“Tighten Your Writing” is an ongoing series dedicated to writing tips and best practices.
People value grammar for many different reasons. Some are purists: They think rules are rules, and they must be adhered to on principle. Others (like yours truly) are driven more by practicality: Many sentences that are grammatically incorrect are either misleading or confusing.
One mistake that really confuses readers is a misplaced modifier. Verbs and phrases need to be close to the nouns they modify for a reader to follow a sentence’s action. When they’re not, the meaning of the sentence changes completely.
There are many kinds of misplaced modifiers, but they all share one trait: They obscure a sentence’s meaning. For example, take the following real-life business situation.
Say you work for a business that’s a leader in the technology sector. You’re reviewing a press release, annual report, blog post, or some other copy about your firm’s success and thought leadership.
Here’s one sentence that could be written about your company, “Tech Company X”: More…
“In the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how various designers were inspired to enter the creative industry. Melissa Jun is a Brooklyn-based freelance graphic designer.
1. What was your earliest design inspiration/impression?
When I was in college, I serendipitously met a designer by the name of Jan Gaunder. She was the art director for a magazine called Jacksonville Woman, and she took the time to show me what she did to make that happen. She gave me my first job out of college and I basically will always owe her, forever. More…
I just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and, along with eight thousand other bloggers and journalists, I’m going to put in my two cents.
This book is going to be the seminal book of our generation—the way The Feminine Mystique was for the last generation. It articulates the internal and external barriers facing those of us who have chosen to have both careers and children. It exposes massive sexism in our society’s cultural views, workplaces and homes. It’s a book that women can commiserate with and men can learn from.
Sound like nothing new? A couple things set this one apart:
- In a world where there’s very little vetting of “experts,” this book was written by someone whose credentials and experience cannot be denied. Sandberg was a long-time Google executive and is now COO of Facebook. She has kids (and actually gets home in time to have dinner with them) and a marriage that’s an equal partnership. Unfortunately, it takes a woman with this kind of cred to get people to listen. Fortunately, Sandberg delivers.
- Clearly the PR investment behind this book was monumental. A month before it was even released, I heard about it on NPR, read Sandberg’s Time magazine article, and couldn’t visit a news site, blog, or social network without seeing the buzz. With more than 300,000 books published each year in the U.S., it takes a really strategic (and well funded) publicity campaign to get this kind of coverage. This tells me that Sandberg is serious about using this book to create real change. With the book hitting #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List (and staying there) just a week after it hit the shelves, she has at least succeeded in getting our attention. More…
“Tighten Your Writing” is an ongoing series dedicated to writing tips and best practices.
In literature, it’s fine if a writer adds flowery language, ornate details, and other flourishes. That’s because when you sit down to read a book, you’re already interested in reading the text—or you wouldn’t have purchased it or picked it up off the shelf.
Marketing writing is different. Marketing and advertising copy needs to disrupt and engage; it needs to pull a reluctant reader in. And it needs to be efficient: You don’t have a lot of time to capture a reader’s attention.
That’s why Thinkso takes content—editorial concepts and written text—just as seriously as we take design. And although we believe everyone should strive to write well, good writing is critical to marketing-related communications.
How do we define “good writing”? We think it’s clean (error- and typo-free), clear, and engaging. It’s direct and grammatically sound. It’s integrated with a product’s visual components. It accomplishes (or conveys) identified business goals. If writing has all these qualities, we say it’s “tight.” More…
“In the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how various designers were inspired to enter the creative industry. Kerrie Powell is a founding partner at Powell Allen in London.
1. What was your earliest design inspiration/impression?
I was camping in Australia with my family (I’m guessing I was 6 – 8 years old), when I had an epiphany. A family friend presented her life drawing portfolio to me—spreading it from one end of their caravan annex to the other. Unfazed by its content, I remember questioning the budding artist about her broader studies. She (a fleeting mentor with no name!) was studying to be a commercial artist. Around this time, I obsessed over the way my school projects were presented—painstakingly crafting ornate borders and hand-drawn titles (with little feet and all). I even offered my services to my best buddies, who were far more academically minded.
