Veteran’s Day 2014

Many thanks to all the veterans who fought to secure and maintain our freedoms. We honor you this day, and we thank God for your sacrifices on our behalf.

An Open Letter to Our Re-Elected Governor, Nikki Haley

South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley

Dear Governor Haley,

We haven’t met yet, though we almost had a chance when you visited Natty’s on Trinity Street in Abbeville last weekend. I had a birthday party to attend, and when one has the chance to take small kids to Jumping Jax, one just doesn’t decline. Ever. Even for a chance to meet the Governor of South Carolina. (sorry!)

But enough about me. Congrats to you on your re-election as Governor of the Great State of South Carolina! You earned my vote with your principled conservative stance on economic issues, your perspective on the balance of power between states and the federal government, and your refusal to take the baited hook that was the Medicaid expansion. I think your first term in office did most residents of South Carolina proud. There are a few thousand people who will be leaving the unemployment system as a direct result of your administrative priorities. Thank you for your service.

But not everyone is happy with what you’ve done (or not done) so far. I believe there will always be smoke-and-mirrors accusations that come from political opponents. These attacks are rarely more than political maneuvering, and they are rarely fair. However, one such attack caught my eye. I’m referring to the recent trouble with the S.C. Department of Social Services.

One of my acquaintances is a social worker within DSS, and he didn’t have very many kind things to say about you because of the predicament in which he and other DSS workers find themselves. Actually, he and many of his colleagues were quite adamantly opposed to your re-election. They already have a difficult, thankless job. But then they are overworked and underpaid. I’m told the case load and the resources to address it are still sorely mismatched. Let me offer a quote from a social worker who volunteered some information on the matter when I asked about it. Pardon the colorful language:

[DSS State Director Lillian] Koller called for higher standards without backing the requirements with funding or more workers. Or better working conditions. Or more supervision. Children are literally dying because we do not have the resources to keep them safe. I triple dog dare any Republican to come work for Anderson County DSS. Witness firsthand the aftermath of the last four years. Ask any employee what their opinion is. Nikki Haley does not care about children, the elderly, or the poor. To her they are numbers. She makes a big deal about veterans … but there is a war here. [My colleagues] and I go to war every day to fight for the safety of SC’s abused and neglected children. It is f*cking brutal, we get no support. We are sent into dangerous situations with no protection, and all we ask is for lower case loads and better supervision so we can actually do our jobs. Nikki Haley has consistently ignored our requests and the department has deteriorated to the extent that children are dying because the workers are responsible for so many children that kids are just falling through the cracks. Haley is ultimately responsible for what happened at DSS. She made the decisions that led to the chaos.


I read some of your remarks about the deaths that occurred and the condition of DSS which you delivered during a recent debate. As a wife and mother, you seemed to be understandably appalled and disturbed by what happened. To be fair, I would expect a senior executive such as yourself to be more keen on the numbers coming out of DSS than on the individuals and stories that comprise the caseload. And I expect that reality would bother social workers who care about their work. There’s only so much one can do, and the realities of executive leadership dictate that you must necessarily focus on metrics and fundamentals to the exclusion of the human element.

But let me offer some encouragement: now that the gubernatorial election is settled and you are in leadership for another term, please continue to take ownership of the problems within DSS. It’s no longer a campaign issue. It’s now a real-life problem that you have the next 4 years to address with real solutions. Please commit to identifying solutions that will enable the department to function well. I was encouraged to learn from District 11 representative Craig Gagnon that there were some stopgap measures taken earlier this year to increase social worker pay and improve conditions. He tells me there are additional efforts coming in the next legislative session. This is a very good thing. And those transformational efforts will need your executive leadership to ensure their success.

There are a plethora of opinions about the extent to which the government—even state and local governments—should be involved in correcting the social and familial dysfunction that DSS is tasked with addressing. I personally believe you can’t remove Godly principles from a population and not have tremendous problems. Broken families are just a symptom of deeper spiritual problems. So as far as the source the problems that manifest in DSS cases, there’s not much we can do. Can you use the powers of government coerce men to be good and loving fathers? Can you coerce drug addicts to prefer honest gainful employment to a life of addiction? Can you engineer a utopian society? Many have tried, and all efforts to date have failed. But perhaps there are non-government organizations, nonprofits and religious organizations that could be involved in carrying or at least supporting the DSS case load. What can we do to better empower and deploy these resources to help accomplish the goals of DSS? Maybe it would be inadvisable for volunteers from churches to take on cases. Many have the heart but few have the training and expertise. But perhaps a Sunday school class could “adopt” a social worker and provide support and encouragement. We don’t always have to expand government to fix things. You have helped demonstrate that in the past four years. But until the problem is resolved and alternate solutions are in place, I think we will have to fully fund DSS to match their case load.

