Chris Richards

marketing | branding | tech | startups


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Want to build office camaraderie? Try moving.

How a change of space invigorated a small agency.

Without change, things get stale. We all know that. Some people get tired of commuting on the same bus. Others get tired of eating the same breakfast every day, bound by habit or restraints they’ve imposed on themselves. In business, those tiny frustrations that come from feelings of ‘staleness’ can compound easily, impacting a company’s workflow. This becomes especially true if employees begin to feel jaded or take the frustration as a given.

So, when my small agency had the opportunity to move into a new office recently due to growth, it was easy to see a revived sense of excitement about not only the work, but the company operations from day-to-day. As moving day approached, employees all seemed to rally behind the idea of change. Everyone was engaged; the excitement was tangible.

Now a couple weeks into the move, having settled into the new space, I can clearly see that this physical change has brought the company together more than any incentive program, perk, or outing in the past. Personally, I’ve felt invigorated by the move, and I sense the same feeling in my coworkers. Throughout the process, I’ve realized that this new perspective for our growing agency has built camaraderie for a number of reasons:

1. Moving is physical. Really physical.

This might seem obvious, but in case you haven’t packed up one office, loaded it in various cars, and unloaded it on the 4th floor of a new building, you might not remember just how physically intense moving really can be.

Many companies, including ours, offer employee wellness days involving exercise, yoga, or the like. While those types of activities certainly achieve their goals of getting employees active, their physical settings (gym, park, beach, etc.) are somewhat expected. But, arriving at work in an oxford button-down and khakis, and leaving a little sweaty, having disassembled three desks, is not expected. For me, it was the physical element of packing and moving, mixed with the normal (keyboard-heavy) digital agency work that felt so interesting. I found myself smirking internally as I sorted boxes while in dress shoes, watching coworkers build chairs wearing heels.

We got really physical one day, going all Office Space on our crappy printer. It was the perfect way to release the stress that was brewing with the big move, and the growth of the agency. Seeing our CEO walk out of the office with our horrible old printer over her head, smashing it to the concrete, felt like watching the physical rebirth of the company and a new culture. Smashing the old, negative things, we were all ready for a fresh start — physically and mentally.

And, no matter how physically tiring the move may have been, it felt good to experience the physical fruits of our labor coming together. Seeing a new office emerge from an empty space isn’t something many employees in larger businesses typically get to experience.

2. Multitasking forces focus.

I know multitasking can get a bad rap in the digital world, but something about having to squeeze in packing, loading, and moving responsibilities with the day-to-day responsibilities every small agency faces made our team work harder and more efficiently. With the pressure of having to balance the duties of moving (assembling new desks to sit at), employees seemed to focus on the client tasks at hand with extreme focus in order to make time to both settle-in the new space and satisfy clients.

In a scenario like this, there’s really no excuse for “down-time” as there is always something to be done, something to be moved, or a new piece of furniture to be assembled. The focused feeling nurtured here is something we should carry with us beyond the move-in period. It’s a valuable feeling to capture.

3. Moving brings out the “real” in people.

Amid loading iMacs into the back seat of my car, it dawned on me that this wasn’t “typical” work behavior for a small branding agency. Do lead designers typically lug their 27″ machines across town in the back seat of a sedan? Do copywriters often take apart tables or wire phone lines? No. But all this atypical behavior actually brought out a refreshing “realness” in people. It reminded me a lot of moving in to college — while it’s stressful and physically demanding, the act of changing one’s surroundings brings out the essence of people.

At one point in the move, while pasting up a wall-length Whitey Board, as four of us struggled with installing the sticker-like covering, I felt as if I was taking part in a “team-building” challenge at summer camp. You know that one where you can’t let go of your partner, but you have to untangle? Everyone was real, everyone was focused on achieving the goal, and everyone was needed. It just felt like true teamwork. It’s a feeling I hope carries into the rest of our work as an agency.

Finally, the shared experience of going through this together as a company over many weeks has had a greater impact than any one individual perk could have had on the employees. By engaging everyone in the physical move, offering the freedom to “refresh” their perspective in a new space, and creating a chance to approach work from a new space, this move has done wonders for the health of the company.

I know it’s not possible for everyone to just up-and-leave their current spot. But, I’d recommend considering the impact that such a wide-reaching call to arms could have on one’s employees and business. Especially in our increasingly digital industry, removed from the real world, it can feel refreshing to take a day, grab some cardboard boxes, unravel a roll of packing tape, and cram some computers in a trunk.

Oh, and sharing a few beers after a job (move) well done? That’s always good for camaraderie too.


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3D Printing in Philadelphia – DesignPoint

I’m excited to be helping an awesome company that recently opened its office in Old City, Philadelphia. DesignPoint Solutions was formed based around adding value to existing 3D printing and design technologies, meaning they’ll teach you, train you, and help you design and prototype anything from a little chess piece to a sophisticated and precisely crafted medical device.

