My Anywhere Working Tips

Since going freelance I have had the opportunity to work in all manner of places, from in small coffee shops to multi million pound agency premises.

During this time I have learn a lot about working from anywhere, so here are my top 5 tips. Hope they help you as much as they help me.

  1. Plan location times in advance. If you know that you have a long day ahead of you – find somewhere that won’t kick you out in the middle of a complex tax. Nothing worse than being 30 minutes from finishing a project and Starbucks closes in ten minutes. Use a natural break to move early and find an alternative.
  2. Keep a spare. Of EVERYTHING business critical. I have 2 Macs, my old one I could have sold, but I have kept it and it serves as a back up machine. If my day to day machine dies at 9pm, with a deadline to hit, it isn’t the end of the world.
  3. Use CVS/Back up everything. I use Git. In tandem with the last post, make sure that all your code is backed up, versioned and always safe. And commit every change. Even if it only serves to remind you how you did something in a month or three.
  4. Talk to people. There is far too much value in talking to people, learning from them and just generally relaxing from your focussed task fro a few minutes. You may find advice, opinion and driection from the most unlikely sources.
  5. Don’t work. Just because you can work remotely, doesn’t mean you always have to be on the clock. Set your own hours by all means, but if you spend all your time being available and ready to work, you’re not living your life. Remember, my favourite saying: “Work to live, don’t live to work.”

Now – I better get back to work! Or pop into my kitchen for a snack and a coffee. Life is good.

Stop complaining and make a list

Right Web Dev Community, shut your moaning bitching mouth. People disagree all the time, there is not a time I haven’t disagreed with people over a talk, someone’s methodology, or their attitude. But what I will say is that moaning and saying “I’m leaving this industry, you’re all bullies” is bullshit, you should grow a set. All I want to say is the good far out weighs the bad.

And to prove this, here is a list of random acts of kindness I have experienced, both for me personally and things I have been involved in for the community. And a list of just awesome people all over.

UPDATE: Because I have constantly been reminded of people that have been so kind to me and the community, I shall try and keep maintaining this list for the unforeseeable future, although you might not all agree with the names on the list – I really have taken something for nothing from every single person named. Keep it up!

  1. Before I even knew what PHP was, Douglas Gresham taught me how to submit a form using PHP despite we’d met only once at a totally unconnected to web event.
  2. Edd for turning into a cycle nerd friend as well as geeky event mate.
  3. Everyone on Stack Overflow, for answering people’s questions.
  4. Ross Bruniges, for generally being an excellent beer hound (add Ben and everyone from @pubstandards to this item, as a matter of fact)
  5. Paul Stanton and Ryan Taylor for being extra friendly fellow northerners whenever we happen to be in the same place
  6. Paul Stanton and Ryan Taylor (yes, AGAIN!) and Anna Debenham for volunteering on the BoagWorld podcast, helping me out quite a bit in the early days.
  7. Kris Noble for being a random traveling buddy (or is he actually stalking me?) and general friendly face at all manner of events. And for not whinging after accidentally stealing his idea.
  8. Gareth Thompson for offering business advice in running your own web stuff. And being a bloody good bloke to boot.
  9. Dave Smith for feeding work and excellent advice constantly. And letting me loose on his RackSpace hosting.
  10. Jake Archibald for agreeing with my views on homeopathy (and providing good web advice!). He does bloody good talks too. And is sometimes funny.
  11. AlunR for organising Geek Karting (although the £1.70 profit on the last event may mean he’s not as kind hearted as I though – PS, that’s a joke…)
  12. John O’Nolan for being thoroughly offensive and wrong (read as challenging my HTML structure and semantics, which is good!)
  13. Rob Hawkes for Rawkets, and that book and sound advice.
  14. Syd Lawrence for letting me bug him in his own house while he showed me some HTML5 Mobile App stuff.
  15. Dan Knell and Kornel for always being available to drink while teaching me clever stuff.
  16. Paul Adam Davis for reminding me of something I already knew, then virtually apologising for the good point he made!!
  17. Antony Killeen, who organises Croydon Creatives. PS – I can’t believe he isn’t even a full time web dude yet!
  18. Katskii for being everything I would expect from a Geordie lass! That *is* a good thing, honest.
  19. Luke and uBelly for pointing me at interesting things that I should do and always being willing to pay for my beer!
  20. Drew and Rachel for 24ways.org and providing just awesome advice and support for Perch. Rachel also posted a much more coherent post on this topic than I ever will on her own blog.
  21. Chris David Mills for not only being very metal and introducing me to Steel Panther, but also giving up his time to speak at the awesome Speak the Web
  22. Dan Donald and Rich Clark gave up their valuable time to organise the aforementioned Speak the Web, so they definitely need a mention.
  23. Myself (!!) for volunteering at some events, manning doors and setting up chairs etc. And buying a wooden spoon prize to try and make Geek Karters smile. I know, I am too humble…
  24. A thousand (literally) other people who have all become friends, colleagues or complete strangers that have helped me on my way in the web world. And long may it continue.

and finally, thanks to @arranrp, who for his sins does organise a lot of events and through him I have met many interesting and good people (some included in the above list). And he’s a mate.

So why focus on the bad. What I would like to see is a similar list for each and everyone that is currently unhappy with the industry – you never know, it might restore some faith in your friends, colleagues and complete strangers.

Feel free to ping me – I’ll always help wherever I can, and why don’t we all try it, I actually enjoy being nice. Unless you’re Julia Hartley-Brewer, of course.

 

Today I Should…

…start a company.

That’s what I though a few months ago and I have.  I am now full blown freelancing and contracting and generally working 15 hours a day until I get settled into a regular schedule.  Today I Should Ltd should see me good for a while. Unless other things come along (not that a pretty damn good company/start up site has been in touch to see if I am interested, well, one has which boosted my ego quite a bit last night) I see this suiting me quite well once I get evenings back to myself.

So far its going very well, aside from working far too hard and not seeing enough of anyone that I should be spending time with – but its all going to work out in the long run!

Anyway – as soon as I get the branding and such started, I’ll get a web development blog started on todayishould.com where I can keep professional head on and open this blog up to blatant whinging and bitching!

Wireframes

Here at GyroHSR (I had nothing to do with that site, thankfully) we are all a little bit confused over wireframes. Essentially, I think that the main issue lies in what exactly is a wireframe supposed to deliver.

In my opinion I believe a wireframe should simple layout exactly what information should be displayed on a page and define the importance of that information, in relation to the rest of the content.

With this idea in mind, a wireframe does not necessarily have to provide any sort of guide to the actual layout of a page. There isn’t really anything wrong with this for a simple contact page wireframe:

Header elements

Logo – prominent positioning.
Search box – enable users to search whole site.
Navigation – full site navigation.

Main content

Contact form – main content on page, encourage users to use this method of contact.

Secondary content

Postal address – specify preferred correspondence address.
Email address – link to create email for users that prefer this method of contact.
vCard – Download contact details to an address book for future use.

Other content

Company details – registerd company address and registration number.

That will provide the main information required by a wireframe, and producing this format for every page to be developed should meet the designers needs.

However one point above is always missed, producing a wireframe for every page. Without doing this you are not creating an information architecture for a designer to follow, resulting in questioning why wirframes for any pages were created at all.

The same problem applies to wireframes that incorporate some form of layout:

Example wireframe - courtesy of http://totheweb.com
Example wireframe - courtesy of http://totheweb.com

Creating a wireframe for every page becomes even more important with this wireframe style, in my opinion. Creating this type of wireframe for only a small number of pages during the information architecture stage of a web site process results in designers feeling restricted to make all pages following the same layout. Often the content will lend itself to a completely different layout, which means it needs its own wireframe and if not it should be easy to create another wireframe based on what has already been created.

One other thing I often find missing from wireframes are annotations. Visual representation is fine, but if you really want to let a client or designer know what you plan for the page, it needs to be annotated well. The annotations let the wireframe make sense and are vital to communicating the user experience. A poorly annoted wireframe wil result in poorly communicated ideas and will very probably hinder the final user experience.

So that’s what I think about wireframes, feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong, or to add to this because wireframes are such an important part of the web development process that I think anyone involved in the industry should input into how wireframes can help ease the pressure on project management, information architecture, design and development.

Email marketing – a bit of a rant

As developers we hate it. But I have to admit it is an unnecessary evil in my (current) world as an agency web developer. Lets face it – it works.

So here it is, the blog on the dreaded subject of email marketing from a my point of view, why we hate it, how we can make it work, what people can do to make our lives easier and campaigns more efficient and effective.

Why don’t I like building emails?

This is simple. We love accessible, semantic, standards based code. We do not like going back to techniques used over 10 years ago. We have to use out of date layout techniques and the code is long winded, complicated and boring to produce. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could use the same HTML and CSS standards we use for web sites, but unfortunately it isn’t an option. Not if you want your campaigns to include the creative idea that you are so sure will work, at least. And this doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

If you haven’t seen the problems with Microsoft Outlook 2007 using Microsft Word to render emails, then the internet is full of disgruntled people. Actually, I’ll help you with that. Don’t get me started on Lotus Notes.

It isn’t our fault animated gifs don’t always work. Flash can’t be used. Hell, even background images don’t work. These points ARE NOT OUR FAULT. But it still provides a hot topic of discussion between designers/concept teams and us developers. Trust my judgement, look at how long I’ve been doing this, we do actually know what we are doing, although maybe you and your great idea are more important than everyone seeing it as intended. Or doesn’t that defy the point altogether.

There are hundreds of different software, webmail and operating system combinations for us to work to. If you want your campaign to work in even 80% of them. Please listen to my advice, not just try to replicate your print campaign in an email. They are completely different mediums.

What works?

Again, simple things.

Keep your text to standard web fonts. Don’t rely on background images. Don’t ask for Flash or an animation. Keep the layout simple. The fewer images the better. Yes we can code so things will degrade gracefully, but if the client views the email in their inbox (compared to the signed off HTML file they viewed in a browser) with missing design elements they liked, it won’t be your fault, it will be mine. So please just make the designs possible in all clients.

Unless of course you have stats showing 100% of your recipients use an email client that supports animated gifs or background images – but first of all that is unlikely to be available, let alone likely to ever happen!

Even so what people don’t seem to understand is that everything doesn’t have to happen in an email. We have awesome tools in jQuery, Flash, and even simple HTML/CSS that can impress and prompt customer action better than an email. So a well thought out simple email to get people to somewhere showcasing the creative concept and getting customers interacting will work better than trying to contain everything in someone’s inbox. I find that a simple concept to understand. Why can’t others!

In the words of Columbo…

Just one more thing, if I can get on with building sites because I don’t have complicated email discussions going back and forwards, I will be happier. Of course sites are what I love, so if emails could disappear completely I’d appreciate it.

Resources

Finally, here are some good email resources, not that you’ll probably read them anyway. All are from Campaign Monitor, because they are good.