Advice from Bill and Wilson, Founders of Go Media
There is no perfect recipe for growing a thriving design firm. But through our share of failures, we have learned what works more often than not. Here are some lessons we have learned since Go Media’s inception in 1997.
1.Don’t quit your day job.
- Keep it for a reliable source of revenue in the early days. Use this to set up your home office, portfolio, business structure, books, your company website, and marketing materials. Then, when you need extra hours for sleep, then you can quit that day job and take on your design work full time.
“I worked a lot of what I refer to as “survival jobs” on my road to freelancing. For two summers I was a Basement Waterproofing Technician. By “technician”, I guess they meant “do you know which way to point a shovel”? We’d start our days at 5am and dig houses down to the footer. The days were long and grueling, often into the night. It was common to only work on design over the weekend. I began to seek jobs that would allow me more flexibility. I signed up for temp work through a staffing agency. I soon learned “temp work” was abundant because it was often shit nobody else wanted to do. I’ll never forget power-washing industrial oil tanks from the inside wearing a yellow rubber suit and having to wipe my goggles every minute as oily water would laminate them. Temp work turned out to be a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of so many industries in Northeast Ohio, ala “Dirty Jobs”. It also allowed me to set my own schedule and decline jobs when I was busy designing.” – Wilson
2.Build a passionate team.
- You need to make sure you’re finding and hiring the very best employees. If you’ve got some bad energy, get rid of it.
“What’s the old saying? “Fire fast and hire slow”. I would start with that. I used to hang onto bad employees way too long. These days I can see more clearly when someone isn’t a fit and I’m quick with the trigger to get them out of my company. As for the hiring slowly part… I actually have another saying that fits with my current hiring methodology: “Try before you buy”. These days I hire interns almost exclusively. There is nothing quite like having a potential employee working in-house for three months to get a real sense of who they are. Interviews are fine… but let me watch you working. Let me get to know your personality.” – Bill
3. Track your metrics!
- Consider what the key measurable components of your business are and start tracking those metrics on a spreadsheet on a regular basis.
“I’ve learned how important metrics really are. You must have data to understand what’s happening with your business. Once you have data to show you the reality of your business (not just the feeling of what you THINK is happening) you will realize immediately how you need to fix your business. Metrics are at the core of our business. Give me stats and I will better understand what’s working and what’s not. Whenever we have some new activity I immediately ask myself: “how can I track this.” I’ll give you a few examples of metrics we track on a monthly basis: per-employee-profitability, per-project-profitability, employee billable %, # Sales leads, Sales close %, Site visitors, Hours networking. In total we probably have about 50 metrics for our company.” – Bill
“SYSTEMS are so important! You must stay organized. Fortunately, since those days, the advent of SaaS (software as a service) AKA Web Apps came into being. FreshBooks, Quickbooks Online, Basecamp, Podio, Trello, Salesforce, you name it – even Google Apps for Business can be transformational. There are so many web apps you can leverage to keep your business information in order. Use them.” – Wilson
4. Decide on your own unique self promotion strategy and stick to it.
- Get away from your desk! Knock on doors, host events, network, find a marketing vehicle, be creative.
“Rave flyers were something that really worked for us. The rave scene was a very reciprocity minded culture, a lot like the hippie festivals of Jerry Garcia days. It was a great big colorful family, it was all love and everyone knew each other. It was full of counterculture people and they celebrated zany creativity. Bill’s an immensely talented illustrator. I did some wild stuff in 3D and prided myself in typography and type treatments. We were able to tag our designs with a logo and contact info reaching out to anyone who might also need a flyer. A typical show might have anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 flyers printed. That’s a lot of exposure! Our flyers were zany, but conceptualized well enough (before we really understood advertising), to spread allover the place. We had stark raving fans! We soon were being hired to design flyers for ravers in California, Texas, New York, PA, Florida and Canada. There also happened to be civilized business owners among the glow-sticks and baggy pants who hired us for whatever they had going on.” – Wilson
5. Build a strong sales team.
- If you can’t do that yet, set aside an allocation of time and resources for proactive sales. Have a measurable, repeatable sales process that runs regardless of how busy you get because the last thing you want is the feast or famine lifestyle of the designer who only sells when she’s not designing!
“When the phone would ring, that was our reason to celebrate. An opportunity might be on the other end. Sometimes those calls would carry on for an hour and they might happen several times a day. It’s hard to get paid for the time you spend selling, we had to produce. So we’d count our blessings and catch up on the time spent not producing by working late to stay on track. We’d work until 2 am if we had to.” – Wilson
6. Say goodbye to busters.
- Keep an eye out for red flags and understand that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“In my early years when we were more desperate for cash, I would let a jerk of a customer push me around. This would result in many wasted hours, feeling stressed and feeling mad. These days we have a no-jerk policy. If a customer is mean, insulting, demeaning or extremely annoying to work with – we don’t. We ‘fire’ them. Fortunately, we’ve gotten very good at recognizing this in advance so we usually avoid these individuals before a project even begins. But on the rare occasion that we need to sever a relationship – we do it quickly and as nicely as possible. Life is too precious to spend it dealing with jerks. And the life energy a jerk will sap from your soul is better spent finding your next client.” – Bill
7. Be frugal.
- The one thing that can put you out of business is running out of money! Protect it carefully!
“Watch your money. Be frugal! Don’t rack up a bunch of debt. Keep your business as lean as possible and prove that you can SELL before you go buying fancy equipment and moving into a fancy office.” – Bill
8. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- Bounce back from mistakes and don’t be afraid to take risks. Each challenge is an opportunity for growth.
“As for an early mistake of ours, it didn’t take long to learn the hard way that some people will hustle ya or some people just don’t have the means to pay for what they want when you need paid. We adopted a policy of 50% down for projects under $2K and 25% increments above that total. Collect printing costs in advance because there’s no un-printing those sheets of paper.” – Wilson
9. Don’t go it alone.
- Having a partner is a great way to grow your company. Find someone who demonstrates equal responsibility and motivation, as well as a complimentary skill set.
“The year Bill Beachy reached out to merge our freelance studios, he was working at Starbucks and I was working for a civil engineering company. I moved into his apartment to cut expenses and work from one place. Combining efforts was a turning point to where we are today. We still had to strap ourselves onto a roller coaster to make it. Maybe that’s the lesson of the story, find someone else crazy enough to try and launch a business with you. It took a lot of supporting each other to get through the famine, feast, famine of starting this thing.” – Wilson
10. Enjoy the ride!
- Celebrate every success and consider every misstep a valuable lesson learned.
“Having fun is important when times get tough. The best way to have fun is to stop and simply focus on the task you are doing now! For a moment, don’t worry about the future or the past. Let yourself enjoy all the aspects and challenges of running your own firm. Slow down and breathe and fall in love again with the day-to-day work. Don’t treat it like a means to an end, but enjoy the process itself.” – Bill
For more ways to grow your design firm and the tools to do so, pick up Bill’s book, Drawn to Business, the ultimate guide to growing a thriving design firm.
Cleveland Browns Logo Redesign 2015
Our recent post, “New” Browns Logo Leaves Cleveland Graphic Designers Deflated” collects expert advice from local authorities on the matter including our own Wilson Revehl, Go Media Vice President, web developer, brand expert and sports enthusiast.
Wilson’s full interview is included below. Enjoy and be sure to catch the full story, featuring fellow experts William Beachy, Chris Comella, Todd Radom, Aaron Sechrist and Julia Briggs here.
The new Cleveland Browns logo design has been harshly derided in some circles for being underwhelming or, as some have put it, “just oranger.” Do you think that kind of criticism is fair or unfair? If so, why?
I think it’s fair. They played it safe, probably too safe. It is indeed virtually the same mark. It’s the helmet. The changes of the helmet are so miniscule you really can’t discern much of a difference. No one was going to see this and be shocked or even form much of a new opinion because it’s hardly new. The changes are so subtle.
The team has stated the goals were to “honor tradition and provide a modern edge,” partially by incorporating a move from the traditional block lettering to a “cleaner, simpler, elegant” font and making the helmet “brighter and richer to match the passions of our fans.” Do you think those goals were accomplished?
The type face they went with is high impact. It is modern. You got to give them that. It’s not your classic, university block lettering that they had been using for so long that has been seen so often. The concern about the orange is kind of like them “catching up” with the fact that most of the apparel manufacturers never printed in their specific orange color pallet. Most apparel manufactures bumped it up to the very bright, classic orange that they’ve now officially adopted. It’s kind of like the fans were the cart and the old logo was the horse.
Had the team gone for a more adventurous approach, what kind of elements could/should the designers have incorporated?
A big change done right would have created big excitement. It would have been thrilling and viral in the sense of all football fans would have been talking about it and taken notice. This is the new Cleveland Browns, shedding the baggage of legacy problems we’ve had over 35 years and given us a fresh restart. When done right, it could have been absolutely thrilling.
Is there anything about the new logo that “works”? If so, explain.
I do like the new dog pound logo. Even though he’s supposed to look tough, it’s a little cuter than maybe I would have preferred. I think they could have gone with something a bit more fierce. This is the most violent sport in America. These guys are warriors, and I think the new dog could have been a lot tougher looking. It’s a little too cute for my taste. I think it could have been and should have been more badass.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you had tackled this project?
Rumors have it this was done in NY. If that’s true, it’s borderline shameful. Cleveland is a hot bed of phenomenal graphic design and branding talent. There was no reason for them to farm it out. You would have many people not only good but very passionate about a project like this.
The New Cleveland Browns Logo – Cleveland Designers & Brand Experts weigh in.
As anticipation swelled for the unveiling of the new Cleveland Browns logo two years in the works, buzz in the Cleveland graphic design community was especially palpable.
After all, love for the Browns runs deep in Northeast Ohio. Few cities in the league can boast more enthusiastic fans than those posted up in the raucous Dawg Pound.
In the Cleveland graphic design scene, there was optimism that a punchy rebranding effort would be a strong symbol reflecting fans’ passion, the new ownership’s dedication to a winning next chapter and the greater revitalization of Cleveland as a whole.
The Big Reveal
“A pantone shift.”
That’s just a sampling of the snide. The “new” logo remains a single, non-stylized orange helmet, albeit in a bit brighter in color. The tired typeface was scrapped for a cleaner font. A secondary logo for the Dawg Pound featured a snarling bulldog, which some described as more appropriate for Chuck-E-Cheese than the zealous fan base it represents.
“Both as a designer and a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I really expected more,” Go Media Vice President Wilson Revehl said. “A big change done right would have created big excitement. It would have given us a chance to shed the baggage of all the legacy problems the team has had over the last 35 years. This was a major let-down.”
Irreverence from outsiders is nothing new for Browns fans. Here, though, derision is being generated from within, and there is a general consensus among Ohio design professionals the ample criticism is fair.
Among Cleveland graphic designers and the branding experts at Go Media, the conclusion isn’t so much that the new logo is bad. Rather, it simply isn’t new. Or at least, it’s not different enough to have warranted the hype it generated.
“The team has been readying the fan base for a logo change for two years,” said Todd Radom of Todd Radom Design, an independent graphic designer who specializes in branding for professional sports franchises and events. “I have likened it to this scenario: It’s Christmas morning, and the Browns had a present for the fans. They gave them a gift card. Disappointing.”
Radom, who designed the previous “Dawg Pound” logo, is far from the only one who feels the buildup part of the problem.
Many local design professionals characterized the subtle shift as more of a “refresh” or an “update.” Terminology can set the tone for expectations, which is why designers say marketing language should always be chosen carefully. This is a good example of that.
‘A Missed Opportunity’
The team reportedly spent two years reviewing hundreds of iterations and tapped the aid of focus groups, the NFL and Nike to reach the final product.
“It was a great opportunity to replace the helmet icon with a strong, exciting secondary mark that could get fans excited about the team,” Sechrist said.
But those efforts fell short, he said.
“… I mean, could they have at least re-drew or updated the vector drawing of the helmet? It’s just deflating and feels like an afterthought.”
That plain orange helmet – the only helmet-as-logo in the league – has never been an inspired image.
“I’ve only ever seen that orange helmet as a missed opportunity to slap something awesome on,” Sechrist said. “…I’ve thought for years the team should have completely rebranded – name, colors, everything – especially when the team returned to the city in 1999. I’ve been a Browns fan my entire life, and I can’t ever remember a time I looked at the uniforms and helmets and thought, ‘Boy those look cool.’ ”
Historically, the team’s branding left much to be desired, evolving from “Brownie,” a cutesy, 1950s-era elf, to the bland, faded-orange helmet and chunky typeface. Not only did the latter seem uninteresting, designers found it tough to translate the detailed design more broadly into marketing material.
Many assumed the team would rebrand during the expansion back from Baltimore, but that didn’t happen.
Browns President Alec Scheiner told The Cleveland Plain Dealer the newest changes accomplished the goal of bringing more energy and vibrancy to the logo, while holding firm to the traditional facemask piece, which he contends displays grit and toughness.
“We may not look fancy, but we’re going to humbly show up to work every day and do our job,” Beachy said of the team’s identity. “Translation: We’re going to kick your ass and skip the post-touchdown celebration dances.”
“Unfortunately, though, when your team isn’t winning, a boring brand is just adding insult to injury. It’s not a badge of honor to be worn. It’s a mark of shame.”
Revehl, Go Media’s vice president, said there are times a subtle change can work well, but “I struggle to think of firms that have done a so-called rebranding as minimal as this.”
Radom, who has designed SuperBowl and All Star Game logos, was careful to say advertising for a sports team is a multi-layered, complex process. This one, he conceded, had to be tough.
“They are a team frozen in visual amber, with little opportunity to renew their look in a meaningful way,” he said. “Some teams can blow it up and start from scratch. The Browns cannot do that, which had to have made this a challenging assignment.”
Still, Chris Comella, Go Media’s art director, said the idea of honoring tradition by simply keeping what you’ve had for a long time is “Kind of simplistic. I think the concept of tradition, as it relates to the Browns, has much, much more to explore than that.”
“There comes a moment when you stop listening and call on experts to help make the right decision,” Briggs said. “There’s the quote by Henry Ford: ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ I wonder how Henry Ford would have handled the logo change.”
The last two decades saw this city evolve from the epitome of Rust Belt rot to a hotbed of creativity. Schools like Virginia Marti College of Art and Design and the Cleveland Institute of Art have been instrumental in cultivating local talent. The number of graphics and web design firms in Cleveland has grown exponentially. The design team at Go Media has driven the momentum even further with its annual Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, an inspired summit of innovation from various disciplines.
Given all this, the Cleveland graphic design scene is not only an international presence, it’s an authority. There was every reason to expect a rebranding for the Browns, a team so central to this city’s identity, would be exceptional, especially as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Dawg Pound.
“Someone in this town had an opportunity in their hands to make a bigger impact, and couldn’t make it happen – again,” Briggs said. “I think that’s what this logo change represents to Clevelanders today.”
A Different Approach
If local designers had their hands on the project, how would they have tackled it differently?
Many agree bold would have been better.
“Football is entertainment,” Beachy, of Go Media, said. “If you’re going to be an effective entertainer over the long haul, you’ve got to embrace reinvention. You gotta make it fresh! In my opinion, this was an Ok step in the right direction, but certainly, I would have gone further with it and presented it with a little more glitz and glam.”
Comella, Go Media’s art director, said football teams today are increasingly searching for a contemporary image. Think Seattle Seahawks.
“Traditional is a bit too restrictive,” Comella said. “Classic is rooted in the ideals of tradition, but not limited to what’s been done in the past.”
Sechrist, asked what he would have done differently, answered in short: Everything.
He likened the players’ uniforms to “Thanksgiving on the field.”
Good news about that: The uniforms, too, are expected to be revamped, though the final design won’t be revealed until April. Beachy is eager to see the striping, the color of the pants, the material and whether any subtle patterns will be incorporated. He opines a thick helmet stripe could make an aggressive statement, noting the 2012 change The Ohio State Buckeyes had on their special uniforms, with extra-wide metallic striping.
“That’s a good example of how you can take boring and traditional and spice it up with color, material, texture and design,” Beachy said. “Even within the constraints of Cleveland’s traditional brand aesthetics, there is a lot of room to create bad-ass design.”
Sechrist agreed daring new uniforms could make the difference.
“Make no mistake: I love the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “They taught me at a very young age to persevere through disappointment, frustration and misery. I saw my first adult fistfight at a Browns game at age 8. When I was a kid, my dad spray-painted all of our family shoes orange when Webster Slaughter was getting fined for it. (The Browns) are as intertwined into my life as art itself. I’m a lifer fan.”
And maybe that’s part of what stings most for some Cleveland graphics artists: The idea that whoever was behind the change didn’t have that same kind of earnest emotional connection held tight by so many Clevelanders.
“There there was no reason for them to farm this out to an out-of-town design team,” Revehl said. “You have too many people right here in Cleveland who are not only phenomenal designers, but who would have been so passionate about a project like this.”
Beachy said if his team were tapped for the project, he would want to preview the designs on the athletes in full uniform, in dramatic lighting.
“At Go Media, we present our brand ideas in context,” he said. “Show me that logo on a flag, in the stadium, under the Monday night lights with the cheering crowd in the background.”
Bringing back an element of showmanship would have been key, he said. Yet perhaps the most considerable change Beachy would have implemented:
“I would have hired Go Media.”
What’s the Best Project Management Software for design firms?
In this second part, we conclude our Basecamp VS. Podio comparison. If you missed the first piece, you can find it here (you can always find archives of our design articles through our blog). The standings on the first seven topics gave Basecamp the edge, in our opinion of course, 5 to 2. Let’s see how things shake out in our last seven.
Topics We’ll Cover
- Learning Curve & Usability
- Task Management
- Project Management with your Team
- Project Management with your Clients
- Proofs & Client Reviews
- Calendar Integration
- Email Integration
- File Management
- API & Third-Party Integration
- Vendor Support
It’s truly a wonderful thing, how “paperless” the modern workspace has become. I hate to age myself but when I started in this industry, the norm were actual physical project folders with sheet after sheet of details, reference materials, you name it. We even had project status bins to toss these prosaic piles into. And don’t get me started on “Change Orders”. Wow. I don’t miss those days. Alas, we still need to manage “office documents” in the process of meeting client objectives.
The standard approach in Basecamp is to attach files to a project or todo. We’ve all attached files to emails or filled out forms. Pretty self-explanatory. Browse for them locally and upload. There’s now a copy on your Basecamp account.
You can also decide how to send a notification with a reference to the attachment.
Associate the files directly with a todo. This can be very nice for deliverable accountability when details matter.
But do any of us expect Basecamp or any other Project Management application to also serve as our document management platform? Of course not. File management is an extremely complex and nuanced concern, especially in the age of cloud applications. For example, you’ve heard of Version Control. Working with the latest version of a file, or NOT, can mean the difference between the success or failure of a client engagement. Here’s where 3rd party integration plays a pivotal role. Google Docs has quickly become a leader in collaborating on files in the cloud. Basecamp has done a fine job of looping Google Docs into the mix of their file attachment features.
A few other niceties from Basecamp, you can download all the attachments on an item in one fell swoop.
Basecamp also provides easy to use sorting features in their “All files” list view.
Podio’s unassuming “Choose a file” button opens up to a variety of possibilities.
As does the Attach file, they behave the same way opening up a Files dialog unlike any out there.
Yes, you can upload files to Podio just like you would in Basecamp. But Podio has taken things further to accommodate the age of cloud computing. They offer integration, not only with Google Docs, but with Box, Dropbox, Evernote, ShareFile, Ubuntu One & SugarSync. An easy and consistent search field lets you find what you’re looking for and fast. Their connection with these services doesn’t seem to miss a beat. It seems nearly instantaneous, as soon as a file becomes available on your file service, it can be found through the Podio file dialog and associated with an item.
File representation in the Podio Apps and Items is clean and consistent regardless of where the files are associated from. You can replace and, in some cases, see the history of previous file versions depending on the file service in use.
The similar “All Files” view gives you access to all the files associated with the workspace. Advanced search gives you the ability to filter it down to the narrowest of attributes. This even includes all the files associated using the third party file management services.
Who delivers the File Management advantage? Podio
API & Third-Party Integration
I mentioned earlier we’re in the era of cloud computing & collaboration. The fact we’re comparing two Software as a Service (SaaS) providers is a prime example of that. More than ever, companies need to be highly specialized, especially in the SaaS arena. There aren’t enough hours in the day and enough programmers on the planet to develop every possibility into an app. And it wouldn’t make sense to do so anyway. The information age is more like a barrage and if your app is cluttered trying to be something to everyone, everyone drowns in the complexity and nobody wins. This is where the API & Third-Party Integration comes in.
The short about APIs.
If you’re not familiar, an API is a publicly available way to interact with software using code. We’d be getting carried away to cover the technical concerns of either Basecamp or Podio’s APIs. They both work in essentially the same way. HTTP based GET/POST/DELETE/PUT calls using JSON. Basecamp is built in Ruby and they’ve produced a Ruby SDK for developers to get a head start from. I’m not sure what programming language is behind Podio, but they’ve done a generous job of producing SDKs for all the most popular web dev ones. Podio also has a dev community receiving a lot of support from the vendor, as evident in their docs and support channels.
Third parties use them to often integrate data from an application into their own or allow actions in their application to effect another. The commonality of Google Docs integration, we discussed earlier, is a prime example of third party integration through an API. In that example, Basecamp & Podio are both using the Google Docs API to enhance their apps, not the other way around. We’ll cover both sides of API usage below.
Thanks to Basecamp being a market leader and an early innovator in the space, it enjoys over one hundred published third party add-ons applications with some degree of integration tapping into it. The categories cover Mobile and Desktop Apps, Time Tracking, Invoicing, and Accounting, Reporting, Charts, Planning, File Backup & Synchronization, Software Development, Marketing, Design, and Asset Management, Customer Service and Support and Contracts and Proposals. Having looked at nearly every one of these apps, they vary in usefulness and practicality for our particular industry. I won’t try to point out any specifically, but there are some excellent ones. There are also a whole lot of flops. Basecamp may want to consider a quality control purge. I can’t help but think a lot of these vendors did the bare minimum integration just to get a free banner on the site.
As far as, what are often called, “Official” integrations by Basecamp INTO 3rd party apps, there are hardly any. Google Docs comes to mind and they did an adequate job with it. They have Android, iPad and iPhone native apps that are all top-notch.
