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Archive for the ‘Web Design’ Category

10 Ways to Win Web Awards

In Design, Web Design on March 5, 2008 at 12:49 pm

It was close, but no cigar… one of our sites was nominated for the Clynol Best Salon Website of 2007 award.  Sadly we didn’t win it, but we looked at the competition and then at which site won.  We realised that with many of these awards the depth of analysis isn’t that deep.

Here’s how to get nominated:

  1. Impressive landing page – the first page people land on should be visually striking.  Pretty girls do seem to help on this, sadly, but it’s not the only way.
  2. Simple design – keep it simple and clean, at least on that front page, because that’s the one that will be looked at the most.
  3. Don’t worry too much about usability, at least at this stage, because the testing won’t be deep.
  4. Don’t worry about standards either, most of these folk won’t check.  Shame, but true.
  5. Keep the word-count down – too many words distract from ‘impressive’.

And then, of course, comes actually winning it:

  1. You won’t have any idea of the criteria against which your website is being judged.  It could be that the judging panel is looking at print-outs, has a passion for flowers, or anything – so don’t worry about it.  Also consider that the judges don’t necessarily know a thing about web design.  Just keep doing cool websites and the awards will come soon enough.
  2. Make sure the site is usable, at least on a superficial level.  If they want to find the location, make it easy to find.
  3. Trendy is good – but it does depend – web design and paper design trends are increasingly divergent, although they’re definitely influencing one another.  Also remember, if you’re being judged by designers (paper or otherwise) then what they consider to be leading edge is quite different to that of the average person.
  4. Flash sites win a disproportionate amount of awards, given their poor compatibility and search engine performance.  But there you go – if you want visually striking you can save a bomb by using Flash instead of html and css.
  5. Performance is paramount – any judge will be looking at a lot of sites.  If they’re viewing through browser windows they’ll be quickly bored – your site has to load quickly and respond rapidly.

To be honest, we were surprised we were nominated – it came entirely out of the blue as the site had never been submitted by us to any competition.  It wasn’t even a site we could feel was a particularly wonderful piece of work.  It was fine, and the client is delighted.  But what this nomination did do was to make the client feel justified in using us.  That alone is worth a fortune, and he’ll have told everyone who’d listen.

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Coming Problems with Web Design

In Design, Web Design, Web Development, Wordpress on February 23, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I just read an interesting article in A List Apart about how browsers that are forgiving of bad markup and css are bad for the web.

And I totally get it.

In fact, a failure of how standards apply to web pages is one of the reasons why, until really quite recently, I’d avoided having anything to do with Web Design. I hated it. I hated that even if you structured your code correctly it would look right only in half the browsers you tested in.

Well, this is going to change over the coming five years. Standards will become far more important, and odd hacks will slowly fade into the background. Browsers, my friends, are going to have to become a whole lot less forgiving.

And there lies the rub – with tougher browsers, building websites will become a lot harder for non-technical types. In fact, it could become near impossible. On the upside, tools like WordPress will be able to offer more choices to the user because the code will know that what it outputs to the browser will work.

So the internet’s going to get a lot better in the coming years… but if you’re not prepared to work hard at it then becoming a web developer or designer is going to become far tougher.

Go from three inches to, erm, 40 inches!

In Design, iPhone, Web Design on January 17, 2008 at 10:52 am

No, not spam, for a change, but the problem of designing for a world where your website could be viewed on anything from an iPhone or Nokia N95 (tiny screens, no Flash) through to a Playstation 3 or Wii connected to 40″ or larger TV screens.

They all have different resolutions, colour rendering (view the pictures below), interfaces, and so on.

Let’s take a look at this picture:

Three Browsers, at vastly different sizes

In the picture, you have three things connected to the internet, all wirelessly, running three different browsers and on different resolutions.

I’m now going to be quite geeky and go through the different displays and browsers involved…

LG 26″ LCD TV, Opera Browser on a Nintendo Wii

Now, sadly the Wii isn’t known for its high res capabilities. It runs at This means that the best it can do with most websites can be described as ‘passable’. The browsing experience isn’t actually too bad once you’ve got your favourites in. Funnily enough, the requirements for good design on this setup are remarkably similar to the little iPhone hiding beneath it – because of both the low resolution (a Wii, I believe, outputs at 854×480) and the clumsy control systems on both. You need big, easy to click links, clear design, and no Flash.

The screen is 56.5cm by 34cm giving an area of 1921 cm2 and 409920 viewable pixels.

Laptop 14″ Widescreen, Running XP and Firefox

Now this is a more conventional screen resolution. 1280×768. The dpi is conventional (I’m guessing about 96dpi off the top of my head) and the OS, browser and CPU all are up to the job. Most people should get it right for this sort of system, but it’s worth bearing in mind a few things… you can see that it’s nothing like as bright or white as the other two displays in the image. Yep, you got it – all screens render colours differently. That means you have to pick your colours carefully. We had a burnt orange on a website that a client insisted on once. It looked like an insipid green/orange on a cheap old Dell screen.

So not only do we have to think about all the different sizes, we have colours to worry about too! For our own designs we check on a number of screens to make sure colours don’t go weird. Some will, some won’t, and it’s hard to predict.

