Search BLOG

Halloween Crafts › Invitations

October 8, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

Look what I have wrought with my laser! In between projects we’ve been doing a lot of Halloween crafting around the place. When we got our laser last year these were *THE* projects I wanted to do with it.

I’ll post the other ones coming soon, but today I wanted to share the invites to our party.

Halloween Invites - custom tombstones lasered of black core mat board. #Halloween #Invitations #Party

These custom tombstones have each person’s name on them, the party details (blurred out our address, don’t get crazy on me, internet) and there are seven different backs.

Laser Geek Talk

For those of you with a similar laser that happen upon this, here are the ins and outs of this particular project.

  • I used gray flannel (color) mat board with a black core. The black core stuff seems to char and smoke up more than the lighter cores.
  • These are rastered on the front and back and then cut out with the laser. The cutouts left char marks that got all over everything so I stacked them together, weighted the stack and sprayed the edges with Clear Matte Fixative. I then did the fronts for good measure.
  • These took 1.5 hours for each run of three (that’s the max number that fit in the laser at once). The backs took 15 minutes each.
  • These mail as a standard postcard except they are slightly over the 1 ounce limit and needed additional postage (66¢).
  • I set my designs in black and then an outline in yellow. I turned off the black for the vector and the yellow was too light to show up on the raster screen.
  • My settings for this project were: Raster 100% power / 70% speed; Vector 80% power; 60% speed.

3 Shady Things Currently Annoying Me About the Internet

May 30, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

Here are three shady things that I’m currently annoyed with. Thanks internet!

1. Favorited Tweets are the new Twitter Spam

We’ve had a rash of favorited tweets lately. If you go to the profile they contain spammy links to grow your followers. Which could really be another point—places that allow you to buy followers.

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 10.46.52 AM


2. Click this extra email so I’ll get your email

People, stop doing this. I’ve received a few of these lately from business contacts — people that have requested things from me, or clients have requested I send things to people on their behalf. Learn how to better manage your email. Please quit subconsciously promoting messages like, “my email inbox is more important than yours, so I must spam you this extra step and clutter up your inbox if you wish me to see your precious message” and, “I can’t manage my own stuff so I’m putting the burden on you.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 10.47.51 AM2

FTLOG – their tagline is “End Email Overload” and they are a service that multiplies the work of using email.

3. LinkedIn Website Stalking

Apparently there is a way to hide a LinkedIn profile box on your website and get visitors names, titles and company names.  There is a little part of me that thinks things like, “man, I wish I knew who was on my website.” How great would that be in my line of work? Someone from a large company looks at our site — and then magically I send them a capabilities brochure. Sure, that sounds awesome, I’d love to know, but wait… it’s insidious.

Check out this guys’ article about it. I found this via a contact on Google+

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 10.49.13 AM

Oh, and here is a 4th bonus one.

Dan Graham is a cousin of mine that passed away, his Facebook profile is still active.
Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 10.42.45 AM

Thanks Facebook! When will Facebook finally allow profiles to be changed to memorial profiles* and quit promoting that you invite the deceased to your events?

*Facebook Memorial Profiles aren’t really a thing, I just wish they were and I think they should be.

[UPDATE: 5/31/13] Our friend Mike let us know that you can now memorialize a Facebook account. Information here. 

The Best Cake Yet & What’s Worth It in Design

May 7, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

943221_10201127505091457_810654012_nI made the best cake yet. Now to understand this you probably need to know that I don’t cook anything. We’re not sure how I lived alone for so long. Over the years Steve (who is a fantastic chef) has coaxed a few things out of me. I did start baking a little while ago, a few things from scratch, lots of boxed cakes. If you are short on time or cash, by all means go with a box. However, if you have an afternoon and some extra scrilla, go the scratch route.

This cake that I made, it’s a dream. I didn’t know yellow cake could be this good. It’s the cake that’s in the current edition of Martha Stewart Living and I went with all-organic ingredients. As I was putting in the ingredients I kept asking myself if the organic and pricier versions were worth it. These are my findings:

Cake Ingredients Worth It?
1 Stick Unsalted Butter Not the stuff we bought, organic butter yes, but the super grass-fed cow butter no.We bought the Supernatural butter that the Paleos love—it was $10 for a pound at our local little gourmet food store. You can get it cheaper at Whole Foods, but it’s still pricy.
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar We used raw/organic sugar. The jury is still out on worth it or not.
3 large eggs,
room temperature
Yes! Organic, local eggs will make all the difference. We get the Clifford Farms ones.
1 cup whole milk Yes — organic dairy, happy cows, no hormones, etc is important to us.
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract Probably not, tasted about the same, cost a whole lot more.
Frosting Ingredients Worth It?
1 stick unsalted butter, softened See above.
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature Yes! The organic cream cheese was a transcendent experience.
5 cups confectioner’s sugar No! Expensive, tastes the same and there isn’t enough in one bag to frost a cake. The trifecta of fail.
1/4 cup whole milk See above.
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract See above.

