Thoughts on Designing for the Existence of Children

Ah, kids…The light of our lives. They bring joy, fulfillment, laughter, and love. Then they start crying, and I hand them right back to their parents. Don’t get me wrong. I like children in the abstract. I believe they are the future, and so they should be protected and nurtured…elsewhere. I’ve even been given responsibility over large numbers of them for hours at a time, back in my old missionary days. It still happens sometimes, because I have sixteen nieces and nephews. Does this make me qualified to talk about how to account for their existence when we build our websites? Maybe. Maybe not. But unless one of you is going to volunteer real fast, I’m going to get started. It takes a village, and all that. May Sir Tim Berners-Lee help us all. Keeping it Family Friendly(?) The first thing to remember is that there are children on the Internet. I know. There’s nothing we can do about it. Parents sometimes need to leave their children alone in the next room because, well, they have to do things. It happens. One way or another, those children will get their sticky hands on Internet-capable devices. Then, they’ll get around the parental controls because that is literally their job as children. The question becomes this: how family/kid-friendly should your site be? If you’re running something corporate and professional, it shouldn’t be a problem. Any corporate-type site has the advantages of being both inoffensive by design, and generally boring to children. But what about something more…cultural? News sites tend to be inherently disturbing because the real world is disturbing. Sites full of commentary on music, TV, and culture in general are becoming steadily more adult as we open up to explore the full range of human experiences. This is, in my own opinion, a good thing. Not every site needs to be adult in its tone, but we need those sites in our collective cultural exploration. Censorship “for the sake of the children” is a generally terrible idea. A lot of horrible things in history have been done “for the sake of the children”, and so many children have been poorer for it. They do need to eventually find out that the world is a big, terrifying and wonderful place all at once, and preferably before they turn twenty-five. Even so, we are at least somewhat responsible for the content we host, and so if we aren’t going to make the Internet one big, soft, kiddie...

Designer’s Guide to Custom Typography

Where exactly do you begin if you want to create a custom typeface?  What are some of the practical methods and considerations you should keep in mind before you begin? If you are looking to create one, you should be able to picture how the type is naturally written. The more you practice it, the better and more creative typefaces you will create.  As designers, we tend to get stuck on techniques and details of the craft but the more you create, the more you tend to not look at objects in isolation. This helps you see it in relation to every part of the design. Playtime is an important aspect of the design process. Give yourself plenty of time to come up with something fresh and innovative. If you try to nail it at the get-go, you will not be able to explore the typefaces true potential,  so make sure to give yourself a lot of time before you start to put pen on paper. In this article, we will discuss how to create and develop bespoke and customized typography by looking at some tips provided by industry professionals. If you are new to this discipline, this guide will help you get started on the right path. 1. Start from scratch Digitizing your handwriting is tried and tested practice. While this might be a good practical tip it restricts the typeface to personal use. Using existing typefaces and basing your design on its outline is not going to help you produce a better typeface. 2. Make fundamental choices Before starting your design, there are many decisions a designer should make to avoid any conflicts that could arise later on. Is it going to be a serif or a sans-serif typeface? Are you designing it for a long document? Will it look nice and be comfortable at small sizes? 3. Study the basics Learning the basic principles of typeface design will help you understand how to create an effective one. What is the difference between ascender/descender? What is the difference between uppercase and lowercase stems? Why do curved strokes appear thinner than a straight one? Understanding the basics will help you get a better overall understanding and make better decisions. 4. Start with control characters Control characters are characters that help bring other characters in your design into harmony. It can help define the style of your typeface. Once you have established a control character, you can steadily add letters to it to build a word. 5. Invest in...

Daylite Designs’ top tips for balancing full-time freelancing with family

Laura Coulter (aka Daylite Designs) was one of 99designs’ earliest adopters and has worked full-time on the platform for more than a decade. As a versatile graphic designer and stay-at-home mom, working online from her home office has given her the flexibility to raise and homeschool her seven children—while still embracing her passions professionally. Over the years, Daylite Designs has built a steady roster of loyal clients, often taking on new work thanks to their referrals. While she doesn’t spend as much time on contests now (this year was a personal best, thanks to an increase in direct work), she credits those early years for giving her the freedom to experiment with different projects and styles to find her creative voice. We spoke with Daylite Designs about how she manages her busy schedule, her tips for prioritizing family while keeping clients happy, and her advice for maintaining long-lasting working relationships through it all. Name: Laura Coulter
99designs handle: Daylite Designs
Location: United States
Specialty: Branding Can you tell us a little about your background and where you’re from? Well, first and foremost, I’m a mom of seven wonderful kids. Ages 22 down to 5—and fixing to be a grandmother! My family and I have lived in Joplin, Missouri, for about 12 years, but before that my husband and I lived in Texas. We met there in college. However, I was born and raised a ‘Bama girl. What prompted you to go freelance? Well, a lot of things. The biggest reason was that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I freelanced as a counselor online before I started to design. Now I can’t imagine working outside the home. The flexible hours let me homeschool my kids, which is very important to me. I want them to have an applied education at home rather than a set curriculum at a public school. I started freelancing to earn an income and be at home with my kids. I continue to freelance because I love design and seeing my work out in the world. Do you have any advice for freelancers who also work and parent at home? The best advice I can give is schedules! I know its hard with little ones, but scheduling is everything. When I first started full-time freelancing on 99designs, I had three little ones ages 7, 5 and 3. It was hard, to say the least. Laura is serious about her workspace and equipment. Here’s a glimpse of her work station (remodel in...

Case Study: Killer Marketing Can’t Overcome Poor UX

In 2014, I was a busy, young software engineer working full-time for a tech company in London. On a quest to be hyper efficient, I was always was on the hunt for user-friendly tools that would streamline my workflows and cut back on paper usage, which proved to be a challenge. I fell right into a market gap when I needed to edit and modify PDFs but none of the tools on the market offered a user-friendly interface with the functionality I needed or wanted. While plenty of tools were sitting pretty on the throne of page one search results (and sported snazzy marketing campaigns), I still needed a product that prioritized user experience over marketing; a central platform to perform PDF tasks. All the available options fell flat. Then I realized that, if I built my own application, I could help everyone from professionals to creatives get their PDF work done online, for free. So I did. With a fluency in back-end development, I built the online PDF editor myself. Since I couldn’t afford to quit my day job, I spent nights and weekends programming PDF Pro. Building a product was exciting, yes, but unsurprisingly, it was hard work. Armed with a long list of features and functionalities I wanted the product to have, it was easy for me to focus solely on the complex backend of the software and neglect the front end. As an engineer, my goal was to build the best online PDF editor available. I thought this meant offering a laundry list of features in order to meet a wide range of use cases. The original design of the product was geared towards communicating all of the tool’s functionalities. For example, after uploading a file, the user was presented with every available option for editing their file. I thought that my product’s breadth of features would impress users and drive sales. while my company was successful at marketing…we suffered from poor conversion rates And while my company was successful at marketing the product (as evidenced by the thousands of users who used, and still use, the application every day), we suffered from poor conversion rates. I felt lost. Wasn’t I offering a more robust application than any of my competitors? What was happening between the time users entered my site and when they bounced? I needed answers. With the help of an agency, I conducted significant user research to better understand high-level user needs. I also implemented...

How to scale video production

By 2022, video consumption will make up 82 percent of all online traffic. And it’s easy to see that happening with how much time people now spend consuming video. From viral videos and TV shows on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Netflix, to ‘stories’ on Instagram and Snapchat, we have become accustomed to consuming things in audio visual form. And it’s no surprise. The longevity of film and television prove moving pictures with synchronized sound to be the most compelling medium for scores of people. And now, as internet access and speeds increase at an exponential rate, and the friction between consumers and content reduces, there’s a desire to consume almost everything this way. Get out your camera and start scaling your video production! Illustration by OrangeCrush.This represents both an opportunity and a challenge for businesses, brands and the content creators within them. As video production can involve scripting, on-camera or voiceover presenting, filming, animating and editing, it’s a difficult skill to master. Its output takes longer than other forms of media to create, and it can be much more costly than writing or podcasting. So, how do you start producing video for your brand or business in a sustainable, scalable way? This is the question we’ll tackle in this article. From strategy to equipment, we’ll take a look at the best ways to scale video production and reach your target audience. Take a good look at your content strategy
— Let’s begin with the strategy. Your business may or may not already be producing content. If it is, it’s time to take a look at your content strategy. If not, it’s time to create one. Content strategies are vital to ensuring what you’re creating is working towards a goal, allowing you to measure your return on investment (ROI). Without one, whether your content is successful or not, you’ll never really be able to truly prove whether what you produced added value and why. Before you even start producing video content, you need a to have a think about your video content strategy. Via unDraw.ROI doesn’t necessarily need to be monetary. Your goal may be to create more engagement on your social media channels by populating your feed with video content, meaning you’re looking to measure the level of engagement (likes, comments etc) on each post. You might be trying to use content to increase referrals to your...

Stay Productive with These Web Apps

When you’re a freelancer, it’s not always easy to stay on task. Without a real boss looming over your shoulder, you might find yourself posting on social media and watching YouTube videos five hours before the deadline hits. Even when you’re doing your dream job, motivation can be hard to find. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. There are a variety of web apps out there designed to smooth out this process and make it easier to work consistently. These browser-based tools could be a godsend, so let’s take a look at the best productivity apps designed for freelancers. StayFocusd and LeechBlock Whether you prefer Chrome (StayFocused) or Firefox (LeechBlock), the premise here is the same: Start blocking those sites notorious for sucking away your time! If you find yourself wasting hours on social media when you’re supposed to be working, it’s time to shut those sites off by force. Both extensions are highly customizable and allow you to block sites at certain times of day, when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on them, and so on. Trello Sometimes you can get the greatest boost to productivity simply by staying organized. Trello allows you to create “boards” for each of your projects, further creating individual cards within them. You can even add checklists, categories and other little tools to each card. It’s designed for teams, but it’s also great for keeping those personal projects organized. TickTick For many, nothing is more satisfying than ticking off boxes on a checklist. The multi-device app comes with all the basics of a checklist app and more. From reminders and scheduling to priorities and tags (and turning emails into tasks). You can even work with your team on a checklist. Focus Booster Focus Booster uses the pomodoro technique to keep you focused but fresh, with mini-timers that allow you to work in sessions with frequent breaks in between. If you struggle to stay focused after an extended time, this technique is perfect for you. You can download Focus Booster, use it on the web, or install the mobile app. Habitica If you love video games, Habitica might be for you. “Gamify your life” by turning your tasks into quests, and get showered with gold and XP when you do something productive. Then use it to customize your avatar. There are no rules – just set up your tasks, set the difficulty and get rewarded. RescueTime Where have...

Enhancing Website Design with UX Writing

As a UX writer, it’s my job to know how to create web copy that convinces readers to take action. That said, it doesn’t matter how engaging of a story I craft for my clients’ web pages or blog posts. If what I’ve written looks terrible on the page, no one will bother to read it. Here’s the problem though: UX writers are not designers. No matter how many short sentences we write to succinctly communicate a point or jargon-free copy we craft to appeal to a broader audience, poor design choices will negate all of that. Web designers are the ones that best know how to design for engagement and conversion. As such, you need to be comfortable working with copy as well as you do the visual piece. 1. Don’t Mess with Color There are a lot of really cool ways to use color and create a memorable look for a website. But typography? That is not the place to mess around with color. Let me show you something: This is the website for the Red Lantern restaurant in Boston: This website makes great use of wide open spaces to draw attention to the copy on the page. And, while the logo is in a decorative red font, the copy that really matters is black-on-white. Overall, this is a beautifully structured web page and also one that’s easy to read. Now, let’s look at the Intercontinental Hotel: There are so many bad choices made with the font on this page. For starters, it’s far too thin of a font at that size. In addition, the black font on top of the ecru background doesn’t work well either (again, that’s probably due to the skimpiness of the font face). And the hyperlink color against the similarly-colored background is an even worse choice. I get that the designer wanted to incorporate the brand color into the page, but the background is overkill. A white background, black font, and branded hyperlink color would suffice. 2. Maintain Symmetry In many cases, there isn’t really a need for symmetry in copywriting. Paragraphs and pages will run as long as they need to be, within reason. However, there is a particular part of a website where symmetry matters a great deal and it’s, unfortunately, something not a lot of writers are mindful of. Worse, there are designers who are too scared to do anything about it. Here’s what I mean: This is a block of side-by-side featurettes on the WordStream website: You’re familiar with this, right? You have a number of features, services, or...

How to Design Great Microcontent for a Website

Microcontent is imagery, written copy or videos/gifs that can be consumed in less than 30 seconds. Infographics, video clips, images/illustrations, graphs, text blurbs, memes, short listicles, email subjects, webpage titles are all considered as microscopy. A concise way of presenting data is proven to be more beneficial and effective especially when designing for a fast moving world. Microcontent is usually optimized for social networks. Single images, short snippets of memes, 6-second videos that can easily be shared on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest are all examples of micro-content. Different social networks have different aesthetic norms – content should be adjusted to accordingly to fit the norms of a particular platform. There are two types of microcontent – 1. Small clusters of words that often make up the tiniest bits of the framework that provide information and direction as to how to use a website or an app can be termed as a micro-copy. It could be labeled information or copy on CTA buttons. 2. Images or gifs that lead the user to a URL is also a popular type of micro-content. When designing micro-content, it is important to think of them as fragments. It should be short, easy to understand and inviting. In this article, we will discuss the two types of micro-content, how to put them together and some website demos that use micro-content effectively. So scroll down to learn more about how best to create better, more usable pieces of content that will make your work better. Words Micro-content helps drive the tone, navigational elements and the connection you feel with the site. To use the site effectively, you have to be able to understand the micro-content within each of these elements. The way text inside these elements is written has an impact on the overall effectiveness of the website. This can be achieved by using simple phrases and language, paying attention to verbs and words, considering the tone and making sure it matches the rest of the content, instructions should be clickable. When in doubt stick to commonly used phrases. There is a reason why they work, its mostly because they are easily understandable. Images Images should be used in conjunction with words. They should complement each other. Imagery should be used the same way you would use an infographic on social media. It should be broken down into tidbits for...

How to Create Your Own Font

Have you ever wanted to make your own font? Maybe you need an extra personal touch for a design project, or perhaps you want to sell fonts commercially. Either way, there are solutions out there that can help you get started. All you need is an idea, good handwriting, and some font creation software! Designing the Font Firstly, if you would rather generate or build a font than create your own from scratch, try out an app like Prototypo or Fontstruct. To begin creating a font, you have a few decisions to make. The first should be easy: Serif, sans serif, script (calligraphy), decorative or symbol type? There’s all sorts of sub-types, but this is a good beginning. Start studying fonts you like. What makes them look so good? Why do you like them? You don’t want to copy, but you may want to start putting together references and sketching out early drafts. What is this font for? A public or personal project? If it’s for yourself, you may only need to design the basic alphabet and some symbols. But if you’re releasing this font commercially, you’ll want to include many symbols and characters. You might also want to consider including other typeface families like bold, italic, thin, light, condensed and so on. But if this is your first font, don’t worry about that and start simple. Once you have an idea, start practicing by hand! Draw the letters over and over until you’re happy with the design. What you do next depends on your preferences. You can scan your handwritten work and trace it in a program like Illustrator or Photoshop, or you can skip right to font creation software. Either way, you will need a program to help you compile the font. Here are a handful of the best. Calligraphr If you want a quick, easy and free solution to creating fonts, Calligraphr might be what you need. Just fill out the template and you’ll have a font that looks like your handwriting! There’s even a quick test version, no registration required, for when you need to make a font fast. You can use what you create commercially without credit, but to access features like special characters, variants and ligatures, you’ll have to upgrade your account. FontForge FontForge is free, open source font design software. You’ll be drawing your letters right in the program. If you’ve used vector graphics programs before, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. And since it’s open source, you can...

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