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  • Everything web designers need to know about #VATMOSS

    Posted:Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:15:13 +0000

    Sell ebooks, software, courses or music online? If you or any of your customers live in a European country then a piece of legislation designed to deal with companies the size of Amazon might be about to give you a taxation headache.

    When you sell digital products online, the world can seem a borderless place. I run a company from the UK, but 50% of our customers are not from Britain. There have always been hoops to jump through when selling to other countries, and as a small business you have little choice to comply with whichever rules are created — even when they were not created with small businesses in mind.

    This change has huge implications for everyone selling and buying digital services online

    An example of this is the change in “place of supply” rules in the European Union (EU), which cover how Value Added Tax (VAT) is collected. This change has huge implications for everyone selling and buying digital services online. (You may have noticed somewhat angry tweets using the #VATMOSS hashtag recently.)

    In this article, I’m going to cover the situation as it stands today. As WebdesignerDepot has a large audience from outside of Europe I am going to explain the situation as it applies to businesses outside of the EU as much as within it.

    (I’m not a VAT expert, I’m a business owner who has spent a long time reading up on this subject so I can comply, and also help other small businesses. In addition the situation is still changing frequently as individual member states in the EU refine their guidance. You should take this information as a guide and check with your own accountant or tax advisor before making any changes to your business.)

    What is VAT?

    VAT is a tax on purchases and is used in many countries around the world including within the EU. VAT is a percentage of the sale added to the selling price of the item. For example in the UK the Basic Rate of VAT is 20%. If I purchase an item costing £120, £20 of that price is VAT.

    VAT Registered businesses collect the VAT and then pay the VAT they have collected to their tax authority. They can deduct from the amount due any VAT they themselves have incurred buying items for business use.

    Which products and services are affected by the new rules?

    The electronic services included in the new rules include:

    • Download and online games
    • E-books (e.g. Amazon Kindle)
    • Download and streaming music and videos
    • Cloud computing, including software provided as a service (‘SaaS’)
    • Subscriptions to online journals, newspapers etc
    • Membership fees to online associations, fan clubs or dating service

    What is the current situation for sellers in the EU?

    Currently, when selling an electronic service to consumers VAT is charged where the business is based.

    If you sell just one product to a consumer in an EU country you are liable to pay the VAT to that country

    This means that a VAT registered business in the UK selling a WordPress plugin to a person in Spain needs to charge VAT at the UK Rate of 20% and pay that to the UK tax authority via their VAT Return.

    If the customer is VAT Registered (and not in the same country as the seller) then VAT is charged where the customer is. However what this means in practice is that they account for the VAT in their own VAT return under the reverse charge rules. All the UK business has to do is validate the VAT number of the customer and allow them to pay without including VAT. The UK business does not need to know about the Spanish VAT rate or pay the tax themselves.

    What is the current situation for sellers outside of the EU?

    Since 2003, businesses selling to EU consumers should have been paying VAT due via a scheme called VOES (VAT on e-Services). This scheme enabled businesses from outside the EU to register with a single member state and pay VAT there. In practice only the largest businesses complied with this, and usually by registering in a member state with a low VAT rate.

    What changes on January 1st 2015?

    From January 1st supplies of electronic services to consumers must always be taxed where the customer is based.

    What this means is that a business in the UK selling a WordPress plugin to a person in Spain needs to pay the Spanish tax authorities VAT at the Spanish rate on that sale. The UK business therefore needs to know the Spanish VAT rate and verify that the customer is in Spain.

    The rules with regard to sales to businesses who have a VAT number do not change.

    Why the change?

    This is an attempt to prevent large businesses, such as Amazon, from registering the VAT in an EU country with a very low VAT rate for some or all products. Luxembourg has typically been used for this purpose and, as this 2012 article in The Guardian demonstrates, other member states were keen to ensure they did not lose out on this tax money.

    By moving the tax to the place where the service is used, this ruling ensures that tax is paid more fairly. On paper this sounds fine, in practice it has scooped up a lot of very tiny businesses with legislation designed for larger ones.

    What is the MOSS?

    The Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS) is a facility offered by EU countries to simplify the payment of VAT to all of the different member states. Businesses in EU countries register with the MOSS in their own country. Then they make one quarterly MOSS return that details the sales they have made to other EU countries and the VAT owed, make one payment to the MOSS and then that money is distributed.

    The alternative, and valid, option is to register for VAT in each country that you trade in. This is unlikely to be a sensible option for all but the largest of businesses.

    Businesses outside of the EU can choose to register with an EU business in order to report their sales through the MOSS in that country. You are eligible to register as a “non-Union” business if, you haven’t got a business establishment in the EU and you are not registered or otherwise required to be identified for VAT purposes in the EU.

    Are there minimum sales thresholds before I need to register?

    Unfortunately not. If you sell just one product to a consumer in an EU country you are liable to pay the VAT to that country. Some countries have minimum VAT thresholds, in the UK this is currently 81,000 GBP (about 127,000 USD). However these thresholds do not apply when the tax is due to another country, in that case the threshold is zero even if the country has a threshold for its own residents. It is for this reason that many small businesses are being forced into VAT Registration for the first time in EU countries, and in particular the UK. To register for MOSS you need to have a VAT Registration.

    The UK is putting into place rules for UK businesses in this situation. I’m not going to delve into them here but if you are a UK business, read the information here for more information.

    How do I prove where my customer is?

    The issue of proof is a difficult one for many small businesses due to reliance on third party payment processing, shopping carts and delivery of digital products and services.

    The EU legislation states that unless the service is delivered via a fixed landline, or some other method that means it is clear where the customer is at the point they use the service you need to provide two, non-conflicting forms of evidence as proof you are paying VAT to the correct member state. The possible options are:

    • the billing address of the customer
    • the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the device used by the customer
    • location of the bank
    • the country code of SIM card used by the customer
    • the location of the customer’s fixed land line through which the service is supplied
    • other commercially relevant information (for example, product coding information which electronically links the sale to a particular jurisdiction)

    The location that is important is where the person buying the goods or service will normally use it. There is an example in the EU Explanatory Notes (page 56) of a UK resident purchasing MP3s while on holiday in Spain; their usual address is in the UK, the rights to use the MP3s do not disappear when they leave Spanish airspace, so UK VAT would be payable.

    This means that for most businesses the billing address that is provided by the customer would be what you use to decide how much VAT is payable and then you need to find another piece of information to back that up. The most likely pieces of information being the customers IP address, run through a geocoding service to get country, or the billing address of the card used. You can usually get the card country back via the API when using a PSP. This is possible with both Stripe and PayPal.

    On my own blog I have detailed more about what my company is doing with regard to proof, and also looked at the implementations of some other companies.

    How long must I keep this proof for?

    The proof you collect about the location of your customer must be kept for 10 years in case of a VAT audit.

    Where can I find up to date VAT Rates for each EU country?

    Up to date VAT Rates are published by the EU and can be found in PDF form here. There is currently no official API to retrieve these. It is worth noting that there are different levels of VAT, some items incur a reduced rate. This includes ebooks in some, but not all, member states. So if you sell a software product and an ebook you will find that you need to charge different rates of VAT for those items.

    There is an excellent resource at VATlive, a site providing all kinds of information about VAT in a far easier to read format than the official EU information.

    What about VAT invoicing?

    If you sell products and services to people and companies in the EU you may already have been asked for a “VAT Invoice”. This is because VAT registered companies need to provide an official VAT invoice to claim the VAT paid back.

    You need to provide a VAT invoice that details the amount of VAT paid. Requirements are different for different countries but the EU sets the minimum details required. If you use a third party accounting system that sends invoices you should check with them that their invoices meet the requirements.

    My service or software sells digital products on behalf of other people, what should I do to help my customers?

    If you have an e-commerce plugin, shopping cart or offer a delivery service for software or ebooks then it is likely that your customers will be asking for your help to comply with this legislation.

    Take a look at the implementation details posted by SendOwl and Recurly, these are good examples of what services can put in place to help customers. With people scrambling to comply with the rules there is a competitive advantage for any service that can adapt quickly to help customers. The same is true for WordPress or other CMS plugin developers, you could really help people out and gain new customers by putting provision in place.

    Can I avoid dealing with VAT?

    The simplest way to avoid dealing with the VAT is to only sell via a distributor who becomes the seller of the product and pays you a royalty or cut of profits. Therefore ebooks sold only through the Kindle store will not cause you to need to register for VAT as Amazon is the actual seller of the product. Likewise Apps on the Apple App Store do not cause the developer to need to become registered for VAT.

    You need to ensure that the third party does become the seller of the item or service, and has their company name on the invoices. Services that just give you the ability to host an online store or that deliver digital downloads for you will not exempt you from having to deal with the VAT yourself.

    What problems is this likely to cause for people who buy digital products and services?

    The biggest issue for consumers is likely to be price increases. Companies selling to consumers typically display prices inclusive of VAT, and now the amount of VAT due is based on the consumer location and not the sellers. Stores will need to price items so that they can afford to pay the highest possible amount of VAT for each sale. To take one example:

    VAT on an ebook in the UK is 20%, in France it is 5.5%. I price an ebook at $10. A UK resident buys my book so I need to pay $2 in VAT to the UK. A French resident buys and I only need to pay 55 cents to France. Giving me an extra $1.45 profit each time I make a sale in France!

    Amazon have issued guidance to their sellers with regard to minimum and maximum pricing due to this issue.

    You may also find that businesses choose not to sell their product to people in EU countries outside of their own. There is some debate as to whether this is legal within the EU due to the fact we are supposed to trade openly with each other. However businesses outside the EU may decide it is just too much trouble to offer their products and services to EU citizens.

    What happens if I don’t comply?

    Businesses who do not comply with VAT legislation can be audited by any member state who believe that they are owed VAT. If you are within the EU then my understanding is that this would be instigated by your tax authority in the first instance.

    How likely is it that EU member states will pursue non-registered small businesses from outside of the EU? That’s a question I can’t answer, however these businesses should have been paying VAT on supplies to EU countries since 2003 anyway. How the VAT needs to be paid has changed, but the requirement to pay VAT hasn’t.

    Where can I find out more?

    I am collecting information as I find it on a site at GitHub. I am trying to maintain this as an up to date resource as new information is found. If you have new information I’d love you to add it via a Pull Request, or just let me know.


    Featured image, money image via Shutterstock.

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    Everything web designers need to know about #VATMOSS

  • What’s new for designers, December 2014

    Posted:Mon, 15 Dec 2014 08:15:33 +0000

    In this month’s edition of what’s new for designers and developers, we’ve included new apps for design, frameworks and boilerplates, new mobile apps and design resources, JavaScript resources, resources for startups, and much more. And as always, we’ve also included some awesome new fonts!

    Almost everything on the list this month is free, with a few low-cost, high-value apps and tools also included. They’re sure to be useful to designers and developers, from beginners to experts.

    If we’ve missed something that you think should have been on the list, let us know in the comments. And if you know of a new app or resource that should be featured next month, tweet it to @cameron_chapman to be considered!

    Foundation for Apps

    Foundation for Apps is a front-end framework for creating fully responsive web apps. You can use it for creating things like email apps, music apps, productivity apps, and more.

    foundation for apps



    PaymentFont is an SVG web font that includes icons for all the main payment and credit card processors and methods. There are 74 icons included.





    Fontspiration is a typography inspiration app for iOS. You can browse creative typography, find fonts, and create fun animated typography gifs or videos.



    Material Up

    Material Up is a material design gallery that offers up daily inspiration for websites, mobile apps, and concepts.

    material up



    Charted is a new charting app from Medium. Just paste in a link to a Google Spreadsheet or CSV file and Charted does its thing, creating an interactive chart with your data.




    Gyroscope is an app for creating a personal website that’s powered by the things you do online and the apps you use, displaying data from each.




    Frameless is a browser for iOS 8 that’s built for designers and developers to preview prototypes on iOS devices. It has a transparent UI with no browser chrome or status bar, and offers customizable gestures.




    Tindddle is like Tinder for Dribbble. It makes it easy to discover great work and inspiration.



    Four Shadows

    Four Shadows lets you create shadows on your icons that change with the time of day, so they match the hour hand on an analog clock.

    four shadows



    Lining.js gives you down-to-the-line control over CSS styling. So you can apply styles to specific lines, much like the “first-line” CSS selector.



    Hanno’s Playbook

    Hanno’s Playbook covers the complete workflow and process for designers at Hanno. It’s a great resource and example of transparency in the design world.

    hanno's playbook



    Pixact.ly is a fun online tool for seeing just how well you know your pixels and dimensions. It gives you a specific length and width of box to draw, and scores you based on how close you get.



    CSS Dig

    CSS Dig is a Chrome extension that lets you analyze your CSS in new ways, including refactoring and consolidating it.

