• Home
Header

Website Usability Testing: Tips And Tricks From Experts

A website that isn’t usable is just a waste. For high performance, usability of the website plays a pivotal role. For new web designers, web developers, or even the website owners, it’s not easy to check whether a website stands good in terms of usability or not. It’s the job of experts, who know how to test the areas affecting usability and what path to follow for usability testing.

Website Usability Testing: Tips And Tricks From Experts

In this piece of writing, there will be in depth discussion on the things to be considered for usability testing, how to move for that, and what experts say about that. If you are serious to gain knowledge about usability testing, then read this post with care.

 

Usability Testing: What Areas To Consider?

The first part covers the areas to be considered for usability testing. It’s further divided into 4 sections:

  • Website Accessibility
  • Business Identity
  • Website Navigation
  • Website Content

Now, these 4 sections will be discussed in detail.

I. Website Accessibility

This section includes all the things that could affect the website accessibility by the site visitors. If these things neglected, the usability of a website becomes questionable.

The Load Time: Opt For Reasonable One

With the popularity of broadband internet connections, visitors expect websites to load quickly. They don’t want to wait for longer just to see what’s there on the website. 100KB is acceptable while 60KB is better one.

Text And Background: Make The Right Contrast

If you use all light colors in contrast on background and text, it may make your website elegant, but a burden on visitors’ eyes just to read your website text. Black text on white background is the most acceptable one, though old-fashioned.

Font Size And Spacing: Go For Legibility

People say different things on font sizes to be used on websites, but the most important thing is the readability by the end users. If the font sizes as well as the spacing used in the website content don’t support visitors’ easy readability, more are the chances of high site abandonment rate. Give more white space at the website to avoid making that a mess for the visitors.

Flash And Add-Ons: Use Cautiously

Flash may give your website a stunning look, but it increases the load time, which is disturbing for the site visitors. New technology is good to be used at a website, but limit that to the point when it’s needed the most. Standard HTML and CSS works well to appeal to the search engines.

Website Images: Alt Tags

Alt Tags aren’t just necessary for search engines to understand your website images, but also for the sight-impaired visitors. Don’t ignore this for the imagery used for the menu items.

404 Page: Customize That

Having a simple 404 page may help losing the site visitors. Customize that to guide your site visitors where to go.

II. Website Identity

Anyone coming to your website for the very first time might ask about you and your business identity. There should be answers as well as questions ready for such visitors. The answers of visitors’ initial queries lie in the lines below.

Company Logo: Requires Prominent Placing

A logo is identity of a business, so should be placed prominently at the website. The best place is upper left of a visitor’s screen.

Company Purpose: Use Taglines

While putting your company purpose in taglines, avoid jargons, and express your thing in just few words. It would not only appeal to the end users, but also good for search engine optimization. Make it sure that you are delivering your purpose clearly and there is no ambiguity.

Home Page: Deliver Idea In 5 Seconds’ Read

Website visitors don’t want to spend more time on home page just to get an idea what the business is all about. You have just 5 seconds to impress the visitors and make them browse other pages of your website.

Company Information: Make The Access Clear

Your prospects may want to know more about you. Focus the About Us page and don’t make that boring. Deliver the company information in a clear manner, avoiding any confusion. Make it easy for the users if they want to know about your business.

Contact Info: Make It Clear

If you want visitors to get converted into customers, you need to give them a clear path of contacting you. If a visitor couldn’t contact you with ease, he/she will surely switch to some other relevant website.

III. Website Navigation

After your visitors know more about your business, they need to move to the area of their interest. Here comes the role of smooth navigation in making the website visit a pleasant experience for the prospects. What things to consider for website navigation, particularly for enhanced website usability? Here are mentioned a few.

Main Navi-Menu: Easy To Identify

There is main menu on almost every website that appears on World Wide Web. If the navigation consists of two or above areas, make the distinction clearer.

Navi-Labels: Go For Conciseness

Don’t exaggerate things with fancy words; instead, follow conventions. Like, Contact Us is good enough to reveal you have contact information there instead of using some other long tail phrases.

Buttons, Links: Make The Count Reasonable

Buttons in the menu bar or links to other web pages should be in reasonable limit. Decide about the most needed menu items or you can place them in layers, if the need be. Think about how many pieces of information a visitor can process and pick the buttons and links accordingly.

Company Logo Link: Direct To Home Page

It’s a general perception that a logo is linked to the home page, so it should be like that. If the logo isn’t clickable, it may create confusion for the site visitors.

Website Links: Need Consistency And Easy Identification

To enhance the website usability, the website links should be easy to identify like underlined or blued. There should be consistency in using the links to avoid the content getting disrupted.

Site Search: Make The Content Access Easier

The website search is the most helpful tool to make a website highly usable. Place the search box prominently at your website; upper right corner of the web page is perfect one. Don’t complicate the button with fancy words, simple “Search” will do the magic. For an ecommerce website, you can use search extension to make the task hassle-free for the customers.

IV. Website Content

Content is king, the most common statement given in favor of quality content, enhancing the website usability. Pay attention to present the content in an organized and consistent manner.

Main Content Headings: Make The Description Clearer

Create the headings that are clear, SEO-friendly, and descriptive. Most of the times, visitors don’t read the whole content, but just headings to get an idea of the information presented at a website. This section couldn’t be ignored.

Important Content: Place That Above The Fold

What’s meant by “above the fold”? It’s the bottom line of the web page when seen at first without scrolling. Make it sure that the critically important content is placed above the fold. Know your targeted audience and the screen sizes they are using, then decide about the area that comes as “above the fold”.

Color And Web Styling: Show Consistency

A single attempt to confuse the website visitors with the inconsistency of colors and styles may cause losing them. There should be consistency in the layout as well.

Emphasizing Content: Move Cautiously

Not everything on a website needs emphasis. However, where it’s needed, use that. If you let the visitor pay attention to everything or many things at a time, he/she might not be attentive to anything. So, follow the rule of sparingly emphasizing the content.

Pop-Ups And Ads: Avoid Making Then Disturbing

Although, you need Ads to make your website full of life, but don’t make them overloading your site visitors. If the Ads are important to be placed on your website, make them “clear to understand” for the site visitors.

Web Copy: Make That Descriptive

Avoid using jargon in the web copy and make that explanatory of what you are and what you want to communicate. Use less word count to deliver your thoughts in a concise manner.

Website URLs: Make Them User Friendly And SEO Friendly

Both search engines and end users like URLs to be keyword-based, meaningful, and user friendly. Make then descriptive of what your business is all about.

HTML Page Titles: Make Them Unique And Explanatory

When visitors come at your website, it’s the page title that they see at first. So, don’t make them looking spammy with keyword stuffing. Focus descriptiveness and uniqueness of the HTML page titles.

Tips For Usability Testing

After looking at all the usability areas that need to be considered for testing, it’s time to talk about the tips needed for usability testing. Here are mentioned few points that you should pay attention to while becoming a usability testing professional.

Usability Testing: It Has No Specified Time

There is no right time for website usability testing. You can perform the process at whatever stage your website development is. You will come to know either perfect working of your website or about a possible disaster. Whatever the testing results would be, you can go the right way to correct them.

Test Regularly: Smaller Changes Are Easier To Make

If you keep on testing your website from usability perspective, it will be easier to make small incremental changes, than some bigger ones at some later stage.

Testing Ideas: Share Your Concerns

You might get bombarded by the testing ideas before actually starting the process. It’s good to share the concerns, but make it clear that testing is an on going process and it should be treated like that. Don’t be afraid to make little changes as and when needed as per testing performed by the experts.

Help For Testing: Use Maximum Resources

Everyone might have different experience of the web, so it’s a good approach to get as many views of the people about the website usability. You will come across a variety of issues that users might face and hence find the best solution to enhance the website usability.

Listening To People: Don’t Rely On Every Opinion

There are many people who might give you weird suggestions. They might not have in depth knowledge of the usability aspects. Better to listen to everyone, but don’t rely on each and every opinion coming your way.

Social Media: Use The Power

While hunting for usability testers, social media can offer great help. Go to Facebook and Twitter; you will get better feedback from the actual users of your website, and the opinions would be realistic as well.

Join Communities: Another Approach

Other than social media, you can also join communities over World Wide Web to get help from real time testers. There are many good names, dig out the best ones for you.

Analyzing Results: Implement Improvements

The usability testing isn’t just meant to test the website, but to implement the improvements on the basis of feedback obtained from the testers. Analyze the results of the testing and you will be in a better position to make any tweaks to your website for the purpose of enhanced website usability.

What Experts Say About Usability Testing?

After looking at the website usability checklists, the usability tips, now is the time to go for the experts’ words. Ecommerce experts look into the matter differently. As revenue is the main concern at any ecommerce website, so they take usability testing that way. Here are given some points that ecommerce experts suggest to consider while conducting usability testing for the optimized website performance.

Test For Every Little Change

Many website owners make changes to the design or the functionality of the website, but forget to test that. Experts say every single change at a website should be tested to measure the effectiveness from the end users’ perspective.

Test To Track Revenue

For ecommerce websites, revenue-based testing is the main measure used by the usability experts. The results are also considered in terms of average order per user, increased as a result of testing. So, it’s all about tracking the revenue of ecommerce websites through testing.

Ask About Customer Complaints

While testing, one important thing is to ask the top problems users face at your website. The results will reveal the issues that your website has and you can come to the conclusion how to resolve them and make your website a better place for prospects.

Try Out Real Users For Testing

Instead of asking the contacts, go to the streets and ask real users to perform several tasks on your website in front of you. Ask them relevant questions and inquire about the issues they have to face at your website. It might take time, but the feedback would be realistic for the desired level of website improvement.

Use Other Tools

Picking real time testers is a good approach, but you can couple that with other tools like heat maps, which provides a qualitative assessment of the latest happenings on your website. It tells about the mouse movements of the users, how they scroll, how they click, and many more related things. The results of the tool will help you in better optimizing your website on the basis of a wise hypothesis and well-drafted testing strategy.

Use Extensions

For ecommerce websites, there are lots of extensions available to make the website user friendly. You can pick the ones, suitable for your website, to enhance the user friendliness of your ecommerce store.

Conclusion

Website usability is the most important factor affecting the website performance. Usability testing needs serious attention of the website owners. Neglecting it means propelling the visitors away from a website and depriving a business from the possible profit. Usability testing experts can help in suggesting tweaks for a website so that it could appeal to the visitors and help them becoming the loyal customers of the business. What to consider for usability testing and where to go for that, the lines above have revealed in depth. It’s up to you whether you want to make your website search engine friendly as well as user friendly or make that a disaster by ignoring the usability testing. If you have a small website, and have know-how about usability testing, you can do so on your own, but if the website is a big ecommerce store, you need to hire experts for that. Make it sure that the testing is done by real-time testers and the results help your website becoming a big hit in your particular niche. After all, your website should be a home to the customers, and usability testing revolves around knowing the preferences of the customers.

A Look Into CSS Units: Pixels, EM, and Percentage

Unit takes an important role for measuring and building things like a house, a bridge or a tower, and building a website is not an exception. There are a number of methods of measurements used on the Web, specifically in CSS, namely Pixel, EM and Percentage.

In this post, we are going to run through these units to get further insight into these units of measurements.

PX

Pixel is a fixed unit measurement and the smallest unit on screen measurement but don’t confuse this with the Pixel that defines screen resolution. The Pixel in CSS has nothing to do with the screen resolution. When we try viewing a web page fixed at 1024px width say on a tablet with 1024px by 480px screen resolution, the web page will not fit in the screen.

I’ve been experiencing this issue in the past and found out that the Pixel in CSS is actually not a linear unit – it is in fact a radial measurement. Basically, the Pixel in CSS measures the length of the display area instead of the screen resolution, so the 1024px screen resolution does not mean that the screen is also 1024px of the length.

More On PX

I’m not an expert on the technicalities in this matter but if you know Trigonometry, and want to find out more, check out the following explanation from Sean B. Plamer: CSS px is an Angular Measurement.

Finding The Display Area

So, how do we find the actual display area of a device? Luckily, there is a handy special calculator to roughly estimate the display area in format of Pixel, CM to PX. We simply need the length of the device in cm and the PPI (Point Per Inch) / DPI (Dot Per Inch) which you can get these from the device box. With this, it turns out that the tablet I used is merely 953pxin length.

Pixels Font Size in Photoshop

When working on Photoshop, we will find that the font size is by default set to Pt (Points). The Pt unit is ideal for print styles. To not confuse this with px when we are translating it to Web documents, we can change the units from the following menu: Edit > Preferences > Units and Rulers.

There, you get a window option as shown in this screenshot below. Choose ‘pixels’ for the Type unit.

And, we have px for the font size.

EM

EM is a relative measurement. In CSS, EM refers to the multiplication of the default font size from the device or the document itself, that is why I personally word EM as EMphasize, but of course don’t take my word for it.

Here is an example; let’s say in a document, the font size is assigned for is 16px. 1em is equal to 16px, 2em is equal to 32px and so on. Although EM is traditionally used for font sizing and in fact it is the standard unit used in browser styles for measuring font size, we can also used EM to define an element’s length.

The only constraint when working with EM unit is it is not quite intuitive, but there are two practical ways we can handle this. First, we can use this calculator, PX to EM; it’s a handy calculator that I use often.

Another way is to set the document pixel base to 10px, so we can calculate it more easily; for instance setting 15px at 1.5em. Well, I hope you get the basic idea with this example.

Percentage

It is more straightforward with percentage, which measures relatively to the parent length. When the parent width is 800px then 50% would become 400px. In recent years, as Responsive Design starts becoming the web design standard, percentage unit is adapted more frequently in the wild.

Alright, let’s take a look at the following example; this code below defines .container and .main class selector with 60% for the width, but these classes refer to different parents thus they generate different lengths. The .container will take 60% of the browser viewport width, whilst the .main will take .container width as its direct parent.

  1. .container {
  2.     width: 60%;
  3.     margin: 100px auto;
  4.     background-color: #eaeaea;
  5.     padding: 1%;
  6.     height: 250px;
  7.     font-family: Arial;
  8.     text-align: center;
  9. }
  10. .main, .aside {
  11.     line-height: 253px;
  12. }
  13. .main {
  14.     width: 60%;
  15.     height: 100%;
  16.     float: left;
  17.     background-color: #ccc;
  18. }
  19. .aside {
  20.     width: 40%;
  21.     height: 100%;
  22.     background-color: #aaa;
  23.     float: left;
  24. }

Thus, it will give us the following nice result:

As percentage is also a relative unit, so it has a similar constraint like the EM unit as well. It is not obvious how much a percentage 15px is of 500px? This generally happens when we translate px unit from the design stage to web document in many cases. There are two ways we can take to this matter, either we do it traditionally with a calculator or if you are comfortable with using CSS Pre-processor, you can utilize the percentage() function from Sass.

Final Thought

There are many discussions on the best practices of using units in web design. But ideally the PX unit should be used when the properties generally need to be precise e.g. the border-radius and box-shadow horizontal or vertical offset, whilst for the EM unit as suggested by W3C is better used for font sizing. Percentage is the ideal unit to use on responsive layouts.

Why now is the right time to become a UX designer

In recent years, user experience design has become a popular topic in the web design community, with discussions focussing on successful examples of good UX design.

With regard to websites, the term covers all aspects of a user’s experience within a particular site. In other words, the visual layout, information architecture, usability, graphics, user interaction: everything. User interface design and HCI, or Human Computer Interaction are both included in UX.

UX design has its roots in the late 1940s as machines become both more complex and more prevalent in daily life, but it was in the 1990s that the concept of user experience design was named and popularized in relation to computer use.

It is a multi-disciplinary field, covering aspects of sociology, psychology, graphic and industrial design, and cognitive science.

 

A good time for UX

The main reason why now is a great time to be a user experience designer is because companies are putting an increasing emphasis upon it.

There is no better place to see the impact of good user experience approach than in your nearest Apple Store; every detail has been considered, and nothing is there by chance. If you have ever been in one of these stores, you will know that feeling that hits you as you walk in: you feel safe, you feel good. High quality technology surrounds you, help is on hand should you need it, and you can play with all these great devices that people talk about. You don’t even have to queue at a till to pay.

Strictly speaking this is retail experience design at work, but the principle is the same, as is the result. Who wouldn’t rather buy their computer from a lovely, glossy Apple Store than Wal-Mart or Best Buy?

To look at an example of successful UX design online, Amazon’s 1-Click Checkout process had a massive impact by increasing conversion rates. Users’ buying experience was improved and Amazon reaped the rewards.

Examples like these have pushed companies to hire, or at least consult, UX designers to help improve their customers’ experiences. Sometimes a complete overhaul is needed, sometimes it means working on the details.

User experience is about making sure your customers have the best experience possible when using your product, and that can mean offering something different, unique or even familiar and comforting depending on what’s appropriate.

 

Why now?

So why are companies investing more and more in this area now and not five years ago? The reason is simple: more and more companies are competing in the same markets and developing similar products, so they need an edge.

Let’s look at Apple again. Samsung, HTC and others developed smartphones which can compete the iPhone on various levels so Apple needed a means to stay ahead. They did so by concentrating on UX including the interface, the App and iTunes stores and their physical shops.

Customers start noticing the attention to detail. Having a good phone is nice, but customers have started demanding more. They want the experience of buying to be enjoyable, particularly when it comes to more expensive items.

There is another, also very simple reason why more and more companies are prepared to invest in UX: it works. Seeing others achieve success with good UX design makes companies willing to spend the money on making changes.

Larger firms have full-time UX designers, or even an entire department with a CXO (Chief Experience Officer), while smaller firms may be more likely to hire consultants as and when they are needed. Regardless of size, UX design becomes an important part of their branding strategy.

 

Solid UX means innovation

It is important to add that good UX design does not only mean happier customers, it often means bringing something new to the table, something that no one else has thought of. Amazon were the first to implement, and patent, a 1-Click checkout process. There was no simple mobile interface until the first iPhone was released. Tablets had been around for some time before Apple released the first iPad, but Apple created a reason to buy one.

The fact that Apple is one of the most innovative companies around, and is one of the best examples of good UX design is no coincidence. And the fact that some of the most popular UX concepts are from hugely successful companies is no coincidence either.

This shows how much difference attention to detail can make. The companies who invested in UX early are now enjoying the full benefit of their high risk, high reward approach.

 

How is this good for you?

You don’t have to be a genius to work this out: UX designers are in demand. Just a quick search for UX on any reputable job or feelancer site and you will get hundreds of relevant results. In fact most web design jobs on offer at the moment include the term UX somewhere in the description.

Another point to keep in mind is that the number of skills required is increasing, while team sizes are decreasing. This may at first appear to be a negative, but there is another way to look at it: In order to be a UX designer, you need to already be a graphic, web, or multimedia designer; you can’t start your career from scratch and become a UX designer in a day. You need broader experience in design in order to specialize in UX, which means that good UX designers have more than one skill. Luckily enough, job postings make it clear that designers with multiple skills are the ones in demand.

These days graphic designers are expected to be able to code at least a little, and web designers are expected to be able to handle backend development. The more skills you have the better your prospects are, and if you can add UX design to the list they get better again.

 

The bottom line

Demand is high at the moment but so is competition. Becoming a good UX designer is not the easy option, but it is rewarding. Because it is a field that encompasses several others, different projects will put emphasis on different skills. And those individual skills, such as coding or graphics, will always be useful in their own right.

If you haven’t already, perhaps it’s time to make a start. Try looking at the work in your own portfolio from a UX perspective. Consider the user experience for every piece of work you do from now on, and you’ll be on your way.

Creating a Website Business Model Successfully

The advent of websites has for sure lowered the entry level barrier for small and large enterprises alike. Having a website not only makes the firm look credible but improves their brand quotient too. Having a website is like having authority with you, which is another reason why you should have a website. However, with great power comes great responsibility and much greater planning.

A website for sure guarantees you the desired limelight, but you should have a business plan to establish that commendable website. This article will be about how an entrepreneur can create a website business model successfully and things that he should consider giving a thought.

The commercial landscape till date changes continuously and even the moment when we talk amongst each other, the business scenario is going through series of changes. These series of changes for sure have offered a world of possibilities to the entrepreneurs, who now find deploying a business plan faster and easier than ever. However, surviving in an era that is driven by technology and surrounded by cut throat competition, requires you as an entrepreneur to go places where nobody has invaded and try strategies that nobody has ever thought off till now. Above all, you have to be fast at whatever you implement because it might not take much time for your competitor to figure out what you’re up to these days.

Why you have to be fast? If you don’t, some other will and ultimately you will lose your limelight to someone else. The thing that I have noticed with the shift in technology trend is that technology today is conceived by people as a way of living and no longer is limited to mere gadgets. Moreover, to this point I will not be wrong in my opinion of today’s market as technology driven instead of gadget driven.

More or less, you will be glad to know that today we have brand advocates too, who are actually the customers who are ready to be loyal to your brand. An entrepreneur has to work in accordance to his people’s expectations so that he is able to establish a positive brand image and is able to promote his brand to a wider level of audience.

Often I have clients asking me about the perfect time to start creating a website business plan. My answer to them depends a lot on their strategy as some would advise them to go for it if they are ready with everything. However, my advice to them is to contact an expert if they have some idea (If not the complete thing), which needs to be nurtured fruitfully.

Let’s discuss about creating a proper website business model, things that an entrepreneur should keep in mind and how far the method of web business plan creation has changed with time.

To start with,

How Normally a Business Plan is Made?

Let’s go through the outline of a normal business plan preparation:

1. Research and analysis

This stage is concerned with establishment of a strong business plan, which is backed with enough research and analysis of the market you wish to target. I would suggest an entrepreneur to spend enough time in the first stage itself so that he/she can gather enough information necessary to proceed to the next stage.

2. Document your research and findings

Now, whatever research you have compiled till now, it’s time to give meaning to them. You might have several people other than you associated with your web business vision, which is why a well documented information is the best way of making them understand ‘where you are?’ and ‘where you wish to be?’. Divide info under sections, present verifiable data, use stats but not excessive numbers and you are ready to overwhelm the board members.

3. Here comes the SWOT and Team

Present what you consider as strength, weakness, opportunity and threat to the members. The documentation should also include the authority-responsibility model, which mentions the team you wish to have on-board. In short, you’ll have to address and define all the necessary management functions through documentation.

4. Here comes the money $

This stage will include predictions about money and also the information on money/capital at stake. The information can be divided annually or semi-annually depending on the specification of your partners.

If you’d ask me, here are my tips:

  • Don’t save paper by short presentations!
  • Nobody cares how creative you are in your presentations
  • Nobody wants an optimistic, be a Realistic!
  • Go slow on facts…why? Nobody has the time to read your mathematical bible

Being a Web Consultant by profession, I have had the honor of going through many prestigious business conversations and profit planning. I hereby use by experience and knowledge to pen down the secret to a perfect website plan.

Here’s How a Website Business Plan Should Be Crafted

Before you hit the road, know where you’re headed!

I believe your business or website plan is not ready till the moment you are not able to define your goal or objectives clearly. If you yourself are confused about your business goals, then how do you expect a service provider to help you out? You should be able to define your website motive to a consultant in few words, which will make things easier for him. If you are not able to do so, then it means you are confused, clueless or clueless and confused both at the same time. Your objectives should be definable in clear words and should cover the following:

  • Whom do you sell or target?
  • How do you plan to reach them?
  • What makes you different?
  • How will the difference be conveyed?
  • Why one should trust you?

The answer to these questions will act as the pedestal to your website business model.

No commitment….No success!

After defining the outlines of your website business plan, it’s time to make commitments! Commitments never allow you to slow down in middle of your journey, much like a ‘Timeout’. I believe the wolf climbing the hill has a better chance of winning than a wolf which is already uphill…why? Simple, it’s the hunger that gets you going in tough times.

Fake commitments or half-hearted efforts towards your website dreams will impact the productivity somewhere down the time lane.

When it comes to websites…Go Professional!

That’s right! Web technologies and internet concepts are something that not everyone can master. There are times when you have to call the shots immediately and this is when a Web Consultant comes into the scene. Business website ideas need diversity and deepness, which needs experience and natural expertise of a web specialist. A professional pushes your rough ideas to perfection with ease and sometimes we need a professional to motivate and guide us with his experience and knowledge.

For instance, you might be a marketing genius but web technicality is something which is beyond marketing and seeking professional guidance for that will be a safer bet.

Business success depends on employees

Irrespective of the business stage you are in, whether a start-up or an established firm, your success is dependent upon your workforce. In other words, the life of your web business model depends on names like designers, programmers, developers. etc. This is where money matters because if you are hiring resources at cheap prices with no growth opportunities bestowed upon them may doom your plans in the long run.

Let’s face it! We’re in a complex world wherein survival is a question and amidst such market fluctuations how can one expect loyalty at a cheap price? Sadly, in the end you’ll be the only one remaining on deck to drown!

Run after passion…not money!

With passion comes perfection…this has always been my philosophy! Those who have money expectations riding high behind their business idea are very less likely to succeed. On the otherhand, if you have a dream to excel above others then you will automatically start investing time and effort to make it come alive. The secret behind such hard work and endless dedication is pure passion and of course money will follow automatically.

Chasing money is like chasing a lifeless dream, which will somehow perish in the end. Not only money minded ideas lack enthusiasm, but they lack hard working hands too as you are left with desperations and no zeal to put brilliant effort.

Hold your opinion but acknowledge other’s too

If you are passionate about your web business model, you are likely to have opinions that are backed by enough research and stats. Hold your opinion high because prior to others it is you who should have faith in your findings. However, you’ll find it hard to believe that there are smart individuals around you too and they might have better and reasonable opinions. Having an opinion is like doing probability of a given situation from n’ number of angles, but being human we are prone to errors and misses. There might be an angle that you might have missed and apparently clicked to the other person at the same time.

If your PHP expert is warning about a particular technology being obsolete, take your time to swallow the hard fact and then take an intelligent decision. In this way you not only value others around you but avoid slipshod decisions too. Contrary to what I said, if you feel the input received from the other end is off beam then instead of pointing that out, simply say, “Thanks a ton for the contribution and I will for sure consider the same in future”

The statement not only values the contribution but at the same time but avoids ego clashes too!

Finally… the Exit Strategy

We have discussed a lot about getting things started and how to finish off with things should also be covered, as web my friend is a spontaneous space. Every businessperson looks forward to maximize the value of his business before attracting investors in the market. The exit strategy may vary depending on the long term goals as many consider sticking to what they believe the only business in their knowledge, while some prefer improving the brand market value and then passing the same to their investors at a better price. Defining these long term objectives in advance will assist you in defining a ‘Market Exit Strategy’, smoothen the future business operations and clearing up your business goals too.

I believe these are the major things that as an entrepreneur you should be keeping in your mind while you are working on your next big thing! A good website business model is more of a well planned foundation that leads to a better business, which is why in order to develop a good foundation you need to have self belief and passion. If you have even a slight doubt in your capabilities then sadly, you’ve already killed your web business dream!

5 questions you must ask at the start of every project

Most my clients are focussed on print, so I was super stoked to get my first web design client in a long while.

I had some techniques in mind that I wanted to try out. During the initial client meeting, my mind was racing with ideas on how I wanted the site to look and how it was going to be so much better than what they previously had.

After the meeting, I gathered fonts and pictures I felt worked best with the theme I chose. I informed my clients and my team that I was going to present some mock-ups of the design soon and we would move on from there. I was confident in my design skills and the client seemed to be pretty easy going, so I figured this would be a piece of cake.

Well…I was wrong. I ended up making tons of revisions. The client disliked almost everything I did and we actually ended up parting ways because it seemed we had passed the point of no return.

I had failed. Does this sound familiar?

 

What I know now

I was too eager. I was too impatient and I was too caught up in how I wanted the site to look. It was all about me, what I wanted and what I saw. I didn’t think about functionality nor did I think about the purpose of this site. I wasn’t concerned about the brand and I was barely concerned about the client. I just wanted to make something pretty. Period.

Today, I realize where I went wrong and I try to make up for it with every one of my projects. All my ideals had to shift. And once they did, designing came much easier for me and clients became a lot more satisfied with my work. My referrals increased and in turn my prices increased. Why? Because there were at least 5 questions I asked before starting a project or even accepting a client.

Here are those 5 questions:

 

1. What are your goals?

This is probably the most important question when discussing projects with clients. It’s not about the design or the color scheme and such, it’s about getting to know the company. You want to understand why they went into business and even how they went in business. A deeper connection with your client and with the company make it so much easier to understand what they like and what will fit for them.

At one point, I had a client that was a social media agency — they enjoyed developing strategies for social media campaigns and ways to get social in general. In getting to know them better, I came to understand things, such as, they were interested in doing business with creative businesses rather than corporate ones. I also found out their goals were to create organic connections between businesses and their customers rather than high tech digital ones. I also found out they had a personal affinity for circles, so this became a motif in the creative work. This allowed me to create pieces for them that reflected these goals and likes.

Understanding your client is essential. You do this by listening. Don’t tell your client about what you want to do and what they need to do, but let your client tell you what they have a desire to do. This is often the difference between work that creates conversions and work that just takes up space. You firstly want to make sure the goals of your client are consistent with the goals of the design.

 

2. How do you want to be perceived?

Along the same lines of knowing the purposes and goals, you want to know and understand how a client wants to be perceived. This is easily and obviously the second most important thing to discuss with a client. Simply find out what your client wants their customers to think about them. This is how we begin to go deeper.

What do you think about when you ponder your favorite businesses and companies? I guarantee you that whatever pops up in your mind is not there by accident. You feel that way about them because someone took the time out to design projects and messages that helped reflect that idea.

Here is where it’s especially important to listen to your client because our own common perceptions may not be what the client wants. To use my previous social media agency example, it’s easy to immediately perceive them as a high tech, digital agency, but actually they wanted to be perceived as creative. A client such a frozen yogurt shop may not want to be seen as a family fun spot, but as a premium yogurt cafe with flavor palettes for adults. Wouldn’t you design the two differently?

The idea is to approach your client as if you’ve never heard of their business or what they do before. You want to be a blank canvas with a picture painted by them and only them.

 

3. Who’s your ideal customer?

I’ve always been the type of person who likes things explained to me as simply as possible. I believe in simplicity in all aspects of life, including in design and in business. Because of that, I believe in niches and simplifying my customer. I’ll often ask my clients to do this by creating one person and telling me how and why that one person is an ideal customer.

This is typically different for many clients because they’re so used to thinking about large groups of people and how to attract them. However, when we focus on one person, we begin to really breakdown how this person thinks, where this person goes and it becomes easier to figure out how to influence this person.

Telling me your target market is men, aged 18 to 35 who like fashion and music is totally different than saying your ideal customer is a guy that hangs out at open mics and museums, is a college graduate and/or young professional who values his health. We became a ton more specific and are immediately aware of some motifs, jargon and other brands that may influence him. And the more specific, the better!

Nailing this part down makes the next part so much easier. This is the first step in figuring out how to create influential connections.

 

4. How do you want to emotionally connect to your customers?

This question should take all your previous answers and turn them into something wonderful. This is essentially why you’ve asked all the questions. You need to understand how your client wants to connect emotionally with their customer. It should be consistent with the goals, the ideal customer and the desired perception of the company and product. How do you now design to connect?

My social media agency, isn’t going to want design work that appeals to a stuffy, rigid business because they value creative businesses. They aren’t going to want to use hardcore persuasive techniques in their design, because they value organic connections and relationships. All these things have to be evident in your design work. You certainly can’t just pick one thing to design and not the rest.

We all know that good design helps create emotion. This is how you get to that point; by combining everything you’ve heard up to this point and putting it all together. Of course you want to make something beautiful, but remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder is going to be your client’s customer…so what’s beautiful to them?

 

5. How do you want the design to influence your customers?

This is really just a qualifying question that you can phrase any way you want, and put wherever you want in this sequence of questions. The ideal answer is that your client says something about good design creating value and connections and things of that nature. The ultimate idea is to make sure the client understands the value of design beyond making something look pretty.

You don’t want to ask these questions and create something effective and meaningful that your client can’t necessarily comprehend. You don’t want to waste your time.

I typically treat this question as a meeting of the minds as well. If we’re on the same page, then great! Let’s commence with the designing. But if not, I have to determine whether or not I want to educate my client and hope they see the light, or I have to see if we should just part ways. Either is fine, but again, the purpose is to make sure this project is worthwhile for both parties.

 

Conclusion

We touched on it earlier, but asking these questions is really a chance for you to listen. As a designer, you’ll have plenty of time to talk and influence your client as a project is being completed. You need to be able to connect the dots between a client, their offering and their customer. Consistency and simplicity is key in this task and listening is imperative.

These questions also help build a line of communication between yourself and the client. This is also important to a well developed and thought out project because after all, teamwork makes the dream work. Keep an open mind and ear and watch your designs come out amazing and effective.

How to speed up responsive websites

Responsive web design is the buzzword of the decade already, and is ideal for the multi-screen connected world that we live in. However, the trade-off for this is in performance due to larger file sizes.

This has prompted some experts to say that, like the early days of Flash, responsive design is something that we could all be getting excited about for no good reason. However, while at the moment there are performance issues, these can be overcome to some extent with some small adjustments, compression and image resizing.

 

Why responsive design can perform slowly

Responsive design loads all of the same HTML elements for every device, including those intended for tablet and desktop delivery. This means that all content is often delivered, including images and scripts, no matter what device it’s being viewed on.

A study carried out last year showed that 86% of responsive sites currently online deliver a full desktop page to mobile devices. This is clearly a trend to the design technique that needs addressing, if we are to stop the progress of bloated web pages in its tracks.

At the moment responsive design is pushing up page sizes and this is the trend that needs to be addressed, especially when you consider that 57% of mobile users will leave if the site doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

 

How can performance be improved?

For those who already have a design in place and are wanting to now optimize, Mobitest can be used to measure performance in order to go on and address it. Of course, when planning out a design, optimization will be simpler to carry out at this stage and performance should always be considered an essential part of design, rather than an afterthought.

In order to improve performance, the size of the pages and resources loaded with it needs to be reduced. This can be carried out using various techniques, without seriously altering the look and feel of the site.

The first thing to consider is how to ensure that only the resources which are needed are sent to the target device. This can be done by minimizing the number of HTTP requests, so that the user spends less time waiting for the DOM to load. This can in turn be done by compressing CSS and Javascript resources, for which tools such as Compass — an open source CSS authoring framework — can be used. This allows developers to create cleaner markup and create sprites and extensions with minimal fuss.

With regards to JavaScript, tools such as UglifyJS can be used, which compresses code.

Conditional loading

This can be considered an important technique when it comes to responsive design, as it can be used to make sure that mobile and smartphone users don’t download the aspects of the site that slow it up, or that they won’t use.

Conditional loading can be used to stop all kinds of content from loading, including social widgets, images, maps and plenty more. It’s important to note at this point that the site should be thoroughly tested at each stage of optimization so that it’s easy to see what has made a difference as you go along.

Images

We all know that images are usually responsible for taking up the largest amount of kilobytes in a web page. It’s also safe to say that images which are designed for a desktop browser are going to underperform when delivered to a mobile device.

If a site also has a lot of legacy content, then this is going to affect performance even more and some way to prevent this content from loading needs to be implemented. While this can be done by altering the markup by changing the src or img elements, the PHP solution Adaptive Images is probably easier. The software detects screen size and automatically creates, caches and delivers the appropriate scaled down embedded HTML images, without the need for changing the markup. To be used in conjunction with Fluid Image techniques, it’s a handy solution and one that will save a lot of time. Adaptive Images uses one htaccess file, one php file and a single line of Javascript in order to determine the screen size of visitors to the site.

Text

It’s worth thinking about text too, as this will wrap naturally when the device is narrowed and could cause display issues. FitText is a tool that can help address this, a jQuery plugin which auto-updates font size, with options for the minimum and maximum sizes that will be allowed.

This is ideal for headlines that may be displayed badly on a mobile device and allows the CSS3 specified font size to be ignored. However, FitText is only intended for headlines and shouldn’t be used within paragraph text.

 

Why choose to design responsively?

Whilst responsive design has its problems, much like any relatively new technology or technique, it’s still worth choosing to build a site in this way. Nobody wants to go backwards and while it may be easier to build a mobile website, it’s much better to be as innovative as possible.

Google agrees, their advice is to use responsive design as the best way to design for mobile. Of course to the search giants, this means that they only have one URL to crawl, rather than numerous URLs for what’s essentially the same site, so it’s in their interests really.

However, in this time of social sharing mania it also makes sense, as mobile users may share a page with someone using a desktop. In order to create a uniform experience, this should deliver the same content.

Further to that, having a responsive site improves productivity in the workforce as there is essentially a lot less to do. This applies to content, updates and SEO, as this will need to be carried out separately if different sites are built.

The figures

Mobile devices and tablets are becoming the norm for connecting to the internet and surfing in this, almost, post-PC era. Tablet sales worldwide have soared in just a year, more than doubling in that time and with many consumers now choosing different devices running Android, as well as iOS.

There’s little doubt that so far responsive design is having a positive impact, despite performance worries. According to one report, which asked some of the world’s top brands how having a responsive site had affected traffic, visits across all devices were up considerably.

This included an average increase of 23% by mobile visitors, as well as a lowered bounce rate of 26%, with visitors spending around 7.5% more time on the sites than was previously seen.

O’Neill, the trendy surf clothing retailer, report a conversion rate that is 65.7% higher on iPad and iPhone as a result of developing a responsive site. This accounted for a 101.2% revenue growth on these devices alone.

With regard to Android devices, the conversion rate was even better, at a whopping 407.3%, accounting for a huge revenue growth of 591.4%. A smaller conversion rate was seen on non-mobile devices, although growth was still seen.

This is just one of the brands that release their figures and it’s quite difficult to get the data from others right now, much as it was with the impact of social media a couple of years ago. However, it goes some way to proving that the returns from designing a responsive website can be substantial.

Bearing that in mind, what further reason does any designer need to start designing responsively for their clients and trying to ensure that they perform as well as they possibly can? There isn’t one, and those designers who don’t want to go to the trouble of learning how to design, build and optimize a site using responsive techniques may find themselves left in the dust.

67% of users say they have purchased via a mobile site and it’s thought that mobile internet usage will overtake that of desktop by next year. Bearing all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why businesses will become more and more interested in the best mobile web solutions that they can offer.

Responsive design may still be in its infancy at the moment but it seems clear that market demand will make it grow up quickly, so it’s worthwhile learning as many aspects to the discipline as possible now.

Essentials For Creating A User-Friendly Interface

When people download an app, they usually look for things such as design, functionality, and efficiency. These fine qualities are never more present than in the app’s interface. You can create an app that is artfully designed and visually stunning, but if no one can figure out to how to move beyond the home screen, it’s not going to sell well. No matter how flashy an app looks, what most people want is an app that does exactly what they need it to do.

Essentials For Creating A User-Friendly Interface

At the same time, consumers enjoy things that are easy on their eyes. Little navigation tricks might actually create interest for your app. And in an increasingly crowded marketplace, your app needs all the help it can get.

 

What you need is an app that stands out from the crowd while keeping the interface user-friendly. Probably sounds like a big job, right?

A great app isn’t something you can just slap together overnight, but if you follow these basic instruction and take the time to develop quality, you can create a UI that’s the complete package: as eye-catching as it is user-friendly.

Rule Number One: Consistency Is King

When you’re developing your interface, the most important thing to always keep in mind is that the UI needs to be consistent. That means consistency between pages, functions and options throughout the interface.

Why is this so important? Because it gives your UI an easy-to-use and intuitive feel, even if it’s a somewhat complicated app. Without consistency, users will become frustrated with the UI and likely just give up on it completely.

Creating A User-Friendly Interface
If your UI isn’t friendly, average users won’t want to use it.

Remember, most users don’t have the patience to deal with apps that don’t perform the way they want them to, and you won’t get a second shot to impress them.

Another thing to consider is your general color scheme and layout. While it might seem like a small detail, and not one that will affect functionality, having a consistent appearance will make your app feel more cohesive on the user end, which really does matter.

Take User Error Into Account

A user-friendly UI takes the fact that users will make mistakes from time to time when using the app. In many cases, users just hit the wrong button.

This isn’t a big deal for most users—if they can easily undo the mistake they just made. That means there needs to be an obvious, immediate way for users to undo something that they just did and get back to using the app the right way.

Many apps, including Google Docs, display a link that allows you to undo your last action. In many cases that can work very well. For simpler apps, a back button at the top of the interface may be all that’s necessary, but this should generally be reserved for apps that display information without allowing for editing.

Keyboard Shortcuts Are Essential

If your app is web-based, you might consider including common keyboard shortcuts. Not every single user that comes across your UI is going to want to use them, but there are many users that will be frustrated if they can’t take advantage of something they’re used to using, or be pleasantly surprised by their inclusion. Try to include the most common keyboard shortcuts and ones that will make the UI more functional for users that want to take the time to learn the shortcuts.

When it comes to picking keys and naming keyboard shortcuts, just be logical. The more logical the shortcuts are the more likely people will remember this, which will increase user satisfaction.

Make Changes and New Content Immediately Visible

One of the things many developers don’t do when they first start out is to make sure that users know about changes that just took place within the app. In many cases, this is done by simply highlighting the change when it occurs. Other UI creators use icons to indicate when new content has been added.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure changes – ones made by the user and the app – are immediately noticeable. Otherwise you might end up with some frustrated users.

Make the UI Familiar

When you think about pasting a piece of text or a photo in app, which icon comes to mind? For most of us, it’s a clipboard. That’s a familiar symbol for the paste function.

To that end, it’s important that you use standard symbols for things everybody understands and knows already if your app offers these features. A glue-stick looking tool might seem fun for the paste function, but it’s going to bug users that are looking around for a clipboard and not finding one.

If you want to make your app fun and unique, that’s fine. Replacing standard symbols is not the way to do it.

Make Your UI Customizable

Many UI’s allow users to make the app easier for them to use. Some UI’s allow you to change colors or upload unique graphics all of your own, while others allow custom page templates and allow users to change the way they view the app.

Whether or not these ideas are functional in your app are up to you. However, including some form of customization—some way users can make the app feel more like their own—is very important.

At the very least you should allow for color scheme modification or the addition of a personal avatar. Believe it or not, the ability to change simple things like color scheme, font and font size can greatly affect end-user satisfaction.

Make Your UI Customizable
Many developers use a color wheel to allow users to choose their own color scheme.

Use Tabs and Buttons

Tabs are beneficial for navigation for a variety of reasons, but the most important for you is that they tend to make users feel like the app is more organized and easier to navigate. What tabs do is give the user the feeling that they’re using a well-laid physical item like a binder or book.

Think of your tabs as sections or chapters. A book with chapters is easier to follow than a book with a bunch of random pages that aren’t sectioned off, right? That’s how most users feel at least.

When it comes to actions, buttons are the more obvious choice. These make sense to users when it comes to performing an action – just like in many real life situations, buttons control movement and action.

All of this might sound like it acts on something subconscious which likely isn’t important in UI development, but users will notice something out of place or not quite right about your app without these things. You have to take the user’s expectations into account to create a user-friendly UI, and even psychological things like this can play a major role.

Allow Users to Seek Help

Believe it or not, many app developers aren’t incorporating help functions in their design. It’s not exactly clear why since they seem like they would be vital to a good user experience.

To make your UI user-friendly, try including tooltips and help toolbars whenever a user might be confused about how to move forward with the app. In fact, including tooltip and a help icon on nearly every screen can’t hurt you too much, especially if you have a complicated app that may take some users a considerable amount of time to learn.

If your users can’t get the help that they need to use your UI properly they’re going to move onto another app that will help them do what they want to do efficiently. Remember, in most cases, the reason people use a certain UI is because it helps increase their productivity or make something easier for them.

If you’re not sure how to incorporate these features, try making them available through modal windows or in a sidebar that the user can access within the page.

On The Subject of Modal Windows…

Modal windows can be useful for help screens, and can be utilized for many other features of an app such as alerts, confirmation screens, etc. One thing to consider however, is that if you’re going to use a modal window within an app, you need to make sure you use shaded modal windows that shade everything in the background out.

A shaded modal window makes the screen much easier for users to follow and keeps the pop-up screen from feeling like a distraction. This is particularly important for help screens and pop-ups within an app since shading helps eliminate distractions for the user.

Providing Efficient Workflow For Users

For many users the number one reason a person is using a particular app is because the app makes their life easier. In short, it makes the workflow —whatever that work is—more efficient for the end user somehow.

To make your app more efficient, try grouping functions that are commonly used together or in a particular sequence. In order to make these groupings you’ll probably need to spend some time with app as a user and revise accordingly.

Another thing to consider here is removing functions that aren’t standard. Tools that don’t make standard operation more efficient might be easy for you to ignore, but they aren’t necessarily easy to ignore for the average user.

If a function or tool isn’t helping make workflow more efficient, there’s a good chance it’s making it LESS efficient for the average user.

Keep It Simple

If the talk of technical and subconscious issues like where to put buttons and when to use tabs is getting a little heavy, take a step back and remember the most important rule about creating a user-friendly UI—keep it simple. But what does keeping it simple mean? In many cases it means:

  • Keeping your UI free of fancy bells and whistles that don’t do anything for the user except clog precious screen real-estate and make the app aggravating to use.
  • Not adding visual design elements that are overbearing. Does your app really need nine colors on the same screen? The answer is no.
  • Avoiding extra features. Extra features within an app might seem like you’re giving the user total control. In some cases, that’s true, but not always. If the average user doesn’t need half the features on a single screen, you need to think about a better way to integrate them into your UI. Allow users that need them access, but don’t make them part of the visual design, which just serves as clutter in most cases.

Developing a user-friendly UI isn’t exactly rocket science, as you can see. However, it does take some effort on your part. In most cases, you’ll need to revise your UI many, many times to really make it effective for the end user.

It’s also important that you, as a developer, take time to switch gears and try to view the UI as a user would. Without doing that you’ll have a hard time knowing what might frustrate users and what might make them smile.

A New Way Of Thinking About White Space

Ask any Web designer, and they’ll tell you about their personal views on white space. Scores of minimalism-loving designers have utilized it extensively in their Web design content. “Less is more,” they might insist, having been trained to eliminate everything that doesn’t immediately and purposefully add to the user experience.

 



Behind the scenes as well, white space dominates as a design philosophy, with clean, elegant code being the holy grail for a functional Web design. I’ve noticed, however, that there are some designers out there who don’t truly understand what white space actually is, much less how to interpret it in non-obvious ways to get the most out of the concept.

The What And Why of White Space

Early modernist painters were masters of white space, using the media of pencil and paint on canvas to elevate one essential idea, eliminating all else as unnecessary. If you look at the sketches of artists like Miró, Kandinsky, Mondrian, and especially Picasso, you will see that economy of form is often a key feature in their work.

White space as a desirable feature in Western design (as opposed to just empty space to fill up with ornament or type) came into its own in the early part of the 20th century, at the height of modernism. Artists and designers of the Bauhaus school in Germany united under the modernist idea of minimalism and had a profound effect on much of the art and design produced thereafter, continuing to influence creative professionals to this day.

The West has embraced this feature of minimalist art and design quite strongly in the last century or so, but it’s definitely worth noting that Eastern art and design – particularly the art and architecture of East Asia – has been exploring the concept for hundreds of years.

Late Apple mastermind Steve Jobs was heavily influenced by both the German Bauhaus aesthetic and the simplified forms and copious amounts of white space used by the Japanese.

Is White Space White?

White space is simply, in my opinion, the absence of active design elements. Many people, when they hear the words “white space,” assume that white space has to literally be a.) white, and b.) a space.

In fundamentalist terms, that’s true; however, most of the time you can take a more figurative interpretation and still create a “white space” in the form of a non-active area.

For example, a blurred photo used as the background image on a Website would, in this looser definition, be considered “white space,” even though it’s neither white nor space. However, it’s not an active part of the site’s functionality – it doesn’t demand anything of the user.

You can rest your eyes while looking off to the side at this blurry image, and it will have a similar effect on your brain as a pure white box.

Reducing Back To White Space

Communication is the fundamental goal of any design. When you work through the design process, you are determining how best to speak to your audience. Frivolous details that simply get in the way don’t help with this main goal of communication. There’s an inherent challenge in the design profession to always be thinking of how to do more with less.

Add Item, Reduce Space

But as humans, our natural inclination is to fill up empty space with clutter.

Think of a messy garage, or a room in your home that’s been needing a good dose of spring cleaning for some years now. When you first moved into your house, that room was empty and pristine. You didn’t have to create space – it was already there. Through the process of everyday living, you actually reduced the amount of space you had in that room. The same thing can happen to a design if we aren’t careful.

White space, then, isn’t something you start out with in a design. It’s something that must be created, or “reduced,” from what you’ve put up on your screen. It must be discovered, like a juicy clue in a detective novel, coaxed out of hiding to shine and fill your viewer’s heads with the majesty of zen-like peace.

Seeking White Space

In the culinary world, a reduction is the liquid (usually thick and syrupy) that’s left over after a chef puts a bunch of ingredients in a pot and lets it simmer for hours and hours. I find it helpful to think of design white space as following a similar process. It’s like discovering a delicious gravy or sauce on my computer screen, after “simmering” many different design ingredients together – for hours and hours.

Okay, maybe I’m a tiny bit in love with the concept of white space, but the bottom line is that white space almost never just “happens.” As designers, we have to purposely decide to find it.

Drawing A Blank

One of the most helpful ways to develop your “white space muscle” is to keep a sketchbook. I know, I know, you don’t draw that well, and what if someone accidentally sees one of your horrific doodles? Relax; it’s okay. Sketching, in a design context, is simply a way to harness the full power of brainstorming.

Brainstorming by physically drawing out possible solutions is, in my opinion, the secret to reducing down your designs, just like a chef or an amateur sleuth. Personally, I like to answer questions in the form of sketches. Such as “what would happen if I took this color out?” Or “would I get a better result if I eliminated that type family altogether?” The answer, by the way, to most “should I remove this” questions is usually “yes.”

It’s interesting to see that, the more you draw, the more you can actually reduce clutter in your designs. How many times did Picasso have to put pencil to paper before he was able to achieve the perfect balance between representation and abstraction? I’m no Picasso biographer, but my mathematical estimate would have to be “a heck of a lot of times.”

Going Back To Functions

The students of the original Bauhaus embraced minimalist concepts like white space not only in their work, but also as part of their mindset. Bauhaus founder, architect Walter Gropius, helped pioneer the now standard “form follows function” philosophy in modern architecture and design, mainly from the observation that there is beauty in the simple functionality of an object.

This is not to say that there is never a need for ornament. Sometimes you just have to break out the floral patterns or pretty navigation buttons. But learning to see and appreciate the basic function of something is as much a learnable skill as fancy illustrations or UI features.

In Conclusion

White space is more of a concept than a hard and fast rule. To reiterate, it’s merely the non-active space in a design, and the psychological calming effect that it has on the viewer. There are no set guidelines. Use your best judgement, experiment profusely, and develop your own relationship to white space.

 

Infographic: UX 101 – What is User Experience?

Investing in the company website’s user experience has been proven to be a great advantage in user engagement, branding and customer acquisition. More companies today like IBM and Amazon  have improved profitability and cut support costs by creating a more user-friendly and useful website UX.

The following infographic by our friends from Homestead explains to us what “user experience” is, some facts and stats and the essentail things you need to know to create a better web UX design for your business.

 

UX 101: What is User Experience?

 

 

Content Strategy and UX: A Modern Love Story

Content strategy has been around for a long time. Large corporations such as Disney, Wells Fargo, and Mayo Clinic have had functional content strategy teams for years. The mega-agency Razorfish has had dedicated content strategists on staff since 1998. But it’s really only been in the last two years that the larger UX community has started paying closer attention to content strategy. In 2008, not a single UX conference had a session or workshop devoted to content strategy; In 2010, nearly all of them did, including the IA SummitUX Week, UX LondonUser Interface Conference, and even SXSW.

Why the gold rush? The answer is pretty simple: it’s inherently impossible to design a great user experience for bad content. If you’re passionate about creating better user experiences, you can’t help but care about delivering useful, usable, engaging content.

Why the gold rush? The answer is pretty simple: it’s inherently impossible to design a great user experience for bad content. If you’re passionate about creating better user experiences, you can’t help but care about delivering useful, usable, engaging content.

Peter Morville's user experience honeycomb
No matter how brilliant your designs, if the content is bad, the honeycomb crumbles. (The User Experience Honeycomb - Peter Morville, 2004)

Today, the sudden surge of interest in content strategy has stirred hope in even the most jaded UX souls. Here’s an entire population of professionals who are ready and willing to tackle even the most complex content problems! But before UX and content strategy walk hand-in-hand off into the sunset, we should consider a little marriage counseling. Do these two really belong together?

What Exactly Is Content Strategy?

Content is consistently a huge problem in most project work, but we often don’t have the time or tools to figure out exactly where our process is broken. A content strategist sounds like just the sort of person to save the day, even if no one’s clear about what exactly that person will do. (I regularly get calls from companies who have hired content strategists and are now wondering what to do with them.)

For me, the easiest way to describe content strategy is this: content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. I’ve been using that definition for a while now, and it seems to help people understand the concept pretty quickly. It certainly isn’t the only way to look at it, though; for an expanded discussion on the topic, visit the content strategy Google Knol.

Melissa Rach, Vice President of Content Strategy at Brain Traffic, developed this framework for content strategy:

 

Visualizatio nof Rach's framework for content strategy

Core strategy defines how your content will help you meet business objectives.

Substance identifies what content is required to successfully execute implement your core strategy, including characteristics such as messaging architecture, intended audience(s), and voice and tone.

Structure focuses on how content is prioritized, organized, and acessed. Although structure can include information architecture (IA), it focuses more deeply on the content itself, including mapping messages to content, content bridging, and creating detailed page tables.

Workflow explains how people manage and maintain content on a daily basis, including the roles, tasks, and tools required throughout the content lifecycle.

Governance describes the policies, standards, and guidelines that apply to content and its lifecycle, as well as how an organization will sustain and evolve its content strategy.

There are aspects of substance and structure that have traditionally been the domain of information architects, and that still holds true. As Louis Rosenfeld has said, “If [information architecture] is the spatial side of information, I see content strategy as the temporal side of the same coin.” Both must consider things such as current state content, taxonomies, content models, cross-platform requirements, and so on. But an IA is rarely responsible for editorial, workflow, or governance components of content planning and development. For UX teams, these are the areas that, when overlooked, tend to blow up project timelines and compromise content quality.

So, Is Content Strategy a Part of UX Strategy?

Technically? No, not really. While workflow and governance have direct impact on the end content product, they don’t (and can’t) live exclusively within the domain of UX. But substance, structure, workflow, and governance typically inform one another, which is where the content strategist can really make a difference. They can act as a UX advocates to content creators, while keeping designers in “the real world” when it comes to things like content requirements and template designs.

Maybe it’s easier to answer the question like this: not every content strategy needs UX strategy, and not every UX strategy needs content strategy. Yes, they’re both required for the effective execution of just about any initiative that requires or specifies the need for content creation, delivery, or management. But that doesn’t mean we need to cram content strategy into every UX project plan, because sometimes, it’s clearly unnecessary.

For example, a lightweight application redesign likely doesn’t require a content strategist, although it probably could benefit from a smart copywriter familiar with usability principles. On the flip side, a content strategy project that focuses largely on content workflow and governance likely won’t need to pull in a UX strategist, but might need a good interaction designer to assist with workflow documentation.

It follows, then, that a content strategist doesn’t always report to a UX strategist, and vice versa. On a large-scale project that involves a lot of complex content initiatives, a lead content strategist may oversee a larger team that includes UX practitioners. On a full website redesign, a UX strategist may lead a team that includes a content strategist who’s (either partially or fully) responsible for anything related to the creation, delivery, and governance of the site content.

A side note: do I really care about who owns what and where things fall on either side of the wall? Emphatically, no, I don’t; debates that smack of territorialism make me insane. Roles, activities, and artifacts shouldn’t “belong” to one discipline or another. What’s important is that we are all able to talk about shared principles; this is where the foundation for our collaboration truly lies. Pragmatically speaking, there are multiple interdependencies between those roles, activities, and artifacts of UX pros and content strategists. These interdependencies and commonalities demand that we work together to deliver the high quality content our users want and deserve.

How Does Content Strategy Relate to UX Design?

There are a few different ways to look at this. From a services perspective, a good description of the relationship is IBM’s “Customer Facing Solutions” infographic, published to demonstrate the consultancy’s UX strategy approach:

IBM's content strategy wheel

Erin Scime of HUGE created this sketch to demonstrate the content lifecycle. You’ll recognize several activities that are often included in UX projects, as well as several that aren’t:

Scime's content lifecycle

Taking a closer look at project roles, Richard Ingram of Ingserv created this illustration to show ways in which a UX team might collaborate with a content strategist:

Ingram's content creator diagram

For a practical look at how content strategists contribute to a UX project, Erin Kissane’s article, What Do Content Strategists Do? offers a description of her typical project activities. Also, Karen McGrane’s stellar presentation, Why UX Needs Content Strategy, examines in detail the activities and deliverables a content strategist can contribute to a UX project.

Is Content Strategy Just the Latest Trend?

Sometimes in posts on Twitter or in blogs, I come across comments about content strategy like these: “I do all this stuff already. No way will my clients pay for any of this. Content strategy is just a trend. ‘Content strategist’ is just a title writers assume to get paid more money.”

I’m not sure what to tell people who get defensive when I talk about content strategy. Beautiful designs are constantly obliterated by bad content. Content delay syndrome is an epidemic. We all deal with nonstop complaints (sometimes our own!) about poor quality content on our website, intranet, or application. Content strategy solves these problems before they even begin. It isn’t a trend, and it’s not a silver bullet. It’s a long-term commitment to better content, a practice that beautifully complements the art and science of UX strategy.

 

Improve Your Web Design Projects with a Good Project Scope

The first few things you do after a potential client contacts you about a web design project are the most important. In fact, these initial steps can spell the difference between a good or bad project.

There’s plenty of information out there on how to identify bad clients and manage difficult situations. You may even have your own client horror stories of your own.

While it’s true that bad client situations sometimes can’t be avoided — it’s an inherent part of working with other people, after all — many of these situations are just simply the result of lack of communication and understanding.

Fortunately, if you create a good, thorough project scope statement, it will surely improve communication with your clients as well as eliminate many website production problems.

The Importance Project Scope

One of the important initial project tasks we need to do is defining the project scope.

A poorly crafted project scope statement results in miscommunication and wasted project time.

Project scope, in essence, defines what the deliverables for the project are going to be.

A good project scope should clearly and unambiguously state the client’s expectations, and it should describe how you have agreed to meet those expectations.

Evidence of Bad Project Scope

When something is added to a project’s scope, we call it scope creep.

Too much scope creep results in lots of unnecessary work.

Many web designers and developers are too casual about project scope. They fail to get the whole scope of the project before they start working on it, and this can mean lots of reworking and retooling all throughout the span of the project.

A lot of scope creep means the project scope wasn’t properly defined and clearly stated at the beginning of the project.

Common Mistakes Made When Defining Project Scope

Here are three common mistakes web designers make when they define scope:

Not getting the agreement in writing.

Scope should be included in a written agreement between you and the client. Scope should be reviewed and signed by both parties before you start the project.

Not asking enough questions.

Often, scope is incomplete and the web designer/developer didn’t ask the client for enough information to really understand the project requirements.

Making too many assumptions.

Assumptions are like guesses; sometimes they’re right, but often they’re wrong. A good project scope statement eliminates any assumptions.

The best way to develop a good project scope is to ask the right questions.

8 Key Questions That Will Help You Define Project Scope

Here are some questions you can ask your clients during initial discussions that will help you produce a solid project scope.

Question #1: What type of website will I be building for you?

A landing page, a blog, and an e-commerce site all need good web design but your strategy, production process, planning process, project requirements, project time, techniques, and so forth will change depending on the type of site you’re creating.

Question #2: When do you need to have this website completed?

Misunderstandings about the deadline can be a big source of client unhappiness. Make sure you have enough time to do the work they want you to do.

Question #3: What is your budget for the project?

This question tells you what the client can afford to spend on this project, as well as if they are a serious prospect for your web design business.

Budget affects the size and features that will be defined in the project scope.

Determine the Constraints of the Project

The three questions above will help you determine the three primary constraints — scope, schedule, and cost — of the project management triangle model that will cooperatively determine the quality of the results.

Here are the not-so-obvious questions that you might forget to ask:

Question #4: Who is the typical user of your website?

A website that works well for one audience will not necessarily work well for another audience. The target audience will significantly influence the website’s architecture.

Question #5: What goals do you want to achieve with this project?

Is the client trying to use the website for sales, to generate publicity, or to build an online community?

Website goals make a big difference in how you will proceed with the website’s design.

Question #6: What types of content will be used in this website?

Content strategy should not be an afterthought. Content strategy should be an integral part of your web design process.

If your client hasn’t planned for their website’s content yet, at the very least, you should get them thinking about it right at the start of the project.

This question also clarifies who’s going to be in charge of content, and you should document this area of responsibility in your project agreement.

Question #7: Can you show me examples of websites you like and don’t like?

Examples can speak volumes. Pay close attention to why the client likes some sites while disliking others.

Question #8: What’s the message you’re trying to convey with your website?

The website’s message needs to be clearly communicated through the site’s look-and-feel.

The answer to this question also affects the website features that you need to implement.

Ask More Questions as Needed!

Of course, the list of eight questions above is just a starting place to help you define project scope; they cover the fundamentals that you absolutely must know before beginning the project.

If you still feel like you don’t fully understand what the client wants after asking these questions, you need to ask more questions until you’re confident that you comprehend their desired outcomes in full.

Don’t Forget About Negative Scope

What’s negative scope? In a project’s scope, negative scope are items that won’t be a part of the project.

Discussing and documenting negative scope items can eliminate a lot of confusion and misunderstandings.

Negative scope could include these things:

  • Items you and client discussed, but have decided not to include as deliverables in the project.
  • Items that are often done for projects of this sort, but that the client didn’t want.
  • Other elements of websites that aren’t going to be part of your project agreement but that you anticipate the client might need, such as web hosting, social media marketing, SEO, and so forth.

By specifically bringing up negative scope items, you reduce the likelihood of the client assuming that these items are included in the project and of them claiming that the negative scope items were part of your agreement.

Negative scope brings more clarity to your project scope agreement, which is what we want.

Documenting the Project Scope

Even if you asked all the right questions, you could still get into trouble if you don’t have a good record of the discussions that you and the client agreed upon.

Maybe you discussed the project in a series of phone conversations with the client. Maybe you met with the client in person.

Do you rely solely on your memory of what you and the client agreed on? If you do, you’re taking a huge risk.

Our memories can be faulty. Our recollection of conversations can be different from that of the client’s.

The best way to eliminate disagreements about project scope is to get it in writing and to get the client to sign off on it.

Fortunately, there are some good tools and resources out there to help you document project scope well.

There are, for example, project scope document templates that can be found on the Web. Here’s one example of a project scope template that you can download on another website:

You could also check out my web app, Osmosis, which incorporates project scope into the work agreement.

Once you have the client’s acknowledgement on the work agreement, keep the information with your project files.

The how and why of minimalism

If done correctly, minimalist design is one of the best and most effective approaches to creating beautiful websites. Not only is the target audience subjected to less clutter and noise, but you can use colors, textures, and fonts to create a very simple yet very memorable experience for the person viewing your site.

Of course, switching to a minimalist design will mean that you only have a select few pages of information, but the result is desirable on multiple levels. Creating a mobile-friendly site will become loads easier, your audience will find your content easier to read, and your site will look more professional.

Read on to learn more about why minimalism works, and how to apply this beautiful approach to your designs.

 

Why it works

Less is more

This famous saying by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is the ultimate representation of minimalism. These three words of wisdom really get the message across, while being concise and to-the point.

Likewise, a de-cluttered website can get your point across more efficiently. Many designers/developers use this ideology and “prune” their content, effectively cutting away useless, less visited, and unimportant pages, leaving sites left with higher quality content.

Not only will your website look clean, it will also be higher-quality and more refined.

Subconsciously sensible

Subconsciously we are growing more and more defensive to clutter and distractions. Every day, we receive dozens, if not hundreds, of business advertisements through spam, mail, newspaper inserts, internet ads, radio and TV commercials and more. This surge in advertising has caused people to learn how to avoid annoying ads.

Flipping channels during commercial breaks or clicking the “Back” button from an ad-filled website has never been easier. As web designers, we should keep in mind that not only is extra ad clutter on our websites distracting to users, it is also bad for SEO.

Responsive

All good minimalist websites have a unique wireframe and a really good grid system. If utilized correctly, both of these can translate to a painless and easy transition to the responsive and mobile world.

With less content, fewer blocks and design elements, and a whole lot of whitespace, it won’t be hard to move things around for mobile device screens.

Furthermore, mobile users tend to have less patience. They are busy people who are either on-the-go, limited by data plans, working a hectic schedule, or all of the above. Getting concise, clear, and useful information as fast as possible is usually their expectation, so why not give it to them?

Lighter is better

Having only a few pages with a minimal amount of text will mean a lighter website. Not only can this make the task of updating, and maintenance easier, it will also speed up your site.

The less content, widgets, and design elements you use, the less data has to be transferred, making a faster, lighter, and hence more enjoyable, user experience. And it helps with the data limits issues for mobile devices.

 

How to convert to minimalism

It’s no secret that implementing a minimalist style is much easier if you already have a pretty good foundation of design itself. A solid understanding of grids and layouts, and an expertise and finesse in applying that understanding can go a long way when designing minimalist websites, however a lack of these things should not stop you from learning this beautiful style.

If you are interested in adopting a minimalist approach for your designs, there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

First of all, you must minimize your content. Throw away as much as you possibly can. If you can remove it and it doesn’t significantly undermine the main message you are trying to get across, it’s probably junk.

One good piece of advice for those attached to their content is: Temporarily hide the content for 30 days. Don’t go back and read that content or remind yourself about it. After 30 days if your life is not in a state of absolute crisis, you are free to throw the content away.

One way to go about getting rid of and/or simplifying content is to review the usual culprits of lower-quality content:

  • Second and third level navigation pages : you realistically shouldn’t need more than 4 or 5 pages (unless we’re talking about an e-commerce site or some sort of technical site).
  • Recent feeds, Popular feeds, Comment feeds, Facebook and Twitter feeds: Anything that ends with “feeds” is almost definitely unnecessary. Help your readers focus on what’s important.
  • Any sort of counters: Social ‘like’ counters for your main page, ‘Total visits’ counters…really? No need to become anti-Social Media, but a few simple buttons should suffice.
  • Extra graphics: One small to medium sized graphic element per page is enough. Keep in mind, however, your graphic should neither overwhelm your content nor take too much attention away from it.

Finally, when your content is minimized and you have stripped your site to the bare minimum, you must style it. Remember, minimalism is not about looking plain or boring, it’s about focusing your attention on the essentials. Having an attention-grabbing and consistent layout is key. The proper colors, typography, textures, and whitespace are also essential to your minimalist goals.

 

Textures, colors, and fonts

Converting to minimalism doesn’t have to be a chore. Think of it as a way to give your site a fresh look with new textures, interesting colors, and captivating fonts. After all, with less content to worry about, you’ll have more time to tone and master the look and feel that will attract an audience, and keep them.

Textures

Using textures in web design is the greatest thing since sliced bread. When used in conjunction with appropriate colors, fonts, and a simple layout, textures can really make your website shine.

If you are completely new to textures, it would definitely be worth your time to read up on how to create them in Adobe Photoshop, how to apply them, and the different types of textures.

Colors

Similarly, colors present an invaluable medium to present your website. Take caution, though, as colors and their associations can vary from culture to culture. Yellow, for example, may represent mourning when used in Egypt, while it may represent courage when used in Japan. With minimalist type designs, or any design really, having only 2 or 3 colors on your website is a good idea as this provides a consistent and simple experience for the user.

Fonts

Finally, good fonts are truly vital when using a minimalist design.

Of course you don’t have to splurge on dozens of fonts; you could consider creating your very own fonts. Some designers even go to the extreme of having the typography become the sole visual effect of their website. While this is an interesting trend, it can be harder to pull off as it requires a complete mastery of typography.

 

Summary

This article has only scratched the surface when it comes to the principle of minimalism and its uses and benefits in respect to web design. I hope it has caused interest for those who are still not applying some of these techniques.

Although minimalism doesn’t work for all websites, the principles of discarding low-quality and or less valuable features of your website can be useful for all web designers and developers. Less really is more.

Convincing The Client – How To Win A Design Argument

As a freelance designer, you know your main goal is to keep the client happy. But what happens when the thing that makes your client happy is something that you as a designer know is a terrible idea? It may be impractical, too costly to implement, useless for the client’s business, or just plain ugly or unprofessional looking. Nevertheless, the client is determined to get his or her way.

We’re going to look at some ways you, the designer, can actually reverse this situation, getting your client to consider and often approve your superior design solution. And all without hurt feelings or any unethical behavior.

Are You Really Making It Better?

The first thing you must determine with 100% clarity is whether or not the design solution you’re proposing is actually better than the one the client wants. Most designers have a keener sense of what will work in a design than the average freelance client, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Business-Orientated Design

Sometimes, a designer may think they’re improving a design, when in fact, the client is right to be outraged at the new changes. Remember, design is about more than type or snazzy graphics – the solution you come up with has to be viable for the client’s business and help them achieve the financial results they’re after.

For instance, if your client is a children’s dentist, and wants to appeal to kids with a whimsical, cartoony brand identity that you think is hideous, you may clash with her if you try to make too many fundamental changes to her idea.

It’s More Than Just Design

If your style is more reserved and minimalist, you may attempt to impose your idea of “good design” onto her business without considering the audience she’s trying to reach, she may be justifiably upset.

Yes, your design may be objectively “better” from a designer’s perspective, but as far as solving your client’s problem (appealing to children and soothing their fear of the dentist), it’s an utter failure. It’s important to always keep the client’s business goals in mind, even if they are not outlined in the design brief.

Beating the Brief

Now, let’s take the same dentist client and put a different spin on her dilemma. You understand what she wants – to appeal to kids and make them less nervous – but you know you have a solution that would accomplish this goal much better than what she has in mind. How do you go about bringing her over to your side of the argument?

Before I continue, I must warn you that this type of solution will take more time and effort on your part than you might be used to. However, it will yield much higher rates of success for getting through to your clients, and will have them raving about you for years after the job is finished.

Follow The Design Brief

Okay, so what’s the solution? Well, first…you do exactly what she wants. That’s right – with your design brief in front of you, and your client’s explicit instructions to design something based around her horrible, ugly, unprofessional idea, the first thing you do is fire up your computer and create her “perfect” solution. No, it’s not pretty. Yes, you’re going to hate it. But do it anyway.

If you show up to a client meeting without the work she specifically asked for, she’s most likely going to get upset, and upset clients are impossible to negotiate with. So first, do what’s expected of you.

Sell Your Idea

After you’ve done what the client has asked for, to the letter, it’s time to introduce her to a new concept – the one you know is better. But you want to do more than simply produce a new version of the work the way you believe it ought to be presented. It’s important to sell your client on your idea as well.

If your client is design savvy, just presenting the two ideas side by side will be enough to convince her that yours is better. But as we all know, most clients need a bit of convincing. Take notes on what exactly the differences are between your idea and theirs, noting especially how your version will better solve their problem and help them achieve their business goals.

Clients love to hear how something will help them make more money, so if you have data or numbers to back up your claim, now is the time to use them.

Getting That Green Light

Most designers get involved in a project on more than just a technical level. Completing a creative work requires an emotional investment, and it’s not at all unusual to feel slightly defensive about the choices you made in a design, especially if you believe your client simply has no idea what they are talking about.

Sometimes, you’re going to run into clients who simply refuse to see things your way. In these cases, it’s best to just please them to the best of your ability, collect payment, and move on. But many times, clients are more than willing to be persuaded if you can master the right language with which to do so.

Make Sense When Making Your Case

As they say, communication is key. I’m going to take that adage a step further here and say that the right communication is key. Anyone can say anything, but in a meeting with a client, expressing your ideas in terms that make sense to them is essential to maintaining the upper hand.

Not that you need to resort to manipulation. This is all about the client’s business and what is truly the best solution to help them increase their profit margin.

Most clients will actually appreciate your attention to detail and willingness to help them uncover an approach that is highly effective. Like I said, this kind of ‘above and beyond’ working method is exactly what quality clients are looking for in a designer, and it’s what will inspire them to give you the glowing testimonials and referrals you’re looking for.

Leaving the Ego Behind

Lastly, I’m going to be blunt here: if you walk into a meeting with fundamental changes that were clearly not pre-approved by your client and they get upset, it probably has something to do with your ego.

’ve previously worked with designers (thankfully not many) whose arrogance and high opinion of themselves made them impossible to collaborate with. They were under the impression that I ought to have been lucky to work with them, and that any changes they made to my design brief were a blessed improvement.

You don’t want to be this designer.

No one likes that kind of behavior, and clients do talk to one another about the contractors they hire. No client is paying you to be a drone, but finding a healthy balance between your expertise and your client’s expertise is vital.

How the touch screen revolution is impacting UX

The introduction of Windows 8 saw a massive overhaul of the Windows user interface in line with the Windows Phone interface in order to be more intuitive for people using touch screens, and Apple have subtly been adapting OSX over time, streamlining features that are becoming increasingly shared across their mobile and desktop operating systems. Whilst we have yet to see a touchscreen Mac, it’s obvious that the touch screen revolution is looming upon us with users spending more and more time on their mobile devices than home PCs.

With this in mind and an ever increasing proportion of browsing taking place on smartphones and tablets, websites must decide how they will adapt to people accessing their content without a mouse and keyboard. Whilst the default response to this has often been ‘just make a separate mobile interface!’, a solution that has worked well in the past on smaller mobile devices such as phones, there is very little scope for the middle group occupied by larger phone and tablet displays.

This article will take a look at a number of sites that have gone down both unconventional and standard site designs to become more touch-friendly.

 

Focused websites vs. responsive websites

Many websites have created subsidiary sites or apps specifically for touch screen users, to allow them to focus on one type of user at a time. One problem is that since the websites are separate they rely on URL redirection which can often lead to problems such as the user being sent to the wrong site from links, or poor redirection as a result of needing redirection to formatted pages for mobile users.

The biggest problem with separate websites for mobile users however, is that often the mobile version lacks features or information that a desktop user receives; features and interfaces often simplified, buttons enlarged and options reduced. This can be solved through using a ‘responsive’ design. A responsive website is designed to be easily viewed on both platforms without losing quality on either one. This also has the benefit that only one website needs to be designed, rather than two, however this often results in compromises for both platforms.

 

Basic design differences

There are obvious differences between a touch screen and a desktop that you need to think about when creating your website. On a touch screen you swipe up the page in order to scroll down it, however on a desktop you move your scroll wheel down. Apple have attempted to correct this by consolidating their touch interface technologies into trackpads on both their laptop and desktop Macs, however PC users or even Mac users using conventional scroll wheels or sliders to scroll through web pages are at a disadvantage.

