Fond farewell

I really hate endings however this one has been planned. I am saying a fond farewell to Current Observations, a space that has been my old friend these last 9.5 years. Oh what a ride.

This has been a tough decision for me and since I am by nature a very nostalgic person, most of the time it’s very hard to let go. Now that I have, I am so incredibly excited about my new adventure.

This blog started after reading an article that gave this advice

If you want to know what inspires you, keep a blog

I followed that advice and so in 2007 the Current Observations blog began on blogger and later moved here to WordPress. In that time I:

  • Gave up my job in corporate training to work in a digital agency
  • Honed my front end development skills and got seriously under the hood of WordPress
  • Developed and sold WordPress themes
  • Started a new career in user experience consulting and have never looked back
  • Completed my second degree in Design
  • Watched my two little boys grow into beautiful young men
  • Moved house and renovated

Along the way I found inspiration in unlikely places and this blog really did help me do that.

For now, Current Observations will remain here but you’ll now find me blogging over at

I love blogging too much to give it up completely so I hope you’ll come and join me.

Thanks for all your ongoing support.

Over and out.


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April 22, 2017 \ blogging \ 0 comments - be the first


Tutorial :: clipping masks & smart object


I have included a quick video tutorial today to explain how I use post formats with clipping masks & smart objects in Photoshop. The reason for this is that I have just created a blog branding kit called Indigo Days that is for sale on my Etsy store. The kit includes four post layout files (amongst other things) for adding some image zing to blog posts.

Working with clipping masks is one of those great discoveries, at least they were for me. Smart objects have been my recent revelation so I thought I’d share how I like to work with them.

Indigo Days blog branding kit

Here’s a little overview of what’s included in the Web & Blog kit, there is a whole lot more than what is featured here.

If you have any clipping mask or smart object questions, leave me a comment.



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July 11, 2016 \ screencast \ 0 comments - be the first

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Manic theme creation and why I switched to Genesis

Blomst theme screenshot

Over the last three weeks I have been manically coding up a storm and developed six brand new themes, breathed new life into one and redeveloped a favourite. For all of these I made the conscious decision to embrace and commit to developing using the Genesis Theme Framework (affiliate link). Can I just say I’m glad I persisted?

It may surprise you to know that I had been a very loud naysayer of Genesis until my recent foray. All the reasons I had against it were:

  • It seemed to have a reduced feature set than say WooThemes Canvas, which didn’t seem to justify the very large fan base
  • You want me to pay for it? Why would I do that when Thematic and Underscores is free?
  • It didn’t allow me to develop easily using Sass (compiled CSS) in the same way as Bones – and I just loved Bones

So I removed my bias and took a deep breath and made the plunge. There were some frustrations, a few choice words were muttered (or yelled) but there were also a lot of ah ha moments and by theme six (Blomst theme, which is pictured above) I was really in a Genesis development groove. Here’s why:

  • That big fan base, well they are also a bunch of helpful individuals who are very good at sharing their own triumphs (and code)
  • The cost (US$59.95) is a one off, which makes it cheaper that WooThemes Canvas. Buying it also gives you access to code snippets and documentation, which were so very useful
  • Hooks and filters just seemed to make more sense and once I applied myself I achieved a lot. My greatest success was incorporating a masonry layout (kind of like Pinterest) on my Explore theme

My themes are available for sale in my revamped Etsy store (USD) and on my Crimson Pear web store (AUD). In the process I have retired a few themes and a couple of them are now available for free on my web store.

If you have any feedback, comments, suggestion or questions let me know. I’m off to start another theme.

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July 2, 2016 \ design \ 0 comments - be the first

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What experience are you creating?


Many years ago I spent a couple of weeks with a friend in Halifax Canada. He had a very modern apartment overlooking Halifax Harbour and from his living room you could watch the daily happenings on that beautiful expanse of water. The view was captivating for a while but it wasn’t long into my visit that I stopped noticing it.

When I think back on that visit, the things that first come to mind have nothing to do with that view. The experiences I had are my fondest recollections; the food I ate (best wild mushroom soup ever), the people I met and the unique places I visited.

In some ways your blog is not any different for your readers. Your blog design is probably the initial reason a new reader will stay, but it’s the experience you create for them that will keep them coming back. How beautifully you craft your words, the wisdom and insights you impart, how easily they can move through your topics and how seamless it is for them to sign up for your email list – this is their experience.

It’s unfortunate then that so much advice and energy is spent on getting your blog design just right. Most design decisions, and here I’m talking images and colours, come from personal preference or your brand guidelines.
Have you ever stopped to consider the experience you are giving your readers that goes beyond design?

