Laughing Cat Studios - Web Design and eCommerce

Brilliant. Creative. Hands.

Take a look at these great posters. Using just hands and a phone, an American phone company advertised using his popular idea of painting hands in the colors of different countries.  It’s just brilliant.
Costa Rica
The Netherlands
South Africa
United Kingdom

June 9, 2012   No Comments

Get Social Media Benefits without Tweeting

So you have been meaning to put more time into your social media marketing efforts.  You intended to tweet regularly and work on that Facebook contest for your Facebook fans.   But you realize that although social media is “free”, it does require a substantial amount of time to plan and implement for a return on your time investment.  Time resources in a small business are just as valuable and as scarce as financial resources.

Services like Living Social and Groupon provide a way to tap into the Social Media audience without a repetitious time commitment and with potentially a great return on your financial investment.  In addition, there are no up front out of pocket costs.

GrouponHere’s a look at how Groupon works:

  1. You collaborate with Groupon to provide a deal that is impossible to say NO to, for their customer base. (i.e. At least 50% off).  This deal is a coupon that must be purchased by the customer.  (i.e.  $25 coupon that yields the customer a $50 value)  Groupon requires the deal to be aggressive.  This may require a low margin strategy in lieu of new customers, business recognition and foot traffic.  Consider this your marketing investment.
  2. Groupon creates an email ad for your place of business.  They create all the copy for the ad.
  3. Groupon provides support and education to plan and prepare for the increase in phone calls, foot traffic, etc.
  4. On a specific date, after they have contacted you, they feature your ad by emailing this ad to their subscriber base.  They only feature one ad per day. A redemption period is set as well.   Groupon claims their internet-savvy customers use tools like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about your business beyond Groupon’s mailing list.  Groupon also provides mobile applications for their subscribers to download on their iPhone or Android.
  5. You can specify a minimum number of customers who must purchase the Groupon before “The Deal is On”.  Groupon takes a portion of each Groupon sold.  If the minimum number is not met, there are no out of pocket costs to your business.   You cannot, however, specify a maximum number.
  6. Groupon collects the money from the ad from their subscribers and mails you a check and a list of customers who purchased the Groupon.  Due to their privacy policy, they will not provide customer email addresses.  So make sure you ask the customer for their email address when redeeming the coupon!

Potential Benefits of Groupon:

  • Tapping into a potential new customer base of internet savvy, mobile users
  • Increase in foot traffic to your brick and mortar
  • Increase in Brand Recognition
  • Potential Word-of-Mouth Buzz
  • Minimum Financial Risk
  • Possible Repeat and Loyal Customer Base

The Negative Side?

  • Potentially selling a high volume of low margin coupons may require you to work for a period of time with slim margins.
  • A spike in the number of phone calls and foot traffic for a period of time can put your staff under stress.

Primary Demographics for Groupon Subscribers

  • Single
  • Female
  • Under age 35
  • Some level of Higher Education
  • Employed Full Time

So, if tweeting and maintaining your Facebook status are not for you, but you would still like to tap into the social media market, services like Living Social and Groupon may be the answer for you.

January 26, 2011   No Comments

Automatically Update Copyright Dates

It’s the beginning of a new year and time to remind all web developers to check their copyright dates on their websites. My intention is to add simple code to my footers so I don’t ever have to manually update a copyright date. However, I must admit, I have not always been diligent about doing so. So this one is for those of you who have manually input copyright dates on the websites you have developed and are now having to manually update those dates.

To have a copyright in your footer that looks like this:

Copyright © 2007 – 2011. All Rights Reserved

If you are working with html files that are not set up to parse PHP, replace “2007″ in the following code with your copyright start date and then insert the following javascript code into your html file:

If you are working with php files, insert the following php code into your php file:

It’s as simple as that. Do it now on all your current websites and get into the practice of using code on all future sites you develop. Then on New Years Day, you won’t ever have to worry about it again!

January 2, 2011   No Comments

Image Basics for Web Design

Images for Web Design

need to be in one of three formats. Here we list some notable differences in the .gif, .jpg and .png formats.


