Lay Down

What an unbelievable semester this has been — my first one in this graduate program. I have learned so much and have discovered that I am in a class with some very talented people. There has been much to reflect on and much more discovered – “Hello World” to here. I can’t believe there has been this whole other world of designers, developers, and online residents around that I knew nothing about.

For our final class blog (though perhaps not my final blog here?), I want to again revisit my goals for the future in this program and beyond. So, taking it from the top…. Throughout this semester we have looked at good and poor examples of “good design”, and I must sound like a broken record when I go back to Apple. Apple, Steve Jobs and his successors, and their entire team have pioneered good design in every application you could think of inserting design – packaging, web, products, stores, communications, presentations, and on, and on, and on. Their design is simple, yet effective; sleek, yet functional; minimal, yet attractive. How high they have set the standard.

Becoming successful in my own role as a web designer is important to me for a variety of reasons. I’d like to go back to freelancing as a writer and designer (I was formerly a freelance writer, copywriter, graphic designer), so I want to develop a solid reputation, but for me that is more a matter of pride in my work than anything. I want to be proud of my work, not just relieved when it’s done. I want to have others admire my work and seek me out, whether it’s for jobs, advice, or any other reason. My future may not necessarily hold wealth and renown, but I’d like to develop a consistent and reliable reputation and enough steady work to make a successful living.

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Here is a post I spotted on the website Clients From Hell:

CLIENT: Can I remove the Inventory Search Page? I think it’s redundant to have.

ME: Why would you do that? How are people supposed to search your inventory?

CLIENT: They can click here, then click here, then click down here, then click on the model. Your inventory list will appear that way.

ME: You want to get rid of the second most clicked page on your website? If I were visiting your site, and didn’t see an inventory link, I’d be frustrated.

CLIENT: Then convince me to keep it. Give me one good reason.

ME: I just gave you two.

This was not the most humorous post — by a long shot — but it is most closely related to several experiences I had while freelancing as a writer and copywriter several years ago. This scenario highlights a number of issues a freelancer might face when dealing with clients looking to outsource their web design work.
First, the client is not the expert in web design here. They try to use logic from their schema, but often they are just wrong. A designer doesn’t want to come out and say, “You’re wrong”, so he/she will tactfully probe for the issue. Perhaps this client feels that the longer a visitor is on the site, the better. But in this case, the longer the visitor stays, the more frustrated he/she will get, and the less likely they will be to return.
It is very important to recognize the importance of prominently placing the most popular features of a website. If a users knows what they want when they arrive at a site, give it to them quickly, by all means. Wading through unwanted information will be a deterrent.
Additionally, the more options users are given  – without overkill –to get to the most popular features of a website, the better an experience they will have, and better feeling from doing business with a company. In some cases, redundancy  is a good thing.
Web design, yes. Writing, no.

On the Leash

In pondering the possibilities of expanding and modifying this website, I have considered the possibility of creating a mobile site. While the audience for this site may not be quite large and diverse enough to warrant the extras, a mobile site would be pretty simple and usable for ForeverLawn of Tampa Bay. I am picturing something very similar to the lss.at.ufl.edu/mobile site that the e-Learning community has developed, with large menu buttons and simplified, graphics-free presentation.

I like the idea of accessing information, perhaps at a current or future client site, especially the products and the contact information. This is where I revisit the QR code question. If an interested prospective customer sees the product at a business or residential location, and we could install a metal logo plate with a QR code, they could bring up the site on their mobile device and get info immediately. The interest is there, information is immediate, and a customer is scheduled for an estimate before leaving the property, therefore avoiding loss of a prospect just because they had to remember a name, research a contact number, and just plain not forget their interest level once the product is no longer in front of them. This would also be a great tool for salesmen and installers to answer questions and guide customers on site.

Again, the size of this local company, the homogeneous current customer base, and the relatively low traffic numbers may not warrant it, but the option is there, and i think very doable.

In the Kennel

Haha! I’m laughing that I am haunted by this site this semester. We looked at it at the beginning of class, and now we’ve been asked to revisit it.

It is a beautiful nightmare, isn’t it? Unless you have actually visited the site, you don’t really know what I’m talking about. Sure, the layout looks really cool. I love Marc surrounded by black and white photograph links. But the whole cursor motion is enough to boost the sales of Dramamine!

