Monthly Archives: October 2009

Living the Brand

By Dan Woychick

Whenever we work on a branding project, the most-anticipated moment for the client is often the “big reveal,” the creative presentation. While there’s an undeniable allure to seeing pixels or printouts mysteriously conjured out of thin air – or, better yet, some serious research – rarely is there as much excitement for the heavy lifting that follows a brand launch.

To succeed long-term, an organization must evolve from awareness, to promotion, to passionate advocacy of its brand. Sometimes referred to as “living the brand,” this involves deliberately aligning processes, systems, and employees in support of a shared promise. In other words, what you say and how you act on a daily basis has as much bearing on your organization’s success as any website or brochure.

Graph with the title "Building Brands Takes Time." The graph shows how a brand evolves through time.

Recently, I looked into donating my old car to charity. My first call was to an organization that was top-of-mind – an ad proclaimed their interest in donated cars. Doing a little research on their website, it wasn’t readily apparent what the donation would fund, but I found a phone number. Undeterred, I called to ask a few questions.

On the phone I was greeted by an operator with all the enthusiasm of a teller at the DMV. After slogging through the interrogation, she told me to call back to schedule a vehicle pick-up when I had my VIN# handy. Now, I wasn’t expecting her to gush over my generosity, but after that phone experience I decided to see who else takes cars. For that nonprofit, it was a missed branding opportunity.

The next day, on the way to the auto dealer, my car was rear-ended in traffic. Even though this needlessly complicated my intended donation, dealing with the driver’s insurance company was a pleasure. In order to process my claim, I spoke with two representatives by phone and a claims specialist in person. All were remarkably friendly, upbeat, and helpful. This doesn’t happen by chance. More likely, this company hires well, trains well, or both. It’s part of their brand.

Having told this story to a half dozen people, I can’t help but wonder: How many paid advertisements is that worth?

Because brands only exist in the minds of consumers, paying heed to the brand experience is critical. Paraphrasing the Chinese proverb: Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. By reinforcing the brand through everything you do, non-profit organizations can shape perceptions more indelibly than with marketing materials alone.

Don’t Bury the Information in the Experience

By Claire Napier

The web allows designers to create interactive experiences that are not possible in print. However, it is tempting to let the “experience” get in the way of providing people with information.

Recently, as part of a site redesign, we conducted usability testing on a number of university websites. Many of the home pages featured a large section devoted to creating an interactive experience, with beautiful slide shows or video and elegant navigation. However, none of our test subjects explored these features, skipping straight to the main navigation.

This reinforced our belief that most web users, even first-time visitors, have a goal in mind when they enter a site. Users are usually looking for the fastest way to obtain specific information.

In my own experience, MySpace is a site where my need for information trumps my design sensibilities. I frequently use the music section of MySpace to get information on my favorite artists. These pages are usually a cluttered mess, with distracting backgrounds and poor visual hierarchy. But despite these disadvantages, I find myself turning almost exclusively to MySpace for information rather than to the artists’ official .com websites.

Why? Even with the less-satisfying visual experience, actual content is fairly straightforward and easy to find on MySpace pages.

When using the web to find information about an artist, I am usually looking for one of two things – music to listen to or tour dates. On an artist’s .com site, I am never sure what to expect. Often these sites require waiting for Flash to load and have cumbersome animated menus. Also, custom music players necessitate a learning curve for each one.

MySpace Music pages, on the other hand, have a predictable and basic layout with a limited number of options. While the components of each page may vary somewhat, everything is on one page. Once you’ve seen a few MySpace pages, the consistency of the available options makes finding information easy.

While including animation and interactive features can supplement the web experience, it’s easy to get carried away. When designing a site, I always try to remember that the users’ primary need is information.

Random Poster Series

With the constant, multi-channel stream of information threatening to overwhelm our senses, we believe in the power of design to extract clarity out of chaos. This poster series is an exercise in putting that theory to the test.

The assignment

Every Monday, we select a random article on Wikipedia, a random quotation on, and the first photo that appears on Flickr when selecting “explore the last seven days.” Choosing one of these options, over the course of the week, we create a poster in five hours or less.

Random Poster 1

Inspired by a random selection from, October 12, 2009.

All posters are available for download. See the entire series.

Poster with quote: If you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Favorite Links: October 2009

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s the latest:

Design Your Customers’ Decisions
Harvard Business

10 Ways Universities are Engaging Alumni Using Social Media

The Case for Content Strategy
A List Apart

Fast Company

Designing for Accessibility Means Better Websites for Everyone

By Claire Napier

Because it appears to affect relatively few people, web accessibility isn’t often top-of-mind during the design and coding process. I’ve found, however, that considering accessibility earlier in the process can help improve the web experience for all users.

Earlier in my career, I was more focused on the way a site appeared than how the code was organized. When I started incorporating accessibility guidelines into my work, I discovered sites could be built more efficiently without sacrificing visual appeal.

There are many advantages to designing an accessible website. Most importantly, it is highly beneficial to site navigation. Sometimes the most visually logical way to create navigation makes for unnecessarily complicated code. Because accessible menus generally operate on less code, site users experience no lag time when waiting for a hover state or a dropdown menu to appear.

Accessible websites make your site more visible to search engines because images with text require a live text equivalent. Additionally, because they follow standard coding protocols, accessible websites are easier to manage and update.

Focusing on web accessibility earlier in the process means all content is properly coded, leading to simpler sites with cleaner typography. The result: Websites that work better for all users because both the design and production were considered, together, early in the process.

Learn More About Accessible Web Design

An introduction to accessibility:

Website accessibility checklist:

A guide to creating accessible image-based navigation:

College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities