Trend Responsibly

As a designer, part of my job is to follow trends. I need to be in the loop about what is coming and going, especially when it comes to the latest design and illustration trends, but I also need to know about business trends when it comes to the types of clients I choose.

While it's good to be aware of trends, it's also good to look at trend alternatives. Here, I will write about some of the top trends people follow and how to look at them alternatively, in a more socially, economically and environmentally responsible manner.


Fashion

The fashion cycle used to be 2 to 4 seasons per year, now it's 52. That's a new or rehashed fashion trend every week! Is it any wonder that some people own 100 pairs of shoes? For the rest of us, the only clothing we really need to worry about is what attire is required for work and what attire makes you feel good (possibly comfortable) when we're not at work. (Being “at work” for me, typically means meeting with a client in person, so 99% of my work day is usually super casual.)

Responsible Fashion

Get a general idea for what people are wearing, but look for responsible alternatives. Trends such as advanced, sustainable materials, recyclability and the abolition of sweatshops. Find fashion houses who are committed to their communities, the environment, animal or human rights. You might even look for fashion retailers who pay their employees a living wage.


Tech

When I worked for Apple, it was part of my life to be up -to-date on all the latest tech, software, computers, games, gizmos and accessories. It was easy back then because all your coworkers would let you know if you missed something. Let's get real…As an average consumer your biggest worry is going to be when your OS is no longer being supported or when the space runs out on your mobile device.

In recent years tech has become so mainstream, it's pretty easy to stay in the loop. As a designer, however, I have to be able to keep up on all tech, not just Apple. For instance, Apple's app icon design standards are a little different than Andriod's so when you're working with someone who is developing apps for both platforms you need to know how to design them, and these design standards are always being updated.

Responsible Tech

Responsible tech might include agriculture and water technologies for feeding the world. It might include health and science technologies that end debilitating diseases or create alternative and sustainable forms of energy.


Luxury

If you're wearing a Rolex or driving a Rolls-Royce, then you might be just a little vain. These particular goods are called Verblen goods, which are outrageously expensive items that are in demand with certain types of people because of status. These goods tell the rest of the world that they have money and that they want you to know about it.

Responsible Luxury

Time and money are the only basic luxury items that most people simple do not have. Having the luxury of time to volunteer or the money to give to charity would be responsible luxuries that not only help various organizations, but also make the person “spending” them feel like they have done something to help others. Something I believe, that wearing a Rolex, just doesn't do.


Design

Flat design vs. 3D design, Retro vs. Mod, bright colors vs. subdued colors, positive vs. negative space, etc. While, yes, I kind of have to keep up on this topic (it's my job), I do choose to acknowledge short-lived trends but focus mainly on lasting or classic trends so that my clients get the biggest bang for their buck.

Responsible Design

Responsible design might lie in who I choose to design for. I try my best to never design for clients who have anything to do with weapons (anything typically used to kill a living creature), sex (sexuality, sexism, gender issues, etc.), politics (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Nationalism, Fascism, etc.) or religion (of any sort).


Business

Knowing what types of businesses are doing well and which one's aren't is important to me, but it should be even more important to anyone attempting to start a business. I'm pretty sure I've actually prevented some of my clients from loosing money by providing them with some simple demographics on the zip code where they were thinking of starting a business.

Responsible Business

Responsible businesses might include alternative transportation, sustainable products, alternative energies, ecological solutions, refugee housing, free or affordable education, etc. I'm also happy to report that these types of businesses actually are trending and that consumers are finding them extremely desirable.


Culture

The last trend I want to write about is culture. Anthropologist E.B. Tylor, defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” In contemporary society, culture seems to be manufactured and marketed. Depending on your reality (the types of websites you visit, what your friends post to Facebook, and where you shop), you can be constantly bombarded by it. Culture is what distracts people into unhealthy preoccupations with fame, celebrities, luxury goods and obsess over their own socioeconomic status.

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Is Reasonable Culture the Geek Culture?

One of the few, fairly reasonable cultures I see, is geek culture. It's a culture obsessed with video games, mental games, scientific discoveries and a wealth of diverse, fictional characters fighting crime and making the world a better place. It's a culture in love with Wonder Woman, Doctor Who, Daredevil, Star Wars and Star Trek. Being a geek might mean that you're bombarded with the marketing of useless luxury products like a Star Trek replica or a Wonder Woman bracelet, but it also means that you're most likely interested in science and have some hope for the future. (Even if some geeks' hope might be for a zombie apocalypse, they might stand a better chance of surviving it.)

