Toolbox Blog: resources, tips, tricks & info for creative professionals

New Dashboard Updates!

January 18th, 2010

First off we’re sorry…it’s been quite a while since we last updated, and the suggestions for sites to add to the dashboard have kept pouring in.  This morning we made a pretty big update.  New sites have been added across the board – there are more design and coding resources, as well as more SEO & PPC tools.  So check out the new & improved Web Design Dashboard to see what we’ve added.

Thanks for taking the time to send us all these great websites.  It may take us longer than we want to update, but rest assured we’ll keep doing so – the Dashboard is a valuable contribution to the design community, not to mention our AgencyTool users and visitors.



How Much Does a Website Cost?

August 18th, 2009

4 out of 5 inquiries from new customers begin with some form of the question, “How much does a website cost?”

I think they would be most happy if we could open up the magic website price book and provide them with a useful answer. Instead, we usually say … “Well, that depends upon the type of website you would like to build.”  (How’s that for helpful?)

Actually, it is helpful because such a question begins a discussion that allows both parties to thumbnail out the actual scope of the project at hand.

Here is my firm’s approach to collecting the information necessary to provide initial pricing estimates.  It is a four quadrant model that includes: scale, features & functionality, content development, and interactivity.

Scale – How many sections and pages are we thinking about here?  Is it a redesign of your current site whereby the size of the site might grow by a foreseeable percentage?  Is there a competing site that does a good job capturing the information we’re hoping to capture?  Have you jotted out a preliminary sitemap?  The more thoughts the client can provide on the scale of the site, the quicker we can provide helpful budgetary information.

Features & Functionality – Basically this means “what do you want visitors to be able to do on your site?” – and – “what type of management control and integration are you looking for on the back end?”.   Front end features are usually more obvious.  Are you looking for basic forms, links, and a search feature?  Do you want to post jobs, manage news & events, and host a forum?  Is ecommerce involved? (If so, get ready for a good many more questions.)  Back end features are typically not as thought through.  What degree of content management are you looking for?  Does the site need to integrate with any other software, servers, databases?  One atypical feature request can easily add 50% to the cost of a web project.

Content Development – Content covers both the copy (words on the page) and the images (photos, illustrations, video).  Will the client be providing final website copy?  Or, will you be in need of copywriting and/or copyediting services?  To what degree?  Is there any video production needed for the website?  Will we be using stock photography, client-provided photography, or custom photography?

Interactivity – How much interactivity are we wanting to incorporate into the website?  Hold all other parts equal (scale, features, content), a website with a high degree of interactivity (transitions, multimedia presentations, flash integration) can easily cost 2-3 times more than a basic static website.

To make the “how much?” question even more interesting, the “how much” often depends upon “who” you’re asking.

As you move across the scale from part timers/freelancers/students/friends to very-large-agencies, the cost of a similarly scoped project will increase exponentially.  Experience, team size, and overhead all get factored in and influence the pricing.  On the plus side, you do usually get what you pay for.  Not always.  Usually.  Also, it’s sometimes comforting to know that your web resource will be reliable and won’t be moving/leaving the industry/graduating/you-name-it any time soon.

Technologies used to create your website certainly influence price.  Microsoft licensing costs can add up.  Open source web technology provides a major value, though is not welcome in all organizations.

Lastly, certainly not least, is the degree of search engine optimization effort that is provided with your website.   If a web partner is going to invest the time and effort to identify how people find your business and then incorporate that knowledge into the architecture of the website, be prepared to see at least a few thousand dollars added to the cost of the project.

Some sites cost $1,200.  Others $300,000.  Still others $2MM.   There’s no one price for a website, only a series of trade-offs.

So there we have it, right?



Web Design Inspiration – Go Green!

June 16th, 2009

The color green represents balance and well-being, it’s among the colors that are easiest on our eyes, and it’s up next in our color inspiration series. Take a look at these sites that use the color really well…

RIPie6

Emotions by Mike: freelance portfolio

Mint

Come 2 Play Games

Zootool

PRChannel Twitter Page

Drop Bags

The Organic Supermarket

MacTarnahan's Amber Ale

Modstudio

Silverback

Lipton Global

CodeRiser

The Design Hippy - Portfolio of Joseph Gallagher

Zurb

Forty

Wathen-Castanos

4Design.TV

ewi Worldwide

Osvaldas

Breeze

Freshbox

Borneo Tropical Rainforest Foundation

Life Tree Creative

Go Glamping



Websites with Inspired Background Designs

May 7th, 2009

Nothing influences the overall design/feel of a web page more than the background. Unfortunately, many sites often overlook this element.

Here are a few sites we’ve come across that deserve recognition for their great use of background design.

The Hotel Bellwether:

Hotel Bellwether

Elitist Snob:

Elitist Snob

Kris Nyreen’s Twitter Page:

Kris Nyreen's Twitter Page

Dara’s Garden:

Dara's Garden

ndesign Studio:

ndesign studio

Doghouse Wines:

Doghouse Wines

Jobs on the Web Designer Wall:

Web Designer Wall - Jobs

Not Your Average Joe:

Not Your Average Joe

Scrapbook Your Memories:

Scrapbook Your Memories

Philippe Plaideux:

Philippe Plaideux

Like what you see? Here are a few resources for finding or creating your own site backgrounds:
Oustanding Website Background Guide: 60 Impressive Resources
Free Background Textures
13 Sites for Beautiful Patterns & Backgrounds



How Can I Get a Job as a Web Designer?

April 21st, 2009

It’s a question we hear all the time and one that doesn’t have a straight answer.  Here are a few of our favorite resources to point you in the right direction:

First, read Joe Gillespie’s post Web Design as a Career over at WPDFD, he takes a stab at why this particular phrasing of the question is so hard to answer and talks about the many jobs that fall under the broad term ‘Web Designer’.

WetFeet.com gives a more generic description of the career path, but it’s a great place to start out and is geared towards the student or recent grad.

As for actual resources to help you on your way, Design Mentor Training has a great resource page specifically for Graphic and Web Design.  A traditional career research tool is a ‘job outlook‘ – you can look at employment trends, how the industry is growing, and salary ranges.

For more reading, About.com has a great collection of articles on professional web careers.

Finally, experience is key and freelancing is a great way to build up your portfolio and continue to develop your skills.  Check out The Monster List of Freelance Job Sites (2009) for where to go to find jobs.  A few of our favorites: Freelance Switch, ELance, and Guru.



10 Great Contact & Comment Form Designs

April 1st, 2009

Comment forms are one of the few ways readers and visitors to a site or blog can interact with those ‘in charge’, so its a little surprising that so many bloggers/designers throw together these forms and leave it at that. Once a user is at the point of commenting/contacting they probably won’t stick around much longer – that form is one of the last things they’ll see on your site. Why not leave them something to remember you by…just don’t get too carried away. Most often you’ll want to strike a balance between creativity and simplicity, forms that are confusing can lead to a drop in your conversion rates.

It’s always nice to see designers who put some thought into their comment or contact forms. Here are 10 of the AgencyTool staff’s favorites:

The comment form on NatalieJost.com is in a different layout than most, and the graphic down the side gives it a nice look.

From Natalie Jost

Sometimes it is best to keep it simple – it may not be the most exciting design element on the page, but it serves a purpose, and this well-designed comment form won’t deter any users from interacted with the site.

From Ordered List

The call to action of this comment form from RobGoodlatte.com changes; “Enlighten Me”, “Shout It Into The Forest”, “Sound Off!” and “Out With It!” are examples we took the time to find. It’s ok to have a little fun with your forms…

From Rob Goodlatte

We love how this one looks. An interesting font choice or experiment with texture can pay off big time…

From Toucouleur

The post-it look. It can be hard to be creative while still keeping a form super simple, this option pulls it off nicely.

From Point of Entry

This one isn’t live on his site anymore, but Edward Pistachio’s contact form is one of the most creative we’ve seen (thanks to swiss-miss.com for keeping it up!) While this obviously wouldn’t work for a corporate-type site, it fits in great with his site’s tone.

Edward Pistachio

Simple, to the point and just enough texture in the background to keep it interesting…well done.

From Jonnotie.nl

The comment form from Tentangrifai.com is bright, colorful and fits in with the rest of their site. It’s becoming more common for designers to throw in little extras commonly seen on forums, like the little smileys…its a trend we like.

