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Total posts: 26
Last post: April 24, 2017

Dan Mall (and Element Collages) to the Rescue!

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Recently, I tweeted to Dan Mall (superstar designer and professional nice guy) to let him know how much a blog post of his helped my design process. I was honored when he reached back out and asked if I'd share what I'd been doing.

Dan's blog post helped solve an issue we'd been wrestling with since making the transition to responsive web design; how to communicate visual direction.


For years the web design industry relied on time consuming and overly-specific things called "full comps" (also referred to as "concept designs", or "Photoshop mockups"). No matter what you called them, they all amounted to the same thing: a elaborate set of full web pages designed to the last excruciating pixel in Photoshop. Ones that the client then also expected the final website to the last excruciating pixel.

Not only is this time consuming and a poor use of a client's budget; but it sets the wrong expectation. Especially when doing a responsive website where hundreds of devices and screen sizes might display the website. A fixed pixel painting of a "full" or "desktop sized" website just isn't adequate anymore.

Lots of other smart folks have been trying to solve this issue of the design artifact (the thing we give to the client to communicate the design part). Samantha Warren's concept of "Style Tiles" ( were a huge step in the right direction, but we found them to still be a bit too loose and vague. Not only for our client, but also for our design process (Designers can be specific, control freak types). Even as I tried to embrace the changes necessary to be a good responsive web design practitioner, most of these new techniques left me longing in my own process.

Dan Mall to the rescue.

Dan published an article describing something called an "element collage" that struck the "Goldilocks Zone" for me as a designer who grew up making full comps. Not too specific, not too vague. Just the right amount of detail to establish a design language that could carry us forward in the project no matter the break points, no matter the device.

So we've started using them and the results so far have been tremendous.

  • We can iterate quickly, conserving valuable hours in the project budget
  • Clients understand what they are looking at. There is enough recognizable detail for them to complete a mental picture of what their responsive website might look and feel like, even early in the process
  • As designers the process is a more natural transition for how our brains work.

So Dan, here are two of my favorite recent "element collages". Those of you not familiar with element collages, notice that all the elements are recognizable "web page stuff" without being specific pages per se'. Just a proposal of visual styles and elements for the site. 

Element Collage 1
Element Collage 2


So far, so good.

Thanks Dan.

You can follow Dan on Twitter:  
Or subscribe to his blog:


FAQ Pages: How "Frequently Asked" is That Question, Really?

By dave on  April 24, 2017

I wish someone would ask how I make such great scrambled eggs. I love my scrambled eggs, and wish people shared my appreciation for them to the point where they asked how I do it.

Nobody wants to know how you make scrambled eggs

But they don’t. Even if they like them, they seldom ask how they're made.

So I wouldn’t put “How do you make such great scrambled eggs?” at the top of the questions people frequently ask me, no matter how much I wish it was true.

Yet so many companies put the equivalent of my scrambled egg queries at the top of their FAQ page.

When was your company formed?” “What is your operating philosophy?” “What makes your product so wonderful?

People don’t really ask these questions. I know you wish they did, but they don’t.

They want to know what your shipping policies are. They want to know your hours and locations. They want to know if your widget will fit with their thingamabob.

They don’t care how you decided on your company name. Sorry. At least not most of them.

So feel free to put up all the pages you want about your company, sharing everything you wish people wanted to know. Write the whole history of how your great great grandfather started the company on the corner of Main and Elm with money he raised by selling his wooden leg. Scribe a small epic on how that the particular shade of cornflower blue in your logo was inspired by a cache of eggs found by your daughter on a nature hike when she was three... Just don’t put them in your FAQs.

FAQs are powerful tools, and an excellent destination for your customers. They can save users time and energy when looking for answers on your site. They can improve search engine traffic by providing information, phrased in the form a question (which may be more likely to match their search query). To harness that power, you first need to be honest with yourself about what people ask. How do you determine that?

Don’t ask the CEO. Ask The People.

  • Check and see which questions are repeatedly asked through your "Contact Us" form
  • Conduct a survey of your customers
  • Ask your sales people what comes up when talking to potential and existing customers alike
  • Ask the receptionist what people ask most often when they call in (do not put “Is Tony available?” on your FAQs page)

In short, defer to real questions asked by people outside your organization, not the ones you think they should or might ask. Only then will your FAQs finally be frequently asked.

What’s the most ridiculous FAQ you’ve ever seen? What sites have the best FAQs you’ve noticed?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Rustbelt Refresh Recap 2014

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Matt Griffin

The aztekweb team returned from Rustbelt Refresh this year excited (and a little overwhelmed) with all the great ideas flying around. This event was unanimously one of our favorites in recent memory. The speakers and topics were top notch and the event is extremely well run. Here are some bullet points from each session collected from our team:


Content in a Zombie Apocalypse - Karen McGrane

  • There is a ‘zombie apocalypse’ of new devices and screen sizes our content needs to adapt to
  • Don’t just ‘shovel’ content on pages
  • It's very possible that web-enabled TV is the next big way to consume web pages. I should spend some time doing all my personal web browsing on my TV to see how good or terrible it is.
  • Stop thinking about web content as "pages"
  • Start thinking about how to make content work on ANY device. For example, wearable devices like "smart watches" may also be the next thing. How will sites work on those devices?
  • Don't think of content as "blobs", but instead as "chunks" - more rigidly structured and categorized
    • PDFs are an example of the worst kind of "blob" content
  • When planning a project, use content modeling
    • "Create Once, Publish Everywhere"
    • What kind of content is it? Not a "page" or a "carousel", but things like articles, FAQs, coupons, etc.
    • Consider the attributes of the content. Example: recipe
      • Kind of content is "recipe"
      • Attributes could be chef, season, ingredients, techniques, etc.
  • Karen hates PDFs as much as we do and was very blunt in reminding people that "NOBODY IS READING YOUR PDF"
  • "Every browser since the dawn of time has rendered emphasis as italic. Not in an audio interface, they don't!"
    Important to realize an audio output of your text content will be consumed and experienced differently.
  • "We have to give up this shared hallucination we've been living under, that we have any control."
  • "Whatever the next big thing is going to be, we are going to have to figure out how to get our content on it."
  • Seems like what we need is a sort of "Content Markup Language". I'm patenting ".cml"

Working Closer to the Medium - Matt Griffin

I didn't take many notes for this session, but it was more or less about wireframing and "designing" directly in the browser to save time and code, and to get away from the pixel-perfect Photoshop mode of designing.

