July 2015

The Little Details: Icons and Fonts

When you’re thinking about the design of your website (or any other creative project, really), it can be easy to overlook the little details that make your site unique. Design choices about the font you write in, the colors on your page or even the icons that you display in various places all say something about your brand, your company. They are littered all over your website, responsible for sending subliminal messages to your users and customers. So it’s important to get these details right, even if you think that they won’t make a difference!

If you don’t consider yourself a creative person, have no fear – there are plenty of places to seek inspiration and resources when designing your website (or when working with a professional graphic designer). While there are some hard and fast rules about design elements, such as typography (http://typophile.com/files/typography_rules.pdf), most of the time if you have a general idea of what you want your page to look like, finding well designed pieces will make it pretty easy to come out with a polished final product. One of my top resource/inspiration hubs is actually Pinterest. If you scroll through the design or technology categories, there are tons of pins and related links that will point you to well-designed websites and beautiful resources (many of which are free!).

In terms of specific resources for fonts, icons, and more, here’s my top list for where to find them:

Fonts

Fontsquirrel.com and Dafont.com are great places for free, high quality fonts. They have categories ranging in simple sans serif fonts to exotic or handwritten styles. For less variety but more professional fonts, Google Fonts has a wide selection of nice looking fonts that will go with any standard website.

Icons

My favorite place to look for icons is probably The Noun Project. They offer many high quality icons for an array of categories/topics. I’m talking about the kinds of icons that you might even discover on your next smartphone. They’re always adding images to the site, so it’s a nice place to check back every one in a while to see what’s new.

Color Scheme

For color scheme inspiration, I absolutely adore design-seeds.com. They have many color palette ideas based off of different images that will make you want to redesign your whole site! If you prefer hand matching colors yourself, Adobe Color (www.color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel) is a fantastic way to work with colors that you or your graphic designer will likely use in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

So go get inspired.  And feel free to share your own favorite websites that spark your creativity.

Building Email Lists

Building an email list is still a good way to create a base for contacts, no matter what business you are in. You can use the list for simple announcements, providing offers for discounts, or creating leads for your business.

There are some pitfalls to creating the list, especially if it is from emails that you receive through your website, however.

First, there are some things you need to know about email. For simplicity, here is a rough idea of how you get email.

A person sends an email through your website. That email goes through an email server at your website host. That email server looks up the email address you are sending to and then forwards it to the email server closest to that email address. Sometimes it will go directly to the recipient, but most of the time, receiving email servers validate the email address first for security reasons. (For more specific information, you can get it at WikiBooks, Internet Technologies/Routing Email.)

Spammers like to phish, (“fish”), for valid email addresses so that can use them for their own purposes. For instance, once a spammer knows an email address of this-email@somewhiere.com is valid, they will open a domain name, establish any email account they want and then as an alias, send out hundreds of thousands of email using this-email@somewhere.com.

What effect does that have on you? Anytime an email address is marked as spam by incoming email servers, in short order that email address is shown on blacklists which all email servers refer to. Show up on a blacklist and your email starts bouncing back to you. To get yourself removed from blacklists is another subject entirely but rest assured, it requires a lot of work to get your email accepted again.

So what does all of this mean? You have to be very careful when sending email out using email addresses you may have gotten through your website. Spammers will complete your website form simply to verify the email address on your website is valid so they can start using it. Sometimes the email will bounce back and they won’t use it, sometimes it will. So if you answer an email address, you just validated it and they know it is a good one.

It can complicate things more if you do mass email. If you send out a mass email to 40 email addresses, and one of those email addresses you included happens to be a spam email address, you just contributed 40 occurrences of spam using your email address. So even if your email address is valid, and your intent was not to send out spam, you just did and risk blacklisting your own email address.

So the bottom line is this: Make sure the email address you include in your email campaign list is valid. If your website form contains a phone number, look it up and see if it matches the email address or name of the person that supposedly sent it. Do a simple Google search for that email address and see if it shows up. Just verify the information you are using and you should be safer in using it.

Social Media Isn’t So Private After All

Even though it’s been around for over twenty years, there aren’t many concrete laws regarding the internet. The FCC recently upheld net neutrality this past February, which means that internet users are protected against service providers who would charge premiums in order to provide better internet speeds. However, one key area of net neutrality that was avoided was privacy. In a recent New York state appeals court ruling, it was found that social media companies like Facebook cannot protect users against search warrants obtained by law enforcement officials to access users’ digital information. The fallout from this decision is fairly simple: your Facebook profile isn’t so private after all.

Many other tech companies such as Google, Pinterest, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yelp filed briefs in support of Facebook, knowing very well that digital privacy was at stake. The government has gone to these companies in the past when they were seeking access to social media accounts during criminal investigations. The biggest concern raised is that the government can obtain digital information from social media profiles and store them for an unlimited amount of time. Even if the person in question isn’t indicted, the government still has the authority to keep their information.

Recent cases over the years have seen courts side with the government over internet privacy on social media. The case that resulted in this ruling was a social security disability scam involving several hundred retired New York City police officers and firefighters. Law enforcement officials demanded Facebook hand over data that included photos, private messages, and other information without informing the people whose accounts were being searched. In the end, Facebook lost out and was forced to comply. Last year a federal judge even ruled that law enforcement officials can create fake social media profiles in order to search through a suspect’s account. The cases have all touched on the complexity of internet privacy and government interference.

Social media has become a much bigger part of mainstream culture, so it’s no surprise that the government and law enforcement officials are turning towards it in order to prevent and investigate crimes. The unfortunate reality is that companies like Facebook are unable to protect user information, and the users themselves are in the same boat. According to a 2014 LexisNexis survey, “the frequency of social media by law enforcement, while already high, is projected to rise even further in the coming years”. Your social media profile is suddenly becoming less and less private every day.