I encourage you once again to make a priority of fixing the issues at DSS. Continue to set high standards. Install a high-quality, proven director (and I’m sure the search is already underway). Fund the organizations and people best equipped to attain those standards and serve people. Usher in a new era of effectiveness and professionalism. You have the bully pulpit. You have the authority to set the agenda and set priorities. And it looks like you will have plenty of political colleagues and citizens who will support your efforts.

I don’t hold you personally responsible for the hurtful actions of others. We humans are by-and-large hopelessly broken creatures. And goodness knows we don’t need a bigger government peering, prying, and taxing it’s way into every nook and cranny of our lives. But I applaud your efforts to make government more effective and to ensure the most vulnerable among us are offered protection.

Thanks you for listening,
Andy Johnston

Improve Communications with Five Less-Is-More Tips

Communication is the Lifeblood of Nearly Everything We Do

Whether your goal is to drive sales, educate or inspire, effective communication is at the heart of practically everything you do. If you must work with or through others to get something accomplished, you need effective communication. Speaking well is certainly important, but I want to share with you a few tips that can help you improve your effectiveness in written or visual communication. If you sometimes struggle to write letters, memos or other documents — even ad copy or web content — I think you will find these tips to be helpful.

1. Consider Your Audience … and Limit Your Message Accordingly

The words you may use to connect with 5th graders would be very different from those you might use to address peers in business. We would also communicate differently with entry level employees and the board of directors. A good first step toward improving your communications is to identify your audience. Once you understand clearly the audience you are trying to reach, you can omit communication that is not appropriate.

2. Use Fewer Words

Google provides the definition of brevity as follows:

brevity definition

We may have developed a bad habit of inflating our word count to meet a quota in high school. But brevity is critical for clear communication in business. Use fewer words that convey the same meaning whenever possible.

3. Use Clear Space to Bring Attention to Your Message

Before an orchestra begins, the conductor calls the musicians (and the audience) to silence. Think of words as sound and white space as visual silence. With sufficient silence, you create room for sound — your message. Margins are a simple way to add silence to your content. Another place we find clear space is within images: copy space. Many of the best magazine ads and billboards use images with copy space. Use the silence of clear space to provide a place for the message you intend to convey.

4. Use Clip Art Sparingly If at All

Clip art is rarely necessary. Not all clip art is bad, but some of it is downright awful. If you intend for your message to be light, informal and comedic, clip art may be justified. The problem is that a lot of people seem to use clip art habitually rather than intentionally. Think of the brevity principle. If your message stands alone without clip art, leave it out.

5. Know When to Call a Communications Professional

You  may not be an art director or a marketing manager, but small businesses occasionally need the services of a copy writer or a layout artist. Think about the cost associated with a mistake. How many people would be affected? If business is on the line for a print ad, a billboard, or a press release, consider enlisting the services of a trusted professional.


We hope these tips make your communications more effective. If you have specific questions or if your current needs are beyond what you can handle, contact us today online or by phone at (864) 554-5061.

When Is the Last Time You Were Inspired by Marketing in the Financial Sector?

Have you seen the #TDThanksYou video? Take a look:

Okay, okay…we know that #TDThanksYou is not a charity campaign; it’s a marketing campaign from a for-profit entity. And I’m sure there more than a few people who are a bit creeped out that a bank (or perhaps a bank’s employees in collusion with family members) essentially surveilled a few customers to get the details required to be so personalized with their gifts. And we know that everyone can’t expect to receive the same type of lavish experience at TD Bank.

All of that cerebral, skeptical stuff aside, is this not one of the best marketing tactics ever?! It’s like the best parts of Undercover Boss and Extreme Makeover Home Edition applied to the context of a bank’s relationship to a few of its customers. And here we are, discussing it of our own accord at no cost to TD Bank. It’s so genius, it’s almost evil. Almost. But most people including this humble blog author can’t help but have some degree of positive feelings about TD Bank after watching this video.

This kind of marketing inspires and challenges those of us who make our trade in persuasive communication. Yes, we can tell the story of our clients’ businesses or products and tout their best points. But it takes a special kind of effort and creativity to inspire people in the process of advertising or marketing. The generous nature of the thank-you gifts overwhelms the recipient in the video and many viewers as well. The personalization of the gifts to the situations, challenges, and desires of the recipients is so spot-on, it’s uncanny.

How are YOU (and how am I) being inspirational, generous and personal with YOUR marketing efforts?

Your turn…

What do you think about this video from TD Bank? Do you feel the love, or do you remain unconvinced?

Adobe Creative Cloud Mobile Splash Screen

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 Splash Screens

NOTE: On October 6, 2014, Adobe updated the splash screens again. I personally will miss the lion on the Illustrator splash screen, but I think many users will find the updates to be a welcome change.


