Red Beret Design’s 10th Anniversary

Today marks 10 years in business for Red Beret Design. Thank you to all of my clients, colleagues, and other supporters who have helped me to make it to this milestone.

The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Just discovered another fun (and useful and informative) infographic, this one about SEO. This makes a great checklist of SEO techniques. Courtesy of SearchEngineLand. Click on the link or the post for more information and explanation about what SEO techniques to use, and which ones to avoid.

A visual history of Google Algorithm changes

The good folks at Hubspot have teamed up with Moz to design this graphic to visually elucidate why SEO is such a maddening task.

The bottom line on SEO? Forget the tricks and schemes. Forget the junk directories, link farms, and content mills. Cover the basics. Provide quality content. Provide a good user experience.

infographic google algorithm changes keyword seo

Let Basecamp be Basecamp: Rebranding a Successful Business

basecampThousands of people have used, or at least heard of, Basecamp, the online project management software. Fewer people have heard of 37Signals, the company that makes Basecamp. Today, 37Signals announced that they are spinning off several of their other projects and becoming, simply, Basecamp.

I’ve used Basecamp on and off over the years, and when I did so, I would see 37Signals on my bank statement and think “What the heck is this for?” It took a while for me to associate the company name with the product name. Rebranding as “Basecamp”  makes a lot of sense. Call the dog the name it answers to.

The trajectory of 37Signals/Basecamp demonstrates that a business can grow in ways that you don’t anticipate when you first hang out your shingle. It’s great to start with a business plan and goals and objectives and a clear strategic brand, but you also need to be open to reviewing what works, what doesn’t work, and when to change direction. Rebranding should reflect where your business is, and where it’s going, not where it was 15 years ago.

I will admit, however, that I haven’t used Basecamp in a while. It’s a good service, don’t get me wrong. But I find that I can use other services—some free, some that I already pay for—to do a lot of the same things. I use Timefox for tracking time and tasks, Dropbox for swapping files, Adium for real time interaction that keeps too many emails from clogging up my in box. Although with the latter two solutions, I found the same issue that I did with Basecamp: clients defaulted to whatever they are most comfortable using all the time anyway. Which in most cases means big files and multiple one-sentence messages clogging my in box.

If you’ve used Basecamp, leave a comment about what your experience has been like. Or if you have considered using it and decided not to do so, please say what factored into your decision. Or if there are other solutions you prefer, I’d love to hear about them.

And a little bit of trivia: I had no idea that Ruby on Rails was developed at 37Signals during the development of Basecamp.

Red Beret Design profiled in the Raleigh News & Observer

Thrilled to have this profile of Red Beret Design published in the “Shop Talk” section of the Raleigh News & Observer.

New Option! Medical and Science Website Copywriting

Maven Medical and Science CommunicationsI am excited to announce a new option available with the Start-Up Brand Identity Package. Red Beret Design has partnered with Maven Medical and Science Communications to offer copy writing for medical, science, biotech, healthcare, and life science websites. Now you have a single source to design, develop, and write compelling copy for your science or medical website.

Maven Medical and Science Communications includes principals Maggie D. Holley, M.A., and Jillian Orans, Ph.D. Ms. Holley received her M.A. in science and medical journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked as a clinical communications specialist at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and as a science writer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Orans holds a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has done postdoctoral research at Duke, and taught in the Duke University Medical Center Department of Pharmacology.

Now you can launch your new medical or science start-up with a strong brand identity and a professionally designed website with scientifically accurate and compelling content.

Read more about:

The Start-Up Brand Identity Package
The Medical and Science Website Copywriting Option
Maven Medical and Science Communications
Maggie D. Holley, M.A., and Jillian Orans, Ph.D.

Digital Analytics Fundamentals Course…Complete!

This Certificate Awarded to Claire Doyle Ragin for completing the Google Analytics Academy course Digital Analytics FundamentalsAbout a year ago I started studying for the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) test. I did quite a bit of studying, but haven’t yet taken the exam. In the meantime, Google Analytics has changed quite a bit, so I would likely need to study up some more to be officially certified. In the meantime, though, Google introduced this much more streamlined course. I’m happy to have a little piece of paper (pixels?) to show for my effort.

Website Development Lessons from the Launch websiteRegardless of your opinion of the Affordable Care Act, it’s hard to avoid the view that the rollout of its website component,, has been, umm, problematic. Perhaps even a train wreck. Of a really, really, big train. Carrying a lot of people.

I’ve read a number of articles about the usability and technical issues that have plagued the rollout of But I’d wager that underlying those issues were problems of project management.

Reading various analyses of the issue (links listed at the end of this post) brought back some not-so-fond memories of working on projects in technology start-up companies that were also poisoned, not by incompetence or lack of resources, but by deadlines that were determined by outside demands rather than realistic project specifications.

The phrase I’ve heard to describe this problem is “It takes a woman nine months to make a baby. You can’t make a baby in a month with nine women.”

