Monthly Archives: December 2009

Images: Print vs. Web : Understanding resolution

“But — it looked great on my monitor!”

These are words that every printer dreads hearing. Usually, it means a disappointed customer. If that disappointed customer has ever been you, with a little understanding of the differences between images on print and on screen, you can be a happy customer instead!

There are two major differences between images seen on a computer monitor, and images seen on a printed page. The first is resolution. The second is color. This time we’re going to talk about resolution.

Resolution is essentially a measure of how much information about the image is present. Continue reading

Images: Print vs. Web : Understanding color worlds

“But — it looked great on my monitor!” : the sequel

Last time, we talked about resolution as it relates to print vs. web image reproduction. This time, we’re going to talk about color world.

Your computer monitor creates color using light, like a television screen, using the RGB or red, green and blue model.

The print world creates color using pigment. Full color images are commonly rendered using the CMYK or cyan, magenta, yellow and black model, but some high-end print shops use the Pantone Hexachrome model which adds orange and green to the color mix. Items might also be printed using spot colors (such as those defined in the Pantone matching system), metallic or iridescent inks, or varnishes that give particular visual effects. In addition, the color and reflective quality of the paper affects how a printed image looks.

What this means, simply, is that the colors in your document do not look the same on the screen as they do on the printed page.

In fact, the colors in your document might not even look the same from one monitor to the next – equipment age and manufacturing differences can cause a great deal of color variation in individual monitors.

Similarly, if you print your document on your color office printer (which probably uses the CMYK model), you may not get the same results on a different office printer, or with a professional printer.

If your color requirements are not strict, you may never run into a problem. The sky looks blue on your monitor – it looks blue on your printout – no problem! But there are a couple of common pitfalls when moving an image from the monitor where you do your layout to the printed page.

1. Dot Gain
“Dot gain” refers to the tendency of printed dots to spread as the ink soaks into the paper. This is particularly noticeable on newsprint, which is uncoated and very absorbent (as anyone with a puppy can attest!). If you are preparing something to be printed on newsprint – such as an ad – for the image to look right on the paper, it will probably have to look too light on your monitor.

2. Luminosity
Images on your monitor are luminous – lit up. Images on paper are not. This can make printed images look too flat and dark if you are expecting them to look like the image on your monitor. Again, making the image appear too light on the monitor can give better results on the printed image. Using a coated paper stock or a varnish can increase the apparent luminosity of a printed image. Sometimes shifting the color mix toward yellow or green can make the image seem more luminous.

When going from screen to print, if you are having the image professionally printed, your printer may have some good ideas about how to improve your results.

When going from print to screen — for example, if you want your website to look like your business card — you will want to talk to your web designer about how to get the best results.

What is a web language?

No, it’s not another Star Trek created language like Klingon, though it is “spoken” by a very small percentage of the population of this planet. We don’t wear pocket protectors, wear horn-rimmed glasses or go to conventions… necessarily. A web language is simply a set of processing instructions for an Internet server or even desktop Internet browser to assemble into a visual display.

In general, there are four main coding languages that are used today by most sites and several smaller or less used languages.

The main languages are:

1. HTML
2. PHP
3. ASP/.NET
4. Cold Fusion

The lesser known and used languages, include:

1. Perl – An older language from pre-internet days. Limited to some degree, but it has its uses
2. JSP – Java Server Pages. The ability to use this is fairly limited based on server architecture
3. C#, VB.NET, J#, C++ – These are all backbone languages for ASP/.NET and are pretty evenly spread amongst the ASP/.NET developers. While these are all more widely used than Perl and JSP, they aren’t in and of themselves, web programming languages.

For you other web developers out there, before you get your chest all puffed up and fill your lungs with hot air over my exclusion of Javascript (and AJAX), this will be discussed in more detail on another post. Relax and breath.

There is one rising star that is gaining ground quickly and will likely outshine more than one of the more popular languages due to it’s intelligent construction and use of the MVC (Model-View-Controller) methodology. This “new kid” is called Ruby on Rails and is only partly new. The Rails framework has been around for many years, but the Ruby implementation is still a child in comparison to it’s more senior languages.

For this article, we will focus on the main 4 languages; what they are and what they do.

HTML
Hypertext Markup Language. This is the basic and standard language of the internet. Nearly all web pages are based on HTML. This language is developed and maintained by the W3 organization (www.w3schools.com/html). This language is processed by the desktop computer’s browser. While you can create some incredible web pages and presentation, you won’t get too much in the way of dynamic action without one of the following.

PHP
Post Hypertext Processor. This is one of the more popular server-side languages. It’s popularity comes mostly because it’s an open source language and developing in PHP is fairly simple. It’s format is clean and logical. It is well optimized and developed by a large community of developers. PHP is very secure and maintained consistently. PHP allows web site owners to process data on the server, such as retrieving and inserting data from and to a database or forms on the web pages. PHP processes the data, then converts it into HTML, which is then transmitted to the desktop computer browser for display.

ASP/.NET
Active Server Pages / .NET. ASP and .NET are Microsoft’s answer to other server languages like PHP. ASP and .NET are essentially older vs. newer versions, ASP being the older, and original, Microsoft server language, whereas .NET is a more up-to-date and modern version of the language. Some would argue this point as .NET can be very different from ASP, but for sake of simplicity, just go with me.

In general, ASP/.NET can only be used on Microsoft Windows based servers, thus making it a bit more restricting in terms of availability.

ASP/.NET are also considered secure and flexible, offering a similar functionality as PHP, though, their methods are different. ASP/.NET typically uses more interactive scripts in the desktop browser for processing and transmitting data for the server to handle, thus spreading out the load between the server and the desktop.

ColdFusion
Developed by Macromedia, ColdFusion runs only on a ColdFusion Server. This makes it extremely limited in availability. Additionally, ColdFusion Server is a licensed product, which means that the server host must pay for the ability to host ColdFusion sites. This usually means that ColdFusion is used more by large companies rather than individuals.

ColdFusion’s code system is designed to build the web pages from “pieces of content”. These pieces are chunks of html code combined with the data from a database.

ColdFusion has lost a lot of it’s following over the past few years due to a lack of available developers and servers.

Conclusion
What you use when you build your website will largely be based on what your developer knows and what is financially possible. Generally, there are a lot of PHP and ASP developers out there, if you don’t already have one. Their prices vary greatly, based on their level of knowledge. While a good developer may not be cheap, it’s worth investing a bit more in one with a higher level of knowledge as you will end up with a more professional, reliable application.

Branding with Employee Images

Most companies choose to introduce themselves and their employees through their Website on the About Us Page. This page is typically used to help visitors get to know the business they are visiting and the people who represent it a little better.

Pictures of employees can help visitors connect with the business more quickly; it makes the website seem a bit more personal and warm. An employee’s photo with a friendly smile can tell a visitor a lot about a person that the bio can’t and can help build rapport.

Photos of employees and owners help tell the world the company message and promote the company brand, whether fun-loving and professional such as
http://www.netsolutionsna.com/content/company/team.asp
or strictly professional: http://www.itssimplyplaced.com/content/about_/the_team.asp

A website works as part of your company’s brand which is a permanent voice or message that your company communicates to the public. A brand rarely changes – it should always be consistent, clear and personable. Using a Website as a portion of your company’s brand and people will come to know, trust and visit your site because of who your company is.
Branding isn’t just promotional because no matter what the trend is at the time your brand should always be the same, just as your attitude towards your potential customers will always be the same.
A website has one hurdle to overcome when a visitor enters – it has to show the brand and the personality of the business in the virtual world. This can be done by building a Website that is clean, clear, concise and most importantly personable.
Photos of employees on the Website can also help the visitor connect with employees they may talk to later – they will feel that they know the employee and feel they have something in common. People will deal with a company or individual that they like and can identify with.
Customers will come back because they like the brand; they like what is being put out to the world and in most cases photos on the Website of people who work for the company help create a relationship with these people.
There are a few instances when photos of employees are not placed on the Website. Companies who deal with sensitive issues and policies may not want to show the employee photos in order to protect them from the public that may disagree with the company’s stand.
In this case the brand will stay consistent and clear by telling the world the message in a confidential manner. This will display a strictly professional image and create a brand identity of a different manner.
No matter what type of brand you attempt to display to the world, personable and warm, or confidential and strict it is important to always remain consistent and concise in your message. Whether or not employee photos are placed on the Website or left off helps to deliver that message.

Websites are not like Field of Dreams

If your website is not producing it is not your fault. Blame Kevin Costner. Websites are not like “Field of Dreams”. Just because you built it does not mean “they will come”. A website is the single most powerful arrow in a quiver full of marketing weapons, but it will not do any good – no matter how creative or informative it is – if it cannot be found.

As a marketer, I often have the opportunity to discuss promotion ideas with clients. It still amazes me at how many otherwise intelligent business people do not see much value in their websites.

