Dec 2 2013
If you plan on launching a new website or redoing an existing site in 2014 you can easily be focused purely on the aesthetics, content management system or markup of the site. Those elements are indeed important but as the web evolves I wanted to highlight 3 really important elements that shouldn’t be absent when launching a website in 2014. To ensure success and to have a truly modern site you’ll need to consider these elements:
At it’s very basic level, a rich snippet is a standardized way to represent data to users and search engines. As of now rich snippets exist for calendar events, news, media, recipes, reviews and handful of other pieces of content that can follow a set archetype across all websites. These “rich snippets” are the few lines of text that appear under a search result and are designed to give users a sense for what’s on the page and why it’s relevant to their search.
Why Rich Snippets?
In the age of Pinterest it’s no joke that we are watching more and reading less. Visual content isn’t just for the Pinterest audience, every website should be taking a more visual approach to content no matter who your target audience might be. Larger photographs, infographics and video should all make their way into your website’s content and relaunch in 2014.
Why Visual Content?
It feels like the digital community has been pushing responsive design for years and by now it should really be a standard approach to website development. Mobile adoption rate is staggering and mobile internet usage is projected to overtake desktop internet usage in the very near future. We rarely launch a site that isn’t mobile friendly as responsive design is a standard technique at PadillaCRT.
Nov 25 2013
The West has gotten quite a bit of snow already, and skiers and snowboarders are flocking to the mountains for a little pre-season action. Some of these resorts have been very proactive in embracing the mobile trend, creating apps that help their guests enjoy a more engaging experience on the hill. Let’s take a look at how some of the best resorts are creating an even better customer experience using mobile technology, and the big data implications that go far beyond the apps themselves.
Although these apps are exciting and engaging for mountain guests, the user-experience is just the tip of the iceberg. The real fun begins with the data these apps are able to mine. By taking skier profile information and matching it to skiing patterns, they can determine what demographics are skiing which runs and visiting which lodges. Then, they can further cater the experience based on this information. The various ways to crunch the numbers and provide a better customer experience is practically limitless.
Using GPS and RFID, the resorts know exactly who is where on their mountain and can figure out ways to control their crowd. Is Lodge 1 extremely busy for lunch? The resort can push out $5 discount at Lodge 2 to encourage other skiers who may be thinking about stopping for a bite to make their way over to Lodge 2.
What’s next? It doesn’t take a genius to realize this user experience will go far beyond phones. Forget Google Glass. How about Google Goggles? Skiers are already wearing bulky eyewear on the mountain. A pair of Google Goggles could tell them exactly where they are and where they should go to hit the best snow – right in front of their eyes.
Nov 15 2013
With the National Retail Federation projecting consumers will spend nearly 4% more this season, retailers want their piece of the pie. Stores like Walmart, Target and Kohl’s will open their doors at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving, eagerly welcoming a traditional holiday shopping season that is a full week shorter than last year.
For a Starbucks gift card sure to provide the energy needed to pursue “doorbusters” after dinner, tell us in six words why you plan to run wild with retail on Black Friday or why you’d rather steer clear of the madness. Maybe:
Put your six-words of Black Friday rationale in the comments. We’ll announce a winner next week.
And congrats to last week’s winner, James Vair.
Nov 13 2013
It’s been nearly a month since I downloaded, in the name of research, a handful of wine-oriented apps onto my iPhone and now it’s time to report my observations. People think that drinking wine and fiddling with your iPhone is all fun and games but I say, “Science!”.
So, the results: out of the 8 apps I downloaded, I’m going to discuss 5 of them. For the most part, across the board, this current generation of wine apps is a huge improvement. I still have some reservations about all the attempts at reducing the mysteries of wine and pairings down to an algorithm but feel that there are some apps out there that could prove genuinely useful for the average drinker. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
WineSearcher: WineSearcher.com is a website I go to all the time. It’s simple, has clear and singular purpose (where can I find X wine?) and, although it’s not the niftiest looking website out there it gets the job done. The app version opens up to a random stock image of a guy in a suit perched a couple of steps up a ladder that has been randomly perched in a nondescript dessert who is looking through a pair of binoculars. I could do without this lost gentleman. However, once I’ve made it into the app, the first page goes ahead and shows me all the nearby wine shops in descending order of proximity with a handy one to five star rating next to each shop. From there, I can also search for a particular wine nearby. This is a wine app that knows what its doing and does it well without a lot of gimmick (but with a random image of a guy in a suit who is lost in a dessert somewhere with a ladder. He looks nice. I hope he finds what he is looking for).
