What To Do When You Lose Motivation as a Designer

Sometimes, you just don’t want to do your work. It can be such a hassle to get up, start up the computer, fire up the software, and do what needs to be done. You feel tired and bored, having lost sight of why you chose a career in design in the first place, and you find yourself wondering whether you should just give it all up and become a dental hygienist.

It can be really demoralizing to lose your motivation part of the way through a project, but what do you do if you absolutely have to get something done regardless of how you feel about it?

I’m going to tell you about a technique you can use when you’re feeling burnt out and you simply can’t bear to think about taking one more step to complete that big, hairy project staring you in the face.

Riding the Rollercoaster

Emotions are not permanent. Sometimes you’re exuberantly happy, and other times you’re depressed enough to cry. This is normal – it means you’re human and not a robot. Most people realize that their current emotional state won’t last forever.

However, most of us seem to conveniently forget that fact when there’s a pile of work that needs to be done, and it isn’t going to do itself. It doesn’t matter if the work is for a client or boss, or just for ourselves. We can usually find a way to get our work done when there’s a paycheck involved, but sometimes even that isn’t motivation enough to press on.

Procrastination is a problem that affects us all, but for some people it can be more devastating than usual. Believe it or not, people have lost their jobs, homes, and families because they couldn’t bring themselves out of the trap of procrastination. Procrastination usually occurs when the emotional side of our brains – the side that loves to laze in front of the television and eat ice cream – overtakes the rational side of our brains.

Woman window working looking out work bored

The rational side no longer has control, and the emotional side is now telling us that there’s nothing more important than catching up on our favorite show or finishing that new video game we just bought.

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have some news for you. First of all, you should realize that procrastination, despite being an annoyance and a major waste of time, is perfectly normal.

Really. You’re not some lazy freak of nature if you procrastinate now and then. There’s no real cure for procrastination, and to be honest, as a creative person, you probably wouldn’t want the cure even if there was one. Why? Because procrastination is a major source of distraction, and distraction is what allows you to be creative in the first place.

Think about it. If your life was merely a series of tasks from your to-do list, which you did flawlessly all the time, where would you find the time to be creative? And what are you usually doing when you’re at your most creative? Are you getting things done productively, like a good little automaton? Or are you goofing off – staring into space, doodling aimlessly, thinking about crazy, abstract things that have nothing to do with the task at hand? If you’re anything like me, the answer is almost always the latter.

The problem comes when your procrastination lasts longer than the period it’s required to be useful. If you find yourself avoiding your work for no other reason than you’re just not motivated to do it, there are a few things you can do to get yourself back on track and complete the work that needs to be completed.

First of all, it’s important to understand the nature of human emotion. Don’t worry – this isn’t some esoteric psychology lesson. It’s actually quite simple: there’s no way you can maintain the same level of enthusiasm for the entire duration of a long-term project. It’s just not possible. Your brain will eventually run out of energy, and you’ll find yourself exhausted and demotivated.

This is normal. And like procrastination, there’s nothing you can do about it. What you can do, however, is something that many people refuse to do: accept that it’s normal and that you can’t do anything about it.

woman working computer

Once you accept that something is inevitable, you’ll be much better prepared to deal with it when it happens. If you’ve ever lost a loved one to a long illness, you’ll probably recall how, after a certain period, they will begin to make preparations for their own passing. They’ll update their will, and set everything in order for the day when they’ll no longer be around. There’s nothing they can do to stop what’s coming, but they can accept it and make things go that much smoother.

And if a terminally ill person can accept their own mortality, you can certainly accept that you’ll have to continue working regardless of how you feel about it at any given time.

In order to continue working on a project once you’re past that stage of initial enthusiasm, you have to prepare yourself ahead of time to deal with your fluctuating emotions.

It’s important to realize that you won’t always be at the same level of excitement, and that that’s perfectly okay. That way, when you lose steam halfway through, you’ll have a system in place to deal with it and you won’t be completely lost and frustrated.

A lot of people say things like “it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey.” After you get through wanting to punch those people in the face, take a moment and really think about what they’re saying. If you’re too focused on your goal, you won’t even notice when your enthusiasm runs out and you’re no longer able to rely on it for motivation.

Set Realistic Expectations

Many times, we lose motivation to work on a project because we just aren’t seeing the results we thought we would in the allotted time period.

If you took on a few freelancing jobs in hopes of saving up enough money to take that trip around the world you’ve been wanting to take, or even to just pay some of your bills that have been piling up, and you haven’t gotten as many clients as you hoped you would, you can easily become discouraged. If no amount of marketing or niching down your target client base has been showing results, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the amount of time you’ve given yourself to reach your goals.

Are you expecting to double your income through freelancing within six months? If so, you might want to sit down, because I have some bad news for you. Building a successful freelance career takes time – time that you might not have given yourself in the beginning.

Use your “down time” of minimal motivation to reassess your goals and create a more realistic scenario. When you’re feeling defeated, it can be much easier to accept that your goals will take you longer than you thought. Why? Because you give your brain hope that they can eventually be reached, rather than thinking that everything is doomed and you’ll never be successful.

Doomed If You Do, Doomed If You Don’t

If you’ve been successful at completing projects before, you might recall that, though you can laugh and joke about it all now, you probably experienced feelings of doubt and anxiety about the success of your project.

Doubt is one of the biggest killers of motivation, because it robs you of the confidence needed to complete any task. Even if you’ve planned your goals carefully and rationally, and you haven’t miscalculated anything in terms of time or effort required, if you feel you’re still not getting the results you were hoping for, you can start to lose your enthusiasm. You may feel as though you’ll never reach your goals… until you do reach them. Then, you become totally confident again and nothing can stop you. Right?

am I good enough quote notepad book handwritten

Well, sometimes. I don’t know about you, but even when I’ve been successful with a project, I’ll still get a nagging feeling that I just haven’t done enough to secure my success. If you experience anxiety about succeeding, you can feel as if you’re a fraud, hiding behind a curtain of false confidence like the Wizard of Oz.

The good thing about these feelings is that they’re usually temporary. Most people have them, and they’ll eventually go away after awhile. If you began your project for the right reasons, those reasons will always guide you through the wilderness, and you’ll eventually meet back up with your confidence.

Creative people are natural born risk-takers. Everything we do – from finding freelance clients to generating valuable work those clients will love – involves a risk of some sort. Even if the only risk is you feeling demotivated or unenthusiastic from time to time, it can still prove too much for you to handle. But imagine how our lives would be if nothing involved any kind of risk. If everything you touched turned to gold and you could never fail, ever.

The post What To Do When You Lose Motivation as a Designer appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

Reasons to Be Thankful: Bright Spots for Web Designers

When the world seemingly changed overnight due to COVID-19, it was surreal. Maybe your surroundings looked exactly the same. Your to-do list contained the same projects. Even if things were completely different beneath the surface, it wasn’t easily recognizable.

Now that we’ve all had some time to process quarantines and widespread sickness, it’s starting to hit home. That is, if we and our loved ones are fortunate enough not to have fallen ill.

Personally, I’ve felt a wide range of emotions throughout this period of time. There’s worry and fear regarding the unknown. Gratitude for health and family – not to mention all of those people who are doing their part to save lives and help keep the world moving. Still, as uncertain as things are, it’s easy to feel a sense of despair.

While that’s understandable, it doesn’t have to be a 24/7 feeling. There are indeed some bright spots for those of us in the industry, if you know where to look. With that, here are some things we take solace in.

Web Designers Are Essential

During a time when the need for accurate information is vital, web designers are playing a key role. We’re helping our clients reach their audience and keeping the world informed.

For the past couple of decades, the web has been replacing or serving as an addendum to the physical world. In a way, that has prepared us to pitch in during a crisis such as this.

That prep time has allowed us to have at least some infrastructure in place to adapt to the rapidly-changing needs of clients. The websites we manage can disseminate information, tie in with third-party services like social media networks and take online transactions. Each of these areas are proving to be crucial during a global pandemic.

This (hopefully) means that there’s no need to start from scratch. In many cases, it’s a matter of augmenting the systems we already have.

The ability to turn on a dime when it’s needed the most is something to be proud of. And each of us has our own role to play.

A pair of glasses sitting on a desk.

Opportunity Is Still Out There

Businesses all over the world have been impacted by closings, modified hours and loss of revenue. Many have shifted strategies to try and stay afloat during the public health crisis. It’s a difficult situation and one that is likely to last into the foreseeable future.

Out of this uncertainty also comes opportunity. Web designers are in a position to help clients adapt to new ways of doing business. Those who have traditionally run their organization via offline methods will need help going online. Others will likely need to expand current online operations.

In addition, the unique circumstances may result in a new wave of startups. Companies will look to solve new problems that have surfaced and they’ll need an effective website as part of their efforts.

This isn’t to say that the sky is the limit. But if you have the right skillset, or are willing to learn, you could find yourself with a number of projects to tackle.

A woman talking on the phone.

We Work in a Unique Industry

The web design industry itself is, as always, a bright spot. This is a community, not an everyone-for-themselves affair. That’s something to be very proud of.

Web professionals are continuing to share knowledge and advice. However, that has expanded beyond the typical programming and design tutorials. Some are sharing tips for getting through the pandemic and how to help clients navigate uncharted waters.

There is also a highly-personal element that seems to be missing from a lot of industries. Perhaps that’s because there are so many small businesses, solo entrepreneurs and self-taught individuals involved.

This lends itself well to a lot of situations, but especially a crisis. People are letting us into their homes (virtually, of course) and discussing their experiences. That is highly relatable – regardless of your age, gender or nationality.

The human element is part of what makes this a special community. It’s something we can all lean on, even when there’s chaos all around us.

A person using a tablet device.

Staying Positive in Difficult Times

Despite a challenging environment, those of us in the web design industry have plenty of reasons to be thankful. Maybe things aren’t the same, but there’s still an opportunity to thrive and be of service to others. That’s something not a lot of people can say right now.

Yes, there’s a heavy weight on everyone’s shoulders. But you don’t have to look far to find some positives.

The post Reasons to Be Thankful: Bright Spots for Web Designers appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

What to Do When a Web Design Client Leaves

Have you ever noticed that most freelance web design advice is related to gaining new clients? Well, today is a bit different. Instead of rehashing all the old strategies for increasing business, let’s talk about what happens when a client heads out the door.

You might wonder why we’d ever want to talk about such a thing. It can be depressing, after all. But it’s actually an important topic.

If you’re around long enough, you’ll undoubtedly see clients come and go. In some instances, you’ll know it’s coming. Others may be a complete surprise. Regardless, you’ll want to know how to deal with the situation.

So, let’s review some strategies for dealing with your soon-to-be-ex, along with the potential impact to your business.

Don’t Take It Too Personally

Depending on the specific client and the revenue they produce, losing them will either make you stress out or jump for joy. But no matter how you feel inside, it’s important to handle it like a professional. This is part of the natural ebb and flow of being in business.

In most cases, a client leaving is not the result of some personal vendetta (more on that later). But even if it were, staying cordial will make the transition go more smoothly. That’s really a best-case scenario for everyone involved.

When bridges are burned, things can get unnecessarily messy. Tasks like transferring domains or files become twice as difficult, as neither party feels motivated to cooperate. This only serves to prolong an awkward situation.

Therefore, this is a time to swallow your pride and help usher your client to their next stop.