  • Front end design has moved away from the PSD mock up and into a collaborative browser based process
  • New web solutions require an iterative process that involves collaboration with client and web team
  • Front end starter kit -
  • A good question to ask when starting a project: How would you (the client) define success for this project?
  • Matt shared a lot about their project process, particularly around kickoff meetings and early deliverables.
  • The idea of doing wireframes in the browser from a "stater kit" makes sense. I'd like to see us move away from 3rd party wireframe tools.

Shepherding Unicorns - Jen Myers

  • Apprenticeships in the web can be a great asset to start a career, more than just an internship. Take an active role in the students development.
  • The best way to learn is often to teach, this still applies to design and development
  • Mentors are sorely needed in this industry

The Developer’s Ampersandwich - Jenn Lukas

Deliberate Performance - Tim Kadlec

Tim Kadlec

  • Fat bloated sites are increasing in size yearly, 38% more in size last year
  • Set a performance budget that limits size of pages and stick to it
  • Amazon increased sales in the millions a year ($157 million) by speeding page loads up 1%
  • Tim is a great champion for web performance in our industry. 
  • Performance should be "baked in", not done later; because you'll never go back and do it later.
  • Performance is a design consideration. Poor performance leads to unhappy users.
  • You need a 20% change in performance for users to notice the difference. So if a site takes 5 seconds to load, you need to trim it down to 4.
  • Lack of performance = lack of planning
  • Be a performance masochist
  • Pre-optimization is better than post-optimization

Alice in Videoland - Rachel Nabors

  • This talk exposed the challenges of interactive story telling without the use of old standbys like Flash. 
  • Slide files are here:

Enhance! - Jeremy Keith

  • Start simple, use standards based html and css as a backbone
  • The first website made is responsive (makes you wonder if your work will be future –friendly this long)
  • When you remove your complex JavaScript and other advanced code does your site break? Can your users still get content?
  • As websites get more complex developers need to resist overtly complex solutions. Keep the logic as simple as possible.
  • Keith challenges the idea of web apps and closed system apps as being the only option. This limits the true power of the web as an open continuum.
  • Why create hacks for older browser that don't support the new features? If they don't support it, they don't need it.
  • Read "A Dao of Web Design" by Jon Allsopp
  • Now more than ever, progressive enhancement is important and necessary
  • HTML and CSS are fault tolerant; Javascript is not
    • Web sites should not be dependent on JS to work. See Instagram with JS turned off.
  • Even layout is an enhancement
  • If a browser doesn't support a feature, don't try to make a hack to give that feature. Use "Aggressive Enhancement".
  • Use feature detection, not browser detection
  • Support every browser, but optimize for newer ones.
    • It is not our job to make a site work perfectly in IE8. It is our job to educate people not to use an old and broken browser.
  • Does a website need to look the same in every browser? NO.
  • If you are stilling hacking sites together to get it to look right in IE8, you're part of the problem.
  • Postel's law: Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others 
  • What's a Web App? A website that doesn't work when JavaScript is turned off."
  • I move that Jeremy Keith should be made "President of the Web"

We'd like to extend our thanks to the folk who organize Rust Belt Refresh, especially for keeping such a high quality event in Cleveland. We can't wait for next year.


No amount of design can fix your lousy content.

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Yes, trying to fix bad  content with a shiny new design is considered lipstick on a pig.

"Well this is exciting. it's Q1 and management has approved the budget to finally redesign the company website. It's not a huge budget, but boy oh boy is it gonna be great to finally fix all the things we hate about our current website. I mean it's just looks old. And besides, there are a ton of new features and capabilities we want it to have!"

Where to even start? We want big rotating homepage doohickeys, new colors, new fonts, maybe some sweet drop shadows to really make our new logo "pop"...

Huh? What about the content you say? Forget that for a minute; What's it gonna look like? What about all the cool new stuff it's going to do? How can I give you content if I don't know what it's gonna look like? Can't you just design it and we'll figure out the content later? We don't want to waste the project budget on content, we want all these new features!"


Stop. Right. There.

No amount of new design or features can overcome lousy content - It just can't. Nor is there a designer in the Universe talented enough to prove otherwise. A designer's job is to present information to the intended audience in a way that enhances it, makes it clearer, and more impactful. But they can't do that if they don't have the content. And, they can only do so much if all they are given is bad or lazy content. As the saying goes, "Garbage in, garbage out".

So what to do?

The content first.

I know, it's a bummer...and it sounds like the least fun part of the project. Just a few moments ago your mind was positively racing with all the possibilities of the new design, features and capabilities. And now, some killjoy designer is telling you to put the brakes on the fun design part and work on the boring old content? Shouldn't they be as excited as you to get to redo an awful old website?

Not if it means the project fails in the end.

