Archive for the ‘clients’ Category

Recent Launch: Waterville Valley Resort

The recent launch of Waterville Valley’s new website represents the culmination of 5 months of work. Developed with a very customized php-based backend by Max Kloeppel, this site is robust and scaleable. The rich Winter home page theme is just one of 5 different themes along with Summer, FALL (an industry first to our knowledge), Terrain Parks, and Conference Sales.

It was an honor to work with Waterville Valley and we look forward to a long and enjoyable relationship.

Waterville Valley Home Page

Waterville Valley Home Page

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • Hackjob: My Work Gets Plagiarized!

    My work was recently poached by the good folks at Infobytes in Salt Lake City. That’s the nicest way to say it. Their recent “design” for Brighton Resort is more than inspired by my 2010 design for Squaw Valley USA. It’s a blatant ripoff. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then consider me highly flattered.

    My 2010 design for Squaw Valley's website, next to the recently launched Brighton website.

    My 2010 design for Squaw Valley's website, next to the recently launched Brighton website.

    I’ve spoken to Brighton, and I believe them when they say they were completely unaware of any copying or wrong-doing. It seems they listed Squaw.com along with several other sites they liked to give Infobytes an idea of their tastes and functionality they liked. I ask for the same thing when starting a project, but I try to come back with something unique, and hopefully better. Instead, Infobytes downloaded the site, the CSS, the markup, the graphics and proceded to make small hackish adjustments accordingly. So I think the real victim here is Brighton, who spent their entire summer and lots of money on something that’s plagiarized.

    Before I get into the particulars, let me admit that there are only so many ideas out there, and some overlap is bound to happen. As one friend pointed out to me, my Squaw design looks a lot like Apple.com so maybe I’m to blame as well. But the ski industry is a small, interconnected place where everyone knows each other and takes great pride in competition as well as camaraderie. So it was no surprise when many of my colleagues jumped all over this blatant forgery before I even had seen it. Slopefillers did a great job of documenting the similarities within hours of its launch, in their post Ski Resort Websites: 7 Before & Afters from 2011′s New Designs.

    As Slopefillers showed you, the dimensions and graphic effects are completely derivative.

    As Slopefillers showed you, the dimensions and graphic effects are completely derivative.

    But to say that they’re similar is an understatement. With the exception of Infobytes’ hackish rendering, they’re cut from the same mould altogether.

    • The hero images are completely the same dimensions, although Infobytes hasn’t cropped them to center the subject within the allotted space. They’re also embedded as background images using the same class names as Squaw.com.
    • The hero images are also served using the same php script which was developed by Chris Petty specifically for Squaw.
    • The ghosted scenic images in the background are treated using the same layer blending modes, the same opacity, and the same gradient masks as mine.
    • The dimensional shadows in the footer are blurred and warped to the exact same specification, creating a lifted corner effect. That’s no accident!
    • The navigation bar has the same height, width, gradient, beveling treatment, dividers and type treatment. IN FACT, if you were to examine the code (at the time of this blog post) you’d even see that the navigation and headers all call for Futura Bold, which we embedded on Squaw.com using @font-face. Brighton doesn’t use Futura, but my code is still there.
    • The navigation menus use the same columnar structure, the same unordered list styling, the same background images dividing navigation from promotional content.
    • The content level pages use the same background image technique with the same fade-out heights and same opacity, the same content overlay design, and the same sidebar design although in reverse.

    I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

    I spoke to the designer responsible for this hack job at Infobytes and she had no idea what to say. I asked if she thought no one would notice. She said, well the client sent me a list of sites they liked and I just “took it from there”. I said I usually get a list of preferred sites from my clients too but I don’t copy them. It’s just to get a sense of their personal taste. By the end of the call, she said she’d change everything right away. I reminded her that that’s not her call and that she should consult with her client and own up to what she’d done. So THAT was a fun conversation.

    Squaw is aware of the situation and they had the same reaction I did. IE: “WOW, that’s blatant!” But with their recent changes, they may have bigger fish to fry at the moment. The bottom line is that Brighton and Squaw will work this out amicably, without a doubt.

