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Positive Attitude

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect it’s successful outcome.”
-William James

As you get older you begin to realize that everyone carries burdens and has faced difficult situations in their life.  I’ve heard it said and come to realize that it’s not about what happens ‘to’ you in your lifetime – it’s about how you handle those obstacles and whether or not you use them as a learning experience, rather than a definition of who you are.  What a waste our mistakes would be, if we learned nothing from them.

Learning the ins and outs of coding a website is a journey of trials and triumphs.  Not everything will come as easy to some, as it will to others, but it’s about learning new things and finding your place – you’re niche.  There’s room out there for everyone, and everybody who enters this field, brings with them a unique set of skills, talents and experiences that help mold them into the designer or developer they will become.  It’s such a blessing to be able to earn a living doing something that fascinates and inspires you.  Being able to ‘create’ something is a gratifying thing and having an outlet to express your creativity (in both design and development) is an opportunity many people in other fields never have.

We live in an age where the sky is the limit and the infinite possibilities that exist with the internet are both overwhelming and empowering.  If you’re new to this field, try not to get discouraged.  You will make mistakes, you will ‘break’ sites, you will come across some bugs you just can’t fix, but just remember.. nobody was born with the ability to create great websites.  We all started in the same place.. diving into code and learning tricks and techniques a little at a time.  So have a positive attitude about your own journey and know that one day you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

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Honesty and Integrity

Have the courage to say No. Have the courage to face the Truth. Do the right thing because it is right.
~ W. Clement Stone

Honesty and Integrity should play a part in your personal and career goals.  It’s not the focus of many who are trying to get ahead these days, but for those with moral and religious backgrounds or beliefs, it’s something they think about regularly and hold in high regard.

This blog topic coincides with one of my previous posts “Compassion” that addresses the importance of incorporating moral standards into business practices.  Honesty and integrity are not something you see in very many company mission statements or business plans, but they should be.  If I were to run one of the most successful web companies in the world, I wouldn’t feel truly successful unless I had built that business and grown it on a foundation of honesty and integrity.

When I think about many of the Oklahoma based businesses that have been around for generations, I know that honesty and integrity are something they strive for.  Most customers aren’t going to return or refer their friends and family to a business that doesn’t make those things a priority. Without repeat customers and client referrals, most businesses won’t survive.  If you plan on starting your own business one day, hopefully you’ll incorporate these standards into your business practices.

An article “Examples of Integrity” by Sherrie Scott of Demand Media focuses on four main areas that both companies and employees can use to measure their levels of integrity in the workplace. They are:

  • The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • Honesty: Be honest with your customers, co-workers, boss, contractors, etc.
  • Confidentiality: Respect the private information of companies and customers

       (in web design/development this includes making sure security measures are in place when sensitive information is handled on a website)

  • Lead by Example: Set the example of how you want those around you to behave

If you plan on working for another web company, remember that honesty and integrity are something you should make a priority.  You can have the best resume, portfolio and skill set and those things will probably get you the job you want, but if you lack honesty and integrity, you won’t keep that job for long..


Compassion

During this Christmas season we are reminded of the importance of showing compassion for others.  I have heard stories of the person in the Starbucks drive-thru paying for the order of the person in line behind them.  I’ve heard about anonymous people paying off Christmas presents that families had in layaway at department stores and I’ve seen my own family doing things to show compassion for others.  All of these acts of compassion had an affect not just on those who were directly involved, but on everyone that heard of the kindness shown by one person to another.

As a mother, I want to instill in my own children the importance of thinking of others and showing compassion.  The best way to teach them is by example.  As a child, our family would go out the week or two before Christmas and cut mistletoe down from the trees here in Oklahoma.  We would take the mistletoe home and separate it into smaller bags and then go door-to-door in our neighborhood, selling it for $1.00/bag.  After we sold all of the mistletoe, we would bring the money home to see how much we collected and then take it to the Jesus House in Oklahoma City and donate all of it to help families who were less fortunate.  As a child, it’s hard to understand that some children don’t have what you have. I remember walking through the Jesus House and seeing children who looked like they hadn’t taken a bath in a while and their clothes were worn or too small.  It left an impression on me that I still vividly remember as an adult and it made me realize how blessed I was to have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat.. etc.  Many families are having a difficult time financially this Christmas, but even so, we all have so much more to be thankful for than we probably realize and need to have compassion for those who are struggling.