    CSS Dig


    Website Style Guide Resources

    Website Style Guide Resources is a list of articles and other resources for creating better style guides.

    website style guide resources



    Blocs is a simple Mac app for creating responsive, modern, static websites without writing code. It’s fast and intuitive, uses Bootstrap 3, includes a curated list of Google Web Fonts, and even has retina support.




    Ocean is a community for designers to share feedback with one another. You can join with Twitter to upload your own designs or leave feedback for others.




    Zion is a set of icons designed for OS X Yosemite’s refined visual language. It creates a system-wide consistency that’s lacking in the default icons.




    Vivus is a JS class that lets you animate SVGs, to appear that they’re being drawn. There are three styles of animation: delayed, asynchronous, and one-by-one.




    Rinse.io is an exclusive photography and portfolio community, that aims to showecase great photographic stories by both established and emerging artists.




    Atomic is interface design software that that includes built-in prototyping and collaboration tools.



    Firefox Developer Edition

    Firefox Developer Edition is a browser made specifically for developers. It includes pixel-perfect coding tools and tools for debugging in any browser.

    firefox developer edition


    Material UI

    Material UI is a CSS framework a set of React components that uses Google’s material design.

    material ui


    Merry Icons

    Merry Icons is a set of hand-drawn Christmas icons. There are 12 icons in the free set, including a Santa, Christmas tree, ornament, lights, candle, snowflake, stocking, gift, and more. They come as AI, EPS, PSD, and PNG files, in four sizes.

    merry icons



    Postatic is a platform for creating a HackerNews-like community. You can control the look of the site, as well as how the site is accessed by your community.




    Stitches is an HTML5 sprite sheet generator that uses a drag and drop interface.




    Venngage is an easy way to create and publish infographics, data visualizations, and reports, with hundreds of charts and icons available.



    Prototyping Tools

    Prototyping Tools is a chart comparing prototyping tools, to help you choose the best one for your design needs. It includes columns for output, gestures, terms, and more.

    prototyping tools



    PrivacyPal is a simple way to see the terms and conditions for any website just by entering the URL.




    Framer is an open source, innovative prototyping and experimentation JavaScript framework that lets you define animations and interactions.




    Qards is a set of pre-designed cards that you can use together to create a website, with no need to design or code.



    Designer’s Guide to DPI

    The Designer’s Guide to DPI is an introductory read for designers who want to better understand cross-DPI and cross-platform design.

    designer's guide to dpi



    StartupQuote features quotes from various startup founders. There are quotes from everyone from Ian MacAllister of Amazon to Satya Nadella of Microsoft to Travis Kalanick of Uber included.



    Pantone Color of the Year 2015

    Pantone Color of the Year 2015 has been announced. Marsala is a more muted and sophisticated hue than some in recent years.

    color of the year 2015



    SWAPI is the Star Wars API with all the Star Wars data you could ever want. It includes data on the planets, spaceships, vehicles, people, and more.



    Galaktika Gravity

    Galaktika Gravity is a futuristic display font with a bit of a handdrawn quality.

    galaktika gravity



    Propaganda is a visually strong display font that started out being designed for a tshirt logo.




    Leathery is a free display font with a handmade, vintage feel. It includes three different fonts (smallcaps, uppercase, and capslock) with 402 total glyphs.




    BlackDrops) was created for a project for a Metalcore band, Black Drops Remains, and later expanded into a complete font.



    Mad Squire

    Mad Squire is an experimental geometric typeface that includes uppercase and lowercase alphabets, plus alternative letter sets.

    mad square



    Pribambas has an organic feel, and comes in uppercase Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.



    Quarz 974 Black

    Quarz 974 Black is a free display font with a strong geometric style.

    quarz 974 black



    Delicate is a stylized serif display font, with a mix of barely-there and very strong strokes.




    Fantazyor is a free display font with a funky, cartoonish style that’s perfect for titling and the like.


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    Whats new for designers, December 2014

  • Our favorite tweets of the week: December 8, 2014 – December 14, 2014

    Posted:Sun, 14 Dec 2014 09:44:50 +0000

    Every week we tweet a lot of interesting stuff highlighting great content that we find on the web that can be of interest to web designers.

    The best way to keep track of our tweets is simply to follow us on Twitter, however, in case you missed some here’s a quick and useful compilation of the best tweets that we sent out this past week.

    Note that this is only a very small selection of the links that we tweeted about, so don’t miss out.

    To keep up to date with all the cool links, simply follow us @DesignerDepot

    Isn’t it time the world of illustration had a bit of a kick up the …?


    PES talks “Submarine Sandwich,” Garbage Pail Kids and the connectedness of things


    Behance: A Year in Review


    A Bulletproof Guide to Using and in Email


    Design tools at Instagram


    Wouldn’t it be fun to build your own Google?


    What if journalists had story writing tools as powerful as those used by coders?


    Microsoft accepting Bitcoin


    Gothic Numerals by Drew Melton via


    22 Pictures That Prove That 2014 Is The Future


    The U.S. Government Has a Secret System for Stalling Patents


    Wireless in Gaza: the young entrepreneurs beating the blockades


    9 UX case studies on how to upsell during checkout


    Xmasify: an online tool to get the Christmas look on any web page


    The startup that makes your look cool via


    Pantone: Color of the Year 2015


    Facebook Search


    Creative Arabic Calligraphy: Anatomy of the Letterforms


    Everybody Scrolls


    Antivirus Companies Should Be More Open About Their Government Malware Discoveries via


    Want more? No problem! Keep track of all our tweets by following us @DesignerDepot

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    Our favorite tweets of the week: December 8, 2014   December 14, 2014

  • Comics of the week #265

    Posted:Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:12:14 +0000

    Every week we feature a set of comics created exclusively for WDD.

    The content revolves around web design, blogging and funny situations that we encounter in our daily lives as designers.

    These great cartoons are created by Jerry King, an award-winning cartoonist who’s one of the most published, prolific and versatile cartoonists in the world today.

    So for a few moments, take a break from your daily routine, have a laugh and enjoy these funny cartoons.

    Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below as well as any related stories of your own…

    Increase staff by the pound

    Comics of the week #265


    Change in apples

    Comics of the week #265


    Check milk cartons

    Comics of the week #265


    Can you relate to these situations? Please share your funny stories and comments below…

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    Comics of the week #265

  • 10 days to a better bounce rate

    Posted:Fri, 12 Dec 2014 08:15:00 +0000

    This time of year people begin to think about bettering themselves by making positive changes in their lives or business. There seems to be no shortage of great advice to make yourself better in just a few short days with a little focus. If you run a website the ways you can improve its overall function may be on your mind. The good news is that just like any other area of your life you can take a few days to really look at your site and make small adjustments that will lead to a big payoff.  One of the most effective ways to do this is to actually keep your visitors on your site.

    The bounce rate is a percentage of visitors who leave your page immediately after landing on your website without clicking onto other pages. The main aim of most site owners is to develop loyal followers, but it can be very difficult to build a following when people leave your website without looking around and understanding exactly what you have to offer. This makes reducing a high bounce rate vital in growing your audience. Take time over the next couple of weeks to implement these strategies, and you may just see your bounce rate go in the right direction.

    Day 1: Reduce load time

    Long load time is one of the main factors that cause a high bounce rate. Most internet users, especially web savvy readers, can be very impatient and they will always run away from websites that take too long to load. If it is difficult to get what they are looking for then they will look elsewhere. On the other hand, fast loading sites score higher on search engines. Make sure that you are caching your site’s information and reduce the size of images by compressing them to make a big adjustment in your site speed.

    Day 2: Look at navigation

    No one will stay on a website they can’t navigate. Your navigation should be clear, prominent and easily accessible. Place your menu where users automatically look for them. Take time to think about where you want your visitors to go, and make it incredibly easy for them to find it. You can also reduce the number of options on the menu and increase search functionality to make it easy for your visitors to find what they want.

    Day 3: Eliminate the clutter

    Too many choices can easily confuse your visitors and impair action. You should avoid bombardment of information especially on the homepage and keep disruptive pop ups and animation to a minimum whenever possible. You should not do anything to interrupt your visitors once they start engaging with the content. 

    Day 4: Assess your ads

    The ads on your site should not be intrusive. Visitors can run away from your website simply because ads pop over the products they are checking out or the content they are reading. Ads should not be placed where your visitors look for information. You should avoid placing ads in areas such as the search box, menu bar and content area. If someone has to close more than one window to read your post then you have too many distractions.

    Day 5: Use a compelling CTA

    It should be very easy for visitors to identify a call to action that drives them to the next stage. This is very important especially if the visitors are landing on your product or service pages directly. Without prominent calls to action, visitors feel stranded and they might even leave the page. Directional clues and opt in boxes are excellent ways of displaying your call to action prominently. Make it compelling by giving away something related to the content on the page.