From Tentangrifai

This one is from BlogDesignBlog, a pretty standard layout but we like the step-by-step instructions…and it’s always nice to let your visitors know you follow!

From Blogdesignblog

Last but not least, JankoAtWarpSpeed has a great tutorial for creating a comment form from images of old postcards…

From Janko At Warp Speed



Should Your Web Developer Be Your SEO Consultant As Well?

March 19th, 2009

SEO/Design/Development JuggleMost people not in the industry think about SEO as something that is done outside the actual website, if they’ve done their research then it will be all about link building, blog posting, PPC, etc.  The truth is there are an awful lot of things that can be done within the coding of a site that can make or break any SEO effort – we call this ‘On-page SEO’.  For more specifics take a look at our Simple Guide to SEO post, but it suffices to say that ignoring this type of SEO can kill a campaign before any ‘off-page’ effort has even started.

Ideally your web developer will know about these practices, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has the time to stay up-to-date on the constantly changing SEO world AND continue to move forward with the latest design techniques.  ViceVersa, don’t expect your average SEO consultant to be able to design and code your entire website.

There are people out there who are experts in both areas and can effectively build your site and manage your SEO, but they are few and far between.  Nine times out of ten attempting to cut costs by having one person do both will backfire.  Another option is to hire different people/agencies for each component.  It is a valid strategy, but there are inherent potential problems with this type of set up.  Any SEO consultant worth his salt will want to take a look at your website’s code, and will probably want to make at least a few changes.  Suddenly  issues of file access and permissions pop up that can really complicate, not to mention drastically slow down, the process.

The best possible solution is to have your site designed by an agency who employs both designers/developers and online marketing specialists.  You’ll end up with a coherent and more successful website because of the smooth communication between the two camps.



New Additions to the Web Design Dashboard

March 12th, 2009

Recently we’ve gotten in a ton of great suggestions for our dashboard from users, here is a sampling…

We all know SEO is an important component of web design, but do you know how well your page is optimized for your targeted keywords? SEO Content Solutions offers a Keyword Density Checker tool and SEO-focused copy-writing services.

Also just added is another solution for running email marketing campaigns.  TailoredMail can help you create, deliver, analyze and keep track of all your campaigns.  In keeping with the Marketing/SEO theme, we also got in a tip for a new FireFox add-on AdWords IDs.  This add-on is designed for savvy AdWords professionals who need more insight and transparency when using the web front-end. It brings account, campaign, ad group, keyword and creative IDs up to the front-end.

We are constantly updating the Web Design Dashboard, make sure you don’t miss anything by checking in often.  While you’re at it, check out our Web Designer Directory as well, it’s free to list your company and we send quality traffic your way…example: over 100 people have clicked through on the first few companies listed in California Web Design this past month.



Land a Job in the Web Industry

March 10th, 2009

Today’s job market is competitive to say the least, and you need to be able to stand out from the stack of resumes to make overwhelmed interviewers sit up and take notice.  Here are a few resume and interview tips that can help you land a position in the web industry.

Resume Tips
  • Be Clear and Focused: Your resume is not the place to tell your life story.  Stick to experience that is relevant to the exact position you are applying for.  Furthermore – within each job or web project listing point out the activities that are relevant to the position you are applying for now and try to leave out the rest.  Also consider using a list format, it’s easier to scan and will force you to leave out superfluous details.  The idea is to strike a balance – make sure its as easy as possible for the people in charge of hiring to get the basics, but have enough information on there to make it clear you are qualified for the job.
  • Promote Yourself: Your resume should make it crystal clear why you deserve the position.  Include everything that adds value i.e. talk about whatever programming language you are an expert on, apps you’ve built, the projects you managed, what exactly you were responsible for and how everything ran smoothly.  Also make sure you keep your language professional, but don’t be afraid to put in a bit of your personality.  It will help you stand out from the stack of resumes you are competing with, and anyone can spot insincere business speak anyway.
  • Quality not Quantity: It’s important to include a portfolio – but it shouldn’t contain every single site you’ve ever worked on.  Pick out a reasonable number of your best sites and include links to the actual sites.  Screenshots are great but won’t cut it alone – most of the people responsible for hiring will want to check out your code, the site’s usability, etc.
Interview Tips
  • Be Professional: An interview is usually the first impression, and you won’t get another chance.  First of all you should dress appropriately.  In the web industry this can be a bit tricky as workplaces are generally more casual, with not much in way of a dress code.  However part of the first impression you make will be based on your appearance – so its best to look good, example: no need to wear a suit, but stay away from jeans and sneakers.
  • Be Informed and Interactive: The ideal interview is a 2-way conversation.  Sure the interviewer will ask questions, but if he doesn’t ask about something you are particularly proud of on your resume speak up and talk about it.  Do some research so that you are able to discuss the organization or website and actually know what you are talking about.  It’s also important to ask questions, remember you are trying to see if the position is a good fit for you, not just vice versa.  Research will also help you know which questions you should be asking.
  • Don’t show up empty-handed: While this is sometimes part of a resume, you should always bring a portfolio to your interview – and you should be prepared to leave it with the interviewer.  Make sure it is put together well (on nice paper, in color, maybe in a folder etc.) and that it serves as evidence of your best work.  This is standard procedure and expected, showing up to the interview empty-handed will imply you are unprepared and/or disorganized.
  • Follow Up: This is perhaps the most over-looked component of the interview process.  A few days after the interview make sure you follow up with the company to re-emphasize your interest and qualifications.  Realistically this won’t make a big difference if the interview didn’t go well, but if the interviewer is deciding between a few people the candidate that follows up will get the job 9 times out of 10.  So whatever you do, make sure you follow up – be it through a thank-you note, email or short phone call.

Once you land the job check out our post: 5 Great Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Web Designers



“Interweb the Rainbow”? The Skittle’s Twitter Feed Site Re-Design

March 3rd, 2009

Modernista! did it first, but Skittles got the attention.

This week Skittles changed their homepage to a Twitter feed of anyone who tweeted anything with the word ’skittles’ in it and it’s created a lot of buzz.  Some people love it, saying its perfect advertising in our struggling economy.  Some hate it, more than a few social media types have called it a ‘cheap publicity stunt’ because of Skittles previous non-involvement with any sort of social media.  But, ignoring all social media banter and looking at the new skittles page from a web design perspective, we see some potentially serious problems.

First of all, control.  Your homepage is usually the #1 place people go when looking for information on your company.  Is it really a good idea to essentially give up control of the majority of the content?  Skittles has already run into this problem.  Once word got out you could get on their homepage by simply typing ’skittles’ somewhere in your tweet more than a few inappropriate links and offensive language popped up.

Usability.  The nature of this type of feed (and the sometimes inappropriate things it shows) caused Skittles to put up an age verifying pop-up before entering the site.  True, if a person can add or subtract they can trick the program, and the screen is a pop-up so you can see the content behind it anyway, but putting up a barrier to entry like this is a no-no in terms of usability.  Many users will simply not spend the time to fill it in and move on.  Also, what happens to the people who were genuinely looking for information?  They are bound to be more than a little confused on where they should go next or whether they are even on the Skittles site…not good.

The actual site navigation looks too much like a spammy pop-up for comfort.  Once you get past that and realize that it is meant to be their site nav the way they’ve labeled things can confuse people further.  ‘Chatter’ takes you to the same page you’re already on (’Home’), ‘Friends’ pulls up a Facebook page, and ‘Media’ brings in a Skittles focused feed from YouTube.  The only parts of the entire site that still resembles a company website is a contact form and somewhat lame ‘Products’ section with a few links to their parent company, Mars‘ site.

skittles-fb

skittles-home

skittles-products

skittles-youtube

They’ve created buzz and we really do applaud them for attempting to utilize social media to get their brand involved. However, abandoning current web convention all together and sacrificing usability is probably not the smartest move in the long run…guess we’ll have to wait and see.



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ABOUT AGENCYTOOL At its core, AgencyTool exists to serve as a resource for creative agencies, whether they be into web design, print, advertising or anything else. Here on the AgencyTool Blog you'll find a mish-mosh of resources and thoughts that we think are worth sharing.

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