The Idea Generation Process of Scribbling on a Napkin

Millions of us around the world eat at restaurants every day with our family, friends, co-workers, clients, parole officers… just kidding. Restaurants serve an important purpose in our lives – a purpose that has less to do with food and more to do with the way we connect with one another.

The restaurant has been around, in some form or another, since ancient Rome, and its function – to bring people together over a conveniently cooked meal – has changed very little in all that time.

There’s another benefit of restaurants that specifically applies to designers and other creative people, and that is to stimulate your creativity. That’s right – it’s been proven that socializing improves your intelligence. Not just academic intelligence either – interacting with friends and peers actually helps to make you more creative.

When you go out with others, you’re exposing yourself to an influx of new ideas that can’t help but positively influence your creative process. And food is a natural bonding agent, which is why so many creative ideas are born around a lunch or dinner table with other designers, artists, musicians, writers, et cetera.

Today, I’m going to explore the idea generation process familiar to so many designers who eat out with friends: the “awesome idea scribbled on a restaurant napkin” process.

It’s very high-level stuff. No, really! The lowly napkin sketch (or scrap paper or ledger pad sketch) has been used by everyone from babysitters all the way up to top creative executives at Microsoft and Walmart to bring to life important ideas that change the world, or at least bring in more profits.

Some experts say that the business sector is too dependent on language to express ideas that really should be expressed using visuals (i.e., sketches). That’s good news for us designers, but how exactly do we adapt it to our working process to make things easier for ourselves and our clients?

We designers all know the advantages of sketching: it’s a way to sort out our preliminary ideas and eliminate the ones that aren’t right for the job.

Of course, you don’t have to sketch on a napkin, but any kind of sketch is more useful than just thinking about the idea, because it requires you to use a different part of your brain.

web design flow sketch
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When you think, or read, or write, you’re nurturing the connections your brain makes between the different thoughts you have (called ‘neural pathways‘), and increasing your brain’s “elasticity.” When you add drawing to that process, you’re exercising important motor skills that can actually feed your creativity.

Personally, I prefer to sketch on paper. Why? Because it allows me the opportunity to step away from the computer for a brief moment and collect my thoughts on something I can touch and hold in my hands.

That’s important to me, and to a lot of designers whose work almost always ends up on the computer one way or another.

We humans respond to things that are interactive, and that allows us to make a direct impact on something. Ever wonder why more and more vending machines are see-through, rather than opaque?

The working mechanisms of those machines are engaging to our brains – we love to put our money in the machine, and literally see our desire (to have a refreshing beverage or snack) being fulfilled right before our eyes. It’s fun.

And guess what? Your clients are the exact same way.

Logo Design on Napkin
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If you’re a designer or art director redesigning a company’s brand identity, how do you make sure everyone there understands the creative vision you have?

Well, you could tell them. But most people aren’t going to take notes and will end up misinterpreting what you said at some point or another.

You could show them a presentation, which might work for some people. But I think that printing out handouts of your sketches, and walking people through them is the best way to involve them in the decision-making process.

Sometimes, sketching can be used to effectively communicate ideas to people – designers or non-designers – in ways that far surpass, say, a PowerPoint presentation.

Think about what you’d rather have in a department meeting: a dry, preachy collection of slides, or a sketchbook to work out your ideas about the company’s creative direction?

Just like a clear-windowed vending machine allows us to see the effect our money has on it, involving people with live sketching gives them a democratic insight into how design decisions are made.

It can turn a lofty, complicated mess into something that’s easy for everyone to understand. And we all know that an informed client is a happy (and oftentimes repeat) client.

You don’t want to just talk at your clients and lecture them about things that are going to go over their heads. Your clients aren’t stupid (well, hopefully not).

They are running a company, after all. Clients like to feel creative, or at least like they’re contributing to something to the creativity of their businesses. And what better way to make grown adults feel powerful and in charge of something than by handing them some paper and making them draw like grade-schoolers?

All joking aside, people love that stuff. It creates a feeling of harmony and democracy in the company, as anyone, from the janitor to the CEO, can make a sketch.

As Lou Levit explains in his article, How Sketching Will Take Your Design Process to the Next Level, sketching allows you to “dig deeper” with your idea process, uncovering more design solutions that often work much better than the initial ideas you start out with.

Silicon Valley Napkin ideas
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Another downside to simply absorbing information via presentation is that it tends to lead your client through the design process with minimal challenge to their own imagination.

Because of this, your client may not really understand your reasoning behind a more nuanced design solution, and may fight you on it. Presenting sketches is one way to quiet those feelings of misunderstanding. The more your client can see of your process, the more likely they are to trust your judgement.

