Be proactive and protect your computer

You'll be glad you did

A recent article in the New York Times about computer hackers was so frightening it gave me the "he-be-ge-bees" and made me immediately take certain precautions to better protect my computer data.  

The article (read it here) explains how hackers can gain access to your computer, encrypt your files so you cannot open them, then require that you pay them a ransom (in Bitcoins of course) in order for them to provide you with the key to decrypt your files. And these ransoms can be in the thousands of dollars. What a nightmare that would be.

I mentioned this article to my co-worker Robert and he responded that his mother's email account had been hacked this way. We are talking scary stuff here. The good news is that


Categories: Best Practices


How efficient is your firm?

Suffering from too many staff meetings?

Recently a client requested that we develop a new report that we thought was interesting. First some background. This client is an architectural firm with interior design and procurement divisions. For the past few years they have been using DesignSmart's time tracking feature to track all of the staff's hours. These times are pushed into QuickBook twice a month.

While DesignSmart has reports that show the hours spent by staff on projects, what is interesting about the report the client requested is that they want it to indicate what percent of the work week each employee is being productive. 

For firms with larger salaried staff and/or departments this type of report can be a 

Categories: Best Practices


Vendor Bookshelf (New!)

All of your vendor catalogs at your fingertips

The new "Vendor Bookshelf" is a great new addtion to the DesignSmart Library. Simply drag & drop the PDF, Excel or Word files that your vendors supply and just that quickly all your staff have access to these documents. Regarless of the type of doucment you enter, DesignSmart converts the contents into searchable text. This means you can type in a search term like "Winslow table" and all the documents with this term will appear! (Click Continue Reading for more information)

Categories: Best Practices


DesignSmart is available in the UK!



We are excited to annouce our new DesignSmart server in the UK. The server is housed in the same type of commercial grade data center as our US based servers and is capable of hosting dozens of UK based design firms.

We are looking forward to growing our client base in the UK and to the possibility of opening a sales office there next year.   (End of post.)


Categories: Company Updates, Technology



Easy way to measure rooms with your iPhone

From the Uncrate website we came across a great app for measuring rooms and square footage with your iPhone.  From the Uncrate website:


Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at WedOct 1 14

Need to quickly get the dimensions of a room? You could drop some serious coin on a laser-based measure, struggle with conventional tape, or just use  This brilliant app lets you walk around the room, doing nothing but just touching each wall with your iPhone or iPad. it draws the floor plans automatically, whether it's a small square room or a complex layout, and measurements are estimated to the nearest half a foot, giving you both the wall lengths and square footage. (End of post.)

Categories: Technology


Announcing - SmartEmail!

Access all staff email in DesignSmart

For years principals have requested that they and their staff be able to view all email that their staff sends and receives in the Communications log in DesignSmart. We are very excited to announce that starting next month a new add-on module called SmartEmail will make this possible!

Regardless if you use Outlook, Gmail or another email service, this add-on will pull all relevant email that is sent to or received by your staff into DesignSmart. The key word here is "relevant" so here are the "out of the box" guidelines: 

Categories: Add-ons


QuickBooks 2015 Released

QuickBooks Pro 2015 has recently been released. At this point the program is so complete and feature rich it is hard for them to find new features to add to it, but they always do. This year it appears that they've added some of the look and feel from QuickBooks Online to QuickBooks Pro.  For an in depth review of the new features, here is a good article.

From what we see based on our interactions with design firms, only small firms have switched to QuickBooks Online.  The majority of firms continue to use QuickBooks Pro with the larger firms upgrading to QuickBooks Enterprise. 

Categories: Technology


Making DesignSmart Your Own

Choose your colors, fonts and more

This week we were working with a client who had customized various layouts and reports in DesignSmart more than we had ever seen before. It was really impressive! When assigned to the "Administrator" security level in DesignSmart, you can modify the look and feel of every layout and report. That means you can rearrange where things are positioned, change font and colors. Most of our clients are too busy to do this so they have us make changes for them.

While we are always happy to make changes, we generally recommend that clients consider taking the time to learn 


Categories: Best Practices


Macs versus PCs

The debate never ends

Some years ago discussing the pros and cons of Mac versus Window operating systems could lead to heated discourse. Today the topic doesn't evoke as much passion or interest, but I will share some recent experiences since I work with both operating systems on a roughly 50/50 spilt.

Apple Macs

I switched to Macs five years ago when I couldn't figure out how to get our home printer to work with a PC laptop. In the bell curve of computer competency, I am in the top 10% of computer geeks (admitted with embarrassment rather than pride), but doing basic tasks like connecting a PC to a network or adding a printer had become inexplicably difficult on a PC. When I moved to a Mac the first week was "Hmmm, this isn't how we do things on a PC so I'm not sure I like this". That hesitation was replaced with a sense of wonder, appreciation and relief. Relief that I could easily connect my Mac to a printer or a network 


Categories: Technology


Reflections on Commissions

Not for the faint hearted

Lately our firm has been developing customized versions of our SmartCommissions module for firms that have commissioned sales reps, and it has been interesting to learn how much commission processes can vary.

While some firms have a simple process of paying the designer a fixed commission rate for each item they sell, usually the process is quite complex. For example, some firms will pay commissions on client deposits, while others don't. Some firms will require that an invoice be paid in full before paying a commission.  When design teams are involved, then another layer of complexity ensues as the commission has to be split among the team. Bonuses make matters even more daunting. For some firms, calculating commissions require several days because the process is so complex.


Categories: Best Practices, Inventory


Easy way to make life simpler

And safer

The vast majority of people use the same password for all the sites they visit which is similar to leaving your front door wide open, your lights on and a blinking neon sign in the front yard indicating, "Come On In!". Sure you can get away with this for awhile, but eventually you are going to get burned. Big time.

There is a simple solution - get a password manager. There are a dozen out there and they

Categories: Best Practices, Technology


Storing client credit card numbers

So you can charge them multiple times

Goal: Store your client's credit card numbers safely so you can charge them for multiple invoices.

Challenge: How can a small design firm do this safely when firms as large as Target are unable to? 

Solution:  Don't store the actual credit numbers, but "tokenize" them.

Background: When your clients provide you with their credit card number, it is important to store it in the safest way possible. Millions of businesses do this by using a technology called "tokenization". The way it works is that you enter the credit card number into your software program. The number is sent to something known as a payment gateway provider. This provider will store the actual card number and send back to the software program a "token" which is string of letters and/or numbers. The software program stores this token. When it is time to charge the client's credit card, the software program uses this token rather than the actual card number. The charge transaction works exactly the same as if the credit card number was sent. 

The main benefit of tokenization is that it means that you are not storing actual credit card numbers. If your computer is stolen, or you have a dishonest employee, the tokens are meaningless.

Sound scary and complicated? It can be, but it doesn't need to be. Here are some important bottom lines: 

Categories: Best Practices, Design


Are credit cards worth the cost?

The answer depends on your clients

Do accepting credit cards make sense for your firm? Here are some things to think about:

For many business owners, their intial reservation about accepting credit cards is the fees that they would have to pay to the merchant card provider. Fees vary greatly and the merchant card industry is notoriously convuluted and full of hidden feels, so you have to shop around carefully for the best deal. The good news is that in one or two hours surfing the net you will get you the information you need. We recently changed our merchant card provider and were pleased at how affordable they were compared to our previous provider.

Yes it can feel painful at times to pay the merchant fees, but this should be weighted against the cost of collecting from

Categories: Best Practices

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