Both apps do the iCal thing for calendar integration. It’s pretty much a standard.
Similar to most of the Basecamp’s “3rd Party Add-Ons”, the Podio Extensions section can give you a preview into the momentum this young startup is garnering from outside app teams. Admittedly, I haven’t tested the majority of these. Many of them seem a bit hokey. But a noteworthy difference is the volume of apps specifically created for managing your firm within Podio. A lot of them are sort of “helper” extensions. I won’t try to conclude whether that’s a good sign or not. Nevertheless, the buzz in the industry about Podio certainly has a lot of developers watching. Speaking of developers, Podio promotes who they refer to as Development Partners. They’re creating opportunity for 3rd party teams to help businesses integrate existing systems with Podio. This will likely accelerate the extensions library as these firms become the future Podio ecosystem.
From where Basecamp has just one, the Podio Official Integrations bring many of the most popular tools into the system and with the authority of, well, being ‘Official’. Dropbox, GoToMeeting, Excel, Google Drive, Sharefile, Google Calendar, Zendesk, Hightail, Onedrive, Microsoft Exchange, Evernote, Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp, SugarSync, Box, Freshbooks and other platforms. Most have integration built into the app or you can find them in the integration directories of each service provider’s.
Beyond all this, here comes the “killer app”, the Podio App Market. This doesn’t use an API at all. And it’s only third party in the sense outside individuals created these “apps”. These thousands of apps are designed and created by users of Podio, who wanted to share them with the community. These are made possible by brilliant engineering at the core of what makes Podio exceptional, the Podio App Creator.
I talked about the Podio App creator in Part 1 under Learning Curve if you’re interested in hearing more about it. You can easily use it to design your project management concerns into informational objects you can manage in the way you work! And if you’re proud of what you’ve created and want to share it with the Podio community, you can through the App Market. Oh, and they’re all free to use!
Considering it is only a couple of years young;
We have to give the API & Third-Party Integration edge to, you guessed it: Podio
The march of the robots continues! Artificial Intelligence will soon take your job. Okay, maybe not YOUR job. But the hope with automation is to train a computer to do remedial tasks for you, so you can focus on more important challenges. Behind the scenes, in development, this is commonly referred to as conditional logic. These are the “if this, do that” commands which give operational value to most of the procedures run in any software program. The trick is, can a system be created which is sophisticated enough for a lay user to play a role in writing logic? Historically, this was the realm of writing your own Macros in Excel or setting up Filters in Outlook or Gmail. Nowadays, savvy businesses want Automation out of the platforms integral to their workflow. This is an especially prevalent demand in the Project Management realm.
Before we get into whom offers what in terms of automation, we need to give credit where credit is due to Zapier. Zapier does an amazing job delivering a platform for automation in the era of cloud computing. You can find Zapier support for both Basecamp and Podio. You can point any of the dozens of Zapier integrations to or from either service and do wonderful things. Long live Zapier! That said, we give major props to Basecamp & Podio for having excellent APIs to give Zapier something to interact with. Respect.
One last thing. We’re not going to consider email notifications, due date alerts and calendar integration as a factor in our automation evaluation. Those are pretty much standards, so both are closely tied in those areas.
At the time of writing, Basecamp Project Templates were a relatively new feature. They allow you to replicate the attributes of an existing project. This is great for teams who work on nearly identical types of projects on a regular basis. You can replicate the team, to-dos, comments, files, even due dates. Due dates are especially remarkable because to-dos can be set to have a delivery expectation relative to the project start date.
By and large, Project Templates are the noteworthy automation feature of Basecamp and they did one hell of a job with it.
The core nature of Podio is very different, as mentioned earlier. Where Basecamp has a single minded focus on general project management, Podio offers one of the most flexible platforms ever built. The fact they were able to add the Advanced Automated Workflows feature on top of such flexibility should make any software developer offer up a nod.
Podio’s Advanced workflows allows you to write your own if-then-do-this logic right within the app. It currently offers up a trigger method using what they call “categories”. These are fields, typically dropdowns, where you’re declaring a status of sorts about your project. For example, say you have a project app with a category called Status and it reaches a state you call “Ready for Invoicing”. You could setup an Advanced Workflow to listen for that status and tell Podio to spawn a new item in your “needs invoicing” app.
Advanced automated workflows give the Automation edge to: Podio
Don’t need to preface that one!
Basecamp’s pay model is based on the number of projects you manage and the file space you consume. This is unique in the segment as we all know most PM apps are priced per-user. Basecamp, on the other hand, gives up unlimited users regardless of the account package. Unlimited users really comes in handy when you’re inclined to collaborate with a lot of clients and vendors within Basecamp. It would be cost detrimental if you had to pay for every short cycle client user or have to manage the up and down of it. This has been a huge boon to Basecamp’s success in our industry.
We’ve always felt Basecamp’s pricing was very reasonable and competitive in most areas.
Unlimited projects? Unlimited items? Unlimited file space? It isn’t exactly clear with Podio. Maybe that’s due to the unique app builder paradigm they’re under. Or they’re still trying to figure those limits out. Who knows? We’re going to assume those are unlimited until we hear otherwise. Podio charges per-user, with a different fee depending on the type account. They offer more advanced features, the most noteworthy being the Automated Workflows I just mentioned, for the Plus and Premium accounts only. If you’re a firm with even just a handful of employees, this can make Podio get expensive very quickly.
Who has the edge on pricing? Basecamp.
When you hit a point using the application where you’re unsure how to use or find a feature, encounter a bug or are wondering if something is possible, how much can you count on the service provider to answer your questions in a timely fashion?
Fortunately, both Basecamp & Podio are extremely well documented with self-help guides covering every single feature of their respective applications. If you’re willing to read, the information is available. But we all know how hard it can be sometimes to spare the time to comb through docs to find an answer. This is where a timely response from the vendor adds value to your subscription.
At the very bottom of the Basecamp screenshot below, you’ll see the sentence “We’ve been responding to emails in 4 minutes lately,…” Basecamp puts customer support at the top of their priority list on a daily basis and clearly wants the world to know this. Basecamp is headquartered in Chicago, IL USA with remote contributors across the world.
They also offer an “instant reply on Twitter”. Basecamp is known for their focus on speed. Whether it is the speed of their app or the speed of their courtesy, they don’t want to keep anyone waiting.
Basecamp also offers free online classes.
Sure, but how satisfactory is their service? Well, Basecamp is not ashamed to publish a tangible metric to the World. Below, you’ll see a screenshot where they declare how the customers have rated their service after a request. I have confidence that 89% is not skewed in their favor. They’re clearly self-evaluating the quality of service, on a daily basis, and using the responses to seek ways to improve.
We mentioned earlier, Podio is “the new kid on the block”. They were a startup founded in Denmark and have since joined the Fort Lauderdale, Florida USA based Citrix family. Can we expect them to have as stellar of a support infrastructure as Basecamp’s 15 year old one? Maybe. We haven’t given them a handicap for the other comparison topics. Has the reality of their origination and newness effected their ability to provide timely support, yes. We’ve experienced 12+ hour delays in support inquiries. We’re not sure if our rep was stateside or in Denmark.
They do indeed have very good self-service channels and a community. We’ve all tried to receive support through forums. It is rarely ever faster than the vendor, except maybe in the case a vendor provides little-to-no support at all, which is rarely a good thing.
Podio does, however, give you a dedicated Account Manager when you join. But, for some reason, the “instant” messaging with the rep, was rarely ever instant. It wouldn’t be unusual for a message to go unanswered for an entire day.
