The Hackathon: a Fight to the Death…

This was my team: (from L-R)  Lisa Mosow, Bobby Strickland and Steve Woodruff. Good times and great apps!

Yesterday I arrived at Sparc and competed in the second annual Hackathon. In the Hackathon web developers and designers team up to produce applications in a crazy, beer-induced race against the clock.  Each team was presented with 3 random categories ranging from money, coupons, bartering, travel and so on.  My team was presented with the 3 categories: security, QR codes and travel.  We chose travel thinking that we had a lot more room to be creative.  From our brainstorming we decided that executing an app that helps you pack for a trip would be a good direction to go.  Next we wire-framed the app out and highlighted the route our demo was going to take.  I was in charge of the user interface  design while Steve and Bobby handled the development. My teammates were able to pull from the local weather and set temperature ranges that dictated one’s packing list, I was very impressed.

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These were the screens I designed, they have stoner lingo sprinkled throughout.

I suggested calling our app “tripppy” (the 3 p’s gave it a nice touch) and my teammates were on board.  For the next 10 hours I tried to make each screen a work of art.  (-maybe a slight exaggeration but that was my goal) I chose a “trippy” color palate of bright oranges and greens and proceeded to hash out the design. At the end of the day we were all completely spent and ready to hear the outcome of our efforts.  Though we didn’t win the coveted “best in show” (-and $3,000) we DID get awarded the “Most Useful App”.  Now that I have one hackathon under my belt I know what to expect and am already preparing myself for next year!

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Organizing Design Files

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”-Charles Eames

Everyone is happy when you stay on top of your files!

We’ve all been there, you open a design file and a link is missing or font. It happened again, you didn’t package your file. You have a tangled web of files floating throughout your harddrive that have created a digital game of twister. Let’s play! Wrong! I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to keep your design files organized.

You’ll never appreciate great file organization until you inherit someone else’s file catastrophe. When I started my second job in Charleston, SC I was ecstatic. However, I walked into a file nightmare. No folders were used. A hard drive was carried from computer to computer and you could sift through thousands of images to find what you needed. There was no naming system in place. Projects took 20 times as long because you recreated the same artwork over and over. If only these individuals would have taken the time to organize their files everyone would have saved. I eventually did completely reorganize the files. And what a difference it made! I found that looking at a bunch of free-floating files can be daunting. I much prefer everything be nested within a Folder. Here is an example of files on my personal computer:

Graphic Design Organization

Look how lovely!

Within these I have multiple Folders of the different versions of the project. Every folder starts by the client business name. Within these folders are the individual projects that belong to that business. Within these individual projects are the different versions of the projects. Within each project version Folder is the design file, the document fonts and the document links. Important files have an underscore at the beginning which sorts them at the top.

 

pretty pretty!

I know you’re probably looking at my organized files with file envy but don’t be discouraged! You can incorporate this system too!  After you overcome the initial headache of finding all the missing imagery, links and fonts you will be tickled that you can find everything you need at a moments notice!

However, it will not matter if your files are expertly organized…if your hard drive crashes. This brings me to another point, back up your work! The most efficient way that I’ve found is drop box. In fact all of my files are stored online. I can get to any project that I’ve ever made from any computer as long as wireless is available. This means, if I spill a coke on my laptop, my files are safe. If my computer is stolen, my files are safe etc. This is worth every penny you might spend paying for the extra storage. I have had some experience with Google drive but am much less satisfied with it’s performance. It doesn’t like to upload many files at once, causing files to get lost in transition.

Hard drive catastrophes don’t care if you’re a print designer or web designer, so be prepared! To sum it up, organize your files, then back them up! I hope this advice prevents a lot of designer heartache and sadness. Happy designing!

Creatively,

-L

Mad Skills, Sucky Economy

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An optimistic outlook makes all the difference

MANY OF YOU GRAPHIC DESIGNERS  HAVE RECENTLY GRADUATED, you wore the cap and gown and were praised and congratulated by friends and family on how much you’ve accomplished.  THEN the next day happens…..they don’t warn you that you probably won’t have employers knocking down your door to hire a risky newbie. You are now scratching your head. “I THOUGHT GRADUATION WAS THE START OF SOMETHING AWESOME, WHY AM I STILL WAITING TABLES?”  Maybe you’re babysitting, maybe you’re working at Kinko’s, (-and there’s no shame in that).  What I would say to this is be an opportunist…in a positive way :)

WHEN I GRADUATED in January 2009, I found myself in this exact situation.  I continued to wait tables for months after graduating in the same small, college town with very few opportunities. Although it seemed I was “stuck” I had a plan.  (-I can’t say it went exactly as I had imagined but nonetheless) I had applied to jobs here and there but employers had very little interest in hiring  A.) new college grad or B.) someone who still lived in a college town.  These events lead up to my impulsive decision to move to Charleston, South Carolina. I gave myself the cut off date of June 1st.

