Design Inspiration

A part of my kind of design and inspiration ethos is that I carry around a leather notebook and I sketch in it, doodle in it, write notes in it, and I put pictures in it.
John Varvatos

I’m sure every designer has their own way of beginning a design. Some go straight to the computer and open a new page and start creating elements or initial layouts – their process being to run through ideas until a few start to gel, and then develop them. I was taught to spend time with a pen and paper and let the ideas flow there, but gradually my process has evolved. Nevertheless, over time those notebooks become a repository of sketches, phrases, concepts that still can be reviewed or used as the basis of a new design.

I’d like to tell you I am as organized as John Varvatos, with just one location for ideas, but my collecting process is different. I am constantly on the look out for images that speak to me, and have files of stock photos, public domain, and personal photos I can draw on when I am seeking to create a mood or a visual statement. This habit is so bad I have an external hard drive with folders of photos on it.

Another element of design for me is typography, so in much the same way as I collect photos for future use, I also collect fonts. Not the ordinary, everyday fonts we all use, but obscure ones, ones with personality that can’t be used very often, but in certain projects, they make just the right statement. (I also have an app for identifying fonts that catch my eye. Its that bad.)

Instead of a leather notebook, I always have a little plain notebook in my purse for scribbling down thoughts, but frequently use the Notes app on my phone, so my notes are accessible from my iPhone, iPad and laptop. This is so convenient it amazes me I didn’t think of it sooner…

Overhead walkway Covent GardenI also always have my phone with me, so if I see a design detail that intrigues me I will capture it. These images then get added to folders of ideas that I can refer to for future inspiration. For example, while in London I noticed an amazing overhead walkway near Covent Garden tube station that I suddenly looked up and noticed. I quickly took a photo, and while I am never going to design an overhead walkway (I can barely persuade myself to walk across one) the beauty of its DNA-like design remains a starting point for inspiration for more ethereal concepts.

Despite my dependence on technology I do have a number of sketchbooks I will reach for when I am thinking through a project. As someone with limited sketching skills what I add to these books are outlines – wire frames –  for web page layouts, concepts for a logo, ways of looking at an image to best convey a metaphor. I doubt if anyone else would be motivated by my ‘sketches’ by they often provide a direction that I can take and run with on the computer.

Recently I have been posting quotes with images as part of my effort to create something to post every day. I have had a wonderful time finding images that convey a concept greater than the items that were captured. It makes me think more broadly about the concept and find myself rejecting lots of perfectly good images while searching for something that conveys a bit more. I was looking for an image to illustrate Honore de Balzac’s saying, “If we could but paint with the hand what we see with the eye.” and finding it hard not to be too literal. I suddenly came across an image of an eye, that reflected the image of the photographer and knew that that was the image to use. The photographer “painted” what he saw with his eye, and we see him at the moment he did so. To my mind that image says so much more than a picture of a hand holding a paintbrush.

While there remains a romantic notion that all design begins with the hands, sadly I find that this isn’t the case as often as I would like. Maybe it is time to go back to collecting ideas by hand? Maybe not.

Design is inherently optimistic

Design is inherently optimistic. That is its power.
William McDonough

When I first read this I wondered about it for a little while. That design is “optimistic” makes immediate and perfect sense – who doesn’t like the thrill of starting a new design project? So that seemed a somewhat simplistic stance to take. The initial stages of much of life have a happiness and hopefulness attached to them as we are able to believe that this time everything will go better/faster/to budget.

Then, because life is like that, snags arise, a spec is changed, and a much loved – and often fought for – element has to be dropped from the design. Then we have to to return to the design with a little less of the dewy faced optimism we began with. Now we have to believe we can succeed, or there is little point in continuing. Yet, continue we do. Experience has taught us that it is only by getting back to work that we will finish, and maybe – just maybe – experience that liminal awe and wonder that comes from having done something we didn’t know we could do, or having an idea that would never have appeared during the initial, honeymoon, phase of the optimism.