Here is the recipe, seriously, go make this cake.

Cake Ingredients & Design

All of this got me thinking about what was worth the time and cost and what wasn’t. I’m often asked the same questions when it comes to design and building apps and websites. So here is a short rundown.

The caveat here is cost — if you have a larger budget, by all means get the best of the best, everything will be exponentially better.

Design Ingredients Worth It?
Logo This is the cream cheese. A cheap logo won’t kill you, it’s better than nothing and if you are just starting out it’s not the place to drop serious cash. However, if you can afford it (and a good logo/branding is going to run you $6,000–$10,000 or more) it’s a transcendent experience.
Website This is the eggs. The eggs, for us, are non-negotiable when looking at organic/non-organic. A website is the same, you must have a good site. However, you can have the mass-market organic egg of sites (build it on WordPress now, make it good, you can always take that and upgrade later). Eventually, when you can afford it, you want the Clifford Farms of local/organic egg websites.
Fancy Business Cards This is the organic confectioners sugar. As in, not worth it unless you have money to burn. We have some cheap (but nice) cards, because if you are doing a lot of business, you are handing out a lot of cards—and those cards shouldn’t be costing you $1+ each to hand out.
Custom Photography This is the grass-fed butter. You must have good photos on your site, and even good stock photos don’t come cheap. However, if you are very particular (like you eat a Paleo diet) you want to spring for the custom photography.
Mobile App This is the organic vanilla. Only when all other things are covered should you even think about doing this. It might not move the needle at all, or it might be the greatest finishing touch.

What do you think?

Do you agree or disagree? What is worth it to you when you bake? What is worth it to you in your business communications?

Make a list.

March 15, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

Today I want to say thank you to someone who was an inadvertent mentor to me.


When I graduated college the dotcom bubble had just burst and there wasn’t a design job to be found. I was competing for crappy ad-layout gigs against people who had been creative directors at prestigious firms just six months prior. It was bleak. I applied for everything out there and as luck (hard work) would have it someone was willing to take a chance on me and I was offered a job at WCF as a designer. I still remember getting the call — after months of searching I was standing at REI with my sister and we both broke down and cried. Right there in the camping stuff.

I started my job at WCF and I was finally a grown up—a real job with a real salary and a red Swingline stapler. That’s where I met Tauni, and today I want to thank her for taking a punk-ass kid and helping me not get fired within the first month. She made the job fun—she had me stand on my chair and ceremoniously open my first ever “real” paycheck. We won some great awards for some awesome posters that had a singing button in them. Most importantly she taught me to make a list.

If you know me know, you’d think I was born that way. Nope. Tauni beat it into me. I was sitting in a meeting, and our boss was giving us project instructions and Tauni asked me, “why aren’t you making a list??”. I was writing it down, but oh honey, Tauni took making a list to a glorious level. Little boxes, neatly organized. What you need to do, what you’ve done. These were things of beauty. So I made a list. Then another. Now 10 years later I have huge notebooks full of these lists.

I was struck by this the other day when a client said she wished she was as organized and as methodical as I am to keep everything straight. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “make a list”.  Maybe I’ll send her to Tauni’s Make a List Bootcamp.

Seriously though, being organized runs in my family (and we have the OCD to prove it!) but making these particular kinds of lists is what has kept me organized and our business running for years. Thank you, Tauni!

Cheap, Expensive—the power of words that don’t fit.

February 12, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya
  • Next month marks 10 years since I started driving “luxury” cars. Expensive cars.
  • Target used to have great t-shirts for cheap.

A few years ago I was talking to a client, his services (like our services) are “expensive” and he is in a marketplace (like we are) crowded with “cheap”.  This causes us both to run into the QandA: “How much do you charge per hour? Oh? That’s expensive. I can get someone cheaper.” We both find this to be infuriating. Perhaps it’s just a cornerstone of American philosophy that cheap is good and expensive is offensive. My client remarked at the time that he hates the words “expensive” and “cheap” because it’s one tiny piece of the equation that suddenly brings up so much emotion—a potential client that wants what you offer has put you on the defensive on price. Yes, they can get it for cheaper—but they can’t get what you offer for cheaper.