Two men in a restaurant booth.

Find out Why They’re Leaving

Once in a while, you might find the reasons behind a client’s departure to be obvious. Something like a major disagreement or breach of contract come to mind. But, more often than not, things aren’t so cut and dry.

If the reason hasn’t been stated, it’s okay to ask. Just do so in a polite way (and not like those annoying customer service reps who won’t let you off the phone).

People will leave for a variety of reasons – and it might not have much to do with the level of service you provided. They may be looking to cut costs, switch to one of those awful build-it-yourself services or are being swallowed up by a bigger company. The decision may well have been beyond their control.

Still, you do want to be prepared to receive a hard truth. No one wants to hear that a client was unsatisfied with our work. But it’s still vital information to have. Knowing what went wrong can be both humbling and a great learning experience.

People sitting at a desk.

Tying up Loose Ends

Unless your client is completely going out of business, there will probably be some tasks to take care of before they officially leave. Things like domain accounts, site files and software licensing info are among the most common. It’s kind of like helping the person who was once your significant other pack their bags – only you (thankfully) don’t have to be in the same house with them.

It can be a very awkward situation. Just having to communicate with a client who is moving on is challenging. But then there are instances when a new designer may become involved, making things even more surreal.

Again, it’s best to keep things as professional as you can. Try and provide whatever is needed (within reason). The goal is to get them out the door so that you can get your focus back on existing clients.

Of course, this is assuming the client doesn’t owe you any money. If they tend not to pay their bills on time, it might be a good idea to demand payment up front. Otherwise, you’ll probably never see that cash without going through a collections process.

A USB flash drive.

Assessing the Impact

The impact of losing a client on your business should not get lost in the shuffle. After all, it’s money out of your pocket and a hole in your schedule.

Still, not every loss should be counted equally. It stands to reason that the bigger the client, the more it will affect your bottom line. Thus, it’s more revenue you’ll have to recoup from other sources.

If the client was one of the pillars propping up your design business, losing them presents a huge challenge. Maybe even an existential one. That’s why it’s important to assess the damage.

Take a look at where you stand now and what the future looks like without said client in tow. From there, you can determine what it will take to get back to where you were – or, at least to the point of keeping your business sustainable.

Thankfully, smaller clients are much easier to supplant than big ones. But either way, it’s good to know where you are and have a plan for the future.

A person holding a mobile phone.

Moving on and Building a Better Business

As hard as it may be to accept, not everyone will be a “forever” client. It’s one of the more difficult parts of running a business to grasp. But it actually can become easier to deal with over time. You’ll start to see it as just another obstacle in the road to success.

But it also brings up another point: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Try to build as much diversity into your revenue stream as possible. Configure your business so that the loss of one client doesn’t put you on the street.

Easier said than done, of course. When first starting out as a freelancer, that one big project may be the thing that puts you over the top. And that’s great.

It’s just that you won’t want things to stay that way over the long term. Instead, look for ways to add as many of those aforementioned “pillar” clients as you can. That, in turn, will make dealing with the loss of a client much easier on all fronts.

The post What to Do When a Web Design Client Leaves appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

Building Client-Proof WordPress Websites

Handing off a new WordPress website to a client offers a great feeling of satisfaction. You provide a pixel-perfect rendering of a brand’s online presence and hope it plays a key role in a company’s success.

But, if your client is responsible for managing content themselves, those pixels may no longer be so perfect after a while. You may find that your carefully-crafted layouts and typography have been rendered a mess by a well-meaning user. Color contrasts designed for maximum accessibility become illegible.

For so long, this has been accepted as the natural order of things. We design pretty and functional things; clients make them slightly less pretty and functional.

It doesn’t have to be this way! With a little creative thinking, technical knowledge and education, we can build WordPress websites that can withstand a bit more punishment – and even avoid such situations in the first place.

Assign the Right User Roles

One of the best ways to prevent a client from accidentally changing a key setting is to take away their means to do so. That’s what WordPress user roles and capabilities are for.

It’s fairly common to see clients provided with administrator-level accounts for their website. But this enables them to do everything. They can activate themes, remove or install plugins and make any number of other changes. A curious user could do some real damage.

However, it’s usually not necessary for them to have this type of access for everyday tasks. For most content management duties, an Editor account provides enough access and keeps users away from anything dangerous.

For Editors, theme and plugin management are off the table. This can eliminate some of those potential issues. Going to even lower account levels limits users even further by cutting out content that they didn’t create. That could, for example, save a home page from an unintended consequence.

If someone needs a bit more specialized capabilities, a custom user role can be created to accommodate them.

That said, a client should ideally have an administrator account on hand – just in case. But a lower-level account should be used for day-to-day site management.

A Storm Trooper figurine.

Make Design Decisions for Content Managers

One common mistake in the design and development process is creating elements that rely too much on good faith. They are destined to cause problems down the road.

For instance, consider a card UI layout that displays the latest blog posts. There are a number of ways to build this type of feature.

We could configure things so that our clients need to write a post description through a custom field. That’s great, but what if they enter too much text? We could risk breaking or severely throwing-off the layout.

Sure, you can explain that the post description field should contain no more than x amount of characters. But that still leaves the possibility of something going wrong. And, even if one person heeds your advice, that doesn’t mean the next person will do the same. It’s just not sustainable.

The better solution is to build in safeguards – or, better yet, automatically generate that post description via a template.

A safeguard could include setting a character limit on the post description field. This allows a client to write their own copy, while preventing too much text. Automatically generating an excerpt, however, will simply take the decision out of a user’s hands.

Either way, it’s important to consider what might go wrong when designing and building features.

WordPress displayed on a laptop computer.

Limit Choices

Some portions of a WordPress website are difficult (if not impossible) to fully make design decisions for clients. In general, this is because the CMS, theme and plugins offer users a number of different choices.