Buttons must be much bigger on mobile devices, as tapping is nowhere near as accurate as clicking with a mouse, there’s nothing more infuriating than trying to click on a link for the next page and accidentally being sent back a page or onto an advert instead. The lack of a cursor also means you cannot have hover states to explain where a link goes, what a word means or even what is clickable.

There is also a difference between accuracy on mobile inputs since touchscreens can have either resistive or capacitive inputs which have varying sensitivities and subsequently accuracy can be lost on resistive touchscreens. Beyond this, designs must incorporate two hugely differing resolutions for mobile devices that have two orientations.

 

Screen orientation and aspect ratio

With multiple resolutions beyond regular monitor sizes means you can no longer think just in terms of standardized screen resolutions and vertical movement. The rapid changes in the technology market have produced screen sizes that differ from model and manufacturer and with all the rumors about so called smart watches we may start to see screens that are no longer restricted to four borders. Mobile screens add further complexity due to the fact that they can be viewed in both a portrait and landscape mode through rotation.

The answer are liquid layouts which self adjust for any resolution and can adapt for both portrait and landscape viewing. Some websites use a liquid layout that drastically changes the look of the website in order to optimise ease of control and use the full potential of the screen based on it’s orientation.

Whilst mice were specifically designed with scroll wheels for easy vertical scrolling many users are migrating to touchpads and touchscreens, and since Apple have embraced the more innovative form of touch-scrolling which is akin to dragging a page rather than scrolling, the more creative idea of horizontal scrolling may not be out of the question. Most apps use horizontal scrolling as a tool and by far the greatest success in horizontal scrolling is the kindle, so why not implement it into your web UI? Many single page sites have a solely horizontal axis, however they often have to use buttons in order to instigate the scrolling as users may not understand the non-standard format.

Horizontal scrolling may be similar to vertical scrolling in design terms, however the usage of both may open up the possibility of dual-axis scrolling, which may not work in-browser. Many users like to be anchored to an axis, obviously this is usually the x-axis, which is static, so if users get lost on the page they can just scroll up, and be back at the main navigation. On dual-axis sites this may not be as simple, and so navigation may need to be sticky, using a HUD style bar.

 

So what user interface should your website be using?

Obviously not every UI is suitable for every type of website, so ask yourself some basic questions: Who is your target audience? What are you trying to ‘sell’? What impression do you want to give? Younger people are more likely to use touch screens than an older demographic who will likely use a desktop, but still may need bigger buttons and a clearer UI. There’s no point in creating the most innovative UI imaginable if no one can understand how to use it, so always remember to create a UI that a user can look at and instantly know how to use.

Radial menu

A radial menu, also known as a pie menu, is a circular context menu that uses multi-directional context rather than height or width as the selection tool.

This is a great form of intuitive design that prevents users from getting lost in dozens of sub menus. Another advantage is that a touchscreen user has better control over normal drop down lists as directional control is more accurate than tapping. The use of radial menus in forms and websites could dramatically enhance a touch screen users experience on the website, and extends to thumbsticks such as those used on games consoles, somewhere radial menus are often used since it allows games to be easily ported to PC. As such desktop users don’t lose out either as it remains the case that radial menus can simplify long lists into simple categories increasing the ease of use or productivity on a website.

Radial menus are a great way of showing context sensitive information, one example of this is clicking on a picture of a dish on a food site and being given the option of retweeting, the recipe link, ingredients list or saving the picture. However you must be careful that your menu remains accessible and simple, otherwise you can easily overwhelm the user especially when combining symbols and words in the same radial menu. Radial menu’s are much easier to use when static rather than dynamic as this can lead to difficulty in object selection such as on sites like Phong, in this case especially when using a mouse as cursor tracking makes it especially unintuitive.

Skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphic design imitates the look and functionality of an everyday object in order to create an intuitive UI, something which has recently gone out of vogue, especially since Scott Forstall resigned from Apple and Sir Jony Ive’s flat design took over iOS and likely OS X in the future. Skeuomorphism had been a large part of Apple’s push toward more intuitive design, recently with Contacts on Mac being designed as an actual address book, or Newsstand and iBooks on iOS being actual bookshelves. This design is one that more obviously benefits touch interface users, since we don’t interact with the world around us with a cursor.

Familiarity adds to intuitiveness when using any user interface, this being the point of skeuomorphism, to bring an extra dimension of familiarity by joining forces with real objects so the user instantly knows how to interact with it. A successful skeuomorphic design means that just by glancing at the web page you will know what the subject is/the page is used for, making mouseover tooltips and link highlights obsolete.

Dial UI

This is a combination of both the above where the whole user interface forms a simple dial; the design resembles a radial menu, but instead of hinging at the center, selecting from there, the dial rotates to a single point of selection. This is very effective in cases such as music where dials are often used to mix a track and control volume. In the case of the net label SHSK’H they use a modified type of dial UI to select which track you want to play.

The minimalist movement

Minimalism is where a website is stripped back to its bare essential elements. This is great for mobile users as it decreases load times and data usage as well as allowing the user to be able to access all the necessary information in a clear interface that is easier to use for smaller resolutions. Current minimalism has gone beyond stripping sites to the bare essentials, and has formed a new style known as flat design. This hinges on the belief that intuition is no longer necessary in design since interfaces and their usage have become such an important part of life that design can move beyond telling users what to do, a UI can finally be a tool, rather than also doubling as a mentor. Flat design has long been characterised by the use of bold block colors, but with the introduction of iOS7, gradients have taken their place in world of borderless flat design, extracting elegance from the garish.

Finally, I’ll end this article with a site that does things a little differently. Thibaud is a creative developer who has designed a portfolio website builder known as Pikibox. The website is extremely touch friendly but without hampering its accessibility to desktop users, on smaller touchscreen devices however the user is sent to a focused redirect with a mobile interface.

The simple design works wonderfully in showing off his entire portfolio in a professional manner whilst retaining a fun, new look that is extremely intuitive. Of course, a large part of the design is in the hands of the user, being able to alter the location of the navigation and adjust how it is used spatially, which some would say doesn’t exactly constitute a design choice. The desktop version comes in four styles, and I invite you to have a play around with them, and draw your own conclusions as to whether this is simply indecisive or hugely creative.

 

Creating User-friendly Websites Based On Visitor Psychology

Have you ever felt that after visiting certain websites that you want to leave the website immediately because you do not feel comfortable or because you feel that something is not right with the website even though you do not know exactly what makes you feel uncomfortable? Yes, it is not an uncommon experience that we feel instantly comfortable in certain websites where as we feel just the opposite with other websites. Have you ever stopped to think why we have such diverse experiences?

If you depend on your website extensively in driving sales or if you are a website designer, it is crucial that you pay attention to such factors because visitors to the websites that you design or the websites that you own will also be having similar experiences. For you to realize a sale through your website it is vital that your visitors spend a considerable amount of time in your website so that you get chance to convince them. If they quit your website in the first few seconds then you do not stand a chance, as you do not get enough time to convince your visitors.

 

The Crucial Role of Online Visitor Psychology

After a couple of decades after the advent of the internet, we can today talk of ‘Internet User Psychology’ or ‘Website Visitor Psychology’. This would not have been a meaningful or an important discussion when the internet and websites were still new to people a few decades ago; today that is not the case, website designers should take cognizance of the internet user psychology to design user friendly websites.

Having used the internet and the modern websites for several years now, the internet users have been psychologically conditioned to certain patterns; when they visit a website, they tend to expect certain things and they presume certain things unconsciously. When the websites they visit do not match these expectations or to this conditioning, your visitors will feel uncomfortable but they will not know why exactly they are feeling uncomfortable.

Psychological Conditioning of The Internet Users – Gaining The Right Perspective

One of the questions that we need to tackle here is how the internet users, in other words how did are we conditioned? If you review the history of the internet, the history of websites and the website architecture, you will notice that the web design trends have come a long way in terms of how each web design component is being used today. We are not talking about the various web design technologies that the industry has come up with but with the design concepts per se.

Over the years web design experts have been continually experimenting on what works well and how different users respond to different web design architectures. Top players in the internet industry like Google, Yahoo, Bing and all the other big names that you can think of spend countless hours in studying the user behavior pattern. One of the best examples that we can give here is the heat map released by Google for its Adsense users, which teaches that by positioning the ads in the web pages as per the suggested locations, the webmaster will be able to increase the click through rates.

On the one hand, top websites and big brands try to create websites based on user patterns and match their architecture to guarantee the best performance. On the other hand, we should also not miss the fact that top websites that have huge visitor traffic come up with certain web design pattern to which the internet users get used to over a period of time and start expecting the similar pattern in the other websites too. As you can see that, it is a two-way traffic. Though different styles emerge in the web design architecture, only certain layouts stand the test of time, user expectations are based on such patterns or layouts that have stood the test of time.

Here are some typical areas of conditioning:

  • Navigation menu to the home page is to be located on the left corner of the web page or completely to the left of the navigation menu. If you move this component to any other location your website users are going to be confused and feel lost.
  • Contact us button or link to the contact us page is to be located on the right corner of the website or completely to the right of the navigation menu.
  • Login section in any membership website is to be on the right top of the page. If you have been using the internet for long enough you will easily remember that the login section used to have a different position when Yahoo used to be the top player. Even Google, which has moved its login section to the right-top, used to have its login on the left side of the page. After Google’s monopoly, the internet users seem to follow suit with Google and its architecture. In other words, now Google’s architecture has become the standard.
  • Search field to be located on the top right or on the top middle part of the web page.

As you can see, every component has its place in the web page. There is no strict rule on where you will have to place these components but if you do not follow the above structure, you are sure to cause user distress. What we have mentioned here are just a few basic factors and there are countless such factors that you need to pay attention to when you are designing your website. This is where the experience of the designer and the web designer’s ability to pay attention to details count.

Similarly, the size of the buttons that you use in your website also counts. If you are going to have oversized buttons in your page, then your web page will not only look aesthetically unappealing but it will also make your visitors feel uncomfortable in your website.

Yet another factor that you will have to pay attention to with regard to the user psychology is the color scheme of your website. Visit as many websites as possible in your niche and you will be able to see a specific pattern in the color schemes. While it is important to keep your website design unique, deviating too much from the traditional color scheme of your niche will cause user distress.

The idea here is that to provide the users with a web design architecture or web design pattern that they are used to, while at the same time trying to create websites that stand out from the rest of the competition.

There is yet another correlation that you need to pay attention to, if your website or if your web pages load fast then the users tend to associate it with the brand efficiency. On the other hand, if the pages take a long time to load then the internet users tend to feel that your brand may not be a trustworthy brand and also that you may not be an efficient service provider. Though the page loading speed is decided to a considerable extent by the nature of the internet connection one uses, the users’ tendency is to attribute the negative to the website that they are visiting. You should therefore make sure to take this factor also into consideration when you are designing your website.

When you have the most perfect blend of factors that make browsing your web pages an enjoyable experience, then you will see a steady increase in your sales count.

Website visitors do not like to see errors when they are visiting your website. In particular, they do not want to see these error pages during the shopping process. If the users get ‘page cannot be found errors’ or other error messages when they are trying to buy a product or pay for a service, then it creates mistrust. This can affect your conversion rates very badly. Your website visitors will leave the transaction without completing the process.

Top Tips To Make Your Web Page Psychologically Appealing

  • Use images with human figures and if possible use the images of people with the same ethnic background as your target audience. This will help your customers connect with your brand, products or services instantly.
  • Test the entire website for technical glitches including ‘page cannot be found errors’.
  • Do not place links that will take your visitors to a third party website or a third party source. Avoid this as much as possible and if you cannot help but to present such a link do not have such links in the home page, sale page or any other important page of your website.
  • Use the conventional color scheme of your niche. The most accepted color and most frequently used color in the websites is blue.
  • If you are using images use high-resolution images but of course optimized for fast loading. Pre-load the images to reduce user distress.
  • Do not make your pages too long because this is what the affiliate marketers do to their sale pages and this will reflect badly on your brand. Try to keep the scrolling to the minimum level possible. All the most important information should be featured in the first screen without having to scroll down the page.
  • Present all the salient features or top features of your brand, products or services in bulleted lists. Do not present textual content in huge chunks of text.
  • Make sure to place genuine user feedback on the main pages including the sales page. Make sure that the feedbacks are featured along with the right source so that even if the users should feel like cross checking they know where to go.
  • If you have any subscription section such as newsletter etc., make sure to present the instruction clearly on how to unsubscribe. This will encourage more users to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Make sure that contact us button or your toll-free number if you have one is featured in every page of your website on the top right corner so that your users know that it is easy to get in touch with you if required. This will make your brand more reliable.

Ultimately User Experience Is What Counts

By doing all these and paying attention to all the above factors, what are we trying to do? We are simply trying to make the visitors feel comfortable in our website. User experience is what counts ultimately. You will have to be a sensitive to the fact that you do not have the advantage of dealing with the visitor or the customers face to face. Virtual communication always has an element of suspicion ingrained and you need to make sure that you are doing everything possible within your capacity to overcome the limitations of this virtual communication by providing them as many cues as possible to affirm that you are a trustworthy service provider and that you are here to serve the customers.

It is just the first time it is difficult and once the customer has experienced your services then you will be able to handle things lot more easily in the subsequent transaction. However, you will have to remember that this ‘first-time-ordeal’ is present with every single customer that comes to your website. In other words, the challenge that you are facing here is an on going challenge and you need to be well prepared to deal with this challenge effectively by getting professional guidance in designing your website and in continually enhancing the quality of the experience you give your customers. This certainly requires your attention but it is certainly not rocket science. There are thousands of successful websites online and you too will be able to make your website into one such website but after reading this, you should be in a better position to create websites that are not only visually appealing to your users but also psychologically appealing.

10 ways to reduce interruptions and stay focused at work

Interruptions are a fact of life, but they don’t have to derail your work. These practical suggestions will help you maintain control of your day.

While on a recent vacation, my wife pointed out an interesting paragraph in a book she was reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. The paragraph referenced a study (”Coding War Games”) conducted upon programmers which found that experience, compensation, and time spent working on a project were less relevant to quality performance than privacy and freedom from interruptions.

Let’s think about that a moment. The ability to concentrate was more significant than how much these programmers knew, how much they were paid, or how much time they invested in the work.

My wife brought this up to me since she knows how I feel about interruptions. They seem to have gotten more frequent in business, due to increased workloads and urgent issues — or perhaps they’re a symptom of the instant-gratification society in which we live. It’s not just faceless coworkers who may be responsible for interruptions; they can also come from esteemed colleagues and friends, making the issue more complicated and trickier to handle.

My primary job involves system administration, where much of the day’s work involves technical emergencies and break-fix tasks for users. However, interruptions aren’t restricted solely to the IT realm. Any industry where multiple priorities can conflict and overwhelm staff will see its share of “quick questions” and “drive-by visits.” The damage inflicted by interruptions is well known; I’ve seen statistics indicating office workers are interrupted every three minutes. This kills productivity, raises stress levels, and can damage health or working relationships if left unchecked. The employee being interrupted may feel it’s impossible to get anything done with such an unmanageable workload. Conversely, his/her customers may be dissatisfied with the service received — or lack thereof — thereby adversely affecting all involved parties.

Some interruptions are valid: The CEO who can’t get his laptop hooked up to the projector in the auditorium 10 minutes before a company meeting takes precedence over the dead monitor you’re packing up to ship out for recycling. However, many things people want you to do right away can’t be done since you’re already committed to an equally critical task. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done when you factor in the planned work, projects, and “drop everything now” requests.

In response to this growing problem, I have put together a list of 10 ways to help handle interruptions and retain control of your day. I hope this list will be useful for all who seek to keep their workday on course. I want to stress that the goal here isn’t to avoid work — an interruption shouldn’t be seen as some other task you have to try to get out of, like Harry Houdini in a milk can — but rather to plan the work as effectively as possible.

1: Use an official ticketing/request system

One of my favorite sayings is “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If you work in a field that services the requests of other people, you need to have a dedicated system, process, or procedure to receive and track those requests. Whether it’s a commercial product like Zendesk Help Desk Software or Solarwinds Web Help Desk, a free package like Spiceworks, or even just a dedicated mailbox/phone line for employees to ask for assistance, this is your top priority.

It’s not enough to set up a request process. You have to document it and ensure that everyone is trained on how to use the system (don’t forget new hires). Furthermore, you have to reinforce it – and this is where technology alone won’t suffice. You will need to refuse verbal requests or visits from other employees who try to skip using the system or otherwise “jump the line.” These requests can and will happen throughout your office — in the kitchen, the hallways, even the bathrooms. If you don’t stick to the mantra of “please open a ticket” or “please email the request,” your system is meaningless. Therefore, you may have to develop a thick skin and help others develop the appropriate habits.

Note: that this is why I don’t recommend working at your desk with headphones on (or putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign) to try to discourage people from interrupting you. You can’t stay at your desk forever, and shutting out society isn’t the best way to manage your priorities.

2: Know your schedule

So you have a ticketing system up and running and employees know how to ask for help. Should be easy to plan out your day, right? Well, not so fast. You’re telling people to open a ticket for assistance, which they may hear as, “As soon as we get your request, we’ll immediately resolve your problem.” That works fine if Joe is the first one to ask for help on a quiet Thursday afternoon. It doesn’t mean much if Joe is in the queue behind Tim, Sue, Bill, George, Jacob, Leslie, and Ricardo on a busy Tuesday. People will seek you out. When they arrive to find you in the middle of something you can’t (or shouldn’t) drop, you will need to let them know when you can help them. For this reason, you should study your schedule every morning and know your open time slots.

Use scheduled meetings to help lay out your work, so if someone wants you to help them right away you can say, “I’m tied up now, but I can help you at 11 AM.” That works much better than a vague “Maybe later” or “I’ll let you know when I’m free.” You can also ask employees to send you the meeting request, and it will help further pave the way toward using technology for these tasks. After all, that’s what it’s there for, isn’t it?

3: Be firm and friendly and make eye contact with visitors

Deferring users to the open slots in your schedule will work for many of them. The rest, frankly, will shake their heads and say, “No, this will only take you a moment” and persist in trying to persuade you to comply with their request. This isn’t a personality critique or a pessimistic warning, but an honest fact of life. As I stated above, there are times that it may be valid for you to drop what you’re doing, but there are also times when that demand can turn into a contest of wills.

If you come across as wishy-washy or you mumble or look embarrassed, you may find yourself dragged into an interruption against your will, provoking resentment and frustration. I have found that being firm and friendly and keeping eye contact with visitors helps tremendously. It builds rapport and assures the user you’re not grouchy or anti-social, and that you understand the urgency of their request.

4: Reference what you’re already doing

It may also help stave off an interruption if you give a brief description of what you’re currently working on. No need to provide too much detail, but, “I’m recovering some lost files for Tom, who needs these right away” is much more effective than “I’m too busy right now” or “You’re going to have to wait.” This helps your visitor see that other people are in line as well and have similarly crucial needs; you’re not just on Facebook complaining about your tough day. If this isn’t sufficient, you’ll have to resort to saying “No,” but do so politely and without fuss.

5: Relocate to quieter pastures

As with wearing headphones at your desk, I don’t believe working remotely is a 100% cure for interruptions. For one thing, it puts you at a severe disadvantage if you have to hibernate elsewhere to get anything done. For another thing, you can still be reached via other means — such as your mobile phone. You need to be able to do your job in your workspace; it shouldn’t be a place you have to escape to get some peace of mind.

That being said, if your desk is a magnet for interruptions, it might make sense to relocate the action in a more strategic fashion. If you have a 10 AM with Chuck to work on a task, go see Chuck in his cube rather than having him come over. Book a conference room for discussions so that you’ll be ensured privacy and continuity. If you’re working on a server problem, do so in the server room. If you’re performing research, perform it in the lab. The goal should be to keep moving about to make sure you can finish what you start in the appropriate context. You’re doing it on your terms, not fleeing based on someone else’s.

6: Structure your day

I know very few IT professionals who spend any part of their day just sitting around hoping for something to do. Most of us could easily group our workload into “things we must do now,” “things we should do now,” “things we’ll have to do at some point,” and “things we could do on a rainy day.” If you know your company’s busy periods, your coworkers’ habits, and your own strengths (and weaknesses), you can organize your day so that interruptions have less of an impact.

For instance, if it’s dead between 3 and 5 PM on Friday afternoons, that’s a perfect time to perform that server upgrade without much risk of having to stop in the middle to respond to another situation. If it’s chaotic at 9 AM Monday, you could designate the first two hours of the day to handling emergencies so you’re prepared to multitask and rush about. If you’re always sleepy after lunch, try to walk around and work on scheduled requests then, rather than nodding off at your desk. This is a well-known productivity tip, but it also applies to single-tasking (which is what any work free from interruptions should entail).

7: Keep up on your communication

One of the leading reasons coworkers may approach you is to find out if you’ve received their email/voicemail/instant message. (This is a code phrase for “Are you working on my request yet?” I have found that responding to these as soon as possible — even with, “Busy now; send me a meeting request for 10:30 AM” — works wonders. It keeps employees informed and in the loop and reduces the chance they’ll have to resort to a face-to-face visit to get a status update (on what should be an official ticket/request, of course). Do the same for work in progress so that there’s no black hole between you and the customer.

The trick here is not to hover over your Inbox obsessively trying to bat aside emails that might result in an interruption. Obviously, you can’t perform other tasks very well if you’re constantly responding to the “ding” of a new email. I recommend scheduled checks of email (say every 15 or 30 minutes, depending on the intensity of your work). Voice mails and instant messages will announce themselves more persistently, of course. Find the balance so you’re not playing whack-a-mole or needlessly shifting gears.

8: Train a partner

When you tell Ted you can’t stop what you’re doing and attend to his task, I can almost guarantee you that his first response will be “Well then, who else can?”  If you’re an IT shop of one, or a specialist on your team, you may find yourself being forced to sheepishly reply, “Nobody — it’s just me.” That doesn’t help matters much and may in fact intensify the threat of interruption since now you’re a prized commodity.

If possible, train a partner beforehand so you’ll have another resource available. I realize this may not be feasible. If you’re THE guy or girl who knows Exchange 2010, a mailbox database failure will reel you in no matter what. But that also means you’re THE guy or girl who doesn’t get a vacation. It’s not job security when you’re the only one who knows how to do something; it’s job slavery. It does neither you nor the company any good to be the only one who understands how something works, so try to find someone you can mentor to share the knowledge with. Do this while it’s quiet, so that when things get crazy your partner can stand in for you and assist.

9: Overestimate the time you’ll need

While you’re budgeting time for your workday, take Murphy’s Law into account. Fresh-faced, eager young college grads might excitedly proclaim they can build 10 virtual machines between breakfast and lunch, but seasoned pros know it takes more than just multiplying a half hour estimate by 10 and then happily announcing that everything will go just fine. You’ll run into OS problems, storage space issues, bizarre networking anomalies, and misbehaving applications. You’ll get disoriented, need a break, or have to double-check your work. And when the task is still half-done and you have to stop that to go do something else, you’ll find that your day has turned into a pile of rubber balls hurled into the air, whereby you’re now forced to hop around trying to catch each one.

I’m not saying just blindly double how much time you think you’ll need for a task. Nor should you pigeonhole yourself as the person who always says “X” will take three hours when it really takes one hour; this will generate suspicion and lack of trust. Each project is different, and the variables involved can make it difficult to adequately estimate the time it will take. Experience will be necessary and trial and error guaranteed. But if you have four chores you MUST do today and the first one is dragging on too long, chances are you’ll find yourself being pulled in the direction of the other three if there are human stakeholders involved. It’s demoralizing to have to keep pushing work off to another day or rescheduling meetings.

10: Get manager buy-in

Manager support is the most critical element of all these tips, and the reason I included it at the end is that it must cover the first nine. Without manager agreement on these strategies (not just your manager but others in the organization), your plan has no wheels. Furthermore, your manager needs to be prepared to go to bat for you when the times get rough and you’ve been turned into a rope in a game of tug of war. Whether its reassigning work to balance the load, pushing back against other managers who want to reorder your priorities, or calmly dealing with complaints from customers who felt you didn’t quickly address their needs, your manager must be on your side. Your manager might also be able to arrange for more staff to be hired to relieve you or urge training for users where necessary.

What if you don’t have manager support? What if your boss allows anyone who comes along to seize your focus and hijack your day? Don’t be afraid to take it to HR. They are there to handle employee relations, and you shouldn’t fret about “tattling” or “being disloyal.” Even if that’s how you are perceived, it’s still better than being in the middle of a situation without support from the individual to whom you report.

Conclusion

Interruptions will probably always be a way of life to some extent. This society moves too fast to let any moss grow, and pressure can come from all directions. These tips are based upon anticipating the pressure and finding ways to redirect it in more meaningful directions so you can maintain control of your work. It’s critical to stay focused, not just for your own priorities but for those of the company as well.

It’s good that people are competing for your attention (this makes you an asset). But it’s important to remember that you can do only one thing at a time.  Other solutions for reducing distractions (both external and internal) include exercise, meditation, and proper rest. Stay up to date on changes in your field so you’re not stumbling over new developments. Last but not least, don’t forget to engage in healthy socialization with your coworkers, so they can see you as a fellow person and not a task-juggling automaton!

How to approach usability testing

In order to deliver a clean, fresh, and — more importantly — effective user interface, usability tests are required. It is very unlikely any designer, regardless of his reputation and skills, will be able to design a good product without doing some kind of research and testing.

Usability testing is a technique used for evaluating a product by testing it on users who are part of the respective target audience. Testing is used in many fields, but today we will focus on user-centered interaction design and how to test when designing and developing such a product.

Every product has an intended purpose, and the scope and aim of usability testing is measuring if a product meets this purpose with regards to a user.

 

The four principles

Behind every usability test there are different goals, which pertain specifically to the observation aims of the tester. The results can be treated as a control measurement or a baseline. Because several tests can be conducted throughout a period of time, all the results will be compared with the baseline test results.

The four principles behind usability testing are:

  • Efficiency – the tester measures how much time and how many steps are required for the user to complete basic tasks (find a product, add it to the cart, read the feedback and ratings, ask questions, buy the product. These would be basic tasks for a mobile app such as Amazon.
  • Accuracy – how many mistakes do users make when trying to perform these tasks and how fatal are the mistakes?  Sometimes, with the right information, the mistake is recoverable.
  • Recall – after a period of non-use, how much does a person remember about the interface and the browsing process?
  • Emotional response – how does the user feel about the tasks he had to complete? Was the person stressed or confident, and would the user recommend the product to a friend?

These are general principles used in testing user-centered interfaces, but it is important for the tester to set his own usability goals. Based on these, he will be able to closely monitor the subject and interpret his mistakes or gestures.

 

Wrong interpretation

Some people interpret the term “usability testing” incorrectly. Just gathering opinions on an object (or a device or an application) doesn’t mean anything more than market research. This type of research is definitely not usability testing, but rather quantitative research.

In order for such a procedure to be labeled as usability testing, it requires involving a systematic observation under controlled conditions; this determines how well users (always part of the target audience) can make use of the product. Knowing that 86% of the questioned users mentioned that “the application works fine” doesn’t mean you tested the usability of your application and the results were mostly positive. This only means the majority of the questioned individuals seem to think the application works fine, but this is not enough information for you to use for improving the interface.

One key aspect of usability testing is to involve the users as much as possible. Instead of asking them what they think about how a mobile interface looks, ask them to perform some actions. There are many aspects affecting the browsing process and most users will not be able to name or discuss them, but they will most definitely be able to show it to you while using the interface.

 

Methods

There are several methods to usability testing available, and I will go through most of them — or at least the most important — hoping to give you an idea of which one is more suitable for you and your purposes.

When testing a product you need to create a realistic situation in which the participant has to perform a list of tasks using the product you are testing. During this, observers should watch carefully and take notes as quietly as possible. Different props such as paper prototypes, scripted instructions and pre or post-test questionnaires are also used to gather information and feedback about the product you are testing. The think-aloud testing method, co-discovery learning and eye-tracking are usability testing techniques that can be used throughout these methods.

Hallway testing

This is a general methodology working with a limited number of people, ranged between four and six. The name of the testing comes from the idea that participants to the test should be random people who pass by in the hallway. This method can be used when your product is not necessarily aimed at a specific target.

Hallway testing should be employed early in the design phase. Test quickly and test often! This means that you will need to go out there several times. The process is quite simple: test on five persons, go back to the drawing board and solve the issues. Go out and test again on five other people, get back inside and solve the issues. After testing three or four times, the number of critical interface mistakes should be narrowed down significantly, and you then can start focusing on developing the product and its features. You will need to test again at some point in time, but knowing you solved most of your interface issues should allow you to focus on the development phase a bit more.

The reason behind using totally random people is because you don’t want to test your product on individuals who are somewhat familiar with your product and its interface. You want people who have never seen your interface before, so they all start from a common ground. Moreover, this way you can test newcomers — who are most of the time the easiest to lose — as their level of interest and motivation is not high enough yet. If someone who has not used the application before is very happy with it and handles all the tasks easily, it means most of the people who will use your application will do the same.

Remote usability testing

This methodology can be used when the product you test on has prospective users in different parts of the world. Bringing them together would pose real financial challenges and might not be possible for a freelancer or a small company.

Experts concerned by these issues came up with this methodology — which facilitates evaluations and testing being done remotely — with the user and the tester separated over space and maybe even time. Video conferencing is a way of doing this kind of testing, while another one could be by employing remote applications such as TeamViewer or WebEx. Both of them involve users who have a personal computer and an Internet connection. This way the tester can follow the participant’s movements, but not their reactions and emotions.

The tester can automatically get a collection of user’s click streams, user logs of critical mistakes, incidents that occur while interacting with the interface, and even subjective feedback by the users.

The good part about this kind of testing is that it is carried out in the participant’s own environment, which means he will be very confident in his abilities, and you will be able to simulate a real-life scenario testing. Clearly, the biggest advantage of this remote testing methodology is that it allows you to work with people from all over the world without many costs for transport and logistics.

There are several tools a designer can use for remote testing. WebEx and GoToMeeting are the most popular, but pretty much any remote tool would do the job.

Regardless of how well the tools would work, carrying out a synchronous remote testing is a bit more difficult than it looks like, as managing linguistic and cultural barriers through a computer might decrease the efficiency of the test. Interruptions and distractions in the participant’s environment are other challenges that are pretty much impossible to solve from the other corner of the planet.

Expert review

This is another methodology for usability testing and requires bringing in field experts to evaluate the product in testing. The challenges of this method are mostly financial and logistical, as it would cost a lot to bring in experts from different areas.

There is also an automated expert review methodology, which is based on the same principle, only it would be done through the use of different software.

A/B testing

A/B Split Testing is probably one of the most well known experimental approaches to user experience and interface testing. It aims at identifying the elements of a webpage that increase the user’s interest or engagement.

The method is called A/B testing because there are two versions of a website/interface (the A and the B version) that are compared. They are always identical, except for one variation (which can be an element such as a button, contact form or image) that might impact a user’s behaviour.

During the testing period the website is monitored through tools such as Google Analytics. In this period the two versions, A and B, change randomly, which means that you can come on the webpage and find a header image, then refresh the webpage and find the other header image.

The methodology is mainly used behind the scenes to maximize profit, reduce drop-off rates and increase sales. Amazon pioneered the methodology, but companies like eBay, Google, Walmart, Microsoft, Netflix and Zynga are also known for employing this method to increase the profitability of their sites.

Although this is mainly used for e-commerce websites, A/B testing can easily be used in interface design as well; and it can be as effective as giving testers an overview of which interface is better between a choice of two or more.

 

How many users to test?

Carrying out several tests with a limited number of participants is much better than testing once on a larger number of subjects. This translates simply into many quality tests instead of few quantity tests. Around five subjects for each test should be enough to help observers get enough information to work with for a period of time.

The argument behind this theory is that once you find out few people are confused by a feature or a website, you gain less from testing the same interface on even more people, as they will most likely be confused by the same elements. The solution is to solve the issues and then go out there and test again on a limited number of subjects. You need to repeat this process several times to get the best out of it.

There might be some downsides to this theory, many experts say. Usability usually applies to a larger sample of the population, not only to a specific set of users; this means that interface problems might be undetectable by the first group tested. However, carrying out one or two tests with this limited number of subjects is not what this theory suggests.

These tests should be carried out every week — maybe even twice per week — during the design process. The longer the design process is, the larger the number of tests has to be. During this whole process even a number of subjects between 50 and 100, or sometimes even larger, could be tested.

It would be more effective to test subjects across a broad spectrum of abilities in the second phase of testing. During the last tests, as the design should already be smooth, you could narrow the observations down and start testing at your own target audience.

When conducting usability tests, it is also important to notice the things that work well — not only the ones that don’t —and keep testing them over and over again. The theory behind this is that elements not working well should be eliminated, but elements that work well and are enjoyed by users should also be paid attention to. Try to keep them the same as they were in the first instance, because they obviously work well. Focus more on the ones that fail instead of trying to change and improve the ones that are already functioning successfully. There is time for that later on during the post-development processes.

 

Conclusion

Usability testing is something worth carrying out if you develop an interface and hope to achieve some kind of success with it. It might not be worth investing in it when developing a simple website; but I would personally always involve some testing if developing a mobile application, because it is much more complex.

Usability testing can also be done more or less for free; you do not necessarily need to invest a big amount of money in logistics. If you feel you only need to test on a smaller scale, use your friends and relatives for it; it would all be free or very, very cheap (chocolate cake is always a winner).

As you can see above, usability testing is something you can do in many different ways and you have to determine which way is right for you and your purposes before starting. It might seem like a very complicated process in the beginning, but even a beginner should be able to carry out such a test and get something out of it. So if you are in the middle of your design process, do not hesitate to go out there and do some testing — I promise you it will improve your interface and your users will be much happier with it.

10 signs your staff is about to mutiny

You’ve always run a tight IT ship. But lately, well, things aren’t going so well. You’ve ramped up your clients, which dramatically increased your staff’s workload. And now your smooth-running operation is running off the rails. The likely endgame to continuously overworking your staff is a mutiny. Many times, it comes without warning. The big question here is, if you knew the warning signs, would you do something about it?

As someone who has been on both sides of this disastrous fence, I’m here to share some of indications that a mutiny is about to hit. How you react will have a direct impact on how your company survives growth, shrinkage, and all the typical hurdles associated with running an IT department or consultancy.

1: Whispered tales of woe

Nearly everyone has been a part of this. You walk into a room and the discussions turn to whispers, which quickly die off. As the whispers fade, those involved scurry off to their cubicles or offices, never to tell their tale again (at least while you’re around). Those whispers are most often of woe or even anger directed at you, the management of the company, or the company itself. If these whispered tales of woe continue (or worse, grow), you can bet a mutiny is in the works.

2: Suit-and-tie affair

This one is classic. If your employees tend to dress casual every day, and out of nowhere, they are reporting for work clad in a suit and tie (or skirt suit), chances are good those snappily dressed staff members have job interviews. This is especially dangerous when it happens and fellow employees aren’t bringing it up. When the employees are silent on the suit-and-tie affairs, you know they are all aware of what’s happening. At this point, you probably have a silent mutiny on your hands and it might be too late for some of your staff.

3: Sick day fiesta

IT pros tend to not take a lot of sick leave. They know what’s on the line if they do. When the sick days start coming in clumps (especially when it’s happening with multiple staff members), people are reaching a boiling point and are doing everything they can to keep from blowing up onsite — or they are avoiding the suit-and-tie affair altogether. When sick days start piling up, you can bet something much worse is on the horizon.

4: Completely incomplete

One of the most dangerous shifts in IT is when your staff suddenly stops completing jobs. Those incomplete jobs not only pile up, but eventually cause more work and stress for other staff. When that happens, the mutiny will start within but will eventually reach outside your walls. Clients will start complaining and the word will spread. If you see a lot of jobs not getting finished (especially if this is a major change in behavior), you should immediately assume dissension is building among the ranks.

5: Competency nosedive

Related to the completely incomplete: If competency takes a nosedive for no apparent reason, something is amiss. Either your staff members have reached the point where they simply don’t care or their hearts and minds are elsewhere. Either way, this is dangerous territory because it will have an immediate impact on your ability to run a business.

6: Argument escalation

Are your staff members starting to argue with you more and more? Are staff members who never argued before starting to argue? Those arguments are being driven by something within the company — more specifically, unhappy employees. If a handful (or more) of employees are arguing every point they can, that’s a sure sign that something is about to boil up from the depths. The hardest part about this issue is that your chances of winning any of those arguments are slim. Best to find the root of the problem before trying to back down the angry staff.

7: Social awareness

Does it seem like your staff is spending more time on social networking than normal? And to make this more pronounced, are they spending that time on social networking accounts that you aren’t a part of? If you can’t see their social feeds, it’s possible they are lashing out at the conditions of their workplace. This is a tricky area because you don’t want to tread on their privacy, nor do you want to seem paranoid (which would only feed into the uprising). You could, of course, block social networking from the workplace, but that’s not going to stop them from venting once they get home. The other layer of this nasty cake is that word will spread (and spread quickly) of the discontent of the employees. That kind of backlash could have serious ramifications.

8: The furrowed brow

Do you find the majority of your employees walking around with furrowed brows? The demeanor of your employees during the workday says quite a lot about their state of well being. But it’s not just in the facial expressions — it’s in the words they use and how they use them. Are you hearing an increase in profanity used within the workplace? All of this points to one centralized them — discontent. If those employees remain discontent, the mutiny will follow.

9: Avoidance aplenty

Does your staff avoid you at all costs? Do they leave the room when you enter? If it’s not just you, are the staff members avoiding anyone within management or higher? Take this one step further: Are duties being avoided? Rules? Etiquette? Contact with clients? These types of avoidances should be taken seriously – especially when en masse. A shirking of duties once in a great while says one thing; when it becomes regular (and by multiple employees), something is amiss.

10: Late arrivals

Have your staff members started arriving to work late? Are their client schedules starting to reflect this tardiness? Do they seem to be making more and stranger excuses for being late? If this is the case (and it’s widespread), your staff no longer cares. If this type of apathy isn’t dealt with, it will lead to a serious downfall of morale — especially with the remaining few who do care. And if you can’t get the root of the issue, a mutiny will occur.

Act now

There are certain situations that can’t be avoided, and there will always be unhappy employees. But when the few become the many, you’re looking at a company-wide uprising that could wind up costing you more than you might expect. Do not allow your situation to reach this critical mass. The second you spot the signs, take action to get to the heart of the issue.

A strategy to improve application development

Application development is rapidly changing so that mobile and Web-facing apps can meet the needs of outside customers. This means that IT has to adjust how it develops apps and also how it measures them for performance and for delivery of value to the end business. Here are 10 things IT should be doing NOW to make sure that its apps continue to deliver value in contexts (such as the Internet) that apps can no longer fully control and that can affect app performance.

1: Incorporate application development into business strategic planning

IT identifies application development projects within the overall framework of its own strategic plan. But it does not always ensure that major application development projects are linked into the corporate strategic plan, at least as objectives with forecasted results. When this is done, there is assurance that non-IT executives can see the vital applications work that is going on and that they understand and support how the work will contribute to the business.

2: Change the scope of responsibilities for application developers

The end user experience (EUE) is becoming so important that many shops are already expanding the responsibilities of application developers to include active testing for how end users experience the application. This work is being done as part of application unit testing. Moving some elements of QA into the application developer’s bailiwick gives them a more holistic view of what their applications should deliver to the end business.

3: Think about apps as business services and not as coding projects

If your application is intended to deliver a suite of real-time financial analytics to finance, it should be considered as a “service” that finance ultimately assesses for completeness, accuracy, and timeliness. Accordingly, the metrics for application success should be evaluations from the end user unit (in this case, finance) on how well the application meets end business objectives like managing the health of a financial portfolio. This is a different set of metrics than application developers are accustomed to (uptime, speed of throughput, mean time to repair, etc). Instead, a business service focus forces technically oriented staff to keep their eyes on what the application delivers to the end business.

4: Use outside end user experience tools in testing

Testing an application within your own IT environment doesn’t guarantee that an end user using it in a different geographical area over Internet will get the same results. In some areas, Internet traffic is slow, producing an unsatisfactory user experience with an application. Internet testing tool providers can help you identify communications weak spots outside the enterprise so you can understand and mitigate these vulnerabilities.

5: Stick with vendor best practices

Most hardware and software providers have presets in their products that optimize performance. There are also overrides to these default best practices that advanced users can activate. The recommendation is that application developers (unless they are highly experienced) stick with the presets on the software and hardware that their apps use. By doing so, they can avoid unforeseen performance issues that could arise when they move away from standard app development and performance practices on the platforms they are developing on.

6: Be judicious in how you employ “custom” code

If you are using a code generator for part or all of your app development and you need to customize code in certain areas of an app, strive to effect this customization within the customization “windows” that your code generator provides. This assures that the code you produce will continue to be supported by the code generator vendor. It also makes the tasks of later enhancing or maintaining the code less complex, because the customization is within the vendor’s guidelines and best practices.

7: Document

Although there is a plethora of automated application documentation tools, documentation continues to be one of the weakest areas of application development. Poor documentation makes it difficult to maintain or enhance applications at later dates. Most IT shops still spend more than 50 percent of their time on system and application maintenance. They need good documentation to carry out this work efficiently.

8: Standardize mobile devices

With many businesses now using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, it is imperative for corporate IT to standardize the list of mobile devices that employees can use within the enterprise. Nowhere is this standardization more important than in the development of applications for mobile devices. You simply can’t code for them all. By standardizing devices and device configurations, you set the targets for your app development and can ensure better results.

9: Learn from your help desk

Many IT departments continue to treat their help desks as spots for rookie IT’ers. Help desks are viewed as necessary evils that take people away from app development. But when IT takes a more engaging approach toward the help desk, help desk experience can enhance application development. The help desk is a rich source of information on apps, such as which ones get the most trouble calls and which ones seldom get calls. If application developers analyze these help desk reports, they will likely uncover app design and coding pitfalls that can be avoided in the future. The end result is greater end user satisfaction and fewer trouble reports.

10: Evaluate application utility

IT regularly assesses hardware utilization (e.g., only 20 percent of a particular server is being used on a daily basis). It should extend this utilization analysis to applications. Some years ago, I was working on a dairy ration app with a system engineer. We discovered that only 20 percent of the app was being used by users — and that the other 80 percent of the app (the richest part!) was not being used at all. The problem was that the user interface into the more robust part of the app was too difficult for users to navigate, so they avoided it altogether. As a result, the company was losing a valuable competitive edge. If IT assessed its apps like it does its hardware, it could gain valuable insights into how to build and improve apps for a maximum return on effort.

Improve the image of your IT department

Sometimes the stereotypical image of your department keeps you from getting the job done. Learn how to fight this image to benefit your employees and the company as a whole.

For those of us that have worked in the IT industry, we are well aware of the image of the IT department at most businesses. Arrogant, rude, obstructive; these are just a few words that have typically been associated with IT. Stereotypes likes these can limit effectiveness and make it difficult for your IT department to do its job. Improving the image of your IT department is something that is not only beneficial to your employees, but also the company as a whole.

Demonstrate that you’re human beings

The most common mistake made by IT departments is that they forget that the majority of their work is customer-service based. This means that there is a great deal of human interaction required and you must learn to deal with other people.

Too often, because most IT problems can be solved remotely, members of the IT department will spend almost all of their time in their respective office. It is important to get involved around the office and not hide out in the IT department.

Getting out of the IT department every now and again will give you the chance to meet the users and establish relationships with them. This also gives them a chance to put a face and name to the IT department which is much harder to put a negative connotation on. It may be a good idea to occasionally go help a user face to face even when it’s unnecessary as this will help them understand what goes into fixing an IT problem. This will help users remember that the IT department is made up of human beings and not a group of robots who can magically solve all their problems instantly.

Establishing a good rapport with the users will make things easier for everybody. You will be less frustrated with their requests and they will be more patient and appreciative of your efforts to find them solutions.

Communicate and educate

Maintaining communication with users as well as continuously educating them will improve your IT department’s image and efficiency.

Communication is something that is important throughout the entire company, but it may be most important between users and the IT department. By keeping open lanes of communication with users you can show that your department is accessible and easy to get in touch with. This will improve your image within the company as well as increase efficiency as users will be more comfortable coming to you with issues early, rather than waiting until a major problem develops.

Education is equally essential to improving your department’s image. Informing users on basic IT solutions is beneficial to both parties and can be done in a number of ways. One way to do this is by organizing meetings or workshops with employees from every department where you can work hands-on with users to help them better understand IT processes.

Games/competitions can be incorporated into these workshops and prizes can be given away to add some excitement. Providing those who attend the opportunity to win a raffle prize could also be used as an incentive. Another way to keep users informed is by including a monthly IT column in the company newsletter that offers tips and advice for basic IT issues. This will improve the department’s image as users will see you as being genuinely helpful and it could also save you some time as users may be able to fix a problem themselves rather than by contacting IT.

Be personable and avoid jargon

Finally, the simplest thing you can do to improve you IT department’s image is to just be personable. If you are friendly and patient with users, then they will give you the same courtesy. The “golden rule” applies well here and it is important to remember that if you are rude and short with users they are unlikely to listen to your suggestions which could lead to the frustration of fixing the same problem over and over again.

Also, remind yourself that you are interacting with a person who more likely than not doesn’t know as much about technology as you do (otherwise they would probably be in the IT department). It is important to avoid jargon and terms that those unfamiliar with IT may not understand. This needs to be done without talking down to the person, as doing so will only cause resentment. It is incredible how beneficial simply being polite can be to your department’s overall success.

Improving the image of your IT department within your company can contribute directly to a more successful and effective department. An improved reputation for your department will make it much easier (and less stressful) to do your job. Although there are some negative views and stereotypes associated with IT, it is possible to take actionable steps towards abolishing these stereotypes and improving your image into one that is held in high regard.

You know what’s important about end-user training? The end user

Let’s talk about training a little bit. Training end-users is probably one of the most important aspects of successfully rolling out a new technology in an organization, yet it is also one of the most poorly executed tasks.

I recently attended a training session on a new enterprise tool. I walked away thinking that that was an hour of my life that I would never get back again. I’m not one to criticize but… (I really am, I just put that line in there to give my regular readers a chuckle.)

Here are some ways that I think the presenters could have done a better job:

Tailor the presentation

The tool I was being trained on was one that would be shared by several properties in our business group. But guess what? I don’t care how Group A or Group B will be using it. Why would I? I’ve got enough on my plate and no room on the docket for strolling through 700 features that I will never use. Maybe you used the one presentation across the board to save time? Honestly, I don’t care. If you can’t take the time to customize the presentation for my benefit, then don’t invite me.

Use examples

If I will be using a tool to perform x, y, and z, then I want you to walk through examples of x, y, and z. Show me a typical example of MY work and how it will be done with this tool. You can go through and point out all the bells and whistles but unless they have a practical application, then count me out. I’ve got work to do.

Consider the old tool

I think it would be really cool if engineers had to really get to know the old application end-users are using before they start adapting or creating a new app. Because I think that’s the best way to understand the usability preferences end-users are accustomed to.

It’s also a more straightforward way to explain the new tool to me. “In the old tool, you had to do this to accomplish this task. In the new tool, this is how you’ll be using it.” Draw some comparisons FOR me and show me you give a crap about how the new tool will affect my work.

A friend of mine, Jeff Davis, wrote a great piece on IT pro presentations in sales meetings that bring up some other excellent points. I think both of our takeaways focus on one main aspect of presentations: Know your audience and proceed from there.

10 keys to a successful corporate online training program

Some enterprises are building their own online training programs to ensure that employees have appropriate skills for the business. But it’s not easy. In many cases, they don’t have experience in developing online courses that map to corporate goals or in finding internal mentors and educational guides. Nevertheless, some organizations have done an extraordinary job of tailoring online education to meet the needs of their businesses. Here are 10 “necessary ingredients” that successful online programs have.

1: Training curriculum and educational qualifications are mapped to position descriptions

If you are an entry-level programmer and your goal is to one day become a database administrator, you can should be able to log into a corporate intranet and research both the prerequisites and the online courses that are needed to prepare and to qualify you for a DBA position.

2: Corporate culture supports an in-house training environment

Beginning with C-level executives, the enterprise must see the value of committing dollars, time, and people to training. Departments (e.g., HR and IT) collaborate on training development, and there is a willingness to commit the time and energy of some of the enterprise’s most valuable (and expensive) employees to the task. Training participation is also linked into employee performance reviews.

3: There is an internal mentor system

No matter how good online training is, companies using it most productively recognize that human interaction is needed for best results. Companies that do training well assign senior-level mentors to employees, and these mentors guide students in their learning.

4: The goal of training is knowledge transfer

Great internal training programs aim for immediate knowledge transfer into business projects and workloads. This is done by creating training assignments that can be applied directly in real projects. In other words, if the student’s goal is to become a DBA and he or she is taking database training, an assignment might be to develop a schema for a new database that the enterprise actually plans to place into production.

5: Employees take responsibility for their training and career development

The company can commit time to develop and monitor courses — and even give employees time at work for training — but the most successful companies also demand a commitment from students to do training on their own time and to actively participate in course selections.

6: Students get prompt feedback

Since online learning tends to be self-directed, students can go for considerable lengths of time without feedback. Great corporate training programs don’t let this happen. If employees are progressing well, their efforts are recognized. If they’re having difficulty, mentors and managers are there to help realign expectations and if necessarily, revisit career goals with them.

7: A 24/7 intranet training portal is available for training administration and tracking

Students can access their training progress and results anytime from anywhere, with total visibility of their training and how it fits with individual career goals and company expectations.

8: There is a dedicated training function for curriculum development

Enterprises with top-notch training have a dedicated core of internal training professionals who develop and administer training. Often, this group is part of HR. But specialized areas (like IT) might also have their own training functions.

9:  Employees are rewarded and recognized

Companies with successful training programs reward and recognize employee training success. They issue certificates of course completion and in some cases, salary increases and job promotions.

10: Training is annually evaluated to ensure continued alignment with corporate goals

Like budgeting and project prioritization, training-competent companies evaluate training on a regular basis to ensure that it continues to map to the skills that the enterprise feels it is most in need of.

Stereotyping in the Web Design and Development Industry

Many clients and individuals have preconceived notions about web developers and designers. Some stereotypes have a basis in fact, while others are simply anomalies and are untrue. For example, people often think of web developers and designers as geeky, programmer-types who work in solitude until the wee hours of the morning. Many web designers and developers are technically inclined and many do work on projects that require long, strange hours. However, not all web designers and developers are technical wizards with no social life.

Some stereotypes are more detrimental than others. Some unfounded stereotypes may actually get in the way of business productivity because of prejudiced notions about particular groups of web designers and developers. Businesses may forgo a certain group of individuals due to racial and cultural stereotypes. Some stereotypes hinder great web developers and designers in their efforts to obtain work, particularly from big companies. Stereotypes are at least responsible, in part, for slowing the growth and fault finding of the web development industry.

Stereotyping in the Web Design and Development Industry

Some of the most prevalent stereotypes of web developers and designers may include:

1. Offshore web designers and developers produce shoddy work and are basically cheap labor

Undoubtedly, some offshore web designers and developers have produced less than stellar work in the past. Plenty of other web developers and designers have also contributed their share of shoddy work. However, developers and designers in India or other countries may be just as talented as the best U.S. designers and developers. Because of the drastic difference in the cost of labor between the U.S. and many other countries, foreign web developers and designers often work for lower rates than programmers in the U.S.

Selecting a developer or designer based solely on their experience and skills, and not based on bias and prejudice, is the best way for companies to obtain the best work at the best rate. Businesses must be willing to honestly evaluate candidates’ skill levels, regardless of their culture or country of origin.

2. Expensive cannot be poor work

One common myth is that the more a company pays for web development or design, the better the work will be. Work that is very expensive may be very shoddy, as well. The converse is also true. A talented developer may charge a low rate, but produce outstanding work. The rates charged by the web developer or designer is generally a poor predictor of the quality of work that will be delivered.

The best way to judge the quality of work produced by a web developer or designer is to see and verify past work that the programmer has produced for clients. If the programmer has a history of producing quality work, he or she will most likely produce quality work for you, regardless of the rate they charge.

Most designers will fight their stand as you can only choose two between: cheap, fast and quality work. If you want quality work fast, it will not be cheap, if you want fast work cheap, it will not be quality, and if you want quality work cheap, it will not be fast.

3. All web developers or designers of a particular ethnicity are inherently scam artists and cons

As the saying goes, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.” Because many email scams and Internet cons have originated in African or Asian countries, web developers from those continents often get a bad rap.

Plenty of decent, well-qualified African and Asian web developers and designers are available to provide high quality work for clients. Don’t allow a perception that all African or Asian web developers and designers must be dishonest. This perception is not true.

4. Female web designers and developers are less skilled than males

Stereotypes have emerged from gender roles that presume that males are more technically inclined than females. Some people believe that females can only be talented in the design fields. This misconception has emerged in part because web development is a male-dominated field.

However, a female web developer can be just as talented and skilled as a male developer. A male developer may be able to create exceptional web design, as well.

Designer and developer Faruk Ateş talk about how sexism is hurting our industry in more significant ways than most people realize. The writer also explains what it’s all about and what we can do to address this issue.

5. Freelance web developers and designers are less skilled than those who work for large companies

This stereotype assumes that all great web developers and designers are employed by large companies. In fact, many freelance developers and designers are as talented, if not more talented, than their employed counterparts.

Many companies have had bad experiences with freelance developers and designers. However, take note that many companies have also had problems with the work of large development companies, too. Whether a designer or developer is a freelancer has no bearing on the quality of work that they deliver.

6. Older developers and designers are less skilled than younger web professionals

This stereotype comes about because many people believe that older individuals are not able to grasp technical concepts and learn new programming languages or keep up with the latest design or development trends. This is untrue, as many web developers have been programming for clients since the mid 1990s. These developers are obviously more experienced and skilled at web development than the young adult who just graduated with their Bachelors degree in Computer Science.

Age must not be used as a way to determine whether a web designer or developer will produce good work. Whereas for very young designers or developers, many clients feel that they should charge less or even work for free due to their inexperience however their rate could match up to any professional individual in accordance with their work rather than age.

7. Web developers and designers do not keep up their appearance

Though to some degree, this stereotype may be true for some developers and designers, one must ask which is most important: The way the developer looks or the quality of work that they deliver. The best web developer or designer may not have the best social skills or keep up with personal hygiene all that well, but if you are concerned with getting the best work for the best price, the individual’s appearance should be of little concern.

We often picture a slim white guy who love wearing tight jeans, a coffee addict, music lover with a stylish hair and an absolute apple fanatic as the prototypical “designer” despite the fact that programming skills have absolutely nothing to do with gender, hair, hygiene or weight. But every time we depict a designer as being that, it sends the message that it’s a role model in order to be a great designer, which deters anyone who isn’t, cannot be or does not want to be like that.

Selecting a Quality Web Developer or Designer

When clients select a web designer or developer, the choice should be made solely on the development and design skills of the individual. Country of origin, gender, race, ethnicity or culture should not be a factor. Granted, some barriers exist when working with a multicultural staff. The most prominent barrier can be language. The developer and client must speak a common language to convey the objectives of the project at hand.

With common language, cultural differences may be easily overcome. In the process, the field of web development grows as more designers and developers are provided with opportunities for work. Evaluate the developer or designer based on the quality of their work and not based on errant stereotypes. Open doors for global developers and designers to find opportunities and prove their skills.

Clients seeking to hire web developers or designers should never assume that because a developer or designer is from a particular culture, that they are particularly talented or unskilled at any task. Competent web designers and developers hail from every corner of the World. The Web Development Cost and Rate Comparison post by Bernard Kohan provides a summary of the types of web development and design companies that are available, as well as the range of rates for each type of company. Companies generally choose the type of web development or design company based on the project budget.

How Developers and Designers Can Combat Stereotyping

Developers and designers can do their part to fight stereotyping, as well as protecting themselves. Developers and designers must always provide the highest quality of work for each and every client. Developers and designers should have credible portfolios demonstrating past work and listing past clients. The best predictor of future quality work is past quality work.

Show potential clients your best work and always work to produce your best. You will always have a variety of client projects to display if you always produce top quality work. You can also display your best photograph or include design or development techniques into your portfolio to project your confidence and creativity.

When developers and designers produce quality work over time, they build credibility with current and future clients. Satisfied clients will share their experiences with friends, family and colleagues. Develop the reputation of always doing the job right the first time. Go the extra mile to ensure 100 percent customer satisfaction with every deserving client, on every project. Quality work will be noticed. Be willing to forge your own way and create a name for yourself with excellent work and outstanding customer service.

When developers and designers are just getting started and do not yet have a portfolio of projects to display, one option is to create a series of personal projects that showcase development skills and creative design. Consider guest blogging for popular web design and development blogs. Submit articles to popular technical e-zines. Create and post tutorials of interest to other designers and developers on your own portfolio site. As you gain new clients, you can replace your personal work with completed, paid projects.

Finally, maintain excellent personal hygiene and grooming whenever you have contact with any potential customer. Even if video conferencing over Skype, be sure to look your best and demonstrate grace and poise.

Conclusion

The structural inequalities in our society are so complex that they are under constant debate and scrutiny. Even just within the confines of our industry, we may never attain the idealistic meritocracy we claim to crave. This is an ongoing issue and everyone should do their part by acknowledging and understand the problem and implementing the proposed solutions to it. We must exhibit great inclusivity within our niche to serve everyone anywhere effectively.

Looking beyond stereotypes will enlarge the pool of potential web development candidates. Evaluating the work of the individual without viewing the individual through the lens of a stereotyped perception is the way businesses must handle procuring web developers and designers. Enlarging the pool of potential candidates by providing opportunities for those who could be overlooked due to stereotypes is one-way businesses can cost effectively meet their web development goals.

 

7 Ways to Improve Your Responsive Web Design Approach

1. Why use Responsive Web Design?

RWD is a cheap option; you can re-purpose your existing desktop layout to ensure it works well on a smaller mobile device. If you’re developing a new site, there are few reasons not to use RWD.

However, are you considering RWD because it’s an inexpensive way to tick a few business strategy objectives? You can certainly implement a mobile layout within a few hours but will it be useful? It’s usually obvious when a responsive design has been added as an afterthought. It may be better to stick with a good desktop layout than undermine your online presence.

2. Consider the Context, but…

…avoid stereotypes.

Historically, designers considered desktop viewers to be static and smartphone users to be roaming. A train company would typically highlight ticket buying on desktop devices and station directions on mobile devices. There are a couple of problems with this approach:

  • the boundaries have become blurred. People use whatever device is practical e.g. they may surf the net on a phone while watching TV.
  • RWD reveals nothing about the context. Device resolution is a crude assumption especially when you consider the high-density displays offered by modern phones and tablets.

If static and roaming users have different contexts, it may be preferable to provide separate mobile sites or apps which have dedicated functions.

3. Distill Your Content

Why do people visit your site? What’s important to those users? What’s their typical journey? Without these answers, you’ll be tempted to throw everything on the home page. That may be possible on a large display but you’ll struggle when switching to a mobile layout.

The best option: think small-screen first, then…

4. Design Upwards

Once you have a design for the smallest practical screen, you can work upwards in a series of media query breakpoints.

While there are no strict rules, breakpoint steps should not be large — perhaps no more than 200 pixels. However, each step need not be a major re-flow such as additional columns; it could be a font-size change, floating images or another simple tweak.

5. Keep it Fluid

Ideally, your design should be fluid between breakpoints — not fixed. While fixed layouts are easier to comprehend and code, they’re too fragile for RWD

Ideally, even your media queries should use proportional units such as %, em and rem instead of pixels.

6. Never Compromise

RWD should never be used to offer a watered-down version of your website. In some cases, you should consider additional facilities on mobile devices such as geo-location and off-line support. Keep it simple and easy to use:

  • don’t use browser sniffing
  • don’t disable zooming
  • don’t hide content.

7. Only Performance Matters

RWD may be cheap to implement but it should be planned from the start. Applying RWD to a site serving 1Mb+ pages will never result in an optimal experience on devices operating over a mobile network.

Responsive Web Design is one of the most important technologies to appear in recent years. But using RWD badly may be worse than not offering it at all.

Common misconceptions about responsive design

I browse the internet everyday, on multiple devices. I use my Macbook Pro, iMac, PC, iPad, iPhone and yes even my television. So it really bothers me when I see websites that aren’t optimized for larger screen resolutions, or that take two minutes to load on my mobile device.

We’ve all embraced the concept of responsive design. Very few people argue against it. In fact, the only convincing repost I’ve heard recently is that a client is unwilling to pay for the extra time involved. But as with any new practice, myths have grown up to counterpoint it.

Let’s see if we can bust a few of those misconceptions…

 

Responsive design is all about mobile

Yes the mobile web is exploding and yes it is the driving force behind responsive design, but when we think of responsive design we need to consider more than just mobile. With the introduction of retina displays and video game browsers, internet users are now viewing websites on larger screen resolutions and in many different contexts.

Try to take into account different user contexts when designing and developing responsive websites. You need to think about what device a user is using: is the user on a mobile device or at home in front of the television? You need to think about where the user is located: is the user in line at the grocery store or camping out in the wilderness? Having good content means nothing if your site takes ten minutes to load while your users are sitting on the beach having a margarita.

Content is everything but context is everywhere and it is something that you have absolutely no control over. Which is why, realistically, your content should scale to any resolution, big or small. We have a set of tools at our disposal that will allow us to manipulate layouts, optimize text sizes, and increase performance for any context so remember to use them.

Remember context is shifting all of the time, which is why it’s so important to balance the visual layout, user’s needs, and performance when approaching a responsive design. It’s not just about mobile.

 

Responsive design doesn’t work for every use case

I used to argue that responsive web design will not work for every project and that it depends on the use case. Well, I’ve recently amended my view and I firmly believe that if we are going to be user focused designers and developers we need to approach every project with responsive design in mind.

Fixed width websites can be limiting on larger and smaller screen resolutions. The bottom line is that our web sites should be accessible to everyone no matter what device or screen resolution they are using, without restrictions.

 

Responsive design is about device breakpoints

I have noticed a trend emerging in the industry where designers and developers are building responsive websites that scale to certain device resolutions only, and I’m guilty of this as well. The three most common devices are of course laptops/desktops, iPads and iPhones (or other mobile devices). As designers we need to realize that responsive design is about design breakpoints and making content readable and accessible to everyone, not just the users of certain devices.

That being said, if you are designing websites in a software program, it is important to have some sort of framework with breakpoints to work off of. I suggest creating your own. Optimize your layout according to the content. The best way to find out what breakpoints work best is to sketch a few wireframes first to get an idea, then you can start laying down pixels in your software of choice. Make sure that you work off the same grid when wireframing and designing.

If you are like me then you code your wireframes and create a live prototype. This has helped me alot with my responsive workflow because I can create a fluid mockup and add breakpoints to the design as the design breaks instead of trying to cram pixels in Photoshop.

 

Responsive design harms typography

One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed on a lot of responsive websites is that typography is thrown to the wolves when designers and developers choose to use device breakpoints over design breakpoints. In my opinion choosing device over design shows a complete disregard for the content being published and the user consuming that content. The content should maintain its readability until it has to adjust to maintain that readability. Content will always be king and the accessibility and readability of your content should always be the highest priority.

One of the ways that I like to handle maintaining the readability of content in a responsive design is to use relative units such as ems for font-size, padding, margins and layout. Responsive design is all about proportionate layouts and, in my opinion, ems are a perfect fit.

Ems are relative units that are scalable to the font-size of parent elements, they can save you a lot of time and hassle, and they help to maintain the structure of your entire layout. What does this mean you ask? Well it means that as the base font-size increases or decreases, the layout adjusts evenly without fudging anything up.

Here’s an example, lets say we’ve found two design breakpoints, one for a very large desktop monitor at a super resolution and one for a small tablet. Let’s also say our base font-size is 16px which equals 1.0em and we bump the base font-size up to 22px when the site is viewed at a resolution of 3840 x 2160(super resolution) and we lower that base font-size to 14px at a resolution of 800 x 600(small laptop/tablet). We’ve just dramatically altered the size of the type and the layout of our website at two designated breakpoints, one large and one small. A headline at 1.4em with a 22px base font-size for larger resolutions means that 1.4em equals 30.8px and at the smaller base font-size of 14px, 1.4em would equal 19.6px. Even though our font-size got dramatically bigger at 3840 x 2160 we don’t have to worry about the layout breaking because it has also adjusted. Let’s say our containing element had a width of 50em. At a resolution of 800 x 600 that would be 700px but at the resolution of 3840 x 2160 it would be 1100px. Our padding and margins would adjust as well. At the larger resolution having font-sizes and layout set in ems has allowed our design to scale proportionally which makes our content more accessible and more readable.

 

Responsive design means hiding content

The purpose of responsive design is to make your content accessible to everyone, even the disabled, across all screen resolutions and devices. Hiding content is never a good idea and, chances are, if you have to hide it you didn’t need it to begin with. Hiding content makes it unreadable to screen readers and you are now making your content inaccessible to those with visual or cognitive disabilities. Keep this in mind, content should be universal across all devices, don’t punish your users by limiting what they can view on a separate device.

That being said, I still find a few use cases where display: none; comes in handy. Mostly all of the use cases deal with some sort of navigation, and I use display: none; on navigation elements that change form on different devices. It’s never a good idea to limit or hide content on different devices because you’ve most likely based that decision on an assumption and some user, somewhere, will have a very bad experience.

 

Responsive design sacrifices performance

There have been a number of websites that I have seen lately that have shown a lack of empathy towards users with low bandwidth. The majority of these sites have the same things in common, large images and large JavaScript libraries and a lot of these websites could have been optimized if they were designed with a mobile first approach.

Because there is still a lot of discussion about responsive images, it is hard for anyone to commit to any one solution. I understand the dilemma, but waiting around for a perfect solution that is standard across all browsers and devices is not making your current website any easier to use on devices with limited bandwidth. Find a solution that best fixes your problem and run with it. Not finding a solution means performance issues for everyone, and that completely defeats the purpose of responsive design.

Large JavaScript libraries can also cause problems on smaller devices. Try finding a way to call them conditionally based on screen resolution or type of device. Performance shouldn’t be an afterthought when it comes to responsive design.

 

Conclusion

The web has exploded, and with the advent of mobile and smartphone technology we can access content anywhere and in any context. It’s important to make sure we can reach all of our users and give them what they want, when they want it. Responsive design is a very new technique and in my opinion it’s the perfect technique to unify our content across the web.

The Art of Designing User Driven Websites

I want you to envision a scenario wherein you enter a store because you are attracted by the products that you see in its display window. On entering the store, you immediately notice the products that you would like to buy, you also get the required information about them in terms of their features, functionalities and pricing in quick time; this is followed by your choosing the product, making the payment and getting out of the store.

What you have envisioned is a perfect in-store experience that is user friendly, in this particular case, its customer friendly. You weren’t confused or irritated by the whole process of looking for information and taking action. The time frame between entering the shop and getting out of it with the required purchase was minimal but very satisfying and successful.

You got what you needed, in a way that was quick and convenient. Juxtapose this thinking to a website, and you have the definition of a user driven website. It’s the kind of site that is made with the user as the core focus of attention.

The Art of Designing User Driven Websites

What are user driven websites?

The development perspective
A website is a coming together of a set of applications, processes, content and services and at one level can be called an online platform that hosts a set of integrated technologies. A website that is user driven ensures that the interaction between the user and these integrated technologies is seamless, informative and results driven. The convergence of all the website components must deliver a UX that allows users to achieve all their objectives.

The design perspective
A user friendly website design enhances a user’s understanding of the website’s features and functionalities so that the user interaction with the overall website is effective, seamless and results driven. The design of the website must be all that its users want it to be.

Here in this article we are going to take a closer look at the ‘designing’ aspect of user driven websites.

What makes a website’s design user friendly?

When you access a website and go through it, you are actually doing so, because you believe its user friendly. The time that you spend browsing the site is directly proportional to its user friendliness. Our mind subconsciously acknowledges the website’s user friendliness and begins to consume its content.

So, what are those core website qualities that we subconsciously identify as being user friendly? Here are some of them:

  • Faster page loads
  • Easy to use navigation
  • A well-structured site map
  • A prominent search functionality
  • Scannable content
  • Content broken up into various categories
  • High resolution images
  • Well placed call to action buttons
  • Uncluttered designs with no unnecessary design elements

The Designing Process

Step 1: Identify your Users and their Behavior

Identifying target users: Who is your target audience? Get an idea about their demographics, geographic segmentation, interests and preferences. Also get an idea about the websites that they access, which are also a part of your target niche.

User Behavior: A user driven website can only be designed if you understand user behavior. An average website user wants to experience an increase in self-esteem and also a sense of growth when they visit your site. They must feel welcome and they must also feel safe when they access your site. They also don’t want to be just bystanders but eager participants in the process of information distribution, assimilation and dissemination which happens on your website.

Understanding user behavior especially that of your target audience helps you identify their expectations. While these expectations might change from one user to another and can also change from one site to another the basic expectations remain the same. A typical user wants the website to be:

  1. Accessible
  2. Stable
  3. Usable
  4. Reliable
  5. Functional
  6. Flexible

Your design must keep these expectations in mind.

Step 2: Conceptualize the Design

Now that you know who your users are, what they want and also their behavior, it’s time to get started on brainstorming a designing concept that will meet their needs and requirements. This includes:

  • Identifying a design pattern.
  • Deciding on the web design layout for the project and identifying the necessary functions.
  • Defining the current web design trends that must be integrated into the project.
  • Identifying the right design elements that meet the purpose of the website.
  • Identifying the images that will build the right emotion into the website; the right images to generate the right emotions, which in turn generate the right user responses.
  • Coming up with designing ideas that will help you differentiate your website from that your competitors.
  • Identifying the appropriate web design technologies that will help bring your website to life.

At the end of the conceptualization process, you have ensured your concept will help you deliver a highly satisfying user experience.

Step 3: Designing User Flow

How will a user get from Point A to B on your site, with Point A being the beginning and B being the successful end to the browsing experience?

In order to ensure that the journey between A and B is traversed in the shortest possible time and that it’s also successful, you need to design a user flow; don’t start designing a website immediately after conceptualization, first design the user flow, that your design needs to support. Tie in your design flow with your website objectives; this will help you design a user oriented website by ensuring a design that is results driven to the core.

The user flow is determined by the purpose of your site and its conversion objectives. Here are three examples of what a common user flow looks like. The levels that are a part of the user flow will change in relation to the website purpose and its complexity. But overall the basics of a user flow will remain the same as illustrated below:

Step 4: Start Designing

Wireframing
First create a wireframe for your design. For this, you can hand sketch on a piece of paper, use a flow chart or web prototyping software or even graphics software like Photoshop or Illustrator. This will help you and your client get a look into the website’s structure and know whether it stands with respect to usability. By getting an up-close and personal view of the site’s design, you can even revise your concept if you feel the design isn’t user driven enough.

Design
Once a wireframe has been approved, it’s time to write the HTML and CSS code for the basic design. You have to start getting the visuals on screen and make sure that each of the codes that you write are validated before your starting putting the various interactive elements together.

User Driven Websites – A Few Examples and Thoughts on the Same

Let’s take a look at few examples of user driven websites to understand this concept better.

Alertful
I love the inherent simplicity of this website and its ability to tell you everything you wanted to know about the product on its Home Page itself. If you are selling a product, the website’s design, especially its landing page must only focus on the product. The product is the website’s Raison d’être, and the reason why people are coming to the site.

‘Alertful’ is a prime example of how a product driven website should be. The only thing that users are looking for on such sites is information about the product and a link to get started on using it, this website does that brilliantly well.

Clearleft
This is a company that offers a comprehensive range of web design services. What are the users looking for when they come to such websites? It’s the portfolio; this website has a Home Page with a slider that gives users a look into the work done by them. Not only is this website visually appealing but very functional as well.

Its core focus is on telling users how it can help their organizations through their design service and it does this with aplomb.

Amazon
Amazon is the perfect example of a user driven ecommerce site. Even first time online shoppers will have no trouble using it. Right at the top, you have the search bar with a drop down list of product categories. Just key in the product name or type, and pick the category to search; there is a navigation bar with product categories and there is also a list of product categories on the left of the screen.

All information that a prospective buyer would want from the Home Page of an ecommerce site is on offer. The Sign in information at the top of the page is also clearly visible. What more do you need? It also meets the highest standards of usability when you browse through it. Its breadcrumb navigation tells a user where he/she is and how to go back to the pages they are coming from. Shopping on Amazon is a breeze because of the site’s usability.

Conclusion

A typical user driven website that comes good on all user requirements and expectations is an outcome of careful planning and above all an understanding of what the user wants. There is no special code that needs to be written to design a user driven website. It’s only if you have a clear idea about their needs and expectations that you will be able to deliver a site that users will love going through.

There is absolutely no doubt that it is only focused, user driven research that will help you design user driven websites. Nothing else will do.

5 Common Types of Bosses (And How to Deal With Them)

My years of experience working for a financial company have led me to face many types of bosses. Some were very hard to deal with, but I was fortunate that I had mostly good ones to look after me. As I moved into sales and marketing, I noticed that bosses were particularly more inclined to build a good rapport with the sales guys.

It may be because they thought that sales teams were the crux of a firm, and therefore, bosses made sure that the sales team members were well looked after. That doesn’t mean that the sales department had it all hunky-dory; it’s also the sales team members who had to bear the brunt of a boss’s wrath. When things don’t go their way, that’s where you come across the real side of the boss.

Managing Your Boss

Bosses (not leaders – there is a difference) are humans too and they have their preferences and dislikes and if you play your cards well, you will be able to work not only for them, but also with them. There have been employees I knew personally, who never performed that well, but still they manage to keep their jobs because they knew how to be in the boss’s good books.

Learning how to deal or manage your boss is a significant and transferable skill, and will indefinitely decide how far you progress. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all bosses in the world fall only into these 5 categories, but if yours does, I have suggestions on how you can stay in the organization.

1. The boss With the Superiority Complex

He loves screaming and he looks for opportunities to shout at others. A high-pitched boss has a superiority complex, and believes that others are wrong. A very edgy character by nature, he doesn’t like to dwell on a reason behind a problem, but instead takes solace from the fact that he has scolded someone, and hence, he has prevented the mistake from re-occurring. Many of you may have certainly come across such bosses.

You will notice that they are also edgy in their appearance, not just by the way they talk, but also by the way they sit. Peep inside his office chamber, and you will find that he is always shifting in his seat. Even before he has said a word, he has already made you edgy and worried about what he is going to say next.

How to Deal with It:

Dealing with such bosses is easy only if you are prepared to take verbal blows from him. A high-pitched boss gets satisfaction from watching his subordinates take his nonsense. And if you can do exactly that, then you have dealt with him.

Never give an impression that you are fed up with taking his nonsense, the more you accept his verbal blows, the more he believes he is right.

By doing so, you will stay on his good side. But if you try to show that you are smarter than him by opposing him or getting into an argument with him, you perhaps risk your growth in the company and will probably do better with another type of boss.

2. The Boss who Brandishes his Power

He takes great pride in waving his power and authority around, not just in office but sometimes also at home. A power-brandishing boss loves wearing the mask of a boss, and believes that bosses are the highest-regarded professionals in the world.

He is overtly possessive of his post and always wants to give an impression that he is completely in control of the situation, even when in reality he is not.

He is insecure, and too preoccupied with trying to always have things under his control. At times, the employees may have committed mistakes, yet he pretends to have not seen them and says little of their mistakes.

How to Deal with It:

This type of boss gives significance to discipline, rather than performance, and is of the opinion that employees should be self-disciplined. His motto is that with discipline, employees will eventually perform.

Even if you find such bosses to be lenient, you should not break the rules too often; and even if you do so, make sure that you don’t bring it to his notice. Show him respect him, and make him feel that he is the big boss and you will be able to go about your duties undisturbed.

3. The Boss Who Doesn’t Belong

This boss gives you an impression that he has been thrown into a post that he is not fit for. This boss is possibly an employee in the company who had been promoted to be a ‘boss’ without the relevant qualities. He is someone management had to fall back on because there are no other options.

You will notice that half of his motivational speeches in office meetings will contain a list of his past achievements, and the rest is utter claptrap. He stresses a lot on performance, but lacks the management skills to get them. Employees may make fun of him behind is back even though in truth he is hardworking.

He tries to learn, and also makes amends if he has committed mistakes. Nonetheless, he lacks confidence and doesn’t stick to a plan especially when things do not work as planned.

How to Deal with It:

This type of boss will welcome advice that will help him get his bearings, and if you can offer him substantial help, you can easily befriend him. Just don’t expect him to be lenient in the office, he has a reputation to build and maintain and he can’t make any false moves, or tolerate mistakes by his team members.

Give it enough time and you find that he will eventually be a good boss as he is eager to learn and will collect the tricks of the trade with time.

4. The boss who Intimidates

An intimidating boss is a no-nonsense boss, aggressive by nature, and tries to get things done by issuing commands. He has an ego, and keeps it with him while he is in the office. Sometimes you will feel that he is trying to run the show as if he is running a criminal gang.

On the one hand, he threatens his employees, but on the other hand, he doesn’t go overboard because he is insecure, and doesn’t wish to lose his effect on the employees.

He believes that too much of intimidation will lessen his grip on his employees, and that’s the reason he sometimes overlooks mistakes by his employees.He keeps to his own space, and is reserved by nature.

How to Deal with It:

The best way for employees to handle this boss would be to respect his privacy, and don’t interact with him unnecessarily. If you are smart enough, and know how to break his defences, you can even befriend him, and will be able to take some liberties in the office.

However, don’t go overboard otherwise, he’d also be the one who throws you out of the office.

5. The boss Who Excels and Influences

Ideally, he is the best boss to have running a company as he handles both the management and his employees efficiently. The company prefers such bosses because they have positive vibes about themselves, and make the company believe that they can produce results even in the midst of a crisis.

They are not particularly harsh on employees, but they mean business. Not all influential bosses are inspiring, but they have the guile to make others perform to their limits. An influential boss is highly professional, and expects employees to behave similarly.

How to Deal with It:

Dealing with him is never a problem if you perform your duties well enough. However, beware of such bosses, as they are highly determined to rise in the hierarchy. If he feels that you are a threat to his goals, he will have you removed from the company.

An influential boss also forms his own core group, even within the same organization, who may inform him of what happens in the office while he is away. Therefore, be careful and mind your own business, and you will always stay in his good books.

Conclusion

We may not have the luck of working with good leaders but we indefinitely have to work with a boss, the head of an organization or the manager of a group of workers. They get groups of people to do things that contribute to the company objectives and at the end of the day,employees don’t leave jobs or organizations, they leave their bosses.

Design = emotions + usability

While fine art is a subjective field, graphic design is more formulaic in its fundamentals. An effective design should make people feel a certain way and take a certain action. In this article I’d like to share Gravity Switch’s web design principles and our thinking behind them.

Those rules are: define goals first; focus on users second; design for emotion; follow the rules of visual design; build a clear, visual hierarchy; be consistent; break the rules (when necessary); don’t overuse gimmicks; and finally test, measure & improve.

 

1. Define goals first

I bet you thought I was going to say “focus on users first”, that’s what most people say. Forget that, let’s start with your goals. Begin every website design project with a brainstorming session that outlines clear, realistic website goals that reinforce to your business objectives.

To better illustrate this let’s look to Amazon. Their objective is to maximize product sales. Through “upselling” and “cross-selling” they can maximize the purchasing power of each user, but to be successful in this they slow down the buying process. Unlike many of their competitors, Amazon does not have a “buy now” button in their search results. Users must visit one more page (with potential upsells) before making a purchase. This is a perfect example of how a site design can meet clear business goals.

2. Focus on users second

With your clear goals top of mind, you’ll then need to define and prioritize users. Be as specific as possible. Some examples of questions to ask are:

  • Male vs. female breakdown?
  • Education level?
  • Locations in country?
  • Related hobbies?
  • Income bracket?
  • Who’s driving kids’ product purchases? Kids? Parents? Grandparents?

The key point is that designers should be aware of users so they can ensure their designs don’t block key usage paths.

 

3. Design for emotions

Be sure you understand what emotions your brand should convey. Brainstorm. Ask questions. Get agreement. And possibly most importantly, focus on these emotions when presenting back to your clients. Never ask if your client “likes” a design. When you deliver designs you should instead ask questions such as “Which of these makes you feel most professional?” or “When you compare these two designs you’ll see that this one is more modern, while this one is more dynamic. Those were both emotions that were important to you, now that you’re seeing them visually which do you think is the most important emotion for you to present to your target audience?”

4. Follow the rules of visual design

There are many small elements that website users consciously and subconsciously use to decide if they’re going to trust a website. The most important ones are:

  • Cropping: selecting photos is only half the battle, cropping photos is what makes or breaks a page layout.
  • Negative space: paying careful attention to margins, padding, and line height is the difference between looking like the New York Times vs. a high school newsletter.
  • Fonts: everyone loves choosing fonts, but a great designer can spot a professional font quickly and has the restraint to keep the number of fonts on the website to 1-2 (not counting the logo which is often its own font).
  • Colors: colors are one of the hardest things for designers to use effectively. There are so many rules to picking a good color palette, and while it’s tempting to use online color palette generators, spend time designing your own color palette.
  • Layout: create good visual page “flow” so that the user’s eyes go where you want them to go on the page without other elements visually clouding your objectives.

 

5. Build a clear, visual hierarchy

Website visitors skim. They don’t read. Grab their attention and get them to the most important information with a clearly defined, well thought out visual hierarchy. A well thought out design — site > page > section — leads the user through the page the way you want. Users should be able to glance at your page and understand it in a split second.

Look at the following example of an article and notice how it’s hard for your eye to tell what the page is about or where the article starts!

Below is a mockup I made by changing about a dozen lines of CSS to create a clearer visual hierarchy on this page in the following ways:

  1. The article title should be the most prominent element on the page. It’s currently a smaller font size than the heading further down the page! So I increased the size of the article title, and decreased the size of the headings.
  2. The heading further down the page was also disconnected from the content it was a heading for visually, so I also tightened up the spacing below the heading while leaving the space above the heading to let users know that it is a heading for the paragraph below it.
  3. I also moved the little image to the right of the title instead of the left so that when a user scans down the left-hand side of the page to orient themselves the article title is in their vision.
  4. I removed the border and background classes on the blue blurb so it no longer competes with the heading and removed the top margin. There was already a class in place to make it grey, which works fine in this instance.
  5. I also removed the distracting text and image which highlights that this is a reprint article as well as some empty paragraphs and <hr> tags.

6. Be consistent

Don’t confuse your users. Links should be consistent and distinct. Should you choose to use icons, photos and illustrations throughout make sure they look and feel like they belong as a cohesive set. Inconsistencies will distract the your user and obscure your message. Don’t use more than 3 fonts — it’s best if they’re all in the same family. Limit yourself to 5-6 colors (Note: the logo can be a different font, and often should be).

 

7. Break the rules (when necessary)

If there is something particularly unique or important that you need to highlight, you may need to “break the rules.” You can use one or two contrasting colors to help the element stand out. For example the UK website below emphasizes the tax rate by making this a larger element with a pop of color.

8. Don’t overuse gimmicks

Make your design fun, but make sure those elements support what you’re trying to accomplish on the site. For example the Inze site is beautiful to look at and wonderful on mobile but when I visited it on my desktop computer I was lost. It turns out the navigation is hidden until you start scrolling which unfortunately took my eye to the the bottom of the page. As a result I didn’t even notice the subtle navigation appearing at the top. I scrolled most of the way to the bottom before even realizing that there was (finally) a navigation on the top. The “hidden” navigation is a neat effect, but the “design” prevented me from taking the desired action. In the end, it conveys a confusing, sloppy brand image.

Compare Inze to what happens right in this article here on Web Designer Depot when you roll over a link on your desktop computer. We have a neat effect but it doesn’t create a “barrier” for users for the sake of a gimmick. It also degrades gracefully so it won’t break on mobile or older browsers.

 

9. Test. Measure. Improve

Websites evolve. Design for flexibility and adaptability. Collecting and analyzing ongoing test data will drive constant improvement. Remember, it’s all about creating a design that meets your goals.

Remember

Effective graphic design needs to emotionally connect the user with the brand while at the same time getting them to do what you want. It can be done.

Do’s and don’ts of typography

As so much of the content available on the web is text it’s essential for web designers to understand the basic principles of good typography. Having such knowledge allows designers to communicate more effectively, enabling them to create better designs and websites that are easier to use.

For more experienced designers setting text may come naturally but for those who are just starting out I’ve decided to put together a list of the basic do’s and don’ts. Not only will this list teach you the fundamentals but you can also use it as a check list to work through on future projects. Here goes:

 

DO establish a typographic hierarchy

A typographic hierarchy can be established by using a variety of methods such as size, weight, color, and contrast. Its purpose is to give pages structure and guide the user through the content. Without a clear hierarchy the text becomes much harder to scan and therefore generally harder to read. Just take a look at the examples below. On the left the text is one size and one weight so it’s hard to differentiate between headings and body text. Meanwhile, on the right, we have the same content but with a clear typographic hierarchy, so it’s much easier to distinguish between the different elements.

Here I’ve only used size and weight to establish my hierarchy but for even better results you can try to experiment with color and contrast as well.

hierarchy

 

DON’T make the text too small

Not everybody has 20-20 vision so it’s important to make sure that your body text is big enough for people to read comfortably. Personally I would recommend no smaller than a size of 14pt.

text size

 

DO choose an appropriate font for the body text

Another important factor when it comes to your body text is legibility. Although a typeface like Satisfy might suit a design with a hand-made aesthetic, using a typeface such as this for your body text will have a negative impact on your users. This is because it’s much harder to read than your average serif or sans-serif. Look at the examples below and you will notice how much harder your brain has to work in order to make out the words on the left compared to those on the right.

font choice

 

DON’T use too many different fonts on one page

Services like Typekit and Google Fonts may give you access to thousands of fonts but it doesn’t mean that you have to use them all. As you can see from the example below, unless it’s done really well, using multiple fonts can be very distracting. This is why I usually recommend using no more than 2 or 3.

too many fonts

 

DO give your text room to breathe

A lack of white space between each line can affect readability because it makes it difficult for the eye to track from one line to the next. However, this problem can easily be solved by increasing your line-heights, but be careful not to overdo it, too much space can also affect readability in a negative way.

line-height

 

DON’T make continuous use of all caps

People aren’t used to reading large chunks of text set in all caps and because of this it’s actually harder for people to read. Not only that but people often associate all caps with shouting or aggression and when it comes to marketing copy it can come across quite spammy. Due to this it’s important to think about how and when you’re going to use all caps and to make sure that you use it in moderation.

all caps

 

DO try and limit paragraphs to 40-60 characters per line

If a line is too long the reader gradually begins to lose focus and can often have trouble reading from one line to the next. If a line is too short it causes the reader’s eye to travel back too often, which disrupts their rhythm. This can also make them start reading the next line too soon, causing them to miss words from the previous line. This is why the optimal line length for body text is said to be around 40-60 characters per line.

characters per line

 

DON’T use large amounts of centered text

Centered text is difficult to read because the edges of the text block are uneven which makes it harder to scan because each line has a different starting point. Centered text blocks are also difficult to align to other objects on the page and are often considered to look quite amateurish. This is why, like all caps, it’s best to use centered text in moderation, opting for left aligned text as standard instead.

centered text

 

DO make sure there is enough contrast between your text and the background

Contrast is another aspect of typography that can affect readability. If there’s not enough contrast between the text and the background, the content can become illegible.

contrast

 

How I learned to be REALLY creative

As I grew up, being a “creative child,” which was the description my school psychologist used to explain why I didn’t care for school or the usual subjects like math and why I wasn’t like the other children, my mother would get frustrated and call me “bull-headed, just like your great grandfather!” There was little hope for me being anything else but a pain-in-the-butt artist. It was, unfortunately, that incorrigible demeanor I had, either through genetics or experiences that would keep me from being an artist.

Talent for space, shapes and colors would never be enough until I learned to open my mind. Just having the talent to enthrall the other kids in my class, the “normal ones” who would gather around to watch me draw dinosaurs eating army tanks and superheroes ripping the head off our teacher and then point and tattle to that very same teacher that I was drawing naughty pictures — the very same kids who grew up to be Wall Street brokers, lawyers and politicians — would not be enough to make me an artist for my career. As I would find out years later, neither would art school. Not at first.

Things were different in high school. I was allowed to take elective courses and chose, of course, lots of art classes. I spent three of five days in my week with the same teacher, in the same room, just trying different things, using whatever material I could find, or sitting, copying the drawings of Jack Kirby, hoping one day to be a comic book artist like him. I actually got to meet the man and shoved my ripped out notebook pages with various sketches at him. “Yeah, very nice, kid!” he said with a big cigar clenched in his teeth. With that rave review, I continued on the same path until I stepped into art school.

 

Eighteen year-old mind of moosh

I started art school by taking a few night courses while working days and it all seemed so easy when I got to pick my lessons. To their credit, when I entered full-time, the school required a foundation year of exploratory classes; painting, sculpture, life drawing and art history. Little by little, the ability to draw like Kirby was ripped from me and I resented my “idiot teachers” as artsy-fartsy types who knew nothing. There was that bull-headed nature of mine that held me back from so many things and so much understanding in life.

It wasn’t until my sculpture teacher, another poor soul I labeled as an idiot, without fair cause, failed my term paper, that I started my road to understanding how to open my mind to creativity. She had taken us to an art show in lower Manhattan, in a sand-filled lot and gave us a tour and explanation of each piece, which naturally I ignored. The show, Art on the Beach, was, as I think about it now, brilliant, thoughtful and creative. How I regret entitling my term paper, “Fart on the Beach.”

It wasn’t hard enough she failed that paper but she also opened it up to class discussion as to why I failed. I was mortified and I’m sure, red as the devil as she went over why I was wrong in front of my friends and the usual art school douche bags in the class, the ones who took delight at another student being torn to pieces. When she finished, the douche bags started in on what they thought of me and while I remember wanting to walk out, swearing at all of them, never to return to school, I didn’t. I took my lumps and just figured they were morons who would never amount to anything.

The teacher insisted that she and I revisit the exhibit so I could rewrite my paper. “Fart with the Bitch” I cruelly joked to my friends as we smoked a joint in the park between classes. I sadly regret that title now as it serves to remind me how unbearable I truly was.

Meeting at the sandy lot again on a hot spring day, the teacher walked me around the exhibit again explaining how each piece was important and the thought and purpose behind each one. The face-to-face, one-on-one interaction didn’t allow me to ignore what was being said and what I was learning. I opened up a little more — more than I had in my life, I must admit. I rewrote my paper and received an A grade. I also considered what the supreme douche bag in the class had yelled at me, embarrassing me in front of my peers, that I “always did the same thing in all of [my] classes.”

 

A good beating knocks sense into most of us

From that point, I started to explore. Whatever my mind told me to do with a sculpture or drawing, I did something completely different — something I would never consider doing — something completely alien to my sensibilities. It was my first step into being creative.

It wasn’t, however, a complete and instant transformation then and there. It took years for me to understand the message many teachers were trying to hammer into my thick skull. One teacher, a famous magazine art director, who I admired for his position, autographed one of his magazines for me at the end of the semester with the inscription, “it was a pleasure having you in my class and watching you completely miss the message.”

At the time I laughed but years later, as I apologized to him in an email, I understood what he meant. I had missed his message as I did with many great teachers, some too long gone for me to thank and apologize to them. To their credit, they must have seen something in me that I couldn’t see myself — something yet to be released, past my stubbornness.

 

Don’t be good, be GREAT!

The motto of my alma mater was, “being good is not enough when you dream of being great.” Surely that is what every creative wants out of life and as my career went on I couldn’t understand why I was never truly happy with my work. I hid myself in studio jobs administrating, rather than designing but I couldn’t stay away. I worked as an illustrator for years but again, it just didn’t click with me. I considered myself mediocre and that’s a terrible feeling to have. Sure, there are mediocre creatives who consider themselves great and aren’t but to have talent and not be pleased with yourself is torturous.

From that point on, doing good work was not enough; it had to be GREAT! Part of that thinking was to look at an idea when I was done and say to myself, “this is good, but what’s the next step that will make it great?”

I do remember the day I had my creative epiphany. I had left a very constrictive design job where every editor and administrator fought to rule the output of the art department. What came out was boring garbage and I was glad to be out of a place that made me physically sick before leaving for the office each and every morning.

I was interviewing for a job with Tom Corey, the owner and creative director of Big Blue Dot. During the interview, he asked me to name some of my favorite logos. I told him I thought the most innovative logo was the Nickelodeon logo ( this was in 1998 and not the current logo). He smiled and asked if I knew he had designed the logo. He explained his thought process behind creating a kinetic logo where the standard was the simplicity of the type, always white against the Nickelodeon palette of orange. Within any shape, be it a ball, dog, rocket, bird or what-have-you, the type would remain the same for the identity. He also gave me an inside look at his newest logo creation for the Noggin channel.

As with the Nickelodeon logo, the Noggin logo was ever-changing with the static smiling lower face. Absolutely brilliant and inspiring!

Yes, it was the late Mr. Corey who shot me between the eyes with the creativity bullet. He kicked my ass over the line of good into understanding great. I didn’t get the job but the lesson on creative thinking was worth more than he was willing to pay me.

As my career progressed, with my confidence in my abilities and excitement at new challenges, my peers laid praise on me as a brainstorming genius, a conceptual master and, at my last position, I received certain tags such as the “King of Die Cuts” and the “Master of Paper Engineering and Evil.” I’m not sure what the evil part was, but I’ll take any clean, professional nickname I can get.

 

What you should take away from this

When I speak to students entering art school, I like to start by insisting they respect their fellow students as they will form the important network that will follow them through their careers. The second thing is to impress upon them the importance of opening their minds to new things and new ways of thinking.

There are different teachers with different thoughts on design and each one has something great to take away as their student. Open your mind to the possibilities and not the boring realities you have learned in eighteen years of life. There are many, many more years of growth and realization of what can be and not what others say things should be.

When I speak to senior art students, about to graduate and enter the industry, I again remind them about their base network of their classmates but the important thing I want them to remember is to look at their finished work and ask themselves, “is this good or is it great? Is there a step I’m missing? What could be done to take this to the final level?”

 

What makes GREAT work?

There is always another dimension that can be explored, another step that can be taken before falling over the edge… and that falling over the edge is sometimes how we learn to fly. Logos can be more than just a signature for a business — they can be a personality. Even to look at the brilliant type work of Ji Lee, and his ability to see more than words is amazing and inspirational to every designer.

Why does a logo have to have the same parameters they have had for centuries? In the age of digital movement, paper-thin t-ink and lenticular technology, what is the future of paperless logos?

Web sites, applying the same thinking, can be an immersive experience and not just a layout of blocks of information. It’s not just the delivery of information through programming languages and other web technology that defines web design — it’s how sites and apps are designed by look and function. Will you be able to look at a site you’ve designed and see a level of innovative design no one else has seen? Can you say, “how will I make this different and exciting?” This is the freeing process to experience a leap into a creativity you have never thought you could imagine.

Even the use of graphic software allows for effects that can be taken to a level of wondrous creativity. Take the textbook lessons and explore how they can be twisted and turned and you can discover something great. Although a tool, we are the masters of our computer and not the other way around.

As with the paper engineering I mentioned before, why does an ad, brochure or billboard have to be a rectangle? Why does a piece of paper have to lie flat in two dimensions when it can be three dimensions? Imagine all possibilities your designs can have and take it farther… as far as your mind will allow and budgets be damned! It’s better to aim high and let others bring you back to Earth.

Yes, it will be disappointing at times but within you, the feeling of the ability to put forth your best… to be great and not just good, is a feeling you will always treasure. If I look back over my career, I feel a sick anxiety about the early years. I suppose I should cut myself some slack about being young and headstrong, as youth can be, but I still, as part of my bull-headedness, hate the time I wasted not thinking creatively. It bothers me more than having to tone down my great ideas into just good solutions due to someone else. At least I know my own capabilities and that’s the point of being a designer.

”When it is working, you completely go into another place, you’re tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about.” ~ Keith Haring

Freelancers: Should You Abandon Low-Paying Clients / Jobs?

At the outset of my freelancing career, I would always fall into a dilemma while quoting my price for freelancing jobs. It was difficult for me, because on the one hand, I didn’t want to lose out on jobs by quoting too high a price; on the other hand, I would also prefer not to be underpaid. That’s the story many freelancers face during their freelancing career.

Every freelancer at some point (but more often at the initial stages) of their career had to be content with low pay. It’s rare to find anyone who starts off a freelancing career with high paying jobs. That would come much later on after they have already proven their credentials, credibility and their worth.

Stepping Stones

It is important that freelancers learn to give due significance to low-paying jobs. Such jobs have its own place in the professional ladder of success. These low pay jobs act as a platform for achieving greater success.

More importantly, it prepares you to get hold of better jobs. It also teaches you the intricacies of the freelancing trade.

Whether you are a designer or a writer, or any other kind of freelancer, low pay jobs allow you to be more relaxed, and work with greater freedom. The fact is, a certain degree of freedom helps in building your expertise.

Remember, low-paying clients are more tolerant, allowing you to learn while you work. High-paying clients are not so forgiving, because you are expected to deliver high-quality results for the price they are paying you.

The Perks of Lower Expectations

I vividly remember when I started out in my freelancing career. I faced difficulties in landing regular jobs, except for one client who would give me regular jobs. I may or may not receive jobs from other clients, but I will always have my hands full with jobs from this client. She had plenty, and she paid me low sums, but she kept me occupied, and more importantly, she pointed out my mistakes to me.

I was given to opportunity to rectify them and perfect my craft. And the results were clear. I improved and better offers came pouring in. And that’s when I realized that my low-paying client had been teaching me the intricacies of the trade, even without me asking for it.

Abandoning clients?

High-paying jobs are usually reserved for experts, those who have proven their skills, and have learnt their trade. Those who are now ready to unleash their skills and expertise in highly professional (and sometimes cut-throat) environments.

Evidently, it is never easy to get high paying jobs regularly, unless you have been around for a number of years and have established your freelancing reputation and career.

However, once they got a couple of high-paying clients, many freelancers (whom I know personally) start taking things easy. They abandon their old low-paying clients, as they think that they now have the experience and credentials for better clients.

The results became distinct with time. As these freelancers bask in their newfound glory, they will complete their assignments only from high-paying clients then sit idling for long periods of time, waiting for their next high paying project to drop onto their lap.

Losing their Touch

Since they begin working less, and waiting more, they now have fewer opportunities to practice their skills. Some lose their edge and winning traits, and worst of all, the lack of jobs has made them lazy. That is something freelancers should be wary of.

Freelancing is not just about getting projects and earning money, but also about understanding the beauty of freelancing and the discipline you need to have to be in the business. It is also a profession which is networked and based on mutual respect.

Why stick to low-Paying clients?

If the question here is “should freelancers completely get rid of low-paying clients, after they get high paying clients” then the answer is definitely no. The fact that not all freelancers are able to get highly paid jobs regularly, is enough reason for them to stick to low-paying clients as well.

Also, the fact remains that there is always a dearth of high-paying jobs. These jobs quickly fall on someone else’s lap as soon as it arrives. Therefore, to strike out low-paying clients from your contact list is an act that is not recommended.

Even if you have started getting high paying clients, keep working for at least a few low-paying clients. You never know when you could hit a dry spell. Freelancing insecurities may catch up on you and they are very real sources of worry.

Strike a balance

Nonetheless, there is a need for you to strike a balance when selecting which project to take up and which to reject. There is a thin line that separates highly successful freelancers from mediocre ones.

The highly successful ones strategize their career and always make full use of their precious time and every opportunity. They understand that opportunities might dry up soon, and therefore, they build a database of clients and work to satisfy all of them. They know how to deal with crunch times, and almost always have their hands full.

Freelancers who have attained average success, may fall into the trap of being overconfident. True, they will look to seize high-paying opportunities, but when they get one, they actually believe more of these opportunities are around every other corner, ready to come knocking on the door.

Even if they don’t believe it, they act like it when they start neglecting their previous low-paying clients. These freelancers face may face acute shortage of work and will probably learn the hard way that it takes time and effort to build a good clientele.

Improving your standings

The success formulas change very fast in a freelancing world. For those who have just entered the practice, and only have one or two high paying clients, they should also keep good number of low-paying clients, so that they don’t fall short on work.

In the meantime, they should keep improving their reputation and keep working to get more high paying clients, which is never easy even for well-established veterans. If you are a very skilful freelancer, with time you will be able to get better clients.

By the way, never ever spoil your relationship with any of your clients – you never know, when times can change, and you might again have to start reaching out to your old clients.

Wrap Up

The story may differ from one freelancer to the next, but for me, low-paying clients were responsible for my progress. And I still feel grateful to them. Once you have established yourself in the trade, it may not be possible to work for any or all of them, for the long term, but it is important for you to acknowledge their contribution nonetheless.

 

Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Professional Website

Building a professional website is inherent to the growth and success of a business. Not only does it help enhance the online visibility of your business, but also add to create a customer base for sustainable growth. However, before we contemplate building a professional website, it is important for you to understand the purpose of a website.

Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Professional Website

Websites have unknowingly become an integral part of our lives as they have helped businesses to communicate and facilitate with customers/users better than ever before.

 

Understanding the Purpose of Building A Website

Websites, in the recent times have become more communicative and an excellent resource for information. Not only do they add to the branding of a website, but also help visitors looking out for quality information. So if one does not find accurate, comprehensive information they are seeking, they are ought to move over to some other website that serves their purpose of communicating the exact information.

The purpose of websites is also to facilitate. So, it is by large a two-way communication where visitors after being impressed with the communicative approach of a website are increasingly willing to contact a business through its website by way of inquiries, bookings etc. thus serving the next key purpose – facilitation. Moreover, websites can facilitate efficiency by saving your time, helping you multiply your customer base and automate a few processes as well.

Nonetheless, the real purpose of a website is ultimately to bring value to your visitors, which besides encouraging customers to be interactive and participate in the business process should offer greater understanding to assess information, evade queues and be empowered to get a wider perspective on products and services offered by the website.

Presenting a step-by-step guide to building a professional website that will help you understand the intricacies of creating a successful website and the various do’s and don’ts associated with it.

Step 1. Website Specification

Creating a viable website specification is an integral part of building professional website. It is one of the most crucial document that helps a business reflect it’s priorities, responsibilities and create a brand image. While essential planning and precise information is foremost to develop a winning website specification, the success of search engine marketing and successive optimization efforts is concurrently dependent on your approach and ability to deliver a cohesive plan at present.

Besides stressing on accommodating pointers like budget, delays, deliverables, intellectual property, the purpose of the website, the site architecture, domain, the (standardized) languages used and mainly the content besides information on content management and hosting; a successful website specification should include:

  • Intent of the document
  • Project description
  • Front-end functionality like common features, sitemap and website structure, each website page description, wireframes (home page and at least 2 other important pages), miscellaneous functionality
  • Back-end functionality like use cases and conclusion
Step 2. Requirement Gathering

Requirement gathering is an intrinsic part of professional website building process. The right amount of requirement gathering after due understanding of the project deliverables plays a crucial role in the success of a professional website. One of the basic rules of requirement gathering is, to be realistic to customer/project requirements and not rely on assumptions.

Define and understand the scope of the website and create clear and concise requirement document, without filling it up with technology jargon or offering an instant solution to possible problems until the requirements are fully understood. It is suggested that you create a prototype if required to refine or confirm the customers’ requirements.

Step 3. Process understanding and Planning

Process understanding and planning is strategic to creating a successful professional website. It is indispensable to clearly state the mission for website creation – identify and analyze the requirements and goals, understand the marketing objectives of the business, so as to successfully caters to the needs of the target market and create a development process to achieve an appropriate endpoint.

Creating a project charter document is recommended for process understanding and planning. This will help you chalk out a blueprint of the process – what you intend to do and why, the technology and content required, the proposed timeframe for the process, budget and the appraisal of deliverables. Therefore, a viable procedure for strategic process understanding and planning would be to:

  • Defining the objectives of the website
  • Customer Conversion Architecture: the process which structures a website to facilitate users in achieving their end goal.
  • Interaction design and Specifications: the process that involves website design testing, including the proposed forms and interactivity of the website.
  • Website Development and Usability testing: the process of website building, based on the final specifications.
  • Website Deployment, Marketing and Review: the delivery of the final product and deployment to a live website environment, inclusive of monitoring and review of the website for understanding customer flow and its success ratio in achieving the requisite business objectives.
Step 4. UI Design

A good UI design is the one that is user-friendly, responsive and lets users to be at ease with the interface, stay engaged and most importantly achieve goals. Therefore, it is important that you first know and understand your target market, i.e. the user and create UI design that lets them achieve their goals.

Study UI patterns that your target market is used to, and create familiar interfaces for them to feel at home and keep coming back. Create a conventional UI design that speaks your user’s language and ensure to keep it rather simple. Remember, the best UI designs are sensible, concise and devoid of unnecessary bling.

Also, a key principle of UI design is not to be apprehensive about making mistakes or be inhibited of failures, but to move forward and learn from analyzing user’s UI pattern.

Step 5. UX

Building a successful professional website cannot be complete without the right UX or user experience. UX is mainly about a visitor’s response and perceptions about using the website. Considered to be one of the most crucial aspects, user experience and usability if applied correctly in website design can give you the much required edge over your competitors.

In short, UX plays with the emotional quotient and experience of your customer; because the highly competitive market calls for ‘knowing your customer’ and their pattern of using the web rather than just concentrating on the functional aspect of your website (product).

A few of the most notable elements that contribute to optimum user experience are content, usability, branding, functionality, accessibility, pricing, reviews, site architecture, and design. The rewards of creating a superb UX is nonetheless tantamount to ensuring brand loyalty for your business, as well as boosting website traffic and consequently conversion rates.

Step 6. Development

A strategic web development process is paramount to the success of building a professional website. Website development requires a great amount of focus on meeting user requirements. Because, remember you just have 8 seconds to retain a visitor on your page. It is important that a proven development methodology is adopted so as to ensure that besides generating unique and repeat visitors, they help convert into customers, so as to achieve the set business objectives.

This requires initiating the website development process after meticulously setting the objectives of the website and defining the target audience and policies for information development. Thereafter, due analysis needs to be done so as to evaluate information consistency and verify correctness of domain information.

The next to feature in the methodology of a website development process is Design, where you can isolate information into page-sized chunks; connect pages along routes of use; cater information, context and navigation cues; besides creating a consistent look and feel. Thereafter, comes the process of Implementation where you can create an extendible directory and file structure, use HTML tools as and when required; use templates for supporting consistent look and feel; as well as check implementation in various browsers.

Step 7. Testing & Review

One of the most critical part of a website building process – testing and review, ensures that a successful endpoint is achieved so as to meet the business objectives of the company. The main areas that need to be addressed is to understand the website functionality and usability from the user’s perspective and then offer constructive and actionable recommendations on problem areas. A strategically performed testing and review ensures that the professional website developed is in accordance to user expectations, while keeping the objectives of the company intact.

Step 8. Convince Visitors

Convincing customers to trust on your online business courtesy your website is one of the most important aspects of building a professional website. You cannot expect people to do business on your online platform if they are not sure of your credibility. One of the first rules is to be accessible to your customers.

Make sure that your website provide information about the history of your business, experience in the given field and most importantly include detailed contact information – so that in case they have a problem and require solution, they can get in touch with you.

Most businesses in the recent time are connecting to their customers via social media networking like Facebook, Twitter, etc. This is in fact one of the most convenient way to give your customers a sense of acceptance to your online business, while getting instant feedback that may contribute to your understanding of UX. Consider offering guarantee on your products and services; include testimonials in your website while making sure they invoke trust and not sound trivial.

However, nothing can beat the credibility factor that can be garnered by placing Portfolios of your products and services in your website. Not only will it help visitors preview the quality of products/services offered by your business, it in fact gives your business the edge of legitimacy and establishing credibility online.

Step 9. Tracking and Evaluation

The convergence of success in building of a professional website can only be achieved through skillful tracking and consequent evaluation or analysis of visitor (traffic) activity in your website. Not only is it important to keep a track of the unique visitors in your site over a given period of time or the number of requested pageview, besides other variables; analyzing of site user behavior and pattern courtesy the server logs of your website can help towards developing quantitative data on the success of your website.

It is recommended that site logs with readable site traffic reports, complete with data graphics and charts be archived for long-term analysis, so as to understand user needs and interests change, for making the necessary changes.

Step 10. Maintenance

Website maintenance is a crucial part of professional website building, as the actual job of making your website a success begins only once after it is launched. It is important to understand that site maintenance is not just limited to constant monitoring of the aesthetic and functional aspects, but also a coordinated effort on the part of the site editor to streamline new content, maintain the graphic and editorial standards, while ensuring that the programming and linkages of all pages remain intact and functional.

How Changing Your Mindset Can Help Your Web Design Goals

Imagine you had a child who just finished learning addition and subtraction. You gave him a math task at home to test his skills and he solved the task successfully! “Wow, you must be really sma

Imagine you had a child who just finished learning addition and subtraction. You gave him a math task at home to test his skills and he solved the task successfully! “Wow, you must be really smart”, is what you would probably say to him.

Congratulations, you’ve just made the first “mindset” mistake. But wait, what’s wrong about praising a child? Nothing, really. The thing most people get wrong is not the praising, but the way they’re praising him.

rt”, is what you would probably say to him.

Congratulations, you’ve just made the first “mindset” mistake. But wait, what’s wrong about praising a child? Nothing, really. The thing most people get wrong is not the praising, but the way they’re praising him.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, coined the term “growth mindset”. I think the concept is best illustrated with the following example:

  • Fixed mindset – Telling to your child “Wow, you must be really smart” after they’ve solved the math task successfully.
  • Growth mindset – Instead of telling them they’re smart, you tell them “Wow, you must have worked hard at this“.

Can you notice the subtle difference? In the first example, you are praising the child’s abilities, while in the second, you’re appreciating their hard work. Here’s the problem with the fixed mindset: Now that you’ve given your child an identity that he’s smart, the next time he’ll struggle with a concept to solve a task, what would they think? I must be dumb.

Whether with the growth mindset (“You must have worked hard”), what the child would probably think is “I’m not working hard enough on this”. And this is what you want them to actually think! To work harder! This isn’t just a motivational mumbo-jumbo, there’s actual research to support the notion that as you work harder on a problem, the brain actually adapts to it (various brain areas become more active depending on the type of skill you’re learning, read about brain plasticity for a more technical explanation). The brain is like a muscle

Students who were taught the growth mindset got far better grades afterward compared to students with a fixed mindset. My goal in this article is to teach you how the growth mindset applies to web design and help you accelerate your career success by learning new skills more rapidly.

The Fixed Mindset in Web Design

Learning web design may seem easy at first, but as you get to more advanced topics things can get pretty hard. You may not understand some things at first and need to struggle for a few days to grasp them. Eventually, that’ll happen, you’ll understand the concept. It’s the ‘struggling’ days that will really uncover whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset.

Can you identify with the child who was told ‘you’re smart’ every time he completed something? Tell me, if someone told you’re smart every time you complete a task, what does it mean when you won’t be able to complete it? Well, it means you’re dumb. Complete it = smart, not complete it = dumb.

In reality, you’re not dumb. You’ve just been conditioned to think this way.

The Growth Mindset to the Rescue!

Now, imagine you’re trying to learn a difficult web design concept but this time you’re the child who was praised for working hard if they completed something successfully. You got the growth mindset instilling in you.

Let’s follow the same logic as above; if you were praised for working hard after doing something successfully, then if you fail to do something, it must be because…

You were not working that hard?

Can you see the profound difference this mindset can have on your overall web design career?

In case you still think there’s any evidence to support the fixed mindset, then you’re up against a myriad of evidence for brain plasticity. As we learn, certain parts of our brain become more active, depending on the task. If you’re learning a design concept that has to do with analyzing things, then the part of your brain responsible for those types of tasks will become more active, thus helping you learn subsequent things that have to do with analysis faster.

My Personal Example of Learning Web Design

At that time I had never touched a programming language before. I was told that JavaScript would be a good way to get started in front-end programming and a useful skill for web design. So I said: Let’s go for it! But deep inside me, I was afraid…really afraid of not making it.

I admit it…I’ve been conditioned to have a fixed mindset, and I couldn’t see many people around me who didn’t have this mindset. If you gave me a difficult task or told me to solve a difficult concept, if I was struggling with it for more than 2 days, I’d give up on it and go to the “lower level” details where I felt comfortable.

It was a vicious cycle, learning the same things over and over again, not for the sake of learning, but for the sake of feeling comfortable while doing that. Eventually I gave up because I got bored.

Can you identify yourself with this? Have you ever had a time where you wanted to learn something new, got to a certain level, but eventually gave up and told yourself the rationalization “Hey, since I cannot quite grasp this immediately, it’s probably because I didn’t learn the previous concepts good enough”. But some part of your brain was screaming “You’re fooling yourself, you crave the emotion of feeling comfortable and that’s why you’re doing this”.

I was personally struggling with this vicious cycle for years. And it wasn’t until I’ve learned about the fixed vs. growth mindset theory where I actually became aware of what I was doing.

Boy, did it make a difference. Now, when I encounter a difficult concept, I always try to persist learning it for at least 10 days until re-evaluate what to do next. One thing that often happens after getting to the 5th day of learning, for example, is that I suddenly ‘get it’ and often surprise myself of how I got something I thought was impossible to learn few days ago.

Fixing the Fixed Mindset

Mindsets are simply beliefs are about something, and beliefs can be changed. Instilling the growth mindset into your mind can have many positive effects over the long run.

The crucial thing to do here is to talk back when your growth mindset ‘appears’. So when you’re thinking (often automatically): “I can’t do this, I’m not smart enough”, now is the time for the growth-mindset thoughts to come into play. Counter that with “I’m not working hard enough, I can do this with enough work”.

Some other examples: “Why can’t I do this? I probably don’t have the talent?” Counter that with: “Maybe I need more time and effort to achieve this, I’ll give myself 5 more days and work hard and see if I get it.”

Dedicate a week for recognizing your fixed mindset thoughts. Try to catch yourself when you talk to yourself in that manner. Thoughts connected with not trying something, being a failure, or having to do with people laughing at you for trying something.

The reality is that most people mind their own business. What’s the last time you thought long and hard about someone else’s problems? Well, same case with other people!

Remember, the brain is like a muscle, and muscles can grow.

Looking forward to your comments on how you plan overcoming the fixed mindset in some areas of your life.

Research yourself first

Every time we begin a web design project, we do research. We research our clients, their customers, the website’s target audience, and the competition.

Throughout our careers, we research new trends, techniques, tools, and other designers. We’re always on the lookout for that one new thing which will make us better at what we do, or will make our jobs easier. We love our craft, so we read articles, analyze raw data, consult with experts, and more. What is life without improvement and progress?

But so often we neglect to research the one tool, the one common factor, present in every project you will ever touch: you. Oh, you figure things out about yourself eventually. You set up your desk just the way you like it. You figure out that you’re better at some aspects of the design process than others. You may even read a self-improvement article or two.

But real self-improvement takes time, and we’re all busy people. We have things to do, and people to see. We have deadlines.

This is about more than self-improvement as a person. Yes, becoming a better person can make you a happier person, and that does have a direct impact on your work, but there’s more than that. Learning about how your own brain works, and why you make the daily choices you make is something that will give you power. Specifically, it will give you the ability to essentially “hack” your own brain in order to improve its performance.

I have compiled a basic list of questions to ask yourself, that may help you to improve the way you design things. Feel free to add any of your own as you see fit.

 

1. How good am I at introspection?

The idea of introspection can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, so I’d like to clear something up first: There are two basic kinds of introspection. First, there’s the bad kind: when all you think about is your own mistakes and past errors in judgement.

While learning to highlight your own flaws can certainly be beneficial, Bad Introspection(TM) can lead to depression and the desire to stop thinking altogether. It’s usually unscheduled, that is to say, it hits you when you’ve run out of other things to think about, and uncontrolled, and so it is unproductive. If you’re prone to this, stop it.

Good introspection is an intentional, controlled analysis of your own actions. When you are engaged in good introspection, you are able to acknowledge your mistakes while also taking note of what you’ve done right.

It’s a good idea to get introspective after each and every project, whether it was a marvelous success, or fell through entirely. Think about everything from your interactions with your client, to your wireframes, to your code. Did you do anything you’re particularly proud of? Did you come up with an awesomely simple explanation for a complicated concept? Did you create a code snippet you’d like to use again? Did you do anything you’d specifically like to avoid doing in the future?

 

2. Are you a “multipotentialite”?

Some people can sit down and sketch layouts, push pixels, and/or write code for 8-16 hours a day and barely break a sweat. If that’s you, then you are awesome! You guys rock so hard. Your boss, if indeed you have one, probably loves you and if you’re ambitious enough, the world is your oyster!

But I myself am nothing like you. Some of us would positively languish in those conditions, and many do. We might seem like flakes, lazy people, and we look like we’re destined to live off of others. The truth is that many of us can work just as hard as everyone else, as long as we’re able to switch it up a little.

Do you have a million different hobbies, or things you’d like to learn about? Does the idea of doing the same job all week, or even all day, drive you to misery? Does your brain just shut down and refuse to be creative any more around mid-day if you’ve been working on the same project since you started?

You might be what some people call a “multipotentialite”. It turns out that there are more than a few of us. No really, go take a look at that site. Even if you’re not one of us, you should at least recognize that we exist.

If you are a multipotentialite, there are ways to increase your ability to concentrate, such as meditation. But if you’re hard-wired to have an intense interest in many things, you should probably learn to accept it. When you learn to work with your brain, instead of against it, being creative gets a lot easier.

 

3. When do you do your best work?

I am most creative earlier in the day. This is not to say that I am a morning person, just that the first few hours of my work day are when my best ideas come out. For others it might be the afternoon, or the wee hours of the night.

If you have the option, you should schedule your creative work for whichever time of day works best for you. I do this by writing, wireframing, and doing all aesthetic work in the morning hours. In the afternoons, I can code, and do other more repetitive tasks which require less concentration.

Everything on this list might present you with changes which are difficult to make. This one is probably the worst, though, especially if you work in an office. If that’s the case, have a talk with your employers. See if you can persuade them to allow you to work on your own schedule for a week or so to try it out.

 

3a. When do you need to stop?

As a side note, it’s good to figure out when or if you need to stop working. I don’t mean stopping for the day, I mean stopping for frequent, very short breaks. For me, it’s about every hour. On alternate days, that’s also when I work out. Those few minutes away from the screen give me time to think without the myriad potential distractions. The pressure eases, and the exercise wakes me up.

Earnest Hemingway once said that it’s best to stop writing while you still know what’s going to happen next. In my personal experience, the same is true of design, and this habit of stopping regularly helps me to do that.

Some of you who need to get into “the zone” to make progress might recoil at this idea, and that’s okay. Maybe a short break every hour isn’t for everyone. But please, do consider your body’s need to move every once in a while.

 

4. Do you have design biases?

The design you are exposed to in your career’s “infancy” tends to shape the way you work. Apple-style minimalism is still a large trend because many designers use Apple’s products, or at least started with them. Fixed-width website layouts are still being made because that’s how we’ve done it since before the Internet.

I’d like to pretend that no one uses tables for layout anymore, but I know for a fact that there are at least one or two table-layout coders still out there.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’re most likely better than that, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a bias or two. I myself learned to design websites in the minimalist fashion: the fewer elements a page had, the better. It’s always been a bad, bad idea to distract the user with anything extraneous.

But sometimes even minimalism fails us. Justin Hubbard pointed this out here, and when I read it I was forced to confront a narrow way of thinking, and I’d like to think that I’m a better designer for it.

Besides, Andy Rutledge managed to prove that you can take lots of data, and still make it look good: Texas Rangers Proof of Concept.

Challenge yourself. Make a good-looking website that is most decidedly not minimalist, or vice versa. Use colors you normally wouldn’t. Use a layout you might normally dislike. Of course, you should never do any of this for the sake of it. Do it only to achieve your client’s goals.

 

5. Do you have people-related biases?

Obviously, I’m not talking about racism, sexism, or any other “ism”, here. I’m talking about personality clashes between individuals. No matter how civil, polite, and nonjudgemental you might try to be, certain personality types are almost guaranteed to bug you.

Maybe it’s that guy in the dev department who just won’t say anything with more than one syllable. Maybe it’s that manager who sees himself as a father figure, and won’t stop putting his hand on your shoulder. Maybe it’s happy people.

I don’t mean people who are content with their lives. I mean happy people who cannot rest until everyone around them is wearing euphoric smiles. *shudder*

My personal favorite is the overseer who hired you to do this job based on your qualifications, but insists on telling you how to do it. The problem with these personality clashes is that we begin to develop a bias toward these individuals and anyone else who seems to act like them. This is counter-productive.

Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean that they’re wrong in any given situation. This means that if we want to communicate effectively with them, we have to put our emotions on the sidelines, and see things from their point of view.

It’s tough. Oh man, it’s tough. But there’s more than good communication to be had. Once you’ve developed the kind of empathy required to communicate with people you may dislike, you gain a greater understanding of humanity as a whole.

This provides a huge range of benefits, from being better able to visualize how another person might use an interface you’re designing, to being better able to sell and support your product.

 

6. Can you explain yourself clearly?

When you first learn the jargon of your new profession, it can make you feel like you’ve joined an exclusive club that has its own language. Besides the obvious problems that this can create when communicating with non-designers and/or developers, this can tend to make you think in vague, abstract concepts.

Ask a non-techy friend to listen to you while you explain your work. See if you can clearly and simply articulate your reasons for making specific design choices. Like the last point, this has more benefits than just clear communication. It helps you to think about your own work in simple, clear terms.

If something you did sounds stupid when you say it simply, you may want to rethink your choices.

 

Where do we go from here?

Asking yourself a few questions is really only the beginning. If you want to understand anything at all about how your own brain works, you have a lot of reading and thinking to do. If you want to use and apply the knowledge you gain to your work, you have a long road ahead.

But it’s worth it. Since I myself started on this journey, I’ve learned how to accomplish a lot more than usual in less time, and with much less stress involved.

Flat design sites that work

Whilst the term “flat design” might not be a phrase you’re yet familiar with, you will definitely have noticed the concept and the design features whilst browsing the internet.

For those of you that have noticed an increase in the “drop shadow” trend in web design, the easiest way to describe flat design is to say it’s the opposite of that. Flat design is designing a website that has left behind the drop shadow and the 3D effects, and that is by all intents and purposes flat.

Flat design looks modern, fun, fresh and refreshingly simple compared to it’s 3D counterpart. Flat design is embracing the use of solid colors, sharp, well-defined typography and bold shapes. It takes away any faff and fussiness from the design making it so much easier to digest and to navigate. It’s modern and is without a doubt going to be a huge design trend this coming year.

 

How can you use flat design?

For me, the top selling point of flat design is the simplicity and minimalism of it. That’s not to say you need to have a simple product or minimalist brand to use this trend to your advantage. I actually like the way this trend could modernize a relatively complex or old-fashioned niche, making the information on your site easier for readers to take in and understand.

Of course, the simplicity of flat design makes it so much easier to optimize for different devices too which is another point in its favor.

We all know that mobile browsing is on the rise, and responsive design has already addressed this rise. Flat design makes web design more scalable in a similar way, because when you design with solid colors, rather than a more image based aproach, you’re using less detail and so the information based footprint of your website becomes much smaller. This means it’s quicker to load and communicates faster with whatever platform your reader is using to view it on.

 

Where have you seen it before?

Flat design isn’t exactly new. You’ll actually notice that brands such as Microsoft had already embraced the trend a few years back, while other big brands such as Apple were too busy perfecting other techniques.

Looking back to 2007, a quick glance at the Microsoft Zune – and you can already see that clean, typography based interface taking shape. At the time it went relatively unnoticed, being overshadowed by bigger industry developments, but in 2013 it is definitely at the forefront of design trends.

Have you embraced flat design? Is flat design being over-used? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

A Scientific Perspective on Minimal Design

Designing for human limitations: a scientific perspective on minimal design.

Quick, try to recall the last five seconds that just passed as accurately as you can. What’s that, you can’t? Well, that means that you are just like the rest of us: blissfully unaware of our limitations. Try and think of 12 items of any description, write them down so you can check them out later, and then stop thinking about them. Do whatever you want: hang the laundry, do the dishes, you could even clean up your room for once, but let time fly over you (but not by much) and then come back, sit down, take a deep breath and try to recall the 12 items that you wrote.

If you remembered more than half (give or take two), then you have a way above average short term memory (The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, George A. Miller, 1956). Truth be told, the limits of our consciousness are there for all to see, hidden in plain sight, we just need to pay attention to actually notice them.

How can we, then, function in a society that demands so much from us? A society that demands attention spans longer than 12 seconds, multi tasking skills on par with an octopus on Ritalin, and the amazing ability to sit on a chair (for those lucky few) doing God knows what four hours at a time? The answer is simple: we don’t need to. Our brain in its infinite wisdom decided to carry that load for us, it decided to let us handle only what we could instead of what we should, running on autopilot most of the time, leaving the low level tasks to automated scripts and the rest, a hyper condensed blurb version of reality, to us.

How can we design for such a brain? How can we attempt to see that which is never shown, how can we crack the black box without crashing the plane? The answer is simple as well: we don’t need to. We design, instead, for the painfully limited, but infinitely more understandable, conscious self so that we can reach behind it. We turn those human limitations into design limitations, giving birth to minimal design, which instinctively strives to appeal to our conscious (and unconscious) instincts and perceptive models by removing anything that needs some form of high level cognitive functions, leaving only immediate, straight, instinctive, and direct comprehension because, truth be told, our eyes want it simple and clean.

The Conscious Automaton

A famous 2007 experiment, conducted by John Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, wanted to register the exact moment in which a person takes a decision and the amount of time it takes for that decision to be executed. What they found, however, was way more confusing and even more challenging. It seems that, even though the conscious decision to push the button which the patients were asked to push at will was registered a second before the actual activity took place, patterns of brain activity registered as much as seven seconds before the conscious decision-making process were able to predict the eventual end result of said decision.

“The first thought we had was ‘we have to check if this is real’,” says Haynes. “We came up with more sanity checks than I’ve ever seen in any other study before.” But the results were there. Now, disregarding all the ethical and philosophical implications of the experiments, which are plenty, this showcases the real limitations of our conscious will and underlines the fact that our brain does more things behind our back than previously thought. Who knows what else is being automated, what arcane and long forgotten algorithms lay dormant, locked deep inside our mammal brains?

What’s important, though, is that these processes happen without the bare minimum of conscious input and, therefore, without our control which means we can identify those subconscious processes, those deep structures, and guide them, gently, towards our own ends. We can design for robots. Fleshy, squishy, pink and soft, but, to a certain degree, robots still.

Memory, Attention and the Gestalt.

It’s not easy, designing for robots, the process requires intimate understanding of the way in which their perception work. It requires deep research into the way in which it recognizes and stores data and more. Fortunately, such research has been done, though much more is still undiscovered.

Among the many studies and theories on the subject there are a few key players. One of them was the Gestalt school of psychology, which was a group of theories and experimental studies conducted in Germany by several influential scientists of the beginning of the 20th century. They came to the conclusion that shapes and perception are two correlated phenomena, that human perception found shapes where there were none and that we were conditioned to find them because the shapes, themselves, appeared everywhere. Sounds confusing, right? It will become clearer once you understand the concept of “Prägnanz “, or “pithiness”, which is what determines which shapes prevail.

Imagine, for example, a series of dots arranged randomly. They can be interpreted in many ways: as irregular shapes, as a geometrical set or as isolated blobs, among many others but the one that prevails, statistically speaking, is the geometric interpretation. That means that we are predisposed to find geometrical shapes everywhere. What the gestalt experiments concluded was that, among the many possibilities, we tend to perceive reality in terms of the simplest, most stable, symmetrical shapes and that it’s precisely because those shapes exhibit the aforementioned characteristics that we find them everywhere, they are pregnant shapes, we can’t escape their ubiquity, they impregnate our cognition. It takes virtually no effort to recognize and recall them and they are the first thing we notice. Now, remember which design principle stresses the importance of basic, geometrical shapes? Those are “pithy” shapes, they posses simplicity and stability.

Another important piece of scientific evidence, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information by George A. Miller, which has been mentioned before, ponders the limits of our ability to make a judgment faced with multiple variables and our short term memory’s capacity to remember things with 100% accuracy. Miller came to the conclusion, by cross-referencing many studies, that the sweet spot to be able to recall a list of different items accurately was that of 7 items, or chunks as he called them, which he defined as the smallest unit of memory a person is able to remember. That number has been fiercely debated but still it never raises higher than 12, for the most part, which is relatively small as well. Now, remember which design principle stresses the importance of having as few design elements as possible? It’s because we have a small short term memory.

In 1999 two scientists, Simon Chabris of Harvard university and Daniel Simmons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, conducted an experiment on inattentional blindness, which is the name of the cognitive phenomenon in which unexpected or excessive stimuli is goes completely unnoticed by the conscious mind. The experiment asked a series of participants to carefully watch a movie in which a series of basketball players passed a ball between them and count the number of passes. While they were doing that, a man dressed as a gorilla walked into the middle of the scene, banged his chest, and then went away. The subjects often failed to notice said man. Remember which design principle stated to use the fewer hierarchies and least amount of stimuli possible? It’s because we are naturally predisposed to ignore stimulus among a certain threshold.

Tailored To Our Limitations

It’s time to face the possibility that minimal design is just suited to our cognition in such a way that, if we desire immediate, absolute and unambiguous communication, it may as well be our best choice. That’s why it proved so successful when it was born along with the 20th century. That’s why it’s still successful. But, as with the very same cognitive model it’s made to appeal, it may also be really limited.

Because it works immediately, because it’s direct, straight and instantaneous it may also be dry. Because, in reality, simplicity and minimalism are only in the eye of the beholder. Truth be told we see simple shapes because our brain arranges reality in that way, but the truth is that a solid shape drawn on a piece of paper, a screen or a wall is in fact a texture, with many micro-shapes interlocked in unusual ways. The fine mineral grain of the brick, the thin fibers of the paper’s surface, the myriad bright lights that compose the micro-structure of a screen’s image are all shapes in and of themselves and often reality itself escapes the restrictive cage of the gestalt shape and a great deal of communication is done on the rational, conscious level. Scientific languages cannot be intuitively understood, complex philosophical theories cannot be communicated using minimal design. Minimal design communicates minimal ideas as well and, oftentimes, that’s not enough.

The Novice Brain and the Expert Brain.

When someone knows a lot about something, enough to be considered an expert, his brain functions regarding that subject are fundamentally different than the brain functions of a lay-person. He has many more automated processes regarding the low level stuff of his area of expertise, his ability to recall information and process it on a conscious level is significantly higher than that of the lay-person and any information regarding his area of expertise is bound to enter through conscious channels. He tends to put a lot of attention into his area of knowledge so he is willing to take the time to fully comprehend something, as long as it interests him, therefore immediate, simple and instinctual communication is not enough for him.

Minimal ideas are not enough for him. He understands on an instinctive level that it’s not just shapes out there, that there are textures and he can move between the micro-shapes feeling at home. That’s why, for example, complex software UIs designed for experts (Like most 3d modeling software) is impenetrable for the novice and the uninterested. It may be as simple as possible, but that certainly is not enough and not even near minimal standards.

In contrast, the novice expert is not going do dissect each and every proposition regarding a subject, he will suffer a bad case of intentional blindness induced by an excess of stimuli and only get the general idea. And that general idea will go through channels unsuited for that kind of information. Somewhat unfamiliar with advanced physics usually needs analogies to be able to understand. That’s why minimalism is perfectly suited for the novice brain, because it doesn’t assume anything from him, because it doesn’t challenge. An excerpt from The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson goes something like this:

“Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity. Achieving this depth of simplicity, he realized, would produce a machine that felt as if it deferred to users in a friendly way, rather than challenging them.”

And in that way minimal design aims for a design that looks friendly, because it hides nothing. Because all you see is all you get, because this transparency in form and function is refreshing for the person who desires nothing more than use that damn device to make a call or listen to music, instead of hacking the pentagon.

That’s why the current trend of flat UI design is so appealing. That’s why it’s so effective, it appeals to the natural way in which we interact with things, with discreet elements, shapes, and few of them, with few colors. Learning in such an environment decreases the inattentive blindness and increases the user’s ability to recall buttons, options, functions by decreasing the net amount of options presented.

It took us several hundred years to be able to come up with a set of general principles for making tools, appliances and communication accessible to everyone (though not suited for everyone) by identifying the core principles that guide our most basic cognitive processes and understanding it’s limitations. Limitations which we often forget because designers are experts in communication and, well, we think images, interfaces and appliances like experts do.

But we do not design for ourselves, while we might enjoy getting lost inside an ambiguous image, the average person does not and so se must address their limitations. We must strive to bypass them and reach a deeper, subconscious, level in which communication becomes instantaneous, automated and direct. So reduce, decrease, flatten and subtract until it’s able to go through the small hole of the conscious mind and you’ll have won.

Why should you become retina ready?

It’s a brand spanking new, shiny technological feature. And it probably helps that it’s being implemented by Apple products. A couple of great sites (like this one) have already started using it. What does it do? Will it be around forever? What does it mean and when or why should I try it?

We’re talking about becoming retina ready. I’ll be honest with you; when I first heard about it, I just threw it to the side. It’s mainly on Apple devices and I figured it was something only they could do. It wasn’t a huge game changer because lots of other people couldn’t affect it. But boy, was I wrong.

Now, I’ve perused a couple of sites and heard from a couple of ‘experts’ and it seems like there’s a real fascination with being retina ready. Let me also say, the fascination is mainly for web designers and artists who care about things looking good. I’m sure if you asked the average person (without an Apple device) what retina-ready is, they’d look at you like you had two heads. However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be something that essentially turns out to be great and take over the world soon.

 

So…what is it?

When we look at our screens, sometimes we can see the individual pixels. Try taking a look at something like a CSS rounded corner or a really blurry image that’s being blown up. You can see the little tiny squares or dots that are trying to make up the element. Pixels are extremely small, but to a trained eye, like a designer’s, we can just sort of tell. We know when we see pixelation and we know when images and elements are just straight up ugly.

The problem wasn’t a huge deal until things like responsive design and the need to fit one thing into several browser sizes came along. Before, you just dealt with it because your browser, whichever you were on, was going to show exactly what you asked it to show. Now with responsive design and the workings of tablets and other devices, I can pinch an image to make it smaller or double tap my screen to increase the size of the page.

On websites that are not retina ready, pages will look awfully pixelated and blurry in their normal state as well as when page sizes are increased. Retina ready websites, along with the devices, allow you to see more pixels per square inch. Therefore, your trained eye sees a very smooth, high quality image or element and no distortion. Becoming retina ready is done with some CSS and Javascript. However, for images, they are created at least double the size that they’ll be shown online.

 

Benefits of retina ready websites

1. Sharper images: As we’ve already talked about, the entire idea of the retina ready technology is to give us sharper images. The idea behind retina ready is to create something that would look as sharp as it would in print. Colors are vivid and bright because you get more pixels per inch on retina ready devices. It’s essentially like high definition for your laptop, phone or tablet.

2. Better aesthetics for responsive: Again, we’ve touched on the idea that you get better picture quality. What some may not know is that creating retina ready website allows for sharper fonts. When we sometimes zoom into webpages on websites, we end up stretching out some fonts that aren’t able to be stretched. Many of these fonts aren’t to be used in such a way and give us the same pixeled look we may get from some images.

Retina ready websites help smooth over fonts. There are also some fonts that are prepared for retina ready sites and will maintain their image quality when zoomed in (or even out) on retina devices.

3. Designing with even more detail: I believe minimalism has become widely popular because it’s a simple concept to understand and design for. The idea is to remain as clean as possible and rid yourself of the fluff. Every so often, there are subtle details thrown into these types of themes, as well as others that are sometimes hard to see on regular screens. Retina devices are not only helpful in their high quality image projection but also in the brightness of their screen.

4. 30 million people think your site is ugly: Your web site is suffering right this minute if you are not retina ready. Over 30 million users have purchased these Apple devices that have this sharper screen feature. When they view your site, images are pixelated, fonts are tough to read and overall there’s probably a bad aesthetic. If you know your audience is probably the same audience that has these devices, it may be time to go ahead and prepare your site to become retina ready.

 

Tutorials and resources

Retina.js

Retina.js is a JavaScript script that checks your server to see if you have high resolution pictures available on your website. For example, if you originally have picture.jpg available, to make it retina ready, they will look for that picture that you uploaded that’s twice the size, and should be named accordingly. This takes care of much of the issue with high-res pictures.

How to make your WordPress theme Retina Ready

Once you get Retina.js, that deals mainly with the pictures, which is obviously a large portion of creating a retina ready site. This tutorial goes through some of the ways you can change the remainder of your site so that it works on these devices. There’s some CSS as well as swapping graphics outs for fonts and more.

How to Create Retina Graphics for your Web Designs

We understand that most of the work is with graphics, so how do you change the graphics you have to make the retina ready? And how do you continue to make retina ready graphics? Line25 explains some of the techniques available in Photoshop and Illustrator to get your graphics in order.

How to Create Retina Ready Graphics in Adobe Photoshop CS6

For those of us in a time crunch and want a quick fix to creating retina images in Photoshop only, this is the tutorial for you. With 3 quick steps, you’ll be a master of creating retina ready graphics in no time.

Conclusion

The retina ready world is still new and it’s still something that Apple has a grasp on. Nobody knows like time does, so we shall wait and see. In the meantime, many of us should enjoy the super crisp images and all around better design.

Three interview questions you need to be ready to answer

Employers are no longer relying on standard interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” To ace your interview, you need to be ready to answer a whole variety of new questions, including some rather odd ones, like “How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State building?.”

But an insightful article on Forbes says all those questions really boil down to three:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you love the job?
  • Can we tolerate working with you?

Here’s why they’re so important.

Can you do the job?

In a time where jobs are becoming increasing complex and specialized, employers need to make sure you can do the job. That means not only making sure you have the right technical skills and experience for the job today, but the ability to learn and adapt, to think critically, to embrace new technology and approaches, to work in multidisciplinary teams, to communicate effectively with others, to take the job to the next level, to move to another area in the organization, etc. Because the job they are hiring you to do today will likely change fairly radically over the course of your employment with them.

The interviewer might not ask you all this directly, but you can be sure they’re looking for clues in your answers.

So make sure you share examples of how you continually adapt and learn on the job, stay ahead of technology trends, work with others, manage risks, think critically and make decisions. Give them a broader view of what you can bring to the organization and the value you can provide.

Will you love the job?

So much research recently has focused on employee disengagement and its cost to organizations. So employers aren’t just looking to hire people with the right skills and experience for the job and “fill the seat”. They’re concerned about finding the right candidate, who’ll be fully engaged in the role and be a high performer.

Automatically sign up for our Career Management newsletter!

Here again, it’s hard for an interviewer to directly ask you about your engagement level. And clearly, if you’re looking for a new job, you’re likely not fully engaged in your present role. But many of the questions they ask give you the opportunity to express your passions for your work.

So make sure, as you answer questions about your work experience, you share with the interviewer the aspects of work that you love. What are the things at work that “turn you on” and make time disappear? Do you love solving problems? Are you passionate about satisfying customers? Do you thrive on the details or guiding the big picture? Do you need to work on teams? Are you jazzed by beating the competition?

What are the things you need in a role to be fully engaged? And what are the things that disengage you? Be honest about both; it’s in everyone’s best interests for you to work in a job that you love.

Can we tolerate working with you?

Cultural fit has also become a key consideration in hiring. So much work these days is done collaboratively that you need to be able to get along with your coworkers and work effectively with them.

But more than that, as organizations recognize that their employees are their only true source of lasting competitive advantage, organizational culture and competencies are becoming more critical. More than products/services or technology, this is what differentiates an organization from the competition.

So interviewers are likely to ask you questions that help them understand whether you share their core values and competencies. Afterall, if you’re a good fit, you’re likely to be more engaged and to perform better.

To help them determine this, start by getting as much understanding of the organization’s culture, values and core competencies as you can. There are lots of areas on their website that will give you clues to these. Look at their company history, careers page, mission and values. Look at the words they use to describe themselves, their products/services, market and customers. And decide for yourself whether the organization will be a good fit for you, and you for it.

Most companies will be looking for things like: customer focus, commitment to quality, innovation, integrity, speed, care for the environment, responsiveness… But each will live that in a different way.

If you think there’s a good fit, let them know. As you answer questions in the interview, tell them about your shared values and competencies. Give examples of how you’ve exhibited those on the job and outside of work. Let them know that you’re more than just the skills and experience you bring to the table and that you share a commitment to the same things.

One of the most important questions you should ask in an interview

Any IT professional looking at an employment opportunity should ask one question during the interview process:

“Is technology seen as a revenue generator or a cost center in this organization?”

The answer to this question will tell you something important – if IT is enabled and valued at the organization. It’s terribly difficult to execute effectively in an organization where IT is seen as a drain on resources instead of a necessary piece of revenue generation.

Outside of organizations that are directly focused on delivering technology solutions, many industries regard information technology with suspicion, if not outright hostility. I’ve heard countless professionals talk about how much free time Information Technology professionals seem to have.

Much of this centers around misunderstanding. IT is as much about thinking, researching, and planning as it is about execution. IT professionals who do a lot methodical research and planning tend to implement more reliable solutions. This gives them more time away from fire-fighting in the data center and more time to sit at their desk or planning their next highly reliable solution.

Unfortunately those who are the best at this can frequently appear to be idlers. Getting buy-in that you’re not sitting around taxing the company bottom line is a challenge in organizations where nose-to-the-grindstone productivity drives revenue.

In fact, responding to crisis outages that require extra effort and time may be more likely to result in recognition than simply making the systems so stable that they don’t require constant upkeep. You may find yourself more popular when working frantically to fix a system that broke than when you’ve delivered systems that simply work. It goes without saying that the head-down workforce at the office between 7AM and 6 PM (including the executives) very rarely see the IT staff pulling all day and night sessions or working the weekends or scheduled downtime on a holidays. If technology is not seen as a core component of the company’s success, do not expect these efforts to be fully appreciated.

Keep in mind, IT is not blameless in this situation. There is a lack of meaningful skill assessment in our industry. The paper tiger with a wall full of certifications may have no practical hands-on skill or aptitude for a technology career, while the college dropout may be the next innovator who delivers a multi-billion dollar IPO. In that environment, it isn’t unusual for people who do not have a firm grasp of technology solutions and limitations to be distrustful of IT workers.

We talk in riddles, we often have poor communication skills, and we’re an industry that attracts highly intelligent individuals who can seem arrogant and aloof. Executive level staff are frequently frustrated when they can’t decide if they’re being told the truth or hearing a yarn when IT explains why something didn’t work right or on time.

This becomes a particular challenge in certain industries. The financial, legal and health-care industry are particular challenges for Information Technology. Even in a tech company, there’s a silent hierarchy of importance. Helpdesk/Desktop support, IT Engineering, Networking to Development – each career level seems to have more sway than the preceding. Add lawyers, bankers or physicians to that mix, and the corporate politics of a workplace may rapidly become toxic.

This doesn’t have to be the case. There are a lot of brilliant people involved in these roles – and many of them “get” IT on a broad level and can be very pleasant and understanding to work with. The challenge is being able to figure out if there are enough people in these roles in positions of influence to create a healthy and productive IT environment in the organization.

Figuring that question out before taking a position with a company is a difficult prospect. If you find yourself in a non-technical company where the majority of executives distrust IT and see it as a burden on the bottom line, you can be assured that your experience as a technology professional will be challenging.

The results of working in an environment where the executives see IT as a burden and don’t embrace the unique nature of the IT process can be frustrating. I’ve seen environments where the IT workers are disengaged and unexcited about their positions, and too often this reflects a disconnect between the company culture and how IT works effectively. Working where engagement between the core business and the IT group is adversarial can destroy motivation and self-confidence among even the most skilled technology professionals.

Some may question the wisdom of asking this question during an interview. From my perspective, only a company with a poor relationship with IT is likely to be offended, and that is exactly the kind you’re trying to avoid.

On the other hand, companies with positive collaborative relationships with IT are likely to see this question as one that distinguishes you from other candidates. It shows that you see the bigger picture outside of the server room. The best firms are looking for this in candidates.

Does the company support employee growth with training and education reimbursement? Do they try to offer compensation for on-call or emergency shift work, even a token like a flexible start time the following day? There are many ways to subtly discover if a company considers IT an asset to be invested in or a necessary evil to be tolerated. How do you determine a company’s culture toward IT?

The Responsive Web Design War Strategy

It seems like everyone is hailing Responsive Web Design (RWD) as the savior for the mobile site development in 2013. That’s reasonable too, since RWD is currently the only sounding approach that deals with any device resolution universally and effectively. It tries to unite this chaotic browser-based universe littered by the fragmentation resulted from hardware business competition.

But alas, Responsive Web Design is not the messiah you’re seeking, for it has its own range of imperfections. Yet it is too prominent for the future of web design, and so the conflict incites a flame war among web designers.

Since we strictly practice the philosophy of ‘Make Design, Not War’, today we are just here to explore 5 core disadvantages of Responsive Web Design, and the respective arguments and solutions to lessen the destructive consequences that designers and clients are forced to bear. If you wonder if RWD is the path you seek, be enlightened here.

1. It Burns time to load

The first rule to successful web design: make it as fast as possible. And this is even more important for the mobile user who has comparatively slow Internet connection on the go. However, Responsive Web Design is clearly against fast loading speeds.

That means that if you own a responsive website, there’s a great chance that your competitor’s mobile-optimized website will be way faster than yours. The delay is because to access a responsive website, you have to load all images and scripts of the website first, even if some of them are not required to display on mobile device.

This results the dramatic decrease of site loading speed, taking 7 times longer than a dedicated, mobile-optimized website. Truly a catastrophe especially if you’re doing an e-commerce website, or if your website does not possess enough popularity to risk testing your visitor’s endurance.

On the supportive side

Implementation is the problem here. If you don’t want the content, you either don’t load it, or selectively load it – that’s what the conditional tag is for. There are also many engineered solutions available to optimize the loading behavior of the script, such as Adaptive Images which detects screen size and dynamically delivers appropriately scaled images to the website.

Another clever method is to use Lazy Loading, a technique that commands the site to load image content on a later stage, thus putting the text content as the highest priority.

In other cases, you could also switch to a separate stylesheet to prevent any loading of unnecessary or oversized elements.

2. It Breaks A Feature-Driven Website

When a user visits a website on any device, the user expects every core feature – from search to navigation, category to action button. That’s when the problems come in, as the most common approach of the responsive website is to squeeze and pile them into a long, tedious list of functions, sometimes even hidden somewhere. Prepare to see navigation menus crowd your entire screen, or not being able to find a button you actually need

Hide unnecessary features? That’s not an ideal solution, too, since every user has their own preference on certain features, and removing any of them will definitely break usability.

That said, Responsive Web Design is better for a content-focused site, not a feature-driven site. You have to trade your usability for flexibility, while a mobile site development framework such as PhoneGap can solve all the problems mentioned above.

On the supportive side:

Although RWD is pretty limited compared to mobile site development framework, there are actually numerous techniques to optimize the usability for responsive web design. For navigation menu, it can be transformed into drop-down menus for mobile devices, and the same method could also be applied to the category section, or you can even implement Accordion layout for subcategories.

Best of all, you could even hide them into a button resting on the top right side of the screen and it will only pop up when it’s required, hence leaving more space for action buttons. All of these can be easily achieved with traditional CSS and JavaScript. No need for complicated development framework.

3. It Disrupts the Advertising Model

Unlike any other web element, advertisement is not something that we, as the publisher, have full control over in the display. Even if we could tweak the ad size to fulfill the requirement of the Responsive Web Design, it will break the deal with the advertiser, as most web advertisement businesses are built on ad placement.

This forces advertisers to re-think about the value of advertising on your site since everything is bound into a pre-defined resolution, and their top positioned ads will possibly be forced to different position of the site, or it will break the layout.

Damned are those websites that rely on advertisement networks such as Google AdSense that do not offer responsive ads. Don’t expect that they will solve the problem for you either. The implementation is rather complicated on their end.

On the supportive side:

It’s quite ‘fortunate’ that most advertisers do not understand much about Responsive Web Design, but here’s a brilliant suggestion for you if they start questioning about the issue – sell the ads as a package.

Simply put, instead of selling a leaderboard ad on desktop version of website that will disappear on certain resolution, include other types of ads exclusive to a set of different device resolution, and sell them as a package.

The whole point is to become responsive with your web advertising model too.

For Google AdSense, you can switch between the Google ads based on device resolution, for instance leaderboard ad for iPad, banner ad for iPad Mini, and text ad for iPhone. It’s safest to say that this is the only way since you will be potentially breaking Google AdSense’ Terms of Service if you change any portion of the advertisement code, so deal with it.

4. No compatibility for IE 8

On the first day you submit your responsive website to your corporate client, expect him to contact you and ask why the website does not work on his computer. Ask what browser he is using and there is a chance he ran the site on IE.

How do you inform him that his website is not compatible to the browser that currently holds 24% of browser usage share across the world? That totally sounds like the worst decision you can make, but it’s a painful fact that CSS3 media queries, the foundation pillar of RWD, is not supported by Internet Explorer 8 and below.

