Why Clearing Snow Is Like Designing A Brand

March 26th, 2013 in Design Branding Design

There’s something about unseasonal snow that maybe makes you look at it a bit differently. We’re well into March here in the UK, and yet we’ve just had an extremely late – and extremely large – dumping of snow across the Midlands and the North. Naturally, that’s hit Image+’s Coventry HQ.

shovel[1]

It’s not just us who have been affected, either: I was walking – skating, really – down the street at the weekend, and spotted a Peter Savage manhole cover peeking through the white stuff. Peter Savage are one of our clients, so spotting their name on a patch of cleared snow led me to thinking: how is branding like clearing snow?

In the same way as getting out the shovel and clearing your driveway, designing a brand involves an awful lot of work: your company might mean many different things to you, and certainly to your entire staff base. How do you go about making a path through all that to a simple, easily recognised brand?

Underneath all that accumulation of ideas, visions and impressions lie the foundation slabs of your business. Devising a brand – whether that means designing a logo, a colour profile, or establishing detailed branding guidelines – is about shovelling away everything you don’t need and unearthing the essentials that you do.

A brand summarises your company and encapsulates its essence: it might promote confidence or trust, project creativity or reliability; it could be bold or subtle, contemporary or traditional. Whatever the core values and virtues of your organisation, your brand has to embody them. A brand unifies a company’s offering, allows customers to connect with you, and offers the most powerful platform you’ll have to make your pitch. Its absolutely key, then, that you do your branding right – if you do a bad job of clearing that driveway, someone’s going to slip up.

At Image+, we’re more than used to chatting with our clients, coming to understand their business, and designing with them a brand that speaks to their customers in just the right voice. Fonts, colours, shapes and slogans can all, when carefully chosen, combine to speak volumes. Your customer might only glance at your logo, or cast their eye over your brochure, but the right branding will tell them an awful lot – and start your sales pitch – before they’ve read, or you’ve spoken, a single word.

Which brings us back to that manhole: with all the snow cleared away, there was Peter Savage’s logo for all to see.

SEO: The Race To First Place

March 15th, 2013 in Search Engine Optimisation, Web SEO

photoThe Cheltenham Festival has been hard to miss this week, with blanket coverage on Channel 4 and advertisements everywhere. The team at Image+ haven’t been immune to the excitement: in between developing websites, it’s possible we’ve been watching a few races online this week and having a flutter in the office. There’s a big buzz amongst the team – if not too many winners!

In part, our enthusiasm might be down to a certain amount of sympathy for the owners, trainers and jockeys who prepare so carefully for events like this. From stamina to speed, and jumping to sprinting, the team around a horse focuses on ensuring that every element of its race is matched as tightly as possible to the demands of the course it will be running. Huge amounts of research and work is put into understanding how a given horse might be given the best chance to achieve that coveted first place.

Put that way, horseracing is – and bear with me here – oddly similar to Search Engine Optimisation. This is a process we undertake for many of our clients, by which we assess their market, understand its demands – including what phrases customers might use to search for relevant services online – and then tailor the website in such a way that the biggest search engines place it pride of place on their results pages. This is a game only for experts: it’s detailed, difficult work, but done right can have huge benefits.

Google ‘Cheltenham festival’ right now and the top sponsored links feature the various bookmakers to whom this week is so important. The first natural link, of course, is to the website of the Cheltenham Racecourse itself, which has made the Festival a key fixture in its calendar. Newspapers are listed, too – search engines like nothing better than regular, constantly updated content – and before the first page is over the bookmakers are making a return. The presence of each of these sites – and their re-appearances as keyphrase-sensitive advertising on those newspaper websites – reveals something about the nature of SEO, from its key importance for revenue generation to the virtues of pay-per-click campaigns and the best means of achieving natural listings.

The bookmakers are a case in point: fittingly, they hedge their bets by investing in paid advertising, ensuring they are always at the top of the page, but also optimising their sites to achieve natural listings. Paddy Power, for example, features both as a sponsored and natural link on Google’s first page of ‘Cheltenham festival’ search results. Key to Paddy Power’s success, though, is what punters get when they click that link: visitors to the PP website are immediately exposed to a wealth of content, but also a user interface which is easy and enjoyable to use. All the SEO in the world won’t help if your website is poor – once the search engines have sent you visitors, it’s up to you to keep them.

I’ll be following the runners today at Cheltenham, cheering on one particular horse named after my home town’s theatre. I hope I’m cannier in my betting at the course itself than I have been online: when I won recently on the Paddy Power website, I found myself with £100 in my account – and gave it all back to them in the shape of further bets.

Now that is a successful website!

Always Look Your Best: Responsive Website Design

March 8th, 2013 in Design Responsive

In the old days, it was easy: almost everyone used a PC, and almost all PCs had the same kind of display. The most difficult thing for a designer aiming to build a website that always looked its best was the size of the user’s screen.

Sleepeezee

How things change!

Websites look different depending on what you use to view them, and that poses a challenge for any web designer. The last few years alone have seen a huge explosion in the number and type of devices people use to surf the internet. Gone are the days when almost everyone would view your website in the latest version of Internet Explorer. Not only are they now more likely to be using either Chrome or Firefox – they might not even be using a computer at all.

Fifty-eight per cent of the UK population owned a smartphone in 2012, and almost a fifth owned a tablet (sales of which are likely to exceed notebooks this year). They’re heavily used, too: the average UK mobile user downloaded 424 megabytes of data last year, pushing even those eternal early adopters, the Japanese, into second place in a survey of mobile data usage. The UK is a world-leader in multi-platform web usage – and that means your website needs to keep up.

The answer is what we call ‘responsive web design’. This is how we refer to a toolbox of tricks which web designers can use to ensure your website looks its best, however it’s viewed. Responsive web design is about everything from ensuring that a site looks as good on a tiny 6” smartphone screen as it does on a 32” TFT monitor, to building the site so that when a user resizes their browser, the website shifts its content to fit – no more annoying horizontal scroll bars!

This is important because, although apps are a great way to reach phone users, it’s also true that many visitors, including mobile online shoppers, still prefer websites. In fact, we believe in responsive web design so much that this brand new site of ours is built in just that way – try it on another one of your devices, and it will look just as crisp.

A month or so ago, we launched a responsive website for Sleepeezee, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of beds and mattresses. A month after launch, their ‘bounce rate’ – a measure of how quickly a user leaves a website after arriving – is 29%, compared with an industry standard of 50%. Not only that, but the mobile bounce rate is just 32% – a full 10% below what you might expect of a non-responsive website. Those kinds of figures really do speak for themselves.

Responsive websites are smart in more ways than one. Yes, they detect your screen resolution, your platform, and your device, and are able to match themselves to what they find. But you should also think of a new user logging onto your website in the same way that you think of meeting a client for the first time: you want to look your best. In a challenging mobile market, that isn’t as easy as it used to be – but we’re still on top of it.