8 Steps to a Better Website!

Ready to get started? Pull up your website and ask yourself…

1. Where do your eyes go first?

A visitor to your website typically has an attention span of only a few seconds. That means your website must hook them in that amount of time. Make sure the first thing they see or notice is something interesting enough to buy you more time. Make sure your home page tells your new visitor succinctly and clearly “what you do” and “who you do it for.” Include key keyword phrases into your text without making the content stilted; include keyword phrases in headings, sub-headings link text, menu text and in alt tags.

Google published a great article back in 2009 Eye-tracking Studies: More Than Meets the Eye

2. Can you tell what the website is about?

Again, you only have a few seconds to communicate your unique value, so be clear and compelling.

3. Is important information above the fold?

Make sure your opt-in forms and unique selling proposition are available without scrolling down.

4. Are the benefits highlighted?

Your visitors want to quickly learn “what’s in it for them.” Spell out the benefits clearly on the homepage.

5. Is there a clear call to action?

If they like what they see, prospects need to know what to do next. It can be to “buy now, start a free trial,” or simply “download a free report.”

6. Are the colors and font distracting?

Jarring colors, quick animation, and gaudy fonts can really be distracting. And if your visitors are distracted, they’ll click away.

7. Do you feel personally connected?

Consumers want to interact with people, not machines. Connect with your visitors by being honest, straightforward and using a conversational style.

8. Are there links to social media?

Many people want to do a little more research. Linking to social media sites gives your potential customers another glimpse into your company (and perhaps a few testimonials from other customers). Once you determine a few areas where you can improve, develop a plan to start implementing changes. You don’t have to do them all at once – just do a few at a time until you have a website that really converts.

Designers – What’s Your Theory on Design Theory?

I often hear the term “design style,” but I’ve been thinking maybe that’s not the phrase that should be used. Style implies that a person visually designs a certain way all the time. I think a better term is “philosophy.” I’ve always been interested in why someone designs the way they do, not how. A person can potentially design different ways visually, but there will seem to be a connection between their designs if they have a certain philosophy.
So, what’s your design philosophy? Do you have one? Do you need one? Is there really a difference between philosophy and style?

Because design is a cross-disciplinary activity that focuses on enabling human interaction in a useful and engaging way and human interaction is an inherently dynamic force (ever changing and emotional), design needs to embrace dynamic perspectives, re-defining itself as necessary. It can be (at different times and in different situations) a product, a service, a form of communication, a form of collaboration, an identity, a discourse, research, theory and many other things. Design is medium, and media, agnostic at the conceptual (theoretical) level. More contextual forms of design (web design, graphic design and industrial design) are undertaken by adapting design principles to the predefined set of constraints prescribed by the medium or media being worked in.

There is a need for more critical discourse in the field of design as a whole. We can do this in a number of ways:

  • Engaging in a critique of design, designers and design processes to help us understand the field, designers’ influences and their community
  • Participating in design research activities that help to understand how people use design, and how things created impact society
  • Supporting cross-disciplinary research activities, in collaboration with other fields, to better understand the physical, mental and emotional makeup of humans

A design process (any design process) acquires a magnitude of strength through its ability to be flexible and adaptable.

  • Design process should be iterative and experimental
  • The ability to accept when something is not working and having the willingness to throw it out and try something new is an honorable trait

Every designer has a design philosophy. What’s yours?

Here are five links to help you define your design philosophy.

  1. 50 Totally Free Lessons in Graphic Design Theory
  2. The Gestalt Principle: Design Theory for Web Designers
  3. Logo Design Theory
  4. http://communicationnation.blogspot.com/2010/02/design-philosophy-of-ak-47.html
  5. http://www.jeffgothelf.com/blog/elegant-efficient-and-sophisticated-my-design-philosophy/

Philadelphia Museum of Art opens Modern Design Collection

From a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Philadelphia Museum of Art’s modern design collection has grown to be the biggest and best-regarded of any general museum in the country, but it has lived mostly under the radar. Even the name of the group largely responsible for that hefty trove has kept a low profile.

Collab: Four Decades of Giving Modern and Contemporary Design will be on exhibit now through fall 2012 in the PMA’s beautiful Art Deco Perelman Building.

Collab
,
the 40-year-old, all-volunteer committee of design professionals who have helped build the collection of more than 2,500 contemporary objects, now has its own exhibition. “We are looking to bring Collab out from the shadows and into the limelight,” says Lisa S. Roberts, a member since 1992 and with her husband David Seltzer, the patron behind the Perelman Building’s Collab Gallery and a new book about the museum’s modern collection.