A page builder plugin or even the Gutenberg block editor make it possible for a user to drastically change a layout. This is one of the down sides of an increasingly visual design process.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much web designers can control here. Some page builders let you turn off features for specific user roles, which could be helpful. There is also the potential to lock down block editor templates, but it’s not always a realistic option.

One neat feature of Gutenberg is the ability to define custom color palettes, which can help users make brand-appropriate choices for blocks. The same goes for gradients and font sizes.

Combine these customizations with disabling the ability to choose beyond the options you’ve defined and users can’t go outside of these parameters. That means no crazy color combinations or tiny font sizes.

Not all WordPress software has these capabilities, however. If you don’t see any obvious settings for a theme or plugin, check out the documentation. Fail that, it might be worth contacting the author to see if there are any undocumented hooks or filters to help you rein in users.

Shelves with rubber ducks.

Think Before You Build

The most important part of keeping your design and functionality in tact is thinking ahead. Plan for how that beautiful design element is going to withstand everything your client might throw at it. Consider the possibility of something breaking and ways to prevent it from happening.

You may not be able to stop a determined client at every turn. But you can build and manage a WordPress website in a way that rebuffs the most egregious issues. That should provide both you and your client with some extra peace of mind.

The post Building Client-Proof WordPress Websites appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

A Guide to Using Commercial WordPress Themes and Plugins

The WordPress ecosystem is chock full of outstanding free software. Why, you could build an entire website using an attractive free theme and a selection of highly-functional plugins.

But free solutions aren’t always the best ones. This is especially the case for web designers who build sites for clients. Sometimes, commercial software is needed to achieve professional-grade results.

Investing in commercial themes and plugins can often be the right choice for your project. However, it also brings a certain set of responsibilities. These are things that designers often overlook. Unfortunately, doing so can lead to problems down the road.

Therefore, it’s important to think about what using commercial WordPress software means. Today, we’ll take a look how you can keep things running smoothly both now and in the future.

Licensing and Payment Issues

On the surface, the question of who pays for a particular piece of software may seem obvious. It should be the client’s responsibility, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated.

If the software in question, let’s say a WooCommerce extension, is going to be used exclusively for the client’s website – they should be the one to pay. Whether you purchase the software and bill them later or have them buy it directly (the better option), your client should be the license holder in this case.

However, a lot of themes and plugins these days have developer licensing options. This allows a web designer to purchase a single license for use on a predetermined number of projects – sometimes even unlimited. This muddies the waters a bit.

At best, it can be a win-win situation. You get to utilize a trusted product without licensing hassles and your client reaps the benefits of it.

Still, there is the potential for future issues. As your work evolves, you may not necessarily use a particular theme or plugin forever. If that software has yearly license renewals, you may be stuck purchasing it anyway – just so your existing client websites don’t fall out-of-date.

A person holding a credit card.

Leaving Clients in a Lurch

One of the biggest issues with commercial software in the WordPress space isn’t the software itself – it’s mismanagement by designers.

If you’ve ever inherited a website from another designer, you may have witnessed this first-hand. A theme or plugin is in use, but incredibly outdated. Yet, the license key required to install an update is nowhere to be found. Or, worse yet, the software was directly customized by the previous designer – making an update even more precarious.

This may not be a big deal – at least not right away. But eventually something will go wrong. The more updates applied to your WordPress install, the more likely it is that the old software will break.

Nothing in the WordPress ecosystem is frozen in time. Things are constantly changing. In that sense, leaving a client with something that can’t be updated is akin to leaving a hidden trap. At some point, their site is going to become entangled in it.

And, when it involves critical components such as themes or page builder plugins, the effort and cost to make repairs can be significant.

A person holding a light in a dark tunnel.

Best Practices for Commercial Themes and Plugins

So, how can we take advantage of commercial offerings while doing right by our clients? Here are a few ideas:

Always Use Licensed Software

One of the biggest mistakes a designer can make is using unlicensed software on a client’s website. For example, taking a plugin that was licensed for one domain and installing it on another.

Functionally speaking, this puts the site at risk as the plugin can’t be updated. Beyond that, it’s also hurting that plugin’s author as well.

It should probably go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Only install plugins and themes if they are licensed for your project.

Inform Clients of Licensing Requirements

It’s important that clients understand their role in staying on top of software licensing. They should have all relevant license keys for software they’ve purchased. It will come in handy if they need to reference it later on.

In addition, clients should be aware of when licenses will renew and why it’s important to stay updated. At that point, it’s out of our hands. The best we can do is educate clients in hopes that they follow through.

Customize the Right Way

Like everything else in web development, it’s important to make any commercial theme or plugin customizations in a sustainable manner. This means using child themes and WordPress hooks as opposed to directly editing files.

This helps to ensure that any customizations won’t be lost during future software updates. Otherwise, your clients may be in for an unwelcomed surprise when a feature no longer works as intended.

Hand off Projects That Can Be Updated

Launching a website and handing it off to a client is a time of optimism. Everything is new, fresh and functional. But if a piece of commercial software can’t be updated in the future, that good feeling won’t last.

Make sure that any commercial themes and plugins can be upgraded via the WordPress dashboard. This helps to ensure that your client’s new website will receive the latest features, along with bug and security fixes.

If a particular component has to be updated manually, let your client know. This way, you can work as a team and plan ahead.

A person writing code.

A Little Effort; A Lot of Benefits

It may sound like using commercial software with WordPress is a hassle. Actually, it only becomes a problem if we neglect the accompanying responsibilities.

More than anything, the key to keeping things humming along is communication. Clients need to know what needs to be done, how much it will cost and why it’s important to keep up with licensing. This will prevent the vast majority of issues from ever popping up.

In addition, web designers must build and hand over their projects to clients with sustainability in mind. This means that every component of a website is able to be updated now and five years from now.

So, use your favorite commercial themes and plugins without hesitation. Just make sure that you’re utilizing them with the future in mind.

The post A Guide to Using Commercial WordPress Themes and Plugins appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

COVID-19 Has You Working from Home: Now What?

Web designers have the ability to work from just about anywhere. Still, just because something is technically possible doesn’t mean it’s easy.

If you suddenly find yourself working remotely on a full-time basis, it can be a big adjustment. The situation is quite different from putting in a few extra hours from home here and there. And it’s miles away from reporting to a physical office each day.

To put it nicely: your entire work life has been thrown off-balance. In order to gain some level of comfort, you’ll need to adjust. But how?

Here’s some advice for those of you who have been unexpectedly forced into working from home.

First, Understand That This Will Be Different

The first part of this requires a bit of acceptance. Your routine has been tossed out the window, and you’re dealing with an unprecedented worldwide crisis. So, no – it’s not normal and it’s not what you’re used to. The sooner you can accept that fact, the better chance you’ll have to succeed.

Therefore, forget about creating an exact replica of life back in the office. Things like your work hours, available hardware and software, along with your overall environment are likely going to be much different. In addition, you won’t be stopping by your colleague’s desk to talk – as much as you might miss that in-person interaction.

Understanding this will help you create your own “new normal”. It’s perhaps the biggest hurdle in adapting to an unexpected change such as this.

A man walking through a maze.

Create Your Ground Rules

If you’ve never worked from home before, you may wonder how you can possibly get things done. It might seem like there’s just too much freedom, too many chances to become distracted.

Those dangers are real. And they can indeed wreak havoc on your ability to do your job. To avoid such chaos, it’s important to insert some discipline into the process.

Start by creating some ground rules for how you’re going to operate. Sit down with a piece of paper (or a Word document) and think about:

  • Where your “work space” will be;
  • The hours you plan to work;
  • When you’ll take lunch and breaks;
  • Rules for interruptions (kids, phone calls, etc.);
  • Any extra equipment or apps you’ll need;
  • Any specific tasks you might not be able to do from home;

This is all likely to be very different from what you’re used to – but that’s O.K. The point is building some structure that you can realistically adhere to.

With that in mind, try to avoid rules that are going to be too difficult. For example, if you have a young child at home with you, don’t expect them to just let you work all day. They’re going to want to spend time with you, and it’s great if you’re able to make that time for them.

When it comes to productivity, don’t count on completing tasks with the same efficiency. This is especially so early on, as you’re still trying to gain a foothold on your new routine. That will hopefully will improve with time. Using this remote tool list might help too.

A sign that reads "Please stay on the path".

Look for the Positives

With such a sudden change in work environments, you might want to dwell on the negatives. That’s a natural reaction to a predicament that no one asked for.

Yet, there are a whole lot of positive aspects of working from home. Things that you may enjoy more than sitting in an office or being out on the road.

Being close to family, especially your children, is a huge bonus. Parenting and working are difficult, but also very rewarding. Cherish that extra time spent together.

Your work environment itself may also be an improvement. At least, in the sense that you have more freedom regarding how things are set up. If you want to use a certain app, go for it. There’s no IT administrator there to tell you “no”.

Then there are those little perks like grabbing a cup a coffee whenever you like, listening to music and sneaking outside if the weather is nice. And, perhaps best of all: no boss breathing over your shoulder.

The bottom line is that different doesn’t have to be a negative. You may as well make the most out of opportunity and approach it with a smile.

A box of crayons.

Don’t Forget to Turn Off

Working from home also lends itself to working too much. Because your office might literally be just steps from where you sleep, there’s a temptation to do just “one more” thing. Of course, one thing may turn into another couple of hours spent at your desk.

Compounding the issue is that, depending on where you live, you might be discouraged from going to stores or restaurants during the crisis. That makes it really hard to get away.

So, you can’t leave the house you’ve been working in all day. Not exactly a great recipe for busting that stress.

It’s still vital that you turn off your computer and your phone. Find other things to do outside of work. Whether it’s doing some yard work, playing video games with your kids or exercising. Look for activities that will help to get your mind off the workday.

Headphones sitting on a keyboard.

Go Easy on Yourself

Lastly, don’t be hard on yourself if you’re unable to handle all of this with unfailing optimism and grace. None of this is easy.

And you’re also not alone. There are a whole lot of other people (both inside and outside the web design industry) who are in the same turbulent boat.

Plus, there’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding us. And no easy answers to our questions and concerns. We’re all just trying our best to move forward, day-by-day.

So, if you’re working at home, give yourself (and your colleagues) some time to adjust. Eventually, it will start to feel right.

The post COVID-19 Has You Working from Home: Now What? appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

How Web Designers Can Help in a Crisis

As I write this, the lives of potentially billions of people have been altered in one way or another. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an untold amount of changes – both big and small – not to mention tragic. To be sure, this is a crisis on a global scale.

But this isn’t the only event that can disrupt our lives. True, most may not be this widespread. Yet, for those affected, it can seem that way.

It got me thinking about the role web designers and developers can play in times like these. Whether it’s a pandemic, a natural disaster or some other unforeseen challenge, the web is often a great source of information.

It has the potential to bring together communities of all sizes – and quickly. This can literally be the difference in whether someone is safe or in danger. Or simply knowing what resources are available to them during a difficult time.

So, how do we help with all of this? Let’s take a look at some ways web professionals can pitch in.

Help Clients Spread the Word

A crisis can really wreak havoc on all sorts of different businesses. In the case of COVID-19, everything from mom and pop restaurants to massive sporting leagues have been temporarily shuttered.

If you work with a business that has been impacted, you might start by reaching out. Ask how they’re doing and find out if there’s anything you can do with regards to their website. For some clients, they may not necessarily be thinking of their site and how it can help them reach customers.

It could be as simple as writing up a blog post that explains their situation – such as a closure or change in operating hours. Or, if things are really minute-by-minute, adding a social media feed to their home page could help keep visitors up to date in real-time.

Obviously, we all have bills to pay. But if you’re able, offering free or discounted service for this task would be greatly appreciated.

A social media profile screen.

Build a Community

Sometimes, people need a rallying point and a place to communicate. That’s why an affected town or neighborhood could really benefit from an online hub.

This type of site is actually fairly easy to set up, what with WordPress plugins like BuddyPress and bbPress available for free. And it could connect people who may otherwise not be able to get out to an in-person meeting.

Providing this type of community service can be a real lifesaver for some. Those who need to find resources, a helping hand, or someone to listen will have a home on the web.

This is an area where your technical expertise can make a real difference in the lives of those around you.

A sign that reads: "Good News is Coming".

Raise Funds

If you’re a web designer with even a little bit of experience in eCommerce, you can play a big part in helping raise funds for a good cause.

Crowdfunding is wildly popular and is often put to good use when someone is in need. But going with one of the big-name funding sites isn’t always the best option. It’s then that you can step in and get to work.

This may be a matter of adding a shopping cart to an existing website. Or, perhaps it entails building a landing page that encourages donations and tracks progress. Beyond that, you may be of some assistance for setting up a payment gateway account as well.

Regardless, you can create something both beautiful and functional that brings in much-needed funds.

Arrows pointing upward on a wall.

Become a Citizen Journalist

So, this one isn’t necessarily an immediate way to pitch in and help others. But it could still be a very worthwhile endeavor.

In situations like a natural disaster, keeping an online archive of sorts can provide a lasting public record. And it doesn’t need to be a complex project. It’s just a matter of starting a blog.

You might write about your experiences or those of people you know. Collecting photos or taking some snapshots yourself can add an important visual element. It might also be a great place to ask for users to share their stories.

The point is to create a reference for both those who experienced the event and those who may want to learn about it in the future. It’s also a natural fit for web designers – especially those who are avid bloggers.

A person typing on a laptop computer.

Using Your Skills to Make a Difference

In a crisis situation, people from all different professions often come together to lend a hand. Web designers are no different.

Even if some of us aren’t able to rebuild a house, we certainly could create an online space where volunteers can sign up. And though we may not provide medical care, we can raise funds for those who need it.

In the end, it’s all about using the skills we have in a way that benefits others. The ideas above are just a start. By mining your own creativity, you may find even more ways to make a difference.

The post How Web Designers Can Help in a Crisis appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

The 5 Types of Projects NOT to Include in Your Portfolio

When it comes to designer portfolios, bigger is not necessarily better. While it’s tempting to list each and every project you’ve ever done, it may actually be counterproductive. That is, if you’re using your portfolio as a means to generate new business.

Portfolios can be a terrific sales tool. A good one can show potential clients that you have the talent and experience to get the job done.

It also provides a way to target the kinds of projects you want to work on. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider what should be included and what to leave out.

Today, we’ll reveal the five types of projects that are probably better off in your virtual scrap heap.

Old Projects with Dated Looks

Maybe this one is a bit on the nose. But that doesn’t stop web designers from listing outdated projects in their portfolios.

Over the years, the expectations for what a website should look like have changed quite a bit. And since the web itself has been in the mainstream for nearly three decades, there are a lot of old sites out there. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, it’s easy to rack up a number of projects that are well past their prime.

True, older projects may show your evolution as a designer. But not everyone is going to see it that way. So, unless a website features some breakthrough with functionality – kick those oldies to the curb.

A typewriter on a desk.

Projects You Had a Small or No Role in Creating

There are occasions where you might have been hired on to play a bit part in a project. Or maybe you’re hosting a website that someone else built. This is fairly common in the freelance space.

Of course, there may be reasons to mention something like this. It could be a famous brand or the role you served was crucial. In those cases, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to include – although it might require a clear explanation of exactly what you did.

Otherwise, how does listing this type of project benefit your business? It’s especially useless for those who market themselves as an outstanding designer or developer.

If you didn’t play a significant role in the design or write some killer code, then it’s not your handywork. This can leave a false impression on visitors and, if the site isn’t so attractive, could make you look bad.

A small toy airplane.

Projects Outside of Your Niche

Just about every web designer has gone through a phase where they’ve taken on projects that weren’t within their specialty. That’s O.K., as we all have to make a living. And besides, it can be fun to dabble in other types of websites.

But if a project is way outside of your niche, it should probably not make its way into your portfolio.

For example, let’s say that your specialty is in building WordPress websites. And there was this one time that you used a different CMS. The experience was fine, but you’d rather not utilize it again. Do you really want to promote this outlier of a project?

The same can be said of sites that don’t fit into your ideal project type. Maybe you hate building eCommerce sites and have decided not to do them anymore. Listing any you’ve done in the past can send the message that you’re looking to build more of them.

A dartboard.

Projects That Fall Below Your Ideal Price Point

This may well go hand-in-hand with your preferred niche, as mentioned above. If a project falls well below your typical pricing, you may not want to showcase it.

Not to say that small or low-cost projects can’t be beneficial. They are often a great way for new designers to gain experience. And if you’re looking to attract these smaller gigs, that’s great.

But if you’ve moved on to bigger and better things, it’s important that your portfolio reflect that fact. You don’t want to give prospective clients with really tiny budgets the wrong idea. Eschewing the small stuff will hopefully save you both from wasting time.

A person holding coins.

Projects That Ended Badly

Breakups are never easy. And a bad breakup with a client can be especially difficult. Instances where trust has been lost or communication is lacking can spoil what might have been (at one point, at least) a solid working relationship.

What’s worse is that you may be really proud of the work you did for them. Yet, keeping this one in your portfolio is akin to displaying a testimonial from someone who now loathes you.

Not to mention that this situation means a site could drastically change without prior notice. Since your ex is likely to move on to a new designer, you never know when a redesign will pop up.

Thus, much like we burn old love letters, we need to distance ourselves from a messy situation.

The word "OUT" painted on a road.

A Portfolio Should Send the Right Message

One of the common themes here is in using your portfolio to send the right message. Build it to show off your skills – sure. But also keep in mind what each project communicates to those who are viewing it.

When you aren’t picky about the projects you share with the world, it can create the wrong impression. It may say that you’ll take on cheap websites or ones that don’t reflect your niche. They could lead others to think your design work is outdated.

This isn’t to suggest that there can’t be exceptions to the rule. If something about a particular website truly stands out, then that could outweigh age, category or price point. But those are likely few and far between.

It’s also worth noting that things change over time. Your business has likely evolved. And that formerly-new project will age out over time. Therefore, take a periodic look at your portfolio and make sure it mirrors who you are today – not who you were five years ago.

The post The 5 Types of Projects NOT to Include in Your Portfolio appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

Creating a Custom User Role in WordPress

When building a website with a CMS, flexibility is always welcome. Thankfully, WordPress has more than its share, with themes and plugins that allow us to create a highly-custom experience.

But its flexibility goes beyond just those extra things we can install. It’s actually baked right into the core of the software.

The ability to create custom user roles is a shining example. Today, we’ll take a look at what they are, why you’d want to use them and a few different techniques for creating them.

Fine Grain Control Over User Permissions

In every WordPress installation, you already have access to a selection of default user roles. They allow us to designate what users can and can’t do in the back end (a.k.a. Dashboard) of the website.

This makes perfect sense. Not everyone who manages content needs to have administrative privileges. Therefore, we can assign each user a role based on need. It’s a great security measure and can better ensure against mishaps or even someone binge-installing plugins.

This also works on the front end as well. If you only want logged-in users to see specific content, you can build this functionality into your theme or add it via a membership plugin.

But while the default user roles (Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor and Subscriber) are useful, there are times when you need that extra bit of control. That’s why WordPress provides the ability to create your own custom roles.

A padlock on a door.

When to Use a Custom Role

A custom user role can come in handy in a number of scenarios. Here are a few of the more common ones you might face:

You Have Users Who Manage Different Content Types

By default, WordPress comes with two key public-facing content types: Posts and Pages. But it’s easy to add more through the use of custom post types. You might, for example, create post types for things like press releases or staff members. Plus, various plugins may also install their own post types as well.

Large organizations may have several different types of content, with specific people in mind to manage each one. In this case, a default user role wouldn’t be ideal, as it might provide access to the whole lot (or the opposite, depending on your set up). A custom role, however, would allow different users to see only the post type(s) you assign them.

A User Needs to Do Just One Thing

There are occasions where a user may need a unique level of access to features on your website. For instance, let’s say you run an online course. You might have a team member who needs access to the entire course on the front and back ends to ensure it works correctly and that the content is accurate.

If all this team member needs to do is focus on the course itself, an administrator account may be overkill. With a custom user role, they can do their job without having to wade through any unnecessary options.

You Need to “Level up” an Existing Role

Sometimes, an existing WordPress user role is near perfect. But maybe there is that one extra thing a user needs to access.

Take the Author role. By default, they can publish posts – but not pages. Normally, you’d have to bump the user up to Editor. That might be fine in some instances. However, there could be other capabilities included that you don’t want this particular user to access. Here, creating a custom role may be the best option.

Man looking at a computer screen with a cat.

How to Create a Custom User Role

There are two different methods for creating a custom WordPress user role. The first is by adding some code to a custom plugin or your theme’s functions.php file. The second is by installing one of the many available plugins that enable you to create and edit roles.

The method you utilize really depends on personal preference. If you want the ability to pick and choose user capabilities in a visual manner, a plugin makes the most sense. But if you’re comfortable with code and/or don’t want other administrators to play with settings, adding a snippet may be for you.

Either way, we’ll get you started with a few code examples and a selection of plugins as well.

First, it’s recommended that you study up on the various user capabilities that WordPress offers. Also note that custom post types can have their custom capabilities as well. This can come in handy in the first example scenario we mentioned above.

Method #1: Add a Code Snippet

In this example, we’re going to create a user role named “Staff Member”. This includes all of the capabilities of the Author role, but with the additional ability to edit and publish pages.

Each capability we’re assigning to the role is listed in the snippet below and is set to “true”. The exception here is that we don’t want users with this role to delete published pages, so we’re explicitly setting this to “false” – just to be safe.

Again, this code would go into your theme’s functions.php file or optionally into a custom plugin.

/* Create Staff Member User Role */
    'staff_member', //  System name of the role.
    __( 'Staff Member'  ), // Display name of the role.
        'read'  => true,
        'delete_posts'  => true,
        'delete_published_posts' => true,
        'edit_posts'   => true,
        'publish_posts' => true,
        'upload_files'  => true,
        'edit_pages'  => true,
        'edit_published_pages'  =>  true,
        'publish_pages'  => true,
        'delete_published_pages' => false, // This user will NOT be able to  delete published pages.

Once we’ve saved this code and refreshed our website in the browser, we can add a new user with this role.

WordPress Add New User screen.

When our user with the Staff Member role logs in, they can see both pages and posts.

The logged-in user sees Posts and Pages.

