5 Criteria for Hiring a Great Graphic Designer

bright ideas

There are no quantifiable metrics for measuring creative talent. That’s for good reason. If you want to produce inspired materials that set you apart, you need someone who isn’t going to be entirely technical and formulaic. Designers need to be smart and reliable, but they also need to be genuinely creative. It can be daunting to assess all of this when you’re faced with the important choice of whom to entrust with your branding, website and marketing materials.

Here are 5 simple guidelines to help you choose a designer you can trust:

Experience

No amount of talent can make up for knowledge that is hard-won in the field. Students and junior designers play a very important role in the design world, and they may be eager to work for less money, but a more experienced designer is essential if you wish to see efficiency and confidence reflected in your branded materials. 

Experienced designers have learned to integrate the many elements that go into successful branding, including design strategy, hierarchy of content, the subtleties and power of color, and how to express grand ideas with maximum efficiency and impact. Just like in most areas of life, with design, you typically get what you pay for.

Portfolio

Each designer’s work speaks for itself. Look for a professional whose work excites you.

You should be able to answer many questions by reviewing a person’s portfolio. Have they worked across a broad range of industries, or do they specialize in a particular niche? Are they experienced in print work, web design, interactive or some combination? Is their preferred style edgy and gritty? Sparse and clean? Handmade and illustrative? Is this designer good at typesetting and layout, or are they really better at logos?

Designers who display a good deal of breadth across styles and industries are more likely to be adaptable. And those who serve a more particular niche can also provide excellent, well informed results for businesses that fit their wheelhouse.

Clarity

This is perhaps the most difficult quality to find in a designer, especially those who are more green. To some extent, all designers are intuitive and even capricious. We like to experiment and have fun with what we’re doing, which is essential to creativity. But when designers have a solid grasp of the reasoning behind whatever choices and directions they are presenting, the results are going to be vastly better than when they don’t.

Even when a designer knows why they are attempting to solve a problem in a specific manner, it can be difficult to verbalize. Visual communication is powerful precisely because it can convey so much meaning in an instant. When a designer is able to explain their thinking, it gives them and their clients the means to enter each other’s worlds and collaborate on an entirely greater level. 

It is much easier to exchange and perfect ideas that are clear to all involved.

Personality

There are a lot of tropes about creative geniuses who are difficult to get along with. This is a nice, romantic concept, but it’s certainly not a necessary reality. As with anything, work goes much more smoothly when you are dealing with someone you like. This is a good time to go with your gut.

Responsiveness

If you send a note to introduce yourself to a designer and it takes them a week to get back to you, this is not a good sign. Being that they are creatives, designers aren’t usually type-A people, but they should be reasonably well organized and deadline oriented. When you are first getting to know them, ask them how they manage project timelines and on what sort of schedule they generally communicate with clients. In a nutshell, you want to go with a designer who has good answers to your questions, not someone who stutters or stares blankly back at you.


Referrals are often the best possible way to get started on your search. Ask people you know – especially those with good taste – which designers they’ve worked with and whether there are any they would strongly recommend. And, of course, once you’ve found a designer who seems to meet your criteria, it is always valuable to go the extra mile and contact 2-3 references provided by the candidate.

Best of luck in your searching!

- Melissa

Client Spotlight: Black Bird Knits

skeins of yarn

Given the saturation of electronic media and virtual stimulation that has overtaken our lives, the increasing desire many people have for all things hand-made and home-made should be a surprise to no one. These elements of personal, tactile experience are a touchstone for removing ourselves from the sometimes mind-numbing constancy of bright screens and perfect, synthetically constructed products that surround us.

For any of you attuned to the hand-made realm, especially those specifically interested in fine prints and textile arts, we proudly introduce our talented friend and client, Kate Fisher of Black Bird Knits.

Skeins & Frames

Flight 9 had the pleasure of working with Kate to create her logo and her website, which launched in August of this year. We are so impressed with the elegance and excellent design quality of Kate's original, downloadable knitting patterns, each of which are expert-tested and include variations for size adjustments.

