Staff Favorite: DesignModo

Here at Matrix Group, we’re always looking for great resource sites. One of our great favorites: DesignModo. designmodo logo

This site keeps up with all things from a digital creation perspective – from coding to design to social media to business. It even has sections for freebies, tutorials, and our favorite, inspiration! Take a look… but only if you have an hour to spare. We are certain that you will get lost in the creativity and knowledge.

What site do you turn to for inspiration? We’d love to hear!

Staff Favorite: The NextWeb Magazine

The NextWeb Magazine is a free digital magazine that focuses on technology, innovation and startups. It’s also an app available in both the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store.

Although the articles are great, the coolest thing is the UI! TNW Magazine

When you download the app, there’s a friendly, clear set of how-to instructions on how to navigate the magazine on your mobile device.  And when you drag your finger to turn the page, an overlay pops up to show you how many more pages are in this month’s edition, as well as how long each article is.  We love the mobile-specific design of the magazine!

Tell us about other magazine apps you love!

Staff Favorite: Chroma web extension

Web designers, are you tired of opening a whole program just to pick a color? Paint colors

Chroma, an extension for Google Chrome, is elegant and user-friendly. Not only does it let you pick a color from its color palette, but it lets you scroll through its shades – it’s like a huge, digital pile of paint chips from the hardware store!

What’s best is that it automatically gives you the RGB or HEX code, so you can plug it straight into your code editor.

There’s also a Web app version.

What favorite design extension have you found on Chrome or other browsers?

Staff Favorite: WhatFont

You see a webpage; it’s exciting and lively and – what is that nifty font? typeface example

If you dig typography – or at least make great use of it while designing – then you’ll want to try out WhatFont, a Chrome extension that lets you find out the font used simply by hovering over the text. It’s that simple.

Do you have any favorite extensions that help you get information?

Sarah Jedrey

Marketing Coordinator / Video Editor

Event Recap: Refresh DC, Comics, Design and Ross Nover

After last month’s Refresh DC (@refreshdc) event, when Sarah Mills pointed out the topic of this month’s event, I had to sign up.  Had to.  It had the word “comics” in it.  It was like saying, “Nathan Fillion (@nathanfillion , because why not?)” to a Firefly fan.

And may I say that it was absolutely worth it?  Maybe it’s just that I’m a cartoony-type person; maybe it’s that I have a design background; maybe it’s because it’s both.  I just feel like the more cross-pollination happens in any field related to art, the better.

Cartoon of Ross Nover speaking at Refresh DC event

He teaches, he cartoons, he designs, and he art-fights. See to see what the last one means.

Our speaker, Ross Nover (@rosscott,, is a man who wears many hats (see his website,, for proof!), amongst which are cartoonist and designer.  He’s a delightful speaker.  I’m sure being a university instructor helps.

In his talk, he covered the ways in which the two disciplines can be seen to overlap – or rather, spring from the same basic ideas but take them in slightly different directions. An excellent illustration of this idea is found here, at the webcomic XKCD:

One good example (of which I couldn’t get a good picture, darn it!) was a simple map of the process between idea/concept and final execution in cartooning, logo design, and web design.  They all had the same basic path; the language and the end deliverable were the only real differences.

  • Cartooning: Idea > sketch > inks > color
  • Logo design: Idea > sketch > B&W version > color version
  • Web design: Concept > wireframes > design > development
Cartoon of Ross Nover explaining overlap of comics and design

There’s an overlap of concerns between designers and cartoonists.

So, Takeaway 1: The similarities between these two artistic disciplines are not too dissimilar.  This set up the rest of the takeaways.

Takeaway 2: Make it (visually) simple.  If it’s simple, it applies to everyone.  If an image is too specific, then it’s clearly not you. if it’s just vague enough to encompass everyone… then this awesome website, this great product, this Super Smart Customer Who Is Also Beautiful And Popular could be you.

Takeaway 3: Closure.  In this context, closure means that the designer/cartoonist has created a setup of a beginning and an end, but they didn’t put in how the beginning got to the end.  However, you still got it.  Your brain filled in the missing parts!  1) That makes you Very Smart. 2) That makes you feel good. 3) That makes you more inclined to like the product or service that has made you feel so Very Smart and good (or, in the case of cartooning, you enjoy the heck out of the story).

Takeaway 4: Make use of the entire available viewing space. It’s possible and powerful.  In the web world, that means taking advantage of the infinite canvas – the ability to scroll forever without reaching the end – or, in the case of Twitter, bleeding the image to the edges of the frame, which gives a sense of environment, of expanse, of possibility and lack of constraints.  In short, it’s a visual way to subtly make the viewer feel immersed and engaged.

Takeaway 5: “Less.”  You’ve heard of “Less is more”; you may even have heard of “Do less”.  Ross just says, “Less.”  To spell it out: If you can accomplish anything with fewer words, images, anything – do it.  It’s better.

A good tool to accomplish this maxim is to apply constraints or have them applied for you.  Clients will do this; they want just two colors for their site, they want only this specific font, they want everything conveyed in a single-page microsite.  Ross says that this is a really good thing.

Comic of Ross Nover explaining how constraints make artists creative

“Cornered animals lash out. And when designers face constraints…”

Comic of Ross Nover explaining how constraints make artists creative

Approximate quote, because I have goldfish memory.

Final takeaway: PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.  If you want to be good at something, do it.  Do it over and over.  Keep doing it over and over.  You can’t help but improve.

I was really excited about hearing this talk.  I was all grins when Ross extensively cited one of the best (and my favorite) comic theory books, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud ( If you haven’t read it, DO.  It’s brilliant!.  And it was extra-exciting to finally hear someone refer to and promote webcomics as a medium, not just because they’re a wonderful medium (They really are! See referred list below) but because they provide an even closer comparison to web designers, tying the whole talk together.

Well done, sir!

The List of Referrals is Ross’s webcomic and a good example of the value of constraints on creativity. Another great example of doing creative stuff within constraints. Yet another example of the above, this time about food! (He didn’t refer to this in the talk, but it’s a worthwhile example) (NSFW for language and some suggestive images/themes.  Used to illustrate how daily practice results in improvement; see the very first and very last comics for proof.). (Also NSFW for language and suggestive images/themes. Used to demonstrate how being just distinctive enough makes different elements and designs stand out from one another. That may seem a little counter to the suggestion that making your visuals a little more generic is more engaging because each customer can superimpose themselves on it, but one has to strike a balance between the two.). (Another good example of striking the balance between cartoony-enough-to-refer-to-anyone and distinct-enough-to-be-instantly-recognizable.  Less NSFW than the two above, but it may have a four-letter word or two.).