WordPress takes a leap with desktop application, Calypso

WordPress takes a leap with desktop application, Calypso

WordPress.com launched a new version of its platform in the form of a desktop application called Calypso. This new interface is built using JavaScript and WP REST API instead of PHP and MySQL. This means that Calypso is a browser based client for the API, making it more flexible for mobile-friendly WordPress Website Development. Moreover, it integrates a thin layer of Node.js on the server to develop the initial web page while the actual programming runs in the client as a Single Page Application (SPA), making use of various other open source JavaScript modules.

This revolutionary innovation has certainly gained attention but received mixed reactions from the users and developers across the world. Some have appreciated the efforts, some are confused, and the rest have no clue about it.

Learning more about Calypso
If you are one of those who has no idea what Calypso is, it’s time to dig deeper into this new platform.

To start off, Calypso is an open source platform, which means you scan the code and learn from it. It also helps you think about new applications you may develop with it. It is made available for desktop publishing on GitHub under the GPLv2 (or later) to users on all major operating systems including Mac and Linux.

“WordPress.com for Desktop is an Electron wrapper for Calypso, the new WordPress.com front-end,” according to GitHub repository. The application offers an amazing writing and editing experience that reflects WordPress.com’s new architecture. Aside from publishing, it lets users view stats, customize themes, manage websites and browse the Reader.

Key features of the platform:

1. Multisite Support
It is developed to support multiple websites built on WordPress.com with Jetpack enabled. This way webmasters can easily administer websites along with content management.

2. Fast and Agile
Being developed using JavaScript, WordPress.com REST API, and a few other advanced technologies, the application is designed particularly keeping speed in mind. The pages are loaded almost instantly while augmenting the overall user experience.

3. Real Time Experience
Calypso allows you to see the changes done on the page in real time even the smallest changes without having to refresh the page a few times. So, no more hitting the refresh button over and over again.

4. Responsive
If you are a big fan of WordPress and looking for a responsive solution, Calypso is your one-stop solution. Now, without having to bother about choosing a responsive theme or a plugin to make your existing site responsive, you can build, manage and access the WordPress.com site on almost every device.

How can you use it?
If you own a website on WordPress.com, you are already using it. WordPress.com has been changed over the span of last 18 months to support this desktop application. However, in order to use Calypso based editing and management tools, you would need to install and set up the Jetpack plugin on your website.

Now log in to your WordPress.com website or simply download the desktop app.

Upon logging in, site stats will be the first screen you will see. Don’t worry if there are no stats to be shown on the screen. Your website might not have any stats to show especially if it’s a newly created one.

Wordpress-Calypso-preview

Creating and Editing content

Calypso has almost the same interface as that of a self-hosted WordPress website but with more advanced features.

Step 1: In order to add a new post, click on the add button in front of the Blog Posts option on the left column in the admin panel. Upon clicking, you will notice an editor on the right side with plenty of options including HTML editor.

Step 2: Now, fill in your title and the body of the content in the relevant places as you would do on a self-hosted website built using WordPress. It also allows you to add appropriate formatting using the formatting options available.

Step 3: To add any image to the content, click on the small icon to the left of the paragraph heading bar. A media uploader will pop up which will look pretty familiar. Click the add new button to add a new image to the uploader and hit insert.

Step 4: Once you are done with your post, you are all set to publish it. Now with this new WordPress desktop application, you get a publish button on the left column instead of the right side meta box. Apart from the preview and publish button, you also get to options like categories & tags, featured image, sharing, post format and more options.
Also, there is not a save as draft option since it automatically saves your post as a draft in the background.

Step 5: If you are like me, you probably want to add categories and tags to your content to make it more user and search engine friendly. When you click categories & tags, its options will slide down. Search the category in the search bar to find the most relevant category and check it to apply it to your post. You also get a tag bar below the category option where you can add as many tags as you want.

Step 6: Now click featured image tab to set a featured image for your post. Upon clicking, an image uploader will again pop up from where you can insert the featured image into your post. You will notice your featured image appearing at the top of the editor.
For more options such as adding an excerpt, changing discussion settings, and editing the slug, click on the more options tab.

Step 7: Now the final step is to preview it before publishing as we usually do with our post and pages to ensure that everything looks good through the Preview button beside Publish. You can also schedule the post by clicking on the calendar icon next to Publish button.
Similarly, you can add new pages to your website.

How is Calypso different from the standard WordPress dashboard?
This is one example of using Calypso for your website. The interface, prompts, and text used on inputs is slightly different from the actual WordPress dashboard options. You probably have noticed an “Add New” term instead of “Upload” to make it more user-friendly.
In the add media option, there are 5 different options included all, images, documents, videos, and audio. This enables you to easily add media files of a specific type. Moreover, Calypso does not have a button for creating a gallery. Select more than one image from the uploader and hit continue. It will automatically create a gallery for you and let you even edit the gallery layout.

What does the introduction of Calypso mean for WordPress.org?
While developers around the globe are busy understanding the working and code of Calypso, WordPress.org users are wondering what is it’s future.
WordPress.org powers more than 25% of the websites today including WordPress.com. Since both Calypso and WP REST API are gathering a lot of attention, it has launched 4.4 version of the software with REST API in its core architecture.

The evolution of WordPress.com is one example of how REST API can be used in WordPress and what all can be achieved with it. Since Calypso offers a more liberal architecture, it allows developers to build more compelling publishing user experience.

Although Matt’s announcement that Calypso may become a part of the WordPress core if the community wants, we cannot jump to any conclusion. Also, the WordPress.com website accounts that the decision as to whether to make Calypso codebase a part of WordPress core or not is also entirely dependent on the WordPress community.

Calypso has opened gates for the future possibility for developers, only if they are ready to improve their REST API and JavaScript’s skills. It is all set to be the next big thing in the WordPress development industry.

Design Project Management Software Debate: Basecamp VS. Podio Part 1

What’s the Best Project Management Software for design firms?

Part 1.

There’s a cool new kid on the Project Management block, and her name is Podio. Podio has been receiving a lot of attention from our industry lately. Creative professionals are wondering if Podio has what it takes to unseat the old guard. That old guard being, you guessed it, Basecamp.  In this two part series, we’ll discuss how these two stack up. Why? Because Go Media has been a Basecamp consumer for nearly a decade. And we just may have started to hang out with someone new. Which is the best project management software for our needs? Yours?

Before I get started with our review, please note this is Basecamp VS. Podio within the context of design & creative service professional workflows. Therefore, this can’t be considered definitive, because other industries will have different needs and some of those needs could sway the argument toward one or the other. These are the findings at the time of writing this. We don’t retroactively go back and edit our articles when new features are added. If you’re from the future and find a discrepancy, please share it with the community by leaving a comment. Also, most of us have worked in Basecamp already. So I’m not going to scrutinize it as much as “the new kid”.

Topics We’ll Cover

Part 1
  1. Learning Curve & Usability
  2. Task Management
  3. Project Management with your Team
  4. Project Management with your Clients
  5. Proofs & Client Reviews
  6. Calendar Integration
  7. Email Integration
Part 2 (Coming Soon!)
  1. File Management
  2. API & Third-Party Integration
  3. Automation
  4. Pricing
  5. Vendor Support
  6. Conclusion

Learning Curve & Usability

Basecamp

Best Project Management Software

For most intents, the ease of use has been the defining factor in Basecamp’s success. Basecamp did an impeccable job of implementing a User Interface which hides the more advanced technology, allowing newbies to dive right in. When you found yourself wanting more, it usually just takes hovering over a subtle label and, voila, Basecamp DOES do that.

Best Project Management Software

Basecamp did a superb job making their interfaces clean, straight forward and familiar. They took a lot of cues from traditional Word Processing, while elevating the UI with well designed controls, typeface selection and sizes. The information design and layout were clearly well-thought-out for maximum usability. Nearly every text field can be edited right on the spot. Basecamp truly set the bar for software-as-a-service through web applications with their attention to speed and prolific use of AJAX.

Podio

Not unlike Basecamp, Podio is indeed clean and uses AJAX to the max. The usability comparison pretty much stops there. I don’t mean to elude Podio is a usability failure; not by any means. But Podio definitely has a much steeper learning curve when compared to Basecamp because of how it is built for flexibility. The core of Podio is an application builder where you design (or import from the Podio community) your very own “Apps”. Podio apps are actually more like templates.  You can design your app using unlimited fields, such as Text, Categories, Dates, Application Relationships, Contacts, a variety of numerical fields and more; at the time of writing there are 14 different field types to choose from.

Once you’ve created your Apps in Podio, then you can get to work. The Podio UI & UX offer a lot of controls, some of which can be confusing. Apps are created under “Workspaces” which are discreetly tucked away in the corner. It’s a tad off putting if you jump around Workspaces constantly. I suppose it’s a lot like Basecamp’s Account switcher mixed with their Projects, but the rationale for Podio Workspaces is more centered around the perspective of traditional business departments. In that sense, Podio Workspaces make more sense than Basecamp Accounts if your company is indeed operating more than one department.

The biggest UI/UX complaint is Podio’s strange representation of “Contacts”. They have what they consider Podio Users or Members which are your team users/collaborators, but they label them Contacts and mix them with what they call “Workspace Contacts” which are NOT Podio Users, but rather a basic sort of contact address book. More on Contacts later.

The default App View/landing page in Podio has a learning curve as well. Podio did an excellent job with AJAX throughout their app, but didn’t keep those same standards here. Although powerful, it can be a tad jarring to navigate the different Views & Reports and then effectively save them appropriately. This is an awesome feature. Basecamp’s filtering/reporting is nearly non-existent, Podio’s is just a bit convoluted.

Who has the edge in Usability? Basecamp.

Task Management

Basecamp

Tasks are referred to as To-dos in Basecamp. There’s a “Your open to-dos” feature which gives you a bird’s eye view on everything ahead. It’s easy to delegate to-dos to your colleagues. You can even assign to-dos to your clients.

Best Project Management Software

To-dos can be expanded to reveal notification settings and attach files. Notifications are associated with email alerts. You can drag & drop to re-order them.

Best Project Management Software

 Podio

Tasks have been put at the forefront of Podio. If you’re reading this article, you obviously know from experience, project management starts and ends with deliverables and deliverables are built on tasks. The global Task view gives you a bird’s eye into your tasks across all Podio Workspaces. This has an advantage over Basecamp if we try to consider Workspaces analogous to Basecamp Accounts. In Basecamp, you would need to navigate across Accounts to truly see all of your tasks.

Reminders, files, labels, hierarchy and inline editing is essentially comparable to Basecamp. The only noteworthy addition in Podio is Task Comment Threads and Descriptions. These two more robust fields really improve the collaboration and accountability factor. Basecamp “Discussions” pickup where Todos leave off, but alas it is a separate feature. And we all know, in project management, system fragmentation is the mother of human error.

There’s also a sort of All Tasks view where you can see all of the tasks across an entire Podio Workspace. It’s under the Activity log’s little wrench icon.

Who has the Task Management edge? Podio.

Project Management with your Team

Basecamp

We have to give credit, where credit is due – Basecamp wrote the book on modern project management. Simplicity is, well… NOT simple. The brilliant folks behind Basecamp managed to boil down the process of project management into its very basic, fundamental parts. They made it so easy to do, and left out their opinions about how to do it, in such a concise way; virtually any type of organization can effectively put Basecamp into their workflow. It’s a cinch to on-board your team, delegate tasks, have discussions, share resources and stay organized with Basecamp.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Start Project

You can absolutely manage the vast majority of projects using Basecamp. It’s a veritable collaboration and communication hub which, at the end of the day, is the crux of teamwork. These screenshots say it all.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Get To Work

Podio

Podio can indeed do almost everything Basecamp can, in it’s own way. Keep in mind, this only happens after you contend with the learning curve. Once you have your “Project Management” app created, it could easily cover the same fundamentals. Discussions leave a lot to be desired (more on that later), but descriptions, tasks, files, due dates and team collaboration are all well accommodated. After the learning curve, Podio’s amazing flexibility with custom apps can be a huge advantage over Basecamp depending on your organization’s needs and ability to manage the tools. Podio Reports & Views are also very advanced. That said, it might be clutter for many particularly smaller firms.

Who has the Project Management with your Team edge? Podio, by a slim margin for features & flexibility.

Project Management with your Clients

 Basecamp

Basecamp has clearly made outward facing client engagement a priority in its application. You can easily bring a client into their project, giving them nearly all the same tools as your team and without an additional fee to make them a “user”. Basecamp is very easy for a client to sign up with and their client invitation emails and entry points make it easy to get the hang of.  You can control what clients gain access to and can see, down to a granular level.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Clients

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Client Invite

As we all know, trying to rope clients into collaborating with us on a platform in the fashion of how we each work, is never a given. Most clients really only want to deal with us through email. Basecamp has a tremendous advantage over Podio with their Discussion threads. Discussions do not require the client to become a Basecamp user. You can simply loop a client into an email conversation which is routed through Basecamp Discussions. The email correspondence is automatically parsed and mapped to the appropriate sender’s Basecamp profile whether or not they ever login.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Discussion

Basecamp has the advantage of being a market leader, making it much easier to bring a client into the fold because they likely already have an account.

Podio

I mentioned, earlier, the convoluted “Contacts” model Podio uses. The weirdness doesn’t stop there. They have what they refer to as “External Users” which are Contacts… or clients, or something like that. These are different from Workspace Contacts, which are a more powerful means to organize your clients. But alas, they’re completely separate! The External Users are mixed in with your team, which can be very annoying. Podio claims to be working on streamlining all the Contacts nonsense, but right now it leaves a lot to be desired.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Member

Inviting External Users into Podio is a higher bar because of the learning curve with Workspaces and how Views are designed. It is not intuitive for the lay person and they don’t have market share to rest on their laurels. This topic is probably THE Achilles’s Heel for Podio right now.

That said, you can indeed share a Podio App item in several ways with the outside world.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Automatic Shar

Invited users will still have to contend with Podio’s learning curve. Being the new kid on the block will hinder client’s willingness to take the time to sign-up.

Trying to loop non-Podio users into a Podio workflow is nearly impossible. They have nothing adequately competing with Basecamp Discussions. There’s a 3rd party service called Globimail, but Podio’s API won’t allow proper Email threading where senders are accurately cited. All the threads get lumped into one. More on this in the Email Integration topic.

Basecamp vs Podio - Globimail

Who has the Project Management With Your Clients edge? Basecamp.

Proofs & Client Reviews

Seeing as this is a review geared toward creative professionals, a very common need is the ability to collect feedback on images or graphic designs. It’s very useful to have that feedback recorded directly alongside the files, so you can cross-reference every detail. This feature is an easy comparison.

Basecamp

Has it going on.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp File Discussion

Podio

Doesn’t.

That might not be completely fair. Obviously Podio has a file manager and files can be shared with users. In fact, the file manager rivals some of the best I’ve seen in the SAAS segment.

Basecamp vs Podio - Files

But collecting feedback on Podio item files, in an intuitive manner, is virtually non-existent.

It’s probably obvious who has the Proofs & Client Reviews edge: Basecamp

Calendar Integration

Calendars are tricky business in project management. They can easily become overwhelmed if you start putting every little task onto them. Another common problem is when you try to squeeze projects which span an extended period of time over them. You often end up with what you’ll see in the Basecamp screenshot below. Neither platform has come up with an innovative UI solution to this problem.

Basecamp

Likely thanks to it’s maturity, the Basecamp calendar covers just about every usage scenario you could think of. Events are easy to create, invite users to, and edit. Deadlines, events and to-dos can all be assigned to a calendar. Basecamp creates a unique calendar for each project and gives you the ability to create and share even more. This gives you a nice way to divvy up assignments and toggle what you’re looking at. We all know how busy looking a calendar layout can become when managing several projects.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Calendar

Color label each of the multiple Basecamp calendars. Calendars can be shared outside of Basecamp using the iCal XML feed format.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Settings

You can invite internal and external contributors to a calendar. This can be a great way to share deliverables & milestones with a client.

Basecamp vs Podio - Edit Event

Aside from the inline ease of use Basecamp is known for, their integration with the famous Basecamp Discussion threads can be spawned from just about any item, including Calendar events!

Podio

Podio has a ways to go with their calendar. It works well for what it does, but far from as feature rich as Basecamp’s. What you see is pretty much what you get. It offers iCal sharing, gives you pretty common usability features. There’s no inline (ajax) editing like in Basecamp. You’ll leave the calendar to try and edit something. But it’s clean and covers the basics.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Calendar

One nice feature differentiating from Basecamp’s is the ability to sort of mute a project from the calendar. You do this at the project level, which is a different paradigm from Basecamp. In Basecamp, you would toggle a project calendar view, similar to how it works in Google’s. Because Podio doesn’t spawn unique calendars for each project, this is fundamentally different, but at least useful in its context.

Basecamp vs Podio - Automatic Calendar Entries

Another setting to toggle what you’re looking at, on the single Podio calendar, is how events & tasks relate to you. This is neat, because it lets you silence items you’re really not involved with on a weekly basis. This is useful for Producers who might not need to be actionable on a project until a certain phase is complete or for Art Directors who want the bird’s eye in one place but maybe not muddying up their own calendar.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio External Calendar Integration

At this juncture, we have to give the Calendar Integration edge to: Basecamp

Email Integration

Despite the futurists who’ve proclaimed the looming demise of email, email continues to be a cornerstone in the modern business system. Sure, some innovations have tried to replace email. Asana and Slack come to mind. The challenge with such an ambitious goal; most businesses don’t operate in a bubble. Most businesses rely on a lot of interactions with a lot of stakeholders, namely other businesses, consumers and vendors, to successfully serve those stakeholders. If you’re reading this, you know how difficult it is to get your clients to adopt YOUR system. Your clients have their own operations to be concerned with. They’re not going to make a substantial effort to accommodate yours.

This is where email integration must come in. And to cut to the chase, Basecamp does this better than anyone out there.

Basecamp

Project activity email notification controls, check. You can be very granular with who’s notified and with what.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Loop-in

You can also control your own. Set an email which might even be different than that of your account.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Project Emails Notifications

Basecamp recently added a Gmail support feature where a link to the item is automatically shown.

Basecamp vs Podio - Gmail View in Basecamp

We talked about Basecamp Discussions  earlier. One of the most powerful and useful features is the ability to loop a non-user into the thread. This means a client or customer doesn’t need to ever signup and into Basecamp to be a part of their project conversation. Any adopter of Basecamp knows how incredibly useful it can be to keep correspondence within the context of a project. Basecamp clearly agrees and makes it incredibly easy.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Loop-in Discussion

You can also send content INTO Basecamp through Basecamp “Email In”. The below infographic says it all.

Basecamp vs Podio - Basecamp Email In

Podio

Podio’s email integration is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some unique and excellent features which align to its tremendous flexibility. There are some seemingly obvious integration missteps leaving a lot of the community scratching their heads.

Podio notifications are reliable and work well. The settings are quite pragmatic.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Notification Settings

Podio’s remarkable flexibility is at the core of its value. You can essentially design your “apps” to suit your workflow. They did a fantastic job aligning an Email to App feature where you can map emails sent to Podio to automatically create items in your custom app. This is one of the stronger email integration features in the topic.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Email to App

Podio also offers features similar to Basecamp’s Email In. You can email to a unique Podio addresses for Apps, Items and a few other features like Messages and even a Facebook like Status.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Email to Item

The area I’ve seen the most complaints about Podio is it’s lack of Email integration for actual conversation threading. You know, what email is designed for. Yes, you can indeed rope non-users into becoming “External Users” where they can learn how to use Podio and you can try to get clients into your workflow. I’m beating a dead cat here. Podio doesn’t offer anything remotely close to Basecamp Discussions for non-users. It’s so bad, a third party developer took it upon himself to create a product called Globimail. Globimail does the best they can to try and help add decent email threading into Podio. It’s pretty rough, but we’re thankful for their service to the community.

Basecamp vs Podio - Podio Globimail

This one is light’s out. The Email Integration winner is clearly: Basecamp

Part 1 Wrap Up

“The Edge” by the numbers, Basecamp: 5. Podio: 2. Is Basecamp running away with this? Maybe. Check back soon for Part 2 of this review. We’ll update the links in this post when it’s ready or you can find it on the zine’s homepage.

All Basecamp screenshot images are copyright ©2015 Basecamp. All Podio screenshot images are copyright ©2015 Citrix Online. Content, designs, pricing & other implied features are subject to change.

New Designer and Developer Resources – August 2014

At Go Media, I’m a front-end developer, a podcaster, a content creator, a designer, and a maker. Just like you, I like to wear a lot of hats and I like to keep up on the current trends, tools, and resources that hit my inbox and Feedly every day. Almost once a week, I sign up to be a beta tester for a new app, or install a new extension to see if it betters my productivity on certain tasks. When I find something awesome, I share it with various members of our team, depending on what issues it’s solving.

And, I figured it might be time to share that with you as well.

This Month’s Resources

Here’s what I found this month (and earlier, since this is the first edition) that has helped me in my daily work, both in and out of the office.

Twibble

twibble

Twibble is a new service that allows you to hook up any RSS feed and tweet new posts from it. While I haven’t quite worked this into my work at Go Media, I’ve been using it for another podcast I run. Any time we release a new YouTube video, a new podcast, or post on our Facebook page, we can promote it on a schedule to our Twitter account. Now we can keep active, and keep our followers on Twitter aware of all the content we’re producing, without the “manual labor”.

My Current Favorite IFTTT Recipe

I LOVE IFTTT! I use it to transfer “saved for later” articles in my Feedly to my Gmail. I use it to push content I’m creating to a Buffer’s distribution schedule. I’m using it to send me an email reminder every Thursday to move $50 into a “for a rainy day” checking account. And, I also use it to push content to WordPress and our Tumblr blog.

ifttt

But, a huge bottleneck in my routine is trying to also keep a growing Facebook Group I help run active. Since I do most of my reading on my phone, and the Facebook app has it’s limitations, I couldn’t easily do that. In comes IFTTT and this recipe. I can share a story (either from our own feed or from other sites we’re reading) from Feedly to Pocket. That story is then collected by IFTTT and pushed to the Facebook Group. Now, I can start a conversation with the community without skipping a beat.

Being More Productive With Ambient Noise

We talked about the topic of ambient noise with Donald Wooten at WMC Fest 5, which you can hear on Go Media Podcast Episode 26. Ambient noise has added to music over the last 10-15 years to make it feel more authentic. A lot of us add noise to our daily lives so that we get distracted less while working.

But for me, I layer ambient noise behind music I stream over Spotify. It gives me a constant sound and keeps me moving because I’m not waiting for a song to end. Most of the time, I get so focused that I lose track of the transitions. 2 hours later, it’s hard to tell how many different songs, different styles, or different artists I’ve listened to. Or, if my playlist ended while I was so far in the zone that I missed it.

ambient-noise

Coffitivity

The main source I use is Coffitivity. It started off just as a long, streaming mp3 of background noise from a coffee shop. You’d hear the low murmur of people talking, cups hitting the table, and spoons dropping into the bottom of mugs. They’ve also added more options, from low murmurs to bustling chatter of a lunchtime rush, to the sounds of students on campus.

Elmnts

Another Ambient Noise maker has entered the scene and it’s a Chrome plugin that works offline.

Elmnts is an elegant ambient sound generator for improving focus and calm. Whether you’re studying, working, or just relaxing, the sounds of the elements make everything better. Works offline, so you don’t have to load a website to hear these high quality sounds, they’re yours to listen to anytime.

Five of the six audio choices are nature-based. You can listen to the rain hit your window or sit next to a fire. You could enjoy the chirping of birds and other woodland creatures or stick your toes in the nearby creek. You could even listen to the waves crash onto the beach as you hustle towards vacation. Or make your own combination by layering the sounds together.

How To Insert Featured Images Easier in WordPress

Whether it’s a new blog post or a new page, we’re always uploading featured images to WordPress. And, if you do it a lot, it can become a hassle (albeit minor) to do it efficiently. But, we have a few new options now, which give us the freedom to multitask without slowing down.

Instant Featured Image

featured-image

What if you wanted to upload a featured image but also wanted to insert it into your post? To do that, you’d have to set the featured image first, then get back into the media menu to insert it. Why the extra step? With the Instant Featured Image plugin, you can save those clicks and just insert and set the featured image with one click.

Automatic Featured Images From YouTube Videos

Another personal project I have involves creating YouTube videos and sharing them to WordPress. While it’s easy to upload the thumbnail to YouTube AND then to WordPress after the video publishes, that takes too much work. With this plugin, you can insert the video URL into your post like normal. Then, put your description and hit save or publish. Once saved, WordPress pulls in the featured image for you.

Easy and Efficient PDF Compression with SmallPDF

smallpdf

We all work with clients that have these HUGE PDFs filled with large images. A normal PDF we receive to put onto a site is between 5mb and 40mb. Definitely not good for the ever-growing mobile market that these sites are reaching. So, we could go back to the client and ask them to compress them, or we can try and run it through Adobe’s built-in methods. But, SmallPDF can compress a PDF in the cloud for free and it does a heck of a great job at retaining quality.

This week, I used it to compress a 6mb, 2-page PDF, into a version under 1mb. HUGE improvement.

Can Email Be Responsive?

ink

Over the last year, we’ve seen an increase of requests to develop an HTML email template for our clients. AND, it’s becoming more clear that the client expects those emails to be responsive. Unfortunately, most of our clients are a mix of B2B and B2C, therefor Outlook is a must. And, if Microsfot used anything above Word to render their emails, we might be able to feel better about the prospect.

While HTML emails are awful to build, there are options out there to help you get through it while still making something cool. Jason Rodriguez from A List Apart put together a good run down of what you can do to make emails responsive, or at least fluid. There’s also some good tutorials from MailChimp, our preferred email marketing service.

And, Zurb, the creator of Foundation, which is our responsive, front-end framework of choice, released a responsive email framework called Ink. We’ve used it on a few projects and have had a lot of success with them.

Write clearer with The Hemingway Editor

hemingway

If you can figure out how to get me talking, you know I can ramble on, and on, and on. It’s a similar experience when I write. Sometimes I get to the point. Sometimes, my point just isn’t clear. With the Hemingway Editor, I can paste my stream of consciousness and know exactly what I need to fix before I hit the publish button.

Plus, as Earnest Hemingway taught us, “the first draft of anything is shit.” We’re both lucky to have a resource like this between my first draft and you.

And then I was like…

output20140417-4409-1avf58d[1]

Need a quick GIF of your reaction to something? All you need is a webcam and this site. Maybe not work-related, but still easy to use and perfect for just about every scenario.

Thanks to @skullface for sending this my way.

On My Radar

Here’s a few more resources that I’ve bookmarked, but haven’t quite found a use for just yet.

Make eBooks from Google Drive

liberio

If you’re an Arsenal user, you may have noticed that we’ve started to release some new graphic design ebooks over the last few months. We’ve been designing and building those with Illustrator and InDesign, however, since a lot of our content is already on Google Drive, maybe this could come in handy. I’ll be playing with that idea this month.

High Quality Tees with No Upfront Costs

While not a new service, I got introduced to TeeSpring.com at WMC Fest 5. We spoke with Jimmy who was manning their vendor table on the latest podcast. After doing a bit of research, I really liked the idea and started putting ideas together for the podcast.

And that’s it.

That’s this month’s resources and tools that I’ve found useful during my day to day goings on. Hopefully you find them useful as well.

If you’ve got something you want me to check out, leave a comment here on the Zine. You can also tweet me @bryangarvin and drop me an email.

What Your Business Can Learn From the Failed Launch of the ObamaCare Enrollment Website

On Oct. 1, the federal government formally rolled out the Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare,” beginning with the launch of online healthcare exchanges.

It was disastrous.

I’m referring not to the federal government shutdown that ensued as part of the bitter politics involved, but rather the system design and hosting failures that led to the site to crash. Millions of people were staring at an “error” message, causing many to offer further criticism of the healthcare initiative itself.

imag1

According to various media reports, the Obamacare website received 7 million unique visitors in the first two days of its launch. Some 4.6 million of those arrived in the first 24 hours.

While some have commented that a glitch-free unveiling of the site was an “impossible task,” given the scope, intensiveness and concrete deadlines involved, I disagree.

The complications that arose from the launch of this site were foreseeable and avoidable. Those behind the controls should have planned properly and effectively leveraged the modern cloud.

The truth of the matter is, there are countless websites that manage daily traffic volumes far exceeding what the healthcare site was required to handle – and they do it without a single hiccup.

With proper planning, any firm can effectively tailor their website to fit all their capacity needs, both at the time of launch and well into the future. Any experienced web developer will tell you that there are a number of well-tested methodologies and approaches that are effective in shouldering major spikes in traffic – so long as they are done correctly.

Part of it is the responsibility of the business. Business owners and operators should have a solid grasp on the consumer base, which will allow a fairly accurate estimate of traffic volumes.

image2

Of course, you want to be prepared for the unexpected too. If Oprah one day decides you’re one of her “favorite things,” you want your site be ready!

There was a time when this might have seemed an extreme challenge. Historically, companies basically had two options: dedicated servers and commodity hosting. The first option limited users to the amount of computers to which it could connect. The latter involves shared hosting. There are limitations to that option as well because any one of those users had the potential to bring down large swaths of that network.

In the last decade, we’ve seen a game-changer in the form of something called cloud computing. It’s a complex form of technology that allows vendors to offer highly-advanced hosting that can expand and shrink as necessary. The software and hardware is specifically designed for maximum elasticity with regard to traffic volumes.

The beauty of cloud computing is that in addition to being superior technology, its developers also made the system available to “pay-as-you-go.” That makes it accessible to those with smaller budgets too.

Compare that to dedicated hosting. For that, companies were on the hook to pay for whatever capacity they had estimated they might need, even if those estimates turned out to be inflated.

As great as cloud computing is, it still isn’t everything. It won’t replace good design when it comes to a smooth launch. You still need experienced system administrators who can put into place the proper design and configuration to ensure your website will be ready.

At Go Media, we offer managed cloud hosting and system design as a value-added service for our clients. We’re not a public web hosting firm – and we’re not trying to be one. We do, however, want to make sure our web customers are housed on a stellar system that’s going to perform well at every turn.

Many of our clients have praised this as a major benefit during a launch because it helps to eliminate surprises. When we’ve designed the stack, we know what’s in it. We know its capabilities. We know we’ve got certain monitoring systems in place to be able to react immediately if there is a problem with high volumes. We design our systems so that the mission-critical components are going to operate without a hitch, regardless of how many people flood your site.  It’s a process we’ve been perfecting for well over a decade.

SHOP

Choosing a competent web design and management firm is the first step toward ensuring a problem-free launch of your new website.

There are other steps your firm can take too.

As I mentioned earlier, proper planning is essential. Know your consumer base. Know the kind of capacity you can generally expect. Make sure you clearly communicate this with your web developer. Also inform your developer if at any point you anticipate a marked increase in web traffic. There may be preemptive ways the developer can address these potential issues.

Another thing I’ve learned over the course of unveiling hundreds of web applications and campaigns for a variety of brands is this: Go to market with the most basic version of what you consider a viable product. This is particularly important if you are on a deadline.

If you try to shoot for the moon and get every single thing in there and do it on an extremely limited timeline, you may find yourself, your staff, and your consumers disappointed.

It’s worth noting that many clients ultimately come to the realization within the first year of launch that many of the bells and whistles they considered to be “must-haves” were not truly necessary.

Know that more can always be added later.

Deadlines should be realistic. However, good system design need not take an inordinate amount of time if you are working with a skilled web developer who already has good tools in place.

One of your primary goals in launching your new site should be to avoid alienating your users. Establishing a positive first impression will go far in keeping your consumers coming back again and again.

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Athlete Originals: Connecting Designers with Pro Sports Stars

I was contacted by Chris Dey, the founder of Athlete Originals with an earnest request on how to build a crowd-sourced design website that professional designers actually liked. He had a great idea and it was cool that he was seeking advice from the design community. Their new site launched today and is now open to the public.

Designers can sign up today if they wanted.

Disclosure: Athlete Originals is a client of ours. We didn’t design their website, but we are providing them strategy and feedback to help make their site better for designers. This blog post is to introduce their site to the design community at large and get feedback from our readers. If you have any feedback, feel free to comment at the bottom of this post.

AO-DesignerLanding

What is Athlete Originals?

Athlete Originals is a website that connects pro athletes with the design community. For designers, it works like your average design contest website. Designers can submit designs to logo and t-shirt design projects for these athlete’s upstart fashion brands. If their design gets chosen, they get paid. Pretty well in my opinion. Athlete Originals takes the design files and sends them to print and sells the merchandise in their online store. They are essentially a merchandising company for these athletes.

The best part is how no-name designers can work with big-name stars.

jarius wright

Who are some well-known athletes that have used AO to work with designers?

Jarius Wright (wide receiver from the Minnesota Vikings) and LeGarrette Blount (running back from the Patriots) would be two guys who have built brands and launched apparel lines.  They actually each built personal brands, then turned around and launched secondary apparel brands.  For example, BLOUNT and Blount Force Trauma.  J Wright and Wright Stuff.  Jarius is also building a line called Separation.

“Athlete Originals did a great job developing my brand.  The designs are tight!  I’m looking forward to launching my apparel line and bringing more of my ideas to life.” – LeGarrette Blount, NFL Running Back

legarrett blount

Coming online to AO soon will be Kerri Walsh (gold medal volleyball player), Pablo Sandoval (SF Giants and World Series MVP), Jessica Eye (UFC), and more.

kerri walsh

Now, I am not a fan of design contest websites by default. They typically pay the designer poorly and too many people lose and don’t get paid anything for their work. But I am not completely against them; they can work. Chris and I had long phone conversations about what designers really want: to get paid, creative freedom, fun projects, and cool clients. Chris took my advice and incorporated these principles into Athlete Originals. And from what I have seen so far, designers are digging it.

“Working with Athlete Originals was an amazing experience. I had the privilege of working for some of the best athletes in the country and to be able to capture their vision in a clothing line and see that design come to life was truly a dream come true.” – Kyle Saxton, Intern at Go Media

Design by Kyle Saxton, Go Media
Design by Kyle Saxton, Go Media

We got a chance to use it and two of our designers Kyle Saxton and Carly Utegg both won projects soon after they signed up. Now they are both talented designers and isn’t surprising but this was encouraging! It’s quite addictive to win and see that cash in your account!

What are the payouts?

“The payout is great. Not your typical $50-$100 logo fee given on other crowd-sourced platforms. Even if it’s spec, the huge payout encourages you to participate.” – AJ Dimarucot, Freelance Designer

Design by AJ Dimarucot for  Jordan Poyer, rookie defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles.  It’s a take off on his tattoos and his nickname J PO.
Design by AJ Dimarucot for Jordan Poyer, rookie defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a take off on his tattoos and his nickname J PO.

From founder Chris Dey, “With the exception of our pre-launch athletes who received discounts, future design payouts will be $1,000 for a t-shirt design and $3,200 for a brand logo. This represents how much the designer would receive [after fees].” This is remarkable. Let me repeat this:

  • Average Payout for T-Shirt: $1,000
  • Average Payout for Brand Logo: $3,200
Design for Jarius Wright by Yavuz Sonmez
Design for Jarius Wright by Yavuz Sonmez

“Athlete Originals has provided me with the opportunity to design for some of the top athletes in the world… One of my designs was selected by famous American Football player Jarius Wright, who is a very good wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.”  Yavuz Sonmez, Freelance Designer in Istanbul, Turkey

Designs for Jarius Wright. Logo by Yavuz Sonmez, t-shirt design by Go Media
Designs for Jarius Wright. Logo by Yavuz Sonmez, t-shirt design by Go Media

How does it work?

“The process is straight forward, quick, and allows for as much creativity as your willing to give! Not to mention it’s great pay and get’s your name out there!” – Carly Utegg, Go Media

After a designer confirms their new account via email, they can log in and view the active projects.  They add the projects they are interested in to their Watch List so that they receive updates on them.  They chose to participate in those projects that interest them most.  They submit designs according to the design specs.  Once the deadline has passed, if the designer’s artwork is selected, they upload the final files according to the specs (the Designer’s Playbook).  The client approves the final art and the designer gets paid.

Note: We personally had an issue with uploading final files before we got paid as this violates Go Media’s standard design process. We changed our mind for this one because the client is taking on a risk by allowing any designer in the world to submit. They need to make sure the final files are print-ready. Fortunately there are contracts in place that protect you as the designer. Don’t worry about not getting paid if you win.

Lonnie_Pryor_Presentation_1
Lonnie Pryor designed by Alex Miller, intern at Go Media

Pros:

  • Extremely easy access to rewarding projects for some big name clients.
  • You don’t have to go out and sell to try to land more clients. They are already there.
  • Good payouts that are on par with market rates for logo and t-shirt designs ($500 and up)
  • Fairly low risk and a good percentage you can win because the site is new
  • You can focus on designing and forget about pitching and selling your work
  • Clients have already filled out questionnaires about what they want
  • You can quickly build a portfolio with pro athlete clientele
  • Work only when you want to, not everyone gets that luxury
  • The terms for payment and file delivery are very easy to understand.
  • Fast customer service from an interested founder.

Cons:

  • No guaranteed payment unless you win.
  • Your chances of winning get lower when more designers participate
  • That’s about all I can think of

How do I sign up?

It’s free to sign up, just visit this page and build your profile and start working!

https://athleteoriginals.com/

Design Tools I Can’t Live Without

Tools You Can Use

We asked our favorite designers…what design tools can’t you live without?

I’m a Brazilian graphic and web designer based in San Francisco, California. Currently working for Google, I am also the founder of Abduzeedo,
Fábio Sasso is a Brazilian graphic and web designer based in San Francisco, California. Currently working for Google, he is also the founder of Abduzeedo.

Fábio Sasso:
My Macbook Pro 15 Retina, Moleskine & More

For me, I would say that the most important things are my little Moleskine notepad with a 5.6mm mechanical pencil, my Macbook Pro 15 Retina laptop with headphones and my Nexus 4 phone so I can connect to the Internet. I think with those I can work from anywhere.

Partner at Go Media and founder of Weapons of Mass Creation Fest
Jeff Finley is a partner and design at Go Media and founder of Weapons of Mass Creation Fest

Jeff Finley:
Omnifocus, TeuxDeux, Lift App, VSCO CAM, Instacast & More

Omnifocus – I’ve been using it for two weeks, and it’s officially integrated into my life. It’s the ultimate GTD (Getting Things Done) app. It’s for Mac and iOS only. I love it because any thought or task that enters my mind goes right into the “inbox” which I can review and sort later. All of my todos for my work and life are in Omnifocus inside projects and contexts. At any time I can focus on only things at “work” or “designing” or check out all the things I need to do for my band, WMC fest, home improvement, chores, etc. My life is definitely less stressful knowing any time something comes my way I can put it into Omnifocus and forget about it until it matters. It’s a little on the expensive side, but if you’re into GTD, this is probably the king of GTD apps.

TeuxDeux –  Super simple and well designed todo app. I used this a lot before I integrated Omnifocus into my routine. I like how it carries over todos you didn’t complete for other days and has such a slick and intuitive user interface. Designers would love this. It costs a small monthly fee but it’s worth it.

Lift App – For building habits. A super simple way of staying committed to habits you are trying to start, keep, or quit. Beautiful interface on smartphones and the web. I use this daily to keep track of my morning routines, exercise habits, or other things I want to remember to do daily. But I use this for personal development habits only. You don’t use this to put your todos into. But things like “drink more water” or “cold shower.”  When you do a habit for the day, check it off and move on. It inspires you to keep going by offering encouragement for chaining together multiple days of checking in. It even has a social side where your friends give you “props” for your actions. The social aspect with the dead simple UX make this actually FUN and rewarding to start new habits. It’s  helped me start a morning ritual that has gotten me out of bed 2 hours before I have to!

VSCO CAM: Amazing photo app for iOS. Ever wonder how people get such amazing looking photos from their iPhones? This is how. The best camera app I’ve used and you can send photos directly into Instagram from the app and its filters are better.

Instacast: To listen to all my fav design related podcasts like Adventures in Design and the Go Media podcast of course!  Available on iOS. Not exactly design related, but this is a tool I couldn’t live without!

Others I like: Buffer App, Spotify, Day One for journaling, Evernote, Pocket, Feedly.

Designer at 37signals focused on making good things for good people.
Mig Reyes is a designer at 37signals focused on making good things for good people.

Mig Reyes:
Moom by Many Tricks

Moom: I’m OCD about the software that lives inside of my MacBook Air. So OCD, that I use MooM to make sure all of my application windows are perfectly centered and sized on my screen.

Alex Cornell is a San Francisco-based Designer. A graduate of Duke University, Alex cofounded Firespotter Labs in 2010 and has designed and launched Nosh, Jotly, NoshList and ÜberConference.
Alex Cornell is a San Francisco-based designer. A graduate of Duke University, Alex co-founded Firespotter Labs in 2010 and has designed and launched Nosh, Jotly, NoshList and ÜberConference.

Alex Cornell:
Sketch

My favorite tool these days is Sketch. It’s a vector-based graphics program that is basically Photoshop without all the heft and unnecessary functionality. Perfect for UI/UX designers building apps fast. Not only is it easy to use, it makes exporting for development a lot faster, with built-in tools to export assets and log CSS styling.

Aaron Sechrist is OKPANTS (one word). He has been designing and illustrating for apparel, packaging, branding, broadcast and other projects for clients and agencies since 2002 after graduating from Cleveland Institute of Art.
Aaron Sechrist is OKPANTS. He has been designing and illustrating for apparel, packaging, branding, broadcast and other projects for clients and agencies since 2002 after graduating from Cleveland Institute of Art.

Aaron Sechrist:
Pencil and Paper

The space-age tool I lean on the most and can’t live without is a suite of products conceived by a maverick start-up from parts unknown called “a Faber-Castell HB pencil & 8.5 x 11 text stock paper”. As far away as I might allow myself to get sucked into the vortex of digital technology, I can always trust my Flintstonian pre-wacom technology to ground my ideas and get me back to the proper starting block. I love sketch books and do my best to keep filling them up, but I love the feel and tooth of standard old-fashioned printer paper. I thank the stars for my MacBook and Adobe illustrator, and I love keeping up with the latest and greatest digital stuff, but the ideas don’t “happen” in there. They can’t. Thumbnailing and sketching is the earliest and purest iteration of my ideas. As long as I keep that perspective, things get made, and made the right way.

Illustrator and Go Media extended family member
Steve Knerem is an Illustrator and Go Media extended family member

Steve Knerem:
WACOM Intuos 5, etc.

When hand drawing work, I use copy paper for sketches, 100# Bristol paper for final art, rubber eraser, Bic#2  .07 pencil, tuff stuff eraser stick, Micron pens and a Drum scanner at Fed Ex Office to scan in final art.  These tools have become part of my system; I have felt comfortable with this system over the past 5+ years and use it to get the final results. I am at the point if I don’t have these specific items I’M LOST!

When drawing vectors , I use WACOM Intuos 5 using Illustrator and Photoshop. When drawing vectors I draw my image on paper, then scan it into Photoshop, then throw it into Illustrator. I am so used to drawing by hand that I need to see my own line art before I can create it into a vector image. This way, I know I am getting results closest to my hand drawn style.

Michael Flarup is a designer based out of cosy Copenhagen, Denmark.
Michael Flarup is a designer based out of cosy Copenhagen, Denmark.

Michael Flarup
Wacom Cintiq 22HD, Logitech Mouse, Mac, Dropbox & More

Wacom Cintiq 22HD: I use this to sketch out and brush up things in Photoshop. Having the ability to draw directly on the screen really merges the physicality of drawing with the benefits of digital design. I use this both in the initial phases of playing with concepts and sometimes in the final stages of icon design when I work with lighting and color.

My Logitech G9x mouse: Most of my day is used with a hand on a mouse, both during work and play. I’ve been using the G9 mouse from Logitech for the past 6 years, and I must have gone through at least a couple of them. Initially build for gaming, they offer great precision, a nice fit and the ability to load up weights to get the exact surface resistance you want.

My Macs: I realize that it might be redundant to mention this, as my Macs aren’t a questions of favorability but rather a necessity for my work. I interchangeably use my Mac Pro setup at home and my Macbook Pro Retina when I’m working remotely. I guess they do fit the bill of tools that I can’t live without.

Dropbox: Working on multiple machines, often changing workstations a couple of times a day, Dropbox has become my go-to service for keeping my files synced up. Working with large PSD files and making sure that I always have access to the most current iteration of a project is a large part of the challenges a designer faces. Dropbox helps me solve this in an elegant way.

Mail Act-on and Inbox Zero: As a business owner, a substantial amount of my time is spent getting back to people. As such, making sure that I’m on top of my inbox easily becomes a focal point of my workday. The plugin Mail Act-on helps me direct the flow of my incoming messages and helps me exercise my email Kung-Fu so I have to spend less time in Mail.app and more time in Photoshop.

President of Go Media
President of Go Media, Designer

William Beachy:
Pencil and iPad Sketching Tools

A pencil: while it may not be cool, new or innovative, it’s worth mentioning in this world of computers, tablets and Wacoms. The pencil and paper is STILL the fastest way to communicate an idea visually. Not enough designers use it. As I enter my 16th professional year as a graphic designer, I am sketching more now than ever.”

Also, iPad sketching tools – Layers, Bamboo and Paper are all great tools for quickly sketching ideas during client meetings.

Dan resides in Brooklyn and currently leads a team of designers and animators as Creative Director at Tribeca Enterprises which includes Tribeca Film Festival & Tribeca Film.
Dan Dickson resides in Brooklyn and currently leads a team of designers and animators as Creative Director at Tribeca Enterprises which includes Tribeca Film Festival & Tribeca Film.

Dan Dickson
Classic Sport Rollerball Pen, Wacom Tablet & More

I use a Classic Sport Rollerball Pen when taking notes or sketching or looking stylish.

I also use Dropbox, digital storage which keeps my pockets light and my Wacom Tablet.

And Bienfang Marker paper – I think i’m the only one who still uses these pads!

Len Peralta draws monsters, robots, zombies and so much more. He has illustrated several books including “There’s A Zombie In My Treehouse” by John “Widgett” Robinson and Ken Plume, “Silly Rhymes For Belligerent Children” written by MST3K/Cinematic Titanic’s Trace Beaulieu and “Look” by Robert Bowling. He has also worked on projects for Discovery Channel, MythBusters and Steve Jackson Games.
Len Peralta draws monsters, robots, zombies and so much more. He has illustrated several books including “There’s A Zombie In My Treehouse” by John “Widgett” Robinson and Ken Plume, “Silly Rhymes For Belligerent Children” written by MST3K/Cinematic Titanic’s Trace Beaulieu and “Look” by Robert Bowling. He has also worked on projects for Discovery Channel, MythBusters and Steve Jackson Games.

Len Peralta:
Brush Packs

Deviant Art Brush Pack: I was made aware of this fantastic brush pack  by artist Megan Lara, and it has become my go-to staple pack for pretty much all my design projects. These are great brushes that actually behave the way you expect and want them to. They have become an invaluable tool in my arsenal. Plus, it’s free!”

I bought the VFX WorkShops Digital Painting Brush Pack  on a whim just to try them out, and they have become an everyday tool I use to build a lot of my environmental textures. Great brushes with a lot of versatility and depth and they can really help bring your digital work to life.

_________________________

What are your favorite design tools?  Please comment below!

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QuickBooks or FreshBooks, Which Should You Use?

Hello Readers! My name is Kim Finley, and I have worked at Go Media for many years, but don’t usually post on the zine. Some of you may know me as the person who replies to your emails when you submit a contact form on the Arsenal website. In addition to Arsenal customer service, I also spend my time at Go Media doing payroll, bookkeeping, proofreading zine posts and proposals, and various other tasks including packing and shipping all the merch orders. You probably guessed from my last name, that I am Jeff Finley’s wife (going on five years now)! You can also see that I am not a designer here. And that’s good because my artistic claim to fame is that my famous bag of popcorn drawing is one of the vectors we sell in the stars and hearts vector pack!

StarsHeartsVector

Yes, the cat and sun were also done by me. Don’t be jealous, that little kid drawing style took years to perfect.

Anyway, I am here today to discuss the differences between QuickBooks and FreshBooks, and which you might want to use for keeping track of your business finances.

MAJOR DIFFERENCES

At Go Media we have used QuickBooks Pro for years, so it is what I am most familiar with. QuickBooks is a software program that is installed on your computer. FreshBooks is web based and can be used via your desktop, laptop, tablet or even smartphone.

QuickBooks has updates that must be installed manually. FreshBooks is automatically updated.

FreshBooks only allows for expense tracking. With QuickBooks you can track both income and expenses to get a more complete view of your business finances.

FUNCTIONALITY

QuickBooks can do income and expense tracking, payroll, and create and send estimates and invoices. You can also create reports such as profit and loss, balance sheet, trial balance, and many more. If you are working with an accountant, these are all reports that they may need from you.

QB-reports

FreshBooks can do time tracking, invoicing, and expense tracking. They do have a limited amount of reports available as well. At this time FreshBooks is only set up for expense tracking, which can be done with their automatic expense import.

FB-reports

Both allow your customers to pay their invoices online with a credit card, but with QuickBooks you are charged $14.95 per month for use of the online payment system, which is called Billing Solutions. With FreshBooks you simply choose your payment gateway that you have already set up such as PayPal, Google Checkout, Authorize.net, etc and this information would be available when your customer goes to pay the invoice.

You can mail or email invoices from FreshBooks. When you create the invoice you can either choose “send by email” or “send by snail mail.” They give you two stamps when you sign up for your account and you can purchase more at $1.79 per stamp. I think it’s a bit confusing that they call it a “stamp” because technically you are paying for them to print the invoice, include a return envelope, mail it, and put a stamp on the envelope. (After reading about this feature on their site, it looks like they have partnered with a company to do the mailing so it is not actually done by FreshBooks.)

If you were to purchase stamps from the post office, they are currently 46 cents each. So you can certainly print the invoice yourself and mail it if you have to, which would save you over $1 per invoice. Most clients will likely prefer an emailed invoice so they can receive it faster, but it is nice to have another option available.

QuickBooks allows you to email an invoice. They are not set up with a mailing service like FreshBooks is, but if you need to mail an invoice, you can simply print it out yourself and put it in an envelope!

versus

PRICE

The cost of the software varies depending on how many licenses that you need. At the time this article was written, QuickBooks Pro 2013 for a single user was available on Amazon for $175. The retail price is $250. Adding another user will raise the price of the software between $150 and $200 more per user, and you can have up to three users with the Pro version. QuickBooks also has a Premier software version which allows up to five users to access the software.

FreshBooks has a free 30 day trial which is a great way to see if their “cloud accounting” will work for you. You can actually continue to use the service for free if you have no more than 3 clients. For between 4 and 25 clients, you can use the Seedling Plan at $19.95 per month and from there you have the Evergreen plan at $29.95 per month and then the Mighty Oak plan at $39.95 per month. The Evergreen and Mighty Oak plan both allow for an unlimited amount of clients. All of the accounts through FreshBooks are set up for one user and you can only have an additional user in the Mighty Oak plan. To have more than one additional user in that plan, you will have to pay $10 extra for each.

If you are just interested in which is cheaper, it is hard to tell at first glance, since QuickBooks is a one time fee, and with FreshBooks you are billed monthly. Let’s just say you are only one person who needs to access it. With the new version of QuickBooks you would pay approximately $175, plus $14.95 per month if you want the online payment system, so that would come out to $354.40 total for one year. With FreshBooks, it depends on how many clients you have, but let’s say you have more than 3, so you would be on the Seedling Plan, and that would cost you $239.40 for one year. BUT something to keep in mind is that QuickBooks is a one time purchase. So if you use the software for at least two years, it will come out to be cheaper than FreshBooks.

Another option!

While I was wrapping up writing this article, I discovered that QuickBooks recently released QuickBooks Online which looks fairly similar to FreshBooks. They offer a free 30 day trial and after that the price starts at $12.95 per month. They have this handy chart on their website that shows the different online versions and what is included with each, plus the price. Their most expensive plan is $39.95 per month, which is the same price as the most expensive FreshBooks plan.

QBOnlineVersions

SUMMARY

At Go Media we have always used QuickBooks and I doubt we will switch any time soon because it is all set up with all of our vendors, customers, accounts, invoices, and everything else. We send our file to our accountants every year and that is how they generate our business tax return. QuickBooks is great for small businesses, but if you are very small (one or two people), I think FreshBooks is a lot more simple and easy to understand. I checked out FreshBooks and found that it only took me five minutes to set up before I was able to generate an invoice. I don’t know how long it takes to install QuickBooks, but it is definitely more than five minutes. Plus after you install QuickBooks, you have to separately add your customer details and then your invoice line items and create an invoice template if you wish. With FreshBooks, once you start to create your invoice, you can add your client details and tasks without even leaving the page. Of course there are many more differences between QuickBooks and FreshBooks, but hopefully this article has given you an overview and helped you to decide which you would like to use!

For more information, check out their websites:

QuickBooks | QuickBooks Online | FreshBooks

Find them on twitter:

QuickBooks | QuickBooks Online | FreshBooks

 

The Thank You Economy – In Depth Review

The Thank You Economy

My name is Marissa Mele.  Many of you probably don’t realize that you already know me.  I am the person that answers your tweets on Twitter, comments on your posts on Facebook, and repins the awesome pictures you find on Pinterest.  So you see in some ways we know each other. Now I have had years of experience with social media, but it wasn’t until starting my job at Go Media that I had the opportunity to hone my skills in a professional setting. So as the months passed, and I read more and more about the power of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to help grow a business, I decided it was time to read what the experts had to say on the matter. I wanted to see if my instincts were right and that I was on the right track. I spoke to Jeff and he recommended some books, one of which was Gary Vaynerchuk’sThe Thank You Economy.”

Developing & Fostering Customer Relationships

This 5 part book discusses why businesses have to be and need to be on social media platforms, how to effectively structure messages on these platforms, and how we all need to get back to our grandparents way of doing business: developing and fostering customer relationships.

According to Vanyerchuk, “There is financial gain for any size company that is willing to open the lines of communication with its customers and market to them in a personal, caring way that makes them feel valued.”  Like the business owners of yesteryear, we all need to care more, and not about just our bottom line (although that should always be in our rear view), but about making meaningful connections with our customers.  We can’t be afraid to expose our hearts and souls, and we have to show that we care about each and every one of our customers.

“There is financial gain for any size company that is willing to open the lines of communication with its customers and market to them in a personal, caring way that makes them feel valued.”

The Need for Businesses to Shift Back to the Good Ol’ Days

Business has shifted in the last 30 years.  Many of us aren’t old enough to remember the good ol’ days, but we all can remember the stories our parents and grandparents tell us about how things used to be.  Vanyerchuk reminisces about the services businesses used to offer like baggers that brought your groceries to your car or gas station attendants that filled the tank for you (well, except you, New Jersey).  Wouldn’t it be nice to have those things again?  Wouldn’t it be nice for a business owner to care that you had a bad experience, instead of dismissing your complaint because you aren’t important or impactful enough to affect their bottom line?  I think the answer is we all want some old fashioned manners to creep back into the consciousness of business owners.  Vaynerchuk tells us, “What pays off most is your willingness to show people that you care about them, about their experience with you, about their business.”

How Social Media Sites Give Consumers a Voice

We have all been subjected to bad service at one time or another.  Maybe it was a rude hostess at a restaurant or a dismissive clerk at a retail store.  Many of us can even recall with great detail these interactions and have no problem voicing them loudly to our friends.  Before the Internet, these bad interactions were only shared with the people who were around us physically or with a person that was a phone call away, so business owners could slough off a few bad interactions as their reach was only a few people wide.  Now with sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, etc. people have a sounding board to voice their complaints and those bad interactions can now reach to the farthest stretches of the world.  And those sites aren’t the only ones that house these complaints; Facebook and Twitter with its billions of users aren’t keeping quiet about their horrible reactions to your business or product.

The Power of the “Like”

Vanyerchuk tells us that “when given the choice, people will always spend their time around people they like” and that “more and more people are making business and consumer decisions based on what they see talked about on social media platforms.”  Now doesn’t it seem silly that these business owners are dismissing the power of social media?  As a business owner you need to be on the forefront of these complaints, putting out the fire and rectifying the situation.  Sometimes that means offering your services or product for free, but more often than not, a “thank you” or a heartfelt “sorry” can fix the situation for you.  However, under no circumstances is it appropriate to berate the complaining customer, that is very opposite of the “Thank You Economy.”

How to Value the Importance of Customer Feedback on Social Media Channels

There are many ways that “The Thank You Economy” direct business owners to better handle difficult business situations and how to value the importance of customer feedback on social media channels:

  1.  “Valuing every single customer is mandatory.”
  2. “All businesses need to start treating their customers as though they are big spenders.”
  3. “[Business owner] is going to have to do their damndest to shape the word of mouth that circulates about them by treating each customer as though he or she were the most important customer in the world.”
  4.  “Only companies that can figure out how to mind their manners in a very old fashioned way – and do it authentically are going to have a prayer of competing.”
  5. “Social media allows us to get fresh, visceral, real-time feedback, not stale focus-group opinions.”

Now let’s break this list down.

Valuing Every Single Customer Is Mandatory

Numbers 1 & 2 go hand in hand.  Every business owner must treat each interaction as if they were their highest paying customer.  And you know what, they might be.  What if a company like Adobe pissed off the AIGA?  Would AIGA recommend their products?  Not likely.  If you don’t treat each person with respect and feel genuine concern for their complaints, chances are you might lose their business.  And what if that business is 10% of your revenue or 50%?  Could you afford to lose that business now?  Chances are “no” you can’t afford to lose that kind of $$$.  The only smart answer then is to treat each customer like they are your highest spending customers.  Treat them like kings/queens, lay out the red carpet, and speak to them like they matter.  If you do this, you are guaranteed to not lose major income because of bad customer service and interactions.

Shaping the Word of Mouth

Number 3 demonstrates how you can have control over what is being said about your business by following numbers 1 & 2.  If you follow the first 2 items on the list, then people are going to trust you more, care about you more, and tell their friends/family about you more.  Hasn’t there ever been a time in your life, when you were given incredible customer service?  I think most of us are primed and ready for someone to be rude to us.  We’ve all called a customer service number after running into an issue or problem, and we probably had to spend a good 20 minutes scouring the site for a number to call, knowing an email complaint is going to take too long to hear a response.  After we find the number, we have to sit through a series of prompts, pressing button after button, until finally, if we are lucky, we get to talk to an actual person.  By that time, we are frustrated and are greeted with a canned “hello, my name is _____, how can I assist you.”  We try to describe our issue and are usually told we are contacting the wrong department and have to be transferred.  Of course, the transfer fails and you are left hearing this noise, and have to hang up and start all over again.

Customer Service Comes In Many Shapes & Sizes

Now on the flip side, excellent customer service comes in many shapes and sizes.  Maybe you were offered a free “something”, maybe they gave you a priority membership, or maybe all they did was sincerely care about your issues and talked to you kindly and not like you were bothering them.  Nothing is worse than calling a customer service number and the person who is on the other line acts like you are interrupting them.  Customer Service professionals might seem like they are a dime a dozen, and maybe they are, but not all are created equal.  Over the course of my time here at Go Media, there have been a few instances where customers needed support.  Go Media lady, Kim Finley to the rescue!  She is a rockstar when it comes to dealing with customer support issues (well, and really anything she has her hands in).  She never raises her voice, she never loses her cool, and she never ever treats the person on the line like they are “less than” or disrespects them in any way.  Kim knows how the “Thank You Economy” works and ensures that any issue, however minor, will get her full attention and she will do everything in her power to resolve the problem.

Old Fashioned Manners

Number 4 reminds us to mind our manners.  Please, thank you, you’re welcome, how can I help you, sir, and ma’am: these are the words and phrases to tattoo on your brain when you are dealing with customers.  Pretend it’s the 1950s, address each customer by their name, offer your condolences when they are frustrated with a concern, and express that you are happy to hear from them and that you are there to help.  I am a southern girl.  My mom is a southern woman.  If you are from the south, you know the importance of having good manners.  You’ll get run out of town if you don’t remember your manners words.  I think many people have forgotten how to do little things like say please and thank you.  How many times have you gone out of your way to do something nice for a stranger and they can’t even muster the words “thank you?”  It’s annoying, it pisses you off.  The lack of manners is ruining relationships not only with strangers but with customers.  Why would you shop at a store where you are treated like crap?  No one wants to spend their hard-earned money in businesses that don’t value their customers.  I know I won’t.  If you treat me like you are too good to be nice to me or that I am not the right kind of customer for your establishment, well, then I am too good to hand you my money.

Real-Time Feedback, Not Stale Focus-Group Opinions

Finally, number 5; this item shows us that any feedback we receive on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. is FREE.  And if it’s free, it’s me.  As it should be for all of you.  Why spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on focus groups?  That takes a ton of money, energy, and manpower.  When all you have to do is pay attention to what is being said in the social media sphere.  What if Suzie from Salt Lake City, UT said, “Ugh, the hostess at [fill in the name of your restaurant here] was so rude to me.  I’m never going back there again.”  When you saw that hostess again, would you look at her the same way?  Would you possibly watch how they interact with customers?  Now the hostess might have had an off night, but it could also be that the hostess isn’t the right person to be at the forefront of your business, greeting clients and such.  It might be time to let the hostess go or reassign them to a position they are better suited for.

Examples

On the other hand, what if Jack from Madison, WI says, “I love the product you offer, but when I am using it I run into these problems…”  You didn’t have to hold a focus group and spend months of time preparing to survey your customers.  They are right there, offering their opinions for free.  All you have to do is open your ears, your eyes, and your minds, and the only way to do that is to jump in head-first to the social media waters.  The water may be cold at times, but nothing can be gained from non-participation.

“There are only 2 things that will convince consumers to pay more for something when they could pay less.  One is convenience, and the other is an outstanding customer experience.”

One of the tenets of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book that really stuck out for me was, “There are only 2 things that will convince consumers to pay more for something when they could pay less.  One is convenience, and the other is an outstanding customer experience.”  I have been thinking a great deal about this concept and realize that in my own consumer behavior I often will pay more for a better experience.  Recently I was at the Steelyard in Cleveland, OH.  The Steelyard is a shopping center with many of the box stores and they have both a Target and a Walmart.  Below is a breakdown of some of the basic differences between these 2 stores.

Target vs. Walmart

Target is:

  • Clean
  • Organized
  • Bright and vibrant
  • Their employees are friendly and helpful
  • Creative advertising

Walmart is:

  • Messy
  • Cluttered
  • Dark and dingy
  • Their employees aren’t usually helpful or accommodating
  • Bland advertising

Convenience & Customer Experience

Now both of these stores are in the same shopping center so the convenience factor is the same.  Therefore the mitigating factor is the customer experience.  So how come, I (and I am sure many of you) would prefer to shop at Target?  The answer is because Target offers a better customer experience.

The customer experience isn’t just for brick-and-mortar stores; it also applies to ecommerce stores as well.  Shopping online is convenient as all heck, but we all know that there are ecommerce stores that do not provide a good customer experience.  When sites aren’t easy to navigate, when there are system failures, and when customer service numbers are impossible to find on the site or when you do find them that the person on the other line isn’t a “real” person or if they are a flesh-and-blood human that they treat you like dirt.  These are all ways in which the customer experience with online shopping can affect customer behavior.

Go Media’s Ecommerce Store – The Arsenal

Here at Go Media, we have an ecommerce store called the Arsenal.  The Arsenal sells design products and tools to design students and professionals alike.  There have been many iterations of the site and we are currently working on a complete redesign.  The process is ongoing and what contributes to that is our customer feedback.  We are committed to providing an excellent customer experience so when someone calls saying that they are a customer in Singapore and the download link isn’t loading, we look at the issues they might be having and realize we need to host our files on a different cloud server so that people in foreign countries can easily download our products.  Or when we receive customer feedback and they say that they would like to buy one of our products but aren’t sure how it could be of use to them, we create a video tutorial on how to use the product.  So you see we are constantly and consistently improving the process and experience so that after people make purchases at our site, they are satisfied and would want to shop with us again.

Stop Finding Excuses Not to Change

People always find excuses for not changing.  Staying stagnant can cause you to be the last person in the race.  When businesses refuse to adopt new marketing and sales techniques they can be left in the dust by companies that are willing to innovate and improve their processes.  So if you are a business owner who doesn’t believe in the power of social media to drive sales and increase your brand power, take a look at the data and graphs throughout this post; I am positive you will be convinced once you see the numbers.

Now This Is Where You Come In

I would be remiss if I didn’t reach out to all of you to ask how we can make your customer experience better. What sort of products would you like to see more of on the Go Media Arsenal? What makes for a great customer experience in your opinion? What sort of great experiences have you had in the past when working with design companies? Tell me about them, I would LOVE to hear from you so email me at [email protected] or give me a call at (216)939-0000 ext 337.

Links

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 5 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

I’m exhausted. I really need some sleep badly. If you decide to take this course – which I highly recommend, don’t plan on blogging at night. It’s not really possible. At least, not without sacrificing something. I’ve been running on pure enthusiasm up until today. I was having a REALLY hard time staying focused in the accounting class today. So, I am going to keep this post VERY short. I still have important reading tonight and then desperately need to get a real night’s sleep.

No photos today. I’m too tired.

First the accounting. I’m really not going to be able to reasonably teach you anything here about what I learned today. However, we’ve been given some great reading recommendations. So, here’s what we were told to read on our own time:

  1. How to Read a Financial Report – free online pdf
  2. Financial Ratio Tutorial – free online pdf
  3. Analysis for Financial Management by Robert Higgins

The latest edition(10th) of Robert Higgins’ book is fairly expensive – around $100. But it’s extremely well reviewed. And is known as the book on finance that’s written for a layman. So, if you want to learn more about finance and the accounting side of your business but you’re not a “numbers” person. This is the book for you.

The second half of our day was spent on learning negotiations. I LOVE negotiations, so this class was particularly fun for me. And it translates well into practical pearls of wisdom. So, here are a few of them. Enjoy!

Negotiation Techniques

Negotiate with “friendly aggression.” Basically, most people do not push hard enough for what they want. But you must remain extremely friendly while you’re arguing for your side. Be courteous, don’t insult them and do anything you can to help them save face.

Start high. Your opening bid should be as high as possible without being insulting or completely unreasonable. This has a whole slew of beneficial effects. One is that people will perceive you as being more valuable simply because your high number has framed their perception.

Do research! This is a constant theme throughout all of the classes here. You need to invest the time and do the work. If you’re buying a new car you need to get as much information as possible before you start a negotiation. You should try to find out what the dealer’s cost is for the car. You need to find out which dealerships offer the best prices. You need to consider what other options you have available. Can you buy a used car for much less and be satisfied? You also need to figure out your walk-away price. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions getting a new car and pay well over what you really want to.

Related to that last point is knowing when to take a break. If you’re caught unprepared for a negotiation or are feeling confused – then stop the negotiation, take some time and re-engage in the negotiation when you’ve had some time to gather your emotions and your thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask. The simple act of asking for more will get you more. You’d be surprised what you can get if only you’ll just ask.

The person you are negotiating against doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win. Sometimes you both want the same things. So asking lots of questions is key. And telling them absolutely everything you want is important. Because maybe they can’t give you some things, but they can give you more of something else. For instance… maybe the rules a human resources rep has will not allow them to pay you a salary over 50k. But maybe they have no limit on signing bonuses. So, if you want 60k, there IS a way you could make a deal. Just take 10K as a signing bonus! These kinds of solutions can only be discovered if both parties are sharing information.

Stay quiet. Don’t talk too much. Most people reveal too much. They negotiate with themselves. That’s not good. “But WAIT!” you say. “Bill! You just told me in the previous point to SHARE MORE. Now you’re telling me to share less! What gives?” Ok, here’s what’s important; you want to be sharing information, but it needs to be equally. If you tell them: “Hey, here’s what I’m really after.” Then you should follow that up with this question: “So, what are YOU really after?”

Make equivalent offers. By giving the other party two equivalent but different offers, it will give you information about them. For instance, from the previous point – a 60K salary and a 50k salary with a 10k signing bonus are the same to you – they’re equivalent to you. But when the HR rep says they can accept one offer and not the other, you’ve learned something! You’ve learned that their constraint is only on the salary, not on other items. Great, so now you can negotiate on other points – how about more vacation? How about a company car? Basically, you’re creating more value for yourself while working within the negotiating ability of the HR rep.

Practice your flinch. Huh? Flinch? What the heck are you talking about? Well, you practice a good handshake don’t you? A good handshake is a way of communicating: I’m strong, confident and decisive! Well, a flinch is also a great way to communicate. When someone gives you an offer and you FLINCH what are you saying? You’re probably saying: Holy f-ing heck! That’s too little (or too much depending on your perspective.) It’s a great way to communicate your dissatisfaction without insulting them. And it’s read as purely genuine. Who fakes body language? I’ll tell you who; a good negotiator.

Those are just the tip of a very large iceberg of what I learned today.

Recommended Reading

Ok… That should get you started. BED TIME!!!

Find my Font

Find my font review - Header

What is Find My Font?

Find My Font is a software created by Softonium Development. As its name suggests it, its purpose is to help the user identify fonts.

Has this ever happened to you? You are given some printed text or logo and want to reproduce it. The font seems familiar but you can’t recall its name. You start going through the fonts on your computer but after several minutes you realize this is hopeless.

Introducing ‘Find my Font’. A software application that runs on your computer and finds the fonts of a given bitmap image. No more wasted time looking for the matching font. ‘Find my Font’ will identify fonts within a few seconds and give you a list of fonts that resemble your input. Not only will you find the font that matches the image but you will also find fonts that are similar or close to what you’re looking for.

From the Find My Font homepage

The Softonium crew asked us to try their software and let you guys know how it went.

Demonstration

To see a product at work is the best demonstration one can make of it.

Some thoughts about the software

Let’s face it, we’ve all been in the situation of having to identify a typeface, and struggling to do so.

After using Find My Font a little bit, I can tell you it’s indeed pretty fast at going through my font library, and it definitely can help.

I spotted one downside to the program so far: its identification method works on the fonts of your own typeface library. So if you don’t have the font, the best the software will be able to do is to suggest types that are close to the ones you own (installed or not). And there are still some weird suggestions that pop up sometimes.

The good surprise: pro version giveaway!

The Find My Font creators have decided to give away 3 licenses of the Pro version of their software, like that you’ll be able to make yourself an idea of how well it works! To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post. We’ll pick the winners at random on February 8th, 2012, and contact them via email.

A review of LetterMPress

GoMediaZine - LetterMPress review - header

LetterMPress, or the art and craft of letter press design… On your iPad!

Some explanations

Huh, what? I guess this quote deserves some explanation. Through intensive web browsing, I came across this wonderful iPad app: LetterMPress. Then I found this amazing Flickr group.

I was sincerely blown away by what this app can do. I knew drawing apps could be amazing — just look through George Coghill’s Flickr stream, he has some sweet  preliminary sketches done with Sketchbook Pro — but simulating letter press design?

Another fact of interest is that the app’s development was funded through Kickstarter, like the last WMC Fest.

After a series of email with John Bonadies, the co-creator of the app, we got a chance to get the app for both the iPad and for Mac OS. My goal here is to offer an overview of the app and a series of observations I made while using the app on the iPad and on Mac OS on a MacBook Pro from early 2008.

John Bonadies with LetterMpress on iPad

The app

The application simulates a letterpress; it’s a simple as that. And, it’s beautifully done, even the sound effects.

The main screen is the composition screen. This is where you’ll actually design and place the letter blocks to compose your project. The second screen is the print screen, where you’ll generate the digital output of your composition.LetterMPress screenshot - Compose screen - Mac OSX

LetterMPress screenshot - Compose screen - iOS

A little disclosure: I’m here using the screenshots provided by the LetterMPress development team. They’re able to showcase the abilities of the app way better than I would.

Aside from these two screens, users have access to drawers (sub panels) full of goodness:

  • The type and art panel where you select the blocks you want to use in your design
  • The furniture panel where you can find the elements for spacing and alignment purposes
  • The lockup panel where you can access the elements that can lock the blocks you have on the press bed
  • A digital ruler
  • The gallery tray where you save and can retrieve for later use the compositions you’re working on.

These were for the compose screen. The print screen gives you access to:

  • The paper tray where you select which paper you’d like to output your composition on
  • The paper rack where your outputs are stored
  • The ink palette where you’ll be mixing your primary colors to get the one you want (RGB or CMYK)
  • The coverage panel to decide where the ink will be applied. You can also do multiple impression on one sheet, to play with color/symbol layering and overlays.

Since I’m probably forgetting a few things, here are two overview videos (one for iOS, one for OSX) of LetterMPress, created by the LMP team.

Some examples of what you can do with the app

LetterMPress sample print

LetterMPress sample print

LetterMPress sample print

There’s also an official Flickr group where people upload their designs:

Fun with LetterMpress

work2_lettermpress

Programming_lettermpress

Mistakes

Some conclusion notes

Well, first of all, the app is wonderful and produces beautiful results. The output is usable as an element in another design software (the Mac app can output up to 8192 pixels, around 26″ at 300 dpi). I surprised myself smelling the air around me for the really peculiar fragrance of the printing ink sometimes. With headphones on, this app can transport you into a virtual print shop.

I definitely favor the Mac version over the iPad version simply because of the additional precision given by the use of the keyboard and mouse combo.

With that said, I still must admit that the iPad app is one of the most beautifully crafted apps I’ve seen to date. It takes patience to place elements correctly, but the result is always worth it. The app also renders the fact that these blocks are physical objects and that when hitting other elements with a block you’re trying to place, everything that’s not locked in place will move — and mess up the carefully crafted kerning and spacing you just spent an hour perfecting. Luckily, the undo button goes up to 20 states back.

The paper and typefaces are amazingly well rendered. The ink textures (or the absence of ink for that matter) too. The interface can be overwhelming at first, but after reading the extensive help file and a bit of “trial and error” experiences, there shouldn’t be too many dark areas left.

This app is not a toy though. It’s a real design app. But well worth the $5 to $10 it’ll cost you.

Meanwhile, you can go visit the app’s website, get the iPad version via iTunes or the OSX version via the Mac AppStore.

App Cooker review

App Cooker review - header

Hello readers! Today, I want to share with you my impressions after trying out App Cooker, an iPad app that assists in the process of conceptualizing and planning mobile apps. It has been created by Hot Apps Factory, a French studio.

This is a new exercise for me, for various reasons:

  1. I’ve never reviewed an app before
  2. I just recently became the daily user of an iPad

The starting point

Well, it’s quiet simple: devices like the iPad make for a really exciting support for various apps, built to answer various needs. It’s just logical to  think about using the device itself to conceptualize the app you want to develop for it.

Starting from there (“having an app conceptualizing/mockuping tool that runs on the platform you’re designing for”), the folks at Hot Apps Factory came with App Cooker. They also kept in mind 10 principles “for good iOS design”:

The app

First of all, the app is visually gorgeous. I will not deny this. The visual experience is neat and consistent. The attention to details makes me believe it’s probably someone with a mild OCD that took care of making sure everything was looking good.

App Cooker - The app board

There are 5 key screens to let you access the 5 key tools included in the app.

The map idea screen

Think about it as a notebook, with built-in tools to help you develop your app concept. The evaluation tool on the left side of the screen aims to help you evaluate the potential success of your app concept through various indicators. The right side of the screen features a “mission statement” box, as well as the type of app chart (entertainment vs. serious vs. tool vs. fun). It also let’s you export stuff in PDF, which comes in handy to share the information along with dev team members, etc.

App Cooker - The app idea screen

App Cooker - The app idea screen

App Cooker - The app idea screen

App Cooker - The app idea screen

The mockup tool

The mockup tool is.. extensive. So extensive I kind of got lost.

The mockup engine supports live orientation, simple linking and mixes together the real Apple UI, bitmap drawing, vector shapes, text and images. The mockups come to life under at your fingertips without a single line of code.

This presentation from the mockup tool makes it sounds a bit easier than it really is in my humble opinion. The tools are precise and complete; however, this particular aspect isn’t user intuitive. It was more difficult to use than I expected it to be, but it is still a good tool. It may take you a little while to understand what’s going on with this portion of the app.

There are many pre-made bits of interface that are direct calls to iOS functions. There’s an interaction with Dropbox in the event you want to synchronize your iPad with resources you’d be creating using another device (think Ps/Ai). But I personally got the same feel I had the first time I opened Photoshop without knowing anything at all about it: I was overwhelmed.

App Cooker - Mockup tool

App Cooker - Mockup tool

App Cooker - Mockup tool

App Cooker - Mockup tool

App Cooker - Mockup tool

App Cooker - Mockup tool

I do believe that after a bit of learning and a more intensive use of App Cooker, things would definitely start to flow easier. I personally haven’t managed to satisfyingly include the app in my workflow, but that’s also because of me.

The app icon design tool

The App Cooker team reminds you that the icon is one of the primary marketing asset of your app. The design tools are similar to the ones available in the mockup tool, with the same exporting to PDF and image file abilities.

App Cooker - Icon factory

App Cooker - Icon factory

App Cooker - Icon factory

The pricing tool

The pricing tool is really straight forward: it helps you to price your app and to do some financial projections out of its sales price, the investments, etc. It supports multiple currencies, scenario variations…

App Cooker - Pricing tool

App Cooker - Pricing tool

The store info helper tool

This last tool helps you to get ready everything you will need to fill the app info page on the iTunes App Store. From categories to blurb, to advices on the name length, it is once again a throughout tool.

App Cooker - Store info helper

App Cooker - Store info helper

My impressions

I will say it once again: this is a amazingly complete and powerful tool. For my level of knowledge and interest in app design, it is maybe even a bit too complete and powerful. But for app designers and for people serious about the app prototyping business, it’s a must try to the least.

I was a bit disappointed to see that a few features are still to be implemented within the next months, but on the other side, it shows that this tool still has ways to keep growing and maturing. Given its quality and potential at release, it’s awesome.

App Cooker - Future evolution

App Cooker is available on the iTunes App Store for $19.99. If you acquire it, we would love to read your feedback and observations about it in the comments.

WMC Fest Recap: From the Founder’s Perspective

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There’s a lot of recaps being posted around the net from those who attended the 2nd ever Weapons of Mass Creation Fest last weekend. And I love it. I love seeing their photos and their stories. I wanted to post a recap, but not like everyone else of course. I wanted to post a recap from my perspective, the organizer of such an event. Coming off what I’ve been calling the best weekend of my life, I think I’m finally ready to put it into words.

This won’t be a play-by-play of what happened and not a list of who did what. We have articles coming up that will be more in-depth, but for now, this is just my take as the organizer of WMC Fest.

The Raffle

But first, let me announce the winners of the raffle we had at WMC Fest. People stopping by the Go Media table in the gallery were able to buy tickets for the raffle. The winners are below:

Grand Prize: Adobe CS5 Master Collection
Winner: Michael Nilsen of Brecksville, OH

1st Prize: Ten Ton Training DVD Collection
Includes Ten Ton Photoshop, Ten Ton CSS, Ten Ton Dreamweaver, and Ten Ton Zen Cart
Winner: Tyler Powers of Ravenna, OH

2nd Prize: Thread’s Not Dead ebook by Jeff Finley
Winner: Alyssa Welch of Moken, IL

Congratulations to the winners! We will be in touch regarding your prize. For those of you who didn’t win, we’re sorry – maybe next time!

So let’s start form the beginning

Two years ago I had the entrepreneurial seizure to start a fest. A music fest at first, but after successfully throwing the Weapons of Mass Creation photo shoot party with some of our favorite artists, I decided to combine the two. Let’s bring back those artists, but add bands and call it Weapons of Mass Creation Fest. Thus the idea was born. Click that link if you want to dig deeper into the values and motives for starting the first one.

Here’s an interiew I did with Jay Delaney of Create the Map. This was taken during WMC Fest and describes a lot of what I’m going to say here. It’s quite long, at 26 minutes, so you might want to listen to it while you work.

Setbacks and Doubters

In May 2010, the first WMC Fest happened. While it was amazing we pulled it off, we had some pretty major setbacks. We had to overcome such obstacles as losing our venue with 30 days left, our keynote speaker canceling the day before, and people questioning how “DIY” I actually was by combining commercial art with some pretty staunch anti-capitalist bands and fans. I also had doubters here at Go Media as I spent lots of on-the-clock time putting on a fest that was largely my own brainchild and interests. It was not a fest that was dreamed up from the labs of Go Media, it was a pure passion project of my own that bled into Go Media. Of course, if we all checked our passions at the door, Go Media wouldn’t be where it is today. That’s one thing that makes Go Media great, we care about our employees’ passions and our company is structured in a way that allows for personal passion to bleed into the work day.

But the big question still remained. How can Go Media be a design firm AND also put on what people were describing as “Cleveland’s answer to SXSW?”. Seriously, this was hard! Talk about expectations.

crash course

Community Involvement

The answer was outside help and community support. We wouldn’t have been able to put on WMC 2011 without incredible help from people OUTSIDE Go Media. Firstly, if we were going to make 2011 work, we had to divvy up the workload. We were passionate about art/design and we needed someone equally as passionate about music. That’s where I found Jesse Sloan. Jesse contacted me years ago about doing work for his band Bethesda and while we never actually did, we stayed in touch over the years. He wanted to get involved in WMC Fest and told me he had put on A.R.M. Fest (a diy music fest) in the past. He had experience in planning something like this and also shared a lot of the same interests in music. I got along great with him and trusted he would do the music portion right. In fact, he ended up doing it better than I ever could have!

alex cornell

Teamwork. Collaboration. No joke.

If it wasn’t for Jesse taking the music portion of WMC Fest and treating it like his own baby, we wouldn’t have been able to book nearly half the bands we did this year. I had collaborated with some awesome members of the community for 2010, but this put it at a whole new level. I was unloading the entire workload of booking bands, paying bands, and dealing with all the stuff that goes along with it. That left me free to focus on booking speakers, curating the gallery show, and, well… everything else. It was still a lot of work, but I saw the vision and I just had to get there.

bands

Seeing it all Come Together

I’ll skip all the boring details and get into the payoff. The night before I was a mental wreck and not able to sleep. My wife Kim was stressing out as well thinking of things at the last minute. I got there to set up early the next day and Aaron Draplin rolls up early in his van and gives me a big ole bear hug. This was a great sign – my biggest speaker is here, and early! Fuck yes. My volunteers started showing up on time. Fuck yes. I explained the confusing-as-hell ticketing process, but they seemed to understand. I was so worried about this. But our first attendee showed up and I watched my volunteers get them in with ease. I was thinking “why did I imagine this would be so hard?” Everyone was smiling and excited, and even when there was a mess up, people didn’t care. They wanted things to work and were really forgiving! The volunteers were bright enough to figure things out when I wasn’t around, which to my delight made me able to enjoy the fest.

