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Launching a Film for a Great Cause: The Noble Spirit

I’m going to tell you a little story that helps explain why I haven’t posted in several weeks.

On a beautiful, sunny but windy day in July, I was sitting on a beach in Rowena, Oregon, with my laptop working, of course (what else would I be doing on a beach?), when an older gentleman in a wetsuit sat down near me. Near enough to say hello and ask me what I was working on. We struck up a casual conversation — as strangers do on a beach — about the strength of the wind (very popular topic in the Columbia River Gorge), the kite surfers (also popular), and my boyfriend-at-the-time who was out there windsurfing while I was working on the beach. I had no clue that 14 years later, this stranger would be struggling to live with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or that I would be doing my darndest to promote a documentary about him in order to help him reach his goal of raising as much money as possible for ALS while he was still alive. Over the years, he had become one of my dearest friends — my family on the West coast, in fact. I discovered that during this hardest part of his challenging life that I’d do anything for him, because he’s always done so much for me, and the many friends he’s made across the world.

Melissa & Fred on my  Birthday Party in Portland, 2003

Melissa & Fred at my Birthday Party in Portland, 2003

Before Fred was first diagnosed, we knew something was going wrong with him — he was tripping a lot and had difficulty walking. But he’d had a terrifying paragliding accident a few years earlier that almost killed him (3 times) and cracked his pelvis in half, so we thought the problems were complications from that fall. In December 2010, he got the news that it was ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I can’t tell you what ALS stands for, and no doctor or scientist can tell you exactly what causes the disease, nor what will cure it. It’s a terrible diagnosis, not only because of what it does to the body but because there’s no fix for it. It’s a slow deterioration and suffering until death. Fred’s body has slowly been shutting down on him over the last three years while his mind stays sharp as ever.

Fred Windsurfing in Brazil, 2002

Fred Windsurfing in Brazil, 2002

For Fred, this is the worst thing that could happen to him — worse even than a fatal drop paragliding,  a deadly crash while wilderness skiing, a murderous confrontation while traveling in an exotic land, or a life-ending fall from the tall towers that he spent his working life building, climbing, repairing. Fred is a do-it-yourself, super-capable kind of guy. When you’re Fred’s friend and you find something that you can do for him that he needs help with, it’s supremely satisfying. In these last years, he’s had to learn reliance on others and to let them take care of him. I suspect that this has been the hardest challenge of all — letting go of the idea that he can do anything himself. When you’re bound to a wheelchair and you lose the ability to feed, clothe, bathe, relieve yourself…you’re forced to face this. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier. As Johnny Cash sings, “It all goes down in your mind.” That can be a steep mountain to climb, especially when people stop understanding what you are saying because your speech is so impaired.

Melissa & Fred, July 2013

Melissa & Fred, July 2013

Once Fred accepted that he had ALS and this was the way it was going to go, he got busy making plans. Not plans to die, but plans to do as much as he possibly could while he lived. He met up with the local ALS Association chapter and decided to put on a fundraiser that was close to his heart — Ski to Defeat ALS. The event has raised $500,000 in three years. Although Fred is no longer able to ski on his own two legs, he’s already mastered the sit-ski which is evidently as much a blast. He trained for the fundraiser by heliskiing in the The Bugaboos. On the sit-ski.


Fred wilderness skiing, 2012. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

Next, Fred decided it would be cool to make a movie that documents his experience with ALS so that it could be used for additional fundraising after he is gone. Thus, The Noble Spirit was born. A film crew followed him around for three years and made a beautiful tribute to him, designed to inspire courage and generosity in others — traits we can learn to cultivate from Fred. Here’s the trailer:

That brings me to the point of this post. For the last three weeks, I’ve been working my tail off to pull a website together for the film release,, update Fred’s blog, organize the Facebook page and connect it to the Twitter account, create posters and flyers and other promotional material, and of course create the email campaign. All those things I do every day for my clients, but in this case they are the most important things I could ever do. To honor my friend.


Fred at our annual summer BBQ. He is a total chick magnet. Still.

Fred’s lived his life by the mantra of “never say no,” and it’s been chock full of fantastic adventures, wonderful friends across the globe, satisfying successes and a few painful accidents. By all accounts, his has been a life to be envied and modeled. I myself learned that I don’t have to work while I’m sitting on the beach. It’s OK to put the laptop down and have a friendly conversation with a total stranger. Who knows? He may just be one of the best people you’ll ever meet.

The film The Noble Spirit is slowly rolling out, mostly on the West coast right now. You can keep track of screenings here, or follow our Facebook page and we’ll keep you updated. And remember, as Fred always says: Every day is a gift. Enjoy!

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Working with Images: Hi-Res vs. Lo-Res

Lots of times, we get sent images that are too small, or “lo-res” (short for low-resolution) to use for print. Here’s a helpful guide to understand the difference between using lo-res and hi-res images.

The first step to knowing the difference between high-resolution and low-resolution images is to understand what DPI means. DPI stands for ‘dots per inch’ which is a measure of the individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of one inch. When viewing an image on your monitor, the dots are referring to “pixels”, or “picture elements”, which are the smallest visual elements (tiny little rectangles) on a display screen. When viewing a printed image, the dots refer to the actual dots of ink on the page. The more dots per inch, the higher-resolution the image. Think of it this way; what would make a clearer image? Ten dots of color per inch or 100 dots per inch?

Lo-res to hi-res

Low-resolution → high-resolution

So, when does an image become high-res?

300 is the magic number! Anything under 300dpi is considered low-res and anything 300dpi or above is considered high-res. 72dpi is the standard for low-res.

