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Ferrari 250GT Short Wheel Base – iPad Panting

A painting of my favourite ever road car, the Ferrari 250GT SWB created using ‘Art Rage’ to create outline and ‘Brushes’ to paint. Both very good iPad Apps in my collection!

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Flash: ifs and buts

What is Flash?

Adobe Flash is a powerful creation tool for interactive and interesting website development possibilities.

Flash is used mainly for online browser games, animated banner adverts, video players, interactive showcases and sometimes entire websites.

It allows extremely flexible, dynamic and smooth animation, intricate mouse interaction and logic, audio/music playing in synch with things happening onscreen, video playback and pretty much anything can be programmed using it’s built in ActionScript programming language. It also has potential to create content dynamically using ‘Generator’, although this can be very complex to setup!

However there are some serious issues to consider before you go ahead and use it.

What are the pros and cons?

Pros:

  • Can make very engaging sites or components of sites, with animation and sounds.
  • Good for keeping the attention of a younger audience or for music artists websites.
  • Can create unique experiences unlike any other websites.
  • Great for making simple casual games.

Cons:

  • Requires a browser plugin, which has various versions available, so users may not have the correct version even if they have Flash installed.
  • If they have not got the plugin installed, you lose a bit of control of what happens. It is possible to send them to alternate content, or trigger a page requesting they download the plugin.
  • To make the more interactive and interesting sites (i.e. making the most of Flash), development time (and cost) is considerably more than a static site with some clever DHTML tricks and/or other techniques.
  • Will not play at all on ANY Apple mobile devices such as iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. This is a serious consideration as many users are now accessing websites with these devices so you would potentially be cutting a huge chunk of your prospective audience out.
  • Not inherently DDA compliant, especially if you have a lot of mouse controlled elements.
  • Not all computers can play Flash smoothly, especially true if there is a lot going on within the animation. If written inefficiently, Flash can be a major processor and resource hog, so would not work well on older PC’s.
  • Because it CAN do so much, it’s easy to go over the top in terms of what content and ‘snazzy effects’ one implements. Harder to know when to stop or what to do in the first place due to it’s open-canvas nature.

As you can see from those bullets, the ‘cons’ list is a lot bigger! Of course every case and every website is different so you will have to judge whether the negative points are not relevant to your audience and therefore if using Flash is still appropriate for your needs.

Summary

The main situations I would normally recommend using Flash are when designing websites for kids, or when you want to synch sound or music up with visuals. I have never recommended using it “just for the sake of it” as I feel that the downsides outweigh the benefits in most cases.

The big drawback now and going into the future is the fact that Apple have banished it from their mobile devices due to some very valid reasons. This is a huge market and hugely growing percentage of web surfers. For this reason alone I predict that a lot of the bigger sites that still use Flash (for media delivery in particular) will be converting their sites  in the next year or so to other ways of delivering this content, such as HTML 5 or QuickTime with embedded mp4 movies, to be compatible with iDevices.

At the same token, for new websites I would now always specify that video not be delivered with Flash. HTML 5 will be a level playing field when it rolls out properly in the next generation of browsers but it’s a good time to think about it now and not paint yourself into a corner if you’re developing a new website.

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Solid blog and really aids with learning the issue better.


the best video player that i use is none other than VLC Player, it is free and i think it is open source too”’

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Logos and Branding: your corporate identity

The image of your company is incredibly vital to the overall success of your business.

I often see clients that put nowhere near enough emphasis on the importance of creating a strong brand when they are starting their business… arguably the most critical and important time on which to focus on it!

It can literally make or break a business, new or established. A strong, clever logo can instantly portray what you are about. It can emphasise your ethos and it can speak to the customer without saying a word. On the flip-side of this, if you get it wrong it can say the WRONG things just as powerfully.

To some degree or another this effect is subconscious and subliminal… people don’t notice that they are being communicated to when they see a logo. Some people are more susceptible to the message than others but generally speaking a universal conclusion can be drawn about the companies image, even if this is not a true reflection of what that company is ACTUALLY like, reinforcing the vital need for creating an appropriate logo design to fit your business.

In essence, the image boils down to a logo and the way you use it; colour schemes, typefaces, presentation, layout – and the consistency of all these elements between all of your marketing material/collateral such as stationery, brochures, website, adverts, reports and emails.

I will soon be adding further posts with more detail and some in-depth hints and tips on how to maximise the impact of how you use the above.

In summary, if you get a solution that is attractive and reinforces your brand, it can really make that final buying decision for the customer and make them choose you over your competitors.

Try all you can to not underestimate the ways in which a well thought out corporate identity can help your business succeed!

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Simplicity is the ‘Key’!

Browsing habits change… people change. The trend on the internet is that site visitors are spending less time reading on-screen – they want to get to the informtion they need… and FAST!

Whether your site is an online brochure, an information source, an e-commerce site or a community hub, there is value in keeping things simple.

This “simplicity” can take many forms but in essence it is about information management. This encompasses the site menus and navigation, visual design and layout, and the page ‘tree’ structure in terms of how the pages are organised within the navigation system.

There are a number of relatively new techniques (at least new in the sense that they are now “browser-safe” across the majority of current browsers) which allow more scope in how you achieve this simplicity.

Always look at it from your customers’ point of view. What would you want to see to understand the message? What information do you need most? What do you want poeple to do on the site? What is the “call to action”?

Some suggestions to consider:-

Have LESS pages on the site with with less text and links to downloadable PDF files for more detailed information

  • PROS:

    • Site will be easier to manage and potentially quicker/cheaper to create.
    • Easier for users to navigate and easier to control their experience and make sure they read the information you want them to.
    • You can format the deeper information to be easily printable so that they can be read offline in a more relaxed, traditional way.
    • Users can print off information relevant to them and create a ‘file’ which can be a great way of them showing the information to other decision making staff in the office and easier for them to come back to for further reading. Also having the papeer on their desk it is likely to stay in their consciousness for longer so that your website won’t be consigned to their browser history and be lost or forgotten!
    • Easier for you to plan out the website and manage it’s content both in the initial stages and in future updates.
  • CONS:
    • PDF files still show up in search engines, but if people land on a PDF page, there will be no navigation back to the rest of the site.
    • Less pages on your site means less opportunity to get keywords and optimise each page for search engines. This makes it more important to make the pages you have work well for search engines if getting traffic that way is important to you.
    • Users need Acrobat software to view the PDF files. Most people already do have this but potentially not the right versions, thus they would have to download and install extra software.
    • Planning what to say and in what detail can be more time consuming, because each element of content is important to get right.

Use advanced DHTML techniques to “hide” certain information and “reveal” it when the user clicks certain prompts

  • PROS:
    • A nice and modern way of managing page content, not overwhelming the visitor with walls of text, but still having that infomration quickly available within hiodden panels. These can animate to reveal further information in a slick way.
    • Easier for users to navigate and access the information quickly because the hidden information is instantly shown rather than loading a separate page.
    • If executed well, with thought and planning, creates a nice ‘experience’ for users navingating your site.
    • CONS:
      • Can be more costly to develop the programming.
      • May not work on older browsers, but the content will still be shown so users will not miss out other than the visual integrity.
      • May not work with some Content Management Systems, although workarounds are often possible.

    Have a clear message within the website and “call to actions” on every page

    • PROS:
      • Visitors (hopefully) won’t be confused by what you are offering, therefore the message will be more meaningful and memorable.
      • The presentation will seem more professional and well planned.
      • The focus of the site and the users attention will be more controlled, and if planned well you will get the results you want more efficiently.
    • CONS:
      • None!

    These are strong arguments for keeping things simple on your website. For further advice feel free to contact DesignerMark for assistance.

