Huge type

20 May

This has nothing to do with the fact that I bought my first pair of reading glasses this year! Reading online is very different to reading a book. And I’ve noticed that the blogs that I want to read most, all have something in common; a largish font size and optimal characters per line, (or words per line).

This post by Mike Anderson inspired me to share this idea with you. The fact that Mike has exaggerated this idea makes me laugh (which is always good). But sometimes you need to see an exaggerated version of something for it to register. Mike talks about size of the font as well as the optimal number of characters per line. Our eye can only take in so many words in one line before getting confused. So, the perfect solution is to use a decent font size and between 50 to 75 characters per line.

huge type

I’m sick and tired of cramped websites that have tiny type and don’t use the whole screen well. I’ve come to believe that the problem with reading on a screen isn’t the backlight—it’s that the type is too freaking small. Most designers don’t even know that there is an optimal number of characters per line. Let me take you through some of my thinking so that you can consider if you can take away any ideas to use on a project of your own. The fact you’ve read to this paragraph is proof that there is something to my argument. Mike Anderson

Mike also talks about ‘losing the noise’. This is something that I’m also really interested in. Make you message clear and remove ‘clutter’ from both your post and website template. How can you remove words and get to the core message of what you want to say? Or more importantly; what do your readers want to hear? It’s well worth reading Mike’s post over on his blog.

Writing a blog is an ongoing learning process. If you look at my Rangoli business blog, you’ll see that my font size and character length needs to be changed! It’s on my to-do list. But I’m happy with the format here on this blog. What do you think of it? I’d like to hear if you have a preference or does it bother you at all?

Here are some more examples of websites that make online reading a pleasure!

Zen habits – Leo Babauta

The Digital Storyteller – Roger Overall

Simply Zesty – Digital agency

House and Home – Irish home and interiors magazine

My blogging workshops cover lots of aspects of business blogging; from content and writing authentically to visual impact. Anyone can learn how to tell their business story. If you’re thinking about starting a blog, read about my one day workshops. I’ll be announcing my next workshop date soon and would love to meet you at one of my classes.

How to plan your blog posts

7 May

This is not an A-Z list about how to plan your blog content! But I’ll tell you some of the things that have worked for me while blogging for my jewellery business Rangoli. And I’ll show you tools and techniques that I find useful. I discover new stuff all the time. I mix and match my note-taking tools!

I have a good friend called Ayelet and I have marveled at her idea capturing technique for years! Whether we’re stationery or striding down the street, she will whip out her special notebook, when she hears an interesting idea. I used to laugh but now I do the same!

blog notebook
 

Ideas need to be recorded when you get them. They often need time to brew!

So what are the best ways to catalogue these idea seeds? Back to Ayelet! One day, I watched her try to ‘scribble’ a flow of ideas using a mobile phone application. It wasn’t as quick as writing with a pen and she lost her train of thought.  So what I’ve learned is that it’s good to have a mix of old-fashioned paper notebooks with online or phone applications.

Here’s what I currently use:

A functional, un-lined, brown paper notebook! It’s small enough to fit in my handbag and I scribble down notes to trigger ideas for later. One side is for post ideas. The other is for doodles. I never know when a new design might dazzle me!

Then online, I have two favourite tools; Evernote and Google Drive, (previously Google Docs) .

In Evernote, I create individually named ‘notes’. Some examples include ’how tos’ which contain links to technical tutorials, or ‘Inspiring posts’, with articles to trigger new posts.

I find Google Drive is great for collecting tables of cross-referenced content. I recommend this for all new bloggers as a way to record the blog elements that you like. You can make a table with headings to suit the information you need to collect. This is especially useful if you are planning to get your template professionally designed. You will have a clear list of examples to show the style and content that you like. Here are some categories that I use to save my favourite online inspiration:

‘Visually beautiful blogs’, ‘Good storytelling’, ‘Good ‘About Me’ pages’, ‘Good taglines’, ‘Inspiring videos or podcasts’, ‘Quirky design details’ and ‘Clean navigation’. To these, I add a link to the source and a brief description for future reference.

Here’s one more useful application; Instapaper. It allows you to save web pages for reading later. If you browse as much as I do, you’ll find this is a great tool for storing interesting content to read when you have more time…

Are you thinking about starting a blog? If so my Three Thought Bubbles workshops will show you how to choose content and write like ‘you’! I’m taking bookings for my next class now! Let me know if you have any questions you’d like me to answer!

