My Top 13 Design Tools - Web and Graphic Design

I tend to be a bit overzealous when it comes to bookmarking anything that might possibly prove useful at some point in the future.  At one point I was scrolling through my "Design Resources" bookmarks and I realized the things I use frequently (every week or so) were buried in the pile.  So I made a new bookmarks folder for "frequent use" and only moved things over as they were used.

Here's the links that made it into that list, by category:


Fonts and Photos


Business & Management

With the one exception of Shutterstock, all of these resources are free (although I also pay for the business version of Dropbox, but that's only necessary if you're uploading a TON of files).  And that's one thing I love about web design - there's such a feeling of collaboration.  Very intelligent people build things and offer them for free, or ask only for voluntary donations (I donate to this image gallery's creator because it's my go-to and it's so beautifully simple) and the answer to most of your website problems is just a google search away.

So in that spirit of collaboration I'm sharing these tools today, hoping that someone will find them to be as useful as I have.

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Blogger Tricks

Turning Down a Client - for Service Based Businesses

In the world of small business, it can seem almost criminal to send away a potential customer.  And it can be all too tempting to accept work, any work, based on your financial needs rather than the work itself.  But there are times when it's better for everyone when you don't.

5 Reasons to Turn Clients Away

1. Different Financial Needs

Setting prices is a daunting task in its own right, but how to handle customers that complain or haggle?  It depends.  If your price structure is flexible or you can cut costs in exchange for limiting services, you might be able to make it work.  But in a lot of these cases, attempting to work for an amount that won't adequately cover your time and expenses will only foster resentment, which isn't a healthy working environment.

2. They Require Services Outside Your Skill Set

I am all for learning on the job!  But it's important to know your limits.  I've divided these into 3 categories, each of which I approach a little differently:
  • Overlapping Services: Overlapping services are the ones you've already touched on lightly, but don't have extensive knowledge of.  Generally it's not a huge stretch to pick these up on the go and any additional time spent outside of your cost compensation is at least spent acquiring valuable knowledge.
  • Bordering Services: These services are just outside what you offer, and usually strongly related.  Without being able to guarantee the end product, it's probably best to have a frank discussion with your client about different potential outcomes and risks (if any), and maybe even offer it at a discounted rate to cover your learning curve.  This is often a gamble, but frequently a profitable one.
  • Distantly Related Services: On the (hopefully rare) occasion that you do find that a bordering service is actually too far out of reach to pick up easily, it's best to stop offering it, rather than providing a subpar service.  You might decide to pick up the knowledge more formally, with a class, or you might decide it's not advantageous enough to your business to spend the time on it.

3. Incompatible Personalities

A great deal of customer service is focused on making (and keeping) clients happy.  But even if you subscribe to a "the customer is always right" philosophy, personalities don't always mesh.  In the case of a large company or corporation, customer/employee disputes can be handled by shifting the discussion to a different employee or manager.  But in a small company or sole proprietorship, you don't have that luxury.  If a customer constantly has your teeth on edge, or you notice that your efforts never seem to make them happy, it might simply be best for them to seek out a personality that meshes with their own.

4. Payment Issues

Some customers will take longer to pay than others and, often, the bigger companies with payment departments are among those who take the longest.  While it's often difficult, especially for the confrontation-avoiders among us, it's important to follow up and, at a certain point, cease tendering service until payment has been made.

5. Business Model Changes

Oftentimes a jump to bigger clients is a great sign for your business.  As your competence increases, your client base expands, and you're able to charge more for your services.  Unfortunately, this also means that your initial clients aren't necessarily able to keep up, especially if you began as a solopreneur, or started up in your own home.  While it may be hard to part ways with those clients who helped you get to where you are now, it's also necessary if your business is going to continue to grow and they can't afford, or don't need, the full cost and range of the services you now offer.

Obviously, in all of these scenarios, you want to let your clients go as gently as possible.  No sense burning bridges!  My approach is typically something like:
  1. "I regret that I'm not able to be flexible with my prices, but they're set based on my time and skill level and to accept less I'd have to be willing to reduce quality, which is not something I can do."
  2. "I no longer offer that service but I know someone who does..." (a referral is always better than just turning someone away)
  3. I've been really lucky here and haven't had to break with a client over personality issues, but my suggestion would be, "Things have gotten really hectic lately and I'm worried that I [haven't been/won't be] able to perform to your or my satisfaction.  Let me refer you to..."
  4. "I'd be happy to work on this project - I'm just waiting on payment for [last project]."
  5. "Just so you know, my prices have gone up a bit..."

In all of these cases, it's important to weigh the value of these customers against the time spent managing their projects.  And, whenever possible, keep the focus on revenue-generating activities!

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Artist Website - Client Design Process

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I am very excited to share this website with you!  Dianna Zions is a local artist and does some absolutely gorgeous things with antiques, cameos, and shadowboxes.  Being lucky enough to know her personally, I had a head start with the project.  For example: the color scheme was never anything but red, black and cream.

1. Design Options

Contrary to my typical approach, I was hesitant to make a logo, because I know Deanna has business cards, and a couple other branding pieces that I wouldn't get to redo that have her name with different fonts and styles.  So while I wanted to use fun, artsy fonts, I didn't want anything that would obviously be a mismatch if, say, a different script font were used elsewhere.

In the design samples, I tried to provide some variety.  This first one is a pretty typical webpage; the homepage would have stayed fairly empty, and each link would open to that new page.

The 2nd mockup was more streamlined for mobile.  That screenshot is the top section, but each link scrolls the viewer down to the next panel, with alternating colors to break up the sections.

The 3rd was the simplest, and more closely mimicked her old site.

2. The Process

Another benefit to being well-acquainted with my client was our ability to meet in person and work closely together.  Deanna wanted to use the 2nd design, but we looked through my image files together and she picked out a new background pattern, and stock images for the icons and textures.  We might have gone a little crazy on Shutterstock that day, but the end result was something that truly mimicked the feel of the art that she creates.

The design is simple enough to work across all devices without any extra css to make it adapt for mobile and it keeps the focus on the artwork and the artist, rather than trying to impress the viewer with fades and transitions.  One thing I love about this project is that it manages to be very simple, while having a more ornate feel to it.

If you want to check out Deanna's art, or see the site in action, feel free to visit her at

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NCCCC Business Women's Expo 2015 - My Thoughts

Last month I attended the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce Business Women's Expo (every time I have to type this I think "what a mouthful!").  I'd attended before, but only as the employee of a vendor, so I hadn't gotten to attend workshops.

My overall thoughts on the event?  Kinda neutral.

I'll start with the good.  The workshops were awesome!  Mostly.

They were all based on TED talks, which was an interesting way to go but ensured that the topics were interesting.  The first went into depth on a topic mentioned in Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: success vs likability (also in her TED talk, obviously).  Sandberg discusses how we subconsciously devalue successful women and the workshop described how to recognize some of those subconscious feelings and overcome them.  Fantastic workshop and excellent timing for me since I've been thinking and talking about this topic lately, anyway.

The 2nd workshop was also interesting - the speaker went into power postures and some of the science behind it.  I was amazed that not only does our hormonal balance change simply by standing or sitting differently, but it's a significant percentage change!  Huge, huge physical changes from standing for just 2 minutes in what the workshop called "victory pose."  Some of it is intuitive (looking confident will make you feel confident), but I really recommend watching the TED talk for this.

The 3rd workshop was kind of interesting - it was about finding your passion and figuring out what type of work motivates you (research, social/compassion, money, etc).  Buuuut... by the end it was really starting to feel like a thinly veiled sales pitch ("Hey, look at how passionate I am about my business, which is to help you.  Buy our stuff!")

Also good: the food.  Our luncheon was very tasty.  And the people I sat next to happened to be very nice and might be a good resource later for volunteering and/or networking.

Less good: the overall networking.  I met a couple of women at the workshops and I was enjoying their company very much until we introduced ourselves.  Then it immediately turned into, "What's your sales pitch, ok you done?  Here's MY sales pitch."  That's just not how I want to do it.  I'd rather make friends and then if we need each other's services it'll just happen naturally.

I'd been to chamber networking events in the past and it had been the my pitch, your pitch thing, but I thought that was my fault because I had no clue how to network back then.  Blogging has taught me how incredibly easy it is because I wasn't trying to.  I started blogging purely for enjoyment, discovered it's possible to make friends doing it, and then magically that turned into a few different opportunities.

So I thought a return to networking events COULD be a lot more effective (and fun!) by utilizing that principle.  But obviously that's not how everyone sees it and that's an obstacle I'm not sure how to overcome.

I was invited to attend more chamber networking events and I'm currently undecided.  Like the Business Women's Expo, I'm sure there's something to be learned at each one, but I'm not sure if it's really worth the investment of time or the sheer number of email lists I get added to each time I hand out a business card.

I think part of the problem is that a LOT of the entrepreneurs at the chamber sell business services (myself included).  So basically we're all in there trying to sell the same stuff to each other.  As much as I like the idea of it all, I think there might be more value in discovering new markets, rather than trying to compete in such a heavily saturated one.

And I do still want to make friends with other entrepreneurs, just for the sake of having people to sympathize with.  But maybe Meetup is a better resource for that.

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Enveste Real Estate Website - Client Design Process

John Matthews had recently taken the plunge into both entrepreneurship AND the real estate market.  After finding himself in possession of several properties, Matthews realized he needed a website for his business, Enveste Real Estate, to entice renters and provide an easy place to get information about his business.

1. Logo

Frequently with web projects, logo design becomes almost an afterthought, which is unfortunate but not terribly surprising.  While I designed a couple different logos to go with each web design option, I knew from the beginning that this was my favorite and Matthews ended up making the same choice.

2. Design Options

Matthews had one website in mind as design inspiration, so I knew he liked the black, grey, and orange color scheme.  But I gave him enough variety to fully explore the possibilities before settling on that look.

3. Caricature

At some point during the process, we decided that it would be fun, and give the site a unique feel to add a caricature of Matthews to the home page.  I stalked him on Facebook, found reference photos, and drew him in Illustrator.

4. The Final Product

This project really evolved as we worked on it, and some little touches that I hadn't planned on - hover transition effects, and discovering the Fotorama image gallery - really came together near the end of the project.  While we've declared the site "finished," things are constantly changing in the housing market and rentals are continually being added or changing availability.

While continued maintenance isn't necessarily the most glamorous part of design, I'm always very grateful for the chance to perform it because it means the site gets the attention it needs to stay up to date, and changes will be made professionally.

As a designer, it's always a little disheartening to go back to a website you designed in the past and see that it's been edited by someone who didn't know what to make of your div structure, or how to use image transparency.  I understand why people do it!  But it's disheartening all the same.

In any case, I'll be continuing to maintain Enveste Real Estate, and I'm supremely grateful for that opportunity!  And also for the chance to hone my illustration skills and give the site that very personal touch!

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