Kristine Neil

UX

Technological Illiteracy is a Real Problem

Business, Web Design, UXKristine NeilComment

We’re at a place in history unlike any other when it comes to access to such a large amount of information at the tips of our fingers. So much of what happens in our real lives, in our communities, in our classrooms, in our town halls, and in our boardrooms is affected by or has the power to be shaped by the information that we get first online. Unfortunately, technological illiteracy is a real problem and those of us who work every day online and with technology often forget how overwhelming it can all seem to those that don’t. Teaching everyone how to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology and information online is as critical a subject as reading or math. I believe that we have a civic responsibility to make sure that not just our students but other demographics that are routinely marginalized online have the tools they need to access information and engage in the conversations that will shape our collective future.

https://medium.com/authority-magazine/technological-illiteracy-is-a-real-problem-and-those-of-us-who-work-every-day-online-and-with-102bb9ba509d

Creative Studio Markon Brands Helps Brands Tell Cohesive And Compelling Stories Online

UX, Web Design, BusinessKristine NeilComment

Below is our recent interview with Kristine Neil, Owner and Creative Director of Markon Brands:

Q: Kristine, can you tell us something more about the company?

A: Markon Brands is a small, creative studio based in the Pacific Northwest. We specialize not just in designing websites but in helping brands tell cohesive and compelling brand stories online. We are first and foremost, communication experts and it just so happens that in 2019 nearly all communication is digital! Our best clients are small to medium businesses or nonprofit organizations that want to communicate better with their target demographic. They may not realize that poor messaging or inconsistent logo usage or an outdated web design layout is costing them money; they may only feel that something is off about their current site or know that they can do more. We also do a lot of work with new companies that are in the startup phase so for those clients the goal is to anticipate the needs of an audience that doesn’t entirely exist yet and build in room for growth and adaptation.

Q: Can you give us insights into your services?

A: Of all the projects we work in during the course of a year, I would say that 70% of them are website rebuilds and the remaining 30% are entirely new sites. Whether we’re working with a client that has an existing site or not, our process remains pretty much the same. After working on so many websites over the years, we’ve honed and refined a method to make things easy for our clients who may not be as familiar with technology or the ever-changing demands of search engines like Google. Our services are designed to be holistic treatments of the entirety of a brand’s digital footprint, with the foundation being a beautiful, user-friendly, modern website. We also provide ongoing website support services for clients whether we built their original site or not. For us, it’s not just about getting a client to launch day; it’s about allowing them to have a website that can grow and change for them as their business does.

Q: No one in your studio has ever taken a dedicated UX design course? Is that true? Why?

A: This is true! That’s what happens when you’ve been at this game for as long as we have; what used to be taught under several different disciplines has now been modernized under the singular “user experience” banner. So even though neither of us has ever taken what is now billed as a UX design course, we’ve unintentionally been training and building our UX knowledge and skillset over decades of real-life education and experience. User experience as we define it is really just an amalgamation of the theories and teachings of many different fields. From understanding things like buyer psychology and color theory to what actions convert and how environmental conditions affect buyers, user experience design has been given life through all the new ways we interact with brands – online and IRL. Creating great user experiences pulls equally from the fields of psychology, art, economics, design, information sciences, and linguistics, and these are all areas we’re lucky to be able to translate into a digital medium such as web design.

Q: What is the best way to create readable web pages, and why is it important?

A: Most pages need to be way more straightforward and simple than the average business owner imagines! Most of us can probably differentiate a great website from a mediocre one when we land there as a visitor ourselves, but the problem we see most business owners have is that when it comes to their own site, they get bogged down by their personal knowledge and passion for their industry. They forget that visitors don’t share their same level of skill or expertise in their field and end up providing too much of the wrong information when, in fact, pared down copy with a highly targeted call-to-action helps create a highly readable web page and more enjoyable experience. Putting yourself in your client’s shoes is the best first step in this process. Try to understand what they know, what they don’t know and when it’s appropriate to share different types of info with them. Clearly defined sales funnels like this convert at higher rates and have the side effect of being more readable by search engines as well!

