This month I am excited to offer readers an interview with monthly contributor, Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia, a successful design company known for its uniquely artistic and beautiful designs. In this interview Arianne gives readers an inside look at handmade design, the Aeolidia team and their design process.
1.Can you please share a bit about the beginnings of Aeolidia and how the Aeolidia team came together?
I started creating websites for myself and friends just for fun when I was in college (in 1997 – and yes, I had a Geocities page!). I kept up this hobby, slowly starting to charge a bit for my work, until I was laid off from my customer support / project management job and found myself with time to really work on my skills and take on more projects.
Shoshanna, my best friend from college, had moved up to Seattle, and was also doing freelance web work, so we decided to combine forces and work together. A few years later, my husband, Chris, decided he wanted the flexibility and freedom of working for himself, so we spent about a year getting him up to speed (he was already savvy at making websites, but hadn’t worked with ecommerce before, and wanted to improve his CSS skills).
We started working with a third designer, Lauren, and that has been perfect for us! Chris doesn’t do site design, so before we had Lauren, Chris was often waiting for me to finish up design work so he would have some work to do. Now with both me and Lauren designing sites, Chris always has plenty to do.
2. Aeolidia is best known for its creative merging of art and web design to create beautiful, unique designs for small businesses, what inspired you to develop the Aeolidia style?
This hasn’t been a conscious decision, but is just the way our design style evolved. We start most of our site designs based on custom illustrations from our team of illustrators, and our illustrators have a cute but quirky aesthetic.
We usually work with somewhat cute and quirky crafters/designers as clients, so it all works out!
If we need a less-cute, more-professional type site design, I nearly always give these to Shoshanna, because she comes from a background of doing more mainstream sites, and I’m just awful at them. If I don’t like it myself, I can’t design it.
3. Aeolidia works with some amazing illustrators, can you tell us a bit about their designs and how they came to work with Aeolidia?
I am good at putting the elements together to create a site design, but not so good at drawing things from scratch. Sometimes our clients have a very specific idea of what they want, and hunting for stock illustrations wasn’t very satisfying.
Early on, I knew of a handful of illustrators that I admired, and I wrote to them all, asking if they’d like to work with me. I wasn’t expecting much of a reply, but I had a lot of interest, and we set them up. I’ve been working with some of them for five years now!
Since then, I’ve contacted an illustrator or two when they look just perfect for us, and I’ve had people contact me, though I’ve been strict about only working with people that I think fit our style.
4. A large portion of your clients are involved in the handmade industry, obviously attracted by the handmade style of your designs, do you prefer working with small businesses/artists, why?
Yes, absolutely! I love working with like-minded people, for many reasons. We tend to get along and have a fun time working on the project together. Small businesses are more understanding of other small businesses, so they tend to pay their bills on time, try to make our job easy, and understand if something comes up on our end to slow us down a bit.
I’ve been approached by larger businesses/companies before, and when they start talking conference calls, non-disclosure agreements, and in-person meetings, I know it’s not a good project for us. The Aeolidia team all left our office jobs for a reason! We enjoy working one on one with the business owner and keeping things personal.
5. What are the benefits to having an artist illustrated or handmade aesthetic for websites and logo design?
For one, if you hire an illustrator, you aren’t going to see your illustration on any other website, sign, or brochure – it will be immediately recognizable to your customers as yours, which you don’t get if you purchase stock art.
I don’t think illustration is beneficial to every type of site (and in fact, we do many sites with no illustration work), but it’s perfect for certain sites. We do a lot of websites that sell children’s and baby products, and it’s nice to have something cute and cuddly or fun in the site design. We also work with a lot of artists and creative people, and a pretty illustration can tell customers that the site has something unique and creative to offer. It’s also nice to give a bit of a handmade feel to sites for handcrafted items.
6. Can you give us an example of the process you would go through with a new client looking for a web design and business branding with custom illustrations?
We have worked with hundreds of clients, and we refine and improve our process with just about every one. We’ve learned that it’s important to ask the right questions at the start so you can capture the client’s vision with the design.
If the client wants to do the entire project with us, we always start with the logo, so everything else will complement it. We have a bunch of questions we ask about the business, the target customer, and the client’s preferences. From there, we work on illustration and design, with lots of back and forth with the client to be sure we’re making something they’ll be proud of in the end.
When the design work is done, we then get it working with the website software, and guide the client through the process of setting up their site and adding their content. We know it’s useless to have a beautiful site if you aren’t able to update it, so we make sure to be there through the client’s process of working with the site. We provide tutorials, examples, and are always available to answer questions or make adjustments to how the site works/looks.
When everything is looking shipshape and ready to go, we do extensive testing of the technical aspects, while providing instruction for the client to test out the customer’s experience (payment, shipping, tax, contact forms, etc.). This way, they know exactly how their site works for their customer, and can suggest changes. Then we put the site live! It’s nice to pair this with Jena’s marketing consultation, so word will get out about the new site quickly.
We all work independently, with me scheduling and setting up projects, and Chris managing our billing and paperwork. Chris and I usually work from the same room, so we collaborate on projects. Shoshanna is in town, and we are in touch via instant messenger all day long.
For our out of town contractors, we stay in touch with them the same way we do our clients: we manage all of our projects through Basecamp, a online project management program that tracks to-dos and deadlines, and lets you post messages and upload files. I think most of us do the type of work we do because we hate the structure of a regular office/business setup, so I make sure to work with people who don’t really need any managing, and just let them do their own thing.
8. Do you have any design suggestions to give handmade businesses on choosing the right design/designer?
I would be sure first to look at some example sites they created very carefully. Is there anything confusing about the site, or do you see any problems with it? Is the design thoughtful throughout, or can you tell that it’s just a header graphic and background slapped onto a stock template? Is it easy to shop?
I would also check references. Start with the testimonials page, but don’t hesitate to contact any of their past clients to ask how the project went.
All of your communications with the designer before you make payment should go smoothly. If she/he is slow to respond, rude, or confusing, they likely will remain that way throughout your project.
A good business person will send you a contract and make it clear how/when you will make payment as well. Find out what’s expected of you during the project, and how much/what type of help you’ll get learning to manage your own site.
9. How do you market and promote Aeolidia? How has your promotional strategy changed (or has it) over the years?
I got very lucky at first, by designing a pretty high-profile site in the crafting world, so word got out about Aeolidia. We put our little “site by Aeolidia” link in the footer of each site we do, and new business has almost entirely been by word of mouth – either people seeing the link, or our past clients spreading the word (personally, or on their blogs/Twitter/etc.).
We had a brief period when people were worried about the economy when things slowed down, but mostly we get more demand than we have supply. When we redesigned the Aeolidia site early this year, I also started Facebook and Twitter accounts, which have definitely increased traffic to the site, and we see a lot of Oh My! visitors as well.
Sometimes I come up with marketing ideas, but usually don’t try them, because I’m worried about the flurry of work requests that will come! We have spent about six months of this year overbooked, all of us staying up until 3am trying to hit deadlines – no good. It’s hard to turn down fun looking projects and like-minded clients, so it’s a struggle to maintain a reasonable workload sometimes.
10. What are your plans for Aeolidia in the future-are there any exciting new projects in the works?
Right now, we’re just trying to slow down and stick to what we know during my maternity break, so you’ll have to stay tuned for excitement in the future!