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Shutting Down 2 Successful Businesses at the Same Time. Yes, We’re Nuts.

On December 1, there were 2 deaths in our family. And we couldn’t be happier. The deaths were 2 successful businesses – Independent Studios and Lily Giggle. Were they mercy killings? Were there troubles? Eh – sort of. Read on, intrepid design fan…

Mister Terwilliger

One of 5 Reasons to Shutter LilyGiggle

First – Lily Giggle. Beth (my wife and one of the principles here at Blue Dozen,) shut down her very successful PDF sewing pattern business. Why would she close doors something that was working? Why leave money on the table? The answer here is very simple: family. Beth decided that it was time to refocus. Lily Giggle had grown far beyond her (or anyone’s for that matter) expectations and had started taking too much time to maintain properly. She faced a decision: Keep the business rolling the way it was and be forced to spend too much time with admin, upkeep and all the trappings of success, or go on hiatus and risk being unable to fire the boiler back up. The first choice was the easy path. “It’s business. My family needs the money, and it’s my job…” It’s what the world tells you is the right. It’s what most folks would do. It was successful. It was rolling. It was good. But, it was hard – and it kept her from what she really wanted to focus on: her family. Our family. The second choice was hard: stop, breathe, refocus. Beth decided to take the path that requires a lot of explanation and sacrifice. She pressed pause, not knowing if the tape would resume. It might, it might not. We don’t know right now – but what we do know is that she made the right choice. She put her money where her heart is – family. She had a sale and shut it all down Saturday night. It was hard. It will be hard. But now, she has the time to stop, breathe and refocus.

Second – Independent Studios. I started Independent Studios waaaaaaaaaay back in 1999. It grew and shrank and changed and suffered through good choices and bad choices, great clients and clients that could politely be described as nosebleeds. But, it was good, and it was heading in the direction of big success. Why would I shut down a successful business? Easy: passion.

Our Passion for DesignMy passion got lost along the way. It wasn’t my passion for design and marketing and advertising and websites and all that. That’s NEVER changed, and I don’t see it changing in my lifetime. The thing that changed was passion for the business itself. I made some bad choices. I made some people mad. At the same time, I also made great choices and I made a lot of people very, very happy. Success wasn’t the issue. The trajectory of Independent Studios never really pointed downward – that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I had grown ambivalent towards the business itself. I found myself daydreaming too much. I found myself looking at what I was doing as more of a job and less of my passion. I didn’t really have that burning need to come to the office and design something. It was kind of old hat. That was bad, and the business was suffering because of it. There were also some (very boring) reasons to restart – SEO, forming an LLC with a licensable name, domain names, etc., – but the real reason is that I needed a way to jumpstart my passion for the business. The reason for the new name is in another post – but the reason for the business change was very deep and personal. I (we) needed to stop, breathe and refocus. Focus on what made this company good (excellent.) Cut out some of the stuff that made this business suck. The new name was a demarcation. The date was a cut-off point, mentally and functionally. It had to be done. It feels as if an elephant has gotten up off my chest and wandered back into the woods, a la the tiger in Life of Pi. (You didn’t think you’d get out of a blog post without a movie reference, did you?)

I know that through the years, Independent Studios pissed some people off. I’m sorry for that. I also know that I can’t please everyone, and that there are jobs that just don’t fit. I took on a lot of jobs and clients that I shouldn’t have, jobs and clients that just didn’t fit, and that’s when my passion would really slip. That’s my fault, and I take the blame. No excuses. No finger-pointing. Those jobs and the way we handled those hurt me, hurt the business, and hurt the people who rely on this business. From the bottom, top and sides of my heart, I apologize. My solemn oath is that I will do everything in my power to avoid those mistakes in the future.

We also had (and have) a lot of great clients that fit well and feel like family. To them, I say: “Nice to meet you again.”

It really is a new day. I look forward to working with the folks who really understand who and what we are and how we do stuff. We’ve cut a lot of low-hanging fruit away. Cut out clients that were draining our time and passion. It hurt (we’ve been in the process of weeding for a few months now,) and it will probably continue to sting a little. Leaving money on the table is hard – even if it’s for a good reason. I (We – Beth and I) have 5 kids to feed and clothe and hug and cuddle, and having money helps. But – money is the least of our worries. We need passion more than money.

Things are being rebuilt differently. We’re rebuilding Lily Giggle and will relaunch bigger, badder and better than ever. And, it will be done in such a way that it’s easier for Beth to maintain and grow. Blue Dozen Design is launched, and with it a new ethos. We’re actively more selective and we’re only taking on jobs and clients that fit. No more low hanging fruit. We’re still rebuilding the site and some of the branding and what-not. In a lot of ways, it’s not a massive departure from Independent Studios – but the mindset has changed and the passion is back. Look out. It’s gonna git all krazee up in here…

So – what does this all mean for you? Functionally, not a whole lot. We’re still in the business of delivering great design and killer websites and terrific marketing ideas. Beth will reopen and continue to make unbelievably adorable clothes. That much has NOT changed, and it never will.

What we hope you take away from this (excessively long blog post) is simple: Find your true passion. Find what moves you and motivates you. Then, stop, breathe and refocus on that. Rebuild if you need to. Relaunch if you need to. But find your passion and stoke the boilers. Full steam ahead…

It’s amazing what happens when you take honest stock of where you are. When you stop. When you relax and refocus. We have decided to do that every day, several times a day. Not just December 1. EVERY DAMNED DAY.

Colors. Oh, the Colors.

Color is such a broad and difficult story – because everyone sees and “feels” color differently. There are some constants, but the only real constant with color is that it’s totally inconsistent, because people are pretty inconsistent.

The way people interact with or react to color is reasonably predictable – it’s why pink walls in jail cells work as opposed to red – but the way that people mechanically see color can be a real crap shoot to design around. That’s what we’re talking about here – color in design, web sites, printed goods, on monitors and on paper – and it really is one of the biggest issues designers can face*. There are a few reasons:

Firsteveryone’s eyes are different. Blue eyes are more sensitive to bright lights, and stuff can seem washed out. It’ll also give you a wonderful headache that caffeine can’t cure.

Seconda “significant portion” of the public is color blind to one extent or another. Since there is so much subtlety and finesse involved with color, a small variance in the way one set of eyeballs mechanically sees color can make a huge difference in how the finished piece can look.

Thirdhow many damned devices do we have to design for? And each one of those devices can be different within it’s own model – one Apple monitor doesn’t look like another – then you have to multiply that error rate by the number of different devices, sizes, ages, conditions, and other factors, and you wind up with a billion different problems. Then – is it going on paper? What kind of paper – and where was it manufactured? Tshirts? Billboards? Stickers? HOLY CRAP! If it’s getting printed, how? What kind of ink. How much pressure while it’s being printed? Offset or digital? On and on it goes.

Fourth – environmental issues affect how you see color. Natural light at 4 o’clock in the afternoon is not the same as natural light at 1:30 in the afternoon. There are a million different types of lights, light bulbs, light fixtures and wattages and dimmers and manufacturers. Add to this the shape of the room. Then, the color of the walls make a difference. That coffee mug on your desk? It’s throwing some reflective light onto your screen.

Fifth – color interacts with other color. If you put red and grey next to each other, the effect of those colors on each other is totally different than if it was red and bright baby blue. Get the wrong colors together, and it looks like they vibrate. It’s weird – but cool.

Let’s break it down to a mathematical equation, and we’ll start with the different colors of eyes as our base number. Let’s say there are only 3 – blue, brown and green. Then, we’ll just say that there are only 5 variants of color blindness. 15. Let’s say there are only 1000 different devices with 5 variants per device. 75000. Fourth – let’s just say that there are only 200 different environmental factors. Now we’re up to a cool 15 million. Fifth, let’s say that there are only 50 color combinations that will ever interact with each other and we wind up with 750,000,000 different ways to “see” a single color, and I’m vastly underestimating the numbers. You get the point.

All of this is to say that color is a moving target. There are ways to mitigate the mechanical differences in color – Pantone books, color calibrators, etc – but you can’t make everyone sees your color the same way you see it. Just can’t. Thankfully – like I mentioned – people’s reaction to color is pretty predictable, so understanding that predictable reaction is paramount in choosing color for designwork.

There are “selling colors” and “love colors” and “action colors” and “calming colors.” There are subtle nuances inside those categories – and you can mix and match and complement and contrast – but you have to use color properly for it to be effective. Just because you think your logo looks great in yellow, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice to present to your customer/demographic. Personal taste and choice is kind of out the window here.

So – what do you do? Throw up your hands and say “whatever?” Run screaming? Say “screw it” and just go with bad color? No – you lean on experience – and a couple of tools. Pantone books are great – they are the de facto king of color in the design realm. Color calibrators. Color proofs and other stuff. We’ve got you covered. You don’t have to worry about making sure your color looks right across the board. That’s our job.

We can help you pick the right color for your project, and we can help make sure it looks great everywhere.

See, we’ve “done color” enough to know what looks good and how to translate that to the finished piece. You want your business cards, your web site and your tshirts to all look great AND look like they belong together. You want consistency in your color, and we know how how to deliver.

We understand color. We can help YOU understand color. Let’s go.

*the foremost is lack of talent – but I suppose that’s subjective. I digress. I know that’s unusual.

Best Coffee in Asheville!

With all those dumps serving sub-standard coffee on Haywood Road, it’s good to know that I can still get the Best Coffee in Asheville with a short drive.

Please rest assured – if you contact us and go for a cup of coffee with us, we won’t take you to Krispy Kreme. We know good coffee. We know good design. We know how to market your business – and we don’t resort to dirty tricks and shady advertising to do it.

And yes, this is a real screen shot from Google Maps. Goes to show you that online reputation management is important – but it’s also important to be real. At some point, people will find out that Krispy Kreme isn’t the best coffee in Asheville. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve chased numerous fried dough balls covered in sugar with their coffee, and it’s not bad – but I’m a bit of a coffee snob/freak – it’s just not good or great or the best. Claiming “best coffee in Asheville” is a bold move. Maybe Krispy Kreme is just “naming it and claiming it.” Perhaps I should be proud of them for putting out there. Or, I could just get good coffee somewhere else and smuggle it in to KK. Yeah – that sounds more like me.

Happy 2013, people. Let’s do coffee. And design. And doughnuts.

(And a big shout to the good folks at BattleCat coffee – “E” on the map. I’m pretty sure I’m composed entirely of #46 at this point, and the staff is super-cool. If you want good coffee, that’s a great place to start.)

WordPress and Woo Themes Site Launched for Varminter.com

VARMINTS! Actually, I’ve found that if you yell that in the middle of the Asheville Mall, people give you wide berth. Nice.

Eric at Varminter.com needed a website built around his forums, which are lively and full of varminters. Varminters are guys who hunt rodents and pests for sport, property protection and population control – and who are also avid outdoorsmen (and women) and very much into conservation. I’ve found that hunters and sportsmen can be some of the most environmentally conscious people out there. They care about the lands they hunt and the animals on them. Pretty cool.

Anyhoo – enough of my soapbox. Back to self-aggrandizement:

We built the site using the Woo Themes framework so that they have the maximum in flexibility and ease-of-use. We also used some nifty plugins to give them a fully functional and branded mobile site, as well. All of this without disturbing the forums or any of their other information that needed to stay in place. With rotating advertising, a mobile design, expandable framework, super search engine ability and tons of great features in an easy-to-use interface, Varminter.com is poised to grow.

Check ’em out.

Asheville Web Design and Logo Design – StoneCloudStudio.com

stonecloudthumbAnother day, another Asheville web design & web site launch. Plus, a little logo love thrown in.

Husband and wife team Todd Frahm and Lara Nguyen needed a new logo and look – and they needed business cards and a website to help promote their art.

Yes – they’re our clients, but we’d say this if we didn’t know them: They’re AMAZING. Todd and Lara are artists – and they’re both incredibly talented. You really do need to check them out.

Enough with gushing – back to business – the name of their studio (in the River Arts district of Asheville,) is Stone Cloud Studio. After a bit of back-and-forth, we developed a logo with a couple of variations that will suit their needs across a lot of media. The logo was designed to be flexible enough for signage, printed goods and a lot of different color applications. There’s nothing worse than a logo that is difficult to design around, but this one turned out bold, beautiful, simple and super adaptable.

The site, likewise, is a simple design that allows for a lot of updating and easy management, as well as an online store that is also totally flexible. Having a blog and an easily updatable portfolio segment were important features, and – well – that’s what they got. They also needed a more Google-friendly structure and framework, and WordPress really fit the bill here.

Built with WordPress, WooThemes and WooCommerce, this site allows Todd and Lara to keep it fresh, keep Google seeing it. Plus, it looks pretty damned good, if we do say so ourselves.

Check out the live site by clicking here. See both versions of the logo in our logo design portfolio. Check out the web design portfolio. It’s the best. THE BEST.

First Page on Google?

1Your site must be on Google. You NEED to be on the first page on Google. Why? First – why you must be listed on Google:

  • In the average month, Americans searched 15.5 billion times. Yeah – billion.
  • Google accounts for 10 billion of those searches. Yahoo chimes in with around 3, Bing/MSN 2 billion, and the rest – well, not many.

