Sep 29 2017

What Your Website Builder Isn’t Giving You

website design e-commerce portland
There’s more to building a good website than just putting it online.

With website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and others coming into their own, it’s becoming easier to put a website online. And, that makes it harder for the average person to tell the difference between what you get from a website builder, and what you get when you hire a website professional. After all, why would you pay top dollar for a website, when you can build one yourself for $19/month?

If you only look at cost of the website builder itself, a website building tool may look like a no-brainer, at first. But there are, in fact, several reasons why hiring a website professional is head-and-shoulders the better option for a business owner looking to make a serious impact online.

A Website Builder is Just a Tool

Companies like Wix and Squarespace have built tools that make it relatively easy for tech-novices to put up a website. But, these tools are exactly that: tools. They give you the parts you need to build something, but not the knowledge you need to make the best possible use of them.

Sitting an average person in front of a computer with a website builder would be like plopping me down in front of an old car and handing me a toolbox. An average person doesn’t know much about building websites, and I barely know how to change a tire. I theoretically have what I need to get that car running, and it sure looks like a car, but: will that car actually work when I’m done with it? Probably not, and definitely not as well as it could work if an expert mechanic had that toolbox.

Do You Know What Your Website Needs?

It’s pretty common for a business owner to think, “I need a new website!” without having a clear idea of why that is. Do you know what you need to post on your website? Do you know why your current website isn’t working for you?

If you don’t know the answers to those questions, then I have some bad news: that website builder tool you’re using can’t give you those answers, either.

The good news? A website agency or developer can guide you through all of this. They’ll have answers to all of those nagging questions you might have, such as:

  • What should my homepage say? (it depends on your business and your goals)
  • Do these colors go together?
  • Do I need my full bio and CV on my homepage? (probably not)
  • How do I rank higher on Google? (hint: it’s not just META tags anymore!)
  • How do I set up my e-mail with my new domain?
  • Can I just use these photos I have on my phone? (possibly, but it may not be the best idea)
  • How do I connect my website to my e-mail newsletter?

The website professional you choose to work with has built numerous websites, and gained the special skills and expertise required to make the most of those website building tools. They’ve heard these questions, and they know the answers.

You’re Not Just Paying for Tools, You’re Paying for Knowledge

Website professionals have years of knowledge, and that’s where their value lies. When you have a website agency on your side, they can not only fill in those blanks that you don’t know the answers to, but remind you of the questions you didn’t even know needed to be answered.

When we work with clients here at Upswept, we’re guiding them step-by-step through the process of building a website. We’re using our knowledge to find the right tools in that toolbox, and use them in the right way, to get that car running beautifully.

That means we do things like helping you identify goals for your website, and creating calls-to-action that achieve those goals. We can help you choose the right photos for your homepage. We provide you with a content structure, so you know what pages you need to fill. We remind you that your logo image needs to be a different size, or that you might not want to use a photo from your cousin’s wedding as the professional headshot on your About page.

We also do things like set up e-mail addresses, offer web hosting, or even contact tech support for you when your existing web host isn’t working like it should. We’ll help you set up an e-mail marketing account, and integrate it into your website so you can start building your mailing list. We make suggestions for what social media platforms would be the best to promote what you’re selling. We can set up your shipping calculations for your e-commerce store, and train you on how to use your new store.

Does a website builder do any of that?

Know How To Get Where You Want To Go

Website builders can be a terrific tool, especially for a new business on a limited budget. If you just need a web presence that you can put on your business card, then Squarespace or Wix can definitely help you do that. But, as you get a clearer picture of where you want to go, a website professional can help you make the smartest use of the tools in the website toolbox.

Are website builders not getting you the results you want? Team Upswept is here to guide you through! We’re a comprehensive creative studio, and we have years of website design expertise to put to work for you. Get in touch to learn more!


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!



May 11 2017

DWP: Good Design Solves Problems

On April 28th, Upswept Creative hosted a panel discussion at HQ as part of Design Week Portland. What started as a fun idea tossed to the group in one of our team meetings very quickly evolved into a fully realized, (and totally booked!) event. Creative Director and Benevolent Overlord Sarah had been thinking a lot about design, and what makes good design really work. So we assembled a diverse set of design professionals for our panel and happy hour, to help us explore the topic, “Good Design Solves Problems.

Our hope was to represent perspectives on design from multiple design disciplines, so  panel consisted of Design Scientist and Innovative Strategist Stef Koehler, Architectural Designer Callie Coles, Apparel Designer and Founder of Hubris Apparel Rita Hudson-Evalt, and Upswept Creative’s very own Sarah Giffrow, who specializes in website design and branding.

THE DISCUSSION

 

Design Week Portland panel
Our wonderful panel, from right to left: Stef Koehler, Rita Hudson-Evalt, Callies Coles, Sarah Griffrow, and the moderator, Josselyn Haldeman.

