Adobe Makes Goodish

So you read my rant that published last night about Adobe confirming a platform change for CS4 with their online support. Then when talking to them about actually doing it, now that a $2000 computer is in the house, the story changed.

It seems that @MilesForrest sent that blog post on to Adobe and a nice lady gave me a call. Ultimately the wife still has to upgrade to CS5 but at a significantly reduced cost. While not 100% happy because some money still has to be spent it’s way less than anticipated and it’s a value that can be worked out even with a 5 week old baby.

The Rub

The real issue here is that many companies only help you once they see some bad press. I had issues with a local bank a few months back. The local branch and phone support was terrible. The other local bank where I am a customer was more helpful with my issue even though they couldn’t resolve it. I tweeted about my frustration with CIBC and figured I’d be out $85.

Well, CIBC read my tweet and got in touch and solved my problem in 10 minutes. Now the fact that they solved my problem is awesome the fact that it took a tweet sucks.

The front line support for many companies is terrible and utterly broken. There should be no need to tweet or blog about things to get help. Someone should just fix it for you the first time not when they look bad.

The End of the Story

So at the end we’ll still be looking for Adobe alternatives if they’re out there. Yeah the anger that was there originally isn’t quite so hot, they stuck out an olive branch that we’re willing to take for what it is. We’re always looking for places that offer solid support instead of support only when they look bad.

I Wish Adobe Would Die – Or Adobe’s Customer Service Motto, We’re not happy till you’re not happy

Update So Adobe got wind of this little blog post and got in touch. Greatly reduced cost on the upgrade to CS5. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Recently I made the switch to a fully OS X environment. For a few months now I’ve been doing all my design work on PC and all of my development on my Hackintosh. This was mainly because the Hackintosh was under powered for design work and I already owned CS4 on PC.

When I went to make the change to fully OS X I contacted Adobe support to confirm the rumour that you could switch over your valid license to a new platform. On Adobe’s live chat they were helpful and said it would be no problem just call a number on their contact page.

Trusting support to know what they were talking about I confidently set my budget and bought a new 13″ MacBook Pro then got in touch with Adobe to transfer platforms.

Well, it turns out that support lied to me. Now they don’t like that word since it implies deceit but the truth is that support told me something that wasn’t true. When you tell someone something that isn’t true it’s called lying no matter what verbiage you use to pretty it up a bit and make yourself look good. At least that’s what you teach kids. Adobe will only convert platforms if you’re on the current version which happens to be CS5 not CS4 of course they would be happy to upgrade me into software that offers no features that I need.

While I’d love to be able to switch away from Adobe software to a company that actually values it’s customers business the unfortunate fact is that Adobe software is a standard. If you’re trading files with other designers you need to have Photoshop InDesign and Illustrator. Secure in this knowledge Adobe is free to treat their clients like crap. It’s not like you can really go anywhere.

So while I’ve been forced to upgrade to CS5 so I can continue working I’m also waiting for someone to come along that lets me get out of dealing with Adobe in any fashion. I’m waiting for software to come along (and an open standard for swapping files) that lets me kill off this craptacular beast.

The fact of the matter is that Adobe doesn’t care and won’t care about how it treats it’s paying customers until its bottom line is affected. I’m hoping that this little rant can help affect its bottom line.

If you’ve got suggestions to get me out of the Adobe environment for good I’m all ears.

Launch Perfect or On Time?

screenshot of a timeline
screenshot of a timeline
screenshot of a timeline

So I recently launched Your Workflow which was inspired a few months ago by @dennis_j_bell.

As with all personal projects the ideas sit in your head for a while taking shape. Since personal projects don’t always really pay the bills it’s easy to get them sidetracked which means they’d never actually get done. But if it’s something you really want to do you eventually set a due date announce it then work to hit it.

The Timeline

For me the it ended up being a 2 week turn around from formal announcement to actually launching. As I came up to the week before I got lots of extra client work which is awesome because I like my house and I like to eat, unfortunately this also left me with a bunch of to do items on the site that just weren’t going to fit inside the time I had left.

The Evaluation

With time a ticking away (points if you know the song reference) I was faced with a decision about which features would actually make it into the site. The two things that had to be in it were, a working WordPress theme, and the first audio show. Since I had both of those things already I decided that launching on time was the way to go.

Sure the first audio show is a bit rough around the edges, it doesn’t have intro music and cuts out abruptly but it’s there to listen to.

