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J Guitars: How Fatherly Wisdom Planted the Seeds of Success

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In 2007, Jake Brnich was attending St. Joseph’s University, and he wasn’t too happy. He was a couple of years into a Bio major, studying for the medical field when he realized that his heart just wasn’t in it anymore. It was time for a change.

Now, Jake has his own successful business and couldn’t be happier. What does he do? Jake is a luthier. He builds and repairs guitars, and his business, J Guitars, based in the Philadelphia area, just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Jake sat down with Owners Magazine to share his journey and impart some wisdom to young entrepreneurs.

Tell us about J Guitars. What do you do?

Jake: In 2010, I started my own luthiery business in which I build my own original, electric and acoustic, guitars and basses from scratch by hand. I also offer top-quality repairs, modifications, restorations, and upgrades to almost all fretted instruments.

Did you always know you wanted to do this?

Jake: I didn’t always know that I wanted to do this. I credit my father for helping me find this craft. Long story short, I was a bio major at St. Joseph’s University while working full time in a Millwork shop. After a few years into the program, I realized that I wouldn’t be as happy as I would’ve liked in the medical field.

After discussing with my dad about where I was and where I wanted to be, he asked me a question I’ll never forget. “What would you do if you won the lottery, and the only catch was that you had to do the same thing every day for the rest of your life without money being the object?”

I took a couple of weeks to think about this as it caught me off-guard and came back to him with the answer, “I’d love to build guitars for professional guitar players.” His reply was, “So why don’t you go to school to learn how to do that?” That’s when the light bulb went off.

I never even considered that as a possibility and wasn’t even aware such a school existed. I immediately got on the computer, and after an extensive search, I decided to attend Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery out in Phoenix, AZ.  I graduated amongst the top in my class.

What inspired you to go into business for yourself? Why not just see who’s hiring?

My dad. He’s had his own construction company for over 25 years. He created his own business because it was most important to him to spend time with my family growing up. He told me he missed a couple of my tee ball games when I was young because of a salary job he used to have. He said that no amount of money was worth missing the time with us. He made it a point to show me by his example that you can create a balance between work and home. 

What is your experience blending your craftsmanship with customer service and working with public? Were they unexpected challenges working with the public?

When getting into the art of luthiery, I didn’t initially consider the “business” side of things. I am always striving to improve my approach as I age with this business. I learned pretty quickly that the most important part of my job is educating my customers and helping them make informed decisions that directly relate to their particular situation.

Every person I work with has a different style or feel for their instrument, and it’s my job to help them understand how and why their instruments should be set up a certain way to make them perform optimally for their style of play. 

How do you budget your time? Are you a strict office hours kind of guy?

I am very self-motivated and have no problem putting in the time it takes to get the work done. My job mostly consists of me being in my workshop. However, I spend some time behind a computer doing the normal business stuff.

I juggle many different tasks at the same time, so I have to designate certain times for certain tasks. I must compartmentalize large tasks to consistently make progress without becoming overwhelmed or stressed. Since the repairs that come into my shop are unpredictable, I create a schedule for myself to follow each week. Certain hours are designated for repairs, other times for custom building, and time allotted just for doing office work, and lastly, a time designated for deliveries. 

What’s the best part of your job?

Two things. As far as the instrument building goes, nothing is better than when I finally hand my customer their dream guitar and see the look of pure joy that follows. Regarding repairs, the best thing is when someone feels like there is no hope for their instrument to be revived, and then I get an opportunity to make it play better than it ever has for that person.

Instruments can be very sentimental. When an owner has mentally given up on that instrument, it can give them an entirely new outlook on their musical life to bring it back to proper rocking order. Some people truly feel heartbroken when an instrument is damaged, so it feels wonderful to help bring the instrument back to life for the person who appreciates it the most. 

Is there a particular “I made it” moment that stands out?

The “I made it” moment happened for me after moving into my first commercial location. I finally had enough custom instrument orders to start a waiting list and realized that I had over 75 repairs in my shop at the same time. This was all done by word of mouth only with absolutely no advertising. I realized I had created a good reputation for myself and my business. That was my first real goal, and I had achieved it after about 6 years of starting my business. 