Podio is so new. They appear to have the resource intent to provide customer service at a very high level. We recognize there are only so many hours in a day. That training and competent staff is needed to deliver on service expectations. We’re also a pretty self-sufficient bunch and the tools are easy enough to figure out. So we’ll allow them leniency on this topic for now.
Who delivers the best Vendor Support at this juncture? Basecamp.
It would not be fair to consider this review and comparison the most exhaustive possible. I evaluated them within the silo of our usage, in our specific industry of creative services. There are also many features and benefits both platforms offer which we did not cover. And this is software. Not just any software either. This is software as a service in the burgeoning cloud computing era. That means these applications improve and evolve every single day and instantly for every user. It would be naive of me to assume these services won’t change. We must fully expect the points made in this article to be contradicted within a pretty short time window. If you use or support one or the other, we encourage you to point out those changes in the comments section below. Please share your thoughts, experiences and findings with the community.
If you are on the Basecamp or Podio teams, we hope you will find our review to be objective and fair. More importantly, we want to thank you for the obvious hard work you have invested to develop two of the most extraordinary web applications on the internet today. We wish you both the most continued success you can earn and offer our sincerest respect and admiration.
As for the final “edge” numbers.
Technically, Basecamp is the deserving winner, of the topics we looked at, merely in our opinion. That said, Basecamp started more than a decade earlier than Podio and only surpassed “the final score” by two points. This makes Podio a formidable competitor in the upper echelon of online Project Management platforms 37 Signals (the company behind Basecamp) has dominated all these years. Will this keep Basecamp on their toes? Maybe not specifically. If you read the latest letters from 37 Signals on their site, you’ll learn Basecamp is on the verge of more relentless progress than ever before. Basecamp won’t be unseated anytime soon.
What project management software does Go Media use and why?
It was a grueling decision to decide to forgo Basecamp. Our decision process covered more than the topics here and really helped write this article for us. We decided on Podio because we’re confident they’re in it for the long haul. We believe they’ll correct the shortcomings. If you get a chance to test drive Podio, which I highly encourage, I have no doubt you’ll be thoroughly impressed with the quality of the software. It speaks volumes about the talent of their leadership, design teams, and engineers. They clearly have an exceptional team with World Class standards and ambition.
A pivotal factor in our decision to go with Podio is the flexibility of the app builder. Go Media is different than many design firms because we actually operate several different subsidiaries of the design service company. We have our annual Weapons of Mass Creation creative conference we host in Cleveland. We also have several product and platform services, such as the Arsenal and Mockup Everything. These other departments of our operation have different needs and workflows. We felt Podio offered the most flexibility to be able to manage our small enterprise within one platform. So far so good.
So there you have it. I hope we’ve provided enough of the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision about which platform is the right fit for your business. Thank you for taking the time to experience our review. I have no doubt in my mind, if you choose either, keeping your projects on track with these innovative and powerful solutions will be a success.All Basecamp screenshot images are copyright ©2015 Basecamp. All Podio screenshot images are copyright ©2015 Citrix Online. Content, designs, pricing & other implied features are subject to change.
Go Media Cleveland Creative Studio: Our 2014 in 3 Minutes
Go Media is so much more than a creative studio.
Small in number, we are mighty in what we set out to achieve each and every year – from our passionate web design, logo, branding and print design projects, to our product Arsenal, our blog, our subscription based mockup sites (Mockup Everything and Shirt Mockup), video series (On the Map) and annual design conference (Weapons of Mass Creation Fest).
Not to mention the other hijinks that ensue throughout the year due to our collective love for design, community, life. Enjoy our look-back on 2014.
We hope to see you in 2015!
About Go Media:
What does great design mean to you?
For some, it’s all about sales and results. For others, it’s about winning that next big award. At Go Media, a Cleveland web design, branding and print design studio, great design is the product of passion, purpose, and possibility. It’s a place where the art of communication is expressed in ways that surprise and satisfy our clients.
Our Ohio City headquarters is buzzing with artists, strategists and enthusiasts who approach each new project with an eye for detail and an ear for objectives. The result? Visually stunning concepts that captivate, compel purchase and even earn a few awards.
How can we help you express your next big idea? Get Started Here!
Music Monday, Go Media Style
It’s that time again, fellow creatives! Arguably, the longest day of the week. Never fear, Music Monday is here.
So kick back, crank that volume up and get ready for:
Wil Revehl Amplify
Wilson says: This is my audible caffeine to keep me pressing on with a project. No lyrics, because I’m easily distracted. Being a web developer, my projects require a ton of critical thinking. I prefer EDM to power up on and my favorite is super aggressive dubstep. Enjoy!
More Go Media Staff’s Spotify Playlists for Getting Sh*t Done:
Volume 1, William Beachy
Volume 2, Bryan Garvin
Volume 3, Jeff Finley
Volume 5, Aaron Roberts
Go Media prides itself in brand-building.
We’re adept at tapping into the core identity of our clients’ brands and helping them find ways to reflect their values.
So why would we hire an outsider to help with our own brand?
It ultimately comes down to two key points:
- A process of leadership introspection
- The value of a fresh perspective
As a professional design firm building on nearly two decades of experience developing imagery for companies of all sizes, our knowledge of the brand principle is refined. When we begin a new project, we are viewing the client and their company with fresh eyes. Usually, they understand that what they’re doing is not working. They realize their current branding is either stale or simply ineffective. It is our responsibility to fix it for them.
But we struggled when it came to making this evaluation of our own brand. When we started the company, our look and messaging worked. But as we expanded, the brand grew in random directions. It was like we planted a nice little tree in front of the house. Then the tree grew up and now branches threatened the roof and the power lines! Do we cut branches? Do we uproot the thing and move it? We were stuck on how to address it.
Not gonna lie, we were somewhat neglecting our own landscape maintenance. We saw it day in and day out. We knew we needed something to reflect all the innovation happening within our walls. We pruned it here and there, but we were unable to settle on a single look or direction. And that was part of the problem too. We were moving in so many different directions, and there was a general lack of cohesion.
In 2006, we launched a new product line, the Go Media Arsenal. Those familiar with it will know this is where we sell products to the design scene. However, that market is predominantly not the same as where our design clients are coming from. We reasoned the Arsenal deserved its own separate brand.
Then, we kicked off this here ‘Zine. This was partially corporate with news related to our design services. However, the tutorials offered are primarily to support the Arsenal and design community. So we started to explore a different design here as well.
The bottom line is: We were having an identity crisis. Were we a design firm? Were we a design product company? Were we also artist advocates with our Weapons of Mass Creation festival?
Some of our staff believed we were cheapening our design services by selling stock graphics. On the flip side, the fact that we were a working creative firm fueled most of our product ideas – and bolstered the legitimacy of those products.
We were divided. We had lengthy debates, some of them quite heated. It’s no wonder the brand was off-base. Our whole identity was confounded.
It went on like this for years.
Finally, what we began to realize was, we were simply too close. We were too close to our own concept, too familiar with our own brand, to really address the issues from a standpoint of solid logic. We needed an expert, but we also needed someone who could be objective.
Enter multi-talented brand strategist Jackie Bebenroth. We met her at the 2011 WMC Fest. We were impressed and enamored by her talent from the onset. If anyone could help us solve this branding conundrum, it was Jackie. Fortunately, she was thrilled for the opportunity to tackle the challenge. We went to work immediately.
Over the course of several meetings, we let Jackie in. Everyone in the firm had a say as we discussed the projects we’re passionate about. We showed her our everyday work environment. We allowed her to see our company culture firsthand.