Time to blow some bubbles

23 April

Today is a special day for me; nerve-wrecking and exciting in equal measure!

In my mind I am rewinding 18 months. The idea for Three Thought Bubbles was inspired by a quote I read; what are the three things that you would like people to believe about your business? It got me thinking and my answers inspired me to talk differently to my customers.

why do you do what you do 2

Today I am launching Three Thought Bubbles; fun workshops, teaching business owners how to blog with heart.

I’m thoroughly bored of websites, although I know they serve a purpose. Most of them are static and full of corporate talk. Is there a human in there? Really?! I believe that we need to start communicating online in a much more human way.

Using social media has made me more social! Made someone with a fear of networking events start connecting with other business owners. The difference is that I have found a way to talk about what I do in a way that feels comfortable to me. Firstly, via blogs and Twitter and then in the ‘real world’! These 3d meetings have led to great collaborations as well as mutual support in business. And most importantly, my customers get a sense for how I do business before they meet me in person.

I’ve decided to teach my workshops for two reasons; I want show other businesses how blogging can help them on a business and personal level. And I’m driven by a passion to share these skills and collaborate with other creative people.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me in launching this business. A special thanks goes to the loyal group of new friends and allies that I have met on-line. Photographer Aine Teahon is one of them and I’m so grateful for the photos she took of my workshops. Designer Karen Seery created my branding and website and interpreted my ideas perfectly. She was a dream to work with. Next up are my endlessly creative friends and family. And finally, my favourite husband Ben!

So, have I got you thinking about how you tell your story? Would you like to learn a new skill in a relaxed environment? I’d love to meet you at one of my workshops! My next class is on Sunday 26th May. If you can’t make this one, be sure to sign up for my mailing list.

Blogger Spotlight – Curious Design

6 April

Rachel and Marie from Curious Design

I get a great buzz from chatting with other business owners and hearing how they do things. So I’m starting a regular feature called Blogger Spotlights where I’ll be introducing you to some of my favourite Irish and International bloggers. Diversity is the name of the game. The best blogging advice I got was to look outside your industry or area of interest for inspiration!

So, first up (after my own self-interview!) is Marie from Curious Design. Marie and Rachel run this Irish company and design everything from branding to brochures and email newsletters to e-commerce. They especially love creating identities for small creative businesses. Let’s meet Marie;

The ‘Curious Design’ and ‘Curious Casa’ blogs

Hi Rachel and Marie! I love following both your blogs; your Curious Design as well as Curious Casa. Curious is a brilliant word – tell us how it sums up you two and what you do?

Thanks Aisling, we really like it too!

We thought long and hard about our name. Asking questions, researching and getting to know our clients is a big part of our design process and something we really enjoy so we wanted to reference this in our company name. Curious was a nice friendly word that felt like a good fit. We are also quite nosey!

 Branding, website and print for photographer Magda Lukas

You describe yourselves as ‘friends, work-mates, and design junkies’. Tell us a bit more about those three things!

We’ve been friends since we met on our first day of college in 2001 and collaborated and bounced ideas off each other all the time during those 4 years. After college we still shared inspiration and ideas when working for various companies, as well as brainstorming (some would say obsessing…) over our weddings, houses, and quite a few fancy dress parties. In 2011 we set up curious together. Those years of collaborating have proved invaluable, as we know how the other ticks at this stage and work very well together.

We have very similar taste and love simple modern quirky design. We occasionally drive our other halves batty showing them pictures on pinterest so curious casa is a good outlet and way of sharing cool things we have found with each other.

Branding for BFI - an organisation offering free resources for educators and bilingual/multilingual families.

When was Curious design set up and who do you most want to help?

Curious was set up in 2011. We really like working with smart enthusiastic small businesses and individuals and start ups. It’s particularly fun working with people who are just setting up as you can follow their journey from idea to fully fledged business.

I’m envious that there are two of you! It must be brilliant to share skills and bounce ideas off each other. What are the benefits of working together? And are there any downsides? Spill the beans…

Having a business partner is fantastic!

It’s great to have someone to share the load with and to bounce ideas off. Rachel has lots of experience working with print and knows all the different techniques inside out while  I studied web design and development after college and specialises in that area. We overlap a lot on projects but having different skillsets means that we can offer a broader range of services to our clients, as well as learning from each other.

The downside would be that business talk can eat into “friend time” very easily, we try our best to keep the two separate but there will always be an overlap.

