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September 30 2013

06:30

10 Beginner Tips for Unique Product Photography


  

Most photographers know the basics to good product photos – using a tripod, setting your camera to the widest aperture, using a white background, creating an out-of-focus background, and more. But what about those really unique product photographs? You know the ones. They simply don’t look like a normal product photo you’d see in a regular catalog. These are usually used for full page features in a catalog or in ads for top brands.

July 19 2013

06:30

Tablet Web Design Best Practices: Free Ebook Offers Loads of Useful Tips


  

Who would dare to not call the guys and girls of Canadian Mobify experts in mobile web design? They actually are. Though not everyone will find their cloud-based design concepts appealing. A short while ago the people at Mobify decided to publish an ebook on the best practices in tablet-focused web design. They titled the 25-pager "Tablet Web Design Best Practices: 30 Ways to Create Amazing Web Experiences on Tablets". Even more amazing, they give it away for free…

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05:36
Reposted bySchrammelhammelMrCoffeinmybetterworldkonikonikonikonikoniambassadorofdumbgroeschtlNaitliszpikkumyygittimmoejeschge

April 15 2013

17:45

CSS Architectures #1: Principles of Code Cleanup and the New Best Practices


  
Box-Models in Real Life Can Come Over Complicated, too

All too often, the CSS for major (and minor) websites is a textbook case of code bloat and redundancy, with lines of code that boast unnecessary use of qualifier elements, overly specific selectors from unnecessarily long selector chains, overdependence on descendent selectors when other selectors would be more appropriate, and the inappropriate or unnecessary use of !important. We'll show you better ways in the following article...

September 30 2011

01:12

Humble Freelancer, Assertive Businessperson – A How To


  

If you’re a freelance designer, or you work for another company, you got there not because you love business, but because you’re a designer at heart. The business side of things came as a necessary evil, but you really love nothing more than to doodle all day, mess around in photoshop, or bang out semantic code. There are a lot of traits of being a good designer which are counter-intuitive to being a good business person. But if you learn to embrace both sides of the coin, your business will prosper, and you’ll get to do more design.

It’s great to create beautiful works of art for Art’s sake, but the reality is, you can only afford do so if you’re getting paid. Yes, being a great designer means you need to be humble, accept criticism, have an open mind, listen to other points of view, be idealistic and possess all sorts of wonderful character traits of the enlightened and creative individual. But to afford to do so, you need learn how to run your business.

Be Assertive

Like many freelancers find out the hard way, there will come a day or a client that will act as a tremendous lesson and taught you to be assertive. Now remember, assertive doesn’t mean yelling and stamping your feet; it just means sticking up for yourself and not letting yourself get bulldozed. Being assertive sooner in the process will help you avoid being angry later! An unfortunate truth we find, is that some clients will take advantage of you if you give them the opening. Make sure you don’t let them!

Don’t Set a Price Until Everything is Scoped Out

That means, not just features and functionality, but timeline, urgency, number of revisions, how many other people will be involved – the whole works. Everyone’s expectations, both yours and the clients needs to be on the table, and part of the discussion. Without knowing these vital specifics about the project, we are sure to misquote the job and probably end up costing ourselves before we can call the project closed.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For a Deposit

This might be obvious to some of you, but many of us have had clients balk at this. Many of those new to the field are not comfortable with doing this. And as many clients are also not too keen on handing over money for work that has not been done, or even in their minds, begun, we need to approach this situation both delicately and confidently. The more hesitant we are, the more our discomfort comes across, the more likely the client is to pick up on this and allow their resistance through.

We need to simply let them know that we are completely committed to their project, and as we will be investing a large amount of time in it, we need to be assured that they are committed as well. The deposit not only shows they are fully on board, but you can assure them that it will guarantee priority and timeliness of the project on your part. It can be an uncomfortable subject to broach, but if you do not, then you might end up doing a lot of work and not getting compensated at all for your time.

Let Them Know You’re the Expert

Sometimes, no matter how you run your business, you can still run into the occasional person who wants to lean over your shoulder and tell you how many pixels to move something over. The trick is try and not take on the projects for those kinds of people. However, you need to let your clients know you’re the expert at your business, and respect that they’re the expert of their’s.


We don’t often dispute the word of our doctor, we accept their expertise. We need our clients to believe in us this way too. Image by Clarita

Whenever a client makes a specific request for something you know is a bad idea, try turning it around and asking them what it is that’s bothering them. Exactly what are they trying to solve? This allows you to first try and get to the root of the problem so that you can come up with a more appropriate way to solve it; rather than just implementing the bad idea.

Even then, that sometimes doesn’t work, and they insist on the bad idea. This is when you want to assure them that you know what they are trying to achieve and you gently push for them to allow for your expertise and knowledge to give them the best website possible. Strongly discourage going down this path, informing them why the idea could actually work against their goals. Let them know that you will do it if they insist, because you want them to be happy in the end. At which point you will want your objections to this course noted in the paperwork, pointing out that this is what they requested.

That sometimes works. Writing it down makes it into a dramatic moment where they realize you don’t want to be “responsible” for doing what they are asking, and they will then think twice.

Frame Client Input

You can almost never escape needing client approval on a design piece, but there is a way to elicit feedback properly without leaving yourself open to accepting inane or subjective input. When you approach your clients for feedback, rather than leaving the door wide open, you want to frame the questions in ways that the client will effectively be choosing between options that you are already on board with.

If you have a question about the navigation, take them some variations on the idea to choose from. Instead of simply asking, “what are your thoughts on the navigation?” This prevents them from asking for something that is simply unachievable. This can also save time if they are not very clear on what they want. And sometimes they will know what they are looking for out of certain elements until they see it.

Always use a contract!

Having a contract doesn’t mean you don’t trust the client. A contract is for protecting you and the client, and makes sure everybody is clear on exactly what is being delivered and when. It’s not an issue of honesty, but of making sure everybody is on the same page. Never start work before a contract is signed.


Because nothing is written in stone, so to speak, until the contract is signed. Image by Mary R. Voght

And we have to remember that if we receive a contract, we need to check it over carefully. If there are any parts that are unclear or make you uncomfortable, do not be afraid to voice those concerns or ask for clarification. Most of the time, we will find the client receptive to these requests, we need only ask.

Often times, a contract will be written by lawyers who are only looking out for their client, and they write for an apocalypse. You need to look out for yourself and make sure you are comfortable with the agreement, too.

Don’t Do ‘Work For Hire’

…unless you’re actually being employed full-time! Work-for-hire is a term used in copyright law which grants full ownership and copyrights of your work to the person hiring you. By default, all freelancing and contract work is not work for hire. However, it can be written in to a contract (and even then, you still might have a case for arguing it, should you choose!). Technically, something is deemed work for hire if you created it while at a job which demands you be there full-time. Working from home, on a small project is not.

You might think, “What’s the big deal?” Well, if your client wants to retain full ownership and copyrights of the work, they need to pay a premium! Think of the difference of royalty-free stock photography versus rights-managed or full ownership. Owning the full-rights costs a lot of money. Also, most of us will want to include the piece in our portfolios, so taking that away comes with a price, too.

Never Do Spec Work

Working on speculation (“Do a home page design for me, and if we like it, we’ll pay you.”) is a terrible idea. Other people have said it better, so we will not go into a lot of detail here. If you would like a full rundown on the numerous reasons that spec work is bad for you and the industry overall, then go to No!Spec and read why it’s so bad.

Don’t Give Up Passwords or Files Until You’re Paid

Let’s look at it this way. The client has seen the flattened artwork and knows how things look and that you’ve spent the time on their project. At this point, it makes no sense for them to worry about you not delivering on the final product. You just want to be paid. If you turn over the files before you get paid, the client has nothing more to gain by paying you. You’re just hoping that they end up being honest…


It is usually in your best interest to keep yourself password protected. Image by Szilard Mihaly

Make sure the client knows this up-front. It’s unfair to make it a surprise if they have a tight schedule to keep. The least amount of surprises in the end tends to work out in everyone’s favor. So include this in the contract, and be sure to highlight this point once or twice when initial talks are beginning. The internet is full of freelance stories where the designer failed to put their foot down about this, and they ended up waiting months to get paid…if they were paid at all.

Note: There might be some who would argue you shouldn’t give up layered PSDs to the client. That’s a separate discussion. For web design, when you’re working with other developers, you kind of have to.

Write Down Your Policies

It may seem trivial, but for some reason, if you say, “It’s my policy…” and you have shown this to them in the beginning, people will argue with you less. If it’s a policy, people just accept it. Not entirely sure why this works, but it has often come in handy and proven itself as a worthwhile course of action for freelancers.

In Conclusion

Being assertive is not being mean. It’s having rules and standards and ways of doing business, and then sticking to them. It’s drawing clear lines and boundaries and making sure everybody is on the same page. It’s making sure you don’t get bullied around by a bad client. Ultimately, clients will respect your ability to manage your business and they’ll come back for more.

What are your thoughts on ways to effectively assert yourself with clients? Leave us your two cents and personal experiences in the comment section below.

September 14 2011

05:11

How to Make More Unique Images


  

We all use images — photos and illustrations — in our daily design work. Lots of them. And while the best way to make sure your images are unique is to have custom photography or illustration done for you every time, this is not very realistic. Often, due to time and/or budget constraints, we have to use royalty-free images. And, royalty-free images, by definition, are available to anyone who pays their fee (very reasonable, compared to the fees for rights-managed images that grant you exclusivity).

The first time it happens to you, will forever be etched into your memory: seeing the same photo which had been carefully chosen for a particular client’s project (when they did not have the time or the budget to set up a photo shoot), used in an advertisement by another company. If you are lucky, it will at least be in a different industry. But what happens when it is a direct competitor? This is a rather unsettling thought.

Here are some tips, tricks and examples of what you can do to make sure your images are slightly more unique than what everyone else is using — even if you do purchase them from a royalty-free site.

Don’t Go With the Most Obvious Choice

Before you choose the image, keep in mind that often search results on the royalty-free sites are sorted by popularity — meaning that the images that have been downloaded the most times will show up first. This, of course, increases the risk of someone else using the same image. Sometimes simply browsing a little longer can help you find something relevant, yet not quite as popular.

Also, before you even start searching, think of less obvious ways to illustrate your point. You don’t have to always use computer and code images to illustrate a website or a brochure for an information technology company. Maybe something completely unexpected can work just as well? How about using pie or toast to illustrate the ease of use, or dogs to illustrate friendliness and loyalty? You get the idea; there are many ways to make a point with a picture, and they don’t always have to be the same images everyone else uses to convey the same kinds of ideas.

Choose a Detail

Once you have chosen your images, there are any number of ways that you can alter them to make it more unique. Sometimes just focusing in on one part of the image can make it very different from the original. Crop and zoom in on a detail that is very relevant to your message, and the let the rest fall by the wayside.

Instead of using the photo of many fallen leaves, why not focus on just one?

Or you could even go one step further and actually extract an element from the image that works well for your project purposes (clipping paths in Photoshop will be very helpful with this).

Instead of using the typical cookie tray, you can extract a couple of cookies and integrate them with the title.

Color Shifts

Sometimes in order to put a more unique slant on your images simply playing around with the colors can produce striking effects, and even enhance the message you are intending the images to communicate.

For example, creating a black and white version of an image, with just one element remaining in color will place a strong focus on that element. So instead of cropping to make a certain element stand out you can use the colors to highlight any one aspect that really speaks to or with your message.

Other ways that you can use the color to your advantage here is by adding some colors that are not normally found in nature. This is a fantastic way to attract attention.

Furthermore, adjusting the saturation, contrast and luminosity levels of your images can do a lot to transform them from subtle to striking.

Try Different Effects

Depending on the style that you are looking for, sometimes enhancing the image can be as easy as running a filter. This is not necessarily recommended just because they look pretty, but when you have a project that calls for a particular style, they can be handy for getting the image to the place you need.

For example, using a poster-like effect for an art gallery brochure can be very impactful on its viewers, and compliment its theme and message in ways the image unfiltered could not.

Another example would be to use a filter to add a hand-drawn look to the imagery included in a project for a family-run bakery. This effect can really add to the home-made feel and ideas the bakery wants to convey to their customer base.

Combining Images

When taking this route, the possibilities are virtually endless. With the right amount of work and retouching you can almost guarantee that the images you use for your client will be unique, even on a more limited budget.

Blending mediums can be an effective way to make your point here as well. An example of this would be to combine a photo and an illustration for a fun, not quite real effect.

Another example of this would be like using a part-photo, part-illustration to better demonstrate the process of a home remodeling company.

You can also add your client’s logo to a scene or object that emphasizes their benefit. This is a really easy way to tie the two together.

When combining images, you can also play with the size and perspective to alter them from their original, and to better serve the message you need to convey. For that larger than life quality.

You can further use this technique to emphasize custom-made objects by showing them “in the making” — even if it isn’t quite the real process.

Don’t Settle for the Same Old Image

There are numerous tutorials and techniques available to designers these days to really take our images to the next level. What we often forget, is that this can serve much more of a purpose than just demonstrating our skills. It can allow us to deliver much more unique imaging to our clients.

Further Resources

Below are a few useful posts and resources for helping you put the advice offered here into action when your next client comes calling.

(rb)

September 02 2011

18:17

Surviving Design Blog Saturation : Is The Future in the Niche?


  

One of the topics that the design blogging community touches on from time to time, concerns the saturation levels of the blogosphere with regards to design blogs. There are so many design centric blogs filling the landscape that the chances of capturing enough of the available audience out there so that you can generally consider your blog a success amongst the rabble are decreasing with every new RSS feed introduced into the mix. This can paint a fairly grim outlook for the future of the online design blogging community.

Could many of our beloved design blog’s futures be as shattered as this monitor? Image Credit

Now some will dismiss these claims, discounting the threat that we as an entire community are facing. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps the growing number of design blogs is a sign of industry strength and market stability. But what if it is not? What if these alarm bells and red flags that seem to be sounding off in some of our heads, are in fact valid? There are those who not only believe this is an issue that we either will face, or are facing now, but who also believe that there is hope.

And that hope, lies in a much more refined focus for our design blogs. Now there are a number of blogs in the design community that have an area of design that they tend to focus on. For example, Pro Blog Design tends to only focus on blog design, and for the most part WordPress. Many in the ranks focus purely on logo designs or on strictly inspiration, and you can even look to the Envato network of specialty sites to see more of this focusing in action.

And though many of us have a specific direction in mind, we have to wonder if it is enough? Are these focuses the keys to keeping ahead and keeping our audience? Is the future of the design blog in the finding an extreme niche to serve? With sites like Media Queries and We Love WordPress, is the landscape changing on the design front? Is this a necessary evolution?

The Discussion

The online audience is a finite group. Growing? Yes, but still finite. So at some point, we are going to reach the level where this simply becomes a numbers game. With a finite audience, also comes a maximum level of content consumption. If the audience only consumes a maximum number of blog offerings per day, and the blogosphere continues to grow and oversupply that demand on a weekly basis, then how long before the majority of the content being produced is simply wasted time and effort from the community? At what point does the growth of the design blogging field, actively begin hurting the community and the content? And the bigger question, have we already reached it?

Are we slowly tipping the scales out of our favor? Image Credit

There are many who think that we have already passed this proverbial breaking point, and that the design blog ranks will undergo something of an evolutionary die-off. Numerous blogs will simply disappear from the landscape, while others stagnate and simply cease to update. Without an active audience to appeal to, many bloggers will essentially just be screaming into the dark. Hoping that someone might happen by and hear them. A select few powerhouses will remain among the virtual ruins and ghost towns, those who have already established themselves as a valued resource. So what will be left for the rest of the design blogging community? The niche!

Trying to compete with these titans, is known to be a fruitless and frustrating venture, so in order to stay relevant after the die-off, most blogs will need to be niche focused in order to keep an active, sizable audience, and be able to label themselves as a success.

Defining Success

Now we understand, that what constitutes a successful blog is extremely interpretive. Many bloggers have established benchmarks for themselves to highlight their progress and ensure that they are in fact on a path of forward mobility. However, forward movement only tends to matter if you have some sort of endpoint in mind. An actual goal that you are moving towards. And we understand that it is really up to each individual, what that goal will be. So when we talk about having a successful blog, we cannot possibly know what each design bloggers endgame is. So we are speaking about success in terms of audience attention. Basically, in these terms, having a number of regular followers and content consumers.

After all, visibility and awareness tend to be two of the main reasons that we blog, so if the targeted audience is not responding to, or even seeing what we are doing, then our blog is not going to be much of a success. This is why the over-saturation of the design blogosphere is as pressing a matter as it is. For if we create content that is meant to benefit and improve the design community, but we have no audience reach, then our content is not so beneficial or improving anything. Much like the tree that falls in the woods without a witness, our content does not make a sound.

A Matter of Monetization

In this equation, does money matter? Image Credit

Perhaps one of the biggest measures of success for some bloggers, is their ability to monetize their site. This tends to be done via selling space to advertisers, which tends to depend on traffic. After all, there has to be some incentive for the advertisers. Focusing on a niche can actually have both negative and positive impacts as far as ad sales go. It can help because advertisers know that you have a specific target audience, and those who wish to reach more directly into that market will appreciate such a niche focus. Unfortunately, this is the same reason it can hurt your ability to sell ads. Those who wish for a broader audience reach may be turned off by this finely focused approach.

So when it comes to setting up a niche, you may have to also rethink your monetization strategy for your design blog, and attempt to redirect your efforts to yield more positive results. However, to survive when the divided online audience tires of wading through these saturated information byways, and a sort of purge occurs throughout the blogosphere you are going to have to realize that it is not all about the Benjamins as we have been programmed to think. What a lot of bloggers are going to have to realize, is that a money driven mission statement, can often drive your blog into the ground.

Those who set up their sites just to make money, tend to have subpar quality sites that reflect their desperation for monetization. They heard about the potential for revenue, and like the gold rushers of the past, they thronged to the web. Logobird had an article lamenting about some of the issues with monetizing your blog, The Shady Side of Design Blog Monetisation that is certainly worth a read.

Not only does the content of your blog begin to reflect this mission statement, but your drive will begin to diminish if the returns on your efforts are coming in lower and slower than you would like. Readers will feel this coming through, and in the end, it could actually cost you. Those who tend to be focused on the experience and the community enrichment, will tend to be the ones whose content has more appeal to the masses. Having an extremely niche focused blog, tends to show that you have a passion for the field, and for improving it. Not just grabbing for numbers. Not to mention, it allows you to worry less about blogging for advertiser’s visibility, wherein frequency wins out; and focus instead on blogging when you have something of quality to add to the overall design dialog.

The Road Not Taken

“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost Image Credit

Finding a nice design focus that is being somewhat overlooked by the rest of the online design community, that proverbial road less taken, can not only improve your blog’s chances of surviving in this overly saturated market; but it also improves and strengthens the community. Suddenly, designers have a resource to turn to for specific areas of their needs, rather than having to search through expansive archives for a single piece that perhaps touches on the subject. When we set ourselves on a focused path such as this, we tend to dissect that area of design fully. Rather than just brush the surfaces every now and again.

And when you look at it like that, we can see the inherent value in this niche approach. It sort of borrows on the Less is More theme. When you have less of a subject to cover, you have the ability to cover it in much more detail. Also, when we regularly dissect our niche area of design, it alters our perspective. We begin to relate to the subject in a whole new way, and as a result, we can also make it more relatable to others. The more angles we view the subject from, the better we understand it as a whole. This makes dissecting it, and explaining the sum of its parts much simpler. When we try to take on the entire field of design, we get a much less comprehensive exploration of each of its numerous deep facets.

You Are Not Your Design Blog

Now one reason that some designers are leery of adopting this approach is because they feel like this somehow limits their own design work. Like their own focus has to be limited to their blog’s niche. But that is not the case. While you have to ensure that you have a good grip on your niche so that you can blog about it accurately, that does not mean that your entire design career now has to fit within that niche as well. You are not your design blog. And you are not limited to only contributing to your niche focused site either. You can still guest on other sites with a different or simply wider design focus.

In conclusion

Yes, there are both upsides and downsides to adopting this niche approach for your design blog. But in the end, if it means that your blog will remain standing and relevant after the over-saturation induced die-off occurs, then aren’t the costs worth paying? Doesn’t it make more sense to refine the focus of your design blog so that the content still reaches those who need it, rather than investing time and effort to develop content that falls through the cracks? This is no Field of Dreams, and just because we build it, doesn’t mean that they will come. Not when there are thousands of other fields that they can go to.

Needed Web Design Niche Coverage

Below are a just a light handful of some of the areas of web design that the online community to could a little more niche coverage on. So if you do decide that this route could potentially prevent your blog from becoming one of those lost to the proverbial wastelands, then perhaps one of the niches listed here might just be the perfect fit for you and your blog.

Mobility

Make no mistake about it, mobility matters! Image Credit

One thing that no web designer can deny is that the future of web design is gong to be heavily influenced by the mobile market. Since it burst onto the scene, the mobile web has exploded by leaps and bounds, promising to take the web into a whole new direction. Now whether this market becomes the dominating direction for the web design industry or not, it is clear that it is going to be a major player in some form or fashion. It’s here. It’s taken root. It’s not going anywhere. So this creates a huge opportunity for designers to get there niche blogging on.

Given that this market is still in what some would consider its infancy, that means designers are going to be looking for authoritative voices and sources for nurturing its growth. The blogosphere could certainly use some focus in that direction, so perhaps that would be a route you might entertain.

Usability

Now as the web evolves and changes, both in scope and direction, one vital design field that must also evolve is Usability Design. Interfaces and user bases are an extremely fluid area, and keeping the web design community up to date on the latest and greatest advances in UI and UX is not only a noble cause, but a much needed one. There are some really great blogs that focus on usability, but given its nature, we could always use more. Usability is beyond a fundamental aspect of web design, it is the structural framework that we build our entire designs around. So if you are looking for a niche for your design blog, perhaps this is one that you should seriously consider.

Marketing

Everything evolves, and so do our marketing strategies need to as an industry. Image Credit

Another area of web design that could use so more focus and attention, would be the marketing aspect of the industry. Not just marketing the client’s site and maximizing their potential for traffic, but marketing ourselves and our field. Web designers often lament about the way that the entire industry is undervalued and under-appreciated. Part of that impression comes from the way that many market themselves to the masses. Devaluing others in the community in order to make themselves look better in comparison. With bargain basement belittlers effectively crying out, ‘Don’t pay those over inflated prices. Pay for design not ego. Starting as low as $49.99!’

This actually reflects poorly on the industry as a whole, but without anyone telling us otherwise, we think this is the best way forward. But perhaps if we had some blogs dedicated to nothing more than helping designers find better marketing practices things could stand a chance at getting better. This could also lead to more sound industry marketing practices all around. Getting us away from SEO and Social Media Marketing, which some in the community would like to see gone as it is. This is another potential impactful niche for you to focus on your blog on.

App Design

Also, with the rise of the mobile web, and the push for a much more enhanced, and in some cases a browserless way to experience the web, apps are a big wave of the web design future. Application design is another area that the community tends to focus too few resources towards. Especially with not just the web’s evolution, but with OS’s as well. As Google continues to develop their new wave of web technologies, pushing Chrome more and more towards an independent operating system of sorts, we see new opportunities for this design focus to move even more to the forefront beyond just for mobile devices and development. Apps are effectively changing the way the game is played, and web designers need some guiding forces in that arena to help show us the way.

Anything Other than WordPress

Don’t get us wrong, WordPress is a powerful CMS, and one that is put to use in countless contexts. But if you were to take a look around at the web design blogs, you would think that WordPress was the only content management system out there. Or at least that was worth checking out. But that is so not the case. With wonderful alternatives like ExpressionEngine and Drupal, just to name a couple, the web design blogosphere seems to be completely missing out on these opportunities. So there is always potential for your niche in those arenas as well.

That’s All, Folks!

