Shadow and Light: A Time to Reintroduce “Teach Peace”

On Monday, August 21, hundreds of millions of people looked skyward to watch the rare solar eclipse as it traveled its 70-mile wide path from coast to coast. In those moments, it was as if every creature in the world around me held its breath. From my vantage point during prime viewing time, I looked up at the spectacle with awe. Then I looked at the other people around me…

Everyone was sporting those special eclipse glasses, and for a good reason. What we hear about eye damage during an eclipse is true. The rays of the sun are not to blame for the danger; rather, it’s the darkness against the light that tricks our eyes into a sort of optic confusion: Our eyes focus on the shadow of the moon, tricking our eyes into relaxing their normal protective measures thus receiving more hazardous rays into the neural tissue. Our eyes aren’t used to seeing darkness and light simultaneously.

Just days before the eclipse, Durham faced its own clash of characters. On Friday, August 18, the Sheriff’s Department announced white nationalists were expected to converge at the county courthouse. The people of Durham and surrounding areas turned up en masse to show resistance to hate and bigotry, the rapid response reflecting a long history of anti-oppression organizing in the community. And days before that, our city made national news when a statue of a confederate solider was taken down by protestors, a symbolic act largely motivated by the white nationalists’ rally and ensuing acts of violence that took place the previous weekend in Charlottesville, VA.

I am reposting a blog piece (here, and below) for two reasons: One, the message bears repeating considering the events in recent weeks. Two, the artwork is now available as a letterpress print, and 50% of sales* will be donated to the Durham Solidarity Center, specifically to its bond fund to assist with legal fees faced by those individuals arrested for their civil disobedience in recent Durham protests.

The limited edition letterpress prints were hand-printed by local artisan Brian Allen, who has been practicing the art of letterforms and typography for over forty years. Brian chose to print my artwork in a rich blue ink on 100% cotton “recovered fiber" heavy card stock in Pearl White (a warm off-white).

*Please mention this blog piece in the special instructions section when ordering online. Thanks!

To read Mary's first blog on this piece of art, please see Words are Strong.

Reality Bites, but Turning Forty Might Not

Spoiler alert and caveat: this post contains a moment of awakening that occurs while lying on a yoga mat. While this moment of awakening was actual and true, it does not function as a) a new-age recipe for well being (wine and Netflix work just great for that, in my opinion) or b) a plug about the wonders of yoga. I admit, I did sign up for a thirty-day yoga challenge and I have done twenty of the days so far, but sometimes I just lie on my mat and think thoughts while the skinny blonde lady in the video yogas. This also can be enlightening.


Admitting that Reality Bites is my all-time favorite movie and that Wynona Ryder is my all-time favorite actress ages me considerably, but maybe it’s time to own that. At twenty-three, the movie clip portrayed here resonated with me - deeply. Wynona had failed and she hated failing. She did all the right things and got none of the right feedback. She was defeated. And I knew her defeat. I was like, “Yes Wynona, me, too! I want to be something by this age, too!” Like Wynona, I wanted to be known, or if not known, understood through my creativity or my intelligence. I wanted to be seen through a lens of greatness, even if the view was fuzzy. I wanted acknowledgement of potential. I wanted proof of my worthiness. But, like Wynona, I was twenty-three. And most people at age twenty-three are just … twenty-three.

And I was a particularly lost twenty-three year old. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or to be. In fact, it often didn’t even occur to me that I had options. I sort of went along with whatever opportunities were presented to me. I was creative, but confused. Smart, but stuck. I wasn’t a go-getter who knew what she wanted from an early age. My path through life has been circuitous, and though the path has led me to amazing places, I am often left wondering if the decisions I’ve made have been the right ones.

Now I’m about to turn forty. For the past few years, I’ve had big plans about the big 4-0. By forty, I’d be in the best physical shape of my life. I’d be a published author. I’d be making (lots of!) money from my writing. I would finally stop assuming that people don’t like me as my default mode of communication. I would become a master yogi and cure my back pain. (The list goes on.)

