The Graphic Beauty of Metropolis.

I have always been somewhat aware of the cinematic importance and visual beauty of the classic silent film Metropolis, but after seeing it’s television debut on Turner Classic Movies a couple of weeks ago, my socks were knocked off. Besides the social commentary it offered – which was great in it’s own right – the graphic and visual artistry is what truly captivated me. In general, I love the aesthetic richness of the black and white photography from silent films, but Metropolis not only offers that inherent monochromatic depth, it also mixes in an unbelievable understanding and execution of the art styles of the machine age. Constructivism, Futurism, Dada, Art Deco and a little Surrealism work to make this film some of the best eye-candy for any admirer of the graphic arts.

From here-on-out I will let the graphic beauty speak for itself.

Original sketch of the title and actual title still:

 

 

 

 

Set sketches:

 

 

 

 

Metropolis:

 

The workers’ underground city:

 

Rotwang’s Machine-man:

 

And it isn’t just the celluloid itself that’s fantastic. The art associated with this film is equally gorgeous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to it’s restoration, a reason this was shown on TCM is because of the recent discovery of almost 30 additional minutes that were cut from the film soon after it’s release.

What an absolute treat it was for me to discover the beauty of this film first-hand. I do believe I have a new favorite movie.

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9 Must-Haves to Help Optimize Your Site – SEO made easy to understand. Part 2.

I explained briefly in an earlier post what search engines look for and how they rank pages. Part of that explanation revolved around the importance of keywords and your sites’ association with those keywords. Here are 9 simple (and necessary) programming tips you can actually apply to your web site that will help with your SEO.

1. Keyword infused titles tags.

This is what appears in the “Title” portion of your site. Make sure that each page of your site has a different title, and that each title has keywords relevant to that particular page. Search engines don’t like pages with the same title. In fact, it could hurt your ranking if you do that. Also, put your keywords at the beginning of the title – search engines give that location more relevance. Many companies put their name first but if you do that, consider putting it last within the title.

2. Well written, keyword infused descriptive tags.

This is the portion of text that shows up in the search engine results page below the title. Any keywords that were typed into the search box will appear in bold in this area. This is also seen and read by the searcher, that’s why it is important for this to be concise, descriptive and as attention grabbing as possible – but most importantly filled with keywords. Keyword tags were once an important factor in SEO coding, however, the descriptive tag now holds much more importance and relevance to search engines.

3. h1 headline tags.

This is an important coding issue. It’s easy to do, but often isn’t. If the code <h1> is put around a phrase within your source code (think of that phrase as a subhead on your page) search engines will look specifically at that phrase and give it high ranking priority. That phrase can appear anywhere on your page – it doesn’t necessarily have to be the first line of text. Only one h1 code is “allowed” per page, but utilizing it on important pages of your site will help optimize those pages to a higher degree than if they weren’t incorporated.

4. Hierarchical / drop-down menu navigation.

Besides the organizational ease of navigating your site this type of menu structure offers (you’re never but one click away from any page), drop-down menus offer another benefit. Search engines read all those navigation words so if some of those words are keywords, that helps with your relevance. Plus, if a search engine sees a keyword of yours linking to your site, they give that very high relevance and ranking. Since all your navigation words link to your site –– voila!

5. Using Customized Style Sheets (CSS).

If your site isn’t utilizing CSS it should for two reasons. One, search engines like very little code to read on a page. It will stop reading and indexing a page if there’s too much code on it. And if your page doesn’t get fully indexed some important keywords may be missed. A web site’s source code has lots of “general” information such as page width, fonts to use, colors, navigation information, image location etc. All this information is often the first code to appear on the page and usually appears before the information you really want a search engine looking at shows up (such as text and h1 headings). Very often that “general” information will run dozens of lines deep. Basically a CSS is a bunch of code located on a separate page in a separate location. Your actual web page is directed to find that CSS page using one or two lines of code. In a nutshell, you’re replacing dozens of lines of code with one or two lines. Search engines love that. The other benefit is that CSS allows for global changes. From a designer or programmer’s stand point this is a time saver. Change something within the CSS and it changes on every page utilizing it.

6. Image naming.

Here’s a little secret. Search engines “read” the names of image files. Rather than name files generically (topimage.jpg for example) use this opportunity to infuse some more keywords. So use keywords when naming files. You can use multiple words but make sure you use a hyphen (-) between those words because that’s how search engines understand separate words. Don’t run your words together or use underscores.