Parade

The Experience

So like I said, I had such awesome volunteers – and thanks to my wife Kim for making sure I had all the positions covered! This allowed me to roam free and be where I WANTED to be, not where I NEEDED to be. I could sit down and watch the speakers that I worked so hard to bring in. And if I felt like it, I could roll over and watch bands play at the Happy Dog and feel insanely proud that Jesse was able to pull off his portion. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of it coming together. It’s like graduating high school – you work so hard, and this is the pay off.

So I watched some amazing speakers, to which our intern Raji Purcell will profile each one on this site. Stay tuned for that. And I got to see some bands that I never even heard of that were fascinating to see. One of the hidden benefits of letting someone else book the bands who has better taste and passion for it than you do, you get to see some amazing bands you never would have discovered otherwise. In fact, Pitchfork even listed WMC Fest on their summer calendar. Fuck yes I say.

The Design Gallery was ridiculous. So many awesome designers in one place – ok that’s not that new. Designers gather at conferences all over. But everyone here was buzzing because it felt like OUR OWN graphic design summer camp. We all did it together and it was like a big fat family reunion. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a fest!

jenn and ken

What to Expect Next

Like I said above, we’ve got some post fest articles coming your way. Profiling the speakers and their talks, the design gallery, and maybe the music portion. If you attended and took photos, please add them to our WMC Fest 2011 Flickr Pool.

Thanks for the Memories

Review: Phantasm CS plugin for Adobe Illustrator

Not many Adobe Illustrators are aware of the plug-in functionality of Adobe Illustrator. I don’t believe it’s promoted very well. There’s not a good one-stop shop to find plug-ins in one place, with reviews and user feedback. And it’s a shame, because there are many killer plug-ins out there for Illustrator.

Today I want to introduce you to a plugin that in some ways goes beyond my notion of a plug-in, since it adds so many features that you wouldn’t ever expect to be able to do within Adobe Illustrator: Phantasm CS.

Developed by Astute Graphics, Phantasm CS can best be summed up by saying it offers Photoshop-esque functionality to Illustrator. Want to apply Levels? Check. Need to access the Curves? Got it. Need to adjust Hue/Saturation? Bingo.

Phantasm CS is available for both Mac and Windows running Adobe Illustrator CS2, CS3, CS4 or CS5, and offers the user an insane array of extremely well-implemented features that you may have since long given up on having within Illustrator. To be honest, I haven’t used Phantasm CS very much because my mind says “you can’t do that in Illustrator”. With Phantasm CS, you can.

The main feature set that is available across all three versions includes the following:

  • Brightness/Contrast
  • Curves
  • Desaturate
  • Duotone (including monotone, tritone and quadtone)
  • Halftone (vector)
  • Hue/Saturation/Lightness
  • Colorize mode
  • Invert
  • Levels
  • Shift to Color
  • Swap Channels
  • Temperature/Tint

Applying any of these is easy enough: select the art you want to tweak, then head to the Effects menu and then to the Phantasm CS sub-menu. From there you select the effect and a dialog box comes up, with the option for basic or advanced settings.

Convert your art to grayscale, whip up a color vector halftone (seriously!), convert your colors to a duotone, adjust levels, curves, brightness/contrast — everything you think you need to do in Photoshop is now at your fingetips in Illustrator and remains editable vector art. It’s freaking cool.

And the effects don’t stop at vector art, you can also edit and tweak embedded images if you spring for the Studio or Publisher version upgrades.

If you are a seasoned Illustrator user, trust me you will have a tough time getting used to the fact that you can do all of this right within Illustrator. As I mentioned above, your brain will tell you “can’t do that” and you will need to re-learn that you now have the capability. That’s probably the biggest learning curve for Phantasm CS.

Phantasm CS has a trial version which gives you basic Brightness/Contrast control as either a Filter or Live Effect. This trial version does not expire and any Brightness/Contrast Live Effects saved with your file remain completely editable in both the trial and full version.

Astute Graphics has an extensive features page on their site so you can learn in-depth about everything Phantasm CS has to offer. Pricing starts at just £49.00 (approximately $75/€58) and for what you get, this seems more than reasonable.

I highly recommend you head over to the site, download the trial and give it a whirl. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Kaleidoscope: Text & Image Comparison Utility

Kaleidoscope for Mac is an interesting new file comparison utility. It looks to be a great tool for both web developers as well as designers, and as far as I know it’s the first utility of it’s kind to do image file comparison.

The app is super snappy, and there’s lot’s of great little features when you poke around the single-window interface. You can set up multiple comparison sets with tabs, and add any number of files per tab.

The image comparison tool supports JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PSD and more. Compare files using Two-Up, One-Up, Split & Difference.

The text comparison tool will work with any text file: plain text, source code, HTML, etc. Choose from three layouts: Blocks, Fluid & Unified — and it even imports text from .doc and .rtf files. You can quickly jump from change to change and the app will highlight all the added, deleted and changed text.

And if you’re an advance geek, it also supports Subversion with integration for Git, Mercurial, SVN & Bazaar as well as Versions, TextMate SVN, Cornerstone, and the ksdiff Command-line tool.

There’s a 30-day demo, so give it a download and see if it’s worth the €29 (about $35) to you.

Adobe Creative Suite 5

It’s that time of the, um 18-month release cycle again. Time for a new version of Adobe’s Creative Suite. This time up: version 5.

For this initial overview, I’m just going to talk about the new stuff in Photoshop and Illustrator since those are the apps that I am most familiar with.

Mostly I am going to talk about what I think are the most compelling features from an illustrator/designer’s point of view.

We’ll start off with the granddaddy of Adobe software, Photoshop. Oh, and I have not used any of these new versions — but rest assured I’ll have a copy once they ship in late May 2010. Full review to come then.

Photoshop CS5

Photoshop CS5 levels the playing field with the Mac and PC versions with the Mac version finally being 64-bit. All the CS5 apps are also now native Cocoa apps on OS X, which means they finally run using the new PS X code, and not the legacy Carbon code previous versions of the Creative Suite used. this is a Good Thing. Well, at least if you aren’t running a PowerPC Mac. Cocoa is Intel-only.

From my experience, even running CS3 on a PowerPC Mac was pointless as the processor just couldn’t handle it.

Magic Delete

I’d have to say Photoshop CS5’s flagship feature is the Content-Aware Fill. If you’ve seen the videos, it looks amazing. Probably the closest thing to the “magic button” people think of when they think of Photoshop.

You can literally draw a loose selection around an object in a photograph, hit the proper delete button, and Photoshop will seamlessly figure out how to replace the background where the former object was.

It’s what you think of when you think of a computer. It also looks like magic.

Selection Heaven

Not to be outdone, the selection tools have also become more powerful, again working almost as if by magic. Adobe really out did themselves on these two features, at least as demonstrated by the videos.

What I like about these two features is that they extend and enhance the way users already work, making those tasks easier, In fact, they are no longer tasks at all.

Personally, I get sick of feature bloat when new “wow” features are added to make for good PR, but in reality the end user would prefer the tools they already use work more the way they want them to work.

In Photshop CS5, I think this may be the case with the above features. I’m looking forward to working with them to see how they hold up.

Brush Bonanaza

The last new feature that I think will also be a Big Deal is the new brush features, particularly the Mixer Brush and the Bristle Tips.

What these bring to Photoshop are new natural media painting tools that look to rival Corel Painter. Corel Painter seems to be the painting app, and it seems Adobe has been paying attention.

In conjunction with a Wacom and a tilt-sensitive stylus, this could be huge. I think it will also enhance every aspect of using brushes within Photoshop, so even if you don’t “paint” in Photoshop, these should still enhance your workflow quite significantly.

Illustrator CS5

Adobe may be featuring the new Perspective tools on their feature page for Illustrator, but from my perspective (also shared by Illustrator guru Mordy Golding, who’s actually been using CS5), the big new feature is Variable Width Strokes.

When Is A Stroke No Longer A Stroke?

Mordy Golding did a special edition of his weekly “Fridays With Mordy”, where he does live interactive screencasts showcasing features of Adobe Illustrator.

With the launch of CS5 on Monday, he did a “what’s new” episode to give all us vector junkies a guided tour of the highlights.

Mordy said that he thinks Variable-Width Strokes are not only worth the upgrade price for Illustrator, but perhaps for the entire Creative Suite. He thinks they might even be the best new feature in CS5 overall.

So what are they? As the name implies, there’s a new tool that will allow you to change the thickness of a stroke at arbitrary points along the stroke, each of which will flow into each other.

Imagine a stroke that started out at 10 points thick, then grew to 17 points thick, then tapered back down to 3 points thick. It’s like having manual control over a brush on a stroke.

Not only that, but each side of the stroke can have individual widths away from the center. And on top of that, it works with brushes, extending the level of control you have over these objects to an amazing degree.

As someone who works in Illustrator the majority of my day, and works with a lot of line art based illustrations, I am pretty stoked to start using this. It could change the way I work from now on.

Again with the brushes…

Illustrator users now also have a new natural media painting tool in their arsenal that mimics an oil or acrylic brush, all while remaining in resolution-free vector art.

“Little Big Things”

All of us Illustrator geeks were bugging Mordy on Twitter about “yeah, big new fancy features — but what about fixing the tools we already use?”.

As Mordy put it, there are a lot of “Little Big Things” in Illustrator CS5, some of which are more compelling to me than the flashy things.

A big one for me is Command-click Selections (Control-click on the PC). If you used InDesign, you know this feature, and wanted it in Illustrator. And now it’s (finally) here.

What is it? Simple, but powerful — have a stack of items, but need to select the fourth one down in the stack? Now you just need to hit the Command (Control) key and click on the stack — each click with select the object below, in order.

Next up is “Paste Into”, which is part of the new drawing modes (Draw in Front, Draw Behind and Draw Into). No need to create clipping paths anymore. Just like in InDesign, select an object, copy, select another object and Paste Into. And better than a clipping mask, the object you pasted into retains all it’s original properties as well.

Illustrator’s Artboards feature has also been greatly refined & enhanced as well. Rename them, order them up on their own new panel, and other tweaks.

Upgrade?

Honestly, as an Illustrator power-user the features I described above are enough to make me want to upgrade. But I tend to be a bit bleeding edge when it comes to my tools.

I currently work on CS4 and feel that I got every penny’s worth out of my $600 upgrade, when compared to the time it saved me, the frustrations it minimized and the ease at which I could create my artwork.

Photshop CS4 was the killer app for me in CS4, but I think Illustrator will trump this time around.

One thing that will change for me is the decision not to go with the Design Premium this time, but rather Design Standard. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I launched Flash or Dreamweaver since getting CS4. I’m sure those versions will suffice if I do need to do anything in either, however I’ve moved away from Dreamweaver for my website recently, opting for a hand-coded solution that I will update manually.

As far as Flash, well I rarely used it before, and I pretty much never use it now. I think I’ll pocket that extra $100.

Speaking of upgrade pricing, those of you going for the Design Standard like me will be coughing up $499 USD, and if you want the Premium version that’s an extra $100. And that’s for CS4 upgraders. If you’re on CS1 or CS2, tack on another $200 to each of those tiers.

If you do the math, $500 over the 18-month release cycle comes out to $27.78 per month if you keep up to date regularly. Personally that seems more than reasonable if the software enhances your workflow.

Based on the upgrade price for older versions, in the long run you save $300 over 36 months (if you upgrade every-other version). A hundred bucks a year. to me, passing up on using the new tools just isn’t worth it at those rates.

Adobe isn’t paying me to coerce you into upgrading, I just like to break things down into digestible numbers. I really don’t see the benefit of denying yourself enhanced tools to save $100 a year. Raise your hourly rate $1 an hour and be done with it. I hear so many people complain about X feature — something that’s been improved in a newer version — yet they refuse to upgrade for the “outrageous” fees.

Personally, I’ve found something compelling enough in each Creative Suite release to warrant the upgrade, and have yet to be disappointed.

So, we want to hear from you dear readers: what’s your favorite new feature? Something I’ve mentioned, or another of the new features? Or does nothing interest you? And I am sure some of you will take issue with my stance on upgrade pricing. I want to hear from you as well. Sound off in the comments section below.