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August design showcase: sampler edition

Welcome back, fellow lovers of style. With summer winding to a close, we're reflecting on some of our favorite stationery creations of the season. Each of these completely custom Concierge Designs achieves a perfect balance of client concept and designer imagination. Let's get started, shall we?

Riverbank Arts

Client: Riverbank Arts Centre
Emma designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Concierge Design

Located in Ireland, the Riverbank Arts Centre is a venue dedicated to film, theater, music and workshops for children. Riverbank came to Emma with a unique illustration-themed website in place that changes regularly depending on the season. Their goal, however, was to create a stationery that drew in elements of each illustration without creating a season-specific design. Elizabeth pulled several elements from the website, including a watermark-style image of animated characters to echo the audience in the footer. The result is a seamless connection to the Riverbank brand that they can use confidently all year long.

Sagra Trattoria

Client: Sagra
Emma designer: Jennifer Kasdorf
Design level: Concierge Design

Sagra is one of Austin's premiere Italian restaurants. Their atmosphere is as important to them as the quality of the food – and that's saying a lot! The menu is fashioned after the bistro-style meals served in Italian railway stations, and they wanted their email campaigns to match their existing branding. Jennifer based the design on their logo and added a darker texture to give an antique sensibility to the header. Its simple, logo-focused design is flexible enough for a quick message (such as their welcome trigger mailing) or a longer newsletter featuring images of their tasty offerings.

Crystal Jones Photography

Client: Crystal Jones
Emma designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Concierge Design

Crystal Jones is a talented photographer from Sacramento, California, who described her website as simple, clean and modern with a hint of whimsy. She loves her logo, but she wanted something a little bit playful added to the stationery. Though she couldn't pinpoint the exact element she wanted, she provided Kelly with links to other websites that accomplish that special something. Kelly chose to add concentric circles for a Méliès-style wave effect, plus some subtle texturing in the header background to add depth.

Agent06: Keller Williams

Company: Agent06
Emma designer: Jessica Peoples
Design level: Concierge Design

Angela Barnshaw is the owner and lead listing specialist of Agent 06 in south New Jersey. Having worked with Jessica on stationery in the past, Angela was confident that Jessica was up the task of combining some existing stationery elements with the colors and logo of Keller Williams. The real estate industry is a field that requires a combination of business savvy and hospitality, and that can be challenging to convey. Jessica chose flowers and a scripted font for Angela's signature. Both elements add warmth, while the Keller Williams and Agent06 names convey the seasoned business experience that's so important.

It's been a busy season for our Emma designers, and we look forward to our next opportunity to help you with some stylish stationery.

Until next time … cheers from your entire Emma Design Team.

With Emma, you're in good company. Meet our Customers.

Meet Cheekwood

How a museum used email and surveys together to make the most of a stunning Dale Chihuly exhibit.

This summer and fall, Nashville's Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art is the temporary home to spectacular glass sculptures by internationally acclaimed artist Dale Chihuly, and the museum extended its normal hours to allow visitors to experience the exhibit in the evenings. Chihuly's work is a sight to be seen any time of day, but artistic nighttime lighting transforms Cheekwood's grounds into a wonderland and transports you — at least mentally — away from the thick, humid Nashville air to an otherworldly place.

While the folks at Cheekwood had planned on offering extended hours on Thursdays and Fridays, overwhelming support for the exhibit made them consider adding another night of Chihuly goodness to the calendar. Rather than just assuming it would be well received, they empowered their email subscribers to make the call.

With Emma's survey feature, Cheekwood sent a short, stylish campaign (using their stunning Chihuly-themed custom stationery) inviting members, subscribers and volunteers to weigh in on the possibility of making Wednesday evening yet another time to drop by and take in the exhibit. They linked to an equally stylish survey, in which they posed the question, "Do you think Cheekwood should add Wednesday evening to Chihuly Nights?" and then gave survey-takers a chance to include comments to support their answer.

