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Author: David Spratte

High Quality Art: Caliber

Registred Creative’s final of a three part series discussing the quality of art we need to make our clients look their best. We’re carving these posts into Dots, Vectors, and Caliber. Welcome to “Caliber.”

What we’ve worked through in the previous pieces (Dots and Vectors) covers the technical aspects of what makes an image “look good.” There’s another side to images. An aspect that is, literally, subjective: The subject or content of your images. Content also encompasses the style, quality, color palette, composition, and an endless list of art lingo.

Three blog posts in, some people might, justifiably, begin wondering if images are worth all this trouble.

Worth the effort.

You can reference a dozen studies that show, posts with images get 94% more views. There’s no shortage of articles illustrating the allure of images for Facebook and Twitter users.

The extra search engine credibility a web page picks for images with proper HTML tagging improves discoverability. Photography is also more accessible than ever before, so readers expect images in your blog post, report, or brochure.

Even with all of the above, there’s a fundamental reason to include images.

Everyone loves a picture.

Research shows that 50% of our brain tissue is tied to vision. That’s a whole mess of brains for visual processing. The challenge is picking the right images for your project.

Before we get into image selection, let’s make sure you work with images you can use.

Permissions

Simply put: Do you have permission to use the image? Using someone’s work without permission might have karmic repercussions. Get caught using an unlicensed image from Getty and there will be financial fallout.

Using images without permission also implies you don’t value content enough to pay for it, give credit to a Creative Commons contributor, or hunt down something suitable from the public domain.

If that’s the case: Why should anyone value what you’ve written between the images? So, let’s look at the images you can use. Here’s a quick summary on the most common permissions:

  • Public Domain Images: These are a free-for-all. No permission needed and no restrictions on use.
  • Creative Commons: These licenses allow images to be shared, used, or built upon by others. Attribution is typically required.
  • Royalty-Free: Also known as known as “stock,” royalty-free isn’t free. You pay once for a perpetual license. No one gets an exclusive license.
  • Rights Managed: Specific licenses for specific uses. Typically at higher fees than anything else listed.
  • Original Photography: Creating your images means that no one else can use them—unless you grant permission.

Help with original photography.

If you don’t have the know-how to produce the work you want, you can commission it. Registered Creative has produced a wide range of images for ourselves and our clients.

Everything Should Contribute

One of the first questions you should ask in looking at an image is: Does it contribute? Ask yourself that question when you consider adding an image. How does this image contribute to the goal of the piece? Tossing in any old image isn’t useful for the reader.

Quality Images

So what do you look for in a photo? Quality is difficult to quantify. It’s how people end up saying things like “I’ll know it when I see it.” Thankfully Jakob Nielsen has done amazing work researching what people look at and for how long when visiting a site. Nielsen’s research shows that visitors view images that are:

  • Crisp & colorful
  • Cropped, instead of reduced, to fit small spaces
  • Not excessively detailed
  • Highly related to the content on the page
  • Smiling & approachable faces
  • People looking at (or at least facing) the camera
  • Appetizing food
  • Clear instructions or information

As visually wired human beings are, more studies from NNG show that people tend to ignore images that are:

  • Low contrast
  • Too busy
  • Look like advertisements
  • Not related to content on the page
  • Boring
  • Include generic people or objects (blatantly stock art)
  • Cold, fake, or too polished

It’s easy to take study results like the above as a checklist or set of rules to follow. Don’t. Keep them in mind, but whatever you do, stay true to your brand.

Support Your Brand

If you’re looking to get Instagram famous, all your images should be square. It’s the format associated with that platform.

If your plan is to journal about rebuilding houses, you can get away with raw, less polished, images since it’s about works in progress.

Although, if you’re a wedding photographer, you’re going to want to make sure your images are professional and polished. But, if your approach is behind the scenes, casual, documentary photography, then you have more latitude. (Those pictures sound way more exciting.)

