Imagination is our power

Archive for June, 2011

How to Make Your Chemistry with Creativity

Get out of the Mythical World

We all have often heard people saying that creativity is something inborn and it cannot be learned. More than half of the world has a belief that creativity is something which cannot be learned. I personally think that this absolutely incorrect as anyone can be creative because we as humans are always thinking about something creative in our minds all the time. All we need is a canvas to brush our thoughts on it.

However, daring to be creative is not at all any easy task. You will have to face a lot of challenges because creativity and risks goes hand in hand. As mentioned earlier, people need to understand that creativity is a flowing river and if you will put it into limitations, you will never be able to understand the true meaning of being creative. Do not get stuck between right, wrong or logics because creativity is far beyond than all of this. Also, we have so many things to get inspiration from in our everyday life so in a way; creativity is a part of our routine.

If you want to be creative and you want to be safe at the same time, then it is definitely not going to work for you. Also, if you really want to achieve something as a creative person, you should be strong enough to evaluate your own work and accept any sort of flaws in it. if you are trying to come up with something interesting and creative, make sure you are open to ideas, risks and mistakes. Only then you will be able to come up with something extremely creative. Creating boundaries around yourself won’t let you create anything else so let it go.

Unleashing the Creativity in You

Do not listen to people if they thing you have less creativity in you. All you need to do is discover your creative abilities. You can be the only person who can discover your hidden creative abilities. People can only help you with it. If you work on them, you will be able to discover them soon otherwise they might take ages to be discovered.

How to Make Your Chemical Combination with Creativity

Positive Approach

If you really want to become a web designer or if you want to associate yourself with any creative field, you need to have a positive approach. If you will not trust yourself and will think that you cannot do anything, you won’t be able to do it as well. Positive thinking is very important to do something in this world. As said earlier, you can always take inspiration from your surroundings to get started and once you start, there should be no looking back.

Role of Environment

Being a web designer or a creative person is all about inspiration. Each and every item that you use in your daily routine and your entire environment can help you a lot in improving your designing abilities. All you need to do is keep a sharp eye on things around you.

Practicing

As mentioned earlier in the beginning of the articles, creativity is something that can be learned with the passage of time. We all know that practicing makes a man perfect but at the same time, training yourself on new techniques and equipments can definitely help you with improving your creativity level.

Whenever you think of something creative, note it down because you never know you might need to use it anytime. Jotting down the points is going to prove to be very beneficial for you. When you are really thinking, you might not get the most creative ideas. Creative ideas occur when you least expect them to.

Break through Limitations

If you really want to be a creative thinker, let your mind wander here and there. You do not have to put it into limitations. Once you stop thinking for creative ideas intentionally, your mind can come up with some exceptionally great ideas. Suppressing any sort of ideas is also a big NO. Any idea is a good idea all you need to do is find a right place at the right time to utilize it.

Accept Challenges

As a designer, your field would be evolving with every passing day. You would be having a new technology every now and then. In order to become a good designer, you need to accept challenges and learn new things.

Search for Your Light of Inspiration

You cannot just sit and wait for inspirations to come your way. You should make a habit to take out time from your schedule and surf on the internet to find different inspirational ideas. There are hundreds and thousands of things available online which can help you in getting rid of any creative blockages that you might have come across.

Making a List of Things

As a designer, you should always have a paper and pencil with you. You might need to write down and creative ideas or you might have to write any questions that you will have to find answers for. Also, having a base for anything is important and you should not be missing out on anything that is important. So, making a list of anything that might be important is great idea.

Room for Improvement

Nothing is perfect, always keep this in mind. If you think you have created a master piece, then let me assure that there would still be a room for improvement. The best way to make the room for improvement is by learning any new ideas and techniques that you are unaware of. Also, you need to read informative articles related to your field to make sure you are updated about everything.

The Wrap Up

To be at your best, you need to think positive and you need to take inspiration from surrounding. These are the things which can help you in achieving goals. However, finding inspiration for your creativity and trying to be perfect can clutter up your mind and this can make focusing a little hard. Do work on the above mentioned tips but always keep in mind that excess of anything can be harmful.

Happy creativity!

Five Copywriting Errors That Can Ruin A Company’s Website

No matter how brilliant a website’s design, no matter how elegant its navigation, sooner or later visitors will decide whether to take action because of something they read. In the end, the effectiveness with which a website converts visitors hinges on words. If a new website is going to hit all the right notes, its content must be just as well crafted as its design and programming. However, as you might imagine, there are many ways to go wrong with content in a Web development project.