Words that sound like cheap and expensive:

  • $10 Fitness equals $10 results. This is my client’s feelings about his business versus a place like 24 Hour Fitness and Planet Fitness.
  • IKEA: Not quite what you want, but what you can afford. I swear this should be their slogan. 
  • Our website isn’t a valuable asset—the design is falling apart and it’s full of bugs. It hurts us more than it sells us. These aren’t the words clients use, but they say things like “OH SHIT! MY SITE IS DOWN! Can you help???” or “The design was fun, but it’s feeling dated after a year,” or “The one person who knew how to use the CMS left and now no one can update the site or fix this redirect loop.” You get the picture.

Notice that those three sayings don’t every say “cheap” or “expensive” because are misleading labels. Let’s look at what really comprises those attitudes.

$10 Fitness equals $10 results.

This is results driven. You can get it for less money, but you will not get the thing that you want. You will not get the results my client has created time and time again (reversed aging, getting people off medication, keeping older adults in their homes and out of assisted living) at a “cheap” gym.

PS: Did you know that gyms rely on you NOT using your membership? It’s an often discussed fact of gym pricing we learned while working on Custom Training. There is a set percentage all gyms count on making by selling unused memberships. That’s cheap. 

IKEA: Not quite what you want, but what you can afford.

Affordability really drives the concept of pricing. If you have the money it’s no big deal to spend it, if you don’t then it’s horrifying to see what people spend money on. I love the modern aesthetic, but I just do not have $4,000 for a headboard, I can afford IKEA and it’s close to what I want. It’s not an investment, there is no resale, there is no passing it down through the family, it’s neither cheap nor expensive—it’s just affordable. <shrug>

Our website isn’t a valuable asset.

Paraphrasing of course, but it’s all about value. Need a cheap (low quality, low price, will get the job mostly done) logo? Go ahead and get one. Need a cheap site? Grab a WordPress theme and get up and going. Need to move the needle on your business? Build a valuable asset.

A note on this blog: Our blog is the wicked intersection of all of the above. It’s cheap (just me and a free WordPress install), it’s expensive (posts take a *LOT* of time to write, like 2-4 hours each, that’s $350-$700 of time that gets “billed” to Sawaya Consulting), it’s our #1 most valuable marketing asset. 

A note on why we are “expensive”.

I know my client is “expensive” for the same reason we are—and he’s in the complete opposite industry as us. When you pay our project rate you get several years of experience (not just one year of experience several times). We’ve done this type of project, we’ve worked with that type of client. We are doing what we’re good at. Our rate covers expertise and talent. Our rate also covers solid business practices that we’ve developed for years. It means that we only need 3 hours to fix a problem it will take someone else 12 hours to fix. It means that come hell or high water we will deliver. It means that if we are in your budget (what you can afford)—you will get the results promised and whatever we build will be a valuable asset (because we refuse to build junk). We have a minimum project cost of $5,000. We do this because every sub-$5,000 project we’ve taken on we’ve always spent $5,000+ of agency time on. We may scale back features—but we never compromise on the thinking, design or development. Never.

Back to Expensive Cars and the Cheap T-Shirts

I bought an Audi TT as soon as I had a real job. I bought it used when I could have had a brand new Honda Civic for the same price. The value in that car (it was a hoot! it will get you picked up for criminal speeding in Arizona) made the mix of buying used but paying a little more worth it.

More recently Steve and I sold both of our cars (see ya later, TT) and bought a Range Rover to share. I love that car, yes, again, could have had a brand new Jeep Cherroke or similar for the price of our used RR. The value in that “expensive” car is tremendous. The heated steering wheel, being able to go *anywhere* we want, with our friends comfortably nestled in the back (see picture), the way it handles, the little extras. It’s the difference between having a car that works and having an EXPERIENCE I LOVE every time I get in. Every time. I’m thrilled. THRILLED.



(taken last weekend outside of Moab)

Target used to have amazingly great clothes for cheap — this is “cheap” as in good. I still have an Isaac Mizrathi for Target velvet jacket that goes everywhere, I still have t-shirts I bought six years ago. Lately though, all they have is “cheap” as in “this is cheap crap”—t-shirts that go through the wash once, lose all the sizing and end up wide in the body and short in the torso and paper thin. Listen to me: the more we support “cheap” the more “cheap” we’re going to get until our consumer/throw away society is straight up Idiocracy. Watch it.

The takeaway:

Start thinking about how you use “cheap” and “expensive”. Do you mean cheap as an asset? Is it really? Is expensive an offensive word, is higher cost a negative? And FTLOG don’t say it to someone who has something you want—figure out what other words need to be applied in the situation, can you not afford it? Do you not think you’ll get the promised result? Does the price not align with the value you place on it? These questions lead to discussion and negotiation. Telling someone they are too expensive and you can get it for cheaper sounds like “F You” to those of us that do great work for a living.

Are there other words that push your buttons? If you steer away from cheap/expensive what words do you try to use?