The above doesn’t mean the degree of finish on images can’t be blended on a website or within a brand. A photographer who shares process pictures of studio or lighting setup has a case to use less refined images in those pieces.

Color Correcting

Often clients draw from a wide range of images. Maybe some public domain with a bit of stock art. Perhaps original photography from several events courtesy of volunteer photographers. Some images may come in with different (or incorrect) white balance. A variation in white balance can produce dramatically different, overall, color casts.

Color cast is a great example. Focusing on color is something that film directors have done for decades. For example, Stanley Kubrick had a thing for red. Over his films, it became a signature of sorts, akin to a brand.

A step we take on nearly every project that brings varying image color is to color correct the images. We look at your graphic or brand standards, and if we need to shift a collection of disparate images, we make those changes in a way that reinforces your brand.

There are other adjustments we may make—for example, making sure our team photos are cropped and scaled in a similar way.

That’s it. More questions? Feel free to reach out to us. We’d be glad to help with your Dots, Vectors, and Caliber.

 

High Quality Art: Vectors

Second of a three-part series discussing the quality of digital art we need to make our clients look their best. We’re carving these blog posts into three parts: Dots, Vectors, and Caliber. Welcome to “Vectors.”

Vector files aren’t well known outside the design world. That’s a shame because vector files are quite useful. Vector art describes shapes, colors, and transparency with mathematical formulas. Data is used to plot dots that make clear, crisp lines when displaying the image. This means they’re scalable and typically require less space and bandwidth.

Scalable

Pixel art top, vector art below.Unlike the pixel-based images discussed in Part 1: Dots, vector images are resolution independent: They can be scaled as large or as small as needed with no loss in quality.

Sure, in the end, all images are composed of dots on our screens or paper, but the information in vector files draws those dots at the size they need to be for how they’re being used.

File Size Matters

A benefit of that scalability is reduced files size compared to their resolution equivalent, pixel-based version. For example, we created these billboards with the NCSU Center for Clean Technology. All four delivered in a 479 KB vector-based PDF file. For reference, all four billboards could be delivered on a 3.5″ floppy drive from the 90s.

Following the guidelines for raster art, each of these files would be around 4.7 GB each. In contrast to the PDFs, that’s nearly an entire DVD for each billboard—or an hours-long download over an average internet connection.

Just for bandwidth efficiency, it makes a lot of sense to use a vector file when it’s appropriate.

Why not use vectors everywhere?

Steer Shirt in Gulf Blue, showing off vector art for the logo.So, vector-based files sound pretty great. Why not use them everywhere? They’re fantastic for logos and illustrations. However, their nature makes them—potentially—worse for photos or any other sort of continuous tone image.

The subtleties of photos—the shading, the lighting, the nuance can be lost when rendered in the data vector files use to carry the information. Of course, you could do a highly detailed vector file—enough to carry those nuances but then the file size becomes prohibitive.

The short version: Photos are dots, vectors are lines.

Uses

Since vectors are used to describe lines, they are great for logos, trademarks, graphs, and charts.

Common File Formats

  • PDF
  • EPS
  • SVG
  • AI

Challenges

Steer Identity Package Deliverables Folder showing common file names between pixel and vector art.The biggest challenge the Registered team faces with vector files is that a raster image can be saved in a vector format. Literally wrapping a plain old raster image as a vector file. The wrapping doesn’t hold up when we go into production. The result: Same as a JPEG or PNG file from a web page.

A challenge our clients face: Unless you work as a graphics professional, you likely don’t have the tools to properly view a vector file. Most vector file formats require specialized software, such as Adobe Illustrator, to view.  Understandably, it can be uncomfortable forwarding a file that you can’t see yourself. Registered Creative delivers a full complement of logo files to our clients as part of brand assets to our clients. We use common file names to alleviate that concern of sending a mystery file.