Five-screenshot1 in Five Copywriting Errors That Can Ruin A Company’s Website

Image Credit

The errors discussed in this article have the potential to undo a website and are issues that I run up against time and time again in my nearly 12 years of producing Web content. Half the battle in avoiding these traps is simply recognizing them: all too often, content is handled as an afterthought, hurriedly completed to meet a project’s deadline. I hope these content tips will help you stay ahead of the game and build a better website in your next project.

Error #1: Writing Inwardly

Having worked in-house for many years, I’ve fell victim to the inward-focus syndrome on many occasions. It’s easy to do. You spend all day dealing with the intricacies of your products and services. You’ve made a huge intellectual and emotional investment in every product innovation and point of differentiation. You love thinking about your products, you love improving them, and you love talking about them. It’s only natural that you want to shout from the rooftops and tell the world your product’s story in all its splendor.

Problem is, the rest of the world isn’t interested in your story. Customers don’t have time to admire your greatness. They’re too busy searching for ways to make life better for themselves. A high-level Web page answers one question of the reader above all: What’s in it for me? To illustrate, we’ll stick with products, although this applies to other types of pages as well.

A well-written category-level product page talks a bit about features, a little more about benefits and a great deal more about the experience. This last element is especially important and exactly where most pages come up woefully short. Let’s use a mundane example of this principle in action by considering a hypothetical Web page for a packaging machine:

Feature: Up to 100 cycles per minute.

Benefit: Faster production.

Experience: Getting more product out the door per shift means you’ll blow away your productivity goals and be a hero. You might even get a promotion.

A typical Web page written about this machine would be 80% features and 20% benefits. However, if I were writing it, I’d budget 50 words on the features, 100 words on the benefits and 150 words on the experience.

Note:

  1. Setting a “word budget” forces discipline. Not only that, it relieves the anxiety over having to determine how to approach each individual product page, thus eliminating one of the biggest causes of delay in Web development projects.
  2. Focusing on the experience forces you to think about the target audience of the page in question. The experience I described speaks to an operations person. If my audience is made up of C-level executives or purchasing agents, then I would need to describe a completely different experience. If I’m writing for all three audiences, I may have to rethink my word budget. In any event, having an audience in mind prevents a Web page from devolving into that cursed, watered-down, “everything for everyone” messaging that says absolutely nothing.
  3. The purpose of a high-level page is to get people interested in the product. Once they’re interested, they may crave more information about features and benefits. Perfect. Tell the long version of your story on a detail-heavy product sub-page. Companies need not neglect features and benefits; they just need to suppress the urge to hit visitors over the head with them the minute they walk through the door.

To see how this plays out in real life, consider this conversion optimization case study, documented on ABtests.com. A firm achieved a 200% increase in conversions by replacing feature-oriented copy with benefit-oriented copy. The high-converting page focuses on what the applicant wants, rather than what the service (DesignCourse.com) offers:

  • “Become an amazing designer.”
  • “Start earning real money.”
  • “It’s fun and exciting.”
  • “No tests, no hassles.”

If you’re still not convinced, listen to legendary copywriter John Caples, who is quoted in Made to Stick (page 179) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath:

Caples says companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits. “The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!).” An old advertising maxim says you’ve got to spell out the benefit of the benefit. In other words, people don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures.

Quick Tips for Writing Outwardly

  • Before you start writing, collect feedback from customers and prospects. Ask them why they buy from you, why they don’t, and how doing business with you has affected them.
  • Start with an outline. Associate every feature with a benefit and every benefit with an experience.
  • Have a customer read a draft and then explain to you why they would want to buy the product. If the customer “gets it,” you’re a star.
  • Do the same thing with a person who knows nothing about your product and industry. If that person gets it, you’re a rock star.

Error #2: Burying The Lead

Burying-the-Lead in Five Copywriting Errors That Can Ruin A Company’s Website
If they can’t figure it out, you’re dead.

Websites are a poor medium for subtlety. Visitors decide whether to stay on your website within a few seconds. If you can’t communicate why a page is important to them immediately, your conversion opportunities will vanish. Look at the two paragraphs below. Which conveys your most important message more quickly?

Your most important message is here., sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Or:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate your most important message is here. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Online marketers like to sneer at newspapers, but we can learn a lot from print journalists. For instance, they don’t bury the lead. To illustrate, here are a few leads I recently pulled from the Wall Street Journal:

  • “Companies cranked up hiring in April to the fastest pace in five years…”
  • “European markets snapped a three-session losing streak as gains in the banking sector and better-than-expected US jobs data for April sparked a rally.”
  • “Women may have fared better than men during the recession, but they are not making up lost ground as fast as men in the recovery.”

Now look at your Web pages. How do your leads stack up? Are you leading with the main point? Are you giving visitors a reason to read further? If an in-house writer is not familiar with Web writing techniques, they may approach the project as if they were writing a novel, assuming that visitors will read their new website from start to finish.

This assumption is disastrous. People skim and scan Web pages, their eyes bouncing around like pinballs. For any given Web page, visitors are likely to read the headline and the first few lines of text; beyond that, any body content they read is gravy. Expecting someone to read an entire page of content sequentially from beginning to end is wishful thinking, period. The most important words on the page must be the easiest to find, read and comprehend.

Quick Tips for Unburying the Lead

  • Before writing, ask, What is the key takeaway I want visitors to have after they visit this page? That’s your lead.
  • Highlight your lead idea in a bold font. This is especially helpful when you can’t work it into the first sentence.
  • Use plain language.
  • Keep your most important points above the fold, as sub-headings, as the first sentence of a paragraph and as bullet points.

Error #3: Mediocre Meta Material

Sm Meta Tags in Five Copywriting Errors That Can Ruin A Company’s Website
Meta titles appear in browser tabs.

Some of the most important text in a Web document isn’t the on-page content at all. Certain meta elements have an enormous impact on the user experience, brand awareness and conversion. Meta elements are bits of HTML code that are read mainly by search engine robots. However, two meta tags in particular speak to humans as well, and mastering them is critically important for copywriters.

  • Meta Title
    The meta title describes the subject matter of the page and is ideally 65 characters or fewer. Visitors see the meta title in their browser tab and in search engine results; it is the most important piece of information that Google and other engines read on a given page.
  • Meta Description
    The meta description, ideally 155 characters or fewer, is a snippet of text that is displayed under a link on a search engine results page (SERP). The meta description has little if any SEO value but is important for conversions.

Meta Titles

Because Google values meta titles so highly, including primary keyword phrases in them is imperative, preferably towards the beginning of the title. For human readers, a title tag should clearly and straightforwardly describe the nature of the page. In addition, the tag can also carry a branding message.

Here is an example of a strong meta tag, taken from the services page of a client of mine:

Meta Descriptions

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Meta descriptions appear in search engine results under the page’s title.

A meta description can set your page apart from others on a SERP. Here are seven tips for crafting a good one.

  1. Don’t overuse keywords. This will make your description look spammy. For example, “We have promotional coffee mugs, custom mugs, custom coffee mugs, and custom mugs for coffee.”
  2. Don’t use multiple exclamation points!!!! Excessive punctuation can be interpreted as aggression. It pushes people away.
  3. Avoid extravagant claims. They undermine your credibility.
  4. Include an incentive to click through to your page:
    • “Order one, get one free.”
    • “10% off your first order.”
    • “Learn how our service can reduce operating costs up to 15%.”
  5. Focus on the user benefits of your product or service.
    • Bad example: “High R-factor insulation.”
    • Better example: “Insulation to keep your home warm and toasty.”
  6. Mention your location if you are a local business. This helps searchers instantly connect your business to their need.
  7. Establish your credibility:
    • “In business since 1965.”
    • “BBB accredited.”
    • “Over 5000 satisfied customers.”

(Whereas title tags are always displayed, description tags are not. Today, Google doesn’t always pull meta descriptions into its SERPs; instead, it might excerpt on-page content related to the user’s search terms.)

Quick Tips for Meta Magnificence

  • If an SEO is working on your project, have them generate title tags based on their keyword research, and then tweak as needed.
  • If you do not have an SEO, back up a step and reflect on why you are building the website. I believe that an unoptimized website is not worth building.
  • Title tags should be consistent in style and form to enhance the user experience. Meta descriptions need not be consistent at all.
  • Because of character limitations and the need for concision, writing these tags can be time-consuming. Remember, though: you don’t have to achieve perfection for launch. Tags can be changed at any time, and analytics experts often suggest that they should be.

Error #4: Saying Too Much

Brevity is the soul of conversion. Find out why.

Error #5: Weak Or No Calls To Action

Screen-shot-12-questions in Five Copywriting Errors That Can Ruin A Company’s Website
Strong calls to action from our company’s website.

Assuming that you’ve written a brilliantly persuasive page, it’s still next to worthless without a strong call to action (CTA). It’s flat out wrong to assume that visitors will be so inspired by your brilliant copy that they will pick up the phone and call, or fill out an online form and beg you to contact them.

In the real world of Web marketing, visitors want to be led. If they have to stop and think about how to take the next step, you’ve already lost them.

CTAs generally fall into one of four types, listed here in descending order of commitment:

  • Place an order;
  • Enroll, subscribe, enter;
  • Get a quote;
  • Learn more.

Recognizing the need for a call to action on every page is step one. Matching the right CTA to the page is step two. High-level product category pages normally call for a “soft” CTA, such as “Request more information” or “Schedule a consultation.” In contrast, detailed product-level pages require a “hard” CTA, such as “Order now.”

