Professional Photography – Consider It.

June 4th, 2009 Ellie Childs

Whoa there. Just because you snap photos all the time doesn’t make you a  professional. Sorry, it’s the truth. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve got a hard drive full of great shots. Little Johnny at Halloween, Debbie building sandcastles on the beach, a first birthday party, the family reunion… they’re all amazing. However, when it comes to your business, you’ve got to step it up a notch.

True: Every business can benefit from professional photography.

False: Professional photography costs millions of dollars and is only an option for large-budget projects.

Let it shine. Whatever your business, as a company, you believe in your product. If you’re an architect, you spend years and months on a single project. After all the hard work, you owe your work a glamour shot. If you’re a clothing company, you obviously want people to see how great your clothes are. You need models and a professional photographer to make them look their best. These are obvious examples, but every website can benefit from quality photos. Whether it’s a stunning image on your home page that illustrates the concept of your business or a simple shot of your office building on your contact page, professional photos give the impression of a professional business. Who doesn’t want that?

Say cheese. There’s no better way to make your staff look like the put-together, presentable bunch that they are than to hire an experienced, skilled photographer to take their pictures. You’ll be amazed at how wonderful everyone looks in a professionally-composed shot… sans red-eyes and with a well thought-out background.

Can’t afford to hire a photographer for a custom shoot? No need to sulk in the corner. Try using stock photography. It’s an inexpensive way to get quality photos for your website.  Sometimes a stock photo search can lead to a concept you didn’t even know you were looking for!

Examples of sites we’ve built that use professional, custom photography:
www.sierradesigns.com
www.dcla.net
www.lazebratulum.com
www.concreterevolution.com

Examples of sites we’ve built that use stock photography:
http://www.f2fl.com
http://www.ncwit.org
http://www.gorillalogic.com

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We took a stab at video production….

May 15th, 2009 Ellie Childs

We’ve obviously made websites. We’ve designed logos, brochures, t-shirts, banners and more. But until today, we’ve never made movies. Feeling adventurous and a little egotistical, we set out to show the world what a creative, talented and – at times – completely unskilled bunch we are. Check us out. And it’s okay to laugh.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

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Party Time!

December 30th, 2008 Ellie Childs

On Friday, December 5th, we held our annual holiday open house. As usual, we had great food, plenty of wine and lots
of laughs. And we gave away some good prizes, too! (The crew from the National Center for Women & Information Technology nearly made a sweep of the various restaurant gift certificates.)

Nico did a great job of capturing the mood of the party in our makeshift photobooth. As you’ll see, we’re not the most camera shy bunch…

Check out the photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/insightd/.

Thanks to the more than 140 of you who braved the snow and made it to the party. For those of you who missed it, we hope to see you next year. In fact, you can go ahead and mark your calendar for Friday, Dec. 4, 2009!

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Beware of Domain Renewal Notices

December 1st, 2008 Ellie Childs

It’s called Domain Name Slamming – Don’t let it happen to you.

Domain name slamming is the popular term for a fraudulent practice where scammers try to trick you into transferring your domain name to a different registrar. Many of our clients have us register their domain name for them as part of the website development process. Others come to us with their own registered domains. In either case, the specified “owner” of the domain is always the client or business owner.

Scammers usually contact the domain owner with a professional looking email (or a hard copy letter) telling them that their domain name is set to expire soon (which is likely true). There’s usually a link to click to renew the domain. What they don’t mention is that when you click the link, you are agreeing to transfer your domain name from its existing registrar to theirs. Once you click the link, you’ve initiated the transfer. In other words – you’ve got a slew of problems. Your domain name is no longer pointed at your website server, which means you’ve got no website on the internet, no email and in most cases, it’s a logistical nightmare getting your domain name back.

This is not a new problem, but we continue to see people get duped and thought it would be great to spread the word – even if it’s just a reminder. If you are one of our clients and you’ve chosen to let us register your domain, we’ll take care of renewing it for you (we’ll always ask you first). So if you get one of these bogus emails, don’t respond to it. If you’re not sure who controls your domain, it’s a good idea to find out so that you can identify potential scams.

Posted in Web Security, Web Technology | 1 Comment »

Is your website user-friendly?

October 9th, 2008 Ellie Childs

At Insight Designs, each month or so we host an In-house Insight, or knowledge share. Everyone in the office gathers for lunch and one of us makes a presentation on something we find interesting that we think the rest of the staff should know about, too. This week, I made a presentation on web usability. And I thought it was worth sharing with the outside world. Here’s an excerpt of my presentation:

Web Usability is important because it alone will determine the success or failure of a website. The visual design should be thought of as merely a means to deliver a message to the user.