Jackie commented more than once we were doing everything right: Maintaining a robust blog, developing ancillary products, nurturing a unique and exciting culture, promoting our city and the art community at large. Our major malfunction was we simply weren’t touting it. In fact, we were hiding it! She realized despite our multi-pronged efforts, we were a fragmented company. We were one firm and we needed one voice to take full ownership of everything we do.
The new Go Media Website
This was the a-ha moment we needed. What we’ve been internally referring to as “our brand unification” is now fully underway. We’ve styled our print materials with a fresh & clean cut. And the real flagship of this exercise, our corporate website, has just gone live. We’re proud to announce the launch of the all new gomedia.us! The aim was to bring together Go Media’s smörgåsbord of activities into one place, to better say what the heck it is we do all day and night. You’ll see artwork first with a portfolio carousel right at the top of the page. Also note the responsive CSS, allowing the layout to adapt to your screen size on mobile, tablet, laptop, or desktop browsers. Other amenities include a quote request form, social network & content syndication, and a copious footer. We even hired a fanciful photographer to try and make a bunch of beatniks & geeks look presentable for the staff page. Moreover, our new site does a better job of bringing together what Go Media has to offer in a way that is clear and concise.
As the vice-president and co-founder of Go Media, I take immense pride in making this company successful. In this case that meant listening to and embracing someone else’s perspective. It meant having some difficult discussions about who we are and where we’re going. And it meant stepping aside and temporarily handing the reigns to someone I trusted to take a hard look at us from the outside and show us what we needed to show those looking in. In the end, it made us a stronger, more unified firm.
There’s an old saying, “sometimes you can’t see the forest from the trees”, that might be spot-on for what happened to us. We were so caught up in the details and our own ideas of the way to go, we couldn’t take a far enough step back. We felt like experienced hikers. But pride may have been preventing us from admitting we were lost. Frankly, we might still be wandering the wilderness if we had not run into Jackie who offered a map of the way out.
When it begins to feel like you’re juggling different companies with different brands and different agendas, take a moment to reevaluate.
Here’s an exercise to help redefine your brand:
- Define your company in two sentences or less.
- List all the feelings you want your customers to have when they come to you.
- What makes your firm unique? Are the “other brands” spinning off actually what make you unique? Can they potentially complement each other?
- If you answered #3 affirmative, wouldn’t it make sense to bring those spin-offs back into your core brand?
Obviously if you’re operating an auto garage & a restaurant, they might not be brands you can combine. But even that example leaves room for the imagination. Maybe the restaurant takes on a classic car theme and then they can share a family brand name. Those same diner patrons are bound to need car maintenance sooner or later!
If it seems like your current brands are meandering or you’re spending too much time juggling what could possibly be unified, stop and try to reframe the problem. If you’ve let it go too far in different directions and your team can’t see a way out, don’t hesitate to ask for help. We’re glad we did.
Greetings & Salutations
My name is Wilson Revehl, Co-founder, CTO, and Vice-President of Go Media. When William Beachy and I founded the firm in 2003, merging our respective freelance businesses, I would not have imagined we’d become a publisher. And lord knows I haven’t done much to advance that cause. Jeff Finley, our first principle partner, deserves most of the credit for advancing our readership. The last time I wrote a Zine article was in 2007, about Flash, which has since become irrelevant.
With that said, this piece isn’t my prodigal son homecoming to the Zine. I didn’t carefully consider the topic in any painstaking manner. It simply came up during a recent project when I wanted to point out some things about homepages to the design team. A Google search on this topic produced less-than-satisfactory results. I was scheduled to produce something for the Zine anyway, so there ya have it – practically wrote itself! Usability for the modern web seems like common sense. On the other hand, I could write a brick of a book on the topic. Now that most of what we designers do faces the internet in some fashion and many of our readers haven’t been designing for the web as long as this old dog, it’s only fair we start with the basics.
Usability fundamentals of modern website design
Months after we launched a brand-new site design for our client, they returned. They wanted a new homepage. They were a market-savvy bunch who had tracked visitor click-through and retention. The idea was to alter the layout to rev up visitor engagement. I wholeheartedly endorsed the endeavor.
An organization who has the means and is willing to test differing user experiences will find that it offers constructive insight into their marketplace. However, most small businesses don’t have the budget to refresh their website design or layout whenever they want. That is why it’s crucial to design a thoughtful website user experience the first time.
Here, we’ll cover some usability basics for modern websites. The goal is to show you pragmatic dos & don’ts to ensure you’re taking advantage of best practices and conventions.
The Navigation System
No, we’re not talking about your GPS. But you might glean some perspective from the consumer products all around you. Long before the internet (or GPS) was mainstream, industrial designers had been honing and advancing user interfaces for manual operation. Whether it was the car stereo or the VCR, they recognized that comprehensive controls were pivotal in making their products viable. Things are starting to come full circle (who knew?!) with the advent of touchscreen and the desire to develop & design responsive websites for displays of various device types. The new norm will soon be conforming your site for display on car stereos! Until then, let’s focus on what you need to consider today to create a compelling website navigation system.
Use conventional placement
Why? Humans are creatures of habit. There is a reason you see top-of-the-screen navigation on the majority of websites. It is functional because people read from the top down. It is effective because it communicates a lot across a wide piece of real estate without hogging it up. Logically, you can’t go wrong with a menu at the screen’s top because people are looking for it up there by default.
No design works unless it embodies ideas that are held common by the people for whom the object is intended.
– Adrian Forty
The National Public Radio site does a superb job in demonstrating the top placement of the main menu in a clean, high contrast enclosure with cozy margins to add weight.
Starbucks pulls off a tasty top menu without the high contrast enclosure like that of npr. The lack of contrast has no negative impact on the usability but rather draws you into the slideshow below.
Conservation International, one of the largest environmental NGOs, has a great example of two-tier (dropdown) navigation. This is the ideal way to expand the reach of a top menu while keeping the interaction requirements down. Sites abundant in content can get visitors to their destination faster without much eye movement.
Skype’s top menu and subsequent overlay is oh so simple. And yet, they’re giving you direct access right out of the gate to their multifaceted offerings. Skype has usability fundamentals down to a science. You’ll see them mentioned again in this article.
All written languages (on Earth anyway) are read from the top down. The majority are also read left to right. The second most conventional navigation is a vertically stacked column aligned to the left. I don’t speak or read any Asian languages, but I would imagine this approach is the same but aligned right.
The Marussia F1 Racing site does a great job driving traffic to their navigation system racing down the left of the screen. Too much?
Go Media went all-in with a fixed position left navigation on the 2010 site. Although our new one (in the works) might deviate from this, it is still a very accessible approach.
Panodora’s new UX is a cool example of using left navigation when it really counts. Something like a playlist would not have worked in a dropdown nav from the top. Their vertically scrollable list stays easy and unobtrusive no matter the length of items.
Newegg carries an absolutely massive inventory of electronics. They manage to gracefully route customers from left navigation onto a clever multi-column overlay that will get visitors quickly into the right category. This style of expanded navigation is quickly becoming a user friendly convention for complex taxonomies.
Use it! No really, really use it!
Because it is the piece of real estate everyone who makes it to the bottom of the page will see. Most sites do not affix primary navigation to make it available all the time. If you’re ready to explore another part of a site after reading down through it, the shortest distance to that next click could be a friendly, even robust, footer. Often, you can make what would otherwise be secondary or tertiary sections available here. A thoughtful footer strategy can be more potent than third-tier menus or sitemaps.
The White House has a straight forward 6 column footer with an additional base line of ancillary links.