The Cuts

Some of the cuts ended up being the site advertising. I’d like Your Workflow to make some money so that I can justify running it long-term but to launch the site I can skip the adds.

I also wanted to set up a good deployment strategy. No more of this FTP changes crap. Lets leverage the power of the terminal and Git and get deployments streamlined. Well that got cut to. Sure it saves me time but it’s not needed to launch a site.

Probably the final thing I cut that was of some importance was the show images. The first show didn’t have an image when I launched it. Sure it has one now but again the reality is that it didn’t need an image to actually launch so it got cut.

The Blessing of Deadlines

The reality is that setting aggressive deadlines is awesome to help you prioritize the things that are actually important in your project. I highly advise setting aggressive deadlines to force yourself to trim the fat and just put out what you need. You can always iterate the project later.

The day after the launch of Your Workflow I push code changes 3 times. I’ve push 3 code over the weekend and setup a pretty solid deployment strategy that leverages the git enabled web sever the site runs on. Now I’m fleshing out the things that are nice to have.

Time for a Change

Your Workflow site design
Your Workflow site design
Your Workflow site design

I’ve been blogging on random things here for a few years now. I’ve taken a few breaks here and there of course but I think I have been fairly consistent and accomplished the goals needed for this site/blog. Today I announce that I will be changing the focus of the site and blog.

The Focus

This site is really meant to generate leads for clients. Currently my top searches have little to do with anything a small business would be looking for. Because I like blogging in general I will be opening a new blog on April 20 2010 called Your Workflow.

Your Workflow will be focusing on the workflows of people in the creative and coding industry. Everything from client acquisition, to coding, to database design and management.

The Idea

The idea for Your Workflow came from a car ride discussion with @dkubb about the tools each of us use to track our time and invoice clients. The others in the car were deeply interested and have been bugging me for a few weeks to get some of my ideas out.

To that end Your Workflow will be started.

But what about…

What about some of the series posts you’ve been doing on this site? I plan to finish them still. Some will move over to Your Workflow some will finish out here. It just depends on the audience they suit.

Your Workflow

If you’re interested in Your Workflow head over to the site and follow the twitter account listed there.

5 Things A Client Should Ask a Prospective Web Designer or Agency

Man and Woman Dancing

Man and Woman Dancing
Man and Woman Dancing

Evaluating a company or person to build your website is a tricky thing. What do you expect? What things do you need to know? Here are 5 questions that a client should be asking all companies in the running to build their next website.

  1. Have you worked on any similar projects? While it is possible that the designers and agencies you are talking to about your project have never worked in your specific field before building an e-commerce site for a canoe shop or for a place selling paintball equipment is very similar. The target market might be a bit different but the issues that you will need to deal with are the same. Find out what projects they have done that they feel have similar issues to your site.
  2. What type of communication can I expect? Communication is key. Sure it is an often heard motto, but really how often does a company really take that to heart? My experience from working full-time in-house and contracting out work, is that many companies don’t really take communication seriously. At one point I sent enquiries to a number (link) of agencies in BC and only heard from 2. I’ve also dealt with a company that would, seemingly, drop off the face of the earth for a few days (10 at one point). Not the type of communication I would allow.When I work with a client I touch base at the very least on Friday and Monday of each week, while a project is active. Sure a late Thursday email counts as well but the point is to wrap up the week, setup what you’ll be working on next week and then on Monday communicate again about the goals of the coming week. All it does is let the client know that they are a priority. Make sure that heading into a project you know what type and how frequent communication will be. Make sure that you establish your communication needs.
  3. What is the design process? Will you see a wireframe? How many design options will you see? The reality is that there are many differing opinions on what is needed in a design process. I do wireframe. Some project get a lot of wireframing. Some projects start with a bit of sketching, then move quickly onto wireframing then get into Photoshop. That wireframing may have only been to sketch out ideas and may really not be anything to show off. Sometimes in the middle of a project I’ll start sketching out some elements on a page to get my creative ideas solid. Just because I went through all of the items above on a project doesn’t mean that I end up showing the client each little stage of the process.Make sure that you know what the creative process is and what parts you can expect to see. As I said I do wirfeframes sometimes. If at the end of a full wireframe I’m not sure about content layout then I show it to a a client. This probably only happens on about 20% of project. Often I get part way through the wireframe and the content layout gets solid and I start thinking of the visuals. In that case the client probably will not see the wireframes. Just be sure you know what to expect and make your expectations know.
  4. Do you have the capacity to meet the deadline? Just because the agency you’re talking to employ’s 20 people doesn’t mean they have the time to meet your deadlines. It is entirely possible that all of the staff are tied up with other clients already.One note for clients though, an average blog project easily takes 4 weeks from contract signed to finished. If it’s anything more than that you need to add time. While you may have a preferred finish time (asap is typical) remember that it may not be a realistic one. Use this question to evaluate how they schedule themselves as well as how many staff (or hours in a week) they will devote to your project.
  5. What are your pet peeves in web design right now? This is a great time to listen to the web designer talk about the pet peeves they have in web design right now. Some will talk about the design of forms, some will wax poetic about elegant code. Don’t ask them this to judge them on the specifics, ask them to hear their passion. Ask them to make sure the things you see as issues with your site are issues that your designer is passionate about.Remember that just because they don’t express your specific concerns as their passion doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions on them. As with anything passions and pet peeves run in cycles. While they may not be passionate today about the things that bug you they may have been bugged by those same issues 2 months ago. It’s always a good idea to read through their blog (if they have one) and to ask them questions specifically around the items that are of concern to you.

