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2012

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Better late than never, right?

In retrospect, my 2012 was pretty huge, both professionally and personally.

On new additions

In the early summer we welcomed another Aizlewood into the world – Indiana – who is truly one of the most easy-going, smiley babies I’ve every experienced. As I write this she’s almost 8 months, and seems to have cried fewer than 10 times in that whole period. She constantly reminds me how lucky I am.

On being a dad (2.0)

With one child I felt like I was just winging it. It was borderline manageable. Now, with two, I truly feel like a Dad. A proper Dad, with a capital D, if that’s possible. I seem to have suddenly become responsible for bringing up two beautiful beings on this earth, and at the risk of sounding truly cliche, it’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

On freelancing

I started freelancing full-time in September 2009. In retrospect, I was never a freelancer. I committed entirely to running a business – a pseudo-agency of sorts – with all the bells and whistles. I had a brand, offered multiple services, and had big aspirations.

In 2011, I began to focus on my old industry, resulting in a lot of work for the same types of clients, all with similar needs: newer technologies and solutions to keep current with their customer base who were prolific in technology adoption, i.e. smartphones, web, social, etc. As a result I gave a handful of well-received talks and workshops on how an ageing industry could embrace the web to offer a better customer experience.

However 2012 definitely showed signs of stagnation due to the repeated business problems, and it started to manifest itself into something resembling complacency.

Note: I’m still taking on the odd bit of freelance work

On joining Clearleft

In August 2012 I started full-time at Clearleft as a senior visual designer. Yes, that Clearleft.  Although freelancing was offering me almost everything I wanted, it was hard to say no to one of the top UX agencies in the country. Since starting, not a day’s gone by where I haven’t been surrounded by people who are smarter, more switched-on, more ‘in the know’ and generally do better x,y,z than me. All the time.  And that’s exactly what I wanted.

I’ll expand on becoming complacent sometime soon (and how terrifying it can be to out of your comfort zone, and why it’s a good thing), but generally, in most full-time positions I’ve had, I’ve felt somewhat ‘ahead of the curve’ compared to those around me. At Clearleft, I feel very much at the bottom, verging on an impostor.  Oddly, to me that represents something healthy and infinitely more fulfilling than sticking to what I (thought I) knew.

On 2013

I’m not one for big resolutions. Instead, I have micro goals that I hope to accomplish in 2013. Besides that basic ‘I swear I’ll redesign my site eventually stuff’, there are a few more important ones:

  1. I plan on writing more – regardless of whether I assume they’ve already been written, or that I don’t know enough about the topic. Confidence is a big deal in this respect, and a demon I intend on tackling.
  2. I plan on getting published more; across magazines, articles, etc. I have a lot to say in this head of mine, it’s just about finding a soapbox.
  3. To get better at what I do. We all want that (I hope).  However, there’s a precursor to that, which is to ‘define what I do’. After so many years of freelancing and finding great benefit as a jack of all trades, I’m welcoming the ability to focus on just one craft. And my intent is to focus on it, a lot.

Undercutting. What is it good for?

… absolutely nothin’! (Say it again, y’all)

A short while back, I pitched for a project that I ultimately lost. After putting together a comprehensive proposal and fielding numerous questions (which I have no problem with), I was given the unfortunate news that I didn’t win the business. This much is normal and as with anything in life you win some and lose some. No problem there.

However, as I do with any pitch that I lose, I asked the (lost) client if they could share any particular reasons why I lost. The answer wasn’t what I expected (i.e. ‘it was so close, just between you and the other guy’ or similar). Instead, the answer was that the other agency I was pitted against decided – at the last minute it seems – to charge the project at more than half of the original amount (which was on par with what I had quoted). That’s 50% off the sticker price, folks.

What’s more, I learned that this same agency had gone ahead and created initial visual design ‘mock ups’ earlier in the proposal phase. They had performed some sort of reverse spec work voodoo. They worked on designing for a website they knew very little about, presumably making wholesale assumptions about the site’s intended users and/or statistics supporting certain design decisions, and passed it off to the potential client as a ‘this is what your site will look like, isn’t it pretty’. All very odd.