Keep in mind…

When you have a seemingly large image (dimension-wise) that is lower-res, the dimensions decrease greatly when bumping up the resolution. For example: If I have an image that is 10×10” at 72dpi and I resize it to 300dpi, the dimensions decrease to 2.4×2.4”.


Why shouldn’t I just use high-res images all the time?

High-res images are great and designers love them. They’re clear, sharp, beautiful files and when you are printing anything it should always be high-resolution. But believe it or not, there are some reasons to use low-res images.

Internet browsers

The standard resolution for internet browsers is 72dpi, so anything you see online is automatically low-res.

Smaller file size

It makes sense that low-res images are smaller file sizes than high-res images; they have so much less digital information. This means they take up less space, load much quicker, and are easier to send through email.

How do I tell the difference?

If you know how to use Photoshop you can check out an image’s size under Image>Image Size. Otherwise, generally, the larger a file size is, the higher-resolution it will be.

What’s the deal with vector art?

Vector based files are information based, rather than pixel based. They use points, lines, curves and shapes that are based on mathematical equations to produce images. Because they are not made up from pixels, the dots per inch measurement is not applicable for vector files and they can be scaled up to any size without losing quality. Vector files are typically used for line art such as logos, digital illustration and typography, whereas photography is always pixel based.


When in doubt, always send your designer the high-res image.

These can always be cropped down to the correct dimensions and dpi, whereas a low-res image’s resolution cannot be increased any higher than it currently is — once an image size is decreased, that digital information is lost. You cannot create a high-res file from a low-res file.

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Web Design: 5 Trends from 2013 that Won’t Go Away Any Time Soon

Just when you think you NAILED that website, another technology comes along to make it seem outdated. It reminds us that the web is fluid and changing all the time. It’s not like print, where you print it and it’s done. In fact, don’t bother looking at many of the websites I’ve used as examples this year because they’ve been redone already. Evolved. Improved. That’s our goal. But we are still talking about some trends that were hot at the beginning of the year, I think they’re here to stay. For now. So get out your notepad and start your New Year’s resolutions to keep up with the fast pace of the www.

#1. Responsive Design

At this point, we are building our WordPress sites with responsive themes. It’s not SO much more to build it this way, and it sure makes user experience better for everyone. What is responsive? The site changes layout to accommodate different sized screens, so it looks good on a phone or on a laptop. Rather than having a mobile version of your site, the same site displays slightly differently on the phone. Looks good and works well.

Lisa Cueman Responsive Site

While displays just as well on your phone as on the laptop, I’d recommend taking a moment to browse on your laptop because the images look so great at a larger size.

#2. Web Fonts & Typography

As the number of web fonts increases, the happier I get! Even though this isn’t exactly NEW news, I’m including because I think my clients don’t realize how freeing this is to the designer and how much fresher their website will look with better typography. Whereas previously we had to design text on a website with the tired system fonts Microsoft deemed good enough to look at every day (ie., Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, etc.), Google has upped the game by providing free web fonts to choose from. So I’m a happy designer and you’re a happy reader.


Why does DESIGN@WORK look so dang slick? Because we’ve used the web version of our corporate font, Avenir. Yippee!

#3. Big Ole Buttons

Because, really, who reads anymore? The contemporary web viewer wants to get where s/he wants to go on a site STAT. So we work to predict where that may be and send them there ASAP. OMG! Another good case for rapid technology iteration and paying attention to your analytics. Know what I’m saying? No? Let’s chat.

Client Birchwood Center did their homework and knew they wanted their clients to get to their membership specials first and foremost. So we featured them on the home page with big ole buttons. Can’t miss them!

#4. Scrolling, Scrolling, Scrolling

I’m not saying everyone should jump on the scrolling bandwagon. An “infinite scroll” — when one keeps scrolling and content keeps loading —  is great for loading products or a social media feed. Parallax scrolling is used to suggest depth and dimension, which is great for the web and helps with storytelling. Both types of scroll are useful for certain things, and lots of cool effects can be done with them. But first let’s focus on what we need to get done with the website, then we can decide if that’s the best way to go about it.

Walking Dead

My personal favorite example of parallax scrolling: behind the scenes of the Walking Dead. Shows how the actors get zombified into “walkers.”

#5. Static Headers

Perhaps on the heels of the scrolling trend is the static header trend: when the header containing the logo and navigation stays in place no matter where you are on the scroll, stuck to the top of the browser. I’ve long been a fan of a footer stuck to the bottom of a screen for the same reason — it’s there when you need it, but out of the way. You’ll also notice a rise in static sidebars — where the sidebar stays in place as you scroll down a page. Better functionality is always fine with me!, in progress

The new, currently in design, will utilize a static header so the user can use the navigation no matter where s/he is on the page.

Overall, I prefer to pay attention to technology and usability trends over design trends. They are typically innovated for a reason — to make life better for us on the web. While I love design, it can be fickle and change so much that the look of something can be outdated in a year. Technology trends are typically replaced by something better, which is good for all of us.

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Infographic: How Not to Look Bad on a Web Cam

The way we work is changing so fast…I’ve only met about half my clients in person. On a daily basis, it’s email and phone with the occasional video chat. I love to see your pretty face, but here are some tips by Lemonly on how to look even better for the person on the other end of the line.


[via Lemonly]

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Brand Extension: A Morning Dose of Grumpy Cat?

Quick on the heels of the kittens and bacon infographic post is the news that a coffee drink honoring social media star-kitty Grumpy Cat is coming soon. Grumpy Cat’s brand and product managers claim:

“Grumpy Cat™ Grumppuccino™ iced coffee is a delicious and creamy blend of premium Arabica coffee and milk! It’s Awfully Good™”

Finally, social media will make it to the supermarket aisle. I don’t make this stuff up! See it for yourself.


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