Creating a good content experience for site administrators

Most people see and experience what’s called the “front-end” portion of a website. This is the part that contains the content intended for consumption, or perhaps products to be sold, or whatever the intent of the website. However, most websites require thoughtfulness and planning in a place very few people actually see: the “back-end,” or administrative area.

One of the most rewarding moments in my work is that first time I share with my client how they’ll be managing the content on their new site. If I’ve done my job well, I’ll get a response that’s something like “Wow, that’s easy!” The truth is that the back-end content management planning often takes a back seat to the front-end design and behavior. And that really is a shame.

The animated image above is from a WordPress site I worked on for a real estate company (kudos to the wonderful Advanced Custom Fields plugin). We worked together very closely to make sure their content management experience was compatible with their workflow, and we did it all before we even started on the visual design. There were at least three revisions before we were satisfied that we had created the most efficient workflow possible. This really worked to our advantage―we were all so engrossed in the content that the front-end portion was much easier to plan and design.

The point here is that there’s usually much more to a good website than the part you see while browsing the web. I now try to emphasize to potential clients that my pricing may differ from others because I normally build in time to plan and design a solid, sustainable back-end that can grow with your site and your content. After all, you’d never build a beautiful house with a lousy foundation, right? ;-)

One of the loveliest

So I was noodling around on Typekit the other day looking for the perfect font combination on a new project, when I came across this:

In The Elements of Typographic Style author Robert Bringhurst calls this font “one of the loveliest digital families yet made.” Created by the all Italian CAST foundry, Rialto dF is indeed a lovely font family, and one that I never dreamed I’d get my hands on. Adobe sort of slipped this one in while no one was looking… Or at least I wasn’t looking.

Anyway, I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but at least for now I can look forward to making up an excuse to use it.

Logo and website design for local animal hospital

Luckney Animal Hospital is a different sort of animal clinic, and the Zierens wanted their logo and website to reflect as much. Dr. Zieren’s wife, Erin, is an architect, and she had a very clear vision of how they wanted to look to their customers: hometown and friendly, yet knowledgeable and compassionate. As we worked together, the result was what you might call a “yesteryear local vernacular” with eclectic layouts and typography. In the end, the final work was spot-on, and the Flowood community has an awesome new veterinary hospital at their service.

Visit Luckney Animal Hospital online at

Logo and website for Mississippi software developer Lifecycle Solutions

Occasionally I get to design for people that I love to work with. Lifecycle Solutions does amazing work right here in Jackson, Mississippi, and partnering with them on projects has completely upped my game. I designed their logo and website a few years ago, but I recently had the opportunity to revisit both and do some freshening up. The results are clean and simple, and we intentionally departed from more common tech themes to help them look and feel as unique as they actually are. Visit to see the full site.

Orderby Custom Field

I’m getting along pretty well with WordPress so far, and I’m still amazed to hear myself say that I actually enjoy it. But while I have plenty of CMS experience and even know PHP pretty well, I’m still a bit of a WordPress newb. This one still sort of has me stumped.

Using WP_Query to get a custom taxonomy and orderby a custom meta value

To someone not versed in WordPress speak, that sounds like a bunch of hooey. But all I want to do is get all posts from a category that I created and order them by a custom field that I also created. Like any good WordPress newb I turned to Google and came up with this:

In my mind that totally should have worked. But it was actually ordering the posts by an older custom field that I had deleted. By using Query Monitor I was able to see that it was still sorting by this old query—I still don’t know where it lived. Anyway, after a sleepless night and a few more hours of table-beating with my head, I tried simply removing the post-type parameter:

And boom! It worked exactly as expected. My only hang-up is that custom taxonomies can be mapped to more than one post type, so what if I really did need to indicate a single post type? Oh well. I guess I’ll find out when that need arises.

Howdy, World!

This is the obligitory blog post from a not-famous-at-all web designer who writes a blog post once in a blue moon about moving from one blogging platform to another. So it all started with a little blogging platform called Textpattern

Those were good times. I built a blog using Textpattern and participated in the community a bit. I even used it for some client work. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that something more robust was needed for client work. How I found ExpressionEngine, I can’t remember, but its discovery opened up a whole new world. Whereas Textpattern had custom fields through the means of a plugin, ExpressionEngine was all about custom fields and organizing content however you preferred. Yes, ExpressionEngine is amazing, but it’s really big. And yet I built another blog using the free version and wrote a couple of short posts. And then my blog died.

