Going Through the Paces at Design Camp

January 31 2010

Chateau de Cheese Home Page - A 1.5 hour design exercise for Design Boot Camp

Chateau de Cheese Home Page - A 1.5 hour design exercise for Design Boot Camp

I was fortunate enough to participate in a full day Design Boot Camp class given by Portland State University’s Multimedia Program. The class, consisting of about 20 students, was led by portfolio class instructors, Todd Greco and Tian Mulholland, who led us through two timed exercises to force us to think creatively and work efficiently under constraints mimicking the extreme context a web designer might experience. In the morning’s exercise, each student had their choice of six projects to work on. The project was to design a logo and a home page for a fictional client within 90 minutes. Students were given a design brief for their client as well as some photos and images to integrate into the design. At the end of the hour and a half, we turned in our creations and were critiqued before the class.

Gocycle Product Page - A 1 hour exercise for Design Boot Camp

Gocycle Product Page - A 1 hour exercise for Design Boot Camp

After a lunch break, we returned for round two which was a one-hour exercise to design a product page for our choice of one of six clients. We were given minimal direction beyond some marketing materials (product copy and images). From these we needed to design a product page that not only presented the product, but considered the navigational and functional needs of a product page. During this round, the process incorporated some distractions – loud background music playing (to simulate a shared workspace) and a camera crew interviewing each of us about the class (to represent the multi-taking distractions of an office). Once the hour was up, we turned in our work and were again critiqued.

I did most of my mockups using Adobe Illustrator, since that was the tool that I felt most comfortable and confident with.

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Online Local Business Listings in the Search Spotlight

December 19 2009

Businesses have another reason to establish and maintain their presence online. A while back I touched on how online local business listings help bubble a business’s presence in search engine listings and results. That integration might become tighter now that Google is looking to acquire local business directory Yelp (NY Times link).

As the NY Times reports, the move is motivated by the fact that many users are turning online for local business information as well as looking up local business information via their smartphones.

Web companies big and small are trying to give people information about restaurants, news and events within a few blocks or miles of where they are. Yelp dominates the market for local business listings and reviews in big cities.

Those services are becoming more important as the popularity of smartphones grows. The cellphones are connected to the Web and equipped with GPS so advertisers can know where a person is standing.

It’s a nascent technology so far, but GPS enabled smart phones are out there and as our technology becomes more location aware, more opportunities exist to use that information to help customers and advertisers. As BusinessWeek reports:

[Yelp’s business directory] data would likely prove valuable to Google’s mobile efforts, too. This year, a free app preinstalled in the Motorola (MOT) Droid and other phones using Google’s Android software let users receive turn-by-turn navigation to their destination. With Yelp’s data, the app could suggest restaurants and other services along the way.

Having Google integrated would make access to this data easier for many users. The benefit for Google is in easier access to small business owners:

[Greg] Sterling [principle of Sterling Market Intelligence] says a Yelp deal might be about more than just ads. “[Google] has ambitions that are broader than simply selling advertising. There’s a whole range of stuff they can offer” small businesses, he says. By cozying up to more mom and pops, the company may hope to get the word out about its Google Docs and other online apps. The vast majority of small businesses buy competing software from Microsoft.

Which simply means that if you don’t want to get overlooked by users taking advantage of this growing convergence of internet search and mobile device internet access, businesses need to fortify their online presences to take advantage of how users are looking for them.

Update

As of December 21, 2009 it appears the potential Google/Yelp merger is off. This doesn’t detract from my point that businesses need to plan for visitors from local search and mobile devices.

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SEO Primer – Easy Improvements for Businesses

July 20 2009

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of methodologies for making web page content easily accessible to search engines and, by extension, people looking for information via search engines. Search engines like Google.com or Bing.com index information on web pages by sending out web crawlers, spiders, or bots (all automated tools to read web pages) to parse the information contained in the pages’ HTML (HyperText Markup Language – the main language constructing web pages). This information is then indexed in the search engine databases for easy access in response to web searches. When someone types in a search term like “physical therapy” the engines deliver results based on proprietary algorithms which parse keywords in the text of the pages, as well as some meta-information (information that describes the content) written into the HTML code, and other external factors (such as pages linking to that page) to determine a page relevancy (page rank) value for any given search. All SEO comes down to improving these factors so that a given web page appears at the top of related keyword searches.

Start With Good Content

At the base of successful SEO is having quality content that people will want to access. The content should be clear, rich with terms that a reader is seeking, and structured such that they can easily find the specific information they’re looking for. It is very important that content should be written for the reader, in language they can relate with, and not in jargony, industry-specific vocabulary that may not align with the terms the reader is using in their search. Someone seeking relief from back pain, for instance, may type “relief from back pain” into a search engine unless they’re specifically inclined to find relief by looking for “physical therapy.” A well optimized page will contain the terms a web visitor is searching for.

Writing for the web can be as involved as any other formal writing. Suffice it to say, once we have rich content, it can be formatted in its web page HTML to add further meta-information for use by the search engines. See “Writing for the Web” Resources listed below for more detailed information.

Getting Good Referrals

One other vital element to SEO is the quality of links which direct traffic to one’s site. Search engine algorithms give additional weight to the contents of a page based on the authority of referring pages. If a recognized sports medicine site links to a page with sports medicine content, that linked page benefits from the search-engine-vested authority of the referrer. So it’s beneficial to have quality links from recognized authorities. It’s also important to remember that authorities can include heavily trafficked blogs and other social media sites. The consensus of opinion at the conferences I’ve attended points towards the increasing influence of social media on SEO. Therefore, we should nurture any referrer links from outside our site and make sure that they point to relevant pages within our site (not necessarily our home page).

Get Known Locally

One additional factor that will help our clinic traffic is inclusion in local business directories. Search engines utilize these directories as information stores for localized business information. Many of these directories offer free listings along with the ability to include an email address, web site link, and business type categorization. All of this information, if listed, helps promote that business in search engine results related to localities. If someone searches for “Seattle physical therapy” on Google, one will often see results from Yahoo! or Yelp in the top 10 results. These type of results add referrer value to a page. It is in each clinic’s best interest to make sure they’re listed in local business directories online and that their information is up to date and categorized properly. Some no-cost, high benefit places to start:

Web Development Beyond The Fundamentals of SEO

The above elements; content, referrals, and directory listings, are the most powerful accessible factors that company employees can affect that will influence how internet users find the content they’re searching for through search engines. This is what SEO is all about. There are other, more technical factors that I haven’t covered that go on behind the scenes in how we design and maintain our web sites and the structure and meta information encoded in those pages. Ultimately, the web is a tool for communication between people and entities. Web sites and pages are the medium. Good SEO is analogous to the conversation you are able to start with clients.

Resources

Writing for the Web

More SEO Info

Google has some very good resources for helping webmasters optimize for search. For more detailed information about topics I address above you can refer to:

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Product Catalog – TFF

June 26 2009

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Outside of TFF Product Catalog


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Inside of the TFF Product Catalog

In 2002, I was given the project of creating a catalog for the Foundation’s entire line of educational products. The catalog was to be a promotional and marketing piece for distribution to sponsors and teachers to make them aware of the offerings of the foundation.

The catalog incorporated product photography and images taken during the Foundations’s Teachers’ Tours in a 4-color, 4-page saddle stitched piece that was to be collated with a separate order form. The piece was laid out in Adobe InDesign with photo manipulations done in Photoshop and supplementary graphics assembled in Illustrator.

The catalog was revised annually to reflect updated product details.

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Magazine Ads – TFF

June 26 2009

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The 2004 TFF Magazine ad, promoting the foundation's educational products.


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In 2003, the focus of the TFF magazine ad was to promote the upcoming summer's Teachers' Tours.

These ads were produced using photography taken by myself for the Foundation to promote the Foundation and its products in industry publications. They were laid out in Adobe Indesign incorporating photos modified in Photoshop, the ads were executed in both 4-color process and black and white.

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Education Kit Contents / Instructions – TFF

June 26 2009

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Outside of the content list


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Inside of the content list

This piece functions as a contents list and instructional guide for the foundation’s forest education kit, which provides tools to assist teachers in teaching sustainable forestry in the classroom. A copy of the content list was included with each education kit and described each item within the kit while also offering ideas of how to integrate it into curriculum.

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Therapeutic Associates (TAI) Web Site

March 17 2009

I was the designer and lead developer for the TAI site for over five years and shepherded it from being a static site to a dynamic one with custom content management functionality. Along the way, I was responsible for two redesigns and ongoing optimization of the user interface and the search engine optimization (SEO). The site is built using standards-compliant HTML and CSS integrated into ASP.net masterpage templates underlying the entire site.

Therapeutic Associates Home Page

TAI home page

Region-specific page template

Oregon Regional page - example of region-specific page layout

Template for clinic home pages

Template for clinic home pages

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CareConnections Product Catalog/Application Site

March 17 2009

CareConnections is a data collections and reporting product suite for capturing therapeutic outcome data points for physical therapy treatments. I was the designer for two iterations of the overall site design and was part of team developing the user interface for online application portion of the product that allowed physical therapy customers to log their patient outcome information and retrieve generated reports.

CareConnections Home Page and Login Portal

CareConnections Home Page and Login Portal

The site was built on the ASP.net framework incorporating Visual Basic, MasterPages, and jQuery. The site design reflected product branding and the layout was coded into the MasterPage templates.

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Configurable National Map Widget

January 20 2009

National Location Finder Widget

National Location Finder Widget - Click to try it

This is a widget that I created for a web site using Adobe Flash. The widget reads an XML list of (in this case) rehabilitation networks by state and activates states containing active networks on the map. Each active state can be rolled over with the mouse to see the active network in that state and the user could click on the state to navigate to a separate page.

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Typography Exercise – Meet Me Halfway

December 21 2008

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Meet You Halfway Typography Exercise

Letterpress is influencing my choice of font and layout sensibilities.

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