The screen is 30.5cm by 18.5cm giving an area of 564 cm2 and 983040 viewable pixels.

iPhone, Running Safari

The iPhone is the current geek status symbol mobile phone. I got mine as a Xmas present and in terms of web browsing it’s really moved the game forward. As a phone it’s a bit sucky compared to more phone like mobiles (if you see what I mean) – no voice dialing and ropey bluetooth support means that making phone calls as I drive is no longer a safe game – I can’t simply prod the bluetooth button on the dashboard, say the name of the person I wish to speak to, and continue. But I’m going off on a tangent.

By bringing us a very neat and portable web solution, the iPhone and iPod Touch have made surfing the net while waiting at a train station, or sitting in the garden a far easier proposition. And they’ve sold millions of them so far. And you can be anything that people owning them are visiting your website. And if your site is hard for them to use, they’ll get their kicks elsewhere and maybe, just maybe, be drawn to a rival’s website. You wouldn’t want that would you?

The screen is 7.5cm by 5cm giving an area of 37.5 cm2 and 153600 viewable pixels.

Right, So They’re Different…Tell Me Something New!

Now ok, that’s shown they’re different – quite markedly so. And what does that mean? Well it means that if you want your website to work with all browsers, you’re going to have to take a good, long hard look at what you’re offering to those different users.

An iPhone user is possibly on the move, trying to poke links on a moving bus. A Wii user is shakily pointing their remote at a screen that may well be larger than the owner. A laptop owner has a nice, precise mouse. A desktop PC of course could be a different proposition. A friend of mine uses a simply vast 30″ monitor for doing artwork – his browsing experience is vastly different.

And consider this: the screen area of a 26″ TV is 51 times larger than an iPhone, and the resolution of a laptop screen is way higher than most other things. I saw one laptop with a 1920×1200 screen recently and the dpi was ridiculously dense (if slightly gorgeous for picture viewing!) – that means they may have larger fonts. What’s your design going to do with that?

Ten years ago screens ranged, mostly, from around 640×480 to 1280×1024. Anything outside of that scope was rare or had a very limited browser.

My point then is that if we’re going to service the needs of the now widely varied viewers, we have to make some hard decisions. Fluid design isn’t the answer – reading a 20″ long line of text on a big monitor is horrible. Perhaps larger sites, with more money, could serve up different versions of their content, designed for different screens. BBC does that, with designs for tiny WAP mobile phones, PDAs and full browsers. Our sites have a mobile css for small screen mobile phones, though it doesn’t detect all of them. It just serves a cut down text only version of the site.

The web industry is starting to get hard, both businesses and designers need to know this. I believe that their current practices could leave them only servicing 40% of potential visitors in the near future. And that simply won’t do.

Does the web industry suck?

In Business, Web Design, Web Development on January 17, 2008 at 9:22 am

I’m not going to rant here about all the great clients, who understand that time is expensive, who listen, pay attention, and do their own research.

But what I do think is that there’s a significant chunk of people out there, with no clue as to the Web, what it’s for, and how it works, who currently seem to be desperate to jump onto the bandwagon. They sometimes actually have some pretty sound business ideas.

Thing is, they turn up at our office with these huge plans. And a budget of £250.

There then follows an awkward silence as we have to explain that £250, like in dentistry, doesn’t really buy you a great deal of cosmetic awe. Even if the underlying software is free, you still need someone with the ability and understanding to implement it correctly. And they’re in demand.

But then that brings up another issue – the one of the wannabe web designer. Very little understanding of the technology or business, but does have a copy of Frontpage, Dreamweaver, or worst of all – Flash and only Flash. And thinks they can design for the web because they’ve done some ok print jobs in their time. They over promise, often raising expectations, under-quote (causing pricing pressure) and under-deliver.

Not all are actually that bad in overall design terms either, but they have a habit of disappearing when things get difficult. If one of their sites is hacked they have absolutely no idea why, and can’t do much about it. They don’t understand what the difference between CHMOD 777 or 766 can mean to the security of their site. In fact, to make their life easier, they simply switch everything to 777. And they’ve got so little money from their £300 job that they most definitely can’t afford to pay a TruePro (my TM, maybe. Perhaps) to come in and get digging, and to configure their site correctly.

And clients sometimes need to accept that they can’t just say “gimme a website!” to a designer/developer and expect them to magically mind-read their true desires. For free, of course.

Thing is – how’s a client to know the difference between a good or bad web company? It’s no easier than knowing the difference between a good or bad engine design in a car. The only way people learn is by watching what or who gets the most reliable, dependable and economical cars out there. And if there are none, then eventually someone will come along and do just that. Like the Japanese did to the British motorbike industry, so, surely, will the good web companies overtake and close down the bad ones.

So to answer my own question – I actually think the web industry does suck right now. But it’ll get better – slowly, top web brands will move to the fore, and the rubbish ones will fade away. And it won’t be from expected sources either. For example, WordPress.com is likely to become a major force for many small business websites, with many moving to self-hosted WordPress sites once they need more control or uniqueness. Why does any startup in a non-tech field need to commission a custom site when there’s plenty of great, free or cheap designs available?

