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Work Meaning and Fulfillment

Carson posted this on September 23rd, 2011

I think we do good work at Idea Market; websites that are pretty to look at and do cool things. They provide real value to our clients and to our clients’ clients. Sometimes, they may even help to make people’s lives better. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but I believe that a good town website (for example) can be beneficial to its citizens in actual, real terms. But with the possible exception of a fire ban notice perhaps, it’s not exactly a matter of life and death.

Which is why we don’t just do municipal or commercial work. I believe that if you want what you do in life to have deeper meaning, you need to apply your knowledge and skills to something that has a broader significance. Something that is a matter of life and death.

Now this isn’t meant to be a “Hey, look at us! We’re so great!” sort of blog, but I want to give some examples of organizations we’ve helped with recently that has brought a bit of fulfillment to the work that we do.

1. The United Way of Central Alberta held its 2011-12 campaign kick-off last week. It was inspiring to see so many people in one place, all in support of helping people in our community. And we’re not talking about helping just a little bit; we’re talking about helping to the tune of $1,960,000. That’s a huge number. Maybe too big to even wrap your head around. But then they told some real-life stories, including one about a guy named Barry. In a nutshell, Barry had hit bottom and only through the help of programs funded in part by the United Way was he able to get back on his feet and move forward. I met Barry after the program. He’s a real person who lives (and now works!) in our own community and doesn’t hesitate to admit that he wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the help he received. Check out the United Way’s website to see how you can donate or otherwise support their work.

2. The organization on the ground that helped Barry the most?: The Central Alberta AIDS Network Society (CAANS). Don’t let the name fool you, though. While they certainly do great work within the HIV/AIDS community, they’re also a vital service to the broader “at-risk” population of Red Deer including drug users and sex trade workers. For many of their clients, the CAANS office is as close to a home as they have. Which comes as no surprise if you’ve ever spent any time inside their walls. There’s a warmth and acceptance there that is hard to find elsewhere. I personally spend several hours a week volunteering at CAANS; time that I’m pretty sure has come to mean more to me than to them. Idea Market hasn’t done a whole lot in terms of actual design for them yet… but we will be soon. Check back in a month or so when we launch their new brand and website.

3. Closely tied to CAANS is The Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing. They quietly operate all over Red Deer, providing services including emergency shelter, housing and detox. I’ve toured their facilities and listened to their stories. Some are heartbreaking; others are highly inspirational. Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending their AGM on the shores of the Red Deer River at Fort Normandeau. This was not your typical AGM; we all sat outside in a circle, ate together, laughed together and hugged a lot. At the end of meeting they unveiled the new brand, banner, brochures and website that we got to create for them. I’ll have the details in our portfolio soon, but you can learn more about what they do on their newly launched website at: Make sure you watch the video to get a better feel for the heart behind what they do.

4. Finally, as I write this we are putting the final touches on the 2011 edition of Red Deer’s Vital Signs, put together by the Red Deer & District Community Foundation. Much like the United Way, the Community Foundation is an over-arching organization that helps fund many other organizations in our area. The Vital Signs document is sort of like a report card on how the City is doing on a wide range of topics, from crime to library usage and from employment rates to air quality. It’s the study that helps identify what we’re doing well at and what needs more attention. This will be the fifth one we’ve designed for them and it launches on October 4. Please take the time to read through it; it may help you get a better feel for what’s happening around you and how you can make an impact.

Idea Market’s involvement with these projects has dramatically changed how we define our corporate mission. It’s changed how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about others. It has brought new value to how we spend the bulk of our day.

Maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe your day-to-day work doesn’t mean that much in the great scheme of things. What can you do to change that? How can you use your talents to do something to help others? Figure it out and do it. Because I guarantee that it won’t just help them; it will also bring meaning and fulfillment to your own work and life.

Filed under: Client News, Deep Thoughts, IM News | 0 Comments

Danish Canadian National Museum Re-brand

Carson posted this on July 21st, 2011

Last year we had the privilege of developing a new website for the Danish Canadian National Museum. This year, they came back to us for some re-branding work. Normally, the first stage in any sort of design work is getting to a deep understanding of the client, their goals, their audiences, etc. Because we were already very familiar with the Museum, we were able to jump right in… sort of.

We quickly discovered a significant challenge in branding the Museum. They had two seemingly conflicting goals/audiences:

  1. Freydis JoannaA major goal of the re-branding project was to broaden their marketing appeal to a larger audience of young families and people in general with no Danish background. How do you do that? By using the most universally appealing aspect of Danish culture, of course: Vikings!
  2. At the same time, though, we had to make sure we didn’t alienate their traditional user group: mostly older people of Danish descent. We had to speak to their experience and culture in an authentic and historically accurate way.

The problem is, a lot of the imagery that dealt with #1 most clearly wasn’t true to #2. You know those Viking helmets with the horns? Yeah, they didn’t use those except for special ceremonies. The Danish helmets were plainer and thus not as strong as an icon. We ran into a similar problem with the Viking ships with the dragons on the front. So we had to dig a little deeper…

Eventually we saw what was sitting right in front of us the whole time: the Freydis Joanna, one of the highlights of the Museum (pictured). The Freydis Joanna is an accurate reconstruction of an 1100-year-old Viking ship, built by master shipwrights in Denmark and transported to Canada. It was perfect: it spoke to both the Viking connections and also the fact that most Danish immigrants to Canada arrived by ship. Most importantly, it was authentic, both historically and to what the Museum actually has to offer today.

The next step was deciding how to represent the ship visually. After exploring different aspects and angles of the Freydis, we landed on a front-on view of the prow. The resulting shape also communicates a sense of movement and – in a more abstract way – a graphical representation of immigration. Finally, it conveys a sense of progress and growth, which we’re confident is exactly what will happen with the Museum itself as they push their marketing efforts forward.

Danish Canadian National Museum logo
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donair banner

Very Important Donair StudyCarson posted this on July 11th, 2011

In a world filled with information, what’s the one thing we don’t know enough about? That’s right: donairs. Specifically, donairs in Red Deer. Idea Market is here to rectify that situation. First, a little background information…

According to Wikipedia, donairs are a variation of the Turkish doner kebab and were introduced in Halifax in 1973. At this point it’s worth noting that Carson was born not far from Halifax in 1973. Coincidence? We think not. Eventually, the recipe made its way to Alberta… around the same time that Carson did, in fact. Hmmm…

What is a Donair?
The traditional recipe for a Halifax-style donair is sliced spiced beef, tomatoes, onions and a sweet sauce, wrapped in a pita. This is different from gyros, which typically have lamb and a tzatziki sauce. In Alberta, most places also add lettuce to this recipe. We don’t know why.

Food Poisoning
Yes, it can happen. There was even an E. coli outbreak here in Alberta in the summer of 2008. Since then, new rules on cooking the meat have come into place, though it seems that not all of the places follow them. It should be noted that during our week-long study, Carson only got mildly sick once.

OK, let’s get down to the study. We bought a donair at each of the five primary donair joints in Red Deer over the course of the first week of July. We asked for the same thing at each place: a regular beef donair, with whatever they considered the “standard” toppings and sweet sauce. The making of each one was observed and the final product was weighed, studied and taste-tested. Here are the results:

Cleopatra’s Donair & Pizza (7110 – Gaetz Avenue / 403-341-5282)
price: $5.79
weight: 267g
grams/dollar: 46.1g
ingredients: beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sweet sauce
process: meat sliced with an electric shaver, then the whole thing put in a press.
review: not huge, but definitely delicious. A little out of the way from the rest, but worth it. Personal favourite.

King Donair & Shawrama (4942 – Ross Street / 403-356-1800)
price: $6.00
weight: 455g (1 pound!)
grams/dollar: 75.8g
ingredients: spicy beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sweet sauce (plus more sweet sauce)
process: meat sliced with an electric shaver, then just the meat cooked on a grill.
review: enormous, spicy and very messy. If you’ve got a big hunger and lots of napkins, this is the one.

Red City Donair & Pita (4949 – 49 Street / 403-343-1219)
price: $6.15
weight: 288g
grams/dollar: 46.8g
ingredients: beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sweet sauce
process: meat sliced with a knife, then the whole thing put in a press.
review: very similar to Cleopatra’s, which makes sense since it’s run by his wife. Also delicious.

Sam’s Donair (5020 Ross Street / 403-986-9500)
price: $5.50
weight: 408g
grams/dollar: 74.2g
ingredients: spicy beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sweet sauce
process: meat sliced with a knife, then just the meat cooked on a grill.
review: another big one. Sam used to own King Donair and this is pretty close to theirs, including the spiciness level. Not quite as messy.

Best Choice Donair (103, 4916 Ross Street / 403-754-2202)
price: $5.49
weight: 246g
grams/dollar: 44.8g
ingredients: spicy beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, homemade sweet sauce
process: meat sliced with a knife, then just the meat cooked in a frying pan.
review: the smallest of the bunch. The sauce is homemade, but either there wasn’t much there or it wasn’t as flavourful. Least favourite.