Kiko sweater pattern
youth sweater pattern
scarf pattern
hat knitting pattern

Those seeking fine craft décor will also love Kate's original, hand-pressed woodblock prints and notecards depicting black birds in a fanciful world of hand-wound yarn and knitted nests. Her pieces are perfect for knitting aficionados, in particular, but should be quite pleasing to any fan of hand print work.

Checking Gauge print
hand printed cards

Whether we are creating or observing, humans have always intuitively understood that art and craft can have powerful effects on our minds. As an experienced art therapist, Kate Fisher knows this well. You could say that Black Bird Knits builds on this background by trading in "yarn therapy" and "aesthetic remedies"! 

Visit BlackBirdKnits.com to learn more about Kate and browse her beautiful gift offerings… just in time for the holidays!

- Melissa

*All photos by Debra Wallace.

Hue & I: Our Complex Relationship With Color

complex color pattern

Several years ago, during my early adventures as a freelance designer and illustrator, I had an opportunity to land what seemed like a sweet account with a Fortune 500 company. A marketing exec who was drawn to my fine art background asked me to create paintings of office equipment that she then planned to pitch to her team as a new branding/advertising concept.

I was a newbie. I loved painting. I wanted a killer project. Against my better judgment, I spent untold hours creating 3 paintings on spec, with hopes and dreams that they would be brilliant enough to impress the suits who sold the machines and propel my creative career like a rocket.

Alas, the dream was not to be. What killed it? One measly color.

Hold the Mustard!

Yep, mustard yellow did me in. I had managed to create relatively good, lively art featuring an office copier, of all things. It sang! It leapt off the canvas! The exec loved the texture and expressiveness with which I had imbued an inanimate device! But I had chosen a textured background of mustard hues – a color that had, as I was told, "not focus-grouped well" with their customers.

It's water under the bridge now, but when I'm discussing color I always think back to that and shake my head. How do you focus-group a color?? I'm not a fan of focus groups, anyway, but in this case it's particularly nonsensical. Allow me to explain …

Blue Is Not Sad

  The Old Guitarist - P. Picasso, c. 1903

The Old Guitarist - P. Picasso, c. 1903

We've all seen posts and memes backed by spectrum pseudo-science that try to simplify color into little digestible bits of meaning. They tell us that certain colors, all by themselves, can make us feel particular emotions or even cause or cure headaches, altering circumstances by their mere existence. You know the drill … Blue is sad. Red is powerful. Green is natural. 

This completely ignores the fact that there are a million different shades and values to be found of each basic hue. Blue not only isn't sad, blue isn't even a thing, really. It's thousands of different things, each with subtle variations and characteristics. Some blue shades may be sad in some contexts (see Picasso), but that is the farthest we can realistically go with any abstract assessment.

If one is inundated by a single color, covering a large visual space, there's no denying it can have a visceral impact. Color does have power. It's almost always subliminal, but it's real. We know, for example, that a place can feel a bit warmer or cooler based on the colors in the environment, and that isn't a made-up thing.

The problem is when we try to explain these effects with no regard to context, color-relation or complexity.

The Music of Color

If we put a color in front of a person and ask them to tell us what they think of it, this will almost certainly fail to mirror the range of various reactions they might have to that color depending on realistic context. Think about it in terms of music. You could not play someone a single note – say, B flat – and ask them what they think of it all by itself. That might be an interesting experiment, but it would do pitifully little to help us understand how that person might experience the same note in various songs, at various volume levels or as expressed by different instruments or voices. Our experience of notes and tones depends on context. Color is exactly the same.

