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

Posts Tagged ‘Web Design’

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…


Emotions by Mike: freelance portfolio


Come 2 Play Games


PRChannel Twitter Page

Drop Bags

The Organic Supermarket

MacTarnahan's Amber Ale



Lipton Global


The Design Hippy - Portfolio of Joseph Gallagher





ewi Worldwide




Borneo Tropical Rainforest Foundation

Life Tree Creative

Go Glamping

November 25th, 2008

Your Guide to Online Holiday Shopping

Yes its that time of year again…Black Friday (cue scary, suspenseful music).  The food coma from the day’s turkey dinner is lifting and the deals are so good that they convince people to flock to the stores at increasingly obscene hours of the early morning and run the risk of getting trampled in the mad dash for that last Wii Fit.

It’s more than a little ridiculous, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks to increasingly well-designed and easy to use e-commerce sites its possible to have a great shopping experience (and get great deals) without ever leaving your house.

AgencyTool is anti-gettingtrampled and pro-qualitydesign, so we’ve put together a guide of the best designed, most user-friendly online shopping sites around.  We’ve also thrown in a few ‘off the beaten track’ sites to make sure you stay creative in your gift-giving.  Enjoy!


First up, ebay.  The site has come a long way since the early days in terms of user-friendliness.  Its easy to use and you can find great deals.  They also have a very efficient reporting system, so in the off-chance you buy something fake or ‘not as promised’ ebay will get your money back asap.

Ideeli is members only, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding an invite code. They run frequent promotions in magazines and chances are someone you know is already a member and can invite you.  They have great sales on designer apparel and accessories.  The best part?  Every now and then they have giveaway contests, yep they give away designer handbags, jewelry, clothes, you name it.  Awesome. They keep the design simplistic by only having a few items on sale at any given time, allowing users to check back whenever they want something new instead of being overwhelmed by millions of products.


Incase is the perfect mix between online store and design showcase.  They sell cases for all your gadgets – cell phones, computers etc. – as well as stylish bags and carry cases, but the site is so much more.  Their tag-line is “A better experience through good design” we think that pretty much sums it up.


While not really an e-commerce site on its own, is a social shopping community that posts online coupon codes from various different retailers.  The look is fun and fresh, and it’s user review system makes this the best designed coupon gathering site around.’s design is crisp and neat, but not overly impressive.  The site is extremely easy to use and understand but is on the list mainly because of the creative spin they put on online shopping.  Not sure what to get someone on your list?  Head to Surprise where they not only suggest gifts by holiday but by what the person is like.  Is he a foodie? A movie buff? How about the perfect gift for someone who is always cold.  The sites pulls gift ideas from various other online stores and presents the perfect gift for your hard to buy for person.


Another useful tool for your online shopping experience is Buzzillions.  They have literally buzillions of reviews on all types of products.  The site is clearly designed so that it is easy to find the exact product you are looking for.  Also, the reviews themselves are uniquely designed, with pros and cons sections, ratings, and comparisons to similar products.  The site isn’t trying to sell you these products and doesn’t pay reviewers – so you can be fairly certain you are reading a real review from an actual consumer.

Vann’s Spices

Vann’s Spices is the perfect place to look for a gift for your amateur chef or impossible to buy for/has everything person.  They even make custom blends of spices.  The design is simple and looks great, its also laid out so that there is no doubt where to go for the information you need. is another site that serves as more of a tool than an actual store.  It allows users to visually search for products across multiple retailers.  That means if you find a pair of shoes you love but are way too expensive, you can head to Like and search for a pair that look similar but cost much less.  They’ve designed several cool features into the site, like the detail search – where you can draw a box around a particular feature of a product you like and the site will pull products that have that same feature.

The Purplebook

The Purplebook is essentially a directory for online shopping – retailers are handpicked for inclusion in the book.  Bold color choices make the design unique and the easy to use navigation makes this a great starting point for your online shopping session.


ShopLocal is for those who would rather do all the grunt work online and then just pop by the store to make the actual purchase.  Type in your zip code and the site will scour retailers in your area for sales and special offers, afterwards you can buy online or reserve an item to pick it up at the store. The design is clean and organized albeit a little generic, but the site deserves a mention as it is a great stepping stone for people still a little uncomfortable typing in their credit card info.

Restoration Hardware

Restoration Hardware has everything you could possibly need for the home, plus great gift ideas.  The design is easy on the eyes, which when compared to sites that have a similar number of products offered, is no small feat.

The Apple Store

Last, but definitely not least, the Apple Store.  Apple’s site is the epitome of clean, fresh design and their online store is no different.  They also show us that Black Friday is a go for online retailers as well, announcing that prices will be slashed on their site for that one day only.

There you have it.  So now when the crazies line up around the block at Best Buy at 3am (no offense, I’ve been guilty of this once or twice) you can be warm and cozy, sitting in front of your computer in your  pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate – or really strong coffee.

Think we missed a few? Let us know in the comments!

November 17th, 2008

5 Great Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Web Designers

From the obvious points to the light-bulb-over-the-head moments, there is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring web designers.  Here are 5 pieces of advice you’ll get from anyone with experience:

Plan it out! Congrats, you’ve landed the project and now your just itching to go start the build.  But you’ll save time in the long run by having an overview of your design.  It just makes sense to do a site diagram in Visio or, if you’re old school, pick up that pencil and paper.  You’ll catch the obvious mistakes/problems early on and will be able to fix them before its too late.  As an added bonus, it gives clients something tangible to look at while you explain your ideas.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Once you’ve got the basics down practice.  Volunteer (aka do work for free) at first to find your style and build up a portfolio.  Do a site for your church/favorite local pub/barbershop quartet…whatever.  Build up and maintain a few sites of your own – people will generally be more impressed with what you can do rather than where you went to school etc.

Be a “Jack of all Trades”. Web design is a competitive market, so don’t expect to be able to learn the basics and immediately land freelance jobs.  Make yourself attractive to potential clients by learning HTML, XHTML, PHP, SQL, CSS, and Javascript.  Its unrealistic to become an expert in every single one of these – but it pays to be familiar with them all.

Get Inspired! Take a look around the Internet for examples of good design (there are countless galleries around that were created for this purpose).  Find out who designed your favorite sites and seek out their other work.  Don’t steal their designs – but pay attention to the fonts, color schemes, and techniques they are using.  Pay attention to things outside the world of web design as well; posters, menus, art, even graffiti on the street can be great sources of inspiration when your stuck.

Last but not least…

Go the extra mile! Experiment with new techniques and try things that would normally fall outside your comfort zone.  Be available to your clients – this doesn’t mean you have to answer when they call you at 3am (unless your up anyway of course) but being approachable will make the relationship more successful.  While you’re at it back up their site for them, clients will love you if you’re able to give them back lost material if/when something goes wrong.  In short, do everything in your power to continue to grow as a designer and foster great relationships with clients – their recommendations are often the most direct route to your next project!

Any other bits of advice you’ve heard over the years that were particularly helpful?  Let us know!

October 24th, 2008

Uncorked: 22 Great Winery/Vineyard Website Designs

After our brewery design post we thought it was only fair to showcase equally inspiring designs for the wine drinker as well!  So here are 22 of the best winery/vineyard sites we’ve come across…

Dog House Wine

Luna Di Luna

Toasted Head

Rex Goliath

Renwood Winery

Folie a Deux Winery

Frog’s Leap

Gnarly Head Cellars


The Little Penguin

2 Lads

Dancing Bull Wines

Fish Eye Wines

3 Blind Moose

Bonny Doon Vineyard

Clos Du Val

Red Bicyclette

Magnificent Wine

Yellow Tail

Wine That Loves

Big House Wines

Turning Leaf Vineyards

August 13th, 2008

11 Signs That its Time for a Website Redesign

There are ALOT of sites out there that, well to put it nicely just aren’t very good. We’ve all gotten a good laugh when we come across a truly horrific design…but what if that site was yours or your business’? Not so funny now. The ever increasing quantities of websites, plus our rapidly decreasing attention spans, make good web design more important than ever.

As a public service, here are a few signs that you might want to think about a redesign:

Your Site Makes No Attempt at Engaging a Visitor

Your site is a wall-flower. One-way information flow is old and tired. With all the social networking and bookmarking sites (Digg, Stumble Upon, and Facebook just to name a few) people are connecting in new ways every day. These users will become frustrated if they can’t interact with your site. Blogging is a great way to make your site feel more social and up-to-date, as long as the blog is relevant. An added bonus is that the consistent new content will attract a crowd of “regulars” and makes your site more appealing to the search engines. At the very, very least make sure your email is easy to find. Remember, if people like you they’ll tell their friends.

Exemptions: Some sites intentionally designed to be informational (and informational only) may get a pass on this, but there’s really no excuse for not engaging a site visitor.

Your Homepage Makes People Shudder

You’ve got a cluttered first page. Too many graphics, links every other line, ads on every side, not to mention all your text, etc. Its enough to make the casual viewer’s head hurt! For example, I stumbled across this page and my stress level shot up instantly. The most up to date advice is to keep it simple.

Exemptions: No one. There’s no excuse for a homepage that leaves people not wanting more.

Your Site Makes Any Sort of Noise

Music, unless it is very relevant to your site content (i.e. you are a record label’s website) its probably a better idea to leave it off. Keep in mind where people may be when they come across your site…at work, school, in a library, etc. – all places where a loud burst of music may be less than welcome. Another factor to keep in mind is that not everyone may share your obviously superb taste in music (shocking I know). If, after you put some serious thought into it, you still decide to have a musical background please PLEASE design it so I will be able to turn it off.

Exemptions: Obviously, any music or video websites and also the very, very few websites that tactfully use sound on the site.

Your Site Has Content No One Can Read

No one can read your copy. Having too many colors on the page or choosing bad color palettes/backgrounds can lead to a site that is very hard for a user to read. The same goes for using really tiny text or a hundred different fonts. Anyone can get carried away during the design process, but let’s remember that first and foremost your website must be readable. If people can’t read the information you want to give them your website is essentially useless – no matter how pretty you think it is.

Exemptions: No excuse for tiny text or anything hard to read.

Your Site Involves the Use of a Horizontal Scroll Bar

The site has horizontal scrolling. We’re all used to scrolling up and down, making us scroll sideways is awkward and annoying. Please don’t do it, nobody likes awkwardness.

Exemptions: Blue Vertigo who has a resource list in the same vein as our Dashboard gets an exemption cuz their list is so useful, but it would be equally useful vertically. No one else gets a pass on this one though.

Your Site is Ugl-IE

Your site works and looks great in Firefox but is a train wreck in Explorer. Make sure your design works well with all browsers, you don’t want to lose people before you even get started.

Exemptions: None and its time to fire your previous web designer.

Your Site Leads People To Nothing

There is no focal point to speak of. Check out this site – sure our eyes flock to the red circle in the middle but after that its a free for all. It’s important to know how people’s eyes read a page and factor that into the design. You can influence how people view your site by creating a flow that is ordered and makes sense.

Exemptions: None, unless your going for that complete chaos look.

Your Site is Either All Text or Has No Text

Your site is all text, or for that matter your site has basically no text. Designing a successful web site is walking a fine line in this respect. Too much text looks busy, and people simply won’t read all the way through it. On the other hand a site with all pictures is confusing and hard to navigate, not to mention that having no text makes it much harder for the search engines to index/find your pages. For example, I dare you to try and find your way around the bow-wow books website

Exemptions: Craigslist (all text at its finest).

Your Site Opens with a Ridiculously Long Flash Intro

You have a ridiculously long flash intro. In theory its a great idea – visually appealing, fun to watch unfold, unique – but in reality it can go very wrong. These designs are now commonplace and people won’t sit through long intros, especially without a skip button. Granted, some flash intros can be very cool, but a common opinion among the best designers is that the intros are just another obstacle for potential visitors to overcome. Deciding to put in a skip button itself can be a catch-22, you allow the visitor to get right to your site but you are also effectively saying ‘my intro isn’t important why don’t you skip it’. In that case why do you have an intro in the first place? Its a debated issue and it basically comes down to personal taste. A flash intro is not an inherently bad design technique, but when abused it can hurt you. A general rule of thumb is any more than a few seconds and you start losing people. Here is an example for you – its obviously not meant to be a legitimate intro but you get the point.

Exemptions: Any site purposely trying to drive visitors away…so no exemptions here.

Your Site Induces Seizures

The website has text that blinks/scrolls too fast/flashes neon colors at you or contains any other activity likely to cause a seizure. Along these same lines continuous animation is also a no-no. Take a look at this site, the spinning globe animation and flashing text not only look bad but also make the design very dated, circa 1995. Too much movement on a website is like the little kid inside the store screaming ‘Look at me!’, its bound to get some attention – almost none of it positive. You have to go to this website to get the full effect, trust me (and what’s with the random cat running backwards at the bottom).

Exemptions: The band M.I.A. who’s user base loves flashing colors.

Your Site’s Navigation Confuses Users

The absolute #1 sign it is time for a new web design is if your site has unclear navigation. How users get from one page to another on a site should be obvious. Make sure you have some sort of menu on every page – people get frustrated when they have to hit the back button a thousand times. But be careful, let them hit the back button if they want to, there is nothing more annoying than getting redirected to the page you are on when all you want is the page you just left.

Exemptions: No excuses for a website that can’t be navigated by an everyday user. (more…)

July 29th, 2008

Recent Web Design Dashboard Updates!

We’ve had a great response from everyone and the suggestions are pouring in…as a result we’ve added quite a few more resources.

Under the Web Design section we’ve added a new site with over 40+ CSS Tutorials.  Also check out our newest Inspiration site, with eye-catching photos, designs, new products and music samples.

There is a completely new category under Site Maintenance, featuring a list of reputable E-Commerce processing companies.  We’ve also added links to new usability testing software, Silverback, as well as The Broken Link Preventer, a program that stops broken links on your webpage in real time.

Just a few examples of how our list is growing.  We want this to become the most comprehensive resource out there, so thanks for the suggestions and keep em’ coming!

We’ll try to post all of the valuable links we get in, so keep up to date by checking the Dashboard often!

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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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