Rackspace has continued to deliver distinct, comprehensive website user experiences for what is typically the very complicated industry of server colocation. The way they lasso their offerings into clever, succinct categories allows them to be listed neatly in the footer.
Commonalities of a good navigation system
You’ll notice a few characteristics emerge when you step back and evaluate the previous examples.
- Clear & concise menus – Reduce your navigation hierarchy into a small amount of choices or categories. Present sub-categories in a way that feels logical. If it doesn’t make the cut as an important section or sub-section, maybe it can find a home in the footer or fringe menu.
- Base your color contrast on priorities. The font or background decisions you make will impact where the viewer’s eye travels.
- Allow room to breathe. Line-heights, padded enclosures and the margins between different elements help make navigation stand out as interactive.
- Establish styles that show state changes. These are effects like changing text or enclosure colors when a mouse hovers over or an active state to act as a visual reminder of what site section they’re in.
Focus – Keep it simple
My daughter is 5 months-old, and already, she possesses an intuition into user interfaces. I say this not because I’m merely a boastful father of a genius baby, but to illustrate that it can become instinctual at a very young age. Whether it is a bright, noisy button on one of her (too many) battery-powered toys or an interactive story on her granny’s Nook, she knows when she pushes a button, she gets a reaction.
Upright travelers of the information super highway are a tad more evolved than a baby, but anyone who has worked in our industry for more than a moment knows it ain’t by much. Kidding aside, the internet is a barrage of media & messages all vying for attention. If you’re going to command enough to capture that ever elusive click-through, you need to give your audience a reprieve from the clutter and go as far as making it an instinctual interaction.
Put what is important “above the fold”
In the newspaper industry, editors will place the most important, eye-grabbing content up high on the page – above the fold. This is an effort to grab eyeballs and lure in readers.
The same basic principal applies in website design. I don’t want to get into the more technical above the fold/below the fold subject in this article, but basically the most common display size (dimensions) of your audience on desktops and laptops is currently around 1440px wide by 900px high. This means you have 900px available in the view port before the vertical scrollbar kicks in. The bottom of the immediately visible area is your ‘fold’. Anything below the fold is out of sight, so the viewer will need to engage the scrollbar to see more. Try to keep your most important content and actionable items within that 1440×900 border to gain maximum exposure. If you’re not sure how to design for common browser dimensions, google ‘css grid systems‘ and you’ll find many tools to help you in the process.
That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
Apple is renowned the world over for the innovative industrial design of their products. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had at least one customer who’s referred to the Apple website when describing a goal. Apple does an impeccable job of filtering things down to the most basic relevance and hiding as much technology as possible behind a spacious, contemporary facade. In the Steve Jobs biography, he’s said to have had an obsession for wanting Apple to ‘focus like a laser‘ on its goals and not get distracted with other markets. You’ll see below their website release of the new iPad, where Apple is visually swaying its visitors to focus like a laser on that one single product.
Adobe sells a wider variety of software products than any other enterprise vendor. This might not be a business subscribing to the aforementioned ‘focus like a laser’ (possibly the crux of what made Mr. Jobs dislike Adobe Flash) but Adobe does a solid job of condensing such a broad range of topics into a top navigation system and above-the-fold slideshow as their centerpiece.
Help your audience focus on your focal points
You may recall the search engine battle for supremacy of the last decade. Everyone knows who prevailed. If you think it was because one had a more advanced algorithm than the other, or it was brand disaffection, you’re fooling yourself. It was simply because it was just that damn simple. Over the years I watched countless layman internet users sign into their Yahoo or Hotmail email, keep one of the two news aggregators as their homepage and still jump right over to Google to do their searching. Was it because they preferred the results better? Nope. Google was such a nice break from the content clutter, it became the De facto search utility where people would go to clear their minds and just search.
Imagine if the information super highway were an actual highway. And all the homepages are billboards asking you to pull off now and explore them. Picture there are thousands of billboards on that one road in every direction everywhere you look all contending for your concentration. And let’s not assume everyone is stuck in rush hour. Traffic moves pretty well along on the internet.
How are you going to be seen in a sea of signage?
How are you going to get your point across succinctly enough to keep the attention of each visitor?
No one knows exactly how many websites there are. Some place it upward of 1 billion. And this number is increasing exponentially. This is terrific news for our industry but has side effects. For the topic at hand, we’re going to see more and more distracted, impatient users. Whether your website’s goal is to sell something or provide useful information, if you don’t give the visitor exactly what they’re looking for in the shortest amount of time possible, they’re leaving just as fast. Like I said before, make it instinctual. Don’t make them think.
I think design covers so much more than the aesthetic. Design is fundamentally more. Design is usability. It is Information Architecture. It is Accessibility. This is all design.
– Mark Boulton
The real estate sector leverages the internet quite well. As it should. It is a perfect fit with the complexities of info, rapid pace of resale and the very visual nature of displaying a listing. Zillow delivers right out of the gate with a homepage that places their two visitor priorities in a perfect triangular focus map. Top down. Left to right.
AVAAZ gives citizens a voice with the tremendous help of a well conceived homepage. Your eyes are drawn from their forceful logo into the slideshow and immediately across to the call-to-action.
Rhymesayers keeps things smooooov with a clear cut, high-contrast headline juxtaposed to a heavy slideshow. The mp3 player draws your eye because it is the only splash of color up top and calls you to action with large familiar controls.
Once again, Skype shows us they understand the archetype. This slideshow is clever in that the call-to-action (CTA) pulls you easily into the location you expect to see its content and then provides that next CTA only a short diagonal distance from the direction your eyes were already headed in. Well played Skype, well played.
Vimeo’s primary ‘Sign up’ CTA is very traditional but they throw a few more in the mix such as the massive ad banner and a reinforced ‘Join’ in the top navigation. We can assume the valuable real estate given to the ad space was to meet a business priority and that they’re reaching the objective of attracting clicks with such a large banner where it is.
This week’s award for ‘focusing like a laser’ goes to Dropbox. I had to illustrate a cause & effect image below so you can see just how concise their homepage is. They give you two options, watch a video and download. The video starts in place without compromising the ever present download button. Can’t get much more focused than this.
Another start-up you’ll see impeccable design focus from is SeatGeek. Ticketmaster must be groaning in their grave being yet-again reminded that there is still room for innovation in event ticket sales. When you can acquire seats faster online than in line at the box office, you’re looking at industry disruptive technology. And that technology here is usability.
Do we really need another online retailer of electronics? Decide thinks we do and shows us that despite market saturation, you can quickly differentiate yourself with a brilliant UX and high-tech interactivity. Look how they take you from search, to result, to a matching CTA with a graceful color palette & layout that accentuates what is most important.
Usability Best Of
This is far from a definitive list of impeccable homepages, there are entire websites & awards devoted to that. I rather wanted to showcase a handful of sites that demonstrate the best of website user experience based on the topics discussed in this article.
Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.
As obnoxious as auto sales can sometimes be, Ford steers visitors clear of any usability bumps in the road. They start with an unobtrusive logo and ancillary menu that sits well atop a full screen background. The medium contrast top navigation is frictionless drawing you right into a brilliant photo composition that showcases three different car calls-to-action without a seam between them. They place an additional row of focal points just above the fold. There is a lot to interact with here without feeling like there is.
AudioVroom is an up and coming website to build your own personal radio stations. You’d think this has been done many times before but AudioVroom makes usability so effortless, they’re already working their way up the veritable charts.
The Obama Administration shows us that tasteful design doesn’t need to end at the edge of the private sector. The Whitehouse‘s site employs all the classic and modern usability best-practices.
