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Why Every Designer Should Have a Pet Project

Posted by Jared Laham on July 31, 2014.


Designers are always helping others with their goals, abiding by their timelines, and adhering to their restrictions. This fast paced environment we work in is exciting, poses unique challenges daily and will help you grow as a professional, but like any balanced diet, needs to be complemented with “free range" work. 

It’s time to stop for a second, focus on your own goals and how they can learn from it. A personal pet project is a great opportunity to go all in without any of the restrictions or snares normally associated in client work. Leaving your comfort zone as a designer always leads to growth and sharpening of existing skills.

Top Reasons Why You Need A Pet Project.

1) Create something for what you are passionate about

Pet projects are always hard to make time for, but when you chose something you are passionate about you will find a way. These types of projects don’t even have to be rooted in your area of expertise. If you are an developer, try your hand at photography. If you are a digital designer build furniture. Chose something that will challenge and enrich your skills. and are jam packed with tutorials and expertise that will get you headed in the right direction. The work that feels the most authentic and resonates the best is work formed with passion. 

 2) Explore trends

This is a great opportunity to experiment with new trends without sweating about how timeless it will be or if dilutes a brand's visual identity. This should be a playground where you are free to get weird with it and take a concept where ever you feel it needs to go. I like to scan, and for fresh unique styles other designers are exploring. When I see a style that really resonates with me, I make it a goal to try to not only recreate it, but to take it to new heights in context of my project.

3) Dive into the unknown. Fail hard. Learn harder.

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." - Andre Gide

The best designers are chameleons that can reserve their natural predisposed style in favor of aligning perfectly to a brands visual identity. The beauty of these pet projects is that you can be in the driver's seat for the whole aesthetic. This is a great opportunity to push the limits of your abilities. Go big. Fail hard. Learn from those mistakes, quickly recover and produce something even better and amazing.

4) Stop. Collaborate. And listen.

These types of projects are a great opportunity to collaborate and work with people you normally wouldn’t have the chance to. I have collaborated with my brother, neighbor, and friends on several pet projects in the past. When I start on a project, I like to collaborate with people I respect and are as excited about the concept as I am. If you get to the point where you really want to reach out, but don't know who else would be down; bring your idea to or and see how much interest it sparks. 

5) Lock down a real deadline and stick to it

If there isn’t a real deadline on your calendar, you will never be finished. Having that (gentle) heel on your back is a good thing (most times) and will motivate you to work harder, faster and help you make a realistic plan to accomplish everything. My pet projects usually last around 1 month.

6) Try new mediums and tools

As a digital designer, I love getting offline and working with my hands to create things in the physical world where there isn’t crtl+z. When you can't undo a mistake, you learn to work around it, or better yet, incorporate it into your design. The perspective this gives me always has a positive effect on my digital work and keeps my raw creative mind engaged and happy. When my pet projects are digital, I like to explore new frameworks, workflows and resources that I normally wouldn’t in my day to day work. This is a great time to explore what works and what doesn’t without the pressure of a real project.

Sounds great. Now What?

So if you are wondering get going and figure out your next pet project, here is my advice on where to start:

  • Grab your sketch book and write down the top 10 dream projects you currently have. You are going to have a ton, but I tend to wait a day or so after writing them all down to see which ones keep me excited. Ideas that have been on your mind for a while and keeps getting pushed off.
  • Quickly google search your idea and see if it’s been done to death. "What?! The Snuggie is a thing? Dang it!" 
  • Estimate how much time you can devote to it. Be honest with yourself. If you have under an hour every week, I suggest using that time to sketch out your ideas until you have larger pockets of time to start really fleshing them out.
  • Select the one project that gets you the most excited and is doable with your available time.
  • If you fear you can't do it all on your own; this is a great time to pull in other skilled awesome people to help and collaborate.
  • Make sure you are having fun and your inner child is entertained.

So whatever your pet project is, make sure to share it with the world. Can't wait to see what you all make.

Where to eat in Newburyport, 2014 Edition

Posted by Robert Mohns on July 28, 2014. Tagged: culture

Hungry? Here's a quick reference, created by iMarc's Newburyport team. All are in walking distance of our office. 