On the supportive side:

At the time the RWD made its debut, IE8′s compatibility is a huge drawback for the approach, but you can solve this seemingly doomed issue within hours by now, using the Respond.js developed by Scott Jehl.

The script’s effect is pretty straightforward, it supports min-width, max-width and all media types for IE8 and below. Alternatively, opt for CSS3-Media-Queries that supports similar set of features.

There are surely flaws for every script, but it’s far better than seeing the sky falling on your head. It’s not the end of the world though, as only a minority of mobile users browse the Web with Internet Explorer 8.

5. Experience-, Time- and Cost-Intensive

We often tend to hold very high optimism over any technological buzzword that is trending on the Internet (I’m staring at you, HTML5), until we actually apply it to the product. From 4 disadvantages discussed above you can understand that implementing Responsive Web Design requires extensive experience of web technologies and design pattern. It’s insane to reach the goal with trial-and-error method.

On top of that, the approach works under the assumption that the browser will display the design perfectly without bugs. And that, of course, isn’t true. Given the fluid nature of the RWD, there will be unforeseen bugs every time the layout changes its structure according to the screen resolution and orientation.

That means you need to test every resolution on every mobile browser to make everyone of them render correctly. Kind of an overkill for a feature, no?.

On the supportive side:

Unless you are going to display the desktop version of the website for mobile device, any other considerable approach, either mobile-optimized website or hybrid app, will burn as much experience, time and cost as with RWD. And thanks to the effort of all brilliant developers, RWD is now the easiest one to bake and test with relatively low learning curve.

Prevention is better than cure, and preventing browser bugs nowadays could not be simpler, with so many tutorials, frameworks and tools existed to aid the web designers. For beginner, you could kickstart Bootstrap from Twitter to integrate responsive layout brainlessly, and avoid most well-known browser bugs.

For the testing phase, although it’s important to note that it’s always better to test on a real device, online testing services have also improved well enough to significantly reduce your workload, try Screenqueri.es for example. It even allows you to simulate the view of landscape mode.

Responsive Web Design is not just a feature. Improvements on frameworks, development and testing tools over these 2.5 years positively show that majority of web designers truly believe the Responsive Web Design is the future.

Reflection

Nothing is more credible than the words of the author who coined the term, Responsive Web Design:

“Most importantly, responsive web design isn’t intended to serve as a replacement for mobile web sites.”

In the end, it’s just an approach, and an approach works best with this good ol’ piece of advice: it depends.

The development flow of RWD should be to figure out the type of website you will be forging, measure the needs and don’ts from your client, inspect the worth and outcome of each mobile approach, then finally decide if the RWD is best suited for the site.

Are you a zealous follower of Responsive Web Design? Or have you implemented the approach before, and discovered that there are in fact more deficiencies lying within this promising approach? Either way, we’re eager to hear your opinion and feedback!

How to develop a responsive workflow

Remember the good old days? You know which days I’m talking about; the days not so long ago when we used to design websites to fixed widths. Looking back now they seem like such a simpler time; a happier time; a time when I could recite every font that was available to use online without a second thought. The truth is that Responsive Web Design changed everything. The world was flat and now it’s round, I was blind and now I see, the web was pixels and now it’s percentages.

With the introduction of RWD, it is vital that we as designers evolve our workflow to better suit the demands of the new web. Many of us have voiced our frustrations on how Photoshop’s fixed pixel approach is unsuitable for designing the fluid layouts needed for a responsive website but no useful alternatives have been offered. The web design world is desperate for a bespoke software that is built from the ground up with RWD in mind. Products like Adobe Reflow are a great start, as it shows that Adobe are at least working on a solution, but after spending a few hours with it at the weekend, I can see that it still has a long way to go before it becomes a useful addition to my workflow. With us being in limbo between a pre-historic software and the promise of what’s to come tomorrow, we are having to create alternative workflows to accommodate the shortcomings of our current ‘design software’ by introducing other tools and procedures that will help bridge the gap between fixed pixel and fluid responsiveness.

The following is by no means a list of how RWD projects should be approached, but rather how I have adapted my workflow to suit the new landscape.

 

1. Use what you know

I have stood on the border between the Photoshop/Fireworks/Illustrator divide as each have battled for supremacy and have witnessed innocent people get caught in a crossfire of pixels. Designers tend to have their favourite and would rather die a slow painful death than admit that another software has a feature that they might actually want. My view is that you should design in any software that allows you to work at your most efficient and explore your ideas quickly, be it Photoshop, Powerpoint or Paint.

It’s almost irrelevant which you choose as it should just be a starting point for quickly experimenting with different layouts. Personally, I prefer Fireworks as it ticks more of the boxes of what I want in a software. I try not to get heavily stuck into details at this stage and really try to just make some preliminary decisions on layout and structure much like some posh wireframes.

 

2. Use real content

Everything that needs to be said about the use of Lorem Ipsum in site mock ups has been said so please just trust me on this one and where possible use real content to design from. Where not possible, use last years content, write your own content or use the lyrics to ‘Candle in the wind’ but don’t use Lorem ipsum. If you don’t use real content, it will be difficult to see at which break points certain elements need adjusting.

 

3. Start at 1000px wide

This is just the width that I like to start at as it is close to a small desktop experience, which is then easy to scale up for larger screens and down for tablet / mobile experiences. Some people prefer to start wider whilst others prefer to design mobile-first, it just comes down to what works for you.

 

4. Play the percentages

RWD is all about fluid containers that grow and shrink to fill the browser’s available area, so designing in percentages rather than pixels will ensure that your designs flow in proportion to the browser and require less break points than the equivalent pixel based design.

I tend to have In-Design open in the background so I can easily and quickly find out a percentage size of a pixel based element. InDesign is great at handling these kind of calculations and you can easily find out what size a 428px x 333px element will be at 46% of its original width, whilst keeping it’s proportions or maybe find out 27% of a 889px browser width in seconds. The results are still given to you in pixels so you can then go back into the software that you are designing in and create that container in pixels, knowing that it will be relative to the percentage of the workspace that you have defined.

 

5. Create your typography styles in the browser

If you think I bang on about using real content within your designs, you should hear me go on about designing typography styles in Photoshop (or equivalent). Typography will look vastly different in the browser than it looks in the usual Adobe packages which will mean more work for you tweaking the design once it’s built.

Save yourself the headache and use apps like typecast.com to experiment and create your font styles with. Once you are happy with the layout and style of your typography, you can export your entire workspace as a transparent PNG to place within your design mock-ups. You won’t need to have any of your chosen fonts installed onto your system as it will just be an image but you will also not be able to edit it without going back into typecast.

 

6. Create your grid

By now you should pretty much have your design at 1000px wide (or whichever width you chose at the start) completed with the widths of the containers that hold your various content translated into percentages. I would now start to create a bespoke grid that mimics the container widths that I use within my design. So if I have a sidebar that is 30% wide and a content area that is 55% of my browser with 5% padding either side, my grid may look something like 5%, 30%, 5%, 55%, 5%.

You can use apps like Gridset to build your bespoke grid but again, I prefer to use InDesign as you can group elements and have them resize in proportion to each other.

 

7. Time to break it down

I now take my grid that I have created using InDesign and paste it into a 1600px wide (or the max width that you want your site to be) document. I then start to resize my grid wider and narrower by increments of 100px all the way down to 300px wide. At every increment, I check the width of each content container and make sure it is still large enough to house its content. When I get to a width that I think makes a container too small, I simply edit the grid to fit. So if at 800px wide the sidebar that I had created at 30% of the browser width becomes too narrow, I could add an extra 10% to it, making it now 40% of my browser width and being wide enough to house its intended content.

The key thing to remember is that if you make a container wider, you need to make another container narrower by the same amount to maintain the 100% entire width. This is the best way that I have found to define break points (the point at which your layout will change) as you only add another breakpoint when the content breaks and not to the width of a new device. This procedure can be time consuming as you will end up with 14 different previews of your grid as it grows from 300px to 1600px wide but it is the best way that I have found to check how your design will look at different screen widths before it’s in development.

Another option is to use a tool like Adobe Reflow that also allows you to add content to containers and then drag your workspace and see the elements scale. You can also determine your break points by resizing your workspace until the content breaks and simply adding a media query. Reflow is still in public Beta and can be downloaded from here.

 

8. Add some polish

Having scaled your designs down at increments of every 100px, you would of identified a few widths at which the content breaks and rectified it by adding a breakpoint. You can now go back into the software which you created the original designs in and change the layout of your design at the widths that you identified as break points. This means that you end up designing only 2, 3 or 4 different layouts (depending on the complexity of your grid and how many breakpoints you need) that will cover all the way from 300px to 1600px.

 

9. Deliverables

If you have followed this process, you should now have a set of layouts that match your break points, a document that shows how your grid is made up of percentages of the browser width and how it collapses for smaller screens as well as all of your typography styles already created and tested in the browser. This should be a very strong point for a developer to then start building your designs accurately and without having to deal with content breaking at certain widths later on.

This process may seem very long winded but without a specific tool built entirely for RWD, it is the best way that I have found to easily test my responsive layout using non-responsive software and clearly communicate my ideas to a developer. This is by no means the one and only way to approach a RWD project, but it’s the best I’ve found.

Three leadership behaviors of successful project managers

A lot of project management articles focus on technical aspects of the work (e.g., the latest tool, template, or technique to help manage scope, schedules, and people), but it’s just as important to focus on the social and cultural aspects of project management. Leadership, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, and politics also have a significant impact on a project’s success.

Leadership frameworks can be taught in business schools and professional development courses, but leadership behaviors need to be learned and demonstrated. I once worked for a company that identified three specific leadership behaviors that project managers should demonstrate in addition to successful project delivery. Here’s a look at the three leadership behaviors.

Leadership behavior #1: Demonstrate a drive for results

Project management isn’t easy or filled with glory. The reality is that projects are tough and can be stressful, frustrating, and have administrative challenges that can detract from the end goal. Focusing on the tasks that need to be accomplished (regardless of obstacles) and keeping the end goal in mind are easier said than done, but both concepts are critical nonetheless.

Effective project managers take responsibility to achieve the results defined by the project; this means you may not be able to simply delegate tasks to others and wait for the status update. On some of my projects, I never thought I’d be the person responsible for data cleanup in legacy systems or have to conduct menial and administrative tasks in preparation for the next day’s workshop; however, sometimes completing menial tasks and focusing on the end result helps move the project forward.

Leadership behavior #2: Demand the truth

In order to making the best decisions, project managers need to know the real issue or risk affecting the project. Effective project managers need to demand the truth from their teams and then present the truth to their management and peers. Minimizing problems and hiding issues with colorful explanations doesn’t help the project team or the project manager succeed. By asking team members to explain the status in basic terms without corporate rhetoric or political spin, the entire team will benefit.

Leadership behavior #3: Demonstrate courage

Projects don’t always go as planned, and it’s the project manager’s job to present the current status updates and describe any corrective actions needed to improve project performance. In some organizational cultures, there is a tendency to avoid reporting bad news until it’s too late. If you present a positive status update, it may give you a little more time to resolve problems on your own, but when a project is in trouble, project managers often need management support and attention to help turn things around.

It takes courage to communicate that there are problems with the project and to ask for help. It takes courage to have a conversation with a team member who isn’t performing well or to talk with a peer who isn’t providing the necessary support. It takes courage to make the hard decisions to cancel a project to save funding or to let an employee know they no longer have a position with the project. As project managers, these situations are difficult, but dealing with them is our job.

More leadership behaviors

It’s difficult to try to categorize all the leadership behaviors a successful project manager needs to exhibit into just three areas. A commitment to customer satisfaction, a focus on quality, and continuous improvement are secondary behaviors that I’d add to the list. Successful project managers possess the technical project management skills and the leadership behaviors to deliver a project.

What leadership behaviors would you add to the list? Share your feedback in the discussion.

Tips for online forms that create better user experience

Does this sound like a typical online interaction you’ve had in the past? I start filling out a payment form to submit my monthly bill, which is due for the a certain cable company, all the information is entered and then once I hit “Submit” it sits there chugging away…about five minutes later the page results in an error message, and I have no way of knowing if my payment was accepted. This is just one of several failed form submittal experiences I’ve had in the recent past. I am sure you could share similar stories of online form FAIL! As a stakeholder of your organization you should be aware of the User Experience (UX) and level of acceptance that your online forms have with respect to how your customers interact with your online forms. This article will review several tips for ensuring that your forms are giving the best UX for your customers.

Select menus

Have you ever come across a select menu that has just five or less options, or maybe over fifteen options? In either case it is not going to earn you any points for effective user experiences. If you have less than five options you might want to opt for a set of radio buttons, which will allow the users to make their selections faster; all they have to do is look at the few options and click once instead of having to click the select menu and then click the selection. Figure A displays the offending two option selector, and Figure B displays the preferred radio buttons.

Figure A

Figure B

And on the other side of the spectrum anytime you have more than fifteen options within a select menu it becomes a burden to scroll through such a long list of options; the user gets bogged down with too many choices as in this typical month, day and year select menu in Figure C.

I know you have seen and probably created similar date select menus on websites, so in this example, how do you provide an option for users to enter the date without such a huge drop down selection menu? Keep the month drop down select options but then make the day and year set as text fields as  shown in Figure D.

All the user needs to do is select the month, then tab over and type in the day and then the year and the extensive drop down selectors are eliminated.

Labels

You want to give your users the easiest means of entering their data, and one of the best practices includes having your labels top-aligned in relation to the associated form fields. You can see examples of this in each of the four previous figures above. The identifying label is positioned above the actual form fields or top-aligned so that it is easier for the users to recognize and process the associated input fields. Top aligned labels are also better suited for mobile devices that rely on compressed and smaller screens.

Checkboxes

I am sure you have filled out a form and clicked submit only to wonder if you remembered to uncheck the box that was automatically checked, meaning you would be signed up for a monthly credit report, or some similar offending selection. As a common courtesy to your customers and users, please leave it up to them to make the decision to select a checkbox, even if it is for a free newsletter. I can’t remember how many newsletters have ended up in my inbox because I forgot to uncheck a checkbox.

Alternatives to captcha

Many online forms today end with a captcha phrase so that you can let them know that you are not a robot. While this is an effective way of reducing your SPAM, what you are doing is telling the world that you have a SPAM problem, and that you are off loading the work of preventing that SPAM onto your customers and users. Alternatives to the captcha technique are to use what is known as a honeypot captcha which is essentially an invisible captcha that bots and robots can see but people cannot, and the robots cannot tell the difference between the real form fields and the hidden honeypot field. There is some controversy with the possibility of screen readers detecting the hidden field, but using display: none will likely prevent most screen readers from picking the hidden fields. Another option is to use the jQuery-based solution for creating Safer Contact Forms without CAPTCHAs, which utilizes a simple method of adding a layer of security to any contact form using Ajax and jQuery.

Omit optional fields

You want to keep your forms to a minimal level, and big, long winded forms are just bad. You want to concentrate on vital information only. If the information is going to be used, then it needs to be a required field, enough said.

Why the reset button?

Exactly, why do we need a reset or cancel button anyway? We don’t! In the overwhelming majority of cases, a reset or cancel button is not necessary. Why add one more button, especially one that clears out the entire form, for goodness sake. Why would you want your users to clear their valuable data?

Form validation

Remember to add form validation to all your required fields; this can be a simple client-side validation technique using JavaScript. And while it is hard to prevent all user errors in filling out your forms, good form validation will also give users a heads up to see what might be wrong or missing while they are still typing into form fields.

The form tips described in this article will help boost your forms performance and improve the user experiences at the same time. Do you have any other quick form tips that you utilize for your online forms?

Protecting Your Content from Theft

If there is a war that is as hard to win as the wars on drugs and terrorism, it must be the war against content theft. Content theft is so widespread that calling it an epidemic isn’t an exaggeration. Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to protect your content against theft in one form or another, but if you just sit and do nothing when theft occurs, this only encourages thieves. While the methods of protecting your content are far from perfect, you still need to apply them – simply to make it that little harder for thieves to steal from you.

Fair Use and Protection of Ideas

First, without going into legalese definitions, let me say briefly that not everything that looks like content theft is. For instance, the so called ‘fair use‘ allows you to freely use portions of work for commentary and criticism. With parody you can legally go even further in ‘borrowing’ and creatively twisting ideas from other authors.

Another case that is not classified as content theft is when you present an idea, not a finished piece of work. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, though some manufacturers gladly file suits against competitors for, let’s say ’rounded rectangles used for displays in smaller devices’, as if they were the ones to discover the rounded rectangle as a shape. So, if you write on your blog about what designs, videos, ebooks, or other stuff you plan to release and see that somebody else releases the same titles, this is cannot be theft. If you had designs, videos, ebooks, etc. to a completed project and find that somebody uses parts or whole items of them elsewhere, now this is theft.

Put Notices that Your Content Is Copyrighted

In addition to fair use and ideas in a non-physical form that can be used and this isn’t theft, there is one more case where users might be confused if a particular item is copyrighted or not. With so many quality in the public domain, it’s possible to get misled that everything you find online and offline is free to use.

Anybody who knows at least a bit about intellectual property (IP) will presume that if an item is not explicitly listed as belonging to the public domain then it isn’t. But in order to avoid even the slightest confusion about your content, always put notices that it is copyrighted. These notices won’t stop real thieves, but if you don’t have any copyrighted notices, even unintentional thieves might get encouraged.

Protect Your Content by Making It Harder to Get and/or Reuse

If you make it harder for thieves to get a hold of your content/work, this will stop at least those of them that are after the low hanging fruit. Measures, such as watermarks, disabled ‘Save As’ and copying, or using low resolution images can provide some protection. But to be honest, their effect is far from comprehensive. Still, they will make it a bit harder to get your content in a split second and reuse it right away. Unfortunately, these are the best options we have at our disposal, if we are to protect our assets.

Watermarks

For images and videos, watermarks are the most serious way to make it harder to reuse a stolen image. While a watermark is not stopping thieves from obtaining your work, when your URL/logo is splattered across the image/video, you are at least getting some exposure. Sure, this doesn’t compensate for the theft but some free publicity is better than nothing.

Watermarks are easy to create. You can make a separate image file with your URL or company name and add it as a layer to your images or videos.

Watermarks might be the most reliable of all the methods for protecting your images/videos but unfortunately it’s not rocket science to remove them, if you really want to. Some watermarks are simple to clean, while others might require a little bit more work. If a thief is determined, they will succeed. This is why, when you design your watermark, think how to make it harder to clean – this will provide more protection.

Good watermarks have to be unobtrusive but they also have to cover the important aspects of the image/video. If these two conditions are met, you can rest assured that you’ve done your best to protect your images/videos without irritating viewers.

Disable Save As and Copying

The next best protection you can use for articles and images/videos, is to disable ‘Save As’ and ‘Copy’ from the context menu of a browser. Usually you do this by deploying some script to disable the right click. Disabled ‘Save As/Copy’ works if your thieves are not technically savvy because if they are, there are ways to bypass this protection.

For instance, if a thief uses a not so popular browser, the script might not work and the protection will be broken. Even if this doesn’t happen, if somebody is desperate to get your article, for example, he or she can easily make a screenshot and type it from there.

Of course, this is a lot of effort for a thief and this is why I’m saying this measure will chase away only the thieves who are after the quick thefts, or the low hanging fruit. Still, if you manage to eliminate the quick thefts at least this is more or less a success.

Submit Low Resolution Images

If you sell high-resolution photos and designs, you might want to show publicly only their low resolution versions. You can use this strategy to protect offline content as well.

For instance, a friend of mine got burned once when she submitted some designs to a competition (or when applying for a job – I don’t remember exactly), only to see them reused by some unscrupulous company. Since then, she submits only low resolution stuff – this is good enough to show her abilities and isn’t easy to reuse for quality projects.

For photos, 72 dpi, 600×400 images are a good combination. Yes, not much detail will be seen but images with such parameters are hard to resell. Sure, they can be posted on some site without your permission but at least you won’t find them competing against your originals on the photo stock sites you make money from.

Consider Google Authorship

The newly released Google Authorship service is one more option to consider. It’s too early to say if this will be working or not, but at least the start is promising. When you claim your stuff in your Google Authorship profile, this doesn’t guarantee it won’t be stolen but the comfort is that at least you will rank higher in Google searches than the copycats. You can also integrate your YouTube videos in your Google Authorship account.

How to Handle Content Theft

All these ways of protecting your content don’t guarantee it won’t be stolen. In the unlucky case this happens, you’d better know how to handle the theft.

Very often you will be unaware of a theft. One of the ways to learn when your articles (or photo/image descriptions) gets posted somewhere else is with the help of Google Alerts. Set these alerts with excerpts from your articles/descriptions and when a match is found, you will be notified.

After you become aware of the theft, the next step is to contact the site owner (if the content is posted online). Sometimes a cease and desist letter is enough to see your content taken down. If this doesn’t help, consider contacting the hosting provider of the thieves. Cases when accounts have been shut because of copyright violations are not unheard of, so going this extra mile is worth it.

For online content, you do have one more option – report it to Google. A DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint with Google will frequently lead to the removal of the content from the index of Google. This won’t physically remove the stolen pieces from the server but when they are deindexed by Google, they won’t be getting a lot of traffic – and certainly won’t rank higher than your originals, which is really irritating to see.

The ultimate step is to sue but this is so much of a pain that you will want to do it only for really precious items and when you can prove your case at 100%.

Basically, this is what you can do to protect your content and to handle content theft. None of these methods are foolproof but this really is the best that we have. And yes, it’s an endless battle, but we’ve got to fight it.

5 Characteristics “The Employee Of The Century” Has

If there is ever an ‘Employee of the Century’ award, what will it take for one to earn it?

First we should ask what qualities do employers look out for in an employee? Is it all about being dependable and reliable, as well as having high standards of integrity? Granted, these attributes of an employee are all critical to the well-being of an organization and are thus highly sought after.

However, such traits, along with being disciplined, proactive, punctual, passionate about work, etc which characterizes a good employee are not new to us.

Can we go further to determine what separates the really outstanding employees from the faceless crowd of good employees? Perhaps we can.

I was reading through a couple of articles on what makes employees remarkable and came across a few points that might help to distinguish the best of the best. So what are these ‘elite’ employees like?

Here they are:

1) Dare to be the Dissenting Voice

If you think that the best employees out there are those who comply to every rule, think again. The organization or the boss may not make the right decisions from time to time, and this is when an employee who dares to challenge the norm and question authority becomes an asset.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that being a maverick or a rebel ALL the time would make you the perfect employee. More likely than not, you will be branded as a troublemaker!

An employee who knows when to pledge his or her fullest support to the team and when to voice out objections for the greater good of the organization will eventually earn everyone’s respect and trust.

When you speak up against something, be it against a decision made or existing practices that you find flawed, you’ll either be the nail that sticks out and gets pounded, or the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. The fact is that people generally resist change because it brings a whole load of uncertainty.

“Will it work?” and “How will it affect me?” are two common questions that will run through their mind. The key then, is to make sure you provide the assurance by addressing the concerns of the stakeholders after challenging their perspective.

2) Don’t point fingers at others

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem; there’s no middle ground. Keep in mind that even if the employee decides to stay out of an issue that concerns him or her, by adopting a nonchalant attitude, the employee is still contributing to the problem by letting it hang there. At worst, the problem can escalate.

When we are quick to find who’s at fault and blame others, aren’t we wasting precious time that could have been used to resolve the issue? That said, it’s natural for employees to do that in order to ‘cover their asses’. If you really want to be that outstanding employee for the organization, don’t fall into this trap.

First, seek solutions to fix the problem or at least mitigate the situation. After everything is running smoothly once again, you can begin your quest to hunt down the one responsible for everything.

However, just keep in mind that people make mistakes from time to time so don’t be too quick to blame.

3) Go the Extra Mile

You see, the best employees out there in the market are people who do not see their job as just a job. They believe in what they do and are always motivated to change things for the better. What this translates to is the willingness to go the extra mile.

This can take many forms: taking initiatives, doing more than what they are required to, staying beyond official working hours, volunteering, etc.

However, one subtle sign of a dedicated employee is that he or she may not be inclined to follow the rules and regulations in a rigid manner. The employee may bend the rules from time to time not because they are rebellious or didn ‘t believe in them, but more because the employee is able to see from the point of view of the organization in terms of its vision and goals to make the critical judgment on whether abiding or breaking the rule would benefit them more.

You might ask, how is that going the extra mile?

Well, instead of simply following the established rules blindly to avoid reprimand and punishment, the employee is willing to risk landing in hot soup for the sake of the organization’s long-term goal. Isn’t that something that no ordinary employee would dare try? Isn’t this going beyond the distance employees are supposed to go?

4) Lead Others

Leaders are the agents of change in any organization since they are the ones who make major decisions and spur the rest to work towards organizational goals. Therefore, employees who exhibit leadership qualities are highly valued.

This is why organizations often identify potential leaders among the masses and offer leadership trainings or seminars to groom them for leadership roles. In essence, these employees are the future of the organization.

It doesn’t matter whether your official position requires you to lead or manage a group of people; there will be plenty of circumstances arising that will offer you that chance to emerge as a leader. For instance, speaking up for your peers when they are afraid to do so (similar to #1) is a sign of courage that will set you apart from the rest.

Furthermore, when you speak on behalf of others and take the risk of being singled out, people will gain their respect towards you as a leader.

Employees who sustain a positive work attitude and set a good example for the rest to follow are role models. So you can see that good employees don’t necessarily exhibit leadership skills only when something bad occurs; they can conduct themselves in such manner with every little thing they do at work on a day-to-day basis.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, getting others to see you as a leader takes time and consistent effort.

5) Have Excellent People Skills

Regardless of whether the organization deals in PR or not, it’s hard to find an organization that doesn’t value people skills. Even if the employee is working at the backend and has minimal contact with clients or other organizations, chances are that he or she will still need to interact at some level to do the job well.

This includes the relationships between the employee and the boss, as well as colleagues. From time to time, the employee will need support or assistance in some form. This is when people skills come into play.

What exactly makes people skills so crucial? For one, it determines how well you communicate with others. If you do not have the capacity to see from another person’s point of view, how are you going to understand his or her needs and communicate your ideas? Working in an organization requires a substantial amount of teamwork.

If you can communicate well with your teammates or even have the ability to influence them, there’s no telling how far your team can go.

In #4, I mentioned about how organizations recognize leadership talents to prepare them for leadership roles in the future. The point I’m making here is that an outstanding employee is not someone who will be fixed at one position forever;  he or she will be expected to assume different and greater roles in the times to come.

Having people skills is essential across so many positions (e.g. ALL managerial roles) that having this interpersonal skill perfected will make the employee so much more valuable.

Designing Great Feedback Loops

The products we build are full of feedback loops, whether we know it or not. People who study human behavior agree that feedback loops play a critical role in what we do. From biofeedback to the quantified self, designers and psychologists alike are discovering the real power that these cyclical interactions play in shaping our day-to-day choices. Designing for behavior change can increase user engagement, create business value and improve lives.

Whatever you’re designing, it probably involves feedback. Designing that feedback to be as effective as possible can mean the difference between a successful and failed product. This article discusses how to influence behavior by designing well-crafted feedback loops.

What They Are, And Where They Live

Feedback loops consist of a few simple steps:

  1. A person takes an action,
  2. The action has one or more effects,
  3. The important effects of this action are presented back to the person,
  4. This loop is repeated regularly

Feedback Loops Diagram

There are many natural feedback loops. They reveal to people whether they are making good or bad choices, and people learn from them. If someone eats something bad, they get sick. If they eat something good, it is delicious. If a person is nice to someone, and that someone responds in kind, the person feels good. If someone damages their body, it hurts. The brain has systems of reward and punishment that support basic survival.

There are now many man-made examples of these as well. People take tests on their knowledge and receive a grade. They post a status update to Facebook and get rewarded when people like or comment on it. “Post more stuff like this,” the feedback seems to say.

So, let’s dive into improving our own feedback loops!

Discover Your Product’s Basic Feedback Loops

The first step is to identify your product’s feedback loops. What are the fundamental repeated behaviors that your users engage in?

Many social apps share the following basic loop: a user posts something, people see it, people click a button to “like” it, and the likes are presented back to the user. Email has a strong, simple loop: log in, see new emails, deal with the emails.

But they can also be harder to see. Yelp has built great feedback loops around local reviews. A restaurant provides food and services, and better services lead to better reviews. Meanwhile, customers dine in and leave reviews, which themselves are reviewed in turn by other people (see those “Useful,” “Funny” and “Cool” buttons). Some people who leave enough reviews can get invited to special parties and more (“Yelp Elites”). These loops are purposefully designed: they drive people to engage with the website and to contribute content that is valuable to Yelp’s business.

 

Yelp Profile Screenshot
My Yelp profile, with prominent feedback.

Look for patterns of repeated behavior, and list the ones you find. These behaviors could span time, digital and physical space, channels of communication, and even different people. Look closely at user actions that trigger a notification sent to them or others. Investigate places where users communicate with each other or with employees, either directly or indirectly. These areas are fertile ground for feedback loops, and you should be able to draw up a robust list without much effort.

Understand How These Loops Are Broken, And Fix Them

Now that you have a list of areas that can be improved, identify the most important or common ones in your product. They can be improved in any one of these aspects:

  1. Speed,
  2. Measurability,
  3. Context,
  4. Connection to motivations.

1. Speed

“It’s too slow!”

Problem: The longer it takes for feedback to arrive, the less it will influence future decisions.

In operant conditioning, this is called “immediacy,” and it’s also related to “hyperbolic discounting.”

For example, when the user of a financial website makes an investment, seeing the outcomes of that investment could take years. Without any simulation of what their investment’s growth might look like, they have little emotional material to support that decision.

Stopwatch

Solution: Tighten the feedback loop by presenting effects as soon as possible. This could entail revealing real effects, or simply simulating them. As long as they’re grounded in reality, they will have influence. Even presenting simulated feedback right before someone makes a decision is effective. Knowing that an investment will likely earn them $1,000 will help the user feel good about making that decision.

Smartphone push notifications have also gone a long way to giving immediate feedback. Posting something to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and so on and then hearing one’s phone buzz with social feedback within minutes is a powerful loop. Always be sure to use push notifications when appropriate.

Credit cards provide a physical example of how delayed feedback can make for a dark pattern that drives harmful behavior. These cards have made banks huge amounts of money by alleviating a painful loop: pulling out your wallet and handing over your hard-earned cash. The more cash you spend, the more it disappears from your wallet. Soon, you are forced to go to the bank to get more, making you physically see and feel the effects of spending. Credit cards effectively delay the feedback on how much you spend until you bother to check the balance or are sent a bill at the end of the month. Even then, you have the option of delaying payment of the full balance (accruing interest in the meantime). This makes sliding into debt very easy.

2. Measurability

“How does it compare?”

Problem: Comparing vague, unquantifiable feedback to other factors in order to make an informed decision is too difficult.

Take nutrition, a notoriously vague problem space for feedback. How do people know whether they’re eating well? If they’ve heard that the thing they’re eating is unhealthy, how unhealthy is it? If the feedback is presented in some quantifiable way that relates to reality, it will be easier to understand and the person’s decisions will be more informed. Nutrition labels have made the effects of food more measurable. Now, someone can actually quantify the benefit of eating an apple, and the problem with eating a pile of bacon.

Solution: As nutrition labels have done for food, give quantifiable feedback to users. Use visual comparisons as well, when possible. The human brain is great with tangible comparisons between the sizes, locations and other variables of objects. Read up on the framing effect as well as anchoring for more on the psychological reasons for why this works.

Klout is attempting to make social influence measurable with its Klout score. It demonstrates the power of making things measurable, enabling users to objectively compare the online social influence of different people. It also highlights the risks of creating metrics where there were none before. The Klout score is interesting, but it’s based on a limited set of social signals, such as followers, likes, replies, retweets and comments. Metrics must be believable and must accurately reflect reality, a hard thing to accomplish with social influence.

A lesson we’ve learned about measurability at ReadyForZero is to use numbers that are at a scale that people deal with in real life, typically up to 100. Telling a user that their debt will cost them $150,000 in interest means almost nothing to them other than “a lot of money” and isn’t that useful. Instead, we focus on how much someone’s debt costs them in interest every day, because this number tends to be in the $1 to $30 range and is comparable to many things they purchase daily, such as coffee and meals. Feeling good about their progress has helped our users significantly.

3. Context

“What does it mean?”

Problem: Feedback presented without the context of a larger goal isn’t as effective.

Saving some extra money can make someone feel good. But saving towards a goal is more meaningful. “This deposit of $500 has put me one third of the way towards my vacation.” Providing context for the feedback not only creates a signpost by which to measure progress, but actually frames the way people think about a problem. For example, “You’ve spent $1,200 this week” is a very different way to frame one’s finances than “You’ve spent $1,200 of your budgeted $700 this week,” even though they represent the same data.

Solution: Frame effects in the context of user goals. How much closer to or further from a goal has this action taken the user? On ReadyForZero, we show the amount of time and interest saved by making a big payment towards a debt, and the amount lost by buying things on a credit card.

This is a form of “anchoring.” By showing a desired goal, you’ve set the anchor by which the user can then evaluate their current situation. If they have not yet reached the goal, they’ll feel the tension of wanting to reach it.

The Nike+ Fuelband, along with many other quantified-self activity-tracking devices, explicitly creates feedback loops and goals around user behavior where there were none before. The user’s physical activity is tracked and reported throughout the day, compared to goals, and shared online. Note the strong use of progress bars, both on the watch and in the app, which communicate how close the user is to reaching their daily goal.

4. Motivations

“I don’t care.”

Problem: Feedback that isn’t connected to the user’s true motivations doesn’t work sustainably.

“Gamified” feedback loops are able to make an impact, but points and badges that don’t connect to anything meaningful won’t last. People don’t care about points; they care about things such as health, happiness, friendship and wealth. Right now, which would you rather have: 30 Foursquare points, 30 likes on your next Facebook update, 30 extra minutes in your day or $30? The answers may vary, but I’ll bet the Foursquare points would be last on the list for everyone.

Solution: Discover what your users care about, give them the ability to reach those goals, and present feedback connected to that. Social rewards, such as comments on our thoughts and photos, connect to the need for human relationships. Feeling fit and looking great connects to the goal of being healthy. Money connects to the many things people spend it on.

On ReadyForZero, we help people pay down their debt by showing them a number of bits of important feedback. First, we tangibly show the progress that a potential payment would make towards their goal on a progress bar. The visual connection enhances the feeling of achievement. Secondly, we tell them the long-term implications of that payment in terms of interest and time saved.

Fully grasping what your users’ motivations are can be difficult. There are many theories about how motivation works, each with implications for design. A useful framework is the theory of self determination, which posits that people who have most of their basic needs met can begin to look for autonomy, relatedness and competence. The theory is that these motivations arise not from the outside world, but from inside, and are more powerful. Theory aside, however, the tried and true approach of speaking candidly and in depth with your users will reveal what they truly care about.

Two Things To Remember

With these categories in focus, you’re on your way to designing better feedback loops. However, keep two things in mind as you go.

1. Measure Your Success

Now that you’ve identified your areas for improvement and made changes to them based on our criteria, it’s important to measure the outcomes of these changes using analytics and user research. As stated, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

Analytics and research are, in fact, your own internal feedback loop as a designer. Consider the key metrics to track and report, how often they are reported, and in what context. The design of this feedback loop will affect how you respond to user behavior, and it’s important that your team is optimizing for the right things.

2. Be Ethical

Finally, throughout the process, evaluate the ethics involved in each decision. The power of behavioral techniques should always inspire a discussion within your team as well as within yourself. Are you designing a health improvement app, a utility or a slot machine? Which of these is acceptable? Taking responsibility for influencing behavior requires a strong moral compass. Products that have taken the low road have been both successful and harmful.

Zynga has created a business model around extremely effective feedback loops, but the values informing many of these loops have been routinely criticized as being unethical. For example, Zynga uses progress bars, goals, levels and social pressures very effectively to monetize its signature game, Farmville. However, such games arguably succeed at the expense of the user’s time, cash and creativity. They focus on achieving business goals by manipulating user emotions.

Defining “fun” is beyond the scope of this article, but the clever timing of cash-based advances in gameplay is clearly designed for profit rather than for the player’s experience. Read about the fascinating Cow Clicker saga for an amusing critique of this model.

For a more rational approach to designing ethically, review Stephen Anderson’s guidelines, which take a deeper look at how to calibrate your moral compass.

In general, use the golden rule, and try to make the world a better place for everyone.

In Summary

Design can be used to nudge behavior, and great feedback loops are a vital piece of pulling it off. Assist your users in understanding and achieving their goals by continually optimizing your feedback loops. Focus on making them fast, meaningful, quantified and contextual, and your users will thank you for improving their lives.

 

5 Reasons You Should Say No To Multitasking

A few days ago, my secretary went on leave. Before leaving, she was kind enough to ask me if I need a replacement for her as she will be off for two weeks. Initially, I liked the idea but then a thought struck me. Every now and then I see professional newsletters and weblogs crying out the importance of multitasking for a thriving professional life.

So I decided that while my secretary is away, I’ll take this as an opportunity to try out multitasking, you know, to brush up my productivity skills. The very next day, I started implementing multitasking to my regular professional life. My day buzzed with phone calls, scheduling and re-scheduling, meetings and coffee-making, all on top of my routine tasks.

It was not long before I started to feel that this new routine is seriously impacting my productivity. What I am about to share with you in this piece of writing is the essence of my multitasking experience.

1. Loss of Focus

In the two weeks, there have been times when I had a really brilliant idea for a campaign design, but I was distracted to do another task, after which, I couldn’t recall what the idea was. I’ve heard of scientific facts about how the human mind woks best when it is focused on a single train of thoughts. And I was actually experiencing one myself.

When we try to focus on multiple unrelated tasks or thoughts, simultaneously (like regular multitasking), it becomes difficult to regain focus and remember where we left off in each of those tasks.

There are often projects or jobs that need your special focus and concentration – more than the regular ones – but when you are needed elsewhere, your mind subconciously shift your focus onto other tasks. And you end up frustrated, like me.

2. Low Grade Efficiency

It is a common misconception that multitasking increases your efficiency. In fact, you tend to just skim through the tasks to get more done. This will slow down your productivity level, especially with tasks that require brainstorming and a proper thought process.

Frequent multitasking affects your efficiency like shutting down and restarting the CPU affects the efficiency of your computer and the work it is doing.

If you muster up your focus for one task and do it with all your mind and heart, no matter how small or insignificant the task is, it can prove to be more productive to yourself and your employer/client. Having your focus scattered across too many things, may lead you to mess up real important things like deadlines, important meetings and scheduled tasks.

3. Brain Drain

Brainstorming, analytical thinking, problem solving and creativity are associated with every professional’s life. These terms are also especially important for writers, designers and other creative professionals.

However, multitasking has often proved to be just the right poison for these brain-involving activities. 

Professionals, who flip between jobs and tasks more frequently, experience a brain drain in terms of analytical and creative thinking process. Moreover, in a human mind, creative thoughts, ideas and solutions have a very short shelf-life, and they have a good tendency to vanish as quickly just as how they pop up in your mind unannounced.

Once two or more thoughts leave your mind without being pondered upon, your mind becomes more prone to a creative block or brain drain for a long time.

4. The Time-Saving Paradox

Many professionals are of the view that doing a number of tasks concurrently saves you a lot of time and thus makes you ‘efficient’. Well, there is another side of the story which many of us tend to overlook, as in overlooking human errors.

It is a matter of common sense that when you are working on multiple tasks and one task becomes the cause of distraction for the other, there is a higher chance of you messing up, and both tasks (or more) are affected. The thing with mistakes is that it needs rectifying. And fixing a mistake takes time.

So basically, you are saving up on your time (by multitasking) to fix the problems created (while multitasking).

5. Anxiety and Stress

Another area you won’t expect to be affected by multitasking is your physical and mental health (cue anxiety and stress). Multitasking and frequent interruptions caused by it are sources of stress that can have a notable impact on your mind and body. It is a common fact that whenever demands exceed abilities, stress is bound to follow.

Over time, the stress of multitasking may even become dangerous when fatigue and mental fogginess becomes more prominent, and both productivity and passion for work decline. In the kind of work culture we have developed in today’s world, multitasking seems inevitable, even viewed as an advantage when it comes to job-seeking.

However, according to repeated research and my own personal experience, multitasking is not only absurd, it is counterproductive as well.

To Conclude

By writing this article I am not at all suggesting that multitasking is not possible for the human mind. I would rather say that although we can always add one more ball to our juggling act, every time you multitask, you have less attention for creative thought and memories.

No matter how demanding your job is, do not let multitasking take a heavy toll on your work, or on you.

CSS Flexible Box Layout

Do you remember when tables were the only layout method for a website? At least until people realized that it’s a semantic nightmare to misuse something that’s actually reserved to display tabular data for the structure of an internet site. So a new “tool” needed to be found and soon floats and absolute positioning were discovered as a “proper” replacement.

Just like tables, of course, the true purpose of these two methods wasn’t to give websites a shape. But nevertheless, here we are, over a decade later, and there’s still no reasonable solution for this “problem” – at least one that works a across a wide range of browsers.

But the chances are good that Flexbox (or “Flexible Box Layout Module” as the W3C likes to call it) is the next big thing. The latest versions of Chrome and Opera have already jumped on the bandwagon, Firefox will follow in version 20.

But be warned: there’s also an older version of Flexbox from 2009, which has pretty decent support, but was dismissed by the W3C late 2011 in favor of a more catchy syntax. To make things even more confusing there was a short transition period before that with an even more awkward syntax (you can read more about the phases here at CSS-Tricks). That aside let’s talk about the actual – and hopefully final – syntax of Flexbox.

The advantages

Some of the advantages of Flexbox (taken almost straight from the specs): Their contents …:

  • can be laid out in any direction (leftwards, rightwards, downwards or even upwards)
  • can have their visual order reversed or rearranged
  • can “flex” their sizes to respond to the available space
  • can be aligned with respect to their container or each other
  • all have the same height

To depict the various properties and possibilities let’s assume the following simple layout, which can by seen in its initial state here.

<div>
	<header/>
	<div.main>
		<nav/>
		<div.content/>
		<aside/>
	</div>
	<footer/>
</div>

The first step is to place the elements within <div.main> side by side, whereby the <nav> and the <aside> have a set width. Without Flexbox we’d probably float all the three elements (as seen in example 1), but run into problems at the <div.content> if we want it to take the remaining space. It’s possible with some trickery, but normally one would manually calculate its width. Moreover a dateless problem arises now: every element is just as high as its content. Therefore we would need to set an equal height for all three elements to get the same height or use one of the many tricks. Luckily things are much easier with Flexbox.

One note beforehand: Since Flexbox is still a pretty experimental property, vendor prefixes need to be set for Chrome (-webkit) and Firefox (-moz), Opera already supports the unprefixed version. To simplify things, I just use the unprefixed version throughout this article. Furthermore the functionality described herein is derived from Chrome, other browsers may vary (in the future).

Let’s flex

The core element of Flexbox is the new flex value of the well-known display property, which needs to be set for the container and transforms its children to so called “flex items”. These items adopt some highly helpful properties by default, on the one hand that they get placed side by side, where elements which have specified no certain width automatically take up the remaining space. So if display: flex is set for <div.main>, its <div.content> child is automatically squeezed in between <nav> and <aside> (since they have a set width). No more calculations! How handy is that? As a special bonus all of these three now adopt the same height (like seen in example 2).

.main {
	display: flex;
}

To ensure that flexed elements don’t exceed or fall below a certain width or height, the standard properties min-width/min-height and max-width/max-height can be used, as I’ve done for <nav> and <aside> with min-width (which is set to the same value as width).

The order of things

Another helpful property of Flexbox is the ability to easily change the order of elements. Let’s assume that you build the above layout for a client and she now wants that not the <nav> comes first but <div.content>. Normally you would dive into the HTML source code and change the order there. Not so with Flexbox. Just set the order property to -1 and it will come first (see example 3). In this case you don’t need to state the order for the other elements, but you could also do so and set order to 1 for <div.content>, to 2 for <nav> and to 3 for <aside>.

.main {
	display: flex;
}
.content {
	order: -1;
}

Unnatural placement

But your client isn’t satisfied yet. Instead of messing with the <div.content> she now wants the <footer> to come first, even before the <header>. Clients are crazy folks, you know. Well, Flexbox is also your friend in this case. Since we need to fiddle about not just at the inner elements but at the outer one the display: flex rule has to be stated for <div>. Since <header>, <div.main> and <footer> are stacked above we need to set a vertical context first, which is done with flex-direction: column. So if you ever want to change a row of elements into a column (or vice versa), you can use this property. Additionally the <footer> gets the order value of -1 as above so that it comes first. It’s as easy as that.

.ex {
	display: flex;
	flex-direction: column;
}
footer {
	order: -1;
}

All of this can be seen at example 4.

Proper alignment

Flexbox also makes it very easy to align its children horizontally as well as vertically. All the elements within a container can be aligned with align-items, individual ones with align-self. But the alignment of the elements is dependent on the set flex-direction. If it is row (that means the elements run in a horizontal line), the alignment concerns the vertical axis; if it is column (that means the elements run in a vertical line), it concerns the horizontal axis. To center the image within <div.content/>, for example, you need to set display: flex for this container first and then the flex-direction to column so that they get stacked atop. Finally the image gets centered with align-self: center. Example 5 shows this behavior.

.content {
	display: flex;
	flex-direction: column;
}
.content .img {
	align-self: center;
}

If all of the elements within <div.content/> need to be aligned the property align-items can be used. Set it to flex-end and they get pushed to the right (except for the image, which is individually centered above). The default left alignment is achieved with the value flex-start.

.content {
	align-items: flex-end;
}

Justify yourself

Another property for alignment is justify-content, which is pretty handy to evenly divide the available space to various elements as seen in example 6. Here we have an image bar and the four images are evenly distributed across the whole width, thanks to the value space-between.

.bar {
	display: flex;
	justify-content: space-between;
}

Another value would be space-around, which also provides for even division, but adds half of the gap width before the element and the other half after. You can test all of the available properties at example 6.

If the images within the image bar have a different size you can use the already mentioned properties align-items and align-self to align them vertically, as seen in example 7. In this case align-items is set to center, so that all images are vertically centered, but the second image is individually aligned to the bottom with the value flex-end. You can test all the available properties at this example. All of them should be self-explanatory except baseline, which is just important for text, so that their baselines line up. In our example it’s the same as flex-end. Note that the second image always remains at the bottom due to its set align-self property.

Pure flexibility

Another strength of Flexbox is its ability to automatically distribute the available space to the elements of the container, which is set to display: flex. If you need three columns with equal width you’d normally have to calculate a little bit and come up with a width of 33.33% for each column. For such purposes Flexbox provides the flex property. To get three equal columns just set flex: 1 for each and that’s it, as illustrated in example 8.

nav, .content, aside {
	flex: 1;
}

If you need the content area to be twice the width of <nav> (and <aside>) set flex: 2 for it and leave the other two at 1.

That’s just the most simple application of the flex property, it’s also possible to set flex-grow, flex-shrink and flex-basis values, but that’s far beyond the scope of this article and pretty hard to digest stuff. I’ve warned you, but if you still want to know about it, head over to the specs.

A bright future

As you can see, Flexbox has great potential to make our lives so much easier if we need to set up a layout for a website. It’s rock solid (at least in the current version) and makes any hacks, collapsing containers or other weird stuff we have to deal with every day, obsolete. Hopefully the current syntax is the final one and every browser will interpret the properties in the same way prospectively.

Learn From UX and Design Mistakes

As a UX designer, when you will start designing, you are bound to make Design mistakes. However, you should never lose heart if you are making mistakes since mistakes are definitely a great way to learn. Always keep one thing in mind; mistakes are inevitable and if you are a learner, you will opt to learn from them. I strongly believe that our mistakes help us in learning, growing and they definitely make us a better person. Also, user experience is the most important thing in any website’s success so you need to make sure you provide your users’ with the best of everything.

Now, as a designer, do not hesitate to experiment and if you end up making mistakes, you should be happy that you will be learning from them and these mistakes will help you in growing as a designer. In this article, I will be enlisting some of the major mistakes that UX designers make and they can definitely learn from it. Also, I will be enlisting a few mistakes that designers should avoid. Hootsuite.com is definitely a great example of a website that is now going in the right direction and focuses on everything that is important.

1. Focus on Retention and not on Revenue

Your UX design mistakes will make you learn that it is very important to keep your customers happy instead of focusing on generating revenues. Your home page or sign-up pages should not prompt users to pay for your website. As a user, it will be a turn off for me if I have to pay for website without having to use it. So, initially you have to focus on retaining your customers’ and for that you need to make sure that your user flow focuses more on user retention instead of revenue. Payment methods and payment flows should always come secondary i.e., when you are sure that your user is happy with your website and is willing to pay for it.

Hotsuite.com is a perfect example for this. Their sign-up screen displays three options for a user i.e., Enterprise, Pro and Free. Now, in Enterprise you can simply request for a demo and pro, although is a paid feature, it still allows you to have a 30 day free trial. Last but not the least, they offer users’ a free sign up.

2. Allow users’ to sign in from existing accounts

As a user, I am very lazy when it comes to creating accounts and I guess same goes for 90% of internet users’. I have asked a lot of UX designers and they all learnt that it is better to allow users’ to have social-sign in instead of forcing them to sign up via email. People will instantly sign in if you allow them to use one of their existing accounts. You will definitely see a great increase in the number of sign ups if you allow social sign in because everybody is using social networking websites these days and if you allow them to sign in via those accounts, they will do it because it requires less effort and the whole procedure is quick.

Again, I would like to quote pinterest.com here as they allow users to login or sign-up with facebook or twitter.

3. Testing your assumptions

A lot of designers have claimed that they have a lot of assumptions regarding designs and it is always better to test them. It will save you from a lot of failures.

As a designer, you should try your level best to identify all of the existing issues in your website and then look for the solutions. Also, getting in touch with some real users’ of your website will help you a lot since they can tell you if the problems faced by you actually exist or not. The best thing you can do here is to test your assumptions as early as you can so that you do not have to face many issues.

After Validating your issues or problem, you can quickly change things that does not take longer than 2-3 days to produce. You can show some more useful features about your product which leads more users. Another important aspect about engagement > growth > revenue metrics and discuss to users again about their experience.

Facebook Graph is an example of Recent changed!

4. Waiting for users’ feedback

So, you have designed a website and it is live and if you think this is where your job ends, you are wrong. Waiting for improving your website after users’ feedback is a major mistake that a lot of designers make for sure. Once you have designed your website, try your best to get it tested by professional quality assurance engineers so there is no room for bugs. Yes, users’ will provide you with feedback regarding the navigation or design, but they should not be encountering major issues while browsing through your website since that is a major turn off.

Again, hootsuite.com is a great example as they provide users’ with help desk articles and community forums where users’ can discuss their issues however, the website do not wait for the last moment.

5. Clear UI Labels

UI labels, buttons and website’s text are among the most important things of a website so you have to be very clear in that. Being creative and clever is good however; if your cleverness and creativity is confusing your users then there is no point in being creative. A lot of designers make this mistake in the beginning because they want to come across as creative and different. But with the passage of time, they learnt that it would be better to be clearer rather than being clever. So, as a designer, try to be clear in whatever you design. A user should be able to understand your website and its functionalists in an easy way.

Hootsuite.com has clearly highlighted all social networking websites’ icons for users so they can easily connect and share their favorite posts.

6. Jumping to designing instantly

Okay, so you are new into designing and you are very excited about it but jumping directly into designing is never a good idea. Before you start designing a website, you need to do a lot of research on the requirements of your website. If you have a clear vision of your website’s requirements, you will be able to design a website which is able to provide users with a better usability experience. Jumping straight to designing might waste a lot of your time on things that are not really required so research first and only then start designing.

7. Difference between inspiration and replication

As a designer, getting inspired is good however, replicating and copying design is not good. If you are a newbie, you might be looking for shortcuts to come up with a great design that does not have any issues. However, a design that you are about to copy might look great but will bring a luggage of issues with it. So, design something of your own, get it tested and then go live. Always take inspiration instead of copying blindly.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude this article with a very simple thought i.e., making mistakes is natural and trust me mistakes help us in understanding things in a lot better way. Above mentioned mistakes can be avoided if you are already aware of them because sometimes it is better to learn from someone else’s mistake however, even if you end up making these mistakes, we hope you learn from them.

How to fire a client

As I put the phone down, I was still shaking quietly. It was one of the hardest phone calls I’ve had to make. I had just told the client that I was tired of him messing me around, that the way he worked was making it impossible for me to produce good work, and I was fed up of haggling over every nickel of every invoice. I’d previously raised all these issues with him, but nothing had changed. So I told him I no longer wanted to do work for him. For the first time, I’d just fired a client.

Every web designer who wishes to get paid for their efforts will almost inevitably need clients, and work for a fee on the client’s website. Building a good working relationship between client and designer is essential for a good outcome and for job satisfaction. But what if things don’t work out, and you find yourself hating working on a project? It’s time to terminate your client relationship.

Firing a client might sound like committing professional suicide, and in harsh economic times, walking away from paid work might seem naive, but it can actually be a liberating experience, and allow you to move forward stronger than before. Walking away is actually the professional thing to do. But terminating a relationship with a client should only be a last resort. In this article I’ll explore the steps to take to avoid taking this drastic step, and if it has be done, how to do it right.

 

The client from hell

We’ve all got stories of the client from hell; whether it’s phone calls at 2am; constant changes to the brief; wanting to change something that has already been signed off; unrealistic deadlines; impossible requests; or even just always wanting the logo ‘a bit bigger’; maybe they’re set on using Comic Sans for all of the copy; or it may be things like keeping you waiting for 45 minutes for a meeting; huge delays in getting content over; payments always being late; or arguing over invoices. While one of these things by itself may be excusable, a combination of these should start to ring alarm bells that the client-designer relationship isn’t working. Likewise, if you find yourself dreading phone calls from the client, your heart sinks when you see an e-mail in your inbox from them, or you start to find it hard to motivate yourself to do work for the client, then you know something is wrong.

There are lots of ‘amusing’ tales of ridiculous demands from clients, to be found at places such as clientsfromhell.net or clientcopia.com. Time and time again, these tell of clients misunderstanding basic design concepts, or not appreciating a designer’s time and effort. In truth, I find these tales rather depressing. They are almost always the result of the client not respecting the designer, or the designer not doing enough to educate the client. In a failure to communicate between client and designer, both sides need to take responsibility.

 

It’s your fault too

Clients often have little or no understanding of the technical aspects of web design, so a big part of a job is ensuring they understand why you have made the choices you made in your designs. If the client makes requests, it is your job to explain the options and implications of meeting those requests. Often clients are unable to articulate their concerns, because they lack the technical or design vocabulary to express what they want. It is a big part of your job as a designer to find the way for your client to provide feedback. The designer should always lead the client, responding to client comments but always seeking to guide the client to the best outcome. Beware of the client that tells you how things should work or look, this should set the alarm bells ringing. Likewise, being overly precious with your designs and not willing to take on board client feedback is a recipe for future problems.

 

Talk to your clients, not about them

I always make a point never to talk negatively about a client behind their back, and find it disrespectful of those that do. If you cannot respect your client, you should walk away.

It may sound odd, but clients may not be experienced as clients. They may never have commissioned a piece of creative work before, hence the “how much for a web site?” type of enquiries I’m sure we’ve all had. This is why it is essential that you define your working relationship as clearly as possible. Your client may not realise that 15 phone calls a day are unacceptable to you, or the implications that arise from changes to work that has been signed off. Likewise a client might panic if you do not contact them for 2 weeks. Setting clear timescales and fee structures helps navigate these particular icebergs. But if a client is doing things that you are not a happy with, don’t bitch about them – talk to them. It may be an uncomfortable meeting or phone call, but it is essential if the working relationship is to survive. In many cases the client may not realise how disruptive their requests can be. Also, in the case of late payments, for instance, they may not be aware of it at all if they are not directly responsible for making payments.

Clients are rarely evil, but poor working relationships are toxic. They will suck the joy out of design, the thing you do which you are supposed to love, and it can poison all your other work too. Muddling through doing work you don’t enjoy, working only for the money is hack work, and nothing great ever came out of hack work.

 

Last chance saloon

What if, despite your efforts to communicate your concerns to your client, you still find the working relationship failing? You feel the client does not respect you or your work. It’s time to call it a day. But before you do, you need to tell your client they are drinking in the last chance saloon.

You need to let your client know the ways in which you feel the relationship is not working, and make it clear that unless this changes, then you wish to stop working on the project. Your client needs to know that you are unhappy, and what needs to change. You must be prepared to compromise, to find a solution which allows both parties to function properly.

 

Fire and forget

If nothing changes, then it is time to bid adieu to your client. Don’t make it personal, keep it about the work, and keep it short. Whether you can still get paid for any outstanding work depends on the contract you have, so be careful with your timing. (You have a contract, right?) Make sure the break is a clean one, so if you are hosting a client’s website, for instance, set a deadline for the termination of the contract.

The relief I felt once I had finally told my client that I did not want to work for him anymore was almost overwhelming. It felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And with that relief came a desire to do better work, and find better clients. The time not having to deal with that particular client freed up time too, to do some self-initiated work I wanted to do, which in turn lead to a great project with a new client.

There should be no regrets after firing a client. Move on and learn from the experience. Having a bad experience with a client will help you realise how to shape good relationships with future clients, and spot potential nightmare clients before working for them.

In fact, you may find it so cathartic you may wish to fire more clients. Take a look at how much time you spend working for each of your clients. Who are the time-suckers, the ones that eat up the most hours for the least revenue? Which clients do you enjoy working with, which ones do you try and avoid?

 

Avoiding bad clients

Saying no to new work for clients that aren’t right is a hard thing for any freelance web designer, especially when you are starting out, but the alternative is ending up doing work you don’t enjoy for people you don’t respect. This is no way to work and build a career.

Client work has paid my way for over 15 years, I must be doing something right. I’ve only fired clients twice, though in retrospect I probably should have terminated some client relationships sooner. You don’t need to be friends with your clients, though some may be, but there does need to be mutual respect, and a clear mode of communication that both parties are happy with.

User Experience (UX) Principles and Best Practices

In one of the simplest form possible, UX, is also know as user usability and user experience. This term describes how the most basic user will use an application, a website, a program or anything that can actually “be used”. User Experience is based on how the user behaves. It is different than what gaining feedback is, because UX bases on how will the user reach its final goal or aim – buy the product, input the email address, or even simpler – click a button.

There are various techniques taken in consideration when you have to make the end user’s job easier, or actually make them achieve your own goals, and we will be discussing them in the details now.

 

User Experience: Summed Up

instantShift - User Experience
User (image credit: Peter Li)

In a few sentences, user experience is divided into several parts, each having its very important role in the over-all UX experience. We are talking about: Content, Visual Design, User Interfaces & Graphics, The Functionality of a website and the ease of browsing through the website. If User Experience is your main priority, or one of them, then you do realize how much time is put into doing the proper research of your website, users and their needs, and the right testing. There are many services out there that are willing to help you achieve the best user experience, for a small fee. UserTesting is one of those websites which will deliver, in a video format, the very same experience one your usual user experiences/faces.

Sketches

instantShift - Sketches
Wireframe for an internet shop with clothes (image credit: Samo Drole)

Well, when you think of anything, no matter what it is, it starts with an idea. No matter the idea is good or bad, easy or hard to make it take a proper shape, it actually has to be thought. It all starts with sketching and planning, either a pretty simple idea exposed on a paper or a very complex sketch describing each step.

A sketch is not something the creator must totally follow as it’s only a phase of planning, nor something that must be shown to clients/users as it may have many imperfections. Feedback is crucial that’s why it mustn’t be exposed, but I would rather ask a few people for their opinions than expose a wrong sketch to the masses. Some would say that sketches help you in client work because you can sort out ideas in the beginning, discuss and plan well, but I’d kindly disagree with that. I’d rather come up with a Wireframe for a client, which is slightly different compared to a sketch. It’s more of a refined, improved and detailed concept of a sketch, which means more, or less details but concise plan for a client.

Forms

instantShift - Forms
Custom form elements (image credit: Marten Bjork)

Sign Up Forms

Signing up for a website or service is something either very important or unnoticeable for you, mainly because it depends what kind of website/product it is. Whether you are signing up or asking someone do to that, you are requiring some of their personal information. Some people are pretty anxious about sharing their names, e-mail addresses, addresses, sometimes even telephone numbers that’s why you must make them trust you. There are various fears users face when signing-up for something, some of them being the fear of getting spammed, having their telephone number shared with somebody else or getting their social media accounts hi-jacked.

Newsletters

Newsletters are another way of asking your user for personal information, and it mustn’t be ignored in any way. Newsletters usually consist of a single or two forms which ask you to input your name and your e-mail address. They are also accompanied by a CTA button which will actually submit your information to the database and will process it.

Typography

Wherever you’d look, you see text, typography and basically typefaces. Most of the times, websites set their basic fonts to the usual “sans-serif” font which is either the default “Arial” or “Helvetica”. The popular usability blog, UXMovement has concluded that sans-serif fonts actually affect readability which isn’t the best thing. From Usability’s standpoint, the best thing to do would be taking typography very seriously, and especially understand the basic principles of font pairing.

Buttons

In my opinion, buttons play a major role in user-experience, mainly because it asks you to perform one, or another action. The button click is the latest action the user has to perform, and if it’s a successful one, then you can say that your job is done. As a rule of thumb, the more visitors you have, the higher chance of having more customers, which is a thing you’d obviously want to achieve.

Techniques:

Colors

Depending on the colour palette of your web design, you would like to adjust the colour of your button(s). Minimal designs would obviously require a nice, light-greyish button rather than a very bright green one but as a rule of thumb try to give your buttons colours that grab the attention and put the main focus on them. One more thing that has to be taken in consideration is the contrast between the text on button and the colour of the button itself. As an example, you would like to use white coloured text on a dark button or dark text on a white-grey button.

Shadows

Most of the times I would say that you mustn’t add a Drop Shadow effect to a button’s text but it actually depends from case to case. On a dark button for example, it would be very appropriate to add a 30% Opacity, white drop shadow effect.

Size

One very important thing is to find the most appropriate size for your button(s). It is obvious that your buttons must be of a decent size, so that your visitors can actually see them, the same is for over-sized buttons, which simply don’t fit in your layout. It’s necessarily to find the right contrast between your layout, other widgets and grids (if applied).

Static, Hover & Clicked States

That is the necessary interactivity you simply can’t ignore. This point can only be applied if you are having your designs coded, otherwise you don’t need these states designed. Hover-Clicked states are a must nowadays because everyone is used to creating interactive, beautiful and appealing buttons which actually make the user feel comfortable and if you won’t comply, you’ll end up losing those precious users.

Understand the F and Z Web design Layouts

Whether you are, or you are not a web designer, understanding the f and the z web design layouts is what you need to care about if you do want to know more about usability and user experience. Most web designers are pretty familiar with these kind of layouts but if you want to dig into eye-moving techniques and similar then I’d recommend you to read the following articles.

  • Understanding the Split Layout in Web Design
  • Understanding the F-Layout in Web Design

Graphics & Interfaces

Another factor that does affect your users’ behaviour are the images and especially graphics you make use of on your websites/interfaces. It’s important to know that mascots, characters do give a personality to your website and make its over-all look more appealing.

Conclusion

In this article we have tried to sum up and describe in details what user experience is. Whether you are a web designer, developer or simply a site owner, it’s important to keep in mind these basic techniques. No matter what your role is, you always have to deliver the easiest and best experience for the end-user, that’s why the techniques described above should be applied and taken-care of while doing your job.

Is Photoshop dead?

I guess a more suitable title might be ‘is Photoshop still an appropriate tool for designing typography on the web?’ But that lacks the dramatic appeal of the above.

Like many of you, I have always used Photoshop to create mock-up compositions of my designs. For as long as I can remember it has been the industry standard and the software of choice for most designers I have worked with. I have spent weeks designing pixel perfect layouts, grouping elements into hierarchical folders and labelling all of my layers to make the transition from beautiful mock up to code as smooth as possible.

I would be full of enthusiasm, energy and excitement explaining my designs to a developer, toggling layer states on and off to try and illustrate my vision through Photoshop but would always be slightly disappointed as my shiny, polished design was transformed to what I would see in the browser. Sure, it would look like my design… And I kind of recognised the typefaces but it lacked that sharpness that I remembered from my compositions. It wasn’t that the developers hadn’t coded it well, more that the typography I had created in Photoshop had not translated into code.

 

What you see isn’t always what you get

When choosing fonts there are few things more important than whether a font is easily legible or not. In Photoshop, that is not so much of a problem because everything looks great. It doesn’t matter what font you use, at what size or weight (within reason) as it will render perfectly on screen.

Unfortunately, this does not extend to the browser. Often when viewing my design in the browser, the relationships between elements and type were all wrong. The font sizes and line heights that I had attributed to styles in my photoshop composition would not look the same as they would in the browser. If I had designated a 20 pixel margin above the title in my designs, that distance may have changed as the line height of the header would have an effect on size of the margin, something that would not happen in Photoshop. I would then have to start the long and tedious process of the dreaded ‘design tweaks’.

 

Everyone hates design tweaks

Trust me it’s not just the developer that shirks at the idea of a designer sitting next to them asking them to ‘increase the body copy line height by two pixels’ then having the developer make the CSS change and commit …. Enter. ‘Actually, 1 pixel smaller’ … Enter. ‘Maybe it was better how it was’. This kind of tweaking of the CSS bit by bit to see the results in real time via the browser is time consuming and not conducive to creativity. The developers quickly get fed up spending the day repeatedly changing what they see as the smallest of details that will make no difference, and designers are not able to experiment by quickly and easily changing typefaces and styles for ones that will render better in the browser.

 

So what now?

For designers who have an understanding of CSS, you can use tools like Firebug to effectively make your own design tweaks in the browser, noting down all the CSS changes in one document that you can then pass on to a developer to implement. This is effectively the same as sitting with a developer and making CSS changes but far less tedious for the developer and will also allow the designer to experiment further with sizes and styles before making a decision. Although this is a good tool for inspecting and changing parts of the HTML and CSS, you will lose any changes you make as soon as the browser is refreshed, which can be very annoying if you have changed lots of elements and not noted down all your adjustments.

You can use the Firediff plug-in to save a record of all the changes that you make within Firebug, which is great as it saves you having to note every change down in a separate spreadsheet for later. The biggest issue with this method is when you begin to introduce web fonts into the equation as any chosen fonts must be installed to your type kit or they will not appear in the browser. This makes things far more difficult and less free to experiment easily with different fonts as you can’t just quickly trial fonts.

 

Designing in the browser

Services like Typecast make it much easier for designers to work with web fonts and I pretty much do all my typography for the web using it. It allows you to create typographical mock ups (just like you would in Photoshop) using its visual interface to assign fonts, styles, weights, colours, line height, margin, padding and more to your typography. The best thing about using Typecast is that it is all working within the browser so you are making decisions on type exactly as it will be rendered for the user. Does a certain font not look too hot at 19 pixels? Bump it up to 20 at a click of a button, back down to 19 before finally settling at 18 pixels in size, all done in seconds rather than hours sitting with a developer.

You can use any web fonts from their collections of 23,000 fonts, including Google fonts, Typekit and more in your compositions, which makes experimenting quick and easy (they have recently been purchased by Monotype who own Fonts.com and Myfonts so expect many more fonts on the way soon). Typecast in my opinion introduces a notion of playfulness back into typography as it encourages you to try font variations, which you may never have discovered if they were not so readily available and easily interchangeable as they are.

Another very useful feature of typecast is the ability to view and edit the CSS of your type. You can add background colours and images, hover states, or even transitions by simply editing the CSS panel. Once you are happy with your creation, you can easily export and save the CSS code, which can then be uploaded to your site or sent to a developer and because everything has been designed in the browser it will appear exactly as you intend it to.

 

You lost me at CSS

Photoshop isn’t the industry standard for nothing, and there will be some of you out there hyperventilating at the thought of dropping it to design in the browser, after all we are creatives not coders. Well, put down the paper bag as there is still a way you can create beautiful typography using web fonts in Photoshop. Extensis have created a plug-in which can be installed to Photoshop versions CS5 and higher that will give you access to all WebINK and Google Web Fonts to use for free, directly inside Photoshop.

This means that you can use any of WebINK or Google’s web fonts in your design compositions as you would any fonts that are installed on your system and they will display roughly the same as it should look in the browser. The plug-in will only give you access to WebINK and Google web fonts at the moment but on the plus side it will automatically update new fonts as they are added to WebINK and Google’s library of fonts.

 

Photoshop power up

Another valuable plug-in that helps ease the transition between Photoshop compositions and browser compatible CSS is the free, cloud based plug-in from css3ps.com. One of the main reasons that many designers work with Photoshop is the control you have over layers and shape elements. Being able to easily and quickly experiment with shadow, glow, colour, texture, rounded corners and more is almost second nature to most and something that even experienced designers struggle to replicate exactly in the browser. For those, this plug-in is perfect as it lets you create your compositions in the way that you know best but then let’s you easily convert your shape’s styles into browser compatible CSS3. This method is ideal for designing buttons, navigation or anything else that you may have styled a shape for.

Maybe there still is a role for Photoshop as a tool for designing web layouts but as far as designing typography for the web, applications like Firebug and Typecast have overtaken it. The time it takes to update static compositions just can’t compare with the speed and ease of which you can make changes in the browser. For those of you who just can’t even entertain the idea of designing in the browser, the plug-ins above should at least give Photoshop the boost it needs to stay relevant and help ease the transition.

The Latest Rules Ruling Responsive Web

Responsive web design is the latest trend in the web world and you will hear almost everyone talking about it; and by everyone I mean those people too who are not tech savvy. In web world, when some trend is growing like anything, it has to become the talk of the town and this is exactly the case with responsive web designing. Now, that everyone is into designing responsive web designs, the way websites were designed is also changing with it. Not only they way of designing a website is changing, web designers have to change themselves with every trend and same goes for this one.

When a new thing is introduced, a set of rules is laid for designers to follow. Same is the case with responsive web designing. Since things are changing rapidly, these rules will allow designers to work with the stability. So, today we will be discussing some ground rules of how designers should work on designing responsive websites. These rules can also be considered upcoming trends in the responsive designing industry. So, all designers should keep themselves up-to-date in order to move with the world. I personally believe that with all these smartphones, androids and iPhones; responsive web designing is here to stay so, better learn the rules and follow them.

1.   Do not focus solely on ‘Linear Scaling’

As a designer, if you are looking at a responsive website, the first thing you will do is change the orientation of website in order to see how the website looks. Scaling the browser will be your first priority. However, a user doesn’t care about all these things. He has no concern if the website squishes in a proper manner or not. He will only want to see the thing he is looking for in your website.

Now, this brings us to our rule number 1. As a designer, you should not completely focus on squishing the website or seeing if it looks skinny or fat when changing orientations. For a successful responsive web design, you should be able to design something that fits itself according to the browser and phone. After all, this is what responsive web designing is all about.

2.   There are NO Shortcuts:

Let me honest here, responsive web designing is not something easy and everyone should accept it that it is a complex thing and it will always be. I know people want to hear the opposite but that won’t be true. I know for a fact that people have been looking for an easy way out. They try converting their website into a responsive one by simply adding something and some have not even tried adding anything at all. They are looking for developers who can tell them if their existing website can work as a responsive one or not.

I would strongly recommend designers to avoid adding new designs into existing ones as it will further complicate things. This brings us to our rule number 2 and that is to understand that there aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to responsive website designing.

However, if you want to follow an easy route, you should try prototyping your wireframes. This will help you a lot in saving your time. You can find a lot of websites online, which can help you in designing prototypes swiftly. However, this is not enough for designing a good responsive website but still; it will simplify things to some extent.

3.   Accept changes:

Well, if you are a designer and have been in the industry for some time, you would know how rapidly things change in web world. Earlier, only two to three tools were used to develop a website. Now, designers have a lot of programs to build a website. The point here is that things will change with the passage of time and you need to embrace them.

As far as responsive web design is concerned, you will have to change the way you have been designing. You should find alternates to design communicative visuals. These visual brands will help you in visualizing how your website will look once it is live. I would also like to mention here that CSS preprocessors can be of great help when it comes to responsive design strategy. This will definitely ease things for you during development of a website.

If you are a competent designer, I am sure you can find a lot of good alternates to support your responsive web designing and to make the procedure less complicated. In any case, designing a responsive web won’t be anything like designing a simple website so instead of running away from changes, accept them and move on with the world. You cannot stick to old ways in order to design something new.

4.   Respect your roots:

I am sure designers will agree here that CSS and HTML have been intrinsically responsive. When designers started using HTML for websites, they knew that HTML is adjustable with any hardware. This thing took a backseat when designers and developers changed things and moved towards fixed layouts. It is because of the designers and developers that website was initially restricted to desktop only.

However, now that we have so many different ways to access web, we should start using HTML again in order to bring that flexibility back. Although one should change with the world but one should never forget their roots. So, the forth rule of responsive web designing is to remember and respect your roots.

Conclusion:

These ground rules will definitely help you in understanding responsive web designing in a better way. Not only this, you will be able to design them with fewer complications. Also, keep one thing in mind, your design should be visually appealing but what matters the most is that it should cater the needs of the user.

If you have any suggestions or rules that you think should be added in the list, please feel free to share them.

2013 and the New Job Market Paradigm

It’s 2013 and Happy New Year!

It’s a time for partying and for celebration but also a great time for some reflection about our jobs and careers.

Here’s a great article (“The Start-Up of You”) that summarizes the new job market paradigm in 2013 and beyond.
———-
Thomas L. Friedman – Pulitzer Prize winner – wrote a great article in the New York Times Opinion pages a little while back that I still remember for its insightfulness.

Here’s the heart of the article as he quotes Reid Hoffman, one of the Co-Founders of LinkedIn.

“The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,”

“No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

“To begin with, Hoffman says, that means ditching a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don’t write a 100-page business plan and execute it one time; they’re always experimenting and adapting based on what they learn.”

“ Hoffman adds: “You can’t just say, ‘I have a college degree, I have a right to a job, now someone else should figure out how to hire and train me.’ ” You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.””
———-

It’s a hopeful New Year’s message for those of us that can learn to adapt and change. If you think you can’t then your first job would be to expand your horizons and work on changing your mindset.

Please also check out also these great resources:

1) The World is Changing: Are You Ready to Compete? http://bit.ly/VkgwqL
This white paper provides an overview of the issues and requirements needed to support the foundation for business change. Learn how new foundation is required for companies to support customer expectations for the next decade.

2) How Financial Organizations Can Succeed in Making Critical Improvementshttp://bit.ly/RuifM2
The financial services industry has always been on the front lines of raging battle to understand, manage and process paper documents. Overwhelmed by paper documents, and more, learn how organizations can make improvement to paper-flow and more.

3) Effective, flexible leadership in the 21st century http://bit.ly/UeF6xs
This paper provides some techniques for developing a culture that fosters innovation and encourages 21st century leadership methods and mindsets.

