Illustration for Great River Energy Kid’s Club

Artwork copyright © Great River Energy. All rights reserved.
Artwork copyright © Great River Energy. All rights reserved.
Artwork copyright © Great River Energy. All rights reserved.
Artwork copyright © Great River Energy. All rights reserved.

A few weeks ago I was hired by a local agency to create some artwork for a new interactive website for Great River Energy, a Minnesota company that provides electricity to a large part of the state. The site is promoting their “Brighter Kid’s Club” campaign designed to help kids learn about saving energy.

I was asked to draw the exterior and interior of what the client described as “the coolest tree house ever”. They provided me with some rough thumbnails and a long list of specific items that had to be included in the artwork. The ideas was to create a fun little interactive clubhouse that could be enjoyed by both boys and girls. I created all the elements as vector art in Illustrator and then handed them over to the agency. From there there they inserted additional elements (posters on the walls, for example) and added some simple animation to make everything come alive.

It was really a tag-team effort, and in the end it turned out quite nice. You can view the actual site here.

Ask Mr. Artist Guy: Should I Design My Own Website?

Brad Howard of writes:

I have never been a website design person….I’ve had too much work and not enough time to dedicate myself to learning GoLive or Dreamweaver. My question is, I wanted to just hire someone who knew what they were doing and build me something. What are your thoughts on having someone else build your site?

A good question. My website is badly in need of a re-design, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

In the past I’ve always designed my own website, but this time around I may hire someone to do it for me. My last re-design was back in 2005. Since I’m a do-it-yourselfer with a love for technology I was able to take on the task myself. In the last few years websites have grown increasingly more sophisticated and the widespread use of Flash, Java, and CSS makes the whole process a lot more complicated. What looked sharp and professional in 2005 is ho-hum today. I think it’s much harder now for someone who only dabbles in web design to build something that looks professional and is still easy to maintain.

There are many companies that sell low-cost website templates which you can customize with a minimal amount of effort. However, these “cookie-cutter” sites usually look and feel a little too generic for my tastes. They also force you to bend the overall structure of your site to fit the design rather than the other way around. However, they are inexpensive and are also helpful for people who don’t have a strong design sense.

Ideally, if you can afford it I would highly recommend designing your own site from scratch and then hiring someone to build it for you. I would break the process into four stages:

1. Pre-Planning. What information will you put on your website, and in what order? Will you have one main menu or several sub-menus? Will you have a blog built into the site? Will your site be Flash or HTML? Will you need a private client area? Will there be any interactive forms (i.e. a sign-up page)? Will you have a store to sell anything? These are all important questions that must be decided before you can actually build the site.

2. Design. What will your site look like? Will it be simple or flashy? What color scheme will you use? How about fonts? How will clients navigate through your artwork? Spend some time looking at other artist’s websites looking for inspiration and ideas. Then come up with a design that is professional-looking and unique to you. If graphic design is not your strength, hire someone to design the site for you. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and that any text sounds professional. If writing is not your strength, you may want to hire someone to help you out with that as well.

3. Building the Site. This is the part where you need to call in the big guns. Hire someone who really knows what they are doing so that your website will be as “bug-free” as possible. This will probably wind up costing you a couple of thousand dollars, so make sure you hire someone who is established and reputable. You want someone who will be there for you if you have questions or problems, or if you decide you want to tweak the design by adding or removing pages (for example, if you decide to add a Store page).

4. Maintenance. Once the site is built you will want to be able to update it easily. If you have new work to show, or are writing a blog, it should be easy for you to make changes and post new content. If the site was designed properly you won’t have to hire anyone to do this for you.

A good website takes a lot of time and money to build, but the payoff is worth the investment. Like it or not, your website is the first impression potential clients will get about you and your work. A solid, attractive, easy-to-navigate website will go a long way towards reassuring them that you are a true professional whom they can trust to do quality work.