Lessons Learned
The first lesson is probably that donairs are only delicious 2-3 times in a week. Anything after that starts to get a little less appealing. The other big thing is to time your visit carefully. The ideal time to get the best meat is just after noon. That’s because sometimes they pre-cut slices of the meat in anticipation of the lunch rush – you don’t want that stuff. You want to be there just after that’s gone and you get nice, fresh meat off the spit.

You have two basic choices here: If you want a finely-crafted and lightly grilled donair, go to either Cleopatra’s or Red City. Note that our informal poll of other Red Deer donair lovers picked Red City as the number one choice. If you’re really feeling peckish and/or like your meat a little spicier, try Sam’s or King Donair. You won’t walk away hungry. Best Choice is pretty new to this, but we can’t recommend them at this time.

Please feel free to leave your own recommendations and reviews in the comments!

Filed under: IM Fun | 2 Comments

How To Get a Website Without Losing Your Hair Presentation

Carson posted this on May 20th, 2011

I recently spoke in Olds (with video conferencing to another group in Sundre) and Red Deer on the topic of “How To Get a Website Without Losing Your Hair”. In it, I tried to identify the problem areas in the web development process; the stuff that makes both designers and clients crazy, delay projects and ultimately end up costing someone money. By knowing what to look out for and avoiding these hazards, perhaps we can all be happier and richer at the end.

OK, so here are the six points I made in my presentation, along with some notes for those who were too lazy to do so at the time (just kidding – I love you):

Planning1. Planning

Both sides need to do some careful planning. If the client skips this part (or doesn’t do it well), the plan will undoubtedly change along the way and the designer is going to end up frustrated. If the designer doesn’t plan effectively, things likely aren’t going to get done on time and the client will be frustrated.

For clients, we provide a bit of guidance on this with our website project planner. It covers things like goals & objectives, success criteria, target audience, competitive analysis, etc. Even if you don’t use Idea Market for your site, going through something like this will help focus your thinking a bit. On the design side, make sure your designer has a clear work plan with dates for each major milestone. This will help keep the schedule on track.

You Complete Me2. Roles

Don’t get the slide? It’s from Jerry Maguire, which includes the famous line “you complete me”. Here’s the thing: the client-designer relationship has a tendency to be somewhat antagonistic at times. The evidence?: the design industry has an entire website (and book) dedicated to complaining about clients. Part of the problem is that each side fails to recognize the value of the other and they step all over each others’ feet. I get it: design is fun and clients want to be a part of a fun project, especially when they’re so personally invested in it.

So what’s the solution? We promote a collaborative approach where both sides are involved at each step and each party is recognized for what they bring to the table. I’ll talk about the process bit later, but the mutual respect bit is equally crucial. Each side is an expert; designers know about design and technology and clients know about their particular industry and their audience. Listen to each other, respect each other, trust each other.

Picking a Designer3. Picking a Designer

Make sure you get this part right because you might be stuck with each other for a while. And I’m not talking about obvious stuff like whether or not they can fit your budget and meet your timeline. I’m talking about this stuff:

  1. Do they truly care about you and your project? Make sure they really want to get to know you and give you a unique design solution tailored for your business or organization.
  2. Do you like their design style? Check out their portfolio and make sure they’re going to be able to deliver what you need, visually.
  3. Do they have a good track record of experience, both in general and within your industry? Do they specialize in the type of site you need?
  4. On a related note, are they stable? If you need something for your site a year from now, will they still be around?
  5. Do they keep current with web technology? Things are moving fast out there; make sure they are up on the latest stuff.
  6. Finally, a probably most importantly (maybe even more than timeline or budget): do you have a good rapport? Do you get along and communicate well? Don’t underestimate this factor.

On the designer side, a couple questions we at Idea Market ask ourselves before committing to a client are:

  1. Will we be proud of this project and this client when we’re done? We want to work with people that we can really brag about.
  2. When we have that first meeting (preferably over food), did we laugh at some point? If not, there’s a good chance it’s not the best fit for us.

Process4. Process

Different designers will have different ways of doing things. I’ve blogged about a couple options recently, if you want to check that out. For us, the key to a smooth process is making sure that the designer and client are working collaboratively, step-by-step, towards the same end goal.

Content Makes Us Crazy5. Content

Content should be your number one priority. It’s the heart of your site and everything else (design, functionality, etc.) should be built around it. People (generally) don’t come to your site for fancy graphics and a nice layout; they come (and return) for your content. If your content doesn’t meet the user’s needs, nothing else matters.

