Creative Corner

What Constitutes Good Design?

Posted by mhurston on April 14, 2009
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In my last segment I overviewed various marketing tools that can benefit any commercial real estate office, but this time around I became a little side tracked. Instead of continuing on the marketing subjects I outlined, I’m going to start with design, as that is what everything else I’ll have to talk about stems from. I’ve broken this down into what I see are the three aspects of design, visual, functional and structural.

For marketing collateral purposes we’ll look primarily at the visual design. For the most part visual design is something that the client will find appealing to their senses. The sights and sounds of a TV ad or flash banner on a website or the look of a printed page. While visual design is one f the most important elements for marketing, it is also the most subjective.

Edward Tufte can be considered a genius within the visual design field with his ability to present incredible amounts of statistics within an easily identifiable and understandable display. This is one of the first steps towards good design. However, Tufte will be the first to admit how much he dislikes marketing and many of the elements used in advertisements and various forms of collateral that irritate him to no end.

With that said, it’s important as a designer to understand that the client is not always right and it’s part of your visual design duty to make sure you can talk them out of doing something that will hurt their business.

The next most important part of design is function, or simply, how stuff works. For example, a website is one of the areas where functional design is extremely important. It does no good to both you or your clients if people aren’t able to find the information they want on your website. A little study of typical human behavior on the web and you will understand the necessity for multiple links to the same information along the top and sides of a website, among the reasoning behind many other online strategies. However, functional design is not just important to interactive media such as websites, flash applications or interactive PDF’s, it is also important to printed items, such as when creating a book or magazine layout, where you are incorporating bleeds and spreads. It is also important to understand the media on which your printed pieces will be produced, such as the difference between the look of a 10 pt Gill Sans Light on glossy magazine stock versus newspaper.

Some could consider structural design the least important, but structure varies drastically from designer to designer. If you are your own boss and work alone, chances are you don’t care how you organize your files, how you name them, or how your layouts are set up. After all, if it looks good and works, who cares right?

This is in strong contrast to the ideals of anyone who has worked in either a design studio or with an in-house team who constantly handle each other’s files as needed. In situations as these it is essential to an efficient and successful workflow to come up with a system and stick to it. In addition, the actual design setup of layouts should be done in a way that the other designers will be able to easily adjust and edit.

Anyone who has worked with me knows of my issues I have with designers who use spaces after a bullet point in an InDesign file instead of using tabs as well as my pet peeves of those who would make each line of text for a bulleted list placed in it’s own text box and then not even bother to align them properly with the align tool. These are things that cause a person to be seen as an amateur within their circle.

Ultimately it is important for designers, especially those in print, to understand and know how to use and adjust items such as tracking, kerning, bullets, styles and tables when doing text layouts. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, such as when creating text for a cover or header piece that may require the text to be adjusted and set in a non-standard way.

While code formatting is for the most part irrelevant due to the many applications that auto format the display and highlight code, what is relevant is the expandability of the code. In short, is the site designed in such a way to allow the addition of new features, links, ads, etc easily or would it require a rework or site rebuild?

In conclusion good design is a product of proper structure, usability, function and ultimately strong and captivating visual design. A good understanding and planning from each of these aspects will typically end with the creation of a successful collateral piece, ad campaign or website.

– Michael G. Hurston

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Marketing Perspective – April

Posted by mhurston on April 10, 2009
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Over the next few months I hope to get a chance to talk more about marketing and cover the various resources available to those within the Commercial Real Estate Industry, as I truly believe it can be one of the most demanding fields to work in, especially with the current depression we find ourselves in.

Real estate has, and more than likely will, continue to be a relationship-orientated business, which leads many commercial real estate professionals debating whether if investing time and money into building their online presence is actually worth the effort.

My opinion is one that more than likely any transaction completed will be the direct result of the brokers interaction with the client, but providing value-added services for your clients, may help to not only strengthen an existing relationship, will also provide a resource for potential clients to want to use you to market their listings, as well as bring in new contacts.

This is why I believe a successful marketing strategy consists of many tools, and not all are cutting edge, though the ones who pick up on new social media tools may have a stronger relationship base in the next 10 years.

 A year ago, and the year before, I wrote a “Marketing Observations” report for our Colliers office here in Las Vegas, which was my reflections on a marketing feedback survey I had sent out as well as one-on-one questionnaires I did with some of the teams. The results varied and ultimately what worked well for one group didn’t always work well for the next, but each tool did give some positive results to some individuals and teams.

While I won’t go into the specific details and listing of each and every tool now, the general topics I looked at were as follows:

Print Publications

I started with advertising in Print Publications; these included small local papers, magazines as well as regional, national and global newspapers and magazines. Having a solid campaign within your local market can be a real boon to your local awareness, as chances are, the majority of people within CRE industry we meet everyday read at least one of the publications you’ve advertised in. While this may not cause someone to buy a property, it does keep your companies name recognition prominent within the community.

Regional, National and Global publications are the opposite. In my experience people reading the Wall Street Journal will see an ad and inquire about it. Our office actually had a few transactions done by reaching out to investors in other states and even one in another country, both of which came from the WSJ’s property ad.

