A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory
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New Brick Factory Study: 20% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices

There  has been a lot of hype about the rise of web browsing from smartphones and tablets over the last few years.  The research firm IDC projects that by 2015 more people will access the Internet from mobile devices than from desktops and laptops.

This is all important stuff for us to follow.  But as big of a deal as these overall industry trends are, at the Brick Factory it is more important for us to understand what is going on in our own world of non-profits, advocacy groups and brands.  How is the move towards mobile impacting our clients?

In an effort to answer that question, we took an aggregate look at how mobile usage of the websites we manage (60+ sites) is evolving.  The results are eye opening.

We found that 20% of all web visitors are now accessing the web from smartphones or tablets, and that mobile visitors are doubling every year.

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The mobile web isn’t something that will come someday – it is here now.

Check out the full study.

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Yahoo! And the Art of Branding Gibberish

As I’ve mentioned more than once, designing logos is an awful way to spend your time. There’s no hiding. You’re out there in front of the client with your brilliant idea on a white sheet of paper as the marketing director and his recent and eager grads wait to ask probing and pointed questions about things they read concerning logo development last night.

I’ve always thought the best way to solve the logo question was to get an honest and trustworthy designer to provide a handful of strong concepts, let he or she present them without interruption and choose one. I’m in the minority with this approach and I know it. Creative types like to let other creative types do their jobs and be left alone. We also would take 6 months to design those logo ideas if you let us, so I understand why I’m in the minority on this. Even so, the more isn’t the merrier in these cases.

Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer unveiled the new Yahoo! logo yesterday with more explanation than I thought we might get. Or deserved. Or wanted, really. We also were treated to a really well produced quick video of the creative process, although I believe it’s just an after the fact marketing fluff piece. Cool though.

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The new logo is an updated version of the old logo, not a redesign. It’s a good upgrade and needed I suppose after (Google tells me, let’s see…) 18 years. It is beveled though and that’s just weird. Marissa calls it chiseled, but it’s beveled to anyone who’s familiar with Photoshop, which is just about 100% of Yahoo! users. The font bevel is the hard-drinking wingman of the font drop shadow, but Yahoo! didn’t take the bait and double down, thankfully.

Like all modern logo reveals, Yahoo! and Marissa had the uncomfortable job of explaining what we were seeing, because logos are art and art requires some deep background before commoners like us can understand it.
Some highlights include:

  • “We didn’t want to have any straight lines in the logo.  Straight lines don’t exist in the human form”
  • “We preferred letters that had thicker and thinner strokes – conveying the subjective and editorial nature of some of what we do.”
  • “tilt the exclamation point by 9 degrees, just to add a bit of whimsy”

She nailed it. Nothing says whimsy like an exact 9 degree tilt.

So that’s a pretty impressive load of hogwash, and it’s only a small sample of her creative vision. She included this phony little gem as well; as if it was discovered in some darkened conference room on a whiteboard next to other great ideas like talk to Jerry about hygiene issues and casual Friday does not mean you don’t come in.
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So congratulations to Marissa Mayer, her new logo and the weekends she spent with her logo team. According to her it was “a ton of fun weighing every minute detail”. Logo team members have not been heard from.

Responsive Design

27% of top college websites utilize responsive design

The last few years has seen a dramatic rise in people using tablets and smart phones to browse the Internet.  This explosion has made building websites more complicated, as web developers now have to make their sites look good on on tiny phone screens, Al Gore-style widescreen monitors, and everything in between.

A few years ago the most common method for dealing with mobile was to create a specific design theme for users accessing your site from mobile phones.  You essentially created a different user experience for mobile users vs. desktop/laptop users.  For a variety of reasons – emergence of tablets, increasing diversity in phone screen sizes, growth of super widescreen monitors, etc. – that strategy no longer really works.   There are simply too many screen sizes to account for.  As a result, the last few years has seen the adoption of responsive design, which causes a site’s design to adjust automatically based on the size of the screen of the visitor.

Earlier this week, we took a look at the websites of the nations 150 best colleges in an effort to identify the schools with the best websites.  Optimizing for mobile seems particularly important for colleges given that two of their primary audiences are prospective and current students. So while doing our research on the best sites we decided to take a look at how colleges were dealing with the rise of the mobile web.

Were colleges ignoring mobile?  Were they implementing responsive designs?  Were they building themes specifically for mobile?   Here is what we found:

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I found these results fascinating.  The fact that 27% of colleges are utilizing responsive design is impressive when you consider this has really only become a common practice the last 2-3 years.  I was also surprised that 42% of the sites we looked at were not optimized for mobile at all.  That figured seems really high to me given that the rise of the mobile web isn’t exactly a new trend.  Having said that, redesigning a college website can take years.  I suspect that as colleges enter redesign cycles over the next few years we’ll see a rise in the number of sites that utilize responsive design grow.

We took a similar look at the mobile strategies of the 100 largest newspapers in the U.S. a few months ago.  Since we could, we decided to compare the results for colleges and newspapers.

