Living in Oz means that you’re ahead of the world. Not technologically or socially or so.. but in time. There are only a few places earlier, as we all know from the millenium celebrations.
So how to spend the last day of 2009? I promised I would bring some “continental style” desserts to tonight’s party – so some work ahead there. I checked the website and thought it would be nice to have a “hello 2010” post with a nice design. So hopefully I’ll find the time to complete that.
And starting tomorrow I will work on a new Joomla template. The one we use now is based on ‘Colorfall’ by [ Anch ] Gorsk.net Studio. It is a bit too limited for our purposes, even tho I really like the layout. Nowadays all high profile websites seem to use the same clean cut design style – 13 in a dozen, and if a CMS is running the show, container styles are typically in use. That is why I like this template: it is different. And I applied a bold colour purple to it, changed the graphics and it certainly looks different.
Down-side: it has a hidden tag on each page to link back to the authors website. From SEO point of view: not smart. So today I sorta reluctantly removed it – and tomorrow proper credit will be given but on a weblinks page. Other things that sorta bug me: only 2 user modules, no header, breadcrumbs and so on. No place to implement a store element as the user modules are only available in the outer right columns. And the CSS is quite limited – not all elements are styled which can result in some horrifying layouts – for example- when I switched on pagination for a long article.
It does not really matter – I should have done a proper template from scratch – but I was a bit too focussed on getting the website online and to have an outlet for some of our work. So even tho I do not make New Year’s resolutions, I am quite resolute in doing a re-design of the template. Just to keep me busy *winks*
Today I messed a bit around in Inkscape. I have created a lot of seamless patterns in the past, mostly for 3D renders. I usually start with a picture and do some typical things like offset 50% vertical and 50% horizontal, blur and mask to make seams invisible. Of course image editors like Photoshop / PSP/ CorelPaint are very suitable for this kind of jobs. Add to that the procedural rendering that MapZone can do and voila… seamless texture.
So what was new today? I messed (once again) with cloned tiles in Inkscape. I drafted a pattern that is used for some custom stationary, and then I thought that I might as well put it up as free for personal use on VerySimpleDesigns.com.
Inkscape is VERY suitable for seamless pattern creation, but the workflow is not so obvious. I followed the procedure as described in Tavmjong’s guide, but I found it not so easy to follow, and in my humble opinion, some steps are not needed if the only thing you need out of Inkscape is an exported bitmap with your seamless texture. So I think I found material for a new tutorial too – now just to find time to actually write it… that may take a few days. So for now have a look at these pretty textures and grab them at high resolution from VSD.
I made a cute design, with Japanese style Kokeshi as theme. Kokeshi are Japanese dolls. They are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. Traditionally the body was painted with a floral design in red, black or yellow and a layer of wax was applied. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs, but “creative” kokeshi allow the artist complete freedom in terms of shape, design and color. Nowadays we can find kokeshi now in many variations, and digital media allows even more creative freedom.
When I finished the design, I figured it is great material for another Inkscape tutorial. As the last one I made was a bit more advanced, I decided to write it to the beginning Inkscape artist. So the tutorial gives explanations of the tools used, and exact steps how to recreate the design. I am currently considering a “cut to the chase” version of the tutorial too, for the more experienced Inkscape user, but that will take another day to complete (I do have a life without my PC.. even tho I seem to make more hours than anyone else I know.. is that good or bad?).
Xmas day, and it is kinda hot out here. It is close to 30 degC today, and for a girl that comes from the northern hemisphere, it feels quite unrealistic to have Xmas dinner in these temperatures. So we turned the airconditioner on, and we spent some time doing geeky things. The family thinks we’re weird anyways.
So what did we do? We tried to make VerySimpleDesigns.com more search engine friendly. I did install some analytic tools earlier already, and I see that some people do find the site even without me actively promoting it. It is a project which we prefer to do without placing screaming ads on the site, and we try not to upload crap, altho we do need some feedback from those that actually download the stuff to know what they think of it. Existing content needs to be tweaked further obviously, but we also realised that we better worked on SEO/SEF before we have too much content to validate.
We host the site on a linux platform, so used .htaccess to do some URL rewriting, and we configured Joomla to make use of this setting. Also the default SEF settings were enabled, we installed the SEF Patch from JoomlaAtWork as well as the sh404SEF component. The latter is a bit of a funny story – it is a free component, issued under GNU/GPL licence – but to download the latest version you are expected to subscribe to the official distributing website. I mentioned funny, because the licence allows re-use, modification and re-distribution. No need to say that there are several locations which are not terribly difficult to find that host the same file for free download. I understand that the developer no longer had sufficient time to do component maintenance, and therefore partnered with a commercial party, but to me this makes no sense at all. Download for free and pay a subscription fee for professional support would and certainly would prevent a wild growing amount of unofficial download locations and clearly focus on where to get paid support.
We also re-structured the site layout. Not so much the sections and categories, as we did that right from the start. But Joomla hosts the images a bit deep in the file structure: images/stories/… This bothered me, as I do want the images indexed, and I carefully named all of them prior to upload. But I am also a sorting freak – I love to have clear structures, so I happily created a few more sub-directories, which in retrospect are not search engine friendly at all. So back to the drawing board…
So we changed the image location and made sure it is not more than 2 levels deep. We made the directory accessible by the crawlers, so that the images will be indexed.
We carefully inspected the used meta-tags, and sofar we only used single word keywords, and no search phrases. Some work to do there. We created a target keyword list and used Google’s Adwords to generate possible keywords based on the site URL. Funny how the word illustration in an Inkscape tutorial leads to a full list of “Illustrator tutorials” and variations thereof tho. We do not want to draw people to the site with intentionally selected “skewed keywords”. You know.. you use a phrase that gets people to the site, but you are not offering whatever they searched for. We do not use Illustrator (or hardly ever) and tho the tutorials can easily be translated to this vector editor, we provide them now for Inkscape, so the Inkscape user is our main target. So we use Inkscape tutorials :D. Anyways, there is a lot more content to upload and more articles to write, and having a keyword list allows us to focus on a limited set that will eventually result in more traffic to the site.
Google’s webmaster tools let us know about crawl errors and provides HTML suggestions. In this case “duplicate metatag descriptions”, referring to pages where we left the meta-tag empty. More work to do! But the tools are awesome and give us clear indications what’s amiss.
Geez! It was not so much the tutorial actually, as the problem of getting it published decently. I guess that is my own fault, as I used a “quick fix” by using some else’s template design. Numbers: not visible, pagination: horrible, separation into sections: ugly… So i did some further template tweaking and I made a HUGE mental note to make a proper Joomla template from sketch. I bet it will be material for a tutorial too *grins*. My list of wishes for components is slowly growing too… so a good time to start working on that.
Anyways… back to the tutorial. It is again for Inkscape. I decided to do something a bit more advanced (tho due to lack of details I still think it qualifies as a very simple design). My mate Dakka proof read it, and said “I hope you do not consider this a beginner tutorial, because you lost me after the first sentence”. And he is right there, it is not a beginner tutorial, but he is quite an advanced graphics designer, and altho he has zero experience in Inkscape, it should not look scary to him. So there.. I went back to the drawing table and included some more clues, hints and tips. I think that anyone just above beginner level should be able to follow it now, and I also wrote an article which gives some clues how to start for an absolute beginner in Inkscape.
The tutorial is a walkthrough on how to create a fashion design, a fashionable woman blowing away some flowers, in vintage colours so it has a bit of a retro style to it. It is based on a stock photo and done in Inkscape. Check it out at verysimpledesigns.com.