It’s been very quite on this blog recently but I’m hoping to change all that in the upcoming weeks.  There’s been many changes at Cube Websites and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce them…

When Cube Websites started 2 years ago, it was formed by two university students, a designer and a developer.  From the moment we went online we managed to find many clients who were all extremely happy with their websites and so the chain of customers continued at a regular rate.

Last year myself and the designer both finished uni, I decided to continue with Cube Websites, but the designer moved back down South to pursue a full-time career in teaching Art.  I took on the role of designer as well as developer which meant it took a bit longer to complete projects but the clients were still happy with the work and so Cube Websites was able to provide the same top level of work as it had done.

Earlier this year I decided to look for full-time employment in a more challenging role and it didn’t take long to find myself a contracting position as a web developer at Source Creative in Blackburn, who are actually a print and design company by nature but needed a dedicated developer at the time.  I worked there for 5 months and it was a really good experience.  During this time I managed to expand my skillset and work with social networking technologies far more than I had done before then.

Whilst at Source, I also continued with Cube Websites but soon realised that if I was to keep up with the client requests I’d have to focus solely on developing and so went out to find a freelance designer that I could outsource work to.  I found a talented individual who goes under the alias of Alkot.  He’s a very talented individual who’s completed several sites for me at very reasonable rates.  I intend to use him for all design work in the foreseeable future as he’s a great person to work with and we already have several commercial ideas that we’re going to be collaborating on as a partnership.

So where’s Cube Websites at right now?

Cube Websites is currently only me.  I have a permanent development role for a company in Manchester, but I still have plenty time for freelance work in the evenings and on weekends.  I work efficiently to make sure that I don’t miss any deadlines, I take great pride in my work and every single site is worked on to the best of my ability.

All design work is outsourced to Alkot who charges a very fair rate, and I let clients get in touch with him directly so there’s no inconvenience of dealing with me as a middle man.  As soon as he delivers the design I’ll convert it into XHTML/CSS and turn it into a fully functioning website – whether it’s static, CMS, E-Commerce or a bespoke application.

Future Plans for Cube Websites

  1. Start blogging more regularly
  2. Stick with Alkot as the designer for Cube Websites
  3. Developing Android and iPhone applications
  4. Launching of several new Magento themes – a few have already been designed and are waiting to be coded up for release
  5. Ensuring that customers are still as happy as they have been up until now.  When talking to colleagues they always mention some nightmare clients, but thankfully I can say that every single person I’ve made a website for has been a pleasure to work with, they’ve been so happy with their website and sometimes to the extent of paying me a little bonus just to express their satisfaction for the level of work provided.

Despite a couple of ups and downs, Cube Websites is still alive and kicking.  It’s been a very successful 2 years, and hopefully there’s plenty more amazing work to come!

Thank you to all the past clients who’ve provided me with nothing more than just positive feedback 🙂

AutoTrader is probably the biggest resource available for when it comes to car sales around the UK. Their website has never been too bad, and people were able to use it nicely, without much hassle, and no doubt great bargains were had, and huge profits made by utilising the AutoTrader website. That was until, they brought in their new “Beta” design.

If you’ve checked recently, AutoTrader have updated their website with a new look, currently tagged “Beta”. Now I know a lot of people are complaining that the new site doesn’t work properly – including problems with how it looks, and other problems such as the JavaScript only working sometimes.

The thing with JavaScript is – it’s always good to use it unobtrusively – that’s to say make a website that works without JavaScript, but then improve the experience for people who have Javascript. Don’t make it so that you block off a large part of your userbase just because they have JavaScript disabled. In AutoTraders case, obtrusive JavaScript is only the smaller issue….

Mozilla Firefox is the second most popular web browser in the world, and AdBlock Plus is one of the most popular addons for Firefox. Now here’s a couple of screenshots comparing how the AutoTrader site looks for users with AdBlock, and for users without it:

Adblock Enabled

Adblock Enabled

Adblock Disabled

Adblock Disabled

As you can see, people with advertisements disabled received a very limited view compared to people without it. Whether or not this is deliberate we can’t really say, but it’s definitely something that should not be overlooked. When I personally visited the web page (my default browsing is Firefox with AdBlock) I saw masses of whitespace and thought “Wow! What an eyesore!”. The whole site looked hideous, with just so much white and bright blue text stuck inbetween.

No doubt AutoTrader are being plastered with complaint emails, but this is a mistake that should never have happened. In the meantime, we can all learn a few lessons from this:

  • If you have a new site that you want to test, DONT launch it to the general public. Have a select group of testers who can opt-in to test the Beta version, provide feedback, and only when you know that everything’s working do you make it available to the mass-public.
  • Use unobtrusive JavaScript
  • Don’t rely on adverts to make your site look right

Visit the Store

We’re really pleased to announce that the Cube Websites store is now live.

It uses Magento, and the custom theme was created by ourselves to match the rest of our website.You can now find our Magento themes on sale there.  As an introductory offer, you can get 20% off any theme you want!
Just enter NEWSTORE20 at checkout to apply your discount – offer valid until 9 January February 2009.

We’ll shortly be adding a new range of Magento themes, so stay tuned!

Preview of Our New Theme Store - click for full-size

Preview of Our New Theme Store - click for full-size

Just to let you know that the store section of our website is almost ready – and we’re really excited.  At the start it will contain the 2 Magento themes that we’ve created, but we will be introducing new themes in the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Click the image for a full size view.

We’re hoping to add other things to the store too such as web scripts and possibly applications too.

Our launch party with Weezer and some muppets, that you weren't invited to

Our launch party with Weezer and some muppets, that you weren't invited to

Today marks the launch of the new dark design of Cube Websites. We’ve upgraded the blog and hosting site to match as well.
We like it a lot, and we hope you do too – if you do notice any bugs, or have suggestions please do let us know either via a comment or using the contact form

This is just the first in a series of changes that Cube Websites is going through. Next in line is a new store interface, and soon after that will be some new Magento themes to sell in the store!

Stay tuned for more updates!

It’s a been a little quiet lately on our blog, but that doesn’t mean we’re not working away behind the scenes.

We’re happy to announce that we’ll be launching a new and improved version of our site soon, and have many new treats lined up for our existing/potential clients.

Here’s just some of the things you can look forward to:

  • Store – we’ll be introducing our own store from which you can purchase themes for Magento.
  • New Themes – we’re received a lot of requests for more commercial Magento themes, and we’ve still not forgotten about Amplitude either!  In the next few months you’ll see a series of new (and still low-priced) Magento themes available for purchase (from the new store 🙂 )
  • New Design – with all new features, we’ve also redesigned our own website with improved usability.
  • Hosting – new price plans and special offers!

We won’t release in the changes in one go, but we hope to have the full update complete within the next month.

Stay tuned for more updates!

frankenstein

What we imagine a horrible encounter might look like

Bargain Bump were a recent client of ours.  They wished to start an online business and asked us create an online shop for them.  We did so, and after talking to them, they explained how they were hoping to get established on the net.

Their first step was to gain a decent eBay reputation, and in order to do this quickly, they decided to sell a large amount of cheap items.  They did their research and found a company called TIC Pallets who do pallets of clearance of returns and clearance stock.

They rang TIC to inquire about the products and here’s a log of some of the questions asked:

Do you have any pallets suitable for an eBay startup?

Yes, we have Jambo pallets which are great for eBay sellers and car boot sales.  A lot of people take these from us

What is a Jambo pallet, what does it contain?

It’s a mixture of items, things that cost under £50 mostly.  Basically anything you could find in Woolworths, and you’ll get between 150 to 200 items.

Great, are these clearance or return items?

They’re returns, but all from within the 28 day guarantee.  Some things might have a little fault, but you’ll also get a lot things returned that people just don’t want any more.  It’s pick and mix but you’ll have a nice selection of working items that make up for the non-working.

And how much do one of these pallets cost?

It’s £95, plus £45 delivery plus VAT so total will be about £160.

I’m going to be selling for a small family business, that’s going to be based at my home.  I’ve got a storage room and a garage, will you be able to deliver there?

Absolutely, our jambo pallets are designed specifically for residential deliveries, you won’t need any equipment.  They’ll bring it to the garage for you and they’re a local company for you so there’ll be no trouble whatsoever.

After this conversation they decided that given that there was a mixture of items, so even if 25% were working and the rest faulty, there was chance that they could at least break even by selling the working items.


So willing to take the risk they placed their order with TIC for home delivery.  The order was placed on a Friday, and they were told delivery would take place on Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest.

Tuesday, no delivery.  Wednesday, no delivery.  Wednesday afternoon rang TIC.  They said that it should have arrived and would enquire with the delivery company and call back soon.  One hour later, no callback.  Two hours, no callback.  Another phonecall to TIC and they said that the delivery company would call them.

During the third hour a call was received from the delivery company asking if it’s OK to deliver on Thursday morning.  This was fine.

Thursday morning, knock at the door.  When they answer the door its the delivery guy.  They ask him to bring the pallet round to the garage as promised by TIC.  The delivery guy tells them there’s no way this can be done – instead he says all he can do is bring it to the garden.

He parks on the other side of the (busy) road and brings the pallet down using a taillift.  How he’s going to get it across the road and into the garden no-one knows.

He walks up and down the street just swearing and cussing, trying to figure out what he’s going to do.  Goes over to the van, takes a look inside the big box.  Says that it’s full of bags, so what he’ll do is unload them individually and bring them inside the garden.  He starts and the Bargain Bump guys decide to help him unload.

After half an hour of carrying little carrier bags of items to the house the delivery is complete.  The delivery van goes away.

Next it’s time for inspection. What’s delivered (and we went to see this) is a room full of wet Woolworths bags.  Obviously the pallet contents weren’t sealed very well and basically the whole thing got drenched overnight – bye bye chances of finding any working electronic goods in there.

There were childrens scooters in there, which look like they have been ridden for over 6 months.  Solar lights which appeared to have been used in a garden for at least 3 months.  Superglue, the label of which says that the fault is there’s no glue inside.  And loads more junk besides.

Absolutely no fully working items were found.  The faulty items were far beyond repair.  The whole contents of the pallette were soaked.  £165 to have a box of crap, the whole thing wouldn’t even be worth £10.

The entire thing was taken to the junk yard and trashed.  £165 down the drain.  Nothing that they said on the phone was actually true.  The result was nothing like they had expected after the answers they received during the initial phone call.

As the Bargain Bump guys were only a small startup, after this encounter they decided to put off the whole online business thing.

Maybe they were just really, really, really unlucky, and maybe TIC aren’t totally dishonest.  But after hearing about this, and seeing all the junk for ourselves (our apologies for not taking any pictures) we’d strongly advise people to think twice before ordering from this place.

We wouldn’t encourage anyone to judge TIC Pallets from a single article published on this blog.

What we’d really recommend is going down and checking out stuff like this in person before ordering – don’t trust their pictures on the net – obviously these are going to be the best possible as an advertising strategy.

We feel really bad for Bargain Bump – they were great clients and it was great to work with them.  The Magento store design we made for them will be released shortly as a commercial theme seeing as it’s no longer of any use to them.

UPDATE:  This article has been updated on Monday 18 January 2010 at 10:59 GMT.  The amendment has been made as Russell (owner of TIC Pallets) requested Cube Websites to remove the article due to being potentially slanderous.  As we believe that the article is in fact honest and not slanderous, we have decided to remove any content which could be considered slander and left in only facts which have been provided by the client, and from what we saw ourselves.

We’ve been busy designing our new Magento theme (template, skin, whatever you prefer to call it) for the past few days and finally got a design that we like – it uses a dark page background, and a white content background giving it a very classy look.

After some careful consideration, we’ve decided that this new theme is going to be released for free, yup, you heard right, FREE!!!

This decision is based on the fact that Magento is a free software, it’s probably the best of its kind and we’ve got some very happy clients from it.  Releasing a theme completely free is our way of giving back to the Magento community and showing our appreciation for such an excellent product.

RELEASE INFORMATION

We’ve only just finalised the design – the theme should be coded, tested and documented within the next two weeks (we have client websites to work on too!) hopefully.
Look out here for any updates.

All suggestions are welcome!

A celebration, yesterday

A celebration, yesterday

A happy little announcement to say that our new blog is pretty much ready.  We’ve done the main part of the skin, added some basic categories and imported our articles across from the old news system.

We’ll soon finish off what’s left of the design, add some tweaks and maybe some bells and whistles too.

Just like to say thanks to everyone who requested the blog – we thought it was a great idea!

Look out for more articles featuring news, tutorials, tips, guides, penguins and ninjas!!!

Magento Discovered!

Magento Discovered!

First of all, to get an idea of what this article is about, check out our Magento Demo Store.  Done that?  Let’s carry on…

E-Commerce has been a big part of the web industry for a long time now.  We’ve been having request to build online shops and stores ever since we started building websites (when we were called Finless Fish).

At the time we used to make what now seems very primitive shopping carts and there wasn’t a lot of functionality to offer.

Later on OSCommerce entered the scene, which we built several sites using.  OSCommerce was a shopping cart ‘software’ which you can simply download and install on your hosting.  Once installed, we’d do the configuration, and build a decent design for it.

Though this was the best product of it’s kind, we can hardly say it was easy to develop and design for.

Later, Zen Cart emerged, which was a heavily modified OSCommerce, but introduced plenty of new features – still, designing for it wasn’t the easiest task, and development was very slow.

Now, 2008, Magento is discovered!

When we first heard of Magento, we went straight to their site, clicked the Demo page and thought ‘WOW.
First impression was the looks, and as a free default design, it’s the best we’ve seen on any e-commerce software.

After that, we had a look around, looked at the technical features and were really impressed by it all.
It offers a great navigation, layered browsing (shop by price, brand etc), integrates with Royal Mail nicely and loads more besides.

Then the real test came when it was time to build our next E-Commerce website.  We made a nice looking design and had a go at converting it into a Magento skin.
The process was so easy, it’s really quite unbelievable.  The whole process took less than half the time it took is with OSCommerce and Zen Cart.

After everything, it’s safe to say that Magento is by far the best e-commerce product we’ve come across.  We’ll be using that for future websites.
Customers should also remember, half the creation time means we can offer these kinds of websites at lower prices now.

Prices for a fully customised Magento store start at £100.
Once again, the link for the demo store is: Demo Store