Monthly Archives: November 2016

Is Web Design a Dying Trade or Can it Still be a Viable Career Option

web-design-dying-05Yes, web design is dying. It died a few years ago, it is dying now, and it will die again in the future. What does this mean? To put it simply, this means that web design is an ever-evolving career field that is impacted by many different factors.

A web designer relying on skills and education that they developed five years ago would find their career dead in the water. Likewise, a web designer who believes that the skills they have today will hold up five years from now is fooling themselves.

Web design will remain a viable career option for those that are willing to continually pursue new educational opportunities, work to form solid business relationships, respond to consumer needs, adapt to new technology, understand marketing and branding, and understand that web design is as much about art as it is technology.
Educational Trends Impacting Web Design Careers

The educational trend that is having the deepest impact on the web design industry is continuing shift from the traditionally classroom-based educational model to an open source model of education that is consumer driven.

This new education model offers online, self-paced classes for students who want to learn how to design websites. There are no academic advisers dictating the classes students must take or in which order they must take them. Students simply pick and choose the classes that they believe will be the most beneficial to them.

Khan Academy, Tuts+, Treehouse and iTunes University are just some websites that are adding new layers of innovation to education, especially technical education. Students who take classes provided by these entities won’t receive degrees. To be honest, that usually doesn’t matter to them, and it matters even less to their clients who are much more interested in skills than diplomas.

Bottom Line: Web design career viability depends on the designer’s willingness to increase their skill set via new educational opportunities. As the availability of these educational opportunities has exploded, stagnancy is inexcusable.

The Importance of Designer/Client Relationships

As industries go, the web design market is significantly saturated. There are also increasingly sophisticated tools and templates available to those that wish to ‘roll their own’ websites.

This means that web designers who wish to maintain and grow their design businesses must focus energy on fostering positive relationships with their clients and being responsive to their needs. After all, it is the customer today who has many more options, not the designer.

Bottom Line: Technical prowess is no longer a substitute for communications skills and customer relationship management.

Web Design and New Technology

Web designers that are profitable today are likely profitable because they responded appropriately to the mobile technology boom that began a few years ago. Those who wish to be profitable in a few years will likely adjust their design methods to adapt to new innovations, such as wearable technology.

Another way web designers will use new technology in the future is by adapting the use of tools such as Macaw to design websites over coding websites from scratch. This will be both in response to new technology and response to the increasing demands of customers that website delivery times be much faster than in the past.

Bottom Line: Customer preference will determine the technical focus of the web designer. They must make sure they are paying attention.

Web Design: Addressing Branding and Marketing for the Future

While eCommerce will always be extremely important, the role of the web designer today and in the future is largely that as one who delivers or who facilitates the delivery of content and branding messages to website visitors. This is why in many large corporations, the web design team is part of the marketing department rather than the IT department.

This is because the ability to design web pages that forward the company’s brand is so important that management often decides that web design and marketing should be partnered together as one unit.

For the web design freelancer, future relevance means focusing on understanding marketing goals and learning to design with branding as a primary goal.

Bottom Line: The wall between technology and marketing when it comes to web design has been blown to smithereens. Smart web designers will embrace this by educating themselves about marketing, branding, and content.

The Future of Web Design as an Art Form

Many business owners now use the term ‘user experience‘ when they speak of what happens when customers visit their website. This is because internet users have higher expectations today when they visit websites and those expectations will continue to grow in the future.

These expectations begin with content, but they also include high expectations when it comes to the look and feel of the website. Some of this is related to website navigation, but a good portion of user experience depends on the art design of the website.

Elements such as backgrounds, color schemes, fonts, videos, infographics, and layouts are going to continue to grow in importance when it comes to web design.

Bottom Line: Web designers will need to incorporate art into their development process, or they will need to work closely with people who are able to do so.

UX Tips for Mastering Your Next Website Redesign

ux-redesign-thumb-300x200Businesses can change a lot in just a couple of years. 24 months ago, mobile represented about 10% of all internet traffic. Today, it’s jumped to 25%, and Google has rolled out ranking changes that prioritize mobile optimized websites on search engine result pages. Buyers have changed, as well. Today’s website visitor expects a different experience than those of the past.

There’s a risk in frequent redesign, however. They become willy-nilly and lack strategic end-goals. Whether you work with an agency or revamp the site in-house, it’s crucial to make your website a revenue-driving channel and not just another pretty, shiny homepage.

Do Your Research

Before investing time and resources into revamping your website, map out what you want to change and ask yourself why these need to be made. Be careful with redesigns that happen because “I just want it to look more modern” or “I just felt like a change.”

