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Published by Abby Spung , June 23rd, 2016
There's little in life more rewarding than really taking pleasure in what you do for a living. Even still, we all have lives outside the office. Even when your job is your passion and your office is a Richardsonian-Romanesque three-story rusticated stone dwelling, we still need downtime. Coaching is one of my favorite ways to get out of my own head and enjoy the summer months.
OffWhite Wildcats team photo
When OffWhite took on sponsorship for the OffWhite Wildcats this year, our second year sponsoring a team, I had no idea what skill level the players would be. What I did know was that I wanted our sponsorship to include head to toe gear. If there’s one thing I understand it's the concept of “dressing the part.” Even if the players knew very little about softball, having respectively little to no experience, I wanted them to look like they knew everything.
In the movie Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale Sr. asked his son if he knew why the New York Yankees always won. "The other teams can't stop staring at those damn pinstripes." That may not be the whole truth, but if you look the part and feel confident about the image you project, your audience and competitors will believe that persona.
Brand from the inside out.
If your image is strong, if it is something you and your team members can get behind, your brand is strong. This is what we call branding from the inside out. Your team needs a brand they can get behind. This builds morale and makes the whole team function better. It works for sports. It works for companies.
When building a company, it can be difficult to deconstruct the essential components of a positive morale and even your corporate identity – particularly when your perspective is limited to what you know. Improving company morale is rarely as easy as buying uniforms. When a company chooses to seek a new image or takes steps to make a brand change, the minutia must be examined and understood. You may think you know your brand, but do your audience and competitors agree with what you see? Your entire team must be coached on what the brand was, is and should be if you really want to brand from the inside. I've said it before, but this needs to start at the very beginning.
During our first year of sponsorship for the OffWhite Wildcats our girls were uniformed in the basics. At one of our games, the opposing team walked onto the field and I could feel an almost tangible shift in confidence from our players. Our competition had everything – even team duffle bags. They were intimidating. Uncertain expressions and hushed exclamations of "we cannot go up against that" rippled through my team. It took four or five innings to get our girls to see that we were capable of winning that game.
That's most of the game. It took most of the game for my team to realize what should have been obvious as soon as the game started. That is, of course, exactly what the competition wanted. They wanted to intimidate us and make us believe we could not compete with them. Having ‘all the gear’ can boost confidence, but it is not the only factor that comes into play when branding your organization. You have to know how potential customers see you.
OffWhite Wildcats on the field
OffWhite Pride Wildcat coach Abby Spung explains position changes between innings of a 12U softball game in the Pioneer Valley Girls’ Softball Association.
Find your creative outlet.
I love coaching. I love watching the girls improve, have fun and really align as a team. My time coaching over the summers is over in an instant. Yet even in that small space of time, when the girls walk away I see how much they have grown. They started the season simply learning to trust and respect one another on and off the field, putting differences aside, much like colleagues from all walks of life must do in the office space. They ended the season with the realization that in many ways they are more alike than they may have thought; they are a team united by a shared vision — a shared identity. 
I also like having something that gives me distance from my every day work. It is often during this downtime that I remember how much I love what I do. Even in times when my life seems completely unrelated to my work I find myself gaining new perspectives that inspire me. I learn a lot from coaching that helps me better relate to and communicate with clients.
OffWhite Wildcats uniformsWhen outfitting your brand you have to consider your image, morale, audience perception and your endgame to hit a home run. It's not an easy task. To start: Find your own outlet. Find what gives you inspiration. Find your identity. This is how we at OffWhite maintain creativity and develop original thought. Wherever you are in the process, let us coach you on how to gain new perspective and a build a better brand. Contact Abby Spung at 800.606.1610 to see what our team can do for you.
Published by Abby Spung , April 2nd, 2015
Junk Drawers. We all have one. Some of us have several. Places that gather and collect all the things you believe have a purpose, otherwise you’d have tossed them long ago. For fear of needing them “someday,” you opt for throwing them in “the drawer” figuring sooner or later, you’ll either put them away where they belong, have a need for that “random thing” or remember what “the thing” was for and why you kept it. Now if only you could find it in that mess of stuff. 
I’ll bet you also have a digital “junk drawer” at work that you go to at least once a day frantically searching for that “thing” that is just right for the task at hand. Well, in the spirit of spring, why not make a plan to purge, organize, or maybe a bit of both.
Still in denial? Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Do you have a difficult time finding assets or spend too much time recreating assets that exist?
  2. Is there a duplication of effort (different groups doing similar work)?
  3. Are you creating/managing multiple renditions of a single message to support multiple channels (e.g. mobile, social, etc.)?
  4. Is there a lack of visibility into project status?
  5. Are review/commenting/approval processes awkward and difficult to navigate?
  6. Is it cumbersome and difficult to share assets with external collaborators?
  7. Are you struggling to keep up with increased marketing demand?
  8. Are you plagued with inconsistent branding across campaigns and/or channels?
  9. Are non-compliant uses of licensed content compounded by inadequate control over intellectual property?
Ok, no need to admit to it. Instead, let's do something about it.
Where to begin?  We'll call on the help of a few soon-to-be BFFs: MRM, PIM, WCM, CRM… DAM, now that’s a lot of help. Exactly.
Ok, honestly, how many of you are on top of all these acronyms? It’s safe to assume the “M” stands for management, but how about the rest of these obscure stand-for-more letters?
In a marketplace made up of robust media and infinite touch points, audiences demand to be talked “to” opposed to talked “at.” They also expect to be treated like singular, unique, one-of-a-kind individuals, and you must display an intimate understanding of their needs—whatever they may be. You DAM well better call on these catchy 3-letter miracle workers.
Meet your new management team. 
MRM, Marketing Resource Management;
PIM, Product Information Management;
WCM, Web Content Management;
CRM, Client Relations Management;
and the newest and most critical (or so rumor has it)
DAM, Digital Asset Management
The days of wall after wall of “jam-packed” flat files, vertical files, and the dreaded  “project status” meetings are giving way to these fab 5 managers. LEAN and mean, one by one they’ve descended upon us from the cloud (wherever that is), bringing with them an ability to organize your junk drawers in a virtually remarkable way—literally and figuratively speaking. They make you more productive, agile, accurate and, ultimately, more profitable.
Eureka! Sounds perfect. Well not exactly. The good news: these managers won’t take up office space, and you won’t have to lure them in with healthcare or parking perks. The not so good news: they do require an investment of your monetary resources and some time to get them started. The bad news: they are relentless about demanding a change of behavior and attention to detail. In other words, no more casual tossing the miscellaneous into “the drawer” in case you need it later.
We are all creatures of habit, and doing away with a junk drawer requires real commitment to change. But, if you’re serious about a better strategy for organization and tackling this all-consuming list of demands that 21st century audiences command, then get “management” to organize your “valuables” and remove the clutter.
Let us help you. We have the capability to put your “junk drawer” in order, even custom craft a drawer that fits you best. We’ll make it easy to navigate, available, manageable, and more useful than ever before. To learn more about DAM, contact Abby Spung at 800.606.1610.
Published by Steven Hollis , March 5th, 2015
Blurred Apple iMac

If your website isn’t accounting for retina users, it’s about time. Retina isn’t a mobile-only concern anymore.

Just to be clear, I use the word “Retina” to refer to all HiDPI displays. The word retina was coined by Apple, but I prefer to use it over HiDPI because I’ve grown tired of the endless acronyms used to talk about digital displays. Want to watch ESPN on my 2160p 4K LED LCD UHD TV?

Retina displays are not new. Apple’s iPhone 4 was likely the first of these displays that you saw in person, it was for me. It was a game changer. I suddenly enjoyed reading passages of text on a digital screen. The higher PPI (pixels per inch) pushed us closer to printed type. At this point, retina displays are standard on smartphones. The majority of tablets have these displays too, even bargain tablets like the Kindle Fire. But the change that is making a lot of companies finally take retina seriously is the emergence of retina screens on laptop and desktop computers.

Two years ago, when I chose a new MacBook Pro with Retina over a MacBook Air, retina displays on a computer were new… almost a novelty. Now, Apple is rumored to be putting the retina display on the Air and Lenovo, Samsung, Toshiba and Dell all have flagship laptops with retina displays. Then, late last year, Apple released a new Retina iMac. A 27” screen with 217 PPI, totaling a pixel count of 5120-by-2880. When I first saw one of these mammoth displays in person, I felt like Wayne Campbell staring at the white Fender Stratocaster through the music showroom window, “She will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine.” And when she is mine, your website will look awful compared to the competition if you don’t take retina seriously. 

For years now, many B2B companies have excused their sites' retina-ineptitude because they don't take their mobile traffic seriously. But now, retina displays have found their home on our laptop and desktop machines. Design-snob iPhone users aren’t the only ones taking note of what you look like on a good display. 

Non-Retina image vs Retina image
screenshot showing an image that isn't retina-ready (left) and one that is retina-ready (right).

So what can we do about it?

There’s a lot to consider, but I’m not going to go insider-baseball here. Lets rebuild your site some other day, then we can talk about rem units, pixel-ratio media queries and .SVG file types. For now, here are some simple steps and considerations you can take as content creators and editors.

  1. Do not use images for text. I understand the temptation to create a text-graphic in Photoshop. Don’t. Web typography has expanded exponentially over the last few years, look into the @fontface technique if using a special font is the issue.
  2. Do not use images when simple CSS will do. Drop shadows, rounded corners and gradients can all be handled by the user’s browser now. 
  3. Use double-sized images. One way to accommodate retina displays is to create your images twice as big as they’re displayed on web. A 200px by 200px image displayed in-browser at 200px will be blurry on a retina screen, but if you start with a 400px by 400px image and display it in-browser at 200px you will get the crisp edges and details retina displays are built for. This has some drawbacks, as it forces browsers to resize the images and it means increased image sizes; more on that below.
  4. Incremental improvement. Finding the original hi-res versions of images taken years ago to repair every image on your site is a daunting task. But don’t let it prevent you from moving forward with retina capability. If you never get around to fixing every image you’ve ever posted, so what? Retina users don’t expect your 2010 blog posts to be pixel-perfect to 2015 standards. Incorporate changes as you add and edit content.

So what could be the issue with retina images?

In short: they will get big. Doubling every image will hurt your page load times. Here are some tips to trim your image sizes, most are things that you should already be familiar with, but because we’re doubling image sizes, their impact is magnified:

  1. Know when to use .PNG and when to use .JPG. Simply put, use PNGs for graphics (hundreds of colors) and use JPGs for photographs (thousands of colors) or graphics with a lot of gradients.
  2. Compress your images. The save for web feature in Photoshop is a must, and there are plenty of web-app alternatives. If you’re using JPG, drag that quality slider down as far as you can before you see major artifacts (you should rarely be over 85). If you’re using PNGs, see what your graphic looks like when you select PNG-8. How many colors do you really need? Do you need transparency? Use services like TinyPNG to compress PNGs with transparency.
  3. Retina.js. Retina.js is a script added to your site templates that will read your users' screen resolution and only serve the double-sized images to the retina users. This means creating two images for every image that you use, but it means that non-retina users won’t need to download the double-sized images. 

If your site design hasn't been evaluated since 2010 or is built on tables and uses flash, you probably have bigger problems to address than retina-compatibility. But if you think your site deserves mass 2015 usership, blurry images will be an immediate turnoff. The list above is a good start to account for those users fortunate enough have a retina display. Hopefully, your site is also responding to their screen size too (your site is responsive right?).

At OffWhite, we take retina seriously in every new web project we work on. We also have gone back and retroactively addressed low-res images for sites built before standard retina compliance. Retina images are an easy way to give your site a bit of a refresh without investing in an entire rebuild. Some simple updates to your CSS and addition of webfonts can also serve as a low-cost, non-invasive "tune-up" to your site's design. Want to talk about some more advanced retina-readiness techniques, or need help getting your site up to speed? Contact us today.

We'll talk about triple-size images next time (thanks iPhone 6 Plus).