There are surely other processes that we enter into with optimism, such as the first day of school, complete with pristine notebooks, pencils, and shiny shoes? Maybe, we hope, this year will be the year when we find that maths is no longer to be tolerated, but enjoyed? But then the cold light of reality dawns and we realize that this year, like its predecessors, has some new and good things, but continues to present us with many of the same challenges as did last year. Our optimism settles down to a more reasonable level and we move on. So maybe that isn’t a good parallel as it is more prosaic.

Perhaps the shorter duration brings the blessing of optimism to design projects? While some projects stretch out into the future, technology and new ideas are constantly inserting themselves in to the agenda, so it is more difficult to become jaded. We find we have new skills to master, new concepts to integrate into the process, and facing those challenges, we feel the optimism rising within us again. Design seems to have a very short shelf life these days, so even a mediocre project will soon be in the rear view mirror, and a new, shiny, design brief will have taken its place.

So maybe that is the “power” McDonough mentions? It is not that optimism alone is powerful, but that its allure is so strong that we keep seeking to be drawn in to it? That as we sink our teeth into the project and start to wrestle with the meatiest and most difficult parts, we reassure ourselves that we can do this. It is that optimism, that comes from the knowledge that we have always found the way to succeed in the past, and will do so again this time.

It is certainly a powerful experience to find we have created something that exceeds our expectations of what we initially thought we were designing. The moment when we start to see the finished product as it really is, and no longer as the sum of the many thoughts, decisions, u-turns and puzzles that caused it to be the thing it now is. This is result of the power of optimism.

Encore Careers

As I learn more about passion projects as encore careers, I was intrigued by this article I came across in the Concord Monitor. The headline reads: “More older Americans starting their own businesses to supplement incomes, pursue passion projects”. This wasn’t because the story wasn’t meaningful, because it is always affirming to read about other people who have come to this conclusion. What intrigues me is that working out what to do with the second half of your life is still considered newsworthy and/or exceptional.

For several generations now, women have had the time, education, energy and resources to build their post children/first career lives. With the average life expectancy of women to be approaching 90, it makes great sense for us to build on the knowledge we’ve gained, and turn it into something that benefits us. I also find it interesting that from this decision, many people choose to go into ‘softer’ fields, dispensing information and advice, as well as turning a hobby into a source of income.

What is also fascinating is that Boomers are apparently using skills learned from their WWII parents to find ways to turn a need for retirement funds into an opportunity for themselves. There are many reasons why retirement funds are no longer adequate, but the good news is that a shortfall is proving to be a great motivator for people to use their ingenuity and knowledge to build not only work, but a life that is satisfying.

I am thrilled that people are being credited for the effort it takes to build their own Passion Project businesses, and it is wonderful that there are organizations both on and offline to help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if taking what you know and love and creating an income form it became the norm? An option given to you as you leave the corporate world? Maybe soon instead of asking one another, “What do you do?” we will be asking, “What are you planning to do next?

With the recent recession and slow economic return, many of us are looking at encore careers – that is, working far beyond the usual retirement age of 65. For some this means staying in a job for a few more years, but for others an encore career can be the opportunity to start work on a project that has been waiting in the wings for many years.

An article by CNBC shows that encore careers are a surprisingly common scenario among Boomers, with long lost passions bubbling up to the surface or the opportunity to use skills that have been honed over many years to help others. As Boomers have long been seen as a generation that has done things their own way, this trend towards successive careers is in some ways an inevitability!

I have been thrilled to be able to help many Boomers get their encore careers moving forwards. Often getting a website is seen as a huge hurdle, but after listening to goals, hopes and fears, have been able to get a number of Boomers relaunched – and delighted to find that they are perfectly capable of adding things to their sites and maintaining a social media presence.

Maybe I could help you too? Get in touch, and lets talk!

What is a Passion Project?

What is a Passion Project?

While “Passion Project” has become one of those phrases that are frequently thrown around, at its heart I think of it as being something you really want to do. It is probably something you have really wanted to do for a long time, taking the idea out and looking at it longingly on vacations, then tucking it away again as you return to your usual life. Equally, it could be a skill you have perfected over many years, but done for someone else. You found clever ways of simplifying it, or making it easier to teach, and would like to continue to pass that extra knowledge on to others.