7. Build an .xml site map file.

Basically an xml site map file is a text file of your whole site that search engines can easily read and index. Part of this code can be made to tell the search engines how often to crawl your site. In my earlier post I mentioned the importance changing the content on your site has to good ranking. So if you follow that advice and regularly change your content you can tell search engines to regularly visit your site and it will see that you have in fact changed content. Beware though, if you tell search engines to come back and you haven’t changed content that could work against you.

8. Links back to your site.

In my earlier post I mentioned the importance of links back to your site for high ranking. Remember above (in #4) I talked about the positive effects of keywords linking to your site. Now apply that tip to any external sites linking back to your site. It’s not always possible to do – but if it is – have a keyword or two link back to your site rather than your site name. For example, I may have a listing somewhere that says: rbauerdesign.com – graphic design services. I would much rather have the actual link to my site on the words “graphic design” than on “rbauerdesign.com”.

9. Domain registration.

Search engines don’t like it when domains are coming up for renewal (spammers typically don’t keep a domain for very long). If you only renew annually, you may want to consider a 3 or 5 year renewal for your domain name. That makes the search engines happy and in the long run actually saves you a few bucks on renewal costs.

By no means are these all the optimizing tactics that are available, but they are some of the most basic, easiest and strongest things that can be done. Any one of them by themselves may be no big deal, but start adding them up together, over time, and you’ll definitely start to see your ranking steadily increase.

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Designer’s Rights. Don’t be Wronged.

This particular blog post is more of a forum. I have a question rather than answers and could use your help. Perhaps others like myself could benefit from your answers as well.

I have been affected by a situation that only a lawyer or someone having gone through a similar situation could definitively answer. Right now it’s not worth it to me to pay to find out the answer, but if someone is willing to part with their wisdom, I’m all ears.

Background:

Up until November of 2009 I had spent my entire 25+ year career working as an Art Director or Creative Director at a number of advertising and marketing firms. In 2009 I decided to leave the firm I was with and venture out on my own as a freelance designer/marketer. Months after my departure I received a letter from this firm’s lawyer. The content of that letter is where my situation and legal questions lay.

The Situation:

The letter stated that the owner of this firm believes the only way for items that I was involved in producing – while at the firm – to appear on the portfolio portion of my web site (rbauerdesign.com) had to come from digital files or hard copies removed from their offices without his knowledge or permission, and that all such items needed to be removed.

I fully understand the intellectual property (IP) rights in this situation. Briefly, an employer owns all IP rights of anything an employee produces. And further, unless a creative agency releases those rights to it’s client, the client has no claim to the work either.

On the other hand, if that creative agency utilized a contractor (freelance writer, designer, illustrator, photographer etc), it is that individual who retains some or all of the IP rights unless released.

In any event, knowing that I don’t own the rights to the work I produced I complied with the request and removed those items (potentially) taken from the office without permission or knowledge. However, I would argue the fact that since there is no written company policy, nor was I ever told I could not take any file or item during the course of the ten years I worked there and in fact had it acknowledged that as a matter of my job function I often brought work home, is implied permission and knowledge of removed files. But then again, I’m not a lawyer.

My Question:

What rights do I have as a creative person to show the work I was involved in creating and producing as a way of showing others that experience? I have never claimed “ownership” of any items, ever attempted to “resell” those ideas or graphics nor misrepresented my involvement and contribution to any project. In both my experience within the creative industry and my conversations with others on this subject, I have never heard of an agency prohibiting ones work from being used in ones portfolio. I do understand that while allowing agency work to be shown in ones portfolio may be “industry standard”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the law.

If anyone has some insight, it may be helpful to myself or others in this situation. Feel free to contact me off-line if you wish. I can be contacted through my web site.

Two Recommendations:

If you are on the creative side of a firm and producing creative work that you may someday want to show as part of your portfolio, I suggest you get written permission to do so. Preferably early-on in your working relationship.

And secondly, if you are on the receiving side of some creative work, you may want to make sure that it is stated somewhere that all creative rights are released to you. This is vitally important. Think – if you have an agency (or individual) create a corporate logo for you without releasing the rights, and for whatever reason that agency one day denies you the right to continue to use it, you’ll have to give-up using your logo. The same is true with hiring photographers or illustrators. Keep in mind though that if you make that request, it may cost you more for that item to be produced for you.

Ownership rights and usage has always been a touchy subject within the creative/advertising industry. I’ll dedicate another blog to the subject another time, and will include any insight I receive from this post.

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QR Code. The Missing Link.

Here is the answer to your first question: Quick Response. That’s what is stands for.

