Web Design Wonderful: Pretty Is As Pretty Does!

Web Design Wonderful: Pretty Is As Pretty Does!

A.K.A. Balance Form & Function You Must …

Note: You HAVE TO channel Yoda and read that subtitle out loud!

It’s Wednesday! And that means it’s time for another round of my new weekly series, Web Design Wonderful. In the second installment of this series, I’m going to take a look at web design and development as a balanced approach between form and function, or pretty and performance.

Pretty Has A Place In Web Design

In the fast paced and ever growing and changing digital marketing space, we seek to measure everything. It’s a compulsion. ROI must be recorded, every click accounted for.

Where does pretty or appearance fit into ROI and measured performance? You might be surprised.

No, I can’t provide you with a case study or any carefully calculated numbers, but word of mouth research and response has shown that “well designed” sites keep visitors around.

You have only so much time to make a great first impression. Seconds really. What do people notice in those few first seconds? Color, I’d say. The overall aesthetic and layout, I’d also guess. It’s what I notice.

Functional elements are what they’ll see after the first impression tells them whether to bounce or settle in for a longer looky-loo.  And if those functional elements are lacking, they’re likely to leave. But first your site has to pass the “professional” first test.

Professional = Pretty?

Yes and no.

If, like me, you’re using pretty as a short and sweet term to describe the appearance and design aesthetic of a site, then, YES.

If pretty, instead, means pink and princessy, fluffy and flirtatious, not so much.

I’ve stated previously that what one designer considers “good design,” another might dislike and despair. Personal preference, and even personal experience, plays a large role in what our eyes behold has pretty or professional.

Yet, websites and web design are not new concepts and we’ve all seen plenty of iterations over the years. Our eyes readily rack-up what we consider outdated and old school.

Clashing colors, lack of white space, illegible type selections … all make an immediate impact, though a negative one.

Pretty & Performance Must Balance

Once your site passes the initial pretty/professional test is when performance and function must step up to the plate.

Can site visitors easily get to the good stuff or do they feel lost after a few clicks? Are they bombarded with a new and different pop-up every time they scroll or click? Are they offered opportunities to dig a little deeper into who you are and what you do?

Performance is about getting site visitors to take action, and by taking action getting them to:

  1. Subscribe/Sign-up
  2. Speak up (leave a comment or fill out a form)
  3. Part with their $$$

With those three actions in mind, it’s important to consider your CTAs (calls to action). Are they carefully crafted (words), well designed (eye-catching and memorable) and well developed (actually leading your visitor and prompting them to take action)?

And I haven’t even mentioned mobile, yet. Does your web design sell and succeed on the smaller screen?

Performance, Not Pretty, Drives Interaction

Your website is your digital storefront or office space. What a prospect would expect to do in person, face to face, your website should also allow and make easy and intuitive.

Functionality works with form to make this happen. That carefully selected font draws the eye and allows readers to skim when correctly set-up in your headers.

Buttons, arrows and other visual elements, while eye-catching, won’t convert if they don’t correctly deliver data or drive the next interaction.

The prettiest custom-designed social sharing buttons don’t help at all if they’re not properly formatted for the specific social media platform.

Pretty Alone Is Not Enough

Like the nettles in this article’s imagery, pretty without performance can be painful.

While the blue hue is lovely and the shape enticing, a quick touch is not so pleasant.  If your site leaves prospects and peers uncomfortable and in pain (because they can’t do what they expected to do), despite its lovely appearance, the balance is off and the site isn’t benefiting your business.

The pretty/performance ratio isn’t always going to settle at 50:50. You must carefully consider the intent and purpose of your site and the actions you would like visitors to take in order to create the balance that best suits your brand and business.

Web Design Wonderful: Make It Legible, Please!

Web Design Wonderful: Make It Legible, Please!

Last week it was my absolute pleasure to share my smarts (and some of my snarks) with the savvy band of social smarties that make up the #BizHeroes crew. I had a BLAST taking part in the Twitter chat, which takes place once a week (you should TOTALLY check it out).

