Does your website need a fresh look? How to know if a website needs to be redesigned.

There are many factors that go into redesigning a website. Many experts suggest you should focus the majority of your budget and efforts on content and not on design. I could not disagree more! While the content of a website is of the utmost importance, the design is equally important. If the design is not clean and engaging to catch users’ eyes, they will quickly move on to the next site. Don’t get me wrong; if your content is not relevant to the visitor’s request, you will lose the opportunity to convert them to a customer. With that said, there has to be a balance between quality design and excellent content.

Good design attracts people and helps them focus on what the design team feels is important, but good content retains and converts them to customers. There are people who only care about content, but there are also many who care about the combination. Take a car, for example. Some people look at a car to get from point A to B, but most people care about the looks of a car, the features, and how it functions. A website is similar in that if it’s designed poorly, doesn’t function properly, and has bad navigation, a visitor is not going to be as interested in engaging with your content. This is why they are equally important.

A website is an additional component of your brand and should be handled with the same minimum standards as any other aspect of your brand. The voice of the content should complement the layout and design of the site so they are portraying the same message. If they don’t, you’re only going to create brand confusion. Below are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you decide if you should start thinking about a redesign.

  1. Is your website code outdated or obsolete?
    As technologies change so do the languages they’re written in. It’s very important to make sure your site stays current with the latest standards or your search placement will be effected. If your site is built completely out of Tables, that’s a good sign you need to consider a redesign and rebuild of your site.
  2. Can you manage your website?
    Today there is no reason why a site should not be built on a CMS (Content Management System). A CMS gives the site owner the ability to make updates to your site without the knowledge of HTML. This is extremely important these days if you want to stay relevant in the search engines. You have to continue to keep your site fresh and a CMS will help you do this easily.
  3. Has your company had a change in focus?
    Websites are often built when a company first launches. If this is the case, you need to evaluate the site and make sure the products and services are current. You also need to revisit the goals and make sure they are in line with the ongoing vision of the company. I have seen many companies offering a product or service on their websites that they no longer support. This is why having your site built on a CMS is very important.
  4. Has the company brand changed?
    If your company has updated or rebranded but neglected to update the website, then it’s time to redesign. There’s nothing worse than reading marketing materials and then visiting a website and it looks like a different brand. This will make people question your credibility.

These are just a few of many questions that can be asked if a site needs to be redesigned.  If you find yourself answering any of these questions, then you should put an action plan together.

Here are a few tips to consider when thinking about redesigning a website.

  • Have specific goals in mind
    You need to define the goals before you redesign the site. You should also create a list of wants and needs for your new site. This is very important as some items may be out of reach depending on your budget, but they may be phased in at a later date.
  • Inventory your current assets
    It’s important to make sure you inventory all of your current assets and make a list of what needs to be incorporated into the new site.
  • What features do you need
    Do your research and look at competitors’ sites to find any features you feel are important for the new site. Your old site may have just listed products, but now you’re ready to sell online. You will need an eCommerce function for your site.
  • Content strategy
    A content strategy is important to develop during a redesign. You should be thinking about adding value to the site over time. You will have better positioning on the search engines the more active you are with adding content to your site.
  • Make sure you have a budget
    Create a budget for this redesign. A budget will help manage the expectations of everyone involved.
  • Long-term marketing strategy and budget
    Now that you have decided to redesign your site, make sure you think about the long-term marketing strategy. You have to have a plan in place to help drive traffic to the site. It’s more than just publishing your site to the World Wide Web. You should also consider a budget for this ongoing effort. Things like Pay-Per-Click advertising and ongoing execution of content strategies will cost money but can be measured and adjusted as needed. Often times, this is forgotten and there’s not money left in the budget. Don’t let this happen to you.

So do you feel your site needs to be redesigned? If so, I would love to hear why.

photo credit: Kemeny_x via photopin cc

Will there be broken panes on Windows 8?

windows 8

With Microsoft soon releasing Windows 8, it is a good time to open up the window and take a deeper look inside. There are some exciting features being released in this new version of Windows. The big question is will this version be free of broken panes? As many Windows users know, when Microsoft releases new versions of their operation system (OS) it’s not always a good thing. In some cases, its been an outright disaster.

