Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Creating Artwork for your Website and Blog

You don't have to be an accomplished graphic artist to create a modern, professional website. And it's not necessary to spend a lot of money to hire a professional to design a website for your microISV.

Illustrating ISVs' web pages

There's a third alternative: You can paint the walls white, and hang eye-catching pictures on the walls.

In a perfect world, we would illustrate our websites' sales messages with pictures that perfectly match the text. Sometimes we get lucky, and find an image that reinforces our sales presentation. More often, however, we simply need some images that break up the text, and make our web pages more inviting.

Be wary of buying or creating powerful eye candy. If your images distract prospects from reading your sales presentation, then you'll hurt your software sales. Your goal is to find some nice pictures to hang on the walls of your website and blog. And I'd suggest that you look into creating these images yourself.

Before and After

Here's an example of an image that I created for a blog entry that I posted on the Educational Software Cooperative's (ESC's) blog. And here are step-by-step instructions for how you can create similar images for your online needs.

When selecting or crafting images for ESC's blog, I always try to find something that is tied directly to the topic of my blog posting. Sometimes, however, I can't find the perfect picture. So I'll create a generic image that illustrates some aspect of educational software.

Selecting a starting point

When making a new image for a website or blog, I start with another picture. It rarely matters which image I use as my starting point. In this example, I started with the "Business Book Review" image that I use when posting reviews of business books on my own blog. I could have started with a picture of the Canadian Parliament's library building in Ottawa, or a picture of a labrador retriever puppy. It really doesn't matter.

If you start with an image with a lot of colors in it, you'll likely end up with a more colorful image. But this time, I was interested in creating a monochromatic background that wouldn't dominate the new image.

Blur the image

I used the "motion blur" filter in my favorite image manipulation program to make the text unreadable, and to give the image a lot of texture. It doesn't matter which software you use to create your images. Your goal isn't to duplicate what I did in this example. Your goal is to create a nice picture that will help you sell more of your software.

As you're creating a new image, you can pretend that you know where the process will take you. But you'll learn that there are a lot of surprises involved with creating abstract images. Just go where your imagination takes you.

Tilt and pinch

Your software no doubt has a few blur filters, or a wind filter, or something that lets you tilt the image a bit, and blur it.

Since this brown blur will be the background landscape for the image for my new ESC Blog posting, I decided to use a "pinch" filter to add some irregularities - and a little character - to the image.

Adjust the hue

I suppose I could have kept the brown color, and developed an image with a mud-based landscape.

But I thought I'd do something a little more vibrant.

So I changed the hue to a lush shade of green.

Add brush strokes

Next, I used a "wind" filter to add brush strokes or wind patterns to the image.

You can do the same thing with a "watercolor" filter or a "paint brush" filter or any number of similar filters.

Regardless of the tool that you choose, you can easily create an abstract image that evokes distant foliage.

Plant a tree

A few months ago, I bought a stock image of 12 green tree silhouettes from fotolia.com, my favorite stock image company.

For a little more than one US dollar, you can add a dozen realistic trees to your library of clip art, and incorporate them into your images as needed.

I planted a tree. It takes a little practice to place it in the right location. But there really is no wrong place to plant a tree in my new image.

Add characters

Next, I added silhouettes of a family of four. For a dollar or so, you can buy stock silhouette images that have a few dozen individuals.

You can find similarly priced collections of silhouettes of business people in offices, families in the outdoors, farm animals, dogs, plants, and all sorts of vehicles and objects.
Don't forget the pet

Every picture can benefit by adding a labrador retriever.

Again, you can spend a buck and buy an image with a dozen or more dog silhouettes.

Finally, I cropped the image so that the words would wrap around it properly when I added it to my posting on ESC's blog.

Help people decide where to look

As a general rule, the people (and labrador retrievers) in your artwork should be looking into - and walking into - your web page or blog page. As your characters look or move into your text, your readers' eyes will be drawn in the same direction. When your images depict people who are looking out of your page, it signals to your website visitors that there are better things to pay attention to than the page that they're looking at.

I broke the rule. I wanted to show the family walking out of my blog write-up and into the links to the pages on ESC's website. I create web pages on my DP Directory site to get software developers interested in my press release and website review services. And I write postings for ESC's blog to get people interested in the association, not just in my particular article.

There's nothing wrong with breaking the rules. But you should understand the rules, and why they're important. Then, break them if that furthers your interest. For ISVs, it's all about using your website or blog to sell more software.

Image quality and software sales

It would be easy to find dozens of things in this image that aren't perfect. But your website and blog readers aren't inclined to do that. And neither should you.

Your software prospects and customers are going to give your images a passing glance. Unless there's something that's terribly good or bad about your artwork, your prospects are going to concentrate on your words, and not think very much about your images. So don't agonize over the quality of your images. Your website and blog visitors will treat these images like the billboards that they glance at on the highway, and not like the masterpieces that they might study in a museum.

The bottom line

You can hire people to do a lot of things in your software business, from program development to marketing. Spend a little time each month developing your artistic skills, and you'll be able to create a lot of the images that you need for your website and blog. In addition to being able to create exactly the images that you need, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you've created the artwork yourself.

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