Tag Archives: website

More Redesigns

To try to keep a coherent feel cross the Mad Dwarf brand, I have begun rebuilding the PC Wizard website.

Taking the main Mad Dwarf site as a template (as I have with Crystal Wizard and TechNo Prisoners), I have kept the blue and white of the original PC Wizard, giving a level of continuity.

PC Wizard

PC Wizard redesign

I still have a few details to iron out, but it has been a reasonably easy job, copying text from the existing site into the new template, and tweaking to account for the design differences.

It will soon go live, at which point there will be an announcement, and possibly a Grand Re-Opening!  Watch This Space!

Another New Redesign (Again!)

As you may have noticed, the main site, thecrystalwizard.co.uk, has undergone a redesign.

This is part of the recent re-acquisition of our Mother Site, maddwarf.co.uk. Mad Dwarf Productions (MDP) was the original “umbrella organisation” for all of my projects, but due to circumstances beyond my control, the website fell into disrepair. My recent projects sprang up without the guiding light of MDP to keep them coherent, and the designs all went in their own directions.

Now that MDP is back, I am slowly bringing all of the wayward children back into the fold. TechnoPrisoners was designed alongside MDP, and actually sits as sub-site, befitting its station as the first incarnation of MDP-Online. Crystal Wizard has now been brought in line, and the other sites will soon follow.

While I do not profess to be a Master Web-Designer, I have put no small effort into both the technical and aesthetic sides of this design, and I hope it works for you!

The colour schemes have been colour-matched, using a different scheme for each site, to represent their unique flavours, while relying on a common template. The base concept of using labelled Image Links aims to make the site both visually attractive and easy to use, giving quick recognition to each area. Rounded corners softens the look, giving a slightly more informal feel.

Behind the scenes, files have been tidied, renamed and optimised, stripping away unused clutter. The code for the pages has been almost entirely rewritten, incorporating labelled areas (DIV and SECTION tags), and many design elements moved to separate Style Sheets, for ease of maintenance.

I have tried to follow Best Practices for accessibility, incorporating ALT tags to describe images, and making the pages compatible with screen-reading technology for text-to-speech systems.

The Dark Art of SEO (Search-Engine Optimisation) has featured, but as this Alchemy involves tainting ones soul with the ever-vain search for Impressions, Clicks and Likes, I have kept it to the minimum required.

Analytics are run through Google’s offerings, tracking page hits, entry and exit pages, user flow and interactions. This anonymised data is useful for gauging interest, and locating faults, and can be used to suggest area that can use more attention.

Instead of creating a separate Style for mobile devices, the base theme has been written to automatically adjust, allowing the device to display content appropriately. An important design consideration, as people have a wide range of technologies to view the Web on, with a variety of screen-sizes available.

I hope this will lead to a comfortable, coherent experience for my readers, and welcome any feedback regarding the new design!

Upgrading software: What can possibly go wrong?

The software that runs my online shop (The Crystal Cave) needed updating last week. Great, I thought! Security updates, performance issues solved, speed increase! So, I had a look at the upgrade process, and it seemed really simple. One-click, and its done! BUT: There is an advisory – make a back-up, just in case. Good advice, I thought. They even provide a back-up button. So, I wait a while, as it copies my existing shop, so I can restore is needed. Then, click to upgrade. A short while later, an error pops up! No Data. hmmm …

I can now no longer log in to my shop! Customers appear to be able to log in, and order things, but I am unable to check the orders and process them! A few tests, and I am emailing my website hosts to let them know, and see what can be done. Of course, this is Friday afternoon! A couple of automated “We have received your email” and a request for more info leaves it at 6PM. The shop is effectively offline for the weekend!

Monday rolls around, and, as usual, my hosts (Free Virtual Servers – look them up, if you need a domain, hosting or web design!) get the systems all sorted in the blink of an eye! All is well, and I can log in and start processing the weekend’s orders. But what is this? Another upgrade available? Nooooo ……

With great trepidation, I reach to click the link, fully expecting another few days offline. I’ve plenty to be getting on with besides fixing the shop, and can do without the hassle …
I decide to set it going, and rather than watch it, I’ll go make a coffee. By the time I’m back at my desk, the upgrade has finished, asking me to “Click here to test the upgrade” … I reach for the mouse. I click. I wait. My shop appears. No problems.

I spend the next half an hour logging in and out, in disbelief! I test all the new functions, and make sure the old ones still work. I check my products and look to see which have fallen out of their categories.

All is working.

I never trust things that work so easily, especially just after a major failure. But The Crystal Cave is open for business again! Feel free to browse and buy, safe in the knowledge that your order can be processed quickly and smoothly. And if it does fail again, don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know!

Yes, We have No Art. We Have No Art Today.

I tried, but I really didn’t get any time at all to consider Art today.

I spent this morning wrestling with my online shop. I knew the upgrade would cause trouble, so I made sure to back it up first. And now, lo and behold, it will not let me log in! And it won’t let me reset my password. So, as usual, I have to email my Website Host on a Friday afternoon with technical difficulties! I’m sure they think I do it on purpose. I’m resigned to it not getting fixed until Monday. So long as it gets fixed! People can place orders, and I hope it will email me a notification, but I can’t do anything about it!

This afternoon was spent reinstalling a customer’s computer (as my alter-ego P.C. Wizard). Fantastic machine: Intel i7 CPU, 32GB RAM, 480GB SSD System drive, 240GB and 120GB SSD storage drives, 3TB SATA storage drive. I forget which AMD GPU, but it was a monster!
OK, that’s enough techno-babble. I got it done in the end, but despite it being a super-fast PC, it took all afternoon. Just so much needed doing.

Then into town, sort out start-of-month and end-of-week monies, grab a coffee, and head home to sort out paperwork. Shop still glitched, so can’t do anything there. Quick call to sanitise another customer’s PC, after they’ve filled it with spyware, malware and other infections.

Check into HootSuite to keep my Social Media Presence up to date … nope, their servers are down! And by the time I’ve got another coffee and checked my email, I’ve forgotten what I was going to post!

So, its now 9PM, and I haven’t seen a single piece of Art today, unless you count the car-crash of a day I’ve had as some kind of “Performance Art”. If it is, I think the theme tune would be “Entrance Of The Gladiators“.

“But now its the weekend!”, you cry, “Time to relax, enjoy yourself!”. As if! Another day of broken PCs tomorrow. At least I’ll be out in the countryside, and the Met Office has promised me a nice day.

So you don’t even get a picture with today’s blog. No art. Nothing. Just me ranting about a long day. But there will be more Art soon, I promise!
Let me know what sort of art you like, what you’d like to hear about. Even visit the Crystal Cave, if you dare!

Playing in The Traffic

Or, to be more accurate, Playing in the Lack of Traffic.

Getting a website seen is a long, arduous job. Firstly, the pit-falls of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Are my meta-tags appropriate? Do I have enough keywords in my Content? Or too many? What are people actually searching for? Is it worth paying a professional SEO company to optimize the site?

Getting other websites to link to me should bring a few page-hits. But are those sites going to see me as competition? Or irrelevant to their visitors? How much should I be spamming other webmasters requesting reciprocal links? Do I want my site to be crammed full of links to other people?

The old adage “build it, and they will come” seems like a slow process, and relies upon people knowing that I have built it.

Freebies, cut-price deals, unique products, competitions and other such offers only work if people know they are there. I can’t just walk into the middle of “the internet” and shout about my wares:
“Roll Up! Roll Up! New, interesting art and craft from UKs best designers and Artists! You, madam! You look like someone who appreciates Art! have you seen Dark Flight’s latest designs? Sir, I bet you have a birthday or anniversary approaching! Can I tempt you with something from Melissa Lawrence? Ladies, I just know that you will love Cloud Line’s new Caterpillar Hugs!”.

But there is no “passing traffic” that just happens to wander past a website. No busy street to set up my stall on. The equivalents are places like eBay and Etsy, where an overcrowded market competes ruthlessly for attention, and it becomes very difficult to be heard.

I feel caught in a Catch 22 situation, starved of traffic as I am not yet well-known enough for anyone (Search Engines, other websites, word-of-mouth recommendations) to send visitors my way, and without that traffic, I will struggle to become well-known. It only needs a small breakthrough to start the snowball rolling, but I am struggling to reach that point.

So, another weekend of looking for ways to publicise The Crystal Wizard. Ho Hum.
As always, constructive advice always appreciated.

The Wizard Goes Postal!

You know that bit on your Online Order Form that says “Postage and Packing”. Always looks like a large sum, when all they have to do is pop your item in a box, slip in the invoice and pop it in the post?
After looking into how to automate these systems for the Crystal Cave, I think most of the money goes to the Web Master, who has to configure the damn site to calculate it all! Handling Fees, Country-Specific Charges, weight-ranges, product-specific alterations, special rates, multi-order discounts, quick-delivery premiums … and that is just the “What”. Once you know ‘what’ the charges should be, you need to figure ‘how’ to tell the website this info! Where is the box for this fee? How do I tell it about that charge? Traversing the maze of menus, drop-downs, and other sections, whether it is a Product or Category alteration … its almost easier to deliver it myself!

I’m sure it will all come naturally once I’ve done it a few thousand times, but for now, it is a real minefield! And if I get it wrong, its me who will have to pick up the bill!

Oh, the joys of being a Wizard! Everyone thinks its all “Abracadabra”, #wave wand#, and everything magically gets done. But mostly its sat frantically stabbing at the keyboard in the vain hope that I can find the right settings!