Sep 14 2017

Content is Queen: A Case for Content-First Design

A letter without a message is just a blank piece of paper in a fancy envelope. (And who wants to look at that?)

How Design Communicates

When we build websites, draw logos, and make marketing assets, we’re using our (awesome) creative powers to help our clients share their message.

We use colors, shapes, letterforms, photo assets, and spatial relationships to communicate visually and optimize the message. You could say that design is a method by which we package and deliver content in a pleasing and accessible way, so that everyone who receives your message wants to learn more, sign up, buy, or donate.

Your Message + Our Design = People Compelled to Act!

Making Sense and Looking Awesome

When we know what content we’re working with, we can create intentional, purpose-driven design to showcase the message — tailored just for you. We don’t just drop your content into off-the-shelf themes or templates. Every design is customized for each project’s specific needs, which we help you uncover through Discovery and research.

Dialing in your messaging is so important here in the early phases of design. Whatever it is that you want people to hear from you, you’re going to need some words. The right words, even, that say what you mean with precision!

But Copywriting is Hard!

For most of us, even when ideas come easily, it can be challenging to commit them to precise, effective writing. We know that the Internet has a short attention span (are you even still reading this blog post?), and the pressure to get to the point and pack in all of the critical information is real.

A bit of planning now can save you from a big mess later.
Photo by Alice Achterhof on Unsplash.

Often when you get into the thick of creating or editing your content, you will likely find that the words and organization change shape — you might need a second level of subheads, or block quotes, or inset boxes, or so many other things! These may seem like minor changes, but they can have a big impact to the overall way your content behaves on a page. If you’re designing for print, the addition of a subhead can add pages to your final count, or require a whole cascade of other visual changes to make the document work and feel cohesive.

Enlist help with your copywriting if you need it. A great editor can help you shape and refine your message without adding a ton of time to your project or to your financial investment. Approaching your designer with ready-to-use copy will save you time and dollars in the design phase.

Get Real

In book-publisher school, I learned that a nascent book moves from editing to design to production — in that order and in only one direction. While that’s a really great system, I have literally never received a project to design that was content-complete while working in the actual world.  For the first few years, it really bothered me.

By now though I have consigned myself to the reality that content may will change a bit during the design process, and I’ve committed to having some grace about it. When a client sees work that they’ve only known in a text editor come to life in a webpage mockup or sample chapter, some new revelations about aesthetic preferences and/or how the content is working often crop up — that’s a normal thing that we expect and build into our process.

So what should we all do? As a client, you should approach your designer with as much ready content as you can — this includes written copy, photos you have the rights to use, and anything that the designer won’t be creating such as logos, forms, and barcodes. Make a plan with your designer that clearly states who is responsible creating, editing and gathering each piece of content. Create a timeline. Understand that your designer can only get so far into a project without your real content. The closer your content is to completion when we start, the more seamless the design process, making the final product that much better.

Whether you are still working on your content, or it’s all ready for design, Team Upswept has your back. We’re a comprehensive creative studio, offering copywriting and editing services, graphic design, photography, as well as web and print design. Get in touch to learn more!


Aug 17 2017

Put the “Pro” in Creative Professional

At the beginning of August we introduced Janet Price, a Portland makeup artist we love. Janet had so much great advice for achieving professional success that we thought it deserved more than one blog post!

Process and technique can sometimes be hard to communicate to the average person, when you work in a creative field. Part of the puzzle is finding a way to educate your audience about why your service is particularly good or special. But, as a longtime professional makeup artist, Janet has learned a few other important ways to build trust as a creative pro.

Keys to Professional Success

Salamander Boy - creative professional tips
Salamander Boy. Makeup by Janet Price. Photo by Gary Norman.

Janet credits her success as a professional to the following three keys:

  1. Be Dependable and Honest. Janet says it’s critical to show up on-time to do the thing you are committed to do (ie Don’t be late to your job!). Just as important, she says, is being honest about what what your skills are as well as what you can’t do — in contrast to the popular fake it to make it mentality, Janet has always been clear and open about what she can do well and what would be better left to someone else. She says she’s never felt penalized for declaring her limitations.
  2. Do Good Work, Stay Current. Do a good job, of course, and continually push yourself to keep building your skills. Don’t rest easy on your current skill set or position.
  3. Don’t be a weirdo! While Janet is always herself on the job, she says it’s important to remember that she is not the focal point of the job. With anyone you work with, employ discretion, refrain from gossip, and respect the privacy of others.

