Mark Wolfe Design turns 20 years old.

mwd_20yIn 1994 when I started out by myself in my home on the West Side of Charleston, I never dreamed that I would endure as a sole proprietor as my grandfather Blaine Pauley and Glen Blackwell did before me.

At that time, desktop publishing was very young in the Kanawha Valley, and there were only a handful of us working from a small office downtown, or home.  My good friend, Mike Switzer and I recently had the opportunity to reminisce  about the “old days.”  Mike pointed out to me, that in the early 1990’s, there were only 5 people in the Kanawha Valley doing what is now considered very mainstream in the business world.

Over the years, I have served clients across the state of West Virginia and have reached into the international community with my marketing and creative design services.  Clients of Mark Wolfe Design have included:  East End Main Street, Charleston ReStore, The Grand Ol’ Opry, International Coal Association, Legal Aid of West Virginia, Walker Machinery, and Buzz Food Service. As a marketing and design professional, it has been a dream come true to serve these organizations, boards and committees with my talents to support my community.

I am incredibly grateful for the clients and friends who have kept Mark Wolfe Design going strong for 20 years this month.  Never will I take for granted a clients’ faith in my abilities to service their needs, while they continue to support me through referrals and repeat business opportunities.  Many clients have been with me from the beginning, allowing me to grow with their business, while together, we grew their business exponentially. It is incredibly exciting when I am given the opportunity to take a limited vision of what marketing and creative design can accomplish and profoundly work outside of those parameters.

I have watched the marketing and creative design industry change significantly over the past 20 years.  The agencies that were once dominant are getting smaller, as many new agencies and small proprietors have entered the scene.  The public has also become increasingly aware of the advantage of using local, smaller design shops for their marketing and social media most needs.

I have also been very blessed over the years to be surrounded by other creative professionals.  These friends support and inspire me.  One such friend is the great Glen Brogan, who I have admired for years, while watching him soar into fame. I am extremely honored that Glen created a custom image for the 20th Anniversary of Mark Wolfe Design!

I am proud to say, that as the marketing and creative design industry ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys, one thing remains constant and that is the professionalism, dedication and creativity you will get from Mark Wolfe Design.   I look forward to showing you what Mark Wolfe Design can and will do for your business well into the future.  I look forward to continuing in service to the Kanawha Valley and beyond with the creative services I can provide.  Here’s to another 20 years of supporting YOU and your business!

Thank you, West Virginia!

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Ted “The Man With The Golden Voice” Williams

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Mark Wolfe Design on Instagram

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Design Thinking… What is That?

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BY FAST COMPANY STAFF MARCH 20, 2006

The methodology commonly referred to as design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results. I have this image of Allen Samuels permanently emblazoned on my brain. This goes back to college. With his usual amazing energy and unrestrained passion, this deeply passionate design professor is explaining to us why the process of design that we are learning is so important. Any profession, he suggests with conviction, medicine, law, choreography or politics can benefit by employing design thinking and achieve better results. Although we all heard and believed then what he was saying, it has taken a great while for the potential of his words to find purchase in a business environment willing to accept his hypothesis.

Although Design is most often used to describe an object or end result, Design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb not a noun. A protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Techniques and tools differ and their effectiveness are arguable but the core of the process stays the same. It’s taken years of slogging through Design = high style to bring us full circle to the simple truth about design thinking. That it is a most powerful tool and when used effectively, can be the foundation for driving a brand or business forward.

Basically Design thinking consists of four key elements.

1: Define the problem

Sounds simple but doing it right is perhaps the most important of all the four stages. Another way to say it is defining the right problem to solve. Design thinking requires a team or business to always question the brief, the problem to be solved. To participate in defining the opportunity and to revise the opportunity before embarking on its creation and execution. Participation usually involves immersion and the intense cross examination of the filters that have been employed in defining a problem.