Below, in no particular order, are some tips for auditing your blog to enhance your readers’ experience and hopefully keep them coming back:

Your writing

This is a case of do as I say not as I do. I am not good at writing, well not in the way that I would like. If you’ve got this under control then skip ahead. If you’re curious to know what level you are writing at, run your favourite (and I do mean your favourite not your most popular) post through the Readability Score website. This brings back a lot of data but my favourite measure is the Flesch Kincaid Readability Score. What grade are you writing for? Keep in mind a higher grade does not necessarily mean better writing. Oftentimes a lower grade means that you can be easily understood by many levels of reading proficiency.

The navigation

This is how easy it is for readers to move through your blog. Do you require too many clicks for them to get to what they want? Are your tags and categories intuitive? Do your menu labels make sense? If you’re not sure, try this little test. Copy your menu labels (e.g. About, Contact, Downloads) onto post-it notes or small cards. Give them to someone who will give you honest feedback (a reason why friends are sometimes not a good idea for this task), one by one ask that person to tell you what kind of information that would expect to see under that label. You are welcome to set the scene for them and be up front about what you are doing and why. Try this again with a few more people – 5 should be enough. What did you learn? If what they expected and what exists is closely matched then you’re on track, if not you might want to rethink these labels and then test out the new ones. Rinse and repeat.

As an example, I once had a client that wanted three items on her navigation menu; food, art & life. Now, to me, food & art were easy to predict what I might see, but life? I had nothing. Was it about her life? Or mine? Or about living? It is such an immense word that each of us will think something different based on our own life (pardon the pun). In user experience design (and psychology) this is called a mental model. We all have them. If how you structure your blog matches your reader expectations, then you’re matching their mental model.

Remember that navigation is not just about that bar at the top of your blog, it’s how your reader moves around your blog – page to page, post to post. What opportunities are there to make that easier for them? What if they land in the middle of a post from a search engine, how well can they gain orientation in your space?


Your about page is so important. It is possibly the most visited page on your blog because people really want to know – who are you? Picture please. Add a little bio and only share as much as you want to share (read – please don’t overshare). How is it you came to be writing your amazing blog? Where are you in the world? Your story is the human connection your readers have with you so make it sing.

A way forward

In my day job as a user experience consultant I spend a large part of my time evaluating websites and apps. I have started doing this for bloggers as well but with a twist, not only can I evaluate your blog against a set of usability criteria but I provide a task list to help you prioritise your blog usability updates. Feel free to contact me to know more, or leave a comment.

Image by Bench Accounting via StockSnap – free high resolution stock photos

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May 9, 2016 \ Web DIY \ 2 comments

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A maintenance schedule for your WordPress blog


Keeping your blog up to date is an easy job but you have to be consistent and it’s never a good idea to set and forget. It pays to have a maintenance schedule for your WordPress blog.

I have had the good fortune to work on many WordPress blogs over the years and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve logged into a blog that hasn’t been updated in months and sometimes more. For many this task can be a little overwhelming and when you login and see you have 17 updates it’s really nerve wrecking to click that update button. If you are like me, you’ll have a moment of asking yourself ‘what if I break something?’.

I’m going to attempt to guide you through the tools and techniques I use to keeping my blog and my clients’ blogs up to date without breaking anything.

Install a good database plugin

There are many plugins out there that will take care of your database for you but my personal favourite is WP-DBManager. Once it’s installed I recommend you do the following

  1. Setup Automatic Scheduling.  I usually have Automatic Backup scheduled for every week and I set Gzip to Yes.  Gzip is just a compression/decompression method and this means that when it’s emailed to me, I get a slightly smaller file.
  2. Set Automatic Optimising to 1 month, which is the recommended.
  3. Make sure the Backup Email Options are filled in with your email address. This will then email you a backup after it is created. I like this because then I know that I have a copy on my hosting server and a copy in my inbox. When I receive the latest one I delete the previous one.
  4. Nominate how many previous backups to keep. I have this set to 5, which means it will only ever keep the last 5.

At any time you can login to your dashboard and email yourself the latest backup or you can manually create a new backup. I only do this if I’m working on a client site and updating something that makes me particularly nervous, like Woocommerce.

Important note: Some database plugins (WP-DB Manager included) only backup the database structure and tables. What this means is your backup does not usually contain a backup of your Posts and Pages. Check the plugin you are using to see what it is backing up for you. WordPress lets you backup your content through it’s export tool (Dashboard > Tools > Export).