The panel dove right in, addressing the question at hand. How does good design solve problems? Kohler spoke on her practice of making the problem bigger, “see all the parts,” she said. “Look at it as a system. Don’t make it simple, complexify it.”

A major piece of creating beautiful, problem-solving design is finding out exactly what a client’s problems are–and that can often be tricky. The panel agreed that most clients don’t have the language to communicate exactly what they want, and that means it’s a designer’s job to pull it out of them. “The client may not know what the problem is. Get ahead of the problem…Make the dress that lets them feel like themselves,” said Hudson-Evalt.

Sarah chimed in with an approach all of the panelists could agree with: communicate with your client. “Have a conversation. Engage with the client to pull answers out.”

As an architectural designer, Coles described how she will go into a space to observe how people use it. When do people start looking confused? Where do they look for direction? “[There is] no substitute for observing what people do real space,” said Coles.

“[Create a] balance between ‘brand’ and what the user actually wants to get to. First impressions- big photos, catchy phrases- can get in the way of finding the pie or buying the shoes. What is the interaction the end-user wants?” said Giffrow.

Design Week Portland nametags
Professional name tags. So fancy!

This touched on a major theme of the evening, empathy. To get inside the end user’s head, a designer has to be empathetic to that experience. Hudson-Evalt suggested, “Talk to people constantly, what they need from the dress/what they want. Realizing themselves in the mirror.”

UNTIL NEXT TIME

Team Upswept Creative had such a blast putting on the event, and we hope everybody who came out enjoyed themselves, too. Thank you to all of the panelists, Design Week Portland, and our lovely audience for braving the heat to make it out to our little event.


Apr 27 2017

Cherry City: A Case Study in Design Work

Working in web design can be a complicated process. A lot of creative decisions need to be made while working under a deadline, and within a budget.  Both functionality and the client’s needs have to take  priority, all while looking prettier than the previous iteration. So how do the pros do it? We’d like to give you an example from a recent web design project we completed for Salem, Oregon’s roller derby league, Cherry City Roller Derby.

STARTING OUT

Cherry City came to us with an outdated website, in terms of both content and design. The platform on which their site was built made it difficult for league leadership to post updates. Key information for a roller derby league would get buried in the design. Upcoming events like fundraisers, bouts, and recruitments  were hard to find. League sponsors were also not prominently featured, making sponsorship a less attractive prospect. That can be a big problem for a non-profit!

ROLLIN’ UP OUR SLEEVES

We knew we wanted to build the site on WordPress. This would be a big usability upgrade for Cherry City, and would help them keep  the site’s content fresh and up-to-date. But, we also had to consider how to organize the content in a more beautiful and less confusing way.  Upcoming events needed to be easily accessible, and presented in a consistent visual format.

All of the important elements, front and center on the first page.

We drew on our experience working with Portland’s roller derby league, Rose City Rollers, to find approaches that we knew worked with this kind of content. We knew that public bouts needed to be at the forefront of their online presence, so we made their games the star of the show. But, Cherry City also puts emphasis on recruiting, and makes a special effort to be a welcoming league that keeps its members and volunteers engaged, so we created space in their Events area to highlight Recruitment events as well.
Keeping track of Sponsors at different levels would be important to growing their sponsorship base. We also knew that the same individuals could be involved with multiple teams or committees. We created structures for both Sponsors and Team Members, so Cherry City could easily manage those details all in one easy-to-find place, instead of updating multiple pages.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN

Make sure your site works on mobile, too.

To get the visual and functional improvements we were all looking for, we communicated regularly with Cherry City’s all-volunteer Board of Directors about our design inspirations. We shared with them our wireframes and graphic mock ups, ensuring that we were persisting in the right direction on the project.
After many rounds of feedback, and all of our tweaks made, we were happy to launch their brand new website near the beginning of April!  Their league leadership is quickly gaining comfort with the new structure we’ve built, and they’ll be able to keep their fans, future skaters and volunteers, and sponsors engaged with ease.


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.



Sep 26 2016

Building a Nest for a Happy Brand

When we first met with Emily of Happy Nest, she had a busy day-to-day of running her professional organizing business and caring for her young children. She had the start of an online presence, but her brand didn’t feel like a good fit. “It’s just… not awesome,” she told us. So, we made a plan to turn her disappointment into excitement, and rebuilt her brand from the ground up.

Photography: a view into a brand

Professional Headshots Portland
Professional headshot of Owner, Emily (hair/makeup: Jessica Belknap)

Our photography session was a great opportunity to get to know her work and what drives her. When I moved through the spaces she’d organized, I could quickly see how her organizing work could make an entire lifestyle more orderly. And, as a mother of three (including twins!), she clearly had to be smart and creative with her solutions to keep her own life running smoothly.

Emily’s work is about creating balance and ease, rather than rigid rules. So, “helping you create a more calm and peaceful nest,” was a great way to capture that ease and show that her solutions are designed to fit your life.

Logo Design: making a nest modern

Finding the right look for Happy Nest’s logo was no small feat. The first logo had a flat, illustrated look to it, but we soon learned that Emily craved a cleaner look that wasn’t quite so literal. After a few rounds of design, we arrived at a logo that felt like just the right fit for Happy Nest.

Website Design: simplicity and structure

The Happy Nest web site didn’t have complicated needs, but, “simple,” doesn’t mean, “boring.” We wanted to create a clean look that echoes the structure that Happy Nest can bring to your life, and we’d learned a lot about Emily’s personal style and aesthetic during the project. We saw pleasing colors and clean geometric patterns in her own decor. So, we let photos from our photography session set the tone on her homepage, and framed it with patterns and colors that spoke to her.

Then, we did rounds of testing to ensure that the site worked well on mobile devices, because her clients are often busy, on-the-go people. The end result is a site that communicates her brand more strongly, and makes details about her services easy to find. (and really, if there’s anyone should have a well-organized, easy-to-use web site, it’s a professional organizer! 😉 )

Desktop web site
Desktop web site

Mobile site
Mobile site


Jun 24 2016

Why Letting Purpose Drive Your Brand Makes Your Business Stronger

13346343_1196444653700637_7813261431133060895_oJessica and I recently enjoyed a panel discussion at Pull The Weeds, an exhibition and event centered around purpose-driven branding hosted by FIRNW. Kirk SouderThom Walters, and Jen Michaelis Van Arkel shared their thoughts about what drives branding when social good is at the center of the organization.

The most obvious purpose-driven brands are the ones that are engaged in social change–particularly organizations in the non-profit sector, organizations that do good. But, purpose is important to every brand. Walters commented, “we’re moving into an economy of influence and experience.” Today’s consumers are active and engaged, and they choose the brands that align with their own personal values. In our digital world, access to a company’s values and impact on the world is merely a click away. Consumers won’t fall for a veneer of good–they’re informed and insightful, and they demand authenticity.

Many small businesses and entrepreneurs also set out on their path because they have a hope to live out their own purpose, and do work that aligns with their own values. Walters believes that, “brands are living entities; they have souls,” and they’re constantly evolving. And, that makes a lot of sense, because your business is also constantly evolving.

Simply put: what your business brand needs right now may not be the same as what it’ll need a year from now. And, as Souder phrased it, “the alignment between the soul of your brand and the soul of the people,” is key to building a brand that’s strong and that will grow with your business. It’s a good idea to check in with yourself every so often, and see if and how your business and your values have changed.

And, when you connect your business with doing good in the community, you’re doing something that can have an incredible and lasting power! Many non-profit organizations that focus on community work can only do it through grants and charitable donations, but a business already has an income, and is already self-sustaining. As Souder notes, “if you can tie a plow to [for-profit companies] to do good… they’ll be able to do it without a constant influx of philanthropy.”

And, as Michaelis Van Arkel stated, “it’s not necessarily about size.” To her firm, the size of the business is less important than the strength of their desire to do good. When your potential clients and customers share your values, they’ll still be drawn to you and be more likely to choose you, no matter how big or small your business might be.

Considering your company’s impact on the world isn’t just good for the world, it’s also good for your bottom line. By addressing society’s challenges, you have the opportunity to create shared value. You have an opportunity to create an economy of sustainable change by looking for what’s culturally relevant, and tapping into that.


May 12 2016

All Work and No Play Makes Dull Creative Work!

It’s all too easy to get stuck in work mode. Working long hours, rushing to the gym, then going home to eat something and fall asleep. Only to wake up early and do it all again. But as a creative agency–or any type of business, really!–it’s important for us to remember take play breaks.

Design Week Portland helped us take a break a few weeks back. This year’s opening party featured fun and games to help creative types unwind. For me, it can be hard to silence the little voice in the back of my mind, reminding me to send that email or make sure I did that thing I was supposed to do (remember that thing?!). But it was impossible to be distracted by projects and to-do lists while I was snuggling a 5-week-old puppy or defending my Jenga champion crown.

The next day, I felt a little lighter thinking of that adorable puppy and that silly 60-second portrait drawing. Those happy memories brought a smile to my face when I needed a boost, and I felt more ready to take on the creative challenges of my day. A little excitement can go a long way in replenishing those creative juices. People are like cars: we all need to stop and refuel from time to time.

This week, find time to play more. See what happens when you give yourself a recess. Does it make you a happier person? More creative? More inspired?

Creating something fun in a different medium can recharge you for your everyday work.
Creating something fun in a different medium can refresh you for your everyday work.
There's nothing like a cute puppy to melt away stress and get you ready to create!
There’s nothing like a cute puppy to melt away stress and get you ready to create!

When you need to recharge, try challenging your brain (and your reflexes!) in a fun and different way.
When you need to recharge, try challenging your brain (and your reflexes!) in a fun and different way.