The Dress’ Color and Your Website

Dress whose color people cannot agree on
Gold and White… or Blue and Black… this dress is one color for you and the other color for 50% of the population

This picture went viral when it was posted on Tumbler along with the question, “.. is this dress white and gold, or blue and black?” Everyone who viewed the dress thought that the question was silly.  For half of the people the answer was unequivocally gold and white. The other half were equally sure that the dress was blue and black.

Personally, I first saw it as gold and white.  I couldn’t understand how anyone could see anything else.  Then I came back from being in a dark room, and the picture had magically changed.  The dress was definitely blue and black.

There are great explanations of why different people see different colors.  I particularly like Wired‘s discussion of the science behind the different color perceptions.  They even analyze the strengths of the different hues in each part of the dress and come up with a “scientific” answer.

However, as a web designer, I don’t need a right or wrong, definitive color ruling. I don’t think there is a single correct answer.

The whole discussion illustrates one of the problems I explain to clients. You cannot control precisely what a visitor to your website will see.

The dress photograph shows that people simply perceive things differently.  The same swatch of color may look red to you and green to me.  The settings of our individual monitors may differ.  The background images on our monitors may contain different colors that affect our judgements.  Our room lighting may be lighter or darker, or more blue or yellow. Or, our minds just interpret colors differently.

All of these variables make it extremely difficult (i.e., impossible) to develop a web page that looks the same to all visitors.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot design a clean, clear site that 99% of visitors find pleasing.  It just means that sometimes you have to breathe deeply and give up the desire to control the entire user experience.

I have spent hours making minor color adjustments for some clients — architects and designers are particularly particular.  They get angry because a color that looked like a perfect blue on their office screens appears too purple when they get home.  I explain that the monitors’ settings, ambient lighting, and even the viewer’s mood disrupt a uniform experience.  Colors and looks on the Internet are not as controllable as they are on a printed page.  Often, the client acts like I am trying to shirk from a difficult, but possible, task!

So, I love the picture of dress.  If you cannot give up absolute control of the user experience on your site, I can always ask if you want me to use a gold and white combination like the one the dress. Or, is that a blue and black combo?!

Embracing The “M” Word

Yes, I maintain websites after I’ve designed them. Yes, I maintain websites designed by other people.

Apparently a lot web designers want to just that: design websites.  They don’t want to do minor changes or, God forbid, touch a site someone else originally created.

Many of the calls I get are from tired business owners who want to change some things in their site, but they don’t need — or want to pay for — a complete overhaul. They report problems finding someone who can help them.

Sometimes their original web designer has found a full-time graphics design job (a lot of web designers seem to be frustrated or underemployed graphic designers).  Other times the business owners report that their original designer doesn’t do maintenance.

I think we web designers have to be available to make changes and tweaks to our customers’ pages.  Phone numbers change, photos get outdated,  new products come out, business hours expand!  All of these updates belong on your website.

Sometimes the business owner needs more substantial changes. They want to add a video or a series of pages about new things they’re doing.  The owner wants to update their site, but they aren’t up for a total re-do!

I get asked to help with all sorts of websites, even sites created on WordPress or other platforms that supposedly allow non-technical users to update content. WordPress, Joomla, and proprietary systems by Wix, GoDaddy, and others all require some computer skills.  Although they do not require special software on your computer, these tools take time to learn and tame.  Many owners are too busy running their business to spend hours coming up to speed and implementing changes.  I am happy that they call me!

Doing maintenance may not be as fun as creating an eye-catching design from scratch. And, when I work on a site that someone else created, I have to adjust to whatever style that person had.  I also have to find out where they have put the images, layouts, and styles I’m being asked to use and modify.  And, of course, the original designer is never as organized and clear as I am!

Still, I am happy to do maintenance.  I have done one-time updates, and I have some clients whose sites I change several times a month like Theatre Rhinoceros, a San Francisco theater company.  I like making all of them reflect the owner’s current activities.

The Tale of Two Websites

Websites are worse than ties.  You can really tell when you’re looking at last year’s fashion.

It’s not just shifts in aesthetic whim.  Technology allows looks and functions that were not possbile earlier. For example, when people were on dial-up or slow DSL, websites had to have small pictures to minimize download time.  You still have to watch the speed of your website, but you can safely use pictures that are two or three or four times the size recommended back in 2004.

Then for a while sites had a boxed look with sidebars to get more information on the page. Now, navigation menus drop down from the top of the page, sliders rotate graphics featuring different topics, and there’s a more open feel.  Within a single page you’ll have a mixture of one-column, two-column, three-column or more-column layouts.  You’ll have tabs that when clicked will reveal paragraphs of descriptions, and you can incorporate bullet-points that expand when selected.

See what I mean.  I just redid a website for employment attorney Brian Hawes.  I used the same content in both sites, except for an updated picture of Brian and the addition of client testimonials.

Before

Home Page 2010
Home Page 2010

Visit the old website.

After

Homepage of employment attorney Brian Hawes in 2014
Home Page 2014

Visit the updated Employment Attorney Website.

The new site looks much cleaner, clearer, inviting, and 2014-ish! In addition, the new site is responsive, meaning the layout changes to better fit different screens such as smart phones, tablets, and traditional desktop computers.

Fortunately, updating a site using exising material doesn’t require that the business owner take new photos or dream up more content.  The same material can be transferred to the new look.

However, for the web designer a new site can take as much effort as putting up the site originally. Putting content into tabs, diving text into columns, or using the graphic quotation marks for testamonials requires more than simple cutting and pasting.

The designer will have to stage the site at a test location and then move it to the live location when it’s done. Plus, we have make sure that incoming links to old pages are good. Either we have to use the same page names in the new site (e.g., “lawyercontact.php“) or else redirect visitors to the new version of the page (e.g., “http://www.haweslawfirm.com/contact/“).

But, updating your site is important and worth the investment. You want your business to look modern. You want to tell the visitors about your services in an attractive way.

Go ahead. Tell them you’re ready to serve them in 2014.

WordPress Sites: You Don’t Just Publish and Forget Them

It used to be that clients asked a developer to create a website, the site went live,and then the owner let the site attract business for them without any further effort.  The owner usually didn’t update the site regularly, and there were no maintenance tasks to be performed.  Maybe some content would be updated every month or so, but maybe not.

Now, though, business owners have jumped on the DIY updates/blog wagon.  They want to be able to create their own posts, and they want to be able to change the photos and content on the their websites themselves.

In response to this new approach, WordPress has exploded. WordPress lets you create and modify a website from a web browser anywhere in the world.

  • You don’t need special software on your computer
  • You don’t need to know any programming language, not even HTML
  • The base WordPress is free software that is continuously updated by passionate programmers who keep adding functionality

However, there are trade-offs in using WordPress for a site:

  • The pages of the site are created by a script that runs when a visitor wants to see that page.  Unless you buy a more powerful, expensive hosting service, the pages may take seconds to appear on your visitor’s screen.  Significant slowness will make your site fall in Google rankings.
  • WordPress sites are complex merges of scripts from many different programmers.  A WordPress template typically contains great functionality and flexibility.  However, making a fine-tuning change that is simple using HTML may be very, very, very difficult to accomplish in WordPress site.  If the WordPress developers or authors of the template you use did not expect you to want to modify a color, font size, margin, or other specific detail, then making that modification can be hugely difficult.
  • Since WordPress sites can be modified from anywhere in the world. the latest version must be consciously backed up.  With an HTML site, the master site is developed on a local PC and then a copy is uploaded to the web hosting service.  The live version visitors see is backed up by static code on the developers computer. On the other hand, the live WordPress site is a dynamic master site whose code and database settings must be intentionally saved.
  • Since WordPress sites can be modified from anywhere in the world, evil hackers are always trying to break into your site and do malicious things with it.  The WordPress developers and the authors of the software plug-ins you use on your site regularly issue updates that both address security issues and add functionality.  The website owner must regularly check for updates to the site’s template and plug-ins and install them.
CloudFlare Threat Graph
Attacks Against this Blog During the 7 Days Prior to the Writing of this Blog Post

In addition, if the new website includes an interactive blog or allows visitors to post comments, the website owner acquires additional responsibilities:

  • The owner should regularly check for comments and questions and respond.
  • The owner will need to moderate the comments.  Spammers will make bogus comments with links to their own scammy site, trying to lure other visitors to their den of inequity.

Check out our next post on the tools we use to stay on top of dynamic WordPress sites.

I Don’t Do Online Stores… Except for This One

Sensitive Skin Product Store There are two main reasons I politely decline/refuse to help people set up online stores:

  1. I don’t want to be involved in a mission-critical website whose failure would mean I would have to interrupt a vacation or day off or good night’s sleep.
  2. The future online store isn’t likely to be a success.

In a previous job, I was responsible for maintaining police, fire, and ambulance dispatching systems.  I stayed mostly sober through New Year’s Eve on Y2K with pagers and cellphones strapped to my belt, and have years of experience in being responsible.  I have been on-call 24 x 7 enough in my life. So, a potential store owner would have to accept that my help is in set up, but not in daily operation. And, most people who have asked me to create a store for them have admitted that they wanted full support.

But, even when someone understands my limitations, I quickly back away.   Typically, the store owner has the expectation that a crowd is going to beat their virtual door down and buy lots of stuff from them.  They have this expectation though there is no reason for someone to visit their site.

  • Their goods and services are commodities available from 4700 other places.
  • They have no special expertise in what they are selling.
  • Their competition is entrenched, large, and able to offer better pricing.
  • They have little or no supplementary information to help entice people to buy or understand their product.

Additionally, most of the would-be online store owners can only spend a few hours here and a few hours next week on their store.  They want someone else (me) to set up their shipping logistics, their price lists, their… well… everything that a store owner/manager has to do.

I want to provide good value to my clients. And, frankly, I think that most of the people who have asked me to help with stores are going to spend money and have little to show for their effort.  So, I decline to take on a future unhappy client.

However, this spring I was asked to help with a store by Andrew Scoular, an owner who has unique products, understands business, and also understands that what a store owner has to do cannot be delegated to a webmaster.  Helping Andrew set up Sensitive Skin Clinic has educated me on skin care and on e-commerce features.

In the next series of posts I’ll share what I’ve learned to help you decide if running an online store is a business activity you’re ready for.

Check out what Andrew is offering and how. Then come back here over the next few days to learn what Andrew and I discovered together.  And, please leave your comments if you have questions or specific topics you want covered.