Where would you like to see J Guitars in 5 or 10 years?

In a perfect world, it would be great to have such a demand for my own original instruments that I get to spend every day just building my own guitars. However, the older I get, the more I realize how simple is better for me.  I started J Guitars because I wanted to look forward to going to work every day. I didn’t start it to get the title of the best luthier in the world or to strike it rich. I’m rich with love and passion in my everyday life, and I found a rhythm that works for me. My business could remain unchanged for the rest of my life, and I would be perfectly content with that.

Many young entrepreneurs feel the pressure of creating something to a much grander scale than what’s actually necessary. You don’t need to build the biggest or best business in the world. You just need to be happy. I’m happy where I am. However, that doesn’t mean I will ever stop continuing to become better at what I do. 

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Interview Series

John Trogner Brews Beer with his Brother and You Don’t

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For many entrepreneurs, going into business for themselves is the dream on its own. Whether they are manufacturing widgets or running a storefront – the ‘what’ doesn’t matter. It’s the how. Calling the shots, controlling your fate, answering to no one. This is what attracts many self-starters. Being your own boss might be good enough for many, but what if … you could brew your own beer?

John Trogner and his brother Chris did just that. They are the founders of Tröegs Brewery, an independent brewing company in Hershey, PA. They can trace their beer’s story back to Boulder, Colorado – the unofficial nation’s capital of the microbrew. But it wouldn’t be long before the Trogner boys came back home to PA.

John spoke to Owner’s Mag about what many people call ‘the dream’: brewing beer with his brother.

How did Tröegs get its start? What made you want to get into brewing for yourselves?

John: After I graduated from college back in the early to mid-’90s, I was working in a high-rise in downtown Philly. It just so happens that the original Dock Street Brewery was on the first floor of my building. I’d go down after work and have these really interesting beers. I wasn’t sure exactly what they were, but I knew I liked them. There were other beers I was getting into, too, like Pete’s Wicked, Sierra Celebration, and Brooklyn Brown. At the same time, my brother Chris was out in Boulder, Colorado, and the beer scene was taking off out there. 

Chris eventually convinced me to join him in Colorado. Within a week, I got a job at the Oasis Brewpub by walking in and asking how I could help. It was trial-by-fire. I was cleaning tanks and learning everything I could, and because I showed up sober and on time, I was eventually promoted to brewer. The owner wasn’t paying much attention to the day-to-day operations and didn’t really care what we were brewing, so we just winged it and learned as we went. 

How would you describe the independent micro-brewing community?

John: It’s obviously grown a huge amount, and there are a lot of different ways to approach the business of beer these days. Speaking for Tröegs, we’ve always been focused on keeping the art and science of brewing first.

What is your experience blending your crafts with customer service and working with the public? 

John: There has to be trust between us and our customers. Our home state of PA has been pretty protectionist when it comes to beer. For a long time, you could only buy beer by the case – you couldn’t buy a 6-pack or a single. And if you buy 24 bottles of bad beer, you’re burned, and you don’t forget that. So if someone is willing to buy a case of your beer, you’ve earned their trust. Those people out there who always keep a case of Perpetual in their fridge, we never want to let them down. That’s why we’re so focused on quality, flavor, and stability.

What’s the best part of your job?

John: Giving back to our home state. We’re PA natives, and that’s a big part of our identity. Building a business here means so much to us on so many different levels — from the access to great agriculture, to the conservation work we’ve done with The Nature Conservancy, to the relationships we have with our longtime wholesale partners and fellow PA brewers, to collaborations like our locally made beer cheeses. Just this year, we’re committed to buying 50,000 pounds of local grain for Troegenator and another 100,000 for Field Study and LolliHop. We’re finally at the point where we can make a significant impact from an agricultural standpoint. And those roots keep stretching deeper and deeper. When we share those stories, our fans really connect to us and our beer and food. It paints a bigger picture and gives them a sense of pride. 

Is there a particular ‘we made it’ moment that stands out?

John: Not really. We’re always focused on continuous improvement, and that takes everything we’ve got. 

There are three beers that, looking back, were really an inflection point for Tröegs. For the first few years, Tröegs was surviving, but I wouldn’t say that we were thriving. One day, Chris said, “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to have fun doing it.” We shifted from brewing a few straightforward beer styles to trying some things that no one else was doing at the time. 