WHILE WORKING LIKE A DOG to save for the move, I took advantage of my surroundings and was given an opportunity to design a drink menu for my waitressing job.  AHA! a REAL world project that I can sink my teeth into! This had turned a mindless part-time job, into a real-world opportunity and experience. (I had no idea that I would later design for a restaurant group a year and a half later.)

AT THIS POINT I SWITCHED GEARS and put focus on finding a suitable living situation in Charleston. Since I knew NO ONE, (not a single soul) I figured that Craigslist would be the way to go. I saw a posting for a swanky (or TINY) downtown apartment and jumped at the opportunity.  I drove 7 hours to Charleston, met my new roommate and signed the lease all in the same day.  It was a scary process but I’m glad I did it.

I MADE THE MOVE ON SCHEDULE.  I arrived in downtown Charleston June 1st 2010. I was excited about the possibilities!  2 days later I got a job waiting tables and continued my job search.  There were a few dark times that Summer but I pressed on submitting applications, resumes and even had a few crappy interviews here and there.  I decided to hone my web design skills and seek out a deserving website redo candidate.  I found Charleston Flower Market’s site to really need some TLC. I had learned the basics of web design in college but needed to stumble through it on my own to have the concepts sink in.  The redesign was a thrilling process, the website was transformed into one of my favorite projects of all time.  Upon finishing several pages, I decided it was time to reveal the new website to the unknowing Flower Store gals.  They loved it!  Better yet, they were willing to pay…real money! -This was a HUGE boost for my spirits and I pressed on. That Summer I did another site for an architect, one for a friend, and one for my sister.  By the end of this process I had 5 websites to reference in my portfolio.  BY GOLLY I’M A WEB DESIGNER IN CHARLESTON, SC!  (-at least I appeared to be one)

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A fun web design project :)

ON AUGUST 8TH 2010 I GOT THE CALL from an advertising agency in Charleston to come in for an interview. To my surprise, not only did I get the in-house graphic design  job but they asked me to start immediately.  This was the beginning of my professional career.  After I grew tired of doing auto ads, I decided to start looking again.  I interviewed for a position to be a graphic designer for a group of restaurants in downtown Charleston (-SCORE!  I LIVE DOWNTOWN!) I proudly presented my menu design from my waitressing job in college.  It was a hit!  I got the job and have had a BLAST working for this crazy bunch.  My portfolio has increased to 3 times it’s original size.

ON FEBRUARY 1ST 2011 I started my design job at Charleston Hospitality Group.  My advice to all you designers is to take risks and make quality work.  Your talent will show and your drive will impress. Turn everything into a chance to perform and share your talents.  Network when possible and keep up that portfolio website!  If I could go back and redo things I would have been adding Charleston keywords to my portfolio website months before I actually moved.  If you are a forward thinking designer, you will take note of this and take my advice.  Having a solid web presence will help you immensly!  Employers are much less hesitant to hire a new grad that has not only real world projects under his or her belt but a solid web portfolio as well.  This shows that you have versatility. Take risks, make the move, take the plunge!  If you’re bold enough to take these kind of chances, odds are you will recognize and create opportunities once you reach your destination.    I hope my crazy journey serves as some kind of inspiration and hope for you new grads.  Keep up the good work, positive attitude and press on!

Top of the Heap

top of the heap tacticts for SEO - web design charleston

Where does your website rank in the heap?

We meet again webbies! 

So I have done a lot of research about what it takes to boost your web rankings (as you can see by previous posts) I have discovered that the best (and most sound) way to boost your SEO is by constantly updating your content -I know this is NO secret to most of you SEO gurus.  So I’m sure you’re thinking “What about all the other factors like back links?”  Don’t get me wrong, QUALITY back links can do a GREAT DEAL of good as far as SEO is concerned, however, getting on lots of I-just-want-another-link-in-cyberspace-trash-lists can actually HURT your rankings more than anything else.  When the google PANDA UPDATE happened, sites with “back-links-for-the-sake-of-back-links” were seriously affected. Chances are, that sites with the coveted “top of the heap” rankings in google are the result of a lot of hard work or by playing the dreaded waiting game AKA “I was here first, so wait your turn”.  Just like nothing beats good ol’ diet and exercise, the same goes for good search engine optimization. Work at it every day and the results will -slowly- pay off. A good resource for this can be found at PotPieGirl.com -cheesy name but solid info.