And that’s where the future website designing and hosting brands will come from. The small one man web companies need to adapt to this market and consider that the direct one-to-one model of web design & development is approaching its death knell. Instead, these small companies will become facilitators – finding the best solutions for the non-techie clients, setting them up, and then briskly moving on to the next client. The technical knowhow, fixing up and hacking will be concentrated in key points. They’ll set up or review systems like SugarCRM, Plone, WordPress, and more.

Bigger clients will of course still need their own web applications built to suit any unique business models they operate, and they’ll be able to afford the fact that few of these can ever cost less than five figures. So that business model will continue, and should pay more too as the solutions become critical to firms.

I know I’ve just had something of a ramble there – it’s purely a stream of consciousness thing. I think the web industry is on the verge of maturing. That doesn’t mean the days are over for specialists. Just that the mass market will move to commodity systems, while the specialised stuff will actually start to pay the kind of rewards that should be available to people who work with a difficult and challenging technology.

Selling Sex?

In iPhone, Web Design on January 7, 2008 at 3:15 pm

We’re in discussions with a client who wants a website for an escort agency. Immediately this brings up a lot of questions – we’re not dealing here with an engineering firm or accountancy with straightforward requirements.

Selling Sex

Thing is, in every case, where we design a website we have to delve into the minds of the likely visitors, what will be attractive to them, and how we can make sure the website performs. Often it’s straightforward – the client sells something we use in our day to day lives. If it’s an accountancy firm… well, we use accountants, we know what does and does not wind us up about them. We’re also doing sites for denture specialists and although we don’t need them, we can find people who do and ask them what they like.

But this is the sex industry and you can’t just go up to people in the street with a questionnaire and ask them lots of prying questions. You’re likely to offend, or even be on the end of aggressive behaviour. And none of us in the office have ever bought sex services – we’re pretty much the kind of people who only pay for things we can’t get for free…

And that’s just one problem. The next is to ask ourselves how closely we want to be involved in this industry. In effect, we’re selling sex. Ok, technically in the escort business you’re just selling ‘company’ but it doesn’t take long to realise that this isn’t really how it works. The girls exercise some choice, it seems, and if the guy sucks, she doesn’t, basically.

How Would People Access This Site?

Other factors include access to the site – we can assume that access from home pcs may not be popular – instead, should the site provide good support for mobile phones so that potential clients can find the site a little more, erm, discreetly? With the iPhone perhaps? If that’s the case then that means no Flash (regardless of the client’s taste for shiny doodahs), tight bandwidth control, easy touch navigation (fnar!) and so on.

If we get the dots dotted and the tees crossed on the contract, we’ll let you know how it went.

Can You Trust Your Web Designer?

In Web Design on January 3, 2008 at 8:41 am

A little while ago I came across a story about a couple of firms who had been sued in 2006 by Getty Images for illegal use of images on their websites.  One of the companies was a small accountancy firm in Liverpool, and the other a taxi firm in Taunton.  Both small companies.

Fair enough – you steal a picture, you pay the penalty.  However, these images were placed there not by the companies, but by the web designers they’d hired.  The end result came to a loss of reputation for the two firms (but perhaps some nice collatoral marketing) and added costs and hassle.

EPUK’s commentary on the copyright story

Now, I don’t have much sympathy for companies that steal copyright – they can offset their costs against taxes so shouldn’t really feel a need.  And given that a website is a business benefit, they should be paying for all images anyway as it generates money for them.  But what does stink is that they’ve been made to look stupid by web designers.  These are people we share our profession with.  Yet we see it all the time – images stolen from other websites, reused again and again after downloads from libraries… and it stinks.  I’m getting fed up of amateur designers who apart from generally designing poorly performing, slow and unusable sites, are also potentially getting their clients into a lot of trouble.

So these amateurs are busy cheapening the work we do by undercutting the true professionals, they’re damaging our reputations (could we be thought of like many back street mechanics?) and they’re encouraging many clients to DIY instead – something that could still cost them dearly in lost business, hassle and time.

Rant over!  Next I want to find out who Britain’s best web designer could be.  I’d like to hope it’s us!

Make My Logo Bigger!

In Design, Web Design on November 2, 2007 at 8:37 pm

You know, they say the customer is always right. Sometimes we may feel like this, but ultimately if a customer wants it, they should have it.

And these products let them have it:

Make My Logo Bigger

Going Adult?

In Web Design on November 2, 2007 at 4:57 pm

I suppose it was inevitable that, eventually, we’d end up being approached to write some sort of adult related website. Well finally that day came. We were kinda surprised to be approached an escort agency about giving them a site that actually works with search engines! The current site is riddled with untagged images, poorly structure, and generally quite amateurish. Fine in the days of websites being non-crucial parts of a business, but not fine in today’s web strategic days.

It’s still early days for the project, but one thing I immediately did… I told my girlfriend! After all, how else could I explain why I’d been poking around escort agency websites! I feel she suspects it’s just a cover. Working late, or trips away, could well be viewed with suspicion from now on….