Putting Code Together Since 1987

Posts Tagged ‘Design’

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.

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.

The Wicked Problem

In Design, Web Development on January 10, 2008 at 5:41 pm

I was reading through some project management methodology just now (yay! My life is full of joy at last!) and came across the phrase “The Wicked Problem” in this line on Wikipedia:

Steve McConnell in Code Complete (a book which criticizes the widespread use of the waterfall model) refers to design as a “wicked problem” – a problem whose requirements and limitations cannot be entirely known before completion. The implication is that it is impossible to get one phase of software development “perfected” before time is spent in “reconnaissance” working out exactly where and what the big problems are.

It’s worth following the link.

I think software and design processes often end up trapped within this circle where nothing’s ever perfect. The iPhone isn’t perfect, for example – it may be ever so pretty, but it’s quite rubbish at Bluetooth connectivity, for example, or sending texts. In fact, it’s rubbish at a lot of things. One of its smartphone rivals, the N95, has a habit of crashing in certain situations, and flattening its battery in two hours because it’s furiously running an application in the background.

Same with websites. Our company site, Interconnect IT, will never ever, in my opinion, be perfect. Unless we simply devoted all our energies to that site – but then we’d have no time to working on client projects. We’re still a three man company, so we can’t have a £200k site. But we can be clever and cover 95% of the requirements.

With client sites it’s even trickier – we have to interpret a clients’ requirements, write them down, and send them back in a proposal with a rough mock-up, pricing and structure. They’ll read it quickly and usually accept. But once started they’ll look at the design, try it out, and realise that actually, the front page should have a simpler message. That may mean a restructuring. A week later, someone may point out that the colours they preferred have negative connotations in certain cultures.

All these require changes, sometimes at a late stage, and sometimes involving a lot of work. At some point, someone has to simply say – “OK, that’s good enough!”

Other clients, however, quite like the waterfall method. We have forms for certain business sectors, with consistent requirements, where they simply tick off what they want and like, choose an off-the-shelf design, and a couple of weeks later we deliver the website – all loaded up and everything. They then sign-off, or they ask for some revisions – images changed, copy edited and so on. It’s particularly suited where a small and busy firm needs a website, but it’s not really crucial to their business – it simply provides a service to people who already know them. Dentists, for example.

Site Features Can Go Hilariously Wrong

In Web Development on December 19, 2007 at 12:45 pm

I’m going to shamelessly nick a few images here from a site we designed, manage and host (Sniff Petrol) , but which is run and written by someone else. In finding this he showed a great example of why you should think about any new features you add to a website.

The idea seemed good enough – Car Magazine added a search terms Cloud, rather like a tag cloud, to their website to show what people were searching for. Problem is though, with any user generated content you have to watch carefully for abuse.

First off, they seeded the search cloud with a few terms that they obviously felt the aspirational and tasteful visitors would like – such as Aston Martin Vanquish, BMW M1, Ferrari and so on:

Car Magazine 1

So far so good.

But Sao Penza? Who would look for such an obscure car? Quickly, somebody realised that there weren’t many values for the search cloud to pick up on and that it could easily be gamed… Either that or readers of Car Magazine have a hankering for Bum Gravy and Cillit Bang:

Car Magazine

Perhaps it was just a passing glitch and soon everything would return to normal:

Car Magazine 2

Ah, no… and guess what? The took it down soon after.

I think in any sort of web development and design it’s important to try and think “how could this be abused” and then either put in place ways to prevent it, or be ready for it. Some sites have disappeared completely after being spammed to death, with the owners unable to fix it, and lacking the funds to bring in suitable expertise. It’s a hard world, the Web, and coding safely for it demands a rather cynical approach at times.

All stuff taken from this Sniff Petrol article, and written in a much funnier way than I can ever manage…

Spotting the iStockphoto effect

In Design on November 4, 2007 at 2:34 pm

iStockphoto.com is one of those little secrets that people outside the web, design and photography worlds rarely hear about. Yet once you’re involved in this industry you learn to quickly spot pictures because frankly, they’re all over the place.

But we don’t mind – it’s a cheap source of images and graphic art for clients who are working to a tight budget, and it gives many artists and photographers access to new markets. Everybody’s a winner.

Well not quiet – while we cheerfully admit to where we get some of our images and graphics from, many rivals don’t. Most recently we saw one rival offering ‘custom’ Xmas e-cards for about £350 a piece. They would (we hope) have been bought on a less restrictive license than usual, but you’re still looking at a low cost item.

To show you, here’s one we did ourselves, in just five minutes. Not £350 worth of work. At all:

Xmas Card - on the cheap.

We could do about fifty in a day, at a cost of no more than about £100 plus our time. It’s even done in our in-house web-design style, which means there’s a pre-masked layout to work to. Easy-peasy.

Clearly, the road to success in business is more to do with marketing than fair pricing! Then again, I remember the realisation came that even if you could make a Coke rival product for 5p a can which tastes just as good, it probably wouldn’t outsell Coca-Cola, because people aren’t rational creatures when it comes to pricing. In fact, they’d be suspicious as to why it was so cheap.

I guess the same thing would apply to solicitors and the like, albeit in a slightly different way.  You go round to a few and they all offer to do the work for around the £150-£180 per hour level.  If one came up with a price of £20 an hour you’d immediately be worried as to whether they were professional or not, qualified, and so on.  Of course, the £150 an hour rate is going to exclude many people, so lawyers, rather than doing anything cheap, tend to get involved in pro-bono work instead.

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