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A few quick observations on this:

  • To state the obvious, newspapers have been quicker to recognize the importance of mobile audiences than colleges.  Only 9% of newspapers haven’t optimized for mobile at all compared to 42% of colleges.
  • Given the focus on disseminating news headlines, it is unsurprising that newspapers are more focused on creating mobile specific themes (81%) than colleges (31%).  A mobile-specific theme is an efficient way to get mobile users quickly to the content they want to read on a newspaper website: the news.
  • Since colleges have more varied content and can’t as easily anticipate why someone is visiting, it is also unsurprising that they are more likely to use responsive design (27%) than newspapers (10%).  Responsive designs usually provide visitors with access to all site content instead of just a subset.  Mobile themes usually simplify things to deliver visitors only the most critical content.

I suspect the coming year will see the number of both newspaper and college sites utilizing responsive design to increase dramatically.

10 Best College Websites

Over the years we have done a few posts highlighting exceptional college websites.  The best college sites are pretty phenomenal, so we like to put these lists together as a way of finding inspiration.  With the rise of mobile and widescreen monitors the last few years, we thought it was a good time to take a fresh look.

So without further ado, here are the 10 best college websites as judged by our Brick Factory team.  Please note that we only looked at websites in the top 100 of the Forbes and US News and World Reports lists of best colleges, so around 150 sites in total.  I’m positive there are schools that aren’t on these lists that have equally great websites.

10. Harvard University

The Harvard site is really elegant and doesn’t try to do too much.  I liked the Pinterest inspired headlines in the bottom part of the homepage.

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9. Virginia Tech

A solid, usable effort from Virginia Tech.  I would have liked to see them go bigger with the initial site imagery given that the site is fully responsive.

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8. Depauw University

I love the grey palette with the splashes of yellow and the photo gallery strip that serves as the site’s initial visual impression.

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7. Drexel University

I love the bold imagery and the use of responsive design.  Also liked the decision to buck the trend towards lots of scrolling on the homepage.

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6. Dartmouth College

Dartmouth Pinterest-inspired homepage is simple and unique.

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5. Davidson College

Another site that really uses photography well and which has a great palette.

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4. Kenyon College

Great use of photography and parallax scrolling.

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3. University of Chicago

Good use of mega menu style navigation and the design on the bottom part of the homepage really encourages exploration.

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2. Oberlin College

My personal favorite.  In addition to fabulous photography, I love the headline collage and infographics that appear as you scroll down the homepage.

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1. Clemson University

The Clemson site has an awesome menu system.  The tiger eyes featured subtly in the header is a terrific touch as well.

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In addition to these sites, I’d also encourage you to check out Middlebury College, Colorado College and Vassar College.   These schools were in contention but didn’t quite make the list.

What are your favorite college websites?

Update: If you enjoyed this post you might also check out our post on the use of responsive design by colleges.

Fall Internship at The Brick Factory

We are looking for an intern to join our team for the Fall. The job description is below as well as instructions for how to apply. We’d love to hear from you!

Fall Internship at Brick Factory

The Brick Factory plans and executes world-class digital campaigns for non-profits, trade associations, advocacy groups and brands. We believe in simple solutions, setting clear goals and objectives, and providing great service to our clients. We believe a good website or campaign is never done and the launch of a website is the beginning, not the end.

The Brick Factory intern will be responsible for supporting our Strategists in conception, implementation and analysis of many digital initiatives. This includes website, social media, email, mobile and other digital marketing efforts that support new business and client programs. This position calls for an individual with strong communication skills, analytic skills and creative thinking ability. This position requires a highly resourceful individual who can think on their feet and can focus under pressure.

What you can expect from this internship:

  • To Work: Do not be fooled, you will be put to work. Researching, creating, outlining, and executing strategic plans to the highest ability will be your average Monday.
  • To Grow: The Brick Factory has high expectations of all interns and believes that in order for you to get the most of your time here, meeting and exceeding mutually defined goals is of top priority.
  • To Compete: A fall internship at the Brick Factory will provide you will the skills and experience necessary to compete in the fast-paced, ever-changing digital technology industry.

What we expect from you:

  • You’re a fun person to be around.
  • You have a passion for work in the digital industry and are excited to explore the digital-sphere
  • You’re a problem solver. You would rather figure out the best solution than be told how to do it.
  • You’re organized. You can manage multiple projects at once and are dedicated to hitting deadlines.
  • You have some experience with HTML, marketing and sales research, and analytics tools.

What you can expect from us:

  • A great work environment, with plenty of opportunity to learn
  • A metro accessible office in downtown Washington, DC
  • Compensation during the extent of your internship
  • A fun team of enthusiastic and talented people

The Details:

Dates September 2013 through December 2013 (can be flexible for the right candidate)
25 hours a week in the office

Sound interesting? Take a look around our website, blog, Facebook and Twitter. If you think we’d be a good fit please send a resume and cover letter to jobs@thebrickfactory.com. The deadline to apply is August 27th.