Discovering the Freedoms of Freelance

One of the more entertaining parts of being a freelance web designer is hearing all the different assumptions people have about your job. And, having spent approximately half my life as one, I think I’ve heard them all.

Among the greatest hits: “If you get tired of working, you can go watch TV.”; “Wow, so I bet you could hit the golf course every day.”; “Life without a boss!”; “Working at home must be so exciting!” – I could go on, but you get the idea.

The common thread is that they all relate to a perceived freedom. And you can’t blame them, since freedom is one of the big selling-points of this career.

Yet, that’s not really the type of freedom I’ve experienced. It got me thinking about the realities and how they differ from the perceptions. Just what type of freedom comes with freelancing? And, what are the costs and limitations?

The Freedom of a Personalized Work Environment

Freelancing provides us with the opportunity to work where, when and how we want. That means, if you want to work nights on the beach, you can. Not necessarily realistic, but certainly possible.

In my view, this is the biggest benefit. I’ve set up a home office, work in a (fairly) private environment and do something I enjoy every day. This is not the same experience as, say, working in a traditional office with a roomful of colleagues.

This has allowed me to spend more time with my daughter. It’s helped me to reach a higher level of discipline than I thought I was capable of. And, I’ve had the chance to experiment with how and when I work. Just as important, I can listen to loud music without a word of complaint!

Still, there is a cost. It takes some sacrifice (and maybe a little luck) to do things your way. If you want work odd hours, for example, you’ll need clients who are willing to go along. That may mean severely limiting yourself at first, or caving in and working “normal” hours until the right opportunity comes along.

A home office.

The Freedom to Choose the Right Projects

Every web designer has their own ideals when it comes to projects. There are certain price points, industries and subjects that appeal to us. The great thing is that we can decide these things for ourselves, then pursue the projects that match our ideals.

I can attest that being picky about who I work with has been a great stress reducer. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still stress. But it’s not from feeling stuck or working on projects I don’t like.

The only caveat is that it’s not always easy to determine just what types of clients and projects you want to work with. This is especially the case when you first start out as a freelancer.

So, perhaps this freedom is one earned through experience. The more projects you work on, the more you’ll learn about your own preferences. From there, you’ll have a better sense of what fits.

In addition, it also requires a certain financial comfort level in your business. It’s easier to say “no” to a client outside of your niche when you have enough work to keep food on the table.

Woman sitting at a desk.

The Freedom to Use Our Favorite Tools

Among the most compelling reasons to go freelance is that you aren’t chained to a specific tool or process. One of most frustrating aspects of previous jobs I had was being told what I could or couldn’t use. Not to mention being stuck on a computer from the (internet) stone age.

Running my own business has allowed me to choose the hardware and software that helps me get things done. No, I can’t afford everything I want. But I can work within whatever limitations I have to make the most out of each project.

Plus, I can use tools that I believe in when working with clients. Can you imagine having to sell a client on a CMS you don’t like or trust? Even worse, imagine forcing outdated solutions on them. This is an area where corporate mandates can hurt more than they help.

The cost here is in the responsibility that comes with making such decisions. If something turns out to be a disaster, you might not have an easy scapegoat. Oh, well. That’s one advantage of working for someone else!

A computer screen.

It’s About Making Your Own Choices

In all, the overarching freedom of being a freelancer is the ability to decide for yourself. So, in a funny way, the assumptions others have about us aren’t completely wrong. The reality is just more nuanced.

Yes, we can choose to watch TV or abandon work for a tee time. But those choices have consequences. Do these things too often and you’re likely to be unemployed.

To be a successful freelance web designer, it takes the courage to make your own decisions and deal with what comes next. The freedom merely lies in being the one who gets to steer the ship.

The post Discovering the Freedoms of Freelance appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


Beyond Money: The Hidden Benefits of Web Design Projects

Not all website design gigs are created equally. The truth is that they will all vary in terms of compensation, scope and the overall experience you have.

But just about every project provides you with some type of benefit. They aren’t always monetary. And they aren’t necessarily obvious – at least not right away. It may require you to look back after the fact to find out exactly what you gained.

In that spirit, let’s take a look at some hidden gems that can come out of a web design project.

Niche Knowledge

It seems like every website you build has an unexpected challenge along the way. There’s always that one bit of functionality or design element that (temporarily, at least) derails your entire schedule. Nothing else gets done until the problem is solved.

eCommerce websites are famous for this. Clients tend to want their shopping cart to do something that goes against the grain. It complicates and frustrates. But eventually, you find the right solution.

At the time, it’s easy to move on and assume that you’ll never have to deal with that issue again. But these things have a funny way of randomly popping up in other projects. Perhaps a new client saw what you had done for someone else, or they had an idea that was similar enough to a feature you implemented in the past.

The experience you gained the first time around can be invaluable. Even if you aren’t tasked with that exact same challenge again, a past struggle may provide just the insight you need. It will give you a solid foundation that you can use to navigate that next obstacle a little more smoothly.

A notebook and pencil.

A Boost in Confidence

Confidence can be a fleeting thing. One moment you have loads of it – but it might leave just as quickly. The right project may be just the thing you need to get your groove back.

The great thing is that this can happen in any number of ways. Hearing (or reading) some praise from a client after a successful launch certainly provides a boost. But it’s often the little things that offer an unexpected good feeling.

Things like experimenting with a new design technique or writing a piece of code that does something cool are prime examples. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of surprising yourself and feeling that sense of pride in your work. And it’s a feeling that you can achieve again and again as a project moves forward.

Much like the niche knowledge we mentioned above, the experience itself is also rewarding. You can think back to what you’ve accomplished anytime you need some positive vibes.

