Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Reason #564 to love my iPod

My iPod is a wonderful thing. Aside from the fact that it has all my chick rock, Beatles records and yoga music on it (among others), my favorite feature is this: it saves me paper.

That's right—in its brief life as mine, my iPod has prevented me from printing out countless sheets of directions to various places, text from websites, and it's occasionally served as a replacement jump drive in times of need.

For those who might not be aware of this feature, those of us who are on Mac OSX already know that the iPod is set up to sync with iCal and your Address book. What I do is cut and paste directions to wherever it is I have to go from Yahoo Maps into the "notes" section of the iCal event (it's important to note that when you do this, you have to manually type in the R's and L's that normally appear in circles in the Yahoo directions, as they don't show up in your iCal text). In doing this, I have managed to save about a half a ream of paper thus far that would normally be used to print directions from Yahoo Maps.

Another handy little feature I've found is that you can also move text-only files over into the "Notes" section of your iPod and read them on the screen. This works well if you have BBEdit Lite —I've found that Text Edit leaves funky characters in the text.

Designers vs. NotSoMuch: The DIY Debate

Lately, on several of the various design blogs I visit, there's been a heated debate over this book, DIY: Design it Yourself. It's a collection of do-it-yourself design projects and inspiration compiled by students and faculty of the Maryland Institute College of Art and edited by Ellen Lupton. The comments on the AIGA debate seem to mostly indicate a separation among the designers into two camps: those who think that a bit of design education is good for the masses, and those who think that putting design tools in the hands of amateurs is the ultimate Bad Thing.

To be honest, I have a few opinions on the subject. For one, I think it's rather silly to treat this book like it's a new idea: doing a search for DIY on Amazon nets over 6500 results, and the first several of them are really not that far off from the book in question.

I had a chance, at a recent ICA mixer, to check out a bit of the book, and I have to say: some of the stuff is pretty good. At the same time, however, I really don't consider the techniques in the book an example of what genuinely constitutes effective design. DIY is a book that teaches you how to make things that look cool, but it doesn't teach you how to come up with a good concept, or to think of design in terms of the specific business challenges it's meant to address. It doesn't even run the gamut of all the things you REALLY need to know about how to do a successful project/campaign. It is simply a resource for people who want to express their creativity in new ways, just like a thousand other books before it. It is not a substitute for formal design training. So why all the fuss?

Honestly, I think it's a matter of ego. And I can understand it from my own experience - we're in a world where access to the "tools" of design is unprecedented, and the marketplace is overflowing with people who call themselves designers because they downloaded a copy of Photoshop last week. We spend our days being pulled between being appreciated for the value we bring to our clients' businesses and defending our livelihood to the myriad of potential clients who can't seem to understand the difference between what we do and what their secretaries can throw together in Word. I'd like to think that with experience and establishing a solid practice, the ratios will change and we deal with more appreciation than misunderstanding, but that only seems to happen to the rare individuals that actually work in or run larger agencies. The rest of us, who remain smallish (and decidedly so), find ourselves dealing with this frustration day in and out. So on that level, I can understand the annoyance.

But given this, who is DIY really speaking to? Certainly not the secretary who's going to be doing the uneducated client's newsletters in Word, but the individual crafty person who wants to learn how to make things that look really cool. Perhaps the person who, like me, couldn't afford to take out $90K in student loans to attend RISD and found herself just "playing around with things," and from that developed an unending passion for design that has turned into a fulfilling career. And what, I ask, is wrong with that?

Brand as Experience—Creating an Instant Association for Your Potential Clients

One morning, as I was walking through Harvard Square to meet a client, I walked past a building that was newly available for lease. Not a particularly spectacular experience, but what intrigued me enough to write about it was the bright green border at the edge of the glass door that immediately brought about one thought: “Oh; it’s a Citizens. Or, was a Citizens.”

This is what a brand is, beyond just a logo or a selection of fonts. A brand is about an experience - a small moment that connects you with an organization’s product or service. There’s a certain shade of green that will always remind you of Citizens Bank; another shade of green that will always remind you of Starbucks. UPS might as well have a patent on the color brown; and those three red circles help you recognize something as connected to Target from three miles away (in fact, I just saw a hurricane relief poster in the latest HOW International Design Awards whose only connection to Target was the three circles somewhere in a tree. Looking at it, I thought “hmmm…Target?” and there it was in the notes.). This is what companies pay thousands and thousands of dollars for - to give their customers an experience so compelling that it prompts them to come back again and again.

Can I do this for you? Perhaps…but not alone. Because a brand, ANY brand, is what YOU put into it. I could make you the prettiest, most effective website around, but if you don’t promote it, by including it in your printed materials, email communications, and telling people you meet, even the craziest SEO tricks won’t get people to visit. I could create a terrific logo for you, but if you can’t tell me the story of your business, the experience you want your customers to have as a result of your product or service, how can I communicate your business effectively to your customers? How can you?

Every business, no matter how big or how small, has a story. Your brand is that story personified - through printed, online or direct communication with your business. A chat with someone at a networking event? That’s part of your brand. Your business card? Your website? Your store, or phone message, or email signature, or customer service representative? That’s part of your brand. Treat it, and your customers, with respect, and you can’t go wrong.

How the Internet Can Help (or Hurt!) Your Business

These days, it seems like everyone has a website. And why not? Once it’s created, an effective website can be an invaluable marketing tool that not only provides an easy way to get your business recognized, but it can provide a substitute for printed marketing materials, which saves the environment and saves you money. However, in order for your website to work its magic most effectively, you need to make sure that it’s putting your best foot forward. The following tips can help you get the most out of your Internet marketing.

1. Think of your website as an ongoing series of job interviews with thousands of anonymous employers. If it doesn’t look good, you don’t look good. Remember, many of your potential clients are looking at your website before they’ve heard of you or your company. How does it represent you and your business? Can your clients tell what you do and how competent you are by looking at your site? Or does it look like it was thrown together, just to “get something up there?”

2. Keep an eye on your language. Keep your copy simple, accessible and to-the-point, and make sure things are spelled correctly. Nothing can hamper your credibility like a website or e-mail message filled with poor grammar and typographical errors. Consider hiring a professional copywriter, who has experience in writing for your target audience.

3. Hire a professional. Unless you are a web designer by trade, it’s a good idea to have a professional develop your site. Not only can a professional designer give you a site that effectively represents your business in a unique and compelling way, it will save you a considerable amount of time and hassle. You have enough to worry about without having to learn web design as well!

4. Use Web Standards. Building your website with web standards means a faster-loading, more affordable site which works in every browser. This means that, unlike some sites that only seem to work for Internet Explorer on Windows, your site will continue to represent you effectively on every browser, no matter what.

Get Over It! Handling Presentation Jitters

At a recent seminar I attended, a woman who was in the seminar with me expressed her nervousness about an upcoming speaking arrangement. Having just done a speaking engagement in March, I understood completely. Getting in front of a room full of people and performing (because let’s face it—that’s what you’re doing) can be nerve-wracking. But eight years as a theatre major and three years as a performance poet have taught me a thing or two about dealing with that nervousness, and I thought it would be good to share some of the tips I’ve learned.

1. Write your script beforehand, but don’t memorize it. The worst thing you can do is read from a script, or sound like you’ve got this thing memorized and you’re reading from a page. Remember Ben Stein? Bueller, Bueller… okay—old reference—but seriously, that’s what it sounds like. Write a complete script for yourself, rehearse it once or twice, but when it comes down to presentation time, speak from your outline (see next tip).

2. After you’ve rehearsed your script, create an outline and use that to guide you through your presentation. It’s very tempting to use the bullet points of the presentation to guide you (especially if you have it on a screen in front of you), but often, that will come out like you’re reading from a script again. Find the essence of the points you’re making, and create a brief outline, or “flow,” of touch points that will guide you to the topics you need to cover. Repeat the flow to yourself a couple of times just before you go up. Then, speak from your heart and your passion on the subject. After all, you likely didn’t accept a speaking engagement because you were bored!

3. Rehearse the day before, not the day of. Doing it ahead of time puts you at ease when the time comes—that way, you’ll be more prepared and less nervous.

