Imagination is our power

Archive for September, 2011

Do better in your waking hours by sleeping better

Most leaders do not get enough sleep.  Consequently they are neither as successful, or satisfied, as they could be.

By that I mean they don’t get enough quality sleep to function at the top of their game.

When you are sleep deprived, you become more emotional, more irritable, and less clear-headed.  You’re more likely to make mistakes, and less likely to communicate efficiently. You are less effective as a leader.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 60% of Americans report having sleep problems and about 40% of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.

Are you sleep deprived? The APA reports that how much sleep adults need does vary – but not as much as you believe to be the case.  In general, most of us are built for 16 hours of wakefulness, some can do well with as little as six hours of sleep while others can’t perform at peak unless they’ve slept ten. You need to know what’s right for you specifically.

As a former Wellness Advisor to Tempur-Pedic, I’ve learned that there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your sleeplessness.  Here are six places to start:

1.  De-Stress before you hit the sack – Often when we are just about to nod off, something pops into our mind and gets it engaged.  Whether that something is positive or negative, it’s not good to become engaged mentally when you’re trying to sleep.  Fix this behavior by developing a pre-sleep habit:  About half an hour before going to bed, go to a quiet place where you can stretch out and then meditate on all those things you need to get closure on for the day.  Dealing with them proactively allows you to put them away for the day; you’re more likely to sleep deeply.

2. Bedroom basics – Everyone knows it’s supposed to be quiet and dark, but many use an alarm clock with an LED.  This can affect your sleep in two ways:  First, it may light up the room so you are not in as dark an environment as possible.  Second, we often develop a habit of “checking the time” when we surface for a moment – thus kick-starting our brain with thoughts about what has to be done tomorrow.  Result – quality sleep is interrupted; you’re tired even though you may have spent a lot of hours in the bed.

3. You are what you drink – Caffeine can keep you awake and it can stay in your body up to 14 hours – so a coffee at noon can be affecting you at midnight.  Alcohol can help you fall asleep but as it clears your system it can disturb sleep with sweats, headaches, and nightmares.

4. Pets will disrupt your sleep – Most people awaken slightly as their pets move around.  They’ll tell me they don’t mind because they love their pet.  Just know that this affects your performance – on a few levels.

5. You may not be allergic to sleep, but allergies can contribute significantly to poor quality sleep. If you have difficulty staying asleep with the windows open, it could have a lot to do with allergens floating in from outside.  Likewise, many foods and drinks (especially wine) are very likely to cause a slight allergic reaction such as stuffiness that can ruin your night.

6. Take the TV out of the bedroom – While you may think it helps you to fall asleep, the research on this is clear. It can cause disruptive sleep, regardless of what you’ve watched.

If you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep, get out of it for a while.  Avoid creating any habit of laying awake reading, worrying or watching TV.

If you seriously want, a life that is well lived, start sleeping better.

What to Know When You Printing Images

After taking pictures the next obvious step is to see the result. This is possible by making prints of Images.

When black-and-white photography was popular, enthusiasts of this hobby generally gave the exposed films to professional studios/laboratories, but sometimes they developed and printed them at home. This was so because photography, being a hobby, people enjoyed indulging in it and took pride in showing the results of their personal endeavors. With the advent of color photography, this hobby received a setback because, besides being much more elaborate and cumbersome, printing was more expensive and time consuming.

 

 

The photographic industry solved this dilemma to an extent by making small and easy-to-use kits to encourage color developing and printing by amateurs and enthusiasts. Very advanced amateurs even developed their own transparency films at their homes. But due to change in lifestyles, people could not find spare time for these activities. With the decline in the purchase of do-it-yourself kits, manufacturers stopped providing them. Consequently, today the usual practice is to select a good laboratory which can develop and print the film roll.

But with the advent of digital cameras, people are seeing the images directly on their word processors/computers and can obtain the printout directly from them. The final product can now be sent to friends and relatives anywhere in the world through the email. This paperless activity involves no hassles and is done with complete ease.

You are likely to want to print your photographs at some stage. In this article, we look at printers, ink cartridges and the other accessories you will need.

Printers

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Most of us who take digital photographs will want to print them on to paper for display in albums or picture frames at some stage, In order to make the most of our images. Unless you are prepared to pay for someone else to provide image printing as a service – for example, a specialized photographic shop – sooner or later you are going to need to buy a printer and learn a little about the subject of printing. Broadly speaking, getting good prints of images is reliant on two things – the quality of the printer and the quality of the paper.

