You Are Not A Template

Generic products can sometimes do the job — assuming the ingredients are comparable at a lower price point. But is what's true for sunscreen also true for websites?... (read more)

Generic products can sometimes do the job — assuming the ingredients are comparable at a lower price point. But is what's true for sunscreen also true for websites?

In a time where the number of "template" website providers seems endless (Wix, Squarespace,  Moonfruit, Pixpa, Jimdo, Weebly, Shopify, Godaddy, Wordpress, MoPro, etc.), it’s tempting to wade into the world of web design the same way you’d shop at Wal-Mart. After all, these services claim to offer the convenience of creating a website without the need for design or programming knowledge.

Website templates often sound great and can sometimes be a passable solution when starting out. But once your brand has matured, it’s time to invest in your web presence in a way that communicates the same pride you would when speaking about the venture you’ve built. Your website is your brand's public "face." It's often the first interaction people will have with your company and your first shot at making a good impression.

So the question to ask is this: do you want to leave that critical moment to a generic template?

People often ask us why a custom-designed website is more valuable than one created using an off-the-shelf template, and our answer is frequently the house analogy. The difference between a pre-designed home and one designed specifically for you is immense. With the former, you’re trying to fit your needs into someone else’s vision (hoping that maybe, just maybe, the layout will work with your lifestyle and needs), often experiencing all the frustrations that doing it backward entails. But with a custom-designed home, all of your needs and desires are considered first, and the design, layout, structure, and materials are then chosen to fit those needs perfectly (presuming you’re working with a great architect!).

The same can be said of a template website vs. a custom design. With a pre-designed site, you are taking design and functionality that is seemingly generic enough to work for your needs (and everyone else’s), but almost always results in limitations where you aren’t able to create what you need. You also get lost in the sea of other websites on the internet (presently over 1 billion and counting), with no lasting impact or distinguishing factors to separate you from your competition. So while this option is initially "cheaper," costly support and a shorter lifespan regularly result in a limited return on investment.

When it comes to the ever-evolving WWW, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone’s needs are unique, so every website should be too. If you genuinely believe in your brand, then your site and all its details should be just as considered as the products/services you offer. And the people building it should be thoughtful humans, not faceless robots.

While the website builder list will likely continue to grow and may serve a certain purpose, in the end, it is not the answer, because good design never comes from a mold — it must be carefully crafted with the goal of solving specific, real-world problems. Considering every detail and making all decisions based on the needs, desires, personality, and audience at hand. Where the result is a website experience of lasting value.

Amanda Martocchio Architecture – Identity and Website Design

Amanda Martocchio Architecture came to us as a well-established practice looking to reimagine their identity and online experience. We listened and learned as their team unpacked where they'd been in the past, their goals for the future, and the clients they serve. Taking an approach that puts the user first, we sought to create a modern identity system with a nod to the past, while maintaining the focus on their work with limited friction and fewer clicks. Featured on Awwwards and Site Inspire.

View Website

Amanda Martocchio Architecture came to us as a well-established practice looking to reimagine their identity and online experience. We listened and learned as their team unpacked where they'd been in the past, their goals for the future, and the clients they serve. Taking an approach that puts the user first, we sought to create a modern identity system with a nod to the past, while maintaining the focus on their work with limited friction and fewer clicks. 

Featured on Awwwards and Site Inspire.

NYC X DESIGN 2018

NYCxDESIGN kicks off this weekend. If you're in the area, here are a few events that we think are worth checking out:... (read more)

PUSSY RIOT’S NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA & MARINA ABRAMOVIC
5/14 7pm - 9pm
Florence Gould Hall

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear from Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest punk rock group, and performance artist Marina Abramovic. Since 2011, Pussy Riot has been creating agitprop art pieces, resisting censorship, mass surveillance and torture in prisons and police departments. For the last five years Pussy Riot has been working on providing non-fake news and analytics to Russians through the online multimedia platform Mediazona. Over the past five decades, Abramovic has pioneered the use of performance as a visual art form, creating some of the movement’s most important early works. She now supports her legacy through the Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI), a platform for immaterial and long durational work.

 

URBAN LETTERING WALK WITH PAUL SHAW
5/20 11am - 2pm
The Type Directors Club

Type Directors Club and Legacy of Letters are co-sponsoring this typographic and architectural walk through Lower Manhattan with type designer/historian Paul Shaw. This walk will be a chance to see surviving 19th century and early 20th century lettering before condoization scrubs the neighborhood clean — slab serifs, grotesques, and classic Roman capitals in Tribeca East, Chinatown, and City Hall areas. Meeting place and itinerary will be emailed a few days in advance of the tour.

 

INTERMEDDLING: AT THE EDGE OF ART AND DESIGN
5/20 4pm - 9pm
A/D/O

The liminal space between art and design has always been fertile ground for designers unafraid to work at the conceptual limits of craft and artists skirting with function. This space is bold, critical, sometimes strange, and infinitely inspiring for people in all creative fields who are searching for meaning in the objects, spaces, or images they make.

Adapt or Die

11.6 billion. This is the number of mobile devices expected to be on planet earth by the year 2020. Humankind has long been outnumbered by mobile devices and that gap is only going to widen in the future –– an interesting, exciting, moderately terrifying thought in and of itself.... (read more)

11.6 billion.

This is the number of mobile devices expected to be on planet earth by the year 2020. Humankind has long been outnumbered by mobile devices and that gap is only going to widen in the future –– an interesting/exciting/moderately terrifying thought in and of itself.

Life doesn't offer many guarantees, but the continuing exponential growth of portable internet-connected technology is certainly one of them.

When it comes to how mobile devices are impacting websites, ZD Net confirmed that at the end of 2016 mobile and tablet web usage had officially exceeded desktop for the first time in the internet's history. And then there was "Mobilegeddon". Back in 2015 Google announced that any site that was not built in a mobile-friendly manner by employing the approach of "responsive web design" would be penalized in mobile search results (and they've held true to that statement).

This ongoing evolution to how the internet is being experienced continues to confirm that the implications of mobile tech in the world of web design are numerous and at the forefront of the industry. All of this may seem daunting and feel like uncharted territory, but at it's core the challenge is nothing new. Design in all its forms has been - and always will be - centered on the goal of solving problems and making life better (not simply more beautiful).

Web design is no different. While the industry may be ever-changing, the focus remains clear: to create websites with a specific purpose and engaging experience that are easily accessible to all. The presence of thousands of different devices makes this difficult, but the key is found where it's always been: obtain a full and complete understanding of the problems and challenges at hand, and then look to solve them using our research, insights and expertise in user experience and design to guide the process.

In a time when we are presented with numerous complexities and now a rapid advancement in mobile technologies a new certainty arises: a holistic approach to digital design is vital. One that embraces these technological changes and stays on top of trends, while always putting the user first. Never sacrificing form for function (or vice versa), but instead seeing them come together to serve a cohesive purpose and accomplish the goal at hand.

Eyecon Lapel Pins

Fresh batch of pin cards, each are one of a kind. Get 'em while they're hot!!!

BUY BUY BUY

Fresh batch of pin cards, each are one of a kind. 

Get em while they're hot. 

BUY BUY BUY

David Bowie is at Brooklyn Museum

Check out David Bowie’s exhibition “David Bowie is” at Brooklyn Museum — the last stop of its global 5 year run. Dive into Bowie’s personal archive, including instruments, letters, art, and more. Now on view until July 15th.

Check out David Bowie’s exhibition “David Bowie is” at Brooklyn Museum — the last stop of its global 5 year run. Dive into Bowie’s personal archive, including instruments, letters, art, and more. Now on view until July 15th.

More information can be found here.

Beware of Copycat Branding

We've all seen them. They're everywhere. The primary colors, geometric-sans typography, and cutesy character illustrations...... (read more)

We've all seen them. They're everywhere. The primary colors, geometric-sans typography, and cutesy character illustrations.

The goal would seem to be reducing "noise" through a minimal design aesthetic that foregoes gradients, stylized fonts, and drop shadows by way of simple layouts with ample white space. And it's a trend that follows us, seemingly everywhere we go.

Trends are a challenging thing. Everyone wants to start them and no one wants to follow them, yet most of us find ourselves doing the latter. A trend is a general direction in which something is developing or changing. When that new direction materializes, it can be hard to stay away, particularly when it appears to be successful.

Brands are confronted with trends all the time because they are made up of people – people that are faced with the direction their competition takes and what their industry is doing as a whole – and the more we take in, the more it influences us. But should we follow a trend purely because it seems favorable? Is this the road to "success"?