Q: From your perspective how can search engine optimization change a business owner’s life?

A: SEO is a very tangled and complicated topic, and there are definitely people who consider themselves “experts” in this field that see things differently than we do at Markon. We tend to feel that there’s a lot of over-promising and under-delivering that happens in this segment and it’s unfortunate because many of the victims of sometimes predatory practices are otherwise pragmatic business owners that are just trying to improve their web positioning so that they can stay open another week. Search engine optimization best practices change faster than most companies can afford to respond to so, at best, most businesses are just playing catch up in a game that they are never going to win. We would recommend that for SEO to be truly “life changing” that business owners should focus on organic content creation that builds relationships and reinforces their position as an expert in their field. All of the fundamental elements (things like proper page or content formatting) should be taken care of as part of your web design experience. To us, great design is the foundation of great SEO. Growth happens as a result of the everyday activities that come after launch.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: In 2019, we plan to focus more on creating intentional user experiences and integrating more personalized elements into the sites we build for clients. This means being even more thoughtful about the placement of essential items on the page and increasingly conscientious about what motivates people to connect. On the personalization side, we’re discovering new apps and integrations every day that are at very accessible price points for even the smallest of businesses, and we’re excited to see how those features help our clients better connect and engage with their own customers. Designing for a great experience and staying ahead of trends is what sets us apart from ordinary web designers.

http://techcompanynews.com/creative-studio-markon-brands-helps-brands-tell-cohesive-and-compelling-stories-online/?fbclid=IwAR39gO1JgkkqQn_YCY_gtZf2cD4g2lzaIUXi79auwNdnwRkMhIxtxdeLaOg

Your Personal Aesthetics Don’t Matter in Web Design

Strategy, UX, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

We may primarily work in web design these days but our roots are in brand design and building cohesive identities for small to medium businesses still lies at the core of what we do. The best part is that a website offers so many ways to expand and really have fun with a brand; underscoring our belief that a brand, like a website, should never be a static thing. It needs to grow and evolve as your business does. The problem that we find most small business owners having when it comes to this concept is wanting to infuse too much of their personal aesthetics into their branding, and therefore their websites. But here’s the thing - your branding isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do for your target demographic, or what your products and services will do for your client and it’s about how to compel them to take action and connect with you.

What does this look like IRL? Let’s take a look!

DESIGN ELEMENTS

Our job as designers is not just to make pretty things but to make functional (pretty) things. We know that design has the power to appeal to the emotions, desires, and psychology of your potential buyer and we select design elements like colors, fonts, and photos with intention because they can all convey very different emotions. If a client tells us that they want to look sophisticated and upscale, we’ll most likely want to stick to things like muted tones, classic serifed fonts & very refined photos in a complementary palette. Pragmatic business owners know to put their personal aesthetics aside and go with what the experts say works, even if their own preferences would be to go with bold, primary colors, crazy script fonts, and bouncing illustrations. Nothing says sophisticated like a carnival!

UX/UI 

We all have preferences when it comes to how we interact with our technology. Some people love hamburger menus (those three little stacked lines indicating a menu is available to pop out on mobile), and some people despise them. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about these elements because what we know is that they work. You may not like a button in a specific place or how a form has been positioned on a page, but the way you feel about it (sorry for the tough love here) doesn’t matter. You are not your client. When considering how to position items on a page, designers think about things like where the user's eye will be drawn to first and what motions and actions are most likely to get visitors to convert. 

