robin's blog

Getting more out of Woocommerce

this post originally appeared on my blog, at freshentials.eu/getting-woocommerce

I’ve (somewhat) recently set up a little ecommerce business and I’d like to think that I’ve learned a few valuable lessons along the way. Today, I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.

For the sake of brevity, we’ll have to assume that you’ve already picked out a business, a name, set up your hosting, and installed WordPress with WooCommerce. This post would end up much too long otherwise, as entire books have been written on this subject. There are also many online resources that can help. A personal favorite of mine is this multitude of subreddits. Check it out!

We’ll also assume that, since you’ve managed to set up WooCommerce, you’ve added products, installed a nice theme, changed the settings to what you want, et cetera, et cetera. Perhaps even more important, you should set up some security plugins and maybe something that will help with performance and SEO. You’re almost there — almost ready to launch! But before you do, I want to help you get that extra bit of oomph out of your ecommerce site.

Make sure your social media sites are ready to go

You’re probably eager to start selling, and you want to launch as soon as possible. You’ll probably tell all your friends, if you haven’t already, and ask them to post your link on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other social media they use. But have you made sure your own social media sites are ready to go? You could really take advantage of that first wave of buzz they’ll generate, and it can be a great way to introduce yourself to potential new customers.

So make sure your Facebook page is up to date, with correct information, and make sure it looks great! Of course, this also goes for Twitter, Google Plus, and others. Having the right images (profile picture, cover photo, etc.) can make or break the appearance of your social media channels. There are quite a few resources available on this — just google “social media image sizes” — but I’ve found this blog in particular to be accurate and up to date.

Make sure your website is (and looks) legit

When I first started Freshentials, I figured the most important bit was to launch a website that has products on it. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that everything else is unimportant. I forgot some of these things, which may have cost me a sale or two. What really helped me, was getting someone to actually test my website and tell me what their thoughts were. A good way to get someone to do this for you is by getting a free user test from Peek Usertesting.

Especially if you’re selling things that people are going to be putting in their mouths, it’s nice to know who’s behind a business. And if you’re going to be taking people’s data, make sure they know you’re handling it responsibly. So here’s a quick (and probably non-exhaustive) checklist:

  • Have a way for people to contact you on your website. Preferably not just a contact form, but also an email address and phone number.
  • Have some information about your company. Post about who’s running it (even better if you have a picture) and maybe even put up an address (especially if you have an office).
  • Have general terms and conditions on your website. These don’t need to be anything fancy, just an outline of what people can expect — especially if something goes awry. Feel free to take a look at ours and copy them for your own use.
  • Tell people what you’ll do with their data. Customers will be trusting you to handle it responsibly. As a corollary: don’t ask for data you don’t need. For instance, Freshentials doesn’t ask for a phone number, because what would we do with it?
  • Although you probably don’t really need it, you could install an SSL certificate. They can be gotten quite cheap nowadays, and there are no drawbacks to using SSL. Our host, NameCheap, offers quite affordable ones, plus detailed guides on how to install them.

Edit your email templates

When a customers places an order, they get an email. When that order is shipped, they get an email. They also get emails for orders being processed, and an invoice. In short: they’ll get quite a few emails from you. Take advantage of this by editing your email templates!

WooCommerce’s email templates are pretty good. You could create your own, but also just edit the default ones. To override and edit email templates, copy 

woocommerce/templates/emails/<email>.php

to your theme folder: 

yourtheme/woocommerce/emails/<email>.php

A great way to get more out of your emails is to include links to social media, for instance in the email footer. You could add something like this to email-footer.php:

<tr >
    <td colspan=”2" valign=”middle” id=”social” style=”<?php echo $social; ?>”>
        Don’t forget to like us on <a href=”//www.facebook.com/freshentials" style=”color: #34f1b1;”>Facebook</a>, follow us on <a href=”//twitter.com/Freshentials” style=”color: #34f1b1;”>Twitter</a>, and share your purchase with your friends! You could even earn a <a href=”http://freshentials.eu/discounts/" style=”color: #34f1b1;”>free toothbrush</a>!
    </td>
</tr>

Set up some coupons and go viral

People love a good deal. So don’t forget to offer some ways for people to get a discount! As an added bonus, you could use these to induce a bit of virality. For instance, everyone who refers a friend to Freshentials, gets a free toothbrush!

Finally, launch!