It seems we all know, deep down, the answer is no. And yet we seem to follow trends anyway, as it's the path of least resistance.

But the reality is, nothing of lasting value ever came from taking the easy road.

We see this imitation all the time in the world of advertising. It's tough to say who started it (was it Casper? was it Oscar? was it...?) and it may have been the right direction for the trend-setter at that moment. But now it seems that everywhere you turn, everyone is doing the same damn thing. A deluge of colorful, adolescent, hand-drawn brand identities with no unique personality.

No soul.

Rather than merely adding to this noise, we strive to bring our clients through a thoughtful process to help them find their true identity. Why? Because a brand should – at its very core – be true to what it is. The tone of voice, visual identity, messaging, website... all the core components of the brand should not be taken from another brand or even heavily influenced by another brand. They should be genuine to the actual personality of the organization itself and the people within it.

But this takes work. And time. And process. An approach where we listen first, strategize second, and design third, in order to uncover a brand's genuine personality.

And perhaps, therein lies the answer to the challenge of trends. If we can prioritize listening over speaking, learning over assuming, and process over pace, then maybe – just maybe – we can start a trend instead of following one.

Los Logos 8

The Los Logos book series is Gestalten's authoritative reference on contemporary logo design. The eighth edition looks further into the ever-changing world of this vital element of branding: the logo. We're honored to have multiple logomarks featured in this collection.... (read more)

The Los Logos book series is Gestalten's authoritative reference on contemporary logo design. The eighth edition looks further into the ever-changing world of this vital element of branding: the logo. We're honored to have multiple logomarks featured in this collection.

Los Logos 8 - The Future Forward Logo Design

Los Logos 8 - Dillon Kyle Architects Logo Design

Los Logos 8 - VMDO Architects Logo Design

Los Logos 8 - Voorhees Collection Logo Design

Los Logos 8 - Field Aesthetic Logo Design

Get the book here.

The Balance of (re)Building a Brand

Over the course of the last 7 years we have had the privilege of collaborating with a number of individuals, businesses, and organizations. With each, we've learned that in order to do anything of merit, it can't be done alone. Nor can it be done in a one-sided manner. There must be true collaboration to achieve something genuine. Something truly impactful. Something "timeless".... (read more)

Over the course of the last 7 years we've had the privilege of collaborating with a number of individuals, businesses, and organizations. With each, we've learned that in order to do anything of merit, it can't be done alone. Nor can it be done in a one-sided manner. There must be true collaboration to achieve something genuine. Something truly impactful. Something "timeless".

It all comes from balance.

In the context of building (or rebuilding) a brand, a good design team will of course bring their expertise, hard work, problem-solving skills, and keen insights to the projects they approach, but they must always balance that with the understanding that their client - the humans on the other side of the table - also have something to bring to the process. No one knows the identity of an organism better than the people that are in it, so their opinions and insights are invaluable, especially when defining overall brand strategy, ideal audience, and general approach.

On the flip side, a good design client will of course bring their familiarity with their brand, insight into their audience, understanding of their goals, and a strong desire for it to be successful, but they must then let the designer do what he/she/they are hired to do - design.

One of the many privileges we've had was getting to partner with the incredible team at VMDO Architects. They are an architecture and design firm with an unwavering commitment to creating environments that shape the way people live, work, and play. For the last 40 years they've been dedicated to helping institutions and communities envision pivotal projects, specifically within the world of education. Their heart for the work they get to do is extremely sincere, and that is felt in the spaces they design.

As they embarked on a new decade of practice, the VMDO team approached us to help them evolve their brand by way of a new visual identity and website experience. As a long-standing firm with much history, they easily could have been tight-fisted about things - micro-managing the process and output - but instead they understood their role as well as ours. They gave us the information we needed to do what we do, built a true relationship with our team in the process, and then trusted us to do what we do best: create.

The result was a new visual identity and online experience that not only showcased their work but also communicated the values within the work. And because a truly collaborative balance was struck, the work culminated in an identity with lasting value.