4) Use Learning to Achieve a Business Advantage Over Your Competition http://bit.ly/135vEN6
Research shows that organizations with a strong learning culture outperform their peers in terms of innovation, productivity, quality, and market leadership. If organizations can use learning to achieve business advantage, who should they turn to?

Web Design: 20 Hottest Trends To Watch Out For in 2013

All throughout 2012 there has been an enormous surge in new web design trends. Some of you may remember my earlier post on web design trends going into 2012. Now we can see many of these ideas have come to fruition, and even adopted further increasing levels of novelty. In this article I would like to delve into 20 more design trends for the new 2013 year.

The design influence is merely a reflection of our culture and expectations for user interfaces. Ideally these trends represent favorable ideas in the web design community. However designers will always have their own opinions when it comes to design terms, so take these ideas with a grain of salt.

If you are interested, keep your eyes peeled for examples of these trends and techniques.

1. Responsive Layouts

This topic was my first point in the 2012 trend article, however I feel that responsive web design has been changing to ultimately come to a threshold where layouts are designed to match all forms of digital media. The idea is to support all devices from laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, and anything released in the future.

You could think of this trend more like a uniform web design where the goal is to have a single set of codes which run perfectly on all environments. Responsive websites are often thought to cater towards mobile browsers, but that isn’t the sole purpose.

You can have a responsive website which also adds brilliant illustrations and graphics into the layout when the browser window is larger.

The big idea here is to think about website design as a single canvas which is dynamic and fluid by nature. CSS3 media queries allow developers to customize layouts based on limited or expanded screen real estate. Use this to your advantage and see how other designers are using it as well!

2. Retina Support

Along with responsive support for website layouts I have also seen a dramatic rise in people building for retina devices. Apple first engineered this idea with the iPhone 4 and has since applied this screen display onto their other devices, including the iPad and some MacBooks.

Retina screens are basically twice as dense as any average LCD. So they are the same number of physical pixels, but digitally twice as many pixels can be fitted into the same physical space.

This means pixel-perfect web designers supporting retina devices will need to create two sets of http://media02.hongkiat.com/web-design-trend-2013/. First you need to sample your image at double the resolution, then save a “standard” version at half the size. The larger image will be scaled down to the standard resolution and will look very crisp on retina screens.

One of my favorite tools for responsive web design is retina.js. This is a JavaScript library for automatically displaying @2x retina copies of http://media02.hongkiat.com/web-design-trend-2013/ whenever your user is browsing on a retina device.

Although this won’t detect CSS background http://media02.hongkiat.com/web-design-trend-2013/, it is still the most handy resource as opposed to coding everything in media queries.

3. Fixed Header Bars

Using the CSS position: fixed; property is a great way to staple a header bar onto your website. As visitors scroll down your page this will offer constant support for navigation and a trip back to the home page. This trend has been around for a while but now we are seeing this in full force.

Fixed headers are so interesting because they can work on practically any website. This includes social networks, blogs, and even design studios or private companies. The design is very trendy and looks great paired with most layouts. But aside from the aesthetics, this bar also provides an exceptional user experience without needing to look very far to navigate the website.

4. Large Photo Backgrounds

Photographers or even fans of photography will definitely enjoy this design trend. I have seen countless showcases discussing the ideas of big oversized photography in the background. It’s an excellent way to capture your visitor’s attention and it can look great when done properly.

I am often fond of big photographs since they can be pleasing on the eyes. When blended into your layout, this design technique can give your website a major edge in marketing. On this topic I always consider the ever popular design portfolio of Kerem Suer. This unique background photo behaves as custom branding for everybody who lands on his website.

5. CSS Transparency

The new CSS3 properties have allowed for opacity edits on any webpage element. This means you have control to generate transparency in any modern web browser – no Photoshop required! This trend of web design transparency was recently discussed on Codrops with some very enlivening talking points.

One excellent example is on the Squarespace Blog where the central wrapper is given a background: transparent property. Typically this can be used to generate some other background from repeating http://media02.hongkiat.com/web-design-trend-2013/, or to setup the background using internal elements.

Another interesting design technique for manipulating transparency is through rgba() color syntax. When designing in CSS you have the option of specifying colors using Red, Green, Blue, and Alpha-Transparency values. So using the syntax rgba(255,255,255,0.6) would generate the color white at only 60% opacity. This is certainly a design trend we can expect continuing into 2013 and beyond.

6. Minimalist Landing Pages

Anybody who has spent some time researching markets will understand that selling on the Internet is just plain smart. You have access to a large consumer base from anywhere in the world. Additionally you can sell products which are not even physical, such as videos or creative resources.

Creating a landing page online is all about capturing new leads for your product or service. New trends are following the idea of minimalism: keep everything simple and focus on your core product.

This is exemplified on the PictoPro webpage which offers a beautiful resource for cheap icons. The page is fairly crafty using vector icons as a background effect. But all the text is easy to read and it’s basically a one-click checkout process. You cannot get much simpler than that.

7. Digital QR Codes

The abundance of mobile smartphones has led to a surge of QR Code apps. This stands for Quick Response Code and has developed from the older UPC barcodes. You will find these tagged everywhere from restaurants to event venues and automobile sales lots.

But very recently I have found a couple of websites with these codes built right into the design. This isn’t something you would normally consider since they are often found in print. But QR codes could become trendy as data transmission becomes quicker over time. You can see a brilliant example of this technique on Keith Cakes contact page.

8. Social Media Badges

Marketing is one of the ultimate determining factors in a website’s success or failure. Social media and viral marketing are exploding in many different websites. Digg used to reign popular in this domain but has since conceded to rivals like Reddit. But these are not the only two popular resources for sharing stories online.

You can check practically any social community for sharing badges and will likely find a great solution. You can position these badges pinned to blog posts and articles anywhere in your layout. These are still used actively by readers and fans who want to share content quickly on places like Facebook, Twitter, or even LinkedIn.

Below I have put together a small list of social media badges you can try in your own website layouts.

9. Detailed Illustrations

Newer design trends are all about catching and holding one’s attention. I feel that illustrations perform this task brilliantly. The problem is finding a designer who can make such impeccable works of art, or even teaching yourself.

Illustrations can be used in many various ways to bring about different moods in your website. Look around the Internet, and you will find many different website galleries and showcases focusing on digital illustrations. You can see these artistic works eventually blend into its website branding almost perfectly. MailChimp is probably the most definitive example with its trademark chimp mail carrier.

10. Infinite Scrolling

Infinite scroll loading has been around for at least a few years. But this technique hadn’t really hit mainstream until this year and I’m sure it will continue into 2013.

Pinterest has adopted this loading technique for their layout and it works beautifully. You can search anything and the results page will continually load as you scroll down. Pagination is basically a non-issue and doesn’t even work as a detriment into the user experience. Talk about designing for simplicity!

But another great example and possibly my favorite example is on Tumblr. You can blog and reblog photos from other people you follow which all appear on your Dashboard. So after logging into your account all the most recent posts will scroll infinitely down the page.

This is an excellent technique which does not work on every layout, but for the right websites this can look and behave phenomenally.

11. Homepage Feature Tours

Sliding image presentations and demo videos are both very common with new products on the web. Landing pages and startups often try to entice potential users with these informational goodies. And they can often work very well, if you know how to construct something that looks good on a webpage.

Looking back over 2012 I would say my favorite example of this trend is on MediaFire’s homepage. The entire top portion of the page rotates between a series of slides. They each explain what you can do on MediaFire and how their features compare with other websites.

What helps this demonstration stand out is also their use of big graphics and icons. This is another trend which will not work on all websites, only for certain products you can draw in loads of attention.

12. Sliding Webpage Panels

Dynamic websites used to be very popular when Flash and ActionScript were all the rage. Now, dynamic effects have moved into the realm of JavaScript/jQuery, and this has in turn affected the way designers build websites. Sliding panels is just one technique I happen to really enjoy and would expect to see more in 2013.

Right off the bat you may not think CaptainDash is any special website. But as you click through the navigation you will learn that each page is loaded in succession pushing from left-to-right. Dynamic effects such as these do not always bode well for mobile users.

But if you can handle them with responsive design techniques or an alternate mobile site then this is a really cool effect worth trying out.

13. Mobile Navigation Toggle

When speaking of responsive design one of the most difficult questions is how to build a solid navigation. You want to give your readers direct access to all your important links, without flooding the page making it unreadable. It is also a good idea to keep your responsive navigation hidden away until it’s needed.

Enter this beautiful design trend of mobile navigation toggle menus. The Treehouse Blog is merely one example of this technique which looks brilliant on your smartphone. And even in your web browser! But there are dozens of websites and design studios who have adopted this trend for their own responsive layouts.

What I like most about the toggled navigation is that you can design menus in so many various forms. You can have links drop down from the top, or slide down, or push content over from the left or right side. Designers have so many options to play with and there is plenty of time for UI experiments.

14. Fullscreen Typography

Earlier I mentioned using big oversized photographs in the background of website layouts. This trend can be extended to focus on typography as well: designing your webpage text so it fills the entirety of the browser. Some users may find this annoying. But this is not often the case if the layout is fitted perfectly for super-large text.

Alex Pierce has a great website layout which does focus deeply on typography. You can see this includes rich text effects using CSS3 properties. Additionally the website is very easy to navigate, and many of the other page elements appear oversized as well.

Big text with unique font styles can stand out just as much as oversized photography. And I am sure this will see more design critiques moving into the new year.

15. APIs and Open Source

Open source software has been around for decades and has been changing the web since its inception. But over the course of 2012 I have noticed more open source software pertaining to webpage widgets, layouts, and dynamic effects. Typically we could also be talking about free website templates, layouts, or CMS software such as WordPress.

Open APIs and resources like Github allow designers to not only prototype layouts, but also animations and effects on the page. jQuery has a practically uncountable number of plugins for free download to be found all over the Web.

And I am honestly not expecting the amount of open source projects to slow down anytime soon. This truly is the greatest era to be getting started and advancing your knowledge in the field of creating websites.

16. Deep Box Shadows

I discussed CSS3 box shadows in our previous post written for 2012, and this trend has proven to be very accurate. In fact, I now almost always expect to see box shadows infused with elements in modern web designs. The effects look amazing and they rarely detract from the aesthetics except when overused.

I believe the problems that designers had to face years ago stemmed from box shadows being too difficult to implement. Back a few years, this effect would require some type of JavaScript or direct background http://media02.hongkiat.com/web-design-trend-2013/ created in Photoshop. Now box shadows can be generated with a few lines in CSS.

I would look out for new box shadow techniques all throughout 2013. I think the trend is already deeply ingrained into the design community, now it is more about who can be the most creative!

17. CSS3 Animations

The CSS3 transition property and all the related browser prefixes offers CSS dynamic effects just like JavaScript. Designers can now animate effects on the page based on different CSS properties. I have seen a lot of nice hover effects and form input fields using these transitions the right way.

Another excellent and very inspiring example comes from a CSS alerts tutorial on Codrops. Notice how you can setup various times and settings for the animations.

This is definitely a trend which offers some promise in the coming months and years with lots of room to advance. I am confident that newer web designers will give rise to booming animations all created without the use of scripting.

18. Vertical Navigation

I was not a big fan of this layout style when I first started noticing different websites adopting this trend. However over this past year I have seen more designers creating elegant solutions with the vertical rhythm still intact. And when done properly, vertical website layouts can be affluent with content and design taste.

The portfolio on Riot Industries is a great example for newer web designers. Check out how the navigation links work and how the portfolio entries are dynamic on hover effects. Also the border textures really show a dividing line between the left and right columns.

This textured effect is apparent in other vertical layouts as well, such as the CSS gallery Design Bombs.

19. Single-Page Web Design

Single page design is a big topic and covered under many different categories. Obviously there have been single-page websites since the creation of the World Wide Web. But over the recent years we have seen this trend evolve to sport a more natural user experience.

I think the website design for Cage App is possibly one great example of many trends listed in this article. They are utilizing a single-page layout brilliantly with content split up by horizontal containers. But you will also notice the very top of the page features a blurred background photo effect.

Plus as you scroll down the page, the navigation bar actually stays fixed at the top of your window. Incorporating other popular design trends into a single-page layout is one solution for drawing attention from visitors and making one captivating website design.

20. Circular Design Elements

The trend of circles within website layouts is something newer and has been given a lot of attention recently. Designers like circles because they are clean, neat, and generally fit into any layout block. You can build patterns and even fix your page elements into circular designs (eg. user avatars, share buttons, post dates, etc).

The portfolio of Lucia Soto is basically one terrific example of circular web design. The website is built dynamically so you are panning horizontally to different segments in the page. You will notice some cute vector artwork dotted along the sidelines as well. Web designers crave these extra tidbits in page layouts because they ooze uniqueness.

You can find a similar example on the homepage for Site Optimizer which uses circular page elements as informative selling points for their services.

Final Thoughts

User interface design is one of the most complex topics when building digital products. This rings especially true for website layouts, trying to match navigations and content styles for a successful user experience. These design trends aim to point designers in the right direction.

I hope you may consider some of these ideas and think about how they do affect modern day websites. You can find examples of these emerging trends, in smaller businesses to global companies and all other websites in-between. If you are thinking ahead of the curve and want to share some insight on design trends in 2013, just drop a comment in our post discussion area.

Beginner’s Guide to Selling Your Unused Domain Names

Many individuals have the habit of collecting attractive domain names but never using them. If so, why not get rid of unused domain names and in the process, make some cash? It is important to understand the whole process of selling domain names. On the outside, the process may look very easy, but unless a trader is well aware of how the whole process works, it is not easy to find a buyer.

In today’s post, we are going to show you how to sell a domain name you can’t wait to let go off, and take you through the steps needed to find a buyer, negotiate for the best price, find a secure payment system and seal your transactions. If you have questions, just let us know in the comments section.

How to Sell a Domain Name

To sell a domain name, one should learn to price it. Many sellers fail to sell names in the marketplace, simply because they overpriced the domain, and thereby lost the chance to sell it. A lack of knowledge leads to erratic pricing. Experienced buyers will not try to bargain, unless you have a very rare name. A seller should therefore, understand how good the domain name is. What price will he get from a buyer? What suffix does it carry? For instance, .com names are likely to sell fast and will bring greater profits than, say .info names. Similarly, .net, .org and .in domain names are the best to make decent profit.

It is much harder to sell names no one has heard of. Short names have the highest value — they are rare, easy to sell and bring substantial profit. Basic and common domain names, which can be relatable, or arouse interest in the market are the best. General names sell thick and fast and also bring considerably higher profit.  Names that are easy to spell will attract buyers, and provide good opportunity to make a decent profit. If you know you have a good domain in your hands, then you are likely to make good profit by selling it.

Sellers should also learn to identify premium domain names. Dictionary names are premium domain names. Domain names with dictionary-singular names are the hottest on the Web, and buyers are willing to pay a lot to purchase them. Names, such as search.com or askme.com, will get buyers more easily than long domain names. It is also important to note that unhyphenated domain names have more value. Even product-related domain names also can enable sellers to earn substantial profit. Once a seller has a certain degree of knowledge about the domain, he can start searching for buyers.

Where to find domain name buyers

Once you decide to sell a domain name, it is important to find the best market to sell it. The best way to sell a domain name is to approach buyers secretly. If you know someone who deals with domain names, it is recommended to contact him without going through the middleman. Chances are that the seller will make more profit, as he will not have to pay the middleman.

Selling on auction sites is another great way to find buyers. Ebay.com is perhaps, the most popular place to sell domain names. Afternic.com is another site that allows sellers to find good buyers. If you have premium domain names, become a member at GreatDomains.com and list your domain name there. The site is a reputed marketplace and brokers deal with thousands of dollars trading domain names. You can also sell domain names through Sedo.com, a site which has its own selling program. Sedo.com has the largest marketplace in the world, and boasts of having a list of the most expensive domain names in the market. It also has a safe and secure escrow service for domain name buyers and sellers.

Engaging and negotiating with a buyer

Once you have settled which marketplace you wish to sell your domain name in, you should try to grab the buyer’s attention. Engaging a buyer is an important aspect of selling a domain name. Buyers are only interested in sellers who have a professional approach.

Hence, sellers should have clear cut knowledge of the domain name they are selling. A seller should also keep track of the traffic the domain name receives as well as the domain’s expiry date. He should also clarify if the domain name earns any money at all, and how much. This will help indicate the domain’s value in the market.

Some buyers are a tough nut to crack and they may quote a ridiculously low offer. Explain to these buyers and convince them why the domain is worth more than the quote. If the potential buyer doesn’t agree, fret not, just move on to the next one until you find a willing buyer. Once you finalize the deal, then it’s time to find the best payment mode for the transaction.

Secure Domain Escrow Service and its Benefits

When you are selling a domain name, you don’t want to suffer because of failed transactions or being tricked by defaulters. Safeguard your monetary dealings; the best way to do this is to take the help of a secure domain transfer and escrow service. The escrow system is highly beneficial because a buyer has to deposit money at the trusted source prior to purchase, and the dealing between a buyer and a seller takes place through a secure domain transfer and escrow service. This makes the transaction safer for both parties with the involvement of a neutral third party.

Domain name sellers are advised to use Sedo.com to list their domain name. The real advantage with Sedo.com is the mandatory escrow service that comes with every transaction. The site charges the seller a commission of 15% per transaction or USD 50, whichever is higher, for domain names featured on the site. Sellers who do not list with Sedo.com but would like to use their escrow service will have to pay the minimum transaction fee of USD 50, or 3% of the transaction, whichever is higher.

Escrow service is useful, and cost effective, but only if the domain names have a high enough value. For names that are priced lower, using escrow service may lead to losses.

Close Transaction and Get Payment

Now it’s time to transfer the domain name. Every site has its own process. Generally, the domain-selling sites require sellers to submit the authorisation code, which will initiate the transfer process. Once the transfer is completed, the seller can transfer funds from the escrow account to his personal account. Do check for the minimum number of days the amount must stay in the escrow account before the transaction can be completed.

Once the amount is due for release from the escrow account, you can transfer the money via wire transfer or even through PayPal to your own personal account. The use of PayPal comes with its own limitations in some countries, and it is better to check the PayPal country regulations.

Copyright Protection and Infringement of Web Content

Copyright is a kind of protection that authors have for their original work. This includes works in the domain of literature, drama, music and other artistic and intellectual creations that are published or unpublished.

It should be noted that copyright is only a protection of an expressed idea and not the idea itself. It gives the owner of the right the sole rights for reproducing his work and distributes or displays it in public. Copyright is automatic and does not need any registration, but you can assert your copyright by marking your original work with the copyright symbol.

 

Web content theft has been a hot topic of discussion in recent years. It is unethical behavior on the website, where your treasured content catches the fancy of other writers who feel it is their birthright to use it and pass it off as their own. Of course, they could always defend themselves by saying imitation is the best form of flattery. But this kind of flattery doesn’t go well for most, if not all, who find their website content appear on some other site. You have worked hard to create your content and would surely not like it plagiarized.

With respect to copyright on the web, there are basic rights that allow creators to have control over their creations and they can be compensated when others use and enjoy their creations.

Copyright laws – What it Protects

  • Short fiction and short stories
  • Novels
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Computer software
  • Advertisements with text
  • Brochures
  • Databases
  • Sound recordings
  • Audio visual works
  • Catalogs

Copyright Laws – What it does not protect

  • Facts and ideas
  • Words and names
  • Symbols, ideas and inventions
  • Processes
  • Systems of operations
  • Proprietary information

However, it may protect the way in which the above are expressed. Words, names and symbols are protected under the trademark laws and proprietary information gets protection from the trade secret law.

Copyright Infringement

Theft of website content can be considered as an infringement of copyright. You can easily find whether someone has been infringing on your copyright by word of mouth. Apart from this, if you suspect copyright infringement of your web content, you can just type out some new material from your web content into the Google search. Use a few words at a time and use them within quotes. You can even r unique find out whether someone is using the unique graphics from your website by entering the file name in Google images and searching for them.

Such copyright infringement can damage your website rankings with search engines, as content used in several websites are not viewed favorably by search engines and will be considered as spamming. This could lead to your website being dropped from the search engine listings or at least dropped in the rankings. It could also damage your reputation, as people might consider your site as the duplicate one.

When the copyright owner’s exclusive rights are carried out by a third party without the permission of the owner, it is infringement. The infringement can be on the complete work or on a part of the artistic work.

Myths Regarding Infringement

There are many myths regarding infringement in the internet. For example, many claim that copying a free advertisement is not infringement. False – The copyright holder has the sole rights for advertising his products. There are many sites where members discuss their favorite television shows and movies online and the big studios send the infringing owner websites warning letters ordering them to shut down their site.

Another myth regarding infringement is that people consider that if a website is free and the owner does not make any money from it, the material on the site can be copied and does not constitute infringement. False – Just because you don’t make a profit from the infringement does not mean that it is not an infringement.

Copyright laws of Online Work

Copyright protection can differ from country to country depending on the nation’s laws. According to the US laws, the copyright exists right from the time of any expression of your work in a form from which it can be reproduced or communicated, either directly or through a device. It is not mandatory to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office. However, registration could have some significant benefits. The work gets automatically protected when it is fixed in a copy, even if the author has not used the copyright symbol with the ‘c’ in it. You can register with the US Copyright Office with an online registration process that is quite fast and cheap by paying a flat fee for submitting your work.

Copyright laws protect written words that appear on your website along with digital formats, digital artwork and so on. Copyright laws are applicable to any content in digital form which is published on the Internet. Many people disregard copyright laws in the digital world and suffer losses in their attempt at copyright infringement. When publishing any content online, it is important to have the permission of the owner in case they wish to publish someone else’s work.

Copyright laws last for a lifetime of the author plus seventy years after the death of the author. There are also some provisions for older works that are unpublished. The author is generally the copyright owner, but in some cases there are also joint owners. In case of employers and work commissioned to an employee, the employer is the first copyright owner, depending on the contract. The date on which the work was created is very important. Copyright can also be transferred to another party or just licensed for use by other parties.

All works that have been published after January 1st 1978 need not get renewal of copyright registration. The duration of the protection depends on the several factors:

  • The time when the work was created
  • The person creating the work
  • The first commercial distribution of the work
  • Works that are created after January 1st 1978 have protection for the full life of the author plus another 50 years.

Copyright Owner’s Rights

The owner of the copyright has some exclusive rights:

  • He can reproduce the work or copy it, imitate or duplicate or transcribe it.
  • He has the right to distribute the work or issue copies to the public either by sale, rental, and lease or by lending.
  • He can communicate the copyrighted work by electronic means or by broadcasting. He has the public display right and can show it in a website, a slide, a film and so on.
  • He can decide whether others have the right to do any of the above.
  • There are several legal aspects that a web writer must be aware of with regard to the US copyright law. There are many misconceptions in this regard, especially to do with web content. If you find a copyright violation, you must write a letter to the offending party and ask them to withdraw the material from the website. If such a request is refused, you can inform the ISP or Internet Service Provider of the owner regarding the infringement situation. In many countries, the ISP is held responsible for such violations and generally, ISPs will respond to such infringement activities on websites.

What is Copyright Registration?

Though copyright protection is automatic, you need to register it in case you want to bring a lawsuit against copyright infringement. There are several reasons for this:

  • In order to sue someone for infringing on your copyright, you need to first register the work with the US copyright office. The registration can also be done after the infringement, but it can only be applicable for future infringements.
  • Those authors who register their copyright within ninety days of the publication of their works can avail all statutory damages provisions for infringements taking place both before and after the registration date.
  • If you register your copyright, you can be eligible for up to $100,000 in the form of statutory damages and also claim attorney fees in case the case is successful.
  • Those authors making a registration within five years of their published work can get it submitted as prima facie evidence in court.
  • Registration is simple and also cheap, as you just have to fill out the application and mail it to the US copyright office along with a copy of the work to be protected.

How to Protect your Copyright?

  1. Protection for Authors: If you have posted any material on a website, it is automatically protected by copyright. However, it would be a good idea to add a copyright statement.
  2. Protection to Host: Those hosting a forum or a web page where there are postings from other members must warn them of the copyright violation or plagiarized material. You will need to post a warning in the site notifying members that any such material will be removed. Any violations should be immediately followed up, so that you can protect yourself from liability that others impose on you. Such liabilities can accrue from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  3. If you find that someone has infringed your copyright, you can bring proceedings against them. Civil remedies can involve an award of damages or some penalties imposed on the infringer.
  4. You can also resolve the matter with infringing party by means of a settlement, without bringing it to court, as the latter could be expensive and time consuming.
  5. Seek specialist advice before you start pursuing a claim for copyright infringement.
  6. Though there is no need to go to any legal process for establishing copyright, it is a good practice to keep a record of your artistic works.
  7. You can put the symbol of copyright along with the name and the publication year in the work, as it can be useful while trying to bring about an action against infringement in the future.
  8. You can deposit copies of your work, stamped and unopened, to your solicitor.
  9. All works that were published before March 1, 1989 needed a formal notice for getting copyright protection. However, works published after March 1st 1989 there is no need of any copyright notice.
  10. However, it is important for authors to place a notice saying: Copyright with the symbol, the year and his name followed by ‘All Rights Reserved’, as a practical measure of warning others that the author takes copyright issues seriously and will not entertain infringement, thereby deterring them.
  11. By doing the above, no infringer can claim ‘innocent infringement’ in case of a lawsuit.

When does Copyright Protection NOT Apply? Fair Use

There are several cases where copying of artistic work is allowed without seeking the prior permission of the copyright owner. These are called ‘Fair Use’, as without such a use, it would not be possible to review any book or to study any works of famous people. However, this can be a rather slippery issue. Entire passages can be quoted and can still be considered as fair use, whereas a small amount quoted could be crucial to the work, if it leads to a decline in the commercial value of the original book or content. This is just a general guide and cannot be considered as an exhaustive guide. Using an artistic work is allowed if:

  • You need it for private research purposes.
  • For reviewing and criticism.
  • Reporting of current events
  • Artistic work for the purpose of advertising and for the sale of the work.
  • Educational uses, such as instructions by teachers to pupils.
  • Using it in libraries to help students in research or private study
  • In cases where the copyright has expired or the author or copyright owner has died more than seventy years ago.
  • When the work is done in the public domain and is not copyrightable.
  • Facts that are common knowledge can be copied and reproduced.

However, a compilation of facts that are created in a specific order and with a lot of original content and unique formatting styles have full right to copyright protection laws.

Duties of a Web Writer

Many people intentionally steal another writer’s work, while some do it on account of laziness or ignorance. You are only allowed to copy a work for fair use or in the public interest, such as quoting a passage from a book while reviewing it. This is done in order to prove that you have reasons for giving it a low rating. Critics are, therefore, allowed to include clippings and quotes from books and movies. You cannot, however, copy a full text from any article and send it to all members in the mailing list without adding any commentary or giving any credit. You cannot also just copy and post it in a public forum or a blog. You cannot share or distribute the full work without getting prior permission.

The best policy for writers would be not to copy from other sites. You can, of course, refer to the site for ideas. You can even share the content through your email or a link provided you give a comment or a brief excerpt showing why you need to share it. You can always ask for permission, as it is the author’s right to choose and not yours.

Conclusion

The issue of copyright protection and infringement is a confounded one in case of web content. It is important that authors protect their work with the US copyright office in order to protect their work from infringement. However, when you post your work, it is seen by all people from all over the world and even if it is infringed upon, it becomes difficult for the person to become aware of it. It is also quite expensive to pursue such infringement cases.

Writing an article can be painstaking work and copyright laws make sure that the credit goes to the proper person. No one can plagiarize another’s work by copying it exactly. The protection is given automatically as soon as the work is created even if you have not registered it officially. You have to be vigilant to those stealing your work online, as it is a simple matter to copy and paste content from one site to another. It can pose quite a struggle and you need to be aware of one’s rights as a writer as well as know more about copyright issues and how to tackle them.

Copyright is not just an iron clad lock that prevents you from publishing anything. The main purpose of copyright protection is to protect the author to his right of obtaining commercial benefit from the valuable work that he has created. It also allows him protection so that he can control the way in which his work is used.

Review of Popular Web Design Trends from 2012

The year 2012 has seen an immense burst of creative energy. Many web designers & developers will notice this energy is still carrying us over into the new year. But what have we seen come to fruition over these past 12 months?

Responsive Mobile Layouts

How can we look back over this year without immediately considering the enormous focus on responsive websites. My first introduction to this topic was reading Mobile First & Responsive Web Design from the ALA Book Store. It is a topic which seems confusing at first, but once you understand the purpose it is truly brilliant.

I feel that responsive layouts are setting the precedent for an enormous shift in the way we look at websites. Typically people view websites as either static or interactive from a user standpoint – saving data, uploading photos, sending messages, etc. But responsive designs are forcing us to look at websites as fluid entities, which should work on any screen or monitor in the world.

I feel this is only a good thing and will bring designers closer to a legendary breakthrough. It would be fantastic handling all website traffic with the same HTML/CSS codes. And this very well is the purpose of responsive web design. If you haven’t taken a look into responsive web design I suggest a quick 10-15 minute Google search on the benefits to user experience.

Dynamic Effects and Plugins

I would like to think 2012 has been a year for advancing web technologies. More frontend developers are leaning towards scripting and dynamic coding for interface effects. But this also means we are seeing more open source projects and more plugin releases for popular code libraries.

Earlier this month we covered 50 popular jQuery plugins from 2012 which is a massive showcase all JavaScript developers should check out. Many of these plugins would come in handy for complex web projects. Consider things like form validation, Ajax backend scripts, browser compatibility, and a large list of other fixes.

I think that 2012 has seen a deep-seated interest in dynamic website interfaces. We have moved beyond simple dropdown menus to include fading & sliding effects, box shadows, and transitions for link hovers. You can build practically any effect into dropdown menus these days. And the fun part is that most styles can be accomplished very quickly with just a few lines of code.

Designing Around Content

This is a trend which I feel warrants a solid explanation. I have noticed more styles in website layouts over the past few years, and even more custom ideas from website redesigns.

All of the content is split by large header text and thumbnail images. Also the page content is spaced in chunks down the page as easy-to-read excerpts. All of these pieces from a powerful blog design which is focused on wrapping content nicely in the page. But we can see other related examples of this same idea.

The design studio Whiteboard has an excellent single-page website layout also focused around content. While scrolling down the page you will notice large imagery in place as background photos. These are great shots for pleasant aesthetic effects and to illustrate the company’s theme. You will also find their content is wrapped in small segments in-between these header sections.

The purpose for content-based design is to have an idea of your webpage content first. Sketch out some wireframes and figure out what style of layout would work best for the amount of content you need to share. It is certainly an interesting way to go about building websites. And I feel you can portray an excellent user experience by starting with this method.

Digital Website Media

It’s difficult to know where to begin when it comes to sharing & publishing digital media online. There are so many services for uploading photos, videos, slideshows, presentations, documents, and other digital media into the cloud. All of these services offer various means to embedding high-profile media content into website layouts. And I feel that designers are growing accustomed to these common elements.

Web designers back in the 1990s were not so worried about video media. Or even dynamic photo galleries. Some of these effects began cropping up during the early-2000s with minimal effects. But now querying the phrase “open source image slider” will return thousands of search results. I feel that it is even easier to publish media nowadays with CMS brands like WordPress.

Users who are not very tech-savvy may install a free WordPress site, install a free theme, and begin publishing their own content right away. This would require maybe 15-20 minutes of setup time. We live during an era where anybody can launch their own publication and find quick solutions for sharing text, as well as other forms of media.

And I feel this is a noteworthy design trend because the Internet’s core purpose is for immediate human communication from around the planet. I would have to argue the web has come down a long path since inception, and new designers are just getting started leaving their mark on history.

CSS3 Properties Aplenty

Web designers who remember rounded corners and box shadows from the early 21st century know the painstaking difficulty of working solely with images. It used to be so much more difficult building a container with rounded corners using background images. CSS3 has fundamentally changed the way designers construct website interfaces.

This is definitely a trend which is here to stay well into 2013 and beyond. All modern day browsers support the majority of basic CSS3 effects. Box shadows, text shadows, transitions, along with a litany of additional properties. The days of hacking together solutions are almost over. Unfortunately developers must still handle traffic from older legacy browsers – but thankfully over the next few years these will slowly phase out of existence.

Prospective of 2013

As a user interface designer myself, I am quickly noticing the changes in application design. Webapps and mobile apps are beginning to look a lot similar, although dynamic behavior is still a while away. But how far are we from emulating native iOS animations with in-browser jQuery? Will fully-responsive mobile applications be the future of desktop web applications?

When I think of the future in web design I have to think of one term: accessibility. Designers are more intelligent nowadays, and they have an easier time selecting a market segment. You can build website layouts targeting demographics which suit your company or product the best. Accessible interfaces are always going to vary based on the audience using them.

It is safe to say we will not only see a larger movement for building more accessible websites. But also designers who are willing to push boundaries, creating various instances of brand new UI trends & techniques. Innovation is happening every month with new open source code releases in Github and on blogs around the world. And the best part about these rapidly advancing trends? I don’t see anything slowing down anytime soon.

Final Thoughts

The new year is always an exciting time for solemn reflection on your own skills, and the world as a whole. We have seen tremendous strides in achievement for the web development community which is full of passionate individuals. The newer HTML5/CSS3 rules have set a precedent for enormous change in the future of websites.

I hope these trends and unique ideas can offer some critical design inspiration. 2013 is sure to be an exciting year full of even more trendy user interfaces and experience techniques. I find that some of the coolest ideas start from a small project and begin to snowball elsewhere. If you have similar thoughts or ideas feel free to share with us in the comments discussion area.

Web Design Trends for 2013

At the verge of 2013 there have been talks of what will be pertinent in terms of web design. Some things are disputable while others are undeniable – take web design that used to focus on media options a few years ago, now it’s the era of great usability and classy layout – no one would argue about that. Now if only we survive this year’s end of the world, there is a lot of promising features to appreciate web design wise in 2013

A few points, however, should be highlighted and covered by at least a few words. For that matter you are welcome to read on and share your thoughts in comments.

  • Responsive Web Design aka RWD (it is an approach to web design in which a site is crafted to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones), © Wikipedia). It is currently on top of the list of trends for the next year, thanks to the ability of this technology to eliminate problems related to the size of the layout. A single design that RWD offers will be enough for multiple desktop and mobile gadgets. It looks promising in terms of working really well on all of the devices and should make things better for all of the web designers. Some call responsive web design not just a trend, but the next web design generation.
  • Vertical scrolling as part of websites optimization will be serving a significant role. These days many websites have both vertical and horizontal scrolling for their mobile versions, which is not always very user-friendly because of too much actual scrolling that a user has to make in order to see the whole picture. Therefore vertical scrolling will be leading in the coming year as an easy and convenient way to navigate the website. It allows scrolling a page down with a header menu at the same time without having to go back to see the menu, which is basically a vertical scrolling of buttons and menus with the same kind of navigation for social buttons and shopping carts. Vertical scrolling will most certainly be in demand due to its user-friendly approach in optimization websites.
  • Oversized objects such as large buttons, headings, full-width images and full-sized sliders are definitely to be expected as the next trend in the year to come. Thanks to touch screens getting more and more popular each day, oversizing of the objects becomes inevitable. And even though this may lead to certain deceleration of the websites, because bigger items need more graphics, there is hope that web designers will come up with a perfect solution in the end, otherwise this trend may set out pretty soon.
  • Simplicity is something to expect from web design in 2013. The motto of the year will be ‘the simpler the trendier’. Front-end frameworks will be seen around as well. Among them are such front-end frameworks as Twitter Bootstrap and WordPress, and many others.
  • Parallax scrolling is all about 2D objects being placed on different layers and being scrolled in the same direction at different speeds with the closest layers moving the fastest. That gives the impression of 3D space. The coming year should see a lot of parallax effects in the use of web design. Even though it has been in the industry for quite a while, it was mostly related to video games. Nowadays it is being used as a refreshing addition to highlight a special event such as  product or website launch, or integrated into general webpages like ‘Home’ or ‘About Us’ to optimize the look and feel of something standard and make it exceptional. In 2013 we can expect to see a lot of parallax scrolling effects on regular websites.
  • Typography will most likely become an essential part of every website before we know it. There is a great deal of fonts to choose from due to widely available typography variations. And designers tend to prefer stylish typography designs to nice images instead of the text when optimizing the look and feel of the websites. After all typography is the foundation of any website so it is only going to win back its positions in 2013.

All of the above is an educated guess based on subject matter experts of web design and development company, which always remains on top of the game through permanent improvement of customer services.

What To Do And What Not to Do During Interview:

Some Noticeable point’s needs to be kept in mind while appearing for interview are -
Always adopt a professional attitude and professional looking and wearing.

Listen intently about interview questions. Use strong positive language while answering your questions.

Ask the relevant questions and be specific to job related questions only.

Wear a smile at all times even if your answers are unaccepted by interviewers.

Never indicate at any point of time that you’re desperate for a job.

Try to avoid the discussions related to your personal life; the interviewer should respect your trustworthiness and integrity.

Remain calm and don’t rush to conclusion instantly, try to go in-depth of the discussion and answers the question openly.

Don’t play with your hair, clothing, items in your pockets, it leaves a immature ego state and reflect a childish personality.

Try to avoid negative phrases such as: ‘I don’t know’. I’m not sure’. Talk about the issues not about the persons.

Smiling is a good positive sign, as it reflect your good nature. Maintain affirmative eye contact.

Relax do not rush for everything, use the mirror technique of interviewers, if they laugh, laugh with them.

Maintain proactive position, sit in straight posture, don’t slump, but be comfortable.

Always have a confident and honest attitude towards your work and words.

Some interviewers also asked for aptitude test which assesses your abilities.

While judging your Personality which reflects the profile of your abilities. Many employers believe that such tests reflect good idea of whether your abilities matching up job profile or not, and if your personality is suited to job profile of the company.

Aptitude exams test your reasoning skills under time pressure. Generally there are three areas of testing checking different ability, such as verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and critical reasoning.

The time duration for the test is 30 minutes and the numbers of questions are approx 30. In Personality Tests most of Questions tend to focus on how you relate to other people and how you behave in complex situations, your work nature, and your ability to deal with emotions. Your motivations, interests, determination, enthusiasm, general outlook and your ability, capabilities to handle stressful situations during different situations are evaluated during interview. There is no right or wrong answers in the interview, just be yourself.

The Freelancers Guide to Successful Content Curation

Many social media pundits claim that content curation will prove to be the next biggest thing in the arena of online entrepreneurship and obviously, freelancers with specific skills to perform the job of content curation will gain a good fortune out of it.

The biggest reason behind these predictions about the profitable expectations of content curation is the fact that the content on the Internet is increasing rapidly at every minute and according to some experts, within a few years, the content on the Internet will be doubled or more within every 72 hours or even less. Experts believe that this huge amount of content will offer a great opportunity for Internet marketers to gain online influence so that they may attain more customers for the products or services they are trying to market. However, it can prove to be a daunting task to refine the relevant and quality content available on the Internet and this difficulty can prove to be a great chance for the freelancers to gain an important place in the space of Internet marketing. This is the reason why it is important for freelancers to know everything about content curation as an especial skill and how to master that skill.

 

What is Content Curation?

Internet is a huge pool of a vast quantity of content that can be used for specific purposes. However, it is very important to recognize the quality of content and to arrange it in a meaningful manner so that anyone who is seeking for any information on Internet to share with others to achieve a definite goal may find it easy to attain the right content of appropriate quality. The process of rearranging the huge amount of content available on the web so that it can be presented in an organized and sense full manner is known as content curation. The traditional meaning of curator is a content specialist who organizes the content assets in a cohesive and coherent manner so that the information can be presented in an attractive and explanative manner to attain the interest of the viewers.

Content curation involves the job of refining, cataloging, coordinating, and publishing the information around a specific subject. A content curator goes through all the possible available content and refines it to arrange the best possible content in a definite order of its importance and relevance so that it can be displayed in a proper way. Unlike the popular belief, content curation isn’t just about collecting links and preserving them, rather; it is the job of organizing all the links to present a particular context with proper explanation. A content curator is not just a person who can offer a number of links about a subject, rather; he is the person who has properly researched about that subject and can offer the best, well organized, and highly relevant content on any specific subject online.

What is the importance of Content Curation and who needs it?

The Internet space is continuously increasing and people are now creating and sharing content at an enormous speed and with time, this speed of content creation is going to be increased. Even now, thousands of new videos are regularly uploaded online. People write and publish blog posts at every other moment. There are millions of Twitter and Facebook users who update their status regularly.

To explain the enormity of content creation, let us consider the example of Facebook. The average user of Facebook creates around 90 sets of content in a month. According to Mark Zuckerberg, more than one billion people are actively using Facebook each month. That is, in a month, the Facebook users are creating around 90 billion pieces of content at an average. Add the content on Blogger, Twitter, Orkut, MySpace, WordPress, and other websites and independent blogs and you will find that the data or content on the Internet is getting immeasurable day by day. To put it simply, we are not living in an ocean of content that is expanding at a vast pace. A content curator is the person who knows where are the fishes that a person is looking for in this vast ocean. The content curator can easily offer a quality content of relevance to anyone who is in need of organized information. The role of content curator is certainly important because for a common person, finding the required information and using it in appropriate manner will require a lot of time and attention and in current world; time is the most costly resource that needs to be preserved.

However, who will need this highly specialized information or content assets in an organized manner and why?

According to the Content Curation Adoption Survey of 2012 that was organized by curate, the vast majority of Internet marketers believe that content curation is an important and beneficial strategy and they seek for content curation regularly. The main reasons for why Internet marketers are interested in the process of content curation and why are they actively seeking for content curation can be summarized as follows:

1) Very Little Relevant Information in the Vast Pool of Content

It has been observed that finding relevant content on a particular topic is becoming more difficult while the quantity of content is abysmally increasing. While Internet is a vast resource of content, finding the best and most appropriate content on a subject is becoming more difficult. Internet marketers feel that specific websites that offer curated and properly organized content offers a good solution for their problems. These websites offer links to relevant content and that reduces the burden of marketers to search for the appropriate content. If the best and most relevant content about a topic is a diamond, the curated websites prove to be a mine of diamonds. Those websites that offer regular quality content, gains greater support of marketers.

2) The Race to be the Thought Leaders

With the help of appropriate content curation, marketers can attain success in establishing their position as the thought leader. Marketers want to attain as many customers as possible however, the Internet customers are becoming smarter and they seek for a reputed and trustworthy brand before they may engage in Internet shopping. Those marketers who succeed in providing quality content gains the trust of customers. This content includes original content produced by the marketers and producers specifically to increase their sales and it also include the relevant content from market experts and competitors with their specific presentation and comments. By using this highly refined content, marketers can establish the trust of customers and once they succeed in establishing themselves as the thought leaders of the market, they find it easy to attain regular customers.

3) Increasing Influence of Social Media

As the number of active users of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook is increasing, people are heavily relying on social media as the perfect resource for relevant and timely information. As a result, marketers are trying to implement the strategy of on-demand news. Since marketers are required to create positive influence on these social media platforms so that they can attract more and more potential customers, they need to keep providing relevant information regularly on these social media websites so that they can share best content online. With the help of content curation, marketers can easily provide relevant content at a swift pace so that they may maintain and increase their influence on social media platforms.

4) Content is the King

Internet is virtually becoming the biggest market of the world and one can attain all major brands of any product or service directly online. These brands are actively engaged in providing relevant information, future prospects, customer services, and online shopping facilities to attain more customers. The success of Dell has encouraged almost all brands to experiment the idea of e-commerce which is increasing at such a high rate that e-commerce is actually offering a tight and tough competition to the biggest retailers of the world. This increasing influence of e-commerce has made it mandatory for online marketers to remain easily accessible and easily notable to those who are looking for specific services and products through search engines and social media platforms.

However, to become significantly visible on search engines and on social media platforms, the marketers need to provide best, most relevant and unbiased content regularly in an organized and attractive manner. To improve SEO, providing original, relevant and organized content is very necessary. Content curation helps marketers to provide unique and most appropriate content in an unbiased manner and that increases their visibility on Internet.

Thus, content curation is very important for the marketers to increase their visibility on the Internet which results in increased potential and regular customers and provides higher profit margins for the brands and their marketers.

Importance of Content Curation for Freelancers

Content curation is very important for freelancers too because marketers often take help of freelancer content providers to attain original, valid, relevant and unbiased content with proper search engine optimization to attain better visibility on Internet.

For freelancers, content curation is professionally essential while it can also be an interesting means of learning too. A freelance needs to provide relevant and latest content about a varied category of subjects. While a freelancer can take help of enormous amount of content easily available on Internet, they need to be especially skilled in acquiring and organizing the relevant content in an appropriate manner so that it can be shared effectively to attain the required purpose. Content curation is necessary for freelancers because it helps them to remain aware of the latest and most important information about any issue that needs to be covered under the content that they have to provide. For a freelancer, content curation is the process of remaining aware and alert about their field and subjects for which they need to produce content so that they can remain efficient at their job.

However, it is not easy to be a skilled content curator. The biggest problem in content curation is the enormity of content available on the Internet that a content curator will have to research to organize it in a meaningful manner within a short period. This can be very cumbersome and distractive but with the help of proper techniques and technological tools, this task can be made easier.

The Process of Content Curation

Content curation is a continuous process and a professional content curator will have to adopt this process in his daily life. The very first step of the process of content curation is to decide for a relevant topic, subject or issue. Once the goal is set, the next step is to seek the relevant information. While seeking the relevant information may seem to be burdensome, it is necessary and yet, it is just a step of content curation. Once content curators have attained enough information about the topic or issue, they need to analyze and refine the available information to make a proper sense out of it so that the content can be rearranged according to relevancy and appropriateness of it to achieve the goal. One may do so by writing a blog post containing the links of organized content to offer a particular meaning of what they have researched, refined and organized.

Making a relevant meaning out of the available content is a tricky job because it is necessary to provide appropriate meaning through your presentation in such a way that it meets the requirements of the content curator’s subject and goal. After this, the content curator needs to present this highly researched, refined, and reorganized content in an appropriate manner so that they may attain largest possible audience. It is necessary for the content curator to confirm that the presentation is in such a simple format that any person can not only understand it but can also make best use of it with ease.

Tools of Content Curation

Obviously, the most difficult and burdensome step of the process of content curation is to find relevant information. While one can search about any topic or issue on any search engine such as Google, one may fail to attain quality information through simple search engines to perform content curation. However, there are enough tools to reduce the burden of seeking appropriate information and a content curator can make better use of the following tools of content curation:

 

  1. Scoop.it:

    instantShift - Scoop.it

    The tagline of Scoop.it is “share ideas that matter” and it explains this tool perfectly. Scoop.it is currently considered as the best content curation tool which offers a series of content based on niche subjects and issues. After deciding for their choice of subject, a content curator can easily attain quality content. The next step is to read and analyze the contents and save them as a collection. One can attain everything including articles, videos, Facebook statuses, Twitter lists, and so on.

  2. Storify:

    instantShift - Storify

    Storify is another quality service or content curation tool that can be used to attain optimized results. Create an account on Storify and start attaining the best content including tweets, blog posts, videos, images and so on. Storify itself provides the content in different niches in a series of meaningful presentations that can be used to attain better results.

  3. Pearltrees:

    instantShift - Pearltrees

    Anyone looking forward to be a master content curator cannot ignore the service of Pearltrees, which is one of the finest curation tools. While one will attain a number of images, articles, videos, tweets, and so on to analyze and observe. One can simply use the browser application to “pearl” the content page that seems relevant, attractive, meaningful, and usable. One can easily share their “pearl” pages easily through Facebook, Twitter, Email, or on their own website.

In addition, there are a number of other highly efficient content curation tools such as StubmleUpon, Pinterest, Delicious, BagTheWeb, Bundlr, and so on that can be used by a content curator to attain appropriate content. However, it will the responsibility of the content curator to analyze, organize, rearrange, and represent this set of content about their preferred niche topic in a meaningful manner.

Content curation may seem to be a hefty task but it is becoming a necessity to maintain a grip on the Internet market. The most important aspect of content curation is that it is not a malpractice or activity of plagiarism. A content curator is not expected to copy and paste information from one content page to other. Rather, the job of content curator is to research the available content on Internet, refine it, reorganize it, and represent it in a unique manner with appropriate references and citations for the original content providers. It is very necessary to maintain the ethical lines of the job of content curation because the marketers that are looking forward to make better use of content curation are strictly looking for ways to gain trust of the customers so that they can establish their brands in the market. When a person simply steals some other person’s idea without offering proper credit to the original content creator, he is simply stealing the content while content curation is strictly the job of sharing the best content in a relevant, organized and appropriate manner.

Stop designing for screen width, design for content

320, 768 and 1024. Do these numbers mean anything to you?

No, it’s not the Da Vinci code, they are the widths in pixels that many designers associate with mobile, tablet and desktop screen widths.

The problem I have with this is that my mobile isn’t 320 pixels wide, my tablet isn’t 768 pixels wide and my desktop screen certainly isn’t 1024 pixels wide. There are hundreds of different screen sizes out there on a variety of different devices and yet we still think of responsive web design as 320, 768 and 1024.

 

What happens to all those screen sizes in between?

I have seen many sites that use these three breakpoints for their designs and simply create 3 static layouts that centre within the nearest width.

This is better than having an old fashioned, static, desktop only site as they are at least serving a one column, simplified version for mobile and a touch friendly version for tablet but then why would you alienate all other screen sizes by not taking them into consideration?

Sure the design will still work on the other sizes but what happens when you have a tablet that is smaller than 768? They will get the mobile experience on a tablet! And when viewing it on a laptop screen smaller than 1024? We’ll just send them the tablet layout and laugh at them for not having one of the 3 screen sizes that we have deemed worthy.

 

It’s about percentages not pixels

When you create your responsive layouts, you should always aim to set as many of your dimensions as possible in percentages. This helps to ensure that your content will grow and shrink evenly through different screen sizes and will do so in proportion to the device it’s being viewed on. This approach will also ensure that your content is always filling 90% (or as much as you determine) of the screen instead of possibly 50% of the screen as the content is centred on a screen size that is a few pixels smaller than the next available breakpoint.

 

Content is king

When choosing your breakpoints, you should always be making your decisions based on where the content breaks and not to device screen widths. Instead of creating a design and then modifying it to fit the iPad screen comfortably, you should find out at what width your content starts to struggle.

I tend to start with a 1400 wide design and slowly make the browser smaller until a piece of content breaks the layout or gets close to doing so. That then determines my next breakpoint. It doesn’t matter whether it is at 1200, 800 or 673, if the content still works then why change the layout?

You will find that you will end up with strange breakpoints such as 477 or 982 and that you may have 2, 6 or 10 different breakpoints. The point is that the content will decide rather than the intended screen sizes that you wish it to be viewed on.

With the array of different devices and screen sizes being released every month, it is impossible to determine a set of definite breakpoints for our responsive projects. The truth is that whilst we are using a variable such as screen width to determine our responsive layouts, we will struggle to serve a perfect layout to every different size but by following a few of the tips above, we can at least ensure that the content is always displayed as best as possible.

Importance of an Attractive Portfolio for Graphic Designers

Like any other field, a portfolio holds great importance for a website/graphics designer. An eye catching design has great benefits. It reflects your designing skills and attract your clients.

Being a website/graphics designer myself, I have met a lot of designers that don’t even have a portfolio. When they get clients, they just send over some of their recent designs. In this way, there clients are unable to review most of their work and there are more chances that they will back off and find some other designer.

 

Why Make a Portfolio?

There are a great number of designers all over the globe and it’s one of the most rapidly growing information technology fields with the growing demand of website and graphics designing. This is a vast field and it constitutes of many sub fields. Graphic Designing includes logos, banners, brochures, flyers, business cards and a lot more. Today, there are a lot of individuals or companies that regularly need some kind of graphic design. Whether it be for online uses or printing purposes.

A portfolio for a designer is the basis of clients whether to hire you for their designing needs or not. Your portfolio demonstrates your skills, expertise and talent.

A design portfolio is compulsory for freelance designers as well as those running a designing company.

Designing a portfolio is not something that you just start doing without any preparation. There are a number of things to consider but before you start designing your portfolio, study the reasons why is it important and in what ways will it help you. This will help you in coming up with more creative ideas for your design showcase.

Following are a few points explaining why a portfolio holds so much importance.

  1. Presents Your Skills

    I have seen many designers’ websites without any graphics. They are just full of text and stories. Mentioning what services you offer and what can you do is not enough. You should show a proof of what your are doing. Your client will not be interested to choose you as their designer unless you don’t showcase your work in that specific designing they want from you. Suppose you get a client visit your site wanting to get a brochure designed for their business but don’t find even a single sample of your work.

    Clients need satisfaction as they are spending something to get the job done!

  2. Makes Clients Trust You

    When you display your work; you make new clients trust in you. Get the testimonials from your old clients along with your portfolio so that the new clients get more satisfied from you. This will in turn bring more customers to you.

  3. Represents a Genuine Business

    There a lot of designer emerging nowadays. Many are talented and possess great skills but still there are some designers that don’t have a proper experience in this field. They have learnt a bit of basics and promise their clients to provide quality work. As there work is not worth showcasing, they don’t show a proper portfolio. This simply results in wastage of their clients’ time when they don’t like the unprofessional work.

    In comparison to this, a buyer will prefer some designer showing his/her work.

  4. Prevents Rejection from Clients

    Everybody has their own choice for designs. Similarly all people don’t like some specific kind of graphics. Some will prefer really professional, clean graphics, some prefer 3D, while others want shiny, colorful designs. Suppose you make specific type of designs and you don’t have a portfolio. You get a client and start working on their order. Soon you will come up with a final design and when you submit a preview of it to them, you get bad remarks. This will not only waste your precious time and effort but you will also get a bit frustrated and end up saying bye to your client.

    Showing a portfolio to your clients before taking their order will prevent these situations. Your client will confirm before if they need some variation in their design from the past work you have done.

After getting to know the reasons to make a portfolio and how much importance it holds you must be thinking ways to make a beautiful portfolio. Yes! It should be highly attractive, and force the people looking at your portfolio to choose you as their designer!

Design an Attractive Portfolio

I am going to give some useful tips and tricks that will lead you to come up with a beautiful design and finally some examples for inspiration!

I am not just focusing on Graphics Designer in this article. But this is also to address the website designers! Most of the graphics designers know how to make a graphics template of website. So if you got skills and can come up with a design on graphics software, it will be way too easy for you. And if you have the coding skills it would be a plus.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to code an image to working website! You can get it done from any coder for as low as $20 for single page!

Most of the designers have their websites setup already where they offer their packages or services. But I have seen a lot of designers that don’t even have their websites. They advertise their services on different forums or websites. They think that they are getting enough customers but they are not aware of the fact that they are also missing a lot of clients due to some flaws.

Firstly they don’t have a website which is a turn down for clients who look for legitimacy.

Moreover they are not providing a proper compilation of their past work to their buyers. Anybody going to pay for something needs a proof, and a design portfolio is similar to a proof for buyers!

So following are the essential tips that you should keep in mind before designing your own portfolio website! These are the things that really matter and will make your portfolio stand out!

  1. Make a Decent Collection

    Before making a portfolio, do enough work and increase your collection till some extent. Your portfolio should be not be empty. This is a great turn down for clients and they will probably think that you are an amateur and you don’t have much experience in designing field. Just to give an idea I would suggest you to have atleast 15-20 items in your portfolio. But still you can have more. But remember don’t overfill it. Just keep a balance.

    You can tell your clients later that you have a lot more designs and you can show them if they want something more.

  2. Filter Your Design for Portfolio

    Take a hard look at your past work. Which of your designs are catchy? Separate the work you thing is best. Don’t include the designs you think are not much attractive as compared to your other work. This may cause your client to loose interest in getting their job done from you.

  3. Categorize Your Portfolio

    Your goal is to convert your portfolio visitors to your customers. To do so, you have to try your best to make your portfolio easy on eyes. It should not become a difficulty for your visitors. Don’t just make it jungle of images. This will just annoy your visitors and they will most probably end up closing the window.

    Separate your designs according to the categories. Like if there are logos, banners, business cards, flyers, brochures, just separate them up under different partitions with a prominent title to distinguish it from other designs. It helps the buyers in a way that they will look for samples in that specific design category they want to get a design from.

  4. Variety in Samples

    As I discussed earlier in this article, that all the clients do not have same choice. Your design may have a preference of one client and it may be rejected by the other so don’t ever do the mistake of adding same kind of designs in your portfolio.

    Have a variety of samples, so your client may have an idea that you will come up with something unique, different and something new for them. On the other hand if you have all same kind of designs with similar effects used in all of them, your client will not be much interested and you may loose them. Also add any photo of your print work. I myself request a photo of printed graphics I design for my clients.

  5. Include Testimonials

    Include testimonials from your past clients somewhere in your portfolio. Don’t just throw it somewhere. Instead be clever and place them in an efficient way so they are as prominent as your portfolio items are. Testimonials help a lot in motivating your visitors to become your client. It is a quick way to build trust with visitors. Many designers ignore this factor but testimonials help a lot. Let your client write a little about how was their experience to work with you.

  6. Show Your Work Properly

    Many designers add small thumbnails of their design work or show a little part of it due to the fear that someone will copy their work. Don’t do that, instead host the full-sized images on your own server and link the thumbnail or small image to the full size image, or make some functionality so that the image may zoom up on clicking. Avoid linking your samples to the clients’ website for which you made that design.

    People do not always keep same designs, they might change it and it will be a problem for your further clients later.

    Same thing applies to the web design projects you have worked on. Host them on your own server instead of linking to external websites, you may give a link though but keep a check if your client has not updated their site.

  7. Make Your Layout Simple

    People in search of a designer are looking for a website with an easy navigation. The layout should not be over done. It should not be filled up with a lot of colors and too much fancy techniques. The layout as a whole should look simple, attractive and everything on the website should be easy to understand. Don’t confuse your clients in any way. Make your contact details easily accessible. Remember contrast is your friend and you have to play with it in a creative manner.

  8. A Little About Yourself

    Having an ‘About Me’ page is also a plus point. Do not take it as granted. You have to deal with your visitors in a friendly way. For individuals, it’s a place to show off who you are as a person. Tell about your qualifications, experiences and expertise in your field. To make it more attractive, add any kind of picture of yours, a portrait, sketch, caricature or anything representing you.

    Moreover giving links to your social networks profiles from here is better. It builds more familiarity and makes you more approachable if the client is in need of a designer ever again.

  9. Keep Your Portfolio Up to Date

    Design your portfolio in such a way that it is easier for you in future to update the pieces.

    It’s a common fact that as you make more deigns and gain more experience, you start to like your new design more than the designs you had made a couple of months or some time ago. So if you think that there is something in your portfolio which seems to be odd to you then there is no need to keep it anymore in there. Just replace it with your new designs. Keep on revolving items. It gives a good impression on returning customers.

I have added some really attractive portfolio designs for inspiration. It will give you a better picture of how you have to get creative and design your own unique portfolio.

In this portfolio, the design has given a very easy way to navigate around. The animation gives access to contents of website with keyboard shortcuts.

The designer has beautifully embed the images in a frame. The frame effect makes this portfolio unique!

This design is full of creative ideas. The designer has wrapped all the necessary components of a portfolio website in a single book shelf. There are no unnecessary items in the shelf. Every item gives the information about that designer.

Simple yet attractive design. This website would have been so dull without the lightning or glow effects used. They have given life to the design. See how little sprinkles and toppings can make your site delicious!

The design is an example of use of many colors in a proper and beautiful manner. The abstract not only contain colors but also represents the name of designer along with easy navigation beside.

Here is another creative artwork. The designer is welcoming his visitors and requesting them to have a seat. This builds a friendly environment and look at the way how designer has introduced himself to visitors. Such techniques leave impressions in the mind of your visitors.

If you have a look at the complete website, you will see how in only a single page, the designer has added all the information a client is seeking for. Starting from his introduction to a few recent designs followed by his service offerings and then finally an easy contact form at the bottom.

And at last, simple yet effective about us page. It consists of a paper background effect, little sketch of the designer, and some introduction to him.

Becoming an Expert Proofreader

Very first thought – “What is Proofreading?” The word ‘proof’ is used to mean the final trial print that is used for making corrections before printing. Hence, a proofreader goes through the entire text with a fine toothcomb, trying to look for errors and glitches in the document.

Proofreading involves detection of errors, such as punctuation, grammar, and choice of words, spellings as well as other details of font, style and alignment. It involves surface reading.

 

Grammar and style form the primary focus of proof reading. The hard and fast rules of grammar need to be adhered to, such as dangling participles, typos, tenses, voices and so on. This is important to create the best image of the company or the person. Style is a little more ambiguous and has to do with the tone of the language, such as sarcasm, serious, ironical, and humorous and so on. These are brought about by the choice of words and each piece of writing needs to have a specific tone. Proofreading, in a nutshell, is not just looking out for grammar and punctuation errors ,but rather looking at the document as a whole and see whether all the words fit in together, supplying better options wherever necessary.

Qualifications of Proofreaders

A proofreader needs to do a check on the quality of a publication before it goes into print. There is nothing like a qualification that is officially recognized for proofreading, nor is there any specific course for proofreading. This does not mean that certificates are of no use for a proofreader or that they can be entirely dismissed as qualifications. However, such certificates do not surely form part of the criteria for recruitment as a proofreader.

The experience of the person is far more important in a proofreading job. You need to get maximum opportunities in order to get this experience and then establish a formidable reputation in your niche to get the maximum possible testimonials. A freelancer with a good command over the language can become a proofreader for different types of documents and articles and even novels. Some of the important qualifications a proofreader needs to have are:

  1. A good eye for detecting details and errors.
  2. Excellent knowledge of the English language, along with intricacies of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.
  3. A dedicated and systematic approach to the task.
  4. Good concentration skills.
  5. Relevant experience would be an advantage in order to prove aptitude in the niche.
  6. A native speaker of English would also be an advantage, but not essential.
  7. A graduate or an undergraduate working towards graduation.
  8. A good grade in English Literature would be desirable but not compulsory.

A proofreader needs to prove his worth. A freelance job of proofreading done from home can be convenient but you need good communication and writing skills. One needs to go along with the flow and the tone of the piece along with understanding the layout. Freelancers who wish to break into this career need to provide work that people would like to come back for.

Types of Proofreading Jobs

Several websites offer proofreading jobs of various types. There are many writers who want their stories or articles to be proofread. These writers then refer them to others. These jobs can belong to several niches.

For instance, there is technical writing where proofreading is required in engineering and medicine. Several documents are published in these fields and need proofreading. Writers of blogs also require proofreading for their articles. They would like their posts to be perfect in order to draw in more readers and viewers to their blog and attract advertisements. The content and readability of the article can be improved by proofreaders. Many companies also require copyeditors for proofreading their content before it is uploaded to the web. Websites that regularly publish web content are also in continuous need of proofreaders. There are also jobs related to correction of academic papers, such as thesis and other educational papers.

There are sites that allow proofreaders to set prices for their project and only do the proofreading work of those who meet their price criteria. There are several student assignments and advertisements of businesses, such as brochures and newsletters that require proofreading.

There is general proofreading that just requires an overall correction of grammatical mistakes and language errors along with spelling and typos. Journal proofreading needs a little higher skill set according to the requirements of the publishing firm. Apart from this, manuscript proofreading and scientific journals contain more complex studies and need to be properly checked out.

Tips to help Proofreaders to Succeed

  1. Concentration. Concentration is the key factor for successful proof reading. You need to get rid of all distractions and do the work without interruptions. Try to remain away from other noises as well, such as the radio, the television, your email and so on. Even a split second of inattention could cause an oversight and you might overlook an important error.
  2. Be alert to Homonym. There are words that sound similar or those that have the same spelling but different meanings. A proofreader needs to be aware of differences between words, such as ‘complement’ and compliment’ or ‘later’ and ‘latter’, ‘council’ and ‘counsel’, ‘imminent’ and ‘eminent’ and several others.
  3. Errors in Apostrophes. Several errors in apostrophes need to be watched out. For instance, words, such as, ‘your’ and you’re’; its and it’s; there and they’re and so on. These are silly errors, but if they are not taken care of the credibility of the passage is put under great strain leading to a poor opinion of the writer. You need to remember that the apostrophe is only used to show possession and it should not be used in plurals.
  4. Possessive pronouns, such as my, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs and its do not have apostrophe, whereas possessive nouns, such as Jack’s, dog’s, cat’s and other proper and common nouns can take the apostrophe for possession.
  5. Check out numbers/dates. Numbers can play a crucial role in the essay or text. Look out for the number of zeros in a value, such as $10,000 or $100,000; million or billion; 1972 or 1982; 5% or 50% and several other numerical related errors. Wrong statistics could lead to a complete misrepresentation of facts.
  6. Cultivate a sense of doubt. Try to double check your work and keep doubting, so that you will be able to identify all the errors. You need to doubt every word in order to identify each and every mistake. It is important not to take anything for granted while proofreading.
  7. Reading aloud. Read through the text rather slowly and, if possible, try to read out aloud. Read only what is presented on the page and not what is in your mind or what you think is there. Reading aloud helps as it slows you down and you are able to hear the words as well as see them, thereby making use of two sense organs.
  8. Look at the words without just allowing your eyes to slide over the words. Don’t just look at the outer shell of the words, that is the first and last letters of the word, but take in the entire word.
  9. Look out for words having double letters. These usually lead to confusion and spelling errors. For instance, accommodation, embarrassment, omission, occurrence, possession, apparent and so on.
  10. Using a dictionary. Use a dictionary in case of words that you are not very sure about. Select a link where you can quickly check out errors in spelling, punctuation, pronouns, subject verb agreement, periods, sentence fragments, dangling modifiers and tenses.
  11. Choice of words. Instead of using common verbs, such as ‘give’, use ‘offer’ proffer’. Instead of using ‘tell’, make use of a more apt word, such as ‘suggest’ ‘inform’ and so on.
  12. Using Spell check. Spelling errors are the most common ones and are also the most easy to tackle and correct. You can, of course, use spell check and a dictionary for the wrongly spelt word. However, spell check is no use with homonyms, such as ‘accept and except’, ‘who’s and whose’ and so on.
  13. Create a checklist of your own for proofreading. Make a list of the common errors and mistakes that you usually find in a document and refer to this list while doing the job.
  14. Try analyzing one kind of problem at a time or during a reading. First, try to spot grammatical errors, and then look out for punctuation errors, then word choice and then the sentence structure. If you look for one type of problem at a time, you are more likely to do a more thorough job of it. When you look for trouble, you are sure to find it, so the saying goes.
  15. Build a good professional reputation. You need to provide a good quality service of proofreading.
  16. Always complete any project within the given deadline and be professional with the client. You must also do the job accurately and in a committed and conscientious manner, so that you can be set apart from the competition in the particular field.
  17. You could also register with several online proofreading services and submit your resume, but be careful of scams.
  18. To attain success in your niche, you can print your business card and even place them with printers or in the local college boards and other potential clients.
  19. Try to develop your experience by first doing some voluntary proofreading jobs in local schools and colleges. You can also take some online classes or tutorials to develop and increase your skills.
  20. Create a strong resume by clearly listing out your experience, your educational background and any style of writing that you are particularly familiar with. You can also add some samples of your work.

Ten Common Errors to Avoid as a Proofreader

Some common errors to look out for during proofreading are:

  1. Subject verb agreement – For instance – The balls of slime is eaten by ants. Here, the subject of the verb eaten is ‘balls’ and not ‘slime’. Hence, the subject is plural and should be followed by a plural verb – The balls of slime are eaten by ants. Another example – This box of ornaments belong/belongs to me. Here again, the subject is ‘box’ and not ‘ornaments’. Hence – This box of ornaments belongs to me. ‘One of my sister’s friends is/are a doctor. The answer is – One of my sister’s friends is a doctor (because only one of them is a doctor).
  2. Commonly confused words – We often get confused between words, such as advise and advice; farther and further; affect and effect; adopt and adapt; confident and confidante; envelop and envelope; altogether and all together; amount and number; and several others. You can keep a handy list of such commonly confused words and go through the examples in order to get these words straight.
  3. Verb tenses – Verb tenses are very often confused by writers. The passage begins with a tense and then it continues into another tense. These are very often overlooked by proofreaders. You need to identify the situation and check out whether it belongs to the past, present or the future and then use the correct tense. Facts and Universal truths always need to be in the present and wishes need to be conveyed in the past. Shifting and changing the tense in paragraphs continuously confuses the reader.
  4. That and Which – This is another common error that (not which) many authors and proofreaders overlook. There is a simple method of understanding when to use the right connective. ‘That’ is used as a defining clause and ‘which’ as a non defining clause. When you need information that is essential to the subject, the correct word to use will be ‘that’. When the information following is only supplemental and not essential to the subject, we use ‘which’. For instance – XXX is a company that offers proofreading service. Here, the information following is defining and very essential to know about the company. Look at this – XXX is a proofreading company, which delivers all work in time. The second part of the sentence that follows ‘which’, offers supplemental information.
  5. Active and Passive voice – When the subject of the sentence is more important than the action done, the active voice should be used. When the action done is more important and in cases where the subject is unknown, the passive voice is used. For instance, ‘A well is being dug’ and not ‘Some people are digging a well’.
  6. Use of Ellipsis – This is a common error. An ellipsis is a punctuation used to indicate that some text has been deleted or omitted, or it can be used as a pause. It should consist of three dots that are evenly spaced with space between them.
  7. Use of commas – You have to know when to use a comma and when it is redundant. They are used for indicating a pause, when providing additional information, when joining a main clause with a subordinate clause, to separate items in a list and so on.
  8. Article use – a/an/the – When you refer to something specific, use the article ‘the’. When referring to any noun, use ‘a’. I need a (meaning any) pen. Please give me the (particular) pen. However, a general statement in the plural does not need an article. For instance, Pens are useful for writing. Yet, the pens that I bought yesterday were very cheap.
  9. Singular and plurals of nouns – Some nouns in English form plurals by adding an ‘s’; others by adding ‘ies’ ( babies). Some others remain the same for both singular and plural – deer/deer; sheep/sheep; aircraft/aircraft. Some nouns convert ‘a’ into ‘ae’ (formula/formulae); some others convert ‘I’ into ‘e’ (crisis/crises; thesis/theses) and so on.
  10. EI or IE – The rule here is that ‘I’ before ‘e’ except in case of ‘c’. Thus, ceiling and not cieling; believe not beleive; field not feild; siege not seige.

Conclusion

A proofreading job requires an eye for detail along with accuracy, concentration and excellent language skills. There are no other specific formal training required to become a proofreader. However, one should be careful of the common pitfalls and errors that you need to look out for while doing a proofreading job. You need to establish a good name in professional circles to become a successful proofreader. A proofreader needs to be constantly on the lookout for a whole range of mistakes and errors to do with punctuation, grammar, spellings and also the fundamental structure of the sentence and other word usages. You need to know common spelling errors, homophones, apostrophes and other details of grammar to do a thorough and professional job.

 

There are various types of proofreading jobs available these days and you can easily carve a niche for yourself in the field. However, the competition is fierce and one needs to do a competent and thorough job to thrive in the field. It can be a pleasant rewarding work that you can do from the comfort of your home and is a great career option for the dedicated freelancer.

What makes a good logo designer?

As strange as this may sound for some, not every designer is a good logo designer.

I’ve met many highly talented designers who are terrible at designing logos. Actually, some of the best designers I know are so aware of that, that they even prefer to not take on this type of project.

The process of creating a logo, at least on a professional level, can easily become a long series of complex tasks that don’t necessarily have anything to do with designing, and to be successful in doing that the designer needs to have a quite peculiar mix of skills.

If you are a designer looking to specialize in the identity industry, this article will help you identify your strong and weak points. If you are an entrepreneur looking to educate yourself before hiring a logo designer, this article will help you understand part of the complexity behind the process of creating a custom logo for your business.

 

What makes a good logo?

Before getting onto the main subject of this article, we must define what makes a good logo. After all, it’s only by reaching an understanding on that concept that we will be able to go ahead and analyze which skill-set, experience and personality would be required from a designer to be good with the creation of logos.

So what makes a logo, a good logo?

In one sentence a good logo must be fit for purpose, adaptable to a variety of multiple sizes and materials, stand the passage of time without looking old, and be memorable enough that once you look at it, it can be easily remembered.

Overall, when it comes to logo design there’s no right and wrong, but instead just good and bad practices. The diagram below showcases what is widely considered to be the best practices in the identity design industry.

The quick dirty Venn diagram of the brand identity design.

While looking at the above diagram, what skills do you think would help to create a good logo?

One way of answering this question is by analyzing each characteristic separately, and then associating a different skill set to each one. For example, what skills would a designer require to design an iconic logo? Surely understanding the concept and value of iconic design for starters, but there’s plenty more.

Spend a good amount of time thinking about that and you’ll eventually notice that the great majority of skills needed to design a good logo have little or nothing to do with the actual activity of producing design. Surprised? Keep on reading, and you’ll get the idea.

 

Be good at research

One of the most relevant skills in the process of becoming a good logo designer is the ability to find relevant and useful information. Think about it: without knowing details of the client’s industry, the market and understanding how competition uses their identity to market themselves, how one would know they are designing a relevant logo?

But that’s what the briefing is for, right?

Yes, you’re spot on, but the truth is that the great majority of small clients, and starting entrepreneurs, don’t know how to prepare a briefing. Heck, some of them don’t even have this data available when they approach a designer for a logo.

Sometimes even larger organizations don’t understand the peculiarities of the logo design process, and fail by not providing enough information in their briefings. Knowing where to get the date, and what questions to ask is an essential skill.

Ultimately this skill will help to direct the design to a relevant solution.

 

Be able to think conceptually

Once the designer has all the information relevant to the project — which should include the client’s briefing and data from the designer’s research at least — the following step would be to analyze the data to define the boundaries of the project.

In order to do that, the designer should look at the data by using analytical tools such as brainstorming, mind-maps, color-wheels, mood boards or any other analytical tool that help to better understand the identity problem and identify what may or may not be a good concept to be explored.

I guess this is easier said than done!

Sure there’s a lot of practical work here, but once the designer has a clear vision of the big picture, being able to find a solution which is aesthetically pleasing but also has a deep conceptual connection to the initial identity problem is, more than anything else, what makes a good logo designer.

Think of it in this way: a logo without a concept is a logo without a soul.

Being able to think conceptually, and find hidden meaning in between what initially would seem to be unrelated data, has a profound impact in the process of creating a good logo, consequently it is this skill that will help to direct the design to a unique solution.

 

Be able to plan ahead

With a unique and relevant solution in hand, now all is left for the designer to do is to guarantee the chosen solution is versatile. In order to do that the designer needs to be able to plan ahead. Simple, uh? For what its worth, I believe this to be the easiest skill to master.

