Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Students hold the keys to the survival and prosperity of colleges. Student deposits are moments of truth for Vice Presidents of Enrollment at colleges and Presidents. Cash coffers are either refilled or not. Last minute surprises in deposits can cause a ton of heartache. Thus, the need for intentional strategies to close the deal by increasing student deposits.

college admissions yield strategies

Admissions Yield is the percentage of students who enroll at a university after being accepted. The most sought after colleges in the nation have yield rate rates ranging from 55-75%. Yield rates have been dropping because fewer schools have application fee and seniors are applying to more colleges with the convenience of checking off boxes in college application platforms such as Common App.

Here are eleven strategies that are helping colleges improve their admissions yield:

1. Creating Conditions for Prospects to Raise Their Hands First: Prospective students who find a college and raise their hands are far more likely to enroll than the ones who colleges pursue and apply deliberate search strategies to. To make it easy for prospective students to raise their hands first, colleges are making sure their website is ranked on Google page 1 for important keywords, and their social media posts are interesting enough to be loved and shared. Smart colleges are not shy about revealing and celebrating their culture, school spirit, thought-leadership and outcomes.

2. Ensuring All Marketing Touchpoints Are Right, Tight and Bright: Strong responsive website with persuasive program/experience/about pages, interesting social media channels, clean Wikipedia page, reviews and ratings are all just table stakes. Most schools in distress don’t have these in order. As an example, when we worked with Saint Leo University, we made sure that a prospect saw the same message no matter where they entered the brand.

Fortify Every Touchpoint


3. Increasing Face to Face Contacts and Enhancing Their Quality: A combination of college visits, alumni outreach, Admitted Student Days will improve yield. But colleges are working hard at ensuring each contact is curated and orchestrated perfectly so it is unforgettable.

4. Offering Early Decision: Preferential consideration for admissions, priority in receiving financial aid, getting choice housing and other reasons why some students choose to commit to early decision in colleges and universities. Colleges which don’t have early decision, or early action, are missing out on these early commitments and deposits.

5. Influencing Parents: Perhaps the most important influencer in the admissions decision is the parent. It is for this reason that colleges are courting parents and trying to help them help student make the fateful decision.

6. Building Admitted Student Communities: Creating Facebook groups, custom apps or closed communities are now common place; these enable incoming students to create friendships and bonds with their peers before they come to Admitted Student Days and Student Orientation. Almost all colleges are creating platforms for new students to interact with each other.

7. Giving Gifts: Some schools send t-shirts, hats, pens, calendars, etc. as part of the acceptance package, but it works only if it is done in good taste and not as a high-pressure tactic.

8. Creating Conversations: Between prospective students and current students, between prospective students and faculty, and between prospective students and alumni.

9. Deploying Integrated Yield Strategies: A combination of phone calls, personalized letters and responsive emails, yield brochure and online landing pages giving students the closing argument for making a commitment make good sense. However, know that successful colleges are appealing to the heart at this late stage of decision making. Take a look at this William Woods University yield page, which concentrates the argument for “Why William Woods?”

Strategies For Improving Admissions Yield


10. Sharing Student Voices: My colleague, Ed Macko, created a yield booklet for North Central college, which is perhaps one of the best “closing” pieces we have ever seen. It was a 100-page coffee-table booklet, called iSpeak, which Ed created with beautiful photographs and quotes from students. No facts were included; just persuasion of the heart. Mind you, this was only made possible because Ed had done six years of photoshoots for the client and the client was also committed to building up its own photo libraries for several years. Without those and ongoing student focus groups, this would not have been possible. See the cover and some spreads below:

Improving Admission Yield

Increasing Admissions Yield

Growing Admissions Yield

Enhancing Admissions Yield

Fortifying Admissions Yield

Transforming Admissions Yield

Changing Admissions Yield

Strengthening Admissions Yield

11. Creating Surprise Experiences: Unexpected yield strategies will outperform expected ones. Park University sent an eye-patch with a hash-tag asking accepted students to post a selfie. Colleges are thinking of novel creative ways to endear themselves to the prospective students.

If you are a college thinking about improving your admissions yield, we also suggest you keep an eye on the fundamentals i.e. make students and parents feel special and important; treat people with utmost dignity and respect; personalize your communications; build individualize relationship. Know that in-state and nearby applicants will yield better than out-state and geographically farther students. And paper apps will yield better than online apps and a nominal application fee increases commitment.

If you would like us to help you improve your college admissions yield, contact us.

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There isn’t an algorithm for defining brand architecture for higher education. However, some heuristics or common patterns exist that will help colleges and universities frame their specific situation. Here is a start:

I. Branded House: This model applies to most private colleges. Harvard is a great example of this.
Branded House Brand Architecture for colleges and universities
Note how Harvard’s parent brand has great equity and visually plays a dominant role for all its graduate schools. Most private schools are quite protective of their parent brand name, which is wise, but certain situations demand exceptions.


II. Branded House with some exceptions: Though Harvard, the oldest university in the US, isn’t willing to give up its primacy for anyone, University of Pennsylvania is willing to let wealthy donors get primacy in naming rights. For most of us, Wharton comes to mind.
Branded House Brand Architecture with Exceptions for higher education
Interestingly, Wharton at UPenn was named in 1881. Kellogg at Northwestern was named in 1908. In an expanding world of university choices, Universities ought to turn their business, medical, law and other schools into well known brands. However, they have to be patient, persistent and invest money to turn them into a recognizable brand. They have to start somewhere, which might as well be now.


III. House of Brands for For-Profit Colleges and Universities: No surprise, but for-profit colleges and universities are operating like Proctor & Gamble i.e. essentially as a brand holding company. Here is one example:
House of Brands Architecture for For-Profit Colleges and Universities
The for-profit schools, driven by efficiency and effectiveness, are usually quite smart and create a portfolio of non-overlapping brands. They try to buy/operate their brand portfolios in different markets, different segments, and own different positions.


IV. House of Brands for Public University Systems: From a brand architecture perspective, it is not atypical for public university systems to behave like for-profit colleges and universities holding companies. Here is one example:
House of Brands Architecture for Public University System
Unlike for-profits, public university systems were historically restricted to operate within a state and their portfolio of overlapping brand overlapped with each other significantly. However, that’s changing fast as more of them are being unfettered due to cuts in state support. Increasingly, we are seeing them operate like private colleges and universities – unafraid to cross state and country boundaries. Interesting times ahead.


This begins to scratch the surface. Brand architecture is a deep issue of communicating meaning, power, positioning, speed to market and much more. The above models lie on a spectrum of choices. As a university, you need to start by defining the problem you are trying to solve, then doing the research that helps you pick the right direction, and finally mustering the courage to implement the right brand architecture solution.

If you need our team of seasoned brand strategists, who have solved complex branding problems in their past lives, to guide you work through your specific situation, please contact us.

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Facebook has been making a lot of changes to their news feed algorithm. In the past, there used to be a chronological listing of stories as they were shared by your network. However, as the membership on the social media network continued to grow (more than a billion members) and the content continued to explode, Facebook decided to make some changes. The goal, per Facebook, of News Feed is to “deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them.”

To make this happen, Facebook currently considers thousands of factors to serve up stories from a publisher’s page in an individuals’ news feed. Some of these factors can be broken up into the following:

  1. Relevance factors
  2. Engagement factors
  3. Quality factors
  4. Profile factors
  5. Recency factors

Relevance Factors:

  • Is your audience interested in that topic?
  • Has your audience engaged with that topic in the past?
  • Have they hidden any content related to that topic in the past?

Engagement Factors:

  • Positive and negative engagement affect where your post will rank on an individual’s news feed. More likes, comments, shares, reactions and clicks will result in higher positions on people’s news feeds.
  • Negative engagement like hiding your post will result in your post dropping off from those people’s news feeds.
  • Unexpected spikes in engagement which are not typical on your posts may also result in your post dropping in news feeds.

Quality Factors:

  • Are you sharing good quality, authentic content with your network? This can be determined by how many people are hiding your posts, not spending enough time viewing your content, etc.

Profile Factors:

  • Profile of content sharer
  • What type of content do they normally share?
  • How close of a connection is there between the content sharer and the consumer?
  • Who are the fans of the business page?

