Design tip for Tuesday, February 18, 2014

If you work in the most current version if your software of choice…
When creating files that you know will be handled by others outside your organization, presume that they will not have the latest version, and “downsave” the file (It also helps to outline fonts, but that’s a discussion for another time). This should help prevent conversion issues like unnecessary clipping paths, and type-filled text boxes breaking up in odd places.

Sharing is caring– about who you’re sharing with

Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead
— Benjamin Franklin

This morning, I was asked about some files that I had been asked to placed in Dropbox. I knew I had sent them already, so I told the person to look in her folder (we have shared folders set up to make it easier to “sneaker-net” either large files or multiple files more easily. She did, and replied “they’re not there. There’s nothing there”.

What the–?!

I went into my folder. Maybe, for some strange, unforeseen reason I had put them there instead (I knew I hadn’t, but figured I’d check anyway).

Nothing there, either.

Panic. How could–? When–? Who could–? Then I remembered seeing pop-up notices that files had been deleted yesterday. I just chalked it up to her removing the files I had sent and storing them locally. How did they just disappear? Did someone delete them? And why?

I was ticked off. And determined to figure out how this happened and who perpetrated such a thing.

I went online and logged in to Dropbox. Surely there had to be a way to see who had accessed the folders recently. If there wasn’t, an immediate password change would ensue. Either I was getting to the bottom of this, or I was locking things up. Fast.

I looked in the Dropbox menu for the shared folders and realized a couple of things. First, neither I or my coworker was the owner of our respective shared folder (never realized I wasn’t the folder creator, since it had my name on it). Second, one of the folders had an additional person set up to have access.

Turns out the owner/creator of the folders– according to the trail provided by Dropbox– had gone and deleted the contents of the folders. Now, I understand that, as a folder admin, the contents were counting against their storage space, and maybe they needed it for some purpose. That’s fine. My issue was in not being told they were deleting the contents.

Thankfully, Dropbox allows you to recover deleted files within 30 days (I didn’t know how initially, but Dropbox has a nice FAQ– win!) , so I was able to restore everything. In the process, I created new share folders, and I assigned limited user access.

My takeaway? An obvious one, but one I had not had the presence of mind to remember in this context– always be aware of who you’re sharing content with. And, from time to time, it’s not a bad idea to review who has access to what. Especially when it comes to online content, whether you generate it in the form of Facebook status updates, tweets, blog posts and comments, or files stored online.

Shortcuts CAN be a good thing

I’ve been doing quite a bit of photo retouching this past week, and in the process realized that I wasn’t being as efficient in my workflow as i could. I decided to consciously seek out the single-keystroke shortcuts for those tools that I was using the most. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • J= healing brush
  • B= paint brush
  • V= move (the crosshair arrows at the very top of the tools palette)
  • L= lasso
  • M= marquee
  • G= gradient
  • P= paths

Now, I realize that these are pretty basic, and that there are many more single-key shortcuts (and we’re not even getting into multi-key shortcuts, like image or canvas sizing), but I’m willing to bet that a lot of us out there suffer from this same condition of convenience, and just move the mouse/pen over to the specific tool on the palette, thinking that in the short run that one step really makes no discernible difference. Whether it does or not is another matter, and entirely up to you to decide.

I, for one, plan on continuing to use these and try to make my workflow a tiny bit more efficient.

Craigslist ads– sniper rifle or drum of dynamite?

Craigslist ads are a pretty good value for the dollar, if you ask me. Where else do you have such a large place where you can put up an ad virtually anywhere in the world– for nothing.

That being said, these free ads can be a pain sometimes, because of this very public nature. It’s almost like those ads you see in laundromats, dorms, and other public spots where you just tear off a little strip with a phone number on it. Anybody can snag one, so for every legit inquiry, there’s probably at least 5 spammy ones tha come your way. And in this age of the Internet, those spammy ones can potentially steal personal information, not to mention zap time from following up on actual, bona fide potential clients.

You could also– quite reasonably– argue how it’s like whispering in the middle of  Grand Central– at rush hour. But we’ll leave that argument for another day and focus instead on their bang for the buck. After all, free stuff’s good. Right?
image courtesy of
Now, I’m not going to go into a whole thing on how to place these ads. What I want to focus on are the ways you can reply to these ads. When you place an ad on Craigslist you have the option of showing a link to (a) your actual email, (b) displaying an anonymized email link, or (c) hiding the email altogether. For the most part, the ads I see (and have placed myself) have an anonymized link, which forwards/redirects the message to your actual email inbox. This is supposed to protect you by keeping this bit of personal info– your email– off the ad and the intitial contact.

Is this a good way of doing things? Maybe

Recently, I’ve switched tactics and decided to hide the email address completely. Instead, at the very end of the listing, I give out my website address in the form of rafaelarmstrong [dot] com, and direct folks to use the contact form I have set up there.

This results in a couple of things. First, it weeds out the people who may just be replying to any and all posts that are remotely related to whatever project they may/may not have on deck by forcing them to physically type in the address in their browser, visit my site and navigate to the contact form– hopefully after checking out the samples I have online.

Secondly, the form itself has a captcha set up, which helps in reducing– if not outright eliminating– spam bots that would just troll Craigslist ads for email links.

Now, I’ll probably get less hits off that ad than if I just left the email address as a “reply to” (even if it’s anonymized), but the quality of replies is improved slightly. And, isn’t that what we ultimately are looking for?

What do you think? Am I on to something? Is it naive and foolish to even place ads on Craigslist? Leave me your thought and suggestions below.

Gibbs’ Rules For Freelancers– rule #9

If, like me, you are a fan of NCIS, then no doubt you are aware that there is a set of rules (50, to be precise, although as of January 2010, we have only been given less than half, and not in any particular order) that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs lives by. Periodically they’re mentioned or referenced, and, thanks to the wonders of the internet, folks far more obsessive and anal-retentive about these things than I have collected them. Well, it occurred to me one night that some of these “rules” can be adapted and applied to the lives and work of designers, and freelancers in particular. In the spirit of the show, I will also discuss these from time to time in a random manner.

Without further ado, the first installment of what I’d like to call “Gibbs’ Rules For Freelancers.”

Gibbs' rules for design

Rule #9. Never go anywhere without a knife (from episode 1.13, “One Shot, One Kill”)

A knife, in this case, may not be necessary (although a lot of folks, myself included, occasionally carry a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman-type tool). However, designers– and freelancers in particular– would do well to carry a USB flash drive.
It’s simple, really. There may be times when you’re working on-site and have to take files with you. Maybe you go to an initial meeting with a potential new client and end up picking up some business before leaving their office. They want you to take their logo, maybe some documents you’ll need as part of the brief. Having a flash drive with you would certainly make things easier. There wouldn’t be the need to have anything emailed (which, considering the recent rash of issues some designers and bloggers have experienced, could be a hazard). There would be less of a need to commit another password to memory because files need to be FTP’d. The client wouldn’t have to burn a disk for you to take.

You could also look at it as “being green”. You wouldn’t necessarily need to burn disks to take files to a local printer or copy center. Just dupe them to your thumb drive and have them copy it off to their machines.

My flash drives

Personally, I have 3 that I’ve picked up over the last 5 years– a 256MB that I rarely use, and my two workhorses: A 1GB and a 2GB drive– and I rarely leave the house to go anywhere without at least one of these. On them I carry PDFs of my resumé and a one-sheet of work samples.

These days flash drives have become so inexpensive that it’s almost silly for designers or other creative professionals to not have one. If you have one and haven’t really put them to use, maybe it’s time to reconsider. If you don’t have one, you’d do well to invest in one.