Posts filed under ‘website’

Graphic Design work on a Budget

Building off our last article on building and maintaining your own website, I wanted to point you to a terrific article on finding a graphic designer on a budget.  Jason is spot on with his advice and I can personally attest to getting terrific results from 99Designs.com.

I’ll let Jason do the heavy lifting on picking a designer, but I’ll throw in a couple tips on utilizing sites like 99Designs and Crowdspring:

The Premise
The idea behind 99Designs, and other crowdsourcing sites, is that you submit a design project (e.g. make me a logo) to a large group of people, members of that group then submit designs to you,  and you get to pick (and pay for) the one you like best.  That means you get to look at, and refine, several designs for the price of one. 

Logistically speaking, you typically have a week from the start of your contest until you need to pick a winner.  As submissions come in, you get to rate and comment on them so that designers get to learn more about what you like and which direction you want to take the design.  At the end of the contest, you pick the winner, give them the money, they give you the original design elements and you’re off to the races for a couple hundred bucks and have saved yourself a couple hundred more in addition to some time and frustration interviewing designers.

The idea is simple but to get the most out of your experience, take a look at the following:

Do your Homework
While you won’t be designing the element, there’s still plenty of work to be done on your end to ensure you get the best design possible.  

  1.  Figure out what you want.  The more information you can provide about what you’re looking for in your description, the faster you’ll get designs you like and the more time you can spend refining them.
  2. Have examples ready.  Being able to point people to examples of things you like and things you don’t in your description will help a lot.  If pictures are worth 1k words to you and me,  they’re work 10k to designers.
  3. Find some designers on the crowdsourcing site and invite them to your contest.  Browse around other contests and as you do, take note of the designers you like.  Once you launch your contest, send them a note letting them know you really like their work and you’d like them to submit entries in your contest.  They’ll be happy to do so since they know you already like their style.
  4. Price it right.  Look at what other contest runners are giving away for similar work and be sure to price your contest competitively.  Remember, you’re competing for the good designers’ time, so make it worth their while.

It Must be Vector-Based
Be sure to specify that the final product of your contest must be “vector based.”  Don’t worry about the details of what that means, but know that if you don’t mention this and if someone gives you a pixel-based design, you’re up a stinky creek if you ever need to scale the work.  Unless you’re 100% positive you’ll never have to re-size whatever you’re getting designed…vector all the way.

Guarantee the Contest
The name of the game for a killer contest is to get as many good submissions, from as many good designers, as quickly as possible.  Doing so will give you ample time for refining your ideas (I’ve found it usually takes 3 or 4 iterations on a single idea before I consider it finished).

To make sure that happens, guarantee your contest.  That means you’ll be forced to hand over the cash for the contest, even if you’re not totally enamored with the winning design, but it’s worth it for a couple reasons:

  1. If you run the contest properly, there’s little chance you won’t be stoked about at least one design.  Remember, you’ll have the ability to tell designers exactly what you like and what you don’t about their submissions and they can fix them and resubmit them.  If you’re actively engauged in that process, there’s little chance every design will be a dud.
  2. If you run a contest and don’t pay out, forget about ever having another contest again.  Like on eBay, your reputation as a contest holder follows you, so designers will see that you flaked on your first contest and won’t waste their time a second time around.  Of course, you can create another account and start a-new, but you won’t get the reputation benefit of having run a successful contest.
  3. If you guarantee it, they will come.  Simply by ensuring you’re going to pay-out will bring more talented designers to your contest.
  4. Even if the winning design isn’t perfect, you can make minor tweaks afterwards.  Once you have the vector-based version of the design, you can have a friend, or even the winning designer,  make final tweaks to it.  After a week and a hundred+ submissions,  the couple hundred bucks you’ll pay will be well-worth the head start you’ll get on your final, perfect design.

Make the  Contest Private
Especially when you start out, 99Designs.com and Crowdsource.com will get infinitely higher search rankings than your website so imagine what happens when someone searches for “your cool company name” on Google?  That’s right, your logo/website contest will show up as the first entry because the contest is full of phrases like,  “I want the logo for my cool company name to express…”.  That means your potential customers will see how you got your logo,  instead of reading about your services.

Making the contest private ensures search engines won’t cache your contest and your customers will focus on your tremendous offerings, not your tremendous design acquisition skills.

Provide Feedback 24/7
The #1, absolute, most important tip for running a crowdsource contest is that you need to provide high-quality, solution-centric, feedback all the time.  Feedback is your most important tool and you can use it to turn a “meh” design, into a “meh-arvelous” one.  (nice, huh?)

Keep in mind, most of the people submitting designs will not be in your timezone, or even close to it.  Financially speaking, it doesn’t make sense for designers in the US to participate in these contests much, so you’ll be working with designers on the other side of the planet.  If you don’t want to lose a day between iterations, be sure to comment on new submissions and give your designers feedback asap, even at midnight – it could be noon to them.

Also, feedback like, “Sorry, I don’t like it” is useless.  Be specific and if you can, provide suggestions on what you’d like to see – “Sorry, I’m not digging the mauve and vomit-green combo.  Perhaps mauve and puce?”  Also remember it’s not just one designer who will see your feedback – everyone who wants to enter your contest will see everyone else’s feedback.  So you’re not just talking to the guy who thought the devil horns were a nice touch, you’re also talking to the brilliant designer who is sitting back for a couple days and reading everyone else’s feedback before submitting her masterpiece.

Let me know how it goes
I’d love to see the results of your crowdsourced work, and hear about your experiences.  I’ve gotten some terrific designs from it and hope you get the same.

Best of luck!
Justin

March 17, 2009 at 9:20 pm 1 comment

Building & Maintaining your Website

A healthcare consultant friend of mine recently asked me how she could maintain her own website (changing links, updating content, etc.) without having to enlist the service of the company that built it for her.

She’s in luck, kinda.  There are several easy to use services that enable consultants to build and maintain their own website…as long as it was created with a certain set of services. Unfortunately, her website wasn’t so she has three options:

1. Learn how to maintain her own website.  There’s nothing hard about this option, but it is a timesink.  Considering the amount of money she’ll save going this route, it’s probably not worth it.

2. Rebuild her website with one of the following tools.  This will take less time than learning how to update her website, but it’s still going to be a bit of endeavor.  The nice thing is, she already has her content, she just needs to adjust the “look & feel” so that the site looks exactly how she wants it.

3. Pay someone to maintain it for her.   Between Craigslist and the original designer she should be able to find someone to help her for a reasonable price.  Like I said, this is basic stuff so quite a few people can give her a hand.

Of course, the same applies to you if you’re in her situation.  

If you’re not, and you’re looking to build a site from scratch and maintain your website, take a look at these services:

Google Apps
Google Apps is many terrific, terrific things – one of which is a basic website building and maintaince tool.  With Google Apps you can put together a basic website in under an hour.  They’ve got templates that will get you started color-wise and an easy to use editor for creating your pages & content.

Also in the Google Apps suite is gmail hosting for your business account (user@yourcompany.com), Outlook-esque calendar capabilities, Sharepoint-lite functionality, and a couple other nice tools.  We use Google Apps, although not to host our website, at Nimbus Health and couldn’t be happier. Also a nice bonus, Google Apps is free.   

Microsoft Office Live for Small Businesses
This suite from Microsoft is similar to Google Apps (you get email, Sharepoint-lite functionality, and website building capabilities) with a couple distinctions: 
  
1) Microsoft will buy and configure your domain (www.YourCompanyName.com) for you.  With Google apps, you’ll need to buy the domain and configure it yourself, which requires a bit of know-how.  Not so with Microsoft.

2) The free version of Microsoft’s offer puts a little ad from Microsoft  on your website. 

3) While I prefer GMail (Google) to Live Mail (Microsoft) and I like Google Docs more than the Sharepoint-lite functionality within Office Live, Microsoft’s website builder is better in my opinion than Google’s.  We’re still talking about basic websites here, but when I used these services, about a year ago, Microsoft’s site builder was more powerful IMO.
   
Note: There’s no reason you can’t use Google for your email and online document management and Microsoft for your website building.
   
WordPress
If you’re looking for a bit more horsepower, and blogging capability built-in, check-out WordPress.  It’s a flexible and relatively straightforward tool for buliding nice looking and fairly functional websites.  There is a free version of WordPress you can play with but you won’t be able to change it’s design at all.
If you want to change the design of your WordPress site, you’ll need to find a “hosting” company (someone who will put your website on their computer) for it.  There are several of them, most of which will do so for < $10/month.

Joomla
If you’re looking for a bit more powerful website, like one including blogging capability, check out Joomla.  Joomla will enable you to build a robust website with limited expertise.

Like with WordPress, you’ll need to find a hosting company to post your website for you.

Best of Both Worlds
Finally, a hybrid I’d recommend for anyone daunted by learning one of these tools on your own:

 

Get someone from Elance.com or Craigslist to design your site with WordPress or Joomla and then have them take an hour or two to train you on how to maintain it.  They’ll do all of the heavy lifting and leave you with an easy to manage website.

 

Good luck!

March 16, 2009 at 4:37 am Leave a comment


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