Be aware that your online content should be different than content for other media. People read and interact with the web differently than, say, a brochure, so things need to be planned and organized differently for your website. They also read less, so take that into account as well. As Steve Krug puts it in his book Don’t Make Me Think, “get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” (Take that with a grain of salt, but you get the point.) Finally, if you’re not quite up to the task yourself, don’t be shy in hiring a writer. If you truly believe that your content is the most important thing, you will recognize that it’s money well spent.

One final comment here: a lot of clients seem quite willing to spend good chunks of money on search engine optimization. I’d argue that you’re better of spending that on making sure your content is top notch. See a previous blog I wrote about SEO vs. quality content for more on that. Bottom line: if people like your content, Google will, too.

Communication6. Communication

If there are going to be problems anywhere, it will most often be traced back to communication issues. Clear communication is key. So how can we address it? I thought of five ways:

1. Project management. Value it, pay for it. Having a good project manager running the show will be more than worth it.
2. When possible, meet face-to-face. If that’s not feasible, try video conferencing or at least a phone call. E-mail is great, but it also opens up the door to lots of miscommunication.
3. Document all your communication in a central place that everyone has access to. Idea Market uses a project management website that tracks all discussions, schedules, files, etc. so that we’re all on the same page at all times.
4. Have a single point of contact on both sides. This person needs to have the authority to make decisions and give the official sign-off on various stages of the project.
5. Have a shared focus. In other words, keep in mind who you’re building the site for (its users) and do what’s right for them, regardless of personal opinion.

Other resources

How To Get a Website Without Losing Your Hair booklet (PDF)
10 Tips For Ensuring a Better Site Design (by Paul Boag)
Wee Nudge – Teach your clients about the mysteries of the web

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Leadership Centre Re-brand

Carson posted this on May 19th, 2011

The Leadership Centre of Central Alberta celebrated their 10th anniversary with a fancy little party last night that I was lucky enough to be invited to. And by lucky, I mean that they were trying to recruit people for next year’s program and they were wooing me with asparagus pastries and mashed potatoes in martini glasses. I’m not sure that was all really necessary, as the alumni of the program really speaks for itself: impressive people go through this program!

As part of the event, the Leadership Centre also unveiled their new brand, completely coincidentally designed by Idea Market! Credit to Louise Helder, Steve Fisher and Graeme Duckett, who each hand their hands all over this project. And thanks to the folks at the Leadership Centre (Linda, Kristine, Beth and Ryan) for being fun and easy to work with! Below is the old logo, the new one and a brief explanation of the thinking behind it all.

Leadership Centre logo


The three circles and their placement in relation to each other hold considerable meaning. They are designed to portray progressive movement, travelling from the smallest/lowest (farthest) circle to the largest/highest (closest) one. Think of it as a pathway that takes people and the communities around them forward and upward. Leadership is about growth.

The fact that there are three circles in the logo is meant to pay homage to the three priority areas that the Leadership Centre was founded around (community, sports and youth). Today they can represent the private, public, and not-for-profit fields that form the Centre’s studentship.

Finally, the overlap of the shapes signifies the interconnectedness and interaction between those groups. The program is about bringing people together and learning from each other; it’s about partnership and community.

The colours of the logo are based on the three primary colours of blue, red and yellow. In colour theory, these are the colours that are used to create every other colour. On the colour wheel, they are as far apart from each other as possible. So while they’re very diverse, when brought together they can create anything; an obvious parallel to the students.

The shades of each colour, meanwhile, were chosen to reflect the vibrant and dynamic nature of the program and its students. These are not colours (or people) that sit in the background.

Filed under: Client News, IM News | 0 Comments

Music Monday (May 16)

Carson posted this on May 16th, 2011

Because I know you care:

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – The Golden Age

Pomplamoose – Angry Birds Theme

Filed under: IM Fun | 0 Comments

Promoting Places

Carson posted this on May 13th, 2011

I attended the Alberta Downtowns Conference right here in Red Deer yesterday. For seven hours I was assaulted with golden nuggets of knowledge, hurled with equal parts enthusiasm and brute force. (Put that in your testimonials section, Roger Brooks!) The focus was on downtown development and marketing, but a lot of it applies to marketing any sort of place, really. Here are some of the highlights, randomly and in point form:

  • Focus on developing/marketing for your community members first; visitors will follow. If the locals don’t want to spend their time or money somewhere, neither will visitors.
  • Define a strong brand for yourself. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Make sure you can deliver on your brand promise, though!
  • Your area needs to have an “anchor tenant” or “primary lure”; something people will drive an hour or more for. Note that an historic downtown is not a primary lure – it’s ambiance.
  • Make sure there are things to do at night. 70% of all consumer spending takes place after 6pm and overnight visitors spend three times as much as day visitors.
  • Create good first impressions. Put community gateway signage where you will make that best first impression. This is rarely at the city limits. Oh – and make sure the signage is attractive.
  • It’s about a feeling. People need to have an experience. Activities and entertainment should be part of that.
  • Tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Canada. It’s a gateway to other kinds of economic development.
  • Things that baby boomer travelers are looking for include culinary tourism, the arts, ethic education, home & garden-related and public markets. Echo boomers are after mostly the same things, plus environmental tourism.
  • Signage and curb appeal for individual businesses accounts for 70% of first-time buyers.
  • Provide specifics of what makes you different or better, not generalities. You must stand out from the crowd.
  • Make the internet your number one priority. Your marketing budget should be 45% internet/social media, 20% PR, 20% advertising, 10% collateral materials and 5% other.

I just realized that every one of my highlights were from Roger Brooks, so I better give him some love here. He’s a super smart guy that does really good work in a no-nonsense sort of way. Check out his website at:

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Intern Games

Carson posted this on May 11th, 2011

What’s the first thing you get your new intern to do on his first day? Why, make you coffee, of course. He nervously did his best, but when he delivered the mug to my desk, I slapped it out of his hands and screamed that I don’t even like coffee. Next job: cleanup.

At lunchtime, I stepped out of the office for a bit and left him to hold the fort down. While I was out, I had a friend come over pretending to be a client. Things started well enough, with her politely requesting some (non-existent) files for her (non-existent) business. As the intern struggled to figure out where they might be, my fake client friend got more and more irritated. Soon, she’s yelling and cursing at the poor guy and he starts to cry a little. Finally, she ends off with “I paid $500 for those files and if you can’t give them to me, I’m taking the TV!!!” And with that, she grabs the big screen and marches out the door. I return a few minutes later and tell him that we’ll just have to take that off his cheque.

OK – neither of those things actually happened. But we really do have a summer intern. His name is Brian, but you can just call him “The Intern”. Stop by and say hi/verbally abuse him sometime!

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SEO Blah Blah

Carson posted this on May 10th, 2011

I had been planning to write a little something about search engine optimization versus quality website content for a while now. Then what do I discover this morning? Someone else has said pretty much the same thing, only with a much sharper point. But before I humbly link you over to him, let me regale you with a story from the recent past…

When we send out quotes, we try to break things down into detachable parts so that if a client doesn’t have the budget for a certain feature, they can decide to leave that out or perhaps just postpone it. One of those parts used to be search engine optimization. So for a certain price, we would undertake various tasks that would help them rank better in Google, basically. We stopped having it as a separate item after his conversation with a client:

“So… this search engine optimization stuff… You’re going to do blah and blah and that’s going to cost $x?”

“That’s right.”

“So what if I don’t opt for this part? What will you do differently? Will you not do these things?”


You see, the “blah and blah” there were really basic things like properly titling pages and adding alt tags to images. Of course we were going to do those things anyway; that’s just part of building a website (the right way). There are other things you can do, of course, but the more I analyzed those other things the more obvious it was that they were more about creating quality content than SEO tricks.

Think of it like a resume. Your “quality content” are the facts about your education, experience and other qualifications. Sure, you can embellish it with fancy fonts and half-truths, but even if that gets you the job, if you can’t live up to it you won’t have that job for very long.

Bottom line: there are two very simple ways that we approach “search engine optimization”:

  1. building your site properly
  2. helping you with your content

Now back to that other guy that says all this much more directly (and more harshly) than I ever would. Please welcome Derek Powazek to the stage with his brilliant article “Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists” and its equally blunt follow-up: “SEO FAQ“.

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Carson posted this on May 8th, 2011

So we’re wandering aimlessly through the enormous chaotic maze that is the South by Southwest trade show when this lady jumps in front of us and starts herding us into a line. Like sheep we fall in, even though we have no idea what we’re in line for. But hey – at least we’re first!

Next they blindfold us and spin us around three times (not really) and the next thing we know, Guy Kawasaki is signing his new book for us! (If you’re not a Mac nerd, you can replace that last exclamation point with a regular old period, since the name Guy Kawasaki probably doesn’t mean much to you.) Anyway, I finally got around to reading it, so here’s my one-minute review:

The book is entitled Enchantment and it basically talks about how to be liked and trusted in a business environment. It’s a smooth read, with lots of interesting little stories and bits of advice. That said, if I could only buy one book on the subject it would still be Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Yeah, yeah, it’s from 1936, but it’s still super-awesome. If after that you still want more (including an update for things like email and Twitter), get Enchantment.

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