Printer Types

Printers come in many forms; dot matrix, inkjet, bubble jet and laser are the most common types. Dot matrix printers are really only suitable for simple text output – things like shop receipts are often produced in this manner, Laser printers produce the highest quality prints, but while the black and white Versions are practical for home use, color versions can be very expensive. The most suitable choice for producing high quality photographic prints in the home is the Inkjet printer, which uses a cartridge to drop ink directly onto the paper. Bubble jet printers, which are often cheaper, use special heating elements to prepare the ink. Portable printers that link straight to the camera are also available; these are known as photo printers.

Printer Cartridges

No matter which type of printer you decide to use, to produce your image onto a sheet of photographic paper as a print it will need ink – and ink comes in the form of cartridge!

Inkjets

Inkjet printers use two cartridges to supply the ink – one for black and the other for color. Of the two the black is cheaper to purchase than the color cartridge. Most printers come with software that allows you to monitor the levels of ink. This can prove to be very useful because you get advanced warning that you need to get spare cartridges before they actually run out.

Cartridge Replacement

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When a cartridge runs out, replacement is extremely straightforward on most printers. New cartridges are available from the original manufacturer, but can be rather expensive. Cheaper alternatives are often supplied by discount companies that specialize in undercutting the manufacturers. However, the old adage that “you only get what you pay for” is worth remembering. Certain generic brands do not last as long and are not of the same high quality ink as those of the manufacturer’s own-brand ink cartridges. This is fine for color printing onto normal copier paper, but very noticeable when printing images onto high quality photo paper. The color can vary and will cancel out all your hard work of retouching or enhancing the color resolution of your images. Some people keep their empty ink cartridges for refilling, either by a professional outfit or with a “Do it yourself” home refill kit.

Putting Print to Paper

Paper comes in many forms, but the two main variables are its finish and weight. The quality of paper suitable for printers is mainly dictated by the type of coating used – and its thickness.

Types of Paper

The paper used for domestic purposes, such as printing out letters, is typically 80gsm, with 100gsm being a thicker, but more expensive alternative. High quality paper is available for photographic purposes and generally comes in small packs of between 25 and 100 sheets, as opposed to packs of 500 sheets in the case of general purpose paper. Photographic paper generally has a glossy coating on one side. Load the paper into the printer so that this is the side which the print ends up on, as otherwise the quality of the print will be considerably degraded!

If you normally use general purpose paper, whenever you want to use special purpose media such as photo quality film, you must reset the printer properties to let it know that you are using something different; otherwise, your prints will look very mediocre.

Choice Selection

Look out for “sustainable forest” labels, some of which state that the paper is “made entirely from pulp obtained from 100% farmed trees” or similar. This means you are buying an ecologically sound product. If paper is recycled, this will normally also be highlighted on the papers packaging. Look for the standard green recycling logo.

Special quality paper should be stored away from sunlight and extremes of temperature, and any prints you make should be kept in sealable bags to protect them from humidity, sunlight and temperature variations.

It can be confusing looking through all the different types of paper on the market, so here are few of the types you may come across:

Photo quality glossy film: A bright, white film; good for photos, and report covers. Generally available in A2, A3, A4, Letter and Super A3/B sizes.

Inkjet transparencies: Available in A4 and Letter; clear films producing excellent colors for overhead projections and overlays for presentations.

Inkjet cards: Bright, white A6 cards; excellent for creating postcards, snapshots, invitations, and digital photos, for example.

Connecting to a Printer

For converting your digital image into something tangible that you can show friends, you need to get your image over to a printer.

Transferring Images to a Printer

There are basically two methods of getting images from a digital camera onto a printer. The simplest method is to use a direct cable connection between camera and printer. While this is very straightforward, the disadvantage is that only certain printers have the special socket which allows the direct connection to be made. The most obvious devices are the portable photo printers. The other (and by far the most widely used) method for printing an image is to download it onto a computer, and then use whatever printer is linked to the computer. This is a much more flexible approach. You can then make prints of your images at any time.

Printer Software

When you buy a new printer, you have to make sure it can communicate with your computer. Some operating systems will be able to do so without any further software but usually you will need to install the manufacturer’s own drivers.

Printer Drivers

When a new printer is installed, it must be able to find the correct software on the computer in order for it to work properly; this is known as the “driver” and controls how documents from your computer print out. The drivers for many printers come as a standard feature on some operating systems, whereas others need to be specially installed. New printers will come with the drivers supplied on CD. These are easy to install, since the disk will auto-start when it is inserted into a computer. The set up procedure is simply a matter of following the instructions on the screen. If the disk is missing – maybe the printer is second-hand or the original has been lost – a search on the internet will usually prove fruitful. Personally I use Google (www.google.com) as my search engine, if you enter the name of the printer together with the words “free download” and “driver” in the Search field, it will nearly always result in what you need in order to get your printer “talking” to your computer.

 

Computer Overview

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Many of us use computers these days that they have become a feature of just about every household and office. Nevertheless, it is worth considering which models are likely to be the most suitable for your needs.

