the-dandy-dons-website

Re-launching my side project The Dandy Dons

the-dandy-dons-website

Some people think football is a matter of life and death…

My side project the Dandy Dons got it’s website re-designed over the last couple of weeks.

Although living in Copenhagen I am from Aberdeen, and support the football team Aberdeen F.C who play in the Scottish Premiership in Scotland. The side project allows me the freedom to experiment and develop my design and illustration skills. The freedom of total control of the design process and the chance to learn about social media communication (the Facebook page has around 4000 likes) as well as an opportunity to bask in the love of my football club and home city.

A Facebook community to connect with

The immediacy of reaction from social media is stimulating, revealing, occasionally humbling. There is also the immediacy of being able to react to events, and a removal of the preciousness or over thinking or over working that can come about if developing or experimenting with work with a view to a portfolio piece.

The sense of total control of the website design for The Dandy Dons is important for me as with my other side projects www.iain.dk and the forthcoming thenew.one. A weakness I have when dealing with clients is sometimes caring a little too much about the design of my client’s sites, and not allowing the client enough creative control. I can be a bit of a control freak, and I do not wish this to be the case. So the side projects, amongst other things, is a chance for me to play ‘design dictator’, without upsetting anyone….

 

scroll-hamster

Longer deeper website pages and the infinite scroll

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Image copyright of www.digiday.com

As websites become more and more user friendly, pages are getting longer and longer. People don’t like clicking, they do however like scrolling. This is due to the ease with which scrolling is on smart phones and tablets plus there being less emotional commitment. To click a link involves a conscious decision to stay on site. Scrolling is far more relaxed and non committal.

And now the infinite scroll. Whereby content is automatically loaded on screen as the visitor scrolls. Boosting time on-site and ad impressions. This is going to be big.

Digiday go into this development here.

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Famous brands using WordPress

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There are many famous brands using WordPress. Sony Music, Renault, Vogue, Facebook, The New York Times and the BBC. There is an excellent Showcase page on the WordPress site that features many of the great sites using WordPress.

A favourite of mine is Facebook’s Company info page, in which Mark Zuckerberg is just another humble CEO, on just another humble About Us page on the internet. Sheryl Sandberg even mentions her fish.

So with around 20% of the internet, and 70% of the CMS market, and growing, if you are not already using WordPress, you really ought to, come your next new website.

responsive-google-web-design

Google update to punish non responsive websites

Important information on a forthcoming Google update, and why you must have a responsive site.

Ten years of web design experience

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I still consider myself new to web design. In the sense of how fresh and excited I still feel about the whole process. However in July of this year 2015, it will be my tenth anniversary of starting to make my first website.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

I was asked by my sister if I would make her a website, and logo, as she was starting a Bed and Breakfast (small hotel) in Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland.

Struggling as a freelance illustrator, working in other jobs to pay the bills, I had thought about trying web design for some time, but hadn’t known how to start. So with my sister’s deadline fast approaching on ‘can you do this or not?!’, I knew if I didn’t get it to work, I would never become a web designer.

Try try again

I had learned I needed to connect to something called FTP, and I had some codes, and it was very stressful and difficult and I couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t work, and I wanted to stop, and I hated it, I CAN’T DO THIS…

And then the words ‘this is a test’ appeared on a page on the internet that I had put there. I was connected. I knew instinctively that was very significant. I could do it, and while there would be problems to solve ahead, this would be the beginning of something big for me. And I was right.

I then began making a site in HTML and CSS. And then I remade it, and I think there were three definite versions of that first site. I discovered I could do it, enjoyed it, and enjoyed going back and fiddling with it, learning more, adding and removing, fine tuning until it was just about right. And the whole process interested me. SEO, functionality, the graphics, the look, the feel. I just kept going back, and re-working and re-working. While working on the hotel website I also began work on my own portfolio site. You are reading this on that site.

Onwards and upwards

For the next few years together with graphic design (which I had experience from as a student many years previously) I worked and worked until I got better and better. I even dropped illustration for a couple of years to concentrate on them. I then heard of something called a CMS. I began with Joomla, and then started a cartoon blog for myself in WordPress. I preferred WordPress, although just a blogging platform at the time, it just felt good.

This lead to me working in web bureaus in Copenhagen, most notably and enjoyably Brand X where I got to work under and learn from the exceptionally talented duo of Jason Lambert and Adam Hill, before making the jump into freelance.

www.bannermanbandb.co.uk/ My sister’s Bed and Breakfast in Inverness.

www.iain.dk The cartoon blog, only recently restarted.

www.voiceso.com Adam Hill’s voice over site.


A quick follow up on this article. A couple of hours after publishing this article, a client sent me their Ftp codes for their new website I was to design. Couldn’t connect. Tried and tried and tried. Those pesky internet gods…

And I mentioned the article to my sister. Turned out her Bed and Breakfast will be nine years old in the summer of 2015. So nine years then. At the time of writing eight and a half.

Patronising advice for students – The art of selling for designers and illustrators

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In another in my series “patronising advice for students” I explain what I know about selling. For some the art of selling is natural and easy, and for others the concept is a complete mystery. Here is what I know and how I came to learn it.

Avoid wannabe childrens’ book authors

A few years ago I met someone who was an aspiring childrens’ book author. Would I be interested in illustrating his book with a view to sending it to a publisher to try and get a deal.

I read the book, it seemed alright, so I went for it. After quite a few weeks of work he sent the book off, with my illustrations. Then I got on with other work, knowing well how hard the children’s book market is to get into.

Around a year later I met the aspiring author again. He told me what happened. He got a reply from the publishing house rejecting the book.

I was furious. As I told him, JK Rowling was turned down at least half a dozen times for Harry Potter. I asked him if he was sure anyone from the publishers had even read his manuscript. Was there anything specific in the reply that showed it was read. This was a concept beyond this person’s realm of thought.

Selling myself door to door – the cold sell

I was working in bars and hotels in London. Living-in gave a nice disposable income, and it was fun for a bit. Until I just couldn’t fill the ice bucket up any more or empty the glass machine. I had been doing the artwork on the blackboards for the various places I’d worked, and was aware a few others did it for a living. So to save me from ever having to pour another pint, I started up as a full time blackboard artist.

This would involve me going into pubs, asking if they were interested in having their blackboards painted… I had an A4 portfolio with examples of boards I’d done, and a business card to leave behind. As a shy person that was a living hell. The first day I did this, I was almost physically sick. It was a horrific experience. I probably did it two days in a row, and didn’t get any work. Two weeks went by then my ‘mobile phone like a house brick’ rang. First customer. Ten minutes later I got my second customer. I was off and running.

I did this job for about two years. What I came to learn was for every twenty pubs I went into, I always got a minimum of one new customer. On being ‘rejected’ by a pub I then saw this as positive. I was one closer to twenty, which would always get me a customer, and therefor I was positively motivated to keep trying more pubs or restaurants.

The big lesson – don’t sell

What I also learned was I wasn’t selling, or persuading people to use my skills. They needed their blackboards painting or they didn’t, end of. As the business became more successful, the pubs, restaurants and hotels came to me.

When I first arrived at a pub, the manager  would  ask where I wanted to work in the pub. This shy awkward young man wanted to be as far away as possible from the public. Even working in a refrigerated cellar on occasion, rather than be in the public gaze. One day I had to work on a large outside board that was fixed to a wall. Had to do it there on the street. While working I picked up about three new customers. From then on I worked in public, always! It became like a street art performance, and I would amuse myself counting the number of times people said ‘you spelt that wrong mate…’.

Don’t meet your heroes – or work for children or animals

I am from Aberdeen. I support Aberdeen Football Club. When I lived in the city I was a season ticket holder. I’d contributed cartoons to the AFC fanzine The Northern Light and the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. But what I really wanted to do was work for the club.

So I got together some illustrations of the stadium, and the players. This is pre-digital. I worked for months on it. Sent it away. And waited.

I don’t think they even replied. Between other work, a couple of years later I tried again. Nothing. I think I tried one more time, and gave up.

A good few years later, my work now digital, a friend asked for one of the illustrations of a player to be turned into a birthday card for his 11 year old nephew. A career high! Reluctantly I did it. I also decided to print off another copy of the illustration, and send it to Aberdeen F.C.

I sent it in such a relaxed, disinterested way, when the club’s marketing manager phoned me up a couple of days later, and requested more like that, I genuinely couldn’t remember what I’d sent him… I went on to work for them for some time.

Learning from experience

Why had they rejected me previously? Why did they then decide to use my work? They accepted my work because my work landed on the correct person’s desk on the correct day. The times I was rejected, it didn’t.

So how do you get your work to land on the correct person’s desk, on the correct day? You send out a lot of work, regularly to increase the chances of this happening, and ignore any rejections. Exactly what the author in the first story did not do.