4. Forget about it for a while. The day of your engagement, find whatever you can do relax and get your mind OFF the presentation until about 20 minutes before your presentation, and then review your flow just before you go on. The day of my first big presentation, and the day of any performance I’ve ever done (and I’ve done hundreds) I sang. I sang in the shower, I sang in the shower, I sang whatever song I could think of to sing for at least an hour before the performance. Then, about 10-20 minutes before the performance, I looked back at my notes, practiced for a little bit, took a few deep breaths, and went to it. That worked for me, but everyone is different. Find what works for you and commit to it.

5. Speak from your heart and remember your “why”. This was just covered, but it bears repeating. You’re doing this for a reason - maybe it’s to get new business, maybe it’s to get recognition, maybe it’s just because you love talking about the subject and want to share your knowledge with people. Whatever it is, figure out why you’re doing this and let that why guide you through your presentation. Show your passion for the subject, or your business, or whatever you’re speaking about.

6. Breathe. This can not be emphasized enough. Observe your breath for a few moments before you begin and make sure that your breath is full and complete. If it’s shallow, try this trick, common in yoga: breathe in for a count of five breaths, hold for a count of four, and breathe out for a count of eight breaths, expelling all the air. As you breathe, make sure that your breath is coming from your belly, not your chest. Your belly should be expanding as you breathe in, and contracting as you breathe out. Breathing this way will also help you project, which is key in large groups.

Hopefully, these tips will help you the next time you find yourself in front of a crowd, sharing your knowledge. Break a leg!

Design is Nothing Without a Concept

Have you ever seen one of those ads that just DOESN'T work? You don't quite know what's wrong with it, but it just makes you twitch in that way that only the most truly awful design does. Or worse—it's a perfectly fine DESIGN, but it looks like it belongs to a company that just isn't the company you're seeing an ad for, or it looks like it was thrown together just because the designer thought it looked cool. Most of these common design snafoos can be rectified by the use of one simple tool: a concept.

The concept is the most important piece of any design. Without it, you’re just slapping some pictures together with text. It has no drive, no purpose. A piece without a concept doesn’t speak to anyone - it’s just a pretty picture (and much more often, it’s NOT a pretty picture - I could give examples, but I’m working really hard on my ahimsa* today). It’s an unfortunate product of ego - your ego tells you “this looks good to me” or “this is cool” but it doesn’t answer the ultimate question: Who is your audience, and will they get what you're trying to say?

Every successful marketing campaign has a concept behind it. Dove’s concept? The natural beauty inherent in all women. Nike’s concept? Do what moves you - we’ll give you the gear. Burger King’s concept? Well, frankly, I don’t know - but I think it has something to do with gargantuan chicken and burgers. Lots of burgers, in various states of bigness and/or cheesyness. But it works, because they know their audience and they’re directly communicating with them through their marketing campaign.

Make no mistake - whatever image you put out there, whether it’s your logo, your website, or an invitation to an event, you’re trying to communicate with someone, and if your image isn’t created with them in mind, that person won’t get your message. For example, let’s say you run a natural skincare or clothing line geared towards women aged 25-35. You go to a designer and say “my business is a natural skincare line geared towards women aged 25-35. I would like an ad, please.” They come back with a picture of a woman smiling, and dark blue text in (let’s just say) Arial Bold. With italics (just for added emphasis). And maybe some sort of cloud or leaf in the background. Let’s just say.

Before the design snobs faint, what’s missing from this image? Aside from the obvious - talent, originality and good taste (but once again, ahimsa) - a concept that goes deeper than “women aged 25-35.” Who are these women? What do they read? What are they doing, when they’re not taking care of their skin? Why are they looking for an organic skincare product, and what are they looking for in it? What would you say to them, if you were just talking to them, that would make them understand that they need this product?

These kind of direct questions about your target audience are the things that help you define the concept behind your design - and the concept is what makes an effective image or campaign. Whatever elements go into the design need to support this, or else they’re not doing you, or your brand, service.

*ahimsa: the yogic practice of non-harming. Ahimsa teaches us that every living being, including ourselves, is worthy of respect, and thus it recommends avoiding actions or thoughts, such as judgements, which may cause harm to other living beings.