Now, this post isn’t sour grapes, at all. But it is concerning. I realise that within this growing industry we have no codification or a defined set of ‘do’s and don’t's’ for winning new web design work, but I do take umbrage with the practices employed by the agency I eventually lost out to. Their methods, values and morals seem to be completely out of whack with anything I’m used to.

At this rate, what’s to stop any agency/freelancer/studio from always undercutting their competition by gratuitously lopping off 50% or more from their original charge? What type of message does that send to potential clients about the value of the service they’re about to receive, and ultimately the value of the industry as a whole when pricing can be so fluid and gutless? Similarly, what’s to stop any agency or freelancer from spending their time creating ill-informed mock ups to sway potential clients who might be enticed by the nice colours and pretty pictures without considering the bigger picture?

I realise this might all be a common occurrence, and it might have happened to more web designers than I’m aware of. But it’s a problem, and it needs to go away sooner than later.

What are your thoughts?

Easy ways to create your web content

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Creating the content for your website can be a difficult task.

You have to gather information, consult experts, write thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of words, source images and get people to contribute. It’s hardly surprising that so many organisations delay their own content creation until it becomes a critical issue – and the website is ready to launch! But creating your content can be easy.

Here’s how:

Review what you’ve already got

Take stock.

Have you already got a website full of stuff? If you do, review it.

Do a quick content audit, listing the pages of your website in a spreadsheet and giving each page a score for accuracy and completeness.

You’ll quickly get a clear picture of what needs to be done.

Consider what you need

Stop thinking about words and pages for a moment, and ask yourself: what do our users need?

Also:

  • What do our website’s visitors want from us?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What questions do our visitors have?
  • What actions do they want to take, and how can our content support those actions?
  • How can we reduce customer service calls?
  • How can we encourage people to leave their details with us?
  • How can we encourage people to call us?

These questions will help you decide what content your website should have, and what form it should take.

For example, you might decide that the best way to explain your software to visitors is with a screencast, or that blog posts from your experts might reassure curious visitors. A free white paper might encourage sign-ups, and the offer of a free consultation might encourage enquiries by phone.

Don’t just think about the messages your organisation wants to broadcast; think about the information your visitors need and the tasks they want to complete.

Make notes

Scribble. Choosing the perfect words for your home page is a challenge to leave for another day. For now, just make notes.

Sketch it out. Write a few bullet points that cover the key things that each page must communicate. Write scrappy. You just need to get the information down – the barebones content.

Don’t worry about style, grammar or any other little details.

Contain your collaborators

Too many web projects get delayed because Janet from sales doesn’t have the time (or the inclination) to piece together some content. So don’t rely on Janet, or anyone else.

If you absolutely must rely on others (the more people you rely on, the more likely you are to fail) then contain them. Give people deadlines. And threats. Send emails with ominous subject lines (“Your content is needed by 8 June, or else you’re chopped”) and explain that if they don’t contribute, the website goes live without their content. And any late arrivals will have to join a long, slow-moving queue.

If threats don’t work, try coaxing people into action. Approach them from behind and badger them for stuff until they relent. Camp out next to their desk and interview them for the information you need. Make it easy for them. And never surrender!

Get help

Disclaimer: this is where I tell you that you need my services.

If the tricky task of creating content is grinding you down – or you just don’t have the time – then call on a professional. Copywriters aren’t just pens for hire; they’re also great at gathering information and directing the content project. So while you may still need to contribute information, the hard slog of creating content is out of your hands.

LeifThis was a guest post written by Leif Kendall, a freelance copywriter and content strategist, author of Brilliant Freelancer, founder of WriteClub and Drivvel.

Lead image courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/thetrial/1241596127/

Quality English Presentation: The demise of the desktop

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In early November, Quality English were kind enough to Eurostar me down to Paris to present to their member schools on digital marketing.

The presentation, entitled ‘The demise of the desktop: Digital marketing and the mobile web‘ is now hosted on Slideshare, as well as embedded below.

Here’s the write up for the presentation:

In today’s digital economy, international students are finding and interacting with your information in a multitude of ways… and perhaps most importantly via a wide array of devices. Evolving from the desktop to the mobile and/or tablet device represents a fundamental shift in how users are interacting with your websites and digital marketing campaigns.

This presentation will explore the wide variety of ways in which you can tap into this mobile movement by examining new and existing digital marketing channels as well as design best practices and guidelines. From basic SEM and email marketing channels to responsive design and online/offline integration, this presentation will leave you with fresh, new marketing ideas to consider and renewed confidence when moving into the mobile space.

Jon Aizlewood runs a boutique digital marketing & design studio in Brighton, serving clients from around the world with a specialised set of skills including design & build, marketing strategy & consultation. Armed with almost 10 years’ of web marketing experience, Jon’s last full-time position was at Study Group, where he managed the multichannel & multilingual e-marketing programmes for all brands – including Embassy CES -across 3 operating divisions, 13 languages and 140 countries. Visit Jon’s website for more details: http://carbongraffiti.com

And here’s the slide deck:

Found: The long-awaited poster child for responsive design

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It’s finally happened. After almost a year of waiting, a team of web designers, web developers, an agency and many talented others have been working with a well-known newspaper to launch the much-anticipated and new Boston Globe website.

Why is this big news? Because the new Boston Globe isn’t an ordinary newspaper website. For the first time, Responsive Web Design has finally got a poster child to call its own.

Responsive web design has come a long way in just 1.3 years. Back at the end of May 2010, Ethan Marcotte famously (at least to us web designers) published his seminal article on A List Apart, aptly titled ‘Responsive Web Design‘. The article introduced a new paradigm to web design – a revolutionary but not destructive or disruptive one – stating that websites should be inherently flexible to their constraints. This thinking wasn’t necessarily new, but it was so well considered and logical in both its theory and methodology that I and many others stood up and noticed. Since then, many of us have adopted it as the new norm when creating websites for clients.

However, as with any new and groundbreaking idea, it was always a working concept. Since its inception, RWD always needed a big backer. A name big enough that people beyond our small community/industry would notice and think ‘well, that’s a good idea’. A website big enough that when people viewed their other favourite websites on their multiple devices, they would notice that the Globe’s experience just ‘fit’. No pinching, no zooming, no squinting required. They could view the Globe site on their iPad, their iPhone, their Android, Android tablet, or – if they so desired – on their 13 year old Apple Newton, and for each device, the viewing/reading/browsing/subscribing experience responded and adapted to the device – not the other way around.

The point is, responsive web design, however practical and logical it is from a service provider’s perspective, needed a live and in-the-wild example to prove its real worth. The new poster child that is the Boston Globe represents in plain view just how useful, applicable and cost-effective a well-made & responsively designed website can be.

A tour of the new BostonGlobe.com from jeff moriarty on Vimeo.

I’m lucky enough to have clients who have understood the application and benefits of using responsive web design in their projects from the onset. And, judging by the fantastic output of http://mediaqueri.es, many others do too. However, the majority of companies and businesses out there are likely to need a little bit more persuading as to why designing with this approach is the best way forward. Thankfully, our jobs have just been made all the easier thanks to Ethan and that A-Team who designed and built the new http://bostonglobe.com

Content first: why you should develop your content before you design your website

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Should websites be built around the content, or should content be created to fit the design?

Here’s an argument for creating content first – or at least thinking about content first.

What is a website anyway?

Websites exist to deliver content. Websites are the things we create when we have something to say, and something to show. We create websites because we have content to display and share.

We design websites because we want content to look great, to give users a pleasing experience and to create a good impression of our treasured brands.

Designing for the content

Typically, professional web designers design websites, while the client provides the content. After all, it is the client’s content. So the designer designs, and the client gets busy working on the content. Except they don’t; they get busy with business, and forget about the content.

Meanwhile the designer designs a website based on old content, or no content at all. The designer can only assume:

  • What the new content will say
  • How much content there will be
  • What shape the content will take (long lists, tables, bullet points, multimedia?)
  • Where the content will lead people (will the copy include instructions or calls to action?)
  • The focus of the content (will a key point be hammered home?)
  • The tone of the content (what voice will the website have?)
  • How images will fit around the copy
  • If video or audio content will feature

Designing a website without content is like designing a house without knowing who will live in it.

The benefits of designing around content

Designing with content means…

  • Your website feels like a planned creation – with every element pulling in the same direction.
  • The design and content speak the same language.
  • The design responds to and enhances the content, featuring break-out elements (such as testimonials or definitions) in the best possible way.
  • The design perfectly contains the content, and is clearly designed to contain that content.
  • You don’t waste money on design materials or collateral which, because of a belated content decision, become obsolete before your site launches.

In the next post we’ll consider easy ways to create your content. Because for many organisations, content production is time-consuming, complicated, and a little bit scary. But it needn’t be.

LeifThis was a guest post written by Leif Kendall, a freelance copywriter and content strategist, and author of Brilliant Freelancer.

SEO. Am I taking crazy pills?

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I’m currently attending the Brighton SEO conference at the Corn Exchange. Huge turnout, and clearly this industry continues to thrive.

But, I’ll admit it. Over the years my view on SEO has become increasingly negative and pessimistic. This conference helped solidify that view.

When I create sites, I’d like to think I cater to good, basic ‘on-site’ SEO best practices. I make sure the code and structure is well-made and semantically coded. I use header tags appropriately, I use descriptive names for divs – or more recently with the HTML5 spec – sections, articles , headers and footers. I do the basics to set a good foundation for clients to build on. But after that, unless I’m working with a great copywriter, much of the hard work to getting a good search ranking is very much down to the client. And their content. And I make that very clear.

Content is king

Content is and always will be king. I’m not naive enough to think that Google aren’t in it for something, but ultimately they’re trying to bring relevant search results to the masses as they drive their advertising cash cow. For the end user, like my mum or your dad, the ability to find something on the massive www is simple, quick and easy.

So back at the BrightonSEO conference, the first talk was about Google’s recent algorithmic update, codenamed ‘Panda’. Based on the tweets, this was a highly anticipated presentation, seeing as Panda clearly affects the work that the SEOs in this room do for themselves or for their clients.

During the presentation, the speaker gave a telling anecdote:

Some of our clients’ sites have Our main site has still not recovered from Panda, 4 months later.

I’ll get back to that in a second. First, some tidbits from the speaker of things to do in light of the recent Panda update:

  • don’t duplicate content
  • improve your site’s design to cater to your user
  • write better content
  • block weak content

Am I taking crazy pills? Isn’t all of the above just common sense to cater to the user > customer > conversion process? The utter nerve Google have that they updated their worldwide search algorithm – used by millions every second of every day – to ‘weed out’ all of the crap content out there on the web! Who the hell do they think they are?

As for that quote above… doesn’t the fact the speaker’s clients site(s) were still affected by Panda directly implicate them as an agency that doesn’t provide the necessary best practices, guidelines and quality content that Google and other search engines want to see?

As outlined in the comments below, the speaker worked in-house exclusively. As a result, any opinion on any client sites has been redacted.

In subsequent talks throughout the morning, an underlying theme was content. Both good and bad.

Shocking

The second speaker was utterly shocking. Speaking about creating a private blog network, he bluntly, openly recommended SEOs trick Google and the SE’s by spreading their sites over multiple IP addresses. Mix up the name servers (!). When creating sites, make them at least look ‘real’ by purchasing pro WP themes, and even go so far as installing Google Analytics, Adsense and make ‘real’ about us/contact pages. And, if they couldn’t be bothered to create multiple GA accounts, meh, just steal the code from bigger sites like the Daily Mail. Then, for content, just go to oDesk or similar and pay for any content, regardless of quality. ‘It’ll be fairly dubious, but…’. Yes, my jaw was on the floor.

The juxtaposition between these two opening talks couldn’t have been more clear. Google’s Panda update wants better, more relevant content. So do I. It has and will affect sites that don’t get in line by providing better content and better customer experience. The private blog network guy completely contradicted that, speaking about content farming, gaming Google and complete black hat practices.

One more time

Content is king. It ought to be, seeing as that’s what we do when on the web. We consume content pure and simple, and as users we want easy ways to discover and digest content. The best sites out there are designed to package content first. It’s a bonus if they’re easy on the eye. So when we and Google, MSN, etc experience bullshit fake WP blogs using the Daily Mail’s Analytics code, it affects not only my mum and your dad, but the web as a whole.

I’m understanding SEO less and less. As my clients will attest, I never recommend SEO. I recommend using common sense. Write good stuff. Sell good stuff. Get a site well built and designed. Enjoy it. Search engine ranking comes only after that.

Curating your conference schedule to be a better ________.

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As I type this, I’m currently on a break from attending the Brighton Digital Marketing Festival here in sunny Brighton. On Monday I was fortunate enough to attend the surprisingly fantastic Update Conference, and the Friday before that I attended the annual (and highly acclaimed) dConstruct2011.

As if that wasn’t enough, tomorrow I’m attending (or at least partially) the BrightonSEO conference, and next week I’m attending Carsonified’s Future of Mobile conference up in London. Busy, busy, busy, as in between that I actually have client work – imagine that! So why am I bothering if, as a freelancer, I have to pay to attend and lose a potential day’s work?

Conferences represent not only a good place to network and meet new (and old) peers, they’re also a unique opportunity for personal growth and career development. Rarely are they a random assortment of random people talking about random things. Instead they’re carefully curated to deliver a well-rounded and often thematic experience, with speakers selected based on their influential thinking, their prominence, or just for talking about what’s ‘next’.

The conferences I’ve attended in the past (eConsultancy’s ‘Future of Digital Marketing‘, as one example) have always been chosen specifically because they offered insight into ideas and concepts that I couldn’t normally access, be it in my then full-time job or more recently as a freelancer. The option to just listen and learn is what makes conferences so attractive (for me, at least).

So, this time round and like the conferences themselves, I’ve curated my conference schedule carefully, picking and choosing the content that I can directly (or indirectly) apply to my current, future or personal work.

As the always inspirational and sometimes abstract dConstruct helps to plant ideas for the future, the more mobile-based Update and Future of Mobile conferences are directly inline with my own foray into the mobile space, combined with a strong love for responsive design and evolution into mobile email design. The marketing conferences – staying true to my roots – keep me tuned in to what’s up and coming in that space, so I know how best to offer my clients more solutions beyond design & dev. Ultimately, rather than a mish-mash of random conferences to simply waste a day at, I’ve chosen this selection specifically to enhance my existing knowledge and learn new things from industry experts.

Attending conferences is ultimately a personal preference. From both a financial and content point of view they’re not for everyone, but if you manage to pick and choose the ones that will help you grow, you’ll find the true value, for both you and your clients.

PS If you’re lucky enough to be based in (or near) Brighton, I urge you to check out the fantastic lineup of the Brighton Digital Festival. There’s something for everyone, and of course it was designed and built by yours truly.

CarbonGraffiti designs & builds Brighton Digital Festival website

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Things have been pretty busy lately, hence the lack of posts. However, one piece of news worth sharing: CarbonGraffiti was selected to design and build the website for the inaugural Brighton Digital Festival, taking place across the month of September 2011.

When I first came to Brighton in 2007, I couldn’t believe my luck. This city is a teeming, thriving technopolis of digital greatness. In fact it boasts the largest digital workforce in the UK, if not Europe. Go figure.

But all along, from working full-time and dabbling in freelance (which is, incidentally, when I was nominated for Freelancer of the year ) to going freelance full-time, the best part about Brighton has always been its digital culture. Second to none, Brighton’s digerati has always been helpful, kind, considerate, and of course massively talented.

