This site showcases the (mostly) digital work of Andrew DiFiore from both Virtual Arts Studios and answerYES Interactive as well as random thoughts and experimental projects too volatile to be contained anywhere else.

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    I recently launched the ecommerce site for start-up cookie company StaceyLu Confections based out of Weston, CT. They specialize in custom-made cookies for corporate and private events. I was hired to do logo design, website design and development (used osCommerce as the ecommerce platform), and to design a newsletter template for Constant Contact.

    In addition to the server-side stats I also enabled Google Analytics (you can never have too many metrics when it comes to tracking your return on investment). Along with this came server-side search engine optimization (SEO) which includes something relatively new, submitting XML sitemaps to Google (and others). I used the free sitemap generator for StaceyLu (for small shops the free version is more than adequate). The site has been live for a few weeks now so go buy a cookie already.

    Aside: when asked to do the newsletter design I decided to take the plunge and learn the special Constant Contact mark-up language for creating email templates. Already familiar with XML I didn’t have any problem getting up to speed and creating the first newsletter using my new StaceyLu template. Ahh, but here’s the rub, Constant Contact does NOT allow you to keep your custom template on their server so it would be available the next time around. To do this, you have to pay them $600! Given I did all the work, this felt like a crude bait and switch. A workaround is to upload the template code each time you compose a newsletter but this is not a practical thing to ask a client to do (who was taking over the task). Needless to say, I was a bit peeved. I ended up redoing the newsletter using one of Constant Contact’s built-in templates (not nearly as chic). Going to use MailChimp next time!

    {Ed. Note 12/19/06: I was interviewed by The Hour (Norwalk, CT) about my viral marketing campaigns and the StaceyLu website was pictured along with the article. Free publicity for StaceyLu but honestly not sure why the paper grabbed that picture, it has nothing to do with viral marketing. }

    {Ed. Note 3/30/10: StaceyLu is no longer a cookie company. The site is being converted into a blog about “personal growth” or something like that. It has been many years, often are the whims of start-up entrepreneurs. Still, it was interesting work at the time. }

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    Metro Business Systems (MBS) provides comprehensive IT services for wholesale computer hardware, procurement, network integration, and inventory management throughout the New York tri-sate area.

    MBS hired answerYES to redesign their brand identity, logo, business cards, brochure, and website. This included digital photography and writing fresh copy for both the company’s online and offline marketing materials.

    “We have had an amazingly positive response to our new website from old, new and potential customers. I am most impressed in the clear and concise manner in which our company’s services are featured. answerYES Interactive exceeded our expectations and as a result we will continue to utilize their creative services for all our online marketing and advertising needs in the future. It has been a pleasure working with them,” states Jeffrey LoRusso, Senior Vice President and Co-founder of Metro Business Systems.

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    I was recently interview for the Profits & Passions section of the Fairfield County Business Journal about my passion for puzzle making. Below is the article and you can download some free mazes here.

    Profits & Passions : Andrew DiFiore Jr.
    A Puzzling Phenomenon

    By David Toth

    Engaging the right and left side of his brain has been Andrew DiFiore Jr.’s focus for much of his work and leisure life. As a Web designer, he uses a visually creative approach to express his clients’ businesses on the Internet. As a creator of mazes and puzzles, he uses his analytical mind to keep people guessing at every turn of the pencil.

    Owner and creative head of Stamford-based answerYES Consulting, DiFiore works with freelance talent to provide clients with the photos, copy and designs necessary to create and implement an online marketing campaign.

    “We help define what a market might be for a customer and we build a marketing strategy and we have the collaterals necessary to build it.

    The collaterals might be viral marketing, e-mail campaigns or e-mail newsletters.

    After working for Internet provider Prodigy for seven years in the 1990s, followed by Thomson Media, where he created a system for taking classified ads online, DiFiore felt he was ready to strike out on his own. Partnering with Peter Johnson, another Thomson alumnus whose background is in marketing, the new company focused on combining solid marketing skills with the Internet medium.

    In his spare time, DiFiore designs photorealistic mazes that use a commonplace setting, such as a diner for the backdrop of a game. The goal of photorealistic design is to use software, such as Adobe Photoshop, to make an illustration look like a photo. In one of his drawings, a bowl of soup looks close to what you would see in the diner. Upon closer inspection, the gaps in the hardwood floor act as the conduits through which the maze can be navigated. “Anything with a pattern can be used for a maze,” said DiFiore, referring to a picture where the bathroom’s tiles contained the maze.

    Another maze, a pile of playing cards combines the maze with the challenge of finishing with the highest poker hand.

    The fascination with puzzles began as a kid, when he would wade through The New York Times magazine, to complete the mazes.

    “They would incorporate current events and cultural icons, like Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I like mazes because of the escapism. You’re sort of focused on getting out.”

    But far from relegating mazes to a rainy day, DiFiore uses them in his business as well. Keeping visitors hooked on a Web site is an online marketer’s goal and entertaining visitors with games, many of which get passed on from user to user, is one way to generate a captive audience. The official name given to marketing techniques that exploit pre-existing social networks is “viral marketing,” and DiFiore’s work capitalizes on the concept.

    Boston-based Dusty Brand, a clothing line, hired DiFiore to create a game that asks viewers to find the differences in two illustrations in an allotted time.

    “The goal is to create games that users could e-mail to one another and which would reinforce the company’s image.”

    The key is to provide consumers with a brand experience, one that is active and therefore more likely to stick.

    “With more passive strategies, like online video, people have fun, but they don’t remember the brand afterwards.”

    DiFiore created a game for a photographer’s business that challenges viewers to memorize an image and compare that image with a photo that differs from the original only in the slightest of details.

    The many years of creating games and puzzles have resulted in enough material for a book and DiFiore is in talks with game-book publisher Sterling. Though not in contract yet, he plans on publishing a book of mazes next year.

    “In that case, I will create my own viral campaign.”

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    Prison Communities International (PCI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to criminal justice issues. Founded by Katherine Vockins and Hans B. Hallundbaek as a bridge the gap between the public and the criminal justice system, addressing issues from capital punishment to rehabilitation through the arts. Please check out their new website to learn more.

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    Daedalus My Muse

    Early in my childhood I had a penchant for puzzles. All kinds of puzzles, from hidden pictures to cryptograms to crosswords (and had sudoku appeared in the Sunday paper back then, I probably would be a master by now).

    These were the days before (gasp!) video games; although I would eventually come to own an Atari 2600 and think Adventure was the coolest thing on earth. I suppose my passion for puzzles drove, in part at least, my career into graphic design and computer programming.

    Though I created all types of puzzles, by far my favorites were mazes. Not sure exactly why but I remember composing volumes of them.

    But alas, with the encroachment of other responsibilities such as school, work, and family, making mazes took a backseat.

    It would be 20 some odd years before I would pick up a pencil to sketch a maze again but in 2000 I did. This time though, I had an arsenal of multimedia tools at my command. For 3 months I banged out graphic and photorealistic mazes, sometimes doing 2 to 3 mazes a day.

    I submitted 4 of them to Games Magazine — effectively the only international publication dedicated to puzzles for grown ups. They accepted all of them and I was officially published by September of that year.

    A maze book is in the works but below are a few of the samples that I didn’t submit to Games. Solutions are included. They are in print ready PDFs (you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader).