We work on the Internet. As such, we are constantly consuming information. Believe me, there is a lot of it out there. Sometimes we even forget things unless we write them down. Our blog covers everything from web standards to the muppets, php to comic books, music and everything else that we find interesting. Leave us a note when you drop by.
Happy Monday all. We arrived at the office to a dead network switch this morning. That means all of our office phones are down. Internet is up, so email is the best way to reach us until we can replace the network switch and get voice calls back.
If you do phone, you will be able to leave a voicemail and it will be emailed to us.
Way back in June, we ran a little contest via our newsletter. If you wanted a shot at winning a day on the course with Visual Lizard, you had to track through our website and find a golf ball that we had strategically hidden on the email campaigns page of our site.
The lucky winners of the all expense paid event where John and Russ. After doing some calendar juggling, we settled on a couple of dates. Our original date was rained out, but our backup date of September 10th was a nice as you can hope. With lots of sunshine, a gentle breeze and a forecasted high of 24°C, we met at Elmhurst Golf and Country Club for lunch. A few drinks, a clubhouse sandwich, some pulled pork, quesadillas and salad later, we were ready to hit the range for a little warm up.
At 1:20pm we took to the course. The very first tee box was rewarding as John did something none of us had ever seen before. His first swing at the ball sent his tee flying down the fairway, while the ball dropped right to the ground in front of him without moving an inch. We all had a good chuckle and John earned the nickname of "magician".
Over the course of the round, we had a few laughs, a few beverages, some good shots and some bad. Doug set a personal best for the course with 2 pars, a 45 on the back and a total score of 98. I set a personal worst (is that a thing?) with an 8 on a par 3. Elmhurst was in top shape for this time of year and with the leaves changing colours around the course, but still on the trees, it made for a pretty special afternoon away from the office.
Doug and I wanted to thank John and Russ for coming out and being such good sports. We had a great time with the contest idea, as well as the event. We plan to do more of these types of things in the future, so thanks for making it a great day.
If you're a a partner, a friend, or a long time fan of ours, you likely received our very first official email newsletter yesterday. We ran a fun little contest in the newsletter, and we thought we'd share some data with you... as well as let you know who won!
First, lets take a look at the newsletter. We sent the email out through Emediatemail.com, our awesome service for creating and sending electronic newsletters. The numbers over the first 24 hours look like this:
From our 4 lists under Visual Lizard, we sent to 1,131 contacts.
We've had a 34.99% unique open rate.
82 people clicked giving us a 22.84% click rate.
Canada accounted for the most opens. USA was second. The Netherlands, third.
The link attached to our "lizmouflage" banner at the top was second in total clicks.
We had a 1.07% (11 people) unsubscribe rate with 0% marking the email as spam.
Our website registered the most visits in a single day for this past year.
Overall, we're pleased with the results we saw from this newsletter. As part of the awareness campaign we're embarking on, we plan to send our newsletter out quarterly. We've set the bar pretty high with this first one!
Someone Said Something About a Contest?
Since summer is such a special time here in Winnipeg, we decided to pick an outdoor activity for our contest. We figured golf (which, admittedly, is not something everyone likes doing) would work for a prize. An all expense paid round was chosen, including beverages and lunch out at the prestigious Elmhurst Golf and Country Club.
The challenge was a scavenger hunt to find the golfball "icon" (clue #1) hidden somewhere on our website. We didn't want to make the contest too easy, so we made the icon subtle. Once you rolled over it there was a tooltip telling you "congratulations, you have found the golfball!". If you clicked it, an email launched with the subject line "I found the golfball".
We had some really creative answers. Some of the best were:
It's the Portage la Prairie School Division logo!!
I found it on your map. It's the little green pin golfball thing right? Right??
The golfball is on the side of the lizard's head.
We also saw several people use the search and look for "ball", "secret", "golf, and a few others.
Three hours after we launched the contest, Russ from MGEU was the first to spot the icon. We had placed it under Services > Email Campaigns. We actually debated putting it there as we thought it would be too obvious. It turned out to be the perfect spot. 45 minutes later, John from MNP also emailed in a correct answer, complete with screenshots and arrows.
