Design Reviver – Web Design Blog http://designreviver.com Mon, 04 Dec 2017 13:45:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Stockio Review: Free Photos and Videos Without Any Hassle http://designreviver.com/updates/stockio-review-free-photos-videos-without-hassle/ http://designreviver.com/updates/stockio-review-free-photos-videos-without-hassle/#respond Sat, 02 Dec 2017 01:08:37 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19569 One of the stickiest situations you can get into as a designer, blogger, or business person, in general, is grabbing a random photo or video from the internet and not giving credit to the person who created it. The same goes for other items like fonts and vectors. However, paying for an image or another asset like... READ MORE

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One of the stickiest situations you can get into as a designer, blogger, or business person, in general, is grabbing a random photo or video from the internet and not giving credit to the person who created it. The same goes for other items like fonts and vectors.

However, paying for an image or another asset like that can prove to be rather expensive, which makes it out of the question for a smaller business on a budget. However, sites like Stockio have done wonderful jobs of compiling beautiful imagery, videos, and fonts, all for free.

So, if you need a picture of a tree or a house, or maybe a video of business people in a meeting, you can go ahead and download it from Stockio and not have to worry about giving credit or paying any money.

And that’s what’s so great about Stockio. Most of the time you end up at a free stock image site only to see that you need to include a credit link under the photo if you want to publish it.

However, some business, design, or blogging materials won’t allow for that. For instance, a header or slider image on a website won’t look good with a link below it.

Therefore, we recommend checking out Stockio for free photos, and various other items.

Stockio Review – What Do You Get?

The free photos are pretty cool, but you can also go to Stockio for free videos and free fonts.

The images are beautiful, and the search experience doesn’t seem too tedious at all. When I go to the Free Photos page it has a long list of photos I can download right away. For example, the first page showed my images of cameras, street signs, birds, people kissing, and much more. None of them look amateur at all, and all you have to do is click through to view the larger versions.

As for the videos and fonts, they are all organized nicely so that you can quickly scroll through the gallery and find the items you need. The videos can be played without clicking on the Play button. all you have to do is go to the actual video page. I noticed some videos of wildlife, farm equipment, rivers, and much more.

The fonts are quite appealing as well, as you can download them right to your computer and use them in your own website and marketing materials. What’s more is that the fonts are categorized so that you’re not searching too long for the perfect option. Some of the font categories include the following:

  • Basic
  • Decorative
  • Destroy
  • Display
  • Eroded
  • Fancy
  • Gothic
  • Handwritten
  • Retro

As you browse through the fonts it seems like there’s a neverending list of them. The downloads are given in a zip file, and these are completely open to anyone who wants to use them.

The Stockio Experience

Upon landing on the Stockio website you’ll see an area to search for free photos. You also have the option to change the search to videos, fonts, vectors, or icons.

When I searched for trees, it delivered a solid selection of outdoorsy images, all of which I wouldn’t mind using on a blog, or for client materials.

One thing I noticed about Stockio is that it’s not cluttered with ads or popups. Many free stock image websites are known for this, where it shows all sorts of advertisements as you try to download one simple photo.

Furthermore, you don’t have to be logged into the website in order to download any of the assets. Sometimes with free image sites you’re forced to create an account or punch in your email address. With Stockio you can remain completely anonymous yet still grab all the photos or videos you need.

When going to an image page it has a large Free Download button you can’t miss. Depending on the type of download the button reveals the different formats and sizes. For example, one of the photos I wanted to use had five image sizes, allowing me to decide on whether or not I’d like to have a big or small image.

The site also mentions who can use the photo underneath the Download button. Most of them are completely free for personal and commercial use, but some of them might be different.

Towards the bottom of the asset page, you can find an onslaught of similar photos, videos, or fonts. During my test, I landed on a picture of a bird. I found it good looking, but the similar photos section delivered dozens of other bird images for me to choose from. This way, if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the first search, you can see what is related to the current image.

Another thing I noticed is that Stockio provides a few social media sharing buttons. So, if you locate a photo that might work for a project you can share it with people in your organization.

Who Should Consider Stockio?

The Stockio database is perfect for smaller businesses, bloggers, and designers who don’t want to pay too much money for their stock photos and videos. The same goes for fonts, vectors, and icons. Overall, it makes sense to bookmark Stockio, since there’s no reason to pay for a beautiful stock photo if there’s an alternative for free.

I also like Stockio for those who are tired of giving credit to the artists. Obviously, I think that artists should be credited for their work, but I ‘d rather pay them, rather than have to put a link under an image in a blog post. It just looks so tacky.

Therefore, Stockio opens up a platform for newer artists who want to get their work out there, and it allows businesses and individuals with budgets the opportunity to find beautiful images, fonts, videos, and more.

If you have any questions about this Stockio review, let us know in the comments section below. Also, feel free to check out the Stockio website and bookmark it for future use. There’s no sign up and no fees along the way!

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Which Works Better: Illustrations or Photographs? http://designreviver.com/updates/works-better-illustrations-photographs/ http://designreviver.com/updates/works-better-illustrations-photographs/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 10:40:39 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19559 A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes, but maybe some pictures are worth more than others. Is it better to use photographs or illustrations? That’s the question this article will examine. As is so often the case, there is no definitive answer, however what is clear is that there are certain... READ MORE

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A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes, but maybe some pictures are worth more than others. Is it better to use photographs or illustrations? That’s the question this article will examine.

As is so often the case, there is no definitive answer, however what is clear is that there are certain circumstances where one format is likely to give you better results than the other.

In the article we’ll look at the different design scenarios where you could face a choice, and try to give some insight into why a particular format may be the best choice to go with in the given scenario.

Who this article is for

First things first, if you are a general tier graphic designer and only design logos, letterheads, and that kind of thing, you can probably stop reading because your hands are pretty much tied. There is little call for using photos in such cases, so you’re stuck with illustrations with a few rare exceptions.

Otherwise there are many different genres within graphic design. We have website designers, marketing designers, book designers, poster designers, and even T-Shirt designers.

In all of these occupations, there are many situations where you could face a choice between using illustrations or photographic images in your designs. If you work in one of these occupations, then, this article is definitely for you.

illustration by 

Impacts of basic psychology

Choosing the best format mostly comes down to what the goal of the desing is. In nearly every graphic design situation, the key reason for creating the design is to influence people.

Influencing people successfully involves understanding psychology. This is a major factor in why so many designers fail. It’s because they don’t understand psychology.

Being a good designer means being able to zero in on the trigger points that make people react to what they see. There are some other rare instances where we attempt to influence people using their other senses, but in general ours is a visual art.

There are many factors affecting what makes people react to visual stimuli. Some of these factors include:

  • Color – colors affect people in different ways
  • Size – sometimes making an image smaller or larger draws attention
  • Text – usually more important than images in creating influence
  • Symbolism – this can be employed overtly or covertly, and both styles are highly effective in creating influence.

How we use these elements to influence viewers is combining them to create an effect that makes the image persist in the mind, causes the viewer to pay attention and think about what they are seeing.

The triggers we are trying to create include one or more of the following:

  • Intrigue – keep the mind working and make the viewer want to know more
  • Empathy – experiencing vicariously what we see in the image
  • Disgust – negative reactions are very effective motivators
  • Anger – also an effective negative motivator
  • Fear – the most effective negative motivator
  • Greed – causing somebody to desire something they don’t have
  • Arousal – do we really need to tell you “sex sells”?
  • Humor – a good laugh can release a flood of mind altering substances
  • Wonder – close to intrigue but with less heavy overtones

Knowing which of these triggers you want to pull on your audience is actually one factor that can help you in making the choice between illustrations and photos. In particular, for all of the negative triggers, photos will normally do a better job.

In fact for the majority of marketing aimed at adults, photos will be the best choice, and the reason is because people relate more easily to real things than to imaginary things.

Children’s marketing is different

When you are creating designs to influence children, the opposite is true. Kids seem to prefer abstract things, even to the point of shunning realism. Advertising that appears in comic books is usually entirely composed of illustrations for this very reason.

If you are marketing to children, using illustrations can be highly effective. However one thing to be careful of is to know whether your main advertising target is the child or the parent. Many marketers make the mistake of using cute cartoon imagery when they are trying to influence the parent, but that is not usually the best strategy.

Educational marketing

When designing educational marketing messages, whether the target demographic is adults or children, illustrations will usually be the best choice.

This is because the use of illustrations allows you more flexibility in how you present the message, and allows you to provide much more detail on a wide range of items.

If the photos you use in the design of an educational poster are very small, the can be suitable, but will still work best if encapsulated within highly stylized illustrated framing.

When clear detail is needed

Medical and scientific illustrator Ikumi Kayama explains many of the limitations photographs have in this article. As you can see, when clear detail is needed, photos are often not your best choice.

As an aside, it’s also worth considering that medical and scientific illustrators are often the best people to hire for your product marketing designs, because of the very high level of detail that is habituated in them.

Marketing real products

Things which actually exist and you want to sell are best marketed using photographs. Even is this time when everyone is aware of PhotoShop and how easy it is to manipulate images, the belief persists that the camera doesn’t lie.

When people can see for themselves the reality of the image you are presenting, they will believe in it. Show them an illustration, and their mind has to be convinced that reality will match the illustration. That means your text has to work harder.

Summing up

There is room for both photographs and illustrations in the design scenarios we face each day, but there are definitely situations where it’s a better idea to employ one particular format as opposed to the other.

Always remember the nature of the message you are trying to present and the demographic you are presenting it to.

Hitting the right psychological triggers for your target audience in the right way is the key to delivering messages effectively.

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The Expanding Market in Cover Design http://designreviver.com/updates/expanding-market-cover-design/ http://designreviver.com/updates/expanding-market-cover-design/#respond Fri, 27 Oct 2017 14:59:31 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19554 It is interesting to note that many designers focus exclusively on traditional marketing sectors such as web design and advertising, while apparently ignoring the huge market potential of an industry that is much older than either of the others. What I’m talking about here is the publishing industry, a multi-trillion dollar business with more than... READ MORE

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It is interesting to note that many designers focus exclusively on traditional marketing sectors such as web design and advertising, while apparently ignoring the huge market potential of an industry that is much older than either of the others.

What I’m talking about here is the publishing industry, a multi-trillion dollar business with more than enough market share to go around if you can get a slice of the action.

The industry has undergone something of a renaissance recently due to the increasing popularity of e-Books, and in fact it is this development which has led to a situation where good cover design is more important than at any time in history.

Cover design has taken on this increased importance due to the shift in the way people now buy their books. In the past, people visited brick and mortar book stores where they could hold a book in their hands, open it up, browse through it and then decide to buy it.

Things have changed a great deal since those glory days. Now most people buy books online, and contrary to what many people expected, publishers are making more money than ever. The difficult situation about selling books online is that now the experience of picking up a book and flipping through it is gone.

Sure, you can “peek inside” an online version of a book, but it definitely is not the same as being able to look inside a physical book. What this means, as you probably already noticed, is most of the selling has to be done by the cover.

In the old days, even a plain covered book would sell well if it had good content. It’s much harder to do that now. Books need good covers, and good covers need good designers. That’s where you could now have an opportunity to expand your portfolio.

Cover design basics

Before you rush out and add cover design as an additional service offered on your shingle, there’s a few things you need to know.

Cover design is different in some ways to the other design work you do. There are specific standards you will need to follow, because your client needs something that actually can be wrapped around a book. It means in fact your are designing three things in one project:

  • The front cover
  • The spine
  • The rear cover

In some cases, you may also be designing an inside front cover, inside rear cover, dust jacket flaps for hard cover books, and/or illustrations and designs that will appear in what is known as the “front matter” of the book. These are special pages that appear before the table of contents or other book content.

Normally all three of the required main components are designed together at the same time, as a single continuous unit.

The dimensions are determined by the size of the book, so it is very important that the author shares the print size with you, so you will know the correct dimensions to design the cover in. The page count and paper “gsm” value determines the width of the spine, so this is also important information that you will need to obtain.

Your “page” will be divided into three parts. On the left, you have the rear cover, in the middle you have the spine, and on the right you have the front cover (some books written in foreign languages which are read from right to left may reverse the order of the sections).

The rear cover

On the rear cover you normally need to reserve space for a panel which will include the ISBN, bar code, and often also the price. Sometimes this panel even includes the cover designer credit.

Although it is not compulsory, the rear cover is usually of a much plainer style than the front cover, to make it easier for a blurb (a short summary of the book’s topic). If the back cover will merely be a continuation of the front cover, then a plain panel is usually provided for adding the blurb.

The spine

Text that goes on the spine is normally rotated so that it will appear upright when the book is held flat with the front cover facing up. Make sure that any text you use here is legible, ideally from a distance of at least three feet (one metre).

As with with web design, think about contrast and aim for accessibility. The entire point of cover design is to get the book noticed and selected. If the outside of the book is difficult to read, many people will assume the inside is also difficult to read.

The front cover

The front cover is where you have the most creative freedom. When coming up with the design idea, you need to try and make it as compatible with the subject of the book as possible. That means you need to get a really good synopsis of what the book is about prior to even thinking about developing the concept art.

Getting into cover design

With self-publishing on the rise, many designers are hiring out their services on a freelance basis as cover designers. The freelance market is very competitive, however, so it is not for everyone.

You can also contact publishing houses and offer your services as a cover designer. A solid portfolio of your design work would be very helpful in helping you get past first base here.

The payoff

Cover design is a massive and expanding market with strong demand from both traditional publishing houses and an even larger growing market of self-publishers.

With average compensation ranging from $500 to $1500 per cover design, this service can be a rewarding one to include in your lineup. It isn’t a field you can go into blindly, however.

You must be willing to learn the techniques of the trade, to ensure you are delivering a quality result to your clients.

Perhaps the best thing about cover design is you get a great diversity in your projects, and the opportunity for our work to be seen by millions.

header image courtesy of Forefathers™

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Site Design Myths Stifling Creativity http://designreviver.com/updates/site-design-myths-stifling-creativity/ http://designreviver.com/updates/site-design-myths-stifling-creativity/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 16:14:42 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19545 Want to know something that’s costing you visitors, money and time, but is easily preventable? It’s the myths your marketing team (and maybe even people higher up the chain of command) have gobbled up about site design and the user experience, believing them simply because somebody with a little bit of fame said them, and... READ MORE

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Want to know something that’s costing you visitors, money and time, but is easily preventable?

It’s the myths your marketing team (and maybe even people higher up the chain of command) have gobbled up about site design and the user experience, believing them simply because somebody with a little bit of fame said them, and everybody just went “Yeah, that sounds about right!”

User testing is not very scientific

The problem is, these claims aren’t subjected to the most rigorous form of scientific testing, and the people doing the checking aren’t normally real scientists. There can be exceptions, but even then it’s not perfect.

There’s this pesky thing called “response bias“, where a respondent will answer questions with what they think you want to hear instead of what they really feel, because deep down they want you to like them. That’s also the reason my brother is taking diving lessons.

Even in those situations where the researchers take a strictly observational stance, there’s still a problem, because they’re making assumptions.  Did the user skim past all that information because it was boring, or because it was something they were already familiar with, or perhaps it just wasn’t relevant to them personally?

A random audience is useless for testing niche content

A farmer might read political content because it might be relevant to how he earns his living, but will an article about interior decorating hold his interest, however well it is written? Generally speaking, only if that farmer has a genuine passion for interior decoration.

An actual decorator or somebody who is in the process of buying a new home, however, could be riveted by the same content. KissMetrics says: “Aggregate data is kinda worthless,” and indeed they’re right.

User testing must be targeted, and it hardly ever is

These problems and many others contribute to misunderstandings. The difficulty is that it’s next to impossible for anyone to assemble sufficient numbers of people within a specific niche and demographic for usability testing. So they either use random sampling, or they cheat, and some of them just flat-out lie.

The bottom line is you can’t rely on usability testing because it’s too generalizing. It doesn’t look at the typical user of your site, it just looks at the average man in the street, and that’s a much bigger problem than it’s given credit for.

Testing also doesn’t take into account that individuals are variable. There may be times when I enjoy the company of others, but other times I’d prefer to be alone. If you ask me, the answer will depend to some extent on how I’m feeling at that exact moment, and whether or not we’re in a bathroom.

So what are the main myths that are potentially costing us? Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1. There’s a perfect template or formula for a website

If that was true, the definition of perfection wouldn’t keep changing. Carousels and infinite scroll were marvels to behold the first few times they were used. Now people are fed up to the back teeth with them.

Your infinite scroll may hold my interest for a while, but once the inevitable (yes, inevitable) browser memory leak kicks in, I’m going to hate you with a great deal of intensity, and I may never visit your site again. The more graphical your content is on an infinitely scrolling page, the faster the browser will max out. I’m looking at you, Tumblr.

So, anyway, this myth is one that clueless marketing desk jockeys and lazy web developers like to perpetuate (and some actually believe it themselves), but there’s not a grain of truth to it.

They just want the boss to like their 1-3-2-3-1 design, which opens with a carousel wrapped inside a jumbotron div, followed by 3 dutiful columns with an image and a short blurb (complete with “more” link), and so on. There’s nothing surprising there, and that’s actually part of the problem.

If a user visits 10 different pages and they’re all pretty much the same, it’s not going to increase the chance that they’ll buy from you. It will just switch them off. People thrive on variety and they don’t want everything to be the same.

You don’t want to be too different, just be different where it counts – give them great information and a bit of eye candy. They’ll love you.

2. You need to write everything at a 4th grade level

This may be true if your primary demographic is either totally foreign, or mostly 4th graders. The assumption that people are basically not very smart is actually insulting. Nobody is going to give up on a site because they don’t know a word or two.

Besides, if you believe the third myth, you’re not expecting them to read it anyway. It’s easy to understand where this myth originated from.

The pool of people available for usability testing is too diverse, except in one special way. It is composed of people who have time to participate in usability testing. Last time I checked, people with important jobs don’t generally have time to waste on things like this, and the important jobs tend to go to the smartest people.

What this means, as you’ve no doubt already figured out, is that many of those who have time to participate in studies are not the sharpest tools in the shed. There are perhaps not a full quota of kangaroos bounding around in the top paddock. The lamp may be lit, but dimly. You can see where this is going, right?

It’s no surprise then, that a fair few of these people will have complaints about high level language that is beyond the limits of their vocabulary.

High level language is efficient. It lets you communicate more meaning with less words and less ambiguity. It doesn’t mean you slide all the way over into academic language, because that would be equally silly and disastrous. You need content with balanced language, like the content of this article.

If people don’t know a word, there are plug-ins that can define the word for them in an instant.  They’ve just got to be smart enough to figure out how to install those plug-ins.

Write your content in natural language, trying to be as clear as possible. You don’t have to dumb it down, and you certainly shouldn’t smarten it up. Just make it natural everyday language like you’d ordinarily speak.

3. People don’t bother to read long form content

This just isn’t true. You don’t need to keep everything short. What you need to do is keep everything interesting. And even more importantly, provide all the information they need. Because that is the reason they arrived at your site, and that is the reason why they may choose to do business with you instead of somebody else.  Who am I going to trust? The company that hides all the data and refuses to tell me the price unless I give up my email address? Or the guys who put all their cards on the table?

And while we’re at it, let’s stop hiding content behind “more” links, stop paginating things unnecessarily, and avoid turning everything into a slide show.  None of these tactics create a good UX. They’re bad for accessibility, bad for usability, and they’re just downright annoying.

Show things. If you’re hiding anything, it better be for a good reason. The bottom line is, if people aren’t reading you’re content, it’s because you’re boring, not because there’s too much of it.

4. Video content rules (and video backgrounds are awesome)

Complete myth. Video content is useful where it’s appropriate, but shouldn’t be inserted just for its own sake. If your video adds something to the user experience by providing entertainment or information (preferably both), it’s worth including. Otherwise it has no place on a web page.

Autoplay video is the most obnoxious thing you can do, and it’s even worse when the autoplay content is an ad.  Video backgrounds can look really cool too, but are you using one because it’s gratifying to you or gratifying to me? Let’s remember who is important in the website transaction. It’s the user, right?

So you should use video backgrounds sparingly, in a genuinely awesome way, and with great consideration for the user’s bandwidth. It should always be possible to disable or skip the video, or view a version of the site that doesn’t include it.

Video content also doesn’t do much to attract visitors at the moment unless you include captions (not auto-generated). There’s a chance Google will read your subtitle file and add points to your index. That might still be a little way in the future. But you’ll get points for accessibility anyhow.

5. It’s OK to let Google translate your web pages for you

No, it’s not OK. You can’t let any automated service handle your translations if you’re a professional business. Don’t be cheap. Spring for a real live human being to translate your site for you. An unprofessional translation might be worse than no translation at all.

6. Everyone loves infinite scroll

Really, infinite scroll can keep somebody on your page for longer, and you might think that’s a good thing. In a way it can be, but there’s a big problem with it, especially if you have a lot of images.

Browsers like Chrome create a new CPU process and new memory space for every tab that’s open simultaneously. As the user scrolls more and more content on your page, its tab process and memory space is going to grow larger, until it reaches a critical point where the user’s system slows down.

At this point, if the user is lucky, they’ll be quick enough to close your page that it won’t crash the browser or the entire system. They won’t always be so fortunate, and what they’re going to remember is that it was your site that caused the trouble for them.

First impressions count, but so do last impressions.  Don’t let the last impression a visitor has of you be that you’re annoying.

What you can take from all this

Users don’t fit into neat little stereotypes the way marketing “experts” want to believe they do. People are all individuals, and when we design sites for them (and it’s always for them, never for the people who hired you to design it), we need to respect them as individuals.

A good host doesn’t get in the way of the visitor, doesn’t interfere in what the visitor wants to do (as long as it’s not going to cause any harm), and doesn’t hide information from the visitor. Those are traits of a bad host.

As a good host, you’ll want to be open, unobtrusive, and helpful. You’ll guide the user without forcing their hand, and you’ll make things easy for them without being condescending.

Do these things properly, and your website stands a good chance of being different enough to attract attention and convert that attention into action.

If you still haven’t quite got it squared away, the tips on this article from Oprah’s website apply just as much to hosting a website as they do to hosting guests in your home.

header image courtesy of 

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How Linux Can Be A Designer’s Best Friend http://designreviver.com/updates/linux-can-designers-best-friend/ http://designreviver.com/updates/linux-can-designers-best-friend/#respond Mon, 28 Aug 2017 12:14:24 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19534 Even after all these years, when the differences between operating systems has become increasingly blurred, the majority of designers are heavily entrenched in the Mac camp. Many of them will never leave it because they’ve fallen head over heels in love with the brand. Other designers use Windows because it’s what they started out with,... READ MORE

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Even after all these years, when the differences between operating systems has become increasingly blurred, the majority of designers are heavily entrenched in the Mac camp. Many of them will never leave it because they’ve fallen head over heels in love with the brand.

Other designers use Windows because it’s what they started out with, is supported by most of the major hardware manufacturers, and has plenty of software available. For them, it’s less about love, and more about practical considerations.

Both groups are missing out on the advantages Linux can provide. The interesting thing is that Linux not only can do just about everything the other operating systems can do, it can do these things better and with greater simplicity, except when it comes to “low level” tasks that a typical user rarely has any need to perform.

What you’ll discover in this article is some of the features that make Linux a perfect operating system for any designer.

1. It’s free

This is the biggest advantage Linux offers over Windows, and to a certain extent over OS X as well. The worst thing about Windows is the upgrade cycle you get locked into with it. Over time, Windows keeps releasing new versions, which are never cheap if you want any real control over your system.

It’s no fun paying for this stuff, when it doesn’t actually do anything special. Plus quite a lot of the software you’ll be running on it may require paying for. The same goes for OS X. And don’t even get me started on the hardware costs of a Mac.

Linux doesn’t cost you a dime unless you decide to make a donation to help support its development. And once you have it, it’s yours for life. There’s no costly upgrade cycle to get locked into, and you also don’t need to constantly upgrade your hardware to keep pace with the operating system upgrades.

Even better, nearly all the native software for Linux is free, and you can also run almost every Windows and some Mac applications on a Linux box as easily as you could on the native operating system.

Armed with GIMP, mtPaint, ImageMagick, Inkscape, myPaint, Xara Xtreme, Blender, and Agave, you can have a powerful design platform without spending a cent on anything other than your hardware.

2. There are no residual trust issues

Windows and OS X both contain huge amounts of code that nobody outside of Microsoft or Apple is supposed to examine.

What that means for you as a user is you have to put your trust in these corporations that they haven’t hidden anything nasty in the source code that might invade your privacy. Did somebody say PRISM?

Linux is fully open source. There are no surprises this way. If there was any malicious code hidden inside Linux, it would be discovered almost instantly and removed by any of the thousands of volunteers who work to keep Linux as the most secure operating system no money can buy.

3. It’s way more secure

Linux was built from the start to be a secure operating system, and it is. That doesn’t mean you never have to worry about security, but it does mean you don’t waste time downloading anti-virus database files every day.

4. It’s also more efficient (than Windows)

Windows has a funny method of storing files, and this method wastes a lot of space and causes fragmentation. It’s why you need to occasionally defrag NTFS or FAT32 disks. Linux stores files very differently, so you don’t get wasted space. That’s just one way it’s more efficient.

Another way it’s efficient is that it doesn’t require anywhere near the computing resources demanded by Windows 10 or OS X. Windows 10 needs 20GB of space just for the operating system, which is not going to be a problem with Linux, which can fit on a 256MB flash drive with room to spare.

Now let’s take a look at the software Linux offers to designers (and remember, you can also use Windows and Mac applications in those situations where a native Linux program isn’t up to the job.

Heavy duty bitmap image editing

Lightweight bitmap image editing

Batch image editing

Vector graphics

Painting & Drawing

CAD

Because the most recent versions of CorelDRAW and AutoCAD don’t install properly in the current version of WINE, you’ll need to either already have a copy of one of the listed versions, or purchase a second hand copy, and in any case they’re not guaranteed to work. The native Linux applications, whether free or paid, are a better choice.

Animation

Synfig Studio is the replacement for Flash and it does quite a good job of 2D vector drawing and animation. Its main purpose is to create broadcast quality animated cartoons, so it doesn’t duplicate everything Flash could do, but in some ways the animation quality is superior. Check out this great demo video, for example. It’s a short film created using Synfig Studio, Blender, Pencil, MyPaint, Remake, and GIMP.

Flash, of course, should no longer be used for creating online content. It’s blocked by default in many major browsers and operating systems, has known security vulnerabilities, and is generally hated by web users due to its abuse by the marketing industry, and the privacy-stealing persistent Flash cookies.

Another alternative in this category is Tupi, which is less well known and more simplistic, but nonetheless a decent tool for drawing and animation. The resultant files are not the same broadcast quality you’ll get from Synfig, but it can export output direct to video in multiple formats.

One thing that is especially impressive about Synfig Studio is that there’s a very comprehensive online video training program, complete with proper closed captions, which is something you won’t often find with commercial software, and here it is for freeware.

3D

Other

Scribus is a free, open source application for desktop publishing based on SVG and capable of producing PDF, Postscript, and XML output.

Agave is a brilliant piece of software for selecting color schemes. It’s a little difficult to describe, but once you’ve seen it in action, it will become an indispensable addition to your design tool kit.

Posterazor splits large images into multiple printed pages for assembly into a large poster (suitable for billboard creation).

Aeskulap is a DICOM compatible medical image viewer.

Povray, as the name implies, is a raytracer.

Fracplanet is a tool for creating planets for use in animations and games. Import the results into Blender to bring them to perfection.

Closing remarks

The above list of software may seem exhaustive, but in reality it barely touches the surface of what’s out there. If you haven’t tried Linux in a while, you’ll probably be surprised by how far along all these projects have come in just a short time.

Previously, Linux had a reputation for being difficult to use and unsuitable for the desktop, but that has changed. Many things are actually easier to accomplish in Linux than they would be on OS X or Windows, because there’s less hidden from you.

The best thing though is that even if not every piece of hardware is supported, at least you’ll know instantly in Linux. Those massive delays every time you plug something new into Windows are infuriating. In Linux everything either works or it doesn’t, and there’s either a way to get it working or there’s not.

Finally, it’s possible to run both Windows and OS X inside Linux, and it’s possible to run Linux inside either of the other two, and there are Linux distros made especially for running on Mac hardware. So it’s possible to enjoy the better features of all these operating systems if you wish.

header image courtesy of 

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flok Review: A Killer Customer Rewards Program With Push Notifications and Beacon Tech http://designreviver.com/updates/flok-review-killer-customer-rewards-program-push-notifications-beacon-tech/ http://designreviver.com/updates/flok-review-killer-customer-rewards-program-push-notifications-beacon-tech/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 15:58:54 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19511 In the past, we’ve seen all sorts of customer rewards startups vying for attention. One roadblock to success has been that they try to get a little too fancy. Merchants struggle with setting them up, while customers don’t understand how to check-in or redeem rewards. But that’s not the case with the flok customer loyalty rewards... READ MORE

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In the past, we’ve seen all sorts of customer rewards startups vying for attention.

One roadblock to success has been that they try to get a little too fancy. Merchants struggle with setting them up, while customers don’t understand how to check-in or redeem rewards.

But that’s not the case with the flok customer loyalty rewards system, seeing as how it’s gone back to the traditional punch card system, only with a digital twist.

The flok punch card app boasts a sleek dashboard, along with things like push notifications and email marketing.

We’re excited to test it out, so keep reading if you’d like to learn more.

What Does flok Offer?

The core feature from flok involves a digital punch card that you can setup and design within minutes. There’s only one reward to configure, and the merchant gets to set how many punches are needed before customers get that reward. Therefore, it’s not too complicated for the merchant, and the customers are used to the traditional five or ten punch system.

You get to design your loyalty club with everything from colors to logos and backgrounds to the business name. Launch your loyalty program for customers to find your business on the flok app. You can also share your new loyalty program with whatever followers you already have on social media or through email.

Push Notifications

Running a customer rewards program is a solid first step, but what happens when those people leave your store? There’s a good chance that many of them never come back, or maybe they’ll think about going to a competitor because of better pricing or something of the sort.

That’s where the push notifications come into play. This is one of the best forms of marketing since the message goes straight to customer phones. You obviously don’t want to abuse it, but it allows for announcements when you have a promotion, new reward or event.

Email Marketing

We love flok for a few reasons, and email marketing is one of them. Most of the time you would need a completely separate email marketing tool in order to design and send out messages. But flok has it all integrated into one system. They have some templates for you to brand, and these messages can be used to complement the push notifications you send out.

Chatting With Customers

The customer chat is another interesting aspect of flok. You can talk to customers directly through the flok dashboard while they send you messages from their phones. It even has a robot that automatically sends canned responses if you’re not currently available.

A Location Beacon

Since mobile phones constantly register user locations, it makes sense for businesses to take advantage of this. Flok has a wonderful location beacon that recognizes when a customer walks into your store. It can then send them a message welcoming them to your store. It checks the customer in as well, allowing your rewards program to work without them having to swipe or click on anything.

Whether you’re understaffed or just want a way to greet your customers in a different way, the beacon is pretty darn cool.

flok Pricing

The flok rewards program has no contracts, along with a 7-day free trial. Therefore, you signup for whichever pricing plan you would like to try out, then you can either cancel before the free trial ends or start your payments.

Considering a well-implemented rewards program has the strong potential to increase the frequency of repeat customers and boost your revenue, the flok pricing looks rather reasonable.

  • Starter – $16.58 per month for a custom app, digital punch card, chat, CRM, 250 club members, 500 push messages per month, an in-app only conversation manager, and onboarding and email support.
  • VIP – $66.58 per month for everything in the previous plan, 1,000 club members, 2,000 push messages per month, 1,000 emails per month, beacon and auto-detection, auto connect, in-app purchases, analytics, a full conversation manager and the support of an account manager from flok.
  • Ultimate – $99.91 per month for everything in the previous plan, 5,000 club members, 10,000 push messages per month, 5,000 emails per month and a dedicated expert to help you along the way.
  • Enterprise – This plan requires you to contact flok for a quote, but the website states that it’s best for franchises and businesses with multiple locations.

