Archive for the ‘web design’ Category

10 Places to Find Free Stock Images Online

A picture is worth a thousand words…and this is often true in your blog or websites as well. Choosing the right photo can draw in a reader in a way that a text-only post may not. Finding photos online is an easy and convenient way to add interest to your articles, and there are many resources out there that provide images for this purpose, at no cost.

Read The Fine Print

When choosing photographs for any personal or professional use, be sure to pay attention to the fine print. Some sites only allow use of the photos for certain types of sites and pages, some only allow for usage a certain number of times, and some require that you give credit to the photographer.

Public Domain images are free to use however you want. This can include pictures taken when working for the U.S. government, or pictures that you can download from a government website. These are generally public domain, but check the copyright policy on the site to be sure.

Right Protected images are bought for a predetermined length of time for a certain project. This is usually negotiated before use with the photographer, and you will have exclusive rights to the images for the duration of the agreed upon limitations, for a fee, This is more commonplace and convenient for larger corporations and businesses, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for website owners.

Royalty free images can be free or cost money. The “free” in Royalty Free indicates that you don’t have to pay a continuing royalty for each use. If you pay for a royalty free image, after the one time fee, you can use the image however you would like. However, other websites can also purchase the same image, so you may see your choice used elsewhere.

10 Sites with Free Images

1. is a free web service that helps you discover random images that are (mostly) under a Creative Commons license.

2. has a large collections of royalty free images; pay attention to the license credit below each image before downloading, as not all the images available on the site are royalty-free.

3. offers royalty free photo agency offering free download of all pictures (with link or reference).

4. has over 2000 free images that you can use in commercial and noncommercial work

5. offers a free service and allows you to send a request to volunteer photographers to obtain an image if you cannot find it.

6. allows users to search for photos, see which photos are the most popular, and which ones have the highest ratings or the most downloads.

7. is an online supplier of stock photographs with a large section dedicated to free images.

8. has a large collection of images that you can use for free with some restrictions. .

9. Stock.Xchng has over 100,000 free images to browse. The photographers establish the terms, so read the fine print, but most pictures can be reused immediately.

10. has over 55,000 high quality images, divided into several categories

10 Signs You Need a Web Design Firm

How do you know when you need to seek help for your website? Many people plod along all alone trying to figure out how to keep their website going, and sometimes this can only make things worse. The following list provides a compass to determine if you need a web design firm to help make your site stellar.

1. Search and Rescue Calls
Customers call asking for assistance to find something on your site,  and what they’re searching for is on the site but hard to find, or you forgot to include it all together. This is a definite sign your information architecture is not up to snuff.

2. Your Information is History
You’re not even sure the last time your site was updated and you’re even more unsure how often you should update it. Two times on an outdated site is probably the last time that customer will visit. Have you considered a content management system like Joomla so you can update the site yourself?

3. Flashy But Frustrating
Your Web designer promised and delivered the WOW factor, but now you’re getting comments that the site doesn’t come up, or it’s slow or what is that big blank spot in the middle of your home page? Using the latest technology may seem fun and hip, but if it doesn’t add to your business message, it’s better left to the entertainment industry.

4. Clicking To Nothingness
Your site is riddled with dead links because nobody is checking them on a regular basis. Pretty much a guaranteed way to lose visitors.

5. There’s No Draw Back
Your site should offer something of value to a visitor while they are on your site. Could be articles, resources or even an inspirational message. They need a reason to come back and look again, even if in the moment they do not need what you are selling.

6. There’s No Target
Without a clear picture of your target audience and purpose for delivering the information, your Web site has been designed in an aimless fashion. It will work for you in the way it has been designed – randomly. Defining your audience and resolving their needs with your content is the best way to keep them coming back!

7. It Just Doesn’t Work
Your site doesn’t work the way the developer promised it would, and your customers keep complaining. Some first are great at certain things, but not so hot at others. You might need to bring in another firm to tighten up the loose ends and get your site functioning as you expected it to.

8. It’s Built, Now What?
How will you bring traffic to your site, and was that even considered when your site was built? Just because you built it doesn’t mean the people will come. You need to implement an SEO plan or some sort of online marketing strategy. These days getting high up in the search engine rankings is a challenge, but you definitely won’t see results without some SEO efforts.

9. Your Competitor Gets the Kudos
When your customers talk to you, they are constantly mentioning your competitors’ Web site. This is a clear sign that your site isn’t fulfilling their needs. Time to step up and exceed the competition!

10. You Don’t Have a Web Site
In today’s world if you have a business, you must have a Web site. A lack of Web presence can actually compromise your credibility. If you don’t have a Web site, it’s time to put it at the top of your to do list!

Building and marketing a website does not have to be a complex process. When hiring a web design firm, it’s best to get a referral from somebody you know personally, and who can give a true endorsement. Lacking that, focus on the customer service message of the firm in order to make your choice. The most important part of working with a firm is the communication process, and it doesn’t matter if they can make the computer do back flips if they can’t deliver what you want.

Web Design 101: Please Don’t Squish the Type!

One of my favorite things about web design is the flexibility it offers in terms of how to lay out text. With the arrival of CSS several years back, suddenly web designers who came from a print design background (like myself) got the control they had been longing for. Not only could we control the typestyle and color, but now we could control line spacing and even letter spacing. Wow, what a wonderful thing.