Being A People Person

Getting close enough to another person to apply makeup to their face can be a very intimate act, especially if her clients aren’t accustomed to it. Janet says that some people are more comfortable with this than others, and often one of her first tasks in beginning a job is to establish rapport with her subject.

Creative professional tips - Makeup artist applying makeup to a woman's face
Janet Price at work. Photo by Gary Norman.

Indeed, Janet is very easy to talk with, whether that initial conversation is about the shade you like to wear on your lips, her love of Marilyn Monroe, or your opinion of animals with people names (Janet’s house cats are Greta and Sammy, so she’s all for it). Rapport is very important, Janet says, and she usually has to build trust with the people she is working with very quickly, especially with film and television jobs when the pace of the work is quick and time is usually short.

Diplomacy is important, too — sometimes the person who gets makeup is not always the client to whom Janet is responsible, and she must balance the needs, wants, and comfort of both client and the person whose face she is painting.

Sometimes Janet is the only makeup artist on the job with full creative control, other times she works as an assistant on bigger projects, when it’s her job to execute the vision of an art director. The more players in the game, the more great communication, personal rapport, and professionalism need to be spot on. Her approach is to emphasize each individual’s unique beauty and work in partnership with talent, production, and crew.

Oh, the Humanity!

Whether you are a makeup artist like Janet Price, a fashion designer and small business owner like Tori Tissell, or any other creative professional, you know that the work is more than making a great product: at some point you’re going to have to come out into the daylight and talk to other humans. Janet Price makes it look easy, and with her advice and some practice, we know you can too!

What’s your next creative venture? Let’s talk about discovering your authentic and compelling brand story that will help you connect with your ideal audience. Start your branding project by scheduling a Free Clarifying Consultation with Team Upswept.


Aug 04 2017

Portland Business Spotlight: Janet Price, Makeup Artist

Janet Price is a Portland-based professional makeup artist with over 13 years experience in film and television, as well as print, stage, and theatre makeup design.

Janet Price grew up in Los Angeles during the reign of Mouseketeers and The Gong Show. As a kid, she felt surrounded by the entertainment industry — it was normal for people she knew to go in for auditions, and shows that she saw on TV were being produced right down the road. Her involvement in the industry felt natural. It wasn’t strange to think she’d  grow up to be a Mouseketeer, because that’s what LA kids did.

Artist applying makeup on a woman's face.
Janet Price at work. Photo credit: Gary Norman, www.garynormanphotography.com

In 1984, Janet moved to Oregon with her family and got involved with high school drama productions. Fascinated by the parentally-forbidden art of makeup, she studied library books to teach herself how to work with theatrical makeup while secretly painting her face at school and making sure to arrive home before her dad did to wash off the evidence of her artistic rule-breaking.

While Janet chose not to pursue makeup artistry as a career, she continued to expand her knowledge about new products and techniques as a hobby she couldn’t shake off.

Some years later, Janet was flipping through a Northwest School of Film class catalog and found a 3-month intensive Makeup for Film + TV class and was excited to get formal education. The class instructor, Christina, began to casually mentor Janet after the class ended, no doubt seeing Janet’s talent for the work and her affinity for the industry. Christina was preparing to retire, so she gifted Janet makeup and tools that she wouldn’t need once she retired. Christina recommended Janet for her first job as an assistant makeup artist, on a Paramount Universal film that was shooting in Portland. It took just the one recommendation from a veteran artist, and Janet’s work as a makeup artist  took off from there, booking jobs of all sizes in film, TV, theater, and studio settings.

Janet Price Logotype by Upswept Creative, 2016.
Janet Price Logotype by Upswept Creative, 2016.

We worked with Janet in 2016 to create a new logotype, business card, and brochure website, which resides at http://www.janetpricemakeup.com/. She hoped to modernize her brand, and make her work easier to find. Now, when professionals in the film industry are planning Portland-based productions, they can easily find Janet’s work and contact her through her new website. That means less of her time spent looking for work, and more of her time spent doing the work.

What is your passion? Whether it’s a side-hustle or your main gig, we’d love to help make your brand shine and spread the word about how awesome you are. Whether you want to revise your website, change your branding, build a strategy for marketing more effectively, or you’re not sure where to start, get in touch with us to schedule your FREE consultation, and we’ll use our extensive online experience to help you get clear on your next steps.


Jun 22 2017

Local Business Spotlight: Tori Tissell

Tori Tissell, founding owner of Storiarts, maker of literary soft goods, has the kind of internet success story that entrepreneurial dreams are made of.

