Reflections on doing independent work
I’ve added a new project to my portfolio, a website for a startup Financial/Tax advising company in the Milwaukee area. The site was designed and developed for WordPress using my new design and markup framework. The project gave me an opportunity to spend some more time in Illustrator, explore some new WordPress plugins, and work out the kinks in my framework (more on this to come).
Please take some time to visit Safe CPA.com.
First of all, what is the plural form of CMS? Anyone? Anyone?
As part of the never-ending learning process I have decided to dedicate the next few weeks to a lot of projects I should have started years ago. To begin, I finally installed a working WAMP environment on my machine so that I can test server -side code, including CMS installations, locally. This should save me hours upon hours in development time in the future.
I also finally finished developing my own front-end web framework. It’s a hybrid of the 960 Grid System, my own default style preferences which I use in the vast majority of my projects, and 6 jQuery plugins which I always reuse. I realized after a while that I just kept running into and spending hours solving the same problems with each project I started, so I instead decided to work out all of the nitty-gritty details and create one clean web page with all the bells and whistles that works in all the major browsers. Now I should be able to just copy that source folder and apply project-specific colors and images and be done with most of the markup.
I’m also finally taking the time to learn all that there is in Photoshop and to learn Illustrator. I’ve never done vector illustrations before but as I’m doing more and more design work it’s becoming a dire necessity. I’ve only been at it a week and it’s been a bit more difficult than I would have hoped, but within a few weeks I should have the basics conquered.
Getting more familiar with the various CMS systems available is also a major item on my to-do list over the next few weeks. I’ve been using CMS Made Simple and WordPress, and I’ve decided that I just plain don’t like Joomla. I think I’ll take a look at the latest offerings from WordPress and CMS Made Simple as well as checking out Cushy CMS and maybe Drupal. Does anybody have any CMS recommendations?
Revelation of the month:
It’s tough to convince people that they need a good website, not a good enough website.
So, even though I’ve really only been designing/developing for about a year I’m already starting to wonder how this career in Milwaukee compares to the same career in other cities. I already know how the weather here compares, sigh.
One big problem I notice is that Chicago is so close and man are there some real powerhouses of design and development there. This really only matters for medium to large projects as most small projects stay local anyway, but I often wonder how Milwaukee web design firms do any business considering that Chicago based companies usually even come before Milwaukee companies in searches with words like web design, Milwaukee, southeast Wisconsin, etc.
One great thing I see in Milwaukee is that it is a relatively artsy city. UWM has an extraordinarily high number of art and graphic design students, and just on the other side of downtown is the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. MSOE and MATC both teach tons of courses in programming and design fundamentals, so this city has more than enough resources and talent to train an army of web designers/developers.
Milwaukee seems to have a ton of small business owners which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand there are tons of people who need websites for their businesses, but on the other hand, most small business owners seem to be incredibly busy and have little income to throw towards a web project.
All in all, I suppose Milwaukee is a fair city in which to be a web designer/developer, though I may just be seeing greener grass other places.
eCommerce has pretty much been the bane of my web development existence since I really got started making sites. The problem is mostly that EVERYBODY wants to sell stuff online without realizing any of the costs or work that go into. I think a lot of people assume that online shops come at little no cost and then are just floored when I quote a price above $1000 for design, CMS, and eCommerce. In reality, $1000 is a joke of a price but it’s enough to dissuade many people. Clearly, those who give up on their store aspirations after hearing a 1k price tag were never serious in the first place- could you even imagine expecting to start any other serious business with less than $1000?
The real problem is that with each eCommerce job I don’t do I feel like I’m falling farther and farther behind, which is never good in the high speed world of web design. Are there any designers/developers out there who know of some foolproof, low cost eCommerce systems that can convince clients that spending some money is actually worth it?
Well, I always seem to keep myself busy, usually too busy. I really love nothing more than mastering a new technology or putting the finishing touches on a new design I’m really proud of, so working on new projects really has become quite an addiction for me. Actual paying work has been scarce, but I’ve been putting any free time I have to good use.
Over the last few months I completed a few projects of my own, most notably the redesign of this website. I took a long, steady approach to the site, working 20-30 minutes a day for about 3 weeks before I was finished with what is by far the best version of my web design portfolio I’ve ever made.
I also poured a ton of time and effort into learning all I could about CMS Made Simple. I set up a sample cms website to explore all of the features including photo albums, blogs, forums, comments, web forms, and more. I though I knew a lot about the system before this experiment as I have used it in 5 previous web projects, but now I really see the true power of it all. I cannot think of an easier and more efficient way for a client to maintain a site.
Shopping carts have always been a source of ire in my freelance experience- everybody wants one, nobody really wants to pay for one, nobody is willing to invest the time into setting one up. Therefore, I’ve never actually set up a full shopping cart system. Last month I took the initiative to just set up a cart of my own using Zencart. It’s not a fully functioning online store now, but I think it’s a pretty good shopping cart solution.
Installing this blog was actually yet another project, as it was only recently added- months after the initial site redesign. The purpose of the blog was to learn the ins and outs of WordPress so that I could have an outlet for delivering news and thoughts about web design and development.
Busy, busy, busy, and more to come.