And don’t forget to tell all your family and friends to post about it on social media!

I hope this post was both insightful and helpful. If you have any comments, please do reach out on Twitter, or Facebook!

Friday, September 12, 2014 -

Check out my friend’s band, True Citizen! Their EP is on Spotify and it’s pretty damn good!

(Source: Spotify)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 -

Bucket Buddies at Startupweekend Amsterdam 2014

Last weekend I went to Amsterdam to take part in a Startup Weekend. This is a 54-hour event where participants form teams in order to launch a startup. It was super fun, but also very educational and fulfilling!

I am not the best at networking, meeting people, and that kind of thing, so I decided to pitch my idea as a way to introduce myself to the crowd at large (as well as get my idea out there). As it turned out, someone in the crowd had already been working on exactly what I had in mind. My pitch didn’t end up being voted one of the top ideas to develop further, so after the voting was completed and the teams were ready to be formed, I set out to find a team to join. Luckily, I’d signed up as a designer, who were in short supply. I decided to join Bucket Buddies, which is probably one of the best decisions I made that weekend.

The idea for Bucket Buddies is simple. Doing things on your bucket list is great, but it’s no fun alone. For instance, perhaps you’ve always wanted to go to Oktoberfest, but none of your friends want to go with you, so you’ve never been. So we set out to create a platform where you can enter goals on your bucket list and find people with whom to do those goals. We’ll then match you up with whoever can help you reach this goal—whether it’s a skydiving company, airline that has a flight to your destination, or even just a bus trip to Oktoberfest.

So we worked very hard to validate whether this is an actual problem people have, started work on a back end and a front end for a web app, made a landing page to get some signups, and, of course, refined our business model.

In the end we gained some traction with quite a few signups and Facebook likes and wrote a pitch that convinced the judges to vote us as the overall winner of Startupweekend Amsterdam 2014!

So check out our website and sign up, like our Facebook page and let us help you reach your goal!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 -

So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.
So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.
So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.
Messi in the lower left, watching Messi on the screen.
So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.
So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.
So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.
Messi taking a nap.
So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.

So I’ve been watching the world cup a bit—it’s on mostly in the background while I do other stuff. I have to say one of my favorite things is the fact that, in the show they do between games, they have a dachshund run around the studio. They named him Messi.

Sunday, June 15, 2014 -

Urban design and planning for a self driving world

The biggest change in urban environments could come from driverless cars

Driverless cars are coming. It’s not a question of “if”, but “when”. Google’s self-driving car has already driven 700 000 miles, without accident. It’s not just Google, though: car manufacturers are competing to be the first to launch a commercially available car that drives itself.

How will driverless cars change the field of urban design and planning?


Adoption

Are people actually going to buy driverless cars and use them? They would have to provide an advantage over regular cars—otherwise, why bother?

Not having to pay attention to the road is an obvious benefit of driverless cars. This means blind people could get in a car and ‘drive’ somewhere safely. Speaking of safety, these cars could be quite a bit safer than traditional cars. A driver can’t fall asleep behind the wheel of a car that doesn’t have one, or drive it while drunk.

However, I think the most important quality of driverless cars is their ability to be on the road nearly all the time. They are not limited by their human driver. A self-driving car does not need to wait for you to get back in it to go somewhere. Today, when people commute to work—or go anywhere, for that matter—their cars will typically sit unused in the parking lot while their owner is at work. In fact, the average car is parked for about 96% of its lifespan. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds this wasteful.

Driverless cars, are an obvious solution to this problem. One car could handle the driving needs of many more people than a regular car. Theoretically, if drivers only drive their car for about 4% of a car’s lifespan, one car could be enough for 25 people. More realistically, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where one might buy a subscription for a number of rides per month from a company that operates a fleet of self driving cars.

Clearly, driverless cars offer several benefits over regular cars. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will have one. Plenty of people will want to own their own car and drive it—classic car enthusiasts, for example. However, there is a number of people who currently do not own cars, but who could be potential customers of self driving cars (for instance, blind people).


Historical adoption rates for various technologies. X-axis: percentage of population.

These historic adoption rates for various technologies provide a good indicator for how much and how fast this technology would be adopted.


