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How colour can make a difference to your website

Published on September 6, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

When designing a website the focus is often on logos, layout and content but how much thought is put into the colours you use? Many of us will often choose our favourite colour or one which simply seems to 'appeal' at the time. The fact of the matter is that colour is absolutely vital to your website. Would you believe that whilst one colour can convey trust and reliability, another can signify cowardice and evil? Which would you want to convey and do you know which colour conveys which feeling? If not, you may want to read on...

You may be familiar with colours being arranged as a colour wheel, and there's a very good reason for this. Colours are split into three groups: primary, secondary and tertiary colours. Primary colours number only three: red, yellow and blue. These colours are used to make up every single other colour on the colour wheel. If you mix two primary colours together, the result is a secondary colour: orange (red and yellow), green (yellow and blue) and purple (blue and red). Add another primary colour to a secondary colour and the result is a tertiary colour, which tends to be a 'middle' colour or blend.

Colours which compliment each other nicely are called complimentary colours, and these tend to sit on opposite ends of the colour wheel. Blue and orange compliment each other, as do red and green and purple and yellow. The heavy contrast tends to be surprisingly easy on the eye. Analogous colours, on the other hand, tend to be right next to each other on the colour wheel and although the contrast is far less striking than with complimentary colours, they tend to match fairly well.

Colours can also be split by their warmth: either warm, cold or neutral colours. Reds, yellows and oranges tend to be warm colours whereas blues, greens and purples tend to be cold colours. Other colours, such as greys and browns tend to be neutral.

In terms of feelings and emotions, red tends to symbolise power and passion whilst also helping to build excitement and energy. However, red does have many negative connotations including anger, aggression and emergency situations. Orange, on the other hand, is not as aggressive as its neighbour but it does symbolise happiness and cheerfulness. It can also stand for deceit, though, so not ideal for your eCommerce website!

Whilst yellow represents joy, energy and intelligence, it can also signify caution and laziness. Green, on the other hand, is a natural colour symbolising growth and safety. There aren't many negative connotations for green, although it does symbolise money which can lead to thoughts of greed or jealousy. Blue, similarly, is a calming and stable colour which is often used on websites as it builds feelings of trust. However, as a cold colour it can turn off some potential customers.

Purples tend to convey feelings of wealth, luxury and royalty and is a highly creative colour. However, if you use a darker shade of purple it can give feelings of sadness and even depression. Blacks and whites are very interesting colours as they are not actually part of the colour wheel at all. Black is linked with power and elegance, but is also associated with death and sorrow so go easy on the black! White, although pure and innocent also gives feelings of being cold and distant due to its connections with winter.

Incredibly, you can design three identical websites using exactly the same design and wording but with only the colours changed between them and elicit entirely different responses from visitors to each of the sites. For this reason alone, colour should be your main consideration when looking at the design of your website or even your company's corporate colours. You should think about your company's values and try to select colours which convey the thoughts and feelings that you're trying to put across. Are you powerful and emotional? Use red. Do you want to convey trust and reliability? Opt for blues and greens. Something cutting edge and creative? Try purples. You can even pair colours, such as blue and orange which are complimentary colours and can convey a mixture of calmness and joyfulness.

Whatever look and feel you're trying to put across, you should always bear your choice of colours very strongly in mind.

By Chelsey Evans

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How a database-driven system can help your website

Published on September 6, 2012
Tags: Web Development London

The vast majority of businesses now have their own website, but many are flat-file websites consisting purely of text and images. However, have you ever considered a database-driven website designed to store large amounts of data with ease and security?

Most people will at least be familiar with the concept of a database; a system of linked tables in which data is stored in a logical format, ensuring that it can be easily managed and retrieved. Databases need not be desktop-based, though – there are many uses for databases in websites which can lead to your site being far more powerful than it currently is.

Updating and maintaining a flat-file website can be quite tedious. Having to go in and edit the text directly on each page can take a long time and be quite expensive if you are paying a company to do this for you. Having to change the styling and coding on each individual page is cumbersome, at best. Having an incorporated database on your website will help do away with this hassle, making maintaing and updating your website far simpler. Not only does it make things easier, but it can make your website far more powerful than it currently is.

Databases give you far more power in design, even allowing you to customise your design and content for individual visitors. A database ensures that only a handful of static web pages need to be designed and maintained, with the database itself generating thousands or more individual, dynamic pages. These pages are also fully searchable, due to the content being stored in a logical database. The inherent organisational capabilities of a database-driven website are hard to beat, with static pages vastly limiting what your website can do for you.

If you run an eCommerce website, for example, a database-driven website is absolutely essential in order to be able to handle large numbers of products. A content management system – a blog, for example – would also be another good example of a website which requires a database system in order for it to run effectively. In essence, any form of web system which requires large amounts of data to be stored, retrieved and manipulated will need a database behind it in order to run as it should do.

