|A "professional look" for forums|
(spun off from "Forum out of control" thread)
Okay. We have a forum in disarray. The owner decides that heesh needs to shut down for a "time out in the far corner", then reopen with a new look, a fresh take on things, and some serious moderation while people get settled in again.
What's an "upscale professional" look, in your lexicon? Is it similar in flavor to WebmasterWorld? Is it "black tie" tuxedoish grey-scale? Is it monochrome in shades of just blue, just green? What?
And with the "look", what goes as far as "tweaks" for extended functions? No smilies? No sigs? No graphics of any sort? Some moderation simply for proofreading clarity, so that posts appear in "decent English" (assuming an Eng-lang board of course!)?
I guess there are plenty of definitions for "professional". This forum has a clean design, but is perhaps a bit spartan in some ways. If you ask ten graphic artists to design a professional website, you'll no doubt come up with ten completely different looks.
I'd probably opt for some subtle graphic elements (to give it a "designed" look), a fair amount of white space, no user graphics (except, perhaps, a few smilies ;)), a white or light-colored background, a modern set of fonts...
I'd do as much as I could with CSS to make tweaking the design easier. If the forum is attached to a website, I'd try to integrate the look as much as possible. I'd also replace the standard graphics that come with most forum packages to avoid looking like every other forum of that brand.
Just a few off the top of my head.
* Ditch the smilies / Avatars / pics in sigs / possibly pics in posts too.
* Go for a sombre / muted colour scheme (doesn't have to be boring, just make sure it's not garish)
* Sensible names for boards (An off-topic forum could be "General Discussion" rather than "Talk about other stuff")
* Each post has a 'report to moderator' button
* Mods are named on the board and act and respond quickly to TOS violations.
* No guest posting
I like basenotes' ideas very much and would like to second them.
Some additional thoughts: Colors a bit more on the grey or muted side than these - and don't use #fff for white on dark background, make it slightly off-white with the hue of the same background
Fonts about this size here - smaller makes letters look like ants on big rez monitors (you probably have experienced that enough already given your resolution)
Just a tad larger margins than here - whitespace is nice for legibility and just looks plain civil like letterpaper - linespacing also important, looks good here.
if you allow colors in your bbcode, make them dark (e.g. make red #700 instead of #F00 or 'red')
bbcode like 'small', 'italics', and 'bold' make sense - you might want to note in your charter that using these minimally makes for the best postings - also minimal use of colors.
you can do truly great design as long as it's understated and the colors aren't too contrasting - light backgrounds, and black or very very dark text
li is pretty good too for making sense without gussying things up too much
of course, the more you can trim down your graphics, and reduce the formatting to smart css rules which require minimal html, the better the SEO. A lot of search results return the 'light-format' pages of VBulletin boards.
if you can, turn off a lot of things like 'number of reads', 'number of people viewing this forum', all that junk that distracts from the actual content. A graphically busy look ain't nice.
just before I stumbled upon this thread, I was trying to think of an 'etcetera' name for a foo-like forum, and came up with 'Cigarettes and pantyhose' (comes from a very, very old Talking Heads song)
if you do allow siggies, put them in a smaller-size or lighter-color font
if you're going fixed-width, by all means center the thing. Reading everything on the left with a huge space on the right is a bit irritating.
Hey guys - those are GREAT ideas! I'm impressed - there's things y'all posted which I hadn't even considered to fit in a "professional" look/attitude. And they also fit for a less-formal set of fora as well - I guess what I'm saying is that "clean design" can be either "upscale professional formal" OR "let's just have fun and not get our knickers in a twist" looser - because a clean design can be all things to all forum owners.
If you hide the controls for changing fonts and sizes (forcing the member to use bbcode), 99% of the members will leave everything as the default and you'll have a much cleaner looking board.
I've visited boards where it seemed everyone was using rainbow type, a mixture of big fonts, pictures, symbols, etc. Truly horrible to view and impossible to read.