Design and marketing tips for growing businesses

Strategies to help businesses grow by Olsen Creative

Recent blog posts


We start with the Message. What do you want to say to your customers? Where are your customers in terms of location (physical and on the web), buying cycle, and other relevant demographics? We’ll help craft the message according to your audience.


It’s not just the words you use. Visual presentation has a tremendous impact on how messages are received – and perceived. Fonts, colors, imagery, and layout are our building blocks. We are experts in creating appropriate visuals to emphasize a relevant message.


In the end, the delivery of the message is accomplished by Technical means. Website, email, social networking, advertising, offset printing/mailing are some of the ways to deliver. The marketing industry has changed a lot in the last quarter century, and we’ve consistently evolved to adopt new ways of publishing. The industry is always expanding, and we’ve grown along with it.

In summary, all three parts must be present. Any two aspects leave something lacking. A pretty picture delivered without a strong message is unclear. A message that's delivered but doesn't look good is unattractive. A strong visual message without delivery is unseen. All three parts - the message, the visual and the technical must be present for successful marketing communications.

1. Mobile-friendly website

Customers are using smartphones and tablets to do a lot more work on the go. A responsive layout adjusts to the many different screen sizes and options available.

2. Search Engine Optimization

There's content and there's "deep content". Deep content is the metadata under the hood of your site that helps your site be easily indexed and found in a web search.

3. Social network integration

Meet your customers where they are. Start a business page on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and other communities. Link back to your website, the hub of communication.

4. Brand continuity

This has always been (and should always be) a priority, but especially as businesses reach out in new ways and places, recognition from community to community is more important than ever. Most online communities offer some kind of visual customization, but don't forget that your writing tone also represents your brand. Always use the same voice.

5. Customer interaction

Use your website to get feedback. Let customers post product reviews, use social network "Share" buttons, encourage involvement. Let customers suggest and vote on trends or products. Provide a section where they can upload photos, add comments, show how and where they use your products.

The two ways we design websites

Posted by on in Websites

1) From scratch. We start with a Photoshop layout, slice it up, code it out and add your content with tender, loving care. Totally custom, totally you.

2) From a commercial template. Oh, yes – we said it. Canned design. Why, why, why would we admit to that? Because we're not so big to think that we're the only ones in the world who can design, and we're economical enough to not recreate the wheel. There are some awesome templates out there that might be exactly what you need. (Well, except they look like everyone else's site that uses that template. That's why we always customize it to coordinate with your brand.)

We're all facing tight budgets, which is why you need to get the biggest bang for your buck. Sometimes we need to cut down on design time to put more effort toward marketing strategy. Templates are one way that we can adjust resources to get things off the ground quickly and easily, and affordably.

Either way, we'll ensure that your site will be found in a web search, will be compatible across the myriad of browsers and interfaces in the world today, and will inspire your customers to take action. We'll work with you to find the solution that best fits your needs and budget.

See our websites portfolio

Is print dead?

Posted by on in Marketing

This is the Age of the Internet. As devices get smaller and more portable, people are receiving more of their information digitally. Why should you spend money on a printed advertisement, brochure or catalog when you have a website? Digital turnaround time is faster, it's cheaper, "greener" and the results are measurable.

Although these benefits of electronic publishing are certainly true, printed materials still make sense.

Print is touchable. Print drives traffic to your website.

Think about the ways you are inspired to visit a website. Something as simple as a business card or small promotional flyer on a bulletin board might encourage you to go online to find out more. Or you picked up a brochure or catalog, thumbed through the pages, maybe even saw something textural in it that caught your eye. You didn't smell a perfume ad on a website. It was on one of those fancy fold-outs in a magazine. Your mailbox is full of (okay, sometimes annoying) calls to action. But if marketers have done their job, then you should be receiving something relevant. There are some experiences that only a printed piece can deliver. You can take a printed piece with you, you don't have to log in or wait for it to load, and it never crashes.

Every printed piece you pick up these days has just enough information to make you want to know more, with a prominent URL or contact information. And more recently, a quick-response (QR) code for even faster access via your mobile device.

How do you know if your printed piece is successful? In addition to inquiry calls you may receive, you will usually notice a spike in your website traffic. Be ready for customers who come to your "virtual door" and make sure you have coordinated your campaign into a seamless message.

Print and web integration is essential. The point is: Understand your customer and incorporate the media they use. Print marketing efforts should complement — and drive — online initiatives. Different customers receive and respond to messages in different ways. Knowing your customer is essential to determining the best marketing vehicles required to inspire them to respond to your message.

Here's another bonus: Thanks to the online marketing revolution, offset printing has become increasingly more affordable.

A knowledgeable marketing strategist can help you sort through the costs and benefits to help you determine the best media to reach your audience.

See our portfolios: Brochures & Catalogs Ads & Direct Mail

Get a cool logo that looks like you

Posted by on in Graphic Design

No, we're not saying that having a face on your logo is the answer. We already did that. The "you" we're referring to is the visual expression of your brand. It's like a personality.

oc ladyLet's use the Olsen Creative Lady as an example. At Olsen Creative, we love what we do. We are helpful, approachable and do all we can to demystify the creative process. With good humor, we take your projects seriously, put your business interests first and assure you that everything is going to be OK as we walk through the project. That's our brand statement. It's who we are. And that's why the Olsen Creative Lady is so happy!

When we listen to what you want in your logo, we ask a lot of questions — questions about you, how you relate to your customers, what they say about you, and even what colors you find appealing. What we're really getting to is the bottom line: your brand statement. From that, we can create an image that projects the "personality" of what your brand already has going for it.

We don't make brands, and we don't just design logos that we think are cool. We design logos that communicate your brand value. And that's pretty cool already.

See our Logos Portfolio

At the core of every graphic design project is the marketing message. It’s the story. The subject. The essence. Beginning a design without clear direction is a recipe for confusion – that’s evidently how we got the platypus.

The message determines the design. Before you pick a single color or font, know your purpose.

Find the answers to these questions, then let the rest fall into place:

1) Who is your target audience? Learn all you can about the demographics. Who are you speaking to? Male or Female? Young or Mature? Empathize. How would you talk to them if they were sitting in front of you?

2) What does your audience expect? Do they already know your product? Do you need to educate them? How does your product compare to the competition? How can you enlighten your audience?

3) What is the personality of your business, or the Brand? (For the sake of creating a design, the more adjectives you can come up with, the better) How your business presents itself is a key element to making a decision on graphic elements. Be consistent with the Brand personality. Imagine that you are the Brand, and you meet a friend on the street. How do you act? How does this situation differ from when you meet a client in the boardroom? Your business should have a consistent brand standard. Know it and live it. Don’t be visually schizophrenic, like our friend Mr. Platypus.

4) What mood or image do you want this project to convey? Do yourself a service and reflect your brand personality. There’s nothing worse than having an established brand and then creating a very different piece based on your creative whim. There’s no better way to lose your audience than to turn away from your buddy, The Brand. Instead, imagine that this piece is speaking on behalf of the Brand. It’s like writing a script for an established character. If you were going to write a play about, say, Robin Hood, he would have a distinct, recognizeable personality (the Brand), but he could find himself in a myriad of situations (the Project), and would handle himself differently depending on to whom he was speaking (the Audience). "Robin Hood the Dude" has many possibilities, but "Robin Hood the Brand" must stay consistent or he risks being mistaken for another character.

When you’re clear in your direction, you're ready to start designing.

Use what you already know.

Learn what your audience already knows.

Know your purpose.

Be relevant in communicating.

How much does a website cost?

Posted by on in Websites

The easiest way to answer this question is to put it into a context. How much does a house cost?

If you only need four walls, a door, a window and a roof, and you're planning to purchase and assemble the materials yourself, you can do it on the cheap. If you're not handy with the tools used, it still won't cost much in labor even if you have a professional build your small house for you.

What if you require a little larger structure? How many rooms do you need? Do you want to use a ready-made plan, or a custom design? Do you want your guests to have full access to all of your house, or do you want to separate public and private areas? As the project becomes more complex, there is more to consider, more to build and more things that need to function together.

What if the house is not for personal use, but is a business structure? Then you have another set of challenges. What if you have a business that exists in several locations? And/or you need employees to access and control various parts of the structure?

In this website analogy, the basic four walls and roof is like an online brochure. It is the simplest of websites with some information about your product or service and a way for people to contact you by way of some combination of address, phone and email.

The next level of website has more information and some interactive elements that enhance the user experience. It performs some function beyond merely conveying information.

The third represents a larger, perhaps enterprise level website, where information changes and updates often. It is likely database driven (could be e-commerce, product pricing sheets, community elements, a blog, etc), and the content itself may be accessible by different levels of website editors, as well as varying customer level access.

One advantage that websites have over houses is that it's pretty easy to add onto the structure while maintaining the original appearance. Websites can expand over time easier than houses (keeping in mind that poor planning can be detrimental to a project in any industry), and thus be cost-effective by assembling only the parts needed at this point in time. "Build-as-you-go" is an effective web development strategy as long as there is a clear goal and plan for growth.

How much should I budget?

How much you have to spend will determine the growth rate of your website. While a database driven e-commerce website can easily set you back 8-10 grand, for a small or start-up business, depending on your product, it may not be necessary to outlay that kind of cash at the inception. You can get started with a deposit of just a few hundred dollars to begin work, a simple template with a few pages and a growth plan. As you work with your web developer over the span of a few months, your website can start bringing in customers — thus, income — to help fund future growth.

This is the kind of website growth plan that I frequently recommend to small businesses.
1. Go live as soon as you can with what your budget will allow.
2. Get your product or service information out there with a way for new customers to contact you.
3. Follow your growth plan to develop your website from there.

Websites cost varying amounts depending on functionality. Your budget will determine the growth rate. Your website plan will keep you on track as you work toward your goals. By just doing one manageable thing at a time, you'd be surprised at how quickly and affordably you can develop a strong presence on the web.

Tagged in: Budget Cost Planning

At the moment we first entered the world and opened our eyes, we were consumed by visual stimulus. We began to sort and interpret these images, learning their meanings and significance. Every shape has a property. Every color has a meaning. We perceive shapes as organic or architectural based on their function in nature. We perceive colors as warm or cool based on their presence in nature. We organize many separate elements into a collective whole. We perceive, recognize, categorize and cross-reference until we have a comprehensive knowledge of how the visual world works. And as if we’re not already busy enough interpreting visuals, we are simultaneously processing the other four senses of sound, smell, taste and touch in the same manner.

We recognize what we know.

Does that sound too obvious? Through exposure, we put information into context, and thus retain the information. How does this principle apply to reaching your customers?

Effective communication comes down to one simple principle: with each of the five senses, we recognize what we know. Visual communicators learn what is familiar to their audience and select relevant imagery to communicate clearly, effectively and most importantly, quickly. When a visual message is familiar, right and appropriate, it is clear, comfortable and obvious. When it’s unfamiliar, wrong or inappropriate, it can be confusing, unsettling and misrepresenting. 
Unfortunately, even seasoned professional designers sometimes stray from objective decision-making in their quest to create something new and different. Artists by nature, they sometimes forget that graphic design projects are not gallery pieces where museum-goers will stop to ponder the greater significance of the message. To the average consumer, a graphic designer's labor of love is only a snapshot seen in a fleeting moment, if perceived at all. Marketing studies indicate that as consumers zip down grocery store aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds. (Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eiseman). In this split-second opportunity, the outer packaging must grab attention, communicate the inner contents and create desire. That’s a lot to expect from a busy audience of consumers who are already bombarded with similar images from thousands of other visuals also competing for their attention. Really, there’s no time for lofty, Picasso-centric agendas.
Be relevant.
This the key to communicating quickly to your audience. If the imagery you incorporate into your piece is vague, obscure or otherwise off target, you’ll miss what is likely your only opportunity to get your point across. Sure, you’ve seen those multi-million-dollar ad campaigns that attract attention through surreal product connections, but is that really the project that’s burning a hole in your in-box? “How to Create a 30-Second Ad Spot for The Big Ballgame That Everyone Will Be Discussing The Significance Of The Next Day” is the subject for another blog post. This is about where the rubber meets the road – your project that's going on right now.

You may not know it yet, but you already have everything you need to make your project a success. Don’t underestimate your perceptions or reactions to the effects of graphic elements. You’ve seen as much of the world as a graphic designer has. Even if you’re uninitiated to the process of graphic design, you can still learn how to make objective visual decisions. This blog will give you a context for understanding, to put a label on what you probably already know, and familiarize you with what you already see.

If you can label it, you can communicate it.

Meet the artist - that's me!

Posted by on in Art

Saturday, July 25, 2009 - noon-5pm

Northwest Cellars Wine Tasting Room
11909 124th Avenue NE
Kirkland, WA 98034


Please join me at the Northwest Cellars Wine Tasting Room, home of award-winning Northwest wines, custom wine labels, and the house labels I designed. Sample the currently available wines and buy a bottle or two to take home. If you’d like, I’ll sign the label for you!

I will also have full-size (11"x14") prints of select illustrations available for purchase.

Tagged in: Creativity

I'm an artist. A graphic artist. I only build websites because that's where my industry is focused. I'm thus forced into the world of programming. (So I'm a programmer? Eeeww!) This is the main source of my career frustration - being an artist at heart but creating through the writing of code. Just a little counter-intuitive.

Here's an amusing anecdote from something that happened to me yesterday:

The challenge was to create a "BUY" link button by having a red rectangle with white type inside. Rather than delve into detail, let's just say that I found the place in the style sheet where I could write in "rectangle=red, type=white". (It was black with white type originally, so all I had to do was write in "red" where the word "black" was. EASY switch!)

Then I went back to my word "BUY" and framed it with the code that would tell it how to act. Essentially, [red button] BUY [/red button].

No go. No red button no matter what I did. It stayed the original black. VERY frustrating! Just another WTF Moment in the life of an artist-turned-programmer. I tried every kind of troubleshooting I could think of, and then went to Google to search for the problem. That takes a while when you don't know exactly where the problem is. But I'll get to the point.

I had to insert the snippet "!important" into the line of the style sheet - and BINGO, it worked.

!important ??? What are some of the alternatives? !whenever-you-have-time ?? Or !if-its-not-too-much-trouble ?? Or !you-better-or-I'll-kick-your-ass ??

This PROVES that Computers have Evolved! You can't just make a simple change and have it accept it without question. You have to let it know that the change is !important for it to take effect.

Those of you who think that computer programming is some cut and dry, boring, unimaginative, pocket-protecting head space, let me tell you - you are mistaken. It requires a certain level of tact and understanding. Like any relationship.

Perhaps next time I should try " !please " ...

Process Trumps Content

Posted by on in Potpourri

In the last few weeks, I've been focusing my attention on networking and content, while in the back of my mind, I've been wanting to add some real meat to this website infrastructure I've been assembling. When you surf the internet, do you just see a bunch of websites and content and information? I don't. I don't just have a website and a blog and some social media pages — I have a dream (OK, so it sounds corny, but it's true). I have an idea for how to realize it. All of this stuff is just part of the Process.

Today Seth Godin asks What are you good at? "Process... refers to the emotional intelligence skills you have about managing projects, visualizing success, persuading other people of your point of view, dealing with multiple priorities, etc. This stuff is insanely valuable and hard to learn. Unfortunately, it's usually overlooked by headhunters and HR folks, partly because it's hard to accredit or check off in a database.
"As the world changes ever faster, as industries shrink and others grow, process ability is priceless. Figure out which sort of process you're world-class at and get even better at it. Then, learn the domain... that's what the internet is for.
"One of the reasons that super-talented people become entrepreneurs is that they can put their process expertise to work in a world that often undervalues it."
Dang, Seth – you nailed it!
How about you? What are your unique talents? How can they help you in your Process?

Who has time for social media?

Posted by on in Websites

I spent the last couple weeks testing what happens when I link my site to social networks like Facebook and Twitter (I was already linked to my LinkedIn profile). There has been a marked increase in visitors to my site and blog. 


In this new media world, there are obvious benefits to using social media and networking to encourage new visitors to come to your site. More visitors means more potential clients. After less than two days on Twitter I racked up two dozen Followers without even trying. What's not to like? Some people on there even have tens-of-thousands of people following their "tweets".

But hang on. For one thing, wow - that's a lot of information coming at me all at once. I had information overload after only modest effort. Plus, I bill clients by the hour. Time spent tweeting is time away from building a website for an existing client. And if my clients are all out tweeting, they aren't doing that thing they do, either. 
I had been studying the activity of professional social mediacs. How does a small business owner of a product or service manage the time it takes to go make all of these social contacts? You can't spend ALL day at the water cooler.
John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing outlined his routine for social media yesterday. For those of you just starting out in social media it will seem very time-consuming (and perhaps a little OCD). You will probably say that you don't have the time to devote to such a strategy. But keep things in perspective: Rome wasn't built in a day, John Jantsch markets for a living, and even modest effort really does create measurable results.
Here are the goals I've set for myself for 2009:
  • Update my Olsen Creative website once a month (I also added news links so there's new content on there every day)
  • Post to my Short-term Strategies blog once a week (set to distribute posts to my website and Facebook notes)
  • Create and maintain a list of bookmarks (I've started a personal list, but want to create one for business)
  • Twitter about olsencreative at the beginning and end of my day (I had a deadline today and didn't tweet about it - just got to work)
  • Start a Facebook Page for Olsen Creative
Are you using social media? What services? What are your goals?

One of the things I hope to accomplish with this blog is to demystify the creative process to help growing businesses get the most out of the resources available. Today's economy is squeezing businesses more than ever, forcing owners to think outside the box for cost-effective solutions on all fronts.

If you own a small business, you probably don't have a huge marketing budget. You probably didn't intend to do a lot of the marketing, advertising, promotions and even page layouts yourself, but to keep operating costs down such tasks are frequently necessary for the survival and growth of your business.

So you became an Accidental Graphic Designer.

For all of the small business owners looking for do-it-yourself solutions, I'm here to coach you on what you really need to know to creatively survive the marketing and design process.

1: Communicate Meaning
Space is a premium in the world, on the internet and on paper. In a matter of milliseconds, you have to capture the attention of a prospective customer with a message that's strong enough to compel them to come to you for your product.

A strong message does not necessarily mean big, bold and red – although sometimes it doesn't hurt. Strength is communicated in relevance. How well understood is the message? Are you speaking your target customer's language? What are they looking for at this time, and are you offering it?

Communicate meaning in each and every element you create. Your logo must be appealing and understandable to your audience. It makes little difference whether you personally like it, if it doesn't communicate clear meaning to potential customers. Your website must be logically organized to guide potential customers down the path that leads to the most important place - buying from you. Your print advertising must contain a call to action. Get people onto your website and/or into your store so you can turn them into new customers.

Communicate meaning in everything you do.

We will help guide you through the process of creating a meaningful message.

Introducing pastel illustrations by Laura Olsen

Posted by on in Art

The discovery of a new medium. Just the mention of it sends artists into seething excitement!
I discovered a new medium this summer. It's not new to the world, but rather, I had rediscovered it for myself in a really big way. Pastels. I'm talking about the chalk, not the color palette.
I experimented a little with pastels back in college, but didn't develop a preference for them as a medium. I leaned toward oil painting. When out "in the field" I would usually bring along my sketch pad and graphite pencil, rather than charcoal. I found that charcoal and pastels shared a similar "scritchiness" that bugged me - a little like fingernails on a chalkboard. I preferred the smoother feel of mediums such as graphite and oil paint.

