Jul 142016

Profit isn't easy to talk about. Often it's an afterthought. But if you're a creative director in business, you're out to make a profit. To be blunt, if you're not making a profit, you're not running a business; you just have a job.

Profit is simply the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent when producing something. So how do you make sure you're making a profit consistently, and not just when a project goes really well?

You need to know exactly what you need to make in your business to thrive, not just survive, and to treat profit as a necessary part of your budget, not additional revenue from individual projects. The first step is to work out your shop rate.

Shop rates

You need a basis for all your pricing calculations. Most people use an hourly billing rate, which is unwise. Those rates aren't specific to you; they're based on guidebooks, blog posts, and what your friends charge.

Sustainably profitable companies use hard maths to determine how much to charge. They know something our industry is still learning: your gut is not a calculator.

Your business has a limited amount of time to sell each month, regardless of how you bill. There are a few ways to overcome this limitation, but each is flawed.

  • Raise your rates: There's a limit to how much you can charge per hour, and you could price yourself out of the market
  • Hire cheaper: Hiring those who make less than your hourly billing rate can cause your overhead to rise quickly, and employees may not produce the quality of work your clients expect
  • Build in profit on a per-project basis: It's unreliable to calculate costs and profits on a per-project basis; you can only control so much

So what's the solution? You need to find something called your shop rate:

(Expenses + profit) ÷ hours = shop rate

Find out what it costs to run your business, add in profit up-front, and then divide it by how much time you have. This tells you exactly how much each unit of time you have to sell is worth, which you can then use to calculate your project prices. Knowing your shop rate puts you in control of your pricing strategy.


Building a profitable web design business

When you’re not in control of your pricing, it’s like going downhill at an unsafe speed. It’s fun for a while, but unsustainable. Get control and enjoy the ride

Expenses include your recurring monthly spending, annual spending, your salary, the salary of any staff or contractors, and taxes. Broken down into a formula, it looks like this:

(Recurring expenses + 1/12 of annual expenses + your salary + staff salaries + contractor fees) × 1.25 = expenses

Recurring expenses include rent, software, utilities, supplies and routine purchases. If you don't know your monthly costs, create a budget and stick to it. This isn't easy, so be honest and give yourself extra room.

Annual expenses include anything you have to pay for annually or quarterly: large purchases such as computers, furniture and conferences. Divide the cost of each annual expense by 12, to account for 1/12 of that expense each month. This will help you eliminate surprises throughout the year.

Then pay yourself a salary that meets your lifestyle needs. Find a good number that matches what you'd make if you worked for someone else. Also include the salaries of anyone who works for you.

Contractors should be priced at a fixed amount for each project unless they work for you all the time. If that's an irregular expense, again you need to set a budget and stick to it.

Finally, save for taxes. Tax liabilities vary by country of business. Know what they are and make them a line-item in your budget – don't try to ignore them until the bill comes. We use 25 per cent as a guideline in the US.

Once you have all of those numbers tallied, you have the expenses part of your formula. We're going to use $20,000 as our example number.


Building a profitable web design business

Looking ahead: Profit is often lost by failing to plan for major expenses

To make a consistent profit, build it into the operating costs of your shop rather than trying to make a profit on each individual project. This can protect you from the projects that do go over budget or that you underestimate.

To calculate profit, add a percentage to your monthly expense total. Find a guideline that makes sense for you and your business, at Nine Labs we have a base profit of 20 per cent. Because profit is built into the shop rate, every unit
of time you sell is already profitable. Here's the formula, using $20,000 as the example expense figure:

20,000 + 20% = 24,000

That means above all of our expenses, salaries, annual costs and taxes, we're going to make an additional $4,000 each month.

But profit opportunities don't stop there. We still target an additional profit of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent on each individual project by quoting the right price. We can do this using a variety of methods.


Hours are the billable time you have available to work. This means the time each person can spend on services; not how many hours they're at work. If you have employees, this is the sum of everyone's billable time added together to give your shop's total bucket of hours.

