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August 3, 2022 - No Comments!

Reading The Waves

Learning from a master is faster

La Paz letters along the beach

Four thin textbooks arrived in a blue drawstring bag in December, our reading assignment prior to boarding a 42-foot catamaran. In late April, we were to set sail from the port just outside of La Paz, Mexico. Reading one book per month couldn’t be so bad, right? By the time we set foot on the Fountaine Pajot, however, we’d made our way through just one and a half.

Learning the sailing terms was like another language, but without the benefit of a good reference for decoding, like my French gives me clues to understanding Spanish or Italian. There was little other than colloquialisms—it took the wind out of my sails, learning the ropes, he was three sheets to the wind—as hints. I was clueless about clews, goosenecks, halyards, and shrouds. Slogging through the first book twice and quizzing myself until I could earn an honest B was the best I could hope for. It would be easier once I was on the boat, I assured myself.

The first step, after meeting our captain Troy Mills of Nautilus Sailing and additional newbie crew, was to learn about the boat’s features and functions—opening lockers, inventorying cushions, locating fire extinguishers, and counting personal flotation devices (PFDs). We learned about provisioning, the heads (and their touchy waste system), navigation devices, desalination tanks, and engines. The purpose of the first lesson was to know the boat, but also to accept that each of us would depend on the combined knowledge and actions of the captain and entire crew on this journey. Our craft was white, sleek, and stable, and would carry us out to sea without any communication from the outside world. Sheer bliss.

“Each of us would depend on the combined knowledge and actions of the captain and entire crew”

Sea Life

We slept aboard and floated off the dock the next morning with green buoys drifting by. Our six night live-aboard adventure to learn and earn our captain certifications was underway. Two young humpback whales—one flashing its tail, the other keeping a low, sleek profile—escorted us into the Sea of Cortez, “the world’s aquarium.” The waves were soft and sea turtles the size of manhole covers floated alongside us. A pod of partying dolphins met us as we rounded a small island, swimming fast along our twin-hulls and surfacing in graceful arches.

With nightfall came more lessons: How the right anchorage site could shelter us from shifting winds and surf so we could sleep without the risk of heavy rocking or swinging into another boat. Captain Troy could see things we couldn’t. Given his years of experience, he could quickly calculate how rough a sea we were likely to encounter by reading the waves’ amplitude and direction and feeling the wind on his face. He explained how to account for the tides with our timing on and off anchor. Why the boat was built with redundancies—from dual engines to anchor lights and alarms—to prevent a pan-pan or mayday call. How to troubleshoot using an if this, then perhaps this metric. How clear communication among the captain and crew supports good decision-making. 

We learned pragmatic rules to sail by and sayings with deeper purpose, including Captain Troy Mill’s salty favorite “A boat shrinks an inch per day,” a nice way of saying keep your stuff stowed or your shipmates will want to deposit you on one of the five uninhabited islands on our journey. Everything in its place can truly prove lifesaving should the weather turn abruptly—tools stored, sheets flaked, and phones far away from a wet sink. When sailing, thinking through everything that could possibly happen and taking preemptive action prior is key. After the first day, it became clear that this week of lessons was just the beginning and there was a lifetime of learning to become an accomplished sailor. As the sun set on our first night at sea, eagle rays leaped along the pink horizon and pelicans settled into our inlet as night patrol. Fair winds and following seas. —Helen

Continue reading: Permission to come aboard?

  • Photos by captain and crew of the journey, Helen, Karl, Troy, Rachel and David.

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August 3, 2022 - No Comments!

Permission to come aboard?

Shipshape leadership depends on both captain and crew

Catamaran in a cove with the sunsetting

This article continues from Reading The Waves.

My first few nights living aboard a catamaran learning to sail were eye opening. We were both relaxed, bobbing on crystal-clear turquoise waters, and alert to the area’s features– shorelines, rock outcroppings and coral reefs, as well as the sea conditions shaped by current, surf and wind direction. Once anchored in a lovely inlet in the Sea of Cortez, we could enjoy a splash in the water or walk on the beach. The sunsets were sensational, casting a hundred hues on the water’s surface from the sky and shore. Icy blue, peach blush, deep lapis, and silver all moved together in undulating patterns.

Less is Moor

From the outset, our captain, Troy Mills, assigned each crew member one night as host (cook) and a day as captain (skipper). Most of the time, I was taking initiative while following directives. It’s an interesting combination that resonates within working environments and other relationships, but not always second nature. I liked working the sheets to trim the sails, making slight adjustments under the captain’s direction to optimize the wind. I relished setting the mainsheet, winching, unfurling the jib, flaking and stowing the sheets—becoming a master of my post. When the captain called out “Ready about?” the crew answered, knowing their tasks and adjusting as needed. I enjoyed tying knots, calculating knots and anchor chain length, assessing wind direction and apparent wind speed, and assisting the captain with making the boat secure at anchorage. Captain Troy was both patient and assertive, using humor to bridge a safe learning environment with a pleasure cruise.

I fit well in every space—the tiny head complete with standup shower, the efficient berth with drawers and lockers secreted under the bed and overhead. Everything was designed with less is more in mind. Less weight. Less space. Less waste. The galley was compact and efficient, anything needed within arm’s length. Under the seat cushions in the benches and floors of the saloon were concealed compartments to stow a pantry of provisions. The chart table tucked into one side of the bench. The cockpit was the largest outdoor sheltered area, with the helm raised to one side for a view of all the sails through the windows and ceiling of the bimini. 

brown rock in the ocean
This tiny island, covered with barking sea lions, was our site to practice mooring skills.

Mooring practice was on day two, as we started to take the helm and learn to sail. We arrived early at a large rock, covered in barking sea lions ready to play with anyone who delighted in a murky water snorkel. We learned to drop the lines around the seaweed-laden buoy rope with teamwork—a person catching it with a hook and the other with a looped line. The helmsman made slow maneuvers guided by the bow crew’s hand signals. Once we each succeeded in driving and mooring the boat, we sailed to another island.

We settled in an inlet for our first test—all the terms and boat basics. It took an hour to fill in 100 dots to complete our ASA 101 and the entire crew was elated to have scored in the upper 90s. We swam in temperate waters with a school of puffer fish and explored the anchorage on paddleboards. Another long sunset capped off the day and a long sleep.

Accidental Jibe

As we all have experienced, best laid plans can still result in unforeseen events. In the creative world we call these moments happy accidents. On a sailboat, most accidents aren’t jovial. My turn as captain at the helm gave me experience with an accidental jibe, the riskiest move at sea, primarily because the swinging mast can surprise a crew member, knocking them off kilter or off the boat entirely. Thankfully, on a big boat in light winds, it’s a learning experience. I was working on my jibing, wind to aft, changing from a beam reach to a broad reach, and figuring out the steering. Choosing a course, setting a heading, and then zigzagging your way toward it are three distinctive thoughts. I was focused on going to my point of sail in a straight line. I quickly discovered; it doesn’t work that way. Amazingly aligned with how we move through our lives and careers.

“I was focused on going to my point of sail in a straight line.
I quickly discovered; it doesn’t work that way.” 

After lunch in another pretty inlet, we motored out to catch the wind, and suddenly without warning, a bright orange personal flotation device (PFD) was overboard! One crew member yelled “Man overboard!” and pointed at the bobbing faux passenger, their role now established as watch—keeping their eye on it until it was rescued. The helmsman made a curvy maneuver to recover the “MOB” under power, being sure to not run it over. The other crew had a hook and line ready, giving hand signals and proximity updates (10 feet! 5 feet!) upon approach. Each crew had their turn to recover our drunken sailor under power and under sail, with each technique being slightly different. Noting the wind direction and head-to-wind inclination of the boat can help or hinder a quick recovery, so it’s important to use the conditions in that moment to your favor. And make sure your crew is on board with safe behavior. 

Time is fleeting

You cannot be in a hurry at sea. Calculating sail time is affected by wind which can and often changes hourly. When you’re away from it all, you don’t have access to timely wind reports so always have a time buffer built into your plan. The “MOB” exercises took much more time than expected; being under pressure for a quick rescue, it was easy to overshoot and need to start over. The pace of sailing a large catamaran is slow which gives you lots of time to think, but not much time to react. Planning your moves instead of reacting to the moment is key to a smooth sail.

Another day, another test. In the end, we all passed and received four ASA certifications that allow us to charter a boat on our own. Naturally, learning the sea can take a lifetime, but having the basics down is a great start to a wonderful adventure. It reminds me a little of heading out into my design career with a BFA in hand and a wanderlust for learning. All the beauty of life, its twists and turns, were rushing toward me. But now, I’m in no rush. Getting saltier by the day. —Helen

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  • Photos by captain and crew of the journey, Helen, Karl, Troy, Rachel and David.