Need for cars reduced

I believe that the need for cars will be reduced drastically. The main reason is the scenario outlined earlier. I foresee someone (if I have the capital, maybe I will) starting a company where people could buy a subscription for a certain number of rides, or miles, or minutes in a driverless car per month. Since the cars would be on the road nearly constantly, they could probably serve up to 20 people. That means the cost of driving to work could drop more than tenfold. Who wouldn’t go for a deal like that?

Research firm Alix Partners indicates that car-sharing programs will displace 1.2 million new vehicle sales by 2020. For each shared car, 32 new cars will go unsold.

*From the great article by Dave Troy—Understanding Self-Driving Cars

Parking

Not only is the need for cars themselves reduced, the need for parking is reduced even further. There will be fewer cars, and driverless cars don’t need to be parked nearly as often as regular cars.

Obviously, I can’t tell the future. So while these are things I believe will happen, I can imagine not everyone would agree. (If so, please do share it in a comment!) When personal computers and the internet started gaining traction, many people thought we’d move to paperless offices where everything would be handled digitally and online. However, due to the fact that now almost everyone can operate a PC and a printer, paper sales have actually risen.


These are parking lots in the downtown core of Salem, Oregon. Parking garages are solid red, parking lots outlined. Street parking is not even included. An incredible amount of space is used for parking. In some places, more so than others. Many towns and cities in North America are built for cars, which is why I think driverless cars will have the biggest impact there.
picture via breakfast on bikes


Urban design and planning for a self driving world

What does a world with a reduced need for cars and parking look like? In a perfect world, we’d stop building insanely large highways, downtown parking lots, and sprawling suburbs. That probably won’t happen, but hopefully we’ll make a step in the right direction.

I think surface parking lots, especially ones that are close to city centers, will be the first to go. If demand for parking drops, they will simply be less profitable. Parking garages, too, will (hopefully) undergo the same fate.


12 East 13th street in New York City, once a parking garage, now luxury apartment building.

I think surface parking lots, especially ones that are close to city centers, will be the first to go. If demand for parking drops, they will simply be less profitable. Parking garages, too, will (hopefully) undergo the same fate.

Perhaps developers will buy the land and build something more commercially viable. Or even take a parking garage and redevelop it, like one garage turned apartment building in New York.

This could also be a great opportunity for cities. Acquiring land, especially near downtowns, is often expensive and difficult. Buying a parking lot, arguably less so, since there is only one tenant/owner and no residents. Wouldn’t it be great if we could replace this:


Downtown Dallas, picture via Bing maps

With this?


Downtown Dallas, terrible photoshopping by me.

Doesn’t that look much nicer? Let’s build spaces for people, not cars. Not only would this transform a non-place into a place—no one goes to a parking lot to hang out or meet friends—it would be great for the ecosystem of a city. It would foster biodiversity and it would negate the urban heat island effect.

It could even be a solid investment on the part of the city. In “Solving the Real Estate Crisis with Parks”, Jared Green outlines the “budding “Red fields to Green fields” movement, which has been picked up by more than 10 major cities in the U.S. The basic idea is to transform toxic real estate into parks, elevating nearby property values, and turning a downward spiral of economic stagnation and disinvestment into a positive, self-reinforcing trend of new growth.”

Obviously not every parking garage can be turned into apartments. Most have very low ceiling heights and are much too deep for light to penetrate all the way. But their concrete skeletons still provide great opportunities. Urban farms, using hydroponics, would do very well in them. They could be great spaces for entertainment: skate parks or paintball arenas would be great fits.

Perhaps we could also do something about the way we design streets. As David Yoon showed on the excellent Narrow Streets LA blog, many streets could use a good diet.


Ocean avenue + Santa Monica boulevard, Santa Monica

In New York City, the department of transportation actually put many roads on a diet. The results? Almost entirely positive. Outlined in a 2012 report called Measuring the Street, the results of their measures increase safety, revenue for local businesses, and overall satisfaction with places. (See also, this article about NYC road diets.)


Notice the absence of parking along the street.

The overall trend here is that automobile infrastructure can, and hopefully will, be repurposed into something that benefits people, not cars. The options to do this, are almost endless.


Driverless cars don’t solve every problem. They’re still cars. A city based around cars, with or without drivers, will never be the healthiest city. We should still strive to build walkable and cycleable cities. Good public transport is also important, because it still is (and most likely will be) much more efficient at moving large numbers of people.

Self driving cars could also have negative effects, for instance by leaving a large number of people without a job. Taxi drivers or valets, for instance.

