In this week’s interview, we talk to the amazing Kristine Neil from Markon Brands. Kristine believes that world-class branding and technology should be available to every business, no matter the number of employees, years-in-business, or industry. That belief has fueled a career in design that has allowed her to work with hundreds of businesses across the country.
How did you get into the industry?
Like most designers, I didn’t necessarily embark on a direct path to a web design career from the start! Where I am now is a mash-up of all my past experiences, and I am lucky to have been able to shape my own job description as my interests and skills have evolved. In some way or another, I’ve worked in and around the intersection of technology, business strategy, communications, engineering and creativity for the past 20 years and for the past 5+ years have used those skills almost exclusively in the web design and development space which is where I feel like I was meant to end up.
Why do you work with Squarespace over other platforms?
My first experience with Squarespace was out of necessity. As an entrepreneur and small business owner myself, I needed a website. I needed it to look amazing, of course, and I didn’t have the patience or time to build it on Wordpress, which is what was de rigueur for the time. It didn’t take long to realize the power of Squarespace to allow other small (and not so small!) businesses to create an online presence in an accessible way. That first experience in building something for my own company turned into doing a few sites for some select clients, which snowballed into doing more and more web work. Markon Brands, the creative studio I own, now exclusively designs and develops on Squarespace for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small teams.
What makes your business unique?
At face value, we don’t do anything magical. There are lots of people who are experts in web design, Squarespace, development, strategy, etc. Where we are different is in our ability to tackle projects from both a creative and a business perspective — things have to look good, but they also have to make practical sense. Collectively, our team can cover both of those areas which can often have divergent or competing priorities. Clients are often surprised when we offer simple solutions to seemingly complex challenges. This may be because they have had poor past experiences with other designers who left them wanting more or with developers who made managing information unnecessarily complicated. Whatever the reason, what we hear most from clients is that working with us was a refreshing experience. (Best compliment ever, BTW!)
What services do you offer?
Most of our larger projects fall into two main categories: new web designs or website redesigns. Basically, you either already have a website or you don’t. We like both types of projects. Working with startups on a new site is exciting because it’s a blank slate and we can put some great foundational elements in place to help them succeed as they grow. Website redesigns are very rewarding both creatively and professionally as well. These clients typically come to us because something in their business isn’t working as it should and they’ve attributed the problem in some way to their website. What we discover in working with these clients is that there may be a systems or organizational problem that we can solve at the same time as we give their website an aesthetic facelift. It could be something as simple as helping route forms to the proper departments to reduce admin headaches or more technical solutions like streamlining the way online orders are handled and processed or how blogs are tagged and categorized to improve discoverability.
What work are you most proud of and why?
Markon Brands recently celebrated its 7th birthday which I think is a huge accomplishment! Sadly, most small businesses only last a couple of years so to be able to say we’ve made it over that hump is something to be very proud of. I attribute this success to our ability (and willingness!) to continuously evolve and adapt to changing market conditions. We are always learning and invest a lot of time on professional development and ongoing education, continually pushing ourselves professionally and creatively, so things don’t feel stagnant or boring.
What are your preferred industries to work with?
We don’t work in a specific niche. Our style and strategies can be adaptive to any type of content from service-based businesses to e-commerce experiences. We do work best with entrepreneurs/solopreneurs or with small dedicated teams like nonprofits since we tend to work very collaboratively with clients through our design and development process. We’ve found these clients more willing to push boundaries than larger organizations with many levels of bureaucracy to navigate.
What is one piece of advice you would give clients?
Find a designer or design team that you trust and then truly hand over the reins to them. We are students of our industry and work hard to stay on top of trends, changes, and challenges that the layperson just doesn’t have time to master. We call our process collaborative because we need the input and experience you have about your industry, but it’s not your job to come up with design or technical solutions to any perceived problems — that’s what you hired us to do!
What inspires you?
Personally, I am always inspired by travel, and I do my best to travel as often as possible even if it’s just getting away for the weekend to explore something new. Getting outside your comfort zone, seeing things from a different perspective, learning about other cultures — all of these things inspire my work and push me to help clients communicate better online.
What do you do to overcome creative blocks?
We’re lucky that our office is located in the heart of the city we’re based in so creative blocks are often overcome by walks around the neighborhood to get some fresh air or sometimes taking our laptops to one of the many local coffee shops to work with a change of scenery. Music also helps, and our office is always pumping with something, typically electronic, pop or hip hop.
What are you working on at the moment?
We have several open projects at the moment, and they are all pretty different from one another! Right now, we have new websites in the works for clients from California to Australia to Ireland to just down the street and in industries as diverse as travel, wedding, photography, real estate, and food.
Why did you join Sixty as an expert?
We love that Sixty loves Squarespace as much as we do and that they are building a place to connect pros and clients specifically for the platform. There is a focus on creating a positive experience for all parties involved that you often don’t see; on some other platforms either creative work is devalued, or customer service is lacking. Sixty has proven to take care of both sides. As professionals, we feel valued and respected, and clients are also reporting very positive experiences with the Sixty team and interface. Win-win!
What do you love most about On Demand sessions with Sixty?
What’s great about Squarespace as a platform is that clients do find most of it very intuitive and accessible, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed or not know exactly how to achieve what you want to do. It’s gratifying to be able to share some of my knowledge and expertise in training sessions or to be able to quickly fix a problem that a client’s been stuck on for a while. One of my favorite things is when clients start with “I know this isn’t possible on Squarespace but…” and then for me to be able to show them that it is! (It’s also fun to get to work with people all over the world every day!)
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’m excited to see how this industry continues to evolve and change over the next few years. There’s a lot about what we do as web designers that is affected by things like what social media platforms are popular, what devices people are using, how people are accessing information and the dreaded algorithm. In five years, I’ll still be working in this industry, but at the rate things are changing in tech and online I have no doubt that it could look and feel very different. What will stay the same is that business will still be about connecting humans with other humans so even if we’re using artificial intelligence to do the matchmaking it’s still all about relating to and connecting with others.
CONNECT WITH KRISTINE