The exhibition includes the iconic Up 5 chair by Gaetano Pesce, which is shaped like a woman’s lap; Milton Glaser’s 1966 poster of Bob Dylan with kaleidoscopic hair; and the Valentine Typewriter, the first “designed” piece of office equipment, by Ettore Sottsass.

Read the full article.

The "Up 5" Chair and "Up 6" Ottoman created in 1969 by Italian born Gaetano Pesce. (Jonathan Wilson / File photo from philly.com)

What started in 1970 as the Inter-Society Committee for Twentieth Century Decorative Arts and Design – made up mostly of interior designers – has evolved to reflect the diversity of Philadelphia’s design community. The 14 current members include an architect, a graphic designer, a curator, an artist, a professor of merchandising and two design historians.  What they all have in common, says Collab chair Eileen Tognini, is they’re all “design passion-istas.”

Kathryn Heisinger, the museum’s curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700 is the author of Collecting Modern: Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Since 1876. In the book, Heisinger tells the story of the shifting fortunes of the decorative arts and design field at the museum.

Go enjoy this show!

The Big 10 | Icons of photography every student must know!

With the advent of cameras as a standard feature on cell phones, everyone’s a photographer. The immediacy of taking a photograph and uploading it instantaneously to websites such as Facebook, Flickr and Photobucket for world-wide distribution has flooded the virtual universe with a photographic record of daily lives. Cameras are less expensive, smaller and more widely available now than ever before. Not to mention, it is far less expensive and faster to produce an image today. The evolution of the camera is a fascinating topic unto itself – but it will have to wait for its own blog posting.

Since everywhere I go I see people snapping away these days, I thought it a good idea to revisit the cannon of photography and encourage everyone to pause for a moment, reflect on photography’s past and draw inspiration from some of the greatest names in the history of photography. Next time you are taking a snapshot at a party, consider your subject well, take an extra moment to compose a shot worthy of permanent residence in the digital continuum, and consider channeling one of our recommended photo icons. Remember what Ansel Adams once said, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

In composing this post, I spoke with two of Continuing Education’s photography faculty about their top 10 icons of photography. I present their list along with my own. Whether you’re a serious student, accomplished artist or a hobbyist, there is much knowledge to be gained and these are the masters from which you should learn.

“We do not take pictures with our cameras, but with our hearts and minds.”Arnold Newman

We would love to read your comments about our selection of icons as well as learning about whom you draw your inspiration from. Drop us a comment and tell us about the photographers that have captivated and inspired you.

1. Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz is known as the patron saint of straight photography, pioneering the idea that a photo should be about the subject, moment and artist’s vision rather than a contrived manipulation. In Stieglitz’ time, photography was not considered much of an art form, but this artist worked passionately to ensure that his photographs had as much or more artistic expression as a traditional artist’s work. In today’s age of styled shoots and Photoshop, studying his approach to photography offers a refreshing look into photography as artistic expression.

1915 - From the Back Window New York

An American Place south west 1931

Georgia O'Keefe 1920

2. Ansel Adams

Of all the photographers on this list, Ansel Adams is perhaps the most widely recognized and for a good reason. His photographs of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park, are iconic and beloved. In addition to his impressive body of work, Ansel Adams left his mark on photography by developing the Zone System. This system was a way to determine proper exposure and contrast in the final print, and it resulted in intense clarity and depth, as evidenced by his photographs. His intense commitment to quality is inspiring to photography students.

LA Freeway

Barn, Cape Cod Mass, 1937

Golden Gate headlands, 1950

3. Diane Arbus

Norman Mailer said that “Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.” Her photographs are shocking, catching subjects in an unmasked moment, whether they were of famous writers and actors or transvestites. In this style, Arbus teaches a lesson about not aiming to capture the surface of a subject, but rather working to reveal the subject’s true self through art.

Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962

A young Brooklyn Family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966

An empty movie theater, N.Y.C. 1971

4. Cindy Sherman

Initially failing the required photography class in college (due to difficulties with the subject’s technical side), Sherman studied with a photography instructor (Barbara Jo Revelle) who inspired her to “just take pictures.” Sherman decided she found the immediacy of photography more appealing than trying to paint perfect copies of things. Cindy Sherman uses photography to challenge images in popular culture and mass media. Her work concentrates on examining the way women are viewed by society. She used herself as a model in 1977-1980 series of 69 black-and-white photographs called “Untitled Film Stills.” Her work, with its acute invocation of iconic mannerisms from cinematic stills, fashion photography, pornography and painting, is in many respects the prime exemplar of postmodern art photography. Sherman’s ability to convincingly alter her appearance throughout the series and therefore our perception of her identity – has proved to be a crucial visual manifestation of feminist and postmodern theories, which see femininity as a constructed notion rather than a naturally inherent quality. Today you can not consider any contemporary self-portrait without an understanding of Cindy Sherman’s contribution to the genre.

Untitled Film Still-03, 1977

Untitled-no.92, 1981

Untitled Film Still no.7, 1978

5. Arthur Fellig (Weegee)

Best known for his crime scene photographs taken around New York throughout the mid-1930s and 40s, Weegee was untrained by formal means but had a natural eye for composition, which effectively added an aura of artistry to his routine shots of dead bodies and stunned on-lookers. His unique approach and friendly nature soon made him as well known as his photos, and yet despite fame, Weegee chose for the most part to remain loyal to the very streets he grew up on. Being a likable guy, he was able to install a police radio in his car (which also contained a portable darkroom in the back seat and a typewriter in the trunk) giving him not only his pick of scenes to photograph, but the obvious ability to get there faster than the competition. Aside from his work with crime  – and later his celebrity photography, Weegee also spent many hours photographing the street scenes of his lower east side neighborhood, capturing the faces and personalities that inhabited it. Here, his natural eye for composition captured something quite different from his usual post-mortem fare; a poignant slice of life from the streets. Today’s photojournalists will surely benefit from comparing the vanilla point and shoot photography we have to look at every day in our local papers against Weegee’s almost 70-year-old body of work. We as designers clearly know a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Today we should be asking who those words really belong to. Weegee’s subjects spoke a truth, no matter how gritty or raw, alive or dead. A truth that was so clearly communicated, the results strangely reflect our present day reality far more effectively than our actual present day reality does.

Heatspell, 1938. Children sleeping on the fire-escape.

Lovers-with-3-D-glasses-at-the-Palace-Theatre-Infra-red-1943-580x466

New York City Crime Scene, 1914-1918

6. David LaChapelle

Although many iconic photographers are from centuries and decades past, David LaChapelle is a fine art photographer working today. He offers photography students inspiration for creating their own strong and individualistic photography. In his work, you will see bold, surreal examples that highlight an understanding of social and political issues with a sense of humor.

Jesus is my Homeboy

7. Sally Mann

Another actively working photographer, Sally Mann, is just in the middle of her career. She was named America’s Best Photographer by Time magazine in 2001 for her stunning work of her family, as well as southern landscapes and her series of decomposing bodies. Her work has pushed buttons, from nude photographs of her children to rotting corpses, and she likes it that way. Students can study her work to see how it’s possible to keep a consistent style and vision, even when working with subjects that are completely unlike one another.

Untitled from the At Twelve Series

8. Bruce Davidson

Davidson is a major figure in what might be called humanistic photojournalism, having produced a number of brilliant studies over a long career. He has consistently worked in the classic black-and-white documentary mode. He’s probably best known for East 100th Street, a photo documentary of a Harlem neighborhood in the late 1960s, but he also produced the early 1960s Brooklyn Gang and a large body of work on the civil rights movement. A long-awaited collection of his work — “Outside Inside,” a three-volume boxed set — was published in early 2010.

Dwarf standing outside of tent with flowers and cigarette, 1958

Kiss

Cigarette

9. Walker Evans

American photographer and writer credited with introducing clarity and precision into inter-war documentary photography. After a peripatetic education, he moved to New York to pursue a writing career but turned to photography in 1930. In 1933 he photographed conditions of poverty under the Cuban dictator Machado y Morales, setting a precedent for his pictures of hardship during the Depression in the American south, a project instigated by the Farm Security Administration. In 1935-36 he created a series of images of plantation houses in Mississippi and Louisiana, complemented by photographs of US Civil War monuments. In the late 1930s Evans famously used a hidden camera to photograph commuters on the New York subway. In 1938 the Museum of Modern Art staged a survey of Evans’ tirelessly inventive first decade as a photographer, the museum’s first exhibition dedicated to a single photographer. In the 1940s and 1950s he worked as photographer and picture editor for Time and Fortune magazines and later taught at Yale.