As for what it is. Basically it’s a bar code that is scanned and readable by mobile devices with a camera. The information encoded can be a URL, text, an email address, a phone number, an SMS short code, an RSS feed or other data.

If you own a mobile device, simply download a QR Code Reader. (Some Android and Blackberry phones come with a reader already installed.) They’re free and abundant on the web. After installing the reader and opening the app, a simple picture of the code will initiate the creators intent. The example I have here will send you directly to a URL.

If you are a marketer, there are many QR Code Generators available for free on the web. They’ll generate an image for you to use as needed – for print or web.

The code itself is free from any usage license and is clearly defined and published as ISO standard. Denso Wave owns the patent rights on the QR Code, but has chosen not to exercise them.

The term QR Code itself is a registered trademark of Denso Wave Incorporated.

The technology was developed in the mid 90s but has only recently gained traction and widespread use in recent years – mostly in Japan.

What does this mean – and how can I use it?

Keep your eyes open. This may have more mainstream use in Japan, but it is starting to show up more and more in the States.

Think of the marketing opportunities. Every retail package should have this code on it. As consumers become more and more tech savvy and smartphones become more commonplace the consumer – some of whom are already using bar code scanners for price comparing – will realize that a quick QR scan can send them to a site for instant product information.

As a B2B manufacturer, you can now put critical information that’s instantly accessible like safety or hazard information, assembly instructions or service information right on your product.

Non-profits such as The American Cancer Society can have a poster at a public event that has a code on it sending prospects directly to a donation site.

Any ad can offer opting into an SMS program.

The applications for this are endless – and if utilized properly a powerful marketing tool.

Basically it’s just a link, but if you’re not using it, it’s a missing link and a lost sales opportunity.

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The ABCs of SEO – Search Engine Optimization made easy to understand. Part 1.

Every business needs a web site but if that site isn’t easy to find by your prospects you’re losing potential sales. And guess who those sales are going to? YOUR COMPETITION. Especially the ones who have higher visibility and search engine ranking than you. That’s why it is so important for your site to be as optimized as possible.

Ranking is where your web site appears after typing words in the search box of a search engine (i.e. Google, Yahoo or Bing). That resulting page is known as the search engine results page or SERP. The words that are typed into that search box are known as keywords, and every web site should have industry and company related keywords associated with it.

SERP Facts

  • Google’s first page captures 89% of all clicked traffic. (Most searchers don’t even go to the second page.)
  • The top-ranked result on the first page captures 42% of all clicked traffic, with each subsequent result below that receiving fewer and fewer clicks.

What does that mean? That means that a) if you don’t appear on the first SERP there’s a good chance you may not be found on the internet and b) the higher you appear on the SERP the better your chances of being clicked-on. Being within the first three positions should be everyone’s SERP goal.

How do you rank higher on the SERP?
To answer that question you must first understand how search engines think.

It is the intent of all search engines to put the most valuable information forward for it’s users, so they rank based on a combination of two things – Relevance and Authority.

Search engines constantly “crawl” and index web pages. They look at the keywords and text content and match the relevancy of each to your industry and business. They also look for links back to your site from other sites. Search engines believe that if your site is linked to by others, you must be relevant. (Especially if that source is within your industry. That adds to your authority –more on that in a minute.)

All search engines periodically return and re-crawl sites. They like to see change. The more often a site changes the more they view you as relevant and authoritative (they really hate stagnant sites).

As important as keywords are (and they are very important) search engines love “authoritative” sites. A site is considered authoritative if it is linked to a lot, has constantly changing information, keywords match page content, are industry relevant and if the site is “all-over” cyberspace.

So, how do you move up the SERP ladder?

  1. It’s associating the best (most relevant) keywords – the words someone types into the search box – with your site. And that means all forms of a word (singular, plural, and different variations of words) or phrases someone may use to find you. When developing a list of keywords, try thinking of what users looking for your business might type in the search box. Don’t underestimate the value of spending some time thinking about your site’s keywords – they are the backbone to SEO.
  2. It’s being as authoritative as possible. Simply stated, your authority is based on others linking to your site. The higher the authority of the site linking back to you, the higher authority your site receives. In other words, a link from CNN carries much more weight than a link from your nephews family page. And you get links by appearing to be as much of a leader in your industry as possible. Industry leaders offer insight worthy of being read – which in turn garners links back to your site. Read and answer blogs – or better yet write a blog revolving around your industry. Participate in industry forums and answer questions. Contact industry associations and trade publication sites and request a link to your site. Get listed in industry directories. These are all ways of being viewed as an industry leader.