However, I think that driverless cars provide many benefits over regular cars. They could reduce the number of cars, which would certainly help make cities healthier. They’ll also create new kinds of jobs, as entrepreneurs take advantage of their unique features.

Either way, I think they will have a large impact on the urban landscape. It can be a good one, we just have to recognize the opportunity and seize it!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 -

Lessons learned from a failed King’s day

Saturday was King’s day—the national holiday of the Netherlands. It is officially a celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday, though in reality not many people care about that part. There are all kinds of parties and festivals all over the country. Another important tradition are the vrijmarkten, free markets, where everyone can sell their old stuff. In Eindhoven, there was also a place for professionals (stores and restaurants and such) to sell things.

It would have been the perfect opportunity for me to get my business in front of hundreds of people’s eyes and make some sales. That didn’t happen. So what was the most important lesson I learned?

My own damn fault

The reason it didn’t work out was entirely my own fault. Instead of printing the material I needed (promotional graphics, receipts, sign up forms, things like that) the night before, I chose to go out and see some of the King’s night festivities. 

On King’s day itself, everything was closed. I know, I really should have realized that, or at least checked it. I ended up running around town for about five hours, trying to find somewhere that I could print. By the time I finally had a printer, the battery of my (old) laptop gave out mid-print. At that point I just gave up; it was late and I was very frustrated.

So what did I learn?

The obvious thing would be to say that I should have planned and organized better. This is true, the whole thing could have easily been avoided with some more careful planning. However, I only got the idea to set up a booth two days before the actual event, so the whole thing was pretty haphazard to begin with. 

I think the real lesson is that I need someone who is organized and plans well in my life (whether it’s my personal or professional life). Someone who is well organized probably would have checked opening times and told me that things are closed on King’s day. I’ve “learned” the lesson about needing to be more organized about a thousand times, but I’ll probably never be that kind of person. If I may talk in stereotypes for a second: I’m more of a creative, ideas guy. What I did right was recognize the opportunity to make some sales. I also do well in a chaotic environment, I scrambled together (most of) the stuff I needed at the last minute and didn’t let stress about what might go wrong scare me off.

The larger lesson, which I think applies not only to me, is that it’s important to recognize your own weaknesses and strengths. You can either work on them—which I’ll definitely do—or find someone who complements you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 -

So I did a small redesign of my website. I think it looks fresher now. Check it out at freshentials.eu.

I’m still trying to figure out how to generate more traffic and sales. Tumblr, do you have any ideas?

So I did a small redesign of my website. I think it looks fresher now. Check it out at freshentials.eu.

I’m still trying to figure out how to generate more traffic and sales. Tumblr, do you have any ideas?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 -

3… 2… 1… liftoff!

Freshentials is finally up and running! After a few weeks of planning, design, and waiting for the toothbrushes to arrive, I’m in business.

Check out freshentials.eu to see how you can make sure you never forget to buy a new toothbrush and be environmentally responsible at the same time.

To generate some attention, I’ve given out several discounts already. Missed them? Don’t worry, we’ll regularly have sales and discounts! Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest Freshentials news and special offers!

3… 2… 1… liftoff!

Freshentials is finally up and running! After a few weeks of planning, design, and waiting for the toothbrushes to arrive, I’m in business.

Check out freshentials.eu to see how you can make sure you never forget to buy a new toothbrush and be environmentally responsible at the same time.

To generate some attention, I’ve given out several discounts already. Missed them? Don’t worry, we’ll regularly have sales and discounts! Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest Freshentials news and special offers!

Monday, April 14, 2014 -

Well it appears I’m starting a company!

It will be launching soon. Head over to freshentials.eu to check it out and get a 25% discount!

Well it appears I’m starting a company!

It will be launching soon. Head over to freshentials.eu to check it out and get a 25% discount!

Thursday, April 10, 2014 -

The ideal urban design studio

note: this post also appears on Medium, here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the ideal urban design studio looks like. Not just because I’m interested in urban design, but also because I’m headed out into the professional world in search of a job. I’d like to get a job at the perfect urban design studio. What is that studio like?

The ideal urban design studio…

uses design as a means to an end

In my opinion, the ideal urban design studio does not churn out blueprint plans. For this studio, the master plan is dead.


A traditional design/development cycle.

Traditionally, a city or other organization doing a project would tell the studio what they want, their budget, legal considerations, et cetera. The studio goes to work, makes a brilliant plan, and it gets built. The plan is the goal. If it is not built, or is built differently, the project is not as brilliant. Maybe it even fails.

In today’s world, I think it’s much more important to think about urban design as a means to a end, not the end itself. The end goal is something more along the lines of: “create housing for older people in a way that they can still participate in society without feeling left out.” Or: “revitalize a shopping district that has gotten fewer customers over the past years.”

The key is to think about what happens after the plan is built. The ideal urban design studio asks: “How do people live in this place?” “How can we make sure that, even if they leave and new people come in, this area stays attractive and true to itself?” “How do stores keep attracting customers?”

The actual design is then the answer to that question. This makes it much more flexible. Perhaps, during the design phase, a certain element is found out not to work. For instance, a certain type of tree that looks great, may not retain enough water. No worries, we can use another type of tree, as long as we still answer the question.

does not have all the expertise

The ideal urban design studio does not have to be big. In fact, a small studio can offer many advantages over a big studio, because it is much more nimble and flexible. It does not need to have an expert on fire safe construction, because not every project will need this person. More realistically, not everyone in the office will have to go and learn about fire safe construction. They can concentrate on what they do best: urban design.

Should a project call for an expert, then the studio knows where to find these experts. They can be called in on a project-by-project basis. The ideal urban design studio has meaningful connections with other studio’s, companies, or even just freelance consultants. If a project needs a fire safe construction expert, the ideal urban design studio will know where to find them.

The benefit is mutual. This approach frees up time for the outside consultants to focus on what they do best, rather than having to be part of urban design projects that do not require their expertise. Moreover, whoever hired the studio, won’t have to pay for people they do not need. Each project will have the right (number of) people for the right job.

is diverse

This one may sound like an open door. Perhaps it is, so I won’t waste a lot of words here. The ideal urban design studio employs people from all kinds of backgrounds. Urban design is different all across the world—even the difference between close neighbors Belgium and the Netherlands are huge. Working with a diverse set of people ensures a varied mix of perspectives and that is valuable in any creative field.

makes their own work

Any urban designer worth their salt cares about the built environment and wants to be a force of positive change. That’s one reason why it’s important that a studio does not sit around waiting to be assigned a project. Another good reason is simply that sometimes work can be hard to come by, so it’s better to create it yourself.


A traditional development cycle, showing different actors in different phases.

In a traditional setting, whenever a developer has developed an area and sold it, their responsibilities end. Their goal is to sell the project, what happens after that sale is not their problem. The urban design studio was most likely involved in this process, during the planning phase. However, our ideal urban design studio cares very much about what happens after the properties have been sold.

To make sure that a project is not only sold, but sold to people who really want to live there, the studio could initiate the project itself. What I’m talking about is known in Dutch as particulier collectief opdrachtgeverschap (CPO) or in German as a Baugemeinschaft. (In Germany, and other countries where it’s more common to build your own house, these projects are more common.) In a project like this, a group of people gets together to build their own houses, and often thereby design their own neighborhood. There are companies that exist solely to guide people along the steps of these projects. They find a like-minded group of people and then work with them to create their perfect house.

There’s no reason that an urban design studio couldn’t initiate a project like this. In fact, it should. The studio has expertise in many areas—they have knowledge of people’s housing preferences and know how to design an attractive street, to name just a few. This makes them both good at finding the right people, as well as able to create the best possible design for their needs. The studio also has connections to all kinds of experts in different areas, who can be brought in on the project when needed. Initiating a project kills two birds with one stone: you create your own work, which makes a studio more independent; plus the project will be sold to people who really care about it and cannot wait to live there, work there, or use it otherwise.

There can by many variations on this theme. Obviously, housing is not the only area in which it can be done. The key factor is that the studio finds the group of people, or businesses, or whoever else is the future inhabitant or tenant and works with them to create a design that answers their needs. (Actually, they can even be current inhabitants or tenants in an area in need of redevelopment.)

does not know what a blank slate is

The last characteristic is, luckily, another short one. The ideal urban design studio does not work with a blank slate. In today’s world, especially in western Europe, where population growth is often close to zero or even below, not many brand new neighborhoods are being developed. Let alone entire new towns. Urban design work is less and less development, rather redevelopment. But even in the case of an entire new neighborhood there is always a context to respond to.


Masdar city. Image from Foster & partners.

