Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

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During my last job with a large corporation, people started to get laid off. Many fellow creatives came to me, as they had no idea what they would do if they were let go. I had come to that small city from New York and my experience was varied and impressive to those who started their careers with this company. Their parents had hoped for their own children to work there and eventually retire in the same homey place. They were anchored in this town that held no other industries. Like layoffs in a town that has a steel mill, there weren’t many options to those looking for work.

“You’re creative,” I would tell people before my turn came in the next to last round of layoffs (which is some comfort). “You can do so many things that are creative. If you get pushed out the door, make your own projects!” Then advise them where to go and spend the rest of the day creating a book, or painting a series for a gallery show, or create postcards, greeting cards, dolls and websites. This was usually followed by the persons to whom I was speaking to, to ask about something they obviously wanted to explore; leading to a discussion, usually joined by others as well, on how to achieve it. The dividing line is how badly does one want it?

Take The Initiative!

Tailor in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Tailor (A) gives creative (B) a snappy new “power suit”, SO irresistible that the client (C) hugs the suit (D) causing it to hit paddle (E), smashing expensive vase (G) and wasting a perfectly goof head of cabbage (I). Further destruction reigns havoc (K – P), dousing all competitors with a toxic chemical (Q). Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

I’m a big believer in self-propelled initiatives. It’s how I make a living. Writing for Smashing Magazine is an initiative. Everything is done before Smashing ever sees it. Authors have to come up with the idea, research it for presentation, get the approval and then write it and submit it. It’s initiative. As with what you may perceive as easy to pitch an article, most initiatives are simple!

All of my career I’ve had people come to me to relay that they have written a book and need a cover or images for the inside so they can send it to a publisher. I tell them they don’t need all that. Just send in the manuscript with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope (many publishers have digital submissions on their sites) and the publisher will choose cover designers and illustrators themselves.

Some people smile at the realization that their dreams were an easy step closer. Some didn’t believe me and insisted I design something for them (and draw, because I’m an “artsy-type!”). I look over the pages and tell them it’s an idea that shouldn’t be “set aside lightly”. They smile and then I tell them it should be “thrown with great force” (with apologies to Dorothy Parker). Some people want it to be done for them. Maybe it’s the prompting of a contest or a “might-as-well-take-it” project.

Would you rather be working on a low-paying project that is screwing you up at every turn or invest in yourself with the time put towards your dream project? It’s not hard coming up with an idea and creating the images, code or what-have-you. The difficult part is making yourself do it and then selling it and that’s where most people fail.

One of my recent favorite self-initiative stories was about an injured creative with time on his hands and a need for income. Dave is a designer at the Iconfactory and responsible for the ultimate Twitter icon Ollie the Twitterrific bird; he had broke his foot while playing soccer over the Fourth of July. That meant that the poor guy was relegated to staying off his feet at home. Rather than wallow in self-pity, he decided to use the opportunity to keep himself from going completely Rear Window and offer up his design skills to the large Web community — and successfully so!

Self-initiative is not easy for most people. Working for someone else provides a regular paycheck, security, after a fashion, and someone telling you what to do. No self-motivational projects needed. As one person commented on a past article on crowdsourcing,

“I recently participated in the LG “Design the Future” contest (yeah, I didn’t win)… but rarely do I get the chance to design a cell phone like product… it was a great exercise in creativity and it really let me flex my muscle… and they had some substantial cash prices (first prize was $20,000)… I feel like competitions like that are great for the industry. The rules were pretty relaxed and it really let people go hog wild and show off what they can do. Too often you’re forced to roll with the clients vision. It’s great to have a contest that let’s you be you.”

As I was arguing the pros and cons of crowdsourcing in that article, I just had to reply for his edification:

“I understand your point, but let me play devil’s advocate and explore another option. So you submitted something you really enjoyed designing and it stretched your creativity. You loved your final submission. You didn’t win and the client, I assume, owns it anyway. What if you had designed it but not submitted it and then sought out companies that might purchase the rights to the design? You would have taken a cue to create your own initiative and owned the product rights.”

Was the prize worth giving away all rights to the winner? What would the client have paid a design firm or freelancer to do the work? I’m guessing that the prize cost was considerably less than the one that would have run the company. So, who was the real winner? Which avenue held a better chance for him? The odds of him winning the contest and giving up the idea anyway without winning, or the odds of him being able to sell the design on the open market, or  maybe not, but owning it to try again? I can’t say.

Persistence in selling the idea and protecting it can be daunting. Even though, sometimes even an e-mail comes back right away that says, “I love it!”… and a check eventually arrives. (Note: you shouldn’t participate in such speculative design work as a professional in the first place and here is why — Smashing Editorial)

What Will Get You Started?

