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Music can set the mood, and it can also inspire. Here are some albums we've enjoyed in the office:

Trace Bundy: Adapt – Incredibly technical acoustic guitar.

The Glitch Mob: Drink the Sea – This has been called the best electronic album of 2010.

Johnny Flynn: A Larum – Everything you like about Mumford & Sons but better.

Murder by Death: In Bocca Al Lupo – Dark indie rock inspired by Tom Waits.

Opeth: Heritage – Phenomenally well-produced progressive rock that is as complex as it is melancholy.

Happy workers are motivated and productive workers. (And in our case, it also makes us more creative pixel workers.)

Most managers acknowledge the importance of levity in the workplace. They know emotional fulfillment is important, but they don't know how to foster it. They then make the mistake of trying to plan fun with treat days or awkward mid-day parties. You can't plan for fun.

Fun is about spontaneity. You only need to give your employees the tools to have fun. Forget office policies and planning. Let it just happen. We learned this first hand when a developer brought in a pair of dollar store dart guns. Within two weeks, everyone had brought in Nerf guns. When appropriate, we can now blow off steam via onslaughts of brightly-colored foam projectiles. I firmly believe that we're a better team as a result.

While having a better Nerf arsenal than your competition won't guarantee success, it will liven up your office, and that may improve your bottom line.

I'm Obsessing Over is a advertorial photo-blog for Yvonne Estelle's that we took from concept to launch in four days.

In an afternoon session, we conceived and planned the project with the client. At the end, we had a domain name, and a plan.

With the meeting still fresh in our minds, we sketched wireframes of the site using old-fashioned pen and paper. (Sketching is the most overlooked tool in any designer's toolbox.)

In PhotoShop, a mock-up of the design is created based on the wireframe.

After two days of coding and testing, the site was pushed live.
You can't outsmart Google. Tips, trick, and secrets for better rankings only work short-term (if at all.) Google is literally constantly tweaking their search results through multi-variate testing of their algorithm.

Content is the best SEO strategy.
More content means more long-tail keyword phrases which means more opportunities for people to find you in searches. If the content is both useful to the user and relevant to your site, it is likely to convert.

The next time you're tempted by the promise of better rankings with no work, remember that Google has a market capitalization of $196,290,000,000 with which to hire teams of people smarter than the self-styled SEO expert who just cold-called you.
As web designers, who do we serve?

Clients: Our duty to the client is to help them achieve their business goals. Often our work is a keystone in their sales process, so we must meet (and hopefully exceed) measurable objectives such as "increase sales 25% over 60 days" or "generate more leads." For the client, our goal is to provide a return on their investment.

Users: We have a moral obligation to the users of our sites. We must provide them with websites that are usable, accessible, and engaging. We strive to serve the user with a positive experience. Conversely, we can never do things we know to be an annoyance.

Ourselves: As a team, we have to make things that we're proud to share. The footer credit we place on our work is not an advertisement, it's a signature. We can only sign those projects that we know improve the web.

Pushing back with clients on what we know are bad ideas can result in friction. In a few cases it has even meant losing clients, but that's acceptable if it means we produce the highest possible quality of work.
Every few weeks a prospective client calls our offices and breathlessly explains that they have the next big idea. These grand plans all boil down to "It's X for Y." Some very real examples are:

"It's Facebook but for nightclubs!"
"We're like Charity: Water only more sustainable."
"I want to create StubHub but just for Chicago at first."
"It's a free website to buy & sell cars. Like Craigslist except free."
"I'm building an e-commerce venture that will sell costume jewelry but all pieces will give back to a charity. Like Russell Simmons."

This isn't innovation, and it certainly isn't a sustainable business model. Why should anyone choose these imitations over the original?

I challenge you to rise above these imitations. When you do, we'll be here to help you build it.

The Amlings Cycle Holiday Toy Ride is an annual charity bike ride event that raises toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation. The ride was started in 2003 by local bike shop owner Joe Reichert.

For the ninth anniversary of the Holiday Toy Ride, we created a site that allows participants to register online for the event. Through the use of illustrated elements and a prominent call to action, the Holiday Toy Ride is now much more friendly to new participants than it was in year's past.

Register now.

Is social media right for your business? Maybe not. Consider the following:

Social Media is not free – Just because there are no subscription or setup fees associated with most social media services doesn't mean that they're free. Its cost is your time. What is your time worth? How many hours a day can you dedicate to planning, writing, and maintaining a social media campaign? Will you have to sacrifice serving your customers to make time?

Social Media can be negative – A social media presence that appears abandoned is the digital equivalent of turning your lights off. People assume that because you're not updating, you're going out of business. In reality, the opposite is true. Often times businesses are just too busy to update their social media campaigns.

Social Media can't be measured – How do you determine the efficacy of a social media campaign? What is the return on investment? Is it working at all? Presently there is no reliable metric for ROI in social media.

Social Media is dominated by the few – A study from Yahoo Research showed that half of the most influential tweets came from 0.05% of Twitter's users. The lesson is that Twitter works so long as you're a celebrity. This is in stark contrast to the idea that social media allows anyone to amplify their voice.

It's not that I think you shouldn't use social media. It's that I think you need to determine its value to your business, and prioritize accordingly. For most businesses owners, there are more productive ways to promote themselves than writing status updates.
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me… Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” 
— Steve Jobs (1993)
Over the weekend we attended, sponsored, and presented at BarCamp Milwaukee 6. It's an unconference hosted by BucketWorks/SchoolFactory. It's a grassroots effort that has more in common with a wiki than a traditional conference.

We are all experts at our own experiences, and BarCamp is about sharing those experiences with others. BarCampMilwaukee6 was free (thanks to sponsors) but you can’t just sit there and absorb, you have to get involved, and take part in the event.

View more photos from the event.