    Day 6: Promote engagement

    At the end of posts, videos or even main pages ask your visitors for an opinion. Ask them for questions. Ask them to talk to you about anything! Then follow up with their emails and comments to build a relationship that will last.

    Day 7: Update your look

    The general design of your website plays a critical role in influencing the perception of your visitors about its credibility. A bad design can breed distrust while a good design makes sure web users take you seriously. It is extremely important to invest in an uncluttered and neat design while ensuring consistency in terms of colors, layouts and fonts. If you have done the steps up until now you are probably looking good.  Just a few more tweaks, and you will have it…

    Day 8: Responsiveness

    Visitors access your site using various devices including laptops, tablets, and smart phones or even use different devices at different stages. More than 50% of web users access the internet using mobile devices. A responsive layout will provide an optimal browsing and viewing experience across various devices and browsers. You can also use style sheets and high resolution images in order to improve the sharpness and fidelity of your images on small screens. Site speed is also crucial to retaining mobile visitors.

    Day 9: Start delivering

    If your website gets traffic but fails to satisfy people when they come; then your visitors are more likely to bounce. This goes for each piece of content and the site overall.  If you say that a post will deliver great tips on gardening then your visitor should feel like gardening when they are done. If you say you’ll have a new post every Wednesday then Thursday is too late.  You have to do what you say you are going to do.

    Day 10 and beyond: Provide quality content

    It is vital to have a clear message, attractive titles, and easy to read content in order to capture the attention of a new visitor. The content should be tailored to the specific needs of the intended audience. By using attractive titles and providing quality and error-free content, there is a good chance that your visitor will click through to your other posts.

    Nowadays people simply scan content in order to get information quickly. Therefore, you should use short paragraphs, bullet points and graphics in order to ensure that your visitors can get what they want quickly and easily.

    In the end there is only one thing you can do to make a person stay, and that is to show them what they want, how they want it, as fast as possible.


    Featured image, bounce image via Shutterstock.

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    10 days to a better bounce rate

  • Giveaway: Win 1 of 5 copies of the awesome Nimva WordPress theme

    Posted:Thu, 11 Dec 2014 08:15:25 +0000

    Nimva is a responsive, retina-ready WordPress theme, and thanks to this great contest you can win one of the five copies that we have to giveaway.

    Its clean design, and multi-pupose features make Nimva the perfect option for brochure sites, ecommerce sites, or even portfolio sites.

    Nimva is integrated with what its designers believe is the most powerful drag ’n’ drop page builder ever created: Visual Composer. This feature allows you to rapidly build your pages, and actually see them in the live preview panel, as your site progresses. You can add Visual Composure elements and adapt them in a few clicks.

    Nimva is fully responsive, making it ideal for the growing mobile device market, and it’s retina-ready too so your site will look great on those high-res smartphone screens.

    Packed with features, you’ll find Woocommerce support, advanced theme options, sliders, custom fonts, automatic updates, MegaMenus — an advanced menu option that lets you integrate widgets with your menus — and a ton of other premium features.

    On top of all this, Nimva comes with both lifetime updates and support.

    This theme does it all! The features this theme is packed with that other themes don’t cover are incredible. — Isaac Farr

    It is simply awesome! — CCmp Rouki

    This theme is really awesome, the service is excellent, the features incredible & easy to use. I can only recommend this theme. — Klaus Tschmarke

    Affordable theme, quick and helpful support, super easy installation, plugins friendly, almost everything you need to build a website is here. — Marc Lee

    Thanks to RockyThemes we have 5 copies of their fantastic Nimva theme to give away. To be in with a chance of winning 1, all you have to do is tweet about this contest and leave a comment below with the URL of your tweet.

    Competition closes on the 24th December, Good luck!

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    Giveaway: Win 1 of 5 copies of the awesome Nimva WordPress theme

  • Accelerate your front-end website development with Harp

    Posted:Wed, 10 Dec 2014 08:15:53 +0000

    I like static sites. To be more accurate, I like building them. There’s something pure about sitting there in front of your screen; it’s just you and your text editor, writing in plain old HTML and CSS.

    Don’t get me wrong, dynamic sites are fun too. God knows I’m a fan of WordPress and the ease of use that it affords users. Static sites bring me back, though. I remember switching from WYSIWYG software to a text editor. I remember streamlining the development process with my first ever PHP function: include. Those were good days, but unlike so many others, they’re not all gone.

