Why Is Branding Essential for a Tech Startup in 2019? 7 important steps

In 2018, there where 8671 digital product launches by tech startups on Product Hunt alone. We know that branding your tech company is low down on the agenda when you’re starting out but hopefully in this article, we can convince you that, when the time is right, investing in a brand is a worthwhile decision.

If you’re unfamiliar with what Product Hunt is, it’s a platform for developers and teams to share their latest digfital tech product. Other users can “Upvote” or comment with support or questions on that product. Creators can hope that they receive enough upvotes on their product to hit the top of that day’s leaderboard. To give you an idea of the success of Product Hunt and its importance in the market, Google regularly shares their releases as well as highly influential product-makers.

Standing out as a tech startup is a big problem in this ever-expanding market. Although Product Hunt gives a product the glitz and glamour of being top of a leaderboard, there is very little to suggest that this will ever mean that the product will reach mass-appeal. Product Hunt is by developers for developers and there’s little room for creative expression other than that of the logo and app imagery.

Standing out is where branding comes in. Branding is, in most cases, under the umbrella of marketing. We believe it’s a blend of business strategy and creativity. Branding can not only enhance and improve your tech experience but it can grow your customer base while also driving effective company culture. Tech company branding is a lot more than just your logo, which we’ll get into below.

  1. What is brand in a nutshell?
  2. Why is branding important?
    1. Position in the market
    2. Perceived value
    3. Recognition
    4. More customers and referrals
    5. Engaged employees
    6. Stand out and build trust
    7. Clear direction

What is “brand” in a nutshell?

At its core, branding is a marketing tactic that helps identify you amongst your competitors. This can be done in a variety of ways. With tech branding, you want to leave the potential customer with a clear idea of the promise that you are making to them. That promise can be physical things like – we will make your life easier with our product – or it can be something slightly more intangible.

Take Coke for instance. Instead of selling the drink, Coke promises to sell you the idea of happiness, family or sharing. You want to be the sole provider to a clear solution to your customers problem and your brand gives you a voice to be able to achieve that.

Whatever your promise is, it should be consistent in everything you do. It should be a guiding light to all your marketing efforts but this doesn’t need to be just a fake marketing effort.

Tech company branding is often deeply rooted in the values and ideas of its founders so is often born from genuine beliefs. This should be enough to set you aside from your competitors because although your product might be similar to another tech product, you’re able to eke out the USP (‘Unique Selling Point’) and promise something deeper from these values. It’s important that your customer should feel that promise in the entire customer experience and this can only be achieved through a well-defined brand strategy.

A final point to make is that for your tech brand, and the following points to work, you must understand your customer. Who are you talking to and why? What are their pain points and how do you solve them? Only then, can you build something effective in your efforts.

We have a post on how to develop your tech brand strategy here.

So why is branding important for my tech startup?

Tech branding is so important for many reasons (both internal and external). From an internal perspective, it can help align key stakeholders in the business on why you are building your product or service. It highlights everyone’s understanding and it will mean you are all speaking the same language. The business should be geared towards the same objective so by going through the motions of developing your tech brand, this becomes clear. A great consequence of this is improved company culture – something that is integral to the success of any tech startup.

Position in the market

As mentioned, going through the motions of your brand strategy should identify your position in the market. Shouting about it is your way of standing out and setting yourself apart from the competition. Positioning is integral to standing out so we hold this process highly in a brand strategy workshop. Positioning is a huge topic in itself and when it comes to tech company branding, this is so important.

Perceived value

 A brand with a higher value (from investors etc.) is perceived to be a bigger market player. This allows you more leverage and increased investment opportunities as your brand should represent establishment, confidence and success. If your tech startup can be perceived as valuable, you’re likely to become attractive to investors.

Recognition

As a tech startup, in a sea of competition, recognition is also important. Having an attractive and engaging tech brand is one way to stand out. It’s also another way to remain in the minds of the consumer. Launching a new product becomes easier as the customer will be familiar with your brand. Everyone can recognise Google products when they see them. They all use similar colours and illustration style. It’s important to remember though the visual appeal that Google has is rooted in a powerful branding strategy.

Building tech brand recognition also builds brand equity and so improves the chances that if you seek investment, you’re more likely to appeal to investors. This is because your brand equity is strong and this builds on the value we spoke of previously.

More Customers and referrals

When you engage with your customers (either physically or digitally) you should give them a great service, and believe it or not, by having your tech branding consistently play a part in that process, it’s a way to drive up customer satisfaction. Their impression of your tech startup’s branding is further imprinted in their mind with every successful engagement.

Happy customers also mean you’re likely to get referred as that customer seeks to recruit more into the brand ecosystem (tribe).

Note: A concept called “brand tribalism” also contributes to the fact that raving fans will want to refer their friends. We won’t go into brand tribalism now but it essentially means that customers buy into the feeling it gives them. Sometimes they buy that more than the product itself and this is an important thing to remember with regard to your tech startup branding.

Engaged employees

From the offset, if your tech brand is strong you’re likely to attract a specific kind of employee -hopefully one that aligns with the values you are trying to convey in your branding. When your employees believe in the values themselves and are encouraged they are likely to be proud and become a raving fan of their employer. They will also have a greater sense of belonging which is what we all pine for. They will feel like they are part of something bigger! We know that culture is a huge part of a positive atmosphere so if you have everyone believing in the same thing, you’re going to have a good atmosphere. Happy employees are more engaged, more involved, harder working and stay dedicated to the business for longer than one that isn’t engaged.

Stand out and build trust

Having strong tech branding is a sure-fire way of looking professional, established and legitimate. As a growing tech startup brand, you’re likely to feel a bit of imposter syndrome sometimes and taking on tech giants can be a daunting task. With a strong product paired with a great technology brand, you’ll stand out and build trust within the market. People will be more likely to engage and purchase from you if they trust you and a well-put-together tech brand looks like a well-put-together business. This will lead on to gaining loyal followers and subsequently repeat purchases.

Clear and easy direction

Finally, having a set of brand guidelines and a clear idea of the message your tech startup branding wants to convey is a huge weight off your shoulders. A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done for you allowing you to focus on more important things (the product). Getting the right emotional and visual direction nailed means you can forget about wondering if you’re conveying the right message and trust in the brand working its magic. This in itself is worth thousands in terms of cash as the time saved is phenominal.

So as you can see, having effective branding for tech companies matters so much more than just the appearance of your website or the design of your logo. There are clear benefits to it both internally and externally that you can leverage and utilise so we suggest this being one of the first thing your tech startup addresses early and often. It’s also really important to keep revisiting your tech company’s branding every 6 months not only from a visual perspective but from a business alignment perspective.

10 Practical Tips on How to Run an Effective Remote Brand Strategy Workshop

Brand Strategy (Strategy) is our name for the discovery process we run to unlock hidden knowledge in the minds of our clients. As a remote design studio, this poses some immediate problems on how to run an effective workshop when you aren’t in the room.

It’s important to say that every detail discussed below is client dependent. These won’t necessarily apply to all clients so discuss with them what they are comfortable with. This guide can also serve to answer questions like “Ways to improve Voice over IP (VoIP) quality?”, “What are the best times to schedule a meeting?” and “How to run a VoIP meeting or workshop?”.

Brand strategy workshops tips

Brand strategy helps us maximise the value of delivery and narrow our design efforts by asking key questions right at the beginning of the project. We’ve written an article on what Brand Strategy is so we won’t bore you with that. Strategy can run for at least four hours if pushed for time but it can also run for days. It depends on how many people are in the room and how many voices need to be heard. We look at things like brand positioning, brand architecture, users, business goals and more.

Discovery workshops run best when you can motivate people to be hands-on and energetic as they participate. Strategy requires active participation from key stakeholders in the organisation. This means post-it exercises and creative thinking all-round. As a facilitator, you also need to be aware of the energy levels in the room and be able to read people easily enough to spot the tell-tail signs of fatigue. It’s good to be aware so that you can call for a break or engage a particular participant to bring them back into the room.

1. Break it up

Break up the workshop for an effective remote brand strategy workshop

You need to be pro-active in your approach to minimising fatigue, maximising energy and increasing engagement. Rather than push attendees until they are tired, we reimagine the discovery process so that they never get tired in the first place. After some testing, we found attendees start to tire after about 1 hour of workshopping over Zoom. We took a look at our Strategy workshop and have now broken it up logically into 1 – 1.5-hour segments. This enables us to get everything covered without losing context and before attendees tire. We suggest breaking your workshops up into logical chunks while keeping context.

How you break it up will depend on whether you’re in the same time-zones or not. Most segments are run once a day but if you are in a similar time-zone you might be able to run it several times in a day.

A benefit to meeting each day is that the chit-chat at the beginning of the call often involves catch up on the rest of the previous day. Because of this, we feel like we were all part of each others entire day. Each day we bond and grow as a team over the course of a week which puts us in a better position going forward and as ultimately we have a better relationship right from the beginning.

2. Homework

give client homework for an effective remote brand strategy workshop

Not necessary in every workshop but homework is also something we offer. Some of the tasks in the workshop are quite frankly repetitive. An example being user personas. If we can clearly facilitate the first persona then that is often enough for the participants to build out the other personas without our involvement. We could oversee the second persona for instance with little input and leave the remaining 1 or 2 to the participants.

The other benefit of having homework is time. Depending on the client, we feel having a 1-hour touchpoint a day can leave all involved twiddling their thumbs a little. A session that could run over 1 or 2 days is stretched out over the course of a week which could be less than ideal. With homework, this isn’t the case and the session remains productive outside the call.

3. Invest in good quality hardware

invest in good quality hardware for an effective remote brand strategy workshop

It’s hard to engage your client so make sure they can see and hear you as if you’re in the room. Use HD camera with a decent microphone. The best according to many studies is the Logitech C922 Pro Stream. This enables 1080p streaming. An added bonus to this webcam is that it has fantastic stereo audio. It also has a wide viewing angle (78-degree) to capture a decent amount of you.

If you’re wanting better quality from your audio then invest in a decent microphone. Blue Yeti Pro USB Condenser Microphone is often rated very highly and is simple to use. With built-in noise cancelling, stereo recording and you don’t need a USB audio interface and it will just work right out of the box.

