The Midas Touch: Matt Dawson

Making Your Mark

Artists at Work: Logos

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These articles, printed in previous editions, were reprised for the

January 2, 2008 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved. For

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Creativity at Work

Top Of PageThe Midas Touch: Matt Dawson

`Build it and they will come." Ten years ago that was the mantra of the worldwide web. Put up a website, any website, the theory went, and customers would flock to your business.

But that’s no longer true, says web designer Matt Dawson. The flat website of yesterday is no longer enough. Today’s savvy internet viewers don’t just want information. They expect interaction. Audio and video. Creativity.

Dawson is the owner of Image Cog, a Trenton-based web design company that specializes in custom digital media, including business websites, gaming, and digital presentations. Dawson is president of the five-year-old business and has been involved in the web design industry for about a dozen years. A native of Edison, Dawson graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1992, studied computer graphics and ad design at Mercer County College, and worked at MarketSource Interactive and Dow Jones Interactive, among other major firms.

Dawson says many company websites are little more than online brochures. If you want to attract loyal customers who will return to your website again and again, he says, you must offer more.

"It used to be enough to present appropriate information in a succinct, relatively attractive fashion. Now, even when viewers are searching for information, they expect it to be presented in an entertaining, creative way."

The internet, he adds, is "a comparative medium." If a site doesn’t grab and hold viewers’ attention, they will quickly click to another site that does.

And the younger the target market, the more important creativity is.

Generation Y, currently age 25 and younger, has grown up with the internet and is comfortable with technology. A recent study showed that 58 percent of children age eight to nine use the internet regularly, while by age 14 that number rises to 82 percent. The average number of hours spent online for the age group is 19 per month.

"They aren’t just using the Internet for homework," says Dawson."They get their movies, their music and their news this way. It is their major source of entertainment."

Preteens are just entering the marketplace as consumers; their college-age brothers and sisters are already there, and their influence can already be seen in retail areas such as fashion and music. They make up the largest generation since the Baby Boomers, and while your business may not see them as your target market yet, in the next few years they will be graduating from college and begin shopping for everything from home furnishings to cars and baby supplies for their own children. They will need tax accountants, financial planners and lawyers; they’ll be searching the web for plumbers, auto repair and daycare centers.

Looking around. When searching for a product or service on the web familiarity and brand recognition are just as important as they are at the shopping mall.

"It takes time for a prospective customer to get comfortable with your brand message," says Dawson. "The longer they stay on your site, the more effective you are in transmitting that message."

The average user visits five to 10 different websites before making a purchase, he adds, and rarely purchase on the first visit. If they find value in your site they will return for several visits before making that purchasing decision.

"It’s just like choosing cereal at the grocery store. You may be looking for granola or you may be looking for corn flakes, but within that category you have several choices, and you are probably going to choose the cereal with the most attractive package," says Dawson.

Search Engine Optimization. It’s not necessary to be number one on the search engine, says Dawson. When you understand that viewers are searching 10 to 15 sites, the goal is to be the most attractive site on the first page.

"Look at your usage stats," he says. "Don’t worry about the number of hits you have, worry about the number of repeats. How many people are coming back to your site? How long are they staying? Are they looking at the right pages? These are the real indicators of how effective your site is. If they are clicking on your homepage, leaving and not returning, that should tell you something."

Once customers have found your site, how can you get your visitors to stay awhile? What makes them want to return again and again? It is something different for every website and every business, says Dawson. And it’s not all that difficult to do. Many elements can be added to an existing website, without calling for a complete redesign.

Interactive Timeline. A business with a rich corporate history could use a timeline very effectively to talk about who they are, products they’ve developed in the past, as well as plans for the future.

"An interactive timeline would be very effective for a corporation like Ford Motor Company," says Dawson. "They could have information you could call out and look at about talking about their early history, developments in auto racing, and new energy efficient products."

Interactive tour. This type of site lets you see photographs and short videos, often organized as a map. It is an excellent tool for a variety of website from museums or other tourist attractions, to universities, and even real estate agents.

Video Clips. Many websites are static and boring to the sophisticated web user, Dawson says. But they don’t have to be – video clips could be used effectively for a variety of businesses, from individual consultants who want to discuss their techniques, to manufacturers who want to illustrate a process.

Surveys and Games. We can’t resist them. Surveys or games that test are knowledge and give comparisons of other people’s answers are an excellent way to keep customers on your site longer, or even recommending the site to others.

