Category Archives: Visual identity

You’re right next door.

I work from my office in Western Mass, serving the Northampton area, but I work with clients from almost anywhere with an internet connection and a phone. That work includes web design, print communication, book design, visual identity development, business cards, interpretive lettering for book titling, signs and display, illustration – anything involving visual communication. Because of the internet and my technical background, I am able to communicate with printers, engravers, sign companies, web developers in your area to get the design onto a production path and in a way that is convenient to you.  Here are some examples of long distance work I’ve done in the past.



Columbia, Missouri
This was perhaps one of the more difficult jobs on the production end from over a thousand miles away. After having created a visual identity for a crafts gallery, I was asked if I could design their sign utilizing an existing, odd shaped projecting sign frame left over from the 1950s. I worked closely with a local sign company and was able to design to fit the odd space exactly. Angles, curves, frame thicknesses, etc. all conspired to undermine the project, but with photos, careful measurements provided by the sign company and my familiarity with materials, we managed to get it right.


Palo Alto, California
This was the creation of a visual identity utilizing my interpretive lettering skills working with Adobe Illustrator. The project was art directed by a San Francisco design firm that hired me for the logotype development. The client was Imagine Foods, a natural foods producer famous for their Rice Dream products.



Pretoria, South Africa
Wilmette, IL
This was a workbook and  cover design for the late Deborah Christesen in collaboration with  Julie Burnes Walker who together created the Oneness Model. This was a spiral bound workbook loaded with illustrations. At certain times we even managed conference calls between South Africa, Illinois and Massachusetts. Not so easy back in 2008.



West LaFayette, Indiana
Visual Identity,, website, blog and various print pieces such as business cards, stationery, etc. Iris Karas began this consulting practice not long after moving to indiana. Once the website was up and regular posts were being made to her blog, her business grew steadily.




El Sobrante, California
This was a DVD cover design including front (right) back (left) and spine (middle). This was part of a series of DVDs produced by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen founder of the School for Body/Mind Centering. Bonnie travels the world giving workshops and overseeing the training programs she has developed for certification. The DVDs are another method of educational outreach.




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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.

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.












Visage Salon website, featured hair products page


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.

New signs10Prf

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.


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.


Visage Salon customer appointment card




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A soft, remote control landing within the design grid

In the summer of 2014, I was approached by Pamela Donleavy a Jungian analyst from the Boston area about a complete redesign of her website. I explained my approach to web design and after a little back and forth we agreed to work together on the site.


This is the Homepage of the main site .

The first hurdle, and a big one, was establishing rapport with someone over the phone that I had never met in person. I don’t dictate design, but rather, work closely with my client’s, trying to tease out a visual identity that they feel represents them well. Not meeting someone face to face or seeing where or how they work makes that process all the more difficult.


So, I asked a lot of questions about her practice. I even emailed a whole list of questions, asking her to answer only those that triggered something in her imagination. She showed me examples of websites she most responded to and I asked her to send favorite photos she had taken or that friends had sent to her.

Analysis, being a mind to mind sort of thing, doesn’t suggest much in the way of images
without making the site look either like the History Channel (Photos of Jung etc.), a Dali exhibition (you know, Jung, dreams, etc.), or a psychedelic hallucination (mandalas), any of which might scare off potential clients. After looking and talking a lot we decided to focus on representing some of the qualities of mind that clients might hope for as an outcome to the therapy – clarity, freedom, peace and so on.


That’s when we started looking at photos in earnest.- lots of photos. In the meantime, I began working on a way of laying out the pages that somehow reflected those qualities just mentioned. One thing that emerged from that effort was establishing the size and proportion to be applied to all of the images.

Pamela liked the direction things were heading and by my sending her proof revisions we worked out a color scheme and finalized the elements in the layout. All while that was going on, Pam was busy writing content for the page headings we decided on.


We then focused on narrowing down photo choices which I had presented to her in the low, wide landscape format we decided on. Sometimes that meant choosing not to use a particular photo or recropping it, etc. I did several photo shoots so we would have plenty of images to work with and gradually we narrowed things down to a single image to represent each page.

At that point I began constructing the web pages and configuring the blog. The method I use to construct pages utilizes a series of rectangular boxes arranged top to bottom and side by side and often nested inside one another. It is a very boxy, hard edged universe that I’ve made it my mission to soften up. One of the things I like most about this site is that other than the main photo, everything else fades into the background. The clarity of the images contrasts well with the softness of everything else.


I try, whenever possible to include a visually matching blog closely integrated into the site structure. The blog consists of Posts which appear on the main blog page and moves down that page as new posts are written, ultimately being removed from that page and archived. The blog also contains pages similar in function to most other web pages.