4. Choose time wisely

Choose time wisely for an effective remote brand strategy workshop

Choosing the right time of day to run brand strategy is very important to maximise productivity. Obviously being remote you sometimes don’t have that luxury as you might be in different time-zones but we should discuss this nonetheless. Monday’s aren’t great for meetings and neither are Friday’s as they are both impacted by the weekend. On Monday’s, people are still thinking about the weekend and are in “weekend mode” and on Friday’s, people are gearing up for the weekend so might lack focus.

Try to avoid mornings

We need our participants engaged and energetic in brand strategy as we require active thinking and participation. It’s creative too and some attendees might not have a creative bone in their body so will require being tempted out of their comfort zones. In the morning, people are still sleepy and this is not good.

Mid-mornings are ideal

People are most energetic in the mid-morning so utilising this burst of energy is recommended – 10am is a great time. If you’re running one brand strategy session per day, then running it at 10am each day is perfect. If it’s not your 10am, bring your A-game! One thing to be conscious of is running close too lunch. People can get hangry (hungry + angry) just before lunch so finishing at around 11:30/45 is ideal.

Lunchtimes can work

As long as you provide food you can run a meeting over lunch. It’s a great way to squeeze in some more time and can help post-lunch productivity if food is chosen wisely (sandwiches and salads come to mind. Avoid stodge) as explained below…

Don’t schedule meetings straight after lunch.

I think this goes without saying as we all know how we feel after a big lunch. Unless you run your brand strategy over lunch and you can somehow control peoples consumption.

Late afternoon isn’t ideal

People are clock-watching from around 4:30pm so finish up by that. It could be a great time if you’re doing introductions or need to rattle through some loose ends as people will be wanting to get home so could be achieved in record time.

In conclusion, have your brand strategy at 10am between Tuesday and Thursday as people are energised and focussed. If you’re running several in a day, try to avoid having more than two and make the second at around 2:30pm.

Consider evenings

Depending on the profile of the company, you might be dealing with busy senior staff. As with all brand strategy sessions, you should be running it with the C-suite stakeholders. You need fundamental information and most importantly, with regards to brand, you need buy-in. If they are busy, float the option of an evening or before work (if they are hyper-productive). This can even work for time-zones that don’t sync up so bear that in mind.

5. Prepare your client

Make sure your client knows what they need for the session. Post-its? Pre-call considerations (such as competitors). Think about what you would need from them in the room and prepare them before the call. We do this in the meeting invite as well as verbally. In our case, we do introductions on the first call so nothing is needed. This gives us an opportunity to tell them what they will need going forward and to look to the invites for further information. Then we, of course, provide information in the invites.

6. Have good Wifi in a quiet area

Have good wifi for an effective remote brand strategy workshop

I think this point goes without saying. VoIP calls are bandwidth-intensive so make sure you and your client(s) have good Wifi. Book a room so that it both looks professional and people aren’t moving around in the background and most importantly, make sure it’s quiet. If you have an ethernet connection, this is far more reliable than Wifi, so use it.

Also, bonus tip – try not to have the call in what can only be described as a cave!

7. Have backup options if disaster strikes

One reason why we use Zoom is that it gives the client WORLDWIDE teleconference capabilities. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and a good old fashioned phone call is necessary. Having that option and being prepared to be a little more descriptive with your workshop activities can reduce time. With Zoom, clients can call a local number to attend the session.

8. Record the calls

If you have a terrible memory or your handwriting is poor consider recording your calls for future reference. We create a summary document of the brand strategy call and although we fill out the keynote as we go along, we sometimes need to clarify something or add additional context or information. If you have recorded the call you can simply go back over it and watch for the information. We then share our calls on a privately hosted Youtube. This not only saves storage on our computers but is easily accessed by everyone.

9. Clarify your instructions

Clarify instructions for an effective remote brand strategy workshop

If you’re giving instructions always clarify if they make sense and give your client the option to speak up. This is just polite during a meeting especially if acronyms or industry-specific terminology is thrown around but especially in VoIP calls as the call may have dropped and not everything will have been heard.

10. Stand Up

Stand up to give an effective remote brand strategy session

This sounds strange but you need to give 50% more energy on a video call to get just 10% output on the other end. Help generate that energy by standing. Get the blood flowing and don’t allow your body to get lazy.

So there you have it. 10 considerations for having a productive remote client discovery workshop. We offer brand strategy workshop after a free 1-hour consultation – just contact us on our website. Give it a try and let us know if you have any tips for remote discovery calls.

Photography lovingly used from Unsplash

The Death of Branding and the advent of the Personal Brand – by a Branding Agency

Yes, it’s true. Branding has been in ill-health for a while and now we have finally seen it’s demise. You probably thought that this was some sort of click-bait title but I truly think we are coming to an end to corporate branding. Here’s why.

With the introduction of Instagram, we’ve seen an influx of “influencers”. The entrepreneurs of the 21st century otherwise known as “solopreneurs“. These individuals have remarkable power to engage, entertain and ultimately influence the behaviours of hundreds of thousands of people with a single post and zero budget. More specifically, they influence the buying behaviours of those hundreds of thousands of people. It’s marketing in its finest form, something we could have only dreamed of 15 years ago but how do they achieve this? Personal branding.

