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In defense of Fixed Bid projects

October 17, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

In the design and development community it’s thought that fixed bid is generally in the client’s favor and doesn’t work well for projects that evolve and can change from the first initial meetings to what is eventually produced several months later. In general I can agree with that, our hourly rate doesn’t generally come out to what we get paid and we have never fixed bid something and found we spent much less time and laughed all the way to the bank. This is both because we know what we’re doing when we bid and because we deliver the value of the project.

There are times when a dedicated team gets the benefit of the fixed bid though—one that I hadn’t realized until today. Fixed bid allows us to focus 100% on the project and not worry that we are capturing every 5 and 10 minutes spent on the project. This is particularly important because many of the EUREKA! moments (as opposed to the wrench time) are spent away from the computer. In the shower, while weeding the garden, while pacing around the house. Those moments when you have the new idea, or the absolute clarity on the project management doc that needs to be created. Paying for those moments can be neatly covered by fixed bid.

Halloween Crafts › Countdown Calendar

October 14, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

This is the second Halloween Craft I’m sharing this year. Here are the invites if you missed them.

I’ve been cooking up this idea for almost a year. I love Christmas advent calendars and last year I got the Vosages one. I wanted a countdown for Halloween, so I fired up the trusty laser and made two of these countdown calendars*:


These are really hard to take photos of since they are mirrored and black reflective, so bear with me (or come by and see it in person!).

Here are all of the pieces laid out and ready for assembly:

The final piece starts out all black, and then you open the doors and drawers for each day, making it look like lights are being turned on. Each drawer contains a trick or treat.

Here is a little video of some of the fun days (the 13th has the drawer built upside down so when you open it cockroaches spill out everywhere!).

These take about 12 hours to cut out and another 8 to assemble. Someone said I should sell these, but parts and labor would make these about $5,000 each, but you know, let me know if you want one ;) There are two of these in existence, I sent one to my sister for her birthday and I have the other one.

The wrought iron on the side is the exact pattern from the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland (there are other spirits from the ride as well).

Laser Geek Talk

For those of you with a similar laser (Full Spectrum Laser 40W/45W CO2 Hobby Laser 5th gen) that happen upon this, here are the ins and outs of this particular project.

  • I used gold mirror and black opaque acrylic.
  • The hinges and door knocker are dollhouse parts.
  • I rastered the numbers and the images, then vectored out everything else. This is made of 8 sheets of 12×20 acrylic.
  • I learned things, oh baby, did I learn things on this project.
    • Acrylic weld is both awesome and completely unforgiving if you spill a drop.
    • Adding straight cut lines out from delicate cuts (like all the tree branches) will let you drop out pieces and save you grief of breaking something.
    • Black gets a smoked residue on it, I’ve not found a way around this (not masking with tape or soap, or anything). If you clean it off quickly it comes off, if you let it sit it’s harder to get off.
    • The laser cuts with precision, I do not glue with the same accuracy. Giving myself 1/64″ around doors and 1/32 at the end of each row of drawers made the whole thing work better.
  • I made two cardboard versions first, the original was whatever crap cardboard I had around, the second on nicer (uniform) cardboard. I still lost a few sheets when I built the first house.
  • The back has circle cutouts for the handles and so you can poke your finger through to push the drawers back out.
  • I keep a page for each project I work on in our wiki, Confluence. I highly suggest you keep detailed project notes for anything like this that you do.

*I’ve been told by religious people that I can’t call them Halloween Advent Calendars as there is no advent at Halloween…

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.

Help us build something important.

September 10, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

A former client came to us and asked a favor—could we look at a website for him and see if we could help? Sure, we can always take a look.

It soon became clear that we could do more than help a little—we could take our expertise and help a lot. Not just help this one organization, but help the hundreds of people they help. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the code and graphics and we have to wonder if what we do matters. We always try to find projects that give us a ‘yes, this matters’. From helping people find jobs to advancing the science of human genomes—we do work that matters. And this project hit me right in the heart.

As some of you know my cousin passed away unexpectedly a few years ago leaving behind a widow and a child. I wrote a blog post explaining how to set up a memorial fund—the only thing we knew how to do that might help at a time like that. The blog post became one of our most popular posts ever and I’ve had emails, comments and even a few phone calls from people all across the country thanking us and asking for advice on this or that. One simple blog post has helped so many people that once we were offered the chance to take that to the next level by working with this organization we were 100% on board.

The organization that is asking for help is Hope for Widows. They support widows through the grieving process. This is a big job and it comes with a lot of emotions. When we met Gwen Peterson, the Founder, President and Chairperson, we were blown away that she can take this job and greet it with so much enthusiasm, passion and positive energy. Compared to what she does every day for these women, writing a few thousand lines of code an easy thing to agree to.

We need a little extra help though. If you have skills or a few dollars you can share with this project it will make a difference to someone who has lost their whole world. Sawaya Consulting is donating a membership-based website to Hope for Widows (including design, WordPress development, stock photography and web fonts). More info on that below. Hope for Widows still needs the following items to help with the website project:

  • Cash for WordPress plugins. We need to raise about $500 to cover spam protection, a theme purchase and other extras for the site. This is our first and most pressing need. Can you kick in $10 or $20? Does your organization have a budget for nonprofits and do you want to sweep up the entire $500 (or more)? Hope for Widows is a 501c3 organization and is willing to discuss sponsorship levels for any amount over $500. In the event that we raise more money than is needed for the WordPress pieces the money will stay with Hope for Widows and go towards their other tech spending needs. 
  • Someone to do the leg work contacting companies about donations. Google Apps for Business needs to be configured and has a 501(c)3 offering; HFW is working on some widow packets and needs composition notebooks donated by Mead; etc. These are targeted requests, not calling potential donors. 
  • Copywriting. The new site will have some great features, like the ability to request a widow reach out to another widow, emails from the organization on important dates that are often forgotten by friends and family, and the list goes on. These need some really good copy and some really good titles. Widow Notifier 3000™ is funny, but this isn’t really a funny subject, so we need someone to help craft the message. 
  • Video editing. The main HFW video on their current homepage is really long and could use some editing. We’d like someone to help condense it to help share the mission for HFW more concisely. (Get the tissues out if you watch it, I worked with HFW for at least a month before I could bring myself to finally watch it). 
  • Marketing/Social Media. Once the new site goes live it will work for many groups: widows, supporters, and donors/sponsors. That’s great, but we need to get the word out. If you can help with PR, social media, media training or anything else that is related we’d love to have you share your expertise.  
  • Something else. Do you look at this and see a way you could help that we didn’t list? Let us know. It’s a big project with big goals and many hands make light work. 


The New Website

The current Hope for Widows site ( was a great start. It allowed them to start spreading their message and start holding monthly meetings and conferences. Now it’s time for a workhorse.

The new site will:

  • Have a new design that’s more welcoming and flexible. 
  • way for someone to request the help of the organization on behalf of a widow. Information is verified and must meet strict criteria before someone is allowed access. This is for safety and to protect the integrity of the organization’s mission.
  • A great mailing list with separate categories for widows, supports and donors. This will also support event-based emails from the organization. 
  • Resources for widows (obviously) but just as important there will be resources for supports. The rest of us that just don’t know what to do when someone we love has just lost their partner.
  • Login functionality so that many areas of the site can be protected and are only available to approved members.
  • A forum with moderated discussions to allow widows to help each other and grieve together.
  • A blog for their ongoing messaging. They are incredibly active on Facebook now and have the content to support an active blog. 
  • A lot of other new pages and features. 


We are excited to be part of the next phase for Hope for Widows and appreciate any resources you can share. If you are donating cash please go here. If you have expertise and time to share please contact me (Amber) directly so we can chat. Everyone that contributes will be listed on the new site under a section about ‘this site made possible by the contributions of…’.


Whew! So many launches!

August 2, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

It’s been a big week at Sawaya Consulting. Actually it’s been a big year and this is just the final point of several projects. We’ve been busting out work like nobody’s business and we launched *THREE* websites in the last week.

Sometimes when we get busy our online portfolio doesn’t always stay updated, or we don’t stay on top of blogging. We have to remind ourselves that is ok sometimes—current clients always come first.

So what have we been up to?

Boart Longyear Website

We launched a newly redesigned and redeveloped website for our long-time client Boart Longyear. This website is built on WordPress and is responsive between mobile and desktop. One of the greatest things about this project happened behind the scenes—a 7 month project plan with ZERO VARIANCE. Not one missed deadline, slipped date or feature creep that blew out the end date. This is pretty typical for us, but it’s especially noteworthy on a site that is so large (300+ pages and more than 500 tables of specification information on rigs), and has so many moving pieces and players.

Visit ›


Big thanks to Kira for the design work and Val for the content migration (hours of making tables!).

Bruges Waffles & Frites

Nom, nom, nom. Waffles. Nom. Seriously, go get some waffles and frites with mayo. This was a pretty long project, but the end results speak for themselves. We were able to combine the owners’ personalities (why yes, that is a dancing waffle monster at the bottom), incredible food photography, history and images from Belgium and wrap that all into a clean, cozy, friendly website. This site is built on WordPress and has a separate mobile site that uses the same content as the main site. This is how we opt to build restaurant websites. 

Visit ›


Big thanks to Kira for the design work and Amanda Nelson Photography for the photography.

Check out Amanda’s post about the project and her awesome photos here ›

Salt Lake Culinary Center

We are thrilled to work with Diane and Rich Sheya as they transform what has been the Viking Cooking School into Salt Lake Culinary Center. Why this happened is an interesting story. How fast this happened is part of our story. They called us in a rush a few weeks ago and we put up a quick little stop-gap website for them overnight. We didn’t have the bandwidth to take on the large site at that exact moment (see above!) but they were patient and the moment Boart Longyear launched we hopped on Salt Lake Culinary Center and released the site in just a few days. This site has lots of things to be added over the next few weeks but it’s already light years ahead of what they were working with. We can’t wait to share how this site grows!

Visit ›


What’s next?

Well, a whole lot more Salt Lake Culinary Center (some incredible classes and private events and new ways to book those); we have taken a slew of new business calls and have our fingers crossed for a couple of them to land; a trip to Costa Rica and on the horizon a new site for us. Oh, and Amber owes someone a list of her favorite WP plugins, so that’s coming up next week. For now it’s time to celebrate!