Cropped is coming and you should, too

I believe everything thing I read in The Minneapolis Egotist – especially when I’m their trusted source for today’s story on Cropped. We’re indeed hosting the Twin Cities debut of this deadline-driven competition pitting designer against designer. We met Cropped creators (DSGNX) at TEDx Fargo and have since plotted to lure their friendly competition to The Nerdery, and now the design field is set for Thursday, Jan. 30, 5:30-8PM. Please RSVP to join Cropped festivities and help judge the competition.

Here are the four designers competing at Cropped:

  • Lori Anderson from e10

  • Eric Drommerhausen from Periscope

  • Andrew Herzog from Olson

  • Jeremy Krzmarzick from Curb Crowser

Here’s how the friendly competition at Cropped works. Round one starts with four designers from four different ad/design agencies. Two will be randomly picked for the first head-to-head, single-elimination, 30-minute match, after which the audience votes on whose design composition best conveys the pre-determined theme while utilizing the given font (one) and images (some). One designer moves on to the finals, and the other gets Cropped (because, well, that’s the name of the game).

Next, the other two competitors get new design specs and have at it – wash, rinse, repeat (wash/rinse optional). Lastly, the two winners compete for Cropped glory (same as the first verse, but different font, theme and images). One designer gets Cropped. One becomes Cropped champion. Then, we all hug it out.

Besides being the Super Bowl of spontaneous design, Cropped will also be the social event of the ________ (sorta variable, depending on your social life). Be here, but for the love of party-planning please tell us you’re coming by registering (it’s free/quite simple) at

Don’t Let the Buzz Fool You: Trends May Not Be Your Friends

Every year, articles appear in the blogosphere touting new UX trends or technologies. Some trends have merit and value. Here at The Nerdery we love to constantly push boundaries. However, sometimes when companies implement a trend, they put the cart before the horse. No matter what tactics you choose to employ, it’s always best to start with defining the problem you need to solve for the opportunity at hand.

Many of these trends appear engaging and beautiful on the surface. Designers and stakeholders may have the best of intentions when implementing the latest trends. However, blindly implementing trends can also fail miserably without a sound strategy.

Here are examples of trends or tactics that may have their downsides:

Parallax Scrolling

Parallax scrolling is a technique used where background imagery moves at a slower speed than images in the foreground, creating the illusion of depth. It can be very successful in the right situations and when implemented well.

User Experience Design considerations:

• If users need to find content quickly, scrolling through large volumes of content may deter impatient users. The Crate and Barrel parallax site requires users spend about 15 seconds browsing Christmas tree ornaments.
• If there is a large volume of content, it may be difficult to find hidden content and it may be difficult to search the site.
• If users are unsavvy, they may also be confused by the moving parts and animation.

Technical considerations:

• Content may take longer to load, if developed on one page.
• Depending on the way it’s built, parallax sites may limit search engine optimization.
• Parallax sites add a level of complexity for responsive design.

When Parallax works:

Parallax sites can be effective if you are providing users with linear experiences like stories or walking through a process. It’s also important to include sticky navigation to allow users to skip ahead to topics of greater interest, if applicable.


I love games and appreciate how they can be used to engage users. However, Gamification is not as simple as slapping on badges, leaderboards, points and “gamifying” your website with rewards. Some big brands have failed using gamification and companies continue to waste money while providing poorer user experiences.

Audiences and customers vary in their contexts, motivations, interests and desires. People are complex. Without user research and a sound strategy, you may be designing a product that users will not find valuable or impactful.

Oftentimes, games are built with the goal to increase user engagement. But engagement can be achieved in a variety of ways.  Games are just a means to an end.  We must first justify the means.

Think about the Harry Potter books. There are no badges, leaderboards, nor even pictures, yet children and adults spend countless hours of engaged reading.  It’s due to the story, relatable characters, themes and other content that conjures emotions. Engagement can come in many forms.

It’s critical to understand what drives people.  What are the things they need to learn and do?  How are they motivated?  What drives their behaviors?  After a thorough discovery process we can better determine if a gamified system is actually the best tactic to achieve your goals.

Strategy Before Tactics

In general, any tactic without a sound strategy has a greater potential to fail.  It doesn’t matter if it’s mega menus, blogs, social media tools, or infographics – it’s best to begin a project with a discovery process and user research to help align business goals with user goals.

At The Nerdery, we create strategies that help identify and prioritize business goals and user goals. Our discovery process may include workshops, stakeholder interviews, analytics evaluation, user research, surveys, contextual inquiry, personas, and many other methods to create a laser-focused strategy for your business or organization.

Design for People First

It’s certainly important to understand what new technologies and trends are being implemented.  However, instead of designing with the tactics and technology first, we should first consider the people and their motivations and goals. Ultimately, we are designing for people—people who happen to use technology.  If we begin with a solid foundation and target goals, we have a higher likelihood of achieving those goals.

Nerdery Development Project for Hunger Games Wins a Webby Award


It was recently announced that the Hunger Games: Capitol Tour website was awarded with a Webby in the Movie & Films category. It beat out some big competition by going head-to-head with interactive websites the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, and others. Ignition Interactive was the Agency leading the project and The Nerdery provided development talent on a project that inspired developers and won over the Webby Awards.

