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You Already Have the Data to Understand Your Customers

Apple’s new privacy updates are great for consumers, but they’ve left businesses worried about how to effectively target advertising. But don’t fret — chances are you already have access to a wealth of information about your customers right at your fingertips. Here are a few ways to unearth it:

Check Your Demographics

Basic data is still extremely valuable if you know how to interpret it. Anonymous information like age, gender, and device type is still compiled through Google Analytics, social media channels, and even email services like Mailchimp. It may not seem like much to go on, but with a little imagination, this data can be very useful.

For example, you may learn that the majority of your users are women aged 34 to 45 using mobile devices. This likely means that a large portion of your audience is busy moms on-the-go who are more likely to watch a 30-second video than they are to read a 1,000-word blog post. Once you’ve put a face to your audience, it becomes much easier to extrapolate what their problems are and how they go about solving them.

Be sure to check your demographics for each platform as it’s likely they’ll vary. Noticing that your email list subscribers are aged 45+ and that your Instagram followers are largely 18 to 25 is information you can’t afford to ignore. It’s a golden opportunity to adjust your tone and messaging to suit each audience.

Review Your Search Terms

Search terms can be a gold mine into figuring out what is going through customer’s minds and they are easier to get than you may think. There two types of search terms, each with their own valuable insights.

You can use Google Search Console to see what terms or phrases people are typing into a search engine to reach your website. Google Analytics, on the other hand, can be configured to give you a list of what people are searching for once they are actually on your website. Think of these terms as a free gift — people are telling you exactly what it is they’re looking for.

You can also use Google Trends to take a look at what search terms are trending in your region or across the globe. You may discover that people are asking a question that you have an answer for, so you can now make it your mission to let them know.

Talk To Your People

Data is a powerful tool, but nothing beats a boots-on-the-ground approach. If your business model allows you to interact with customers, do it! You don’t need to be pushy, but sincere curiosity can lead to valuable insights.

Even if the topic of conversation has nothing to do with the business itself, learning more about your customers’ daily lives can help you build empathy so that you can make your messaging more relatable. You don’t need to track people’s phones to find out what their favorite restaurant is or where they like to shop — if you engage with them openly and honestly, they will probably tell you themselves.

And even if you don’t deal directly with customers, someone on your team does. Your front desk and phone teams have the most direct interactions with your customers and they probably already have a list of common pain points as well as a general sense of what your customer’s lives are like. So don’t forget to ask them about it!

Conduct Formal Surveys

The old standbys of marketing research, consumer surveys do still have a place in the modern world. Depending on your scale and resources, this may be as simple as an online form or as sophisticated as an in-person focus group.

In order to get the most value from these tools though, you need to keep in mind that people are more willing to share surface-level feedback than their true feelings and opinions. A good survey will be able to dig into the why behind their feelings. That is the information you need to make sure your business is actually solving their problems.

So now that you’ve gathered the data, what do you with it? Create user personas! User personas are amalgamations of your average customers: their likes, dislikes, challenges, and needs. And now that you are armed with your customer research, the process will be much easier. Learn more about personas (and how to use them) in this post.

And if you need help along the way, Matt Jensen Marketing is here to be your guide. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you define and reach your desired audience.

Nonprofit Marketing: 4 Tools that Offer Discounts

When you’re a nonprofit, every cent can truly make a difference. At Matt Jensen Marketing, we’ve discovered a lot of tricks over the years to help nonprofits develop lean and efficient marketing systems that can deliver high-impact messages while keeping operating costs low. Here are a few of our favorite services that offer special rates and features for qualifying 501(c)3s and why you should be using them.

Source: Canva

Canva

Nonprofit employees usually wear a lot of hats, designer and social media guru often among them. If you are struggling to fill your feed with consistent, on-brand messaging, Canva may be the solution. Canva is an easy-to-use design platform that allows you to create custom graphics for social media in a matter of minutes. You can even use it to create print pieces like newsletters and brochures.

While a light version of Canva is available for free, qualifying nonprofits can apply to upgrade to the premium version at no cost. The huge benefit of this is the ability to use Canva’s Brand Kit, which allows you to save your brand logos, fonts, and colors so you can easily apply them to any design. You can also create templates for your team to have at-the-ready. Learn more about Canva for nonprofits here.

Source: Shopify

Shopify

Donors love the ease of being able to give online, but those transaction fees can really add up. Enter Shopify.

Shopify is traditionally known as an e-commerce platform, but they can also make it simple for you to process donations and even sell merchandise. Their drag-and-drop builder also allows you to easily update your website content and share your story, no coding experience necessary. Learn more about how to apply for Shopify’s discounted nonprofit rates here.

Source: Constant Contact

Constant Contact

Emails are the bread-and-butter of most nonprofit communications, so it’s important that they represent your mission well. Using a premium email marketing service like Constant Contact can help you put your best foot forward.

Constant Contact offers a 20–30% discount for qualifying nonprofits and includes an easy-to-use email builder as well as event sign-ups, polls, and other useful tools. They also make it easier to organize your mailing list and send targeted messages to specific segments.

Bonus Tip: If you’re using Shopify, you can integrate it with your Constant Contact account for seamless functionality.

Source: Google

G Suite

You probably need no introduction to Google. But did you know that they offer discounts on their services for qualifying non-profits? With G Suite for nonprofits, you can set up email accounts with your domain name, making them look more professional and less likely to get trapped in spam filters.

You’ll also get more storage in Google Drive than you would with a typical free Gmail account, allowing you to create templated documents and presentations that you can easily share among your team. On top of G Suite, Google also offers nonprofit discounts and grants for Google Ads, YouTube, and Google Maps. Learn about all of Google’s nonprofit tools here.

If all of this information is still making your head spin, Matt Jensen Marketing is here to help! We have experience working with nonprofits both big and small and can provide the guidance and training your team needs to start marketing your nonprofit like a pro. Contact us to get started.

Collection: Online Learning Resources

We have a curious team at MJM, and we’re always engaged with learning to improve our work and ourselves. Having recently emerged from remote work lockdown, we asked our design team to share some of their favorite online learning resources.

Kirstie

CSS-Tricks: Lately, this has been the first place I turn to when I have a CSS question. I really appreciate how clear and approachable the style is and how in-depth they get with even the most fiddly CSS.

(Don’t miss Kirstie’s takeaways from WordCamp Minneapolis/St. Paul!)

Brady

Nielsen Norman Group publishes research on a variety of design-related topics. I particularly appreciate their short explainer articles and videos on design principles. They generally explain the principle and then show it in context on an actual design.

Farnam Street publishes articles full of “timeless ideas for life and business.” There’s a definite emphasis on the importance of lifelong learning and cross-disciplinary curiosity. Their articles are rich with links to other ideas and more of their writing, so it can be a bit of a rabbit hole! The Mental Models collection is a great place to dive in.

Tim

School of Motion: Lots of great content about all things motion, delivered through articles, interviews, and tutorials. And courses, of course – it’s called School of Motion for a reason. This is one of those sites that frequently results in “Oh! That’s how I should have done it the first time” moments.

Joel

Lynda.com: A website that offers online courses for things ranging from creative software to business skills.

Skillshare: A subscription based service that provides well-produced video classes on how to do anything from photography to calligraphy.

Spoon Graphics: A website full of tutorial videos and other content created by an excellent designer named Chris Spooner.

 

Designing for Humans in a Robot’s World

Over the last few months, I, like most people, have been asking myself a lot of questions. Small questions like, “Do I have enough toilet paper?” Hard questions like, “When will I see my friends again?” And big questions like, “What will our world look like when this is all over?”

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend WordCamp — what is usually a one-day WordPress conference in Minneapolis but now, like so much of our lives, had shifted to being entirely virtual. Where better, I thought, to start finding answers to at least some of my questions, many of which are connected to our increasing dependence on the digital world.

As someone who has designed a website or two, I have been filled with a mixture of sadness at how much of our interactions have become virtual and curiosity about how we can work to make these spaces more meaningful and more inclusive. At WordCamp, I was pleased to discover some unexpected insights that left me feeling more motivated and optimistic than before. (Although no answers on the toilet paper front.)

SEO… It’s Not Just for Bots

I will be the first to admit that I was somewhat of a reluctant web designer. My teachers would stress how important it was, and I would be like, “Yeah, but the paper—it’s so romantic!” This changed when I realized it was arrogance, not romance, that was constraining my thinking.

By forcing my own notions of “good design” on the user, I wasn’t listening to what they actually needed or wanted. I had to shift my thinking into designing for the medium that would be most beneficial to the audience I was talking to and not just the medium that I wanted to create in.

What does all of this have to do with SEO? The prevailing attitudes towards SEO are that it is either a.) A game that can be won and lost or b.) A giant pain in the butt that Google has forced upon us all. While there may be some truth in these attitudes, SEO work can become more purposeful if we spend less time obsessing about search rankings and inscrutable algorithms and more time focusing on what’s really important: the user.

In one of the sessions I attended, Tyler Goldberg of CYBERsprout explained that, contrary to popular belief, Google is not out to get you when it comes to SEO. Google’s primary goal is deliver the content that is the most relevant and useful to the user. So if your goal is the same, you will be helping Google and, in turn, Google will help you.

While the SEO game can still be conned by those with deep pockets and black hat practices, it is definitely changing for the better. Google recently announced that it will be adjusting its algorithm to reward websites who provide a good user experience. This means content that is well-formatted and engaging and designs that are intuitive and easy-to-use. In other words, good SEO is really just good human-centric design.

We All Win With an Accessible Web

Many of us have only recently begun to rely on digital-only services as a lifeline to the outside world, but for people with disabilities, the web has long been a vital tool to help them live richer and more independent lives.

I am ashamed to say that when I first began designing for the web, accessibility was not something I put too much thought into. But the more I have learned about it, the more it has provided depth and purpose to my work.

In her session about web accessibility, Mychelle Blake of Firelink (and fellow Sioux Falls resident!) shared the importance of considering it at every stage of the process. There is no plug-and-play solution that will make a website accessible—it needs to be baked in from the site structure to the content to the design.

During this session, I was struck by the eerie similarities between SEO and accessibility. When it comes down to it, they are both about having empathy for the end user and delivering them a positive experience. Often, both SEO and accessibility are afterthoughts—something that comes secondary to the overall design. But, when we stop seeing these aspects as burdens or hoops we have to jump through and start working them into our overall purpose and strategy, we can start to design a web that is better for everyone.

As our reliance on the web grows stronger, it is more imperative than ever to create a web that useful, just, and, above all, human.

Thoughts on 36 Days of Type 2020

36 Days of Type is a global challenge to draw, illustrate, and letter the 26 letters and ten numerals in the Latin alphabet over (you guessed it) 36 days. Artists world-wide share their letterforms on social media using #36daysoftype, creating a massive catalogue of experimental type. Our design team once again chose to participate, you can view the full 36 days on our Instagram feed. Each character could be illustrated, animated, or otherwise constructed and each composition borrowed at least one color from the letter that came before it. The designers put together some post-mortem thoughts on the project:

Tim

This year I decided to continue to explore animation, specifically in After Effects. As a team, we decided to base the color palette for each day’s letter on one or two colors from the letter created the previous day. The goal was to unify the pieces somewhat, without giving ourselves too short a leash.

A project like this is fertile creative ground because it provides two potent ingredients for creativity: a clear objective and a time constraint. Creativity loves constraints. You can make whatever you want, but (helpfully) you don’t have unlimited time. And because you have to produce a letter every day you don’t have the luxury of becoming too precious about each piece. There’s a little bit of pressure because you know there’s an audience, but you’re also free to explore because the stakes are so low—no one cares what you make.

Joel

For 36 Days of Type this year, I dove into the world of the open-source 3D design program Blender to familiarize myself with the tool and create some distinct letter explorations. What I found was a powerful program with plenty of potential for future projects. I also discovered the unique and visceral fun that designing in a 3D space can create. Watching your work come to life with the click of a render button is just one of those things that will never get old.

Kirstie

During this year‘s 36 Days of Type, one of the most important skills I gained was not a new technique or software, it was adaptability. For reasons none of us need reminding of, this year’s project didn’t exactly go according to plan. Instead of meticulously planning out my letters, I found myself transforming an Rs into Ps on the fly and choosing ideas based on how quickly I could execute them in between Zoom calls. But, rather than being a roadblock, I found it surprisingly freeing. With the complete inability to be anywhere else, I was forced to live and create in the present moment and my work was better for it.

Brady

I love the 36 Days of Type creative prompt for the opportunity to experiment and try something new. I called in the Cavalry this year to help with my animated letters. Cavalry is a new 2D animation tool built around the concept of procedural systems. It relies less on key frames (though it is incredibly well-equipped in that regard) and more on routing values from one property into another to create effects. For example, using a sine wave function to control the vertical and horizontal position of a shape, or even random noise to change its size over time. It felt a little bit more like creative coding or generative art rather than illustration, which was a good stretch for my creative muscles. I didn’t expect to find so much joy in routing data from one property into another and waiting to see what happened, but the surprises and failures were both invigorating. And while it felt much like play and experimentation, I quickly found opportunities to use the tool for project work too, solving problems that would have required much more time and effort using other more familiar tools.

Alison

36 Days of Type is a favorite collaborative project. I love seeing what the other designers come up with, and especially what techniques, colors, and forms are appealing to everyone. When I’ve got a short time to illustrate a letter, I resort to some of my favorite tools in Illustrator: the pen tool, the zig zag effect, gradients, and the blend tool. Illustration is not a daily task for me, but it is something I enjoy. 36 Days of Type is a great excuse to get back to illustration process. From sketching to shape and color exploration, I’m grateful to have projects like these to explore the sandbox.

Check out the whole set:

A Brief History of Optotype

You’re sitting in your eye doctor’s office and they pull out a chart of what appears to be a random selection of letters. You breeze through the first few lines, but by the bottom you’re starting to second-guess yourself. Is that an F or a P? Or maybe an R?

At this point you may be wondering: Where did these letters even come from? And who chose them?

With curiosity as our guide, we decided to dig deep into the history of optotype and how the Snellen Chart went from medical innovation to standard practice and all the way to pop culture ubiquity.

The Origins of Optotype

While glasses and other corrective lenses have been around for thousands of years, it wasn’t until more recent history that doctors have a had a standardized system for determining prescriptions.

The idea for the modern eye chart began with German ophthalmologist Heinrich Küchler. In 1835, Küchler cut images of various objects and animals from calendars and almanacs and pasted them onto a sheet of paper in decreasing size. Because it was difficult to control the consistency of the style and weight of these images, Küchler also published a version of the chart using blackletter text set in single lines in decreasing size in 1843.

Küchler’s chart was not widely adopted and, in 1862, Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen developed his own version of the chart that is still the foundation of what is used today. Snellen’s first chart consisted of dingbats (squares, circles, plus signs, etc.) but, like Küchler, he eventually decided that letters would be easier for patients to identify and describe consistently. Unlike Küchler, however, Snellen believed that monoline letterforms of consistent size would be easier to read and he developed his own typeface, now referred to as optotype.

Herman Snellen built each letter of his optotype on a rigid 5×5 grid so that each letter is mathematically consistent and takes up the exact same amount of space.

While traditional letterforms use varying widths and heights to give the appearance of consistency, Snellen built his optotype on a rigid 5×5 grid so that each letter is truly mathematically consistent and takes up the exact same amount of space.

In 1959, Dr. Louise Sloan designed the 10 sans serif letterforms that are most commonly used in eye charts today.

In 1959, Dr. Louise Sloan of Johns Hopkins University created a new optotype with a cleaner sans serif design. Like Snellen’s, Sloan’s letters are formed within a perfect square. Both the Snellen and Sloan optotypes contain letters that were chosen for their easily identifiable verticals, horizontals, and diagonals—C, D, E F, L, O, P, T, and Z for Snellen and C, D, H, K, N, O, R, S, V, and Z for Sloan. Sloan’s letters are considered better for equal legibility and are particularly effective at identifying astigmatism. Sloan’s letters and variations on them are still commonly used in eye charts today.

How To Read a Snellen Chart

Modern Snellen charts can vary in the number of lines, length of lines, and typeface used, but most charts typically contain 11 lines that decrease in size by 25% each line. The lines of text are sized based on what the average person can read at a distance of 20 feet. Someone who can only read the top line of text can see at 20 feet what an average person can see at 200 feet, meaning they have 20/200 vision, which is considered legally blind. While 20/20 is often considered “perfect” vision, it actually means that someone is on par with what the average person can see at 20 feet. Some humans actually have 20/15 vision and many animals have 20/10 or even 20/5.

The lines of text on a Snellen Chart are sized based on what the average person can read at a distance of 20 feet.

Today, many eye doctors prefer to use the LogMAR chart developed by Ian Bailey and Jan E. Lovie-Kitchin in 1976. The LogMAR Chart uses Sloan letters in an inverted pyramid and is considered more precise than the Snellen Chart. Most doctors have also traded in their paper charts for backlit displays that provide better contrast.

Other eye charts include the Tumbling E and Landolt C charts that are used for children and adults who aren’t able to read and the Jaeger chart which measures near-vision acuity and features paragraphs of text rather than letters.

While the original Snellen chart may be falling out of use, it has taken on a new life outside the doctor’s office. The simple design makes it endlessly riffable and designers continue to find new ways to reinterpret it. So whatever form the eye chart takes next, it’s certain that Snellen’s optotype will remain a memorable intersection of medicine and design.

 


Reflecting on Recent Experiences

It’s been said that to craft an excellent experience for your customers, you should think of a specific person and craft the experience with them in mind. The exercise helps identify the sort of things that solve pain points or create delight for real people. As a team, we often recount experiences we’ve had with brands that have been remarkable. The end of the year is a great time to reflect on those good experiences. And learn from them for the year ahead. Below, find a few reflections on experiences that provided value to our team this year.

Kirstie

Terra Shepherd

I have always loved fashion, but the actual experience of clothes shopping? Not so much. For the past 15 years, I’ve been shopping almost exclusively online for all of my clothes. But I decided to brave the IRL shopping experience when I heard about one of Downtown’s Sioux Falls’ latest boutiques: Terra Shepherd. Like me, they have a commitment to sustainable fashion and conscious consumerism, so I thought it was worth a shot. I was the only person in the store, which normally fills me with dread because of hovering salespeople, but the staff was so warm and welcoming and made me feel like I was just trying on clothes with friends. They suggested things I would like and, much to my surprise, I actually did like them! That combined with the shared values make this an experience I will be returning to.

Brady

Wirecutter

Before becoming a father of two young children, I had much more time to thoughtfully research gift ideas for family and friends. As those margins of time have vanished, I’ve appreciated the methodology that Wirecutter applies to their product reviews. And that they explain their process with each roundup of reviews. Christmas shopping this year would have been much more stressful and incomplete without referencing their Holiday Gift Guide. When I don’t have the time to do the level of research I typically would, it gives me greater confidence to give something as a gift knowing a little about the people who are reviewing the products and what makes them uniquely qualified to do so. And as it turns out, they are usually far more qualified to do the research than I!

Cindy

Amazon Prime Online Shopping

Like many working adults, my time is at a premium. I value being able to shop online from home and not have to get into my car, find a parking place, go into a store, make a selection and then wait in line to check out. However, I think there is a price to pay for this convenience.

I have to confess I do love going onto Amazon Prime, pressing a few buttons, and having an item shipped to me for free (yes, I did pay for the membership so it’s not really free). However, I am cautious about the future of big data, protection of personal information, and changes we can anticipate as a direct result of limited competition. Is it too good to be true?

Courtney

Earthscapes Landscaping

My husband and I decided this would be the year we invested into landscaping for our backyard. We received Earthscapes name as a recommendation from another friend that had used them, and after our awesome experience, I can see why. Shane, our landscape designer, was awesome from the start and put up with all of my questions along the way.

But the one point in the process that really stood out was when we were nearing completion of our project. We had an existing retaining wall, that wasn’t a part of the project scope (other than making small repairs to the existing wall), but it didn’t look amazing. One morning, he called and told me they had some left over materials from the rest of the project and he would like to put those towards replacing the existing wall. He felt it would enhance the look of the backyard, and while it might be a few more hours of labor, it would be something they would like to do for us within our current scope. Of course I said “Heck yeah!” and now we have an even more amazing backyard and I am willing to tell all my family, friends, and co-workers about this awesome company. Such a small gesture made a huge impact on the experience we had with Earthscapes and now I can’t stop bragging about them and their work!

