucks, bro’ [ok, I probably won’t say ‘bro’]. This makes many people uncomfortable. I apologize for your discomfort.

What is required is a coldly rational and brutally honest evaluation of what the marketing goals are and how they relate to sound branding concepts, and then employ the principles of good logo design toward those goals.

Your logo needs to be carefully thought out – it’s the thinking part of logo design that is so difficult, so time consuming and so expensive. Which brings us full-circle to the idea behind the graphic at the top of this page that is a paraphrase of a sign I saw at a motorcycle shop 25 years ago: If you have a $100 business, then get a $100 logo.


Here are a few quotes from people who know about good logo design:

Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations.

Paul Rand

A logo doesn’t sell, it identifies. A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important than what it looks like.

Paul Rand

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.

Joe Sparano

Design should never say, “Look at me.” It should always say, “Look at this”.

David Craib

Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.

Tate Linden

Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.

Paul Rand

If you have a great idea, it will tell you how to execute it.

Paul Rand

[Random aside #3: Paul Rand is our Michelangelo]


Here is what I would like to leave you with: Focus on your product.

If your product is good, your logo will work in harmony and reinforce what your logo says about your brand. Your logo is a vital part of your brand, it deserves an enormous focus and careful, mindful design. But it will never outperform your product or service.

Think of it this way:

If your product is a piece of crap, that’s what your logo will come to represent. It will say “this is crap” –  no matter how well the logo is designed.

If your product is excellent, that’s what your logo will say about it, unless your logo is crap – when it will say “this is crap”  – no matter how well it is designed.

Great logo design hits that sweet spot between perception, expectation, performance and quality. It’s not a simple, easy or cheap thing to get to.

Great logo design will, ideally, make your excellent product or service memorable and distinctive.

With a little luck, you might even someday find that even something as simple and meaningless as this –

– has value and meaning to people.

Arkansas Rice Depot Logo

The Arkansas Rice Depot

Arkansas Rice Depot Logo

Recently, I was asked to become involved with the Arkansas Rice Depot. I agreed immediately.

After agreeing, I decided that I had better look into what I was getting myself into.

What I found was impressive. I would like to highlight two things:

• 98% of your donation goes directly to buying and delivering food
• It is the only statewide, faith-based food bank in Arkansas

Yesterday, I attended a meeting at the Rice Depot facility in SWLR to see for this for myself.

Most impressive to me was the 2% administrative costs of the organization, meaning that 98¢ of every dollar goes directly to buying and delivering food to hungry people across our state, reaching over 15% of all Arkansans. They deliver more than 8 million pounds of food and supplies a year, serving over 900 hunger relief programs in Arkansas.

Is that not incredible? I’m not sure you could find any organization of any kind that that does so much for so little.

No less impressive to me is that while being a faith-based organization (formed in 1982 before ‘faith-based’ became a thing) they give with no strings attached. I like this because I believe that it doesn’t erect any barriers between the giver and the receiver. Givers don’t have to be a certain denomination and receivers aren’t required to profess a specific faith.

The only message is ‘If you are hungry, we will feed you. All are welcome at our table’.

There are so many impressive things about this organization that are worthy of this list. Please indulge me with one more.

President and CEO Laura Rhea defies description. From what I can tell, she is completely ego-less about what she has built, and the organization is a reflection of that. You won’t find a list of the Board of Directors on the website – I couldn’t anyway – and Laura has built an incredibly efficient operation that gives without any self-promotion whatsoever.

The boxes of food they distribute aren’t branded, the backpacks filled with food they give hungry school kids don’t have logos on them, and the entire operation goes about its business with a quiet efficiency and generosity of spirit that is a direct reflection of Laura’s tireless work. The Arkansas Rice Depot is incredibly fortunate to have her.

Please click through to the website, and especially the Food For Kids program, to see how you can help.

This organization is so worthy of your support, and your dollars have an immediate impact on the lives of the recipients of your generosity.

I would also be personally grateful if you would share this page with your friends and family, post it to your Facebook page, email it to everyone you know, etc., etc., etc. The handy links below make it easy.

Freddie The Mail Chimp

Email Marketing

Merry Christmas Email

Some of you reading this will have gotten an email from this site titled “A quick note from Patrick Houston Design Studio”.

The email had three purposes:

  • To wish my clients and friends a Merry Christmas
  • To announce the launch of this spanky new website
  • To demonstrate our new email marketing capabilities

In an ongoing effort to be of service to my clients, Patrick Houston Design Studio offers assistance with creating, managing and deploying email marketing campaigns.

If you didn’t see it, and would like to, click here.

Pretty nifty, amirite?

I used MailChimp to create the email campaign, but am also fluent in Constant Contact.

I chose MailChimp because it has a FREE service for small businesses like mine, limited only by how many emails you send per month – which looks like a generous amount to me. Constant Contact doesn’t have that feature, but will allow you a 60 day free trial, and their prices for small businesses are very reasonable.

One of the nifty features about both services is that they have plugins, widgets, short codes and raw code to install the functionality into your website.

See that little “JOIN MY EMAIL LIST” doohickey in the sidebar on the right? That’s the MailChimp List Widget for WordPress. It’s configurable to catch first and last names if you wish, and will add your email address directly to my master list.

Should you decide to join, I won’t be sending you much email to be sure. I can’t imagine doing it more than a couple of times a year, and I promise not to spam your inbox with a bunch of useless crap.

A few notes about the performance of my little email campaign:

Admittedly, I used a very small, select list to send the email to, but the performance has been impressive.

For the purposes of my campaign, I am in the Creative Services/Agency Industry category for response tracking.

Less than 24 hours after the email was deployed in what is not the optimal time to send an email (5:00 p.m.):

  • 74.2% of recipients have opened and read the email (the industry average is 17.5%)
  • 23.8% have clicked through to see the new website (the industry average is 2.5%)

My email campaign performed so well because I:

  • Started with a good list: I carefully selected the recipients from my contacts.
  • Had a timely message: Merry Christmas!
  • Had a relevant call to action: See my new website!

If you would like to get started with email marketing, give me a call at 501.590.5321. I’d be thrilled to help.