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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!

An abundance of Bel Biv Devoe references, or building a personal brand

When I set out to start a business I didn’t even realize that I was, in fact, doing just that! In the Spring of 2004, I had just graduated from Tyler School of Art with a BFA in Photography. Looking back I now understand my parents’ horrified facial expressions when I told them I was dropping my art education major for a major in photography. Whhhhhaaaat?

But as I journeyed out into “the real world” I took with me some basic web skillz that I had picked up in college. Like any narcissistic artist, I wanted my own website to display my sassy, feminist photography. But that single self-promoting endeavor led to my very first commercial client. I don’t remember exactly what I charged but I’m guessing it’s about 10% (if that) of what I charge today.

I remember trying to come up with a name for this little side business. I struggled with something clever for months and basically just gave up and tacked design on the end of my name. Little did I know that my giving up would ultimately prove extremely helpful in the future as I could work as a sole proprietor under my own name and social security number for years! I’m pretty sure I decided to name the business Beth Blinebury Design while drinking at a bar (not much has changed in nearly 10 years); and so BBD was born! (In 2012, Andy and I established BBD as an LLC so now we are all legit and what not.)

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Although it was unintentional at first, I have created a business and a brand around myself. It has evolved into something more that now involves my business partner and husband Andy, our neighborhood (once Fishtown & now Kensington, although we are Ftown hangers-on), our interests, our love of beer and of course our dogs. I am always surprised and delighted to hear prospective clients ask me how Buckus is doing (after seeing him on our website’s about page) or telling me that they loved my hot pink and white wedding dress (which I agree was amazing). In short, every aspect of my business and my life are intertwined – from this blog post to a meeting with a client. I can’t imagine my business functioning in any other way and I think the almost-accidental naming of the business set the tone nearly 9 years ago this month!

Another bonus of the business name? Lots of Bel Biv Devoe references in meetings.