Keep in mind, these are the prices when you pay for a full year upfront. You have the option to pay month-to-month, but it makes it a little more expensive in the long run.

flok Customer Support

As mentioned in the pricing section, your support type depends on how much you’re paying. However, each plan gets some form of support and they all look reliable. For example, flok gets you all setup with their onboarding in the Starter plan. After that, you can send in an email for support. The VIP package provides an account manager, while Ultimate has a dedicated expert you can call directly.

The flok website lists a phone number, email contact form and a little chat box in the bottom right-hand corner of the site. There doesn’t seem to be a knowledge base, but the blog and other resources online should be able to cover you with any questions you may have. Not to mention, for some certain package options, the flok users might have an account manager or dedicated expert, so all problems and questions can be directed to them.

Overall, flok has most of the bases covered in terms of customer support. It’s clear they’ve invested in their customers considering some of the employees are tasked with being dedicated support reps.

Who Should Consider flok?

The flok rewards program has quite a few benefits over other retail rewards systems we’ve seen in the past. Not only does it include a brilliant punch card program, but you also get a custom mobile app with push messages. Most of the time you would have to pay for this through an additional service. But it’s all wrapped into one with flok.

Therefore, I’d recommend flok to a wide range of retail businesses. Getting setup with flok takes a few minutes, and it provides multiple remarketing tools like geographical beacons and the push notifications. The pricing is low, and you’re able to check out how successful your rewards program is doing.

It doesn’t matter if you run a hardware store, candy shop or bakery, flok provides a simple rewards program that’s not too confusing for the customer or merchant. So, anyone with a retail store should give it a shot.

If you have any questions about this flok review, or if you’ve tried it out for your retail store, give us your feedback in the comments below.

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The Right Way to Handle Website Redesigns: 5 Easy Steps to Master the Redesign Process http://designreviver.com/updates/right-way-handle-website-redesigns-5-easy-steps-master-redesign-process/ http://designreviver.com/updates/right-way-handle-website-redesigns-5-easy-steps-master-redesign-process/#respond Mon, 24 Jul 2017 06:30:05 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19502 Redesigning a website is one of the more challenging tasks you can take on as a designer, and in fact many designers are not really up to the challenge because they don’t set about doing it in the right way. If you’re the kind of designer who really cares about always doing your best work,... READ MORE

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Redesigning a website is one of the more challenging tasks you can take on as a designer, and in fact many designers are not really up to the challenge because they don’t set about doing it in the right way. If you’re the kind of designer who really cares about always doing your best work, you’ll want to know the best methods for implementing a redesign, and that’s where this article can be helpful.

Step 1: Establish the reason for the redesign

Knowing why (or even if) the website needs a redesign in an important first step. If you don’t know why the redesign is required, your mission will lack true direction.

Excellent Reasons

  • To create better usability or accessibility
  • To optimize the site by removing useless bandwidth-consuming resources
  • To improve the user experience, based on valid user feedback

Good Reasons

  • To present a new corporate message
  • To revitalize the brand image

Fair Reasons

  • To leverage new technology (where it offers improvement)
  • To present information in better ways

Bad Reasons

  • To follow a trend
  • To copy a competitor

Terrible Reasons

  • “Because it’s time”
  • “We need a fresh look”
  • “The old site design is stale”

You’ll notice the reasons classified as “excellent” are mainly concerned with improving how the site functions, while those that are classified as “terrible” are mainly concerned with how the site looks.

Now this is not to say that you should never overhaul the look of a website when you know the original design was seriously horrible, but in those cases it’s best to design a completely new site, forgetting the old unappealing site ever existed.

In every other case, you need to follow a principle of least change. Why? Because in general, whereas corporate leaders often think users desire change, the reality is users hate change. Nearly always, change results in problems.

This is a lesson that had to be learned the hard way by:

Now, if people can get that worked up over a genealogy site, what does that mean for your company? It probably means you should tread very carefully when making changes, get plenty of user feedback, and implement changes in as many increments as you can.

Step 2: Stay on message

You need your corporate message not to be lost among the sea of changes, and it should still be the driving focal point of the website.  All too often we see sites that put selling and marketing first, but that’s not the right way to design a website. People don’t want to be sold to, they want to be given a reason to trust you.

As a competent designer yourself, you already are aware of this. You won’t make the mistake of allowing the site’s focus to shift, or the company’s corporate message to be washed out. Also everything presented on the site needs to reflect that message and be in harmony with it.

If your corporate message suggests you’re a company that cares about the environment, but you sell the PollutionMaster 3000 (now with even more pollution!), it’s cutting into the trust you’re supposed to be building. Likewise if you want to promote a family-friendly image but then stock DeathMetal merchandise, or other such things. The social media backlash that can result just isn’t worth whatever sales you make from promoting off-message products.

You can create alternative sites for controversial products and sell them through those sites under a different brand name, if you must. Let go of the idea that you need to put all your eggs in one basket.

Step 3: Make sure your implementation isn’t detrimental to the user experience

The success or failure of a website these days is largely dependent on the quality of its UX. Fail too much, and you’ll lose a lot of potential viewers. Above all, you’ll want to avoid introducing any of the many annoyances that will be considered as unacceptable UX mistakes, despite their widespread use. These include:

  • Pop-ups and pop-unders
  • Nag screens and subscription solicitations
  • Annoying cookie warnings
  • Using cookies at all when they’re not vital
  • Interfering with user control (eg. preventing right-click)
  • Interfering with navigation
  • Introducing radically different interface components
  • Autoplay video or autoplay audio
  • Hiding content behind “More” links
  • Endless scroll

In effect, your site needs to be as unobtrusive and unobnoxious as possible. The site should be there as a polite and humble servant, following the demands of the user, not the CEO Of your company or the head of marketing. And that’s usually where designers face a conflict of interest.

So here’s the thing: don’t be humble yourself. Put up a good fight defending proper design and UX principles. If marketing or the CEO still insist on doing things the wrong way, you’ll at least know you tried. and you’ll have a great “I told you so” to come back with a few months down the track when visitor retention is inevitably falling.

Step 4: Understand that what users really want is information

The company website is part of your overall marketing mix, but where so many marketing teams get it wrong is in thinking of the site as being a big ad for the company and treating it as such. Your website should never be an ad unless it’s a targeted sub-site that was created exclusively for that purpose.

Your website should be a source of information about your company and the products or services it sells, and it should always be treated that way. Because this must be the purpose of a corporate website, you need to go ahead and provide plenty of information.

Sites that don’t provide information are usually doing that in violation of step 5 (outlined below), because they’re trying to squeeze content into the design, instead of the design being built to hold the content.

Your site needs to be as descriptive as possible about everything that appears on it, without exception. Yes that means you’ll be paying more for copywriters, but so what? If you’re not investing in content, you’re losing out to competitors who are providing more information. The user didn’t come to your site to buy a product, they came to your site to find the information about the product that would help them make the decision to buy it.

Step 5: Always design a site around its content

It drives us bonkers when we see sites where the design was obviously created before the content. Yes, content changes, but it doesn’t change that much that it should break a design. And when it does, that’s when you know it’s time for a redesign.

But every site should be planned as content first, and then the designer can use this conent as inspiration for creating the design. Otherwise you get a crazy situation where content has to be mashed, chopped, and revised to fit into the design, and that is never a good thing.

So when doing the redesign, isolate the content first, look at it, and make your redesign decisions based on that content and the best way to show it off.

A redesign is difficult enough, so why repeat the mistakes of the past?

Designing a good website is not something you can learn in a HTML course or even a four year college degree. It’s a skill that is picked up through experience, but you can smooth out the learning curve considerably by learning from the mistakes of others.

The best source of information on what works and what doesn’t is the users themselves. You can find this out just be searching around the Internet for what users are complaining about, and what they’re praising. We’ve already covered most of the existing design trend mistakes in this article, but the next big trend is just over the horizon, and who knows if you should jump on the band wagon?

Do your research, implement changes gradually, process feedback, be informative, and avoid interfering too much in the user’s mission, and your redesign is sure to be a success. In the end, you see, it’s all a matter of common sense.

header image courtesy of 

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When Responsive Design Goes Wrong (and How to Fix it) http://designreviver.com/updates/responsive-design-goes-wrong-fix/ http://designreviver.com/updates/responsive-design-goes-wrong-fix/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 14:56:03 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19480 Most websites using responsive design are using it incorrectly, which leads to problems.  The general approach to responsive design is a lazy one, and if you take that approach, some of your responsive sites will work absolutely flawlessly, and many of them won’t.  For those that do work perfectly, it will probably come down to... READ MORE

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Most websites using responsive design are using it incorrectly, which leads to problems.  The general approach to responsive design is a lazy one, and if you take that approach, some of your responsive sites will work absolutely flawlessly, and many of them won’t.  For those that do work perfectly, it will probably come down to a matter of luck.

The concept of responsive design is simple, but its very simplicity is what leads people into making mistakes so easily.  Designers with years of experience has become accustomed to designing for the desktop, and so they’ll usually plan a design based on a desktop layout.

Desktop layouts differ from tablet layouts and mobile layouts because they’re normally multi-column, normally include huge amounts of white space, and everything is just “big”, for want of a better word.  If responsive design techniques are used, this multi-column layout is supposed to break down into a single column.

If that’s all your responsive design actually does when it’s viewed on a mobile device, you may have a problem.  How much of a problem depends on your attitude, but good designers care about good UX.  They care even more about bad UX.  If your site has bad UX and you want to be a good designer, then you need to fix it.

This problem with collapsing a multi-column layout into a single column is that it doesn’t work on a proportional basis.  If you have to shrink something horizontally and you don’t make any other changes, it is obviously going to expand vertically.

Pour water from a short fat glass into a tall thin one, and the water takes the shape of the tall thin glass, while the volume of water stays exactly the same.  What designers need to understand is that with a website, we do need the volume to change.  It’s not normally a good idea to change the shape but keep the content exactly the same.  Something’s gotta give.

Somebody who really has earned the title of designer will understand that this represents a problem to be solved, and what designers actually do is find solutions for problems.  Therefore it’s the perfect job for you to find the best way to deliver the core content of the site without turning the user experience into a frustrating scroll-fest.  Here are a few of the things worth considering when breaking down a desktop design into a mobile design:

1. “Mobile First” is moronic

Sorry, but it is.  Everyone is parroting this, but as a concept it’s not very helpful because if you truly design “mobile first” then it will be nightmarish trying to scale it back up to a desktop design unless you are sticking with a purely single column layout all the way up.

The best approach is to physically design at least three (and up to 11) different layouts.  The minimum ones you can consider include:

  • Desktop
  • Landscape Mobile
  • Portrait Mobile

If you want to be a bit more thorough, you should also consider:

  • Landscape Tablet
  • Portrait Tablet

And the full list, if you want to be absolutely complete would be:

  • Huge Desktop
  • Ordinary Desktop
  • Large Landscape Tablet
  • Large Portrait Tablet
  • Small Landscape Tablet
  • Small Portrait Tablet
  • Large Landscape Mobile
  • Large Portrait Mobile
  • Small Landscape Mobile
  • Small Portrait Mobile
  • Tiny / Wearable

With so many different possibilities, it’s obvious why a lazy “one-size-fits-all” approach is so tempting, but it’s also obvious why there are so many ways to ruin it.

2. Tame that sprawling page footer

The desktop design includes one of those huge chunky page footers with loads of internal links? Great, that will probably be very handy on a desktop.  On a mobile, it looks ridiculous, and is more than just a touch annoying.  You can design completely different page footers for each device break point.  Just make those footer links available in a modal dialog and everybody wins.

3. Accept some minor quirks on obscure devices

If a particular device is not common, then it’s not so bad if there are a few quirks in the design that appear only when viewing on that device.  The more popular a device is, the more you’ll have to work at getting rid of any quirks that appear on it.

4. You can hide content that doesn’t contribute to the core message

The most important part of a site is the core message.  Yes, on some sites, the most important part is the advertising and they only exist to deliver that advertising, but if you have to choose between showing the core message or showing the advertising, choose the message.  Google is more likely to regard you as persona non grata if you hide core content and then serve up a bunch of ads.  It’s because that core content is what Google indexed you based on, and when that content is not shown, Google looks at that as deceptive.

Additionally, things like images that are purely decorative or aesthetic, but which don’t contribute significantly to the core message, are candidates for reduction or hiding altogether.

Some people have proposed that hiding content is “punishing” mobile users, but this is a bit of an absurd notion.  The reality is that you’re hiding the content because it’s there to enhance the desktop experience, but doesn’t sufficiently contribute to the core message of the site for it to be necessary

5. You can use alternative backgrounds

Recently I was given a ridiculous assignment where the site owner had paid for a particular background and wanted all the content to be tailored to fit that background.  Bullet point items had to be a very exact number of characters, the total number of lines had to be exact, and so on.

This is definitely bad practice in web design, because you should never design content to fit a layout.  The layout should always be designed to hold the content.  If for some reason the layout can’t hold the content, then the layout should be redesigned, not the content.  It’s quite possible to use different backgrounds for different devices.  You’re a designer.  Use your imagination.

Content is the life-blood of a website, and to modify it or restrict it based on the constraints of a layout is a clear sign of amateurishness on the part of the site owner, and a sign that the layout was poorly designed in the first place.  Stand by your principles, because that client is going to be trouble if you acquiesce.

The customer is always right, except when that customer is a web design client.  Clients rarely know what is best for them, and it’s important to assert yourself as a web designer who knows how to deliver the right result for the client.  Otherwise you risk creating yet another website abomination.

6. Manually control the collapse order (or avoid spatial references within content)

This is a complex problem.  The collapse order of a site depends on the order in which the divs are stacked.  You need to stack your divs in the correct order so that they’ll collapse in the correct order.

One of the problems that comes from drag-n-drop WYSIWYG website builders is that you can’t normally dictate what order the divs get stacked in, and in the very rare instances where you can do that, your hard work gets undone every time you make the smallest edit, and you’ll have to go back in and hack the source code again.

If you don’t control the collapse order, this image explains clearly what can go wrong.  Also you should avoid making spatial references (like “in the column to the left”) as on a mobile whatever was on the left or right may be been shifted to above or below, plus if you make the reader think it’s important enough to scroll to see, then they’ll have to scroll back again, and that’s not cool.

7. You may need different font sizes for different layouts

It’s easy to control font size with CSS and you can set different font sizes and even different font faces (if they’ll look better) for particular sizes of display.  You can find the display size with CSS media queries, and then you modify the font size or font face to be at values that would display the content to maximum advantage on the device type you’re targeting.

8. It’s best to use responsive images

All images should be responsive whenever possible.  This brings with it that sometimes the detail of an image can be lost if it is scaled down too much.  A solution to this problem is to make the image clickable so the user can view a zoomed in version of the image separate to the content.  The normal way to do this is via a modal dialog box.

header image courtesy of 

 

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Movavi Screen Capture Studio Review: A Modern, Free Solution for Windows and Mac http://designreviver.com/updates/movavi-screen-capture-review-modern-free-solution-windows-mac/ http://designreviver.com/updates/movavi-screen-capture-review-modern-free-solution-windows-mac/#respond Wed, 28 Jun 2017 02:01:16 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19488 It seems like every profession eventually ends up needing to use a screen capture software. Whether it’s for simple screenshots or webinar videos, people need to make guides and all sorts of videos for internal or external use. Some of the more complex screen capture tools cost hundreds of dollars. And most of the time... READ MORE

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It seems like every profession eventually ends up needing to use a screen capture software. Whether it’s for simple screenshots or webinar videos, people need to make guides and all sorts of videos for internal or external use.

Some of the more complex screen capture tools cost hundreds of dollars. And most of the time the majority of features go unused. On the other hand, you could go for a simple web-based screen capture option, or even something like a Chrome extension. These are generally free, but the best features come at a price.

The Movavi Screen Capture Studio for Mac is looking to change all of this.

The free download has comparable tools to that of Camtasia and other paid products, and it’s a locally-based software so that you don’t have to worry about your internet connection or glitchy interfaces. We’re going to take a look at the most promising features, but right now it seems like a solid choice for many video makers.

Movavi Screen Capture Review: The Best Features

The Movavi Screen Capture Studio interface beats out many of the screen capture apps and software options I’ve used in the past. Here’s what to expect:

Capture One Specific Area

It doesn’t matter whether you’d like to take a screenshot or video, Movavi Screen Capture Studio lets you do both. In addition, it has a selection tool for deciding which part of your screen you’d like to share. I also like the control panel at the bottom, with information about your storage space, the duration of your video, webcam info and quick buttons for recording or snapping a shot.

