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Website design options: finding the right look for your site

Same question, six years later.

8:22 pm on Jul 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am spending time on a new project for a nonprofit group. Although currently in the information gathering stage, I am using some WebmasterWorld info as reference material for my documentation for the client. I'm also rooting around for some virtual caffeine - little infolets that will give me that zippy "whee!" feeling I need to get moving on the site layout and design.

I'm feeling ... webbed out, and if I just do a push-button site, I (and everyone else) might just die of boredom.

I started searching around the site looking for various bits of information from previous threads, and hit an old post with a fun discussion. It was timely then, and it feels timely (to me) now.

How do you keep the creativity alive? Find inspiration? Pick the design - when it is basically your choice (within limits).

I think Iím experiencing a severe case of Usability and SEO Information Overload, though, and I donít know where to start!

So far, here are the steps Iíve taken:

  • Looked at my competitorsí sites
  • Looked at the top ranking sites in my subject area
  • Looked at the top ranking sites for the style of site (content vs. online store)
  • Stared at a blank screen
  • Played several hands of solitaire
  • Stared at a blank piece of paper
  • Folded a blank piece of paper airplane-style and sent it flying across the room

And I have nothing to show for my efforts!

I see so many poorly designed, hard-to-use sites in my space that itís easy for me to say, "See that? That is what I don't want." But when it comes down to it, I don't have any inspiration for what I do want.

So where do you start, when youíre ready to design a new site? How do you keep things fresh and exciting, without reinventing the wheel? How do you design a new site to make it both (a) familiar and usable to your audience, and (b) more than just a rehash of something that was inadequate to begin with?

Give me a site already built and I'll tell you what's wrong with it and how to fix it. But building a site from the ground-up, incorporating all of the best practices? I need inspiration!

One of the great responses was from Korkus2000:

I try and build a concept around the function of the site. Say it is a site about toasters. So I do some research on toasters and look at old advertising for toasters. Some cool sites I have seen mimic old 50s ads and really work. I look at how different cultures would toast bread before toasters. I also look at relevent history around the concept and propaganda associated with it.

By the time you do this for a couple of days you have enough inspiration to do a network of sites (which is good for me being a designer and needing to pump out a couple of mock ups). I try and stay away from looking at other sites unless I casually find them. It will make you have a narrow view of design. Nothing worse than looking at templates and other things to stop the creative process dead in its tracks. Look at other mediums and see what visuals were used for that concept.

Let your intuition and knowledge of SEO and useability make it work. Spending to much time forcing it into a design will just cause frustration. Experience will force these things to appear. My father use to ask why Picasso and Monet were great artists. Anyone could have done that. It is the experience of art making that made them create something beautiful. Let your experience flow inherently and not consciously.

Any new thoughts? I am going to hit the design stage next, and I'd rather present some interesting options, versus the same-old same-old. Are you doing cookie-cutter sites today? Are you still jazzing up the 2.0 jive? Or have you gone back to old school simplicity? What am I missing?

5:45 am on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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That's a great old thread!

It's a lot easier these days to use CMS and templates to put together sites. Whether it's your own system or a 3rd party I still think that information architecture [webmasterworld.com] is often missing from the process. It should be one of the first things you work on. Once you have that down, then you can think about putting some design elements into the mix.

I think a lot of the effort I used to put into design are now going toward simpler, yet more functional and accessible sites.

9:53 am on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Go with CMS as bill suggests, you can then change the "look" at will.

As for the competition, my friend time is the enemy. If I had enough hours in the day I'm sure I could take top rankings from a lot of different topics I enjoy, as is I maintain all my sites and improve them when I find time. New sites would require more time, a luxury I don't always have.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to finish what you start, don't end up with a half dozen unfinished projects instead of one or two completed sites.

10:10 am on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator phranque is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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this thread may contain some useful concepts for you to consider:
What makes a good web design specification? [webmasterworld.com]
9:21 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I like the specs thread- thanks, phranque.

Bill, I am with you on the simplicity. The site I am putting together is for a very teeny nonprofit, which will experience relatively little growth in the next five to seven years. They will have no money for site upkeep, which means I have to keep it simple and push-button.

I want it to look clean and fresh - don't want it to get too outdated too fast.

3:44 pm on July 23, 2009 (gmt 0)

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This is something that has hit me a few times over the years but I have an alternative solution. The main problem was my inability to ask the right questions during my meetings with the client.

I have spent years perfecting the questions to ask a client and I'm now at the stage where the site pretty much builds itself because I know exactly what needs to go where and how much importance (size, visual prominence etc) each block has. The list is on my blog if you want to take a peak and for me personally it made a huge difference.

You never have to stare at a blank canvas because you already know where everything has to go. I wireframe all the blocks up first and once you can see the build the rest comes very quickly!

8:56 am on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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In my opinion, the first thing you need to forget in the initial design phase is the design itself. Think more along the lines of what is needed. Make an outline of what each page will display. Weight each item and figure out the best real estate for it to use on the page. Sketch it out on pager. Build it and add the needed functionality. Then add design.

The reason your staring at a blank page is your trying to see a finished product. Forget about what it looks like. Think functionality first and the design will build itself as your subconcious mind thinks about the issue while your concious mind builds the structure/function.

Hey, the last thing the cook puts on your plate is the garnish.

2:53 pm on Aug 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Wow...I totally remember this thread from 6 years back..and it's funny, but I still do the same things I mentioned in that thread when I'm in a design-rut..

Some ideas that have worked for me:

- Walk through a furniture store, like Ikea. Take some time to notice the colours and textures they use in their display rooms.

- Get away from the computer. Read a magazine, newspaper, book..whatever. Take a walk or go for a drive in the country. Bring a digital camera and take pictures of things that you see along the way. Often an entire website can be built around one picture.

- Go to the bookstore and buy a magazine on gardens, concept automobiles, fashion or - my personal favouite - Architectural digest. I have found that, sometimes, inspiration off the Internet helps with inspiration on the Internet.

..6 years later and I'm doing the same thing. I've always found it invaluable to immerse myself in offline design to fuel my online needs.

Some 800 websites later, it's still working :)

Good luck..


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