The key to engaging your clients with sketching is to think of your design meeting more like a restaurant date with friends. Obviously, you should probably keep the celebrity gossip and alcohol consumption to a minimum, but the general feeling of creative camaraderie should be the same.

Engage your clients with spontaneous sketches, draw things out for them that you might otherwise just dryly explain, and observe the difference yourself in their level of understanding, engagement, and trust.

You don’t have to make them draw too, though, as I mentioned before, many people do love that. But just like passing around a napkin at the restaurant table to your friends can result in weird and wonderful new ideas, incorporating sketches in your meetings with clients can propel your projects to heights that you never would have expected.

The post The Idea Generation Process of Scribbling on a Napkin appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

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10 Totally Free WordPress Backup Plugins

Backing up your precious data is a common best practice these days. But, what about your WordPress-powered website? Yes, most web hosting companies do perform regular system backups.

But beware – not every host is reliable when it comes to backups. And you certainly don’t want to wait until disaster strikes to find out how they did.

You’ll get much more peace of mind if you perform regular site backups yourself. Luckily, there are several outstanding free plugins that will do the job for you.

Note that there are some differences in what various plugins will backup. A WordPress website is comprised of both a database (usually MySQL) and a set of files that sit on the webserver.

You’ll really only need to worry about the /wp-content/ folder, which contains your theme, plugins, and file uploads. Some plugins backup both the database and files.

Others will handle one of the two. Keep in mind that you’ll need both the database and the /wp-content/ folder to have access to all of your site’s data.

Now, let’s check out some plugins to keep your site backed up. We’ll take note of whether they back up a site’s database, file system, or both.

Total Upkeep – WordPress Backup Plugin Plus Restore & Migrate

WordPress software updates can sometimes cause problems. That’s why it’s important to have backups that can be restored immediately.

Total Upkeep’s auto rollback feature will create backups before you run updates, allowing you to easily restore the site to its previous state. A Pro version also enables cloud-based backups and staging sites.

Backs Up: Database and File System (with an option to customize what gets backed up)

WP Staging – Backup Duplicator & Migration

Having a staging environment for your WordPress website is always a good idea. But if your web host doesn’t offer this functionality, WP STAGING can help.

The plugin makes it easy to clone your site and into a subfolder (or a subdomain, if you opt for the Pro version).

Backs Up: Database and File System

WP STAGING – Backup Duplicator & Migration

WordPress Backup & Migrate Plugin

Backup, restore or even migrate your site. Also available is the ability to download a copy of a backup to keep on your local machine. A pro version lets you schedule backups and connect to various cloud storage services.

Backs Up: Database and File System (with an option to customize what gets backed up)

BackupGuard free WordPress backup plugin


Schedule regular backups of your WordPress database and have it both emailed to you and stored on your web server. Restore a backup with just a couple of clicks.

Also, you can schedule automatic database optimization and repair.

Backs Up: Database Only

WP Time Capsule

Rather than doing a time and resource consuming full backup each time, WP Time Capsule will perform an incremental backup of just the files that have changed.

You have the ability to schedule backups and connect to Dropbox, Amazon S3 and Google Drive.

Backs Up: Database and File System

WP Time Capsule free WordPress backup plugin


WPBackItUp touts its ease of use – just one click to backup your entire site. The plugin compresses the backup into a .zip file stored on your web server. Backup status notifications will arrive via email.

Backs Up: Database and File System


Automatically or manually backup your entire site to your web server, multiple cloud services, email or even an FTP server. Restore backups directly from inside WordPress. Site migration packages can also be downloaded.

Backs Up: Database and File System (with an option to customize what gets backed up)

UpdraftPlus free WordPress backup plugin

WP Database Backup

Backup your site’s database to the cloud, email, or FTP. Set up a schedule to run on a routine basis. The ability to exclude specific database tables is included.

Backs Up: Database Only

WP Database Backup free WordPress backup plugin


You can schedule complete automatic backups for your site and store them in the cloud. Backups can be compressed into .zip, .tar, tar.gz or tar.bz2 formats. BackWPup will also check, repair, and optimize your database.

Backs Up: Database and File System

BackWPup free WordPress backup plugin


This plugin is all about simplicity – there is no setup required. Backup your entire site on a schedule and optionally have the archives emailed to you. Backups will run even on low-powered web hosting accounts.

Backs Up: Database and File System (with an option to customize what gets backed up)

No More Excuses – Backup Your Site!

A WordPress site can break for many reasons, including a database crash, theme or plugin incompatibility, or a failed web host. But you don’t have to leave things to chance.

There are free WordPress backup plugins that cater to every need. It’s time to be proactive with your website and prepare for the worst. If something does happen, you’ll be glad that you took steps to regularly backup your website.

The post 10 Totally Free WordPress Backup Plugins appeared first on Speckyboy Design Magazine.

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