Great Apps for 2017

Before we slip into 2017, I thought I'd share some great apps I think you'll find useful for 2017. Some of these apps I've been using for years, like mSecure, Living Earth, and Tyme (2) and some I've just discovered.  So here's my list of apps, complete with my brief take on them and a link to their websites.

Personal Favs (Mac and iPhone)

Strava - iOS - (fitness and social app for athletes) https://www.strava.com/
I use Strava to track my bicycle rides in the summer and I sync indoor rides to it in the winter.

Epic Ride - iOS - (weather on your bike route map) http://www.epicrideweather.com/
I just discovered this app via the guys at GCN. It's rather amazing and I do have the paid version which allows you to take one of your rides from Strava, pick a date and time you'd like to start the ride and find out what the weather will be for various points along the ride. I'll be using it a lot more when it gets warmer!

Fitbit with Power Sync for Health  - iOS - https://www.fitbit.com/ & http://powersync.us/ (would NOT recommend the Auto Sync in-app purchase...does not work)
I own a Fitbit wearable, and I hate it. I'm saving up to go back to Garmin. Fitbit might be great if all you do is walk, sleep and eat, but it isn't very supportive of cyclists and the other types of data they crave.  Auto Sync is an app that puts your Fitbit date into your Health App because, for some reason Apple must hate Fitbit, (I know how they feel).

Streaks - iOS - (keep your life on task) https://streaksapp.com/
Streaks is a great little app to keep your life on task. You can put up to 6 tasks into it. I have water, play ukulele, meditation, eat a healthy meal, exercise and situps in mine. It reminds me to do all of them for whatever set interval I have.

Day One (and Day One Classic) - iOS and macOS - (journaling app) http://dayoneapp.com/
I was an early adapter when it came to Day One. I was using it before it got big and became real popular. I quit using it for a few years, but now I'm giving it a shot again.

Insight Timer  - iOS - (meditation) https://insighttimer.com/
Insight Timer is an app for meditating. You can listen to a variety of free guided meditations or simply create your own. I try to meditate 3 times a week.

Chronicle - macOS - (Bill Management) http://chronicleapp.com/
I had Chronicle a long time ago, and was going through my apps and decided to give it a shot again. It's a great way to keep up on bills!

Wunderlist - iOS - (shared lists - primarily use this for a household grocery list) https://www.wunderlist.com/
I read rave reviews of Wunderlist and decided to try it for myself. It has become our goto app for the household grocery list. I also use it for special lists like when I'm going on a trip or going camping.

Living Earth - iOS - (weather app)  http://www.livingearthapp.com/
I've been using Living Earth for years and I love it! It gives me just the right weather in a beautiful visual representation and I can add many cities to keep track of what the weather is like where I'm going or just where my friends around the world live.


Business Favs (Mac and iPhone)

Postbox - macOS -  (email) https://www.postbox-inc.com/
I like this email app because I can organize and visualize mail in ways I can not with Apple's Email app.

Evernote - iOS and macOS - (project management) https://evernote.com/
I use Evernote for project management, notes and reminders. I practically run my entire business with it and Thyme 2.

Tyme 2 - iOS and macOS - (freelance time tracking) http://tyme-app.com/
Tyme has evolved quite nicely over the years I've been using it. I track the time I work on client projects and even on pro bono work with it. I use it to do my billing and create by invoices through the PayPal website.

Moleskine Journal - iOS - (journal, notes, sketches) http://www.moleskine.com/microsites/apps/moleskinejournal
I haven't used this that much, although I'm a HUGE fan of the actual sketchbooks that I have lying around all over my studio!

Dropbox - iOS and macOS - (file sharing) https://www.dropbox.com
I use this to share files between my computer and my iPhone mainly, but also upload files for clients and friends.

CloudApp - iOS and macOS - (screen capture and share made simple, with visual search) https://www.getcloudapp.com/
I just found out about CloudApp. I'm a little disappointed that the mobile app isn't free, but we'll see how it goes. I may have to keep Dropbox just to swap files between my computer and my iPhone.

Annotate - iOS and macOS - (a little app I use to do screenshots and sometimes annotate them, the company now makes CloudApp)
I've been using this for years so that I can share what I am working on with my clients via email and texts. It's a great and very useful little app!