The average is 30 billable hours per week for production employees, and 20 or less for owners and management. Non-billable employees, such as project managers or sales, do not contribute – their salaries were included as part of your expenses calculation.

When working out this figure, the goal is to find a real number that is sustainable for your business, not to see how many hours you could work if you gave up your nights and weekends.

Billing rate

You've now added up your expenses, built in profit, and know how many hours you have to sell. So if we have $20,000 in expenses, $4,000 in profit, and 160 billable hours to sell, we have a shop rate of $150 per hour.

(20,000 + 4,000) ÷ 160 = 150

The difference between your shop rate and your billing rate is how it's used. Your shop rate is private and can't be moved; it's never negotiable.

Your billing rate (if you choose to bill hourly) is public and can be negotiated, but it should never be less than your shop rate. It's up to you to determine what it is, based on your market, your interest in the work, and your current cash flow.

This article was originally published in net magazine issue 281. Buy it here.

Jul 142016

There are billions of people on social media. That's a lot of people who you might be interested in your products. The Data-Driven Marketing and Social Course will teach you how to reach them, and you can get it on sale for over 90% off the retail price!

Social media is an essential piece of any marketing professional's job. You can learn how to make the most of a variety of platforms, from Facebook to Google, and bring your products to those who will want it most with the Data-Driven Marketing and Social Networking Course. Over 27 hours of lessons and 11 lectures will teach you how to build out your network, learn social media marketing tactics, and much more.

You can get the Data-Driven Marketing and Social Course on sale for over 90% off the retail price. That makes your total just $49 (approx. £34). It's a deal that will pay for itself in no time, so grab it today!

Review: Modo 902

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Jul 142016
Review: Modo 902

Modo 902 offers an excellent camera matching and matte painting toolset


Modo adds a new camera matching and matte painting workflow in the latest point release.

While not a unique feature, the native ability to match a Modo camera to that of a photographic still is hugely useful. It's straightforward to bring in a photo, set the scene to the dimensions within the photo – either manually or Modo will read the photo's EXIF data. Once the camera matching and scale indicators are lined up, the fun can begin.

The native ability to match a Modo camera to that of a photographic still is hugely useful

Modo adds a new projection shader and texture; the Projection Shader is useful for simple setups, but the Projection Texture is hugely useful as it works with any material across any attribute, such as diffuse or luminous colour. Combined with the new projection painting options, it allows the creation of geometry, which is textured with the scene.

Coupled with Modo's great UV tools, we've used Modo 902 and Photoshop CC to create arch-viz clean plates in less than half the time and with better quality than is possible with Photoshop retouching alone. Modo 902 also allows the use of stacked images at seperate depths, creating a new way of placing your models within a photograph.

Modo 902 is free for all 901 users and gives non users another reason to consider this ever-improving application, which is catching up with the major players.

Jul 142016

net #283 - on sale now

Every week seems to welcome a new batch of exciting new APIs. This issue, the net team asked Microsoft Edge's Patrick Kettner to list seven killer APIs – from Font Loading to Service Workers and Scroll Snap Points – sure to make your life as a web pro much easier, and improve the experience for your users.

Buy issue 283 of net magazine here

'What about everyone on older browsers?' I hear you ask. Fear not – Kettner has also listed some handy fallbacks to make sure everyone can play along.

2 top freebies: CodePen trial and video course

CodePen is the industry's favourite frontend playground, and readers this issue can unlock the Pro features for free with an exclusive three-month trial!

Plus, flip to the Second Feature, where Tim Holman runs through eight hidden CodePen gems you never knew about.

Explore the web's favourite frontent playground with a free Pro trial

Everyone knows web performance is important, but perhaps you haven't quite mastered it yet. In the Project's section, you'll find a guide to how to integrate performance testing into your workflow. Plus, boost your learning with free access to Mijingo's Web Performance course, worth $19.99!

Elsewhere in the mag ...

