The background; I’m not just being a bitchy designer
I have recently been job hunting, not because I don’t very much enjoy Strawberrysoup, but instead because I am living in Brighton, a town I love, but spending 12 hours a day during the week near Hampshire; Its like being a tourist. So I redesigned my website, promised myself I would actually write articles, set about remaking my Resume / CV and generally prepared diligently.
Then came the hard part, finding a cool company where I could continue to learn and develop my skills, that would also like to work with me. That shouldn’t be a problem in Brighton and Hove, this is a seriously techie city and I was sure there would be no end of amazing companies, so I hit up Google and typed in “web design brighton”… ten pages and over a hundred web design companies later, I wanted to cry. So many businesses, so few websites that had been maintained, or updated, in some cases there were blogs that had not been updated in almost two years, graphics that were out of date, ugly or just missing and mistake after noticeable mistake.
There are a few very valid caveats to justify a website which is out of date or broken.
Websites are expensive to constantly maintain and update, a business might allocate its resources to client relationships and supporting legacy systems which make up the majority of its income. A company might be practising a lean development model and not have the time or man power to complete a new redesign once a year. Maybe they are struggling to find good designers and developers to replace those who have moved on and in the mean time their own site is the least of their priorities.
Design studios are usually made up of small teams which rely on key members to fullfil certain roles and sometimes bad things happen and we’re not robots… at this point your website is not going to be of particular concern.
Trends change on a monthly basis. I remember being excited about wooden backgrounds and rounded corners with drop shadows, now I wouldn’t touch them with yours. The most important thing to a studio is pleasing its clients and gaining new custom, so if its website is working, driving new business, why would it want to change it and risk upsetting that trend with a new Flat-UI or parallax looking site?
This article is not supposed to be a burn on anyone, I’m not naming names, Im not trying to highlight anyone’s flaws, but instead, give some advise to those who are just starting out, or are open to unbiased suggestion.
What not to do, what to look out for
Websites are expensive and time consuming to create, so here are some of the things that you can do to make sure your site does what its supposed to, showcase your team, your talent, your USP and not your lack of attention to detail.
The most important thing to remember!
Keep it up to date
I found a design companies site via Google, had a look around and it was alright, a little dated perhaps, but then I saw that the blog had not been updated since May 2011! Thats a really long time ago… Google loves new content and a blog is the simplest way of staying relevant and keeping your site filled with new content. Has there really been nothing to write about in the last 21 months?
Don’t annoy your users
I found a website whist on my job hunt that displayed an invasive modal window in the middle of the screen as soon as you logged on. You actually had to click the button, it couldn’t be ignored, it couldn’t be side stepped. I agree that you should follow the relevant legislation when making your website, but to prevent users from accessing it is to much and you will likely loose money by pissing people off.
Bad stock photography
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen websites with, just terrible, inexcusably bad stock photography. I mean, it really isn’t that hard to find images, to use your imagination a little, to take a few snaps yourself, to have a look on Flickr, Google Images, or try something new. I used icon fonts on my site because I knew it would be very time consuming not adding terrible images and I’d probably just get lazy and find some crappy American photo of some clean shaven, pretty, tanned people staring intently at a wall, pondering like they have never pondered before…
The only thing this does is cheapen your site, making it look like you really cannot be bothered to spend anything more than the 10 seconds it takes to type ‘douche bag meeting” into iStock.
The only advantage of using crappy iStock images, is that you wont have to use images that you made yourself. If you are not a pretty decent designer, there is a good chance that you are going to slip up and make your website look instantly less professional, by using images you knocked together yourself. I found this image on a web design companies blog, it was heading an article on Googles new Panda search algorithm… I mean, seriously?! Someone thought this was OK to use?!
Check your site from time to time
From time to time things go wrong, images get deleted or moved, records are not updated and databases are migrated. A web server is a volitile place, with millions of reads and writes every minute, so from time to time, just have a look around your site, around your portfolio sites and make sure that they look alright. Don’t let images appear like this…
Also try and make sure that the site works at all, just every now and again… you know, if you get bored on a saturday night and just cannot look at anymore pictures of funny cats on 9gag. So this doesn’t happen on your homepage…
Keep it neat
Keep your site neat and tidy, make everything line up, get the Chrome Page Ruler extension (or whatever plugin you need for your browser, even just a piece of paper) and check the padding and margin for each section is sitting nicely and aligned. Try not to do this:
Remember the internet is 24/7, not 9-5 Monday to Friday
This is one of the biggest no-no’s I can think of, providing online support that isn’t switched on!
Why are you pissing off your customers and potential clients by popping up boxes promising online support when it is not turned on 24/7? The internet doesn’t sleep, so if you insist on attempting to provide online support, make it 24/7, think global, there are hundreds of 2nd world companies willing to charge you on a per contact basis to provide support to your clients.. or you can just add a script that will make the user think they are talking to a person. Either way, make sure it doesn’t look like this..
Does anyone still care if a website is valid HTML 4 or XHTML?
I literally cannot remember the last time I validated a website with one of the W3C‘s online tools, it must have been years ago. The reason for this is not that I am sloppy, its not that I don’t care about my sites working or not, its that its a pointless act….
Its not hard to download a badge and stick it on your website. They mean almost nothing to the majority of your clients, so if your website needs one of these to make it look professional, you need to either fire your designer or allow them more time to express them self. Putting a blue ribbon on a turd, doesn’t make it any less of a turd.
Lastly, if you are still using XHTML or HTML4, you really need to broaden your horizon and spend a couple of hours with HTML5.
Use good page elements and nothing that looks like 90’s Clipart
We’ve all had a client send us a bunch of website content and as you looked through the images your heart starts to sink, as you find more and more Clipart. But we’re not talking about a clients website right now, we’re talking about your portfolio, the place where you show off your skills and make your stand… so don’t use crappy, cheap, poorly made page elements.
Poor icons are a common mistake. Trends change quickly, so it might not be because they were crappy when you started, but because they were so current, they aged badly and now your site looks out of date. Use elements that will age slowly, not something like this…
So, there are some tips of what not to do. I hope I didn’t offend anyone and if I did, well you really need to update / maintain your website.
If you have found any more horrible sites that can stand as testament to what not to do, add a comment below.