Here's the reality of what happens when you don't put content first:

  • The designer doesn't know what to design, so instead of enhancing good (or even great) content, he/she does the old "lipstick on a pig" routine. Result? Your design is lackluster and generic.
  • The developer doesn't know what kind of content you're trying to manage, so he builds a CMS that doesn't do exactly what you need it to do. Result? Wasting budget and frustrating everyone on the project (and you still wind up with a CMS that doesn't do exactly what you need).
  • The SEO team has no content to optimize and the site doesn't perform well in the search engines. Result? Low search engine visibility and low traffic to the new site.
  • The content is half-baked and doesn't resonate with your target audience. Result? Your visitors never convert to customers.
  • The project is delayed for weeks or even months because there was no content in the pages to launch on time with. Result? The frustrated teams lose focus and enthusiasm for the project and your boss is pretty unhappy.

See a trend here? You can't expect to succeed without content first...And no good designer wants their name attached to a failed project.

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a site refresh or redesign; but resist the temptation to believe a new design or piece of functionality will cure what ailed your previous website. Take a deep breath, call in your content strategist, and hire a good copywriter to be part of the project team.

Oh, and after the project launches, don't short-change the SEO either (because that's another thing a new design can't fix). But that's another blog post for another day...

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


StirTrek 2014 - Learn Long and Prosper.

By dave on  April 24, 2017


Last week, nearly our entire team had the good fortune to attend StirTrek, a one day conference with tons of great web and technology related content. Our large group was able to cover many different sessions and learned about lots of great topics. We've put some of the highlights below.

TL;DR: it was both awesome and affordable. We'll be attending again next next year.

Modern Web Diagnostics with a Glimpse into ASP.Net - Anthony van der Hoorn 

  • "Glimpse" is a powerful tool to analyze the full life cycle of a page request from the client, to the server, and back to the client
  • It is free and open source
  • We've already found a place for Glimpse in day to day development work

Team Peace of Mind: Harnessing the Power of Flow for Happier Teams & High-Quality Deliverables - Derek Hubbard

  • In psychology there is a state of mind called "flow" where productivity is highest
  • Conditions needed for "flow" to be highest:
    • You must have a clear goal
    • You must have feedback on your actions
    • You must be a good balance between challenge and skills
  • Three tools for increasing "flow" among team members

Killing Dinosaurs With Javascript - Guy Royse 

  • This session was a Live code demo of the Meteor application platform which incorporates some of the latest JavaScript technology like Node.js and MongoDB
  • the platform is promising for writing in-house monitoring apps where any change in code, markup, or data will automatically push updates to client browsers
  • This was my favorite talk of the day. I installed Meteor when I got home and started hacking.

Adventures Beyond the Page Fold - Exploring UX Mythology -  Benjamin Bykowski

  • A good general overview of the "conventional wisdom" web usability that is actually myth.
  • Benjamin gave good stats on the outdated "above the fold", "fill up that whitespace", and "everything must be three clicks away" common client requests.
  • The talk was not ground breaking per se' but it's always good to hear reinforcement on good UX from other professionals.

A humbling experience through web accessibility - Hany Elemar

  1. As the title says, it was humbling to realize that I inject a sighted bias in to my work
  2. The presentation included a live before & after demo of a screen reader on some accessible/not accessible HTML that was enlightening. 
  3. There are relatively easy ways to make all content visible to screen readers (hint: do not use CSS display: none;)
  4. Aria land mark roles are easy to add to your HTML and go along way to improving the accessibility of your website.
    <nav role="navigation">
    <h2 role="alert">
  5. Tools 
    1. Total validator browser plugin - free!
    2. Juicy studio accessibility toolbar - Firefox plugin
    3. The Accessibility Project

Stop multiplying by 4: Practical software estimation - Chuck Reeves

  1. This talk focused on the industry joke about doing an estimate and them multiplying that number by four before telling your boss.
  2. Eye opener: Up to 20% of the time it takes to do a project should be spent doing requirements (EX: a 100 hour project would need as much as 20 hours to do the requirements)
  3. Even a simple contact form's requirements should not be taken for granted, it's more complicated than you think.

How We're Failing to Secure the "Internet of Things" - Mark Stanislav

  1. "Internet of things" devices refer to devices in your home that communicate and are sometimes controlled over the Internet.
  2. There is a serious danger of attackers penetrating through these devices because nobody is securing them, there are no standards. 
  3. Who knows who has access to your network through these devices through proxy connections? 
  4. Consumers trust the manufacturers to put the proper safety controls and testing in place, but that is not actually what is happening.

Javascript is taking over the world, and it's fantastic - Kassandra perch

  • Live coding examples of the power of Javascript
  • Using JavaScript to run not only digital but physical spaces, using JavaScript to control robots and micro operating systems
  • The Javascript ecosystem/community is expanding rapidly, get involved

What Have I Done? - Brent Schooley

  • Great speaker, very entertaining, comfortable with the crowd.
  • Good pointers on productivity
  • Using the Pomodoro technique to increase focused work, employers often say they want 'multitaskers' what they want is good quality work in multiple disciplines
  • Use lists that are broken down into smaller "accomplishable" tasks so you can focus on actually completing something.
  • The talk was heavily focused on specific software tools, and of those, mostly for the MAC.
  • Rescue time browser plugin -

Touch Me, I Dare You - Josh Holmes

  • By far, our team's favorite talk of the conference
  • "A great touch experience starts with understanding your user’s context and includes understanding the difference between touch and a mouse"
  • Gestures and touch are changing the way we interact with the web and programs. This is only increasing with tablet and mobile use.
  • Don't just design for mobile - design for how the device will be used.
  • A mouse click is 1px x 1px, the average finger touch point is 42px and down, the difference is huge
  • New JavaScript libraries make implementing touch features easier. Hand.js and pointer.js are good examples
  • Next/Prev links for multi-page articles, use "rel='next'" for mobile to make read-friendly pages
  • - for making Windows 8 friendly live tiles
  • Use feature detection (pointers et al) not browser detection, as browsers are updating too constantly for this to still be a trustworthy manner of feature enabling
  • "Hover sucks. Don't use it." - or at least, don't rely solely on it. 
  • Instead of mouse events, use pointer events
  • Think about how your users are physically using devices
    • holding with two hands, typing with thumbs
    • holding with one hand, using pointer finger
    • holding on lap, typing on a keyboard
    • multiple points of touch at one time?
      • Microsoft has a Surface that can do 100 points of touch.

