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Top New CMS Plugins, November 2020

Since there are so many CMS plugins out there, it can be overwhelming to choose the best ones for your website. We’ve done the research for you; this list contains the top new CMS plugins for November 2020. You’ll find useful plugins for WordPress, Craft, Shopify, and Joomla.

Let’s get started…

WordPress

404 Page Editor

404 Page Editor is a simple WordPress plugin that helps you add custom text to the default 404 page on your website. The plugin comes with seasonal and industry-related 404 templates. One useful feature of the plugin is that it backups your current 404 page before changing it. So you can restore the backup page anytime you choose. The plugin duplicates your current 404.php page to wp-content/uploads/404-page-editor/ so you can easily find it. You can also change the text on the plugin to fit your local dialect. 

UnusedCSS Power-Up

Most WordPress themes and plugins load their CSS in the wrong areas of your website. This can slow down your site. A slow website will reduce user experience and lead to increased bounce rates.

UnusedCSS will help reduce the size of your website’s CSS files by up to 95%. The best part is that the plugin works automatically. It will remove any unused CSS when visitors view any page on your website. UnusedCSS will automatically reduce your website’s load times by reducing your CSS files and page size. The plugin also optimizes the performance of other WordPress plugins and extensions. UnusedCSS also works with WooCommerce themes and plugins.

Simple Redirects

Simple Redirects is a WordPress plugin that helps you to automatically redirect requests to another page on your site or any other place on the web. The plugin allows you to easily redirect users from your old web pages to new pages using 301 or 302 redirects. You don’t have to worry about losing backlinks or page rank. Any incoming links to the old web page will be automatically passed along to the new page. The page rank on the old page is also transferred to the new page. The plugin is useful when migrating a WordPress site when don’t want to retain the URL structure. 

HTML Validation

HTML Validation plugin helps you identify any HTML validation errors on your website. The plugin works automatically in the background of your website and will send you regular reports. There is a progress bar on the report screen to show you the progress of the scan. The plugin uses WordPress Cron to scan the content of your website. There is also an option for the plugin to automatically fix any HTML validation issues on your website. You can also choose to fix the issues manually. 

Just Highlight

Just Highlight is a simple WordPress plugin that helps you highlight text in your posts or pages. You can use this plugin to highlight any portion of the page you want to draw the reader’s attention to. You can highlight the background of the page and also add animation to the highlighted text. In the WordPress admin area, you can change the speed and color of the animation. The plugin is compatible with Gutenberg, and the WordPress classic editor. 

DeviantArt Embed

DeviantArt Embed is a simple plugin that helps you embed any work from Deviant Art into a post. The plugin provides a block for the WordPress block editor so you can easily embed the image. It uses a DeviantArt oEmbed API to pull the images and their descriptions, and creates an embedded image. 

Static Optimizer

Static Optimizer is a static file optimization plugin that serves and optimizes static files on your website. The plugin will help you increase your website speed by automatically compressing your static files. It is easy to set up, you just need an API key to get started. Other useful features that the plugin offers include automatic JS and CSS minification, automatic image optimization, and processing of responsive images. You don’t have to worry about losing your files if their server is down. The plugin automatically backs up your files and will load your original files when their servers are down (either because of an upgrade, maintenance, or outage).  By default, only images are compressed when you activate the plugin; you can also choose to optimize fonts, CSS, and JS files. 

RankBear

RankBear is a keyword rank tracker plugin that helps you analyze your SEO efforts. With RankBear, you can track the keywords for each of the posts and pages on your site. While the plugin has a paid plan, you can track up to five keywords for free. On the free plan, you will receive weekly reports on each keyword you are tracking. You can search for the rank and volume of a keyword in every location supported by the Google search engine. RankBear is a lightweight software-as-a-service plugin hosted by Amazon Cloud Services. The plugin also offers the option to download the keyword reports to CSV. 

Table of Contents Block

Table of Contents Block is a plugin that allows you to easily create a Table of Contents for your WordPress posts. The plugin is lightweight and will automatically add a Table of Content in your website’s posts and pages. You can select the heading tags you want to add to the Table of Content. It also has a dedicated support team to assist you. The plugin works fine with all standard WordPress themes. 

Markease For WooCommerce

Markeaze is an all-in-one communication plugin that allows you to add live chat to your online stores. The plugin will help you improve your customer service by decreasing your response times. With the plugin, you can collect your visitor’s contact information via a widget. This feature is useful in building a subscriber database. You can also use the plugin to track customer behavior on your site, inform customers about new products, help customers with active orders, and collect customer feedback. You can also use the auto-reply function to answer commonly asked questions. 

