Imagination is our power

Archive for November, 2011

4 reasons you still aren’t successful

There are a lot of articles that will try to tell you what you are doing wrong and how to fix things, but the truth is the majority of them aren’t super honest.

They want to get you to sign up for something to sell your work, and that’s supposed to put you on your way.

Not necessarily true. This time around we’re going to explore some of the real issues many of us freelance designers aren’t seriously successful.

 

You may have tasted a bit of success—for example, you may have a couple paying clients who are pretty good—but you haven’t reached any great individual (or financial) goals. You don’t have people knocking you door down asking you to work for them or you may not have enough to buy a brick and mortar spot.

Whatever your goals may be, don’t give up on them. These are just a few of the things you could do differently.

1. You haven’t found your niche

 

I’m a firm believer in creating or finding niches. Far too often, people desire to be a jack of all trades with no real focus. You tell one person you’re a web designer then you tell someone else you’re a print designer, then you go on to tell another you can edit videos. It’s great to be knowledgeable but carving out a niche and being good at that makes you extremely unique. The more unique or different the service you have to offer, the more chances you have to stand out and gain more customers.

 

To use a broader example, someone can describe themselves as being a wedding planner—because of this, they put themselves in a huge pool of hundreds of thousands of other wedding planners. At this point the only real thing they can do to set themselves apart from being a general wedding planner is to perhaps offer great customer service and value. However, if a wedding planner were to create a niche, such as rock-and-roll themed weddings or weddings with smaller budgets, it makes them easier to find and more unique.

 

Designers often come up thinking they have to have a deep skill set to be successful. Everyone tells us we need to dabble in everything. There are two main issues with that: 1) we try to be skilled in everything and end up being sub-par in everything, and 2) some of us actually have no passion or interest in “complementary” skills (i.e., we are designers trying to learn coding but have no real passion for it).

 

Find your niche and then perfect that niche. There’s no point in begrudgingly learning a skill because you’re told to. Put an emphasis on what you love to do no matter how pinpointed it may be. You may just enjoy designing web sites for clothing companies—perfect that and don’t worry about going too far outside your comfort zone to design a site for a church.

 

And one last thing about niches—find the RIGHT niche. I had been freelance designing for six months and promoting myself as the designer for small business. I worked within (what I thought was) their budget and had some complementary skills that could help out a bit. For six months I did this and didn’t get ONE customer shopping to enhance their small business visuals. I was discouraged but I realized the work that I did get was coming from a completely different audience: one that I knew was there but I really wanted to ignore. I eventually shifted my focus and have been having some good success. Don’t make picking a niche super hard; sometimes it comes to you.

 

 

2. Freelancing is still a side gig

 

There is no way you can expect to be a successful freelancer if you are putting in part time hours. I’m not saying it’s for everyone to take the plunge and figure out how to make money from home. A lot of us are responsible adults and can’t tell the cable company to wait a couple days. That is fair and understandable, but if what you are doing as a freelancer is your passion, you’ve got to put some work into it.

 

Now for myself, I understood that I have a hard time focusing, so I decided to freelance full time right out of college. No matter what kind of full-time job I could get, I’d probably end up focusing more on that rather than my freelancing desires, which I feel are extremely important to me. Far too often I see folks with full time jobs that try to do some freelancing on the weekends and that’s it. And while they have that passion, two days out of the week probably isn’t going to shoot you off to the success that you need.

 

I’m not saying you have to have a full-time job and then come home to work 40 hours on your freelancing, but I am saying don’t just do enough to get you by because then there’s really no point in being a freelancer. Do a fair amount of work—find out what works and what doesn’t work and focus on the things that work. I’ve also figured out that if I happened to have a full-time job, I’d spend any extra money on growing my freelance business. With the growth of social media and the Internet, people believe you can become successful for little to nothing. While this is true, this takes lots of time of which most people with jobs don’t have. Spend money on yourself and your business to make it grow and eventually take the plunge.

 

And quite frankly, if you aren’t thinking about taking the plunge to be successful, then freelancing will always be a side gig that yields side gig results.

 

 

3. You aren’t being yourself

 

Before I get into this one, I want to say this reason isn’t always your fault. For most of us, when we come online to research ways to make money or be successful or use a certain type of technology, many folks who are already successful try to sell you a dream. Basically, they reflect on everything they did, write it up in a nice guide book or record some videos and slap a crazy title on it. You buy it, read it and start trying to follow every step they laid out for you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most times, that won’t work for you.

 

If you aren’t being sold a dream, perhaps you’ve got an idol or two. You feel like your expertise and skill set is almost the same so you attempt to do the same things they’ve done or get into similar situations. Maybe you even measure your success by being better than that person or looking at numbers across the board. This is a poor plan as well.

 

It takes a little time to come to the realization that we are individuals and we tend to have our own places and ideas and walks. Trying to be like someone else just throws us off and slows us down. We obviously have to make our mistakes to figure out where we are best at landing, but no one person can achieve long-term success by trying to be another person.

 

Being yourself and being unique is one of the things that can take you extremely far. A lot of guide books and success stories should be looked at as inspiration and not to be imitated. Figure out what’s right for you and no one else.

 

 

4. You aren’t really networking

 

Networking and relationships are easily the key to success in pretty much any arena. When someone knows what you do, whether it’s good or not, they are going to come to you. If someone knows what you do and you do it extremely well, they’ll almost always come to you. Don’t you often wonder how amateur designers (who look the part) get good clients and work and such while charging higher prices? I do and I’ve figured out it doesn’t have a ton to do with marketing strategies, but it has everything to do with who they know.

 

I was pretty bad at networking. I felt like my talent should speak for itself and if someone wanted a terrible designer to do work for them, that’s their fault. And with that mentality, I stayed unsuccessful. I really started networking, talking to people—not just letting them become familiar with my service list but also building relationships—and my business started growing.

 

Networking isn’t blabbing about yourself and how great you are. It’s about making a connection, and if you can do that, you will do well.

 

Success

Being successful is completely subjective—some of us have higher goals we consider “success” than others. Whatever the desire is, the end point is the same. You obviously want to complete a certain set of goals to get to where you want to to be. As a designer, the common thing many successful people can agree on is that success is completely separate from your level of raw talent.