Man wearing a blue suit.

Discovering What You Do (And Don’t) Like

You’ll work on a number of website projects in your career. They may span a variety of industries and price points – not to mention all the different looks and functionality that go with them. Then, there are the personalities of those you work with.

Each one provides a different experience. And, over time, you’ll develop a sense of where your “sweet spot” lies. These are the types of projects that bring you joy. Along with that goes the price range and technical requirements that you feel comfortable working within. In addition, you will also develop a preference for the clients you work with and even the processes behind how you work with them.

On the other side of the coin are the projects and people that you want to avoid. This is equally important as you don’t want to become stuck in a bad situation.

There is a certain freedom in knowing the types of projects you want. This enables you to bring a higher level of focus to your business. It can even lead to better project outcomes.

A wall with the words "Live, Work, Create" painted on it.

Relationships

Finally, among the biggest potential benefits of any website project are the relationships you gain. They are vital for keeping your business going strong over the long term.

The most immediate payoff is that a good working relationship often leads to repeat business. That client will come back to you for maintenance, redesigns and maybe even another new website or two down the line.

And, because they’re satisfied customers, they might even help you find new clients. Referrals are a huge bonus, as they get your foot in the door with a great reputation already in hand.

Plus, regular referrals can do wonders for the stability of your business. It means you can concentrate on the work itself, rather than wrangling new gigs.

Woman speaking.

Money Isn’t Everything

Virtually every web designer is hoping to reap financial reward from each project. After all, we have rent to pay, too.

But money alone can be a short-term benefit. Once you’ve spent it, then what?

It’s those lesser-known perks that are the real drivers of growth. Gaining the right kind of experience and relationships will help you move up the ladder more than cashflow alone. They take time to accumulate, but are more than worth the wait.

The post Beyond Money: The Hidden Benefits of Web Design Projects appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


Areas to Be Proactive with Your Web Design Clients

We talk about it all the time. Being a web designer is about more than just clean code and pretty graphics. There are a number of other roles we play. Psychiatrist, psychic, support technician and all-around guru come to mind.

Part of our relationship with clients also involves sharing knowledge and gently prodding them to move in the right direction. That makes us motivational speakers/life coaches, maybe?

Regardless of what we call it, the action itself is vitally important. Because the web is constantly changing, designers are often an invaluable resource for clients.

We are a liaison that keeps them abreast of new developments that can have a direct impact on their business. This is especially so when it comes to smaller businesses that don’t have the resources to keep up on their own.

In that tradition, the following are some key areas where we can proactively fill in those knowledge gaps for our clients and some tips for doing so.

Accessibility

Those of us in the web design industry have been talking about the importance of accessibility for years. However, clients have tended to show varying degrees of interest. In some cases, it feels like you could be shouting the message through a bullhorn and get a mere shrug in return.

Yet, this issue isn’t going away. Quite the opposite. Accessibility concerns haven’t been covered that much by the mainstream media. That is, until the now-infamous Domino’s Pizza case. It shows that companies can face legal (hence, financial) consequences for failing to accommodate all users.

This serves as an especially loud wakeup call in the United States, which has yet to enact any concrete rules regarding website accessibility.

It’s something clients need to know about. Whether approached one-by-one or through mass communication, there is an opportunity to get any stragglers on board. At the very least, we can make them better aware of what’s happening and what steps can be taken to address any shortcomings.

Aspects such as typography, color contrast and keyboard navigation are often fairly simple to tweak and go a long way towards more user-centric design. Plus, reinforcing good habits like setting ALT tags on images should also be emphasized.

A handicap parking space.

Privacy

Here’s another area where clients really need a helping hand. Unlike accessibility, privacy concerns really are all over the news. And regulations such as GDPR again mean that real consequences can come from missteps.

Just about every website is collecting something. Tying in with virtually any third-party service provider means cookies and user tracking scripts will likely be in place. Not to mention the everyday server logging that most sites employ. Therefore, privacy policies and procedures to back them up need to be in place.

Obviously, web designers are not legal experts. So, while we can’t (and shouldn’t) be the sole provider of advice, we can certainly play the role of helpful messenger.

How does that play out? You might consider reaching out to your clients and explaining the issues at hand. Provide some links to related articles – especially those that demonstrate the seriousness of keeping user data private. Finally, encourage them to seek legal counsel on the matter and be proactive themselves.

A sign that reads "PRIVATE".

Security

The web is simply teeming with security risks. Virtually every user is vulnerable in some way. The same goes for websites.

A hacked site can become infected with malware. That, in turn, makes the site potentially unsafe for users. Beyond that, it can destroy carefully-crafted SEO strategies and leak customer data.

Many clients just assume that it’s our job to handle this stuff. And while that’s technically true, they also have a major role to play in keeping things safe.

Designers can help guide clients towards implementing secure practices. Things like using strong passwords and not sharing them with just anyone. In addition, teaching a healthy skepticism of email scams and even any third-party software they want to install.

As they say, security is only as good as its weakest link. In some cases that can be a careless client. But this is something we can help to prevent. As such, it’s worth the time and effort to help them understand their own responsibilities.

Padlocks on a fence.

Knowing Where to Draw the Line

All of the subjects above are not only important, they are also linked to some serious repercussions. For web designers, this means walking a bit of a fine line.

On one hand, there is a sense of duty that goes along with informing our clients about these issues. That’s what being proactive is all about – trying to call attention to problems before they become even bigger ones.

At the same time, there is a danger in taking on too much responsibility in any one of these areas. It’s one thing to fix some known accessibility problems with a client’s website. But it’s another to certify (without being qualified to do so) that their site is compliant. If the opposite is found to be true it can become a real nightmare.

