Category Archives: Uncategorized

What is responsive design?

You may have heard of responsive design, but what exactly is it? Very simply put, a website with a responsive design is built in a way that it responds to the screen it is being viewed on. More specifically, the website adapts its appearance to the size of the screen.

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Flavorchem shines at the IFT15 Expo

I recently had the pleasure of attending the IFT15 Food Expo at McCormick Place South. The reason for my visit was to check out the new booth exhibit for our client Flavorchem. This yearly expo houses the industry’s largest collection of food ingredients, equipment, processing and packaging suppliers. While I knew that there would be well over 1,200 exhibitors from around the world, I was still awestruck by the sheer magnitude of the expo.

Thankfully, Flavorchem had prepared me (and its other guests) with personal invitations well in advance of the expo, so my experience was seamless. Flavorchem had a record number of visitors at IFT15, and that comes as no surprise. Here are a few of the ways the company took care of us throughout the process. 

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Time ‘2 lern some grammer?’ #wordcrimes

word crimes, grammar, proofreading

Heralded as the original pop song parody artist, “Weird Al” has proved his worth yet again, as songs from his summer 2014 album, “Mandatory Fun,” have out-classed thousands of independent YouTube parodies of this year’s top hits. My personal favorite, “Word Crimes,” exposes “Weird Al’s” grammar-loving nature, while avoiding the easier and potentially offensive angles used by many independent parodies of this year’s controversial hit, “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke and featuring artists T.I. and Pharrell Williams.

It’s not surprising that “Weird Al” has a penchant for grammar, as he’s shown time and time again that he knows how to manipulate song lyrics to fit predetermined music – and make it funny. That talent requires a sophisticated understanding of language, including many of the common problem areas that he mentions in “Word Crimes.”

A few of the problems he calls out are:

  • Less vs. fewer
  • It’s vs. its
  • Syntax
  • Dangling participles
  • Homophones
  • Whom vs. who
  • Good vs. well
  • Irony vs. coincidence
  • Figurative vs. literal

While a little bit of “Weird Al” goes a long way for me, I appreciate that he can inject a little grammar lesson into pop culture – you never know what will stick.

Are you surprised “Weird Al” has a thing for wording? Tell us why – or why not – in the comments below.

Watch the official video here.


Becoming an e-reader: What you want to know

Reading, books, e-readersIn the years since they’ve been available, I’ve heard some pretty heated debates over the advantages and disadvantages of e-readers. It became such a divisive issue that I quickly placed it after politics and religion on the list of taboo party topics. For the most part, I favored the traditional format, citing the free marketplace and familiar feeling of a printed book. As more of my friends (and strangers on the bus) seemed to be embracing digital formats, however, I considered tearing away from my trusted paper friends.

Fast-forward a few years, and there I sit on the bus totally lost in an e-book. Friends on the fence have grilled me about whether e-readers are worth the money, so I thought I would share the considerations that turned me from a bound-book traditionalist into an avid e-reader.


  • A 1,000-page book that goes places. Perhaps the most obvious perk of e-readers is their compact size. Of course, not every book is 1,000 pages, but I’m no stranger to deciding between whether I pack my lunch for the day or carry my reading material. No longer are my mornings plagued by what I can fit in my bag.
  • Books on demand. Although I miss going to bookstores to browse the fancy art books, I don’t miss trying to hunt down a specific title. Now, as long as I’m willing to buy an available book, I can go from browsing to reading in less than a minute.
  • Easy on the eyes. I have uncooperative eyes. Even though I wear glasses, my prescription changes drastically with fatigue. Being able to change the lighting and size of the text on my screen keeps me comfortable reading at any time of day.
  • Vocabulary builder. Growing up, my parents refused to tell me the meaning of any word that was beyond my comprehension. “Go look it up,” was the standard response. E-readers cut out the middleman by providing a definition with one click. Better yet, all words that I “look up” are recorded on a list that I can reference and quiz myself on later.


  • Book budget? What’s that? I’ve always been a binge reader. As soon as I get my hands on a book or series that I’ve wanted to read, it doesn’t last me more than two days. In the past, however, my reading was limited to what I – or a friend – had on hand. Now, for the sake of my bank account, I try to make books last at least a week.
  • E-book free to a good home. Not being able to give books away is my least favorite part of being a member of the e-book club. I’ve never liked overloading my shelves, so I’m thrilled when I can send a good book home with a well-matched reader. Some e-book programs let you loan books to friends, but they have enough restrictions that I haven’t found them useful. I’m hoping that the e-book marketplace will open up soon to compensate for these less-than-tangible purchases.
  • Libraries need to catch up. My reading wish list may not jive well with the Chicago Public Library, but it seems that every book I want to check out is 30 people deep in the hold list. I once tried placing a book on hold, and, when the book became available to me two months later, I received error messages with every download attempt. I have successfully checked out one other book, but the software seems to have a long way to go before I’d call it user-friendly.

