This year marks the 25th anniversary of an arts organization that’s near to my heart, AXIS Dance Company.
For a quarter century, AXIS has been an incredible asset to the local community — and far beyond. They provide engaging, inspirational educational programs on dance and collaboration and disability to local schools, outreach programs to community centers, independent living centers and other organizations, and in-house workshops to students of all ages and abilities. Whether on tour or right here at home at Oakland’s Malonga Casquelourd Theater, they move audiences with their powerful performances featuring both able-bodied and disabled dancers, and their repertoire of dazzling contemporary choreography.
Here’s what some critics have had to say about AXIS:
“…magnificently powerful and unlike what you’ll see elsewhere.” - Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune
“AXIS’ work instructs the viewer in how to appreciate it and the lesson is delivered with cogent force: sympathy is irrelevant. Forget what isn’t there and focus on what is.” - Bruce Weber, New York Times
“…the quality of the dancing takes your breath away.” - Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Chronicle
Dancers Sonsherée Giles and Joel Brown.
Last week, after over two and a half years serving on their board of directors (and a few more as a volunteer), I was delighted to be elected to serve as President for the Board of AXIS Dance Company. It’s truly an exciting time to be stepping into the role, with AXIS’ Home Season 25th Anniversary performances approaching this April, a couple terrific new dancers on board, and incredible choreographers working with the company to revitalize older pieces (Marc Brew) and to create new ones (Victoria Marks, Amy Seiwert and Sonya Delwaide).
Your contribution will allow AXIS to continue creating and delivering mind-blowing performances and touching the lives of kids and adults alike in the Bay Area and beyond. I hope to see you at the Home Season 25th Anniversary shows in Oakland this April—prepare for an incredible evening!
Here’s a round-up of the ten most popular Tweets of the month. January’s favorites include Steven Heller on Marcel Duchamp and View Magazine, Wordmark.it — an app for choosing fonts, and public speaking.
Kristin Thompson, a professional speaker and coach based in Portland, Oregon, has seen her popularity skyrocket in recent years as she’s gained recognition helping entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants use public speaking opportunities to market their businesses. It was time to take her website’s look to the next level to match the growth of her business and its clientele.
Her site, “Speak. Serve. Grow.,” was already using WordPress as a content management system, allowing for the redesign to be applied by customizing a theme (GreenEarth, by GoodLayers) to support an updated, warmer color palette and new promotional materials.
Improvements included a more sophisticated, pretty design, with a bit of a rock-themed edge and cleaner typography; more emphasis on signing up for the Speak. Serve. Grow. newsletter using a freebie worksheet as a gift; key programs highlighted on the home page; and the ability to customize landing pages for bigger impact. The impact was seen within days:
“Thanks to my newly designed website… my home page opt in’s are going thru the roof! WOOT WOOT! The NEW speakSERVEgrow site is ROCKIN already and we haven’t even started telling anyone about it!” — Kristin Thompson
Visit Kristin’s website to learn more about how she can help you hone your public speaking plan to market your business and land more clients.
Joaquin Miller’s website had outgrown its structure over the years, making its wealth of content difficult to navigate and find. I completely reorganized and redesigned the site to meet modern standards and reflect the school’s vibrant community.
Features of this 2010 Bronze Horizon Interactive Award winner include a Google Calendar, allowing the parent community to subscribe to events via mobile device, and a WordPress powered School News blog.
Last week I collaborated on a post for Placemaking Group’s Get Famous blog with their president and all-around P.R. and marketing smart-guy, Dennis Erokan, in which he gives some great pointers for increasing your business’s visibility. This is the first (of many, I hope) video blog I’ve edited for Placemaking Group, using iMovie, which, at about $15, is a great little app and is all you really need to get going to edit your own video blogs.
The full post continues to go into more depth on Dennis’ three points:
In July of 2010 I was hired to be the first Web Manager for Holy Names University’s small marketing department, where my role would complete a trio alongside a Graphic Designer (mainly print) and reporting to the Director of Marketing and PR. While I’ve primarily worked for small agencies (as well as on a freelance basis) designing for a wide range of clients, I do have some experience working as an in-house graphic designer. In fact, it was how I started my career.
HNU is an Oakland institution, originally founded in 1868 on the shores of Lake Merritt, where the Kaiser building now stands, by six young and determined Canadian nuns. Their mission focuses on issues we all can embrace: educating women (and men since the 1970s), embracing diversity, and striving for social justice.
I was very excited to bring my skills and design sense to take the University’s web marketing to the next level, to better reflect the energy and passion of its students. Their site was a few years old and built using tables and bloated, deprecated code, and there was much to be done. While time and resources didn’t permit a complete from-the-ground-up rebuild of the site, I was able to accomplish quite a lot to improve the site’s look and performance over the course of two years.
The site I inherited struck me as busy, and rather dated and corporate feeling; it lacked the compelling emotional draw of a thriving university with its commitment to diversity and social responsibility. I was faced with certain limitations: the table structure meant I was stuck with an 850 pixel wide site, so I worked around that, incorporating a turning page graphic from the logo into the background as a decorative element.
The website’s color palette was updated to reinforce the school’s brand, giving it a brighter, cleaner modern look, and a wider slideshow was created using photos of the campus and its students to add human warmth and to communicate the strengths of the school that differentiate it from its competition. Navigation was simplified to provide users with a less confusing experience.
Styles for the design of sidebar banners were created to help catch the eye and drive traffic into the site coordinated with efforts by the print designer to unify the brand. More screenshots can be seen on my portfolio page for my HNU work.
The University’s news blog was hosted by Google at Blogger, and had a dated look that used the same background and color palette as the old website. By moving it to from its blogspot.com address to be hosted at hnu.edu/news using WordPress, I relocated valuable content to the HNU domain, insuring that current news would be added to the website frequently, where visitors expect to find it. This move had the added benefit of boosting SEO, and providing more control over the look of the blog’s theme.
WordPress blogs were also added so that key departments could manage their own online news and information, such as the Library’s Hawk Squawk newsletter, and in addition, I created the award-winning Preserving Historical HNU blog at the request of the school’s President, where I wrote about my discoveries about the history of HNU as I delved into the photo archives of the school dating back to the 1860s.
The university partnered with MoGo Marketing to start a new digital ad campaign using retargeting to increase traffic to the site and awareness about the school’s monthly info nights. HNU’s graphic designer and I collaborated to create several ads targeting different majors, and I placed tracking pixels on the site and prepared R.S.V.P. landing pages in the Admissions Department’s Blackbaud site for each separate campaign.
Under the hood
These Library items were used for repeated sidebar menus and for the main header and navigation bar, so each time a small edit was needed in one of the menus, the entire site would need to be checked out to make the modification before uploading the entire site once again. It was extremely tedious and time-consuming. Switching to use include files meant that an update to the menu was a simple update of a single HTML file, that would be pulled for use on each page.
News feeds were used to keep the home page fresh, saving time previously spent hand-coding updates. Page titles and meta data were updated for consistency and accuracy, and to improve organic search results. A footer reiterating main navigation was added to make it easier for users to move around the site.
Holy Name University’s redesigned website, the Preserving Historical HNU blog and the digital ad campaign each won a Horizon Interactive award. Moreover, the targeted digital ad campaign resulted in an increase of R.S.V.P. page visits by up to 400%, and more importantly, a more than doubling of attendance to the info nights.
Thought not obviously visible to the average user, the efforts to update and streamline the site’s code decreased page load time, and made for a more SEO-friendly and easily updated site. In a one-year period following the launch of the redesign, the site saw an overall increase of visits of 32.38%, with pageviews increasing 33.64%.
Here’s a round-up of the ten most popular Tweets of the month. October’s favorites include free vector packs, 4 steps to keep WordPress secure, and a hypnotic and beautiful map of real-time wind patterns in the States.
As an enthusiastic proponent for giving back to my community through volunteer work, I’ve designed a number of pro-bono websites and brochures for a variety of local non-profits, both through Taproot Foundation service grant projects and as a freelancer. It’s safe to say I’ve done my fair share of working for free. However, I do draw the line at speculative work and, with rare exceptions, design contests.
Speculative work asks that designers work for free upfront, with no contract assuring pay for their efforts. A client may use speculative work to fish around for a designer they like, asking numerous designers to try out for the job, and awarding a contract to the favorite. The others walk away unpaid.
Design contests take speculative work to the extreme, crowdsourcing designs like a cheap commodity.
These contests have become quite popular as an inexpensive way for small businesses to get a quick logo, business card or other marketing collateral designed, and one can understand the perceived benefits: a dirt cheap design that looks more professional than what they could do by themselves.
There’s been a lot of debate on the subject, with some designers finding the practice unethical, while others counter with something to the effect of, “well, if you’re not a good enough designer to win one of these contests, then stop whining just stay out of it.” Fair enough. But first let’s break down the real cost of one of these contests.