A call to action must be clear and compelling:

  • “Order now to save 15%,”
  • “Get your artist’s rendering within 24 hours,”
  • “Learn the 5 secrets to permanent weight loss.”

Calls to action are strengthened by:

  • Testimonials: It’s worked;
  • Credibility statements: It’s reliable;
  • Warranty or guarantee: It’s risk-free;
  • High value: It’s worth having;
  • Urgency: It’s now or never.

Unfortunately, the calls to action on business websites often seem like afterthoughts: vague, lame and boring. Remember: customers want to be led. Effective leadership requires more than “Call for more information.”

One last vital point about CTAs: having a primary and secondary CTA on each page is often a good idea. A prospect may not be ready to order, but they may be willing to download a white paper that they would read and remember. Today’s white paper could be tomorrow’s conversion.

Five Case Studies that Illustrate the Power of Strong Calls to Action

  • Hyundai increased conversions by 62% by adding SEO text, bigger pictures… and a CTA.
  • RIPT Apparel added “Limited 24-hour availability” to its CTA and increased sales by 6.3%.
  • Notify, by the Weather Channel, redesigned its landing page to focus on the CTA. Conversion rates increased by 225%.
  • Express Gold Cash changed its CTA from “Submit” to “Request a pack” and improved its conversion rate by 47.7%.
  • Natural Air increased conversions by 590.6%(!) by adding a CTA with pricing.

Two Tips for Strong Calls to Action

  • The main reason why firms don’t include strong CTAs on their website is that they don’t have them. Before getting too far into website development, conduct a brainstorming session to begin the process of identifying action steps that website visitors would be eager to take.
  • For CTAs to be effective, design and content must be joined at the hip. The position of an arrow, the font and color of a button can make or break a call to action. Don’t segregate your writers and designers. We’ve found that a team approach to Web projects fosters continual interaction between all contributors and results in a far better product all around.

Keep Your Eye On The Conversion Ball

In case you haven’t noticed, or you skimmed to the end, as Web readers often do, the errors and fixes discussed above revolve around one thing: conversion. One of my favorite quotes comes from advertising icon David Ogilvy. He said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” Ogilvy, arguably the greatest copywriter who ever lived, understood the primacy of persuasion. You may prefer a soft sell or a hard sell, but if your Web page isn’t selling, why is it there?

10 reasons why not to accept that promotion

1. You know you’re not ready for it. And, consequently, the odds are that you will likely fail. A single failure on the way up the ladder can derail even the strongest player.

2. It’s a dead-end job or department. If the new role has no clear career path upside, then pass. Don’t get talked into the idea that your success will open up new horizons.  You may end up trapped there.

3. Lack of senior leadership support for this role. All roles need the support of others to succeed, but some seem to exist for reasons that nobody can recall.  Without senior advocates, you could find that you’re suddenly in No Man’s Land as you try to get the job or tasks done.

4. Inconsistent with your natural style. Leaders are more likely to succeed when they can maintain a style that is congruent with their values and beliefs. Some leaders like confrontation, others can’t handle it.  As a coach, I’m often asked to help a poor performer to “get with the program” and do things she/he don’t agree with.

5. Intuition.  I think the best leaders and managers have a great sense of intuition.  It’s what makes them “certain” when others aren’t clear.  Even if the job looks great on paper, if your gut says “pass,” then walk away.

6. Learn from Sisyphus. You may have a track record of getting things done that others couldn’t – but at some point, knowing your own limits is the best play.

7. The job’s a political hot potato.  Some roles bring the baggage of history with them.  And when you take that kind of a job, it can be very surprising (and depressing) how your old allies suddenly disappear.

8. Inconsistent with your own values and beliefs. In many organizations there are jobs and activities that may not sit right with you.  One of the corporate people I worked with was transferred from a consumer products division to one overseeing the creation of war materials. He didn’t fare well.

9. Your personal life. Each of us is entitled to a life that’s successful in each of the three life elements. If you are being offered a job that will screw with your personal life (the hours needed at the office) or financial situation (e.g., the job means moving to New York from Indianapolis), give it a hard review before accepting.

10. Never take a job for the money. You’ll get used to the new salary quickly but the crappy job is there for a long time.

A Web Design Process

1. Planning

The planning stage is arguably the most important, because what’s decided and mapped here sets the stage for the entire project. This is also the stage that requires client interaction and the accompanying attention to detail.

