Live Like Your Days Are Numbered

I’ve never been fond of the phrase “Live like there’s no tomorrow.” I can appreciate the idea of enjoying life and making the most of your time but there’s gotta be a better way of saying it. To live for today only with no regard for tomorrow is an impractical message that proves itself false with each new day. All I can envision are crowds of people quitting their jobs, running the streets in their tighty whities, and waking surprised the next morning when the world hasn’t ended.

I’m proposing a new motto: “Live like your days are numbered.” Not only is it 100% true, but it helps illustrate life’s brevity in a way that has a profound impact. As one example, I’m currently 29 years old and might hope for 40 more summers in my lifetime (just a guess, but bear with me). I can easily think of more than 40-summers-worth of fun places to see and things to do, which is a huge motivation to get the most out of every summer.

If you find this perspective gloomy at first, I get it. No one likes thinking about how short life is. I promise you, though: when you can recognize that time is a limited gift, you’ll find a much deeper respect and appreciation for every single day.

Dealing With Bad Web Design Clients

To be perfectly clear, most of the “bad clients” web designers encounter are a result of our own failure. As a designer, part of our job is to educate clients on the product they need and the design decisions we make. If you cannot clearly explain every step of your work, do not fault the client for not understanding.

All that out of the way, yes, you will occasionally run into bad clients. With any luck, you’ll notice early warning signs during initial discussions and can politely decline the project. Other times, you’ll see these signs too late or convince yourself that the job is worth the risk. Big mistake. Along with the stress, a headache project causes you to lose:

Money. Bad clients come in all forms but they’re typically the ones who undervalue your work and try to nickel and dime you to death. Adding insult to injury, you may also have to pass on better work while you’re committed to dealing with a bad client.

Motivation. Bad clients suck the passion out of your career. They make you dread each morning you devote time to their project and, often, you’re not proud of the final result.

Minutes. Time is the most valuable commodity of all. Don’t spend a single minute more than you have to dealing with a bad client.

So let’s say it happened, you agreed to a new project and it turns out to be a nightmare. What next? If there’s no way to gracefully back out, you can either push through the project or offer the client a full refund. Understand that your reputation is attached to either decision and remaining professional is top priority. If you decide to move forward with the job, do it well and don’t cut corners. The client might not appreciate the effort you put in but others who see it may.

In all honesty, sometimes a bad client is exactly the kick in the pants we need to break out of a stagnant routine. Let difficult workdays motivate you toward new and better opportunities.

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!