Archive for the ‘web design’ Category
Despite being around for almost 20 years, the world of web development still often operates like the wild west. I recently had a client come to me because the developer refused to release his site. He was ashamed and felt stupid because the signs were there, but he didn’t know what to look for.
Here are some questions to ask to make sure your web design company operates with integrity and will build your site so you have control when it launches.
1. Who registers and owns my URL (web site address)?
Whoever owns the URL, controls what server it points to. Many design companies will register the URL in your name, but not give you access to the registrar account. Others will register it in their own name, which means you DON’T own it. Register your own URL before you begin working on the site to avoid this common pitfall.
2. Where is the site hosted?
Whoever hosts your site, controls if it’s live or down. Many development companies insist you host with them, but if you want to change developers, you they may refuse to give you the files. Read the fine print in your contract to make sure you own the final product that they build. Make a point of understanding the host/developer relationship so you can make a choice that gives you the most flexibility down the line.
3. What sort of contract do I need to sign?
Many development companies commence business on a handshake. A contract protects you as well as the developer. It lays out the path for the project, and makes each step predicable and understandable. No contract means the developer can change their mind about price, file ownership or even completing the job.
4. How much input do I have in the process of creating my site?
Many developers take your deposit check, and the next time you hear from them your site is built. No questions, no feedback requested; they’ve built your site blindly and without your input. YOU are the business owner. If the developer says you don’t need to be involved, it’s time to look elsewhere.
5. How long does it take to build the site?
Many developers are excited to tell you that they can whip your site out in no time ‘ a week or two tops. But what they neglect to tell you is the most challenging part of building a site is getting the content ‘ and this is up to you! The developer can estimate the build time after they know what they are building, but remember that their build time is also dependent upon your timely delivery of content.
6. How much does it cost to build the site?
This question is like asking how much a car is without knowing the make and model. Expect surprises from a developer who gives you a price without knowing what you want. Also be wary of a developer who gives you a price that is too low. With a clear understanding of what is to be built, the developer can give you a fixed-price bid for construction. A developer should give you a written estimate that specifies the number of pages included as well as any complex functionality that is required.
7. Who owns my finished site?
It is very common for developers to neglect to mention that by law they have ownership of all files related to your site. Unless a work-for-hire statement is incorporated into your contract, they maintain the copyright on the design and assets for your site. They are not obligated to release these files to you. Make certain language is in your contract that states that you have ownership of the work that is done.
8. What technology is used to build the site?
There are many excellent technical solutions for creating sites today, but what is more important in this question is how the developer answers it. Do they explain the technology in a way that it is clear so you understand? Effective communication is critical for accomplishing a Web project. Make certain the developer communicates in a way that you understand.
9. How is the site maintained once it is built?
It’s an easy thing to get involved in the creation of your site and not consider how it is maintained once it is built. It is important to discuss this with the developer as you don’t want to launch your site and then be hit with surprise bills or no means of managing it yourself. You need to find out if software is required to maintain the site, and if the developer offers training for it. Maintenance fees can be as much if not more than build fees, so consider self-management options if budget is a concern. If the design firm insists on being in control of maintenance, get a copy of the fee schedule before signing your contract.
10. Are they using any proprietary software to build the site?
Many development companies create their own software for building Web sites. They license it to customers for use on the site. The main issue with this is if you want to move the site, you can never really own it, even with a work-for-hire. Also, you can never choose to use a different developer, so you are locked into the same company regardless of how the relationship is working out. Avoid proprietary software sites. Make sure it’s built in such a way that you can change your mind and switch companies down the line.
11. What do you do to market my site once it is built?
Many development companies will have an online marketing branch to help your website get found once it is built. Others will not have a solid answer to this question. Building your site is only the first step in creating an online presence. Online marketing is a key component to bringing in customers. A development company should understand this. If they do not provide online marketing services, they should at least have recommendations to companies that can provide this service. No website can be built without online marketing in mind, so it’s important they understand that this is an integral part of launching a site.
12. Do you have any questions for me?
A developer cannot give you an honest assessment of your project without having an understanding of what is to be built. This question gives the opportunity to see how the developer would approach the project. You can observe the developer’s listening skills as you explain your project, as well as their ability to gain better understanding by asking clarifying questions. It’s important the developer include questions regarding who the site users will be and what the business goals are.
If you want to make a successful website, then it’s rather important that you ensure your traffic likes visiting your site and that you aren’t unnecessarily aggravating them. If people find your site annoying to visit, then of course they aren’t going to want to go there too often and as such you aren’t going to make much money from it.
Now there’s an awful lot of literature online about what you should do on your website, but unfortunately not so much information on what you shouldn’t do. It seems that articles on web design would rather ‘accentuate the positive’ and as such a lot of sites continue with bad habits that could drive away their traffic even when they get a lot right.
Here then we will look at the most annoying, most frustrating and most generally irritating things that many websites are guilty of and at how you can avoid falling foul of them yourself…
Dead Links, Dead Images and Dead Sites
One of the most frustrating experiences for anyone online is heading to a website or finding an article that you want to read, only to then discover that it’s ‘down’ and won’t work. This is even more frustrating when you then refresh it a few times and find it’s still ‘down’ and can leave you cursing the name of the website you’re meant to be visiting. This doesn’t only come across as highly unprofessional, but it can also destroy your trust in a site – you certainly wouldn’t want make any transactions on there!
So what can you do as a webmaster? Well step one is to search for those dead links and images – and there are many online tools that can help you to do that. Should you find any, then simply replace them with the correct links and make sure to repair them. Meanwhile to ensure that the site itself stays live; look into more creative hosting solutions which may include a dedicated server or cloud hosting. Either of these will help to ensure your site doesn’t go down and that it can handle more traffic.
Sites with musical backgrounds are clearly well-intentioned, but unfortunately they are also completely off the mark. What these sites forget is that most people who browse the web will do so while also listening to music of their own – which means that sites that play music do nothing but interrupt and make an awful noise. Worse is when you’re browsing the web in a library or somewhere else quiet, and suddenly the website starts blaring out aggressive tunes. So the answer is simple: don’t add music to a perfectly good website…
Also annoying are large images that take ages to load. On a regular PC this is frustrating because it slows you down, but on a mobile phone it’s even worse because it may end up costing you money or using up your data allowance. Keep your site as light as possible unless you have a particularly good reason not to.
Thick Blocks of Text
Even more annoying are sites compromised of thick unnecessary blocks of text which aren’t at all broken up by headings or different fonts. These are incredibly annoying because they mean the visitor has to spend ages reading all the text thoroughly, rather than being able to simply skin for what they need. Don’t be so arrogant as to think that people won’t want to scan your text at all – we live in a high paced world and people want to get on with what they’re doing!
Annoying Comments and Opinions
Some websites are simply annoying in terms of what they write, which is a difficult balancing act for the owner to get right. On the one hand, a little bit of controversy on a website can actually be a good and useful thing: if your site is controversial then that will mean it’s memorable and in turn it will mean people are likely to talk about it and spread links.
And at the same time, you of course should write using your own ‘voice’ and be true to your opinions. So what constitutes an annoying comment that your site would be better without?
Well there are many, but examples include ‘facts’ that haven’t been properly researched, opinions that are completely unapologetic and not explained, or anything that’s potentially offensive. In other words bad writing is annoying – so make sure to check your content over and to try and keep it professional.
Nancy Baker, the author of this article, is a freelance blogger who is currently writing for NetDepot, leading providers of hosting solutions to enterprises. She is passionate about technology and enjoys writing about the latest developments. You can also follow her on Twitter @Nancy Baker.
One of advantages of content management systems (CMS) is the ability to edit content easily and in real time. While this is true at face value, it may not be as simple as it sounds. Here are some of the changes that laymen cannot make:
Change in content type– Suppose most of your pages have a small amount of text (50 pages) and perhaps an image. If you want to replace that page with a video or add a large image to the text it as an example, you need to be aware of several things. Will adding the content require another technology tool such as a video player? Will the content be too much so that it looks out of place?
Most CMS systems allow you to add a “Read More” link, which may help address the issue. But it is always advisable to consider the overall impact before replacing the content.
Clashes between new content and the design framework– As you select images be especially aware of colors that clash with the website accent colors and for images that are cropped inconsistently. It is always best to establish and maintain the standards for content especially graphics and video. Any new content should follow these standards. If there are new silos of content e.g. divisions, develop common standards for content. If the content is inconsistent, you lose the sense of competency that a CMS framework creates through common style sheets.
Content that suggests a change in navigation– If new content reflects a change in services, business strategy, etc. it is always best to consider how that content relates to the whole site. If a customer sees a new product on your site but there is no link to “get more information” form, the new content is not serving your needs as it should. Be careful not to underestimate how important it is to create a consistent look.
Content managed by database functions– Most CMS have the ability to interrelate several sets of content according to rules you define. The relationship between content is managed through a database and may be done by custom programming or through CMS tools. If you understand that relationship between the data, you can make the edits successfully; otherwise you may not accomplish what you want.
Content linked within the site– To help users find related content easily and to improve SEO, a good website key phrases from one page to related pages. If you change the names of your linked pages, you will also need to change the links in the related pages. It’s not difficult but if you forget, you will have broken links. This hurts your site’s appeal and SEO.
Joomla has a set of these tools generically called content construction kits. The most popular examples are MosetsTree, SobiPro, K2, and Zoo. Some are easy to add categories, some allow easy import of other database content and some are allow the layout of information to be customized easily. A good developer will understand the strengths and use the right tool.
Here are some tips to make the update process easier:
1. Make good decisions before you launch or re-launch you site. Define the basic layout of your site for the long term.
2. Work with developers who inform you of options before you build the site. Ask them questions about maintenance. Ask them what you change and what you cannot without help. Ask them about training.
3. Know your website’s CMS and train your staff to follow your style guidelines.
One of the topics that has created a great deal of buzz is the importance of mobile devices:
- How important is this option to my website?
- How do I make my website mobile friendly?
- What will it cost to do this?
- What else do I need to consider?
There is no single answer to any of these questions but there are some guidelines:
1. First know your desired user. If your customers or employees use mobile devices frequently or if they do/ want to use a smart phone or tablet, this topic is really important. In general, the trend is towards using the web more on mobile devices: http://marketingland.com/report-nearly-40-percent-of-internet-time-now-on-mobile-devices-34639. This is especially true for younger age groups, entertainment and sports content and products/services whose marketing relies on social networking.
2. The major challenge to using the web on mobile devices is that the amount of space is smaller on these devices. Desktop monitors are typically 24 inches or larger with screen resolutions that are typically twice that of even newer iPads. There are two main ways to address this: responsive design and mobile menu integration.
A responsive website is designed so that it adjusts to the size of the display. Each element and piece of content is reduced in size to conform to the device used to display it. If your website is built that way AND if your content is not too dense, your website may be well received as is. If your content is too dense, it would be wise to add mobile menus. Mobile menus change how users navigate a site. This reduces the need to magnify the screen or scroll multiple times to see content. The best examples of content dense websites are news organizations. The BBC website is a good example. I reproduced the mobile vs. desktop version below.
Mobile menus were used to make the screens less cluttered and still allow users to get to the content. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to read on a small screen?
3. The question of cost depends on how your website is made currently. If your site was not created as a responsive design and the appearance is poor, we would recommend it be changed. If your site was made in html only, it will need to have code inserted into them to detect the device in use. Then a different display will have to be created for each device. Many content management systems (CMS) have be upgraded to include that code. This includes Joomla, Drupal and WordPress among open source CMS. If your site needs a mobile menu, the steps to create mobile menus are similar. The costs will vary depending. We recommend you discuss the current need, the future and the return on investment with your developer and marketing team and avoid a hasty decision.
4. Mobile phones seem to be standardizing around the Droid and MAC operating systems. Tablets seem to be standardizing around the iPad and Kindle operating systems. The screen sizes on each device and each platform determine the screen size and resolution available. So it is worthwhile to stay informed on these specs periodically. Aside from that, how your site displays on a particular mobile browser depends on the age of the device and how the user has it configured.
As a web design company we get all kinds of clients. Some have a lot of experience building websites, some are totally new to it, and some are people who rarely use the web. While it’s a lot of fun working with newbies and teaching them the ropes, one of our greatest challenges is teaching them about web design trends and usability.
User interaction influences design trends
When the web first arrived in the mid-90’s, it was like a giant brochureware machine, and people basically put up their sites in the same format as their printed marketing collateral. At that time the average user was using a dial up connection, and video would have been unthinkable.
As the web has evolved, new technologies have emerged, and this has changed the way that design is done. With the introduction of high-speed connections within homes, and the emergence of many new technologies, the way we interact today is quite different than the early days. Over the past 15 years, site interactivity has evolved as much as design has:
- 1996-2002: Commercialization of the web. Most sites were brochureware, informational sites
- 2002-2004: Emergence of Web 2.0. Multimedia, video, audio, flash become mainstream. Sites begin to be more interactive
- 2004-2007: Open source CMS becomes accessible and dynamic content generation and user-generated content becomes mainstream. Interactivity is key but not a requirement. High speed internet access becomes available to the average user.
- 2007-2009: Dawn of social media. Early adopters quickly engage, and the internet as an interactive, global community has truly taken shape.
- 2010: Universal adoption of social media. Sites without interactive elements are not up with the times.
Web Design Trends for 2010
From all this great input, we have compiled a list of what we believe are the prominent design trends of 2010:
1) DYNAMIC CONTENT
Is your site built using a content management system (CMS) such as Joomla or Drupal? A CMS provides the opportunity to have dynamic content generation, meaning that the pages on your site do not exist until a user clicks a link and calls for them. This provides the opportunity to have up-to-the-minute changes so your site is always fresh and current. A CMS also provides the opportunity for a non-technical user to update the site, which means control is now in the hands of the owner, not the web developer.
2) SOCIAL INTEGRATION
Does your company have a social media presence? What are you waiting for? This has to be the hottest trend of all. Integration of social elements into your website has become expected by users. Icons for social media have become prominent graphics on all pages of a site so users always know where you are and how to connect with you.
3) LARGER INTRO HEADERS
When users arrive at your home page, they should expect to see a large message with large graphics so they immediately know what you do. These oversized messages have become a trendy way to get your point across.
4) NEWSIE LAYOUTS
With the mainstream adoption of the CMS, it makes it very easy to have a magazine-type layout using a CMS template. Information delivered in a news-type format is a trend for companies that have a lot of information to deliver, but don’t want a cluttered page to deliver it.
5) MINIMALISM IS PREFERRED
If you have a website that doesn’t have a lot of information, then minimalism is the way to go. Simple graphics, muted or white backgrounds, and subtle touches of design. Clean layouts make it easier for users to read.
6) ICONS ARE BACK
For a while there icons in menus went completely away. This old trend is experiencing a come back as we begin to see universal symbols used alongside text to assist users in understanding the navigation of a site. Some say this trend is influenced by the use of smart phones, but whatever the reason, expect to see more icons as a way to make it easier to navigate.
7) DETAILED FOOTER
Providing more links and information in the footer has become a helpful trend that also offers some SEO optimization. Footers have become taller and users do not mind scrolling to view them.
8. A LOUD CALL TO ACTION
Buttons for calls to action will be bright, simple and large. Users will easily see what you expect of them when they are on a page.
9) DESIGN FOR MOBILE DEVICES
If you haven’t started planning for mobile versions of your site, now would be the time to jump on this bandwagon. Smart phones are quickly becoming mainstream, and having a mobile version of your site will be a must if you don’t want to have a usability crisis on your hands.
10) USE OF FUNKY FONTS
With HTML5 around the corner, the opportunity to use any font on a website has finally emerged! This is a trend that will be seized and relished by all designers that have felt limited by the web-safe font we’ve always been confined by.
11) LOTS OF TEXTURE
Backgrounds will be more textured and almost “touchable” as a way to give sites more depth and realness.
Does this mean I have to redesign my website?
You need to look at your website as a marketing voice for your company. Are you in a trendy industry, and will people notice if you don’t have the latest and greatest on your website? Then yes, it’s time to redesign and catch up with the times.
On the other hand, let’s say you run a daycare company, and your website provides users exactly what they need to determine if they want to sue your services. Then no, a redesign is not necessary because what you have works for your users.
Use the Wayback Machine to check out old designs
There is actually a website that logs old copies of websites. It’s called the Wayback Machine. You can put in any URL and see older design versions. It’s sometimes embarrassing, but fun to look back and see how far we’ve come.