Principles of Graphic Design

Graphic design is an excellent tool for attracting attention, delighting your viewers aesthetically, and showing off the creative aspects of your department.  It is easy and fun to play around with designing your own logo, website banner, a letterhead, or an event announcement.  With today’s available programs, it is very possible to produce a professional design that does not hint at being homemade. 

Alias-Marketing-and-Design-Studio-Tallaght-Dublin-Graphic-Design-icon-240x240There are six fundamental principles of design: alignment, balance, contrast, proximity, repetition, and space.

Alignment goes hand in hand with proximity.  It has less to do with making sure that everything is (for example) centered or left-aligned and more to do with keeping the individual elements consistent.  If you have words arranged at a slant, make sure they are evenly spaced and at the same angle.  It is all about keeping organization and order within the separate elements.  If you have elements scattered about the page, carefully ordering them within themselves keeps the whole picture from appearing chaotic.

Balance ties everything together and provides structure.  The placement of elements will distribute the weight across the page.  For example, if you have a large piece in the center of your design, adding a small piece on the edge keeps the visual from feeling lopsided.

Contrast means balancing colors and using them to highlight or emphasis central elements.  The use of color can suggest certain emotions or reactions, make your design pop, and direct the eye to important parts of your message.

Proximity involves arranging elements as to guide the viewer’s eyes from piece to piece of the message in a controlled and thought-out path.  Related elements should be positioned together for unity and continuity.  This means breaking out of linear arrangements and arranging elements of the message in a more stacked or waterfall flow, with visual connection.  Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, but it gives the eyes a clear path to follow.

Repetition creates emphasis and draws attention to certain elements.  In the case of bulleted lists, the repetition of bullets creates rhythm and familiarity.  Repeating a border around sections of text encourages association.

Space is a very powerful element of design.  Graphic design, at face value, might seem to focus on the concrete elements, while the element of white space is merely a background accident.  But careful use of space provides the eye with breathing room, creates a powerful message, and clears out the clutter.  Simplicity is a very potent tool.

Keeping these principles in mind is an excellent beginning as you work on your next design project.

Popular WordPress Plugins

Choosing a theme and plugins for your WordPress blog can be the fun part of setting up your site, but it can also be overwhelming with thousands of possible plugins available and new ones being developed every day. Here are some of the most popular and useful plugins we have found:

Yoast SEO works as a built-in editor to encourage and promote the best writing. It walks you through techniques for readable and consistent content by having you choose a focus keyword for each article as you write it and then making sure you continue to use the keyword throughout your writing. It goes on to show you examples of what your post will look like in search results, giving you an edge on competition to increase rankings. The Page Analysis plugin works as a final copy editor to check that your posts are the optimal length, if your images contain an alt tag with the focus keyword, and if the meta description also contains that keyword. All in all, this plugin optimizes your content for search engines.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbFor improving your webpage’s performance and speed, Zen Cache is designed to reduce download time, optimize progressive rendering, reduce the loading time for pages, and more. Search engine rankings will improve with the speed of your site.

BackupBuddy is a secure and complete option for complete reassurance that in case of a catastrophe you will not lose anything from your database, media library, theme files, and so on.  Automated backups are easy to set up and will be quick to restore in the case of emergency.

A great plugin for easily adding nearly any type of online forms, from contact forms to surveys and user submitted posts, is Gravity Forms. It is very popular, in use on over one million WordPress sites.

Ultimate Branding promotes your logo, company name, and so forth across your network in place of any WordPress branding. It makes your site feel more unified and consistent. The best part is that this plugin does all the fussy work for you, so you won’t have to worry about writing a single code.

A helpful plugin for reducing spam is Akismet, which automatically catches comments that look like spam and allows you to review the filtered comments.

Envira Gallery is an aesthetically clean and pleasing plugin to create beautiful image galleries. If your site is photography related or tends to be picture heavy, this plugin simplifies the business with responsive design, fast loading, and stunning effects. It even offers a helpful free version, so you can try out some of the features right away.

Sucuri provides malware protection by blocking attacks, identifying spam, and preventing intrusions. It gives you real time alerts to keep you updated with any causes for concern. When it comes to website security, it is always better to be safer than sorry.

