Posted by Peter Otte on February 5, 2014
The Santa Barbara County Psychological Association (SBCPA – www.sbcpa.org) is a client of mine in Santa Barbara. They were having problems with their previous developer and they hired me to, among other things, set up a membership subscription site utilizing Paypal.
WordPress did not turn out to be a good match for them at the time so I opted instead for a membership platform called Wild Apricot. While it has its limitations, Wild Apricot is a very good membership system with individual member accounts, a simple an an advanced membership directory search, a very good accounts section that exports to Quickbooks, and a great overall value when compared to other systems requiring thousands of dollars annually. The monthly expense for using Wild Apricot runs about $25 for under 200 members.
Setting Up the Payment System
One of my tasks was to set up their Paypal account so members could pay online for membership fees, event registrations, and make donations. The model is similar to a subscription-based solution because there are recurring annual fees and different membership classes. From time to time they also host events where they invite a speaker to discuss a current topic of interest. Now they can set up an event on their web site, notify their members, and then enable them to register for the event in advance.
So after customizing their site with new graphics, I set up their Paypal account using the setting Paypal Express Checkout, which has no monthly recurring fees. It’s not rocket science, but it’s important to follow each step carefully so that payments get credited to their account. They already had a Paypal account linked to the organization’s checking account. And they had their 503c status current, which qualifies them for a lower non-profit rate.
The essential steps included entering their existing account information, enabling the API permissions and credentials, and then configuring their Payment settings to work with Paypal Express Checkout. If they had a different payment preference, I would have had to follow a different procedure. For example, they might have asked me to implement Google Wallet instead.
Before, they were waiting for checks to arrive in the mail or in person. Now, when it comes time to renew, members can take care of it themselves and the money gets deposited into their PayPal account. Now most of it is handled online. If they ever outgrow PayPal (the percentages tend to be a bit higher than authorize.net), then they’ll call me and ask me to switch to the new system.
Some of the Drawbacks
But like most hosted solutions, Wild Apricot does not allow you to access the root directory of your account. While you can customize a lot of things through the admin panel, you can only access the theme files in your resources folder, which is a subfolder in your account. So for example you can’t upload an XML sitemap to the root directory and then submit it to the search engines.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes that are coming with release 5.0 of Wild Apricot. You may just want to try the free trial to see if it meets your needs. It’s worth effort.
Posted by Peter Otte on January 10, 2014
Note: This post was updated on January 10, 2014.
Last year the videogame industry faced stark financial realities in light of the shift toward free or low-cost games available for download from Apple’s App Store and Valve’s Steam. Established mid-tier publishers could no longer predict what their revenues would be for a new release and in many cases left developers in the lurch. From the consumer’s perspective it made perfect sense: why should I have to pay $60 for the latest Super Mario game when I can download Cut the Rope or Angry Birds for $4.99 (or less)? So the industry took stock of the situation and started looking into crowdfunding solutions. Enter Kickstarter.
Posted by Peter Otte on January 6, 2014
Note: This post was updated on January 6, 2014.
One of my web design clients wanted my help finding a cheaper web hosting option. Her colleague, also a client, had recommended she try hosting with Network Solutions for a low $2.99 per month. Naturally I told her I would help her.
Digital Housing, their existing provider were very cooperative and the transition process began apace. If you have ever undertaken the switch before, you know that changing from one web hosting company to another is seldom a straightforward and efficient process. It can take hours, even days to reach a live human representative who has been trained to persuade you to change your mind. Digital Housing, on the other hand, handled the issue with aplomb and my client was all set to make the switch to Network Solutions.
Posted by Peter Otte on December 23, 2013
Like any art form, web development takes practice, skill, training, and focus. Wait a minute, you say. I’ve got a team for that and they really know what they’re doing? Don’t kid yourself. Even if you are engaged as a manager or investor, you are still engaged and you need to remain so.
But don’t worry; it’s actually pretty fun if you understand that web development is an iterative process. Like learning to play the piano, it requires repetition, patience, concentration, and a dedication to getting the details right. Practice makes perfect.
Look for ways to break the web project down into manageable chunks that can be completed within a four-month schedule. For me, four months is the magic number. Then work on each chunk one step at a time and move closer to a successful result.
The process can vary. In my work, though, I tend to focus on a few basic steps. The first step I call storyboarding. It’s similar to the concept of wireframing, but because I’m more visual I prefer to use the storyboarding.
In the film business, a storyboard is an illustration that visualizes how a scene should be shot. In web development, it means organizing the User-Interface elements – fields, buttons, descriptive text, and other elements – into common sense layouts. To save time, each layout should contain only the basic design elements so everyone involved can sense the logic.
Each layout should make sense. There should be a flow, preferably one that you can diagram. To understand the logic of a web site it helps to have a master diagram that shows how you get from point A to point B.
To comprehend the logic of a site, you need a diagram that shows a bird-eye view of all the pages. This is usually a site map drawn as a flow chart, or what I call a dynamic site map. Most site maps that you see on web sites are static by nature: they tend to be hierarchical with the home page at the top if you’re reading down or the left if you’re reading right. When planning the web development, it should resemble a flow diagram so you can see how the pages are interconnected.
Building a site map and storyboarding the individual pages go hand in hand. It’s tempting to rush the process and gloss over the important details. Just remember that it’s much easier to spot and correct during this pre-coding phase than later when you are in the thick of it.
Expect revisions. This will be the first time that you can see how the web project is supposed to fit together. Streamline the user experience as much as possible. Ask yourself this: could a child navigate your site? If not, why? Just remember that if they get lost or frustrated, they will abandon your site and it will be very hard to get them back. And check the egos at the door.
Even the web development planning process is iterative and can be perfected. This is a dynamic medium that is always open to a better method.
These completed layouts were used to code the pages and reflected many design revisions.
Screen #1 – Bank Landing Page
Screen #2 – Web Site Estimator App
The actual landing page can be viewed here. The estimator page can be viewed here; you get to it by filling out the contact form on the landing page.
Dynamic Site Map
Posted by Peter Otte on August 13, 2013
Back when I edited Portable Computing magazine, I met often with representatives from the different tech companies to discuss new products. There was one memorable encounter with HP. This was around 1993 and there was a lot of interest at the time in the so-called paperless office: if everything was electronic, couldn’t we cut down on printing? So I asked him what he thought.
“The paperless office is about practical as the paperless toilet,” he replied.
Posted by Peter Otte on July 20, 2013
Professional academic writers often use style guides. These guides help the writer ensure that every paragraph and every page follows the same rules for formatting and for citing information. Following these guidelines allows for all of the information to be unified. These same strategies can be applied to web site design, as well as other design projects. Having a professional style guide created before you begin making changes to a web site, or a print project, ensures that the layout and appearance of the content will be consistent from page to page.
When we begin working on a web design project, the first step is to communicate with the client in order to plan the overall desired look and function of the web site. This may be accomplished using a creative brief. Once the design concept has been approved, the next step is to create a style guide. This is something that we provide as part of all of our web design packages because it is so important to the overall process.
The style guide is created before any coding has begun. This guide is an integral resource for the programmers as well as the clients. First, the programmers use the style guide while they create the coding in order to ensure that the layout is consistent from page to page. Even if a different programmer works on a different area of the site, because the team has a strong style guide, the entire project will still be cohesive, sensible, and coherent.
We also include these style guides for print projects. Whether the print project is one page, or an entire catalog, it is still crucial to have a plan in place. For print projects, the style guide includes information about typography, color, and best practices.
The style guide remains significant even after the project is completed. If requested, we provide a guide in PDF format so it can be shared within your organization. Within this style guide, the client will find simple instructions regarding how to make edits in the future without effecting the unity and consistency of the web site. For example, if you needed to update contact or product information, you could easily do so without having to hire a professional programmer. Thanks to the help of the style guide we provided, you can quickly make these changes while keeping your design looking flawless.
Posted by Peter Otte on June 11, 2013
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.
Let’s face it: as great as WordPress is for building websites, its built-in search tools remind me of how I once felt about my Dad: clueless. I often find myself resorting to Google or Bing searches to find the page I’m looking for rather than using the built-in search engine.
Posted by Peter Otte on June 6, 2013
NEW: Check out our new web site package for community banks! Click here.
At POP, we understand that marketing is certainly not a one-size-fits-all industry. In order to have your ad campaign see the best results possible, you have to work with a marketing agency that is willing to take the time to get to know your special niche in the industry. This idea is especially important when discussing marketing strategies for community banks and credit unions.
Community banks and credit unions require much different marketing approaches than say a global clothing retailer. Their audiences and goals are much different. Community banks and credit unions are essentially small community businesses, and therefore need a marketing campaign that will help them attract local and regional business. In order to increase traffic to their websites, and get more customers through the doors, these organizations need the help of an agency that is willing to investigate their local markets.
Posted by Peter Otte on May 29, 2013
Logo design used to be a well-paid, honorable, even memorable profession. But these days, for about the price of a 16GB memory upgrade, you can get a logo designed for your business. Logos have not become a commodity, because they still play an essential role in any branding campaign. But logo design fees have fallen to commodity pricing. This is good news for businesses, as some designers are willing to charge less than $200 for a “winning” logo. Design contests are largely to blame for the collapse.
The logo design business seems more and more like American Idol, but instead of a platinum record deal the winner walks away with a little grocery money. Expectations are high, but budgets have become absurdly low. Web-based logo-design contests, such as Logo Arena and designcontest.com, invite determined designers early in their design careers to compete in open contests with no guarantee for compensation.
Posted by Peter Otte on May 21, 2013
The short answer is yes, a little. If you think back to ten years ago, you will remember that web sites had interesting animations and other functions that made the pages more fun, useful, and exciting. So, what has happened to make web sites so lackluster and a bit stale?