Over the next few years, we released Troegenator, Mad Elf and Nugget Nectar. Those beers really put us on the map and changed the destiny of Tröegs. 

Where would you like to see Tröegs in 10 years?

John: If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 25 years of business, it’s that we must perpetually evolve. It’s been our ability to pivot, try new things, and take risks that has kept us moving forward, and we have a great team in place to continue to do just that. 

There’s a Darwin quote we think about a lot: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” 

We’re constantly refreshing our lineup with new beers born from the strength of our Scratch Beer series and an ever-changing thirst for flavor and innovation. We brew around 100 new recipes a year, from old-world classics to the fringes of what’s new in ingredients, technique, and flavor.

We’re also investing in a new canning line and some sustainability benchmarks. It’s safe to say that we’re perpetually under construction. 

How did COVID impact your business? How did you work around it?

John: The initial lockdown required us to make dramatic changes to continue operating the production brewery and to deal with closing our retail business. We’re really proud of our co-workers for never missing a beat, sticking with us as we recalled the team, and embracing the new safety protocols required to keep everyone working. 

Early and often, we communicated with our wholesale and retail network to figure out what was happening in the market. And we focused on being a bright spot for our customers, offering consistent availability of our core beers as well as new releases and new flavors to try. 

We also believe customers care about companies who are doing good and are spending with a conscience more than ever before. We have kept up our charitable and community efforts and put a focus on helping out-of-work service industry workers and frontline hospitality workers. 

While draft (beer) has really dwindled for us, our positive trends with packaged beer indicate that many of our fans have stuck with us. But we are eager to see the safe return of bars and restaurants. 

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Design Pickle Vs Penji: Which Is The Best Unlimited Graphic Design Service? (w/Promo codes)

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Design Pickle vs Penji cover

Two names dominate the unlimited graphic design space – Penji and Design Pickle. Design Pickle vs Penji, which is the better service for you? We signed up for both companies and see who offers a better service, so you don’t have to.

Unlimited graphic design companies are a new breed of services that are gaining popularity in the last few years (see the complete list of unlimited graphic design companies). Their promise is simple, you pay a flat monthly rate and get unlimited design projects for the month.

No hiring, no HR, no interviews, and absolutely no managing on your part. Just submit the designs, and the company will find the best designer for you and take care of the rest. Sounds too good to be true? We did an in-depth review of Penji and Design Pickle (coming soon) to see if the promise is real, and the promise holds up.

Today, we’ll see which of these two unlimited graphic design service providers offer the best value for your money. For our comparison review, we’re going to be comparing these two companies based on the following criteria: Speed, Quality, Communications, Ease of use, and Value.

DESIGN PICKLE VS PENJI – QUICK SUMMARY

This is a rather long and extensive review. So if you don’t want to go through everything, here’s a quick 2-minute summary of everything.

  • We signed up for both Penji and Design Pickle’s $399 plan to see which company provided a better service and experience.
  • Pricing differences: Penji’s pricing included more design types. Design Pickle didn’t include Logos, complex infographics, and presentations.
  • Custom Illustrations: Included with Penji’s Team ($499) and Agency ($899) plan. Design Pickle charges $499 add-on on top of your existing plan.
  • Design quality test: Both companies received the same four projects with the same exact wording, attachments, etc.
  • Design Pickle won “Versus” blog Featured Image
  • Penji won Facebook Cover Image For Digital Pub, Print Magazine Cover Re-Design, and Content Infographic Re-Design.
  • Creativity & details: Penji’s designs were more creative and got the small details
  • Customer support: Design Pickle had more responsive support and online knowledgebase. Penji’s account manager was more responsive and proactively emailed us.
  • Turnaround: Both companies delivered 2-3 drafts within 24 hours. Revisions were also speedy. Design Pickle took 12 – 24 hours for revisions, while Penji usually turnaround revisions the same day.
  • Platform & Integrations: Both had intuitive and easy-to-use platforms. Design Pickle had more integrations. Penji’s slack integration was difficult to use and requires dev help.