The Success and Failure of Moving to a Message-Oriented Application Architecture -  Jim Christopher

  • Using queues rather than direct access to machines can increase efficiency and avoid lost data issues
  • Recommends RabbitMQ
  • Very useful in data transfer heavy applications

I Only Want to Write My App Once: Using Xamarin to Build Multi-Platform Mobile Apps - Jerrell Blankenship

  • Good overview of Xamarin, it's implementation, pros and cons
    • Positive: true native apps, giving users the experience they expect
    • Negative: this means you need to write a separate UI for each, but can integrate with the same business layer
  • Because of Apple's proprietary tendencies, you can only compile and build iOS UX on a Mac (download xCode on networked Mac/VM)
  • Database info in the core, db access in app for platform-dependence (SQLLite in Android/iOS)

OOP - You're doing it completely wrong - Kevin Berridge

  • Best talk I attended
  • Break down objects to their simplest parts; This way they can be reused and shared
  • Messages - Objects should not know where they are, other objects should now know how they accomplish what they do, just that it will get done (blind trust, context independence)
  • Not Single Responsibility, Single Purpose - everything a class does should be related to this purpose, otherwise you need a new class
  • Top down or bottom up? Start top down to build the system, then as you go on and see how you can further abstract and reuse classes, refactor

Creating a Plug-in Architecture in .NET -  Ondrej Balas

  • By creating an IoC container, one can make your application extensible using plug ins
  • Implementing plug-in architecture; people can write their own plug-ins, and simply copy over DLLs, or you can release plug-ins that will add/change functionality without needing a full re-work
  • Mainly for enterprise level development

Designing with CRAP - Caitlin Steinert

  • This turned out to be a "Design for developers" crash course
  • Book recommendation - "The Non-Designer's Design Book"
  • CRAP = Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity
    • Contrast
      • Not just contrast between colors but contrast between element sizes, type styles, etc.
      • Use sparingly - too much contrast can be confusing
      • Don't be shy - contrast needs to be big to be effective
    • Repetition
      • Once you set up a convention for an element or module style, repeat it. Don't change the look of every element every time.
    • Alignment
      • Left, right, top, and bottom alignments are strongest. Horizontal center and vertical center alignments are weak.
      • Alignment makes a non-aligned element stick out more visually. This is why tabbed navigation works so well.
    • Proximity
      • Elements that are closer to each other are perceived as related to each other.
      • Elements that are farther away from each other are perceived as unrelated.

Stir Trek overall

  • PRO:
    • Packed house, but fairly well organized
    • Breakfast and lunch (Jimmy Johns lunch) provided
    • Atmosphere was casual in the movie theater setting,
    • Good comments from audience in almost every session
    • Swag! (Free T-Shirt and USB memory stick)
    • Good diversity of topics
    • Relatively significant number of women in attendance. Not as many as one would have hoped for, but the gender gap is slowly closing.
    • Team had fun and learned a lot. 
    • Talks were tracked by general category (web, mobile, security, soft skills, etc)  and all those track sessions were in the same theater, which made planning your day easy.
    • Live coding on the theater screens was awesome.
    • majority of speakers were knowledgeable in the industry, good presenters.
  • CON:
    • No Wifi
    • Some sessions' content seemed much different then the title and descriptions led one to believe.
    • A small number of presenters were not very good speakers (or maybe the others were just that good).
    • The movie theater seats tended to be very uncomfortable and not conducive to taking notes
    • Some neighboring theaters were still playing regular movies and the loud surround sound was distracting to other speakers' sessions.
    • Bathrooms cleanliness by the end of the day was let's say, "minimal".
    • Hallways were crowded between talks. I felt bad for the public trying to attend a movie that afternoon, forced to navigate the masses.

Many of the things we learned, we've already begun putting into practice. Our team has been buzzing all week with the great ideas we picked up at this excellent conference. Did you attend? We'd be interested to know what you thought.


Web Design Trends We're Thankful Are Gone

By dave on  April 24, 2017

As Thanksgiving approaches and 2014 draws to an end, there's a few web design trends we aren't sad to say goodbye to.

  1. M. Versions of Websites (Separate Mobile Sites)
    As if maintaining a completely separate mobile version of your website wasn't enough of a deterrent, Google stepped up to say that they preferred responsive designs over separate "M dot" versions because responsive sites provided a better user experience and reduced duplicate content issues for search. Raise your hand if you've ever visited a mobile specific version and immediately started hunting for the "go to full site" link. That's all you need to know.
    Mobile website with click here for full site link
  2. Rotating Billboards
    People finally came to the realization that these features served little purpose beyond settling organizational disputes over whose content got featured on a homepage. Having hard data to prove that users don't really see past the first banner is finally killing these bandwidth vampires off. Read more about website carousel stats. Feature Click-through Rates
  3. QR Codes
    Easily one of the most misused technologies from the last decade, the QR craze has finally died off. Mostly because people had such a hard time seeing their value. Marketers were just slapping QR codes on anything with no real thought behind it, and as a result this annoying technology never gained mainstream adoption. I have actually seen QR codes on webpages and in emails. Just think about that for a minute...take as much time as you need. Got some extra time? Check out these funny QR code fails.
    A QR code on an airplane banner
  4. Flash
    You know what people love? Working on their computer and getting interrupted by Adobe to update their Flash plugin. Thankfully, I can't even remember the last time I visited a site that utilized Flash, an encouraging sign for sure. I have stopped updating my browser's Flash player plugin. And you know what? I have not missed it. Good riddance to bad garbage.
    The dreaded Adobe Flash update screen
  5. Small Text
    In the earlier days of the Web, we had this collective delusion that we needed to ignore fundamental tenants of graphic design and try to cram EVERYTHING on a website "above the fold". One way we made so much crap fit was by making the text really, really, small and hard to read. Finally, people started saying "Man, I spend a lot of time reading on the Internet, I wish this text wasn't so damn hard to read. Plus, I can't read it all at once anyways, maybe we should bump this up a few sizes.". It took until 2014, but we're finally coming around on this one.
    Example of bad web design. Don't do this.

