Tag Archives: Website Design

The C.R.A.P. Principles

C.R.A.P. (terrible name, infinitely useful) is an initialism which stands for contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. The term was coined by Robin Williams (author of The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice) and has become a basic principle of design. Utilizing the C.R.A.P. principles allows even the most inexperienced amateur designers to avoid the dreaded wall of text and instead create dynamic and attractive web content.

The basics of the C.R.A.P. principles are:

Contrast – Elements that aren’t supposed to be the same should be very different. Making the only slightly different confuses the eye and causes the reader to see a relationship that doesn’t exist. Using differing elements on a page draws the eyes to appropriately grouped elements and allows for proper scanning.

Repetition – Continuing formatting and styles for the entire document to create and maintain a cohesive feel.

Alignment – Everything on the page needs to be visually connected to something else, nothing should be out of place or distinct from all other design elements. Clean lines create peace.

Proximity – Proximity creates related meaning: elements that are related should be grouped together, whereas separate elements should have enough space in between to be easily distinguishable. Never underestimate the use of white space.

For more information and examples, visit:
http://www.webcredible.co.uk/blog/revive-the-crap-principles
http://thinkvitamin.com/design/how-crap-is-your-site-design/

I’ve been in business since 1432 BC at the same location why do I need a website?

I get asked questions like this all the time. The simple answer is: “Maybe you don’t.” If you are comfortable doing what you are doing and your business is meeting it’s growth projections, you may not. But, consider this; if you are not growing or you are tired of advertising that is becoming less and less productive and more and more expensive, then a website is your most effective least expensive marketing vehicle next to a business card.

Let’s face it. If you do not have a business card and a business phone today. How serious are you really, about being in business? A business card facilitates someone getting in touch with you after a meeting.

There is no substitute for just getting out and meeting the people. Face-to-face customer interaction has been and will always be the best way to win new clients. I still have business cards from people I have met at networking events from years ago. And I can remember what most of the people who gave me their cards look like and what the company does. And if I ever need their services I will call them.

But next to talking to people and handing them a way to contact you in the future, a website is by far the most effective marketing tool available. They are low cost. You can have a very effective, very attractive web sites today for less than the price of a soft drink and way less than the cost of a latte a day.

When was the last time your refreshment brought you any business? But your website can. And it will work tirelessly for you 24/7. Unlike any other marketing vehicle, you can tell someone everything that they need to know to learn how to buy what you sell with a website. Can’t do that on a 30 second spot on the radio or TV. Can’t afford to do it in a phone book or newspaper ad either. But whether you say a little or a lot, a website costs the same. So let your website tell volumes about what it is you do. Why you are better. How to buy what you sell. How to tell the difference between you and your competitors. And most importantly why you are the better value. Not the cheapest. People do not want the cheapest things they can buy. They want the best VALUE. If everything is the same then the way to differentiate is price. But rarely are all things the same. Not even with car dealers who sell exactly the same products with the same options in the same color. No two dealerships are the same. Price is not the only factor.

Next time, I’ll talk a bit about why educating your prospects about how to buy what you sell is so important. And why if you do it you will benefit thanks to the laws of reciprocity.

Till next time, good luck and prosperity.

“F” is for functionality

What do users see when they see your website?

According to a study conducted last year by the Nielsen Norman Group, they see a big F. The study, which used special eyetracking equipment to measure how much users looked as specific parts of a web page, showed users tended to view sites in a pattern that looks roughly like an “F,” scanning across the top and down the left-hand side. In addition, they spent almost no time looking at large images, banner ads, or other graphic content. In fact, they often skipped over meaningful content if it looked too much like an ad.

What does this mean for your site design?

Never forget that your customers come to your site looking to solve a problem. They want to buy a product, or find out information. It doesn’t mean that they are indifferent to design — a poorly designed site can look unprofessional, undermining confidence in the solutions you offer. However, design should never get in the way of the functionality of your site. It should never be difficult for your customers to find the solutions they are looking for.

