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Monthly Archives: February 2010

Web is constantly changing and so is the way we access it.  Not only is there a variety of browsers that people like to use, there are also mobile applications and various accessibility issues to consider. This is something designers need to stay aware of when building any websites.

Mobile web use is popular, as many people have cell phones with built-in simple browsers to allow surfing the internet. There are also, of course, smartphones – fun and useful – which are becoming more available and less costly. Mobile web is dominated by Apple’s iPhone (and iPod touch) with Google’s mobile OS Android being a close second. This article reports Apple having a 60% market share of smartphone traffic in the US as of July 2009 and 45% worldwide. Android has a nowhere near as big of an influence – 12% US, 7% worldwide. Big companies continue to push their mobile web versions while new clever startups try to break through with innovative mobile applications. Mobile web is new exciting land that many people want to claim their stake in. Augmented reality is something new that is predicted to change the way people talk about social media, and that is thanks to mobile web devices.

Another thing for designers and developers to be aware of is the importance of accessibility on the web. Not everyone is able to view our sites exactly as intended – with beautiful graphics, videos, text just at the right size to make it prettiest, etc. Users have various needs. They can simply not have or desire to use certain technologies or plugins needed to view a site in all its glory – like a Flash viewer or Javascript. They might be visually impaired and need to set text much bigger than it was intended by the designer. A screen reader might be used. A site needs to make sense and be usable, no matter how it is viewed. There are several easy things to do to make web pages easily accessible. EMMA – Extensible MultiModal Annotation project from W3C and government’s Section 508 provide guidelines to help. There are also lots of tools online that can check sites, much like CSS or HTML validators, to see if accessibility standards are met (www.cynthiasays.com is one).

Making sites with good accessibility involves logic and common sense. When providing a video, for example, one should also link to a place where a plugin or player for viewing that video can be downloaded from. A user shouldn’t have to hunt for it on the internet. Images on a site should have proper descriptive alt tags (which is also a valid HTML practice). Main content should be placed high in the HTML code, so that it can be seen (if a site is viewed plainly, without CSS) or read (by a screen reader) first.

There are plenty of helpful development tools available, which makes coding beautiful and clear websites easier. When they are integrated into a browser, they make it easy to spot and and fix errors. Here’s a useful list of handy Firefox extensions, including Web Developer and FireBug, which are universally liked by many.

There is a lot to keep in mind when designing for the web. Not everybody views it the same way and many people will view it much differently than the designer did when creating it. In the end, it still has to look good, no matter how it is looked at.

More links:

Firefox extensions I couldn’t live without

Firebug – web development extension for Firefox

Every successful designer realizes the importance of a well-crafted, professional, off- and online persona. That involves having a polished resume and c.v., business cards, and a portfolio of creative work.

Research and planning are the first steps to take before designing anything. Not only is it inspirational but it also provides insight into how other people approach the task. Inspiration can come directly from seeing the kind of work you are doing: looking at resumes when writing a resume, portfolios when creating a portfolio, and so on. The advantage is that it lets you identify trends, common elements, how people structure their work. Seeing what the competition is doing is great. Let’s take online portfolios, for example. The fun and creative sites as well as the unexciting ones are fairly consistent in their sections, with an about section, project list, a contact form, client list. There navigation is usually at the top or left. Knowing what’s been done gives you an opportunity to find a fresh approach and be a little unique. However, it wouldn’t be wise to try to be very different from the established norm. Conventions are popular for a reason.

This article explores the idea of consistency and understanding user expectations. People already have an idea of what should be in a site and when it is not there, they get frustrated. That applies to content, language and layout. A personal portfolio site is expected to have online, clickable samples of work. If its owner simply compiled all of the work into a huge multi-paged pdf to download instead, it would be seen as rather inconvenient. If a contact page didn’t have a form or a contact email available but just a phone number or mailing address – that would turn people off. It’s basic content that is so convenient that people expect to be available. If it’s not there, it’s an annoyance. Adhering to basic usability standards in design is helpful as well. When visiting a website, you look for certain key elements in certain places. Privacy policy and Terms of Service are usually at the very bottom. Breadcrumbs navigation is at the top, below the main and secondary navigation. If you want to break away from established conventions in your design, make sure that there is a good reason for it. There’s a small showcase of creative portfolio designs here to see.

Aside from using amazing competitors’ work as inspiration, there are also other ways to spark the imagination. Magazine spreads can be great to look at, as are lists of great typography and calligraphy. Flipping through an art history book or seeing some museum exhibits can be a good experience. There are so many sources of great art and design work from many different fields.
The other thing to keep in mind while designing things for yourself is to keep different pieces related to each other. Business cards, portfolio, resume and c.v. – and any other things designed for oneself – should all look good together. They are all part of one package and therefore have to be consistent.

More reading:

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Steve Krug (book) a bit more information on usability, conventions and how people use the web.

“The best websites are useful and ugly” touts this article. It lists eBay, Google and Craig’s List, among others, as perfect examples of wildly successful and aesthetically unappealing websites. Beautiful and useful are not mutually exclusive terms, however.

There are several articles on the web that showcase selections of ugly but successful websites. They also tend to make a key point – that not every type of website can be ugly and yet successful anyway. A certain quality is expected of brand websites or stores selling high-quality products. In these cases, good design is employed to exude confidence and  a strong image, which assures clients of quality.

An interesting argument crops up in many posts defending ugly but successful websites: that customers trust them because they look like an average person could have made it. They are afraid of polished designs which imply that a marketing team just waiting to suck out all of the customer’s money was employed by the website’s owner. On the other hand, a non-appealing design can also turn clients away from a site. It suggests that the site owner is not serious about their company and craft if their online presence does not look polished and professional. Sometimes it may even look outdated.

Google or eBay are not successful because they are ugly and I do not believe they would be less so if they were designed more appealingly. They are successful because of their purpose, because of what they do. Content plays a huge role in making a site successful. A good design can support a good site – as long as the desire to create the loveliest, most creative site doesn’t eclipse such important concepts as user-friendliness, accessibility, functionality, etc. Everything in moderation.

A lot of careful research and planning is done by a designer before the creative work is started. A site planning guide is listed here. It’s important to begin with the basics: figuring out what is the site’s objective is. Then, the audience should be considered, because it will tremendously affect the look and feel of the resulting design. Older people and children, for example, might need bigger type to read comfortably. A site directed at high school students would have a different look and feel than one aimed at businessmen. A business-to-business website would have another aesthetic from one directed at general consumers. How visitors access the site is also something to keep in mind, since more and more access the web on their phones. Simple and clean looks better on a phone screen. If the website will have flash elements, it might also benefit from a non-flash version. And so on.

Designers should remember the purpose of the site they are designing for, first and foremost. It’s important to stay focused on making design complement the content, so that it is presented in the best way possible. The resulting work will be beautiful and functional at the same time. There is a reason why there are so many helpful articles and tutorials written by designers and for designers – to give a site the best chance at success. How something is designed is a huge component of that.

More links:
Top 10 Ugly but Highly Successful Websites
Beautiful Websites = Successful Websites?