There are, of course, some disadvantages to using databases, but these are few and far between. Having a database-driven website designed does require a programmer with a reasonable level of skill and experience and the costs of having a website such as this designed are usually more expensive than a flat-file website. In terms of ongoing costs, however, these tend to be much lower. You will also need to consider the technological requirements which will need to be addressed by your hosting company. The vast majority of hosting packages will offer some form of database administration capabilities, but you may need to look at moving to a new hosting company if the support isn't adequate.

There are a couple of different options to choose from in terms of what type of technology will drive your database. Two of the more popular options are Microsoft SQL Server and mySQL. Choosing one of these types of database will ensure that you are able to find support in terms of programming much more easily than if you use a more esoteric database system.

To conclude the matter, if you want your website to be dynamically driven and to be able to cope with processing, retrieving and storing large amounts of data and information, a database system is absolutely vital. Although the costs may be greater in the first instance, this is due to the complexity of the system and the specific skills and programming knowledge required in order to set up this sort of arrangement. However, ongoing costs will tend to be much lower as the database will tend to maintain itself. You will not have to keep contacting your web design company or developer in order to get them to make changes to the website as the dynamic aspect of the system will allow you to make changes simply and easily and with minimal effort. Whether you're looking for ease of use, simple updates or simply to store large amounts of data in a more complex website, it is well worth looking at database-driven technology in order to drive your website.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google's Copyright Update

Published on August 24, 2012
Tags: SEO

To add to other Google updates aimed at promoting high quality, original content and penalising those sites that continue to break web etiquette in a range of ways, we can now add an update from Google aimed at copyright issues. The update was announced on 8th August and came into effect the week after and while, like the Panda and Penguin updates we’ve looked at previously, it shouldn’t affect most websites at all, it’s something that it’s definitely worth being aware of.

The copyright update (it doesn’t yet seem to have an animal-based nickname of its own) is aimed at those sites that have valid copyright removal notices against them, meaning that the more such notices a site has, the more it is likely to be penalised. In its blog post announcing the update, Google acknowledges that only courts can decide on issues of copyright infringement, so even though sites could be affected in the SERPs, it won’t remove content unless action is taken by the owner of the relevant rights.

Significantly though, Google also reports that it receives more copyright removal notices now on a daily basis than it did throughout the whole of 2009. The aim of taking valid notices into account in the search engine results is to help users continue to find high quality, legitimate information on the internet.

Something else to be aware of with regards to this update is the ‘counter-notices’ tool. This means that if, for instance, a valid notice is filed against a site and Google takes the step of removing the content, if the person whose content has been removed thinks the decision was wrong, it can file a counter notice to challenge the action. This, as discussed above, should only happen in the event that the proper legal steps are first taken to get the content removed; if those steps don’t happen, it seems that the site’s ranking will be penalised rather than pages removed.

However, even though the impact for most sites will probably be non-existent, this is still an important issue. The issue of copyright is a hot one, both in terms of protecting your own copyrights where necessary and in making sure you don’t infringe anyone else’s, accidentally or otherwise.

There are steps that you can take to help mitigate any issues related to this. For example, if you ever use someone else’s work on your website in a legitimate manner, make sure it is properly credited. A good example of this is images; it isn’t uncommon for sites to use images for which they do not have the copyright but which the copyright owner allows to be used. Most sites already credit the owners of the images, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure all of your pictures are properly accredited.

Also, if you are yourself an owner of any content that people might want to share or distribute elsewhere, it is probably worth giving some thought to your own copyright policy. For example, make it clear on your site that the copyright is yours and, if you are happy for people to share your content (such as by using your photos on their own blogs), state how you would like to be credited.

This is an issue that is of particular interest to the entertainment industry, as they are the ones who most often feel that their content has been used without permission. However, it is something that can affect anyone, so vigilance certainly seems sensible.
Something else to consider is that if your website allows users to upload their own content, you might want to take steps to prevent copyright infringement in their uploads. This is something that should ideally be dealt with in your terms and conditions so it is clear what you expect from users on the site and what they can and cannot post; and make sure you take action if the rules are broken.

A review of your website to make sure all content is original or properly credited where you have used anyone else’s material (and that you have got permission where necessary) should help and uncover any issues you need to address.

Overall, it is not yet entirely clear the impact that this Google update will have on search rankings or wider issues of copyright, but since it is a widely-discussed issue right now, it’s certainly worth checking your site complies with all the relevant regulations.

By Chelsey Evans

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Web design and photography

Published on August 24, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Imagery doesn’t always need to be complicated in web design and in fact, it is often the simplest images that work the best, either because they blend in well with the rest of the design or because they are striking, bold and memorable. Of course, imagery in web design doesn’t always need to be simple – there is plenty of room for complexity too – but the point is that whatever imagery you use, it needs to be right. It needs to fit.

This is as true for photography in web design as it is for all other types of graphics. Photography can play an important role on websites; it isn’t just professional photographers who need to worry about it. However, just as with anything else in website design, there are a few considerations we need to make to ensure our chosen photography has the impact we want.

