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8 Design Tips to Make Your Blog or Shop Stand Out

You probably don’t need us to tell you that there’s a lot of competition on the internet. Your users have near-limitless options for where they can spend their time online. Because of that variety, finding a way to stand out can feel like an impossible task.  Fortunately, a little bit of creative design can go…

Want to Read more ? You probably don’t need us to tell you that there’s a lot of competition on the internet. Your users have near-limitless options for where they can spend their time online. Because of that variety, finding a way to stand out can feel like an impossible task. 

Fortunately, a little bit of creative design can go a long way. By learning a few top-tier strategies, you can help your website become a must-see destination for your target audience.

Using Codetipi’s popular and number one rated Zeen theme as a reference, we’ll show you eight modern ways to take your website to the next level. Let’s get straight to it:

#1. Attract Attention With a Marquee Block

A marquee block is a section of your site that features moving text which helps draw your visitors’ eyes toward whatever information you’re trying to highlight. It was wildly popular on websites in the 90s and has recently made a roaring comeback to breathe new life and interactivity to modern websites:

Zeen’s lovely Marquee block in action

The slow speed gives users a chance to read the text. However, the fact that it flows slowly from right to left also helps to engage readers. This feature can also effectively guide your audience’s eyes across the rest of the screen, similar to a slideshow feature.

Themes that stay up to date with the latest trends, such as Zeen, make it easy to create marquee blocks. However, there are some factors to keep in mind to maximise the effectiveness of your marquee. 

Firstly, try not to include too much text. Shorter sentences help make sure that you don’t exceed a visitor’s attention span. Moreover, they can also avoid creating a rushed feeling. 

Secondly, pause the animation when hovering over it with a mouse. Zeen’s Marquee implementation does this, which is very needed to give visitors a sense of control over the site. This setting can help make sure that your message gets across and also further boosts the website’s overall interactivity feel.

Finally, we recommend that you try to include clickable Calls To Action (CTAs) in the text. A brief and clear directive can take advantage of this active design element. In Zeen’s demo site, the marquee links to a featured product category.

#2. Dark Mode

You probably put a lot of time and effort into choosing a color scheme for your website. Nevertheless, brighter designs may be off-putting to certain users. That’s why offering a darker alternative can be a stand-out and welcome feature.

Most people find that dark mode is a bit easier on the eyes, particularly when surfing the net at night. This is even more true if users want to read long-form articles.

Fortunately, you don’t have to design an entire site around a calming color palette or create a dark site. Instead, you can help your users toggle between contrasting shades at will via a Reading Mode feature:

Zeen’s Dark Mode in action

This toggle feature eases the browsing experience, so we recommend placing it in a fairly prominent area. However, it shouldn’t be large or intrusive – even a simple icon near the top of your page can do the trick, as visitors who prefer dark mode will not miss it.

This simple, interactive feature is easy to add to your designs. Zeen even comes with an advanced dark mode system that can save the user’s last reading preference via a cookie. In other words, your website can remember your visitors’ desired preference for when they next visit your site. 

#3. Remind Visitors of Their Shopping Carts

A lot of modern blogs have shops to sell merchandise or other goodies, and cart abandonment can be a big issue. The lack of an easy shopping journey means potential buyers who add products to their cart can lose focus or get distracted and end up abandoning their cart completely. If the cart inventory doesn’t expire on purpose, it might also cause locked-away stocking problems that could lead to further loss of sales from other potential buyers. 

Design can be a deciding factor here: up to 18% of people abandoned their carts because the site made it too complicated to complete their purchases. If you want to appeal to this portion of customers more effectively, consider making the checkout process as seamless as possible.

A simple way to do this is with a floating sticky cart block. This subtle design element keeps your customer’s cart close without taking up too much space.

Additionally, you can double down on this concept with an ajax powered cart that appears without a page refresh. Giving users the freedom to go directly from a product to the checkout process can help reduce friction that might prevent them from purchasing:

Zeen’s Floating Cart feature

Zeen is a theme primarily aimed at magazines and blogs, however, it comes with advanced WooCommerce integration and features that can put eCommerce-first marketed themes to shame.

We recommend that you try and integrate a shopping cart element into your overall design. For example, a large button can be intrusive and distracting. Consider using a smaller alternative and choosing vibrant colors that are easy to spot instead. 

#4. Use Delayed Transitions

You’re probably already familiar with the importance of smooth transitions. The freedom to move seamlessly around your site is a subtle yet essential part of the user experience. If these changes seem jittery, your overall design might be less enjoyable.

However, you don’t have to stop at smooth transitions. Adding clever delays to your element’s transitions can create a subtle and stylish staggered effect:

Zeen’s staggered animations

Users may not consciously notice these changes. However, the cascading effect can make the browsing process seem more elegant. It may also help highlight how well different aspects of the site work together.

If you want to use delayed transitions, we highly recommend applying them across your site. Not every small action needs to be delayed, but the larger ones probably should be. That way, you can maintain consistency across your website.

#5. User Engagement

The best designs don’t focus on appearance alone. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is also a concern for most sites. As such, integrating modern technologies into your design strategy can help more first-time users discover and engage with your website.

You can consider Google’s voice search as an example. This feature enables people to browse the web via voice commands. If you’re following best practices for standard SEO, you’re already giving yourself a leg up.

Zeen comes with Voice Search integration

However, it’s not just about voice searches. High on-site engagement functionality can also help your site stand out.

That’s why you might want to consider adding something like emoji reactions. You’re probably familiar with Facebook’s version already:

A feature such as this makes interaction easy: users can express themselves with a single click. However, you don’t have to use standard reactions. You may want to consider personalizing them to your brand. That way, the responses will also reflect what makes your site unique.

Zeen’s Emoji functionality – choose from 14 different emotions

#6. Include Excellent Navigation Tools

The easier it is for users to find content, the more likely they are to consume it. As such, you probably don’t need us to tell you that navigation is an essential part of web design.

Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-true ways to provide high-quality navigation for your visitors. For example, try to ensure that no part of your website is more than three clicks from the homepage. This design can cut down on the amount of searching your users need to do.

Additionally, try to make these pathways obvious with clearly labelled menus. You may also want to place them in prominent areas like The New Yorker website does:

However, not all of your audience members will want to hunt through menu choices. That’s where a powerful search function comes in. With this simple addition, you can save users time with a direct route to the content they want.

To make a search function even more convenient, consider designing your page around it. That way, moving around your site will be as easy as possible:

Zeen’s Freebie Digital Products Demo

Lastly, your search bar doesn’t have to be boring. Consider including a few background animations around it to draw your user’s attention toward the navigational resource.

#7. Use Different Image Aspect Ratios

Consistency is a pretty important part of website design. However, it’s far from the only one. Visual variety plays a crucial role in offering a dynamic visual experience.

Different image aspects ratios help keep readers stay interested and stimulated. Instead of blocking all your content into standardized areas, consider switching it up. 

Zeen’s Food blog demo showcases this concept, by mixing portrait, circular and landscape images in a variety of column arrangements on the homepage:

Zeen’s Food Blog Demo

That way, you avoid making a website with a repetitive design. Additionally, this feature can be a great way to highlight multiple pieces of content.

While the aspect ratios can vary, you may want to consider making each area link to similar content. In the above example, the top three sections all link to recipes. With this setup, your users will be looking at different options rather than different subjects altogether.

#8. Focus On Your Photos

High-quality photos aren’t always easy to come by. They can take a lot of time and dedication to perfect. That’s why we recommend that you give them the spotlight. 

Highlighting your photos can serve a few purposes. For one thing, you’ll be getting the maximum value out of work spent on the images.

It also presents design benefits. For example, a few large photos can create a commanding visual overview of your brand. You can also use them to show off featured products.

By the same token, photos are crucial if you’re trying to promote a product. Most users want to know a lot about whatever they’ll be spending money on – and as the old saying goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words. Pinterest doubles down on this concept with large imagery that also reflects the interface’s design. That way, users have a preview of what they can expect after signing up:

If you’re looking for another way to make the most out of this design strategy, we recommend including colorful backgrounds. A subtle choice can help your photos stand out without distracting from what you’re trying to advertise:

Zeen’s Undo Demo:

If your design concept doesn’t necessarily mesh well with these tips, never fear! You could also include interactive photos. Consider adding a thumbnail hover effect to ensure that your users can engage with your images.  

Conclusion

Designing a website that stands out from the crowd isn’t always the easiest task. Fortunately, there are a few rules of thumb that can guide you toward success. By applying these tips and tricks, you can create a unique and high-quality site.

In this article, we showed you a few ways to create a top-tier website. We focused on dynamic elements, practical considerations, and other ways to appeal to new and returning users alike. 

Do you have any questions or any tips of your own about designing a stand-out site? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Articles niche portfolio website

Why Developers should Design Niche Portfolio Sites for Themselves

Your developer portfolio site needs to impress prospects and show them what you’re capable of. But if you build a site that only reflects your personal tastes or showcases the more cutting edge things you can do with code, prospects might have a hard time seeing themselves in what you do.  This is one of the reasons why you niche down in the first place. Focusing on specific industries, locations, or other demographics enables you to make more money, have better client relationships, and be more successful because you become a specialist instead of just a Jack of all trades. That’s why you should also consider designing a niche portfolio site for your business.  You actually leave a lot of money on the table if you don’t market to a specific kind of client or build your site to directly appeal to them. Let me explain:  In Scenario #1: You build your portfolio site for your WordPress development services. All the content is generically written and images chosen so you can reach as many people as possible. This means you’ll probably rank for broad and competitive search terms like “hire a WordPress developer” and “web development services”. At the end of the day, you’ll end up doing most of the work trying to find and market yourself to prospects since your site will be impossible to find in search results.  In Scenario #2: You build either two portfolio sites or two portfolio pages within the same site to reflect your target niches. One is built for wellness industry clients and the other is built for coaches and consultants. You have a better chance of ranking at the top of search results for specific keywords like “websites for coaches” or “WordPress development services for consultants”. The same goes for a site with a single niche.In addition, your portfolio is nicely organized for prospects to sift through while also being perfectly targeted to them.  This might sound like it requires extra time and money to build, but you’d be surprised.  Niche portfolio sites aren’t that difficult to create with solutions like BeTheme, each pre-built website carefully designed for a specific niche. All you have to do is customize the content and images for your business and add portfolio examples to it. Let’s look at some real-world examples of web developers and studios that have taken this approach as well as some BeTheme pre-built sites you…

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Articles Business Company Culture Hiring

Find Your Five Minute Culture

If I spent five minutes alone with a random person in your company, would I get the right impression? Earlier this week I spoke on a panel about company culture. Culture is a whale of a topic, but this panel’s common thread was how to grow something that works. Once you hit your stride, how…

Want to Read more ? If I spent five minutes alone with a random person in your company, would I get the right impression?
Earlier this week I spoke on a panel about company culture. Culture is a whale of a topic, but this panel’s common thread was how to grow something that works. Once you hit your stride, how do you actually explain it to others? More importantly, how do you know when the culture works?
Good culture shows up in results instead of manifestos. At One Mighty Roar we use a five minute culture metric. If I leave you alone with anyone on the team for five minutes, three things will happen by the time I return.

You laugh at least once.
You learn something.
You have something to look up later.

Do you know what kind of people would fit?
The three items above have little to do with personality, and more how you approach the world. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and extend the same courtesy to others. We also spend a lot of time experimenting with new things. I could explain our culture like that, but the five minute impression is a showcase to how we live those beliefs.
Plenty of folks spend time writing down lists of things they believe. They’ll have culture manifestos with nebulous statements like “We’re always learning” and “We challenge the status quo”. What do those look like in action? Manifestos have their place, but knowing what it looks like in the wild is different. We like our approach because it’s a simple way to introduce how our team works. Your list will almost definitely be different. For example, a customer focused organization might have “You shared something you’re interested in.” This is just what makes sense for us right now.
What would happen in your team’s five minutes?

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Articles Connected devices Design Thinking Future Tech Internet of Things

The Internet of Islands

This morning I found a device that would turn my bed into a giant scale. It’s a high point for hardware. The rise of crowdfunding and the maker’s movement have helped awesome ideas turn into products you can actually own. We live in the future. Everything is wonderful and nothing is wrong. Unless you count…

Want to Read more ? This morning I found a device that would turn my bed into a giant scale.
It’s a high point for hardware. The rise of crowdfunding and the maker’s movement have helped awesome ideas turn into products you can actually own. We live in the future. Everything is wonderful and nothing is wrong.
Unless you count the islands. Those are a problem.
Gilligan’s IoT
What are islands? Turns out when great hardware launches constantly, the connected device space becomes an overloaded tech flea market. The devices are all valuable on their own, but most suffer from “Now what…?” moments of integration with other things. No two speak the same language, forcing real world application to be based on which parts are easy to stitch together instead of best. Everything is technically connected, but design isolates the useful parts.
Islands are isolated grids of connected devices — silos in an “Intranet of Things”. They come in four types:
Ownership islands
A device connects to a closed grid only. Access is through a proprietary gatekeeper which limits available data and features. Most common for security systems or payment processing devices where the data needs to be accurate.
DIY islands
A device is capable of connecting to anything, but you’ll need to build the bridge first. These devices require technical skills to work with anything outside their product family. Most crowdfunded devices targeting the maker’s culture (i.e. Arduino) launch with “if it has an API, it’ll be fine” DIY mentality. IFTTT has started to attack this particular flavor of device fragmentation with support for smart systems SmartThings and Wemo.
Privacy islands
A device generates sensitive data or runs inside private spaces. If these devices were to connect to a public grid, they’d have to stay anonymous. So far IoT has been a homebody, and privacy islands are most common in home automation device grids.
Niche islands
A device connects to a specialty grid with an intentionally limited user base. This island is most common with today’s enterprise IoT platforms, which miss out in the same way an internet for only business websites would.
Islands are not automatically a bad thing. There are plenty of situations (especially with security and privacy) where intentional islands are the right decision. As the IoT space expands, it’s the unintentional islands and fragmentation we need to look out for.
Connected… to what?
Today’s hardware-first approach for the Internet of Things is like having a room full of smart people that refuse to meet each other. Great on paper, independently impressive, but dead silent from the balcony above. “Build it and they will connect” doesn’t work.
A lot of folks talk about “connected devices” and the “Internet of Things” as statements of connectivity. They aren’t. They are statements of context. A device with a Wi-Fi signal and API isn’t necessarily connected the Internet, it’s just accessible. The important part is not the device, it’s what the device connects to.
I’ll repeat that.
The important part of a connected device is not the device. It’s what the device connects to.
The moment you realize this, IoT’s future is no longer about hardware. Hardware is a constantly revolving door of better stuff that makes last year’s thing obsolete. The Internet of Things is a software problem.
Hardware helps software ask better questions
When you start with hardware, software is what makes your hardware work. A hardware focused approach may create great devices, but most fail the “now what” moment of open-ended integration that comes with connectivity. Offering a RESTful API is only the first step. Some try to sidestep this problem by promoting an open source software initiative, but that’s open-sourcing the wrong piece of the equation and most of the responsibility for teaching.
When you start with software, hardware is what helps your software ask better questions. Questions like “How hot is it in here?”, “Who just walked in?”, and “What’s the quietest conference room available?”. All of these examples are answerable only through a combination of software and hardware. What would you app do if it could ask questions about the real world?
Future proofing the device grid
The Internet of Things is a grid, and we’re all responsible for organizing the things we put on it. What’s important is not just the types of things we attach, but how we teach them to communicate. Today one of the popular answers is Bluetooth LE. Last year it was NFC, but years of barcodes, RFID, and QR also carried the torch to today.
The newest spec will always be around the corner. An ecosystem can’t grow on a foundation that needs to be replaced every two years. What won’t change is the translation. The world needs more people building ecosystems and products that celebrate the latest Kickstarter success story instead of panic attacks about differentiating.
Platforms like IFTTT get this. To them, new stuff is an opportunity to build more great tools. Why wouldn’t they want more players? More importantly, IFTTT doesn’t require a monopoly to be successful. It’s part of the pipeline, and can be responsible for all, pieces, or none of specific interactions. Platforms as tools don’t depend on universal usage — just being the best option more often than not. GitHub isn’t the only source control platform folks use, but it’s damn good at the collaborative bits.
We need more onramps
As people realize the connected space is more than Twitter-enabled toasters, more “things” will join the grid. Awesome. The problem now is a lack of structure waiting for them. Something to bridge the islands. There is no good way for the average person to get involved. When’s the last time you visited a site direct via IP address? The IoT needs its version of browsers.
Developers won’t have any problem, but they aren’t always why we build things are they? The early onramp is paved by the folks that get it, but at a certain point you’re joined by people who don’t know how to code. These are the people delighted to build if only they were offered a “hammer”.
Now where’s the toolbox?
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Articles builder strategy

Improving the Conversation Between Strategists & Developers

Hey developers and fellow strategists, we need to talk. I’ve noticed that we think differently about our relationship in the builder community. You get excited over hardware, lines of code and open APIs while I seek to influence consumer behavior with technology. I feel like this divide may push us away. Let’s fix this. Helping…

Want to Read more ? Hey developers and fellow strategists, we need to talk.
I’ve noticed that we think differently about our relationship in the builder community. You get excited over hardware, lines of code and open APIs while I seek to influence consumer behavior with technology. I feel like this divide may push us away.
Let’s fix this.

Helping Developers
I’ve realized my role in the builder community is to be your biggest fan. I may never need to code in my life but understanding you as a coder is one way we will overcome this. Here are my promises to you:

I will minimize as many distractions as possible to keep you focused  This includes screening phone call before they get to you, waiting to ask questions until you have time to actually think about them and keeping those boring project management short.
I will make you (and what you work on) look amazing. Remember all that traveling I did last spring talking with techies about our platform? I may have dropped your name a dozen times when talking about it. They were impressed.
I will promote your passion to the people who can pay for it. Translating the work you have done into jargon non-techies will understand is my job and I love teaching people new things. So if I ask an obvious question about how it works, it so I can better promote it to folks with dollar-bills to spend.

 

Helping Strategists
Here’s what I ask of you:

Bug me when you are working on something that will blow my mind. I love when we can geek over technology but I sometimes get busy with client work. Take the initiative and come by to talk about what you are working on. I assure you, I won’t tell you to go away.
Write the technology and hardware used on a Post-It. I know, I’ve asked you the difference between JavaScript and jQuery a hundred times. Let’s keep our sanity and when we are done talking, write down the technology and hardware used so I can Google it later. This will save us both a lot of time (and headaches).
Champion my ideas to find better outcomes to problems. The best success we have at selling our capabilities is to team up and think. Ignore the desire to say it’s impossible on the first try. Ask me questions, goals, and outcomes I’m looking for that could help solve the problem. Sometime it won’t be the first thing that comes to mind.

 

 
Helping Each Other
Making (and keeping) promises like these will help us work smarter when tackling an obstruction across the path. I’ve seen this happen at One Mighty Roar where you’d have a hard time identifying someone as a developer or a strategist because everyone invests in the people around them, constantly learning.
The opportunity to improve this relationship is there everyday. You’d be surprise how much of an impact it can have.

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Agencies, Product, and the Business of Building for People

“You have clients? So you’re an agency?” For the first two years of One Mighty Roar, the question of “What do you call yourself?” came up a lot. Externally, people saw as a company with a growing portfolio of brand clients and a trail of websites and social campaigns behind it. Internally, our team saw…

Want to Read more ? “You have clients? So you’re an agency?”
For the first two years of One Mighty Roar, the question of “What do you call yourself?” came up a lot. Externally, people saw as a company with a growing portfolio of brand clients and a trail of websites and social campaigns behind it. Internally, our team saw a growing stockpile of self-made code and tools which tied those projects together. Whatever OMR was didn’t feel exactly like an agency, but it was close enough. So we relented and embraced the byline of “Digital Agency” for the next two years. It wasn’t a perfect description of what we thought made the company great, but the people who mattered understood the difference and that was good enough for us.
A funny thing happens when people hear you have clients — they categorize. Consultants have clients. Agencies have clients. Product companies have customers. Customers who buy widgets or subscriptions to things — prebuilt stuff.

The “sort of” agency
In the early years, being labeled an agency on the outside wasn’t bad. We got to solve challenges for a constantly evolving group of interesting brands and individuals. The answers tended to be websites and mobile applications, but the freedom to build foundations for others inspired us. Our team approached client projects like a product team would. Instead of building for an expiration date of rotating seasonal campaigns, we focused on making reusable building blocks. Some of those blocks were pieces we would later assemble to be products.
At the time we thought product companies required outside funding to get started, and being self-funded is an opportunity you protect. Unlike many early product companies, our business model did not require hitting user count or investment milestones to succeed. Our “funding” came from the projects we contracted. Building for others was great because we were handed challenges to solve pre-validated by the brands and budgets behind them. It afforded us the opportunity to remain self-funded with access to top brands.

From agency to product thinking
Client services aside, One Mighty Roar has two products with enough traction and revenue to have “made it” as independent business models.
One is You Rather, a giant predictive modeling engine based around the game of “would you rather”. At time of writing, it tracks about ⅓ billion responses and a few million views each day. The second product is Robin, a platform that connects digital and physical things by bringing digital layers into physical environments. Despite being early to the “connected device” and “Internet of things” game, Robin has been fortunate to see use from global brands and has grown to a key initiative that powers much of the work we do.
When we interview for open positions, these are the things we talk about first. Without understanding our toolbox, a candidate won’t understand the problems our team can solve. When prospective clients come to us now, we greet them with thinking that supports the products we’ve made. In many cases, it works better than the mobile application or Facebook campaign they originally wanted.
We don’t view product as a way to escape client work. It’s all the same — our client services help evangelize our products. Our products are designed to make certain problems easy to solve. We love when there is a fit, but it’s not a requirement. We are like a toolbox filled with both general tools and some that are unique to us. Some of our best web and mobile application projects have led to new internal workflow, open source projects, and foundations for future products.

Product is a foundation not a department
The products are a part of our thought process right from the start. This is one of the things that a lot of larger agencies get backwards. Let’s take the recent “labs” trend popping up among large agencies. A 500+ person agency tries to recapture its agility by creating a “labs/innovation” department. On paper, lab initiatives feels like product — smart people in a room tinkering with the latest technology to build things their clients can use. What happens instead (unfortunately) is the lab becomes little more than a media kit checklist item to show they are forward thinkers. A handful of interesting experiences might come out of it every year, but the rest of the company doesn’t benefit from the new process, only the results.
Today’s 500+ person agency doesn’t have the cultural foundation to support a product startup inside of it. Hell, there are fifty person agencies that would have a hard time making the product shift. They scratch itches instead of solve problems and fail the test of “different or better?”. Being scrappy is something you can lose with size, but scrappiness is also the catalyst needed for compelling product direction. Scrappy can’t afford to build things with expiration dates.
Clients can sponsor features
Clients can (and should) have goals that extend beyond a single project launch. When building with a product toolbox mentality clients become sponsors for new features, either directly or indirectly. The client gets what they want for their project and we get a good reason to bump a new, client validated feature to the top of the list.
This isn’t to say that you build generic results. The difference is in approach. Simply asking “How would this be done if it wasn’t just for this use case?” nets a lot of design and development decisions which ultimately make stronger product design.
Good products come from domain expertise
People build solutions to their own problems. If enough other people have the same problem, you have a product. If enough people buy in (and they don’t always), you have a business.
Building to a product rather than a project means something is always left to improve. We believe in constantly iterating towards a goal or at least a larger narrative. Whether the product fails or succeeds, you’ll still have the “why did we make this?” to inform the next steps.
Product people and project people
At One Mighty Roar, we are product people who take on client projects. When we interview people from larger agencies, a common thread for departure is burnout from shelved projects or great work that doesn’t exist anymore. Dan Ariely covers a lot of these points in his talk called “What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work.”
In project based work, it’s harder to be deeply invested in something the moment an expiration date is established. Product represents something to always come back to. Coupled with the diversity of challenges and the brands agency style work comes with, we find a product company with client services gets the best of both worlds.
The fabled “20% time”
Our friend, Richard Banfield of Fresh Tilled Soil, recently wrote an interesting piece which cautions design companies that try to tackle agency and internal product work. One topic covered is the danger of viewing 20% time as an adequate amount of time to develop a product. This magical time is the first to go in busy situations, which can all but halt product development.
Interpretation has changed over time, but the gist is a company spends the majority of time thinking specifically, and the minority is thinking broadly. Google and 37Signals get a lot of credit for being the pioneers in this regard, but it’s 3M we have to thank for subsidized personal projects at the workplace.
We don’t believe that client work disqualifies a company from doing product if you hire the right people and build for the right companies. Put another way, we spend 80% of our time building out customized iterations of our services, then 20% refining for the big picture.

It’s a business, not a lottery ticket
Products aren’t lottery tickets to aid in the escape from your core business. We’ve come to view products as a broader framework for solving problems by improve the toolbox and workflow we tackle projects with. You can’t force it, but if you’re looking for opportunities they will come up a lot more than if you have project tunnel vision.
Products are often, to quote the famed Bob Ross, “happy accidents”.

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Articles Business Hiring Philosophy Recruiting

Recruiting Engineers Who Aren’t Scared to Talk to People

We believe to be a good citizen of the developer and open source community is to hire good engineers for One Mighty Roar. This means engineers that can build utility apps like Lantern, connected device platforms like Robin, and hardware projects like Tableduino. Rules for hiring When we started, we made the decision to only hire…

Want to Read more ? We believe to be a good citizen of the developer and open source community is to hire good engineers for One Mighty Roar. This means engineers that can build utility apps like Lantern, connected device platforms like Robin, and hardware projects like Tableduino.
Rules for hiring
When we started, we made the decision to only hire engineers who were fully capable of interacting well with fellow engineers, but can also confidently talk to clients and present at events. Here’s how we we hire tech people with a personality:
Research before setting up an interview
We look at what you have built, who knows you, how you are to work with, what reputation you have, and if folks think you are curious and engaging. We prefer doing it the hard way – talking to people, expanding out networks, looking for talent where many don’t, and ignoring resumes. There are no shortcuts to recruiting exceptional people.
Interviews are free flowing conversations.
We don’t believe in traditional interviews and industry techniques. We want you to do extensive research on us (including diving deep into our GitHub and Dribbble), play with our apps and sites, look at individual Twitter accounts.
Hire makers
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a junior apprentice or an experienced engineer, even non-technical team members should be able to describe you as a “maker”. It shows in your open-source contributions, blogging, and many examples of applications and/or other things you have built and released.
Hire adults
Being an adult doesn’t have much to do with your age, but rather your attitude toward other people, sense of responsibility, and respect for the company. Also, if you are above pitching in to stock the fridge, cleanup, load the dishwasher, or keeping your work areas in respectable shape, these are warning signs to us.
Add people who can add another point of view
Since we are a product development company, monolithic thinking is simply not compatible with our business model. Caveat: you have to be just as comfortable sharing your insights as diving deep into how other members of the team and our clients think.
Look for people with a personal goal
Look for people who are clear on how they want to grow professionally, and who care deeply about personal “brand”. You’re the one that creates the roadmap. The company is just a tool for your growth.
Hire those who grew up aspiring to be an engineer
As we interview, we try to dig deep into when your passion for the craft started, who were your role models, and who inspires you. Those who became engineers because there is money to be made, are not for us.
Find people who can manage your own time, distractions, and workload
You need to find time to work out, eat a proper meal, and take the time-off. You also don’t require monastic environment, because we are not the kind of place.
Hire for the “after 5 o’clock” personality
We pride ourselves on a professional and respectful work environment where you don’t have to put on “corporate face”. That is an unnecessary overhead for a company comprised of genuinely nice, fun, and respectful people.
Strong team, strong company
We fully understand our methodology is not for everyone, but we strongly believe this is something that is allowing us to scale sustainably while handling a large number of projects. This hiring approach is part of what’s allowed us to remain self-funded four years in. The right team makes a company resilient.

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Categories
Arduino Articles IOT Lights

The Internet of Conference Tables

At One Mighty Roar, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to tackle physical and digital overlap. After creating a textable office sign, a logical next step was to tackle our conference table. We wanted to bring conference furniture to the next level — and to do that, we were going to need…

Want to Read more ? At One Mighty Roar, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to tackle physical and digital overlap. After creating a textable office sign, a logical next step was to tackle our conference table. We wanted to bring conference furniture to the next level — and to do that, we were going to need lights, proximity sensors, and a “can do” attitude.
The Goal
To spruce up our meetings we wanted a table that not only was classy but served as a memento for our office. We wanted a table that knows if someone is present, is easily accessible over the web, and can show off its lights and hydraulic lift on command. This table would be one of the first stepping stones towards our hackable office.
The Table
With a surface composed of sweet American walnut and was crafted by our friends at Erik Rueda Design Lab. It’s no surprise that our team was huddled in the conference room for an hour admiring the view (we also suddenly became very strict about our drink coasters rule).

Just like most tables in existence, ours has four legs as support, but these aren’t just any normal table stands. If you take a closer look, we found that our logo actually serves as a great reinforcement for table tops.

On top of all of that, our table also comes equipped with some LED housing that runs through the center and around the bottom of the surface. The lights we chose were Adafruit’s WS2801 LEDs so we could easily slap on an Arduino and start programming away.

Finally, the centerpiece is not just a placeholder for our logo, it serves a much greater purpose:

A hydraulic engine lifts up the piece to expose a collection of outlets and Ethernet jacks for laptops and alike to receive some juice. A small switch at the bottom of the table controls the centerpiece vertically, so hopefully we’ll install some sensors to ensure a power cable (or a hand for that matter) will never get crushed in the process.

The Work
After some brainstorming and coffee-sipping, I found some downtime during the week to hack away at this side project. Since we already had an awesome setup for our sign, I began to adapt and expand this codebase for the conference table.
To get started, I gathered up some supplies:

Arduino Uno
Arduino Ethernet Shield
HCSR04 Ultrasonic Sensor
Various wiring and power supplies

For libraries we used:

Webduino
Adafruit WS2801 Library
HCSR04Ultrasonic

As a quick proof-of-concept, we had previously implemented a RESTful API for our office’s sign, using Webduino.
Once the “tableduino” API library was banged out, the setup was as simple as attaching the Arduino Ethernet shield and wiring the Ultrasonic sensor to the board. We gave the Arduino some power and an Ethernet hookup then started to fire away some API calls.
Here are some of our requests and results!POST /m-animate
Red = 255
Blue = 0
Green = 0
action = line-fill
 POST /m-animate
Red = 255
Blue = 255
Green = 0
action = fade
 POST /b-animate
Red = 255
Blue = 255
Green = 0
action = detect-mode
Making cURL requests or using Postman to hit these endpoints is nice and all, but co-worker Trevor Suarez also created a web GUI to easily interact with the sign and the table using your phone. In the coming weeks we plan on expanding this app for all of our office devices.

You can grab the code for the table from the GitHub repo here.
The Future
What we have so far is only the beginning of what we want to accomplish with our office devices. Down the road we want our API to control the table’s hydraulic motor, halt the engine if an object is detected before closing, and change LED color as more individuals sit at the table.
These are only a few of the possibilities we could think of for the time being. We’re sure as more people play with our table (and possibly hack themselves) in the next few months, there will be more ideas than we’ll know what to do with.

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Categories
Apache Articles aws EC2 nginx You Rather

How We Did It: Millions of Daily Pageviews, 60% Less Server Resources

Contributed to by Trevor Suarez. Two years ago at One Mighty Roar we noticed that a side-project from the early days of the company was gaining large amounts of traffic, despite not being touched in ages. Over the process of a few months, we spent some 20% time, which quickly turned into 120% time, revamping…

Want to Read more ? Contributed to by Trevor Suarez.
Two years ago at One Mighty Roar we noticed that a side-project from the early days of the company was gaining large amounts of traffic, despite not being touched in ages. Over the process of a few months, we spent some 20% time, which quickly turned into 120% time, revamping You Rather, redoing the site from the ground up, creating an API, and writing both an iOS and an Android app. As a result, You Rather has done some excellent numbers, gained some community garnishment, and been a great project for the OMR team to boast about. But, as most side-projects are, they fall low on the priority list when other new opportunities come along.
At the end of this summer, it became our goal to give You Rather a breath of new life. The first step was to axe the aged Apache HTTP server in favor of Nginx. We’ve been using Nginx for 99% of our work over the last year and haven’t looked back since. However, most of our Nginx experience has been writing .conf files for new sites and servers, never rewriting old .confs for existing production sites.
In just an afternoon, we moved a site with 400+ active concurrent users doing 1k+ pageviews a second, from Apache to Nginx, without any downtime.
Brushing off the Dust
To give some background, we ♥ AWS. You Rather uses every bit of the AWS stack, from EC2 to EBS to Route 53 to S3. To get a “dev” environment setup for ourselves, we grabbed our current AMI of the You Rather site and spun up a new instance for us to hack on.
A simple yum install nginx got us Nginx up and running on our CentOS box in no time. Step one, complete.
To start, we tossed up our generic Nginx conf:
server {
# Port declaration
listen 80 default_server;
listen 443 ssl;

# Server name and aliases
server_name nginx-test.yourather.com;

# Root directory and default index
root /var/www/path/of/yourather/src/;

# Catch-all
location / {
try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php?$args;
}

# Pass the PHP scripts to the PHP-FPM socket
location ~ .php$ {
include fastcgi_params;

fastcgi_index index.php;
fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;

# PHP-FPM (unix socket)
fastcgi_pass unix:/tmp/php5-fpm.sock;
}
}
Lo and behold, most things…just worked. Granted, we had done plenty of work getting the AMI setup with with Apache and PHP initially, switching over to Nginx was pretty easy to get started. Step two, complete.
Tweaking for Performance
Nginx has a few obvious benefits over Apache when it comes to the server layer, but Nginx isn’t the sole reason for You Rather’s performance improvement. To see why, let’s clarify what exactly makes the difference here.
Where Nginx really shines is that it doesn’t process “.htaccess” files. While those files make for convenient setups on shared hosting plans or shared machines, traversing the file directory for those files occurs on each request, which gets expensive. Nginx, on the other hand, loads all configs in at launch and that’s it, you’re good to go.
Another place we saw had room for improvement was the interaction between our webserver and PHP. Our current implementation of You Rather used mod_php with Apache. Although the initial setup for Apache and mod_php was quick and easy, a big disadvantage to this is the way PHP is processed per request. Opting for PHP-FPM in favor of mod_php gave us significant performance boosts. Where as mod_php was interpreting PHP as a part of the Apache process, quickly soaking up large amounts of CPU and memory, PHP-FPM can be fine tuned to get great performance benefits. Utilizing PHP processes that are gracefully launched and killed, Unix sockets, and granular process management, PHP-FPM helped us tune back our overall resource usage on the box. On top of all of these tweaks, now we can tweak configurations for Nginx without affecting PHP-FPM and vice versa without breaking one or the other.
As one last golden bullet to tweak the performance of PHP, we added an opcode cache. Testing out Zend OPCache and APC, we found that OPCache kicked it out of the park for us, boosting PHP processing time and reducing memory consumption overall.
Step three, complete.
Sieging the Site
One thing we’ve gotten better at as a result of You Rather’s traffic is testing our apps under heavy load. On any given day, we’ve experienced large traffic spikes due to social media, aggregators (see: the Slashdot effect), or App Store features. Two tools we use a lot to test load handling are siege, and ab. For this setup, we mostly used siege.
Once we got Nginx serving our site up just right on our dev instance, it was time to hammer the box to see what it could handle. Using siege, we could see what kind of a load a single instance could handle. One great advantage of siege is its ability to hit an endpoint with concurrent connections, perfect for simulating a real-world use-case of You Rather. Starting the command:
siege -t 1M -c 20 http://nginx-test.yourather.com/
We simulated 20 concurrent users (-c 20) hitting the site on that instance, non-stop for a minute (-t 1M). siege gives great analysis of the tests both during and afterwards. Things looked great from the get-go. The throughput was much lower than the old Apache AMI, and response times were generally lower. We kept tweaking the siege test, varying between 10 to 100 or more concurrent connections (protip: don’t go over 75 connections generally, things will break…), hitting different endpoints, like the user profile page, a specfic question’s page, and even the 404 page.

We compared the results from siege’ing the Nginx instance to a version of the current Apache site running on a control instance. In short, the Nginx instance performed 100% more transactions, with 50% less response time per transaction. Better yet, we watched the top on the Nginx box while testing this out. It handled it like a boss, barely topping out the CPU while slamming it with connections. Nginx was clearly giving the site the boost it needed.
Going Live
Using all of the glory that is AWS, we already had load balancers set up for the site, as well as auto-scaling groups and rules in place for killing unhealthy instances and spinning new ones up where needed. In our search for keeping the site available as much as possible, spinning up new instances under heavy load can get expensive.
Once we made a new AMI for the new deployment of the site, it was time to tweak the auto-scale group to spin up new instances from the new AMI. Using the AWS CLI, we just set the group to spin new instances up from the new AMI. Next, we set the number of desired instances for the group to a healthy number that we knew wouldn’t crash the site, leaving room for a mix of Apache and Nginx instances to be balanced side-by-side.
as-set-desired-capacity yr-production –desired-capacity 4 –honor-cooldown
From here, we slowly killed off the old Apache instances one by one manually, letting the auto-scale group spin a new Nginx instance up in its place. Meanwhile, watching Google Analytics, we still had thousands of pageviews and API calls happening per second, live to the site, including the new Nginx boxes.
Finally, not a single Apache box was left load balanced, we started scaling back the number of desired instances for the group. From 4… to 3… to 2… We probably could have run it all off one box, but for the sake of our own sanity, 2 sounded right.
A week later, we had a bit of a post-mortem, analyzing the numbers. Guess where the Nginx revamp happened:

Our varying number of instances is more or less static now, and has been for weeks:

We have now been serving millions of pageviews and API calls off of two Nginx instances with 0% downtime for a solid three weeks now. Sorry Apache, there’s no looking back.

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Categories
Articles Business

What Every Designer Should Know About Copyright

With the advent of the Internet it has become easier than ever to steal, copy, or pirate another’s work. Because of this, it is more important than ever to have increased copyright knowledge and protection. And, since designers work almost solely in the world of creating original work, their very livelihood can at times rest upon…

Want to Read more ? With the advent of the Internet it has become easier than ever to steal, copy, or pirate another’s work. Because of this, it is more important than ever to have increased copyright knowledge and protection. And, since designers work almost solely in the world of creating original work, their very livelihood can at times rest upon their ability to defend themselves from copyright infringement.
Quick Disclaimer: The following is not legal advice. Legal advice deals with specific cases of law and legal action. I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to give legal advice. Instead, these are general facts about the law, which is ever evolving. For dealing with any legal matters, or legal advice, please contact an attorney.
What Copyright Is
The first thing every designer needs to know about the copyright law is just what copyright is. Copyright is the law protecting the exclusive rights of a creator’s original work. It sounds straightforward, but at times it can be rather confusing.
Essentially, copyright law in today’s realm is meant to protect original creative work from unauthorized copying, adapting, or publishing. It protects the sole right of the creator to copy, distribute, publish, and display, and sell the work as they choose.
The Difference Between Copyright and Trademark
Trademarks are used by companies for recognition. They are typically a word, phrase, symbol, device, or name used for recognition purposes. In effect, trademarks are a symbol used for quick recognition by a corporation or entity.
Copyright, on the other hand, deals with any original work, not just a company’s symbol.
What Can’t Be Copyrighted
Purely mechanical, clerical, or factual information.
Work that is not sufficiently original. General lyrics or poems like “Want you so bad baby” don’t pass the test.
Ideas, systems, operations, or procedures.
Works that have already had their copyright expire
Lastly, copyrighted items that are used in fair use conditions
Fair use
Fair use is an exception to copyright laws. Fair use was made to allow copyrighted material be used without the owner’s permission, in so called fair use circumstances. In the United States, these are mostly limited to education uses, new reportage, and satire/parody.
Exclusive Rights
The exclusive rights granted by copyright are temporary. However, that is a matter of decades rather than days or months. Copyrighted work will eventually move into the realm of public use, but typically the author/creator maintains their exclusive rights for an extended period of time, often as long as they are alive.
Owner of Copyright Work
As a designer, it is important to know when the work you create should fall under the protection of copyright, and whether you own the rights to the original work.
Typically speaking, it is always the creator of the original work who owns the copyright, even if allowing the work to be used commercially. However, if the designer is employed by a company and specifically designs something for the employer, the company typically owns the copyright.
Whether the designer keeps the copyrights while self-employed is largely the designer’s decision. The designer has to legally assign the copyright over to the client in order for the client to legally get full control of the copyrighted material. However, most clients typically expect the copyright as part of a package deal with their payment.
The Need to Register
In the United States original work doesn’t need to be registered to enjoy the protection of copyright. However, there are some very serious benefits to registering any valuable, unique, or original work with the US copyright office.
Although all original works are protected under copyright law, whether or not they were registered, it is the registration that makes copyright infringement easy to prove. To this end, the US government will cover the legal fees for a copyright infringement case if the original work is registered with them.
So, the creator of original work could press a copyright infringement suit against someone violating their copyright protections. However, an unregistered creator would have to pay the legal fees themselves, and wouldn’t be awarded any money as just compensation. The registered owner would have their fees paid by the US government, and would more than likely receive statutory damages in the form of money, which isn’t something an unregistered owner can expect.
So, in effect, no one ever needs to register their intellectual property. In practice however, it makes real fiscal sense, along with granting peace of mind.
Again, I’m not a lawyer. If you have any legal questions I would urge you to seek legal counsel.
Hopefully this will help educate designers about the generalities of copyright law. In this day and age there is a very real need for designer to be well informed and prepared against copyright infringement. What experiences have you had as a designer with copyright infringement? Is there anything you would recommend to designers out there concerning copyrights?
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Categories
Articles print design Web Design

Successful Strategy for Integrating Web and Print Design

Today’s marketplace demands that designers be versatile enough to create an integrated print and web media campaign. This is easier said than done, however, as the differences between designing for these two media are extensive, however, and each presents its own challenges and opportunities. Designers that are able to successfully navigate these differences and create…

Want to Read more ? Today’s marketplace demands that designers be versatile enough to create an integrated print and web media campaign. This is easier said than done, however, as the differences between designing for these two media are extensive, however, and each presents its own challenges and opportunities.
Designers that are able to successfully navigate these differences and create a unified marketing strategy are highly valued. Here are some tips for how to overcome the disparities and integrate your print and web designs:
Challenges of Bringing the Two Media Together
Though they share some basic principles, designing for print media and designing for the web are two entirely different tasks. Knowing the standards for each will allow your work to be easily translated from one into the other.
In print media, designers usually have more exact control over the appearance of the final product. When creating custom business cards, for example, the designer need only worry about the finished product appearing in one size. The same is not true for web design, however. There are several standard monitor sizes, not to mention mobile devices, and designers must create fluid layouts that will work for all of these displays (and possibly more).
In addition, the design of the will always be viewed as “complete”—no scrolling or sliding is necessary to take in the entire concept. Contrast this with web media, where “big” designs require careful planning and modification to bring off.
For itself, web design offers some benefits that print media cannot match. Web designers have the freedom to take advantage of some incredible techniques that are hard to replicate via digital printing: gradients, small details, and movement in design, for example.
One thing that both print and web designers have in common is color selection—digital printing can often render colors differently than the designer had envisioned, while web designers must be cautious about how different monitors and displays will produce colors.

Successful Integration
The differences between the two media, then, are challenging, but not impossible, to overcome. No matter which medium you begin working in, you must keep the challenges of the other in mind in order to bring them together. Print designers must work within the restrictions of file and image size for digital media, for example, while web designers must keep in mind that subtle details that are easy to bring off on the web may be lost to the printer.
This is important primarily because of branding and brand recognition—your clients’ audience must be able to connect successfully with the colors and images used in both media and recognize them as coming from the same organization. It’s important, then to keep your clients’ specific strategies in mind as you create your designs.
More Tips for Integration
Apart from creating a design that works in both media, there are some other things to keep in mind as you create both that can help create a better unification between the two media. As you work with marketers and designers on both sides of the design aisle, make sure to use cross-promotions and teasers that promise to “enhance” the users’ experience. The website should offer more to the users’ print experience and vice versa.
You should also be sure to mention the other medium with the other—include URLs in offline ads and flyers, for example, or use the website to promote a special direct mailer.
With a solid understanding of the tips and techniques involved in both types of design, you will be able to create designs that are sending the same message no matter the medium.
What are your tips for integrating web and print media? What successes have you had in unifying the two?
Images by ollily and Sergiu Bacioiu 
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