Got any web design trends you are thankful to see disappearing? Or are you sad to see any of the above go? Let us know in the comments.

Kevin Spacey uses the "f" word...a lot (and other reasons Content Marketing World 2014 was awesome).

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Content Marketing World

We love Content Marketing World. Every year, we walk away with tons of ideas and a renewed energy for our industry that we just don't get from other professional conferences. The conference feels less like work and more like a second honeymoon where you learn to fall in love with your profession all over again.

Since #CMWorld 2013, we have embraced the concept of Youtility (helping self-educated buyers instead of selling to them). We nailed down our persona creation process. We started mapping personas and messaging to specific pages in our sitemaps and wireframes. And in the process, we created higher-quality work that generated quality leads for our clients.

This year's takeaways promise even more changes for the better. Below are some of our favorite points from Content Marketing World 2014.


Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis - Inspired Content: How Brilliant Storytellers Create a Sudden Urge to Act

  • Andrew challenged the traditional "sales funnel" Reminded everyone "We haven't changed what we're doing since there were no airplanes...NO AIRPLANES!"
  • Many websites follow the Ptolemaic model (where they think the rest of the solar system revolves around them) but we need to embrace a Galileo model (where they are just another planet orbiting something much bigger than themselves)
  • Instead of the funnel he asked that we consider the Consumer journey that is a series of smaller interactions kicked off by a "Moment of Inspiration"
    • "People don't buy raw meat, they're inspired to have a steak"
  • Think like television executives - What if we made a movie? What would that look like?
  • Google Trends is the most underutilized marketing tool on the planet.
  • Valuable content increases demand for services, products
  • Plus, he gave away 4 secrets to create "moments of inspiration" But if you didn't go to the conference, you won't know what they are.
  • MOI leads to ROI

Katrina Craigwell

Katrina Craigwell - How GE Determines What Channels Make the Most Impact

  • They create different kinds of content for the following types of audiences: Insiders, Decision makers, Enthusiasts, and Consumers
  • They rely on Instagram because using visual story telling helps tell more complicated stories
  • They actually work with content creators, invite them to come work with the brand. Such as DJs, cinematographers, and so on.
  • Encouraged us to approach YouTube not as a repository for videos, but as a channel to be programmed
  • Advice for companies without a tangible/physical product: Show how your customers are benefiting from your services instead. How you are affecting their operation.

Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson - Strategy First: Look Before You Leap

  • Don't prioritize campaigns over really listening to customers needs
  • Ask "who, what, why, where, when"
  • If your content is for everyone, it's kinda for no one.
  • What happens to content that goes everywhere? It dies.
  • Provide some constraints so you have focus. Otherwise you just spin your wheels
  • The tools have taken the place of the strategy
  • The goal of marketing is to know the customer so well that the product sells itself.

George Stenitzer

George Stenitzer - How to Speed the Journey from Content to Cash

  • We need to do a better job considering the buyer's journey. We're making it too hard for consumers to buy.
  • There are four steps to the buyer journey:
    • Recognize a need
      • Content can magnify the problem or help the buyer better understand the problem
      • Upset the customer's sense of status quo
  • Evaluate options
    • Content should make it easy to compare your services and competitors
    • Consumers are going to research your competition, even if you don't put info about them on your properties
  • Resolve concerns
    • Use content to tell customer stories
    • Use content to showcase your expertise in that buyer's industry
  • Negotiate contract and buy
    • Use content to reinforce the purchase decision
    • Use content to cross sell your other services

Jay Baer

Jay Baer - Creating Content that Provides Mobile Youtility

  • Jay's premise has long been that your marketing should be so good, that people would be willing to pay for it.
  • Social media is not a friendship, it's a familiarity, and it's about an inch deep
  • Everyone is busy, but relevance creates time. When people say they don't have time, they're saying you're just not that important.
  • If you ask people the right way, they will do whatever you ask them. Example: The Ice Bucket Challenge
  • You cannot change people's culture at bayonet point, they have to think it was their idea

Tom Martin

Tom Martin - Using Content as your New Sales Force

  • We live in an age of self-educating buyers who can cut the sales force out of the equation if they so choose.
  • More than half of buyers create a short list of vendors before they reach out
  • Because people self educate they are invisible,there is no subscriber list to buy. People don't have to give us their personal information anymore.
  • We need to make sure our content goes where the consumer is...which may not be our website.
  • Biggest mistake of content marketers is that it has to be on your site. Instead, invest in creating awareness of your stuff no matter where it was.
  • The self-educating buyer doesn't want to be sold to. They think they've got the salesperson. But they don't know what they don't know. So they are likely to come across misinformation. And it's the salesperson's job to identify when this happens. When sales helps educate the self-educated buyer, you get the sale.
  • Never produce anything once. You can reuse ideas from content to create more or repurpose it. Plan this first!