We should expect nothing less than intelligence from the paragons of spreading original thought. TED Talks brings attention to their wealth of video lectures with straight forward controls and an immediately accessible video gallery. The navigation is busier than I would prefer, but the light background palette helps them get away with it.
Yeah, it’s a shameless plug for my favorite city in America, but Positively Cleveland pulls off an exceptional case in point of form following function.
A grid system should keep you on track but sometimes designs get trapped in those boundaries and designers have a hard time breaking through to make things original. SHFT pulls off a creative use of background imagery to give personality to the brand. The top menu and header text elements seem to float above the various depths taking nothing away from the focal points.
Another way we can learn how to implement better usability is to explore what not to do. I could point to countless DIY websites built by non-professionals, but that would be too easy. Instead, we’ll show you how even professional designers – paid large sums by successful organizations – can become misguided.
Our opportunity, as designers, is to learn how to handle the complexity, rather than shy away from it, and to realize that the big art of design is to make complicated things simple.
– Tim Parsey
The New York Times is arguably America’s greatest newspaper, packed full of hard-hitting journalism and diverse, enjoyable reads. But the designers here aren’t capitalizing on the vast number of readers who peruse their site. It’s an industry-wide truth that hard copy sales are down. The advent of the internet, though, allows the publication to reach a wider audience than ever before. In looking at their site, the entire top section is squandered with a gaudy name plate & ad banners. This has the adverse effect of shrinking the left side navigation. Content above the fold is further impacted by the inappropriate layout. Efforts to generate a wealth of digital subscribers will be hindered here because of ineffective usability.
Anthem is one of the nation’s top insurance providers, but any claim they have of a top quality website should be denied. The users are going to be a very broad demographic perhaps than most. The No. 1 goal here needs to be ease of use. The company directs people to the website because over-the-phone, human resources are expensive. But by approving an unconventional navigation system, they are just asking for confusion – and higher call volumes. What’s more, their design is too wide for the broader range of browser dimensions.
Simple usability seems to have flown right over the heads of the designers for Sky Mall, the prolific seller of air travel novelties. The business model for the magazine, always found neatly tucked in the seat back in front of you, is targeting impulse shoppers. However on this homepage, the one thing that seems to be missing above-the-fold is the most important: the merchandise. Plus, priceless portions of the page top are being hogged by un-important ancillary section links. Now that internet access is becoming increasingly available a mile high, Sky Mall needs to realize the impetus to optimize for traveler viewing on laptops & tablets or it will be forgotten on the tarmac.
Major League Baseball has three major strikes against its homepage. The first, and most obvious, is the game scoreboard. It’s so dark and heavy on the screen – it cannibalizes the entire left side. All the while, it is hard to read and the interactivity is sorely lacking. They could do so much more with it. Second, the news feed off to the right feels like an afterthought. Third, all the above-the-fold content decisions appear poorly thought out. The combination of the bulky scoreboard, oversize slideshow, banner ads and news feed panel fail to deliver a home run of content to dive into. Hardcore or fair-weather baseball fans alike are being denied a user experience worthy of America’s Favorite Past Time.
Brembo is one of the most iconic aftermarket auto parts companies. However, the website designers should have been red-lighted on their navigation decisions. The brand is envied by competitors, but the site needs tuning. The design is quite clean and stylish. But by going with an unorthodox main menu, barely atop the fold, they are detouring potential direct or retailer interest. You’re instead drawn toward what appears to be top navigation but represents sections that maybe should have been relegated to the footer. Experimentation with abstract menu systems can lead to bold, innovative design – but it has to be done well. The bottom of a website’s homepage might not be the place to go full throttle with it.
Bill Smith appliances site screams laziness. It almost looks like they literally copied-and-pasted a tacky, newspaper classified ad. Aside from the tired and outdated motif, there is no immediate focus on featuring products. In today’s competitive consumer goods market, the core of any product retailer site has to be selection and price. Everything else is secondary. Here, the designer gave too much space to promoting the vendor’s name across the entire top. Additionally, the bulky menu system to the left offers questionable value.
South By Southwest – We love SXSW… the event. But event invitations almost always follow a set of rudimentary basics: Who, what, when, where, why and sometimes how. Here, Austin’s flagship mixed media conference, a widely-acclaimed and expensive affair, appears to have made some missteps on usability. As nice as it looks, the homepage design does little to sell new potential attendees on the event. Any swelling enthusiasm will quickly wane for uninformed visitors, who are forced to click an inordinate amount of times to figure out what this is, who will be there and why they should join in the fun.
Excite’s seemingly antiquated site is anything but exciting. Seriously – did they toss in the towel circa 1995? It looks like it belongs in a time capsule. If their main goal is to have you click on ads and leave their site – congratulations. That’s about all they have succeeded in doing. They do have a high-contrast color scheme. That could work well. However in this case, the accent color is wasted on borders and legends, which only serves to further distract anyone from engaging with the search and content.
The thing that makes CVS successful is convenience. Their website, however, is anything but. Maybe it’s just me, the red “buttons” don’t really feel like click-able buttons. Not only that, the heavy blue calls-to-action that flank the site content are redundant – both for prescription services. Even if pharmacy is a large part of what brings people to the site, that topic can easily be consolidated to free space for other priorities.
Fark‘s design is almost as laughably bad as the outrageous news stories that are its bread-and-butter. It is worth noting, however, that the site has actually improved over the last few years. But it still has quite a ways to go. The first available menu is unimportant to the goal of keeping eyeballs on the page. The next thing that draws your attention are the story excerpts. This would be good, except that the element that has the most weight is the source – not the cleverly-written headlines. What’s more, the poor branding destroys whatever emotional connection the reader could have made with the site’s greater mission.
ICPlaces.com is an online entertainment site for local & regional producers. But you wouldn’t quite know that by looking at it. There is no main menu system. There is nothing on the front page to tell you what the site is or where to start your search. And a video begins blaring before you ever really get your bearings. No one is amused.
Dilbeck is one of the most recognized real estate companies in Los Angeles. But I’m not sold on the website design. Almost every aspect above the fold is a roadblock to property searching – which is the whole reason people visit.
Most designers inherently know what conventional usability looks like. Admittedly, if you cross examine some of my do’s and don’ts, you’ll notice I applaud the use of an element in one place only to later berate it in another. There are countless subtleties in color selection, interactive states, margins and layouts that can make or break the aesthetic. There are nuances behind when and why you should use a certain navigation orientation or where you place a call-to-action. We always recommend designers take a step back before diving into mockups and work through the information architecture and wireframes so you and your client gain an expansive view of the content and layout potential. Predetermining taxonomies, business priorities, design boundaries, and user experience goals can be an arduous process. But planning ahead will ultimately lead to a better user experience resulting in more immersion, visitor retention, conversions, brand recognition and so much more. As a website designer, you possess a great power. Even if it is by way of the meager mouse, you have the power to influence the decisions of others. Those clicks can lead to measurable success for everyone involved. So use your power wisely.
GoMedia_Vector_Freebie_An-Angel-Grows-Wings (INCLUDES THREE FREE VECTOR DESIGNS!)
Like most Flash Motion Graphics designers, I am regularly perusing the web for design inspiration. I don’t know about you, but when I saw complex design elements like plants and tribal shapes grow on screen right before my eyes, I wanted to know how they did it. I assumed they were really good with shape tweening, but if you’ve tried to execute a complex shape tween, I’m sure you discovered quickly that Flash’s current shape tween renderer is about as predictable as Ohio’s weather. So the next best bet was masking a finished design and then revealing it magically as if it were being illustrated in real time. Sure enough, after testing some theories, we zeroed in on this process which we’ll now share with you!