Photojournalist Lynn Johnson’s Website Redesign

Last week photojournalist and National Geographic contract photographer’s new website was launched. Squarespace was the platform I used to give we online portfolio and presence a complete refresh.

The standard for most photographers in the 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s was to build a website using Flash. I remember LiveBooks being super popular along with BigFolio and a few others. Most photography website companies back then offered Flash-based templates. Oh, how presentation and marketing has changed!

Lynn’s former website served her well and she felt it was time to finally update. So when she engaged me to redesign her website I was excited and of course extremely flattered.


Every website I work on starts with research. I have loads of questions so we discussed a lot of options: budget, structure, content, marketing and maintenance; all of which overlap and how I determine the best solution. Time is precious and she wasn’t keen on spending a lot of it updating software, plugins, backing up her site, security, etc. Naturally she wanted to focus on people and stories — her passion.

Note: Of course there are ways to automate backup, security, etc. but those require additional and typically on-going costs.



Squarespace was the best option and after several rounds and tests of the various templates they offer, we moved forward with the Fulton template. CSS was used to tweak the template. 

Template Limitations

We ran into a few frustrations or “not crazy about” aspects of working with a template but both of us did our best to come to terms with those limitations. Designing websites can be a tremendous challenge because it is often about working with constraints. There is always the dream scenario but in most cases, that is not an option. Still, the best part of the job is figuring out creative ways to get around constraints.

The one section where I had to compromise was the “Library”. It contains an archive of selected stories that she has published over the years. It is quite a body of work and I wanted to give it the real estate it deserved.

I started in one direction but realized I was making it too complicated for her to do on her own. Working around the built-in functions to present the content differently would require too many steps. So, the best option was to stick with a baked-in format. It’s a bummer that we’ve already had some feedback that the Library section is confusing so it’s my hope to revisit after we do some training, review the analytics and do some training. Perhaps it won’t be too complicated (crossing fingers).

Dream Client

Working with Lynn was incredibly satisfying and flat-out fun. She placed a great deal of trust in me and that felt great. It was a true collaboration; my favorite type of relationship.

Congratulations Lynn!

Multimedia Photojournalist Janet Jarman’s Website Redesign

Presenting my collaboration with Janet Jarman, Kati McCoy and Alex Kendrick on the redesign of

I’m excited to present Janet Jarman’s new website!

She announced the launch last week but I’ve been so busy with another website project and finishing up the details of my personal branding and marketing course that I just haven’t had the time! It’s all good stuff of course 😉


Janet, her assistant Kati, our developer Alex and I worked on the redesign for nearly two years. Gasp if you will but Janet has been pretty damn busy working which naturally shifted her focus to making pictures; something she cannot afford to not do! It was a bit like ships passing in the night but we finally made it happen and I’m excited for her and proud of what we were able to accomplish.

Reception to her site has been positive — yay!

Content Relationships

A website redesign of course is not without its challenges. In terms of design and development, Alex and I had to figure out a way to present her video and still photography in a way that met her requirements: one type of media format needs to takes priority over another but there could be a situation where only one type of content was published.

Meaning: If say a video for a story was the featured format type but she had a still photo gallery version of the same story, she wanted the video to be presented first and the still gallery presented second. It could also be reversed or there could be only a video or only a still gallery.

HonestlyI was super confused at first because when I hear the term “related content” I immediate think “related stories or articles”; content that could be related in terms of topic but not the same story in a different format. You know, like “Other Stories You May Like”.

Our language while the same meant different things! So it took awhile to hash it out since we were working primarily via email and Basecamp. Alex is based in the Midwest, Janet in Mexico and I’m in Syracuse!

But, because the content also drives the direction of development — a reason why development or developers should be involved in the project as soon as it begins — it was critical to reach an understanding. I was trying to avoid was the possibility of a major CMS implementation nightmare.

We eventually created 4 different templates which I believe works but it was an intense point of discussion since the actual presentation of secondary content was purposefully designed not to be consistent.


Janet’s new website is fully responsive thanks to Alex’s mad skills. Mobile use surpassed desktop last year and it will continue in that direction so building a responsive website was one of the most important requirements. Her previous Flash-based website wouldn’t even show up. A mobile-friendly website imho is a non-negotiable for website owners.


We used a BEAM template to create the archives section of her website and we had a few limitations. 

  1. The URL for the logo cannot be modified to be linked to an external web page
  2. Templates have a lot of customization limitations.

