Getting CodeMirror to Work with Ruby on Rails

codemirrorI’m in the process of building a pattern library at my current job. Keeping with the culture of the company, I’m building the library on Rails, using Sass and Haml to expedite the code writing. Part of the library needs to show code snippets, so to do this, I needed pretty output for the Haml source code I wanted to show. Basically, I didn’t want to settle for outputting code using <pre> and <code>.

Enter CodeMirror. CodeMirror is an in-browser editor that enables you to display source code with much of the power and theming capabilities of a full-blown editor. For my purposes, I just want it to show code coloring and line numbers.Keep Reading

Boosting Customer Retention in an Increasingly Service-Oriented Marketplace

600_295750542I recently attended a super awesome meetup held by the DC Lean Startup Circle group in downtown DC. The talk, titled How to Retain Customers, Create Raving Fans & Make ‘Em Beg for More, was about — you guessed it — customer retention.

I was intrigued by this topic because customer retention is a huge issue. I suppose it’s actually always been an issue for businesses, especially startups, but it seems to me that with “Software As A Service” taking off, keeping customers around has never been more essential for growth.

So with pen and paper in hand, I trudged my way through the hot mugginess that is DC in June and found myself enthralled by the first speaker.

Her name is Donna Khalife, and she’s the CEO of Surprise Ride, a startup business that sells parents on a monthly educational/care package for their children. I think this is a winner of a concept. Even more interesting about this speaker was that her company was a recent Shark Tank contestant. I don’t watch the show, but I know it’s popular, and anyone who cut their teeth under the derision of Mark Cuban must have something good to say.

And so here are my notes from Donna’s talk.Keep Reading

Are Website Overhauls Really Worth It?

When I was heavily involved in web design projects, I noticed an annoying trend. Too many websites were being completely overhauled, meaning their original design was trashed completely, new ideas constructed from the ground up, and every old notion thrown out the window.

Wait — is this a bad thing?

Of course not. Fresh blood is a necessary ingredient to forward momentum, but it’s a catalyst that should only be called upon under rare circumstances. When a website’s entire infrastructure and design is discarded, it tends to leave a blank slate (well, maybe not completely blank). But many, many good elements are trashed in favor of something fresh. Those good elements might be obvious, like certain pages and design traits that were working, or maybe they were a little less obvious, like hidden visitor trends that just needed some sussing out.

My point is, website overhauls should not be done on the fly. Websites should follow an evolutionary chain whereby the ineffective elements of one iteration are eliminated and the effective elements rolled into a new iteration that also incorporates new ideas based on past trends. Wiping the slate clean nukes everything, the good and bad, and leaves very little to work with — and that’s a tough challenge to create a website from!Keep Reading

How Creative Agencies are Putting Remote Teams to Work

I recently had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion regarding the merit of remote teamwork in a creative environment. On the panel were four owners of creative agencies in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. In fact, the panelists were:

  • Carl Smith of nGen Works, which “uses strategy, technology and creativity to help people kick ass.”
  • Marc Garrett of Intridea, which “designs and develops simple, intuitive web and mobile applications to help companies realize the power of social business collaboration, cloud computing, and next-generation tools for the enterprise.”
  • Nathan Curtis of EightShapes, which “designs interactive experiences that balance custom needs with business objectives.”
  • Brian Williams of Viget, which is “a full-service interactive agency that helps plan, design, build, and measure successful websites and digital products.

That’s quite a line-up—and the main reason I wanted to attend this panel. These guys are heavy hitters on the local DC scene, so it was fascinating to hear their take on remote team management, especially as a follow-up to Yahoo’s recent declaration of war against employees working from home.Keep Reading

Four Activities to Turbocharge Downtime Between Web Projects

Let me throw you a hypothetical: Say you have free time between your last project and the next one that has yet to start.

I know, I know—who has free time anymore? But perhaps there’s a slow period in your work, where you aren’t inundated with projects. What’s the most productive way to spend that time?

Sure, you could busy yourself with small, insignificant tasks or old emails that don’t really matter anymore; but ultimately, that’s not productive—it’s just a way to pass the time.

Here are four activities that can help you evolve as a web project manager, recharge your batteries, and put in you in a ready state for the next onslaught of calls, meetings, and web work.Keep Reading

Responding to Bad Situations

A couple of weeks I found a big problem in one of my client’s Wufoo forms. The submit button on a payment form had disappeared.

Despite many vain attempts to fix the problem, I eventually resorted to contacting the Wufoo support team. After all, a missing submit button on a payment form is a pretty big deal.

I don’t usually contact support. I like to try to figure out things on my own. It’s one of the best ways to learn. But the biggest reason why I cringe at contacting support at most companies is because they can be slow and unhelpful.

Unfortunately, I was really stuck in a rut. So I filled out Wufoo’s contact form and shifted to another task. Pretty soon I received a response. Wufoo was aware of the bug in the system, but the developer working on it was unavailable.

I gritted my teeth and responded that it was a fairly significant issue. This wasn’t just affecting my form, but many others as well.

They got the message.

Shortly after, I received an email that the issue was being looked at. Better than nothing, I said to myself. Within an hour, though, the problem was fixed.

I never doubted Wufoo. Their service is excellent and they have some bright people working hard to make it even better. And I think there are some lessons we can learn from the way Wufoo handled this situation.Keep Reading

Survey Says: How a Simple 2-Minute Survey Can Improve a Web Project’s Effectiveness

A couple of years ago I was confronted with a website I had always wanted to re-develop. I knew the organization well – a local fitness center – and I was all too aware that their existing website was complete garbage. Nobody liked the current site. Not the staff, not people in the community, and not their clientele. And so when I was approached with the opportunity of re-doing everything, it was as if I were a moth and somebody switched on a thousand light bulbs. I was attracted to everything – and everything beckoned me – screaming out for my attention. I wanted to change it all.

And then it hit me. I was directionless.Keep Reading

Seven Tools I Couldn’t Get the Project Done Without

We’re in an era of tool overload. Not only does there seem to be a tool to accomplish every imaginable task, but there are also tools to make these tools easier to use. Some of these tools are great – well-built and feature rich – while others just get in the way, and we as web designers don’t have the time to keep up with them all. So what I’ve done is compile my top seven tools that my business and work thrives from.

Really. I would be lost without these tools.

Keep Reading

You’ll Never Succeed as a Web Designer

Getting into the web design field is easy. It’s actually probably the easiest industry to throw yourself into. The barriers to entry are minimal at best, and the cost to bootstrap your own venture low. All you need is a domain, website, and business cards. Stamp a logo on those cards and it’s official.

Ha! You’re going to fail. Or maybe you already are failing. That’s because there’s a hidden barrier to entry; one that only few see and even fewer are able to actually overcome.Keep Reading

Strangers in Your Project: Managing Third Party Relationships

Have you ever felt like a third wheel on a project? I’m talking about those projects where a client brings in an outside vendor – typically a marketing company – to help with the process. It’s not common, but it does happen, and when it does, you have to be prepared handle a completely new layer of relationship management – or else you may blow a gasket.

I don’t mean to rag on marketing companies, but I’ve encountered far too many that needle their way into web projects and then overcomplicate decisions by attempting to add their “unique” perspective to everything. And then I’ve encountered marketing companies that really know what they’re talking about – and they especially know when to stand back and let the designers and developers do their job.

In both types of encounters, I had to employ new relationship tactics separate from normal client communications.Keep Reading