17 State Street 978-948-3456 Excellent diner that replaced Fowles; also now a bakery.
Abe's Bagels & Pizza 978-465-8148 Best bagels in town; great sandwiches, wraps and pizza.
Agave 978-499-0428 Excellent tex-mex, great margaritas, and the widest selection of Tequila I've ever seen. Three bars across three floors.
Anchor Stone Deck Pizza 978-463-3313 Simply outstanding pizza.
Angie's 978-462-7959 A classic American diner.
Atomic Cafe & Roasters 978-358-7539 Great coffee, sandwiches, coffee, and breakfast.
Carry Out Cafe 978-499-2240  
Jewel in the Crown 978-463-0956 Pretty good Indian food. Their website is pretty but unusable, so the link here is to Foodler. Caution: Some days "medium" means "hot", other days it means "mild".
Loretta 978-463-0000 An iMarc favorite: fresh ingredients, relaxed atmosphere, comfortable bar, amazing food.
Mandrava 978-465-7300 Great juices and chef's bowls.
Metzy's Taco Truck (978) 992-1451 Best tacos in town. Often found at the Plum Island Airfield. Check their Facebook page to see where they are today!
Middle Street Foods 978-465-4100 Great sandwiches and salads, they bake their own bread.
Not Your Average Joe's 978-462-3808 Part of the regional chain, with great outdoor seating.
Oregano Pizzeria 978-462-5013  Gourmet pizza.
Pizza Factory 978-462-2015 A new owner took over a couple years ago; both the food quality and prices went up. Fair enough.
Port City Sandwich Company 978-358-8628 Not only is the food excellent, watching the manager in action is a study in efficiency.
Purple Onion 978-465-9600 Try the chili; in the warmer months, the gazpacho is a must. Excellent sandwiches, wraps and soups all around.
Szechuan Taste 978-463-0686 Standard American-Chinese and Sushi.


See also Marcel's Best Lunch in Newburyport for his tips on the best of the best. 


Our Newest (And Shiniest) Awards

Posted by Allison Boyajian on July 23, 2014. Tagged: awards

We don't mean to toot our own horn but...toot toot! Say hello to our 4 newest awards!


We are honored to receive these for creative and engineering excellence. Check out the websites, we're so very proud!

Communicator Awards of Excellence:

Off The Front Productions, Self Promotion

Communicator Awards of Distinction:

RSA Conference Website, Events

Anna Jaques Hospital Women's Health Care Site, Health Care Services

NESHCO Award: 

Anna Jaques Hospital Women's Health Care Site, Health Care Services

The 5 Rules for Useful Blog Tags

Posted by Robert Mohns on July 23, 2014. Tagged: best practices, content

Tags are tremendously useful for enabling your site visitors to find related content. Providing a good experience depends upon a well-defined and consistent tag taxonomy. Here's how.

Rule #1: Avoid redundancy and overlap.

Don’t add synonyms or slight variations of keywords. While this helped SEO in the late 90’s, modern search engine algorithms incorporate thesauruses and context to help searchers find content.

Adding synonyms adds visual clutter for the user, but does not improve discoverability. If they sound similar, they are similar; choose one.

Don't do this:
Redundant Tags

Any time you’re tempted to create a new tag, consider whether an existing tag will do the job. And if you do create a new tag, make sure it actually relates to existing content as well, rather than being a solo tag.

Rule #2: Use as few tags as possible.

Long tag lists on blog articles make it harder, not easier, for the reader to make choices. Worse, impairs their ability to focus and fatigues their decision-making and follow-up ability.1

Two or three tags is ideal; don’t exceed five. Really.

Don't let your your tag list become longer than your content:
Despite the tag abuse it's a really good blog

Rule #3: Standardize tags across authors.

This is a bit of a corollary to Rules #1 & #2. To make it easy to avoid redundancy and keep the list short, provide a list of tags for your authors to choose from.

Here's an example of it in action in our SiteManager CMS which powers this blog:

iMarc SiteManager tag picker

Rule #4: Don't use your main subject as a tag.

iMarc is an interactive agency. We make a lot of websites. Notice how many of our blogs are tagged "websites" or "interactive" or "agency"? Right. None.