Wrap It Up

Really figuring out who to work with on a web project is a bit like getting a new dance partner. You need to communicate up front to make sure that you’re both in sync.

5 Jobs Clients Have During a Web Project

For some reason many clients think that the only job they have in developing their websites is to hire the person/company that is going to build the site. Unfortunately they haven’t realized that once they hire someone to build the website their work has just begun.

  1. Establish Your Business Goals: A site is not just there to look pretty, you want a new site built to accomplish something for your business. Whether it’s just to attract local search or we’re building an e-commerce site and we want to increase sales by 10% this year, sites are built for specific business purposes.Clients need to make sure that their web designer knows what business goals need to be accomplished by the site they are building. If they don’t ask tell them. If they don’t build the site with your business goals in mind it won’t accomplish them well at all.
  2. Establish Your Target: Audience: Tied closely with your business goals is your target audience. You know basic details about the clients you encounter each day. You know the types of clients that you deal with, and the new ones you want to reach.Your web designer needs to know the types of clients that your site is supposed to reach. They need you to pass along the knowledge you’ve gained about your target audience’s likes and dislikes over the years you’ve dealt with them.
  3. Find Problems: During the development of a site you need to find the problems in the site. No matter how long you’ve worked with a web designer or developer you still know your business the best and need to help educate them to their blind spots. You need to help them find the ways that their design doesn’t fit your vision and help them fix the issue.This doesn’t mean that you just tell them to “move that box to the other side” or “just make it blue.” It means that you describe why you want the changes so that the web designer can work with you to find the solutions. Maybe you want it blue because you want to cater to men? Whatever the reason is you need to tell your web designer what the problem is and why it is a problem so that you can work together to find a solution.
  4. Deliver Content: As soon as your web designer shows you a copy of the initial design you need to start thinking about the content that will be needed to fill the design. Unless you’ve hired a copy writer or the agency you deal with has people to work on the content of your site, it’s all up to you. Content takes a lot more work than most client’s realize so don’t start working on the content the week a site is supposed to launch or it will either miss the launch date or launch without content. Either option is less than acceptable.
  5. Establish a Long Term Plan: Probably one of the biggest things that clients can do during a web project is to realize that the site isn’t done once it launches. All of the little things you think of during a project that you just can’t accomplish are perfect for adding to the long-term development of the site.From the first day clients should be keeping a list of the little things they think of so that once the site launches you can continue to improve the site. Leaving a website languishing for a few years, then rebuilding it from the ground up is a poor use of time and money. Don’t let yourself do that.

So clients, when you start that next web project keep the 5 things above in mind. You do have a very important job to do. Without your continued work the project and site will fail.

Make Mundane Tasks Fun Online for Conversions

Quite a while ago 37signals/Basecamp did a survey on their products. Now I normally fill out surveys of products I use because I’d like them to improve in ways I think are good but this survey from 37signals was actually fun to fill out.

The Questions

While many of the question were totally normal and I don’t remember what they were a few took me totally by surprise. They asked me how my day was going. I know they didn’t really care but it made me smile and want to continue working on the form to see what other jokes they had in store for me.

Basecamp - How's your day?
Basecamp - How's your day?

Later they ask me if I’d date Basecamp if I was single and Basecamp was interested. Of course this is even funnier so I continue working on the form.

Would you date Basecamp?
Would you date Basecamp?

Then we get to the end of the survey and we have three totally irrelevant but interesting questions.

3 more funny questions
3 more funny questions

Sure I know that those were silly but they brightened up my day. I wonder if they found conversions increased with funny questions like that? I’m willing to bet that they did.

The Conclusion

So why do so many sites/surveys/forms have to be so bland and boring? Something a bit out of the ordinary makes you memorable. Sure there are probably some haters out there but does the humour act as a good filter for people who are just going to be difficult anyway? I think it does.

The Long Proposed Death of IE 6

die ie6 from .net magazine
die ie6 from .net magazine
die ie6 from .net magazine

The proposed demise of IE 6 rings with the shouts of joy from web developers the world over, but is it truly on the horizon? While sites trying to kill IE 6 extoll all the valid reasons web designers and developers have to want the death; clients sit and look at philosophical arguments and compare them to the real world dollars of IE 6 users.

The Reality

The truth is that for many sites IE 6 users bring in money. I currently work with an e-commerce site where IE 6 users bring in 12% of the annual income. So that means in the last 30 days IE 6 users brought about $12,000 into the pockets of the owners. Don’t know about you but I would notice that money missing from my pockets.

On top of that there is a marked difference if we don’t provide full support for IE 6. Not having transparency on the images drops IE 6 conversion rates by 50%. Um I’d notice that hole in my pocket.

One company I sub-contract for only supports the latest editions of each browser. I totally love that I don’t have to hack around with IE 6 till it’s perfect. Sure I still check and put in a few minutes on it to fix major items but that’s about it. I do wonder though if the clients realize the real world dollars they could be throwing away by not supporting IE 6?

The Cost

I mean how long does it take really to get IE 6 supported fully? Let’s say it takes a whole work week, 40 hours. If we figure that you bill on the high end of the scale or are an agency with lots of overhead let’s say it costs $150/hour. So in 40 hours we just spent and extra $6000. Yeah we’d make it back in two weeks.

The cost is inconsequential really.

The Right Approach

The right approach when looking at browser support is to evaluate the clients statistics and support their clients. If they balk at the $6000 price of supporting IE 6 show them how much the users bring into the site and how quickly they recover the cost.

Sure I’d rather be building cool sites that just run the latest technologies. I’d rather be using HTML 5 and CSS 3 but more than that I like having food and a roof. I don’t love time debugging IE but I like affording a coffee.

So I’ll keep supporting IE 6 as long as it pays for my clients to do so. Really when I’m hired, I’m hired to give the best advice and solutions for a client situation not the best advice that isn’t a pain for me. Let’s just provide our clients with the right solution and get off our high horses.

Cars with no Tires Eh?

Cars with no tires
Cars with no tires

The Setup

You don’t make sure you new car comes with the tires because it would be absurd to sign the paperwork and come outside to your new car up on blocks. It’s a general expectation that cars come with tires.

Why then do we put clients in that situation with websites? Take a new static website. The client only needs a few pages and the content only changes once a year so a full CMS is just a bit silly. While it might not be spelled out one would think that if you typed or you would get the same site. Now as web people we know that in fact this is not the case. Most servers would view those locations as two totally different sites. Your SEO value would be split. On top of that some broswers have trouble resolving the difference between those two locations so may return that the site doesn’t exist.

I can only speak for myself here but in my opinion the scenario outlined above is like buying a car with no tires. I don’t sell websites without taking that basic level of setup into account and making sure it works. When clients, who have been ‘tricked’ before, ask about simple functions like that I usually blink for a second and say ‘Of course I just considered that so basic I didn’t write it down. It’s just the way you do things. You don’t ask if the tires are included on a new car right?’ We then have a laugh and for their piece of mind I put it in writing

The Experience

Unfortunately that has not always been my experience in working with other companies and freelancers. I write this prompted by a situation very similar to the one outlined above. No I didn’t make sure that you would redirect to but the site doesn’t work in IE right now or Safari or Chrome so it’s kinda broken. Wait you want to charge me for that? Really? You want to charge me extra to deliver a site that functions in web browsers? Hmm I guess I should have made sure the tires were included.

The Perspective

I suppose I may provide a level of service that others don’t. When I install WordPress for a client I setup SEO plugins and backup plugins and add Google Analytics if they don’t have it. I don’t specifically mention those things because that’s just how you build WordPress sites. Or at least that’s just how a good responsible developer builds WordPress sites.

The Rule

I suppose the end of this rant comes down to the fact that unless the client forces me I don’t provide functionality that I myself would not be happy with. If a client wants a blog it’s obvious that they would want a way to manage comments, catch spam, sanitize data, have good SEO, and keep the site backed up. I wouldn’t even ask if those were requirements since I would never live with a blog that didn’t have those items included.

If they want a static site they would obviously need 301 redirects in place. I wouldn’t ask if they wanted it because it’s just not how professional developers build websites.

The Question

So I suppose I have a question for anyone reading this. Am I right? Are items as I describe above things that just come with a website for your clients or do you charge extra? Who knows maybe I’m just too nice and honest and will end up shutting down as more and more items fall into the area I consider just the right way to do things.

Can We Get by with Web Apps?

google docs shot

google docs shot
Are web apps enough?

Web apps have been heralded as the solution to our online and offline lives. We do not have to install software on our machines. Things are backed up online and, in theory, we can edit offline with Google Gears (or other solution).

So looking at this promised land I decided to move my blog writing from Open Office with storage in Dropbox to Google Docs with offline enabled. I have now been writing exclusively in Google Docs for about a month and here is my experience.

The Good

I love the organization of Google Docs. There is just something about the simplicity of the interface that appeals to me. Drag and drop folder sorting is beautiful. Auto saving is great. Being able to check the content of a folder with by winding and unwinding the arrow for a folder is great. It just seems easier than drilling down a file structure and backing out of folders. I love that I am not really flipping back and forth between a file browser and an application for writing. I love that I just have Firefox open and can browse for links and write out of the same interface without having multiple applications running. Since I do much of my writing on a netbook having a single application open instead of a few is a great feature.

I find that the spell check works well and the standard keyboard shortcuts for boldand italic text work great. I really do not notice that I am in a web interface instead of a desktop application.

The Bad

While Google docs seems to promise document syncing and offline editing my experience leaves me wanting much more from Google docs. I typically operate over two main machines, a Vista desktop and an Ubuntu netbook. I take the netbook with me lots of places that do not have WIFI of any sort so I need to be able to edit my documents while offline.

The first fail came for Google docs when I was trying to start a new article over lunch one day. Low and behold the new document button is ‘ghosted’ out. So I scratched my head fired up Open Office and jotted down the notes I had in my head for an article. After a bit of research I found out that you can not create a document while in offline mode. You can ‘hack’ around this by creating a number of new documents while online and then editing them at a later point when you have a new document to write. Not a perfect solution but not too bad either so I could live with that.

The second fail or series of fails dealt with syncing my documents when transferring offline and online. For some reason a month after editing I still have documents that are marked at ‘edited offline.’ Despite the fact that I am currently giving Google Docs every opportunity to sync these items while I sit here online finishing this article in Google docs. Since it appears that the documents are just marked as ‘edited offline’ while still having the content syncedSo while this is annoying again I can live with that.

The final fail item was just today. I had planned to work on a document and finish it off for a blog post. Unfortunately for some reason Google docs decided not to sync that particular document today. So there I am ready to write an article and I get totally stumped. I suppose the great thing about that is I got to finish off this post about the ways in which Google docs has failed me. Maybe it has something to do with the Linux implementation of Firefox but to be honest I really do not care. I just want my apps to work.

The Conclusion

I love the thought of web apps and offline access but at this point I do not think that Google docs is there. Sure if you always have a WIFI connection Google Docs is a great resource but if you are editing offline and online you are out of luck (at least in my experience). I actually love writing in Google Docs but the syncing problems just kill the option for me. I really do not want to switch back to Open Office and Dropbox but I feel I have no choice. So I think I’ll be going back to using Open Office and storing documents in my Dropbox for syncing. The only downside to that is the poor functionality of Open Office for Mac. Fortunately my main machines are Linux and Windows with Mac as an occasional platform (at least for writing).

My next attempt at online document writing will be with Microsoft’s Office Live. Hopefully that is not a bucket of fail. Added after I scheduled the post Unfortunately it seems that Office Live is also a buckect of fail. While many browsers across many platforms are supported there is no Linux support in the Office Live site so my primary writing machine won’t work. I guess that means I’m stuck with Open Office and Dropbox for syncing.