Depending on where and how a color is used, and especially depending on the other colors (or lack of colors) in its proximity, it can come across in an entirely different way. Let's look at some examples.

grayscale with mustard yellow

This single note of mustard yellow doesn't look all that special just sitting there amongst the grayscale. But, in this setting it does at least provide stark highlight and contrast. It's "color sound" is more intense and bright by far than any of the quiet, unassuming notes surrounding it.

muddy hues with mustard yellow

When set in between tones of similar hue but diminished value, our mustard yellow falls extremely flat. I could hardly imagine a worse context. (Poor little lonely, ugly thing.) And yet …

monochrome mustard

Look at all that mustard! Give me a hot dog now!! This dance of related hues draws out subtleties in a stark way. If you look at any of these swatches alone, or in certain other context, they would all mostly appear more yellow, even while in this image some of them come across as green. But in close proximity, the variations cut right to the surface. And notice how happy this example is compared to the ones above!

harmonious color with mustard yellow

Now our little mustard yellow strikes just the right chord within a family of varied tones that combine harmoniously.


What I hope has been made clear here is that working with color is far more complex than most of us stop to realize. Even "mustard yellow" is not a singular, static thing, and we should never attempt to analyze best color choices and application without exploring its dimensional aspects.

Most instrumental musicians will tell you they played for years before they truly began to sink into their instrument such that it became second nature. This is a function of neurology. As we learn and practice, neurological pathways literally thicken and deepen, so that our understanding moves into the primitive parts of our brains. When this happens, things that used to involve analysis before action become much more fluid. My relationship with color has been that way. I was working as an artist and designer for years before it all became a very comfortable, almost automatic instinct. Before then I was able to apply theoretical knowledge and try different things until the right combinations were apparent. Now, my brain is tuned into color, and it no longer requires much thought. It has been like learning a new language, and I so love to explore it.

May we all enjoy a renewed appreciation for the sights and visions in our world and continue to discover harmony in new places.

Cheers!
Melissa

Favorite Past Project: Anti-tobacco Ad

 Anti-tobacco newspaper ad

Anti-tobacco newspaper ad

Work That Is Its Own Reward

Most graphic designers would probably agree that our occupation is more rewarding than most. The privilege of working in design and branding is that we get to work collaboratively; we are allowed and encouraged to let our creativity flow; and, we are called to employ both cranial hemispheres in the act of creating and shaping meaning. It feels good to do all of those things.

The projects that provide us with the greatest fulfillment – speaking for Kelly and I – are those that encapsulate all off this in the context of fostering positive change.

Looking back over the past several years, one project I am most proud of was an ad for a Western New York anti-tobacco campaign. The campaign aimed to bring attention to the marketing of tobacco products and its impact on youth, while influencing retailers to change their practices.

The creative brief was simple, with few parameters, allowing me a lot of artistic flexibility. I was provided with various images of older pieces the group had published and some very literal photographic images that I could incorporate if I wished.

But I wanted to do something that would drive the point home on an emotional level. Something that wasn't preachy but that would affect people viscerally. 

I wanted to make people hold their breath for a split second.

Most of my initial concepts were fine but not necessarily powerful. The idea for the concept that ultimately won out came to me suddenly, when I wasn't trying, as most of my best ideas often do. I could see the whole thing in my mind. All that was left was to make it come alive. And then to pray the client shared my vision.

The Concept, Explained

The literal message – the text of the ad – is information that most of us would never give much thought to. And I knew the piece would be buried in a large newspaper spread with lots of competing content. So how could I get people to read it? If I couldn't make them look in the first place, those words would have been no more valuable than the paper they were printed on.

The boldly contrasting black and burgundy tones were selected to provide a foreboding, stark sensation. This was balanced against a softer background so as to not be overly intense. The yellowed tone is also evocative of nicotine stains.

The lettering in the graphic represents something threatening and intrusive – a message forced into the space without thought or regard for its audience. It is unavoidable and careless as it overwhelms the small human figure in the foreground.

