Website design, programming, technique, and work.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

As of today, Lunarlog has been redesigned and I think it’s a minimalist design that I’m finally comfortable with – one that won’t be changing in the foreseeable future. It’s meant to coincide with my new coding and rendering/illustration additions to my main website, LunarStudio. Below, I’ll discuss some of my previous issues that are now resolved, as well as talking about some of the newer and more interesting features.

There were a few problems with my previous site that I needed to address:

  1. WordPress updates. It seemed as if there was a new WP update every month, and every other time they released a new security fix, some of the code or design would break. As a result, I would be forced to go hunt down the problem and try to correct it. Anyone that runs a WP site knows what I’m talking about. Proper maintenance can be a full-time job in of itself. By trying to keep it simple, it’s hopefully one less thing to worry about.
  2. The old design was ugly. It started off on a good note, but my changing things around introduced more of a design mess over time. Add to that other real-life obligations, and I was finding less time to make corrections. If the design is simple, one can focus more on the topics at-hand than trying to be flashy. I spent more time avoiding looking at the previous site, because each time I visited it, I saw things that needed to be changed. Hopefully this will lead to more time spent writing now.
  3. I think a website’s design needs to reflect a person’s skills to a degree. If you’re going to call yourself a designer, then I think that it’s only right that the design of other things you create needs to reflect your attention to detail. No one in their right mind is going to hire a messy painter and I think this was the case with the previous design. While I wasn’t “messy” per se, it looked terrible to me. Some people might lack the programming skills and that is a valid excuse, but at that point they should spend the time seek out a design template, a website that creates websites (Wix is one service that comes to mind), or find someone that knows what they are doing.
  4. Simplicity in design for usability. A clean design appeals to people’s senses better. It makes things easier to read, and also tends to load faster. People need to find content without adding strain.

Here are some of the underlying changes:

  1. Various plugins were removed. They either caused issues over time, or became unnecessary. For example, the rel=”nofollow” attribute (originally introduced by Google) is no longer taken into account. Not only does removing some of these extensions/plugins improve speed and performance, but it can also lead to higher search engine rankings now that Google factors website loading speed into their algorithms.
  2. Updated to some HTML5 standards. While HTML5 is still undergoing some changes, the markup is meant to bring the various methods together, and to make the code easier to read and navigate for both the search engines and the coders/programmers. I strongly speculate that this results in higher search engine ranking. I highly doubt that this website validates (I don’t want to check lol), but that’s pretty much going to be the case with any new language or markup.
  3. A plugin for Google +, Twitter Followers, and Facebook Likes was introduced so people can denote topics and articles of interest to Social Networking sites. The search engines are now factoring these items of popularity as an additional method of measuring interest, usefulness, and relevancy.
  4. New fonts are now available for the web versus the traditional eight or 10 (I forget.) It’s every web designer’s wildest dream. Here’s a list of over 247 font families from Google! I’m using two of them here.
  5. A relatively new and cutting-edge feature was implemented just last month by Google called Google Authorship. You can insert HTML5 Rich Snippets (rel=”author”) into your websites, both dynamic (such as blogs) and static (such as my other website LunarStudio) that connects your websites to your Social Networking profile – in particular Google Plus and LunarStudio. That in of itself isn’t a new concept, but what’s really cool about this new feature is that you’ll start to notice people’s profile pictures right next to search engine results over the next few months. So, let’s say someone searches for “Architectural Renderings” in Google and I’m in the Top 10 (the last I checked, LunarStudio was #1 out of close to a million results *wink*), my profile picture helps make my website become even more noticeable. This in turn should lead to increased business. The only problem is that these attributes are so new, that there are no extensions/plugins to enable this so it has to be entered by hand. To add to the mess, people are giving conflicting methods as to how-to implement it. On top of that, Google hasn’t simplified the process (although they’re trying) and keeps changing things. It’s a guessing game as to when the results should take effect. People who arrive early to the game might reap the benefits of higher search engine visibility, although it shouldn’t factor into higher SERPs at the present time. I’m personally excited about this because it’s so new, that’s there’s only a small handful of people writing about this technique presently. It’s fun to figure out new things.