All over the world, individuals and small organizations alike are trying to do more with less: figuring out how to stretch a small budget to cover their basic needs and make progress possible.
The answer to a lot of the challenges they face is good design—smart, creative solutions that make the most of materials at hand. Some very clever, simple, functional approaches to solving big problems around the world include:
I don’t know about you, but my brain doesn’t have a lot of room for storing things like Twitter shorthand. If you feel the same, download our Tweet Sheet to your phone for quick reference:
- Pull up this post on your iPhone (if you’re not already using it).
- Touch and hold your finger on the Tweet Sheet image.
- When prompted, touch “Save Image”. The Tweet Sheet is now stored in your Photos app.
Mobile applications become bigger and better every single year, fueling start-ups to develop ideas that improve our lives. And as the line between our personal and professional lives become more and more blurred, apps have trended toward bringing efficiency to both simultaneously. Here are five applications that are must downloads in my book:
This application allows you to search and request car services in seconds. It especially comes in handy when visiting a city that you are unfamiliar with or at times when taxis are scarce. Currently operating in 23 major cities around the globe, Uber automatically bills the ride to your credit card account on file. So even paying is a snap.
Con: As of right now, Uber is purely on-demand service. They do not accept advanced reservations so you’ll want to request your ride close to the time you’d like to be picked up.
For anyone in charge of a website, usage data is power. Google Analytics will track site traffic over specific time periods, give you insight into where that traffic is coming from, and help you identify keywords that lead users to your site. But the real power of GA comes when you use its custom features to track very specific actions you hope that users are taking on your site. Unfortunately, setting up these custom features is not as intuitive as one would hope, and using them can be intimidating.
There are three custom features in GA that will lead to more detailed, useful analytics:
Events – Tracking non-page view interactions on your website.
When to Use: You can set an “Event” to track anything that requires a click on your website. For example, use it to find out how many users watched a video—or even if they started watching and then abandoned it. Track if they clicked on a slideshow or a photo album. These results will help you evaluate what’s popular, what’s useful, what videos are too long, etc.
The Details: Tracking an Event requires that you (or more likely your IT team or web agency) place tracking code generated by GA into your website code. It’s fairly simple, but talk to your Webmaster about implementing the extra code on your website. More…
Process and organization are important ingredients in a successful professional services firm—and essential to being set up for future growth. In one of my favorite business books, The E-Myth Revisited, author Michael E. Gerber states, “A Mature [sic] company is founded on a broader perspective…a more intelligent point of view. About building a business that works not because of you but without you.” Thus, it’s been Thinkso’s mission from day one to put processes in place that 1) institutionalize individual knowledge and 2) ensure consistency and best practices for every aspect of our projects.
I’d like to share one small example with you in the hope that it’s helpful to your web marketing process and, more specifically, taking the first step toward SEO.
The Thinkso Website Meta Data Template (which you can download here) is a simple form that we use to ensure our designers, developers and clients are all on the same page with nomenclature, URL naming, title tags, and all the other meta data associated with each page of a website. We’ve put examples and guidelines for writing each of these items right on the spreadsheet so that no matter who in our studio is tasked with the assignment, as well as clients reviewing the form, understand and follow our methodology.
A note about this data and SEO: The page title tag, URL and meta description tag are important to SEO. Meta keyword tags are less so. But having the keywords in your page code puts them in a handy place to reference when creating content for that page; keyword use in page content is important to SEO.
Interested in other SEO info? Check out my post from the Confab Conference in May.
Early this spring, we decided that instead of spending our annual self-promotional budget on gifts and giveaways, we’d try something new: bring the extreme makeover concept to branding and do it for charity.
We dubbed the project “Give a Brand!” and reviewed a variety of nonprofits that might be a good fit. We eventually narrowed them down to three that we thought had the right mix of inspirational stories, commitment to the project and boots on the ground. After a month of public online voting, we had a winner! In the last week of voting, AIDS Orphans Rising—an organization run by the Religious Teachers Filippini in Morristown, NJ—pulled ahead by just a handful of votes. It was exciting seeing the votes roll in each day and to watch our combined social networks light up with support for the initiative.