Personal branding is something we’ve only really recognised in the last five years or so although (if that) although, It’s existed for many more. Take for example your favourite band when you were young. Didn’t you find yourself wanting the same clothes as them? The same hairstyle? Didn’t you find yourself wanting the same PERSONALITY as them?! This may have largely had to do with the music they were producing but It was also the narrow view of their personalites that were presented to you on MTV. They are, of course, very complex individuals but the behaviours they were best known for were always captured and this, unbeknown to them, led to their own personal brand being developed and scripted by their observers and people struck a chord with that… Pun not intended.

Fast forward to now and the same idea that a person can convince you to buy the same things they buy, wear the same things they wear and do the same things they do has been stripped away from any sort of talent and laid bare on social media leaving essentially just a personality. The impact of this has naturally made its way to the mainstream who are trying to harness the secrets of the power that it possesses.

I’m not really sure this was intentional though. I think these people did what they loved. They reviewed technology, they travelled the world, they gave an insight into their lives. It was the platforms that glamorised this stuff and made it feel somewhat special or unique. I think this stuff as always happened. It was just never possible to broadcast it so freely and easily. Granted, the first of these sorts of channels were early adopters of the technology and probably didn’t see it coming but after the impact took wind, we couldn’t help but dissect the formula of why it was so powerful.

Branding is the ability to enter the hearts and minds of a consumer. This results in price-insensitivity and a faith that is only seen in religion and cults. It’s only fair to compare this when individuals behave in the same way when it comes to the Instagram accounts of individuals and because this brand-like behaviour is seen to revolve around just a person, personal branding is born.

Interestingly, the techniques are exactly the same to establish and present a personal brand as it is to establish a corporate brand. The first being positioning. You need to occupy a space in the market where no-one else can. There are many ways to do this but you need to your own twist on things. Let’s take tech reviews as an example. There are many many tech reviewers in existence but what do you bring that’s different. Is it the manner in which you present it? Is it the particular things you focus on? The good thing is that whatever you think is different is actually pretty common, it’s just that you need to make sure no-one in the marketplace is doing that same thing in the way you do it. You need to apply that same concept to your ‘personality’. It’s important to remember though, this isn’t your whole personality, it’s just a narrow sub-set that you promote.

Once you’ve positioned yourself, you then need a set of values that you can express. Again, you are a very complex individual but it’s the values that you keep consistent in your output that is going to further position you in a unique field but also and build that brand awareness, that loyalty through consistency. As long as what you produce aligns with these values, you dig deeper into the hearts and minds of those that stumble across your output.

These are the same excercises we run in our brand strategy workshops. You can read about many ways you can build a brand but when it’s when you combine this with your product or service is when this becomes financially rewarding.

I know what you will think, “but I don’t want to be a social influencer!”. Maybe you don’t, but it’s these concepts and ideas we can harness and apply to our selves that will make the difference. We’ve started to realise, people don’t buy what you do, they buy other people so if you can build a personality that is consistent and accessible, then those followers will inevitably buy whatever you are making money from (hopefully your product or service). They also build trust in you and what you do, so as with any brand, it’s the long-term effects that see ROI. When was the last time you made a sale over the telephone? It’s much more effective to make a sale face-to-face and if they already have access to your personality you’re already lowering buyer resistance and they already feel like they know you.

In summary, I think we need to focus on producing content for our business less and produce content on ourselves more. Give people a subset of your personality that’s relevant to your product or service using the platforms available and do it in a way where you are providing value to them. Present it on the platform that your customer is most likely to be on (another aspect of building a brand), but keep it consistent. It doesn’t need to lie. It just needs to be consistent. This will naturally grow a following and will, in time, convert as you will attract people that are into what you do. Their perceived value of your services will grow because social-proof is a thing and you can inevitably end up charging more as you have price-insensitivity on your side.

I honestly can see a future where more emphasis and marketing money is spent on the individuals and employees of a company to promote and do things based on their personal brand rather than traditional methods. As long as what they are doing are in some way linked to the business.


OnlinessStatementGenerator.com and what all the fuss is about

Onliness isn’t even a real word. It was coined by the great Marty Neumeier in his book Zag. Although not the godfather of what the onliness statement tool is used for (that was done by television advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves) he certainly helped it reach the masses. Originally, Rosser described a “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP as a differentiation characteristic of your brand in the marketplace. It’s one of the most important strategic actions one can take when starting a business or building a product and is a key element to building a brand.

Marty takes Rossers idea further in his Onliness Statement by getting us to figure out the “Big Idea” behind our product or service. He also encapsulates the what, how, who, where, why and when of your business cutting through the noise in the market and positioning you well. The Onliness Statement acts as a decision filter for all future encounters and to ultimately remain on brand. Reaching a fork in the road is a simple case of referring to your Onliness Statement to figure out if this aligns with your goal as a business.

So what is the Onliness Statement?

