Are you smartphone savvy?

Are you smartphone savvy

[Click the image above for a close-up.]

A stolen iphone.

Not something I ever thought would happen to me, but it did, and it happens to a lot of us – almost 5,989 of us in Ireland in the first half of 2012 in fact according to Garda figures.

It was a beautiful sunny day on Grafton street, and as a friend and I stood watching some brilliant musicians performing just outside the now vacant HMV store, an opportunistic thief saw fit to silently rifle through my handbag and extract my precious iPhone5.
Discovering its absence was a truly traumatising experience. Panic took hold, and tears duly flowed.

A week has passed since this incident, and since then I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little investigating into how I could prevent it from happening in future, hopefully helping you to prevent it from happening at all.

It seems thefts are on the rise, with prosecution rates at only 20%.
I took the liberty of putting together this little infographic in the hopes that it might raise awareness of the problem, and help you prepare for the unthinkable!

Feel free to share and pin!


Happy Halloween

It’s that time of year folks!! Halloween! When ladies dress not as ladies ought, and men look just plain silly, a whimsical time where we drink too much and somehow think its celebrating something…
Anyway, It’s all in the name of fun isn’t it!

Well, I decided to get into the ‘spirit’ (hehehe) of things myself this year, and created a (and no I’m not obsessed with her-this is actually a coincidence) Lady Gaga Born This Way inspired Halloween costume.
Born This Way features Gaga with a suit and dickie bow, dramatic pink/blonde ponytailed hair, and striking skull like make-up covering her entire face and neck!

The picture below is my take on the famous costume, and it must have been pretty decent because it won the fancy dress competition in my local! Nice one Gaga! 🙂


SEO Woe – The Core Essentials of SEO

Search Engine Optimization…

It’s something all web designers have to deal with…that expectation from the client that once the design is completed the site will instantly pop up at the top of all search engine results,, especially when the most common search parameters for the sites theme are typed into the search bar. Ping! There ya go, easy as that…. If only it was!

I recently ‘completed’ my first (non-familial) website for a client. I give inverted commas to the word completed as from what I can see you are never truly completely finished with a client, at least that’s how it seems to be working out! (HELP 😐 )

Search Engine Optimization Basics

The search for SEO success starts here!

Below I have outlined what I think are the minimal necessary steps a web designer MUST take in order to have their site appear in a decent position in search results.
I collated this information from various sources all over the net! From Smashing Magazine to Google’s search engine optimization starter guide and a myriad of other places, I found hints and tips to aid you in your SEO endevours…the problem I had was sifting through all of this information to get to the core essentials, so, that’s what I have here, those core essentials! Enjoy!

There are a number of things which must be done to assist the search engines and ensure they are aware of a sites existence and that your consumer will be able to find you:

  • You must ensure that the site has optimized keywords/keyword combinations throughout: In the meta title tags, meta keyword tags, meta description tags, alt image tags, and throughout the content itself.Use Google’s Keyword Tool for this.
  • The site should also be registered, verified and indexed with the top search engines (Bing, Google).

Be sure to set up a Google Webmaster Tools account for yourself, to register any and all sites so you can use the tools, analyse your sites’ contents, and register them with Google.

  • You must set up the sites Google Analytics account to monitor its’ search rank and more. (You will eventually be handing this account information onto the client)
  • The location of the business should be registered and verified with GoogleMaps to maximize online visibility. (Again you can show the client how they would go about editing this when you are handing over the site info.)
  • Increasing the number of inbound links you have and link swapping with relevant sites where necessary. (This is something the client will also take responsibility for.)
  • I also tend to add a robots.txt and a sitemap.xml file to aid crawlers.

Keywords/Keyword combinations

In order to increase the likelihood of Google ranking the site higher than others, it is necessary to optimize the sites written content, alt image tags, and meta tags for SEO (search engine optimization).

In order to find the best keywords for you, use Google Keyword Tool. You can sign up for this free tool using a Gmail account set up specifically for the website you are registering it with.

  • Set up a gmail account for the site you are working on – eg. username/email: ‘’ Password:’ whtvruwnt’. These details can be used for any google account you want to sign into regarding the website.
  • Visit or search for Google Keyword Tool in Google and select the first result.
  • Sign in with the Gmail account.

*Ideally meta title tags can contain between 70 and 75 characters, and meta description tags can contain between 150 and 160 characters. Any more or less and you can be subject to penalisation.*
You now have a Google Adwords account. Use it to see what keywords relative to you are currently most commonly searched for, what sort of competition there is out there to use those words, and get suggestions on what keywords you could use.

The keywords/keyword combinations relevant to and most likely to be searched for to reach your site, must be dotted throughout the site content in order to optimize it for the search engines’ crawlers.

They must also correspond with the keywords in your meta tags.

The meta title tag, meta description tag, and meta keyword tag must be written in the head section of a html document, either within a template (to then distribute across the other pages with an update – if you are using one that is), or in the head of every .html page you are using.

It always helps to also have a look at opposition sites to see what they are using in their meta title, keyword, and description tags.

*It is important that these keywords are not simply written in groups randomly in the page. They must be written into the content in a legible and understandable format, or Google will penalise you for ‘keyword stuffing’. The must also be relevant.*

Site Verification

The same principles apply whether you are registering the site with Google or Bing (MSN, Yahoo!). Search engines require that you verify you have access to your site server in order to register it with them and monitor it.

There are three steps you must take.

    • To submit your site to each search engine visit:(Bing(MSN Yahoo!) = =
    • Sign into (or create accounts with) the search engines’ webmaster tools, and enter the URL in the specified location within to register the site. Then download the html file provided.
    • Upload the files you took from the webmaster tools in each search engine onto the server into your sites root folder.

You must set up a Google Webmaster Tools account, and a Bing Webmaster Tools account to register any sites. You can then use the tools, analyse your sites’ contents, and register them with Google.

Google Analytics

  • Click on ‘Create an Account’. Use the Gmail details.
  • Then click on ‘Admin’, then ‘+New Account’.
  • Set up your new account entering the URL and other necessary information.
  • Once you have the account set up Google will give you a piece of code and instructions to insert that code into the head of your websites index.html page.
  • Insert the code and upload the updated index.html page onto your server.
  • Go back into Google Analytics and you should be able to view your websites analytics data.

This is something most clients find very interesting. When you have completed your site, giving a client the information necessary to access Google Analytics and monitor the sites progress allows them to see the result of the work you have done. It also lets them see what links to their site exist, and encourages them to continue the work of SEO through their creation of incoming links from various relevant sites.

Google Maps Listing

As far as I can tell, this is an excellent and all too often underutilised method of getting more attention for your business. I think it is particularly effective if your business is located in, say a small town, to register your business with Google Maps as anyone trying to find the location of your type of business is this far more likely to stumble upon you first.

  • Sign in with your website’s Gmail email and password (remember our example: ‘’)
  • Submit your information, from basic contact info to photos/video.
  • Verify your listing by phone or postcard.
  • Wait for your listing to appear on Google. Verification will take up to two weeks.

The problem with this is that Google sends the postcards out and makes the calls to the business and not to you. All too often people tend to throw out anything that looks remotely like junk mail….and a postcard from Google kind of looks a lot like junk mail to most people.

It’s important that the client and all their employees know not to toss out that card! The verification details on it are vital to the registration process.

Inbound Links

This is generally one of the lasts things I do, but it is one of the most important. Though the site itself is optimized it can take anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks and beyond for Google to properly crawl and index a website. The best way to speed things up, and help along the indexing process, is by increasing your incoming links.

*It is vital that you create a comprehensive list of the sites your clients website/business is featured in and ensure these are updated to include a link to the site.*

Anywhere that is relevant, you should try and place links to your site. Littering the internet randomly with links will not be hugely beneficial. Search engines as a rule only take into account relevant link locations/source sites.

You can monitor where in the world your page views are coming from, what keywords potential customers are using, link traffic sources and more in Google Analytics. You can also see where your competitors’ inbound links are coming from via tools such as or through free registration with sites like There are a multitude of sites like these out there so have a wander about and I’m sure you’ll find one that suits your needs.

Robots and Spiders

Last but not least…are those extra bits of spice that make bot crawling extra nice(and efficient)! 😛

Adding your sitemap.xml file and robots.txt file are two things which help search engines’ creepy crawlies find what they are looking for.

To add a sitemap:

  • Create a .xml file. These are written differently to the html code I am used to, so I used this little gem:
  • Download the file.
  • Next I uploaded it onto the server and into the root folder of the site.
  • Then I checked it by entering the http://urlofyoursite/sitemap.xml (or whatever your sitemap is called).

Hey presto! Sitemap is up!

A robots.txt file can be used to tell search engine and other robots which areas of your site they are allowed to visit and index. Only one robots.txt file can exist on your site and it must be in the root directory.

To add a robots.txt file:

And there you have it. That’s what I did. It’s a beginner’s guide and I know that there are a million other ways to improve SEO, but I also know when you are starting out all of that information can be quite overwhelming, so, I hope you get some use out of this post. If you have anything you think should be added or have any corrections for me, I’m always happy to learn, so please let me know.

Sandra signing out! 😉

Portfolio Pressure

“One week to go until my interview for a course I really really wanted to get into…and I still did not have a printed presentable portfolio. Stress o’ tha’!”

Creating your portfolio whether online or in print can be an extremely daunting task for anyone, particularly those of us starting out in graphic and web design.
I don’t know how many websites I read and re-read, and people I consulted constantly second-guessing every approach I decided upon, while trying to figure out how I would present it…sufficed to say…it was a LOT.

“What if it wasn’t what they were looking for?! What if those applying had more experience than me?! 5 days to go…and I still haven’t found a printer!”

In many ways I count myself lucky as someone who has always had opportunities to be creative thrown their way through voluntary work, and through family (whether I was ready and willing to do that or not 😛 ). This meant I already had work ready, and had the necessary preparation done, to put SOMETHING together at the very least! …

“Printer found! Success … and one day until my interview!
*promises never to let anything get this close to a deadline again*”

I actually found it difficult to find print-specific examples online. Most graphic designers tend to present their online portfolios in an exclusively web-based format, using slideshows, lightbox, and shadowbox style presentation methods. Don’t get me wrong, it’s inspiring work! The thing is, when you are physically presenting your work to a client, or are applying for a course or a job, there is less room for them to explore your style and approach. A client looking through your website has time to examine it. A client meeting you personally will only briefly flick through your portfolio, so their first impression of the work you present there and then is the only possible lasting one.

There are a few key things I would say about creating a portfolio:

1. (…and always rule number 1) Ctrl+s/cmd+s was created for a reason. Use it.

2. Space is a portfolio/design’s best friend. Cluttering up your portfolio with too many images and too much text are the murderers of good design.

3.Being precise and concise when it comes to text and content is vital. Remember, your portfolio is all about showcasing your skills and your ability to get a message across quickly and effectively. Pick out 10 of your best pieces, and use those only.

4. Lastly…use your instincts. Don’t doubt yourself. If this is your first time putting together a portfolio, then just remember, it isn’t going to be your last either.

“Printed, pristine and perfect. MY PORTFOLIO!! Place on that course…?…MINE! Heehee! :D”

You will make countless revisions of your portfolio over time, and so you should! And you may look back on the original in years to come with fondness, or with astonishment at just how far you have come since then, but either way be proud what you and you alone have created. After all… (no pressure or anything)… it is supposed to entirely represent you at a moments glance. 😉

Everybody’s going a little Gaga…

Lady Gaga. The name conjures up all sorts of images; from the Franc Fernandez meat dress she wore to the VMA’s in 2010, to the recently released and unquestionably controversial ‘Judas’ music video, Gaga never ceases to shock and intrigue the masses.

I decided one fine spring day to attempt to take on a little side project which I could in due course give to my Gaga-obsessed (okay, maybe not totally obsessed 😉 ) friend as a little gift. I didn’t count on it taking quite as much time as it did, but I am glad to say that once it was completed I couldn’t have been any more satisfied.

Lady Gaga - Single cover
Lady Gaga – Original single cover

I decided to base the painting on this image from the single ‘Born This Way’ which was released on February 11, 2011. Originally my inspiration had come from Andy Warhol’s famous painting, Marilyn Monroe (1967). Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I had some trouble locating a canvass fit for purpose, so chose instead to opt for a triptych.
First, I took the image of Gaga from online, and drew it out. I then took a photo of said image, put it through Photoshop, and rendered it as a cutout under artistic effects. I reduced the number of levels to four, added colour, and adjusted the settings further in order to ensure I had a three/four coloured cutout image to work with (I know, it sounds a lot like cheating, but computers are there to help right 😉 ).

Lady Gaga - Preparatory pencil drawing
Preparatory pencil drawing
Gaga in Photoshop

Below we can see a somewhat mutilated looking post production Gaga. I did start to get ever so slightly worried at this point that things may not work out quite the way I had planned…

Lady Gaga - Preparatory photoshop cutout
Lady Gaga – Preparatory photoshop cutout

…nonetheless, I decided to push on.
My next step was to get my canvass, lay the image out on it and start the actual painting!

Lady Gaga - Halfway there!

Gaga drawing...A4, Gaga Painting...A whole lot bigger.....EEK!

The project actually took several months to complete. Life often has a way of obstructing our paths when it comes to the things we really want to do with our time.
As someone who does their best to achieve close to perfection with every project, this one was particularly head-wrecking…In the best way possible! 😉

Lady Gaga - Put Your Paws Up!
Lady Gaga – Put Your Paws Up!

Though I probably won’t see your face when you receives your little prezzie, I hope there will be a nice big smile plastered across it. If not, you can give it back because I now want one!! 😉