When first released the Capitol Tour received media coverage in praise of the cutting-edge use of HTML5 technology and the partnership with Microsoft in promotion of Internet Explorer 9.

The Project:

Curious about what the Hunger Games: Capitol Tour was all about? Check out the behind the scenes tour about the project.

NerdCast #7: Launching Successful Agency-Partner Projects Under Pressure


In this special Valentine’s Day edition of the NerdCast, we share strategies with our agency partners on how to help their next rush interactive project flow smoothly. With perspectives from our sales, project management and front-end development Nerds we explore what makes rush projects successful contrasted with common mistakes.

Have a pressing project? Need to start immediately? We’re ready.

Host: Ryan Carlson / Guests: Eve Poeschl (Solutions Engineer), Charlie Kandiko (Project Management), and Jason Dicks (Front End Developer)

Relevant Follow-Up Blog Post: Tips & Tricks: Creating Efficiencies For Your Development Projects

Listen Now:
Running Time: 0:34:39 / Subscribe on iTunes


Nerdery Partners LBVD’s website is Communication Arts’ Web Pick of the Day

Mad props go out to Nerdery Partner Lawler Ballard Van Durand (LBVD) whose new website was chosen by Communication Arts as today’s Web Pick.

The site was built using WordPress and HTML. If you want to get the inside scoop on this project & LBVD’s objectives, take a look at the Project Case Study. The site was also featured on Cool Home Pages.

Agency Primer Notes: CMS Smackdown, all over but the plug-ins

Agency Primer: CMS Shootout – WordPress and Expression Engine from The Nerdery on Vimeo.

Promotors of last week’s WordPress vs. Expression Engine webinar hinted that there could be blood. Two Nerdery programmers trained hard for this CMS bout. They drank raw eggs and ran stairs, and then a nationwide audience of agencies tuned in for what turned out to be a rather amicable exchange. Or was it? Watch Thursday’s rematch above.

Here is a list of recommended plug-ins for  both content management systems, with WordPress plug-ins submitted by (in this corner) Anthony Lukes, and Expression Engine plug-in faves from (challenger) Brian Litzinger.

WordPress  plug-ins:

Dagon Form Mailer – This is my (Anthony’s) personal favorite because it’s easy to customize and it supports file attachments. Another favorite of mine is Contact Form 7.

Flutter CMS – This plugin allows for easy assigning of different data types and for easy custom page templating.

NavT Navigation Management Plug-in – This plug-in allows you to manage and customize your site’s navigation system.

Inline PHP – This allows you to insert php code into the text editor.

All in One SEO Pack – Pump up your SEO. Customize page titles, meta keywords, and descriptions. This works out of the box and can be fine-tuned for super-users.

Google XML Sitemaps – Generates an XML sitemap of your site to better your search rankings with Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask.

Akismet (comes with WordPress) – This helps keep spammers from posting comments on your blog.

NextGEN Gallery – Great photo gallery plug-in. Not an essential for every site, but this is a really well built plug-in that’s too good not to mention.

And in this corner, recommended Expression Engine plug-ins:

Structure – It forgoes the current template_group/template setup and creates “static” and “listing” pages that can be edited through a tree sitemap view. Traditional page style content and multiple entry pages can live within the same area.

Image Sizer – Resizes images as specified in EE tag and caches the resized image in the cache folder. If you update the original image, a new resized version is created. If the image is not on the server the tag will not return anything. The architecture is setup to only process images when needed.

FieldFrame – A framework for rapid development of fieldtype extension, FieldFrame will be included as part of EE 2 core when 2.1 is released.

nGen File Field – nGen File Field is a field type for the FieldFrame framework that adds a custom field type allowing you to upload files from the Publish/Edit interface, and also functions as part of the FF Matrix. This extension is useful for creating galleries and downloading libraries.

“No mas … no mas.” – Roberto Duran

Think Ink: Color Unleashed; an iPhone app created with And Partners

And Partners, a brand experience company in New York, had a cool idea for their client, Neenah Paper, Inc. They conceived and designed an iPhone app that lets users peruse color combinations to create palettes, shades and hues of their choice – and order paper samples.thinkink

When asked what he thought was cool about this project, The Nerdery’s Mike Woods got right to the point: “It’s a frickin’ iPhone app,” said the software development manager. “No, seriously, this app was amazing. We built some custom UI components, and built interface gateways to process orders and authenticate users. We also did some complex color calculations and other nerdery.”

Think Ink, a free iPhone application, helps users find colors using the Dewey Color System, the world’s only validated, color-based personality testing instrument. It scientifically predicts the recognized major psychometric personality factors without language – it’s practical application being a reliably quick reference tool for the correlated brand attributes of colors.

“During the creative process, the paper is often a decision that is left until the end,” said Woods. “This application was made to help a designer pick some simple coordinating colors for a given color and then offer recommended paper for the product to be printed on.”