Hardware issues

If you already have a home computer, it will probably be entirely adequate for your purposes. Processor speeds are usually above 2GHz, but you will not need one this last unless you do a lot of image processing.

Memory Sizes

Far more important than processor speed is the amount of RAM you have. This is the solid state memory the computer uses when doing any operations. Start with a minimum of 256MB, and fit more if your machine will accept it (memory is relatively inexpensive).

Types of Computers

There are two main types of computer in use today – PCs, which run Microsoft Windows or Linux operating systems, and Apple Macintoshes, which use their own dedicated system; known as “OS”. The typical home computer is known as a “desk station”, whereas the smaller, briefcase-sized units are known as laptops or notebook computers. There are a variety of even smaller devices available, and as time goes by these will undoubtedly become more and more popular.

Portable Computers

If you travel frequently with your camera, a laptop may be worth considering. Otherwise, there are many reasons why a desk station computer is likely to be your best choice. Faster computers are being brought but almost every day. This means that sooner or later, your machine will need upgrading.

 

Operating Systems

An operating system is the software that a compute uses in order to function. It supervises the hardware and co-ordinates all the various programs that you run. A good, stable and fast operating system can make a computer a pleasure to use.

Computer Platforms

By far the most common forms of operating systems – known as “platforms” – are the various Microsoft Windows variants. These include Microsoft Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000 and XP. Some of these are available in different format, such as “Home Edition” and “Pro”. Apple uses its own operating system for Macs known as “OS X” which Stands for “Operating System”, where the “X” represents the version number. Unless you are an advanced user, stick with a current version.

 

Backing-up Your Work

An Important (but often overlooked) issue when working with computers is to make sure that you have back-ups of your work, not just on your hard drive but also on a CD or DVD.

Auto Saves

I have my word processor configured to save automatically every ten minutes, but in the event of a power failure the file may become corrupted, in which case you will be glad you backed it up. Additionally, if you experience a hard disk drive failure, you will be lucky to resurrect anything off it, so it is best to get into the habit of backing up.

Burning Issues

A CD writer is a good investment; in fact most new computers now come with one built in. Take the time and trouble to make CD copies of all your work, and then store them somewhere where they cannot get damaged. The process of writing a CD is known as “burning”. Old office safes can be bought cheaply, and in the event of a fire or a break-in, your work will not be lost.

 

Keeping Your Computer Virus-Free

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It is a sad fact that there are a lot of malicious people who derive pleasure from creating ever more sophisticated ways of interfering with your compute from afar. The methods they use can be grouped together under the term “Viruses”. By far the most common way of viruses making their way onto your computer is through infected e-mail attachments. The amount of damage a virus can do depends on its type. Here are a few guidelines to follow if you want to keep your machine clean and unaffected.

Firewalls

One of the best ways to help reduce the ingress of unwanted programs onto your computer is to use a “firewall”. This is a method used by a special software program to block the passage of information to and from your computer. Each lime another program attempts to access your machine from the internet the firewall intercepts it, and will only let it through if you have set the program to do so. Microsoft Windows XP has its own version of a firewall already in place.

File Attachments

Never open any attachments with the file extensions “scr”, “exe”, or ‘pif”. If you are in any doubt about an attached file, do not open it Delete it from your machine immediately.

Anti-virus Programs

There are a huge number of anti-virus programs available. No matter which software you use, it will only be as good as the definition files it has to work from. These files are special lists used by the anti-virus programs, which tell them what are the latest viruses and how they can be recognized. They are generally free to download, and since new viruses are coming out all the time, you can never update them often enough. Once a week is the absolute minimum if you want to stay virus-free. The best attitude to take is one of extreme caution-be complacent and your machine will become infected at some time!

 

Monitors & Pixels

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When using a desk station computer, it is important that the monitor is up to the job. A poor quality screen will make all your images appear dull, lifeless, and possibly distorted.

General Issues

Make sure that the monitor screen is large enough for you to work on in comfort especially if you are doing lots of image manipulation. Monitors of superb quality have become more affordable, but good second-hand monitors can also be bought through newspaper adverts or from specialist dealers.

How the Monitor Works

A desktop monitor works in much the same way as the screen in a traditional television set. However, monitors are available with many different evolutions. You can usually change the number of pixels used to make up the screen area to suit your situation as well. The higher the number of pixels used the better, although the color setting will also influence the image quality greatly. The setting known as “16 bit High color” will give you good results, but “32 bit True color” is much better overall.

Monitor pixels

As with digital cameras, monitors compose their pictures from many thousands of pixels, each of which is controlled for color and brightness. Controlling a grid of pixels is called “bit mapping” and digital images are called bit maps. The higher the numbers of pixels are, the better the resolution and the overall picture quality is. When an image is enlarged too much, it becomes possible to see the individual pixels, an undesirable effect which is known as “pixelation”.