While many find keeping up with the fast and furious sharing of ideas during a these chats on Twitter a little daunting, I find them fabulous. The fast, dare I say frantic, nature means people have to put their thoughts out there, and they do. I get so many article ideas from these chats, even when I’m not the “special guest.”

Web Design Wonderful: My New Wednesday Article Series

My Twitter chat topic was to be:

Website Wonderful? Starts With Well-Planned!

Of course, before we even launched the chat the topic was tweaked a bit and we focused on both planning and what makes a website “good.” Of course “good design” is a subjective term and what’s beautiful to one set of eyes might be a visual marketing monstrosity in the eyes of another.

While I’m not a fan of blanket statements, and I do not believe in one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to web design, I think there are some almost universally appreciated (note I didn’t say accepted, there’s a difference) design DOs that can and should be applied in almost any web design project.

Let’s Laud Legible!

You know I love to visit dictionary.com when I get feisty!

[lej-uh-buh l]

1. capable of being read or deciphered, especially with ease, as writing or printing; easily readable.

2. capable of being discerned or distinguished.

Stop Making Me Squint!

My eyesight is still good enough that I don’t require reading glasses, until … I come to a website that’s got tons of copy, possibly even GREAT copy, but it’s so ding-danged small I’m forced to squint.

Don’t force your site visitors to grab a set of binoculars or a magnifying glass in order to see what your site says!

Bump up that type size. 10 and 12 pixels won’t cut it anymore. I’m considering bumping mine up another notch, honestly, and I’m already embracing 17 px!

[clickToTweet tweet=”Stop making me squint! #webdesign that’s wonderful? It’s legible!” quote=”Stop making me squint! Web design that’s wonderful? It’s legible!” theme=”style4″]


Get In Line!

Go ahead and add some space between the lines, too, party peeps. Give your content a little room to breathe. It’s one of the first things I check when I’m asked to audit a site, and it’s often the most overlooked little bit of customization that can really rock your visitor experience.

My line spacing is pretty aggressive, at 1.8. Most of the time it’s left at the default, which is anything from 1.1 to 1.3, depending on the theme used or the custom CSS set up by the developer.

I say bump it up a notch. Crowded content can make your site appear cluttered and hard to scan.

Use Your Headers!

Speaking of scanning, a lot of your site visitors will skim quickly, dipping their toe into the pool of your site experience, before settling in for a good swim.

If you’ve been reading this article, and not scanning or skimming, you’ll note that I shared two definitions for legible. The second definition had to do with being able to discern.

When a site visitor is scanning your copy or one of your article, you want to help them discern that the topic is valuable and meets their needs. One great way to do so is to make use of your headers. Sized properly, and with a little color for pop, a carefully crafted set of headers within your longer body copy allow those with less time to decide if your full read is worthy of a few extra minutes.

The longer you can keep them on your site, the more likely that visitor is to take some sort of action, be it adding your site to their RSS feed, signing on for regular updates, or possibly taking you up on your latest offer.

Your Turn!

Of course, there’s another side to legibility, and that has to do with typeface (font) selection. But we’ll leave that for a future Wednesday!

It seems such a small thing, but a couple quick fixes to enhance legibility can really enhance the experience of your site visitors. Bumping up the font size and line spacing, and carefully crafting a few headers doesn’t require mad coding and development skills either. It’s web design DIY that could add to ROI.

It’s all about the experience. Can you afford not to make the small changes that make or break the experience of your site visitors?

Focusing On A Niche Doesn’t Make Me A Numbskull!

Focusing On A Niche Doesn't Make Me A Numbskull!

I have two reasons for writing this article.

First off, I attended WordCamp last weekend and had a fantastic time. But I also came away with an increased desire to niche-down my design and digital marketing services to best suit the target audience with whom I’d most like to work.

The second prompt was this Google Plus post, by good friend and savvy marketer, Stephan Hovnanian. Before I dive into the topic, I don’t think Stephan was calling me to task, or insinuating my preference for WordPress or Fireworks makes me a ninja or guru. As a fellow fan of pushback and discussion, Stephan will, probably, appreciate my take on the subject (fingers crossed).