June 10, 2022 - No Comments!

Is Your Website Rigged to Win?

Welcome “your people” with an easier opt-in.

I’m a skipper now. I earned four American Sailing Association (ASA) certifications on my recent vacation floating on a 42-foot catamaran across  the Sea of Cortez, puffer fish hovering in the shallows below. I learned the ropes (aka sheets), how to anchor, and rescue a human overboard, which was actually a personal flotation device that got a little rowdy. 

I love learning new things. That’s why I signed up for B-School, a program by Marie Forleo, to help me focus on the next chapter of my business. I took the six-week online course to gain clarity, purpose, and a plan. I ended up also gathering some very simple, implementable action items for myself and my clients. As a graphic designer who supports marketing directors and small business owners looking for branding, marketing strategy and content development, I expected to sharpen some skills, but the higher-value takeaways truly surprised me. 

The first thing I will be doing— and recommending to all my clients — is to make a very small website change that will make a big difference. How big? 4400% big.

Make joining your mailing list easy and obvious 
Apart from “Save X%” pop-ups on retail sites, most “join” calls-to-action are relegated to the footer and Contact Us page on a website. We use SEO to pull people to our site and then get all shy once they arrive! If we’re intent on growing a mailing list of qualified prospective clients, aka “our  people,” ensuring visitors sign up is paramount. After all, they’ve navigated to your website because they want to hear what you have to say, right? (Call me Captain Obvious. I am ASA certified.)

Opt-in to owning it
When you think about opt-in or permission marketing, it’s like owning vs renting. Owning your house pays you back over time, and you can paint the wall purple if you want. The same is true with marketing — you want to own your media and control your message and branding within its walls. “Capture” people who value and want to pay for what you offer. How? Just ask. That’s it.

Well, sort of. Some may be thrilled to hear from you, but if your inbox is as full as mine, you need a really good reason to join another list. So, give it to them. Offer an exchange — something of value for their email — and be clear about how often they’ll hear from you. This gives them a nibble of what you offer to experience it directly. Your opt-in offer can be a download, percentage off, free trial, sample, etc. Keep it simple and — most importantly — thank them when they join. 

“We use SEO to pull people to our site and then get all shy once they arrive!”

On-the-fly fishing
SEO, press releases, advertising, affiliate links, and social media are the focus of many. But social media is passive marketing — people have to work to find you. Most small companies relying on social media for growth will be swimming with the puffer fish. Why? You don’t own the medium. Meta owns many platforms, so they make the rules and change their algorithms often. This, and the growth of ads, make connecting with your followers ever tougher.

Coming aboard
According to B-School research, email marketing is the most qualified medium with the highest control and return. Email boasts a 4400% return on investment.1 A reader is 6x more likely to click through from an email to your content than from a tweet 2 and 5x more likely to read your email message than your post on Facebook.3 If you're selling a product, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), and people will place an order that’s 3x larger in response to an offer on email vs social media.4 

The Why is simple: They signed up to hear from you and you deliver. Consistent communication builds trust, relationships, and community. They get to know you. People do business with people. Make it easy for your people to be part of your circle.

“Email boasts a 4400% return on investment.”

Taking the helm
During our Mexican sailing adventure, each student had their day as skipper. On Wednesday, I was in charge of plotting a course, choosing a heading, and instructing the crew on trimming the sails to capture the wind. The teaching captain was there to guide me. In that spirit, I’m captaining my own ship starting with these four action items I’ll share with you:

  1. Create an opt-in offer that rewards those who trust me with their email. 
  2. Add an obvious “join” call-to-action on my website.
  3. Set up a thank you message that delivers the offer.
  4. Craft a 6-month plan to send out interesting content once per month. 

Yes, part of Step 4 is writing a blog about my sailing adventure. Join my email list and I’ll let you know when it’s ready. (See what I did there?)  Jibe ho!

If you would like EnZed to craft a plan for optimizing your email list opt-in, contact Helen today.

References: 1. Data & Marketing Association  2. Campaign Monitor  3. Radicati  4. McKinsey

August 27, 2021 - No Comments!

Be a designer. (Or… just look like one.)

As creative software becomes more accessible through subscriptions such as Adobe Creative Cloud and online platforms like Canva, clients now have the power to create better looking materials to promote their ideas and services. While most Marcom professionals and savvy small business owners can tackle the technical side of communications capably, there’s a level of finesse that only comes from formal design training and years of practice. (This is where having experienced creative partners in your corner can make a major difference in branding and marketing impact.) But by applying some basic design principles to your presentations, proposals and social media posts, you can elevate your messages and your brand. 