So, in the weeks and months leading up to my birthday, I’ve been feeling a little scared and frustrated. And kind of like a failure.

Then I was lying on my yoga mat and this scene from Reality Bites popped into my head. Ethan Hawke’s voice came through clear as a bell. “The only thing you have to be by the age of twenty-three,” he was saying to a pouting and distraught Wynona, “is yourself.”

Since I’m almost forty and have given myself permission to do such things, I had Ethan Hawke say those lines again, except to me instead.  “The only thing you have to do by age 40,” he said, in a sexy, smoky baritone, “is love yourself.” Since most things that come out of Ethan Hawkes’ mouth in Reality Bites sound especially profound and true, I knew instantly that this was my personal truth of the moment, or of the year, or maybe for the rest of my life.

So, I have started trying out this hard-to-achieve Hawkism: loving myself. As you might have guessed, it’s harder than it sounds. In a single day, it feels like there are dozens of opportunities to do exactly the opposite. There are, for example, the perfect-bikini-body-moms at the pool who make me feel like an alien from the Planet Carb. Then there’s that stack of novels and motivational books next to my bed that I never get around to reading. And of course there’s that time earlier this week when I got an email from a literary magazine I’ve been submitting to for almost twenty years (yes, you read that right). I felt so sure that this time it would be a letter of acceptance. I opened the email right there in the kitchen while I was making dinner. My kids were screaming at each other over a Tonka truck, and I could actually see ants marching across the counter towards their (uneaten) dinners. It was a rejection letter. Another one.

I’ve heard the Buddhist truism that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters. But the truth is, all of us really, really want to get there. And we want people to notice when we do. I’m thinking, though, that self-acceptance isn’t about giving up the goals. I’ll probably always want a flat stomach and a finished novel and perfect, yoga-toned arms. But the more important goal, the goal I need to pay the most attention to (or, so Ethan Hawkes says), is trying to be proud of what I’ve already done and who I already am.

I don’t even know what to call this new goal of mine. Self-pride, frankly, feels like a bit of a stretch. I’m thinking maybe grateful acceptance is more accurate. Or maybe even joyful acceptance. Because my hunch is that there is some real joy to be found in loving ourselves, even if it’s just a tiny bit more than we did the day before. 

And maybe, the longer I lean in to joyful acceptance, the more courage my new well-loved self will find to become the me I dreamed of being at twenty-three.

The Simple Secret to Better Design

The golden rule of design is simple, and based on the golden ratio: make sure no two elements are exactly the same. This concept came from my studies in painting and composition, but they can really be applied to any kind of design.

Let’s start with the basics - a painting composition. Let’s say, a landscape. Sky, trees, grass, etc. If you have all of these elements emphasized exactly the same, you will have a boring design. Instead, use different design elements to shake things up and vary them.

And this concept not only applies to art, but also any kind of visual design- typography, graphic design, interior design, fashion design. Let’s take another simple example - how to artfully arrange a console or side table (interior design). If you have everything the same size, shape and spacing, it will be rigid. Change up some of the sizes and shapes, add a pop of color here and there, and all of a sudden you have a dynamic arrangement!

Are you interested in chalk lettering or calligraphy? This has exactly the same application. Check out these two examples:

So you see, the golden rule of design is really quite simple - never make two elements of your design exactly the same. It takes some play and experimentation to get it right, but this rule of thumb can help guide you to design perfection!

Shelby is an artist and designer living in Durham, NC after almost a decade as an expat. You can find her original art and accessories at

Social Media Strategy for Your Small Business: Creating a Social Strategy

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Welcome to the second installation in our Summer Social Media Series!  The last blog post  in this series discussed the do’s and don’ts of posting on social media. We shared the importance of posting consistently, utilizing the best platforms for your business, and using target advertising. Here’s something else that’s crucial for your social media presence - making sure you have a strategy!