The first kinda drives me bonkers. The second I can live with. In the end it was a decision based on priority. We went with mobile-friendly over customization. So, it isn’t an ideal set-up but as always you gotta work within constraints and I personally do not feel that every section of a website or web page these days needs to be feel like an exact match.

What I Love Most

Perhaps it is bad form to share what I love about my own design but I feel like I gotta say how glad I am that it has some warmth and texture. It feels approachable just like Janet.

Personal Branding & Marketing Course at Newhouse

It’s official: Craft Your Image is on.

For the spring semester (2015) I’ll continue to teach personal branding and marketing for photography graduate students in the Multimedia Photography & Design department at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University.

I’m thrilled to continue to teach.

Photo by Stefano Principato Photo by Stefano Principato

It’s official: Craft Your Image is on.

I wasn’t sure up until this point whether I would continue to teach “Craft Your Image”, a course I designed and launched in the spring of 2013, to photography graduate students at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University.

The course is designed to do just some of the following:

  • Help students feel more comfortable and confident entering the freelance world
  • Educate the basics of managing finances (personal and professional)
  • Create a website presence
  • Get more clarity of their brand
  • Zero in on their niche and specialized topics
  • Wrap their heads around social media tools and its value

There’s more!


I’ve only taught this course for two semesters now and I took the feedback from the first class to apply to the spring 2014 class.

So, last spring, a few undergraduate design majors joined us. I’m proud to share that at least one photographer/picture editor and designer collaboration has turned into a more long-term partnership. It’s an outcome that makes me giddy.

And, I also brought in more speakers and more lectures on contracts, pricing, legal matters.

Guest Speakers

I was also able to bring in a few professionals to help fill in with their expertise:

  • Seth Resnick, D-65 (Thank you Nikon, B&H. Seth also gave a talk on creativity to a larger crowd at night.)
  • Matt Slaby, LUCEO
  • Jen Lombardi, Kiwi Creative
  • Alexis Lambert, Office of Mayor Alvin Brown

Next year I hope to bring in more great talent into the classroom via Skype.


Not everyone in the class felt the class was a success or that I was good at teaching. It’s never easy to hear that someone doesn’t like you or the way you do things (I’ve shared the more negative review below, too) but I was pleased to learn that most were extremely satisfied and felt it was worth their time and money.

Below are what the students had to say.

On the beneficial aspects of the course:

“This course is crucial for any creative venturing into business. Unlike a typical business class, this class doesn’t just talk about business but guides you through the introspective process of determining at your core who you are, what your values are, where your passions lie, and then critically evaluating your business dreams to shape a plan to align your values and passions into a viable business plan.”

“I was able to learn skills and tools that will allow me to move forward in my branding and identity journey independently and from a more informed place.”

On whether the course made one think:

“It definitely has made me think, I never really realized all the work that goes into design and how hard it is. I have a whole new appreciation for design and designers.”

“This course has definitely made me think. It really helped me get a direction to reach for in the future… Ie what where I want to go, what I want to do. It helped me focus where I should be focusing. But it made me really think about how I want my brand to be perceived and how everything fits together to create an image and brand. It also made me think more with design amongst other things to make the brand the most effective it can be.”

On whether the course would be recommended:

“I would definitely recommend this course to a friend. This course covered such valuable material that I think any creative type should be required to take in Newhouse.”

“Yes, it gets you to research not only the photography industry, but who you yourself are as a person. It forces you to question what will make you happy and how to do it. It”

On my strengths as a teacher:

“She is passionate and knowledgeable about her field, She can work with designer/filmmakers/photographers interchangeably. She provide a framework and knowledge base for students to look for the path to a rewarding career. She facilitates open discussion and asks important questions.”

“Debs greatest strengths is that she knows her stuff and the business. She has real life experience. She is also super helpful, kind, supportive. Deb is a great teacher. She pushes you to do better work and improve your branding. She also gives feedback that is constructive and helpful. She teaches in a very clear way while showing us real life examples”

“The teacher’s greatest strengths are her clear, concise presentation style, her enthusiasm for the subject matter and her compassion for students.”

From what seems like the one person who didn’t like me, my teaching style or what I had to offer:

“The teaching style, the delivery can be overbearing at times. It can be a drawback.. Not to be as harsh. It’s honesty off-putting and makes us feel less wanting to be engaged, compared to other professors who make the learning environment more welcoming. I really would encourage her to be more welcoming in the classroom environment. If this could be improved, I would recommend this class without hesitation.”

