Marc Ram

my musings and other things

Specifying a Website

When you are going to build a house, you need to have plans to work from. When you are building a website, you should have a plan as well. This is business, and you need to be organized.

If you are going to build a website for someone else, you need to try and have a clear understanding of their expectations. What are the minimum number of questions you should have answers to?

  • What is the website for?
  • Who are you speaking to?
  • How many things do you want to start talking about?
  • How much time do you have before you to have something to show?
  • What do you think it should cost?

That’s a nice short list to start with. Later on you will need to consider things like do they have the legal right to use the content on their site? does this need to be optimized for mobile devices and tablets? How often will the site need to be updated?

Lets start with the design of my company website isstt.com

This site is designed to let people in the printing and publishing business know what the company sells. Beware of the client that tells you “This site is for everybody”, you will never be able to deliver a suitable product.

The target audience knows about print and what a CTP is why Colour proofing is important and the advantages of digital printing.

We want to feature seven to ten items of information on the site, and to give enough information on them to make the reader want to contact us. We also wanted to let them know a short history of our company, who our clients are, and where we are located.

I was the client, so I knew I wanted to have something as soon as possible, but realistically knew it would take about a week to gather all of the information and build out the first draft of the site, based on all of the other things I have to do as well as having a day job.

Knowing what the time frame is lets you make sane decisions like – can I do this in time on my own or do I need to hire help, should I build or buy certain aspects, do I need a copywriter to create content and how long should that take, or are we going to use content from the products and services that the client already has.

I know that diamonds are money for this art, but that’s not the shape of my heart.

Since I would not be billing myself, this was not applicable, but determining how much something should cost is part art and part science. First, figure out what you think your hourly rate should be. How much would you be earning otherwise, if you were not spending time doing this task. How proficient are you at writing HTML code, if you are just starting out, i would suggest US$25 – 50 per hour (2014 suggested rate) but that can scale to twice to three times as much as your skills improve.

A good rule of thumb is to decide up front what a single item/page you are featuring should take to code and multiply by the number of items. Its important to keep track of the time you spend, including meetings with the client, and time spent coming up with the design and writing the copy. You will be amazed at how much time you can invest in a web project.

A web site done by someone with experienced design and coding skills could easily start at about US$2,000 to 3,000 for a basic text site with minimal graphics, and that’s not including the cost of photo-shoots and copywriting, or hours spent in Photoshop re-scaling, re-sampling and generally cleaning up all of the provided images. The cost of Stock images should also be included as a separate line item in your quote.

Remember to try and control the clients’ expectations. Don’t be caught into the common trap of them saying – “ok, lets just add ten more items here” explain that you have budgeted the time and cost based on their original specifications and would need to revise the budget and get their approval if that changes.

Present a formal quote with the terms of payment and have a space for the client to sign and return a copy to you. This way there is no confusion on what the agreed price was for the agreed items to be delivered. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t get what you believe is a fair deal. Simply say, “Thank you for the opportunity of quoting, but I really can’t deliver what you are asking for the proposed budget.”

Don’t be shy about discussing money, you can be sure that they won’t, but be flexible when you know it won’t cost you. Be sure to preface the statement with, “Ok we can be flexible there”, but I don’t suggest that you be careful not to be caught with the discount game, doing more work should cost more since there is no reduction in the effort you will require.

If the promise is for more work down the line, agree to what you think is fair, but let the discount be applied on the future work when you get it. If you are asked for a reduction in price, politely ask the question, “which items will we cut from the original spec to make this cost less?”. I also suggest getting a 50% down payment.

I do my initial planning on pen and paper. I make a list and then transfer that to a Trello board so that I can reorder and track the stages of completeness (more on that later). This first list forms the basis for your plan. In my case it was as follows:

  • Who we are, who we serve and what we believe makes us unique.
  • Who we have worked with and for how long
  • Computer To Plate machines and Plates
  • Proofing Systems
  • Digital Printing – 5 sub items
  • Software we sell – 3 sub items
  • How to contact and find us.

From a design perspective I knew I wanted a sober, business oriented site, that used a fixed header navigation bar and a long scrolling format. I also knew that I wanted the site to scale so that reading on a desktop computer, tablet or a smartphone would be easy. Because I wanted the site to be mobile friendly, it had to load fast and not include Flash.

So we now have a plan, and a general overview of the areas we want to cover. That’s one step in the process done. As we go along there will be some refinements of course, but the plan should not vary radically from this skeleton specification.

 

 

The New Mac Webmaster

So you want to learn to code. Well Neo, swallow the red pill and join me behind the scenes to see the code that makes up the matrix.

Why should you bother? Could you get the same thing done by using WordPress or some other content management system? If you looked at the source of marcram.com, you would realize that’s what I’m using here after all, so why am I trying to get you to do things the hard way?That depends on what you want to do, we will focus on a solid grounding in the basics so that you can have a foundation on which to build. If all you want to do is go on to hand code pretty websites, the basics you learn here will serve you well. If you want to become a WebApp coding Ninja, the basics are absolutely required.

What you will need

  1. A Mac, this is called Mac Webmaster after all, Running Mac Os X 10.8.5 or higher
  2. A good text editor, I will be using Textwrangler and nano.
  3. Patience and time, learning anything new requires effort.
  4. An ftp client, I will be using Cyberduck.
  5. A photo editor, I will be using Adobe Photoshop.

