Common Sense Sustainability: A Better View of the Trenches

By Dennis Salazar

How green is green enough?…and how committed does a company have to be in terms of dollars and cents to be a good eco-citizen?…and can an environmentally conscious public raise their sustainable requirements so high that it becomes economically unfeasible for companies to even attempt to meet them?

Some may call it selling out, compromising, or even “sustainability lite,” but I believe in a realistic, common sense approach to sustainability. I am convinced sustainability in the packaging world will be best accomplished with what can be a very delicate, and at times uncomfortable, coexistence of determination and patience.

I believe we have to accept that while we move toward absolute standards and consistent definitions, today to a certain degree we live with “subjective sustainability,” in the sense that others’ ideas of what is sustainable or even eco-friendly may not be identical to our own. I also believe it is good and even wise to applaud the smallest steps as long as they are in the right direction. Ironically, it is really not much different than the way we cheer and celebrate a child’s first unsteady—but usually very enthusiastic—steps in life.

A taste for waste?

Whether we are talking about spoiled consumers or gluttonous companies, we are conditioned to feed to excess and to be the world’s greatest consumer of resources. None of us was tattooed at birth with “born to kill….the environment,” and I doubt anyone will ever prove that we suffer from a genetic predisposition for environmental recklessness. Being incredibly wasteful does, however, appear to be a learned skill and we have all become darn good at it.

From a packaging perspective, the solution is really not all that difficult to understand: utilize better, more earth friendly materials (production); use less of those materials (application); and know how you are going to utilize or process them in the end (disposal).

When you cut through the details, biases, and opinions, that is really all it comes down to. Then why is sustainability proving to be such a difficult task? Is it because for a very, very long time, we have enjoyed tremendous prosperity that allowed us to have little regard for what we take out of our earth and even less care for what we put back into it in terms of waste?

How many environmentalists does it take to shift a paradigm?

It sounds like a terrific opening line for a late night TV joke but it is a legitimate question. I spoke to a friend of the cause earlier today and she referred to sustainability as not a movement but a dramatic, tremendous paradigm shift—and she is right. What we are asking consumers and companies to do is so far from what they have always done, we have to understand that this is going to take some time.

For benefit of the impatient zealots out there: No, I am not talking about decades but let’s assume it may take a few years! Let’s also accept and understand that such a dramatic reversal in behavior is going to be painful for everyone concerned. It is going to be excruciating for those people going through the change, as well as for the ones impatiently observing their slow forward progress. All I can say is the obvious. The environment did not get into this awful condition overnight and the solution is probably going to take a little longer than any of us would like.

According to the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments movie, the Israelites who escaped from Pharaoh, after losing faith and behaving very badly, were forced to roam the desert until the sinful generation had died. Then and only then was the new, faithful generation allowed to enter the beloved Promised Land. Having crossed the magical threshold of 50 several years ago, I am definitely not suggesting accelerating the Baby Boomers’ departure. I am, however, suggesting a little common sense and understanding. Environmentally, we have all behaved very badly. But with a lot of hard work, and a little patience, this much needed cleansing process will hopefully not take a generation to accomplish.

An Open and Closed Case, Or a New Trend in Soda Cans?

By Lynn Dornblaser

Depending on your perspective, a 12-oz. or 330-ml can of soda is either a quickly drunk single serving or something to consume over a period of time. Up until now, if you fell into the latter group, you were consigned to drink soda that became increasingly flatter and flatter, given that the can, once opened, cannot be reclosed.

Easy auf and zu

However, for those consumers in Germany who are looking for portability from their metal cans, there ‘s a new package to help answer that need. Coca-Cola is now offering (in Germany only) a regular Coke can with a resealable swiveling closure. A sticker on the plastic closure is marked “open” and “close” (“auf” and “zu”), with a directional arrow. On the side of the can is another diagram with a three step explanation.

Consumers push the tab “auf” to expose the opening and contents of the can. After drinking or pouring (drinking from the can is a bit challenging, given the placement and size of the opening), consumers can then push in the direction of “zu” to close the can so that the contents can be finished another time.

This is the first time we have seen this closure on any package. The design company, 4Sight Innovation, based in The Netherlands, currently does not have the special closure on other products, but no doubt we ‘ll be seeing it more in the future. Coke is selling the cans individually in stores in Germany.

Reclosing markets

We would guess that this closure (especially on carbonated soft drinks) is one that has the best potential in Europe rather than in North America. That conclusion comes from the assumption that U.S. consumers are a bit more likely to drink an entire can at one sitting—or in one gulp!

While this package is not the first reclosable aluminum can on the market, it is the first to use this type of closure and the first in a standard 330-ml size. The others we have seen on the market have all had twist-off caps and have come in much larger formats, such as Jolt Cola in a 23.5-oz. can. That larger can size with the twist-off metal cap is seen only in the U.S.

The main advantage of this can package could be its potential to stand in for plastic PET bottles. As consumers become more concerned about the environment, and as talk about recyclability continues to grow, we have seen grumblings among consumers and in the press about the benefits of recycling some materials. With aluminum being 100% recyclable and more easily sorted, adding reclosability may help to further boost cans ‘ popularity. And without a cap to keep track of or lose, efficiency-conscious consumers may respond with a gulp and a “Wow.”

http://www.packagedesignmag.com/issues/2008.01/wow.shtml

Communicating Your Needs to Your Web Designer

Communicating with a web designer can be the most difficult part of the hiring process because you and the web designer don’t speak the same language when talking about the details of a website. This article explains how to get your ideas across to the web designer you want to hire.

Ok, so you’ve decided to hire a professional web designer to build your website. You spent some time looking for the right person. Eventually you found the right web designer that you believe will design the most “remarkable”, “extraordinary” website the internet community has yet seen.

So now what? Explaining to the web designer the layout design you have in your mind can be a very frustrating process. You will find that putting the “picture” in your mind into words can be a difficult task. Actually in most cases this is the biggest hurdle between you and the final outcome. No matter how talented the web designer is, if you can not communicate with him properly, in his own professional language, he will not be able to use his talent to achieve your design.

There are two possible situations you may face:
1. You know what content you want on the website but have no clue how to present it to the user.
2. You know what content you want on the website, and you have the layout in your mind, but you don’t know how to implement it.

In both cases you will need to explain your thoughts to the web designer. Although most people who read those lines are probably thinking that being in the second situation is better then being in the first situation. However, real life experience shows the opposite to be true. Giving a web designer the complete freedom of action regarding the web design based solely on the website content is usually a smart thing to do. You will find that explaining to the web designer what the nature of your website is, whether it’s a product that you want to sell or a hobby item, is much easier then trying to explain to him the temperate of the color schema or an undefined shape that you would like to have in the website header.

Actually for both of the situations, I would suggest you use the same approach, but with a minor modification to each situation. If you know of a website that has all the features you want or need and/or a site that looks the way you want your site to look, be sure to give the site’s url to the web designer. Doing so will give him some idea of want you want. You will both be looking at the same thing but will actually look at it from a different angle. Therefore, it may be better to give him more than one website as an example. The more websites you find that can express your feelings and/or needs, the easier it will be for web designers to understand your intention without you having to use a single “technical” term. Chances are that you won’t find a single website that has all of the feature you want. After all, if such a website already exists there would be no place for your new web site to be born. Use several websites to express the different features you want. Spend as much time as necessary until you find just the right websites to provide examples of your needs. Doing research at this stage will definitely save you a lot of time later trying to point the web designer in the right direction.

Although you are the one who needs to express your self to the web designer, you must learn to listen to him as well. When he uses technical terms, ask for their meaning. Do not finish any part of the conversation unless you are absolutely sure that both sides are on the same page. Remember that when a web designer speaks about the temperature of a color, he is not talking about the next day’s forecast.

Remember, you hired a professional web designer because you want a professional looking website and you couldn’t do it yourself. So, trust the web designer’s judgment when they tell you something you want won’t work or isn’t the best way to accomplish your goals. After all, you are paying them for their expertise. Don’t try to tell them how to do their job.

It is OK to require that a web designer gets your approval each step of the way so you can tell them if one of your goals isn’t being met. Also, if you really don’t like how something looks and want it changed, tell them immediately. Don’t wait until everything is done and then decide you don’t like it.

A final word about cost

You have agreed on what needs to be done and the web designer has given you a price quote. Simple modifications and bug fixes are usually included in the price. However, other major changes or outright revisions may or may not be included. Make sure the agreement states what is included, what constitutes a revision rather than a fix, and how many changes you can make after delivery without incurring additional costs.

About the Author:
Warren Baker is an Internet business consultant for WebDesigners123.

Banner Design Success Techniques

Banners have been a major part of the World Wide Web world since its early days. Copywriters burn the midnight oil looking for new designs that will grab the visitor’s attention and compel him to click on their banner. This article discusses some of the most successful banner designs. Read more

Annoying Website Design

Have you ever considered that your website may be annoying? When it’s comes to website design, knowing what visitors hate most is a must, unless you don’t want them to visit you again. This article describes what you should exclude from your website. If you know about an annoying website, feel free to send this article to its webmaster.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a colleague asking me to check one of the website he had developed. He is a web designer and his client wanted a nice attractive flash header. The flash header was great. You can’t miss it at all. Some nice graphics elements were flying in while sound effects created just the right atmosphere. However, after starting to explore the website, the header became very annoying because every time you clicked on the website the header restarted. What was pleasant initially became very annoying very quickly, disturbing your concentration and making it difficult to read what was on the page.

He is not the first to create what I like to call – “annoying website design“. Many webmasters, especially new webmasters are totally “in love” with their ideas and tend to go overboard with their design in one way or another. It’s nice to have an attractive header, but is it really necessary to assault the visitor’s mind with it? In my opinion, absolutely not!

Webmasters sometimes forget that their website design should send a message to the visitor that should reflect the website topic and not the programmer’s skill level.

Is Your Website Design Annoying?

Well…. It’s not that hard to be annoying. However, some webmasters are much better than others at annoying their visitors. Check my top 5 list and decide for yourself whether you have been annoying your visitors.

1.Background music – Unless you are operating an online internet radio station or sell music CDs, why play a midi/wav file in the background continuously on every page?

2.Huge font size – If you are designing a website for people with a disability then you are doing the right thing, but if not then you are shouting. People don’t like it when someone shouts at them.

3.Small font size – Do you want to be heard? Keep a normal tone, don’t shout but “speak” in a reasonable volume.

4.Overlapping layers – Layers can be very useful up to the point. But not when they are being used to put an annoying message in the visitor’s face. Don’t try to force your visitor to read your messages. Try persuasion instead of brute force.

5.Popup windows – Even though popup windows are now blocked by many add on tools, webmasters keep using them. The annoying part of popups is sometimes we actually miss important information because of those anti popup tools. Haven’t you heard the old phrase “if you can’t beat him, join him”? Don’t use pop up windows. Put your important messages in a central place on your website.

Most likely each one of us has our own private top five lists. You probably have many more annoying design cases in mind. Well, you’re right, the list is much longer then that. I just wanted to describe some of the highlights in order to bring this important subject your attention.

Some of you are probably reading those lines and smiling while some others have a feeling a deja-vu. Keep in your mind that as a webmaster the last thing you want to do is put lots of effort into your website and then find out that your visitors hate it. It’s not a matter of taste, it’s more about being the same polite person we all try to be when we go to a party.

I tried to point out a few things that might be useful to some web designers and webmasters. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to send this article to my friend, hopefully he’ll send it to his client 🙂

About the Author:
Warren Baker is an Internet business consultant

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Website’s Legibility

By Debbie Campbell

Websites that make their customers work to read them are not the best way to get business. Minuscule fonts, text in colors that make it hard to see against the background color, and lines that are piled on top of each other are problems, but they’re easy to correct. Let’s jump right in and look at five easy fixes:

1. Format your text using CSS.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are the way to go – use one style sheet and control how text looks on your entire site. Make a change to the style sheet and your whole site is updated. It makes life a lot simpler.

2. Make the font size big enough to read.
Consider your target audience. Even if they are a group of teenage girls looking for new shoes, it’s never a good idea to use tiny type. It doesn’t have to be enormous, but up to a point, larger type is better. 12-pt Verdana is better than 8-pt Verdana.

3. Make the text contrast with its background.
The more contrast, the better. Black-on-white or white-on-black are examples of the highest contrast you can get. Use colors if you like, but if you squint at the page and your text basically vanishes, there’s not enough contrast.

4. Give the lines room to breathe.
Don’t stack lines on top of each other. Use the line-spacing directive in CSS and give it some space; I’ll often set line-spacing to 140% of the height of a typical line.

5. Break text up into chunks.
No matter how good a writer you are, people don’t want to read endless pages of text. Break it up by using headlines that reflect the subject of the paragraph(s) to follow so people can scan down to the parts that really interest them, or use bulleted lists to change the pace of the writing and slow down the scanning.

And finally (not one of the 5 Easy Ways to Improve Legibility but still quite important) check your spelling. Nothing irritates me more on a web page than spelling errors – it simply makes you look like you don’t care enough to get it right. Use that ubiquitous spellcheck tool.

Making your website’s content more legible is easy. It doesn’t take a lot of time, mainly common sense. The payoff will be text that’s more readable, customers that stick around long enough to get your message, and improved credibility with your visitors.

Copyright 2006, Debbie Campbell
http://www.pageresource.com/zine/cc_5easyways.htm

The New Alexa Rankings

When Alexa began displaying rankings in 1998 it was with the goal of showing Alexa Toolbar users how popular any given site was within the Alexa community. We generated the rankings through an analysis of Internet usage by people who use the Alexa Toolbar. Since that time we’ve been delighted to see that the Alexa Rankings have become a yardstick by which website popularity is measured. We are grateful to the thousands of people who come to Alexa.com each day to check the Alexa Rankings.

In recent months we’ve heard from our Alexa users that understanding Internet usage beyond Alexa Toolbar users was increasingly of interest. Ask and you shall receive!

We listened to your suggestions, and we believe that our new rankings system is much closer to what you asked for. We now aggregate data from multiple sources to give you a better indication of website popularity among the entire population of Internet users.

You gave us many other suggestions as well, and we are working hard to implement them. We won’t tell any secrets just yet, but you can expect to see new features rolled out over the coming weeks and months. Below are a few common questions we anticipate from the Alexa community, along with our answers.
 

My site’s ranking has changed. Was it wrong before?
Your ranking wasn’t wrong before, but it was different. Alexa toolbar users’ interests and surfing habits could differ from those of the general population in a number of ways, and we described some of those possible differences on our website. While the vast majority of sites’ rankings were unaffected by such differences, we’ve worked hard on our new ranking system to adjust for situations in which they could matter. The new rankings should better reflect the interests and surfing habits of the broader population of Web users.
 

Why are the long range graphs gone? I can only get 9 months of historical data.
We are recalculating historic traffic data and will continue to add it over the coming weeks. We apologize for the inconvenience, but should have several years of data back on line shortly.
 

Will you change the rankings again?
We are constantly working to ensure that we provide the most useful data that we can. We will continue to fine tune our algorithms but don’t foresee any additional big changes. If you think something is amiss please let us know.
 

I liked the old rankings better. Are they still available somewhere?
We liked the old rankings as well. However, we developed the new system in response to the huge number of requests we got from users like you, and now that it’s done we like it even better. We hope you will too. We think that having more than one ranking system at a time would be confusing, so we have removed the old rankings.
 

Do you want to know what I think about this?
Definitely. We’ve been collecting suggestions and ideas for months now, and would love to hear more. If you have thoughts on what we’ve done so far, or ideas on what we should do next, please share them with us.

Alexa Ranking

What’s Your PageRank?

There are two ways to figure out what your approximate PageRank is.  One, you can download the Google Toolbar (the PageRank feature is not turned on by default, so you’d have to enable it after installation).  

The other way is to use the Google PageRank Calculator page on this website.  It’s quick, free and requires no registration.  Check it out.  If you have a PR6 or higher, I’ll be very impressed.

Quick recap:  Organic search is like free advertising.  It’s worth the investment to try and get a high ranking by the major search engines.  To rank high you should do two things:  First, make sure your site has the right relevant content for the types of searches your potential clients are conducting.  Second, try to get the highest PageRank possible.  To do this, you need to get as many inbound links from as many high PageRank web pages as possible.

