Cockups are inevitable. Garage colleges have volumes justifying why your bill is three times what you thought.

The very first thing appies learn at trade school is the whistle. Open the bonnet, shake the head slowly and emit a long low whistle. Doesn’t matter if there is nothing wrong – whistle anyway.


The inevitable cockup with web design is one that prompts a call/email from the client who’s usually been alerted by a visitor.

Usually, in my case, edits have been made to the site per the client’s request but I have forgotten to upload to the server.

Or, a whole page has been left out, or a series of typos left in the site. But, all is not lost.  Here are a few handy excuses – most of which you will have used yourself.

Excuse 1:

‘Have you refreshed your browser?’ ‘Have you pressed Ctrl F5 a few times to force a fresh page from the server?.

Almost certainly they won’t have.  This gives you time to upload the new files. But if they are quicker than you are:

Excuse 2:

‘Well, sometimes your ISP’s cache hangs on to the files.  You’ll have to wait until it refreshes – about a couple of hours’.

This gives you some more time to fix the ballsup.

Excuse 3:

What browser are you using? Of course it doesn’t matter which – it will have some terminal fault related to security and the rendering of web pages that is in the process of being updated.

Excuse 4

‘We’ve had an outage here. Everything’s gone down – don’t know how long it will be.’

Pretty good excuse that can give you hours to sort things out.

Excuse 5

‘My computer broke down – I’m waiting for the tecchie.’

Everyone understands this one. ‘Windows crashed’ used to be good but it is too stable for its own good these days.

Excuses 6, 7 . . .:

Need more time? Fix the cockup  and tell the client that there has been an internet problem (use the magic word ‘latency’)/ load shedding in your area/ computer problem (pesky new OS) / illness (or better yet, a death in the family) / er, sorry, didn’t get the mail / a tsunami coupled with a cholera outbreak.

If in doubt, use this handy guide from visual.ly.

The Ultimate Excuse Creator

by matts41From visual.ly infographics.

It’s pathetic I know but sometimes these things happen because you’ve been lazy or in a hurry. I’ve never ignored clients’ phone/email enquiries although it’s a common whinge from prospects. You’ve underquoted and the client’s a pain – face up to it, finish the job and resolve not to do it again (you will).

Want to be in IT?? Think again.


Why it sucks to be the IT guy

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Web Design Courses

The early days of the Internet were replete with hundreds of ‘Learn Yersel’ HTML’ tutorials. Some were OK, most were not. Even if you know a subject it is a very different thing to teach it. If you don’t really know it, you cannot teach it. This country is full of ‘specialists’ who take a single, very average course in a subject and they are suddenly gurus.

These tutorials have distilled down to w3schools.com which is an excellent website that I visit occasionally to track down some obscure tag. zdnet.com offered an online course for payment. The trouble with online courses is that the student cannot get an answer to a question right there and then.

As in many disciplines, those that know the subject and start to teach it take a very non-linear approach to its tuition. Things start easily enough and you think to yourself ‘Well, this isn’t too bad’ and then you hit a brick wall. It’s as if you’ve missed a couple of chapters. A single assumption has been made by the teacher, out of the blue and often out of context that has caused you to hit the buffers. Get help – forget it.

Open source software suffers from the same malaise. Developers know the software inside out but they cannot teach it. Writing a manual takes a rare skill.

Class tuition offers some way out. Put up your hand and look like a real dummy. Rather nod and let the lecturer think you understand it. The success or otherwise of the enterprise depends on the commitment, knowledge and skill of the lecturer. Too often, this is lacking. Lectures also require up to date, well written notes – also often lacking.

Individual tuition is not cheap but offers the advantage that the course content and speed can be tailored to the student’s ability and expectations. And any questions can be answered immediately. The lecturer can also crit the student and look for indications that they are completely lost.

Because of the disadvantages of online and class courses I offered courses in website design. I was also able to go beyond the ‘Teach me HTML’ stage and include resources, graphic treatments, layout and site promotion.

How long should the courses be? Mine were 40 hours of tuition over 8 weeks. Still pretty basic stuff but enough. And the student got to design his own website (or two) during the course.

Students could come from any area which didn’t really matter as the curriculum could be changed. Housewives, students between courses, graphic designers, programmers all came. Some wanted a hobby, an alternative job or to go into business on their own.

Having said all this, the bulk of the web designers around today are mostly self taught and would be hard pressed to come up with a piece of paper between them. It doesn’t mean that they are somehow deficient. Web courses contain a lot of dross that’s there to fluff out the curriculum. Stuff you wouldn’t use in a hundred years. Self taught designers will go where they obtain fulfillment and will also miss areas of the discipline but at least they tend to be good at what they do do.

The Filter Bubble

I take pride in not only developing a usable website – and hopefully an attractive one – but also one that generates revenue. This means that it has to appear on the first page of Google.

It’s a battle between me and Google. In South Africa, it’s not too difficult to get websites on to the first page, sometimes within a week but for reasons unknown, others struggle.

Doing the Google Check

Part of the search optimization routine is to check that you’re having some effect, that your clients’ sites are marching, however slowly up Google’s results pages.

I generally check every couple of months to see that these sites either continue to do well or are improving. The trouble is, Google remembers all your searches and and assumes you’re really searching for whatever is on those websites.

Of course you’re not. You’re looking to see where the sites are positioned for various search strings. You already know what’s on the websites – you created them but Google doesn’t know this, simply that you continue to search for them.

Bein’ a smartass, it gives these websites priority over other websites. If your website of interest is on page 5 of Google and you keep checking up on it, you notice to your great satisfaction that it slowly percolates up. But only for you. This is the ‘filter bubble’.

Being Just a User

This isn’t of much use. You want the search results that someone searching for the site for the first time would get.

The way to get around this is to constantly delete your browsing history. There are several addons to Chrome (which I use) and I assume for other browsers. Chrome allows an anonymous search which collects no information and deletes all traces when closed. You may find that your chosen website is not so well positioned as you thought but these are the pages that first time visitors to that site will get.

A Google Alternative

Another option is startpage.com which claims to be the most private search engine.  It uses Google’s database so the results (as far as I can make out) are identical to those achieved by searching Google itself but without the predictions. Another option is gibiru.com.

Using several browsers also helps to overcome the ‘helpfulness’ of Google and Chrome permits the deletion of browsing history – but I don’t trust it.