White Christmas 2010

The snow that started falling on Christmas Day here in NC has accumulated to about 6″ and counting. Those of you reading this who live in the north or midwest will get a kick out of the following:

Lt. Gov. Dalton, in consultation with Gov. Perdue, declared a State of Emergency for the entire state due to this winter storm.

I typically do not care for winter weather. I can become quite pouty if the temperature drops below 70 degrees (it’s 31 right now) and the artist in me cannot stand to look at an all-white canvas for too long. I keep hoping a Cardinal will fly by the window soon. However, it is rare that we get real snow. Our typical winter weather consists predominantly of sleet or freezing rain… and everything becomes a solid sheet of ice. It is refreshing to have powdery snow for once, and as crazy as it sounds, I have to admit I’m kind of okay with it.

I trekked out this morning with the DSLR to capture this unusual winter wonderland. My pup, Bogey, tagged along for the fun!

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We Wish You a Merry FreeStuff!

Who doesn’t like a bargain? …especially this time of year!

If you’re into all-things-tech, like me, you should definitely take advantage of the deals that are available right now. I want to share with you two ways to score things for FREE!!

Amazon is currently offering FREE MP3s in their Holiday MP3 Store. It is easy to use the search feature to locate all of the music that currently costs nothing to download.  On the left-hand side of the page, you will also find the 25 Days of Free link. Enjoy twenty-five Christmas songs at no charge. This is a great way to put together a compilation CD for last-minute Christmas gifts. If you’re willing to spend a few bucks, there is a limitless selection of MP3s and full albums for under $10!

Not into music? Check out the Kindle Store for the same great deals. Search FREE as your keyword to locate a selection of books that are free to download. These downloads makes a perfect gift for your hard-to-buy-for, tech-savvy family and friends! Just enter the recipient’s email address and a link to the download will be sent to them.

Head over to the iTunes Store to take advantage of the Free on iTunes downloads. Select from Music, Featurettes, TV Episodes, and Apps. Check back often… some of the free offers are for a limited time only, and new items become available daily. For example, games featured in the App Store, ranging from $.99 to $4.99, will occasionally show up as FREE for one day only. There is even an App called FreeAppADay that lists those daily deals all in one convenient location. It only takes a second to check on your OS device!

…and while you’re there, don’t forget your always-free subscription to podcasts – like my favorite, Knuckleball Cast. Help support all pod-casters by subscribing to their shows and leaving your reviews!

Here’s to a merry & bright shopping experience!!

Graphic Design: Helpful Hints

I’m a perfectionist. I understand that everyone makes mistakes. Believe me, I will likely have my fair share in this blog alone!! However, I find that I over-analyze most things in the graphic design world. I guess this stems from my many years in the business, working my way from a Typesetter in a print shop to an Art Director in a publishing company. Every employer instilled an attention-to-detail in me that apparently is here to stay.

I usually have to glimpse through a publication, like a weekly sale advertisement, on multiple occasions. The first time I view it, I have a tendency to size-up the actual layout. I observe typography, margins, and bursts. I make mental notes of what works, and what doesn’t. It is only the second or third time I flip through the ad that I actually pay attention to the products and their pricing.

I will also analyze invitations, flyers, and mailers… nearly any print material I encounter. I love to see how designers use color, be it effectively or not. I appreciate a good company branding, but enjoy an out-of-the-box design too. I will even analyze paper and printing techniques, and will keep some on hand to use for conceptualizing later. I’m not sure if these assessments are a healthy habit or a curse.

One consistency I find in graphic design… primarily from designers who have limited experience, or more so, those who call themselves designers simply because they have a computer with Microsoft Office… is a lack of detail. Do they analyze items that they have readily available; like magazines, brochures, or posters? Is there a desire to learn copy-writing tricks-of-the-trade for accurate grammar? What kind of emotions are you putting behind your typography or color pallet?  I would like to share three quick Helpful Hints that will benefit any designer, no matter their skill set.

1. If you know this is going to be printed professionally, call ahead to request printing specifications. Based on the piece you are designing, the printer may have several printing options. To save time and money, for both you and the printer, it is best to set up files correctly from the beginning. Take into consideration: margins, bleeds, colors, and format. Microsoft Word is NOT a layout program. Although it is feasible to create something out of it, the file usually causes most printers a lot of heartache. You want to deliver a file that the printer will not have to manipulate before printing. This will cut down on your printing costs, and shorten turn-around time.

2. Proofread your work. There is often a preoccupation with producing a creative design. Too much attention to the appearance of a piece could hinder you from missing an obvious mistake to the basic information. (Case in point: one of my first professional design jobs, I left the L out of the word public. No one at the printer reviewed my work, as it was presented to them as “print ready” and I had relied on spell check to proof my basic info. Pubic is a word, but the folks at the city’s utilities department were not very impressed that it appeared in their brochure.)

When dealing with clients, do NOT expect them to proofread basic information either. Often they feel if they have hired you to design the piece, you’re responsible for editing it as well. Pay particular attention if you are simply re-design a previous piece, or they have requested a consistency in their material for branding purposes. If it looks familiar to everyone involved, no client will read it carefully.

