Archive for the ‘Surrounding Thought with Pixels’ Category

Support our troops through the Never Quit Challenge!

We’re so proud of my brother in law for participating in the Never Quit Challenge this year as part of Team Viking. Team Viking is comprised of men from Naval Special Warfare’s Elite Special Boat Teams. They are riding in the Never Quit Challenge to raise money and awareness for our disabled comrades in arms.

Your donation will make it possible for their modest six man team to participate in this most worthy of causes. Help fund their trip from San Diego, CA to Florida and then for a grueling sea journey ending in New York on September 11th.

Go NQC!

5 Steps to Creating a Website

“How do you eat an elephant?
…One bite at a time.”

It can be intimidating to start your own website. Where do you begin? There are a lot of elements to consider but when you break it down and approach each item individually you’ll be up and running in no time!

IT’S AUTOMAGIC
Before I got into website design I didn’t understand how it worked. The internet seemed like a magical encyclopedia of information and images. How did it work, this magical entity? How can you possibly set up and control your own information and images from your own computer at your desk for everyone in the world to access at any time? How can the world still see the information from my computer when I turn my computer off? It’s not magic – it’s very simple, really.

HOW IT WORKS
The internet functions as a web of connected servers, each passing information along until it arrives at your computer or device. Your website data and images are located on a server which is always on, always passing information to other servers. When you make changes to your website, you login to that server, change the data or images, and that updated information is then passed on through the web. Your site has a designated address, your unique domain name assigned only to you. That domain name is assigned to a server of your choice, a host for your site where all of your website files are located.

GETTING STARTED
It all starts with you. Below you will find 5 steps that are required to build your site. You are not alone – your web designer should be able to help out with any of these items upon request.
1. Domain Name
2. Hosting
3. Content Preparation
4. Implementation
5. Publicity

1. DOMAIN NAME
Your domain name is a unique address, registered only to you. It should be short, relatively simple, and relate to your business. When choosing a domain name be sure to write it down, all lower case with no spaces, so that you can be sure there are no surprises later. For example, “Sno Trips” is a fine company name for a winter guide business but as a url it can take on a different meaning, “snotrips.com” it’s all about the space, or lack thereof. Try different variations and come up with a short list of 3-5 potential names, in case your favorite is already registered by someone else.

There are many places you can register your domain name online. GoDaddy.com is very reasonable when it comes to pricing but be aware of their checkout process – it can be confusing as they try to sell you upgrades and extras that you don’t necessarily need. Domains are registered in year increments – it is not a one-time, forever fee. You will have to renew your domain registration down the road if you want to keep using it.

2. HOSTING
Your web host is the company that provides space on their server for your website from which everyone in the world can access it. In addition to web space, you are also paying for bandwidth (data transfer from the server to the world) and other features that your host may offer as a part of their hosting package. Keep in mind that your registrar does not have to be the same as your site host. When you register your domain name with a company it does not bind you to them for hosting your site although they may give you a good package deal for domain registration + hosting.

3. CONTENT PREPARATION
The most important (and sometimes the most intimidating) element of your new site is content. Make it interesting and useful. I talked about this in a post called Engage Yourself, Engage Your Visitors. You are the expert when it comes to your business – take an active role in how it is portrayed on the internet. Take a look at your competitor’s websites as well as any other sites you admire. Note the design, navigation, and content elements you like from those sites and consider how you can incorporate them into your own unique company website.

What colors do you want to use? Do you want to include a blog on your site? What elements should be highlighted in a sidebar or footer area? Do you want photos in the sidebar, or a photo gallery page to display your work? Do you want to offer an email newsletter your visitors can sign up to receive? Do you want to have a calendar of company-related events on your site? If you think you want these things, be sure you have the content to back them up – why have a calendar if you don’t have any events to list?

Start with a basic outline/list of the pages you want on your site. From there you can start filling in content for each item on the list. Brief is best – if there is too much information on a page your visitor will move on.

Here is a very basic sample site outline to start from:
- Home
- About Us
- Services
- Testimonials
- Contact Us

Write the page content for each item on the outline, referencing photos or graphics you’d like to use. This will save you money by saving your web designer time when building the site. Remember, the more organized you are, the less time it will take and the less it will cost you. Time spent by your web designer researching your business and creating content is money spent by you.

4. IMPLEMENTATION
Go to a web designer with experience. Choosing to use your neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend who will do it for $100 may not be the best decision in the long run. Will you be able to find him when you need to make that emergency adjustment to the site in a month or will he be pursuing his career as a sandwich artist by then?

Your designer should be able to take your content and the list of elements you’ve noted from other sites to create an original website that will help sell your company. The more direction you can provide regarding your needs and goals related to your new website, the happier you will be with the outcome. If you ask your designer to “just come up with something you think would work,” it will take much longer to arrive at a final product you are truly satisfied with – you’ll end up telling them what you don’t like each step of the way, which can take forever!

5. PUBLICITY
The site is done but no one knows about it. In most cases, visitors won’t flock to your site simply because it’s there. You have to let them know about it!

Take an active role by getting on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networking sites. Make sure there are links on your site to “follow me on Facebook,” “check out our YouTube channel,” etc. Make frequent (but not annoyingly frequent) posts that link back to your website. If you don’t think you have time to participate in social networking sites, assign someone in your company to do it. It is an essential part of getting your business out there.

Offer an email newsletter via an online sign-up on your website. Constant Contact is a great e-newsletter service that is fun and easy to use. They have wonderful tips that help you succeed and they offer plugins that work in conjunction with your website, making it easy to manage mailing lists and collect new sign-ups.

Talk about your new site. Make sure the address is on everything you have printed. Make your site informative, current, and useful so that your visitors will return over and over to see what’s new. 5 steps… and you’re off!

Enjoy the Ride!

Work is like riding a bicycle. When you’re learning how it’s exciting, challenging. The first few rides are exhilarating and give you a sense of accomplishment, pride, and freedom. After a while it becomes too easy just riding up and down the driveway or the street in the neighborhood. You’re ready for a challenge – a hill! There are ups and downs. Climbing is a challenge but when you reach the top you are once again rewarded with a sense of achievement plus the added bonus of coasting down the other side. There is no reward if there is no challenge. You can’t coast forever; eventually you must pedal again or you will fall over, ending the ride.

It is so important to find ways to challenge yourself, to find a good balance between pedaling and coasting, to always make the ride interesting and be proud of your accomplishments. If you work as hard as you can, you will be compensated according to your actions. Show that you are part of the team. Demonstrate your willingness to work hard for the success of your company, whether it’s your own or you work for someone else. Get excited about new projects and submit your creative ideas to make the company better. At the very least just show up and work. Stop coasting and start pedaling.

If it’s worth showing up, isn’t it worth putting in the effort? Why go unhappily through the motions each day? Why bother at all if you don’t put your heart into your work? You likely spend as much time working as you do with family – make it count. Get in gear or get out of the way, before you are moved out of the way unexpectedly.

Not everyone loves everything about their job but if you can find an aspect of your job you enjoy or appreciate, perhaps you can stoke your passion for it. Find a way to change your perspective about what you do or how you make a difference in your world.

Challenge Yourself
Do you get irritated when someone asks you to do something that is out of the ordinary, something new that you’re unsure of how to accomplish? Get over your apprehension and rise to the challenge. Start pedaling. Extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones is how we learn and grow. This eHow article by Ryan Mooney is full of great ideas of how to challenge yourself in the workplace.

Create Opportunities
Seek out opportunities for challenge and growth in your workplace. If there are none then perhaps you should create an opportunity for yourself. There is nothing wrong with taking it upon yourself to go outside the box. Create a competition within your department to see who can be most productive. Challenge yourself to write an article for your company newsletter. Approach the boss about an idea you have to grow the company or about a special project you are interested in. Assemble a group of coworkers to participate in work for a charity you care about.