You fill in the blanks…

[Company Name] is THE ONLY (category)
THAT (differentiation characteristic)
FOR (customer)
IN (market geography)
WHO (need state)
DURING (underling trend)

Here are some examples:

Harley Davidson The ONLY motorcycle manufacturer
THAT makes big, loud motorcycles
FOR macho guys (and macho “wannabees”)
mostly IN the United States
WHO wants to join a gang of cowboys
DURING an era of decreasing personal freedom

Jupiter and the Giraffe is THE ONLY branding agency
THAT brings ambitious and interesting global brand thinking
FOR young, creative entrepreneurs
IN and around Planet Earth
WHO want to demonstrate their uniqueness
DURING an era of boring sameness

You can really see that you’re not only challenged to think of HOW your product is different but also WHY it’s different.

So have a go yourself. It only takes a few moments. There may be some tasks you need to undertake to fill it in which may make it longer (such as your target market) but it will ultimately be a very powerful tool.

Luckily, We’ve built a tool to help you over at OnlinessStatementGenerator.com. We hope this helps streamline the process.


Bring strategic thinking to your brand

Jupiter and the Giraffe describe themselves as a brand strategy and design agency, but what does this mean? More specifically the term “agency” and how does it differ to freelancers?

You can find freelancers on websites like Upwork and Fiverr. These sites are a great place to find creatives and technical individuals to help you build what you want. Want a new logo? Someone on Fiverr will create you one for your up and coming business. Need a new website? Upwork’s got you covered. Although you may get exactly what you’re looking for, there’s one huge thing that individuals behind the computer screen lack. Strategic thinking.

I’m not calling these creatives stupid and it’s not that these people can’t think, it’s that they don’t need to in this context. It’s just not what they are getting paid to do. Websites like Upwork and Fiverr are all about getting work done for cheap but what’s the cost? Freelancers thrive as individuals on these platforms because a freelancer can be a cog in a machine. There’s normally someone above them like an analyst or a creative lead that tells them exactly what to create. The huge thing missing here though is “why” they are creating something and some creatives are happy not knowing the why. Just tell them what to do and they’ll do it. This is great if you have an idea for a logo in your head and can picture bits of it but need a whizz at Photoshop to polish it up for you and refine a few creative decisions around your concept.

The problem here though is that there is no purpose or meaning to their ideas. As much as you might think creative assets like this need to look cool, there’s much more below the surface. It all starts with business goals and what you want to achieve as a company. More specifically, what is your brand and your company’s values. It’s great that you have an idea for a logo but to really get the most out of it, it needs to speak to the right people and ultimately convert from prospects to customers.

I won’t knock these websites. It’s so important to get your idea up there and testing assumptions on real people and so paying for a logo or website shouldn’t be at the top of your list, but when you start to make money and your idea becomes more refined and clear, it’s time you start to look at how you can target the right customer and speak to them in the right way.

It is possible for a freelancer to extract this information from you but that’s about it when it comes to a freelancer. It doesn’t end there for an agency. It’s really up to an agency to question your motives behind your design choices (if you have them) and actually create a strategy to execute that all falls in line with your business goals. We build your brand and define your strategy before we even touch design or development. We actually call this service Strategy. After the initial strategy session, we may then conduct a set of discovery workshops to further dig into your challenges and pain-points to develop our “why” when it comes to execution. You can read more about brand strategy in this blog.

When it finally comes to design or development – we’ve thought long and hard about what problems we are trying to solve – who your audience is and what appeals to them; how we speak to them; how do they typically engage with you; what they are looking to get out of you and the many ways they would look to do that. Only then is this likely to actually have a financial and beneficial impact on your business. We think. We measure twice and cut once, as the old saying goes.

I often ask what role is more important to the client – An amazing conductor (strategist) of mediocre creatives or a mediocre conductor and amazing creatives. Often they pick the former.

So if you’re ready for the next step, or you believe you’re just not speaking to the right people or you need to speak to a new set of people, then get in touch with us and lets do something awesome together.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Zeplin – A Developers Perspective

In my time helping Talk Talk Group build their CMS and front-end capabilities, I worked closely with their design and UX team. They introduced me to Zeplin. Zeplin is a tool we use heavily at Jupiter and the Giraffe and it’s essential in building pixel-perfect websites by allowing us to see exact HEX codes or pixel dimensions in our designs amongst many other things. Although primarily used by designers, developers can benefit immensely from it and I hope I can shed some light on how I use it.

Cost

Zeplin is a paid-for tool allowing you to host multiple website projects within a team but they do offer a free version in which you can host only one project. For developing businesses that normally have one project on the go at any one time this is fine but when you start to grow, you may need to dig into those wallets and fork out a little per month. As a developer though I don’t need to pay for this tool. I can view many sites and inspect the designs as much as I want. So there’s the first bonus.

Size/Spacing

When first looking at a design my number one need for Zeplin is spacings and dimensions. Whether I’m looking at images, icons, paddings or margins — with Zeplin I can hover over an element and see those dimensions. This is super useful. But what is even more useful is that if I click on an element to highlight it and then move my mouse to another element, I get the distance between the two objects too!