Mark Schaefer

Mark Schaefer - How to Make Twitter Your Content Marketing Best Friend

  • We can find our customers and their conversations through Twitter, we can go where they are
  • What if you had a friend who said you can only come to my house, I will never come to yours? Pretty lousy friendship
  • You should count as a metric how many likes, links, and retweets you give away, not how many you receive
  • People are attracted when you're helping them.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens - A to Z: Planning Your Content Library

  • Companies understand content marketing is important, but they are struggling to:
    • Produce enough content
    • Produce engaging content
  • Planning a content library helps overcome these challenges.
  • First, make sure keep your consumers' buying process in mind
    • Remember that there are multiple people with different roles involved in the process, and each role has unique objectives.
  • Second, audit your existing content
    • You probably have more than you think
      • Webinars, eBooks, blog posts, videos, whitepapers, press releases, etc.
  • Last, Create a spreadsheet that covers:
    • Buyers and their roles
    • Where they are in the decision process
    • Identify what content you have that can be used for specific buyers at specific parts of the decision process
    • Identify your content gaps and start writing

Jenny Magic

Melissa Breker

Jenny Magic, Melissa Breker - Getting Started with Adaptive Content - Collaborate With Your Tech Team Using Existing Content Tools

  • Adaptive content is possible if you know what to ask for. If you don't ask, the answer will always be no
  • Two key decisions and use technology to adapt to the user
    • What content to adapt
    • Based on what logic/conditions
  • Adaptive content has 3 to 10 times the conversion rate
  • Don't start with the technology
  • User personas are not a creative writing process. They're a summary of real people based on research. If not, call them something else
  • Key takeaways:
    • Personalization is coming
    • Content before technology
    • Tools must match strategy
    • Start small for big wins

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler - Mastering Tone of Voice

  • In text-based content, tone of voice is powerful.
  • Most companies devote little time to tone of voice. The emphasis is on creating the content only.
  • How to manage tone of voice:
    • Make it part of someone's job to stay true to your tone of voice.
    • Decide who you are as a company.
    • Use voice to differentiate.
    • Capture your tone of voice in a style guide.
    • Choose three simple words to describe you and keep those in mind when you write.
    • Devote time to your microcopy.
    • Beware of lawyers. They destroy tone of voice (sorry to our law firm clients).
    • Embrace good jargon. Good jargon is precise (it furthers the conversation) and it proves to the targeted reader you know what you're talking about.

Scott Stratten

Scott Stratten - Data, Digits & Dummies - What You Know about Content Marketing May Be Wrong

  • Your actions are the brand
  • The content is useless if the people don't back the story up.
  • Sometimes content is simply giving a damn about the customer
  • Don't just try to be first, be right first
  • Your company will screw up. Publicly. When they do, realize that screw ups are a content opportunity to take it head on, be honest, and come out looking better than before the screwup happened.

Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey - Closing Keynote

The CMWorld team definitely have mastered saving the best for last. Leading up to the conference, lots of people asked what does Kevin Spacey have to do with content marketing? The key answer? Storytelling; a key element to efffective content marketing. Kevin Spacey knows his way around a good story like nobody else working today.

And he did not disappoint. Mr Spacey made a superb effort at researching his topic and audience, proving to any sceptic that he was indeed the right fit for the closing keynote over his work in the Content Marketing industry. And just to prove it he dropped some key marketing buzzwords and followed them up with a snarky "See, I know your f#*&ing terminology!" And judging by the standing ovations he received, 2,500 content marketers were totally fine with that.


Stir Trek 2015- Ultron Edition Recap

By dave on  April 24, 2017

It’s true— there was a private screening of the new Avengers movie on opening night. But we went to Columbus to hang out in movie theaters for an even more compelling reason, our second year at Stir Trek! 

Stir Trek is a one-day conference in Columbus, Ohio focused on teaching software developers the best in new technologies, techniques, and tools. Last year we came back with tons of inspirational ideas and helpful tips. And this year didn’t disappoint. 

TL;DR: Another year of great sessions, but one of our favorites was by our colleague, Mike Hagesfeld, about how improv comedy can improve your communication skills and help your career.


Swag bag arrived for next week! #swag #stirtrek

A photo posted by Dustin Graves (@digraves) on Apr 22, 2015 at 9:01am PDT

Some of Our Favorite Sessions

Or get all the slides and code examples from Github.


Key Takeaways

Our team pitched in to share what they each got out of the event this year.

Michael Hagesfeld 

Stir Trek 2015 was generally another well-done effort from the folks in Columbus. Overall there was a good balance between pure tech demos, process-oriented presentations, and soft-skills talks. My personal favorite was by Jared Faris on estimation (“How Long Will it Take?”). 

I feel like most discussions of estimation in software, especially in Agile development, try to draw the focus away from hours and actual time. Instead, they use the abstract world of Fibonacci values and t-shirt sizes.

Faris’ talk did a great job of reminding us that at the end of the day someone is going to pay for the work we do, and they want to know how long something is going to take. He did a great job connecting the two camps, though. He stressed that you can convert your S/M/L estimations into hours per user story, thus getting a real-world number you can use. Faris’ focus on the necessity of accurate estimation, and evaluation of different methods (top-down vs. bottom-up), with their pros and cons, was very helpful in helping me clarify my own hard time in doing estimations. 

My biggest takeaway was this: estimation takes time. Estimation is hard work. Estimation may not feel productive because no code comes out as a result. But estimation is necessary, accurate estimation is critical, and if you (the developer) don’t do it? Someone else will, someone with a smaller knowledge base, and we’ll all pay the price.

Justin Meyers

Chris Love's presentation, "10 Things to Make Your Site Faster and Make More Money Today" shared great takeaways that can help your site, and highlighted why site speed is important for the user experience.

