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February 20 2014


February 17 2014

Sponsored post
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February 10 2014


How To Create A Self-Paced Email Course


When I realized I had written what seemed to be a course (i.e. not my usual article or book), I was left with a sense of panic. There are so many options for running an online course, and all of them seem slightly confusing or time-intensive to set up.

Then I remembered the autoresponders feature in my newsletter application (I use MailChimp, although every newsletter software has it). I could trigger lessons with autoresponders and deliver course material to where most people spend most of their day: the inbox.

Another problem was that the course was about writing a book, and some of the lessons were slightly onerous — like “Write a first draft.” So, setting a fixed time delay wouldn’t work because some people complete things like that much more quickly than others.

Instead of automatically firing off each lesson after a set amount of time, I created a series of lessons via autoresponders that fired only when the previous lesson was marked as finished. That way, I got to deliver each new lesson only when the student had finished the previous. This method does not require you to configure any website, plugins or additional software (beyond setting up a mailing list and creating pages on your existing website, which you probably already know how to do).

I made my own course, Write and Sell Your Damn Book, free for a few reasons. First, I was able to bring some sponsors on board to give me enough money to make it worthwhile to create and set up. Secondly, I felt that the course material should be available to anyone, on any budget, who is writing a book.

Thus, the course made money before it launched, but the downside is that it made a fixed amount of money. I set up additional (albeit minor) revenue streams for it — affiliate links on Amazon to recommended books on the same subject, links to my own paid books, as well as the course in Kindle format, just in case people wanted to read the material all at once.

Using the method outlined below, I created a self-paced email course that had over 1,000 registrations in the first 24 hours, and almost 2,500 in the first week. There are other ways to do this using MailChimp, such as triggering the completion of a course with a URL, but this is how I set up mine.

1. Create A List

This list is only for people who will take your email course. Make sure the publicity settings are set to non-public and non-archivable (otherwise, people will be able to share the lessons with whomever they want).

Check “No, my campaigns are not public,” and uncheck “Activate the archive bar.”

When creating autoresponders, ensure that you remove the “View this campaign in a browser” link, to further discourage shareability. To take things one step further and make sure only subscribers see some or all of the course’s content, read up on conditional merge tags.

2. Match The Colors And Fonts In The Course Material To The Registration Process

You’ll find these by going to “Signup Forms” and then “General Forms.” Match the fonts, colors and logo of the course’s website for a consistent user experience.

3. Select “Send A Final Welcome Email”

You’ll find this option in the drop-down menu on the “Create Forms” page; it will be automatically selected, unless you’ve unchecked the box. Add text to this email (scroll down to edit the contents), informing users to “Click the completed lesson” button in each lesson to get the next lesson.

Later, we’ll get into how to set this up, but essentially each lesson’s email will have a link that users can click when they’re finished to notify MailChimp to deliver the next lesson.

Also, in this final welcome email, let users know when the first lesson will be delivered.

4. Set Up The First Lesson And Autoresponder

Go to “Autoresponders” and then “Create autoresponder.” Select the entire list to be the recipients. On the next page, the event that triggers this autoresponder is “Subscription to the list.” Make sure that “Also trigger on list import” is checked if you want to use Twitter cards or if you will be charging for the course (more on this later).

Lesson One
(View larger version.)

Choose whether to send it within the hour or at another time and date. On the set-up and campaign information page, give the campaign a subject line and make sure that, under “Tracking,” “Goal Tracking” is checked — this is important because it will trigger the next autoresponder lesson.

5. Set A Goal For Your Campaign

A goal is simply a URL that you add to the lesson. For my own email course, I created a few pages on my website that thanked the user for completing the lesson. For example, I added a button to the campaign for lesson 1, reading “I have completed this lesson” and linking to

The URL may be anything, but if you are setting a reminder email (more on this later), then the URL must contain the same folder — in this case, lessons. If you use WordPress, this is simply the parent page, and each individual lesson would be a child page of the parent, /lessons/.

These pages that live on your website are important for firing off autoresponders, as well as for letting the user know that a lesson has been completed and that a new one is on the way.

A good marketing strategy is to add some social engagement to the completion page for each lesson, such as “Tweet that you’ve finished lesson 1,” with a hash tag for your course or sharing buttons, so that users can let others in their network know about the course and where to sign up.

6. Set Up Subsequent Lessons By Creating A New Autoresponder

Set the entire list as the recipients. On the next page, set “Specific link in the campaign is clicked” as the event to trigger the autoresponder.

Lesson Two
(View larger version.)

Then, select the previous lesson. If you’re creating lesson 2, then select lesson 1’s autoresponder from the drop-down menu. Then, choose “Select a link from your campaign” and select the URL that you used for the button that tells the user they have completed that lesson.

Set the autoresponder to send either within the hour or at a time and date of your choosing. I always pick “Within the hour,” so that the user gets the next lesson fairly quickly.

Make sure to track goals for every lesson you create (otherwise, the URL clicks won’t be tracked by the following lesson).

To create lesson 3, you’d follow the steps above but would select lesson 2 from “For what campaign” and the lesson 2 completion URL for “Select a link from your campaign.” And so on, until you’ve added all of the lessons.

7. Set Up Additional Emails (If Needed)

In addition to the lessons, you may want to send out a different type of email a day or two after the final lesson has opened. The email could include additional resources, an “About the author” section, or perhaps a review of the course (if you’ve got one).

Select “Send to the entire list” for the recipients.

For the autoresponder, select “Campaign is opened” as the event to trigger the follow-up email, and select “For what campaign” as the final lesson (via the drop-down menu). Then, select the amount of time for “When the autoresponder should be sent.” If the email is a review or list of resources, then sending it a day or two after makes sense, while the lessons are still fresh.

8. Set Up A Reminder Email

Because the course is self-paced, people won’t get the next lesson if they forget about the email for the current lesson, so setting up a course reminder autoresponder is another good idea.

From step 5, if the same folder is in the URL for each lesson (in this example, /lessons/), then it’s simply a matter of creating a new reminder autoresponder that sends to a new segment of the list.

(View larger version.)

To do this, start an autoresponder, select “Send to a new segment,” then pick “Subscribers match,” and then “Any” from the drop-down menu.

In the next drop-down menu, choose “Goal Activity,” then “Doesn’t match,” and in the field type in the folder URL of all lessons (in this case, lessons) (don’t type the full URL or any slashes).

On the next page, select “Subscription to the list” as the event to trigger the autoresponder.

When setting the autoresponder, estimate a reasonable time which people would take to complete a lesson. For my own list, I’ve set the reminder to “45 days” after a user has stopped clicking anything.

Remind people that they’ve signed up for the course and, if they’ve forgotten about the lessons, to go back and read the current one (and click that they’ve finished it once they have). I also offer helpful suggestions on how to get over being stuck in the writing process.

Integrate With Payment Solution (Optional)

If you want to charge for the course, you will need to collect the user’s money before the course lessons start firing. I use Gumroad to sell items online; while it doesn’t directly integrate with MailChimp, one easy additional step makes it happen.

Giving your course a price can be done in one easy step. (View larger version.)

In your Gumroad account, click “Add a Product,” and then select the product. Where it asks for a file, create and upload a PDF of the text in your “Final welcome email” that tells people they’ve successfully signed up for the course and will get the first lesson within an hour.

Give it a price, and then “Add” the product. The next screen lets you upload a graphic (or video) and a description of the course. When it’s ready, click “Publish.”

To add an incentive (for example, to reward users with a discount for signing up early), click on the “Options” tab and create an offer. Otherwise, you’re done!

To integrate with Zapier, create a secret “free” offer, which you can use to finish the process, and delete it when you’re done.

Next, to connect Gumroad to MailChimp, sign up for an account with Zapier. Free and paid options are available. If you expect fewer than 100 users, go with a free account. Otherwise, it’s fairly cheap, and it scales. If 50,000 people are signing up a month, then the $99 per month price tag is well worth it.

By connecting Gumroad to MailChimp you can automatically add purchasers of your Gumroad product to your course’s mailing list. (View larger version.)

Once you’ve got an account, click “Create a Zap.” The trigger service is Gumroad, and the action service is MailChimp. For “Choose a trigger,” select “New sale.” For “Choose an action,” select “Add subscriber,” and then continue. From there, follow the steps to connect both your Gumroad and MailChimp accounts to Zapier.

Next, choose your “Product” (which would be your course if you have more than one product in Gumroad), and then continue. Then, choose which MailChimp mailing list to put subscribers in. When you click on “Insert fields” in the email section, Zapier will ask you to create a new purchase of your product. Go back to Gumroad and do that (using the free discount code), and continue with the process. Make sure to select “Email” in the email drop-down menu.

Also, select “No” for “Send a welcome email” because subscribers will get the PDF as a download immediately upon paying. Click “Continue,” name the Zap whatever you’d like, and turn it on!

Now, whenever someone purchases the Gumroad product for your email course, they will be automatically added to the course’s mailing list and will start receiving lessons.

And that’s how you create a self-paced email course using MailChimp, Gumroad and Zapier.

(al, il, ea)

Credits for the image used on the front page: zapier.

© Paul Jarvis for Smashing Magazine, 2014.

February 07 2014


Giving better design feedback

“John in marketing wants to be able to log in directly on the home page, but Tim in engineering would prefer it on its own page. Can we compromise?”

No. We cannot compromise.

If you tell your barber that you like it short, but your significant other likes it long, you’re gonna get a mullet.

That was Mike Monteiro in a post from a few years ago about giving better design feedback. It got me wondering how you keep things “on brief” when talking about your work with clients.

Photos by Tom Magliery

When I send options for a new identity I’ll include a page near the end with pointers on how to compare ideas and keep feedback centred on the design brief. There’ll be questions such as:

  • What option will your customers be most receptive toward?
  • What idea is stronger at conveying your company as (insert words from the brief)?
  • What direction is best at helping you stand out from your competitors?
  • What design will keep your identity the freshest for longest?

I’ll normally follow the questions with a page showing my answers, talked about with the client after a few days have passed. I’ve found that those few days help when it comes to reaching consensus and avoiding spur-of-the-moment decisions — “It’s growing on me” is something I’ve heard now and again.

Is there anything you do to make sure client feedback is valuable and on point?

February 03 2014


Designing Digital Strategies, Part 1: Cartography

As digital products and services come to comprise an increasingly important part of our everyday life, the division between the digital and the physical begins to blur. We can, for instance, see a washing machine on TV, read reviews of it online, purchase it on our phone, and have it installed by our local shop—all without leaving our computer. The sum total of these processes functions as a single, continuous experience. Designers can more prudently frame the experiences they create by incorporating ecosystem thinking into their process.

In 2011, the newly appointed CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop, wrote:

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search… location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market-share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.”

An ecosystem is the term given to a set of products, services, and people that function together in a symbiotic way. As an interaction designer working at a consultancy, I often meet clients who want to integrate all sorts of functionality into their digital solutions—email, Facebook, SMS—without really considering if that inclusion will actually add value for their users. Rather than unilaterally connecting all possible digital channels and launching a “family” of related products and services, designers need to determine ways in which ecosystems can act together in service of their client’s business goals.

Nike’s “plus” products work together to create something greater than the sum of their parts.

Designers do this through the creation of a digital strategy. Despite the fact that numerous voices suggest their creation, however, the actual details of creating one remains elusive. That’s where this two-part series comes in. In the first part we’ll review the elements that comprise an ecosystem as well as how to create an ecosystem map (a useful tool for facilitating a shared vision) by way of digital cartography. In the second part, we’ll see how ecosystem maps can be used to to develop digital strategies, helping companies fit together the various pieces that shape their digital puzzle.

The basics

The word ecosystem comes from biology wherein it describes a network of interacting organisms and their physical environment. From a technological standpoint, though, an ecosystem is better described as a network of people interacting with products or services. As Dave Jones defines them, ecosystems include:

  • users,
  • the practices they perform,
  • the information they use and share,
  • the people with whom they interact,
  • the services available to them,
  • the devices they use, and
  • the channels through which they communicate.

Ecosystem thinking, likewise, is the inquiry method used to analyze and understand ecosystems, both the problems they pose as well as the business opportunities they might present. Instead of focusing on a single product or service, however, designers who practice ecosystem thinking evaluate user behavior at the intersection of various inflection points. They ask:

  • Who are our users?
  • What practices do they perform?
  • What information do they need? (and where do they seek it?)
  • With whom do they interact?
  • What services are available to them?
  • What devices do they use?
  • Through what channels do they communicate?

Answers to these questions provide designers with all of the raw data they need in order to better understand the ecosystem in which they’re working. Turning that data into actionable information is the job of ecosystem maps.

An ecosystem map is simply a graphical representation of the relationships examined via ecosystem thinking. Ecosystem maps are closely related to other diagrams with which designers are likely familiar, including service blueprints, experience maps, and concept maps. They differ from these diagrams, however, in that ecosystem maps are optimized to aid in the creation of digital strategies.

A concept model that explains concept models (© Dan Brown, 2010)

Service designers Polaine, Løvlie, and Reason have arguably presented one of the best examples of an ecosystem map, however, without sufficient contextual knowledge it is difficult to understand the relationships their map presents between the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.”

That’s where digital cartography comes in.

Mapping an ecosystem

Digital cartography is an abductive, sensemaking process that, practically speaking, only requires time and permission to iterate. It boils down to five major activities:

  1. Understanding users and their goals;
  2. Mapping the activities (both known activities and “best guesses” as to the unknown activities) that users conduct in service of their goals;
  3. Mapping the information, services, devices and channels that users employ in service of their activities;
  4. Mapping the moments in which users perform their activities; and
  5. Narrowing down the discrete set of moments (or “experiences”) upon which the design team might focus.

The most useful outcome of digital cartography is not the map itself but the insights that the mapping process generates into the idiosyncrasies of users: their needs, their behaviours, and their perspectives. No map can really encompass the full complexity of an entire ecosystem; an illustration will always be a simplification of reality. However, the creation of simplified visual representations helps us to collaboratively forge paths in our digital world.

Creating a map

Like all user-centered design endeavors, digital cartography begins with research: interviews, observations, questionnaires, analyses of web site statistics, etc. This helps us to determine the goals towards which users are working as well as how users go about accomplishing their goals. Next we draw, or map, everything we know.

Don’t worry about getting everything right immediately. Ecosystem maps are useful both for structuring forthcoming research (finding out what needs to be examined) as well as for communicating the insights of the research that’s already been performed. Use a dry-erase board or a pencil and a piece of paper. It can also be useful to put the people and devices involved in a process, called actors, on individual post-it notes in order to move them around. This helps us to spatially reflect where actors fall in the process (left-to-right, top-to-bottom) as well as the relationships between them.

After spatially arranging the actors, have the team illustrate any/all of the activities undertaken by users as well as the information, services, devices, and channels they use for doing these activities. Next, cycle through the questions comprising ecosystem thinking: When do users perform activities? How do people send out invitations for, say, a birthday party? Who sends the invitations? How do they know who will come to the party?

It is easy to be overwhelmed with unknowns, especially in the beginning. Uncertainties (such as the order of certain events or the kind of channel that’s used for performing a specific activity), should be drawn as a “best guess” and marked with a questionmark for further investigation. Later, this information helps us to make a plan for how we can find out more about our ecosystem. For example, perhaps we could return to our research by conducting interviews with parents about how they usually invite children to their kid’s birthday party.

The final step is to determine the activities that our team will support through design. Not everything that is part of an ecosystem should be integrated into a digital product or service; it’s all about making strategic, informed choices. This helps us to distinguish “what is necessary” from what is “nice to have.” Moreover, it helps us determine which features might give our experience a competitive edge.

An example

Let’s continue using the example of an event-organizing application in order to illustrate how an actual act of digital cartography might unfold.

When organizing an event, people usually begin by discussing how, when, and where the event should take place. One person might take on the responsibility of securing the event space and sending out invites. Invitees might then contact the organizer to RSVP. Next, the organizer might wish to delegate tasks to the people who are attending (such as bringing stuff, preparing food and so on.) After the event, attendees might opt to send thank-you notes or share pictures from the event.

The ecosystem map, shown below, does not include all the activities that take place around an event, but it does include the more salient ones.

An ecosystem map for an event-planning application. I chose a circular presentation to indicate how the success of the app relied on repeated use.

The map also shows how activities are performed through the use of icons: invitations, questions and responses can be submitted through regular mail, e-mail, text message, in person, over the phone, or through Facebook. Timeframes for the various activities appear as green, dotted lines. In this case, I chose to use large timeframes as the timing varies a great deal across different types of events (planning a wedding might take six months, whereas planning a night out at the movies might take hours).

The inner circle of the map shows the activities that the app currently supports; the other circle shows what’s on our minds. Deciding what to do during an event and sharing photos are but two examples of countless activities that users might perform during the course of organizing an event. This division—what users do vs. what we support—is an excellent jumping off point as we formulate our digital strategy.

The map is not the territory

I have found the use of ecosystem maps to be very valuable when working with clients. I encourage readers to draw their own maps and share their experience of applying ecosystem thinking in their design projects.

Understanding ecosystems adds a whole new dimension to designing consistent user experiences across different types of media. So far I have explained what an ecosystem is and how we can draw ecosystem maps. Yet, it is not really about the map, but where it might take us. In the next (final) part of this series, we’ll see how to use ecosystem maps as tools, informing the creation of digital strategies.

The post Designing Digital Strategies, Part 1: Cartography appeared first on UX Booth.

January 15 2014


Earning More From Web Design: Extra Services You Can Provide

With the digital landscape becoming increasingly competitive and the cost to acquire a new website project steadily growing, web designers need to be proactive in finding additional ways to create ongoing value for their clients.

To survive, web designers need to adapt and increase the revenue generated per client.

This article will cover five strategies for growing your income from website projects.

Website Maintenance Services

Peace of mind is a beautiful thing, both for you and the client. Your customer is going to want to know you’re going to be there if anything ever goes wrong.

And you can be, for a price.

Websites crash, CMSes and their plugins need to be upgraded regularly, updates to JavaScript libraries need to be issued, the list goes on.

Ongoing upkeep is such a crucial part of running a website that some agencies specialize solely on providing website maintenance services:

Google search results for the phrase “website maintenance services”, showing companies that concentrate only on providing site maintenance.

Discussing an ongoing website maintenance service arrangement before a project begins is going to ensure you don’t have to do any awkward post-project upselling, and the client will be able to sleep easy knowing you will be there to assist them if ever the time comes.

For many of our clients at Social Garden (the digital agency I have co-founded) we start them off on a base rate of 5-10 hours per month depending on how complex their website is, which is then automatically charged out at our standard hourly fee.

If this all sounds like too much work for you or your staff, consider outsourcing website maintenance tasks to high-quality service providers that will readily take the commitment off your hands. You can also consider service marketplaces like Tweaky or CreativeFolks.

Conversion Rate Optimization

At the end of the day, you can’t predict with complete certainty how actual users are going to behave on the site you have built.

This is where conversion rate optimization services come in.

Most of my clients are astonished when I explain to them the concept of being able to automatically split test different variations of their website — A/B testing — to improve their conversion rates.

Providing conversion rate optimization services can involve:

  1. Developing the experiment: hypothesis, controlled variables, and the proposed variations to test
  2. Administering the experiment: You can use software like Visual Website Optimizer or Optimizely for this
  3. Presenting the results of the experiment: You could summarize the data you have gathered and your recommended changes
  4. Implementing the website changes: As needed, you will update the site with the improved design

Further reading

Online Marketing

Your client has decided to make an investment in a website and the most common reason they have done so is because they believe it’s going to generate new business opportunities for them. Developing their online marketing plan can be an additional service you can provide. This can involve setting up their mailing list, SEO, developing best practices for managing their social media presence, creating an online advertising strategy, and so forth.

If you aren’t an online marketing professional, you can still make a tidy ongoing profit from sub-contracting work to experts in that field. Many digital marketing agencies (including my company) offer a healthy partnership program that allows you to deliver an industry-leading marketing product without spending the time and effort to learn and execute the latest traffic generation strategies.

When selecting an agency to form a long-term partnership with, be patient and do your homework. Your client trusts your advice and you don’t want to rush into something and end up letting them down.

Further reading

Managed Web Hosting

Website hosting has traditionally been the go-to way for web designers and developers to create a recurring income from their current clients.

Your clients will be delighted to hear they don’t have to find a hosting company and manage their own web hosting solution. This also makes it easier for you and the client to perform site updates and maintenance services.

Reliable shared web hosting companies like Rackspace and MediaTemple offer affordable, managed solutions that allow you to host multiple website domains.

If you’re looking for good value and the ability to finely control your web hosting services, you should consider using a virtual private server (VPS) provider such as Linode, Digital Ocean or Prgmr. Like shared hosting, a VPS will also allow you to deploy and manage multiple website domains using virtual hosting.

The downside to using a VPS is that if you don’t have web server administration knowledge, the learning curve can be steep.

However, a VPS will give you many benefits compared to shared web hosting, such as more hardware resources and much better control with the software and configuration of your server.

Further reading

Research and Development

With technology constantly evolving, websites are becoming stale faster than that bread loaf in your cupboard.

Sharing your passion for design and the future of the Web with your client is a great way to develop a closer bond, and acts as a great pre-sell for when you find a new plugin or piece of technology that you know is going to help their business.

I’m constantly on the hunt for new ways to improve both my own website and my clients’ websites. And when I find something great, I never hesitate to let them know about it and offer them my services to implement it on their site.

What other strategies are you using to increase your revenue? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the comments.

Related Content

About the Author

Michael Bird is the Co-founder and Director of Strategy at Australian-based digital marketing agency, Social Garden. Connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

The post Earning More From Web Design: Extra Services You Can Provide appeared first on Six Revisions.

Tags: Business

January 07 2014


Top Design Tips for Improving Ecommerce Conversions

For three years now I have successfully avoided the Black Friday madness by shopping online on Cyber Monday instead of in stores. It seems that I'm not the only one either. This year many stores, such as Toys R Us, offered Black Friday deals online as well as in store fronts. This allowed me to get the best possible deals since different discounts were available for different items for each of the two events. Because of shopping online, I could easily jump from one online store to the next to compare availability and prices. The result? I bought way too many gifts for my kids this year simply because of the amazing deals available from multiple stores, all from the convenience - and safety - of my own home.

January 06 2014


10 Best Budgeting Tips for Freelance Web Designers and Other Freelancers

Oops! You’re out of money and you won’t be paid for at least another week. What are you going to do in the meantime? Does this scenario seem familiar to you? If you answered “yes,” you’re not alone. One of the biggest surprises for new freelancers is that a freelancing income is not a stable […]
Tags: Business

No, No, No, No, No, Yes.

The following post is excerpted from Gideon Amichay‘s encouraging new book.

No, No, No, No, No, Yes.

It’s not fun to get a NO, really not a pleasure.

CEOs, entrepreneurs, and creative people get all kinds of NOs.

In the beginning I thought every NO was the end of the world, a NO with a big exclamation point!

No exclamation

I might have given up my dream. A big mistake.

The reality is different because NO is a part of life. Usually, NO comes with a comma.

No comma

My first NO was just a standard NO.

Then I got a very personal NO comma, “sorry”
NO comma, “keep trying”
NO comma, “holding one”
NO comma, “holding two” [in reference to cartoons sent to The New Yorker]

As in life—
NO comma, “we don’t have the time.”
NO comma, “we don’t have the budget.”
NO comma, “can we see another option?”

We have to examine, to explore, to discover which NO comma we are dealing with.

There are many types of NO commas.
The first is the dramatic NO comma which drives us to work even harder. Then we have the inspirational NO comma which makes us rethink. Finally there’s the most challenging NO comma which leads us to change and go in a different direction.

NO comma has great power.
Every NO comma is a treasure.
Every NO comma is a great opportunity to search for the next YES.

Actually, almost every NO comes with a question mark.

No question



I’ve developed a relationship with NO.
I hug it, I embrace it and I nurture it. I care for it. I’ve even grown to love it.

Resistance is good. Resistance in innovation, in hi-tech, in art, etc. is great.

For me, NO is a sign, a green light and not a red light.
NO is the beginning of a YES.

Born in 1963, Gideon Amichay is an Israeli ad exec (the Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R agency), cartoonist (The New Yorker), and teacher (School of Visual Arts).

You can listen to Gideon tell the story of how he got his cartoons published in The New Yorker in this talk.

Gideon’s book is available to pre-order on

January 02 2014


How to Keep Rejection from Ruining Your Happiness as a Freelance Web Designer

Freelance web design is your dream job–and now, you’re finally living the dream. You’re running your own web design business, and you’re in charge. Things should be fabulous, right?

Well, not exactly. First of all, running a freelance web design business is much harder than you thought it would be. You’re doing tasks you never realized you’d have to do to keep your web design business afloat. (I can say this with confidence even though you and I have never met because nearly every freelancer goes through this experience.)


Then there’s rejection. You never thought it would get to you like it has. After all, criticism never bothered you when you worked in a traditional job. But now it does bother you and you wonder what is going on.

In this post, I’ll take a closer look at an experience many freelancers go through–rejection. I’ll also give you some tips to help you get through it. I’ll also identify three types of rejection that freelancers are likely to face.

Your Own Secret Fears

One reason that rejection hurts more when you freelance is that you have more invested in your freelancing business than you would have invested in a traditional job–more time, more money, and more of yourself. So, when someone doesn’t like what you do, it feels personal.

Another reason it hurts so much is because many of us secretly fear rejection. Whether it’s a result of the Imposter Syndrome or simply a desire for people to appreciate us, our own fears play a big role in how we respond to criticism and other types of rejection. You can learn more about Imposter Syndrome in Drake Baer’s FastCompany article titled Do You Have Imposter Syndrome Or Are You Actually Qualified For Your Job?

However, it’s actually quite normal to have doubts and fears about our own abilities. Most of us are much harder on ourselves than we would ever be on anyone else. It’s nearly impossible to be totally objective about your own work.

Anyway, when a client or prospect gives us negative feedback it plays right into our own fears and seems to validate them.

Of course, as a freelancer, there are some types of rejection you are more likely to get than others.

Rejection Type 1: You Didn’t Get the Job


One of the most common types of freelancer rejection is when you are not selected for a project. This stings, because it can take hours to provide an accurate estimate for a complex project. At the end of the proposal process, you may even start to count on getting the job.

Losing out on a job may seem like a huge negative (especially if you are going through a lean period with your business), but there are actually pluses to it. Here are a few of them:

  • Eliminates bad clients early.
  • Gives you a chance to make a good impression.
  • Helps you to understand what’s in demand.

Of course, just knowing that there are some pluses doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pain.

Rejection Type 2: The Client Didn’t Like Your Work

Another common type of rejection that freelancers receive occurs when a client doesn’t like your work. Unfortunately, there’s no way that you can satisfy everyone. And web design does have a subjective nature to it. You may feel you met a client’s requirements perfectly while he or she feels that your design fell short.

Even constructive criticism can feel like rejection.

However, there are some steps that you can take to minimize the chances of rejected work. Here are a few:

  • Ask the client to show you an example of what they have in mind.
  • If possible, share preliminary work (such as wireframes) before you get too far along.
  • Always, always use a contract that contains a detailed scope of work.
  • Specialize in one or two areas where you excel.

However, if your client does reject your work, don’t automatically assume that you did something wrong. There are some clients who are never satisfied no matter what the freelancer does.

Not all freelancer criticism is directly related to project work. Freelancers can face criticism in other areas as well.

Rejection Type 3: Mean Comments and Other Negative Reactions

Social media and blogging also expose the freelance web designer to criticism. Not everyone who reads your posts on social media will like what you posted. The problem of comment trolls is especially well-documented.

If you don’t know what a comment troll is, it’s a reader who leaves extremely negative (and often off-topic) comments on a blog post, video, social media post or other online material. Empowered by the lack of face-to-face contact on the Internet, comment trolls often say things online that they would never say in person.

In fact, some analysts believe that reducing the number of trollish comments is one reason why YouTube made a recent controversial change (as of the date of this post) to their comment policy. You can read one perspective on YouTube’s policy change in Aaron Taube’s post, YouTube’s New Comments Policy Is Sanitizing YouTube For Advertisers – And Crushing The Number Of New Comments, on Business Insider.

Putting It in Perspective and Moving On

What should you do when you face rejection as a freelance web designer?

The first thing to do is take a deep breath and realize that it’s normal to be hurt by mean words. If criticism or rejection has hurt your feelings, it’s a sign that you care–and caring about your business is actually a good thing.

Give yourself a little time. If it’s a big hurt, take a short break and don’t think about the rejection or criticism for a while. Getting out of the office for an hour or two can be good for you in other ways as well.

When you get back to work ask yourself whether there’s anything you can do to calm the client down. Some clients overreact to issues that can easily be changed. If there’s something easy you can do to fix the problem, do it.

Then consider whether this is really a client you want to work with in the future. You may want adopt more stringent steps to evaluate prospective clients and choose the best ones.

As far as trollish comments left on blog posts and social media posts, often they don’t require a response. Most other readers will recognize the troll for what they are and it’s usually best not to waste your time and energy on a flame war.

Finally, remember that the rejection or criticism doesn’t represent everyone’s opinion. It’s just the opinion of one person. And one person’s opinion does not determine your worth. Above all, don’t let the negativity destroy the happiness you feel as a freelancer.

Your Turn

Have you faced rejection or criticism as a freelance web designer? How did you handle it?

December 27 2013


We could really do with £50k

The following story was written by John Scarrott of the London-based Design Business Association.

50 pound note
Photo by worldoflard

I was chatting to one of our ‘experts’ at the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards when he recounted the following story to me. I’ll tell it from the expert’s perspective.

“One of my clients, a small design agency of five people, was asked to quote on a piece of work. They’d not worked for this client before. They took the time to carefully cost the project, based on their normal charge-out rates, and the time and level of commitment required. The price came to £100k.

“At this point the agency experienced what I would describe as a ‘slight degree of nervousness.’ It seemed like a big number to them; a lot of money. It was. In fact as a project it would be one of the biggest they had undertaken. But, they took a deep breath and sent the proposal off.

“The client came back the next day with the following news: “We’ve only got £50k in the budget.” The agency rang me. Their first reaction was, “There’s £50k we could have.” Mine was a little different — we couldn’t accept a £100k project for £50K. They were initially hesitant to accept my advice to turn away £50k. I reminded them that we had carefully worked out a financial plan for the business based on sound principles and we should stick to it.

“They contacted the client via email, thanked them but said that they couldn’t do the work for the budget, concluding that it would be lovely if they could stay in touch. No counter-offer. The end.

“Actually not, as it turned out. Things did go quiet for a couple of days. But then the client picked up the phone and said they’d found some budget for the project and could pay £95k if that was acceptable to the agency. Which, of course it was.”

Listening to this story, it struck me that that the agency’s relationship with the expert was key, and they’d built a positive and trusted relationship together. So I asked our expert what the key issues and turning points were. What gave the agency the confidence to know what they were doing was right?

1. The size of the number, it felt big!

A perfectly valid thought. But not a fact. The important point was that there were sound business principles behind the calculation of the price. It had been worked out. It was a genuine figure. There was no smoke and mirrors, no figure added on as fat (see 5.). They knew they’d done their numbers properly and this gave them a mindset of certainty and confidence in what they’d suggested.

2. They have a financial plan that underpins the business.

Sitting beneath the studio is a financial plan. This involves delivering income to cover overheads and make a profit. They know they need to bill at £X per hour to be profitable at the end of the year. If they have that plan and someone says “I won’t pay that” and they take what they offer, they’ll never achieve their plan. The more times they do this the further away they get from achieving their plan. They may actually lose money. I’ve heard tales of serial acceptors of these offers, eventually folding as businesses. This happened to one of the best creatives, a household name with books on shelves. No one wants to go the same way.

3. Imagine the atmosphere in the studio if they’d taken this job for £50k!

How are they going to feel? How will the team feel? That they’re working “£100k hard” for a £50k reward. They can’t pull their effort back to £50k because the client’s expecting a £100k job. So they’d be stuck working their backsides off on a job that takes them further away from where they want to be. The effect on team moral is going to be bad, and they want to enjoy what they do, not suffer for it.

4. They’re consistent.

They have a plan and they keep to it. They could add on some fat to the bill to negotiate but they choose not to. This instills a sense of self-worth that is important to them as an agency. It allows them to stay in rapport with their clients by being clear about where they stand.

5. They don’t add margin only to cut it later.

What if they add some money on top, say 20% and then let that slide in the negotiation? How does the client know that they’re supposed to stop there? If they give 20% what’s to stop the client chipping further?

6. They’re confident in their ability.

They know their ability and they stand by it. They know that what the client is paying for is better than they could get elsewhere. They’ve created a niche of expertise for themselves. This is another foundation stone for their confidence.

7. They understood the myth of “We’ll just do this one.”

It’s always a tempting thought. Could £50k now be better than nothing? What about up-selling the client in the future? These things get questioned, but what stops them is the knowledge of what could happen. A better opportunity could come through which they can’t accept because they’re doing the £50k job. They know getting the client to pay more next time will be an uphill battle that in all likelihood they won’t win.

Of course if you try this the next time you’re asked to cut the price you might send the email and never hear from the client again.

It might be the best thing that never happened to you.

John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. Catch him on Twitter.

December 23 2013


How to Prepare Your Freelance Web Design Business for Change

Are you comfortable with your freelance web design business the way it is right now?

Good. Now shake yourself out of that complacency.

No matter how comfortable you are at present, change is inevitable. If you’re not ready for it, your business will suffer. You’ll lose business to the freelancers who were ready for the changes.


Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Change doesn’t have to be painful. The fix is to be ready for it.

Prepare your freelance business for change. Become the freelancer who others turn to because you’re up to date.

Even though no one can completely know what’s going to happen in the future, you can prepare yourself for some types of change. In this post, I’ll give you some pointers to help you prepare for the three most common types of change–starting with professional change.

Prepare for Professional Change

The field of web design is constantly changing. If you don’t believe me, look at the web designs that were popular ten years ago. You’ll see that many of them don’t look much like the designs that are popular today. You’ll find that many sites that are popular today didn’t even exist ten years ago.

Hint: You may have to use the Internet Archive WayBackMachine to get a look at those older sites. Alyson Shontell has also compiled a review of popular websites from days gone by on Business Insider in her post, Tech More: Features Websites LinkedIn Facebook What 14 Popular Websites Used To Look Like.

Just this past year, we’ve seen the following web design trends:

And those examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Web design is going to keep on changing and as a web designer you need to keep up with those changes. Some changes will permanently affect web design, others are merely trends. At first, you may not be able to tell the permanent changes from the fads–and that’s okay.

How to prepare for changes in web design

Use these three easy tips to help you prepare for changes that affect your profession:

  1. Read professional publications. Blogs, magazines, and other publications will document new trends.
  2. Join a professional society. Professional societies often provide seminars and other information to members.
  3. Take classes. Make training a regular part of running your business. Aim for at least one class a year.

Prepare for Personal Change

Wheelchair user in front of staircase Barrier

Professional changes are just one type of change that can affect your web design business. Personal changes can also affect your work–especially if you’re not ready for them.

Here are three common personal changes that many freelance web designers face:

  • Relationship changes. Sometimes disagreements with family or close friends are so severe that they spill over into your work.
  • Illness. You, or someone you love, could become sick. You may even suddenly find yourself becoming a caretaker for a sick family member.
  • Financial problems. You could be hit with a sudden unexpected expense that threatens your financial security.

How to prepare for personal changes

Use these easy tips to help you prepare for personal changes:

  1. Prioritize relationships. You can’t control what other people do, but at least you can make sure that you spend enough time with those you care about. A common cause of relationship problems is not spending enough time together. Make sure that you don’t spend so much time on your business that you have no time left for your loved ones.
  2. Be realistic. If you’re sick or caring for someone who is, you may have to adjust your work schedule. You’ll probably have to work around doctor’s appointments and procedures. There may be good days and bad days. Try to negotiate more lenient deadlines. You may even want to consider going part-time during this crisis.
  3. Save money. It’s easy to spend everything you earn. There’s always something we “need.” However, money in the bank gives you a lot more options when a crisis hits. Hopefully it will never come to this, but in a worst-case scenario you may need to live off your savings for a while. So, remember to save a portion of your income when things are going well.

Prepare for Changes in Circumstance

hole in a roof due to storm or decay

Many changes are neither personal nor professional. Plus, they usually affect a broad group of people. And, you often have no real control over this type of change.

Some examples of changes in circumstance:

  • A storm blows through the area where you live, damaging property. Your roof blows is damaged and needs to be replaced.
  • The government implements a new tax. The tax means that you’ll have less disposable income.
  • The cost of living increases. Your grocery bill and other bills increase significantly

As you can tell from the example, this type of change is often unexpected. Yet, these types of changes can still affect your business.

Although you can’t always change your environment, you should still try to prepare for changes to it.

How to prepare for changes in circumstance

Use these tips to stay on top of changes in circumstance:

  1. Keep up with the news. While some people avoid the news (because much of it is bad), most news outlets will report on upcoming changes that affect a large group of people.
  2. Save money. Once again, personal savings can help protect your business as well as your personal finances.
  3. Change what you can. Adapt to the rest. If you can control a change, do it. If you can’t control the change, you need to figure out how to adjust to it.

A Final Word on Change

This post has focused mostly on negative changes. That’s because negative changes are the most likely to threaten your freelance web design business. Most of us are afraid of negative changes because we know that they are likely to hurt.

But remember, not all changes are bad. Many changes are neutral. They will have no affect on you whatsoever. Other changes are actually good for you. Good changes may even help your freelance business.

So, don’t be afraid of change. Just be ready.

Your Turn

How do you prepare for change?


The Command Position Principle

Andrew Clarke squeezes into his leathers and mounts his Fat Boy® to foster healthy negotiations around price. With family demands and needs over the holidays we all need to compromise for peace at Christmas.

Brought to you by Shopify, the fully customizable ecommerce platform loved by designers around the world.

December 20 2013


How to Rock Your Business Phone Calls

As a web designer, how do you feel about business phone calls?

Your answer probably depends on your personality. Some people love to talk on the phone. Others dread phone calls.

If you’re busy, an unexpected phone call can disrupt your day. If you’re a bit on the shy side, talking to a client on the phone may make you nervous.

Love them or hate them–business phone calls are an important part of running your web design business. That’s not going to change any time soon.


Fortunately, regardless of whether you love business phone calls or hate them, there are some steps you can take to make your business phone calls go more smoothly. In this post, I share five of those steps. If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like 5 Communication Tips for Freelancers and Designers.

Step 1: Schedule All Client Calls

Unexpected phone calls can be a real nuisance. Here are just some of the disadvantages of getting an unexpected phone call:

  • Interrupts your train of thought. Interruptions can cause you to make mistakes. They can cause you to skip steps in your development process. They can even cause stress. You can read more about the adverse affects of interruptions in the news story, Even Brief Interruptions Spawn Errors, published on ScienceDaily.
  • No time for preparation. Another reason unexpected phone calls can be bad is that you have no time to prepare. A client may call you out of the blue and ask a question that you really don’t have any answer for. Even worse, your lack of preparation may cause you to give a wrong or incomplete answer.
  • Can cause stress. For some of us, receiving a sudden call can be stressful. Not knowing what the client wants or whether they are upset can contribute to that stress. In some cases, an unexpected call on a busy day can lead to overtime or even a missed deadline.

These disadvantages are why I recommend that freelance web designers and other freelancers encourage clients to schedule a time to talk on the phone. Usually, email is adequate for scheduling calls, but if you handle a large volume of client phone calls, you may need to consider scheduling software like Bookeo or EZnetScheduler.

If a client really needs the ability to contact you whenever they want to and will not agree to schedule a phone call, you should charge an extra monthly fee for that convenience. After all, they are basically asking you to be “on call” for them.

Step 2: Be Prepared

Having your clients and prospects schedule their calls with you gives you a chance to prepare for the call.

When they schedule an appointment, ask them to give a brief overview of the purpose of the call. Here are some common reasons why clients and prospects request a phone call:

  • They want to discuss additional projects.
  • They need your professional advice.
  • They want technical support for a project.
  • They want to involve you in their company’s regular team meetings.

Knowing what the meeting is about gives you the chance to do your homework and present yourself and your web design business in a positive light. You’ll also discover what type of involvement you need to have in the meeting. For some meetings, such as a regular team meeting, you may only need to report your progress and identify any problems you have. For other meetings, such as when they want professional advice, you may need to conduct the meeting yourself.

Step 3: Use an Agenda


If you’re expected to conduct the meeting yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare an agenda. Your agenda doesn’t need to be anything formal. A simple outline is usually good enough.

Having an agenda keeps the meeting on track and reduces the amount of wasted time.

Once you’ve created your meeting agenda, it’s a good idea to send it to your client. If the client will have more than one person participating in the meeting, ask for the names of the other participants and send them the agenda as well.

Distributing the agenda in advance lets the client know what you think the meeting is about. It also gives them a chance to add a topic to the meeting if they see that you’re not covering everything they want to discuss.

Step 4: Listen Carefully

Listening is an important part of any relationship. The freelancer/client relationship is no exception.

In fact, if you do all of the talking on your phone call, something is wrong.

Here are some guidelines to help you pay attention to what your client or prospect is saying:

  • Take Notes. No matter how good your memory is, the odds of you accurately remembering everything that was discussed during the meeting is slim.
  • Ask Questions. Too many freelancers fail to ask questions when they don’t understand something the client says. It’s better to ask now than be sorry later.
  • Send out meeting minutes. I often send the meeting minutes to the client for their agreement. This is their chance to say, “I agree” or “I do not agree.

Remember, phone calls aren’t the only way to have a meeting with your non-local clients and prospects.

Step 5: Consider an Alternative to a Phone Call

A young couple talking to each other via online video chat.

Today’s technology offers many alternatives to the telephone when it comes to meeting with long-distance clients. Here are just a few of those alternatives:

  • Skype IM or Video Chat. In addition to providing the capability to make VOIP phone calls, Skype also gives you the option to instant message with your contacts or to have a video call.
  • Google Hangouts. Many freelancers don’t realize that you can schedule a private meeting using Google Hangouts for up to ten people.
  • Web Conferencing. In addition to the tools listed above, you can use a specialized web conferencing tool such as GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx . One advantage of web conferencing is that many tools allow you to share visuals and even your computer screen with participants.

Your Turn

How do you manage phone calls? Do you schedule calls, or do you take them as they arrive?

December 18 2013


A Little Journey Through (Small And Big) E-Commerce Websites


People don’t spend their money online easily. Think about it: If you had to answer a long list of questions or struggle to navigate a website, how much money would you be willing to part with? Online shopping is about convenience and comfort, and those of us who have at least once ventured into the realm of online shopping know how time-consuming and unpleasant it can be.

The online stores that stand out from the rest are those that go the extra mile for their users. We’ll look here at some small and big e-commerce websites that create pleasant online shopping experiences. We’ll consider the experience from the very start to the very end, right through to the checkout process.

Interesting E-Commerce Websites

Bonobos’ shopping experience is smooth. Good typography and subtle colors help focus on the products and features, with all distractions fading away as you interact with the site. When a new item is added to the cart, it appears in a sliding sidebar on the right, prompting customers to either keep shopping or check out. The design of the checkout form is elegant and clean. The amount of data required is never overwhelming since it’s clearly separated in manageable chunks. And the most important bit: the favicon is a bananas icon! Now that is pretty cool.


Martina Sperl
Martina Sperl’s website is a lovely website. The shop features polished photography of her products, with a simple navigation panel fixed on the right side of the page. The hover effect is simple yet bold, showing the item number and price boldly in a large sans-serif typeface. You can, of course, click an image to view details about the product and get a 3-D view of the furniture (just a series of images). Buying a piece of furniture requires you to order by email. Again, bold full-width product images are used on product pages, and you can click on the “heart” icon to express your love for a product. Powered by WordPress.


Putting the shopping cart on the left, with the navigation, is a great idea. Because the eye starts from the top left of the page, the shopping cart takes precedence, making it more natural for users to keep track of the items in their cart and the running total.


Banana Cafe
Banana Cafe is crazy. The 3-D hover effects of the site are consistent across the entire shopping experience. The blocks rotate in different directions, creating interesting movement throughout the website. It isn’t your ordinary online shop, but rather a collection of suggestions for your closet. The hover effects reveal a reference number that you would use in the contact form at the bottom of the page. Well, the audio and video in the background aren’t really necessary, but they do complement the unique experience on the site quite well.

Banana Cafe

Well, this online shop could be made for fun, but fun was probably not the only reason to set it up. The experience on the site is, however, quite snappy indeed. You can quickly customize each product with features displayed using an accordion pattern. The shopping cart preview is visual, almost infographic-alike, rather than filled with quick-paced text. In fact, the shop even has rainbow-alike horizontal lines which still fit quite well into the design.


Indigo’s shopping experience isn’t particularly extraordinary, but it’s a great example of how shops with a relatively large inventory can have a quite nice user experience. The number of navigation options on Indigo is quite overwhelming, especially the navigation in the sidebar looks a bit too complex, yet what’s interesting is the bar at the bottom of each product page. As you add an item to cart, the item is visually added to the shopping cart in the bar. Quite interesting is the fact that Indigo provides a discount for customers who are willing to invest some time into creating an account on the page. Clever.


Walmart’s recent responsive redesign must have been quite an undertaking. The main navigation has been hidden behind the “Shop All Departments” button that triggers the off-canvas navigation on the side. The items are well-organized, the interface elements and the typography provide a clutter-free overview. The reviews of each item can be rated as being helpful or not quite helpful. As an item is added to the cart, a lightbox appears prompting customers to proceed to the check out or continue shopping. The checkout is well-designed across resolutions, and you see only what is actually helpful for finishing the checkout. Good information architecture, good layout, good redesign.


Appliances Online
Although the overview of items per category is quite overwhelming on, the shopping and checkout experience is very pleasant indeed. On product pages, customers can compare the feature of recently viewed items next to each other in a table while many products have an embedded video review. The checkout provides a variety of options but it’s easy to follow the steps to end up with just what you need when you need it.


Sometimes you really don’t need to reinvent the shopping experience: it’s perfectly enough to provide a consistent visual style that guides the customers through the checkout. The typography, the shopping back icon, the way price tags are presented and the checkout itself fit well within the branding of the Moomin brand. Since there aren’t many products in the shop, each items is prominently highlighted; the breadcrumbs help the customer see where they are on the page at any given moment. Nice personal design that conveys an intimate atmosphere.


If you are looking for a… different online shopping experience, GoMacro is an option worth checking out. Instead of having a simple grid overview of items, all items are grouped into colored item circles. The experience of adding items to the cart is very unique as you literally place bars into a cart. The checkout is also well-designed and quite simple to follow through although main navigation (“Back” and “Next Step”) are somehow hidden beyond the actual checkout lightbox. A unique design can work well as well, and GoMacro shows how it can be done.


Lost My Name
Alright, this isn’t really an online shop, but the checkout design is quite lovely. The design applies a soft touch of the visual design of the brand to the Web forms creating a pleasant overall experience. Probably the best adjective to describe the design is “friendly”. So is the experience of the checkout.



Indochino’s shopping experience is the king of customization. Basically you can customize everything. However, this requires quite some interaction from customers’ side. Product images are prominently highlighted as background images. In suits, everything from jacket lapels to vents, buttons, pockets, lining and pleats can be customized. Before you check out, you are asked to provide detailed measurement data which takes just 18 steps. Well, if you’d like to provide many customized options in your shop, Indochino is a great example to learn from. The responsive design doesn’t quite work in some scenarios though, especially when it comes to pages with lots of available options.


Ableton’s website is just another example of how a vivid color scheme doesn’t necessarily interfere with a good shopping experience. The site uses many colors, yet they fit well together, creating a comfortable atmosphere on the page. Good typography, appropriate colors, with everything position just right. It was probably a nice idea not to use the “navicon” icon for navigation in the header of the page.


The design of this website is so exquisitely Swiss! The functional five-column grid displays the posters for sale, with no superfluous extras. You can also view enlarged versions of the prints and click through them like a slideshow. The Web form is short, simple and straight to the point, only a two-step process, with all distractions removed. It really doesn’t have to be more difficult than this. The shop is powered by Shopify.


This shop has a quite remarkable user interaction. The snazzy hover effect swivels the iPad sleeve around for you to see what it looks like from the back. The large full-width photographs on product pages are a pretty nice idea to show the products “in action”. Another welcome feature is the little button in the header that tells you if an item has been added to your cart. The Web form for the billing details is short and simple, completing the pleasant shopping experience. The only drawback is the country selector that could be replaced with something a bit more elegant.


Benj & Soto
Ben & Soto is a strictly functional website with a clean design. It has a quite unique interaction; you can decorate your own cube and then view all six sides by, well, actually rotating it. I really like the annotated elements, which add a kind of work-in-progress feel to it. Understandably, you have to create an account or sign in with Twitter or Facebook to create and save a design. A nice way of visualizing a product.

Benj & Soto

Motorola’s responsive online shop is beautifully designed, displaying large photographs of products that dominate the screen. The flat design creates the impression that the products are a hassle-free experience. Motorola encourages its users to design their own look, and the website has a lovely UX, with large clear buttons. In a narrow view, filter and search are implemented using a fixed filter/search menu — it might be a good idea to consider using the “view mode” overlay instead.


One thing about online shopping is that you can’t try it on until you get it in the mail. Until now, that is! Ditto’s virtual try-on feature takes user interaction to a new level, as you can see what a set of eyeglass frames will look like on your face from the computer screen. The shipping information is fairly quick and easy to fill out, and the whole process is only two steps long. And the nice interaction on the front page with “opening” books is quite remarkable.


Sophistication and elegance are words that come to mind when visiting this page. Tsovet has an interesting design, accompanied by beautiful black and white photography that sets the tone for the brand. The checkout process is relatively painless: All you need to do is fill out a straightforward single-page checkout form. The images scroll over one another, adding another interesting effect. It’s great to see how product pages manage to contain so much detail using a simple accordion pattern.


Canopy (currently down?)
Canopy is all the best stuff on Amazon, curated by those who know you best. You can see products recommended by your friends or make your own recommendations. Each link takes you straight to the Amazon store, where you can follow the familiar process. I like the minimalistic design of the website, and the layout has an open feel to it. The prices are clearly visible on each product, helping you to browse the website with ease. A very uncommon shopping interface that is used reasonably and properly on the site.


Orlando’s page has quite interesting transitions. As you click through the different categories, the preceding image fades away leaving enough space for the new image and the product details. However, you can’t actually purchase goods from the website itself; rather, you have to order by email which is quite surprising. The navigation is provided on the left side as an overlay. Also quite unusual for an online shop.


Minimals has a beautifully soft, minimal aesthetic. The website, which sells invitations for baby showers, is cute and friendly. It’s amazing how simple rounded corners within blocks can put you at ease. The hover effect is a bit inconvenient — the name and price fade away when you take the mouse away. In the cart, customers can select the country to which the item should be shipped and update the total price right away. A shop without bells and whistles, but with a unique, personal design. Powered by Bigcartel.


Now that’s something a little different! Noodoll has a fun scrapbook feeling; cute page-loading animation are lovely as they create a bit of intrigue with the cut-out characters in the top-right corner. In fact, little animations are sprinkled all around the website, creating a playful and engaging experience. As you add more items to the cart, they appear in the left sidebar rather than in the upper right corner which is a bit unusual. Powered by Shopify.

Big Cartel

Le Col De Claudine
Le Col De Claudine’s website has an elegant design that showcases the fashion brand. Visitors are greeted with beautiful, soft photographs that act as a large header. The checkout is a five-step process, with no guest checkout option. There are not tricks or effects to detract from the subject matter. And the hover effect over the fashion pieces is bold without being too loud, although it doesn’t work on mobile phones of course. Interesting to see prices not being displayed by default, but only on hover.

Twelve South

The focus of the website is, well, the gloves. The ultra-minimal design is the perfect backdrop for them, and since the target market is smartphone users, all product images have an image of the touchscreen gloves with an actual device rather than the gloves alone. The search tool is hidden in the top-right corner which is not necessarily very convenient. On product pages, the product image can be zoomed in, but displayed on the right, next to the main image which is a bit unusual. The footer has quite some text which is not necessary and could be reduced, but the overall aesthetics is very pleasant.


The responsive Greats’ online store is very well designed, with a lot of polish and attention to products. The online-only men’s footwear brand uses consistent typography and photography to present their products well. All items appear to be floating in the air, being shot from the same angle. The features of each shoe are thoroughly described and presented. Once items are added to the cart, you can preview the cart in a nice overlay. The checkout design is perhaps a bit too oversimplified, but it works well within the branding of the site. An online shop with products well-presented and the layout well-designed.

Greats Brand

Big Cartel
The photography on Big Cartel is strong and bold, with rich, earthy colors that grab the user’s attention. There are also no lengthy descriptions, but rather concise bits of explanation. This website has no guest checkout option (which is quite uncommon), but the entire purchasing process is only four steps long and all on one page, which keeps the process from feeling tedious and relieves the user from having to constantly click to the next step. The Web forms are also easy to use and beautifully designed. A nice example of a shopping experience that focuses on one major product item per page, and nothing else.

Big Cartel

Obey Clothing
Obey provides a smooth shopping experience, using consistent typography. Product pages provide fit and styling guides as well as a number of view for every item. The checkout link reveals a quick preview — an overlay with item,s, prices and the ability to remove or edit items from the shopping bag which is quite comfortable. The checkout is quite ordinary, yet what is missing is a progress bar that communicate in which part of the checkout process the user currently is. A nice touch is the red plus sign that means “add to shopping cart,” which is accompanied by the “Added one item to your basket” header that appears. In this case, the straightforward, no-nonsense design reinforces the brand’s image well.


Früute’s website has a design that is consistent all the way through to the Web forms. The contrast could be improved a bit, but the flat aesthetic creates a soft yet down-to-earth feel that matches the brand. It’s interesting to see a mix of a common grid and large, prominent product images throughout the site. There is no guest checkout option, but you can log in using your Facebook account. It’s also quite unusual to see the “philosophy” section in an online shop which explain the passion of the company and the rationale behind its products. As an item is added to the cart, it appears as the lightbox in the right upper corner.


Sew Sew
The simple grid layout and smooth transitions, along with the prices clearly displayed under each item, make for a user-friendly website. The shop is run by Claire Walls who designs everything on her own, and her personality shines through the website quite vividly. From the subtle color scheme to product photos to product descriptions, everything speaks one consistent voice. For independent online shops that’s probably the most significant quality to look after.

Sew Sew

The whimsical look of Fiorly is established by all of the different elements on the page: the typeface, the filter on the photographs, the color scheme and the expansive use of space. What makes this shop unique is that each product item has a dedicated story attached to it. On the product pages, you’ll find quick essays and videos about real people sharing their stories connected to the items (in that case, jewellery). A nice example of how storytelling can be embedded into the online shopping experience.



There you have it, some of the interesting online stores out there. Spending hard-earned cash is tough, so of course as a designer of an online shop, you want your users to feel as comfortable as possible. Whether you’re selling your own design services or a pair of designer jeans, it’s about a nice overall shopping experience and a quick checkout. Now if that’s not a reason to remove a couple of unnecessary checkboxes, add better typography and remove the unnecessary in the checkout, what is?

What interesting design/UX techniques for better shopping experience have you found recently? Or how have you optimized the checkout process of an online shop recently? Let us know in the comments!

We kindly thank everybody who submitted their links via Twitter and Facebook over the last couple of days. You are smashing, you know that, right?

(al, ea, vf)

© Shavaughn Haack for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

December 12 2013


How to Deal Effectively with Drastic Deadlines

Do you have a deadline problem? No matter how much time you have to do a project, do you always feel rushed? Do you frequently deal with deadlines that seem too drastic?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone in your deadline struggles. Most freelancers have trouble with deadlines at some point in their freelancing career. Web designers and developers are no different. In fact, most of them deal with tight deadlines all the time.


Dealing with deadlines can create a lot of stress. Nobody likes to miss a deadline.

Fortunately, there are some tactics you can use to effectively deal with most deadlines–even drastic ones. In this post, I take a look at 19 of those tactics–focusing on what you can do before, during, and after your project.

If you like this post, you may also like 7 Tips for Prioritizing Tasks Effectively.

Before You Start the Project

Some of the most effective tactics for effectively managing deadlines start before you begin the work. Here are some steps to take before you begin your projects to ensure that you meet your deadlines:

  1. Get a detailed scope. Getting the scope right is an important part of meeting a deadline. You don’t want to be surprised with unexpected work during the project. Unexpected work is a major cause of missed deadlines.
  2. Estimate the project as accurately as you can. The best way to do this is usually to break the project down into smaller tasks and estimate how long each task will take. You can also use your records from previous projects.
  3. Allow extra time in your work agreement. You will likely encounter some unexpected complications during your project. Also, you don’t know what other problems might arise while you are working on the project. You could get sick, for example.
  4. Consider existing projects before you commit. Unless your existing projects have very flexible due dates, you need to allow yourself enough to time to meet your current project commitments and still do the new work.
  5. Negotiate too tight deadlines. If a client-requested deadline seems too tight to you, ask if you can have some extra time to turn it in. Some web developers are afraid to ask for a deadline change, but many clients are more flexible about deadlines than they might seem.
  6. Carefully consider rush jobs before you accept them. Rush jobs often cause freelancers to fall behind on their project work. Make sure you really have enough to do it before you accept a rush job. Also, rush jobs are a convenience for the client. It’s perfectly acceptable to charge extra for them.
  7. Set aside dedicated time for the project work. Putting yourself on a schedule helps you to stay on track. Plan what tasks you need to accomplish each day. This is much better than trying to squeeze the work in “whenever” you have some time.

Once you’ve properly prepared for meeting your deadline, you are ready to start work.

During the Project


You need to be diligent about your work during the course of the project if you want to meet your deadline. Here are some techniques to help you work more efficiently:

  1. Start as soon as you can. When it comes to project work, procrastination can lead to desperation. Don’t wait until the last minute before you start a new project. Instead, get a head start.
  2. Prioritize tasks. Schedule yourself to complete the most important tasks first. Large or difficult tasks should be tackled next. Finally, schedule optional tasks last.
  3. Use an effective time management method. This post about managing your time can help. Good time management will also keep you from getting burnt out.
  4. Stay focused. Don’t let your mind wander when you really should be working. A good way to stay sharp is to eat right and get enough rest. Also, make sure your work area is distraction-free and turn down or turn off the ringer on your phone.
  5. Track your progress. Compare how much you accomplish each day to how much you expected to accomplish. If you start to fall behind, you may need to temporarily work extra hours or get some help.
  6. If necessary, temporarily suspend non-project-related tasks. For example, social media participation is one task that you can temporarily put off. If you already have a good social media presence, missing a day won’t hurt. Just don’t make non-participation a habit.
  7. Bring in extra helpers if you can. If the project turns out to be significantly more work than you realized, you may need to subcontract some parts of it to other freelancers. It’s a good idea to know in advance which freelance web designers and developers you can count on.
  8. Check work carefully before you turn it. No matter how much of a hurry you are in, you can’t afford to damage your reputation by turning in sloppy or error-ridden work.

Now your project should be complete and on time.

When the Project is Complete


Even though the project is done, you’re still not done dealing with the deadline. Here are some final steps you should take:

  1. Submit your project to the client early if you can. Beating the client’s deadline, even if only by a day, can make a good impression as long as you didn’t cut corners to do it.
  2. Confirm receipt of the project. Make sure that the client actually received the project. Once, I emailed finished work in to a client, only to find out later that the email system had failed. The client never received the email with the project attached and it looked like I had missed the deadline.
  3. Bill promptly. It’s a fact that the longer you wait to bill a client, the more likely it is that you’ll have trouble collecting payment.
  4. Ask your client for feedback. Finally, you want to find out what you could have done better. Pay close attention to any suggestions the client makes. Good feedback can help you with future projects.

Your Turn

How do you handle drastic deadlines? Share your best tips and techniques in the comments below.

December 10 2013


Social Media: Finding the Balance Between a Waste of Time and Necessary Networking

Ah yes, the all too constant struggle of networking with social media. It’s one of those necessary evils that everyone, from job seekers to freelancers to name brand companies, have to rethink constantly. This is why it is one of the most commonly discussed topics across multiple industries. We all know just how important social media is, and most of us continue to struggle between making it a successful marketing avenue and a waste of time.

As a freelancer who has struggled with wasting hours on social media and completely ignoring it for a month (or more) at a time, I have learned a few ways to help me narrow this gap between the two extremes. Now, have learned how to better focus my efforts with social media. It’s still not perfect, but I am on the road to tightening down my efforts and am already seeing results. And for those of you social media skeptics, even when I was only flailing along with social media, I gained enough clients through my exposure via Twitter and Google+ that I haven’t had to search for clients since I became active in several social platforms.

If you are a business owner, freelancer, or even an individual simply looking to build up a strong network in your search for a career, you may find the following tips to help you better take advantage of the benefits that social media has to offer. Hopefully, some of the resources below will help you greatly reduce the time-suck trap many fall into with social media. Use your own experience in combination with these tips, and like me you may find clients knocking down your proverbial door.

So, take a look at the following 10 tips and resources and get ready to re-adjust your social networking plan into one that will waste less time and build more positive results for you and your business ventures.

Schedule Social Media Time

This is one tip that I still struggle to maintain. Yet, it’s advice that social media experts give over and over again. One of my, and I’m sure others’, biggest problems with social media is letting it interrupt other daily work tasks. This is why setting aside a half hour, an hour, or any other necessary block of time for social media can be so beneficial. You can even schedule social media time every hour or twice a day. Just find what amount of time works best for you and stick with it. Keep out of all of your accounts except for during that scheduled time. Having a certain time set aside for social media keeps you focused and, consequently, more productive.

Don’t forget that some social media tasks may require a bit more time. For instance, scheduling posts ahead of time (see the next section below) may require a longer time slot than, say, responding to comments. And weekly you may need to set aside an extra block of time for catching up just in case you have extra activity that week. In the following tips, you will find quite a few resources for helping you cut back on the extra time you need for those tedious social media tasks.

Sign Up with an Auto Post Service

There are lots of different resources both free and paid that will save you mega-time on daily or weekly posts. The extra benefit of these services is that you can schedule your posts for the month at a single time, and then essentially forget about posting until the beginning of next month. You can either go with a service that only posts for one platform, or one like Hootsuite that will take care of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and other social media pages. I have found Hootsuite very easy to learn, and it comes with free and paid account options. SocialOomph is an excellent one that is free for Twitter. With a Premium account, you can also incorporate Facebook and LinkedIn, auto-post your blog posts, conduct emails, and more. You may want to try Post Planner if your focus is on Facebook and Twitter, since it allows you to scan what is popular in your niche and even allow you to share other’s posts in your scheduled updates.

Use Paid Promotional Options

There is a huge misnomer floating around that social media is a completely free method of marketing yourself online. However, between time-saving resources and now the promotion options provided by the top social media platforms, you really need to set aside at least a small budget for social media marketing. Facebook’s Promoted Posts are really the only way to ensure that your followers are ever going to see your updates in their news feeds. LinkedIn has Sponsored Updates, and Google+ even now allows for posts to stretch across both columns in the news feed – for free!

Now, of course, you shouldn’t pay to promote every single one of your posts. However, the really important ones you should definitely promote, and this should be on a semi-regular basis, like once a month. Promoted updates are also a good idea if you feel like you simply need that extra burst of exposure every now and then, even if you don’t have a truly groundbreaking announcement to make.

Download Mobile Apps

Make sure to have mobile apps of each social media platform you use. The purpose of apps is not so that you can waste even more time on social media, although the social media platforms certainly love this. I have found that having the apps on my phone makes it easy for me to catch up on some networking while waiting – in line at the bank, in line to pick up my kids from school, at the doctor’s office.

All of the main social media platforms now have free apps. And there are also some great apps for managing several sites from your phone, such as Hootsuite. Eliott Marrow provides an incredible list of social media apps on the Jeff Bullas blog that definitely are worth checking out.

Filter Spam from Relevant Contacts

Many Twitters users have an auto-direct message feature that goes out every time someone follows them. This is just one example of a spam-like message that warrants no need for a response. On Google+, users have the option of emailing contacts when they share a post. And Facebook of course emails you every time you get mentioned in an update. Some of these direct contacts you will certainly want to follow up on to keep your contacts happy. Plus they are a more productive way to remain active on your accounts, as opposed to just browsing through a news feed and responding to random posts.

However, they will require filtering, especially if you have multiple accounts and lots of contacts on each. On Google+, for instance, don’t worry about commenting on every single shared post. Sometimes you may just want to +1 it. The same goes with Facebook, simply Like an update unless it really calls for a comment. Just practice making that judgement call in the amount of time it takes you to glance at your email preview or notifications and keep moving.

Use Software and Apps for Finding Shareable Content

Personally, I don’t do a whole lot of sharing of others’ content, which isn’t exactly the best practice. However, I am a writer so have an overabundance of my own content to Tweet and share daily and weekly. If you don’t have your own blog or a ton of your own work to share, then a great way to find content to use in your auto-post service is with an app made specifically for this purpose.

An excellent tool for finding content across multiple channels of social media based on hashtags is Tagboard. It makes finding content fast and easy, and it’s also a great tool to use for getting involved in conversations in your niche (i.e. building connections in real time). Another great one is Swayy. This tool drops the most interesting or relevant content into a single platform, which you can then immediately share via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

One note to make: even if you do schedule content once a month or so, it doesn’t hurt to save a bit of time on the front end. If you finish scheduled tasks during your social media slot with time to spare, then you can always browse for content and save it a document for your next month’s content. Of course, if the content is timely, you are better off just sharing it the moment you find it, but many niche content can be reshared months after the first publication and still garner lots of feedback.

Spend Less Time Finding Images

We all know how vital images are for making posts stand out in a news feed. My biggest drawback to including images is how long it can take to find them. Of course, when you are in a huge hurry, you can just use the auto-thumbnail selection when posting links to Facebook or Google+. But a large image does draw a lot more attention.

You can save time finding creative commons images (those pictures that the author has marked free to share) with tools such as PhotoPin or Compfight that allow you to search creative commons Flickr images by keyword. If you have trouble finding images in the right size and don’t have a clue as to how to use an image editing tool, is a very quick and easy way to quickly reduce your image size and resolution to improve load time.

Quickly Manage Twitter Followers and Un-Follows

Twitter is one social media platform that is highly effective for gaining exposure and building a network but also can be one of the greatest time-wasting sites. What I found to be the hardest part to manage on Twitter was my followers. There simply is no quick way to look at your followers and follow them back. This is where a Twitter tool becomes very necessary.

One of my greatest time-savers has been Tweepi. This cool, free little tool allows Twitter users to very quickly follow back other users and to even un-follow the ones that are not following you back – among other very helpful time-saving Twitter tasks. Another great social media tool that provides follow and unfollow help along with analytics and more is ManageFlitter.

Track Results

To really know if you are spending the right amount of time on the right activities in social media, you will need a way to track your results. Thankfully, there are plenty of free resources available for quite the robust tracking. Google Analytics is probably one of the most popular free tracking tools. It does take some time to really learn, but the good folks at Google have provided plenty of help for you to quickly get your analytics up and running.

Klout is another excellent way to not only see how influential you are across various networks but also to see what niches you influence. Plus, you get lots of cool discounts and freebies, called Klout Perks, when you reach certain milestones.

Socialbakers’ Analytics Pro helps you see what actions have given you greatest growth in your social media networking. But this isn’t the best feature. It also shows you what content is the most interesting for your connections – and what gets them involved the most. It works for tracking Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and while it isn’t free, Analytics Pro does offer a free trial.

Eliminate Time on Irrelevant Social Media

Not all industries benefit from the same social media sites. For instance, I have found that Google+, LinkedIn, and especially Twitter are my greatest sources of relevant connections. Facebook and Pinterest are simply voidless time-sucks, and YouTube and Flickr take too much time with little results. You may find that MySpace, Pinterest, and Flickr are your greatest sources of helpful connections. Or maybe Facebook is the only one that is worth your time.

However, this does not mean that you can simply ignore the rest. You simply need to put almost all of your time into those sites that provide you with the best results. The other ones you can simply fill out your profile and check on your notifications to make sure you haven’t had a prospect contact you. At the very least, make sure you have a full profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, even if none of these are relevant to your industry. The reason is that signing up on these big four make you more visible, both to prospects who just happen to only have an account on one of these sites and to Google and other search engines.

Have you learned some ways to help you spend your time wisely on social media tasks? Please share below!

Social media cloud photo credit: daniel_iversen via photopin cc


Notification Design Strategies

If your inbox is anything like mine, it’s littered with unwanted notifications from companies begging for attention. Gmail has done a great job of making it easy to separate important messages from automated notifications; however some organizations refuse to make it easy to control the emails we receive. What can notification designers do to make things right?

Interacting with most websites is simple: we sign up, we sign in, and, occasionally, we give websites a bit of our time and attention. Maybe we share a preference or two. In return, those sites provide us with not only useful information (in the short term), but also notifications and other recurring updates (in the long term). This functionality is nothing new. It’s often convenient.

Until it isn’t, that is.

What can designers do to make things better? In this article, we’ll review some examples of websites that allow users to control both the type and the frequency of the notifications users receive (to their user’s benefit as well as their detriment). Along the way, we’ll discuss alternative ways that our companies might provide value to their audience.

Quality over quantity

If you love it, set it free. If if returns, it was meant to be.


It’s a big, scary world out there for product managers. Allowing users to control the quantity of email notifications that they receive requires product managers to first trust that their users will return. Users will only do that, of course, if our products or services provide long-term value rather than merely grabbing (and squandering) attention.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways that the design of our notification can do just that. I recommend giving attention to the following five things:

  1. Say what you mean
  2. Give users a choice
  3. Relegate (some) interactions in the email itself
  4. Remind users of additional actions, especially time—sensitive ones
  5. Provide a digest

1. Say what you mean

The CAN-SPAM law specifically forbids sending an email to someone who has previously unsubscribed. In response, some website owners have deliberately obfuscated the unsubscribe process, often requiring users to sign in to receive fewer emails: e.g. “Don’t want to receive email notifications? Adjust your message settings.”

Consider Yipit. The company made a good first impression when it launched. As an aggregator of the bargains appearing on “daily deal” sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, etc., YipIt promised to provide in an at-a-glance summary of deals.

When I signed up, however, I had login issues that their support team was unable to resolve. This would have been bad enough on its own. The kicker came when I discovered that—even though I couldn’t log in—I continued to receive email announcements! When I clicked on the “unsubscribe” option at the bottom of an email, it took me to a login page, not an “unsubscribe” page.

The bottom of the Yipit email, offering an opportunity for me to “unsubscribe.”

How frustrating. As a result, YipIt provided me a poor, inconsistent, confusing interaction. Unsubscribe buttons should never yield a dead end.

2. Give users a choice

When President Barack Obama ran for re-election, his campaign team specifically targeted emails based on “big data” about American voters. This meant that, at the peak of the election season, his team sometimes sent out as many as four or five emails a day. That’s quite a lot of email!

Rather than risk losing the support of subscribers who may have perceived the campaign’s increase in frequency as an increase in spam, the campaign team simply made better use of the page upon which users landed when they clicked the unsubscribe button. There, the team provided recipients with a way to adjust the frequency with which they received emails. Smart.

Next consider ThinkGeek, a website for nerdy gifts. Designers at the company recognized the simple—yet—nonetheless—profound fact that people likely get a lot of email during the holidays. So last year they provided an option for subscribers to pause their email notifications (or “temporarily unsubscribe”) until the holiday season passes:

In addition to providing users with a choice—always a welcome addition—both the Obama campaign and ThinkGeek designed smart ways for their less voracious users to stay on top of thingswithout feeling overwhelmed.

3. Relegate (some) interactions in the email itself

Zendesk, a web—based customer support system, provides both customer support representatives (CSRs) and users alike with a special kind of email. Rather than require that they make a roundtrip to a website to continue their conversation, Zendesk emails allow CSRs and users to simply reply to their email “above this line.” This effectively makes what would be a unique interaction (between a CSR, a user, and into something as easy as replying to an email.

Pragmatically speaking, this doesn’t save users more than a few seconds. But it’s the thought that counts. Both CSRs and users don’t need to recall their login information in order to get things done.

4. Remind users of additional actions, especially time—sensitive ones

Time—sensitive notifications are more likely to be seen as helpful, rather than annoying.
Instacart aims to be the “Amazon Prime of grocery delivery.” Instead of having one, big warehouse of groceries (like some failed dot—com era startups), Instacart trains a fleet of personal shoppers to go to local stores and deliver groceries.

Immediately after the company delivers a user’s groceries, Instacart sends an email notification to that customer informing him or her that their order is complete. This is more just a notification, though, as the email also provides users with several actions they might take in response: users can rate their order, leave a tip, report a problem, and refer a friend. If the user is satisfied with the order and doesn’t want to do anything else, he or she will still receive value from the final confirmation.

What a user sees right after the grocery delivery is complete: logical next steps.

For more information on keeping a list of subscribers happy, see Mailchimp’s Best Practices for Lists page. In particular, the company suggests segmenting subscribers by groups. This allows companies to send more—targeted emails which, in turn, lowers the likelihood that their users will feel overwhelmed. Additionally, Mailchimp recommends sending “relevant content” because if your email isn’t interesting to the user, the user might report your email as spam — and that’s not good for business.

RelayRides is a peer—to—peer car sharing platform that allows you to borrow your neighbor’s car. RelayRides sends lots of updates (many of which I do not mind) at logical times and related to my actions on the site. When I reserve a car, the quality of my job or vacation may depend on that car reservation, so I am very happy to receive an email and a text message updating me about my reservation.

Finally, don’t confuse time—sensitive interactions with promotions, which may be time—sensitive with regards to the company but not necessarily time—sensitive with regards to the user. In contrast to the relatively frequent text messages I receive when I rent a car from RelayRides, RelayRides does send me promotional emails. The difference is that they send the promotional emails infrequently.

5. Provide a digest

Finally, never forget the value of something as simple as a summary.

Content—rich sites such as Learnist, a place where experts curate content to help beginners learn, should provide users with an option to stay informed even if they don’t have the time to browse everything the site contains. With regards to Learnist, I found that the site interesting but overwhelming. It simply required too much of my time to find specific information. If I were able to pick a few topics of interest, however, and receive digests, my Learnist emails wouldn’t find their way to trash, as they usually do.

Content—heavy websites might consider two email options: one where users can see either a series of thumbnails with lots of content (as Learnist currently does), or another that provides users with an in—depth, blog—like summary of a particular topic. Whereas the former requires a bit more time to fully explore, the latter is much easier to browse “on the go.” This is especially important with regards to mobile access where connectivity can be an issue .

A great example of digests comes from the Nieman Journalism Lab. Longer in word count but more dense in the amount of information they contain, Nieman’s digests are filled with attractive images and short, informative sentences.

A more natural notification experience

Allowing users to control the frequency of email notifications about a product will improve the overall user experience. Whether we provide different options for notification content, through a different channel, offer different content entirely, or shift some attention to offline outreach, users appreciate the freedom from spam. Lastly, we must always consider the bigger picture. Thinking about what challenges users face, and what the platform solves, will guide all the decisions we make. Then our communications can truly be about quality, and not quantity.

The post Notification Design Strategies appeared first on UX Booth.

December 09 2013


A Web Developer’s Experience with 99designs

Early on, nearly every startup arrives at a crisis.

And I’m not talking about a crisis involving capital or co-founders or legal issues.

I’m talking about the company’s logo.

Most customers won’t think twice about your logo. Unless it’s hideously ugly.

A company’s logo is the front line for the brand. It’s the title of a book, or the name of a hero. Mess it up, and you could be setting yourself up for failure right off the bat.

But even if you know that the design of your logo is extremely important you still have problem.

Because you’re an early-stage startup with little capital, you probably won’t be able to hire a full-time graphic designer to create a logo or other graphic designs for you.

This is the part of the story where 99designs comes in. 99designs, in my opinion, bridges the gap between small businesses and freelance designers.

In a nutshell: At, businesses can create a design contest (such as a logo design contest) that lasts for 1 week. Designers from all over the world can submit entries in the hopes of winning the contest.

Once a winner is selected, the designer gets paid, and the business gets full rights to the design along with the design files.

99designs home page

My Experience with 99designs

So you might be asking "Well that sounds great and all, but does it work?"

It just so happens that I’ve sailed that sea and the answer, at least for me, is "Yes."

I had just incorporated a new company, MeteorCharts, and found myself struggling to create a logo.

Although I’m pretty savvy with Photoshop and Illustrator, and happened to major in visual arts for one year in college, I’m no designer. That became painfully obvious. I spent about three days straight coming up with design after design, and disliking all of them.

I felt paralyzed.

There were a thousand other things that needed to be done for MeteorCharts, and I just couldn’t create the right logo. I needed help.

I remembered hearing about 99designs when their unofficial Yahoo! logo design contest went viral, and I thought I would give the service a shot.

I went to, setup a logo design contest, and chose the Silver plan, which is $499.

I didn’t want to go for the cheapest plan (Bronze, $299) because I was afraid designers wouldn’t take it seriously. But I also couldn’t do the more expensive plans — Gold ($799) and Platinum ($1,199) — because I didn’t quite have the budget for it. In my line of thinking, more expensive plans yield more talented designers.

99designs promises around 60 design entries for the Silver, Gold, and Platinum plans.

After launching the contest (which you can see here) I felt a huge burden lifted from me. It felt really good.

I left my computer for about an hour to go out to eat, came back, and to my surprise a handful of great designs had already been submitted! I was amazed.

Over the next few hours, it became evident that a new addiction had taken over me: Checking 99designs every 30 minutes to see new design entries. I also checked 99designs right before going to sleep every night, and first thing in the morning after waking up.

It was a thrill.

I spent a lot of time providing as much feedback as possible for every single design entry in order to maintain a good standing with all of the designers, and hopefully inspire them to stick around. It worked.

After three days, the number of submitted designs soared to over 300 — 5x the number of entries 99designs had predicted.

The entries didn’t stop there. I suddenly ran into a scaling issue. On the fourth day, the number of incoming designs gushed like a fire hose, and it became impossible for me to leave feedback for every single entry. I only had time to remove the designs that I didn’t like and provide feedback for the ones that looked promising. This was really tough for me because I knew that it took a lot of talent and energy to create these designs, and I felt like I was letting a lot of the designers down because I wasn’t giving them any feedback.

At the end of the fourth day, the contest had received over 600 designs submitted by 141 designers. That’s 10x the number of entries 99designs had promised.

The qualifying round was over, and it was now time for me to choose the finalists.

I chose four finalists. There were two designs in particular by two different designers that I really liked, and a couple more designers that I felt had potential.

Over the next three remaining days of the contest, it became clear that there were two designs in the running.

After holding polls on Twitter and asking for feedback from friends, I chose the winning design that looked good on both black and white backgrounds.

The winning designer also threw in mockups that showed the logo on different materials like walls and concrete which I really appreciated, because it made the logo feel real and tangible.

Once the contest ended, I immediately uploaded the new logo to the website, designed some t-shirts, and ordered business cards.

What a ride! I can’t imagine having done it any other way.

The Other Side of the Story

In case you didn’t already know, 99design also has a business model that’s widely being criticized.

Robert Wurth, creative director at Freshly Squeezed Design, says that design contests are dangerous for your business. "By running a contest, the company gives up its power to choose a designer based on talent, skill, personality and all of the other factors that make it possible to conduct business with someone," he said in a blog post.

The NO!SPEC campaign declares that design competitions are "a growing concern." The campaign considers design contests a form of speculative work (or spec work), and spec work is unethical. "The designers in essence work free of charge and with an often falsely advertised, overinflated promise for future employment; or are given other insufficient forms of compensation," the campaign says in their FAQ.

AIGA, a professional membership organization for design, holds the position that spec work in the form of design competitions is not good for clients. "Little time, energy and thought can go into speculative work, which precludes the most important element of most design projects–the research, thoughtful consideration of alternatives, and development and testing of prototype designs," AIGA states.

Designer Sarah Parmenter said in a blog post that design competitions breed bad clients. "This client will know he can push you around, expect work at a similar or lower price in the future, probably expect work to be free at some stage with promises of ongoing future work, or exploit your ‘spec’ work to someone who will charge them less than you, and remember, there will always be someone who charges less than you," Parmenter said in her post.


Keep those things in mind whild deciding whether or not design contests are the way to go for your business.

Tips for Businesses Using 99designs

Make your design contest guaranteed. Guaranteeing a contest at 99designs means that you will pay out the winnings no matter what happens. Even if you don’t like any of the designs. Yes, it might sound unsettling, but when designers pick contests to participate in, they are more likely to choose the ones that are guaranteed.

Don’t choose the cheapest option. The most talented designers will more than likely avoid the low-paying contests.

Provide as much feedback as possible. Tell designers exactly what you like, and what you don’t like. This gives all interested designers an idea about what you’re looking for.

Never give anyone more than 3 stars while the contest is live. This makes it feel like it’s anyone’s game. If you give entries 4 or 5 stars early on, this may deter other designers from entering.

Don’t choose more than 5 finalists. The final round is a lot of work for both you and the designers, so you don’t want to kill yourself conversing with designers that you don’t really think will win. And you also don’t want to waste their time either.

Make sure all of your needs are covered. For logo designs, consider the following questions:

  • Does the design represent your company well? Does it have meaning?
  • Does the design look good on different background colors?
  • Does it look good in print? Grayscaled? Will it look good on merchandise? Will it look good as a small favicon?
  • Is it drawn using vector shapes so that you can change its size?
  • Does it follow all the good logo design practices?

Tips for Designers Entering in 99designs Contests

Make sure that your design addresses all of the company’s requirements. This might sound like a no-brainer, but for my contest, this is what separated the winner from the runner-up.

Don’t focus on small details in the qualifying round. In other words, don’t submit 10 different designs that are all very similar. Try and come up with as many different designs as possible.

Early on, try to create a design without looking at the current entries. Or else you risk falling victim to groupthink. Clients want fresh ideas, not tweaks on existing entries.

Stars mean something. Don’t worry about how many stars you have, but you should make sure that you have at least one design that has the highest number of stars compared to everyone else in the contest. If there are at least four or five other designers with more stars than your designs, it’s unlikely that you’ll move to the final round.

Submit at least one "dark horse" entry. A "dark horse" entry is a design that’s submitted just hours before the qualifying round ends, and is typically based on all of the feedback from the other designs. This is how the winner of my contest snuck into the final round at the last minute.

If you make it to the final round, congrats! This is the last stretch. Submit as many design variations as possible. Clients will also really appreciate entries with your designs set on real-life materials, like walls, coffee mugs, etc. to make the design feel more tangible.

Related Content

About the Author

Eric Rowell is the founder of MeteorCharts, the creator of KineticJS, the founder and chief editor of, the author of "HTML5 Canvas Cookbook", and a senior web developer at LinkedIn. He really likes robots and dreams of one day building his own Megazord. If you’re feeling social, follow him at @ericdrowell on Twitter.

The post A Web Developer’s Experience with 99designs appeared first on Six Revisions.

Tags: Business

Should I Charge for That? Don’t Forget About These 7 Crucial Project Tasks

The client snarled, “there’s no way I’m paying extra for that.” He was referring to the time I would need to research his rather complicated project.

Have you ever been challenged by a client for including certain tasks on your invoice?


Pricing services is one of the most difficult tasks most freelance web designers face. Not only are there many different schools of thought on how to price web design services, clients sometimes fuss about work we bill them for.

Most freelancer web designers realize that they shouldn’t work for free or on spec. But many have questions about what activities they should bill to clients.

In this post, I list seven common project-related tasks that clients often question. For each task, I discuss whether a freelancer should bill the client.

If you liked this post, you may also like 12 Realities of Pricing Design Services or 5 Tips for Handling Pricing Objections.

The Pricing Problem


What aspects of a project should be billable? Should you charge for the time you spend on an estimate? What about the time you spend on the phone with a client? Should a web designer charge for technical support provided after the project is completed?

There are many differing opinions about what a freelancer should include in their price. Some bidding sites actually track what a freelancer does on their computer and use that information to calculate how much money the freelancer receives.

What to include on the project’s bill can also be an issue when the freelancer provides an itemized invoice. The client may feel that they can lower the price of the project by removing what they view as an unneeded part of the project from their invoice. My client above was a prime example of that kind of thinking

Successful project completion requires many different types of tasks, even if their importance or relationship to the project isn’t obvious to the client.

Task #1. Estimates

Developing an accurate project estimate is the first step to project success. The more accurate and more detailed your project proposal is (which usually becomes your work agreement when the client accepts it), the better your project is likely to be.

Yet, the process of developing a good project estimate is time-consuming. From personal experience, I know that it sometimes take several hours to put together a good project proposal.

Should you charge a client for that time?

I actually know of some busy freelancers who do charge a fee to prepare a project estimate. Charging for estimates can separate serious prospects from those who are just shopping around for the lowest price.

Many other freelancers, however, provide free project estimates to qualified potential clients. The choice is yours.

Task #2. Research

You’re an expert at what you do, but you don’t know everything. Clients sometimes want special features on their websites that you don’t normally provide. Sometimes those features are so unique that you need to do some research to learn more about them.

When this happens, should you charge the client for the time you spend on research?

Some clients don’t think so. Their reasoning is that you will use what you learn on other projects, so the research isn’t really specific to their project.

However, some requests are so unusual that it’s unlikely that you would ever receive a similar request from another client. Also, meeting one client’s special request doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to take your freelancing business in that direction.

Task #3. Meetings

Meetings are another one of those tasks that many clients do not want to pay for. Truthfully, some projects work out fine without any meetings whatsoever.

However, other clients schedule regular meetings with the freelancers they hire. This may be a personal preference on the part of the client. In some cases, when large groups of freelancers and employees are working together, meetings are a crucial means of making sure that everyone is on the same page.

Meetings, however, can take a lot of your time. That’s probably not time that you want to give away.

I always recommend that freelancers ask how many meetings are required when they define the scope of a freelance project. It’s better to find out that the project requires meetings before you start. Too many unexpected meetings can mean the difference between a profitable freelance project and working below minimum wage.

If you find out a freelancing project requires regular meetings, you have two options:

  • Raise your quote for the project.
  • Charge an hourly fee for the time you spend in meetings.

Task #4. Tools

This task isn’t actually a task, but more of an expense. I’m referring to special tools that you purchase especially for a specific project.

The tool could be software that you buy, access to certain sites, and many other special purchases that you wouldn’t ordinarily make for your business.

Often the client doesn’t want to pay for such tools because you will keep the tool after you finish the project. However, if it is a tool that is absolutely required for the project it’s my opinion that the client should absorb the cost.

Task #5. Phone Calls


Some clients will never call you. They prefer to interact primarily through email, and that’s fine.

Other clients make the occasional call when it’s really necessary. That’s fine too.

Once in a while, you’ll get a client who loves to talk on the phone and will call you for every little thing. That’s not fine at all.

Whether the client really needs help or is just lonely, the result can be the same: constant interruptions and hours spent on the phone.

Here are four tips for handling excess phone calls:

  1. Avoid being on call. Make clients schedule appointments for phone calls through email.
  2. Refer them to email. Stress that email is the quickest way to get a question answered.
  3. Limit phone hours. Many freelancers schedule a short time each day when they accept calls.
  4. Bill an hourly rate. For extreme cases, you may have to bill the client an hourly rate for time spent on the phone.

Task #6. Changes to the Project

Scope creep can make or break a project. Scope creep refers to changes to the project or additions that were not included in the original project description.

Scope creep is one of the many reasons why you should have a contract or written work agreement. Make sure that your contract is specific about the work that will be included in the project. Add a phrase that states that additional work will require additional charges.

Some freelancers also include a statement about the number of revisions that they will perform as part of the project. My contracts, for example, include one round of minor revisions.

Of course, if the changes are to correct a mistake that you made, then you need to take care of it as quickly as possible.

Task #7. Technical Support

Do you continue to answer questions about your freelancing work long after the project is finished?

Some clients expect that you will make minor tweaks to their website and answer questions about it forever. They don’t expect to have to pay for this support either.

Unfortunately, most freelancers can’t afford to provide unlimited free technical support. While it may seem like a good idea when you first start freelancing, once you’ve built up a significant client base the demands for support can overwhelm you.

The solution is to state in your contracts that support is provided free of charge for a limited time (maybe 30 days). After the specified period of time, state that the client can purchase an extended support package for the monthly fee of $xx.00

Your Takeaway

At the end of the day, freelancers need to earn a profit. If they agree to perform too many of these so-called nonessential project tasks at no charge to the client, they may find that their business is in trouble financially.

Ideally, a good contract should specify which services are billable and which (if any) are available at no extra cost to the client. The alternative is to not mention these services, but raise your prices to cover the cost of doing them anyway.

In the comments below, share how you handle billing for the various tasks we’ve discussed in this post.

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