View, Save and Trim

After completing the screen capture, you can undo, redo, make a new capture or trim up your video. This is rather basic editing, but the more powerful editor is shown in the next step. You also have the option to save the file right there.

Edit Immediately After the Capture

The editor offers strong features similar to that of Adobe Premiere. Upload videos and screenshots, add audio, adjust random media files and open up the full screen mode for better editing.

Spice it Up with Filters and Titles

The filters and titles are rather modern and fun, and you can find plenty of options for more professional solutions. It only takes one click to completely change the look of your screen capture. I especially like the titles for webinars and online courses.

Adjust Your Capture Settings

One of the best features is how you control the capture settings. Movavi Screen Capture Studio for Mac supports dozens of the most popular video, audio and image formats, so you won’t have any problems there. Also, you can adjust the resolution, frame rate and capture devices to make your videos look amazing on any device.

Movavi Screen Capture Review: What You’ll Have to Pay

Both versions of Movavi Screen Capture come listed as free downloads on the website. This means that all you have to do is navigate to the Movavi website, click on whether you want the Mac or Windows version, then download it onto your computer.

For such as powerful little tool, having to pay nothing at all is pretty darn cool. I’ve used a wide variety of screen capture tools, from Chrome extensions to more advanced products from places like Adobe and Camtasia. Even with the Chrome extensions you often end up having to pay for the best features.

Although you’re not going to get as powerful features as Camtasia, Movavi Screen Capture does a wonderful job of competing. The majority of people recording screens will find this deal too good to pass up. It has the screen capture tools, the editing module and some awesome filters and titles. Most of the time that’s all you need.

Oh yeah, and the display settings will ensure that your videos look beautiful on the screen. Therefore, you can’t go wrong with the $0 price tag.

Customer Support

Movavi currently has a large database filled with how-to’s, guides and other articles for you to complete your own research and educate yourself about the product. It’s basically a gigantic resource with links for all of the Movavi products, regardless of operating system.

If that doesn’t solve a problem, the user goes to the other support options.

For example, you might decide to contact Movavi through email, writing up a little message with all of the information behind your situation. This is where I would assume most users would turn to, considering email support is easy to understand and you can type up a message and wait a few hours to see a response.

Other than that, you can start a live chat, which is a particularly useful tool for those sitting at their computers hard at work. I’m more of a live chat person myself, since I can go about my, then jump onto the live chat whenever I hear the ping.

The company also has in-depth video guides for the visual learners out there. For example, they have videos for learning how to record a screen from your computer, along with a video on how to capture HD video. I’ve checked out the videos and they are short enough to learn something in a reasonable time and in-depth enough so you get knowledge out of it.

The final form of support is the knowledge base, which is similar to the how-to’s and guides, but with more of a focus on every single feature with succinct details and commenting for talking with other users.

What You Might Still Miss

The only reason you might not consider Movavi Screen Capture is if you’ve already paid for a screen capture tool or if you’re utilizing a web-based computer like a Chromebook. There’s probably no reason to switch over to Movavi Screen Capture after paying for an expensive software, by I would encourage you to give it a try just in case you like it better.

As for Chromebook users, Movavi Screen Capture doesn’t have an online interface. Therefore, you need to have a Mac or Windows computer to take advantage of it.

Other than that, the features look solid, you don’t have to pay a dime and you don’t need to be a genius to operate Movavi Screen Capture. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions about this Movavi Screen Capture review or if you’ve had any experience with it.

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Rebelle 2 Review: Digital Acrylics and Watercolors Like You’ve Never Seen http://designreviver.com/updates/rebelle-2-review-digital-acrylics-watercolors-like-youve-never-seen/ http://designreviver.com/updates/rebelle-2-review-digital-acrylics-watercolors-like-youve-never-seen/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 23:51:18 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19452 If you’ve heard of Rebelle, you’re probably excited that a new version has recently come out. The original Rebelle (by Escape Motions) has won awards over the years for its incredible ability to make paintings look like they’re from the real world. Blending, diffusion and color mixing all played roles in the watercoloring simulation, and... READ MORE

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If you’ve heard of Rebelle, you’re probably excited that a new version has recently come out. The original Rebelle (by Escape Motions) has won awards over the years for its incredible ability to make paintings look like they’re from the real world. Blending, diffusion and color mixing all played roles in the watercoloring simulation, and users are encouraged to get as creative as possible with things like paint, blowable wet washes and more.

The Rebelle 2 software takes it to a new level, and it comes in both Windows and Mac versions. The whole point of the update is to give the watercolors and acrylics a more realistic feel, and it delivers on every level. You can find some interesting new stencil tools, amazing custom brushes for a little creativity and support for layered PSDs.

We’ve included some examples of what Rebelle 2 can generate, so feel free to scroll through for a little taste of these wonderful watercolorings and acrylics. As you explore the paintings we’ll uncover some of the brand new features that come along with Rebelle 2, distinguishing between what was already there in the previous version.

collage by Martin Hanschild

New Features in Rebelle 2

Colorful by Peter Blaskovic

A User Interface for All Skill Levels

The majority of these paintings look rather complicated, but beginners don’t need to worry about being left out. The whole point of the new user interface is to make it less intimidating for learners, while also packing in all of the powerful features you can expect as a professional. It’s similar to that of Photoshop, where the average person can learn quickly, but the pros can still take designs to new levels.

Beautiful Redhead Acrylic by Jay Hardy

Better Performance and Multi-Touch

The multi-touch functionality means that the designer can utilize a trackpad or tablet device for more natural drawing and painting. Some of the supported devices come from Apple, Microsoft and Wacom. Basically, you don’t have to worry about being stuck with a trackpad or tablet that’s not compatible, because the best ones on the market all seem to fit nicely in with the Rebelle 2 interface.

On the performance side of things, Rebelle 2 has added more fluid undo and redo buttons, making the process much faster. Not only that, but you can expect to open, save and modify large files without as many problems as you might have had before.

 Baron Vladimir Harkonnen by Mato Hanschild

Art by Vasylissa_Deviantart

Solid Stencils

The new Rebelle 2 stencils come in handy for the beginners who would like to cover up parts of the painting. They also have tools for wetting the paper like you would in real life, along with a beautiful watercolor simulation that automates parts of your design process.

You can use stencils for masking purposes – just grab ink, pencil or any other tool, paint a mask on the canvas and create stencil from it. You can create the stencil either from the current layer or from selected area. Manipulation with stencils is very easy – you can resize, rotate and move them and if you have tablet with multi-touch features, simply use your fingers for manipulation. Rebelle 2 comes with default stencils but you can import any image file or paint your own very quickly.

Art by Kamila Stankiewicz

More Advanced Brush Tools

A completely new brush engine comes with Rebelle 2. This means you can make all of the brush combinations you want. There’s no limit at all. Default shapes for the brushes are included, so that’s good news for the beginners and people who have become accustomed to using certain brushes.

Customization is a big part of the new Rebelle 2 update. Expanding upon your brush size makes it all the more advanced, and you won’t have any problems with speed when changing brushes. This is because of the experimental GPU acceleration.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning some of the default brushes you can still rely on. These include options like sponges and round and flat brushes. You could go with bamboo or consider the wide range of splatters available in Rebelle 2.

Finding Love On Sunshine Street by Junkyard Sam

What Else Can You Expect?

  • Full support for layered PSD files
  • Selection options for generating masks when you don’t want to change a certain area of the painting
  • Integrations with many other graphic applications

Rebelle 2 Pricing

Cat by Will Von Dehl

The Rebelle 2 software is priced at $89.99, which is a steal considering you get a powerful design system with watercoloring and acrylic tools that make your work look like the real thing.

The pricing is the same for both Mac and Windows versions, so you can go to the website and download either one. They have a few versions for download, so choose the one that’s most recent.

The Escape Motions company also sells a few other design products on its website. For example, you can find the following tools if you’d like to complement the Rebelle 2 software:

  • Flame Painter 3 Pro – $89.99
  • Flame Painter 3 – $29.99
  • Amberlight 2 – $89.99
  • Creative Package – $229.97 for Rebelle 2, Flame Painter 3 Pro and Amberlight 2.

As you can see the Creative Package is worth looking into because of the big savings. If you’re thinking about making light effects, computer generated images or animations along with the acrylics and watercolors, keep the Creative Package in mind.

Rebelle 2 Support

Alien by Martin Hanschild

When you download Rebelle 2 they don’t leave you without support. In fact, the support team is as good as they come for design software. Escape Motions has a full blog for seeing when new updates come out and for understanding how the software works.

They also provide access to a support email for when you might have any questions along the way. The primary support page comes in the form of an FAQ. It seems like the majority of problems can be resolved with these questions, but it’s always nice to have the email address just in case you absolutely can’t figure something out. I don’t see anything in terms of live chat or phone support, but that wasn’t expected for a product like this.

Who Should Consider Rebelle 2?

The answer to this is pretty simple: Those who would like to design insanely beautiful acrylics and watercolors without any super complicated tools. Yes, Rebelle 2 is powerful and advanced enough for the most experienced designer, but the learning curve isn’t that out of reach so that beginners feel intimidated.

I like Rebelle 2 most for designers who have taken advantage of other Escape Motions products like Amberlight 2 and Flame Painter 3 Pro. You can’t go wrong with the Creative Package, or you can simply combine your previously owned software with this new offering from Escape Motions.

If you have any questions about this Rebelle 2 review, let us know in the comments below. Also, share your thoughts if you’ve had a chance to try it out!

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The Funtastic June Bundle: 44 Fonts + 50 Graphic Packs from TheHungryJPEG http://designreviver.com/updates/funtastic-june-bundle-44-fonts-50-graphic-packs-thehungryjpeg/ http://designreviver.com/updates/funtastic-june-bundle-44-fonts-50-graphic-packs-thehungryjpeg/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 15:34:24 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19440 Every web designer will tell you there is nothing more important than having the right tools, and for a designer that means having the right fonts and graphics. This week we have found a great bundle from the guys at TheHungryJPEG.com! TheHungryJPEG is a marketplace for designers, crafters, newbies, seasoned graphic design ninjas and anybody with an interest... READ MORE

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Every web designer will tell you there is nothing more important than having the right tools, and for a designer that means having the right fonts and graphics. This week we have found a great bundle from the guys at TheHungryJPEG.com! TheHungryJPEG is a marketplace for designers, crafters, newbies, seasoned graphic design ninjas and anybody with an interest in the design world and features premium bundles released every week with amazing deals and premium weekly freebies.

WHAT YOU WILL GET?

  • The Funtastic June Bundle is THE biggest fonts and graphics bundle on TheHungryJPEG to date! 
  • The bundle features 44 fonts and 50 graphic packs.
  • 96% OFF over 90 premium design resources.
  • Only $29!

JUST A FEW OF THE GOODIES INCLUDED:

Chirp Font by Denise Chandler

Caviar Font Duo by Media Lab 

Indulge Script by Anthony James 

Pink Willow by Maroon Baboo

Little Ballerina by Typia Nesia 

Breezy Picnic by Denise Chandler

Adventura Speedol by me55enjah

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The Public Perception of Graphic Designers That Needs Fixing http://designreviver.com/updates/public-perception-graphic-designers-needs-fixing/ http://designreviver.com/updates/public-perception-graphic-designers-needs-fixing/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 08:14:31 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19433 You could be forgiven for thinking the average man in the street understands what a graphic designer does, but it’s readily apparent that they do not.  Sure, there’s a basic understanding that you work with graphics or pictures, but very little understanding of what is involved in the production of a graphic design. The tragic... READ MORE

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You could be forgiven for thinking the average man in the street understands what a graphic designer does, but it’s readily apparent that they do not.  Sure, there’s a basic understanding that you work with graphics or pictures, but very little understanding of what is involved in the production of a graphic design.

The tragic consequence of this is that anyone with a computer and a modicum of drawing ability is able to hang out their shingle and call themselves a designer.  This isn’t right, not by a long shot.  And it’s something we all need to do something about, because it is improperly increasing the level of competition that we face, driving down prices in a market that was already tough to begin with.

Collectively, as an industry of graphic design professionals, we need to change the public perception of what we do, by raising awareness of the difference between designers and illustrators.  This in no way implies that illustrators are of no value, but there is a huge gulf between illustration and design that can only be bridged through appropriate training.

To be successful in illustration demands a high level of artistic talent, and we all should respect that.  We should respect it all the more because graphic design does not demand anywhere near that level of artistic talent in order to enjoy success from it.

But graphic design does have many demands that illustrators don’t generally face, so whereas you don’t necessarily have to be the reincarnation of Michelangelo to be great graphic designer, you really do need to know all the technical aspects of design, which include marketing, communications, and psychology.

Changing the public perception is important because there is a need to ensure that prospective clients understand the value of hiring professional designers with the proper training and skills to create designs that will get the intended results.

Clients who just want something that “looks good” will be lucky to survive in business, let alone reach their full potential.  Many of those who are successful may never understand how much of their success can be attributed to the quality of the brand image you have created for them.

Here are some of the things you can personally do to contribute to improving the public perception of professional graphic designers:

1. Actually be a professional designer

There are some semantic arguments over what the term “professional” really means.  For some, it’s just about whether you get paid or not.  For others, it can be about your business conduct.  But to be truly professional, you need to have a level of expertise that goes beyond what you could merely figure out through trial and error methods.

You don’t necessarily need to do a formal course, because it is possible to teach yourself through books, but a proper academic course in graphic design is the best way to get a really in-depth understanding.  It’s certainly not the study units that focus on drawing and design techniques that are of most value in these courses.

Those skills are mostly talent-based, and at best you’ll just improve on the natural ability you already have.  The real gold in an academic course is the theory.  When you learn the underlying principles of marketing and psychology, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge that helps you play a role in building brands.

Every part of this is important, and if you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong line of work.  Companies like McDonald’s, KFC, and Coca-Cola all have something in common.  The logos designed for these corporations are part of a very deliberate process that definitely takes marketing psychology into account.  If you’re pitching a design to a company and you don’t know how to explain the psychological benefits of the design from a marketing perspective, then you are at a disadvantage compared to a designer who does.

2. Join a professional association

It’s definitely a good idea to join a national or international graphic design association, and preferably one that requires more than just a financial contribution for you to qualify to join its ranks.  But being a member of any professional association is better than not being a member of one.  It is a small investment financially, but one that pays you back with increased credibility and access to information and resources that can help you in your career.

Once you have joined one of these associations, mention it in all your own advertising, on your stationary and so on.  Usually this is as simple as including the logo of the association on the page.

3. Never miss an opportunity to promote the importance of professional design

Above all else, we need the public to understand our profession better, so if you have an opportunity to talk about the benefits of professional design, take it.  Don’t forget to mention the professional association that you’re a member of, and explain that it’s important for customers to be able to have confidence that the designer they are hiring is a properly qualified professional.

In this way, over time, the public will become better educated about the difference between the different types of graphic designers, and will hopefully understand the value that comes from working with real professionals.

4. Enter as many competitions as you can

Nothing helps to boost your own brand image, and the name of the designers who work for you, than to win awards.  But even when you don’t win, you’re still gaining valuable exposure.  More importantly, competitions (when they’re properly promoted) also help to keep the concept of professional design in the public consciousness.

When they see great design and take a moment to appreciate it, then they may think a little before hiring some unknown freelancer from the internet just to save a few bucks.

Final thoughts

Our industry is a strong one, but it needs to be protected from the massive influx of hopeful freelancers who don’t have any real ability other than being able to draw.  By falsely labeling themselves as designers, they are dragging down the reputation of true designers, and their fiercely competitive bidding is driving down the average market price on professional design.

They can afford to do this because they spend nothing on their education and they don’t need to spend any time pondering the important questions about how to give the client the most effective result from a marketing perspective.  In the unlikely event that they’re even aware of the need to provide that value, they don’t have the first clue of how to actually do it.

When non-professionals are allowed to masquerade as professionals, everybody loses except these charlatans.  The client loses because they won’t get the best return from their investment, and you as a professional designer lose in multiple ways, as has already been explained.

There is nothing we can do to stem the tide of new “designers” hanging out their shingles and soliciting for work, but we do have the power of information, and that’s something we should use to our own advantage to raise the bar.

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How to Stay Relevant as a Graphic Designer Today http://designreviver.com/updates/stay-relevant-graphic-designer-today/ http://designreviver.com/updates/stay-relevant-graphic-designer-today/#respond Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:27:00 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19420 The two largest and fastest growing markets for graphic designers during the past 20 years have been website design and logo design. Things have changed, and these once highly lucrative markets are no longer the free-flowing fountains of cash they once were.  How did this happen? Where does it leave you now? And what can... READ MORE

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The two largest and fastest growing markets for graphic designers during the past 20 years have been website design and logo design. Things have changed, and these once highly lucrative markets are no longer the free-flowing fountains of cash they once were.  How did this happen? Where does it leave you now? And what can you do about it?  These are some of the questions we’ll try to answer in this article.

Here’s how this problem came to exist

Except for a lucky few who were among the first to get aboard, the invention of the template-based CMS was the worst thing ever to happen for website designers.  It’s true that a few years back you could make a bit of money designing templates for those systems, but what has happened now is that the landscape for templates has normalized.

What does normalization mean in this context?  Well it means that the business community has settled on a certain style of template as the defacto standard, and this is very limiting in terms of what you can do with it.

Compounding this issue is the fact that there are so many millions of templates in existence now, that even if you can create something that would profoundly change this situation for the better, nobody will spend time browsing through all the other templates to find yours.

Those who were making money from template sales will see their earnings fall as this normalization continues to grow and spread.  Business owners from other industries tend to be number crunchers, and won’t always appreciate the importance of good aesthetics.  All that they’ll profess to caring about is that they want their site to look professional, like they spent a lot of money on it when really they didn’t.  And that is really the sole reason why templates exist.

Now, for those who were making money from designing logos and other things of that nature, the landscape has changed as well, and once again it is technology that is to blame.  Sites like Fiverr.com and Freelancer.com have sprung up, bringing globalization into your back yard, and the results are not pretty.  At least not if you were previously able to set your price at something you could live on in a first world country.

This has set you up in a situation where people are not shopping for the most competent designer, but for the lowest price they can get.  So if you want to be part of this market and you want to be competitive in it, you need to sell at a low price, and this means you need to complete a lot more projects to continue earning whatever you previously did.

If you have a bit of self-respect, and you don’t want to work harder to make the same money, then you need to resist the temptation to join this marketplace of under-bidders, and be willing to seek out more intelligent clients than those who will entrust the reputation of their brand to somebody who will work for a fiver.

The marketplace as it exists now

Attracting new clients has never been more difficult, because the level of competition has been raised so high.  Not only are there more designers for people to choose from, but there are massive variations in price as well, with millions of people offering services at well below what the work is actually worth.

This does not necessarily mean that there is no hope for graphic designers, however.  It means that to stay relevant, there may need to be a shift in the way we think about what we do, and to some extent our approach to the work itself.

How to make sure you don’t lose relevance as a designer

While it’s true that the common market is much harder to sell to, there is a way to still keep making money from doing what you love.  The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It is that you need to be an uncommon designer, and sell at a level above the common market.

This, of course, means you need to also find uncommon clients.  How do you do this? The following tips can help you figure out a strategy that will work for you.

Pitching

Bigger businesses tend to look at the bigger picture, and are more willing to see the true value beyond just the cost. With a small business customer, you may need to walk them along a bit to help them understand how hiring a professional designer will add more value to their brand compared to hiring a mere illustrator.

The important point is to be proactive in pitching, and not wait for a big company to come to you.  They’ll go to an established agency with a top reputation first every time, unless you get in there and give them a reason to consider you.

Obviously there will be more opportunities available to you from smaller businesses, but they will focus much more on the cost and you’ll have a lot of competitors.

Pricing

For the small business customer, pricing is paramount. Other factors like quality and aesthetics are not really considerations until you make them be.  Your client needs a reason to hire you instead of that guy on the Internet who is willing to do the job for five dollars.

The first thing to know is that agencies usually charge for design work by the hour.  Small business customers are often afraid of this kind of pricing.  They can find it difficult to trust that hourly rates will be fair, and there is justified concern with not knowing up-front what the job will cost.  Therefore with small business clients, it’s best to quote a flat fee rather than an hourly rate.

Justify your cost by explaining that designers are different from illustrators.  Most people don’t know the difference.  You need to explain that your training in marketing theory and in design principles gives you a solid understanding of brand-building.  A non-professional design may save money in the short term, but in the long term it can be more costly because the public is less trusting of brands that don’t present a professional image.

Practice

How you go about your work has a role to play too.  You shouldn’t really contribute to your own irrelevance, so make sure you talk with prospective clients about the importance of bespoke design versus off-the-shelf solutions.

Always deliver on that promise of helping the customer to improve their image through the use of your designs.  This way you will earn recommendations and you can potentially establish valuable long term relationships with the clients.

As we’ve seen, many designers are struggling to remain relevant in a world that is looking for quick and cheap solutions, where pre-made templates are the standard, and where the opportunity to create those templates is seriously diminished.

Giving up isn’t the answer, nor is working harder.  Working smarter is the way to do it.  That means chasing down the right kinds of clients, selling value, and giving quality results. Follow these simple principles, and success won’t be out of your reach.

header image courtesy of Jord Riekwel

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Getting Value From Online Graphic Design Courses http://designreviver.com/updates/getting-value-online-graphic-design-courses/ http://designreviver.com/updates/getting-value-online-graphic-design-courses/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 07:55:49 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19402 As with anything else you do in life, even if you’re already extraordinarily rich, you should seek value when doing graphic design courses.  When you spend money on something that is inferior and bad value, you are simply encouraging substandard providers to continue ripping people off, wasting your money, and most likely wasting your time... READ MORE

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As with anything else you do in life, even if you’re already extraordinarily rich, you should seek value when doing graphic design courses.  When you spend money on something that is inferior and bad value, you are simply encouraging substandard providers to continue ripping people off, wasting your money, and most likely wasting your time as well.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different options available to help you achieve your desired outcome in the least time with the lowest cost.  Those criteria are important, because the value determination is decided by the following formula:

1. First, you need to establish clearly why you want to do the course of study

People undertake study for all kinds of reasons.  By knowing why your want to do this study, which is going to take up some of your time and may cost money (c+t), you can more easily determine the desirability of the outcome (d.o.), and all three of these are necessary in order to calculate the value (v).

Typical reasons why people want to study:

  • To learn new skills
  • To earn prestige
  • To assist in gaining employment
  • To improve prospects of promotion
  • For a sense of achievement
  • To eliminate boredom

These reasons can actually be categorized, as follows:

You may possibly have other reasons as well, but you should easily be able to work out whether the reasons are for yourself or for others.  These categories may seem confusing.  You may be thinking that gaining employment is something you do for yourself, as is getting a promotion and earning prestige.  That’s true, you do (sometimes) benefit from all those things, but that’s not the point.  What we’re actually talking about here is whose expectation is being fulfilled.

To frame it in simple terms, if your desired outcome is to gain employment, then you don’t actually care about the qualification itself, you are simply getting that in order to get what you really want (so it’s secondary to your real objective).  You’re getting the qualification because you believe the employer you want to work for expects you to have it.  The same goes for prestige.  In that case, your primary objective is to impress other people, and the qualification is simply a means to achieve that end.

When the only expectations you’re trying to meet are your own (gaining new skills, achieving something, and eliminating boredom), then the situation is entirely different.  In this case, you care more about what you’re studying and learning than the piece of paper you get at the end of it.

So, be honest with yourself when determining the reason for your decision to study, because that will help with the rest of the process.

2. Next determine what you can afford to invest in your education

The cost of study can vary enormously from $0 to over $100,000.  The primary determinants of cost are how, where, and what you study.  Since you’re reading this article, we can already be fairly sure that what you want to study is something related to graphic design, so that just leaves the how and where to be worked out.

With regard to the matter of where, it does make a difference.  For example, the National University of Singapore is ranked far above UC San Diego (by a full 15 places), but you can’t expect an employer in Frumpburg, Arizona to actually know such a thing unless you point it out.  Ironically the exact same situation may occur to job seekers in Singapore, where the Singaporean employer may incorrectly view the American degree as having a higher value than one earned locally.

This is why determining the reason for studying was so important.  If your reason is from the left column, the quality of education you’d receive in Singapore is considered by the experts to be better than what you’d receive in a very large number of American academic institutions.  However, if the reason was from the “For others” column, and you live in the United States, you may actually find that studying even in a low ranked American institution provides more value.

Next you’ll come to the challenge that if you decide to study online, while much has improved recently, there is still a stigma associated with it, as illustrated dramatically in Better Call Saul when Charles openly expresses his contempt to Jimmy when it is revealed that he earned his degree from the University of American Samoa (go Land Crabs!), even though Jimmy pointed out that the university was accredited.

The reality is that, assuming this was a real scenario, Jimmy’s entitlement to practice law would not be any less than that of Charles, even though Charles earned a degree from a prestigious American Ivy League university, and Jimmy studied by distance education by night while spending his days working in the mail room.  Both universities were accredited and all lawyers in New Mexico take the same bar exam.  Pass the bar, you’re a lawyer.  It’s supposed to be that easy.  And yet, there’s still an obvious stigma about distance education, and not just in TV land.

If your reason for studying was a left column reason, online study should definitely be your number one option.  It’s way more convenient and the quality of instruction isn’t any less.  It’s also often much more economical, and in some cases it’s even free (more about that later).

If your reason was a right column reason, then it could be a bit more complicated.  Generally speaking, your certificate, diploma, or degree isn’t supposed to look any different whether you complete your course by distance education or not, but in practice it sometimes does.  Most of the time it doesn’t.  The second thing is the name of the provider.  Stanford University makes a bit more of an impression than Uncle Roy’s School of Visual Design & Horse Dentistry.  In the US, Canada, and Australia, it can also add some value if your education provider includes the name of a state or province in their institutional name.  Private schools and colleges, other than Ivy League ones, are the most likely to earn looks of derision.

All that having been said, and prestige aside, no course of education will drain your bank balance faster than  attending an on-campus course at an American Ivy League university.  Community colleges and small private colleges or training centers are massively more affordable, and as long as they’re accredited, you’ll still get the same string of letters after your name.  If you’re a left column person, accreditation may not even be that big of a deal, since your main interest is in what you learn, not what you get.

Some unaccredited training providers or certification issuers are respected equally and sometimes even more than an equivalent accredited degree providing institution.  Fortunately in graphic design, your portfolio is usually of more interest to anyone than where you studied.

3. Determine how much time you can invest in training

Need a job next month?  Starting a four year degree probably won’t help a lot (it may help a bit though).  Short term certifications are important if you need quick results to achieve an objective that isn’t directly related to the training.

Otherwise it comes down to how it impacts on your life and work.  If you’re already busy, then adding study on top will certainly be difficult, but many people do manage to get by.  My own experience suggests that it’s very difficult, but it depends on the courses you take.

Also this has to be said: if you can afford to take more time, do it.  The longer you take to finish the training, the less pressure you’ll feel.  Stress can really block your creativity, and in a field where more of your assessment is likely to be on what you produce than academic examination, you don’t want to be blocked.

4. For left column students, free courses and tutorials are usually the best choice

Many free courses are as good as paid ones and some are even better.  Also you can find cheap courses at places like Udemy, and these are sometimes much more productive and less time-wasting than formal academic courses.  If the main value is on what you learn and not what you earn, then go right ahead and do the cheap or free courses, gain the skills, and get on with doing what you love.

5. Convert what you learned in the free or cheap courses into actual college credit

If you pay attention during your training and actually do learn something, you can convert your knowledge and skills into college credit via two pathways.

The first, which is less costly, is to achieve credit by examination.  For this you pay a small fee and go sit an exam. Pass the exam and you get the credits.  Some universities will even let you earn your entire degree this way.

The second way to earn credit is by portfolio assessment, but this is usually very expensive, and unlike if you pass an exam, they’re not obligated to award you any credit if in their opinion your work isn’t worthy of being awarded credit.

6. For right column students, formal academic courses are more suitable

If you’re into acquiring fancy degrees and transcripts without caring whether you actually learn anything of value, formal courses of education provide what you’re in need of.  For you, earning that piece of paper (or at least getting it) is more important than the education itself.  Now what you will most likely want to do is get that qualification as quickly as possible.

Let’s start with the situation where the qualification you’re pursuing is an actual college or university level qualification.  If you’re still in high school, and you’re smart enough, you can enroll in community college classes and start earning college credits before you graduate from high school.  This is an excellent way to fast track, and a path that’s often overlooked, usually because students don’t know it’s possible.

Next up, if you have already graduated from high school, you can earn credits by examination and by portfolio assessment (see point 5, above), you don’t have to do every class in the program.

7. For graphic design jobs, a college diploma is often enough

While in most professions a full Bachelors or Masters degree is desirable, graphic designers won’t normally have trouble getting hired with a lot less, especially if they have a strong portfolio or good samples to show. The diploma is just to satisfy the HR department in a big corporation that they’re hiring an “expert” who is not a total slacker.  If you want to be even more lazy, some colleges offer an Associate Diploma, which you can get in just one year.  Now imagine if you earned that Assoc. Dip. with most of your credits earned by examination.  Quite often it’s all you need to satisfy the the HR admin that you’re a serious applicant, and from that point, your portfolio does the rest of the talking.

8. You don’t necessarily even need any diplomas or certificates

If you know you’re a great designer and you don’t think you need any training to prove it, you can bypass the whole song and dance routine simply by joining a professional association.  It’s not guaranteed to work in terms of getting you past HR manager scrutiny, but it often does.

What it means is that you can list on your CV something like:

Member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts

Then it is sometimes simply assumed you did much more to qualify for that status than paying $150 to the AIGA.  There are many similar organizations all around the world.  It works because HR managers are often members of Management organizations where you normally do actually have to qualify to be a member, so they just assume that anyone who is a member of a professional organization had to work as hard as they did… if you’re lucky!

9. Just because I told you how to take short cuts doesn’t necessarily mean I think you should

Being an artist and being a designer are not exactly the same thing, although many people think that they are.  To truly be a designer, you really need to be as much of an engineer as you are an artist.  Most people don’t have what it takes to be an engineer without at least a little bit of real education.

Being a great graphic designer means not only knowing how to apply a particular illustration technique, but also why and when to apply it.  These are things you normally only learn over time by studying quite a lot of theory, including psychology, color theory, and sometimes even physics.  On top of that, depending on your specialty, you will probably also want to do all kinds of technology classes and learn how to use the advanced tools of the trade.  Taking shortcuts means you can miss a lot of that, and ultimately perhaps never reach your full potential as  designer.

10. Free short courses that are worth investigating

Remember at the start of the article when I showed you that equation?  You know, the one about value equals cost and time divided by the desirability of the outcome?   Well, if you can make cost equal zero and time be as short as possible, while the desirability of the outcome is still relatively high, then that must equal great value.  Here’s a round up of a few free short courses that you could consider:

  • Alison – Visual & Graphic Design Course.  It is a 3 hour course (study at your own pace) with an assessment at the end and the chance to obtain a non-accredited certificate.  The course covers an excellent selection of foundation skills required for competency in graphic design. If you want to, you can complete an entire (non-accredited) diploma course and purchase a fancy looking diploma to hang on your wall.
  • Udacity – Intro to the Design of Everyday Things. This one takes 2 weeks to complete, but it’s an in-depth introductory course taught by design professionals which will equip you with the principles of design.
  • Coursera – Introduction to Typography.  Taught by Anther Kiley on behalf of the California Institute of the Arts, this 4 week Coursera course will give you a really detailed understanding of fonts and the science of typography.  Yep, you’re investing a whole month to just learn about type, but you’ll be amazed at just how much you can actually learn about that topic, and how useful it will be to you as a designer.
  • Coursera – User Research & Design. It would be nice if this course actually taught you how to design a user, but unfortunately the title is just poor semantics.  The course has a large number of instructors from the University of Minnesota, and while it’s primarily geared toward web designers and software UI designers, it will give you insight into how audiences respond to designs and how they think about the elements of a design.  Like most Coursera courses, this one also requires an investment of 4 weeks, but it’s free.
  • Coursera – Graphic Design.  The no-nonsense title of this course lets you know what you’re getting into right from the start.  It’s taught by David Underwood from the University of Colorado Boulder. The course really hits its stride during the 2nd and 3rd weeks, where you’ll learn a lot of important techniques and theories.
  • edX – Natural History Illustration. This one is a little different.  The provider is the University of Newcastle (in Australia).  While it’s not really aimed at beginners or at all suitable for them, if you can already draw then this course will teach you some of the high level techniques used in sketching the natural world.  Although it’s not specifically about graphic design, the skills and knowledge are transferable.  Learn to draw and color a butterfly perfectly, and you’ll be able to create all kinds of other things using the same skill set. 

Additionally you will find plenty of sites online (such as the one you’re reading now) that offer free tutorials on all things design related.  You may have to wade through quite a lot of low quality tutorials before you discover any real gold, but that’s the tradeoff you have to make when you are getting something for free.

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8 Design Tips for Improving Your SEO http://designreviver.com/updates/8-design-tips-improving-seo/ http://designreviver.com/updates/8-design-tips-improving-seo/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 03:31:46 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19391 Since all major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo determine the ranking of their search results in a similar way, the internal coding and the visual appearance of your website plays a hugely important role when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). With the internet now being the hottest source of information... READ MORE

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Since all major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo determine the ranking of their search results in a similar way, the internal coding and the visual appearance of your website plays a hugely important role when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). With the internet now being the hottest source of information for almost everything you could think of, it’s also one of the biggest platforms out there for advertising your brand. With the average web user browsing the web around fourteen times a day from a variety of devices, every website has a design – but is yours helping, or hindering your success? We’ve listed some top tips for improving your website’s SEO through your web design.

Be Mobile-Friendly

When it comes to optimizing your web design for SEO, one of the biggest mistakes that you can make is failing to ensure that your site is mobile-friendly. Today, more and more web users are foregoing the traditional desktop and laptop computers when browsing the web, instead, using portable, convenient smart devices such as a tablet or a smartphone, which can be checked on the go. Since search engines such as Google noticed this, they updated their algorithms to favor websites which offer a truly mobile-friendly viewing experience for all of their visitors. The best way to achieve this is by using a responsive website design, which ‘responds’ and fits to any device that your visitors may be browsing your website on.

Keep Up to Date

Similar to the fashion industry, the website design industry is constantly changing with the addition of new trends, along with others that come back around. One of the best ways to improve your search optimization through your website design is to ensure that you are utilizing the hottest trends and that the layout, visual appearance and navigation on your website is not dated. Simply by using a modern and up-to-date website design, you will improve your website’s bounce rate since more visitors will be likely to stick around if your web design is highly appealing and includes an easy to use UI. Currently, the top three web design trends include video backgrounds, multi-grid layouts, and interactive website designs.

Don’t Slow It Down

Although it’s essential to study and consider the hottest web design trends to ensure that your website not only appears modern and trendy, but also provides a sleek and updated experience for your viewers, it is also essential to consider whether or not your choice of web design is going to slow down your page loading time. For example, video backgrounds can be very appealing and are certainly popular today, but the problem with this is that a large video file on your website can quickly slow it down and frustrate your users. Be sure to check whether or not your site’s web design is affecting your page’s loading time using Google’s handy tool.

Revamp Your Meta Tags

Meta tags are a hugely important component of your website, as they are picked up on by search engines before they rank your site in the search results. The purpose of a meta tag is to notify the search engine of the title, description, index rate and keywords on your website. For the best results, every page on your website should include a meta-tag, so regularly take the time to ensure that all of your meta tags are up to date and that none are missing.

Use Long-Tail Keywords

Whether you are writing meta tags and descriptions for your website or want to improve SEO by including more keywords in your website content, long-tail keywords tend to yield the best ranking results since they are more specific and unique. Along with this, it can be much easier to naturally fit a long-tail keyword into the flow of your content without it looking forced or obvious. This, along with informational, interesting website content that flows well, will not only improve your website’s traffic, but also the bounce rate by encouraging more visitors to stay and learn more.

Less Is More

When putting your website design together, keeping it minimal will provide the best results for your on-site SEO campaign. Not only is minimal web design a good SEO booster, it’s also really in style and works with almost any kind of website. A minimal web design is straightforward and easy for all viewers to understand, and there’s little chance of a web user getting lost in the navigation system or failing to understand how to use your site when you keep things simple. According to opinion polls, web users much prefer minimal web designs – so providing your viewers with what they want will earn your website favor with search engines.

Check Broken Links

It’s important to regularly check your website for any broken links, since leaving them present will increase the total number of redirection requests. Since too many redirections will result in a drop in your site’s visibility and ranking in search engine results, it’s important to ensure that you eliminate broken links by running a check once your website is launched to the server. Usually, broken links are caused by an issue that can be quickly rectified, such as a misspelled word.

Improve Your Website Content

When it comes to SEO, web content still rules supreme. So, along with the visual parts of your website design, getting the content just right is also very important for achieving an excellent standard and improving your search engine ranking. In general, websites which include great content tend to be much more favored and trusted by search engines, leading to higher rankings and better traffic. Make your content more interesting for readers by using appealing Google fonts, high resolution images, and bold text. You may also want to consider incorporating a blog into your website’s design; this will provide visitors with much more information to read and creates more URL indexes for your site on Google, leading to increased visitors.

Would you like to add to this list? Share your best design tips for on-site SEO in the comments!

header image courtesy of 

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10 Essential Tools Every Blogger Should Have in their Arsenal http://designreviver.com/updates/10-essential-tools-every-blogger-arsenal/ http://designreviver.com/updates/10-essential-tools-every-blogger-arsenal/#respond Sun, 05 Mar 2017 20:27:00 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19383 Starting and running a successful blog involves extensive research and reading. The process is harder for beginners, especially those who do not know what to blog about. Even if you are already a running blog, you will come across new ideas to improve it. Continuous learning is necessary to maintain and improve your rank. How... READ MORE

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Starting and running a successful blog involves extensive research and reading. The process is harder for beginners, especially those who do not know what to blog about. Even if you are already a running blog, you will come across new ideas to improve it. Continuous learning is necessary to maintain and improve your rank. How do you organize all this information? You will forget everything you read if you do not use the right tools to record and organize the information. You also need tools to manage the content or posts on your blog and responses from your readers. Here are some of the tools you should have in your arsenal:

1. Read-it-later

Sometimes you come across useful information on the internet when you do not have enough time to read and apply it. Read-it-later creates a list of web pages that you can refer to later. You can also save items saved on your mobile device or computer. The tool enables you to read the saved items offline or online.

2. Diigo

Diigo allows you to annotate web pages when launching a blog. You can add sticky notes, highlight, save images, bookmark, and take screenshots of useful pages. You create a Diigo account where you will manage and access all the research findings. When revisiting the web pages, all the annotations will automatically appear. You can also view any annotations that other people add to any of the pages.

3. ScribeFire

The tool will be useful when you start posting content on your blog. You create ScribeFire as an extension to your browser. The tool is compatible with the most popular browsers including Safari, Opera Mini, Chrome, and Firefox. Once you add the extension, you can post content directly from your browser. Bloggers love ScribeFire because it allows them to manage posts and post to several blogs at the same time. The tool has so many features that you may not use some of them ever. However, you have an efficient way of creating and publishing posts, dropping texts and images, and scheduling posts. Other important features include editing web pages and categorizing posts.

4. Dropbox

Multimedia content is one way of bringing traffic to your blog. Such content requires large storage space. You may not require much storage space at the start. However, your device’s storage space may run out as you build your blog. Dropbox enables you to save large files including documents, images, and videos. The tool allows you to share the saved items with other bloggers or your team members.

5. Hatchbuck

You need a functional tool to manage your emails and emailing list, especially if you intend to monetize your blog. Hatchbuck makes it easy for you to read tons of emails. It also enables you to create templates for new emails, schedule emails to send later, and track the performance of email marketing.

6. Qumana

Here is another tool to help manage your posts. Qumana is a desktop editor that simplifies the process of editing and publishing posts to your blogs. Other important features include adding ads and images to your posts, Technorati tagging, and text formatting. You can use Qumana offline. The tool is compatible with Mac and Windows platforms.

7. Windows Live Writer

The blog editor is very popular among bloggers. The tool works on the Windows platform and enables you to create and edit new posts. You can edit old blog posts as well. Windows Live Write gives you a preview of your posts before you publish them. You will view the posts as your readers will see them on your blog. You can add videos, images, and maps to your posts directly from tools. In addition, you can enhance the tool’s functionality by adding plugins. Windows Live Writer is compatible with more than a hundred plugins.

8. Veeb

Most blogging tools integrate with the operating system on your computer or mobile phone. You integrate Veeb with your blogging platform. The tool is currently compatible with Drupal and WordPress. The editor conducts a semantic text analysis on your posts or content. The process involves searching for links and significant keywords that will boost your posts’ ranking. Veeb suggests media that you can add to your posts. You can drag and drop media to your content including videos and images. Another amazing feature on the editor is the research section. You can do an integrated search and get more information about any topic of interest.

9. PollDaddy

When you launch a blog, you want to interact with your readers continually and share useful information with them. After publishing relevant and accurate content, you need their feedback to determine if you are meeting their needs. You can determine if your posts are reaching the target audience and providing the information they need on certain topics. Feedback and opinions from your readers are important when you are promoting products on your blog.

PollDaddy enables you to create and run simple polls and surveys. When you post a question on your blog, the tool records and organizes all the responses from your readers. PollyDaddy comes with a survey editor and is compatible with iOS. You can read the comments or responses from your readers on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

10. HootSuite

Any successful blogger will tell you that social media will bring tons of traffic to your blog when utilized properly. You need accounts on all popular platforms to connect with your readers. You can share new posts and initiate discussions on social media. If you post interesting content every day, most of your followers on social media will start visiting your blog. However, posting on each social media account individually is tedious. HootSuite enables you to manage your social media accounts from one location. You can schedule posts from the HootSuite dashboard for your Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts.

Conclusion

Blogging involves managing large amounts of information and media every day. You can improve your efficiency as a blogger by using the right tools for all the processes. Each tool is designed to help you improve a certain process such as posting content to multiple blogs. You will come across free and paid tools with similar functions and features. The secret is to select the best tools for each process. Most of the paid tools have a trail version to enable you to test their efficiency.

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How To Efficiently Run a Great Design Team http://designreviver.com/updates/efficiently-run-great-design-team/ http://designreviver.com/updates/efficiently-run-great-design-team/#respond Mon, 06 Feb 2017 05:55:39 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19373 Building a design team that works well together can take years as designers can sometimes be a bit free spirited when it comes to their career path. For this reason you might have to allow your designers to work from home in order to keep an incredible talent. This is not uncommon but it does... READ MORE

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Building a design team that works well together can take years as designers can sometimes be a bit free spirited when it comes to their career path. For this reason you might have to allow your designers to work from home in order to keep an incredible talent. This is not uncommon but it does come with its own problems like lack of communication or the lack of a boss looking over your shoulder to make sure you finish before a big deadline. Managing any team is tough but managing creatives can be another challenge in itself. The following are tips to running a great design team in an efficient manner.

Do Weekly Goal Meetings

One of the most important things that you can do with designers is to have weekly goal meetings. At the beginning of the week there should be a meeting where everyone declares their productivity goals for the week. The end of the week should have a meeting to see where people missed and accomplished their goals. This will help in letting clients know when something will be done as a designer will not give unrealistic timetables for a project as they will be setting goals weekly. At this meeting it is important for you to ask what you can do better as well. As the manager of the design team it is your job to make their jobs as easy as possible. Whether this is automating the order process or sending a recap of client notes, efficient work starts with you as the manager.

Have Set Milestones

Every project should have set milestone at the completion of major portions of the project. This cuts down on the possibility that the designer went in the wrong direction or the client didn’t verbalize the project in the way that they wanted to. These milestones also make it easier to give the client a realistic deadline instead of a ballpark date. Make sure to build in days for edits into the project schedule as changing the scope of the project or asking for major edit can impact the schedule immensely.

Communicate Directly With Clients

The fact is that many design projects start out on the wrong foot because the designers do not get to directly speak with the client. The designer being able to ask the client about certain aspects of the project can be quite helpful as well. Putting them both in direct contact with each other is something that should be done carefully. Some clients tend to jump from idea to idea which can drive a designer insane. A weekly recap for the client that the designer could send over makes it easy for any small changes to be done then rather than at the end of the project which results in hundreds of little things to fix.

Dedicate Some Time To Self Education

Encouraging your designing staff to do self-education on all areas related to web design is extremely wise. Clients might ask the designer questions about SEO or other areas. Knowing these things and the differences between cloud and shared hosting can be important especially if the client takes the designer’s advice. Having well-rounded designers will also help them design with a better sense of SEO in mind or design for a better checkout system because of something they learned on ecommerce.

As you can see running a great design team in an efficient manner can be difficult. Wrangling in all of the different attitudes and working styles is going to be quite the challenge. It will take time to learn about the intricacies of your team so do not get discouraged if everything isn’t working to optimal levels at first. Keep evolving as a team and in no time you will be working at a high level.

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What it Takes to Make a Great Graphic Design Website http://designreviver.com/updates/takes-make-great-graphic-design-website/ http://designreviver.com/updates/takes-make-great-graphic-design-website/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 17:01:10 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19358 As a graphic designer, you’re expected to have a great website, which kind of sucks if you’re more artistically than technically inclined, and you don’t have the kind of money it takes to hire a really good professional web developer to help you. No matter how inept you may feel when it comes to coding... READ MORE

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As a graphic designer, you’re expected to have a great website, which kind of sucks if you’re more artistically than technically inclined, and you don’t have the kind of money it takes to hire a really good professional web developer to help you.

No matter how inept you may feel when it comes to coding a web page, the one thing you absolutely must not do is use a generic website template to showcase your graphic design abilities.  What a template literally screams at your audience is a series of uncomplimentary adjectives such as:

  • Lazy!
  • Unimaginative!
  • Non-creative!
  • Unoriginal!

These are not words that any graphic designers should want to have associated with themselves.  So whatever you do, don’t ever have a website that looks too similar to anybody else’s, and especially don’t use commonly available templates, or even a similar layout, because there’s a really good chance that people will have seen them before and that will make a difference to how many customers you get through your site.

Should you have a site at all?  Yes, indeed you should.  A website can get you work you never expected, and helps when you’re pitching to anyone because you can refer them to your site.  Also if you don’t refer them to your site, they’ll wonder why not, because every other designer they talked to did have a website.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the things you can do to make sure your website stands out from the rest.  And don’t worry if you’re “not good with computers” because I’ll explain how to do any really tricky stuff as simply as possible.

1. Make sure your design is relevant in some way to who you are and what you are

This is going to be true whether you’re a lone operator or a member of a team of professionals who work together as a studio.  Your website has to be about you and your identity or image, and it has to be created for your audience.  The reason for the emphasis on those particular words is that people often forget what the website is meant to be about and who it’s meant to be for.  The “for and about” is a really important part of the design decision, maybe even the most important part.

Here’s an example of a site that gets it right:

So why is that the right approach?  Well, for a start it tells me who he is (Rodrigo Breckenfeld), what he does (graphic design & front end development), and why I should be interested in him (he develops simple and communicative visuals + friendly users (sic) interfaces and stuff).

We know he’s Brazilian, so we can overlook the accidental grammatical error.  He didn’t say he was a writer, he said he was a designer.  The important thing is he tells me most of what I need to know, and he tells me that visually, but not without words.

I can’t stress how important that is.  Never make a website that is based entirely on pictures (at least not if you’re making it for yourself, or if you intend for it to be part of your portfolio).  Lazy, air-headed designers are pushing carousel based websites onto corporate descision makers who don’t know any better, but you, as an actual designer, ought to know better.

Here’s an example of a site that does exactly the opposite of what I’m advising:

Why  do I believe this is the wrong approach?  Because I can’t tell at a glance who they are, what they do, or why I should be interested in them.  To get the first clue, I need to look at the bottom of the page, always the worst place to put anything that needs to be noticed.  Right away I am given a wrong impression about this company.  Yes they are creative and a bit different, but they’re making things difficult for me by causing me to have to look around the design to find information.