Windows 8 could be the OS to get Microsoft back in the game and potentially make them a contender for the leading OS against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. One might consider Windows 8  a hybrid OS because it’s designed to work both on a standard type of computer or a touch-based device. Being able to toggle from the new Metro UI to the standard Windows UI is extremely important due to the limited amount of touch-style devices. I believe Microsoft is opening the door for device manufacturers to develop a laptop style device with touch capabilities that has computing power to handle everyday tasks.

Microsoft not only revamps the user experience in Windows 8, they also introduced a new design feel into the interface. I have to say they did a really good job from what I have seen thus far. It has a clean and modern looking design that’s refreshing to see. Microsoft is slowly doing away with the bubbly glossy look and moving to a flat, clean iconic-based design.

Windows 8 Release Preview

Only time will tell if Windows 8 will live up to its full potential and not become a bust like many of its predecessors. If successful, it will be very exciting to see how Google and Apple respond as well as device manufactures. As a designer I want nothing more than a touch-based computer powerful and large enough to design on.

You can download a 90 developer trial if you would like to test-drive it.

Getting Creative in the Clouds with Adobe’s Creative Cloud

Adobe has taken the “cloud” to a new level. Most know of the cloud as a remote storage space, but Adobe is using it for much more than that. It’s a designer’s playground. With a reasonable $49.99/mo price tag, a designer can access every program in the Adobe Master Suite Collection. For many, this is more achievable than spending $2,600 to purchase the Suite outright. This is a much simpler pricing structure than Adobe’s previous release, which had many designers like me agitated.

Adobe® Creative Suite® 6 software delivers a whole new experience for digital media creation, enabling you to work lightning fast and reach audiences wherever they may be. Now, for the first time, CS applications are also available through Adobe Creative Cloud™, giving you the flexibility to download and install them at any time. Plus, access additional applications, publishing services, and new products and features as they are released.

I believe other software companies will start taking a similar approach. It’s a win-win for everyone. This provides affordable pricing for the consumer, and less piracy against the software companies. Not to mention that this will keep the software current for everyone, making it easier and more efficient for software companies to support. As a former business owner, I wish this option had been available when I launched my company. This approach allows designers to focus on producing better design without worrying about having the right tools.

I’m even more excited that Adobe is emerging as a leader in the tablet arena. I believe they are pushing computer manufacturers to develop a tablet for the designer. With some of the basic Touch App software they have developed thus far, it’s only a matter of time before we can use a full version of Photoshop on a 17” tablet. Now we just need a computer manufacturer to step up to the plate and build something that can handle real computing. There is no question that tablet devices are the future of computing. The Asus Transformer Prime is probably the closest thing I have seen, but is too small and not powerful enough for designers and their software. As a designer, I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for our industry with software and hardware. This is a no brainer and should be the model moving forward for software companies.

What do you think about this new pricing structure Adobe has introduced?

And Here’s The Pitch …

Monday marks the start of AMC’s advertising agency reality series called “The Pitch.”
If you haven’t heard, The Pitch is where two agencies square off each week to win a potential piece of a brand’s business. A sneak preview was released last week to mixed reviews from folks in the advertising biz.

I think copywriter Cary Moore summed it up best in my good friend Michael Palma’s recent blog post, “Hernias and the Sausage Factory.”

“If you rolled the cameras and re-created a typical week in a creative department, it would be the most boring television ever made. What we actually do isn’t very glamorous to a cold set of eyes. They had to make it contrived to make it even remotely watchable.”

Like a lot of people in advertising, part of me is still curious to see how the rest of the agencies compare. How they present, how they execute, etc., etc.
Michael Gass’ Fuel Lines posted a list of the agencies that are participating and the 27 who declined the invitation.

After reading the list, I started to wonder who else besides people in the agency business would even watch a show like this? In fact most clients could care less how efficient their agency’s process is. What clients or potential clients really care about is how effective their agency is (meaning: how can they improve my return on investment).

