GEEKING OUT: Article for HOW magazine (July 2000)

Is the Web a brave new world or a black hole of Pamela Anderson pin-ups and Star Trek chats? If you're a designer most comfortable with design in three dimensions and print, you're more than a little likely to go with the latter. But you don't have to be a Web or multimedia designer to use the Internet as a valuable promotional tool.

Would you be more comfortable sending your only child on a Greyhound bus to Detroit than sending out your portfolio for review? If so, you might be well advised to design an online portfolio (and notify child-welfare authorities). This is one place anyone in the world can sample your work at any time without the risk of losing that one-of-a-kind leopard-skin covered portfolio that has become your trademark.

Anne Colvin is a San Francisco fine-art photographer whose online portfolio has earned a great deal of attention ( As a contributor to the San Francisco design firm 03.TILT, her portfolio is included as an annex to the site. Her online portfolio echoes the bright color and design sense of the host site, but is also designed to have its own distinct character.

The site uses bold colors and a surprisingly low-tech approach to create a feeling of movement and energy. The portfolio opens up with a bold splash screen, which takes Colvin's images and blows them up to fill the entire browser window in an animated GIF that adds movement. The site's designer, 03.TILT Creative Director Neil Mackintosh, designed the splash screen to serve a practical purpose, as well. The portfolio loads in the background while the visitor is greeted with the splash screen. Since Mackintosh uses regular-sized images simply blown up using the and tags, the images load quickly.

"I wanted to create content that inhabits the same space as the interface," Mackintosh says. The content is organized into three frames. The first frame houses the navigational bar, which runs along the top. The second frame, the focal point, includes the selected work of art from Colvin's portfolio and a written description. The third frame, which scrolls along the bottom, allows the user to select from a series of thumbnails of images.

Colvin was economical when selecting images for her online portfolio. "I didn't see any sense in complicating things by giving visitors too many images to choose from," Colvin says. "I simply used a few selections of my best work." The result is a clean look which allows the visitor to get a great sense of Colvin's breadth of work in one space. But there's a practical reason, too. "Loading a lot of images takes time," Mackintosh says. "Using fewer images allows you to deliver the page faster."

Colvin's online portfolio has been enthusiastically received. "My work is charged," Colvin says. "My Web portfolio shows a similar sense of energy and edginess. People have responded well to it„it excites them."

There's great merit in designing a beautiful site suggestive of your firm's style. But if you want people to keep coming back, you have to give them a reason. The key to this is content.

"The minute I stopped being a serious designer, I started being taken seriously," says Pat Broderick of San Francisco's Rotodesign ( His site features a variety of lighthearted folly„everything from a fictitious lineup of the new television season (including America's Funniest Human Rights Violations and Aerobic Bikini Cops) to the Promo Whore service (motto: "Promo Whore loves your product and/or your service"). His efforts have earned him the attention of Yahoo, who declared his site one of their "Cool Sites of the Year", and return visitors from far and wide„about 1,000 a week.

It doesn't matter how beautiful your site is, how compelling its content or what you're giving away if people don't know that you exist. The promotion of your site is arguably the most important part of Web maintainence.

First the basics: Immediately register your site with search engines. Although you can certainly visit each search engine individually and register your site for free, it's worthwhile to pay a service to do all the dirty work for you, considering there are currently more than 400 major search engines around the globe. Some of the most popular services for registering your site include: Register-It ( and Submit-It (

The second most important thing when it comes to indexing your site is the use of tags. These are invisible tags embedded in your site's < HEAD > code tipping off search engines and Web spiders to your content. You can use tags to index your site: with keywords and a description for your site. For tutorials on how to use tags in your pages, visit Web Site Garage (; HTML Goodies (; or Webmonkey (

Next, send out press releases or postcards promoting your site. Make sure to include your address, phone number, email address, and need I say it, URL. If you're offering any kind of unique content or giveaway, this is the perfect place to mention it. Include your URL on every piece of printed material your firm produces„and immediately get your URL into your email signature.