Quite basically all the designer has to do is to design the logo with context in mind. Will it fit well in a website? A twitter avatar? Printed in a one color brochure? Or full color on a business card? Stretched on a big poster? Or on the side of a vehicle? Reduced to the size of a promotional pen? Or embroidered on a t-shirt?

If the final logo can adapt to all of the above situations—and more—without losing any quality, then job done!

If not, then this solution is probably not the best—usually, is not iconic enough—and a quick look at the briefing topped by exploring another round of concepts tends to solve the problem. Nothing that a few extra hours of design won’t help to solve.

Nonetheless, here, right here, related to this skill, lies a problem.

When it comes to logo design, small businesses owners and starting entrepreneurs tend to not plan ahead, at least in design terms, and approve logos completely out of context, and for that reason they fail to understand why some solutions are just not right for them.

The risk of ignoring the need of versatility is bad for the client as it may result in the need to spend more money to rework their logo, and that’s the least of their problems. I’ve had cases where small business owners had thousands of dollars invested in stock with a logo they learned later on it was not the right for them.

And that’s the cue to the next skill, which in contrast, I believe to be the hardest to master.

 

Be a good communicator

I’m sure that many would say that being able to communicate your message across with success is not only a skill good for a logo designer, but for any designer, or even anyone in almost any career. That’s true, but there’s a special reason why a logo designer must be a good communicator.

The logo designer is usually the one faced with the responsibility of educating clients about the realities of the design world.

Day in day out, people are starting their own companies, and on the great majority of occasions, starting entrepreneurs have little idea of the role design will play in the success of their business, and usually they place very little importance on it.

Here’s the challenge…

When approached by someone who will most likely have little to no knowledge of the importance of design to a business, the logo designer must be able to help change the clients paradigm towards design, not only for the success of client, but also for his/her own success as well.

Designers tend to overlook this step, as it can be extremely time consuming, and clients, at least initially, hardly put any value to the lengths a designer would go to help educate them about design.

If you are looking to specialize in the identity design industry, this is, as far as my opinion goes, the most important non-design related skill you should be working on; together with a lot of patience too.

The best logo designers I know are also excellent communicators.

 

Conclusion

Designing a logo, at least from my perspective, has a lot to do with solving a puzzle that allows for many solutions. Some solutions are going to be great and others not so much; but if you don’t know what skills you need to play the puzzle, it becomes really hard to solve it.

With more and more people entering the design industry, it seems that looking for a specialization is becoming common place. If you are looking to specialize in the identity industry, training yourself on each of these non-design skills will certainly put you on the right track, but you must remember that ultimately you must be a good designer first, and for that there’s nothing better than practice, practice and a bit more practice.

Stop chasing screen resolutions

We live in such an exciting time in the world of the web. Technology and standards are moving forward at a rate that’s perhaps both faster and more exciting than ever. As things change, so do our habits, and one area that I think has seen bigger changes than most would have to be the change in resolution that our devices are now running.

Resolution is a funny thing to measure; it’s not a physical size change, but a clarity change. It’s not making images, brighter, or more rich in color, but making them denser. It’s also something that people seldom understand the value of until they see it for themselves.

Of course, when we get a taste of high-resolution displays, we’re hooked. And we all want our websites (and the websites of our clients) to look awesome on the devices that are sporting these displays. Many web designers are racing towards that goal by creating images for each new resolution that comes our way. Or, as I’m calling it in this article, “chasing screen resolutions”.

 

An introduction to SVG

Many of us know what SVGs (Scalable Vector Graphics) are. We’ve seen it on the W3C HTML5 website, under “3D, Graphics & Effects”. SVG is a standard HTML5 technology, that displays images with code. Or something.

At least, that’s the general response I got when I asked people about SVG graphics. It’s not really something people are interested in, because its value isn’t fully understood.

I want to show you how to avoid “chasing screen resolutions”, and it just so happens that the SVG standard can help us do just that.

 

The state of retina graphics

When I say “retina graphics”, I refer to any devices that have a screen resolution higher than that of traditional displays, sporting a resolution way above 72ppi (pixels per inch).

Apple famously smashed the 72ppi barrier with the iPhone 4, a device that had a fantastic new high-resolution display, that looks unlike anything else we’d seen before. Except when you used it to browse the web… the web looked rubbish.

The web had 72ppi optimized images. At the time of writing this, most of the web still does, two years after the launch of the iPhone 4.

Now, we have all sorts of devices with Retina quality Graphics. It’s slowly making its way across the entire Apple product line, extending to the iPod Touch, iPad and even the latest MacBook Pro. Smartphones are popping up all over the place with high resolution displays, so much so that a “standard” resolution display almost feels old-hat at this stage.

Still resolution dependent

When the web design community overcame the blurry images problem with conditionally loaded @2x images (images that were created to be twice the size of their original counterparts, loaded only on high-res devices), the web looked good again, for the most part. Some designers even advertised their websites as “resolution independent”.

Of course, what they really should have advertised their sites as was “optimized for two screen resolutions”.

Devices will keep on getting better, resolutions will keep on getting better, and and the web will continue to be enjoyed on an increasing number of form-factors. What about the inevitable future @3x? What about @4x? What about if the standard “1x” becomes unnecessary? What makes 3x “@3x” and not “@2.5x”?

Messy indeed.

What’s more, this sort of technique is hardly widespread. I browse the web on the aforementioned MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and most of the web is sadly exactly where it always has been since the iPhone 4: blurry. Creating all of your web imagery again is an arduous sounding task, especially when the whole web design world has been designing with bitmaps for so long.

Unzoomable web

Even today, with our @2x images, we still can’t zoom in on web pages without them going ugly again. Text manages a zoom just fine, but by comparison, images just cry out for those future @4x exports (something that no one will deem appropriate to serve just on the off-chance that someone might like to zoom in 4x on your RSS icon).

 

Going truly resolution independent

The problem is with bitmapped images. We’ve always known that they don’t upscale, and now is no different. What we need is vector graphics on our websites. Vector graphics are calculated by a series of instructions, rather than baked onto a grid where each pixel represents a color. Enter, SVG.

One size fits all

Since SVG graphics are vector graphics (hence the name “Scalable Vector Graphics”), they’ll look awesome on yesterday’s, today’s and even tomorrow’s screen resolutions. Additionally, due to the formulaic nature of vector graphics, you can zoom in on any device and images will stay looking great.

Faster load times

Making a 2000px by 2000px image, to a web designer, sounds nothing short of ludicrous. It would take far too long to load, it would bring some mobile devices to their knees, and the 4000px x 4000px “@2x” version would be craziness. And as resolutions get better and better, it’s simply unsustainable. With SVG, since it’s a vector format, it doesn’t matter if the image is 20px or 2000px; the load time will be exactly the same. The only thing that makes a difference to the load times is the complexity of each image file.

You can use it today

SVG may not be supported across the board, but Modernizr can feature-detect it. By serving a SVG and non-SVG version, you can reap all the benefits of SVG, while leaving legacy browsers with a @1x PNG. It’s as simple as this:

.no-svg .logo { background: url('logo.png'); }
.svg .logo { background: url('logo.svg'); }

 

Limitations of SVG

It’s not difficult to create SVG graphics out of any vector based image. Many pro apps such as Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape can export to SVG natively. There are a few things that you’ll need to know about SVGs for the web, however.

They can’t contain bitmap images of any kind.

Sure, you can add them in SVG authoring applications such as Illustrator or InkScape, and save your work as SVGs, but they won’t render where it matters: your web browser. CSS wizardry will be necessary to load a bitmap on top of the SVG where appropriate.

Can take forever to load if complicated

If you make a complicated SVG, you’ll be hit with load times not unlike the aforementioned 2000px x 2000px image. You wouldn’t want to draw a complex painting in SVG format, for instance.

Gotta keep it simple

Apps like Illustrator and Inkscape can do much more than your web browser can handle. They’re full blown illustration apps, not web SVG creator apps. In fact, it’s safe to assume that 90% of the functionality that those kinds of application offer will be unavailable to viewers on the web. If you’re familiar with vector software, you’ll need to learn alternative ways to create the effects you’ve come to love.

Try to learn the language

SVG code isn’t something you can “see in your mind” like you can when you read HTML. It’s a series of instructions mapped respectively against one another, element by element, layer by layer. Unfortunately, as of today, you’ll probably have to dip in there from time to time, since there are some results even Adobe Illustrator doesn’t offer.

For instance, images in Illustrator have a canvas you draw on; it’s a set width by a set height. That’s great, but if you want to control those details in the browser, you need such information to be stripped away from the SVG itself (note: some browsers will interpret your CSS irrespective of any declared SVG dimensions, but not all do). It’s not particularly hard, but it can be a headache. It’s well worth spending a bit of time getting to know the language, so that you can manipulate SVGs even further.

 

SVG in the Wild

Logos

Logos should typically be in a vector format anyway, so they’re a great way to bring SVG into your website designs. By using the markup above, you have everything that you need to take your first SVG elements online.

Icons

Icons are a great candidate for SVG. So much so that I’ve created a full icon set using SVG graphics. The scalable nature of SVG means that the icons can be used at any size, accommodating a broad range of site designs.

Animations

Animations also make a great case for SVG graphic usage. Since animations are typically tethered to a fixed width and height, SVG goes some way towards helping animations get responsive. Flash used vector graphic elements, now HTML5 animations can too.

Background images

Background images have always been a tricky point for web developers; the potential load times, as I mentioned above, can be crazy. SVG background images can be as big as you like; they still have snappy load times providing they aren’t really complex.

Conclusion

All in all, resolution independence is a fantastic goal for web designers and developers alike to strive towards. It’ll even mean their design tastes will be out of date before their site imagery is. While it’s important to approach them with your eyes open, it’s pretty clear to see how SVG graphics can move you closer to a future of total resolution independence.

When you load up an SVG enabled site on a high resolution device like an iPad 3, and you zoom in, you’ll be sold.

I hope this article goes some way towards encouraging resolution independent thinking in web design and development, and I hope that it has encouraged some of you to think about how SVG can work for your next site.

I’ve been in the SVG pool for a while, and I have to say, the water has never been more lovely.

Principles of Creating Effective Web Designs to Attract Visitors

Visual design is important however, the website’s fate depend more on the usability and its efficacy. While you are designing a website, make sure it is a user-centric design because users’ are the most important aspect behind any website’s success. If your website has a feature that is problematic or non-functional from users’ end, you should simple remove it. Precisely, an effective design will always work best for your website. Thankfully, the designers’ of today has realized the importance of an effective web design due to which web designing industry has seen a significant change in web designing. The best part is that visitors do not have to face those flashy advertisements and loud talking. The websites have become more interactive.

Instead of getting into implementation details of various features, in this article we will be focusing more on significant principles and approaches, which designers should use in a proper way to create an effective web design.

Principles To Follow For Creating An Effective Web Design:

Before you start following any principles, it is important for you to understand the mentality of your users. Start thinking from a user’s perspective and understand their ways of interacting with a website and its features.

Analyze User’s Mind:

Putting yourself in a user’s shoe is not that difficult. Analyze yourself when you are in a store and the way you act as a customer. Yes, this is exactly the way your visitors act when they see your website. Honestly speaking and we all will accept this fact; most of don’t even read the entire text of the website. Your user will quickly scan your website and whatever feature attracts him in the first place, it will be clicked. This is normally how a user will browse through your website. Following are a few things that users’ will appreciate in your website:

-       Quality content:

Users’ are always looking for quality content and if they find desired content on your website, they will ignore the minus points of your website i.e., layout OR flashy advertisements. So, make sure you provide them with quality content.

-       Scanning the content:

Highlight important points in your website. Always keep in mind that users will not read the whole content, they will only scan it.

-       Users are always busy:

Web users do not have much time and patience to explore your website. You should work on providing instantaneous satisfaction to your visitors, as a web designer.

-       Users’ don’t always make the best choices:

Your website should have a good optimization because users’ are used to click instantly on links they like instead of searching in the first place.

Principles of Effective Web Design:

If you want to a have an effective web design, you should follow the rules mentioned below:

1. Simplicity:

Your website will adaptable for users only if it is not-so-complicated. I know and I understand that you want your website to look great however; this does not mean that you should fill your page with nonsense. The distractions will only confuse your visitor. So, make sure that you keep your website simple and if you are a good designer, you will make sure the simplicity looks attractive too.

2. Don’t test users’ patience:

In every feature that you provide to users’ through your website, make sure that requirements from users’ end are nominal. If you pop-up long forms in front of a new user, he will simple leave your website and may never visit again. A very good advice to all web designers would be to keep the requirements minimal related to personal data because this is exactly where a user will get annoyed.

3. Avoid Waffle – Only facts:

As mentioned above effective content if very important for any website. Users’ don’t like it when you waffle and exaggerate the facts. If you want to win the trust of your visitors, make sure you mention everything clearly and precise. Only mention the important stuff and rest of the useless stuff should be scrubbed out.

4. Expose your features properly:

I personally love one thing about modern web designs. They provide a proper guidance to users in order to begin their surfing on the website. You must have seen steps ‘1-2-3’ and this is exactly what I have been talking about. This is a great way to make users’ see the features available in your website and how to reach them.

5. Effective Writing:

The content of your website should be written in web style catering to web users’. You need to talk business and avoid anything else. Also, make sure you use the web terms for specific features on your website. For instance, ‘Sign Up’ is always better than ‘Start Now.’ Effective writing includes; precise and to-the-point sentences, scan-able content, which includes headings and like I said, common web language should be used.

6. Avoid distractions:

If your website doesn’t really have anything to do with social networking websites, try not to add ‘follow’ links on the main of the page. Yes, promoting your website on social networking websites is a great way to get an increase in traffic however; it can always prove to be a distraction for users. If you want your users to focus on their main goal, avoid such distractions and remember these are distractions only if your site does not need them.

7. Effective usage of White Space:

White space’s importance is often underrated. White space can actually make your website look attractive and welcoming. It gives users a break from all the new complex web designs. White space is actually very effective. Why? Because it brings the simplicity effect, is soothing to the eye, makes layout look beautiful and last but not the least, the content can be scanned easily.

8. Web conventions are good:

Just because your website’s design is conventional, it does not make it a boring one. In fact this is a great way to save your visitor from learning and guessing process. Visitor will already know where the features are and they will not have to find them.

9. TETO Principle:

TETO is a casual term used for test early-test often which means testing your website is very, very important. You must know that testing of a website should be a repetitive process. You should conduct usability tests to make sure that your web design is an effective one.

10. Do not make it difficult for users:

Confusing, misleading and putting your users in a difficult situation, is not good. I have seen websites asking for Zip code and not many of us know the correct one so why ask?

Conclusion:

Above are a few features that a website should possess in order to be an effective one. Bottom line; if you really want to create an effective web design, follow the above mentioned rules.

Generate Innovative Ideas – Make It Happen

Well, the title might bring a wave of thought into the minds of not-so-creative people and they will conclude instantly that being creative is not their cup of tea. A common notion is that you are born creative/innovative or else generating innovative ideas is something impossible for you. Well, I don’t agree with this at all because everyone is creative in their very own way. Yes, you might not be as creative as Thomas Edison however, according to some researches, each human being has a creative capability and all he needs to do is discover it. If you are not naturally creative, you can follow a certain methods of generating ideas and you might even end up surprising yourself with your creative idea.

Idea Conceptualization – Focus on the goal

As mentioned above, generating ideas will definitely require some methods especially for those who are not-so-creative. You need to brainstorm in order to invoke some great ideas into your mind. However, the most important thing to do for idea conceptualization is to stay focused and know your goal. A crisp focus on your goal will help you achieving what you have been wanting to.

Also, make sure that if you are content with one of your ideas, you should plan on improvising it.

Enhancement or Innovation?

Many people try to come up with innovations however, sometimes these innovations are considered to be only an enhancement. Why? It could be possible that it is just an improvement in the product. If you really want to be creative, you should execute your idea as soon as you have it, whether it is an enhancement or an innovation. Proper execution of your idea is very important so the minute you think of something, start working on it before someone else comes up with it.

Now, if you are a newbie in the creative world, let me educate you with few but very useful tools to use and get inspiration from in order to generate creative ideas. These tools are a good way to begin with and once you get going, you will generate innovative ideas in no time.

Generate the ideas by exploiting web:

Web is full of ideas and you can find plenty of things that can inspire you for an idea generation. Random browsing related to your goal can make you think about various perspectives related to your goal. For you, these things can be totally new and you might generate an idea through something you were even unaware of. Always remember that internet is full of information and every creative person looks for inspiration. You never know your inspiration could be somewhere in the web.

Discussion Forums:

Discussion forums are again a great thing for brain storming. Random conversations and discussions can help you a lot with your thinking process. You will also find comments of experts in the forums and they can help you further with your idea generation.

Photo Browsing:

If random web browsing did not prove to be fruitful, you can always browse for various images. Some people are not inspired by words and you might be one of them. Try to focus on your goal and search for something relevant. Images relevant to your goal will help you a lot in generating an idea.

Online Idea Generator Tool:

If you are facing a creativity block, you can visit various online idea generator tools. However, this might not prove to be really helpful if you are focusing on something because such tools provide you with random three word phrases. But this tool is very beneficial for improving your creative side.

Pick an idea from random conversations:

If you are unable to generate an idea relevant to the concept you have in your mind, you should discuss the concept with your friends, family, classmates and lecturer. All you need to do is discuss the concept with a bunch of people you trust so that you can actually listen to them and pick interesting ideas from their conversation. We all know that when several people put their heads together, they are bound to come up with interesting and innovative remarks. These conversations will definitely inspire you in generating an idea.

Research:

Sometimes online researches are not enough and if you really want to do something innovative, go for a physical research and face-to-face conversations. By keeping your concept in mind, talk to the relevant people, visit relevant places, if possible. This will definitely give you inspiration.

Defer conclusions/criticisms:

When you are generating ideas, I would recommend you to stop being critical about them. You should not be one of those people who defer every second though saying the execution is impossible. Yes, you can judge your ideas but once you are done with the thinking. While you are generating the ideas, don’t be a critic.

Go for quantity:

I know this might sound strange because we have often heard that quality is better that quantity. However, the more the merrier is the case here. Having lots of different ideas will give you an opportunity to get selective. One or two ideas are bound to be better than rest of the lot, right? You can always select the great ideas and work on execution.

Go for wild/unusual ideas:

If you really want to get creative, allow your creativity to flow instead of taming it down. You will have a lot of time to worry about the execution of the idea so while you are thinking, just think about the ideas and jot them down.

Deep thinking:

Regardless of the fact if you are a creative person or not, we all need our daily dose of deep thinking. Sometimes, staying away from people and technology can bring a lot of good ideas your way. Give yourself some alone time and think.

Conclusion:

The above mentioned points should only be considered as a technique to get your creativity going. Honestly, there can never be a single best way to be creative. Every individual will have its own way of generating ideas and it could be totally different from the ones mentioned above. I believe the most important thing is to generate an idea and then execute it instead of abandoning it. Execution will boost your self confidence and it will help you in generating ideas in future.

How to make design decisions

This post examines an important part of the design process that, for some reason or other, is often omitted from community conversations. Its aim is to get the design community talking about the ‘whys’ — including why they are important.

One advantage the design industry has going for it is its helpful, giving community, and that community’s desire to learn and grow. Just look around at the conversations had at conferences and online. Experiences are shared, techniques are passed along, and so many helpful hints and tidbits are blogged. But one element seems absent.

For all the conversations we are having, we don’t discuss why we make the decisions we make in our projects. It’s our choices that provide insights and opportunities. We should talk about them.

 

Why ask ‘why’?

Perhaps we don’t realize that the rationale behind our decisions can be valuable to others in the community. Perhaps we don’t think deeply about our decision-making processes because so many decisions are made in the early stages of our projects. We often skip ahead in our retellings; we focus on technique when we share, rather than overall experience, and we show off the techniques that tied the end-solution all together without any explanation about how we got there.

This not only sells our process short, it sells the industry short as a whole.

 

Help the community learn

Revealing our decision-making processes and discussing why we chose to use various techniques can be useful when teaching others. Our choices offer insight into the problems we run into and the solutions we come up with. If we want to teach others to walk in our shoes, this is vital information. The choices we once made were opportunities for us to learn, and they could become opportunities for others to learn. Why do we give strict instructions for getting from point A to point B instead of just handing over the road map?

Help clients understand

The more we talk about why we made the decisions we made while working on a project, and the better we get at expressing them, the more we’ll be able to help our clients understand why they should side with us when there are clashes between visions. Numerous stories populate the blogosphere that highlight how often this type of situation arises. Clients push for things to be included in projects that could potentially compromise the design’s effectiveness, and we push back.

The better we are at making the case for our design decisions, and the more forethought and research we have put into them, the more credence our claims have. We may even be able to show that our decisions were made in a more thorough manner than those we are arguing against. Our processes are deliberate, and it’s because of the decisions that drive them. Demonstrating this to our clients could be the extra push they need to give us clearance to follow through on our ideas.

Track the creative process

How this profession is perceived is one problem that has been discussed on the web by the community. Web design is often discounted as a whole because some think our work is virtually effortless. People think all we need to do is press a magic button and, suddenly, fully functional, tested and tried products instantly appear online. That is not how it works. Perhaps this stems from the fact that non-creative people do not understand the creative process?

Discuss your creative process. Give your clients a revealing look behind the curtain so they get a sense of the amount of time and thought that goes into our products before we even begin to render anything. Keeping a lid on our own tendencies to gloss over these vital steps could be the beginning of breaking through that mindset.

 

Add depth of understanding to projects

The kind of conversation I’m advocating gives insight into the full meanings of our designs, straight from those who created them. While there can be an interpretive element to design, recall that specific end goals were set for each project, and shedding light on the way those goals were reached can negate the need for interpretation.

Furthermore, if, from the outset, we expected we’d be having these conversations (if we knew we’d have to provide said road map), then we might consider each of our choices more carefully, and thus strengthen our own grasp of a given project.

This can also benefit the design in other ways — with regard to appreciation, for example. We know that design should not overshadow the brand or service it promotes, but it doesn’t hurt to build functional designs that users can appreciate. The more people understand a design and the decisions that shaped it, the more likely it is that they’ll connect with the design. Connection leads to appreciation, which is intimately connected with success.

Highlight professional expertise

I’ve glossed over this in other sections, but it deserves an explicit mention. A good designer can bring together complementary elements to create an effective design, but a great one can tell you exactly why each of those elements was chosen and just what makes them work effectively with one another. The more we talk with our clients about the why behind the how, the more we highlight our professional skills and know-how. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the expertise that will make you that much more desirable in the job market and give your clients confidence in your skills. These discussions can open doors for us that might have otherwise remained closed.

Success in this business is not so much about price points as it is about clarity of vision. Let current and prospective clients know that we have the talent to back up our asking prices and that the works in our galleries are more than just happy accidents.

 

Stop holding back

When you start to examine the numerous benefits of sharing your decision-making processes, you might start to wonder what is holding you back. Why haven’t you been having these conversations?

What if we are holding back because we don’t know why we made the decisions we made? Have we become so overworked that we just aren’t doing the research we should be doing in order make the most informed decisions we can make? Maybe too many of us are bluffing our way through the decision-making process.

Even if none of that is true, we have to consider what impression we are giving our clients. Maybe we just don’t have time to spare for more meetings, but it might not be coming across that way. As a community, we should make the time to make these conversations happen.

What’s the point of favicons?

When I start telling people about the importance of a favicon to their overall online branding strategy, they usually say the same thing: “Aren’t you taking this branding thing a little bit too far?”

My answer usually goes: “Not if you’re serious about your own branding efforts!”

It’s true, favicons are very little things, probably the least important bit of a site, but it’s attention to detail that makes a site stand out; and even if it sounds crazy, favicons are very important from a branding point-of-view.

Considering WDD is a website oriented to a designer audience, my guess is that many of you already know what favicons are and how to create them; but this article may still help you to undertstand why you should make them, and also serve as a good resource page.

I’m sharing a big list with favicon-related resources below, so consider bookmarking this page for future reference. Oh, and if you do, notice the WDD favicon right in your bookmark list ;)

Just in case you’re not a designer, or any sort of black-belt in favicon-arts, this article covers probably everything you will ever need to know about these elusive little 16×16 pixels squares, and even some interesting favicuriosities as well. So enjoy!

 

What is a favicon?

Favicons are small square images usually 16×16 pixels which are used by web browsers to show a graphical representation of the site being visited at the left side of the browser’s address bar. You have probably seen many favicons before, even if you don’t know what they are. If there’s any doubt, the image below will help.

If you’re interested in understanding a piece of internet history, here’s a interesting fact:

The word favicon is a portamentau made out of the words “favorite” and “icon”, and it was named as such because it was first supported by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5 and just in case you don’t use IE, this browser bookmarking feature is called favorites.

 

What’s the purpose of a favicon?

Back in the early days of the internet, tools such as Google Analytics were mere dreams in the minds of a few web-nerds, so as strange as this may sound, at that time, favicons were used as a way to estimate website traffic by counting the number of visitors who bookmarked the page. (That’s another interesting snippet in the history of the internet!)

But interesting facts aside, the main reason for having favicons nowadays is to improve user experience. Favicons are used in all modern browsers at the address bar, in the links bar, in the bookmarking area and in its browsing tabs. Besides that, a few browsers also show favicons whenever you create a shortcut link for the corresponding website in your desktop and your mobile device.

Surely the main reason to have a favicon is the obvious improvement in user experience. A website without one will show a generic browser symbol on all the points-of-interaction I mentioned above, and if you care about your user experience, you must care about favicons.

But I cannot avoid seeing things through the lense of branding, my area of expertise, so I think favicons are even more relevant from a branding point-of-view. Again, with so many points of interaction, not using them to raise brand awareness is a crime. Truth is that finding creative ways to improve your online branding is always a challenging task, and having a favicon is an easy and simple way of accomplish that. So get yourself one my friend!

 

How to create a favicon?

Creating a website favicon is easy as pie. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to be a designer to do that. Surely it helps if you are, as you can put your skills to work and create something that really stands out, but even the less tech-savvy of us can do it in about 5 minutes or less, using the right tools.

The websites in the list below allow you to create a favicon simply by uploading a pre-existent image. So if you want to create a favicon for your brand, all you need to do is to upload your logo to one of the following sites and download the favicon file. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Here’s the Favicon generator list you’re looking for:

The websites above vary a lot in terms of the resulting file you get; especially in terms of file size and extension. If you are looking to get the most compatible file possible, I strongly recommend downloading a image sized 16×16 pixels with the “ico” format.

If you need some inspiration, try checking out the favicon galleries below:

 

How to use your favicon?

Once you have your favicon carefully designed, installing it on your server shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes in two easy steps. For that you’ll need access to your website root folder and a text editing tool to change your website HTML code.

Step 1

You’ll need to upload the “favicon.ico” file to your server. In order to do that, point your browser address bar to your FTP server; your URL should look similar to this:

ftp://username@yourwebsite.com

Press enter and the browser will prompt you for an username and password before granting access to the file server. Once you’re in, just upload the “favicon.ico” file to the root folder and you’re done.

Step 2

Now you’ll need to edit your website HTML page to help browsers find your favicon image. Keep your FTP window open, find and download the “index.html” or “header.php” file from your server and follow the steps below according to the file you get:

If your website is made of plain HTML, insert the code below in the HEAD area of the “index.html” file, and don’t forget to change “yoursite.com” for your own website address.

<link rel="shortcut icon" type="image/x-icon" href="http://yourwebsite.com/favicon.ico">

If you use WordPress, insert the code below in the HEAD area of your “header.php” file.

<link rel="shortcut icon" type="image/x-icon" href="<?php bloginfo('url') ?>/favicon.ico">

With that done, upload the file back to where you got it from. You’re done!

On a matter of fact, most modern browsers are smart enough to find your favicon file even without any piece of code, but only as long as the favicon image has 16×16 pixels, it has been named as “favicon.ico” and is saved in the root folder of your website folder.

How to create a favicon in Photoshop

With so many tools available to help you create your favicon, why would you want to take the hard road and create it in Photoshop? Well, if you’re a designer and want to get the best out of your favicon, certainly that’s the professional way of doing it. The trick is that Photoshop doesn’t natively support “ico” files, so you need to download this plugin from Telegraphics.

Be sure to install it before following the tutorial below. Photoshop will not work without it.

Create a new document in Photoshop selecting the menu item “File” and the following option “New”, then set your canvas at 64×64 pixels. Why? Since the 16×16 final favicon size is so small, having a bigger canvas to work on will help you get your creative juice flowing. Then paste your logo into the document and release your magical unicorn-creative power.

Once you’re done, simply select the menu “Image” and the following option “Image Size” and reduce the image to 16×16 pixels. Remember to click on “Resample Image” and choose “Bicubic Sharper”, this is to make sure the image doesn’t blur when resized. If you don’t like the final result simply undo your latests changes with “AltCtrl/AltCmd+Z” and keep on working on the design until you’re happy with it.

In order to finish your favicon all you have to do is to click on the menu “File” and the following option “Save As”, there you remember to name your file as “favicon.ico”. Once again, job done!

 

Conclusion

Favicons are one of those little things that we usually don’t pay too much attention to, but the truth is that far from being insignificant, they are a very important part of the web, both from a user interface perspective and a branding point-of-view.

Some say that great things come in small sizes, and I think that applies to favicons as well, because any web designer and/or branding specialist who always take the time to add a favicon to their clients’ sites, even when the client has no idea of what a favicon is, demonstrates a great deal of professionalism and attention to detail; the sort of quality that every client appreciates.

What Your Support System Should Represent

The biggest weakness of the human being is that we are a social animal that needs emotional as well as material support to survive, and perform anything with excellence.

This is a fact that runs from primitive age and no matter how advanced you are and how much time you can spend in silence, it is important to at least, know that there is a support system behind you that you can rely upon at the time of distress.

 

The support system in question does not only comprise of the support from friends and family who will inspire you in good times and bad while rectifying your mistake at times, but this would also include the material support that varies according to profession and the section of the population you belong to. For a freelance writer, the material support system is in the form of resources while writing, job boards, writers group for relevant information, client database, software for improving grammar and vocabulary and many such small yet relevant things. If you want to be successful in this field of work, you require each of them to be in proper order.

Why Support System Is Important For Freelancers?

Contrary to the common belief, work from home’ jobs are quite difficult, and requires dedication and determination for success. Those who believe that these jobs are easy to find, and you can treat the assignments loosely will never be able to find a job that pays decent amount. Finding even the first client will be difficult if you are not ready to be committed to the job. This does not mean that you require to quite your day job and do rigorous searching for earning some extra bucks. That is where the support system comes into play. There are writers groups such as LinkedIn writers group and many more that you can try out for making contacts. Similarly, there are other forums for specific occupations. You can look through job board such as Guru.com, Problogger, FreelanceWritingGigs and many more. There are some job portals too, that plays major role in finding your dream job. Until and unless these supports are there with a freelancer, it is not possible to survive in the job jungle. The rule of survival is applicable in the huge market of content writing, and that makes support even more indispensible.

What Are The Support Systems That The Freelancer May Look For?

The word, ‘support’, includes many things and each of them is equally important for the freelancers.

  • Writers Boards: Writers board or job boards are open to all freelance writers and other professionals who are searching for opportunities to make it big in this industry. These boards bear gigs of jobs and small projects uploaded by the requesters. You may find something relevant to your skills in the job boards and if you are a writer with some sort of experience, this can be a great opportunity for you. Jobs.Problogger.net, Guru.com, WriteJobs.com and FreelanceWritingGigs.com are some of the well known job boards
  • Writers or designer Groups: Writers groups are online forums where the writers share their contacts, information, skills, tips and many such things that add value to your profile. National Association of Writers’ Groups, LinkedIn writers group, Facebook writers’ community and many such online communities can be joined by a writer searching for relevant information and skill tips. If you are an aspiring writer without any project in hand, then this can be beneficial for you. Communicate with the established writers to find out how to start off and find clients.

    Similarly, you can find designer forums where designers discus on topics and share knowledge. DesignersTalk.com is one such website that can be checked out for additional help.

  • Freelancing Job Portals: Elance is one of those few job portals that are visited by prospective requesters regularly. Writing-Job-Online.com, Freelancer.com and many more such websites are there to help you find a job that belongs to your territory. You can choose the jobs that you feel are suitable to you and bid for them. If there is a bidding option given for the job, make sure to bid low or reasonable as a beginner. Make your presence felt in the job portal till the time you are noticed by the requestors and given quality jobs with decent payment.
  • Software for Grammar: You don’t have to be Shakespeare to become a freelance writer, proper grammatical knowledge and sentence formation skills are enough to succeed. However, there are people with flare for writing who don’t have very high grammatical sense. For them grammar checkers can be advised as support. These online and offline programs help you to rectify any grammatical error, and polish your English in such a way that the requestor would never know, that you are not that proficient in grammar. You can check out Grammarly, white smoke, ginger and many such programs for correcting your grammar. Some are available free while some may ask you to take paid membership after free trial.
  • Vocabulary: It is important to improve your vocabulary to adapt different writing patterns. Though English is an international language, and a content writer requires being an efficient English writer, there are several forms of English that you may need to write. English for UK, USA and Australia are different from each other and the vocabulary used in them are also different. Learn American English Online, English Daily 626, BBC Learning English, Learning English via British Council, Englisch-hilfen are some of the websites that can improve your vocabulary and improve you English both written and spoken. Read a lot of articles and online content to have an idea of what the requesters are asking for.
  • Payment Support: If you are a freelancer, then you may get jobs from around the world and it may not be possible for the requester to send payment to your account directly. That is the reason why you require payment portal support that not only receives payment, but also convert it to your home currency and transfers it to your home account. PayPal and Alert Pay are two of the best payment portals that are frequently used for converting and transferring money. You require having an account in one of these portals so that, requesters can transfer you money with ease.
  • Portfolio Website: Freelancers often find it useful to have a website of their own, where they can publish the portfolio and contact information. The website requires having a professional look and if you can optimize the website using SEO tools, then the prospects would surely find you. You can also hire web hosting services along with WordPress blog support for publishing your content. If you are a designer, then a website with your portfolio in it is essential. If the prospects find your designs or projects interesting and suitable to their requirement, they may hire you soon. You can find providers that offer free website or URL with basis services. You require creating a home page, portfolio page, contact page and other pages that you may want to add.
  • Technical Support: A freelance writer does not only require support for vocabulary, grammar, and writing helps, but he or she may also require technical help for building up a website. If you are building a website and want to make it look professional, then you may require support from a website design company or a technical person. You can also seek packages from companies that offer web hosting and website design together. These packages are quite reasonable and once you can grab control of the content market, you will not have problem with the price. It is also possible to get websites and blogs with already prepared themes that can be installed in your website for free. If you are a designer yourself, then this help may not be required for you.
  • Blogs: Blogs help in building the market for the writer. The blogs that are based on a single niche are found to be most effective and these blogs often creates interest among prospects who would like to create a positive impression about their products to the prospective customers. Blogs are form of communication that people trust and if you can build your good name with the blogs, you can ask for decent bucks for writing blogs for companies. Even for a designer, blogs can be used to let people know the area of expertise.
  • Article Submitting forums: There are several article submitting forum where you can submit your articles and receive reviews for them. There are forums where you can publish your article and can sell it for good bucks. There are companies waiting to purchase high quality write ups that are related to the products of the company and informative. Ezinearticles.com is one such forum that you can check out for a great content writing career.
  • Social Media: Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are best place for demonstrating your talent. These days, the social media is the biggest support that can either make or break the freelancer.

How to Add On To Your Support System

Freelancers, at some point of time in their career, understand the requirement of support system. However, there are many who find it difficult to add them in their daily work process. Some may also omit them and suffer big losses. There are some other people who quit their job to dedicate time to become a successful freelancer. Don’t worry, quitting your day job is not essential and you can continue to earn some extra bucks. Firstly, you need to determine, what amount of time you would like to dedicate to pursue your passion. Make a schedule for the day and dedicate at least 1 or 2 hours in the beginning. Start working for free and search for contents that let you know about the procedure of making it big. Purchase a website and start building it yourself or with the help of professionals. Check for the response you are getting on the free jobs because this will let you know if the work is suitable for you or not.

15 Advantages of Support System

It has been noted by one and all, that support plays a major role in human life. It can be emotional, mental, physical or material support, but each has a major role to play in the success story of an individual. Not everyone can be a ‘Robinson Crusoe’ doing everything on his own. Support is the backbone of success and the same is applicable for freelancing job. Different supports have different benefits that differ according to the field of work and expertise. The following advantage of support system can be pointed out.

  • A proper support through a proper guide in the same field will make it easy to choose the best path. In case of freelancers, the startup is the most important factor and is he or she can gather required knowledge for starting up, he can actually be successful in the long run. For example, if you want to be a freelance writer and you have the information about the clients who tend to hire new people, you can start your journey successfully. If you are a programmer and you get tips from the experienced candidates regarding meeting deadlines, then you can complete projects on time with fewer errors.
  • If you are thinking of starting as a freelancer, support from a freelancer group would make it possible for you to determine if the job is suitable for you or not.
  • A support system can let you know about your weaknesses. If you have grammatical errors, it would correct it. You will learn some new terms, grammar and much more that would help you in the long run.
  • Support can make you more professional and behave like and expert that is most required in the world of freelancing where perfect competition prevails.
  • Support can help you get a notion of the loop holes of the market so that you can omit them and reach your goal faster. Those who have stumbled through the path have made the path smooth for the newcomers. You can get the direction to run through the path before starting to walk on them.
  • The support through payment portal can make you get payment in time and you prove to be professional and international to your clients.
  • The best part of support system is that you have something to fall back on. Even if you are given to write on a subject that you don’t have any idea on, you can discuss with your community people and you will surely find a point to start. The same is applicable for other job profiles.
  • A support system in the form of groups will let you interact with your rivals and experts in your field. You can judge their strategy and find out a unique path for your own.
  • Support makes your progress bound by calculation. When you have your steps planned, it is possible to reach the goal in stipulated time.
  • Support can convert the beginner to an expert. With support from vocabulary, spelling and grammatical software the English can improve for the beginner writers. Other freelancers can use other such tools that rectify mistakes easily and bring out the proper solution in no time.
  • Support gives you immense confidence because you tend to know that even if you make a mistake, there is somebody or software to rectify your mistake. Confidence is important for selling your talent but the required confidence can be gathers only when you know, your mistakes will be corrected.
  • Support helps in achieving perfection and makes your skills more polished. If you are designing a webpage or writing the code for a new program, expert advice can let you perform the task well. Even if you are expert in the specific field of work, it is possible to make the project look more professional with expert advice.
  • Success is a gradual process and if you have the proper support by your side, you will know the steps in advance. There are forums that would guide you through the steps.
  • Support can improve your skill. Even if you are a novice in writing or programming, software and technical support can make you aware of the market requirement and you would understand what the clients actually want.
  • Support can actually help you get through tricky situations without any hazards and save a lot of money.

Conclusion

The requirement of support system for freelancers cannot be denied, and the good news is that there are numerous support systems available for them to rely on. There are some of them that are relevant to one occupation and there are some that are applicable irrespective of the field of work. As freelancers are non full timer with a specific company to work for, an experience to showcase, a regular salary to rely on, and the requirement for continuous performing is more in this form of jobs rather than the day jobs. However, you have the freedom to determine your working hours, schedule, capacity and you can choose works that you feel would suit you. Nevertheless, your responsibility would always be to choose the proper support system and add them in your structure of work for positive result.

The Importance of a Logo

A logo is a symbol or emblem used by commercial enterprises, institutions, and organizations to promote public recognition. In simpler terms, a logo can be defined as the face or brand of a business. Because a logo carries so much significance, the task of designing one becomes that much more important.

Logo designing, therefore, is a major step that a business owner might undertake. Be it a commercial business or an E-commerce business, logo designing is an extremely important task for all. Logo design is not just confined to businesses; it includes schools social organizations, and even individuals.

The fact is that every enterprise that wants to build a brand and leave a mark on public consciousness designs a logo. While schools and institutions might not put a huge effort into designing their logo, business owners who are competing in a fast-growing market spend a lot of money and time in designing their logos. The reason behind this is to attract enough consumer attention toward the design and direct traffic toward their business. Designing a logo, however, is not that simple. One needs to understand various factors and consider many things in the process of designing a logo. This article will discuss ten of the most important things one needs to consider when designing a logo. Before going into those ten magical logo design tips, however, let’s understand a few other things about logo design.

We will start with the benefits of logo design or managing a logo for a website, business, or organization. This section is especially for those who still have second thoughts about designing a logo or are unaware of the benefits of a logo for their business or organization.

Benefits of Logo Design

  • Builds corporate identity:

    To keep it simple, let’s ask this question. How often do you remember a company’s full name and its business description while browsing the Internet or reading a newspaper? I’d guess not that often. In that case, you must realize that your audience will experience the same when it comes to your business. To avoid this issue, you need to build a logo that defines your business and gives it a recognizable image. A logo affects a user much more than content alone and it is more easily remembered. In short, a combination of name and logo better identifies you.

  • Enhances branding:

    Every business dreams about making it big, and a very important factor is having a recognizable logo. . How do you identify a branded t-shirt? The answer is its logo. Nike or Levi’s is not the same until the product has its logo imprinted. Similarly, McDonald’s and KFC burgers are brands, and the logo says it all. In the process of building a business, it is important to build a brand, and this becomes easier with a logo. A logo boosts the brand it represents and, therefore, even television channels put much thought into making the most minute changes to their logo. The fact is that logos really do matter.

  • Makes an advertising plan easier:

    A logo plays an important role in the task of advertisement. Imagine the gateway of a corporate mall or a company’s investor or partner page; the first thing that catches your eye is the logo. You cannot expect your users to read through the entire billboard while crossing the road, nor can you expect them to read a complete description of your business on someone else’s site. In these cases your logo says it all. In many cases, you cannot put up a long description for various practical reasons. Thus, a logo makes your advertising plan easier and yet impressive.

There are additional benefits to creating a logo, the above being the major ones. Now, after understanding the importance of having a logo design, the next major factor is how to create a logo design. If you are a professional designer yourself, by following certain logo design tips you can create your own design. If not, you can hire someone to design your logo. In both cases, there are important factors that you need to consider. Let’s talk about this briefly before outlining the 10 important points in designing a logo.

You design a logo:

When you design your own logo, you must first understand and implement certain requirements, while making sure that the logo conforms to other general considerations. The general considerations of logo design are the factors that you need to consider whether you are a buyer of a logo design or design it yourself. Make sure that you have used the name somewhere in the logo. When names are too long, designers tend to use initials. if you are designing a logo for your website, keep it in Jpeg format and a small size, so that the logo doesn’t increase your web site’s loading time. Make sure that the typography and color combinations work well before confirming your logo. These are some of the important factors one needs to consider when designing a logo. A few other considerations, some being major ones, are discussed in a later section.

You ask another to design a logo:

Now, when you are asking someone else to design a logo, there can be two cases: either you are hiring a designer to do so or going to a logo designing company. In both cases, you need to research and submit your exact requirements. Always look at past logo designs that the company or designer has done. Consider their views, as they are experienced and make your points as well, since the logo design is for your business. Address the issues of typography and color, review samples critically before finalizing, and make sure that the logo represents your business and has the capability to build a brand. When all these things are in place, you are ready to go. But first, there are other important things that you need to consider while designing a logo, and a list of the ten most important factors follows.

Ten Most Important Factors to Consider While Designing a Logo

1. Relevance of design with the business:

Just because you love the color yellow, you cannot simply build a logo in different shades of yellow. The background color, the symbols, in short the total effect, should be in sync with your business. For example, if your business is about cooking, your logo should talk about cooking and not about dresses, shoes or bags. Your logo is the emblem that the public will recognize. One of the main reasons behind your creating a logo for your business is building a relationship with customers and gain their attention. And this benefit is available only when you design a logo with more than 70% relevancy so that people identify your logo along with your business. This also helps building a brand for your business. As users tend to remember images and symbols more so than content, a logo serves to reach out more to customers. The logo should resemble your products in order to increase business. Moreover, the logo color should sync well with the website, so that the resemblance of both can also build traction.. Thus, the better the designs work together, the greater the value of the logo.

2. Future vision of business:

Everyone wants to be successful, and since designing a logo is such an important task for your business, you need to consider this throughout your design work. When you are designing a logo, you can design it for today and perhaps decide to change it tomorrow. Once you create a logo, however, it should be forever. Even though some companies may change a logo, they do it generally to offer a new look often when they are redesigning their site. This includes a huge risk, because your existing customers might not like the new face of your business. It is always beneficial, when designing a logo, therefore, to keep in mind your future vision. Suppose your business offers baby care products. This doesn’t mean that you should necessarily create a logo with a baby in it. You might like to expand your business to kids’ products and maybe young men and women products as well. In that case your baby logo will be irrelevant. You should, therefore, always consider your future vision for your business while designing your logo. Similarly, a company offering k12 education should not specifically create a logo with a k12 imprinted on it when the owner has plans to enlarge it beyond k12. Future outlook and a vision of growth for your business should be considered while you are designing a logo.

3. See through your users’ eyes:

Users of your products are always the priority concern for your business. You are building a business to gain traffic and earn revenue and both come about via your targeted audience. Since your business logo will be the face of your business, when designing a logo you need to consider your audience’s perspective along with your taste. If you are designing a kids’ site, make sure your logo is targeted for kids, and design something that attracts kids to your business. Similarly, if you are creating a design for professionals, you cannot get too funky while designing your logo. Below, examples provide some light regarding this. Though some professionals might be fun-loving and playful at heart in personal life, when you are serving professionals give them only what they expect. For example, even though you love extravagant colors, landing in an educational website with those colors may cause you to wonder whether the site will provide something of value. In that respect, always design your logo in sync with an audience’s thought. The best way to know this is to get reviews from a few people who can be your targeted audience before giving the final green light to your design.

4. Look at competitors’ sites:

Yes, you are hearing it right. You need to do research on your competitors and how they have used their logo. This, however, doesn’t signify that you need to create a replica of it; if you do so, there are many drawbacks. But what you need to do with this research is to think through the process of your business field. You will come across various business products, and one example could be fairness cream. There you might see that fairness cream for ladies should have baby pink and white in it, and when you browse across hundreds of fairness products, you observe only these two colors. The reason is not that one is copying the other, but rather that people relate fairness with white and baby pink, something that is soft and light. You cannot sell a black color fairness cream to a woman; she might love wearing a black gown to a party, but convincing her that a black logo fairness cream will make her fairer is something near to impossible. Another example can be most of the PMP certification related sites that have blue color as most prominent. The reason behind this is PMI, the institute that offers PMP credentials. Similarly, while looking at logos when you do research on competitors’ sites, you need to understand people’s ideas toward the product, and you need to create your logo considering this idea. While you might think that doing research on a competitor’s site for a logo design might not give you significant benefits, ignoring the same will be a mistake. Consider this an important point.

5. Create an immediate impact:

We are all aware of the importance of first impressions. Since we’ve established that your logo is the face of your business, it needs to be creative and attractive to pull customers in. You cannot offer a dull and boring logo and expect crowds to come to your business. Note that “dull and boring” here doesn’t refer to colors. The fact is, you need to be creative and use your imagination when designing your logo, while at the same time staying within the limitations given. For example, the Puma brand has a leaping lion in its logo. A Puma is a feline that resembles a lion. It identifies with personal power. Thus, when the company was considering this logo, they kept in mind all of these factors: the meaning, the symbolic representation, and the resemblance to their product. They have created their products ranging from shoes to bags and dresses with a selling point of power. This creates an immediate impact on users, and they instantly identify the Puma brand with a lion in its logo. Thus, you need to make certain that your logo is striking and impressive when designing your logo.

6. Keep it simple:

Someone once said “simple is beautiful,” and you need to keep this in mind while designing a logo. In order to fulfill the previous priority factor, you should not end up building a complex and difficult logo design. Logos should make users remember them, and in the process of making it impressive, if you make it too complex, it would be more difficult for your user to remember it. You need, therefore, to use a simple approach while designing a logo. You should not experiment with a host of different ideas in the same logo, as that might end up causing confusion. Try, therefore, to keep it simple and subtle. Your preference should be to make your logo easy to remember, and this is possible when you keep your design simple, which would include typefaces, color mixtures, and icons.

Below are the final and most important list of important factors while designing a logo.

7. Size is important:

Just because the logo serves as the face of your business, you cannot create a large icon displaying your business appropriately. Absolutely not. You need to focus on the size of your logo. You logo should not be very large because this might adversely affect your future promotional campaigns. Your logo should be of such size, shape and form that even if you resize it, it does not lose its impact. Besides, when you rescale a larger logo to a smaller size, the letters and the pixels will not be as clear and impressive as it actually is. Keep your logo small and clean and yet attractive. Also when you are using a logo for a website, you need to make sure that the logo is a smaller size so that it does not affect the loading time of your site. Thus, size plays an important role in logos and, therefore, you need to consider size as a priority while designing a logo.

8. Color combinations can be tricky:

While designing your logo, an important thing that you need to consider is color. Color mixtures, however, can be tricky. You need to be an expert or at least need to have knowledge of colors in order to use it for designing. Color combination can either enhance the look of your logo or completely destroy it. Be very careful, therefore, while choosing your colors. An ideal choice would be to go with subtle colors that are not too harsh on one’s eyes. Also, do not go for too many color combinations; select colors that harmonize with your design and complement the site’s theme colors.

9. Using clip art may not be a great idea:

Although incorporating clip art would be an easy idea, you should not generally choose that unless you have sufficient reason to do so. When you use clip art on your design, one of the major disadvantages is that it might look like a duplicate of a previous design created with similar clip art. This will compromise authenticity. Your logo needs to be unique and exceptional, targeted only for your business, and, therefore, using clip art might not be a great idea in this case. Your approach is to create an identity of your business and anything that resembles someone else’s will be a detriment for you. Make sure, therefore, that you stay creative and unique while designing a logo.

10. Logo should be long-lasting:

This subhead is not to confuse you but to tell you that logos are ideally created once for a company. Be sure, therefore, when making your choice in selecting the typefaces, the colors, the shapes, sizes or icons. Anything that is in vogue can be an obvious choice, but think about tomorrow. The same in-vogue choice might not be adored by people at a later time, and in fact considered old and not authentic. Consider, therefore, the longevity of your logo while designing it.

These are the major factors that you need to consider while designing a logo. After designing your logo, always make sure that you have it scrutinized carefully. Reviewers can include your clients, targeted audiences, and experts. All of these people will help to catch the follies of your logo design that you might have missed. With completion of a review session and perhaps some rework, your logo should be ready to get launched as the face of your business.

How to teach strategy to IT

IT’ers tend to be task-driven. This makes it hard for many to see the end business strategies and how their IT work fits in. But it’s vital for CIOs and key IT managers to incorporate business goals into daily technology work, because a better understanding of the business drivers produces better IT work. How do you do this with a naturally resistant staff?

It’s not easy–because many IT staff members are focused on critical technical areas that demand most of their focus. They find it difficult to get out of these mindsets and focus on the “big picture”-especially when they are up against tight deadlines. For many of these IT staffers, meetings are perceived as unwelcome introductions to the “real” work that needs to be done. This perception will likely always be a “fact of life” for folks in the trenches-but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be educated about the business enough so they can understand and explain how their work delivers value to the company.

How do you facilitate this as a CIO or as an IT manager?

#1  Talk about the business in your staff meetings.

Attendance is “required” in IT staff meetings, so you have a captive audience. This is an opportunity for CIOs and key managers to discuss the needs of the business, and how IT projects support those. But CIOs and managers also need to take a page out of every entertainer’s notebook: be careful not to lose the room! Be succinct in your business discussions, and avoid long-winded presentations.

#2  Get IT’ers out into the business.

This practice works with IT staff members who are business analysts or application developers, but not with more technical members of the staff, such as systems programmers, database administrators, etc. The goal is to let user-facing IT members directly experience the areas (and pain points) of the business that they support so they better understand the operations and the workflows that they are designing applications for. During this process, there is also an opportunity for IT staff to become better acquainted with end users. This fosters teamwork and ongoing collaboration.

#3  Define SLAs and incorporate business goals into salary and performance reviews.

Once of the fundamental values IT delivers to the business is keeping systems running. Accordingly, service level agreements should be established for system uptime and performance, and also for problem response and time to problem resolution. These goals are measurable with today’s automated infrastructure software and can be directly incorporated into staff personal goals and salary reviews. Business-directed projects (like a new Manufacturing system) can also be incorporated into performance and salary review goals. These are ways to embed business impact into IT personal reward systems.

 

 

 

#4  Develop “workload” teams.

More and more, applications are being organized and monitored on IT infrastructures as integrated business “workloads” that combine different computing platforms, networks, CPU and disk. IT staff needs to be “integrated” into business workload thinking as well. For instance, if the workload is identified as an Accounting system that supports the business financial functions and there is a problem with the workload, the database administrator, the network guy, the applications people, QA and the help desk all have to work together as a “workload team” to deliver value to the business. Working in different “silos” of IT expertise isn’t going to get the job done and will only delay IT staff from the end business objective-to get that system running. This is a fertile area for CIO and IT manager work-because many IT staff members are accustomed to (and prefer!) working in isolated technical silos where they only have to answer for “their” area. When this is their focus, they fail to extend their concern for the overall health of the system and the business. This is traditional IT thinking that has to change.

#5  Trace all IT goals/achievements back to the end business.

At the end of the year and in periodic updates, most CIOs hold full IT staff meetings to recap the strategic IT roadmap and what has been accomplished. In this forum, the CIO should also plan to extend discussion to the areas of the end business, and how specific IT deliverables have made contributions. This is an opportunity to reinforce “business thinking” in IT.

#6  Let the business drive IT.

There are some companies (Caterpillar comes to mind) that have gone so far as to not take on IT projects unless they are endorsed and supported by the end business first. The strategy ensures that IT work resonates with the business. It is also a way to build in immediate accountability in IT to the end business for projects and services.

25 Steps to Understanding Your Website Audience

Success on the Internet never comes out of thin air. Effective, successful websites are always a result of profound research and diligent, dedicated work.

Although optimizing a web page may seem like a daunting task and real ordeal for many website owners, with numerous manuals and practical advice available for absolutely free on the Internet, optimizing your website is just a piece of cake. This is where search engine optimization, content writing and target audience concepts come into play. It is essential to make your website attractive both to search engines and people. In fact, an average customer should be in a focus for any website, since it is the audience that you are going to interact with or sell goods to. It is impossible to please all Internet frequenters, yet it is possible to find the ones which are in search of information or services provided on your website. Below in this article we are going to dwell upon the importance of understanding your website audience, writing and optimizing your resource to meet your users’ wishes.

 

In order to illustrate the theory with some practice, let’s imagine that you, being a proficient designer, have decided to move your business online. So, once you have a functioning website and a certain clientele, you may start your research.

1. Use Questionnaires

Gathering demographic data about your website users is probably the easiest and the most surefire method to see what people visit your pages. There exist various ways to implement this. For instance, you may offer a bonus or a gift in exchange for a filled out form. The gift could be an extra cookie, a gift certificate or a discount for example. The questionnaire should not look intimidating. A typical form should include but not limited to:

  • age;
  • sex;
  • marital status;
  • education;
  • geographic location;
  • income;
  • occupation;
  • food preferences (use a drop-down window, if necessary);
  • hobbies and so on.

The questionnaire should include questions which would help you to create a profile of your average website user. For example, it could be ‘a strict vegetarian’ or ‘a busy and overburdened student’.

2. Process the Questionnaires

Now when you have the information, you are ready to think up a successful marketing campaign according to your clients’ preferences, as well as to make slight adjustments in the current company’s policy and goals. For instance, if most of your clients prefer vegetarian pastry or are going nuts for your apple and cinnamon strudels, you may focus on these recipes and hold over the unpopular ones. To surprise your frequenters you may add some new variations of the already existing recipes (the ones which are in demand, of course).

3. Maintain Your ‘Contact Us’ Page

All successful sites, large or small, should have a Contact Us page. At first glance, this page may seem insignificant, but it is the main gateway for your clients to contact you, especially if you don’t have a forum or run a blog. Make sure this page contains the actual, valid data. List all possible ways to contact you: e-mail, Skype, phone number and a physical address, if applicable. By doing so, you will raise your chances to get in touch with your direct customers.

4. Keep in Touch with Your Technical Support

In case you have a tech support which is run by another person or company, try to monitor its work. You can definitely learn a lot about your clientele from the most frequent questions they ask and problems they face when on your website.

5. Create a Forum

Forums are great tools allowing website owners study their customers’ habits and preferences well. It is essential to let your customers write and express their thoughts regarding your service, website and related topics. When creating topics, select several categories and watch which ones are the most popular and which stay untouched. It won’t take much time and effort, yet creating a Forum page can be a recipe for your business success.

6. Encourage Your Visitors to Join the Forum Page

Insert links into your website posts leading to corresponding topics on Forum. Let the most active users be moderators. You may also create a kind of hierarchy, either funny or serious: Member, Silver Member, Gold Member; Strudel Eater, Experienced Strudel Eater, Master Strudel Eater or BA, MA and Ph.D. in Strudenomics, etc. (just a hypothetic funny hierarchy for a cooking website forum).

7. Spark up Discussions

In order to attract attention of your website and Forum customers, you can employ some tricks. Don’t hesitate to spark up discussions: controlled debate is a very good tool for your target audience research. However, you should not go too far when adding fuel to the fire.

8. Create a Contest

Launching an interesting contest not only allows your customers express themselves and receive gifts, but also gives a lot of information about your target audience. The contest requirements should not be very strict, so that an average user could join the competition: a photo contest, a recipe contest and so on. It is essential to point out requirements and think up the prime and secondary prizes. The prizes should have something to do with your business domain: a cookbook, a gift certificate or a weekly strudel supply, etc.

9. Encourage Posts

Allow your customers contribute to your website or blog by uploading pictures and writing articles. Of course, it does not mean you are obliged to post everything you receive. Your customers’ pictures and especially articles will help you to get to know more about them than any questionnaire or forum. It is a really great pleasure for a person to see his or her creation on the web, especially if he or she does not run any web page. Other than that, with ‘third party’ posts your audience can increase rapidly, since contributors will want to share their works with their family members, close friends, colleagues and so on. So, by encouraging your website visitors writing posts and adding pictures you actually kill three birds with one stone:

  • you receive unique papers;
  • you learn more about your target audience;
  • you get free advertisement.

10. Make Sure Your Customers Can Leave Comments

In order to study your target audience well, you need to know your customers’ likes and dislikes. Allow website visitors commenting on your posts, pictures and products. Analyze your users’ reviews and make right conclusions.

11. Writing a Review Page

In order to get the most sincere testimonials, you can create a Review page where everyone would be able to write an anonymous testimonial. Many websites today create such pages to fill them with fake reviews, though there is a more effective way to utilize those: by getting genuine testimonials you will know what gaps you need to fill and what adjustments to make.

12. Create a Profile Database

Although it can be very burdensome and take some time and effort, it is advisable to build a profile database for your customers. A personal profile is a great place to express your individuality and uniqueness. Many will make use of this advantage, because people enjoy seeing their personalized accounts with pictures next to their comments or articles on the web. You will also win from seeing your target audience personalized.

13. Create a Group on Facebook

Today you can hardly ever find an Internet user who has no account on Facebook. It is essential that your website includes different social media networks’ icons enabling visitors to share the information they like. Social media are great tools to promote your business online. You can create your website’s appearance on Facebook, for instance, and post your news there. You can also create events, such as an Open Air Strudel Party, for instance, and use other great functions to remind your subscribers of your existence.

14. Employ Twitter

Twitter does not offer as wide functionality for business purposes, as Facebook, yet it is still a great tool in understanding your target audience. In fact, Facebook ‘Likes’ and Twitter ‘Tweets’ are great tools to calculate your posts success: just scan the recent posts for amount of Likes and Tweets, and you will see which topics have sparked up your reader’s interest.

15. Make Use of YouTube Insights

Did you know that you can gather some info about your clientele with YouTube insights (assuming that the chosen video has enough views)? You can scan the video for Likes, Dislikes, Comments, Favorites etc. It is also possible to track top viewers’ geographical location and demographics. In case you do not have any own video, you can analyze your competitors’ materials.

16. Monitor Your Ads

In case you display your own or third parties’ ads on your website, you can track which ones are the most popular with your target audience. Commercials are a good indicator of a person’s concerns and interests.

In addition to aforementioned manual methods to investigate your target audience, there exist special online tools, both paid and free, allowing you studying your clientele in figures. The data obtained from tools described above are called qualitative, while information obtained with the help of analytics is referred to as quantitative. So, let’s move on to analytics tools you may use to understand your target audience better.

17. Hire a Team

Of course, if you are running a large website or a series of satellite pages with numerous visitors every day, and you take your target audience research very seriously, you may want to hire a professional team specializing in this domain.

However, in case of a small website you can gather some quantitative data yourself. Below we will dwell upon the most useful features of analytic tools, allowing you to see how visitors are arriving at your page, what they are doing once they are on your site, where they are from and much more.

18. Set up Goals

Analytics sites, such as Google Analytics, for instance, offer you an option of settings Goals for your enterprise. Let’s say, you want your visitors to go to the Pastry Catalogue once they are on your website and then go to the Discounts and Special Offers page. So, you can specify this route in your analytics tool. Thus you will get notification each time someone goes through these locations.

19. Measure Traffic

Measuring traffic allows you to see how many visitors come to your site per day. With special analytics tool it is even possible to track this data by the hour. By doing so, you will get information on how your website is performing on the web, such as which days of the week customers are most likely to visit your website. For example, you can notice that on weekdays, when people have no time to cook, they tend to order pastries via your website, while on weekends the clients flow is decreasing.

20. Know Your Bounce Rate

Measuring your website’s ‘bounce rate’ is very important, since it can make you think about adjusting your marketing tactics. Bounce rate indicates whether or not a visitor stayed at your page after arriving there. The lower the bounce rate, the better for your enterprise. High bounce rate shows that you may use wrong keywords or improper ads, and visitors cannot find a product/service/information they are looking for on your website. Bounce rate is an essential figure in understanding your target audience.

21. Know How Your Customers Find You

It is essential to monitor how customers arrive at your website: whether they found your page through paid advertising, search engine inquiry or through another source. Besides analytics, you may use manual methods to get this info: ask your customers how they found you when registering their accounts, for instance. Analytics is undoubtedly a powerful tool, yet it does not encompass cases of offline ads (in magazines, business cards, leaflets etc.), and word-of-mouth recommendations.

22. Join Discussion Groups of Other Websites

Browse around for customer discussion groups and forums related to your business. This is a good idea for those who still have no forums but would like to see what people are talking about. Look for groups which are as similar to your site’s main concept as possible, prefer groups with a lot of members.

23. Make Contact

In case you are running a small family business or anything like this, you can directly ask your customers (your friends, close relatives and colleagues) about what they might search for in the targeted topic, what they would not look for, etc. For instance, if your home bakeshop serves approximately twenty people a day, and all of them are frequenters, you may adjust the menu according to their preferences without any losses.

24. Use Competitors Experience

There is a plethora of data you can glean off of your competitors. There exist special websites allowing you analyzing your rival website performance. Of course, in this case you will not get in touch with your actual audience, but you will be able to pinpoint the type of audience you are going to deal with.

25. Stay Tuned!

It is essential to monitor your website’s performance regularly. Set new goals, measure your traffic, bounce rate and encourage your clients to write and express themselves. Stay abreast of the new developments in analytics and use as many tools as you can handle. Remember, success is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration!

 

Understanding your clientele will allow you to shift your marketing efforts into the right path and accommodate your average customer’s wishes. By narrowing your target market you will increase your sales. Remember, it is impossible to cater everyone’s needs: focus on a specific target, become an expert and be flexible in reacting on your target audience wishes.

Jack Of All Trades Vs. Master Of One: A Designer’s Perspective

Every year, large batches of design students graduate and launch their careers in the market. Some of them land at proper places, which groom them professionally and set a solid career path for a successful future. Then there are designers who are not so lucky, who do not find the kind of professional approach they were looking for.

To help these designers cope with their career decisions, there has been much literal support through books, websites and blogs, and even debates on issues like to be a freelancer or not, to start with a smaller organization or a bigger enterprise and where and how to start professional networking etc.

However, one aspect of professional indecisiveness, which has been observed in many fresh designers, has not been discussed upon very frequently, i.e. to be a jack of all trades and be a generalist designer with multiple skillsets, or to be a master of one specific field of design career.

We will spin our article around this very topic and will discuss its different aspects in detail.

The Root of Argument

Designing, nowadays, is an extremely voluminous concept with hundreds of branches and sub-branches springing up from its core. When asking about your profession, even the most irrelevant of minds would ask “what kind of designer are you?” rather than be content with “I’m a designer”.

There are two kinds of trends seen in a designer’s professional life cycle. Some designers learn a specific skill and once their learning reaches a saturated level, they develop a curiosity to learn its associated skills too.

On the other hand, some designers learn a number of design skills at the start of their career and as they move up the professional ladder, they tend to layer off the extra skills and focus themselves onto one specific skill for the rest of their professional life.

But what about newbie designers? There is bound to be a bout of confusion as to which professional approach to opt for. Here is some food for thought.

The Benefits of Being a Generalist

When you are a “Jack of All Trades”, you are:

I. Highly Sellable

The biggest advantage of having a multiple skillsets is that it makes your profile highly sellable in the market. When you storm into the market with a diverse set of skills, there are chances that your different skills attract clients both individually as well as collectively, and will land a good bunch of projects on your desk.

Moreover, there are a number of clients who prefer to have a ‘one-window solution’. Therefore, it may happen that rather than getting only a part of it, you get the entire project on the basis of your diversified skills which will probably bring in bigger profit margins.

II. A Professional Chameleon

A chameleon has a natural mechanism of changing the color of its skin to blend in with its surroundings in order to deal with a situation. ‘Jack of all’ designers have the ability of being a professional chameleon and modify their profile to suit the needs of the project being offered. Having multiple skills enables them to play any card from their deck of skills and win a project.

III. More Productive

Being highly productive is the biggest concern of a designer from any field or sub-field. For designers, productivity not only means financial gains but is a matter of mental and morale satisfaction. In case of a design generalist, productivity almost never ends. Their multiple skills keep a steady flow of projects coming inwards, and they stay busy for most of their career.

What Could Go Wrong?

Being multi-skilled has its downsides, which includes:

I. Too Much to Handle

As I have mentioned before, although professionals get projects in bulks, everyone has a maximum workload that they can handle. These designers will reach their full work capacity at a very early stage. This situation sometimes results in a serious work burnout leading to chain of non-productive days.

II. No Exclusive Projects

Exclusive projects are every designer’s dream. Exclusive projects relate to a specific field of design, require much focus, are generally paid higher than usual projects and are a gem for a successful design portfolio. However, it happens that the clients usually do not opt for a generalist designer mainly due to the fact they already have multiple projects and might not be able to focus and work exclusively for their project.

III. Weak Project Management

Project management is one of the few add-ons that are required for a smooth flow of design business. Although project management is itself a skill (good to learn for both types of designer being discussed in this article), nevertheless, a ‘jack of all trades’ type of designer, mostly due to the pile of tasks in his plate, cuts a sorry figure in this respect.

Such designers amass design projects (those too with a variance in scope of work), usually end up messing everything up and ultimately eat into their own profit by spending money on outsourcing.

The Benefits of Being a Specialist

Now, let’s take a look at what good there is to being a specialist designer.

I. Depth of Experience

In any field of work, experience is the biggest feather in the cap of a professional. As a matter of fact, professional life is one of the few places where ‘being old’ is a compliment. In the professional life of a specialist designer, working in the same field for years and years, experience becomes his greatest asset. And so when a client is leafing through profiles and portfolios of designers for some project, the ones with more experience readily catch their eye.

Moreover, when a designer works in the same field for a long time, he becomes fluent in it and so, working on a new task becomes less challenging for him.

II. Streamlined Approach

Being a specialized designer helps you in developing a streamlined approach in work flow. As a specialist designer works on projects with same or similar scope of work, new tasks easily get adjusted in his work flow enabling him to stay focused without losing his productivity.

III. Charge Higher

Whenever you add the title ‘specialist’ in your professional profile, this immediately puts a positive impact on the other person’s mind and adds a lot to your value. This is the same case with a ‘master of one’ designer.

When you offer your services to a client by saying that you are a ‘specialist’ in this certain field, it automatically gives you a reason to charge higher than a generalist designer. Also, most clients do not argue on this as well and consider it justified to pay you handsomely for your expertise.

Master of One – Cons

Now don’t get too carried away on being a ‘master of one’ because there are some disadvantages associated with it as well.

I. Lack of Alternatives

The most basic disadvantage of being a specialist is that you do not have a lot to offer your client. For instance, a client works with a web designer and both develop a very good professional chemistry with each other, however as the web designing task ends, the client asks you if you can provide him further services like web development or CMS so that he may not have to deal with people he is not comfortable with, you end up disappointing him as you do not have any such skill.

Therefore, being a specialist designer may result into a relatively shorter business relationship with your clients.

II. Much Outsourcing

The designers who work in a single field of design sometimes get projects that require skills more than their own. In such a situation (and somewhat the kind of situation mentioned above), these designers have to outsource part of their projects.

Although outsourcing facilitates them and fill in the aspects they lack, however, the profits gets divided, sometimes quite unevenly. Also, with outsourcing, you lose control of the overall quality of the project which affects your market reputation.

III. Lower Chances of Business Expansion

In design business, like all other fields, business expansion is the ultimate goal. Particularly from the perspective of a freelancer, there is always a stage when he wants to increase the circumference of his business to keep up with the competitors.

However, with a specialized approach towards design career, this may seem difficult. For instance, if a person with multiple skills would consider business expansion, he will most probably rely on his own skills to offer a variety of services to the client. On the contrary, when a specialist designer would plan for business expansion, they would not be able to do it without external help.

Conclusion

I have tried my best to give a balanced picture of the choice between being a specialist or generalist from the perspective of a designer. This may give you some points to convince yourself to adopt whichever approach suits you. Nevertheless, I also understand the fact that every person has his own situation and circumstances that will mould his career approach preference.

So do share your personal experiences in this regard and let me know if this piece of writing has helped you in any way.

Why Twitter is a Terrific Way to Market Your Business and Services

It’s not surprising that The New York Times called twitter “the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet.” Twitter has quickly become a part of our everyday media and social culture. So how did we get to this point? Twitter began in August 2006 as a micro-blogging site with the sole purpose of answering (in 140 characters or less) this question: What are you doing right now?

In 2006 and 2007, many people were posting items, called “tweets” such as “going to Starbucks” watching television right now” or “looking forward to buying the new Mac laptop tomorrow”. But initially, many users were turned off because there wasn’t a clear explanation on the site about how to actually use it.

 

Since 2007, though, Twitter has become a valuable tool for entrepreneurs, artists, media personalities, reporters, and marketers. In this article, you’ll learn why Twitter is a terrific way to market your business and services. You’ll also learn about building strategic alliances, attracting raving and dedicated fans, the finer points of Twitter culture and much more.

The Twitter Culture

What used to be a place where you shared what you are doing right now in 140 characters (or less) has turned into a place of sharing tips, tricks, information, motivation, inspiration and a whole lot of communication. It is a content-rich platform where power Twitterers are wonderful about sharing your name, following you while you promote your business, and potentially, strategically partnering with you.

What do I mean by power Twitterers? They are a very motivated, enthusiastic group who are eager to share, learn, and network. However, they also want to add income to their bottom lines.

You’ll find many different types of people using Twitter – coaches, consultants, celebrities, corporate CEOs, artists, nutritionists, speakers, Realtors, recruiters, and entrepreneurs. You’ll also find airline companies, restaurant chains, hotels, tourism destinations, and media outlets such as radio, TV, and print.

To be successful and keep a loyal following, you must abide by the “unwritten rules” of Twitter culture. Keep these Twitter tips in mind to get loyal followers network, and grow your business:

  • Share information.
  • Care about other users.
  • Provide value.
  • Share your expertise.
  • Be welcoming and generous.
  • Be authentic.
  • Be likeable.
  • Do not plagiarize or “Twagiarize”.
  • Do not spam.
  • Have fun with it.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be on your way to becoming a valuable member of the Twitter community.

Blocking People on Twitter

Unfortunately, there are spammers on Twitter who have a very disingenuous way of following and attracting folks. What’s a spammer? Twitter recently released this list that describes who and what is considered spam:

  • Following others to gain attention to your account or links.
  • Creating several accounts to promote the same product or links.
  • Sending large numbers of @reply messages that aren’t really genuine replies, (@reply messages are personal replies to Twitter users).
  • Creating updates just so they show up in search results.
  • Disguising links (similar to bait and switch; writing about one thing but linking to another).
  • Developing a large number of users (relative to those following you) who have blocked you.

If you block someone, you’re saying that you don’t want them following or contacting you.

How do you block users? You’ll find this by clicking on their photo, or avatar, in the Followers section on your own profile. On the left side of the page, you’ll see an Actions heading. You can click Block to keep that person from following you.

You also have an option to block a user when you receive an e-mail notification that you have a new follower. You’ll see a link – block Jane Doe – in the e-mail. If you already know this is a spammer, click the Block link and you’re free of this pesky follower.

Why You Should Join Twitter

Although Twitter is a social networking site, it has also been called an information site There is so much great content on Twitter that’s being passed around from tweeter to tweeter. Think of it as a giant cocktail party where people share tips, resources, links, videos, and inspirational quotes. If every true “cocktail party” was like that, everyone would want to attend, right? And no one would want to leave. That is the appeal of Twitter.

More often than not, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. Twitter is an amazing resource for all-around networking and getting to know people from all over the world. In one day, you could have a conversation on Twitter with someone from Scotland, California, and Australia. The more people that you know and who know you, the more empowered you become with information, new ways of looking at things, and new ideas. You’ll eventually find new champions for your business and even new customers!

Imagine that your competitors are on Twitter and they’re experiencing amazing conversations, sharing their expertise, and making a lot of new connections. Wouldn’t that make you feel a bit behind? Well, even if they aren’t on Twitter today, chances are they will be soon. Here’s your chance to be a leader in your industry!

As of this writing, Twitter has already merged into the mainstream television media where reporters on CNN are saying, “Follow me on Twitter.” Larry King has a live Twitter feed going across the bottom of the screen during the middle of his show. You almost can’t go to a conference without finding someone twittering away from their seat.

In fact, at a technology conference, you’re more likely to have conversations on Twitter than you are in person – even if you’re both attending the same conference. Does it now seem like the whole world is “a’tweeting”? If it isn’t, it may soon be.

Okay, so let’s get down to the details. How can Twitter help your business?

Twitter is an amazing tool for the following:

  • Using PR strategies for your business
  • Marketing your business
  • Networking for your business
  • Driving traffic to your website
  • Getting others to talk about your business
  • Attracting and keeping loyal customers
  • Asking your followers/customers questions
  • Staying informed by reading what people are thinking

Twitter Terms You Need to Know

Twitter has an entirely new language, which has emerged as the short “sound-byte chatter” within the Twitter culture. If you’re new to twitter, you might feel like you’ve entered The Land of the Lost when reading tweets like this: “Thanks for the RT on #followfriday see u at the Tweetup.”