Craft CMS

Image Toolbox

Image Toolbox is a Craft CMS plugin that offers image-related tools for your templates. The plugin will automatically create a WebP variant of the images you upload. It also has a fallback for browsers that do not support WebP images. Other useful features the plugin offers include automatic creation of placeholder images and generation of responsive images with multiple variants. The plugin also supports Imager-X (or old Imager). 

Element Panel

Element Panel plugin allows you to add elements and an eager-loading panel to the debug toolbar. This feature will help you benchmark your templates in Craft CMS. For elements, the panel has a dashboard that shows how many elements are populated. It also shows how many elements are duplicates. The plugin also shows you how many eager-loading elements are detected. Duplicate elements are grouped by field name. 

Shopify 

VStore Shoppable Videos

VStore Shoppable Videos is a Shopify plugin that allows your customers to shop directly from your videos. The plugin allows you to embed your products into any video. Since videos have a high engagement rate, this plugin will significantly improve your store’s conversion rates. 

ProofMotion Video Testimonials

ProofMotion Video Testimonials plugin helps you to easily collect video testimonials. The plugin sends an automated email or SMS requests to customers asking for their satisfaction feedback after making a purchase. The responses are analyzed to determine whether the customer had a negative or positive experience. Customers that offer negative feedback are sent to customer care to help them with the problem they encountered. Happy customers are prompted to make video testimonials of their positive shopping experience. ProofMotion guides the customer through the interview so they can give the best testimonial. They also offer an on-site widget so you can easily share your testimonials. 

Real ID

Real ID is a Shopify plugin that allows you to verify customers’ real identity using a photo ID and facial biometrics. The plugin is perfect for orders that have an age restriction, verifying flagged fraud goods, and selling expensive goods. Real ID will help you identify whether a government-issued-ID is fake during fulfilment. All the customer needs to do is take a selfie on their phone. This way, even if a customer has access to a stolen physical ID, they won’t still be able to make any purchase. The plugin can verify documents such as passports, visas, national IDs, driver licenses, and more. Real ID will help you handle GDPR compliance. The plugin is available in hundreds of countries around the world. 

Joomla

Accessibility

Accessibility is a Joomla plugin that allows your website visitors to easily access your website content. The plugin will remove any barrier between the visitor and your Joomla site. There is no coding required and you can customize the plugin directly from the module manager. The plugin has a useful feature called Dyslexic Readability; this feature allows your visitors to set the entire document font to a dyslexic-friendly font. Visitors can also grayscale the page, resize the fonts, and resize the word space. From the backend module, you can add any custom CSS and JS. The plugin is also available in 12 different languages. 

Reading Time

Reading Time is a simple plugin that will help you easily show the reading time of your Joomla articles. The plugin is easy to set up and does not require any coding. You can customize every parameter, including the text, in minutes. You can also choose to exclude categories, articles, and menu items. Reading Time also allows you to easily add custom CSS code from the plugin parameters. 

 

Featured image via Pexels.

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Source de l’article sur Webdesignerdepot

You Won’t Win SEO With Hacks, Here Are 3 Winning SEO Strategies

The world of search engine optimization was born with all sorts of different hacks and shortcuts that many people use in an effort to grow their business.

Knowing effective SEO tricks would be incredibly profitable, but unfortunately it’s not that easy

This becomes evident as soon as you do a Google search about anything SEO-related, only to find pages and more pages replete with blog posts and videos disclosing all the tips and tricks you “need to know” in order to achieve the best SEO results, in the fastest way possible.

Knowing effective SEO tricks would be incredibly profitable, but unfortunately it’s not that easy.

In its essence, SEO isn’t about hacks, shortcuts, and hidden optimizations, but rather about resource allocation. Keep reading to learn why!

Be Careful About Over-Reliance on Hacks

Before we start talking about resources, it’s important to understand why the quick and easy SEO hacks we’ve all read about online aren’t as reliable as they might seem.

The reality is that yes, there are some traditional hacks and optimization tactics that many people swear by. However, SEO has become way too competitive for these hacks to still work.

Think about it: anyone can learn about these hacks and shortcuts in a matter of seconds, which means that anyone can use them, which means that they’re not going to help your website stand out. By way of example, when thinking about keyword usage, many websites simply decide to put them everywhere on their website, without actually planning and strategizing. Perhaps years ago, doing so would lead to excellent results, but that’s not the case anymore.

What I want to go over, and what I mean with this article, is that when developing your SEO plan, you should think less about hacks, and try to focus on strategy and resources instead.

As tempting as they might be, most SEO hacks won’t really go that far.

