Vintage Aspen Honda

October 29th, 2009

Life needs more green lights

October 27th, 2009

How to Determine a Domain Value

October 22nd, 2009

Recently in working with a client who wanted to acquire a .com domain, I spent some time doing research into the rules and (lack of) regulation into the expired domain name reseller and auction marketplace. Mike Davidson offers a great article about how to snatch a domain name and highlights the big players.

The three services are,, and They all operate in a similar manner, pounding the VeriSign webservers during the “drop” period to secure the requested domains to then resell them in their own auctions. Each company operates their auction differently, with working more like entertainment shopping at than a typical ebay auction, sucking you dollars faster than a hoover. This whole process, mostly void of much domain oversight and regulation quickly led me to question, what is the value of a domain.

1. Clearly its worth something to someone

With at least these three sites, and their many domain brokers that live between them and your email inbox, there is clearly a demand, and thus a marketplace for these expired domains. With mountains of data I’m sure you could determine the value of a 5-letter domain name ending with .com, or a .net of a valued .com property. I’ve heard from someone who works with a Spanish domain holding company that  their 2 million plus domains is the full source of their business revenue

2. Not all domains are valued equally

Anyone in SEO will tell you that an  inbound link from a .edu or .org is more valuable which will drive up those domain name values. Also, short 5-letter domains or domains that are easy to spell, remember and tell someone will also drive the price up.

3. Domain names are like property and tickets

Some addresses like Park Ave. or Michigan Ave, or certain neighborhoods hold a much higher property value; some tickets are next to impossible to buy on their release date and you’re left shopping at craiglist or stubhub to pickup your coveted seats, domain names are like both. They have a finite supply. They don’t rollover frequently. They are many buyers for the same item. They can hold value, increase in value and have reseller value on the open market.

With these variables, and the desire to pickup a domain name, how do you determine the value of a domain in order to justify your purchase?

Here is how I would approach this process.

  1. Do I currently own the .net alternative or any web 2.0 misspellings of the desired domain?
  2. Do I currently generate revenue from my existing website?
  3. Do I have an online marketing budget?
  4. Is this for a business?
  5. Does the desired domain have any left over SEO value?
  6. Will I own this domain for the next 5 years? next  10 years?

With every “Yes” to the above questions, the domain has greater and greater value to me. Given that I might have to shell out a chunk of cash right now for the domain, I will look back in several years and see that my investment into this “property” will pay for itself.

1. I own the .net or similar domain name spellings
You may be losing traffic to your site as visitors are unsuccessfully attempting to find you at the more common .com name. This lost traffic might be determined by mining your keywords searched that include your domain with the .com. You can use the value per visitor equation, or your site’s conversion rate to help determine what that boost in traffic would be worth, and don’t forget to determine time as one of your variables. This feature alone might tell you that paying $500 for your domain is totally worth it.

2. I generate income on my existing site
If you’re making money now, how can you afford to lose business to someone that might snatch your .com domain? They might sell it to a competitor or charge your more in an offline domain deal that will cost you more in the long run. How would more visitors and traffic hurt your site? This domain should be bought within reason, but if you’re already making revenue from the site, you should see this as a necessary infrastructure cost.

3. I have a marketing budget
Move your budget around to purchase the domain. Getting a good domain is worth several hundreds spent on SEO and PPC. It might also drive traffic from word of mouth and other offline marketing efforts where memory plays into the value of a name.

4. It’s a business site
Expense it. This is a cost of doing business, but it’s also the future of business. Homepages like and are the face of these businesses. Their homepage is indispensable. Owning these domains is surely calculated by the appraisals into the value of the business. Matching your company name to your domain name is an essential tool to secure your brand and your company’s perceived perception.

5. The domain has inherited SEO value
I have a colleague who has purchased domains with inherited SEO value for just that reason. He is able to take a site that has traffic and rank and turn it into a small cash cow thru adsense, traffic funneling, and even 301 redirecting to push up another domain. If the domain has SEO value, you will be buying valuable optimization built-in. It’s like getting a free upgrade to the leather interior, the box seats, the in-dash DVD player with navigation.

