a year in the clouds

I [heart] cloud


This week marks my one year anniversary working almost exclusively off the cloud, to which I’m left with the thought that, if not for internet speeds being what they are, the cloud would have been here nearly 20 years ago.

At Adobe in Seattle during the 90s when working on SGI machines, often the servers from which we worked were in San Jose, California. Despite the distance those terminal machines were blazingly fast, much faster than the Macintosh and Windows boxes at the time. In the same period was introduced Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft’s foray into workstations (with very mixed results). Shortly after during a Keynote with the newly invigorated Apple freshly under Steve Jobs’ rehelming, one item he showed off was a sea of the original colored iMac on a tall, wide bunch racks, all aglow, and all running smoothly and quickly off one server. The day of the terminal computers were here… only it never happened. This was about 15 years ago, which in tech terms may as well be a time before the last ice age.

Why didn’t it happen? For one thing, at the time, people wanted control, it’s interesting to look back to articles (in a thing called ‘print’) people were concerned above privacy. What if someone hacks into/accesses the mainframe, the main terminal, they’ll be able to see my files!? A bit laughable considering today people willingly often put their most intimate details on social media, not to mention other information. A truism remains, your information is usually only as safe as the user’s steps to prevent it being stolen combined with the technology of the time, excluding hackers that go after large swatches of data.

One could look at the cloud as terminals 2.0, an idea that, while isn’t new, without the current technology would not be possible. Even with file sizes being so much smaller back in the day, imagine being on a 56k modem, who’s speeds were in reality half that, waiting for a bunch of 150 KB images to upload. Five images up or downstream arguably would take over a minute, any task would be so slow we’d all be able to take up multiple side hobbies as we waited for data.

The cloud as we know it on the web has actually been around the same length of time as the height of potential terminal mania, some 15 years. In 1999 Salesforce.com pioneered the concept of enterprise solutions via the internet. Next, in 2002, Amazon Mechanical Turk and cloud-based server storage solutions hit the scene. In 2004 Gmail, which now has over a billion(!) users, came out, invite only, to a select few (including yours truly), focused on email in the cloud you’d access from a browser, but not stored on your computer, which at the time was a radical concept, and still with doubters. 2009 Google took things to the next level offering the first iteration of Google Docs, including a word Processor, spreadsheet, and (originally very crude) slideshow web-delivered applications plus some storage. While there were other develops in there, including ones by Apple, Google really opened the flood gates to what was possible in the cloud. Looking back, it’ll seem the cloud came out of nowhere, self-evident, in reality it took over a decade in the making.

Today, consumers have all types of cloud options for pay and for free. I’ve over 120 GB of free cloud space. 120 GB hard drive ten years ago would have costed you $100-200 if not more, most computers in 2004 came with less, we’ve come a long way.

People less on the bleeding edge have asked me what I use the cloud for, to which my answer is pretty much everything. From photos, to music, email, to design files, documents, presentations, even  several applications. Has my experience always been silky smooth? Not quite, though luckily many cloud services still offer some type of offline use, not all internet connections are considered equal. However, while there’s a very rare here-and-there issue, it’s considerable smoother than what it was like using CPU and hard drive-based computers in the 90s, and more stable and faster than the terminal computers as well.

What’s next most likely is anything more than a tablet computer won’t be necessary, which at one time I’d have been “you’ll not take my Macbook unless it’s off my cold dead body,” now I welcome the change. The cloud in a sense frees us up from some aspects of work that, for many of us, weighed us down, literally, with tech. Until they implant computers into our neurons directly, embrace the cloud, use it, it’s here, now, and great.



overview on a good content breakdown for a client

Content Content Content

inbound marketing starts with outbound content

Recently was asked, after suggesting to a client that we need to work on their inbound marketing, “what is inbound marketing?” That’s a fair question for a fairly new term to some. Fair to say one of the cleanest and more simple examples of inbound methodology is over at Hubspot.