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    e-commerce: your options

    There are many ways of enabling direct online sales of products and services via your website and the internet, ranging from simple “BUY” buttons if you only have a few or even a single product to offer, all the way up to full e-commerce systems which behave more like Amazon, with all the enhanced features that entails such as Best Sellers, Customer Reviews, Multibuy options, Multi Currency and full back-end order and customer management tools.

    So, what considerations will you need to make?

    The first step is to understand what products you will have available and estimate the number of sales you expect to realistically make per month in the first year or so of the site going live. These 2 points will dictate, to a certain degree, the type of site you will need and the most suitable payment gateway for taking payments.

    You should decide how you want visitors to interact with your site. Do you want them to be able to search using keywords, or would simply navigating through a series of categories and menus work for your products?

    Do visitors need to be able to get a lot of extra information on each product or service to help them make an informed buying decision (techinal data, extra photos, customer comments, video examples/walkthroughs etc) or would a single description and a few (or even just one) photo work?

    Do you want to be able to offer advanced features such as product suggestions, discounts for buying multiples or groups of products, trade login with alternate pricing, special offers if a discount code is entered (which can be promoted via eMarketing or offline advertising etc). These decisions impact the type of site you will need more directly – often falling outside of what a simpler system is capable of.

    Website options

    Taking into account the decisions made from the pointers above, you can plan out the site structure and systems. Here are some options but there are list of ways of achieving anything to do with e-commerce so feel free to contact DesignerMark for advice.

    Mals e-commerce shopping cart
    Simple ‘buy’ buttons linking to a third-party shopping cart, which is configured through a control panel to set up the carriage costs, shipping zones, payment gateway, email receipts etc.
    Mals is a great option for a basic e-commerce presence. It has a lot of flexibility on the back end but is not as easy to work into an editable site, so its ideal if your website is being managed by the developer (me!) but not so great (but not impossible) if you want to add and edit products yourself via a CMS.
    To link to a Payment gateway there is a £5 per month charge (which is kind of essential) so it’s very good value.
    Read more about Mals here: http://www.mals-e.com

    eBay
    An even quicker way in, but with a lot of draw backs, is eBay. You can quickly set up a store with full keyword search capabilities, but are pretty much limited ti it displaying within the eBay templates.

    Google Checkout
    As with most Google services, this is a free cart system which can work with various off-the-shelf packages or by integrating ‘buy’ buttons on your site in a similar way to PayPal.

    Read more about Google Checkout here: http://checkout.google.com/seller/integrate.html

    Off the shelf solutions
    There are lots of pre-made packages available to enable e-commerce but I have always found them disappointing from a design point of view. They all tend to be very template driven and hard to customise, so you end up just accepting the layout they give you, so I would not really recommend these for the types of bespoke sites we like to create at DesignerMark.

    J-Shop
    This is the top end solution for e-commerce that we can recommend. It offers all the bells and whistles in a fully integrated package. You can get a full Content Management System for adding categories and products etc, customer login to recognise regular customers, special offers system, dynamic best sellers, full order management, full customer relations manager including an e-marketing system with customisable template for all emails, stats on site usage and advanced options such as “customers who bought this also bought”, product grouping, alternate pricing, multi-currency and multi-language. It can also be customised to enhance the functionality to do whatever you need it to.

    Obviously the setup and development costs will reflect this enhanced power and control you can achieve, but to get these results ere really isn’t a lot in between this and the less flexible options.

    See an example of a J-Shop site here: http://gardenmania.designermark.biz

    It will ask for a username and password to access the demo site. Use “designermark” for both to gain access.

    Payment gateways

    Whichever way you go, a Payment Gateway will be required. If you have your own PDQ machine already, unfortunately it is no longer really a viable alternative to use that for online sales because you are not allowed to hold users credit card numbers unless you have a dedicated server and an SSL Certificate for your website domain, which both have their own costs and problems associated with them.

    Here are some suggestions and Payment Gateway options to consider:-

    PayPal: Relatively simple to set up, tried and tested system with good support and some effective back-end tools. PayPal still has the assumption attached to it that customers would have to have a PayPal account to pay but this is not true. The option to pay with credit card without having an actual PayPal account is there but it takes a low key visibility because PayPal wants people to sign up for their own benefit! However this is a good option to get quickly up and running with online payments.

    PayPal also offer a ‘Pro’ option which allows you to embed the payment forms on your own website, so that you can keep the look and feel consistent within your own design.

    PayPal charge 1.4% to 3.4% plus 20 pence per transaction.

    Read more about these options here: https://www.paypal-business.co.uk/accept-credit-cards-on-a-website-with-paypal/index.htm

    SagePay (formerly Protx): This is a more professional and more customisable option. It allows for a transparent process by embedding the payment forms within your own site, thus users never leave your domain name through the whole sales process which will give a tighter feel to the whole website.

    They have a secure terminal which you can use to take credit card details over the telephone or on-site with customers.

    SagePay charge a flat rate of £20 per month for up to 1000 transactions per quarter (e.g. Average of 333 transactions per month) then a single fat rate of 10 pence per transaction after that.

    Read more about SagePay here: http://www.sagepay.com/products_services/sage_pay_go

    Your business’ bank may have their own alternatives but it would not preclude you from using any of the above services if you preferred them.

    Summary

    It is one of the areas of the internet where there are just so many options and “ways of skinning the cat” that it’s hard to cover it all. If you want a chat or have any questions, feel free to contact DesignerMark or reply to this post.

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    Interactive digital magazines: the future of print?

    Adobe has announced that it will be selling it’s newly developed platform for creating interactive digital media, Adobe Digital Viewer.

    The system works with similar tools to InDesign CS5, by which I assume they mean one can export the core content and layout from InDesign to add interactivity in the Digital Viewer software.

    A fantastic example of what can be achieved when it comes to interactivity is the launch edition of ‘Wired’ magazine for the iPad. The Adobe software was actually developed FOR and in conjunction with Wired’s publishers for this very edition.

    Wired Digital is a very rich experience, with touch gestures to navigate the ‘pages’ – including articles with dynamic areas of changing content, embedded movie clips, audio and interactive advertising.

    For example there is music playing in the background of an article about a music artist so you can listen to his latest tune whilst reading the article.

    Product review articles can behave more like a mini website so that instead of scrolling through many pages of text, you simply click the picture of the next product you want to read about and the text changes on the same page without needing to scroll or move your field of view.

    Adverts can get more information across in the same amount of space without overwhelming the area with too much text at once by having interactive ‘layers’ of content, revealed by a tap.

    Another example of a great advert in ‘Wired’ is one in which you can ‘build’ a Lego car by swiping your finger sideways slowly. The stop frame animation cycles through the stages of the Lego being constructed!

    Products can have 360º spinable photos, so users can ‘look around’ the product… not exactly a replacement for seeing something in the flesh, but a lot more engaging than a fixed view photograph.

    From Adobe’s Press Release:-
    “Readers are able to experience the design fidelity of a print magazine, with the dynamic interactivity of digital media.”

    See the full Adobe Press Release here: http://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/pressroom/pressreleases/201006/060110AdobeDigitalViewer.html

    Personally I really do see this taking off, with one huge caveat… development cost.
    The Wired magazine took 1 year for the designers to create. Admittedly this was largely due to the fact that it was all new and software was being co-developed to support and enable this way of doing things but even so, with this rich level of content its not going to be quick to get the maximum quality possible.

    I think for smaller publications if the sights are set to a reasonable level there is no reason why this couldn’t work well though, but to do a whole 100 page magazine would be an immense amount of time and work, so it would be hard to make all of the content current at time of publication.

