business

My Past Life in Design

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The Beginning

Sometimes new clients ask about my design background, whether I have a specialty, or how I came to do what I do. I think of myself as a Jane of all trades (I won’t even delve into all the jobs and industries I’ve worked in that weren’t design-related), but I’ve been a graphic designer since working on my high school newspaper.

In ‘97-’98 we were still using the paste-up method for sending our school newspaper to press. Our layout software didn’t allow us to insert a photo on the page, so we’d just include a big open box that fit within the article. Then, on the printout of the final page, we’d use a wax pencil to label each box A, B, C, etc. and we’d paperclip ACTUAL PHOTOS to the page with corresponding labels of A, B, C, etc. written on the back, along with the percentage the photo should be sized within the box (there was a special tool to help us do the math). If the photo had to be cropped, we used another tool and made those corner crop marks on the front in wax pencil. We had a makeshift lightbox (pictured above with yours truly) and the photography/photojournalism room was right next door, which conveniently included a huge darkroom.

My sophomore year in high school, while attending a conference-style event at the University of Texas at Austin where newspaper and yearbook staff from high schools all over Texas came together, I decided that was where I would go to school and journalism/design was what I wanted to do forever.

Laura at the first-ever ACL fest in Austin, 2002.

Laura at the first-ever ACL fest in Austin, 2002.

AUSTIN

I did indeed go on to attend UT Austin for four and a half years, and during that time, I secured my first internship at Celebrate Austin magazine, which was an annual visitor’s guide placed in hotel rooms all over Central Texas (actually, it still is!). Since we had a small staff, I got to wear a lot of hats: writer, designer, photographer, copyeditor, and more. I remember when we had to design an ad for an advertiser, I would be the one to physically drive to the advertiser, pick up their zip disk (!!) or CD of logo files and photos to be used (or worse, pick up an actual business card or large professional photograph of their product so we could SCAN them… and then I’d have to personally return it all, too). I got paid in reimbursed mileage, advertising trade, and fancy lunches where I learned how to order and eat sushi after proclaiming “Sure, I love sushi!” The trade gift certificates ensured my roommate and I actually got to have a social life since we had zero dollars, no furniture in our living or dining room, and ate things like spinach sandwiches and Tuna Helper on the regular. In future years at Celebrate Austin, I did get paid a nominal hourly rate. Another benefit (if you are 19, which I was) was that I was able to secure press passes to any concert I wanted (including the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival), provided I brought back a roll of film from the show. Since it was an annual publication, however, production staff was only needed half the year, so every other semester I would try and find different internship opportunities which included working at the short-lived dot-com Citysearch, and the famed Texas Monthly magazine as an assistant to the assistant of the publisher.

I thought I would be heading straight to NYC after college, but even after a successful recruiting trip with Texas Advertising Group (some of us shown here at an NYC reception) all the companies we met with were on a hiring freeze in 2002, the city still reeling from 9/11. So I headed west instead.

I thought I would be heading straight to NYC after college, but even after a successful recruiting trip with Texas Advertising Group (some of us shown here at an NYC reception) all the companies we met with were on a hiring freeze in 2002, the city still reeling from 9/11. So I headed west instead.

Vegas

My Celebrate Austin publisher’s best friend was a department head at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and though I’d never been to Vegas before, I accepted her offer after a phone interview, and packed my bags in 2003. After a 10-month stint (and a lot of fun) at Caesars, I felt settled and comfortable in Las Vegas, and wanted to get back to design. I found a job as a graphic designer at Recharger magazine, a publication serving the worldwide toner and inkjet cartridge remanufacturing industry. It’s not glamorous, but it is/was a huge industry, as we were able to fill hundreds of pages on a monthly basis, plus a quarterly bonus publication, and host a massive annual trade show at Mandalay Bay. We even began reproducing each monthly magazine into digital editions in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese as well. Adding trade show materials to my resume, using stock art for the first time, working with layouts in foreign languages, and transitioning from Quark to InDesign were all skills I developed here, for which I am grateful.