And so I respectfully request, when designing your website: Please don’t squish the type!

What does”squish the type” mean?
When you arrive on a web page you want to be able to read what is there. But users do not read online as they would a magazine or book, instead they skim. They need the text broken up into bits so they it is easier to skim, and faster to grasp the content on the page. When you squish the type, you mush all the information into long paragraphs without a lot of visual breaks between the information (see screen shot below). If you add white space between your lines, and vary type size and color, it gives breathing room for your eyes, which makes it more likely a user will skim a little slower.

Here’s an example of a web page that needs help. They are really squishing the type. It’s unlikely anybody will get beyond the second paragraph because that third paragraph looks intimidating!

How users read online
It has been conjectured that browsing a website is a cross between reading a book and watching TV. When somebody reads a book, their mind is engaged in actually comprehending the words through the act of reading. They usually don’t have visuals (if it’s a novel say), so their mind is also actively engaged in visualizing what they are reading about.

On the flip side, when somebody watches TV, they don’t have to do anything mentally in order to take in the information. They just stare at this big box, and watch what is shown. Hence the term “couch potato”.

Usability experts have shown through research that browsing the Internet is somewhere in between. Some users will be engaged mentally, while others want the website to do the work for them. You must plan for this when you design, because most people will not read the precious words you have written, so you must help them read it.

Lay out your type so people will read it

  • Use bold headlines.
  • Create a larger, introductory paragraph that summarizes the page.
  • Don’t have long paragraphs – break up the paragraphs into more bite-size pieces.
  • Use line spacing to bring white space between the lines of text
  • Do not make columns of text more than 550 pixels wide
  • Use subheadlines as much as possible
  • Use bulleted lists as much as possible
  • Hyperlink keywords and important points so users can get more information, and so it makes the key concepts easier to skim.

Oftentime clients will have great concerns about not creating scrolling in an article, and they want to squash all the lines together to keep everything within one page length. The only trouble with this theory as while it might prevent scrolling, it also inhibits reading. So would you rather they read the first couple paragraphs and not scroll, or read nothing at all? Besides, current usability studies show that users will scroll if they are interested in the content.

What you SHOULD do
Here’s an example of the same page shown above in a much more readable fashion. The user can now decide how much or how little to read.

Site referenced here:

User behavior is part of the design process
We must remember how users read content, and only then commence with the creation of that content. How type is laid out should be considered when type is written. You put a lot of effort into creating your website, you certainly want to encourage everybody to enjoy your great work!

Browser Friendly Fonts Make Viewing Universal

We often get requests from clients to use particular fonts on their website. Recently the following email came into our inbox:

My question is about the fonts. When I used the WYSIWYG editor in Joomla, I was able to play with the fonts and get it to look like what I wanted. But then when I showed my friend on her computer, nothing looked the same. I wanted to use a script font for my menus, but on her computers it was all done in Arial. What did I do wrong?

The answer to this question relies on the need for universal fonts. Fonts on a web page are not stored within your code. Instead, they are called on by the code, but they must be present on the computer in order to display properly.

What fonts are universal on the web?
There are only so many fonts found in the world that typically exist on every computer platform. If you want your site to display consistently, you must choose your fonts from this list:

Arial Black
Comic Sans
Lucida Sans
MS Sans Serif
MS Serif

You’ll notice that there is no script font on this list. That doesn’t mean you cannot specify a script font when laying out your pages. It simply means if you do specify a script font, there is a good chance other people’s computers won’t have the font, in which case the browser will substitute Arial for any missing fonts.

Using a graphic instead of text
If it’s really necessary to use a specific font, you might consider displaying it as an image rather than as text. If the image is too large this may slow the download speed of your web page, so take this into consideration. If you do use an image, be sure to use an ALT tag to let search engines know the description of the text in the image.

More on universal web fonts:

Who the Heck Cares About Usability?

Designing a website is not all about appearance, and this often comes as a shock to new clients who think color, design and personal preference are the most important pieces of the puzzle. It is often in that first design discussion that we find ourselves in the middle of a usability lesson, explaining to our client how people who visit their site are truly viewing it.

Your Users Care the Most
You have only seconds to capture the attention of your users, which means you only have seconds to lose them. If your site is a challenge for them, they aren’t going to stick around and muck their way through it. Usability is all about making your site simple, clear and even fun to use. Poor usability is the #1 reason you will lose eyeballs.

How Usable is Your Site?
To determine if your site is usable, you need to do some research. You can do some preliminary analysis of your site by reviewing some of the following usability checklists:

Users know best
To do some truly effective research, ask some of your current users if they would provide some input. We highly recommend that you collect a half dozen or so clients and ask them to answer some of the questions from the usability assessments presented above. This will give you a real picture of how those outside your organization see your site.

Don’t just listen, fix it
If your users come back with critique, listen closely. Then do something about it. Don’t just say thank you and continue to let your site stand as it is. Consult with a web designer who understands usability and then make the appropriate changes to bring your site in line with effective usability. Not only will this help with new customers, but it will let your current customers know that you take your comments to heart.