In design thinking observation takes center stage. Observation can discern what people really do as opposed to what you are told that they do. Getting out of the cube and involving oneself in the process,product,shopping experience or operating theater is fundamental. No one’s life was ever changed by a PowerPoint presentation.

Design thinking in problem definition also requires cross functional insight into each problem by varied perspectives as well as constant and relentless questioning, like that of a small child, Why?, Why? Why? Until finally the simple answers are behind you and the true issues are revealed. Finally, defining the problem via design thinking requires the suspension of judgment in defining the problem statement. What we say can be very different to what we mean. The right words are important. It’s not “design a chair”, it’s…”create a way to suspend a person”. The goal of the definition stage is to target the right problem to solve, and then to frame the problem in a way that invites creative solutions.

Question; How many designers will it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer; Why a light bulb?

2: Create and consider many options

Even the most talented teams and businesses sometimes fall into the trap of solving a problem the same way every time. Especially when successful results are produced and time is short. Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results.

Many times we are not aware of the filters we may be burdened with when we create answers to problems. In this stage opportunites appear. The trick is to recognize them as opportunities. Multiple perspectives and teamwork are crucial. Design thinking suggests that better answers happen when 5 people work on a problem for a day, than one person for five days. Designers have an advantage in the use of 2D and 3dimensional tools to demonstrate solutions and new ideas — tools which are almost always far more effective to demonstrate what is meant, than words.

3: Refine selected directions

A handful of promising results need to be embrace and nurtured. Given a chance to grow protected from the evil idea-killers of previous experience. Even the strongest of new ideas can be fragile in their infancy. Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. Which brings us to stage 3.5.

3.5 Repeat (optional)

Design thinking may require looping steps 2 and 3 until the right answers surface.

4: Pick the winner, execute

At this point enough road has been traveled to insure success. It’s the time to commit resources to achieve the early objectives. The byproduct of the process is often other unique ideas and strategies that are tangential to the initial objective as defined. Prototypes of solutions are created in earnest, and testing becomes more critical and intense. At the end of stage 4 the problem is solved or the opportunity is fully uncovered.

While of late, there has been quite a lot of discussion regarding what Design thinking is and how businesses can leverage it, as suggested in the introduction to this piece this is not a new or unproven idea.

From Wikipedia: Herbert Simon, in the “Sciences of the Artificial” (MIT Press, 1969) has defined “design” as the “transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones” (p. 55). Design thinking is, then, always linked to an improved future. Unlike critical thinking, which is a process of analysis and is associated with the ‘breaking down’ of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based around the ‘building up’ of ideas. There are no judgments in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation. Wild ideas are welcome, since these often lead to the most creative solutions. Everyone is a designer, and design thinking is a way to apply design methodologies to any of life’s situations.

Simon goes on to describe a seven step process: Define, Research, Ideate, Prototype, Choose, Implement, Learn.

Whether the protocol is outlined in a seven, four or even three stage process, see – shape – build, it all comes from the same place a proven method that always delivers. And it doesn’t matter what opportunity or problem is put into the front end of the process.

The end result of this simple yet highly effective protocol can be a better mousetrap, symphony, or dry cleaning service. Implied in design thinking is an objective view and a warm embrace of risk and new ideas.

That said, the outline above is a structure and while it may seem counter intuitive, structure can be one of the key elements to enhancing creativity in problem solving. Design legend Charles Eames once famously said: “design depends largely on constraints”. This is very true; sometimes you need to draw the box in order to know what to break out of. After that, the manner in which options are considered, ideas are refined and selections are executed are the key.

Design thinking describes a repeatable process employing unique and creative techniques which yield guaranteed results — usually results that exceed initial expectations. Extraordinary results that leapfrog the expected. This is why it is such an attractive, dynamic and important methodology for businesses to embrace today.

Thank you Allen.

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4 Ways To Strengthen Client Relations

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All too often, freelancers look at their clients as one-off opportunities. They do a job, complete a project, and when payment exchanged, they wave good-bye and never look back. But regular contact with former clients should be an integral part of your freelance business.