That’s why it’s important to make your intentions and limitations clearly known. Let clients know that you can provide advice on a given topic, but that it’s best to speak with a legal expert where appropriate. You don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable should something go wrong.

People having a conversation.

The Benefits of Speaking Up

Quite often, our clients are busy. They’re wrapped up in their own daily grind and don’t necessarily have the time to focus on the intricacies of their website. So, don’t be too surprised if they don’t have a vast knowledge of accessibility, privacy or security best practices.

Web designers, however, are in a position to keep clients informed. And we have perhaps even a moral and ethical obligation to do so.

Helping others avoid potential problems feels great. Plus, there is the possibility of generating some revenue from these discussions as well. In all, it’s a win-win situation.

The post Areas to Be Proactive with Your Web Design Clients appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


The Emotional Rollercoaster of Being a Web Designer

There are a ton of resources out there to help us learn web design. Whether you want to code like a master or create stunning graphics, the opportunity to sharpen your skills is just a few clicks away.

But being a web designer is so much more than just the technical side of things. Depending on your particular situation, it also requires business sense and the ability to work with others.

A career in web design can also be a serious challenge emotionally as well. It’s something we don’t really talk about, but maybe it’s time to start.

There Is No Shield

For many web designers (myself included), their interest in the field starts as a hobby. It’s about learning something new, experimenting and having fun. Maybe a few people see what you’ve created, or perhaps it’s strictly a personal project.

Making it a career out of it, however, takes things to a different level. Once you start putting your design and development work out into the world, any barriers to criticism suddenly go away.

Why? Because it’s no longer a hobby. You’re now being paid for your talents and are working with real-world clients (not to mention bosses). They’re apt to share constructive criticism and request changes – sometimes major ones. And, due to human nature, some people are much more skilled in this area than others.

This can act as a very rude wakeup call for a new designer. You’ve gone from creating something for the joy of it to now having your every choice closely scrutinized.

The result can be a feeling of frustration and a sinking confidence. It’s something that can take a toll on both your enjoyment and belief in what you’re doing.

A toy positioned under a shoe.

Project Peaks and Valleys

Finding a steady workload is a goal for many designers. But it can be hard to attain. What’s more likely are alternating cycles of feast and famine. In other words, you’re either too busy to sleep or bored out of your mind.

Both of these situations have their own emotional baggage. Being too busy is stressful and can feel overwhelming. Having too few projects in your queue can be scary in its own right. You may start to wonder if your business will survive.

Then there are the projects themselves. A highly-complex gig, or one that turns out to be completely different than you expected, brings its own rollercoaster of feelings.

In my experience, it only takes one of these to completely disrupt your carefully thought out plans. It can feel like you have a total lack of control. Then, there’s a mad rush to just get things done in order to move on to the next thing.

There’s a hard lesson to be learned. It turns out that, despite a lot of due diligence, projects often have a mind of their own. They aren’t nearly as predictable as we’d like and that can be difficult to deal with. That goes for procurement, scheduling and doing the actual work.

A rollercoaster.

The Weight of Being Responsible

Some web designers care for each site they manage like a baby. If that’s the case, then some of us could have dozens or even hundreds of “kids” to look after.

With this comes a great deal of responsibility. Keeping things running smoothly, ensuring accessibility, staying compatible with new technologies, training clients and managing content are just a few of the things we’re tasked with.

This can be a lot to put on a solo freelancer or even a small agency. Much like a doctor, it requires being on call at all odd hours. And not every client will be satisfied with waiting until the next day to fix a broken website.

Beyond that, great care has to be taken every step of the way. It feels bad enough when something beyond our control happens, but even worse when we’re the cause.

This is a burden that we don’t often think about when going into this business. But it is a challenge we’ll have to face at some point.

A large rock on a beach.

Learning to Deal

So, we’ve established that being a web designer can be a real nerve-wrecking experience. But the good news is that, over time, you can learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs. Here are a few tips for keeping your cool:

Plan Ahead…Even If It Doesn’t Always Work

Yes, plans tend to change. But the act of planning is still a worthwhile endeavor. The key is to prepare yourself while staying flexible.

When discussing project benchmarks and deadlines with clients, try not to speak in absolutes. Instead, start with a time range and a friendly reminder that there are some variables involved. Then, as you make progress, the picture may become that much clearer.

This won’t suit every client, but most should be willing to work with you on it. After all, it’s a bit more realistic than setting hard deadlines without knowing what the future holds.

Let Go of What You Can’t Control

Along with planning is the understanding that some things are just beyond your control. Sometimes, a client fails to hold up their end of the bargain. A trusted plugin could become a buggy nightmare. Aliens could steal your hard drive. Stuff happens.

Hopefully, experience will teach us that we can either grumble about the situation or move on to Plan B. Doing the latter is ultimately the more productive way to go.

Put the Project Ahead of the Personal

This may be the hardest thing of all. Why? Because it’s a bummer when a client or colleague doesn’t like something you’ve poured your heart and soul into. It’s difficult to not take that as a personal slight.

But it’s important to keep things in perspective. When you put your projects first, then criticism becomes a means to the desired end: success. If changing a font, color or even a whole layout is what it takes to make things work, then so be it.

That doesn’t mean you give up your right to make a valid argument in defense of your work. It’s just that the ultimate result is what you’re fighting for – not your ego.

Person balancing on a stone.

An Education in Emotions

Every job provides plenty of emotional experiences. Web design may be unique in that it can require us to both deal with the emotions of working on our own (like debugging code) and that of dealing with others (like providing customer support). You’re both in and out of a bubble.

Yet, it’s something that can take us by surprise. It’s a reality that forces us to adapt in order to stick around for the long term.