Congratulations Russ and John for winning the first ever email contest from Visual Lizard! We're looking forward to an afternoon round in July with you. To our friends and partners, we apologize for the momentary loss of productivity. To everyone else that didn't get a chance to play (or didn't want to win a golf game), stay tuned; we plan on sending out another newsletter in the fall with more fun stuff!
Thanks for reading! If you have any specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments, via twitter, or through the contact form.
As this tax credit pertains to Visual Lizard and our services (listen up clients!) here are the key changes:
The tax credit is equal to 40% of qualifying labour costs related to the production of eligible interactive digital media projects. The maximum tax credit for a project is $500,000.
The Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, which was set to expire December 31, 2013, is extended to December 31, 2016.
An eligible product that is developed under contract for an arm’s-length purchaser does not need to demonstrate the product will be resold or licensed by that arm’s-length purchaser
Points 1 and 2 are terrific in that they allow us a little more flexibility with our internal projects, some client projects, and we now have another 3 years to possibly receive help when needed. That is awesome.
Point 3 is the cherry on top for us. More often than not, when our clients come to us, they are looking for our expertise in helping them build tools that their staff and clients or customers can use. These tools range from simple web tools all the way up to online logistics systems. In MOST of the projects we have produced over the years, there has never been any intention to resell the work/project once it is completed. Therefore our clients were never eligible for the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit under the old terms.
With the new wording it means that MOST of our projects would now have a chance to qualify for the credit. There is the possibility of recouping 40% of the cost of the project in credits up to $500,000.
Visual Lizard has already put some calls out to get some further clarification on the new wording. Rest assured though, this is all positive stuff for our industry. Regardless of how the tax credit plays out over the next 3 years, we will still be here, building great things with great people. But keep this in mind when we talk. We might be able to think even bigger than we already do!
Visual Lizard has 2 laptops for sale with the following specifications:
MacBook Pro 17-inch, Mid 2009
Processor: 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory: 4 GB 1067 MHz DDR3
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M 256 MB
500 GB SATA Disk
2 - matte screen
These machines have been formatted and restored to factory bootup with OS X 10.6 ready to roll. They have been our trusted work machines for the past 3 years. They are in excellent condition. We would love them to have a nice, new home rather than collecting dust.
If you are interested, please use the contact form below or give us a call at (204) 957-5520 and ask for Julian or Doug.
There are a lot of people here, all of who are as excited as we are to hear about New Media Manitoba's Manitoba's New Media Strategy, and their three priorities as to where this industry is headed for both Winnipeg and Manitoba. We'll try to post #nmmunveil tweets here as we seem them...
The event started at 10am and wrapped up about an hour and a half later to a room full of excited creative people. New Media Manitoba outlined a three priorities that they will be tackling in the immediate future, with a tagline of "Brilliance Of Exchange".
The first priority is mentorship, helping students come out of secondary and post-secondary education better prepared for the new media industry, and giving employers assistance to hire and train these incoming people. The second priority is a sales portal, a way to help burgeoning freelancers, organizations, and companies expand within and beyond the province of Manitoba. The third priority is a co-work facility somewhere within the Exchange, possibly with presentation areas, boardroom spaces, recording studios, etc, providing a physical place for individuals to meet and cooperate and collaborate.
The event wrapped up with a lot of energy. If you couldn't make it, don't worry… New Media Manitoba will be posting a full report, along with notes, slides, and video, to their website later this afternoon!
There's a growing trend of people switching over to standing desks. I've noticed it in my Twitter feed, with fellow internet and creative professional raving about it. Here in the office, a couple co-workers alternate during the day, using boxes to raise their laptops. Last week, I decided to do the same.
Since I didn't know if a standing desk would be right for me, I cobbled something together to try it out first. I used a piece of wood left over from our move last year, propping it up at wrist level with boxes of stationary. The wood piece is big enough to provide space for a wireless keyboard, mouse, coffee cup, papers, pens, etc. Our work-bench office layout has a half-wall which is at the perfect height for me to put a monitor. It keeps the screen at eye-level when I'm standing, as opposed to looking downward at my laptop screen.