Here are five tips to help when you can’t hire a graphic designer.

1. Choose your color palette. Keep it to three colors, plus one or two lighter hues as backgrounds for sidebars (e.g. orange type in a cream sidebar). Select a dark color for legible type, a brighter color for headlines, and a medium color for subheads, pull quotes, etc. Keep in mind universal color meanings, too: red can be aggressive and signal stop or a warning; green is softer, optimistic and can indicate something is eco-friendly, etc. 

One of my go-to combinations: Navy headlines, lapis blue subheads, black body copy, dark gray sidebar copy on an ice blue background. I’ll have more ideas on great color combos with palette examples to share in a future article.

2. Choose your typefaces. Only two. Select a sans serif family (e.g. Helvetica) and a serif family (e.g. Garamond) and use them together to create a hierarchy of information. A hierarchy is like an outline — it indicates how you read through the information. Headlines, subheads, pull quotes, sidebars, tables, and captions are typically in a type hierarchy. 

Within each typeface, you have many fonts so you really can use 6-8 styles in a document. (Whew!) A typeface is a family, such as Garamond, but a font is a specific style (aka weight or cut), such as Garamond Bold. Think of it this way: typefaces are to an album, as fonts are to songs on an album. 

Example of a type hierarchy: 

  • Headlines are 24 point Helvetica Light
  • Subheads are 12 point Helvetica Bold
  • Body copy is 9 point Garamond Regular
  • Tables use 8 point Helvetica Regular & Bold
  • Pull Quotes are 12 point Garamond Italic

In a future article, I’ll cover why you should limit the use of ALL CAPS, how to select typefaces that communicate your brand personality, and show you some great hierarchy examples that are easy to implement on your own.

4. Keep it simple. If everything “pops,” all you have is a bowl of popcorn. So figure out your hierarchy and make sure that you present the information in a way that your audience will understand it. Use imagery, color and copy to draw the reader through the material or focus on a single message you want them to remember most. 

“Less is more” was Mies van der Rohe's mantra that defined the modernist aesthetic and it can define your presentations too. Avoid being tempted to use all of the effects the creative software offers because it’s fun. Choose one effect that you think adds to the communication and stick with it throughout the document as part of your hierarchy. Consistency is key to a good looking and user-friendly communication piece.
I’ll address common graphic mishaps and how best to use imagery and graphics for a consistent, branded look throughout your documents in a future article.

4. We love alignment. Set your margins and stick to them. Start your copy at the same point on the page from the top and left edges. Maintain the styles of  your headlines, subheads, and body copy (size and leading, aka line spacing) throughout. Don’t change the sizes to fit content, rather edit the content to fit the space. If it doesn’t slim down enough, then add a page.

Avoid flush-right and justified text as it is less natural to read and can often create awkward white spaces (called rivers) flowing through the copy. I’ll discuss flush left and centered type options, plus how to draw the eye through bullet points and positioning of elements, plus header and footer options in a future article.

5. Present one idea at a time. Pick the most important take away that you want your audience to remember and make it the most clear and prominent item on the page or post. If you’re presenting a deck, you really just need a couple of top-level bullets as an overview, not a full sentence that they are reading as you speak it. Place the minimum amount of content you need to get your idea across on the first slide. Then use a page to further explain each item individually. People will listen to you more and understand better if the page is minimal.

Choose imagery to further communicate your ideas, not just fill space. Also, give yourself and your audience a place to rest their eyes between large blocks of information. They will appreciate the visual break and let the information they just absorbed sink in. I’ll provide insights into how to use photography and other imagery to maximize comprehension in a future article.

One last pro tip, never, ever use Comic Sans unless you’re creating a comic book.* Designers everywhere will thank you. 
— Helen C Young, owner & creative director, EnZed Design, LLC

*Curious why? Search “Why do designers hate Comic Sans?”

August 12, 2021 - No Comments!

There is an “i” in collaboration — and teams depend on it.

With the Olympics in Tokyo having concluded, I can’t help but think about the role of the individual and the team. We saw individual sports, like shot put, dressage, and golf...obvious team sports, such as rugby, soccer, and sculling...mini-team action in tennis doubles and beach volleyball...and the “tweener” sports — the hybrid of individual/ team competitions including gymnastics and track events. What comes through clearly when these athletes tell their stories, though, is that solo performances are best when team support is strong. Great results are collaborative.