Call it public relations or just good business practices, but treating your clients as part of your regular business network– not just as cash cows– can be a wonderful strategy.

Not only will clients feel that you care about them for more than just a paycheck, they will also feel more inclined to recommend you to their colleagues for future projects. The time you devote to nurturing those client relationships becomes a kind of investment that can lead to returns later down the road.

If the rapport is particularly strong, you can also ask clients to be active promoters of your services by having them write recommendations and testimonials that you can later use for your own marketing efforts. In other words, maintaining good client relations means more and better business for you.

Here are five tips for strengthening your business relationship with clients.

Drop a line to your clients.

When is the last time you were in touch with an old client? It doesn’t take much effort to send off a short e-mail message or to make a quick “touching base” phone call. More often than not, your client will have some thoughts about a prospective project or may send a few leads your way.

During any meeting or interaction, avoid the aggressive sales pitch, and focus the conversation on the client by asking questions about their business and work (be sure to review your “client notes” from your spreadsheet for any useful “intelligence”). Read more on how to create value for your clientsand to get quality referrals.

Get the big picture.

Take a holistic look at your clients needs. First-time clients may have hired you to solve specific problems or to work on a particular project. But you can often generate more business by pitching new ways to help them.

If they have a business and are growing, they may have needs that you can help them fill. One time, after I had completed a ghostwriting book project for a client, I found out through casual conversation later that the book was now part of a larger effort to launch a website and to reach out to fellow professionals.

It was clear she had no idea how to start a promotional campaign around her book. I offered her a few bits of advice and she ended up contracting me on a mini-marketing project where we worked together to craft several press releases for different audiences.

Make it easy for clients to get updates on you.

Maintain a blog and write about your experiences with your freelance business; write about the industry you’re in; address common problems your clients might have and write about potential solutions.

Push those blog posts and any other relevant content out to your clients via a newsletter or regular e-mail updates. Fire off this communication campaign on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. If you have a big roster of clients, use an e-mail marketing service like MailChimpAWeber, or iContact.

Aside from blogs and regular updates, you can also show your engagement to clients through your social media channels. Make sure you have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn and find out if your clients have the same accounts– and interact. Read more on how to maintain a dynamic social media presence.

Don’t be stingy.

If your client mentions a problem, be generous with advice. You don’t have to conduct a full-on consulting session, but if you’re meeting over coffee, you can give a few pointers.

I had a colleague ask me to read over web copy for his new social networking community group. I gave him some pointers to help him tweak the writing. While the meeting didn’t lead to a job, the colleague bought one of our books and has been active introducing me to his network on LinkedIn.

Sometimes doing a little pro bono work earns bigger rewards over the long run.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by dolgachov.

 

 

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Is There Really A Client Lifecycle?

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Wiki states that the average person remains at their job for 13 years. Sounds good, right? I mean 13 years. True, it’s an unlucky number for some, but better to be employed for any time in this economy. Heck, Uclue.com states that the average US marriage only lasts 8 years.

So, maybe it’s the advertising industry that is averaging down the 30-year gold watch anniversaries. A Spencer Stuart Blue Paper cites that: “It’s jarring to note that the average tenure for CMOs at the top 100 branded companies is just 22.9 months. Based on our data, only 14 percent of CMOs for the world’s top brands have been with their companies for more than three years — and nearly half are new to the job over the last 12 months.”

Just as in the lifecycle of a marketing manager, I often hear about the “lifecycle of a client” with an ad agency. I took an informal poll with some peers, and most stated that they expect to work with a client for about 4-5 years and then poof – the client goes off to perceived greener pastures. In fact, a client of ours stated that 4 years for an agency / client relationship is long, (pause for reflective swallow, as we’re in year 3).