As long as you are ready and willing to work hard and set realistic goals, success will surely come .

How to Handle Negativity in Your Design Business

Negativity (or Criticism) is extraordinarily helpful and, at the same time, can be extraordinarily destructive. It depends where it comes from. We have probably all come across individuals who criticize everything and everybody, for example. Their constant stream of criticism probably comes from a need to assert their sense of superiority, which actually indicates feelings of inferiority or insecurity.

All of us have been criticized, sometimes unfairly, and we have all criticized others. When it comes to giving criticism, some of us are tight-lipped while others are outspoken, and some are more effective critics than others.

 

 

Negativity involves putting down or disrespecting the subject. It can arise out of jealousy, prejudice or ignorance—though sometimes it is motivated by good intentions. Negative criticism points out problems (sometimes obvious ones) but offers no solution.

Despite its negative associations, criticism can be an excellent opportunity to grow—but before you can respond effectively, you need to recognize the opportunities. One certainly experiences criticism in the field of design as well, and we put this article together to talk about how to effectively handle criticism on the social web.

How to Handle Negativity

How do you deal with negative criticism? The first reaction, for most of us, is to defend ourselves—or worse, to lash back. Here are a few alternatives.

Have the Right Attitude

instantShift - How to Handle Negativity

 

Design is subjective and, like all art forms, has no rulebook. No one can prove that your work is “right” or “wrong”, but that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore other opinions.

Everyone looks at design from a personal perspective. You might have a degree in web design and years of experience, but not everyone will agree with your opinion—so don’t expect them to. The important thing is to have a positive attitude and be open to new perspectives. Realign your expectations and understand that criticism is part of the process.

Last but not least, try not to view criticism as a personal attack. This is easier said than done, but the distinction is the key to responding effectively. If you can rise above an attack or a negative tone and respond calmly, then you will earn the admiration of your critic and feel good doing it.

Understand the Project’s Objective

Figure out what the client is looking for before offering a mock-up, and create a finished and precise design before publicizing your work. Is the design meant to address certain problems? Or is its purpose to demonstrate design practices to a friend with little experience? To respond effectively to criticism, you need to be sure that the critic understands your goals and the goals of the project. Be specific and precise. Present your objectives in clear and concise terms; this way, all the criticism you receive will be focused and actionable.

Check Your First Reaction

instantShift - How to Handle Negativity

 

If your first reaction to criticism is to lash back or become defensive, then take a deep breath and give it some thought.

Personally, I tend to get angry when I’m criticized, but I have trained myself not to react right away. For example, I’ll let a critical email sit in my inbox for at least an hour before I reply, or I’ll walk away from a situation instead of saying something I might regret later. The last thing you want to do is get overly emotional and give a response that you will later regret. Remember: in most cases, your critic is only trying to help you.

Despite the initial sting, you need honest feedback to become a better designer. The visual arts have an intrinsic reward mechanism: the more you create, the more you progress in your skill. Keep in mind that your skill and perceptiveness will mature over time. If you cultivate the right attitude, the proper response will come naturally.

Turn Negative Into Positive

One of the keys to my success—and I use it for everything I do—is the ability to look at the positive side of things that most people would perceive as negative.

You can do this with criticism. In most critical commentary one can be found a nugget of gold—that is, honest feedback and a suggestion for improvement.

The person might just be having a bad day and is taking it out on you, or they might be inexperienced or unqualified to give you valuable feedback, but most often there’s at least a grain of truth in every critical remark. See it as an opportunity to improve. Improvement is a good thing: without it, we are just sitting still.

Separate Useful Feedback From Misinformation

Yes, design is subjective, but being able to separate useful feedback from cheap shots and misinformation is important. This is not, however, an excuse to ignore comments that you don’t like. Unless you believe a critique was made in malice or ignorance, don’t be quick to dismiss it.

What kind of criticism is useful?

  • Specific: Valuable feedback is always specific. It is clear, logical and defined. “The logo is ugly” or “I don’t like the choice of colors” are examples of useless criticism.
  • Actionable: Constructive criticism should enable you to take remedial action. You should be given concrete ideas on how to go about improving a concept.

Learn From Criticism

instantShift - How to Handle Negativity

 

This step is the most difficult but by far the most important. For criticism to serve its purpose, you need to act on it, not just move on. Don’t go back to business as usual; make an effort to improve. The great thing about criticism is that it shows us our blind spots and weaknesses that only others can see. That’s difficult for some people to deal with because they think they’re always right, no matter what. But no one is always right.

Take baby steps. If someone criticizes your color choice, for example, then read relevant articles, blogs and reviews once a week. Buy a book. Practice. Gaining experience and maturing in the process is key. A series of small victories is often the fastest way to success. Eventually you will improve, and you’ll have your critics to thank.

Keep Looking for Value

If you think you can’t learn anything new from a piece of criticism, keep looking for the value in it. Another individual’s perspective allows you to examine your work from a viewpoint that you never would have considered otherwise. Just as you can get inspired by an art gallery or the work of another talented designer, you can find inspiration in constructive criticism. Be curious, and approach the criticism objectively; it could be incredibly useful.

Make an Effort to Understand

instantShift - How to Handle Negativity

 

At some point, everyone has received vague, ambiguous or unactionable feedback. If you do, try to uncover the things that no one else seems willing to tell you. Start by asking open-ended questions that get to the core of the issue—questions like, “I want to understand your point of view. Could you please provide more detail?” or “How can I improve?” Ask for specifics. This kind of question is part of a healthy flow of communication, and you’ll walk away with practical and concrete advice.

Thank the Critic

Make a point of saying “Thank you,” whether the criticism is constructive or downright rude. This can leave a lasting impression on even your worst critics, and it will keep you humble and open the door to additional feedback in the future. If you see any value in the criticism you receive, then saying “thank you” shouldn’t be too difficult.

My habit of thanking critics has actually won a few of them over; they eventually became friends of mine, all because of the simple act of thanks. It’s unexpected and often appreciated.

 

How to Get Good Feedback on the Web

People who are new to the web won’t be used to getting truly honest feedback or participating in raw online conversations.

