Five Useful Bookmarklets and Plugins

By on July 18th, 2012

I’m always looking for inspiration, checking my development work, and taking screenshots for projects I’m working on in Chrome/Safari. To streamline my workflow and learn more about my craft, I use a certain set on bookmarklets, plugins and add-ons. Here are five very useful plugins for web designers and developers:

1. Firebug

Firebug is a plugin that lets developers inspect the DOM and associated styles.

Most developers probably already know about Firebug. This incredibly useful plugin lets developers inspect HTML elements and their corresponding CSS styles to debug code, or to find out how other websites have achieved a certain effect. Firebug also allows users to modify both the HTML and CSS in real time to see how changes will affect the web page.

Firebug CSS metrics at work.

Aside from that, hovering over an element in Firebug shows CSS metrics: the padding, margins, width and height of elements come up as colored blocks. This is a great way to find out why there’s weird spacing or why elements aren’t lining up correctly when coding out a webpage.

Firebug also includes other features aside from viewing and editing code:

  • Monitor loading speeds of every element on the page
  • Debug, edit, log and monitor the performance of JavaScript
  • Find errors in JavaScript, CSS, and XML
  • View and manage cookies
This extension is mostly for Firefox users; Chrome already has a built in debugging function.

2. ColorZilla

ColorZilla lets you pick colors from any webpage.

An obsession with colors come with the territory of being a designer. ColorZilla allows designers to pick out colors directly from the webpage and copy the hexadecimal color code to use in their own projects or to make a color palette. This plugin is also helpful for developers who need to copy color codes from one part of a website, in order to use it on another element.

ColorZilla is more robust in Firefox than in Chrome, however. In Firefox, the color picker is easier and quicker to use – there are less clicks required in order to pick a color.

Firefox's ColorZilla add-on has a lot more packaged in than Chrome's plugin.

In Chrome, users would have to open the ColorZilla widget, click “Pick color from webpage,” choose a color, open the widget up again, choose the last color picked, and finally copy the code. In FireFox,users just click the ColorZilla icon, pick a color, and the color code is automatically copied to the clipboard. Firefox’s ColorZilla add-on also gives us access to RGB values, X/Y coordinates, position in the DOM, CMYK values, gradient generators, and copy/paste CSS codes.

3. MeasureIt!

Get the height and width using MeasureIt!

MeasureIt is a ruler extension used to measure elements in your browser; it’s available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Meant for web designers and developers, this tool measures areas of a page by its width and height in pixels.

Measure also serves as a straightedge to see whether elements of a page line up exactly. You won’t need to hold a book up to the screen anymore, Taylor!

4. Aviary Screen Capture

Capture a screenshot of an entire page.

Aviary is awesome. They’ve created a whole set of great tools for creatives, from music editors to vector editors to image markup, including a screenshot plugin. Their screen capture plugin is a complete lifesaver for anybody who needs to take screenshots of webpages.

What makes Aviary different from just taking a screen capture using your system’s native screenshot tools is that Aviary allows you to take an image of a whole webpage. Instead of just capturing everything above the fold, Aviary captures the page from header to footer. Of course, there’s also an option to capture just a portion of a screen, which is useful for PC users (since that feature is available for Macs already).

After taking the screenshot, Aviary allows users to annotate and make edits to the image before they save it. Users can crop the screenshots, include text, and add shapes, lines and arrows. There’s a more advanced editor/image effects, but simply saving the image and bringing it into Adobe CS programs might be more beneficial.

5. StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon Toolbar

StumbleUpon is a browser extension that brings its users to new and interesting websites, depending on their interests. While StumbleUpon is known more as a procrastination tool than something useful (rage comics all day!), the StumbleUpon add-on allows users to stumble on pages in a certain interest only.

By turning off all other interests and only focusing on web design (or graphic design/web development/internet tools), users can discover lots of great articles, tools, and inspirational websites. StumbleUpon is actually how I found out about all the other browser extensions in this blog post!

These are the browser extensions I use on a daily basis. If I missed a good one, let me know in the comments!

Why ProjectFlow is Great

By on July 11th, 2012

On Tuesday, Barrel received a welcomed shout out from Smashing Magazine in a tweet complementing their application, ProjectFlow.

ProjectFlow, true to its name, is a project management tool that helps track progress and tasks. The beauty of ProjectFlow is its simplicity which allows it to serve perfectly from a smaller number of tasks such as a to do list for a bride and groom:

to larger and more complex projects covering a wide timespan such as a real estate agent tracking the status of each of their houses.

In this example the agent places each house under its specified status from meeting potential clients to done deals. ProjectFlow can even serve as a calendar, keeping track of weekly appointments.

On top of its simplicity and adaptability, it is easy to use. Re-ordering elements is done simply by dragging and dropping. But more importantly, ProjectFlow serves as a clean way to view the big picture. It enables its users to visualize each of the steps they must take to complete a project without a visually overwhelming or cluttered display.

True to 37 Signal’s Book Getting Real, ProjectFlow deals with essentials. I know I’m hounding on the simplicity aspect of the app, but I feel that frequently we lose sight of how important this really is. Since the app as a clear purpose, you are able to make the main aspect as close to perfect as possible, rather than making an app with several different aspects that are only mediocre.

Check out ProjectFlow’s Blog and also watch this awesome tutorial Diane made on how to start your own ProjectFlow!

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How Effective is Product Placement?

By on July 11th, 2012

So last week, Transformers 3 came on Netflix, and I thought to myself, how effective is movie/media product placement? I remember when I first watched the Michael Bay blockbuster in theaters, I laughed out loud when I saw the blatant placement in pristine glimpses of Macy’s, Citibank within the wreckage of Chicago. But the movie has many more products splattered throughout its two hours like Lenovo, Cisco, Mercedes, just to name a few. This is a little departure from the digital things we normally talk about here, but it was just something on my mind..

Normally, I wouldn’t have called any movie out for its products, since it’s only natural that some brands and some objects come up. The best writing is specific, as always, so when Ken Jeong’s character names Shu Hua milk, it makes the humor more apparent while giving some script time to the Chinese brand. But I’m not the only one to be entirely conscious of Michael Bay’s many corporate collaborations in this movie. The blatant presence of slow panning shots of brand logos on products such as Lenovo computers and also Cisco systems is overwhelming. In contrast, it’s easier to shake off knowing that the demon car is a Mercedes Benz, a sic one at that, because the fact that it’s a Mercedes is not thrown in your face strongly. According to Brand Channel, this movie wins the 2011 award for most searches of “product placement”, with almost 2 million searches in six months. It also managed to cram an amazing 78 brands onto the screen.

So just how effective is product placement? I suppose it depends on what goals you’re looking for. On one hand, by increasing your brand’s prominence in the media, you create larger awareness for it. According to Nielson ratings, there is quite a high recall for TV. You’re staking the claim that your brand is big enough that stories and movies circulate around it. Modern Family is now one of the most sought after product placement spots – the show is very selective and sparse in their placement.

But this could just as easily backlash with your audience being annoyed. Brand Channel quotes blog Slashfilm who critiques the Cisco placement in Transformers quite succinctly,

“…Cisco shows up at so many random points in this film — for video conferences that, in other films, would not be branded, and as a strangely prominent router in another situation — that it’s absurdly distracting. Assuming Cisco did sponsor this movie, what did they hope to gain? Is there a huge overlap between the target audience for this film and Cisco Telepresence? Are high-powered executives really watching this film and saying, “Hey, we should get that for our international offices!” Are military brass really watching this film and saying to themselves, “Glad we integrated that Cisco Telepresence!” What possible purpose could this sponsorship serve?”  Watch an excerpt of Cisco here.

Still, the sponsorship serves quite basic means: to ingrain the brand name in your mind. In that, Transformers succeeds! Hundreds of blogs are talking about the product, and despite the critique, the brand name is making its way through the masses. It’s a simple strategy. Customers are most likely to choose the brand that resonates with them, the one they remember.

The more interesting side of Transformers’ product placement is the rise of Chinese brands in the mix. Chinasmack notes Lenovo, TCL, Shuhua and Meters/bonwe (fashion), as just some of the big names appearing. The WPP press release for Lenovo by Ogilvy says that this collaboration with Transformers is part of a global branding strategy, aimed precisely at amplifying awareness internationally.

But let’s consider the future of product placement and ad-spots. Ad Age writes that commercials and content are becoming indistinguishable nowadays. Writer Brian Steinberg even goes as far as to blame consumers for product placement, by reminding us that advertisers now weave marketing into programs and movies because 30-second ad breaks in programming just aren’t cutting it anymore. We have remotes that fast-forward, change the channel, and with Netflix, non-commercial streaming as well. We can’t ignore that these corporate sponsors are also responsible for funding the programs we love so dearly such as American Idol and more. Product placement becomes somewhat of a necessary evil…

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Keg Interviews: Team Barrel

By on July 9th, 2012

Today, I’m presenting a group interview of Barrel team members. The ten participating will answer questions on their career path, reveal a bit about themselves and Barrel, and give advice to upcoming web designers, developers and project managers.

So who’s in this?

Kevin Kneifel – Developer
Marianne Do – Developer
Patrick Kunka – Developer (Website)
Wesley Turner-Harris – Developer
Angel Ng – Designer (Twitter)
Jan Cantor – Designer (Dribbble · Twitter)
Jane Song – Designer (Twitter)
Matthew Ortega – Designer (Portfolio · Twitter)
Yvonne Weng – Designer (Portfolio · Twitter)
Betty Chan – Project Manager

Let’s get started!

How did you get into your field? What was your path to get to where you are now?

Kevin Kneifel - Developer

Kevin Kneifel (Developer)
I started building websites in college for the various bands I was in, and to help promote shows for the school radio station. I was a Communications / Journalism major but took internships in music industry–one of which involved a lot of graphic art and web design.

When I graduated, I went into music industry as a booking agent’s assistant, but didn’t like the kind of environment that comes with that job, so I quit after a couple months.

In order to make money, I began to focus more on graphic art and web development, using some of the skills I had from my college days. Eventually I learned PHP and JavaScript, to bolster my existing knowledge of HTML and CSS, and joined forces with an illustrator I was friends with from Pittsburgh to start a small boutique web design and development studio.

I spent the next three years doing web and print, including a stint in TV graphics at MTV. I joined Barrel in October 2010 as a contract web-developer and have been full-time since January 2011.

Angel Ng (Designer)
I was never artsy growing up, nor do I really consider myself artsy now. I went to business school with the intent of graduating with a Finance / Accounting major, but I came out with a Marketing / Communications major instead.

After my Bachelors, I decided to go back to school to study Graphic Design. That was my first formal training in anything design / art related. I suppose it’s been a slow but steady move from business to marketing to design. What’s funny is that, in the end, they all work pretty well together.

Betty Chan (Project Manager)
It’s kind of tricky to say. I’ve deviated quite a bit from where I was headed, but at the end of the day, the pull of design kept me coming back. I gave project management a try when Peter asked me to join Barrel and have been glad I’m here since!

Wesley Turner-Harris - Developer

Wesley Turner-Harris (Developer)
In middle school, we used very old computers called IBM PS/2. They only had DOS installed and we used them daily. Since those days, I’ve always tinkered with computers. I assembled my first computer in ’98. I built my first website my freshman year of college for the University of Louisville’s Theater Arts Department where I was studying theater with the hopes of becoming an actor.

Upon pausing my schooling about half-way through, I moved to NYC to pursue performing arts. After a few years on tours and a couple of off-off-broadway shows later, I found myself looking for something more substantial. Throughout those few years of acting, I supported myself with freelance graphic design work such as postcards, business cards, websites, posters, etc. I decided to go back to school to study graphic design at the City College of NY.

While at college, a senior self-directed project led me to develop a custom PHP software solution for lending equipment from our IT lending library. It was then that I realized how much I love problem-solving and writing code. After completing my bachelors degree in electronic design, I began working as a real estate agent to pay back costs of schooling and debt.

I realized I hated that industry and continued to freelance developing websites and other graphic design services, which ultimately led me to finding work with Barrel.

Jan Cantor (Designer)
When I was in high school, I took extra classes like animation and photoshop. That got me hooked-up. At the same time, I was fascinated with Myspace’s and Friendster’s “cool” feature to customize your own profile. Then I slowly dabbled with HTML/CSS even further when I tried to create my own website on Geocities.com using cool gifs and uber bright font colors.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?

Matthew Ortega - Designer

Matthew Ortega (Designer)
I definitely feel that the biggest challenge so far has been to enter into the field in general, especially during these times. Also, to keep up with changing technology.

Kevin Kneifel (Developer)
Building my portfolio. Also making a mark in a sea of other qualified web developers.

Wesley Turner-Harris (Developer)
The most challenging is yet to come.

Patrick Kunka (Developer)
Probably trying to balance my time between being a professional musician and a web developer. So far having a full-time job has actually been very liberating, as I feel more free to pick and choose the projects I want to do in the music world, and I no longer have to do all the stressful freelance web work!

Yvonne Weng (Designer)
A lot of it was just plain figuring out what I want to do. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to go more into print, web, motion…who knows? (I am happy that I wound up in web though.)

Marianne Do (Developer)
My biggest career challenge is trying to play catch-up with the other developers (I’ve got so, so much to learn). That, and not getting overly frustrated by client requests.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s starting out in your field?

Betty Chan (Project Manager)
Go grab coffee with whoever you can as often as you can and join social sites like Skillshare and Meetup. It’s intimidating like hell at first but it’s the best way to get past all the BS and get some real insight into what different positions do.

Matthew Ortega (Designer)
For web design, don’t try to learn everything. Of course it’s always good to know a bit of both design and development worlds. But web design, at least in this moment, definitely requires a team.

Wesley Turner-Harris (Developer)
Do what you love until you don’t love it anymore.

Kevin Kneifel (Developer)
Be articulate. Your personality is as important as your work—but do great work too.

Jane Song (Designer)
Look at a lot of stuff and make a lot of stuff (even if it’s crappy).

Jan Cantor - Designer

Jan Cantor (Designer)
There are two quotes that inspired when I was starting out (they still inspire me).

“It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop.”
-Confucius

“It’s normal to take while, you’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
-Ira Glass

They basically mean the same thing: Never give up no matter how long and hard it takes.

Yvonne Weng (Designer)
Stay positive. Keep doing what you love, whether or not it directly relates to your day job. A good attitude and personality is just as important as good skills. There is so much in this world that you don’t know, and it’s okay.

What’s one thing you wish you had known early in your career? 

Patrick Kunka (Developer)
I try not to think about that sort of thing! I’m pretty happy with the path I’ve taken and I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made.

Kevin Kneifel (Developer)
That Illustrator is infinitely faster and better for designing websites than Photoshop.

Marianne Do - Developer

Marianne Do (Developer)
overflow: hidden;

What are some of the best ways to learn or get better in your field? What are some good resources?

Marianne Do (Developer)
Good resources are other people’s brains.

Angel Ng (Designer)
Google it.

In all seriousness. It’s something that one of my mentors used to say to me all the time and it’s the fastest way to learn something or find an answer. And of course, if you can’t figure it out on your own, then ask someone for help.

Wesley Turner-Harris (Developer)
Practice makes perfect. There are many tech blogs and tutorial sites out there. Whether you’re freelancing or studying, it’s always good to stay on top of the latest technologies and methodologies / practices.

Patrick Kunka - Developer

Patrick Kunka (Developer)
Googling things and “repurposing” other people’s code! Also, always check out the various web design awards sites to see what people are doing, and where the benchmark is.

Jan Cantor (Designer)
dribbble.com
thebestdesigns.com
thetypefight.com
losttype.com
designspiration.net

Browse through some magazines.

Kevin Kneifel (Developer)
Read. Read read read. When you’re done with that, read some more. Then take a break, drink some orange juice, and when you’ve got your head clear, get back to reading.

I always like to keep my eye on A List Apart, and Wikipedia can be a great resource for getting a general understanding about many topics. When I was first really investing myself into coding, Tizag was a HUGE resource in explaining things in real word terms.

Jane Song (Designer)
The obvious ones are sites like Dribbble or The Best Designs. Lately, though, I love reading interviews on The Great Discontent. I definitely get inspired by reading about people making awesome things, and it sort of lights a fire under my ass to keep moving and keep creating.

Matt Ortega (Designer)
The web is the best resource for learning. Taking classes in the very beginning may help, but in the end it is all about educating yourself. Read articles, watch videos, do tutorials. Smashing Magazine, PSD Tuts, Vector Tuts, and Lynda.com are some great resources.

How would somebody know they’re in the right field or if they should pursue something else?

Jan Cantor (Designer)
You must love whatever you’re doing whether you’re a designer, a developer, a project manager, etc. If you don’t love it, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

For me, the reason I’m a designer is because I enjoy the pleasure of making websites. And seeing other people like my work makes me a happy camper. I can’t picture myself doing something else.

Jane Song - Designer

Jane Song (Designer)
I’ve heard that if you wake up every morning eager to get out of bed and go to work, then you’re in the right field. I don’t think that’s the best gauge, though, because I hate getting up in the morning no matter what. I don’t know. If you get the feeling like you’re in the wrong field, then maybe you are. But that’s not like the be-all and end-all in life. If there is anything at all you are working on that you’re excited about – inside or outside of the office – you’re probably doing something right.

Yvonne Weng (Designer)
Does what you’re working on excite you? Challenge you in a positive way? Can you see yourself doing this for 5 years? 10 years? The rest of your life?

Matthew Ortega (Designer)
If you find it a struggle to keep up and are generally unenthusiastic about your work, then it is probably a mismatch.

Kevin Kneifel (Developer)
I’ve gone through this very issue, and I still waffle from time to time. If you find something you’re particularly adept at, I suggest giving it some time—don’t quit if it gets hard. However, be true to yourself and what makes you feel like you’re becoming the best person you can be.

For example, I worked at MTV doing graphics for a live television show and the pace and turn-around was so intense that I became a very angry and irritable person. I once threw some post-its at an intern, and that was a pretty good sign to get OUT of live TV.

What was your first week like?

Wesley Turner-Harris 
It was hot; I sat in a high, uncomfortable stool, but I had great food, smiling faces, and challenging work.

Betty Chan - Project Manager

Betty Chan
It was engrossing. I remember feeling like I had to pick up on things very quickly and not let the feeling of not knowing stop me from doing what I had to. It helped a lot that I had Aretha guiding me the whole week.

Jane Song
I started out as an intern over two years ago. We were all crammed into this one-room office where we never saw the light of day. I worked on a few spot illustrations and simple layouts, which would have been fun had I not been so caught up with trying to appear skillful and knowledgeable. Luckily, everyone saw right through that act and went out of their way to help me out.

Matthew Ortega
It was great getting to know everyone in the office. We got off to a fast start on a tight deadline branding and web project. But it was a lot of fun.

Marianne Do
On my first day of work (at the office on 27th), I learned that we had to wash our dishes in the bathroom sink. I was like, “Okay…” and Andrea replied, “Welcome to Barrel!”

It was Kevin’s birthday on my second day of work. We had a delicious cake—I want to say it was lemon.

My first week was good.

What do you like the most about working at Barrel?

Patrick Kunka
The people, and free food and my amazing chair. Seriously, this is the best chair I’ve ever sat on.

Wesley Turner-Harris
I like the community, family-esque aspects, and fostering of talent at Barrel.

Marianne Do
Ping-pong, friends, beer, wine, snacks.

Betty Chan
The people. Seriously. I’d wake up for these guys.

Yvonne Weng
The people, the atmosphere, the friendly culture. The supply of free food is awesome too.

How is working at Barrel different from what you were used to before?

Kevin Kneifel
I’ve never had bosses that cared this much about the personal welfare of their employees. I feel like I can be completely candid about how I feel and what’s going on with me, and that’s great. I care a lot about transparency.

Betty Chan
Everyone’s very collaborative. It’s pretty common to see designers and developers keep to themselves but that’s rarely the case here. I’m sure our lunch ritual and small numbers help keep things intimate.

Yvonne Weng - Designer

Yvonne Weng
The open area, how everyone’s desks are all right up next to each other in one big room. Everywhere else I’ve been at, people were all very separated in cubicles, offices, etc.

Marianne Do
I’ve never gotten along with so many people so well.

Jan Cantor
The first company I worked with was kinda similar to Barrel, only smaller. The second one is a lot smaller, more like a startup company with 5 people (including myself).

I think Barrel is the place I want to be at. More people. The atmosphere is much more inviting. Team Barrel is much more fun and chill.

What is one thing nobody at Barrel knows about you?

Matthew Ortega
My favorite actor was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Wesley Turner-Harris
I’ve developed a metaphysical theory with a working title of “We’re all just people.”

Betty Chan
Haha, um, that’s hard. Somebody always knows something. I have a nickname all my friends call me that only a few know at the office.

Would you give up Internet access to have the ability to fly?

Marianne Do
Yes. Without a doubt.

Matthew Ortega
It depends how fast. But most likely yes.

Jan Cantor
Fly? No I won’t. Maybe teleportation or time traveling. Flying is too slow.

Betty Chan
No brainer. Yes. Actually, I’d give it up even faster for teleportation.

Yvonne Weng
Never. I’m afraid of heights anyway.

Angel Ng - Designer

Angel Ng
No way! Only because I believe that, eventually, we will be able to fly.

What’s one thing that really creeps you out?

Betty Chan
I have a seasonal pet peeve: dried sweat on MTA train seats. Just knowing it’s there when I sit down…ewwwww!

Jane Song
When children sing in darkened rooms.

Kevin Kneifel
The sound Styrofoam makes when it scrapes against other Styrofoam. I hate that.

Yvonne Weng
Spiders.

Angel Ng
Porcelain dolls. Or dolls that look human and when you tilt them they blink. When you think about it, you’ve got to agree with me that they’re super creepy!

Wesley Turner-Harris
Insects, although interesting creatures and very fascinating when not on you, always give me the willies, especially when I think of their many parts that undulate and crawl and prick and sting and bite and lay eggs.

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Qwiki App

By on July 9th, 2012

Qwiki is an app that allows you to make customized presentation using a variety of media sources such as videos, maps and photos uploaded from your computer. Originally I was attempting to make a map zoom-in from outer space to Barrel’s office, but it was very jumpy and not that great. I then switched to making a Qwiki of our internship kick-off party at Silver Lining. A Qwiki seems to be perfect for something like a slide show. It was a little frustrating to use, but the steps to make one seem simple enough:

Step 1.

You easily set up an account and watch a brief tutorial video.  Timing seems to be a little awkward, with a slight lag between the voice over and the image being displayed.

 

Step 2.

Click that plus sign and start creating. You add all of the content you want your video to contain using the side bar navigation, as well as specify which animation your Qwiki should use.

Step 3.

You Narrate. This is probably one of the more important steps. One of the most unfortunate things about Qwiki is that without a narration the Qwiki does not take time. Your narration must be as long as you want your slide show. This feature hover is useful if you wanted to embed a speech presentation in a website. The recording provides three options, video , text-transformation (your writing is read by a robot), or record your own video to narrate.

 

Step 4.

Set the Timing. This is by far the most difficult aspect of Qwiki. Its simple in that you just click the content at the time you want it to appear. Its difficult in that its hard to get the timing perfect. Luckily, you can redo it and preview it as often as you want.

The Juan Torres shows some exemplary models of what Qwiki can become when you play with it. However, I couldn’t understand how many of the coolest image transitions are done on Qwiki. I feel that some  images are manipulated and then uploaded to Qwiki, where the transitions are utilized to make cooler effects. Similarly videos provide cool effects and greatly enhance the quality of the video. However, while the video can be from youtube or vimeo, I couldn’t manage to get  these urls to play in the Qwiki, so I’m guessing that actual video content should be uploaded from your computer. All in all Qwiki seems to be a great tool for combining multimedia presentations. However, it appears to me that the individual slides should be made off of Qwiki to achieve the greatest effects. Furthermore WordPress currently strips the iframe of the Qwiki embed so when put into a WordPress post only the link appears.

Dianne and I made a Qwiki solely utilizing the tools that Qwiki Provided, and decided we should dedicate our Qwiki to Tiffany who will be leaving Barrel, and here is the final product:

Play the Qwiki: Goodbye Tiffany!

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