For better or for worse, Adobe just released a major update to the Creative Cloud suite of applications. The jury is still out on whether the update is an improvement or a nuisance, but for the time being, we have some new splash screens to enjoy upon launching the updated apps.

Love ’em? Hate ’em? Comment below!

Photoshop CC 2014 Splash Screen

Photoshop CC 2014 Splash Screen

 Illustrator CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 Splash Screen

InDesign CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe InDesign CC 2014 Splash Screen

 Premiere Pro CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014

After Effects CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe After Effects CC 2014 Splash Screen

Dreamweaver CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2014 Splash Screen

Muse CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Muse CC 2014 Splash Screen

Flash CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Flash CC 2014 Splash Screen

Audition CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Audition CC 2014 Splash Screen

InCopy CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe InCopy CC 2014 Splash Screen

Prelude CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe Prelude CC 2014 Splash Screen

SpeedGrade CC 2014 Splash Screen

Adobe SpeedGrade CC 2014

Bad Design Done Better: Use Fonts Correctly

A New Sign for a New Neighborhood

There is a newly developed neighborhood not too far from my home. (Note that we don’t have gated communities in Abbeville, SC; this is just a regular ol’ neighborhood — with no gate.) I was somewhat excited when I saw construction begin on the stately entrance and the sign. “This is going to be nice,” I thought. I was in for a rude awakening when the name was applied to the sign:


I was underwhelmed, to put it mildly. The crown and the flourish typesorts were very good. The colors are fantastic and conceptually appropriate. But the typeface choice of ALL CAPS blackletter? I was dismayed.

About Blackletter Type

Blackletter typefaces were built to mimic hand-drawn manuscript lettering from the era when Gutenberg developed the printing press. Blackletter fonts are widely available on many computer systems and have been for years. A common blackletter font option for Windows users is Old English.

You may not be able to put your finger on why this typeface is not the best choice. In fact, the type family itself isn’t bad. But blackletter fonts are incredibly hard to read when presented in all caps. It’s just not done, and this CAMELOT sign presents one supporting example of that fact. Another detail that will grate typography purists is that the characters were stretched vertically.

Better Ways to “Dress” Camelot

First of all, it is completely understandable that the developer wanted to evoke the nobility and romance of Camelot. The name choice is admirable, even if it is just a neighborhood and not a proper gated community. But in my opinion, the sign artist could have done a couple of things differently to yield a much better result.

1. Use All Caps Without Distorting the Characters

It seems the sign maker and the type designer may not have been on the same page. The aspect ratio of the sign was set. And the name layout appears to have been done independently of the aspect ratio. Also, the person ordering or designing the sign must have been afraid of clear space. Simply adding “CAMELOT” in all caps would result in a name that was wide and left a lot of empty space above and below. I’m still not sure that’s a bad thing, but the designer or signmaker solved this “problem” by  stretching the characters so the word had a taller aspect ratio that better filled the space.

Type developers, whether from decades ago or in more recent times, devote hundreds of hours to crafting typefaces with the right proportions, shapes, kerning, tracking, weight, etc. If you think it is easy to design a typeface, you are mistaken. There are graphic designers and artists, and then there are type developers. I’m convinced type developers are a different breed altogether.

Rather than thinking, “I know better. Let me just stretch this to fit my space,” a wiser decision would be to simply use the characters as presented in the font without distorting them. If the decision maker was adamant about a blackface font in all caps, the best way to display that would have been to place the characters centered in the space without distorting them:


2. Use Title Case for Blackletter Type

Jacob Cass of JUST™ Creative produced a brilliant type classification ebook which he generously offers for free on his site. On page 17, Cass explains a nuance of handling Blackletter type:

Text type faces should fit snugly together with less space between the words than is customary with normal Roman types and, because of their complex structure, [blackletter type] should never be set in all-capital form.

*emphasis mine

If the CAMELOT sign designer had come across this ebook and had better instruction on handling blackletter type, he might have made a sign that looked something like this:

CAMELOT-03-cloister-black-mixed3. Consider Small Caps

If the goal was a majestic look that evoked the era of Camelot, then Trajan might have been a nice choice. This distinguished font is often used on movie posters (over-used if you ask some folks). But in this context, I think Trajan might be appropriate. What do you think?


They might even have considered another serif font like Garamond. This example is set in small caps, and the tracking is expanded to 120:



The CAMELOT sign is a lovely concept with beautiful colors, and I hope the housing development does well. But I can bet you that if there are any graphic designers or type developers who make their home there and have to drive by that sign every day, they will probably cringe a little until they stop noticing it.

Is PicMonkey a Tool or a Toy?

A friend of mine aspires to launch a photography business. She has been learning composition and lighting from an established photographer. She has already done some portraits, and she had been booked for a wedding. We were “talking shop” about cameras, lenses, and editing. She mentioned she uses PicMonkey for editing. I wasn’t familiar with PicMonkey initially, but my first instinct was that a pro-oriented tool like Photoshop would be a better choice for a professional result. That is just my default recommendation based on the axiom that you usually get what you pay for. However, I knew I was ignorant of PicMonkey.

I’m not a fan of ignorance, and I don’t want to rest on my own assumptions, especially if my assumptions would lead me to pay for Photoshop if it were not uniquely necessary and powerful. I started Googling to find out more. The initial results I found were quite warm toward PicMonkey, but they seemed a little suspicious to me. I came across articles with titles like these:

PicMonkey: Photoshop for Broke People

Making Professional Looking Pictures Using PicMonkey

Don’t Want to Learn Photoshop? Use PicMonkey Instead!

Those aren’t the actual article titles I found, but you get the idea. The sentiment from those articles was that photographers and designers who want to save a buck can use PicMonkey and avoid purchasing Photoshop. I didn’t dig too far, but I didn’t find anything overly critical of PicMonkey. My “too good to be true” alarm started going off. I wanted to explore both sides of the issue, so I posted questions on social media to get some feedback from friends. Much to my surprise, the official Twitter account for PicMonkey (@PicMonkeyApp) actually replied. Here is the conversation, unedited, for your edification:

Here is PicMonkey’s response:

Well, that wasn’t too much help since I hadn’t yet used PicMonkey. Since I had the ear of PicMonkey on Twitter, I started checking out PicMonkey and found a few other questions worth asking:

I haven’t received answers yet from PicMonkey, and it has only been about an hour. But based on my initial findings, here is my conclusion:

Let me make something clear by rehashing a point from an earlier tweet: I am not trashing PicMonkey. For certain things, it is fantastic! If you need a lightweight, cloud-accessible solution for editing images for a blog or social media, PicMonkey is wonderful. For crying out loud, you can’t even install Photoshop on a Chromebook! If you are preparing images for standard definition or even full HD (1920×1080) displays, PicMonkey will work well. If you just want to make fun edits to images to print out at home and slap on your refrigerator, go ahead and use PicMonkey.

But if you are a professional photographer or designer and your work will be printed larger than 9 inches at the largest dimension, you shouldn’t even consider PicMonkey. For professional results, use professional tools.

Did Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Makes a Personal Attack on the Marketing Profession?

Jessica Stillman from Inc. wrote a provocative piece containing Jeff Bezos quotes. The title is, “7 Jeff Bezos Quotes That Outline the Secret to Success,” and you don’t have to scroll far to find something that moves counter to generally accepted wisdom.

This statement leaps from the page:

“The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies … The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention, and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

Once I realized Jeff Bezos was advising people to spend less on marketing, I cringed a bit. My defenses shot up. At AJ Design and Marketing, LLC, I hang my hat on providing marketing resources and design services. How can this well-respected business giant say something like this that would hack away at the value proposition of little guys like us? And yet, when I pondered his words a little more deeply, I realized that Bezos is saying the same thing I’ve advised clients and prospects before: work on your business before you work on your marketing.

I was recently contacted by the owner of a small and growing boutique with about 1,500 likes on Facebook. The owner knew I had helped develop the site for 105 West Boutique, and she was interested in a website for her similarly positioned business in a different market area. Yes, 105 West Boutique had only about 40,000 likes on Facebook the day their website went live. Yes, they currently have more than 65,000. But I can almost guarantee that the owners of 105 West wouldn’t have invested $4,000 – $6,000 in web development when they had 1,500 likes on Facebook and and $20,000 in annual revenue. Where some designers or site developers may have tried to pitch a website as a way to solidify the business, this owner of the up-and-coming boutique needed different advice: solidify the brand and build a stronger cash position. Then when the business supports the capital investment, build an online sales channel that is appropriate for your current and anticipated volume, with room to grow a bit.

What Jeff Bezos advised, though it seems hip and almost contrarian at first, is what smart businesses have done for eons: Build your business on your core competency, that thing (or those things) you do better/faster/less expensive than anyone else around you. Don’t invent a new way to snooker people into becoming customers; invent a new way to make people’s lives better or easier. Get really good at serving people, and in today’s “new world,” serving people will lead to the growth you desperately want.

It turns out that Jeff Bezos isn’t such a bad guy after all. Yes, I went a little provocateur with my title (ok…a LOT). But I never really believed Bezos has a personal vendetta with those in the marketing profession. However, if marketers position themselves as those who facilitate spammy overselling tactics, then yeah, maybe “spend less on marketing” applies. But not to me. Ever since I started parlaying the hybrid business and design toolkit into my life’s work, I have felt that it is my responsibility to help build stronger clients. And that sometimes means advising a client away from an option or a project that would benefit me and toward a solution that benefits them.

Telling the truth, even when it hurts. That’s business-friendly graphic design.