Recency Factors:

  • Is it a current trending topic?
  • Are people engaging with that content piece currently?
  • Some older posts may also get a higher spot in the news feeds if there is still engagement on that post and it is deemed relevant for an individual.

Are there any other ranking factors that you’ve noticed? Please don’t hesitate to share in the comments.

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Politics aside… what do design, branding and political experts really think of President Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” red trucker hat? Some call it the worst design of 2016, while others say it was the most hated and most loved symbol of the 2016 election. But most industry designers and branding experts agree that the hat was horrifically designed but terrifically effective.

Here is a sampling of thoughts and comments from industry experts and political players on the topic of President Trump’s red trucker hat:

Lindsay Ballant,  Adjunct Professor – Maryland College of Art
“In a way, the fluke success of that hat was a rejection of ‘design thinking’ and ‘design strategy’ as a whole.” She added, “Designers should really think about that, because we’ve built a whole economy around that as a practice. We’ve sold ourselves on the premise that this is how things should be done.”

Ballant concluded, “It should be something that designers think about. Good design doesn’t necessarily mean effective design but most of all, it’s a lesson about the limitations of “good” design.”

Diana Budds – FastCodeDesign
“It was a poorly designed product that turned out to be very strong branding.” Budds added, “It’s a basic product, more likely than not, someone picked red since it’s the color for the Republican party, and basic Times New Roman lettering in white so it would stand out against the cap.”

Forest Young, Head of Design – Wolff Olins San Francisco
“While the hat is not good design, it is good branding and ten years from now, the winning charades team assigned the phrase ‘Presidential Election 2016’ would have simply mimed the motion of someone putting on a baseball cap.”

Make America Great Again Hat David Axelrod, Democratic Chief Political Strategist for President Obama
“What they were up against was nothing short of “a marketing genius.” Axelrod said, “Trump understood the market that he was trying to reach. You can’t deny him that. He was very focused from the start on who he was talking to.” He concluded, “In terms of galvanizing the market that he was talking to he did it single-mindedly and ingeniously.”

George Lois, Advertiser and Graphic Designer
George Lois, the renowned New York advertiser and graphic designer who conceived the “I Want My MTV” campaign in the early ’80s, said, “It’s very strong on a red cap. The red baseball cap implies that it’s kind of an American staple. It’s worn by real people.”

Philip Wegmann, Commentary Blogger – Washington Examiner
“An appropriate icon for his failing campaign.” Weggman added, “The millions of hats will make excellent keepsakes for those who thought his populist bravado could overcome Clinton’s unimaginative and conventional but well-oiled political machine.”

Charles P. Pierce, Political Writer – Esquire Magazine
“The hats may well go down as the Trump campaign’s only lasting contribution to the political history of the Republic. Laugh, clown, laugh.”

Dana Bash, CNN – Chief Political Correspondent
“He came around the corner and we all went, ‘Oh!’ – I really remember it vividly because it was like, ‘Oh, of course, he’s the master marketer. Why wouldn’t he put it on a hat?'”

Zachary Petit, Editor of Print Magazine
“In terms of aesthetics, I believe the hat fails spectacularly, but if the objective of design is to communicate and sell — it works wonders.”

Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst – NPD Market Research Group
“Selling branded apparel and accessories has another advantage that some say is more valuable than any profit made — marketing.” he added, “When a supporter buys and wears a candidate’s t-shirt, it’s a walking billboard. It’s better than people putting signs on somebody’s yard.” Cohen concluded, “A real life person who is endorsing you…it increases your power to politically market yourself ten-fold.”

Presidential Props
Here are dollar figures on what some of the most recent front-running presidential candidates spent on political marketing swag:

  • Barack Obama
    $1.3 million for t-shirts, posters and bumper stickers.
  • Bernie Sanders
    By May 2016: $8.5 million on merchandise. A “Baby for Bernie” bib sold for $15.
  • Hillary Clinton
    By May 2016: $1.4 million on merchandise. Hillary’s “Everyday Pantsuit Tee” sold for $30.
  • Donald Trump
    Between July 2015 and September 2016: $3.2 million on just hats. A “Make America Great Again!” hat sold for $25.

*Federal Election Commission Statistics via Business of Fashion.