 

Scanning & Re-Touching Old Images

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Image editing is great for digital pictures, but it can also be used to great effect with old or damaged prints. The print first needs to be digitized. Of course, you could take a photo, but far easier would be to scan the print and save it digitally.

Flatbed Scanners

If you want to make a copy of a flat image, a scanner is likely to be your best option. In recent years, flatbed scanners have fallen in price to such an extent that really good. Ones can be obtained fairly reasonably. They are also much easier to use than their predecessors. Nowadays, all you have to do is plug them in via a USB port load up the software CD, put the item you want to scan in place and press the “Scan” button. The image is recorded and transferred into your graphics program, which is then automatically started for you.

Other Graphics Programs

There are lots of other graphics programs in the marketplace and many of these are aimed at the domestic user. You may well find that they provide all the functionality you need without the complexity or expense of the larger packages. If you have access to broadband internet, then it is always worth keeping an eye on the official websites of companies such as Adobe and Jasc, since they often have time-limited trial downloads available for free.

 

Displaying Images

As well as viewing your images on your computer in thumbnail, real-size or full screen formats. It is also possible to look at them on a variety of other media.

Using “Video Out” on Your Television

Apart from those models at the budget end of the market, most digital cameras have some form of small LCD screen on which it is possible to view your pictures. However, if you are away from your computer or have a group of people that you would like share them with, it can be difficult trying to display them to everyone at the same time. An excellent solution to this is available if your camera has a video-out port. This will allow you to connect it to a television set through the video-in terminals. Make sure you have the correct cable – it is usually supplied with the camera.

There are several useful things you can do by connecting your camera to a television. While it works well as a giant view screen, so that your family and friends can see your existing photographs, they can also watch live images of new ones being taken. Alternatively, you can set up a video recorder and capture a whole sequence to show off later, or maybe review work you have done that day.

While a television offers an excellent way of presenting images to a small group of family and friends, it is not a very satisfactory method for presenting them to larger groups. A public display device, such as a digital projector or some sort of a cinema screen, would be ideal. For medium-sized groups of up to a hundred or so, a multimedia image projector is ideal.

Portable Image Storage and Viewing Devices

If you take a lot of photographs and like to travel light, there are several portable items of equipment on the market to answer your needs. For example there are handheld image storage arid viewing devices available that can hold vast numbers of digital photographs – in some cases, between as many as 10,000 and 30,000!

These units can read most card formats and have sophisticated file management systems, which can store images in folders. In addition, individual files can be renamed, copied, moved around or deleted. There are also features that appeal to professional users, such as the fact that these units are able to handle images in RAW format of up to 18MB each. It is also possible to view histograms and other information, as well as to upload images from hard disk onto the handheld units, or to make hard copies of images by connecting directly to a printer.

Another way to view images while on the move is with a portable DVD player or a laptop computer. Since these tend to be about the same size and weight, many people cannot see the sense in paying out for a DVD player when a laptop can do so much more. There are also many multimedia players on the market. These tend to have LCD screens of around 85mm (3in) in size and can play MP3 files as well as display images. Depending on the make and model, you can connect to a printer or a television. If you are considering purchasing one of these, take some time to review what each version offers -the storage capability, the types of memory cards they can accept, and so on.

 

E-mailing Digital Photos

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One of the most popular ways of sharing digital photos between family and friends is by sending them by e-mail.

E-mailing Issues

To send a digital photograph by e-mail is simplicity itself. However, there are a few things to watch out for. Firstly, make sure that you have shrunk the image down to a sensible size. Even If you have broadband internet access, the recipient may not and a 15MB file on a dial-up connection will make you very unpopular indeed. A good rule of thumb is to keep the images down below 100KB.

Blocked Out

Another thing to bear in mind is to check whether your intended recipient’s e-mail system will actually allow attachments through. If you are sending an e-mail to a company, many have become so security conscious that attachments are viewed with great suspicion and are often blocked out.

Which Format?

It is also important to remember that not everyone has their own imaging software packages, so when you send an image file by e-mail, make sure you choose the most appropriate format. If you send someone a Photoshop (.psd) or a PaintShop (.psp) file, they may well not be able to open it. JPEG and GIF files are universally accepted these days. These formats are also efficient In terms of quality and size, so they are good choices for e-mail attachments.

 

Sending Images By Camera Phone

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Camera phones are becoming more popular. These devices are handy for commercial purposes, used by estate agents, car trader magazine staff and so on.

It’s Good to Snap

If you are sending a camera phone image to another camera phone, the recipient must also be on a network that can communicate with your own. A link to the photos can be sent by e-mail to anyone with an e-mail address. Recipients are sent a text message explaining how to view your photos over the internet. Your images are kept in your own personal photo album, which is protected by a password so that you can decide who gets access to your pictures. Camera and other devices that support this service let you include still images, video images and sounds.

Sending Images to Websites

If you are creating your own website or want to post your images onto someone else’s, there are three main ways to transfer your images to the host location.

The three methods are:

By using a file transfer program, such as FTP (this stands for file transfer protocol).

By using the “Upload” facility found on some websites.

By e-mail. This only works if you are sending them to someone else to post for you.

The best way to send large files to a website is via an FTP package. There are many different versions available, some of which can be downloaded for free from the internet. Using such a program, you can move large files from your computer across the internet to a folder at the host location. You will need to know certain technical information about the host machine. This includes the host’s web address, a User ID and password.

It’s a IT job seekers’ market: Employers need new tactics to recruit IT pros

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment for tech professionals is at a low 3.3 percent.

“This is what is keeping C-suite executives up at night,” said Kathy Harris, managing director at Harris Allied, which provides executive search, technology and Quant Analyst placement services to the financial services and tech industries.  “Employers need to get up to speed about the new rules of engagement to successfully attract the top tier of the high tech talent pool–the thought leaders, the innovators, the people you have in mind when you consider succession planning and filling the next generation of executive positions.”

Here are her suggestions for how employers need to look at recruiting and retaining top tech talent differently than in previous years:

Streamline the hiring process: Employers need to execute this process more quickly than in prior years because the competition is ready to make your top candidate an offer now.

Engage your best job candidates: Candidates should leave the interview feeling engaged and already connected in some way to the organization. Give them a big picture of the company and where it stands in the industry. Offer them a closer look at the team they will be working with sooner rather than waiting for the third round of interviews. Let them meet with their future colleagues to demonstrate they will be part of a high quality team.

Put on your sales hat: Ensure that all who are part of the interview process are consistent with their messaging and how the company is positioned. Share information about high profile projects if the candidate will be working on them and talk about the company’s investments in special corporate initiatives that pertain to the position. But never overhype details or oversell your organization because that can backfire as soon as they are part of your organization.

Be flexible: Be willing to expand your search to look for the best of the best, which may be found outside of your immediate area. Take the search for the right candidate nationally if necessary. Fly people in for interviews and be willing to be flexible on such enticements as signing bonuses, bonus guarantees, corporate housing, and benefits, if possible.

Offer the opportunity to work on diverse and challenging projects to retain top talent: Many companies offer special programs for HIPOs. Sometimes called “stars programs,” they allow employees to become involved in high profile projects that afford them access to leadership, even if only for a few hours a week. These programs allow employees to provide input on higher level corporate initiatives and contribute in a meaningful way while underscoring their value to the organization.

Communicate often and openly: Maintaining an open line of communication and providing consistent feedback is important to employees who want to make the most of their career opportunities. Clearly lay out a career path that includes mentoring and training and development that will position them for the long term. These high powered tech employees are mindful of not letting their career flatline.

Get some real-time perspective on compensation: The benchmarking tools of yesterday are no longer a good bellwether for how to compensate today’s high tech employees. Employers need a current view of what is happening in a dynamic market. Keep your ears to the ground and know where the potential threats (in the form of competition) lie. Stay current on what the market is really paying and adjust your compensation program as necessary.

They are not resources: These are people, not a commodity. Treat them as valued members of your team, not as if they are dispensable or interchangeable. This is often the deal breaker for a high tech employee when he or she decides to look for a new opportunity.

Careers are like nature: Only the fittest survive

Recently, an author who’s writing a book about how to survive and thrive in a challenging environment asked me for an interview.

Knowing that I speak to a lot of people about careers, he wanted some tips and tactics for his book.  I told him that for the most part most career questions come from one of these three key perspectives:

1. The employed – looking for guidance on things such as:

  • moving up the ladder
  • dealing with a career hiccup that may be holding them back
  • dealing with others in the organization
  • getting a raise

2. The unemployed – looking for advice about:

  • getting back in the job market
  • taking advantage of social networking
  • setting up a consulting practice
  • rethinking their whole life plan

3. The recently terminated – in a highly emotional state, they’re trying to grapple with:

  • how getting tanked can impact someone who has always had a job
  • getting through this new and difficult situation

(This is transition coaching. It’s all about helping an individual transition out of where they are and into where they’d prefer to be.)