Inbound, from an overview perspective, looks like this:

What is Inbound Marketing

Strangers are anyone from those who’ve never  heard of you to people who have but have never taken any action, or rather, any trackable or we’ll just say meaningful action.

[Attract] Visitors are those who visit you on the web be that your site or social media.

[Convert] Leads are where things get fuzzy in this is where you’re trying to grab a potential customer, which doesn’t mean they’re buying something but at least buying into your brand, it’s the hook, a gift that could keep on giving.

[Close] Customers, once a person likes you on Facebook, follows you on Twitter, subscribes to your email newsletter, etc., at this stage, again even if they’ve not bought what you’re selling, it’s still trackable information.

[Delight] Promoters are those who have decided whatever you’re providing is worthy of paying attention to in the future, even paying for, and better yet they may share your information with Strangers… rinse and repeat.

content place timeSome may call this a sales funnel, I call it the upward spiral as once you get some traction on these stages, usually it’ll start snowballing to some extent if you continue to put the work in.

At this point the followup question to the client, as it should to anyone trying to steer someone on the right path for a level of success, isn’t to focus on Strangers, even though many people would like a shortcut, you’ve got to put in the work. If you don’t have some great content, if you’ve not put in the time to cultivate your brand through social media, if you’ve never done anything above the ordinary or at least to separate yourself and be a somewhat unique proposition in the clutter, you will get lost.

You’ll never get strangers > visitors > leads > customers > promoters if you don’t start with delighting, that is, if you don’t on the above graphic start at the left, doing the first steps on the right are pointless. Sure snake oil salespeople and spam marketers will start on the left with little to offer, but those people are found out and people, smart ones anyways, move on pretty quickly. For this cycle to work, start with content, great content. Or, as I keep saying, content is king.

Images from Hubspot

8 keys for organizational sustainability

1. Never make assumptions, question everything.

2. Look for overlap between your niche and your audience needs

3. Go beyond your brand, be in your community, show up as real live warm human bodies to things

4. Invest in your organization, you have to spend money to make money

5. Look past data, Google Analytics isn’t everything, find and have conversations with actual end users

6. Have multiple streams of revenue, the more legs to a table the sturdier it is

7. Look for partnerships and collaboration

8. Pay attention to change, be it new technology or trends, don’t become outdated

to a client, your time and expertise is an investment

The wonderful Ilise Benun, who tirelessly extols the virtues of freelance creatives, had a recent blog post Value Based Pricing in Action. In it, she shared a quote from Mike McDerment I’d not heard. It was one of those moments you read something and think “that’s a brilliant way of putting it, wish I thought of it.”

It applies whether you’re a freelancer, a consultant, a small organization, or larger – how to look at the talent and skills you bring to the table as an asset to the client. The service you’re providing to companies, organizations, or people has real value; read and internalize this.

“When you tie your price to value, it’s an investment. When clients look at your prices through that lens, they merely want to know that the investment is a wise one. That the return is going to justify the outlay. And if there’s a wide margin between the price and the expected return, the investment is easy to justify.”


If you think about all the things money is spent on, bigger ticket items be it cars or a house, a company’s office space, chairs, computers, their own employees, right down to individual purchases as seemingly trivial as say a nice dinner at a new fantastic restaurant which could be the experience or just not starving, they’re all an investment on some level. Clients should, if they’re worthy and uphold value as important, understand even if they overspent – which is relative – their purchase of your time and expertise has real value to them, their company, their organization.

The adage  always holds true: Time is money, your time, your service, is valuable. Don’t undersell or underestimate it.

figures don’t lie / liars sure figure

While some in the industry have seen figures below or ones like them this past year, I don’t normally post numbers on web advertising. The reason isn’t because it’s letting  trade secrets out, but rather I’ve been at this goat rodeo called the internet before the web had pictures, or very few and they were 8 bit.

projected online ad spendingThere’d be those, especially on the agency side of the business, giddy and eager to believe projected numbers, that online advertising is (still) the next huge thing, that there’ll be zillions to be made through online CTR (to the uninitiated Wikipedia has CTR summed up well), that the future of advertising is here, get on board, toot toot. The online advertising train, however, is a slow one and has been.