Say the volunteer who’s making a shirt for the softball team you’re sponsoring is asking for the logo as an EPS file. You should be confident that “my-logo-file.png” delivers the same image as “my-logo-file.eps” just in a format suitable for commercial use.

The people’s vector file.

There is one type of vector file that is viewable in readily available applications: PDFs. Developed in the 1990’s by Adobe, the Portable Document Format (PDF) was designed to retain precise layout and typographic information. Adobe released the technology as an open standard in 2008.  In addition to Adobe Acrobat, there’s a wealth of options for PDF viewing. Even, some web browsers will let you view a PDF file.

So far, in our series, we’ve covered the basics of what it takes for two, broadly, different kinds of files to “work” for your image needs. In the next piece, we’ll review the more subjective aspect of art.

Razorback Loaf

High Quality Art: Dots

One of a three part series discussing the quality of art we need to make our clients look their best. We’re carving these posts into Dots, Vectors, and Caliber. Welcome to “Dots.”

This post covers a kind of image people encounter on a daily basis: Photos. Thanks to the web, they’re ubiquitous in our lives. While there’s an abundance of photos around you constantly, we’re going to dive deeper into the technical requirement that ensures photos look their best in print and on screen.

Everything on a screen or sheet of paper is composed of dots. In the old days, these were called “raster” images. Today, on your computer display or phone, they are called pixels—a shortened take on “picture element.”

Uses

Because this is the broadest category of art, it can be used for just about any sort of image. (Whether it should be is something discussed in Part 2 of this series.) So a raster image can be a photo, a chart, a graph, or even your logo.

Common File Formats

Listed in the order most likely for you to encounter. If you want to decode the file formats—and learn about other, less common, formats—check out this list on Wikipedia.

  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • GIF
  • TIFF

Everything is made of dots. Okay, let’s talk about making these dots look fantastic in print first. Between the printed page and your screen, printed images are the more complicated of the two. We’ll start there.

Print

The first determination of quality is the resolution. The higher the resolution (the more dots) the more detail you hold when the image is prepared for commercial printing.

As an industry, we’ve messed up on this resolution thing. MB, Megapixels, Retina, HD, UHD. . . . We have more words to describe image resolution than the Inuits have for “snow.” No wonder people are often confused when we ask for “print quality images.”

Challenges

Because they are everywhere online, it’s easy to grab a file from the web. People assume that a photo that looks superb on your web page would look equally brilliant in the annual report.

Odds are, it will be terrible printed at any size beyond that of the average Post-It note.

Simply put, it takes more resolution (more dots) to make a photo look good when it’s being printed. How much bigger? Printing typically requires four times the resolution to approximate the same size and quality you see on screen.

There’s a foolproof way to determine how large an image can be printed and still pass preflight. It’s easy:

Look up the resolution. Divide each dimension’s pixel count by 300 to determine maximum print size image in inches. Take an image that fills up a common computer screen: 1,920 x 1,200 pixels. That works out to 6.4”x4”—not bad for a small brochure. But you cannot rely on that image for a full-page or cover shot.

How to find the pixel dimensions of an image on your Mac

Razorback Loaf Info from Mac OS X

Select your file in the Finder. Select Get Info under File in the menu bar—It’s in the second section “More info:”

For comparison, to print something full page you’d need to be in the neighborhood of 3,300 x 2,550 pixels. That’s an image so large it has no business being on a website.

Here’s another tip: The format can give you a hint as to what the resolution might be. JPEGs and TIFFs are more likely to be higher resolution files. PNGs and GIFs tend to be lower resolution and best used online. Speaking of, let’s talk about pixel-based images for your website.

Web

Uploading images significantly larger than needed are a burden to your users. Large images slow down how fast your site loads. People aren’t very patient. Plus, Google penalizes poorly performing sites in search rankings. These penalties make your content harder to discover.