Over the arc of my career, my work approach has been similar to an athlete training within a team or with a team behind them. While clients who refer me to colleagues say, “Call Helen” (thank you!), I purposely named my company EnZed Design to umbrella the many creatives who make the project happen. There’s usually a writer, often a web designer, sometimes a photographer, illustrator, or other talent whom I creative direct and/or collaborate with. Then there’s the client and their team, who inform the process and bring their own creativity and ideas to the table. And once things are rolling, the supportive vendors — printers, signage and service providers — come into play. It takes all to make the deliverable actually deliver. 

The trick to making a project successful is developing the strategy with the end goal in mind, placing the right players together, and working closely in real time to make it happen. Most often adjustments are required along the way — like an athlete adapts their game to wind, sun, heat or injury. Generally the margins are not as tight (0.5 inch vs 0.001 second) and there is not always a clear winner or loser; finishing and engagement are the measures of success. 

The most satisfying thing for me about collaboration is at the end of the project, there’s proof of accomplishment with lines blurred as to whose idea was whose. Like the top contenders at the Olympics, we have something to hold up and show the world we did it — a printed piece, a website, a campaign, a logo behind the reception desk. A brand launch is a glory moment and we celebrate it together. The creative process and the people I work with is what makes me want to do it again and again. 

Special congratulations to the USA and New Zealand for record-breaking medal counts in Tokyo. Go teams!

May 17, 2021 - No Comments!

Branding and the Power of Pattern

The most memorable brands do not live by logos, alone. Instead, they leverage their well-designed mark in every possible manner. The conscious, consistent use of fonts, colors, tone and positioning adds dimension. Some even encompass scent and sound to elevate distinction.

One of the simplest ways to mark territory is through the development of a custom brand pattern. Possible applications range from a subtle background for an engaging website to a star-powered position on a best-selling product. 

We create custom patterns for clients by using elements of their logo in proprietary designs. The objective is to add texture and depth across multiple media for optimal visibility. Branding demands reinforcement, and this is one more way to achieve it.

Here are examples of logos we designed and their custom companion patterns. 

The Power of Process

When I create a custom pattern for a brand, I start by looking at the elements and shapes in the logo. Whether it is a new logo designed by my firm or an established mark, we address it the same way — identify the most significant visuals and build on them. We also consider how to create a seamless repeat with these elements. 

Repeats can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, block or offset (partial drop or brick). Certain shapes and scales lend themselves to different repeat styles. For example, round shapes half-drop well in an offset repeat because the shapes fit into each other snuggly. Asymmetrical core shapes require additional elements around them to create a block repeat. It takes some experimenting to eliminate striping or gaps for a clean, seamless repeat, especially in designs that need to “read” in all directions (not just up and down, as on wallpaper).

Brand patterns must apply well on myriad surfaces — electronic media; printed small or large on paper, fabric and other substrates; and often rendered flat or dimensionally (e.g. routed into metal). Because these factors can influence the motif’s complexity and color palette, it’s best to know where the pattern will be used before beginning design. Once these specifications are set, it’s exciting to see the variations that emerge. Often, more than one design hits the mark, resulting in a suite of brand patterns that can serve as a library for the client over time.

The POW! of Results

Here are some examples of designs we’ve created that make it easy to see how the patterns relate to their brands. 

  • Denny’s to-go boxes — Their signature French diamond was overlapped and rotated to create a geometric pattern that also looks like a box motif. 
  • Blackbird General Store tissue paper — The illustration of the bird and branch in the logo was reworked as a toile pattern, a custom take on traditional fabric that reinforced the nature of the brand.
  • What’s the Scoop? cups — The spoon from the “O” is repeated in a simple linear pattern that feels like sprinkles on ice cream. 
  • FCCS conference folders — The conference logo shape repeats in a fine-lined geometric micro-pattern, acting as a texture (further enhanced with gloss and dull varnishes).
  • LiveWell Colorado branding — The colorful burst created the perfect any-direction pattern for branding a variety of communications.
  • Children’s Circle of Care event — The heart of the logo combines with icons from the host hospital to create a pattern to brand the event through a custom tie (fabric), invitations (paper), water bottle (plastic) and more.

Enrich your brand with a custom pattern that creates instant recognition wherever it goes. 

And it can go virtually everywhere.
Contact Helen to get started.