Future Plans

  • Offer a similar course geared specifically for MPD (Multimedia Photography & Design) Design majors
  • An online course for professionals, recent grads or recent freelancers

Interested in any of my future plans? Please let me know in the comments so I can go to the powers that be and show them real interest! 

Show Your Work: Calligraphy Beginnings Part 3

Thanks to everyone who responded with likes and comments on the photos I posted on Instagram and Flickr for my first set of exercises as a calligraphy beginner.

The support, excitement and encouragement that felt really great.

Thanks to everyone who responded with likes and comments on the photos I posted on Instagram and Flickr for my first set of exercises as a calligraphy beginner.

The support, excitement and encouragement that felt really great.

Below is the third set of my practice run. I decided I’ll post in sets. It’s more manageable for me and I’m sure you would rather not be inundated with post after post of my calligraphy practice runs!

Capital A's.
Capital A’s.
Capital H's.
Capital H’s.

Rinse and repeat.

I’ve mentioned below how odd it is to see a letter over and over again. My eyes do get cross-eyed when I’m say, staring at a sea of captial H’s.

And as tedious and boring as it may seem, repeating a sea of A’s, H’s, M’s … I’ve discovered what aspects of each letter require special attention or more accurately, which parts of the letter I had trouble with the last time.

What I also found interesting is that I could almost tell that the letter wasn’t going to turn out so great simply by where I started my stroke. I had many silent cringe moments when I would realize this in the middle of a letter. Rats!

Capital M practice
Capital M practice

Slowing down definitely helps.

It really makes you think about every placement of ink and the pressure with which you use to create thin and thick strokes. Slowing down makes you think about spacing and where to begin and end.

The creation of each letter feels very Zen. Even the sounds of the pen moving across the paper makes the process feel so real. Yeah, that’s about as best as I can explain it now.

My turtle helps me remember to slow down.
My turtle helps me remember to slow down.

Calligraphy for me at this phase of my life is a way for me to recharge; to decompress; to be quiet.

The results so far may not be as beautiful as say calligraphy studio Brown Linen or calligrapher Molly Suber Thorpe, but for me, I’m happy to just start, do and make.

It’s a wonderful feeling.

Show Your Work: Calligraphy Beginnings Part 2

“Slow down” is the constant reminder in my head as I see the details of my mistakes or what I perceive to be mistakes. Once I listen, the slower movements seem to yield better results.

We’ll see. Is 10,000 hours enough?

A few days ago I wrote about being a beginner again.

In the spirit of “learning it out in the open” and “Document[ing] your progress and share as you go so that others can learn along with you” from the book, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, this is exactly what I plan to do. So, I hope you are interested and want to follow me on my journey as I learn calligraphy.

Note: I’m also sharing a few photos of my progress on Instagram and Flickr, too but here is where I’ll be sharing more photos and more thoughts about lessons learned.

Yesterday I started to practice my capital B’s, O’s and R’s.

If you are wondering why I’ve started with these letters, I’m focusing on the letters of my name first. It seemed to be the most logical!


It’s the weirdest thing to look at duplicates of letters. After awhile they start to look funky and I feel cross-eyed. But I think that my execution improves due to a better understanding of what is working and not working.

(You’ll see some notes on my sheets as I got a bit frustrated or found some humor in my goofs.)

The results of about 30-45 minutes — capital B's O's and R's.
The results of about 30-45 minutes — capital B’s O’s and R’s.

I felt like the hardest parts of capital B’s and R’s were the following:

  • Consistency with the bowls in terms of angle or is it axis? (Forgive me if my type terminology isn’t quite right. I’m rusty and correct me if I’m totally off!)
  • Consistency in where the thick and thin strokes would appear.
  • When to move into the tail for the R’s so they don’t look too wide and funky.
Getting the top of the B and the bottom bowl to be consistent in angle/axis was the big challenge.
Getting the top of the B and the bottom bowl to be consistent in angle/axis was the big challenge.
Ink issues.
Ink issues.

The O’s … oy.

I have to confess that I thought capital O’s were going to be super easy — hah!

If I was just creating a beautiful counter, it would have been easier but the little swash made getting the proportion of the counter that much harder.

I think it worked out better as I went a long but those first few were super butt-ugly. I had to laugh out loud because they looked utterly ridiculous!

See the second O? Hilarious.
See the second O? Hilarious.

Make like a turtle

I have a turtle figure around here somewhere and I’m going to put it near my — borrowing a cooking term here — mise en place for calligraphy to remind me to slow down.

“Slow down” is the constant reminder in my head as I see the details of my mistakes or what I perceive to be mistakes. Once I listen, the slower movements seem to yield better results.

We’ll see. I mean, I had this thought: How will I know if my execution is good without an expert? You know that 10,000 hours concept? 10,000 hours isn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

Next letters are capitals A’s, H’s and M’s. Yeah, I think 3 letters each time is good. I like three’s.

I’m a Beginner Again

This past May I finally took a calligraphy class and I’m showing my beginnings with you.

This past May I finally took a calligraphy class.

Joanna (thank you — kisses) alerted me to a small workshop by calligrapher Christie Jones of Bedsidesign and I immediately signed up.

You see, I’ve been wanting to learn for years but everything else was a priority. I’m proud of myself for making that first step but I must admit, it feels a bit odd being a beginner at 42.

I don’t really know why I feel that way.

I was an beginner at web design in 2008 and somehow that seemed much more natural. It was an evolution along a similar, familiar work/career path.

Practicing my magiscules.
Practicing my magiscules.
Magiscules detail.
Magiscules detail.

Maybe it has to do with the tools?

As silly as this may sound, using a nib and ink feels more scary than using a computer to design. Calligraphy has permanence. Once the ink hits the paper, it’s there. There’s no command-z!

But the process, the creation of each part of a letter and watching the ink bind with paper is magical. It feels more tangible.

Still, I have so many moments when It feels awkward starting from scratch. I get frustrated and impatient.

  • When am I ever going to get to a place when I can write words?
  • When will I ever get the pressure of the ink to be consistent?
  • When, when, when?

15 minutes

Christie reminded me that practice doesn’t have to be for hours; that just 15 minutes a day is a good place to start.

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes and JUST practice. Write a’s over and over, b’s over and over etc. Practice one word, one sentence, all lowercase, all uppercase, mix it up. This helps steady your hand, figure out ink issues and get into a groove.
  • IF you get into a groove, continue. If you are getting frustrated, or distracted, stop. It’s better to have 15 minutes of FOCUSED practice time VS. an hour of frustrated haphazard practice.

Practice and share. Practice and share.

Capital Ds. Hard!
Capital Ds. Hard!
Capital Es. They started to look funny.
Capital Es. They started to look funny.

I recently finished reading Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work and this truly resonated with me: “Look for something new to learn, and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open. Document your progress and share as you go so that others can learn along with you. Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they’ll have a lot to show you.

So, here I am showing my work, my progress even though I believe it to be oh-so-dreadful. It isn’t good enough.

What was it that Ira Glass said?

I’m going to take his advice to ‘[not] quit’ and apply his encouragement to ‘do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work.’

Going through the alphabet.
Going through the alphabet.

So, here are my beginnings.

What about you? Have started something new recently? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments!

A Book Maquette Collaboration with Photographer Matt Eich

At last, I’m posting a few photos and details of a maquette I designed with Mike Davis and photographer Matt Eich.

At last, I’m posting a few photos and details of a maquette I designed with Mike Davis and photographer Matt Eich.

I asked Matt awhile ago about sharing some pages from the maquette and he gave me the go ahead but you know how it is, something else comes up that requires your attention toute suite and that blog post you were supposed to write moves down the list.

But now that Matt has announced the maquette in his newsletter, I felt motivated to share.

I hope he does find “a home” (publisher) for The Invisible Yoke.

Below are stacks of the printed and bound maquettes. (Thank you Christina!)

I’m DYING to hold one in my hands!

Photo by Conveyor Arts
Photo by Conveyor Arts

Here are some of the book details:

  • Roughly 7×9 in size
  • Binder’s board, Foil stamped
  • Red Gaff Tape for the binding
  • Mohwak 80# Superfine Ultrawhite Uncoated
  • Typeface: Pitch by KLIM and available at Vllge.
  • Printed by Conveyor Arts
Proofs, proofs, proofs!
Proofs, proofs, proofs!

And a few pages from the book.

The maquettes are available for purchase from Matt:

Five copies are made available for sale with an 11×14 limited-edition print, five copies will be sent to select publishers in the hopes of finding a home for this work. Send me an email ( if you are interested in acquiring one of the five copies available.

PS: Matt has an exhibit of the work at The Half King (an amazing space with a yummy salmon dish I might add 🙂

The Invisible Yoke
July 15, 2014–August 30, 2014

The Half King, 505 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

Get some food, a drink and view the photos.