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Creating a good web design brief

Published on June 29, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

When it comes to creating a brilliant web design, this job is made considerably easier by a good quality, comprehensive brief. It helps to know what clients have to work with, what they want – and what they don’t. This allows us to create a web design that is exactly what they’re looking for. With this in mind, there are certain things that a brief from a client should include to help your web designer meet all of your expectations.

The purpose
First of all, what is the purpose of your web design? Do you need a new website created entirely from scratch or is this more of an update of an existing website? Is it going to be an ecommerce site or for information purposes? Other key details, such as whether you want to incorporate discussion boards or any other specific features, are also very useful to know about.

What to avoid
It can also be very useful to know what a client doesn’t want from their website, just so it’s clear from the beginning what needs to be avoided. For example, you might have had a particular feature on a previous website and found that it didn’t work as you wanted it to, or not liked an aspect of your old design that you now want to eradicate. Even if what you want to avoid is simple things like certain colours or styles of font, it all helps your web designer to get a much clearer idea of what you would like from your new site.

The timeline
Something else it is very important to include in your brief for your designer is your preferred timeline for completion. This helps to give your designer an idea of how much time they have to work with, and making it clear right at the beginning means that any issues with meeting your preferred deadline can be raised straight away.

For instance, if you have a launch that you would like your website to be ready for – it isn’t uncommon for businesses to launch their website at the same time as their company – it’s definitely worth putting this in your brief. If you do have a specific launch date in mind for your site, it also makes sense to get in touch with your web designer as soon as possible so they can have enough notice to get everything done in time.

The style and look
Of course, your ideas for the design of your website will always be one of the most important elements of your brief. Some people have more definite ideas than others about what they’re looking for, so you don’t necessarily need to be too specific, but it is nice to get a feel for the kind of style and designs that you like. For instance, you could include examples of websites that you really like, or highlight existing company graphics such as logos that you would like to be incorporated into the new site.

If you will need things such as logos designing as well, it’s useful to know about this so that the work can be built into the rest of the design process.

The audience
Something else to consider is who your audience is going to be, as this could have a significant impact on the design. For example, what is the typical demographic of the people you are intending to target with your website? Will they be professionals, other businesses or members of the public?

If you aren’t sure about the kind of people who will be looking at your website, think about who your current customers are – and who your ideal customer would be. This can help to tailor the design of the site to better meet their (and your) needs.

The ‘business’ bit
Finally, your brief for your web designer should also ideally include some information such as the budget you have available for the site. One of the reasons for this is that it will allow your designer to work out whether what you want is possible for the budget you have in mind, or whether a compromise might need to be reached to ensure you get the best deal possible. Then, once everything is clear, your designer will be able to move onto the job of designing a website that perfectly fits your brief.

By Chelsey Evans

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The Importance of Landing Pages in Web Design

Published on June 15, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

There is not a single aspect of web design that counts as unimportant. What there are, however, are different aspects of web design, all of which are important for their own reasons. Landing pages are just one example that we need to take note of when designing sites to ensure that all of the different components come together as a successful whole.

First of all, what is a landing page? The basic definition is that it is the webpage that users land on when they arrive at a website. They could find the site through links on other sites, through search engines, adverts or recommended links from friends. When they click on a link, they are taken to a landing page.

This means that websites can have multiple landing pages – depending on the size and scope of the site, as well as other factors such as how many incoming links it has, a site could have just a few or potentially a lot of them. We can also identify different types of landing pages that can help to guide us in our web design.

Transaction Pages
These are the sorts of landing pages that you hope will spur a user into definite action. Depending on the specific purpose of the page, it could be that you hope they will make a purchase, fill in a survey, sign up to a newsletter or check out your social media sites. Information-gathering is a common purpose for these pages. If a web user takes you up on the offer (such as signing up for your updates), they are counted as a conversion.

Information Pages
Of course, you might decide instead to have some landing pages that are for information only. This could be information about your company’s products and services, or perhaps a useful article. As an example, if you run a website offering tips for business owners, you might have a guest post on a finance blog about managing your money as a self-employed person. That post could then include a link back to a relevant article on your site, such as tips for dealing with your expenses, and this would become the landing page.

Unintended landing pages

Both of the examples outlined above are examples of intentional landing pages – pages that have been designed in a certain way because you are expecting people to land on them one way or another, either through search engines or by clicking on links.