Web Design AnimatedGIF (Graphical Interchange Format)

  • Best used for vector graphics, line art.  Not Photos.
  • GIF89a format provided enhancements for transparency, interlacing and multi-frame GIFs for animation.
  • Limited to 256 Colors
  • Compression format is lossless compression format – Which means no image information is lost when compressed.

Web Design with jpg
JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

  • Best used for photographs
  • Unsuitable for images with sharp edges, such as line art, logos and type
  • Compression format is a lossy compression algorithm which means that file information is lost when compressed.  Therefore, wait until all modifications are made to save and compress your jpg files.
  • Each time a jpg is saved/compressed, file information is lost.
  • jpg does not support transparency.

Web Design with png
PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

  • Created to improve and replace GIF
  • Compression format is lossless compression format – Which means no image information is lost when compressed.
  • Better transparency than GIF files
  • Does not support animation
  • Supports palette-based, true color and grayscale images

Interesting History: The motivation for creating the PNG format was in early 1995, after it became known that the Lempel–Ziv–Welch (LZW) data compression algorithm used in the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) format was patented by Unisys.

On December 24, 1994, Unisys stated that they expected all major commercial on-line information services companies employing the LZW patent to license the technology from Unisys at a reasonable rate, but that they would not require fees to be paid, for non-commercial, non-profit GIF-based applications, including those for use on the on-line services.

Following this announcement, there was widespread condemnation of CompuServe and Unisys, and many software developers threatened to stop using the GIF format. The PNG format was developed in 1995 as an intended replacement.  Unisys was subjected to thousands of online attacks and abusive emails from users believing that they were going to be charged or sued for using GIFs on their websites.  Despite giving free licenses to hundreds of non-profit organizations, schools and governments, Unisys was completely unable to generate any good publicity and continued to be condemned by individuals and organizations such as the League for Programming Freedom who started the “Burn All GIFs” campaign.

The US LZW patent expired on June 20, 2003.  Consequently, while Unisys has further patents and patent applications relating to improvements to the LZW technique, the GIF format may now be used freely.

December 28, 2010   No Comments

Give us this day…

Have you ever not eaten all day long and around 5pm think “Man, I am starving. What’s for dinner?” I know exactly what that feels like. What I don’t know, is what it really means to experience hunger. I was reading an article yesterday about how more Americans are going hungry due to the current economic situation. I had to take a moment, pause and wonder how that must feel. What is it really like to not eat all day and have no financial resources to do anything about it and no where left to turn? How does it feel to be turned away from a Soup Kitchen? What is it like to be turned down for food stamps? I am blessed to have no idea what level of level of pain it may be to look my child in the eye and wonder how I am going to provide him with his next meal. I can’t imagine the fear and feeling of hopelessness that a person may encounter when faced with this experience.

During this Thanksgiving season, as my family prepares for the holiday, as we check out cookbooks from the library and as the Food Network hums on the television in our den, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on those of you who have struggled in the past, those who are currently struggling and those who are struggling for the first time with hunger. I admire you for your perseverance to wake up another day and put one foot in front of the other. I admire you for whatever strength you are able to muster to obscure the direness of the situation from your children. I admire whatever faith you have left. My prayer for you and your loved ones is a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day and every day thereafter.

Give us this day our daily bread.

November 16, 2010   No Comments

42 Questions to Answer Prior to Designing and Developing Your Company Website

You have decided your company needs a website or a company website makeover, so what’s next?  Spend some time researching answers for the following questions.   Answering these questions for your business prior to shopping for a web designer and developer, will make it easier to select one.

Setup Logistics

  1. Do you have a website (domain) name? Did you or someone else register the domain name?  Do you have control over the domain?
  2. Do you have hosting?  If so, what is your current hosting company and do you have access to the web server?
  3. If you currently have a website, are you in touch with the original website designer and developer?

Website Content and Website Design

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What is your primary message?
  3. Is your content complete?  If not, who will be responsible for content creation and under what timeframe can you expect the content to be complete?
  4. Do you have a logo? What format is it in?
  5. Do you have the hex value for your current company colors?
  6. Do you have photos you need to use?  Are these photos optimized and sized for website design?
  7. Describe the style of website you are looking for.  Is this a brochure site, or a blog?
  8. If you have a catalog or brochure, would you like the website to be consistent with the look and feel of those marketing pieces?   
  9. Will you be providing creative direction or will you expect creative direction to come from your web designer?
  10. If you currently have a website, what do you like about the site and what do you hate about the site?  When is the last time the site was updated and why?
  11. Who are your competitors and what are their website addresses?
  12. What are several websites you like?

Website Development

  1. What do you need your website to do?
  2. Do you have any specifications?
  3.  Is there any specific functionality you need?
  4. How many pages do you need?
  5. Do you need an image gallery?
  6. How does your company handle email?
  7. Do you have a newsletter?
  8. Do you need any password protected areas?
  9. Do you need ecommerce?
  10. Do you need the website to tie into any particular 3rd party applications?
  11. Do you need a contact form?


  1. What is your time frame and budget?
  2. Does the site launch need to coincide with a product launch or any other important milestone?

Site Marketing

  1. Do you need social media tools built in, like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Stumble Upon, etc.
  2. How familiar are you with search engine optimization?
  3. How will you market your site offline?
  4. How do people find your current website?
  5. How important is search engine ranking to you?

Site Maintenance

  1. How are you going to maintain the site?
  2. How often do you need to update the site?
  3. Do you need a content management system?
  4. Will several people be editing the site?
  5. Will your IT person be involved?
  6. What software do you have?
  7. Are you or anyone on your staff familiar with HTML and CSS?
  8. Do you or anyone on your staff have Photoshop or other image editing software?
  9. Will you want or need help in making changes? If so, would you need help routinely?

Answering the above questions will give you a great start in designing and developing your company website.  Feel free to contact Laughing Cat Studios at (205) 533-9050 for a consult!  We’d love to work with you on the design and development of a fabulous site for your company.

June 2, 2010   1 Comment

7 Excellent Reasons to use a Blog for Your Business Website

Over the last decade we have seen the emergence of blogging software such as Typepad, WordPress, Blogger and Drupal (to name a few).  With the advent of blogging software, we have seen websites move from static to a more dynamic, user-interactive state.  Here are 7 of my favorite reasons to use a blog for your business website:

1)    DIY (Do It Yourself).  As a business owner, you and your staff can modify text and graphics without involving your web developer.

2)    Fresh Content.  Articles and images can be added by multiple users in your company to provide fresh content for the site.  Search engines love fresh content.  In addition, fresh content lets your users know you have not abandoned your website.

3)    Branding and Customization.  Blogs can be customized to reflect company branding and can be developed to look as traditional as a traditional website.

4)    Search Engine Optimization.  Blogging platforms are designed to optimize in search engine results. 

5)    Open source development.  Plug-ins and extensions.  Large community of open-source developers creating features for your site.  Many of these are easy to install, customize and use on your site.

6)    User Engagement.  A blog lends itself to more user engagement.  Internet surfers of today are expecting more interaction with the sites they visit than ever before.  In the “old days”, a user would visit a site and expect to see a brochure site where they could read about the company mission, see a few photos of the business and possibly get directions.  Today, however, users want interaction.  They want to participate in a poll or giveaway, comment on your articles, rate your products, sign up and engage. 

7)    Social Media.  Simple to add Twitter widgets, Facebook fan page widgets and a medium for your users to share your site via their favorite social media outlet. 

Do you use a blog for your business site?  If so, what are your favorite reasons to use a blog platform?   If not, tell us why.

May 18, 2010   No Comments

Web Design in 2010

2009 was a year of adventure and the beginning of a journey for me and for Laughing Cat Studios. I am thrilled to have found my passion in designing and developing web sites for small businesses. I want to send a big thank you to all my clients of 2009 and say that it was a pleasure to work with each and every one of you.

We look forward to designing a few more ecommerce sites in 2010. In addition, we are excited to be designing a website for a new live music venue here in Birmingham Alabama.

Wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous new year!

Valerie Latawiec, Owner
Laughing Cat Studios

January 11, 2010   No Comments

8 Considerations when Selecting a Web Hosting Service

Web HostingWeb Host: A service provider that places your web site on a computer which is connected to the internet. This gives internet users a way to access your website. The computer that the web hosting company uses is typically just like the computer you have at home, the only difference being that it is set up to serve up web sites and is therefore called a “server”.
Server Platform: This is the type of server software that is running on the server. Windows, Linux and Unix are common server types. If you have a basic website then the server type does not matter. If you have a more complex website that has database functions and serves up dynamic pages, then the server type will be more important.

1) Disk Space

Disk space is synonymous with the amount of storage.  The amount of disk space required to host your website will depend on the number of images, audio files and video files you plan to have on your website.  Typically 100MB to 500MB is sufficient.  However, if you are developing an eCommerce site with thousands of products and accompanying images, we recommend at lease 2GB of disk space to accommodate your inventory.

2) Data Transfer (Traffic Bandwidth)

Bandwidth handles the amount of traffic and data flowing to and from your website.  The average site required less than 2GB of bandwidth.  In this category, consider the amount of traffic you expect on your website and whether or not site users will be uploading or downloading data to or from your website.

Note:  With more and more websites moving away from static pages to dynamically generated pages, the biggest limit that you will face is not your bandwidth or disk space, but what many web hosts classify as resource usage. For those not familiar with the terminology, static pages are simple HTML web pages where the web server merely displays what the pages contain with little extra work. Dynamically generated pages are what you get when you use blogging scripts like WordPress or content management systems like Drupal. The scripts assemble your web page from a variety of sources, such as your database and your templates, every time someone visits it.  If your site has the potential to be resource intensive, ask specific questions regarding limitations on CPU and RAM usage.

3) Reliability

A web hosting service should guarantee the amount of uptime (time the servers are functional).  A reasonable expectation of reliability from a hosting service is 99.5% of uptime guaranteed.  Be leery of free and/or cheap web hosting services.  Before investing, determine the longevity of the company, read reviews and search the internet for potential bad press. 

4) Dedicated IP and Private SSL

If you plan on providing a shopping cart on your business site or if personal information will be passed through your website, you will want a dedicated IP address and private SSL.  Your domain name, such as “,” is actually linked to an IP address that points to a specific computer. With a dedicated IP address, your site will be linked to a single machine which hosts only your website.  When somebody enters your domain name into their browser’s address field, the IP address is located and Web site is loaded from your Web host.  SSL (Secure Socket Layer) acts as a secure layer between your visitors and your website, encrypting personal information.

5) Features

You want to make sure that your hosting service supports your web developers programming and scripting languages, the CMS (content management system) that will be used to develop your site as well as any shopping cart software your developers plan to use.  In addition, it is important that your hosting service stays current with the latest released versions of these features.  The following is a list of some basic features that should be available with your hosting service:  FTP, SSL,  PHP, Perl, .htaccess, telnet, SSH, MySQL, CGI, Ruby on Rails (RoR)

6) Technical Support

We all know that customer support is not what it once was.  It is important to find a hosting company who has technical support available 24/7.  We prefer knowledgeable support that is not outsourced.  Read the customer reviews and ratings of the hosting service to get an idea of the quality of support you can expect to receive.   In addition, consider the avenues available for support such as toll-free number, online chat, email and form submission.

7) POP and IMAP Email Accounts

Typically a hosting service will provide you with a number of limited email accounts or unlimited email accounts.  This will allow you to establish professional email accounts such as  You should look for a host who enables you to forward your email to another email address, who provides an auto-responder for mail that goes to a specific email address and one who offers a spam filter script. 

8) Price

The final consideration for a web hosting service is price, remembering that sometimes “you get what you pay for”.  Discover all that you can about the reputation of a web hosting company by reading online reviews.

June 14, 2009   No Comments

Google Website Ranking Explained

The following is a link to Google’s explanation of the technology they use to rank websites.  In a nutshell, Google uses a patented PageRank algorithm (which consists of more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms) to examine the link structure of the website.  Then they conduct hypertext-matching analysis (which examines the entire content of a page) to determine your website’s ranking of relevance and reliability for the internet search user. 

Laughing Cat Studios conducts keyword research and evaluation prior to the development of your website to aid in the best possible ranking with Google and other internet search engines.

Corporate Information – Technology Overview

June 9, 2009   No Comments