My favorite occupation is designing websites, trying to match the best look and style with the subject focus of the website. Of all the things that I do using my computer, it’s the initial design of a website that comes most naturally to me and therefore the task where the most amount of time can go by without my even thinking about the time. When the correct design is applied on a topic or subject it’s like a light goes on and immediately I know that the design is on track. Sometimes it can take dozens of attempts to get to that point.
Unfortunately the design of a site is of lessor importance than the development and the content. Like so many things in this world the finished product is determined by the ingredients, the formula (or recipe), the skill and experience of the person bringing all these together. I might add that passion for the project is a major contributing factor. So many times I’ve had clients that contract me to design and develop websites for them but naturally they have there own ideas about how it should look, so my job is then to communicate with the client and understand their vision, their subject matter and then apply these ideas towards what I think they need.
A problem arises when there’s a disconnect between the web design team and the client. Often times the client has just recently devised an idea into a product that he or she thinks is suitable for e-commerce, so there’s not enough definition of the 5W’s (who, what, where, when and why) of course you can add “H” to that list, for “how much $” because price point is so important. Now to fill in the blanks I need to put on my marketing consultant hat on and delve into the business and marketing planning of a product or service concept, this slows down the entire website design process but is a necessary evil in the cases of incubating new ideas. I never discount new ideas as this is the life’s blood of the Information age and no-one can tell what will be successful until it’s been thoroughly market tested, my job is to help getting the concept to market by putting it on the web where the idea can be shared and then let the “acid test” begin.
Designing my own sites is what I like the most because I’ve been developing the concepts, in some cases for over 10 years. My design process starts with pencil and sketch pad, I’ve got sketches going back years and the design elements have been revised and melded into the newest sketches. Some of the early sketches are extremely busy with keywords scrawled all over the top of the page, navigation system links all down one side and lines with arrows on the end connecting circled blocks of text. As the designs evolve the sketches become more logical and less chaotic. Most of the sketches were turned into ABC RAID websites long ago but the sketches are still meaningful. One such case is InvestOffshore.com which has been online for many years and now getting ready for it’s 4th or 5th revision.
Fundamentals are so critical for a successful website, flawless code and perfect style sheets are the only way to start. It might take longer to parse through and repair the code errors to get the initial template design perfect but I believe that it has to be done before other pages are published. For me, the web style guru has always been Patrick Lynch from Yale University (see: www.webstyleguide.com), 10 years ago his site was on Yale.edu servers and provided me with the design grids I used in almost every page I designed, some of those pages are still published to this day. Amongst the more important lessons to be learned on the Web Style Guide is how people use the web to learn about topics, best described as an electronic brochure because people’s eyes jump from bullet point to content block and click to the next page, searching for the answers they seek, as though the website was a brochure.
My personal beliefs about web design have remained the same, in that we have a very limited length of time to establish a connection between our website visitor and much of what happens to establish some form of trust is subliminal and happening at a subconscious level. I’ve been able to prove this to myself by publishing 3 different websites with essentially the same content on each but Invest Offshore has the brand name (first), larger easier to read blocks of text but oddly enough the color combinations, which were researched using all things associated with “Royalty” and borrowed some ideas from “Crown Royal” a top-shelf brand of Canadian Whisky, then blended these ideas with an anchor and crown logo, which was modified from the Dutch Naval insignia of an ensign.
No website design is ever finished, unlike artworks a website is, or should be in constant evolution and hopefully always improving. Navigation is critical because when people first arrive it’s the nav-bars and page layout that starts working subliminally, informing them that they’ve arrived at a site that can answer their questions of provide them with new information. It’s also important to attempt to reach as broad of a market as possible in both the content of your site, it’s hierarchy nav-systems and in how the pages resolve on people’s computers. Tables are used only for tabular data, and style sheets used for layout with columns being a percentage of the available screen width not an absolute measurement. Give people what they expect by putting a logo in the top left corner linked to the homepage and try to provide the option of clicking on “printer kopen friendly” pages for those that like to read on a plain white background.
For getting started I keep a directory of designs from Open Source resources.