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February 19, 2008

The Art of the Artist Web Design Collaboration

Web design or re-design with artists, musicians, painters, poets, or crafters can be challenging. They usually have their “vision” which may or may not be technically possible. From the start, I tell the artist that their website or blog is their stage, totally under their control. From design to attention-getting content. It’s their performance hall. An outlet for their creative expression. Do with it what you will – however, a few guidelines along the way will make it a more effective performance, no different than learning how to project and control your voice, develop stage presence, and learn the techniques of connecting with their audience.

Treat the experience as an artist collaboration. Any hint of commercialism or “how others do it” that might violate their “creativity” so monetization and SEO must be handled delicately. They usually think of themselves as unique trend setters, which works well in web design, but can break it, too.

Once they understand their website is a stage, they jump on board with enthusiasm and great ideas for incorporating their talents toward this new audience.
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January 15, 2008

Ready to Hire a Blog Designer? Read This First.

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The more popular blogging becomes, the more designers who specialize in blog design are in high demand. The best designers are scheduling work a month or two out, and have their choice of which clients they’d like to work with, and which they’d rather take a pass on. Particularly in the case of WordPress, there is more work these days than there are designers to do it.

When you decide you’d like to invest in a professional design, you’ll want to work with best designer you can for the money you have budgeted. Once you have arranged to work with someone, there are some things to remember if you want to maintain a great relationship, and to ensure that the designer will be willing to work with you again when you have future needs. To accomplish that, I have some tips, from a designer’s perspective on how to be a client that anyone would enjoy working with.

How to get the designer you want:

1. Be clear, concise, professional and friendly in your initial contact.

2. Explain your project in enough detail to pique the designer’s interest.

3. Give them adequate time to respond (at least 5 days). You can then follow up with an e-mail that quotes your original and reiterates your desire to work with them.

4. Understand if they aren’t able to begin your project right away. Someone in high demand obviously has other clients already in queue.

How to be a great client to work with:

1. Clearly define for the designer what you’re trying to accomplish with your site, what impression you’d like to give your visitors and what “brand image” you’d like to project.

2. Use lots of descriptive adjectives to help the designer understand what styles appeal to you. You can even provide some examples of sites that appeal to you to give further guidance.

3. Don’t say “I’m not sure what I want, so I leave the design completely up to your expertise” unless you really will be happy with whatever they create for you.

4. Don’t be afraid to provide constructive feedback about the design concept(s) presented to you. Designers know they’re not always going to hit on the perfect look for everyone on the first try, and expect feedback to help them ensure you’re perfectly satisfied with the outcome.

5. Expect to pay at least part of the design fee up front.

How to be a client they’ll want to work with again:

1. Be responsive and respectful of their time. A good designer will return the favor.

2. Recommend them to others. Write a post on your blog about your new design and link to the designer’s site.

3. Pay promptly.

Many of these tips seem like just common courtesy, don’t they? It’s surprising how common courtesy isn’t so common anymore. Being easy to work with is really not all that difficult, and you will definitely reap the benefits.

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Blog Design: Does it Really Matter?

As I continue to look around the blogosphere, I see posts almost daily about design, blog design, and sites with great design, and as I gear up to have my own blog, Xfep.com, redesigned, I wonder if it is really important to have a powerful, beautiful or striking design. Isn’t content all that really matters?

I remember back when there was a fair bit of talk about ugly sites doing better with AdSense and certain other advertising programs. In part this was because the usability was a nightmare, and people were more often than not, accidentally clicking on advertisements. These days, as private ad sales begin to make up the bulk of many bloggers incomes, a professional design helps sell the “whole package”.

What I mean is that you can have great content, tons of readers, but if your blog design looks very basic, or amateurish, certain advertisers won’t be a interested in having their brand associated with yours. In a perfect world, the design of your blog wouldn’t matter, especially if you were a great writer, but from what I have seen, it can limit your ability to get to the upper levels of earning potential.

It is strange though, as I go through the process myself of dealing with a redesign while at the same time reminding my readers I have an RSS feed available, and would love them to subscribe. Pushing a redesign through while pushing people to my RSS feed is almost like pushing two opposite non-complimentary goals. Most RSS readers will never see the design, except maybe to check it out when I post about its launch.

I write this post to see what your thoughts are. Does blog design matter to you? What are your favourite blog designs? And do you think that blog designs can limit the earning potential of a blog?

Have your say in the comments below.

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January 7, 2008

Skitch: Screenshots Made Easy

When it comes to blogging, there are very few tools I feel compelled to rave about or wonder how I got along without.

For example, I edit my sites with Mars Edit because it is easier and faster. However, I am just as comfortable with my browser and the vanilla WordPress editor as they get the job done just the same.

Skitch, however, is an exception to that rule and is both a tool that makes my life much more simple and a great service that I don’t know how I got along without.

For any blogger (on a Mac) that takes a modest amount of screen grabs or likes embedding images into his hosts, Sktich provides an easy and powerful service that combines capture, editing and hosting all within the same application. For me, it has sped up the process of taking screen captures and enabled me to include many more in my posts.

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Internet Explorer 8 Getting Ready for You

Don’t forget, your web browser is your first blogging tool and it pays to pay attention to what’s happening in the browser industry. Recently, Internet Explorer developers announced that version 8 has passed the Acid2 test, an indication that Internet Explorer 8 will be more web standards compatible than ever before.

We hope.
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December 20, 2007

What Do You Want Gone From the Web in 2008?

My report last year on the things I want gone from the web wasn’t as prophetic as I hoped. I was really hoping that people would get a “hint” – okay, a slam across the forehead – and clean up the web. The things that really annoy me, and many others, are still around, though there have been some changes and improvements this year.

Here is the status of what I wanted to see gone from the web in 2007:
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December 12, 2007

Improve Your Blog: Usability

How easy is your blog to use? Can the visitor move around quickly and easily between posts? Between categories, archives, and other multi-post pages with more than one web page? Can they immediately identify the About, Contact, and other key Pages which will give them more information about you and the blog?

Are the blog posts clearly identifiable from other content on the blog, such as graphics and ads. Or do the graphics and ads interfere with the post content?

When viewing multi-post pageviews, is each post title clearly defined, separated from the post above and below it? Is it obvious it is clickable, taking the visitor to the post?

Are the categories clearly defined so the visitor sees them and knows there is more content that might hold the answer if this post doesn’t? Are there only a few, specific categories, or dozens? Do they complement each other, or are each disparately different?

Is there a list of recent and/or related posts that will help them find more sources for the information they need?
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December 6, 2007

Improving Your Blog: Consistency

So far, in this series on improving your blog tips, a look at the redundant tips I give to many of my clients, I’ve covered clarity, cleanliness, and now, consistency.

The most powerful element in your blog’s promotional and audience-building tool kit is consistency.

It begins with a clear purpose supported with blatant evidence consistently throughout the blog. Follow this with consistent content, links, quality, and publishing, and you are on your way to building a trustworthy blog, one worthy of building a readership.
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December 4, 2007

Improving Your Blog: Clean It Up

Yesterday, I started a new ongoing series here on the about Improving Your Blog, beginning with blog clarity. The next item on the list of redundant advice I give to my clients is to clean up their website act.

Sure, there is a lot of talk right now about decluttering your blog, but let’s go further.
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December 3, 2007

Improving Your Blog: Clarity

As a web consultant and educator, I’m often hired to review and critique a lot of websites and blogs, making recommendations on what works and doesn’t work, then working together to make it work better.

I recently ran across a website-that-wanted-to-become-a-blog hosted on a very limited web host published with HTML styles long abandoned in 1999. The web pages were written and “published” in Word, FrontPage, Microsoft Publisher, and other old WYSIWYG-but-not-really early web publishing programs, but not consistently. It was as if the site owner or administrator kept changing programs over the life of the site without ever stopping to consider that the site would work better if it met web standards established in 1999 rather than perpetuating the old.

As you can imagine, I had a lot to say about the old, over-coded, error-filled, and table structured site.

Over the years, I’ve heard myself repeating the same points over and over again with clients who didn’t want to learn about web publishing but went ahead anyway, using whatever tool they ran across – and are still using when there are better and more flexible programs around. Now that they want to move into WordPress, they are trapped by their own lack of foresight, ability and knowledge, but also the changing times of technology.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be covering some of the redundant points I make with these clients on improving their blog, as well as some tips and insights into web and blog design. I believe that if people listen, web reviewers and consultants might be able to stop being redundant on these points. Or at least have something they can point to and say “I told you so.”

My first point is on clarity.
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