Notes from Design Camp 2019

Every October, MJM sends some of it’s creative team to the fall wonderland of Branierd, MN to attend Design Camp, an informal design conference with nationally renowned speakers and special workshops. Read our three campers’ reflections from this year below!

Alison

What do I love about Design Camp? First there’s the swag bag, then it’s spending time outside the office with the design team, and then there’s beautifully thoughtful powerpoint presentations that designers put together (it can be done!). The best parts are the ideas that I chew on afterwards. This year’s featured keynotes focused less on immaculate portfolios of design work and more on their purpose and how design lives in the world: as public service at White House, alongside other artists and musicians, and as a tool for huge, international corporations to work more iteratively.

One theme that stood out was the idea of love. Love for yourself, your colleagues, your clients and your users. Ashleigh Axios gave an example of putting together rapid-fire graphics that support statements made during the State of the Union address given by the president. To a room of designers, she admitted it wasn’t beautiful, crafted work, but it was accurate, legible, and delivered on time. As designers and problem solvers, we make things for people. And we should make things to the best of our ability because people deserve that.

Kirstie

This is my third time attending Design Camp and while I always leave inspired to do new work, this year I noticed a different theme to a lot of the discussions. Instead of hearing about how I should be hustling every minute of every day, I heard about the importance of recharging creatively. Instead of leaving with a list of design topics to research and skills to hone, I left with a list of what could be better described as self-help books.

One example of this was a workshop I attended called “How to Speak Unicorn: Translating Design for the Digital Age” led by Michelle Schulp. Based on other web design workshops I’ve attended, I was expecting to be inundated with a list of new software and coding languages I was supposed  to learn. But instead, the presentation focused on something I’m not used to hearing about in web design: interpersonal communication.

Schulp acknowledged how designers who crossover to digital are often expected to be a “unicorn” skilled in every stage of the process. But, she said, rather than being an expert in every aspect of web development, it’s more important to be able to communicate with people who are. Rather than trying to force print designers to learn Python, we should be working on soft skills like active listening that allow us to bridge disciplines and leverage strengths. My overall takeaway from this year’s Design Camp was that to be a better designer, first you need to be a better person. Software will come and go, but things like empathy and compassion will always be a vital part of the designer’s toolbox.

Tim, Kirstie, and Alison in their Plaidurday finest at Design Camp 2019.

Tim

One aspect of Design Camp I enjoy every year is that the ideas and the concepts I hear there percolate in my mind for months afterward. One idea that sunk particularly deep this year was the importance of being intentionally and personally connected with the creative community around you.

Creative business consultant Emily Cohen admonished her audience to “support everyone you know.” Creative work can be discouraging, isolating, and lonely work at times, and many people don’t have the benefit of working closely with like-minded people. She emphasized that the work we do is always personal before it is professional, and we ignore that truth at our peril. And she also pointed out that wanting to be supportive isn’t enough—we also have to be intentional about supporting the people around us.

I‘m blessed at MJM to work in close proximity with four incredibly talented designers (not to mention the rest of our MJM team), and it can be easy to take that degree of connection for granted. We can Slack the other designers with questions, send over screenshots of a sticky design challenge, or even just doodle our problems out on the dry erase walls around our tables. And because it‘s so easy, I sometimes underestimate how much I‘m learning from them, and how valuable that is.

Being purposeful about “supporting everyone you know” sounds simple on the surface, but Cohen’s talk echoed many of the thoughts I’ve been having in my work with AIGA South Dakota over the past few years. As I’ve worked to support and amplify the good work that other creative professionals are doing around our area, I’ve found that I am more connected to that community. And although it wasn’t my goal, I also find that the more I spend time with the people in our community who are doing great work, the more my own work is improved and sharpened by their insights and advice.

MJM Designers Participate in AIGA South Dakota Stamp Show

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to participate in a group show created by AIGA South Dakota — the South Dakota Stamp Show. For this show, AIGA asked 13 area designers to each create a set of five concept postage stamps around a topic related to our fair state. There was a lot of good work in this show, and you can still see it at the Sioux Falls Design Center for a limited time.

Here the designers at MJM talk about their process and work:

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Deadwood

Deadwood is deceiving town.If you were to visit the area today, it presents itself as an unassuming South Dakota town and (aside from some gambling and historic displays) you wouldn’t guess its rich history. With this topic, I saw an opportunity to highlight the people from a long-gone era that made Deadwood a household name. People like Poker Alice and Wyatt Earp. As I researched these historic individuals, I found myself thinking of them as more characters in a drama and less actual people that lived out their lives in our rural region. With names like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, it’s difficult not to. Because of this, I chose to make the goal of this stamp series is to spotlight that juxtaposition of real person and western legend with a set of minimalist caricatures of some of the most famous people to reside in Deadwood.

Joel Jochim

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Roadside Attractions

South Dakota has mastered the art of the roadside attraction. Drive down any highway in the state and you’ll be bombarded with billboards advertising sites ranging from the delightfully kitschy to the straight-up bizarre. Are they desperate money grabs? Maybe. But you have to admire the ingenuity of people who have found a way to use whatever resources they have at their disposal to capture people’s attention. The kind of ingenuity that sees some old pieces of wood and turns them into a forest or sees an abandoned town and fills it with animatronic cowboys. Because, why not? In a state as vast and unpopulated as South Dakota, it  takes a little bit more effort to remind people that you exist. To honor these beacons of the prairie, I wanted to design stamps that were, above all, fun. South Dakota is usually expressed in shades of greens and browns and I wanted to bring in some vivid technicolor that screams, “I’m here! Look at me!”

Kirstie Wollman

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I-90

Interstate 90 runs through the center of the state and is the main artery of travel for most people moving through South Dakota. I-90 unifies the state, and touches on a lot of common elements of the experience of living here.

Bisontennial: 200 years ago there were an estimated 75 million bison roaming the countryside. By 1895, that number was cut to 800 due to reckless and wasteful hunting. Now, after 200 years, the North American bison is again thriving in commercial herds and roaming in both wild and protected places. The population is now estimated to be about 500,000.

Accumulation: In a state that averages between 30 to 70 inches of annual snowfall, snow (and snow removal) is a large feature of life. For every mile of interstate, South Dakota spends more than $2,800 on winter maintenance. So if you get a chance, buy a coffee for one of the 400 or so workers who are driving the state DOT’s snowplows this year.

No Services: With the straight lines created by the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, small towns that found themselves too far off the interstate gradually lost ground to those communities that were closer. Sometimes towns bypassed by the interstate saw business come to a standstill literally overnight.

Home Alone: My first car was a 1984 Subaru GL station wagon, light blue and relatively reliable. I loved that I could throw everything I needed in the back and drive wherever I needed to go. I put Christmas lights in the back windows and installed a switch by the gear shift—I’m lucky the whole thing didn’t catch on fire. My second car was a 1990 Subaru Legacy station wagon—no Christmas lights but just as great. I’ve never owned a kayak or a teardrop trailer, but maybe someday.

Share the Road: Of the 546 motorcycle accidents reported last year, 51% involved another motor vehicle.  And I drew a helmet on this guy because in 245 (or 55%) of last year’s accidents the riders weren’t wearing helmets.

Tim Murray

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South Dakota Rocks!

Rock climbing strikes me as a very physical test of strength and endurance, but also one of creativity—finding a route up what appears at first to be an unscalable rock face. So it’s only appropriate that one must also exercise creativity in naming a newly devised route—an honor given to the first climber to ascend (or “send” in climbing lingo) a new route. South Dakota’s Black Hills region features granite spires and limestone canyons that provide for spectacular rock climbing, and which give birth to even more spectacular names.

In rock climbing there are both good and bad names. Poor names are childish or in poor taste; the worst names are misogynistic or racist. A good name can put a new climb on the map, attracting more climbers and elevating it to the status of legendary. The best names describe the rock or route itself with fitting imagery or a clever reference. In that sense it can be like the task of naming a new business, or designing an appropriate logo for it. Cerberus, a climb in Custer State Park, is on a spire with three little peaks at the top—a reference to the three-headed hound that guards the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology. The name lends enough antagonism to feel like a challenge or foe to overcome, inviting intrepid climbers to try and best the beast.