How PageRank Is Calculated

There has been a lot written and a lot debated about Google’s PageRank, but on one point there is near unanimous agreement.  PageRank is primarily determined by how many other web pages are linking into you.  Google considers this kind of inbound a link a vote of confidence.    But, here’s the trick:  Not all inbound links are created equal.  Web pages with more credibility that link to you have more “value” to your PageRank than those with less credibility.  How is this credibility determined?  Why, by their PageRank, of course!  So, let’s take an example.  Lets say you have your Uncle Charlie link to you from his blog to your small business website.  Let’s also say that Uncle Charlie’s blog has a Page Rank of 3 (this is being a little generous because all Uncle Charlie writes about is his dog Sparky and he has limited inbound links).  This link from Uncle Charlie will certainly help you – a little bit.  It will help you more if you can find 100 such Uncle Charlie websites with a PageRank of 3 and get them to link to you.  

However, if you get a single link from HubSpot.com (the sponsor of this blog), it’ll help you more than a 100 Uncle Charlie websites.  Why?  Because HubSpot.com has a PageRank of 6 and a link from it is much more valuable.  I divide up PageRank into these broad categories:

0-3:  New sites or sites with very minimal links
4-5:  Popular sites with a fair amount of inbound links
6:  Very popular sites that have hundreds of links, many of them quality links
7-10:  Usually media brands (NYTimes.com), big companies or A-list bloggers.

Now, it’s important to note that PageRank is believed to be calculated on a logarithmic scale.  What this roughly means is that the difference between PR4 and PR5 is likely 5-10 times than the difference between PR3 and PR4.  So, there are likely  over a 100 times as many web pages with a PageRank of 2 than there are with a PageRank of 4.   This means that if you get to a PageRank of 6 or so, you’re likely well into the top 0.1% of all websites out there.  If most of your peer group is straggling around with a PR2 or PR3, you’re way ahead of the game. 

Google’s Search Algorithm

First, let’s establish a simple example which we can use to frame our discussion.  Let’s assume you are the partner in a boutique strategy consulting firm.  Lets further say that your specialization is advising technical founders of high-growth, venture-backed companies on how to be better at selling.  Now, you could probably identify a number of search phrases that your potential clients might use when interested in this particular topic.  Users may search for something like “technical sales consultant to founder”.  Or, they may just start by looking for content (instead of consulting) and search on “successful technical selling”.  In either case, Google has an algorithm that figures out which websites of the hundreds of millions out there should be displayed in rank order on the results page.  These are the organic (i.e. non-paid) results.  You want to rank high on these results.  [Author’s note:  If you do actually search Google on “successful technical selling”, you’ll find that my OnStartups.com blog ranks #1].

Though Google’s algorithm is extremely sophisticated, it boils down to something like this:

Search Ranking = Relevance * PageRank

Relevance is basically the measure of how your website (or more accurately one of your web pages) matches the search phrase the user has entered.  Measuring relevance is a relatively sophisticated process, but it boils down to some fundamentals like the title of the page, words on the page and how frequently they occur, etc.  So, if your home page has things like “technical selling”, it drives up the relevance for this particular search.  The reason my blog article is ranked #1 on Google for “successful technical selling” is in no small part because of the title OF ONE OF MY ARTICLES (“Successful Selling Tips For The Technically Gifted”).    Basically, Google figures out what your page is “about” by looking at it’s content (and by looking at other sites with similar content that are linking to yours).  It then uses this to figure out how relevant you are for a particular search phrase.

PageRank is an independent measure of Google’s perception of the quality/authority/credibility of an individual web page.  It does not depend on any particular search phrase.  For the public (you and me), Google conveniently reports this as a number from 0-10 (10 being the best).  So, assuming for a second that your web page and your competitors web-page has the same relevance – then whoever has the higher PageRank gets the better ranking – and shows up at the top of the results page.  This is why PageRank is so important.  Your relevance is based on your content (if you’re a consulting company specializing in technical selling, your relevance for stainless steel monkey wrench searches is going to be understandably low).  Your PageRank is what counts.