What does go far are those strategies and resource allocation decisions, which you can master as long as you know three things:

  • Who your competitors are;
  • What you have;
  • and What strengths you can double down on.

Base Your SEO Strategies on Your Business’s Resources

So, SEO is about resource allocation – we know that now…but what exactly does that mean?

Well, this logic is based on something you might have heard of before, and that is the three pillars of SEO.

As a refresher, everything in SEO revolves around three pillars:

  • Link building and referring domains;
  • Content development and content marketing;
  • Technical SEO.

Many businesses have a limited digital marketing budget and, as if that wasn’t enough, their SEO budget tends to be even more restricted.

This means that we can’t try every hack out there or do every campaign we can come up with, hoping it will lead to positive results. On the contrary, it means we need to be methodical and understand which strategies have the most potential and are actually worth exploring.

In summary, there’s one big challenge that every SEO team and company experiences, and that is the limitation of resources versus possible operations, and that leads us to a question: what mix of SEO pillars will give us a good shot at ranking high and surpassing our competitors?

Develop Your SEO Strategies Based on Your Inherent Strengths

The mistake that a lot of business owners make after reading SEO articles or hearing about amazing case studies is that they try and copy the strategies they learned about, from beginning to end.

However, contextually, each case study or article could refer to a strategy that was specifically optimized for a different type of business.

So, although copying what other successful businesses can work in certain situations when speaking about SEO, it’s best to borrow ideas and use the ones that fit your inherent strengths.

Based on the pillars of SEO that we discussed earlier, there are three strong points that a company can have:

If You Have a Strong Network…

Some businesses don’t have the resources to create an in-house content development team or outsource writing services.

However, they have another strong suit, which lies in their ability to go out into their community, speak, and be heard. They can do this because they have built a strong network over the years and, in cases like this, what we often do is use a backlinking approach.

When working with businesses that have a strong community presence, go out and double down on their network. Pitch their relevant contacts for guest speakership and guest posts, building thought leadership, while also driving links to their website.

If You’re Not That Popular But Are Good With Words…

Right now, some of you might be thinking: “Yeah, well, that’s easy when you’ve built the exposure, but not all of us are lucky enough to be well-known”.

Listen, I get it, we’ve all been in that position.

For clients and businesses that feel like they don’t have the brand equity or exposure to develop a strong backlinking strategy, opt for another route, and invest much more on content (and/or technical SEO, see below).

If the client has a team who’s ready to put its head down and get to work, then focus on producing a lot of content for their website.

Ultimately, the goal is to build a content library that is thorough and expansive, and that provides the client with more opportunities for keyword rankings, while also reinforcing the relevance of their website for those specific SEO keywords.

If Technical Knowledge is Your Forte…

You may not like (or have time) to write and you may not have a strong community presence, but if you have advanced technical skills and the ability to create a strong website quickly, then there’s another approach you can take.

This leads us into the third pillar of SEO: technical SEO.

This solution is indicated for technical teams that can create large websites, databases and user experiences in no time, and it is typically adopted by tech startups that are trying to create an app that provides user value.

First and foremost, winning at technical SEO requires strong technical skills that will allow you to build the web assets that you need, but that’s not all. It also requires you to understand how you can double down on these skills and manage large websites in the rather complex Google ecosystem.

So you need, for example, to know how you can get Google to notice and properly index the new pages you create on your website, even if you already have 100,000 pre-existing pages.

Or to ensure that each of your new pages is properly optimized for the best keywords.

Needless to say, using technical SEO does become a complex operation. However, when done right, it can lead your SEO to grow by sheer size, with the hopes that certain relevant keywords will start to rank for your business naturally.

Conclusion: Your Strategy Will Probably Be a Combination of the Three Pillars

When it comes to SEO, honing in on your strengths and accepting the fact that you can’t do everything is definitely the way to go.

When you’re running an SEO campaign, you should always focus on what you’re good at, know your resources, and augment what you already master – and that will put you in the right direction.

By focusing your resources on any of the pillars of SEO (or even a mix of them), you substantially increase your chances of achieving long-term success, which will not happen if you go for hacks and shortcuts instead.

A long-term, highly-organized, resource-allocated SEO strategy won’t only guarantee continuous success, but it can ultimately become self-sustaining, meaning that it will allow you to keep growing and growing, becoming an organic part of your marketing plan.

I’ve seen a lot of people try SEO hacks for two weeks, only to realize that they didn’t work and that their efforts had been in vain. 

It’s unfortunate because by doing so, you’re turning your back on a marketing channel that is very valuable to a lot of people, and these hacks trick people into thinking it’ll be overnight.

So remember, resource allocation over hacks and shortcuts!