It started with a personal project. For holiday gifts in 2011, Tori created her first run of book scarves — an excerpt from Pride and Prejudice silkscreened onto a square of super soft, off-white (think the pages of a classic book) fabric. She gave most as gifts and listed a few for sale on Etsy.

Tori in her home workshop cutting material for a scarf.
Tori Tissell cutting out some Alice in Wonderland in her workshop.

Tori had been living in Portland since 2008, when she moved here in pursuit of a career in fashion design. She was working four days a week at an office job in the dental field, and worked on her creative projects with her time off. The book scarves were the first item she’d put up for sale on the peer-to-peer e-commerce site, which focuses on handmade and vintage items.

As a fashion accessory, the scarves were a perfect statement for Tori and some of her friends. One of the things that she likes about designing wearables, in addition to the utilitarian aspect, is that “no matter what, what [a person wears] expresses aspects of one’s personality.” A self-identified bibliophile and introvert, Tori liked that she could spark connection over one of her favorite things though her apparel choices, and keep her neck warm in our cool PNW winters, too.

Screen printing a scarf with Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.
Screen printing a scarf with Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.

The Pride and Prejudice scarves sold quickly on Etsy, and Tori received many requests for more. The scarf got shared on Pintrest as well, further boosting interest. After three months, Tori was able to leave her office job and make scarves full-time.

Rising Action

Since 2011, Storiarts has expanded their catalog to celebrate more than 27 titles on scarves, fingerless writing gloves, t-shirts, pillows, and baby hats. Staying rooted in the Pacific Northwest is a key value in the company, and most of their products are printed, cut, sewn, warehoused, and shipped in Oregon, with some milling and cutting happening in LA. All of their products are handmade in the US, even though production has scaled up quite a bit since Tori made everything by hand in her garage. Now that the manufacturing is off her plate, Tori can focus on design of new products, as well as drawing all of the illustrations for their scarves, writing gloves, and t-shirts.

Though Storiarts was born through e-commerce sales and continues to sell through several online retailers, it wasn’t long before they expanded into sales at brick-and-mortar stores. The Library of Congress shop was the first to approach Tori about carrying book scarves, and today you find them in the New York Public Library as well, along with dozens of other libraries and boutiques across the US, and in Australia and New Zealand. 

To Be Continued…

Woman reading a book outside a coffee shop.
Amber modeling a lightweight summer scarf outside of our neighborhood coffee shop.

Upswept Creative does much of the marketing photography for Storiarts, from clean product shots to lifestyle photography like this one featuring Amber Nicotra, wearing a new scarf from their Spring 2017 collection. 

We love working with Tori and her co-owner and husband, Chris. Their company embodies so much of what we value in working with independent businesses — from their commitment to keeping it local, to the thoughtfully-crafted, pleasantly nerdy products they sell.

What’s your next creative venture? Let’s talk about discovering your authentic and compelling brand story that will help you connect with your ideal audience. The first step to schedule a free clarifying consultation is clicking ➡︎ here. ⬅︎


May 25 2017

Meet Sarah Giffrow, our fearless Creative Director and Benevolent Overlord!

Sarah steers the ship at Upswept Creative, deftly serving up smart branding solutions and building beautiful, usable websites that make sense and look awesome.

Sarah Giffrow HeadshotSarah created her first webpage more than two decades ago, when she taught herself HTML to stave off boredom over a summer in high school. In college, she ditched her journalism major and decided to make a go of it in the then-fledgling industry of web design.

Before launching her own creative studio more than five years ago, Sarah was doing web design and management in the non-profit / education sector, and side-hustling in wedding and portrait photography. Motivated by a desire to explore different avenues for her creative skills, solve new problems, and feel more connected to clients, she decided to go out on her own, giving rise to Upswept Creative and, indirectly, this blog post you’re reading right now.

Creative Convergence

Driving her own creative endeavor allowed Sarah more time to get to know local creators and business owners. She observed gaps in their marketing and online presences, and began to figure out ways to help them.  

“Getting to see their work close-up and experience it in-person, I knew how skilled and passionate they were, and I wanted to help them show that to others, and get the kind of die-hard fans they deserved.”

That connection to the vibrant independent business community remains a priority in Upswept’s work as we expand our service offerings and grow our team. On her hopes for the future of Upswept, Sarah says, “I’d love for us to really become known as a resource for independent businesses, so we can keep helping people grow their passions into their livelihoods.”

Being Yourself

Sarah has faced many of the challenges typical of creative work, and lessons learned along the way inform her strategies to help clients better, particularly in figuring out how to differentiate herself in the local market bursting of talented competition.

To attain success, Sarah says, you must “understand deeply what sets you apart in your industry. Communicating that authentic expression of who you are and what you do in a clear way is critical.”

Though thriving in such a lively market can be tough, Upswept Creative wouldn’t be the same studio if it existed in a different city. One of the values Sarah identifies with in the Portland creative community is a “deeply-held belief that, if the service or the product doesn’t already exist, we can create it! We [Portlanders] place a lot of value on supporting businesses with local roots, and we aren’t afraid to try something that hasn’t been done before.”  

Beyond Work

Sarah on Skates!Outside of work, Sarah spends much of her time involved in roller derby with the Rose City Rollers, as a skater, official, and juniors coach. Sarah loves to bake, much to the enjoyment of anyone who’s attended an event at Upswept HQ, and this year is enrolled in the Google Academy of Organic Gardening.

Your Turn!

Now that you know a little bit more about Upswept’s leadership, we’d love to get to know you better, too. We like to kick off every new project with a get-to-know-you meeting, so we can assess your unique business problems and craft an elegant, beautiful solution just for you!  Get started by scheduling your free clarifying consultation and see what kind of awesome Sarah and rest of Team Upswept has in store for you.


Apr 13 2017

Portland Business Spotlight: Katie Proctor, Owner, Books with Pictures

Portland’s Katie Proctor is on bold mission to bring comics to everyone. Her nearly year-old shop in the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood, Books with Pictures, has quickly become a community hub with an explicitly inclusive mission: to be a space that is welcoming to people who love good stories without regard to age, race, sexual orientation, gender expression, or disability status. We loved collaborating with Katie in creating branding assets for the shop in support of that mission, and we’re such big fans of her shop that we wanted to shine a light on our favorite local comics seller.

Books with Pictures Logo by Upswept Creative, 2016.

On Radical Inclusivity

The shop — it’s spacious layout, bright lighting, and friendly displays — the diverse stock, and Katie herself are all tuned towards making entry into comics an easy and stress-free experience, making it OK for adults to not know anything about comics when they come in, or for parents to come in to get a comic for their kids and not know what they are looking for, or should be looking for. You don’t have to feel like you are already part of the “in” crowd, is the thing. Because at Books with Pictures there is no “in” crowd, just folks who like to read books and connect with each other about it.  

Heroes are for Everyone Sandwich Board
Recently shared on Books with Pictures Instagram Feed

Katie says that comic books have forever been full of stories of misfits overcoming the things that set them apart from mainstream culture to find their own power, and there is a lot happening in terms of diverse content, identifiable storylines for people who feel like outsiders. Most of her customers are new to comic book stores, and it’s clear that a big part of Katie’s passion is in creating a safe and welcoming space where there’s a book for anyone who comes into her shop, whether they are looking for the mainstream offerings, or something else.

Katie has a diverse background which includes information design, bike advocacy, biomedical ethics, sales enablement programs, computing cultures, and history of science. She has been reading comic books since since adolescence, but really got into them after having children, who are five and seven now.

On Being So Much More Than a Bookstore

Katie Proctor Headshot
The One and Only Katie Proctor. Headshot by Upswept Creative, 2016.

It’s a daring thing to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore, but Katie says the key to being successful and vibrant is to be a resource for the community that it can’t get online. In addition to carrying the less-mainstream titles (Yes, she has more than one book for kids in which the princesses fall in love with each other), a big part of this mission is fulfilled by the many events the shop hosts every month.

There is some kind of lecture, signing, panel, or class every Wednesday night, Yarn with Pictures, a monthly knitting group, as well as events and programming in partnership with University of Oregon, Portland State University, and Helioscope Studios. In keeping with her community-oriented theme, Katie is excited to foster synergy between our city’s comics luminaries and its up-and-comers.

Books with Pictures is the kind of local business we love to work with, one with a clear message of inclusivity and positivity that makes a real effort to be present in the community it serves. Katie Proctor has built something beautiful for all fans of comic books, and we are proud to highlight her talent and hard work.


Mar 17 2017

Code is Poetry: Why We <3 WordPress

There are so many options for website management and building these days, it can be overwhelming. Customization, flexibility and ease-of-use are all important to consider when choosing a platform. With these qualities in mind, Team Upswept chooses WordPress as the platform for nearly all of our clients’ website redesign needs. Here’s why:

WordPress HeartEase of Use

The WordPress Dashboard makes it easy to manage and update your own copy and images so that your website is always current and can evolve as your business evolves. The Dashboard is clean and easy to use, and there’s lots of support documentation if you have questions — making it simple and painless to  see and edit your content, view traffic statistics, and manage your e-commerce.

Mature Software & Blogging Capabilities

 WordPress is a mature and stable product, which has focused on elegant user experience and responsible web standards. Launched way back in 2003 by Matt Mullenwig and Mike Little, WordPress began as a personal blogging platform. Blogging capabilities are dialed-in and rock solid making it easy to maintain a business blog and get more eyeballs on your site.

Infinite Extensibility

 There are almost fifty-thousand plugins for WordPress, allowing us to add simple features to your semi-custom website quickly, and affording us huge advantages in building fully-custom sites as well.

Three plugins we love to keep in our pockets

Contact Forms 7  is a great example of a quick plug-in to create a contact form.
Advanced Custom Fields lets us customize and simplify how you manage your content.
WooCommerce is a great comprehensive plug-in for E-Commerce needs.

Search-Engine Magic

WordPress is great with search engines, and a lot of SEO-friendly code structure is built right into the platform. This gives us a leg-up in driving search-engine traffic to when your website is new.

WordPress Heart Logo
WordPress Heart by Foomandoonian

Seriously, we love working with WordPress. The customizability through plug-ins and access to back-end organization is a dream to work with. The platform’s user-friendly layouts and interfaces also allow us to be confident when we hand over the management of a site to our clients after the site goes live.

Want to get started on your website redesign with WordPress? Schedule a consultation with us to find out how we can bring this magic to your business!


Mar 02 2017

How to Give Feedback to Your Designer

Designers have a reputation for being fussy, opinionated, and disinterested in client feedback, or even for needing to have things their way concerning your project. But your pals at Upswept are here to say that when you work with us, that is simply not the case. We believe that design is a collaborative process between client and creative, and not some mystical and unquestioned transformation that happens in the secret chambers of our studio.* When we put our expertise to bear on your project, we need to hear from you along the way to ensure the end product be everything you hoped it would be at the outset.

Whether you are working with us or another design firm, we present below some advice on how to make the most of giving feedback to your designer so that it can be pleasant and productive for you both.

Define your problem; discuss how you’ll measure success.

Consultation over coffeeEven before you set to work on space and color, meet with your designer and. Your problem may be as simple as, “My business has grown and we need to update our logo and branding.” Or more complex: “Our website is 10 years old and looks clunky and outdated, so it needs a contemporary look and a new content hierarchy, since our focus has shifted from written to video content. Six board members have to approve the new design, and we need it live in three months.” Budget is often a big constraint, as is turnaround time. Be forthcoming about your needs and constraints and expect your designer to do the same. Starting work on a poorly-defined project often leads to frustration as well as wasted time and money.

Extend this problem-solving philosophy into giving feedback.

Instead of talking about what you “like” in a design, stay focused on which aspects are solving the problem most effectively.  Of course you have to like what your designer creates for you — really, you should love it. But framing feedback in terms of affection isn’t all that useful in refining your design. No matter the nature of your redesign, the product needs to be both aesthetically pleasing and do the job you need it to.

Avoid design by committee.

Often a project has multiple stakeholders who need or want to weigh in on the project. Take a moment to consolidate everyone’s feedback, whether you are meeting with your designer in person, or sending an email with notes. Putting your feedback into one unified voice will make it much easier for your designer to understand and tackle your list, and help to mitigate communication overload.

Get curious.

Every element, from font choice to color, should be chosen intentionally by the designer.  If there is a component that you don’t like or just don’t “get,” it’s OK to ask your designer to explain her thinking behind that element. You don’t have to agree with the result of your designer’s cognitive process, but approaching critique from a curious place instead of a critical one can help illuminate the path towards brilliant success for both you and your design team.

Slow down.Ask More Questions image

First impressions of the design will be important when your design is working in the wild, so they should hold a lot of weight in the feedback phase.Your thoughts on the design may not change overnight, but you may have an easier time delivering concise and useful feedback once you’ve slept on it.

Mention the good parts.

Not only is it practically useful for us to know which elements you think are working well, it also feels nice to receive positive feedback before we get into what still needs adjusting.

Let’s work together.

You are the expert in your business and your knowledge and feedback are critical to the success of your project. Design is our jam, and together we can uncover the problems that must be tackled in order to propel your business forward with find effective, bad-ass looking solutions.

*Sadly, no real secret chambers here.