WordPress Is Our Way, NOT The Only Way!

When it comes to web design, both halves of Go Creative Go choose to use WordPress.

Focusing on WordPress doesn’t make me one of the unsavory usurper experts (think guru, ninja, evangelist, etc.).

What does it make me? A web designer determined to focus my skills so that I can offer the best options for my clients. I prefer not to be a jack of all trades, master of none. To quote Seinfeld, I want to be master of my own domain. I want to focus on continuing to be a fine WordPress designer/developer.

Have I seen some fantastic sites created with Joomla or Drupal? Sure. I’ve seen some snazzy sites created with Wix, if I’m being honest. And, on the flip side, I’ve seen some utter crap designed and developed using WordPress.

That doesn’t change my choice to focus on designing and developing the best sites I can using WordPress as my weapon of choice. WordPress is my way, it’s not the only way.

Focus Isn’t Futile!

Focus increases functionality.

If I dabbled with Drupal and jumped around in Joomla, I’d probably learn how to do a few things. But I prefer focusing increasing the functionality and customer fit of the sites I design and develop based on my WordPress focus.

As a team dedicated to learning everything we can about this tool we’ve chosen to use, we can tackle almost any client want, need, even dream.

Targeting More Than The Tools!

Our business niche and focus is about a lot more than the tools we use and the finished projects we create with those tools.

Over the course of the weekend, immersed in learning about running a WordPress business, I found myself thinking long and hard about creating a client niche. A niche that would allow me to work with the very individuals I hang out with online every day.

I was already excited to be geeking out with my peers and fellow design doers. But, I’d been feeling stretched when it came to my service offerings and those to whom they appealed. I was losing my mojo, bit by bit, and feeling tired.

I’ll speak more about the client niche in another article, once I’ve made some changes to the site and sussed out my service offerings.

The point is, we can’t successfully work with a target audience that includes EVERYONE.

My Go-To Might Be Your Get Lost!

I admit I’m a Google fan girl. I love Drive, Docs, Gmail, Chrome and more. But I certainly don’t shun those that prefer Evernote for their blog ideation process. I have a Dropbox account, too. And I always have Safari open as my secondary browser.

I work with both clients and collaborators who have their own, different, systems in place. I adapt as needed.

Go-to tools simply mean you’ve taken the time to really dig into the full functionality of the tool in order to find what works best for you. What’s best for me, might not be best for you. And that’s A-OK hunky dory.

But it would be silly to turn up your nose and decide I’m a ninja, guru or evangelist (just typing that made me shudder with horror) based on my use of a tool.

Are my digital marketing strategies and practices somehow sullied by my preference for a Buffer/Tweetdeck combo over Hootsuite? Of course not!

Do Your Research, As I’ve Done Mine

I’ve spent a lot of time, dollars and effort to come up with my business focus and the tools that allow me to maintain that focus.

You must put in the same work when you choose both the practitioners and the platforms you’ll use to help your business succeed.

If you fall into the clutches of a ninja, guru or other shady dealer, it’s probably down to you failing to put in the effort to ensure that ninja was in tine with your own niche and specific needs.

Choosing The Right WordPress Theme

Choosing The Right WordPress Theme

Let’s assume you read our article on choosing between a pre-packaged, out of the box, theme versus custom development and you’ve landed firmly on the side of purchasing a WordPress theme. With all of the themes that are out there, it’s easy for information overload to set in. If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to find a theme that’s a great fit for  your business and your message.

Guideline 1: Choose A Theme Niche/Style

Try and get a sense of what industry the WordPress theme is geared toward. There are a lot of niche themes out there; themes geared towards bloggers, photographers, lawyers, artists, and so on. If you can find a theme that’s designed for your industry, you’re more likely to find something that does everything that you need it to do. You can also ask others in your field what themes they are using.

