The annual WordPress conference, WordCamp San Francisco (home of the very first WordCamp), is now accepting speaker applications. Past speakers have included core WordPress developers, people building successful businesses on WordPress, popular bloggers, people from related projects and businesses…you name it. In addition to Matt Mullenweg’s annual “State of the Word” address, WCSF has played host to talks by people like Mark Jaquith, Matt Cutts, Richard Stallman, Scott Berkun, Karl Fogel, Tim Ferriss, Tara Hunt, Chris Pirillo, and John Lilly. With 3 days of content this year instead of just one, the list of speakers should be even more impressive. If you think you’d make a good addition to this year’s roster, check out the WCSF Call for Speakers.
How many times each day are you distracted by social media, email or instant messages?
According to a recent survey from social email software providerharmon.ie, you and other employees are blowing $10,375 in productivity each year, and all because we don’t disconnect from an online chat quickly enough, or we get sidetracked by a bulging email inbox, or we fall into a Facebook hole of photos, updates and messages.
In a survey of more than 500 employees in U.S. businesses of all sizes, harmon.ie found that at companies with more than 1,000 employees, these kinds of digital distractions can waste more than $10 million each year.
And in this social media-obsessed age, typical water cooler banter and pointless meetings are no longer the greatest time-wasters at work. Almost 60% of workplace distractions involve social networks, text messaging, IMs or email. In fact, navigating between multiple tabs and windows to keep an eye on a wide variety of apps is a huge distraction in itself.
In the end, almost half of the employees in this study said they worked just 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted or distracted. More than half said they wasted at least one hour every day day due to distraction.
Yaacov Cohen is a co-founder and the CEO of harmon.ie. In an email, he wrote that the survey results were particularly ironic.
“Information technology that was designed at least in part to save time is actually doing precisely the opposite. The very tools we rely on to do our jobs are also interfering with that mission. We’re clearly seeing what psychologists call ‘online compulsive disorder’ spill over from our personal lives to the work environment.”
Here are the greatest digital distractions noted in the survey:
- Email processing: 23%
- Switching windows to complete tasks: 10%
- Personal online activities such as Facebook: 9%
- Instant messaging: 6%
- Texting: 5%
- Web search: 3%
While these distractions are money-wasters for companies, they also negatively effect individuals’ ability to creatively solve problems, think deeply about work-related issues, efficiently process information and meet deadlines.
Does digital distraction have an impact on how you work? In the comments let us know how Facebook, IMs and email hamper or help you in the office — and what steps you might have taken to minimize distractions.
image courtesy of Flickr, rishibando
WordPress 3.1.3 is available now and is a security update for all previous versions. It contains the following security fixes and enhancements:
- Various security hardening by Alexander Concha.
- Taxonomy query hardening by John Lamansky.
- Prevent sniffing out user names of non-authors by using canonical redirects. Props Verónica Valeros.
- Media security fixes by Richard Lundeen of Microsoft, Jesse Ou of Microsoft, and Microsoft Vulnerability Research.
- Improves file upload security on hosts with dangerous security settings.
- Cleans up old WordPress import files if the import does not finish.
- Introduce “clickjacking” protection in modern browsers on admin and login pages.
Consult the change log for more details.
Download WordPress 3.1.3 or update automatically from the Dashboard → Updates menu in your site’s admin area.
WordPress 3.2 Beta 2 also available
In other news, our development of WordPress 3.2 development continues right on schedule. We released Beta 1 thirteen days ago, and today we’re putting out Beta 2 for your testing pleasure.
This is still beta software, so we don’t recommend that you use it on production sites. But if you’re a plugin developer, a theme developer, or a site administrator, you should be running this on your test environments and reporting any bugs you find. If you’re a WordPress user who wants to open your presents early, take advantage of WordPress’ famous 5-minute install and spin up a secondary test site. Let us know what you think!
The plan is to start putting out release candidates in early June, and to release WordPress 3.2 by the end of the month. The more you help us iron out issues during the beta period, the more likely we are to hit those dates. To misappropriate and mangle a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the punctuality you want to see in the WordPress.” In other words, test now!
Here are some of the things that changed since Beta 1:
- Google Chrome Frame is now supported in the admin, if you have it installed. This is especially useful for IE 6 users (remember, IE 6 is otherwise deprecated for the admin).
- The admin is less ugly in IE 7.
- The blue admin color scheme has caught up to the grey one, and is ready for testing.
50 IDEAS ON USING TWITTER FOR BUSINESS
This blog post is an oldie but a goodie – orginally from Chris Brogan
We really can’t deny the fact that businesses are testing out Twitter as part of their steps into the social media landscape. You can say it’s a stupid application, that no business gets done there, but there are too many of us (including me) that can disagree and point out business value. I’m not going to address the naysayers much with this. Instead, I’m going to offer 50 thoughts for people looking to use Twitter for business. And by “business,” I mean anything from a solo act to a huge enterprise customer.
Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. Further, you might have some really great ideas to add. That’s why we have lively conversations here at [chrisbrogan.com] in the comments section. Jump right in!
Oh, and please feel free to reblog this wherever. Just be kind and link back to the original article.
- Build an account and immediate start using Twitter Search to listen for your name, your competitor’s names, words that relate to your space. (Listening always comes first.)
- Add a picture. ( Shel reminds us of this.) We want to see you.
- Talk to people about THEIR interests, too. I know this doesn’t sell more widgets, but it shows us you’re human.
- Point out interesting things in your space, not just about you.
- Share links to neat things in your community. ( @wholefoods does this well).
- Don’t get stuck in the apology loop. Be helpful instead. ( @jetblue gives travel tips.)
- Be wary of always pimping your stuff. Your fans will love it. Others will tune out.
- Promote your employees’ outside-of-work stories. ( @TheHomeDepot does it well.)
- Throw in a few humans, like RichardAtDELL, LionelAtDELL, etc.
- Talk about non-business, too, like @aaronstrout and @jimstorer.
IDEAS ABOUT WHAT TO TWEET
- Instead of answering the question, “What are you doing?”, answer the question, “What has your attention?”
- Have more than one twitterer at the company. People can quit. People take vacations. It’s nice to have a variety.
- When promoting a blog post, ask a question or explain what’s coming next, instead of just dumping a link.
- Ask questions. Twitter is GREAT for getting opinions.
- Follow interesting people. If you find someone who tweets interesting things, see who she follows, and follow her.
- Tweet about other people’s stuff. Again, doesn’t directly impact your business, but makes us feel like you’re not “that guy.”
- When you DO talk about your stuff, make it useful. Give advice, blog posts, pictures, etc.
- Share the human side of your company. If you’re bothering to tweet, it means you believe social media has value for human connections. Point us to pictures and other human things.
- Don’t toot your own horn too much. (Man, I can’t believe I’m saying this. I do it all the time. – Side note: I’ve gotta stop tooting my own horn).
- Or, if you do, try to balance it out by promoting the heck out of others, too.
SOME SANITY FOR YOU
- You don’t have to read every tweet.
- You don’t have to reply to every @ tweet directed to you (try to reply to some, but don’t feel guilty).
- Use direct messages for 1-to-1 conversations if you feel there’s no value to Twitter at large to hear the conversation ( got this from @pistachio).
- Use services like Twitter Search to make sure you see if someone’s talking about you. Try to participate where it makes sense.
- 3rd party clients like Tweetdeck and Twhirl make it a lot easier to manage Twitter.
- If you tweet all day while your coworkers are busy, you’re going to hear about it.
- If you’re representing clients and billing hours, and tweeting all the time, you might hear about it.
- Learn quickly to use the URL shortening tools like TinyURL and all the variants. It helps tidy up your tweets.
- If someone says you’re using twitter wrong, forget it. It’s an opt out society. They can unfollow if they don’t like how you use it.
- Commenting on others’ tweets, and retweeting what others have posted is a great way to build community.
THE NEGATIVES PEOPLE WILL THROW AT YOU
- Twitter takes up time.
- Twitter takes you away from other productive work.
- Without a strategy, it’s just typing.
- There are other ways to do this.
- As Frank hears often, Twitter doesn’t replace customer service (Frank is @comcastcaresand is a superhero for what he’s started.)
- Twitter is buggy and not enterprise-ready.
- Twitter is just for technonerds.
- Twitter’s only a few million people. (only)
- Twitter doesn’t replace direct email marketing.
- Twitter opens the company up to more criticism and griping.
SOME POSITIVES TO THROW BACK
- Twitter helps one organize great, instant meetups (tweetups).
- Twitter works swell as an opinion poll.
- Twitter can help direct people’s attention to good things.
- Twitter at events helps people build an instant “backchannel.”
- Twitter breaks news faster than other sources, often (especially if the news impacts online denizens).
- Twitter gives businesses a glimpse at what status messaging can do for an organization. Remember presence in the 1990s?
- Twitter brings great minds together, and gives you daily opportunities to learn (if you look for it, and/or if you follow the right folks).
- Twitter gives your critics a forum, but that means you can study them.
- Twitter helps with business development, if your prospects are online (mine are).
- Twitter can augment customer service. (but see above)
What else would you add? How are you using Twitter for your business?
By the way, Jeremiah Owyang has a great post on this, too.
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
Ever had someone find out that you’re a freelancer and say, “Can I just pick your brain?” If you agree, that person will probably ask you a whole stack of questions about how you work and how you would complete certain projects. More often than not, it’s someone who probably could use your services, although if he gets answers to all of his questions, you may never seem him again. If you’re lucky, the brain-picker in question may by you a cup of coffee in the process, but it’s not exactly easy to walk away from these situations with a new client. People who “just want to pick your brain” want to be able to replicate what you do, preferably without paying for the privilege.
Becky McCray, who helps businesses in small towns with social media and founded Small Biz Survival, is no stranger to this type of person. It happens enough that she’s had to set some rules on how to handle people who want free help. “I decide how to handle people seeking free advice based on my existing relationship with them. Some people are close friends. I’ll help those folks more than someone who emails me out of the blue. Most of the questions seem to come from folks who don’t know me at all. So I try to assess the situation based on our relationship.”
Turn Freebies Into Clients
McCray sees the people who ask her for free help as potential clients. Some need simple consulting services, something that McCray (and many freelancers) do offer. If you can suggest that sort of option, rather than just handing over plenty of free advice, you can walk away from a situation with a paying client. It doesn’t always happen, but if you at least ask, you’ll be better off than if you just offer a flat out no. But you do have to have a plan of attack. McCray says, “I do have to help the freebies turn into paying clients. It doesn’t happen by magic, you do need a strategy. And even then, not all of them will convert.”
McCray has been collecting phrases that she can use to steer advice-seekers towards her services, preferably in the nicest way possible. She’s found a variety of ways that different people say the same thing: “Liz Strauss says, ‘If you’d like me to do that for you, I charge $XXX/hour.’ Denise Wakeman says she will point people to her matching products already available. If someone asks her to look over their blog, she’ll give them the link to her sales page for a blog critique. Cathy Stucker uses, ‘I can spend ten minutes with you, and if you require more assistance I will be glad to schedule a consultation at my regular rates.’ Sheila Scarborough invites folks to talk with her at her weekly co-working session, Round Rock Jelly. If the question is more involved than can be answered there, it’s a consulting job. Jennifer Navarette told the story of meeting with a potential client in his office. He asked lots of questions. Finally, she stood up to come around the desk and reached for the keyboard. Her partner interrupted, ‘You do know that we just crossed into paid time?’ he asked. ‘Oh, yes,’ the prospect said, instantly converting to a paying client. Those are all useful strategies.”
You have to find your own strategy for how you’ll address requests for help, of course, but having a set response can make a world of difference.
Help Others Without Hurting Yourself
There will be some people asking for advice but still not able to pay your freelancing rates that you still want to help. The key to helping them is to find a way to provide them with resources, without tying up all of your time with providing that help.
McCray does provide resources to help educate people on her own terms. “The basic answer is to offer them the help they need, but in a way that respects your valuable time,” she says. McCray even has a few suggestions on how to do just that: “Create a standard resource you give to people that want to do it themselves. Invest a few hours in creating a simple how-to booklet, paper or downloadable, and recoup those hours you would normally spend trying to assist the freebie-seekers. You probably have all the info you need on your blog. Do workshops. Charge a modest fee. Then Do-It-Yourself-ers can be encouraged to take the class, online or in person. This lets you group up the learners, help them all a certain amount, get paid for it, and allow some of them to see that they really do want professional help. Then the next time you get hit up for more free advice, you can hand out a flyer for your workshop. Do NOT make this a pitch for your service. Do make it an honest useful training.”
Last month’s post, Are You Dating Your Client?, covered the stages of commitment from flirting to marriage. But the road to long-term freelance bliss is paved with clients who aren’t quite right, because, to paraphrase Greg Behrendt and his famous dating book, “they’re just not that into you.”
Maybe their boss is on their back about cutting costs. Or perhaps they’re not really sure what they need. Either way, it’s not you, it’s them. And if you don’t carefully manage him or break up with Mr. Wrong, then there’s a real possibility that you’ll end up with a broken heart. Or at least, shattered confidence and the sick feeling that you’ve just wasted your time.
Here’s our field guide to identifying and coping with these types of clients:
The Penny Pincher
If I were on a date and a guy busted out a coupon, well, be still, my bargain-loving heart! But I know I’m in the minority. Just as many women prefer men who wine and dine them a bit without stressing about the bill or trying to cut corners, many freelancers (myself included) prefer to work with clients who aren’t always trying to get more work for less money. You can spot the Penny Pincher when he uses phrases like, “our last freelancer charged half as much” or “are you sure you can’t do it just this once?”
You get what you pay for, as they say, so with this brand of client, it helps to remind them of the value you’ll bring to the project. If they fail to recognize and respect that value, continually trying to negotiate a rock-bottom price or squeeze a few freebies out of you, then it may be time to part ways. Someone suggested using this statement: “I understand if professional freelance rates aren’t in your budget now, but please let me know if that changes.”
The Big Talker
Like the guy who tries to woo you with by bragging about his fancy degree, his high-powered job, or swanky bachelor pad (which, coincidentally, you have never seen), big-talking clients feed you stories about their incredible business opportunity or their startup website that is going to make you a millionaire.
They may be trying to manipulate you, or maybe they truly buy into the hype they’re feeding you. Either way, if something sets off your BS meter, then be wary. Make it clear that you’re not willing to work for stock options or a percentage of future revenue (unless for some reason, you are willing). In the words of Jerry Maguire, “show me the money.” And get it in writing.
The Control Freak
Controlling boyfriends might try to choose your clothes, your entrée at a restaurant, even your friends. Controlling clients want to know why you took a whole two hours to return their phone or why you chose Helvetica instead of Arial font. Oftentimes they treat you as if you were an indentured servant employee, rather than a freelancer who’s working with several other clients. Repeated phone calls and emails are often a tell tale sign that you’ve met a Control Freak.
Sometimes you can gently remind them that while they certainly know their business inside and out, you know design or marketing or XML, and that’s why they hired you. If you feel comfortably using humor rather than a a more direct, cards-on-the-table approach, that can help diffuse the situation. You can also let them when you’re available for phone calls or email or screen their calls and emails the rest of the time. But hey, if the money’s good enough, maybe you won’t care. That’s why some freelancers add a PITA fee when dealing with difficult clients (they’ll build this into their project fee, rather than listing it on the invoice!).
The Disappearing Act
One day he’s showering you with praise, the next he’s giving you the cold shoulder. Clients (and boyfriends) have lots of reasons for going MIA, but Murphy’s Law of Freelancing states that they will do so at the least opportune moment for you, like when you’re on deadline and a crucial question pops up. Then they’ll inexplicably emerge months later as if nothing has happened.
The occasional disappearing act may be something you can learn to live with if you’re otherwise happy. But if it’s seriously jeopardizing the relationship, then you have to let the client know that in order to meet their needs, you’ll need some help from them. You could also schedule check-in points where you know you’ll be able to reach them with questions. If you sense that your contact is over-burdened, you might gently inquire if there’s a better way to reach them (maybe they’re overwhelmed with email but don’t mind a short phone call) or a colleague who might make a more suitable point of contact, since they’re so busy.
You’ve talked on the phone at length, submitted a custom quote, even met with him for a consultation, but the Commitmentphobe still won’t take the next logical step and commit to a relationship with you. He may resemble the Disappearing Act or the Control Freak with his mixed signals or his insistance on one more meeting to make sure everything is perfect before you “go all the way.”
Sadly, some Commitmentphobes have no intention of settling down, even with a nice freelancer like you. See, they’ve figured out that they can pump you for free information, so why buy the milk if they already know they can get it for free? (Wow – that was a lot of relationship metaphors in one paragraph!). If you find yourself in that situation, then you need to set boundaries. Limit free consultations to 30 minutes, then let them know that you’re happy to keep talking and you’ll invoice them for any additional time.
Have you met any of these “types”? Or are there others I’ve missed? Do tell?
by Dan Mall
Glorifying the supposed arrival of art direction on the web is one of the latest trends in interactive design. There are several galleries devoted to it. There’s even a plug-in for it. Sadly, many designers don’t understand the difference between design and art direction; sadder still, many art directors don’t either: Art direction gives substance to design. Art direction adds humanity to design.
Art direction is not a “blogazine”
The Death of the Blog Post popularizes the “blogazine,” an amalgam of a magazine article and a blog post. The article posits that the featured designers have broken new ground, and have started to bring “art direction” to the web. That description reduces art direction to little more than a unique design for each blog post. The term blogazine is an embarrassment to art directors everywhere. It’s like saying, “Look! This blog is like a magazine because every post is different!” Often, the “blogazines” simply contain dressed up blog posts.
Magazines don’t set out to simply decorate stories individually. Their goal is to combine visual imagery and language to enhance the story’s meaning. Design variations are a result of that desire, not a cause in and of itself. On a magazine staff, art directors and copywriters spend a tremendous amount of time brainstorming different ways to enhance a story, from choosing the design style, selecting related content features, and honing the story’s tone of voice.
To translate that process to the practice of web design, we need different frameworks to give us flexibility within a given format. Custom fields for styles within content management systems at the individual post level are a start. However, the ability to write custom CSS doesn’t automatically mean a blog post has been art directed. Art direction transcends custom blog posts. It is something different and extraordinary. Art direction elevates and enhances meaning.
Is and is not
Art direction brings clarity and definition to our work; it helps our work convey a specific message to a particular group of people. Art direction combines art and design to evoke a cultural and emotional reaction. It influences movies, music, websites, magazines—just about anything we interact with. Without art direction, we’re left with dry, sterile experiences that are easily forgotten. Can a New York subway ad about the homeless provoke you to donate money? Why do you want to beg Clarice Starling to turn around, even though you know she can’t hear you? How do candles transform a regular meal into a romantic evening? Art direction is about evoking the right emotion, it’s about creating that connection to what you’re seeing and experiencing.
By contrast, design is the technical execution of that connection. Do these colors match? Is the line-length comfortable for long periods of reading? Is this photo in focus? Does the typographic hierarchy work? Is this composition balanced?
If I tell my wife that I love her, but say it with a frown on my face, she’ll get mixed signals. If I say it nonchalantly while watching TV, she might not fully believe it. But when I say it with a genuine smile and a bouquet of flowers, my meaning is clear. In this example, my love is the art direction, while my smile and the deep red color of the roses are the design. They work hand-in-hand to deliver the point emotionally and physically. Design is perfection in technique; art direction is about the important, yet sometimes intangible emotion that powers the design.
Here are a few suggestions on how to approach design and art direction, as you discern the differences in your own work:
|Color||Does this color scheme fit the brand? Is it appropriate for the situation? Bright colors may not fit a sad message.||Do these colors look good together? Are they vibrating? Is each color the best choice for the medium, e.g., Pantone swatch for print, web-safe online?|
|Typography||What does this font connote? How do the letterforms themselves send the message without the actual words? Comic Sans might be too silly, but Helvetica might be too vanilla.||Does my assortment of type sizes create the right visual hierarchy? Does this font have enough weights to be used in this context?|
|Composition||How balanced should this composition be? Balanced compositions are pleasing but often passive. Unbalanced compositions are often uneasy and unsettling but visually more interesting.||Are my margins even? Is there a natural rhythm in the visuals that will guide a person’s eye through the piece?|
|Concept||How well do the visuals support and convey the mood of the brand? What is the message or story the design conveys?||How well do the visuals align with the brand guidelines for logo spacing, appropriate typography, and color palette?|
|Overall||Does it feel good?||Does it look good?|
Don’t take my word for it
I asked a few friends to weigh in on the differences between design and art direction. Here’s what they had to say:
Design is about problem-solving, whether you are a designer or an art director. The two roles differ in that the designer is more concerned with execution, while the art director is concerned with the strategy behind that execution.”
Design is the how. It’s the foundation of all communication, the process and production of typography, color, scale, and placement. Art direction is the why. It’s the concept and decisions that wrap itself around the entire product.
“Outside of this, it’s involvement, perception, and politics.”
The act of designing is different from the act of art directing. Art Directors are supposed to provide the concept. Designers are supposed to bring ideas to the table and implement the concept. However, it is important to point out that it is almost never that black and white. Designers do art direct and art directors do design.
“In my experience, the process is much more collaborative. The ideas inform the concept and vice versa.”
—JD Hooge, Design Director, Gridplane
Art direction is a filter for making judgments; you pass every design choice through it. Start by determining the overall emotion. All the copy, photography, UI elements, buttons, and the kitchen sink should be pinged against this ideal. I like to think of it as the Magic Kaleidoscope Looking Glass. It helps to determine which path I need to take when struggling with design decisions.
I used to teach graphic design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In an assignment I borrowed from Happy Cog Creative Director Christopher Cashdollar, I had students select slips of paper from each of three hats. The first hat contained the assignment, the second hat contained various design elements, and the third hat held the art direction. A student’s assignment might be a homepage redesign for the graphic design department. The design direction might specify dark colors and Swiss typography, while the art direction specifies “happy” and “cheerful.” Another student might get design elements that include an earthy color palette and script typefaces to create a menu for a restaurant whose art direction is elite and formal.
More a theoretical exercise than a practical one, the students started to develop a feel for what were more natural combinations: Bright colors are easier to work with for happy pieces. A script typeface is a design element that naturally makes a piece feel formal.
More importantly, the students started to understand the unusual and exciting possibilities of uncommon combinations. How can you create a happy website with dark colors? You might create a unique illustration style that bridges the two. How do you make a formal-looking brochure without a script typeface? Try moderately sized, light serif type on a dark background with ornaments. Though these are stereotypical examples, the students developed a sense of how to make the world see what they wanted it to see, despite working within tight constraints. Art direction transcends constraints; in fact, it thrives within them.
Poorly designed, well art-directed
Do an image search for the term “happy birthday.” You’ll find some of the most horrendous design crimes ever committed: Exceedingly offensive color schemes. Repulsive typography. Clip art graveyards.
Yet, they all get the point across: Fun, celebration, and happiness. Most are poorly designed, but we all intrinsically know how to art direct a birthday card. It’s no coincidence that they all gravitate toward similar color palettes, typography, and messaging—if you can even call it that. The obvious joyful art direction all but dictates the design elements. Design fundamentals like grid systems and the Golden Ratio aren’t exactly household terms, but most people implicitly understand art direction.
On art directors
The widely varying role of “art director” adds to the confusion around the difference between art direction and design. At one extreme, some agencies hire art directors who are terrible at design but understand it well enough to give direction to designers. On the other hand, some agencies have “art director” as the next logical pay grade in the path to become an experienced designer. Most workplaces are somewhere in between.
Many smaller agencies don’t employ an art director for many reasons. That fact misleads us into thinking that art direction is an optional part of the creative process. However, the opposite is true. Art direction is so crucial that it is never skipped, only inadvertently and subconsciously performed by designers who often aren’t ready for that type of responsibility.
Art directors must do one fundamental activity: they must ‘direct.’ If they fail to do this, they are not art directors. While this should not imply that art directors must exhibit arrogance or rigidity, it does mean that they have ‘the divine right of expertise.’ The art director may not always have the final say… but he or she should remain the ultimate arbiter of art and design… The first rule is making decisions, the second is making the right decisions…
“Every art director should start with the belief that his or her job is to lead not follow, direct not be directed, and be as great as possible and not settle for the line of least resistance.”
Look and feel
I was once part of a design process where several designers pitched independent concepts to the same client. Built on a freelance model, we made our process non-hierarchical—more collaborative than competitive—but we often lacked a cohesive vision on each project.
Each designer was responsible for the art direction and design (not to mention creative direction, a separate topic entirely) of our respective comps. As a young designer, I had a strong grasp of the elements needed to compose an appropriate design: Color, typography, layout, and the like. But I lacked the experience to be a good art director, especially to art direct myself. Without an art director to oversee my work, I produced well-designed pieces that were poorly art directed.
Many consider “look and feel” to be synonyms instead of complements, treating them interchangeably. Creating a design is creating the “look.” The “feel,” however, warrants specific attention from a seasoned art director to ensure that the message isn’t compromised.
The New York Times website has the same art direction today as it had in 1997: Minimal and unobtrusive, it allows the reader to objectively interpret the stories with little influence from the visuals. The design may have evolved over the years, but the art direction persists. When I asked former NY Times Design Director Khoi Vinh about it, he emphasized the need to update the design while keeping the art direction peripheral:
Once a month, once a week, even once a day is a rate that humans can sustain. That’s not the case anymore; digital publishing happens as quickly as it can, as often as it can, constantly. That’s not a human schedule, that’s a machine schedule, and it makes excessive art direction economically untenable.”
We’re not art directing any more than we used to. Steven Hay’s article, Art Direction on the Web applies just as much now as it did six years ago. But, we are paying attention to how we’re saying what we want to say at a more granular level. We’ve all but perfected the art of designing templates—that is, designing the framework around what we want to say—but we’re still relearning how to design pages and create moments. In his 8 Faces interview, Ian Coyle says:
I realised the power of actually creating a moment: a moment to pause, a moment to read, a moment to reflect. In any song—in any piece of art—you can’t have all high notes. You need to have moments when people can listen to it or get excited. Even moments of silence.”
This is where art direction thrives: deciding which moments to scream from the mountaintops and which moments to keep as secrets.
We’ve defined art direction, but what does it look like in practice? It’s quite compelling when you find a piece where the story and design support each other and allow the concept to shine through. Though few and far between, great art direction and design on the web isn’t unattainable.
Consider Launchlist, a “one stop website checklist” you can use to make sure your website launches go smoothly. The space shuttle launch metaphor informs us of the decisions behind the feel, the look, and the messaging. The sky-like backdrop and slow-moving clouds aren’t an arbitrary (or gimmicky) choice. The interface’s metallic color scheme suggests a physical console. Clever yes/no sliders instead of checkboxes feel like you’re completing a process rather than toggling a default browser element. Status messages, including “launch not advisable” or “go for launch” reinforce the simulated mission control environment. All of the details elevate the experience.
This is a great example of art direction, in that it engages our imagination. If we can do that for anyone that interacts with what we create, we’ve done much more for them than we could have hoped.
When my grandfather died, I wrote about it. I wanted to share my memories of his life. I considered the art direction, the mood of what I wanted to say: Reflective, somber, reverent. I wanted to create a digital memorial.
I have a system for my site—strict templates that limit much flexibility—so I worked within those constraints. Instead of creating large tabloid-esque headlines like I normally do, I set this headline moderately in small caps and increased the amount of space around it. I didn’t need to do anything drastic with colors, layout, or imagery. I simply modified my design in subtle ways to accommodate the change in this post’s art direction.
I didn’t just want to change the design for its own sake. I wanted my readers to understand how special my grandfather was to me. I wanted to convey my thoughts and feelings in a compelling way, and to change their lives, even if in a small way. I wanted them to empathize with me, to be a part of the moment with me. Art direction, not just design, is what made all the difference.
- Illustration by Kevin Cornell
by Shay Howe
It happens. You finish what you believe to be a remarkable design, pack it up, and send it off to the client. You are entirely pleased with the job you have done. The client, however, is not happy. You dread seeing your inbox the next day. The client believes the design is lacking in some areas and could be improved.
You ask yourself “But how?” You’v spent days refining the design, seeking perfection by combing over every inch of it numerous times. To you, the design was flawless and complete. You are furious. How could someone who knows so little about design have the audacity to question you? Immediately, the project moves way down your priority list. Working on it is a drag. The day you complete it, you feel as though a thousand pounds have been lifted off your back. But it’s finally over… or so you believe.
Working with clients does not have to be a continual struggle. Consistently communicating with your clients and educating them throughout the project can make a world of difference. As a designer, there is more to your job than just sitting behind a computer screen and pushing pixels around.
Client Contributions Drive Successful Websites
Never take client contributions for granted. A client who hires you to design and develop their website and doesn’t say a word during the process is one who will let the website fall flat on its face the day you hand it over to them. Likewise, a client who is passionate about their website and continually providing input is one who is sure to take care of the website long after your job is done.
Before starting a project, inspire the client to provide you with as much quality feedback as possible. Getting a new e-mail every 10 minutes is extremely irritating, so before the client goes overboard, instruct them on how to send you feedback. Let the client know that combining all of their comments and concerns into one detailed email is much easier to comprehend than 100 short emails.
Outline the Client’s Participation
Some clients, while providing great feedback, may not know or understand what else is required of them during the project. If you do not provide guidelines or expectations about their involvement, they will assume that you have it all covered. Chances are, if the project is under way for a month and then you spring an assignment on the client, they will get frustrated. The project may have to be put on hold until the client gets around to their task, and as a result the project may not meet its deadline.