Here are recommended dimensions for sharing images on social media:

  • Facebook: 1,200 x 628
  • Twitter: 1,024 x 512
  • Instagram: 1,080 x 1,080
  • LinkedIn: 700 x 400

You can see these are all considerably smaller than even our 1,920 x 1,200 example above. Rarely do you need to go that large for use on a website. Exceptions could be photographers—or artists—looking to increase visual presence or offering image downloads.


A word about the sites we build

Most of the sites we build use WordPress for content management. There are plenty of good reasons to do this, but one reason pertains specifically to art. WordPress does a really good job of resizing your images, so it displays the most appropriate one for the layout your visitor is viewing.

Future Challenges

Device manufacturers are pushing the boundaries on resolution with every generation of mobile devices. These are “retina” or “ultra-high definition” screens.

Thankfully the initial wave of higher resolution devices is our phones and tablets. The physical size of these screens has largely allowed images that look good on your laptop to look as good on your phone.

Certainly, 4K and higher resolution displays are becoming more common. When the time comes, we’ll adapt our standard.

Be it for your website, email list, or a printed brochure, your images are important to your brand. The first test of your image is relevant, authentic, and engaging is making sure it looks good where it’s going to be used. This step shows you care.

Now Hiring: Project Coordinator

We’re looking for a project coordinator to keep both client and internal projects on track. What kind of projects? Well-crafted identities, highly functional interfaces, beautiful print pieces, and persuasive content for all the above.

As project coordinator, you’ll get right to work maintaining project flow, interacting with clients, helping develop content for brands we build or manage, and collaborating on project strategy. Let’s call that a job description.

Having said all that, we’re a small shop and everyone needs to play a number of parts. Some of these parts will include: social media management, research, production design work, user testing and basic administrative tasks. As a team, we support each other in our work however we can. Big picture? We’re looking for someone to join us in solving problems—for ourselves and our clients.

What you need to do this job.

  • high degree of organization with experience coordinating multiple projects
  • strong written and verbal communication skills
  • ability to work collaboratively
  • strong sense of craft
  • proficiency with shifting voice in writing
  • focus required for developing longer form content
  • urgent drive to get shit done
  • capacity to give, and take, constructive feedback
  • willingness to tell clients things they need to know, but might not want to hear
  • intellectual curiosity

Ideally, you’d come in with this under your belt.

  • prior experience in design or marketing fields
  • a year or more working a crap service industry job
  • two or more years of juggling multiple projects somewhere else

Contract, Part-Time or Full-Time are all options we’re considering. We’re ready to get started as soon as we find the right person.

You’ll work out of our open and collaborative office in the bustling Five Points section of downtown Durham. Occasionally, you’ll meet local clients at their places of business throughout the Triangle.

Producing the best work possible for our clients is very important here. We also recognize the value of being away from work. Time to recharge, wind down, wind up—whatever it takes to come back and solve problems with clear minds and fresh eyes. In other words, if we’re still at work at 6:00 we should be on our way to a bar.

Speaking of hours, our office is open the usual 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. While we do offer some flexibility in schedule, keep in mind this position is client facing. That means being available when we say we are.

Ready to build great stuff with us? Write a brief email and send it to [email protected]e.com convincing us that you are right for the job. No attachments, just use your words. Emails with attachments won’t be reviewed. No phone calls.

Update: The position has been filled. More about that soon.

 

Autism & Beyond

We were thrilled to see our partners at Duke launch Autism & Beyond—one of the latest ResearchKit apps for iOS. Autism & Beyond is one of those rare opportunities to contribute to the greater good in an unprecedented scale. For our team in Durham, it’s incredibly satisfying to see our design work in the app and supporting website out in the wild.

About the App

Early detection of autism—and many other mental health issues—incredibly beneficial for both patients and families. Currently, the mean age of autism diagnosis is 5 years old, but can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Autism & Beyond aims to decrease the mean diagnosis age.