Astropad - iOS and macOS - (draw on my Mac) http://astropad.com/
I sometimes use Astropad (with Pencil by 53) to sketch things out on my MacBook Pro using my iPhone. It's a pretty amazing app that turns your iPhone into a sketch tablet.

Paper - iOS - (notes, sketching - paper and pencil by 53) https://www.fiftythree.com/
Paper is a companion app to Pencil. It's a beautiful little app for sketching, journaling, etc.

mSecure - iOS and macOS - (password manager) https://www.msecure.com/
I've been usingmSecure for YEARS! It is my go to password management tool that syncs between all my devices...even my old Google tablet!

Buffer - iOS and website - (scheduling tool for social media) https://buffer.com
I use Buffer to schedule social media posts for all of my business accounts online. It's simple and easy to use and makes social media a little less of a pain.

Affinity Designer and Photo - macOS - (graphic design, photography and illustration apps)  - https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/
For the past 2 years I've done almost all my design work using Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. Both apps are fantastic and affordable and I don't have to deal with cloud issues, expensive upgrades, etc. Their support is more than excellent and no one seems to know any different.

Mailer Design - What You Need To Know

It's nearly the new year, and with it comes another year of lessons learned. In this blog post, I'd like to discuss some very important lessons I learned about mail.

While working at a post office for a few weeks this holiday season, I got to see a lot of packages, and a lot of mail. I especially saw a lot of presorted, standard, direct mail, or what the average person calls "junk mail". It was one of my jobs to sort through the stuff headed for the recycling bin looking for first class mail that might have mistakenly gotten into it, and return all that first class mail to the proper carrier for delivery. I probably sorted through 500 pounds of the stuff.

First off, let's discuss what EDDM® is. Every Door Direct Mail® is a low cost program created by USPS to make direct mail easier and more affordable for small businesses. You can basically pick a zip code (or codes) and directly mail your promotional materials without the need for a mailing list. You can just pick your zips, upload your design, make a payment, and they do all the rest. It's a great deal and a fairly low cost solution, but it's a waste of your money if you don't design your mailable pieces correctly. (If you're going the DIY route, I recommend using their online design service.)

I'm going to mention another service USPS has that most people don't know about, that's their MDAs and District Business Mail Entry Offices.  MDAs are Mailpiece Design Analysts, and you can reach one via the MDA Support Center. You can also visit a District Business Mail Entry Office (find one near you here). Use either of them if for any reason you might be unsure of your mailer design specs. If your mailers are not set up correctly they could cost more OR end up in the recycling bin.

Two things I noticed, that ended up in the recycling bin more than anything else were, HUGE mailers and small business postcards or flyers with improperly designed areas for postage, indicia, addresses, barcodes, etc. In the case of one, unnamed, international, Italian restaurant chain, their mailer was so huge (something like an unfolded 11" x 17") that it would not fit into most mail boxes, PO boxes, apartment mail boxes, etc. It must have cost them a fortune to design, print and mail, and yet I saw so many of them dumped into the recycling bin.

But, the saddest of all things I saw, (because of poor design, improper addressing, etc.),  were small business mailers tossed in the recycling bin. Small businesses don't have a lot of money to spend on promotional materials, printing, and advertising, and here they were just tossing their money away. I literally saw bundles of local menus tossed into the bin.

Just like addressing a letter, there are standards and specs for mailing pieces. If you're a DIY type of person and you'd like to read about and familiarize yourself with the basics of mailer design, please follow this link: 202 Elements of the Face of a Mailpiece or if you'd like to learn more about Business Reply Mail, please follow this link: 505 Quick Service Guide Or, if you'd just like to hire someone to design it all for you, please follow this link: Contact Us


SOME USEFUL TIPS & SUGGESTIONS

 
 

    •   This is just a suggestion, but you might not want mail any promotional or marketing materials during December, or the weeks of Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. Those are the major shipping holidays for packages, cards and flowers, which might leave your investment lost in the shuffle.

    •    Anything that is NOT MARKED FIRST CLASS MAIL (which includes PRESORTED FIRST CLASS), such as Presorted Standard, or Standard is more than likely to be junk mail and not personally sent to you, so checking the indicia can save you the bother and the time. (For more info on how to spot junk mail, there's an excellent article online here.)

    •    Don't waste your time writing, "Return to Sender", "Deceased", or "Not At This Address" on junk mail. (Which is typically marked PRESORTED STANDARD or PRSRT STD.) It doesn't get returned and only ends up in the recycling bin. You can simply recycle it yourself.