They promote their business in various ways sometimes spending serious money to purchase ads in traditional media but do not give a second thought to sending prospective customers to their website for more information. There are many effective and inexpensive ways to promote your website without ever being connected to the Internet.

A website can only be effective if the “webmaster” not only places relevant content on it, but also promotes it. I have compiled a quick list of things and places that a website should be listed offline, there are dozens if not hundreds more, feel free to post ideas of your own.

The first place your website should be promoted prominently is on any printed marketing material you have. i.e. your letterhead, business cards, flyers, brochures, catalogs, yellow page ads, etc. If you have company vehicles with marks on the vehicles, place your website URL proudly and boldly so it is easy to see. Get and use domain based email. Email from name@companyname.com is more powerful in building consumer confidence that your company is legitimate.

Don’t forget to place a link on your email address even if you have domain based email. Why? Many times your email correspondence will be forwarded to someone who is not familiar with you or your company. Placing a link to your website allows that person to visit your website even if your email address is not displayed when forwarded.

If you attend trade shows, make sure your booth has your URL listed and any handouts including promotional give-a-ways include your URL.
Mention that more information can be found on your website on any Radio advertising and include the URL in television marketing as well.

Magazines typically have a longer shelf life than many other forms of advertising. If you use magazine to advertise your company and you are not including the URL you have lost a great opportunity to speak to a prospective buyer in a much broader and effective way than to demand that they pick up the phone can call you.

If your website is not producing the results you expected, it is time to take a look at what is being communicated on and by your website and what you are doing to help drive traffic to your website. If you are not promoting your website every chance you get including at the end of an “elevator speech” you are missing opportunities to allow others to help you promote your business.

Design pitfalls: Design by Committee

We’ve all marveled at spectacularly ugly logos, or unbelievably stupid movies, or completely inexplicable web sites. And when we see these things, we wonder – who came up with that? Who thought that was a good idea?

Often, the answer is: nobody.

It was a committee.

It might seem odd that a group of people working together should be able to come up with something that not one of them actually likes, yet, in my experience as a designer, it happens all the time. A company rebrands, only to revert to the previous branding a few months later. A company goes through an absurdly lengthy logo design process, and in the end nobody is happy with the result. Or maybe everyone in the company is fairly happy with the result, but they discover that their customers find the new logo, or slogan, or name, to be baffling and unpleasant.

No group is immune to the pitfalls of a committee design. It seems difficult to avoid – after all, you can’t have a logo or a web site that some members of your organization just hate, can you? And some compromises are inevitable in a cooperative business environment.

Why do committee designs tend to turn out so badly? There are three major reasons.

1. The design nobody hates is also the design nobody likes

Consensus is good, right? You want everyone to be happy with the results of your design. But not everyone is made happy by the same things. We don’t always like the same music, or the same TV shows, or the same clothes — we don’t decorate our houses the same way – is it any surprise that we don’t always like the same designs?

The bolder the design choice, the higher the chance that someone on the committee will actively dislike it.

Eventually, a consensus will be reached – usually on a design that nobody actually hates, but everyone finds kind of boring. Over time this boredom deepens into profound dissatisfaction, somebody decides to spruce up the company image, and the cycle begins again.

2. You really can’t have everything

A common complaint about web site, logo, and package designs is that they are too busy and visually cluttered. They have too much going on, and none of it is very clear. Visual clutter is usually the result of trying to include too much — and one way that happens is committee design. Everyone on the committee has their own personal thing that just has to be there.

3. Warning! Egos ahead!

Committee design projects often become a playing ground for every other dynamic going on in the organization — status conflicts, ego conflicts, personal vendettas, pet projects. Sometimes, deep conflicts about the direction of the organization as a whole manifest themselves as conflicts over design.

Sometimes ugly designs are even the result of passive-aggressive lashing out, either by frustrated committee members, or perhaps by the designers themselves, after one too many contradictory design iterations.

In general, the best way to avoid the worst pitfalls of committee design is to give one person — hopefully, one person with some design sense — final approval on the project.

1800 Number Benefits

The debate goes on about whether or not to give your customers a toll-free number to call you on. There are good arguments on both side of the debate, but my opinion is yes, give your clients a way to contact you toll-free. There are some benefits to offering an 800 number to your clients if done properly:

1. It makes your company look bigger. If you are a home based internet business, having a toll free number makes you look like a larger corporation and might make transacting with you a little less scary.
2. It provides a tracking tool to you. Assuming you use an 800 number from a service like Whos Calling or Kall8, you will be able to track all the calls that came into you from that number. You can see who called you, how long you talked, etc. This is vitally important if you only offer your 800 number on your website. Being able to track the volume of calls allows you to track whether or not your website is working for you. You can also put unique 800 numbers on other marketing pieces (direct mail postcards, radio ads, television, banner ads, etc.)
3. Potentially easy to remember numbers. If you can get a vanity number with your company name, it might make it easier for people to call you if they do not have your number handy. For example, our toll free number is 888.WEB.NSNA. Someone may be able to recall that easier than 360.738.81188.
4. It shows you take customer service seriously. If you do sell product to people outside of your local area, it shows people that you stand behind your product and are willing to give people a free way of contacting you.
5. Many 800 numbers have features like voicemail, fax to email, call forwarding, caller ID, etc. So after business hours, you can have the 800 number forward to a cell phone, call center, etc. That way you can keep doing business even if you are not physically in the office.
If you sell strictly local, and do little to no online sales than the benefits of an 800 number may be few if any. However, with toll free numbers starting at $2 per month using Kall8, you might as well have one on the chance that you do get a new customer or retain a current customer because of that number.
In my opinion, make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch with you and your company. If having an 800 number makes it easier for people to contact you, then do it.

What makes a great email signature?


Email signatures are a direct representation of both you and your company. If you are a loose light hearted company it may be best to reflect that with an image or a funny quote. However, most businesses reside in the realm of relaxed professional; as such we have the following guidelines for your signatures. Continue reading

Creating Effective Contact Us Pages

Creating a contact us page is essential when building an online presence through a website or a blog. It tends to be the page on your website with the least content, but is one of the most highly visited by your clients. Internet users have become accustomed to looking for a contact us page when searching for contact details like a phone number or address. Many website owners don’t give a second thought to the contact us page after it’s built. We ask you to give your contact us page a second glance with these best practices in mind.

What should I include on my contact us page?

General Contact Details

Telephone Number – Individuals often inquire as to how many phone numbers or what type of phone numbers should be included on the contact us page. Certainly the main office number and the fax number should be included. Beyond that additional numbers should be provided only if someone is available to answer them during the normal business hours.

Physical Address – Many businesses have moved to only providing an email and phone number as a source of contact, especially if they don’t have a physical office the client can visit. However, by providing an address you provide them the assurance you are local.

Email – In today’s modern world you need a contact email address. Even better it should be a domain name specific email address. For example, if your website is located at www.domain.com, your email address should be shane@domain.com rather than shane@yahoo.com or lovebug@yahoo.com. By having your email address as a hot link (changing shane@domain.com with mailto:shane@domain.com) clicking on the link opens the user’s email system with the To: line filled in with your email address. This helps avoid typos and other mistakes by the user.

Web Form – The downside of providing the email address is an increase in spam as your website gets more traffic. One way to avoid spam is to have a contact us web form rather than an email address. You can have CAPTCHA code [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captcha ] in order to prevent spam submissions to the form. Or you can place a web form as well other contact details in the contact us page like http://www.netsolutionsna.com/content/contact_us/contact_us.asp

Additional Details

Include a Photo – Include a photo of your brick and mortar building/office. If you don’t have a brick and mortar store, include a photo of your employees dressed in a manner that reflects the style of your company. If you are financial planners then a photo in professional attire, if you are a 70’s disco bar then break out the beads and platform shoes.

Staff Contact Details (optional) – For some smaller businesses, you can place the contact details for each of your primary employees on the contact us page. If you have more than 7-10 employees, consider a separate page for staff contact details.

Map – Google has made it very easy to link your clients directly to a map of your business and the surrounding area. Map Quest and others have made providing directions to your business even easier. The day and age of written instructions are long past, give the clients a direct link to an interactive map.

Final Thoughts

A contact us page will be visited by a large majority of your website users. Search engines love contact us information because it is usually current, and very relevant to the consumer. If you can make your contact us page simple and easy to use your clients will find it extremely valuable. So take your time, less is more, work to build the most effective contact us page you can find.

How to talk to your designer about color

One of the challenges of graphic design is that it can be very difficult to express visual concepts precisely in words. It’s hard enough for designers to talk to each other, when they already have a shared background of terminology and concepts – for designers and non-designers, trying to communicate can be incredibly frustrating.

Number one tip: Use a standard color reference Continue reading