A website should not only look better, but work better as well. Before doing anything, open up your analytics and record your starting position (also known as benchmark) for visits, search rank, conversion rate and other key website metrics. Create a goal and a strategy for how each of these metrics should change as a result of the redesign.

Having clear growth goals will give you an objective framework to measure the effectiveness of the redesign and process for future improvements moving forward.

Get Personal

Another change in buyer behavior over the last two years is the growing expectation of a personalized experience. 74% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content that has nothing to do with their interest appears.

Groomed by websites such as Netflix, Amazon, and other adaptive websites, visitors seek out content that is specific and relevant to them. Even YouTube can recommend videos that it thinks you may enjoy. A 2013 Monetate/Econsultancy Study found that in-house marketers who personalize Web experiences see on the average, a 19% rise in sales.

Adding a personalization engine and strategy to your next redesign can help address weak conversion rates. Say you run a clothing business and a visitor recently purchased a shirt on your website.

If they visit your website again and see a promotion for the same shirt design, there’s a chance they’ll just ignore it. To attract and keep their attention, you could display related products, like pants or a bag that matches the shirt, to that specific visitor.

The companies that cut through marketing clutter today aren’t the ones with the flashiest ads, but the ones creating a unique and personalized experience.

Be Responsive

As noted above, buyers are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to find information online, and companies that don’t optimize their website from screen to screen are losing out.

According to a study conducted by Google, 79% of users who don’t like what they find on a mobile site will go and look for the information they need on another site. This shouldn’t be a surprise; if you walked into a store that was messy, unorganized, and had unhelpful salespeople, you’d probably leave immediately to shop somewhere else that was easier to navigate.

Use responsive design to create a site that adapts to fit a variety of screen sizes and be sure to incorporate behavior patterns of mobile users into your redesign strategy.

As part of your redesign, look to lighten the load on your site and ensure it appears properly on a variety of devices and browsers. In addition to load time, look at the structure of your website. Is it easy to navigate? Is there a clear route from research to purchase?

Mobile visitors in particular are action-oriented and need a clear route between point A and B. Use this redesign as a chance to make your site easier for visitors to move around throughout the sales cycle, instead of making them jump through hoops to become a customer.

Visual design choices are often the first to cross your mind (or your boss’s mind) when it comes to website redesigns, and for good reason: the visual experience of a website is significant.

In addition to that, however, make sure that your next website redesign incorporates functional improvements that reflect the way today’s viewers use your website. The improvements may not be as flashy or noticeable as new images or banding, but they can signify the difference between a good-looking website, versus a high-impact one.

Whether it’s the result of new SEO requirements or shifting brand values, you may have to redesign your site sooner rather than later. But how do you approach this monumental change? Well, it takes a mixture of caution and creativity.

Unleash Your Creativity

Once you’ve verified that you’re pursuing a website redesign for the right reasons, feel free to unleash your creativity and try something new. However, it’s also important that you take a calculated approach to your creativity.

Don’t be afraid to consult with other people and accept constructive criticism. By combining creativity and caution, you can increase your chances of redesigning an effective, high-converting website that attracts and converts leads.

Tips and Tricks for an Effective, High-Returning Redesign

If after reading through these points you believe a redesign is the right solution for your website, you’ll want to proceed with a careful strategy. Here are some specific tips to help you maximize your efforts.

  • Gather Lots of Feedback: Next, you need to work on gathering feedback. This includes insights from those within and outside your company. Those within will the company will give you a good idea of what is and isn’t working below the surface, while customers and focus groups can provide feedback regarding visual appearance and functionality.
  • Develop a Budget From the Start: You don’t want to get too far along in the process without developing a budget. This allows you to realistically see which issues you’ll be able to tackle, as well as which ones aren’t feasible.

Focus on UX and Functionality

Approximately 40% of all visitors will abandon your website if a page takes more than 3 seconds to load. That’s why it’s crucial to put user experience (UX) and functionality as your top priority.

If it doesn’t work to enhance the average user’s interaction with your company, then it shouldn’t exist. Use Google’s PageSpeed tool so you can analyze the site speed and optimize for best results. It’s not to late to prevent people from leaving too soon.

Website Design Rapid Prototyping Using Sketchflow

Back in the mid 90s rapid prototyping was considered a bad idea. The primary reason for this belief was that prototyping tools were so complex back then that they needed to be operated by developers. Therefore, the design process tended to be influenced by all design work had to be interpreted through the eyes of what a prototyper could actually achieve.

In 2010 there’s been a rethinking of prototyping. A lot of new prototyping tools have appeared over the past few years and they’re quickly being adopted by interaction designers.

Two things have changed to bring prototyping tools back into favor: The task they’re being used to accomplish and the tools themselves.

  • The prototyping tools of today are much more designer friendly. The adoption of user interface markup languages, such as MXML, XAML, and HTML, have made our ability to build and run more sophisticated software today has made it easier to create design tools that work for designers, as opposed to developers.
  • During this same time, the nature of what is being designed has changed. As we move away from designs that are a series of relatively static pages or screens, to designing applications that use fewer dynamic pages, it becomes harder to prototype these experiences using the traditional tools of diagramming applications and paper prototyping.

So we have perfect conditions for a new wave of prototyping tools: Increasing capability and rising demand.

Microsoft’s Contribution: Expression Blend SketchFlow

Among the new breed of prototyping tools there is Microsoft’s Expression Blend SketchFlow. SketchFlow takes a rather unique approach to prototyping.

Expression Studio

SketchFlow is part of Microsoft’s Expression Studio range of design tools. Following a rather lackluster history with design tools, Microsoft finally seems to be getting their act together with Expression Studio. Expression Studio is on its third release and comprises 4 or 5 products depending on how you count them:

  • Expression Blend: For building user interfaces for Surface, Windows, and Silverlight.
  • Expression Blend: SketchFlow; For prototyping user interfaces.
  • Expression Web: For building user interfaces for web standards.
  • Expression Design: For creating graphic assets for Surface, Windows, Silverlight and the Web.
  • Expression Encoder: For preparing video assets for Surface, Windows, Silverlight, and the Web.

Once you have the idea of the screen flow, you may want to go through and add descriptions of what will be on each one. You can then run the prototype and get a feel for how the application works, even though there’s no user interface yet.

Normally when you are prototyping a user interface, you want to avoid suggesting the final graphical treatment until you have the interaction model and information architecture model correct. As a result, you should build a wire frame user interface that is minimally graphic and just show how users will interact and navigate with the application. For this reason, SketchFlow provides a set of sketch styles, which contain all of the usual controls that have been restyled to have a sketch like appearance.

What’s interesting about these sketch styles is that they’re full controls that have been reskinned. This has two important consequences:

  • You can access all the capabilities of the native control.
  • You can change the styles of the controls as your prototype evolves.

Sketching Up Your Portfolio User Interface

The next step is to draw up the screens of our prototype. It’s basically a case of selecting the right Sketch Style controls and placing them in the screens on the Artboard.

For example, I used the following for the main portfolio screen:

  • A Sketch Button
  • A hand drawn Back arrow
  • A Sketch Title
  • A Sketch Subtitle
  • A Sketch Listbox
  • Another Sketch Subtitle
  • A Sketch Textblock
  • A normal image element
  • Another Sketch Button

Wiring up the Navigation

All you need to do is right click on the elements that will serve as navigation between screens, select Navigate to, and then select the screen the element should link to. You can also select Forward or Back.

Running the Prototype

To try out the prototype, simply press F5. The project builds, a test web server is spun up, and our prototype launches in a browser. The SketchFlow prototype includes your functional screens, as well as navigation and other tools on the left side. These tools help you navigate your prototype, as well as allowing the users to provide feedback. So as it turns out it wasn’t really necessary to set up the navigation in the beginning. For each screen of your prototype, the Navigation panel shows which screens that screen leads to, based on the connections you made in the SketchFlow Map. You simply move through your screens using the list on the left. You’re simply importing a set of paper sketches for your prototype. For example, you’d probably just start with this option, and add in your functional navigation later.

The SketchFlow Killer Feature: Feedback

  • Sketchflow handles feedback exceptionally. Regardless if you’re working in WPF or Silverlight, you can package up your prototype and distribute it for review by users, project members, and stakeholders. With Silverlight, SketchFlow creates a Silverlight website that you can host or distribute yourself, in which case you can just send a link to the reviewers.
  • When viewing your prototype, the reviewers are able to draw on individual screens with their mouse, in addition to typing in comments. The reviewers then simply export their feedback into a file they send back to you. You then load the files back into Expression Blend and review the feedback, overlaid on top of your original screens. In addition you’re able to give the reviewers access to the annotations that you’ve made within the screens as you built the prototype.

Feedback is one of the best features of SketchFlow. As well as for stakeholder reviews, you can also use it for internal reviews with your colleagues. When you conduct walk throughs of the prototypes, you can annotate the screens with changes that you wish to make. This becomes a live to do list, which can then be loaded back into Blend. Screens with feedback are marked with a light bulb icon in the SketchFlow Map.

After you’ve prototyped the functions of the user interface, you can also use your SketchFlow prototype for usability testing. SketchFlow permits you to run the prototype with the Feedback and Navigation panels hidden.

Another SketchFlow feature that needs to be highlighted is the component screens. These screens are the way that Sketchflow provides a prototyping feature that is essential: Permitting components in common to be defined once and reused across multiple screens.

Using SketchFlow, you can select any group of elements, right click them and select Make into Component Screen. Component screens are then shown separately on the SketchFlow Map, and they can be dragged onto any other screen.

One frequent use for component screens is to make navigation controls that are common to many screens. In the case of this example, the relatively simple navigation controls have been made into a component screen. That way the same navigation on every screen of my portfolio is included. One of the great features of component screens is that they don’t simply contain layout information, they can also embody behavior. Therefore, you can set the action of your navigation buttons once in the component screen, and know that the navigation will work on every screen that you include it in.

Alternate States

Another powerful feature in Expression Blend is visual states. Visual states allow you to define alternate states for individual elements, such as component screens, or your whole screen. The powerful part of this is that you can define different sets of states for the one element. So, for example, a button could have 3 different state groups: One for not focused and focused, one for non mouseover and mouseover, and one for disabled and enabled. That way you can combine the states that are necessary to create some powerful effects.

In this portfolio example, there are 3 visual states for my Navigation component screen:

  • BackOnly
  • BackOff
  • PortfolioOff

For each of the navigation’s 3 visual states, the visibility of the navigation items have been changed accordingly. All you need now is a way for each screen to tell its navigation component screen which visual state it should use. For that you’ll need behaviors.

Behaviors

Behaviors were introduced with Blend 3. They provide an easy way to add the basic interactive features to screens without having to code them. Like any other element, these behaviors are added to screens by selecting them from the Assets panel. You can use behavior to change the appearance of your Navigation component screen for each screen on the prototype. The behavior you need to use is named GoToStateAction. On each screen, drag GoToStateAction onto the Navigation control. The behavior will then appear in the Objects and Timeline panel nested under the Navigation control. You can then choose the behavior and set the trigger to the component’s loaded event and then select the desired visual state.

Prototyping Power with SketchFlow

SketchFlow is a particularly powerful tool. Because it’s built on Expression Blend and .NET, it gives you access to a wide range of functionality, allowing you to take your prototype much closer to production, if you wish. It also means that you can go a long way before you hit the limits of what the tool is able to do.

Of course, all those features mean that SketchFlow can be a bit overwhelming at first. Fortunately there’s more help available on the Web, in the form of articles, tutorials, blogs, and videos, so starting off is easier now than it was when Blend first appeared.

Review Bad Websites and Learn What not to do

Every day millions of people depend on the internet for information like what’s on your website. Now this’ll blow your mind ─ there are millions and millions of websites out there and thousands of them echo your site.

Given the competition, the trick will be drawing as many readers as possible to your site. If you’re not on the first page of search results, the chances that they won’t see it at all. Then when they do, chances are they will only stay as long as it takes to see if what you have to offer is for them before they’re off to check out another site.

When you’re on that precious first page and your site name gets noticed , it’s imperative that you get and keep their attention at least long enough for them to decide whether you have the information they want, it’s time to hit them hard with your logo. Your Home Page needs to make an unforgettable impact, and a mind-sticking logo is a great tool.

Put your logo (a coast to coast visual (logo bar) demonstrating your site’s message) across the top of every page and then put it on everything with your company name on it. You’ve heard of “branding”? This is the first step, and you’ll be reinforcing it at the top of every webpage, on every handout, and on every letterhead, business card, invoice…

Now that the logo bar is in place, let’s put the rest of it together so that it will get their attention and keep it.

Step One: Identify your readers. For our purposes, let’s say you want to create a site that attracts people with disabilities and their caregivers. Now think of every possible word or word phrase (Key words and Keyword Phrases) that the disabled and their caregivers may use in an internet search. Disabled, handicapped, wheelchair, walker, physical therapy, Easter Seals, and MDA Telethon are a few, and once you get started you’ll be surprised to find out how many you find. These are the words you’ll use as many times as possible on every page of your site.

Step Two: Outline your message. As in, “I want to create a database of links to help sources where a person with a disability or a caregiver can locate the help they need.

Step Three: Break this umbrella topic into smaller more manageable subtopics and then put them in the order you want your readers to see them.

Step Four: Create a navigation bar across the top or down the side of your webpage. It makes it easy for your readers to get around the site and quickly find the information they came for.

It will look something like this:

  • Home Page: Where to get help
  • Federal Government Agencies
  • Local Government Agencies
  • Organizations
  • Chat Room
  • About Us/Contact Us

Step Five: Beginning with your Home Page (where you introduce your topic and outline your site’s message and content), create page for each subject on your Navigation Bar. Next, do an internet search for the links you think will be of help to your readers and paste them onto the appropriate pages. Remember those keywords and keyword phrases? Use them in the navigation bar at the top of each page putting them in each page’s title. Your keyword tells your readers at a glance what information they will find on a particular page. The idea is make it easy for your readers to find the information they came for; they will appreciate this more than you can imagine. Let’s say a person in a wheelchair wants to know where to go to find service organizations in his city, county, or state, or maybe he or his caregiver wants to learn about federal laws designed to make his or her life easier. These folks don’t have time to wade through page after page looking for links to organizations like Suncoast Center for Independent Living or government sites like The Department of Justice to read about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Tell readers right up front what to expect on each page.

Step Six: Then sprinkle at least six of them throughout each and every page of your site.

In short, salting your website with keywords and keyword phrases beginning with the title, straight through the navigation bar and at least six times per webpage will bring web traffic to your door.

Follow these six easy steps to designing your website and attract the readers you want to your site.

What Makes For an Excellent Website Design

The goal of website design is to create a unique and captivating atmosphere that facilitates a visitor’s prolonged stay on a given page. Sites that do not properly brand themselves and clearly present information about their products and services through the layout of their site will maintain a lower volume of visitors than those whom have put effort into the formatting of their site. For example, Mama’s Java in Seattle has signature coffees but no signature website design. A simple and bland website not only doesn’t attract clients, it doesn’t keep existing clients interested or invite referrals. Coffeehouses like a Mama’s Java have to differentiate themselves from the multitude of other coffeehouses and websites in the Seattle area. Just as the creation of a company takes planning and foresight; an excellent website design requires the same level of planning and attention to detail. Following these four basic steps can help you begin and complete the web design process for an excellent website design:

Step 1: Don’t Fail to Plan
A perfect cup of coffee requires the right beans, coffeemaker, a barista to complete the sale. The first step in creating an excellent website design is: planning. Before Mama’s Java could open their doors, they had to plan their business’s image by choosing coffee types, equipment, employees, and their public image. Customers walking by instantly knew what Mama’s Java offered because they planned before creating a logo or advertising so the image was consistent, strong, and represented the company in the best possible light.

Before you begin creating your website design, you need to start by planning out the online image you want portray. When customers search, they will come across your well-designed website just as the right storefront functions.

Step 2: At the Design Table
Once you have decided on your focus and audience, you can start with the actual design process. Again, planning is crucial. Will you design the website or do you need someone to do it for you? Even if you have help from an outside web designer, you need to discuss the colors, layout, and function of the pages.

Basic determinations you need to make for website design include the colors, layout, font families, and font sizes for the website. For Mama’s Java in Seattle, these details might include brown or sepia tones to reflect their coffee influence with stylized fonts that echo their logo print type. Picking colors and fonts that are easy to read and interesting will keep your visitors reading and seeking out information which in turn, leads them to your product or services.

Step 3: The Design Plan and Development
As you begin creating the actual design of your website, planning is key again. Finding or creating content for your website is crucial. While you may not have all the articles or copy written before you begin your web design, you should have a good idea of what content you want on the site and where you want the articles, headers, and general content to be on the site.

Coding is very important as you begin your web design. Determining what format you will create is important as the technical aspects of website design like coding keep the site running and updated. The best website content won’t attract or retain visitors if the technical side of things isn’t running correctly.

Step 4: Content is Key
Search queries are often what lead potential clients to your website. The content on your side has to be geared to put your site at the top of search queries looking for the latest, newest, and original content. Deciding what content you want to offer to your clients is something you need to examine. You can either write or purchase content to best address those needs and search engine optimization requirements.

After you have created or planned your content, you need to make a simple sitemap that makes your site easily navigated by visitors. The best content in the world won’t benefit your company if it is buried in the website with a multitude of click-through pages.

By examining these simple steps as you design your website, you have the basis for the creation of an excellent website. In turn, like Mama’s Java of Seattle, you can better drive your business and serve your clients online.