Do you use an e-reader? Let us know why – or why not – in the comments below.

Can we please stop using these buzzwords?

Language is fluid and new words come into use, whether invented or repurposed, all the time. This is a good thing, except for when things like this happen:

talking1. Blogosphere. Brad Graham, who’s often credited for coining the term, created “blogosphere” as a joke. And as a joke, it’s great. But when used seriously, essentially to refer to a post on the Internet, it sounds like some drummed-up fear in a sci-fi book. Beware The Blogosphere!

2. Epic. Epics are epic, e.g., “The Odyssey.” Digital campaigns aren’t epic. Concerts aren’t epic. Neither are weekend jogs unless the run takes you across the continent to save a doomed civilization, battle internal and external demons, and change the country forever. Other things that aren’t epic: meals, lines, nights out, failures, naps, movie trailers. Epic Burger is technically Epic, but the burgers are not.

3. Hipster. The word has been used to describe tons of different people with tons of different tastes for tons of years. When used to reveal character about someone or some thing, it does very little – except to probably reveal something about the speaker.

Bad buzzword honorable mentions:

  • Ideation
  • Buzzword

For some horrible-phrase fun, check out Buzz Word Generator. After a few minutes, my favorite generated phrase was: Synergize clicks-and-mortar initiatives. Sounds like some real potential for a cross-brand, open-source, multi-platform embrace with sticky, real-time monitoring for best practices. Or something like that.

Did we miss some awful, horribly overused word or phrase? Let us know below.

How to work around Gmail’s new inbox

The hot topic right now is Gmail’s new inbox layout and a lot of people — marketers specifically — are concerned about the potential effect on open rates. Gmail has divided the inbox into three tabs: Primary, Social and Promotions.


Marketers are nervous because any emails that Gmail deems ads or promotions go to the Promotions tab automatically. The Social tab catches social media news and updates, while the Primary tab houses everything else.

So how do marketers adjust? Here are a few tips:

1. If you’re planning a contest or promotion, allow for extra time. Give your audience a chance to react. Your marketing messages may be out of immediate view and readers may not open the emails right away.

2. If you’re concerned about your marketing message getting lost among other emails in the Promotions tab, grab your readers’ attention with a creative headline. A catchy headline in the email subject line gives your audience a quick preview of your message and helps you stand out from the crowd. You can also send your newsletter, campaign emails and offers in a numbered sequence. This will allow your readers to keep track of messages.

3. Encourage your readers to change their preferences, enabling your emails to be displayed in the Primary tab. Google Help explains, “If you see a message in your inbox that you want in a different tab … drag and drop it into the other tab. Another way to do this is to right-click a message while viewing your inbox.” By changing preferences, readers are sure to have easy access to the helpful emails they love like The Simons Group blogs and your creative campaigns!

How do you grab your audience’s attention in email marketing? What do you think of the new Gmail layout? Let us know in the comments below.

Behind the scenes: An inside look at design

Earlier this year, The Simons Group had the opportunity to work on materials for three award galas. I love working on award materials because they are a chance to celebrate honorees and each organization as a whole.

Below are two of my favorites from 2013: an elegant trifold program for BOMA Chicago and a fun twist on IABC’s Call for Entries for the Chicago Bronze Quill Awards.

Edward Bury, our contact at BOMA Chicago, was a pleasure to work with. He had a clear vision of what he wanted, but left the creativity to us. It was important to him to have a sophisticated and classic program. He also wanted to include categories and names that weren’t included in past brochures. Space was a challenge, but with just the right organization, everything fit nicely. For the cover, I chose a striking photo of Chicago and tied everything together by using the yellows in the photo to create a subtle gradient on the inside spread.


I always enjoy designing multipage layouts, so the IABC Call for Entries was a treat. Alex Mitchell, our contact at IABC, asked that we incorporate a quill to tie back to the show’s title. To do this, I drew a few different quill silhouettes and created abstract designs by layering and varying their opacities. I carried this design element throughout the entire piece to create a uniform look. Overall, this two-color design is very clean, open and easy to read.


Good luck to all of this year’s nominees! I’m looking forward to next year’s award season.

Have any designs inspired you lately? What elements appealed to you? Tell us about them in the comments below.


Don’t let spell-check make you look dumb

Spell-check is like a friend who wrecks your car and then repairs the damage to disguise the accident: It seems like she has your back, but she ultimately lets you down.

A writer sent me a draft of a magazine article he wrote recently so that he could get my feedback about the content. It was well-written and engaging, but it’s a good thing he sent it to me. He overlooked the punctuation and grammatical errors.

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Your website: The great differentiator

Many companies are spending time and money to create customized websites that show off their products and services, and what makes them unique.  Once you get customers on your website, it helps to offer content that adds extra value. Even if clients don’t want a personal relationship with your company, they want to know you understand their needs.

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