  • Requirements analysis
    This includes client goals, target audience, detailed feature requests and as much relevant information as you can possibly gather. Even if the client has carefully planned his or her website, don’t be afraid to offer useful suggestions from your experience.
  • Project charter
    The project charter (or equivalent document) sums up the information that has been gathered and agreed upon in the previous point. These documents are typically concise and not overly technical, and they serve as a reference throughout the project.
  • Site map
    A site map guides end users who are lost in the structure or need to find a piece of information quickly. Rather than simply listing pages, including links and a hierarchy of page organization is good practice.
  • Contracts that define roles, copyright and financial points
    This is a crucial element of the documentation and should include payment terms, project closure clauses, termination clauses, copyright ownership and timelines. Be careful to cover yourself with this document, but be concise and efficient.
  • Gain access to servers and build folder structure
    Typical information to obtain and validate includes FTP host, username and password; control panel log-in information; database configuration; and any languages or frameworks currently installed.
  • Determine required software and resources (stock photography, fonts, etc.)
    Beyond determining any third-party media needs, identify where you may need to hire sub-contractors and any additional software you may personally require. Add all of these to the project’s budget, charging the client where necessary.

Resource links for this phase:

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2. Design

The design stage typically involves moving the information outlined in the planning stage further into reality. The main deliverables are a documented site structure and, more importantly, a visual representation. Upon completion of the design phase, the website should more or less have taken shape, but for the absence of the content and special features.

  • Wireframe and design elements planning
    This is where the visual layout of the website begins to take shape. Using information gathered from the client in the planning phase, begin designing the layout using a wireframe. Pencil and paper are surprisingly helpful during this phase, although many tools are online to aid as well.
  • Mock-ups based on requirements analysis
    Designing mock-ups in Photoshop allows for relatively easy modification, it keeps the design elements organized in layers, and it primes you for slicing and coding when the time later on.
  • Review and approval cycle
    A cycle of reviewing, tweaking and approving the mock-ups often takes place until (ideally) both client and contractor are satisfied with the design. This is the easiest time to make changes, not after the design has been coded.
  • Slice and code valid XHTML/CSS
    It’s coding time. Slice the final Photoshop mock-up, and write the HTML and CSS code for the basic design. Interactive elements and jQuery come later: for now, just get the visuals together on screen, and be sure to validate all of the code before moving on.

Resource links for this phase:

3. Development

Development involves the bulk of the programming work, as well as loading content (whether by your team or the client’s). Keep code organized and commented, and refer constantly to the planning details as the full website takes shape. Take a strategic approach, and avoid future hassles by constantly testing as you go.

  • Build development framework.
    This is when unique requirements might force you to diverge from the process. If you’re using Ruby on Rails, an ASP/PHP framework or a content management system, now is the time to implement it and get the basic engine up and running. Doing this early ensures that the server can handle the installation and set-up smoothly.
  • Code templates for each page type.
    A website usually has several pages (e.g. home, general content, blog post, form) that can be based on templates. Creating your own templates for this purpose is good practice.
  • Develop and test special features and interactivity.
    Here’s where the fancy elements come into play. I like to take care of this before adding the static content because the website now provides a relatively clean and uncluttered workspace. Some developers like to get forms and validation up and running at this stage as well.
  • Fill with content.
    Time for the boring part: loading all of the content provided by the client or writer. Although mundane, don’t misstep here, because even the simplest of pages demand tight typography and careful attention to detail.
  • Test and verify links and functionality.
    This is a good time for a full website review. Using your file manager as a guide, walk through every single page you’ve created—everything from the home page to the submission confirmation page—and make sure everything is in working order and that you haven’t missed anything visually or functionally.

Resource links for this phase:

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4. Launch

The purpose of the launch phase is to prepare the website for public viewing. This requires final polishing of design elements, deep testing of interactivity and features and, most of all, a consideration of the user experience. An important early step in this phase is to move the website, if need be, to its permanent Web server. Testing in the production environment is important because different servers can have different features and unexpected behavior (e.g. different database host addresses).

  • Polishing
    Particularly if you’re not scrambling to meet the deadline, polishing a basically completed design can make a big difference. Here, you can identify parts of the website that could be improved in small ways. After all, you want to be as proud of this website as the client is.
  • Transfer to live server
    This could mean transferring to a live Web server (although hopefully you’ve been testing in the production environment), “unhiding” the website or removing the “Under construction” page. Your last-minute review of the live website happens now. Be sure the client knows about this stage, and be sensitive to timing if the website is already popular.
  • Testing
    Run the website through the final diagnostics using the available tools: code validators, broken-link checkers, website health checks, spell-checker and the like. You want to find any mistakes yourself rather than hearing complaints from the client or an end-user.
  • Final cross-browser check (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, iPhone, BlackBerry)
    Don’t forget to check the website in multiple browsers one last time. Just because code is valid, doesn’t mean it will sparkle with a crisp layout in IE 6.