What is the picture saying?
It has become something of a much overused cliché to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is true that web users can often get a good sense or a message from a website thanks to a single image. However, that image needs to be right, otherwise it won’t tell them anything at all or could send the wrong message.

It has been found that users are more likely to engage when the images used on a website are relevant; stock images can have the opposite effect. It might not always be feasible to get original photography done for your website, but this does show that putting careful thought into your choice of picture can have an impact on how likely people are to stick around.

Is it good quality?
It doesn’t really need to be said, but any photography used in web design needs to be of a good quality. Many websites display photographs of their own products on their site; one piece of advice for this is that it’s certainly worth paying for a professional service in this instance.

You will naturally want to show your products in the best light, and while it might be tempting to cut costs and take the pictures yourself, professional assistance can work wonders. Photographers know how to create high quality images that portray things in a certain way, and they can help you ensure that your products are displayed to the best of their ability on the site.

Have you thought about copyright?
When it comes to photography in web design, copyright is an important issue to look at. If you are using other people’s work on your site, such as for a header, background or picture to accompany a blog post, you need to make sure it is OK to use it. In some cases, this might mean buying a license and/or making sure you get express permission to use the work (and crediting the original photographer on the site).

Of course, if you use your own photography, you shouldn’t have to worry about issues of licensing, but you might still want to look into how copyright affects you so you can make sure your work is protected.

How does it fit with the site?
As mentioned above, when you’re using photographs on a website, they need to fit in with the rest of the site. A lot of this is obvious, such as making sure the subject of the photograph is relevant to the rest of the content. However, there are other, more subtle issues it is also worth considering.

For example, you might like to develop a certain style of photography for your site, such as always putting the same finish on the pictures. You might decide to use the same photographer every time you get new product photos taken to ensure there is consistency across the site. Positioning your photos is something else to consider; for instance, if you take a look at the pictures bloggers use to accompany their posts, you will often find that their pictures are always aligned in the same way from post to post.

This relates to issues of branding, and making sure that any photography in your web design adds to and enhances your brand rather than detracting from it. Pictures might only be one example of content on your site, but they can have a huge impact, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

By Chelsey Evans

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The importance of web design layout

Published on August 20, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

The question of layout is one that matters in all website designs. The layout contributes to the overall success of the website – it helps to determine what it looks like, how easy the content is to read and the kind of experience that users have when they pay a visit to the site. The fact that its purposes are both aesthetic and practical means that this is certainly an issue web designers need to engage with.

One of the key concepts that is often talked about with regards to the layout of website designs is ‘the fold’ – how much of the site users are able to see without needing to scroll down and, in particular, how much useful content (as opposed to ads or graphics, for example) they are able to see without scrolling.

This is a particularly interesting concept because earlier this year, Google released an algorithm update aimed at pages that don’t have a huge amount of quality content above the fold. This update was prompted by complaints from people about, for instance, clicking on a search result and being directed to a webpage where it was hard to tell whether or not it was actually relevant because the ‘above the fold’ section was so full of ads.

The issue is not getting rid of above the fold ads altogether, but more about making sure they are not so excessive that it impacts on the user experience – something that most web designers are probably more than aware of anyway but a point that’s worth reiterating. It isn’t just to do with excessive ad placements, either. We’ve probably all been on websites where all we’ve initially been able to see is a title, and perhaps some graphics or navigation options – all useful components of a webpage, but not necessarily what people are looking for when they’re after quality, relevant content.

The lesson here is surely that web designers need to make sure they have a good amount of high quality content above the fold of their websites, to make sure they are instantly relevant to users and so they don’t have to go looking for that content. However, one of the issues that arise with this is the fact that ‘the fold’ on websites can be quite a different thing depending on how people are choosing to view a particular site.

When we talk about ‘the fold’ in relation to newspapers, we always know how big the newspaper is going to be. We know how it needs to be laid out and we know how people are going to look at it, so making sure the most important information is above the fold isn’t too difficult. However, when it comes to websites, a person could be viewing a site on anything from a desktop PC to a small smartphone screen to a tablet or even a television. Browser size tools can be used to help designers work out the content that is likely to appear above the fold for most users, but it is unlikely to be an exact science.

In many ways, this brings us back to those topics we have discussed many times before – creating a good user experience and utilising high quality content on every single website we design. It also has a lot to do with common sense; we want web users to find the sites we create useful, and we want them to come back for more, so it makes sense to ensure the sites flow properly and aren’t cluttered with ads and that the content is easy to find.

It’s also interesting that if you do a Google search for, say, ‘web design’, the results don’t actually display that much content above the fold. Most of the space is taken up by ads and navigation tools, and a test search found only two natural search results appeared above the fold – despite the algorithm update released by Google focusing on this issue, it seems they may not have taken their own advice.

Overall, we cannot deny the importance of layout in web design. The algorithm update and ‘the fold’ aside, it has a significant impact on how a web user views a site, and so making sure our layouts are perfect every time we create a new page is something that should certainly be at the top of every designer’s mind.

By Chelsey Evans

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