Freelance

In between things over the years, I freelanced a bit. I laid out newsletters for personal stylists, created postcards for artists to promote their work, and designed magazine ads as a contractor for various publications.

Dallas

After getting married and moving back to Texas, I found a new job working at Club Marketing Services. We worked directly with brands large and small to merchandise and promote their products in retail environments. We also worked on developing private label product packaging and created buyer presentations to get new products picked up by large retailers. We worked with professional food stylists to shoot products in-house and I added package design and project management to my repertoire.

When CMS announced their intention to shutter their Dallas location and focus all efforts on growing their Bentonville, AR office, I knew I didn’t want to relocate again. I thought it was the perfect time to jump ship and go into business for myself, and I started a monthly magazine for tween & teen girls in the DFW area. It was short-lived because, you know, the whole impending doom of the economy circa 2007-2008, so that was fun.

After Metro Girl, I landed in the role of Art Director at Texas Lawyer, a weekly regional newspaper (plus quarterly magazine inserts, 14 legal books a year, production of the Dallas Bar Association newsletter, and more). I learned so much from this position and stayed here for three and a half years. Over that time, my family continued to grow, life became more chaotic, and I needed to be closer to home and more available than the position could allow.

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Custom Life

Finally, my second foray into solopreneurship and my last stop before Green Apple Lane was owning and operating a design brand offering completely custom wedding stationery. For over nine years, we produced extremely high-end, award-winning work that was featured in many publications. I developed watercolor and calligraphy skills (and even taught lettering classes for a while), and I enjoyed working with some of the finest specialty printers in the area for foil, letterpress, and embossing. I dusted off my rusty etiquette knowledge, and addressed and stuffed more envelopes than a person normally sends in a lifetime. While working on these fancy invitation suites, I was also working with businesses on their websites, logos, and promotional materials, building up a B2B client roster and eventually creating Green Apple Lane as a separate design brand/company. Once I felt like I had enough business from business, I quietly ducked out of wedding-land, but I’ll always be proud of this gorgeous work.

 
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Green Apple Lane

I remember, as a teenager, perusing the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble and buying not only an Entrepreneurship start-up book endorsed by Forbes, but also 1001 Home-Based Business Ideas or something like that, zeroing in on the whole “Desktop Publishing” (what graphic design used to be called) career section… I’m not sure those are normal choices for a teen, but then again, it’s not like we had Twilight or Harry Potter in the 90s. And now for all that dreaming, learning, and growing, I am doing what I always wanted since I was 15, and I am happier than I have ever been.

Getting Seen on Facebook

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It has become trickier than ever to ensure your brand’s content is being seen on Facebook. In 2018, Facebook began prioritizing “meaningful interactions” from friends and family over brand-generated content, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying, “You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see […] should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

To give your content the best shot at being seen, engage using Facebook’s most valuable behaviors (from social media scheduling platform Hootsuite):

Comments

The algorithm prioritizes active interactions like commenting and sharing over passive interactions like likes and click-throughs — the idea being that actions requiring more effort on the part of the user are of higher quality and thus more meaningful. Rather than passively scrolling through the News Feed and occasionally pausing to “like” a photo or an article, Facebook wants users to be inspired to engage in conversations with each other.

This means brands should create quality content focused on sparking conversations between users. Try including questions in your posts, or writing about timely, relevant topics that users are sure to have an opinion on. The point is, users will be more likely to see your Facebook posts if their friends and family are commenting on it.

The algorithm not only favors comments, but also replies to comments. These signal that a piece of content is inspiring conversation between users.

Reactions

If a user takes the time to hit the “love” icon vs. the “like” icon, your content will receive a minor boost in the News Feed. Just as in life, “loving” is a more valued emotional signal than “liking.”

The same goes for all Facebook’s reactions: Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. Facebook wants to see those “active” emotions.

Use Messenger

If a user shares a piece of content to their wall, that’s great, but it’s even better if they take the time to send it to a friend (or a group of friends) over Facebook messenger.

Engagement on Shares

While sharing a post is a pretty “active” interaction compared to most, simply getting shares is not enough. Your post must be shared and get engagement on that share to be prioritized in the algorithm.

Tips to increase organic reach on Facebook:

  • DO create quality content that resonates with your audience! This is the single most important piece of advice in this list. Everything about “meaningful interactions” boils down to creating quality content that people actually want to see.

  • DO use video & live video. People linger over a video post five times longer than at a static post. Video is not only good at capturing attention, it’s better at inspiring action, too.

  • DO use a clear call-to-action so that the audience knows how to engage, whether that’s liking, commenting, or clicking through your ad. Where relevant, ask a question that can be answered with a like or comment.

  • Don’t post engagement bait like “COMMENT here if you love puppies!” It’s spammy and will get you demoted.

  • Use high quality visuals: Skip low res, blurry, stock-quality images.

  • Keep copy direct: Short and sweet copy is always best.

  • Optimize for mobile: 88% of people use Facebook on mobile.

  • Limit text in visuals: Use Facebook’s Image Text Check tool to ensure your image passes the test.

  • Target the right audience: Facebook allows advertisers to target audiences based on their location, behaviour, demographics, connections, and interests.

  • Time strategically: Running ads at the right time will have a positive impact on your ad’s performance.

And finally…

If you’re attempting to target a younger audience, you might want to consider some of the data from this article: “44% of people aged 18 to 29 said they deleted the Facebook app from their phones in the last year.”

That doesn’t mean they’re deleting their accounts, but it does mean they’re going to engage less often and less consistently.

Let’s talk about which social media platforms are best for your brand and audience!

Client Spotlight: Cloud Creative Events

We first began working with modern luxury wedding planner Cloud Creative Events a few years ago, the way we start working with many of our small business clients – on a single small project. She had created her own website, as many solopreneurs do, and got in touch with us for a little SEO treatment, which went really well.

As Cloud Creative has grown, we’ve implemented several short rounds of website improvements over the years to expand on the site’s content and reflect their growing team and portfolio.

In the last six months though, we’ve been working with Cloud Creative a lot more. Owner KC Cloud was ready to make some big moves, so in that time we have redesigned their logo, made several more website updates (especially to expand the portfolio and publicity pages), and we’ve also updated their pricing booklet and created new business cards for KC and her team – all without complicated and expensive design “packages” since we just track our time.

We couldn’t be more proud – take a look!


Updated Website:

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New Business Cards:

 
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Updated Pricing Booklet:

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Top 5 Things to Know About Working With a Graphic Designer

It’s not easy to know how to work with creative types like graphic designers, so we’re sharing our top 5-ish tips we wish potential clients knew:

1. Just because we’re “creative” doesn’t mean we aren’t professional.

Not all creatives have blue hair and facial piercings (but to each their own) or sleep late and work all night. At Green Apple Lane, for instance, each of us offices from home, but we have dedicated real offices in our homes, and we manage our time really well. Potential clients sometimes ask, “What types of clients do you serve?” to which we proudly reply that we work with all types of clients from all types of industries: lawyers, healthcare professionals, car dealerships, luxury wedding planners, auto mechanics, cake bakeries, political campaigns, dairy farms, private schools, beauty products, professional photographers, art classes, funeral services, real estate, authors, and the list goes on. This has made us chameleons, or Janes-of-All-Trades, because we have to dive head-first into all of these fields, and we love it! And depending on the client, we’ve had meetings in board rooms, coffee houses, garages, or just over email and phone. We’ve met in flip flops and business suits. We’re in the business of whatever your business does, however you do it.

2. Tell us the issue, not what you think the solution should be.

Design solves problems, so it’s our job to come up with the perfect solution. When you tell us the problem and the solution, you run the risk of severely limiting our thinking and boxing us in, which is a bummer, because then you don’t really get to realize the full benefit of our expertise. We love it when you tell us “what” and leave the “how” up to us. And try not to make your feedback too specific. Actually take a minute to think about what it is that you don’t like about something, and share that with us. For instance, instead of deciding “It should be in red,” (which is telling us the solution), say, “The color isn’t right, I’d like it to be more bold/in-your-face.”

3a. The design isn’t for you, it’s for your customer…

More often than not, the opinions of whether you, your spouse, your child, or even your designer PERSONALLY like a design are completely irrelevant, unless we are your ideal customer (and it’s highly unlikely that all of us are your customer, unless you’re in front of a grocery store selling Thin Mints).

3b. So please don’t tell us what your spouse thinks.

If there’s one thing that really gets under our skin, this is it… “I showed the design to my ‘insert relationship here’ and they said didn’t like it.” First off, while this person is probably super smart and amazing, the designs are based off of your direction, because you know your business and your clients best, not your spouse (unless this person is a business partner, in which case, their input should have been considered from the beginning). This person has not been privy to all the conversations we’ve had leading up to the design and this is likely their first time to hear about the project, so honestly, their opinion is not really relevant to the project. One caveat: if this person brings up actual relevant feedback or questions to you and you agree, feel free to pass those along to us, but please just pass them off as your own thoughts and opinions and don’t pawn it off on your hubby or your kindergartner.

4. That person who created that thing for you a long time ago was not an actual designer.

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Sometimes clients have a previous experience with a “graphic designer,” (read: someone with a bootleg copy of Photoshop), and their expectations were shattered somewhere along the way, so they’re feeling understandably hesitant to work with a designer again. But a professional graphic designer spends years learning software programs, typefaces, color theory, marketing strategy, and how to decode people’s feelings and turn those feelings into visual imagery. If the only file types you were provided with at the end of the project were jpgs with white backgrounds, that is a tell-tale sign you worked with someone masquerading as a designer. In that case, you have every reason to feel salty about the experience, but please know this probably-well-intentioned person was simply a novice at best, and you should have a completely different experience working with a professional. Now if you were provided files embedded inside a Word document, on the other hand, this person was a monster and you were lucky to escape (a little designer humor).

5. Finally, the cardinal rule: Don’t ask if you can take us out to “pick our brain.”

This is what we do for a living and we LOVE it, but we take our craft seriously and we also have bills to pay like everyone else. We charge by the hour, just like an attorney, for our time and expertise, so don’t ask us to give up 1-2 billable hours to dispense that advice for free in exchange for a coffee or a salad (or even worse, “exposure”). Close friends and family are the most common offenders here, not typically a new contact, as this is a more informal “ask.” We love you, so if you want to have coffee and talk about your super cute kids, your stressful mother-in-law, or your new puppy, we’re all in, but if you want to talk shop, offer to pay us for our time first (and you may even be surprised with discounted rate), but don’t make it awkward by expecting it to be free.

Client Spotlight: Lindsay's Art Cart

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When we were initially referred to Lindsay’s Art Cart by mutual friends and clients, the art-teacher-turned-small-business-owner said she was ready for her very first website. Up until then, her business, which offers private art parties and public art classes at various locations around Arlington, TX, had grown popular among friends of friends, and she would market the classes and parties by creating facebook events, and using the eventbrite plugin for merchant services. Lindsay already had a logo she loved but she needed a dedicated home on the web for class info and an event calendar she could populate with classes and parties so customers could register quickly and easily.

We went right to work on what turned out to be a ridiculously cute web design for Lindsay and her adorable Art Cart logo, which went live New Year’s Day 2018. Shortly afterward, we began working on promotional pieces for her first summer art camp for kids (2018), a t-shirt design, A-frame signage she could haul along with her to any venue, and more.

Last summer, we pitched another project to Lindsay: an ABC’s of Art Coloring Book which she positively LOVED. Together, we came up with the art mediums for each letter and with the help and creativity of our summer design interns, we launched the coloring book at the end of summer 2018, which can be purchased at several shops around town and also on her website. Lindsay said it was a dream come true!

As a result of what began with just a website, business is booming: so far in 2019, her revenue has increased 71%, with unique visitors to the site up 150%, and overall visits to the site up 167% (2019/2018). Some sessions of her 2019 summer art camp have already been sold out for weeks. Lindsay’s boundless energy and positivity are unmatched in the business world, so it is always a pleasure to work on projects for Lindsay’s Art Cart, and it is a joy to watch this business continue to grow and flourish – we can’t wait to see what comes next!