CSS

I love writing CSS/SASS. I take great pride in writing clean, maintainable CSS and I’m part of a few developers who’ve been around the block and understand the many little hacks, tips and tricks when writing CSS. But we all get lazy. Although I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, Zeplin allows me to inspect many different aspects of the CSS markup that makes the design. This can be pretty useful, especially when trying to match border-radius or box-shadow. More on the specifics below…

Colour

Was it #e6e6e6 or #f2f2f2?? Colour can be a tricky one at times especially with true toned displays and night modes. Often optical illusions can skew our perspective on colour. From the CSS panel, I can clearly see what HEX value to use and if you’re keeping track of your variables using SASS (which I highly recommend you do!), store that bad boy and name it sensibly to never have to worry about it again.

Fonts

Fonts are another gotcha in front-end development. Sometimes a design will use regular/bold/light versions of the same font. Zeplin allows you to inspect the actual font in the CSS inspector so no more guessing.

Extensions

Extensions can be added to a project to help you work in the technology that you’re using. SASS is a no-brainer on every project for me and you guessed it, there’s an extension for that. This extension allows for mixins and variables and all that SASS goodness. There’s even an HTML snippet generator from layer styles. The Extensions ecosystem just came out of BETA so great news all-round.

Exporting images

When you have an artboard open, at the top right of your window you’ll see some little tools. Clicking on what looks like a dagger, you are actually able to export individual or entire groupings of assets. If the designer has created these as SVG’s then you can even download the raw vector image (and that means icons!). Super handy rather than waiting for the designer to send them and I’m sure you’ve been in situations where you’ve been sent ‘all’ of the icons and then one is missing. This means you can go grab it yourself!

One extra wee tip is that you can even export them in the convention of your choosing. Click on the slider icon next to ‘Assets’ and there you’ll see an extra menu!

Styleguide

Possibly the most powerful feature of Zeplin can definitely only exist with a well-organised designer but it pays! Pressing CMD + G, you switch to the styleguide. Every website should have a styleguide for many, many reasons (maybe an idea for a future post) but here you can see every colour and font choice made in a design. Simply set all these as variables in your project and away you go. If your designer uses symbols, the styleguide even imports them as components meaning there’s a little context around elements and their relationships to each other. This is so helpful to me.

Communication

Overall, a bi-product of Zeplin is that it drastically speeds up communication. Sometimes it completely removes the need to wait for a designer to get back to me about a colour or font choice. Using the techniques described above I can easily recreate a design in no time at all. Although I don’t think it completely removes the need for a designer to be on hand for some clarification or if a developer needs to challenge something but it’s a great leap forward in workflow speed and accuracy of a design.

That’s about it from me and my usage of Zeplin. I can’t recommend this tool enough so go ahead and get your team using it!

If you’d like to hear more from me, give the article a few claps. You can follow me on most other things @fakesamgregory or if you’d like to check out my company Jupiter and the Giraffe, you can visit our website. If you’re interested in our nomadic business adventures, stay tuned to Tumbling Outwardscoming in 2019.

Cost

Zeplin is a paid-for tool allowing you to host multiple websites within a team but they do offer a free version in which you can host only one project. For developing businesses that normally have one project on at any one time this is fine but when you start to grow, you may need to dig in to those wallets and fork out a little per month. As a developer though I don’t need to pay for this tool. I can view many sites and inspect the designs as much as I want. So there’s the first bonus.

Size/Spacing

When first looking at a design my number one need for Zeplin is spacings and dimensions. Whether I’m looking at images, icons, paddings or margins – with Zeplin I can hover over an element and see those dimensions. This is super useful. But what is even more useful is that if I click on an element to highlight it and then move my mouse to another element, I get the distance between the two objects too!

zeplin dimensions
Highlighting one element and hovering another unleases more capability!

CSS

I love writing CSS/SASS. I take great pride in writing clean, maintainable CSS and being part of a few developers who’ve been around the block and understand the little hacks, tips and tricks when writing CSS that is widely supported in terms of browser support. But we all get lazy. Although I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, Zeplin allows me to inspect many different aspects of the CSS markup that makes the design. This can be pretty useful, especially when trying to match border-radius or box-shadow. More on the specifics below…

Colour

Was it #e6e6e6 or #f2f2f2?? Colour can be a tricky one at times especially with true toned displays and night modes. Often optical illusions can skew our perspective on colour. From the CSS panel I can clearly see what HEX value to use and if you’re keeping track of your variables using SASS (which I highly recommend you do!), store that badboy and name it sensibly to never have to worry about it again.

Fonts

Fonts are another gotcha in front-end development. Sometimes a design will use regular/bold/light versions of the same font. Zeplin allows you inspect the actual font in the CSS inspector so no more guessing.

Extensions

Extensions can be added to a project to help you work in the technology that you’re using. SASS is a no-brainer on every project for me and you guessed it, there’s an extension for that. This extension allows for mixins and variables and all that SASS goodness. There’s even an HTML snippet generator from layer styles. The Extensions ecosystem is in BETA so expect more from this soon!

Zeplin extensions

Exporting images

When you have an artboard open, at the top right of your window you’ll see some little tools. Clicking on what looks like a dagger, you are actually able to export individual or entire groupings of assets. If the designer has created these as SVG’s then you can even download the raw vector image (and that means icons!). Super handy rather than waiting for the designer to send them and I’m sure you’ve been in situations where you’ve been sent ‘all’ of the icons and then one is missing. This means you can go grab it yourself!