One local organization recently held a contest for a new logo on 99 Designs that caught my eye, as they were a former client for an agency I once worked for as an Art Director some years back, and their contest had been retweeted by a few Twitter accounts I follow. I was interested to see how the contest would unfold.
The real math from one design contest
A total of thirteen designers submitted a total of 59 designs to the client, who paid $299 to 99 Designs to host the contest. $200 was to be awarded to the designer of the winning logo, while 99 Designs would keep a fee of $99, or about a 33% cut. The entire process took seven days, from launching the contest to providing feedback and narrowing down finalists, to selecting a winning design.
Designs came in from as far as Indonesia, and included at least one local designer. As the client narrowed the field, they posted an amendment to their design brief, asking finalists to scramble to create an entirely new design in a couple days based on a new idea they had, using typefaces that had never been mentioned in the previous design brief (they never mentioned the specific font).
After seven days, the client chose a winning design. According to the winning designer’s profile, they’ve been pretty successful on 99 Designs, having earned $17,121 from winning 60 contests, with an average of $285.35 per design. But here’s where the math gets a little more depressing.
The winning designer has entered 360 contests overall, which means when you average it out, they are earning $47.56 per contest entered. Breaking it down some more, let’s guess that a designer might spend 6 hours working on a contest. If that’s accurate, then this designer is pulling in a snappy $7.93 an hour for their work. Minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour. Even if we were to halve that, and say the designer is working an average of 3 hours per design contest entered, we get $15.86, or slightly more than the going rate for a babysitter for two kids in my neck of the woods.
Of the remaining 12 designers, 5 had entered a total of 51 contests and never won. That’s zero dollars paid for at least 51 hours worth of work—and quite likely that is a profound underestimation of time spent. Here’s a tally of the earnings of the others listed on their profiles:
$200 total won for 1 contest / 95 contests entered = $2.11 per contest earned
$400 total won for 1 contest / 125 contests entered = $3.20 per contest earned
$400 total won for 2 contests / 270 contests entered = $1.48 per contest earned
$400 total won for 2 contests / 59 contests entered = $6.78 per contest earned
$2,200 total won for 11 contests / 203 contests entered = $10.84 per contest earned
$3,372 total won / 425 contests entered = $7.93 per contest earned
~$15,250 total won (note:this is an estimate based on $200 per contest, based on the amounts declared won for numerous individual contests, since the grand total wasn’t listed on the profile) / 1,999 contests entered = $7.63 per contest earned
If we are conservative and say the designers only spent a hour working on each contest they entered, the highlighted numbers above represent an hourly rate for their time spent competing on 99 Designs. $10.84/hr… $6.48/hr… $3.20/hr… $1.48/hr… Are you horrified yet?
The cons for clients
The downside of this process is that there is no opportunity for the client and designer to discuss pros and cons of a particular design or concept, nor is there any opportunity for the designer to collect assets such as fonts and existing Pantone colors with which to work. It’s hardly an ideal client-designer relationship, and unfortunately the logical consequence is the design suffering.
As I watched the designs come in, I was struck by how many took liberties in selecting colors that were off-brand (contrary to the design brief), and whose sense of typography was mid- to beginner level, and quite illegible at a small size. But then, when you’re working fast, mistakes happen. As AIGA points out in its position on spec work,
Little time, energy and thought can go into speculative work, which precludes the most important element of most design projects—the research, thoughtful consideration of alternatives, and development and testing of prototype designs.
The value of good design
Graphic design is a profession that requires intelligence, thoughtfulness, skill, experience and training. Our work helps businesses to look professional, attract the attention of the right audience, communicate their message and create trust and loyalty through branding and advertising. I do believe we should make a tad more as a rule than some kid flipping burgers.
While this contest attracted only 13 contestants, others have dozens of participants vying for a winning entry for a paltry sum. Unless you are a design student trying to add to your portfolio, or perhaps are competing as a one-off to attract the attention of a known local client who has real potential to become an ongoing client, I can’t really see how it makes any fiscal sense for accomplished designers to participate in a 99 Designs contest.
Topic Simple, who make fun animated videos that explain things simply, explains their take on spec work in a nutshell in this terrific video.
What’s your take on design contests? Have you found them to be profitable, or opportunistic? Let me know in the comments.
Check out my post at Placemaking Group’s Get Famous blog on why it’s important to keep your WordPress blogging software up-to-date. Security updates make your site less vulnerable to hacking, and can save your business time and money—which is the number one reason I recommend having a routine maintenance plan. In my post, I show you how.