If anyone is interested in some of these methods, please let me know. I’m going to be busy over the next few weeks, but I’ll try to respond to the best of my ability.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I’ve spent the last two weeks redoing some of my websites, and a lot of that time was spent thinking about how we as a society receive our information. While some of these tools such as Google and Facebook are innovative and help solve a lot of issues, these companies have the power to shape our worldviews rapidly, for better or worse. In many ways, they are taking the place of our traditional news cycles. There’s an inherent danger of manipulation if left-unchecked – and they have been manipulating the information we receive. Also, money talks to a lot of people and these companies have no shortage of cash.

This video was brought to my attention. While it’s nothing new to some of us (I’m involved with the field), I think it’s a topic most people don’t give much thought. I couldn’t have phrased it better and thought I’d throw it out there:

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I was wondering what the traffic would be like to the previous article regarding the Colorized Boulevard du Temple by Daguerre but waited until midnight 12 am, EST to check the stats. I thought it would generate some interest, but it came as a bit of a shock:

First Photograph of a Human Site Stats

First Photograph of a Human Site Stats

Links were coming in from NPR, The Atlantic, and Gizmodo. The good news is this website still works under full-load. The bad news might be the bill lol…

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I’d like to announce that I’ve made some major updates to the LunarStudio Architectural Renderings website recently. While the overall layout of LunarStudio has remained the same, there are a lot of new images as well other things which changed  “underneath the hood.” Most importantly, I finally found the time to add close to 50 new images to the website and have applied some minor color tweaks and adjustments to most of the existing architectural renderings that were previously there. This whole process took several days to complete.

For existing clients, this should come as fantastic news. I don’t think most of them realize what this means. I often joke that I should create their renderings for free, and charge to post their images to my website. Due to the high amount of traffic that flows through the LunarStudio website, this is free advertising and also helps boost their own website rankings as well. In hiring LunarStudio, you’re essentially more than quadrupling your visibility to the rest of the world. I often laugh when clients haggle over several hundred dollars because that same expenditure may come back to them a hundred times over.

Updating LunarStudio has always been tricky. Since LunarStudio ranks highly for a couple of thousand search terms in all three major search engines, changing the slightest word or even adding content can push search rankings up and down drastically that could result in lost revenue. Something which seems fairly straight-forward such as adding a single image needs to be carefully examined prior to being uploaded, then the accompanying text needs to be massaged in order to “try” to achieve optimal results. Multiply this by several hundred images, and you have a big potential mess on your hands – especially if you screw up a single character. For this reason, I’ve forced myself to keep the overall design and layout of LunarStudio the same over the years. I’ve avoided adding additional text. As much as I am tempted to redesign the look and feel for something “fresher”, I often have to remind myself that I’m playing with dynamite. Besides, as much as LunarStudio has been imitated over the years (one of the first non-Flash websites to be perfectly centered on-screen), I still think it holds a lot of character.

For an example of the current sites out on the Internet copying LunarStudio, check out the following link: www.copyscape.com. Keep in mind, this changes every month (sometimes more) but there’s always someone out there…

I often think people take the “search engine” itself for granted. It’s often viewed as a seamless and organic process: type in what you’re looking for and out pops the results. However, I’ve read studies on search engine usage and the average person doesn’t look past the first 10 items that turn up on an average search. That means if you don’t place within the top 10 of any search engine result, there’s a good chance that your website will not be seen or even noticed. From a marketing perspective, that’s an absolute disaster. If you create a website, you should have every interest in wanting it to achieve high-rankings as that can help others as well as bring in additional revenue. If you don’t, then you will be stuck with the traditional method of “word-of-mouth” and having to resort to other campaigns to drive interest to your work.

There are a number of things which happen “behind the curtains” of search engine results. The engines vary slightly as the major companies have various patents and copyrights on their code and complex mathematical formulas. On top of the code differences, a company such as Google has been known to modify their search engine algorithm close to a thousand times in a single year! Each time they make these changes, your website can jump up and down the ranks. They often keep these methods secret because they don’t want people intentionally spamming their search results and providing irrelevant information. For the sake of this article, I will not go into the topic of search engines and optimization simply because I could probably write a whole book on the topic. It can be a fun game to play, but you have to have time as well as patience.

For those interested, here is a list of items that were changed as of 10/25/10:

  1. All thumbnails (several hundred) were manually changed from biege to full color.
  2. Thumbnail hovers were all brightened with an overlay of white set to 50% opacity. I could have used a JavaScript, but again this would probably have an impact on rankings.
  3. Canonical rules enforced versus head tags. Some pages were splitting rank by having trailing slashes and non-trailing slashes after their URLs. Depending on what happens over the course of the next week, I may keep this.
  4. Close to 50 new images and 100 thumbnails were added to various categories. This is most of my work over the course of the year, however there are still a number of items which cannot be posted per contractual obligations, quality (sometimes I’m given limited time and resources), and others which are still in progress.
  5. The majority of images were slightly readjusted concerning color balance, exposure, and saturation.
  6. Keywords and titles added to all of the new image sections.
  7. Copyrights were updated.
  8. Updated manual sitemap.
  9. Updated Google and Yahoo! sitemaps.

This is on my “to-do” list:

  1. I may implement MaxCDN (Content Delivery Network) to help boost search engine rankings and also speed up the delivery of images to the viewer.
  2. As a result of adding a CDN, that may impact the sitemaps mentioned above.
  3. As a result of adding a CDN, that may also create a bigger mess by turning up Page 404s – file not found errors which would all have to be manually redirected. When you’re talking several thousands of links, this can be a very tedious process.*
  4. Add additional images.

All of this being said, please let me know if you have any comments or questions regarding the updated website. In particular, I’m interested in comments regarding quality, speed, and usability. I’d really appreciate your feedback.

For more information, please visit: www.lunarstudio.com

*If anyone has any tips regarding implementing the CDN and avoiding the 404’s and redirects, please let me know!

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I decided late last week to revise a website that I had lying around for some time and more or less finished it today. Years ago, I had created LunarLog to be the LunarStudio blog. Instead of blogging on-topic, I found myself over time writing miscellaneous pieces and posts. I decided that I needed a new blog, MightyFunk to handle some of my more off-color topics. But with main architectural rendering business running the show, I didn’t have much time to jump from work to blog to blog. MightyFunk was mostly just standing still without any new content. Keeping in touch with my friends via Facebook in some ways put the proverbial “final nail in the coffin.”

This complete website revision will hopefully bring new life to an older stagnant blog without completely alienating my previous audience. I’m really excited because MightyFunk now serves design-related news excerpts from some of the best design-related websites and blogs I could find on the Internet. I wanted my own comprehensive place instead of a RSS reader that I could go visit, and quickly skim the headlines for new, interesting design-related articles. I felt that sharing my own personal list (which numbers close to a hundred) would be beneficial to the entire community.

My new aggregator is working  much better than expected. I kept the overall website design simple because I wanted it to be primarily a news source for readers, and didn’t want flashy graphics and backgrounds to interrupt their reading. Instead, the articles would do most of the talking for them.

I think it’s a win-win situation for all the websites involved. A common misconception is that Google penalizes websites for duplicate content from a spam perspective. It actually doesn’t. In fact, having these excerpts on MightyFunk lead back to the original author websites helps promote their work, adds a significant amount of backlinks which can improve search engine rankings, increases their readership, and can also lead to increased revenue (if that’s part of their goal.)

From a technological perspective, the website is very plain. All the text and images are pulled from RSS feeds which can be found throughout the web. The images themselves are off-loaded onto a Content Delivery Network (CDN) so that traffic spikes will not impact the original author websites. Plus the CDN (I’m currently using MaxCDN) also works to help spread the loads throughout the country which ends up speeding up the website which Google has hinted at improving search engine results.

My main concern right now is to prevent duplicate feeds coming into MightyFunk. I’ve set up some macros and cron jobs to help eliminate these duplicate posts, but a few always manage to still get through. While I’m not (nor anyone else) is going to get penalized for these duplicate excerpts, it still remains somewhat unsightly from a readership perspective. I think I have it currently set up to remove duplicate feeds every 1/2 hour and it will need to be tweaked more over time. On the other hand, it would be even better if someone could come up with a plugin which would filter out duplicates even before they went to post. If I was capable of writing such a thing, I would.

Last but not least, I hope that posting 50 excerpts per page is a reasonable figure for most people. Because the list is fairly large, I didn’t want people to have to jump from page to page constantly. Most of us are on decent Internet connections. I’m privileged with a 50 mb/s stream here so the load time is minimal, which makes my testing page load-time more difficult for others.

If you have any comments or advice regarding the new MightyFunk Design News website, I’d be happy to hear from you. As always, links back are always greatly appreciated.