In my opinion, I see local publications, and maybe even regional publications as a means to keep your target audience familiar with your name through branding campaigns, while national and foreign publications can be a great way to actually gain new contacts and potentially move your properties.

Direct Marketing

I have always had a strong dislike of the term, as it reminds me of late night commercials and Internet scam sites. The truth is Direct Marketing should include sending collateral directly to clients and relationships you’ve generated. If you’re just grabbing a random email list or mailing list and sending out information, chances are you won’t get much of a response and people will dislike you. Remember, negative impressions last longer than positive ones.

Postcards, Flyers, email campaigns, cold calling offices in person and leaving your information with flyers can all be considered forms of Direct Marketing. The results of this are very dynamic, for example, while cold calling an office and offering tenant rep services in a down market, may result in a positive outcome, cold calling an office and trying to get a hold of the owner to see about leasing out one of his vacant spaces may prove more difficult.

Email campaigns seem to do the most for brokers though, as they can direct people to their properties web page (if it has one), their listings page, online profile if they’ve just changed brokerages, or inform other brokers who may represent a seller for their buyer. The other aspect is the cost effectiveness of a good email campaign, even with hundreds of emails multiple times a month, many services out there cost less than a penny per email.

If nothing else, emails provide a way of keeping you, your properties and endeavors in the eyes of those around you and work for not only potentially closing a deal, but also keeping you, the broker, marketed.

Press Releases

I’m a big fan of press releases. News is free and in my opinion it is the best way to get your self noticed and heard. While not everything you may have to say about your company or industry will get attention, it never hurts to have a write up on a new product type, service, or event that could potentially end up on the news stand, or in some cases, on the morning news.

While it may not generate a transaction immediately, gaining exposure is the number one means of meeting new contacts and finding potential leads. Again, the commercial real estate industry is a relationship-orientated business, the more people you know, the better your chances for success.

Social Media

I think technology scares a lot of people still, or at least they don’t understand enough about it to realize how it can help. Let me spell it out for everyone: Yes, what your 12-year old uses online, can actually help you build your professional network.

Now I’m not saying go build a MySpace page and expect to get your commercial retail space leased the next day, but what I will say is that social media provides an additional means of staying in touch with others as well propagating your information through the internet. With the way technology works now, information can be distributed quickly, instantly and easily, through the way RSS feeds work. You don’t have to understand the ins-and-outs of the technology, in fact you don’t need to know anything about it other than this: putting your property listing information, press releases or other relevant information online can allow you have this information replicated across multiple sites and seem by an incredible amount of people.

To get more specific, lets look at this site for example. Information from various news sites and Colliers is displayed here; people viewing this site see all of this. But, this information, this exact post, gets replicated over to Twitter (it’s ok if you don’t know what it is), which displays the post to people viewing that site. The post is also sent over to LinkedIn and FaceBook (social networking sites, think MySpace, Friendster, etc). People who have this site on their friends list will view the post. In additional to all this we have the other sites users, viewers of the site, who have chosen to pull information from this site and have it displayed on their blog or website, which again gets distributed out to other sites. But it doesn’t stop there, because people who visit this site can click on the little icons below to “recommend” this site to social bookmarking sites (another type of social media news and information sites) essentially allowing anyone who views this post to “spread the word”. The amount of people seeing this post can continue to grow exponentionally. That is what Social Marketing and Web 2.0 have brought us, the ability to distribute information without having to think about it.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

This has always been a topic I believe people make much more complicated than it needs to be. The concept is simple, improve traffic to any website by making your site appear in search engines more often. Although this topic is simple in my opinion, I do believe many CRE sites over look it, as it requires someone with more technical knowledge of how search engines work and the best ways to make your site search engine friendly.

Getting down to the basics, SEO starts with simply creating a proper website that has content relevant to the key words and headings used for the description of the site. For example, Las Vegas CRE News has CRE content for Las Vegas and throughout the site are references to Las Vegas News and Las Vegas Commercial Real Estate (I’m simplifying a bit here). The next item takes place with what are called Meta tags, lines of code that are not seen by the user which tell some search engines what a site is all about, they provide key words and a description and ideally should use the same descriptors that can be found throughout the sites content. It’s important to note that due to so many sites improper use of Meta Tags, as well as blatant methods of Spamdexing (including unrelated key words and repeating popular phrases to make your site appear more relevant than it is) has caused many popular search engines to no longer index sites based on Meta Tags alone, or in some cases at all.

Next we move on to the website indexing, or rather, the inclusion of your site into search engines. While there are many sites that will automatically submit your sites to smaller search engines, to get your site listed within top companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft you need to look into manual submissions as well as the Open Directory Project, which allows users to submit there site to the directory and then a real person will look through your information to make sure it gets listed in the proper category.

Once a site is indexed, Crawlers (search engine tools that continue to look at and monitor websites) will continually view your site, which brings us to the final item in this very brief write-up, dynamic content, or simply put, Search Engines like to see content updated regularly as opposed to static pages.

There are additional items we can look at involved with this, such as the use of link backs, Wikipedia and AboutUs.org, but we’ll look at those in a later segment.  

– Michael G. Hurston

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