The response was fantastic. The campaign containing the link to the survey was emailed to more than 13,000 audience members, and more than 31% of them opened the email. Nearly 2,000 recipients clicked on the link to take the survey, which overwhelmingly favored adding Wednesday as a new Chihuly Night.

It doesn't end there, though. The Cheekwood staff created a follow-up campaign to announce the new night and to thank their subscribers for taking the time to give their input. They even shared the survey results (a whopping 94% were in favor of adding Wednesday nights) along with some of the great comments survey-takers offered up in their responses.

This was Cheekwood's first survey using Emma, and we love the way they kept it simple. They focused their approach on learning the opinions of those closest to the organization, and they thoughtfully followed up with the outcome, letting those email subscribers and Chihuly-enthusiasts be the first to hear the good news.

Is your baby’s button ugly?

Another way effective email design can make your campaigns more effective: Get all your buttons to look just right.

I know the feeling. You've crafted what feels like the perfect email. The photo totally complements the concise and appealing description of your new service. The label for your call to action is clear. You just know people are going to click it and take that next step. Everything's ready. You take a deep breath, and send your baby out into the world. You've worked hard, and you're proud of that baby of yours. You wait for good things. And you wait. And you wait some more. But nothing happens.

What went wrong? Why aren't people clicking your call to action? Well, it's time to get honest with yourself. Your baby's button may be ugly. The label is fine. But that button design isn't going to win her any ribbons at the county fair. You see, that button doesn't have enough perceived affordances. Don Norman is credited with introducing this term to the design world, and it refers to "those action possibilities that are readily perceivable by an actor." In other words, there are certain qualities of an object, in your case a button, that help people understand what they can do with it.

Let's take a closer look at a button. Maybe you're creating a campaign to announce your new lunch menu (because your new paninis are quite tasty). Besides showcasing a great photo of said panini, you really want your customers to click that button so they can check out the new menu on your website.

The first question to ask yourself is whether it looks like a button. Not really. It looks more like a rectangle with a border. Second question, does it look clickable? Maybe. It's pretty flat, but it is different than the photo and the text. Of course, no one wants to settle for maybe – fortunately, it's easy to add perceived affordances and make that button more effective.

This revised button looks more clickable than the old one. (The fancier way of saying this is that it demonstrates a higher level of affordance.) I know it's tempting to be totally unique from a design perspective — and you can be if you keep affordance in mind — but it's often more effective to use a design convention that's already out there instead of dreaming up something new.

Sure, your button might look similar to another one, but who cares? Your audience members know that it's a button, and they know what usually happens when they click one. They don't have to figure that out. It's one less thing for them to think about. Using a button with more affordance eliminates a barrier. And let's face it, you're competing with a lot of other noise out there (digital and physical). Why not help your subscribers get to your content – and to those delicious paninis – more easily?

The “when and where” of surveys

Survey know-how series, part three of four:
Using Emma surveys can help you plan and streamline events.

Now that we've explored some of the best reasons to survey your customers and some things to keep in mind while you're designing a market research survey, let's take a look at another useful application of this free, integrated tool. Planning an event to support your business can be complicated and time-consuming to manage. But using email and surveys together can really streamline the communication and let you focus on, you know, the event planning.

Many of our savvy customers are using the survey submit button to collect event RSVP information. This pairs easily with an invitation email, which can provide event details and a link to the RSVP survey.

For example, consider this. You have an event coming up, and your goal is to invite your customers, while hopefully spreading the word to some prospective customers as well. But you need to know how many beanbag chairs to set up, so you'll be asking people to RSVP. Well, you can use an email campaign as the actual invitation, and then use a survey to collect RSVP responses.

Here's how:

  • Design a survey that asks the RSVP information you need.
  • Create an email campaign with all of the details of the event itself. This is your invitation.
  • Ask people to RSVP by linking to your survey in the email. Voilà.
  • You can even add our Social Sharing feature to your email if you'd like your recipients to be able to share your invitation with others.

This format lets you ask exactly what you need to know: Can you attend? Will you be bringing a guest? Will you be bringing s'mores as your potluck dish? (In that case, you can bet that a few Emma staffers will be there too.)