    The difference is that now, we can do it better. Pre-processors like Less and Sass vastly improved the experience of writing CSS. We have any number of scripting languages to mix into our HTML, if we so choose. And then… then people did some really interesting things.

    I’ve previously mentioned the Hammer app for Mac. It’s an app that introduces its own functions and expansions to good old HTML, allowing you to include a file as a partial in another, and other good things. It compiles the results into a regular static site that can be hosted anywhere. It’s actually got quite a few more features than that, but this article isn’t about Hammer. Why? It’s only available for the Mac platform.

    Enter Harp…

    Introducing Harp

    It’s not an app, it’s a whole lot more. It includes preprocessors for CSS. It includes templating languages for HTML documents. It’s a mini server that can be used for development, or turned into an actual production server. You can use server-side JavaScript to turn it into a full app, as it runs on Node.js. Or, if you’re not a programmer, you can just build your static site, and then compile it for hosting elsewhere.

    Because it’s based on Node.js, it’s cross-platform. It’s also MIT licensed, so it’s free. You can even make changes and redistribute or resell it if you like.

    Now, people who have been keeping an eye out will have noticed that Harp is not the only tool of its kind. Lots of people are creating Node-based tools for getting web projects started quickly. My main problem with these is that they generally assume that you want to use their favorite CSS framework, animation library, or HTML boilerplate. Harp makes no assumptions about the code you want to write. It just gives you the tools to write it faster.

    Mind you, it has to be installed and run via the command line. There’s no GUI for this. But once you get it going — and that isn’t hard at all — the benefits outweigh the learning curve.

    The tools

    CSS pre-processors

    By now, I’m sure most of our readers are familiar with the ways that the web industry has tried to improve on vanilla CSS. When the mini-server for your project is running, LESS, SASS, and Stylus files are all automatically compiled into CSS.

    The compilation is always satisfyingly fast. In all of my tests, changes made to my website have compiled in the time it takes me to save my file, then refresh my browser.

    Templating languages

    Also included are Jade and EJS. These are both JavaScript templating languages designed to help you write/generate more advanced HTML documents with more flexibility. Basically, you can build HTML templates, and store your actual page content separately from those templates. It’s kind of like using a CMS, only there’s no database (unless you want one), and you have to write all of the content into plain text files.

    The real advantage is, of course, code maintenance, plus all the cool stuff that actual programmers can do with actual server and client-side JavaScript. These are also the languages that allow you to create more advanced systems, like blogs, all relatively easily (again, if you have a programmer on the payroll).

    What’s the difference between the two? It’s mostly about how you prefer to write your code.

    EJS keeps things simple. If you already know HTML, it’s just a matter of adding in EJS-specific tags, like so: <% include global/header %>. What I did there? Basically, I just grabbed the HTML for my page header from another file and imported it for use in my main template. You can do lots more complex stuff, of course. Here’s what the Harp documentation has to say about EJS.

    Jade takes a very different approach to writing HTML altogether. It looks like this, as shown on the project’s home page:

        h1 Jade - node template engine
            if youAreUsingJade
                p You are amazing
                p Get on it!
                Jade is pretty cool,

    That all gets translated into HTML and Javascript. Note the inclusion of an if/else statement right in the middle of it all, and the dependence on proper indentation.


    Coffeescript is to JavaScript what Jade is to HTML. Basically, it’s a simplified format for writing JavaScript, which then gets compiled into the regular stuff. Like Jade, it’s heavily indentation-dependent, and drops a lot of the syntax.

    It looks like this (another example shamelessly cribbed from the project’s home page):

    math =
      root:   Math.sqrt
      square: square
      cube:   (x) -> x * square x

    And the output looks like this:

    math = {
      root: Math.sqrt,
      square: square,
      cube: function(x) {
        return x * square(x);

    The platform

    The websites created with Harp can be hosted anywhere, of course. It’s worth mentioning, though, that Harp’s creators made a hosting platform specifically designed for stuff built with their software. The pricing ain’t bad, and it integrates with Dropbox for easy automatic updates to your site. Check it out here: www.harp.io


    Harp, with its preprocessors, templating languages, sheer speed, and cross-platform goodness, is a solid addition to any designer’s toolbox. I say it’s worth the learning curve.

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