In 1995, 1997, 99, 2000, 2001, etc. various sources predicted web spending increasing at enormous pace that never materialized . While I’m not saying online advertising isn’t growing, as of course it is, there’s a part of the equation lost in this,  conversion, the making a sale, transaction, business, what have you. Conversion figures have not historically kept pace with spending.

It is arguable that the same case could be made for television, radio, and  the slowly spiraling the drain newspaper industry, that spending is always far over conversion. One shouldn’t correlate spending with conversion, this is pretty basic concept for many but you’d be surprised the percentage who gloss over this and while, yes, you have to spend money to make money, ad spending does not equate profit.

The insightful Mike Volpe, who I’d highly recommend anyone on either side of the industry follow on Twitter, had a post “10 Horrifying Stats About Display Advertising” on Hubspot. In the article Mike gives jarring sense of how well display advertising does in the real world.

Here are just some of his “Shocking But True Display Advertising Stats:”

  • You are more likely to complete NAVY SEAL training than click a banner ad. (Source:Solve Media)
  • Only 8% of internet users account for 85% of clicks on display ads (and some of them aren’t even humans!). (Source: comScore
  • You are more likely to get a full house while playing poker than click on a banner ad.(Source: Solve Media)
  • The average person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month. Do you remember any? (Source: comScore)
  • You are more likely to summit Mount Everest than click a banner ad. (Source: Solve Media)

Go to Mike’s article to see more such as surviving a plane crash, getting into MIT, etc. Now look above numbers both the U.S. Digital Spending by Format, 2011-2017 and U.S. Mobile Ad Spending by Format, 2011-2017 projected spending showing explosive growth.

Sense something is off here? You should. Neither Mike or I are saying display advertising should be abolished and has no place on the web, what we’re saying is, don’t put all your eggs in the display advertising basket. The reality is that spending has to match outcomes based on clients raking it in by plunking down that money in the first place. If clients aren’t making money, the smart ones anyways, stop spending it on different avenues. It’s for that reason actual spending on web advertising has never boomed the way it’s always predicted, clients aren’t that dumb, some in my industry however…

There are many other ways to make conversions to whomever your target market is, of seeing your brand growing online, getting whatever cause and effect you’re looking for. Display advertising is one of the laziest ways, however, of going about it.

While I could tell you “and if you want to have better conversion contact me, Colin Nekritz, content strategist, and I’ll increase [insert whatever here, traffic, revenue, etc,]” which I could do for any client, for the DIYer, without going into the nuts and bolts of exactly how to this, here’s some advice:

  • Find your company’s, your brand’s unique voice
  • Use social media channels that are appropriate
  • Be heavily involved, don’t autopilot your social media, if you can’t do it yourself, hire someone [hint]
  • Start and have conversations, get involved in the discussions on the web
  • Be transparent in your web personality, authentic
  • Be honest and be real with potential and existing customers alike
  • Be creative in advertising, always looking at new message mediums, you never know when the next Vine will pop up, so pay attention to trends, create YouTube videos
  • There’s many of fantastic, and better yet free, various ways to get your message out on the net
  • And finally, while not the be-all end-all, invest in Google adwords

If you’re getting killer conversion on display ads, GREAT, but to those who aren’t or are just entering the web market, you have other options, use them wisely.

the iconic beauty of Raymond Loewy’s designs


Both the Google Doodle and over at The Verve today they’re running a pieces about Raymond Loewy who, like to many outside the design world, if you dropped his name would get a “who?” But to many of those of us in the creative industry, those who awe at the subtle, simple beauty of such contemporaries like Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Loewy’s up there with the greats. Loewy’s face would be carved into the Mount Rushmore (seen below under the flying 747) of designers.

PRR S1 Art Deco Locomotive Raymond Loewy

It all began, rather uncharacteristically for many designers, with train steam engines, such as the beautiful art deco (huge fan here) PRR S1, aka “The Big Engine.” Built for the Pennsylvania Railroad company, it was to show off the PRR’s strengths at the 1939′s Worlds Fair. You could call this an example of really large, really heavy rolling advertising. Sadly the steam engine was to become a footnote in rail history, but the beauty of steam train engines and deco train depots live on.


This design aesthetic of art deco, melding a rocketship design into something more firmly planted in terra ferma, extended to other vehicles such as the Studebaker Champion. Photo credit credit: Ruud OnosFlickr Creative Commons.

Studebaker Avanti Sketch Raymond Loewy

It wasn’t all rocketships, Loewy was more a future modernist. He went beyond deco, his aesthetic was clean, minimal lines, such as this 1963 Studebaker Avanti Sketch, a car in my youth a lusted after, even if it has a nose only a mother could love.

Greyhound Scenicruiser Raymond Loewy

While many not old enough to know when The Beatles broke up, or who The Beatles even were, the very cool Greyhound Scenicruiser had quite a long run. Over 1,000 of these were built in the 50s, driving around North America for over two decades. The Scenicruiser was service from 1954 until 1971, proving the design Loewy could conjure could stand the test of time, mostly. Note: To this day I’d love to buy and/or refurbish one into an awesome motor home.

US Air Force One Raymond Loewy

Loewy touched planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses), including the iconic look of Air Force One. I tend to go on and on about simple design is always best (aka Occams Razor), here is a fine example. A gently curving blue that tapers to the plane’s length of white with a light blue undertone, offset with the timeless beauty of Caslon typeface. This design has served every US president since Kennedy, and probably will every next president and plane until the earth is overrun by aliens or zombies.

Exxon Shell Logos Raymond Loewy Iconic DesignerIn a glimpse of Loewy’s “show your work,” you can see doing even a simple design take effort, good design is simple but simple and great is harder than complex and bad. He spend time sketching out the Exxon logo until the right design came out of it. Many a new fresh designer could learn from this simple but valuable lesson. Not discriminating between big oil companies, Loewy was also responsible for the revisioning of the iconic Shell logo.

I encourage anyone interesting in design or the creative industry to learn more about Raymond Loewy by visiting his official site – which, at the moment of writing is having bandwidth issues, not surprisingly thanks to the Google Doodle – Wikipedia, and check out the article on The Verve.

content strategy basics

1. Don’t start by focusing on print; focus on digital. Digital channels and their low-cost barriers and ease of use are part of what has made content marketing explode. Think of YouTube, WordPress, Facebook, downloadable articles, or Constant Contact. Then consider paper, printing, shipping, warehousing, postage, and etcetera. Plus, remember that digital content is easier for today’s consumer to share with an audience.

2. Know that producing engaging content is a challenge. We all face it, and it’s most often learned through trial and error. Our instinct as marketers is to sell, promote, assert market leadership, and hit home those branding messages.

3. Resist the urge to have all of your marketing speak directly to your products and services. Strive to balance the promotional aspect of your content with informational evergreen content. Remember that content marketing isn’t push marketing — it’s a pull strategy that can be thought of as the marketing of attraction. It’s marketing that is engaging, educational, helpful, entertaining, and there when you need it.

4. No one likes a one-sided conversation. Don’t be the person on the date who only talks about themselves. Start your content strategy with a goal of establishing genuine customer-brand relationships by offering up content that your target audience would find shareable. Be the person on the date that wants the other person to go tell their friends about it, because that person will be one who gets the second date, while the one who only talks about themselves is in the never-ending cycle of first dates.

5. 90% of purchase decisions now begin with an Internet search. You’ll need content to help you show up in these searches.

david carson and why creative degrees don’t always matter

The brilliant, warm, and deadpan David Carson gave one of the most humorous, geniune, and arguably insightful TED talks about Design and Discovery. In it, he gives insight into the mind of a true designer, a world which most creatives do not look life, objects, themes, and constructs the same way an average person does.