Resource links for this phase:

5. Post-Launch

Business re-enters the picture at this point as you take care of all the little tasks related to closing the project. Packaging source files, providing instructions for use and any required training occurs at this time. Always leave the client as succinctly informed as possible, and try to predict any questions they may have. Don’t leave the project with a closed door; communicate that you’re available for future maintenance and are committed to ongoing support. If maintenance charges haven’t already been shared, establish them now.

  • Hand off to client
    Be sure the client is satisfied with the product and that all contractual obligations have been met (refer to the project charter). A closed project should leave both you and the client satisfied, with no burned bridges.
  • Provide documentation and source files
    Provide documentation for the website, such as a soft-copy site map and details on the framework and languages used. This will prevent any surprises for the client later on, and it will also be useful should they ever work with another Web developer.
  • Project close, final documentation
    Get the client to sign off on the last checks, provide your contact information for support, and officially close the project. Maintain a relationship with the client, though; checking in a month down the road to make sure everything is going smoothly is often appreciated.

As stated, this is merely a sample process. Your version will be modified according to your client base and style of designing. Processes can also differ based on the nature of the product; for example, e-commerce websites, Web applications and digital marketing all have unique requirements.

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Documenting The Process

Create and retain two versions of your Web design process:
One for you or your team to use as a guide as you work on the back end, and one to share with clients. The differences between the two should be intrinsically clear: yours would be much more detailed and contain technical resources to help with development; the client’s would be a concise, non-technical map of the process from start to finish.

Common tools for documenting the business process are a simple Microsoft Word document, Microsoft Visio and mind-mapping software such as Freemind. If you’re ambitious, you could even develop your own internal Web-based tool.

Using The Process

By now, you should understand what a process looks like, including the details of each phase, and have some idea of how to construct your particular Web design process. This is a great first step, but it’s still only a first step! Don’t miss this next bit: knowing how a process can enhance your overall business and how to use it when approaching and interacting with clients.

Refining the Process

The process will be different for each designer, and for each project. Develop a process for yourself, and identify whatever is useful to you or your team. Only then will the process be truly useful. After all, freelancers can serve drastically different target markets.

Bulleted lists are well and good, but the process can be much more useful and elaborate than that. Many of the resources, tools and links posted on Web design blogs and Twitter feeds fit into different parts of the process. An incredibly useful way to refine the process is to add resource links to each phase, and to develop your own resources, such as branded document templates.

Process551 in Following A Web Design Process

Some commonly used documents of freelancers:

  • Client questionnaire,
  • Invoice,
  • Project charter,
  • Documentation for hand-off to client,
  • User accounts,
  • Database table charts,
  • Site map.

Files and Archive

Documentation and storage are important to grasp. As mundane as these tasks can be, they certainly help when tax season rolls around or when a small freelance venture begins to expand. You can never be too disciplined when it comes to efficiency in work and time. You could establish a standard document format and folder structure for all of your clients, or maintain a list or archive of previous clients and project files. You could employ anything from simple lists to all-out small-business accounting practices.

A Process Puts the Client at Ease

Many clients view Web development as a black box, even after you’ve tried to educate them on its methods. To them, they provide their requirements, suggestions and content, and then some time later a website appears or begins to take shape. They’re often completely unaware of major aspects of the process, such as the separation of design and development. Having an organized and concise process on hand can help organize a client’s thoughts and put their mind at ease, not to mention help them understand where their money is going.

Outlining my basic process as a freelancer is by far the most common first step I take with potential or new clients. A quick, high-level “This is how it works” discussion provides a framework for the entire project. Once you have this discussion, the client will better understands what specifically is needed from them, what you will be delivering at certain points in the timeline and what type of work you’ll be engaging in as you go along. Most of all, the discussion can nip any miscommunication or confusion in the bud.

Designers are often too deep into Web design to realize that most people have no idea what they do or understand their terminology or know the steps involved in creating a finished product. Starting fresh with a understandably “clueless” client can be daunting.

Process331 in Following A Web Design Process

It’s a Business

It’s a business, and the steps outlined here are basically the path to small-business management. As you grow in clients or staff or contractors, you’ll find yourself with an ever-growing to-do list and a headache from all of the things to keep track of. Give yourself a break, and invest some time in finding tools to help you get the job done efficiently. An expanded process document is a great first step on this path.

Tips

  • Ask a non-technical friend to review your process. If it makes sense to them, it will make sense to your client.
  • Use the processes of other designers as a starting point to build or refine your own. See the related resources links.
  • Build document templates and Web apps into your process. This will save time and make you more professional.

Risks

One process cannot be applied to every project. Although your process will be useful when you first engage a client in the planning discussion, be sure to review it before the discussion takes place to ensure it fits the project.