Personally, I’m blown away by the quality and precision of the little pieces their printers can put out and I’m glad to see the industry expanding in Philly. With other great 3D design and fabrication places such as Next Fab gaining lots of interest from the local community (also serving as the casting area for the next Shark Tank), it’s hard to deny the fact that the industry is blooming in Philadelphia and beyond.

 


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Vilano Single Speed Bike: Reviewing the Good and the Bad

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Vilano Track Fixed Gear / Single Speed Road Bike for a while now. I’ve enjoyed it a lot since buying it in the fall, but honestly, it’s been tough to ride!

Vilano Track Single Speed Bike Built

Excuses, excuses, but it’s true. Literally, it’s been difficult to ride! The area of Philadelphia around me is known for its hills. It’s not in “the city” with flat ground, so truthfully, I’m now realizing that buying a single speed bike might not have been the wisest choice.

That’s where my review starts: hills. This Vilano is an awesome bike for the price, but its single speed gear makes my legs feel like exploding whenever I encounter the hills around here (and that’s often). Hills are bad news for single speed. I should have known that, having grown up riding on bikes with dozens of gear choices. As a kid, I would have never made it without those precious gears to save me.

On flat ground, though, this bike flies. The single gear seems to be set at just the right ratio for flat-land travel. I reached an open half-mile stretch along a bike path and was able to make it up to around 22 mph with some vigorous pedaling.

But, aside from the inability to ride up hills, I have very few complaints about this simple ride. Like I said, it was cheap (only a little more than $200 on Amazon!) It came in a big box, right to my door. I opened it, to find the bike in several pieces well-protected by packaging and ready to set-up. Building it was a breeze, and Vilano just included a piece of paper with a link to their instructions online (in the form of YouTube videos) in case you needed extra help assembling the parts.

Vilano Track Single Speed Bike Assembly

At first glance, the bike frame is a conversation starter. I ordered a bright orange frame, though they had a variety of choices. It definitely stands out from the other bikes I’ve owned which have more subtle coloring. This thing isn’t quite neon, but it’s close.

There are no labels on the bike. No branding. Which I hear is what the hipsters like. No branding means there’s ample room to add your own little personal touches. I’ve added a few stickers, but the bike is still mostly just nice and orange.

The tires are very thin. I’ve never ridden a bike with such thin tires and wheels. Coming off a mountain bike, this thing feels absolutely rail-like. It’s thin, fast, and the tires are meant for speed. That being said, I’ve had issues keeping the tires inflated. I think replacing the stock tires with something a little more substantial would be a good first move for anyone buying this bike.

Speaking of upgrades, I also added a few accessories after receiving the bike. The stock pedals are cheap and laughable. I ordered some Avenir Ultralight Pedals with toe-clips and those did the trick. I, personally, love toe-clips and grew up using them, so it made sense that I install them on this new Vilano too. And, not that it’s totally necessary, I bought a cheap water bottle holster to screw onto the frame.

Basically, having moved to a new city, I was looking for a fun, cheap bike to get around. Though I don’t use it as my primary means of travel, this Vilano bike has served me well so far. As long as I remember to avoid the hills, it’s all good!

 


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Making Digital Feel Real

I’ve noticed a trend recently in web design. Maybe I’m late to the party on recognizing this, but hey, I’m not a designer. I just wanted to point out that in recent months, I’ve seen more and more sites designed with texture in mind. These sites appear to have a feeling, like something I can touch, and I love it!

In a world that’s increasingly digital, we’ve moved away from the “hooray, internet!” period of the 2000’s and into something that’s almost “post-digital” in design. Parallel to the “hipster” movement back to vinyl, coaster breaks, and moleskin notebooks, this design trend has come about in response to our increasingly digital, always-connected world. The web has become a very real place many of us live on a daily basis, so why shouldn’t design reflect that tangibility? Smart designers have taken note and are now creating beautiful web experiences for us to “live in.”

Curalate  Making Social Curation Work for Brands

The most recent, and best, example of great texture use that comes to mind is Curualate’s website. As a Philadelphia-based startup focused on visual marketing and Pinterest analytics, there’s good reason for them to focus on the site’s visuals. The site feels tangible and each item and section of the site seems hand crafted from paper or a soft cloth-like material.

“Digital texture” has worked its way into the popular eye more and more, even if the general public is not overtly aware of it.

Even Instagram it seems has exploded in popularity because of its ability to add “texture” to average digital photos. We’ve moved past the desire for clean, clear, plain images and now fall in love with the grainy, often distressed images produced by millions of users on Instagram.

billion dollar power of instagram atmedia design

At Media, a Philadelphia-based design and branding company, made a great and visually-stunning blog post on the power of Instagram, mentioning its ability to connect physical brands with digital users. In the process, At Media demonstrates the power of texture and “tangible” design with their well-designed post. If you take a look through the rest of their work, you’ll be pleased to find other great use of texture in design.

Look around, and you’ll notice sites updating their look to a similar feeling. I think it’s a good thing. I’d be surprised if Facebook integrated a textured design any time soon, but as it is the “home” for so many on a daily basis, it might do them some good!