Final verdict

Choosing between Design Pickle and Penji, the winner is Penji in several categories. Design Pickle did win in a few categories. However, Penji won in the major categories that mattered. Penji’s design quality, attention to detail, and creativeness tends to be superior.

Penji offers better value as covering more design categories. Penjis’ team also was more responsive and felt like working with people instead of processes and canned responses.

Design Pickle was excellent in terms of their processes and operations. However, that shows in the design output and communication. Everything felt more mechanical, robotic, and templated.

Penji promo code

If you want to give them a try, use this Penji promo code “OMDVP25” to get 25% off your 1st month. Full disclaimer, we receive a commission when you use the code.

Design Pickle’s promo code


DESIGN PICKLE VS PENJI FULL REVIEW

Although both companies offer the same services, their pricing model is very different. Design Pickle separates their plans into Pro and Standard. Standard starts at $399/month and you’ll be working with a Philippine designer for next-day turnaround.

Meanwhile, the $995 lets you work with the designer via Slack for real-time communication and same-day delivery. You also get advanced infographics, animated GIFS, and Powerpoint designs for the Pro plan.

Design Pickle's pricing table
(Pricing as of 4/2/2020. Picture edited to fit article. )

Penji’s pricing, on the other hand, has three tiers. Penji’s low plan is ironically called its “Pro” plan. At $399/mo it costs the same as Design Pickle’s Standard plan and appears to offer the same level of design service. Design Pickle offers Zapier integrations. Although Penji doesn’t offer Zapier integrations, they have an Invite feature that lets you add more than one user to the account. I personally find that very useful.

Penji's pricing table
(Pricing as of 4/2/2020. Picture edited to fit article)

For this review, we chose to sign up for the $399 Standard plan from Design Pickle vs $399 Pro plan from Penji. Here’s a chart to compare the two plans side by side.

DESIGN PICKLE VS PENJI $399 PLAN COMPARISON

The pricing page alone doesn’t tell the whole story. We want to know exactly what each plan offers and what you get in terms of design offerings for $399/month. After digging around their websites and asking their support chat, we uncovered more details each plan has to offer. Here’s a chart we made to showcase all of the hidden features and important benefits included with the $399 plan from each company.

Design Pickle vs Penji: Basic plan comparison chart

There’s a number of differences between the two Company’s offerings for their base $399 plans that you need to be aware of.

# Of Designers

This is how many designers you’ll be working with essentially. Design Pickle’s pricing plans indicate that you’ll be assigned to 1 designer and be working with just that designer. Meanwhile, Penji doesn’t assign you to any designer until you actually create a project. When you create a project, they will assign you to the best available designer for that type of project.

Penji’s support team told me they utilize this method of assigning to make sure we only work with designers who are actually good at the type of design we’re requesting. I’ll have to give a point to Penji for this one.

Logo Designs

Design Pickle explicitly stated that they only offer Logo design for their Pro plan ($995/m). It’s not explicitly stated on Penji’s pricing page, but their customer support confirmed logo design is included for all plans.

Illustrations

Neither company offers custom illustrations as a part of their $399 plan. However how they incorporate it is uniquely different. Penji packaged Custom Illustration in their Team ($499) and Agency ($899) plans.

Design Pickle doesn’t include Custom Illustration in their Pro plan ($995). To get Custom Illustrations, you will need to pay an extra $499 add-on every month that you need an illustrator.

Design Pickle vs Penji: Here’s what it will cost you to get custom illustrations with each company.

Penji: Team plan $499 / month (includes Custom Illustrations)

Design Pickle: Pro plan $399 + $499 Custom Illustration add-on = $898 / month

It costs quite a bit more to get custom illustration with Design Pickle. If you rarely need custom illustrations, this won’t be an issue. But if custom illustration is a big part of your design needs, you might need to look closely at this.

1. REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING

Design Pickle vs Penji’s registration process was both smooth and efficient. I didn’t feel either one asked too many questions or was complicated. Penji allows you to sign up for any plan you want right away. Meanwhile, Design Pickle only lets you sign up for the Standard plan. To register for the Pro ($995) plan, you need to schedule a demo

Design Pickle versus Penji’s Onboarding

After I signed up for their services, both led me straight into their online portal right away. I was able to create my first project almost immediately. I didn’t actually get a “Welcome” email with Design Pickle, which was strange, I figured they’d send me something. I did get a handful of emails, one of which was a brilliantly created video that showed me how to write a better project description. The video was quite long, but it was polished, well written, and hilarious. I love that about their company.