So, if you’re new to the industry, it’s worth taking a little time to consider the types of situations you might face and how they’ll make you feel. If you’ve been around for a while, think back to the emotional ups and downs and how they affected you.

Most importantly, realize that these emotions are all part of the experience. Learning to deal with them is just as vital as writing great code or crafting beautiful designs. They can all help to put you on the path to success.

The post The Emotional Rollercoaster of Being a Web Designer appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


Branding Heroes: Adding Your Identity into the Hero Area

Brand identity is one of the essential elements of a successful business. Whether you are running a local one-person law firm or you are building a huge empire on the digital expanses, it is your face that speaks volumes.

Every representative office should proudly bear elements of brand identity, and the website is no exception. As a rule, when it comes to online branches, the logo fulfils the role of a company’s uniqueness that visually separates it from the others in consumers’ minds.

Brand colors and mottos quite often underlie the website’s aesthetics as well. However, sometimes that is not enough to create the image of the company and bring home the proper message. Sometimes you need to go the extra mile. And interweaving your brand into the hero area is a way to do it.

Let us consider some characteristic examples.

Fyresite

The simplest way to interweave your brand with the hero area is to feature the element of visual identity right in the heart of the welcome section. Take a look at Fyresite.

Although the solution is incredibly simple, it works like a charm here. All the team did was incorporate a bigger version of the logo into the hero area, completely duplicating it. In this way, they managed to make a statement and show the vibrant, dynamic nature of the agency.

One thing to note, even though the big version of logotype does have a considerable visual weight, the introduction still catches an eye. Well played. Whatever you do, always remember the balance between brand identity and content. Do not to sacrifice the latter.

Example from Fyresite

Olympp

A similar approach is realized on Olympp, though the team has taken it to the next level.

Here, the logo stands behind the entire beauty of the welcome section. It dictates the rules for aesthetics and sets the general tone. You can see how the Greek theme runs through the whole hero area, forcing it mirror the emblem.

The idea is simple. Yet, it not only works, but also impresses.

Example from Olympp

Davis Malm Attorneys

The official website of Davis Malm Attorneys is an absolute classic of brand interweaving. Much like in the previous case, here, the image background takes after the logotype.

However, this time we can see a real image of the mascot. What’s more, the arrangement of the introductory words follow the same path as the nameplate of the firm in the logo. The hero area looks like a logical continuation that contributes to the overall visual identity.

Example from Davis Malm Attorneys 

Keyformat

In essence, this is the same approach that we saw with Davis Malm Attorneys. The background features the real image of the main mascot, a goat. However, the hero area has an entirely different aura and certainly a more playful look.

The reason for that lies in the details. You can see the neon color that is quite trendy, and line style typography – another modern trait. They give the design a frisky and zestful look and at the same time favorably dish up the brand piece.

Example from Keyformat

Authenticff

But it’s not only animals that are appropriate for such solutions, anything can do the trick. Even an abstract logo can be coordinated with the hero area. Consider Authenticff as a case in point.

Here, the logo is a simple triangle with several short lines inside. Unlike the first example in our collection, you won’t see an exact replica. Instead, the team has used an alternative version with a distinctive 3D feeling. They have skillfully abstracted from the style yet still saved the nature and charisma of the emblem.

Example from Authenticff

Purple Bunny

Okay, let us make things a little bit interesting by taking the traditional approach to the next level. We’ll use some creative thinking, a pinch of modern solutions and high-end techniques. Consider Purple Bunny.

The team behind Purple Bunny has gone for the dynamic approach. Their hero area includes not only a full-sized bunny featured in the logo but also a small animation that reveals the playful nature of the mascot.

It occupies the bottom right corner and does not distract the attention from the tagline. It enriches the hero area, contributes to the visual identity and simply lightens up the mood.

Example from Purple Bunny

Digital Design Days

If the cartoonish animation is not your thing, and you are up to a serious, businesslike atmosphere, you can always adapt one of the digitally reproduced techy animations that are increasingly popular these days.

The team behind Digital Design Days shows it in practice. Their logotype can be seen not only in the top left corner but also in the hero area, where it occupies the lion’s share of space. Here, the abstract 3D shape is presented in all its glory, giving users an opportunity to play. What’s more, the nameplate takes up the same position as in the logo. Therefore, you can feel a compositional harmony in every detail.

DDD proves to us that whatever logotype you have; you can quickly build a hero area around it. And, you can end up with an outstanding outcome that will not only contribute to the general aesthetics but also enhance a corporate vision of your company.

Example from Digital Design Days

The Village Films / Athem

These examples are for those who have an eye to detail and adore subtlety and sophistication. In both cases, you can see a delicate integration of brand identity.

For instance, on the official website of Village Films, the logotype is used as a transparent mask located right at the heart of the scene. It is barely visible, yet it is here, and it adds to the overall user experience.

Example from The Village Films

The team behind Anthem does not recreate logotype: they imitate its rhythm. You can see it in the slider, where an image is divided into three slices. Each piece is shifted along the vertical axis to follow the pattern in the logo.

Example from Athem

An Introduction to Your Brand

Logos smartly coordinated with the hero area are a perfect way to strengthen the brand identity and force the website to benefit the entire venture. Not only as online real estate, but also as a piece of visual identity.

Whatever logotype you have, there are various ways to reproduce it in the welcome section. You can use the exact replica like Fyresite, take advantage of its image-based version like the team behind Olympp or even create an animation like Purple Bunny.

The post Branding Heroes: Adding Your Identity into the Hero Area appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


The 2019 WordPress Year in Review

The end of the year is always a good time to look back and take stock of how WordPress continues to evolve. Surely, 2019 can’t match the anticipation and controversy we saw in 2018. The lead up to WordPress 5.0 and its inclusion of the Gutenberg block editor was about as big as it gets.

Still, that doesn’t mean 2019 wasn’t without its own important developments. Here’s a look at what happened and what it all means.

Gutenberg Celebrates One Year

My, how time flies! A year ago, we were wondering about the impact Gutenberg would have on WordPress. Many of us were understandably nervous about what it might mean for our respective workflows and existing websites. Would things break? Would tons of users migrate to another CMS?

In some respects, 2019 seems to have been almost anticlimactic. But that’s actually a huge positive.

The year saw steady improvements in user experience and some exciting features added to the block editor. The ability to create custom blocks has been streamlined, while tools that allow for a more visual approach to block creation have hit the market.

Meanwhile, lots of plugins (including some of the biggest names) have adapted their software for use with blocks. And a number of new plugins have sprung up that offer a variety of different blocks you can use to customize the editing experience. The WordPress Plugin Repository even has a special section dedicated to block-friendly selections.

While still controversial in some circles, the block editor has shown itself to be a solid option for developers and content creators alike. Expect that to continue in 2020.

The Gutenberg Cover Block.

Major Releases Bring New Features

2019 saw three major releases of WordPress, each bringing an array of fixes, changes and additions.

WordPress 5.1 “Betty”

Released: February 21, 2019

The first major release post-Gutenberg, WordPress 5.1 included a number of performance-related improvements to the block editor.

Also of note is the Site Health feature, that provides helpful information about your website. For instance, it will detect the version of PHP you’re using and tell you if you need to upgrade. You’ll also find details on the rest of your site’s setup to help with troubleshooting.

Among the “under-the-hood” enhancements, the ability to store site meta within multisite networks is an interesting development. This allows, for example, the ability to potentially group sites together by some common meta element. You can then add specific features to each site based on this data.

WordPress Site Health screen.

WordPress 5.2 “Jaco”

Released: May 7, 2019

Perhaps the most noticeable change here is that your WordPress install will send you an email when it detects a fatal PHP error. Through the use of a “recovery” mode, WordPress will allow administrators to access the site while the offending plugin or theme is paused.

A number of accessibility tweaks were added to the back end, which make for better keyboard navigation and overall flow.

WordPress 5.3 “Kirk”

Released: November 12, 2019

Gutenberg was a major focus of WordPress 5.3, with 150+ new features and improvements to the block editor. Among the most exciting is the long-anticipated Group block, which lets you combine multiple blocks into a single group. This makes it easier to style and move multiple blocks within your content. Plus, the Columns block now offers the ability to resize individual columns – something sorely missing from previous versions.

Accessibility shortcomings within Gutenberg and the back end as a whole also took center stage. After upgrading to WordPress 5.3, you might have noticed that buttons and form fields have a different look. There was also an effort to make design across both the editor and dashboard more consistent.

The Media Library also saw some love, with better support for uploading large, unoptimized images. WordPress will also automatically rotate images according to embedded orientation data.

And you’ll no longer need to worry about using an outdated administration email address. Upon logging in, WordPress will periodically ask you to verify the address on file.

Other goodies include support for PHP 7.4 and the inclusion of the block-friendly Twenty Twenty default theme.

WordPress Twenty Twenty theme preview.

The Big Picture

If 2018 was all about sweeping change, then 2019 has been more about building upon that new foundation. Stability and incremental improvement were at the forefront this year.

That’s really a win for the community as a whole. Big changes might be inevitable, but they shouldn’t come all that often – certainly not when it pertains to how we design and build websites with the CMS. For WordPress to continue to lead the pack it not only has to innovate, but also provide as solid a platform as possible.

A large number of web professionals make a living off of building with WordPress. And many businesses use it to sell online, serve customers and bolster their own reputations. Everyone who uses this software has a stake in its future. Thus, anything that creates too much of a disruption has to be carefully considered.

So, if this year seemed a little dull in comparison, that may be cause for celebration. I, for one, hope for much of the same in 2020!

Best of 2019

Want to catch up on the best WordPress articles, tools and tutorials of the year? Here are a few favorites:

The post The 2019 WordPress Year in Review appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Smaller Web Design Projects

By and large, web designers are very passionate about their job. That stands out in contrast to most other industries. But when it comes to the bottom line, web design is just like other businesses. The main point is to gain clients and make a decent living.

As such, there is a lot of talk about booking big clients with budgets to match. Yet, that’s not always realistic – especially for freelancer designers who are just starting to make their way. Even seasoned pros may not have the desire or capacity to take on larger projects.

Still, going for the biggest fish seems to be the prevailing advice. So, does that mean smaller projects aren’t worth anything? Absolutely not. There are still important things to be gained. Here are a few reasons why you may not want to toss those little fish aside.

Learn to Build Client Relationships

Among the biggest challenges any business owner must face is in learning how to deal with people. I’d say it’s nearly as important as being a talented designer and developer.

Just as no two projects are the same, you’ll find that no two clients are, either. This means that you will interact with all kinds of different personalities over the course of your career.

Soon after I launched my business, I took on all manner of small projects – and met a few characters along the way. And, even though I didn’t see it that way at the time, it also presented a great opportunity.

You see, I didn’t make a whole lot of money. But I learned some important lessons about how to communicate with my clients. I figured out how to explain things in more user-friendly terms, how to keep them updated on work in progress. I also gained valuable insight into what their expectations were and how to take/respond to criticism.

It was a bumpy ride, for sure. There was a lot of stress and worry. Sometimes I could have handled things better. But the experience itself was priceless. Learning to build working relationships can be a key to both personal and professional growth.

Two people sitting at a desk.

A Chance to Sharpen Skills

There are plenty of places where web designers can learn new skills. But to truly put those skills into practice, you need to build something. Small projects can serve as a great proving ground.

For one, the expectation level should be equal to a client’s budget (though it’s important for you to explain this to them). A low-end eCommerce project, then, should mean fewer features and customizations.

This allows you to start small and build a foundational understanding of the type of site you’re working on. It can also serve as a bit of a playground for experimentation.

Because you’re on a shoestring budget, you probably won’t have access to some of the fancier scripts or plugins. The result is that you may have to dig into code a little more to get things done. It’s a wonderful method for figuring out how things work.

Person pointing at laptop computer screen.

Find Yourself

The more projects you have under your belt, the more you can learn about yourself. What kind of projects do you like? What type of workflow works for you?

These are valuable lessons to learn before you move on to bigger things. Because, until you understand your niche within the industry, it can be difficult to set yourself up for success.

For instance, it’s probably not a good idea to take on a massive project without having any idea of how you’re going to approach it. Without knowing which tools to use or even whether or not you’ll be comfortable with the work involved, you’re opening up a dangerous can of worms. You could well be placing yourself in a bad situation.

While smaller projects still need to be taken seriously, you can use them as a sort of guide. Inevitably, you’ll find that you like some aspects more than others. Perhaps you’ll realize that you are really into SEO, while learning that membership-based sites aren’t your cup of tea.

Whatever your preferences, the goal is to find out where you fit in. That takes time and often requires working on a variety of different projects. This is where you can use smaller gigs as a way to discover who you are.

Person looking out of a window.

Something More Than Money

It’s unlikely that you’ll get rich relying on small web design projects. That’s why many designers aim higher over the long term. But that doesn’t mean they lack value. Quite the opposite.

Building websites at the lower end of the spectrum is a great way to develop you brand, become better at your job and find your comfort zone. And while you don’t have to stay in this realm forever, you should make the most of it while you are there. It will help you prepare for what lies ahead.

The post Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Smaller Web Design Projects appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


5 Bad Habits That Can Hurt Your WordPress Website

When you build a WordPress website, you open yourself up to an entire world of possibilities. That is both a good and bad thing.

The built-in conveniences and ability to extend functionality with just a few clicks make site owners feel at ease. The bright side is that this allows us to do more with a shoestring budget than we may have thought possible. But it can also lull us into a false sense of security.

The result is that we may be putting our websites at risk without fully realizing it. WordPress, after all, is not a set-it-and-forget-it CMS. On the contrary, it requires us to develop good practices and constant vigilance.

Here are five bad habits that, while innocent in intent, can bring unwanted drama to your WordPress install. We’ll cover both what can go wrong and provide simple solutions that will help you avoid future problems.

Leaving Unused Plugins Installed

It’s a pretty common practice. We search through the WordPress Plugin Repository and find something of interest. We install it and plan on seeing what it can do. However, maybe it isn’t a great fit, or maybe we never test it at all. Still, it sits there.

Keeping unused plugins around can be costly. From a security perspective, it can be dangerous. A vulnerable piece of code could very well lead to malware being installed on your server. This could, in turn, do untold amounts of damage to your site.

The unfortunate truth is that not all plugins are well-written or maintained. Some are even abandoned by their authors. If you happen to be the unlucky person who still has one of these plugins installed, you are a target.

Beyond that, the more plugins you have installed, the harder it is to troubleshoot any errors that arise. Clutter only serves to complicate the process.

The Solution

It’s okay to install plugins and test them out (preferably on a staging site). But make a habit of removing unwanted plugins – even those that aren’t currently active on your website. Routinely browse through your WordPress back end to check for items you don’t need.

Vehicles in a junk yard.

Assuming Your Website Is Secure

Security is an area where a lot of us tend to have a blind spot. Not that we ignore it completely, mind you. But it is easy to become lax.

This can happen for a number of reasons. If your website hasn’t been hacked (to your knowledge, at least), you may think everything is just fine. Or maybe your web host boasts that it’s the most secure platform on Earth. Or perhaps you’ve taken a few minimal steps and feel that’s enough.

Whatever the reason, we are often more reactive than proactive. This means learning our lessons the hard way – after something bad has already happened.

The Solution

Don’t ever assume that your website is fully secure. Just think, some of the most sophisticated systems in the world have been hacked. Your website, by comparison, is easy pickings for a malicious actor.

Take security seriously at all levels. Use strong passwords, utilize a firewall or security plugin and make sure your install is up-to-date. It won’t stop every potential attack, but it can thwart the basic stuff.

A cat sleeping next to a computer.

Letting Commercial Licenses Expire

Sure, there are tons of free WordPress plugins and themes available. But there are times when commercial software just makes more sense. It might be a better fit for your needs or offer more powerful functionality. Plus, commercial-grade support is always welcome when it comes to mission-critical tools.

However, these items take often take a sustained financial commitment, as one-time purchases are becoming rare. Much of the commercially-available plugins and themes for WordPress tend to require yearly license renewals.

This recurring cost helps the developer provide support, add new features and fix bugs. It means that the software will continue to be actively developed, which benefits everybody.

Yet, I am still amazed at how often I see websites using software with long-expired licenses. This can be both a security and functionality nightmare. Eventually, something is going to either become vulnerable or break altogether as new versions of WordPress are released.

The Solution

Do some research before you buy a plugin or theme. Determine what the future costs will be and if they are manageable. Just as importantly, inform your clients about these licenses! Quite often, a license will expire simply because a client doesn’t know about it.

Man looking through his wallet.

Using Multiple Plugins for the Same Purpose

Another potential complication of becoming a “plugin collector” is an overlap in functionality. This can result in your website taking a performance hit. If you’re running unnecessary code, it stands to reason that it will have a negative impact on page speed. And it can also create functionality conflicts, as multiple bits of code are fighting for the same space, so to speak.

This particular issue is often one that takes time to rear its head. For example, you may start out with a do-it-all plugin like Jetpack. After a while, you might seek out more niche plugins, some with functionalities that overlap the aforementioned Swiss Army knife of WordPress.

But this could be applied to literally any category of plugin. Contact forms, security, eCommerce, SEO – there are so many options for each. Collect enough of these plugins and eventually, a few are going to patrol the same territory.

The Solution

When possible, choose a definitive path for the functionality you need in any particular category. Either find a plugin that does just about everything you want, or piece together a few niche items.

This is where a plugin with its own ecosystem, such as WooCommerce, makes life easier. Through its many extensions, you can add just the capabilities you really need – thus avoiding overlap.

A pile of clocks.

Not Keeping Personal Backups

Maintaining backups of your important files is a good practice that goes well beyond WordPress. But not everyone thinks about the risks associated with not having a copy of their website on hand at all times.

It is reasonable to assume that your web host will back up your website (both files and database) each and every day – and the responsible ones do. This can be a lifesaver. That is, unless something goes wrong.

As experience has taught me, you can’t rely solely on others for this duty. A poorly-timed mistake can leave you in a bad situation, should the worst happen. Missing critical files could mean filling in a lot of gaps or starting over from scratch.

The Solution

There are a number of ways to back up a WordPress website. The easiest and most direct method is by using a backup plugin. There are also a number of third-party services such as ManageWP, InfiniteWP or even Jetpack that offer similar functionality.

Whichever you choose, be sure to keep a copy of your site somewhere other than your web host. That could be a cloud storage service or even your local machine. That way, you’ll always have access – just in case.

Broken hard drive.

WordPress Requires TLC

Long after the thrill of your website’s launch, WordPress still needs a lot of attention. The good news is that, even though there are some potential pitfalls, it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to keep things running smoothly.

By developing an awareness of what you’ve installed and performing routine maintenance, you can often avoid the most serious kinds of problems.

Not sure you’re up to the challenge? Start off with something simple, like setting a weekly reminder to update your installation. From there, set a monthly reminder that urges you to take inventory of plugins and security.

Follow that plan and, pretty soon, your website will be in tip-top shape.

The post 5 Bad Habits That Can Hurt Your WordPress Website appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


Being a Freelance Web Designer Isn’t for Everyone

So often, I write about the details and observations I’ve had while running a freelance web design business. It seems like so many web designers have taken this path that I tend to forget about those who haven’t.

The truth is that being a freelancer isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. And it’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone. The lifestyle is very different compared to having a steady job with a traditional employer.

A lot of people have found this out the hard way. Freelancing can seem like an ideal career and a sign that you’ve made it. Yet, that depends greatly on your personality and how you like to work.

Today, I’m going to share some reasons why you might not want to jump onto the freelance bandwagon. Don’t worry – this isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s more like a realistic look at what it takes to live this life.

There Can Be a Lot of Uncertainty

Whether you’re just starting out or are a grizzled veteran of working for yourself, uncertainty is often the only thing you can count on in a given day. Steady clients can be hard to come by and it seems like you are always at the mercy of someone else.

That dependence on others may seem a bit counterintuitive. But when people ask me about being my own boss, I tell them I’m not. Rather, I have dozens of bosses who I need to keep happy. Each one with their own personality, taste and monetary value to the bottom line.

It’s a constant juggling act – one in which you never know when one or more objects will fall from the sky and knock you in the head. Depending on how your business is set up, uncertainty can be spread throughout every aspect. It affects your daily schedule, when you get paid and how aggressive you need to be in booking new clients.

Yes, it is possible to reach a certain level of stability. But it can take several years of making the right connections and building a great reputation to get there.

Puzzle pieces.

You’re Responsible for Everything

One of the true advantages of working for someone else is that, ideally, you are responsible for a specific set of tasks and nothing more. In web design, that could mean you are a front-end developer who works exclusively on the UI, while your back-end developer colleagues put together custom code.

As a business owner (especially a solo entrepreneur) you are ultimately responsible for every part of a project. And that goes well beyond the design and code. It also encompasses all of the grunt work that goes along with running a business.

Tasks like accounting, marketing, sales and support are all on your plate. Maybe you can hire help for some tasks, but freelancers often work on tight budgets. Therefore, you might be stuck doing things that have nothing to do with web design.

If you’re not prepared for the great responsibility that comes with the job, freelancing may not be for you.

A table with a laptop computer, notepad and phone.

Taking Time off Can Be Difficult

Want to get away? It’s not easy for those of us who work on our own. Yet, taking time off is important for both physical and mental well-being.

There are multiple challenges involved. First, working alone often means not having someone to take your place during an absence. This means that, even if you do manage to get out for a bit, you are likely lugging a laptop along and are glued to your phone for the duration.

Then, just because you’ve left the office doesn’t mean that your clients will stop sending you work. From my experience, most people respect the fact that you are away. But there are always one or two that don’t.

And there is always a chance of something breaking. Such an emergency can lay waste to your plans of rest and relaxation.

Put this all together and you may have a hard time getting out of the office.

A cellphone sitting on a beach.

It’s Hard to Keep up with New Technology

Both the responsibilities and uncertainties of freelancing tend to result in a lack of time. We’re not only talking about time away from the office, however.