Remember, if you’re going to purchase a theme, you have to be okay with others within your industry possibly using the same theme you’ve selected.

Guideline 2:  Thoroughly Explore The Demo

A theme should always have a working demo link. Spend a lot of time putting the demo through the ringer. Check out every page variation and functionality available. While you’re at it, read the theme documentation. That should give you a sense of what options are available for customizing the theme and how difficult those customizations will be.

Guideline 3:  Read The Reviews

Many WordPress theme resellers provide a review system. If the theme is easy to use or if it’s buggy, you’ll know it pretty quickly from the reviews. Also, if you can, look for examples of other sites designed with your chosen theme. When looking at a theme demo, keep in mind that optimized content has been used for the sake of a nice demo. Looking at some “real world examples” gives you a better sense of how the theme will actually play for practical purposes.

Guideline 4: Note Number Of Theme Purchases

Take note of how many times the theme has been purchased. Is the theme a top seller or does it have just a handful of sales? A theme that has been purchased thousands of times provides some peace mind, as you’ll know that others have had success with the theme. Conversely, you’re taking a bigger risk by opting for a theme that is brand new.

Guideline 5: Focus On General Layout, Not Colors & Fonts

Colors and fonts are the easiest things to change on a website and most themes have built-in theme options for making changes. Layout is a little tougher to change around and most themes are limited as far as layout options. If you find a theme that generally has a layout you like, you’re on the right track.

Picking the right theme is a big deal for your company. Settling for a theme that isn’t a good fit can lead to a lot of frustration and wasted time. Take your time, do your research and don’t jump at the first theme you find. Remember, we can help with all things WordPress from training sessions to custom development.

If you run into problems choosing the right WordPress theme, just email us. We’re happy to help you with your research and selection.

Decision: Purchase A WordPress Theme Or Hire A Developer?

Decision: Purchase A WordPress Theme Or Hire A Developer?

I might be breaking some web designer guild rules by saying this, BUT you do not necessarily need to hire a web designer to create your website. There are tens of thousands of supported WordPress themes out there that can be had for around $50 through sites like Themeforest.net and WooThemes.com. These themes are generally designed for maximum accessibility without the need for extensive coding and design skills/expertise.

With a little bit of tinkering, the average computer user can have an attractive, fully functioning web site ready to go without having to learn much if any code.

The million-dollar-question then becomes; when to pick an “out-of-the-box theme” and when to shell out to have a developer create something from scratch. What follows are some general guidelines that might help you with that decision.

Go for the out-of-the-box theme when:

  1. You have the time and patience to devote to conquering the learning curve. Before you even get started with your site, you’ll need to spend a good deal of time researching different themes, reading reviews, and finding the best match (stay tuned for our article about how to choose the right theme). Once you’ve chosen a theme, that theme is likely to have its own theme options. This means that while the general framework of WordPress stays the same, you’re likely to see some interfaces that you’re not familiar with in the theme options. This can often translate to a lot of time spent guessing and testing and even spending time on the theme’s forum asking questions. If you are the type who gets easily frustrated, tread lightly here.
  2. You’re flexible with layout. Maybe you have an idea about how your site should look. If you opt to purchase a theme, chances are you’ll find several that are really close, but not exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re committed to the purchased theme, you’ll need to let some of that go. Modifying a theme that someone else has  designed can be tricky, even for an experienced developer.
  3. Your site is simple. Purchased themes are great for so called “brochure sites,” or sites that are little more than a few pages of text and place to blog.
  4. You don’t have the budget for a custom-designed site. Maybe you answered no to all of the above and deep down, you know that you need a custom developed WordPress site. If you don’t have that kind of budget, it’s far better to get a $50 theme and do the best that you can than to have no site at all. You can always hire someone to custom develop your site down the road, or you can get some help modifying the theme you’ve chosen.
  5. You’re okay with a website that looks like other sites. If you purchase a theme, it’s a sage bet that you’re not the only to purchase it. Thus, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually stumble upon someone else using the same theme for his/her site. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Some people are really miffed at the idea that their site looks like a bunch of others out there and some people are not bothered by it at all.