Another alternative would be to simply add a few capabilities to the existing Author role. We can do this via the add_cap() function:

/* Upgrade the Author Role */
function author_level_up() {
    // Retrieve the  Author role.
    $role = get_role(  'author' );
    // Let's add a set  of new capabilities we want Authors to have.
    $role->add_cap(  'edit_pages' );
    $role->add_cap(  'edit_published_pages' );
    $role->add_cap(  'publish_pages' );
add_action( 'admin_init', 'author_level_up');

Both of these code snippets essentially do the same thing. However, adding the new Staff Member role might be best in cases where you already have users with the Author role and don’t want them to have extra capabilities.

Method 2: Use a Plugin

The functionality above can be easily replicated through the use of a plugin. Several have been created for this type of user role and capability management. They offer an advantage in that they utilize a GUI and add a layer of convenience to the whole process.

Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular options:

User Role Editor
With User Role Editor, adding or removing capabilities for a role is as simple as checking or unchecking a box in the settings. You also have the ability to create your own custom user roles and set whatever capabilities needed. The plugin also supports multisite installs of WordPress as well.

Screen from User Role Editor

WPFront User Role Editor
WPFront User Role Editor offers similar capabilities, letting you add or edit user roles. But it also allows administrators to migrate users from one role to another and assign multiple roles to individual users.

Screen from WPFront User Role Editor.

Advanced Access Manager
If you’re looking for something with a broader scope, Advanced Access Manager may be a good choice for you. It offers role and capability management, plus the ability to control access to front end and back end features like menus and widgets.

Screen from Advanced Access Manager.

Know Your Roles

The ability to create custom user roles is just one more reason to love WordPress. It’s something very niche, yet it can be extremely helpful when you need something that goes beyond the default roles.

So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where control of user capabilities is needed, know that you have this powerful tool at your disposal.

The post Creating a Custom User Role in WordPress appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

Finding the Real Value of Social Media for Web Designers

A few years ago, social media was the apple of every marketer’s eye. It was supposed to boost our businesses and provide a whole new level of engagement with potential customers. So, how’s that working out?

Admittedly, I’m not the most fervent user of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn in terms of promoting my design business. But I’ve tried various techniques and have come away less than impressed with the results.

I’m personally convinced that trying to book traditional web design clients through these channels is a waste of resources. Today, I’ll explain why I feel that way, and also share some theories as to where the true value lies.

Who “Likes” Web Designers?

Back in the early days of Facebook, having a business page meant easily reaching every one of your followers. Of course, it didn’t stay this way for long.

Part of Facebook’s long-term strategy was to monetize reach. These days, getting your content in front of every fan requires promoting your posts.

For some industries, this may well be worth the cost. But for a freelancer or small web design agency, it seems like overkill.

That’s because of the type of following web designers tend to have. On Facebook, it’s often existing clients or supportive friends and family. Twitter seems to be designers following designers. LinkedIn is a tangled mess of professionals just looking for some self-promotion.

What’s the bottom line? Those looking for a new website probably aren’t following along. Therefore, paying to promote your posts may not produce the desired results. That being said, we can also forget about organically reaching new people through social channels. Those days appear to be long over.

Facebook buttons

Areas Where Social Media Actually Benefits Web Designers

So, maybe social media isn’t the client-magnet we all hoped it would be. That doesn’t mean these platforms have nothing to offer web designers, though. Quite the contrary.

There are some real benefits that come with participation. They just may not be as immediately gratifying as landing a new website client. Here are a few that come to mind:

Professional Development

The ability to level up your skills and knowledge is one of the biggest benefits of social media. Between the legions of individual designers/developers and industry-focused groups, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn.

As with anything on these networks, it’s all about following the right feeds. This takes some trial and error. But a good rule of thumb is to start with publications or individuals you trust for content and tutorials. From there, you’re bound to find new feeds of interest.

The fun part of this is that you might end up stumbling upon a tool or technique that you didn’t know about. These discoveries can lead to improving efficiency or even the development of a new service to sell to clients.

Person using a computer.

Expanding Your Network

Along with learning comes the chance to rub virtual elbows with others in the industry. This offers you a chance to commiserate with fellow designers and developers about the ups and downs of work. But it doesn’t have to be strictly professional. Even a bit of small talk about life can be a great way to reduce stress.

On the business side of things, getting to know other web pros can come in very handy. For example, asking your network about a challenging project can lead to some great suggestions – and maybe even a solution.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put out a question on Twitter, only to see my feed filled with helpful replies – usually within minutes. The camaraderie is wonderful, and it often leads us to try and help one another. This in itself is worth its weight in gold.

Person holding a smartphone.

Consulting Possibilities

Finally, connecting with others opens the door to potentially getting hired on yourself as a consultant. It could consist of helping with a particular project, or develop into a steady gig. It’s not the traditional web design client, but it might actually be better for your business.

Quite often, booking a client who needs a website is one big jolt of revenue, followed by some maintenance money over time. Working as a contractor for another designer could be an opportunity to gain a consistent flow of higher-revenue projects. This isn’t a guarantee, but finding the right partnership is possible.

Website code displayed on a screen.

Social Media Has Potential, with the Right Expectations

As social platforms have matured, the realities of what they can do for various industries have become clearer. For some types of businesses, there is real potential for gaining new clients. Web design, however, doesn’t appear to be one of them.

That’s okay, though. There are some other areas where we can benefit. But much of it depends on our individual goals.

If you’re looking to sharpen your skills, there are a ton of groups and individuals out there to learn from. There are also plenty of opportunities to connect with other web professionals. And, if you’re in the market for some contracting gigs, the connections you make could help there as well.

No, social media is not the cure-all for a web design business. But there is some value. It just takes a realistic view of what you can achieve and a little patience.

The post Finding the Real Value of Social Media for Web Designers appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.