    Recent Launch: Sugarloaf USA

    Repeat business is always great. But when it’s a classic, highly regarded brand like Sugarloaf, it’s an honor. After designing their former site in 2006, it was about time to bring Sugarloaf’s site into modern times. I got the call in late June and by August 1 delivered the home page, general content templates, and an overhauled snow report and trails & lifts report along with custom icons and support assets. The production, development and elaborate API wrangling credit goes to Sugarloaf’s Derek Wheeldon, who was a pleasure to work with.

    Sugarloaf USA

    sugarloaf.com

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • Recent Launch: Stöckli Skis

    I recently had the opportunity to redesign the US website for the Swiss-made ski company, Stöckli through a partnership with JV2. The catch was that the creative needed to delivered and be finalized within two weeks, while I was busy working on several other major projects. So about 6-8 all-nighters later, the project was delivered. The final package included .psds for the home page, product category, product detail, general content template, and athlete profile pages. Working with an international consumer brand like Stöckli was a great opportunity and I hope for more projects like it in the future.

    Stöckli Skis

    http://stockli.com

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • A Thank You To My Understanding Clients

    I recently announced to friends and family that my son, Charlie has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. The diagnosis was not a surprise to our family, as Charlie has been dealing with its effects since birth. He’s seen a number of physical, occupational, and speech therapists as well as countless doctors and specialists. His dense schedule obviously requires a great deal of time away from my desk.

    Since he was born prematurely in October of 2009, I’ve maintained a sporadic work schedule of 3 days a week or less. As you can imagine, this takes a bit of a tole on my availability for clients. I’d like to think I’ve managed that balance relatively well, taking only projects I know I can complete. But I owe my clients a great thank you for their understanding and flexibility. In the past two years, not one client has asked me to choose work over family. Even when I’ve gotten behind on projects, or been unavailable for short periods, my clients have been respectful of my priorities and encouraged me to keep them straight.

    As a stay-at-home father trying to raise a son; as a husband trying to pay the bills and support a wonderful wife; and as a guy who just wants to do good work; I am humbled and deeply appreciative. I hope to serve you all better in the future as I start to increase my work hours this summer. I’m very lucky to work for such great people across this country. Thank you.

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  • Filed under: clients, general design
  • Just Launched: Freeskier.com

    Freeskier Magazine is a top ski industry magazine, focussed on park, pipe, and powder skiing. Their site is a robust hub of industry information and user-contributed content. It was an honor to contribute the design (over 15 .psds delivered) to this highly regarded site as well as its sister site, Snowboard Magazine. Drupal development was done by One to One in Boston.

    View the site »

    Freeskier Magazine

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • Sometimes it all comes together. I was very lucky to contribute a design to this year’s Local Lange Girl Contest site, by Freeskier Magazine. For the uninitiated, Lange boots has published a poster for the last 20-some years of a semi-nude woman in Lange ski boots. The posters have become a bit of a ski tradition. Recently, Lange has opened the casting to the general public, and the site will draw up to 4-6 million views in the next two months.

    Visit the site »

    Local Lange Girl Contest Site

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • Just Launched: Squaw Valley USA

    November saw the launch of  a new design for Squaw Valley USA in North Lake Tahoe California. With an existing Drupal backend, this was more of a theming overhaul. Very pleased with the result, although there’s still a lot to be done.

    Visit the site »

    Squaw Valley Home Page

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • Sunday River, Maine

    Sunday River 2010 website

    Sunday River 2010 website

    Among this years ski industry highlights were the redesign of JacksonHole.com, TheCanyons.com, and SundayRiver.com. Sunday River, in Bethel, Maine represented a second round of design; a rare opportunity for repeat business. And for that I’m truly thankful. What’s more, is that Sunday River is the place where I learned to ski. Or rather, Sunday River is also where my wife (a former Sunday River ski instructor) first gave me that all-important, life-altering ultimatum: “Well you can either learn to ski or you can just be lonely all winter…”

    The design is a result of very specific and time-tested insight from the established veterans of Sunday River’s brand manager Nick Lambert, as well as the tenacious work of Sunday River’s tireless developer, Maria Silveira. My thanks go out to Sunday River for their cooperation and commitment to their core principles.

    As always, feel free to hit me up for insider tips on the design and/or css of this site.

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  • Filed under: clients, my stuff
  • Avoiding Client Communication Errors

    As a designer you may find yourself constantly explaining the same things to clients. And while this can be frustrating for you, remember that it may be their first time down the road so you may need to slow down and explain why things are the way they are. Often times, simply addressing these items ahead of time will help you avoid any awkwardness in the transition from concept to development. Hopefully these common questions can help you anticipate your clients’ likely concerns and address them before they become an issue.

    There are ways to avoid these “surprises” throughout the process. But they require subtle communication and careful preparation. Remember, you’re the designer. So don’t corner the client with complicated technical or design questions, only to watch them glaze over and feel like they’re being talked down to. Instead try to engage your clients gently throughout the process to extract the necessary information and avoid any surprises.

    Common Client Questions

    Why doesn’t the type look like it did in the concept sketch?

    Setting the proper anti-aliasing for "live type" in your sketch can help avoid surprises down the road. (Mac OSX = "crisp" or "smooth", Windows IE6 = "none", Windows IE7 = "sharp" although not perfect.)

    Setting the proper anti-aliasing for "live type" in your sketch can help avoid surprises down the road. (Mac OSX = "crisp" or "smooth", Windows IE6 = "none", Windows IE7 = "sharp")

    It’s so easy to design a concept in Photoshop™ with gorgeous anti-aliased type as it will appear on your Apple Cinema Display. The client will LOVE your design because the smooth type looks better than jagged type on sites on their old CRT in IE6. But that’s not realistic now, is it? One way to avoid this pitfall is to find out what browser your client runs and design your concept to suit their environment. There’s no universal way to perfectly match Windows rendering but if you’re familiar with the evolution of different operating systems and how they render type, you can make small adjustments to better replicate what they will see when the site goes live. If your client is using IE6 as a primary browser, they’re most likely on an older machine without cleartype. So in anticipation, you can set all “live type” (type that will be editable) in your Photoshop sketch to “none” which will more accurately render the type as jagged (gag) like the browser would. If your client is on Vista, using IE7 or IE8 there is no perfect rendering mode, but the “sharp” anti-aliasing mode will be a little closer. If your client is on an Apple with OSX (you lucky bastard) you’re in the clear (pun optional) to use “crisp” or “smooth” as your preferred rendering mode.
    Here’s an example of fonts rendering in different browsers.

    What’s up with all the white space?

    Every time I get this question I die a little inside. But it’s legit. Clients often see real-estate as a finite asset, something to be rigidly maximized. This is understandable but it may be useful to set up an appreciation  for white space ahead of time. Often times, your client appreciates white space but they just don’t know it yet. At some point a client will say “Make it look like Apple.com.” Of course that’s a laughable statement but the undertone is that they like the singular focus and big beautiful imagery. You can do this. You really can. But when you  hear comments like that it’s important to jump on them and respond with something like “Yeah, I love how open their site is, and how focused the imagery is.” You may also have white space in the left hand column below the navigation. This is a common place for “dead space” (as the client  may call it) to accumulate. It’s important  to remind them that (A) the height of that column is independent of the content and will vary from one page to another, (B) it’s most likely dynamic so it’s impossible to control, so you’ve designed it to accommodate the worst-case scenario, and (C) the clean area will allow the user to focus on the important content at hand. But be sure to address it while you’re still concepting, rather than letting the site go to development.

    How come the site doesn’t take up my whole browser window?