Design enhances functionality. But functionality always comes first.

Ref: Eyetracking Study

Websites are not like Field of Dreams

If your website is not producing it is not your fault. Blame Kevin Costner. Websites are not like “Field of Dreams”. Just because you built it does not mean “they will come”. A website is the single most powerful arrow in a quiver full of marketing weapons, but it will not do any good – no matter how creative or informative it is – if it cannot be found.

As a marketer, I often have the opportunity to discuss promotion ideas with clients. It still amazes me at how many otherwise intelligent business people do not see much value in their websites.

They promote their business in various ways sometimes spending serious money to purchase ads in traditional media but do not give a second thought to sending prospective customers to their website for more information. There are many effective and inexpensive ways to promote your website without ever being connected to the Internet.

A website can only be effective if the “webmaster” not only places relevant content on it, but also promotes it. I have compiled a quick list of things and places that a website should be listed offline, there are dozens if not hundreds more, feel free to post ideas of your own.

The first place your website should be promoted prominently is on any printed marketing material you have. i.e. your letterhead, business cards, flyers, brochures, catalogs, yellow page ads, etc. If you have company vehicles with marks on the vehicles, place your website URL proudly and boldly so it is easy to see. Get and use domain based email. Email from name@companyname.com is more powerful in building consumer confidence that your company is legitimate.

Don’t forget to place a link on your email address even if you have domain based email. Why? Many times your email correspondence will be forwarded to someone who is not familiar with you or your company. Placing a link to your website allows that person to visit your website even if your email address is not displayed when forwarded.

If you attend trade shows, make sure your booth has your URL listed and any handouts including promotional give-a-ways include your URL.
Mention that more information can be found on your website on any Radio advertising and include the URL in television marketing as well.

Magazines typically have a longer shelf life than many other forms of advertising. If you use magazine to advertise your company and you are not including the URL you have lost a great opportunity to speak to a prospective buyer in a much broader and effective way than to demand that they pick up the phone can call you.

If your website is not producing the results you expected, it is time to take a look at what is being communicated on and by your website and what you are doing to help drive traffic to your website. If you are not promoting your website every chance you get including at the end of an “elevator speech” you are missing opportunities to allow others to help you promote your business.

Design pitfalls: Design by Committee

We’ve all marveled at spectacularly ugly logos, or unbelievably stupid movies, or completely inexplicable web sites. And when we see these things, we wonder – who came up with that? Who thought that was a good idea?

Often, the answer is: nobody.

It was a committee.

It might seem odd that a group of people working together should be able to come up with something that not one of them actually likes, yet, in my experience as a designer, it happens all the time. A company rebrands, only to revert to the previous branding a few months later. A company goes through an absurdly lengthy logo design process, and in the end nobody is happy with the result. Or maybe everyone in the company is fairly happy with the result, but they discover that their customers find the new logo, or slogan, or name, to be baffling and unpleasant.

No group is immune to the pitfalls of a committee design. It seems difficult to avoid – after all, you can’t have a logo or a web site that some members of your organization just hate, can you? And some compromises are inevitable in a cooperative business environment.

Why do committee designs tend to turn out so badly? There are three major reasons.

1. The design nobody hates is also the design nobody likes

Consensus is good, right? You want everyone to be happy with the results of your design. But not everyone is made happy by the same things. We don’t always like the same music, or the same TV shows, or the same clothes — we don’t decorate our houses the same way – is it any surprise that we don’t always like the same designs?

The bolder the design choice, the higher the chance that someone on the committee will actively dislike it.

Eventually, a consensus will be reached – usually on a design that nobody actually hates, but everyone finds kind of boring. Over time this boredom deepens into profound dissatisfaction, somebody decides to spruce up the company image, and the cycle begins again.

2. You really can’t have everything

A common complaint about web site, logo, and package designs is that they are too busy and visually cluttered. They have too much going on, and none of it is very clear. Visual clutter is usually the result of trying to include too much — and one way that happens is committee design. Everyone on the committee has their own personal thing that just has to be there.

3. Warning! Egos ahead!

Committee design projects often become a playing ground for every other dynamic going on in the organization — status conflicts, ego conflicts, personal vendettas, pet projects. Sometimes, deep conflicts about the direction of the organization as a whole manifest themselves as conflicts over design.

Sometimes ugly designs are even the result of passive-aggressive lashing out, either by frustrated committee members, or perhaps by the designers themselves, after one too many contradictory design iterations.

In general, the best way to avoid the worst pitfalls of committee design is to give one person — hopefully, one person with some design sense — final approval on the project.

Creating Effective Contact Us Pages

Creating a contact us page is essential when building an online presence through a website or a blog. It tends to be the page on your website with the least content, but is one of the most highly visited by your clients. Internet users have become accustomed to looking for a contact us page when searching for contact details like a phone number or address. Many website owners don’t give a second thought to the contact us page after it’s built. We ask you to give your contact us page a second glance with these best practices in mind.

What should I include on my contact us page?

General Contact Details

Telephone Number – Individuals often inquire as to how many phone numbers or what type of phone numbers should be included on the contact us page. Certainly the main office number and the fax number should be included. Beyond that additional numbers should be provided only if someone is available to answer them during the normal business hours.

Physical Address – Many businesses have moved to only providing an email and phone number as a source of contact, especially if they don’t have a physical office the client can visit. However, by providing an address you provide them the assurance you are local.

Email – In today’s modern world you need a contact email address. Even better it should be a domain name specific email address. For example, if your website is located at www.domain.com, your email address should be shane@domain.com rather than shane@yahoo.com or lovebug@yahoo.com. By having your email address as a hot link (changing shane@domain.com with mailto:shane@domain.com) clicking on the link opens the user’s email system with the To: line filled in with your email address. This helps avoid typos and other mistakes by the user.

Web Form – The downside of providing the email address is an increase in spam as your website gets more traffic. One way to avoid spam is to have a contact us web form rather than an email address. You can have CAPTCHA code [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captcha ] in order to prevent spam submissions to the form. Or you can place a web form as well other contact details in the contact us page like http://www.netsolutionsna.com/content/contact_us/contact_us.asp

Additional Details

Include a Photo – Include a photo of your brick and mortar building/office. If you don’t have a brick and mortar store, include a photo of your employees dressed in a manner that reflects the style of your company. If you are financial planners then a photo in professional attire, if you are a 70’s disco bar then break out the beads and platform shoes.

Staff Contact Details (optional) – For some smaller businesses, you can place the contact details for each of your primary employees on the contact us page. If you have more than 7-10 employees, consider a separate page for staff contact details.

Map – Google has made it very easy to link your clients directly to a map of your business and the surrounding area. Map Quest and others have made providing directions to your business even easier. The day and age of written instructions are long past, give the clients a direct link to an interactive map.

Final Thoughts

A contact us page will be visited by a large majority of your website users. Search engines love contact us information because it is usually current, and very relevant to the consumer. If you can make your contact us page simple and easy to use your clients will find it extremely valuable. So take your time, less is more, work to build the most effective contact us page you can find.

How to talk to your designer about color

One of the challenges of graphic design is that it can be very difficult to express visual concepts precisely in words. It’s hard enough for designers to talk to each other, when they already have a shared background of terminology and concepts – for designers and non-designers, trying to communicate can be incredibly frustrating.

Number one tip: Use a standard color reference Continue reading

I hate it — what now?

"I hate it."

The words every designer dreads hearing.

When you hate your first (or second or third) website design, it’s easy to assume that somebody must have done something wrong. Maybe the designer was lazy, or your sales representative is an idiot, or maybe it’s you, maybe you didn’t "ask right." But there’s really no "right" and "wrong" when it comes to designs. You probably didn’t do anything "wrong" and your sales rep and designer probably didn’t either. You just don’t like your first design. The question is not, "what went wrong?", the question is "where do we go from here?"

