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Finding Surprises in Historic Charleston Buildings

2017 marks the year of the enhanced TDG office space. Our renovations are fully underway at this time, which has been quite a bit more involved than we initially anticipated. As I’m sure anyone who has done renovations previously has already realized, a lot of the ‘easy stuff’ turns out to be quite a bit more complex than initially anticipated.

Step I of Project: ‘Renovate TDG Studios’ (as it has been dubbed locally), involved ripping out the commercial ceiling tiles to expose piping, ducting, and more undesirables. As to be expected, we found quite a bit more than anticipated. For example, until eventually caving to get a completely separate A/C unit, we have always experienced issues with air flow in our tertiary office room. We definitely figured out the original problem at play when we ripped out the ceiling – the ducting was completely disconnected from the main system! That could make it a bit difficult for seamless air travel. Other treasures we discovered in our ceiling included an illuminated ‘Exit’ sign that pleasantly greeted us by smacking us in the face, and an air vent cover that was kept up there as a just-in-caser, I suppose.

Step II of the Project RTDGS involved tearing down a wall in between our main office area, and our new office addition. That was just plain ol’ fun.

Step III was a bit less fun. Back to commercial ceiling tear down – this time in the new office addition. In buildings over 100 years old, there are often stories in the ceilings and walls. We definitely found a story in our addition’s commercial ceiling. The story was in the shape of a skull! The skull was covered in dust and had what looked like a bullet hole through the middle of it. Our lead renovation officer, Brent Tabor, legit fell off of his ladder – add this to reasons we are thankful that we are located on the bottom floor.

As it turns out, we had not actually stumbled upon a sacred Indian burial ground, nor had we uncovered the solution to what had happened to Jimmy Hoffa (NOTE: This was who we were initially hoping to have found). Rather, this skull was actually left by the building’s maintenance man as a joke for us to stumble across. He had actually dipped the skull in glue, rolled it in the dirt, and shot it with a 22!!! We admired his dedication.

Group text message hilarity then ensued. Note to self: asking Siri for a solution provided another element of humorous insight. Stay tuned for more updates on our renovation progress. And if we find any more body parts, you will be the first to know, per Siri’s recommendation.

The Web Development Process: An Infographic

Often when we meet with potential clients, one of the first things we cover with them is a complete review of our web development process. Starting with discovery, moving to planning, design, then construction, followed by a full prototype, and subsequent site launch and promotion, our web development process is a comprehensive look into how we break down a project into intuitive and cohesive phases. The exact structure of our process has been continuously morphing over the years, which has brought us to the format we outlined in the infographic below. You don’t necessarily have to follow this exact process to find success, of course, however following a concise project structure will produce more advanced, and, in turn, more successful, end products.

Motivation Monday: Finding Design Inspiration

One of my least favorite feelings in the world is when I feel a design deadline approaching at the speed of light, and my creativity seems to have miraculously… disappeared. Over the last decade I have been designing, I have had this happen to me several times – often on my most important deadlines, of course. I have learned that the best way to handle a design slump can be to search for design inspiration. Often all it takes to kick my design senses into gear is to look at a plethora of design concepts, projects and motivational quotes, and suddenly my mindset will kick back into gear.

I am fairly confident I am not the only one who has experienced a design slump. Thus, if you find yourself in a similar situation, I encourage you to check out the following places I go for inspiration:

Anti-Slump Action I: Sift through Pinterest
As many of you already know, Pinterest is an excellent tool for all sorts of inspiration. DIY gifting? Check. Quick and Easy Appetizer? Check. Yes, I confess, Pinterest can be a girl’s best friend. That said, there is also a place on Pinterest for guys (woodworking, anyone?) – and there is definitely a spot for designers. In fact, I have made amazing design revelations via Pinterest just by searching simple keyword phrases such as ‘web design inspiration.’ The big picture sky view of designs provides a unique perspective for looking at imagery. The best part? If you can’t seem to find the design style you are looking for, you could always just look for an inspirational quote to keep the morale high.

Anti-Slump Action II: Check out showcase sites
My favorite design showcase site is The Best Designs, but there are a ton more to choose from. Showcase sites don’t have to revolve around web design either, Behance, Dribbble and Awwwards all explore various facets of design inspiration.

Anti-Slump Action III: Get away from your computer
Sure, this advice is not all that helpful for anyone on a timeline, however if you are in the fortunate position of having some extra time on your hands, get out of the office! Go embrace your inner foodie, nature-lover, or escapist. Go for a hike, eat snails, or go for a long drive. Sometimes the best inspiration is that which is around you, and that inspiration is often what is most taken for granted by creatives. Come back with a clear brain full of new memories, smells, ideas, and tastes. Embrace those new concepts in your designs.

Anti-Slump Action IV: Start from Scratch
Sometimes the hardest part in design is taking something you have started and bringing it to where you want it to be. Often I find myself with an amazing idea that I just can’t quite bring to fruition in my design. When this happens, I find myself best guided by completely scrapping this concept and exploring a brand new direction. Yes, that hurts to do. However, I tend to find that once I get started in a new, fresh, direction, I am able to come back to the original concept, and pull elements in gradually. It doesn’t always work, but it can often do the trick – and it is usually worth a try.

Do you have any creative slump strategies that seem to work outside of these tips?

Going Responsive with your Site

As an agency that has experienced quite a bit of growth over the past years, our design and development team recently drew it to our attention that we are guilty of being a company that neglects their own marketing efforts as we’re focusing all of our attention on our client’s efforts. While we have been doing fully responsive WordPress-clad sites for years, our own site has remained a fairly static, constricted-width site. Pretty BORING, am I right?!

That said, it has become incredibly obvious that it is time to change this! We are entering 2017 with a website redevelopment in the works through our talented team. And we are super stoked to announce that we are finally going responsive with our site – a task that has been on our plate for years – but has always seemed to be trumped by bigger, better paying projects.

Since we are officially beginning these efforts, we are advising you to follow our lead, and convert your site into a dynamic, responsive presence.If we can do it, so can you!

We encourage you to check out the list below for the top 5 reasons to go responsive with your online presence:

1. Responsive websites rank higher in Google.
For years now, Google has been prioritizing mobile compatible sites over sites that are not mobile-friendly. In fact out of all methods of optimizing a site for smart devices, responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern. Spending the time and/or money to convert your site to a responsive presence can easily be considered a pretty significant investment in your SEO efforts.

2. Responsive web design makes your site more user-friendly.
Guess what guys? Mobile browsing is not going away – in fact, it will only be increasing in the next several years. This goes the same for tablet users, and other non-desktop viewing environments. When your web site is not responsive, you are essentially alienating all users in non-desktop environments. Responsive web design makes your site easy to use in all screen sizes and environments. Have you ever looked at your Analytics to see how many users are coming from smart devices? Hint: it’s a lot, no matter what your business is. After a responsive redevelopment, you will see increased conversions, decreased bounce rates, and increased user engagement overall.

3. Mobile users dominate Social Media.
If your end game is traffic, then Social Media is a facet of your marketing plan that simply can not be ignored. Over 50% of social media users check their accounts via mobile devices. The bottom line is that if you don’t have a responsive site and you are sharing links and/or articles via a social platform, you are going to have a super high bounce rate for all traffic generated as a result of your social sharing. That is because no one likes to stay on a site that is difficult to read on the device they are using. These users essentially just end up being wasted leads. And that is a pretty big bummer, y’all.

4. Responsive Sites make for Simpler Website Management.
In this instance, I am primarily comparing the alternative mobile-friendly option of having a completely separate mobile presence (ex: mobile.thedesigngrouponline.com), to responsive design. With a unique mobile site, you are essentially looking at managing two different marketing (SEO/AdWords/Analytics) campaigns, in addition to two different sites for which to manage content. In addition to hassle, this can also imply expense. If you are paying a developer or agency to update content in two different places, or create two different marketing strategies, I guarantee you will end up paying more.

5. Responsive Web Design is the Future.
Future Land does not consist of a single unified interface for online viewing. Future Land consists of infinite ways of accessing content online, whether it be from your mobile device, your iWatch, or the mirror in your bathroom (hey, it’s Future Land – it’s theoretical). Future Land has an infinite number of viewing technologies, formats, devices and interfaces. The only method of creating a site for infinite size growth is to create a responsive site that automatically adjusts according to size. That is a fact that you can hold me to. And since we’re in Future Land, let’s go ahead and grab some no-calorie cookie dough and hit the bottomless Bloody Mary bar on our ‘Virtual Vacation’ while we’re waiting on the plutonium for the DeLorean. No?