Everyone Will See Your Work Differently

You are unique, and you might be publishing content that’s interesting and has personality, which means it will be interpreted in many ways by others; some people will love it, some will hate it. That’s the nature of the business.

Reacting to criticism the wrong way makes you seem guilty and unsure. If you react calmly and rationally, though, audiences will want to read and follow you, and those followers will likely link to your conversations. An impulsive and emotional rebuttal almost always makes you look worse than a measured and logical response.

Don’t be Sensitive

instantShift - How to Handle Negativity

 

If you are publishing digital content, don’t be sensitive.

Those of us who have been around since the early days of the Internet still feel a sense of freedom, of being unrestricted. The originals continue to drive the web’s rawest conversations and discuss the true nature of the social web.

My point is that online conversations, by default, are honest, real and critical, and you need to grow a thick skin. Don’t take things emotionally or personally.

Filter the Reviews

Sometimes the best move is no move at all. Depending on the situation and your strategy, you might intentionally be irrational about a subject or publish incorrect information. Maybe you’re being controversial to get links and attention. In that case, you might not need to respond to the critics because outcry was the objective.

If you publish industry-specific content without citing sources, don’t be surprised if people pick apart your ideas. This isn’t personal; you’re spreading misinformation about something that a group is passionate about, and they will challenge you on your sources. Publication does not make statistics and declarations truthful. Look into the sources and sample sizes of your data; if they’re not legitimate or defensible, and you publish the data, of course you will get flamed by industry insiders.

Popularity and Criticism Go Hand in Hand

Popularity and criticism are directly proportional in nearly all fields. Think about music: those who are passionate about music are inevitably critical about popular music that follows formulas, takes no risks or has cheesy shallow lyrics. Similarly, movie buffs rip most blockbusters apart. The inner circle is usually unimpressed by popular products because they’re overdone. The more popular something is, the more critical the reactions will be.

If you reach the point where others are reacting to your content with criticism, consider yourself successful. That you are being talked about at all is a positive sign, even if it does not seem that way initially. Media outlets have known this for years and, by accepting it, have developed pretty thick skins. They don’t take criticism personally; rather, they quietly (and sometimes loudly) leverage it to increase their exposure.

Branding and the importance of consistent design

When you start working with clients you have to understand that the work you produce is not just about how good or bad a design is. It has a lot to do with the way the design fits into the wider spectrum of things.

Does this design fall in line with the overall theme of the company?

Does this design ‘say’ what the company tries to say?

In some instances and with some clients, you don’t even have to make a ‘great’ design, however, you are expected to make something that would be well received by the company and their audience.

Being aware of this is being aware of the branding of a company.

What is branding and why is it important?

A quick lesson on branding: Companies should be trying to brand their company (especially if they believe they have a unique service or product to offer). The benefits of branding are often long term, but include customer qualities like loyalty, memorability familiarity and at some point, your marketing expenses will significantly decrease because an audience is already familiar with you. All that stuff sounds good, HOWEVER, the catch is that the company is not in direct control of the brand. In a nutshell, branding is the perceived emotional image of a company as a whole and, in it’s simplest form, has nothing to do with things like logo’s and stationary as many designers will lead you to believe.

Branding is a fairly complicated subject because typically the company’s management and the designer are trying to figure out how to brand the company, or how to find a way in which the company will be unique and find a place in the customers mind; but it’s really not about what the management and the designer want, branding really relies on the perception of the audience. So the next question is, ‘How do you find out what your audience is thinking?’

The answer is pretty simple: by doing marketing research–in it’s simplest form, this could be a survey sent to past customers asking them their perception of the company. The main goal here is to understand your audience and what they think about your company. The next step is how to capitalize (or fix) that perception. That’s branding!

 

Why is branding necessary?

Every good company should be trying to create a brand and not just creating a company or a nice product. A nicely branded company has placement in your mind–when you think of innovation, perhaps you think of Apple Products. When you think of graphic design, you may automatically think of Adobe Products or PhotoShop directly. These are just examples of what good branding is and how they create an attachment with their audience.

When you create a business without really throwing attempts at branding it, your audience will kind of lose sight of it and most times think of it as a copycat business or nothing to really write home about. Worst of all, you may not have an audience at all! The best way to find out if your client is serious, is to ask them what they would like their brand to be perceived as. If they don’t have a decent answer (that makes sense: saying ‘We want to be the next PhotoShop’ doesn’t count), then they aren’t serious about their business and desire no long term success.

 

Brand recognition and consistency

The ultimate goal of a company, is to win the hearts and minds of your consumers. Once you’ve done that, you have achieved what is called ‘brand recognition.’ This means your audience knows the company well enough to know what they may or may not say, and what they may or may not look like.

As a designer, you try to help with the recognized look of a company. For example, if you see a red bullseye, you may automatically think of Target Stores. If you are a designer working with Target Stores, you better believe you aren’t designing something using predominately blue squares–that’s just not that brand. You want to create something that is consistent and adds to a company’s brand and if you are working with a company that does not have an established brand, you want to create something that works within the views of the company. For example, if I’m working with a brand new music studio start up that wants to focus on traditional country music, I’m not going to give them something that looks like it was made for a pop star.

Consistency is absolutely key if a company wants an audience to recognize them. Recognition also works in a way that creates placement in a persons thought patterns. This recognition and placement can work positively for one company and maybe even negatively for another. For example, some people think that Volvo’s are some of the safest cars or Chevrolet’s are gas guzzling machines–positive and negative effects. In another example, a car might try to brand itself as a super safe car, but an audience may feel it’s safety features aren’t better than a Volvo, so they just end up getting a Volvo.

Once your audience has clamped on to that recognition or that placement, if it’s positive, you want to do everything you can to continue with it. If it’s negative you want to do everything you can to change it. Recognition and placement for brands can end up pushing sales harder than any marketing or advertising plan.

 

How designers contribute to brand consistency

Design is only a small portion of branding. Creating a super sweet logo and letterhead doesn’t mean a ton if the consumer doesn’t have a great perception of the company. However, good brand design can help build a solid foundation for a brand. If the brand is to be known for their scholastic wealth and achievements, you want to create something that gives off that feeling. If a brand has a product that is designed to make the consumer happy, don’t create or use anything that could do otherwise. Pick an idea or feeling and nail that down as best as possible.