Many businesses tell us that they don’t have the time to do social media. Running social media accounts can seem daunting, but with a strong social media strategy and a few hours set aside each week to schedule posts, posting on social media does not have to be overwhelming (we promise!).

So what is a social media strategy?

A social media strategy is a detailed, research-based document detailing how your brand will present itself on social media platforms.

Below, we’ve outlined five steps to begin crafting your social media strategy.

  1. Write down three business goals that you aim to accomplish through social media. Make sure the goals are specific, attainable, and measurable. For example, will Facebook grow brand awareness? Will Twitter engage with current and potential business prospects? Each platform should have a unique goal based on its best use.

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2. Next, write down five words that would describe your brand if it were a person. These words will help guide your online voice. This blog post by Kevan Lee describes how to find your social media voice. He writes that a voice humanizes a brand and promotes natural conversations. If you’re like me and do by example check out this article on Mashable about how top brands (such as Tory Burch) craft their social media voices.

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3. Now it’s time to start thinking about content. Who is your target audience? What do they typically share on social media? Begin to follow relevant accounts to find content. It’s perfectly acceptable to share or retweet existing content, but don’t forget to post original content, too.

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4. Your strategy should also include social media monitoring, or social listening, which involves monitoring what people in your industry are saying and talking about. This allows you to identify opportunities for creating shareable content, gain insights into what your customers are talking about, and also note what your competition is doing on social media. There are social media monitoring softwares such as Google Alerts or Hootsuite, but you can also follow relevant accounts and check your accounts periodically.

5. Finally, before you hit print on your new social media strategy document, it’s important to assign who will take the lead. Some companies find it works best for one team member or intern to run social media. Other businesses rotate responsibilities among multiple employees. It’s important that someone carves out time to dedicate to social media and that everyone who is posting is on the same page about the type of content to post and the tone of each post. A content calendar and pre scheduling posts will also save a lot of time.  

Social media is a huge asset to your brand and business. Every post reflects your brand and leaves a permanent digital footprint. If you need help creating or implementing your social media strategy, Detail & Design can help! Shoot us a message and we’ll chat.


Taking the Time to Invest in a Website

Though building a new website or refreshing an old one can be a huge boon for your business, it can also be a real time investment.

If you’re thinking about a new website, it’s helpful to do a little brainstorming before you get to the official planning phrase. To help you out, we’ve created a list of questions to help streamline the process. 

What do your visitors want to learn from your site? What do you want them to get out of your site?

Knowing the goals for your site is a huge step in creating the right website. While we can help you narrow your focus and create visual pathways for directing your website visitors, knowing why you’re creating a site and what you want visitors to do there is really important. Are you a chic new shop downtown? If so, perhaps people will come to your site for hours and location? Or maybe you’re selling a product online and you want visitors to make a purchase. Determine your site’s goals before you get started.

Do you have visuals that powerfully support your brand?

Detail & Design’s photographer had a great blog post just last month on the importance of hiring a photographer and how images are processed by our brains differently than text and other website elements. While cell phone snapshots can be fun and even meaningful, intentionally taken photographs will help visitors to connect to your brand in a more powerful way. Providing professional images for your site not only makes your work look more professional, it also makes the visitor feel like they know you and can make a connection with you, which is a huge factor in whether or not they will make a donation, use your services, or purchase something from you.

Will you need help writing your copy?

Overly verbose websites that are poorly written can lead to quick exits. A website with no written content is also not helpful. If you have written copy, but aren’t sure how effective it is, a copywriter can review it and suggest revisions that will make your brand shine through. Also, take into consideration that copywriting can be extremely time consuming. If you can’t spare the time, consider hiring a copywriter who can create beautifully written copy for you, highlighting your business in a way that perhaps you did not know how to express. 

How much time do you have to invest?

As web designers, our ability to create a quality site depends largely on whether or not we have quality content. Sure, we can create a sitemap, a structure, and a style to your site, but if we are lacking images and copy, it is hard to move forward in a timely fashion. Time is money, in many ways, and sometimes that time and money is worth hiring the extra help to get that copy written and those photos taken.

