Thoughts on Supporting the Web Community

The web design community is remarkable at freely sharing knowledge, more so than most industries. I often wonder how some designers get any work done with the amount time they spend teaching online. Websites like CodePen, Stack Overflow, and innumerable design blogs are filled with useful information.

I’m grateful to be a part of such an open community, one that I strive to give back to, but in reality I’m often constrained by money. I have to focus on projects that financially support my family and that greatly limits the amount of time I have to make code tutorials, design assets, work lessons, and other useful materials.

I’ve quickly learned that any side projects I take on have to at least generate supportive income, meaning the project can pay for itself. To do this, there are a handful of popular methods used today:

  1. Advertising.
  2. Referral links.
  3. Donate buttons.
  4. Crowdfunding.
  5. Increased exposure.

Let’s go through each and identify some of their pitfalls:

Advertising

Advertising is one of the most common ways for publishers of any kind to see a financial return on their time. The theory is: publish attractive content, generate a significant amount of website traffic, and advertisers will want a piece of that audience.

One of the immediate drawbacks to this solution is cluttering your website with ads that are generally annoying and ugly to your visitors. Though small in impact, it’s also worth noting that ads typically require additional load times for images, scripts, and HTTP requests.

While selling ads is very easy and potentially profitable, a big danger is letting the allure of higher traffic drive your content’s focus. Far too many design blogs put more effort into creating linkbait titles than they do in writing quality articles.

Referral Links

Referral links, when used subtly, are another easy way to increase revenue. For example, if you run a website dedicated to reviewing the top design books, it might seem logical to include referral links to Amazon.

However, from what I’ve found, referral links usually generate very little income and publishers are forced to use a minefield of intentional product links. Similar to advertising, this can taint a website’s true message.

Donate Buttons

Donate buttons are, in my opinion, the least invasive but also the least powerful way to generate income. Because they requires users to manually go through a donation process, you’re likely to only receive a one-time payment from individuals interested in contributing. People have busy lives; they don’t want to have to remember to donate to your cause repeatedly.

Crowdfunding

I was hesitant to include this category but sites like Kickstarter are viable ways to get your side projects funded. The major problem I see with this method is your idea needs to be very narrow and concrete. Say you had a great idea for a mobile app, crowdfunding may be an option.

Unfortunately, this approach is very centered around the end result only — backers want to know exactly what they’re going to get in return and that leaves little room for exploration. What I’d like to see is an alternative form of crowdfunding that invests in an individual’s talent and allows them to create whatever they want.

Increased Exposure

Increased exposure certainly has value and is worth mentioning. One example is when a designer on Dribbble posts a useful resource and, as a result, gains new interest in their work. They’re not generating direct income from the free file but the added exposure may lead to paid work. The catch-22 is the more paid work you receive, the less time you’ll have to create free resources, and vice versa.

What the Web Community Needs

What I would love to see started in the web community is some kind of monthly donation plan that would allow anyone to support the designers and developers they feel provide value to the community. A comparable example is Patreon. In their own words, “Patreon enables fans to give ongoing support to their favorite creators.”

It’s important to note the difference between this idea and a subscription-based service. Take Tuts+, for example. Much of their content is free but a lot of their articles are premium-only and require a paid account. To me, this isn’t as helpful to the whole web community because not everyone can access and learn from the information.

If a service like Patreon existed in the web community, I could see it being extremely useful. It would help eliminate nearly all of the drawbacks mentioned above while still allowing creators to have some kind of financial support. Personally, I would be happy to send people like Sam Soffes a little money to explore new app ideas, or to Chris Coyier for his hard work in the CSS world.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Are there other ways you support fellow web designers and developers? Let me know in the comments.

A Smarter Web Through Transparency

A trend I’ve noticed recently is more designers and developers are openly discussing financial details, which I applaud. This sort of transparency benefits everyone — it helps the web industry see what is possible and it educates clients on the investment required to create a website or app.

Below is a mix of articles that reveal numbers on specific projects, hourly rates, and annual income summaries. This is not an exhaustive list but I will continue to add related articles as I find them. If you know of more, feel free to share them in the comments.

Free Nature Stock Photos

sunset

In 2014, I stretched myself pixel-thin. With a new baby, my wife home full-time, and more bills to pay, I took on every client job I could. I worked on personal side projects as well—too many, in fact—and before I completed any of them, 2015 had rolled around.

Determined to make a change this year, I’m going to focus on one side project at a time until each is finished. So far, it’s working wonders and I launched my first side project of the year: Free Nature Stock. Every day, I’m going to post a nature-focused stock photo that you’re free to download and use however you want.

Why another free-photo-a-day site?

The niche has been filled, I know. Unsplash paved the way and there have been a number of similar sites made since. The reason I built Free Nature Stock was to serve as a personal motivator. The project will give me an excuse to take a computer break, grab my DSLR, and trek into the woods every week. As a bonus, you get free photos out of the deal and I’m excited to see where they get used.

How it was made.

I built the site in half a day using Tumblr. I normally prefer building a custom WordPress site but opted to save time and bandwidth.

For serving the actual photos, one issue I found was Tumblr automatically compresses high-resolution photos. I debated using Dropbox to deliver the photos but learned that they cap daily bandwidth on paid plans to 200GB. I would likely never reach that limit via Free Nature Stock but since I regularly use Dropbox for other large work files, I didn’t want to risk it.

Ultimately, I signed up for an Amazon AWS account and am using their S3 service to host the photos. The major drawback I found was the AWS interface is hideously clunky. Not only does it look outdated but little things bothered me like the filename ordering. For example, numbers don’t go by smallest to largest so you end up with an order like 1.jpg, 10.jpg, then 2.jpg.

To solve this problem, I no longer use the online AWS account and instead FTP files using Transmit. As some of you may already know, the catch with FTPing to S3 is all of your uploads are marked as private by default, requiring me to still log into AWS and change the photos to public. To permanently solve this issue, here’s what you can do:

  • Log into AWS.
  • Navigate to S3, then find the folder where you want files to be public by default.
  • Click on that folder to show it’s settings in the right pane.
  • Click “Perminssions” in the accordion, then click the “Edit Bucket Policy” button.
  • Enter the following snippet into the popup and then save. Make sure you change “your-folder-name” to the real name of your folder.
{
 "Version": "2008-10-17",
 "Statement": [
 {
 "Sid": "AllowPublicRead",
 "Effect": "Allow",
 "Principal": {
 "AWS": "*"
 },
 "Action": "s3:GetObject",
 "Resource": "arn:aws:s3:::your-folder-name/*”
 }
 ]
}

That’s it. Now when you FTP to that bucket, those files will automatically be publicly visible.

To monitor photo stats, I’m using Bitly. Not a lot to explain there.

Automating the site as much as possible was a big requirement to save me time. I’m using Tumblr to queue future posts so I can batch upload and let the site run itself. Tumblr also has a basic auto-tweet feature but I didn’t see a way to edit what the default tweet message would be. Instead, I’m using Zapier so that I have more control over the tweet’s content.

Will free be sustainable?

If you read my article on lessons from Design Kindle, you know that giving away products for free is not a good idea for many reasons. However, Free Nature Stock is different in that I’m often taking nature photos anyway. Using free services, such as Tumblr, will also help me keep running costs to a bare minimum.

Go forth and create.

Get your nature-loving hands on those photos and follow the project on Twitter for a new photo every day. You can help out by spreading the word and feel free to show me what you create with the photos. Enjoy!

Web Design Predictions Worth Reading

A lot of web design predictions have been passed around lately, some of them ironically outdated. “We’ll see large image headers and video backgrounds in 2015,” one article stated. Now let’s take a look at a few upcoming trends that are worth paying attention to.

More Than Words and Pictures

When I first started building websites over a decade ago, I could count the number of web design blogs on two hands. Many designer portfolios (mine included) had a “Links” page, which was like saying, “I’m up-to-speed in web design and you know it based on the people I follow.” Oh, times have changed.

With the help of WordPress, Medium, and other publishing platforms, everyone is an author these days. We’re inundated with an overflow of design news, making it increasingly harder to get your own content noticed. Do ever feel like you’re creating solid work but no one is listening? You need to get creative in how you deliver your message.

In 2015, using video and audio in addition to writing will be key ways to stand out in the blogging crowd. Authors who put their actual voice on the web—not just written words—will create a stronger, more memorable connection with their audience. Ahead of the curve, Sean McCabe is already doing this and has proven it to be very effective.

Adding Meaning to Motion

As I scroll through most modern websites, headers minimize, SVG icons draw themselves, parallax is everywhere, images slide around, and even the body copy fades into view. We’ve happily escaped the Flash-era, only to crash into a web made of CSS3-jelly. Overuse of animations without meaning is a chaotic mess.

I predict (and sincerely hope) that in 2015, web designers will continue to study how we can use animations as a tool rather than pure decoration. Paul Stamatiou has a great article on the importance of motion in design. Google’s Material Design is also a step in the right direction and includes guidelines for creating authentic, meaningful motion.

Visual Editors Will (Finally) Have Their Place

Any developer worth their salt knows that if you want to build a website properly, you have to code it by hand. WYSIWYG editors have always exported bloated garbage that added unneeded file size and made future maintenance a nightmare. Only recently, we’re starting to see better editors like Macaw, Webflow, Adobe Reflow, and many others.

In 2014, the web was abuzz with new Javascript libraries, better frameworks, automated workflows, and full-stack devs. Web design is rapidly advancing and it’s not unreasonable to think that some of the more basic aspects of building a website, such as the HTML/CSS, could eventually be handled by a visual editor.

Are were there yet? No, nothing competes with quality, hand-written code. But I do think visual editors will eventually become “good enough” in some situations. If nothing else, I can envision these tools being used to create interactive prototypes, or to aid designers in learning development.

Adapt and Survive

I love my job because I know that a year from now, my work will likely be very different. Web design is ever evolving and that can be both exciting and daunting at times. The important thing is to keep learning.

What do you think we’ll see in 2015? What are you most excited to work on? Let me know in the comments.

A Complete and Honest Guide To Creative Market

creative-market

Let’s cut to the chase: I have been casually selling on Creative Market for about a year and made $9,471.45. Not anywhere near something you could live off, I know. But let me explain why you should sign up for a shop anyway.

The Basics of Creating a Shop

First off, what I mean by “casually” selling is I add files to Creative Market only when I have a spare moment—the marketplace is a very relaxed side hobby for me, not a full-time job. Depending on how much time you’re willing to contribute, your results will vary from mine.

To become a seller on Creative Market, you need to be invited (or apply through their partner page). While this barrier may deter some, it helps keep the overall market quality high and that benefits everyone, shop owners included. Now here’s the best part: once you’re accepted into the marketplace, you’re free to upload files for sale immediately and there is no review process to wait for, ever.

Another advantage to selling on Creative Market is there are no exclusivity limitations. Want to sell your files elsewhere at the same time? Go for it, that’s not a problem. You also get a 70% commission on your sales, which is a very good rate compared to other marketplaces. To top it off, you set the prices on your own files (trust me, that’s a big deal).

The Cold Hard Truth About Selling

Before you get too excited thinking you have complete freedom to sell whatever you want, let me be clear: you will not make money unless you cater to the trends. For example, vintage logos, hand-drawn fonts, and all the other typical front-page Dribbble shots are likely to sell best right now. As time goes on, trends change and so should your Creative Market files.

Another bubble-bursting truth is you will not generate a decent amount of sales until 1) you get featured or 2) your files are included in a Creative Market bundle sale. Without exposure from either of these, your files quickly get buried and forgotten.

To shed some light on the significance of being featured, I made a little over $7k in one week by being included in one of Creative Market’s bundles. Had I not made that exciting boost of income, I probably would not be recommending you join the marketplace at all.

Now, the good news is it’s fairly easy to gain the attention of the Creative Market staff, assuming your designs are good. The single best thing you can do as a seller is be involved with the community discussions. To date, I have been featured on the homepage and included in one bundle sale, both of which only happened because I found discussion threads asking for volunteers.

Providing customer support for my shop was something I expected to take more time but, frankly, it hasn’t been an issue at all. I do occasionally get the “does this file work in Microsoft Word” email questions but not nearly as often as I did on other marketplaces (GraphicRiver, I’m looking at you). My hunch is that Creative Market tends to attract higher-level designers who are familiar with the tools of the trade and therefore need less support.

Selling Your Design Soul to the Devil

Without question, my greatest reservation with selling on any marketplace is it can sometimes be viewed as lowering your design standards. True design solves a problem; it involves recognizing a need and then crafting a solution to fix the issue. Without this process, all you’re doing is creating art.

As an example, say you have a client who does computer repair and they need a website. Your goal might be to create a design that specifically reflects that client’s unique brand and solves the problem of spreading their message. Conversely, if you fire up Photoshop and start designing a website without reason or constraints, it’s really just a pretty picture in the end—it didn’t solve a problem.

If you can get past the idea that selling on a marketplace is not always seen as “real work”, there are still valid reasons for doing so. For me, it’s been a great way to practice and get paid for it. Up until this year, I have been a Photoshop-man all my life and only used Illustrator when needed. That changed when I started making logos for Creative Market. It gave me an excuse to hone my vector skills with the benefit of making a few bucks at the same time.

Perhaps the best approach to selling files on a marketplace is to create resources rather than finished products. If a designer is the carpenter, be the lumber mill that provides tools and materials. A few examples are Photoshop brushes and actions, product mockups, and fonts, all of which are very useful assets.

Closing Thoughts

Despite some important considerations, I wholeheartedly recommend selling on Creative Market, especially if you could use some extra passive income (everyone self-employed should be nodding “yes” right now). The site is a pleasure to use, the community has a tight-knit feel, and the staff has been fantastic to work with.