Selling as a freelance designer

When I go to a client’s for an initial meeting, I am not selling, I never sell. They will have got in touch with me as they are interested in my services. All I need to do is listen to their needs, explain the concept, explain how it could work, give any advice on any specifics they are interested in, irrespective of whether they have agreed to work with me or not. And most importantly of all, be honest. If I don’t know the answer to something, I tell them I don’t know, and also say if I can find out for them I will.

Generally all my client meetings have a positive result.

 

say cheese

Choosing and adding photos to a WordPress web site

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Everybody say ‘cheese’!

The importance of great photos on a website

You can make or break a web site with the correct photographs. It is worth spending time and effort on finding the correct materials.

Ideally hire a photographer, they can really make an incredible difference to getting great photos. You can also take your own. If a friend has a good camera borrow it or get them to take some for you, as the correct equipment can really make a difference. My one photography tip would be to take way too many shots.  It is hit or miss with photography. If it takes 50 photos to get one great one, take 500!

Stock photos

Alternatively use a stock photo web site. Be careful with these as they can give your site a generic look. Spend time finding the special ones. Often what seems like a great photo when seen in isolation does not work on a web site. Other times a seemingly dull unremarkable image transforms a page. So I recommend trying a number of options. For the stock photo sites there is a download ‘comp’ option, so you can try them out before paying.

‘But I can just take photos from the internet’ is a quote I have heard a disappointing number of times.  It is illegal and you run a very real risk of being caught. Either by the photo’s copyright owner, or by your own clients. Do you want dishonesty added to your brand?

Further photo advice

Adding a face or faces (real faces not stock images) adds a human element to your website. It makes you appear more approachable and potential clients or customers get to know a little more about you.

For a team photo or office photo, sunshine makes an enormous difference. On a bright sunny day get your team outside, get some photos taken also of your office/business and surroundings if relevant.

Photo size

The size of your photo should be the actual size you can see it. The bigger the image, the longer time it takes an image to load, slowing down your site. Dimensions are in pixels, the dpi (dot per inch) should be 72.

In Photoshop, get the dimensions correct using Image > Image size, DPI is irrelevant here. Using pixel dimensions full width of this page would be 1130 pixels. The photo I am using of the cheese above is 800 pixels wide.

Then File > Save for the web. Save as Jpeg at 100% quality – as the web is at 72dpi, the image will be saved at 72dpi.  When naming your file, describe your image with regard to SEO. For example company-name-team.jpg. Use a dash (-) between each word.

If you are using another image programme, then Google how to save an image for the web in that programme. Photoshop Essentials is available from Adobe for around 100 DKK per month.

Examples

www.bannermanbandb.co.uk. A professional photographer was hired by the client.
www.doka-danmark.dk/om-os/ Team photos in the sunshine.

Stock photo sites

www.photodune.net
www.istockphoto.com
www.colorbox.com

Adding plugins in WordPress

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Plug from The Beano, who is copyright D.C. Thomsen, and just holding this space until I get an illustration drawn…

Adding plugins

There are some great plugins that can improve your site. Here is how to add one to your WordPress site.

In the back end > plugins > add new, put the plugin you are looking for into the search box, install and activate it. Easy. Some work immediately on activation, some need certain aspects set up on their set up page. Somewhere in the backend left hand sidebar, will be the set up page for the plugin. Look under ‘Settings’ if you can’t see it.

A word of warning on plugins. They can cause problems on your site. Don’t bring in too many (I’d ay about 5 max, less is better). Check to see if a plugin is popular by downloads, or has lots of complaints in their forum before bringing it in.

Dealing with plugin issues

If something goes wrong with your site in WordPress it is almost always a plugin that is responsible. Not necessarily a bad plugin, it can be two plugins are conflicting with each other, or with your theme. If something goes wrong with your site, start by de-activating your plugins one by one, and checking if the problem is resolved. If that doesn’t solve it, deactivate them all together. If that doesn’t solve it, change your theme to one of the default WordPress themes you got with the install. Between those steps, almost all issues will be solves. You should be able to isolate, what will almost always be a problem plugin, and then delete it.

Update your plugin

Whenever the red symbol appears that a plugin needs updating, update it. This also goes for WordPress, keep it updated, and your theme.

Recommended WordPress plugin

I recommend you  should have WordPress SEO by Yoast. Adds a box below each article in the back end of your site for you to fill out for SEO. It teaches you how to SEO each article or page through choosing a key phrase for that page or article, then adding it to the Title, description and in the content. It effectively teaches you to write better SEO content.

I also recommend Disqus plugin for comments. At the bottom of this article you can see my comments section is with Disqus. It allows visitors to log in with social media, or Disqus itself, and can interact with other blogs. You occasionally meet it on large scale sites such as The Daily Telegraph.

Inspiration for writing your blog

Whether your blog is part of your business or you are blogging for fun, getting going with writing content is often the hardest part of the process.

There is a very inspirational video interview on the WP Elevation site with professional blogger Bill Belew. www.wpelevation.com/2014/02/episode-19-bill-belew/

Watching this will give you some good tips, and should leave you feeling energised. The two main points I took from the video (and there are lots) is ‘you haven’t really started until you have written a hundred articles’, and ‘just press publish!’. Bill is also a fascinating character, and Troy at WP Elevation is a great interviewer on all things WordPress.

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If you are still struggling to get going with writing for your blog, advice from Morten Rand-Hendriksen of lynda.com is to set aside thirty minutes once a week at the same time. What ever is written after 30 minutes, just publish. This way content will build steadily, and deadlines concentrate the mind.

From my experience the regular addition of content also makes me more alert for other possible subjects for blog articles.

It is important to understand it is unlikely you will know how your writing will be until you get going. It will evolve over time. You can always delete or edit old articles if you become uncomfortable with old content.

 

 

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Adding an article in WordPress

This article will explain how easy adding an article in WordPress is. How to add images, a link and format text. All with a view to maximum readability and for search engine optimisation. 

A post relates to a new blog article, while a page is a permanent fixed page.

Once you are logged in on your Dashboard page, you need to go to New > Post. There are two places to do this, both marked in red below.

The top area is for the title. The larger box is for the article content. Ensure your window looks like the window below. If it does not, click ‘Visual’ marked in orange, to see the visual editor.

Wordpress tips and training

Formatting your content in WordPress

It is recommended you break up your text with sub headings. This creates an easier to read visual experience for the reader, and gives Google a further idea on how best to index your site. H1 will be the biggest going down to H6 your smallest size of sub heading. H1 to H3 are the most important sizes for Google. (Other search engines are available).

How to add an H3 sub heading (this is an H3 subheading)

Highlight the text you wish to make into the heading, then go up to the drop down ‘Paragraph’, in the graphic above ‘Paragraph’ is just above the word ‘Article’ in green. In the drop down will be all the options, choose ‘Heading 3’.

Just above this area is ‘B’, which in the way described above will make the text bold. I, which will make the text italic ‘. You can try the other options to see what they do.

If you wish to colour a word it is the tool bottom row, third from right. You really should not need this, ever.

How to add a link

Select the text you would like to link then click on the link icon. It looks like a linking chain. The window below appears.

Wordpress link window

Simply add the URL (link address) to the box next to URL. Add a title if you want – helpful for SEO. If the link is to a website other than your own, click the Open link in a new window/tab box. This ensures the viewer still has a browser window with your website open. Then click ‘Add Link’.

How to add an Email link

Exactly the same as the way to make a link described above, however add ‘mailto:’ in front of the email address, in the URL box. So in the URL field it would say mailto:example@example.com

For both the link to a website and to an email address always check them on the site afterwards.

How to add an image

Just above the formatting tools and below the article title is a box marked ‘Add Media’. Click it.

 

Wordpress add image

If your image is already uploaded in your site, you can find it in your Media Library. If it is not, click Upload Files (top left corner just below Insert media) to navigate to your computer and find the image you wish to add. For SEO purposes it is best to have the name of your image as something descriptive of the image’s content/article’s subject matter.

The image above then appears. In the right hand column the text field ‘Title’ is automatically added. Remove this as it is the annoying rollover description tag. Add in the Alt text the description. Where I have written ‘WordPress training’. Again this is for Google.

Further down on the right hand column is ‘Link to’. The default is ‘Media file’. Which means when clicking on the image it will either open the image in a page of it’s own, or possibly open the image in a lightbox depending on your theme. I do not want this so I change it to ‘None’.

Click ‘Insert into post’.

Publishing your article

Depending on how your blog is set up, you can now press ‘Publish’. However typically my sites are set up so certain categories send the articles to different areas of the site. This also gives readers the option of reading articles on one subject matter. Categories is in the right hand column, normally the second box under ‘Publish’.

If your article is not finished use the ‘Save Draft’ option. Your website will save your article for later, without publishing.

Once you have published you have the option to change the date of publication if need be. In the same box as the Publish button. Which will now be entitled ‘Update’.

Enjoy your website.