DrinFoo: Drynfoo is one of the prettier apps I downloaded, aside from the ads along the bottom that I suspect may be the app’s entire point, and its aimed at helping you find the perfect wine pairing with whatever you’re serving. One of the things that immediately sets this app apart is its bizarre choice of categorizing foods. Enter the “Veggies” section, for example and “Lentils” has its own category. As does, btw, “Eggplants” – as if there are so many choices in one’s day-to-day when it comes to eggplants. Where are the bell peppers? Carrots? Broccoli? You know… normal things that people eat frequently?
To be fair, they’ve got you covered in the “Meat” section with Kangaroo and Ostrich as options. Whatever ingredient you’ve chosen, your next step is to choose its preparation. Was it Broiled? Grilled? Braised? From there, you’re asked to choose a sauce (herbs, cream, tomato?) and when you’ve finally inputted your dish you’re taken to a screen that shows you… not the suggested pairing! But instead! A list of countries! Ok… let’s try Chile! That should get me a wine! Nope. Now you’ve got to select a variety. Ok… Carmenere! Finally! A wine! Aaaand… nope. Now I’ve just got an info page that lists the characteristics of what a Carmenere is and those characteristics are “Red, Still, and Dry.” Helpful. Finally, I am led to an “Explanation page” that tells me that “A full red wine serves as a perfect marriage to my kangaroo.” Welp, I guess I know I should find a full red wine (but what kind?!) to serve next time I grab some Kangaroo meat. Overall, although it looks nice and hip, this is an app that won’t be making it through the next app cull.
WineQuest: WineQuest does things a little different. Rather than ask you to input foods for pairing, it starts you off with a fairly comprehensive “Taste Interview” that consists of about 20 questions about what you generally do and don’t like to eat and drink. Once you’ve finished your “Taste Interview”, the app pulls up a series of 10 red wines that are a mix of fairly commercial and famous wines (Silver Oak, Louis Jadot, Kendall Jackson) and asks you to rate them using a fun finger-controlled gauge that ranges from “Double Yuk: hate it (1)” to “Double Yum: love it (5)”. Now that you’ve got your Taste Profile set up, you can walk into any wine store or look at any wine list, select a wine, type it into WineQuest and, based on the information you’ve supplied, WineQuest will tell you whether you will love or hate that wine.
I tried it a few times to varying degrees of success but generally it was fairly correct. On top of that, once you’ve found the wine, WineQuest will find you and tell you the closest place you can purchase that bottle of wine. Bonus! You can add frequent drinking buddies, build profiles for them, and ask WineQuest whether they will also enjoy the bottle of Malbec you’re considering. Overall, I think it would be nice to have a feature where users can connect with one another and share profiles so that each user is not responsible for building their friends’ profiles. For me, this app is pretty useless only because my friends couldn’t care less what they’re drinking as long as it has alcohol in it.
Blush For Wine: This was another wine app that, similarly to DrynFoo, seduced me with a lovely millennial-targeted aesthetic. It looked clean, modern, and fun. Blush for Wine combines a couple of features that I liked in both WineQuest and WineSearcher and does a much better job of tailoring pairings based on another “Taste Survey” (How do you like your coffee? Lots of cream? A little cream? Black?) to find out what kinds of wines I like and also recommend specific bottles rather than generic grapes/regions. It will also pair my dish with wines that I like that are available nearby! Useful! You can also snap/scan wine for an in-depth description from the app. This is a keeper.
Delectable: Look at me, I’m the worst – I saved the best for last. Delectable is basically Instagram for wine geeks. That’s literally all it is – you have a profile where you take pictures of wines that you’re drinking, can write tasting notes, and can rate the wine on a cute sad-to-happy-face sliding scale. If people are following you’re your wines will show up on their “Feed” and visa-versa. Other Delectable users can “like” and comment on your wine. My only problem with Delectable is that there are not nearly enough people on it! The other problem? Some people… cough…. don’t quite have a handle on the etiquette of social media so rather than snap as they sip, my feed will get inundated by a flood of back-logged wines that are posted all at the same time – clogging my feed with 20 pictures from the same user. It’s annoying. Don’t do it. Also – get on Delectable!
Nov 4 2013
An Interview with Communication Arts Chair at Virginia Commonwealth University, Robert Meganck
If you don’t know Robert Meganck, then you should. In 2012 Robert became the chair of the department of communication arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. If you don’t recognize him from his work at VCU, then perhaps you know him from the vast number of impressive accolades (more than 300) he has received from the art world over the past 30 years as an illustrator, graphic designer and digital artist.