“Autism & Beyond combines well-established screening questionnaires with a new video technology that makes it possible to analyze the emotions of children so that we may one day be able to automate the screening for conditions such as autism and anxiety,” said Ricky Bloomfield, Director of Mobile Technology Strategy and Assistant Professor in Internal Medicine & Pediatrics at Duke University. “ResearchKit enables us to put an entire medical study in a single app, reaching so many more people than we ever could before.”

Our Work

Helen Egger, Chief of Child and Family Mental Health and Developmental Neuroscience at Duke University School of Medicine reached out to us when the app was in its early prototype stages. The app—and the supporting website—needed to provide an approachable user interface, and present as uniquely trustworthy to parents allowing their children to be screened. She needed what we do best: Branding and design.

“The way this app, and others like it, will make a difference is by the sheer volume of data we can collect. To get participants on board, everything associated with this app needed to be welcoming,” said Egger. “Registered Creative was instrumental in helping us achieve that goal.”

We hit the ground running, iterating and coordinating quickly with multiple departments at Duke and Apple. We worked through app structure, look and feel, app icon and then the website. There were some long weekends, but everyone came together and we all hit our marks.

Find out more about Autism & Beyond by visiting the site. If you’re parent of a child from 1–6, get the app from the App Store and start helping out today.

Making Good(s)

I’m a print guy. It’s what I got into early on—mostly because back then the web really didn’t exist as we know it today. So maybe “I’m a print guy.” is another way of saying “I’m a dinosaur.”

on-press
But it’s really all dots—everything we do comes down to just that… dots. Some are tiny dots of light. The others are dots of toner adhered to material by electrical charges or ink jetted under compression with varying degrees of precision.

But the kind of print that I really look forward to is offset—the act of inking up a plate or block of set type and pressing it against paper. Thinking about how the paper we’ve chosen will swell those little dots of ink. How will multiple inks interact with each other. What do you trap? What do you overprint? Screen printing is similar, I’ve just not done as much of it—something we hope to change.

There is something sublime about designing something that you can, ultimately, hold in your hands.

So we announced Registered Goods last summer but we left off another piece that’s been in the wild for about the same time. Our Record Books. We love our iPhones, iPads and Macs, but there are times when writing or sketching with pen or pencil on paper is just the right answer.

We spec’ed 100% recycled sheets from French Paper. We pushed the stock to 100# for the cover and nice thick 70# text for the pages. Then partnered with Joseph C. Woodard Printing for the production. They were gracious enough to let us in to shoot some pictures as the books made their way through production.

These pictures don’t really convey everything, maybe next run we should shoot video, to get the noise. The sounds of something being made—the imprinting of the plate to paper, the clatter of the folder making signatures and the sound of the books being stitched.

Keep Your Eyes Up

So, I race cars. No. Scratch that. I compete in the SCCA Solo program. You may have also heard it called “autocross.” It’s a timed, precision-driving motorsport where drivers take turns competing for the fastest time through a course defined by traffic cones on airport runways.

I enjoy it immensely. Some of that enjoyment comes from competition driving being so far removed from my day job. In the brief moments behind the wheel, I have a singular focus and  get to check out from everything else. Freedom from distraction is hard to find most days.

One of the fundamentals in learning to drive faster is to keep your eyes up. Keep looking ahead. It sounds like common sense, but it’s one of the toughest things to do: Keep your eyes up. It’s easy to do when a co-driver points out that you’re not looking ahead. But when you’re on course? In the heat of the moment? It’s easy to drop your eyes when you get into that slalom too hot and are suddenly convinced you’re going to hit that first cone.

It must be human nature: Respond to the closest, most immediate threat. That’s okay if your only goal is to simply survive. To live only to face the next threat. It might be okay at a SCCA Championship Tour—if you just want to get through the course.

Now to thrive, that instinct must be changed. You have to get your eyes up. You have to not be looking at the current obstacle, but the next one. Or maybe even the one after that. Why?

