Web design questions: Here’s what to ask before starting out

A lot of web designing is routine for millions of companies and freelancers. But not all tasks are easy; many warrant long spells spent in battling complex problems.

As a web designer, a checklist of questions to ask your clients can pre-empt many hassles along the way.

With the right answers, you can create a documented set of requirements to guide yourself through a web design project.

Detailed here are five key questions web designers need to ask their clients:

Q 1. What exactly is your profession or business interest?

Knowing the answer to this question will help designers finalize the right combination of shapes, colors and typography on the site.

A dentist may want to infuse a refreshing mint feel in the minds of visitors. A gift shop will want to instantly ignite the joy of giving. A lawyer will want a distraction-free interface to bring his clients straight to the services they need.

You as a designer will need to study a little about your client’s work and stretch your imagination.

Q 2. Who are your competitors?

Your client is very likely to have competitors. Insist on knowing who they are, and create something better and simpler than them.

Competition is a healthy thing – it forces us to raise the bar and evolve.

Q 3. Have you identified example web designs?

Emulating other successful players in your arena is a great idea. A photographer might find appeal in a Pinterest-like design. Someone else may love the soft, tiled design brought about by the metro-style UI.

You might want to give your own recommendations based on this response. For instance, your client’s example site has a slider, but you could convince him that a short video to welcome visitors will be far more pleasant.

Q 4. Are you going to provide text, images and the logo?

If your client’s answer is yes, make sure you are addressing copyright concerns where appropriate. Also, insist on high quality images.

If you are asked to create a logo, ponder over your client’s response to Q1 and work towards creating a memorable icon.

Q 5. What is your budget?

Ask for a ballpark range for the budget to help yourself or your team figure out the right approach.

What if the desired web design requires you to mobilise rare and expensive JavaScript ninjas? Your client’s budget will help you decide.

Bonus!

Are you looking for more checklists and questionnaires to streamline your efforts? Take a look at this diligently compiled article by Cameron Chapman on Smashing Magazine, which is among the web’s most widely-respected authorities on web design.

In Conclusion…

Websites can be designed using innumerable approaches. Some people might consider using pre-cast building blocks delivered through software, while others may use a more powerful and flexible strategy that involves delving deep into code and making changes at will.

Whatever the case, this is a truly exciting exercise. But just like professional sport, you cannot win alone – ample answers and clear communication from clients will pave the way for success.

Unlist Your Number from TrueCaller today!

UPDATE July 18, 2013: Approximately 7 months after this article was published, there’s been news that the TrueCaller database has been hacked into by the so-called Syrian Electronic Army. Again, this highlights the need for users to be careful in the choosing the companies with whom they entrust their private data.

TrueCaller is a mobile app and online service that serves as a very large phonebook for reverse phone number lookups. It can be used to augment your own phone’s contact list in your iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, or BlackBerry device, helping you let know the names of unknown callers. You can test to see which of your or your friends’ numbers are available in their database at www.truecaller.com.

How does it work?

TrueCaller claims to source the caller information present in their database partly from public directories, and partly from “crowdsourced” data.

However, when I checked, their data didn’t seem to come from public directories. I began searching for my friends’ landline and mobile numbers and those of my own as well, and noted a few interesting things:

  1. Sometimes somebody else’s name would prop up. This would probably be a previous owner, or the former name of the person in case of a name change.
  2. Sometimes the company name would be suffixed or prefixed to the name.

This definitely seems to be populated from contact lists of users.

TrueCaller seems to stop here – it doesn’t, for example, seem to retrieve or store users’ locations. Also, it doesn’t support searching by name – you can only search by number. However, what TrueCaller does reveal is still bad enough, and has actually made many users unhappy, as you can see in a Quora thread on this subject.

Removing your Number

Luckily, fixing this privacy issue turns out to be easy. Head over to Unlist your Phone Number to request an automatic unlisting of your number. It took a few hours for my numbers to get unlisted, and I heaved a sigh of relief after that.

6 Ways to Defend Yourself Against Viruses and Malware

Which virus protection is the best?

Well, to protect yourself against malicious software, the six defensive ways detailed below can work better than the best anti-virus software left to act alone.

1) Be aware of virus symptoms, and attack vectors

This piece of advice might sound something beyond the realm of non-techies. However, non-techies had to learn how to use computers anyway, and learning a little about the basics of viruses won’t hurt. The information contained in this article is a good start.

(i) Be wary of suspicious, new process names in the list of running processes

Sometimes these processes have the same names as legitimate ones to disguise themselves (svchost.exe is an example). Sometimes they have similar names, like svvchost.exe and _services.exe (the legitimate ones have the names svchost.exe and services.exe). The username that’s running the process sometimes gives an indication of whether it’s a legitimate system process or not – a virus usually runs under the currently logged-in user’s name. If you’re a power user, you’d want to use Process Explorer, which will allow you to dive in more deeply when inspecting processes, such as figuring out which exact executable on the file system is responsible for the running process.

(ii) Emails from your friend may not have been actually sent by them

Be wary of opening email attachments, unless you were expecting them – even seemingly innocuous video files could cause your data to disappear. Take your precautions even when the attachment is expected – the anti-virus scanners embedded with the popular email providers provide a good defense.

On a similar note, be careful when downloading files randomly from the Internet. Executable (.exe or .com on Windows) files are the ones that can cause most harm.

(iii) Do not leave the Windows’ auto-run option enabled for portable drives

Auto-run has long been one of the most popular ways in which viruses spread – ensure that you keep it disabled. Never, ever, trust a portable drive that had been previously inserted into a machine that you don’t own, even if it has an anti-virus. Use your anti-virus to scan data that has arrived from external sources. Viruses won’t usually spread through text editors, so you can use these if you’re just inspecting simple files and don’t have an anti-virus at hand.

(iv) Watch out for typical virus symptoms, and gear up to protect yourself

These include:

  1. Access disabled to Task Manager, the Registry Editor1, or msconfig2.
  2. Spikes in CPU or GPU usage – these can be observed either through monitoring tools, such as the Task Manager for the CPU, or GPU-Z for the GPU, or by noticing the hardware fans spinning faster when there is no processor intensive program running.

A good tactic is to run anti-virus scans, preferably from outside your OS, such a Live CD, whenever you detect suspicious activity. Live CDs allow you to boot into them without having to load your OS, which might end up running the virus before any anti-virus can take effect (assuming that the anti-virus failed to detect the malware when it loaded itself onto the machine). Bitdefender Rescue CD is one such option. In addition to regular viruses, Bitdefender scans for rootkits – malware that reside deep within the core of the OS, evading detection while carrying out malicious activity.

(v) Safe online banking

Most Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, support booting from a Live CD and are great for providing added protection when banking online, since viruses cannot write to these disks permanently. Live CDs offer no compromise when it comes to your online browsing experience. These Linux distributions can also be installed on bootable USB sticks.

2) Choose to manually enable the running of plugins in your browser

Chrome and Firefox have the option of enabling “Click to Play” for plugins (i.e. either Flash or Java) within websites so that they run each time only with your permission which you provide by clicking on the area of the page in which . This will help prevent drive-by attacks from malicious code embedded in such plugins, which are almost always hidden from view, or use some sort of social engineering to trick users into downloading malware.

In Chrome, copy and paste chrome://chrome/settings/content into your address bar, and choose “Click to play” under “Plugins”.

Chrome Plugin Settings

In Firefox, go to about:plugins, and turn on the plugins.click_to_play option.

3) Update your OS, focusing on the security updates

They are called “security” for a reason. This is especially important for the Windows OS. Because of Windows’ popularity, hackers have been known to target security holes in Windows on unpatched machines by studying the fixes Microsoft sends out. This is becoming true even for Mac’s OS X; the recent Java malware is an example –though Apple actually released the update and fix after the Trojan was out in the wild. A Windows example: If you updated before Sasser arrived, you’d be 100% secure.

4) Use a firewall

This doesn’t offer much more protection from Internet worms than a NAT, but will be useful if you connect your laptop to a public network. It will also protect yourself from infected machines on your own network. A firewall would protect you from Sasser even if you didn’t install security updates at the time, and would offer partial protection against MSBlast.

While the built-in Windows Firewall provides decent protection, you could try out third-party solutions like ZoneAlarm for better control over what moves in and out of your computer.

5) Use an Anti-virus

This is important, but you must know where it stands – it cannot protect you against everything. In fact, most people skip it on the Mac and Linux, though it’s always recommended for Windows. Remember, you are worse off if you use an anti-virus but don’t know how viruses work.

I bet if you brush up your knowledge of viruses and run Windows without an anti-virus, you’d be infected fewer times than a noob running an anti-virus on a Windows and not knowing a thing about viruses. Anti-virus software are perfect if you realize that they work best for protecting against viruses that the software already knows about, and not so good at protecting new ones.

6) Backups

Whatever precautions you take, you might still lose the fight. Always ensure that you have important data backed-up, so that you can easily restore it in the case of an infection.

Even if there was no danger of infection, backups come in handy in the case of hardware failure, for which you should be prepared for anytime.

Footnotes

  1. ^The Registry is a database of configuration settings and options related to the Microsoft Windows operating systems. It can be accessed by pressing Ctrl+R, typing regedit.exe and pressing Enter
  2. ^MSConfig is a Microsoft Windows utility you can use to troubleshoot issues related to processes that are loaded on startup. Viruses often register themselves to start up automatically – you can remove the easier ones using msconfig or by editing the registry.

Converting Multiple VMDK (Virtual Machine Disk) files into one

To convert multiple VMDKs into a single file, I used the following command (LinuxVM.vmdk is the name of the first VMDK file – i.e. the one attached to the VM):

$ vmware-vdiskmanager -r LinuxVM.vmdk -t 0 LinuxVMSingleDisk.vmdk

Note that vmware-vdiskmanager is bundled as part of VMware Workstation. I couldn’t locate that as a separate download, so I ended up downloading the trial version of Workstation.

The above operation takes a while, but not too long. It shows its progress as it completes.

Next, I had to modify the VM settings so that it would use the new disk. I couldn’t find this option in the GUI, so I had to modify the vmx file manually (use an appropriate editor on a Windows system):

$ vi LinuxVM.vmx

I modified the scsi0:0.fileName property to point to the new disk:

scsi0:0.fileName = "LinuxVMSingleDisk.vmdk"

Next, I double checked the VM settings in the GUI to check if the disk had changed, and then booted it up to confirm everything is fine. I then deleted all the old, multiple vmdk files.

The Motivation for Doing This

I’d been using a few heavy applications in my VM: an HTTP server, an Application Server behind it running a couple of large applications, and a database. When doing intensive work, my hard disk would make grinding noises and my Ubuntu host would suddenly exit to the login screen. I’d lose all data in my current session, though oddly, some background applications would continue to run.

So I decided to implement VMware’s suggestion to use a single file for better performance:

VMware Workstation - Creating a virtual disk

Did it really work? The host did crash once, but that was when another heavy application was running on the host itself. In my entirely subjective assessment, I do think there’s been an improvement in performance – though I still need to be a little careful with certain applications.