"Speed is good user experience."

  • 57% percent of users will abandon your site if it's not available in under three seconds.
  • The average website today has 99 file requests! That is way too many.
  • Do you know how much it costs to load your page on different connections and in different countries? Find out at (it's eye opening!). 
  • Bundle and minify your CSS and JS to lower the number of file requests and increase speed.

Besides Chris Love's presentation, I also enjoyed "No More Static Comps: Toward a Modern Design Process" by Eric Browning which detailed the evolving nature of designing on the web. He offered some alternatives to the traditional static PSD mock-up such as, element collages (which we use at Aztek) and a client design brief that shows related aesthetic ideas and defines business goals early on.

Chris Bohatka

This year was my 5th time at Stir Trek, and what set this year apart was that my colleague, Mike Hagesfeld, presented in the Soft Skills theater. He knocked it out of the park, and I couldn't be happier for him. I also attended sessions on software estimation, JavaScript requirements and dependency libraries, smartwatches, and design patterns. 

Whether it’s Top-Down or Bottom-Up, I learned how to create accurate estimates that I can stand behind while satisfying business needs for billing. I found great tools, like Browserify or RequireJs, to eliminate loosely coupled JavaScript dependencies and make my code more testable. I now have the tools and knowledge necessary to begin writing apps for the Apple Watch or Pebble. And I can use the Null Object pattern to make my code more readable. 

After learning all these tips from Stir Trek, I am ditching the T-Shirt sizes in favor of Fermi Estimation, developing some smartwatch app ideas, and sharing what I learned with others.

Alex Yosa

My second time at Stir Trek was even more of a blur than the first. Everyone in attendance shared the same mindset: obtain as much information as you can, and try to find that "sweet spot" where you are attending talks that are both focused on familiar technologies, and those outside of your wheelhouse entirely.

I had the privilege of getting a high-level overview of some JavaScript libraries I had never even heard of ("RequireJS vs. Browserify" with Jeff Valore), learning how to integrate improvisation/communication into my daily work ("Yes And!" with our very own Mike Hagesfeld), and getting a good lesson on estimation, including some very close-to-home examples showing just how much improvement we all can make ("How Long Will It Take?" with Jared Faris). At the end of the day, it was an overwhelming pile of information floating through my head. Luckily, I've gotten a little better at retaining and categorizing information since last year!

Dustin Graves

This was my first year at Stir Trek. Between the novelty of spending a day in a movie theater and the joy in being surrounded by like-minded people, it was an exceptional way to spend a work day. I was a little disappointed that I did not see much in the talks that I would consider new information. But reinforcement of ideas is not a complete waste. I did enjoy Steve Smith's talk "Real World Design Patterns". Many patterns I use every day I never took the time to rigorously examine, and it was nice to have a different perspective on them.

Keith Rowe

This was my second year and was a terrific follow-up. I could not have been happier spending the day with several of the Aztek production team at an awesome event (and a beautiful spring day) in Columbus. I thought from the event registration to the speakers, topics, and even the breakfast at this year’s event was more fulfilling than the last.

My biggest takeaway came from listening to complete strangers discuss and compliment Mike Hagesfeld’s session. It showed me how one person can provide such a positive influence on others. This was truly an awesome experience and I would encourage all to attend next year.

TJ Bowman

This was my first year attending the Stir Trek conference. I couldn’t miss it due to all of the hype from the rest of the Aztek team, and I have to say that it was well deserved. Hosting the event inside of a movie theater was an interesting change up from previous conferences that I had attended. This made the talks much more comfortable and easier to digest.

My favorite talk was probably “Real World Design Patterns” by Steve Smith. I liked the point that he made about the pattern names being a common language among developers. Even though our execution may differ slightly between companies or projects, it gives us the ability to effectively communicate concepts to one another. I also learned a few useful patterns that I had never heard of before which I hope to use in the near future.

Did you attend Stir Trek this year? What were your favorite sessions?





How to Give Web Design Assets To Your Web Designer

By dave on  April 24, 2017

If you ever hire a web designer (firm or freelancer), you will need to give them the image and graphic assets to use in your design. And if you are not a designer yourself, you may be a little unsure about what formats and sizes to give them. Here're a few simple guidelines to help you give them what they need.


Brand or identity guidelines

If your company is big and/or savvy enough to have formal brand/identity guidelines, you can stop reading now; You already know how to hand off assets to outside partners. If you are not so lucky, keep reading and add "Develop brand guidelines" to your to-do list.

Your Logo

To make sure your logo looks as good as it can on your site, you'll want to give your web designer a file that allows for the best quality and the greatest amount of design flexibility. The best kind is a vector logo with a transparent background. Vector files do not rely on pixels (they use lines and curves) to render their appearance so they look the same at any size, large or small.

Best case:
Adobe Illustrator (.ai, .eps)

Vector Vs Raster image


Next best case:
Sometimes you can't get a vector version. Your next best format is a high-quality PNG (a bitmap format). PNG's support transparency, so try to find a PNG at least 200 pixels wide with a transparent background.

Transparency in images

The gray and white checkerboard pattern represents transparent image. If you were to place this image over a photo, you would see the photo under and partially through the dice.

Worst case:
A medium to high-quality JPEG (at least 200pixels wide). JPEGs don't support transparency, but if that's all you can provide your designer, then that's all you can provide and your designer will just have to do their best. But you should understand that this may limit how they are able to use your logo. And without transparency, it means your logo is probably going over a plain, solid background (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Pro tip:
If your company has ever done any print work such as business cards, letterhead or brochures, it is possible the printer who ran the job has the file types you are looking for.

Color Palette

It is helpful to provide any official colors that your company uses in their materials.