Once you've heard back from your audience, you can easily organize the responses so that you can report back to your caterer (yep, better order some more marshmallows) and get in touch with those who responded. For example, a timely "Directions and Parking" follow-up email to those who said yes can minimize both frantic inbox-searching for your clients and day-of phone calls for you. Or, after the event is completed, sending a follow-up survey soliciting feedback and suggestions can help you continue to improve.

Also, that whole link-to-the-RSVP-form-straight-from-the-email thing makes *actually* responding a lot easier for your recipients. That way, hopefully you and your staff will only have to say 's'il vous plaît' a few extra times.

“Southern Fried Design-a-thon” report

Two Emma designers were on hand to help a non-profit.

How 24 hours and two Emma designers helped reinvent a Nashville non-profit's brand.

On July 24, both Jimmy Thorn and Elizabeth Williams, superstar Emma designers, stepped away from creating email templates and designs for Emma customers and took on a new design challenge.

The trick? This one came with a 24-hour crunch. They teamed with more than 30 other creatives at CoLab Nashville (and several rounds of 5-hour energy drinks) to create a new logo, marketing strategy, website, video package, brochure and social media presence for the Nashville non-profit YouthTurns, a program through Reconciliation Ministries. It's a group that does tremendous work to serve and support kids whose parents are in prison.

Why do it?

Jimmy loved the challenge. A fresh project, a blank canvas and a zealous group of creatives collaborating. Some good fried chicken and unlimited drinks didn't hurt either.

Elizabeth was a bit more skeptical. Social Media Club passed along the information, but with tons of deserving causes, why pick this one? But then she attended a meeting where a young boy walked in and tugged at her heart strings. He described his life with both parents in prison, and how Reconciliation Ministries provided a support structure that encouraged him to refuse the life that his parents had chosen for themselves. Today, he's a college graduate.

How did it pan out?

The pressure was on. The brainstorming sessions began at 11 a.m. Saturday, when Jimmy and Elizabeth split off with a group of six to focus on the name and brand identity. After a brief fire alarm interruption at 5 a.m. and some Jimmy Hendrix breakthrough tunes, they were still going. They still had to finalize the new look of the website.

The whole Design-a-thon team huddled back Sunday morning. Amidst the yawns and snores were satisfied smiles and a sense of accomplishment. After $80,000 worth of donated support and service, this hometown non-profit had a new identity — YouthTurns — plus a communication strategy and hub for donors, mentors and deserving children to access information and contribute to the cause. They had a new, sophisticated logo and brand design. And a new site that entices donors and supporters to stay connected and keep contributing.

And remarkably, the hodgepodge of designers, coders and marketers established a brand with a plan in 24 hours, pushing their boundaries and stretching their creative limits. And now they can more effectively help improve young peoples' lives, breaking the cycle of imprisonment. Not bad for one night's wake.

Want to learn more?

You can find opportunities to donate, volunteer or get involved with YouthTurns online. Take a minute to get to know these guys and the fantastic work they're doing., CoLab Nashville and Social Media Club Nashville collaborated to make this event happen, so keep an eye on those groups if you're in the Nashville area and would like to join in next time.

You can also read more about how Emma gives back to our community and to causes we care about here.

What about you? Do you or your colleagues give back with your creative efforts? What's been your experience?

Meet the-e-list

the-e-list campaign image

How a stylish, in-the-know gal stays connected to her subscribers and the Connecticut shoreline.

About the newsletter.

Every week, Erica Tannen provides her subscribers with news about art, restaurants, services, shopping and more near the Connecticut shoreline. the-e-list is "an excruciatingly opinionated guide" that brings attention to new businesses and trends near the shoreline, and it rounds out Erica's other unique offerings, including the e-card and PeRKS programs.

Since she conceived the idea for her newsletter in 2009 ("my crazy idea is to develop an online community of like-minded souls on the shoreline"), Erica's list has grown from just over 1,500 folks to nearly 5,000. Using Emma's Social Sharing feature, she sees even more growth on the horizon — in this campaign alone, 12 audience members shared via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email, leading to 83 visits from non-subscribers. Looks like her crazy idea is paying off.

Why we like it.

It's packed with fresh and timely content. A July sale at a jewelry boutique. A gourmet cookie shop with extreme flavors like Kahlua and key lime. College students that started a mini-catering business. A farm-to-table oyster bar. Survey Tannen's summer newsletters, and you'll find these businesses and more enthusiastically profiled.
In short: Know your audience's interests and create your campaigns with them in mind. Love the things they love, and they'll be sure to love you back.

It utilizes ad space in a smart way. Erica worked with the Emma designers to create a custom layout with plenty of ad space along the newsletter's right side. Now, Erica can feature rotating advertisements, and her sponsors reach thousands of inboxes weekly.
In short: Consider offering ad sponsorships in your newsletter. Pick a layout that will highlight ads in a prominent way, and you may just cover the costs of your mailing. Check out our suggestion for selling ads here.

The send-off, at a glance.

  • Sent on July 14, 2010, to 4,856 people
  • Open rate: 43% :: Click-through rate: 38%
  • 12 shares via Social Sharing, 83 trackable visits
  • Subject line: All good things in Essex, 7/14/2010
  • Created using a custom layout

More details

See the campaign online
See the website

July design showcase: back-to-school edition

It's been a minute since my school days, but this time of year still makes me want new books and shoes. There's just something magical – something like New Year's Eve – about the feeling in the air, like promise and potential are everywhere.

And after all, let's face it: It's been a long, hot summer, and maybe a little back-to-school spirit is all we need to get us through the tail end of this heat wave. Who else is ready for some stylish fall boots, back-to-school sales and university stationery? This month's design showcase will at least help on the university stationery front.

University of Notre Dame

Client: University of Notre Dame
Emma designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Stationery Suite

Colleges are great candidates for Design Suite, our custom design package that includes three stationery designs based on one concept. Since university messages must appeal to a wide variety of audiences (prospective and current students, donors and alumni, faculty and staff, high school guidance counselors, parents and so on), the Suite is the perfect way to have something special for each distinctive group – while, of course, retaining brand consistency.

This design is the first of what will become a Design Suite for the University of Notre Dame. The original request included the school's brand guidelines, which immediately determined the colors and fonts for the stationery. The shape, however, came from website-prowling on Elizabeth's part. The curved frame appears frequently on the Notre Dame homepage, so Elizabeth mimicked the shape and added shadows and highlights to enhance it, creating a truly three-dimensional feel.

Metropolitan Community

Client: Metropolitan Community College
Emma designer: Jimmy Thorn
Design level: Concierge Design

Our friends at the Metropolitan Community College wanted a fresh look for their stationery, so Jimmy was free to play with design concepts that strayed from the look of the website. Still, he knew it was important to communicate the school's particular personality and style.

They provided their logo as an EPS file, meaning that Jimmy could blow it up as big as he wanted without losing image quality. And that's exactly what he did: If you look closely, you can see that the background texture behind the logo is actually an extremely enlarged copy of the logo itself. He added color and shadow to give it a metallic sheen and then reversed out the actual logo to white, making the contrast much more dramatic. Their tagline gets its own focus here, but the red slanted bar continually draws the eye right back to the logo.

Stanford University Press

Client: Stanford University Press
Emma designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Concierge Design

This was the second stationery design for the Stanford University Press. They needed a new, less traditional design for certain kinds of mailings — they weren't exactly sure what they wanted for their new design, but they did know they wanted their brand shade of red. With that in mind, Kelly perused the SUP website and found that they typically use a lot of white space to give the red accents more power. She also discovered that they have a terrific online presence, and not just with their own website and Emma campaigns. They're active users of Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, podcasts and a blog, all of which work together to engage a diverse community of fans and followers.