On August 16, we set our client work aside and dedicated the day to the orphans. We weren’t completely sure how things would turn out or how far we’d actually get, given our one-day deadline. As we would normally do, we read, researched and consumed everything we could with regards to their work and mission—but at a pace different from anything we’d experienced before. It was all hands on deck, and we were very fortunate to have the help of good partners like Matthew Septimus Photography, Finlay Printing, Premier NYC, Skillcrush and MyCity4Her.com. We live-streamed the whole production with six cameras positioned in the studio and conference room, on designers’ screens, and even at the after party outside on the terrace. More…
In “this economy,” with a relatively high unemployment rate, companies may think they don’t have to do much to hire young talent. But there’s always competition in attracting high quality candidates, and most importantly, retaining them.
Young talent is desirable because it’s cheap. But investing in training young talent only to have them walk out of your door a year or two later is not economically prudent for a company. It behooves you to adapt your business in order to keep them.
There are a lot of loyal young professionals who don’t want to jump from job to job, so reward them by giving them a workplace they can be loyal to. It’s important to know the work environment preferences of twenty-somethings are starkly different from those of baby boomers’. But the good news is that what the millennials want is a better work life, something everyone can benefit from.
Give Them Variety and Context
When I interned at a large corporation, I worked on one big project the whole summer and learned it well with a restricted team. I never really knew how my work fit into the big picture or whom it was affecting. I constantly hoped that at some point, I would see the connection and thus understand how my work played a part. The advice I was given was to be a silent intern and “keep your head down.”
This past week, Thinkso launched a new internal project aimed to use our skills to better our local community. Give a Brand! is our one-day design sprint in which we will completely rebrand one small but mighty nonprofit for free. On August 16th, 2012 we will put all of our client work on hold and dedicate an entire day to conceptualize, design, write and build an identity, website and other marketing materials for a winning nonprofit.
We need your help! False Confessions, Xmental, and AIDS Orphans Rising are racing to get the most votes by August 10th. Join the cause and vote for who you think deserves to be re-branded!
Click to vote for the nonprofit Thinkso should rebrand
Share with your friends and join the conversation at #GiveABrand
“In the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how different designers got their start in the creative industry. James Biber is founder and principal of Biber Architects.
1. What is your earliest design inspiration/impression?
I grew up in Rob and Laura Petri’s town, New Rochelle, at precisely the time the Dick Van Dyke Show was on the air, in a thoroughly Danish Modern suburban home. I knew we had a Womb Chair before I knew what a womb really was. And even though my father owned an office supply store, they designed some of the furniture in our home. It was this slightly arty, slightly boho, slightly naïve and very suburban sense of design that I remember best.
I hated the furniture in our house, the dominance of olive green, ochre and orange, the slightly African art, the way nothing was normal. But now I realize that it made me a designer and now, as then, nothing I make is normal.
Along the Way is Thinkso’s ongoing series that highlights some of the people, places and things we are privileged to experience in our work as designers.
Thinkso has had the pleasure of collaborating with Baylor College of Medicine on their institutional communications for the past two years. We are proud of the work we’ve done for them and prouder yet to contribute in some small way to the amazing work they do in the field of medicine.
Working on the latest issue of The BCM Report, we met and photographed Space Shuttle astronaut Rich Clifford (STS-53, 59, 76). It was really cool and inspiring to work with a real, live astronaut, so we’d like to share part of the report’s article, written by Debra Passner, Executive Director of Academic Marketing and Communications at Baylor College of Medicine.
“It was just past midnight on March 14, 1996. I began the day strapped into the crew compartment and I could hear the voice of launch control counting off the seconds until finally I heard, “3, 2, 1 and liftoff of the shuttle Atlantis on a mission to the Russian MIR space station.” That pre-dawn launch was my third space shuttle mission as a United States Astronaut. It was, however, my first mission to space after being diagnosed with early Parkinson’s disease.
