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BarCamp Philly Experience

This past Saturday I spent the day with a bunch of fellow geeks eating bacon and talking about technology. Okay, there was a bit more involved. I attended the 7th annual BarCamp “unconference” where the programming is collaboratively built on the fly by the attendees. Want to give a talk on WordPress or mobile design or diversity in IT? Just show up! It’s a cool premise and I have to say it was a big hit with this first-timer.

I had heard on the interwebs via @BarCampPhilly that there would be a lot of bacon. Another attendee pretty much summed up the situation:

After the consumption of three (okay five) pieces of bacon, I checked out the topic board and starting planning out my schedule. There were so many great options!

Lately we’ve been focusing more on a blogging and social media strategy for the business. As small business owners, Andy and I have to wear many hats, including social media manager, content strategist, analytics analyst, and so on. I wish there were more hours in the day or better yet – the technology to clone ourselves and have the bizarro usses handle all of these marketing services. So my focus for BarCamp Philly was simple – learn some tools that can help us create a strategy for online marketing and execute it successfully.

Here are some of the highlights:

Cecily Kellog gave a witty talk on “Blogging & Marketing” that focused on the difference between a great story and a great bit of marketing content. Cecily described web content as being “snackable” like an easy-to-skim blog post of about 350-500 words. Key takeaway: edit, edit, edit. Oh, and set a blogging schedule because you just have to. It’s tough thinking about our business in terms of customer conversions because it doesn’t work in the same way as someone selling a product. However, one thing every business needs to do is make its customers/clients happy. That sentiment drew me to Megan DiFeo’s session on “Creating Amazing Experiences.” 

This session got me thinking about new ways to ensure my clients are having a great experience from the commencement of a project through to website launch. I’m thinking of testing out quick email surveys at key points along a project to give a client the opportunity to provide feedback during the process.

In keeping with my web content being “snackable,” I’ll wrap this up. The final session I attended was David Dylan Thomas’s talk “So You Want to be a Content Strategist.” I recently wrote about content strategy in its relation to custom website design and David’s talk was a great overview of content strategy’s role. In particular, he discussed a less typical deliverable which he called an “integrated experiment strategy” which brings together a content strategy with the visual design of a project.

BarCamp Philly 7

Overall, BarCamp gave me the chance to connect with some really interesting people, eat too much bacon and think about how we might utilize difference techniques to grow our business and create even better experiences for our clients.

Did I mention I enjoyed a mid-unconference beer? Above: Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing Company

Content strategy & design

If you know even a little bit about WordPress, you probably know that there are thousands of themes out there. Some are available for free and some “premium” themes can cost you anywhere from around $10 to $100 or so. Many premium themes even allow you to customize the colors and layouts – making them “your own”. If you are tech savvy you can put together a good-looking site quickly and easily. But bottom line: They just don’t compete with a custom design.

What is this custom web design of which you speak?

The value of a custom website project is that it is designed and developed for your specific content and business needs. Let’s take a recent project as an example. We were so excited to work with opera soprano Priscilla Coblentz on her brand image and a custom WordPress website. Priscilla is Philly-based but performs all over the world. Before we met with her to discuss design ideas and strategy, she had some new promotional photographs taken by pin-up photographer Celeste Guiliano. This intrigued us and then… we saw them!

Say it with me: "WOW!"

Say it with me: “WOW!”

Content should never be an afterthought

We got right to work and our mission was clear – these amazing photographs would be integral to the custom design. We don’t always have a ton of images to work with. Some website projects are very minimal. For example, our recent project for Exceptional Connections was text-heavy so we utilized graphics based on their branding (that we also designed) in the website design itself. But with some sites, like Priscilla’s, media is woven into the design through custom graphics, slideshows or full-width background images.

Below you can see some of our early (read: rough) concepts that utilized photography as a main component and see the evolution of the design.

How do we harness this amazing photography and add harmonious design elements

How do we harness this amazing photography and add harmonious design elements?

We worked on various ideas for placing both the logo and the navigation system

We worked on various ideas for placing both the logo and the navigation system.

We work together with our clients to figure out what content should be featured and where - then we design with that in mind!

We work together with our clients to figure out what content should be featured and where – then we design with that in mind!

A combination of concepts brought us to our final design direction for Priscilla's new website.

A combination of concepts brought us to our final design direction for Priscilla’s new website.

And what about mobile?

Yes, most premium WordPress themes are responsive, meaning they will scale up and down accordingly for any screen size and device. But another benefit of custom design work is that your specific layout, content and graphic elements are also considered. This is something that a paid theme simply cannot provide! Often times, responsive themes scale down in a very predictable way utilizing a one-size-fits-all solution for the placement of logos and mobile menus. These solutions can often be effective, but they are probably not the best way to present your business’s content across mobile devices. What if your logo’s shape doesn’t coincide with your theme’s responsive layout? What if your photos or icons don’t fit the theme in a natural way?