Another excellent way of tightening security on your site is Login Lockdown. This plugin limits the amount of failed attempts a user receives. This is helpful for deterring hack attempts, as most are focused on breaking your password by entering multiple combinations.

Using Design to Promote Readability

An important aspect of running a blog or a text-heavy website is readability. This is the concept of keeping a reader interested with an understandable flow of progression and alleviated strain on the eyes.    

To start off with, avoid large blocks of text.  These are intimidating and also difficult to read as it is easy to lose your place.  Separate your text out into multiple paragraphs.  This will help ease the intimidation factor of a wall of text as well as provide natural breaks for different topics.  Adding in pictures or graphics (with a buffer border to keep the text from crowding around it) or breaking items into bulleted lists will also provide some white space and metaphorical “breathing room” for the eyes.

An easy way to point out the proper path of vision is changing font size.  A step beyond this, text hierarchy, uses several sizes to differentiate between titles, headers of sections, and the body.  This keeps the text organized and clear.

Bolding or italicizing for emphasis can be a tasteful addition, as long as it is used sparsely and specifically.  Inserting bolded or italicized words creates an invisible category in the reader’s mind, so be sure to keep it consistent.  In other words, if you have been bolding terms that you then define, avoid bolding, for instance, a warning or exclamation, as it will feel out of place to the reader and be distracting.

Emphasizing with all capitalized letters is usually a bad idea.  While it certainly draws attention, it can make the word hard to read and can slow down the reader’s train of thought.  In short titles, all caps can be acceptable.

A fun way to add character and style to your text is through changing the fonts so that, for example, the title is more unique and striking than the body text.  The best way to make sure this is complementary and not distracting is to keep all of the fonts within the same font family.  If your body text uses a sans-serif font (as is typical on the web), look for a title or header font that is also sans-serif.  This is an easy trick for finding fonts that look excellent together.

Your line-length or measure ideally should be between 65 and 75 characters.  Any longer will make it difficult for the reader’s eyes to find the continuation of the sentence from line to line.

Be aware of your audience.  If you need to use a word they might not be familiar with, provide a definition in a non-demeaning way.  A simple rephrasing of the word within parentheses immediately after its use is a safe way to make sure you and your readers are on the same page.

Kerning is the space between specific characters in a sequence.  Letters like “A” “V” and “W” fit well with most other letters, but put alongside each other can be too wide, creating an awkward space in the middle of a word.  This is where kerning comes in.  Most design programs have the ability to adjust pairs one at a time, affecting only the highlighted text.  Before you begin, make sure kerning is turned on in your program’s type preference menu.

Optimize WordPress Performance

Whether you are running a WordPress blog for high-traffic business purposes or with a more low-key personal focus, you will want to optimize your performance for smooth and efficient running.

A universal quick fix option is to install a plugin such as W3 Total CacheWP Super Cache or our personal favorite, Zen Cache to store your blog posts and pages in a static format to be presented to users. This greatly decreases strain on the server’s processing load.

For shared hosting, your options are slightly limited, but it is still very possible to speed up your site! After caching plugins, look into browser caching. This will decrease the amount of requests per page by storing the unchanging files on the user’s computer, allowing the browser to check if the files have changed rather than automatically requesting them.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbIf you run a site with very high traffic, web server caching is more complicated but promises results.  It offers a wide range of options. On a basic level, it can cache locally in the background while other more complicated systems use multiple caching servers up front where WordPress is actually running.

Plugins can slow down your performance considerably if you have a large amount or unnecessary plugins. Before you start deleting though, try deactivating each one separately for a time to see the effect on your site’s speed. From there you can discern which plugins to deactivate and delete.

Optimize your theme by looking for unnecessary images or ones you could replace with text. Having the incorrect format for the type of image can also slow your site down. Check that all image files are optimized with the correct form (JPG/PNG/GIF). Reduce the number of files by merging all CSS files together. A plugin to help minify and condense files is Head Cleaner.

Offload static files and images (JavaScript or CSS files for example) to a different server. Feeds also are simple to offload.  Google FeedBurner, for example, is a service that takes care of the traffic for you, while still keeping up with feed updates.

Look into free hosting services, particularly for images.  Flickr and Imgur are both popular options.  The only downside to consider is that corporate networks often block picture hosting websites.  Additionally watch out for the copyright rules in the service’s disclaimer, as you might not want to share your rights to original pictures.

For virtual hosting and dedicated servers, check back later for a post dedicated to optimizing WordPress performance on those specific servers.

Securing your WordPress site, Part 1

Blogs have been an increasingly popular way of distributing information since their inception in the 90’s. They provide many benefits for promoting information, updates, and multimedia sources. Naturally if you are looking to begin promoting your business, services, or your thoughts via a blog, you are going to want a secure, trusted method.

WordPress has been growing rampantly over the last couple years as a blogging platform. According to Google Trends, interest in WordPress from 2011 to present has been consistently twice that of other blogging sites. Its layout is understandable and has many options for customizing and personalizing. Clearly it is a trusted and effective platform to blog from.

While WordPress comes with security methods, there are steps you can take to improve the security of your blog and protect it from attacks. Most hackers are not willing to spend much time or effort in breaking into your site. They are looking to compromise your server and use it to email spam. An attack is most effectively deterred by making your site more than averagely inconvenient to the hacker.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbFor starters, avoid using “admin” as a username or part of your username. Most attacks target the username admin with a combination of passwords. Eliminate the first part and you will be protected from the majority of attacks. If you already have that username in use, changing this is fast and easy. Simply create a new user and give it administrator rights. Then delete the old “admin” user and assign past content to this new user so that nothing will be lost in the transition.

You have probably heard this hundreds of times, but it is worth hearing again: use a complex password. Consider this: the three most common passwords of 2015 are “123456,” “password,” and “12345.” Be ahead of the curve and pick a password that is not on SplashData’s annual list of stolen passwords!

Change the table prefix from wp_ to something obscure like nho509b_ to make it less accessible to hackers and harder to guess. This might sound complicated to the less tech-savvy, but it can be as easy as a five minute fix. If you are just now setting up your blog, the customization option will be available during the set-up for database details. Simply change the default setting.

Keep up with updates. WordPress is constantly striving to provide a better blogging platform for your needs. Each new version has updated security methods to address holes found in previous editions. Updated versions are released biannually, with more minor updates released following the two major versions.

These steps are a good place to begin, but for the best security, you will want a quality hosting company. Nearly half of hacking attempts are due to faulty hosting platforms. If you are using a shared hosting platform, make sure it offers account isolation. This extra layer of protection prevents one account from overloading the server and affecting your website.

We will soon be posting a more advanced article outlining addition steps you can take to secure your WordPress site, so stay tuned!

An overview and comparison of Shared Hosting with Virtual and Dedicated Servers

With all the possibilities, different strengths and weaknesses, it can be confusing to select just the right server for you and your specific needs. Here are some of our options broken down to the basics.

Do you run a high-traffic or mission critical website? Need support for self-hosted, high-performance databases? Want the most flexibility and control?

Our premium dedicated servers have the benefits of freedom, flexibility, and security, especially in comparison to shared hosting. Dedicated servers allow a greater level of management and scalability for your site’s traffic. Virtual platforms such as Microsoft Hyper-V are supported. Notable features include:

  • 2-hour emergency response
  • Free internal traffic
  • Remote power control

Are you a small business owner? Run a blog? Host personal sites for family/friends?

Shared Windows Cloud Hosting is unique and economical, offering unlimited disk space and data transfer. This option promotes reliability, high network speed, and smooth performance. With instant setup, unlimited domains and sub-domains, and premium unlimited bandwidth, this server provides fast and reliable service. Other features include:

  • Custom Control Panel
  • Safe Harbor Certified
  • Unlimited MySQL

Another popular option is the virtual server. This server is shared by multiple server owners, but still allows for each owner’s administration and complete control. It is stored on our virtual cloud, saving you space while still providing you with absolute access. Virtual servers have all the benefits of hosting yourself, while saving on space, money, and processing power.

We offer two options:

Windows Cloud Server running Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Server 2008 R2 or Server 2012 R2.

Linux Cloud Server running a wide variety of Linux distributions. Both offer excellent features, including:

  • Virtual isolation
  • Customizable server software with administrator control
  • Hardware-based virtualization
  • Unlimited network transfer

Browse our many options and be sure to contact us with any questions!