There is one thing that I am positive of -there are NO ABSOLUTES WHEN IT COMES TO GOOGLE. They keep their algorithms a mystery. People have gone about interpreting what google likes and dislikes in different ways. So maybe google IS a little flighty, but that’s what keeps us on our toes and keeps THEM as the number one search engine.  -kudos google, job well done.

The Quick and Dirty: If someone tells you: “I can make you NUMBER ONE IN GOOGLE IN 2 DAYS!!!” -run, bolt, sprint as far away from them as possible. These trash tactics will get you blacklisted by search engines. You may never get your hard earned ranking back ever again. Could you afford to start from scratch?  If the answer is “no” then I would avoid these “Too-Good-To-Be-True-Tacticts” and move forward with the “slow ‘n’ steady” approach.  

Personal SEO update: An update on how these tactics are working for me personally:  I feel that I have hit another hard-to-break-through wall in my current web rankings for the phrase “web design charleston”  I have only moved up 2 spots in the last week and a half.  I’ve gotten accustomed to a rapid climb from page 19 until now.  Until now, the sites I’m jumping ahead of are probably not actively maintaining good SEO practices. This is where the real competition starts.  I’m ready and willing to continue to work at it until I reach that coveted #1 spot.  It will happen. On a positive note, I am still on page 1 for the search phrase “graphic design Charleston” so I guess I need to be grateful for what my site has accomplished so far. As always, I will keep you posted on any new SEO developments regarding my personal site and the world wide web. Happy ranking folks!

 

SEO Web Design Tips

Hi guys!

Another SEO tip for you to chew on. I’m sure you are all familiar with bulk domain buying. This is smart to do for keywords that pertain to your business or service. However, there are best practices when doing this. Before you buy any and EVERY domain that comes to mind begin to type the phrase in your google search bar, as you begin to type google will offer you a list of popular searches that it predicts you might be looking for. The more you type, the more specific this search is. THAT is where your domain names come from. For example as I begin to type in Web Design several options come up, I see that “Web Design Charleston SC” is a frequently searched phrase. so this tells me that between WebDesignCharleston.com and WebDesignCharlestonSC.com the SECOND option is best to purchase for a forwarding domain because THAT is what people are searching for. This is a really smart way to go about picking domains.

I stumbled upon CharlestonWebDesigner.com which happens to be a premium domain. it was over $100 (-which is on the lower end of premium domains) but I knew that having keywords for your URL will help you indefinitely. Lately, I’ve gotten in the bad habit of going on URL shopping sprees. It’s exciting to find a really great URL and be able to call it yours!

So you’ve got this AWESOME, AMAZING, UNBELIEVABLE domain name, now what? I’m sure you are going to forward it to your main website in case people type it in, WRONG! Don’t just forward it, FORWARD IT AND MASK IT. This is easy and gives these new domains a page title (-which google web crawlers LOVE to pick up on as extra content) as well as key words and meta tags. Any SEO obsessed web designer would be very sad to miss out on these free goodies!

*Here’s how you do it in GoDaddy:

  1. Enter your account info and go to “MY ACCOUNT”

  2. Then go to “DOMAINS”

  3. Pick a domain and click on “LAUNCH”

  4. Locate the green forward button and click on “FORWARD DOMAIN”

  5. A window will pop up, enter the domain you’d like to forward it to and check “FORWARD WITH MASKING” and click “EDIT”

  6. You will then see more options to fill in a title, description and key words

  7. Remember to use text includes the words in your new domain along with your business name. This further reinforces that the content in your website is legit. Google LOVES this.

I hope this information helps your personal website get noticed by millions :) I am picking up weekly SEO knowledge and would love your feedback. If you have any SEO tidbits of your own send them my way! Have a great weekend everyone!

Responsive web design

hello webbies, i’m working on a little responsive web design for the Market Street Saloon, can’t wait to show you!

SEO Update, EXCITING!

hello all!

So after getting bummed about SITTING on page 7 for days and days for the phrase web design Charleston in google page rank, I am up to page 3! So I’m giving myself a pat on the back right now for moving from page 19 to 3 in less than a month, there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel!

SEO update

web design charleston update:

On may 7th I was on page 19 in google for “web design charleston“.

Today (may 26th) I’m on page 7, I know these last few pages are going to be difficult to break into but I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

I’m ranked fairly well for “graphic design charleston” however, getting ranked for anything web related is quite a bit harder.