In the projects I worked on, the outside demands were either market forces (we need to get this to market before our competitor!) or funding issues (at our burn rate, we need to launch by March or we’ll run out of money!). And those are real issues that can tank not just a project, but a company.

But good luck getting that baby to term in a month because the VP of Sales demands that you Make It So.

Another issue that caused problems with the launch is “feature creep” (specifically, the requirement that users register before browsing was added “far along in the development process”). Ideally, the specifications for a project are set at the start, and you build to those specs. The only way that the specs change is in response to discoveries during development, e.g, you realize during testing that you need a different server configuration. But you don’t want to add or change the basic requirements once the project is underway.

The last stage of a web development project, prior to launch, is testing. The testing phase is the one that gets squeezed if project delays push up against a hard deadline. So you have the choice of launching something that hasn’t been fully tested, or pushing back the deadline.

links to articles

Here are some links to articles about various (non-political!) aspects of the launch:

5 key questions await developers of (From NBC News, a rundown of general project management and technical issues)

IT experts question architecture of Obamacare website (From Reuters, focused primarily on technical issues)

Launching (From the blog of Development Seed, the front end developer on, written approximately 100 days prior to launch)

How We Build CMS-Free Websites (Also from the blog of Development Seed, giving some background on their development tools and philosophy)

Usability of — Performance Problems Trump Effective Design (from the blog of Intuitive Company, a Philadelphia company focused on user-centered design. They have a generally sanguine view of the user interface.)

A design critique of HealthCare.Gov (From the digital design department of the Washington Post, a generally critical view of the user interface)

Healthcare.Gov Fiasco Shows the Problems in Federal IT (from the blog Word of Pie, by a developer with experience dealing with Federal IT and procurement. He believes that the Federal IT procurement process is broken, dooming the project from the start.)

9 Things You Should Know Before Debating, From Someone Who Actually Launched a Successful Government Website (From Tech President, a good summary of the big-picture issues, and a refreshingly optimistic view of how to do things the right way.

Introducing the Start-Up Brand Identity Package

The Start-up Brand Identity Package provides the basic materials a new business needs to open their doors. It includes your logo, business cards, letterhead, a website, as well as logo files that you will need for LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. There are options you can add on if you need more website features or marketing materials right at the start.

The Gold Standard of Branding

The $20,000 to $100,000 that a major marketing and communications firm might charge for branding a new company is way out of reach for most entrepreneurs. Which is not to disparage the services that the big agencies provide…if your loan or grant or angel investor will finance that level of service, by all means go for it. But alas, some of us can only afford a Subaru, even though a private jet would get us to our destination so much faster.

Do It Yourself Branding

Many companies try the DIY route, designing a logo using free graphics software and tossing up a website with the free templates provided by a budget webhost. This doesn’t cost money but it does cost time, frittering away hours that would be better spent on your start-up’s core competencies. It’s disheartening to find that the logo looks jaggedy when you print it, or the cheap business cards have the printer’s name on the back, or you’ve spent all night and still can’t quite get the website laid out the way you want. And while you’re trying to figure out some clunky piece of software that you never hope to use again, your product development is neglected.

Cheap Cheap Brand Identity

There are plenty of places where you can have a logo designed super duper cheap. But, to quote the FAQ of one such shop, “We reserve the right to completely overlook your guidelines” (I’m not going to grace them with a link).

Likewise, there are places that will build you a website for a few hundred bucks. These are adequate if you just want to get some information up, fast. They are invariably built on templates, where you simply insert your logo and maybe choose from a half dozen color schemes. The problem is that there is no customization beyond that, and if you want to include some feature that is not available, you are stuck with a website you can’t easily customize or grow. And the same template is probably used by thousands of other companies, so any pretense to a unique brand identity is thrown out the window. I recently saw two competing businesses here in Durham, NC using the exact same website template. You would think they were partners, not competitors.

Where the Start-up Brand Identity Package fits in

The Start-up Brand Identity Package is designed to bridge the gap between Too Expensive and Unprofessional. I provide professional services at an affordable price.

The Start-up Brand Identity Package is not designed to be everything you will ever need for your branding and marketing, ever. It’s designed to be a good start that you can build on as your business grows. Unlike the online chop shops, I spend the time to get to know you, your business, and your business goals. When the time comes that you need more website content, an AdWords campaign, marketing collateral, trade show graphics, etc., I already have a basis of understanding about your business and your brand.

Other Options and Services

In addition to the Start-up Brand Identity Package, I’m offering several options for services you may want right away, such as basic search engine optimization, presentation materials, or training in how to update your own website.

If you were to hire that Gold Standard marketing firm, you would have at your disposal all manner of market researchers, strategists, writers, trademark attorneys, and other professionals. And your fees would be subsidizing all of that high-dollar staff and their Aeron chairs and benefit plans, regardless of whether or not you use their services.

I work with a variety of marketing professionals, writers, programmers, and other professionals who can be brought in on an as-needed basis. Or, I can simply make recommendations of professionals in my network who provide the services you need. I don’t get kickbacks or referral fees. Being able to connect people who can help each other out is one of the benefits of being part of a vibrant creative and entrepreneurial community.