Penji was very conservative with their onboarding. I received an official “Welcome to Penji” email with essential information, which was nice. Then the next day I received an email from someone named Charmaine from their company. It wasn’t a templated or auto-responder email, it was my account manager emailing asking how I was doing. I liked that.

2. CREATING DESIGN PROJECTS

Now for the real question – who provides better quality designs? All the features, bells, and whistles are pointless if the company can’t turnaround quality designs for you.

We created three test projects and posted them to Penji and Design Pickle. To make sure everything was fair, all projects have the exact same description and attachments. We even went as far as giving them the same exact feedback on each of the drafts.

Here are the test projects:

  1. Facebook Cover Image For Digital Pub
  2. Print Magazine Cover Re-Design
  3. Content Infographic Re-Design
  4. “Versus” blog Featured Image

As a digital publication, we work with design agencies and freelancers to get our design work done. These projects are taken directly from our queue. We chose these projects specifically because they all require different skills to complete and will give us an idea of how versatile each company is.

3. TURNAROUND TIME

We submitted the four projects to both Penji and Design Pickle respectively. Both the drafts and revisions were quick by both companies.

Design Pickle

We received drafts for 2 out of 4 projects back the next day. This was very fast – much faster than any of the freelancers we’ve hired. One of the projects didn’t receive submissions because my designer had a question that needed a response, which was understandable.

Upon submitting revisions, I started to see delays. Even when I submitted simple revisions, it seems to always take 24 hours no matter how small or big the revisions were.

Penji

We received drafts for 3 out of the 4 projects back from Penji within 24 hours. Just as fast as Design Pickle. My designer also asked a question about one of the projects, but she skipped that one and worked on the 4th project instead of waiting for my response.

Revisions were usually done the same day. And I noticed that if my designer isn’t online, my account manager would assign another designer to quickly jump in and make the revisions.

Turnaround Winner…Penji

Design Pickle vs Penji in terms of turnaround time, Penji is the faster company. Both companies were fantastically speedy with delivery and I can’t say I was disappointed with either company. However, Penji was able to deliver fast revisions, especially simple ones much quicker. And that’s important because waiting 24 hours for a fix on a small grammatical error is frustrating.

4. DESIGN QUALITY

Now for the ultimate reveal. Design Pickle vs Penji, which company produced better quality design? See for yourself.

“Versus” blog Featured Image

Blog Graphics Comparison

View DP’s design | View Penji’s Design

This was a fairly simple blog graphic request. We write a lot of comparison articles and wanted a featured image that we can use as a template and swap out names of products or companies we’re comparing.

Design Pickle: My designer’s name was Arvin. It took us several revisions to get to the final product, and overall it’s very close to what I had envisioned. 8/10

Penji: My designer’s name was Kenny. It also took several revisions, however, I can’t say I was pleased with the final product. It felt like Kenny was just following literal instructions and nothing more after the 2nd revisions. I give this project 5/10.


Facebook Cover Image For Digital Pub

Design Pickle vs Penji Facebook Cover Design Comparison

View DP’s design | View Penji’s Design

One of our publishing partner Consumer’s Guide needed a new Facebook cover photo. This was a fairly simple design request, with the exception that you have to check out the website and understand what the company does in order to create a banner. I gave special instructions such as …use the Logo in the design and showcase what the publication does on the cover image.

Design Pickle: Given I was impressed with Arvin on the 1st project, I was thoroughly disappointed with this one. I don’t think the designer ever went to the website to review the publication at all. Just a glance would’ve helped. This looks like 6 random images from Pexel or Unsplash stitched together. 3/10

Penji: Rowell (a different designer) was assigned to this project, and it seemed like he took the time to review the website before designing. I didn’t even know, but apparently there was a new logo on the website that I wasn’t aware of. Rowell took the time to ask for the new logo. The end result was beautiful and our friends over at Consumer’s Guide loved it. 9/10


Print Magazine Cover Re-Design

Magazine Cover Comparison

View DP’s design | View Penji’s Design

By far one of the most important projects for us. We’re both a digital and a print publication and this spring we’re releasing another edition of Owner’s Mag. The designers are tasked to design the actual cover for Owner’s Mag second edition print magazine. All instructions, copy, and even past designs were given. The cover needed to look professional, refined, and most importantly highlight the Coronavirus Pandemic. I also asked for this to design in Photoshop.