All the aforementioned promotional stuff is essential, but these are also strategies that everyone else with a Web site (including your grandmother) is using. In order to get your site attention that not everyone else is getting, you have to be creative.

Curium Design is a San Francisco-based design firm that was looking for a way to procure some new clients and get people to remember them. From this, the Loki the Monkey campaign was born.

"Instead of blanketing a variety of prospects with our pitch, we targeted the people we wanted to work with," says Joy Johnson co-partner and producer of Curium Design. "We wanted to do something more specialized to our target audience, and something more memorable than a postcard."

The campaign started with a mailing of laminated pictures of Loki sent out to the target list, the monkey that would infiltrate the lives of the recipients over the next five weeks. Next, a banana was mailed out in Harry & David-style packaging. The next step in this promotion was an email directing readers to a URL posting special Shockwave story telling about Loki, a monkey bent on individuality and crusading against conformity, two tenants of the firm.

Creativity piqued, the recipient got a few more follow-up emails, and local recipients got a hand-delivered banana split delivery by the Curium crew, who captured the surprising moment with a Polaroid. Two more links to Shockwave movies followed this up, telling about Loki, and his experiences that were both funny and analogous to Curium's philosophy. The final touch was a handmade book, delivered to each person with the Polaroid in the middle.

"The Web is a whole new world for self-promotion and marketing," says Evan Sornstein co-partner and designer of Curium Design. "You don't worry, ŚDid they get my leave behind?' It's immediate and cost-effective. And it really got people's attention."

Recipients aren't likely to forget Loki after that promotion. "Having people remember us is almost equal to getting a job," Johnson adds. "Because they'll remember us when they do have a job."

Smug ( is an e-zine with attitude and guts„two qualities that figure heavily in their self-promotion. Case in point: During the Coolest Site of the Year Awards in New York City, when online auction house eBay was selected as the Coolest Shopping Site of Year, no one from eBay was there to claim the prize. This situation presented itself as a opportunity for Smug.

Smug writer Todd Levin marched up on stage, claimed the prize and exited to a string of congratulations. The piece de resistence came when Levin put the award up for auction days later on eBay. The event was featured all over the news, and was Wired News' lead story February 3. Traffic to was 40,000 people the day the story broke. Although you may not have the guts or the opportunity to pull a brilliant media prank like that, the point is to carpe the diem when you get the chance. And use every opportunity possible to promote yourself.

Leslie Harpold, publisher of Smug, has a variety of other tricks up her sleeve. "When the site first launched, I had six friends come over and I got them drunk," Harpold says. "We spent the entire night writing the URL on Post-It notes„a whole gross worth. I mailed the Post-Its to friends around the country and told them to go into their local bookstores and stick them in humor and Web magazines." Another publicity stunt was doing a wild posting: Printing up fliers with the URL on it, taking a bucket of wheat paste and blanketing a construction site.

Other strategies she uses are more traditional, but no less effective. "It really helps to make friends with journalists," Harpold says. "Read their stuff, then take time to write to them and tell what you thought of it. You don't always have to agree„just start a dialogue with them and hopefully, they will remember you. Afterall, it's their job to look for news."

Another strategy is to partner with similar sites. "Linking is not to be underestimated," Harpold says. "Cultivate relationships with other sites that are smart for you. Be selective with who you link to and who links to you because you're naturally associated with them."

All this promotion helps Harpold's meat-and-potatoes venture, Fearless Media (, a New York City Web development firm. Smug may be a labor of love, but it's still driving a bunch of clients to Fearless Media. "I've had very positive feedback about Smug from Fearless Media clients," Harpold says. "Smug has really driven great clients to us as well."

The greatest lesson to be learned from all this? "Opportunities are everywhere," Harpold says. Anything else? "Oh yeah, stickers," she says. "They're cheap and they stick anywhere."