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FormStack: Easy Form Generation

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Every blog needs a way for readers to get in touch with the owner. Though there are countless ways used, including IM, Twitter, Facebook and comments, email is still one of the most popular and one of the most important ways to do so.

However, putting your email address on a Web site unprotected is practically an invitation to get spammed. Also, many users don’t have their browsers configured to handle such addresses clearly and, as a result, struggle to send mail that way. This is one of the reasons why contact forms have become so popular.

To that end, there are already a lot of great ways to get contact forms into your site. The most popular, for WordPress users, is CFormsII, or a similar WordPress plugin that makes adding forms to a post or page easy.

But while these plugins are great fro basic contact forms and even some simple registration forms, what if your needs are more complex? For example, what if you need to calculate a price, hide or show elements based upon selections or integrate a payment system? It might be time for something more advanced and, in those cases, FormStack may be a great alternative.

Formstack provides a slew of powerful features with a simplicity that makes it approachable even by novices. It’s a great tool for building forms and the only thing that might scare you away is the price.

What Formstack Does

Overall, the idea of Formstack is pretty simple, you design the form using their service and, when you’re done, you embed it into your site using either their embed code, which works via JavaScript, the raw HTML code or by simply linking them to the form page on Formstack’s site.

To that end, the features of Formstack are pretty straightforward but are definitely impessive when put together:

  1. Form Builder: A visual form builder lets you add elements via drag and drop while making manipulating them intuitive. There is no need to look at HTML code while creating a Formstack form.
  2. Conditional Logic: Forms can have elements appear or disappear as your user selects different variables. For example, if a user ticks they are a current customer, you can have the the contact information disappear while adding in a slot for their username or customer number.
  3. Calculating Fields: Allows you to tally up elements from within the form itself. For example, if you have a registration form for a conference, you can add or subtract to the price if they choose they want a printed ticket or a t-shirt. You can also use it to tabulate answers on a quiz.
  4. Payment & Other Integrations: Formstack can integrate with various payment services, including Paypal, and other third-party providers such as Salesforce, Freshbooks and Mailchimp.
  5. Templates: Formstack provides a slew of templates and themes for your form and gives you the chance, with a paid account, to add your own custom style.

All in all, what Formstack does it does well. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. The more advance features do take a moment to learn but can be picked up quickly with the aid of their video tutorials. In short, even a very complicated form should not take longer than an hour or two to set up, even if you are a relative novice at form building.

You’ll be hard pressed to find an easier way to set up and maintain a complex form, especially one that goes beyond what you need for a basic contact form.

Limitations and Drawbacks

The biggest drawback to Formstack is the price. Though Formstack offers a free account, it is limited to just ten fields per form, which is eaten up very quickly on even the most basic forms, and doesn’t have any of the integrations, including payment processing, or any of the features that make Formstack worthwhile.

In short, anything you can do with a free account you can like do with CFormsII or another form plugin.

However, to step up to the more useful accounts you need to pay at least $14 per month. While not a huge amount to anyone who is going to be making money from their form, it is more than many small bloggers pay in hosting.

This is especially worrisome since most forms are a “set and forget” deal meaning that this $14 per month pays solely for hosting the form (if you embed it rather than using the HTML) and processing it. There seems to be little reason why this should cost $14 per month, especially over the long haul.

Beyond that, there are strange quirks that I’ve noticed as I’ve used Formstack. For example, when you create a new section and have some text to describe it, there is always a large gap between the text and the form elements, even if there is only a line or two of text. Likewise, if you change field names or options, the conditional logic or the field calcuations don’t keep up, forcing you to reset them every time you make a change.

These are minor hiccups that could almost be better described as quirks, but they do make the process less than smooth and, considering the price, I would say a smooth process is critical.

Bottom Line

Most bloggers aren’t going to have much need for Formstack. A simple contact form can be easily handled by CFormsII or a similar system. Those with only slightly more comlex needs can use Gravity Forms, a $39 WordPress plugin with many advanced form creation features and a visual interface.

Formstack is only for extreme cases where conditional logic, payment processing or some other element is required. Even then though, you may be able to save money by looking at FormSpring competitors such as Icebrrg or Formsmarts, both of which have plans that are less per month and might meet your needs.

Still, there is no doubt that what Formstack does, it does well. It is all in all a great product and one that may be well worth using if your needs rise to what it provides.

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Design & Coding

4 Uncommon Design Tricks That Improve User Experience 100%

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Everyone’s concerned about improving conversion rates. The general consensus is that user experience is the place to start.

There are several ways to improve user experience on your blog. Most strategies center on tweaking the design of your website, but sometimes it’s how you organize your navigation. You’ve probably made basic changes like switching to WordPress or alphabetizing your drop-down menu’s items.

Here are some strategies you may not have tried:

1 – Color-code your menus with matching page color schemes

If you’re like most bloggers, you probably created a workable color scheme for your site and called it a day. If you want to improve user experience, that’s not enough. Consider coordinating the colors between your main menu links and each of your pages.

In an article describing why color-coded, hand-written notes improve efficiency of thought, blogger Kevin Purdy reveals that “color improves recall time for graphs and charts, and can be a very effective performance factor if not overdone.” The article also summarizes the work of Michael Tipper, a speaker and consultant on mind mapping and organizational software. Tipper says that color-coding the branches of a mind map stimulates the creative side of your brain, and visually separates distinct themes (which improves recall).

This same idea can be applied to your website for optimal results. Improve user experience by color-coding your main menu with a matching color scheme for each page you link. For instance, Pioneer Seeds implements color coordination extremely well. From one side to the other, all mega menu drop-downs have a unique background color that matches the color scheme of the pages listed within that particular section. There are no complicated color schemes. Each page presents one solid color.

The continuity of matching colors feels good, it’s easy on the eyes, and it helps people keep track of what section they’re viewing.

2 – Hire a design agency to create a custom design from scratch

The era of templates is here to stay, but not without consequence. Templates are easy and cheap (sometimes free), but they lack the flexibility you need to create an impactful and smooth user experience.

For example, most templates feature a gigantic header that encourages you to create an enormous header you don’t need. The most popular templates today force users to scroll endlessly through horizontal sections containing nothing but large icons with a few words underneath. You can change a template, but not without effort and the frustration of having to settle for “good enough.” This is especially useful for anyone trying to making their mobile site look similar to their desktop experience. This is best accomplished when having a fully responsive theme in place for all platforms.

A design agency can give you exactly what you want from the beginning. When your website design is created from scratch, you don’t have to spend hours tweaking a template only to find out your final tweak – the one that matters most – isn’t going to work.

Men With Pens is a well-known design agency that has created custom WordPress themes for years. They specialize in design, and know exactly how to create a better user experience. Their website embodies their expertise in user experience.

Check out their tips for bloggers and see if you notice anything unique about the page design. The design fills the entire page, and the graphics extend outside the lines and boxes. When you land on the page, you’re engaged right away. Capturing a visitor’s attention is your first priority to improve user experience. If you don’t have a user’s attention, they won’t have an experience at all.

3 – Simplicity

Simplicity never goes out of style. Simplicity in design embraces the approach that “less is more.” It’s a cliché, but it’s true.

Nobody knows simplicity better than Steve Pavlina. He’s been publishing articles on his personal blog for over a decade, and until recently, his site was as plain as plain can be. He recently switched to WordPress, but managed to maintain the simplicity responsible for his success.

Simple designs are easier to read, navigate, and interact with. Less menu items, less distractions on the home page, and minimal or no sidebars is what simplicity is all about. A simple design draws attention to what’s important.

4 – Create a unique design for mobile

Don’t just optimize your website for mobile users. Create a custom design for mobile users based on your original design. When you optimize your existing design for mobile, you often sacrifice important aspects of your desktop design. Using code, you can program your site to display a different design based on a user’s device.

Statistics show that 83% of people say a seamless experience across all devices is important. By creating a custom mobile theme based on your existing theme, you give mobile users that seamless experience. It’s the best of both worlds. Just be sure to include all of your navigation links. Some people suggest limiting selections for mobile users, but that will crush the seamless experience.

How to Best Prepare Your Site for Design Success!

User experience can be improved not just by tweaking your design, but by applying principles of color, navigation, and organization. Instead of chasing the latest revelation in conversion gimmicks, invest your time and money in fact-based strategies that improve user experience. Shift your focus away from the minutia of testing every tiny design element, and toward creating a psychologically-sound foundation for your users.

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Design & Coding

Fotor Photo Editor – The Perfect Graphic Design Tool for Bloggers

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As bloggers and content creators, it’s important to always have visual content built within our best articles and site designs. Infographics, clip art, stock photos and more… but customized and original images will always grab the most attention.

When it comes to actually creating such visuals, you will have many different options to choose from. Whether you are looking for a free application, one that is browser-based, or even if it’s a premium software you need to download and pay for — it’s important to know what’s out there.

Today we are going to be looking at Fotor photo editor which is a free and powerful tool that lets anyone get started with their own graphic design in just a few short minutes.

This tool allows anyone to start using it through a web browser or even with their mobile application. Whether you need to edit a photo, make a collage, or create a custom and original design, it can all be done through the power of Fotor.

The most popular features of this tool are it’s one click filters and fixes that allowed anyone to make their images pop and stand out like never before.

Let’s take a look at some of the many benefits to using Fotor photo editor for your website, blog, or just everyday life.

With most people looking to customize their mobile screenshots on photos with a few simple click of a button, and this is exactly what fotor photo editor will allow you to do. It will also allow you to create custom YouTube banners that can be used to liven up your channel as well.

You can see a few of these examples in the screenshot below.

When comparing Fotor to other graphic design applications like Photoshop, you are going to find many similarities, but it’s also important to note that premium applications like Photoshop are much more advanced, but also more costly in the process. The software is free to use, you can upgrade to Fotor Pro and find even more upgrade and options available.

What makes this design application and tool great for site owners and bloggers, is that it has a unique set of design tools and features — which are what most content creators are looking. In short, it provides users with what they need, while not overwhelming them in the process.

Fotor also offers a nice selection of design templates to choose from, which makes the process of creating new and original content even easier. These template designs scale across the many different design themes, sizes, and concepts on the site.

In addition to everything else mentioned, there is also a nice collection of resources, guides, and tutorials that can be found on their site blog. Such resources will provide users what the information and walk-through processes to get the most out of Fotor.

If you are currently looking for a new design editor to improve the look and feel of visual content on your site, be sure to give Fotor a try.

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Design & Coding

4 Essential Elements of Web Design (No.3 Will Shock You!)

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If you’re a small business owner take note of these four elements of web design. They’re essential for boosting your online presence. Click here for more info!

Have you ever wondered why most business websites tend to look the same? It’s like you’ve seen one and you’ve seen them all.

The truth is a lot of business owners prefer the easy route. That means going for a website builder, which offers templated designs.

If you want something different, you’ll have to go custom. But that takes a lot of time. Plus, you’ll have to look for a skilled designer/developer.

Whatever route you choose, you need to understand the elements of web design. After all, it’s your website. If you choose to hire a pro, you need to know what to ask for.

And if you opt to DIY it, then you can steer clear of cringe-worthy web design. That said, here are 4 web design elements that will help boost your online presence.

1. User Journey

You can scroll through countless website design guides and you’ll never see one that says, “ignore what users think.”

Consider mobile apps. Would you download something that’s hard to use and has a lot of annoying ads?

When you design your website, put yourself in your visitors’ shoes. Is your website hard to navigate? Does it load fast?

But how do you know if your user interface is good? Aside from consistency, it has to be simple, intuitive, responsive, and flexible.

This is why it’s good to test different designs first before committing to one. It saves time and eliminates the need for major changes later on.

2. Content

Designing for the web doesn’t stop when you have a “pretty” website. Sure, your target customers will appreciate nifty graphics and all. But if your content doesn’t offer value, users will leave your website.

Now, this doesn’t mean huge blocks of text that will drown your visitors with information. Opt for conciseness. Give your target audience content that’s easy to digest so they can process it better.

Depending on what CMS you are using, content creation is usually the easy part. This is especially the case when using platforms like Weebly, WordPress or Wix. Since most of these platforms are drag and drop, it’s simply a matter of getting familiar with each platform, and knowing how to create great content. There are no programming or design skills required.

3. Accessibility

Did you just check the title again? If yes, you may be wondering why this would be shocking. Shouldn’t this be part of any website designing guide?

The thing is there are plenty of websites that use low contrast for text because it’s trendy. But you have to take into account users who have vision problems.

There has to be enough contrast between text and background. And you also need to choose your colors well. You don’t want to alienate color-blind and blind users who use assistive technologies.

4. SEO

Some people approach website design as a separate entity from search engine optimization. But there’s a way to be strategic about the process so that design elements improve the SEO of your site.

The easiest way would be to outsource to an all-in-one design company such as https://www.databerry.com/. When they build your site, they also take care of the backend coding stuff. This ensures your title tags, meta tags, etc work for better search ranking.

Want to Know More About the Elements of Web Design?

Knowing the elements of web design is your first step to a website that looks and functions well. But getting them all right takes a bit of trial and error.

For more web design tips, don’t forget to check out our other blog posts.

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