Their design is also busy.  Too many images makes the mind work harder, and that’s especially the case when all the images are not related to each other in any obvious way.  People simply like things to connect, and when they don’t it feels uncomfortable and jarring.  When something we look at makes sense, it makes us more comfortable.

The main problem though is that there are no words where words are needed.  This means the site has no message and nothing to truly hook me unless I either already know who they are, or I find one of the images so absolutely captivating that I just have to find out more about it.  And it’s a shame, because the photos are actually excellent.  ELI are clearly great at what they do (digitally improving photos). But in my opinion, that needs to be communicated more effectively than simply by showing me the results of their work.

Finally, let’s take a look at a site that fell somewhere in the middle:

When you first enter this site, you’re confronted with the slightly unsettling image of this guy staring silently at you and then very slowly blinking.  That’s actually pretty good because a lot of people will be curious about what’s going on, and they’ll want to found out more.  Although we don’t know anything much about Michael at this point other than what he looks like, that’s OK.  You can suspend the “at a glance” rule if you have a strong hook, and this site does.

Scrolling down the page a little, we can see that he’s holding up a message for us:

Great.  We now know who he is, what he does, and why we should be interested in him.  But here what we can see is the importance of not only using words, but using the right words in the right way.

I would certainly consider hiring Michael as a developer, but the one flaw in his message is that it’s not very effective communication.  It tells me the wrong things in the wrong way, without really inspiring me to find out more.

Sorry, Mike.  It’s a great site, really I love the creative idea behind it, but it would have helped to have assistance from a professional writer or communications specialist to help hit the right note going forward. Don’t take this the wrong way.  This guy rocks, he’s awesome… just maybe not necessarily as a writer.  Truth be told, writing about yourself is one of the hardest tasks to tackle, which is why sometimes it might be better to hand the job over to somebody else.

Case in point: it’s not a bad idea to mention what school you went to, but Simon Fraser University isn’t well known enough that you can abbreviate it to “SFU” except when talking with other people who went there.

2. Stand out for the right reasons

Your design needs to be different and unique enough to arrest my interest, but it shouldn’t be so off-the-wall that I want to claw at my retinas just to get the image out of my head as quickly as possible.

The website you present is part of your brand identity, either as a company or as an individual, so you want to make sure the story you’re telling is a good one.  When it is done well, the website arouses curiosity without creating confusion.  You need to balance “unique” so it stops a little short of “crazy”.

Here’s an example of a guy who seems to get it:

Now, Ed’s site is a little old-school, but that’s OK because Ed seems to be a little old-school himself, and there’s nothing wrong with that when it fits.  Ideally it would be better if the page would stretch a little more to make better use of the available screen space, and it doesn’t seem to be a responsive design.  That would just benefit him, it doesn’t take anything away from his message because he’s not claiming to be a web designer.  In fact, he makes it very clear that he’s not one, because that hand written menu at the top has links to many different kinds of design work, but not web design.

Which also raises another point, which is that the use of all that hand written and hand drawn stuff, the scrapbook style on old paper, is actually a really clever way of visually showing that he’s into that old-school style of design.  He’ll create a font for you.  He’ll design a poster for you. He may even be able to make some really groovy Christmas cards, man.  But he’s not about trying to impress you with that fancy-schmancy high tech stuff.  Not to say that he couldn’t do it, just that he doesn’t need to.

Here’s another site that I really took a shine to for it’s bold leap away from the mundane:

Unfortunately they’ve decided for some reason to update the entire design of the site, when I think the old design was quite good, and an excellent approach for a married couple that are working together in a business.  Admittedly they may have been a bit too self-deprecating in their descriptions of themselves, but that’s the Australian way.  For them, in their country, it’s an approach that is likely to work.

The interface of the site is really simple.  When you first land on the page, you’re presented with a replica of a business card:

This works because it satisfies 2 out of the 3 “at a glance” critreria (who they are and what they do).  It’s fairly obvious that we’ll need to scroll down the page to find out the third thing, which is why we should care.  As I said before, you can relax the rules a bit if you have a good hook.

Scrolling down, you see the Mr & Mrs section, which gives us their photos, their individual roles in the business, and a short blurb about each of them, which is just wordy enough without being boring, and I like that it’s narrated in the first person.  Such a rare thing these days, when everybody’s being told not to do that (which is stupid advice, by the way).  At either side of the page are arrows indicating where you can find more information, and that was a good touch too, because it reinforces that message of there being two separate halves to the whole.

Starting with her side, we get taken to a lovely clean page with a nice visual style and appealing typography:

From there you have access to her portfolio, more detailed autobiographical information, her blog, a guide to her services, and information about how to contact her.  Each of these pages is as much of a visual treat as you’d probably expect.

The page about Mr Mealing, of course, is supposed to contrast, so the color scheme is reversed on his side.  Let’s take a look at what Samuel’s page looks like:

Personally, I was a bit less satisfied with this one because it had a more generic template look to it, but it’s still very nicely presented and the colors are effective.  It isn’t entirely intuitive that the user should hover over the badges to reveal that they stand for HTML, CSS and JavaScript.  Maybe I just have a deviant mind, but I think the JavaScript one isn’t obvious at all, and actually looks like some kind of orifice.  The page does a good job of packing a lot of complicated information into a small space, and it’s an effective piece of communication.  Maybe saying that you’re “pretty good” is not quite strong enough when you’re trying to convince someone to give you a gig, though.

Now that we’ve covered that, it’s time to address the fact that you can also stand out for the wrong reasons.  You can cut things a little too close to the crazy line.  Here’s an example of what it looks like when you maybe push things a little too far:

Granted, some people are probably going to like that, but I think it’s just too different.  Here, the only way to know who they are is to see that badge at the bottom of the page, and as for what they do or why you should hire them, there’s really only an impression that they like to scribble things.

In case it’s not obvious (and it’s not!), you’re supposed to click on the red dot.  Then it will zoom in and play an animation for you, providing more dots to click.  Each time you click a dot and watch the short animation that results, a link will become available next to the brand badge, which lets you inspect the Facebook profile of one of their contributors.

Somehow, though, as you can see, the site won an award.  Clearly the judges don’t take into account the actual usefulness of the information and whether or not it would be highly effective in attracting customers as part of their assessment criteria.

3. Keep your messages simple

Simple, communication is what works best.  Make good use of the visual space and communicate well visually.  You should also use words effectively, to tell people what they need to know in the most appropriate way.  You don’t necessarily need to be brief, and sometimes it’s counter-productive to be brief.  But you do need to be clear.

Above all, impress people because you’re impressive, not because you’re trying to impress.  What should happen is the viewer should be sitting at the computer and feel their jaw drop in amazement as they stare at the screen and utter the immortal line: “Wow, that’s really impressive! Where’s my phone? I have to hire this person!”

If you get it wrong, they’ll say: “Ha! Look at this idiot, trying to impress me with all that hi-tech nonsense!”

And if you get it really wrong they’re going to say: “Arrrgh! This crazy website with all the stupid big graphics, tacky unnecessary JavaScript and God-awful Flash animations has completely overwhelmed my CPU.  Now I’m gonna have to reboot!”

Don’t be that guy.  Also avoid using jargon unless it’s something you’d expect the audience to be familiar with.  For example, it’s perfectly fine to use the abbreviation “PHP” and it would actually be weird if you spelled out the individual words that it stands for.  On the other hand, if you go throwing around the buzzword abbreviation of the month like “CTR” and “KPI”, don’t be surprised if you lose half your audience.

A lot of websites, especially those in web design and SEO, try to use high level business jargon that is just bamboozling to small business owners and they’ll tune out.  Or when they don’t tune out, they’ll be that annoying customer who actually knows what you’re talking about even though you didn’t when you wrote that crap.  So don’t do that either, because nothing good ever comes from it.

Always respect you audience and treat them how you’d want to be treated yourself.  Don’t talk down to them, but avoid being confusing.  And if you possibly can, try to reach them on an emotional level or stimulate their intellect, without having them think you’re a fool.  Communicating, after all, is as much an art as it is a science.

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Free Online Graphic Design Tools http://designreviver.com/updates/free-online-graphic-design-tools/ http://designreviver.com/updates/free-online-graphic-design-tools/#respond Mon, 12 Dec 2016 07:04:45 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19338 The days of paying for graphic design software – even really good software – may be coming to an end.  For years we’ve already had many great open source and freeware tools available for installing on our computers, but now with web applications becoming more common, even the need for installation is becoming obsolete.  This... READ MORE

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The days of paying for graphic design software – even really good software – may be coming to an end.  For years we’ve already had many great open source and freeware tools available for installing on our computers, but now with web applications becoming more common, even the need for installation is becoming obsolete.  This makes applications more device independent.  So much for the positives.  The negative side of it is that it means to use these online tools, you need a working and reliable internet connection during the whole work session.

Between freeware and online web applications, we have more choice than ever before, and it will become increasingly more difficult for proprietary closed source applications to remain relevant.  Apart from the cost factor, they also have to deal with the growing awareness of the inherent security risks associated with closed source applications.  Even if you trust a company to do the right thing, you are still putting all your faith in the individual employees of that company, who may not necessarily have the same agenda as the company they work for.

Unfortunately many of the online tools are Flash-based, which is almost as bad as, and possibly worse than, installing a closed-source application on your computer.  Therefore you should use a bit of common sense if you’re doing anything online that uses Flash (and that includes using Facebook).  Sandboxing is always a great idea, and there’s even dedicated operating systems like Qubes OS that have been created to make it really easy for you to sandbox untrusted things.

What we are listing here is some of the many free graphic design software tools you can access online or download for free.  Some of these tools are only able to do one thing, but they can save you time and effort, plus let you work from almost anywhere.

1. Dynamic Drive Image Optimizer

doc119img01

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/imageoptimizer/

Description:  Dynamic Drive has a huge range of free tools and scripts available, primarily for web design tasks.  In this case, the image optimizer is used to make an image more web-friendly.  While it’s limited to images with a maximum file size of 2.86 MB, this shouldn’t be a problem because if your image is larger than that, you should have already optimized it to some extent yourself before using this online tool.

2. AutoDesk Pixlr

doc119img02

OS Required: Windows, Linux, Unix, Android

Needs Install: No (except required for Apple devices)

Source Type: Closed

Uses Flash: Yes (online version)

Service Type: Freemium

Get From: http://pixlr.com/editor

Description:  While the installed version is closed-source and the online version is Flash-based, AutoDesk has been around for a long time and this product works so well I can overlook almost any problems of this nature.

Essentially, if you can use PhotoShop, you can use this.  All the familiar tools are there, and everything just works, which is more than can be said for a lot of online applications.

In addition to the basic free editor, which is suitable for most needs, there is also the option of purchasing an installed version (which you’ll need to do for Apple devices that don’t support Flash).  The installed version is not as good as the online version, which is slightly unusual.  If you create a user account, you’ll get access to the AutoContrast feature, and if you buy a paid subscription you’ll get access to masking and other advanced features that not everyone needs. You’ll probably also be interested in other AutoDesk products, which are all great and reasonably priced, and you can read about those on their blog.

3. Dynamic Drive FavIcon Generator

doc119img03

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/favicon/

Description:  Simply upload an image and the FavIcon generator will shrink it down to FavIcon size for you. Yes, you can do this in an ordinary image editor, but that requires more steps.  This tool is pre-configured to create exactly what you need in a simple three step upload/convert/download process.

4. Dynamic Drive FavIcon Editor

doc119img04

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/faviconeditor/

Description:  This is a great tool for quickly drawing a simple icon without the hassle of installing and running icon editor software on your computer or phone.  There are a few problems with it.  One is that there is some kind of flaw in the JS code that may cause CPU cycles to spike, and the second is that color selection could be a lot easier than the method they’ve implemented.  On the whole, for creating simple icons, this is great.

5. Dynamic Drive Animated GIF Generator

doc119img05

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/animatedgif/

Description:  Creating an animated GIF is really simple in GIMP and many other image editors, but when you don’t want to go to all that trouble, or when you’re working mobile, this tool will simplify the job.  Remember to run all your frames through the image optimizer first.

6. Dynamic Drive Gradient Image Maker

doc119img06

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/gradient/

Description:  If you’re making your gradient for a web page background, then it’s better to do it with JavaScript and CSS, but if you’re going to use the gradient as the background layer in an image, here is the fastest way to generate a perfect gradient.  There are ways to do this automatically in GIMP and PhotoShop but they’re more complicated.  The simplicity of this generator is what makes it appealing.  There are plenty of other gradient generators available online, but if you’re bookmarking Dynamic Drive anyway, it makes sense to use this one.

7. Dynamic Drive Button Maker Online

doc119img07

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/button/

Description:  The name of this one may be a little misleading, because it doesn’t generate “buttons” as you are probably used to thinking about them; it actually generates what are more typically called “badges”.  But semantics aside, it does the job and is a good way to quickly make tidy ID buttons for your web page, poster, or print ad (great for agency branding, etc).

8. Dynamic Drive Base64 Converter

doc119img08

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Open

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Free

Get From: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/imagetobase64/

Description:  Personally, I’ve never had a need to convert an image to base64.  But if I ever did need to convert something to base64, this is the first place I would head.

9. Fotor

doc119img09

OS Required: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Closed

Uses Flash: Yes

Service Type: Freemium

Get From: http://www.fotor.com/

Description:  One look at the Fotor website will have you thinking “Haven’t I been here before?”, and  that’s because the site layout is almost point-for-point a duplicate of Pixlr’s website, and even the product names are similar.  Templates are everything that’s wrong with the web these days.

So anyway, Fotor is fortunately a little different, though it’s not currently being friendly to the Linux and Unix communities, probably because they don’t think we have any money to spend. Clicking on the links from a browser in Linux will direct you to downloading the mobile app from Google Play.  Real computer users, apparently, don’t use Linux. 

Oh, well…  What you get with Fotor is three tools: one for photo editing, one for making photo collages, and one for designing new images.  Upgrading to the paid version gives you access to more design options, advanced features, and an ad-free experience (if that’s important to you).

Fotor would have rated higher except for excluding Linux and Unix users from accessing their product, which is actually the market sector most likely to seek out and use such a product.  The average non-corporate Windows user is way more likely to just find torrented pirate versions of Adobe products and install those, along with all the viruses and malware that accompany most pirate software downloads.

10. Canva

doc119img10

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Closed

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Freemium

Get From: https://www.canva.com/

Description:  Canva is really powerful but there is a steeper learning curve if you’re used to more conventional graphic design tools.  The steps involved in making a new image are:

  • Select a layout  (layouts are based on book and magazine covers)
  • Add elements (elements are photos, grids, frames, shapes, lines, illustrations & charts)
  • Add or edit text (this includes WordArt and pre-made logos)
  • Add gradients or patterns to the background (kind of doing things in the wrong order here!)
  • Add your own uploaded or purchased images, or import images from Facebook.

This workflow takes some getting used to.  One of the more interesting aspects of Canva is that it has some Trello-like collaboration built in, so you can create teams and work on team projects.  Upgrading to the paid version gives you access to more options, the most important of which is the ability to create your own layout templates instead of having to select a Canva layout.  There’s a 30 day free trial to let you check out if the paid features are a good fit for you or not.

Canva also provides “Learn to Design” and “Get Design Inspiration” links, which is a clever touch.  For those with limited design experience, it will probably take a long time to learn to design something of commercial quality with Canva, and for those with extensive design experience it may take even longer, simply because you’ll have to unlearn everything you know about doing things the traditional way.

The lack of familiar PhotoShop-style tools is one of the biggest obstacles to getting up and running quickly.  And while there are loads of free images that you can slip into your designs, the licensing terms make it clear you can’t use the images for certain things, and for supplied stock images you’ll need to purchase a different license depending on how you intend to use the images.

You’ll also be giving Canva an unlimited license to republish: “…your name, voice, and/or likeness as contained in your User Content, in whole or in part…”.  So, uh, voice?  How do you know whose voice and likeness it is, Canva?  Do you have eyes everywhere?  No, you’re just taking the user’s word for it that it’s actually the user’s voice and likeness, which is slightly disturbing, as a user could certainly upload somebody else’s voice and likeness without that person’s consent.  Also disturbing is the unlimited nature of the license, which means they can use the content for anything (not implying that they actually would use it for anything you wouldn’t like them to, but still leaving the possibility open isn’t good).