Design Pickle: I was assigned to Alyssa randomly, and wasn’t sure why. The first draft was atrociously bad and she gave me Adobe Illustrator files instead of Photoshop like I had requested. Arvin (my main designer) was quickly re-assigned to fix the design. Several drafts later, it’s just nowhere near the level of polish and professionalism that we needed. I gave instructions to “Highlight the Coronavirus” section. My designer proceeded to make the texts CORONAVIRUS texts bigger. Quality rating: 3/10.

Penji: Billie was assigned to this project. The first several drafts were simply amazing. It was clear to me that Billie has designed plenty of magazine covers before as she knew where to place things and how to organize content blocks on a cover. It took a few revisions to be perfect, but I was happy from the beginning.

What I was most impressed with was how she clever highlighted the “Coronavirus” section. I was speechless at the final product. I showed the design to my editor and they couldn’t believe it didn’t come from one of the design agencies we hired. Of all the designs we submitted, the quality and level of creativity in this design far exceeded our expectations. And this is the design we will likely be going with for our print edition. Quality rating: 10/10


Content Infographic Re-Design

View DP’s design | View Penji’s Design

Infographics are some of the most challenging and difficult designs to get right. We’ve hired a lot of people to design infographics for us, and it’s hard to find someone good who understands how to design infographics. Infographics need to be entertaining to look at. And they also need to present statistics and numbers in a creative and meaningful way that’s easy to read and digest. We weren’t sure how either Design Pickle or Penji would fare in this. If anything, we expected both companies to do poorly.

Design Pickle: Arvin did follow instructions, however, there was no creativity in the design. It’s just left and right blocks of texts and icons. The icons were all of the different stylings, clearly from different designers on Freepik or another free resource site. And there’s just no creativity in this design. It looks boring, bland, and the numbers are just displayed. It’s hard looking at this design and imagining a lot of thought went into it.

I have to be fair and say that it’s not a bad design, but it’s not an infographic. Not even close. And this isn’t something we can use to publish for our audience. Design quality: 4/10

Penji: I was assigned another designer from the beginning, but requested for Billie given how impressive her Magazine cover design was. The result – absolutely breath-taking. The gradient is beautiful and easy to look at. Each item from 1 – 8 was organized and flow gracefully down the page.

Each icon makes sense with its content block. And the way the 55%, and 78% statistic was intelligent and meaningful. All of the content seems like they fit and flow together. This infographic design is on the same level of professionalism and detail that we’re used to from working with design agencies in our city. Design quality: 10/10

5. ATTENTION TO DETAILS

Both designers from Penji and Design Pickle were fantastic individuals to work with and we don’t have complaints with either Arvin or Billie. However, designers from Penji seem to pay more close attention to the details of the designs. In several designs, if you inspect closely, you can see how much attention Penji designers put into all the little details.

There was a lot of little errors from Design Pickle’s submission. The woman in the pink shirt icon is duplicated in two of the graphics. The 78% graphic didn’t make any sense and you can’t see the tiny icons inside of the icon.

The other thing that bothered us was the use of colors. The design on the left had poor color choices for the background colors. The light-blue is used twice, and they connect and bleed into each other (1 and 7). Penji’s design on the right had colors that complement one another and just overall looks more professional.

6. CREATIVITY

Creativity is a difficult thing to measure and ask for. It’s easy to tell your designer to “be creative” with the design, but it’s almost impossible to pinpoint. Creativity is one of those things where you just have to trust that your designer has.

My experience working with Design Pickle vs working with Penji was polarizing. Despite giving the same instructions and feedback word for word, the outcome was completely different. Design Pickle’s designers were great at following detailed instructions and almost too good to the point where they didn’t put in their own creativity.