No matter which method you decide on, the important point is to "choose to creatively engage the viewer," says Dawson. If you don’t, they are very likely to "load only the homepage, quickly click off to some other site, and not return."

-Karen Hodges Miller

Top Of PageMaking Your Mark

Not every business can be Nike and have the worldwide recognition of a single "swoosh," but every business can and should develop brand recognition in its own segment of the market, says Melinda Salzer of Advanced Information Services in Marlboro.

There are several key aspects to developing a corporate identity, says Salzer. "Your company name, your positioning statement or tag line, your logo, your colors – having consistency in all of these affects the image you and your company project."

Company name. The name you choose for your company is the first impression your clients and customers will receive about who you are and what you do.

"A good name evokes a feeling about the company," she says. A literal name, such as `Goodyear Tires,’ tells customers exactly what business the company is in. A whimsical name like Yahoo! or Google often needs more explanation. However, these types of names can work for a business.

Tag Line. If you do choose a less descriptive name it is important to have a tag line or positioning statement that makes it clear what you do. Vonage is one good example. A few years ago the name had no meaning and the public didn’t know what the company did. The company’s tag line – "A better way to phone for less" – is one of the ways in which it has gotten its message across.

The most important attribute of a tag line is that it is memorable. "What Can Brown Do for You?" doesn’t describe its company’s services, but it has become so familiar that it is easily recognized as the UPS tag line.

Logo and colors. A logo is a quick image that easily identifies the company. It should also express something about that company. Keep it simple and easily identifiable, like the IBM logo, recognizable throughout the world.

The colors you choose for your logo also evoke a response from your customers. Red evokes feelings of excitement, but can also mean danger. Blue is very soothing, while green, the color of money, brings a feeling of prosperity and wealth.

Stay away from trendy colors, though. Those go out of fashion quickly. But: "If you do choose a trendy color, then want to change it, do it gradually," she suggests. "Deepen or lighten the colors over time." – Karen Hodges Miller

Top Of PageArtists at Work: Logos

You might not know the name of Philadelphia artist John Langdon, but you’ve probably seen his work. Langdon is an artist who is in love with words ( His passion for words – their symmetry, their meaning, their look and texture, has taken him from the rather practical application of logo design to the more esoteric practice of ambigrams, which are defined as "a graphical figure that spells out a word not only in its form as presented, but also in another direction or orientation."

Langdon’s most famous ambigrams can be found in the novel "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown. Another well-known ambigram is the logo for the band Aerosmith (U.S. 1, March 28, 2007).

While most people would agree that ambiguity is an impediment to communication, Langdon sees it as an invaluable tool, one that everyone depends on every day. As a typographer and logo designer, Langdon says his work is "heavily concerned with symmetry, but underpinning it all is my love of ambiguity."

Ambigrams are Langdon’s trademark. He "invented or discovered them" in the early 1970s while "trying to do with words what Dali and Escher did with images." He published a book, "Wordplay," about his unique word art, in 1992. (A second edition was published in 2005 by Broadway Books).

This proponent of ambiguity has very definite ideas on how to create a great logo. "You need to appeal to the consumer, to intrigue the customer, not hit them in the nose with something obvious," he says. A logo should be subtle. It should work on a person’s "natural curiosity and show the familiar with the unfamiliar," says Langdon. It should present enough of a challenge that the viewer "will feel smart and creative," yet be "reasonably easy to meet. It shouldn’t make the viewer feel stupid."

Appropriate. A logo "must embody and convey a feeling that represents the nature of the industry at large," says Langdon. In other words, a logo for a school, a bank, and a retail store should look very different.

Distinctive. "An appropriate look that does not draw attention to the unique qualities of the business it represents only supports the industry as a whole, and will most likely draw business toward the leader in the field," says Langdon.

Attracting and attractive. "Pleasing esthetics serve any business well. However, the qualities that attract the target consumer may not always overlap with conventional standards of attractiveness, and so `attracting’ may occasionally take precedence over `attractive.’"

Readable and understandable. "If letters and words are involved, the consumer must be able to decipher them. But the same is true for pictorial, symbolic, and abstract images," says Langdon. The image should not only convey what is intended. It should not convey any unintended ideas.

Functional. A logo should be effective in every situation in which it is used. "It must work on the side of the company truck and the business card," says Langdon.

– Karen Hodges Miller

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