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

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

June 16th, 2009

Web Design Inspiration – Go Green!

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

May 7th, 2009

Websites with Inspired Background Designs

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

April 1st, 2009

10 Great Contact & Comment Form Designs

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

February 24th, 2009

Creative and Fun Site Navigation

Navigation is one of the most important elements of a website design.  It provides your users with a road map and guide to your site and gives them a sense of direction.  Therefore, well-designed sites tend to have navigation menus and bars that are simple.  But as we’ve seen before simple doesn’t have to be boring.

The sites below have succeeded in creating nav menus that are creative and fun, while not confusing (and thus probably losing) their visitors.

Design Jobs on the Wall

Jobs on the Wall

Hug My Mac

hugs

Sarah Hyland

sarahhyland2

Simple Art

simpleart

Jilly10

jilly10

Kukral

kukral

Mint

mint

Waters Media

watersmedia

MB Dragan

mbdragan

Our Memory Of

Our memory of

Tasty Planner

tastyplanner

Apple

apple

February 16th, 2009

Designer’s Block – Tips for getting out of a Slump

Some days you kick out great work like it’s nobody’s business.  Some days you can do nothing right and feel like you’ll never design anything worthwhile ever again.  Everyone has been there, and its incredibly frustrating – especially when your deadline is looming. So next time you’re wrestling with a bout of Designer’s Block, try a few of these tips and strategies that AgencyTool gathered from a few fellow sufferers.

1. Sketch it Out
Go old-school and pull out a pencil and paper or whiteboard.  If you find yourself stuck do some brainstorming sketching first.  If you are completely stuck just doodling can help to get the creative juices flowing.  If you have a vague glimmer of a plan formed you can cross out, change, and put fresh ideas down faster than with any of the design programs out there.  This way if you suddenly don’t really like how the design is going it will take you all of 2 seconds to scratch it out and start again.  Voila, no “but I’ll lose all the progress I’ve made” dilemmas.

2. Just Let it Go
Say you make some type of kick-a** component, an awesome button, icon – whatever.  But this great piece of art just doesn’t fit into the design you’re currently working on.  You spent so much time and effort making your icon that you find yourself trying to change the entire design (and possibly getting stuck)  just so you can include it.  Words of advice from great designers…’Just let it go’.  Save your glorious button for another day and get your focus back.

Also under the ‘let it go’ category – don’t be afraid to step away from a design that’s just not working.  Let it go for a few hours/days then come back to it.  Then, if you’re still stuck, consider just letting it go altogether.  Instead of forcing something that isn’t quite right you’ll open up to ideas that might work better.

3. Switch it Up
Don’t use the same techniques over and over again.  When stuck, people have a tendency to fall back on tried and true components, resulting in a design that looks like everything else you’ve done before.  Force yourself to branch out and create something that looks different from your previous work.  Experiment with color, technique, layout or change locations by getting out of your office – just switching up your routine may be enough to get you out of the slump.

4. Take a Look at Galleries
There are a lot of gallery inspiration sites around, set aside an hour or so and just take a look through them.  Sometimes all you need is a kick in the pants.  Just be careful not to cross the line between being inspired by someone else’s work and stealing it.

5. Ask for Input
Ask people whose opinions you trust and who will be able to give you specific feedback and constructive criticism.  Steer clear of people who don’t have any design experience or tell you that ‘it just doesn’t feel right’, you’ll end up spending hours trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to fix something that may be perfectly good.  This can be a bit tricky – see the  SEOmoz blog on this topic: How to Ruin a Web Design

6. Relax
It’s cliche to use the batting average example but it does fit.  You’re not going to knock one out of the park every single time you sit down to complete a design.  It might be a good thing to lower your expectations just a bit – not everything you produce is going to be great.  Once you take the pressure off and realize that even the best designers run into this wall you’ll be over it in no time.

photo from icanhazcheezburger.com

February 5th, 2009

Crafty Custom 404 Pages

Few things are as frustrating as not being able to find a web page you are looking for.  You’re cruising along when all of a sudden you click that bad link, or your finger slips and you type a ‘r’ instead of a ‘t’, or you know you got it right and your page has inexplicably disappeared – hey, we’ve all been there.  Yes, when that moment comes and you are met with the standard “Page Not Found” message it’s more than a little annoying.

But sometimes it’s not so bad.  When a designer takes the time to create a custom 404 page it adds to the user experience.  Sure, you’re still a little annoyed you haven’t found what you were looking for – but running into an error page that’s funny or creative or just plain great to look at lessens the blow a bit.  You might even stick around and give it another go instead of bouncing right off the site.

We love well done custom 404 pages – here are 35 of our favorites for your inspiration!

Stef

Nokia

NorthFace

http://www.mamselle.ca/error.html

Sonic

kottke

SocialThing

wulffmorgenthaler

robgoodlatte

truth

CraigsList

BirhgtKit

ApartmentHomeLiving

Zug

bonnaroo

livadaru

larknews

evisibility

zivity

magneticwebmedia

acorncreative

dawdle

lileks

jeremyfuksa

dazeofourlives

cricketfeet

martinkorner

orangecoat

homestarrunner

geeksquad

renkoo

fryewiles

tadley

jackfig

slonky

January 27th, 2009

Web Design in Yellow

Yellow can be a tricky color to design with, but when used correctly it can lead to a creative and fresh website.  Check out these sites that use the color extremely well…

Scrapbook Your Memories

sebdesign

Muchos Grande

Twist Systems

Yellowlane

Roome Consulting

PenelopeTom

Bruno Magalhaes

Year

Rorol Studios

Web Outsourcing Services Group

Bard Illustration

Extra Small Studio

Team Manager

Yellowstone National Park

Paralotna

BrainStore

ZaumThink

Album Creative

Yellow Bird Design

Java Communications

Guimkie

OFMECC

YellowBook

Agent89

Mohit’s Blog

VideoHive

So, if you’re feeling adventurous – go ahead and make your site yellow!  Here’s a yellow color chart to get you started.

January 14th, 2009

Web Design in Black & White

Black & White doesn’t have to be boring.  Monochromatic color schemes can be used with just about any color, but some of the most striking are in black & white.  By cutting out color a website relies more heavily on other design elements – such as layout or typography, etc..

So here’s your daily dose of inspiration…30 extremely well-done Black & White websites…

DepthCore

80/20

arsnova Design

Atomised

Authentic Boredom

Back To Help

Brancozero

CRW

ArtWorking

Designing The News

DSGN+DVLP

Expression Tints

Hell-Cat Records

Imagine Boris

Jon Tan

Launch

Mark Wieman

Mojave

Mirificam Press

PostMachina

Rikcat Industries

RedChilli

Romsound

Subtraction

Svenigson

The DECK

XQS

The Old Fashioned

VBG

West Surfing

If you need more convincing check out this post by Youri on Designfeedr: Lose the color! 9 reasons to ditch color

November 5th, 2008

Great Brands with Bland, Boring, or Just Plain Bad Websites

There are a few brands, the crème de la crème, that consistently show up on various “Top 100″ type lists.  You know which ones I’m talking about.  They’re household names and for the most part come out on top because they’ve met and exceeded the expectations of reviewers/consumers/whoever.  They’ve got the best of everything (insert famous ad tagline here) and they’re usually not hurting too badly financially.  So when I stumbledupon the latest “Top 100 Brands” list here I took a look at some of the companies’ websites guessing I was in for an overdose of inspiration…

I was wrong.  A few were great, most were fine, and some were pretty bad.  The bad ones are here…enjoy!

Duracell

For a site with upwards of 80,000 visitors per month its amazing how dated Duracell is, and the slow-to-load, amateur-ish flash intro doesn’t help.

UPS

Yes, its bad – but I was going to let this one slide because it was UPS.  That was until I checked out compete.com and found out they average over 12 million visits per month! I am truly speechless.

FedEx

Better than UPS…but not by much.

Colgate

AH my eyes!! Bad color choice and much too cluttered.

Ferrari

Cars this cool deserve a better website…’nuff said.

BMW

Granted it gets better as you delve into the site – but you don’t want this to be the first thing people see. Boring.

Merrill Lynch

I know its ‘professional’, and that a website probably isn’t a high priority for them right now…but come on, this looks like they haven’t upgraded since 1998.

McDonald’s

I’m not lovin’ it. The black background could look cool, but they have so little content on the page it ends up being overwhelming.  The navigation is hard to use as well.  They made it super interactive, problem is that when you move your mouse inadvertently what you were reading can disappear.

Nestlé

Where’s the yummy food?  Seriously…not one chocolate chip? I realize they are a huge company, but it seems like they’re taking themselves a bit too seriously with this extremely corporate-feeling site.

BP

With second quarter earnings this year of $4.98 billion you’d think they’d be willing to drop the $5K or so it would take to make their site modern and maybe a bit better looking.

Avon

Avon’s business is looking pretty…they should know better.

Accenture

The biggest/best consulting firm around and this is all they’ve got? Tired design with hardly any navigation to speak of doesn’t convey the image they’re probably going for.

Marriott

Some useful features, but the site doesn’t have a very welcoming feel – why would I want to stay here? I think not having any pictures at all is a lost opportunity for any site trying to sell accommodations.

Canon

Know any other great brands whose websites don’t quite live up to your expectations?  Let us know in the comments!

October 28th, 2008

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Let’s be honest…blogging is hard.  In fact, Michael Parsons touts it as the “hand-to-hand combat of the writing world”.  Creating and maintaining a successful blog is a huge undertaking, and those that are really successful at it put forth great amounts of effort.  They eat, they sleep, and they blog.

The blogosphere really is another world, with it’s own set of rules and etiquette that you’ll need to learn.  You should set aside time to read other people’s blogs, and try to establish relationships with other bloggers.  Learn when to comment, when to post your own content, and when to link to other blogs.  Staying up to date can quickly turn into a full time job if you let it, so here are a few tips to help:

  1. Write about something you like and write often.  Seems like common sense, but readers will know if you aren’t sincere and you’ll build up loyal readership faster by making new content available regularly.
  2. Stay well-informed.  Get your facts straight and be aware of what others are writing about the same topic.  Readers will nail you to the proverbial wall for obvious duplicate posts or not fact checking first.
  3. Promote your blog.  Readers will not be magically drawn to your site so you’ll need to do some grunt work, especially in the beginning.  Ping, use trackbacks, and leave comments on other relavent blog posts to let others know what you are up to.  Use gimmicks, wit, a specific tagline – anything to get noticed, the internet is a black hole of information that is easy to get lost in.  Lastly, make use of social bookmarking and article submission sites by submitting one of your better posts once in a while to reel in new visitors.
  4. Don’t just blog for the sake of blogging.  Have an opinion or something useful/interesting to say or no one will pay attention
  5. Have thick skin.  Readers will leave harsh comments, its part of the game.  Respond (tactfully) if you must and then move on.  If it bothers you, use comment moderation to weed out the particularly hurtful ones.
  6. Hang in there.  It will get easier.  Most bloggers who get discouraged and quit do it in the first few months.  Building an audience takes time, and it doesn’t really matter how many people you are reaching as long as that number keeps growing.  The older your blog gets the more credibility it will earn.

It’s hard, and its not for everyone – but blogging can be very rewarding.  Adding a blog is a great way to make sure your site has fresh content, you’ll get your point across to lots of people, and hopefully you’ll have fun and gain satisfaction from sharing information with others and participating in online communitites.

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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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