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What experience are you creating?

experience

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?

You

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

maintenance

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.”

UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS

Categories

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

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

Inspired by :: Michaël Cailloux

Scarf design by Michaël Cailloux

In surface pattern design I sometimes get overwhelmed by florals. So when I spot something unusual that is not a floral I tend to sit up and take notice. I stumbled across Michaël Cailloux’s work, quite by accident and was immediately intrigued. Michaël is a French designer of ‘wall jewellery’, scarves (like the one above) and painted papers. I strongly recommend you visit his site (it’s in French and English) so you can really appreciate his work.

For me, I was struck by the unusual imagery he adds to his designs; gingko leaves with fish and eels. You’ll find frogs, pelicans, parrots and beetles and my personally I love that most of his designs include flies.

Scarf design by Michaël Cailloux

They are beautifully rendered and arranged and remind me somewhat of my fascination when I was at art school of trying to spot the beetles or flies in Renaissance paintings. In northern Renaissance religious art especially the fly was sometimes included as it was thought to repel real flies and in some Christian art the fly was symbol of evil, pestilence or sin.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 12.37.17 pm

The fly is central to most of Michaël’s work as a symbol of life and death, he references 16th Century still life paintings as inspiration for his work. His graduating thesis was on the fly in 18th century art. I think that’s why his work is so appealing to me.

You can view all Michaël’s work on his website and get a glimpse of what he’s working on via twitter.

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July 12, 2015 \ inspiration \ 1 comment

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Taking stock #2

Mitten covered hands holding a coffee cup

This is only my second taking stock post but it’s such a great was to explain my silence of late. I think it’s okay to blog when you feel like it, wouldn’t you agree?

Making : My own variation of Bear’s Rainbow Quilt
Cooking : Bread with fresh yeast
Drinking : A lot of black tea
Reading: You Before Me by Jojo Moyes and Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
Wanting: This crochet kit from Wool and the Gang
Looking: For inspiration
Playing: Blendoku on my iPad
Deciding: To renovate the kitchen
Wishing: I had more time or less interests
Enjoying: The cold mornings
Waiting: For the rest of my wool to arrive
Liking: Paleo Granola sprinkled over my morning oats
Wondering: How many more plants I should buy
Loving: Swimming without a program or coach
Pondering: A new direction for my business
Considering: Building a ‘portable’ screen printing table top
Watching: Too many things on Netflix
Hoping: To finish my nephew’s quilt
Marvelling: At how quickly time passes and that we are already enrolling the jolly monkey in high school
Needing: To go and pull more weeds
Smelling: Waffles
Wearing: This cowl that I made
Following: Pip Lincolne’s wonderful blog posts
Noticing: How much my boys are growing up
Knowing: That I am more capable that I often believe
Thinking: Of taking some long service leave
Feeling: So much better now that I am sleeping
Admiring: People who stay true to their own style
Sorting: Through so many books
Buying: Too many ebooks
Getting: Ready to start a new series of ‘how to’ posts on my blog
Bookmarking: Geometric and vintage patterns
Disliking: Websites that ignore accessibility
Opening: My latest Uppercase magazine (I love that smell)
Giggling: At the conversations between my boys (‘Why don’t you talk to him instead of picking his pockets?’)
Feeling: Less fatigued
Snacking: On mandarins
Coveting: This bag from Farrago Bags (now sold but I’m sure he’d make me one)
Wishing: My husband well in his new job
Helping: A friend with a site design
Hearing: Our very noisy cat, who always thinks he’s hungry

Image via Unsplash (wonderful free stock photo library) is by Padurariu Alexandru

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June 9, 2015 \ sharing \ 0 comments - be the first

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An eye for :: tribal and native prints

A collection of native an tribal inspired products

Firstly I don’t want to give offence by using the words ‘tribal’ or ‘native’ but I am seriously stuck for words when it comes to a better description. I hope you understand my meaning when I say I have had a serious eye for patterns and products inspired by native American, Aztec and African motifs and patterns. To be honest I’m not sure if I would ever use these designs in my own work but right now I am so attracted to the colour and geometry and texture.

You can find all these gorgeous products on my Patterns and Motifs Pinterest board. They are:

  1. Pendleton Rainbow Blanket (sold out) from Urban Outfitters
  2. Pattern A4 Print from Sandra Dieckmann Etsy Store
  3. Tribal Feather Art Print from A Girl and Her Brush Etsy Store
  4. Classic Friendship Bracelets – Tutorial from Purl Bee
  5. iPhone 5 case from Field Trip Etsy Store
  6. Image via E Art Ekstrax blog – read this post on Tribal Art and Culture, it’s truly wonderful
  7. Image via The Beautiful Soup
  8. 8×10 art print – Native American / Navajo Inspired – Bright, Colorful & Graphic Art Pattern Poster Print from Fancy That Design House Etsy Store
  9. Going Hunting – Black and Cornstalk – Modern Hand Printed Pillow Cover from Simka Sol Etsy Store

 

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June 7, 2015 \ design \ 0 comments - be the first

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