Prominent Presidential Campaign Logos and Slogans

For other views on brand, design and politics please visit these Aha and The Emarketing Blog posts:

Obama & Romney Reach Agreement!
The Brand Management of Hate
Our Willingness To Believe

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You want to see the world’s most well-practiced and ridiculous eye roll? Play me a sappy country music song.

I see right through that charade – disingenuous, insipid and frankly offensive.

Cue. That. Eye. Roll.

To me, there are two kinds of emotional appeals in advertising and media.

First, the kind I’ve just mentioned — intended to make you cry.

I imagine the room of country music executives in sharkskin suits and cowboy hats (stay true to those roots!) in some Nashville high rise, sitting around a rich mahogany table coming up with the next sappy ballad.

It’s sole purpose is tears. And the reason they do it? It works. It works really well. It’s why Christmas Shoes became a made-for-tv movie.

But to me, I feel exploited. Toyed with. I lose trust in brands who take advantage of my tender heart.

(Think Sarah McLachlan Arms of the Angel ASPCA ad.)

The second is a different kind of emotional appeal. It’s the kind grounded in truth – in real caring. I don’t feel exploited, I just feel touched.

I experienced this recently with State Farm’s ad for its Neighborhood of Good service, which helps match you with local volunteer opportunities.

(The website is an awesome user experience. Great database of volunteer opportunities in various categories of caring. Stories of basketball players, musicians (see Usher’s) getting involved in their own community. Incredible work, bravo!)

A compassionate guy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders: at-risk youth, dog in need of love, polar bear in need of ice. Veterans. Homelessness. Poverty. Heavy. Weight. Adding. Up.

“You can lift the weight of caring, by doing.”

Perhaps this is still that emotional appeal just hiding itself better, sneakier than the first. Maybe they are still exploiting my emotions in a different way, but somehow it works better for me. And the reason is its genuineness.

A simple message. An emotional appeal. Done well.

In return, State Farm becomes a trusted brand, honing in on their hyper-localized agents, and better yet — some neighborhood good gets done.

Much like an ill-fitting or dated suit, companies and institutions with out-dated or poorly executed identities need to be aware of the perception their identity has in the markets they serve. Does your identity still fit your organization and what it does? Does it represent who you are? Is it time for a change, and if so, how can you be sure?

The best identities help to synthesize and crystallize a brand to their consumers.

From cave paintings dated 40,000 years ago to digital marvels created today, it is clear that humanity has, throughout history, continued to visually create symbols to trigger an emotion, a memory, a response. The definition of identity is listed as a condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, that distinguish or identify a person or thing. The importance and power of an identity cannot be understated.

While brands speak to the minds and hearts of followers, an identity and its visual essence resonate with the senses.


Company: Nike
Designer: Carolyn Davidson
Created: 1971
What it represents: Symbolizes the wing of Nike, Greek goddess of victory.
Back story: The designer used tissue paper to see if the identity designs she was creating looked good on the shoes she was designing it for.
Still in use.

When is a new identity needed?

The items listed below are a few of the reasons why a company or institution would want to invest in creating a new or revitalized identity. Changing your identity is both a time and financial commitment, and requires patience and diligence. But, much like that hand tailored suit, a good fitting identity will be worth the effort. If you consider the lifespan of a great, well done identity, the investment does pay off over time and will serve you well into the future.

Is it time for a change?

  • The name of your company changing
  • There is a trademark conflict with your existing identity
  • Your identity has a negative meaning in new markets being served
  • Your identity is misleading or confusing
  • Your company is merging with another

Is your current identity dated?

  • Your current brand needs to be revitalized
  • Your organization is no longer in the business in which it was founded
  • Your identity does not resonate with expanding market reach
  • Your identity no longer appeals to target audience(s)

Does your identity hold up?

  • Your identity does not hold up when compared to your competition
  • Your identity lacks visual consistency across applications or mediums
  • Numerous versions of your identity were created over time thus fracturing its integrity


Company: CBS
Designer: Bill Golden
Created: 1951
What it represents: An eye
Background: This design was specifically created to hold up well on television screens, a relatively new medium at the time in which it was created.
Still in use.


A new identity will empower your brand.

When you think of the identity’s reach (global), its many uses (print, digital, textiles, signage and so on), and the audiences it serves (internal, external, partners, buyers, donors, and so on), it’s clear to see that the investment will reap benefits. Once you have invested in a new identity, and, if you have selected a reliable partner to create your new identity, it will have the potential to empower your brand and all those who are affected by and connect to your brand.

Here’s what a new identity can do:

  1. Connects all of your constituents under a singular “flag”
  2. Will build equity for and throughout your organization
  3. Provides visual consistency across all mediums and channels where your brand is seen
  4. Builds confidence
  5. Authentically represents who you are


Company: Apple
Original Designer: Rob Janoff
Rainbow apple created: 1976; Monochromatic apple created 1998
What it represents: Knowledge
Background: The original rainbow designed apple was created to help humanize the company. The color bands were later dropped to enable the identity to hold up better across multiple applications and products, and it was less expensive to reproduce. The bite in the apple shape was included so it looked like an apple and not a cherry.
Still in use.



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Elliance recently worked with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) to brand and develop a new online magazine concept and design called ONS Voice.

The ONS digital magazine, partner to a monthly print edition, needed to accomplish several major objectives. As an inbound marketer, I was focused on:

  1. Effectively organizing and classifying years of existing content (while establishing a foundation for new content)
  2. Ensuring the site performs well in internal search, as well as in Google search

Addressing objective one:

To begin organizing content, I needed to first review existing articles/stories and place them into groups based on topics. Building these groups was no easy feat; not only was the volume of content I needed to classify massive (good work ONS!), but also cancer is a HUGE topic.

I needed to create a reasonably-sized list of groups, which would ultimately function as content topic “tags” within the content management system (in this case, Drupal 8). Building solid content relationships into a taxonomy was critical to…

Addressing objective two:

For related content to appear within the topic-based design we created in the ONS Voice site, each article, current and future, would need to be tagged.

I found that the task of tagging, which at first seemed simple, would present a few challenges. If there were too many tags in the taxonomy it could lead to a bad user experience because it was possible only one to two articles would appear under that tag. Conversely, if there were too few tags there would not be enough content filtration and a site visitor could be inundated with years’ worth of articles. The taxonomy that I created for ONS (based on keyword research and ranking potential) ended up at 142 unique tags to cover the entirety of the topic of cancer — from access to cancer care to U.S. Food and Drug Administration.Online magazine tags for SEO

By developing a solid internal taxonomy, the ONS Voice digital magazine will be better prepared for performing well in Google search. Not only did we create 142 topic pages (think 142 title tags, meta descriptions, h1s, alt tags, etc.) based on critical cancer subjects, we uncovered areas of ONS thought leadership. Focusing on these areas of expertise and bringing them to the forefront with optimized and categorized articles will provide higher visibility in search results, and added value to the oncology nursing community.

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As the standards bearer of advanced cancer care, the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) wanted to create a communications platform that positions them as the go-to thought leader in all matters concerning oncology nursing. To realize this goal, Elliance and ONS reinvented their online publication as an always-on, always-fresh news, views and advocacy engine, called ONS Voice.

The ONS Voice includes three key innovations: First, a proprietary tagging system was developed that automatically groups the most popular articles and advocacy issues into trending topics. Second, keywords were “baked” into all articles to elevate their rankings on Google. And finally, smart forms of advertising opportunities were created to make the magazine self-sustaining and drive revenue.

Association Magazine Website Design

This association magazine website design incorporates all the learnings and smarts of the Carnegie Mellon Today university magazine we had launched last year i.e. mobile-first simplicity, stories juiced by SEO keywords, deepening of the brand, and optimal integration of digital and print. However, we went a little further with ONS Voice in several ways:

1. We concurrently designed the print and digital versions of ONS Voice, mutually informing each other at every design step.
Association Magazine Print Design

2. While Carnegie Mellon Today online magazine was developed using open-source Umbraco, we developed ONS Voice with open-source Drupal 8 simply because Drupal is the choice of content management systems for ONS.

3. As a university magazine, Carnegie Mellon Today was advertising-free. As a trade association, trade advertising is the primary means of funding and sustaining the magazine. ONS Voice print and digital versions both support ads in various formats such as traditional banners, full page ads, sponsored content, advertorials, etc.

Over the next few weeks, several Elliance team members who collaboratively launched the project will write a series of blog posts that will reveal the thinking behind the strategy, design, interactive technology, and integrated advertising that now powers the ONS Voice.

To enjoy the online version of ONS Voice, please click here.

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That's Convenient.

As a Millennial, I have been fortunate enough to reap the benefits of the invent of the internet for basically my entire life. While I do know of a world without the internet, smart phones, and Jimmy Johns online ordering system, I recognize the value that these seemingly small conveniences add to my life.

Flashback to the fall of 1997. It’s an ordinary Monday morning and my mom’s getting me ready for my first day of Kindergarten. How will she know exactly what time it’s going to rain today? Will I need my rain boots for recess? Will she know what time to leave to beat the traffic and ensure that I’m not late for my very first day as a kindergartener? After all, Waze won’t be invented for nearly another decade! If we get a flat tire on the way to said school, how will she call for help without the Progressive roadside assistance app, let alone, a cell phone?

The truth is, she managed. And everything was fine…

We often take for granted the incredible conveniences that technology bestows on our lives — the apps that are dedicated to simply making our lives easier. Helping moms prepare their kindergarteners for Mother Nature’s afternoon plans and helping business teams like ours operate more efficiently.

This year, Elliance is embracing the small conveniences that design and project management apps can offer our processes. Introducing Basecamp, SlickPlan, Sketch and inVision has already improved our team’s internal effectiveness.

Like a new puppy, I am embracing each of these apps with open arms. Here are a few of my favorite conveniences:

  • Most of these apps are entirely web based. This means I can access them from anywhere I have an internet connection. Which is pretty much everywhere these days, except maybe Cherry Springs State Park, which has horrible cell service, btw.
  • They’ve thought about your clients too! Apps designed by people like us, for us means that they’ve thought about the same things we think about. How can this app that improves my workflow also benefit my clients? SlickPlan and inVision offer read-only options that are great for sharing with external audiences.
  • Low learning curve. These app are incredibly easy to use. I mastered most of them in a few days of use. Although Sketch, the most complex of the four, is still teaching me things after a couple months of use. It’s so easy, a caveman could do it.

Elliance offers a few products that may be able to provide your business some convenience too. Ask us about how our Ennect suite could improve your processes.

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In December of 2016, started testing a new article site design. One of their designers Jason Santa Maria tweeted their test page, along with a  blog post introducing the new design approach. The new layout was sleek and simple, but I was personally drawn towards the articles hero image and title.

The hero section refers to the top section of the page, usually with a large eye catching image and title. I wanted to talk about section and some of the smart design decisions that were made by Slate when thinking and designing ‘mobile first’. For publications like Slate, mobile traffic makes up a majority of their page views, so focusing on this experience is an obvious choice.

Traditionally, the standard hero image is usually wider than it is tall to match the aspect ratio of the desktop device. This ‘desktop first’ approach when scaled to a mobile screen size through responsive development yields a rather short image that once had a great impact on larger devices. This loss of visual impact is usually undesirable.

What Slate has done is to start with the mobile design,  find what ratio works best for the design on a smaller device, and then designs the desktop with that image ratio in mind.

On desktop, they are moving the articles title to the right of the image, avoiding other common issues such as the title being below the desktops ‘fold’ or text floating over the image in undesirable places (ie. over a subject’s face).

Not only does this design decision benefit the visual aesthetics of the mobile sizes, but because the desktop image does not need to be full width meaning that you can use a smaller image file.

The image of Stevie Wonder Slate is using is a 885 x 900px JPEG, in the traditional hero model that image would have to be roughly 1770 x 900px and potentially doubling the data needed to load the image. For a majority of site, the largest amount of asset downloaded by the visitor is usually the images, minimizing the largest of these images will greatly increase performance, which in turn will reduce bounce rates and increase user satisfaction.

This isn’t the perfect solution, or the only solution. Responsive image, css wizardry, and future compression scripts can all be a better solution for your particular project.  Slate’s layout shows that a slight design decision can not only solve visual constraints in this multi-device world, but can also improve the end user’s experience.

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