Sharing icons: Weaving an open ended, virtual, word-of-mouth network


When it comes to hawking your wares, stop sweating your SEOs and start building and using your social media infrastructure. Why not? It’s free and the connections you make are much higher in value than those you might get from a newspaper ad for instance. That’s because, like the garden variety word-of-mouth, however far down the chain the message is spread there is ultimately a human contact at its source who has positively interacted with you in some way. “Oh! My son-in-law’s best friend’s girlfriend’s mother, just had her toenails painted with glow in the dark polish at Nails ‘n Rails and was able to toss out all her night-lights.”


Social media comes in all shapes and sizes, but you don’t have to sign up to any or all of them to make them work for you. I can install a plug-in in your WordPress blog that will automatically place a row of social media icons that your customers might regularly use, before or after each post and page you create. This allows them to post your article on their Facebook page, etc. – instantly, I might add. It’s that quick and easy response that puts your information in front of the connections of those who find some value in what articles you’ve posted or information you’ve provided.

One icon is in the shape of an envelope. If someone finds one of your posts valuable, they just have to click on the envelope and an email window opens that they can address to themselves or anyone. The email will contain an automatic link back to your post. That same process happens with each of the other Social Media sites. They click on the appropriate icon and the link is posted on their Facebook, Tweeted on their Twitter, Pinned on their Pinterest and so on.


It’s all so fast and easy that visitors to your site barely have to think about it. If they have a positive response they just click. Others who are connected to them will be able to see that post on whatever social media site it appears and if they like it, they can instantly share it with their connections.

You can choose which social media icons you want displayed and in what order you want them to appear. You also have some control over how they appear on your blog site.


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The no signature Email Signature: Step one in creating virtual word-of-mouth 


If you haven’t already done so, I would start by creating a formal and informal email signature. The formal version generally should include your name, business name, web address and phone number along with your street address if you have any kind of office or storefront and perhaps a line or two about what your business has to offer. It’s ok for the formal signature to be reasonably inclusive since it will generally be used only at the beginning of a client relationship. The informal signature might include just your first name, phone, and web address depending on the nature of your business. These are easy to create following instructions in the help section of your email software. You might also type into Google, “How to create signatures in my (name of email software}”.

Once configured, you then have the option to sign your emails with whichever signature makes the most sense. I usually use my formal signature when I first contact a new client and once we get to know each other, switch to a shorter, less formal version. Basically though, once you’ve created these, every email you send out gives your recipient the opportunity to instantly discover more about who you are and allows them to easily pass your information on to a friend. Listed web addresses will automatically be linked to that address when the email is sent. With one click, the recipient is at your website.

I also suggest not trying to get too fancy, displaying logos, photos, animation, etc. Those can distract the recipient from your email message and also limit who can view your email without running into technical problems. Just use your basic email type with perhaps some judicious use of bold and italic.

An email signature then is just typing and not really a signature. It’s simply a short cut so you don’t have to continually retype all your vital information. When you compose an email, there is a signature tab that allows you to choose between several signature options you’ve created including displaying no signature. It’s quick and easy and an invaluable way of making your website one click away and your web address easy to share.



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My approach to web design


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.


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.


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.


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…


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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Book by its cover…


A few years ago a client approached me about designing a cover for her self-published book which is now available as an ebook. The finished design was constructed with a variety of publishing options in mind and last year was adapted for ebook publication. Should the author choose to do a print version the design can easily be adjusted for that purpose.

In our initial meeting the author showed me some images she found on the internet that she thought might be appropriate to purchase for the cover, but I insisted on seeing the manuscript so I could get a real sense of what the book was about.

For a while we toyed around with a number of photographic images available online, but as is often the case, though there were millions of images to choose from, none was quite right on the mark. We discussed illustration, but that idea was nixed due to restrictions in the budget.

In our conversations I discovered that she had a good camera and that photography was an important part of her life, so I suggested that she try to set up her own photo shoot using props that were suggestive of the content of her book. I knew that if the resolution was high enough I might be able to work with the images to come up with something.

To her credit, she jumped at the idea and gave me a disk containing lots of high resolution images. From that I selected a few to work with and after some back and forth we settled on the following image.


I then set to work to adapt that image to fit the atmosphere of her story and writing and what emerged was the image below. It is a good example of the kinds of thing that can happen working with Photoshop.


We then spent a while exploring typographic options and in the end arrived at the cover pictured at the beginning of this post. We were both quite happy about the outcome and I was particularly pleased that we were able to incorporate one of her own photographs.

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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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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, 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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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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Why Design?



Well, for me it all started in a meaningful way in 1967 at Mass College of Art in Boston. I had some notion in high school that I wanted to be in advertising (as it was referred to back then) but I had little idea what that meant. However, my first two years in school in Boston had completely rearranged my grey matter and I was headed for a major in painting. Being an artist, however it would ultimately manifest itself, was all that was on my mind. It was a world that was completely new to me and was a perfect fit.

Right around the time I had to choose my major I met Arthur Hoener. He was then head of the Graphic Design program, but was first a sculptor and painter doing really fine work. He studied in the Yale graduate program with Joseph Albers and later at the Black Mountain school with Hans Hoffman.