Another sort of confusing point in their terms is “You won’t compete with Canva for advertising clicks to promote your Canva profile,” and this is also a slightly questionable policy.  Canva ought to be competitive enough not to need to be concerned about such a trifling matter.  Nor should users have to worry about the possibility that they might be competing in some way.

The more official version states: “You will not engage in pay per click advertising using keywords which compete with Canva’s own campaigns in order to promote your relationship with Canva,” and this is confusing because self-promotion that includes Canva seems like a win/win situation.  They obviously don’t agree.

11. beFunky

doc119img11

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Source Type: Closed

Uses Flash: Yes (except iOS version)

Service Type: Freemium

Get From: https://www.befunky.com

Description:  Ah, the nostalgia never ends!  Whoever designed that template which inspired (at least) three different companies with similar software products to use it, they must have done something right.  It’s kind of ironic that graphic design is supposed to be a creative and imaginative field, and using templates just shows the exact opposite of creativity and imagination.

Not only that, but the similarity between Fotor and BeFunky doesn’t just end with having a similar website template, but BeFunky is offering the same mix of tools at the top of the screen – Photo Editor, Collage Maker, and Designer Tool.  Of course it’s impossible to determine who copied who or whether it’s all just an incredible coincidence, but it’s still weird. 

The biggest difference between BeFunky and Fotor is that BeFunky works perfectly well on Linux and Unix, which is definitely a major plus.  The built-in options provided will allow you to create banners, flyers, posters, cards, infographics, and brochures.

The interface falls somewhere between Pixlr and Canva, but it’s more intuitive than Canva and less PhotoShop-like than Pixlr.  There are actually more tools available than the first glance will show, but they’ve worked the content to fit the template, so the first thing a visitor is likely to think  is: “Oh, it’s a rebranded version of Fotor,” which it actually isn’t.

Upgrading to a paid account gives access to more features, and allows a higher resolution output, although the maximum allowed output of 4000×4000 pixels is probably smaller than you’d like if you’re producing for print.  The upgraded version also allows you to work in full screen mode and does not include ads.  At $34.95 per year, the subscription is not bad value.

BeFunky included a tutorial section on their site, which is really detailed and showcases many of the best features of their products.  The tutorials will help you get to grips with the applications quickly.  There are even features in there that you won’t find in PhotoShop as default options.  Unfortunately while their tutorial web page shows that there are 10 sub pages, only the first one was actually working.  This could be because they didn’t create the other nine pages, or it could be a bug in the site code. Or it could be “We don’t know how to remove that bit of the page template, so let’s just leave it there.”  Who knows?

12. Piktochart

doc119img12

OS Required: Any

Needs Install: No

Sour ce Type: Closed

Uses Flash: No

Service Type: Freemium

Get From: https://piktochart.com

Description:  I really like what PiktoChart can do, but the worst thing about it is that they won’t let you use it anonymously.  You are forced to create an account and sign in, which is hardly what you’ll be wanting if you’re using it to design propaganda posters for your Marxist revolutionary group.

On the other hand, they’re pretty generous with what they’ll let you do with a free account.  Unfortunately where most of the other freemium products reviewed here cost $5 or less per month, Piktochart wants a comparatively whopping $15 per month for a “Lite” package (raises your upload limit to 100MB) or $29 per month for a “Pro” package (raises your upload limit to 400MB, allows you to do high-res exports, allows you to make high quality PDF exports, allows you to remove Piktochart watermark, gives “more privacy options”, and something they call “integrated export platforms” which may mean a lot more to you than it does to me).  I’m curious to know what they mean by giving more privacy options if you pay them more, but I’m afraid to ask.

Needless to say, the idea that they’re watermarking at all seems pretty obnoxious, but doing it to people who are paying $15 per month just seems heartless and cruel.  It’s also annoying that they’re so aggressive in trying to find out who you are. They won’t even show you the demo video unless you provide your name and email address. 

Here’s what they say: “Fill out this quick form so we can get to know you! We will then introduce you to Piktochart and give you a quick peek into Piktochart’s features.”  Why?  Why you need to get to know me before you’ll show me your products?  Because I hate this kind of silliness, I’ll just let everyone know that they can bypass the gatekeeper just by going to this video.

Even with all those potential annoyances, I think the features offered on a free watermarked account are good enough to justify using this product for creating infographics if it doesn’t matter that their watermark will appear on the image you produce and if you don’t need hi-res output.  For professional use, if you make enough infographics per month to justify it, that $30 fee is worth paying, because the quality of what they provide is excellent for that price.  Just watch that video, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Why Pixel Art Can Be a Perfect Training Ground for Graphic Design http://designreviver.com/updates/pixel-art-can-perfect-training-ground-graphic-design/ http://designreviver.com/updates/pixel-art-can-perfect-training-ground-graphic-design/#respond Mon, 28 Nov 2016 07:32:25 +0000 http://designreviver.com/?p=19317 Even if you weren’t around to experience the wonders of classic video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, it’s never too late to develop an appreciation for the distinct art form that evolved to meet the needs of these games.  It’s an art form we know today as pixel art, and it’s one... READ MORE

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Even if you weren’t around to experience the wonders of classic video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, it’s never too late to develop an appreciation for the distinct art form that evolved to meet the needs of these games.  It’s an art form we know today as pixel art, and it’s one of the best ways to earn your stripes in 2D computer aided graphic design.

The reason for this is that pixel art places heavy demands upon the artist.  It requires more discipline and is more rigid than most other art forms.  Pixel art forces you to focus and isolate what is most important in an image and use only that, without providing the finer control you could apply in a more detailed drawing style.  It’s a “less is more” approach to drawing, and it makes you better at drawing.

Pixel art takes time to master.  After all, you are creating your images one pixel at a time, and every image requires careful planning.  You’ll need to learn to work with a limited palette, and without the benefit of natural curves.  You’ll also be working exclusively in a 2D environment, where if you need a 3D look, you’ll need to create it using tricks such as isometric perspective and parallax scrolling.

Learning to animate sprites and backgrounds is also an excellent way to beef up your programming skills if you’re handling an entire game project by yourself.  Now that mobile devices are more connected and still usually lacking the ability for sustained 3D gaming, 2D games are making a resurgence, and you can actually put these skills to work to earn some extra cash when design work isn’t flowing freely to your door.

Pixel art doesn’t require any special software.  You can create pixel art in any basic drawing program.  Many pixel artists started their craft in simple tools like MS Paint, but it’s better to use more sophisticated software that uses layers and custom grids, so you can really tweak your designs to perfection.  Inkscape is really good for this purpose.  It’s free, has built-in isometric grids, and works perfectly for pixel art.

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On the matter of hardware, you can use a mouse, but I find it easier to use a graphics tablet because I tend to get “mouse hands” when doing detailed art work, so I would recommend using at least a basic graphics tablet.

Why pixel art is ideal

Far too many people use the words illustrator and designer interchangeably.  Really an illustrator is far below the level of a designer.  Illustrators simply draw things according to the request of their client.  Designers design things according to the needs of their client.  It’s a massive difference.

Learning to create pixel art means learning how to innovate creative solutions to meet very specific needs.  It’s much more than just drawing.  The planning, the attention to detail, the ability to work within the limitations of technology, and devising strategy to overcome those limitations, is what makes a great pixel artist also a great designer.

The world of pixel art

Contrary to what you may expect, the market for pixel art is big and it’s growing. Expectations were generally that pixel art would die out once technology reached the point where it was more practical and feasible to use vector art and 3D CGI.  In reality there is still strong demand for pixel art and it has actually gained a wider scope of application.  Where once pixel art was mainly confined to gaming, it is now used in a very wide range of practical applications.

Some of the areas where pixel art is selling include:

  • Mobile games and retro-themed games
  • Infographics
  • Website design
  • Interface design
  • Designs used on clothing, key tags, etc.
  • Television graphics (eg: The IT Crowd, Good Game)
  • Pixel art comics (eg: Diesel Sweeties, Kid Radd)
  • Movies (eg: Wreck It Ralph, Pixels)
  • Pixel art exhibitions and private collections

There can be other potential markets that arise from time to time.  In some ways you can even think of Lego bricks as a kind of pixel art, and it’s actually possible to create 3D pixel art with Lego.  But that’s not going to happen unless you first become a master pixel artist, so let’s find out some more about how you do that.

Getting started in pixel art design

The best way to get into this world is to enter some pixel art competitions and learn as you go.  Of course when talking about competitions, we mean ones that are free to enter and that don’t commercially exploit your work by requiring you to sign over all your rights to the competition organizers.

Good pixel art competitions set challenges that require you to use your skills as an innovative designer to achieve the goal.  Sometimes this is simply setting the theme, but it could also include rules such as limiting the number of colors you can use or setting a maximum pixel count.  These are all constraints that game designers once had to work under.  When you learn the same techniques, in the same conditions, you are developing strong skills and hopefully a better understanding of the entire design process.

Training

There are plenty of free online tutorials and you can purchase books on pixel art or game design to get you going.  For a more in-depth introduction, you could consider taking a udemy course in pixel art.  At only $35 and taught by an expert game artist (Marco Vale, currently Art Director at Indot Studios), it’s very good value.

The pixel art process

Creating any work of pixel art follows a linear process from concept to completion:

  • The idea – you decide what you’re going to create, or obtain instructions
  • Planning – you make choices about how you’re going to create the image
  • Grid selection – you select the correct grid type for the image you are creating
  • Palette selection – you set up a color palette for the image
  • Prototyping – an optional step to give you a basic frame work for the outline
  • Outlining – you create the basic outline of the major parts of the image
  • Smoothing – you fix up any “jaggies” or irregularities to create a better outline
  • Coloring – you add colors to the image using the palette you set up
  • Shading – you add highlights and shadows to make your image more realistic
  • Dithering – an optional step to replicate a true retro feel in a limited palette situation
  • Selective outlining – you apply solid lines to selected portions of the image to give definition
  • Anti-aliasing – a final smoothing step in which you use color to enhance realism
  • Setting – if the image you created is a small part of a larger scene, you set in into its setting

Some steps such as dithering and anti-aliasing may be automatically handled by your drawing software.  It depends on what you’re using and what options you select.

The idea

Some people regard this as the most difficult step in creating a new work, but actually it probably isn’t.  Your goal is to decide what you’re going to create, or in some cases to take instruction from the client pertaining to what they want.  Inspiration can come from the real world around you, or from movies, games, books, and anything else that can help you visualize the objects that will appear in your scene.  For this example, we’ll create a flower pot that would be a prop in a larger scene.

Planning

In this step you already know what you’re going to create, so now you are thinking about how you’re going to create it.  The first major decision will be whether you’re going to design a flat image or to give it a 3D perspective.  You’ll also decide how detailed or realistic the image should be, whether it needs  retro look, and other things like that.

The more realistic you want the image to be, the more pixels and colors you’ll need to use, and the longer it will take to create.  If you’re designing for a competition, some of these choices will already have been made for you, but you’ll still need to devise the best way to achieve the result.

A sensible thing to do would be to print out the grid that you’ll be working with and use it to make a paper sketch of the finished computer image.  This will serve as a reference for the bitmap you create, to help you keep the perspective and scale consistent.

Grid selection

This is determined by the nature of the work you are creating.  For flat images, you’ll use a standard grid where all the lines intersect at right angles.

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In a 3D scene, you have a choice between using an isometric grid (the most common choice) or an oblique grid.  An isometric grid has lines that intersect at 30 degrees:

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An oblique grid has lines that intersect at 45 degrees:

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Oblique drawings are good when you want to include a lot of fine detail, but in general isometric provides a better view and feels more realistic.  It’s the more widely chosen drawing style for good reason.

Palette selection

You could leave this step until you’re ready to color, but actually can help with the rest of the process if you define your colors early on.

Prototyping

The flowerpot in the example is basically a distorted cone shape, and as with all 2D imitations of a cone, we create that basic shape by using stacked ellipses.  This saves time and also demonstrates the value of using Inkscape, because it has algorithms to produce smoother lines on curved edges than many other drawing programs.  We just need to make sure the ellipses align nicely with the grid.

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Then use some straight lines to connect them (gently curved lines are even more realistic if you have the patience to draw them).

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Outlining

In this step, we draw the outline of the image that we want to pixelate.    If you made a prototype of the image, this part is easy.  First create a new image layer and stack it on top of the other layer (in Inkscape, the new layer automatically has a transparent background).  Lock the prototype layer, then select the new layer and use it to trace over your prototype with the pencil tool.  Disable grid snapping when tracing curved lines.

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If you have any difficulty seeing your new lines, simply reduce the opacity of the prototype layer until it is easier to see your outline layer lines.  Don’t trace all the lines, just the ones that would make sense.

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You can delete the prototype layer after completing outlining, if you wish, or simply make it invisible.

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Smoothing

This is a difficult step.  For this you zoom in on the curves in the image and try to correct any jagged lines that make the image look less natural.  Depending on the level of the image, you may not need to do this (if your image is 32×32 pixels or less, there is very little you could do to improve it by smoothing.

The way to do your first smoothing run is to zoom in on the image so you can see where the curves aren’t well defined, or where there are breaks (gaps) in the solid lines.  Any gaps will cause color bleeding if you use a bucket fill, so it’s a good idea to eliminate gaps.  Remember that you’re just doing one pixel at a time, which is where a tablet makes the job a lot easier than a mouse.

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Coloring

This is what you used to do for fun when you were five, except now it’s a lot easier.  You can fill large areas of color with a bucket fill, and many drawing programs let you set a gradient that may or may not give you a realistic look. Otherwise it’s the same deal as smoothing:  zoom in and set your pixels one at a time.  Don’t make a separate color layer, because your software may not recognize boundaries from a different layer when doing a bucket fill.

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Shading

Solid colors are easy, but to get a realistic look, you need to use shading.  It’s easier to do shading on larger images because they have more pixels for you to work on.  The first step in shading is to figure out how the light is hitting your object or scene, and then apply highlights and shadows in a realistic way.  At first this will be difficult, but with experience and feedback from fellow artists, you’ll get the hang of it.  Here I’m only going to shade the back wall of the pot, but it would be better to apply some highlights on the front wall.

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Dithering

With a limited palette, you can’t always get every shade and color you’d want, and making subtle changes between contiguous areas is difficult without dithering.  It’s not something that’s required on modern hardware, but it’s often applied for situations where you want a retro 90s look or where for various reasons you’re required to work with a limited palette.  Some software can handle dithering for you automatically, or you may have to create your own dithering.  This image is too simple to need any dithering, but here is a tutorial that explains how to create a fake dithering effect in Inkscape.

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Selective outlining

This means replacing black outlines on internal areas with a more natural looking color and only outlining those portions that need outlining for definition.   In real life, the veins on a leaf are not black, so they shouldn’t be in your drawing either.

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Anti-aliasing

This is similar to smoothing, except you’re looking more closely that regions of color that may need “bumping” in order to soften the lines a bit so they seem more realistic.  Bumping a color just means choosing a color shade for a pixel between the colors of the pixels on either side of it.  Intentional blurring makes lines less sharp.  As with dithering, your software may automatically apply anti-aliasing for you.

Setting

Putting your finished object into a larger scene is called setting.  You don’t need to do this with character sprites or objects that are movable.  You can do that later with code.  Use setting for fixed objects that don’t move.  Animated objects should be converted to sprites, which is a topic for another day.

What to do if your image is not pixelated enough

One of the problems is that Inkscape and similar vector programs just do too good of a job of bucket fills, so colors look really smooth and vectory.  If you want a pixelated look, then you need to export the image to png, open it in GIMP, and apply the Pixelize filter, which you’ll find in the Blur section.  This will give you a result like this (which you may then need to anti-alias):

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Concluding remarks

Pixel art is far from dead, and good pixel artists still get a lot of respect in the design community from those who understand the dedication it takes to become a master.  Learning to construct images pixel by pixel makes you a better designer, and possibly a better engineer as well.  There is still a strong market demand for pixel art and relatively few talented pixel artists on the ground who are serving that need.  You can make money in pixel art, or simply use it as a way to beef up your skills.  Either way, it’s fun and rewarding, well worth doing.

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