Export assets

One extra wee tip is that you can even export them in the convention of your choosing. Click on the slider icon next to ‘Assets’ and there you’ll see an extra menu!

Styleguide

Possibly the most powerful feature of Zeplin can definitely only exist with a well organised designer but it pays! Pressing CMD + G, you switch to the styleguide. Every website should have a styleguide for many, many reasons (maybe an idea for a future post) but here you can see every colour and font choice made in a design. Simply set all these as variables in your project and away you go. If your designer uses symbols, the styleguide even imports them as components meaning there’s a little context around elements and their relationships to each other. This is so helpful to me.

Communication

Overall, a bi-product of Zeplin is that it drastically speeds up communication. Sometimes it completely removes the need to wait for a designer to get back to me about a colour or font choice. Using the techniques described above I can easily recreate a design in no time at all. Although I don’t think it completely removes the need for a designer to be on hand for some clarification or if a developer needs to challenge something but it’s a great leap forward in workflow speed and accuracy of a design.

That’s about it from me and my usage of Zeplin. I can’t recommend this tool enough so go ahead and get your team using it!

If you’d like to hear more from me, give the article a few claps. You can follow me on most other things @fakesamgregory or if you’d like to checkout my company Jupiter and the Giraffe, you can visit our website. If you’re interested in our nomadic business adventures, stay tuned to Tumbling Outwards coming in 2019.

🚀🌈✨ Sketch tools and plugins for 2019

I’ve been using Sketch for a few years now so I thought it’d be a good idea to write about the plugins and tools that I’ve found particularly helpful in speeding up my workflow. Maybe you’re already using some of these tools, or maybe they’re brand new to you. Either way, I’d love to hear from you so feel free to comment and hopefully, you’ll find this helpful ✌

A bit of background from me — I’ve been working as a digital designer and developer (more on that later) for the past few years. I’ve also co-founded a nomadic branding agency called Jupiter and the Giraffe where I’m the creative lead. If you’d like to hear more about our nomadic adventures stay tuned at Tumbling Outwards.

Abstract

I’m fairly new to Abstract but boy oh boy — this has been a real game changer! I can’t imagine life without it. I came from a background in development so the concept of abstract makes perfect sense. It’s essentially versioning control like how developers use git — but for designers. If you’re not so well-versed -source control means that you can have a centralized location of your Sketch files to version, manage and collaborate on. No more saving new files with each iteration, just revert to a previous ‘commit’ and away you go! The paid version ($9 and $15 per collaborator, per month) gives you the ability to collaborate and review each other’s work towards the same file. Being solo, I get by on the free version but the option is there if you’re part of a team. Developers can also benefit in these paid tiers by being able to see CSS snippets for the design but I use another tool for that called…

Zeplin

Zeplin is a tool that I first came across as a developer which really empowered me to build a pixel perfect design without having to second-guess the designer’s intentions. I still use it as a designer but from the other side — to enable developers to be able to confidently build my designs with the accurate specs alongside code snippets. You can also integrate it with Slack so that the team can be notified when there’s a design update or change. As I’m always working between design and development teams this really is a godsend. It’s the ultimate collaboration tool and speaking first-hand with developers they agree with me. You only get one project on the free plan which is great if you’ve only one project on the go but if you have multiple projects – you’ll need to pay for a subscription. Zeplin integrates not only with Sketch but Adobe Photoshop, XD and Figma. If you’re working with websites or apps, start using this now!

Stark

Stark is a plugin I use for every project for checking that my designs are accessible and inclusive to all. It works by checking accessibility and contrast levels in line with AA and AAA WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines). Another cool feature is that you can imitate different types of colour blindness within your document allowing you to imagine your design through another perspective. I even tried this on a colleague of mine who is colourblind and it’s surprisingly accurate! I think it’s every designer’s responsibility to have their work accessible to all so this tool is a must for me.

Angle

Angle is a super cool plugin for showcasing your design work. You can place your screens into various perspective mockups across many different devices. This looks great for presenting your work in your portfolio or for those Behance case studies. The plugin is free alongside fifty free mockups but you get over two hundred devices to add to your global sketch library in the paid version.

Map generator

I’ve used the Map Generator frequently in recent projects. It allows you to design beautiful custom map interfaces with Google Maps & Mapbox simply and easily inside of sketch. It’s very useful and I’d highly recommend. It adds that personal touch to designs if you need to include the client’s location or store location.

Fontily

Fontily has come in useful on many occasions. It allows you to quickly find and replace fonts — as you would a variable in code. It lists all the fonts in the document and allows you to change selected ones. Change a font type and font weight and it will propagate out across your whole file. Magical. Great for experimenting quickly with different font sets across your entire designs and I think we’ve all been there where we’ve had to suddenly change a font stack. If this plugin wasn’t free it would’ve probably paid for itself several times over by now in the time it’s saved me.

Artboard manager

If you want to keep your artboards positioned neatly without having to think about it too much then this is the plugin for you. Artboard managerautomatically arranges the position of all your Artboards in your document, snapping them to rows & columns. Neat huh?