Designers can also contribute to branding through creating work that is consistent with the views and perception of the clients company. Something all designers (and company’s, for that matter) must understand is good design equals good quality. When you really brand something in a consumers mind, it can really stand out for ever, for example color schemes and logos are really memorable and help create a good foundation or start of branding. You want to keep this in mind so that you make something that can be EASILY remembered, rather than easily forgotten. When you are working for a company that isn’t quite new and isn’t quite old, just try to create something that follows along with the design and perception that they already have going on. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel (of course unless asked) but you should think of more creative ways to get across the same message they have.

Most of the branding should come from the company — what do they stand for, what do the sell, who do they cater too — so hopefully for a good designer, branding should be a breeze, as far as logo’s and color schemes go. Designers can also contribute not just by the design but by the way in which the design and/or the company is presented. For example, if a company sells a product that needs packaging, what is the best kind of packaging for that product and how is it designed? Or even simply, should a company have a tri-fold brochure or just a simple sell sheet. Though minute, these things have a ton to do with how a company is perceived and remembered.

The Big Think: Breaking The Deliverables Habit

Right there in the center of my boilerplate for design proposals is a section that I glare at with more resentment each time I complete it. It’s called “Deliverables,” and it’s there because clients expect it: a list of things I’ll deliver for the amount of money that I specify further down in the document. Essentially, it distills a design project down to a goods-and-services agreement: you pay me a bunch of money and I’ll give you this collection of stuff. But that isn’t what I signed up for as a designer. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about deliverables. And neither should you.

Case in point: for months now, I’ve worked consistently with a particular client for whom I do almost no work on actual design artifacts (wireframes, prototypes, etc.). Rather, I hold frequent calls with the main designer and developer to go over what they’ve done with the product (i.e. poke holes in it) and what they should do next (i.e. help prioritize). Some days, they hand me wireframes; sometimes, a set of comps; other days, live pages. Whatever the artifact, our purpose is always to assess what we have now versus where we need to get to. We never talk about the medium in which these design ideas will be implemented; we focus strictly on the end result, the vision of which we established long ago and continually refer to. And in working this way, we’ve been able to solve countless significant problems and dramatically improve the client’s website and products.

It’s not about deliverables. It’s about results.

Understanding why this works depends on understanding the real role of the designer and the deliverables they create.

A Designer’s Work

First, consider the role of a designer compared to what we actually spend most of our time doing.

What designers are hired to do — the reason why companies seek out designers in the first place — is what my friend Christina Wodtke calls “The Big Think”: we’re hired to solve problems and develop strategies, determining what needs to be achieved and making design decisions that help to achieve it. But because companies have a compulsive need to quantify The Big Think, designers end up getting paid to create cold hard deliverables. Our very worth, in fact, is tied intrinsically to how well and how quickly we deliver the stuff. Heck, we’re often even judged by how good that stuff looks, even when much of it goes unseen by a single user.

Is this how it should be done? Absolutely not.

Hiring a designer to create wireframes is like hiring a carpenter to swing a hammer. We all know that the hammer-swinging is not what matters: it’s the table, the cabinet, the deck. Clients don’t hire us to wield hammers, but to create fine furniture. It’s not the process they need or the tools, but the end result.

In theory, companies understand this. In practice, not so much. They cling to the deliverables.

The Essence of Deliverables

So let’s look at what a design deliverable really is.

The purpose of a design artifact, whether a wireframe, prototype or sketch, is to illustrate our thinking. Pure and simple. It’s part of the thinking process. It’s also, according to some, a record to look back on later to aid when reconsidering decisions, tweaking the design and so on. But let’s be honest: people rarely look back at these documents once the design grows legs and starts walking on its own. More often than not, significant changes result in new wireframes, and minor tweaks are made on coded screens, not back in the deliverables that we were paid so much to create.

Most of the time, design artifacts are throwaway documents. A design can and will change in a thousand little ways after these documents are supposed to be “complete.” In terms of allocating time and budget, design artifacts can be downright wasteful. They can even get in the way; designers could get attached to ideas as they transition to functioning screens, precisely when they need to be most flexible. Every design is speculation until it’s built.

Like it or not — and some of you will surely disagree — we can survive with fewer deliverables. Of course, what this looks like depends on how you work.

Breaking the Deliverables Habit

The most important parts of any design project are the vision of the end result, the requirements for it, the design itself, and a way to measure its success.

Interestingly, only one of these parts involves complicated design artifacts. The vision is merely a statement that describes the purpose and desired outcome. Requirements are but a list. Success metrics? Another list. The only part that involves more than a simple, concise summary is the design itself. And nothing requires that process to involve layer upon layer of wireframes, prototypes and comps before going to code. (More on how to change this in a minute.)

Comps, of course, are a must when graphics are involved; in addition to necessarily being the source of the graphic files to be used in the actual design, they define the visual language, the specifics of layout, spacing, typography, etc. Creating wireframes, on the other hand, as quick as it is compared to creating coded screens, can take much longer than going from sketch to code. So, consider cutting the load down to what’s most essential and useful: the interaction model.

In other words, you don’t have to create wireframes and comps for every idea or every screen; just for the toughest screens, the ones that define the most crucial interaction paradigms. Use them to iron out the model, not every last detail.

It’s time for more design and less stuff. Consider the revised process below.

1. Strategy Document

Distill your research on users and the business down to a short vision statement on what the user’s experience should be like. Add to this a list of design criteria (specific guidelines or principles for the design), as well as success metrics (how you will know that the design is achieving your goals). You should be able to do all of this within just a couple of pages; and keeping it short will help to ensure that everyone reads it.

2. Activity Requirements

Write a list of tasks that users should be able to perform, and functions that the system should perform that will benefit users. Prioritize the ones that will appear on the screen.

3. Sketch

To apply the design criteria and meet (or exceed!) the requirements, sketch a dozen or so ideas — in Keynote, on paper or on a whiteboard — and then take pictures of the sketches. Sketch the toughest, most complicated and most representative screens first. These will frequently determine the interaction model for most of the design.

4. Comp and Code

If you’re not doing the visual design yourself, collaborate with the graphic designer to iron out the details of the most representative screens and any other screens that require graphics. At the same time, collaborate with the developers to identify issues and areas for improvement throughout the process.

Forget the lengthy strategy documentation. Forget the deck of wireframes. Just short summaries (long enough to get the point across, but short enough to be able to do quickly), sketches and comps, limited to the things that need to be brought to a boil in Photoshop. Skimping on the deliverables can save a lot of time.

Untying Deliverables From Project Fees

Of course, sufficing with this shorter list of artifacts and untying deliverables from your fees require a change to the design process. In short, we need to shift the emphasis from documentation to collaboration.

Set the expectation from the beginning that you will work with stakeholders collaboratively. They will help you think through the design at every step. You will not be a wireframe monkey. Rather, you’ll focus on The Big Think. And you’ll do it together. If the client is unwilling or unable to spend time and energy on the design as you develop it, find another client. A client who is too busy to get involved in the process is a client who doesn’t care about their customers.

Collaboration is essential to great design. No one person can think of everything or always have the best ideas for every aspect of a product. It takes a group to make this happen. This might require you to occasionally browbeat the client into being available for frequent discussions on new and developing ideas, but the result will be infinitely better. And with the added input, you can focus less on stacks of deliverables and more on converting rough ideas into comps, prototypes and/or functioning pages that give undeniable weight to those ideas.

In practical terms, this means working closely and constantly with the visual designers and developers (assuming you’re not doing this work yourself). And it means frequently reviewing what’s being done and discussing at a deep level and at every step how to make improvements. It means talking through every detail and making sure someone has the job of being the resident skeptic, questioning every idea and decision in the interest of pushing the design further.

Break The Habit

By focusing on The Big Think, the deliverables will matter less. And for a designer, focusing on beautiful products is a whole lot more rewarding than dwelling on the step by step of deliverables. On your next time out, consider breaking the deliverables habit. Go from idea to code in as few steps as possible. Hefty amounts of collaboration can cure the sickly feeling that you’re an overpaid wireframer, empowering you to build designs that you know are killer work.

10 drawbacks to working in IT

Like most IT pros I know, I occasionally have friends or family ask me to get them a job in IT. For some reason, a lot of the people who ask me this have a perception that everyone who works in IT is a millionaire or a billionaire. Aside from having an incorrect perception about IT salaries, few people outside IT seem to understand just how tough working in IT really is.

I realize that TechRepublic is frequented by IT pros, so you probably know all too well that there are both advantages and disadvantages to the job. My reason for writing this article is to give you something you can send to your friends the next time that they approach you with unrealistic expectations of working in IT.

1: The hours are long

There are all sorts of IT jobs, but most of them have one thing in common: They involve working long hours. If you want to work in IT, you better be prepared to work nights and weekends.

2: Your personal time will be interrupted

If you handle a critical support role within your organization, you will likely be tied to a cell phone. And that means you could be called upon to deal with an emergency at any given time. When I first started dating my wife, we were watching a movie at about two o’clock in the morning on a Friday night when I got called to deal with a system problem. Thankfully, she was a lot more understanding than some of the other women I had dated. I also once got a call in the middle of Christmas dinner. Working in IT can be almost like being a firefighter or a paramedic, in that you never know when an emergency will occur and you’ll have to drop everything you’re doing to deal with it.

3: You have to deal with a lot of angry people

One of the worst things about working in IT (especially for helpdesk roles) is that you encounter a lot of angry people. Almost everyone who calls you is upset because they have a problem and they expect you to fix it right now. Often, there is a great deal of hostility behind these calls. Those who are calling are under pressure to get a job done — and the problem your system caused is preventing them from doing it.

4: Work tends to be deadline driven

Most IT jobs are deadline driven. For example, developers are under constant pressure to deliver code on time. Likewise, network administrators may be called upon to create user accounts or deploy and test new systems by a certain date. Oftentimes, the deadline is completely unreasonable for the amount of work that is involved in the task, but you are expected to meet the deadline anyway.

5: People expect you to fix their home computers

Another thing you are almost certain to run into is that your coworkers will expect you to fix problems with their personal electronics. Don’t get me wrong — I try to help as many people as I can. However, sometimes, you may simply be too busy to help somebody or they may not understand the implications of what they’re asking. For example, I once had a user approach me about upgrading his Tandy 1000 (which was manufactured in 1988) so that it could run Windows XP. Oh yeah, and he wanted to keep the budget for the project under $200.

6: People lie to you all the time

When I first started working in IT, I had a pretty good idea what I was getting myself into. One thing that really surprised me, however, was how many people lie to you on a daily basis. I found out quickly that end users constantly lie about the nature of the problems they are having. After all, nobody wants to get in trouble, so end users try to cover up self-inflicted problems.

You can also expect to be lied to by vendors’ technical support departments. I have lost count of the number of support technicians over the years who have told me that a problem is not related to their software, but rather to the computer’s hardware or to the operating system. And of course I won’t even begin to talk about the number of vendors who have lied to me in an effort to make a sale.

7: You have to keep your education current

The IT industry is constantly evolving. IT pros have to learn a tremendous amount of information so they can do their jobs, and that information becomes outdated quickly. The only way to keep your knowledge relevant is to make sure that you keep your education current.

This can be surprisingly difficult to do. Never mind all the complicated technical material you have to learn. The things that most often stand in the way of keeping your education current are the long hours you are already working and the ever-shrinking IT training budgets.

8: Things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to

Earlier, I mentioned that projects can be deadline driven and that the deadlines tend to be unreasonable. Believe me when I say that there is nothing worse than trying to complete a project by the deadline you have been given only to have things come to a grinding halt as a result of technical problems.

Computer systems are complicated, and sometimes in spite of your best efforts things just do not work the way they’re supposed to. Something as simple as an inconsistent chip version on a series of system boards can derail an entire project. Naturally, it’s up to you to find the problem and fix it.

9: You may have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy

In the 20 years or so I have worked in IT, there has always been a certain amount of office politics and corporate bureaucracy to deal with. Of course, that is the case with most jobs. However, in the last several years, the bureaucracy has been taken to a whole new level. Corporate scandals such as the Enron incident have led to IT professionals being forced to comply with numerous federal regulations. These regulations almost always make IT projects more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

10: Your job is to make yourself obsolete

When I first started working as a network administrator, a longtime friend told me something I will never forget. He said that my job was to make myself obsolete. I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time, but he was absolutely right. An IT pro’s job is to make everything work perfectly. However, if everything did work perfectly, IT pros would not be needed.

Over the years, I have had plenty of people tell me that as long as you work in IT, you never have to worry about being out of work. However, some of the latest generation of management products make it practical for small numbers of people to manage huge numbers of systems. Likewise, a lot of IT positions are going away as systems are being outsourced to the cloud. Even though the IT industry itself probably isn’t going away anytime soon, having IT knowledge is by no means a guarantee of employment.

Choosing the Right Content for your Blog

Blogging is one of the fastest growing businesses today in the Web world. Innumerable blogs emerge every day, and that means the competition gets tougher. Blogs are written by a variety of writers: some are amateurs, others professionals. Some blog for fun while others keep it business-focused and try to make it big.

However you choose to blog, figure out the standards and stick to them. These standards can be related to the title of your blog, the niche, the content type, the design and so on. All these things together contribute to the quality of a blog. Perfecting each one is as important as actually writing posts.

In this article, we’ll discuss different types of blog posts so that you can choose the right content for your blog.

 

Bloggers have endless choices of niche subjects to blog about. There are personal blogs and tutorial blogs, informative blogs and world-news blogs. Professional bloggers must write within their niches in order to maintain rapport with their readers, popularity, relevancy and usefulness. A blog’s impact and power depends on its content. Hundreds of bloggers write on the same topics, so your task is to write posts that are unique and top-quality. Contents vary from blog to blog but there are few particularly popular types of content that might help you attract readers. Let’s talk about these.

The first five are the most popular and the safest, but there is great competition.

1. Tutorials / How-To

People all around the world use the Internet to look for answers and learn. Tutorial blog posts can teach almost anything: how to lose weight, how to learn photography, how to learn a language, how to understand math concepts, and so on.

It’s important that every blog has a focus, so write a set of tutorials or divide your tutorial blog into sub-tutorials or sections. Write within the limits you set. If your tutorial blog is about Photoshop or another such tool, write on all the various aspects of that tool, and don’t post unrelated tutorials. This will give readers a satisfactory experience, and that can lead to referrals.

The bounce rate is relatively low because readers tend to complete the tutorials they begin, and a low bounce rate is something all bloggers should want. Readers also tend to return to the teachers they learn from, and nobody is done with learning in one day.

Tutorial blogs can get popular quickly, but they can also fade fast. The competition is fierce. If your subject isn’t unique, let your teaching style be fresh—and the more interactive, the better.An interactive tutorial, well equipped with examples, images, videos, animations and so on, will definitely attract readers and serve them well.

2. News

News blogs are also very popular. News is the main ingredient in journalism, and there are always a lot of readers for such blogs; they’re attracted easily and they come back for more. News breaks every second, so content will be available on a regular basis. Readers want only the freshest news, but it can be difficult to break stories before other blogs do.Sometimes you’ll be able to report news via other news blogs, but it’s best to break stories yourself. If you want to be a real contender on this scene, stay on top of the news and serve it fresh.

Major news blogs have front pages and sub-divisions for categories like politics, economy, sports and so on. That’s one way to go. Alternatively, you can report niche news, especially if the category is large enough to cover a whole blog. For example,the political landscape in India is vast, and there are multiple political parties, so politics in India is a strong blog concept. That concept might not work for a small country or a country with a two-party system. Likewise,the world of sports is big enough to support one news blog, but the same might not be true of just tennis or soccer.

3. Reviews

Review blogs, which serve opinion pieces, are popular too; giving a review or putting forward an opinion always gets readers. Readers might or might not agree with the opinions but they’ll read anyway. This type of blog usually welcomes large numbers of comments and debate. The advantage of writing an opinion blog is that you are free to speak your mind, unlike news blogs on which you are bound by journalistic objectivity. But don’t feel you have to out-and-out revolt, because it could turn off your readers.

There are review blogs about gadgets,products, games, movies, etc. A gadget blog might introduce electronic products and review functionality, prices and features. These blogs help readers decide what to use or purchase. Typically, readership increases steadily over time. People usually do research on the Internet before committing to major purchases (laptops, washing machines, etc). They also check movie reviews before deciding what to watch. Take a look at Rotten Tomatoes. The competition is fierce in this arena as well, but readership is usually steady because readers repeatedly read the reviewers they like. They tend to compare reviews from different blogs, and they return to those they learn they can trust.

4. Entertainment

Entertainment blogs are always crowded with readers,but maintaining an entertainment blog is difficult. The big challenge with blogs like this is to entertain people well enough. They attract readers only if they themselves are entertaining because entertainment is not a necessity for readers; it’s a luxury.Entertainment-blog content can include stories, exploration, ideas, information, celebrity gossip—pretty much anything.

5. Resources

Resource blog posts usually have lists or links to resources and cover all kinds of things, from study guides for students to coding language for developers. They’re popular because they give readers exactly what they are looking for: answers and support. If readers like the resources, they’ll keep coming back.

6. Content Aggregation

These blog posts, which just aggregate long posts and resources from elsewhere, are gaining in popularity.They filter the best bits out of long posts and summarize them with links that lead back to the main posts. Readers get the gist, and if they want to read on they can.

7. Interviews

Readers of interview blogs want to read the views of their idols and icons—politicians, filmmakers, actors,engineers (masters of any field). Maintaining an interview blog is not an easy task; you need to collect interviews live or from other sources and present them in a fresh way to bring readers to your blog and distract them from others.

8. Debates

Sometimes it works well to put up a story about a popular or current event and open it for debate. This encourages reader participation and interaction.

9. Images

There are also blog posts focused on images rather than text. They usually begin with introductions and include relevant commentary here and there along with the images. This kind of blog post usually explores the creative arts (painting, photography, crafts, etc) because in such fields, people are likely to search for images; images help readers to relate to subjects, and they’re more attractive than text.

10. Competitions and Contests

Host a competition and invite your readers to contribute reviews or posts by offering gifts. People will feel free to show their creativity, and they’ll hope for prizes. Your blog will become all the more interactive and popular.

11. Guest Posts

One of the best ways to connect your blog with its readers is to invite them to participate. Whenever you give your readers a voice, you attract other readers. There are two advantages of the guest post: your blog becomes interactive and it gets a fresh contribution. What’s more, you become more real and relatable to your readers.

12. Awareness

Make people aware of a cause, a social-justice issue, or some other problem faced by the world. But don’t repeat your advice because you might start to sound preachy.

 

Conclusion

Each of the types of content I’ve mentioned can serve as the niche topic fora whole blog. Each type can also be used on any blog that writes for any niche. A Photoshop blog, for example, might offer tutorial posts, reviews, news updates, stories, entertainment elements and links to the best Photoshop support. Content types can be blended as well; share an opinion, then open up the topic for debate, for example, or make a tutorial that primarily uses images.

Hopefully the task of choosing content has been made easier by this article. Just remember that your content needs to be unique enough to strike readers and useful enough to build relationships with them. Strong content that is presented well will help your blog make its mark on the Web.

How to Correctly Handle the Colors of Your Website

Using the RGB format and math is simple to determine that the number of existent colors is astronomical and the conclusion is obvious: we have countless colors to use in our projects. It’s true, the differences between these are sometimes too small and for some people the differences are unnoticeable, but clearly:”000000″ is pure black while “000001″ is another shade, even if the difference is observed only by specialists.

In design projects, but also all around us, it is hard to find an entity using a single color; the world “is governed” by color combinations and here come the bad news: two nice colors added together isn’t a must to create a cool color scheme. In spite of the limitless colors, the correct matches between these are fewer and may not work for everyone.

 

 

In the overall value of a designer’s work, colors have an important role hence ignoring them isn’t a smart move. This article is written with the special purpose of helping web designers handle colors to their advantage even though it will be a strong “fight” against bad color combinations.

Before delving into the realm of color schemes and understanding the hidden aspects of nuances it is for the best to present their classification. From the kindergarten or the first classes in school we are taught that there are three colors which are the “parents” of all the colors and don’t worry, this isn’t a story for the kids. The RGB system used on our computers is nothing more than the digital version of the old tale (a “small” technical replacement of yellow with blue). The “R” stands for red, “G” for green and “B” for blue.

Red, green, and yellow are called primary colors and all the colors from now are created by using various percentages of them.

Secondary colors are formed, as you probably guessed, from the primary ones: combining yellow and blue the green color is born, from the combination of blue and red appears purple and from red and yellow we have orange. The color wheel from below reveals to you the secondary colors better.

instantShift - How to Correctly Handle the Colors

 

Finally, the tertiary colors are the result of combining the primary with secondary colors: yellow-orange called marigold, yellow-green is chartreuse, red-orange or vermilion, red-purple is magenta, blue-purple born the violet color, and blue-green is aquamarine. These mixtures are somehow hard to remember but using the visual concept from below learning can become easier.

instantShift - How to Correctly Handle the Colors

 

Another classification divides colors in two main categories:

  • Warm Colors:

    These are the ones situated on the color wheel between red and yellow.

  • Cold Colors:

    cold colors are called the ones that are based between blue and green. They radiate calmness and it is a reason of their being frequently used for the creation backgrounds. The combination between a warm and cold color has as a final result the accentuation of the last one. (Keep this idea in mind, it’s very useful when powerful contrast is required).

A web designer must know that colors have special meanings, for the most of us the white is the color of purity or red is for love but are you sure that these work all around the world? Surprisingly, in various parts of the world, the meaning suffered alterations so it’s wise to study the meaning of colors. A multi-cultural project is a real challenge from the coloristic perspective; consequently, the next tips are helpful.

  • White:

    Universally, the color of armistice;

    White is the color which represents purity and cleanliness and because of that the brides in European countries don white wedding dresses.

    In China and some African countries it is the color of mourning; it was also in Europe in the Middle Age but nowadays it’s totally outdated and I don’t advise to mark your mourning in white color. In China, white represents at the same time autumn, age, virginity and purity.

  • Black:

    It has a lot of meanings, each situation pointing out to a new significance;

    The great Pierre August Renoir said: “For 40 years I’ve been discovering that the queen of all colors was black.”

    It represents the color of mourning in Europe but it is associated with sophistication, mystery and elegance.

    In China a black product means quality and trust while in Thailand it is bad luck or evil.

    It is great when you want to emphasize other colors (did you notice that many photography portfolios have a black background – it is used because the pictures are highlighted on a black colored screen).

    Used on a large scale, black may be depressing.

  • Red:

    In European cultures it has three main senses: love and passion (Valentine’s Day is full of red hearts, all the gifts must contain something in red), danger (many traffic signs use red to warn the drivers and passers-by) and excitement (search for some online stores and study the call-to-action buttons, are they red?);

    In China red is associated with joy, good luck, in India with purity, in Japan with life.

    It influences the human metabolism, raises blood pressure; anyway it’s a strong color. Because of that, it is highly recommended to avoid the direct combinations with blue and green (it creates a powerful tension to the eyes).

  • Blue:

    It is the most preferred color of people and the fame of “safe color” is correctly established (important tip: if you have to design a website for a financial institution, it is almost necessary to insert something blue);

    The worldwide meaning of blue: good fortune, calmness, wisdom, respect, devotion.

    In Iran blue has special meanings as mourning and immortality and in Columbia soap (I am not from Columbia, but too many online sources are agreeing with this; I will highly appreciate any clarification about this fact)

    The final thought about blue is the Van Gogh idea: “There is no blue without yellow and without orange.”

  • Green:

    A trendy color quickly associated with the eco-friendly products and natural environment;

    Usually green is associated with: abundance, freshness, safety, and youth;

    In the USA it represents monetary power (dollars are predominant green, it’s obvious);

    Ireland is an entire country that is dedicated to green.

    The countries with a good density of jungles associate the green color to death.

  • Yellow:

    Did you know that studying in a yellow room your test results are better? Do you know that a baby in the same “yellow conditions” has the tendency to cry more? Studies reveal that the yellow color stimulates the mental activity, attracts attention, and combined with black, ensures the most powerful contrast.

    Taxis and school busses are mostly painted in black and yellow, guess why? Could it be about the strong contrast that attracts the eyes of the people…?

    Europeans perceives the yellow as a source of happiness, joy and hope while the Asians have a more respectable approach to it and consider it a royal color.

Choosing the right colors can’t be achieved by reading this post and few others; this kind of expertise is gained across the time and the practice is the best teacher.

A real help in selecting a proper solution related to the colors used into a website are the online applications that allow an easy handling of these. More information and addresses where the best applications can be found are here and I really recommend using them on a daily basis to make the colors “your friend”.

Experts in web design have classified the color schemes; they noticed that each project looks fine by using certain colors and some aren’t impressive enough to be used. This classification isn’t a fixed one; you shouldn’t take it as an axiom but it is useful in the final selection of the colors used.

Monochromatic

As the name itself is saying, the designs based on a single color use a monochromatic color scheme; the differences in hue and saturation being the single differences that allow for a clear visualization. Here may the achromatic color scheme be added up, namely black and white works. A monochromatic color scheme lacks the high contrast but it has the advantage that the majority of websites aren’t using such a solution. If you must create an original and modern website, a monochromatic scheme is welcomed. The websites below have already applied this idea and the results are brilliant.

Analogous

An analogous color scheme uses colors that are “neighbors” on the color wheel. The websites based on this color combination are easy to the eyes, not too much contrast, zero tension hence a powerful message can be sent but may be created amazing works.

Complementary

Definitely, here we can speak about powerful contrast; an intense message needs such a color scheme. The process of selecting a complementary color combination is simple: you select a nuance and on the color wheel choose the opposite of it. The imaginary line between your colors must divide the circle in two equal semicircles. There you should pay great attention to the selection, avoid any tension between colors else the visitors won’t be capable to enjoy your work; it isn’t easy to the eyes. Can you look at the image below more than 7 seconds? Surely, you can but the effort is pretty important.

instantShift - How to Correctly Handle the Colors

 

Triadic

In this case, the web designer uses three colors which are situated each one under 120°. This is the equivalent of a very balanced layout, in the most cases only two colors are preponderate and the third one is used only to highlight.

Split Complementary

The split complementary color scheme requires more refinement from the designer, but this doesn’t mean that an amateur or a less experimented individual can’t work with it. You must select a color, find the opposite on the wheel and from there, to both the left and right you are allowed to move a few degrees and choose the colors. Below, you will find this selection more evidently explained.

instantShift - How to Correctly Handle the Colors

 

Tetrad

Tetradic implies the use of four colors: two adjacent and the opposite of these. Apparently, it’s complicated, but it’s useful when a colorful design is needed.

From my experience, I infer that for a newbie the theory of above seems difficult and hard to put in practice but in fact many of us judge colors without realizing it. Somehow, it’s similar to the process of walking: all of us know how to walk but describing the physical process is more complicated than we may expect. Is it true? Certainly, I have a lot to learn about colors but I am allowing myself to advise you: always try to decode what the designer wants to express by using some colors; repeating this process on a daily basis, colors won’t be a secret for you.

 

Why are Colors So Important?

01. Colors have manipulative powers

The great majority of people don’t pay attention to this but colors may influence us. Designers noticed that some colors or the combination of these make people react while others make them very calm. As I previously said, there are very few websites of financial institutes that don’t use blue. This color predisposes people to calmness and wise decisions and these attributes are quite necessary in this field.

The websites related to the environmental issues are all using green and sometimes brown; imagine a website representing a company acting in the domain but using black and red colors. Only a genius may handle these colors to create something qualitative and having something in common with the nature. Here the same manipulative principles are applied; the colors of a website must suggest the essence of it.

02. Colors may attract or run away visitors

A cool design, very functional, respecting the rules of web design may be easily destroyed by a poor color scheme. Due to the amazing number of possibilities, users prefer to make a superficial judgment and the colors contribute to a good first impression. In conclusion, the colors are a double side entity: these may be your friend, “calling” visitors to land on your page but adding together “enemy” nuances may scare people which will never come back to you.

03. These may emphasize your message

The contrast is very important in the context of a website, by using it the main message is highlighted and the readers understand what you really want to say. I think its purpose is too obvious and I wouldn’t treat the contrast but I warn anyone that the other extremity is dangerous: lots of contrasting elements don’t emphasize more or clearer the ideas, just make the website horrible and a disaster to the eyes. Many designers consider that complementary colors can realize a quality contrast that is very wrong; there is a big difference between contrast and tension. The tension is powerful and not easy to the eyes while the contrast just highlights something.

The false reason of a strong contrast is given by the accessibility principles which require a very clear difference between near colors in order to help people with various problems. A smart web designer knows how to overcome this issue: the huge majority of the people that face sight problems usually see all the colors in different nuances of black and white or all the images have plenty of gray. In conclusion, when you are in doubt about, is recommended to desaturate your files and study the visibility; once you have no problem and everything is clear go ahead, you got the OK from the accessibility point of view.

04. Colors are the soul of marketing

Apple is almost the biggest company in the world and they got this coveted position by offering quality products but it wasn’t enough, the strategy of marketing was brilliant. What we all should learn from them is that nowadays marketing isn’t an optional component, it’s vital to attempt to be a more and more well-known brand. A study realized by the University of Loyola has a shattering conclusion: colors increase brand recognition with more than 80%.

Did you see many black and white ads? I doubt that…but have you asked yourself why? The natural colors, besides boosting recognition, make people more active towards buying or asking for services. This statement is based on another study that reveals the appetite to participation of the people that receive subliminal or normal messages with the aim of colors. As a small extension, the colored ads are read up to 40% more than the correspondents in black and white format. In commerce, colors make the difference between a well-sold product and a decent one; studies demonstrate that 80% of the customers believe that a colorful wrapper is the mark of a better product.

We all must be aware that the surveys and studies are the objective proofs that demonstrate the colors must be our friends because bring us massive advantages. In commerce, it’s evident that by neglecting them, the incomes and the profit are neglected as well; I believe it’s the same in web design but in a more subtle way. What do you think? Do you give an important role to the colors used in your projects? Please let me know and share your interesting perspectives with the readers by using the comment form.