MESSAGING

Any designer will tell you that they are notoriously their own worst client; even the best graphic designers out there often have a colleague take over working on their personal branding for them. It’s because sometimes we’re just too close to the work to be able to see things objectively. We know that the jargon, insider information and technical knowledge we have is likely to negatively affect our ability to see our own work the way a potential client would. The same is true for pretty much anyone in any industry. It’s like how sometimes having a sympathetic friend to talk to when you’re having a tough day is just what you need; they are able to see your situation separated from the emotions you’re feeling. As web designers, we’re that sympathetic friend. Our job is ultimately to make sure that you feel heard and that all of your best ideas are communicated in the most effective way possible to your target demographic - separated from the emotion of the day-to-day involvement in the business. 

This isn’t to say that your personal aesthetics can’t creatively be weaved into the design solutions we provide. They may be more subtle or gentle than you would have done if left to your own devices but let’s just say that with the additional revenue generated by appealing to your client’s desires instead of your own, you’ll be able to afford to have us design you your very own carnival-themed personal website. 

https://markonbrands.com/blog/personal-aesthetics-dont-matter

They’re Just Not That Into You

UX, DesignKristine NeilComment

AKA Don’t Blame the Button

It was the Sex and the City episode turned Hollywood movie title phrase that caused many of us of a certain age at a certain time to do some real deep introspection: He’s Just Not That Into You. It was a real jaw-dropper to be told so bluntly that no, they aren’t just busy, aren’t just wanting to play hard to get, aren’t waiting a certain number of days to call. They just weren’t that into us. Maybe it was revolutionary at the time (or perhaps I’ve just grown up), but in retrospect, this seems so obvious. If someone likes you, especially if they are attracted to you, they’re going to find a way to connect. They’ll call. They’ll DM you. They’ll track down your next of kin on Facebook and send them a DM. (That last one is actually probably a huge red flag, but you get the point.)

Well, here’s the business owner version of the same concept: They’re Just Not That Into You. As in, the visitors to your website that aren’t converting. The truth is that in business, just like in love, if someone wants to connect with you, they’ll find a way.

If your site features a nice, color-contrasting button in the header navigation, some decent CTA text over the hero image and another link to “connect” in the footer of the site maybe there are other reasons why they aren’t clicking. Is your copy dull? Could your social media branding be more consistent? Are you just not giving them enough motivation to click. the. button? The answer could be in tightening up your branding or working on refining your messaging. It’s probably not in adding more buttons.

Other Ways to Fix Things

DON’T BLAME THE BUTTON

If people aren’t clicking, it’s rarely (if ever) the button’s fault. The button is there on the page, clear as day. The truth is that it could be a giant, blinking, Vegas-style neon sign with arrows pointing at it and they still wouldn’t click it. Because you’ve not given them a compelling reason to do so. Sure, we can A/B test a few landing pages to help us understand things like which color button converts for your site visitors most or play around with placing CTAs strategically in the hottest parts of a page, but these efforts will be in vain if you don’t pull your weight when it comes to content creation.

FOCUS ON CREATING GREAT CONTENT

All of this is to say that we can do a lot with a beautiful page layout, our understanding of buyer psychology and various UX/UI design strategies to help move people towards the action you’d like them to take on your page or site but design isn’t a cure-all. If you focus on creating compelling, authentic copy that lets people know why you do what you do, how you can help them in ways other people in your industry can’t and that helps them understand what it’s like to work with you, they’ll be knocking down your door to become your customer. Even if there’s only one button on your page asking them to get in touch. 

MORE ISN’T MORE 

Again, just like in dating, customers can smell desperation, and there’s nothing that will send visitors running in the other direction than someone begging to be hired. More isn’t more when it comes to CTAs. In addition to looking desperate, it contributes to the visual clutter on the page and can actually make it harder for visitors to see what you’re asking them to do. Make things as simple as possible. The web is a crowded, often ugly, loud place. Distracted visitors don’t have the time or mental energy to sift through your junk drawer. Explain what you do clearly, give it a little heart and point them in the right direction: ideally one, easily identifiable way to get in touch with you. From there, whether they convert or not is entirely in your hands, but at least you’ll know they’re genuinely interested in loving, adorable, unique little you. 💋 

https://markonbrands.com/blog/theyre-just-not-into-you