Over the past 15 months, I’ve had more calls from people in the second and third situations. I’d prefer to be hearing from more of those in the first category above, but the economy is in a bad place and the outlook is pretty grim. It seems likely that many people who are unemployed currently are going to continue in that place for a while.
Here’s the best advice I can give any individual who’s in any of those situations What got you here, may not get you there.
If you want a long and productive career, keep that advice first and foremost in your mind.  If you’re unemployed, give it a lot of thought before you dive into the next job.
  1. The most successful careerists realize that it’s all about evolution.  Like animals in the wild – even entire species – it’s survival of the fittest.
  2. Industries start, grow, thrive, get old and usually then disappear. It’s the same same with companies.
  3. Careers that are too dependent on the success of the industry or company are at risk.
Those who have the longest and most satisfying careers share a common realization that their success has a great deal to do with keeping a close eye on the environment.  Whether it’s the economy, the city they live or the company they work for.
As the world around you changes, or the business environments change, or the people making the decisions move on – it’s time to make a decision.  Is your plan still smart for the long term? Most people continue as if little is really changing.  They’re kind of “managing by crossed fingers” and hoping they’ll be OK.  Not a good plan.
In nature and in business those who adapt and make changes will survive.  The rest, even though they may be great at what they’re doing, don’t survive.

How to deliver criticism to a sensitive employee

If you’ve managed teams long enough, you’re bound to come across an employee who doesn’t take kindly to constructive criticism. Whether that person is prone to tears or angry outbursts, it’s a behavior that makes it more difficult for a manager to do his or her job.

I once knew of an employee on another team who would consistently make things difficult for folks on my team because of her lack of attention to detail. When I asked her manager if she was aware of this, she said she was but every time she tried to talk to her about this, the employee would cry. So, like a bad Pavlovian experiment, the manager began to avoid the discussions altogether, allowing the problematic behavior to continue.

Here are some of my tips for delivering criticism to an employee who is never in the mood to receive it.

Meet face-to-face and prepare a written doc

It’s very easy to misinterpret what someone says when you’re in the throes of some emotion like sadness or anger. Be sure to write down exactly what you say to the employee so there is no question or “That’s not what I thought you meant”s to deal with later. And on this point, it’s important to:

Have the employee repeat what he or she is hearing

Having the employee say back to you what it is he or she thinks you’re saying helps to clarify matters and also enforces the behavior you want to see. I once had to tell a tech writer that he missed so many deadlines that I was considering putting him on probation. To soften the blow, I said that he was a very good writer just not very timely. When he repeated back what he heard me say, he said, “You said I’m a good writer.” He had some kind of turbo-charged defense mechanism going that allowed him to glean only the good stuff I’d said.

Criticize the behavior, not the personality

There are going to be some employees who are more emotional than others. You will never be able to change a personality but you can affect the outside behaviors that result from it.  You may have a support pro whose outgoing personality serves him well in his job. It’s when that quality causes him to extend individual jobs longer than preferred that it becomes an issue. Then you simply make him aware that jobs have to be dealt with in a shorter span of time.

Give smaller burst of feedback (both good and bad) more frequently

You don’t want to drop a major criticism on any employee at one time-whatever the temperament. It’s much easier to deal with small examples of undesired behavior. And giving positive feedback helps an employee feel like it’s not just about the errors. Also, employees won’t dread coming to your office as much.

Don’t enable the emotions

If the employee starts to cry or gets angry, stop the conversation and ask if she needs a moment. Don’t end the conversation and schedule it for a later date. If you do that, you’re only allowing the employee to think that the outbursts “work” to deflate criticism. Allow the employee to get it together and then resume the conversation.

10 questions to determine whether an employee can work from home

Many companies allow employees to telecommute. There are benefits for both the employee and the employer, but not all departments, managers, and employees are suited to the home-office environment. If you’re considering a work-from-home option, start with this list.

The first two questions are for you. The next four questions evaluate your department. A wrong answer to any of these questions is an indication that working from home might be difficult for your department. The final four questions will help you quickly determine which employees might not fare well working from home. After answering these questions, you should know whether your department should move from “thinking about it” to forming a real work-from-home strategy.

About you…

1: Can you be available during off-hours?

Many work-at-home employees work odd hours. Can you be available when they need you? If you’re unwilling to accept this challenge, make your availability clear from the beginning.

2: Do you trust your employees?

Some managers won’t be objective enough to evaluate this particular question honestly, but let’s try just the same. If your department is performing adequately, but you still don’t trust any of your employees to do their jobs without your constant input, maybe you have trust issues. If you think this might be the case, stop now. Why put yourselves and your employees through an experiment that’s doomed before it starts?

About your department…

3: Is upper management on board?

If you don’t have the full support of your manager, stop now. Spend more time researching and present the idea again later with new supportive facts. Don’t proceed until you’ve convinced upper management that the work-from-home venture is worth trying, unless you want to work from home yourself — job hunting is work, right?

4: Will the move require a budget squeeze?

While technology makes it easy to keep in touch with an offsite employee, the initial setup and monthly maintenance can be expensive. The company probably has most of the necessary equipment, but you’ll have to finance the physical move and installation of all that equipment. Then there’s the cost of specialized software and monthly service fees and subscriptions. If there’s no money for this, stop now.