Before:
VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - Before

After:
VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - After

VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - After

VMDO Architecture Firm Rebrand - After

View Project

 

8 Features to Consider in a CMS

What does a Content Management System (CMS) have in common with toothpaste? If you've ever bought a tube then you know that there are approximately 8 million options, all with different benefits, gimmicks, and promises. Selecting a CMS can feel quite similar.... (read more)

What does a Content Management System (CMS) have in common with toothpaste? If you've ever bought a tube then you know that there are approximately 8 million options, all with different benefits, gimmicks, and promises. Selecting a CMS can feel quite similar.

So how do you choose a platform that can do everything that's needed, but doesn't get in the way with unnecessary features? That isn't bloated with excess garbage, but is capable of delivering an intuitive experience? That is extremely secure, without the need for an in-house Nick Burns? That's easy to use, and even *gasp* fun?

To ensure our clients have full control over their sites, every website that we design and develop is powered by a CMS. Over the years we've used a wide variety of options and have learned many lessons along the way. Through that experience, we wanted to offer 8 key features to consider when choosing a platform for your next project.

1. Design Freedom
As we've written about before, 'You Are Not a Template,' so your website shouldn't be either. While the hordes of CMS solutions out there often try to entice with pre-designed templates and themes, a web platform should allow designers and developers to do what they do best: create.

If a browser can do it, a CMS should be able to deliver it. So rather than hearing continual "no's" when asking for new functionality or a custom user experience, there's just a whole lot of "yes."

2. User Interface
We've trained people ranging from millennial nerds to great-grandmas, and in the process have found that an excellent user interface is beneficial for all. In the case of a CMS, the UI should be fully customizable, enabling the developer to create the best possible experience for the content being managed on a particular website. Just as design freedom is vital for the front-end, versatility is a must for the back-end. When a platform is set up to manage your specific content, it makes managing content as easy as filling out a clear and straightforward form, with no coding knowledge required.

3. Flexibility
It shouldn't matter what the end-goal of your website or web app might be – informational, interactive, publication, e-commerce, social, or any combination thereof – a great CMS should be ready for any task. This means the platform should have a robust API and object-oriented core, for total flexibility. Also, bonus points for "open source" platforms that allow access to every line of code, for complete control of your site.

4. Security
With the prolific usage of many of the platforms available today, nefarious attempts to hack these platforms have also risen. For instance, WordPress had 1,217 vulnerabilities logged in March 2017. Yes...one thousand two hundred and seventeen (source: makeuseof.com). Does this mean you should avoid Wordpress and opt instead for a more "niche" platform that doesn't have such a large target on its back? Maybe. But no matter what, security must be a high priority in the selection process.

5. No Bloat
As a developer, there's nothing more frustrating than using a CMS that attempts to provide design or functionality "out of the box" that is not needed. This often results in having to hack through bloated code just to get the desired layout in place.

A "content manager" should do just that - provide a platform for managing content efficiently. Engineering a design should not be painful, and managing content should not be a confusing and laborious task.

6. Community / Support
One of the first things we look into with a given platform is the community forums and support areas. Often this comes down to the type of platform you are choosing, be it a "proprietary" platform that offers paid support, or an "open source" platform with a community of contributors and helpful supporters (our preference). But either way, any quality platform will have an active support system for you to lean on throughout the build of your website and beyond.

7. Documentation
Similar to having an active community or support system, it's important that a platform has coherent and well-organized documentation on its usage. There's nothing worse than trying to use a system that has been well designed but provides little to no instruction on its use. So look for documentation first, rather than waiting until the development phase. If the creators have taken the time to develop excellent documentation, chances are they've taken that much more time to develop a great platform.

8. Integrations
A CMS should do what it does best (content management), and then easily integrate with other systems that do what they do best (customer relationship management, order fulfillment, book-keeping, email newsletters, etc.) Too often platforms try to be everything to everyone and then fail to do much of anything well.

A good example of this would be an e-commerce platform that also attempts to be a content management system. This often results in insufficient control of the content on pages outside of the web store itself, leading to the need to learn code just to get things to look right on your About page, blog posts, etc. Avoid these scenarios like the plague.

––

The list could go on, but I'll end with this:

If you find yourself delaying any and all website updates due to fear of that insane-back-end-admin-thing that is supposed to help you update your website but instead haunts your dreams, feel free to say hello. Perhaps we can help you solve the problems you're having...and offer a suggestion or two on your next tube of toothpaste while we're at it.