Keep your plugins up to date

It’s really important to keep on top of plugin updates. I make sure I do this at least weekly but more often I update if I login and see there are new versions waiting. I even keep a spreadsheet to keep track of the plugins I use, the versions and the date they were last updated, this way I can keep an eye on those that haven’t been updated in a while. This may mean they are no longer being maintained and oftentimes a WordPress conflict is caused by an old plugin. If I notice one that isn’t getting any updates then I might go looking for one that serves a similar purpose.

I had a client who had signed up for a service that could send SMS from her blog. The company who created the service and the plugin went out of business and so the service was switched off. She still had the plugin installed and because the service was gone the plugin actually stopped her from being able to login to her WordPress dashboard. This meant having to go in via FTP to remove the plugin. I know this is an extreme example, but it does happen.

From time to time do a plugin inventory. Which ones are really doing a great job for you? Which ones have not been activated? Remove any that you simply don’t use.

Keep your WordPress core files up to date

Like your plugins, it’s so important that WordPress is current. New releases are not only for new features they are also for bug fixes. If vulnerabilities become know then hackers target systems with know vulnerabilities, so keep on top of it. Your WordPress setup can be configured to update automatically and I have and maintain systems that do both; manual and automatic. From my perspective it doesn’t seem to make a difference to me but there are many passionate people out there in WordPress land who think of automatic updates as bad juju, so I’ll leave that up to you.

Comments and spam

At least once a week I reply to comments, although I usually reply as soon as I receive them. Some people like comments but never reply to them, whereas I see comments as a dialogue so I will always reply. Again, I’ll leave that up to your personal preference.

Delete your spam at least weekly. Plugins like Akismet (totally worth the cost) do a great job of catching spam but there will still be a few that get through. So go into the Spam folder and delete any that Akismet has caught and look through your comments to mark any spam message as such and then delete them.

To conclude

I hope this will assist you with your own self-hosted blog. Ask me a question or leave me a comment if you want to know more. I have encountered and triumphed over many Wordpress issues (including having this blog hacked) so feel free to ask.

Image by Luis Llerana via StockSnap – free high resolution stock photos

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May 2, 2016 \ Web DIY \ 0 comments - be the first

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Categories vs tags

Categories vs tags

When working with my design clients, much of what we discuss is about the look and feel, understandable right? So much blogging advice on the web is about the design; the right banner, layout, font and spacing. One thing that seems to be misunderstood is when to use categories and tags. I want to try to explain the differences and how good use of categories and tags may assist in SEO and search. I work almost exclusively in WordPress and categories and tags are a feature of WordPress. Most CMS or blogging platforms handle categories and tags in a similar way, so you won’t be disadvantaged if WordPress is not your tool of choice.

“There is no task so great that it cannot be solved by categorisation. Small groups must join forces, larger masses broken down into component parts.”



A category was explained to me as being like the chapters of a book, but I never found this description very helpful – maybe it’s the books I read. I prefer to think of a category as a broad theme for the content you are writing (a blog post). Look over your blog and you’ll see there are topics and areas of interest that you consistently blog about. These are your categories.

My rule of thumb is one category per blog post and I try to have only 8-10 categories that I consistently use. You might find this difficult at first but your readers will thank you and I’ll explain why in the next paragraph. When I started out (in 2007) I went a bit crazy with categories, I think at last count there are about 26 categories in my previously used list. Most of these I no longer use and I stick to my 8-10 rule for a couple of reasons. One, my blog has become more focused over the years and two, I want to improve my blog navigation and SEO.

So how does this help with SEO and navigation? Categories are another way for your readers to navigate your blog. Selecting a category link under a blog post will direct them to a filtered list of every post in that category, searching for a category on your blog will have a similar result. This is really useful if your readers are interested in everything you have written in a category e.g. Design. A category is also metadata (data about data) which adds a descriptive element to your post content. Metadata is a favourite of search engines as it assists them to understand more about your content and therefore helps with search results.


Tags on the other hand, provide more description to your blog content so use as many as you think necessary to describe the post, just try not to go overboard. In the old days of web this was called keyword stuffing and search engines are not fond of this practice.