If it's your main subject, your content already reflects it. No need for a tag.

Rule #5: No solo tags

Visitors always should be able to use Tags to discover new content; a tag used only once is useless. When a visitor clicks on a tag and the only result is the very article they were just at, they begin to question the site’s integrity. It’s better for an article to have no tags than a tag used just once.

There may be occasional exceptions, such as when an article is the first in a series. Even in this case, it’s usually better to start out tag-free, then add relevant tags as you publish new content.

Solo tags make for lonely content:
Solo Tags are a No-no

That's it. Go forth and tag responsibly.

  1. “Too many choices – good or bad – can be mentally exhausting.” 14 April 2007. Vohs, Kathleen D. “Making Choices Impairs Subsequent Self-Control: A Limited-Resource Account of Decision Making, Self-Regulation, and Active Initiative.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2008;94(5):883-898. 

Welcoming 5 New iMarcians!

Posted by Allison Boyajian on July 17, 2014. Tagged: culture

iMarc is thrilled to welcome five new members to our team. Let us introduce you to the outstanding new recruits!

new hires

Thomas Saraceno, Director of Experience

Thomas brings a wealth of experience to iMarc. Most recently, he worked as a designer at TripAdvisor. As Director of Experience at iMarc, he leads the UX team to deliver engaging and innovative digital experiences. He works to research and understand both the business needs and users’ behaviors in order to create innovative and easy-to-use websites.

After work, you can find Thomas at home with his wife and daughter. Thomas also has a dual identity as a rock star. He plays guitar (not to mention left-handed guitar) for a band and is basically iMarc’s very own Jimi Hendrix. Thomas also lives on a farm and rides/repairs motorcycles, making him probably the coolest person we know.

Victoria Anderson, Office Manager

Prior to iMarc, Victoria studied communication and media studies at Bridgewater State. After college, she worked as a manager for a Boston-based marketing company. As Office Manager and Receptionist at iMarc, she helps keep our team organized and productive by answering the phones ever-so promptly and pleasantly, managing office orders (iMarcians use a lot of Post-it notes), planning company events and client meetings, and filing bills.

After work, you might find Victoria on a beach, desperately deciding on an Instagram filter, and talking to her cat. Not necessarily all at the same time.

Tommy Chanthaboune, UX Engineer

Tommy Chanthaboune was previously a web developer/UX engineer for BBA Solutions in Arkansas. There, he was able to dive into the textbook industry, and learn about everything from packing books to coordinating policy for third party collections. Primarily, he worked with their development team to build great products. At iMarc, Tommy will be developing websites and applications with client-side technologies. 

Outside of work, you might find Tommy kicking around a soccer ball, reading, or hanging out with his friends and family. He loves getting in touch with his inner-foodie, and frequently tries new restaurants. If you’re looking for a new place to grab a bite, ask Tommy!

Allison Boyajian, Marketing Coordinator

Allison Boyajian came to iMarc as a recent graduate from Boston University where she studied mass communication and French.  Throughout college, Allison held several positions working on marketing, business development, and copywriting. At iMarc, she brings her communication expertise to the table by creating, delivering, and optimizing our marketing materials to ensure a strong message that is consistent with our brand image.

After work, you’ll probably find Allison conjuring up something sweet in her kitchen, finding overpriced sparkly pillows to add to her collection, or riding her mint green cruiser. She also tries to create her own knock knock jokes. They’re usually not very funny.

Katelyn Weber, New Business Specialist

Katelyn joins us at iMarc after having worked as a senior business development representative at Brightcove. Prior to Brightcove, Katelyn attended Assumption College where she studied marketing. At iMarc, she works on our business development team, seamlessly handling all things new business.  She works with companies to help them define their web and mobile strategies, ensuring that our custom solutions align to their objectives.

When she’s not working, Katelyn is likely to be working up a sweat at the gym, searching for innocent puppies to call her own, or eating Mexican food. (She highly recommends Mi Mexico Lindo in Metheun, MA!) 

Visit our About Page to learn more about the amazing iMarc team.