2000 Shades of Grey

May 31st, 2013 in Design, Packaging, Web athlone fifty grey shades

EL James should look to her crown. The author of Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel which has bestrode the world like a whip-wielding colossus since its publication in 2011, might not be quaking in her boots just yet, but at Image+ we’ve just finished work on a new volume that might just out-do her. Forget your half-century of greyscale tones: we’ve just finished work on our opus, 2000 Shades of Grey.

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OK, so we might be going overboard. Hot off the presses this week is a hefty product manual for a client of ours in Ireland, Athlone Extrusions. This replaces a version now two decades old – and so collating the material, designing the pages, planning the lay-outs and project managing the entire production was a big task. It goes without saying, of course, that we completed all this in-house and on-budget.

AE manufacture extruded plastic sheets, crucial in the production of items of all kinds, from packaging to white goods, industrial machinery to sanitary ware. They supply over forty countries worldwide, and their offering is hugely technical and varied. That makes their product manual absolutely essential to their sales: data drives their customer relationships. And in the age of the internet, the printed page still has an extremely important part to play.

The new manual has thirty inserts: brochures, dividers and product data sheets. It’s a big beast, and we’ve printed two thousand as a first run. AE’s customers really appreciate the manual as an important reference work, full of the technical details for each type of plastic with which AE works. There’s a lot of information to include – here’s just one factsheet for a single material – and whilst all of that data can be and is online, there’s also a real business need for the production of a volume like this that can sit on an MD’s shelf, or a buyer’s desk.

That’s why, for all our cutting-edge digital work, we also devote time and expertise to what might seem the old-fashioned medium of print: because it’s still extremely powerful. A volume such as AE’s manual is a physical product, a part of your company which a client can pick up and take away with them, can consult over many years and make their own. It’s a means of imparting a lot of information in an intuitive way, and doing so in a permanent, literally weighty, fashion. When AE gave one of their clients two copies of the manual, he asked if he could buy six more, because they were so useful. That’s a powerful communication tool, and an important means of maintaining a customer relationship over time.

Oh, and about our dreams of publishing a bestseller: the thing is, AE have the capacity to colour-match exactly. They can produce any plastic part in any colour you care to give them. Over the years, they’ve matched no less than two thousand different types of grey (and two hundred shades of white, for that matter). It may not be the same as erotica you can read in polite company, but we like to think AE’s latest volume will be as nice a little earner for them as EL James’s novel has been for her…

Blogging: If You Build It, They Will Come

May 28th, 2013 in Marketing, Web blog blogging blogs tumblr yahoo

Last week’s news that Yahoo has bought the blogging tool Tumblr was greeted with a lot of commentary. These things matter to those of us working in the digital world for reasons it’s worth exploring. It’s also true that previous Yahoo takeovers, such as that of the photo-sharing service Flickr, have gone less well, and Tumblr users are already satirising the buy-out as only bloggers can. But in the main, all the coverage is the product of a simple truth: blogging is important.

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You’d expect us to say that, perhaps. Given you’re reading this on our own blog, the idea that we think the medium is useful may not come as much of a surprise. Still, it’s not just us. Everyone seems to have been converted to blogging, from the BBC to every armchair pundit in the country. The reason is simple: it’s a quick, easy way to publish content direct to a platform with a potentially huge audience. The best blogs build that audience over years, and construct a fanbase around useful and entertaining content.

The implications of this for your business are clear. You already know that your present and future customers are interested in the service you provide: were they not, they wouldn’t be your customers in the first place. That means they are probably also interested in you: who you are, but also the advice you can give.

Blogs are superb ways of converting an occasional customer into a long-term visitor of your website. They offer you a means of providing new and regular content to an audience of enthusiasts, giving them a reason to return to you, your website, your products and messages, on a much more regular basis.

In case you suddenly realise you’re being hoodwinked by this very post, there’s also something much less cynical to blogging. By promoting regular visits and an open conversation with customers, you can achieve better rates of feedback and more productive client relationships. That is, blogging doesn’t just capture an audience – it gives them to chance to speak back. Blogs don’t just sell your company; they improve it.

There are all kinds of blog platforms on the market. Some, like Tumblr itself, focus on allowing you to share content such as photography and videos; others, like WordPress or Blogger, emphasise the written word. Twitter is known as a ‘microblogging’ service; older services like LiveJournal mix blogging with a forum-style interface; and exciting new platforms are being developed all the time.