I recently sat down with Robert Meganck to hear his thoughts about the evolution of visual storytelling and how designers and illustrators can adapt to the high demands of an ever-changing industry.
Q: You’ve been a graphic designer, illustrator (both traditional and digital), professor and president of a design firm. Do you feel that having a background in graphic design has influenced your digital illustration style? If so, how?
A: Absolutely. I see my illustration as image designs. I rely heavily on the use of graphic compositional shape when I’m composing an illustration. I see the process of solving an illustration problem as a design process – the illustration is simply a visual expression of that process. I actually moved into illustration through design. When given a design assignment, I would simply gravitate to an illustrative solution. The separation of graphic design and illustration (or drawing) in schools is a relatively new development. Going back 20 years, all graphic design students had to take drawing classes, and all illustration students had to study graphic design.
Alternatively, I believe that it would be advantageous for designers to begin their assignments through drawing.
Q: For the past 35 years you’ve been a professor of illustration and design at Virginia Commonwealth University. How have you seen the illustration landscape change, especially over the past 10 years?
A: Going back 10 years, many illustrators looked at digital work as antagonistic to creative process. There was a fear of what they didn’t understand. If you look at the process from thumbnail sketch through published illustration, 100 percent of all published work today ends up digital. Where 10 years ago, the digital conversion might have been reserved as a final step, the digital impact has been encompassing more and more of the process with many illustrators now working digitally entirely from thumbnail sketch to finished art.
Our current students see no difference between working traditionally and digitally, they simply see them as different media. Where 10 years ago, an illustrator might have chosen to work in gouache or oils, they now choose to work traditionally or digitally, and that may switch from one assignment to the next.
A: The media landscape has evolved to one dominated by multimedia communications. Sixty percent of all graphic design projects are produced for a digital delivery platform. And, that percentage is steadily increasing. As a profession, we are simply responding to the communication needs of our audiences.
Q: What are the advantages that an art director or an agency can gain from hiring a digital illustrator for a project?
A: Basically, they gain time and flexibility. With digital illustrations, communication between the AD and illustrator is done electronically and seamlessly. Required changes to a project (compositional, color shifts, etc.) can be completed in a fraction of the time and effort that would be required of a traditionally produced illustration.
Q: We live in a very visually based society these days, especially with the growing use of social media platforms to tell a story. At PadillaCRT, we produce a large number of digitally illustrated infographics for clients that want to share data, statistics or other information with large, varied audiences. Why do you think these visual tools are popular and what are your predictions on visual story telling in the next couple of years?
A: Infographics have been a popular way of presenting abstract data for a long time. They display complex information effectively, in a way that is more easily understood. Moore’s Law states that the computer processing power doubles every two years, and with it the amount of available information increases. With this increase in available information, there is a need to rely on tools that make this information more easily digested.
Like infographics, storytelling has been a primary venue for delivering moral, ethical and historical information since before Guttenberg published his first Bible. I see nothing on the horizon that leads me to believe that this will change.
Q: I’ve read a lot lately about illustrators mixing their tools and techniques and not allowing the capabilities of digital software to dictate their style. Do you face this in your own illustration style? How do you manipulate the software to work with you and not against you?
A: Although my illustration style has evolved from traditional media to digital and has been evolving digitally since I first moved in that direction, I believe that I am in control of the medium and not the other way around. I’ve created specialized brushes that work the way I want them to work, and closely mimic my traditional work. Computer programs are like puppies, you have to let them know who is in charge, although you have to understand that you don’t always win the battle. With that being said, you have to accept that they may be more like cats, and you have to just learn to live with their shortcomings.
Q: This past year, you came out with a book, “The Story of the Three Little deSwiners: A Creative Process.” What prompted you to share your thoughts on this topic and what can folks gain from reading it?
A: As a designer/illustrator and a professor of communication arts, I have frequently been asked to lecture on the creative process. After receiving numerous requests for my lecture notes, I decided to put them together in book form. Hopefully, readers will discover the absolute joy that I have found from working – and I use the term “work” loosely – in a creative field.
Oct 21 2013
It seems like for the past three years marketers have been predicting that “this will be the year for mobile.” I’ve stated it but the mobile tsunami that we thought would absolutely flood the market in 2010 has turned out to be a slow leak of new, constant mobile adopters in 2013. We know that mobile is a big deal asmobile internet usage is projected to overtake desktop internet usage in the near future. However, as a local business you may not see or understand the value of “mobile” but according to a Google study about 50% of mobile searches have local intent and 88% of those who looked for local information on their smartphones take action within a day.
I can spout off more convincing stats but if you are a local business and you know you want to maximize your mobile – local presence, here’s what you need to do:
It kind of goes without saying but it is ultimately the first step into the mobile/local foray. A mobile site is important 48% of users stated that if a site didn’t work well on their smartphones, it made them feel like the company didn’t care about their business. For businesses that have more than one location make sure that each business has it’s own landing page on the website.
Once again another “gimme” but extremely important. As you move forward with a local/mobile approach being consistent with how your name, address, phone number and website is a must. Especially if you have multiple locations make sure that you are consistent as this information reflects your business and will be used to cross reference and validate a business.
Tons of business directories exist but start with Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, Superpages and City Search. Essentially you need to claim and verify your business and make sure that any current information provided is correct and consistent with what was established in step 2. Beyond your NAP you’ll also need to make sure you provide a proper business category and description. Don’t forget about any industry specific directories, BBB or local chamber of commerce.
A business listing/profile will also be called a “citation” and the general rule of thumb in local SEO is that the more listings a business has, the better. However, finding and managing these citations outside of the big business directories can be difficult. At this point in the game I would recommend looking into a service like WhiteSpark or Yext that allows you to create, manage and grow your citations. A nice thing with using a service like WhiteSpark is that they are not only able to find citations but they also have the ability to determine citation quality and help you find unstructured citations that could be found outside of a business directory on blogs, newspaper websites or event listing websites.
This is just the surface on maximizing your mobile – local experience but taking these easy steps will be able to take any business in the right direction.
Oct 16 2013
Regardless of the fact that I’m a millennial, there are some aspects of technology with which I am hopelessly out of touch. The most striking example of this is the way in which I approach my iPhone – by the time this post is published I will have only just upgraded to iOS 7 within the last 72 hours (reports of vertigo aside). Mostly this is due to the fact that I refused to upgrade to iOS 6 and risk losing my beloved Google maps when they rolled out Apple Maps (yes, this should give you some context as to how old my operating system was). Even after they finally fixed the situation with the development of a Google Maps app, I just shrugged and argued that I didn’t want to have to go through the whole multiple-upgrades debacle just to get back to the thing I had on my phone anyway.
Long story short: when it comes to my phone, I will never be one of nor will I ever understand the maniacs who wait in lines on the street outside the Mac Store to get the latest model. I don’t even understand the people who go into the Mac Store for any reason except to visit the Genius Bar with grim hopes of reviving an all-but-confirmed dead laptop (Who are those people?). These also seem like the kinds of people who have dozens of pages filled with apps they’ve used once or never.
Taking this all into consideration, I thought I made the perfect guinnea pig for evaluating the next generation of wine apps. Years ago, when I first got my iPhone I went app crazy. Pedometer App? Need it! Doodling app?! Gotta have it! Dream analyzer?!?! OMGZ. As you can probably imagine, the usage these apps actually got was somewhere close to zero. Of course, way back when I was just a burgeoning (as opposed to a full-blown) wine geek I was also intrigued by the handful of wine apps available, too. Sadly, these, too, went largely unused.
However, now that I’ve got my fancy-pantsified iOS 7, I’ve ventured yet again into the App Store and come away with a handful of wine apps that I’m actually kindof excited about! Overall, the integration of wine and social media has been pretty awkward. Wine is a hard thing to translate into sketchy iPhone photos (because wine is obvi best enjoyed by candlelight and, duh, candlelight makes for bad photos) and #hashtag phrases – it can be fun, but it’s also one of those things that isn’t very amusing to anyone who isn’t a total wine nerd. I can tell you that my Instagram photos of various wine labels are definitely the least liked among my followers.
There are also, of course, a multitude of apps dedicated to easy pairing and buying suggestions based on what you’re serving, eating, or a quick survey of your taste preferences. These have, for the most part, in my opinion, been mostly well-intentioned apps that don’t really offer any true value – call me a romantic, but I just don’t love the idea that the complexity of wine can be reduced to an algorithm.
That said, now that I’ve upgraded, I’m going to download a few of these new wine apps and my next blog post will be a round up of the best of the pack. I can tell you that there are a few apps I’m really excited about such as Delectable, which pretty much seems like Instagram for wine nerds (!!!), the Wine-Searcher App, a whole app dedicated to wine maps (!), as well as a whole bunch of pairing and education focused apps such as DrinFoo and Blush for Wine, and even one called Vivino Wine Scanner that lists the average retail price of any given wine (a sommeliers worst nightmare – just think of the markups!). So, check back in a few weeks and, as always, drink well in the meantime!