How brilliant, then, for an established American institution of print publishing to be so active on the web. And how brilliant of Kelly to put a similar ironic twist on their "less traditional" email stationery by making it look like a traditional printed letterhead, complete with typewriter font! She further aged the look by bending the page corners just a bit, scratching up the header type and fading the red bar under the title. The "paper" comes to a clean mid-section, though, so that the header and footer images could easily give way to clean, HTML-based design in the middle. That way, the stationery can stretch vertically to accommodate content of any length.

Michigan State

Client: Michigan State University
Emma designer: Jimmy Thorn
Design level: Concierge Design

Stephanie from Michigan State University wanted a fairly simple design but requested a variety of colors to represent her international audience. She provided a photo of flags from the around the world, with a busy street market blurred in the background. Jimmy cropped the image so the focus would be entirely on the flags in all their colorful glory, and he took the accent shade of green from the department's own website. He also borrowed the idea of rounded corners from their existing branding and used that shape to frame the individual design elements as well as the stationery itself.

Stephanie can use the editable text box just below the header for the date, issue number or any other text that she'd like to change out from time to time. It's completely separate from the text box(es) that form the layout template, so she can still use any of the existing layouts without losing that upper text box.

Until next time … hugs and autumn leaves from the entire Emma Design Team!

The “why” of customer surveys

Survey know-how series, part two of four:
Explore the value of knowing what's on the minds of your customers.

We've all heard banal business expressions from motivational speakers and management books about customer satisfaction, right? Maybe something like …

  • It takes years to win a new customer and seconds to lose one.
  • It costs up to five times more to win a new customer than keep an existing one.
  • A two percent increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as cutting costs by 10 percent.
  • The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

OK, so that last one was from my mom and not a *traditional* motivational speaker. But if you boil it down, these types of phrases are just reminders to make sure that you're taking care of your most important market: your existing customers.

Sending a customer survey means you don't have to guess what people want.

So, how do we do that?

By asking our customers to tell us about themselves and their experience with us and then – and here's the kicker – listening to them. You have several options when you think about using a survey tool like Emma's to connect with your customers.

1. Getting to know your audience helps you market and serve them better than you can by simply guessing. Additionally, just the experience of being invited to share an opinion can be therapeutic for a frustrated customer, or inspiring for one who likes you already. A positive experience like that is just one more touch-point that you now have with that customer.

2. Negative feedback is no fun, but it can be extremely valuable for you if it helps you spot and fix problems before a greater percentage of your audience catches on. Customers who are willing to go out of their way to share a frustration with you (instead of simply taking their money and their word of mouth elsewhere) are invaluable. Reward these folks and encourage your team to be truly thankful for them.

3. Surveying people who either have stopped being a customer, or decided never to be a customer during the sales process, can help you fill holes in your service and boost both sales and retention in the future.

4. Lastly, you may receive positive feedback, which is motivating and encouraging. At Emma, we regularly share positive messages about our team and our service along with customer suggestions, and they each fuel our staffers in different ways.

What now, you ask?
A good place to start is to think about your business strategy and form a survey to help you with that purpose.

If you're finding engagement is decreasing

Try this:
Ask your customers what type of content and offers they are interested in

And don't forget…
List a few options – don't make your subscribers come up with them

If you're wanting to boost sales and retention

Try this:
Ask your lost sales what you could have offered to snag their business

And don't forget…
Of course, that doesn't mean that you necessarily should offer it. But it'll give you a good idea of what types of customers your competitors are getting

If you're interested in serving your clients better

Try this:
Ask them about themselves and what they've liked in the past so that you can continue to improve

And don't forget…
This also may help you create a picture of your customers, which may surprise you

Happy surveying! One thing to keep in mind in all this, however, is that unless you take great pains to get a representative sample of your clients, take care before you act on results. These types of things have a self-selecting characteristic, in that usually you will hear from the very happy and the unhappy. The reasonably satisfied aren't always motivated to reach out, so take your results with a few grains of salt, or any condiment of your choosing.

Missed part one? Read about the "how" of designing effective surveys.

Next time, we'll explore the "when" of surveys, with a post about using this tool for event registration and follow-up.