Design Brief Worksheet Template

Using a properly thought out Design Spec can help you find better clients, clients with more money to spend and better, more interesting projects.

Prompted by a regular stream of Reverb Studios clients over the years who weren’t quite sure what they wanted in a new website or other design project and in response to me asking them for more guidance just pointed to a competitors website, or worst still a very long list of totally different competitor websites, and expected me to take it from there, I recently decided to do some research on how best to extract the maximum amount of detailed information from a client before starting any new design project.

The benefits to this are as follows as I see it:

  • You can avoid that initial, face-to-face, time (and money) sapping meeting with a client where no one is really prepared or knows what they want or what needs doing.
  • You get to see if a client is a good fit for you and your services and vice versa, whether the client can actually be served by you at all.
  • You get an idea of how serious and defined a client is about their business and their business goals. Asking them to sit down and think about their business and goals is something of value to them if they havn’t done it before.
  • By asking them for their budget, you separate the kind of clients who want something for nothing or everything in the world for very little investment from those who are prepared to put their money where their mouths are and get something of real value in return.
  • You get to come across as a professional who is serious and detailed about how they do things.
  • It gives much needed focus to a project that both sides can greatly benefit from.

Following my research across several articles, some marketing and design classes I’ve completed in recent years, my recent design degree and drawing from my now 15 years in a design related business, I drafted and built the following Design Brief Worksheet and put it in digital form:

Reverb Studios Design Brief Worksheet

Please use the form to think about your own business’s current performance, goals, use it to hire my own services or adapt it for your own use.

Leon

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The Doors & George Winston Crystal Ship Mashup Remix

So what prompted this rare musical effort on my behalf was a long overdue penny drop with Ableton DAW. I’ve been a Cubase man for years but have been keen in recent times to get into electronic music and after some research all roads seemed to lead to Ableton when it comes to modern electronic music production..

I tried a few times over the last few years to learn Ableton, mostly through random YouTube videos and it’s own help section and manual but every time I opened it up to do something I still had no clue where to start! Cue a proper, structured online course from Lynda.com and I now know enough (no expert at all) about it to actually attempt something like this mashup.

My plan with my early stage electronic music composing and production career is to aim to create electronica, ambient, slow and moody music with the computer. These days I listen to stuff like AIR, Kraftwerk, Zero 7 etc… but to also somehow include my old influences of 60’s Classic rock for that retro feel. That lead me to try import some samples into Ableton and use them in tracks and then in turn to try create a full mashup of a couple of different toons so I set off to YouTube to search for isolated Jim Morrison/Doors vocals. There are lots surprisingly! As soon as I found good quality Crystal Ship vocals an idea sprang to mind to try combine that with a solo piano version from a George Winston album I’ve had for a few years. The Crystal Ship is possibly one of my favourite Doors songs:

Here’s how I did it all in the end:

STEP 1

As I said above I ran across some really good quality Jim Morrison vocal isolations on Youtube including this one which I extracted the audio from:

Then I also extracted the audio from George Winston’s solo piano version of the same song from his awesome album of Doors covers – “Night Divides the Day“.

STEP 2

I then setup a new project in Ableton and matched the tempo to the original Doors version of Crystal Ship by tapping the beat out.

STEP 3

Vocal Warping
Vocal Warping

I attempted to warp the vocal to the project tempo but quickly realised that a vocal is not nearly as easy to warp as a drum beat or rhythmical sound as it has fairly random peaks and hitpoints but I eventually managed a good approximation after hours of tweaking.

STEP 4

Piano Warping
Piano Warping

I done the same warping with the solo piano track. This was a little easier as there was a bit more rhythm although there are some dynamics and speed fluctuations in both the vocal and piano performances that I had to iron out. They will be very obvious to people who know this song but all in all I think it flows well and stays true to the original song.

STEP 5

Arrangement
Arrangement

With both tracks matched to the project tempo all I had to do then was to match them to each other. Both arrangements are similar in terms of verse, chorus etc but the piano meanders a little longer in parts so I just chopped up the vocal to match the piano parts and aligned them accordingly.

STEP 6

I looked through Ableton’s library for a suitable beat to apply after having thought long and hard about whether to “modernise” an old song in this way by adding a modern beat! I eventually settled on a fairly sparse Funk beat and only applied it well into the song, stopping it for the piano solo in the middle. I think it works fairly well personally but I’m sure there are many purists who wont!

STEP 7

Strings
Strings

Just for practice and because I felt there needed to be something else alongside the piano solo in the middle I added some MIDI strings and automated the volume to be louder at the beginning and end, just like the piano itself.

Finally

The last steps were to add some EQ to each track and send each track some Reverb as well as adding some Compression and Limiting on the master track. I decided to duplicate Jim’s vocal and pan each one left and right to give his vocal a  little more impact too.

I also added some video of Jim Morrison just so I could get the track up on YouTube!

Let me know what you think in the comments. Be kind, it’s my first proper project in Ableton and first mashup ever!

Soundcloud version – https://soundcloud.com/reverbstudios/the-crystal-ship-mashup-remix

How to Fix Ford Bluetooth Connection Issues with a Firmware Update

We just got a Ford Grand C-Max 2012 and I was quite excited (as only a man can be with the prospect of a new car gadget) by the Bluetooth functionality promised by the ton of Bluetooth buttons and controls built into the car’s dashboard. Unlike our last car which had just a Bluetooth kit that could only handle calls but not stream music from phones etc through the speakers, this car could do that and more. There’s even a phone keypad on the dashboard!

So imagine my disappointment when I just couldn’t get my Galaxy Note 4 (Or my wife’s S4) bonded with the car. The phone found the car’s Bluetooth no problem but kept saying it couldn’t connect because there were no available phone slots left. But when I tried to view current slots and debond the previous owner’s phones the car system threw a wobbly and timed out, sometimes turning itself off and only turning the engine on could start it up again. The cars Bluetooth function had obviously become corrupt in some way.

So I went off Googling, presuming to find a ton of easy fixes. Surely this was a common issue!? Not so. Any fixes I came across just suggested debonding the existing phones but my system wouldn’t let me do that. I then went looking for firmware updates for the audio system to see if that would help reset things but couldn’t find any on any Ford site. It seems they don’t want you doing this, perhaps preferring instead that you fork out for a fix with a local Ford dealer!?

Eventually I found some old firmware from 2012 on a website. It is supposed to be for all Ford Bluetooth with Voice Control car systems from 2008 to 2012 but only supported the C-Max up to Jan 2012 and my car was July 2012. Nevertheless, I downloaded it and ran the update procedure and everything works perfect now!

Make sure your phone is actually compatible with the car system before you do this obviously – http://www.ford.ie/Technology/MobileCompatibility

* Here’s the firmware I used – Download.

And here’s a simple procedure for updating:

  1. Download and extract the zip folder above.
  2. Copy the extracted files (not folder) to an empty USB drive formatted in FAT32.
  3. Turn on your car audio system via the button, ie – not ignition switch.
  4. Insert the USB drive and select AUX – USB input.
  5. Turn ignition key to position 1.
  6. The update process should start automatically and take about 20 mins.

Your audio system might turn itself off when the process is complete. Mine did. Just turn it back on with the USB drive still inserted and the system should say already up to date. That’s it done.

* Compatible with the following cars with a USB connection

C-Max/Grand C-Max – February 2008 to July 2012
Fiesta – July 2008 to December 2011
Focus – February 2008 to January 2012
Galaxy – September 2008 to January 2012
Kuga – February 2008 to January 2012
Mondeo – September 2008 to January 2012
Ranger – From April 2009
Transit – From June 2009

Disclaimer: This is not my firmware and no responsibility will be taken by me for damage done to your car audio system if it doesn’t work or there are compatibility issues.

 

What’s the Cost of Owning a Car?

We’ve been buying and selling cars a lot (no choice!) the last few years and have mostly had bad luck with what we’ve bought. All we ever seem to be able to afford are bangers that cause us endless headache and costs. But if nothing else, it’s led me to do a lot of research on how much a car can actually cost day to day. We’ve just invested in a newish car for once and I decided to make a spreadsheet that would calculate the difference in running costs between the old one and this new one just to see if we were going to save any money and if so how much exactly. It’s early days because we havn’t had the new car long but it turns out that the new car might potentially save us around €100 per week!

I’ve decided to modify my spreadsheet slightly for public consumption so you can input your own figures for things like Miles Per Gallon (MPG), Tax, CO2, Servicing/Repair and Insurance and see just how much exactly your car is costing you per year, per month and per week. Hopefully it might help you decide if it’s best to keep your car or invest in a cheaper to run one like it has for us.

Here are some resources you may need to use to get information on your car:

Irish Motor Tax Rates (Private Car Standard Engine size pre 2008 or Private Car CO2 Emissions post 2008) – Motortax.ie

SEAI CO2 Emissions band – Seai.ie

Car Specification & Reviews – Parkers.co.uk

Car Reliability Reviews – Honestjohn.co.uk

Here’s the spreadsheet (.XLSX)

Fix: SSL Not Trusted or Invalid Security Error on Mobile

My own site has been fully SSL for a while now but I noticed a security error while viewing it on my Android phone using the Chrome browser recently. It’s fine on a desktop. I googled around a bit and contacted my SSL issuer NameCheap.com for advice and they suggested that I hadn’t installed the Certificate Authority (CA) bundle while installing the main SSL cert initially. The CA bundle is optional when installing an SSL cert but it exists to improve compatibility with web browsers and clients so is worthwhile putting in too.

NameCheap provided the CA bundle code via email and it was a fairly straightforward process to go in to my hosts Cpanel and add the CA to the existing cert via the SSL/TLS Manager.

The process is outlined here:

Namecheap.com/support/knowledgebase/article.aspx/9418/0/cpanel

How to Speed up an Android Phone

Is it just me or do smart phones these days get very slow very quickly after purchase!? The conspiracy theorist in me reckons it’s a cunning ploy by manufacturers to get you to abandon older phones and buy their newest one. For example my old iPhone 3Gs is almost unusable these days despite completely clearing it out, resetting and only ever using to take business calls!?

There’s a few things you can do to counteract the slowness or at least reduce it a little bit. The procedures and screenshots I used below were done on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with Android 5.1.1 installed.

Remove unwanted Apps and Data:

These are the most effective and obvious things you can do. If you go into settings and Application Manager and uninstall any apps you never use or don’t need anymore that should help. Be sure to sort them by Size to see the biggest space hoggers at the top and also remember to view apps both on the device memory and SD card if you have one.

You should also remove images, video and music you no longer use. These files can be massive due to the high resolution cameras on most phones these days. You can either copy them off onto a PC or if they are automatically backed up to somewhere like DropBox, Google Photos or similar cloud storage then you don’t really need the device copy anymore.

Update:

Technically upgrading your phones operating system will actually add a ton more data but hopefully it may also speed up some tasks and processes so it’s worth doing I think. You can check for updates in Settings – About Device – Software Updates.

Clear Cache:

If you go into Settings – Storage you will see how your device’s space is currently being used up and how much space you have left on both the device and SD card. Not a lot of people know that if you click on the “Cached Data” entry here you will get an option to clear the cache which could free up a lot of space.

Clear Android Cache

End Running Apps & Processes:

Most modern phones can multitask, that is they can keep multiple apps open and running so you can easily switch between them. However, the more you have open and running the more RAM or memory is required so that could slow a phone down drastically. I like to get into the habit of ending all running apps. You can do this via the “Active Applications” app/widget or via the multi window button bottom left of the Note 4.

End Active Apps

Speedup Apps:

There are some good apps that continuously monitor and adjust your phones speed and give you options to clear cache etc. One decent one I’ve used is “Clean Master”.

Reset Phone:

If all else fails and your phone is getting pretty old you could try a total reset which will return the phone to it’s factory settings but make sure everything is backed up properly first. You can do this via Settings – Backup and Reset.

“Paul Lennon” – Lennon McCartney Face Mashup in Photoshop

I googled for some cool Photoshop face mashups of John Lennon & Paul McCartney just for the crack but there didn’t seem to be any. Maybe there’s some unwritten law against doing it or something!? So basically I done my own for practice..

Assets:

I found the best, hi-res facial portraits from roughly the same angle I could find in Google. There were many more of Lennon than McCartney!?

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney

And..

John Lennon
John Lennon

Process:

The Lennon one was much better quality so when I brought them both into photoshop I actually added some noise/grain to the Lennon photo to make it match McCartney better after which I added a couple of master Hue/Saturation adjustment layers to bring everything down to grayscale and control tones.

Step 1: 

The first step was to rotate and align McCartney on top of Lennon precisely, matching eye, nose and mouth positions and using the layer opacity slider for guidance. Once that was done I added a layer mask to McCartney and fairly roughly masked out all but his eyes, nose and mouth using  a very soft brush.

Step 2:

I very carefully cut out Lennon’s glasses and pasted them on a new layer on top of McCartney’s face, masking out the glass part and adding a light grey color to the glass area which I made very transparent.

Step 3:

I manually added some shadow using a soft black brush behind the glasses on the bridge of the nose and top of the cheeks, matching the shadow type of the original Lennon photo.

Step 4: 

I duplicated the McCartney layer and masked out everything but the eye sockets and eyes and then applied a Liquify – Pucker filter to make the eyes look a little distorted through the glass as in the Lennon photo.

Step 5: 

I added some glare on the left eye glass and tidied up the merge by adding some shadows and darkening/brightening some facial areas as well as messing with levels on both photos to match up better.

Finally:

I added master Levels and Photo Filter adjustment layers to unify the tone as well as a retro font with the title of the work.

Here’s the final result:

Paul Lenon
Paul Lenon

Leon