The Chalkboard is a collection of Grain & Mortar news, events, latest work, and helpful advice.


January 11th | News

When we create videos for client websites, events, and social media projects, we get this question a lot, ‘Do we need a 30-, 60-, or 90-second video?’

The simple answer is “the shorter the better.” However, a more helpful question to ask is, “What story do we need to tell?” This allows the message to dictate the length of time you need to deliver it. Content, strategy, resources, demographics, and the platform all help determine the video length so they need to be determined upfront along with what you need to say.

 

Is there a time threshold? Of course; that is the battle against our attention span.

No matter how you use your video, keep in mind how long your audience will stay tuned. A video has to catch a viewer almost immediately to keep them there for the duration. Starting in the middle of a story is a great way to build curiosity and capture a viewer’s attention.

 

Now you’ve got our attention. What do you want me to know?

It was estimated in 2015 that the average attention span had dropped to 8.25 seconds. That’s where content and story really have to kick in to keep a viewer focused. It helps to begin with an outline (or “treatment” as we industry folks like to say). Whatever you have in this version, trim it down to be as short as possible while still retaining the essential information. This will lay the foundation for your story.

 

Just the facts…plus a story.

If you spend any time on crowdfunding websites, you’ll notice that fundraising videos often lead with 6-10 seconds of a logo before they show any actual story or content. By that time they’ve lost a lot of potential funders or customers so it’s crucial to lead with your product or service in the context of a story. Save your list of features and technical specs for your website. Give viewers a story that helps them understand or care about your product. We often ask our clients to explain what they do or sell as if they were telling their grandparents–it helps remove jargon, technical talk, and other extraneous details.

 

A good story will always sustain.

Wistia is a great way to track analytics for video, and they have found that 50 percent more people will watch a one-minute video all the way through vs. a two-minute video. The same can be said for a 4- to 5-minute video over a 5- to 10-minute video. If you can lock in your viewer for the story, you’re likely to keep them around for the full length (but don’t push the length if it’s not necessary). Take your short window of opportunity with that viewer and dedicate the first 30-90 seconds to really telling your story. Assume they won’t stick around and do whatever it takes to keep them there.

| January 11th | News

ooh... me Likey


December 15th | Work

My job didn’t exist a decade ago so it’s no surprise that I have a hard time explaining what I do.

I am an animator who specializes in motion graphics. When I was in school there were animated videos but the abundance of platforms we’re used to today simply weren’t around. In recent years, the need for motion graphics has exploded alongside the demand for internet and mobile content. Everything from animated content within websites to “explainer videos” for new software and hardware products. That demand has spawned a career that still doesn’t have a definitive title. Some of the job titles I’ve seen recently are “Pixel Pusher” and “Motion Whatever.”

I am definitely an animator, but the term doesn’t cover the type of work I spend my days doing. Just like calling someone a “designer” can be misleading – there are fashion designers, interior designers, graphic designers – ”animator” is simply too broad. In fact, any of these fields could fall under the job description of animator:

  • Traditional or Cel (Think old Disney movies or The Simpsons…hand-drawn frame by frame.)
  • 2-D (These are vector-based graphics animated on a flat plane.)
  • 3-D (Models are rigged and animated to add depth on a three-dimensional plane.)
  • Visual Effects/VFX (Computer-generated effects mixed with live-action footage.)
  • Computer Generated Imagery/CGI (Think of all the green screens.)
  • Stop Motion (Frame-by-frame movement of physical objects.)
  • Animatronics (Mechanical robots)
  • Digital Puppetry (Puppets and Muppets!)
  • Claymation (“Celebrity Deathmatch” or “Wallace & Gromit,” anyone?)
  • Motion Graphics (Animation of design, illustration, typography, film, photography, logos, and shapes.)

 

DOTD_Table

 

I specialize in motion graphic animation but because of the novelty of the field, describing what I do as “motion graphics” usually leads to head-scratching from my friends and family. Saying I’m an animator who specializes in motion graphics covers it all. Animation is the process of bringing a story to life through movement. Motion graphics is the animation form dedicated to adding movement to design, illustration, typography, film, photography, logos, and shapes.

In reality my work goes beyond simply animating. Bringing movement is only one element of what I do. I often juggle the roles of animator, motion graphics designer, director, storyboard artist, and sound designer. I partner with designers, illustrators, and writers to do my job and am involved in projects from the earliest conceptual discussions through the final sound edit. A sampling of my recent work is probably the best way to describe what I do and how animation adds value to our projects.

A narrative video that explains a specific service or product can add depth to a potential customer’s understanding.

 

 

When Grain & Mortar began offering animation as a service, it made perfect sense to create a video to let our clients know. With a 60-second video, we were able to communicate the value of this new service and bring a smile to our viewers’ faces.

Integrating animated elements throughout a website adds personality and delight.

Coffee-With-A-Cop Shield_05sec

 

We built a website for Coffee with a Cop that relied on animation in strategic areas. This helped us communicate the personality and purpose of the Coffee with a Cop program in an engaging and fun way. We also used animation in key areas to sprinkle some fun into otherwise standard information.

A video can help articulate big or complex concepts.

 

 

The Big Omaha 2015 website features a video that combines live action footage and animation. This scripted video allowed us to tell a comprehensive story in under 90 seconds about the event and the value it offers to attendees.

Animated social media content can help build awareness and promote your brand.

 

Happy-4th-of-July DOTD_DRIBBBLE

 

Whether it’s a series of animated graphics for a website or a stand-alone video to explain a process, product, or event, animated motion graphic content is another powerful way to communicate information. As an animator who specializes in motion graphics, I consider myself lucky to have so much variety and collaboration built into my job.

| December 15th | Work

ooh... me Likey


December 8th | Work

Trust and knowledge are the engines behind our best work.

Oftentimes new clients ask us how they can get our best work. The short answer is—we always do our best, regardless of a project’s size or scope. That said, we soar when we’re trusted to do what we do best.

Our job is to translate information into digestible, compelling media. We solve problems from a design sensibility and the more knowledge we have, the more meaningful the outcome.

Whether we’re providing multiple services or a specialized skill to compliment a client’s internal team, we thrive when we are involved in the creation or art direction of visual content. Even if we aren’t creating the assets, bringing us into content planning conversations will result in a better outcome.

 

When clients empower us to collaborate with other creatives the end result is more consistent.

In addition to designing and building a website for Block 16—a local farm to table restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska—we created and art directed all of the site content from the copy, to photos, videos, and custom illustrations. We partnered with photographer Daniel Muller to create beautiful still and motion content that captures the spirit of Block 16 and the owners, Jessica and Paul.

 

blog_block16_photos

 

The more we’re involved, the better the outcome.

We worked with the organizers of Big Omaha—an annual conference catered to entrepreneurs, founders and creatives—on multiple elements of their 2015 conference. We created a Big Omaha brand and identity, designed and built their website, created a marketing video and much more. The organizers saw us as an extension of their own team and involved us in conversations that were affected by the creative work. This provided us with deeper insight and gave us a creative leg up.

Read more about the creation of the Big Omaha Brand.

 

blog_bigomaha_photos

 

Access to decision-makers and company culture results in honest, compelling work.

Armfield Design & Construction—a luxury home building company in Malibu, California—provided us with tremendous access. We worked hand-in-hand with their marketing team and senior leadership. This ensured we had all the information we needed in order to make strategic and authentic creative choices. We wrote copy, created illustrations, designed, and developed a website to showcase the beautiful homes they build.

 

blog_armfield_photos

 

We do our best when our expertise is trusted.

Hudl—a sports technology company and Nebraska’s fasting growing business—hired us to collaborate with their internal team on a employee recruiting campaign. They came to us with their goal, their timeline, a budget and a problem for us to solve. Then they let us solve the problem using our perspective and expertise as the guide. What resulted was a comprehensive marketing campaign that doubled their results and in less time than they had scheduled.

See more about Hudl.

 

blog_hudl_photos

| December 8th | Work

ooh... me Likey


November 30th | News

It’s with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I announce my next professional journey.

I will be leaving Grain & Mortar to join the product design team at Hudl. Knowing I won’t be kickin’ back with the fine folks of Grain & Mortar all day, working on amazing projects, and watching “Dad Beer” drinking contests over lunch made the decision to move on very difficult.

As I look back on my four years at G&M, I am grateful for the opportunities and mentorship I have received from Eric, Mike and Kristin. I’m thrilled for my next step as I deepen my focus to UI and product design. I know my professional and personal advances are a direct result of working beside them all this time.

Thank you to my clients, my co-workers, and everyone else I’ve worked with the past four years; it’s been a blast!

| November 30th | News

ooh... me Likey


November 16th | News

Designers and developers are master problem-solvers, but it’s also crucial to have a content strategist on your team.

Traditionally, user experience (UX) has been considered the realm of designers and developers, but if a user has a confusing experience on your website, the best design or the fastest load time aren’t going to save you.  If your content is lousy, you can’t design your way around it. If your message is off, no code can save it. A content strategist supplements and enhances a strong UX team by posing questions like “Who is the audience?”, “How can we help our visitors find this?”, “What style or tone of voice are we using?”

 

What is the role of a content strategist?

Content strategy is defined many ways and is an intersection of many disciplines – communications strategy, information design, copywriting. So, all that aside, here’s how we do it at Grain & Mortar. We use content strategy to plan for the creation of compelling, relevant content – copy, photos, video and more. We strategize our way back from your business goals and the needs of your audience to make sure content:

  • is consistent with your brand message and values,
  • makes you sound credible,
  • helps you stand out from the competition, and
  • delivers according to your objectives.

Ideally, the content strategist and designer work together from the start of a project. The more they discover about your product or company, the better. Both will interpret the information from their unique perspectives, which allows them to support and challenge each other creatively in subsequent stages.

 

What is the content strategy process?

Our process is built around targeted experimentation. Designers and copywriters can tinker and take chances safely because we have structured parameters built around our exploration.

While the process feels meandering, each stage is “controlled wandering.” There is always a built-in point where the copy gets pulled back to be tested by the design and vice versa. With each iteration, the disciplines improve each other. And as we progress, ideas become more solid, answers emerge, and direction is clear.

Starting with the research and discovery stage, we tear things apart, we veer and zig zag, all in an effort to better understand our client, their objectives, and any obstacles. During this time we may not know the exact answers to things, and that, too, makes everyone queasy. But uncertainty is good at this point. We may not know what the end looks like, but we know how to get there.

In the early stages of website projects, the process can feel messy. It can be uncomfortable for our clients. But the truth is — messiness is good for creativity. Sometimes, it has to get ugly before it can get pretty.

 

liz_illustration_V2

Sometimes, it has to get ugly before it can get pretty.

 

How do our clients contribute to content strategy?

Our process accommodates for the challenges inherent to content development, but there are steps our clients can take especially regarding copywriting, to ensure success.

1. Allow enough time.
Strategic copywriting includes the initial discovery and research required to understand a company, business, or product. We review original materials — including current web content. We audit the competitive landscape. We create your content so it adheres to web writing best practices (readability, structure, voice/tone, and so on).

We make sure to dedicate ample time for strategy and development as we timeline each project. We suggest our clients perform an initial content survey before beginning a website project. For instance, take stock of what you have that is reusable or needs updating. You can also perform basic tasks such as compiling your company history, gathering staff bios, identifying your company’s mission or vision statement, and creating boilerplate descriptions of your product or company.

2. Assign appropriate resources.
Before our clients begin their website projects, we recommend identifying a “point person” who is knowledgeable about company values, products, services, and internal dynamics. If that person can write or edit copy, that is a huge benefit. After a site launches, resources need to be dedicated to keep the site up to date and manage any social media tie-ins.

The creation of website content requires knowledge, authority, and time. After your site launches, your website will require updates and maintenance. Whether your site will be updated daily, monthly, or annually, you will need a person or a team to address that task.

 

Content strategy ensures that you “start with the end in mind.” It clarifies a project’s objectives and assures that a website’s messaging is seamless.

| November 16th | News

ooh... me Likey