Ready to dive in? Contact us and we can help you get started!

Client Highlight: Thompson-Joinery

The Detail & Design team couldn’t be prouder to have published the new Thompson-Joinery website earlier this week. Here’s an overview of who is behind Thompson-Joinery and why we loved collaborating with them.

Detail of Thompson-Joinery's woodwork at Beyù Caffè

Detail of Thompson-Joinery's woodwork at Beyù Caffè

What is Thompson-Joinery?

This Durham based shop specializes in high-quality, custom woodworking for both commercial and residential spaces. Owner Matt Thompson leads a team of craftsmen who are highly skilled in carpentry, millwork, furniture making, casework, finish, and design. If you’ve been out in Durham recently, you have likely seen some of their gorgeous work: the tables, bar, and benches at Dashi; the interior woodwork in the new Beyù Caffè; and the custom casework at Tiny children's boutique. They also do exceptional residential work, including cabinetry, staircases, and built-ins.

Why did Thompson-Joinery seek out Detail & Design’s services?

Website: When Thompson-Joinery came to us, they were already well established in the Durham community. They wanted a solid online presence that they could use to showcase their portfolio.  The feel of the site is modern and minimalist and is styled entirely in classic black and white – these choices allowed their portfolio photos to shine. They also wanted their website to link to their active Instagram account, which they use to connect with clients and display their work.

Logo: Matt wanted something that was distinctive but also simple, so that it didn’t distract from the images on the site. To accomplish this, we took his signature from a piece of paper (simple black ink on white paper) and digitized it, transforming it into a logo that we used as his website header and also on his business cards.

Why do we love this project?

One of Thompson-Joinery's residential projects.

One of Thompson-Joinery's residential projects.

For starters, these are just great folks. They are lovely to work with and also lovely to work for (or, so we hear!), as they are members of the Durham Living Wage Project.

Another reason we loved working with Thompson-Joinery is that they understand the value of using professional photographs. In last week’s blog, Lis Tyroler extoled the value of high quality photography for websites, and Thompson-Joinery’s site is a beautiful illustration of her point. Their stunning portfolio photos (eye candy for designers!) were a pleasure to use.   

Finally, we love the tagline Thomson-Joinery uses on their Instagram account, “to build what ought to be,” because it’s just how we feel about each website we put out into the world, this one included.

You Can't Afford Not to Hire a Photographer

As the primary photographer for Detail & Design Studio, I often hear business owners say, “I just can’t afford photography in my budget!” But, when asked to make a list of the websites that they find most visually appealing and impactful, the defining feature of the collection is almost always sites with big, beautiful images.

Here are some tips for incorporating photographic images into your website:

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I know, I know, it’s a cliche, but people are visual creatures. While savvy design is the most important aspect of any good website, it is the images that are going to hook potential clients. The more compelling and striking the images on your website, the more your clients will be driven to engage with your business.

We process images 60,000 times more quickly than text and are more likely to store them in long-term memory. Your potential clients should be able to quickly view your website and come away with a clear concept  of your brand, services, and, most importantly, the confident knowledge that they WANT what you are offering.

“People only remember 10% of what people hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80% of what they see and do”. - Dr. Jerome Butler, Psychologist, New York University

Photography and well-written copy go hand-in-hand. The image makes your viewer want to read what is on your site.

Face the Facts

Use human faces. Whether it is an image of you, your clients, or your staff in action, images of human faces can double conversion rates. Studies show that users spend more time looking at faces (and specifically eyes) than any other element of web design; users connect with the emotion conveyed in the image, follow the gaze of the of the subject to read text, and feel a sense of familiarity with the brand.

The only caveat is that it must be a photo of what they consider a real person, not a model or stock photo, which the brain processes as visual bloat. Larger images have up to 350% higher conversion rates than smaller images, as long as the image doesn’t get in the way of what the user wants.

You Are Your Brand

When potential clients see your face on your website, they are more likely to assume that you are trustworthy and competent, while developing a sense commitment and connection to your business.

While you may have a lovely photo that your brother took on his iPhone, ask yourself the following questions about your image:

  • Does this portrait accurately and authentically reflect my brand?
  • Is this a beautiful, professional-looking image will positively reflect your company?
  • Does this image have the right dimensions and resolution to work with my web design?
  • Are my eyes clear and crisp in this image?
  • Does this image tell a story that will engage your user?

Personally, I love using a sprinkling of stock photos. I even sell some of my own images to stock providers. But when you are choosing images for your website, a stock photo will never be as customized to your brand as a photo that was taken specifically with the intention of marketing your services.

While budget is always an issue, the truth is that most businesses can’t afford NOT to hire a professional commercial photographer when designing their website. A commercial photographer can work with your design team to create a cohesive marketing concept and effectively convert leads into clients.

Lis Tyroler, of Lis Tyroler Photography, truly loves to connect with her clients using her camera to creatively and honestly capture the essence of each individual, family, or business. As a Durham native and entrepreneur, she feels passionately about supporting Durham businesses. She spends her free time frolicking around Durham with her son and husband, and has a myriad of interests in all aspects of the arts, including fiber, brush, and food.

Social Media Strategy for Your Small Business: Post Like a Pro

Social media can be a powerful tool to help small businesses market themselves and engage with customers. Creating social media profiles is a great first step, but don’t let rookie mistakes hold your business back. Here's a list of social media do's and don'ts to help you post like a pro. 


  • Post Consistently 

Social media is a great tool for any brand, but it can only be beneficial if it is utilized correctly. Create a content calendar each month and aim to post daily on each platform. Users can’t engage with your brand on social media if there is nothing to interact with.

  • Utilize the best platforms for your business

The demographic that uses each social media platform might not be your target audience. For example, 60% of Snapchat users are under the age of 24. Pinterest and Instagram are visual platforms, which might not lend itself to every business. Similarly, Snapchat and Youtube take quite a bit of legwork to maintain. These are details to think through before creating an account on every single platform that exists. For maximum engagement, place content where you are most likely to target current and potential customers, and use a platform your business has time to manage. For a breakdown of the demographics of social media by platform users click here.

Facebook and Twitter both offer the ability to create custom campaigns with various objectives such as click conversions or more followers. Simply chose the demographic and the area to target, create an eye-catching post, and see the results with free analytics. Don’t feel the need to invest tons of money on advertising, either. Try out a few $5 posts and see which ad worked the best and why. Then maybe invest a little more money for larger results once a method has seen success.


  •  Ignore interactions

Take the time to respond to comments or tweets – the good and bad. 72% of people are more likely to make a future purchase from a small business after they interact with them on Twitter. Facebook and Twitter are built for users to interact with each other. While a “thank you” tweet might seem small, it does stand out and begins to build a relationship.

  • Have a platform and not post on it

It looks unprofessional to have a Twitter account that hasn’t tweeted since 2010. If there isn’t time to manage a social media account, delete it. Every touch point with users makes an impression. Don’t let a disregarded social media account that pops up on a Google search be your lasting impression.

  • Post aimlessly

Avoid simply posting to post. Write down the goal of each social media platform for your business. Is Twitter a customer service tool? Is LinkedIn a place for thought leadership? Is Instagram where products will be showcased? It’s OK to replicate content for each platform, but it should be repurposed and not repeated. Use each platform to accomplish a specific goal and tailor the content for each specific account.

Social media can be the best marketing tool for a small business if it is used correctly and efficiently. Stay tuned for more posts throughout the summer on how small businesses should utilize social media.  

Morgan Trachtman is Detail & Design’s latest intern. She recently graduated from UNC Chapel Hill where she majored in Journalism and Mass Communication in the School of Media and Journalism. She volunteers with Girls on the Run and helps manage the GOTR social media accounts. Her goal is to one day own her own business that has a positive impact on the community around her.