Our goal with Priscilla’s site was to scale it appropriately without losing the impact of the photographs. The tone of the website – glamorous, fun and a bit campy – is maintained from super wide desktop all the way down to the mobile phone without losing any functionality.

The final website for Priscilla Coblentz shown at desktop, tablet and mobile widths.

The final website for Priscilla Coblentz shown at desktop, tablet and mobile widths.

Paid themes provide quick, down-and-dirty functionality while allowing you to change colors and choose from a myriad of preset page templates. They can be really great tools when starting your business or if you’ve had a brick-and-mortar shop for awhile and are just now getting your business online. But do you really want your website to look like hundreds of other websites? 

Custom work is created for your business’s needs and it shows in the details! The difference in cost between a template and custom work is big for sure, but it the end, you get what you pay for. And with the internet being potential customers’ ultimate window to your business, custom work is worth the investment.

Exceptional Connections

Exceptional Connections provides behavioral and educational consulting services to meet the needs of children with Autism, ADD, ADHD and other developmental delays. We were so excited to work with co-founders Michele Slowik & Laura Jastrzebski who have over 20 years in combined experience working with families in and outside of the home environment.

The puzzle piece is an easily recognized symbol used widely within the Autism community. It was an easy-go-to symbol and our challenge was to use it in a way that would not seem cliché or heavy-handed. In our final concept for the Exceptional Connections branding, the puzzle pieces come together to create a silhouette of a child’s face. For the child’s face, we sketched out silhouettes of Michele’s two children as possibilities, ultimately using Michele’s son Dylan’s face in the final logo.

ExceptionalConnections_website_devices

The brand new website for Exceptional Connections is a custom-designed WordPress website developed for all screen sizes and devices. The website features a colorful puzzle piece design with the home page panels interlocking and resizing from wide screen all the way down to mobile.

ExceptionalConnections_screen_caps2

As with many of our responsive website projects, we have created unique menu systems for both desktop and tablet views and mobile devices. The screen captures above and below showcase how the home page panels respond to changing screen sizes without any sacrifice to the design. Each panel can easily be updated by the client through the WordPress dashboard, along with custom buttons and alternating yellow and turquoise content panels on the website’s subpages.

ExceptionalConnections_screen_caps

Seeing it in Real Life

Perhaps one of the coolest things about what we do is that the things we make often jump off the screen into real life. The majority of our business is devoted to making fab websites, but we also provide branding and print design services to our amazing clients. Branding (or logo design) in particular is so much fun because these designs are almost always used on business cards, postcards, mailers or even t-shirts.

We recently designed the branding identity for MC Fitness and Performance – a new training facility in Northeast Philly that provides bootcamp classes, small group training and athletic development training. I’ve known Mike Cusack, the founder of MC Fitness and Performance, for about 2 years now. I first met Mike when I was trying to get my butt in shape for my wedding. Bootcamp with Mike paid off – my beautiful couture gown by Janice Martin Couture had to be taken in over 4 inches from the start of the construction and I have Mike to thank for it!

MC Fitness and Performance branding by Beth Blinebury Design

The branding design for MC Fitness and Performance was a collaborative project between Andy and I. Andy had started working on some initial concepts and there was one circle-style logo that Mike really responded to. From that initial concept, I incorporated the lightning bolt into the typography and developed the color palette. The logo then went back to Andy for final tweaks like the circle’s cut-out edging and the distressed texture. Fitness branding can be tricky because you want to avoid anything too cliché (e.g. barbells). We definitely found some inspiration in this compilation of great gym and fitness logos from Abduzeedo.

Since Mike got his hands on the logo files, he’s been actively branding his studio with big decals and custom paint to match the lime green of the logo. And we really love seeing our work come to life in his space!

space

Image courtesy of MC Fitness and Performance via Facebook

Image courtesy of @mcfitnessperformance

Beth Blinebury at MC Fitness and Performance

And it’s me, post-workout posin’ by the wall-size MC Fitness and Performance logo!
Follow me on Instagram for more fun photos (mostly of my dogs and beer).

Images courtesy of @mcfitnessperformance

T-shirts are a first for us.  We haven’t seen our branding designs on anything you can wear, so seeing Mike poses with his adorable nephew in matching MC Fitness and Performance t-shirts made our week!

We are currently in the process of designing the full website for MC Fitness and Performance, but you can check out the preview site here and take advantage of the grand opening special rates on bootcamp and training!