    •    There are presorted non-profit and pre-sort standard stamps, that can make mail look a lot like first class mail.

If you'd like to see examples of indicia formats (first class, presort, etc.) from USPS, please click here. Or, if you'd like to learn more about EDDM® from USPS, please click here.

 

How to Succeed Almost Entirely Offline in an Online World

I'm a big advocate of "buy local". I like to spend my money with small, local businesses. I shop the local farmer's market every Saturday, and when we go out to eat, it's usually at a locally owned restaurant, not a big chain.  I enjoy local businesses primarily because they are always different, and interesting. (Even out of the local, Mexican restaurants we frequent, we've never seen exactly the same decoration in any two.)

So what sort of businesses can you get into that won't be entirely killed by internet commerce? It seems like a strange topic coming from a company that does almost all of their business online, but we're here to help. That's what we do!

5  Business Types That Rely on Local Business

  1. Local, perishable and/or consumable products.
    Such products include, but are not limited to: beer, wine, food, sweets, baked goods, produce, farm eggs, etc.
     
  2. Hands-on, or fitted products.
    Such products include, but are not limited to: bicycles, clothing, hats, golf clubs, shoes, jewelry, etc.
     
  3. Services that provide opportunities for social interaction.
    Such businesses include, but are not limited to: event planning, business networking, singles events, festivals, carnivals, etc.
     
  4. Professional services that people must travel to or that must come to them.
    Such services include, but are not limited to: masseuse, barber, plumber, tattoo artist, dentist, doctor, clown, photographer, petsitter, electrician, lawyer, hospice, funeral home, carpenter, daycare, etc.
     
  5. Locations that create desirable atmospheres or unique experiences.
    Such locations include, but are not limited to: themed restaurants, cafes or bars, gardens, amusement parks, golf courses, dog parks, bicycle parks, floatation tank centers, haunted houses, campgrounds, etc.

Even these businesses should, at the very least, get listed on Google. (You can find out more from Google by clicking this link: Free Business Listing on Google.)

4 Online Services that Add Value for you Customers or Clients

  1. Website
    A basic, but professional-looking website can greatly boost consumer confidence in your product or service. (We're not website designers, so we use and highly recommend Squarespace.)
     
  2. Online Reservations or Appointments
    The convenience of being able to make appointments or reservations online appeals to many consumers and can be an added perk for potential customers. (Services like OpenTable.com are actually integrated into some Squarespace templates.)
     
  3. Additional Online Commerce
    Having simple (and often free) shops on websites like ebay or Etsy allows you to reach a larger and searching audience with your products. These services are particularly great for items that may not be of particular interest locally, but are sought after nationally or internationally.
     
  4. Online Portfolio or Menu
    A professional-looking, online portfolio or menu showcasing your photography services, nail designs, tattoos, haircuts, drinks or food is great for helping clients decide on weather or not they want to hire you or dine in your establishment. (Restaurants should add descriptions or list ingredients for those with special diets and/or food allergies.)

Lastly, we suggest social media. We prefer twitter, but, if you run a local business, we highly recommend Facebook above all others. Facebook is the number one social media website, with over 1.23 billion active users* in the last quarter of this year alone! (Keep in mind that you will have to maintain your Facebook page with updates, and do damage control, if and when necessary.)

DO NOT LIST YOUR BUSINESS FOR REVIEW!

We strongly recommend NOT creating listings on Yelp! or Angie's List (unless you are a member of Angie's List and your target customers are likely to be members too).

The internet is a vast and beautiful place, but when it comes to reviewing businesses you can end up in a world of hurt. If your business is small, you probably don't have the time or resources to dedicate to damage control, and websites like Yelp! and Angie's List will NOT allow you to remove negative or even bogus reviews and comments.

So, when that one disgruntled customer (who ripped you off or that no business could ever be good enough for), decides to cast a dark shadow on your business, keep in mind that there will be NOTHING you can do about it. Not only that, there are people (possibly businesses) out there who will write up bogus, horrible reviews and then try to blackmail you to remove them.

The whole review thing is just a huge mess, and we don't recommend getting involved with it all unless you have the time, resources or a good attorney!

Thumbtack 2 Years Later

It was on this very date in 2014 that we signed up for Thumbtack.

Thumbtack, if you don't already know, is a website service that provides professional service providers (designers, programmers, carpenters, lawyers, etc.), the opportunity to provide quotes on various types of consumer requests for a fee. These fees are based on Thumbtack's perceived value and type of request submitted by the potential client. Only Thumbtack Pros are charged these fees, it is free for anyone (and I do mean ANYONE) to submit requests through the site.

Over the past two years, we've worked hard growing Rolling Rook Studio, and we've actually come a long way. Thumbtack was a good starting point and has most certainly played a major role in our success.  These days, however, the quantity and quality of requests available through Thumbtack have been pretty dismal. Where once we were receiving 30-50 requests a day, it has dwindled down to 10-20, and those 10-20 requests typically come in with budgets of less than $200.

Thumbtack used to be pretty good about attracting healthier, larger companies, marketing directors who might be in a bind, or serious, small business people who came to the table with some R&D and at least some sort of budget. Now, it seems that Thumbtack is full up with kids wanting cool banners for their "clan's" YouTube gaming channels, a gazillion digital photography businesses, wannabe musicians, DJs, bands, or some sort of t-shirt design business. Typically, they've done no research and have no budget and they're clueless about what it takes to succeed.

What we find most disturbing, is the ever increasing number of Thumbtack Pros calling themselves designers, who are willing to bid on cheap, (less than $200), unethical (blatant copyright violations) and often illegal requests, (like photoshopping information on someone's ID or birth certificate).  It's a slippery slope straight to the bottom, and Rolling Rook Studio wants no part of it.

Fortunately, the bulk of our business, so far this year, has been from the return business of our wonderful clients.

While Thumbtack is constantly evolving, we have not seen any substantial changes that have been of benefit to us over the past 2 years and we honestly don't see it getting much better any time soon.

 

Why We Use PayPal

With very few exceptions, Rolling Rook Studio, accepts all of our client's payments via PayPal. We have a PayPal business account and have always been very happy with their service. But...we don't use them just because it is convenient for us. We do it to protect our clients.

PayPal is really part of our service. We provide our clients with professional services, professional invoices, and easy transactions, but that's not all. Our clients are protected by PayPal. PayPal offers our clients Purchase Protection. That means that they protect the financial information of our clients and if anything goes wrong with our service, our clients are covered! PayPal will investigate any fraudulent transactions, and if they are deemed covered by Purchase Protection, they will fully reimburse the client. 

It would be a major tragedy if this ever happened on our end. Not because we would loose money, but, it would most likely mean that our studio and all of our staff were destroyed and that no one could send you the files that you just finished paying the final invoice for. Hopefully, that never happens, but if it did, PayPal has you covered.

PayPal also offers us a very important service called Seller Protection. This protection includes protecting our sales, financial information, encrypting our transactions, protecting us against fraud, and the ability to make global transactions (as we do have clients in Canada, the United Kingdom and South America). Best of all, PayPal offers dispute resolution. 

Only once has Rolling Rook Studio ever had to use PayPal's dispute resolution. Still, to this day, we have no idea what happened. (The client never hinted at being dissatisfied with our service and they were sent the final files for their project.)  But, because we meticulously document EVERYTHING...we won and payment was awarded and released to us.

PayPal isn't just for eBay. It comes in handy for all types of secure, online purchases and donations. With the PayPal debit card, you can also shop just about anywhere. You can even get cash back! (Which is one of the ways that we keep the prices for our services at a reasonable rate.)

No, we're not getting paid by PayPal to write this blog entry (we wish), but it is a service we have been using for a very long time and highly recommend.

New Year Update

Our new year has been overwhelming! Overwhelming with the downs and the ups! 

On the down side...Early in the morning on January 10, we lost a very dear friend to cancer. One of our team has spent a good chunk of the last 6 months attending to his needs and was with him at his hour of passing. Since the funeral, that team member has been busy helping the family and friends with various projects. We're very supportive and proud of his dedication to his friend's family and friends.

The day after our friend died from brain cancer, the world lost an amazing artist, David Bowie. Again, another victim of cancer. A few days later, the wonderful actor Alan Rickman died from pancreatic cancer.  I've always hated cancer, but the start of this year has made me realize that hatred even more.

As a side note...We'd be happy to volunteer our services to any organization dedicated to fighting cancer or helping those with the disease. If you are with or know of one of these organizations in need of design work, please CONTACT US!

On the up side...We've been fairly busy. We've helped out a few return clients with branding solutions. We've been happy to assist a few non-profits by doing work on their promotional materials. We've also had the pleasure of meeting with some local businesses through Indiana Originals, and discovering some wonderful new Indiana products and services.