Take Responsibility
Take responsibility for your work. Learn from your successes and failures in order to take a more educated approach in the future. Success is so much sweeter when you’ve truly had a hand in creating it and others will be more apt to want to work with you in the future. Mark Buchan at The Skills Portal analyzes the value of responsibility and the role it plays in improving performance. Responsibility distributed unequally among peers in the workplace can result in blame, resentment, and frustration. The first step is to take responsibility for your part in projects which you are involved. Lead by example. Be sure that you are proud of the work you produce by taking responsibility for the outcome.

Enjoy the ride!
You must ask yourself, “Am I coasting? If I don’t start pedaling soon am I going to fall?” If you choose not to pedal, you may find a lot of competition going up your next hill. Challenge yourself, create opportunities that are interesting to you, and take responsibility for the work you take part in. You may find that the uphill challenge can be as exhilarating as the rest of the ride.

Dear Pinterest, you are an addictive tool.

If you have not tried Pinterest yet, you may be missing out on the next big thing… or at the very least another time burning obsession; hours of mindless searching, pinning, collecting, sharing. Creating perfect little worlds in the form of personal pin boards. I have fallen victim to temporary binges of pinsanity but it consoles me to know that I’m not alone.

Pinterest is not new. It has been around since 2008 but it seems to be growing exponentially. According to TechCrunch, Pinterest just hit 11.7 million unique monthly U.S. visitors, crossing the 10 million mark faster than any other standalone site in history.

If you haven’t tried it, or just don’t “get” it, take a look at this article from Social Media Examiner. Their article focuses on using Pinterest for business but it also includes some great tips on using it to it’s greatest potential.

There are many theories as to what is driving the rapid growth of Pinterest and why people find the site so addictive. I believe part of Pinterest’s success is buried in the need people feel to collect things and call them their own. It is a new form of hoarding, a good kind, if there is such a thing, because it doesn’t take up space in your hallway after the guest room has been packed to the ceiling with precious crap. There is no stench of old musty magazines or fuzzy kitty #26 who crawled into a cave of sweaters with the tags still on them and never came out.

I am a very visual person. Shiny things make me happy. I found Pinterest while searching the web for bathroom makeover ideas. I came upon a plethora of bathroom pins. What was this amazing catalog of photos, fields of images, undisturbed by blocks of text or advertisements? I had to be a part of this visual catalog. After being accepted to join Pinterest (it’s very elite, of course), I began to search, and pin, and create new boards for myself. I began to use Pinterest as a search engine to find ideas and inspiration; DIY Christmas cards, artwork, words of wisdom, recipes, humor.

Pinterest Board

Pinterest has many more uses than first meets the eye. As it says on Pinterest’s “What is Pinterest?” page, “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.” Aside from collecting pretty pictures, it is a tool that can be used many ways, depending on perspective and approach. GalleyCat created a list of pinboards for book lovers. Kristin Morrison on olecommunity.com explains how to use Pinterest as a tool for educators. On Hubpages, randomcreative suggests wonderful ways to use Pinterest as a tool for research, brainstorming, collaboration, and more. Many companies are using Pinterest as a tool to promote their brand and engage their customers. It will be interesting to see how the uses of Pinterest will grow and how the site will adapt in the future. The possibilities are pinfinite… I couldn’t resist.

I have not done the bathroom makeover yet but I have collected 15 pins (and counting) on my bathroom board and it makes me happy to dream about all of the beautiful options that are out there. It’s always a happy place and it’s just a click away.

Engage Yourself, Engage Your Visitors

The effort you put into your website, or marketing in general for that matter, factors heavily into the results you will see. Gone are the days when a business owner can put up a website and leave it unattended with any hope of potential customers finding it. Business owners must take an active role by making their website useful, informative, and interesting.

The million dollar question is, “How can my site be at the top of the list in a web search?” In a nutshell, the answer is “Make it valuable.” The more visitors you have, the higher your rankings will be. How do you get more visitors? Make your site a valuable resource, get the word out, and keep it current. Consider that all of your competitors, near and far, are competing for that top spot. The winner will be the one that is most valuable to visitors.