Runner

If you’re a keyboard shortcut fiend like me, Runner is an amazing plugin that allows you to run, install and manage plugins inside Sketch and run other Sketch commands from your keyboard. It’s Spotlight for Sketch if you like and a must have.

Prism

If you find yourself creating pattern libraries or brand guidelines regularly, Prism allows you to instantly generate a professional looking colour palette alongside the relevant hex and RGB codes based on your document colours. One limitation might be the style of the boxes is set and you don’t get control over how the colours are displayed but it does the job in a clean enough way that it’s never bothered me.

Looper

Create beautiful tessellations and geometric patterns from duplicating shapes and groups in endless variations. Looper is so much fun and I could spend hours making these. Think spirograph for adults.

Pixel Perfector

If you’re a bit OCD when it comes to pixel dimensions being consistent and rounded up to integer points then Pixel Perfect is a lifesaver. It helps you find pixel imperfect layers in your document and then select them and round them up to the nearest integer (or whatever you prescribe). It’ll help keep your documents cleaner and keep your design specs uniform.

So that’s all from me for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and look out for my next one on design trends for 2019!

How we moved from hourly to fixed pricing

Jupiter and the Giraffe established itself in 2016. Since then, we priced ourselves at an hourly rate. A rate for development and a separate rate for design. We were convinced that it offered the best of both worlds; low prices that the client loved because they only paid for the work we produced and (for us) a reduction of trigger-happy requests from the client – they only asked for what they believed was necessary. One of the reasons we were wary of using fixed pricing when we first started out was that we knew we needed to accommodate the many unknowns in a project. This meant we often had to quadruple what we thought it would cost if we charged at an hourly rate. That felt very uncomfortable at the time so we would often use this as an argument to the client of why we felt hourly rates worked best.

Two years in and with the experience gained from working on many varied projects within a diverse client portfolio, we soon began to realise the downside to charging hourly. We came to the conclusion that although our original inclination to charging hourly had its positives, it also severely undermined us as experts in our field and punished us for our efficiency. Here’s why.

The simplest way to describe this is that if we were feeling particularly productive one day, we have been known to set up a WordPress website in just four hours. If someone charging the same rate did not have the expertise or efficiency to do this in this amount of time, but took two days, they would be paid a lot more, whereas we would just charge for two hours. “But why don’t you just charge more per hour”, I hear you ask? To illustrate this, let’s take a website design. With a few workshops under our belt with a client, we could spend weeks perfecting the design; the right font choice, the perfect complimentary colours, the perfect layout. We could easily charge tens of thousands for a website with that amount of work and that’s just for the design alone. On the flip side, we’ve been in an initial one hour preliminary meeting where in this meeting, we have scribbled what became the final design for Boombocs’ website. We still have that initial sketch somewhere! Although, on this piece of work, we did do many iterations to come to the final design, this is indeed an occasion where our experience really can allow us to create great work in just a short amount of time. Should we really be punished for this for when it takes so little time? It takes years of experience to hone this skill, the education, the tireless hours of study and craftsmanship to get to this point and we need to factor that into our rate. We began to see a hole in our hourly logic.

Since then, we charge with what we believe to be ‘value based’. This means we tailor our prices to how much value our work is likely to bring the client. Nike is likely willing to pay millions for their branding because they are a world recognisable brand and will gain a lot of exposure for their campaigns. This doesn’t mean the campaign is any better than what someone else could produce. The branding agency is also not likely to charge this sort of money to their other clients. Here, it’s priced on value.

We also believe setting a fixed rate means we can offer a process and a promise that the work we produce is of the best calibre. We’ve experimented with a tier system that offers the client different options at different price brackets that will result in the same product but with shortcuts made so that we can offer it for less and more advanced features can be added at a cost. We found the client often doesn’t have the reasonable amount of technical expertise to understand what paying more will get them and the lower tiers will of course get them what they desire so will choose the cheaper option. During the production of work, working to this lower tier, we felt like we were cheating them. That we KNEW they had made the wrong choice. We were transparent in why they should pay for certain features but they opted out so this is something we had to reconcile with. We WANT to produce the best work we possibly can but when we want to go that extra mile, we often thought “the client hasn’t paid for that service” so would hold back. We’re proud of every piece of work we’ve done but sometimes we’ve had to restrict our output for financial reasons given the client chose not to receive that service.

One last point is that we hate saying “no” to things. We never want to let the client down and we want to be as accommodating as possible. This means if a new request comes in or a change at the last-minute needs to be made, we should always answer “yes” with a smile on our face. The only way we can guarantee this is by pricing ourselves and our expertise at a reasonable rate. This promise, along with our guarantee for the best means we now price ourselves at a fixed fee whereby we follow a formula in the way we produce work. We scope out what the client needs based on our findings and we decide what we need to do to get them there and we give them a price.

We’ve made a few mistakes along the way but it’s all in the name of experimentation and discovery and it’s through these learnings we were able to establish how we work and what we need to do to make our clients happy and produce the best work possible. Hopefully, this will serve as a lesson to agencies first starting out and get them pricing themselves efficiently from the start.

Check out our portfolio and follow our journey so far!