All posts in friendly advice


Why, Bon Ami? Why?

Bon Ami’s packaging redesign of 2010 was a perfect example of how to manage the updating of a brand that has been with us for over 125 years. Handled by Berkeley, California’s Celery Design, the new look was rolled out with the introduction of a new line of environmentally friendly products.

Bon Ami before the redesign

Bon Ami polishing cleanser before the redesign

Let’s take a look at the packaging for their powdered cleaner, before the revamp.

Bon Ami has been no stranger to package redesigns over its long history, but the white logo against a red diagonally cropped field, along with the cute chick proclaiming, “hasn’t scratched yet!” have been constants for most of the product’s history. However, let’s face it, the 120th anniversary design for Bon Ami polishing cleaner, above, was pretty awful, wasn’t it?

Cluttered and dated in its design, I kept my canister hidden under the sink or in the garage. This was a product I bought because I knew it was a) really effective, and b) environmentally friendly. It certainly wasn’t the utilitarian packaging that spoke to me in the grocery aisle.

Which brings us to the 2010 redesign.

A modern design for a classic product

Celery Design handled the updating of the brand and packaging for the new Bon Ami family of green cleaning products. While it was a dramatic departure from the previous design, it remained true to the core elements of the brand.

It was simple, clean, no frills, and classic—just like the product. For a cleaner and more contemporary spin on an already recognizable brand, the logo was updated to lose the harsh drop shadow and superfluous dot over the i, but remained against its red diagonal field. Plus, the chick! I loved that the new art harkened back to the early days of the product; it was a sweet and appropriate nod to its past.

Bon Ami 2010 redesign

Celery Design’s 2010 Bon Ami 2010 redesign

Celery Design put quite a lot of research and thought into the project, that you can read about on their website. The new product line and redesign got some nice attention in the press (Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and many more). My cleanser came out from under the sink because it looked so great.

So, what happened?

Bon Ami kills their awesome packaging redesign

I noticed the other day that Bon Ami has reverted an updated version of the old packaging design—just for the powdered cleanser, not for the rest of its product line. Here is how it looks on their website today (and don’t even get me started on the quality of the Photoshop job. Pro tip: photograph the canister from the same angle as in the previous photo shoot for a better match).

Bon Ami 2013 redesign

One of these things is not like the other…

This new canister design is simpler than the pre-2010 packaging, but back in force are the garish foil, a very cluttered look, and oddly, the heavy-handed old logo. Even the chick had reverted to its pre-redesign, more literal and less folksy version.

What really leaps out is the discrepancy between the looks of the products in the Bon Ami family. They’re no longer a unified collection of products. The decision to use two different versions of the logo is particularly perplexing.

I have to wonder how this strange decision will impact their overall brand recognition and the feeling of connection to a product among those who discovered it over the past few years, thanks in part to the redesign. In a world where folks freak out en masse and create petitions over small design changes to their Facebook layout, this startling regression to a less sophisticated design could alienate a new and loyal customer base.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Bon Ami. In the meantime, I’ll be going back to keeping my canister under the kitchen sink.

Full disclosure: While I have no connections to the folks at Celery Design, I do have a friend at Bon Ami.

Email Design and SEO

Here are a few tips on how to create a successful email design that will be more likely to be opened and inspire click-throughs to your site, in my latest post up on Placemaking Group’s Get Famous blog. Great design and thoughtful preparation of your email campaigns can really give your web traffic a boost.

Check out the article here »


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.

Check out the article here »


My husband works for a large company that is completely enamored with Powerpoint. These ubiquitous slideshows are used by every department for both internal and external meetings and presentations.

I can’t tell you how many times he’s come home complaining that he couldn’t call out the red-highlighted bits on a projected Powerpoint — the same bits that were intended to call attention to themselves as “something very important to pay attention to” were essentially invisible to him.

Plate 29 from the Ishihara Color Vision Test

He happens to be red-green color blind, a trait he shares with about ten percent of the male population in this country, and with 3% of females.

Designing with the color-blind population in mind is a too-often overlooked part of thinking about accessibility.

My clients with brick-and-mortar businesses have to consider laws governing accessibility for the physically disabled, but it rarely occurs to them to extend the same courtesy to the vision-impaired’s ability to access information about their business on their websites.

That’s when I have to put on my educator cap and bring them up-to-speed with how having an accessible website can impact their potential Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I doubt any business owner would consciously choose to alientate a paying customer, but when one can’t find the link to make a purchase or sign up for your newsletter, you’ve missed a potential sale.

Web designers and developers know that Google search rewards websites built with in accordence with web standards and accessibility in mind with higher rankings—and everyone wants good SEO. But why stop there? I don’t know if Google weighs designing for a color blind audience as part of their algorithm (anyone have info on this? I’d love to know more: let me know in the comments), but I see no reason not to include it in your planning for a design.

The bottom line is if you’ve designed a website and a decision-maker in your audience can’t see links or call-outs due to uninformed choice of color, you’ve blown an opportunity to communicate effectively—and isn’t that missing the whole point of graphic design?

Three Tips for Color Blind Accessible Design

  1. Color choice: Avoid using red for text links embedded within black text, unless accompanied by another differentiating text style such as underline, to call out its clickability to those who can’t see the color. Careful choice of color should extend to hues that are in close proximity to one another in your design: a red button on a green background may become a sea of brown to a color blind user.
  2. Testing: Use the Colorblind Web Page Filter to preview how your design may appear to the color blind. If you’re on a Mac, you can also try out Sim Daltonism, a real-time color blind filter.
  3. Media: Keep in mind that hues that can be seen by a color blind person on a printed surface sometimes don’t work on-screen, so it’s important when testing with live subjects to show the work in its intended medium.



Today I’m blogging at Placemaking Group’s Get Famous blog on ways to give your promotional Facebook Fan Page a boost. Third-party apps can really make your page much more effective.

Check out the article here »

Typography and signs by LaRuth on Flickr

A couple weeks ago I was working on a quick typesetting project for a Placemaking Group client. I had the copy and some images, and was being asked to create a two-column layout for the back page of a newsletter. Thing was, the client didn’t provide any information about the fonts they used throughout the rest of the project. The PDF sample was locked—password protected—so that wasn’t particularly useful.

Adobe’s Font Finder tool

The font looked really familiar, and I knew I’d most likely used it before in a previous project, but I couldn’t quite place it. With hundreds of fonts to choose from in our library, what to do?

When I’m searching for the perfect font for a new project, I often turn to a couple tried and true resources.

Adobe’s Font Finder tool allows you to narrow your search by category, collection or designer. You can enter sample text to get a preview of your copy displayed on screen in a certain font.

When I’m on a budget and need a special font, Web Design Ledger is a terrific resource. They routinely post lists of free or inexpensive new fonts, many of which are high-quality, and more contemporary or quirky in tone than Adobe’s offerings.

However, finding great new fonts for a project is a completely different exercise than matching an existing font. Turns out there’s a terrific online font identification tool that makes the latter conundrum a snap.

MyFonts’ WhatTheFont (WTF) will analyze a screenshot of your mystery font, asking for letter-by-letter clarification from you to ensure accurate results. Mice-type and overlapping letter forms confuse matters, so don’t try this with a compressed jpg of your 8pt cursive logo. Following MyFonts’ advice of using a large enough image, with the letters about 100 pixels tall, will greatly increase the likelihood of success.

WhatTheFont’s Tips for Optimal Results

It spits out a list of possible matches, and in this case, we learned the font we were looking for was Avenir.

If the WTF tool doesn’t do the trick, MyFonts also hosts a WhatTheFont Forum where you can upload a screenshot for the typographical hive-mind of members to review and take a stab at.

Expert tip: Looking to hone your typographical knowledge to rapid-fire accuracy? Try out The Font Game for the iPhone (or online) by I Love Typography. It’s a bit of maddening fun for type geeks.

Featured photo credit: Typography and signs by laRuth on Flickr, shared with an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons license.


You’ve got a small business and you’ve got a blog to tell the world about it. That’s a great start, and you’re already ahead of many people. Give your blog an added advantage by not making these common mistakes I’ve seen novice bloggers make.

  1. “Just another WordPress blog”

    This one in particular drives me nuts, because it’s such a no-brainer and is so easy to fix, yet many of my new clients haven’t taken the time to make this simple change to the default tagline on their WordPress blog’s General Settings.

    Are you really “just another” business? — or are you promoting something special? Tell your audience what makes you unique, or sum up the kind of content you’re posting to your blog in a short sentence. This brief description will help visitors and search engine bots know immediately what your blog is about, boosting its stickiness with customers while adding SEO value to the site and reinforcing your brand. Win-win!

  2. Hosting off-site

    You’ve got your website at and your blog at What gives? Sending customers away from your site to a blogging service doesn’t a.) keep them on your site, or b.) help your site’s organic search results. So, stop that.

    By moving your blog to your business website, say at, you’ll help search engines more easily determine what advice, expertise and services you offer by providing rich content on your site. This will in turn make it easier for people to find you using search and ultimately will improve traffic flow.

    Use social networking tools such as Facebook Fan Pages and Twitter to share links to your blog posts to drive traffic to your site. Once your audience is there, keep them around by letting them learn all about you on one website.

  3. No backup plan

    You know that sickening, stomach-gripping feeling you get when you’ve forgotten to save that lengthy, super-important document, and your app crashes and everything you’ve worked on for the past hour has been lost? We’ve all made that painful mistake. Learn from it and don’t make it on your website.

    Imagine the pain when you have no backup plan for your blog, and it gets hacked or your server goes down and a year’s worth of posts are down the tubes. Take a few minutes to install a backup Plugin and either automate it or manually back it up every time you post.

    I’m using cloudsafe365 to backup my site, because I like the price — free! (there’s also a reasonable $15/month plan with fancier options) — and that I can backup to my Dropbox or locally with one click, but there are plenty of other plugins out there. It’s a very smart investment to protect your blog.

  4. Not utilizing tags or categories

    It takes just a few extra seconds to put your post into a category and add some tags to it, but many beginner bloggers fail to take the time to do this. Tags and categories help your readers find what they’re looking for by providing an easy way to sift through your posts: a reader searching for a soufflé recipe on your food blog will appreciate being able to look only at posts with a soufflé tag or in the baking category, rather than having to scroll past dozens or unrelated posts. You will also benefit from a boost in search engine optimization, as the use of tags and categories makes your content-rich site all the more accessible.

  5. Running out of steam

    Of course, none of this is relevant advice if you stop blogging. There’s nothing that says, “I’m asleep at the wheel,” quite like a neglected blog — it’s the online equivalent to a storefront with a cobwebby, 5-year-old window display.

    Ideally, plan on posting to your blog at least once a week, and certainly more frequently if your business is having a busy news week, though this can be the most challenging time to keep on top of posting. Persevere over time and you’ll establish yourself as an expert in your field and build an audience of clients.