WordPress is a company that provides the blog structure that I use to integrate into my clients’ web pages. There are other companies that provide the same service but I’ve enjoyed working with WordPress and I am familiar with how the sites are structured. I do not build my sites using code, at least for the most part and probably never will. For those that do, WordPress blogs can be completely custom designed using code. The rest of us must rely on templates created by WordPress developers. Many of them are well designed and quite beautiful, but ultimately limited in design options for code impaired designers such as myself. That said, there is still quite a bit of flexibility in how the templates can be configured and I am able to make the blogs bear a close resemblance to the main site.


I try to include a blog with the formal website for two main reasons. One is to allow the site owner to add content, words, photos, etc. to the site by posting as well as updating pages that contain information that is likely to change often. It is fairly easy to learn how to post using WordPress. What appears on the main site is the more permanent information about the business that is unlikely to change much. I prefer not to create a dependent relationship with my clients requiring a lot of site updating and maintenance on my part.

That brings us to the second reason for the blog. The internet abhors anything static. Websites that just sit there without evolving on a regular basis are unlikely to get the attention of search engines. By updating blog pages and posting regularly, your website becomes more dynamic and that gives viewers a reason to return to learn more about what it is that you do.

Pamela’s blog page is shown below. It’s much in keeping with the main site but lacks the subtlety of the main web pages. The blog pages are more functional and somewhat less formal than the main site, but make the whole of the website experience more useful to visitors.


In spite of the distance that made it impractical for us to meet in person, Pam and I were able to arrive at a web design that represents her practice well. The internet really makes such an undertaking possible, but it’s always reassuring when the outcome is such a happy landing.


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A signage facelift at P&Es

PnEBK Wind

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.


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.

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

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

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

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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A business card for Daniel Brown…


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.


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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A World of difference…


Some might think design was simply a matter of developing a compelling style and applying it to whatever walked in through the door. Consciously or unconsciously, I’m sure there are designers who work in this manner. Designing this way would be quick and easy and execution would follow in a straight line toward the finished product.

I prefer an approach that is collaborative and exploratory in nature. It is rare for me to have a clear preconception of the final product. Presented with a project, I often have strong instincts that inform the discovery process, but of equal importance is client input. Together, we move the project forward toward a final conclusion.

Last year I posted Four Centers and an Auditorium, describing the evolution of a job I did for Smith College. Part of that project was to develop separate identities for most of the centers, under a tight budget and time constraints. The results were fine, but the Global Studies Center identity suffered some from those constraints.

Recently that center received an endowment that allowed it to reconsider that image and  rework the signage. What follows is a brief summary of the evolution of that process.


Finished sign for Global Studies, Smith College, completed in 2011.

After meeting again with a committee from the center and discussing its mission, I put together some initial ideas.  The second image down in the left column and the top image in the center column were chosen by the committee for further exploration.

Globe ImageBlg


Here are the results of that discovery process.





The image at the top of the right column in the second of the three examples above was chosen for further refinement.


It was at this stage that the smaller globe surrounded by the yellowish corona found its way into the design. In the end it was the middle image above that the committee selected as the identity for the center.

At this point, we needed to explore how the typography would work with the image and together how they would be incorporated into the existing signage. Along with the endowment, the name needed to be changed to reference the benefactors. Here are two sets of variations combining image and typography, as a logo and as part of the sign.

GLOBE16BlgEven after it was decided to go with just Lewis Global Studies Center, we needed to explore a few combinations as well.


Below is what was finally decided.


Here are some photos of the final sign installed. We were also able to install much needed lighting since the center was situated in an area not well lit. Lawren Rosen, the CEO of ArtFx Signs, came up with a nearly invisible lighting system that illuminates the sign without calling attention to the fixture. ArtFx Signs also fabricated and installed the sign.

In my previous posting, I expressed some disappointment in the interior lighting as pertaining to signage. The lighting of this sign solves that problem, revealing all of its details and subtle coloring – a very satisfying conclusion to this project.



It remains somewhat of a mystery as to where this identity came from. It’s certainly nothing I could have imagined ahead of time and that’s exactly why I keep designing.

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Signage for Four Centers and an Auditorium

The mandate

To design, fabricate and install wayfaring signs for one of the academic buildings on campus. There are four centers and a lecture hall that need to be identified in a tasteful way as one enters the main lobby of the building.

The above project description was part of the initial request I received from Smith College in early November of 2011 for a projected installation of January 2012. Skipping ahead, the photo (below) was taken of the main signs just prior to installation. What follows is an account of the process from that initial inquiry to completion and installation.

Above: I developed the concept and created the final artwork, collaborating with ArtFX Signs in Bloomfield, CT, a top of the line, award winning, sign manufacturer. What you see was all fabricated from raw materials in their state of the art facility.