There are plenty of sophisticated usability studies out there that involve a plethora of participants. Analysts study their moves and make recommendations for changes based on the mistakes the users made. It would be nice, but we obviously can’t do this for every site we make. However, there are plenty of things we can do to make our sites more user friendly.

For Instance, we can measure a user’s impression of a page using a quick “5-Second Test.” A few years ago, usability expert Christing Perfetti came up the with idea during the development of a site for Fidelity. Site creators wanted to see how users interpreted crucial content pages. The test has been used on many sites since. It’s a valuable test because it’s quick, easy to conduct and renders results immediately. It works like this:

1. Identify a critical page of content on a website
2. Show it to a user for only 5 seconds
3. After 5 seconds, remove the page and ask the user why they would use this page.

For example, the Red Cross would probably say the main goal of their website is to drive donations. So, let’s go to the donations page on the Red Cross site and conduct our own 5 second test.

Think: What would you use this page for? What does it tell you?
http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_options

In five seconds, users can identify exactly where they need to click in order to make many different kinds of donations. This clear list of links resulted in an increase in donations after the site was launched.

Cons of the five second test.
1. Doesn’t work for the home page. Mainly because it’s hard for the user to identify the essence of a company in 5 seconds. It would be better to use quick task-oriented tests on the homepage. For example, you would take the user to a home page and tell him to “sign up for a newsletter” or “get support for a printer problem” depending on the nature of the website.

2. Our biggest challenge to in-house usability testing is the learner affect. We are all so smart we all have a really good idea of where things are supposed to be and what they do.

Interesting fact: In 2004, about 40% of people visited a homepage and then drilled down to where they wanted to go and 60% use a deep link that took them directly to a page or destination inside a site. In 2008, said Dr Nielsen, only 25% of people travel via a homepage. The other 75% search and get straight there. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7417496.stm)

What can we do to make sure our sites are more usable? First and foremost, we can think about the user. Most usability issues arise from designs that are too complex. Less is almost always more from a usability standpoint. This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice design.

For example, this shoe site got high usability ratings: http://shoeguru.ca/.

This design would be considered user-centric or product-centric, meaning the design of the site is based on the design of the product, which is clear to the user because there is nothing to fight for their attention. There are only a few navigation options and no dropdowns. There is a clear call to action at the bottom of the home page. Note: there is some debate in the usability world about the use of white text on a black background. This is usually not a good option for a site with a lot of copy. The Shoe Guru site doesn’t have too much copy, so the contrast works just fine.

Call-to-action statements are an increasingly important design element. Users are growing more impatient and don’t like to dig around a site to find what they are looking for. Satisficing. Users don’t tend to make optimal choices. They don’t read sequentially on the web either. Instead they satisfice. This means that as soon as they find a link that seems like it might lead to their goal, they click it immediately.  Call-to-actions prey on this instinct by making the choices clear.

By definition, a call to action is a statement on the site that tell the user what the website owner wants them to do. They are often words such as “Buy Now”, “Shop Now”, “Call Now”, “Subscribe Now”. They don’t always include the word Now, but they always convey an action.

In recent months, more people, including our clients, are aware of the impact of a call to action.
For example, I recently put one on Antler Art, Inc: http://www.antlerartinc.com/

I found another interesting one (“Shop Looks”) on J.Crew: http://www.jcrew.com/AST/Navigation/Women.jsp. Instead of just directing users to the product pages, it allows users to browse and buy an entire outfit. Amazon has been doing this for years, but it’s becoming more popular on other ecommerce sites as well.

As web developers, what can we make sure we are doing to increase usability? Since we don’t really have the means to conduct our own elaborate tests, we can do the next best thing use the information others have gathered.

I found a web design usability checklist that covers all the major elements of web usability.
http://stud.cmd.hro.nl/0773253/notusable/blog/the-ultimate-webdesign-usability-checklist/

Posted in Web Design, Web Technology | 2 Comments »

Web Rules Worth Following

August 28th, 2008 Ellie Childs

True, we are a group of creative, free-thinking, innovative individuals. However, when it comes to creating websites, there are some rules worth following. Businessweek.com recently posted the “10 Commandments of Web Design.” None of these were new to us at Insight Designs; we’ve been living by these rules for years. But we thought we should share them with you.

1. Thou shalt not abuse Flash.

2. Thou shalt not hide content.

3. Thou shalt not clutter.

4. Thou shalt not overuse glassy reflections.

5. Thou shalt not name your Web 2.0 company with an unnecessary surplus or dearth of vowels.

6. Thou shalt worship at the altar of typography.

7. Thou shalt create immersive experiences.

8. Thou shalt be social.

9. Thou shalt embrace proven technologies.

10. Thou shalt make content king.

To read more about each commandment, check out the full article on businessweek.com.

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