At top of page: Hoener, flanked by his twin daughters, is receiving his state lottery winnings of $100,000 after having already won a million dollars in an earlier lottery.
How’d he do that?


Above: One of Arthur’s later works exploring his own theory on color

Hoener’s design department was no ‘advertising’ program, rather, it focused on visual problem solving with words and images in an in depth manner. I figured I would learn some practical skills along the way that couldn’t hurt in terms of earning a living, but more importantly, I decided that my visual education would be more rigorous in this design department than in the painting department and that I would be in capable hands. I never did regret my decision. In hindsight it was a fabulous mentorship and education and Hoener was always accessible. Considering that my first year’s tuition at Mass Art was around $200 as I recall, it was quite a value.

Arthur passed in the early 1990s, but I’m still occasionally in touch with his son, Arthur Jr. who teaches in the design department at SUNY, New Paltz, New York.

As for me, I was conflicted after graduating because even though my degree was in graphic design, my heart was focused more on the visual than on the more practical applications of such a degree. I spent one summer after graduating focused on drawing and painting on my own in which I produced work I still look back on with great fondness. I had no interest in or resources for graduate school and so I began to make my way with a variety of odd jobs including teaching at a private school and through various continuing-ed programs.

Eventually, I moved to Northampton, Mass., when it was still pretty much a sleepy college town. It was there that I first started utilizing my design skills in my own business making signs and design for print. An offer to teach calligraphy, a subject we spent a lot of time on in Hoener’s design program, revived my interest in the subject that I reinforced through further study, practice and teaching. Soon it was a main focus in my design business.

At times I would try to incorporate calligraphy into a sign or print design project. My frustration and disappointment with the results led me to a technical approach that would combine the fluidity and rhythm of calligraphy with the precision of typography. This resulted in an interesting body of work that eventually helped me attain teaching positions in graphic design at the University of Connecticut, University of Missouri, Columbia and William Patterson College in New Jersey, even without the advanced degree.


Above: This calligraphic ClayFibre heading was hand drawn, painted and corrected.

When I began teaching in Missouri in 1987, as part of my contract I was given a Mac SE (hot stuff at the time) which I taught myself to use and gradually to appreciate. I began teaching my students how to use it as well which was a challenge (1 Mac SE for 70 students) but in addition to that I discovered Adobe Illustrator and found that I could use that program to build the kinds of calligraphic headlines and logos that I continued to be commissioned to create. The software didn’t make the construction any easier, but set me lightyears ahead in terms of applying these to design for print, signs, etc.

Above: The fancier Rigoletto heading was drawn, filled and corrected using Adobe Illustrator on a computer.

In New Jersey, I was running an entire Mac lab as part of my teaching. This was both good and bad. I was expanding my own horizons in terms of what I was learning about the potential between the computer and design, but the teaching was becoming tedious for me with too much emphasis on the technology. I found I was more interested in doing it than teaching it. So I went off on my own again.
Eventually I took a position with a sign materials manufacturer where my job was to create samples from the sign materials they manufactured to be displayed at trade shows and used as sales samples. Part of the learning curve on the job was to work on PCs in a Windows environment and to become proficient with computer driven routers, engraving machines and lasers. For about five years this was a dream job for me since it was both lucrative and open ended, allowing me to design with few limitations being imposed.


Above: This entire image was drawn, filled and corrected using CorelDraw on a PC. The files were then sent to an engraving machine and a laser to either cut out shapes from various weights and colors of acrylic material or to engrave through the the top layer of  laminated acrylic. The pieces were then all assembled and mounted for presentation.

However 2002 proved to be a bad year for manufacturing and this position became a casualty of the economy. After another year and a half with a local sign company, I decided to complete the circle and go back to operating my own business. It’s been eight years since I made that decision and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

So, why design? Well, for me design has been a means to earn a modest living, to help others realize their dreams, and to creatively explore visual ideas. The latter is really what sustains me most and reflects back on what I hope are unique solutions that meet and exceed my client’s expectations. My client’s needs provide me with interesting challenges that I try to resolve with fresh and engaging ideas.

The one major difference between being a studio artist and designing for clients is that at the end of the day I have to accommodate the needs of those who hire me. It is not unusual for me to design something that I truly love only to have the client choose another solution that feels better for their purposes. I’ve learned to be neutral when showing my work because even though I make sure the work meets professional standards, the final choices are not always the ones I would have preferred seeing.


Above: This logo is a favorite of mine that was rejected by a committee favoring something far more generic. I call it a win/win situation. The were happy with their results and I with mine.

It is also not unusual for me, on my own time, to follow through on concepts that were turned down by the client, but which I think are excellent ideas. I can at least show them as part of my portfolio. In the end though, as far as the job is concerned, I put my client’s decisions first and work to make the most of the ideas they choose.

In the end, I design for three reasons – the work itself, the client relationships and as a livelihood. The latter is important, but not my first concern. Helping people communicate with the world around them, is very satisfying and a primary motivation for me. My other primary motivation is the visual work itself, especially when the unexpected occurs as in the case of the Cinema logo above. My best work is never clear from the outset, but rather a result of a design process that leads to discovery.

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