Sunshine Charlie: an identity, a design, and an integration.

This project involved identity work, business products, photoshop layouts, initial HTML & CSS templates, and a WordPress integration.

To start again at the beginning.

As may be a common scenario for independently owned and operated small businesses, the identity wasn’t at the top of the list of business concerns. As we began to define what exactly the purpose of the web presence was and how it fit into existing efforts, it became clear we needed to put into words the essence of Sunshine Charlie. It need the brand stated, without fluff, without pretense, and with an acknowledgment of the true personality of the business.

After a iterative process of research, competitive analysis, word exercises, and “hey, i like this” emails, we arrived at the definitive Sunshine Charlie  brand statement:

Sunshine Charlie, simple authentic stories.

This was what Sunshine Charlie was all about. Simplicity; Photographs that capture the best of how clients really are. Authenticity; The best WYSIWYG has to offer. No ego, bullshit, or other costly constructs. And Stories; Each moment captured in photograph tells a story. The experience of working with Sunshine Charlie leaves an emotional memory of the story of what it was like.

We need the logo now.

As must also be commonplace, time was a huge factor. The business was already taking off. We needed business cards. Promotional materials. A website. Gift certificates. HTML email templates. Hurry! In accordance with the agreed brand distillation and competitive analysis results – a classic design aesthetic seemed the most honest and differentiable. Say more by saying less. Let the work speak for itself. Allow a simple emotional experience plant a seed that can grow into a brand evangelist later. We’re not looking for overnight success. Just a modest trend upward.

Sunshine Charlie in logomark form!

Garamond seemed to have the best-in-class vibe we were looking for. A classic serif, with a breadth of family, that just gets out of the way. And for color, black on white, with subtle grey distinction for the brand statement.

We got client approval and moved rapidly into a limited number of high quality business paper products. Business cards, postcards for promotion, and gift certificates to encourage client loyalty. We love Moo. Their product set is a great fit for Sunshine Charlie. Quality products, ecologically responsible, and a great web experience. And they call their periodic emails the Moosletter. They were a great fit.

Furthermore Moo offers an array of accessories that go with these products all with the same snap. Card holders, stickers, and a shopping experience any web monkey would be proud of. We had found our business paper provider.

A client partner is all you need.

Sunshine Charlie is a fantastic client. We work well together as partners, not as person-with-money and desperate vendor. As a result, the farther along in the process we get, the more we come across big problems we don’t have to worry about. Decisions that seem obvious right at that time when you don’t have time to make non-obvious decisions.

The iterative website comping process was a natural extension of the existing work we’d done together previously.

The simple color of the identity lent itself to the web instance in a way that stays right in line with the brand experience. Be yourself, be simple, and tell a story. The story is in the voice of the writing and the photography work. The website in this case is earning an A+ if it gets out of the way and let’s people interact with the work and the content.

Our early competitive analysis was most helpful while translating the brand to the web. We reached consensus regarding why people were at the site and who might they be. The navigation basically wrote itself. The portfolio – show me the work. The blog – tell me your story. And pricing – everyone wants to know. Add to that some contact information and some terms regarding the kind of arrangement that goes on between client and photographer, and you’ve got a simple hierarchy which should get people to the content they’re after.

Connecting the tubes.

Sunshine Charlie is a phenomenal photographer. And a great writer, social facilitator, and authentic individual. And by virtue of us working as their technologist, it stands that maybe Sunshine Charlie isn’t a web developer. And that’s okay. In fact, thank goodness everyone doesn’t want to learn all this stuff. It’s how we offer value.

So we need a solution that allows a tech-friendly-but-non-expert maintain their own web presence. And for this WordPress fits the bill nicely. Plus we have a history of experience doing WordPress integrations. We use Dreamhost. We find them to be quite fantastic.

With the host and CMS decisions made there comes the question – what about the photographs? WordPress is many things to many people, but one thing it is not is a photo management solution. Luckily, we happen to be alive right now, and Flickr exists and is a great photo management solution. It’s off-site and redundant so Sunshine Charlie gets data security, it’s got an API to pull our data out, and as a bonus, it has a flourishing community which can serve as another potential business channel.

Put the frosting on the cupcake.

When Sunshine Charlie publishes a new blog post out goes a tweet and a status update to the Sunshine Charlie fan page. The website is theirs to manage, and represents the brand online; All other networks and presences are an extension of sunshinecharlie.com. It comes with a SlickrFlickr plugin instance which keeps photo management where it belongs, at Flickr. It comes with a Google Analytics integration so they can better make business decisions. It comes with Google’s Pagespeed Apache module enabled to give better performance. It comes with the Google Application suite running off the domain which keeps email (and other document) management where it belongs, at Gmail.

The point isn’t to build everything from scratch. The point is to provide compelling solutions that provide value to the business and the their customers. We think we’ve done just that.

A strange inversion.

It may well be worth noting that our design process resulted in a solution transcends typical photographer websites. Of you look out at the photographer landscape, there is a pattern. A “portfolio” of the work done with flash, and “the blog” implemented with a variety of solutions, mostly via photographer.someservice.com. This manifests as photographer homepages with a click here for the blog and click here for the portfolio decision with no easy way to go between the two experiences. And the two experiences are always different and incur some brand dilution.

We feel like the solution we provided for Sunshine Charlie is elegant, functional, and transcends some of the typical versions of what photographers out there are doing. We found a way to integrate the portfolio with the website.