The silhouetting of the child reflects the idea that "the messengers" behind tobacco advertising view him as anonymous. Yet his posture and other details should hopefully tell us enough about him that we begin to sense he is someone we might know and would wish to protect. He is anyone's kid, keeping his head down, staying out of trouble and just trying to get home from school. If only we could make it a little easier for him …

Once the graphic grabbed attention, the intention was for the eye to be drawn next to the subheading "Protect your kids from tobacco advertising." If that missive made any impact, I'd already done a good job and, most likely, many viewers would go on to read the rest of the text, bringing the point home even further.

It has been several years since the ad was published, and to this day it remains one of my favorite pieces ever. I'm proud of the concept and very much enjoyed bringing it to life. 

I will never know for sure, but I hope it helped make a difference.

- Melissa

Naked Concepting (And Other Secrets of the Flight 9 Workflow)

Every creative team has a rhythm to the way they interact with clients and the way they develop projects internally. Here is the low-down on the Flight 9 workflow and what you can expect when collaborating with us.

the creative process

First Date

We'll get to the naked thing later. But first! Before things get serious, we need to do some old fashioned background work. With long-standing clients, we are often able to gather the specs for a new project over the phone, but in most other cases nothing beats some quality table-talk. 

At this stage we are trying to get information and specifics, but we also want to understand on a deeper level where you are coming from. How does this project fit into your larger vision? Are you excited, nervous, bewildered, or totally clear on the end game? Within that context, we strive to make sure we know what is expected of us, and we let you know what further info or resources we may need from you in order to get the job done right.

 A Modest Proposal

After the ice-breaker, we get to work creating lists and outlines to establish a fine-tuned picture of the process that will take place and the requirements of the final product. You will likely get a couple of calls or emails from us during this phase to fill in blank spots we discover as we create our roadmap. 

With certain projects we use what is called a Creative Brief. This is like a questionnaire that we complete in collaboration with the client to help everyone get on the same conceptual page. This helps prevent situations where we go off and work up some (brilliant, gorgeous) concepts only to discover that we are headed in a direction completely different than what was desired. (Depending on the project, we may choose to employ the Creative Brief after the project is already contracted, but always before concepting begins.)

Once we've got the essential info, we then create and present a detailed proposal explaining estimated costs, our expected timeline to completion, and other parameters. 

Naked Concepting

Once a client signs off on a proposal, the fun part begins. If you have ever seen MadMen, you're familiar with Don Draper's office couch and the many earth-shattering life and career epiphanies he's had while ostensibly napping. That's actually sort of how it works. Our best ideas tend to show up when we're waking up, taking a walk, pumping gas, or … naked. In the shower. (Yes, that really happens. It's weird to us, too.) It does also sometimes happen while we're sitting at our desks, but so often the prime muses prefer to sneak up on us in unexpected, remote locations.

Once we've wrestled up our inspiration, we proceed to rough sketches, either on paper or digitally. We typically narrow these down on our own a bit, then discuss them in an internal review. From here we spruce things up some more and present our best ideas to the client. (NOTE: These are the times we think about you, oh valued client, in the early morning as we stress over which outfit and accessories make us look the most professional-designer-y as we're throwing on a second coat of deodorant for good measure. It's not unlike the first time meeting your boyfriend's parents.)

Let's All Hold Hands And Jump

The vast majority of the time one of our initial concepts emerges as the clear favorite. In these cases we hit the ground running to fully flesh it out. Sometimes there are competing favorites, in which case we may take a couple of directions simultaneously in an effort to dig deeper into the concepts and come out with a front-runner. There are then typically 2-3 rounds of revisions (sometimes more, sometimes less). Hopefully, when it's all said and done we have produced finished work that exceeds expectations, delights audiences everywhere and contributes to rising profits (and/or other key benefits) for our client.

It is always energizing to launch a final piece into the world knowing we've done good work and made a contribution to our client's success. That absolutely never gets old.


While the development process for each project will necessarily vary, these general phases represent a pretty solid overview of the way we work. The bottom line is that communication, inspiration, clarity and attention to detail are most important to us because we know they are most important to you.

- Melissa

Hold the Hatchet! How to Critique Design Without Losing Your Creative Edge

Design decisions should be carefully considered, but it's important to avoid over-analyzing to the point where you lose the heart and soul of your concept and end up with something that makes you feel safe but actually puts you at risk of appearing unoriginal and boring. 

Below are some tips to refine your review process for optimum results.

focus group

Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes a concept is so fabulously inspired that everyone instantly agrees on its brilliance, allowing the joyful creative team to take a well-deserved, impromptu holiday at the beach after pocketing the time that had been set aside for several rounds of revisions.

At least I've heard of this happening.

For good reason, the design process normally requires considered cultivation on the part of the creative team, the client and sometimes other advisors. But, of course, balance is always key.

Design and the Brain: How We See Things

Left and right brain theory gets a little oversimplified, to be sure, but it's a paradigm most of us are familiar with, so I will employ that here. First, a review: In essence, the right brain is considered the center for creativity, impulsivity and gut reactions. The left brain is our more analytical hemisphere, where quantification and rational comparison prevail.

Always start with the right brain. What you want to do is make sure the "gotcha" comes first and then follow up with the practicalities: those details that ensure your compelling core concept is appropriate and does not fall apart at second glance. The early rounds of creative work on a given project should be primarily focused on identifying a visual strategy that will draw interest and bring emotional impact to your message or brand. This is the part where the biggest risks should be taken and primary goals should be flexible and uncomplicated. If you start with a long, strict list of details and requirements before you've allowed anything to freely flow, you are almost guaranteeing a tired, uninteresting end result. For this reason, it is often best to limit initial leadership to your top one or two most inspired internal players.

To be clear, this is not an anything goes scenario. Creativity thrives best when given just the right boundaries, and the ultimate goal of the project does not need to be thrown out the window here.  Just do not try to accomplish every objective in the first round. Make sure you have that gut impact in place before you worry about all the other desired outcomes. This core quality will speak louder than any amount of word-smithing or nit-picking can ever pull off.

Enter the critics. Once you've got a couple of strong options identified, then it's time to bring in the analysts. Here is where the left-brain perspective starts to come into play. Just be careful what you're asking during this phase … and how you listen.

 Throw me a literal bone.

Throw me a literal bone.

The most crucial thing to keep in mind during this part of the process is that, for the most part, your intended audience will never look analytically at your marketing and branding. While you or certain members of your team may feel motivated to unearth all possible errors, pitfalls or potential misinterpretations of the project, they are essentially turning off their right brains in order to look at things in this way.

An experienced client typically learns how to balance these sometimes conflicting ways of seeing, but, arguably, as you bring more people into the review process, the more likely you are to lose your grasp of the gut reaction you started with.

How can this be avoided? A lot of it depends on how you ask for feedback. Here are some suggested guidelines:

  1. Start by saying absolutely nothing. Try leaving mock-ups of preliminary concepts visible in key places without telling anyone you're looking for feedback. This most closely mirrors the experience your intended audience will have (because, in the real world, it is highly unlikely anyone will be standing there asking them to evaluate the work). This is your best chance to gather genuine, off-the-cuff, right-brained responses. Any feedback you get at this stage is, at the very least, proof that you have something interesting going on!

  2. Ask open-ended questions. If someone makes a comment or you notice their attention is drawn to the piece, try to dispassionately ask, "So what do you think?" Or even better, "Oh, you've noticed that? What caught your attention?" It may be helpful to write down and compile responses, but do it after the conversation is over so they don't feel like they are specifically supposed to be offering criticism.

  3. Don't share your opinion (yet). Whether members of the internal team love or hate the concept, they serve the process best by keeping this to themselves during these "unplanned" conversations. This takes some discipline, but it's worth it!

  4. Avoid focus groups. Yes, these can be helpful in certain situations, but in reality, the environment created is completely unlike any in which the audience actually lives and breathes. Again, once you ask people what they think and request their critical input, their left brains switch on and they start influencing each other in ways that are unlikely ever to be mirrored in the real world.

  5. If someone has to tell you to see something, it doesn't exist. This one is tricky to explain. Say your buddy Joe remarks, "Hey, that shape in the background looks sort of like Hillary Clinton!" Well, if several people independently notice the same thing, then it really does look like Hillary Clinton. But if no one else notices it? Then it does not, in fact, look like Hillary Clinton. Officially speaking. However – and this is the important part – if Joe tells everyone what he saw, then suddenly it will be real for all of them, forever. Do not let Joe convince you that everyone will see what he's seen, and do not let him spoil the broth. Hold that thought, until …

  6. Synthesize the results of this process privately with your team or a few trusted advisors. Start with a reminder as to why the given direction was chosen in the first place. Then allow everyone to share all feedback that was gathered. Try to put extreme or unusual responses aside if they are not echoed by others, keeping in mind that a concept that pleases everyone equally is often not your strongest choice. Also, weight the responses according to whether or not the person quoted is representative of your intended audience. If common responses become apparent, these are your key findings. These will inform the revision process, hopefully leading to clear, predictable end-results. If no common responses float to the top, then it may be that the gut response you're seeking hasn't yet been accomplished and more additional concepts need to be developed.

The ultimate goal is to make sure any revisions made to the creative direction you originally believed in are based on objective experiences of the concept that are as authentic as possible with regard to your intended audience.

In the end, taking disciplined steps like these will help ensure objectivity and should make you feel confident in the final product, even with ideas that might otherwise feel risky.

- Melissa

Printing Basics: Offset vs. Digital

printing paraphernalia

When printing your marketing materials, there are two basic options to choose from: offset and digital. 

Offset printing uses ink applied to metal plates and transfers the inks one color at a time as the paper travels through a series of rollers. Offset printers come in a variety of sizes based on the number of ink colors that can be printed at one time and the size of the sheets that are run through the press. Most offset presses are either 1-color, 2-color, 4-color (usually Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, or "CMYK") or 6-color (e.g. CMYK plus a spot Pantone color and a spot varnish). 

While there have been advancements with ink formulas, the basic technology behind offset printing hasn't changed much in recent years, and it continues to be a great option for printing at higher quantities (typically greater than 500), or when color matching is a high priority. Since the bulk of the expense in offset printing comes from the creation of the plates and the setup of the press, the price per piece goes down significantly as the quantity increases. For example, you may find that the cost estimate for 1000 pieces is only a few dollars more than the estimate for 500 pieces. Turnaround time for offset pieces is usually 7-10 business days but can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the supplier's workload.

Digital printing is evolving every day and is an ideal choice for lower quantities and/or when personalization or customization of each piece is desired. Digital presses typically operate much like a high-end color copier, using toners with CMYK inks to achieve the desired color effects. 

Thanks to recent advancements in digital printing, special print effects like foil stamping, embossing and spot varnish that used to only be available through offset are now achievable on a digital press, as well. Digital printing is usually priced per piece and is not as significantly affected by a quantity discount. For example the estimated cost for 1000 pieces will usually be around double the cost for 500 pieces. Because there are no physical plates to be made, any necessary revisions are relatively easy and inexpensive. 

Happily, digital printing presses have created full-color production capabilities that are much more affordable than in days past! Turnaround time is usually faster than offset, typically 3-5 business days. Since turnaround is quick and low quantities are easy to accommodate, this is a good solution when an "interim" piece is needed, or if a client does not want to store excess materials.

OFFSET BASICS:

  • More cost-effective for larger quantities (typically greater than 500)
  • Better for color matching, compatible with Pantone inks (PMS colors)
  • Often (but not always) sharper image quality
  • Higher setup fees 
  • Slower turnaround time
  • More extensive paper stock options
  • Printable on larger sheets (good for oversized jobs or ones with extensive folding)

DIGITAL BASICS:

  • Better for quantities of less than 500
  • Great for customizing and personalizing materials
  • Typically has a faster turnaround
  • Ideal choice for invitations and seasonal materials
  • Full-color pieces for much lower cost than full-color offset
  • Bonus:  Now you can add special printing effects like embossing, silk screen, foil stamping, and spot varnish on some digital presses.

WHICH TO CHOOSE

When deciding whether or not a job should be offset or digital, the first thing we check is quantity. If quantity is 300 or less, our first choice is always digital. Next, we look at the physical size of the piece. If the flat (unfolded) size is larger than 18"x 22", we usually must print offset. We then consider the client's timeline, budget and any needed special effects, die-cuts or folds.

More recently, the majority of our projects have been printed digitally. Letterhead, business cards, brochures and invitations are prime candidates for digital production. We love the flexibility of being able to affordably order only 100 business cards, for example, until a client's website is finished, when we then add a web address to the card for a second printing.  We do still design many pieces for offset, and we always value the quality and craftsmanship that goes into a fine offset piece. It is a special process working hand-in-hand with account representatives and press operators to achieve refined results on our larger offset jobs.

Whatever your needs, we can always help you find the best solution!

- Kelly

Template Websites Grow Up

Oh, the glories of evolution! Where once we were crawling on our bellies through a sticky swamp of code, treacherous updating processes, and browser-compatibility muck, we have joyously reached the dawn of a new age in website design.

Behold the rise of intuitive site-building platforms that actually work! 

This is no small miracle.

devices illustration

The Codacious Period

Kelly and I both worked with HTML in the early days. It was cool for a while – nice to be on the cutting edge. But soon enough, with growth of the internet and the rise of scripting, many designers came to a juncture where a choice had to be made between going full-techno or returning to our roots in visual design. For a while we dabbled in Flash and CSS, but both eventually stuck with the more familiar road. Then, when called upon to design websites, we often partnered with experienced developers who were up-to-date on the rapidly changing world of coding, scripting and web construction (what’s called the back end). These projects typically provided good results for clients, but the process was frequently long, tedious and costly. 

At that larval stage in internet history, not only was site-building much more complex; site design was also far less standardized. As with all new tools, experimentation with layouts, navigation structures and “special effects” translated into a lot of people bending over backwards to repeatedly try and reinvent the entire web experience, often in a very ineffective manner.

Then things began to slowly improve.

A Little Better, A Little Faster

The advent of Content Management System (CMS) platforms such as Wordpress and Joomla, along with improvements in web-design software packages, represented a big leap forward. However, even just a couple of years ago, our experiences with these development platforms were consistently disappointing. The promises of ease, simplicity and malleability just never fully came through. Yes, things were better, but projects with any degree of real customization still required copious help from techies to fix “mysterious” errors and fine-tune sites to everyone’s satisfaction. Life may have been a bit simpler for the coders and development pros, but content designers still lacked autonomy.

Happily, we have finally crawled out of that swamp. 

Clean, Mean & Lean

Over the past year, using Weebly Pro as our preferred drag-and-drop development platform, Flight 9 has created several websites, each involving substantial customization, without the need to hire developers. It has been a sea change for us to be able to happily offer this much more affordable and streamlined service.

Whereas once upon a time creating a website was roughly a 50/50 split between content development and technical construction, instead we can now focus 95% of our energy on making sure each site looks great, navigates intuitively, and communicates effectively. Integrated small-screen optimization and a few SEO tools are included, too. Our clients get more bang for the buck and end up with sites far less likely to break or need regular technical updates. 

Website templates, once considered the playground of hacks and high-school students, have now grown into fully dynamic and customizable tools that can increase efficiency without sacrificing creativity or brand integrity. Website structures and navigation are now appropriately standardized, largely eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel and rethink each site design from scratch. 