6. I plan on owning this domain for awhile
A dollar today in five years will be worth a lot more, spent or saved. Inflation, demand and lost traffic will all play a factor into determining value. If you hold the domain for 5 years at $10 a year, that’s $50 plus whatever you spend on it now. If you know you will hold on to the domain name, buying it sooner than later will always make more sense (and cents). However, if you spend that dollar on your domain name, not only do you now own something, you have a chance to build more value into this property and even resell it yourself later on, with or without the business attached to it.

Overall, I would generally land on the “buy” side of this investment opportunity given a few “yeses”. Considering the number of players and brokers in this industry, my guess is that I’m not alone in determining that domains have value, that their value can grow and that with demand and lack of supply, this business isn’t going anywhere.

re:thoughts on Drupal 6.xx

October 21st, 2009

After working at an agency as their only online designer and developer, I spent some time researching a platform I could use for 90% of our projects. I finally decided on Drupal after experiences with custom built CMS, wordpress, joomla, and other systems.

What Interested Me the Most

  1. Open source – it was free to try, use, break and build. I liken Drupal to Mozilla, the modules to the add-ons, etc.
  2. Extensibility – with over 3,000 modules, great documentation and constant improvements from tons of people meant that things would only get better.
  3. Seperation of code, theme, modules and content – don’t touch the core, themes and subthemes, modules for one or mutiple sites, and all the content in the database, easy to back up, update, migrate, restore.
  4. I18N – I wanted to build sites that allowed for translation of both content and admin interfaces. Drupal offered robust value.

However, after a hiatus from Drupal after I left the agency, I began to miss building sites, hunting for Drupal help and stumbling thru their clunky, scroll-happy interface. Well, now I’m back, both building and bullying Drupal, but also thinking of things that could make the platform better.

My strength is in design and UX. While working late last night on a side project, I noticed several things that Drupal struggles to solve.

What Could Make Drupal (Even) Better

Installing Modules
Besides the time required to setup Drupal’s many necessary modules, there is also the problem of downloading, unpacking and uploading. In comparison, in the WordPress admin interface you can search, view, select, and install plugins right from one screen. Now I understand the security flaws involved with doing this on a live site, but while building from localhost, you still could easily access, download and update modules from the admin interface in Drupal. This would be an excellent feature that ramps up initial start-up time. I know that in Drupal 7, many of the most used modules will be included in the core, but given that this problem will always exist for any additional modules, and that Drupal 8 will surely add more modules to their core, I’d like to see this inclusion built into core sooner than later.

Fieldset memory
This is especially true when working with long pages like the modules page. Drupal should add a flag to the database for all fieldsets, and on a page save, keep the fieldset either expanded or collapsed depending on how the interface appeared on the save of that pages. This would eliminate a great deal of scroll and prove to be a more intelligent interface feature. Additionally, following the likes of the windows explorer save windows, the fieldsets could be triggered by a number of times collapsed to update their default settings. For example, if you close a fieldset and click save in the page 3 times, that fieldset would then be triggered to be closed by default now.

Naming and Wayfinding
There is a general inconsistency with naming across the core and modules of Drupal. For example in views, you can filter on Node: Node:Type but in the admin navigation menu, it is displayed as content management -> content type. This would be fine if it were isolated cases in little used modules and work flows. However, there are some many common work flows that represent this problem, but also so many work flows that you do only occasionally, not repeatedly, so you forget and are left with the failed user feeling not that of support from the application.

Save button
Countless times I would have loved to have an additional “save” button at the top of my page, much like gmail has the “send” button above and below the email frame. This would be an easy additional and greatly improve the in-and-out of pages and nodes experience.

Link thru
Drupal is certainly feature-rich. However, I feel trapped by using the admin menu. I do agree that it is better than the page click, page click, of the default left side admin navigation menu in core, but why not offer cross linking where appropriate. For example, if I’m setting up a content type and have added a custom field of a image and proceed to setting up the image properties and display qualities when I realized I haven’t setup my imagecache values that I want. So, I have to leave this setup process, then using the menus system, get over the image cache and set that up, then return to select the imagecache from the dropdown. Why does Drupal assume, or rather force a one way street to get tasks done? It may be easier to code and develop initially, but as time wears on, so too does the back tracking to run thru another short setup and then return to the task at hand. One example where this works perfectly is views. If you are logged in a on a node that displays a view, when you hover over the block, the view “edit, export clone” links handily appear.