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Source de l’article sur Webdesignerdepot

Branding 101: Choosing the Right Business Name

When starting a new business (or even venturing into the world of freelancing for the first time), there are some really big, important steps you have to take.

Step #1 is choosing the right business name for your brand identity.

Your business name isn’t something you can casually choose either — especially if you have lofty long-term goals for your company. It’s not as though you can’t change the name down the road, but that comes with a ton of work and will require you to rebuild pretty much everything all over again: your visual brand identity, your reputation, and your SEO…

So, it’s a good idea to spend time choosing a business name that’s going to work for you now and long into the future.

Today, we’re going to go through the process of how to name your brand. These questions will have you thinking beyond just “What name do I like the sound of?” and have you more focused on important questions like “What is my unique value proposition?”.

Let’s get started:

How to Name Your New Business

For those of you considering taking the easy way out and using a business name generator tool, let me show you why that’s a bad idea:

This is a list of business names suggested to me when I told the generator that my business is related to “design”:

  • Design
  • Normal Design
  • Regional Design
  • Design Partner
  • Design Stock

Even the more unique names on the list are unusable; they have no connection to me personally or to the kind of business I plan to start.

This is why it’s so important to sort out your brand identity and make sure you pick a business name that resonates with you, and your target audience. To do this yourself, answer the following seven questions:

1. What Services Will You Provide Or Products Will You Sell?

The one thing that name generators get right is including a descriptive word related to your business. That way, it doesn’t take an actual visit to your website or a look through your portfolio to figure out what you do.

Even if you have a very niche specialty, sum up your offering in one or two words. For instance:

  • Web design
  • Digital design
  • Design & development
  • UX design
  • Graphic design

Unless you run your business through your own name (which I’ll talk about shortly), your business name should include a simplified version of your offering in it.

2. Who Is Your Target User Persona?

A user persona is a fictional character created using the demographics and psychology of your ideal customer or client. You can use Hubspot’s Make My Persona generator to create a card that documents these details:

Once you sort out who you serve, what makes them tick, and how it fits into the bigger picture of their business, you can better pitch your solution to them.

For instance, Joanna above is a real estate agent and owner whose primary goal is to capture leads and generate sales. You know how effective a real estate website can be for improving an agent’s visibility online and streamlining how they earn money.

So, including words in your business name that speak to that persona as well as their goals might be really useful.

Just keep in mind that web designers don’t always commit to one niche or stick with the same niche over the long run. So, you might not want to make your business name too specific to an industry (e.g. “Real Estate Design Solutions”) and more related to higher level themes and goals.

3. What Are The Names Of Your Top Competitors?

Do you know who your main competitors will be upon entering this space? If not, now’s the time to look them up.

When it comes to business names, you want to see if you can identify common threads among them. Perhaps they use puns or include location-specific descriptors. Or they just stick with the names they were born with.

While you don’t want to come off as a copycat, you can imbue your business name with a similar theme or tone if it’s proven to be successful with your shared audience. 

4. What Makes You Different?

Every business has a unique value proposition (UVP) — something that sets them apart from everyone else in the space. What’s yours?

Do you operate within a large metropolitan area where your prospective clients’ industry is booming?

Did you previously work in the industry for which you now build websites?

Are you an SEO expert who builds enterprise websites that rank?

In business, it’s good to be different — so long as it benefits your clients.

If you have a particular UVP that’s going to make you stand out, you’re going to use it everywhere to market yourself — your website, social media, sales pitches, etc. So, you might want to consider using a unique keyword from it within your business name.

5. Where Do You Envision Yourself In Five Years?

No one’s future is set in stone. However, if you’re seriously thinking about starting a new web design business, you have some ideas about where you want to go with it:

  • Do you like the idea of being a lifelong freelancer or digital nomad?
  • Would you like to operate your own design agency?
  • Do you have aspirations to build and sell website products, like plugins, themes, or UI kits instead?

If you expect to pivot your business at some point, be careful about choosing a business name that paints you into a corner. Keep it broader so that prospects don’t have to wonder what it is you really do.

And if you plan on scaling your business beyond yourself, using your own name might not be the best idea. You’ll want clients to associate the brand name with your agency, not with you specifically.

6. Will Your Business Name Be Easy To Remember?

At this point, you have some business names brewing. So, now we need to look at the more technical aspects of naming your brand.

Here’s what you need to do.

a. Write down no more than three to five business names you like.

For example:

  • Honeymooners Web Design
  • Charles Murphy Design & Development
  • FoREver Websites
  • SOLD Web Design Agency

b. Mash each name into one long lowercase string. Don’t include any punctuation.

