Category Archives: Graphic communication

Design comes first!

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I design websites, visual identities, print advertising, signs, books – anything that involves effective visual communication that will be busy working for you even while you sleep. And though I have lots of production experience, I mostly work with printers, sign companies, engravers and other production specialists to arrive at the finished product.

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Printers, sign companies, etc. often employ designers and usually the quality of the design is excellent particularly when the design requirements are pretty straight forward. However, the emphasis and pace in such establishments tends to favor production. 

My own technical experience does help in terms of understanding the unique demands of these very different disciplines as well as knowing how to prepare artwork for efficient production, but I am first and foremost focused on design and visual communication.

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For me, the design process comes first and that means collaboration with you and understanding your enterprise, whatever that may be. Our first hurdle is making sure that the right message gets communicated.

Once the ideas are in place, I can make them work for you in any number of ways and with great efficiency because of my experience working with the various production options available. That saves you from a lot of running around and allows me to make sure that your ideas are being communicated in a consistent manner, maintaining the highest standards.

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…and that has made all the difference.

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Early on in Sandra Boston’s life she decided to head down a road less travelled by. That road has taken her around the world and into the hearts of those she encountered. In this memoir, Sandra details her journey and what it has meant to her along the way. She asked if I would help her with her cover design for Out of Bounds: Adventures in Transformation.

I agreed, and working with photos taken along her journey I developed a design concept for the front and back covers. At first, I used a font for the book title, and though it looked fine, it somehow didn’t quite reflect the sprit of Sandra’s life. So I custom designed an original hand lettered title – what I refer to as interpretive lettering. Sandra was on board as soon as she saw it and the book was soon thereafter published.

Above is the finished book cover and below is the artwork I developed using Adobe Illustrator and incorporated into the cover. 

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So, what’s your story?

I focus on designing websites primarily for individuals and small businesses and I’ve developed an approach that is fairly simple, but effective given that my clients sites are all on or near page one when the service and region are typed in a search, such as in my case where someone might search for graphic designer, Northampton Mass.
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Website home page for Visage Salon

But for me the key issue is having a place to present yourself to your community and beyond in the most complete manner possible. In other words, all of your marketing efforts, both online and traditional point to your website as the place where visitors can discover your unique story, one that expands, grows and changes as your business does. It is by far the most cost effective and convenient way to get that story across.

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Visage Salon website, featured hair products page


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Visage Salon blog post featuring product line

I recently visited a restaurant after having researched it online. The decor and the dining experience were way out of synch with what was posted online. The restaurant in the website was great and I was really looking forward to visiting. The restaurant in the flesh was a real disappointment by comparison. Perhaps if my expectations were more in line with the reality, I wouldn’t have felt so let down. Visually and technically, the site was great, but whoever created it failed to get at the essence of the business and show the reality in its best light.

Usually however, the opposite is true. An online presence is created, which is better than no presence at all, but the website falls way short of the reality. Some businesses lose perspective of what they have to offer and undersell themselves.

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Visage Salon sign face for sandwich board display on street level

As a web designer, I look for the story and work closely with my clients to make sure their online presence is accurate and fully represents what their business has to offer. Because of my background in branding (visual identity), designing for print and signage, I can then create a seamless marketing approach with the website at its core.

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Visage Salon label for product bags

All of these things require technical knowledge and expertise that I can provide, but for me it’s all about the story and how to communicate that through words and images.

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Visage Salon customer appointment card

 

 

 

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A signage facelift at P&Es

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Paul and Elizabeth’s natural foods restaurant is a landmark in Northampton. The owners – you guessed it – Paul and Elizabeth, arrived in Northampton from Boston in probably the mid 1970s. Both were learning the natural foods restaurant business at the Seventh Inn restaurant and school from master chef Hiroshi Hayashi. Paul and Elizabeth wanted to carry forward what they were learning by establishing a restaurant in Northampton similar in concept to the Seventh Inn. My wife and I provided them with a place to stay on occasion while they were in the process of moving and setting up the restaurant.