After initial meetings with the heads of each of the centers I did a thorough site evaluation taking measurements and photos and making observations and within days of the meetings returned with a proposal based on my impressions.

What stood out the most in my mind was visual distraction – lots of steel and glass, bold floor pattern, brightly colored furniture, white walls, black pillars, low ceilings, dark corridors and a wide assortment of functional and informational furnishings. There was little in the way of natural internal logic to guide a visitor to their destination.


Hmm. Challenging. There had been some talk about each center having its own identity, but the thought of adding even more variety to that space made me nervous. Anything subtle would be quickly overwhelmed. Instead, the words that rushed into my mind were bold, in order to survive, unity rather than more diversity, simplicity rather than complexity, clarity rather than confusion. The photo below is a typical example of what I proposed.

All the lettering would be a metallic finish such as aluminum on a black background. I was considering a variety of possible materials that could add elegance to counter the simplicity of these signs, but I wanted to get everyone on board regarding the concept before going too much farther.

Client Feedback

The concept, along with my concerns went to each of the centers as well as administration for review. The feedback was very positive, but in separate meetings with representatives from each center, I was hearing concerns suggesting the strong need for separate identities along with a more colorful approach.

In particular, one of the centers had invested in an identity that had been applied to a signage concept used in their former location on campus. They would have simply moved their main sign, but it wouldn’t fit the new location. They appreciated my thoughts on simplicity and unity but were reluctant to give up the look that they had achieved and were so loyal to.

These were valid concerns and since none of the other centers had an established identity, I decided to modify my approach, keeping in mind my original concerns, but addressing the individual needs of the various centers at the same time.

Since the one center had a very clear idea of what they were after, I decided to carry elements of their design into the remaining signage throughout the rest of the building. The photo below shows their finished sign above the entrance.

The sign is made of clear thick glass, offset from the wall using simple stainless steel brackets. Their logo is applied to the glass using cut vinyl.

The one common denominator that everyone agreed to was that the main signs would be long and narrow and located in the narrow space above each entry. Foremost in my mind was that the sign backgrounds should be black as they were in my initial proposal and that I wanted to carry forward the idea of using glass as a primary material offset from the background, to echo that used in the Poetry Center sign (above). Beyond those three unifying factors the goal would be to make each sign unique with its own strong identity.

Since the Poetry Center identity and sign concept predated this job and because that center’s entry is located just to the right of the main entrance, with taller ceilings and greater visibility, we all agreed that it would retain it’s original look without a black background. We also agreed that given the particulars of the other entrances that we couldn’t carry through that type of sign to the other centers because that approach would be too subtle. With that settled I moved ahead with the other designs.

I began with meetings with staff from each of the centers, trying to learn as much as possible about each center’s mission. Since there was no real budget for building strong identities for each center, I looked for any imagery the center might have worked with in the past. I then developed a graphic image for each center along with a typographic style and a color scheme that seemed appropriate.

Because of budget constraints we kept the back and forth on the design to a minimum, but just enough, so that in the end each center was pleased with their own identity.

At that point my focus shifted to materials. I had done some work for ArtFX Signs in Bloomfield, CT and was familiar with the quality of their work and extensive facilities and resources. They agreed to take on the job and so I sent my concepts, that had been approved by each of the centers, to Lawrin Rosen, CEO so we could discuss materials and fabrication possibilities.

I then developed a structural concept. In the above rendering, the proportions were purposely distorted to emphasize the construction more than the appearance. The angled section is what viewers would see, namely a thin strip of brushed metal top and bottom followed by a stripe of color along the top and bottom, part of which would appear outside the glass and supporting it and part of it showing from the inside of the glass and supporting the glass from the other side. The majority of the glass would then remain clear even though it is not pictured that way in the diagram. The clear glass would look into an all black interior. Dimensional letters and logos would then be adhered to the front of the glass (not pictured here) in contrasting colors to stand out against the black interior.

The ArtFX staff then worked out a more efficient means of constructing this proposed concept the results of which can be seen in the photo at the beginning of this post. Both the design and construction plans were approved and the signs went into production using half-inch glass and aluminum. The signs were installed in early 2012 in time to meet the deadline.

Below are the major signs installed except for the Poetry Center, already shown above.

This center is on the first floor along with the Poetry Center. The other two centers and the auditorium, below, are located in the basement level.

The assignment also included various directional signs strategically placed throughout the building. The first two photos are different views of the directional sign at the main entrance followed by an example from a different location.

About 9 months after these signs were installed, another center was being opened in a different building on campus and the college contacted me again to design new signage similar to the ones from the other centers. Here are two views of that sign installed.






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