DPPit.com #11 in top 35 IT staffing sites

Recently we launched a redesigned DPPit.com for DP Professionals in Columbia, SC. We were all really pleased with ourselves when we finally launched the site, because it represented a foray into new technologies for us. Little did we know, we would have even more reason to be proud.

Roughly 6 months after the site’s launch, our contact at DP Professionals shot us an email with great news! DPPit.com was recognized by echogravity.com as being the eleventh best IT staffing & recruiting websites out of the Top 35 best. Check it out here.

Amber Masse’s Site Launch

Here at The Design Group, we work on a lot of complicated projects for clients up and down the east coast, and beyond. But don’t get the wrong impression, we are not pretentious types. When it comes down to our humble Charleston roots, we still enjoy working with surrounding local organizations and business owners.

In keeping with that philosophy, we  invite you to check out a recent project we completed for a fellow Charlestonian, AmberMasse.com.  Amber Masse is a professional hairstylist who recently branched out on her own at Polished Salon in West Ashley. As an industry veteran with over 10 years experience,  Amber came to us in need of a website that would help expand her clientele base, while allowing her clients to easily make appointments and provide a clear picture of the services she offers.

The TDG team decided that a customized WordPress platform would allow her to manage her own content and keep her clients organized, which would help her increase efficiency in her business by giving her an online presence. Equipped with service information, an online appointment request form and more, the site has achieved Amber’s goals and beyond.

Be sure to check out the site, and visit Amber next time you need to get ‘your ears lowered’!

Healthy Lifestyle Site Launch!

Here at TDG, we have had a productive last few months. One of the fruits of our labor is the launch of Healthy Lifestyle & Spirit, a nutrition/health focus site developed for a longtime client of The Design Group, Ms. Sharla Patrick. Sharla’s nutritional consulting and mind-body health emphasis has created a large following within the healthy living community. To cater to her growing following, the website was created with a primary emphasis on aesthetics and user involvement. Thus, re-imagining the overall design/structure and re-tooling the user interface was a key focus for The Design Group’s team.

Some of the principle features in HLSS’s redesign include a multi-purpose Online Store that not only incorporates a Paypal checkout for Sharla’s products, but also an affiliate product portal for secondary vendors and affiliates. The affiliate portal allows HLSS clients to explore and/or purchase products from secondary vendors through Healthy Lifestyle & Spirit – without ever leaving the site.

In addition to the  features involving online store, TDG also incorporated a plethora of supplementary features including a highly customized calendar of events, email marketing integration in conjunction with the Vertical Response platform throughout, as well as an entire Media section featuring photos, videos, downloadable documents, and more.

All in all, the TDG team is extremely pleased with the direction the Healthy Lifestyle & Spirit project has taken, and the website was carefully aligned with company’s brand identity, also developed by The Design Group, to unify the brand identity of HLSS.  We encourage you to check the site out for yourself to explore further – be sure to keep an eye out for some of the fun features we mentioned above. You may even learn a bit about living a healthier life – just in time for the holidays!

It could come in handy!  …The aliens on the TDG team have also been advised to keep up with Sharla’s healthy recommendations and tips (many available in the Healthy News section of the site), as it was realized that the detrimental intake of junk food in lieu of real meals has started turning the aliens into sloth-like blobs in our office chairs – thus making our alien mission of world domination much harder…

Capitoltrak Beta Launch

Though we haven’t been very active on our blog recently, we have been burning the midnight oil on several big projects here at TDG, and we’re really excited to have launched the beta version of one of our largest projects in the recent months.

This new project, CapitolTrak, centers around government funding data and news for both the Department of Defense and NASA. The Design Group developed this website concept bred by Jacques & Associates, a DC based consulting firm.

Jacques & Associates wanted their site to be able to aggregate all pertinent information for all sorts of programs, so that it would be readily available to subscribers. CapitolTrak has one singular mission: to provide you with insight into your Federal Government programs of interest in a usable, relatable, and functional format.  The Jacques team conceptualized a comprehensive subscribe-able platform centered around the goal of providing users with up-to-date information, data, tracking statistics and more for in-depth government funded program analysis. Their primary goal was to significantly decrease the amount of effort involved in government program tracking and fiscal analysis. We here at TDG, being aliens and all, know how hard it is to collect all that sort of data from people – They tend to resist… Thus, we all were very excited to introduce the concept to the worldwide web.