For the Magazine cover design, I gave the following instructions

  • Have stock images of people moving and working in the background to show movement
  • Make Product Review and Exclusive sections stand out
  • The major headline is “Coronavirus Pandemic Explained”. Make this the most prominent element on the page

As you can see from the image above, the two designers both had a different creative vision for how to make the Coronavirus section stand out. To us, Penji’s vision was more creative and impactful.

ONLINE PLATFORM

Both Design Pickle and Penji have their own dedicated platform, which is both a good and a bad thing. We personally prefer if their designer just joins our platform and works with our team on Asana or Trello. But we understand their business model can’t allow for that kind of personalization.

Both platforms were super easy to use and I have very little complaints. They’re not complex platforms and are both seamless enough that you won’t need any complicated tutorials or share-screen walk-through to get the hang of.

I didn’t like how Design Pickle’s platform constantly tries to sell me their CEO’s content. The platform tries too hard to get me to click on links to his podcasts, webinars, etc. and I was more annoyed than appreciative.

Penji’s platform is cleaner, less bulky, and didn’t try to sell me anything. And that, I appreciated. I get that Design Pickle wants to get more clicks and signups for their CEO’s webinars, but there are better ways to do that.

INTEGRATIONS

One of the things I love about Design Pickle is its abundance of integrations thanks to Zapier. Although I haven’t used it myself, my co-workers swear by it and have used Zapier integrations with other software. I don’t know how their Slack integration works because we signed up for the Standard plan, but I have a feeling it’s not actually an integration, but more so someone joining our slack team and working with us. And that’s a great thing.

Penji didn’t have Zapier integration, instead, they have Slack Integration API. It was a bit complicated and required our developer to actually setup with our Slack. Definitely not user-friendly or intuitive. This point goes to Design Pickle.

COMMUNICATIONS

Communication is VERY important in graphic design. Both companies did an exceptional job communicating within all of the design projects. Despite not being able to meet or talk to any of the designers and having everything be done online, communication always felt responsive and tight with both companies.

The one thing I like about Penji was that my account manager was very active in communicating with me. I believe I also had an account manager for Design Pickle, but I can’t even remember their name since they rarely contacted me except when I wanted to cancel.

My account manager, Charmaine, emailed me right after I signed up and personally contacted me when she saw that I wasn’t happy with some of the revisions. That’s an extra layer of care that Penji gave that was missing from Design Pickle. And to me, it made a huge difference in my overall satisfaction.

CUSTOMER SUPPORT

Design Pickle vs Penji’s customer support. Both companies provided top-notch customer support and both were very responsive to my needs.

Design Pickle shined in two major areas when it comes to their support. They use Intercom for live chat and during most day-time hours someone was available to answer me. They also have a knowledge base where you can look up commonly asked questions, although I’m not sure how useful this would be since this is a service and not a complex SaaS software. Regardless, it was a nice thing to have just in case.

Penji’s customer support was also excellent as my account manager was a real person who constantly checks on my projects and contacts me proactively whenever there was an issue. I really liked the human element that Penji always seems to provide. The downside is that there’s no live chat. And whenever I needed help, the chat interface of Penji just sends an email out to my account manager.

Overall, both companies were great. Design Pickle responds faster and has more online help resources. Penji, on the other hand, has a very active account manager who proactively emails me.

OUR FINAL VERDICT

Choosing a winner is difficult as both companies are great in their own respective ways. Both have been around for several years, however, I believe Design Pickle has been around longer. Both provide a great experience and I can’t say I’m upset or disappointed with either service. But there are many areas where one outshines the other.

Design quality – Penji

Of the four projects, Design Pickle won 1/4. Penji won the remaining 3/4. The clear winner in terms of design quality goes to Penji. From our experience, the design quality, creativity, and attention to detail were better with Penji than with Design Pickle.

Turnaround time – Tie

Design Pickle vs Penji in turnaround is a complete tie. Both were exceptionally fast with their initial drafts and also revisions. Design Pickle lagged a bit and usually took 12 – 24 hours to complete revisions, but my designer turned around more drafts than Penji.