Don’t get me wrong; developers are our friends. It was developers, of course, who gave us these shiny new tools. And not all needs can be met with templates. Many sites that require extensive multimedia, database integration, high volume e-retail or other complexities definitely must involve a savvy developer, and probably even several of them. Even Weebly (or Wix or Highwire) sites sometimes require minor adjustments from back-end pros. The triumph is that we can now expect this to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Thanks for reading!  
– Melissa

5 Things to Know About Designing a Great Logo

We get it. Sometimes it's hard to know how best to spend your marketing budget. But never underestimate the power of a good logo, or the careful planning that goes into creating one.

Your logo is the foundation upon which all of your marketing materials will be built. You want to make sure it's solid and well-thought out before building the rest of your visual brand. If you rush the process and don't put the work in up front, it could cause headaches for years to come and keep your business from meeting its full potential. At Flight 9 Creative, we've spent a lot of time working with clients on creating their logos, and here is some of what we tell them.

1. Your logo should reflect your personality …

Well, duh. That probably seems obvious. But the fact is that sometimes clients overlook this basic fact and underestimate the amount of thought and planning that should go into designing your logo. Your designer should ask you questions about your company, your target audience, your mission and your competition before cranking out some generic "your business name here" graphic. Your logo is your cornerstone, and, even before we start sketching, we first do some serious research and brainstorming. Make a list of all the words that you associate with your business. Are you conservative or edgy? Fun? Traditional or Modern? What kind of color palette makes sense– bold, bright, natural, soft, sophisticated, or quirky? We ask a few questions and then use your answers to come up with a list of words that begin to define who you are. 

When presented with concepts, your designer should be able to clearly explain the reasoning and rationale for choosing the direction.

2. … but it can't say everything. Drill down to your core message and focus on that.

It's important to keep in mind that a logo can't possibly say everything about your company, just as you can't tell the plot of a book by looking at it's cover. The logo is there to work in concert with other materials and to be a quick and memorable visual representation of your core brand. Since you often have only a few moments – or perhaps just an instant – to make an impression, your logo needs to give your viewer an initial feeling of "I want to know more about this company" or "This company looks like one I can relate to and aligns with my expectations." 

At Flight 9, we take the time to analyze our initial brainstorm and narrow it down to 3-4 words that are essential, and focus on those. The other words and concepts that we've discussed still come into play when we move on to the next steps. Those ideas will come through on your web site, in your advertising and on your social media platforms, and all of these will work together with your logo to reinforce and strengthen your brand.

3. A good logo will stand the test of time.

It's easy to get sucked into the latest trends, but you want to make sure your logo will endure and not look as dated as acid-washed jeans 10 years from now. Carefully selecting a typeface and color palette that has personality – without being trendy or over the top – is an important factor. There are a ton of really "cool" and quirky fonts out there, but you want to make sure your logo is readable and won't go out of style just as your business is taking off.

4. A good logo is scalable.

What is your primary use for this logo? Is it going to live mainly on the web, or do you anticipate placing it on packaging and print materials? How about billboards or promotional items? It's good to know up front if these other applications are important to your company. A full color logo that looks great on a web site might look like a gray blob when you need to print something in black and white. A logo with gradients or halftone (photographic) images won't be easy to translate into embroidered uniform shirts. It's always good to know how you plan to use your mark – before you end up trying to print a 4-color logo with gradients on a golf ball or pen.

5. Try to give your logo "legs."

For many businesses, a good logo can become even better when it has individual graphic elements that can be pulled out and used on other print materials. Perhaps you have a visually interesting logo that has (for example) a star in it, or a stylized letter. That star (or whatever) can be pulled out and used as an icon somewhere else in your print materials, or the stylized first letter of your company name can be used as a watermark or favicon. The more your logo lends itself to flexibility and expansion, the easier it is to create an arsenal of graphic elements that can be used to create visual interest and reinforce brand consistency across all platforms. 

- Kelly