Lastly, if you are dealing with a large group (I have found this to be true with larger non-profit organizations) there tends to be too many people are involved in reviewing the information. Everyone thinks someone else is paying attention and catching mistakes, and therefore, no one person feels totally responsible to carefully review the invitation, specifically looking for mistakes and omissions.

If you feel uncomfortable with copy-writing or editing, there are some excellent resources online. However, if you prefer to work face-to-face with someone, contact your local advertising agencies. You can hire someone on a project-by-project basis, and often you will find that many of the copywriters and editors freelance in their spare time.

3. High Resolution vs. Low Resolution images. Obviously the higher resolution your image is, the larger the file will be. No one likes working with giant files placed into large layouts. It will slow your computer (especially if you’re on a shared network) and your productivity down. However, resolution is crucial to viewing quality. Don’t fall victim to the 72-rule. I still hear the advice, “Computer screens show images at 72 dpi, so scan all of your images for the screen at 72 dpi.” Although dpi is more flexible on screen, it is crucial to have the highest dpi possible in printing. Typically, printers encourage designers to use 300 dpi, an industry standard.

I plan to post more Helpful Hints blogs monthly, not only for graphic design but also for photography. Please leave me a comment to let me know if the tips I post are resourceful, or if you would like me to cover a specific topic.

Happy Designing!

Foursquare vs. Gowalla

Intrigued by the amount of friends from areas other than my home state of NC who use Gowalla, I began researching its features in comparison to my current service, Foursquare. Below is general information about the two. You’ll find that, though similar, each service individually has very unique traits.

Foursquare is a location-based social media website and software for mobile devices. Registered users “check in” at venues to connect with friends, update their location, and be awarded points and badges. Users can also choose to have their check-ins posted on Facebook and/or Twitter using a built-in notification service. Badges are earned for reasons like frequent check-ins or patterns of locations visited. Additionally, if a user checks into a venue once per day for more days than anyone else (within the past 60 days), the check-ins are valid under Foursquare’s time & distance protocols, and the user has a profile photo, they will be crowned “Mayor” of that venue until someone else earns the title. Foursquare will also notify a user of the number of days left before he or she is crowned “Mayor.”  Users may also create a “To Do” list for their private use and add “Tips” to venues for other users to read. Many businesses have started using Foursquare as a marketing tool, offering discounts or specials to “Mayors” or visitors to their venue. As of March 2010, Foursquare had 500,000 users internationally.

In 2010, Foursquare is a runner-up in the T3 Gadget Awards 2010 as the App of the Year.

Gowalla is also a location-based social networking service. It was created by Alamofire and is set up in the same context as Foursquare, in that users “check in” at locations in their vicinity. With Gowalla, each check-in allows the user to receive items such as promotional items, which are often linked to real-world prizes. However, these virtual items can be swapped or dropped at different locations. Items form a key feature of the gaming aspect of Gowalla, and each user has a vault into which they can place items they want to keep forever. Just as with Foursquare, notifications can be pushed to the user’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. As of March 2010, approximately 150,000 people use Gowalla.

Wikipedia states, “Gowalla won the Mobile category in the 2010 South By Southwest Interactive awards.”

I will likely download the Gowalla application to my iPhone. It interests me enough to try it out for a month or so, in order to see the first-hand benefits of the service. Check back in a couple of months to see a follow-up blog to the question everyone is dying to know… Will I keep Foursquare or make the switch to Gowalla?

Geekend2010: Session Highlight

I was fortunate to be able to attend a technology and new media conference in Savannah, GA on November 4-6 called Geekend2010. One of the most interesting sessions of the weekend was hosted by Mimi Chan, National Creative Director of CBS Outdoor Canada. It was entitled When Out-of-Home Meets Application Programming Interface.

Ms. Chan demonstrated an array of unique perspectives on how technology trends have enhanced some of the oldest mediums in marketing, such as billboards. “If you put a picture in a public place, you already have an audience,” Chan explained. “All you need is an outdoor campaign to catch the attention of your audience and through smartphones, mobile apps and God-knows-what-else [will be invented tomorrow], it will be seen around the world by millions.”

It is important to create a big idea. If designed correctly, things like billboards and transit ads can serve as encouragement for social media interaction. Take, for example, a mural campaign where small QR codes were displayed together to create a larger image. The QR codes were randomly placed in the image, which engaged interaction from the audience, who spent hours scanning the codes and retrieving information.

Mimi Chan discussed three key ingredients to a great marketing campaign. Those items sure to bring success are:

outdoor medium – an “in your face”
approach to catch the eye of the public

interactive/social media – integrating
modern technology into the campaign

creativity – focus on “out-of-the-box” ideas
that will help your ad stand out

Chan discussed the Adidas campaign in length, explaining that the company’s interactive billboards often resulted in viral marketing. Though most of their designs had no immediate social media connection, billboards often became the subject of many viewers’ text messages, posts, or photo uploads.

In conclusion, the When OOH Meets API session left guests feeling a sense of artist freedom and limitless options when considering their marketing campaigns. Chan delivered a great presentation that reminded us that old-school mediums combined with new technology can create quick, effective advertisement.

More examples of interactive billboards can be found by clicking here.