That wraps things up on this end, but this conversation is hopefully just getting started. Use the comment section below to fill us in on what you think this growth means for the future of web design blogs. Are there any niches that you think the community could use more focusing on? Do you see any positives to this sort of saturation or any negatives that we failed to mention?

(rb)

August 30 2011

19:07

The Future of Mobile Marketing with Smartphones


  

As the technology for mobile devices grows, so does the opportunity for development. Many companies are not creating their own apps, but instead utilizing HTML5, Javascript and CSS3 to aid in the creation of web apps and mobile websites. Reducing the initial investment, companies can get the most out of the money they are spending and release it to the public themselves on their own terms. Who wouldn’t want to save money and produce a more expandable product?

When building mobile apps with these technologies you no longer have to duplicate efforts for mobile cross-platform flexibility. By implementing the latest technology you can rely on full support (WebKit) by popular devices that use iOS, Android and the experience can be altered or downgraded for others. You will receive the best results if you build for the masses but utilize a specific strategy for your demographic knowing that not everyone owns a smartphone with HTML5 support. With over 120 million iOS devices on market and more than 302 million Android devices sold, there is a large customer base that will only continue to grow.


With the various devices available and variation of screens, developers must consider all user experiences.

Once your idea is in place and you have decided that you want to utilize the mobile platform as your base, you must determine several factors to formulate an effective plan. Whether you are bypassing desktop devices completely and focusing on mobile or just utilizing mobile marketing in your campaign you will need to define a campaign, devices to support and build for mobile devices.

On average, Americans spend 2.7 hours per day socializing on their mobile device. That’s twice the amount of time they spend eating, and over 1/3 of the time they spend sleeping each day. – Microsoft

Defining a Campaign

Before any campaign is launched it must first be defined to help flush out questions that can be detrimental if asked too late. Will you be marketing to anyone with an internet connection or just mobile devices? How will users find your website? What do you expect users to do once they arrive? How will you track behavior? These are some (of many) important questions you should be asking. While each campaign specifically revolves around very unique goals, we can discuss how you can find your own answers to the questions above.


What devices will you support?

If you are marketing to any device with an internet connection you must account for regular resolutions, high resolutions, the more complicated mobile screen trends and various mobile screen resolutions. By narrowing your campaign down to specific mobile devices (eg smartphones) depending on your needs, you can focus on as little as three key screen resolutions. For example if you are utilizing QR Codes or MS Tag (free to use) in your campaign, you can only choose to only support iPhone/iPod Touch, Android and Windows 7 Mobile. This is due to the fact that scanning technology requires a camera and a scanning app before you can be directed to the website being marketed.


If mobile tags were a family, QR codes would be the parents while MS Tags would be the spunky children.

If you are reaching out to a larger base you can utilize a flier, napkin, product package, label, menu, web banner or even a commercial to display these 2d codes for users to scan. Some establishments even place a window sticker on their front door (eg restaurants, store front merchants). If your demographic is much smaller, perhaps you can add a code within a company newsletter, promotion or business card. These methods are most effective with incentives (eg discounts, free gifts) and other methods are more successful with general company promotion. Mobile tags gained extreme popularity as instant entry for contests since personal information can be quickly accessed through a mobile phone and remove the irritation of filling out a form. Mobile tags help users initiate the process rather than delivering a coupon or content by self-engaging.

QR Codes and MS Tags can be used for:

  • Content Sampling
  • Event Information
  • Giveaways
  • Hotels/Resorts
  • Loyalty Rewards
  • Location Based Games
  • Product Preview
  • Product Reviews
  • Realtors
  • Retail Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Scan-to-Pay
  • Tourism Attractions
  • Tourist Attractions

When users visit your website you should have an immediate call to action. Users can watch a video, vote on a poll, complete a form or even purchase a product. When you immediately engage users you have a better chance of keeping their attention and delivering your message. Usability tests demonstrate that users see and understand less and do not engage unpleasing websites. Get users attention act on their impulses, engage users and complete your goal. Once your campaign gains more focus, it will be easier to determine the project details and make decisions as you continue to plan.

Over 85 percent of new handsets will be able to access the mobile Web. Today in US and W. Europe, 90 percent of mobile subscribers have an Internet-ready phone. – Gartner

Defining Devices To Support

After you have reviewed the resolution information we discussed in the previous section you can decide which delivery methods and mobile devices you will support. This will have a large effect on the images and code you will be developing. A mobile device is not just a smaller computer, but a whole different realm of user interaction and web development. Altering something that works for a desktop user by scaling it down will not work due to the limited screen space and touch technology.


Please note that this is a very limited list, and is by no means complete. What is important to take from this data is that a wide range of screen resolutions are out there, and new devices are introduced constantly. Source

When working with popular mobile devices you have to account for not only standard viewing (portrait) but for adjusted viewing (landscape) with images and content. By looking at the screen resolution image above you can see that the iOS low/high screen resolution and Android low/high screen resolutions are very similar. They are not exact but will help you during development keeping in mind the smallest possible max screen resolution of your mobile website will be 960 x 960 pixels due to the retina display. The lowest screen resolution you will want to develop for would be 320 x 320 for smaller Android devices. All other popular screen resolutions will fit in-between. In the following section we will discuss how to create a flexible site, even when graphic heavy.

The market today contains rapidly changing display dimensions and you will want to be certain you pick the devices you support wisely. Since cell phones enter and leave the market at an average of 18 months you will want to avoid devices that are not widely accepted since this will have an effect on the supported screen resolutions. When you start developing your mobile website you will want to utilize the HTML5 and CSS3 functionality built into these smart browsers and review which features are widely adapted.

Building for Mobile Devices

When you begin building for mobile devices you will need to take into account the small viewing areas, load times and touch screen support. Will you be including a quick launch menu or will your site only be one page? Will you offer multiple types of media or just serve specific information? With screen sizes that vary, providing relatively small viewing areas, you will need to provide quick and simple navigation to any information you are offering. This includes preloaded images, videos and identifying the page load order. With many restrictions on older devices, you cannot meet user expectations for feature rich websites thanks to the new standard people expect due to the iOS and Android systems.


Mobile websites must offer various media types that differ from the desktop but offer a similar experience.

People are used to the simple, flexible interfaces that many apps offer due to the mass offerings of the Apple iTunes store. With that in mind you must be sure to provide a similar experience on your mobile website that common apps are providing users currently. These high expectations will force you as a developer to increase performance, create a dynamic environment, test and test some more. With current HTML5 and CSS3 technology it is easier for developers to support multiple devices and offer a degraded experience for others. There are also many cross-platform mobile development tools available for use.

Many mobile Web users are mobile-only, i.e. they do not, or very rarely use a desktop, laptop or tablet to access the Web. Mobile-only in Egypt is 70 percent, India 59 percent, even in the US it’s 25 percent of subscribers. – On Device Research

Icons

A great feature that has arrived with current smartphones in the ability to save website bookmarks to your home screen and being able to create your own icon that will look like an app. There are Android icon guidelines and iPhone icon guidelines to help you through this process but we will discuss the basics to get you going.

In the past with websites we only had to identify a favicon (16×16 pixels) that would show up in the address bar next to the website URL. You would either link a PNG or ICO file directly and this was all that you needed to do.

<link rel=”icon” href=”/images/favicon.png”/>
<link rel=”shortcut icon” href=”/images/favicon.ico”/>

For mobile devices you have a whole new set of options available to you. Besides the tags mentioned above you can now identify an icon for iPhone, iPod Touch and Android devices.

<link rel=”apple-touch-icon” href=”/images/favicon-ios.png”/>
<link rel=”apple-touch-icon-precomposed” href=”/images/favicon-ios.png”/>

Older Android devices (1.5, 1.6) will see the precomposed icon and newer versions (2.1+) will use the alternate. Apple recommends a 114×114 pixel (high resolution) icon for their retina displays and the same image can be used for Android to achieve a better quality result.

The above code will work seamlessly with iPhone and iPod Touch but will not always display correctly for Android. There are issues when using an SSL certificate that is expired or differs from your domain and HTC phones will only overlay a small version of your icon when saved. You may also want to look into web capable content, status bar style and start up image for further Apple device customization.

<link rel=”Shortcut Icon” type=”image/ico” href=”/images/favicon.ico” />
<meta name=”apple-mobile-web-app-capable” content=”no” />
<meta name=”apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style” content=”default” />
<link rel=”apple-touch-icon” href=”/images/favicon-ios.png” />
<link rel=”apple-touch-startup-image” href=”/images/loading.png” />

Pixel Aspect Ratio

The variety of available display sizes makes for a difficult decision when creating your mobile website. As we discussed before, it’s best to narrow down your customer base and make a decision from there. You can decide to move forward with a fluid layout or create layouts for specific groups of devices. Remember the chart we looked at earlier with the iOS and Android resolutions? Instead of creating a universal layout you can instead design depending on the current device resolution and orientation. With the implementation of CSS3 media queries you no longer have to rely wholly on javascript of detecting user agents.

Compare the slight size resolution differences between pixel aspect ratios for 1, 1.5 and 2.

CSS3 media queries give developers the ability to target devices by using variables for device width, orientation and pixel aspect ratio. You can use these variables to load specific styles when developing for mobile devices. For instance the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS (pixel-ratio: 1) all utilize one pixel aspect ratio. You can target all of these devices very simply and target iPhone 4 (pixel-ratio: 2) and Android devices (pixel-ratio: 1.5) separately. If you were trying to create a graphic heavy website with a flexible background image, your CSS may look something like this:

#container {
	height: 675px;
	width: 100%;
	margin: 0 auto;
	padding-top: 0px;
	background: url(/images/675x675.jpg) no-repeat left top;
	background-size: 100%;
}

@media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 1) and (max-device-width: 480px) {
	#container {
		width: 583px;
		background: url(/images/640x750.jpg) no-repeat left top;
	}

}

@media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 1.5) {
	#container {
		background: url(/images/480x854-70.jpg) no-repeat left bottom;
		height: 854px;
	}
	#main {
		background: url(/images/bgContent-group.png) no-repeat -20px 5px;
	}
	#main #video {
		padding-left: 61px;
	}
}

@media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2) {
	#container {
		width: 583px;
	}

}
@media all and (orientation:landscape) and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2) {
	#container {
		width: 950px;
	}
}
body.alt {
	background-repeat: repeat-x;
}

The above example may be a bit heavy for starters but it gives you a great idea of the versatility that CSS3 media queries bring to developing for mobile websites. You can alter the container width and serve up different images with a few steps. You don’t want to deliver a different experience on separate devices but rather the same experience, seamlessly across multiple devices. It is also good to remember that that hiding images with media queries doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be downloaded

Saving Images

When working with mobile devices, fast load times are important more than ever because users are on the go and want content NOW. Because the website resolution is close to a standard desktop for iPhone 4 and Android devices, you want to pay close attention to file size and cut it down whenever possible. A great way to speed up your website is by optimizing your images using Adobe Photoshop. Avoid using “save” or Save as” and instead utilize the diverse “save for the web” feature. This will help you compare image quality, file size and make adjustments where needed. By learning about the different options available, you can optimize images, create presets and drastically change file size.

There are three main formats that you work with when creating a website and they all have specific uses depending on the image being saved.

  • .jpg is a commonly used method of lossy compression. The compression levels can be adjusted and works great for photographs.
  • .png is a bitmap image format with lossless compression. There is a limited color range but works well with transparency.
  • .gif is a bitmap image format with lossless compression. There is a limited color range and .png typically turns out better quality.

You can notice when comparing the images that used the “Save For Web” feature in Photoshop there is little noticeable difference between High quality (36KB) and Medium quality (8KB). There is however, a file size difference of over 28KB (80 percent). The low quality (4KB) image has a noticeable quality difference and does not differ much from the medium quality in file size.

.gif (16KB) and .png (16KB) utilize lossless compression and have a restricted number of colors which produce higher quality graphics for icons and plain graphics. .jpeg (24KB) is best specifically for photography and when comparing quality and file size.

By paying close attention to file size and what images work best for your needs, you can serve up websites faster for mobile phones and on the web. Faster load times will incubate a positive user experience and save server bandwidth. Slow load times can drive away users from a website even if it has valuable content. Speeding up your website is a great way to prevent this. Because mobile devices utilize slower data transfer rates

The avg. download speed between the AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon 3G networks was 987Kbps. Some providers may throttle users that exceed a monthly data limit to significantly lower data rates (ie: T-Mobile reduces download speeds after customers reach a 5GB limit). – PCWorld & Novarum Inc ’09-’10 Study

Video

When planning on delivering video to a mobile device there are various options available to you, though some devices are limited. If you are creating a one-page promotional mobile website that will only be online for a few months, YouTube would be a great option. If the mobile website will receive many viewers and have an extended life, perhaps streaming via a CDN is your best option. Today most smartphones can play videos from YouTube, Vimeo and even a CDN by streaming them without conflict. Others however, such as the Windows 7 Phone cannot since it is still catching up and uses IE6 as its base browser. To get around this, you must download a low resolution video to the device and play it locally.


In the above example you can see a placeholder image is used instead of immediately displaying a YouTube video.

You can also see an HTML5 embedded video, where the browser is able to display the MP4 file just like it would an image.

<article>
	<video>
    	<source src="/files/368x208-low.mp4"/>
        <source src="/files/368x208-low.ogv"/>
	<video>
	<p>
    	<input type="button" id="play" value="play">
        <span id="position">00:00</span> / <span id="duration>
    </p>
<article>

Unsupported Devices

If you decide you only want to support specific mobile devices and offer a different experience for others, this can be done easily. For example, you can create a graphic website for smartphones and a text only version for older devices. If you wish, you can even block users from viewing the website via PC or laptops (though not highly recommended). By utilizing the CSS3 media queries as a catch all, you can pass all other visitors into an”unsupported” area with alternate content. If you are interested in utilizing progressive enhancement over degrading gracefully, you should read Where Progressive Enhancement Meets Graceful Degradation and Progressive Enhancement in Mobile Design.

Utilizing a more specific method of detection with user agent (as mentioned user pixel aspect ratio above) you can send users to a specific version of the site (eg unsupported for text only). The user agent refers to the software that someone is using to browse your site (eg iOS iPhone). You can use a script that will identify this and serve up separate content. There are two approaches to using mobile specific style sheets, by including a mobile specific stylesheet in your HTML or by importing mobile specific rules through an existing style sheet.

body.unsupported {
	background: #01536b;
}
body.unsupported #container {
	background: none transparent;
	width: 480px;
	margin: 0 auto;
	color: #002639;
	text-align: center;
	height: auto;
	margin-bottom: 40px;
}
body.unsupported #container #pageBody {
	width: 440px;
	text-align: left;
	margin-top: 20px;
	border: 1px solid #fcefa1;
	background: #fbf9ee;
	padding: 20px 20px 10px;

Tracking

When working on any marketing campaign, tracking is essential, though often forgotten on the mobile world. With the array of websites that generate a QR Code and MS Tag for free, many do not offer tracking. Why wouldn’t you want to know who is visiting your website? If you decide to go with the old QR Code or new MS Tag, make sure there is built-in tracking! You can always use Google Analytics in your code to track, but I only suggest this as a catch-all backup plan. Tracking is free, offers great insight on your visitors and their devices.

Google Analytics will display visitor browser and OS combinations among other information.

When considering which tag to move forward with, QR Codes have been around since 1994 in Japan and are built-in to Android devices for scanning. MS Tag is fairly new but works on multiple devices just the same. The advantage comes in with size in addition to tracking. If you are planning on placing a code on product packaging, a business card or even the window of an establishment, size is important.

By comparing the size differences above you can see that there is a key advantage in using the 3/4″ MS Tag over the 1″ size. Microsoft displays the QR slightly larger at 1.25″ on its website to sway users perspectives.

Here is the minimum dimensions for each:

  • MS Tag (color): 0.75 inch
  • MS Tag (b&w): 0.875 inch
  • QR Code: 1 inch

Another factor that comes into play over size, is the ability to alter where to send your users with the generated code/tag. Once a QR Code is generated it is permanently linked to whatever has been programmed into the code. Made a mistake and it’s already printed? You can’t change it now! MS Tags can be switched at any time, redirecting users to a new message, website, SMS, video, audio, or phone number. In this fast paced world you can use the same code for a particular client, for multiple campaigns and track them without ever changing the tag. While both tags are free for the time being, Microsoft has mentioned interest in charging in the future.

During the beta period, there is no charge to create and use Tags. And in the event that Microsoft decides to charge publishers to use Tags, any Tags that were created and used during the beta, will continue to work, free of charge, for at least two years. – Microsoft

Example Mobile Campaigns

Sean “Diddy” Combs


Sean “Diddy” Combs a United States music artist launched a social campaign titled the “12 Days of Tag”. This campaign promoted the release of his album Last Train to Paris and a $50,000 donation to charities. Diddy used Twitter to promote an exclusive giveaway to his millions of followers by giving away details on how to find the content, scan the MS Tag and unlock gifts. Participants were given exclusive content and the ability to help decide which five charities to deliver a $10,000 donation to.

Cheeseburger in Paradise


In a national campaign, Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants partnered with beverage makers to run a promotional campaign using MS Tag. By scanning a flier at one of the restaurants 31 locations, users were directed to a video and additional information on contest entry. By ordering one of two signature drinks or joining in a photo submission contest, participants could win an all-inclusive trip to Cancun, Mexico. In addition, all participants qualify for a free appetizer card in the process.
View mobile-only website

Harrah’s Entertainment


In a national campaign, Harrah’s in partnership with Crown Royal ran a promotional football promotion utilizing MS Tag. They placed a scannable tag on printed table toppers during football game events where guest can see unique content. Guests were treated with a specific location on the Crown Royal website where they were able to look up drink recipes that included the beverage makers product.

Ben & Jerry’s


Ben & Jerry’s partnered with Stickybits in a national retail campaign utilizing barcode scanners on smartphones. Users were encouraged to scan the barcode on a newly launched fair trade ice cream to enter a contest. The first 500 users to scan the new flavors could win free products and a branded T-shirt.
View campaign details

ESET Anti Virus


As a four part scavenger hunt, ESET targeted South by Southwest (SXSW) conference attendees in Austin, TX with a QR Code. Participants scanned various QR Codes that offered up useful clues that brought them to specific locations. Including brand installations at these specific locations, the anti-virus software maker gained maximum exposure. The first 200 participants to complete the four part scavenger hunt were given a free gift (the companies software) and were entered in a contest to win a Sony VAIO laptop.
View campaign case study

Smyth Jewelers


There have been many brazen Christmas promotions seen in the past, but none as forward thinking and bold as the Smyth Jewelers 15 Days, 15 Deals Christmas campaign using a QR Code. This retailer placed a 20×20 banner on their building exterior on that could be seen by passers by at the nearest intersection. Users who scanned the QR Code on the building in addition to their social media promotion were directed to a landing page with their seasonable promotions.
View campaign details

Perhaps the best “15 Days, 15 Deals” special is an autographed official NFL football signed by Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, which comes with the purchase of a TAG Heuer or Breitling watch. Smyth Jewelers is the preferred jeweler of the Ravens and this gift with purchase reinforces that valuable brand tie-in.

Allure Magazine


Allure Magazine utilized their August 2010 issue to giveaway free beauty products to readers. By creating a series of mini sweepstakes with MS Tag, readers signed up for the contest and were notified via SMS about future giveaways. The US fashion publication gave away a total of $725,000 in free beauty products to readers and the mobile tags increased entries by 28 percent.
View campaign details

Wilkinson Sword


Wilkinson Sword launched a country-wide POS campaign in the UK using QR Code. Featuring their new Hydro Razor 5, the encouraged shoppers to scan the code and access product videos and enter into a contest.
View campaign details

Colorado University


Boulder Digital Works of Colorado University launched a mobile scavenger hunt using MS Tag. The University created the game Zombies vs. Hippies to encourage students to scan posters located around campus to participate in various missions.
View campaign news

Boondoggle Lifelabs


Boondoggle Lifelabs launched a country-wide campaign in Belgium, using QR Code. Developing Likify, a service which allows marketers to add mobile tags to products and signage. When people scan the codes with their smartphone it will “like” the scanned item on the associated brand’s Facebook page. Nike used Likify in a campaign to promote their shoes by getting people to “like” different jogging routes.
View campaign details

Conclusion

As you continue to take advantage of new technology, moving with the mobile market and not being left behind is important. Implementing new technology as it hits the market, testing new innovative ideas and saving clients money will be beneficial in the long-term. While some technology may fade away, staying on the cusp of growth will help keep the market thriving and meet users ever expanding expectations of how a device and website should perform together.

Most popular activities on the mobile Web are mobile search, reading news and sports information, downloading music and videos, and email and instant messages. In the future, money transfer; location-based services; m-health and m-payment will be key drivers. – IDC

Whether you are using framework or implementing the code yourself, HTML5 with CSS3 will continue to drive the future of mobile website and application development. As elements and authoring practices for this emerging technology continue to evolve, the adaptation will continue to grow. Have you used HTML with CSS3 to build a mobile website or web application? Sound off in the comments below!

Resources

  • How-To Minimize Load Time for Fast User Experiences
    Experienced front-end developers optimize their site to load quickly and display accurately across all modern browsers. Learn how to analyze the bottlenecks preventing websites and blogs from loading quickly and how to resolve them.
  • Speed Up Your Website with Better Image Optimization
    We all know the importance of load time for faster user experiences and why it’s important to have them. Learn how to optimize images in Photoshop for better web performance.
  • 5 Cross-Platform Mobile Development Tools You Should Try
    Cross-OS platforms for mobile development on the whole are not yet a completely perfect, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution, but many of them offer an excellent alternative to ignoring one mobile OS in favor of another or, perhaps worse, burning serious resources to develop for two or three platforms at once.
  • jQuery Mobile: Touch-Optimized Web Framework for Smartphones & Tablets
    A unified user interface system across all popular mobile device platforms, built on the rock-solid jQuery and jQuery UI foundation. Its lightweight code is built with progressive enhancement, and has a flexible, easily themeable design.
  • HTML 5 Resources
    This site, the HTML5 Playground, Studio, and Presentation slides are all open source projects. Tweak the code or contribute new guides!
  • Estimates of Mobile Phones and Smartphones supporting HTML5
    Discover which mobile phones or smart phones support HTML5 and what they are expected to support in the future.
  • Future Of Mobile Tagging Report
    Mobile tags and QR Codes provide an exciting opportunity to interact with customers in ways not previously available to marketers. This report shines a light on to the work of other marketers to both inspire you and present some mobile tagging options as you consider your next campaign.
  • Infographic: Mobile Statistics, Stats & Facts 2011
    Microsoft Tag has just released a neat infographic highlighting statistics on how people are using mobile phones in 2011. There is also a video that featured late last year with an array of great mobile “growth” statistics, stats and facts for 2011.
  • Global Mobile Statistics 2011
    The essential compendium of need-to-know statistics. Beware of media hype and mobile myth – put your mobile strategy on a sound footing with the latest research from credible independent experts. Global mobile subscribers, handset sales, mobile Web usage, mobile apps, mobile ad spend, top mobile operators and mobile financial services.
  • Progressive Enhancement in Mobile Design
    When designing for the mobile web there are many variables to take in to consideration. Probably one of the biggest hurdles is designing for the such a wide variety of devices. There are the high-end devices like the iPhone, Android and Palm OS devices. Then there are lower level devices that can’t render high-end styles. That’s where progressive enhancement comes in.
  • Where Progressive Enhancement Meets Graceful Degradation
    Two important web development philosophies are often at odds when it comes to using new or advanced technologies and supporting older browsers or low bandwidth connections. But as is the case with many polemic arguments, the best practice may reside on the middle ground between these two positions.
  • Industry briefing Mobile Industry Trends 2011
    Predictions and trends for the coming year with an assessment of the market.
  • Mobile and HTML5 <video> in Action with Brightcove
    Brightcove Smart Players automatically detect playback environments and device capabilities to dynamically deliver the appropriate rendition and format, so you can embed a single Brightcove player to deliver video in both Flash and HTML5.

(rb)

August 17 2011

19:50

How To Spend Less Time With Social Media


  

With Google+ hitting the scene, many in the design and development communities have had their productivity schedules thrown up in the air. This latest development in the social media networking waters has caused many to once more, begin losing themselves and their time to that old familiar interloper. So we have had requests from readers, on ways that we can spend less time with social media and actually get some work done.

This tends to happen with any major development in the social media fields. Suddenly, that finely tuned balance many of us worked to strike for the sake of our professional productivity has to be reworked so we do not fall behind the trends that steer the conversations in the community, or on our responsibilities at work. Some of us have yet to find that balance, and now have a new wrench in the equation to cope with and consider.

Below are some tips that we hope will help out in this respect. There are several suggestions that can keep us on track beyond downright avoidance. And given that most of us rely on social media in one way or another for some aspect of our business lives, we have to make time for this tool.

Rigid Scheduling

One of the most obvious turns that helps with this is to adopt a strict schedule for when to visit these networks, and more importantly, when to unplug and stay away from them. This can be tricky, especially when we consider how effective we need our social media exploits to be, the optimal times for being on to interact with those we follow, and all the other considerations that end up figuring into this equation.

Once you consider these factors, you may find that there are days you can possibly avoid any kind of serious social media engagements altogether. Days where you simply check in and skim the surface. Naturally, it would take some work to get there, but it may be vital to keep this necessary evil from taking over our days. The most important factor to the scheduling though, is keeping to it. Not letting time get away from us, causing us to spend more time than we intended there.

Make it About Interacting

One way to help cut down on the time you end up wasting via the various social media circuits is to strictly make it about the networking. It can be easy to lose sight sometimes that these networks are not about the gaming or anything else that turns meaningful business building time into a time suck. We need to make sure that our time is well spent, and to do so, we have to focus on the interactions. Often the promotion of our content takes precedence, but the two are not mutually exclusive.

The great thing about these platforms is the way that they lend themselves as instigators of discussions. There is so much that we can accomplish for our fields, our businesses, and ourselves through sharing and engaging with our followers and colleagues. So we cannot just write off the benefits of using these platforms effectively to enhance our overall experience in our respective fields by communicating and connecting with others through them.

Ignore the Mobile Draw

One of the reasons that many of us have a hard time turning away from the different networks is because of the amount of access to them we have these days. With so many mobile web devices on the market and in use throughout the field, it is increasingly getting easier to lose an hour or two down the social media rabbit hole. Just as we need to stick to our schedule, we also need to not take the networks with us everywhere we go. The more access we have, the more temptation we face.

Now with the number of apps designed specifically towards allowing for this uninterrupted access, our initial instincts tend to push us in that direction. But just as the old saying goes, ‘too much of a good thing can be bad’, that rule of thumb applies here as well. If we find that we have to have our mobile devices outfitted with social media access, then we might need to try and isolate our network use to only those times when we are using our mobile devices.

Filter Out the Noise

Given that we are now trying to scale back the time we invest, we want to ensure that we are not undercutting our experience overall. So we want to try and filter out the noise from our various social media streams, and cut those followers that are not actually adding any true value to the discussions. Making these cuts is essential for saving time while getting the most out of the interactions. To maximize our social media input/output.

Naturally we will each have to gauge on our own, which followers end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, and which ones last. Only we know the true value of those we follow, so it will take somewhat of an investment on our part to get the ball rolling. Once we have trimmed the fat from our lists, we can maintain them on a regular basis to ensure that the time we invest continues to yield the best results.

Foster Connections Out of the Arenas

One of the things that we have to start learning to do more with social media, is to use it as more of a launching pad for connections and conversations, but then move those interactions out of those arenas to further develop them. This will also help to prevent us from being distracted from the ongoing dialogs by unrelated interruptions that tend to crop up from our various streams. The various networks may have made the connections possible, but taking them out of those waters can allow them to evolve in new ways. Stronger ways.

Quality Not Quantity

With all of the social media networks that are out there, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to populate and establish a presence in them all. What is a much better approach is to chose only those networks that suit our needs and business interests the best. More often than not, if we try to take on every network we can get into, we will quickly diminish our voices in them all until we are just part of the noise that others end up filtering out.

Just like we do not tend to just follow back every person or brand that follows us, we cannot try to take our brand effectively across each available network without a dedicated team to tackle only this task. So we have to be somewhat choosy. Not to mention wise, with our choices.

Show Up to the Game

One tempting evolution in the social media playing fields is the automated sharing systems that have cropped up all over, giving users the opportunity to setup their accounts to share information even when they are not actually there. This does little for improving our social media interactions, and in fact, can build the amount of noise we come into when we actually do check in. If we have had our account working in our absence, then by the time we are back in the driver’s seat, we could have a large supply of replies and responses to sort through sapping our time.

Not only do these automated services keep our interactions one-sided and can prevent us from getting much of a return on our social media investment, they can make us seem as though we are ignoring any of our followers who are attempting to connect with us at the time they see us sharing. So it might serve our business interests best to only have our accounts being active and sharing when we are there to actively steer and engage our feeds and followers.

Tools to Help

HootSuite will save you time by allowing you to view all of your social media profiles in one place

LeechBlock is a Firefox addon that allows you to block any site for any time period

StayFocused will do the same thing for Chrome users

The article Automatically Block Websites On a Schedule links to a script that allows you to block sites on your Mac complete with instructions on using it

K9 Web Protection is meant to be used as a parental control but can also easily be used as a productivity booster

To Conclude

Armed with these various tips, we hope that you will find a bit more productive social media endeavors coming your way. We understand that not every tip will work for everyone, but with a combination of one or two you might find a recipe that yields some success. What tips would you offer for spending less time on social media networks, and more on actual design and development work? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

(rb)

Tags: How To's

July 21 2011

07:12

How To Sell Your Designs Without The Sales Pitch

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Let’s face it: sales make the world go round. But as a Web designer, you’re concerned more with fonts, color, hierarchy and images than with the sales process. Some believe that designs sell themselves; while this may be true for a few designers, it is certainly not the case for most.

Whether you’re selling a prospective client on a website redesign or a potential client on a new home page, you have to demonstrate your design skills and show how your design will help them meet their goals. When it comes down to it, Web design is more about function than art.

Smalllostbystuartconner in How To Sell Your Designs Without The Sales Pitch

Without any kind of sales background, having to sell our designs to a client can suddenly make us feel lost and far from our comfort zone. Image Credit

Whether you are a sole proprietor or a lead designer at a large firm, you are always selling your work. You may be selling a concept to a client or your boss, but when it comes down to it, you’re selling it to someone. And what are you selling? You’re selling ingenuity, a concept, usability, design harmony: you’re selling the creative. And because design is somewhat subjective, this sale is harder than most others.

If you learn how to sell yourself (without a sleazy sales pitch) you will be able to sell your designs more easily. This means fewer revisions, happier clients, more referrals, and a higher quality of work.

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What To Do If You Don’t Know How To Sell

As a Web designer, you focus on what you do best: designing. But many designers get so caught up in the creative process that they fail to consider a business perspective. That is, they cannot articulate how their service will truly benefit the client. Without this ability, you will have a much more challenging time selling your services and designs to prospective clients.

So, what to do? Incorporate sales tactics without becoming a sales person. Follow these tips, starting with the initial meeting with the potential client.

Know Their Business

As you meet with the client, ask about their needs and expectations, and try to understand exactly what they want. You will refer back to this information in all of your meetings with the client, and it will reinforce your design when you review it with them.

Break down clients into different categories: start-up, established, service- or product-based, business-to-business sales, business-to-consumer, etc. This will help you select specific questions for each client.

Research what their existing website does right and wrong (if they have one). What does it have going for it? Where is it lacking? People appreciate honesty, but don’t offend.

A few areas to investigate:

  • How many sales and visitors?
    If it’s an e-commerce website, how much sales are generated each month. How many unique visitors come to the website?
  • What is the conversion rate?
    How many visitors convert into customers? What is the value of the average order?
  • How many repeat customers?
    How many new customers return to make purchases? How often?

When asking these questions, think more in business terms than in design terms. The client isn’t really hiring you to design a website: they’re hiring you to increase their sales or generate more leads. If you can connect with them on this level, you will find that selling your design will be much easier.

Sell the Sizzle

The client is now intrigued and wants to learn more about your work. So, compare your portfolio of designs to their existing website (showcasing your newest work), and explain how your concepts can help them meet or exceed their goals. You could try flipping back and forth between website designs to emphasize the difference in quality.

Explain the key design elements, such as conversion-centric items and usability enhancements, and outline the major money- or lead-generating components. Explain how these elements will increase the client’s bottom line. If you can connect your design strategy to the real needs of the client, the design will have sold itself before you have even quoted a price!

Sell the Benefits

Cite the latest studies, statistics, industry trends, etc. Some people respond best to hard evidence; facts and figures.

Include the latest research to back up your design strategy. Use industry magazines, reports, benchmarks and case studies.

Paint a Picture

Help them visualize the new design with fresh ideas and examples. Use their own products, categories, services and content to help them visualize what you will do.

Discussing Price

Few of your clients will care about costs. They simply want a return on their investment. That’s right: people are willing to spend money if they know they will get it back many times over.

Your job is to demonstrate clearly that your product or service represents the safest and most secure purchase decision rather than merely being the least expensive or highest quality.

Our customers today are the most experienced in customer history. They know that there is usually a close correlation between higher price on the one hand and greater security and after-sales satisfaction on the other. Your task is to make this differential clear in your sales presentation, especially when positioning you product or service against lower-priced competition.

Factors of Risk in Selling, Brian Tracy

Using the information gathered in the research stage, crunch the numbers and estimate how your design will increase conversions, leads, etc. Break it down into dollars and cents, so that the client can grasp the cost and benefit and you can make a convincing case for the investment.

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Formulating A Proposal Or Contract

A true staple of the design process: the contract. This defines the scope of your services. Here’s what to include:

  • The process
    Clearly explain or document the design process, from prototype to production. Include everything from market research to wireframing and user testing. Break down your methodology so that the client understands it.
  • Services to be provided
    List all items to be included in the design, from the preliminary research to the favicon. Be sure to put a limit on relevant items (e.g. stock photography).
  • Client expectations
    Clearly articulate what you expect from the client: for example, content, images, photography, turnaround time on deliverables and other assets. Include deadlines and the consequences of missing them.
  • The design strategy
    Explain how many revisions are allowed and what’s included in one. Also, define how revisions above and beyond the specified limit are handled.
  • Buffer time
    To play it safe, account for hours above and beyond what you think the design will take. Due diligence and research don’t always catch special cases. When you encounter one, having buffer time to make changes and additions helps a lot. Very rarely do I work on a project that doesn’t require this buffer.
  • Hourly rate
    Tie in all these items with your hourly rate. Define your hourly rate for extra revisions, additional stock photography, etc. Now, when the project burns through your quoted hours and buffer time, you can fall back on the hourly rate.

What To Avoid

Knowing what to avoid is key to pitching prospective clients. Even with a strong pitch, not following the guidelines below could derail your effort.

Don’t Accept Every Client

Yes, this sounds like blasphemy, but it is very important when growing your business. Specialization truly is the key to success in design. Know who your ideal client is: e-commerce, social network, brochure website, start-up, small business, medium-sized business, large enterprise, non-profit;the list goes on. Know your strengths: lead generation, splash page, brochure website, etc.

Identify who you work with best? For whom do you achieve the best results? Focus on that market. Pass along to another firm any leads that do not meet your criteria (and maybe get a kickback for it). You will grow your business much more effectively this way.

Few firms do well by catering to all. This might work when you are starting out, but as you grow and land bigger clients, you will need to spend your time on projects that propel your design skills and company in the right direction.

Carve out a niche for yourself, and become the best in that niche. That sharp focus will attract more quality business than you would if you are all over the board.

Don’t be afraid to turn down clients or pass them onto a friend. If they don’t match your criteria, you most likely won’t be able to serve them best. Both you and the client will have lost.

Don’t Provide a Design Sample or Mock-Up

Prospective clients will often ask you to submit a sample design or mock-up for their website. They want to compare your work to that of other companies from which they are getting proposals, and they want a tangible product to make a decision. Don’t do it!

The reason is simple: you do not know the client’s needs yet. You haven’t delved into their business reality or market demographics, so you would be shooting from the hip.

Don’t devalue your service by sending a sample before getting a clear and comprehensive picture of your client’s needs and business structure. Gaining this understanding could take weeks, but it is critical when designing UIs.

Don’t Focus on Your Designs’ Prettiness or Awards

Pretty designs are fun, and awards boost the ego like nothing else, but they don’t usually give prospective clients what they need: results. Instead, focus on what your design will achieve for the client: increased sales, leads, sign-ups, page views and so on.

Don’t get me wrong: a good clean design will definitely help you in the sales process, as will design accolades and awards. But don’t think they will close the deal. Use them to reinforce your pitch or to show secondary benefits to the actual results you will achieve.

Be Cautious of Start-Ups

Ahh, the ever-popular start-up. I think every designer has invested some of their hard-earned money into developing a website for one new idea or another. But start-ups that make it are few and far between. The more start-ups you deal with, the more you will lose when their business plan (or lack thereof) doesn’t work as expected in six months to a year.

Many start-ups take a while to flush out their business plan, because they lack direction and focus. Expect much more hand-holding with these clients than with established businesses.

If you specialize in start-ups, then develop a methodology catered to their needs.

Never Ever Over-Promise and Under-Deliver

This should go without saying, but some designers are so anxious to close a deal that they sell themselves short and set the client’s expectations too high. If this happens, you will be hard-pressed to deliver a solution on time, within the specs and on budget.

Sticking to your niche helps you to set realistic expectations and to over-deliver them. Simply stated: sell what you know, and do what you know. You will get fewer surprises, and I guarantee you will end up with much better designs.

When in doubt, ask an associate or friend for a quote or to review your proposal. Make sure your time estimates are accurate and that you are charging accordingly.

Other Sales Strategies

Listening and note-taking skills (the things we were taught in school) are indispensable; unless you have a photographic memory. Take notes in every meeting with a client, and log them somewhere. Listen to your client, and try to understand their needs. Ask for clarification when you get lost.

Always send a list of references, even if the client doesn’t ask for it. It’s a nice touch and builds credibility. I also like to mention that once the project is completed, we would like to add their name and testimonial to our reference list.

Incorporate a few of these tips into your meetings. You (and the client) will benefit from them instantly.

Further Resources

(al)(rb)

June 22 2011

05:20

How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

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For many of us in the design and development communities, when we first begin down this path, we tend to go in hungry searches for knowledge and like a sponge we soak up all we can find. However, at times we can come to a plateau where we comfortably set up our virtual camp and we work from this place.

Our quest for knowledge somewhat settles as does our thirst as we become distracted by trying to make our mark and establish ourselves in the community. We do this so that we might find a steady source of income through our skills that we have nurtured and grown to this point. And it is through this time consuming process that the growth of our skillsets ends up on the proverbial back burner.

Growth in How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

This is not a blanket pandemic, but it does happen, and it is in these times that we need the subtle reminder that we should always be moving forward, reaching for that next plateau. Even when we feel as though time for such things is not available, we must make time. Otherwise that excuse will continue to crop up each time we feel the pangs of guilt over our growth stagnation, and our learning process will stay on the back burner indefinitely. So we have to be sure that we actively pursue these opportunities for growth whenever and wherever we can. First, to do so, however, we have to address the roadblock that is in the way preventing our progress.

Fighting Complacency

Life has a tendency of getting in our way from time to time, but generally the problem that we are dealing with when we find ourselves comfortably resting on our laurels is one of complacency. For whatever reason we have become satisfied with the level that we are at, and are no longer feeling that drive that used to fuel our quest for knowledge, and that passion to conquer every challenge that the design or development landscape had to throw at us. And it is this space that we need to get our heads back into so that we can get the wheels turning once more. Below are a few of the problem areas to keep an eye on when you find yourself in the learning lurch.

Time Management

As already mentioned, one of the main excuses we fall back on when we become complacent, is one of a lack of available time. Which does not mean that we should just resign ourselves to the fact that our progress is done, it just means that we have to better learn how to manage our time. If our schedule will not allow for any learning opportunities, then frankly, we need a new schedule. There are going to be places that we can find to fit in these knowledge seeking exploits, we just have to look harder at the division of our time and labor in order to make it happen.

Time-Maschine in How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

You want to manage your time effectively or before you realize, it will have all slipped away. Image by Sachin Sandhu

Before we start rearranging our schedules though, we can first look for areas that can be easily cut down to make room for this needed opening. Whether it is a matter of cutting things short, small things like brainstorming sessions or big things like sleep, there might be areas of our daily/weekly schedules that we can squeeze some time free from to shift over for growth and learning experiences. If we cannot find any time to shave away, then we have to look at what can be rearranged to work them in. However we approach it, if time is not on our side and keeping us from moving forward, then we have to work to change that.

Ego Check

Sometimes the complacent nature that keeps us grounded on this virtual plateau is brought on, not by a lack of time, but more by a surplus of ego. We get to the point where we think we have mastered our field, and there is nowhere left for us to go. We believe we have reached the top level, the peak, and that there is no higher place that we can get to from here. And at that point, we just give up even trying. Our search is over. But that is a horrible disservice that we are doing to ourselves and our skills, for there is always more to learn. Especially in these dynamic of fields.

And even if we are at the top of our game, then the only way that we can ensure that we stay there is to keep fine tuning our skills through practice and repetition. Just like a muscle, if we do not give our skills a regular workout, then they will not maintain their strength. We will begin to forget the little things that once took our work to the next level if we let our egos get in the way and keep us from putting them into practice every now and again. At first, we become rusty. Then we just become forgetful, and we begin slipping. So we need to keep our ego in check otherwise it could become a liability to any future forward progress in our fields.

Perspective Adjustment

Another way that we can try to combat this complacency that keeps us from continuing to grow in the design or development field is to give our perspective somewhat of a refresh. Could be the rut we have dug ourselves into stems from the way we view the work we are doing on a daily basis. It has lost some of its appeal and excitement for us as we have settled into a comfortable work routine. Designing or developing has become a regular job and that label may have tarnished the way we look at it. So we have to try and bring some of that original excitement back into the picture.

Perspective in How to Grow as a Designer or Developerd. FUKA

Sometimes we just need to come at things from a different perspective and see how they unfold from there. Image by

This can be a self correcting problem of sorts. Usually the reason that we no longer see the excitement in our jobs is because that they have gotten stagnant themselves. We find ourselves doing the same sort of task time and again, until it becomes monotonous. So once we set out to learn once more, and new doors open in the design or dev world, then things are going to get back to that exciting place again.

Getting that fire going can take a perspective flip. So try and see the work differently. Do not look at this continued knowledge quest as some sort of schooling, but more as leveling your character or anything fun like that. Whatever flips the script on your view of the path ahead for you is what you need to do to move forward.

It’s Time for Growth

So what can we do once we have taken care of the complacency issues? What are the most effective ways forward? Well that depends. More than likely there is no one recipe for success. So we have to look at a variety of approaches to get our learn on. Below are several ways that one can get started on immediately to continue on the path for professional growth and expansion of their design/development skillsets.

Experiment

One of the first things that we can do to ensure that we are still learning and growing in our field, is to experiment. Naturally, the more repetitive our daily work becomes, the less it is challenging us or daring us to step outside of our comfort zones to try something new. If we are experimenting with new styles or techniques, programs or tools, whatever the case may be, then we are guaranteed to be learning something and pushing our skills to new heights. Connect with your inner scientist and begin branching out from your established routine to try something that you have not within your field.

Experiment in How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

There is a subtle science to design and developing, so why not experiment and try something something new. Image Credit

When you experiment, do not be afraid to reach outside your area of expertise and try new areas of the field that would normally avoid playing in. This is not to suggest that you in any way begin altering the course you are on or change your specialty. Just that you reach into places that you often don’t. Especially those that intimidate or fluster you. Those should be some of the first places that you turn.

Also remember that keeping personal projects often helps because in these projects we tend to feel freer to take chances and try new things. This challenge will keep you from being able to grow complacent as you will never be settled, but rather always in motion.

To Sum Up:

  • Challenge yourself in and outside your field of focus within the design or development arenas.
  • Keep forcing yourself to try something new (styles, techniques, apps, etc…)
  • Reach outside your comfort zone to expand on your base of knowledge to find new opportunities to learn.
  • Keep up personal projects to keep the work in your field fun and allow for taking risks your professional work doesn’t afford.

Study Work You Admire

Another way to grow as a designer or developer, and ensure that you do not stagnate upon the plateau where you landed is to study the work of those you admire who came before you in the field. This is a proven way to keep yourself inspired to progress and learn more. Besides the concepts work so well together anyway. Studying and learning go hand in hand, so why not apply it here as well. The internet makes this studying endeavor an easily achievable chore. One that can also help to further our appreciation for our fields. Which never hurts at keeping complacency at bay.

Now when we say study other works, this is means more than simply checking them out and admiring the quality they hold. This is an in-depth examination of the techniques and styles that were implemented in some of our favorite designs. Or a deeper look into the code that powers and feeds some of our favorite applications, sites, etc…

You can also turn to the online galleries and showcases for a plethora of work to browse through if you need to track down some subjects for your studies. And so that you can get an idea of how to dissect the work you can look at forums and feedback sites for others breaking down pieces and highlighting what you can focus on.

To Sum Up:

  • Focus on studying the implementation of techniques and styles, or studying the code behind the scenes.
  • Look into online galleries and showcases for work to dissect.
  • Check into forums and feedback sites to find work and what to key in on as you break down the work for learning purposes.

Keep Up With Your Field

Especially in the design and development worlds, the landscape changes with a fair amount of rapidity, so keeping up with all of the changes can be a daunting task, but it is one of the most sure fire ways to grow in your field. When you are following along with the way the field is developing, then by default you will develop in suit. That is providing that you are actively working to learn the ins and outs of the new developments and are not just watching from the sidelines. You need to be in the game, so to speak.

Sidelines in How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

We cannot just be passively waiting on the sidelines, we need to be engaged in our community to stay ahead of the game. Image by Westside Shooter

Most industries have trade magazines that closely monitor and report on the trends and shifts that shape and steer said industries. The fields of development and design are no exception this rule. This is a great place to begin your search for any of these game changing happenings, and most of them are conveniently available online.

Beyond the trades, there are social media and the blogosphere among others that can also help you find out what is happening in the field that is to be the shape of things to come. No matter the method you choose, if you want to grow into your field and continue to learn, then strive to keep up with your industry.

To Sum Up:

  • Follow along with the trade magazines and dedicated sites/blogs of your field.
  • Use social media to track the trends and game changers popping up in your chosen field.

Seek Feedback from Others in Your Field

A further way that you can ensure that you are always on the path of learning is by reaching out to those in your field whom you trust and admire for feedback on your projects and pieces. When we become complacent or simply just ignore our growth, a mindset can take over wherein we believe that we do not need to get any sort of critiques for improving our work. Honest and insightful feedback can be a desi/dev godsend and can do a lot to not only improve our work, but our own processes or techniques. So always being open to and looking for critiques can really help to keep us growing and improving.

Once again, the internet does really facilitate this feedback outreach. There are numerous sites dedicated to this area of the design and development communities, where you can submit your work to be critiqued by the other users of the site. Not only that, but through social media networking, professional relationships are fostered which can help in this area as well. You connect with others in your field who are willing and able to provide you with the insightful feedback you are looking for. Generally, all you have to do is ask. Never be afraid to do so, and always take the feedback in the spirit and tone in which you requested it, not always the way in which it was intended. This will hopefully help remove any of the harsh edge that could accompany some of the less than constructive feedback that may come your way.

To Sum Up:

  • Use forums and dedicated sites or services to get feedback from throughout the community.
  • Foster relationships with others in your field via social media and ask them for critiques.
  • Take the feedback in the spirit with which it was requested, not necessarily the way it was intended.

Collaborate with Others

Another way that we can continuously push ourselves along in this quest for knowledge and professional growth is to collaborate on projects with others of a compatible nature. Now when saying compatible, this is more about finding those who will push you to challenge yourself, and through this collaborative effort they will effectively bring out the best in you. Finding a person to fit this bill is not always the easiest to do, but they are certainly out there. And to be fair, and keep things balanced, you want to be sure that you are going to return the favor and be the same type of partner.

This is another area where you not only want to challenge yourself, but you also want to reach outside your comfort zone or area of expertise in order to get the most out of these collaborations. This way you get to push yourself to venture further than you might get to in your normal professional projects.

Seek out an unusual partner for someone in your field, an unexpected pairing, in order to find new and interesting directions to take your work. This can also help to challenge you to find exciting new ways to work. Presenting your work in ways you had never considered or thought of before the collaborations began. This can then bleed over into your other work, continuously keeping your thinking fresh and outside of the box.

To Sum Up:

  • Collaborate with those you know will push you further in your quest for knowledge.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stay within your field for your pool of potential collaborators.
  • Be the kind of partner you wish to be paired up with, to keep the partnership fair and in balance.

Be Active in the Community

The final area that we will discuss for ensuring that you are always moving forward as a designer or developer, we have already touched on a bit in more indirect ways, and that is to be an active member of the community. This alone can not only help to ensure that we continue to grow professionally, but it can also provide us with an outlet for growing our business too. The design and development communities are such diverse and dynamic collectives that there is so much growth you can gain just by being a part of it.

Community in How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

The online communities are an extremely creative outlet that we can usually plug right into. Mark Sebastion

By maintaining a blog of your own, or writing for others who do, you have a unique opportunity to give back to the community that helped you, while also keeping you informed and well researched as you put together your posts. Beyond that, you can also contribute to the discussions being carried out in the comment sections of said sites. Another way that you can be an active member of the community is through the various social media channels. Either through sharing helpful information or posts you can enrich the community experience for others. As the community grows and is shaped through such interactions and connectivity, so are its participants.

To Sum Up:

  • Run a blog or contribute to one so that you can enrich the community via this outlet.
  • Contribute to the discussion being had across the blogosphere when and where you can.
  • Use social media to share and contribute useful information to the community at large.

In the End…

There are several ways that we can ensure that we remain excited and intrigued by the vast fields that we operate in so that we maintain our desire for professional growth. No matter which approach you take, the important thing is that you keep this passion driving you each step of the way so that we never allow ourselves to level off. What do you find helps in keeping you on the path for growth? What do you think leads to this complacent place where we discontinue our pursuit for knowledge?

(rb)

June 21 2011

04:12

How to Design and Program a Facebook Landing Page

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We all know that Facebook provides a great opportunity for organizations to connect with their target audience and interact with their clients. To do this more effectively, organizations are creating custom Facebook pages to differentiate themselves and represent their brands on Facebook.

Jgvisual1 in How to Design and Program a Facebook Landing Page

But how does one go about creating one? How exactly should one be designed and what are these iFrames that are used? If you’ve been looking for answers, take a look at this screencast. We’ll be going through an introduction to designing and programming a Facebook landing page using iFrames. Enjoy!

Please feel free to share your comments with us in the comment section below.

(il)(rb)

May 25 2011

10:23

Speeding Up WordPress

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Whether you’re using WordPress as a CMS, a blog or somewhere between the two, as a portfolio site, making sure your site runs quickly is absolutely paramount in this day and age. This article and screencast combo takes you through how to use a variety of tips, tricks and techniques in order to make your WordPress powered site load faster.

Contents

Introduction

Wpshout in Speeding Up WordPress

Since last year, page load speed has been included in Google’s ranking algorithm. Thus, it’s become absolutely vital that your site, regardless of its usage, loads as fast as possible.

The first thing we’re going to do is test load speeds to see what point we’re starting from. I’ve taken two sites — my fairly heavily optimised WPShout and my friend Marco’s blog, which runs a normal premium theme from ThemeForest.

We’ll be using a tool called Pingdom throughout this article in order to test the speed of our site.

To start with, we’ll compare the two sites — the fairly heavily optimised WPShout and Marco’s blog, a normal WordPress blog running a premium theme.

  • Clearly, WPShout loads far faster than Marco’s blog and there are a number of reasons for this:
  • Fewer files: WPShout loads with only a handful of CSS, Javascript and image files whereas Marco’s blog has a lot of CSS, Javascript and then a load more images added on top. We’ll cover optimising images later
  • Faster files: WPShout is using a Content Delivery Network, or CDN in order to deliver the files faster. More on this, later.
  • Cached files: you’ll note that images don’t show up as being downloaded again. This is because files which aren’t changed regularly are stored locally and so don’t need to be downloaded again. We get to caching later.
  • Custom theme: WPShout runs a custom theme, whereas Marco’s blog runs an out-the-box premium theme. The pros and cons of each method are weighed up in the next section.

Premium Themes vs. Custom Themes

Woo in Speeding Up WordPress

It’s obvious, but I’ll say it regardless: an out-the-box theme, free or paid, won’t get anywhere near the performance of a well made custom theme. Even premium themes from some of the largest marketplaces have horrendous performance.

However, help is at hand!

We can using something called a caching plugin in order to save a copy of your site and then show that when people visit, thus circumnavigating the problem of out-the-box themes using up a lot of resources.

Imagine you had a written document and wanted to give copies to everyone who visited. At the moment, you have to write it all out by hand, but if you use a photocopier, you just need to do the work once and give out copies!

A caching plugin is like the photocopier — it loads the page once and then distributes copies of the page to visitors, meaning the page loads faster as visitors don’t have to wait for the server to load the page — or for you to write out the document.

There are a number of caching plugins available and we’ll visit them later.

Optimising Images

  • Images are likely to be the single biggest factor that slow down your site so are well worth taking the time to optimise!

If you’re running a blog or magazine style layout, unoptimised images are likely to be your downfall. A couple of years ago when I used my first WordPress powered magazine theme, I remember being astounded at how slowly the site loaded. The culprit, of course, was having huge file sizes for images.

The following screencast runs through ways of optimising your images.

The 30%, 30kb Rule

I use something we’ll call the 30%, 30kb rule. Images should be at 30% quality and/or no more than 30kb large. Whilst images containing text might need to be larger, as a general rule it works well in keeping file sizes down. Of course, you also need to make sure images are no wider than your post’s content area.

Using CSS Sprites

Sprites in Speeding Up WordPress

  • CSS Sprites let you combine what would have otherwise been multiple images — and multiple downloads — into a single file.

We can also use image sprites in order to combine multiple images into a single file. Chris Coyier has an excellent post on CSS-Tricks explaining “what they are, why they’re cool and how to use them”.

The graphic above shows the image that forms the CSS Sprite for WPShout. The top row is icons and social media buttons and the two rows below are the logo and hover state for the logo which show up on the coloured background on the site (I’ve added in a background here but on the site the sprite is a transparent PNG). Instead of five files at 100kb, I’ve got one file at just under 20kb. The savings are obvious so there’s no reason not to try out sprites on your site.

A great tool for quickly making a sprite is “SpriteMe”, a bookmarklet you can just click and it does all the work for you! This is a great way of avoiding getting stuck into CSS if you’re not too confident with them.

Further Image Optimisation

Smush-it in Speeding Up WordPress

You can go further with your image optimisation, though. Yahoo has a service called “Smush.it” which takes your images and optimises them, keeping the same quality but lowering the filesize.

It would be a pain to individually optimise each image so thankfully there’s an excellent free plugin called “WP Smush.it” which automatically runs all your images through Smush.it when you add them to a post or page.

Remove Database Heavy Plugins

  • Lots of plugins dosn’t necessarily mean your blog will load slowly, but one may lead to the other.
  • Plugins which make lots of database queries aren’t a problem if you use a caching plugin.

It’s a common myth that having lots of plugins = your site loads slowly. One doesn’t necessarily imply the other, but often the two are linked, hence the myth.

It is true, though, that having a lot of plugins can both be a security risk and just a pain when upgrading to new versions of WordPress (you’ll have to check they’re all compatible with the latest version). It’s easy to get carried away installing plugins that do jobs you think you might need, but it’s considered good practice to keep the number below ten.

Jeff Starr ran a very interesting poll on Digging into WordPress a couple of years ago which is still relevant today. Just about two thirds of respondents used up to ten plugins, with only ten percent using more than twenty. Those who used a lot of plugins ran with the argument that their plugins didn’t hinder their site’s performance so using them was fine. Whilst this is true in the majority of cases, this isn’t necessarily always true.

The first plugins to reconsider using are ones which add Javascript. Load your homepage and then view source. In the section, look for Javascript and see if you can find any plugins. If you can, it’s time to reconsider whether you really need that plugin as it’s adding to the load time of every single page.

However, the big culprits are plugins which use the database a lot. Joost De Valk has a post, explaining how you can use the Debug Queries plugin in order to work out which plugins are causing your server a lot of work. In Joost’s case, it was the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin that was causing the problems. I’m using the same plugin on WPShout but decided to keep it as it’s so powerful and so any performance lost can be justified by extra user experience gained. Speed shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when deciding whether to keep plugins or not.

There is hope, though. You can create a cache using a caching plugin in order to save a copy of your page — and thus database queries.

Caching Plugins Compared

And now for the big one: caching plugins! These will give you by far the biggest performance boost but there are lots of plugins to choose from so it’s vital some time is spent comparing the performance of each on your site.

Whilst there are a good number of plugins available, there are a couple of main ones:

I switched to W3 Total Cache from WP Super Cache about a year ago after testing out various options and it’s been absolutely fantastic. That said, it’s not necessarily fastest on your site so it’s important you try out a couple and compare the results. Tutorial9 has a really good post comparing the different plugins available, but I must stress it varies from site to site which ones work best. However, I’ve found W3 Total Cache to be consistently fast on various set-ups so we’ll explore how to use it here.

Setting Up W3 Total Cache

W3-total-cache in Speeding Up WordPress

Installing such a complicated plugin is surprisingly easy. Total Cache installs like most other plugins — under the plugins tab, do a search for W3 Total Cache and it’ll show up as the first result. Click “install now” and then activate the plugin.

However, the plugin isn’t set up yet! You’ll see a new tab on your admin bar “Performance”. Open this up.

Total Cache does some impressive detective work and gives you some recommend settings. It’s now just a case of going through all the settings, activating each one and seeing what performance boost each option gives you. Some may decrease performance so it’s vital you test.

Total Cache has some excellent documentation built in — select the various options under the Help tab. The FAQ is brilliant at going through more or less every single question you could possible have and answering it clearly.

However, there may be some extra set up required. You might get some messages popping up at the top of the page telling you you need to add some code to a file called .htaccess. .htaccess is a file which allows you to locally configure your Apache settings, and thus is impressively powerful. To access it you’ll need to log into your site’s FTP and then navigate to the root. If you then can’t see it, show hidden files.

Download it (again, show hidden files), make a copy as a backup and then load it in your text editor. Add the lines of code to the bottom of the file, upload again and you’re done! Make sure you try loading your site immediately to check it still works. If it doesn’t, check you’ve copied all the code exactly and you haven’t deleted any other code in the file.

And you’re done! Total Cache is set up!

Using a CDN

CDN in Speeding Up WordPress

“A CDN can increase a website’s performance by serving items from the closest possible location to the visitor.

For example, let’s say that you have a web server in Los Angeles. A visitor from the United Kingdom wouldn’t get the best possible performance, because images and other content would go through many “hops” and a lot of distance to get across the USA and the Atlantic Ocean.

With CDN, those items would be served from a location much closer to the visitor, e.g., Amsterdam. The web server would still provide the pages, but images and other larger items would be served from the CDN.”

Mark Bailey, WPCDN

Essentially, a CDN, or content delivery network, takes all your static files you’ve got on your site (CSS, Javascript and images etc) and lets visitors download them as fast as possible by serving the files on servers as close to them as possible.

CDNs used to be for the elite, but in the last 18 months have become available to the masses and are now something I thoroughly recommend to anyone and everyone. The first thing you need to do is to find a CDN provider!
CDNs to consider

I use WPCDN on my sites and I’ve been very pleased with it, but by no means are they the only CDN providers! There are a fair few, but these are ones I’ve been personally recommended by others or use myself:

  • Akamai
  • Free CDN (this is, obviously, free, but I’ve had no experience with it; you may very well get what you pay for)
  • Google! You can let Google host your jQuery/Javascript libraries for you on their CDN
  • MaxCDN
  • WPCDN

It’s certainly worth looking and shopping around to get the best deal, and most importantly, test out various provider’s speeds!

Once you’ve chosen a provider, setting it up is blissfully easy.

Setting Up WordPress to Run a CDN

If, as I suggested, you’re running W3 Total Cache, setting up your site to utilise a CDN is really easy. Go to the CDN tab and then tick the boxes you want and simply fill out the Configuration section with details provided by your CDN provider.

If you’re not running W3 Total Cache, a plugin such as My CDN will also do the trick.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully this article has been valuable in giving you some tips on how to run your WordPress site faster. I can’t stress enough how important a fast loading site is in this day and age. If your site hasn’t loaded within three seconds, a good chunk of your search engine traffic will have left and gone onto the next search result. Not only will having a faster site get you more visitors, but it’ll also help you rank higher as Google now takes site speed into account in its search algorithm.

(rb)

May 20 2011

12:37

Distraction Management: How To NOT Procrastinate or Get Distracted

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Whenever we are working on a design, facing a deadline, it is of the utmost importance that we stay on track and power through til the end. Doing whatever is necessary to keep us walking with progress over stalling with digression.

All too often, we find ourselves facing a project that is somewhat hampered by our inability to become properly motivated and dive in to the design without looking back. We allow ourselves to become distracted and we linger there. Placed on pause by this distraction or sense of procrastination. It is here that we find ourselves struggling for a way to kickstart our motivation and work our way free from those hands that are holding us back.

58694182 Bf6e244a51 in Distraction Management: How To NOT Procrastinate or Get Distracted
We need to find ways to stave off the call of those pitfalls to our design progress. Image Credit

Enter today’s post. Here we are going to examine a few different ways that we can attempt to keep ourselves focused and driven during a design project, so that we do not end up falling behind. So below are the distraction management techniques that we felt could assist any designer feeling the pull of procrastination or the digressive distractions that creep up in our path of productivity. If you follow the tips and implement them into your design process, then you are less likely to be pulled off topic and find yourself facing this problem.

Consider Some of Our Previous Posts

Project Breakdown

Often there are times when we first begin a new design project that we end up feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the entire scope and size of the project. And we let this overwhelmed sensation keep us from getting started. However, if we breakdown the project in the beginning into assignments of dedicated focus to tackled individually, it can feel less bewildering. Because you are not attempting to take on the entire project at once, instead you take all of those pieces and allow yourself to focus on one piece at a time. This focus can not only keep you from procrastinating any longer, but it can also help your mind keep on track and from wandering off topic and potentially off course.

Sites and Services to Assist

  • BaseCampHQ premium project management software that focuses on communication and collaboration.
  • ActiveCollab is a premium tool which installs on your server or local network for better project management and collaboration.
  • Project HQ is an open source solution to your collaborative project management needs

Set Clear and Achievable Daily Goals

So if we feel overwhelmed by the scope of the project, but we are not too keen on the idea of a full breakdown for the project, then another way to come at it to combat that feeling is to set clearly defined and achievable daily goals. By giving ourselves daily project goals that are completely achievable within a day we effectively lessen the scope that we are dealing with. This makes the project seem less daunting, as we have smaller steps to focus on that will take us to the end. Rather than trying to focus on the overall outcome that seemed so overwhelming from the very start.

Apps to Assist

  • Tadalist is a completely free, very popular to do list tool that is easy to use.
  • Remember the Milk is an online based to do list with great functionality that is free to use.
  • Todo.ly is an intuitive and easy to use online Todo list, and Task Manager.

The Bare Necessities

Now once you get started you have have to keep moving forward, and that is not always easy to do with a workspace built to distract you. So you want to keep your work area neat and refined to the bare necessities as much as we possibly can. The more that you have in your work area to distract you or keep you stalling, the more likely you are to cave to these interlopers of progress and indulge their less than productive ways. So if you are in an office setting, go minimal with your workspace to keep your mind focused on the task at hand. If you are working from home, then this is especially important.

If you have a workspace that is combined with your regular living spaces, then your work environment is more than likely going to be working against you in this respect. So for those designers who have a home office, keep this a space apart from the rest. Sure you want your workspace to be comfortable, but that is not the issue here. Filling that space excessively only feeds that areas ability to keep us from focusing on our work. So we need to be aware of our environment’s effects on our productivity and if necessary, keep it bare.

Scheduling

This can mean everything in aiding your focus. If you work straight through for hours and hours without a break, your tired mind is much more susceptible to distraction. So keep this in mind, and while you are scheduling your time to work on the design project at hand, be sure to include breaktimes in there for yourself. This will do wonders to help keep your mind fresh and focused, and less prone to diversion. Scheduling can also benefit those finding it hard to get started initially. If you have set a schedule for yourself, then you are more likely to follow it and not allow procrastination to rear its ugly head.

Also use this scheduling wisely to keep you better mentally suited and less apt to be distracted by outside influences. If you have regular daily routines try to not schedule your design work against any of the peak times for your daily activities. For instance, if you are a social media hound, and you have particular times that your various streams tend to be full and a majority of those you regularly engage with are online, then do not pick those times to schedule your design work. This way your mind is not constantly being drawn towards that routine you know you are missing out on.

Apps to Assist

  • Klok is a personal time tracking app with a free and premium version that can help you get your schedule under control.
  • Toggl is a time management app that promises to keep you on track with reports to help. Both free and premium versions are available.
  • Rescue Time an automated web-based time management and analytics tool for anyone serious about tracking and managing their time.

Get Specific With Your Schedule

Instead of just scheduling time to design, actually take the breakdown of the project that you have made, and schedule the individual areas of the project to work on. Get specific with your scheduling of the various pieces that you have to tackle and this will further your focus, and keep you less likely to allow digressions back and forth between areas of the project itself. And as you schedule these various project tasks, try to mix up the different times so that you are not working on the same elements or areas back to back. This will also help to keep your thought processes refreshing and uncluttered.

Pomodoro to Assist

  • Pomodoro Technique can help you get the most out of your time management and may be just the key for you.
  • Focus Booster is a free lightweight Adobe AIR app that was built around the Pomodoro Technique that is simple and elegant.
  • Tomato Timer a web based Pomodoro timer that is basic and very straight forward.

Unplugged

This may prove somewhat difficult to do, but for some it is necessary to avoid distraction and delays. That is to stay offline. Even if you run up against barriers that you would normally turn to an online outlet for, hold off. Make notes of the problems you come across so that you may address them later. Move on to another area of the project, or to another area in the same vein that will be unaffected by this unexpected roadblock. But breaking from your flow and getting online can quickly take an unexpected turn, and by the time you look up again, an hour has disappeared. Your flow and focus have been compromised, and that never bodes well for the design.

If you are using a schedule to help you stay focused, then use your break times to get online and search for answers that you may need when you return to work. Or even schedule times that are specifically just for plugging into the web. This can sometimes help with curbing the temptation to just pop online for a second. If we know that we will have time for that later, then we can allow the design to remain at the forefront of our focus. This is not to say that designers need to avoid the web to stay productive, however, it can become necessary as the web can be a huge distraction as well as a tool. So staying unplugged and offline at times can work wonders for keeping you locked on target and moving towards the project’s end.

Add-ons to Assist

  • Leechblock for Firefox is a simple productivity tool designed to block any time-wasting sites that sap the productivity from your day.
  • StayFocusd for Chrome increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time you can spend on any sites you consider time-wasters.

Keep the Project Fresh

The moment we start getting bored with the project and the design, then we are begging for a distraction, or worse we put off the work altogether. Looking for something to engage us and reconnect us with fun. So we have to do all that we can to keep the project feeling fresh, fun, and exciting to hold our focus. Find ways to push the proverbial envelopes and challenge yourself throughout the course of the project so that it continues to hold your interest. Naturally there is a balance to strike here. You want to keep yourself intrigued but you do not want to compromise the design in the process. So find ways to keep yourself captivated by the project however you can, but keep in mind that you still have a goal and a deadline on the horizon. We cannot allow our project to become the distraction.

Reward System

If all else fails and the project seems to be barrelling towards boring, then keep yourself engaged and interested with a sort of personal reward system that you employ while you work. In the vein of video game achievements and the like, establish certain milestones for the project that once you achieve, you get some sort of predetermined prize for yourself. This does not have to be anything major, or even tangible, just whatever works for you personally. Like an extra break in your schedule, or whatever you can think of to keep the project engaging and progressing.

Share Your Progress

One way to keep yourself focused and highly motivated to get your design work handled is to commit to sharing your project progress with others. Be it the client, a close circle of design friends from the community, or even an online audience that you are sharing your ‘dailies’ with. As long as you have promised to share some kind of virtual progress report with someone, you tend to be more driven to actually get the work done and turned in. This also allows for us to get some sort of feedback on our progress, which can always come in handy as we work through the project. Once again, we have to understand that processing and implementing all of the feedback, especially if we are sharing daily, can be just as much as a derail as it can be an aid. Balance is important here as well.

Sites to Assist

  • Forrst is a community driven invite site dedicated to providing thoughtful critiques, and sharing knowledge to build better applications and websites, and more.
  • Dribbble is another invitation based site for designers to share their work with a sort of game like system that it is built upon.
  • Behance is a free online community for designers and more to come together and share their work with others in the community and beyond.
  • Concept Feedback is a premium service where members can share their work with other designers and get useful, honest feedback on their projects in progress.

Isolation Equation

There are occasions when just having someone familiar in the vicinity of our workspace can be as much of a distraction to our progress, or even to getting started, so there are instances where we might need to add a little isolation into the equation. Especially those who are working as part of a team, may find it benefiicial, at times, to get away from the other members and work on the project alone. So isolation can be an easy way to keep those accidental acquaintance interruptions from stealing large, productive portions of your work day from you. This tends to be why most designers who work from home, maintain an office area away from the rest of their families. Just like unplugging from the internet, virtually unplugging from the world around you can increase your ability to remain focused.

Keep Healthy and Rested

Finally, one area to keep in mind is our physical and mental well being. If we allow our health to decline, or our mind and body to fatigue then we are more prone to having our focus and drive impacted. So it is important to get enough sleep and exercise, along with a balanced healthy diet to keep our mind sharp and alert. Design is an intricate and at times delicate field, that some would call an art, so keeping both our mind and our body in as peak of a condition as we are able can do wonders for our attention and motivation with regards to our work.

In Conclusion

That wraps up this end of the discussion, but as always, things are just getting started. Now we turn the comment section and the topic over to you. What are your thoughts on staying motivated and focused on your design work. What techniques or processes do you implement and employ to aid you in this? Feel free to leave us your two cents!

(rb)

May 10 2011

11:15

Building Manageable Growth on the Web

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One of the greatest things about the web can also prove to be its deadliest of business snares at the same time. That is the opportunity it provides for growing and expanding your business via the internet. Which is one of the main reasons that the web based business market continues to grow at the rates that it does, as it does in the design and development fields.

We see so many of our colleagues rushing out to grow their virtual empires. But this becomes a pitfall in our paths when we neglect to note that while the growth potential can be near limitless, managing said growth is a completely different story.

Overgrown in Building Manageable Growth on the Web

If we do not manage the growth properly, then it can get out of hand, and be damaging to our construct rather than helpful. Image Credit

This is when many designers and developers end up over their heads drowning in good intentions. It is that other side of the coin that many fail to consider when they see how easily they can build on their web based business. And with the number of design and development focused sites still on the rise, it is understandable that many would want to try and carve out a little corner of the market that is theirs to rule over. But like with all things in life, it is easy to bite off more than we can chew, and in this case that could spell stress for us, and trouble for the brand that we are trying to build.

If we are unable to manage that growth then it is going to fall far short of its desired effect of stabilizing and expanding our empire. In some rather extreme cases, it could effectively mean the undoing of it. So below are some considerations that we should make and some questions that we can ask to ensure that our growth is done at a reasonable, sustainable rate, rather than taking us far ahead of ourselves, into deeper waters than we are ready to tread.

Consider This!

Now below are a few of the points that you are really going to want to focus on and look after in order to keep your growth reigned in and from spiraling out of your control. Naturally, none of these are guarantors of success, but they are ways in which we can hope to strengthen our plans for expansion and get things started down the right path. Here are a few that we would recommend you mind.

The Consistency Ratio

First things first. When one seeks to expand their brand online, they tend to have already gotten some sort of foundation fashioned to build on. Most empires do not just spring up out of nowhere, and so it is this foundation that we must keep in mind as seek to expand our business’ reach. There is already an established level of expectation from our followers, readers, clients, etc, and if we cannot manage to maintain and meet those expectations as, or more importantly, after we expand then our brand is going to be in trouble.

Highjump in Building Manageable Growth on the Web

The proverbial bar has been set, and if we cannot meet those expectations then this expansion has cost us our ability to compete. Image Credit

If this expansion impedes with your ability to deliver with the same ratio of excellence and frequency as you have before, then your expansion efforts may be all for not as you might find some of your online audience has abandoned you. Find the right people and bring them onto the team, so that you can keep your growth managed and from ultimately costing you and your business. Once our business begins to outgrow our solo efforts, then assembling the right team to help you continue on your path is essential to being able to keep up your consistency.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Another must for managing the online growth of your business is to keep track of your brand’s impact among the online audiences that you already are, or that you are seeking to be tapped into. Keeping your finger firmly on the proverbial pulse of the online public offers you an important insight into how your business should proceed down this path of expansion. After all, what good is growing your virtual empire if you are cluelessly driving away the very audience you need to make this expansion a true success? So you have to monitor the mood of the masses and regularly connect with them in order to keep your brand’s growth in check.

Not only can this sort of a constant ear to the ground approach help ensure that your growth happens at a controlled rate, it can also be the instigator to the expansion. By keeping up with those your brand is serving online, you can spot trends which can offer you more valuable avenues of reach to your audience, and see which routes for growth you have taken that have worked and which have not. Through this outreach of sorts your brand can find currents to more smoothly navigate these expansive waters. Social media can prove invaluable in this aspect, so having a steady and consistent presence throughout the various networks, being maintained by someone who knows how to harness them correctly is a near must for managing growth.

As you grow, your business needs to keep in touch with your intended audience each step of the way, not only to keep them informed of what is happening, but also for the information you can gain to aid your business. This feedback can clue you in on when to keep pushing forward or even when to back off, so keeping up with it is a step in this process that should never be underestimated or overlooked.

Know the Limits of Your Reach

Another important consideration that has to be examined fully to ensure for proper online growth of your brand, is the limitations of your reach. For years we have heard countless people saying that knowing your limits is a sign of strength, and the same basically applies in this case as well. As your empire reaches out from its foundation, if you do not know how far you can comfortably take this growth and keep it successfully managed, then you risk overextending your brand and you find yourself unable to meet the demands being placed on your business. If you reach too far, not only can you effectively lose your grip on your growth and your business, but you can also lose your way back and be unable to recover.

Road in Building Manageable Growth on the Web

Sometimes we have gone so far, that we cannot make our way back to where we once where. Image Credit

This is one of the trickier areas to handle when you are growing, and often times we do not know the full limits of our reach until we come to it, and find it tested. But we should always be aware of the potential negative impacts this overreaching can bring. This way, we can hopefully recognize when they are building, soon to be looming in the distance and we can take actions to reel things back in before it becomes too late and we have gone to far. Once we have crossed that line, the trust we have built for our brand with the online masses can become shaken and fragile. Or worse, it can completely shatter. Without that trust in place, managing any kind of growth for your business may become a complete nonissue.

Plan Ahead and Stay Ahead

As with any market, one thing that you have to be able to do in order to stay ahead of the game is to plan ahead. However, the online business market can prove to be somewhat unpredictable, which makes planning ahead that much more difficult. When setting up to grow your business online it is that much more important that you be able to anticipate the trends and read the market, but beyond that you have to expect the unexpected. The web is such an expansive and dynamic place for your business to exist where you can stumble into a viral current and your brand or business could explode overnight.

While it is true that this can effectively be the case with any business regardless of whether they are turning to the digital online landscape or not, the web provides businesses with a much wider international audience in a quicker more compact fashion that you can access for your business unlike any other. So as you start growing in this sort of market you must be ready for that other shoe to drop at any time. Not only that, but you have to also have plans in place for dealing with the viral nature of the interwebs should you suddenly find your business caught in this current. If suddenly tomorrow your brand demanded exponential growth, would you even know where to begin?

So take time to plan for these kinds of occurrences, rare though they may be in the grand scheme of things. It is always better to be prepared, than to be caught off guard. Study the market for similar models that you have seen grow like this for tips on how to tackle it for your own brand should you be faced with it. Also, study those models who have failed in the face of these circumstances and see what lessons can be learned from their examples. If you are ready for anything, then you tend to be able to handle just about everything thrown your way.

Opt for Organic

The final point that we are going to offer up for your consideration to help better control your business’ growth online, is to always opt for a more organic growth. The more naturally your growth occurs, the easier it will be to manage. If you set out trying to force it, then it is often much more likely to blow up in your face. This is where many lose their way and end up on the wrong side of the coin, growing more frustrated and stressed as they lose their grips on their growth. No longer able to keep up with the demands being placed on their brand across the spectrum, multiple areas of the business start to noticeably suffer.

Roots in Building Manageable Growth on the Web

The more naturally we let our growth happen, the better the chances it will strongly root and sustain. Image Credit

So if we allow for our business to flourish along a more natural path of progression, rather than a forced one, we will tend to have a much easier time keeping up with all of the new demands and developments that come with the territory. This also tends to ensure that we do not lose touch with the audience and client base that we hope to grow along with us, which as we discussed already, is itself an important piece of this puzzle.

Question That!

Now that we have gone over a few of the considerations that one should make as they grow in order to keep things on track, we are going to take a brief look at a handful of the pertinent questions that one should ask before they proceed with their expansion plans also. By asking these questions we help prepare ourselves for the road ahead, so that we can manage all that lies there.

What’s the Rush?

As you set your sights on growing your business online, you want to pace yourself at a rate that helps facilitate this growth successfully. So ask yourself, what’s the rush? Are there any pressing outside factors weighing in on your timetable, or do you have a freer, more open schedule to allow for that organic growth we mentioned? It is easy to be spurred on in this manner, but we have to remember to pace ourselves. Are you rushing this expansion out of excitement? Or even maybe out of fear that someone could potentially beat you to filling those niches or gaps you had your eye on? Chance are, if you do rush your expansion efforts, then things are more likely to get overlooked and out of hand, and can quickly become less manageable. Spelling trouble for your business or brand.

How Solid is My Foundation?

Another question to keep in mind before you leap forward embracing this empire expansion, concerns the base on which it is to all be constructed. Ask yourself, how solid is my foundation here? Do you have all of the pieces firmly in place that you can successfully grow on? Because if you don’t then you are risking doing permanent damage to the foundation of your business should your efforts to grow falter. You could risk toppling your potential empire because your base simply wasn’t ready and you tried to prematurely build on it. How many hits can this base take and still be considered safe and sound? If you have any doubts at all about the strength of your foundation, then you should perhaps give it more attention before you set your sights growing beyond it. After all, the better the foundation, the more growth it tends to be able to sustain.

Why Am I Doing This?

Another question that you must stay focused on throughout this process, is one of purpose. It may become quite necessary even as you work to make this growth happen for your business, to constantly be asking yourself, why am I doing this? Having an idea of purpose, and carrying this sense of mission through the growth process can often ease the stress and feelings of being overwhelmed as you struggle to wrangle all of this in. Which can have a huge impact on your ability to manage said growth. Do my reasons have merit and substance? As long as we can get behind the motivations driving us forward, then we tend to have less of a problem dealing with all that comes with it. So keeping our mission in mind may be key to keeping things in line and growing smoothly.

Can The Brand Survive if this Expand Fails?

Now the final question that we are going to look at today, is actually the most important to ask before you begin pushing forward with this growth. You need to know if the brand can survive should the proposed expansion fail? Should the plans for growth take the proverbial turn for the worst, will your business be able to recover from the negative repercussions that could follow in its wake? If you are unsure that your business or brand would sustain and come out on the other side, then you should really examine whether or not it is truly worth the risk trying to expand. How long will this negatively reflect on the business, and will it be able to endure? The internet has a long memory, and depending on how badly a turn things take, your brand’s reputation could suffer a blow that sticks around longer than your business is able to.

In Summation

There are many considerations to be made and questions that should be asked so that you are able to more effectively manage the growth of your online design or development business, and as many have bore witness to firsthand, failing to think through any sort of expansion efforts can undo years of hard work and struggling. So making sure to cover as many of your bases as possible before, during, and after you set the balls in motion can help you keep the growth of your online business reasonably within your grasp. What considerations or questions would you add to the list?

Consider Some of Our Previous Posts

(rb)

April 19 2011

01:29

Showcase of Excellent Graphic Email Newsletter Designs

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Sending email newsletters is an effective way of marketing and communicating with your clients and customers, and can serve you best when designed properly to attract potential customers, as well as the attention of your existing customers. Email newsletters are a powerful medium to maintain an extra connection with your audience beyond just the reach of your website alone.


Email newsletters allow you to keep your clients and customers in the loop with latest things that are happening, and products to pay attention for. In this way, you can build a healthy relationship with your customers and can significantly increase your sales. Now get a load of these exceptional Graphic Email Newsletter Designs for your inspiration.

Showcase

Heroes Over Europe
This is one of the most creatively and skillfully designed newsletters in the showcase, which truly stands out among the rest.

Newsletterdesign30 in Showcase of Excellent Graphic Email Newsletter Designs

Percept Brand Design
A creatively designed newsletter created keeping the target audience in mind. Sufficient space is allotted for the content as well.

Newsletterdesign7 in Showcase of Excellent Graphic Email Newsletter Designs

ScrapBlog
Very well designed newsletter that not only attracts the customers with its alluring graphics but also informs them in detail about the ScrapBlog.

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EVE Online
This is one of the best newsletter designs in this collection that uses high quality and visually alluring graphics to grab the attention of their potential customers and buyers.

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eMAG Newsletter
This newsletter brings extremely high contrast colors and top notch quality graphics into play that will for sure grab the attention of onlookers.

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The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
To portray the dramatic nature of the game, a dark black theme is chosen for this newsletter. Furthermore, customers are also informed that it is available on Xbox Live Arcade.

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Icon Inc.
This newsletter design perfectly matches with their tagline “Your Creative Partner”. The newsletter is actually presented as if you are reading a newspaper.

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Think
The main content area is highlighted against the vividly colored background so that visitors do not get distracted and read the entire newsletter.

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Bioshock
The use of high quality graphics in this newsletter is making it stand out from the rest in this collection.

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Dress Up Diana
The adage “A picture worth thousands words” best defines the nature of this collage like newsletter design.

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Brandtalk
A simple and memorable design for the branding purpose. Here, Brandtalk used a unique approach to represent Nike’s logo.

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Sephora
A wonderfully designed newsletter for promoting beauty products. The use of excellent graphics and color contrast helps in making this newsletter more appealing and stylish.

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Paul Frank Industries
Excellent use of graphics to call attention to their flat rate shipping.

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Elizabeth Davis
This newsletter is started with a catchy line that not only grabs the attention of the readers but also makes them read the entire newsletter to find to the solution of their problem.

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Manual Design
In this design, you can see that more emphasis is given to the content of the newsletter rather than the images, yet it looks visually startling.

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Urban Outfitters
This newsletter is primarily intended to market their limited time Free shipping campaign, and therefore is designed accordingly.

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Threadless
With this newsletter, Threadless is promoting their Classics Sale. By specifying the date this sale will end, they urge the customers to avail themselves of the offer right now.

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Action Method
iPhones are everywhere and it is quite difficult to cater to such a huge market with a single newsletter but Action Method has successfully accomplished this difficult task.

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Paul Frank Earth Day
Simple graphics with the detailed information on the celebration of Earth Day.

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Garden Sheds
Garden Sheds uses lots of color variation to give this newsletter an eye-catching look. The content of the newsletter is the main area of focus.

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Lonely Planet
Light refreshing color is used as the background for this newsletter design that is pleasing to the eyes. The purpose of the newsletter is defined with the help of supporting text placed beneath the image.

Newsletterdesign4 in Showcase of Excellent Graphic Email Newsletter Designs

Juxt Interactive
Not much content is placed in this newsletter rather Juxt Interactive puts lots of emphasis on the graphical elements.

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IrelandHotels
With a breathtaking look at Ireland accompanied by the necessary details on going, there is enough in this newsletter to attract potential tourists to check out the hotel for their next trip for sure.

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ExpoLit09
Use of high contrast color combination compels the visitors’ eyes drawing them to the content of the newsletter.

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Life’s Not Fair But….My Knickers Are
Since the newsletter is about a feminine brand, the newsletter is also given a very feminine look by using loads of pink shades.

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Club VTech
This newsletter is also designed keeping the target audience in mind i.e. kids. Therefore, they use graphics and images that will appeal to youngsters.

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Owl City
Here, you can notice a more sophisticated and professional approach is being taken to impress the potential clients. Visitors are thoroughly informed about each and every thing the company has to offer.

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Nike – Run it Your Way
Nike like its simple and effective logo design created a neat and visually attractive newsletter that fulfills its primary action.

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Nation Toys
A funky design that is well suited for the toys outlet. This one would definitely appeal young children and teens alike.

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Totally Rad
Loads of information is provided with this newsletter to inform visitors how they can follow Totally Rad on Twitter and get special goodies.

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Envato
Envato captures the attention of their prospective clients with unbelievably amazing graphics. You can see that the content is not being highlighted much.

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Indiemark
A very cool and soothing design that mainly focuses on the content of the newsletter.

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Fitness 5022
Fitness 5022 has incorporated a fitness video to give their visitors an idea of what they can expect if they join Fitness 5022.

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Ragged Edge Design
Ragged Edge Design makes use of a sophisticated template that equally puts emphasis on the graphics and content of the newsletter.

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Bonobos
Bonobos follows a unique marketing approach in this newsletter by showing a high quality picture of a shirt to give an idea of the quality of the product and then they follow up with how you will be entitled to a huge discount by purchasing in bulk.

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Apple iPod summer accessories email
Again in this newsletter, graphics are emphasized more as compared to the text.

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Making Ideas Happen
Here the white space is used for this newsletter to more effectively highlight the content along with the places you can get this book from.

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Paul Frank Newsletter
Paul Frank always sends prompt newsletters associated with any recent or upcoming events. Here, they are celebrating Mother’s Day by offering all of Mom’s favorite items at a discount.

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Australia Post
A simple but effective design that executes its purpose even without the use of much content and images.

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Pizza
A yummy and delicious pizza on the plain background in enough to captivate the onlookers.

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ADC Young Guns
An extremely artistic approach that uses bizarre graphics against simple grey background to perplex the potential customers and make them read till the end.

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Apple
Loads of Apple iPhones are placed in the shape of a heart to exemplify the love that we all have for the device. Imaginative use of beautiful graphics.

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Banana Republic
Main area to be focused here is their offer that says 25% off after the five style event. Banana Republic is quite clear on what they want to be highlighted as their best selling point.

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Bing
Bing introduced lots of new things in the word of the internet and here with this newsletter they invite their users to find out what’s popular on Bing.

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Miche Bag
A well suited template design for the offer being given through this newsletter. Very well thought out and executed!

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Jon Burgerman
Equal importance is given to the content and graphics to grab as many customers as possible. The huge empty space highlights the content.

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Made
High contrast color graphics are placed against simple and white background that make the graphical elements shine.

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MapMyRide.com
The excitement of cycling is the focus here. The appealing graphics and catchy tagline are the key components of this newsletter design.

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StarbucksStore.com
A subtle approach is taken in this newsletter design. It is neither over loaded with the graphics nor with content. On the whole it is a decent approach.

Newsletterdesign51 in Showcase of Excellent Graphic Email Newsletter Designs

The Plebs
The snapshot of their recently initiated shop is placed against a black background in order to call attention to the shop only.

Newsletterdesign53 in Showcase of Excellent Graphic Email Newsletter Designs

(rb)

Tags: How To's

April 07 2011

08:40

A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Advertisement in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign
 in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign  in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign  in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

An inherent problem with owning a web site is that styles come and go on the internet fast as (or faster than) the real world. A web site can look out-of-date very fast if it is not being constantly maintained. Do you need to refine your online presence? A web site redesign may be just what the doctor ordered.


While it is possible to salvage your old web site, it may be better to keep what worked in the past and start from scratch. You can end up spending more time realigning content or revising old graphics without adding much more value to your web site.

Guide-to-seamless-website-redesign in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

This article will cover the different stages of a web site redesign including analysis, research, structure, interaction and atmosphere. While there are other bits a pieces of a redesign that may be left out, we’ve covered the most significant parts. If you take your time while building a web site, you can create something that will last a long time and reduce future costs for you and your clients. You can easily navigate this article using the table of contents found below:

  1. Analysis
  2. Research
  3. Structure
  4. Interaction
  5. Atmosphere
  6. Conclusion
  7. Further Resources

One benefit of the World Wide Web is that almost anyone can take on the role of a Web designer with the wide variety of tools available. One thing to keep in mind is that Web design is a skilled craft and the most important thing is to create a beautiful user-friendly site that will display all of your content. Not every skilled developer is just as skilled at design. Even if you do not have design talent, there is a good amount of planning you can do for your redesign. If you feel more comfortable leaving this to the experts, there are many Web design services available.

“If you only do what you know you can do, you never do very much.”
- Tom Krause

1. Analysis

When building a house you must always first make sure you have a good foundation. In order to determine the current faults in your web sites foundation you have to do a full analysis to make sure nothing is overlooked. Afterall, you wouldn’t want to overlook something twice, right? Once you have covered all of the items listed below you should have a better handle on what needs to be changed to reinforce the focus and goals of your web site.

Leads/Sales. If you are experiencing trouble with your web site such as lack of improvement in your leads/sales, it may be your that site needs an improvement or even a redesign.

Firstly, your web site always needs to be fresh, that means you must frequently update your site with content, images or animation so that the viewer does not have a routine impression. If your main web site has no need to be updated, you may consider adding a blog or news ticket to add fresh variety. Visit web sites that offer the similar services and find out if there are any flaws and missing aspects that you could fill, related to your personal site.

Online Expansion. If your web site is growing and expanding, you need to make sure that it still satisfies your objective. By adding new programs and services to your web site you should consider organizing your information. Adding some audio and video information will bring more authenticity to the site and your business will expand even more without a major redesign. In addition, if you’re changing the focus of your site or the products or services you sell, you’ll want to redesign.

Browser Compatibility. It is advisable to check if your web site is compatible with all modern web browsers. If you happen to browse the web, you can see a lot of web sites that are not compatible to different browsers as each browser reads the web in it’s own way. This is a very important matter because you risk losing a good amount of clients. There are many bells and whistles that can be added to a web site but you have to make sure you are not narrowing your audience by creating something they cannot properly view. Adobe Browserlabs provides Web designers exact renderings of their web pages in multiple browsers and operating systems, on demand. When using that service you must keep in mind that any interactive testing will still have to be completed manually.

Browser-testing in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Web sites display differently depending on the operating system and web browser. The example above shows Firefox 3.0 OS X (left) and Safari 3.0 OS X (right) in Adobe Browserlabs.

Remove Content Clutter. Take a look at your web site and search for unnecessary details that could bore the client. Very often we see the description of some products that may seem appealing at first sight but in the end they lack important information that may persuade us to buy it.

Redesigning your web site is something that you should do quite often in order to make it effective for a long period of time. Updating, always bringing something new to audience, using the latest technology instead of hard-coding, brings you the company you’ve always dreamt of. As Leonardo da Vinci said best “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Outdated. If you have had a web site for a few years with minimal content changes and it has not done much for your online presence, you may require a content refresh, some simple search engine optimization (SEO) or a complete redesign. It would be best to start by evaluating your company objectives and how you hope to use your web site to accomplish them. Once you have figured that out you can determine the best route.

User Friendly Interface. When people visit your web site will they be able to find what they’re looking for in less than three clicks? If you answered no to this question your site may not be very user friendly. The purpose of a web site is to find the content your are looking for as fast as possible. The more roadblocks you remove, the better the user experience will be.

Professional Look. While content is king in the web world, majority of modern web users put their trust in your company based on your web sites look. If you can connect to your demographic and display strong branding you are steps ahead of many companies online today.

Online-bank-comparrison in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Based on looks alone, who would you trust your money with? When it comes to key business decisions especially those revolving around money, a professional look can instill trust.

Redesign

After reading the above information if you feel that any of the issues that currently plague your web site are holding you back, a redesign or realignment may help your company move forward. This is your chance to start over! Take this opportunity to update your look, improve your layout, update your navigation and polish your user experience. If you are ready to try something different you can increase brand recognition, traffic and leads.

I will warn you, it is up to you to determine your business needs and apply them based on the recommended instructions below. There are two great articles titled Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign and Redesigning Your Own Site that will give you more in-depth information if you are going to redesign your personal site or choose to realign. This is not a step-by-step guarantee to make your company or clients millions through a redesign. This is however, a great article to help keep you focused and on track with your redesign.

2. Research

Think of this part from the user standpoint. How do you want your visitors to feel when they see your web site? It is good to consider your web site goals so you can prepare for your visitors reaction to the usability of your design. Do you want them to be amazed, informed or curious? Visitor reactions are very important to the success of your web site. It does not matter if your budget is high or low, the fact still remains that research is a key part of building a web site. It is never good to build your car while you drive it. Once you know your likes and dislikes you will have a better handle on the direction of your project. Some ways to understand interaction would be usering a service such as crazyegg that will help you see heatmaps and where users have clicked. This will help you identify if they are looking at and clicking everything you want them to.

  • Successful Web Site Goals
    Before you begin planning out your web site, make sure you have a good idea of what success will look like. Your goals for your web site can lead to very different planning, design, and promotion strategies.
  • CSS Gallery List
    This is a great resources to find all of the web galleries out there. You can browse through the thousands of listings or submit your own web site for free.
  • 25 Incredibly Useful Usability Cheat Sheets & Checklists
    You can find cheat sheets and checklists for forms, blogs and more below, all listed in alphabetical order.

Web Site Goals

The online world is a never ending competition for traffic, conversion and ROI. If you don’t know what your goals are, you cannot create a successful and engaging web site design. What is your call to action? What do you want your visitors to do? While there is no single answer because every business is different, it is good to have an idea of your needs before anything is built.

It would be a good first step to write all of your goals down and then begin to prioritize intro three groups: primary, secondary and support. Primary goals are essential tothe success of your business and they should receive the most attention during the redesign process. Secondary goals may not make or break your business but they are still important to growing your business. They can be considered during this process or taken care of as a second phase of the redesign. Support goals are usually an after though and have never been a priority. You should consider leaving these goals out of the process to help you focus on the more important issues. Too many goals will cloud and confuse the process while dragging out your timelines.

Web-site-feature in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The redesign of TaylorDigital.com was focused on their current clients. They brought the client login, support and blog to the spotlight.

Visitor Reaction

The more attractive your web site is, the better off you will be. In past reports it was said the average attention span for a web user 8 seconds. A recent study conducted by Akamai Technologies reported that number has dropped to 4 seconds. Web users have a short attention span due to the sheer number of accessible content available. If you make your user think too hard to find what they are looking for, that user could potentially never return.

You want to make sure you look around the web and find some new and interesting web sites with friendly interfaces (navigation, look and feel). One great way to find inspiration is to look at Creamy CSS, Best Web Gallery or other web galleries found in the resource section. If you create an appealing design there is a greater chance that users will be more receptive to your message or buy your product/service.

Web-design-inspiration in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

With hundreds of web sites to choose from organized by industry and popularity you will have an unlimited supply of references at your finger tips.

Usability

Avoid focusing on the abundance of people on the web as time would be best used focusing on your audience and their needs. There are many different types of people on the internet: children, young adults, adults, seniors, blind users, users with slow internet connections, web gurus, users who are not technically savvy etc. While catering to the needs of your audience can be partially achieved by exceptional markup, design plays a large part as well. There is a great article on the Usability Effect or that can help you find specific usability guidelines for nearly any need. Keep your demographic of users in mind as you move onto the interaction of your site when creation navigation, forms and adding media.

3. Structure

After your research has been completed the next step is to start planning the layout of your web site. Since you are redesigning your web site you probably have an existing structure to work off of. It is always good to look over your information architecture to see what pages have been successful in the past and which have not. You will want to get rid of unnecessary pages, making your web site easier to navigate. No one wants to visit a web site that contains pages with unnecessary or repetitive content. When planning for your new web site structure it is best to start with a sitemap and then follow-up with a wireframe. A complicated or unnecessary structure is a key pitfall when creating web site.

Sitemap

No to be confused with a sitemap page, a planning sitemap is important to keep organized. A web site’s structure should come natural and flow in a way that the user does not have to guess where content should be. Don’t focus too much on the technical part of the site and how it runs. Instead, focus more on what is best for your visitors. A sitemap is drawing out every page on your web site structure in map format. WriteMaps or OmniGraffle are great applications for putting together your sitemap. In this stage you should be sure to note all of the interaction and navigation between pages.

Web-Site-Sitemap in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

It doesn’t matter if you sketch a sitemap by hand or create one on a computer, it is always a good idea to create when coming up with your web site structure. The sitemap above was created in WriteMaps and then brought into Adobe Photoshop for final touch-ups.

One thing to keep in mind is that people who surf the web are ruthless when it comes to finding content. If they can find what they need fast they will stay, if they cannot they go back where they came from and find a comparable web site. A sitemap is very important because if it is well structured, your users can find what they need quickly.

Wireframe

While sitemaps deal with the what pages are within your web site, wireframes dig deeper into the content for each page. Think of wireframes as a web page blueprint, you need to have a solid foundation before you start the construction of a house. With wireframes you can fine-tune where you want to place content. This is where you figure out which content is most important and how it will fit with other content. In most cases, companies are forced to complete a redesign because the previous layout (wireframe) no longer makes sense.

In this stage you do not have to worry about specific design elements as much as you need to consider how prominent each piece of content will be. There are key elements that must be included in every web site design and without them you could create a negative brand impression. Make sure your layout has a consistent look and feel as to not confuse the user. Every page needs to be clearly labeled and identified in the navigation so visitors will always know where they are on your site. Once you have decided where elements will be placed you can then focus on how they will interact.

Web-Site-Wireframes in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

There are many ways to make a wireframe to help plan your web site. You can sketch them by hand or use Adobe Illustrator as shown in the image above. The darkened black elements are located on every page while the lighter elements change depending on the page.

Designing your new web site based on a grid system can be very helpful. The main idea behind grid systems is to maintain a visual and structural balance. The 960 Grid System is an effort to streamline web development workflow by providing commonly used dimensions, based on a width of 960 pixels. There are two variants: 12 and 16 columns, which can be used separately or in tandem.

4. Interaction

It can be said that every element on a web site interacts with another. A web site in itself is an interactive experience. It can be as slight as a link to another web page, pushing a button, submitting a form, or opening a modal window to enter login details. The most common forms of interaction are navigation, and forms. We will discuss the multiple ways these elements can interact with your visitors to better help you determine your web sites functionality.

  • 40+ Helpful Resources On User Interface Design Patterns
    In this article you see the best of the best, cream of the crop sites, galleries, online publications, and libraries devoted to sharing information and exploring concepts pertaining to User Interface design patterns. Use these recommended sources to gain knowledge about a particular UI problem or to gain inspiration and insight on best practices, techniques, and examples of exemplary UI designs.
  • Navigation Menus: Trends and Examples
    This article presents recent trends, examples and innovative solutions for design of modern navigation menus. All images are clickable and lead to the sites from which they’ve been taken.
  • Beautiful Form Design
    Forms needs a solid visual structure, a profound hierarchy of form elements (Fields and Labels), powerful techniques and Functionality (AJAX) to make the form look and work creatively. There is a great bunch of creative, outstanding and individually designed from scratch forms.
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    Forms facilitate users to make purchases, register into communities, exchange information with organizations, etc. These functions are the basic elements of a majority of web sites – money, participation, information.
  • Web Form Design: Modern Solutions and Creative Ideas
    In this article you will find over 40 examples of web forms as well as modern solutions and creative ideas related to web form design. Some of the examples are Flash-based; however, in most cases you can easily create similar designs with pure CSS and (X)HTML.

Navigation

It is important to keep to common guidelines when creation your navigation. You want to make sure you do not confuse your users with a complicated or confusing navigation. Keeping your navigation consistent and making sure it appears on every page will help your users navigate through your content easier. With the evolution of the internet and Web design in general, there are many navigation types & styles. When building your navigation, you should reply on you sitemap that we spoke of previously in this article.

Common Navigation Guidelines

When designing your navigation there are several very common elements that can be used as a base for your navigation design. When your navigation is easily found and digested by your users, the overall site experience benefits.

  1. It is important that you keep your user in-mind when you are creating your navigation. You should make sure that the titles of your navigation links are short and descriptive. Users should understand very quickly where to find content they are looking for.
  2. To help prevent overcrowding keep your main navigation under 5 links. Keep your most important information in the primary navigation and place other content into your secondary navigation.
  3. Make your primary navigation recognizable and bold within your site design. If a user cannot easily spot the navigation you will leave them confused and disoriented.
  4. In the case of users having their graphics/javascript turned off or enabling the use of screen readers, a text alternative available. The use of a text menu at the bottom of your site and alt tags will help these visitors navigate.
  5. Users should always be able to tell what page they are currently on. This can be achieved through breadcrumb navigation or revers the contrast of a navigation element to help it stand out.

Navigation Types

Depending on the amount of content on your web site, some of these types of navigation may not be necessary. When creating a content heavy web site will result in the need for multiple levels of navigation to help a user find content.

Primary navigation is present on every page of a web site and will allow users to go to any of the main sections within a site. These controls should always give users access to top levels of the site. You want this area to contain the most important topics that all other information will fall under (i.e. Home, About, Products/Services and Contact). While there may be other pages on a site, the primary navigation will lead users to the content within.

Apple-primary-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Apple organizes it’s navigation leading with it’s store then following with product information and support.

Redfenix-primary-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

RedFenix has a very simple menu and includes added direction with a secondary navigation highlighted with images.

Secondary navigation is may not always be present on every page of a web site. These pages should be supplement the top level navigation (i.e. features, gallery, how to, tech specs, buy). While these pages contain important information that you would like to have on every page, they do not need they same visual significance.

Manchester-secondary-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Manchester City has a lot of club information that they need to present and put the secondary navigation on the sidebar.

Cbs-secondary-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

CBS uses many visual elements of navigation but clearly displays their secondary navigation below their feature photo.

Local navigation is important when you have a lot of lot of content within a particular page making it long (massive amounts of page scrolling require). It can be extremely helpful when a user wants to jump to a particular part of the page.

Local-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The webdirections event had a series of speakers on a single page listing bio and class information. This caused the page to be very long, requiring local navigation.

Breadcrumb navigation is used to show your path from the homepage to your current destination. This is helpful because even if you landed directly on your destination page, you can easily take one step back by using the breadcrumb. This is commonly used for resources and eCommerce web sites that have multiple items spread across many different categories.

Apple-breadcrumb-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Apple shows the steps that were taken to get to this page. It spotlights the user has went to the shop, chosen the Mac Pro and started configuration for purchase.

Newegg-breadcrumb-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Newegg spotlights which department and manufacturer sections this product is located at.

Google-breadcrumb-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Google lets you know what category and subcategories the article the user is reading are located.

Navigation Styles

There are many different navigation styles available to help you achieve a branded look without compromises. While some styles can break the rules a bit, elements are expected to behave in certain ways with no exceptions. Including mouse over and hover effects will increase your user interaction and satisfaction greatly if done correctly.

Top navigation is by far the most common type of web site navigation. Placing your navigation in the most exposed part of your web site helps keep it easily identifiable and removed from heavy content. Giving your navigation it’s own special place near the top means you will have a wide area of space available for optional large text.

Awordfromhisword-top-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

A Word From His Word has large text with a red mouse over effect accompanied by a flame icon.

Housingworks-top-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Housing Works uses a utilizes transparency over a large homepage image and white capitalized text for high contrast and exposure.

Sohtanaka-top-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Soh incorporates the use of a high contrast light blue effect to help identify the page you are on as well as which item you mouse over

List navigation provides a large amount of flexibility for content. Once the primary and secondary are visually separated you can have a large amount of navigation items listed. With certain styles you can expose the secondary navigation on click as like the GoMedia web site (below), making your initial view very clean and tidy.

Gomedia-list-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

GoMedia only shows their primary navigation on load (i.e. about us, work, contact) and the secondary navigation on click. They include less significant items just below their menu without spotlighting them (i.e. arsenal, blog, prooflab)

Marmaladeontoast-list-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Marmalade has a left navigation highlights the selected item and will highlight any item you mouse over.

Drop-down menus help you keep your layout clean and easy to navigate but grouping all of your primary and secondary navigation elements together. Drop down menus are a great way of showing content without cluttering up a page with choices. Choices are hidden until you need to see them, by hovering or clicking on a link. Read this article on drop-down menus best practices for more information.

Threadless-list-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Threadless has a a clean drop down menu style that incorporates an arrow and color changes to identify elements and actions.

Elegantthemes-dropdown-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Elegant Themes uses a pure white drop down over their heavily colored site to provide more contrast for their menu items.

Mediatemple-dropdown-menu in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Media Temple has added the use of icons into their drop down menu to help identify between their various product choices.

Tab navigation is more of a stylistic choice, and many act just like any other top navigation. The benefit here is in the psychological effect tabs have on users (because they’re more reminiscent of navigation in the real world). If done correctly, well designed tab navigation will help create a clean look.

Iconbakery-tabbed-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Icon Bakery seems to do slight loading when you lick each tab but their web site looks very clean and you are able to switch pages easily.

Freeagentcentral-tabbed-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Free Agent has nearly seamless transitions when loading between tabs making their user experience excellent. Matching high contrast colors with the content body helps make it very obvious which tab is selected.

Inkd-tabbed-navigation in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Inkd has a very friendly user interface with fast loading pages. This web site has a very pleasing color scheme, presenting a soft, clean feeling.

Forms

Forms are put in front of visitors in many different ways. A user may come across a search form, newsletter sign-up, contact form, login form or registration form. As you can imagine there are many different elements that must be considered to establish a memorable user experience. Web forms are often used to achieve goals such as collecting user information or accessing information you currently have. A successful form will be clear, concise and to-the-point. This will help your user send the information they need, without becoming confused or bored. Form usability is a very complex subject that is beyond the scope of this article. The articles below should give you more information on the subject.

Search Box

If your web site doesn’t currently have a search box and it’s content heavy, add one. Not having this feature on a web site is a key user complaint. If a visitor needs quick access to information, you must meet their needs. On large content rich sites, the search box can be a key lifeline in stopping user frustration and maintaining return visitors. Three things that control all aspects of search are the position, wording and behavior. If you pay attention to those key aspects, you are closer to making your sites content available to new and repeat visitors.

Search Position

When putting together a web site design, some people consider where the search box will be located on the fly. Others pay attention to usability statistics and place their search box in the most common spot. By considering the F-Shaped Reading Pattern you understand why search boxes are commonly located in the top-left or top-right corner and users are trained to find it in this location. When the search box is moved it may take longer for users to find, especially when surrounded by graphics. Placing the search box on every page in a highly visible location and never moved it will insure that all users can fit easily.

Search-position-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The Ferrari web site places their search box in the top-right corner of their site and the location never changes no matter which page is being viewed.

Search Wording

What do you put inside the search box? What does the button say? These are very common questions to ask, because not everyone does the same thing when it comes to search box wording. More technical users can navigate easily with an input field and an icon for a button. To develop for the average web user, we recommend that your button text says either “Search” or “Go” instead of just an icon button. You can either leave the search input field blank or add some friendly text that says “enter keyword”,”search articles”, “search site” or even “custom search” and it will be made clear what users are doing with your search box.

Good-search-wording-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

InCase has a typical search box in the top-right corner of their web site with text within the input field and a button that says “go”.

Bad-search-wording-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Design Disease has a non-typical search box located a little further down the page from the top-right corner and an icon for a button although they do a good job of helping the search box stand out with a graphic container that matches their theme.

Search Behavior

You may have noticed that Google recently released a nice feature that helps users formulate queries when they are not sure what to look for. If you have ever been at a loss for words you realize how valuable these auto suggestions can be to users. This is one of many ways you can improve search form behavior.

We find that by providing suggestions up front, we can help people search more efficiently and conveniently. – Google Blog

Google-suggests-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Google Suggests is a feature recently implemented by Google to help users be more specific when searching phrases and even give additional ideas on what to search for.

Layout

Once you understand your sites visitors you can make sure your search acts how they would expect it to. If you are starting from scratch there are a few basic items that users expect with search. The searched words should pull up a new page with query results. This page should contain a headline with the words being searched and the results returned. This makes sure that the user knows exactly what they searched for and how many options they need to consider.

Search-layout-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Digital Photography School does a great job with their search layout. There is no confusion on what has been searched, how many results are available.

Function

The search feature should be smart enough to recognize common misspellings and let the user know what it thinks they meant to type. This helps the user identify a mistake and quickly search for the correct word. The search feature should also display exact matches for the phrase being searched first, followed by anything else that comes close. Other useful functions include highlighting the phrase searched within the results and supplying options when zero results are found.

Search-highlight-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

JQuery.info shows how you can use JQuery to highlight text on a search results page. This is also common practice for Google when your search result is a PDF.

5. Atmosphere

Now that all of the research and planning is done, you can get your fingers dirty with the site design. This is the part that will require a good amount of knowledge of color theory, design and composition. If you are not a designer it is strongly recommended you work with someone who can help turn all of your planning and hard work into a beautiful and attractive web site. The atmosphere of your web site will play a large role in how all of your hard work is perceived. It should reflect the main purpose and goals of your web site.

Layout & composition, color, imagery, and typography are aesthetic elements that enhance your web sites look and feel. These elements with communicate ideas and feelings to you potential customers.

  • Grid-Based Design: Six Creative Column Techniques
    Grid systems bring visual structure and balance to site design. As a tool grids are useful for organizing and presenting information. Used properly, they can enhance the user experience by creating predictable patterns for users to follow. From designer’s point of view they allow for an organized methodology for planning systematic layouts.
  • Designing With Grid-Based Approach
    Inspired by Khoi Vinn’s and Mark Boulton’s presentation Grids are Good, we’ve decided to take a deep look in the articles about grid-based designs. We’ve read through over 50 articles and selected some of the most important and interesting facts web-developers should know about the grid-based approach. Besides, we’ve listed the most useful references, tutorials and tools we found – with precise descriptions of what the articles are about.
  • Color Theory Wiki
    A detailed and sometimes historical look at color theory with references for further reading.
  • Brown University Introduction to Color Theory
    Although the site looks terrible and some references are outdated, this is an example of color theory from a credible university course.
  • Liquidsoft’s Color Theory Tutorial
    Color can be more complicated than it needs to be, if you need a brief guide to get your feet we, this article is a good start.
  • Typography Wiki
    A detailed history and explanation of typography as a whole.
  • Typography Essentials – A Getting Started Guide
    Learn more about typography and why it is so important to designers. Typography is part of everyday life, it is all around us.
  • 50 Useful Design Tools For Beautiful Web Typography
    This article covers typographic tools, useful typographic references, font browsers, typographic CSS- and JavaScript-techniques, hyphenation techniques, sIFR tools and resources, grids and related tools, free and commercial fonts, a guide to Web typography, examples of great Web typography.
  • A Lesson on Typography Video
    From the Vancouver Film School.An interesting look at typography in 1:47 minutes.
  • Typographic Contrast and Flow
    As you have probably know, most online readers don’t read line by line, instead they scan (from one point to another). For this reason, designers create typographic contrast and flow by emphasizing certain text.
  • Revised Font Stacks
    Serious efforts are being made to get more typeface choices on the web to enhance web typography. Still, most of us prefer web-safe fonts like: Verdana, Georgia, Times New Roman and Arial. Though choices are limited, yet the number can be increased by exploring other pre-installed fonts.
  • Web Typography Demo
    Many web pages use images to display text in fonts that are not installed on every platform. However, you can apply a few CSS properties directly to the text elements in your web page to create stunning graphics, navigation menu items, buttons, and other user interface elements.

Layout & Composition

Instead of going into a tangent about Web design and color theory, everyone would be better served by focusing on the principles of layout and composition and then reading The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird for a more in-depth sampling. It is key to maintain balance and prepare for multiple monitor sizes with fixed, fluid or elastic layouts depending on the need. You can design with grid-based frameworks or use your own methods.

Visual Balance

Maintaining balance whether you’re using a symmetrical or asymmetrical design will create a more visually pleasing web site and increase the the opportunity to capture your visitors attention. The blog Subtraction shown below uses asymmetry or off-center/mismatched elements to achieve a balanced design. By counteracting the weight of the black dog with a gray “X” to the right using a keen eye, the site maintains balance.

Subtraction-blog-asymmetry in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

This blog uses well balanced asymmetry in the header graphic design.

Most designers stick to symmetry keeping with matching elements and use such methods as the three buckets method or rule of thirds by maintaining a golden ratio. The three buckets method is that magical combination of threes that pull together as a single element visually yet keep enough separation to evenly distribute content across the page. Using the rule of thirds you can fill two-thirds of your layout and fill the last third with white space. By balancing the page into thirds you can create more energy and interest in the site composition.

Site-symmetry in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

This uses the three bucket method in it’s feature rotator with the spotlighted numbers and again in the lower sub feature elements on it’s homepage.

Be Aware of the Viewport

Because web site visitors vary in many ways including their display resolution, we have to take that into account with every site design. You don’t want just design for the smallest screen size but the average web user instead. As of January 2009 the most common display resolution is higher than 1024×768 with 57% of users and 1024×768 coming in a sure second with 36% users. Keeping that information in mind and subtracting the space taken up by the browser interface you have varying 1000×650 viewport where the site will be displayed. You can take control of the viewport flexibility with fixed, fluid or elastic layouts. With these different types of layouts you can make sure the average user sees your site how you intended without leaving anyone else out and possibly giving them more than they bargained for.

Fixed layouts have predetermined dimensions (usually pixels) that define the width of the site. If the fixed layout width is 960 pixels, then no matter how wide the users browser is the site will always be that width and no larger for the sites visitors. With this kind of layout you can insure that the main content area remains the same size and will maintain image positioning within a text area.

Fixed-layout-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The CodeIgniter web site uses a fixed width layout of 927 pixels and will not change no matter the users display resolution. The site uses a background tile gradient image to accommodate larger viewport’s.

Fluid or liquid layouts have dimensions that are relative to the size of the users viewport as defined by preset percentages. If the fluid percentage is 90%, then no matter how wide the users browser is the site will always be 90% of the total width and no larger for the sites visitors. With this kind of layout you can insure that the main content area will grow to fill the available area.

Liquid-layout-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The Stuff and Nonsense web site uses a fluid layout that makes room for the content below when using viewed by a larger display resolution.

Elastic layouts are a marriage between fixed and fluid layouts. When this is implemented a sites content will shrink or grow depending on the users preference. The entire layout stays proportional to the text size as it is increased.

Elastic-layout-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The Clearleft web site uses an elastic layout adjusts the text size for smaller display resolutions. You can really tell by the increased distance between the logo and navigation as well as the different line breaks in the opening paragraphs.

Mood

Before any color, art, images typography can be added you have to first consider the mood that the web site will convey. The web site should give visitors a feel for the style, message, goals and content of the web site on a subconscious level. Mood is something that is felt when you see it, not through any specific combination of things.

A mood board helps establish the branding, design components, typography, imagery, and color palettes that will be incorporated in the design. Much the way an interior designer will initially put together a swatch panel showing the fabrics and colors that will be used in designing a room, the mood board establishes the aesthetic direction of the site up front without negatively impacting the flow or structure of the site. – 404 Creative

Dark-mood-website in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The Hydra Games web site has a mythological, medieval atmosphere in line with the companies logo and games they create. This is due to the black and red color use mixed with the textured background image and other graphics on the site.

Light-mood-website in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

In contrast, the Fall for Tennessee web site still maintains an atmosphere but in a different way. Using nature textures mixed with specific colors and images that evoke the feeling of fall.

Color

Color use is a very strong influencer in the overall appearance of your web site. Color theory is used to convey many feelings and have many meanings. Choosing the right colors for your web site can be one of the most difficult tasks at hand. You can’t just line up a list of colors on a dart board and use the first 4-6 you hit. Some colors play well with others and some do not. Multiple articles could be written about color theory alone, for that reason I recommend using the articles listed below.

Get Inspired

Color is used to bring out predetermined branding or create branding guidelines. Every company has a specific demographic they are trying to reach out and speak to. Everyone enjoys looking at something beautiful don’t they? After all, beautiful is relative to a persons point of view. Choose your colors wisely by using a color schemer, keeping up with web site trends, creating your own trends and looking for offline inspiration.

Inspiration-bw-photography in A Guide To Seamless Website RedesignInspiration-design in A Guide To Seamless Website RedesignInspiration-products in A Guide To Seamless Website RedesignInspiration-web-mobile in A Guide To Seamless Website RedesignInspiration-advertisements in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Use the examples above to find your inspiration in photography, design, product, Web and advertising.

Imagery

Using imagery will add value to your site and help speak to your audience. It is important to use imagery that directly supports the message and goals of the site. You can use few graphics, or base your site around them, just be sure that whichever method you choose to utilize imagery that you do not cloud the sites focus or confuse users. Do your best to guide the users eye and be cautious of clutter!

Art-website-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Outline2Design uses a combination between photography, icons and graphics. You can see the great use of visual imagery balanced with warm colors and soft tones.

Artwork

A great web site is not required to have a strong message. In fact, you can have a fairly minimal site design and do just fine. That’s not to say that adding art cannot help. You may not be an illustrator or photographer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find stock resources to help you add expression to your web site. By adding the right combination of art and content that is right for your site, you can capture your visitors to help sell services, products or even convert depending on your sites goals.

Photography

I know that it’s cliche but they say “a picture is worth a thousand words“, just make sure it’s a thousand words you want your site visitors to see. Better yet, make sure those thousand words will help your users become aware of the sites goals. Photography can be used to establish a connection between the web site and its visitors. Personal connections are important, especially when your sites main goal involves offline activities.

Photography-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Livestrong does an exceptional job of using photography to depict a happy, healthy lifestyle while challenging you to change the way you live with graphic reinforcement. Skiing anyone?

When using photography on your web site you can use stock photography agencies, free stock photography or take your own. In any case, make sure that the photo quality is high. You may have to tweak the levels & curves or crop creatively. Remember that adding a photo with poor quality to your web site can give a bad first impression to visitors. No one would visit your business if you left your trash at the front door right?

Illustration

Many companies have embraced the use of illustration on their web sites. This includes anything from line sketches to detailed cities. Adding illustrations can guarantee a certain uniqueness that can set you apart from other web sites. Illustration can be used in the background, header, footer, menu and anywhere else you see fit. However you decide to use illustration remember to maintain your site’s mood.

Basic-illustration-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

The Great Bearded Reef uses basic illustration for the base of its site. The imagery is very playful and uses bright colors for a happy mood.

Detailed-illustration-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Platin uses detailed illustration (3D) in combination with motion to get the attention of its visitors.

Iconography

Icons can be a gift and a curse with helping to guide your visitors. I well designed and well placed icon will work as a visual shorthand for visitors that can help understand content without reading it. Think of street signs and how they are used in society. We have become accustomed to associating certain pictures with things and activities. When visiting a foreign country you can do a decent job of guiding yourself with signs along because symbols and icons have become a universal language. A good icon should be understood immediately. If you plan to use icons you can create your own or you can use a stock icons.

Iconography-web-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

EngineHosting makes use of icons in the home page feature to help guide users to other pages of their site while leaving room for the different plans below.

Typography

Text is synonymous with design, so it’s no surprise that it plays a large role in Web design. When thinking about typography there are many things to be considered. No matter how typography is used, whether in print, television or on the web – designers are forced to adapt to each specific medium.

Optimizing typography is optimizing readability, accessibility, usability, overall graphic balance. Organizing blocks of text and combining them with pictures, isn’t that what graphic designers, usability specialists, information architects do? – Information Architects

Typography-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

.Net magazine uses Helvetica and Arial sans-serif fonts to give their web site a smooth flowing feel.

Today on the web typography is easier to accomplish than years past from a technical perspective. From a design perspective, designing for computer users brings it’s own unique set of challenges. The art of type is a very delicate subject because so much is involved such as web safe fonts, replacement techniques, font embedding and CSS3 advances. We will focus on typography basics because typography is such a deep subject. If you would like to lean more you can use the resources below.

Web Safe Fonts

There are a number of fonts that are considered safe to use on the web. These web safe fonts are common across many different browsers and operating systems. an example of some fonts would be Georgia, Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana and Impact. There are 20+ web safe fonts available out of the many fonts available to designers today. Fonts render differently depending on the browser and operating system. You can see examples of how fonts render to help you choose the right font for your visitors.

Taking these restrictions into account, you can still find many ways to be creative when creating a web site. When you specify which fonts you want to display in your cascading styles sheet by using font stacks. This will allow you to add your preferred set of font names, in order to determine how your text will display. We are able to utilize fonts that are pre-packaged with common software so the users that have them available will have an enhanced typography experience. There three great websites Better CSS Font Stacks, AwayBack, and Guide to Font Stacks that will show you how to utilize stacks for optimal impact.

Default font stacks:

  • Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif
  • Courier New, Courier, monospace
  • Times New Roman, Times, serif
  • Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif
  • Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif
  • Geneva, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif

Font-stack-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

I love typography uses a font stack of Lucida Grande”, Geneva, Helvetica, sans-serif (used for some of the headings and meta information).

Replacement Techniques

A popular way to render fonts on a web site even if the visitor doesn’t have it on their computer is to embed the text into an image. A common way to do this is with Revised Image Replacement where the text still remains in the HTML even when replaced with an image. This is done to keep the web page access able to screen readers and text only modern web browsers. You are able to keep the SEO benefit of having an H1 tag with this technique and you can save time by writing your markup and then styling items instead of having to wedge items into your design. View the CSS tricks test page from their article Nine Techniques for CSS Image Replacement.

Another approach to image replacement is using Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR) where text is substituted with a flash file containing a font that the viewer may not have. This method is less accessible to screen readers and text only modern web browsers. You can use this for any font type, it is cross-browser compatible and you don’t run into any SEO issues because the original XHTML document remains unchanged. Learn more about sIFR 2.0 and how it can be used effectively.

Font Embedding

Being able to embed fonts is an alternative to replacement techniques. You can embed font files on your site and host them online so that even is a user does not have a particular font installed they can still view text as you intended. Browsers such as Safari 3.1+, Opera 10+, Firefox 3.5+, Chrome 3+, Netscape 4+ and Internet Explorer 4+ support this method. Font embedding comes with its own challenges, especially in Internet Explorer because that browser type uses a proprietary file format Embedded Open Type (EOT). Creating an EOT is not complicated, but rather requires a few extra steps. You can embed fonts using the @font-face rule as shown in the example below:

@font-face {
font-family: Futura;
src: url(‘Futura.otf’);
}

@font-face {
font-family: Futura;
font-weight: bold;
src: url(‘Futura-Bold.otf’);
}

Then call it using font-family:

h3 { font-family: Futura, sans-serif; }

CSS3 Advances

With the speed of technology advances increasing, the web was introduced to CSS3 with new features like drop shadows, font embedding and styling techniques. While not yet compatible with the entire web user base, these features can be utilized in newer browsers and degrade gracefully in older versions. The @font-face rule we previously discussed in itself has been made more powerful with the with CSS3 as seen in the Essential Guide to @font-face. Many web developers had begun to experiment with new fonts as soon as the ability was made widely available. Utilizing fonts instead of graphics is beneficial because fonts are dynamic in content and size whereas graphics only work well when made smaller and tend to create a heavier page load if overused.

Font-text-shadow-example in A Guide To Seamless Website Redesign

Simurai uses a text shadow and blur radius to create a wonderful tilt-shift effect with CSS3

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, web styles on the internet come and go at a light speed and it pays to be innovative verses conventional. It is your responsibility to yourself and as a designer to deliver a product that accomplishes your clients goals and ill not need to be replaced every year. Think future-proof. Use this article as a guide but not a blueprint. There is no one way to create a beautiful aesthetically pleasing web site. Use the resources and examples from within this web site and your redesign process will go along much more smooth than trying to figure everything out on your own.

In this article you read about the different stages of a web site redesign including analysis, research, structure, interaction and atmosphere. While there are other bits a pieces of a redesign that may be left out, we are only covering the most significant parts. If you take you time when building a web site, you can create something that will last a long time and reduce future costs for you and your clients.

“You might make a lot of money, but it’s very hard to get out from under that rug. The more you can reinvent yourself, the better…”
- Peter Berg

Prepare for the Future

Sometime in the near future you will look back on your site and decide that it is in need of a redesign or realignment yet again. Planning and preparing for future changes during your current redesign is essential. Lay a simple and clean path to follow by using valid XHTML 1.0 Strict (not transitional) and organizing your code semantically. These two very simple steps with make it easy to go into your site to make updates and help prevent redesigning from scratch in the future. By looking into new CSS3 and HTML5 techniques you can get ahead of the curve with experiments.

If you are using a content management system (CMS) for your web site, you are already one step ahead of the game because your content is separated from your design. With the easy-to-use templating systems and content rollback features you can swap out designs and style sheets without ever affecting content structure on your site. This not only saves time, but keeps your code organized without any extra effort.

7. Further Resources

Below you can find more detailed reading and resources not included in the above text.

  • Questions to Ask Yourself During a Redesign
    This web site redesign guide is really for anyone involved with web sites. It will help you get the deep meaning of the site as well as more practical issues. This guide will help you redesign a web site according to your audience’s needs and changing perceptions
  • Redesign vs. Realign
    Understanding the difference between redesigning and realigning can result in happier clients who are better reaching their website goals.There are times when redesigns are appropriate, and there are other times when realignments are appropriate. It all depends on how the client’s current site is working for them, and what their goals are.
  • Redesigning Your Own Site
    Redesigning a freelance website is an exercise in masochism. There are no colleagues or an umbrella corporation to share the pain: It’s just you.

Also consider our previous articles:

  • Useful Glossaries For Web Designers and Developers
    These glossaries are also especially useful for those of you who are just getting started in the online business world. By understanding that basics of the core materials that make up whatever it is you are getting into, you will be able to have a better understanding of what’s going on in your industry, as well as be able to learn faster.
  • Redesign: When To Relaunch The Site and Best Practices
    This article covers a brief overview on how to plan, execute and how to find the perfect timing for a redesign.

(ik)

March 24 2011

09:59

When You Freelance, How Do You Know You’ve Been Fired?

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It’s easy to figure out you’ve been fired from a staff position. Either your boss or a human resources person has told you to your face, you are met at your desk and walked out, or security guards drag you out, one on each arm and leg. The hints are fairly obvious. When you freelance, it takes time to realize you have been fired and will no longer be working for that client. More often than not, there are no signs.

Weeks turn into months and months turn into a year. Depending on how often you do work for that client, the realization that something is wrong can come quickly. Makes me yearn for the good ol’ method of the security guards on each limb!

The First Hint

If you are doing regular updates and trouble shooting for a client’s web site, the news will travel fast. Suddenly the monthly calls will stop. Naturally, being a businessperson, you will contact the client and ask if they need you to do the regular work you have been providing. Don’t expect a straight answer. Most people don’t like confrontation or being the bearer of bad news. Stay calm! If the client says, “we’ve been busy and will let you know,” that may be all there is to it. If you provide monthly work and you haven’t heard from them in three months, there may be a problem.

Suitcases-screenshot in When You Freelance, How Do You Know You’ve Been Fired?Image Credit: kthread

What Might Have Happened?

When you realize something is not quite right, the best action is to ask. Ask the client if there’s a problem and how can you solve it together. More often than not, budgets have gotten cut and you’re the one service they’ve let go. If this is the case, are you able to offer your service for less? Can you negotiate a lower fee for a period of time to save the client? Will the client pay you back for the discount when things get better?

Try approaching it this way; remind the client that you’ve had a long and pleasant working relationship and your service isn’t just to support their web and graphic needs, but to serve the needs of the company and its growth (if they were a start-up that begged a discount in return for “future work,” remind them very gently). By switching to a cheaper and often inferior service provider, they risk losing their consumers, web presence and operating revenue. In the long run, it will take more money and effort to repair that loss.

Tell them you understand things are rough and you would rather stick with them through the hard times rather than abandoning them (this will show them you consider yourself a good partner).

Perhaps there is a new contact person and they want to use people they know. This is a hard one to overcome. You need to convince them that no one will know that company more than you and the risks are very great, not only to the company but to their new position and you would rather build on your past relationship and strengthen their position.

Gort in When You Freelance, How Do You Know You’ve Been Fired?

Usually people will be foolish enough to ignore this logic and will screw up everything. Fight the temptation to curse them out and threaten you will go to their competition and crush them like insects under your iron boot. Wish them luck and tell them you will be happy to offer any help they may need in the transition. If you know their supervisor, send them a note thanking them and also offering whatever help is needed in the transition.

Don’t push for the supervisor to negate the new person’s power or you will make an enemy. You may keep the client but it will become an uncomfortable situation you will not enjoy. Know when to cut your loses and run. Keep both people on your contact list with the same regular contact you give other clients and prospects. The new contact person may indeed not last long and you will give their supervisor a way to contact you to come back into the fold.

How Do You Approach The Client?

Whatever happens, stay calm and professional. You may not be able to save your position. You may not even get a response to emails or phone messages. Keep trying…for a while. After several attempts to reach the client, back off and check in once a month with a friendly, “hope you are well” and “we are here when you need us.”

Don’t rack your brain wondering what happened if they won’t tell you. There could be many reasons. Don’t take it personally. It is usually tied to finances and people don’t like to admit to money trouble. Be there for their future needs but don’t crowd them!

If you do regular mailings or e-marketing, just leave that client on the list and drop them a private message on special occasions. Refrain from crying or begging. I reserve that for the second year they have not contacted me!

Damage Control

We are known by the last job we did. If you screwed up and passed off something you knew was substandard, then you deserve to be fired. I had a boss who said, “it’s better to beg forgiveness then ignore a mistake that is made.”

He was always apologizing. It is, however, true and there were even times I was in the right but had to take the fall for a client contact who screwed up. In the long run, while it’s an ego bruise, it keeps the client.

Would you rather lose a client or admit a mistake? Pride has no place in business. It’s never personal. Apologize; return the fee for that job, work night and day to fix the problem.

Sometimes it was nothing you did and you are taking the fall for someone else. Back off and continue to do great work for other clients. Eventually the internal screw-up will be gone and someone else will notice your work and figure it out.

Never, ever get angry! People move from company to company and if you do great work, they will take you with them. The aforementioned passage about a new person at your client can work for you if YOU are the one replacing the regular vendor. Stings when you are being replaced but it sure feels good when you replace someone else. What a world!

Blimp in When You Freelance, How Do You Know You’ve Been Fired?

Sometimes You Have To Say “Goodbye!”

You have to be ready to let go. It hurts unless the client is a maniac. When you need money, you tend to put up with a lot. I had a regular client who I truly hated but they paid and I needed to pay the rent and eat. When the art director, who I had shown several layout techniques that her editor loved, thought she could do it with other freelancers, I had to accept I was done.

The weekly assignments were a considerable amount of money and the thought of losing that income hurt, as did the ungrateful art director who I had elevated in the eyes of her supervisor. But I also noticed that I stopped throwing up before the weekly meetings with her. The headaches and involuntary twitches also disappeared. Sometimes money doesn’t pay for the little things and endless psychological problems.

Mickey in When You Freelance, How Do You Know You’ve Been Fired?

In the freelance business, clients come and go for many reasons. If you don’t expect this as part of doing business, you need to learn it. I’ve fired clients, as the trouble is more than the money earned. A client who insists on a flat fee and creates weeks more work, lowering the fee to $1.78 and hour has to be corrected or dumped. If there is a lack of respect, there is no relationship. Makes it easy to say, “goodbye!”

Why You Should Expect It Will Eventually Happen To You

I’ve known too many people who hold on to several regular clients and never seek new clients. The math is simple — lose one client and you suddenly can’t make a living. It takes a long time to cultivate a new client and certainly a regular client.

Singular freelancers can only take on so much. Finding new clients creates an increased workload and that forces business growth. If you can’t handle it, then find someone you trust to subcontract. If you lose a client, you can always stop subcontracting. The big studios always started the same way. Eventually you will need to subcontract more and more.

If you are just in business to do all the work yourself, then you need a plan for those times when one of your regular clients stops giving you work. For many reasons, it will happen. Nothing is permanent.

Missile in When You Freelance, How Do You Know You’ve Been Fired?

If you don’t wish to expand your business into creating an actual studio (I’ve known people who expand within their own home studios with one or two part-time people), think in terms of a virtual studio and farming work out to others. Always understand that clients will come and go and plan ahead.

What Does The Future Hold?

When I was laid off from a long-time job from which I was convinced I would eventually retire, I knew other corporations were doing the same. The pool of freelancers was being used for fill in work and that seemed to be a good substitute for a full-time position. As time went on, companies started piling the extra work on their remaining staff members, straining them to the breaking point, but the economy kept people in their positions and doing the work. For freelancers, this left few options for work. Crowdsourcing may be considered a viable option to companies and smaller firms at this moment in time but it’s a solution that cannot continue for many obvious reasons.

I love my regular clients! They haven’t had too much work off lately but I know they are not screwing me nor are they displeased with my work. Some are not happy I have been forced to accept work with competitors but I have to live. One must keep pushing forward and always remember, although we do what we love, it’s a business and never personal. Treat it like a business and not a personal affront from a lover you can’t live without.

(ik)

Tags: How To's

March 08 2011

12:32

How to Say ‘No’ to Other Designers and Developers

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We recently did a post on how to tell your clients “No” which broke down the multiple considerations that need to be weighed when you are approaching this ground under these varied circumstances. Along with this handy online flowchart, Should I Work For Free? has you pretty well covered on that end. Now we bring you the other side of that coin: how to say “No” to other designers and developers that you might be working along side in any given project.

Let’s face it, we all know that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle these occurrences, however, when we find ourselves facing such a situation, we tend to just charge forward without any considerations being made whatsoever. This can lead to a number of issues arising out of this working environment unnecessarily, especially since with just a little more thought and effort on our parts, these potentially volatile situations can be diffused properly.

Just like we did in the last installment, we are going to start off by examining the various project points that we need to take under consideration before we boldly step forward and start throwing wrenches into the proverbial works. Once we have covered those things that we should always keep in mind, then we will look at the delivery itself for some final tips on moving out of the “Yes” person.

Is This a Personal Project?

First off, when you are working with another designer or developer and you come to a point where you have to tell them “No”, there are considerations that should be weighed that all fall in your path if the project you are working on is a personal one. This will determine the best way to handle the situation and proceed toward the project endgame.

Whose Idea Was It Anyway?

If you are working on a personal project then the first thing to consider when you are telling your teammates “No”, is exactly whose idea is this project that you are tackling? This helps to make your course of action a little bit clearer. Or rather, it should. After all, if the idea that gave rise to this whole project is yours, then telling the others “No” on suggested solutions or approaches is not like you are challenging them, it is simply like you are holding to your original vision. It is your project and you have a solid idea of how you want to achieve it. So telling the others “No” is a bit easier.

However, on the reverse side of that, if the idea for the project was not yours, then telling the others “No” can seem more like you are challenging their ideas and implicating that you know what is better for their project than they do. So you have to naturally handle those instances with a gentler approach. Not only that, but if the project was initiated by someone else, then you have to understand that your objections may not stand, and the others might proceed in spite of them. That is something else that you have to be prepared for. Also, in these cases, remaining insistent and clinging to your objections will only tend to complicate the working environment and relationships, so be prepared in team situations and to accept compromises.

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Be very careful when saying “No”! Image Credit

Even if you are a key player in making this project see the light of day, if the idea for the project belongs to someone else, then they tend to be the understood head of the hierarchal structure and therefore, all final decisions should be left up to them. After all, it is their vision — we have merely agreed to help them see it through.

In Short:

  • If the idea for the project is yours, then saying “No” is easier as it is expected to be your responsibility.
  • If the project belongs to another, then saying “No” is more like challenging their vision.
  • If the idea is not yours, then expect for your objections to be overruled and your cooperation to be expected to continue.
  • Whoever’s vision brought the project into play, tends to be the final shotcaller.

What Part Were You Brought in to Play?

Another consideration that we need to weigh when we are thinking of telling other designers or developers on our team “No”, is the part that we were brought in to play on this project. Our expertise is usually what gets us into this position and it is this expertise that we are expected to bring to the table. So when we find ourselves on the verge of saying “No”, we have to consider if the impacts of this objection fall strictly under the umbrella of our expertise or not. Is this simply a personal objection that we have, or is it our skills telling us that this is not the way to go forward. If it is our expertise that is warning us about this way forward, then we should always speak up. After all, that is what we were brought in for.

If it is a personal reason that we have, then we may not feel as obligated to mention it or voice our objection, which might be the right way to proceed. If we have a personal disliking of the color orange, but for the project it communicates well with the message, then yes we should more than likely let it go. However, if it is a choice being made which takes the project places we do not feel comfortable with, and which we believe can hurt the integrity of the project then our personal objections need to be heard. For the comfort of our working environment and for the project itself. Chances are, we are not the only ones who will have this reaction. These reactions are another perk of having your perspective on the team.

When we are working as part of a team, it is easier for us to be able to step outside our role as collaborator in areas that are not strictly under our expertise, and into the role of user. Many valuable insights can be gained in juggled perpsective, and often times we are brought into a project so that we can provide both personal and professional project assessments.

In Short:

  • Both our expertise and our personal reactions can favorably impact the project when we constructively voice them.
  • Anytime our expertise urges us to object, then we have an obligation to tell our teammates our concerns.
  • Our personal objections that do not fall under the umbrella of our expertise can provide valuable insights to the project from a user’s perspective.
  • Not all of our personal objections are necessarily vital to the project’s course of action.
  • If a projected course makes us uncomfortable in any way, we also have an obligation to tell our teammates about our objections.

Is There Room to Compromise?

Whenever we are working with others and we come up against a barrier which makes us inclined to tell our teammates “No”, we have to consider this before we act: can we find a way to make this work without compromising our reputation or personal code? If the answer is yes, then perhaps we should accept this compromise and move on with the project. After all, whenever we tend to be attached to a personal project, we tend to be doing so for the fun of it all. So if we do not have to make things unnecessarily complicated, then why not keep with the spirit in which we signed on to the project in the first place and just roll with it?

Even if the project is one that we initiated, there are times, when we may find that yielding to the expertise of those we are working alongside is the best possible course of action for the project. So if we can find the room to compromise and still reach our desired outcome, then what is the harm in being flexible from time to time. In fact, these kinds of compromises can serve to keep the entire team morale up, and that is always good for the working environment of the project. If the others always feel as if their ideas are being shot down, then their level of interest and passion for the project may start to decline.

In some cases, compromise might not just be the best way forward, in order to get your project to see the light of day, it might be the only way forward. Sometimes our lack of expertise in areas of the project could be a hindrance if we do not leave ourselves a little bit of room to compromise.

In Short:

  • If we can reach a compromise without compromising ourselves or the project outcome, then it may be the best way forward.
  • Most personal projects are began out of fun, compromising could help maintain that spirit and tone for the project.
  • Compromising with your teammates can help to keep up morale during the course of the project.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Whenever you feel that you must tell the other designers and developers with whom you are working with on a personal project “No”, another fact to consider would be the future. Not only the projects, but yours as well. Does this mean the end of your inclusion in the project? And if it does, do you wish to work with these people again in the future? If it is your project and you are telling them “No”, does this mean the end of their parts in the project? Which in turn, could mean the proverbial back burner for the project until you can replace them. Or worse, it could spell the end of the entire project altogether if they cannot be replaced.

So where things do go from here, plays a big part in how we handle this situation for sure. If we wish for the project or the working relationships to continue, then we need to handle the “No” with kid gloves and find ways to soften the blow that this kind of rejection can inevitably be packaged with. Explain the reasons why we strongly feel that this is not the right course of action. Try to control any negative wake left behind us. Whereas, if we feel that our involvement in both the project and working relationship has run its full course, then we do not have to dress up our objections — we can simply let them be voiced and let their impacts have whatever wake they might.

This is not to say that we should ever set out to burn any bridges in the design or development communities, no. But more saying that there are instances where we will inevitably care less if our telling others “No” has lasting effects upon certain projects or groups. Then there are going to be others where we are careful to ensure that we leave things in a more positive way.

In Short:

  • In personal projects, where our “No” leaves things overall, should still be a concern for us.
  • If this means the end of our involvement with the project or the other designers and developers, and we wish to work with them again, then we should handle this with tact and care.
  • If this means the end of our involvement with the project of the other designers and developers, and we do not care to work with them again, then we tend to handle it more bluntly.

Is This a Professional Project?

Now we come to the considerations that you need to weigh when you are working with other designers and developers on a professional project and you have to reject an idea of theirs for one reason or another. Given that on professional projects there tends to be money and contracts involved, you saying “No” can have much heavier repercussions, and therefore deserve even further considerations than have already been discussed.

Who Brought Who On Board?

Just like who the idea belongs to on a personal project can establish a sort of hierarchical structure to the working order, on professional projects, who brought who on board the project can also attach the same structure to it. Now, naturally the client gets to set the pecking order however they see fit, though as a matter of professional courtesy, if you have been brought aboard the project by another, then you might want to first voice any objections you have to them. After all, it could end up reflecting upon them anyway, given that they are the reason you are working on the project. So why not give them a heads up?

Now if we decide that we must tell the others that we are working with that we are not going to comply on something, and we first go to the person who brought us on board, we have to understand that we effectively put our way forward in their hands. If they listen to our concerns and decide that we should not press this issue, but instead compromise, then we might just have to accept that and move on — one way or another. Either by accepting their decision or leaving the project if we feel we must. Or if they decide to push the issue with us, then we at least have an ally as go forward with our concerns. But either way, if we take it to them first, then we are not only acknowledging this hierarchy, we are somewhat agreeing to follow it.

This is not to say we cannot challenge their decision by further voicing our concerns, it just says that once we have acknowledged their position in the structure, going around it tends to come with heavy consequences. This should be known before we proceed.

In Short:

  • If we are brought into the project by someone else, then it can reflect on them when we say “No” to the others on the team or refuse to comply.
  • It might be considerate to first voice our concerns with the one who brought us on board out of professional courtesy.
  • The one who brought us on board can effectively be installed as the one who decides our course forward.

Should This Go Over Any Heads?

Another consideration that we have to make when we are telling the other designers or developers that we are teamed with a “No”, is how far up the proverbial chain should you go? Is there any reason for our concerns or objections to be taken beyond just the other members of our team? Given all that it is involved once again in a professional project, with regards to revenue and contracts, we have to decide if what we find ourselves coming up against warrants full disclosure to the higher ups, or if in fact, this is a concern that could be worked out amongst the team ourselves. Here we tend to let the situations guide and gauge our responses.

For instance, if we are working in a team and another asks us to help cover them by picking up some of their slack, we might be able to decline without it being a big deal. However, if we find that this same person is always asking for our help to pick up their slack, thus effectively dragging the project down with them, then we might have to take our objections a little further and let someone else above us know exactly what is going on. This way they can take the necessary actions to improve on this aspect of the team or project environment. After all, there are bottom lines to be considered.

So there are times when we find that it is simply not enough to tell another member of the team “No”, but that we have to take these objections to others in order for them to have any true impact on the project at hand. This is not always an easy or popular route to take, but it tends to always be the route that best serves the project in the end.

In Short:

  • There are times when it is not only appropriate, but it is necessary, to take our objections further than to just a single member of the team, or to just the team itself.
  • Given the weight attached to professional projects, sometimes saying “No” to another teammates may not be enough.
  • Situational indicators can often determine how high up the chain of command to go with our objections or concerns.

Where are the Deadlines and Relationships?

Another consideration that has to be made when you are telling other designers and developers “No”, especially with a professional, paid project, is the impact your objection will have on the overall project deadline. Now this is not to suggest that you should bite your tongue just to meet the looming project end date, only to say that you should keep this in mind when you handle how to approach this “No”. Your approach is further determined by the status of your working relationship with the others within the team. The stage that you are at and the distance you have between you and deadline can determine how you tackle any project refusals.

If things are just getting started, then the rejection of ideas is natural in what tends to be the brainstorming stages. If you are new to working together, and just getting started there, then again it is natural to reject each others ideas as you feel each other out, even though you may feel reserved and a bit guarded. During the middle of a project or pairing, as things are more entrenched and people are more invested, then telling someone “No” can be trickier. More tact tends to be required and you have to be more willing to propose alternatives not to just reject out of hand. In the latter stages of a project more tends to be required than just a rejection, we have to be willing to explain ourselves. Though in the latter stages of a working relationship, this rejecting of ideas gets easier once again, and less complicated with ego and pride even with a deadline looming.

So where you are at in the project and in the partnership with the other designers and developers can also effect the way your rejection is taken by the other members of your team. And they should also be given their full weight and consideration as you prepare to tell them “No”.

In Short:

  • The stage you are at both in the project and the working relationship can effect not only how you approach telling the others “No”, but also how they take it.
  • The project deadline should never be out of focus as you discuss your objections, in fact it should define your approach.
  • The closer the deadline, the more comprehensive as well as helpful your rejections should be.
  • The more developed the working relationship, the easier telling your team members “No” will be.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Just like with the personal projects, in professional ones, you should consider where exactly this saying “No” leaves you. Always ask yourself how this will impact the future. Is this going to have an impact on the rest of your time with this company? Are you going to have to work with these other designers or developers again on future projects? And of course, you always have to ask yourself, do you care if these areas are effected by your decision to decline an idea or say “No” to a project? Though admittedly, the answers to those questions rely heavily on just what it is you are being asked to do that you are turning down.

For instance, if you notice that your company is trending towards taking on clients that you find more and more objectionable (for whatever reason) then you might be fine with letting some bridges burn as you refuse to comply. Even if you know it could mean the end of your time with the company. In which case, be as open and honest as to why you object to the work and be sure that it is gotten on record. However, if you find that it is only one particular project that you find yourself on where you feel you must say “No”, and you do not want it to negatively impact your stay and status with the company and the others you work with, then you might want to find more even-keeled approaches to these refussals.

When it is all said and done, we may not have a choice as to who we are going to be partnered up with from project to project, but as long as we know where we are hoping to end up in the end, then the way forward tends to become clear. Not only that, but the way to handle saying “No” also gets a little easier to see.

In Short:

  • Always keep where you want to go from here in mind when you are saying “No” in professional projects, just like in personal ones.
  • If you feel like the company you work for is beginning to take on more clients that you object to, and you do not care to remain with the company, be open and honest.
  • If you feel like this project that you object to is not the norm, and you wish to not have your refussals hurt your future with the company, be more tactful and less confrontational in your approach.

The Act Itself

Now that all of those other considerations have been made, there are some underlying rules to handling these kinds of refusals that you want to keep in mind. These do not vary much from the rules we talked about in the client post, however they apply here as well so we had to cover them too. The other designers and developers that you are working with, or that you could potentially be working with tend to appreciate when we adhere to these guidelines in our rejections.

The Golden Rule

First things first, whenever you are telling another designer or developer “No”, remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you! It applies here as well. We have to remember that whenever we tell someone “No”, there is a chance that they might not take it well. So we need to put ourselves in their places. If you were in their shoes, how would you want this to be done? This should at least ensure that, above all else, we handle these situations with some modicum of respect.

Even if you know that bridges may get burned in the process, as long as we take their feelings into consideration, we will come out of the situation having walked the higher, more respectable road. As we have said before, not many people respond favorably to being told “No” about anything, but if we always come from a place of respect and understanding, no matter what we are met with in return, then we have done all that we can to ease this possible blow. It may not be the easiest approach to take, but it tends to produce some of the best results.

In Short:

  • Put yourself in their shoes, and ask how you would like to be treated in their situation.
  • Always be respectful when you are telling others “No” — it tends to make the situations less volatile.

The Courtesy Call

Speaking of respect, the next rule of handling these situations tends to come from this same arena, and that is the rule of the courtesy call. This is not always a literal call, as much as it is a virtual heads up, so to speak. You never want to just leave the requests that you have received from other designers and developers unanswered and unaddressed. You should always take a moment and do them the courtesy of getting back to them on whatever issue they have sent you to tackle or provide your take on. But unfortunately, in this fast-paced business environment, timely returns on their requests are not always possible. Couple with that, that usually we are not in any big hurry to forward our rejection so we tend to backburner our ‘No’s rather than send them along in a timely manner.

However, none of this means that we should just give up on getting back to them altogether and just continue to work the project without communicating with the others you are teamed up with that you will not or cannot comply with their request. Often times, when someone from the team reaches out to another member of the team, for most any reason, they will put themselves in somewhat of a holding pattern until they hear back. Causing the project progress to potentially grind to a halt while we ignore the issues or queries sent to us via the team. So we should always take a few moments each day and reply back to any project inquiries or change requests that we have gotten that day, whether we feel like addressing them or not.

In Short:

  • Be courteous enough to reply with your declines in a timely manner.
  • Do not leave others hanging in a holding pattern because you do not want to tell them “No”.
  • Take a few moments out of each day to specifically address any other team member concerns you have been sent.

Never Be Vague

Another rule that makes a huge difference in the refssal arena, is one that we covered in the previous post, but whose relevance remains intact in this case, and that is not beat around the bush with your declines. Often times in order to ease the blow of our disagreement or objection to something in the project, we tend to not be as direct about the whole thing as we should. But you want to be sure that everyone understands that you are giving a definitive “No”, and to do that, we have to make sure that we are not being vague at all, but instead are giving a clear signal that is not going to confuse the issue.

In Short:

  • Always be as clear as you can when saying “No” and use concise language to not confuse the issue.
  • Do not let your discomfort with deciding to decline allow you to be vague and dance around the issue.
  • Everyone always needs to be on the same page, and your decline is no different.

Be Forthcoming When Appropriate

When you are dealing with other designers and developers that you are working with on a project and you feel like you must say “No”, then you want to be as forthcoming with the details as you can appropriately be. If you can, provide them with more than just a “No”, give them a glance at your reasoning. If there is a particularly bothersome element of the project that makes you uncomfortable, they might eliminate this troubling element in favor of bringing you on board or keeping you on board. Naturally, there might be some of the reasons that you wish to keep to yourself, and that is completely acceptable. But when and if you can, provide them with some insight behind your decline.

In Short:

  • Try not to just tell them “No”, but to give them a peek at your reasons when appropriate.
  • This is not arguing for full disclosure across the board, but some idea as to why you are declining is respectful and appreciated.

The Tone Tells It Like It Is!

Just like we discussed in the last post, any time we are communicating with others, we have to be aware of our tone at all times. This is one of those understood communicative rules, but one that we still tend to forget in this digital age where many of our communications take place in the virtual realm where our tone of voice does not accompany our words, and nearly any tone can be applied over the top of them. This is not always within our control, but it does allow us to remain alert and watch out for our tone to say more than we intend it to. Going over our thoughts or messages before we share them is key for helping to safeguard against this unintended tone attachment.

In Short:

  • In communication, especially in today’s digital world, it is quite easy for the tone of our words to be misinterpreted.
  • Vet your thoughts and messages for instances where unintended tones can be applied.

That’s That!

That wraps up this side of the discussion, but once again, we turn the topic and the dialog over to you. Feel free to keep dissecting this discussion in the comment section below, or raise any points that you disagree with, not to mention those you feel were not covered enough (if at all). So take the reigns and keep the topic growing below.

Consider Some of our Previous Posts:

(ik)

Tags: How To's

March 04 2011

11:23

Creative and Effective Ad Designs

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Advertisements are one of the best ways to promote goods and services of any organization. With an effective and successful advertising campaign, organizations not only leave a strong impact on their customers but also communicate the company’s philosophy in an effective manner.

In this post we’ve assembled a creative collection of some persuasive advertising designs that have successfully fulfilled their purpose in attracting the target audience. Without further ado, here is the full compilation for your inspiration!

Staedtler Highlighter Pen — by bdpqbd

Staedler-highlighter in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Global Warming PSA Time — by Pepey

Adver5 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Drink and Drive — by Pepey

Adver21 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Drugfree America (Slugs Advertising) — by Creattica

Adver11 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Hugo2: One Fragrance, One Tree — by Pepey

Adver7 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Evian by Silz

Adver17 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Heineken Advertising — by Creattica

Adver2 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Nike Trainer 1 Unleashed iD Advertising — by Diego Aguilar

Adver3 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Coca-Cola Green Advertising — by David Quartino

Adver4 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Milk Advertising — by Creattica

Adver9 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Save Water 2 — by Serso

Adver6 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Heinz Ketchup — by Erickson McCann

Adver29 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

GREENPEACE — by Tanya Moseeva

Adver12 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Big Fast — by Jamie Barrett

Adver30 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Quick & Easy Convenience Store Purse Advertising — by Creattica

Adver15 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Sale Ad — by Caprozo911

Adver16 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Rough Skin Advertising — by Indecens

Adver1 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Smoking Arm Advertising — by Creattica

Adver19 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Olympus Advertising — by Creattica

Adver20 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Tabasco Advertising — by Creattica

Adver22 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Pringles Onion Advertising — by Creattica

Adver23 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Byte-X Anti Nail Biting Pack — by Chris Sant

Adver24 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

See the Best of Britain — by Andy Ward

Adver25 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Tabaconomia: Calculates Tobacco Costs — by Flavio Waiteman

Adver26 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Copenhagen Zoo Snake Bus — by Ib Borup

Adver28 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

The Artichoke — by Roberto Rico

Adver13 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

McDonald’s Pole — by Bryan Collins & Rob Sweetman

Adver35 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Huawei Coffee — by Dai Guo

Adver32 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Panasonic Lumix: Face Recognition — by Inez Van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

Adver33 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Cantina Onion — by Axel Eckstein

Adver14 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

Thai Food Express: The Hottest Food in Town — by Tim Hoppin & Sacha Moser

Adver34 in Creative and Effective Ad Designs

More Creative Ads:

Thinking out of the box is the key here that leads the design agencies to survival. Designing print ads is challenging than some think since there is no direct communication with the target audience. Click here to find out more!

Please do share your thoughts with us in the comment section below. What points have to be considered to be able to create a special and effective ad? Which one did you like most?
(ik)

Tags: How To's

February 22 2011

12:08

The Art of Saying “No”

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For the most part, working in the design and development communities can often leave you feeling like somewhat of a ‘Yes’ person. That person who stands behind the client, nodding in agreement and understanding as the path to the project unfolds before you. For in this business, it pays to wear this agreeable hat. It helps the client begin to see us an ally in their mission, someone who they can work with to make their project see the proverbial light of day, not have to work around so to speak.


When they see us filling the role of the ‘Yes’ person, the client is often put at ease and they can feel less guarded around us. This tends to make it easier for them to communicate their ideas as they feel like we are less likely to challenge them on any of it. They can be free to explore their ideas in what feels like a safe atmosphere. However, there comes a time in our careers that we have to step outside of that role and tell the client ‘No’. Suddenly that client comfort zone is challenged, which means we have to proceed with care. It is not as simple as just saying ‘No’.

These situations can be a bit delicate, especially since we are usually in the more submissive role as the employed. Clients are not often used to being told ‘No’ about anything in this corporate culture of “the customer is always right” that has its hold in the business world today. Besides, just because we have had to switch gears over to the ‘No’ side does not mean that we are prepared for the working relationship to come to a close. Which if we are not tactful in the least, then that may be precisely where things go once we say ‘No’. Below is a look at some of the ways we can let a client down easy without risking current or future projects.

Just For Clarification…

We are not attempting to paint all or any clients with an unreasonable brush here. We are simply saying that there are times when hearing a ‘No’ can be a deal breaker, and if not handled correctly can leave a bad taste in the client’s mouth, which will return each time they speak your name. And that is just not good for business. We do not want to get a reputation for being disagreeable, but we also know that there are times when the client has to be told ‘No’ — whether they like it or not.

And let’s be honest, each of us can have a tendency to get defensive or somewhat hurt when we are told ‘No’, so why should we not expect for our clients to feel this same tinge of rejection and react to it occasionally. After all, we are all just people. And when we are paying for a service, we often do not expect those whom we are paying, to tell us ‘No’ when we ask for anything we deem within reason. Sometimes, our clients are in this same boat, and unless we tend to the situation cautiously, it can have a lingering effect.

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There are many reasons for saying “No”. One of them is a job burnout. Image Credit

Considering the Client Type

Is this a new or existing client? Because the way you handle them will generally be different depending on which category of client they fall into. If this is a new client or potential client, then you are going to tend to maintain a more professional edge to your decline that might also tend towards the dishonest end of the spectrum. Whereas if you are dealing with an existing client where the relationship is much more established and comfortable, then you might have a more relaxed approach that tends towards the open and honest side of things.

For example, if you are taking time off to go to Comic Con and because of this you cannot take on any new work, you might avoid the full details of the situation as you decline taking the task from a potential or new client. Mainly out of fear of this effecting the way they view your dedication or professionalism, and in turn your company. However, if you are dealing with an existing client, being more personal, and in this case more honest, might feel like the more comfortable path to take. After all, they will already have an idea formed about you and your company that will likely not be impacted negatively by this decline.

So the client’s status, as it were, does come into play when you are determining the best way to tackle telling them ‘No’, it is often not just a black and white situation. Where they sit on the spectrum can steer the direction we need to go in when it comes to declining their wishes, and that consideration cannot be dismissed.

In Short:

  • Whether the client is a new client or an existing one can impact how you handle these situations.
  • New clients tend to require more of a professional approach, whereas with existing clients we can tend to be a little bit more laid back.
  • The more personal the reasons we have to say no, the more likely the white lie is the better option over the truth to maintain that professional edge.

Consider the Project Stage

Where exactly are you in the project when the situation arises? Because this can also heavily weigh in on how you handle telling the client ‘No’. If it is in the initial stages, meaning the client is just contacting you to ask you to come on board, that is quite a different situation than being in the middle of a project and having an instance crop up where you have to tell the client ‘No’. If things have not gotten started, then you can feel free to skirt around the truth and be as blase as you feel you need to. However, if you are in the middle of the project, then it is usually of utmost importance that you be completely up front and honest with the client as to why you cannot comply with what they have asked.

The easiest way to see the distinction here is by using an example where you feel that complying with the client’s request, would cross either a personal or professional line that you have decided that you would never cross. For instance, if a client approached you to do a sexually explicit site, and you or your company were opposed to doing so, you could easily turn them down and be as up front with why you declined or not. However, if you have already been hired and contracts are in place, when the client asks you to add some sort of sexually explicit elements to the project, then you have an obligation to honestly address why you feel you must decline.

So how far along the project has progressed can also set the tone for how to approach this oft times delicate situation, and govern exactly how honest you should be with them. Generally, the further along you have gone down the path with the client, the more they deserve to know the full reasoning behind your decisions to decline their offers or wishes.

In Short:

  • The stage that the project is in also plays a part on the how this situation gets handled.
  • If the project is just getting underway, then skirting around the truth or avoiding some details is usually not as big a deal.
  • If the project is already in progress and you have to tell the client no, then you should be as honest and up front as you comfortably can be.

Rules of the Refusal

Now beyond the considerations that we have to make in order to judge the situation correctly for determining our approach, we also have to remember that there are a few rules that we can adhere to so that our refusals to the client are perhaps more digestible, and overall easier to swallow. Below are a few of these proverbial pointers for making the rejection have less of a lasting negative impact on both you and the client.

Do Not Leave Them in the Lurch

The first tip, and one of the most important when it comes to telling a client ‘No’ without having to suffer any repercussions, is to always recommend another course of action for the client to take. Rather than simply giving them roadblocks, offer them solutions to help them find their way once more. If you are turning down work, then point them towards others in the field whom you trust to take care of their needs. Often this kindness will be remembered by the client in the future, not to mention by the other design/development team you directed them to as well.

If you are in the middle of a project and have to tell them that you won’t be able to comply with their demands, then provide them with alternatives that you can do to still get their project where they want and need it to go. Doing so might just be the sugar needed to help make this medicine go down, so to speak. To sell them on another direction you need to be able to make it look as attractive to them as the idea they proposed, so do not try to go at this blind. Take in what they have said, and let them know that you will get back to them on this once you have fully considered what it is they are asking for. This will give you the time you need to formulate workable alternatives to present to them.

Wherever you are in the project, try not to be just another problem that they have to get around by telling them ‘No’. Try to be the provider of solutions that they had not yet considered instead.

In Short:

  • When telling a client ‘No’, try to offer some other routes that they might take.
  • It is always better to offer detours rather than simply putting up roadblocks, this helpfulness will tend to be remembered.
  • Take in their request and do not get back to them immediately, this gives you time to formulate an alternative to provide them with.

Always Be Aware of Tone

Now this next tip might seem like a bit of a given, but we thought that we ought to bring it up anyway just to air on the side of caution. That is to always be aware of your tone of voice, or just the overall tone of the discussion. And more than just the tone, you want to fully consider how all of your words will come across and be received by the client. This is not always an easy task, but it is by far, one of the more necessary ones to tackle. There are many ways that tone can interpreted and words can be taken that spell trouble for your company, so getting to know the client is a big part of understanding how your words will go over.

This comes even more into play if all of your communication with the client is done visually via e-mails and messaging, not audibly or in person where tone is easier to discern. It is harder to get a handle on the nuances that could be read into your messages that you in no way intended. Given the circumstances, that you are essentially rejecting the client or their ideas, knowing the tone that gets attached to your dialogs is even more critical. You do not want the client walking away from the situation with the idea that you were disrespecting them, so that is the lingering feeling they have when they are asked about their experience with your company.

Read through, or go over in your head, the way that you plan to let the client down, so that you can try to assess any negative tones or hints to a lack of respect that could be gotten from somewhere in your words!

In Short:

  • The tone we use when telling the client ‘No’ might communicate more than we intend, so we need to be mindful of it.
  • When communication with the client is done online or via e-mail, then the tone that can be read into it needs to be considered as well.
  • Take the time to vet your comments or reread your messages to ensure that no negative connotations could be interpreted from them that could hurt your professionalism.

Rejection Reassurance

The next tip for tactfully telling the client ‘No’ might seem a bit placatory, and for all intents and purposes, it pretty much is, but that does not lessen its importance in this discussion in any way. This tip has to do with rejection reassurance. What we mean by that is that you want to be sure, especially if you wish to possibly work with this client in the future, that you reassure them that this bump in the road is not where you wish things to end. You want to impart to the client that this is simply a matter of bad timing or circumstances, and that perhaps in the future they should call on you again to see if things will be a better fit at that time.

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Make sure they know that even if you have to reject them now, that you might be a good fit for a future project. Image Credit

Now granted, rejection is rejection, and most of us whether we like to admit it or not, do not take it that great. We should expect the same from our clients. And if you are in the middle of a project and your telling them ‘No’ spells the end of your part of said project, you can expect even more potential fallout from this rejection. But as long as we let the client know honestly why we cannot comply, and that we would like to perhaps try to work with them again in the future on something else, then we have done all that we can to perhaps mend any sores we may have opened in the process.

Under these circumstances it is hard to judge how the rejection is going to impact future relations with that client, but if we go ahead and take the proverbial first step towards repairing this breach through this subtle reassurance then hopefully the rejection will not have a lasting reach.

In Short:

  • If you wish to work with the client again, then reassure them that you turning them down now is not the end of the road, or at least it is not where you wish things to end.
  • This is about softening the blow that most of us tend to feel whenever we get rejected.
  • We have to understand that no matter how we attempt to sugar coat things, telling the client no might have consequences that we will have to accept.

What Best Serves the Project

The next tip that we have is also one that seems placatory to the client, but it can prove useful for removing some of the edge that telling the client ‘No’ can come with. And that is to always convey to the client that your choices are reflective of what best serves their endgame. After all, that is what they are presumably seeking to begin with. So as long as you let them know that your decision to turn down their request or job is because it is in the best interest of the project, then they are less likely to negatively react to this rejection or non-compliance.

Now we said less likely because there are always wild cards, and some clients are not going to take too kindly to hearing ‘No’ regardless of how you dress it up. Especially if that ‘No’ interrupts their progress in any way. But when you are turning them down in the middle of a job, providing alternatives as we already suggested, and you are doing so because you feel that it would be better for the project to take a different approach, then the clients tend to be less resistant to hearing you out. Especially if you can provide them a better way to serve their project in the end, and not delay their deadline by causing them to have to bring in someone else and catch them up to speed, then they might be willing to trust in your expertise.

In Short:

  • When we have to tell the client ‘No’, by making our decisions based on what serves the project best it tends to be easier for the client to take.
  • This may not render the situation salvageable, but it tends to put the client in a more receptive mood for hearing you out.

Do Not Beat Around the Bush

Finally, the last bit of advice that we have to offer on telling a client ‘No’, is to do the professional thing and do not beat around the proverbial bush. If you are going to turn them down or reject an idea, do it directly and clearly. Do not waste their time or yours dancing around the topic trying to avoid the direct confrontation, assuming that they understood you to mean ‘No’. You are unnecessarily prolonging the situation to try and ease out of the discomfort, when really you are causing more distress all around by avoiding the issue.

In Short:

  • Do not dance around the issue when telling a client ‘No’.
  • Always be clear and make sure that everyone is on the same page, so there is no confusion.

Last Thought

That wraps up the discussion of the ideas on this side, but now, as always, we turn the dialog over to you. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on ways to tell a client ‘No’ in the comment section below. What ways have you found that work the best? Which, if any, of the ways that we discussed have you used in the past, or do you plan to use in the future? What suggestions do you have for designers and developers who face this work issue?

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