They arrived with the logo image of the smooching cooks for the restaurant made by another designer, but from the beginning I worked with them on various aspects of the restaurant’s visual identity. I went off to teach for several years in the late 1980s and when I returned in the early 1990s, I helped them update their identity. In 2004, after designing full time for a sign materials manufacturer, I went solo again and so on occasion I still do some work for them.

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The P and E’s logotype shown in the example at the top of the post is a current application of interpretive lettering I did for them in the early ’90s (above). Interpretive lettering is hand drawn lettering that combines the freedom and energy of calligraphy with the precision and finish of a typographic font. I began building these logotypes in the early ’80s using pencil, pen, ink and black and white gouache on paper and in the late 80’s moved to Adobe Illustrator on a computer, of which this is an example. The skill level and the amount of time to develop such a logotype was about the same as hand construction, but the versatility in application was greatly improved as an illustrator file.

In the meantime, our kids have grown up, their kids have grown up and i recently got a call from Nate, their eldest son who is now taking over the restaurant’s major responsibilities. He wanted to update their signage at the front entrance to Thorne’s Marketplace where the restaurant is located, and the menu displays at the front and rear entrances to the restaurant itself.

After taking measurements and photos of the site I provided them with a concept that we decided to go with after a few revisions. Boxes had been previously built and installed at the front outside of Thornes and just outside the dining area. Both boxes had glass doors that opened to a cork display area on which they had previously pinned up menus.

To make things interesting, I  decided that part of the design would be applied to the glass door with the rest against the cork interior. This provided some dimensional interest.  At the back entrance, the sign was to be hung inside facing out to the street. I maintained the design concept, but there was no viable way to do anything dimensional.

The examples below, are what I showed them for design concepts. I firmly believe in showing a sign concept as it would appear on location. Though the photos look like the final sign in place, the images I’m showing are my designs superimposed over a photo of the window and the boxes. In reality, that is pretty much how the actual signs look in place. Above each concept is the before example of each of the signs.

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This is what the back entrance sign looked like for several years

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This was the design concept presented for the new sign which is pretty much how the new sign now looks on location.

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This is how the boxes on Main Street and at the restaurant entrance looked before redesigning.

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Above (Main Street) and below Restaurant entrance): These were the concepts presented for the new displays and pretty much how they now appear. In both cases the red stripes and logos were applied to the glass and everything else sits on a single panel about 2″ behind the glass.

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My approach to web design


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Above client sites: Visage Salon; Pamela Donleavy, Jungian Analyst; Julie Nelson, Actor

I have been creating websites for small businesses that are highly personalized and serve as a focal point for all the other marketing – a place that potential clients can visit 24/7 to get as complete a story as possible about what is being offered – stuff that can’t be communicated within the limited confines of a business card, for instance.
 
I’ve also been strongly encouraging clients to integrate a WordPress blog into that website so that the website becomes the static and visually consistent portal into which most users first experience the site and the blog provides the dynamic and ever changing content that makes the site more search engine friendly and allows site owners to add and change content.

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Above client sites: Dr. Ellen Mitnowsky, Chiropractor; Barbara Ween, Jazz Vocalist; Erica Lorentz, Jungian Analyst

This combined approach has been working well. The website side of the site offers more design potential, well suited to the task of creating a visually rich experience. This richness then allows me to work with my clients to create a virtual storefront best suited to their needs, where visitors can really get to know what is being offered.

The blog side, built using WordPress templates, is more limited in terms of design since it is so structured in advance, but there is enough flexibility to make the blog look like it belongs with the rest of the site. The more I work with these blogs, the better I can integrate them seamlessly with the website.

The main feature of the blog is the opportunity to create and archive new content through the blog post feature. Recent posts are viewed on the main page of the blog with the latest post appearing first followed by previous posts which ultimately are moved into an indexed archive.

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Above client sites: Lisa Oxboel, Life Coach; Iris Karas, Educational Consultant, Ken Lieberman, Attorney at Law

At the same time stationary pages can be created that function pretty much like other webpages. I try to reserve these pages for content that the client can regularly update themselves such as events schedule, testimonials, workshop offerings, etc. These pages can be linked to from the main site as well as from within the blog. That way the main website rarely needs updating.

The trend in web design is toward flexibility, a concept which I truly appreciate. The idea is to have the content adapt to whatever container it finds itself in, PC, tablet, mobile phone, etc. However, I prefer a more consistent approach in which the design remains the same regardless of the device it is being viewed on. I work closely with clients to develop a particular look and I think it is important to have that preserved. I also prefer that some basic content should be static though that too flies in the face of how most site development is approached these days.

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Above client sites: Community Yoga, Yoga Studio, Award 1, Awards and  engraving studio, Wendy Chabot M.D., Health and Wellness Coaching

Sites that adapt and change are considered dynamic. Though I can appreciate that, I think there is something to be said for consistency at least as far as basic information is concerned. I remember recently visiting a site and then again a week later. The colors and images had  changed so much that I wasn’t sure I was visiting the same site. I found it disorienting.

Combining the more static website with the more dynamic blog provides the best of both worlds. It’s not for everyone, but I think it works well, particularly for small businesses looking for something that is custom designed to reflect the owner’s vision.

A single page main site combined with a blog that the owner can control is the most economic way to go, though I am also willing to work with clients to build a website using just WordPress or other template driven site design options such as Squarespace or Site Builder. These all offer free, do-it-youself website design, but some users find it too difficult technically to work through while others are not that happy with the results. For a monthly fee, these companies offer access to tools that make more customized design choices possible. Even though the site building can be a challenge, using these sites once they’re built, is pretty basic. 

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A business card for Daniel Brown…

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Dan Brown is a professional artist married to a client of mine, Lisa Oxboel, life coach and professional organizer. Recently, they both moved from Massachusetts to Taos, NM after years of visiting there. In addition to Dan’s works on canvas, he has been an educator and has his own practice as a life coach, often working with other educators and artists.

After their move, Lisa contacted me to update all of her materials including her web site and business card to reflect their new location in the Southwest. Dan needed business cards for his practice as well, so he contacted me and I developed some ideas for his business identity that we applied to his card design.

Dan is also a photographer so I asked him to send me some photos taken in and around Taos along with samples of his painting. In the end, I utilized a section of one of his paintings to build his identity along with a photo of Dan. This worked well on the front of his business card.

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In addition, I created a simplified graphic image from some consistent elements in his painting, namely a sliver moon and hills on the horizon. I used these logo elements on the back side of his card and expect that they will show up regularly in other promotional materials as well.

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Can’t Help Singing

I’ve been working with a client since early 2012 on a variety of projects for her daytime business. We worked together in the past but lost touch for several years, so it’s been great to be in on helping her further her business identity.

However the story doesn’t stop there, because on nights and weekends Barbara is a jazz vocalist regularly performing at clubs, restaurants and special events. She’s been wanting for a while to record her first CD, so she had me work on the design of the CD Jacket and disk art, and in September Detour Ahead made its way into the world.

We worked through the concept using some of her favorite photographs and during that time I only managed to hear her sing through some roughly recorded sessions on YouTube and audio clips. It was enough to inform the design process, but nothing could have prepared me for the final CD.

When I played it, I was stunned. Barbara has the voice, the skill, the experience, the intelligence and the heart to really deliver a song. And that she does throughout the whole CD, working closely with a number really fine musicians. These are nuanced performances that beg to be heard again and again.

Information about the CD, audio excerpts, and how to order it can be found on her website, BarbaraWeen.com and blog, both of which I helped her develop.

We started with the website concept and ran through quite a few ideas until one day I asked if she had anything recorded so I could get a better idea of  how that would influence the design process. She emailed me some audio files and it worked out well because what caught my attention was the fluidity of her voice. Thus was born the squiggle under her name in the header, a graphic reference to that fluidity. I then echoed that to create a kind of accompaniment, showed it to Barbara and we were on our way.

At first I couldn’t see the necessity of adding a blog to the site, but as the CD started to become a reality I became aware of all of the marketing potential the blog could deliver. The CD opened things up, making it possible to see more opportunities to communicate that just weren’t there in the beginning.

I use an easy to navigate WordPress blog template, doctored up to match the website for all of my blogs, keeping things simple so that my clients can work with it as easily as possible. Here is the blog site that interacts with the website. You can also visit the blog online.

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