Archive for the 'Entrepreneurship' Category

Introducing Typewolf

I launched another side project recently so I wanted to give it a quick mention on the blog here. Typewolf is a curated design showcase that focuses on typography and web fonts. There are a lot of design inspiration sites out there but here is what makes Typewolf different.

1) Typewolf identifies the fonts used in the designs. And you can easily view sites that use a certain font. For example, Montserrat font, Avenir font, Brandon Grotesque font, etc.

2) Typewolf has a section that features the best open-source web fonts on Google Fonts. I work on a lot of design projects where using Google Fonts is the only option for web fonts. Browsing the Google Fonts directory can be overwhelming so I’ve hand-picked the best fonts available. This section is constantly updated as new fonts are released.

3) The thumbnail graphics on Typewolf are not scaled-down. This makes it easy to clearly see the typographic details without having to always click through to the site.

4) Typewolf is updated daily and only the absolute highest quality sites are featured.

My goal is to make Typewolf the only inspiration site designers need to visit, so please check it out! You can also follow Typewolf on Tumblr.

Typewolf Web Fonts Showcase

Introducing Type & Grids and My Thoughts on the Future of Flash, HTML5 and Responsive Design

It’s been several years since I’ve posted anything on this blog, so I wanted to give an update about what I’ve been up to lately. I recently launched the successor to Warm Forest, called Type & Grids. Type & Grids is a template/theming system built with HTML5 instead of Flash like Warm Forest was. It was a long overdue update. The Warm Forest site will stay up for the time being, but I don’t plan on making any new updates. All my attention will be devoted to Type & Grids going forward.

I actually registered the domain typeandgrids.com in 2009. The idea was to refine what I did with Warm Forest and make the focus on typography and grids. The original plan was to build everything in Flash. Despite the iPhone and iPad not supporting Flash, I still thought there were ways to make Flash sites viable. You could have your Flash version for desktop visitors and then a separate mobile-optimized HTML version for users on phones and tablets. It seemed like a good solution and I actually went pretty far down that path building things out.

Also a couple years ago I really thought that Apple was going to “give in” and eventually allow Flash on iOS. Other mobile devices were touting support for Flash so I figured Apple was just being stubborn and would have to follow suit to stay competitive – users would want access to the “full web”.

But obviously it didn’t play out like that. Apple has such a huge presence that their decision not to support Flash essentially sent that technology to the grave. On Windows 8, the metro version of IE10 only allows Flash from sites on a “whitelist”. Flash for Android devices is no longer available. For the quickly growing mobile and tablet market, Flash won’t exist.

So it became obvious to me that Type & Grids shouldn’t be built with Flash. I never thought that Flash was a great solution for all sites, but for a long time thought it was awesome for creative/portfolio sites. I definitely no longer think that though and it’s been at least two years since I’ve done any real Flash dev work. HTML5 is the way forward and I think everyone can agree on that now.

As I was realizing all of this, I started hearing about this new thing called responsive design…

My thoughts on responsive design

Responsive design is awesome. I love it. When I first read about it and saw examples, it just made complete sense. It’s an easy sell to clients. One site that adapts itself to any device. Everyone gets it. But I still think there are downsides to responsive design and that it’s not the best solution for every website.

The other day I was listening to a podcast and a product manager from 37signals (a company I greatly admire) was saying how he thought responsive design was terrible. And really I had to kind of agree with him on the points he was making. His main point was that having to take into consideration all the different breakpoints and possible layouts for every different device makes design exceedingly difficult. And if you want to update something in your design that makes it even more difficult. Good design is all about constantly tweaking and improving things so if it’s super hard to update and change things then that’s bad for the design. His ideal solution was to have a desktop design and a separate mobile design. Each customized to best suit its uses. And that was a much better solution than a responsive design that fits everything.

Another guy on the podcast responded by saying responsive design really isn’t that hard to implement as long as you plan from the very beginning to make the design responsive. However one point that no one brought up – and I think this is a really good point – is that setting out from the get go to make a design responsive really, really limits the design. It puts tons of constraints on the design and limits the possibilities. You have to constantly evaluate how everything will work at each different breakpoint. And some things won’t work very well at certain breakpoints so those types of things might just be left out of the design altogether to make things work better on all devices.

For example, recently I’ve been visiting websites and without resizing my browser window I can tell the design is responsive. It just looks responsive. And sure enough when I resize my window, it’s a responsive design. Something about the way the site layout is put together gives it away. I’m not saying all responsive designs are like that, just that there is a certain look and layout that lends itself to responsive design. So a lot of sites are starting to look the same due to that. My worry is that instead of having a version of your website that works awesome for the desktop and another version that is awesome for mobile, you end up with one watered down version that is mediocre on every device. It’s like trying to please everyone at once.

So all that being said I do still really like responsive design in a lot of cases. I think it’s a perfect solution for simple sites without tons of content and sites where the user isn’t setting out to accomplish a complex task. Great for marketing sites and less so for sites that are more like apps where users go to get stuff done. In that case it might be better to design a custom site for mobile users.

I did end up deciding to make Type & Grids responsive and I think it works well for what it is. I felt like responsive was the right choice for the type of site I was creating. I’m stoked to have finally launched it even though I feel like I am pretty late to the game. The original Flash version was planned to launch by the end of 2009, then I scrapped that and was hoping to get the HTML5 version launched beginning of 2012. So this is about a year later than I thought, but better late than never! The response to Type & Grids has been great so far so it was worth it. I’m always interested in hearing any feedback and suggestions so let me know what you think of the new project.

How to Sell Your Flash Templates Without FlashDen

“Why don’t you use FlashDen to sell your Flash templates?” I’ve been asked that question several times since starting Warm Forest. In this post I’d like to explain why I choose to sell my products independently and show how easy it is for anyone to create their own site selling digital goods – whether it is Flash templates, WordPress themes, E-books, software, etc.

First off, I have nothing against FlashDen. I think the whole Envato collection of sites is wonderful for the creative community. I actually used to sell on FlashDen back in the day before eventually deciding to go off on my own with Warm Forest. For me it came down to having control over everything (pricing/marketing/support) and just the fact that it’s more fun for me to do things myself.

What I don’t like about FlashDen

FlashDen has 200,000+ users. That’s a huge market to pass up. But there are a couple of reasons why I choose not to sell through them…

They tend to focus on quantity over quality

Do you want to search through 1,172 Flash menus to find the right one to use in your project? Me neither. I think their logic is that the more options people have, the better. If there are 1,000+ options, then there has to be the perfect option for you, right? In reality I think people would rather see a small handful of really great options to choose from. Have a few options that are flexible and easy to customize and that’s all you need. Marketing studies have shown that having more choices of products makes consumer actually buy less. When presented with too many choices consumers feel overwhelmed and simply choose not to buy. For a great book that discusses these topics I recommend The Paradox of Choice.

It’s hard to market your files on their site

When you release a new file on FlashDen you get brief exposure on their homepage in their “Recent” section. After a few days though your file gets removed from the homepage and buried in the thousands of other files on the site to make room for the next new files. To have your highly polished, super-customizable template that you spent weeks and weeks planning and building being replaced on the homepage after a few days by an animated lobster SWF that someone threw together in 30 minutes would be frustrating. There are some very nice files on FlashDen but they tend to be mixed in with tons of products that aren’t very useful or very appealing from a design point of view.

They price their site templates too low and they take a large cut of the sale

I know, I know. The whole theory of stock sites is to sell lots of products at low prices. Having said that, getting a complete Flash website for $30 seems to me to be crazy below the market price. Any kind of professional who wants a website would probably have a budget of more than that I would hope. The max price they have for any template is $40 so no matter how nice of a template you design that is the most they will sell it for. I think customers would be willing to pay more for something that is really well designed and thought out. As far as their payment rates, you can earn from 25% up to 70% of each sale. They have expenses for running and promoting FlashDen and of course deserve to earn a profit and that’s fine. For me though, I would rather just price my products myself and get 100% of every sale.

Ok so I had a few gripes with FlashDen – how hard could it be to create my own site to sell my products?

How to sell your Flash templates or digital goods yourself

These days the barrier to entry is extremely low for any kind of web-based business. Hosting is cheap. Domains are cheap. There are all kinds of online services that will handle your shopping cart, process your payments, track your expenses, manage your advertising, etc. Everything is simple to setup and dirt cheap. There is no reason not to have an online business.

It ended up being surprisingly easy getting my own site, Warm Forest, up and running. I did a lot of research on the best way to set things up and the following is what I ended up using.

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E-junkie

E-junkie for my shopping cart
www.e-junkie.com
Cost: $10/month

No need to code my own shopping cart system when there are tons of ready-made services that will handle everything for me. E-junkie hosts my file downloads securely, then sends a temporary email download link to the customer after they make payment. It was super simple to integrate their shopping cart into my site. I like them because they don’t take a cut of each sale and instead just charge you a flat monthly rate depending on the number of products you have for sale.

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PayPal

PayPal & Google Checkout for my payment processing
www.paypal.com
Cost: Small percentage of each sale

E-junkie actually doesn’t process any payments – they just integrate with PayPal and Google Checkout. Lots of customers already have PayPal and everyone trusts Google so it makes everyone feel secure in the payment process to use something they are already familiar with.

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BSA

BuySellAds.com for my advertising
www.buysellads.com
Cost: varies (but generally great prices)

BSA pretty much came out of nowhere to become the default ad system for tech/creative websites and blogs. It seems everyone uses it now to setup and manage their ads. The price of ads is cheap right now due to the recession and all so it’s a great time to be promoting your site through banner ads. You get a lot of bang for your buck and it’s easy to target the exact market you are looking for.

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Basecamp

Media Temple for my hosting
www.mediatemple.net
Cost: $20/month

Media Temple can supposedly handle large spikes in site traffic with their grid service which is the main reason I went with them. Although I have had the occasional problems with site uptime, overall I think they are worth the money. There is cheaper hosting available but I’d rather pay a little extra to go with a well-known and respected name in the hosting business.

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phpBB

phpBB for my customer support
www.phpbb.com
Cost: Free

No matter how well thought out a FAQ you have for your products, customers are still going to ask you a million questions. Even if the questions are in your FAQ they will still ask them. Instead of having people email me with questions, I installed a forum on my site for them to post their questions. I check it every so often and provide answers. That way instead of having to answer the same questions over and over again by email, customers will (hopefully) just search the forum and find the answer. phpBB is simple to setup and maintain.

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Basecamp

Basecamp for my tasks/planning
www.basecamphq.com
Cost: Free

I actually use the free plan on Basecamp to manage my upcoming tasks. I know that sounds cheap but really I just use their To-Do list feature and have a bunch of to-do lists, one for each area of Warm Forest I’m working on. I wonder if I’m the only one who does this? Regardless, it seems to work really well.

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Google Docs

Google Docs for my notes and spreadsheets
docs.google.com
Cost: Free

I’m a big fan of cloud computing – I like to work on different computers and in different locations. With Google Docs, my desktop, laptop, and iPhone can all access the same files from anywhere. I like to have docs for future ideas I want to implement like blog ideas, marketing ideas, ideas for new templates, etc.

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Gmail

Gmail for my email
www.google.com/apps
Cost: Free

Like everyone else, I love Gmail. I use their Google Apps on my domain and couldn’t be happier.

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Google Analytics

Google Analytics for my tracking
www.google.com/analytics
Cost: Free

It’s crucial to know where your website visitors are coming from and how they interact with your site. Professional analytics used to be crazy expensive but with Google it’s all free. Get this setup on your new site right away.

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WordPress

WordPress for my blog
www.wordpress.org
Cost: Free

Getting the word out about your new site is by far the hardest thing so having a blog is a must. WordPress is pretty much the standard for blogging. There are also lots of great themes out there you can buy to get you up and running quickly.

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So it’s really not that hard to do things yourself

In the end I’m pretty happy I decided to create my own site and not use FlashDen to sell my products. Admittedly, the difficult thing so far has been making people aware that my site is out there. That’s always the tough part but the site has been growing steadily. I encourage anyone considering making their own site selling digital goods to just go for it. It’s easy to start things on your own and there is no reason you have to take the established route these days. Ultimately it’s better for me if everyone created their own independent template selling site – that way people will know they can look elsewhere besides FlashDen. I think it’s good that consumers have choices. Hopefully using the above tips others will follow in my footsteps.

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