Full of features, perks, aggregates of data, and stylistic excellence, The CapitolTrak launch has created a buzz in our office and far beyond, even in its beta version. Below is an outline of several of our personal favorite features CapitolTrak boasts:

  • Paid user subscription for detailed program information; a user can choose between the DoDTrak (Department of Defense) and NASATrak, or choose both programs.
  • Intuitive ‘Program Dashboard’ displaying user-defined pertinent information in various collapsible menus
  • Comprehensive program categorization, and subcategorization featuring one-click follow and unfollow features, as well as a hierarchical program navigation mechanism to allow for intuitive, yet thorough, program tracking mechanisms
  • Line-item level programs data, providing insight into a program’s funding stream, status, key points of contact, news, and more. If you don’t see a program in DoDTrak or NASATrak that you want tracked, you can “Request A New Program” and our CapitolTrak team will add it to our system.
  • Trending Graphs, Budget Charts, Pertinent Program News, Relevant Documentation and more for each program category, sub-category, as well as the individual programs themselves
  • Complete CSS3 & HTML5 Integration for a clean, semantic foundation that abides by web standards
  • And a lot more, of course

Though the site was just recently launched by The Design Group, a wealth of information, data and content have already been added and integrated throughout , and we have seen how information rich this site has become. We think that it is going to be a smash hit with users, and as it grows it is sure to become an incredibly useful tool to many companies and organizations.

…Even though we have been working on it non-stop, we occasionally find ourselves stopping and reading information about aircraft, tanks – you name it. The head aliens are secretly learning all about earth’s military capabilities and space exploration progress – You know, the whole ‘know thine adversary’ theory…

Photography

Here at The Design Group, were all about web design. We pretty much think in HTML and CSS (it makes flying a spaceship hard sometimes when you’re thinking in a computer language), and though we are deeply engrossed in that part of our business, it isn’t all we do, by far.

Occasionally, we pick up a flashy handheld plastic box with glass in it called a camera, and we engage in an activity that turns light and the real world into still frames of beauty, AKA photography (aliens like photo albums too, you know. Just don’t indulge any alien that asks if you wanna see pictures of its kids).

On that note, recently in the office we’ve been moving around. This means that in all the reshuffling of offices and everything, a lot of stashed stuff resurfaced from days gone by. We found some older photography that you might enjoy. Take a look, its on our photography page!

McGuire Custom Homes

McGuire Custom HomesAbout a month ago, we spotlighted a new design and logo for one of our long-time clients, Mac McGuire, of McGuire Custom Homes. Mac, as we mentioned previously in a recent post, is a custom home builder in the Charleston & Mt. Pleasant area who worked with The Design Group to completely revamp the McGuire Custom Homes website.

Today, TDG is stoked to show off the new fresh face of McGuire Custom Homes – as the site is officially launched!

The site has many neat features, one of the biggest being the Client ‘Portal,’ which is, essentially, an access point for clients of McGuire Custom Homes to locate personalized information regarding (a) project(s) presently in progress through the company. In addition to this beneficial new feature, the site also includes a customized showcase of homes and renovations completed by the company, along with before and after photographs of remodeling properties that punctuate Mac McGuire’s experience and expertise. Of course, the newly added features are plentiful on the site, so be sure to check the TDG Portfolio soon for a full project breakdown.

After seeing what exactly Mac can do with a home, the aliens at TDG have decided to contract McGuire Custom Homes firsthand to help in the construction of their upcoming ‘World Domination Headquarters,’ or ‘WDH,’ as it is commonly coined. Should they choose to accept this assignment, they will officially bring us one step closer to complete and utter control of the universe, subsequently wiping out mankind as a whole.

Until that point, however, we encourage you to go ahead and check out the revamped McGuire Custom Homes website, and share some of your thoughts.

South Carolina National Guard Web Development and web design in Charleston
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Web Design, Development, CMS+

Web Design and Web Development Project in Charleston SC
Hawk Institute for the Space Sciences Web Design by The Design Group

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