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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Fix for WordPress Jetpack Not Activated: Site Inaccessible

I’ve noticed on some website hosts including my own old one that there are issues enabling the WordPress Jetpack plugin. Some hosts basically block access to the WordPress xmlrpc.php file in the root of all WordPress sites for security and performance reasons. The same file is a target for hackers so I guess you can’t blame hosts too much. However, Jetpack is a pretty cool plugin from WordPress themselves that allows all kinds of functionality on your website including Image CDN, Email Subscriptions, Security, Share icons and my personal favorite, Auto-posting to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc.. so I’d really prefer if it wasn’t blocked!

The WordPress Android and iOS apps both use the xmlrpc.php files to work too so that in addition to all the great functionality the Jetpack plugin offers makes it worth the risk for me to allow access to it.

When you add the plugin and activate it, you will be asked to connect to your WordPress.com account but while doing this you may see the error “Your website needs to be publicly accessible to use Jetpack: site_inaccessible” or “Jetpack not activated: site inaccessible”. After talking with my host they reluctantly suggested I add the following code to my site’s .htaccess file:

<files xmlrpc.php>
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
</files>

Adding this to a few of my client’s sites worked perfectly.

You can make this a little more secure by changing the “Allow from all” line above to allow from a specific IP address but the server IP Jetpack tries to connect to seems to change frequently and just adding WordPress.com wont work either.

 

WordPress Database Privileges for Extra Security

I believe I’m well practiced in website security these days, especially having had to manage hundreds of client WordPress sites for years now! So I’m familiar with the standard security precautions of having everything kept up to date (WordPress core, plugins and themes), deleting any unused plugins or themes, having the correct file permissions on the site etc.. But one thing I normally discount is “Database Privileges” which is basically the allowances you give the database user to interact with the database that WordPress needs to run on.

Having done some research on the matter it appears that WordPress itself only requires the following privileges to run properly:

  • DELETE
  • SELECT
  • INSERT
  • UPDATE

And possibly the following if you plan on using the auto updater or installing plugins etc:

  • ALTER
  • CREATE

Some plugins or themes might require more privileges but you’ll quickly find that out on install and you can change privileges to suit.

Here’s the privileges I’ve settled on anyway. You can set these up while creating a new database and adding a user to it in Cpanel or go back and re-add the user to the database to change privileges if everything is already setup:

WordPress Database Privileges

Here’s a fairly comprehensive article on WordPress security from WordPress themselves:

codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress

How To Change Currency Format in Gravity Forms

As great as the number one WordPress forms plugin is, Gravity Forms has one glaring omission – no front end settings for currency formatting. The default you’re stuck with it this:

100,00 € which is supposed to denote one hundred euros or €100. This can confuse some people who mistake it for one hundred thousand!

The only way to change it is by adding the following code to your themes “functions.php” file. This example is what you need to show currency in Euros with the € symbol on the left, a comma thousand separator and 2 decimal places:

add_filter("gform_currencies", "update_currency");
function update_currency($currencies) {
    $currencies['EUR'] = array(
        "name" =--> __("Euro", "gravityforms"), 
        "symbol_left" => '€', 
        "symbol_right" => "", 
        "symbol_padding" => " ", 
        "thousand_separator" => ',', 
        "decimal_separator" => '.', 
        "decimals" => 2);
        
    return $currencies; 
}

NB: making this change will change any existing prices you have on your form to thousands so you’ll need to go into each price and fix.

Fix Passthru System & Exec errors with WordPress Database Manager

I’ve been using WP Database Manager for years now. I reckon it’s the best WordPress Database management plugin. As well as backing up your database it handles automatic optimisation and repair of your database and you can set both that and the backup to run automatically on a schedule. Occasionally though it throws a wobbly. For example it was working fine for me for ages then all of a sudden started giving the following error on the “Backup DB” screen. Admittedly, it might have been due to me updating something on my VPS:

"Checking PHP Functions (passthru(), system() and exec()) ...
passthru() disabled.
system() disabled.
exec() disabled.

I'm sorry, your server administrator has disabled passthru(), system() and exec(), thus you cannot use this backup script. You may consider using the default WordPress database backup script instead."

The above error meant that database backups couldn’t run which rendered the plugin useless.

Here’s a quick fix:

Create a file called “php.ini” and upload it to your wordpress/website root folder. Add the following code to your existing .htaccess file and re-upload:

suPHP_ConfigPath /home/YOUR-ACCOUNT/public_html

order allow,deny
deny from all

Swap “YOUR-ACCOUNT for the username on your hosting account.

PS – The above fix might be considered a security risk for some shared hosting providers.

Leon

Add a Newsletter System to Your WordPress Website

Online marketing is getting a bit harder these days as traditional and even newer methods of selling yourself online are becoming saturated and over used. It’s getting more and more unpredictable whether people will find your blog posts or see your Facebook & Twitter stuff as more and more businesses and competitors clamor to be heard online among a pile of junk and ads..

I’ve always liked Newsletters. They have been around for longer than social media marketing but may have taken a back seat in recent times but they remain an effective marketing tool. For example, top companies with massive mailing lists know they’ll make millions just by sending out a Newsletter with latest products etc..

Here are some of the advantages of using a Newsletter system that we shouldn’t forget:

  • Users can sign up to your list automatically,
  • Marketing material is sent directly to a persons inbox,
  • People can chose to read at a time that suits without having to bookmark,
  • People can unsubscribe (requirement),
  • Minimum marketing effort, maximum reach,
  • Full control over design and action links,
  • Open/Read analytics.

I’ve been using an excellent WordPress Newsletter plugin on this website for a few years now with some success. It can take subscribers automatically from the front end and I can write a nicely formatted and designed newsletter with all the required “view in browser” and “unsubscribe” links to send out to them all from within the WordPress admin. I can also generate offsite code to show the subscription form across the rest of my personal websites and places like my Facebook Page.

Get in touch if you’d like help setting up a Newsletter on your website.

Here’s an example of how a typical Newsletter looks. NB – don’t make them too long!:

Reverb Newsletter

 

WordPress HTTPS Plugin Breaking RSS Feeds

My RSS feed (and all variations of it, ie – atom, red, rss, rss2, etc..) had been giving problems for quite some time, showing up as “not a valid feed” at validator.w3.org/feed and inaccessible through my feed delivery service Dlvr.it which I use to automatically share my posts to Facebook, Twitter etc.. I tried re-uploading all the WordPress core files manually in case any of them had become corrupt. I also tried editing out white/blank space in important theme files like functions.php and wp-config.php but the problem persisted.

Eventually, a deactivation of all of my plugins fixed it but rather than turn on each one of the 50 or so plugins I use one by one to find the culprit, I tried a quick google search for something like “wordpress plugin break rss” and landed on this support thread for the WordPress HTTPS plugin which I’d been using for a while:

http://wordpress.org/support/topic/this-plugin-breaks-the-site-rss-feed

Sure enough, disabling that plugin sorted the issue but I thought I needed it. As it happened, I’d already converted my whole site over to HTTPS so didn’t really need the plugin’s functionality any more so I could safely leave it off. The plugin automatically parsed all non HTTPS url’s in the WordPress content which was handy and the only thing I was missing with it turned off but with a little tweak of my .htaccess file I was able to redirect all HTTP urls to HTTPS anyway.

The fix at the above thread might work for some temporarily but it’s not ideal considering plugin updates will overwrite the changes. I’ve submitted a report request to the developer and will update this post if he/she replies!

Leon