How Web Designers Benefit from Open Source

Part of being a successful web designer is having the right tools (and the requisite knowledge) to get the job done. Fortunately, those of us who work in this industry have an incredible amount of resources available. Here’s the kicker: many of them free.

Okay, perhaps that last bit of information isn’t new to you. But, to those who work in other fields, it may just be astonishing.

Free tools and even educational materials are not something that, say, a mechanic would have access to. Nor would a plumber or a pilot. Yet, web designers take advantage of these perks every single day. Not only that, we also benefit from a large community that is centered around comradery and the sharing of knowledge.

And perhaps the biggest, most influential contributor of all is the open source software community. As such, let’s take a look at why open source means so much to those of us who work on the web.

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A Fast Start (On the Cheap)

In just about any service-related industry, there are certain costs required to get started on a project – the “materials”, if you will. A restaurant can’t sell you food without first having it readily available in their kitchen. A carpenter can’t build you a shelf without first having a supply of wood. So, what about web designers?

Well, this is somewhat tricky. Yes, a designer could conceivably build every component of a site from scratch. This is easy enough to do for a simple, static website.

But anything more than that is going to require a massive effort. Do you, for example, want to build your own database language? What about starting from ground zero on a full-featured CMS? Or, would you rather develop your own intricate JavaScript library?

Odds are that one or more of the above needs would benefit from some premade software. In other industries, relying on apps built by others could cost a …

Edit photos easily with this all-in-one solution

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7 Spring Cleaning Essentials for Web Designers

It’s the first day of Spring! As you look to clean up other parts of your life (e.g. your home, your refrigerator, your yard) make the cleanup of your web design business a priority as well.

If you’re anything like me, you set aside time later in the week or month, promising yourself that you’ll finally take care of “business stuff”. And if you’re also like me, you often have to postpone those business maintenance tasks because new paid work opportunities come in. (Or you’re just exhausted and want a break from looking at your screen.)

But there’s no time like the present, so if you can spare it, give yourself at least one day off from work to tackle this spring cleaning checklist. Not only will it give you time to zero in on the areas that often go neglected in your business, but you’ll come out of it feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.

1. Clean Your Workspace

There are some people that thrive in organized chaos. However, if your workspace is piled high with stuff you don’t need, stuff that distracts you, or stuff that’s literally getting in your way as you try to work on your computer, you need to clean your physical workspace.

When you’re done, think about doing something new for your workspace, something that makes you feel excited about sitting down to work. A new piece of artwork over your desk? A book about web design you’ve been meaning to read? A postcard from a client thanking you for a job well done? Then, put it somewhere that you’ll see it every day.

This is what I’ve done with my own workspace:

2. Declutter the Desktop

It doesn’t matter how many folders you put on your desktop to keep things organized. Image files, templates, PDFs, workflow documentation — these loose documents and folders sitting on your desktop are a distraction. Worse, if you don’t move them off of it, you’re putting your business at risk for data loss (if you’re …

Get started with editorial design

Editorial design can be a daunting task for someone who isn’t used to formatting large amounts of text. The skills you'll need are different to those of other types of graphic design – organisation and planning are key. However, if you're keen to add another skill to your design portfolio, editorial design could be a great place to start. 

In this article, I'll share some editorial design tips to make sure your life doesn’t suck while designing editorial layouts in InDesign CC. If you want to take things further, check out our guide to brochure design and our article that teaches you how to design a book cover

01. Get organised first

Book pages layout in InDesign

InDesign is set up specifically for editorial design

First things first: you need to have all the content organised and finalised before starting to work on the design of your book. Working with content that is still developing will only lead to an inconsistent product and plenty of headaches along the way.

Keep chapters separate and use InDesign’s book feature to link them all together. Never, ever, try to work with one long InDesign document for multiple chapters in a book. It will make your life a living hell.

02. Set up master pages

Set up your Master pages before doing anything else. Your Master pages will include any design elements that will carry through the whole layout, such as folios and automatic page numbering.

Use separate Master pages for different editorial layouts within your document. For example, if you have a sidebar column, set up a master for that type of layout. If you have a layout for the beginning of a chapter, set up a master for that. If you have an Appendix with no formatting, set up a blank master for that… you can see what I’m getting at.

You can use as many Master layouts as you need. This will be a huge time saver in the end.

03. Establish a visual hierarchy

Make sure you establish a …

10 Tools for Improving Website Accessibility

There’s no doubt that you understand the need for your website to be accessible for as many users as possible. But reading through all of the guidelines and standards can be a little overwhelming. You can find the latest W3C recommendations here, but do you need to know every word, and follow every guideline?

Today, we’re going to try to make it all a little bit easier with some tools and resources to help you improve website accessibility (and maybe even some checks to consider that weren’t on your radar!).

Whether you’re looking to ensure you have enough visual contrast, a site that’s accessible to screen readers, or even create accessible emails, we’ve got you covered!

1. Color Safe

website accessibility

Color Safe helps you check (and even create) accessible color palettes based on WCAG Guidelines for text and background color contrast. The tool and standards use a ratio-based formula to determine color combinations that can be read by all.

WCAG Guidelines recommend a contrast ratio of 4.5 for small (body) text and 3 for large text (anything over 24 points).

Just enter your colors – based on HEX code – font choice and size and generate a palette. You get an immediate ratio to check against and can see other similar colors. Check through to see if something similar might be a better option based on your typeface and size.

2. NoCoffee

website accessibility

NoCoffee is a Google Chrome browser extension that helps you visualize your design in the same way someone who is vision-impaired might see it. (Nothing highlights the importance of accessibility like seeing it in this manner.)

It can check for and show the following:

  • Low acuity with small text or click targets
  • Low contrast problems with text and background elements
  • Colorblindness
  • Visual snow, glare, ghosting and cataracts
  • Nystagmus, which is rapid involuntary movement of the eyes
  • Obstructed visual fields

3. Contrast Checker

website accessibility

Contrast Checker allows you to enter background and foreground colors on the screen and get immediate checks against several visual standards with an instant, color-coded pass/fail. …

Chrome Lite Pages

The Chrome team announced a new feature called Lite Pages that can be activated by flipping on the Data Saver option on an Android device:

Chrome on Android’s Data Saver feature helps by automatically optimizing web pages to make them load faster. When users are facing network or data constraints, Data Saver may reduce data use by up to 90% and load pages two times faster, and by making pages load faster, a larger fraction of pages actually finish loading on slow networks. Now, we are securely extending performance improvements beyond HTTP pages to HTTPS pages and providing direct feedback to the developers who want it.

To show users when a page has been optimized, Chrome now shows in the URL bar that a Lite version of the page is being displayed.

All of this is pretty neat but I think the name Lite Pages is a little confusing as it’s in no way related to AMP and Tim Kadlec makes that clear in his notes about the new feature:

Lite pages are also in no way related to AMP. AMP is a framework you have to build your site in to reap any benefit from. Lite pages are optimizations and interventions that get applied to your current site. Google’s servers are still involved, by as a proxy service forwarding the initial request along. Your URL’s aren’t tampered with in any way.

A quick glance at this seems great! We don’t have to give up ownership of our URLs, like with AMP, and we don’t have to develop with a proprietary technology — we can let Chrome be Chrome and do any performance things that it wants to do without turning anything on or off or adding JavaScript.

< !—more—>

But wait! What kind of optimizations does a Lite Page make and how do they affect our sites? So far, it can disable scripts, replace images with placeholders and stop the loading of certain resources, although this is all subject to change in the future, I guess.

The optimizations only take effect …

Using Local with Flywheel

Have you seen Local by Flywheel? It’s a native app for helping set up local WordPress developer environments. I absolutely love it and use it to do all my local WordPress development work. It brings a lovingly designed GUI to highly technical tasks in a way that I think works very well. Plus it just works, which wins all the awards with me. Need to spin up a new site locally? Click a few buttons. Working on your site? All your sites are right there and you can flip them on with the flick of a toggle.

Local by Flywheel is useful no matter where your WordPress production site is hosted. But it really shines when paired with Flywheel itself, which is fabulous WordPress hosting that has all the same graceful combination of power and ease as Local does.

Just recently, we moved over to Local and it couldn’t have been easier.

Running locally.

Setting up a new local site (which you would do even if it’s a long-standing site and you’re just getting it set up on Flywheel) is just a few clicks. That’s one of the most satisfying parts. You know all kinds of complex things are happening behind the scenes, like containers being spun up, proper software being installed, etc, but you don’t have to worry about any of it.

(Local is free, by the way.)

The Cross-platform-ness is nice.

I work on ShopTalk with Dave Rupert, who’s on Windows. Not a problem. Local works on Windows also, so Dave can spin up site in the exact same way I can.

Setting up Flywheel hosting is just as clean and easy as Local is.

If you’ve used Local, you’ll recognize the clean font, colors, and design when using the Flywheel website to get your hosting set up. Just a few clicks and I had that going:

Things that are known to be a pain the butt are painless on Local, like making sure SSL (HTTPS) is active and a CDN is helping with assets.…

Stacked “Borders”

A little while back, I was in the process of adding focus styles to An Event Apart’s web site. Part of that was applying different focus effects in different areas of the design, like white rings in the header and footer and orange rings in the main text. But in one place, I wanted rings that were more obvious—something like stacking two borders on top of each other, in order to create unusual shapes that would catch the eye.

A row of four images, the second of which includes a dashed red border.

I toyed with the idea of nesting elements with borders and some negative margins to pull one border on top of another, or nesting a border inside an outline and then using negative margins to keep from throwing off the layout. But none of that felt satisfying.

It turns out there are a number of tricks to create the effect of stacking one border atop another by combining a border with some other CSS effects, or even without actually requiring the use of any borders at all. Let’s explore, shall we?

Outline and box-shadow

If the thing to be multi-bordered is a rectangle—you know, like pretty much all block elements—then mixing an outline and a spread-out hard box shadow may be just the thing.

Let’s start with the box shadow. You’re probably used to box shadows like this:

.drop-me {
  background: #AEA;
  box-shadow: 10px 12px 0.5rem rgba(0,0,0,0.5);
A turquoise box containing the words div text and a heavy box shadow.

That gets you a blurred shadow below and to the right of the element. Drop shadows, so last millennium! But there’s room, and support, for a fourth length value in box-shadow that defines a spread distance. This increases the size of the shadow’s shape in all directions by the given length, and then it’s blurred. Assuming there’s a blur, that is.

So if we give a box shadow no offset, no blur, and a bit of spread, it will draw itself all around the element, looking like a solid border without actually being a border.

.boxborder-me {
  box-shadow: 0 0 0 5px firebrick;
A red box containing a thick red border.

This box-shadow “border” is being drawn just outside …

26 top free brush fonts

The internet offers a wealth of amazing fonts that won't cost you a penny if you know where to look. They come in all manner of designs, ranging from the retro to the handwritten to name but a few. In this article, we're focusing on brush fonts, which can add a playful, human approach to your designs. Plus, they look great printed.

Here we've scoured the web to find the best examples of free brush fonts to put to good use in your projects. Enjoy!

01. The Cat Has a Hat

The Cat has a Hat font

Dr Seuss books inspired this playful font

Taking the popular stories of Dr Seuss as its jumping off point, The Cat Has a Hat is a fun and playful font created by Lukee Thornhill. Having spent a weekend painting over 1,500 letters, numbers and symbols, Thornhill whittled down these characters and refined them into a polished set.

Even though this font packs plenty of humour, Thornhill made sure that it doesn't appear childish. This means that it's suitable for a variety of branding and marketing purposes, with happy downloaders pointing out that it bares an uncanny similarity to the Nando's typography.

02. Mustache

Sample of Mustache font

Mustache is a versatile brush font that works with opentype features

Brush fonts are a great way to give your lettering that handmade touch, and that's exactly what you get with Mustache. Designed by Joel Maker, Mustache includes a full set of uppercase and lowercase letters, plus a large range of punctuation and numerals.

What's more, Mustache comes with plenty of scope when it comes to personalisation. With the help of stylistic alternatives and opentype features, Mustache can be tweaked to look truly individual. Simply download it for free, activate Stylistic Alternatives and adjust to your heart's content.

03. Gallow Tree

Gallows tree alphabet

Leave a spooky message with this horror font

Creator Simon Stratford wanted to capture a sense of horror mixed with grunge in his spooky display typeface, Gallow Tree. And having scratched it out with a Faber Castell brush pen …

Toy Story 4 trailer shows how far 3D animation has come

Hold onto your cowboy hats Toy Story fans, there's a new film in town. That's right, today saw the release of the first proper trailer for Toy Story 4. Over the last few months Disney and Pixar have been building up anticipation by leaking previews, teasers and new characters, but now we've got our first proper glimpse of what to expect.

The trailer, which has already got vloggers posting their reaction videos, promises a story that's cast in the same mould as the previous three films. So this means laughs for all ages, a thrilling plot, and an existential crisis over what it means to be a toy. And if it's anything like Toy Story 3, you might want to bring a tissue to the cinema to dab away those tears.

However we can't help but ask… does the series need a fourth instalment? The original Toy Story trilogy includes some of the best moments to be found in 3D movies, such as the first time Buzz falls with style, to the suspenseful slide towards the incinerator. Where can the franchise go from there?

By the looks of the trailer though, it seems that Toy Story 4 is aware of this because it's all about what happens after you think the story has been told and the surprising directions life can take you in. Bo Peep's back too, so that's cool. Check out the full length trailer below.

For readers who grew up with the original films, the trailer for Toy Story 4 is sure to make you feel nostalgic. After all, it's been 24 years since the first Toy Story film was released. A lot has changed in that time, but it's comforting to see that Woody and Buzz have still got each other's back.

It's also fascinating to see how far 3D animation has come. Pixar was very clever when it chose toys to be the lead characters way back in 1995 because they lent themselves well to the capabilities of the animation software of the time. …