Brady Holm

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Wall Drug

Wall Drug is a wonderfully weird place. It’s the ultimate American road trip stop attracting 2 million people* per year—but why is it so popular? I think some people just need to see what all the fuss is about. Hand-painted billboards advertising Free Ice Water put Wall Drug on the map decades ago and led to a national and international network of billboards that point back  to this obscure corner of South Dakota. The climbable jackalope, the 80-foot dinosaur, homemade donuts, and iconic signage are the most popular tourist photos at Wall Drug. I drew them with a brush tool that gives it some roughness reminiscent of a fading billboard. The pastel color palette borrows from that early-morning light and shadowy landscape you get on a long road trip. I, the  bleary-eyed kid in the back seat of this road trip, wakes up and thinks, “Where in the world are we?” We pull up to a parking space. The sign says “Welcome to Wall Drug” and it smells like donuts.

*To put it this number into perspective, there are less than 1 million people living in both North and South Dakota combined.

Alison Raaen

Accessibility for All: Why Accessibility Matters and Where to Start

Web accessibility has been on a lot of people’s minds recently as everyone from presidential candidates to grocery stores have come under fire for websites that don’t comply with ADA standards.

Because we work with several eye care clinics at Matt Jensen Marketing, accessibility is doubly important because the chance that someone with a visual impairment will visit the site goes from a probability to a certainty. Because of this, I’m going to focus mostly on visual accessibility, but web accessibility actually encompasses visitors with many different needs. These users could include someone with limited mobility because of a disease such as cerebral palsy, someone who is learning English as a second language, or someone who is temporarily disabled by an injury.

In short, web accessibility is as broad and diverse a topic as humans themselves. Making a site accessible can seem like a daunting endeavor, but hopefully these suggestions will get you pointed in the right direction.

Building Accessibility from the Ground Up

While I’d love to say that we can make a few easy tweaks to make your existing site accessible, the truth is that meaningful accessibility begins in the earliest planning stages of a website. But the good news is that you can make any site more accessible without learning a bit of code.

One of the most important considerations for accessible websites is making having well-structured content. You should approach organizing content the same way you would an outline for a research paper when you were in school. There should be a clear and direct hierarchy and page names, headings, etc. should be descriptive but skimmable. This makes it easier for screen readers to scan pages and makes for a better user experience overall.

Making the Invisible Visible

As web design has advanced, it has become more and more reliant on big, splashy visuals. This is great for a lot of us who were bored looking at pages and pages of plain text, but it does make it difficult for people who rely on screen readers to get the full experience of a website.

Enter alt tags. Alt tags are descriptive meta data that are used by screen readers to describe an image on a website to someone who is visually impaired. People with full vision often don’t understand how much information we get from visual cues. So while alt tags can’t suddenly make someone who’s blind see that stellar photo of your office, they can help provide context that can be helpful for understanding the rest of the content on the page.

Along the same lines, it’s important to avoid burying text within images, especially text that conveys important information such as dates of events or how-tos. Often, people try to call out important information by turning it into graphic, but that may actually hinder many people’s access to it.

Providing Adequate Contrast

While optimizing for screen readers is important, many people who visit your site may be temporarily or only moderately visually impaired and may not require the use of screen reader. These include people who are color blind, suffering from cataracts or glaucoma, or even someone viewing the website in poor lighting conditions.

For these cases, it’s important to make sure the visual elements on your site provide adequate contrast. This means that all text should have a 4.5:1 color contrast ratio with this background. There are many tools to check to make sure your website adheres to these standards, but suffice it to say that the light gray text that has been the trend all over the internet recently probably won’t cut it. (Learn more about text readability in our blog about choosing fonts for cataract patients.)

Along with contrast, it’s also important to consider text size and whether or not it’s scalable, consistent standards for links and buttons that don’t just rely on color, and whether there’s enough room between clickable elements.

We All Need an Accessible Web

Accessibility remains a murky area and unfortunately, there are no clear-cut standards that will definitively prevent you from a lawsuit. But if you’d like to dig deeper, you can start by taking a look at the full Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established by the W3C.

But while accessibility may seem like a lot of extra work just for edge cases, the truth is that all of us will benefit from accessible websites at some point or another. Maybe you break an arm and can’t use a keyboard. Maybe you have a slow internet connection and can’t load images. Or maybe you just got bifocals and are having a hard time reading on a screen. By making the web accessible to anyone, we can create a better experience for everyone.