Compassion is something you should have at all times and in all places.  It’s not just something you show for your family and friends, or to random people you come in contact with.  It’s also very important to show compassion for those you work with.  Your boss, your coworkers, your customers…  I’ve heard the phrase (and even said it myself) “business is business”, but I absolutely believe you can run a successful business and still show compassion for those around you.

I’m sure most people have heard the verse “Give and you shall receive.” Have you ever given something to someone and then realized how happy it made you to do something nice for someone else?  Showing compassion for others is a blessing to you as well, but not just in the feeling you get from helping someone.  In business, if you show compassion to those you work with, you will gain the respect of your coworkers.  If you show compassion for your customers, they will remember you and probably refer a friend or associate to you.  Showing compassion will also help you stand out among your competitors – customers and clients tend to want a company who is sincere in their efforts to help them. Compassion is not a substitute for good business practices and a quality product or skill, but it compliments those aspects of your business and will make you stand out above your competitors and give you the peace of mind, knowing you’re doing what’s right and setting a good example for others to follow.

Arthur H. Stainback once said “The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized. Anyone can criticize. It takes a true believer to be compassionate. No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.”  Remember to be compassionate for others in all aspects of your life – you never know, you may be the one who depends on the compassion of others some day..


Respect in Web Design

There is new talent joining the world of web design and development every day, so how do you stand out from the crowd and keep clients coming back to you vs. someone else?

RESPECT!

You gain respect with both clients and others in your field by keeping on top of the latest technology and standards and producing work that you can stand behind.  But – it’s not all about gaining respect by impressing others with tech talk and fancy websites… It’s also about showing respect for others.  You need to establish yourself as the expert in the field, but not at the expense of discounting what your client or a colleague has to offer.  Not respecting the experience and input of a fellow designer can prevent you from learning invaluable information or tools of the trade that might help you land that next big project.  Not respecting the opinions, desires or input from a client can cost you lots of money in lost contracts!

There’s another aspect to the topic of respect that deserves mentioning:

As web designers and developers, we represent our field through our interactions with others, our portfolios, blog posts, etc.  Always be mindful of whether or not your actions will gain respect for the field or hurt it’s reputation.  Individuals and companies are always looking for ways to save money and many think one option for doing so is creating their own websites, or finding someone who will do it for a nominal fee.  I’m a member of a local and state photography organization that emphasizes the importance of gaining respect for your knowledge and skills and showing clients why investing in your talents is a smart choice.  By believing in what you do and taking pride in your work, you gain the respect of your existing and potential clients and add worth to your product.  If every web designer and developer applied this to their work imagine the effect it would have on our industry!

More on this topic: You Are Not a Robot by Jonathan Kahn is a great article from A List Apart about the perception many have of web designers and how we can improve respect for our field.


Professionalism in an Inter-Connected World!

In today’s age of social networking and open forums, professionalism now encompasses much more than just how you conduct yourself at the office.  We are all inter-connected through social networking websites, blogs, chatrooms, online forums and other forms of media.  Anything you post on the internet can potentially be seen by anyone, including current or future employers, so use caution and common sense when using the internet and always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Here is a great article on how your online conduct can impact your professional career: How social media can cost you your job!

So what does ‘professionalism’ mean exactly?  Here are a few examples on how to conduct yourself online and offline:

  1. Be respectful of all individuals and communities with which you interact online.
  2. Be polite and respectful of other opinions, even in times of heated discussion and debate.
  3. A professional looks, speaks and dresses like a professional. An amateur is sloppy in appearance and speech.
  4. Respect copyright, privacy, financial disclosure and other applicable laws when publishing on social media platforms.
  5. A professional learns every aspect of the job. An amateur skips the learning process whenever possible.
  6. A professional jumps into difficult assignments. An amateur tries to get out of difficult work.
  7. A professional produces more than expected. An amateur produces just enough to get by.

source: Tips for Success.org and article:Acceptable Use of Social Networking Sites

Today’s job market is much more competitive than previous years. Many employers are using social networking sites to narrow down a list of candidates for a position.  They look for examples of character and professionalism in determining who they will hire.  Some of the examples listed above, may be exactly what your next employer is looking for in their ideal candidate – so be mindful of what you post and ask yourself this question: Will you make the grade?


Being passionate about what you do!

What a wonderful gift, to be able to go to work every day knowing you enjoy what you do for a living.  For me, getting up every morning knowing that I get to come to class and learn about something that interests and inspires me is really exciting! Surprisingly, most people never learn what that’s like or even consider it.  Being passionate and enthusiastic about what you do is so important, regardless of what field you choose to pursue.

“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had the opportunity to take a day to research and explore a topic of my choice for school – Discover what I’m passionate about.. The nature of web design and development lends itself to multi-tasking, so when working on this assignment, I was also working on another project – redesigning a web page.  I love design and am excited to learn everything I can about the different css techniques used in designing web pages.  I know the information and technology of this field is constantly evolving and the newest version of css that many designers are using is CSS3 so I decided to take this opportunity to learn a little about the new version and some of the techniques of older versions that I haven’t used yet.

In CSS3 you can apply drop shadows to objects within your html document, targeting specific browsers (in this case Mozilla Firefox,  Safari and Chrome) – Internet Explorer 8 supports some of the CSS3 properties and IE9 supports most, but older versions do not.  You can also apply effects like gradient borders, border images, rounded box corners, use easier techniques for embedding font, greater flexibility with opacity settings, and much more!  Here is a great site to visit for more info and examples on some of the new CSS3 properties: 30 Exciting Functions and Features of CSS3

A few older CSS properties and xhtml coding techniques that I experimented with in redesigning the web page were targeting pseudo-elements (i.e. first-letter) in the html document, linking to a specific location in the middle of the homepage from another page in the web site, creating a link that opens up an email window and applying letter-spacing to elements in the site.

There’s still a lot to learn and experiment with in CSS and I can’t wait to see what I discover and how I apply it to future projects!


Communication in Web Design

Good communication with your client before designing a site is crucial in making a website successful – from both the client’s perspective and the end user’s.

Most clients will have an image or idea in their mind, as to how their website should look and what it should accomplish.  As a web designer, you need to know how to ask the right questions and communicate your interpretation of your client’s responses to make sure you have a clear and correct understanding of the task at hand.

Some of the important questions to ask are:

  • What is the main purpose of the website?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What functions will be performed on the site?

We’ll look at these questions in more detail:


What is the main purpose of the website?

(What purpose does this website serve for your client?)

  • an online brochure or portfolio
  • selling a product
  • creating brand recognition
  • provide customer service and support
  • obtain customer information through subscriptions or memberships
  • educational resource

These are a few examples of what your client might be looking for, but typically, a website serves more than one purpose and you need to determine them and set priorities for the website.   Have your client number the goals  identified, according to their importance.  From that, determine where the hierarchical focus will be in the design.


Who is the target audience?

Because internet users view information from such a wide variety of devices and with multiple browser options these days, it is important to determine who your client’s target audience and how they may be accessing your client’s website.  This information is crucial in making sure the website and it’s content are accessible to the right people.


What functions will be performed on the site?

After determining the purpose of a website, you need to communicate effectively with your client to know what functions may need to be performed on the site (i.e. search tool, email subscription form, shopping cart, interactive map, etc.)