Web design project management

1 Workspace: Make sure your workspace and office environment is suited to avoiding distractions and supports constructive productivity and creativity. No matter the operating system, or software you touch, the way your workstation is organized will reveal a lot about your style and work approach. Make sure your workspace is well designed, organized, clean, and comfortable; omit clutter and keep the work area tidy. In a survey it was determined that nine out of ten employees link workspace design to their productivity, and that when employees had an ergonomically designed workstation that performance increased by 25%.

2 Realistic expectations: Make sure you know how long the project will actually take to reach milestones along the way and ultimately the time to reach the final product. Rushing to meet unrealistic deadlines or milestones can cause serious issues with the final product, and you want your user experience to be pleasant and rewarding.

3 Project management software: If you have many tasks or sub-tasks that need to be implemented, it becomes easy to get lost in the fray. Losing sight of the big picture or getting distracted on several tasks but ignoring more important tasks can bring the entire project to a halt. Project management or time-tracking software will help to keep focus on all the tasks that make up the entire project, and some of these are available for web-based access. Several open source, web-based project management software packages are available, including Codendi, KForge, ProjectPier, and Redmine.

4 Todo lists: While it may seem simple enough, setting up a daily list of task items that require your attention typically will keep them at the forefront of your daily duties. Here are several tips for setting up effective to-do lists:

  • Toward the end of the work day, write or type up a list of items and issues you know will need to be addressed for the next day or near future. Each item should be a separate line and should stand out from other tasks.
  • The first thing in the morning you should review the list from the previous day, add any more items or tasks that came up since that time, and before tackling any of the tasks, assign a priority to each task or item. Label the very important items with an “A,” and the least important items with a “C.” Then if you have any items that did not get an A or a C, give those a “B.”
  • Now that your to-do list is organized for the day, it is time to start addressing all the “A” items first, and then address the “B” items and so on to the “C” items. Be flexible; if any items need a priority adjustment, then you can reset the designation depending on the severity of the issue.
  • Any items that did not get addressed on the list will help make up the start of a new list for the next work day, and then follow the steps again to assigning them priority, and so on.

This is a quick, short list, so I am sure there are other techniques for web design organizing and project management that are favorites of yours. Do you have any other organizational or project management tips for web design that you use in your work?

 

Complex Captchas Might Hurt Your Subscriber List

What Are Captchas?

What Are Captchas?

According to the official captcha website, a captcha is a program that is meant to protect a website against automatic software or bots by generating different tests that only a human can pass. For example, one such test is distorted text, which is difficult to read for computer programs. Note, though, that there are captcha breaking programs out there that can do it but they are few and far between.

Captcha is in fact an anagram and stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.

So, a captcha can help you by preventing comment spam on your blog, protecting registration on your site, protecting email addresses from being scraped, running online polls to ensure accurate results, preventing dictionary attacks, keeping search engine bots away from your site and even preventing worms and spam being sent through email.

How Can Complex Captchas Hurt You?

Clearly, captchas are meant to help the owner of the website but it is important to remember that online visitors tend to have a very short attention span and even less patience. This is because they can generally find the information they are looking for in more than one place, so if you want to make sure you get as much traffic as possible and keep it coming back for more, you have to offer your readers a pleasant experience. And a pleasant experience has nothing to do with trying to get a captcha right five hundred times and failing miserably.

What Are Captchas?

Sometimes, these captchas that show distorted text are so distorted it’s hard for anyone to figure out what the letters are. What’s worse is that most of the time these captchas don’t have anything to do with real words and are simply a string of numbers and letters, making it even harder for a visitor to get it right. So, after getting the captcha wrong twice, you can be certain that most people will give up and move on.

And that’s if you’re lucky. If you have a captcha system that reloads the entire form and someone has to fill in all their details again after making one mistake on the captcha, you can be sure they are not going to hang around to fill in everything again.

What Can You Do?

Just because complex captchas aren’t exactly the best thing for your subscribers, that doesn’t mean you have to endure comment spam and false registrations. There are alternatives.

First of all, make sure that your captcha system has a clear reload button so people can reload the image if they don’t understand what it says first time. Also make sure that only the image is reloaded and not the whole form. Likewise, a “sound” button also helps so that the computer clearly reads the captcha.

Another option is to resort to different captcha types. For one, you could use actual words instead of gibberish, making it slightly easier for humans who can guess based on intuition, even if they can’t understand what the letters are. There are also other types of captchas that ask questions which a human needs to answer.

For example, “What is the sum of 6 and 7?” or “What is the fifth word in this sentence?” or something similar. These are easy for a human to answer but virtually impossible for an automated computer bot to figure out.

By using simpler captchas that still deter bots, you will be protecting your website while also ensuring you don’t lose any subscribers due to being overly zealous with website security.