Evans's photo of Allie Mae Burroughs, a symbol of the Great Depression

from the subway portraits series

10. Robert Frank

If for no other reason than his book, The Americans, Robert Frank has earned his place on my list. There are few single works of art that have changed the direction of their medium. In 1959 The Americans dramatically altered how photographers looked through their viewfinders and the way Americans saw themselves. For the very first time, The Americans showed a different America than the wholesome, nonconfrontational photo essays offered in the popular magazines of the time. Frank’s subjects weren’t necessarily living the American dream of the 1950s. They were factory workers in Detroit, transvestites in New York, black passengers on a segregated trolley in New Orleans. This is one of the photo books every photographer must own.

Parade-Hoboken, New Jersey, The Americans, 1958

Photo faculty member, Ed Marco’s list includes:

1. Minor White

White believed that one thing appeared only in relation to another. He extended this thought to how the artist’s inner life disclosed the meaning behind ordinary appearances. The abstract quality of his images represents this.

2. Shelby Lee Adams

As a portraitist and documentarist, Adams is able to manage the moments in his images allowing his subjects to appear to be in control of who they are and present themselves for who they are.

Reece and Martha Cole, 1999

3. Jan Groover

Groover started out as an abstract painter and later in the 1970s began to photograph. She specialized in studio work. The layering and reflections that make objects appear other than normal create small “stories” within each image.

kitchen still life

4. Shomei Tomatsu

Tomatsu’s images made up of ordinary natural things at first cause you to ask “what is it?” Although other deep interpretations exist, his images invite you to touch and get involved.

5. Karl Blossfeldt

Blossfeldt’s images were originally just photographic studies to be used by his students. But, when you view the images the details and monochrome process provide you with a sculptural effect that reminds you of ornamental details. These images certainly influenced future photographers.

6. Harry Callahan

Callahan’s images made every day subjects become heroic or grand. The quiet items and flat surfaces made all seem important to the world and made each one special.

Chicago, 1949

7. Elliot Erwitt

Erwitt’s purpose of almost all of his images was to elicit commentary. His subject matter varied greatly.

8. George Hurrell

Using a single light source, Hurrell created dramatic portraits of Hollywood stars in the 1930s, influenced by the expressionist and modern styles from Germany in the 1920s and quite possibly indirectly by Man Ray and his Parisian studio.

9. Steven Meisel

Influenced by modernism, Meisel asks the viewer to think of themselves as sophisticated and experienced in life and trends.

state-of-emergency

10. Paul Strand

Taught photography by Lewis Hine, and supported by Alfred Stieglitz, Strand was said to have discovered a new art form. The richness and straight photography style produced images that, until the 1920s, had not been seen. Maybe the most influential overall in history.

Wall Street, 1915

Photo faculty member, Hinda Schuman’s list includes:

Hinda notes, “This list is one that probably changes weekly, or any time I discover or rediscover a photographer that moves me. Presented in no particular order and for this one time only, here is my list. I always mention students should study the masters – but who those are seems to be rather fluid to me. Certainly I would put Fox Talbot, and Daguerre at the top of any list… Muybridge, Timothy Sullivan, Jacob Riis, Stieglitz, Lange, Brassai, Brandt, Lartigue, all belong in the list to study and know. I think this list is more approachable, more 21st C.”

1. Shiho Fukada

For her amazing use of color, and great story telling and that digital images can be alive.

2. Henri Cartier-Bresson

For his wonderful, spontaneous, genuine, street photography and making every moment count.

3. James Nachtwey

For his courage and passion and close up images of the world at its worst.

4. Abelardo Morell

For taking the history of photography and bringing it to the present.

5. Diane Arbus

Because she saw differently and created a entire genre of photography.

6. Edward Weston

For his clarity of vision and ability to transform the ordinary into something spectacular.

7. The Abu Ghraib Pictures

Because it was for me both the horror but also the beginning of the amateur as newsmaker, the images created not for book or gallery, but exchanged over the internet as means of dispersal.

8. Walker Evans

He could photograph anything anywhere anytime.

9. Michael Kenna

For thoughtful graceful landscapes that seem to float.

10. Annie Leibowitz

For her amazing lighting and portraits.

Remember, we would love to read your comments about our selection of icons as well learning about whom you draw your inspiration from. Drop us a comment and tell us about the photographers that have captivated and inspired you.

CS Faculty Enrichment Grants: Laura Deutch at the Documentary Video Institute (Durham, NC)

By: Laura Deutch (Instructor, CE)

From June 4 – 11, 20 national and international participants ranging from frustrated commercial designers and bankers looking to fulfill late life dreams, to me, an MFA graduate looking to hone my teaching skills, gathered on the Duke University campus in Durham, NC for an eight-day, intensive documentary workshop. Hosted by the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke, this Documentary Video Institute very skillfully walked participants through the foundational steps of documentary production: story development, interviewing, camera, light, sound and editing techniques.

