Create the Illusion of Space Using Shadows

At some point in your life as a web designer you’ll have more than likely used a feature that comes with Adobe Photoshop known as ‘Drop Shadow’. Why do we use this? The answer is simple. As web designers our job is to inject an element of 3D space on a flat screen. At times this can be quite challenging depending on the theme of the website. If your new to Photoshop and have not yet seen the layer styles palette, then it’s worth checking out.

To begin exploring the features of the Layer Styles ‘Drop Shadow’, you’ll need fire up Photoshop, create a new file and unlock the base layer. Once you’ve done this, draw a new shape using the shape tool, double click directly on to the new layer to open up the ‘Layer Styles Palette’ and navigate down to ‘Drop Shadow’.

Tip: An alternative method to activate the ‘Drop Shadow’ is to to navigate to the bottom of the layers tab and look for the ‘FX’ icon, simply click this and you will reveal a drop down menu displaying a range of layer styles, click ‘Drop Shadow’.

So what can we achieve with this style of style?

Usually with each drop shadow effect (using layer styles) we can apply 1 directional light source. Although this is can be limiting in terms of the range of shadow possibilities it’s usually my first port of call for putting a nice bit of consistent lighting on all of elements within my websites.

I would suggest when experimenting with this feature, and all Photoshop layer style features for that matter, you don’t use default settings. Default layer styles look terrible, the settings are there to clearly show you a drastic look of the style so you can begin to tweak the effect, track your progress and nurse the style to suit your situation. Customise customise and customise!

One way to customise is with the ‘new’ shadow effects. I think these are really cool, quite clever and work really well. Believe it or not they are also extremely simple to create.

Using a variety of shapes with block colour fills and the ‘Gaussian blur’ Photoshop filter we are now able to create dynamic shadows that really add an element of 3D to websites. As long as you observe the light sources and keep it consistent you can make a website look really great using this method.

As a web designer you can also combine the shadow effects to create dramatic lighting effects. Not always realistic but it’s good fun! Enjoy, Experiment and Share!

Tips For Website And Graphic Designers!

You need to know the tactics of marketing online, if you are a freelance website designer or a graphic designer. If you are working for yourself, or you have a small business of your own, then market yourself on the social networking sites by yourself. It would be really easy for you to market yourself on a medium, which is extremely easy and fun doing.

Why choosing social media sites:

Reason No 1: Population

The part of the world population which lives above the poverty line can be found easily on these networking sites. That means you can find millions of your target audience in your direct links through social networking sites. For example, there are five hundred million active users of facebook currently.

Reason 2: Daily Interaction

All these social networking sites allow you to interact directly with the customers. More than half the population on these sites, log in daily to check. Well this is a big number. 2: 50 active users, according to facebook research, log on to their facebook accounts daily.

Reason 3: Interlinking

The interlinking between the users would allow you to reach a big amount of indirect audience as well. For example, if you share anything with your direct audience or friends on facebook, and they comment on it, it will be visible in front of the friends of your friend as well. This way the circle of share goes on increasing.

Following are some tips of marketing for the freelance website designers and graphic designers through FaceBook alone.

Tip No. 1: Creativity In Your Ads

Facebook has introduced its own platform for advertising. The best thing about advertising on facebook is that it’s targeted and it’s cheaper than the conventional one. If you buy space in the local newspaper or magazine, you might not reap the same profits, which facebook can yield you. Now the phase of mass- advertising has come to an end. However, the phase of de-mass-ification has emerged in the world market. Therefore, you need to target only the specific people only. For that there is no better place than facebook, since it gives the opportunity to set the target through location, status, profile information and more.

In addition to this, ads are more clicked, if they click the minds of people. If these ads are creative enough, they would tend the users to click the ads. Therefore, if you are a website designer or a graphic designer, create an attractive profile of yours with information about yourself and have your page clicked through a fan page.

Tip No. 2: Importance Of A Fan Page

A fan page helps you boost your business. Your profile is enough to cater your friends and family, but for your business you need a fan page. Facebook fan page allows you to use FBML customization on tabs. So, you can now design the tabs according to yourself now. You can apply all your designing skills here. You can even make welcome tab for your visitors. Keep the page updated so that visitors may not get bored.

Tip No. 3: Quality Content

You content decides the quality of your page. If you have the content static on your fan page, your visitors might get bored and they will stop visiting or referring your page. Keep the visitors updated on all issues like what are the projects that you are currently working on.

Keep the tips in mind and take your career to the level that you have always wished for!

8 Free Tools to Make Designing a Website Easier

Web design is constantly evolving, and the tools that are available to designers are also constantly being improved. While the sheer amount can become somewhat overwhelming at times, here is a list of tools, resources and useful bits of info that can save you time, money and hair loss while designing your next site!

Firebug

I personally couldn’t imagine working without Firebug now, this is literally the best free tool for any web designer. The full capabilities of Firebug are too many to list in this article but in essence it allows you to make live changes to any web page, allowing you to see the difference immediately. I use it when I have the majority of a theme or site coded up to tweak the positions, colours and sizes of elements to perfection.

jQuery UI

jQuery UI is a library of open source interactions, widgets and animation effects that all run off of jQuery. This is an invaluable resource for designers that could literally save hours – next time you need a date picker for a form or nifty autocomplete field, this is the place to visit first.

W3C Validator

This is essential for all web designers – use it to ensure that your code is valid and not likely to cause any major issues. With web development becoming increasingly more advanced and complicated adhering to standards is more important than ever.

Clean CSS

This is a really handy little tool for reorganising and compressing your css to make it cleaner and more efficient. You need to feed it decent, valid code but then it can compress amazingly.

Web Developer toolbar for Firefox

Rather like the Firebug extension, I can’t explain the full usefulness of this tool in the scope of this article. It’s incredibly useful for debugging by switching off certain elements or languages like Javascript or CSS.

IE Netrender

There are lots of browser testing tools – including the awesome browser shots. But more often than not its IE thats causing the issues. This is the fastest tool for checking the difference between IE versions and I thought it deserved a shout out.

XHTML Character Entity Reference

The amount of times I had simply Googled the answer for HTML entitites before I found this – all entities are listed and easily sorted, making life a little easier.

Flickr

Quite why people don’t use Create Commons, commercially licensed images as much as they could is beyond me. The prices of stock images can be ridiculous when there are millions of awesome images on Flickr that can be used for free (just don’t forget to leave a link back somewhere on your site. Visit http://coursehub.ie/ for more tips.

How to Create an Awesome Contact Form with On-the-Fly jQuery Validation

NB: You’ll need PHP4 or higher enabled to use this contact form. You can upgrade your version of php through your .htaccess file.

This is a very lightweight and easily customisable contact form, which uses jQuery to validate the required form fields in real time. No need for clunky contact processes, which navigate the user away from the page they are using to tell them that they failed at completing the form. Now you can tell them that on the same page! And it even works in IE6!

A star is born

So here is a simple contact form that I designed and coded up earlier. I’m now going to show you each step of hooking this bad boy up into a fully functioning jQuery contact form. As I said, this form (like most) is pretty easy to add to and modify, but for the sake of this tutorial, we are going to use four fields, three of which will be required and are marked *.

Now for some code

If you check out the example source code below, you’ll probably notice a couple of things:

1.    Form fields are wrapped in div tags
2.    Required fields have a class of “required” (“required email” for the email field)
3.    Form action is

All three are necessary for the dynamic validation to work properly. If you usually style your forms using classes on the fields then you’ll have to use either ids or cascading styles using the form id.

[CODE FOR FORM HERE]

Next, there are a couple of include files which will need to be included in your contact.php file. They are:

1.    cont_process.php
2.    form_mess.php

The first of these two files handles the validation of the form fields and the sending of the email (should all fields be valid). The second file handles the output of the sent message, which is triggered when the completed form is submitted.

The form_mess.php file needs to be placed wherever you want your ‘Message Sent’ feedback to appear. This is usually just above the form itself but this may vary depending on your design. The cont_process.php file needs to be placed inside your document head.

cont_process.php

This file handles all the variables from the form and creates an array, which it then uses to generate an email. It is executed once the form is submitted.

Non-required fields:

$message = trim($_POST[‘message’]);
Required fields:
if(trim($_POST[‘name’]) == ”) {
$hasError = true;
}
else {
$name = trim($_POST[‘name’]);
}

The only difference at this relatively basic level of customisation, is the email field, which requires a second level of validation, to check that not only the field contains data but also that is meets the criteria of a ‘valid email address’.

if(trim($_POST[’email’]) == ”)  {
$hasError = true;
}
else if (!eregi(“^[A-Z0-9._%-]+@[A-Z0-9._%-]+.[A-Z]{2,4}$”, trim($_POST[’email’]))) {
$hasError = true;
}
else {
$email = trim($_POST[’email’]);
}

You can also play around with the section of code at the bottom of this file too, which handles the generation and format of the email to be sent. Additional emails can be added to the form recipients, separated by a comma.

if(!isset($hasError)) {
$emailTo = ‘joebloggs@gmail.com’, ‘joebloggsmum@gmail.com’;
$body = “Website Enquiry nnName: $name nnSubject: $subject nnEmail: $email nnMessage: $message”;
$headers = ‘From: Your Site <‘.$emailTo.’>’ . “rn” . ‘Reply-To: ‘ . $email;
mail($emailTo, $subject, $body, $headers);
$emailSent = true;
}

Tip: I recommend putting these two files into an ‘includes folder’, just to keep the site root tidy! Up to you though of course… but remember to change your URLs accordingly.

form_mess.php

This php include will output one of two messages depending on whether all required fields have been filled out or not. Very easy to edit as you see fit!

Are we there yet?

So that’s pretty much it! If you’re experiened in web design, you can obviously go to town a bit and jazz up the CSS and add new fields into the form should you wish to. All in all, it’s a great little contact form and is really easy to modify. Much better than clunky contact processes that navigate you away from the page you’re on just to tell you that you failed.

Yes, there are some downsides such as captcha integration but this could be done relatively easily. I’ve just left it out of this example for simplicity. Feel free to download the source files and have a play around. Thanks for reading.

About the Author: Jay Pick is a Web Designer at Creare; a Web Design company who also specialise in SEO, internet marketing, e-commerce solutions and web video.

5 Things You Can Do to Improve the Quality of Your Blog Posts

Starting a blog can be a lot of hard work. Before you begin, you have to spend time coming up with a topic for your blog and writing its content. In order to get readers, you have to make sure your content is something worth reading and on a topic that your readers will enjoy. Here are five things you can do to improve the quality of your blog posts.

Add an Image

Adding an image  to your blog post is a great way to improve the quality. Many people enjoy viewing pictures along with the articles they are reading. By adding a picture, you can add more to your content because the picture can help tell its story. You can purchase your images online or find free images. Just be sure to follow the license requirements for the image to avoid legal issues or fines.

Write Regularly

For most individuals, you have to practice a skill in order to get better at it. In order to improve the quality of your blog posts, you have to keep writing on a regular basis. You should post new content to your blog daily if possible. In fact, many new bloggers are often amazed at how much their writing skills improve from when they started their blogs. Remember practice makes perfect.

Use a Dictionary

The dictionary is an excellent resource to have as a writer. You should keep a dictionary handy when you are writing your blog posts. When you find yourself using the same word over and over again in your writing, open your dictionary and use a similar or related word instead. This is a good way to grow your own vocabulary as well.

Use Important Facts

In order to add more quality to your blog posts, you first should do your research and use facts from well-known sources only. For example, if your content is about high blood pressure, you should included facts regarding the statistics and causes from some well-known health websites such as the Mayo Clinic or the American Heart Association. Not only will your blog post have more quality, it will also be more trustworthy.

Provide Screenshots

Similar to pictures, using screenshots as part of your blog post can be an improvement as well. Many people are visual learner so screenshots would be an added benefit. You can write your content on how to a certain task and provide step by step screenshots to get your point across more easily to your readers.

Dreamweaver MX

Dreamweaver has come a long way in properly rendering CSS; it’s far outpaced GoLive. This being said though; it is still far behind what modern internet browsers can do and thus is lacking in CSS rendering.

This program can be confusing to use as it calls CSS boxes ‘layers’; the same term used for layers in a graphic program or flash maker. Everything is counted as being part of the same layer unless you give it a different index code. In the program GoLive; it is much simpler to understand as the boxes are called floating boxes with numbers attached to indicate which box they are. In short; calling them layers makes it harder to understand and creates unneeded confusion.

Dreamweaver does have some upsides. Dreamweaver is able to fully render left floated columns in their correct positions even when they are side by side. Dreamweaver is also able to display them with the right dimensions. Even when boxes were positioned absolutely; Dreamweaver was able to place them in the right areas of the page according to the CSS code. A downside however is that it cannot display layered graphics pages like GoLive can. You will be unable to preview these pages in Dreamweaver.

Dreamweaver also seems to have an issue with easily coded pages as well. Even pages with just simple text and links can cause Dreamweaver to fail. This will leave you with no way to edit the pages you have just spent hours creating. It also prompts you to save as soon as you open your files; leaving you to wonder if the program itself is changing your code.

Another upside is that Dreamweaver now comes with some add-ons that help you to design and layout out your web pages easier. It is best not to use this add-on to create anything complicated however.

In short; both the Dreamweaver and GoLive products by Macromedia and Adobe fail to deliver a product worthy of buying. Neither is able to keep up with the browser advancements that have been made in recent years and they both fail quite frequently when trying to edit your code. As well; neither of them have a great previewing engine.

These products might be ok for the average user depending upon what they are looking for in a CSS editor; but for an actual website designer; these programs are not worth their cost and fail to deliver a quality product. Visit http://www.wbutekta.org/ for more tips.

An Outline of XHTML

The xHTML is an upgraded version of the HTML. With the HTML the features did not work uniformly in all browsers and this resulted to the developers undertaking all kinds of measures to overcome this. For instance, they tried to disentangle the primary structure of the page from its content. The latest model of the HTML is the 4.01 version which is available in three options which are namely the Frameset, Strict and the Transitional.

The xHTML is an advancement of HTML that has extensible features.

The benefits

The xHTML assists the user by providing clarity, affixing ones mark up, enhancing coding speeds.  Genuine xHTML assures that all pages one creates will be efficient and will integrate well with the browsers both now and in the years to come.

The HTML has evolved progressively and is still growing. The x in xHTML refers to extensibility and guarantees long life than HTML.

Moving from HTML to xHTML

Moving from HTML 4.01 version to the xHTML 1.0 version is very simple and fast. One can do it manually or with the assistance of the “locate and substitute” BBEDit’s.

The initial step is to substitute DOCTYPE HTML 4.01 with its equivalent xHTML 1.0.

Note that the 4.01 version does not care about the composition of the small and big alphabetical letters. While on the other hand, the xHTML works solely with the lower case letters.

The xHTML 1.0 is a clear and orderly system that erases unnecessary labels and this controls space use.

Some illustrations of HTML components that are open to HTML include; The <img>, the <link> and the <meta>. Similar to the <br />, it is possible to delete them in XHTML using a forward cut and space.

Other examples include the <img src=”../pictures/logo.gif” alt=”firm Logo” breadth=”252″ depth=”125″ boundary=”0″ straighten=”beneath” />

With XHTML all the features are placed within the quotes.  For instance, breadth=300, depth = 150, would be displayed as breadth= “ 300” and depth = “ 150”. This is also the case when it comes to letters. They must be quoted as well.

It is an ideal moment to initiate the usage of xHTML. By constantly checking it to ensure that it is within expectations does not imply that one should not go over the pages in the majority of browsers to check for foul play.

The benefits that come along with converting from HTML 4.0 to XHTML 1.0 are definitely worth it and the process is very easy and quick that one simply has no excuse of sticking around with the old version. It is great to move with the times as upgrades always have something new to offer the both the existing and prospective users. Visit http://www.kawarthaheritage.org/ for more tips.

Tips on Selecting a Good Web Design Company

There are a lot of web design companies in the world that can be one of your chosen companies to work with. This is because they usually operate online and choosing an Indian or European company is not something special in this business.

As there are more and more people needing web design services, there are also more and more web design companies you can choose from when you need them. In this article you will find the best tips on selecting a good web design company.

Many times people need to choose between web designers that work alone and full web designing teams that work for a company. If you are in this situation you should know that there are advantages and disadvantages of every method. You can go for the single web designer for the lower price. On the other hand, if you want something great in terms of web design you should definitely opt for the web design company.

The experience and technical skills are important and this is why selecting a company in this domain is a more appropriate alternative especially if you need a professional looking website. Once you opt for a company, you should take a look at their website. If you like it, you should research furthermore.

If not, you should move on because if their website is not something you like, chances are you will not like their work on your website. Also, you should check their portfolio and see if the websites in there still exist.

There are a lot of services you need once you have your website ready. SEO, web hosting and other services are needed by almost every website. This is why you should go for the same company to do all these services. Otherwise, chances are you will pay more from your own pocket as you will not get any discounts.

The customer services and the price should also be important criteria when choosing your webs design company. This is because you need to know what to expect from them before you sign the contract. You can do that by talking with a customer representative and noticing his attitude towards you. Also, the pricing is important because you want to get the most from your money.

Therefore, doing a little research is a very good idea because the high competition on the web design market drives the price down and you should profit from this situation. Even if you will pay more for a well established company when it comes to web design, in the future you will be repaid with great reviews and a great retain rate from your visitors. Visit http://www.hope-care.org/ for more tips.

The Essence of the Learning Perl

Perl has its foundation based on UNIX. Perl is considered more complex as compared to JavaScript or PHP; however, it is the ideal measure for CGI writing on the internet. One can access numerous Perl’s for free by simply downloading them from the internet. The free Perl’s are simple to launch and use. Perl’s can be adjusted to suit ones needs.

Knowing more about Perl is important and needs to be taken very seriously. It is advisable for one to consistently and patiently learn about it. One needs to go about it systematically since any attempt to jump the gun will lead to the user getting totally confused. Unlike the JavaScript and PHP which are presented in simple English, the Perl script is presented in different and diverse languages that include Arabic. What gives Perl its distinction is that it is complex to peruse and this makes the writers work from the basics to more complex details. The writers provide tests to gauge the readers’ grasp of the subject. The self assessment tests allow the reader to be able to identify their areas of weakness and polish them up before they can move to the next chapter. That is a great advantage to the reader who is able to learn Perl step by step without necessarily having to rush just completes it.

Similar to the PHP and the JavaScript, the Perl is applicable for the user who is working on some information that is located in other books and forms like password validation and the guest book. The user can easily down load this information and use it conveniently with the Perl.

The consistent expression makes the Perl the preferred language of choice due to the amount of power and strength that comes along with it. These expressions make it possible to substitute easy and hard patterns in a context. The manuscript contains consistent expressions which have a handful of easy examples that will aid the user to systematically do so. Very complex patterns can easily be simplified and very simple patterns can be made complex to suit the users’ requirements at the time.

Perl is a teaching manual that will enable the user to go through the initial stages of its writing unlike the Java script which is entirely a language referral. The funny thing about it is that it has the least volume in comparison to the JavaScript and the PHP. In spite of this it is well a claimed for its detail and portability which makes it a favorite to many.  The Perl has condensed its information to suit the lazy reader who would be uncomfortable reading a lot of data and information. The learning Perl is highly recommended. Visit http://www.evi-anunturi.net/ for more tips.

Microsoft Fuse Labs

The Microsoft Fuse Labs or Future Social Experiences Labs is a lab initiative by the company to create a space and a development team that pursues a common goal of developing, designing, and releasing new, futuristic applications and services that target and address the social nature of our everyday lives. FUSE labs aims to create ideas and initiatives that help people to connect and collaborate with what matters to the, be it people, information or ideas.

Some projects under FUSE are-

  • Montage
  • Docs for Facebook
  • Team Crossword
  • Project Emporia
  • Spindex
  • Kodu
  • Bing Twitter

Montage- Montage is your very own visual album of the web that is personal but also shareable at the same time. It gives you the option of designing your own personal Montage around any topic of your choice- for eg movies, sports, music or even robots. You get to add content that pulls information from various sources like RSS feeds, Twitter, Bing News and YouTube. The way Montage helps you to connect with the outer world is that it helps you to visually publish your content outward into the communities that you like and care for. Not only are you reaching out to people, but having fun along the way as well since you get the opportunity to use your imagination. Montages can be easily shared through Facebook and Twitter.

Docs for Facebook- Docs for Facebook is a sort of document service for the Facebook environment. It allows you to create and share Microsoft Office documents with your friends. You have total control whilst creating, editing and collaborating around these docs and also the decision of who you want to share these with lies completely with you. A doc can be started online too and you can take the help of a friend to maintain it or view it before you share it with the world.

Team Crossword- As the name suggests, Team Crossword is an application that allows you to solve crossword puzzles with your friends albeit online. You can start a puzzle and get friends or family to join and help you complete it. The advantage here is that you do not need to be at the same place at the same time, but still be a part of it. This makes the application very interactive and user friendly.

Project Emporia- Project Emporia is an application that scans through the vast world of social network updates and identifies hot stories, plus categorizes them into topics and ranks them too. This is really helpful and time saving as one can just go to topics that interest them and look for those updates rather than going through the whole stream of never ending updates.

Spindex- Spindex has all but one purpose. It helps to streamline information from all your social network pages like Facebook, Twitter and Bing and allows you to access it on one page. Based on your interests it goes out and proactively finds information and literally presents it in front of you. Helps you keep track of trends and hot topics of your social circle and even has something called Evernote that allows you to keep track of things you are trying to remember.

Kodu- With the help of Kodu one can design, build and play new games. The language used in the programming user interface is very simple and entirely based on icons. This language is designed for game development and provides an all out creative environment. This one is a big hit with the children as well as the little child in all adults.

Bing Twitter- Bing Twitter enables you to search through the vast information available on Twitter to find out what people are saying about topics that really are of your interest. Just enter the keyword of what topic you are looking for and you will get a list of the latest tweets that people have made on that. It saves time and is simple. Keep way of sorting out through the riff-raff and actually getting through to what you want.

Other than these projects there are also Bing Twitter Maps and Social Gadgets, the former allows one to see tweets in the context of a map and the latter visualizes real-time Twitter data that can be embedded onto a site or a blog.