Tidalwave in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

A tidal wave of ideas or bills (A) will motivate another creative nearby to foolishly open an umbrella (E) in a lame attempt to hold back the flood, causing what looks like a giant earring (H) to fall and pull the hammer (J) so it strikes a piece of metal (K), waking up the baby (L) who must be rocked to sleep (N) by a trained and poorly-paid dog (M), causing the attached backscratcher (O) to tear at your flesh until you decide it’s better to get off your rear and do something. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

Your idea. Your dream. No one will do it for you. Even if you have to work at something non-creative — use the money to live, but make your dream the priority. Crappy job gets in the way of your dream? Find another crappy job! They’re everywhere and except for the slaughterhouse idea, they won’t drain your creativity. Have the idea? Now set your plan. Just like your previous boss who had always made projects go around and around, it’s finally time to make your own plan, knowing it will work better, and make it happen!

First, research who your customer is. Using Web sources or going to stores are the best way to find out some helpful examples of consumer habits (yes, marketing people never leave the office, they rely too much on figures supplied to them). See what people are buying and talk to them. I used to go to stores that carried products made by the company for which I worked for, and watched what people bought or didn’t and asked them why.

I would smile as I approached them, excuse myself and explain what I was working on and gathered their opinions. This is probably why my products sometimes sold very well. Know your consumer base!

Also, figure out costs and how you will cover them. You may need a loan or investors. What website and functionality will you need? Packaging, having stock, shipping, advertising, taxes? Is your dream project for you to start a business or do you want someone else to produce it? If you are producing it yourself, you can get a business loan, but you are about to take many, many risks. Get legal and financial advice next. It’s well worth the money and will give you the final tally of whether or not this will be your dream or nightmare.

If you are creating something to pitch to a company for their purchase or licensing a property (certain photos for calendars and cards, for instance), there are a similar but different set of rules.

Start with the idea and marketing, create a style guide and/or presentation. A friend of mine wanted to publish a graphic novel for a pitch for a property she was trying to sell but couldn’t afford upfront fees for an artist and writer and printer, so I told her to use a WordPress blog to post her promotional material that she already had and that would give her a great presentation — the easy way.

Research which company you think would want to take on the project. Again, go online or to a store and look around. Want to really impress potential clients? Ask the store’s permission to set everything up; take videos of shoppers and their answers. What better way to produce proof of a need and then give clients the means to fulfill it!? Let your imagination run wild! As with the man who was so excited by the contest he entered, stretch yourself creatively.

Found the perfect prospect? Do your research and find the people you need to reach. There are many business networking sites. Search the company and find people and their titles. Get addresses and phone numbers. Call the receptionist and ask her/him who is the head of marketing or if they have an R & D contact person. If they don’t know, ask to speak to the secretary of the VP of marketing. Maybe she/he can get you closer. Also, use your network. Do any of your contacts know someone you are trying to reach?

Sounds difficult? It isn’t really; just keep in mind that it takes a lot of persistence, patience, as well as a good sense of humor. Once you lost one of those, you won’t make it.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement Is Standard

Feeding in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

While feeding yourself (A), the spoon pulls the string (B), flipping a piece of drilled iron into the head of a parrot (E), who is knocked unconscious and knocks it’s beak into a bowl (G) which spills parrot food into a bucket (H) that sets of fireworks (K) inside your house with a razor sharp sickle (L) attached to it, cutting the string (M) and forcing you to remember the paperwork to enforce your rights by smacking you in the face with a contract repeatedly! Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

It’s standard to either have your own Non-Disclosure Agreement or pick up a copy of Tad Crawford’s book on contracts and forms. Bigger companies will insist on using their own. Bigger corporations, to their own detriment, usually have no access point for outside ideas. They are afraid your idea may be something they are working on and they will be sued down the line. Middle-sized companies will just tell you they happen to be working on the same idea. Document your contacts and submissions well.

I was recently told over a dozen product designs would not be used. I later heard the products were available in every catalog world-wide. Did they think my price would go up if I found out how well the work did? You bet it will! Keep your expectations high (expect the middle to low high) when negotiating. A recent question came in from an artist in Mexico who ran across a sleazy representative in the United States who was basically ripping her off for one of her licensed characters. She had jumped at the chance because it was her first time working in a licensing arrangement. I hope she followed my advice.

As with any business transaction… think! Anyone who rushes your decision is up to something. Do your research and see what you find.

Bless The Web And All Who Surf It!

Extended in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Extended and dangerous hook (A) catches old fashion sign (B), causing electrical shorts that start a fire and the boot to swing back, kicking the football (C) over the goal post (D) and into a colander (E) which tips the watering can (G) to soak the creative’s back, pants and shoes, which will lead to misunderstandings and new nicknames. The string (I) pulls open the cage (J) allowing the bird (K) to go to eat the worm (M), as the bird had been starved in retaliation for all the Twitter fails, causing the shade to be pulled down (N), which reminds the creative to mail that proposal in his pocket. Using theiWeb only takes half the steps. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

The Web holds a billion of possibilities. As I mentioned about my friend who built a blog, rather then going through the costs of print, you can hardly lose with a great idea and the ability to bring it to life on the Web. With e-commerce made so easy, how can you not have a site that sells something? At least most of the people I know have a Cafepress or Zazzle “shop”.

When I first started with web design, back in the days when processors ran on mud and sticks… and fire, which was new, I put up sites for my infamous chili recipe, one for each of my kids, a site for toy collectors, and it went on. Why? The Web was young and there were probably only 73 sites live and forty of them were mine!

Use your down time. Partner with friends and split the rewards. Ever hear of a group of social outcasts who got together and created something called “The Onion?” No? I haven’t either, but I do hear good things and that they crawled their way up to be, I believe, the number one humor site in the world. It must have started with an idea and someone’s dream.

(ik) (vf)


© Speider Schneider for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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10 useful new WordPress hacks

Remove comments autolinks

If someone leaves a comment containing a url, the url will be automatically transformed to a link by WordPress. This can be useful, but personally I don’t like to see many links in comments, especially when they’re a bit spammy.
This is why I decided, on the latest CWC theme, to remove comments autolink. Doing so is pretty easy, just paste the following into your functions.php file. Once you saved the file, you’ll notice that autolinks have disappeared.

remove_filter('comment_text', 'make_clickable', 9);

» Source: http://www.wprecipes.com/wordpress-hack-remove-autolinks-in-comments

Automatically notify your users of new posts

If you run a private site using WordPress, then it could be useful to notify your users when a new post is published. The following snippet will get all user emails from your database and will send an email to them automatically when a post is published.
Of course, you shouldn’t use that code on your blog as it does not currently have any unsubscribe option.

function email_members($post_ID)  {
    global $wpdb;
    $usersarray = $wpdb->get_results("SELECT user_email FROM $wpdb->users;");
    $users = implode(",", $usersarray);
    mail($users, "New WordPress recipe online!", 'A new recipe have been published on http://www.catswhocode.com');
    return $post_ID;
}

add_action('publish_post', 'email_members');

Twitter style “time ago” dates

Displaying dates using the “5 days ago” format is becoming very popular on blogs, thanks to Twitter popularity.
I have seen lots of complicated tutorials to use this format on your WordPress blog, however many people don’t know that WordPress has a built-in function to do the same thing:

human_time_diff()

.

Paste the snippet below anywhere within the loop, and it will display your dates using the “time ago” format.

Posted <?php echo human_time_diff(get_the_time('U'), current_time('timestamp')) . ' ago'; ?>

» Source: http://www.phpsnippets.info/display-dates-as-time-ago

Display post thumbnail in your RSS feed

Introduced in WordPress 2.9, the

the_post_thumbnail()

function is very useful to easily add and display a thumbnail attached to a post. Unfortunately, there’s no built-in way to display this thumbnail on your RSS feed.

Happily, the function below will solve this problem. Simply paste it in your

functions.php

, save it, and the post thumbnail will be automatically displayed on your RSS feed.

function diw_post_thumbnail_feeds($content) {
	global $post;
	if(has_post_thumbnail($post->ID)) {
		$content = '<div>' . get_the_post_thumbnail($post->ID) . '</div>' . $content;
	}
	return $content;
}
add_filter('the_excerpt_rss', 'diw_post_thumbnail_feeds');
add_filter('the_content_feed', 'diw_post_thumbnail_feeds');

» Source: http://digwp.com/2010/06/show-post-thumbnails-in-feeds/

Block external requests

By default, WordPress does some external requests in order to get the available updates and the WordPress news shown in your dashboard. Personally, I don’t mind them, but I’ve recently had clients who didn’t wanted any external requests. So, I’ve blocked them using this interesting hack.
Simply add the following line to your

wp-config.php

file:

define('WP_HTTP_BLOCK_EXTERNAL', true);

If you need to allow some external requests, it it easy to create a whitelist, as shown below:

define('WP_ACCESSIBLE_HOSTS', 'rpc.pingomatic.com');

This line of code have to be pasted in

wp-config.php

as well.
» Source: http://digwp.com/2010/08/pimp-your-wp-config-php/

Easy debug mode

When things go wrong, you can always use the super useful WordPress debug tool,

WP_DEBUG

. By default, you have to paste a line of code in your

wp-config.php

to make the debug mode available.
By if you need to easily access the debug mode even when your site is live, you should edit your

wp-config.php

file and replace

define('WP_DEBUG', true);

by:

if ( isset($_GET['debug']) && $_GET['debug'] == 'debug')
  define('WP_DEBUG', true);

Once done, simply add a GET parameter to the url of the page you’d like to debug, as shown below:

http://www.catswhocode.com/blog/about?debug=debug

Of course, for obvious security reasons you should replace the name debug by a random word of your choice so no one will ever see your site in debug mode.
» Source: http://yoast.com/wordpress-debug/

Use WordPress shortcode in theme files

WordPress shortcodes are a super easy way to add content such as rss feeds, google maps, galleries and more into your posts or pages. But what about being able to output shortcodes in your theme files?
A built-in function exists, but most people never heard of it. The function is called

do_shortcode()

. It takes one parameter, the shortcode you’d like to display. I’ve heard you can ad more than one shortcode as a parameter, but I haven’t tried it yet.

do_shortcode('[gallery]
');

» Source: http://codex.wordpress.org/Function_Reference/do_shortcode

Allow upload of more file types

If you ever tried to upload some not so common filetypes, such as Textmate’s

.tmCommand

to your WordPress blog, you may have experienced an error, because WordPress simply doesn’t want you to upload some other file type.
Fortunately, you can add new file types to WordPress whitelist. Doing so is quite easy, just paste the following piece of code in your

functions.php

, and you’re done.
Note that file types have to be separated by a pipe.

function addUploadMimes($mimes) {
    $mimes = array_merge($mimes, array(
        'tmbundle|tmCommand|tmDragCommand|tmSnippet|tmLanguage|tmPreferences' => 'application/octet-stream'
    ));

    return $mimes;
}

add_filter('upload_mimes', 'addUploadMimes');

» Source: http://www.wprecipes.com/wordpress-tip-allow-upload-of-more-file-types

Google Docs PDF viewer shortcode

Google Docs is definitely the easiest way to read documents in .pdf, .doc or .xls online. So, if you want to share a PDF file with your readers, what about creating a shortcode that will open the PDF in Google Docs instead of forcing download?

Simply paste the code in your

functions.php

.

function pdflink($attr, $content) {
	return '<a class="pdf" href="http://docs.google.com/viewer?url=' . $attr['href'] . '">'.$content.'</a>';
}
add_shortcode('pdf', 'pdflink');

Once you saved the file, you’ll be able to use the shortcode on your posts and page. Here is the syntax:

[pdf href="http://yoursite.com/linktoyour/file.pdf"]View PDF[/pdf]

» Source: http://www.wprecipes.com/wordpress-tip-create-a-pdf-viewer-shortcode

Detect the visitor browser within WordPress

Well, this hack is not so new, but it still remains one of my favorites. What this code does is pretty simple, it detects the name of the visitor browser and adds it to the

body_class()

function.
That way, you can correct browser-specific problems extremely easily. The function has to be pasted in your

functions.php

file.

add_filter('body_class','browser_body_class');
function browser_body_class($classes) {
	global $is_lynx, $is_gecko, $is_IE, $is_opera, $is_NS4, $is_safari, $is_chrome, $is_iphone;

	if($is_lynx) $classes[] = 'lynx';
	elseif($is_gecko) $classes[] = 'gecko';
	elseif($is_opera) $classes[] = 'opera';
	elseif($is_NS4) $classes[] = 'ns4';
	elseif($is_safari) $classes[] = 'safari';
	elseif($is_chrome) $classes[] = 'chrome';
	elseif($is_IE) $classes[] = 'ie';
	else $classes[] = 'unknown';

	if($is_iphone) $classes[] = 'iphone';
	return $classes;
}

The function output will look like:

<body class="home blog logged-in safari">

» Source: http://www.nathanrice.net/blog/browser-detection-and-the-body_class-function/

Like CatsWhoCode? If yes, don’t hesitate to check my other blog CatsWhoBlog: It’s all about blogging!

10 useful new WordPress hacks

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2010 SEMA Show, day one mega-gallery

There are literally hundreds of cars on display at the SEMA Show every year, from muscle cars to import tuners to classics to rides that we can’t even classify.

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BoonJack Media: We make Multimedia easyMultimedia is basically everything considered “Content” within any given website. From photos/images, videos, text, graphics, Flash, JavaScript, and HTML 5 coupled with interactivity. The great thing is there’s no secret formula, or secret code you need to discover on “how to make multimedia happen” on your website nowadays. The Code resources are abundant, driven and led by organizations which power the web 3.0 movement.

The abundance of online resources available today is constantly growing, updating, and evolving all related to multimedia. Your only requirement is you’ve got to be plugged into it 24/7/365, knowing the difference between what works well, and what software and systems aren’t worth your effort. Having that time to spare while keeping up on the ever-changing world of multimedia is the real secret to making it happen for your business online today.

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    That’s a rather simple answer really, but first we should provide some more details about our multimedia efforts – while we try our best to be brief and not bore you into being a bounce stat.

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