And Partners was a great partner. They provided very detailed wireframes and workflow documents,” added Woods. “These made it very easy to communicate about features and organize the project development. And Partners was always willing to listen to our UI and iPhone Human Interface Guidelines feedback. It’s great to work with a partner that can give you amazing designs and is willing to collaborate with you during development.”

“It’s likewise great working with a team of dedicated, competent, professional developers and project managers who are constantly striving to make the best possible application. Michelle, Jon, Minh and Blago are all amazing people to work with.”

Color me impressed.

On the creation of iMapWeather


About nine months ago the Balcom Agency’s Chip Hanna, Interactive Account Director and Brian Blankenship, Interactive Creative Director were given a problem to solve.

“We actually had an existing relationship with one of the guys at Weather Design Technologies,” Hanna said. “He told us about this product they had that was really cool, but that they were missing the mark on how to bring it to consumers.”

Once they were given the problem, Hanna and Blankenship spent some time thinking about the challenge and then holed themselves up in a Starbucks. After many, many cups of coffee, the idea for iMapWeather was born.

“After all that coffee, we finally thought about making a social version,” Hanna said. “We didn’t want to create another social network or do what every one else was doing. They all own their markets. But here’s a different way to look at what’s going on, a way for people to connect through the weather. There’s nowhere else that you can share pictures, videos, and short messages that’s just focused on the weather.”

When Hanna and Blankenship had a concept they set to work on the design and turned to the nerds at Sierra Bravo to help them implement their idea.

“Sierra Bravo helped us get our ideas more focused and get them on paper,” Hanna said. “They’ve been able to find a lot of areas where we can be more efficient, and offered great solutions on how to serve the weather data better. They’ve been a big help with the planning and then implementing every single bit of it.”

And though the nerds were all about helping implement this brilliant idea, the great design of the site sprung from the head of Blankenship.

“I have to say, I got a lot of inspiration from Obama’s site. I’m not exactly sure why, but this was while the debates were going on,” Blankenship said. “His site was so much better than anything out there, and they were doing a better job than anyone else on the social aspect.”

Blankenship said he really is proud of how the social aspect of iMapWeather, especially things like the embedded map (soon you’ll be able to adjust the map’s size) that you can grab and put on your website. Design-wise really digs the sprouts


He also really likes the “sprouts” (the orange pluses) that sprout out different icons as you mouse over them to indicate the kinds of content that has been shared about that location.

“One of the things I think is pretty cool is the background,” Blankenship said. “It autodetects what the weather is like in the visitor’s area and reflects the weather and time of day. We thought it would be difficult to do, but Ben [Dolmar, a Programmer/Analyst at Sierra Bravo] made it work.”

This is the second part of a three part series on iMapWeather. Part 1 is here. Part 3 will focus on some of the challenges the project faced and how iMapWeather brings geo-targeting ads to a whole new level.

iMapWeather addictive, timely social network about weather

Yesterday the Balcom Agency launched iMapWeather,. The Nerdery had the fine, fine pleasure of helping them build this social network that lets people connect about all things weather related.

It seems like an odd bit of magical synchronicity that iMapWeather launches while North Dakota faces the worst floods they’ve seen since 1997, in fact the Red River is expected to crest this weekend more than a foot above 1997’s record-setting level. The Nerdery is keeping a close eye on the situation in ND. In fact, Tom O’Neill has rustled up a gang of nerds to head up to Fargo this weekend and help with the sandbagging efforts.

Now, thanks to iMapWeather, I can’t seem to stop watching a live shot of the river in Grand Forks that a user posted.

And this is just what the creators of iMapWeather were going for.

“We looked around and said, ‘All right there’s nothing out there that offers people a real way to connect through the weather,'” Chip Hanna, Interactive Account Director at Balcom Agency, said. “There’s nowhere else that you can upload photos, share video and other information all related to the weather.”

iMapWeather is a joint venture between Balcolm Agency and Weather Decision Technologies, The Nerdery helped them bring their vision to life.

Next week we’ll tell you about how that vision came about and what we did to help it along.

Zeus Jones wins PhizzPop Design Challenge

Zeus Jones with some help from a Sierra Bravo nerd took home the grand prize at last night’s finals of Microsoft’s PhizzPop Design Challenge at SXSW in Austin, TX. The Zeus Jones/Sierra Bravo team competed against agencies from Miami, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to, “deliver a digital experience or experiences that will engage the Austin, TX community to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.”

While many of last night’s presentations focused on recycling and making your home more energy efficient, Zeus Jones’ presentation took a different approach. They focused on getting the people of Austin to make the most of what they already have. This is a simplified version of the entire concept. You should just watch Christian Erickson’s presentation:

Zeus Jones Phizzpop SXSW Finale from Zeus Jones on Vimeo.

Also, if you’re really curious you can see a demo of the mobile app he talks about at

Okay, I’m going to get a little marketing wonk on you here. What’s so great about this PhizzPop win for us, is that it so perfectly illustrates exactly what we do at the Nerdery — work with agencies to bring their brilliant, creative ideas to life. So, in case you didn’t know before now you do.

And, if you haven’t quite had your fill of hot ad agency on nerd action, make sure to check out this piece from the gang at Minnov8 featuring our own Tom O’Neill and David Annis from Zeus Jones: