Featured Website 01: Hill Billys

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In the competitive tourism industry, website design has to be first class, particularly in the area of usability. Visitors have to be presented with a comprehensive amount of information of information on the home page without cramming. Continue reading

Featured Website Design: Tudor House Inn

One of the first commissions in 1997 was an accommodation website for St. Lucia Wetlands Guest House and over the years, many similar websites have been designed but none in Durban.  Until a commission for Tudor House Inn website on Umhlanga Rocks Drive.

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Featured Website Design : EeziPumps

Our client sells a variety of water pumps – pressure booster pumps, swimming pool pumps, sewage pumps and borehole pumps. This site is their third and focuses on the submersible pump range which includes sewage pumps, stainless steel dirty water pumps, borehole pumps and sewage lift stations.

water-booster-pumps.co.za and swimming-pool-pumps.co.za are some years old and, while they follow a Dynamic Drive CSS based layout, are not designed from the ground up to be responsive. The new website submersible-pumps.co.za uses a responsive grid  based on skeleton grid system. The system is very lightweight and easy to use unless you want nested cells where it battles. It seems to be eminently responsive insofar as it has been tested on small devices.submersible2

Its two other concessions to current web design practice are a slider using LayerSlider and a megamenu. I have yet to find a more flexible slider than LayerSlider although the implementation in this case is fairly straightforward. The megamenu is one from Code Canyon and is not really required with any degree of complexity.

Short descriptions of the various pumps help the visitor to decide on the one which will be best suited. Another nice feature is the built-in contact form – simple but enough for most uses. I love font-awesome but battled to find pump-type icons.

submersible3Like all our recent websites, the full contact details appear on every page, in this case in the left sidepanel but can also appear in the header. I’ve always disliked the ‘Contact Us’ page – one extra click on to a page that might or might not be understandable.

 

Welcome to this First Post

Featured

This blog simply relates aspects of being a freelance website designer. The challenges, frustrations and occasional successes. Whether the actions and opinions are right or wrong is unimportant. They are simply responses to frequently encountered situations.

search-optimizers.co.za

I thought this domain might bring some business but over  the five years or so it’s been up, nary a thing. I would have deleted it but several sites sit under it so I renew it every year. When it went up it used several new CSS3 tricks and I was quite happy with it but now it looks like a porn site. My experience is that prospects don’t look for search optimizers.  The few requests that I have had to do search optimization on existing websites have come through the warthog.co.za site. Invariably I decline the job – no-one likes messing with someone else’s code.

So, being un-busy I did what I usually do and spring cleaned the server and redesigned a website of mine – search-optimizers in this case. I also take the opportunity to try out some new code. I am a visitor to Hotscripts, PHPJabbers and CodeCanyon and it was the latter I wandered about.

Before that however, I thought I would ditch my usual site template in favour of a grid based layout and try it out. I found a very good one too – responsive and easy to use.

For the last few months, I also took the opportunity to play with some sliders. I am not a fond lover of these things. Not because of what they are but because of the way they are abused. So many designers have no design ability but feel compelled to have a slider. So, they take a bunch of happy clip art and add some banal marketing text. How boring can that be? What a waste of pixels.

I first bought WowSlider which comes with a GUI.  It’s a bit limited but is a good start. Then NivoSlider simply in order to get text on the side of the slide like the BBC rather than at the bottom. I thought it was overrated and only used it once.

I then came to CodeCanyon and RevoSlider which I used on warthog.co.za/primatecare. I was impressed until I chanced upon LayerSlider. This thing can do just about everything so I stress tested it on warthog.co.za and had real fun.

So, this was the slider of choice for the new website. In contrast to the frenetic Warthog slider, I was going to make this one more refined and subdued. In addition to the new layout and slider I bought a megamenu script. Now, I used these things way back in about 2000. There was no jquery then but they worked.

Another element that’s very useful in containing a lot of content in a small space is tabs. Since CSS3, there have been quite a few. Nowadays, they are very sophisticated and versatile so I ended up with SkyTabs.

Responsive Grid System: www.grahamrobertsonmiller.co.uk

MegaMenu: pixelworkshop

LayerSlider: kreatura

SkyTabs: voky

So, the new site was going to be challenge. It was and I spent more than a week at it. It all dovetailed nicely together and the only grit in the Vaseline was the width of the tab content. I used up most of a day trying to find the suspect code and eventually it was some CSS for a <li> element that was stopping the tab content box from being resized. Other than that, I found the scripts very well done, nicely commented with an understandable CSS and very good value for money. I spent a lot of time on the second slide on the Warthog site – it had over 50 layers to simulate a shotgun of websites and I couldn’t neglect so I had to include just that one slide on one of the pages.

One more new thing on the site – font awesome for the icon fonts on the menu and visual light box for the screenshots.

 

I was used to working with a single CSS stylesheet but now I have twenty.

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Incidentally, PHPJabbers have some new free scripts – single long web page with sticky header, ‘To Page Top’ script and an infinite scroll (Facebook) script.

The Filter Bubble

I take pride in not only developing a usable website – and hopefully an attractive one – but also one that generates revenue. This means that it has to appear on the first page of Google.

It’s a battle between me and Google. In South Africa, it’s not too difficult to get websites on to the first page, sometimes within a week but for reasons unknown, others struggle.

Doing the Google Check

Part of the search optimization routine is to check that you’re having some effect, that your clients’ sites are marching, however slowly up Google’s results pages.

I generally check every couple of months to see that these sites either continue to do well or are improving. The trouble is, Google remembers all your searches and and assumes you’re really searching for whatever is on those websites.

Of course you’re not. You’re looking to see where the sites are positioned for various search strings. You already know what’s on the websites – you created them but Google doesn’t know this, simply that you continue to search for them.

Bein’ a smartass, it gives these websites priority over other websites. If your website of interest is on page 5 of Google and you keep checking up on it, you notice to your great satisfaction that it slowly percolates up. But only for you. This is the ‘filter bubble’.

Being Just a User

This isn’t of much use. You want the search results that someone searching for the site for the first time would get.

The way to get around this is to constantly delete your browsing history. There are several addons to Chrome (which I use) and I assume for other browsers. Chrome allows an anonymous search which collects no information and deletes all traces when closed. You may find that your chosen website is not so well positioned as you thought but these are the pages that first time visitors to that site will get.

A Google Alternative

Another option is startpage.com which claims to be the most private search engine.  It uses Google’s database so the results (as far as I can make out) are identical to those achieved by searching Google itself but without the predictions. Another option is gibiru.com.

Using several browsers also helps to overcome the ‘helpfulness’ of Google and Chrome permits the deletion of browsing history – but I don’t trust it.

Small is Beautiful

Aside

Perhaps the day of the one man band website designer are over. Perhaps prospects look for efficiency, accountability and quality in a bigger company?

babyToo late in my case even if it’s true. I get great satisfaction from churning out a  quality website. One that I can go back to in three months and say to myself ‘ That still looks good!’.

I don’t want to be just a content editor, SEO-er or just a designer all my life. I want to turn out a finished product from scratch and watch it climb Google and get traffic.

It’s almost like getting a puppy and watching it grow to maturity.

There’s an advantage in being part of a team of course – principally in the throwing of ideas about. A OMB website designer is a bit like an author sitting in front of a typewriter and a blank sheet.

However, there are no egos, no office politics, just you and a clean screen. You have the freedom to try this or that, to wander off or even take time off which would be difficult as part of a team with a boss.

There’s a visceral connection between you and your websites. You have brought them to life so you keep an eye on them like hen with chicks.

Corraling them, shepherding them, preening them. In short, you feel responsible for them. As part of a larger operation, they would be just another account.

You feel the pain when you lose a client, the elation when a site gets to the top. The satisfaction – and vindication – when you get a small pat on the back from a client. When something goes wrong, it’s yourself that you kick.

fartI’m far too old to work for someone else now. I know I can produce a quality piece of work unaided. My policy has always been to use the simplest of tools to create a magnum opus.

Others are constantly chasing the latest big thing whilst never mastering even the basics. Rather learn to drive a piece of software and get it to cough up results quickly than spend hours on yet another learning curve for a feature that may be a dubious advantage at best.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t trawl the TutsPlus type sites. These blogs are excellent and my browser has hundreds of bookmarks from such sites. However, life is too short to tyre-kick every new brain fart.

I always keep an eye open for software with prospects. If it’s still around in two years, its a) been adopted as a staple, b) got bugs out of it and c) much easier to use. Let others do the heavy lifting I say!

Startpage – a Google Alternative?

I’m getting sick of Google throwing its weight around and increasingly paranoid about my online details. Startpage claims to be completely anonymous and uses the Google search engine so I’m giving it a try. If it works, it’ll be my default search engine. As a web designer I still have to use Google for my clients.

“Every time you use a regular search engine, your search data is recorded. Major search engines capture your IP address and use tracking cookies to make a record of your search terms, the time of your visit, and the links you choose – then they store that information in a giant database.

Those searches reveal a shocking amount of personal information about you, such as your interests, family circumstances, political leanings, medical conditions, and more. This information is modern-day gold for marketers, government officials, black-hat hackers and criminals – all of whom would love to get their hands on your private search data.”

OMB Web Designers

I’ve not seen any figures as to the employee numbers of web designers businesses either here in South Africa or overseas. However, I would hazard a guess that a good 25% of the businesses are OMBs (one man bands).

The calculation would be complicated by the fact that website design is sometimes not the principal endeavour of the business and may exist along with hosting, marketing, design and printing.

The Choice of Website Design

durban web designers businessI worked in a university environment for many years and when I left I was faced with the ‘What now?” question. Universities get technology very early on. We had email from the early 1980s and the web from around 1995.

I remember my friend bursting into my office in 1982  telling me that he’d found a way of writing a letter on one computer and getting it read on another remote computer. I thought “This’ll never take on”. Remember that there were very few people who could read the letter. Mostly those in other universities.

In 1995, there was only a single browser and you could have the website background any colour as long as it was grey. Nobody knew what direction the ‘Internet’ would take – or even if it would take any direction at all.

The Hardware

durban web designers computerWeb design is not demanding of hardware. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.  Even the computer can be a very simple one. A Pentium P1 would probably handle the programmes I use.

You don’t need clean air, three phase electricity, running water, cooling towers. You don’t even need anyone else. An aircon is nice though in Durban.

The Brainware

What you do need is a knowledge of HTML, adequacy with a graphics programme and a good understanding of usability.  Common sense in other words.