For example:

  • honeymoonerswebdesign
  • charlesmurphydesignanddevelopment
  • foreverwebsites
  • soldwebdesignagency

c. Are any of the names difficult to read? Too long? Do any of them cause confusion and look like they mean something else?

If so, get rid of them as a matching domain name won’t work. Or, if you absolutely love them, fix the name so it’s clear, readable, and short. For instance:

charlesmurphydesignanddevelopment becomes charlesmurphydesign or just charlesmurphy.

7. Does The Name You Want Already Exist?

It’s a good idea to have a backup name in case you discover that the name you want already exists. Due to trademarking issues as well as possible confusion for your clients, you’ll want to avoid using a name that overlaps with or is the same as any other company (in or outside of web design).

Do a Google search for the business name you want to use. Check out the top 10 search results to see if there are any other matches.

You’ll also want to test out the domain name. Go to Domain.com and run your business name string through it:

You have a few options if this happens:

  1. Choose a different top-level domain (e.g. .tech, .io, .design).
  2. Use an abbreviated version of your business name  (e.g. solddesignagency.com).
  3. Move your backup business name to the front of the line and see if it’s available.

It all depends on how attached you are to the business name you’ve chosen. Just make sure that any changes you make to it (like shortening the domain name or using an alternate TLD) doesn’t cause confusion for prospects who look you up online. You don’t want them confusing someone else’s domain name for yours if business name and domain name don’t line up.

Choosing a Business Name Is Just the First Step…

Once you’ve settled on your business name, share it with a few people you trust. They’ll let you know if you’ve totally missed the mark or if it’s something you should be excited to run with.

As soon as you’re 100% sure it’s the right name, buy the domain name and register your company. Then, it’ll be official!

Of course, this isn’t the end to branding your new business. In our next Branding 101 post, we’re going to look at the next step: How to create the visual identity for your business.

Stay tuned!

 

Featured image via Pexels.

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Source de l’article sur Webdesignerdepot

20 Freshest Web Designs, September 2020

This month we’re going big and bold. Oversized type, strong colors, in-your-face layouts, and little touches of playfulness exude confidence and make a statement. There are some quieter moments too, with thoughtful illustration and more gentle use of color. Animation still features strongly in the details, with circles proving popular in rollover effects. Enjoy.

Fledge

Fledge is a film production company based in Belgium. Their site uses split screen with looped text scrolling in opposite directions on each side. A minimal color palette adds extra punch.

2ºC Earth

2ºC Earth is a beautiful and also scary website that explores the effects of rising global temperatures by focusing on 5 specific locations. Some stunning photography and subtle use of sound take you to these locations as they are now, then show what they could become. The experience is both immersive and unsettling.

pill&pillow

Unlike many digital studios who use the design of their own site to demonstrate their skills, pill&pillow have taken a very basic approach. It is very self-assured, and it works. Random colored strikethroughs on visited links add a nice touch of playfulness.

Ferrum Pipe

Metal fencing is not the most interesting of subjects to most of us, but this site for Ferrum Pipe is surprisingly appealing. On scroll animation and some off-grid image layout brings life to what would normally be, well, a bit dull.

Lucciano’s

With its focus on mouth-watering photography and videography, the site for gelato makers Luccianos, will have you checking your freezer for any leftover salted caramel or stracciatella. The zoom on rollover is a nice effect, and the use of circles with ice cream color backgrounds for rollover text reinforces the gelato theme.

Björn Wieland

UI designer and artist Björn Wieland has created a portfolio site with a simple, relaxed feel and pleasing transitions. It feels simple, but behind the scenes there is quite a lot going on.

Coloursmith

Coloursmith is a tool from Taubmans paint company which allows you to create a custom paint color by uploading a photo. You name your color and can add a story, then you order a test pot. colors are presented well, in different light and with suggestions for complementary colors.

Finn 

Finn make diet supplements for dogs. Their site is fun, modern and clean. Bright colors and an illustration that manages to be cute but not too cutesy make a bold impression.

Highcourt

Highcourt is a new private membership leisure club set to open in New York in spring 2021. Dark blue text on cream gives a softer edge than black on white. The background color changes on scroll are pleasing, and simple line illustrations with occasional gentle animation add to the overall sense of calm.

Elevence

Elevence is the company of product designer Kazuo Kobayashi. The site uses only black, white, and grays allowing the color photos of his work to really stand out. Circular thumbnails are used to good effect, appearing on rollover.

Playtype

Playtype is a Danish type foundry whose site seems to fit their name. It has a playful, almost chaotic feel, with bright blocks of color and occasional animation. Some pretty nice typefaces too.

Neri Oxman 

Neri Oxman is many things: architect, scientist, engineer, inventor, and designer. This site feels like a really beautiful coffee table art book that you want to pick up and look through every so often. There are some nice details too, like the lens ‘reveal’ effect on rollover in a few places.

Modern Recovery

Modern Recovery is a project by sobriety program Tempest. The interactive illustration encourages exploration, to discover different stages of recovery from alcohol abuse and insights from others who have followed the program. The aim is to change our social attitudes towards alcohol and not drinking.

Bliss

Have you clicked on the link to visit Bliss Search? Yes, the link is correct, no you haven’t been redirected to a Google search results page. This Australian digital marketing company have copied the appearance of different well-known sites for their pages — Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tinder all make an appearance. The humor in this approach shows confidence, and makes it memorable.

Miilkiina

Miilkiina describe themselves as a digital media space and creative agency. Punchy typography, with great use of blackletter, well chosen images, and a strong header video give this home page an in-your-face edge.

Ukrainian Railroad Ladies

Ukrainian Railroad Ladies is a book by photographer Sasha Maslov. Its subjects are the, mostly, women who work as traffic controllers and safety officers at railroad crossings in Ukraine. It’s a simple site — outsized type, black and white, basic image grid, only very brief text — but it is effective in its simplicity.

Una Europa

Una Europa is an alliance of 8 European universities with the aim of offering joint research and study programs. There is some playful scrolling behavior with geometric shapes moving and changing color that enlivens what could otherwise be quite a dry site.

Bureau Cool

There’s a bit of an old school feel about the site of digital design studio Bureau Cool, with its recent traffic animation. The changing backgrounds on scroll are a nice touch.

Gridspace

Gridspace is a multimedia entertainment studio based in Montreal, and their website is a visual feast. Lots of movement, lots of video, some good use of sideways scrolling.

Nolii

Nolii make cases and accessories for iPhone that work together. The sorbet color palette complements the product colors and the block layout provides a visual reflection of the interlocking of the different products.

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Source de l’article sur Webdesignerdepot

Why Do Websites Look the Same (And Should We Care)?

If we don’t question this kind of design homogenization, do we put ourselves at risk of perpetuating the same mistakes in the years to come? Or is it even a mistake to begin with?

Today, I’m going to look at four things that are likely causing this, and what you can do to break the mold.

1. Education

We used to have a design school in every city in the world, each with its own design style or, at the very least, the encouragement of its designers to be creative and come up with something new.

These days, though, traditional design education isn’t as popular as it once was. According to Design Census 2019, only about a third of working designers have a formal education and degree:

The rest have been trained through a variety of means:

  • Online learning (17%)
  • Self taught (12%)
  • Workshops (10%)
  • Mentorship (6%)
  • Certificate programs (4%)

Cost and convenience are definitely two factors influencing this shift towards online learning methods. And with a wealth of resources online to teach them how to design and code, why not go that route? Plus, designers have to keep learning new things in order to remain competitive, so it’s not as though a degree is the be-all and end-all of their design training.

Plus, there isn’t as much demand for it from employers. Unless you plan on working for one of the top global marketing agencies, many hiring companies just want to see proof in the form of a portfolio and maybe have you do a test job.

Now, I’m not saying that online courses and other informal design education don’t foster creativity. However, in order to make them cost-efficient and quick to get through, they have to focus on teaching essential best practices, which means less room for experimentation. Perhaps more importantly, their curriculums are guided by fewer voices. So, this could likely be one of the culprits.

2. Design Blogs and Vlogs

You have to wonder if all the design blogs out there (yes, like Webdesigner Depot) impair designers’ ability to break free from the homogeneity of websites.

I think the answer to that is both “yes,” and “no”.

Why, Yes?

What is the purpose of a web design blog? Mainly it’s to educate new and existing designers on best practices, new trends, and web standards.

By their very nature, they really should be teaching web designers the same kinds of things. Let me show you an example.

This is a Google search for “web design trends 2020”:

Most design blogs will publish trends predictions around January 1. And herein lies the problem. The writers/designers can only deviate so far from what we know to be true when writing on the same topic… so these sites end up with similar recommendations.

For instance, the top search results recommended similar things for 2020:

  • Dark mode
  • Hand-drawn illustrations
  • Immersive 3D
  • Glowing colors
  • Minimalist navigation
  • Geometric shapes
  • Inclusivity
  • Accessibility

When web designers receive the same guidance no matter where they turn, it’s only logical that they’d end up creating websites that adhere to those same practices.

Why, No?

Because I write for web design publications, I can tell you that there’s a big difference in the kinds of content some of them publish.

For instance, I find that WebDesigner Depot isn’t interested in rehashing what everyone else is writing about this month. We’re given topics that challenge us to think outside the box and present readers with meaningful insights and recommendations.

So, I think that finding design blogs that push the boundaries and don’t just want to recap what everyone else is saying is really important. That’s how web designers are going to master the basic skills they need to succeed while getting inspired to try new things.

3. Designs Tools and Frameworks

This is another one that’s not as cut and dried. I think it depends on the tools used and the intent to use them.

Where Issues Start to Arise

There are certain site builder solutions that you’re going to be hard-pressed to create something innovative with. The same goes with using templates from sources like Dribbble. It’s just the nature of the beast.

If your goal is to create a cheap website very quickly for a client, then you’re probably going to use a cheap builder to do so. With ready-made templates and a lot of the work already done for you, you can create something that looks good with little effort.

When you’re limited by time and cost, of course you’re going to rely on shortcuts like cheap site builders or boring (but professional) design templates.

How to be More Careful

You can run into these kinds of issues with more flexible content management systems like WordPress or frameworks like Bootstrap, too.

Whenever you rely heavily on ready-made templates, pre-defined styles, or pre-built components, you run the risk of someone else’s work informing your own.

The solution is simple: Use demos, templates, UI kits, and so on as a base. Let them lay down the foundation that you work from.

But if you want your website to look different from the sea of lookalikes, you’re going to have to spend much more time developing a unique visual style that’s equally as effective in its mission. Which also means moving beyond clients that have small budgets or low expectations.

4. User Data

Data gathering is an important part of the job you do as a web designer.

You research the target user (or the existing user, when applicable). You look at industry trends as well as the competition to formulate an idea of what you need to build and how you’re going to do it. And you also use resources like Nielsen Norman Group and Think with Google that put out definitive research on what users want.

Even with the most niche of audiences, consumers’ wants and needs are all basically the same. So, obviously, you have to design experiences that align with them. If you deviate too much from what they expect from your site or brand, you run the risk of creating too much friction.

Is This a Bad Thing?

It’s not in terms of usability. If we build simple, predictable and user-friendly interfaces based on data that successfully drive visitors to convert, that’s great. So long as the content remains strong and the UI attractive, there’s nothing wrong with that approach.

But…

This is the same issue presented by templates and site builders. If you do exactly what’s needed and not much more, your site is going to look and act just like everyone else’s. Which comes at the cost of your brand reputation.

Just look at Google’s Material Design. This design system may have made it easier for web and app designers to create new solutions that were user-friendly and responsive, but there was just too much spelled out. And this led to a slew of Material Design lookalikes everywhere you turned.

This is the whole reason why companies take the time to craft a unique selling proposition. Without a USP, brands become interchangeable in the eyes of consumers.

So, again, my suggestion here is to use data to formulate a strategy for building your website. But don’t forget to spend time adding a unique style, and voice of the brand to the site.

Wrap-Up

It seems like, despite all that we’ve learned to do, websites are becoming less and less diverse in terms of design. And I think a lot of that is due to the fact that it’s much easier to design websites today than it was ten, or even five years ago.

Modern-day education, resources, tools, and consumer data take a lot of the questions and the work out of building websites. Which is good… but only to a point.

Unless you’re building websites for clients who have absolutely no budget, you can’t afford to skimp on the creativity and personalization that will set their website apart. Yes, you need to adhere to tried-and-true practices and standards, but beyond that, you should be experimenting.

 

Featured image uses photo by Kari Shea.

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Show Them Your Assets – Tips for Handing Off Designs to Developers

You’ve been working away at your latest design project, and the client has given the go-ahead on your lovingly created digital concepts. Now it’s time to bring those designs to life, and you have a developer queued up to do just that.

So your part’s done, right? Not quite. You’re going to want to make sure your developer has the best head start they can in order to create the site as you imagined.

Below are a few tips to make that handover process a little easier.

Communicate to Make It Great

Get Talking

Scheduling a face-to-face meeting with your developer to talk over your project’s specifics and ambitions will help align your expectations and make the intent behind your concepts more clear. It’s quite likely they’ll even ask questions and request assets you haven’t even thought of yet!

It’s not just a one-and-done thing either, your developer’s going to have questions or requirements that arise as the project progresses. Deciding on a communication channel to allow easy discussion will help you both immensely.

Annotating Your Concepts

Developers might seem like magicians with the way they bring your websites to life, but they’re not clairvoyant! Annotating your concepts where advanced functionality is required reduces ambiguity and makes it more likely that your cool, quirky idea is going to make it to production. If it’s a feature that’s particularly unusual, you might want to find an example of a website or code sandbox that does something similar.

An example of Figma’s comment tool in use to make developer notes.

Figma and Sketch both have comment functionality in order to make annotations a little easier, also allowing multiple parties to comment. If dealing with PDFs, there is also an annotation tool available through Adobe Acrobat.

Specify the Basics

The basis of modern front end development revolves around DRY thinking. Some might argue thinking about code can be pretty dry, but we’re not talking about that – in this case, DRY stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself.  Most developers will tackle a project by starting with defining variables: what colors, font sizes, grid columns… anything that can be reused! Good, consistent design follows this same principle – although it’s a habit that can be hard to get going at first.

Tip: It’s always easier to define variables if this mentality is approached towards the start of the project!  

Colors

Make a style guide that specifies the colors you’ve used in your designs. Think about their logical applications to help signpost how they might work as a variable – for example, what colors did you use for paragraph text, hyperlinks and backgrounds? Did you consider colors to convey status messaging, such as successes, warnings and errors?

Typefaces

Which fonts have you used for your project? Is there a consistent set of font sizes you used throughout? If you haven’t already, maybe consider a ratio-based type scale – I like to use ModularScale to help with this.

Basic HTML Elements

Think about general styling for these basic html tags:

  • Paragraphs <p>
  • Headings <h1–h6>
  • Bullet lists <ul> and numbered lists <ol>
  • Emphasized text <b>, <strong> and <em>

Buttons

How about buttons and links? What should they do when they’re hovered over, focused (using the tab key on a keyboard) or disabled?

Forms Fields and Inputs

What should form fields look like? Is there any validation checking that should occur when a form is submitted?  How about checkboxes and radio buttons?

It’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to cover absolutely every single eventuality – allow your developer to use some common sense to fill in the gaps, and be available to them if they have any questions. In the words of John Maxwell and your aunt’s home office wall sticker, teamwork makes the dream work.

Get Your Favic-on

Favicons are widely recognized as the small icon that appears to the left of the site title on your browser’s tab bar. Nowadays, the application of your site’s favicon is much further reaching, showing up in Google search results and app tiles. There’s also extra theming options available, such as the ability to customize the color of Google Chrome Android’s browser bar color for your site.

Using a generator site such as realfavicongenerator takes the pain out of much of this decision-making, allowing you to upload specific graphics as desired, creating silhouettes of your icon for Windows Metro tiles and macOS Safari pins, and packaging everything into easy-to-use files and code.

 Compress Your Images

Nobody wants to load a 20MB image when they’re on a slow connection or a data plan – it pays dividends to plan ahead and downsize your images so that they’re production-ready for the web. If you’re worried image compression is going to harm your image quality, fear not – you can go a long way with image compression before quality is seriously compromised.

  1. Start by reducing the image resolution – for batch jobs, I use Adobe Photoshop’s image processor script to downsize images to fit 1920 x 1200 pixels
  2. Alternatively, if you’re working on a static project – where specific images will be used only in specific places – you could use your design software (nearly all mainstream UI software allows you to do this now) to export your images at 2x size to support devices with high pixel densities.
  3. I also convert my image color profiles to SRGB to ensure consistency across most modern display types (this one’s optional)
  4. I then take my newly downsized images and run them through imageOptim at 80% quality. Generally I would aim to get my images under 300kb – if there are any that are still significantly over this target once compressed, I’d run these through again at 70% quality (I wouldn’t recommend going lower than this, though).

Don’t forget you can also do this for PNGs! Enabling PNGCrush in imageOptim will let you significantly reduce the size of PNGs… just be ready for it to take a while.

Make Your Vectors SVG-Easy to Use

If your design contains graphics or illustrations you created using vector software, it can be used on the web as an SVG file. Usually, these files will be a lot smaller than JPGs or PNGs. You can export graphics in most (if not all) vector software in this format.

Optionally, you could use imageOptim or SVGOMG to compress the SVG code without sacrificing quality. Your developer might already use a script that does this automatically when processing the site for production, so it may be worth asking ahead.

Get Your Licenses in Check

If you’re using premium fonts, make sure you’ve purchased a webfont license so you can hand over the correct files to the developer. I’d recommend doing this sooner rather than later – although not often, occasionally web versions of fonts can have slightly different bounding boxes to their desktop counterparts, making it a real pain for developers to work with further down the line.

If you’ve been using samples of stock photos (or if you’ve been going crazy lifting whatever you can find on Google Images), make sure everything is kosher before you go live. Make sure you purchase licensed photos, and if certain photos you want to use require attribution, make the developer aware of this.

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