On May 11th, I participated in the most challenging race since fourth grade field day. The Ragnar Relay Race on Cape Cod provided me with the bittersweet combination of excitement and enthusiasm blended with the type of fear that could make any tough guy cry. The race comprised 400 teams of 12, each team running 186 miles within a continuous 24-hour time period. I trained for the last five months, running every type of terrain and through every meteorological condition (Captain Planet style). With so many people on a course that stretched from one end of Cape Cod to the other, I could only imagine the kind of planning that was behind the madness. And as a marketing strategist at Thinkso, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the race and our work.
Been there…but haven’t done that exactly.
Although I have been an avid athlete for most of my life, Ragnar posed new challenges and opportunities. With every new project, we have a kickoff meeting to understand the idea, direction and our client’s overall business goals. Each job is unique, and catering to its individuality is of the utmost importance to us. Therefore, we never go into a project assuming we can rest on the laurels of experience.
A few months back, when whispers of a local foodie/music festival started to leak in Brooklyn, my ears perked up. (I’m a fat kid at heart. Anyone who knows me is fully aware of my number one priority: food.) When I heard the magical word “free,” I was sold. (As a twenty-something in the city that never sleeps, my second priority is obvious: cheap.)
News of this event seemed secretive and exclusive. The name, The Great GoogaMooga, along with “coming soon” dancing across brightly lit food signs, created major intrigue. Keeping these ads image-heavy and void of any substantive information had everyone wanting more. Rumors of a possible Aziz Ansari appearance (major swoon), and obtaining tickets was still a mystery. Alas, finally the release date was publicized a few months in advance, but everyone was still left wondering what this event would exactly entail.
These intentionally covert tactics certainly succeed in creating buzz and excitement. I was ecstatic. Googa consumed me for weeks. I kept looking for more information online and tried to project how all of this would play out. I wondered if the event’s success in creating hype would be indicative of its ability to put on a great show—or if it actually created expectations that were too high to meet.
Confab is “the content strategy conference,” put on annually by Brain Traffic in Minneapolis. Their 2011 conference was a tough act to follow, but this year’s gathering did not disappoint. The following is a download of some of my takeaways.
Speak in pictures.
Dan Roam’s keynote kicked off the conference with something the graphic design world has known for decades: “To make content memorable, make it visual.” He referenced the book Moonwalking with Einstein, which examines how memory works—the gist being that the human brain turns ideas, words, stories, etc. into pictures in order to remember them. Our minds can parce and process dozens of images in the same time it takes us to read and process a single sentence. We will also remember those images more accurately and for longer than the sentence.
“In the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how various designers were inspired to enter the creative industry. John Klotnia is a Partner at Opto Design in New York.
What is your earliest design inspiration/impression?
Cigarettes and Beer.
Looking back, I recall two distinct design memories, one influenced by cigarettes and the other, beer. As a kid, I found cigarette packaging fascinating. Clean rectangular packages wrapped in folded cellophane, foil labels and flip top lids enclosing perfect white paper cylinders filled with tobacco and lined up in orderly rows.
In the design world, quilting is often relegated to the same category as scrapbooking and rubber stamping. At best, it’s called “geekery.” But when I attended the American Quilter’s Society March show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I was struck by how much quilting and graphic design have in common.
I’ve been quilting since I was about eight, so it’s bizarre that this comparison has never hit me before. I’ve always worked hard to reconcile my career choice in commercial art with my private passion for handwork. Nowadays, they are syncing up more and more for me.
In fact, one of the winning quilts from Lancaster is the perfect expression of what makes a “best of show” design—in any medium. Sherry Reynolds’s America, Let It Shine quilt excels in the same three categories that make a design project a success: concept, composition, and craftsmanship.
Stories are what give visual design dimension and capture an audience’s attention. It’s always where Thinkso starts with a project. What story are we trying to tell? What makes this story interesting/unique/engaging? More…