What Cooking Shows Teach us about Good Web Design

As a graphic and web designer at ArtistUpgrade,  my favorite TV shows are actually… all food related (to name a few : Bravo’s Top Chef, Fox’s Master Chef, Food Network’s Chopped, etc.)  Do I cook? Nope, not really.  Nevertheless, in an effort to justify my expensive cable subscription, I have compiled a list of lessons from cooking shows that I apply daily as a graphic and web designer :

Always start with good ingredients.

Hello! How many times have chefs been eliminated because they used frozen scallops instead of fresh ones? Canned corn instead of off the cob? SO many times. The most successful dishes are those that allow the highest-quality ingredients to shine.

The same goes for web design! There’s only so much “photoshopping” that can be done to a poor-quality actor headshot.  Even the slickest of HTML5 demo players can’t disguise a junky demo. We highly recommend that artists use a professional for their “ingredients” (headshots, voice demos, video reels) before investing in a professional website.

Less is more.

Oh, goodness. This lesson can be applied to both the dish “concept” and the dish “execution.” Remember Marcel Vigneron’s Cherry Tart with Cherry Gelee and Cherry Foam dish that almost got him eliminated from Top Chef Season 2? From start to finish, there was TOO MUCH going on with that dish.

As a designer, sure, I could “bevel and emboss” and “drop shadow” that text til the cows come home. We could also add every photograph taken of you ever to your actor website. But just because we can does not mean we should. The best designs (in my opinion) exercise focus, clarity, and restraint.

Presentation is key.

The judges always say “You eat with your eyes first.” The plating of a dish makes the first impression and can often make or break the dining experience.  It may be the tastiest filet mignon ever imagined… but if it looks more like Puppy Chow, the diner may think otherwise.

This is a no-brainer for web design. You may have the greatest content in the world, but if the web layout is sloppy and convoluted, the visitor will probably get frustrated and leave immediately…then write terrible Yelp reviews about your website.  The best websites have intuitive layout and navigation.  🙂

When in doubt, add bacon.

Okay, not really. But bacon does make everything taste better, right?

And that, my friends, is my analogy between cooking shows and good web design.  If you can think of any parallels, please add them in the comment section below!

— Katie

Voiceover. Voice over. Voice-over.

Let’s put this relentless spelling debate to bed once and for all!

According to the Official Voices.com Blog (and the “Heavyweight Merriam-Webster” Dictionary),  the official spelling of our “beloved noun” is… (drum roll please) …

Voice-over.  

Did that just blow your mind?!

From a graphic design point of view, I personally dislike the look of the hyphen.  To me, it’s a bit clunky and scientific.  As much as I’m a stickler for these types of things, “voiceover” is a lovely and unified word.  At ArtistUpgrade, we’ve done a lot of neat things (graphically) with the hyphen-less arrangement.  So, I may just rise up against “the Man” (in this case, the dictionary) and spell it in the aesthetically pleasing way…

That is…until I have a client that wants the official spelling… in which case, I will gladly oblige. 😀

-Katie (Associate Graphic & Web Designer)

Who is a Professional?

Professional actors, professional artists, professional voice talent, professional coaches, professional photographers … what distinguishes between an amateur and a professional?

I won’t pretend that this post is going to cover the entire spectrum of the debate, but there are a few points that I believe are important to mention, and keep in mind.

Anyone can call themselves a professional, but what does that really mean:  That their sole source of income is brought in by this profession? That they have years of experience?  That they’ve been “professionally trained”? The line is blurry and subjective, and does not even touch upon the issue of the quality of the work.

In my opinion, no matter the criteria any individual holds, there are a few traits a person must have in order to call themselves a “professional”:

An understanding of the industry, more so than the average Jane or Joe.  This covers knowledge about standard industry rates to charge clients, definitions of terms and phrases used in the industry, competitors in the market, best standard practices, available resources, and more.

The ability to deliver competitive results.  This requires an understanding of the appropriate specifications your work must follow, as well as ensuring that the quality of the work meets industry standards.  Examples would be: A photographer and photo dimensions, a voice actor and sound quality, or a writer and formatting standards.

A confident grasp of what your clients need.  You go to a professional because you trust they know more about the service than you do, that or because they have the means to execute the service better than you.  That’s what you pay for: their expertise in the service. This expertise comes from understanding what the client requires, and in some cases having to educate the client when the client makes requests counter to their goals.  Only a well-versed “professional” can make that call with confidence.

Acting like a business.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you keep business hours, but you might.  Invoicing clients properly is important, treating clients with the respect a business owner treats a customer, and being reliable, punctual, and attentive.

Again, there’s plenty of ground I’m not covering, but these are a few basic points that must be considered (in my opinion), if you truly wish to call yourself a “professional”.

 

Design is not clicking a mouse

Artists are a creative lot. Often times, creativity calls for resourcefulness. This figure-it-out attitude is what allows us to grow as artists, to learn beyond the classroom, build upon our craft, and pick up any number of talents along the way.

Resourcefulness also comes from necessity. The vast majority of artists aren’t sleeping on piles of money, and so resourcefulness inspires thrift, getting the best deal, or doing things you’d normally pay others to do … yourself.

The danger lies in perception. What sounds wonderful to one, what looks great to another, varies from person to person. Art is subjective. And so, with art, you’ll never please all of the people all of the time.

That said … there are definite ways to showcase your talent in the best light. Namely, going to a professional.

Any voice over professional will tell a beginner, “Don’t just buy a microphone and try to record a demo on your own. You need a professionally recorded demo (and likely some professional training).” Obviously, “professional” is a fairly loose term, and is a point of discussion in of itself (But I’ll save that topic for a future post). Similarly, actors are advised not take their own headshots and to get their photos taken by a professional photographer. And so on.

Design is also an art. But the art of design is not necessarily valued at its surface. Instead, design serves a functional communicative purpose. In other words, it’s not just about looking pretty, it’s about effectively communicating a message.

Sure, you could design your business card or website yourself. Just like you could record your own demo, or take your own headshots, or build your own house. There’s plenty of tools and services out there that make designing materials fast, easy, and free! Just pray you’re not designing for a competitive market. Because what a novice designer is lacking is the experience of knowing how to pack the biggest punch to the right people.

Who would you hire and trust? A successful working professional voice talent with 10 years of experience under their belt, or a some one who’s dinked around with a microphone a couple of times? The same goes for design.

Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you offer professional grade voice overs. Just because you can memorize lines doesn’t mean you could out-act Alec Baldwin. And just because you’ve seen a hundred websites, and know the names of some fonts, doesn’t mean you’re ready to design materials that will go up against the best.

Of course, if you’re just looking for something to tie you over, or you’re not really concerned about presenting yourself in a professional light (say, it’s a personal site, or you’re simply a hobbyist, or just testing the waters), then I’d actually advise you NOT to pay for design services. Because at the infancy of any endeavour, your goals (and thus, your professional image) will naturally change.

Use the free design resources to get a taste of what elements best represent you (or, in some cases, what does NOT represent you). And once you’re ready to dive into a competitive market … you’ll be all the better prepared for a professional to step in, and take it to the next level. A professional level.

Why do you need to refresh your browser and clear your cache?

We get this question A LOT when developing websites for our clients. Especially when there are lots of revisions throughout the process. The reason you need to refresh your browser and/or clear your browser’s cache is because every time you visit a website, the content is being stored on your computer. If you’re not seeing changes that have been made to your site, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re viewing the older stored version of the site – not the site as it actually exists online. When in doubt, if you’re not seeing changes that have been made, the first troubleshoot you should try is to refresh your browser and clear your cache.

For more info on how to clear your cache, check out this easy to understand article by Leo Noteboom: “What’s a browser cache, how do I “clear” it, and why would I want to?

Who Wants to Be a Voice Talent? > By J. Christopher Dunn

A fabulous article by one of our fabulous clients, J. Christopher Dunn:

Recently, I’ve received e-mail from a number of folks who are checking out the prospect of becoming a voice-over talent. They ask me questions about how I got started; what I did to become successful; and what a typical day looks like for me. I openly let them know that it’s hard work and encourage them to give the idea some careful consideration before taking the plunge. My 1000-foot level response looks something like this:

Self Examination

There are a number of “things” to consider before diving into a voice-over business and it will be important for you to think about each one.

  • Are you willing to make very little money the first two or three years in the business?
  • Are you open to working a “day job” while you’re developing your ability and establishing your client list?
  • Do you have the skills to set up and maintain accounting, taxes, insurance and marketing that a small business requires?
  • Do you like your voice and all the uniqueness it possess?
  • Can you read clearly and are you willing to take direction?
  • Do you have a thick skin and can you keep from obsessing about every audition you send out?

What’s Next?

After doing some honest reflection and answering the above questions truthfully, you may still be interested in the business of voice-over. The next step it to get started with training from a reputable coach. A good coach will tell you during your first session whether you’ve got the chops for VO or not. Next they’ll help you identify your signature voice and find genres that fit your voice and delivery. When you’re ready, many will also direct and produce your demo….

Read the full article here!

Never Hire a “Social Media Expert” > Article by Peter Shankman

It’s the buzz around town – Facebook, Twitter, Blog, LinkedIn – all social media platforms blanketing the web through a cyberspace spiderweb of connections. Social media can provide important channels for advertising, branding, and expanding your target markets, but when you’re approached by a self-proclaiming “social media expert”, take heed! In his Article Why I Will Never Ever Hire a ‘Social Media Expert’, Peter Shankman warns against such folk. In fact, he believes that if you own a business and have a so-called “social media expert” on your team, you’re simply “wasting your money.” With an analogy that compares an expert in social media to an expert who can take bread out of a fridge, Peter explains that if the goal is to “make an awesome sandwich”, you need to know more than just how to take bread out of the fridge. A social media expert may know how to create online profiles for Facebook and LinkedIn, but without strong marketing goals and superior customer service as the backbone of your marketing strategy, those social media platforms will do nothing for your business. Peter Shankman sheds some light on what effective marketing is all about. Below is a summary of some key points he shares in his article:

  • It’s about transparency. In a nutshell, don’t lie to your customers; you’ll only get caught and dig yourself in a hole.
  • It’s about using the tools you know that work to market to an audience by providing exemplar customer service.
  • It’s about relevance. If you are tweeting about a cool new discount your company is offering for a limited time, and none of your customers use Twitter, well, you’ve accomplished nothing.
  • It’s about brevity. Peter Shankman claims that these “social media experts” out there can’t write. Good writing is essential to good marketing. You have three seconds to capture the attention of a customer. Go.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it’s about knowing your customer and making sure the customer thinks of you first.

Read the Article to learn more.

What are your thoughts on social media? How has social media helped your company? Do you disagree with Peter Shankman when he says that social media experts are, essentially, a waste of investment? Share your comments here!

Favicons > What are They?

What’s the deal with Favicons? Favicons, also known as shortcut icons or URL icons, are associated with a specific website. They are mini icons (typically 16X16 pixels) that appear next to the name of the website in the web address bar, in the tabs of your internet browser, as well as in your bookmarks and favorites. They help to easily identify a specific website. To be effective, favicons should reflect the design and content of the associated site. If you’re interested in getting a favicon for your website, ArtistUpgrade would be happy to design one for you! Give us a call at 646-770-0110 or shoot us an email at info@artistupgrade.com.

Beware of Fake Domain Renewal Notices!

In an internet age where viruses, scams, hackers and the like roam the web, it is important to recognize a scam when you see one. If you manage the domain registration of your website, be wary of fake domain renewal notices, claiming that you owe money to renew your domain name. If you receive a domain renewal notice from an unknown source, first check with your domain registrar. If you forget where the domain is registered, you can easily look it up by doing a Whois search online.

If you have a website with ArtistUpgrade, and if we have registered your domain name for you, we will always notify you one month prior to the domain name expiration date.

Learn more about an example of a fake domain renewal notice by reading this article online.

5 Tips for Effective Newsletters > by Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft, an email marketing company, provides helpful tips for creating an effective newsletter when sending out to prospects and clients. Below are the “5 Tips for Effective Newsletters”, as shared by Infusionsoft’s newsletter Infusion Insight.

  • Know Your Readers
  • Make It Unique
  • Take Time for Design
  • Solicit Feedback
  • Include Contact Information

Be sure to check out the full article for more information.

Be sure to check out other marketing tips on Infusionsoft’s blog, “like” them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.