I have no idea what happened, but I didn’t care enough to try and fix it. So this domain had a dead website for quite a while. Now let’s fast foward to Node.js and the popularity of static site generators. I had been using Node along with Bower and Gulp for local development tasks, and it was fun. It’s still fun. So that started the search for a “fun” JavaScript blog generator powered by Node. I tinkered with a few, but the simplest for me was Hexo. After installing and customizing a theme to my liking, here I sit writing my first post.

So, after all of that, I’ll be really honest about two things:

  1. I’m not a very prolific writer by any means, so don’t expect a post every week or even every month. Or every six months.
  2. When I do write something, don’t expect it to be Pulitzer material.

And away we go!

Massimo Vignelli dies at 83

There have always been a select few designers that really appeal to me, and they have almost always been those of a more classical, conservative nature. Of those, Massimo Vignelli was often criticized for producing the same style of work over and over again for all of his clients. However, given his long and successful career, one has to admit that he must have been doing something right. I see his work as a constant seeking of perfection—he did what he did, and he did it really well.

Mr. Vignelli passed away yesterday at 83. The design world will surely miss him.

Rockin’ in the web world. Or not.

I received this check from a client last week and it totally made my day. After all, this is why I do what I do (in addition to providing for my family)—I want to use my God-given abilities to help people, make them happy, and get paid for it. And it would be great to get feedback like this from everyone I work with, but to be honest… sometimes I get the opposite.

One truth that has consistently revealed itself to me is that people generally have no idea what to expect when they seek out a website designer/developer. They don’t know how much a website will cost, how long it will take to complete, or even if they will technically “own” the site once it’s finished. So when someone hires Addison Hall Design, they look to us to clear up all of these unknowns, and normally I’m able to do that fairly well. However, there are times when I assume too much (I know, when you assume you make an… well, you know the rest) and my client still feels in the dark. Why? Most of the time I think it’s because we get in a rush—the client may have a really tight deadline that we’re trying to meet, or it may be that our plate is a little too full and we’re simply trying to juggle too many balls. Either way, it’s still my job to keep the client out of the dark and make them comfortable. If I don’t, things can get out of hand for both me and the client, and I hate to admit it, but it has happened before.

So, to everyone I’ve ever worked with, it’s not your fault if you felt confused or lost, or even a little taken advantage of. Nope, it’s not your fault—it’s mine. My job is not only to design and build you a fabulous website, it’s also my job to take the lead and guide the project. It’s my job to make sure you’re informed throughout the process and happy with the results. It’s my job to make sure you know what you’re spending your money on and you don’t regret spending it. Because when all is said and done, I want you to love your website and say, “Man, Addison rocks!”

Rethinking the web design process

I can remember when designing for multiple web browsers was the cause of great distress for all web designers. Looking back, well, we had it easy. Now with a multitude of web-enabled devices in addition to desktop computers, web design has changed for good. Web interface designs must now be fluid and adaptable to accommodate a range of different screen sizes and interaction types (point and click versus touch).

So, from this moment forward Addison Hall Design will be designing for all devices—not just desktop computers. And while I cannot possibly provide the perfect solution for every budget out there, I will do my best to provide an adaptive, usable experience for every client site on any device.

Here’s to the future of web design! Huzzah!

Tools for maintaining your website

Even if you have a great content management system for your website, sometimes you need a little outside help to get things done. These are a few tools that you can download and start using right now that will help you edit images and maintain files on your web server.

Resizing and touching up images

No need to buy Photoshop if you simply need to touch up and resize your images. Paint.NET is a free image editing application for Windows that can do much of what Photoshop does. And if you use a Mac, check out Paintbrush. It’s not so great at color correction, but cropping and resizing images are no problem.

Resizing and modifying LOTS of images

If you need to resize 10 or more images, it can get a little tedious to open up each one in your image editor and modify them one by one. But there are specialized applications made for resizing and modifying lots of images at once. FastStone Photo Resizer allows you to select as many images as you like, choose a new size (along with lots of other changes if you like), and output them all at once to a new location on your computer. (Note that the free version is for non-commercial use only. Go ahead and pay the license fee if you use it for your business—it’s worth it!) Mac users should check out SmallImage for a similar toolset.

Managing files on your web server

Sometimes you need to access your web server and upload new files or maybe move some things around. To do so you need an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client like FileZilla. Available for both Windows and Mac (Linux, too), FileZilla is open source software and, therefore, free to use.

There’s even a tutorial to get you started with the basics of FTP.