Each morning, at 9 am, my 19 colleagues and I walked up onto a large white porch.  We then walked down the porch steps at 9 pm, exhausted from a day of activity but also energized from the camaraderie we were building, the proficient instructors we were meeting and the artistic practices we were developing.

Participants were assigned a partner based on interest, personality and skill. Each year there is a theme and this year, all of the videos were inspired by personal stories from non-profit social service organizations.  CDS did the pre-production to initiate contacts with willing subjects and help generate potential story ideas. However, each group had complete creative control to shape their video as best they could within the time limitations.

Each pair crewed for another pair, under the guidance of an instructor. You can preview our completed video (as well as the others!) here.

I was very inspired by the quick production model and the succinct technical training activities, which I hope to implement and adapt to my Video Production classes here at the University of the Arts.  In the fall, I’ll be offering, “The 5-minute Documentary” modeled after a CDS class taught by our instructor, Jim Havercamp.

CDS is a haven for anyone interested in the documentary form (audio, photography, video). For students or adults looking to fine tune their skills or gain a new foundation, don’t let the distance discourage you!

Check their website for resources and information, including a great new online book, Visual Storytelling.

Also, check out this video about the Documentary Video Institute.

Of course, this experience would not have been possible without the support of the University of the Arts Continuing Studies Faculty Enrichment Grant, which I was awarded in the spring.

Designers, what inspires you?

How much vision goes into a design project? Most of us would agree that you have to start with a good creative brief with plenty of strategy, vision and objectives to draw from. You have to consider your target audience, the personality and tone that you are trying to convey, and the primary message at very least. Done. We’re past that. Once all the important strategy and branding objectives have been decided, there is still plenty of room for differing and unique executions. How do you start the process of building a layout? Flipping through reference books? Sketches? Start right in with a layout program? Where do new compositions come from? Is it a random process, an exercise in experimentation and discovery? Did you, the designer, know it was going to look like this when you started?

Here are a few options you can employ when tackling your next design project:

  1. Probe your subconscious.
    Albert Einstein said that he has his best ideas while occupying one of the three B’s: Bed, Bus or Bath. Who hasn’t experienced that “Eureka” moment while showering, driving or lying in bed? I don’t know if this counts as “probing your subconscious” so much as just letting it air out. Either way, you can be sure there are a lot of good ideas already in there, and the ceaseless chatter of our conscious minds is just mucking them up. Find a way to let your brain go blank and see what rises to the surface.
  2. Steal it.
    I recommend drawing inspiration from someone else’s design, rather than lifting it directly. Make it your own. Odds are that whomever you were inspired by, was inspired by someone else, and so the evolutionary process goes.
  3. Use a formula.
    Sometimes formulaic design can get you past a creative block or at the very least, past a deadline. Sometimes you can spend so much time waiting for the perfect idea, that you skip plenty of great ones.
  4. Draw inspiration from something completely unrelated.
    Look at a city skyline or a bunch of random advertisements stuck to a city light post. Take an existing design, turn it sideways and crop it real tight. There are infinite possibilities if you look around.
  5. Imagine what your design hero would do.
    Instead of going down your usual paths, imagine what the end result would look like if executed by your favorite inspiration or competitor. You have to squint your eyes and try not to hover over one thought for too long. When you see that award-winning logo or show-stopping identity set all hazy in your mind’s eye, chances are it’s your own unique creation. The trick is capturing it before another thought replaces it.
  6. Imagine what it would look like in context.
    Picture your brochure sitting on a coffee table. What does it look like? Imagine your logo in frosted glass on an office door. Perhaps these are just ways of tricking your subconscious into giving up its best creative secrets. You never know what’s already in there, and you only have a moment to capture it before it evaporates like a morning fog.
  7. Work around the content.
    This is less of an inspiration and more of a situation in which we often find ourselves. You know how long the content is, you know which photos you have to use, now make it all fit and make it look good. Trying to organize a lot of content into a sensible and attractive presentation sometimes leaves you with only a few solutions from which to choose. This is what brought it up – this is the rut. I think that even in this situation, we can reach a little farther.

What works for you? Where do new ideas for layout or details come from? We’d like very much to hear from you, with your own little tricks or thoughts on the subject.