Now, keep in mind, standing all day is no cure-all. Bryan Walsh wrote an article for Time magazine that talked about the health effects of both sitting and standing all day. He cites sources that link problems to prolong sitting... but also notes potential issues for those who stand all day. As in most things, moderation and variety is key. If you're sitting, make sure to walk around every twenty minutes.
Over the course of the week, I could feel the change in my feet and legs. My calves had the good exercized feeling in them, my knees ached on and off, and I could feel the weight on my feet. I had to change my stance once in a while to give my arches a rest. I was feeling tired at the end of the day.
I kept my chair nearby so I could sit down once in a while. As the days went by, it was less necessary. I got used to standing. I tried different adjustments, including keyboard heights and a vertical monitor, until I settled into something comfortable. I switched to sneakers and my feet thanked me for it. I sit down for lunch and if I need to consult a co-worker, I'll sit at their desk.
I'm going to give my make-shift solution a couple weeks before I decide whether or not to make it a permanant workspace. Standing desks can be expensive but there are several low-cost solutions out there that build on existing setups. I'm leaning toward something that I can put up and take down fairly easily, maybe foldable, something that gives me ongoing flexibility.
If you're interested in trying it, I recommend reading this Forbes article by Steve Mullis. It covers many things I looked into before and discovered as I went along. Also, I recommend you try it out first; giving the amount of stationary and miscellaneous supplies around the average office, it shouldn't be difficult to throw together something temporary.
If, like us, you have recently updated to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, you may have noticed that your Coda application is no longer updating or accessing your SVN repositories. It seems Mountain Lion does not come with SVN, regardless if you've done a clean install or upgraded from a previous version of OS X.
You can test this by opening a new Terminal window and typing...
...in the command line. If you get a "command not found" response, then this is your problem. :/
As heavy internet users ourselves, we encounter forms all over the place. Registration forms, contact forms, payment forms, etc. Usually, getting to the form is a quick trip, a short easy-to-find link that appeals to our impulses. But as most web traffic analysis will show, only a fraction of the people who visit a form actually fill it out. What's happening?
Recently, Luke Wroblewski did a presentation at An Event Apart Austin. Though it focused on the growth of mobile applications, he covered a lot of good points on web forms and usability. His thoughts on the current troubles and recommended practices mirror the advice we regularly give to our clients...
The key is to reduce effort.
Studies have shown that smaller, simpler forms have resulted in an increase in submissions by site visitors. The shorter the form, the easier a form is to fill out, the more likely a visitor is to submit it. The more people fill out and submit forms, the better your form is at doing its job.
When constructing forms, we try to reduce them to their bare essentials. We take a look at the form and take out anything that doesn't have to be there.
One good indicator is multiple fields marked as "optional". What these labels are saying is that this form is asking for more information than is actually required for submission. So if those fields do not need to be filled in what are they doing there?
Also, some information collected is broken up into multiple fields, such as names (commonly separated into first and last) and phone numbers (separated into area code, extension, etc). This is less convenient for a visitor, so why are they set up that way?
Sometimes it is done for validation in order to ensure good data is being collected. Sometimes it is done so the collected data can be easily filtered and sorted and listed in different ways. Sometimes it is to support some other system or process, either computerized or otherwise, that wants the collected data in a specific way. Sometimes it is to collect as much data as they can up front, because there is little guarantee it will be collected later on down the line. And sometimes, it is just to make the form look "right" or "standardized".
The trouble with all the above reasons is that they prioritize the needs of the owners and operators of the site over any benefits to the visitors actually filling in the form. We want to reverse this thinking. Prioritize for the visitors.
A person browsing to your site and filling out your contact form will not be interested if whether or not you can export all the form submissions as an excel file and sort them by last name alphabetically. Their priorities are not your priorities. They care that the contact form is asking for their first, middle, and last names as three separate fields, and that the contact form complains if any of those three fields are left blank. Do not make this an issue that prevents someone from contacting you. Prioritize for the visitors.
An eye-tracking study on four familiar, existing registration forms found that most visitors were "blind" to almost all "required" or "optional" indicators. People went into a form expecting to fill in everything. Oddly enough, some developers try to alleviate this issue by adding more text and more instructions and more design. They end up solving the wrong problem.
An example of this came to light in 2010, on one of Expedia's "buy now" forms. It seemed the optional "company" field was not only unnecessary, but was actually confusing their customers. The solution wasn't to make its purpose more obvious, but to recognize that it could be removed entirely. This minor change lead to more successful form submissions and a $12 million increase in annual profit.
When building web forms, we need to strike a balance between client requirements and general usability. We try to skew it towards the visitors needs since they are the target audience. The easier it is for them to fill out forms, the more likely they will fill out forms. Remeber this and your site will generate more submissions.
So it has been a little over a year since my last post about email standards. It's about time for an update. In my latest look at the Email Standards Project there have been some improvements by some of the email clients. The majority are now getting excellent ratings, but some of the older clients are still not getting it right. In the case of Outlook 2007, which is still used by the majority of users with older Windows systems, they are still receiving a poor rating. Frankly, we can't expect Microsoft to change this email client anytime soon. Their latest email client, Windows Mail, has received an excellent rating. This fact, I would suggest, may point to the coming demise of support for Outlook.
Like Outlook 2007, Google Gmail also / still has a poor rating. This is slightly surprising considering how dominant Google has become in the internet world. It is hoped that Gmail will soon be on board with these standards soon. Even Windows Hotmail is getting a better rating than Gmail with an "average". Apple Mail, AOL Webmail, Eudora, Entourage, and Mozilla Thunderbird are now full supporters with Excellent ratings.
For those of you who need to develop email templates for clients who use mass-emailing services like Emediatemail (our own email campaign application), Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc. These standards are what you need to keep in mind while coding your templates. The Email Standards Acid Test is the expected functionality / display HTML and CSS standards that we want all mail clients to achieve. As I mentioned in my previous post about this subject last year, the HTML and CSS that can be used for email clients is far more limited than you would find in a standard web browser. The acid test on which the standards are being tested are for proper implementation of many of the basic CSS elements that have been covered in web design for years. These standards, if followed, will allow for more flexibility in email design if not functionality.
Some of the basic design capabilities we take for granted in standard web design are just not available in HTML email development. While this may seem frustrating, remember that it is an email that is being sent. It isn't a web page or web site. It doesn't have to do all of the things that a web site does, and it shouldn't. The templates that we build for these mass email tools are meant to provide a nice display for what is essentially an email message.
In terms of dimensions for the display of HTML emails, not much has changed. We still need to aim for that really limited internal display area of most email clients. 600px wide is the number we're still after. While opening an individual email into its own window would allow for a wider display, we need to keep in mind that most people view their emails in the client email preview window. The position of this preview window can vary from program to program and can even be repositioned in some email clients. Therefore, it is important to keep a specific standard width to accommodate the most email client browsers.
To long to read? Try this summary:
Aim for a 600px wide design template
HTML tables still used for layout
No overlapping blocks of content due to HTML table limitations
No transparency or transparent graphics
To achieve beautiful layering effects you need to rely on a complete rendered graphic
CSS 2 & 3 standards are only slightly supported so should be avoided
So, with generally better email client support we should be seeing more consistency among displays. But that completely depends on designs that are put together with these standards in mind.
As of today, my three-week work placement at Visual Lizard is complete. It has been an amazing experience. I’m sad to say goodbye, but I’m leaving with a ton of knowledge about the industry, work experience and lots of great memories.
I really enjoyed all of the projects I worked on. I had the chance to do some CSS styling, work on an awesome 8 Bit project (which I cant wait to see animated), I made a design for a really neat App that the team has been considering building, and I made a design for one of Visual Lizard's promotional webpages.
St Vital Centre's Spring Share contest was so popular last year that they asked Fusion Advertising and us to put together another one for this year. We've worked feverishly over the last couple weeks, looking over what we built in 2011 and putting together an even better version. The contest offically went live earlier this week on the St Vital Centre site and it's Facebook page.
The contest hooks together with Open Graph functionality, allowing us to log participants in through Facebook and, given permission, personalize their contest entries with their names and profile picture. This also allowed us to build the contest as a small Facebook application, allowing St Vital Centre to add the contest as a distinct tab on their page.
This year's contest is proving as popular as last year, with over two hundred people already participating and building their own Spring Style boards. Give it a try while you can!
I have just completed my first week of a work placement at Visual Lizard, and i am delighted that I get to work with such a great team of web developers. During my Digital Media Design program at Red River I walked by their new Princess Street studio all the time and watched as it came together, never expecting I would have the opportunity to go inside.
In my short time at Visual Lizard I have had the opportunity to learn about web standards, a lot about sweet sweet 8 bit style art, web usability, and I’ve even had the chance to spend some time styling with CSS. I am really enjoying learning about their personal Content Management System called Catalyst 4. It has been created so that it can be customized to every clients wants and needs (pretty awesome). The team has also been really helpful by giving me an ongoing supply of useful information for my future in this industry.
Last week I got the chance to get to know the team when we went for lunch where I was introduced to Scotch eggs (a mind blowing experience for those who are wondering).
Tonight, I have been invited to join the Visual Lizard team at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. I am so pumped for some good laughs and good times. The Comedy Festival is one of the many organizations that Visual Lizard sponsors along with the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Ronald McDonald House, Aboriginal Music and Manitoba Music. I also can't wait to be involved with a possible new app design this week as well. I am excited for my second week at Visual Lizard. Bring on week two. I am ready!
Today we migrated our trusty old server of three years over to a new, faster server that has 12GBs of RAM and SSD HDs. For those clients we informed of the move, everything should be up to date. If you are still experiencing any issues, please feel free to call us or use the contact form below to shoot us a message.
As always, we appreciate your trust and are happy to be hosting our collaborative efforts.
Julian, Dwayne, Ross, Wil, Max, Lauren, Nils, Pim and Doug
If you travel on Princess Street, in Winnipeg, you might have seen a giant six foot green lizard as you head into downtown and wondered "what is that big green lizard?" It is none other than the logo of Visual Lizard. We are one of Winnipeg's longest running web and application programming companies. Our new home on Princess Street is a fabulous 2400 square foot condo that we just finished off at the end of 2011 with the help our friends at Syverson|Monteyene.
Our friends over at SRS Signs did an awesome job in translating our little lizard into a six foot tall aluminum and vinyl sign. They also did the front door signs and our hours of operation on the front of the building.
So next time you are wandering down Princess street, if the lights are on, drop in and say 'hi'. We're always happy to meet new people, discuss ideas, projects, concepts, web sites, programming, and general tech-nerd stuff.
Visual Lizard has been working on Apple machines since 2007-ish when we all upgraded from standard-issue Dell desktops to seventeen inch Macbook Pros. Every since then, Apple has released a number of Mac OS X versions, and each time I have upgraded my machine rather than formatting and starting clean. Though this has the advantage of not needing to reinstall apps and track down registration numbers, after half a dozen updates and the same number of years, my machine has inherited quite a bit of cruft.
Over this season's holidays, I decided to reformat and reinstall OS X Lion. The first time I have started fresh in years. I like to believe everything is booting up and shutting down faster because of it, but I have not bothered with any measurments so that may, admittedly, be just my rose-coloured perception. The most noticeable improvement was reinstalling my applications.
Services like the Mac App Store and Steam have made setting up a Mac incredibly easy compared to the old days. I did not have to track down CDs or registration numbers or manuals. I was able to log into a cloud-based store, find all my existing purchases waiting for me in a list, and reinstalled them with just a couple clicks. What used to be an arduous and long process has become a straight-forward series of over-the-internet restores... though it can still take a while depending on your internet connection and the filesizes involved.
It’s kind of remarkable. I’ve set up a couple of PCs and a few TVs over the last couple of years. Buying a new television and setting it up is far more complicated now than buying a computer and setting it up.
My recommendation to my coworkers and my own plans for the future is to, when given the choice, make app purchases from reputable cloud-based stores from now own. There are some issues with doing so, notably the Mac App Store's lack of demo versions and Apple taking a major cut from a developers profits, but it will only take you one time setting up a machine from scratch to see the advantage.
Last week, we had a party and a whole bunch of friends and family showed up to party with us. We had a large, well stocked bar (that featured a little too little scotch apprently), lots of snacks, some hot food prepared by Chef Dwayne in our kitchen, Elf on the big screen, and much merriment.
During the party, we asked that people bring food for the Christmas Cheer Board. Lots of you did and we ended up with over $300 worth of food and household items to drop off. Thank you everyone.
On top of all that we had a draw for a bunch of stuff. The names where drawn out by an pair of impartial young ladies aged 7 and 5. Here are the winners:
Rina Ricci from Syverson-Monteyne - New Years Eve Jets Tickets
Olga Gorelkina from Velocity - March 1 Jets Tickets
Mary-Lou McGurran from The Manitoba Arts Network - HP OfficeJet 4500
Marriane Hubrew - a coveted Visual Lizard zip up
Jeremy Peterson - another coveted Visual Lizard zip up
Darcy Boguski - shirt
Rick Fillon - shirt
Reid Henderson - shirt
Paul Barsy - shirt
Lee Froese - shirt
Gerhard Hopenheit - shirt
Stan Ross - shirt
Dean Syverson - shirt
Alex Sheludchenko - hat
Colleen Hailey - toque
Nancylyn Ross - toque
Russ Tychonik - hat
Jerry Griffith - hat
Lorraine Carrette - toque
Bruce Froebe - hat
Carolyn Rickey - toque
Steven Rosenburg - hat
Shawn Zayac - hat
Jerry Grawjewski - hat
Suzi Bonk - toque
Congratulations to all the winners. If your name is up here, please drop by the office to pick up your prize. I also apologise for any mis-spelled names. Some of you missed your calling as pharmacists.
As another reminder, Visual Lizard will be closed from December 23 to January 3rd, 2011. Have a very Happy Holiday Season and may warmth and saftey find you and yours in 2012.
Things.app, from Cultured Code, is great. I have been using it to track my to-do items for over 2 years now. When I first got it, it had just been released, but it contained all the parts I needed in a list manager. A nice interface, a desktop client and iPhone app. It was also fast, well designed, and easy to use which is always awesome.
However, lately I have noticed that it sometimes took several attempts to launch it. When it would finally launch, it would be next to unusable. Adding an item to my list would take anywhere from a second to 20 seconds. The quick dialogue box would occasionally show up. Sometimes it wouldn't show up at all. Things, my go to app for my day-to-day tasks, had become a hinderance towards getting things done.
After hitting the Cultured Code Support Forums, I found out that has been a pretty common occurance. One of the suggested fixes was to clean out the logbook where all your completed to-do items live. Since we like to try and audit our work flow from time to time, flat out deleting all of my logged to-do items wasn't really an option. After a little more digging, I found an AppleScript that would export completed logbook items to a CSV file and then move them to the trash. This sounded like just the thing. I had at least a few completed items for every working day since 2009.
Here is what I did BEFORE I ran the script:
read it. It helps if you know a little about AppleScript. You should always read free scripts to make sure they are not doing anything nefarious.
Now that I was confident that my to-do list wouldn't vanish if the script accidentally ate it all, I got set to run the sript. On first run, it warns you that it might run a little slowly. This was the understatement of the year, likely due to my having 1000s and 1000s of logged items. To save you some time, here is what I did to approach this grinding script.
empty trash in Things.app
run the script
check Things.app occassionally to see if I had passed 400 items in the trash
if there were more than 400 items in the trash, then stop the AppleScript
verify my CSV file contained data
clean out trash in Things.app
run script again from the top and have it write to a new file
I'm happy to report, that after dumping out over 3000+ logged items into a growing list of CSV files, Things.app is now awesome and speedy again! Hopefully this helps someone else out there.
NOTE: This is internet advice, we are not responsible for any damage, loss of data, etc... Use at your own risk.
It has been announced today that Steve Jobs has died. We all knew he was ill. He had somehow managed to avoid death for 8 years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We all hoped he would last forever.
One of the bright lights in the world has gone out. Steve Jobs was someone to pattern yourself after. He took risks. He believed in what he was doing. He believed in making the world change, regardless of whether it was ready to or not. I can only hope that Apple can carry his vision forward for years to come.
Ken Segal has remixed "The Crazy Ones" ad as a tribute to Steve Jobs. Watch below:
Thanks for making the tools we use on a daily basis. Thanks for being a champion of great design. Thanks for having a love for stories and being a great story teller. Thanks for making font a word normal people know. Thanks for being able to execute on your vision. You have inspired more than you will ever know.