Go for a custom-designed site when:

  1. You have rigid branding guidelines in place. This is often the case for more established companies. They have branding and style guides that they are using elsewhere and need a website that falls in line with brand continuity. In other words, the website needs to have the same fonts, colors and general aesthetics as the summer catalog or the latest ebook. Working from the ground-up, a designer/developer can take style guidelines into consideration and make sure those rules are adhered to from the beginning.
  2. Your site is complicated. If the functionality of your site needs to go beyond a few pages and blog, you should really consider a custom site. Advanced functionality such as special user login privileges and searchable databases often require extra coding that may or may not be compatible with a purchased theme. A good developer can take this kind of functionality into consideration from the get-go.
  3. You’re expecting a lot of traffic. Purchased themes are built to essentially be Swiss army knives, meaning they are built with a wide variety of functionality that may or may not ever come into play. This can often translate to a lot of extraneous code that can bog down a site’s performance. A custom designed site can be stripped down to only the necessary code, leaving the site lean and quick in the face of heavy traffic.

If you’re unsure of which route is best for your site, send us an email. We’re happy to walk you through the process. If you go the route of the purchased theme, we offer WordPress training sessions, evaluations, and day and half-day rates if you need customization or set-up assistance.

If you decide that you need to go beyond what a purchased theme has to offer, ask us about about the successes we’ve had in custom designing and developing sites for a variety of companies.

Why We Design With WordPress

Why We Design Websites With WordPress

At Go Creative Go! we choose WordPress (instead of Joomla or Drupal).

Here’s why!

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: there are some occasions when Joomla and/or Drupal win out over WordPress: WordPress is more frequently targeted by hackers (thus requiring more attention to security) and really falls flat as a true content management system, which means it can get difficult to manage large amounts of content. That said, we made the decision early to focus on WordPress for about 99% of our website production.

After all, if WordPress is good enough for the New York Times, CNN, and Reuters, we like our chances.

Here are just a few things we love about WordPress:

  1. It’s a community. While themes and plugins are regularly sold, the WordPress software itself is open source, which means it’s completely free to use and tinker with. WordPress is the most popular blogging platform out there, powering over 60 million websites. A community that size means constant innovation and upgrades. It’s an R&D department that would make Fortune 500 companies jealous. Another bonus that comes from the open source community: there’s a huge network of people eager to help with whatever problems you’re having, from novice to expert. Go ahead and try it! Get yourself in a WordPress jam, post your question on the WordPress.org forums and see how quickly some kind stranger comes to your aid.
  2. The back-end is very easy to use. We always tell people, if they can use Microsoft Word, they can probably handle the WordPress backend just fine. It’s a simple, intuitive interface that a novice user can understand within an hour or two. An easy-to-use interface is a win-win: clients are empowered to make changes on their own, so they can enjoy saving time and money on maintenance, while we enjoy not always having to be the gatekeepers for sites, which saves us time.
  3. Plugins, plugins and plugins. WordPress’ plugin library is seemingly infinite. Some of them are free; some of them are sold as premium plugins. Regardless of which kind you use, you’d be hard-pressed to find an issue that can’t be fixed by a WordPress plugin.
  4. WordPress is integrated with most web hosts. When we first started using WordPress about 5 years ago, the most baffling part was getting the whole thing installed. If you’re not familiar with PHP and MySQL databases, it can be a bit tricky. However, much of that hassle has been alleviated with wizards and “one-click install.” Now, with most hosts, installing WordPress is as simple as clicking a button, then following a few on-screen prompts.

Bottom line, if you’re interested in setting up and maintaining your own website, head to WordPress.org and go for it. The pricing is right (you really just need to pay for a domain and hosting), it’s easy to use, and the support network is all there.

If you should run into problems, we’re here for you. We offer WordPress training sessions in addition to our design and development services. We also plan to launch a series of video tutorials. We love empowering people to become their own webmaster!

Have we wooed you with the wonderful that is WordPress?