Yes, it’s about time I wrote something here. Been busy with the new house, redecorating, DIY, taming the huge garden…. And trying to get on with putting next year’s Elfin Diary together.
Money’s short of course (when is it not?); so I’ve decided to try for more web design work. So, anybody wanna website, go here. Or use the contact form on here. Or tweet me.
OK, commercial over.

view through window

View from my office

At least I’ve got much nicer working space. I’m no longer squeezed into a draughty hallway, fighting for space and wishing I could see some natural daylight; instead I have a big room with a fabulous view. It’s not all mine – I share it with B and his array of mighty laser printers. But it’s big enough for both of us, our books and files and even a sofa.

And I can’t believe how lucky I am to be living in a beautiful place like this.

I’m a big fan of Serif software – I’ve been using their PagePlus DTP program since v2 – which came out sometime in the mid-90s. Since then I’ve also added two other Serif programs, Photoplus and Drawplus. I’m happy with the performance of all three and use them all the time; I do the entire Elfin Diary in PagePlus, for example. But until now, I’ve never bothered with their web design program, WebPlus. That’s because I’m entirely self-taught in web design and consequently learned to code in Notepad and other text editors and never had any need for a WYSIWYG editor like WebPlus.Continue reading

Have spent the whole day designing! Decided this morning that the Elfin Diary site needed a spruce-up before the shop site opens and next year’s Diaries go on sale.
Didn’t ask Caroline about it, and haven’t heard what she thinks of it. But even if she hates it and tells me to put it back as it was before (which I can do it about four clicks – I saved the old site), I’ll still be cheerful.
Cos I’ve been designing! Yay!

Well, it seems to be here at last. A couple of days of sun and warmth.
Spent most of today in the garden, tidying up the grass mowings, then lounging with a book. I have been trying to get more exercise over th e last couple of weeks, mainly by walking up the hill opposite most evenings. I’ve improved quite a lot since I started – I can now get almost to the top before I have to stop for breath. Once I’m over the top, I can explore the woods, or go scrambling down the hill into the valley. Or just sit on a stump and look at the sunset. I must remember to take some pencils and a sketchpad next time – it feels time to get back into drawing. Must also remember to slap on some midge repellent. Normally, midges ignore me, but up on the hill I’m the only warm-blooded mammal within smelling distance; when I sit down I can see them gathering, preparing to dine: “OK lads it’s not much, I know, but it’s all that available. So, who’s going first? Oh come on, don’t be such scaredy-cats…”
Mind you, the trudging and hill-scrambling, small as it has been, seems to be affecting my knees. Last night, they twinged and ached so that I couldn’t get to sleep until about 4 in the morning. And they’ve been twinging this afternoon. So better stay off the hill for a few days. Got to get stuck into some work anyway – I’m doing the 2012 Elfin Diary. Now I have the template laid out, all the rest is dreadfully boring data-entry stuff. I want to do some design – especially web design. I have plans for designing and selling WordPress themes. But I can’t start on any of it until I get through the dammed Elfin stuff.

So – get stuck in girl…..

Just had a look at the website of a local (minor) author – it’s one of the ugliest I’ve seen in a long while. It was produced by a supposedly professional design company. Going to their website and looking through their portfolio I found not only dozens of design-failure horrors – piss-poor in terms of visual design, SEO and coding – but also all of them appear to have been produced from the same basic site template. Their own website doesn’t look to bad on the surface, but underneath, it’s using the same template as all the others, with all the same coding errors. No professional web designer would let a site go live without checking the code in various validators – but this lot do it all the time; they even do it with their own site.
Gah. It actually pains me to see poor web design, with crap HTML, inline styling, tables, depreciated tags and all the rest – not to mention horrible visual appearance. Not from an amateur, mind, somebody who has built their own site; mistakes they make can all be forgiven. But again and again, I see people claiming to be web designers taking money off people for bad work and ugly UGLY sites. It makes me angry, but there’s not much I can do about it; there’s no professional body I can complain to. I can certainly rant about it on forums and blogs but that’s about it.
The internet is ugly sometimes, in more ways than one.

I wish I could get more of a focus in my working life. I’ve got some web design projects I want to get on with, but can’t decide which to get on with properly. I start one, then decide I want to do something else for a while, then I find some interesting web page to read, then it’s time to eat or do some housework, then B wants me for something, then it’s time to go out shopping, then it’s time to sit down with the paper and a cup of tea……
And nothing really gets done. Of course, if I had some paid work to do, a deadline to work to, it would be different. It’s hard for me to work steadily without a motivation, without structure, without feedback. At the moment, all I’m doing is faffing……

Well, not altogether. I’m reading up a lot on web design, particularly the aesthetics and theory of it, like this article:

Designing a great website that delivers the right message means that we have to look into the colors, typography, imagery, information architecture, information design, usability, accessibility, resolution on different screens and browser compatibility. All of these factor into how a user sees our creation and forms their opinion of it.

And there’s plenty more like that for me to read and digest. Underneath all the faffing, I think I’m finding my way to being a designer.

My birthday cake

My birthday cake

So. Yesterday was my birthday, when I hit the Big One (count the candles on my cake and multiply by 10). And I aren’t ded yet! The day before (Sunday), Daughter no.3 and her husband came up, laden with prezzies, wine and a birthday cake – made by Daughter’s fair hands! A good day was had.
Now that I’ve entered my 60s, I’ve been wondering (amongst lots of other things) about just how many other oldie web designers are out there, particularly oldie women websters. All the web design forums and sites seem to be by and for young males, and the testosterone practically drips off the screen; the same goes for industry podcasts, where the invariably male presenters never seem to acknowledge that any of their listeners could be over 40 and/or non-male (I unsubscribed from one otherwise excellent podcast because the two presenters kept behaving like schoolboys and making ageist jibes).
I’m not looking for a forum where everyone discusses knitting patterns and shows off pictures of their latest grandchild; there are already more than enough of those around, thank you very much. It would be nice just to have an acknowledgement now and then that you don’t have to possess male genitalia and be under 30 to design websites for a living.

The last few weeks, I’ve been thinking quite hard about getting much more business-like with my web design work. The web has a lot of helpful advice for design freelancers who want to be more professional – John O’Nolan has a couple of good articles (it helps a lot that he’s British – US business practice doesn’t always translate).
One is on web-design mood cards, which are basically screen-shots of a wide variety of websites; looking through them will help a client define to you what they want their site to look like (“Something like no. 39 – but with much less black, and a lemony-coloured background, oh and a picture of my cat…”). They can be actual cards, or a web-page – O’Nolan has very helpfully designed templates for both, and you can download them for free. That’s deffo something that I’ll be doing.
The other useful article of his is on setting payment terms for clients (there are also lots of useful ideas in the comments section). After reading through it, I’ve decided that for future business clients, I’ll insist on 50% payment before I even start work, with the rest to be paid after the design is signed off but before the site goes live. In other words – no pay, no site.
Additionally, I’ll work up a questionnaire for clients – what the site is to be used for, will they want ecommerce facilities, who the site is aimed at etc – so that I’ll have a clear idea of what work is needed before I start. And I may even write out a contract for them – there are plenty of templates I can use.

Yes, this is the year I’m going to get my web design business sorted. No more “Um, will £X be OK?” or letting the client tell me what they’ll pay – yes, I’ve actually allowed that in the past, and got shamelessly ripped off. But that ain’t gonna happen again.

Feeling quite pleased with myself – just spen a good hour submitting the newly-completed Windows Hotline website to the search engines.
I’m never sure if this is really necessary – good design, standards-compliant coding, keywords and linking should be enough, along with one-time submission to Google, Yahoo Search, Bing and DMOZ. However, companies pay quite large sums to SEO businesses to get their sites submitted to the dozens of search engines that are out their, so I offer the same service (for extra, of course). It’s a boring process and generates huge amounts of spam for me (so I use one of my “kindly send your spam here” throwaway webmail addresses). But it may just help.

Almost finished the Windows Hotline site. I’d started out thinking it would be a very simple bit of work – a straightforward HTML site with some slideshow galleries for the products. A fortnight’s work at most. But of course, rapid complications developed. First, the client hated the template and logo I’d lovingly crafted, so I had to spend another week designing something he did like. And then more complications and difficulties, some technical, some not.
As I said, it’s almost finished; a lot of the delays have been caused by technical problems with the hosting company, and one of these problems still isn’t fully resolved. But I’m within a day or so of getting the client’s sign-off, which is when I can send out my invoice. I’ve already planned what to spend the money on.
Today, in the meantime, I’m catching up on some of the urgent maintenance and upgrading of some of my other sites – I’d promised an overhaul of the AA Diary design by Sunday, plus I want to get on with a total redesign of this blog.

So, hopefully, I can get back to blogging a bit more frequently. At home here, there’s nothing much to write about except the weather. In short: RAIN RAIN RAIN. Haven’t been out today to see what the roads are like, but there’s bound to be flooding and impassible roads on both sides of the Loch. We’ve plenty of supplies and, sat on a hillside, the houses here aren’t in any danger of flooding. So we can just sit it out.