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Designing Your Site

Leslie's Advice on How to Make Good Design Happen

Who Will Design your Site?
The last thing to do is design and publish your site! If you have a good eye for design (or are a designer) and can learn html, you may be able to do it yourself. There are a host of great tutorial sites online that can help you out. Check Jeffrey Zeldman's AListApart.com andLynda.com, these are especially good resources. Or, like BLUEHOST, your host may provide a free site builder. A short note on site builders; sometimes the templates look great, sometimes they are poorly designed, sometimes the site builder interface doesn't make a bit of sense, but sometimes the interface is highly intuitive. Everything depends on how well the site builder has been developed. Just understand that if you choose a site builder, your site may not be as individualized or customizable as you'd like, in other words, you will probably be limited to their box. However, if you can't afford a designer and you can't DIY, a site builder may be a good option for you. But, if you want a highly professional and usable site, hire a professional web designer who understands and implements site optimization.

Hiring a Designer
The basic things you want to review when considering a Web designer or firm is their portfolio, their client list and their resume.

  • Scrutinize the designer or firm's own site and if they don't have a site, don't hire them. Cobbler's shoeless children aside, it's just unacceptable to claim to work as a Web designer and not own a live site.
  • Is their site well organized and easy to navigate? Back - Back - Back (to 1992) Button is an example of poorly designed navigation. Look for sites that are well organized with persistant nav across all pages.
  • Do they show functioning client Web sites? This is a must! Or if you're willing to be a guinea pig for a brand new designer, hopefully you're getting a good discount.
  • Do they have a fairly substantial client list? Can they show depth and breadth of work?
  • Do you agree with their sense of aesthetics and design? Another must. Hire a talented person whose work you admire. Don't hire them because they are cheap and expect them to produce a Picasso, both you and the designer will end up disappointed. And don't hire them with the expectation that they can or will copy another artist's style.
  • Do they have experience doing the type of work you'd like done? Read over their resume, check their qualifications, talk to them about your requirements. Basically assure that they can do the job in the way you need it done. As an aside, many designers are VERY experienced at teaching themselves. For instance, I've never had an Illustrator class, but I am a self-taught daily user working at a fairly expert level. I can do much more with Illustrator than the average bear and I even teach Illustrator classes.
  • Do they have degrees or certifications in their field? Not a must, but nice to know there's some education. But remember, with artists, experience and talent sometimes outweigh education.
  • When you speak with them, do they ask questions about your project? This shows a willingness to understand your project and meet your needs.
  • What payment methods to they accept?
  • How do they charge? Designers will charge by the hour or on a per project basis. Some may ask for a down. Terms should be stated and agreed to up front. If they don't offer a contract, be leary.
  • A professional will present you with an invoice at regular intervals or upon project completion.

A Good Web Site

  • Is easy to find. Does it come up in browser searches?
  • Loads quickly. Images and copy should load in a flash. Speaking of Flash, well done Flash animations should load quickly and seamlessly. There is little (maybe even no) need for loading bars. When done correctly, Flash will load in the background while other things are going on. Think about using Flash components with in your site instead of entire Flash sites. (This media player is an example of a Flash component within an html site.)
  • Is easy to read. Look for appropriate line spacing and color use.
  • Is easy to navigate. Look for persistent navigation. You should be able to get to any page on the site from any other page on the site without using back and forward buttons. A large catalog would be an exception, but even a large catalog should have a breacrumb nav to help with this issue.
  • Has consistent design. Do all pages and elements look like they belong together? A poorly done design will often have a crazy quilt look with images, colors, typefaces and other elements randomly thrown together.

Spotting Good Design
Good layout is clean and well organized. Check for alignment of objects and text. Jangly edges, misaligned text and images, is a bad thing. Spell checking is a proofing issue, but, if the person is not detail-oriented enough to check spelling, they will not be detail-oriented enough to do clean layout. Good layout makes use of white space. The reader needs negative or white space to break up text for readability and to give eyes a rest.

Strong color use is restrained color use (look for a basic 3-5 color palette with appropriate accent colors), an exception to this rule is in the case of a children's site. White text on black is very hard to read and should not be used on any professional site. The same goes for blue text on red or vice versa, it's impossible to read. If you are providing a logo, the color scheme of your site should reflect the colors of your logo.

Good use of typeface or font will again be restrained. Use of over three typefaces is just too much and makes a tacky, unprofessional look. Use of font similar to logo font should be expected unless logo font is highly decorative. Use of too much italic or oblique is very difficult to read. All emphasis typeface should be used for emphasis only and not large blocks of copy.

Consistency is everything. Consistent size and hierarchy for headlines, subheads and copy help readability. Consistent use of logo reinforces branding and product recognition. Consistent link color helps the user spot hyperlinks throughout the site. Consistent use of color helps the user know he's still on the same site. Web and print presence should mirror each other, they should not look like two different entities, but instead should have consistent logo, colors, images, typefaces, etc.

Basic Principles of Design (Art School Design Class 101)
These are the rules that every designer should keep in mind and will make a design look professional. They are basic laws or truths or methods of operation which can never be changed but can be handled differently by different designers and artists. Think about how different designers have (or have not) applied these principles as you surf the Internet.

  • Balanced composition. Symmetrical is solid, trustworthy and traditional (think of news sites). Asymmetrical is dynamic, interesting and modern. Unbalanced composition is wonky, off putting and just about to fall off the teeter totter.
  • Scale and proportion. How do individual design components relate to each other? Think of lots of giant furniture in a tiny room - feels crowded, huh?
  • Contrast and emphasis. Contrast creates emphasis, this is why headlines are bolded. Of course, bold everything and you no longer have anything emphasized. It's impossible to make everything "pop".
  • Unity and harmony. Elements should work together and support each other not compete for attention. It is important that the design shows togetherness or "oneness", all elements should create one design entity.
  • Rhythm. Also called repetition of design elements or motifs. Rhythm helps the eye to flow from element to element on the site.

<<GASP!!>> Breather time for me ...I'm going to go out and find examples of great design to write about. Meanwhile, you can check out Cool Home Pages it's a great place to start when you don't know what you like. The next thing I'm going to ask is that you, as the client, be prepared, know what you like and be able to communicate. One thing you CANNOT expect from a designer is that they can hit a target in the dark.

OH! and I just added an article called Splash Pages are Evil on Daniel Bartel's site. Read on, if you dare!

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