So, does a client have a lifecycle and why? OK, this is where the stats stop and theories start, so jump off the bus now or open your mind…

Let’s say your contact at your favorite client makes it past the 22.9 months and actually wants to make a career out of it. That doesn’t mean that everyone else there does and he or she probably reports to a COO or CEO who may in fact report to a Board or Shareholders. Results have to keep coming. Here is why they may not be…

I hear things like, “the creative just wasn’t exciting anymore” or “no new ideas” or “just time for something different”. Yes, often, the creative goes stale, but it is not, in my opinion for a lack of creativity. Sounds weird huh? I’ll explain. By year three, the creative should be more on target and yielding much better results. I mean, you’ve been doing your unaided and aided branding research studies every year right? What client doesn’t want to pay for research? Never heard of such a thing…but, I digress. We’ll post about that later.

When agencies go after a new client, one of my most and least favorite parts of being an agency principal, most go all out – balls to the wall – creative juices flying everywhere. We do. Why? Because they’re really not invested financially in the account. The revenue they could earn is “hope to get” money. “Hope to get” money is fun. It’s like a lottery ticket before you check the numbers.

But when an agency lands a client, it needs to staff up appropriately, buy needed research studies/tools, join relevant associations, upgrade some software, spend some time meeting with some new subcontractors – it’s time and money. So, the new “hope to get” money gets spent quick. You start servicing the client with all these tools, are in the new-relationship love affair with the client and integrating the new tools or new people into your team.

After a year, you’ve produced some results, the client is loving you, but you’re also loving the new tools, team members etc. Now, the money is still there, but it’s no longer “hope to get” money, it’s “need to have” money. It’s need “need to have” money because you’ve made all the commitments to service the client and it’s not like you were out there going after more “hope to get” money because you’ve been busy trying to get your new relationship off to a good start, and your team was already running thin anyway in this economy and you may not have the manpower to win new business and win over your new client at the same time. You made a choice.

In your second or third year with a client, you’ve now gotten accustom to running your shop with the new tools / resources etc. and have forged personal relationships with your new team members. They are really part of the team now – your family. You’ve met their families, understand their hopes, dreams and really care for them. Now, you’re afraid. You’re afraid of letting them down. You’ve put yourself in a position where the “need to have” money is “gotta have” money. You know that if you lose the client, you’ll lose the revenue and ultimately may have to lose some of your team members.

So, you as a manager may stifle the great ideas that are on the edge in favor of more conservative ideas that are “mainstream.” You don’t push the client anymore. You agree too much. You say you think “their ideas” are good whether they are or not. All, because you’re afraid to lose the client and by doing so, you do just that. You lose the client. No client wants a “yes man”. They want new exciting invigorating ideas. That is why they came to you at first, right? Are you afraid to give them what you feel they may not want? Are you afraid to push the envelope?

Do I think there is a client lifecycle? Yes, for some clients, for some agencies. But, I believe it is not because of the talented team of people in your agency. It comes from fear and we, as leaders, need to be stronger, bolder, more willing to take risks – even in today’s economy, especially in today’s economy.

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Finding A Good Web Designer Is Easy With MWD

Many potential clients don’t know much about web design and can feel lost when it comes to finding a good web designer. Confusing “tech-speech”, hidden costs; charging outrageous fees and committing clients to long term “update” charges and proprietary software packages that only they can use, often turn off potential clients and worse, landing some in financial crisis!

Knowing what makes an effective website is only half the battle. Communication with the designer is crucial.