 Website design and development for the Swift Satire Festival 2012

Why did you set up your Curious Design blog and were you nervous before you started?!

We started the blog to help clients get to know us a bit better and also to learn about blogging ourselves. At the time we were also launching curious so there were nerves abounding!

Have you any reservations about sharing your design process online?

No. We try to make our process as transparent as possible for our clients and anything that helps us do this is a good thing.

How do you measure how your blog helps your business?

We keep an eye on our analytics and will also usually ask clients how they heard of us. The majority of our clients are referrals but they will usually have checked out the website and blog before they get in touch. Having a little bit of our personality online helps people feel they know us a bit better before getting in contact.

Do you share the writing?

Yes, and we share the proof reading too – Rachel is good at spotting typos!

Irish Mammies t-towels
 Design of Irish Mammy “Tweet Towels”

What is the best thing about blogging for you?

We find that our blog has become a great resource for us and our clients as we have posts explaining many of the common questions we get, like the difference between a vector file and a jpeg. Connecting with like-minded people is fun too – we love comments!

What do you find hardest about it?

Finding time to blog! Like any small business we are usually busy working on client work so it’s difficult to make time to blog on top of this.

Do you have a content planner or how do you plan your posts?

How we plan depends on the type of post – if it’s part of a series we tend to plan more and have a shared folder in dropbox where we save our plan and schedule. We usually write and save posts as drafts and get the other to review them before scheduling them.

Posts inspired by a project we’ve finished or a lovely piece of design we’ve spotted tend to be less planned and more spontaneous.

 Website design and development for Ciara of Style Serendipity

Do you have a favourite on-line app, tool or resource that helps you with blogging?

We use photoshop all the time for work anyway but it is also extremely useful for resizing and cropping images.

Has blogging brought you any unexpected opportunities?

Rachel’s home was featured in the IKEA live magazine after one of the editors spotted our blog which was a fun experience.

Who inspires you in the blog world?

I (Marie) am a big fan of Gretchin Rubin from the happiness project. She has 2 best selling books on the topic of happiness both of which I really enjoyed. Her blog has played a huge part in this success and she uses it as a reference and resource for her
books.

What one tip would you give a new business blogger?

If you aren’t sure how you will come up with ideas for posts a series can be a useful format. We found the design a-z was a good structure that helped us come up with ideas.

Thanks for those curious insights Marie! I agree with your thoughts on being as transparent as possible with your clients. It’s one of the reasons I started blogging myself. Your a-z series is a winner too!

 

So, if you’re an aspiring or established blogger – what does your design brand say about you? Is your blog a pleasant place for your readers to hang out? Get in touch with Marie or Rachel if you’d like to spruce up your space!

Call Rachel and Marie on 01 453 7907
Curious Design website and blog
Twitter: @curious_design
Facebook: CuriousDesignIreland
Websites mentioned in the interview: Magda Lukas Photography, Style Serendipity, Swift Satire Festival 2012, Irish Mammy “Tweet Towels”

Talking like you

18 March

Here’s an idea to get your brain whirring. And it’s a really simple and effective one. If you write a blog or enjoy reading blogs, you’ll soon realise that words have the ability to grab your attention or bore you into clicking away.

The graphic below was found over on the Braid Creative blog – a duo who help creative business owners tell their story. They are ladies after my own heart! They recently wrote a post about Creative content quick fixes. Here’s a snippet from the post which sums up what I believe good business blogging should be all about – being yourself.

Who speaks to you? Leave me some links below…

Graphic via CreativeBraid.com

You basically take all the generic words (or words that don’t really fit your true personality but you use anyway because you think they sound “professional”), and replace them with words that actually sound like you, are more specific to what you really do – and have more authentic personality.

I struggle with this too! Sometimes it’s hard to come up with another way to say ‘I was so thrilled when’ or ‘I really love this that and the other’! So here’s a great tip I picked up recently;

Try reading your posts aloud and see if they bore you. Does that sound cruel? Believe me, it works! If it has a blah, blah, blah, sound when you speak it, it’s probably going to bore your reader. Reading aloud also gets you think about speaking conversationally and ‘to’ someone in particular.

If you don’t yet believe in word magic – go have a listen to Alexandra Franzen. She is a word chef who layers the most unlikely phrases together to make mouth-watering word pies!

For more information on Braid Creative, check out their website.

Twist it

6 February

The best blogging advice I ever got was to look outside of my own industry. See what other people are doing or talking about. Twist that idea and make it your own!

Twist it is a new series all about innovative blogging ideas from different industries. People who are doing something different.

Architect Jody Brown has a Tumblr blog called Sketch Every Day. It’s a place for him to share his amazing architectural sketches. From these, he made a film called “1 year of the sketches in 1 minute“. Here’s what I love about it;

  • an architect, who can draw beautifully

  • shares his creative process

  • and then turns it into an entertaining short film

This film has totally inspired me because it’s so beautifully simple. Customers are buying much more from us than a product or service. They are interested in the process and what inspires us to do what we do.

So here’s my advice; think about different ways to tell your story. Words are great but there are so many different tools out there from audioboo to vine to smart phone videos. Vimeo and YouTube provide endless content. You don’t need to be the artist or film  maker. You can share examples of work that you love or ideas that you want to spread.

The Twist it series is a resource of inspiring content ideas – please share your own finds in the comments below or get in touch to say hello! I’d love to hear from you.

 

Business stories – Herriott Grace

20 December

How about this for the first line of an ‘About’ page? “Lance and Nikole Herriott live 3400 kilometers apart: his workshop is in Victoria, British Columbia, and her studio is in Toronto, Ontario. When she first made her home more than halfway across the country, they started to send packages back and forth.”

Everyone is speaking about the age of ‘overload’ now; we’re bombarded with choice when it comes to web content. So if something is going to hold our attention, we need to make an emotional connection with it. And the natural way to connect is to tell meaningful stories. The story of family run business Herriott Grace‘ sounds something like this:

Nikole and her Dad now live 3400km apart. He is a wood turner. He often sent Nikole gifts of hand carved spoons in the post which she treasured and loved receiving. Each piece was a one-off and made from salvaged, chemical-free wood. One day Nikole had an idea. She asked her Dad if he would like to share his work with others. His ‘yes’ led to the launch of a family business called ‘Herriott Grace’. The precious packages continue to be posted from Victoria to Toronto, where Nikole styles and photographs them for their on-line shop.

Herriott Grace Herriott Grace

Lance and Nikole educate us about how beautiful things can be made from salvaged materials, how much care and attention is involved in the process and how each piece is a one-off. They also reveal who they are and why they love doing what they do. If I buy something from them, I feel like I’m getting much more than a carved spoon or platter.

So what inspires these two? We’re inspired by homesteads and farms and early morning light. By travel, via train and old world hotels. By well-worn tables and the meals around them. But most of all, by tradition, by trees and by things made by hand.

Have I got you thinking about your business story yet? You don’t need to be a ‘maker’ in order to have a story. I’m totally up for teaching an accountant or personal trainer how to write a blog! I’ll be featuring all kinds of businesses here. See if my workshops are suitable for you or say hello.

Your business story

6 December

What stops you in your tracks when you’re browsing online? Are you a 5 second flicker like me? While waiting for a slow page or link to open, I’m already looking at another open tab. It could be more interesting!

I’ve been reading a lot about what holds our attention and what ‘speaks’ to us in our online world. And once I discovered what it is, it made complete sense! We want to connect with the person or people behind the business and see if we like them. What are they about? Do they think like I do? Do they ‘get’ me? We want to make a basic human connection.

Would it surprise you to know that your ‘about’ page is one of the most visited pages on your site? Readers want to know why you do what you do and how you came to be doing it. And most importantly, how can you help them solve a problem. A ‘problem’ is a loose term for any purchase decision that they are thinking about!

This is the first in a series of posts about great ‘About’ pages. First up is Jane from Sugru. Sugru is a self-setting rubber that can be formed by hand and can be used to repair or adapt everyday objects. Jane tells the story of how her business was formed, through a scrolling time-line of polaroid pictures. Her heading for this page is ” A partial visual history of Sugru; from ‘hmm’ to ‘yay’ via ‘eureka’ and ‘wow’. Here is a section of this wonderful visual story; it makes me want to try out their product and read lots more about it!

The pictures scroll down, bringing us from February 2003 right up to September 2012. It’s an ongoing story which makes it so engaging! It also gives a feel for how much time and effort has gone into creating this product and business. The latest post tells us that Jane has just won the London Design Festival ‘Design Entrepreneur’ award. So well deserved! Check out the Sugru website for inspiration.

Who or what grabs your attention online? I’d love to hear from you. This will be an ongoing series and I want to share really diverse content! Leave me a comment or drop me a line; I’d love to hear from you.