How to avoid a redesign failure

Redesign right

When you decide a redesign is necessary for your website or web app, there are a number of things you need to consider beyond the technical aspects. Remember, your site likely already has regular visitors or regular users, and they’ve come to expect certain things when they visit your site. You need a good reason for changing those things, and you need to take them into account when starting on your redesign and throughout the process.

Communicate with your existing users from the beginning
Unlike a new site design, a site being redesigned likely already has a user base. Involving that user base from the beginning on your redesign can result in a much better user experience in the end. After all, these are the people who are already using your site, who are already familiar with what you have. Sure, some people are resistant to change in any form, but others may be able to offer you some fantastic insight into what’s great as-is and what could use some revamping.

It’s important to take into account the way visitors use your existing site. Just because you wanted them to use the site in a particular way doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the way it’s being used in the real world. Take this into account when you’re redesigning, and don’t break existing user patterns without a very good reason for doing so.

Test for both new and existing users
Conventional testing wisdom often says you should only test on new users to get the most accurate results. This is a great strategy if you’re testing something like a sales page. But if you’re redesigning your entire website, you want to get feedback from people who are already using your site. The last thing you want is to launch a redesign and alienate every existing user you have.

Let your existing visitors know that you’re testing out a new site. Consider giving them the option to test the new site if they choose to do so, and then ask for some unobtrusive feedback in the form of a survey or similar mechanism. Then, listen to what they’re saying!

Let users upgrade on their own schedule
This is particularly important with more app-like sites. Letting users switch to the new site version on their own schedule is a great way to prevent complaints. Social media sites are probably the most common sites to do this type of thing (like Twitter did with their new layout). This prevents surprises for your existing users, and lets them make the switch when they have time to get used to the new interface.

It’s important to set a deadline for the switch, though. Make sure you let users know that they can switch any time between now and some future date, and let them know that on that future date everyone will get the new interface. This prevents surprises while also preventing stragglers from requiring you to support the old site indefinitely.

Make it easy for users to offer feedback after the change
There are a ton of tools out there for collecting user feedback. Use them to find out what your visitors like and don’t like as you launch or as you’re testing. Then, make sure you address anything that’s raised by more than a handful of visitors. Remember, for every visitor who voices a concern, there could be dozens who feel the same way who aren’t saying anything.

Make your reasons for redesigning clear
It’s important to let your regular visitors know that you have reasons for redesigning your site. Too many people who aren’t familiar with the technical aspects of running a website think redesigns are purely for aesthetic reasons. Let them know what functionality you aim to add or what user interface improvements you’ll be making before the fact. A blog post addressing your redesign plans can be a great way to open up a dialogue with regular visitors and users.

Offer a tour or tutorial for any major user interface changes
If you’re changing the way parts of your website work, or drastically rearranging elements on the page, it’s a good idea to offer a video or other tutorial or tour of the new design and features. This can help your existing users quickly adapt to the new design, and feel less alienated. It gives the impression that you care about the experience your users are having, and that you want that experience to be as good as it can possibly be.

 

What if your redesign has already failed?

So you’ve launched your redesigned site already, and now all you’re hearing is complaints from new and old visitors alike. What do you do? Should you just go back to the old site and try again? What if that’s not an option, or you’ve invested thousands of dollars and months of time in the new site? What then?

It’s all about damage control
The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that your redesign hasn’t gone over well with everyone. Let people know that you hear what they’re saying and that you’re considering their concerns. Whether you do this through Twitter, your blog, or some other outlet depends on where you can reach the highest number of your users.

Acknowledge and address complaints
Acknowledge specific complaints if you can. If everyone is complaining about how a certain function is hard to find, then address that. There are a few ways to do that: you can simply post on your blog or send out an email about it with any helpful information or tips, or you can make a change to make it easier on your visitors. If it’s a really big problem, making a change is probably the better solution.

Don’t be afraid to roll back
If there are huge complaints, or if you see that your traffic numbers are going down, don’t be afraid to roll back parts or all of your site to the previous version until fixes can be implemented. If your website’s success is suffering because of a redesign, there’s no sense in sticking to the new design. You’re better off rolling back and acknowledging that your visitors are unhappy (and therefore showing that you place user experience above all else) rather than trying to blindly insist that the new site is better.

 

Monitor carefully

Whenever you’re launching a new design, it’s important to track your analytics carefully. Set up goals and funnels for various functions on your site, and then make sure the you’re not suddenly losing a lot of visitors at a particular point.

Analytics can help you make proactive changes to your site, anticipating what visitors are getting hung up on. Make sure you have some baseline statistics to refer to and compare.

Also monitor the tone of social media posts about your redesign. If you see a lot of complaints circulating, or even a lot of confusion, be proactive and engage with those people. It’s important to be engaged throughout a redesign so that your users know you’re making changes in an effort to benefit them, and not just for some undefined goal.