Web Design Trends for 2019

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Design trends are history in the making, and we’re going to take a closer look a few you’ve likely been seeing lately:

1. Getting “Serious” About Logos

We’re still seeing a rise in brand identities shedding their initial startup quirkiness and turning toward a more modern, sans-serif version. It might be a little bit boring, but perhaps they’ve just matured… or maybe they are just playing into what they know we all feel comfortable and familiar with. Either way, expect to see more brands rock a clean, modern version as 2019 marches on.

2. Outlined Text

Half here… half gone… there’s something intriguing about outlined type, which draws the eye – a smart move for memorable branding!

3. Iconoclast Illustrations

More expressive graphics are popping up all over the web, melding physical & digital landscapes together in an abstract way using photo collages and three-dimensional illustration.

4. Adventurous Fonts

While logo designs are continuing to trend toward sameness, we’re seeing more headlines with vintage, abstract, chubby, and nostalgic fonts. An easy way to break up the monotony without going off the deep end is to use various weights of the same font instead.

5. Massive Type

We’re seeing text blocks so large that they break a word or sentence into fragments, which forces you to focus your full attention in order to read each word in it’s entirety – brilliant!

And to round out the Top 10 design trends of 2019:

  • Overlapping Elements

  • Inclusivity in Design

  • Brutalism

  • Grid-Style Text Blocks

  • Designing for Mobile first

ready to update your website in 2019?

Client Spotlight: The Oakridge School

We have worked with The Oakridge School for nearly 10 years on all kinds of projects from their golf tournament collateral, summer programs brochure, booklets, invitations, flyers, and logo modifications. Then, almost a year ago we were invited to respond to their RFP for an opportunity to become their official Agency of Record, which would make us responsible for their admissions campaign for the entire school year. We jumped at the opportunity, and to our delight, our proposal was accepted. Design is our first love and we are happy to invest our creativity into any project, but putting together a complete campaign is every designer’s dream.

Our Methodology

We wanted to keep the amount of text minimal but include words associated with the cornerstones of an independent education: Academics, Arts, and Athletics. The background is a photo we shot of their iconic fence line – it not only provides a visually dynamic eye-line, but it represents being “inside the fence,” and it also showcases the oak tree line along the edge of campus. The ornate frame at the top holds the call to action, which literally points straight into the word cloud. Or, if your eye lands directly in the word cloud, there’s a good chance your line of sight will be directed upward into the call to action, as it springs from the center like a thought bubble.

“When you really break it down, marketing is just the psychology of getting someone to give you a moment of their focus, with the hope and possibility of something more. The only way they’re going to give you something more, however, is if something about you makes them take a second look. Something that makes them pause,” said Chris O’Neill, the CEO of Evernote, at SXSW 2018 (see our Conference Recap here).

Many private school ads heavily incorporate the school’s colors, but their signature deep navy and hunter green were getting a little bit lost in print publications, as many other schools share at least one of these colors in common with The Oakridge School. So we went in the complete opposite direction and used a sunset colored overlay, including the famed “Millennial pink” and coral (the 2019 Pantone color of the year), which really help the ad pop off the page. “It’s so different from what everyone else was doing, and that’s what we loved most about it,” said Laura Heymann of Green Apple Lane.

The campaign design worked well in print, online, and even fit in seamlessly with the school’s website. We isolated each word and included a photo background to correlate with that word (the art room for “create,” a cheering crowd for “win,” etc.), all accented in a blue overlay to fit right in on the existing home page carousel.

In addition to the campaign graphics, we used hard data from their web analytics to advise and make media placement recommendations for the duration of the campaign term, including a radio broadcast ad on KERA (the Dallas-area PBS and NPR station), for which we also crafted the copy.

Additional design projects

(unrelated to the campaign)

  • 40th Anniversary (“Ruby” anniversary) logo alteration and related signage

  • Assorted social media graphics

  • Athletics marketing piece (select panels shown)

  • Admissions marketing piece (not shown)

  • Infographic marketing pieces (select area shown)

  • Custom “instagram photo frame” signs for various occasions, and more!

Ready to stand out?