With the exception of Photoshop, all of the tools discussed here will be free. In Mac Webmaster Basics we are going to cover the following

  • Specifying a Basic Website
  • Trello (optional, but useful and free)
  • Create a basic HTML5 Document
  • Intro to terminal
  • Using Nano
  • Turning on the webserver on your Mac
  • Introduction to CSS
  • Designing with a Grid
  • Photoshop basics for the Web
  • Javascript Basics
  • Uploading your site to a Live Webserver with cyberduck

Organise Anything

I’ve been playing with Trello for a few months now, and I think its one of my favourite new applications.

Trello is designed to help you organize almost anything, and uses a simple intuative drag and drop interface. It falls into the category of Software as a service (SaaS) since the application and all of the data is stored on the web based server.

Trello allows you to create projects and add people to them so that you can divvy up responsibilities and everyone can be updated on the status of each item.

Trello also has an iPhone app that makes it very easy to access and update your projects.

Give it a whirl and tell me what you think.

The Angular Way

If you are interested in web technologies, have a look at Angular.js. Its a very mature project by Google that provides hooks into plain old HTML to do some pretty interesting things. Aside from the one small issue that people have to have javascript turned on in their browser (it’s the default setting in most these days) this library/framework makes writing web-app front ends so much easier.

Visit http://angularjs.org/ to see what is possible.

Cloudy with a chance of Apps

By now you must have heard several people including Microsoft talk about ‘Taking it to the cloud’, well for a non technical person, what does this really mean?

‘The Cloud’ is a concept being used to describe many different types of services offered by big name providers like Apple, Rack Space and Amazon (yup the guys that sell stuff on the net). These services range from things like Apple iCloud, a space to store your stuff and sync your devices, to complex web, database and application servers.

So if you are wondering what all the fuss is about, perhaps I can explain.

In the the distant past (time moves very fast on the web), it was a difficult and expensive task to have a Web server setup for your requirements as a software developer or even as a high traffic website. Amazon changed all of this in August of 2006 when they introduced their EC2 offering.

Software Developers (and even normal people) can now configure a reliable setup and use them to do all sorts of things. It is still not cheap, but its nowhere near as expensive as buying physical hardware, and what can be done is truly a ‘popcorn event’ in my mind. It also doesn’t matter where in the world you are. I’m on a tiny island in the Caribbean.

Ever been introduced to a concept that just seems to take root in your mind and suddenly seems to set off other ideas ? This phenomenon has been described to me as a very aptly named ‘popcorn event’ and I quite like the term.

Its now possible to create a private network of two, ten or two hundred computers instantly available to do your bidding. If you have lots of data to crunch, this can give you the ability to accomplish a task that would take ten days to perform in one or two. Its really a Time Machine, of sorts.

When you’re done doing what you needed, you turn off these virtual computers and don’t have to pay for them when you are not using them.

If you are curious about getting started with cloud computing check out whats available at Amazon Web Services Management Console

 

How to be a Ninja

Javascript is a very useful addition to the arsenal of a budding web developer. jQuery is a framework that makes this tool even more useful. The learning curve can be flattened significantly with the use of resources like the excellent book jQuery Novice to Ninja

I like the resources provided by Sitepoint, and their technical writers keep me engaged in a way that makes it easy to learn. This book has taken its place in my technical library and has made using the jQuery Framework much easier.

I also like the fact that most if not all of Sitepoints books are available as ePub and PDF format, as well as dead tree format.

I encourage you to go to this link and get a free sample chapter to see if you agree with me.

Welcome to the Dark Side

My seventy something year old Mom had her Windows based desktop die on her just before Christmas. She has  taken the plunge and is now using a Mac mini with wireless keyboard and trackpad, along with a brand spanking new 27 inch LCD monitor.

Although the whole ‘switch to Mac’ thing is not an unusual event these days, it is going to be interesting for me to see how it will affect her, but I don’t expect that there will be much of an issue. I must admit that she is not the usual ‘Mature’ user since she seemed to have no problem accepting that things are slightly different on the new computer, and moving from a 13 inch CRT to a 27 inch LCD should make the change a little more attractive, however she will need to remember to turn on the keyboard and trackpad when she starts up her Mac, something that is not intuitive when you have always used wired devices before.

Hopefully my encouragement to make the move will not serve to cause frustration in her daily computing experience, but I have realized that my mother, like my son, sees the computer as just another appliance to be used in daily life.

In a somewhat ironic twist, while I write this, I am also reformatting my favorite Mother in Laws’ windows laptop since it has also died. I suspect that there will be many IT support people that will consider switching their parents to Macs just to eliminate the level of ┬átechnical support that seems to be required for non technical users.

The size of their toys.

Two of my nephews are going to get iPads for Christmas this year. It struck me as interesting, that while iPads are still coveted items by many grown-up, others have no qualms about giving these tablet computing devices to kids that are only eight years old.

Its not that I think the parents are being overindulgent, its me wondering, how much time is the kid going to get to play with the device, vs how often the Adults will be vying for time with the almost seductive wireless internet-in-your-hand portal.

I also wonder if the parents realize that they are baptizing these young people into the cult of Apple, and how non-plussed they will be when they have to use a Windows based desktop computer. (Fair disclosure, I started in the software world writing business applications first for MS-DOS then MS-Windows based platforms, and now exclusively use a MacBook Pro for all my computing needs, and yes it does triple boot. Oh and I like Angry Birds too.)