There’s a layer below that piece of paper, a diploma, to how every creative thinks, one in which having a degree in design doesn’t necessary make one a great designer any more than getting an MBA makes you an world-class business person. Quite the opposite, sometimes getting degrees can mire a person by teaching them constrictions instead of endless possibilities. “World of endless possibilities” could sum up the approach David Carson takes towards design, and life in general.

David’s original education is that of sociology, how social actions, structure, and functions relate to the theoretical understanding of social processes. Understanding sociology may well be a better key to understanding marketing and design rather than a straight up education of either discipline. Design is far more than making pretty pictures, visuals, and how things look. Marketing is more than a mere process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers. There’s much more beneath the surface to understanding either or both. David entered design as an observer, he looked around and design and then put his own unique take on it. Had David perhaps formal training he wouldn’t be renowned in many design circles, leaving an indelible mark on the creative visual aesthetic. Shudder to think, but had he a four year design school education, his work would most likely wind up looking like everyone elses.

When one looks for talent for an organization, brand, what-have-you, whether that’s to assist in a message, visibility, to get the word out, to hire, retain, or whatever the relationship, there’s so much more than a person’s education or background. There’s the person’s perspective on the world and how they see it, and the value they add as a person, not a bloodless list on some job qualification requirements or bullets on a resume. David Carson’s talk should remind all of us in some position of hiring authority we must look past the formal education, learn what makes a person tick, their passion, their enthusiasm. Never discount intuition about someone, or your own. These are things that go much further than one’s education or background and can make the next great thought leader and one to watch in your industry.

the pitfalls of doing spec work

no-spec, spec hurts everyone

[Anyone who's seen my lectures and talks already has heard this before.]

  • Would a doctor be asked to do surgery on patients, for free, just to see if a hospital liked how they operate?
  • Would an accountant be asked to balance a quarterly report for free just to see how he ran numbers?
  • A pilot be asked to fly a major airline route without an compensation to see how he lands planes?
  • A fireman asked to battle some major blazes for no pay first before a check or even or insurance to see how well he fought fires?
  • Professor told he has to teach a semester free? A nuclear engineer at a power plant? An actuary? Architect? Police officer? Asked to do work for free before getting any compensation?

None of these careers are asked to do free work as a theoretical carrot dangling in front of them, the reality, most cases, you’ll get the stick.

Put it to you another way as Topic Simple did in an informative video, could you ask a chef at a fine restaurant to make you a delicious meal for free simply to see if you liked it? Or a lawyer to do up your will, but  you’d only pay him if you think it’s good enough.

A recent student I mentored awhile back wrote me about a potential job he was offered, but first, they had him design mockup web pages and logos for their new line of software. This company never had him sign anything (red flag), but he was hungry for the work, and potential employment. He spent hours, thinking, crafting, anguishing over designing beautiful web pages that would take the company to the next level and impress upon them enough that he would be a perfect fit for their oranization. They thanked him, he never heard back despite leaving message and emails, but they did use his work on their website. Not only is this borderline criminal, again, ask yourself, what other profession would this happen in?

It’s a story I’ve heard too many times, seen too many times, and the majority of times it ends badly. I’ve been on the hiring end of many creative talent, I’d never even dream of asking any potential hire to do work for free.

The AIGA, the largest professional association for designers in the world, official stance:

Fees: A designer shall not undertake any work for a client without adequate compensation, except with respect to work for charitable or nonprofit organizations. A designer shall not undertake any speculative projects, either alone or in competition with other designers, for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used. This applies not only to entire projects but also to preliminary schematic proposals. A designer shall work only for a fee, royalty, salary or other agreed-upon form of compensation.

Rather succinct.

So creatives everywhere, stop chasing free work. Unless it’s your Mom, a buddy, or something you’re doing for fun, say no. Saying yes hurts not only yourself, but the design industry’s legitimacy. I’ll add, the same goes for writers, programmers, or anyone in the creative or IT field, say no to spec work.

For more information including tools, education, and further resources, visit nospec.com