Here is some verbiage to understand as you seek a designer:

• Dynamic Content (Interactive features on a website. The content the user sees is sometimes updated based upon the users input. Dynamic content can be information stored in a database, user input, or even cookies. Forms and a Search option on a site are perfect examples of dynamic content.)
• Search Engine (A program (website) designed to search a database of information from and about other websites. Google, Yahoo and others use this kind of program to create a directory of sites which you can then search through.)
• HTML (how to write the code that displays the website)
• CSS (Cascading Style Sheets – controls font colors and sizes and removes code bloat)
• Server (A computer that delivers web pages to users. It is the “computer” where website files (the whole website) reside and are accessed through the Internet. A server can also be called a host or node.)
• SEO (Search Engine Optimizaztion – how to get top ranking in search engines for your keywords)
• Graphic Design (The design of logos, navigation graphics and editing images)
• Composite (Comps) (The look of the website without actually creating it. This is achieved with graphics only, and is usually presented to the client in printed form or as an attachment in an email.
• Contact Page (The page in a website that contains all information as to how to contact a business or individual. This usually includes a mailing address, phone number, fax number, email addresses and any other criteria that may be necessary. This page can also include a map and directions.)
• Content (The body of a web page. Content includes words, selling points, graphics, animations, etc. that do not comprise the framework of the page. This is the information that changes from page to page.)
• Debugging (Detecting, locating and correcting errors or problems in a computer program or web site.)
• Forms (Interactive elements which allow a user to input information to be utilized by the website. Forms can be used to gather information supplied by the user in order to help the user interact with various components within the site.)
• Homepage (The entry page to a website, also known as the index page. Often mistakenly referred to as the “Portal” page.)
• Hosting (Most commonly thought of as the place (think of a heavy-duty computer) where your website’s files reside. An Internet host has a unique Internet address (IP address) and a unique domain name or host name. A host can also refer to a Web hosting company.)
• Marketing (The process of planning and executing the promotion of a website via printed and other media, and the Internet. How you make others aware that your website exists.)

Some things to look for while looking for a designer:
Is the designer’s website professional looking and clean cut or is it full of Google ads and affiliate banners or links at the top of the home page?
If it’s the latter keep looking for another web designer because they are attempting to gain a living via advertising instead of their web design skills.

Do they claim “award winning” designers?
Anyone can apply for a web design award and often get one because these award sites usually offer awards with one goal in mind – getting links back to their website. Emblems from web design guilds may look impressive, however if you check into the means to attain these you will see that most of them charge a fee for membership with minimal requirements, and thus anyone with the most basic web design skills can gain awards or buy memberships and that is not always proof they are quality designers. That can be better assertained by the guidelines offered in this article.

Do they Guarantee a Top Listing in the Search Engines?
No. Genuine web designer can guarantee a top listing in search engines and especially on Google because they change their algorithyms often. What used to work last week may not work next week as Google is preventing any methods that attempt to manipulate their search engine. A top listing can usually be achieved by providing unique and interesting content on the web pages, by the designer having a good knowledge of SEO and by submitting the site to numerous other websites so it has adequate links. Some designer sites are SEO Ripoffs and use spam techniques that will get your website banned.

Do they provide Site Hosting?
A web designer that boasts hosting is known as a reseller for a large hosting company. This means they have bought a large space on their host site and they host the sites they design in that space (i.e., shared hosting), and they will be your sole tech support. Sometimes they have a computer they use for a server in their home. Either way this is not a good idea because if they get sick or their computer breaks down your web site will be down also. Often they do not keep up with expensive hardware or software upgrades to prevent hacking attemps and other problems and thus your website will be more vulnerable than if it was on a real host.

Are they in your country?
It’s not so important that a designer be in the same city as most design communication can be covered by phone or email. However if they are in another country you may have problems if they don’t complete the job after you paid them (and no legal recourse) you’re screwed. Check their contact page for phone, address and email to make sure they are in the same country.

Most important: Looking at a designer’s own website is not always proof of their ability because they may be too busy to keep their own website updated. Looking at their web design portfolio will give you a better idea of their skill level.

Before you look at a large agency (which often farm out web designers), your neighbor’s kid, or someone in your office that knows a little Microsoft Word, please contact Mark Wolfe Design!

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The Anatomy of an Agency Infographic

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Interview with Rob Janoff, designer of the Apple logo | creativebits™

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Kern Type-The Kerning Game by Mark MacKay

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