Image is Everything? Part 2 - the Issue of Ink

So, if you read the first article in this series (Image is Everything? The Problem of Paper), you've probably already learned a good deal about mindful paper choices when it comes to your marketing materials, and even your everyday office paper. But paper isn't the only thing to worry about when it comes to making your marketing materials eco-friendly – the inks, and sometimes even the colors, you use in your materials also impact the environmental consciousness of your finished product.

WHAT'S on my business cards?
All inks, no matter what the printing process being used, are composed of three essential elements: pigment, a vehicle (which helps the ink adhere to the paper) and a binder (which holds the whole mess together). Traditional offset printing inks (the inks used to print your business cards, letterheads and brochures) often use petroleum-based oil as a vehicle. In addition to being a non-renewable resource, petroleum-based inks release a high level of VOC's (Volatile Organic Chemicals) when used, which leads to increased air and water pollution, not to mention posing a health hazard for pressroom workers. However, with concern for the environment rising, more and more printers are starting to use inks which use vegetable oil as a vehicle. Vegetable-based inks offer quite a few benefits – aside from having quite low VOC ratings (meaning healthier press workers and less pollution), the colors also come out brighter and cleaner, since vegetable oil has a lighter color than petroleum-based oil. Some inks, however, such as the inks used for packaging, don't currently have veggie-oil based formulations.

In addition to the oil that's used as a vehicle, printing inks also contain up to 50% pigment, which gives the ink its color. Although pigments have come a long way since the old days (known carcinogens such as lead, cadmium and chromium have been replaced in most offset inks, although lead chromium still exists in flexography inks used for packaging), certain heavy metals, such as barium, copper, zinc, aluminum, manganese cobalt and others, do still exist in offset inks (some colors actually exceed what the EPA considers "safe" in their most common formulations), and metallic and fluorescent inks will always carry heavy metals. So as pretty as the gold and silver ink might be, it's still toxic and should be avoided.

The issue with toxic pigments isn't always apparent when a piece is being created. If the ink is set properly using proper precautions, it will rarely cause an issue during the life of the piece. However, once you discard the piece, toxic materials in the ink can break down in landfills and leach into the water system; or, if the piece is incinerated (which happens to a lot of the nation's trash), the heavy metals can concentrate in ash residue and lead to air-to-water pollution. The Seattle design firm Partners in Design has some great information on the subject, including a helpful chart listing which colors should definitely be on your "no" list: http://www.pidseattle.com/ECO/toxcol.pdf.

So, all of this stuff is great to know, but how do you make sure your marketing materials are being printed with the right ink? The answer is simple: talk to your printer, or your designer. Most printers will be happy to accommodate a request for veggie ink, as well as recommend good eco-friendly papers for your print jobs, and many designers, such as myself, have no problem researching and implementing more eco-friendly production methods. The key is to let them know that you're looking for it – the more printers and designers hear about the desire for eco-friendliness, the more attention we pay to making sure your materials fit the bill.

Greening the office

All right, you've done what you have to do. You've got your business cards, and they're printed on 100% post-consumer waste paper with veggie-based ink. You write your designer a glowing letter of appreciation on your recycled letterhead and begin to print it out… but then you start wondering about the ink in your office printer. Is IT toxic?

Well, to be honest, I really don't know. I've spent some time looking at all of the major manufacturer's sites, and not a one of them talks at all about the eco-friendliness of their inks. In fact, Epson (one of the more popular manufacturers of home/office printers and inks, and the darling of the design business, because frankly, the color ROCKS) has no information whatsoever about their environmental commitment, which is one of the reasons I now have an HP printer instead. There are quite a few ink-replacing kits and conversion kits that help you "green" your home printers, as well as remanufactured cartridges from office supply places, but honestly, I don't recommend them. Oftentimes, especially if you're printing a lot of photos, the ink from another manufacturer's ink might not look as good, or last as long, as the ink from the manufacturer of your printer.

Despite the troubling lack of information about potential ink toxicity, the manufacturers of printers and related accessories have made great strides in recent years in terms of caring for the environment. HP, Canon, Lexmark and Xerox all have free ink/toner recycling programs, which will let you ship used cartridges back to them for recycling (NOT remanufacturing, which is where a company takes a used cartridge and refills it for sale). In addition to these, quite a few places (any Staples store anywhere, or MicroCenter on Memorial Drive, and InkTecZone in on Mass Ave. in Cambridge just to name a few) will gladly accept your used cartridges for recycling, and Staples even offers you $3 off your purchases for dropping off your ink (Which reminds me, I have to get myself down there sometime soon…)!

Lexmark and Epson don't seem to have any information on their websites in regards to cartridge-recycling programs or their environmental commitment, but I was able to locate (after much poking around – they don't make this stuff easy to find) the following information on HP's, Canon's and Xerox's sites:

HP's cartridge-recycling program:

Canon's cartridge-recycling program:

Xerox's environmental commitment, which includes responsible paper outsourcing as well as cartridge recycling and Energy-Star rated office machines:

© 2006 Dani Nordin/the zen kitchen. Previously published at gather.com and notes from the zen kitchen, the monthly newsletter of the zen kitchen. To sign up for the newsletter, visit tzk-design.com.

Image is Everything? The Problem of Paper

Most people who have been in business for a while (or even those who are just starting out) know that a good logo and effective marketing materials are an important part of building a business. As a result, many business owners and directors of non-profit organizations work with professional designers to help communicate their organization’s mission and values to their target audience. With concerns about global warming and protecting the environment mounting, more organizations than ever are trying to send the message of their commitment to socially and environmentally responsible business practices. But how do you start sending a green message to your audience? What can you do as a business owner or non-profit director to encourage eco-friendly practices?

One place you can start is by choosing paper wisely. Although those glossy sell-sheets and brochures you get from your online printer might look snazzy, most glossy stocks only contain about 10-15% post-consumer waste, which means that most of the fiber from these sheets come from new trees, which leads to increased deforestation. In fact, most traditional papers labeled “recycled” are only required to contain 30% post-consumer waste (for those who are unfamiliar with the term, “post-consumer” refers to paper which has been used by consumers and recycled instead of thrown in landfills). In addition, the paper industry’s dependence on the use of chlorine-based bleaching agents in the creation of paper “places this industry as the worst water polluters in the world.”[1]

However, a growing number of paper companies have started to heed the call of environmental stewardship, and there are now a significant number of eco-friendly sheets available for everything from the most high-end brochure to the simplest copy job. Some of my favorites include: the Environment line from Neenah paper (I print my business cards on PC100 Natural); Fox River’s Confetti Line (a nice selection of speckled sheets in great colors); and Mohawk Options (Mohawk Color Copy paper, by the way, comes in a 100% PCW version and is manufactured using 100% wind energy.) No matter what you’re using it for, no matter what your budget, you can find an eco-friendly paper that will suit that purpose.

When specifying paper for a print job, look for high levels (50-100%) of post-consumer content, and that it’s manufactured using a PCF or TCF process (PCF means that no new chlorine has been introduced in the recycling process, although chlorine may have been used in the original paper; TCF means totally chlorine free, and often applies to sheets which use virgin fiber). Unsure where to look? Ask your printer or designer – most designers (such as myself) prefer to deal with printers themselves, and letting them know you prefer eco-friendly papers will help them make the most responsible choice for your materials. If you do decide to deal with the printer yourself, make sure to tell them the type of papers you’re looking for – color, coated or uncoated, finish, and level of post-consumer content. Printers generally have great relationships with various paper mills and distributors, so they can be a terrific resource for finding a quality sheet. For more information on smart paper choices,visit the following links:

Conservatree: Environmentally sound paper overview – consumers are key

Celery Design San Francisco’s Ecological Guide to Paper

Wikipedia article on paper recycling

[1] Source: Treecycle.com: about recycling and recycled paper, http://www.treecycle.com/recycling.html

© 2006 Dani Nordin/the zen kitchen. Previously published at gather.com and notes from the zen kitchen, the monthly newsletter of the zen kitchen. To sign up for the newsletter, visit tzk-design.com.