You can’t do a damn thing about where you are. But you sure as hell can do something about where you’re going.

That’s how you get competitive. You look ahead. Take the long view. You worry less about where you are and more about where you’re going. While looking ahead it feels like time slows down. You aren’t surprised when you look all the way through that sweeper out to your exit. Maybe to the slalom beyond that.

This idea applies to organizations and projects as well. You have to keep your eyes up. Otherwise, you’ll be caught off guard. Unprepared. Even if there are a million things happening at once—client work, payroll, your inbox, the construction downstairs and so on—none of those immediate obstacles should capture your attention long enough to lose sight of the next thing or your actual goal.

In projects especially, it’s easy to get mired in the task at hand. Keep your head down. Keep working on the little detail that’s got you hung up this morning, the unexpected client feedback that afternoon, or the shiny new application that’s going to make your work easier.

That isn’t to say that you don’t pay attention to the details. On the contrary, you must. Back in the car and on course, you have to pay attention. If you improved the prior segment, that changes your speed into the next. If you made a mistake? You have to let it go. Focus on not compounding the error further into your run. You can’t change what is. And you certainly can’t change what just happened.

For what we do here at Registered Creative, the challenge is to keep that attention for just long enough. What does this piece do in the overall picture? Is it capable of doing that job? How can it do that job better? How much better? If we spend another hour on the button for that website, how much better will it collect that information? What will that “just another hour” cost in the next piece of the project?

Good design isn’t about where something is. It’s about where it’s going and how it all comes together. Get your eyes up.

This gets into another piece of looking ahead: Focus on the important stuff. On an autocross course, there are a lot of cones out there. To get the fastest time you’re capable of, only a few of those cones actually matter. In autocross, we’ve taken to calling them key cones. The rest are simply visual noise.

At work, there’s a lot of noise out in front of you. Figure out the important stuff, and then pay attention to that. I couldn’t reliably guess the key cones of your project or goals. I could take a fair shot at the noise you probably face: Most of your emails, Tweets, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn notifications. Most of that is, readily available, noise. Noise that is just a click, swipe or keystroke away. Enticing noise that pulls your attention from what you really want or need to be doing.

Much like competitive racing, it’s easy to get distracted and forget this fundamental. So this is me, reminding myself: Keep your eyes up. Focus on what matters.

Further Listening

Lots of smart people have written and talked about this stuff. On your way home, listen to this gem from Merlin Mann on time and attention. It’s from 2010, but it still stands. I like this one because he’s been forced to wing it because of technical issues. Fair warning, he speaks quickly. Faster than most people type.

 

So Long 2014. Hello 2015.

It’s been a great year. That’s how it feels at least — we haven’t had much time to review yet. Hopefully everyone out there will find some down time. Time to reflect and look at a few things before being consumed with the shininess that is 2015. Everyone at Registered Creative will definitely be some degree of downtime. We’ll officially close our offices tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. and then remain closed until January 5, 2015. It’s a chance to spend time with friends and family. A time to recharge so we’re ready for everything 2015 has in store.

Amazing that I just typed “2015” and it’s an actual thing. In less than two weeks.

Of course, we’ll have some coverage during that time. Emails will be checked, if only sporadically. Voicemail gets distributed. In the grand scheme of communication urgency: A phone call ups the ante.

Florence Forth 2015: Are you ready?

It’s hard to believe, but March 2015 is just around the corner. That means Florence Forth is about to kick into gear with registration. We’ve been working with the Florence Forth team to get things up and running (so to speak). Up first is an update to their site! Going into its third year, it was time to take the Florence Forth website up a notch in functionality.

We also produced the first volley in their print materials with a postcard — delivered in time for distribution at Bull City Run Fest.

We’re off to a great start to beat last year’s fundraising mark of more than $40,000 for the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance. So whether you want to race, run or walk on March 7, 2015, sign up today.