This Could be the Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Here is where I reveal my nefarious plan. It’s true. I don’t want to provide only this one package of services. I want to get in on the ground floor as a trusted partner in helping you launch and grow your business. And if you become so successful that you outgrow my services and move on to that Gold Standard agency, I count that as a big win for all involved. v.3.0

Image of the Red Beret Design website redesign on a computer screenTwelve days ago, I launched my New and Improved website. It’s been a long time coming. I have a new design, new content, and a great new webhost. I started on this project a couple of years ago, and worked on it in dribs and drabs whenever things slowed down. Like the barefoot cobbler, I had a few blisters on my metaphorical feet before my final push to publish.

The biggest change is the official announcement of the Start-up Brand Identity Package. Even before announcing it on the website, I had booked two packages with start-up companies. One was so successful, they were bought out before the logo design was even finished!

Some of the changes in my website reflect a shift in my business model—incorporating more branding and marketing, and focusing on start-up companies. It reflects a maturing in how I brand my own company as it approaches its tenth anniversary. It also incorporates better techniques for lead generation, of the sort I might recommend should you hire me to design your website:

  1. Design for your audience, not your colleagues
    When I designed the first (2004) and second (2010) versions of the Red Beret Design website, in the back of my mind was how it would be perceived by other graphic designers. I was torn between designing something that looked cool and designing something that was an effective business channel. With this design, I ditched the cool factor entirely, and focused entirely on a clean, clear design of the sort that makes for effective business communication.
  2. It’s about them, not you
    The first Red Beret Design website was basically a portfolio with a contact form. The second had a montage of designs front and center on the home page. The new home page focuses first and foremost on what I can do to help your business. The portfolio links are at the bottom of the page.

    This was another step away from designing for designers. For a graphic designer, the portfolio is the center of the universe. When you are graduating design school, a degree is not enough: your focus is to build a portfolio to demonstrate what you’ve learned. And when you apply for jobs, creative directors and art directors and marketing managers are more interested in viewing your portfolio than they are in reading your resumé.

    Of course I still have a portfolio as a major section of the website. But it’s no longer front and center. It’s there as a demonstration of what I have done for other clients, of the quality and professionalism of my work. But what is more important to convey is what I am able to provide for you, not what I provided for someone else at some point in the last 10 years.

  3. Take expert advice with a grain of salt
    Putting together the Start-up Brand Identity Package—and stating a specific price for it—flies in the face of most of the advice I have received in nearly ten years of running a design business. The expert wisdom is that if you state a price, you are competing on price. And that you need to compete on value. And that you never talk money until the potential customer is so convinced of your value that they will pay anything to work with you, because you are so awesome.

    It is the rare client who says to me “Spend however much time you need, money is no object”. Oh, did I say rare? That’s the wrong word. Nonexistent is more accurate. Everyone is concerned about their budget. Whether the budget is big or small, it’s not unlimited. Clearly stating what I provide for a certain price saves everybody time. If someone has only $500, they know they can’t afford my start-up package. If someone wants a team of designers coming up with hundreds of logo concepts, and months of brand research and focus group testing, they can tell that my process is more limited. But if a start-up company needs a professional brand launch, they can budget under $5k and be up and running.

    I still compete on value. I just do so at a stated price.

  4. Have prominent Calls to Action
    My previous website had a contact form, and had a phone number and email link at the bottom of each page. Now I have a contact form in the sidebar of every page, and a different contact form in the sidebars of the pages devoted to the Start-up Brand Identity Package. This makes it easy for people to initiate contact the moment they decide, but it also makes it easier for me to track my conversions using Google Analytics.
  5. Have lots of search engine optimized content
    One of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned about search engine optimization (SEO) is that the best SEO is also good communication for humans. By having a separate page for each service that I offer, I am able to optimize that page for specific keywords. But it also enables me to tell you in greater depth how I can help you with direct mail design, or advertising design, or more about my web design process.

    Keeping a blog, by the way, is one of the best ways to add search-engine-optimized content to your website. Considering that this is my first blog post in eight months, this is another case of the barefoot cobbler.

  6. Don’t use a content slider
    I actually designed this site originally to have a content slider on the home page (a content slider is one of those popular website gizmos where the main image changes every few seconds). As someone who used to do motion design, I guess I just didn’t want my page to be so static. In the back of my mind, I knew it was a bad idea. I’d learned as much when I was art director at a company in the 1990s that tested rotating content in our usability lab. About a week before launch, my husband—not knowing that I was redesigning my website to feature a content slider—railed against content sliders after reading an article about how they don’t work. So I did my own research, and found plenty of evidence from respected usability experts about the awfulness of content sliders (according to leading user experience expert Jakob Nielsen, they “Annoy Users and Reduce Visibility”.

    So I ditched two of the three slides and launched with just the one promoting the Start-up Brand Identity Package. Of course, having a big graphic may just lead to “banner blindness”. I suppose that, being a graphic designer, I just had to have a graphic somewhere on the page. Maybe I need to go back and re-read #1 on this list…