The first thing is, try to figure out why you hate the design. Review the specifications and example sites you supplied to the designer. Sometimes it will be because the designer actually did miss one of your specifications, sometimes it will be because the designer didn’t understand your requirements, and sometimes it will be because your requirements didn’t include something crucial. If that is the case, it should be fairly simple to add or clarify the missed specifications.

Of course, sometimes you will hate the design simply because it doesn’t look like how you imagined it would. Or, really, because your reaction when looking at it is not the reaction you hoped you would have. Maybe you didn’t even know your requirements included "no green" until you saw a site that used a lot of green and hated it. Or you didn’t know that you wanted soft edges, or a curve in the header, or a background that’s not white, or an extra-glossy wet look throughout. Well, now you do know. So, even if you hate the first design, you’re now that much closer to a design you’ll love.

All that assumes you can pinpoint what you don’t like. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you just don’t like it and that’s all there is to it. In that case, it might be a good idea to supply your sales rep with a longer list of sites liked and sites disliked. Be sure to explain why. If the designer sees a list of six sites that you like, he or she might observe something they all have in common — such as rounded edges, or a textured background or a smaller than usual header image — that you never consciously noticed.

Finally, if you really, really dislike a design, it is important to let the designer know that you want to see something completely different next time. Otherwise the designer might produce a second draft that addresses your individual problem points (wrong logo, different colors, etc.) but still give you a design that looks very much like the one you already know you hate.

Web 2.0 Design : more than shiny buttons?

Type the phrase "Web 2.0 design" into Google. What do you get? A bunch of tutorials on how to use Photoshop to create shiny, shiny buttons.

Does that mean that you can enter the land of Web 2.0 by taking your existing website and adding glossy buttons, rounded corners, gradient backgrounds, and graphics that look like they are reflecting on a wet surface?

Not exactly.

The term "Web 2.0" was coined for a conference in 2005 as a catch-all to describe post-2001 trends in web development.

It is easy for people to latch onto surface texture – like shiny buttons – but the reality is that many web design trends of the past few years are the result of underlying changes in how the web works and how it is used. Greater browser support for CSS design standards has expanded what kinds of designs can be implemented. The trend toward dynamic and interactive websites has pushed designs to be more flexible and to have clearly defined sections. And, as people increasingly use the web as a platform for social connections, business collaboration, and research, websites that are functional and easy to use become more important.

Shiny buttons aside, here are some design concepts that might be considered Web 2.0:

1. Simplicity

Minimalistic Google sets the tone for this concept, but many other sites have followed suit. Simplicity doesn’t mean bare-bones, although it can. It means that site elements are organized logically and obviously, so that it is easy for a casual visitor to instantly grasp what the site is about.

Modern websites have a lot more going on than websites of the past, and it’s crucial to corral all that visual activity in such a way that it doesn’t turn into a big mess.

2. Personality

For a while back in 1997, web designers seemed to have the idea that being cold and a little dull was the best way for a small company to communicate professionalism. (Don’t forget the stock photographs of serious-looking people in business attire!)

The best modern websites have a strong design personality and communicate a sense of fun. Bold icons, humor, splashes of bright color, cartoons, distinctive visual textures or illustrations — all of these have a place.

3. Attractive calls to action

A "call to action" is a marketing concept: essentially it means telling people in no uncertain terms what exactly it is that you want them to do. In marketing, of course, the thing that you want people to do is something that directly gets you money. "Buy now!" or "Call us today!"

Calls to action on the web include not only standard marketing, but also how to use elements that are free to the user — "Watch kittens frolic" or "Download our free software" are both calls to action.

The best calls to action feature both a visual iconic element, and a text element. These two aspects work together for instant recognition.

And yes, calls to action can include shiny buttons.