So whenever I see images of projects such as Masdar city, I have to scratch my head and wonder if I would really want to work on such a project. Even deserts are not blank slates and I’m not sure this city is the best way to respond to such a context.

Of course, the ideal urban design studio has many more qualities. It’s full of nice people, has a kickass office, and, of course, pays very generously. But the concepts I’ve outlined here are what sets the studio apart and make it the most progressive, future proof, kickass urban design studio.

(Oh and… if you work at a studio like this: are you hiring?)

Thursday, March 6, 2014 -

Is the future going to be all about technology?

I also posted this to Medium here.

The biggest and most disruptive changes may well be technological. The future is awesome, part three. A popular thought experiment goes like this: imagine a person from 1900 who somehow teleports to 1957. Also, imagine a person from 1957 who is transported to the present day. Who would experience more culture shock?

On the face of it, you might say the person who goes from 1900 to 1957. They might have seen or heard of automobiles, but now they would be driving all over the place. That might be quite a shock. Not only that, there would also be airplanes, refrigerators, televisions, telephones, and all kinds of other innovations. However, after adjusting to the technological advances, they would probably be able to adjust to life without too much difficulty. In 1957 men were still the heads of the household and brought home the proverbial bacon. Women were often expected to stay at home and take care of the kids. In the United States, the civil rights movement had not scored any major victory yet. In the Netherlands, depillarization had only just started. Socially, things had not changed very much.

Adjusting to life would probably be much harder for the person transported from 1957 to the present day. Cars, planes, refrigerators, televisions, and phones are still around, though much improved. The biggest technological change would probably be the rise of computers and the internet, although transistors were invented in 1947 and computing was not that far off. Integrated circuits had been thought of in 1952 and a working example was available by 1952.

Yet, the biggest changes from 1900 were be sociological: there are families where husband and wife both work; single parents; mixed-race couples; even gay people have been able to marry since 2001 and no-one blinks an eye. To the person from 1957, it would seem like the world has been turned upside down. In the United States, black people can vote and even become president; the USSR is no more; people no longer work at the same company for their entire careers, nor do they expect this; and many more sociological changes have happened since 1957.

So we can conclude that the biggest changes made in the past century or so have been sociological, rather than technological. But I think that in the future, the biggest changes in our lives could have their roots in technology. I will explain why I think so.

Firstly, I don’t foresee many more sociological changes happening soon. The world is on a slow, but steady course towards more democracy and equality, for instance in the case of LGBT rights: more and more countries are legalizing same sex marriage and letting same sex couples adopt children. More and more countries are becoming democratic. These are two ongoing trends that won’t stop soon, but other than these, I can’t think of many sociological changes that are afoot.

On the technology front, though, things are moving faster than ever before. Thanks in large part to the internet, technology may well be the driving force behind current and future societal changes. Many of these innovations are disruptive technologies that will no doubt have quite an impact on the world.

Thanks to the internet, we can now communicate, foster connections and collaborate with people all across the world. We are moving towards a ‘Shared Economy’ in which people have shared access to goods, services, data, and talent.

Mass production will likely not disappear, but with the rise of (commercially available and easy to use) 3D-printers, people will be able to manufacture goods right in their home. Furthermore, they can tailor those goods to their specific needs and desires. 3D-printers may radically change existing production processes: houses can be printed extremely fast, prosthetics can be made to order and respond to an individual’s particular physiology, to name just a few examples.

Driverless cars may well usher in an era where driving is a thing of the past. This isn’t just a convenience, it could drastically reduce the need for cars and thereby change entire cityscapes. What if we didn’t need parking garages or could replace car lanes with bike lanes?

Driverless cars could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which would be very helpful in combating climate change. The fight against climate change itself is fueling many technological changes by creating a need for sustainability, both on the supply and demand side. In the future, every house may well come equipped with photovoltaic panels, solar heaters, wind turbines, and other sustainable technologies.

The cities we live in are likely to be connected to a smart grid, thus becoming part of the ‘Internet of Things’. The interconnectedness of physical objects will enable us to use resources much more efficiently.

Using resources more efficiently is becoming more important than ever, not only because of climate change, but also because we’re running out of fossil fuels. In the future, hopefully, we will live in energy-efficient ‘Smart Cities’, which respond to inhabitants’ patterns of use.