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Published by Abby Spung , February 12th, 2015
In the spirit of Valentines Day, let’s talk love hate relationships, with a heaping side of Humble Pie.
A love hate relationship: it's wild, thrilling and full of passion. But on the flipside, stressful and heart wrenching. I could use this to describe just about all of the most successful and memorable design projects I’ve done.  How so, because these two feelings can only co-exist when the heart is “all in” so to speak.
Scientifically speaking, there is literally a fine line between love and hate. Some of the nervous circuits in your brain that are responsible for producing feelings of hatred are actually the same ones used to produce the feeling of love. And when you think about it, love and hate do share some similarities. Both are extreme emotions, and both can lead you to do irrational, heroic or even evil things.
So it makes perfect sense. This type of behavior isn’t just confined to an idea of romantic love. The most extreme emotions are triggered when the stakes are highest. When one of two parties reveals something of great significance to them (an idea, opinion, feeling, etc.) that the other was previously not aware of. There that something sits, revealed, lingering for acceptance or judgment. Things can either go really well or really bad at this moment.
Think about how many times you’ve been overcome with extreme emotions of love and hate toward a friend or colleague that you respect and admire in a situation like this. Or, dare I say it, a client.  
Ah, yes. There you have it. Admit it, you’ve all been there. The stakes are high, you’ve just laid your heart and soul (i.e. the project that consumed you for just about every waking hour of the past week, month or year) before them. Do they swoon with excitement and exhilaration? Burst with gratitude and admiration? No. No, they most certainly do not. Someone always seems to have an opinion. A tweak. Or the worst— the “I’m not feeling it” look. It never seems to play out exactly the way you had pictured it. How ya feeling now? You’re crushed. You’re angry. You immediately begin fantasizing about the replacement client. The one that will appreciate you, and value your expertise.
But wait. Hold on.  You can’t just up and play out some ridiculous fantasy of slapping them up side the head and exiting the conference room in some dramatic fashion. You have a history. You have a contract. You happen to like them. Now what?
Good news, all love is not lost. I have found this exact type of love hate relationship, with clients especially, to be one of the most valuable and rewarding of all. A long time ago (we won't say how long), when I was fresh and naive, I’d frequently make the mistake of walking out or quitting on the job/project. Until one day, I couldn’t afford to. The stakes were too high. The project was too big. It would be the crown jewel of my portfolio. The first “real project." The coveted annual report.
Oh, I was more than pissed with the feedback I received from the client on my concept. Fuming. How dare they, I mean what the hell do they know about type selection, whitespace and grids. Really. I bit my lip, held my tongue, and did something I hadn’t done all too often in my adolescence. I opened my mind, my ears, my heart. I listened. I really listened. And do you know that I was able to hear something I couldn’t hear before?
They weren’t telling me what to do. They weren’t pretending to be the experts. They were giving me the same courtesy. Just as I was putting it all on the line, showing them my best work. They were giving me their honest perspective. We were both submitting something to the other, that we previously did not know.
I learned at that moment a most valuable lesson. One that has served me very well both professionally and personally speaking. My job is not to sell my ideas to the client, but to be a communicator on their behalf. As a graphic designer I am more adequately equipped to accomplish this task. Yet the client is more adequately equipped to understand the audience. It’s not the job of any designer to do what the client tells them to do, it’s our job to meet their needs. (Read that again.)
That is the love-hate relationship that when mastered makes a graphic designer very good at what they do. That annual report was, and still is, one of my best pieces. The best work comes from true collaboration. And since that one very valuable exchange some time ago, when I discovered the art of listening - really listening - to client feedback, I’ve come to value that the project’s real success depends on it. Like it or not. Love it or Hate it.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Published by Abby Spung , October 16th, 2014
Abby SpungInfographic: an invented term that smashes together the words information and graphic that is thrown about these days like overused slang.
Incidentally, my computer is red lining this word, because even it doesn’t identify it as a real word in our language.
Nonetheless, everybody seems to want an infographic, whether they need one or not.  They are so popular that knockoffs have become rampant, diluting the value and reputation of this visual tool – which makes the need to better define them all the more important.

Defining an Infographic

The meaning of the word is a bit elusive. After all, it’s natural to treat it like a compound word whereby you combine the meaning of two separate words to arrive at a new meaning, like campground (a ground or area in which you camp) or blackboard (a board or surface that is black). Hence, it seems the definition would be information that is expressed graphically. But wait, isn’t that what graphic design is—communicating information using a strategic collective and application of graphical elements such as type, color, image, and so on? Well yes. So what’s an infographic then?
Perhaps it would be best to suggest to you that infographic is a noun, a thing whose purpose is data visualization—communicating complex information in a readily digestible way. The operative word here being readily. We all know people process visual information or images quicker than words. If that wasn’t the case, the cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” would have never caught on. The point at which the picture takes too much effort to process, or understand, is when it’s surpassed its value as a visual aid.

Why Defining Infographics Matters

Clarifying what infographics, or data visualizations, are accomplishes two things.
  1. It helps those of you who, as of the last decade, have been repeatedly asking for an infographic from your creative team, art department or resident graphic guru understand what one is and decide if you really need one.
  2. It offers some insight and reassurance to those of you who often find yourself cocking your head and furrowing a brow while trying to decode what looks like a cross between the women’s restroom sign and the nutritional panel of a cereal box—which, by the way, is an infographic.
Why do I care? I believe you should get what you ask for, understand what you’re looking at, and be able to appreciate the intellectual effort and creative discipline it takes to turn an abundance of typically boring statistical data into a succinct, stealthy and very valuable visual.  When done correctly, infographics are beautiful components and tools for reaching your audience, and delivering your value proposition.
Is your infographic providing clarity or adding noise? Asking yourself these questions is a good way to find out.
  1. Does it communicate complex data in a simple and easy-to-read manner?
  2. Is it primarily graphical / visual or are you doing more reading? (Bar and pie charts don’t count.)
  3. Is the information of value to your intended audience – does it captivate them?
  4. Is the imagery, color, and treatment relative to your message or brand?
Here are three articles that I like and find to be additionally insightful on this highly overused term and its application that you may also enjoy.
What has your experience with infographics been like? Add your comments below or contact Abby Spung to discuss infographics further.
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