For a website, that may be a good thing. It is just so different, you need to see it to believe it. In this class alone, I’ve visited the site a half dozen times, when I normally would’ve visited it not at all. Now, I’m not buying anything, but I am a car in that traffic.

Last week, a professor was showing us a number of sites and asking our opinions on them, and I actually said that I preferred the Marc Ecko site to a number of them. A moment of insanity? Maybe. But despite the self-induced vertigo, it is still a page that gives the user an engaging experience. Success? Maybe. Still not sure, because I need to go lay down for a minute and let this wooziness pass…

Paying the Pooch

Now comes the biggest question of all: How are you going to integrate ads into the website? Is it necessary? Is it inevitable?

First of all, I have to admit that the web world is driven by advertising dollars – it is a necessary [evil]. Now, for a small local business, like the site I am currently creating is not going to be dead if there is no advertising. In fact, I wire-framed and coded the site sans ads. I don’t think it would be in the best interest of the small businees to advertise for anyone else at this point. Should the business grow, and suppliers ask for ad space (or barter for it), ads will be accommodated.

While it is difficult to give up real estate to advertisers, it is in the best interest for profits. I think that at this point, web advertising is what it is and may not have many other options than those presented in several different ways below.

Site takeovers are costly and annoying unless it’s for the entertainment industry, then they are becoming the norm. You can’t place ads out of site, that is not the point of the ads. You can’t make them compete with site content too much, so what the industry has developed is probably as good as it gets. There are options, not great options, but options nevertheless.

Chasing Your Tail

As we are getting deeper into web design principles and closer to the end of our introductory course, there are options in web construction that we need to consider. This is an interesting time in our development. We are currently coding and publishing our first sites using what we learned so far this semester — and I am beginning to dream in code — but as novices we are still so limited in what we can do. We want to design the perfectly beautiful prom dress, but only know how to sew the sash.

As we begin to look at elements (that we someday want to use, but are no where near ready), we have to consider their merits. There are so many amazing options available for web designers, but only so many that are effective. This week we are looking at carousels, and whether they are feasible and desirable.

Of course, as always, it depends on the purpose of the site. If a site is featuring products or ideas (like recipes, garden designs, and the like), a carousel is a great idea. It utilizes limited real estate to present material that might not otherwise fit the space, without making the user do a whole lot of work or search around for individual items.

If a client asked me to insert one into their site, I would look at the overall effectiveness and choose a design that works best. I like the one above because it gives you the option of presenting a combination of text and graphic elements to optimize the real estate. If photos dominated the site I might go with a design more like the one below.

Carousels do add an engaging experience for the user and effectively use limited space, but only if the purpose of the site warrants it. An interesting example is the Absolut Vodka website, with pros and cons. Check it out and see what you think. http://www.absolut.com/us

A New Look – Digital Imagery in Web Design Project

For my DIWD Project 3, I choose a classic (pop) culture symbol and put a new twist on it for appeal to an entirely different audience. May I present to you the 2012 Star Wars Leadership Conference. Many of the characters from the 1979 movie Star Wars have achieved such iconic status in our pop culture that most adults can identify with them in some way. If we look at three of the most memorable “leaders” presented in the film series, I’m sure we can identify those qualities that make them leaders, first of all, and then what makes them different leaders from one another.

All important business conferences have a website containing all the necessary information for prospective and registered attendees:

The website was the first idea to come to mind in re-branding or reinventing Star Wars as a business leadership tool. I looked around at similar leadership sites and included what seemed like common elements of them all — photos of speakers, splashy banner, video introduction, and brief explanations of what attendees will be hearing.

And to make sure as many business leaders as possible are directed to that informative website, I created a print advertisement that might be placed in business journals and other pertinent publications:

This ad contains the same banner for continuity, and speaker photos for interest. Then I chose photos of the three featured leadership experts. I used mostly graphics — with one-word descriptions of the three featured leadership styles — to draw attention to the subject matter and directed readers to the online site for registration. I let the star power of the presenters speak for the conference.

And finally, I created a video presentation that is included in DVDs available to participants of the leadership conference. The DVDs are an extension of the conference so that business leaders may take them home to continue to develop the skills and principles promoted by each individual leader:

2012 Star Wars Leadership Conference