These are just some SEO basics. There are a variety of technical and programming methods along with a few “secrets” that should be implemented with every SEO strategy, but I’ll divulge those in an other article.

Moving up the SERP ladder isn’t expensive – in fact it really doesn’t have to cost anything – but it is important to recognize that it does takes time and some effort. In the beginning it takes a number of search engine crawls before that good relevancy starts to takes hold. It also takes time to start to be considered an authority. Basically you’re building an on-line reputation – and that takes time. However, if you’re persistent and keep a visible and refreshed on-line presence, I can guarantee that you will steadily move up in the SERP rankings.

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Anatomy of a Logo. 5 Steps – Due Diligence to Final Files.

I’ve developed hundreds of logos over the years and they’re designed primarily for 3 types of catagories. Corporate, product or event. Each catagory has it’s own design approach, but the goal is consistent – and that’s to communicate a message quickly and effectively while always keeping the brand in mind.

Here’s a quick look at how I develop a logo. Not every designer follows the same path as me, but I’m sure that in some form or fashion these steps are taken.

If you’re contracting someone to develop a logo for you, this is what to expect.

1: DUE DILIGENCE – This is as important a part of the project as any. It’s at this phase that lots and lots of questions should be asked. The brand should be fully understood. All unique aspects of the company, product or event should be understood. Any design expectations or limitations should be revealed as should all costs and timelines.

2: THUMBNAIL SKETCHES – Just about everyone expects to see some pretty refined and complete looking logos nowadays, but regardless of what the client sees for the first time, it’s essential that I first put pencil to paper. I’ll usually spend up to a day brainstorming, sketching and researching and put what amounts to doodles and thumbnails on paper. These are usually pretty crude, but it allows for a vision of what I want to accomplish to start to develop. Generally I’ll play with 10-20 directions before I feel comfortable enough to choose 5-8 of them to start developing more fully on the computer.

3: INITIAL CLIENT REVIEW – I’ll spend anywhere from 1-3 hours on each of 6-8 logos that then become part of my initial presentation. I usually have a pretty good idea which designs work the best, but I do include some that I may not think are as strong as others. I do this because the client may see value where I didn’t. If I need to, I can always explore that direction.

Part of a good logo presentation is a strong rationale for the designs. Whether it’s in written form or part of an oral presentation understanding the reasons for design choices can turn a seemingly irrelevant logo into a winner.

4: REFINEMENT – After the initial review and feedback, time is spent refining 2 or 3 of the logos. This may include exploring new font choices, colors, illustrative elements, client requests or suggestions etc. This refinement phase may go 2, 3 or even 4 rounds. Each time narrowing down the choices to the best solution.

5: FINAL FILES – Once a final design is chosen, the last step is developing all the appropriate file formats necessary for today’s varied marketing needs. There are primarily 2 marketing applications where a logo will be used. One is for printed material – offset or digital and the other is for internet use. When using a logo that will be printed, a high resolution (300 DPI or higher) file is necessary. TIFF or EPS file formats are best and should to be saved as CMYK color files. For internet use, a low resolution file (72 DPI) is used and saved as RGB color. These need to be formatted as either a JPEG, PNG or GIF file. If you’re not receiving a variety of file formats at the end of a logo project, you may be missing a crucial file that will cost you to have converted by your vendor. Don’t get caught not receiving what you’ve paid for.

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Make The Switch From QuarkXpress to InDesign

I’d been a QuarkXPress user since the early days and extolled the benefits on a regular basis to my “PC” friends. When Adobe first took a stab at desktop publishing I was wary. I extensively used Adobe’s other graphic products such as Photoshop and Illustrator, but desktop publishing? No one was better than Quark.

I thought.

A few years back I upgraded to the Adobe Suite of products, so in addition to the latest and greatest image, drawing and web programs I happen to now own a new version of InDesign. It still took a comment a few months ago from a fellow designer about InDesign’s virtues for me to try it. And now I’m hooked.

Without going into a side-by-side comparison (there are plenty of propeller heads that do that on-line) I will say that the interface is much more friendly. Especially if you’re familiar with any of the other Adobe product interfaces. Typographic features such as Space/Align are far less confusing using InDesign. Image links are so much easier to manage. They also offer full support of transparency in a TIFF file. The list go on –and I seem to discover something new and better the more I use it.

This isn’t necessary a plug for InDesign – wait, maybe it is – but rather a suggestion that if you’re still on the Quark bandwagon, and especially if you already own InDesign but aren’t using it, I would suggest you give it a test drive. Trust me, you’ll like it.

PS. Let’s also not forget that it costs hundreds of dollars less to purchase.

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