Best case:
Provide the Hexadecimal or RGB color values for each color that your company uses. These look something like this:

color values


Next best case:
Give your design some other electronic pieces your company has created recently that use your colors. She can extract the colors using her design software.

Worst case:
Give the designer some general direction ("we like blue, we hate yellow") and let the designer do their best to select some colors they think are appropriate. If you like the selections, document the color values in your soon-to-be-created brand standards guide.

Type (Fonts)

I bet your organization has a font family or two that they use on the majority of their materials. To keep your website consistent with those materials, your web designer will want to use the same fonts.

Best case:
Thanks to how far web fonts have come, your web designer is probably going to use a web font service such as Typekit or to display the typography on your website. In that case, all they need are the names of the fonts you use and they'll find them from one of those services. No need to hand over any files.

Next best case:
If you use a font that is not available from one of the web font services, you may need to self-host your own fonts. In this scenario, you will need to hand over the actual font files. Fonts come in the following common file extensions: .TTF, .OTF, .WOFF, .OTF, .EOT, .PFB, .PFM. There are other, but these are the most common. Make sure you have the rights to use these fonts before you distribute them.

Worst case:
Let your designer suggest some new typography. And just like your colors, be sure to document the font selections so other within your organization can stay consistent!

Product Images

Assuming your company makes or sells a product you will likely need to turn over product images. If this is the case, you also need these images to correspond to SKU or product ID numbers. I'll go out on a limb and also assume that you may need alternate views, click-to-enlarge, and other common product website features.

Best case:
High-quality JPEGs are almost always best. Images can always be smaller, so give the designer images that do not have to be enlarged (this will cause them to appear pixelated or blurry). I usually recommend providing images around 3,000 pixels wide/tall (whichever comes first). Your designer can batch resize them and compress to their final size from there.

When dealing with product images, there are probably lots of them, so make sure they are logically named and well-organized.


  • Name each file with a logical file name. It is common to choose one that corresponds to it's SKU or unique identifier.
  • Talk to your designer/developer about how the website or database will look for these images on the final website pages.
  • Indicate which image is the main product image, which are the supporting images. Again, discuss with your designer/developer how you will name and identify these before anyone goes through hundreds or thousands of images the wrong way.


  • include spaces or special characters in the filename
  • have varying sizes, aspect ratios, and levels of image quality
  • mix file formats (some .jpg?width=670&quality=60, some .png, etc.)
  • assume your designer/developer knows as much about the images/products as you do

Worst case:
Worst case is you have a smattering of inconsistent, low-quality images. And no, your designer does not have any magic software to make them look great. Garbage in, garbage out as they say. If your product images are in bad shape, consider taking a step back on the website project and reshoot the product images first with a professional photographer

Other supporting images

For any other kind of image asset already covered above. These could be team portrait images, candid office shots, stock images you have preselected, infographics, etc.

Best case:
Provide the designer with the source images from the program they were first created in. Your designer should have the latest graphics software and be able to manipulate these images. She will make them whatever size/shape they need to be to work with your new website. In this case, we are likely talking about a smaller volume of images, so it won't be as critical to worry about pixels sizes and color modes. Just get as close to the original image format as possible. This time, you may be looking for native Photoshop or original photography files (.psd, .raw, .ai)

Image files sizes add up quick so don't email them (they might not go through). The best way to get these to your web designer is through a file transfer service like Dropbox.

Did we miss anything?

Of course, you may encounter a scenario we didn't cover above. If you find yourself unsure of where to start, the best thing you can do is ask the designer what else you can provide them. They should be able to help you hunt down the assets. After all, it's in their best interests to have a great looking final product too!

Images used under Creative Commons License.
Vector Vs Raster
Image transparency


Our favorite ideas from "Agile Explained" with LeanDog

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Our team had the recent good fortune to attend "Agile Explained" on the very cool boat/office of the good folks @LeanDog

The two-day course is a fire-hose of information about the agile process and will leave you exhausted with your head spinning; but in the best way possible. Our team left positively buzzing with all the ideas we want to learn more about and implement into our own workflow.


Here are some of our favorite ideas from the course:

  • Agile is more about the values and culture than it is about strict ceremony or ritual.
  • To become agile, you must first identify your blockers so that you can overcome them.
  • There is no one process. Try everything and keep what works for you.
  • Pair on all the things! It makes knowledge move more quickly throughout the organization, and you'll solve problems faster.
  • An open workspace is a must.
  • Personalize your workspace to match the personality of the organization.
  • Don't create walls. Even things like wearing headphones or a monitor facing away from the group (where they can't see what you're working on) constitutes a wall.
  • Involve the client (Product Owner) every chance you get.
  • The number one failure of agile teams is not doing retrospectives.
  • Always be delivering business value (to the customer).
  • Work a hard 40 (hours per week). Make the most of your time at work so you can have a life outside of it.
  • Waiting = waste
  • Make your work visible.
  • Your work queue is just like a ride line at DisneyWorld. Everybody has to wait their turn, but it's ideal to be able to estimate how long till they get to ride the ride.
  • Get rid of processes that don't contribute any value (hint: ones that are directly related to making product). I'm looking at you, timesheets.
  • Retrospectives are one of the most important Agile processes, don't skip them. Figure out how to make them as fun as possible, bring food.
  • Don't let the squeaky wheel always win. Communicate and vote on ideas so that the team decides what is the best option or most important.
  • Establish rules that will help prevent unnecessary distractions and create penalties for those who break the rules (not necessarily a monetary punishment).
  • Agile should increase consistency. Lack of consistency = lack of trust.
  • Cross train everyone on your team to avoid specialization (T-Shaped abilities).
  • Satisfy your future self, invest in people now so that they are more valuable / versatile later.

If "Agile Explained" sounds like something you and your team might benefit from, here is some more information: