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Archive for the ‘Web Design’ Category

January 18th, 2010

New Dashboard Updates!

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.

August 18th, 2009

How Much Does a Website Cost?

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?

April 21st, 2009

How Can I Get a Job as a Web Designer?

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.

March 10th, 2009

Land a Job in the Web Industry

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

March 3rd, 2009

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

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.

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 10th, 2009

5 Common Mistakes Made When Designing a Website

There are some pretty bad websites out there.  In fact, there are sites dedicated solely to pointing them out (webpagesthatsuck.com).  Most of the ‘bad websites’ out there (excluding the truly horrific) are labeled so because they made a handful of very common mistakes during the design process.  These are some of those mistakes we see the most often.

Having design elements that look like ads – There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a reasonable amount of advertisements on your website.  However, you must realize that because of the sheer volume of advertisements on pages, most users have developed selective attention.  They’ll ignore everything that looks like a banner, pop-up or any other type of typical ad – so its not a good idea to have important design elements or information displayed in any of these formats.

Jamming 10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag – Whether you go overboard on content or flashy design elements, cramming too much onto a site is a common mistake.  The result could be a busy layout, a wall of text, side scrolling, very little white space, etc.  Each of these things makes a website difficult to read and making your visitors work for information is never a good idea.

Having confusing and unclear navigation – Clear navigation is one of the most important factors for a site’s usability.  Users should have no questions about how they are supposed to move around the different areas of your site.  It’s a good idea to make your links change colors once a user clicks on them, knowing which pages they’ve already visited helps prevent users from unintentionally landing on pages they’ve seen before.  Also, your users shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find the content they are looking for – make sure that every single page is within 3 or 4 clicks of your homepage.

Looking amateur-ish – Sure this is a bit vague, but there are certain features/missteps that web designers make that scream beginner.  For example, avoid saying “Welcome to ____” on your homepage.  There are other ways to make your visitors feel welcome.  Similarly, test to make sure your page looks good in all browsers instead of taking the shortcut “Best viewed in ____”.

Using overly wild or bright color schemes – Everyone loves creativity, and this doesn’t mean that you should shy away from using color in your design.  However, when colors are too bright or you use too many colors on the same page it can look unprofessional.  Also make sure that your background color and text color compliment each other, keeping your text easy to read and scan.

So next time your designing a site, take a minute to step back and review.  If you avoid these common errors you are probably safe from having your site end up on one of the many “Worst Website” lists.

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 23rd, 2009

12 Great Free Website Templates – And Where to Go to Find More

Everyone has heard the saying “you can’t get something for nothing” in some form or another.

We respectfully disagree when it comes to free web design templates.  Templates in general have bad rap – especially the free ones.  There are so many sites out there offering free templates that are thrown together, look like they belong in 1996 or are just plain ugly – you also run the risk of having a website that looks exactly the same as your competitor’s.  Don’t get discouraged!  If you don’t have the talent, time or money to get a custom designed site there are plenty of free templates out there that are not only presentable – but actually quite well designed and even unique.

Here are 12 to prove our point:

And here are 6 reliable sites that offer well-designed free templates:

TemplatesBox.com
FreeTemplatesOnline.com
TemplateWorkz.com
Open Source Web Design
FreeLayouts.com
DotComWebDesign

Happy Hunting!

January 20th, 2009

9 Inspiring Interviews with Designers

A lot of design-related sites and blogs publish interviews with respected/well known people in the industry.  It’s a great way to gain insight and hear about others’ experiences and inspirations.  Plus a lot of these people are really really interesting…so here are a few interviews that are definitely worth a read through:

#1 – MarketingSherpa’s Interview with Steve Krug
A little older, but still relevant.  What works, what doesn’t, best practices…in audio and text format.

#2 – CrazyLeaf’s Interview with Lauren Marie
Interview with the creator of the successful graphic design blog CreativeCurio

#3 – SEO Blog, Marketmou and Aaron Wall
“Top SEO Expert Aaron Wall Speaks Out About SEO’s Bleeding Edge”

#4 – Fuel Your Creativity’s Interview with Fabio Sasso
Freelancing, inspiration, favorite tools and other random tidbits

#5 – Abduzeedo’s Interview with Chuck Anderson
Interview with Chuck Anderson, design mastermind behind NoPattern.com

#6 – Interview with Collis Ta’eed
Web Design and Print Design focused

#7 – Just Creative Design’s Interview with Jeff Fisher
Logo design, branding and blogging

#8 – OutlawDesignBlog Interview: Adii Rockstar of Woo Themes
Premium wordpress themes

#9 – FreelanceFolder’s Interview with Adrian Diaconescu
Freelancing, blogging, wordpress and more…

These are great places to start, if you’re looking for more head to Spicy Web Designers – they interview top designers from around the world constantly.  The actual interviews are usually short and sweet, great for random inspiration!

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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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