I found that painting en plein air (French for "outside") in the natural light gave my oil paintings a lot more life and freshness than work done in the studio, but what a hassle it was to drag all of that equipment around – not to mention that a wet canvas is not the easiest thing to haul back home.

On vacation this summer, I decided to give pastels another try. I discovered advantages to using them in the field. They're portable, more colorful than graphite, drier than paint, and no extensive clean-up is involved. I was able to easily achieve the natural light look without the mess. Plus, time is a premium for me now, so I'm all for any activity that I can squeeze in quickly and easily. The scritchiness of the pastels didn't bother me, either (perhaps age has desensitized my nerve endings).

The result of settling on a medium that allows me to crank out art in short order, is that I am able to accumulate new material at a sustainable pace. What does that mean? It means that I can make enough art to be marketable. What more can an artist ask for?

Where can you find them? - "Sailboat at Sunset" and "Pacific Northwest Mountains". Also "Pastels of the Pacific Northwest" 2009 wall calendar featuring 12 drawings from 2008. - If you're into good Northwest wine, eight varieties are available featuring art by Laura Olsen on the label. For a REAL treat, ask us about personalizing a label for you. Minimum order is one case. Makes a great gift or to have on hand as your own "house" wine.

Joshua Green Building Website

Posted by on in Websites

Along with start of the coming school year, I am excited to announce the launch of yet another website by Olsen Creative!

We have just completed design on a website for the Joshua Green Building Restoration which is just getting underway in downtown Seattle at 4th and Pike. The website focuses on the vision, direction and leasing opportunities (office and retail in a prime location) for this historic building, set to reopen its doors in 2009. Built in 1909, it has been owned and maintained by the family of Joshua Green - the Joshua Green Corporation - ever since. Isn't that some kind of record?

The website project was commissioned by Urban Renaissance Group, a full-service commercial real estate company based in the Pacific Northwest. The driving force behind Urban Renaissance Group is a core belief that America is poised for a re-urbanization of its major cities, and for the creation of urban villages in its suburbs. This change is a distinct departure from land use trends marked by sprawl and de-centralization over the last 50 years.

The mission of Urban Renaissance Group is to be a catalyst that understands and ignites this change.

I wish to thank Renee Evans at UrbanRenGroup for igniting this project. The opposite of longevity is the speed by which this got pushed through. Start to launch in two weeks. Renee, thank you for providing complete, concise information - you're on fire! No really, I see smoke... (kidding)

For more information on the Joshua Green Corporation, please visit their website. Be sure to click the About Us tab for their very interesting family history:

Revitalization of our urban centers - fresh, new websites - a NEW SCHOOL YEAR! We are giddy with excitement!
Tagged in: Launch

How to work with creative-types

Posted by on in Graphic Design

Everyone has a talent for something. Everyone has the ability to create. Talent and creativity are things that everyone is born with, to varying degrees. In terms of visual creativity, some people are attuned to seeing the possibilities. Some can’t draw their way out of a paper bag. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

I cannot count the number of times that clients have approached me with a project and said, appologetically, “I’m sorry, I’m not a designer. Can you help me with this?” 
OK, that would be like me going to my doctor and saying, “I'm sorry, I tried to fix this ruptured spleen at home, but I’m not a surgeon.” Hey, I don’t know my spleen from my appendix, so who knows what I would have been taking a stab at. (Sorry for the gratutious pun!)

The thing about designers (and all creatives), is that they have a feel for what solution best supports a message, and hopefully have had some advanced education and experience so that they can make good decisions. 
Just like when you go to the doctor, you may have a feel for what the problem is, but you can be better treated if you outline the symptoms. The creative process works the same way. If you tell your designer where to “operate” you may not be treating the real problem. If you tell your designer where it hurts, then they can come up with a solution that tackles the problem directly.