So, when Andy Budd of the esteemed Clearleft crew asked me to take a crack at the upcoming BDF site, I couldn’t resist. Giving something – anything – back to the community was the least I could do.

Working with a great team including Aral Balkan (@aral) for site direction, Leif Kendall (@leifkendall) for copywriting and Honor (@honorharger) from Lighthouse for everything else, the site came along surprisingly quickly. With great feedback from the team (not least from Aral), the site is a responsively-designed index of all events, exhibitions, meet-ups and conferences happenings in September, sorted chronologically and tagged by event type.

The site is (of course) built on WordPress, and (of course) responsive, allowing for easy reading across any device. Keep your eyes peeled for the slow-morphing JS background.

So, if you happen to be heading to Brighton in September for any of the large conferences (dConstruct, Update, FOTB, etc), or just happen to be down here anyways, I highly recommend you check out the BDF site and the myriad of events available in September. Chances are something will tickle your (digital) fancy.

What’s CarbonGraffiti been up to?

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It’s been a crazy start to 2011. In fact, the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind. Here are some noteworthy the projects we’ve been working on, with services ranging from consulting to custom email design & build using MailChimp to full websites built on either WordPress or Buddypress.

Have a project you want to discuss? By all means – get in touch!

  • A social network (built on Buddypress) designed specifically for expatriated Anglophones living in Paris. With illustrations and creative direction provided by Brighton-based FentonForeman, the project saw CarbonGraffiti design & optimise the interface & user experience and develop the site on the Buddypress platform. The result: a full-scale social network where expats can meet, interact and share tips on Parisian hotspots and life in Paris with one another. The site, built in HTML5 and using @font-face and other CSS3 goodies, uses media queries and responsive design to cater to a mobile audience. The site will go live in Q2, 2011.
  • A multichannel solution for a professional speakers management company in Australia – CarbonGraffiti created and launched a rebranded, MailChimp newsletter and accompanying WordPress-powered blog, to help the company grow their existing email marketing database and communicate with their readership more effectively. The project originally started as an RSS-driven campaign, but after determining the need for additional functionality, the campaign became a fully editable, branded newsletter to match the new blog style. The blog was built in HTML5 and will be used as the primary news and article section for the client’s existing website.
  • Ongoing digital marketing consultation and campaign management for a startup specializing in the training and education of clinical research nurses. Services range from custom MailChimp template coding (based on a design by the illustrious Jon Hicks who also did the site design) to PPC and email marketing setup, management and consultation.
  • Designed, developed and launched a website for a new startup offering premium accommodation to international students through purpose-built hotel-quality centres throughout the UK. The site, built in HTML5 and powered by WordPress, uses media queries and responsive design to cater to a growing mobile audience. As a result of this successful phase, CarbonGraffiti has been invited to tender for the larger second phase of the company’s impressive growth trajectory.
  • Continued 1-day email marketing workshops in central Brighton, covering the basics of email marketing, from history, jargon and best practices to a hands-on demo and case studies. The courses are offered at Silicon Beach Training in Brighton’s North Laines.
  • Designed and developed a custom MailChimp email template for an LA-based actress, to be used as part of her promotional kit and new personal brand. Based on the success of the template, CarbonGraffiti has been commissioned to redesign and develop the full website and brand identity.
  • Ongoing digital marketing support for a well-known Montreal-based ESP.
  • Gave a presentation at English UK’s annual marketing conference at the Westminster Conference Centre in London, focusing on ‘The future of digital marketing’ as related to the English Language Training industry and the many challenges and opportunities it faces today.
  • A few basic trade industry sites we’ve designed and/or coded in the past have now gone live, see them here. The Garatec site was built on Shopify, coded by CarbonGraffiti for a local web agency.

That’s it?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg – we’ve worked with some great clients not included in the above list, and are always on the look out for more. If you want to be one of them, get in touch today.