Michael Palma points out in his post, “Does a butcher take you in the back of the store and say — ‘Here’s where we take the gizzards and chop them up. And these are the casings that we stuff the fat and chopped organs into. Our casings are made of the finest pig intestines.’ If this happened, you may never eat sausage again.”

Well, regardless, this Milwaukee native is gonna pick up some brats, a couple beers and tune into AMC April 30 at 9:00 p.m. Let me know what you think of The Pitch.

Channel surfing TV title sequences for design inspiration

As a designer, I’m always looking to stay inspired. I was recently asked to build a newsletter template for the Viking Culinary Center in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. While this project is not very complex, for me, the creative process is similar whether the job is an in-depth website design or a smaller-scale direct mail piece.

Before I start designing, I dig into my bucket of ideas to get the creative juices flowing. For this project, I decided to go beyond my typical sources of inspiration turning instead to TV title sequences.  With today’s technology, many people fast forward through TV selections not realizing they are missing out on some brilliant design concepts.  For me, TV title sequences can be great sources of typography and motion graphics inspiration.

If I were writing this in the ‘90s I would have never looked at a title sequence for inspiration. In fact, I would probably be asking, “Where is the fast-forward button?”  Take the TV show “Growing Pains” as an example. You’ll no longer see that cheesy montage of photos zooming in and out and the poorly placed typography. In today’s programming, with high-definition TV, new technologies and  innovative digital educational opportunities, title sequence designs have become much more visually pleasing.  In fact, some sequences are so well executed they’ve been awarded Emmys.

Here are brilliant executed TV title sequences:

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Fallen in Love with Pinterest Like Many Others?

Neal Alfano Pinterest

Just before the holidays, my boss asked me about  Pinterest . Now I have to admit that when she asked I had never heard of it, however afterwards I noticed everyone I knew was talking about Pinterest. It turns out that Pinterest is a visual bookmarking social media tool. 

Pinterest acts as a digital corkboard that lets you organize and share visual things that inspire you. It has a little something for everyone no matter what your interests are, including cooking, arts and crafts, design, DIY things, architecture, things for kids, etc.  As a designer I have to say I’m in love with Pinterest and wish I had more time to create boards all day long.

With the growth Pinterest is experiencing it is becoming an important tool for brands and companies looking to push products online. According to  Mashable, the site has 3 million users and surpassed 421 million page views (as of Oct. 2011). While 70 percent of “pinners” are female, according to Open Forum and other sources, one simply can’t avoid the discussion on how to use this tool to market products and services, especially if the target audience is women.  

Here are a few brands that have jumped at this opportunity. Based on the number of people following them and repining their images, I have to say it is a success for the brands below:

Brands on Pinterest Board

Whole Foods Market – Grocery | 12,171 followers
West Elm – Furniture | 9,894 followers
Mashable - Digital news source | 8,934 followers
General Electric – Products | 289 followers
GAP – Clothing | 1,615 followers
Food Network - TV cooking network | 2,429 followers
Lowes – Home Improvement |  1,553 followers

If you know of other companies worthy of mentioning that I have missed please share them.

Follow me on Pinterest

Would You Turn to Moons Over My Hammy for Creative Inspiration?

As a web designer, Denny’s is the last place I expected to find creative inspiration. I’m not a big breakfast fan nor do I care for Denny’s food. But, before I start any design project, I look for inspiration to get my creative juices flowing. In that search, I came across Denny’s new website, and I have to say I’m very impressed.

Web designers and developers are always looking for ways to make their next site stand out from the previous one. Website navigation is the utmost important aspect of a site. As a designer, I’m always trying to improve the user experience while delivering as much information as possible.

Looking at Denny’s new site, I noticed they have pushed navigation to the next level. Not only is it fun, but it’s also extremely functional. Taking a similar approach to navigation, one can deliver three times the amount of information while keeping a site very organized. They did an excellent job of combining horizontal and vertical scrolling. This technique keeps the user experience simple and will not overwhelm them with too much information at one time. 

Nice work to the creative team involved with the new branding efforts for Denny’s. This is a great example of how branding and advertising can affect people’s perceptions of a company. Looks like I’m going to have to go try some Moons Over My Hammy