  • The team chat to Jeff Veen, co-founder of TypeKit and a key figure in web analytics, about how he made the journey from fonts to finance
  • Your guide to using Service Workers to serve content when your users are offline
  • Go behind the scenes to find out how Leo Burnett Melbourne created Reword, a spellchecker-style tool to help tackle online bullying
  • Learn how to prototype and interactive app in Atomic
  • 10 golden rules to remember when creating responsive SVGs

Get started with Service Workers

Learn how to make your SVGs work for all devices

Save up to 47% on a net subscription

Great news: you can save up to 47% on the world's leading web design and development magazine with a subscription. Simply head to MyFavouriteMagazines and choose between a print, digital or special bundle subscription to net.

Jul 142016

We have teamed up with Adobe for a limited time to offer you 15 per cent off the Creative Cloud All Apps plan when you subscribe to net or Computer Arts. Sign up now to save £82!*

You'll receive:

  • 13 issues of Computer Arts or net magazine per year
  • Save up to 47% off the cover price
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  • Enjoy award-winning content

Creative Cloud gives you everything you need as a designer/developer. You can access 29 desktop apps including Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator plus services including Adobe Stock and Behance.

Click here to find out more


Subscribe before 31 August to take advantage. Your offer will be emailed to you 30 days after the date of purchase.

*Terms and Conditions:
Participants must subscribe before 31 August 2016. Valid in Europe only, not the US. The offer is available on the Print Only and Print & Digital bundle plans, with direct debit payment. The discount code will be emailed to you once the first subscription payment is debited from your account. Adobe, Creative Cloud, the Creative Cloud logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.
Jul 132016
Generate London

Learn why you should be the black sheep at Generate London

Don't be part of the web design herd! Mike Kus will be at Generate London in September where he'll urge you to be the black sheep: learn to extract organisations' identities and use them to craft truly distinctive web designs. Book now!

About a year and a half ago, I had seen enough. A tweet came through my stream and like so many others at the time, it was a link to a hot, new, amazing Responsive Web Design site.

"Oh, I love an amazing design," I thought, so I clicked. What I saw was a design casualty: boxes and grids everywhere. This was the 'amazing' new design? To me it looked like every other #RWD out there.

So I did what most people would do; I composed a tweet. "I hate #RWD."

That may not come off right, I thought. So I  did a little re-composing. "I really hate #RWD."

Where's the magic gone?

That's more like it. It's blasphemy, right? RWD is the future of web development. The thing was, to me, the web was losing its magic. And I blamed RWD. In order for me to explain why, we have to go back to the web of the early 2000s.

In those days, websites called K10K, CSS Zen Garden, Stylegala and 2advanced were some of the biggest sources of website design inspiration out there. Stylegala would feature a Site of the Month that, for me, was like Christmas morning to a six year old.

I would spend hours exploring these sites, studying all the wonderful details; all the passion the designer had put into creating it.

Beauty in the intangible

Back to my tweet. I had enough wits about me to completely rewrite it to something less trolly and more politically correct. "I feel like responsive design has sucked the soul out of website design. Everything is boxes and grids. Where has all the creativity gone?"

Away it went. Someone created a branch around it that went on to get close to 15,000 views. A lot of folks (rightly so) were asking me to define what a 'soul' was.

Break out of your reliance on boxes, Noah Stokes urges

This all goes back to my earlier references to K10K, Stylegala and so on. Those websites featured designs that were so unique, so full of thoughtfulness at every turn. My early exposure to web design was full of soul. So I would say: a soul is the intangible details of a design.

Stand-out sites

You've seen sites like this. Sites that stand out from the others. What sets those apart? To the untrained eye, they look like any other site, but to those of us that love design, these sites have a soul. I miss them. Why don't we see many of them around any more? I think I have a pretty good idea why.

Last year, Elliot Jay Stocks wrote an article called 'Why have today's designers stopped dreaming?' In it, he said:

"You click the website link and the assets begin to load. The page is a gigantic photo, filling the entirety of the viewport. In the photo is a group of people ... the product is just about visible on the screen of one of their iPhones. Overlaid on top of this photo is a brief sentence that introduces the product in a not-really-saying-anything-in-particular sort of way, set in a sans-serif typeface ...

Why have designers stopped dreaming, Elliot Jay Stocks asks

"You're gently transitioned further down the page and the large, cheerful photo remains in place, without scrolling, until it's obscured by the main content area that appears from below ... You scroll a little further down the page and small diagrams begin to animate themselves as they enter the viewport.

"Then  ... you notice that a semi-transparent menu has slunk into view and attached itself to the top of the page. It stays there as you scroll through the product descriptions, the giant bands of flat colours and the well-lit photos of the support team pulling their best 'fun' faces."

Sound like a website you've seen before? Trends come with the business, and they can be something to embrace. I love what Stocks goes on to say though – just because we have this style that is very minimal and subdued doesn't mean that we shouldn’t push ourselves as designers to create beautiful experiences online.

The RWD wrench

RWD shouldn't mean shutting down exploration, says Chris Cashdollar

What about RWD? There's no doubt that RWD takes longer to develop than those old fixed-width sites of my past. Chris Cashdollar of Happy Cog wrote a great article about how RWD has kind of thrown a wrench.

With established patterns, it can become habitual to look at a design and break it apart in our minds, working out how we are going to do the markup for it. We do that based on our past experiences with similar designs – and sometimes when a design challenge comes along we get stuck because it doesn't fit inside the established patterns we know so well.

Push yourself to think outside that box. If you understand the fundamentals of the position property in CSS then you can literally do anything. If you don't yet fully understand it, or need a refresher, I wrote an article that may help.

RWD is the future, no doubt, and some of us are just now getting our feet beneath us. I'm excited to see what we build as we continue to learn and master responsive development. Even more so, I'm excited to see some of you bring some soul to your work, and bring some magic back to the web. 

Learn from the experts at Generate London from 21-23 September! Two days of inspiring presentations from leading web experts, plus a day of practical, in-depth workshops; it's the perfect way to turbocharge your skills! Book now!

This article was originally published in net magazine. Subscribe today!

Jul 132016

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are standard for photo editing and more. To be the best artist you can, you need to know how to make the most out of these powerful tools. You can learn how with the Ultimate Adobe Photo Editing Bundle, on sale now for 94% off the retail price!

Whether you're a designer looking to pick up some time-saving tricks or a creative person hoping to learn how to turn your hobby into a career, you'll find the information you need in this eight-course bundle. You'll gain a better understanding of fundamentals and can work your way up through the 41 hours of instruction on the most useful features of Photoshop and Lightroom – including layers, filters, and much more.

A lifetime membership to the Ultimate Adobe Photo Editing Bundle usually retails for $566. Right now, you can save a massive 94% off the retail cost! It's an unbeatable price for in-depth courses on the programs and techniques you need to know best.

Jul 132016

It used to be that the most exotic thing you could do with images in the browser was just to change the image resolution, but as computers and web browsers become more powerful it's now possible to create impressive image effects that you'd expect to have to use Photoshop CC for.

All it takes is a bit of CSS knowledge, and in this session from Generate New York back in April, Una Kravets – creator of the ever-popular CSSGram - shows you how to do it. She points out that it's now possible to design in the browser, and over half an hour she demonstrates how to apply filters, blend modes and gradients to images, and shows you how to combine them to bring pictures to life without going anywhere near Photoshop.

Generate New York - Una Kravets

Learn how to apply filters, blends and gradients in the browser with Una Kravets

It's increasingly easy to pull off amazing visual tricks in the browser using the standard web toolkit rather than relying on plugins, and if you want to give your pages extra flair then there are plenty of opportunities to learn the latest visual techniques at upcoming Generate conferences.

This Friday at Generate San Francisco Sarah Drasner will be explaining how you can create intricate SVG animations. As well as demonstrating multiple techniques for manipulating vectors, she'll also show you how to use SVGs as a viewfinder, push the boundaries of the CPU with filters, and even combine techniques to create otherworldly effects. Don't miss out; there's still time to book your ticket!

At Generate Sydney on 5 September, Val Head will discuss motion in design systems. In her talk she'll cover guidelines for designing animation that fits your brand, making animation part of your design process, and documenting your animation decisions in your style guide for future use; all the things you need to make web animation work for you and your team.

Generate London - Cennydd Bowles

Don't miss Cennydd Bowles' all singing, all dancing Generate London session

And at Generate London on 22 September, Cennydd Bowles will talk about adding an extra dimension to your web experiences: sound. In All singing, all dancing he'll look at the potential of sound in our products, show you how simple music theory can help communicate mood and function, and finally explore how motion and sound together can help bring life and clarity to the things we make.

If you're serious about web design or frontend development then you can't afford to miss Generate; it's a perfect opportunity to learn from the experts and give yourself an extra competitive edge that'll win you more clients and keep them coming back. To find out more, head to the main Generate site.

Jul 132016

When it comes to collaborative design software, it's hard to find something that's simple enough for everyone to use, which offers powerful enough tools for pro designers to create inspiring work.

However the latest version of cloud-based collaborative design platform UXPin looks set to change all that, and you can get your hands on it for 15 per cent off.

Listed as a Top 10 Mockup tool in 2015, UXPin is already a big hit with thousands of customers including Paypal, HBO and Netflix,enabling designers and their teams to design lo-fi wireframes and hi-fi interactive prototypes in one place, import Sketch and PSD files, co-design in real time and share designs for feedback.


UXPin 3.0 is designed to be simple to use but powerful enough to create stunning results

"Just as Google docs revolutionized the sharing of words, we want to redefine the sharing of design," says Marcin Treder, founder and CEO of UXPin. "Design isn't just for businesses like Apple any more. We want to help all companies incorporate design while giving designers a powerful way to quickly create inspirational work."

And this mission continues with the latest version. UXPin 3.0 has been completely redesigned in a process guided by over 100 user interviews and more than 20 usability tests, with the goal of minimising the learning curve with a lightweight and faster interface.

"UXPin isn't just for designers," notes Marcin. "A lot of our customers include product managers and business analysts. Our goal was something simple enough for non-designers, but powerful enough for UI and UX designers."


UXPin's new engine runs 30 times faster than the previous version

The new version of UXPin features a rebuilt engine that runs 30 times faster than the previous version, rivalling desktop app speeds and making it suitable for much larger-scale design projects. A redesigned interface offers greater control over canvas elements, a zoom function enables you get in close to specific elements or pull back for a birds-eye view, and you can nest groups of elements so complex content is easier to find.

UXPin 3.0 also makes collaboration easier by allowing you to set different statuses and stages for projects, along with notifications for your team, and it'll even let you choose between a light and dark interface to suit your contrast preferences.

And best of all, the UXPin team is offering all CreativeBloq readers an exclusive 15 per cent discount. To get your discount, simply sign up for a free trial with the promo code CB15 and you're good to go.

Jul 132016

Design sprints, popularized by Jake Knapp, a design partner at Google Ventures (now called GV), have fundamentally changed how startups and large organizations alike design products, services, and experiences.

To put it simply, a design sprint is a framework created to optimize your chances of creating something that people actually want. Influenced by Eric Ries' Lean Startup principles, design sprints emphasize short time constraints and prototypes, using small, cross-functional teams to quickly iterate and validate ideas. This eliminates, or at least reduces, the odds that a product will be found to be completely useless to the end user after a significant investment of time, effort, and money.  

Design sprints have not only been used by Google Ventures to accelerate growth at startups like Slack and Nest, but internally at the parent company to create Gmail and Google X products.  

Knapp himself describes the five-day sprint as follows:

  • Day 1: Understand
    Dig into the design problem through research, competitive review, and strategy exercises.
  • Day 2: Diverge
    Rapidly develop as many solutions as possible.
  • Day 3: Decide
    Choose the best ideas and hammer out a user story.
  • Day 4: Prototype
    Build something quick and dirty that can be shown to users.
  • Day 5: Validate
    Show the prototype to real humans (in other words, people outside your company) and learn what works and what doesn't work.

In only five days, the team uncovers issues, brainstorms solutions, makes strategic choices, prototypes, and observes real users experiencing the product.

These cross-functional teams focused on the consumer, data, design, and technology short-circuit longer waterfall processes and incorporate agile thinking to do better work, and faster. The business constraints, teamwork, and outcomes of a sprint can inspire and ignite teams forward.

Knapp is the first to admit this model is based on the design thinking methodology created by Stanford's d.school and innovation firm IDEO, now used by creative organizations the world over to create human-centered products and services.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. 
Tim Brown, president and CEO

Not unlike other practitioners of design sprints and thinking, at Digital Surgeons we've primarily used our constrained framework (that includes gamestorming techniques developed by Dave Grey) to build better products, services, and experiences.

But what about brands?

Brand building is typically viewed as part of a long-term engagement. Organizations, and their internal, agency, or consultant teams invest in a discovery (typically through an agency briefing process), a visual exploration or moodboard, and a brand and identity strategy that culminates into a 'big idea' campaign with brand guidelines, strategic planning, a website, a communications plan, and media buying.

Design sprints create artifacts that help focus teams, brands and designs

While these artifacts are incredibly valuable, and necessary, a design sprint offers immediate clarity that can then be used as a creative springboard into other key deliverables.

We've had great luck 'cracking' big idea programs in single sprints that have lead to multi-year campaigns that attack various business challenges. It's ultimately all about transforming brands with velocity and allowing the sprint to act as a rally cry that connects people from multiple departments and points them towards what's next.

Brand-focused teams can take inspiration from product teams and use design sprints to eliminate brand dogma and validate ideas in quick, inexpensive bursts of time and energy.

At Google Ventures, Knapp recommends that product teams hold at least one sprint a quarter to gut-check the status of long-term projects.

A sprint can challenge long-held, and possibly false, assumptions within your brand strategy to separate what's working, from what desperately needs triage.

And best of all, at the end of a design sprint, you're left with designed brand artifacts to help keep up with the rapid race to create 'real-time' and opportunistic content.

I recommend that sprint teams use a 'war room', a set aside space with walls that can be covered in sticky notes, tape, images, and other outputs to capture the thinking of the team.  Mimic your favorite detective show and cover a wall or board with forensic thinking.

Not only does this provide a canvas for shared work, it helps visual and kinesthetic learners (which most creatives are) to absorb and retain information.

By the end of a sprint, the walls of your war room will be covered in low and high-fi deliverables ready to be used as content.

Here are five of the reasons you should consider a design sprint for your brand or business:

01. Chemistry

Creativity is a team sport so it's critical that teams work well together. One benefit of a design sprint or study is you can work together and see if you are creatively compatible before jumping into a long term engagement.

02. Alignment across disciplines

Design is also a team sport. A cross-functional sprint gets UX Designers, Engineers, marketers, and communications professionals on the same page from the start. Getting input from key stakeholders throughout the process shields a design team from the dreaded scenario in which weeks are spent on a project, only for the all the work to be scrapped by a HiPPO.

A design sprint also creates brand alignment with a shared visual language. Google's Material Design is a fantastic example of how a well-articulated visual language can revolutionize a brand's design. Mailchimp's Voice and Tone demonstrates how a shared language can be used to drive best-in-class content strategy.

03. Actionable artifacts

Everyone has moodboards or style sheets, but these are often made up solely of inspiration from other places. A design sprint takes this to the next level so you are owning it yourself and not just copy catting.

04. Validation

Empowered by the convergence of digital platforms, today's consumers control brands. Brand loyalty is an increasingly scarce commodity, and today's fickle consumers live in micro-moments. As a result, brands must grow and evolve constantly. Just as you must break and learn from your prototypes in agile product development, it is critical to 'break' your brand and challenge outdated assumptions.

05. Minimum time, maximum value

Constraints drive creativity. A design sprint builds brand transforming velocity by introducing constraints that force teams to focus on outcomes, not outputs. When a team only has a week or two, they are forced to focus on solving the challenges that matter most to the bottom line.

Drive immediate conceptual and design value through a sprint that produces ideas, concepts, and visual language that reveal opportunities for businesses and brands in record time.