Here’s the translation: Thank you for the retweet (sharing my tweet to your network and referencing me) on Follow Friday (the day that tweeters recommend people to follow). See you at the tweetup (also called a meetup – a location that was decided we were to meet through tweets on Twitter).

As Twitter folks merge their tweets into other social media sites such as Facebook, the Facebook “language” is also shifting as people update their Facebook status via Twitter.

Don’t worry; you’ll be a savvy Twitterer in no time. To get you on your way, here are some terms that every Twitterer simply must know:

Tweet: Commonly referred to as a status update or what’s on your mind. People use this to post links, share thoughts, and give information, all in 140 characters or less.

Retweet (RT): An RT is the same as quoting someone on Twitter. Simply use RT@(person’s username). Example: RT@SalesLounge (then repeat the tweet). An RT is the forwarding of a message out to your followers, which helps it become more viral. The fun part is when people start RT-ing what you write.

Hashtags: This is simply a way to group or “tag” tweets together to be searched for later or followed by others interested in that topic or event. A Hashtag is preceded by the # symbol and is usually made up of an acronym of letters for an event or cause.

Trending Topics: This describes what the Twitter users are talking about most often. The Trending Topics are always changing depending on what is happening in the news, entertainment, or online worlds.

Followers: These are the people who are “following” your tweets. These can be your potential friends, advocates, champions, business referrers, strategic partners, customers, and fans.

Peeps: Another term in Twitter culture for your followers.

Updates: Twitter keeps track of how many times you post a tweet. They are referred to as updates.

Direct Message (DM): This is your inbox on Twitter. Someone might send you a Direct Message via Twitter, which is only seen by you and that person, if that person chooses to send it to you privately. A Direct Message can be automated or genuinely typed and sent to you by someone on Twitter. It is good to know, however, that if both parties are not following each other, you cannot DM that person privately. Any messaging would be public until both parties are following each other.

#FollowFriday: Each Friday, power Twitterers recommend people to follow by putting the #FollowFriday in front of usernames of folks they want to recommend. #FF is also commonly used.

Example: “Great Peeps for #FollowFriday,@efame,@eddierents @ RuthSherman,@MeredithLiepelt, ©BarbaraWayman.”

By recommending people to follow, you’ll quickly become likeable in the Twitter culture. When someone from another network, city, or even country recommends you on Follow Friday, you know you’re doing something right on Twitter. One of your goals should be to eventually be on the #FollowFriday list.

Tweetup: A term a Twitterer uses when she wants to meet in person.

Tweeting: This is the act of posting a tweet.

Tweeps: Another word for the people who follow you; same as peeps. It often refers, more generally, to the people (or tweeple) who participate on Twitter.

Twictionary: An unofficial listing of Twitter terms. Find it at www.twictionary.com.

How Twitter Helps Your Business

When initially viewing the Twitter landscape, many entrepreneurs and business owners just cannot imagine how typing in 140 character comments on a site can help their businesses. So if that’s how you feel, you’re not alone. My best advice is to look at this as a free networking and PR avenue for your business.

If your ongoing tweets make use of the Twitter tips that we’ve already talked about, you’ll begin attracting new followers and then some of their followers will start to follow you. There’s a natural progression that occurs after you get those first followers.

Here is what usually happens next: after someone recommends you to his or her network, you will get even more followers. Your new followers simply tell their network how great your services or products are. Next, the tweeps in your new follower’s network decide to check out your website. At that point, there’s a good chance you’ll land a new client or at least develop a solid prospect. All this takes time, of course.

Why don’t you try this goal? Get five new people (tweeps) to follow you during your first week on Twitter. (Hey, that’s five more than you had last week!) In the second week, you shoot for five more; then in the third week, you shoot for 10 more, then 20 more, and so on. All you need to focus on are a few tweeps at a time.

Okay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty about how Twitter can help your business.

Creating a Tech-Savvy Image

In today’s business world, you can’t afford to look like a dinosaur. You want to be seen as an on-trend and in-the-know entrepreneur. In fact, some say if you aren’t using Twitter, your business savvy might appear suspect to others. Conversely, after you’re on Twitter, you’ll look like a savvy techie (even if you aren’t). You will be marketing yourself and your business while networking with the tech-savvy in crowd of tens of millions.

Communicating Information about Your Business

Twitter also helps you quickly send information out to your followers. Let’s say you’re speaking at an event, holding an open house, running a big special, or announcing a new client partnership. Or maybe you’re closing your business early on Tuesday for some reason. Now you can send that message out with a few simple keystrokes and-voila! – You’re done.

Building Your List

Another Twitter benefit is that it can help you build your list. In the past years, the list referred to your mailing list. Today, it refers to your e-mail list, but you can also gather office and home address as well. To the small business owner or entrepreneur, your list is your gold mine. You want to build a list with which you can regularly communicate with folks outside of Twitter and other social media platforms.

Twitter helps you by driving people to your website, where you invite them to sign up for your e-zine or newsletter.

Networking with Colleagues, Clients, and Prospects

Twitter is also a great place to build rapport with folks you’ve been networking with. Let’s say you meet someone at a networking event. Find out if he or she is on Twitter. If so, tell him or her you’ll become a follower. More than likely, people will follow you back and you’ll begin building a rapport. You’ll share your expertise, tips, and information with each other. This approach also builds credibility and, hopefully, likeability, which certainly helps every business owner.

More Ways Twitter Helps Your Business

You’re a busy professional who wants to ensure that your social media choices give you a lot of bang for your buck. To help you decide if Twitter is for you, here are a few more quick tips suggesting ways to use Twitter:

  • Use Twitter as a PR tool to promote your business as a great place to work or to do business with. Tweet something good about your employees or clients. This will give you not only happy employees and clients, but it just makes you look (and feel) good!
  • Share interesting links or information about your industry to position yourself as a subject matter expert. Let’s say you run ABC Catering. Instead of only tweeting about ABC, tweet about an article you’ve read that covers new trends in wedding cakes. This approach also shows you’re willing to be a “sharing resource” which will ultimately expand your business reach.
  • Create a sense of community around your business. Commenting on fellow entrepreneurs, business owners, clients, and followers will make them feel more attached to you and your business, We’ve talked about how networking can bring you new business and help you retain your clients. But if your tweets show genuine interest in others, this engenders a neighborhood feel.
  • Create top-of-mind awareness for your brand. By tweeting each day, you will keep your name and business in front of people. When genuinely used, a daily tweet or two can be an incredible source of PR, marketing, and branding for you and your services. Companies pay a lot of money for advertising. Remember, Twitter if a free way to get some advertising for your brand or company name.
  • Learn what your community, customers, and market are looking for. When you read and have dialogue on Twitter, you’ll know what your followers want and what they have to say. You’ll learn things that will help you make decisions about the direction of your business.
  • Invite your current clients and prospects to follow you on Twitter. They’ll learn from you and you can follow them back, which will ultimately make you, your clients, and your prospects feel more connected.

What’s in a Username?

Before creating your Twitter account, think about your Twitter username. Your user name on Twitter is your handle or your call name. It’s the word that will be placed directly below or next to your photo, or avatar. It can also be an instrumental part of your branding strategy.

In fact, a great Twitter username will be part of all of your marketing. It will go on your business cards, your e-mail signature, your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and your blog. So think carefully about it. Oh, one more thing – you have only 15 characters for your username.

This requires thinking a little differently from what you’re used to. When we all first got into computing, our usernames were not made public. We wrote them down and filed them away. Well, with Twitter, it’s very different. Your username on Twitter is very public.

So as you begin thinking about your strategy and why you want to use Twitter, carefully plan your Twitter username to attract your target audience. There are also many ways your chosen username can help you reach out to the people you want to follow you.

As you get savvier on Twitter, which will happen faster than you can imagine, you’ll learn that one way to find people is to type in an industry within the Find People tab on Twitter.com.

Here’s an example: Say you want to find someone in sales or a sales expert. Well, if you type in the word “sales” using Find People, anyone with the word “sales” in their username will pop up. Most people who use “sales” in their username have something to do with sales. The same is true with the word “realtor” or “financial. So your username could include the name of your industry.

Another way to find people is to search by their business name or actual name. Many people use their business name for their username. When setting up your account, it’s important to include your actual name so that people can find your Twitter profile.

You might want to brand your own name, such as @JohnDoe. That’s fine, too. Or you may want to use the name of your business as your username. That’s also fine.

The Least You Heed to Know

  • Even if you don’t immediately understand how it will ultimately help your business, get on Twitter and become involved in the conversations.
  • Don’t be in constant sell mode, because the Twitter culture hates spammers.
  • On Twitter you need to relate to others, share information help others, be yourself and reflect a positive image of your business.
  • Participate in #FollowFriday, which involves recommending people (or peeps) to follow.
  • Retweet someone when you can to show that you’re part of a community, that you don’t always have to take credit for everything, and that you’re willing to give the spotlight to someone else.
  • Think about your overall Twitter marketing and branding strategy when you select your username and photo or avatar.

A Thorough Guide to Domain Name Registration

The choice of a domain name is considered as one of the most important decisions that can help in establishing an online business or personal website. Every online entrepreneur prefers the top level domains for their website and in some cases; they prefer using special top level domains.

General Top Level Domains (or gTLDs) include common domains such as .com, .info, .org, and .net. For specific business websites, one may use special TLDs. For example, a company engaged in air travel, tourism, and air transport business may use .aero. While online entrepreneurs often try to garner global customers, if an entrepreneur wishes to stress more on native or local customers, they may also decide to use country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) such as .co.in for India, .bn for Bulgaria, .ch for Switzerland and so on.

 

An attractive domain name that represents the uniqueness of a business and its business ethics can hugely influence the business outcomes and that is why online entrepreneurs try to select the best possible domain names for their personal or commercial websites. An online entrepreneur is required to take care of every aspect of making an online website in such a manner that it may offer them a unique ability of search engine optimization. While one may use any general domain name for their website, choosing a distinctive, unique domain name may prove to be beneficial especially if potential customers can easily recognize it, remember it, and search for it. Thus, for a commercial website, such a domain name that can easily offer an idea about the business is always preferable. Such domain names are often called as generic domain names. Instead of providing information about a person, these types of domain names offer direct information about the business subject of the website. The domain name should be smaller and easy to be remembered. However, while choosing a domain name for a commercial or personal website, one should be very careful about choosing the domain name. One should avoid using the trademarks of other businesses and using a well-known trademark for a website can be termed as a violation of Intellectual Property laws. The IP laws of almost all countries maintain that registering the trademark of a well known company or person as a domain name of commercial website not belonging to that company or person is a violation of IP rights and it is considered as trademark infringement.

Brief History of Domain Name Registration

While the Internet is establishing itself as the strongest and fastest growing media, the history of Internet is not very old. In 1960s, people started connecting their computers with each other with the help of Wide Area Networks or WAN’s. One of the most commonly used WAN of those times was ARPANET. Gradually, the number of people using WAN facilities kept increasing and people realized that a systematic identification is necessary so that any system can be easily accessed. Initially, there were very few users of computers who made use of networks to connect with others and all these network users were associated with the U.S. Department of Defense and similar authoritative institutions. However, the number of network users kept increasing at a faster pace and it became necessary to offer a strong way to regulate and keep an eye on all available domain paths working on the network.

To facilitate the means of identification for each network user, the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency evolved the concept of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority or IANA. The main job of IANA was to offer a unique code number or address to each network users so that they may regulate every computer that can be connected through the Internet network with others. Within a year, the concept of Internet Protocol or IP addressing system was developed and it became necessary for every computer connected with the Internet to have a proper IP address.

However, with increasing number of Internet users, the problem of addressing everyone through IP address became problematic and this problem was solved by the development of first name server in 1984. Within a year, the use of IP numbers to address network users became obsolete and it was replaced by the domain name system. In 1985, all major Top Level Domains such as .com, .net, .org and others were introduced and that gave a chance for Internet users to maintain their uniqueness.

In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee released the concept of World Wide Net with the help of CERN and within a month, the first commercial domain name server started offering domain name registration services for interested Internet users. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the proper transfer of management of domain registration systems to private companies and it increased the competition in the market of domain name registration services and that in turn increased the number of people using Internet. At present more than 19 million people are enjoying the facility of domain name registration and according to some estimates, more than 40 thousand people get a registered domain name every day.

Types of Domain Name Extensions

Domain name extensions are also known as Top Level Domain Names. We have already discussed about TLDs in brief. Let us take a look about 15 major types of Domain Name Extensions.

Initially, .com was the most commonly used domain name extension. Since there were not many Internet users at initial stages, the domain name servers used to offer mainly six types of domain name extensions to offer unique information about specific websites which were,

  1. .int
  2. .net
  3. .org
  4. .edu
  5. .gov
  6. .mil

During those days, .com was commonly used as the Top Level Domain. However, with increasing number of Internet users and with the advent of Internet shopping and marketing, DNS providers realized the importance of offering generic Top Level Domains. In general, these domain name extensions are often used by special interest groups. Some of these domain name extensions are..

  1. .biz
  2. .jobs
  3. .info
  4. .mobi
  5. .tel
  6. .name

With the advent of World Wide Net, Internet became the fastest growing global phenomena and the use of country code Top Level Domains became popular. Some very common ccTLDs are

  1. .in (India)
  2. .br (Brazil)
  3. .fr (France)

Generic Top Level Domains such as .com, .info, .net, .org, etc are the most commonly used domain name extensions and they are also known as unsponsored Top Level Domains or uTLDs. In addition, one can also choose a sponsored Top Level Domain or sTLD such as .museum. These types of domain name extensions are specifically used by specific companies or institutions within a business or industry.

Why a Short Domain Name is Better Choice

While choosing a domain name for a commercial or personal website, it is necessary to consider about the uniqueness and charm of the proposed domain name. In addition, one should also stress more on choosing a small domain name. The benefits of using a short domain name over a longer domain name can be summarized as follows:

  1. A short domain name is easier to remember. Thus, once a visitor arrives at your webpage, it will be easier for him or her to remember the web address of your website so that he or she may revisit your website.
  2. A short domain name for a commercial website will offer greater ease in submitting your website address in various directories. Directory submissions are profitable as they can offer great benefits of search engine optimization.
  3. A short domain name for a business website can help in establishing the website as a brand name. This offers better chance of Internet marketing and business.
  4. A long domain name of a website increases the chances of misspelling. Thus, even if a website succeeds in impressing the visitors, it will fail to attain any promotion through those visitors if they misspell the long domain name of the website. On the other hand, the risks of misspelling of shorter domain name of a website are pretty less. A short domain name can attain a huge praise and promotion through the words of visitors in their personal discussion with their friends, colleagues and family members.
  5. Shorter domain names can easily be promoted through social media platforms while longer domain names of websites are often ignored by social media users.

Certain Tools that help in registering an effective domain name

It is not easy to select a short, attractive, and appropriate domain name for a commercial or personal website. However, there are a number of software and tools that can help a person to choose the best possible domain name for their websites.

Every day, more than 40,000 new domain names are being registered on an average. This huge flood of registered domain names makes it difficult to select an attractive domain name for a new website. However, one can use innovative and effective tool that can help a person to know about other TLDs that have been used to create very popular websites such as del.icio.us. In addition, such tools will also provide full information about the available classy and catchy domain names to be selected for a new website. Some of the very effective tools that can help a person to find, select and register a charming, short and attractive domain name for their website are Domainr, Dot-o-mator, BustAName, Domize, Ajax Whois, Stuck Domains, squURL, and many others. All these services are very effective and any of these can be used by a person to make domain name hunting and registration process pretty rapid, easy and effortless.

How to Find a Good Domain Name Registrar

Before deciding for a domain name registrar, it is essential for a person to confirm that the registrar is trustworthy. The registrar should provide complete information about the whole process of domain name registration and how it works. Certain tips and criteria that will help in choosing the best domain name registrar are as follows:

  1. While a person can easily attain services of an online domain name registrar for their website, it will be beneficial to use services of such a registrar whom the registrant already knows. It is better to take help and advices of friends and colleagues and ask for their experience with the domain name registrar if they have had used the services in past.
  2. Looking for customer reviews about a domain name registrar may help a lot in finding the right service provider. A person may know if the domain name registrar offers proper customer care services for their clients by going through the customer reviews.
  3. A good domain name registrar will actively help in choosing a good, short, and attractive domain name for a new website. Communicating with the registrar before choosing his services will provide better idea about how good his services can be.
  4. Ask about the security systems for the domain name to avoid any fraudulent transfer or stealing of domain name. A good registrar should also offer proper information about the facilities of domain transfer in future.
  5. Going through the websites of different domain name registrars and comparing the charges for their services can help a person in choosing the best and cheapest domain name registrar effectively.

Mistakes to be Avoided while Registering a Domain Name

  1. Before registering a new domain name, one should confirm that the domain name they are choosing is not a trademark of any well known company. Avoiding any trademark infringement is very necessary as trademark infringement is a criminal act.
  2. One should confirm that the domain name registrar is reliable and he will provide proper security for the domain name to avoid any fraudulent domain name transfer.
  3. While registering a domain name, one should avoid choosing such a domain name that provides no information about the objective of the new website.
  4. Often people fail to find any short domain name for their new website and they give up too easily. One should try their best to find a short domain name for their website as it will help in establishing the website as a brand.
  5. If an attractive domain name is not available with the common TLD .com, one should try to choose such a domain name that is available with .com. While all generic TLDs offer same services, online visitors often show more attraction towards websites with TLD .com.
  6. Before registering a domain name with a registrar, it is necessary to thoroughly check the contract and terms of conditions offered by the registrar. This will avoid chances of losing a domain name because of some terms of the contract were violated.
  7. In general, domain name registrars offer services for variable durations such as 1 year, 2 year, 5 years, 10 years, and so on. One should avoid registering a domain name for more than one year especially if they are not fully confirmed about the quality of services offered by the registrar. Registering for longer periods will reduce a person’s chances of transferring domain name legally and he may also face difficulties if the registrar goes out of business within the period of their registration.
  8. Even after paying for domain name registration, one will not be able to use the domain name immediately because it takes time to update the official registry in the set of DNS information. One should confirm the authenticity of domain name and domain name registrar in advance and should ask how much time the registrar will take to get the new domain name officially registered in DNS information record.
  9. One should avoid using explicitly racial or abusive terms in the domain name of a new website.
  10. One should avoid using hyphenated domain names for their website. People often forget to use hyphens while typing a domain name to visit the website.
  11. One should not forget to use specific keyword or keywords in the domain name of their website.
  12. An online entrepreneur who is looking forward to achieve global customers should avoid using country specific domain name extensions.
  13. One should not chose a domain name registrar in haste and should invest enough time to research about the best, cheapest and reliable domain name registrar.

Top Domain Registration Websites

As you may know, it is the domain name that turns the raw IP address of a website into a human-readable piece of text. It is very important to register your website with a quality domain registrar. Your website could be your business. It could be your life. Do not take any risk. Play safe by avoiding cheap registrars. Here are a few quality domain registrars for you to choose from!

7 Ways Freelancing Is Similar To A Corporate Job

When you ask a freelancer why he or she started freelancing, you’ll get answers like ‘I wanted to work for myself’, ‘I love being my own boss’, ‘I freelance for the flexibility it provides’ etc. At the heart of it, all those answers mean the same thing: they wanted to escape the cubicle nation.

While freelancers may indeed have escaped ‘imprisonment’ in a cubicle, they can’t completely escape all the things that made their corporate life difficult. Actually because you’re out on your own now (in freelancing), you have to do all the things that your colleagues in their respective departments do on behalf of the company.

In any case, you should know that there are elements that remain the same in both the corporate working life and when you are out of it, and prepare accordingly.

1. Salary/Rate negotiations

In a corporate job, 9-to-5′ers get a fixed salary and structured pay raise. On the surface, freelancers are the exact opposite. They set their own rates and can raise them whenever they want. In reality however, regular employees negotiate their salary much like how freelancers negotiate their rates with clients.

The only difference is that 9-to-5′ers only do it when accepting a job or negotiating a raise; freelancers do it on a regular, client-by-client basis. So unless you have fixed rates stated on your website, you’re actually negotiating more on your rates than you ever did over your full-time job salary.

2. Accountability

Freelancers boast of not having to be accountable to anyone but themselves. I beg to differ. We’re accountable to our clients. Sure, no one asks us what we’re doing with our time, or checks in on us throughout the day, but on the day of the deadline, the client expect to get their results from you.

Ultimately, a freelancer is accountable to his/her client. Miss a deadline and you can’t simply say ‘Oh sorry, I wasn’t able to meet the deadline.’ Explanations must be given and in most cases, a client is well has the right to dock pay due to your tardiness.

While full-timers report to their superiors, freelancers report to their clients. The accountability cycle is there – it’s just the names and designation of who we report to that has changed.

3. Responsibility

While you might not be completely responsible for a single project or deadline, working in a company gives you a bit of a safety net as far as taking the blame is concerned, when things go wrong. In a corporate setting, the manager takes the rap for a failed project regardless of which of his or her subordinates made the fluke.

In freelancing, congratulations, you get to shoulder ALL the blame regardless of your job function, when things go wrong.

4. Office politics

Office workers deal with office politics and the different behaviors and personalities of their colleagues on a daily basis. From the passive aggressive co-worker to the know-it-all colleague, the limelight hogger to the boss’ pet. If you have ever worked in an office setting, chances are you have seen them all.

Freelancers see these characters every day too – only instead of co-workers, they experience them in their clients. Gather two or more freelancers together and the topic of client personalities invariably comes up.

5. Working after hours

If you started freelancing because you wanted the flexibility of working your own hours or less hours, then it probably didn’t take you long to discover that you actually work more hours as a freelancer than you did as a full timer.

Even though plenty of people work after-hours in a corporate job, for freelancers, it’s basically a must. Freelancers often find themselves working nights and even weekends to meet deadlines. If they want to make a success of their freelance business, working long, hard hours is a requirement.

6. Getting a promotion

In a corporate setting employees get promotions as recognition of their hard work and dedication. For freelancers, it’s pretty much the same, except they give themselves the promotion, or a break, or a raise, or a new gadget etc. Getting a raise in their rates, and handling bigger clients, etc are all part of that promotion.

7. bigger and better opportunities

Whether it’s within the company or with another, corporate employees are always on the lookout for their next big break – be it a new designation, job, benefits or environment. Freelancers are the same.

We’re always on the lookout for our next big client. We’re always looking for bigger and better opportunities that’ll help us earn more. Just as no employee sticks to one company for his entire life, a freelancer doesn’t stick to that one client. It’s simply not in the nature of how a freelance business is done. Sure, every freelancer has clients who retain them but that partnership is not indefinite. Eventually they will move on to other clients.

So what’s the difference?

If there are so many similarities, are we just fooling ourselves into believing we’re better off as freelancers? Is making the switch from a corporate full-time job to a freelancing business just a change in the scenery?

The answer is no. There is a big difference between a full time corporate job and a freelance one: flexibility and control. In a full-time job, you don’t have flexibility. You can’t start work later if you want to go to the gym in the morning, you can’t take the random afternoon off and you certainly can’t just turn off your computer and leave work to go pick up your kids in the middle of the day.

Among other things, as a freelancer, you have control over how much you earn, who you want to work with, what days and hours you work. Best of all, you can raise your rates, let go of clients you don’t want to work with and find more, better paying clients. You have the freedom and control to make all these decisions when you are freelancing, and this is what makes it all worth it.

7 Tips for Successful Side Projects

Designers and developers have unlimited potential and opportunities when it comes to side projects. With your skills, knowledge, and experience you can do any number of different things aside from your full-time work to make a little extra money, or just for fun. Some of the possibilities include blogging, designing stock graphics for sale (like icons, vectors, etc.), designing and selling website templates or themes, running a community website, and writing a book or e-book. Of course, there are countless possibilities, these are just some of the more common choices.

Many designers choose to take on side projects because they can provide a creative outlet where you get to make all of your own decisions, rather than just following the wishes of a client. They can also help to give you something productive to do during down time between client projects, or for those who are working to build a portfolio they can often serve as excellent work samples. Side projects also have potential to make some money, and in some cases they can even lead to a full-time income. They can even provide some excellent networking and collaboration opportunities. So as you can see, there are a lot of reasons for designers to consider taking on a side project.

In this article we’ll take a look at seven keys or tips that will hopefully help to make your own efforts with side projects more beneficial.

1. Know Your Purpose

There are any number of different reasons why you could start a side project. Maybe you are just looking for a project that will allow you to do the things you enjoy, but with more creative freedom than your full-time work. Or it could be that you want to learn some new skill and you’re using the side project to gain experience. For many designers the motivation is at least partially motivated by the opportunity for income. You could be looking for a little extra money on top of your full-time income, or it could be that you’re a freelancer and you’re trying to make more productive use of your time between client projects.

It’s important to know your purpose and your motivation because it should dictate how you go about managing the side project. There is no right or wrong motivation. If your main purpose is to have fun and enjoy your creative freedom, you can pretty much work on whatever you want whenever you feel like it. On the other hand, if your purpose is to supplement your freelancing income you will want to approach the side project with a more organized and business-like mindset.

Your purpose will also have a big influence on the specific side project you choose to follow. If you’re looking to make money you’ll obviously need to choose something with the potential for creating that income. If you’re looking for something that will simply supplement your existing income you may want to choose something that offers the potential to start making a small amount of money pretty quickly. If your goal is to ultimately use the side-project to replace your full-time income, you’ll want to consider the long-term income potential of any projects that you evaluate.

2. Be Realistic About Time Limitations

One of the biggest challenges with side projects is the inevitable time limitation. Take a look at your schedule and try to be as realistic as possible about how much time you really can dedicate to a side project. Do you have a few hours that you can dedicate each week? Is your available time more sporadic and not as frequent? It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of an idea for a side project only to realize pretty quickly that you simply don’t have the time needed to make it work. It’s better to consider those time limitations before getting started and chose a side project that will fit with the amount of time that you have available.

3. Consider On-Going Requirements

Along with the previous point, on-going time requirements should also be considered. For example, you may have time available right now to create a WordPress theme or plugin to sell, but will you have the time for on-going support and updates that will be required? The more limitations that exist on your time, the more you should consider projects with a reduced need for on-going time commitments.

Anything that is likely to involve a considerable amount of customer service or support will require that you always have some time available to deal with these issues. This doesn’t mean that you can’t sell any items or products, because some items require much less support than others. For example, designing and selling an icon set will lead to a small amount of customer service emails, and most of the requests you do receive will be things like answering basic questions or helping people who may have issues with downloads or payments. Selling website templates, WordPress themes, or plugins will likely bring far more customer service requests, and many of them will involve more time and effort on your part to research and solve.

In general, things like stock graphics and e-books are good for designers who don’t expect to have much time available for ongoing support and service. And things like templates, plugins, blogs, community websites, an online courses are good opportunities if the need for on-going support is not a problem. Also keep in mind that income potential is not equal for all projects. So while top selling WordPress themes will require support from the designer/developer, they also provide a high potential income.

4. Set Aside Time Each Week

Setting aside the time needed for your side project is important. If you’re working a full-time job or freelancing full-time you’ll probably need to set aside some time during evenings or weekends to focus on the side project. Most people, myself included, struggle to get things done on side projects if time is not designated specifically for that purpose.

Each project will have it’s own time requirements, so you’ll need to consider your own situation. If you’re working on something like a book that will take a lot of time to complete, try to find a time in your schedule that you can dedicate on a weekly basis.

5. Start Small and Build

From my own experience, one of the most challenging aspects of side projects is limiting the scope. In most situations it’s easy to try to do too much all at once, and with a limited amount of time available it can reduce the quality and success of the project. If you’re working on a blog or a website as your side project you may have big ideas and plans that you want to implement with the site. In most cases you’ll be better off if you can keep it basic to get started, focus on doing things well, and then expand and add new features or sections of the site later.

If your goal is to create a template or theme club as your side project, focus at first on just creating your first template or theme and doing the best job possible. Then later you can focus on adding more templates and themes, but don’t try to do too much right away.

Time limitations are something that you’ll always have to deal with on side projects. By recognizing the limitation and appropriately focusing on starting small you can build success over a period of time, and you’ll do it on a solid foundation. If you’re trying to do too much all at once it’s easy to get frustrated and give up before you achieve that success that you’re looking for.

6. Consider Sustainability or an Exit Plan

While you’re thinking about how much time your side project will require on an on-going basis, think not only about the time that you will have available, but also about whether it is something that you will still want to be working on a year from now. Also consider if it is possible for the time requirements of the project to grow faster than the income from the project. For example, you could start some type of community website for designers. It’s possible that the site could grow quickly and require more effort on your part to keep it running smoothly. It’s also possible that the site doesn’t produce significant income for you despite growth in traffic and the amount of time you spend working on the site. If this happens, how will you sustain the site? Will you be able to use the income from the site to outsource the maintenance to someone else? Will you be able to quit your full-time job or scale back on client projects to allow for more time on the project?

In addition to sustainability, you can also consider if the project is something that you may be able to sell. If the side project is a website or a blog, chances are you would be able to find a buyer when you are ready to move on to something else (of course, it’s possible that you may not be able to find a buyer that is willing to pay the amount that you want to get for the site). Obviously, the details of the project’s sustainability and your exit plan can change and evolve throughout the life of the project, but it helps to consider these details early on and at least start to develop a plan.

7. Take Advantage of Leveraging Opportunities

Since one of the biggest challenges of side projects is the time limitation, anything you can do to leverage your time can be helpful. If you are creating and selling some sort of resources (templates, themes, stock graphics, e-books) there are opportunities right now to use deal websites or existing marketplaces to sell your products. In general, I think a lot of designers can make more profit by selling resources on their own rather than using stock marketplaces, but when your time is limited there are some significant advantages to using a marketplace. While the marketplace will obviously have some drawbacks (sharing revenue with the marketplace and the chance of having your products buried by thousands of other items), you also have the potential to start selling items without the need to set up your own online shop or to process transactions. It’s possible to leverage the popularity of a marketplace like ThemeForest to get a great deal of exposure for your product without doing any marketing on your own.

Aside from marketplaces, there are also a number of deal sites that present opportunities for selling products. Sites like MightyDeals and AppSumo have huge customer lists that you can leverage, and there are even more deal sites with smaller audiences that can also produce some sales for you. With deal sites you’ll need to be able and willing to offer a deep discount on your product, and then you’ll also have to share the revenue with the deal site. So you’ll be making significantly less per sale than you would make by selling the product on your own, but the volume of sales can be pretty significant. In general, deal sites work best for selling digital products with low customer service requirements. If your product is likely to require a decent amount of customer support you should consider how much you would be making on each sale and determine if that amount is enough to cover the time and expenses needed to support the sales made through the promo.

Leveraging opportunities aren’t applicable only to side projects that involve selling products. If your side project is running a blog, you could leverage your time by accepting guest posts from other writers. There are a lot of people looking for guest posting opportunities in order to get a link back to their own website or blog (usually in the author bio of the guest post). By accepting guest posts you can get content for your blog without the time requirement of producing all of the content yourself, and without the need to hire freelance writers.

You really just want to look for ways to make the most of your time and to work with other people and other websites to improve the results of your project.

Conclusion

The unlimited possibility for side projects is one of the things I love about the design and development industry. There are always ways to have fun and experiment on your own, and making money with side projects is also possible. However, in order for the project to truly be successful you’ll need to make the best use of your time, and I hope the tips covered in this article can help with your own projects.

How to Interview And Work With A Designer And What NOT To Say!

I usually write advice for designers based on my career experiences and horror stories but I thought it was time for an article for design clients to make their design needs a bit easier and more efficient.

How to Interview And Work With A Designer And What NOT To Say!

Dealing with creatives is not as easy as it sounds. The difference in those who think with the rights side of their brain (the “creative side”) as opposed to the left (the “business side”), takes some training and understanding for the best results on projects. There are people who have a balance between grey matter hemispheres but it’s rare that the client and creative vendor both have such a balance. Here are some handy tips to make the twains successfully meet.

 

Finding Candidates For Your Project

You might need a first web site for your business or just want to update your existing one with some new technology, want to establish or freshen your brand or create some paper or digital marketing material. Whatever you need, there are great design studios or freelancers available to deliver your needs.

For the sake of this example, let’s say you need a new web site. How do you find a competent vendor for the development and design?

  1. Ask a professional friend with a great web site who they used. Word of mouth and recommendations are the best and safest way to find great talent.
  2. Google similar businesses as yours and look at their web sites. Is the site well designed? Is the functionality and navigation top notch? If so, scroll to the bottom of the page and see if there’s a link to the designer or design firm that created the site.
  3. Google “web designer, yourtown, yourstate” and then look at their web site. Call the clients of web sites they’ve designed for a reference. If you use someone local, you help your local economy, are able to meet with them face-to-face and they are available for site updates and will become a loyal vendor.
  4. If you want cheap and simple, can do without a creative brief that tailors the site design perfectly to your brand or business and are willing to take a chance on the design, try a site like 99designs.com or designcontest.com. They are not the best avenues but they are cheap and usually provide a generic solution you can use. The downside is you will not get the service you may need for uploading or debugging your site or the expertise a local designer or firm will provide. With contest sites or bidding sites such as eLance or oDesk it’s caveat emptor.
  5. Your niece or nephew goes to art school and you think they will give you an acceptable site for free or $50. FORGET IT! If you want a crappy looking site that will make your business look crappy, then go right ahead but if they screw up and something really goes wrong, do you want every relative in the world calling you to scream about how you hurt little Chris’ feelings or spend some awkward family holiday dinners sitting next to little Suzie and her sharp, pointy goth jewelry?

How Much Should You Pay?

As with any business expenditure, be prepared to pay for quality. If you hire an electrician to wire the power for your office and they quote $7,000 do you really want to chance a beating when you tell them “$200 is all (you’re) willing to spend” or go out and find someone who will actually do $7,000 worth of work for $200? If so, keep lots of fire extinguishers handy and insure your expensive computer equipment for when power surges blow out the processors.

This is not to say you shouldn’t shop around. Perhaps a competent electrician with a good reputation can wire your office for $5,000. Well, you just saved $2,000 and will have piece of mind that you won’t die a fiery death. The same goes for any professional service. A friend of mine was so excited to have bought all of her office phones on a New York City Street for a quarter of what she would have to pay in a store. It would have been a coup if the phones actually had any wiring inside them.

Shop around for a designer but make sure they are wired inside. It’s better to have a reliable source in case there is a problem with your site as a reliable designer will solve the problem right away, saving you income if you depend heavily on your site, rather than trying to go through contest or bidding site channels to get in touch with the person two continents away, in another time zone, to solve the problem… after negotiating another fee and creating the paperwork and contract through that site. Time lost and time is money.

Naturally, the bigger the design firm, the higher the cost. True, there MAY be higher service and abilities (a firm can write content, develop, design, program and come up with branding and a marketing plan… but so can a freelancer in many cases). A freelancer, in many cases, may be freshly out of a big design firm and has the experience to give you whatever you need. Check their résumé to see what other clients they have serviced. Talk to them about how they work and what they see for your own needs. As with any service provider, referral or not, shop around. Most importantly, you should feel a comfortable bond with your creative provider. Trust, communication and transparency are the utmost in your relationship.

When price comes in, do some math yourself. Have you set a budget that’s too low for a professional job? If a project translates to paying $10 an hour to your vendor, it’s too low. Keep in mind you are not hiring someone to come into your place of business and move boxes, staff the counter or shuffle papers. Designers have their own business expenses that include office space (even if it’s a home-based business), computers, computer and software upgrades, electricity, insurance, etc., just like any business. As with the aforementioned example of the electrician, a vendor who quotes $7,000 and then agrees to half that amount is most probably going to cut corners. Expect designers to do the same. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” has survived because it’s true.

Different designers have varying contracts and pay schedules. It’s common to pay 30% to 50% upfront for your project. This is the money used for material, salaries and overhead while your project is being designed. There will most probably be what is called “milestone payments.” Milestones are the points in the project where approvals are needed from you, the client to proceed to the next step in the project. Before the next step is taken, a percentage towards the fee will be expected to be paid before the designer or firm will proceed to the next step. For example, a project may be split with 30% up front, 20% at the first milestone, 20% at the next milestone and 30% when the project is finished and your site goes live.

It’s not an odd way of doing business if you compare it to other business models. Your phone company, insurance agent or internet provider will most probably ask for a payment up front and your attorney will definitely ask for a retainer against future services. Design services are no different. You get what you pay for. You stop paying and the work stops. Delays will, in the end, cost you money for lost business.

This is one big sore point I have heard from many vendors and clients. A milestone payment is missed and the designer doesn’t want to stop the progress as the project is balanced against deadlines for other projects, which can cause the designer money for delivering late to other clients and a client feels that a late payment to the designer will just be a week or two. Personally, I’ve worked for small businesses and the largest corporations. A large corporation can have a check cut in 48 hours and a small business either has a checkbook sitting in a drawer or can call their accountant and have a check within two days. Ideally, the designer or firm should give the client notice that a milestone payment will be due within seven days even if it is listed on the contract with all deadlines.

Transparency

Transparency in the work process is a touchy point for both sides. A competent designer or firm will keep the client apprised of each step of the project. Sometimes just for “hand holding” although daily reposts with attached jpegs may be too much and drive the project price up.

At a talk about design transparency, the firm’s account manager spoke about keeping the client in the loop as much as possible. Such a working method makes sure there are no changes that pop up unexpectedly or confusion about instructions and process. Even in the best of worlds, these can occur from time to time.

At that talk, a freelance designer raised the question of what he labeled, “enigmatic wizardry.” It’s not a term known by any professional and he was asked to explain. He thought it was best to keep a mysterious shroud around the design process. Basically, the client hands over the money and is presented the final project. ALAKAZAM! The magic of design. Nothing could be further from the truth or reality of how the design business should run. It was the first time I had ever heard that odd process mentioned, so chances are, no other designer will have that way of doing business in their head.

As the client, you have the right to ask questions. Call the account manager or the freelancer and ask those questions. Professionals will be happy to fill you in completely. If you are a happy client, it means you will be back for further site updates, collateral material. It’s important to remember that web technology changes quickly and a strong relationship between a business and vendor is essential to keep your web presence up to date and functioning using that technology.

Changes

If the project progresses properly, the designer and client will create a creative brief that outlines the client’s “wish list” for what kind of site, expectations of function and brand building should be achieved. Milestones will include a sketch stage with color palette choices, a wireframe of the entire site and/or a site map of how viewers will navigate the site. Site content of images will be chosen, content written and all facts finalized before the stage of final design ever takes place. Transparency should keep all parties on track but sometimes the client will want changes.

Changes can be as simple as wanting a different color for the background and as impossible as the client seeing another site and wanting to mimic that design. Sometimes it’s just a relative or friend who has decided they are a design genius and negatively critiques the proposed design. As the client, it is up to you to decide on the course of action and accept the consequences. Making changes after a milestone has been approved means extra time and extra money. There’s no way around that and you shouldn’t expect anything to the contrary. Consider if your desire to make changes is merely due to your own insecurity, other people’s egos or you made a mistake and didn’t speak up during milestone approvals. If you’re building a house and decide you want to change the layout after the foundation has been poured, you can understand the need for more time and more money. Although a web site is digital and not concrete and wood changes are still work that needs to be done and someone pays for that. If the fault is yours, then you pay. If the designer makes a mistake, you can bloody well count on them taking the hit.

If everyone is open and honest and the process is all-inclusive, there should be no reason for changes down the line. One thing to watch for is the subjectivity of “design-by-committee.”

Design can be subjective. One person likes red, the next likes blue. One has a childhood trauma about clowns and the next wants prancing glitter unicorns on everything in the world. Put that all together and you have one strange web site. While you may decide that all of your employees should have a say in the web site design, act as the boss and make the final decisions as to what YOU want to see for YOUR business. It is possible to distill opinions into a sound direction but it is also important to recognize the expertise of the designer or firm you have hired. They will not just try to saddle you with the easiest way out. If they do their job correctly and provide you with what you NEED to be successful, then you will want to use them in the future. If you don’t succeed, then the designer or firm must create another client relationship, instead of retaining a growing bond with you and your future needs.

It is respect for each other, along with great service and communication that will lead to great and profitable relationships for both parties. THAT is a sound business principle everyone can agree upon.

Technology Marches On

If you haven’t noticed, the web changes at least every year. What you probably don’t know is why. Programming languages evolve, apps are introduced and technological links between computers, phones and digital pads keep evolving. It’s just like your own cell phone. It seems to be obsolete a week after you buy it. Well, the reason you get the phone for free, with a two-year activation is because the phone IS obsolete and the phone company wants you to buy the newest phone with the newest technology while you are trapped into a long contract.

A designer doesn’t have the same devious plan for your web site, in fact, technology advances excites creative geeks and you will be urged to use the latest technology. Consider the advantages of that technology for several reasons.

  1. You will not have to update your site as quickly as using technology that is a year or more older.
  2. You site will function better with changing browsers and apps for mobile web as well.
  3. Your SEO will be improved.
  4. Your consumer experience will be increased and it will lead to greater sales.
  5. You’ll eventually need to catch up with technology again and you’ll have a trust for the designer’s knowledge of web technology.

As mentioned before, if you have any questions about your site or what this technology can do for you, just ask. Your designer or design firm wants to help you and wants you to be happy. If they didn’t, I suppose they would be a branch of the government… like the Motor Vehicles Department.

Why Coding Style Matters

What’s A Style Anyway?

Coding style is how your code looks, plain and simple. And by “your,” I actually mean you, the person who is reading this article. Coding style is extremely personal and everyone has their own preferred style. You can discover your own personal style by looking back over code that you’ve written when you didn’t have a style guide to adhere to. Everyone has their own style because of the way they learned to code. If you used an integrated development environment (IDE) like Visual Studio to learn coding, your style probably matches the one enforced by the editor. If you learned using a plain text editor, your style likely evolved from what you thought was more readable.

You may even notice that your style changes from language to language. The decisions that you made in JavaScript might not carry over to your CSS. For instance, you might decide JavaScript strings should use double quotes while CSS strings should use single quotes. This isn’t uncommon as we tend to context switch when we switch back and forth between languages. Still, it’s an interesting exercise in self-observation.

Coding style is made up of numerous small decisions based on the language:

  • How and when to use comments,
  • Tabs or spaces for indentation (and how many spaces),
  • Appropriate use of white space,
  • Proper naming of variables and functions,
  • Code grouping an organization,
  • Patterns to be used,
  • Patterns to be avoided.

It’s Personal

The personal nature of coding style is a challenge in a team atmosphere. Oftentimes, seeking to avoid lengthy arguments, teams defer creating style guides under the guise of not wanting to “discourage innovation and expression.” Some see team-defined style guides as a way of forcing all developers to be the same. Some developers rebel when presented with style guides, believing that they can’t properly do their job if someone is telling them how to write their code.

I liken the situation to a group of musicians trying to form a band. Each one comes in believing that their way of doing things is best (their “method” or “process”). The band will struggle so long as everyone is trying to do their own thing. It’s impossible to create good music unless everyone in the band agrees on the tempo, the style and who should take lead during a song. Anyone who has ever heard a high school band perform knows this to be true. Unless everyone is on the same page, you aren’t going to accomplish much.

That’s why I strongly recommend style guides for software development teams. Getting everyone on the same page is difficult, and the style guide is a great place to start. By having everyone write code that looks the same, you can avoid a lot of problems down the road.

Communication Is Key

The most important thing when working on a team is communication. People need to be able to work together effectively and the only way to do that is by communicating. As developers, we communicate primarily through code. We communicate with other parts of the software through code and we communicate with other developers through code.

While the software your code communicates with doesn’t care how the code looks, the other developers on your team certainly do. The way code looks adds to our understanding of it. How many times have you opened up a piece of code that somebody else wrote, and, before doing anything else, re-indented it the way that you like? That’s your brain not being able to figure out the code because of how it looks. When everyone is writing code that looks different, everyone is constantly trying to visually parse the code before being able to understand it. When everyone is writing code that looks the same, your brain can relax a bit as the understanding comes faster.

When you start thinking of code as communication with other developers, you start to realize that you’re not simply writing code, you’re crafting code. Your code should clearly communicate its purpose to the casual observer. Keep in mind, your code is destined to be maintained by somebody other than you. You are not just communicating with other members of your team in the present, you’re also communicating with members of your team in the future.

I recently received an email from someone who is working on code that I wrote 10 years ago. Apparently, much to my shock and horror, my code is still being used in the product. He felt compelled to email me to say that he enjoyed working with my code. I smiled. My future teammate actually did appreciate the coding style I followed.

Leave Yourself Clues

Knowing yourself is important in life as well as coding. However, you’ll never know yourself well enough to remember exactly what you were thinking when you wrote each line of code. Most developers have experienced looking at a very old piece of code that they wrote and not having any idea why they wrote it. It’s not that your memory is bad, it’s just that you make so many of these little decisions while writing code that it’s impossible to keep track of them all.

Writing code against a style guide outsources that information into the code itself. When you decide when and where to use comments, as well as which patterns should and shouldn’t be used, you are leaving a breadcrumb trail for your future self to find your way back to the meaning of the code. It’s incredibly refreshing to open up an old piece of code and have it look like a new piece of code. You’re able to acclimate quickly, sidestepping the tedious process of relearning what the code does before you can start investigating the real issue.

Make Errors Obvious

One of the biggest reasons to have a coherent style guide is to help make errors more obvious. Style guides do this by acclimating developers to certain patterns. Once you’re acclimated, unfamiliar patterns jump out of the code when you look at it. Unfamiliar patterns aren’t always errors, but they definitely require a closer look to make sure that nothing is amiss.

For example, consider the JavaScript switch statement. It’s a very common error to mistakenly allow one case to fall through into another, such as this:

01 switch(value) {
02     case 1:
03         doSomething();
04
05     case 2:
06         doSomethingElse();
07         break;
08
09     default:
10         doDefaultThing();
11 }

The first case falls through into the second case so if value is 1, then both doSomething() and doSomethingElse() are executed. And here’s the question: is there an error here? It’s possible that the developer forgot to include a break in the first case, but it’s also equally possible that the developer intended for the first case to fall through to the second case. There’s no way to tell just from looking at the code.

With this style guide, there is definitely a stylistic error, and that means there could be a logic error. If the first case was supposed to fall through to the second case, then it should look like this:

01 switch(value) {
02     case 1:
03         doSomething();
04         //falls through
05
06     case 2:
07         doSomethingElse();
08         break;
09
10     default:
11         doDefaultThing();
12 }

If the first case wasn’t supposed to fall through, then it should end with a statement such as break. In either case, the original code is wrong according to the style guide and that means you need to double check the intended functionality. In doing so, you might very well find a bug.

When you have a style guide, code that otherwise seems innocuous immediately raises a flag because the style isn’t followed. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of style guides: by defining what correct code looks like, you are more easily able to identify incorrect code and therefore potential bugs before they happen.

Devil In The Details

In working with clients to develop their code style guides, I frequently get asked if the minutia is really that important. A common question is, “aren’t these just little details that don’t really matter?” The answer is yes and no. Yes, code style doesn’t really matter to the computer that’s running it; no, the little details matter a lot to the developers who have to maintain the code. Think of it this way: a single typo in a book doesn’t disrupt your understanding or enjoyment of the story. However, if there are a lot of typos, the reading experience quickly becomes annoying as you try to decipher the author’s meaning despite the words being used.

Coding style is a lot like that. You are defining the equivalent of spelling and grammar rules for everyone to follow. Your style guide can get quite long and detailed, depending on which aspects of the language you want to focus on. In my experience, once teams get started on coding style guides, they tend to go into more and more detail because it helps them organize and understand the code they already have.

I’ve never seen a coding style guide with too much detail, but I have seen them with too little detail. That’s why it’s important for the team to develop a style guide together. Getting everyone in the same room to discuss what’s really important to the team will result in a good baseline for the style guide. And keep in mind, the style guide should be a living document. It should continue to grow as the team gets more familiar with each other and the software on which they are working.

Tools To Help

Don’t be afraid of using tools to help enforce coding style. Web developers have an unprecedented number of tools at their fingertips today, and many of them can help ensure that a coding style guide is being followed. These range from command line tools that are run as part of the build, to plugins that work with text editors. Here are a few tools that can help keep your team on track:

  • Eclipse Code Formatter
    The Eclipse IDE has built-in support for code formatting. You can decide how specific languages should be formatted and Eclipse can apply the formatting either automatically or on demand.
  • JSHint
    A JavaScript code quality tool that also checks for stylistic issues.
  • CSS Lint
    A CSS code quality tool by Nicole Sullivan and me that also checks for stylistic issues.
  • Checkstyle
    A tool for checking style guidelines in Java code, which can also be used for other languages.

These are just a small sampling of the tools that are currently available to help you work with code style guides. You may find it useful for your team to share settings files for various tools so that everyone’s job is made easier. Of course, building the tools into your continuous integration system is also a good idea.

Conclusion

Coding style guides are an important part of writing code as a professional. Whether you’re writing JavaScript or CSS or any other language, deciding how your code should look is an important part of overall code quality. If you don’t already have a style guide for your team or project, it’s worth the time to start one. There are a bunch of style guides available online to get you started. Here are just a few:

It’s important that everybody on the team participates in creating the style guide so there are no misunderstandings. Everyone has to buy in for it to be effective, and that starts by letting everyone contribute to its creation.

How to Overcome Negative Reviews

No one likes to hear anything bad about their company, but is unavoidable as an entrepreneur or even a as person doing business online. Your reputation online is almost like a form of currency because people will read about what other people have said before they work with you. If you have been around long enough, someone has probably reported some type of problem with your products or services.

How to Overcome Negative Reviews

You do not have to be perfect, but you should be on track to improve as a business in the face of criticism. Here is an outline of some steps you can take when these things happen as well as some additional facts to consider before you take action.

 

Trolls vs. Legitimate Complaints

Many businesses tend to assume that any type of complaint against them is from a troll. Sometimes this is true, but the you have to know how to distinguish a legitimate complaint from that of a troll. A troll is usually someone that completely slams your business, your products, and your services. They may not have a legitimate complaint at all in the midst of their remarks and everything they say about you is negative. Surprisingly, some of them may have never done business with you in the first place because they may be spammers or even competitors in disguise. Some people will have this type of reaction if they have had negative experiences, but the difference is that a troll will be inconsolable. A normal customer will usually accept your offer to rectify the situation, but a troll will not. They will continue to complain until the very end. That is the difference. If you are indeed dealing with a troll, then the most that you can do is apologize, make an offer, and then move on. Continue to be the good guy and allow their own actions to speak volumes about who they are. Also, remember that trolls are out to make you look bad by enticing you into saying or doing something inappropriate. People love to hide behind a screen to spout negativity, but few of them have the gall to say anything in person. This goes without saying, but never stoop to their level to make threats, use profanity or inflammatory language.

Should I Call My Lawyer?

That is a good question. Sometimes you should call your lawyer depending on what was said, but it usually is not that serious. People are entitled to their own opinion, but they are not allowed to spread slander, lies, or intentionally try to say things online or offline to destroy someone’s business. Saying that you had a negative experience is one thing, but trying to ruin someone is taking it too far. If someone has left some extremely inflammatory remarks then you may be able to contact the website hosting the reviews to have that particular comment removed. Unbeknownst to many, you have a lot more control than you think on websites like Yelp, Yahoo, and Google Maps because you can not only respond, but have them removed. However, if that does not work then you may need to consult with your attorney to have them contact the web hosting company or even pursue a case of defamation if necessary. You do not want to give people that impression that you are overly litigious or too sensitive, so this should be looked upon as a last resort for a troll, not a dissatisfied customer.

What To Do When You Have A Negative Review

Step 1: Assess the situation

Read the review carefully for a couple of times to assess the situation. You will likely get sort of angry when you read anything negative about yourself, so give yourself a moment to think and reflect before you respond. Ask yourself why this person decided to write a negative review about your product or service. Yes, there are some trolls out there, but that is usually not the case for most of the negative reviews online. Many of the people that leave negative reviews have done so because they felt like they were not being heard. They felt as if they had no choice other than to complain elsewhere because business would not do anything to help them. It is not a poor reflection of you or your businesses’ products and services because it is still one person’s opinion.

What You Ignore Persists?

Ignoring negative reviews and feedback is not to your advantage. If you ignore what people have written, then it may perpetuate a cycle and encourage others to chime in. There have been a number of complaints that were ignored in the beginning, but actually went viral because so many other people got involved. Ignoring these types of remarks will not remove them nor help you improve your business, so you have to say something to correct the problem or it will continue to haunt you.

Step 2: Write a response to the complaint

Only approach the written response after you have cooled down for at least an hour to a couple of days depending on your emotional state. It is better if you respond sooner rather than later, but it is disadvantageous to say anything if you are not in the right place emotionally. It does hurt and it could feel like a personal assault on you, but it is not. Write a response in a writing program like Word or Open Office Writer first because it will enable you to plan out your response better. You do not want your response to have any type of grammatical or spelling errors whatsoever. After you have proofread your text, read it as the customer and think about how you would react to it if you were in their position. This is really important because saying the wrong thing could hurt you more than if you had ignored the comment altogether. It may be a good idea to even have a few people read it over to see how they would respond to it.

Step 3: Apologize for the inconvenience

You must have an apology in your written response even if it was the customer’s fault. There is no way that you can look good as a business owner if you blame your customers. Since you are the entrepreneur, you automatically have to take the fault for whatever happened. Part of the being your own boss means that you have to take responsibility for everything whether it is good or bad. The customer is always right and it never looks good to criticize customers in any way.

Step 4: Discuss your plan to improve going forward

A lot of companies often forget to take this step, but it can actually go a long way. One of the things people want to hear is that you will implement some type of change to improve in the future so that this will not happen to them or anyone else again. For example, if you made an error, let them know that you will change your policy going forward or mention that you or your employees will receive additional training in the area. Follow through with the changes because it will make you a better company because of it.

Step 5: Make an offer

The best thing you can do to improve the situation is to make the customer an offer. You do not have to give anything away, but you should. You want your customers to walk away from the situation satisfied because they will continue to spread the word about your company long after the ordeal. If you can change their opinion now, you may be able to win them over. Offer to do something over again, give them something for free, give a refund, or at the very least offer them a discount. People love free stuff and something like that will usually be enough to help sway their opinion. What would be really impressive is if you got this same person to come back and write a more accurate assessment after they have taken you up on your offer.

Step 6: Learn from the experience

Once you have apologized and made your offer, take some time to evaluate the your performance and improve. Think about the good that can come out of it and notice how you have changed for the better as a result. Encourage future clients to come to you first before they post a review online.

Step 7: Accentuate the positive

Since they have already written a review online, there is little that you can do to get it removed. Accept it for what it is and then focus on the positive aspects of your business in more than one way. Not only make a mental shift, but literally put a spotlight on your positive achievements online to displace the negative reviews. This can take a while, but start creating more listings that talk about new products, services, news, discounts, and partnerships. You can do this via social media posts, blog posts, or even press releases. The more of this you have, the more likely it is that this information will come up first in the search results before the negative feedback. Also, request that some of your satisfied customers write supportive reviews as well. Adding testimonials to your website will also add more credibility to your business.

Never Fake It!

Although it is quite tempting to pay a company to give you positive reviews, that is not really a good idea. It is one thing you have actual customers that are leaving remarks, but it becomes manufactured when you just start paying people. Truthfully, a lot of companies do pay for reviews, but you do not want to be one of them. People can tell if a review seems to be a little over the top and they will likely overlook most of the positive reviews because they may think that all of them are fake. It could backfire on you because they may just believe the negative reviews just because they seem more honest than some of the overwhelmingly positive reviews. Only solicit reviews from legitimate customers and ask them for completely honest and balanced feedback that will be informative to your future customers.

Step 8: Monitor all feedback

People are not just leaving reviews on places like Google Plus or Yelp because most of them will just tell their friends on Facebook and Twitter. If you do not already monitor social media websites, you should because that is usually one of the first places that they will go when they get angry. You can set up alerts to notify you anytime the name of your business is used like Google Alerts. There are also sites like SocialMention and Hootsuite that let you perform searches on a number of social media websites at once. Actively look for people talking about your company and get involved in their conversations even if it is not overtly negative. Some companies will actually give stuff away to people that are caught giving positive publicity to the company if they send a photo of their new product or just tell their friends what a great experience they had.

What More You can Do

Have A Proactive Customer Service Policy

Customer service is really about stopping these types of issues before they start. Check to see if you even have a way for customers to contact if you they have any problems with their order. It could be an email confirmation, contact form, your website design & navigation or even a physical slip that you send them in the mail. Let them know upfront that they can contact you to correct any problems that may have. Also, allow people to provide tips and suggestions regarding your business. Let people feel welcome to discuss their concerns without fear of retribution.

Build Allies and Partnerships

Having allies and partnerships online will help buffer any damage to your reputation. It helps that you have these things in place before any negative attacks, but it is never too late to start. You want to have people on your side who are loyal readers or followers on social media websites or blogs. Try to find at least a few influential bloggers or social media leaders to support you. Getting these types of people on your side is not always easy, but it is worth it in the long run because they will be at your side if and when something happens. Reach out to people gradually and give them something in exchange for supporting you.

Bolster Your Self-Esteem

On a personal note, it is challenging to deal with any type of negative feedback whether or not it is warranted. Everybody makes mistakes even if they happen to be a multinational corporation, so realize that you are not alone. These types of issues can get to you after a while, so go a step beyond just learning from the experience and actively boost your self-esteem in your personal life. This could mean pursuing some projects just due to your personal interest, taking some time off to relax, meditated, or spend time with your friends and family.

 

Dealing with negative review is not very pleasant, but necessary to your growth as a business. Any time there is a negative review, look at yourself first and think about what you could have done differently. Acknowledge that a mistake has been made and then address the problem with the customer. Just apologize, give them a peace offering, and vow to do better in the future by implementing new policies or procedures. If the situation escalates, then there may be a need to look into legal solutions for the problem, but again it should considered the very last resort to a very serious problem. All businesses make mistakes, but the difference is that the good ones learn from them.

Responsive Web Design Tips

Designing a web in the past was very easy because you only had to design it for one device, the desktop computer. Today, with the great advancement of new technologies and devices, web designing has become tougher as compared to the past. With the increased use of smartphones and televisions, with small and wide screens, developing a website has now become an increasingly difficult task for the web developer.

Responsive Web Design is an easy and effective way to use the benefits of every pixel of useful display property, without switching the mobile layout. For instance, if you pick up the area of your browser and gradually reduce the size of display, you will see the website accommodating the new quality because it was made on a responsive structure that adds and erases content as required. If you use a cell phone or tablet pc, the website will click to the best structure possible for your device. This is very effective because it makes a website very useful, and no cruising or panning is required to study the content or get around the web pages.

 

Without Responsive Web Design, several turned off editions of the same website have to be designed and toggled by hand or using complex display quality and system recognition programs. This exponentially increases designing costs, and updating the website becomes a major difficulty for web developers.

How Responsive Web Design Works

The best part of Responsive Web Design is that it is a technology-light remedy. It depends on a function of CSS known as “media query” that permits you to select different style sheet features with respect to the screen size that is detected and the orientation of device on which the web page is being considered. For example, you may want your web page to have three columns of the content for viewing it on the desktop. But that would probably be very hard to read on a smartphone. With the help of media query function, you can easily change to different style sheets or call a number of features within one style sheet to your content into just one large column by knowing the dimension of the screen.

Benefits of Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design has many benefits that are spreading its use over the online world very quickly. Some of the benefits of Responsive Web Design are as follows:

  • It Saves Money: Before the wide use of Responsive Web Design, website designers and owners had to develop many versions for a single website because of different screen resolutions of different devices. This is expensive. If some companies spend their money making different versions of a single website for the leading devices like iPhone, iPad and android phones, then what would happen when new devices come onto the market?

    That is the beauty and perfection of Responsive Web Design; it allows your site to display all of its features on any size screen, from the wide screens of televisions to the tiniest smartphones. Now, you just have to design your website once, which will definitely reduce costs and save you money.

  • It Saves Time: The reality is that the fact that you have to design and develop your website one time only will also save you time and energy. This consequently results in fewer events, less work, and less stress knowing that you don’t have to repeat this procedure if a new system comes on the market.
  • It Beats Your Competitors: As many web designers do not know much about Responsive Web Design, you can benefit from it. Make a lot of changes and transformations on your website to fit all types of screens in order to gain more traffic. In this way, many visitors will like and visit your website more than the websites of your competitors.
  • Your Website Will Last Longer: By using Responsive Web Design, the life of your website will increase, and people will keep visiting it for a longer time because it will be convenient for them to get needed information with any type of device they have.
  • Increases Conversions: When people come to your website, they will definitely appreciate changes and modifications if you give them a good experience. It means that you have to give them everything they want and with the use of Responsive Web Design, you can easily make conversions on your site to give visitors a better and easier experience.
  • It Gives You Freedom: With all of the benefits mentioned above, you will experience less stress, knowing that your site is working optimally on all types of devices.

Useful Tips

Following are some tips that can help you design a Responsive Web Design effectively:

  • Wireframe: Before making any markups, wireframe your small screen and desktop, as this will give you all the information you need about where and in what order your HTML will need to gain the correct position of your site on small screens and larger desktops. If your website needs editing, then you can easily add and remove elements with the help of JavaScript. You have to be sure that you have put in enough navigation to get to to every page of your site.
  • Make Full Use of Relative-Absolute and Position-Absolute: You may want a specific logo on the menu and below it. You can move your HTML markup or reposition it with the help of JavaScript. It is a very beneficial way to redesign your markup visually.
  • Use of Fluid Layouts: Making use of the percentages in your markup is called flexible layout and fluid layout. Try to use percentage margins in your website. It is very helpful in making a Responsive Web Design.
  • Placing Selective and Important Content for a Small Screen: If your site is informative, then your main aim is to inform people Try to focus on the information provided for researches only.
  • Make the Buttons Large: If your website has may things that a majority of people use to click on, then add huge buttons on your site, which makes it convenient for people who click on small screen devices. Avoid the “fat finger” syndrome by making the action convenient enough for fingers.
  • Scaling Media: Don’t forget to scale media such as images, videos, and embedded objects. Try to put them on a max width of approximately 100%. For this purpose you should know the CSS elastic video process or you can also do it through JavaScript.
  • Selection of Media Format: In this modern era, you can simply achieve this goal by using video distributing software and services that will automatically change to video formats suitable for your site.
  • Use of Appropriate Size Image: If you are about to use JavaScript, then you have to check the width of the browser and choose the most appropriate size image for the desktops and the small screens. You have to request smaller images that allow the user to download it fast enough through small screens.
  • The Process: Any type of project, whether big or small, has a process. The Responsive Web Design process is a little tricky, but by reading and following the instructions of the process below, you will definitely get a lot of help. Following are some of the important items such as development, design, discovery, and deployment that are included in the Responsive Web Design process.
  • Good Start: If you are getting help from a web design company then you should meet with them and discuss all the things that are to be included in your website. If you are designing a web yourself, then collect all the necessary researches and all the paper work needed to start your Responsive Web Design. A good start is very helpful in completing the whole process. Keep one thing in mind; you must be aware of all the tricks and tips in order to perform this task yourself. Otherwise hire a team that could do this for your website.
  • Analyze the Project: Determine all the requirements of your project, from a creative, technical, and organizational point of view. Analyze everything, including, the visual design of your site, writing style, and interface design, and have a complete understanding of the main purpose of your website. Plan everything, from where your website is now and what it will be in the future, and then plan it accordingly This is a very effective part of the process.
  • Content Strategy: Depending on certain conditions, you can make changes and amendments in the content of your website qualitatively and also quantitatively. Make a site map for your site, because it is very important and it helps users to find what they want from your website. Always be concerned about the requirements of users, and keep in touch with them to understand their needs and demands. Remember, your customers’ needs must be your first priority; this is the reason why you are making your design responsive¬–to provide them ease in their search from any device conveniently and without any difficulties.
  • Search Tactics: Develop a responsive site that fulfills all the needs of Search Engine Optimization to make your site appear on the top of search engine pages. This will bring more visitors to your site. Content should include items like URL syntax, content hierarchy, structure of your page, screen resolutions for big and small screens, and media data. Make sure that your responsive design is beneficial for search engines, your audience, and yourself.
  • Compiling Information: Compile all the information you have gained through your research into an abridged content. This content should cover the outlines of content, search, and creative, as well as technical strategies. This content will work as a map for your whole project, which will keep you updated about everything on your website.
  • UX Sketches: Make difficult wireframes, or UX blueprints, for key opinions. This will help in designing the style of the program, while creating a sense of performance.
  • Web Page Tables: One of your main objectives is to keep the content separate from style or demonstration. Your material should never be reliant on a structure to work effectively. So, along with the wireframes, you will obtain a complete set of page platforms for key web pages. These page tablets recognize each content location in order, and recognize the most important information to connect in each area.
  • Interaction Style and Design: Once you have made all the outlines, then you can easily wireframe the remaining views by using benefits from the feature list and page tablets. Every view strategy will be done to make all the features you have planned to visualize. This makes it convenient for both small and large screens.
  • Visual Designing: After wireframing your website, your next approach is to attract people. This can be done by working on the visual state of your website. You should take care of the writing format, color palettes, branding elements, and a lot more. This will give your website a great look. The better your website looks in big and small screens, the more traffic you gain to increase your site rating.
  • Style Guide: Make a style guide that is easy to implement. This guide will demonstrate the personality and design of the system.
  • HTML or Theme Build: After doing the visual designing, it’s time for you to build JavaScript, HTML or CSS themes. For good outputs, make sure that all the work is done by the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) that forces the browsers to display the websites and web pages the designer wants to show. You can also use JavaScript instead of other software for the interactive elements of your site.
  • Cross-Browser: This is the place where you can test whether your page templates are working well for the desktops and browsers like Blackberry, iDevices, androids, etc. You should make your website so versatile that it will run on any device according to its specifications and screen sizes. If your website works on all devices, then your website will be successful.
  • Writing Content for Your Website: A website without content in it is considered junk. Write content for the publicity of your website and for the ease of users. You can also hire online content writers who will understand the theme of your website and will write useful and meaningful content according to your needs.
  • User Acceptance Testing (UAT): UAT helps you to confirm that your newly edited website meets all the requirements and objectives that are mentioned above, because you need time to know whether everything is working well in your website. Similarly, if the users have some problems with your website, then you can overcome them easily by making edits and adjustments according to their needs.
  • Launching Plan and Publishing: After making the amendments with your current website, launch your plan and release your newly edited website to the Internet. Don’t forget to use the quality checklist as this will tell you whether your website is meeting the requirements or not. Take care of the fact that your new website is handled by appropriate search engines because a website that does not appear in the search engines does not have any value.
  • Updating: Your website is something that continuously grows and changes its face throughout its life. So, you have to update it regularly to make your website user friendly for a long-term basis.

HTML5 and SEO

Since the advent of the first web search engines, designers and developers have struggled with issues of how to increase their placement on a search engine results page.

With the major search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) unwilling to reveal their ranking algorithms — protecting them from “black hat” search engine optimizers attempting to game the system — “white hat” search engine experts must play a constant guessing game to determine which tactics will be most effective.

The continuing development of technologies, from HTML and XML to JavaScript and Flash, has made the pursuit of prime search engine real estate a massive industry in its own right.

The introduction of HTML5 has simplified many tasks, but adds another layer of complexity in this area.

HTML5 and multimedia

For many years, web designers and developers have used plug-ins such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight to add audio, video and graphics content to their projects. These plug-ins have enabled professionals to create glossy, eye-catching designs that have attracted visitors and won numerous awards.

However, these sites have traditionally suffered from poor search engine ranking due to webcrawler’s inability to index this type of content. Great strides were being made in this area just prior to the death of Flash, but to a large degree, investment in the area of plugin indexing has now ceased altogether.

HTML5 allows for indexing multimedia content, such as menus, audio and video, with new markup tags. The content within these tags can improve a site’s search engine ranking. Indeed an HTML5 site consistently ranks higher than the equivalent site built with a plugin; however there is some question as to HTML5′s suitability for all tasks.

Google frequently tells us to build a site for the user, with ‘natural’ content. We may need to wait for HTML6 for that to be possible.

HTML5 and link types

In previous years, developers would use the “rel” attribute on their link tags to specify which links that a web crawler should not follow:

<a href="no-follow.htm" rel="nofollow">Don't Follow This Link</a>

In HTML5, new values for the “rel” attribute of the link tag allow us to create a context for a document that, moving forward, should provide greatly improved search results for users:

Alternate allows us to specify alternate content, the same text in PDF format for example, or the same content in a different language.

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="espanol.html">

Author enables us to link to an author’s profile. This is of great benefit on Google if the author is signed up to Google+.

<link rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/0123456789">

Bookmark lets blogs link to an article’s permanent URL, helpful if your articles are usually published on a home page.

<a rel="bookmark" href="http://mysite.com/article.html">Permalink</a>

Help is designed to be used by third party apps to provide access to help files. Not much use on a blog page, but invaluable for web-based apps.

<link rel="help" href="helpfiles.html">

License provides a link to licensing information.

<a rel="license" href="licensing.html">License information</a>

Next and Prev are used when a document is part of a series, giving context to the current page.

<a rel="next" href="page-2.html">Next</a>
<a rel="prev" href="page-0.html">Previous</a>

Search provides a link to a resource that can be used to search through the current document and its related pages.

<link rel="search" href="http://www.mysite.com/mysearch.xml">

The full specification for these attribute values can be found on the W3C site.

HTML5 and ranking

In late 2010, John Mueller of Google remarked that HTML5 is “still very much a work in progress” and that the company is still working on ways to index HTML5 content. However, the company is making a sincere effort to incorporate the indexing of HTML5 content into its newest generation of web crawlers.

While Google’s relationship with HTML5 standards remains in flux, and while Google remains the focus of most SEO efforts, HTML5′s introduction of new content and ways of describing that content is unlikely to offer any real SERP benefits.

However, the merits of allowing more content to be indexed with less effort is not in dispute, and with HTML5 rapidly becoming the new standard for web design it is just a matter of time before HTML5 sites outrank xHTML sites. Webdesigners should be planning for that future today.

 

Do you take full advantage of HTML5′s extra markup? Have you seen any SEO benefit of coding in HTML5 over xHTML? Let us know in the comments.

.

Responsive Web Design as the Demand of Time

Now it’s difficult to find a single person over the web community who didn’t hear about Responsive Web Design (RWD). This relatively young technology captured the restless minds of enthusiastic developers, aiming to implement future innovations into our current life. The point became so urgent due to the mass invasion of portable devices into the world market. The most startling fact is that tiny size of those gadgets doesn’t limit their functions. The users are not tired to their home or office computer any more; they are free to cope with multiple tasks from their car or bus or maybe from the park where they enjoy a long walk with family. Positively, each and every gadget whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet, provides internet access. Needless to say how virtual reality has penetrated all spheres of our life, it became the whole world where we are almost omnipotent. No doubt that Internet makes our days more interesting and replete, helps us easily cope with complicated issues, be more efficient and productive.

Unfortunately, here the web community faced the natural problem, rising from the variety of screen sizes and resolutions of mobile devices, users exploit for browsing. The smaller size of the screen was the worse results it showed. Websites looked completely broken and absolutely unreadable. Of course, there are no deadlock conditions and mobile phone website versions were considered as a real way out. As all of us understand, it’s not too convenient to run two website options simultaneously, the full and the clipped one. Furthermore, a website adapted to mobile phone screen size doesn’t cover the needs of the whole variety of other devices.

Keeping in mind everything mentioned above it’s difficult to overestimate Ethan Marcotte’s contribution into web design development, as he was the first who introduced the term Responsive Web Design. The principal goal of RWD is to provide equally qualitative viewing experience across the whole range of portable and stationery devices from desktop computers to mobile phones. Actually, RWD utilizes a set of leading technologies allowing to attain the desired effect. The developers apply fluid grids, flexible images and media queries. If you are interested in studying the matter more extensively, we can offer you to use the interactive Responsive Web Design Infographic, which will guide you through all complicated technical peculiarities in memorable and entertaining form.

To make a long story short, Responsive Web Design is a contemporary goodie giving users and website owners additional possibilities to browse the sites they want from any device they prefer, getting the best possible readability and navigational opportunities.

Unfortunately, responsive online stores are still in minority now-a-days, but we’ve got great news for online merchants. The guys from TemplateMonster’s team started to produce fully responsive designs for two most popular e-Commerce platforms – Magento and PrestaShop. Even if you are very far from statistics, it’s quite easy to predict that the number of customers in such stores will increase enormously, as users will be able to make purchases from their portable devices anywhere in any time.

If you are not the RWD fan yet, we hope that our cool, creative collection of the best responsive themes will become the crucial moment. View the websites, test them on different browser widths and perceive all pleasures of Responsive Web Design!

Successful Websites Make Sure Navigation is Intuitive

When it comes to building and managing a successful website there are a number of factors involved in defining that success. Things like the topic of your website, level of engagement, value provided, etc. are some of those elements of a website that you need to focus on if you want to own a successful website.

Another extremely important element of your website that you need to make sure is perfect is your website navigation. Intuitive navigation is an absolutely critical website element that you need to nail if you want to have a successful website.

 

Intuitive navigation means that your website is designed in such a way that website traffic flows from web page to web page. Traffic simply knows where to go to find anything that they are looking for, and quite frankly, they know where to go if they cannot find what they are looking for. There are a number of tactics that website developers and website designers can employ to ensure website traffic can intuitively navigate their websites. In this article we are going to define intuitive navigation, explain some of the tactics that you can employ to ensure navigation is intuitive on your website, discuss internal linking, explain how to use Google Analytics to track how visitors are navigating your website, and go through the benefits of perfecting your website navigation.

Intuitive Navigation for Websites

Intuitive navigation is defined simply as someone knowing where to go to find the information they want. Intuitive website navigation is the process of website traffic being able to navigate through your website seamlessly from web page to web page consuming the information they want and bypassing the information they do not want. There is a lot that goes into designing a website that can be navigated easily by the majority of people who visit your website. If you can figure out a way to make your website easy to navigate you have a much better chance of people returning to your website, and eventually making it their go to resource for the topic that your website covers. If you want your website to be easily navigated it starts with navigation planning and design. Far too often website designers and website developers jump into the overall design of the website and drop the navigation elements in without much thought. That’s the wrong approach. Let’s go through the right approach.

Designing Intuitive Website Navigation

Designing a website that many consider easy to navigate is an absolute must if you want to have a successful website. Some of the things I write about here at InstantShift.com are relatively easy to implement once you know how. That said, designing intuitive website navigation can absolutely be done by pretty much anyone, it is something that is a little more difficult and will take time to fully grasp if you’re a website designer or website developer who builds and managers websites for clients. That said, once you master it you will be able to provide website owners with a much better product. As mentioned above, far too often people jump into designing a website without giving much thought to navigation. Navigation is something that they fit in. I like to go about it in reverse. I like to come up with my website navigation plan first, which will then allow the overall website design to kind of come to life as I’m going through my website navigation planning process. Once I’m finished with my website navigation plan then I move on to the overall website design, which becomes a much quicker process since I already have a good idea of what I want to do based on my website navigation plan.