For some people their Passion Project might surprise them when it appears. People who have been working on a project in the evenings and at weekends, just waiting for the ‘right’ time for it to come out of the dark, and into the light. For example, the graphic design magazine, How, recently ran a series of stories of graphic designers whose evening projects became so profitable, they were able to give up their day jobs to pursue these projects full time.

While for many a Passion Project grows once retirement is imminent, or has already happened, I’ve also found that Passion Projects can spring up unexpectedly. After discovering that ageism was rampant in the workforce, I started to blog about the areas of my life where I felt people over 40 were better able to perform. Week after week I posted on topics that intrigued and interested me, and when I ran to a natural stopping point with the idea, I wondered what to do with all my writing. I stumbled upon a webinar that encouraged people to self-publish, so with nothing to lose and a copy of InDesign on my laptop, I set about editing and arranging my posts, then published the book and the Kindle version of it. I’d always harbored a desire to write a book, and suddenly I found that I had done so!

There is also a lot of psychodrama about finding your “Passion” which makes it seem much more complicated than it needs to be. If there is something you are itching to get to work on, that is your passion. It may be a love of gardening or photography, and you are happy to do it as much as you can around your job, and that it is simply a process that brings you pleasure. I’m sure many generations have survived on having a hobby, but “Passion Project” sounds much more exotic!

Encore Careers

With the recent recession and slow economic return, many of us are looking at working far beyond the usual retirement age of 65. For some this means staying in a job for a few more years, but for others an encore career can be the opportunity to start work on a project that has been waiting in the wings for many years.

A recent article by CNBC shows that encore careers are a surprisingly common scenario among Boomers, with long lost passions bubbling up to the surface or the opportunity to use skills that have been honed over many years to help others. As Boomers have long been seen as a generation that has done things their own way, this trend towards successive careers is in some ways an inevitability!

I have been thrilled to be able to help many Boomers get their encore careers moving forwards. Often getting a website is seen as a huge hurdle, but after listening to goals, hopes and fears, have been able to get a number of Boomers relaunched – and delighted to find that they are perfectly capable of adding things to their sites and maintaining a social media presence.

Maybe I could help you too? Get in touch, and lets talk!

WordPress Themes

I often explain that WordPress themes are a lot like clothing. WordPress itself is perfectly functional out of the box, and comes with a couple of stock themes already installed, but just as you wouldn’t want to show up to an event looking like dozens of other people, you probably don’t want to settle for the pre-installed themes either, and for just the same reason. Themes are sometimes referred to as ‘templates’, but to me that isn’t the correct terminology. Template sites are sites that have been created for quick deployment, where you only change the contact information and site name, but they are otherwise identical to a large number of other sites.

The theme you ultimately choose gives your site its “Look and Feel.”
 For right brained types, choosing the theme is the fun part once you’ve got the technical part out of the way! If you already have something established that you want to work with, such as a business card, a sign, or a photo, or then pick a theme that matches them. The look should reflect you and/or the subject of your site as clearly and quickly as possible. Unfortunately visitors don’t spend time trying to work out what your site is about, so if you want them to stay, the site should quickly tell them know what you are offering.

For example, a pink baby site with images of things people associate with babies in the background, or a photos of the baby wearing a headband tells the visitor it is about a baby girl, as pink is a shorthand for ‘girl’ for many people.

If your site is about historic documents you might be wise to keep to more traditional fonts, and maybe keep to a cream and brown color palette to convey age. Ultimately the design is your choice, so spend some time thinking about what your readers will respond to in terms of colors, phrases and photos.

The colors, images and layout are all very flexible, so go and look at sites you particularly like and start to think about what you would like your site to look like. Bookmark or write down the sites you particularly like so you can go back to them again.

When you have installed WordPress it comes with two themes to get you started. It is a good idea to play with these options to begin with as they are fully functional, and can be changed to fit almost any color scheme.

If you look in dashboard of a WordPress site, you will notice on the “install themes” section you have an array of additional themes you can select, and quickly and easily install. You can select themes by layout, colors, and multiple features, and all these themes are free. Before installing the theme you can preview the way it will look on your site before choosing to ‘activate’ it and working with it.

Whatever you do, be very careful about downloading “free” themes as a the result of a Google search. Some of them have embedded viruses that can do harm to your site and data base. There are many reputable places where you can buy themes to use, but it is wise to play with the free WordPress themes from within your site, and see how they work, before you decide to buy a theme that may require more adapting than you can initially handle.

Not all themes are created the same way. Most free themes come ready to use, and if you want to change anything about them, you are usually out of luck. I prefer themes that simply provide a framework, and from which I can design a completely customized theme to suit the site and client I am working with. When you do come to buy themes I recommend visiting the sites for Headway, ThemeForest, Themify and Woo Themes to see some of the many themes that are available for use!

 

Do I want a blog or a website?

Your site can be whatever you want it to be! It can begin as a simple blog about your passion for gardenias, and grow over time to become an encyclopedic site about how to propagate and grow gardenias – with weekly blog posts to keep your readers informed and entertained! It can be whatever you want it to be.

You can also build a site that has a blog on it – and have the best of both worlds! The blog could be the first page people see, with information pages alongside, or, as on this site, the blog is part of the site, but functions as one long series of informational pieces of information, as opposed to a page with just one idea on it.

When you pay for hosting you will have far more hosting space than you get with ‘free’ sites, and so can have several sites based around your main domain you if you choose. Most of us have more than one interest in life and different ways of viewing those interests, so now you can have a site to blog on, another to sell from, and yet another to display your ideas and inform others!

Since you give the time to set your site up, the only upfront costs are the domain name and hosting – which run to about 30 cents a day. Anything extra you choose to add is up to you, which makes it an affordable and flexible option for having a site.

So, do you want a blog or a website – or both?!

 

 

 

Branding

Your business/dream/concept is uniquely yours, and in order to let the world know about it, the message you put out needs to be consistent. This is called ‘branding’ – and is much more fun than it sounds!

Once you have a marker for your business, be it a website, a bricks and mortar store – or in the case of one client – a business card design you love, we need to build everything else to match it. This includes using the same fonts, the same colors, the same logo, same photos, etc. The layouts will be different, but when they are seen, it should be clear that they all belong to the same person/idea/product.

Some branding options include – but are not limited to:

  • business card
  • logo design
  • letterhead
  • envelope
  • mailing labels
  • one sheet flyer
  • postcard
  • tri-fold brochure
  • notecard
  • folder
  • bookmark
  • PowerPoint or Keynote template

It may be that you already have some of your branding items in place, and you need a wider range of items, or more of the same. Whatever it is, just let me know!

Nameservers

When you buy hosting you will also be provided with information about your nameservers. These look like an email address, and are usually a sequence of letters and numbers, followed by your host’s site name, for example, “bt1234@hostgator.com” Keep this information safely!

The technical definition of a nameserver is, according to WikiPedia, a computer server that hosts a network service for providing responses to queries against a directory service. It maps a human-recognizable identifier to a system-internal, often numeric identification or addressing component. This service is performed by the server in response to a network service protocol request.”

So, nameservers are the actual location assigned to your site on the servers of your host. For now save the email and make a note of the information!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning your website

Planning your website is the next step as the idea of having a site of your own becomes more real. While you are in this mode, read through to see what you will need, and what the costs will be, as they are recurring. For the most part a domain name and hosting costs just pennies a day, but it is an important consideration.

Click on the links to read more, or use the menu above to find the page

The steps are to flesh out your business concept: what do you want your site to do?

sell something?
sell many things?
sell a service?
provide information?
provide a platform to develop your concept?
a mixture of things?

Once you are clearer on what you want to do with your site, you will want to start thinking about a domain name. This name will reflect you concept, and perhaps your geographic location – if that is important.

Then you will need to review the cost of hosting your site. For the most part this is less than $6 per month, and there are many options.

Finally you will need to connect the domain to the hosting using nameservers.