Fossil fuels are not the only resources that are becoming more scarce. The amount of people in the world is rising. it is estimated that there will be 9.6 billion people on earth by 2050. That means there will be many more mouths to feed, homes to heat, and devices to power. Resources could become much more scarce, not just fossil fuels, but also water, food, land, and many more. Interestingly enough, advances in medicine and nutrition, leading to less child mortality, actually do not lead to population growth. When children survive in greater numbers, parents decide to have smaller families. Increased life span may increase population, though. But I believe that technology will actually help slow down population growth, which in turn will help lessen the increased demand for various resources.

An estimated 6.4 out of those 9.6 billion people will live in urban areas. Much of those urban areas are yet to be built. Informal growth has recently outpaced growth in formal areas, especially in the developing world, which is where population is expected to rise the most. However, I think that even informal growth does not necessarily have to be bad. Planners, designers, and policymakers are increasingly aware of the need to manage it. Thanks to the lessons we’ve learned regarding how cities work and thanks to the internet’s spreading of knowledge around the world, I hope that even these informal areas could, in some way, become Smart Cities. Local governments would surely stand to benefit from it and so would the rest of the world.

Many of the advances relating to Smart Cities are made possible thanks to governments publishing ‘Open Data’. I’m not sure whether the Open Data movement is a sociological or technological phenomenon—it’s probably both. This is another one of those innovations that exist because of the internet.

Similarly, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding can be seen as innovations that are part sociological and technological. They would not have been possible without the internet. I think both these movements will only become more important as time goes on. Traditional methods of financing will no longer be the only way to get a project started.

Another way in which finance is changing is the advent of digital currency, most notably in the form of Bitcoin. It is now possible to send a million euros from the Netherlands to Tanzania and pay just €0,05 in transaction fees. Bitcoin is not only a currency, but also a network. Some say it is “the internet of money.”

Bitcoin is made possible largely because of advances in cryptography. Even though recently we have seen governments spying on people worldwide, thanks to cryptography, we could very well enter an era in which it is possible to be completely anonymous when communicating. This is useful when publishing highly sensitive materials, for instance putting classified documents on WikiLeaks.

All these advances are only available to people who have the technology to take advantage of them. So it’s a good thing that there are initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child, aiming to provide laptops to children in the developing world. Other innovations, such as Motorola’s cheap smartphones and Raspberry Pi’s also make hardware more affordable and thus more accessible.

What of software? In line with the Shared Economy, I like to think that the world is more and more moving towards open source software. Today, much of the internet already runs on open source software, with Linux-powered servers running Apache, MySQL, PHP, WordPress, to name just a few popular examples. But this movement is not just restricted to the internet. Another good example is Blender, 3D-modeling software that is also capable of rendering, animating, texturing, and much more. The Blender foundation has even made several open source films, the latest being Tears of Steel.

Of course, I’ve merely scratched the surface. How about technologies such as ‘Augmented Reality’, peer-to-peer marketplaces, electric cars, robots that can walk, or learn; or how about specific cases, such as Amazon’s delivery drones, Google’s project tango, the World Solar Challenge race, or SpaceX’s private space flight? There are so many innovations going on, it’s almost impossible to name them all.

Bitcoin puts power in the hands of people, rather than banks (and, to a lesser extent, governments). Cryptographic technology and the internet may be responsible for a future in which whistleblowers can blow their whistles without fear. Open Data will likely lead to more government transparancy. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding put more power in the hands of consumers, rather than large companies, who can collectively decide what gets made. 3D-printing can even turn these consumers into ‘prosumers’ and the Shared Economy will ensure that access to all these innovations is available to anyone who is connected. Luckily, since technology will be more affordable and accessible, it will be in the hands of more and more people.

I think that if you were teleported to 2050, you would encounter a radically different world from the one in which we live right now. I think the changes may well be due to technological innovations. I hope Medium and this post will be around by then—perhaps I’m completely wrong and we’ll all laugh at this silly post. I hope I’m right, though, because I think these changes are all positive and I hope that they will bring about a more connected, efficient, equal, fair, fun, and clean world. The future is awesome.

Monday, February 24, 2014 -

Peace Kehd is out today! Go listen, if you haven’t yet!

(Source: Spotify)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 -

Creating a baseline grid in inDesign

This is a tutorial I wrote the other night. There are many ways to create grids in inDesign, this is just the method I use. I hope it’s helpful to some people out there!