    The other downside are the filesizes of the finished articles. The Wired edition weighs in at around 500mb which took a while to download and certainly cannot be obtained through 3G. It’s not a massive problem because they will tend to be downloaded through a home internet connection (either directly on the device or via a desktop/laptop computer) and synched to the iPad, but it might put some people with limited storage space off, and becomes something you won’t ‘keep’ forever.

    So, is this the future of media? It has pros and cons (doesn’t everything) but I think and hope that we are going to see more and more of this exciting content emerging. Save the trees!!

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    iPad for business

    I’ve been setting up and experimenting with the iPad over the bank holiday weekend and wanted to write about my thoughts on how I see it can be used for business. I’ve found a number of apps already that look most useful, and have set up some systems which work really well… so here we go!

    Email
    Same setup as the iPhone but with a much more usable interface. Typing is extremely fast and easy, and navigating through lots of email much simpler with the larger screen. The iPhone is great but given the choice, things are going to be so much more usable with the iPad!

    Calendar
    This has worked out much better than I expected it to. Using Google Calendar to synch between my main Outlook calendar, the iPad and the iPhone works seamlessly. I now have full and instant 3 way synching between all three locations/devices and it works like a charm. For the desktop synch you need to install Google Active Synch, which is a free download for PC and a breeze to install and setup. You can then add a new ‘Exchange’ account on the iPad and iPhone which allows the link to Google’s online calendar. A side bonus of this setup is that my calendar is also now accessible online (privately) so I can even access my data if for whatever reason I’m without any of my devices… never going to happen but good to know it’s there!

    Web browsing
    I’ve been trying out a couple of the 3rd party web browsers available on the app store, and settled on iCab Browser, which has now taken the place of Safari on my main toolbar. It works just like a desktop browser with tabs and a really slick bookmark system. It really does blow Apple’s own browser out of the water in terms of functionality and I highly recommend it to any iPad (or iPhone for that matter) users. Makes the whole experience of browsing much more enjoyable and faster to work with. Seeing as that is what you will be doing most of the time on the iPad it’s pretty much an essential purchase!

    Some advanced features in iCab are that it allows you to download files and then transfer them to the PC using iTunes. It has auto form completion, and it can emulate a desktop browser, so if some sites are not behaving when they detect you are on a mobile browser you can fool them into thinking you are on Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer. This is just scratching the surface of what it can do (there isn’t enough room to go through it all here) and is undoubtedly going to be the most used app I have purchased.

    Photos
    The photo gallery system is very polished. I have bought the iPad Camera Connection Kit so that I can transfer images directly from USB connections on cameras with the leads, or from an SDHC card, as well as importing from the PC via iTunes, giving lots of flexibility to show images, ideas, graphics and web mockups to clients. The zoom and pan is a lot smoother than on iPhone, and the gallery (read folders) can be navigated in a really intuitive, fun way with your fingers.

    Typing
    Typing on the iPad was the most pleasant surprise. I was expecting to have to get the Bluetooth keyboard from Apple to do any serious typing but it’s really not necessary. This is the largest article I have written on iPad so far and it’s just as fast, if not faster than writing on my PC! Really enjoying it!! The auto-completion of words works really well mostly and the size of the keys is perfect. There’s just something really nice and relaxing about tapping glass and not having to actually ‘press’ keys down.

    Word processing
    Apple’s ‘Pages’ app is very slick. You can tell that they have really fine tuned it for touch controls. It’s got some useful templates that can be used as starting points, and seems very flexible in terms of layout… better than Word anyway. I’ve not used it for anything serious yet so will post a separate article with more detail on Pages once I get more experience with it. The only downside is that files can only be exported in Pages for Mac format, or PDF files, so it’s not natively compatible with Word doc format. As nice as it is to use, this fact alone could unfortunately stop me from using it long-term. However we never know, they could update it in the future to handle .doc and .docx if they don’t want to lose out in the business market!

    Spreadsheets
    Another great app is Apple’s ‘Numbers’ spreadsheet. Beautiful interface and awesome functionality on the touch screen, I have already put this into use as my work log / client timesheet. The same problem exists when it comes to Microsoft compatibility. You can only export as Numbers or PDF format so it’s no good for collaborating on the same files between this and Office which is a massive shame.

    GoodReader
    A very nice file manager app that allows you to have a unified local and/or remote file system. It can pull in any file type for storage locally and viewing directly in the iPad, and then ‘send’ files to other apps you have installed for editing those files if they are editable. It also links directly to other cloud services, basically increasing the storage space of the iPad infinitely.

    Dropbox.com
    Super useful, and FREE cloud file storage service. Works seamlessly between iPad, iPhone and multiple PC’s (or Macs) to share files and folders between any locations you might need them in. You can get 2.3Gb space free, and upgrade for more space if you need it for reasonable monthly costs. For me 2.3Gb is more than enough at this stage and I’m really impressed with the user friendliness of Dropbox so this gets big thumbs up from me!

    Whitenote
    A virtual notepad, allowing freeform text entry, simple drawing, and insertion of audio clips, images and links over multiple pages. I think this is going to be ideal for note taking at meetings – especially in conjunction with a stylus (which I haven’t got YET).

    Penultimate
    I need to do some field testing between this and Whitenote to see which works best for my needs. Penultimate is purely a handwriting type of notepad, designed to work with a stylus, so I’m not getting the best out of it yet… but the presentation of the software seems nicer with a ‘project book’ entry page showing a thumbnail image of each created notepad and a much cleaner/simpler interface. Both work really well for different needs so I will probably end up using both.

    Twitterific
    There are a lot of Twitter clients out there but the best for my needs has been Twitterific. The main reason I like this one (as opposed to other apps like the official Twitter app which is free, or tweetdeck, or even using the actual website) is that it allows me to manage my 3 Twitter accounts easily through one interface. I found using any other system that I was constantly selecting to follow people in the wrong account which was really annoying!

    1 Password
    A secure repository for any sensitive information. I have all my website login details and FTP server settings stored safely and easily searchable within this app now. It also synchs up a copy to my iPhone and desktop if I want. Slick interface and an active developer should see more streamlining of this app occur in the near future.

    Gusto
    This app is very useful for me, allowing me to download my clients websites locally to show them at meetings offline if there is no WiFi or 3G access available. Also connects directly through FTP so I can make changes to the HTML and CSS and re-upload to make emergency fixes and updates ‘on the road’ if the need arises. It has a really nice user interface and seems to work very efficiently so far in the tests I have done.

    Teamviewer & remote desktop access
    Unfortunately Teamviewer haven’t yet released their iPad version but the iPhone version still works acceptably… Just has some overly large toolbars and mouse pointer! It’s still mighty useful to access your workstation via the iPad and works well for most tasks. You cannot click and drag, so can’t move emails to folders in that way, or transfer files from one panel to the other in FTP programs, but there are usually other ways of achieving this without dragging. I also have iTeleport, which is a universal app (buy once, works on all iDevices) but have not tried it yet as it’s a bit more of a fiddle to set up on the workstations.

    Autodesk Sketchboook Pro
    This is a fantastic app! Has a very powerful set of tools to create natural looking art and drawings… Some of the stuff people have created with this are truly incredible! I’m nowhere near that skill level but it’s great for painting on… really good fun… and I cannot wait to try it with a stylus.

    Multitasking
    As much as I thought it would be, I don’t actually see this as a big draw back because the apps all load so quickly anyway. Even so, it’s coming with OS 4, so we’ll see what difference it makes to usability then I guess!

    In summary…
    I’m exceptionally pleased with the potential of the iPad for DesignerMark! It has already changed my workflow for the better but as with all hardware, it’s only as good as the software written for it so I really can’t wait to see what all the clever developers around the world have up their sleeves!

    One App I am keenly awaiting is QuickOffice for iPad. I have been happy using their iPhone version and think it is the best Microsoft Office option so far (best interface and connectivity), so I’m looking forward to what they can do with the iPad. There are currently a couple of apps on the store that can handle Office format documents (Office 2HD and Docs 2 Go) but I don’t want to commit to those until I see QuickOffice’s offering.

    I will be adding further posts on this subject as I get some real hands-on experience and as other killer apps become available, but I must say for a launch device, the iPad has far exceeded my expectations so far.

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    This is a superb post DesignerMark Blog .
    But I was wondering how do I suscribe to the RSS feed?


    Thank you. The RSS subscribe option is hidden in the header. Just click the ‘toggle archives, categories & search’ link at the top and you will see it.


    Hi

    I’m really considering the ipad rather than a new windows based laptop. It would mainly be for business use, your post has answered a lot of my concerns.

    It’s a shame though that it doesn’t have a camera or one can’t make a call on it. But maybe this will be added on the next version.


    Thanks for the comment. If you have any specific questions, fire away! I’m going to be writing some more posts soon to elaborate on some detail, now that I’ve been using it for a while :)


    Really helpful post. Keen to hear your thoughts on office integration.

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    Coming soon to DesignerMark Blog…

    Here’s a taster of the topics soon to be covered on the DesignerMark blog!

    If you have any suggestions for other topics please do let me know at: mark@designermark.biz …or comment on this post!

    • Web design principles (what is ‘good’ design?)
    • Social networking / community (forums, WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, YouTube)
    • Video & YouTube for your business
    • Funky techniques (sliding layers, slideshows and DHTML effects)
    • Simplicity is the key
    • Content management
    • E-commerce
    • Flash
    • Logos and branding
    • Browsers and their differences (Browsers, Screen resolutions, different computer platforms etc)
    • “Inspiration”
    • Free stuff by designermark (textures, logo formats, colour swatches, guides)
    • DDA
    • Web 2.0
    • HTML 5.0

    Subscribe with your email address or by RSS to be notified when new posts are available, or bookmark the blog and check back regularly!

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    Website visibility and ‘The Importance of Links’

    The internet was built on the principle of links and that really hasn’t changed. From a business perspective, you may think that you want any visitors to yourself – and of course that is true. As an analogy, why would you have flyers or adverts for someone else within your own shop or reception room? But selective linking to relevant websites can do an awful lot of good for your site and, crucially, give you the opportunity to ask for links back to you.

    It’s important to note that links coming back in to your website are THE major factor that search engines (Google in particular) will look at when it comes to giving you a good page rank.Therefore the more “inbound links” you can get, the better it will be for the visibility of your site.

    The mechanics that Google uses are deeper than simply having lots of links back to your site – they have to be relevant, and ideally they have to come from a source that has high traffic.

    So it’s no good just setting up 100 small sites of your own and putting links back to your main site, unless those 100 “support sites” are going to generate a lot of traffic, which is unlikely if you are creating them just to try and pull a trick on Google! It’s a clever self-regulating system (as most of Google’s systems are!) which rewards good sites and sites where the effort has been put in to make them visible naturally.

    Some things you could consider for improving your own websites rank in Google:-

    • Contact website owners who offers services and products or advice related to, but not in direct competition with, your own service. Offer them a “reciprocal link” (which is where your links page comes in). You need to get lots of them and pick sites that look well established for the greatest effect.
    • Find some relevant or national “business directories” and get your website listed with them. Some will charge but many are free. If the directory is a popular one then it will have lots of traffic, which will benefit your site very well.
    • Offer local newspapers (or National!), relevant blogs or websites, to do an editorial for your product and publish it with links to your website.
    • Start to frequent the biggest internet forums for your field of activity… read some posts, see if you can get a feel for the atmosphere and visitors or problems people are having. See if you can answer any questions people have and get involved in the community. Become a “trusted” member over time… then importantly add a small description of what you do and a link to your website in your profiles signature so that each time you make a post, your signature is included. You can add the signature after you have made several posts and it will apply it to all your previous posts so it’s often a better idea to start slowly as forums don;t generally like blatant advertising and you may well get banned for anything too “salesy” so tread carefully. Usually if you are informative and helpful you will be alright! This will get more, RELEVANT, people to see your link AND help with search engine rank.
    • You may benefit from creating a banner advert (DesignerMark can help there!) and submitting it to a banner ad delivery service such as any of the main players listed here: http://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&q=uk+banner+ad+service&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&fp=3aa7b5ddeb415f6e - this will cost but CAN be effective if the advert is designed well :)
    • Google AdWords can be a VERY effective way of getting visitors to your site, but if handled wrong can also be very costly (or rather not cost-effective, becuase you can set daily limits so that you don’t overspend). I will be writing a more detailed post on AdWords soon as it is really a subject all of it’s own, requiring quite a lot of thought and planning to harness the “Black Art” of effective advert management!

    All of the above takes time to build up and you may feel some approaches are not suitable for you, but if you have a plan and stick to it, it needn’t be overwhelming!

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    Good infomation here, thanks.

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    The iPad is inbound

    Finally the UK pre-orders for Apple’s new iPad opened today – and not one to miss out on a new gadget (for testing websites of course) I made my pre-order this morning!

    I’ve been wrestling with the devil inside me as to whether I really should get one but the more I read about it the more I wanted one. I’m not really an Apple Fanboy (as you are probably suspecting at this point! I Use PC’s for main main work) but their kit is so nice and I love the user interfaces they create.

    After careful deliberation with myself, I decided to go for the top of the range version, with 64Gb storage, WiFi and 3G networking. I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks that I woudn’t really need 3G. Orange were the first to release their pricing plans for 3G and it seemed way too much for a monthly amount that I would probably never use up. But today O2 released their costs and I think it is a fair price at £10 per month for 1Gb allowance. That’s only £120 per year so decided it was probably worth the £100 premium for the 3G version so as to get the most use out of the iPad, and to not regret not having 3G at some point in the near future! It will make looking at websites at clients premises much more flexible, as not everyone will have WiFi or want to give me their passwords.

    So, what am I going to use it for you ask?

    Some of the main things I think it will be ideal for are:-

    • Writing these blogs (and Twitterings) from the comfort of ANYWHERE… will be a much more relaxed way of getting my thoughts out to the world and I will be encouraged to do it more frequently whenever I think of anything good to write about.
    • Presenting website prototypes and browsing for information on-site at meetings with clients, even if they don’t have internet access (not as unlikely as it sounds with a client only last week wanting a website for their B&B but being an older couple they didn’t even have a computer, let alone WiFi!) – this will be much more usable and accessible than lugging a laptop and power supply around.
    • A notepad for making notes at meetings… with the light form-factor and long battery life this will again be much more convenient than a laptop.
    • File sharing with my Google Docs account… although I’m hoping some good Apps will come out that are even better for productivity.
    • E-Mail on the go… I can actually reply and work from this, as the iPhone is not really suited to writing any sort of detailed replies.
    • Remote Desktop Access to my workstation and server for grabbing files whilst on-site.
    • A repository for my digital photos.
    • A player for Podcasts and some music
    • Maybe some games!

    Sure, it’s a gimmick, don’t get me wrong. And it’s nothing I can’t do with other peripherals and hardware I already have, but I fell for it’s charms and really look forward to it’s arrival now!

    I will post with my initial thoughts once I have got my head around it and had an exploration!

    I’m sure other work tasks that you can’t do without will emerge!

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    I would like to say “wow” what a inspiring post. This is really great. Keep doing what you’re doing!!


    Thanks! Let’s hope the kit is also inspiring!! :)


    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net


    Nice post. I like your blog.

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