For more information on this topic, read the article  Clear and Effective Communication in Web Design by Stephen Snell


“My Homepage is Better than Your Homepage..”

Homepages are important.  We established that in my previous blog.  But, now that we know why and how to make them better (Homepage Design and Navigation), let’s look at a few examples of good and bad design and how all pages, even the best, leave room for improvement.  Some of it is based on personal preferences of the client or their customers and some is based on basic design principles.

“How can design teams be confident their content pages are understandable to users? How does a team ensure they’ve designed content pages that communicate the essential information effectively?” This is a question Christine Perfetti asks in her article entitled:  5-Second Tests: Measuring Your Site’s Content Pages.  I’ve used that “5-Second Test” to review various website homepages and see what works and what doesn’t.

The first site I looked at is Shutterfly.com.

When you enter this site you know this is a company that offers photo printing products such as cards, calendars, photo books, etc.  They provide a good example of their product variety with direct access to specific product categories.  The main goals of this website are to get viewers to sign-up for a membership and to order their products.  Membership information is predominantly displayed with straight forward form entry sections.  Most users do not like entering a site, only to find that signing up for a membership is required to have access to a company’s products. Shutterfly.com, however, anticipates this and provides a brief overview of the benefits of signing up, located within the form section of the page.  This strategy, along with the images included in the design of the homepage, help entice the user to take action and sign-up for a membership.  This website’s homepage is also successful because it is routinely updated with new product photos and features throughout the year to keep the content fresh and interesting and make users want to return to their site.  The only recommended revisions in the home page would be to replace one of the product images with a slideshow of product examples specific to current consumer trends.

Another site I looked at was Flickr.com.

This is a great example to compare the previous site to, because of the obvious difference in design style.  While Shutterfly.com had a clean and organized design, Flickr.com takes an even simpler approach.  They use the white space to focus on a few key areas without any other content.  Although this is a successful mainstream website, I don’t feel like the homepage emphasizes the benefit to users of creating an account in the same way Shutterfly.com does, so my suggestion would be to add a small section giving incentives or benefits that would make a viewer take action and create an account on their first visit to the site.

Unsuccessful Homepages

With the creation of web-authoring software and the growing number of webisodes offering instruction to amateurs on how to build a website, chances are you will come across sites that defy all design and navigation guidelines, if you haven’t already.  It didn’t take long to find examples of website homepages that needed help in both those areas.  Take a look at Photography-on-the-Net.com and InspirationalImages.com and think about what changes you would make to the design and navigation features on those sites.

Let’s start with the first one – Photography-on-the-Net.com

When first viewing the homepage you know it’s about photography, but you aren’t sure to what extent.  Is it an educational site?  Is it a resource for other photographers, or maybe a source for images created by one or a community of photographers?  One thing the site does correctly is include a tagline that explains the purpose and content of the site – but it doesn’t stand out on the page and is only noticed after viewing all the information in bolder typefaces.   I would apply design to that information that draws the viewer’s eye immediately so they know where they are and why they might want to stay on the site and look around.  I would also add images to the page that give an instant visual cue as to what the viewer can access from this site (i.e. photo galleries, forums, industry info, etc.)

Now let’s look at the second site –InspirationalImages.com

You can tell fairly quickly that this is a gallery for an independent photographer.  It has images displayed on the page and a centrally placed content area that tells you about the website and it’s purpose.  Underneath that content area are three links to other pages in the website, but there is no design coding that lets the user know these are links, so your eye wanders around the page, with no navigation cues.  The best navigation on this homepage is positioned below the fold.  I didn’t even realize it was there at first.  The user must scroll down to find it and as you scroll down even further, you find an email subscription option, search bar, articles and much more information most viewers will probably never see because it wasn’t visible in the browser window when entering the site.  This homepage needs to include all important links, forms and tools above the fold, where it can be seen immediately by those coming to the website.