We’ll almost certainly return to the subject of blogging and how to do it well in future weeks – there’s a reason to keep returning! – but, in a nutshell, that’s why last week’s news was so full of reaction to Yahoo and Tumblr’s new relationship: because blogging tools give you the power to make new relationships, too.

Web Accessibility Standards: Practical Politics

May 17th, 2013 in Design, Search Engine Optimisation, Web accessibility Design eu standards w3c Web

They say you should never talk politics if you want to avoid an argument, so it might be worth skating over this week’s ding-dong in Parliament about the European Union, and whether it’s worth the UK being part of it. There are plenty of arguments on either side, and very few of them have to do with marketing your business online.

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This is a blog about just that, of course, and yet that’s precisely why we mention Europe: the EU, believe it or not, has quite a bit to do with how you might market your business online. This isn’t just about the headline-grabbing stuff about privacy laws, Google and Apple; like it or loathe it, the EU also promotes something uncomplicated which is very good indeed for your business, and for Google’s.

At Image+, we design our websites with what are known as ‘web accessibility standards’ very much in mind. These are a numbers of rules, guidelines and design criteria which aim to ensure your website is as viewable to as many different people as possible. Devised and promoted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), accessibility standards are important for the same reason that responsive web design is important: they make your website more flexible.

There are all sorts of reasons someone may have difficulty enjoying your website to the full: they may be partially sighted or hard of hearing, have a physical disability or learning difficulties. They may be elderly or in a rural location. The key is that W3C accessibility guidelines offer a powerful way of designing websites in such a way that they reach as many people as possible. This may be achieved by offering for alternative text for images, in case on slow connections they do not load; it might be providing transcripts of audio, or offering a website which can function without use of the mouse. Accessibility is about imagining the full range of your audience and catering for them.

This not only fulfills your business’s social responsibility – it brings your products to more people. That’s why we routinely design websites which tick all the accessibility boxes. There are many designers who take short cuts or simply don’t have the knowledge necessary to ensure their websites are fully compliant with W3C standards. Your website will be the poorer for using them.

To risk getting involved in that spat in the Commons, the EU are fully signed up to W3C and promote it strongly – indeed, sometimes it’s not strong enough for them! In that as in so many things, the EU is a complicated beast which occassions fierce debate … unlike web standards, which are a no-brainer. Ask about incorporating them into your website today.

Why Web Design Is Like Parallel Parking

May 7th, 2013 in Bespoke, Design, Marketing Branding Design marketing SEO

James and I were over in Belfast last week meeting with a client. Instead of boring you with a field report, though, I thought you’d find this video more interesting. Filmed in Belfast, but nothing to do with us, we only watched it for the first time when we got back home. Put the kettle on, grab a tea or coffee, and settle in: this one takes a while.

You have to feel sorry for the poor woman (and let’s not make a point about her gender, lads – we’re all above that). She’s obviously just found herself in that zone where nothing you do quite works. We’ve all been there, and nothing’s worse than being watched while you’re in that kind of mood. It only makes things worse!

But you also have to kind of admire her. Not for her parking skills, maybe, but certainly for her persistence and refusal just to give up.

We were in Belfast about a website – of course. We build these things all day every day, for all kinds of different clients selling all sorts of different products to all kinds of different people. The one thing all these sites have in common, though, is the need to keep working on them. Whether it’s an e-commerce site or a blogging site, a straight brochure design or something more bespoke, there’s a simple rule of thumb that works for every site we build: keeping going back, don’t give up.

Sites are like anything else. The first draft might not work. You might put it up and not get the traffic you like. It might work brilliantly for a year or two and then suddenly no longer suit your business. The trick is to understand that a website is always a work in progress.

The powerful thing about the internet is that it’s always changing, constantly updated with the latest information. That means that your website should be tinkered with almost daily – and that it’s worth persevering to ensure you get things just right.

Growing your business and your website together doesn’t just make sense – it’s easy once you get the persistence bug. Change your colour scheme with each marketing campaign; tweak your copy so that search engines direct users to your site more regularly; tweak the design so that it looks its best on every platform. Keep going back, don’t give up.

So, like the lady parking that car, you should keep at it. The Image+ team promise not to turn up at your offices and make a YouTube video about it – but over the years we’ve become adept at helping ease your website into the right space.