In the words of the immortal Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you!” Web designers specialize in the design and function of a site. We promise to do our best to make it attractive and organized in a way that potential customers will find and navigate easily. We do research to learn as much as possible about a client’s business but would never claim to be experts in their fields. That would be silly. We rely heavily on clients to provide a basic outline of their vision for online presence in addition to well organized content, including text and images. We are part of your team, all striving to attract as much potential business as possible. Help us help you by providing accurate, complete content so that we can understand your business and represent it properly with your website. It is essential that you participate in the way your business is seen online.

Be yourself and people will love you. There is much to be said for bringing personal elements to a website. Potential clients are much more likely to give you a shot if they connect with you on some personal level. Personal connection is more valuable than ever in these days of cell phones and email. It’s easy to get lost in the network. Find a way to show who you are, what you value, and why your business stands above the others.  You are the expert, you have inside information that your customers want – show them they will succeed with you on their side.

It is not easy. A successful website takes time and effort to maintain once it is up and running. Launching your site is only the first step. The second step is getting the word out…

SOPA/PIPA Make your voice heard

UPDATE:
On Friday, January 20, the vote was postponed by Congress “in light of recent events.”
For more details, see article at www.reuters.com


Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House would censor the Web and affect everyone who uses the internet. On January 24, the Senate will begin voting.

Right now, instead of checking Twitter, catching up with Facebook friends, or posting on your own blog, watch this video (by Fight for the Future) to understand how PIPA/SOPA will affect you.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Go to AmericanCensorship.org and make your voice count.

Thanks to Gene Hoffman

“Surround a thought with a pencil,” Eugene Hoffman said. It has been with me since the fall of 1990, my freshman year of college at the University of Northern Colorado. Gene was full of inspirational words. He was not one to let a student fly under the radar, either you participated or you simply didn’t show up. If you showed up you didn’t want to disappoint him, you wanted to impress and that was not easy because he’d seen it all.

For Gene’s graphic design class we were required to order a subscription to Communication Arts. Like the pages of Rolling Stone in high school, I read and re-read each and every article of Communication Arts, turning each thick, white page with anticipation of the inspirational image I might find on the next page. I even ordered a back issue from 1988 in which my professor was featured. He was like a rock star to me… in plaid flannel and suspenders. Gene had really lived it – he was part of the history of graphic design, winning prestigious awards as an illustrator. He even earned a lifetime ski pass to all Colorado ski resorts by designing promotional posters back when the ski industry in Colorado was not doing well.

Plastic Indian by Gene Hoffman

"Plastic Indian," 25" x 37" by Gene Hoffman as shown in Communication Arts Magazine, January/February 1988

Gene used found objects, paper, glue and cardboard to build amazing sculptures but also he offered perspective. Everything is art. You make it art. If you think about it, if you want to do it, make it happen. You are in control and are responsible for what you do. Nothing is impossible. Words are inspiration.

He said if you get stuck, make it fly, give it wings. “Time flies like an arrow, but horseflies like a stable,” Gene said. Look at things from a different perspective and a solution will come to you. Based on perspective, there are infinite solutions to the same problem. Some of his favorite words were “sycophant”, and “obsequious.” Because of the way they felt rolling off the tongue and the images and feeling they produced in their simple syllables (after you looked them up in the dictionary). Words and images evoke feeling, memories, ideas. They are the tools we use as designers to make products fly off the shelves, to connect everyday people to a brand.

In 2004, working at Citizen Printing in Fort Collins, Colorado, I ran into Gene at the front counter. He was having a show at a gallery in Loveland and needed posters. I don’t know if he really remembered me out of all of the students he had over the years but he took time to talk and was truly interested on how my life had been and where I wanted it to go. In school, Gene had said, ”Be careful how you choose your hat because your hat is you.” I had chosen my hat well, it fit me and I loved wearing it every day. The opening of his show on October 16 went as I expected. Surrounded by his works of art, Gene was talking energetically to visitors, telling stories as only he could. Sadly, he passed away a few short months later on February 24, 2005. He made such an impact on so many. Thank you Gene, for your words and inspiration.

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Surrounding Thought with Pixels

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TANGIBLE VISION

Fine Art by Tara Jacobs