What do you think? Do you know any workarounds or solutions to the above list? Leave your comments.

Design elements: Panels

October 19th, 2009

Over the past years I have noticed an advanced design element make its way from techie applications into common place apps and software. What was once only a geek squad user interface piece is now used on places like Google Maps and Adobe Acrobat. I’m talking about panels.

Mozilla bookmarks sidebar

Mozilla bookmarks sidebar

The main difference between panels and sidebars is the concept of closing. When you close a sidebar, like Mozilla’s bookmarks, you in effect, hide the entire sidebar. If you want it back, you have to hunt through the menu dropdowns to find it or you must know the shortcut keys to reopen it.

With panels, the place where you close the panel is the same place you open it. This is excellent design. It operates more like a light switch than a junk drawer; you always know were it is regardless of if its in use or not. Of course, there may be times when the design calls for using sidebars over panels, but more often I am seeing the advantages of panels.

As the default screen sizes have grown wider, following a the cinematic ratio, panels will only grow in popularity as the users have more available real estate to the sides of their screen. We are already seeing the widgets of Microsoft and Apple as well as narrow applications like Skype, chat software and even twitter apps.

Here is a collection of screenshots from Adobe Acrobat 9 that showcases the closed, hover and open states for the pages panel.

Acrobat page panel closed

Acrobat pages panel closed

Acrobat pages panel hover

Acrobat pages panel hover

Acrobat pages panel open

Acrobat pages panel open

Here are two more examples, one from online, another from a desktop application:

Google maps panel

Google maps panel

Dreamweaver panel open

Dreamweaver panel open

Panels act much like tabs in the sense that you never actually leave the current window, you are just expanding or collapsing a portion of the screen to increase your desktop screen space, or open a set of tools and then put them away. The advantage of panels is clear. It allows the user to stay concentrated on their task while allow themselves the flexibility of the tools and the screen space.

Vincent Black Lightning

October 13th, 2009

Over 60 years ago Rollie Free laying over the seat of a speeding motorcycle set the land speed record in the flying mile out at  Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He clocked a top speed of just over 150 mph and was framed into history with the famous “bathing suit bike” photograph seen below.


Bathing suit bike

But this photo isn’t about half naked men and their hair brain ideas. Its about the vintage bike, the Vincent Black Lightning.

Depending on where you visit or which site you believe there are anywhere from 16 to a 100 Black Lightnings built, all by hand of course. The Vincent Motorcycle Co. is long gone, and while there is little information available, this brand was so revered that an attempt to revitalize the brand was made.

Without going into the technical specifications of building a record setting bike, just look at this design beauty.


1949 Vincent Black Lighting

And the stylish modern redesign.

Modern Design for the Black Lightning

Modern redesign of the Vincent Black Lighting

Estimated retail for a perfect 1948 Black Lightning: $125,000

Everyday Objects: Marli Bottle Opener

October 13th, 2009

Several years back, on a fall visit to New York City and the Museum of Modern Art, I stumbled on this beautiful object in the museum shop. What better trinket to remember my weekend trip to NYC than a figure-8 stainless-steel bottle opener? Small, lightweight, easy-to-use and perfectly designed. There are no extra moving parts. There is no excess weight. There isn’t even an instructions or the word “open” written anywhere.


It works perfectly and looks great lounging lazily on the counter.

However, it wasn’t until I has purchased the bottle opener and brought it home that I discovered it had a slight flaw. When a friend came over and happily helped themselves to a beverage they struggled at first to remove the cap. Why? The opener had the same problem as the USB connection.

Whenever your regularly connect two unalike objects, like a cord to a computer or a bottle opener to a cap, you must be sure you don’t have any other possible way to connect the two objects that will result in a failure. With the USB port, since the connection pins are recessed in the actual port, the user can’t see which of the two possible ways the USB cord should be inserted. With a firewire port you don’t have that problem since the port shape only allows for one possible way to connect.


So, after one failed attempt, my friend was able to pop the top and enjoy their adult beverage, but only after the slight misstep. This doesn’t mean it would happen to everyone. Given the 50/50 nature of the problem, at least 50% would not have an issue at all. For the other 50%, the design goal would then be to eliminate making the same mistake the next time the two objects are connected. Since the design of the Marli bottle opener has a gentle curve in it that not only rests naturally in your palm but also the correct direction for proper cap removal, the next bottle opening was successful.

Unfortunately with USB, because you are rarely peering down the hole of the port, you are likely to repeat your blunder many times in the future.

Motorcycle Logos 2009

October 8th, 2009

Top Manufacturers Logos by US Market Share

With over 7 million registered motorcycles on the road in 2007 (1) its fair to say that the two-wheel industry is alive and healthy. From dual-sport to soft-tails, motorcycles and America fit perfectly together. The freedom and independence of  leaning it over are only matched by the diversity of manufacturers and the endless customizations available for every bike on the market.

As Ducati and Buell rebrand their respective companies with new logos, I decided to take a look at the top motocycle manufacturer’s logos and offer some thoughts on their design and artwork. I will present them in order of US market share as reported from 2007. (2)

Motorcycle logos from small manufacturers can be seen here.

harley-davidson-logo1. Harley-Davidson (28%)

What I like about the Harley logo right off the bat has always been the badge feel. It belongs on the back of a jacket, as a tatoo, as a sewn-on patch on the arm of a rider. What I have more recently noticed is that the word “Harley-Davidson” is post above the badge. This badge reference could be a police reference, as many police forces ride Harleys, but the overlay of the HD connects more with the image of a Harley rider, more rebellious and free-spirited. I also like that the “T” in Motor appears more as an arrow pointing north. This logo is a widely recognized symbol of the motorcyle spirit, they would be hard pressed to improve upon it.

honda-logo2. Honda  (25%)

Having owned a few Honda bikes (no lawnmower yet) I’m a natural fan of the logo. I am drawn to the symbolism of the wings and how the concept of flight is projected on owning a Honda bike. They even use it to name one of their bikes, “the Goldwing.” The fact that the honda type is the same across their brand helps make a positive connection to their reliability and dependence, but also firmly cements the idea of flying on two-wheels as dependent on being aboard a Honda.

yamaha-logo3. Yamaha  (17%)

Yamaha’s tuning forks or suspension forks offer a glimpse of how they feel about timing, precision and excellence. Their signature blue is vibrant and solid. Like Honda, Yamaha must leverage and balance the brands other product lines while still maintaining its connection with the motorcycle marketplace. Only Yahama and BMW make use of a circle logo that here doubles as a wheel with the forks perhaps loosely resemblant of spokes. The wheel/circle also allows for the feeling of progress and moving forward.

suzuki-logo4. Suzuki (13%)

Another Japanese company, Suzuki’s logo has always lagged for me. Perhaps its the close identification with Stussy, a clothing brand made popular when I was growing up, or that fact that the red blue color scheme felt like it competed with itself and more notably the other big Japanese manufacturers, but the logo has never sat right. The big red “S” might resemble a curvy road of some sort, but even this comparison is a bit of a stretch. As a designer, I would love the chance to re-examine their logo and make my own suggestions, (perhaps a future post) but for now, I’ll let others weigh in on their opinions, this one just doesn’t do much for me.

kawasaki-logo5. Kawasaki (11%)

The last of the Japanese motorcycle companies, Kawasaki’s giant “K” logo with san-serif title-case company name is a slight bit out of balance to me. The heavy down stroke of the giant “K” pull the logo to the left, and with the lowercase type I’m never brought far enough back which causes me to lean to the left the entire time. I’m not saying leaning while riding is bad, but you have to lean both ways unless you only drive nascar tracks. The swooping portions of the right side of the “K”, especially the lower portion feels like a perfect mountain road curve which I think brightens up this somewhat boring logo.

ktm-logo6. KTM  (2%)

“Keep the Motor” was the first words uttered to me after I learned about the German motorcycle company. Since that day, I’ve been passed by KTM’s on the track, trails and open road enough to know that those who ride them, ride them hard. The logo’s right lean along with it’s thick type treatment say power, movements and momentum. I also really like the giant “T” which gives the logo balance and looks like a set of handlebars. KTM, keep the logo.

bmw-logo7. BMW (1%)

This is a classic. Not much to say besides elegance, performance and a bad movie quote the made so popular, “white propellers zipping around a blue ski…” I love that BMW has not altered their brand logo in any way to connect it with their motorcycle division. I think in this case, the parent brand is the strength.

triumph-logo8. Triumph (1%)

The Triumph logo showcases a bit of a smile to the tough-and-tumble world of motorcycles. The sweeping tail on the “R” nicely connects with the “H” to make this more cheerful logo balanced and friendly. Once again, this swoop as seen in other logos may conger up images of the open road. I like the British company’s logo, simple and straightforward, albeit, with those English serifs, I’ve got a picture of green hills and a street triple leaning into each curve.

ducati-logo9. Ducati (1%)

Unveiled just a year ago in November of 2008, the new Ducati logo is a great example of design excellence. The first thing is that there isn’t one thing that is more dominant or noticed first about the logo, it is just viewed as a whole rather than a sum of its parts. Its parts however, are the traditional Italian red, the classic Ducati typeface, the curve of the road and the emblem or medal that it all sits on. The curve leans to the right which is the same direction you would read the company name, so there is a natural feeling to the movement from left to right. The logo, like BMW, also has a beveled edge to it, giving it the feeling of something you want to touch or run your finger over. Finally the medallion shape of the background also draws an invisible “V” which could stand for “Victory”, a staple mission statement connecting Ducati to the racing world. Excellent logo, it certainly makes you want to see the rest of the bike.




Steep and Cheap, Now Even Cheaper

October 7th, 2009

If you’re online as much as I am and wishing you were offline, knee-deep in some powder at Vail or ripping around on your mountain bike in Moab then you’ve probably heard of the suite of websites at Steep and Cheap. They operate much like those shopping network channels (secret addiction of mine, please steal the remote from me when I’m sitting on one of those channels) where they sell one item for twenty minutes or until they run out.steepandcheap-logo

I’ve been using this site over the past couple of years and have successfully bought a pair of sunglasses, snowboard bindings and some googles all for more than 50%  off their retail price. However, it was only recently when they added a few additional site features that made me become even more endeared (read “addicted”) to them.

These three changes, with the last being an innovative web marketing idea, are all brilliant.

1.Individual Quantity Drill-down for each Color and Size


Quantity listed for each color and size

They used to show you just the total quantity left for the item. Now, they offer their users a small image of the item in the corresponding color with a bar graph showing that items color and size remaining quantity. Underneath the graph they even offer the total purchased and total available.

This small change allows for users to easily identify their color, size and quantity remaining. This is the small, big thing.  It allows Steep and Cheap to put up more “Sold Out” images and dwindling graphs that encourage users to act now before “it’s gone.”

2. Time Remaining

They used to show a stat called “Sellout Rate” which would tell you have fast they were selling the listed item. For example, “1.3 per minute.” For most users this is too much math to figure how much longer the item will stay available. Steep and Cheap was just simply converting the time the deal was up by how many items they had sold. Since the deal would remain up for a certain maximum amount of time or until all the items were sold, the sellout rate really only hindered people from feeling the need to jump in a purchase that item right away.


Time remaining tick down bar graph

So they replaced it with a time remaining bar graph that changes color from green to yellow to red as the time ticks down. This allows users not interested in this auction to know how long until the next. This allows the current user who are interested in the deal to read some reviews, do their research and then get the deal before its gone, much like the time limit attached to online ticket sales which helps you feel more comfortable with your purchase. No buyer’s remorse. But, the engineering behind this is also intelligent. If the item isn’t selling you can just quickly add a few minutes to the clock to adjust to the sell rate. And with the total quantity graph placed right below the time remaining graph the user can easily see if they should add to cart before the quantity hits zero.

3. $1 Deals

Introduced just over two weeks ago, the $1 deals have added traffic to the site, refreshed the site to its loyal users, increased word of mouth marketing, offered a great value to their customers for a very low cost to their bottom line and inserted even more excitement into their online shopping experience.

The secret that Steep and Cheap uncovered is that their best assets are their current customers. Probably, like myself, most users have bought more than one item. With $1 Deals you are targeting the already converted with an even sweeter proposition, you’ve made loyalist out of just average shoppers, pushing more people into advocates and die-hards.

Now offering $1 Deals

Now offering $1 Deals

A few times each weekday the page flickers, the favicon in their open browser tab flashes yellow and a leftover item they couldn’t sell goes for one dollar. They offer a few colors and sizes, but honestly, its sold so fast it’s hard to even click over fast enough to see what you’re buying. But at $1, who cares? Its a steal no matter what it is!

$1 Deal traffic spike

$1 Deal traffic spike

They sell a few items they couldn’t previously get rid of for next to nothing and gain the equivalent to the Black Friday doorbuster crowds everyday. These $1 Deals encourage users to sign up for an account and stay logged in so they can quickly process through checkout for the $1 items. This also leads to a lower overall effort required to sell other items since users already have an account AND are signed in. These deals encourage users to keep the Steep and Cheap website open all day in an easy-to-reach browser tab.  With a nifty yellow flash of the favicon every user gets a notification to the deal and Steep and Cheap drives more traffic to their site. And the proof is right there in front of you. These two screenshots were taken not 10-seconds apart. The first one, right as the $1 Deal goes up shows 9,060 people on the site. This quickly jumps to more than 13,200, over 4000 new visitors in a matter of seconds.

Small changes to design and knowing their customer has increased the user experience and brand value.

Building up from WordPress

October 6th, 2009
Current WordPress logo

WordPress logo

WordPress, now on version 2.8-point something is a work of open source art. You can’t go wrong with building your blog or your website from the beautiful framework of WordPress. So that is where I started. But this is how I ended up with this designed theme.

1. 960 grid

The 960 grid makes life so much easier. Starting from here I could easily visualize my layouts, work within specific column widths and build a grid layout for all my elements. To make this intergration even easier, I started with a clean slate theme built by Troy Dean from down under. His 960bc theme basically cleared out all the wordpress default styles, added the 960 grid and defined the basic theme templates. Besides renaming the “colour.css” to “color.css” I modified the footer and header a bit to get exactly what I wanted, but this was a great starting point.

2. Typography

After spending over a year working at a full-service advertising agency I quickly learned the aesthetic value of what great type can do for any design. And while I was constantly forwarding Teri the safe web fonts resource page, she was teaching me to reconsider the web font problem. I already knew about sifr, but there were some limitations. It was only recently, in my constant web deconstruction (step 1 is ctrl+u in firefox) that I discovered cufon.

So for my site, I added the necessary cufon script, my generated font, which happens to be the old Japanese font, Kosuka, and the extra bit of code to the header.php file. The code looks like this:

  1. <script src=”/scripts/cufon-yui.js” type=”text/javascript”></script>
  2. <script src=”/scripts/Kozuka_Gothic_Pro_OpenType_500.font.js”></script>

3. Setting the Type

I had recently read an article forwarded from my buddy Ryan Brandle that talked about having all your type sit perfectly on the baseline.

With a wonderful visual example of how the final output could look, I was hooked. I wanted to put this idea to use immediately. I set my line-height to 18px and instead of using a single font size for easy scaling, I agreed with Wilson Miner’s comment,

“At some point as designers we have to strike a balance between creating pixel-perfect layouts and infinitely flexible ones. When you get down to it, resizable text is primarily an accessibility feature, not a design feature.”
– Wilson Minor

The math required to keep the line heights functioning like I wanted became cumbersome, so I just decided to declare the 18px height throughout my css document. In the future, I would love to have global css variables so I could declare the line-height in just one place and have it cascade down. If I ever wanted to change the height to say, 20 pixels, it would be one quick change. The balance for me is that I know if I ever wanted to adjust this height, it would just be in my css document.

4. Background Images

I wanted to do a couple of this with this site. First, I wanted to make use of a blur effect on top. I like the new vista graphic element in which the background blends thru the top of the application header, so I employed this idea to create my two image header. The first image is the top background slice repeated. The second image is the actually image I created to create this semi-opaque effect. I also added a top band to pull the side off from the tabs and browser interface. I repeated this concept for the footer, adding a soft gradient to anchor the site. I used a different blur image to constrast the top header, but kept the same color scheme.

5. 100% height

For me, this is a must. I want to take advantage of the browser’s real estate afforded to me. In order to get my 100% height working properly, I just visit this trusty example.

6. Colors

I wanted to have a refreshing site, lightweight and inspiring. I also wanted to have more than one main color. Finally, after working on a site with a great designer friend, Melissa, I decide to compliment her fresh squeezed lemon with a bit of lime. I ended up with a cool collection, soft and comfortable, which I think helps highlight the content over just the site design while still being inspirational and crisp.

Website color scheme

Website color scheme