Grids are awesome. They can be a tool that creates structure from chaos. They can offer flexibility. They create rhythm. I could go on and on about why I love grids and grid-based layouts, but I think you get the point.

There are many types of grids. One well-known type of grid is based on the golden section. Often, it consists of a single rectangular frame on a page, though it can be more complicated.


CAPITAL magazine, with its Complex Grid

One of my favorite grids is the Complex Grid, developed by Karl Gerstner for CAPITAL magazine. There is a great tutorial on how to create such a grid, I highly recommend it.

The grid we’ll be making in this tutorial is similar, though a bit more simple. It will be a twelve-column grid. Twelve columns is a great number for a grid, because it can be divided by two, three, four, and six. That makes it very flexible. The grid will also be a modular grid, because it will also have twelve rows. Last but not least, we’re going to make sure everything lines up nicely with the baseline. This will give it that great ‘vertical rhythm’ that you may have heard about.

Let’s dive right in and open a new document in inDesign. We’re going to be using points for all sizes in this tutorial, so you may want to go to preferences > units and set all units to be points.

One final note before we delve in: it’s useful to do all this as a master page, so that the grid will show up on all subsequent pages.

Page size

The first thing we need to establish is: what is our page size?

This tutorial will deal with an A4 in portrait orientation. Using a US letter size is actually a bit easier in this case, because points are based on inches (but ISO-216 is still the best thing ever).

As you can see, the width of an A4 is 595.276pt and the height is 841.89pt. This seems like a weird amount, but that’s okay, it doesn’t really matter. (A US letter is 612pt wide by 792pt wide.)

Leading

Secondly, let’s think about what our leading (and font size) is going to be. Body copy makes up most of the text, so set your leading with this in mind. For now, I’ve chosen to use 10pt Deja Vu Serif with a 14pt leading.


Make sure you set your grid relative to your margins and have it start at 0pt.

With this in mind, go into preferences > grids and set your baseline grid to be 14pt. Also, turn on the visibility of said grid in view > grids and guides > show baseline grid. You may have to zoom in to be able to see it.

A tiny bit of math


Please excuse my crummy drawing and handwriting.

Get out a piece of paper, because we’ll need to do a tiny bit of math. Considering we have a twelve-row grid, we’ll have eleven gutters (the space in between the rows and columns). If we want the rows to line up nicely with the baseline, the height of a row needs to be as big as one line of text (leading), or two lines, or three lines, etc. Also, the gutter is going to be the height of the leading. Since we have eleven gutters, plus twelve rows of either once, twice, three times (etc.) a leading, the total height will be a multiple of twelve, plus eleven, times 14pt. This will give us the total height of the frame that all our content will go in.

Margins

Since we know the height and width of the page, we can figure out which of these sizes would fit nicely. The A4 is 841.89pt tall, so a row height of four lines would technically fit. However, that would only leave 15.89pt for both the top and bottom margin—much too little. Therefore, we’ll use a row height of four lines, which means our frame will be 658pt tall. So we’ll take the page height and deduct the frame height: 841.89pt — 658pt = 183.89pt. This is the amount of space for the top and bottom margin. I like to center the frame on the page, so I’ll just divide this by two: 183.89pt / 2 = 91.945pt. Both the top and bottom margin will have this value. However, you could, of course, make either margin bigger or smaller. As long as they add up to 183.89pt!

We can use the same process we’ve used before to create our horizontal margins. I like to use the same values horizontally as well as vertically, but you don’t necessarily have to for this grid to work. Anyway, an A4 is 595.276pt wide, so we’ll make our frame 490pt wide. (That’s (24 + 11) * 14pt, I hope you can see where I got that value.) This means we’ll make our margins (595.276pt — 490pt) / 2 = 52.638pt on the inside and outside.

That’s almost it!

Rows and columns

All we have to do now, is add the guides for our rows and columns. We might as well use the margins and columns dialog box to add our columns, but you could also use guides, if you wanted to. In any case, make sure there are twelve of them, with a 14pt gutter.

When setting the guides for the rows, make sure that they are fitted to the margins, rather than the page. If you remembered to turn on the visibility of the baseline grid, you should now be able to see that they line up nicely.

Voilà! We’re done! Now go make some cool stuff! Here’s a little example of how this grid can be used, but of course it’s much more versatile than that. If you end up using it, I would love to see what you create!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 -