The busy schedule of a freelancer can also make it very difficult to keep pace with new developments in the industry. Whether that’s testing out a new tool, learning a JavaScript library or filling yourself in on the latest WordPress release, it can be hard to gain more than a cursory knowledge in these areas.

In web design, things change rapidly. Thus, it’s important to learn new skills. This often requires a time commitment that extends past regular office hours. Nights, weekends or early mornings may be the only opportunities to expand your horizons.

And, if you’re interested in taking a formal online or in-person class, there’s also the matter of cost. Some employers will willingly pay for continuing education. Freelancers aren’t so lucky. This means either paying for it yourself or making due with whatever free resources you can find.

A man using a laptop computer.

The Freelance Life Is Not Universal

If the scenarios above don’t sound attractive, not to worry. When it comes to our careers, each one of us has different wants and needs. What works for some may not be the best fit for you.

Sure, being a freelance web designer can be very rewarding. But it also means taking some real risks. Depending on your life situation, going off on your own may not be worth the potential pitfalls. And the stress involved with running a business can be a major turn-off as well.

Thankfully, our industry provides several different paths for us to choose from. It’s up to us to determine where we’ll be happiest and then make the most of the opportunities we have. For some, that will be as a freelancer. For others, a different, yet equally rewarding journey is the better option.

The post Being a Freelance Web Designer Isn’t for Everyone appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.


Tidy desktop

5 Tips and Tricks That Will Help You In Managing Your Design Project

This post is a collaboration with Nifty PM.

Design project managers have a very challenging task of trying to merge two very different concepts. They need to fit the creative process into rather strict organizational constraints in order to come up with a successful product, that will satisfy all their client's requests.

They have to handle a group of artistic individuals who need time and space to develops ideas while also juggling numerous tasks, client and team meetings as well as deadlines. To complete their mission with a triumph, design project managers have to meticulously plan every part of the project, making sure their coworkers have enough time to find inspiration, apply it to a project and do all that within scheduled time limits.

At certain moments, this whole procedure might feel quite overwhelming so here are 5 tip and tricks that will help you in managing design projects and make your everyday life at the office a bit easier:

1. Organization is the Key

Although designing is a creative process, as a project manager you still need to meet certain deadlines. That’s why it’s crucial to adopt and apply various organizational skills and tools to your everyday work. This will greatly improve creative projects you’re managing and keep you on track.

Setting up a good organizational system will make the whole project run more smoothly and efficiently. So, make sure your calendar is up to date, the client's needs and ideas are clearly outlined, the software you're using fits your project requirements, team members are well - informed and that milestones are recorded. Also, don’t forget to check – up on your progress on a daily level. Just like in every project, you’re working under strict timelines and frequent reviews will make you less prone to eventual errors.

Investing some time in creating this sort of a system will pay out no doubt. It will declutter your mind and make you more focused.

Tidy desktop

2. Good Team Communication

As a project manager, you have to be able to communicate clearly with both clients and team members. Designers are visual types and many of them can’t be described as good communicators so it’s up to you to find a suitable way to convey what’s expected of them individually and as a team.

It’s not a bad idea to include them in client – talks on some level. Hearing first – hand from clients what's the project goal and mission might give them a better idea of where to start, how to approach tasks and how much time it will take them to bring certain assignments from start to finish.

Also, take advantage of all available communication tools. In the last couple of decades, the technological revolution has significantly affected both our personal and professional lives. Some of the most important changes happened in the sphere of communication.

All project management comes with a variety of tools that will lift your experience to the next level. When it comes to interaction, you and your team members will be able to start discussions, share ideas and documents. You can create message boards and to-do lists, notifying everyone involved immediately.

So, you can choose the PM software program that will best suit your needs and simplify much of your daily work. No need for a huge number of emails or meetings and phone calls to keep everyone informed. Thanks to this, you will be able to use your time in a more efficient manner.

Nifty PM

3. Keep Clients Informed

As already mentioned, it's important to have a clear line of communication with your client. After all, that person is your boss and you're there to satisfy his/her demands. However, keep in mind that they might not be able to see the project the way you see it. Chances are they not too familiar with the field of design and that's why it's essential to keep them informed and engaged throughout the whole process.

By involving them and giving them the possibility to follow the progress of the project from start to finish, they will develop a better sense of what it takes to come to a final version. They will be able to give their opinions and suggestions as the project develops, making the whole procedure more cost and time – effective. Clients will witness the workflow tempo as well as the dedication of your team to complete the tasks and achieve the set goals. This sort of transparency and collaboration will, for sure, raise your level of productivity.

4. Managing Potential Risks

No matter what kind of project you're working on, traditional or creative, they all come with certain risks. It is imperative for the success of any project to be able to manage these risks as better as possible, otherwise, they might appear at any time and endanger the whole process. That’s why, in order to prevent something like this happening, you need to be able to detect any possible problems and find solutions in case they appear. The most common risk types are:

  • Cost Risks – failing to successfully predict the costs of the project
  • Schedule Risks – needing more time to bring a project from start to finish which will increase financial requirements
  • Performance Risks – not coming with the results demanded in project specifications

Risk management has become one of the key elements in project management. Some of the other risk types are Strategic, Operational, Legal, Governance, Market risks, etc. As your experience grows, so will your ability to foresee when problems might arise and when to apply the necessary measures to eliminate them.

5. Learn from Past Experiences

Errors are inevitable, missteps and wrong decisions will be made while you manage a design project. However, it’s important to stay level headed and find a way to continue moving towards the set goal.

“Past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.”

Once the process is concluded, the project manager should review it as a whole and analyze all its elements. Evaluate every phase you went through, all the performances, take notice of all the oversights made along the way and draw constructive conclusions that can help you better run the next project that comes your way. Use this experience to improve your future work.