So – you can see that Google accounts for over 80% of all searches. It’s important, right? Now – the really interesting stuff happens when you start breaking the numbers within Google – and this is why you need to be on the first page:

  • The first listing in any Google search gets 42%+ of all click-throughs. (That’s the number of clicks after a search.)
  • The second listing falls to 12% of clicks. Third is around 9%, number 4 is 6%.
  • The first page listings in Google account for 90% of all click-throughs. The whole second page is about 4 1/2%. The whole third page is about almost 2%. It gets smaller and smaller – and that’s NOT a good thing.

What does that mean for you? It means that if you’re not highly ranked, you can really lose a lot of potential traffic (customers, clients and money.) That’s where we come in…

We can’t guarantee first page placement – nobody can*. We do offer a few things, though. We will optimize your site so that when Google comes looking, they find something to grab on to. We help you develop a content plan – one that will help you build relevant content that the search engines just love, but also that your customers will actually want to read. We’ll fiddle under the hood and make sure it’s all where it should be, and that you’re using the optimum settings for optimum traction within Google and – just as importantly – traction with what your customers are looking for. If you have the wrong understanding of what people are searching for when they’re looking for your goods or services, you’re missing the whole mark. We do the legwork so that the end results work

What this means is that your site will move up the rankings – and that is a good, good thing.

We help you understand what Search Engine Optimization means, what it does and what you can really expect. You need a plan, you need consistency and you need a site that actually works with Google – not that damages your chances. We can help with all three. Plus – we can make you look damned good. Did I mention we offer design services, too? BOOM. Cross-sell.

 

All of this comes with a caveat – not every business in the world would benefit from being #1 on Google. Not every business needs a website. Not every customer base actually uses a computer. If all of this just won’t work for you and actually give you a return on your investment, we’ll be honest about that – and we can help you develop other marketing ideas that WILL work for you. Just adding a little realism into a subject that is sold as if it’s a 100% necessity for everybody out there…

*There are plenty of people out there selling “magic beans.” You trade a lot of money for these beans, and they don’t grow the beanstalk and you don’t find the goose that lays the golden egg. You might avoid the giant, but you’re stuck with a bunch of beans. And no goose. Don’t be suckered into the beans.
Photo credit to this lovely little Etsy shop.

WordPress Website Design: SeattleWeddingOfficiants.com

Elaine Way at SeattleWeddingOfficiants.com needed a site to match her personality and her product. She had a first-page Google site, and while she knew she needed a better look, she didn’t want to harm her search engine placement.

That’s where we came in.

We set her up with a custom WordPress website using Woo Themes and a bunch of other tricks in our box. We cleaned everything up, trimmed a lot of fat and added some easier navigation plus clearer call-to-action.

The result? A good-looking, super functional and really fun site. Elaine can update everything, and she’s mentioned that her contacts have skyrocketed since the new site launched. Nice!

Check out SeattleWeddingOfficiants.com. We dig it, the client digs it, and we think you’ll dig it too!

Ecommerce Site Design: TastesDivineSweets.com

tastesdivineThe fine folks at Tastes Divine contacted us to discuss a design and development of a new ecommerce site for their cupcakes, cookies and corporate gifts. The site they had was – well – it wasn’t good. It also didn’t include a functional ecommerce system, and they needed to sell some goodies. So – we got to work…

The result? A beautiful, functional site built using WordPress (so they can keep it updated,) WooThemes (so it looks and functions great) and WooCommerce (so it sells their wares.) A custom design that is easy to maintain, and an ecommerce system that makes it easy to stock and for customers to buy from. Everyone wins!

Check ’em out here.

Our only complaint is that we have yet to receive a 300 pound box of goodies. We’re waiting…

A New Ecommerce Site in Asheville? Yes!

Garage 34 (downtown on South Lexington) has been a great client, and when they wanted to revamp their website and get rolling with ecommerce, we were super-happy to help ’em out. They’re a terrific group of people, and their product line is diverse and fun – plus they actually give back to the community. Super cool. Check out their store.

Now, since they’re using a point-of-sale system to track inventory, manage transactions and essentially run the store, we needed something that would interface with their system – but was also easy to use. So we built a site using Shopify.

With Shopify (attached to their POS, ShopKeep,) Garage 34 gets a few things:

  • Easy-to-manage and add products.
  • Full compatibility with their inventory and cash register.
  • Sweet looks!
  • Speed and security.
  • Easy updates of pages and their blog.
  • Easy sharing via Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
  • A lot more.

So – yes, we’re tooting our own horn here. It’s a good looking, slick-functioning site.

Oh – and we redesigned their logo to be a little more feminine. It’s stitchy! GO NOW and BUY!