Outline for the client is exactly what is required of them during and after the project. Let them know that they need to determine the overall objective of the website and that they are in charge of seeing that this objective is met over the website’s lifespan. If they are providing the content for the website, let them know when the content is needed and that it is their job to keep the content regularly updated. Providing you with feedback is a good start, but the client’s participation does not end there.
Keep the Client Involved
Nothing gets under one’s skin faster than a client constantly asking for progress updates. The fact of the matter is that you are being paid to complete a job, and the client has a right to know how things are coming along, and their responsibility is to ensure that you are doing what you’re being paid to do. Before a client even has a chance to ask, provide them with some answers: create a project schedule that specifically outlines the dates when you expect to complete certain parts of the project. Also include in the schedule the dates when you will need things from the client—copywriting, for example—to avoid any roadblocks.
Do not wait until the specified dates to communicate with the client; keep them involved throughout the whole process. When putting together a layout and design, send an e-mail periodically to let them know how things are going, and attach a progress report as well. Getting all of their input at the beginning (as we mentioned earlier) will save you from headaches later on. The client will be happy to see the project progressing and will not keep bothering you.
Prove to the Client that You Know Your Stuff
When you are being paid to do a job, the client wants to know that they are getting their money’s worth, and they are quick to size you up. The minute they feel they are not getting their money’s worth, they will take matters into their own hands and start bossing you around. It starts with a simple fix here or there, but before long the client is taking over the entire project, leaving you to wonder why you were even hired in the first place.
Prove to the client that you are indeed an expert and know what you are doing. If a client second-guesses one of your decisions, talk it over with them professionally and work out a suitable compromise rather than blindly following their request. As the designer, you need to advocate for the user’s best interest. Do not let a client overrule you on an issue without apparent reason, especially if it could disrupt the user’s experience. Explain to them how and why you have made your decisions. Show them that you are, in fact, a professional and well worth your cost.
Work with the Client, Not Against
Naturally, a client will have questions about their website. When a client asks a question, do your best to thoroughly answer it in terms that they will understand, and support your answers. Do not take on the attitude that the client has asked a ridiculous question, and avoid industry terms that the client might not understand. Remember that no matter how frustrated you are, the client is only trying to help and ultimately just wants the best possible website.
Sometimes, clients just have difficulty comprehending what you are trying to explain. In such a situation, it wouldn’t hurt to provide them with some examples, case studies or performance metrics to support your answer. You could spin your wheels for days trying to explain something verbally to a client when a simple example would have accomplished the same task in minutes.
Build an Open Relationship
A client should never be afraid to approach you, nor should they feel the need to take matters into their own hands. Typically, when they do take over, the project suffers because the client will be making decisions without your involvement. For example, when clients request that additional form fields be added, they usually have an ulterior motive. Do your best to discover this motive and address their true concern, because there may be a better and more logical solution than that.
An open relationship with the client invites them to come to you with any questions or concerns and fosters a working relationship that combines their knowledge with your design and development expertise. Conversations with the client should go both ways and should neither force nor allow them to make an inadequate decision.
Emphasize on the Value of the Website
The client needs to understand that the value of a website is not in flashy design or pretty pictures, but rather in content and substance. As the designer, you may have to lay the website out for the client in as straightforward manner as much as possible. No one visits a website to admire the layout and design. Users visit websites for their content.
Drive this point home with the client. The sooner they understand the value of the content, the sooner they will begin to focus on the message of the website and not shrug it off. It may even be in the client’s best interest to hire a skilled copywriter. After all, they are hiring you to build a professional website, so why fall short with the content?
Explain How to Maintain and Improve the Website
One of the biggest problems with websites is that they are rarely updated after being launched. They can then become outdated quickly and fall short of expectations. Of course, when a website tanks, the client sees this as being your fault and pins the blame on you.
Explain to the client that every website needs regular updating and that these updates need to continue over its lifespan. When these updates become irregular or stop entirely, the website becomes stagnant and its value decreases. Convince the client to take pride in their website by continually updating it, directing traffic towards it, connecting with visitors and generally putting in the effort needed to make it last.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Above all else, you must communicate with the client on a regular basis. Communication is the backbone of every successful client relationship and enables each party to openly express questions, concerns and ideas. Without regular communication, projects are often led astray, deadlines are missed and relationships gradually deteriorate.
Speak to clients and keep them involved. Keep them regularly informed of the project’s progress and of any changes happening. Communicate clearly: explain how and why you made each of your decisions. You could also teach the client how to perform ongoing maintenance once the project is completed. Communication can be difficult, but the time put into it can easily make the difference between a thriving website and a desolate one.
That’s why every month we research and showcase some of the best and latest resources available for web designers.
Here’s the newest installment of what’s new for web designers in the past few weeks. This month we’ve covered everything from new fonts to useful web apps to some new resources for you to use in your own designs, all recently launched!
As always, if we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments. And if you know of an app you’d like included in the next roundup, please tweet it to @cameron_chapman.
Please feel free to share your views on the products and services that we’re featuring this month, in the comments area below…
The Great Typekit Table
Sleepover has published this chart that shows us which Typekit fonts are good for long blocks of text. In addition to listing appropriate fonts, it also tells us whether the fonts are OK for Windows, whether they include extra weights and opticals, and more. All the fonts included had to meet certain criteria: they had to be available in bold, italic, and bold italic styles, and they couldn’t be handwriting, script or monospace.
Instagram is a new camera app for iPhone. It’s free, and lets you snap a photo and then apply filters to it before sharing it via Facebook, Twitter or Flickr.
Curio 7 is the newest version of the Curio app for Mac, which allows for better organization of creative projects. This version adds a bunch of new features, and is easier to use than previous versions.
Sublime Video is a new embeddable HTML5 video player, still in private beta. It will be a paid app once the beta is over, but aims to be more cost-effective than free apps by removing the need to manage or maintain the app, or go through complicated integration procedures.
Alertful is a simple, free reminder service. Just enter a task, holiday, meeting, or other event and your email address, and it will remind you on the appropriate day. You can tell it whether to just remind you once or on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.
BrushLovers.com is a new sister-site to Webdesigner Depot that offers a huge collection of both free and premium Photoshop brushes. The brushes included are all exclusive, so you won’t find them anywhere else!
MailerLite is a low-cost email newsletter program that uses a drag-and-drop content editor and doesn’t require HTML skills. Pricing starts at just over $.01/email sent, and goes down from there, depending on volume.
Wibba is a new social sharing service for tech products, both online and off. You can share anything related to the tech industry: news, apps, videos, and more, and follow people to see what they’re sharing.
PicsEngine is a new photo storage and sharing service. They offer a 30-day trial, but after that the charge is 5 Euros per month (or 50 Euros per year) for unlimited storage and up to 10GB of bandwidth per month. Photo galleries can be viewed with any browser, while the library service only works on Chrome, Safari and Firefox.
Observer is a new analytics app, currently still in private beta. It has a very elegant UI, and can give both a high-level view as well as a detailed view of what you need to know about your website traffic.
Weet for iPhone
Weet is a new, $.99 Twitter app for iPhone. It offers a clean interface, a number of built-in services (like Bit.ly, Posterous, Twitpic and TwitVid), and Read Later support. It also supports multiple accounts, and supports twitmore.
Awesome Fontstacks is a great site for finding and creating failsafe font stacks that can be used with @font-face. Just pick a font to start, and the site will then show you compatible fonts.
Gitwrite is “Blogging. For Nerds. Done right.” It’s basically a blogging platform built on Git. You sign up with Github and can then can update either via git or using their web interface.
Desks Near Me
Freelancers often work from home, which is great. Except when you’d like to get out of the house and work somewhere else for the day. That’s where Desks Near Me comes in. Enter your location and it will tell you of available places nearby where you can work for the day.
Owe Me Cash
Owe Me Cash is an online “collections” service that will send reminders via phone, text and email to those who owe you money.
foxGuide is a Firefox plugin that lets you add Photoshop-esque guides to webpages. It saves the guides you make for each page, too, so you don’t have to recreate them the next time you need them.
NULL Free Font
NULL is a new free font from Font Fabric. It’s a bold, sans-serif, display-style font, perfect for headlines.
Roke 1984 is a new display-style font with a really unique look. It’s based on a geometric forms and mathematical symbols, and includes both numerals and accents.
Spatha Serif is a beautiful, slightly-rounded serif font with a vintage feel to it.
Unobtrusive Ajax Free Ebook
Verify is a new app for gathering feedback from users on mockups or screens. It gives clear, actionable results, and can be used for A/B testing among other types of tests. They offer a 30-day free trial, and then plans start at $9/month.
Cirkel Pro Font Family
Cirkel Pro is a funky new font family, that includes a number of unusual forms, all based on circles.
Skyhook Mono Font Family
It is time to cover another niche on our Top 25 series. Celebrity blogs are among the most popular on the Internet. People just love gossip. As a result, they tend to receive a lot of traffic, and to be very profitable.
I would guess that the lower blogs on our list earn at least $5,000 monthly, while the top ones should be over the $50,000 monthly figure.
Keep in mind that the Top 25 takes into consideration only objective factors. The maximum score is 40, and the details about our algorithm can be found below the list.
|#10||Go Fug Yourself||7||7||10||6||30|
|#11||Pink is the new blog||7||6||9||7||29|
|#15||I am Not Obsessed||6||7||4||7||24|
Google Pagerank (0 to 10): the actual Pagerank was used on the algorithm.
Alexa Rank (0 to 10): Ranges were determined based on the Alexa Rank (i.e., 150k and up, 150k-100k, 100k-75k, 75k-50k) and each range was assigned a number (1 to 10).
Bloglines Subscribers (0 to 10): Subscriber ranges were determined (i.e., 1-50, 50-100, 100-150, 150-200) and each range was assigned a number (1 to 10).
Technorati Authority (0 to 10): Ranges were determined based on Technorati’s Authority rank (i.e., 1-100, 100-200, 200-400,400-600) and each range was assigned a number (1 to 10).