    This is a tricky topic. But if you’re designing for a fixed width, the best answer is that you’ve looked at the client’s user data and it overwhelmingly suggests that their users are mostly on a common resolution (1024 x 768 most likely), and your design is set to optimized that viewing experience. The second half of the answer is that the site does not scale with the browser resolution (like say, Amazon) because your client’s content is not infinite. All the client wants  to know that you’ve considered these possibilities and made an educated decision that your decision best suits there needs. You’ve considered that a fluid width would be detrimental to the ideal line-length (66 characters or so) and ultimately it would hurt readability. You’ve addressed all the permutations of necessary content objects (banners, promos, etc) and they all have a nice neat place to live. And if all else fails, point out that The New York Times does it so it must be right. (Of course, choose your words carefully.)

    Why can’t we use our corporate font everywhere?

    It can be hard to explain the limited font selection on the web. But once you’ve gotten over that hurdle, it can be an opportunity to discuss why you’ve chosen Arial to compliment their logotype of Bodoni for example. And until CSS3 is universally supported, embedding display fonts through the use of “@font-face” is not a viable option.  In some cases, however you may want to dress up headings or special type areas with more graphic-looking fonts. For that you may want to look into sIFR which is a cool way of replacing live type with display type rendered in Flash through the use of CSS and Javascript. Another options is FLIR which uses PHP, Javascript, CSS and image replacement to render your headlines. But of course the effort and accessibility are drawbacks to these otherwise cool work-arounds. Having used sIFR initially on FetchDog.com I also found that there were load time issues caused by the extra scripts and server calls. So the best bet is to get good at making web type look sexy.

    Can you change the rollover states?

    It’s impossible to anticipate and document every minor detail for client approval. Sooner or later you’ll have to make some executive decisions to avoid opening a major can of worms and wasting time with client approvals. For example, should you ask your client what visited link color to use in the right hand column? Probably not, but what if they don’t like the color you picked? Obviously that’s an easy one to fix. But what if you created a nice flash site where all the button elements have a complicated mouse-over behavior? It may be best to define the behavior once and seek approval before proceeding with the rest. Your call. But consider how long the effect will take to alter and weigh it against the time it would take to receive a quick approval. There’s your answer.

    Can we add a major content element at the last minute?

    Last minute scope creep is a given in this industry. Typically it happens when a client is not fully prepared, but is under a tight deadline. But rather than being combative or perceived as unreasonable, cover your ass with a signed Statement of Work (SOW) document that defines the scope and requirements of the project. This document can get batted around many times but when it’s signed you have a project framework and a record of which requests are reasonable and which ones may mean potential added revenue. If those out-of-scope requests add up, you may be able to table them until after launch and address them all at once in a Phase 2 approach. Clients can usually budget and digest that much more easily than a nickel and dime approach.

    So I have an idea for the site intro…

    NO. This isn’t 1999. I don’t do intros. —Well, let me clarify. I’m not opposed to some animation on the home page. But in recent years I’ve adopted a “no splash page policy”. If someone requests an “intro” I try to talk them off the ledge by offering them an animation on their home page. This usually goes over pretty well once I get done explaining that (A) the concept of an intro is out-dated, (B) it’s annoying to users who are completely over the idea and who just want to find content, and (C) that we can make the same impact without a barrier to entry which the isolated intro represents.

    My mom looked at the site on AOL and…

    There’s always going to be some techno-peasant on a dial-up connection somewhere who is not getting the complete experience. Your job is to determine early on in the process if those people matter. If you’re able to ascertain who the clients’ core users are and what their minimum requirements are. If your client is hot on ground-breaking technologies or a high-bandwidth user experience, you’ll need to warn them about the risks without talking them out of their excitement. A good way to do this is to make clients sign a Technical Requirements Document (TRD) up front. We’d all like to stop supporting IE6 but that  may not be realistic and it’s important to know up front if that’s important. So draft up a document saying which target browsers will be supported, what system specifications are necessary to view the complete experience and what versions of software will be required.

    Your Turn:

    If you’re a designer, are there common questions you get from clients that make you want to dine out on a bullet? If you’re a marketer, have you ever had an awkward exchange with a designer that could have been easily avoided with proper communication up front? If so, comment on this post and let’s discuss.

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  • Filed under: clients