5: Does your office suffer from a lot of drama?

If the left-behind employees are going to vent petty jealousies over the work-from-home arrangement, tread slowly. We might all agree that their attitudes shouldn’t matter. The reality is that these people can suck the life and productivity right out of your entire department. They’ll make everyone miserable, and miserable employees aren’t productive employees. This situation isn’t a show-stopper, but It’s something to face, not circumvent.

6: Can the team handle the separation?

Some teams are a cohesive group where the synergy just works. Moving even a few people out of the office might have a negative impact on the morale and spirit of the group. In a situation like this, try a part-time, temporary arrangement. As the team adjusts to the changes, you can be more liberal with the work-from-home policy.

About the employee…

7: Would you let this employee house-sit, dog-sit, or babysit?

The ideal home-office candidate is a responsible and reliable individual. If you don’t trust this employee to do his or her job with little input from you, stop now. There’s no need to evaluate any further.

8: Does the employee work closely with other employees?

It can be difficult to maintain availability to one another in home offices for those employees who interact throughout the day. It isn’t impossible, but I recommend that you put these employees into a future “maybe” group. Work out the kinks with individuals who don’t need to interact regularly with other employees. With a little experience, you’ll be better prepared to tackle this group’s complex needs.

9: Does the employee work with sensitive data?

Employees who work with confidential or sensitive data will require special attention, and working from home might be more work (risk) than it’s worth. Can your company support the necessary network security (and its cost) to protect data? If not, stop now –although you might consider letting this employee work from home part time.

10: Where does the employee live?

Make sure the employee’s home has reasonable Internet access. Cable and DSL are reliable, but satellite access is notoriously undependable. Dial-up is too slow to handle most of today’s technologies. In addition, an employee living in a van down by the river probably isn’t a good candidate. If Internet access is inadequate, or the employee lives in questionable circumstances, stop now.

Are You Ready For A Web Design Challenge?

The Challenge

If you’re like me, you did some form of higher education in art and design and will know about “the crit.” These meetings involve the class coming together with tutors to analyze and provide constructive criticism on each other’s work.

These were terrifying meetings in which I justified my design approach and defended it against criticism. Although I hated every minute of them, I believe they nurtured one of the most useful skills I have as a Web designer.

The ability to logically justify our designs is a skill many of us lack. This is the heart of the challenge I wish to lay down.

Admittedly, this might sound like a lot of effort, so let me explain why it is worth your while.

Why This Challenge Is Worth Undertaking

Being a great designer is not enough. You can produce outstanding work and be the envy of your peers, and yet struggle to convince clients of your approach. The reason is that clients do not understand design the way your colleagues do. Therefore, you need to be able to articulate what makes your design right.

Our ability to justify our choices is crucial to our relationship with clients. Without it, clients will lack confidence in our abilities or, worse, feel excluded from the process. A lack of confidence leads to micro-management, and exclusion leads to frustration and resentment. Therefore, explaining our approach is vital.

However, it isn’t just about the client. It’s also about your personal development. If you don’t have a clear idea of what works, then improving will be difficult. Design critiques are as much about improving the quality of your work as justifying it to others.

Unfortunately, this requires that we overcome two barriers.

First, many of us don’t fully understand why we have designed a website a certain way. We design at a subconscious level, based on years of experience. When you have been driving for a while, you cease to think about the process of driving. Likewise, design decisions are often handled at a deeper level than the conscious mind.

Secondly, many designers haven’t had to justify their approach in the past. Either they haven’t gone through the rigorous critiques that I experienced in university or they don’t have the experience required to articulate their decisions.

It is for these reasons that this challenge is so valuable. By writing a blog post about a particular design and encouraging feedback, you move your decisions from the subconscious to the conscious level and gain valuable experience in articulating them.

Of course, knowing where to start such a challenge can be a challenge in itself.

Where To Start

If you are not used to thinking about design at a conscious level, then you might struggle to begin. While there is no right way to do this, I can share the approach that I use.

When discussing my design with others, I tend to look at the various components that make up the product. These usually are:

  • Grid,
  • Layout,
  • Color,
  • Typography,
  • Imagery,
  • Styling.

Ask yourself, why did you approach each of these elements the way that you did? Let’s consider each in turn.

Grid

Why did you use that particular grid structure on the website you are reviewing? Can you articulate your reasons for using a 12-column grid instead of a 16-column one? What about the margins and padding? If a client complained that there was too much white space between columns, would you have a response?

Another common issue is when you purposely break out of a grid. Was the choice intentional, with good reasoning, or just an impulsive decision? What would you say if the client asked about it?

The choice of grid might be based on the content or on the constraints of the style guide. It could have to do with making the website work on mobile devices or with allowing flexibility for future changes. Whatever the reason, you need to be able to clearly articulate them to yourself and the client.

960 Grid System
Are we selecting a particular grid because it is right for the website or just because we have fallen into the habit? We need to be able to justify our approach to our clients and ourselves.

Layout

Layout and grid might sound the same, but they’re not. By layout, I am referring to white space and the placement of elements on the page. These are often points of conflict between the designer and client, so being able to explain your approach is important. For example, how would you justify all of the white space that Google has chosen to use on its home page?

Why did you leave so much white space on the page? Was it to draw the user’s eye to a particular element, or perhaps to improve readability?

What about the positioning of elements? Why is the search box in the top-right corner? Is it because this is the convention and people look for it there, or perhaps because you wanted to associate it with other elements that are in proximity?

Color

Color is probably the most controversial of subjects, and so we need to understand our motivation. I tend to approach color selection in one of four ways:

  1. Corporate branding guidelines
    The palette has been defined by the guidelines, and I work within these constraints.
  2. Theory
    I use a tool such as Kuler, which produces a palette based on established theory.
  3. Emotional response
    The extensive research done on people’s responses to colors informs my palette.
  4. Main image
    If the website has a dominant image that has already been approved by the client, I use it as the basis for the color palette. There are great tools for extracting color palettes from images.

Adobe Kuler
Adobe Kuler is just one of many tools that help you apply color theory to your palette selection.

By explaining your choices in these objective terms, you prevent color from becoming a matter of personal preference and thus avoid conflict.

Typography

Something as seemingly simple as typography consists of many different decisions. These decisions extend far beyond the selection of typeface and encompass line height, size, weight, kerning and much more.

Fontdeck.com
With services like Fontdeck making so many fonts available to us, the need to understand and justify our choices is more important than ever.

You need to be able to speak confidently about your choices if you are to demonstrate your expertise and convey that what you do is a lot more complex than it might appear. Taking the time to explain the complexity behind your typographic decisions might sound boring, but it will impress. It will also force you to put more consideration into your choices.

Imagery

To many clients, imagery is merely about subject matter. But we know it is about much more. We select imagery based on the mood it sets, the colors it contains and even things such as the eye line of the person in the photograph.

We need to be able to articulate these decisions so that others recognize that you cannot easily substitute one image for another without significantly affecting the design.

Do you know why you selected one image over the thousands of others in your library? What made that image special? Can you explain this to yourself and the client? Was it really more than a “That’ll do” decision?

Styling

For me, styling refers to screen elements that are not directly content-related: buttons, links, call-out boxes and the plethora of other elements that need to be decided on.

How you style these elements can dramatically shape the feel of the website. From the chrome buttons on Apple’s website to the sketched buttons of Moredays, styling can make a huge difference.

A comparison between the navigation on Apple and Moredays
Styling dramatically shapes the feel of your website. But can you justify why one approach is better than another?

Can you explain why your styling creates the right feel? Have you shown the client alternative approaches? Did the client sign off on moodboards, which set the style? If so, refer back to them when justifying your design.

Reference Material

In fact, whenever justifying a design, always refer to the material that has already been agreed upon. For example, if the client has signed off on moodboards, we should use these to justify our choice of typography (“I used the same typeface that we agreed on in the moodboarding stage”). We can also refer to the target audience, business objectives, branding guidelines and even previous comments by the client.

Reference material can be taken from farther afield, too. For example, when justifying your decision to ignore the fold, you can refer to research done by ClickTale. Citing research and experts is a great way to justify an approach.

But remember, being able to explain your design is only half of the objective in this challenge. The other half is about improving the quality of your work.

Improving Our Work

Getting into the habit of justifying your decisions will inevitably improve the quality of your designs. Instead of leaving it to the subconscious, the act of considering imagery, layout, typography and so on becomes a part of your conscious decision-making process.

The act of discussing your process refines it and makes you more efficient as a designer. For example, in carrying out the challenge, you will probably struggle to justify some of your design elements, elements that in hindsight would have been better left out or presented differently. This will inform your next website, and over time you will find that your designs become more refined, simpler and more effective.

So, What Are You Waiting For?

Smashing Magazine has a quite large readership and a remarkable community. We have an amazing opportunity to start talking about our work and providing each other with constructive criticism. Write a blog post on one of your designs, justifying your approach. Then link to it in the comments below. Encourage other people to provide feedback on your design, and take their criticism to heart. Finally, don’t forget to make comments and ask questions of other people who have posted their own work.

My hope is that this post will not only help us speak confidently about our designs and improve the quality of our work, but encourage a dialogue about the design process. We are good at showing off our products but bad at explaining how we came up with them. As a community, we could benefit from more discussion about the process itself, rather than endless inspiration galleries.