Website Navigation Plan

I know that there isn’t always time for this, but I like to approach all of the websites that my company builds for clients by creating what I call the Website Planning Spec before we build anything. The Website Navigation Plan is one piece of the overall Website Planning Spec. That said, for the purpose of this article we will stick to discussing just the website navigation plan portion of the Website Planning Spec. Here are the key elements of a solid Website Navigation Plan:

  • Main Navigation Bar – This is the main website navigation and is usually located horizontally across the top of the website OR along the left side of the website. Personally, I prefer horizontally across the top, but it really should correspond to your goals for the website and what you think provides the best user experience.
  • Call-to-Action – What’s the end game? What is the overall goal for your website? If you could pick one web page on your website that everyone who visits your site would read, what page would it be? Once you know your goals for the website and where you want to drive people, you can design a navigation system that funnels all traffic to that page as quickly as possible.
  • Sidebars – Will your website contain sidebars? One or two? Will you have banners within your sidebars that link to landing pages? Will these sidebars appear on all web pages throughout your website on only some of them? These are the sorts of questions you need to ask yourself regarding utilizing sidebars for your website. Then start flushing this out for each web page within your Website Navigation Plan.
  • Internal Linking – We will cover Internal Linking in more detail later in this article, but this is where you can use the copy from your website to link website visitors to other pages within your website. Internal linking is a great way to funnel your website traffic via a call-to-action to the most important pages within your website.
  • Landing Pages – Will your website leverage landing pages? How will you drive traffic to those landing pages? Where do you want traffic to go from those landing pages or what action should they take once they get there? Landing pages can be extremely beneficial in achieving your goals. When then are used properly they can help convert website traffic into paying customers, subscribers, or simply more informed consumers of your websites’ information.

Thinking through each of these elements of website navigation will help you formulate a “flow” for your website. It will help you understand how you want to leverage different components of your website to get website traffic from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. By doing this you’re much more likely to achieve your goals, which ultimately leads to you being able to classify our website as a success.

Internal Linking As Part of Intuitive Website Navigation

An effective Internal linking strategy is a huge component of intuitive website navigation. Internal linking is the process of using the copy of your website to link to other web pages within your site. When it comes to funneling traffic from one page to the next the best way to do it is through the website copy. Obviously if you’re talking about a specific subject and you want to move visitors from one aspect of your website topic to the next the best way to do that is through the website copy. You can use a call-to-action within the website copy to get readers to click-through to the next page of your website. Remember, your ultimate goal is to get readers to that one main page within your website that will help you achieve your goals. For an e-Commerce website it’s getting website traffic from every other page on their website to their online store. For some websites it might be to get people to a sign-up form, a donation form, get people to contact you, or maybe it’s simply to get people to read one very important piece of copy. Whatever your goal is, internal linking is a great way to achieve it.

The best way to approach this is once you have defined your goals and your have an idea of all of the different pages that make up your website. You should pick that one page or two pages that you want to drive visitors to. Then start writing the copy for each web page. As you write the copy think of ways that make sense for taking people from the subject that you’re writing about on that page to the page you want them to go. Sometimes it will take you having to take people to one or two other pages first. That’s OK. You want to find the most efficient way to get them to your main web page, but you also want to ensure it makes sense from a user experience perspective and from a copy perspective.

Use Google Analytics to Track Website Navigation

A great tool for tracking how your website navigation is performing is Google Analytics. Google Anaytics will actually show you where traffic originated (ie. search terms, direct, or referrals), which pages that traffic landed on, and then the pages that they navigated to from there. If you have followed all of the steps above, you’ve set goals, you’ve designed your website navigation plan, and you’ve used internal linking with calls-to-action to get website visitors from point A to point B as quickly as possible then you can use Google Analytics to see if your plan is working. You might find out that people are taking a short cut to get where you want them to go. You might find out that people are bypassing your main web page for something that is more interesting to them. Heck you might even find out that people are getting to your landing pages and then dropping off. Whatever the case is, Google Analytics is your tool for finding out how your hypothesis is matching up to real world practice by website traffic. Armed with this knowledge you can then go back to your website, make some tweaks, and then come back to see how effective those changes were. You can continue to do this and over time you will create a very intuitive website navigation system.

Benefits of Designing Intuitive Website Navigation

By designing a website that is easy to navigate, and as long as your content is rock solid, you are sure to have success. People come back to websites where they get great information without having to exert too much energy in finding that information. Here are some of the many benefits you will reap if you take the time to consider website navigation before building your next website:

  • Increased website traffic
  • Increased repeat website traffic
  • Increased subscribers for things like your blog or email newsletter
  • Increased sales if you run an e-Commerce website
  • Increased social media connections
  • More engagement in regards to things like blog comments
  • Higher search rankings for the pages of your website

These are just a few of the many benefits that await you after taking the time to design an easy to use navigation system for your website.

Why Don’t People Want To Pay For Good Design?

Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Addison Duvall, author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

If you’ve ever come across a client (or 20) who refuses to pay you what you know you’re worth, you might start to think that there’s no one out there who knows the value of good design. And you’re definitely not alone – so many designers compete on price that those who want to compete on quality often feel left out.

Many non-designer clients just don’t see what the big deal is about design, and they’ll often go for the cheapest, rather than the best. In this article, we’ll explore a few theories on why that is, and what designers can do about it.

Designing the Unknown

The good news is that people love design. According to the results of this design attitudes research done by MarketingWeek, people know that good design is effective and necessary, yet for some reason, they don’t personally feel it’s worth paying for.

There are several reasons why that might be, but, arguably, the most important has to do with psychology. People, at large, like to believe that they are creative on some level, even if their profession has absolutely nothing to do with design whatsoever.

As long as designers are up against this kind of overconfidence, they will always encounter non-designer clients who will not only try to intervene in the design process (the dreaded “design by committee”), but who will also insist that your services aren’t worth as much as you say they are.

The Paradox of an Awesome Design

Design isn’t like accounting or IT. There is no consensus on what constitutes a “good” design, thus we don’t really know how to objectively value it. Also, since design is a lot more creating than accounting, people are often at awe yet still skeptical of a designer’s ability. They may think ‘Wow, what a great design,’ while simultaneously thinking ‘it can’t be that hard to do, can it?’

This is the dark side of creating simple, clean and elegant designs. They look so easy, and yet a non-designer has no idea how much blood, sweat, and tears went into coming up with them.

Misplaced confidence

When people think they can do your job as ‘well’ as you can, they aren’t going to value it as highly, no matter how much you explain the process. Of course, it isn’t all the clients’ fault. The design community has a well-known problem with designers undervaluing and underpricing their own work, and by consequence, decreasing the market value of design in general.

Pricing has a lot to do with how much people value something. The more designers are able to charge, the more seriously they will be taken by their clients. Unfortunately, a lot of clients simply aren’t able to pay for quality design.

Many times, the people in charge of the design budget have no idea what actually goes into creating good design. They rely on the opinion of marketers or managers (again, non-designers) and end up underfunding the design because no one has any idea what design really is. Making design less of a mystery to clients is key to explaining exactly why they should be paying your standard rates.

Stand your ground

Standing your ground as a high-value designer is essential, especially when everyone else around you is caught in a bidding war for the cheapest prices. It might seem like common sense to simply give in and start offering your services for less than they’re worth, but this is actually the worst thing you can do.

Long-term Prices

Sure, you might pick up few clients over the next few months if you charge less than your worth, but in the long run, you might pigeonhole yourself into a pay bracket that you’ll never get out of. Once people know they can get your services fairly cheap, they’ll always want to get them for cheap, even if you’d like to raise your prices in the future.

Dead End

It’s virtually impossible to go from being a low-priced designer to a high-priced designer while working for a client (or a certain type of client). If you suddenly begin charging your clients your standard rate after they’ve become used to a heavy discount, they’re going to laugh in your face, and possibly stop working with you.

Client Expectations

Low-paying clients can be some of the most difficult to deal with, and the less you charge, the more demanding they seem to become. And no client is ever going to call you – their discount designer – when they have a high-budget project they need finished. They’re going to turn to someone who’s not afraid to charge top dollar for the highest-quality work. You can avoid this sad scenario by starting out at the top, rather than the bottom.

Get Your name Out There

Designers who focus on value over price are not only competing with those who are willing to work for cheap or even free, they are also being obscured by these designers’ superior marketing skills. In a dynamic and ever-changing market for design, clients will almost always hire the designers they have heard of, versus the ones they haven’t.

If you’re a developer who design software that can boost user efficiency by more than 200%, you can still be outsold by an inferior competitor if your promotional strategy isn’t up to speed. In this case, pricing isn’t even that important – the right market for your product will probably be willing to pay a premium for what you can offer them – if only they knew you existed.

How to Increase your Worth

Ask for it – if you’re one of the many designers who are uncomfortable increasing their prices, I challenge you to try it just once. If you’re confused about how to go about it, here’s a method you can use to increase your value as a problem-solver.

First, find clients who are willing to pay for quality (no more cheapsters – you can only haggle so much with low-budget clients). Never be afraid to ask for what you know your work is worth. Next (and this part is important), check out their company backgrounds and their target audiences to find out what kinds of marketing problems they have. Interview people if you have to. The more you know about your clients’ markets, the more detailed and valuable a solution you can provide them.

The Bonus

Of course, this means you’ll probably have to specialize in one or two markets, but that’s a good thing. Why? Because it lets you focus only on the clients you know best, which in turn lets you advance up the client ladder and increase your salary much faster. People are always looking for a personalized solution to their specific problems; provide them with one and you’ll have more work than you’ll know what to do with.

Wrap Up

Have you had bad experiences with skeptical or low-paying clients? What methods have you used to resolve those issues? Share your experience with us.

Ideas: The Force Behind the Designer

We all know that most design clients are fairly predictable in tastes and not exactly thrilling to work for. I am sure you are not clapping your hands in excitement when designing another site for a wedding photographer or online marketing company that needs to be “conversion optimized.” Nothing about the project itself stirs the spark of creativity that is lying dormant deep inside you. You want to get it designed ASAP, get your money, and never look at it again.

So you go into autopilot mode. Out comes our little banners on the module corners. Out comes Proxima Nova for the 14th time. Out comes that layer style you’ve used 33 times already because you know clients love “the Apple look.”

Idea-less designers have become the industry standard.

While there is nothing wrong with cutting some corners and borrowing a few graphics from other designers (even our past work), I fear that this unmotivated, “idea-less” design has become par for the course in the world, instead of a once-in-a-while exception for that freebie project for your Uncle Bernard.

We have let ourselves become mindless workers on a production line, not fountainheads of ideas. Everyone and their mom can tell us how to design and we don’t even have the energy to ask “why?” The modern web designer has become a follower, not a leader, because our work lacks the conviction of thought, research and imagination behind it. Our only motivation is the carrot of a paycheck dangling in front of us.

We have lost the sense of adventure that we had when we first began designing. There were no limits to what we could (or at least thought we could) do. No 960 grids or theoretical “folds.” No cross-browser compatibility or page load time. Just your imagination at the tip of your Wacomm pen.

Though all these technical concerns are of course, real-life issues that we must take into consideration to design properly, I believe that they can turn into crutches for a defeated designer. We are too afraid (or lazy) to spawn a design based not on someone else’s template, but on what a design should be based on: an idea

We have lost our will to fight… and in turn: the desire to create.

But somewhere along the line we lost our will to fight for our ideas… so we stopped coming up with new ones. We became willing to just complain over and over about nonsensical feedback (“make it pop”) and being prodded at the point of a gun into designing ridiculous interfaces that make us doubt if we even want to continue in this profession. When this feeling of helplessness sets in, we find ourselves consoled by the fact that every other designer in the world is probably going through the same thing. In the end, we have a fresh chuckle at “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell” and move on to the next destined-to-be-damned project. At least we have a job right?

However, if you as a designer are content to simply paint with Photoshop in a corner of the office somewhere, your role will become greatly diminished in value… and easily replaced by someone who can paint prettier pictures than you.

A successful designer is motivated by more than time and money. They strive for excellence. And in the design world, excellence is measured in ideas; that spark of creative brilliance formed in the human mind which finds its way to paper and screen.

You can start by treating every project as a fresh chance to create something extraordinary. Extraordinary in the sense that it is the product of your imagination and ingenuity, fueled by an idea. Creativity is birthed in your head, not in Photoshop. You can be more than a producer of graphics if you are not afraid to think for yourself and go with what you think. Your training, experiences and talent should be driving your mind, not just your mouse.

You are what you make others eat.

An employee at a fast food chain can’t get very excited about their product because they are not putting much thought or care into it’s creation. There is no originality or diversity, only the same set of combo meals over and over again. He couldn’t tell you much about the food he is making, because frankly, he doesn’t care about it.

How can a client be excited about a product that its creator is not thrilled to show?
If you want people to appreciate your work, then you need to put more work into its creation.

Think of a professional chef at an acclaimed restaurant. He is exhilarated by the food he prepares. He has chosen the ingredients carefully, testing out various methods of preparing and presenting each dish. He speaks of spices and sauces with an intimate knowledge, showing his keen interest and sincere passion for his craft. He is confident that his food is exquisite, because he knows the steps it took to make it the way it is.

In the same way, a design that is born from an original idea and honed to neat perfection will give you confidence and passion for it. There should be reasons for every “ingredient” in your work. You hand-picked Proxima Nova after scrutinizing its every letter, comparing them side-by-side with two other typefaces. You created that textured interface from scratch by photographing linen paper and pixel-by-pixel editing a carefully selected portion of it. Every aspect of the design looks the way it does because you intended it to be that way. You have no problem talking about your work, defending it from stupid criticisms and meaningless edits by the idea behind your choices. There are no accidents. No cop-outs.

Care more about your design than your client does.

I always like to say that a designer should care more how a design looks than the client does. Why? It is not your money that is paying for it. But it is still very much about you. It is your time, your energy, your thought, your emotion that goes into a design. Your name is on it, meaning that your reputation will be effected by it. Most importantly, your confidence, your self-respect, and your pride and joy in what you do everyday is at stake.

Even if your ideas are rejected or changed drastically, it is not you who is missing out. You have done your best and presented an excellent product that you can be proud of. You have grown as a designer and have gained valuable experience in your field. Eventually people will take notice and you will be given fresh opportunities to “idea-ize” for more appreciative candidates.

Autopilot off.

But it begins with you calling a halt to your own apathy. Turn off the autopilot by putting away the templates and starting with a clean white page where you can be free to create something new. Pay less attention to flash-in-the-pan trends that everyone is doing and more attention to the minute intricacies of type, color, and shape so that you can set yourself apart from the ordinary.

Most importantly, when you know you have a great idea: stick with it. Commit yourself to see it to completion and defend it against those who may not understand it yet. And if designing “combo meals” at a “fast-food” company is not giving your ideas a chance… then perhaps it is time to change restaurants.

.

Creating more purpose for content-light websites

Not every company or designer has a lot to say. There are people who believe in letting a product or service speak for itself, and there are some folks who just downright don’t talk much. Sometimes this can translate over to the web via sites that aren’t extremely heavy on content.

The truth is, if a site isn’t a blog or magazine, there may not be a ton to say. With blogs, there are articles for days and pictures and resources and things. Some companies that have been around for ever and have tons of products, but most don’t. Even if you do prepare for lots of content, you should probably scale it down as not to scare an audience.

An issue that pops up a lot with these content-light sites is the way in which it’s presented. Most times, these websites are extremely boring, informational and have very little purpose. That makes it hard to get people interested in your site and learning more about your product or service. In addtion, you’re not going to get people returning or suggesting the site to friends.

What can you do to add some purpose? Whether you are a designer with a portfolio site or just a brand new company, you’ve got to add some purpose and ‘jazz’ to your website. A website can make or break you with potential customers, so you want to make sure you put the best foot forward.

What is purpose?

There has to be a reason you are creating a website. You don’t just create an online presence for fun. And if it is for fun, then that is your purpose. Knowing this in a clear way is going to help you with your online presence. Distinguishing yourself and clarifying your purpose is integral in successful branding. Without that, you have nothing — you can’t build successful customer relationships, sell your product or even be trusted. Having and knowing your purpose and the purpose of your website has to be the first step in maximizing.

So, how do you start?

Add interactivity and excitement

I know you have seen a website or page that was flat out boring. It’s nothing exciting about clicking a link and seeing it just chug along to the next page. There’s nothing fun about staring at text and a few pictures in a cookie-cutter layout. For some odd reason, when websites are light in content, it’s as if people don’t even try to be exciting with what they have.

That’s unfortunate because these are the best and easiest sites to add fun and excitement. We already know you don’t have much content, so find a great way to present it. Presentation is a large reason why people interact with things the way they do. If you want to attract an exciting bunch, then you’ve got to bring your own excitement.

There are tons of effects that make page transitions interesting. You can choose to use Flash or jQuery or whatever you feel most comfortable with. These effects aren’t just cool but they make people continue coming back to your site and share your site.

In this day and age, the Internet exists to make sharing things easier. This is why social media is popular — Twitter, YouTube, Google+, FaceBook and more. All these sites make sharing easier and if your website is exciting enough, then it will be passed along what seems like the endless world wide web.

 

Add visuals

In referencing “content”, many people tend to believe we’re discussing the amount of copy on a website. While that’s true, content also involves pictures and video. When your copy content is low, people tend to go low on the visuals as well. I say do the exact opposite.

If you’re lacking in one area, attempt to make it up in another. I see many of these low content sites just give up on making a great website because they feel like there’s nothing to use. Adding visuals can be as easy as picking up a photographer, a graphic designer, or even using some stock video or photo. Let the creativity flow and make something worth viewing.

We live in a visual time and lots of pictures and visuals are not detrimental to your purpose. People want to see what they’re about to purchase or what type of services they are about to receive. Not just that, but people want to be able to experience as much as possible. If visuals are not a part of your website’s purpose or content structure, you are giving yourself the best possible chance of failing.

 

Schedule call backs and appointments

You can guarantee that someone is going to go to your website to try and contact you — at least you hope they will. Every website has a contact form. You can place a contact form on your website to get people to drop in their information, and you’ll get to them when you get it. It’s a working idea, but it seem like there’s a small stigma that contact forms are just ways for e-mails to die.

As a matter of fact, this past week, I used seven different contact forms to contact individuals and companies, as that’s the only option I’m given. Four whole business days later, I’ve only heard from one person. People are haphazard when using contact forms, fill in all that information and then never receive a response.

Giving someone the ability to actually schedule a time for someone to call them is a lot more attractive than taking a shot in the dark with a contact form. Allow your audience to get online and schedule time with you, rather than having them hope and pray you get back to them. This gives you a good time (or times) to get in contact with them. If you really value your potential customer, scheduling the callback or appointment is easy for you.

You may be one of those people that has no problem responding to e-mails. That’s fine, too, but the idea of actually scheduling time and having a purpose sits a bit better with people. It makes them feel important.

 

Logins and sign ups

If you can find a way to add visual excitement to your website, you don’t necessarily have to put all your good content out in the forefront. Even sites with tons of content don’t do that. So, having a way for people to sign up and subscribe to your content is a good way to get them more interested in your purpose.

Sign-ups, via e-mail or mobile or what have you, don’t have to be just about your company. Again, the reason people use the web right now is to share what they find. There are many ways you can use your list whether that be to make some extra money or share your own exclusive content. Whatever you do, having this feature isn’t to flood your list but to reward them for signing up. Give them things they can’t get elsewhere. Give your list great things so that others will want to be part of it. Having this exclusivity can add or enhance your purpose.

Having a list is great and providing a log-in function can be great too. While I believe it can be utilized better for creatives, any company can use it. For example, as designers, we may have a hard time keeping up with our individual clients. Give them a log-in on your website that allows them to always access their deliverables, receive new quotes, and even check the progress on their new projects.

 

Conclusion

The idea of having purpose is not to create a reason to have a website, but ways to enhance the actual purpose of what you do. You may be a designer with a portfolio who wants to gain clients or you may be a small business with one brand new product. Whatever you do, you’ve got to make your purpose consistent from your person to your printed brand to your online presence.

These ideas can help you grow and can help understand your brand. Often, people feel useless because they don’t have a ton of content to put in people’s faces. But, the best thing is make sure you have something clear and purposeful in their faces, no matter if your content heavy or light.

How to Deal with Creative Differences with Clients

For a techie, one of the not so nice aspects of being a freelancer is the fact that you have to work with clients. When you work for an agency, most of this is handled by the account executive and sometimes you don’t have to deal with the client at all. However, when you work for yourself as a freelancer or as a business owner, you do have to deal with clients.

While very often this won’t be a big thing, there are cases, such as when you have creative differences with a client, when you certainly would benefit from any advice how to handle these situations smoothly. I don’t claim the solutions I offer are the best but as my experience shows, they do help to deal with creative differences in a civilized manner.

The Client Is(n’t) Always Right – Why Creative Differences Could Be Good

First, let’s clarify that creative differences aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, they frequently help to make a better product. Client input can be really valuable. You might have decades of experience but still there are always cases when the client has a better idea than you do – be it for a small detail, or even for the design as a whole.

You need to accept this as normal. The worst mistake you can make is to take it personally. No, almost always the client isn’t attacking you, your knowledge, or your skills.

On the other hand, if you believe the client is always right, this isn’t so either. You are supposed to know more about design than the client. This means that when the client has a ridiculous idea, you don’t have to say “Yes, Sir/Madam” all the time just to please him or her. When the client has disastrous ideas and you follow them, the end result will be failure, which in turn will hardly please the client.

As you see, things are not black and white. Sometimes the client is right, sometimes you are right. You both just need to find a way to communicate your thoughts, so that you can arrive at a solution that will make the project great rather than get involved in an ego fight.

Discuss and Explain Your Points of View

The major way to understand each other is to discuss and explain your points of view. Very often this is all it takes to solve differences of any kind. Here are some points to consider:

A suggestion or demand might sound ridiculous till you hear the reasoning behind it

Not everybody is able to verbalize his or her thoughts precisely and this is a common reason for confusion. When you add to this the fact that generally clients are not familiar with design terminology, it is quite possible that what the client really means is quite different from what you think he or she means. For instance, you might find it ridiculous to have fancy fonts for text because you think the text is the text body itself, while the client in reality wants fancy text for the slogan, or for some quotations you will put as an image inside the text. You just need to clarify what each of you means. When you do it, it might turn out you have no creative differences at all!

Accept that the other party also has likes and dislikes

You might be a genius designer but this doesn’t mean everybody else, your clients included, is a loser with no sense of colors and composition. You like red and orange, your client likes blue and green. You like rounded corners and headlines with a background, your client prefers things simpler. These are all natural and they are not a reason to fight. If you are working on your personal project, you are free to choose everything you want but when you work for a client, you do need to respect his or her likes and dislikes.

The worst you can do is to start convincing the client about the cuteness of red and orange and of rounded corners and headlines with a background. You might manage to force your view on the client but basically this is useless – the client will hardly be happy simply because he or she likes different things. Of course, if the client wants a disastrous combination, you should try to convince him or her this combination is not OK but try to use hard facts for it. For instance, you can say that these shades of green and blue don’t go well together and offer to replace them with other shades of green and blue that are a better match.

I remember once I was designing a site for a friend of mine. The guy was obsessed with black backgrounds but I somehow managed to convince him black is not user friendly – text on a dark background is more difficult to read and besides, black is too necrophilic and makes the whole site look depressing. As far as I remember, the site had dark blue background as a compromise for a while because dark blue is less depressing than black, though it is still far from what I would personally choose as a background but later he decided that it is black and nothing else. Of course, I wouldn’t take a gun and make him remove the black background – if he likes it that much, let’s leave it like that, the world won’t end.

Don’t throw in your decades of expertise as a proof you are right

Sometimes it feels easier to convince a client you are right because you have lots of experience. While there are many cases when years of experience can help you, basically clients aren’t interested in this.

When they don’t like something, they don’t care about the hundreds and thousands of sites you have made. If you can use your experience to convince a client something is wrong (i.e. my attempt to convince my friend that many experts think that all equal light text on dark background is more difficult to read, though there are others who don’t think so), this is fine. But if you throw in your experience as an argument per se, it feels like you are telling a child “I’m right because I’m older!”, don’t expect a client in his or her right mind will accept this.

Both of you might need to make concessions

Compromise is the ground to mutual understanding. Of course, it depends on what you have to compromise. If the client wants really stupid things (i.e. text body in 20px font size because this will make it easy to read) and won’t negotiate, there isn’t much room for compromise and you might have to resort to the advice into the last section of the article.

If I continue the example with the site of that friend of mine, the concession he made in exchange for the black background was that he gave up on his idea of animation and sounds. It wasn’t “Look mate, I accepted your black background, now it is your turn to accept my conditions!” kind of negotiations. Rather, I just managed to convince him that these animations and sounds are annoying at best and they are so last century. I know that many novice designers and clients with no knowledge are fascinated by everything that jumps and screams and this was the case with this guy – he simply didn’t have much experience as a user and he was fascinated by sounds and animations.

“If there is a will, there is way.” This might not be true about everything in life but for most cases of creative differences it is. If you manage to communicate your views, than it becomes easier to see each other’s point of view. Of course, don’t bet on a happy end in all cases but more often than not you can solve creative differences via communication and negotiation.

End the Project, If the Creative Differences Are So Fundamental

It is best if you manage to solve the creative differences with your client and work happily ever after, but unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes creative differences are so fundamental that no negotiations can bridge the cap.

In this case the only move is to end the project. This is really a last resort but sometimes you just have no other options. If you continue to work together, this will be a torture for both of you. Under these circumstances, the wisest is to end the project, especially if it is still in the beginning and go your separate ways.

9 mistakes designers make when creating a logo

Every now and then I’m approached by design students and clients asking me to critique their logos.

While I’m not particularly fond of critiquing anyone’s work, especially when it’s hard to find something positive to say, I’m happy to help students raise their game and charge a consultancy fee to any client looking for a professional opinion.

Specializing in the creation of identities allows me to easily identify —no pun intended — a pattern of common mistakes designers make when creating logos. Some are downright bad, and should be avoided at all costs, while others can be overlooked depending on the peculiarities of the project.

This list contains some of the most common mistakes I have seen in my design career.

Whether you are a designer looking to improve your skills or a small business owner looking to understand the process behind logo design, this article will help you learn from the mistakes of others; and either save you valuable design time or prevent you from making a poor investment.

1. Designing without a briefing

This sounds so wrong in so many levels, that I feel a bit silly even including this advice in this list, but the truth is that we all have done it. I know that I have, on many of my own personal projects, especially when working on something that I’m particularly passionate about.

However, while designing without a briefing is possible, more often than I would like to admit, I have found myself scrapping whatever design I made only to get back to the start and write a proper briefing for it. Ultimately, when creating for oneself, writing a briefing for personal projects saves time, but can in many cases also help to mature the initial idea.

That’s the general advice for personal projects, but client work is a whole different story.

The briefing exists to help designers know what they need to design, and how they need to design it. However, it also has a key role in defining the designer-client relationship. Without it, designers would be overwhelmed by the amount of design freedom, and clients would not know what to expect from the project, or how far can they go in making requests to the designer.

Here’s were I get serious about briefings, and I genuinely mean it. Working without a briefing on client work is a recipe for disaster. If you want to design high quality logos and compete on a professional level, you must have a briefing for each project.

 

2. Designing for yourself

Design can easily become a highly personal and passionate experience, so knowing for whom a logo is being created can be a hard lesson to learn, and that’s not a challenge just for designers, more often than not, clients are also guilty of analysing a design based on their personal tastes rather than their audience’s needs.

You must understand who your logo target audience is, and then learn as much as you can about them. Whenever possible, get in touch with them and talk about the project your are working on. Listen to what they have to say, and use what you learn from this interaction during the design process.

Here’s a warning especially for small business owners: do not rely entirely on their opinions to create your design. You should only refer to your target audience to extract their perspective, and always hire a professional designer to translate that into something that works. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a Franken-logo, the nightmare of the logo design world.

The truth is that learning how to wear the shoes of the target audience is one of the most valuable skills a designer can learn, and an extremely handy skill for any small business owner as they can apply that to all areas of their business, not only design. Remember, design for your target audience, not for yourself.

 

3. Not understanding the client’s USP

Each business has its own USP (unique selling point) and that is one of the most crucial things to keep in mind when designing a logo. It can be anything, from a secret formula (Coca-Cola), to being one-of-its-kind (Google), to being highly innovative (Apple).

I’m not suggesting that companies should literally insert their USPs in the designing of their logos, that would be terrible. Logos are not supposed to be literal, but understanding the practical side of a business will more often than not lead into the generation of ideas.

This is an essential part of my own logo design process, and actually, the exact first thing I look to understand. It works every time, just like a charm.

Knowing what is your client’s business USP will help you to find what’s the unique approach you should take when designing their logo. Every business has its own angle, and taking this into account can help you build a successful brand.

 

4. Not considering the brand positioning

Branding is a concept that stretches far beyond identity design, but in order to design a logo that truly reflects the core identity of the brand for which its being designed, one must understand the positioning of this brand.

Brand positioning is all about the relationship of one brand to other brands, usually primary competitors. The easiest way to make that analysis is by using a marketing diagrammatic technique called perceptual mapping, where you can visually display the perceptions of a brand in relation to others, thus finding the brand positioning.

If marketing is not your forte, that may sound pretty confusing, but is actually simpler than it looks, check out the example below which helps to put some sense into it.

Here I’m analysing the positioning of a few chocolate brands in relation to quality and price, two aspects highly relevant to customers.

It’s essential to understand that one can analyse status, usability, durability or any other dimension that is pertinent to the perception of customers; a well defined brand positioning will be thought from many different perspectives.

With all of that in mind, it becomes easy to see, that the logo you are designing must look like it belongs to the place where the brand is positioned. Thinking about that will raise the chances of your logo receiving a positive perception from customers.

 

5. Not doing enough research

Understanding your client USP and its brand positioning are essential to anyone looking to design a successful logo, but that’s not all the research you can do about your client’s business.

Allocate some considerable time to do research work, so you can understand what is the context of the business; who are the primary and secondary competitors; how and where the logo will be used; and who is the primary target of the company.

The internet is in your favor, there’s a lot you can learn about your client’s business and market without even having to ask any questions. Remember that Google is your friend, and you can ask him anything you want!

The truth is that clients, more often than not, don’t understand how to use design to their advantage, so they just don’t give you the information you need from start. Don’t be afraid of asking a lot of questions, even if they sound pretty basic.

Always bear in mind that designing a logo without understanding your client’s business, is like shooting an arrow while blindfolded expecting to hit bullseye. While you may be able to accomplish that, it will be all about luck, and that is what you want to avoid. The more information you are able to collect, the better your design will be.

 

6. Not considering the limitations of reproduction

This is a classic mistake. Here is where the majority of young designers fail, as they don’t foresee future applications the brand will require. There are plenty of things you should consider, but the good news is that this mistake is one of the easiest to overcome.

All you need to do is to ask questions. Will your client need the logo printed on the side of a pen, to use as a promotional item? Or, will it be printed on the company’s vehicles or large scale outdoors? Find out how the logo will be used even before you start thinking about design.

Even if your logo looks fabulous on a website; on the smallest size; and printed in the largest size; there’s always something you may forget. Here’s an example, think about how frustrating can it be if your client loves your logo, and even though is perfectly scalable, the design you chose is impossible to embroider on a t-shirt.

 

7. Showing too many options

If there’s one piece of advice I truly wish I had understood earlier in my career it is this one. It would have saved me a vast deal of time, but on the other hand, whenever I talk about this subject with other designers it seems to be a mistake we all need to experience.

Young designers need a great deal of practice to sharpen their skills, develop their own aesthetic language, and learn enough about the trade to feel confident enough to present fewer options. That’s pretty hard to accomplish without a great deal of experience.

On the other hand, some designers choose to show many options as a way to raise the perceived of value of their own service. I understand why they are doing that, but I don’t think there’s real value in showing multiple options.

The end of the story is that clients will only use one of the solutions you show anyway, so wouldn’t be more productive to come up with one idea that you genuinely think is the best, instead of dividing your time and effort in creating multiple solutions? Think about it.

But clients ask me to see multiple options! What should I do about that?

Well, that’s true, some clients will ask you for that, but then it comes to you to take the initiative and educate your client on how identity design works, and why getting fewer options is actually better than getting many options to choose from.

Whenever I’m working on an identity project, I always have many ideas of what to design, but hardly present more than the idea which I believe to be the best solution for the project I’m working on. Because I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the brand I’m going to design, I feel quite comfortable explaining, in the finest of the details. It’s easy to justify why the option I’m presenting is the best solution for my client’s business. That’s more value than showing multiple options.

Perhaps this particular mistake is more about a process of gaining experience that every designer needs to go trough to raise their game. On the other hand, I’m sure about one thing: avoiding the other mistakes I mention on this list will raise your confidence about your own work and presenting fewer options becomes more natural.

 

8. Relying on digital trickery to create a logo

What happens when you remove the gradients, reflections, drop-shadow effects and change the color to white over a dark background? Is your logo still there? If you are still able to see your logo perfectly, the chances are you have designed a good logo, but if not, then it’s time to start thinking about it all over again.

Using digital trickery to make a weak design look strong is one of the easiest things to do,  all you need is Photoshop, and knowing which effects to apply, but these types of logos are just not good long-term identities, they don’t help to build brand value.

The rule of the thumb here is to design the logo in its simplest form. Once the essence of the logo is working, then you may consider adding some trickery to better fit the logo to specific applications, but never as an essential part of the design.

 

9. Not being able to explain your design

It’s terrible when a client questions a feature of your design and all you have to say is “I designed it this way because I think it looks good”. Bear in mind that if you use the “I like” argument, you are also allowing your client to do the same, and that can easily turn the discussion into a battle of “taste”. Guess who’s going to lose…

Every single pixel of a logo must be thought-of, it must have a concept behind its looks, and the overall result must show a solid understanding of the proposed briefing. If you have followed these steps carefully, be not afraid, as I’m sure you will be able to answer any question that may arise once you show off your logo to the world.

If your design is based on actual knowledge and experience your client does not share, you can position yourself as an expert in your field; and your clients are going to respect your choice because they lack the argument to contest something they don’t understand.

That is what separates the wheat from the chaff in the design industry.

 

Conclusion

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, you can’t possibly live long enough to make all mistakes by yourself, so learning from the mistakes of others is pretty good advice.

I must admit however, that I’m a strong advocate for empiric experience. There’s nothing better than learning from your own mistakes, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you do something wrong, there’s no shame in it. Mistakes are there to help us grow, not to drag us down.

5 Freelancing Advice That Don’t Work (and What Does)

1. Don’t make your bedroom your office

This is the first advice I heard when I started freelancing. No matter what you do, don’t have your office in your bedroom.
Forget an office, I didn’t even have a desk when I started freelancing. I’d work in bed or on the dining table. When I did get a table a month later, it was placed in my bedroom.

The reasoning behind the advice is sound. Working in bed is bad for your posture, and it doesn’t make for a healthy work environment. After a couple of hours of working from your bed, you just feel like lazing about – absolutely not productive.

But when they are starting out, many freelancers don’t have the funds or the room to have a separate home office. So the advice is actually redundant. It’s impossible to follow advice you can’t afford.

How to make it work for you

If you’re working in your bedroom, make sure you sit up straight and have a breakfast table to put your laptop. Get up every half hour to stretch to avoid feeling drowsy or lazy.

If you have a desk in your room, try to set it near a window. If you don’t have a window, make sure you set the table so that your back faces the bed when you’re working. Add an easy to maintain, real plant on your desk and keep it clean. The aesthetics are important when one is strapped for space.

If at all possible, avoid working in the bedroom. Instead, choose the dining room or the kitchen table. It’s closer to the coffee!

2. Don’t work for free

New freelancers don’t always have a portfolio. To have one, they need clients who’ll give them work and to get work, they need to find clients. It’s a vicious chicken-and-egg thing. The only way out of it seems to be to work for free in the beginning – at least for the first couple of clients!

But popular freelancing advice says that you should never work for free as it undervalues your talent and sets a precedent for future compensation. What’s a freelancer to do? How are you going to build your portfolio?

How to make it work for you

Instead of working for free, create your own samples. Better yet, volunteer your services to a non-profit organization. Not only will it look good on your resume, the organization would be eternally grateful to you and when you ask for testimonials, they’ll be offering glowing examples.

3. Always take a deposit

How many of you took deposits from clients when you started out? Me neither. In fact, this is something I still don’t do unless the project is a substantial one.

Yes, I got stiffed once and yes, I should ideally take a deposit before starting work. But clients don’t always agree to that and it also really depends on how you do business. Granted, chances of you not being paid are high if you don’t take a deposit but it’s not always feasible to pass over a client just because they don’t pay an initial deposit.

For me, this advice only works with big projects. I simply explain to the client why it’s a big risk for me to start work when a big amount is involved. They usually understand and send over a 20% deposit (at least) or whichever amount we’ve agreed upon.

How to make it work for you

Never hand over a finished project. Always hold something back. If it’s a design project, put your watermark on it. If it’s a website theme/template send them screenshots and if it’s a writing project, ask them for the payment after the draft has been approved.

Whatever kind of work you do, find a way to either put your mark on it or hold something back until you receive the full payment.

4. Have a freelancing contract

Every freelancer, freelance blog and business book out there says the same thing: Working without a contract is inviting disaster to dinner. Yet there are countless freelancers who work without a contract. I know because I was one too. Legal mumbo jumbo scares the best of us.

As new freelancers, we’re eager to get started. “What’s the point of a contract until I have clients?” you think. And then suddenly, you have a client and you’re so excited you forget all about the contract.

Or maybe you’re scared to bring up the topic of a contract. You’re uncomfortable bringing it up when everything seems to be going smoothly. Just because this advice is popular doesn’t meant it’s not right. It just doesn’t work with a big percentage of freelancers.

How to make it work for you

Always communicate via email. Even when you’ve talked to the client over the phone, send them an email recapping your chat and ask them if you’ve missed anything. An email exchange might not be a contract but it’s the next best thing.

Should you come up with any problems, you can always refer to the emails and tell the client that this was what was decided and agreed upon about the rates, scope, payment terms. Better yet, once all the details have been finalized, send your client all the details in an email recapping the entire deal.

5. Charge what you’re worth

Freelancers either charge what they’re worth or they don’t. Most often, they don’t.

The internet is riddled with advice on charging what you’re worth. We’re told that the kind of clients we attract is directly related to our rates – and it’s true.

Unfortunately it’s very rare for a new freelancers to even know what the going rate is in his niche, let alone, his worth. This knowledge comes with time and confidence in your work.

How to make it work for you

Charging what you’re worth might be stretching it a bit. Stick with charging the going rates. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find other freelancers in your niche. Check out their websites to see if they’ve listed their rates.

While not all freelancer list their rates, a few do which is enough to give you a general idea. If you’re still unsure, email the ones who don’t have them listed and ask them. Some won’t reply because they guard their rates but there are plenty of freelancers who will.

Online forums are also a great source of information. If there’s a freelancing forum you frequent, ask about the going rates there. You’re guaranteed to get plenty of help!

Reflection

The beautiful thing about being a freelancer is that we’re adaptable folks. If something doesn’t work we either work around it, or find a way to make the best of the situation, without being taken advantage of. Have you ever been given advice about freelancing that didn’t work for you?

How Responsive Web Design Could Become an Alternative for Mobile Websites?

The assumption that your web design is responsive can only be made true when the users using different operating systems and podiums to access the website, are able to do it successfully. The web design which is responsive is becoming more famous as it removes the need of constantly updating, or adding additional features to the mobile website. Some website owners and designers even think that using responsive web design removes the need of a mobile website.

How Responsive Web Design Could Become an Alternative for Mobile Websites?

Experts state that the responsive web design actually consists of flexible layouts, media questions and fluid grids that make the website more accessible and easy to use. If one does not use this responsive web design, there are chances that the website owner will have to provide the visitors with different URL’s compatible with different devices.

 

The best thing about the responsive web design is that websites needs to be designed only once to be accessed with the different devices and operating systems. It is even simpler than any mobile website or template, since the whole website is designed in a way which makes it suitable to adjust to any screen resolution.

Let’s Have Few Words about the Working of the Responsive Web Design

The word “responsive”, when used for the web design, means that the whole website is constructed in a way where it fits or adjusts according to the resolution of the screen, used by the user for accessing the website. For example, let’s say that you are reading something on your tablet, and you have to switch to another device to read the same thing; in this case the responsive web design will actually re-size that page or website according to your other device. If you are frequent user of these devices, then this is a great feature for you. The responsive web design actually gives you a new experience of looking at a thing, irrespective of which device or platform you are using to access the website. This design also works well with large websites that don’t support Java Script.

Mobile Websites have Become Need of Hour

It is a given fact that most people, today, use a mobile to access websites. Tablets are also mostly preferred by students for the task of note taking etc. It is much more preferred than the non portable PC. So designing websites for the mobile has almost become a necessity.

While making a website, when you start coding for a specific resolution, the usual end result is a mess of too many style sheets. The media queries, actually, help build a resolution match for an I-phone in both portrait and landscape view through CSS3. As you can predict, you can restore any HTML template, on the mobile website of your now website to your original one, at any time.

Making a website for a mobile, with the help of a responsive web design, automatically takes care of the different aspects of mobile. This means that you do not have to configure the CSS properties separately for both mobile and desktop version of the website.

The only thing you need to be on a look out for is how to display the website on the smallest of the screens with perfect resolution. A program known as Google Analytics can provide you with a lot of help in this matter.

It is a fact that your website might not, 100%, successfully work on each and every device. But obviously, your goal should always be to have your website work on the maximum devices with an average screen resolution. I-phone models using 320 by 480 resolutions have also attained it. A screen of 240 pixels or even smaller is more preferable.

Eradicating the Default Zoom of Mobile Website

While browsing a website on your mobile, you might have noticed that certain websites automatically zooms itself out to go beyond the size of your mobile screen. It is somehow best for the user, since not every website is compatible with the mobile browsing. Thus, getting a full view of the website this way is a better option. But sometimes, the default auto zoom can really trouble your lay out components. It can make the images or certain layout elements of your website either appear too big or too tiny on your screen. The perfect solution to this is using Meta tagging. It can be added into the document header in certain Android and I-phone devices which actually rearranges it.

This is sometimes also known as viewport Meta tagging, in which a few custom variables are added in the content. Apple has certain meta tag variables present in their documentations which are compatible or made just for the websites opened through I-phone operating systems. The starting scale value is very important as it redirects your website to 100% zoom when you open in on your device.

Designs Used For Touch Devices

Sometimes while producing the layouts or web designs, developers forget that the time of the keyboard mobile phones have long gone. They now need to shift their focus towards smart phones that have a touch system. Instead of having a drop-down menu, it is best to have the menu displayed on the right hand side of the mobile as a single menu since it is easier and comfortable to tap the menus on your right hand side using your right thumb.

instantShift - Designs Used For Touch Devices

Instead of using the jQuery codes, it is much easier to link the menu applications through indent margins. It is really important to increase the size of navigation links. People using mobile phones, do not have big screens or desktops to view the things; so, keep the text on the mobile websites large, readable. This may also be changed when the user might change the mode of viewing from landscape to portrait or vice versa.

Reason for Dynamic Image Scrambling

Images are a very important to any website, as they attract the visitors. Even though not always to stream videos, mobile phone users surely use their mobiles to look for images. When it comes to the layout of a mobile, this surely offends many.

According to the standardized CSS rule, all images should be scaled to maximum width property. The images are always perfect at 100%. If a user re-adjusts the size of his browser smaller than your image, it will automatically re-size its width to best fit the size of the browser. Sadly, the internet explorer does not understand and read this property, so one will have to manually customize the IE stylesheet to get this feature in action.

You can get good and stretched images with the help of Java Script and jQuery plugins. Many of the expert developers have put too much of their time in producing a responsive image content.

Turning On/Off the Extra Toggle Content

Including web forms, active menus, and image sliders, there are certain heavy sizes of text available. The best way to adjust them with the decreasing size of layout is to hide them altogether into a minimized content division. This could be done through either CSS or JavaScript, but the need for JS code is, ultimately, inevitable as it is also needed to create a toggle button.

This is the best solution for keeping your webpage fully lively and rich with media content. Instead of removing the content with drop-down navigation or re-adjusting it, you just have to minimize them into a content div. If someone needs to use those items, they may just tap the toggle on/off button to view or hide them.

The formatting is really simple, interesting and spontaneous to do for touch screen devices. Inside the div, you can put each menu side by side in columns. This would make them even easier to separate. Even if size of the window decreases, they will eventually get in line above and below each other, eventually leading to the increase in height of the window. Then you can slowly lead to the closure of the whole menu with just a single tap. For dynamic image, re-sizing this toggle div is the best option.

Choosing the Custom CSS Designs

It is very important to choose your design or layout for the website and get your content adjusted to it. For example, in case of side bars and content area, you should set their sizes in percentage and let them get adjusted to the layout. But if you set a minimum width, it will eventually lead to the breakage of your side bar content.

So it’s much better to consider making external stylesheets rather than dealing with this problem which might affect your whole design or layout. But there is always a possibility that you might run your content in such a small resolution, that your screen would not be able to extract the content out of it. So, this is the best time to add certain customized CSS properties which will re-format or adjust the content altogether, according to the screen of the device.

What Benefits Responsive Web Design Can Provide?

There are certain different benefits of the using responsive web designs which include:

  • They eliminate the need to add different website visitors with different URL’s, using different devices to access the website.
  • With different URLs, it becomes difficult to maintain multiple different sites. It can even add to the costs as well.
  • It eliminates the need to design different websites for different devices.
  • If you need to bring about any changes or modification on any of you web pages, you can do it with responsive web designs. People, not using it, may find themselves having to change multiple websites or pages just to modify a single page or website.
    There are also certain consequences or bad points of using a responsive web design which include:
  • Sometimes the web design actually leads you to download certain extra markups which are not necessary. These extra markups only result in extra cost and a waste of space.
  • Rather than just adjusting and reformatting the existing website with the help of responsive web design, making and providing a whole website for a mobile device is much more advisable and suitable.
  • The websites that are made for mobiles have proved to be more efficient and responsive than the ones made or re-formatted with the help of responsive web designs.

 

So these benefits and features can make responsive web design a suitable alternative for mobile websites but here you must consider one thing that it does not ends the need for great mobile sites at all.

How to deliver the perfect design

Working with clients can be tough. There can be a lot of back and forth communication and many requirements. Every client has their different level of standards and can make bouncing from project to project a bit difficult. One client’s idea of good is another’s idea of average and they’ll want more.

Some of us make our living off doing client work and accepting new projects. While all of us are different in the amount of work we can do and handle, it’s no secret that we don’t want to spend lots of unnecessary time stuck doing revisions and trying different designs. It’s always nice to have a client that can at least see the potential in a design instead of throwing it out to the wolves.

Having a design looked at and immediately disproved can be crushing. Providing the best design the first time around is often rare. However, providing a design the client likes and can see the potential in is obtainable. There’s no such thing as an immaculate, “perfect” design, but there is an idea that a design has “perfect” potential, no matter the client or the project. Below are a few things you can do to help make better designs for your clients.

Know the brand

This is the single most important and also most over-looked thing when it comes to creating designs, especially if you don’t use design briefs. When I first started designing as a freelancer, I asked clients what type of design they needed and mainly what colors they liked. I usually knew the business industry, but past that, I didn’t really concern myself. I felt like it didn’t matter with what I was doing. After sending my concept to the business, they typically had tons of revisions or wanted me to give it another try.

I thought that was normal until I started to actually concern myself with the business I was working for. Asking questions about the business and what they actually do gives a better and deeper understanding to their needs. Once you grasp the actual need, then you have to find out the types of things they like. Once you know that, it’s easier to move on and create something specifically for that brand.

There’s no limit to the amount you can know about a brand you work for. Some think it’s frivolous, but I even know the start dates of some of my clients. It lets me understand their brand and who they want to attract. All these things are extremely important in making a design for them. Design should solve a problem, so you must be very well familiar with every aspect of the problem so that you can pose the right solution. In math, you can’t correctly solve an equation if you don’t understand the numbers. Design is the same thing. Know as much as possible.

 

Research the industry

The second most important and over-looked thing for some freelancers is researching the client’s industry. Once we know the needs of the client, we are ready and prepared to design what we think should be designed. It’s great to be anxious and ready but it is extremely important to know what is going on in the client’s industry.

Firstly, we know how trendy design can be. There are going to be certain trends in one industry that are and are not acceptable in another. In a big corporate lawyer firm, I’m not going to find a ton of watercolor logos. It’s not about finding ways to blend in, but it is about making sure you don’t negatively poke out like a sore thumb. There has to be a balance. You don’t want to make your client the laughing stock of their peers and you don’t want them to confuse potential customers and clients.

Secondly, you research to find out what is and is not popular with the consumers. You are honestly designing for them more than the client that is paying you. You’ve got to make sure you understand the industry’s consumers so you create something that gets them excited and ready to move. Perhaps you’ve noticed things they respond to well and things they don’t. You’ve got to try to use that to the strength of the company. Even in creating brochures and flyers, you must know what makes them excited and present it in a manner to do so.

The best part about researching the industry is the ability to notice areas that need improvement. If there is an opportunity in an area that your client is interested in, they’d be foolish not to tap into that industry. If consumers are begging for new features or designs, you can use that to your benefit and eventually to your client’s.

 

Be creative

What do we all do when we’re ready to create something? We probably get online and go through hundreds of pages of design inspiration. When we’re tapped out on the blog, we then go to our favorite showcases and rinse and repeat. You can find inspiration anywhere online and it’s almost endless.

I love inspiration and tell designers as well as clients to look at some things to see what they like. However, after finding something you love, many end up copying rather than being creative. Someone can make a design and say it’s merely inspired by another design, yet it looks similar. Someone else can do the same, and the designs will look completely different. I’d tell you the latter was truly inspired while the former mimicked a design.

The difference is inspiration is really a feeling that taps into a certain corner of your creativity. It wakes that area up and pushes it to do new things. The interpretation of that inspiration should solely be yours. Perhaps you’ve incorporated an element or two from the original design—that’s cool, too, but true creativity isn’t work that’s been borrowed.

The benefits of being creative and trying new things is the affect it has on the design and who sees the design. Good creativity and good design can often lend itself to the beginnings of innovation. Re-inventing and re-designing the norm in order to provide the same purpose has had a great effect on our modern lives. Changing the norm to provide a better purpose creates great effects as well, many of which can start with a good, innovative design. Why? Creativity and innovation are contagious and can create new outlooks for your client as well as others who see the design.

 

Pay attention to detail

I did something so embarassing once: I sent a client a design concept and completely misspelled the name of the company. While they didn’t make a big deal out of it, I was beyond upset at myself for letting that one slip. Something like that could have cost me the job with any other client. That’s why paying attention to detail is extremely important.

Why did I make such a stupid mistake? I was actually rushing through the process as I was trying to meet a personal deadline. I’ve found myself and other designers often rushing and cutting corners with designs in order to get things done faster. The design outcomes are fair, but the risk of messing up the details are not.

Clients and consumers look at everything, so it’s best to be as detailed as possible. Take your time when creating and try to think everything through. Don’t always use your designer brain, but step back and look at the design and say, “Would I purchase this if I were a consumer? Would I remember this? Does this make sense?” These questions will keep you from making stupid mistakes like the one I made. It also helps you notice things you normally wouldn’t when designing.

 

Explain your design

While this idea has less to do with the creation of a design, it’s still helpful. As designers, we love and understand our designs and why we did it. For us, everything makes sense and goes together cohesively. Unfortunately, we don’t always communicate these things when we send off design for approval.

Sending an explanation of a design with a design (rather than in defense of a design) is helpful because the client has a chance to understand your design right there. For example, with my logo design concepts, I often write a small paragraph in the design that explains what my design is doing. Some believe the design should speak for itself, but in our first stages, it doesn’t always happen. Why not give them the immediate opportunity to understand it the way you get it?

Doing this gives the client less time to develop negative feelings towards the design, because they typically understand it better. Even if it is disliked (which it shouldn’t be if you followed the previous steps), there’s a chance that they’ll stick with and see and understand the potential.

Don’t be afraid of revisions, because again, they come with the territory. A quick hint here: always try what the client asks for. If you hate the idea, when you try it out, they’ll probably hate it, too or you may end up liking it. Either way, there should be open lines of communication between both parties so that explanations along with revisions can be clearly understood and accepted.

 

Conclusion

Again, there is no such thing as making a design that needs no revisions at all. Creating a design often gives whomever sees it some new ideas and they’re going to want to add to or take away from what you have. The idea here is to create something the client will actually like.

Using these ideas is helpful not only to the design, but also to your rapport. Asking clients lots of questions actually builds trust, plus who doesn’t like talking about themselves? They understand and respect that you really desire to create something for them and not just a general design for whomever.

Many amateur freelancers don’t hit all the above points and end up wasting a lot of time. Hitting all these points not only creates a better design for the client, but also starts to make you a better designer. We should all strive to be as great as we can in the positions we’re in.

Mental Preparation: What To Do When You Lose Motivation

Sometimes, you just don’t want to do your work. It can be such a hassle to get up, start up the computer, fire up the software, and do what needs to be done. You feel tired and bored, having lost sight of why you chose a career in design in the first place, and you find yourself wondering whether you should just give it all up and become a dental hygienist. It can be really demoralizing to lose your motivation part of the way through a project, but what do you do if you absolutely have to get something done regardless of how you feel about it? Today, I’m going to tell you about a technique you can use when you’re feeling burnt out and you simply can’t bear to think about taking one more step to complete that big, hairy project staring you in the face.

Riding the Rollercoaster

Emotions are not permanent. Sometimes you’re exuberantly happy, and other times you’re depressed enough to cry. This is normal – it means you’re human and not a robot. Most people realize that their current emotional state won’t last forever. However, most of us seem to conveniently forget that fact when there’s a pile of work that needs to be done, and it isn’t going to do itself. It doesn’t matter if the work is for a client or boss, or just for ourselves. We can usually find a way to get our work done when there’s a paycheck involved, but sometimes even that isn’t motivation enough to press on. Procrastination is a problem that affects us all, but for some people it can be more devastating than usual. Believe it or not, people have lost their jobs, homes, and families because they couldn’t bring themselves out of the trap of procrastination. Procrastination usually occurs when the emotional side of our brains – the side that loves to laze in front of the television and eat ice cream – overtakes the rational side of our brains. The rational side no longer has control, and the emotional side is now telling us that there’s nothing more important than catching up on our favorite show or finishing that new video game we just bought.

 

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have some news for you. First of all, you should realize that procrastination, despite being an annoyance and a major waste of time, is perfectly normal. Really. You’re not some lazy freak of nature if you procrastinate now and then. There’s no real cure for procrastination, and to be honest, as a creative person, you probably wouldn’t want the cure even if there was one. Why? Because procrastination is a major source of distraction, and distraction is what allows you to be creative in the first place. Think about it. If your life was merely a series of tasks from your to-do list, which you did flawlessly all the time, where would you find the time to be creative? And what are you usually doing when you’re at your most creative? Are you getting things done productively, like a good little automaton? Or are you goofing off – staring into space, doodling aimlessly, thinking about crazy, abstract things that have nothing to do with the task at hand? If you’re anything like me, the answer is almost always the latter.

The problem comes when your procrastination lasts longer than the period it’s required to be useful. If you find yourself avoiding your work for no other reason than you’re just not motivated to do it, there are a few things you can do to get yourself back on track and complete the work that needs to be completed. First of all, it’s important to understand the nature of human emotion. Don’t worry – this isn’t some esoteric psychology lesson. It’s actually quite simple: there’s no way you can maintain the same level of enthusiasm for the entire duration of a long-term project. It’s just not possible. Your brain will eventually run out of energy, and you’ll find yourself exhausted and demotivated. This is normal. And like procrastination, there’s nothing you can do about it. What you can do, however, is something that many people refuse to do: accept that it’s normal and that you can’t do anything about it.

Once you accept that something is inevitable, you’ll be much better prepared to deal with it when it happens. If you’ve ever lost a loved one to a long illness, you’ll probably recall how, after a certain period, they will begin to make preparations for their own passing. They’ll update their will, and set everything in order for the day when they’ll no longer be around. There’s nothing they can do to stop what’s coming, but they can accept it and make things go that much smoother. And if a terminally ill person can accept their own mortality, you can certainly accept that you’ll have to continue working regardless of how you feel about it at any given time.

In order to continue working on a project once you’re past that stage of initial enthusiasm, you have to prepare yourself ahead of time to deal with your fluctuating emotions. It’s important to realize that you won’t always be at the same level of excitement, and that that’s perfectly okay. That way, when you lose steam halfway through, you’ll have a system in place to deal with it and you won’t be completely lost and frustrated. A lot of people say things like “it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey.” After you get through wanting to punch those people in the face, take a moment and really think about what they’re saying. If you’re too focused on your goal, you won’t even notice when your enthusiasm runs out and you’re no longer able to rely on it for motivation.

Set Realistic Expectations

Many times, we lose motivation to work on a project because we just aren’t seeing the results we thought we would in the allotted time period. If you took on a few freelancing jobs in hopes of saving up enough money to take that trip around the world you’ve been wanting to take, or even to just pay some of your bills that have been piling up, and you haven’t gotten as many clients as you hoped you would, you can easily become discouraged. If no amount of marketing or niching down your target client base has been showing results, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the amount of time you’ve given yourself to reach your goals.

Are you expecting to double your income through freelancing within six months? If so, you might want to sit down, because I have some bad news for you. Building a successful freelance career takes time – time that you might not have given yourself in the beginning. Use your “down time” of minimal motivation to reassess your goals and create a more realistic scenario. When you’re feeling defeated, it can be much easier to accept that your goals will take you longer than you thought. Why? Because you give your brain hope that they can eventually be reached, rather than thinking that everything is doomed and you’ll never be successful.

Doomed If You Do, Doomed If You Don’t

If you’ve been successful at completing projects before, you might recall that, though you can laugh and joke about it all now, you probably experienced feelings of doubt and anxiety about the success of your project. Doubt is one of the biggest killers of motivation, because it robs you of the confidence needed to complete any task. Even if you’ve planned your goals carefully and rationally, and you haven’t miscalculated anything in terms of time or effort required, if you feel you’re still not getting the results you were hoping for, you can start to lose your enthusiasm. You may feel as though you’ll never reach your goals…until you do reach them. Then, you become totally confident again and nothing can stop you. Right?

Well, sometimes. I don’t know about you, but even when I’ve been successful with a project, I’ll still get a nagging feeling that I just haven’t done enough to secure my success. If you experience anxiety about succeeding, you can feel as if you’re a fraud, hiding behind a curtain of false confidence like the Wizard of Oz.

The good thing about these feelings is that they’re usually temporary. Most people have them, and they’ll eventually go away after awhile. If you began your project for the right reasons, those reasons will always guide you through the wilderness, and you’ll eventually meet back up with your confidence.

Conclusion

Creative people are natural born risk-takers. Everything we do – from finding freelance clients to generating valuable work those clients will love – involves a risk of some sort. Even if the only risk is you feeling demotivated or unenthusiastic from time to time, it can still prove too much for you to handle. But imagine how our lives would be if nothing involved any kind of risk. If everything you touched turned to gold and you could never fail, ever.

CSS Benefits in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Ranking your website and blog is very trending these days. Everyone is  searching for good SEO techniques and blog improvement methods to get higher rankings in search engine. This become more in consideration due to strictness of quality maintaining by Google search engine. Continuous coming giant Panda and Penguin updates increase the thirst fire of blogger to think critically about SEO ways to let them survive and maintain their sites.

The table lipstick using old styled websites based on HTML tables are outdated now. Very fewer sites are left with tabled structures. Due to lack of browser support, tables cause problems while CSS is well supported by most of browsers and is upper hand in the race, and is very beneficial in SEO. In this article we have outlined some very useful and interesting about the fact that how CSS aids you in your SEO practices and help you improve your impact. For those who are already familiar with HTML and CSS will get more understandings in comparison with white minds.

The Fact

Be clear about the fact that writing quality content is the key factor for the success of any website not just the SEO practices. What CSS will do in SEO is to make your page structure more convenient for search engines to read and crawl your content and hence will results in better page visibility. The one who’s waiting for miracle should stop now and start building good quality content.

Major CSS benefits of SEO

We see a lot of misleading articles on Internet with a label “CSS to boost SEO” and similar one. In actual below are the major possible benefits of using CSS for SEO.

Making the page lighter and fast loading

The main purpose for using the CSS is to make the pages load faster by minimizing the server requests and images. This increases the website opening speed and make it more efficient for search engines to be crawled. This ultimately results in quick and better indexing of your site’s content.

Using search engines recognized standard tags

There are defined HTML tags for headings <H1>, <H2>,.. Make them more prominent and visible using CSS. Search engines perceive them as the indicator of important content. Avoid using the old fashioned <font> tag for decorating the headings.

Working on Menus to make easily crawl-able

Search engines recognized the <ul> and <li> items as links to other important content of our site, so use these HTML standard elements in making up of menus to help search engines crawl them easily.

Important content first using CSS

This is the old and effective method in times. Using this method one can show important content first on the website using CSS to returns the important paragraph first but not to users. This is not that effective now but in terms of easily crawl-ability.

Best CSS Practices that aids SEO

For WordPress users, many things are done automatically in SEO like if you’re using some good reputed WordPress theme then solves half of the hurdles. Below are some good practices that can help you add more value to your SEO practices.

1- CSS Sprite

CSS sprites are very recommended when we talk about quick page load and faster web-page loading speed. Google page speed emphasis every website developer to use the CSS sprites to minimize the server load and help the web-pages load quicker. Let’s have quicker view on what CSS sprites does mean? CSS sprites the name is little weird and misleading, they are not small images but one large image that contains different smaller images in it. With the help of CSS background position, we can show users specific part of the image. This way we can make hover buttons, images and icons.

Why they are important?

Previously there was a conception that the smaller images will load faster for the users but that approach was wrong. By CSS sprites method, there will be only one HTTP request rather than multiple HTTP-request for each image which increases the response time. Once the main image is loaded completely, then that will be used in all over the website easily.

If you need a complete tutorial on what are CSS sprites, how they work and why they’re cool. Check this tutorial.

2- External CSS Files

Adding external files help web-pages load faster. When creating the web-pages, the developer have a choice to add in-line styles of to wrap them all in some separate file. The right choice is to go with external CSS files. The same rule applies for JavaScript files.

Importance?

Yeah right ask, they’re really important. First and most important importance is that you don’t have need to write the same CSS code again and again in all over the pages. It saves the developer from scratching the separate web-pages for a single color change. An amazing experiment reveals that the external style sheets load way faster. This can also help you rank well in SEs on content to code ratio.

Another important benefit is that when you reload the pages the external files does not reload. This way the web-page even if reloaded will connect to already opened external CSS file which will boost the opening.

3- Easily Crawl-able Content

Use the standard HTML tags to indicate SEs about the important content of your web-page like <H1> rather than using fancy <font> tag. Further for creating menus and navigation, consider the standard menu tags <ul> and <ol>. and further the <li> and <a> elements to link to the other important pages of your website. The CSS thing is revolving around better crawling option. The content to code ratio (In comparison how much is your code with content in a web-page) should be well managed. SEs consider this a key factor while ranking websites.

The website with outdated HTML code can never be ranked well in the search engines because of less crawl-ability and complex invalid code. The bad and good examples are below.

Bad Example or Old HTML

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

<bold>
<font size="30px" color="#eee">
All about SEO and CSS
</font>
</bold>

Optimal and Recommended HTML/CSS

HTML:

1
2
3
4
5

<h1 id="myheading">
All about SEO and CSS
</h1>

CSS:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

#myheading {
font-weight: bold;
background-color: #eee;
font-size: 30px
}

Some bad practice to avoid

CSS can ruins your SEO at the same time if you’re using some spam techniques to cheat the SEs. Search engines have became way more intelligent than minute minds of spammers. Below are some bad practices observed that should be avoided.

1- Using CSS to Hide Text

This is one the technique that SEs treat very angrily. Can also be used for keyword stuffing. Any website that intentionally contain any hidden text to deceive the search engines may be removed from Google index and may not appear in search engines. Using display:none; or margin:-999px like commands can hide the text from end users but seen by search engines. Using them will ruin your SEO practice if you’re using them to spam.

2- Using CSS to replace images

Replacing images using CSS is a good way to show good designed image to users while a complete text to search engines. Mostly used in logo and tag-line part of website and blog. Below are a sample way to do so.

1
2
3
4
5

<div id="mylogo">
<h1>My Company Name</h1>
</div>

And writing some CSS like below

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

#mylogo {

background: url(/images/logo.png) no-repeat;
}
#mylogo h1 {
display: none;
}

Using this technique is fine but this can be abused by stuffing a lot of keywords in the title and tag-line/description. Adding too many keyword will get your site spam and may be blocked by search engines. You must use this feature with good intentions or you will be the only person who will get affected.

Another option is to use the alt tag on all images to let search engines know about the image content.

Summary

CSS is a lovely option which is adopted for creating up-to-date websites which are optimal in size so that load faster and to base on standards. Clean written code not improves your code to content ratio but helps the search engines to crawl your pages with more ease which ultimately results in better rankings. One can separate the HTML content from a lot in in-line code stuffing which makes the code way lighter, cleaner and faster which is purely search engine friendly with losing the design requirements. A very recommended combination!



Beyond Wireframing: The Real-Life UX Design Process

We all know basic tenets of user-centered design. We recognize different research methods, the prototyping stage, as well as the process of documenting techniques in our rich methodological environment. The question you probably often ask yourself, though, is how it all works in practice?

What do real-life UX design processes actually look alike? Do we have time for every step in the process that we claim to be ideal? In this article, I’ll share a couple of insights about the real-life UX design process and speak from my own experience and research.

User-Centred Design: Truth Vs. Fiction

A few years ago, I joined one of the biggest e-commerce companies in Eastern Europe. When I entered my new office, I immediately spotted a huge user-centered design (UCD) poster on the wall. The whole process was described in detail that left hardly any doubts about the step-by-step approach to design. Exciting interior design for an aspiring UX designer, right? I stared at the poster with great hope and imagined how exciting following the ideal UCD process would actually be. Guess what? They didn’t apply a single step from the poster to the actual process. They never did any research, nor any serious analysis of user behavior. Yikes, they didn’t even prototype! This fancy poster simply hung shamefully on the wall.

For the next three years, we worked hard to put user experience design at the heart of a developer-driven culture. We forgot about the poster and structured our own process, which fitted well with the company’s capabilities and allowed us to constantly optimize our main service. Why didn’t we use the crystal-clear theoretical approach? Because we couldn’t afford to go step by step through a classic UCD process with a lot of different activities. It would have taken too much time, and therefore it was economically invalid — the budgets for our projects were way too tight.

To deliver a user interface on time, we were forced to get really lean. We used a classic UCD process as inspiration and created a process that was simple but actionable for the company. We defined the problem, defined the scope of the project, iterated through paper prototyping and wireframing, pushed code to production as fast as we could, and always used multivariate split-testing and detailed Google Analytics event tracking.

Post-launch was the time to measure and plan optimization, which we executed immediately. Unfortunately, only huge projects had budgets for qualitative testing. Huge projects were also full of preliminary diagrams (site maps, flow charts, conceptual diagraming) — a enormously recommended activity to find order in a complex mess of information.

All in all, our process was simple but efficient. Of course, in general terms, it was a UCD process, but compared to any popular approach and a famous UPA poster, we used about 20% of the recommended tools and studies. We assumed that users don’t benefit from poster unicorn processes. Users benefit from the hard work of a product team; therefore, a simplified process is better than a robust unactionable theory.

Suddenly, I started to wonder how others managed to apply UCD. There’s a lot of talk about wireframes, but what does our work look like beyond wireframes? Was I the only one with a simplified approach? What can we do to create successful designs? What does the process beyond “the poster” look like? Is there a pattern that works well for the majority of designers?

The Reason For Research

Luckily enough, I was about to find some answers to my questions about the design process. I was forced to perform a worldwide reality check on my opinion about the classic UCD approach and design processes. Sharing this reality check is the raison d’être of this article.

  • If you’re fresh in the UX design world, learning how more experienced designers work might be useful.
  • If you’re a seasoned designer, treat this article as an incentive to reconsider your approach to design. We’re all rushing our designs every day. This is the time to take a breath, see what others are doing and think about what works and what doesn’t work in our real-life approach — beyond a UCD poster.

You may wonder what force persuaded me to revise my approach to the design process. The answer is simple: my own startup. Together with my friends, we created paper prototyping notepads to make our process more efficient, and then we created our own collaborative wireframing application. We suddenly became quite popular, took VC investment and decided to face the challenge: to create a user experience design toolset to support teamwork in the design process.

We felt that we were trying to fight Godzilla (or Tywin Lannister, if you prefer Game of Thrones to old Japanese movies). If my UX teams couldn’t apply a classic UCD approach, how could I be sure that using any theoretical framework would enable me to design a toolset that fits anyone’s real-life process? I couldn’t. Is there any pattern in design processes that we actually apply in our companies? I had no idea.

We felt that we needed to find out the truth about real-life design processes and we needed it now. It appeared to us that our research might be of vast importance to the community and even beyond. A simple equation: a great tool for the design process equals less work for designers on the tools side, equals more time for creative work, equals better designs for all of us.

The stakes were great, and there was just one right thing to do: get out of the building, get our hands dirty with research, find out and learn about the real-life design process (if it exists), and literally hunt out pain points in it to make the work of our team much easier and more pleasurable. We packed our stuff and crossed the great pond, so to speak, to do some serious research in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Read on if you want to know what we found out about the design process!

The Customer Development Process And Tons of Individual In-Depth Interviews

The life of a modern startup is full of UX design work, even if the founders don’t realize it. Drake Martinet (Wall Street Journal, Stanford University) considers the whole lean startup movement to be a mere application of design principles to the business environment. I couldn’t agree more.

When starting a new project, you actually need to talk to people from your target group. Here comes what are well known as IDIs (individual in-depth interviews): moderated, individual interviews in which you try to learn as much as you can about the problems of your interlocutor in a particular area of their life.

Our target group was user experience designers, so we scheduled above 50 interviews (personally and via Skype). Each focused on the same theme: the real-life UX design process. We asked designers to tell us stories of their usual process based on one of their projects. During the interviews, we asked a ton of in-depth questions to learn as much as we could about the process.

We hardly asked about problems in the design process, though — we tried to spot them in the stories on our own and then confirm our judgment by asking questions (for example, “I understand that X was troublesome in this particular project?”). We tried as hard as possible not to push any views onto our interlocutors. Letting them speak was important.

We interviewed UX heroes Mike Kuniavsky, Indi Young, Luke Wroblewski, Peter Merholz, Brandon Schauer, Jeffrey Kalmikoff and John Zeratsky and some lesser-known but excellent UX designers. Among our interlocutors were in-house UX designers, designers from consultancies and freelancers. Surprisingly enough, the problems that usually trouble UX designers were similar in all three groups.

It was an intense learning experience, and I highly recommend considering such preliminary research in every project. It will give you a ton of ready-to-use knowledge — a kind of canvas to work from.

The Process That Emerged From Designers’ Stories

First of all, we didn’t find any unicorns, but we did find racehorses in excellent condition. While all of the processes that emerged from the stories were somehow simplified UCD processes, they were tailored to the specialities of the designers. Flexibility is what helps us survive in the diverse jungle of projects. Processes morph to fit projects.

The approach to an e-commerce website differs from the way we design mobile apps in the healthcare industry (guess where context analysis matters most?), and government clients differ from corporate stakeholders and startup entrepreneurs, and so on. With few exceptions, though, the process looks surprisingly similar. There is a visible pattern that we all use to design interfaces in different environments:

1. Collecting Information About the Problem

Every UX designer needs to be a kind of detective in the early stage of a project. We need to find out as much as we can about the three Ps (people, problem, project). Activities in this stage, in contrast with the classic UCD approach, are vastly simplified:

  • Meeting with the client (no matter whether externally or internally) and identifying the product’s requirements (often in the form of a standardized product requirement document);
  • Benchmarking and trend analysis (oh yes, most of the designers we interviewed do that).

We seldom perform user interviews, but writing user stories is one of the commonly accepted attachments to the product requirement document. Our user stories are sometimes created based on personas, which are hardly ever backed up with data. Field studies and task analysis are hardly used by any of the designers we interviewed.

2. Getting Ready to Design

This is clearly the ideation part of the process. It’s completely conquered by analog tools. I haven’t met a single designer who doesn’t use quick messy sketching or some other paper prototyping form at the early stage of a design process!

Designers try to act on the material gathered in the first step of the process and find a design worth refining. This stage is not about documenting; it’s about artistic fury and creative explosion. Many of us use Adaptive Path’s multipage templates to quickly create very generic sketches.

Unfortunately, testing lo-fi prototypes is not popular. We prefer to take the risk of choosing one option with a stakeholder and begin the refinement process. Not very UCD-like, but that is the reality.

3. Design

In contrast to the anti-documentation agile approach, most of the interviewed designers create wireframes and prototypes to document the experience and then hand them to the developers.

Refined sketches from the previous stage are still rather lo-fi and are usually not tested. Hi-fi design is left for visual designers. In Aristotelian terms, we create the form, while developers and visual designers fight to create the matter. Heuristic evaluation is definitely out of fashion, while expert review backed up with a cognitive walkthrough is quite popular.

4. Approval

This is surprisingly an important part of the design process. Research documents and deliverables usually also serve as persuading factors in the “buy-in” process. This does not differ between in-house UX designers, freelancers and folks from consultancies.

Buy-in is the unfortunate peak of our process. None of us want to see our work go directly to the trash, and I’ve seen some great projects rejected just because the story behind the design process wasn’t particularly persuasive.

And guess what? A lot of the interviewed designers actually create a special presentation to tell stakeholders the design story. The presentations show stages of the process, deliverables and interactions, and they aim to give stakeholders lazy access to all of the information.

The four points mentioned above form a pattern visible in the majority of design processes that we went through with our interlocutors. You might have noticed that not a lot of iterative research is done in these processes. Sadly, the classic usability study is not a permanent part of the process. Why? The answer is simple: budgets are tight. Problems that appeared in the company that I used to work for appeared to be common. Tight budgets are forcing UX designers to tailor their processes and skip costly research.

I believe the best answer to this problem is guerrilla research methods. Startups do adapt guerrilla research as a part of the customer development process, but more “mature” companies, in my opinion, are strangely afraid of spontaneous and methodologically questionable yet efficient and cheap research methods. One of the challenges of the UX design community in the coming years will be the popularization of guerrilla research methods and bringi