Penji even though turned over fewer initial drafts, the designs were higher quality and revisions were usually the same day. Both providers were incredibly fast by any standards, therefore we call this one a tie.

Attention to detail – Penji

Penji outright wins in this category. In just about every design submission we received, our designer from Penji seems to pay closer attention to the little details than their counterpart at Design Pickle.

Creativity – Penji

Design Pickle vs Penji’s creative output is actually a close one. Arvin from Design Pickle was great at the Versus blog graphics. It was so creative that we’re using it for this specific review. However, Arvin and the other designers assigned to me seemed to stumble at more complex projects such as the infographic and Magazine cover.

Penji designers tend to ask me more questions and submit more drafts for me to choose from. You can see from the designs above, submissions from Penji generally appear more refined, creative, and artistic.

Overall, Penji wins at the creative output.

The winner…

Design Pickle vs Penji – the winner has been decided. It’s Penji. Both companies are exceptional, however, we chose Penji for the following reasons:

  • Penji offered more value for the same price
  • Better quality design, attention to detail, and creativity
  • Felt like I was working with real people more than processes and automation

This certainly doesn’t mean that Design Pickle doesn’t have good designers. We acknowledge that luck could play a role. Perhaps Arvin from Design Pickle wasn’t the best pick for us. And perhaps we got paired with the best designer on Penji. Who knows. But factoring in multiple criteria and testing various types of design projects, we concluded that Penji gave us a better experience and proved to be a better value.

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Events

Otakon Welcomes Writers Roland Kelts And Frederik L. Schodt

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Frederik L Schodt Roland Kelts

Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese pop culture has invaded us, and writer, translator, and conference interpreter, Frederik L. Schodt have both joined as guests for Otakon 2017. Fans of the writers were thrilled for their appearance at the convention, as they share their most popular and influential works. Frederik writes exclusively on pop culture, technology, and history, while Roland is currently a 2017 Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University, where he is currently working on a new book. Both Frederik and Roland are devoted writers, with similarities in expressing Japanese culture in their writings.

While living in Tokyo and New York City, Roland writes for a variety of well-known publications that includes, “The New Yorker, Time,” “The New York Times,” “Harper’s Magazine,” “The Christian Science Monitor,” “Newsweek Japan,” “The Los Angeles Times,” “The Yomiuri” and “The Japan Times,” and is an authority on modern Japanese culture and media. His writings are spread throughout, though his recognition is from Japanese fans especially. Likewise, he is a frequent commentator on CNN, NPR, NHK, and the BBC. With additional lectures for TED Talks in Tokyo and The World Economic Forum in Tianjin, Roland is looking for various opportunities to share his work, in order to spread awareness to the Japanese culture.

Otakon is an annual celebration of Japanese and East Asian popular culture, with the title of holding in one of the largest gatherings of fans in the United States. In the celebration of anime, manga, video games, and especially music from the Far East, Otakon attracts like-minded fans. Created from devoted fans for fans, the staff is directed by an all-volunteer, unpaid staff. The conventions are solely for the purpose of celebrating and sharing Japanese and East Asian cultures.

Frederik is best known for his many works on manga that includes, “Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics” (1983), “Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga” (1996), and “The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution” (2007). He has won numerous awards for his talent in the past as a result. In 2009 especially, the emperor of Japan awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, for his success in introducing Japanese popular culture to North America. His most influential work gave recognition to both him and to what Japan has to offer.

As of recently in 2013, his book, “Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe: How an American Acrobat Introduced Circus to Japan—And Japan to the West,” won the Circus Historical Society’s Stuart Thayer Prize. Doing so, for the last three years, he has served on the executive committee of the Japan International Manga Award. Additionally, he is an active translator and has worked on much well-known manga series, as well as novels including Yoshiyuki Tomino’s “Mobile Suit Gundam” trilogy.

Frederik has been involved in spreading Japanese culture and will continue as he attends Otakon 2017. The convention holds determined fans who wish to express their culture with other similar people. In Otakon 2017, writers Roland Kelts and Frederik L. Schodt are invited to continue the tradition. All while cementing their writings and work to Japanese culture, the awareness can now be shared in North America.

Otakon will be continuing their gatherings next year on August 10-12 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington D.C. 

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