All these examples, give you an idea of the importance of good homepage design and how it affects the success and usability of a website.  When working with clients, web designers need to stress the importance of quality vs. quantity when it comes to homepage content, while ensuring that the homepage contains enough information to attract the attention of those who come to the site.  No company wants to invest time and money into promoting a website that is ineffective.  Getting users to your website is only half the battle – keeping them engaged once they arrive on your site is the ultimate goal.


Importance of Homepage and Navigation Design

Every business in today’s world, no matter how big or how small, needs to have a web presence.  A vast majority of consumers, future employees, potential members/investors, patients, etc. all turn to the web for information that will help them make a decision on what company or business to use for any number of situations.  Once a viewer logs on to a website, your web page has a matter of seconds to engage that viewer and keep them on your site.  A website’s homepage is critical in achieving that goal, because that is where most viewers will make that split-second decision on whether to stay on your site and view your information, or move on to the webpage of a competitor. Here are a few guidelines on what your website’s homepage must do in order to be successful:

Make the Site’s Purpose Clear: Explain Who You Are and What You Do

  1. Include a One-Sentence Tagline Start the page with a tagline that summarizes what the site or company does, especially if you’re new or less than famous. Even well-known companies presumably hope to attract new customers and should tell first-time visitors about the site’s purpose. It is especially important to have a good tagline if your company’s general marketing slogan is bland and fails to tell users what they’ll gain from visiting the site.
  2. Write a Window Title with Good Visibility in Search Engines and Bookmark Lists Begin the TITLE tag with the company name, followed by a brief description of the site. Don’t start with words like “The” or “Welcome to” unless you want to be alphabetized under “T” or “W.”
  3. Group all Corporate Information in One Distinct Area Finding out about the company is rarely a user’s first task, but sometimes people do need details about who you are. Good corporate information is especially important if the site hopes to support recruiting, investor relations, or PR, but it can also serve to increase a new or lesser-known company’s credibility. An “About ” section is the best way to link users to more in-depth information than can be presented on the homepage.

Help Users Find What They Need

  1. Emphasize the Site’s Top High-Priority Tasks Your homepage should offer users a clear starting point for the main one to four tasks they’ll undertake when visiting your site.
  2. Include a Search Input Box Search is an important part of any big website. When users want to search, they typically scan the homepage looking for “the little box where I can type,” so your search should be a box. [Make your search box at least 25 characters wide,] so it can accommodate multiple words without obscuring parts of the user’s query. (Update: Based on more recent findings, my recommendation is now to make the search box 27 characters wide. This and other new guidelines are covered in my tutorial on Fundamental Guidelines for Web Usability at the annual Usability Week conference.)

Reveal Site Content

  1. Show Examples of Real Site Content Don’t just describe what lies beneath the homepage. Specifics beat abstractions, and you have good stuff. Show some of your best or most recent content.
  2. Begin Link Names with the Most Important Keyword Users scan down the page, trying to find the area that will serve their current goal. Links are the action items on a homepage, and when you start each link with a relevant word, you make it easier for scanning eyes to differentiate it from other links on the page. A common violation of this guideline is to start all links with the company name, which adds little value and impairs users’ ability to quickly find what they need.
  3. Offer Easy Access to Recent Homepage Features Users will often remember articles, products, or promotions that were featured prominently on the homepage, but they won’t know how to find them once you move the features inside the site. To help users locate key items, keep a short list of recent features on the homepage, and supplement it with a link to a permanent archive of all other homepage features.

Use Visual Design to Enhance, not Define, Interaction Design

  1. Don’t Over-Format Critical Content, Such as Navigation Areas You might think that important homepage items require elaborate illustrations, boxes, and colors. However, users often dismiss graphics as ads, and focus on the parts of the homepage that look more likely to be useful.
  2. Use Meaningful Graphics Don’t just decorate the page with stock art. Images are powerful communicators when they show items of interest to users, but will backfire if they seem frivolous or irrelevant. For example, it’s almost always best to show photos of real people actually connected to the topic, rather than pictures of models.

Source: Top Ten Guidelines for Homepage Usability