Tags will also assist in search and navigation but not to the same extent as categories, unless you are also very restrictive with your tagging. On this blog I like to write about design so I have a design category – makes sense. I have a varied interest in design so I need to be more specific and I might add a tag of ‘web design’ or ‘surface design’ or ‘furniture’ or ‘graphic’ – you get the idea. It is possible that you will use a tag once or twice in the lifetime of your blog and that’s OK. The 8-10 rule doesn’t apply to tags. If I’m sharing the work of someone who inspires me, like in this post,  I tag the post with their name or business name and unless I blog about them again I probably won’t use that tag again. From a navigation perspective this isn’t ideal as following a tag link may only produce one result but from a search perspective it’s still metadata and serves to describe your content.

One suggestion for tags is if you use the same tag then use it consistently and don’t create variations on a theme. For example I tag posts with external links with a tag of ‘links’, if I were to start using ‘web link’, ‘site link’ or ‘external link’ then I start to muddy the waters and my SEO and navigation will suffer. As someone once said – “a point in every direction is the same as no point at all’.

I hope this has helped to demystify categories and tags a little. If you have any questions or have made any discoveries that may help others, leave a comment.

Image by Damian Zaleski via Unsplash – free high resolution stock photos

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February 2, 2016 \ blogging \ 0 comments - be the first

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Colour palette :: texture #1

Texture colour palette #1

People who know me well, know that I’m a huge fan of colour palettes. Nothing is more lovely to me than a curated collection of well placed colours. I have a whole Pinterest Board devoted to colour palettes for inspiration.

Welcome to the first (of many I hope) post just for palettes – but with a little difference. My problem with most inspirational palettes I collect is that they have a small number of colours (5 usually) and sometimes the colours, while they look amazing, are tonally equivalent which makes them difficult to use in a lot of my design work when I’m looking for contrast. The other problem is that I like to include neutrals in my design work and am always searching for the perfect brown or grey. This quest combined with my obsessive pinning of rust and paint texture images has inspired me towards creating my own palettes, since much of my theme design work starts with an image for both colour and motif inspiration.

There are a few rules I’ve set for myself:

  • Each palette will have a minimum of eight colours all derived from the texture image
  • The complimentary brown and grey (at the bottom of the palette) are hand mixed using this very cool technique I learned in the Skillshare class Introduction to Surface Design: Creating and Mixing Patterns (affiliate link) by Jenna Frye, my current girl crush.
  • There is a good range of contrast in the colours.

It was easy to follow the rules with this amazing image. I’ll see how I go and I hope you keep me on task. Also let me know if you use any of these palettes for your projects.

Quick question though: do I include hex codes for each colour or leave them out? I’m undecided if they are useful or not.

Untitled image by Don Taylor via Flickr

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November 13, 2015 \ colour lover \ 2 comments

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Taking stock #3

pink trees

This is now my third taking stock post and seems to be my go to post for when I want to explain my silence. I think this is my year of being absent. Now I’m a little fired up towards changes for 2016.

Making : Many, many, many Tunisian crochet washcloths
Cooking : Asparagus on the BBQ
Drinking : Anti inflammatory toddy
Reading: After You by Jojo Moyes
Wanting: To take the entire summer holidays off work
Looking: At textures in rust and paint
Playing: Uno with my boys
Deciding: Colours for tiles
Wishing: The kitchen would be finished
Enjoying: The humour of my colleagues
Waiting: For my knee to feel better
Liking: Spring days
Wondering: Where else I can fit in all the plants I want to buy
Loving: That I have finally finished Uni
Pondering: A new pattern collection
Considering: Making this Ikea hack
Watching: Home renovation shows with my little one
Hoping: To finish all my crochet projects
Marvelling: At the blooms in my garden
Needing: A gardener
Smelling: Roses
Wearing: My new watch, a random wonderful present from my husband
Following: The adventures of my gorgeous friend at Sweet Divergence
Noticing: The days are getting longer
Knowing: That things happen for a reason and should stop second guessing events
Thinking: Way too much
Feeling: Old with my achy knee
Admiring: A fellow UXer – Ashlea Mackay
Sorting: Through the kitchen in preparation for the renovation
Buying: More pattern books and dresses
Getting: Enthused towards some changes
Bookmarking: 1950s patterns
Disliking: Some of the hype
Opening: My iPad to do some more doodling
Giggling: With my boys over dumb things people do
Feeling: Excited for things to come
Snacking: On mangoes even though they are still expensive
Coveting: A new dining room table from Eclipse Furniture
Wishing: The exchange rate was better so I could order some of my own fabric
Helping: My Dad to use his new iPhone
Hearing: Kookaburras

Image via Unsplash (wonderful free stock photo library) is by Gabriel Garcia Marengo

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November 4, 2015 \ sharing \ 0 comments - be the first

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