Sometimes however, pages that become landing pages weren’t always intended that way. For example, you could have a page on your website that includes a comical video relating to the work you do. Someone who stumbles across it could then decide to share it with their friends, who share it with even more people, and gradually more and more people start to visit that particular webpage – making it much more significant than perhaps you ever intended it to be.

SEO benefits
As well as giving web designers pause for thought, landing pages can also be very important for SEO. They tend to be the pages that you want people to find, and so thinking about how you are going to optimise them is definitely important.

The content will naturally play an important part in this. You need to think carefully about the purpose of the landing page: what do you want people to do as a result of visiting that page? Very often, the purpose is to achieve a conversion, as mentioned above in the discussion on transaction pages. This means that content needs to be focused towards that purpose, as well as having one eye on the general SEO and site promotion strategy.

Another tactic to consider is optimising the number of landing pages that you have. The most efficient number of landing pages will always differ from site to site, but often it can be better to have several targeted, specific pages rather than just a couple general landing pages that don’t really achieve their purpose as well as they could. There is a need to balance quality of browsing for the user (such as by making sure there are good images on a page where you hope they will make a purchase) with content that will work well with search engines so that people can find your page in the first place.

Overall, landing pages might not be your entire website, but they are certainly a useful and important aspect of the website. Spending some time identifying which are your landing pages and taking steps to optimise them could well help you increase your conversion rate and get more value out of the work you have put in.

By Chelsey Evans

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Why Flexibility Matters in Web Design

Published on June 15, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Whether we are talking about the ability to juggle multiple projects at once or the ability to write in different coding languages, there is no doubting that flexibility matters in web design. It has always mattered, but arguably it has never been more important. It used to be that designers could often create a design that was suitable for one size of screen and only a limited range of web browsers – but now all of that is changing, and fast.

One of the big reasons flexibility is so important in web design today is, as suggested above, there are now more devices and web browsers than ever before and they all need to be catered for. What works well on one browser needs to look good on another – and that means that designs need to be flexible, adaptable, and be suitable for multiple formats. More than that, they need to look good on different devices.

We need to take into account the fact that the web devices that are popular today might not be the devices that are still popular next year or even in a few months’ time. Right now, devices such as the iPad and smartphones with larger screens are all the rage, but who knows where things will be in just a couple of years’ time? Things are changing all the time, and that means web designers cannot afford to be too static – we need to be ready to change and adapt as professionals, just as our websites themselves need to adapt.

We also need to consider the different uses of different devices, which can have an impact on the specific design of a website. For example, we know that local search is often very popular with people who use their smartphones to access the internet, as is social media. That means we need to consider how these functions of design will work on a different platform, as well as looking at the usual issues we need to deal with, such as websites that have multiple purposes.

As an example, a business could have a website that is both informative and designed for ecommerce. They could have different sections for clients, the media and general visitors, as well as an integrated blog and social media. This is a different kind of design flexibility; here, it is the very purpose of the website that is flexible, and it needs to be rendered in such a way that the design is consistent and makes sense with the overall brand, but so that it can still be adapted to the individual user.

From this, it’s quite easy to see how the issue of flexibility in web design is about more than just making a website that looks good in Firefox or Chrome look good in Internet Explorer. It goes a lot deeper than that. Of course, we now have disciplines such as responsive web design to consider as well. One of the benefits of this is that it can make it easier when designing sites to fit multiple browsers and devices, but we also need to bear in mind that it might not always be the most appropriate option and so adaptations might still need to be made.

Another issue to consider is HD web design. This is something that is, in a way, creeping up slowly. For quite a long time, we have been able to use graphics with quite low resolutions because most web devices have had a low pixel density. This has allowed designers to achieve good quality images while still taking into account issues such as page load time.

Now though, the pixel density of many device screens is improving. Probably the most striking example of this so far is the iPhone4’s Retina screen, which has an excellent pixel density. This means that the way we approach graphics is having to change, while still taking into account the fact that graphics with higher pixel density tend to take longer to load – and many people don’t have devices such as this, which could mean they have to wait even longer for images to load, again necessitating a greater level of flexibility.

Overall, we can identify several different types of flexibility that are required in web design, all of them important in their own ways. A huge range of opportunity has opened up over the past couple of years, but the continuing need to adapt shows just how important it is that we stay vigilant, ready to make changes where necessary and – perhaps most crucially – always open to new ideas.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google recommends responsive Web Design for Smartphone Websites

Published on June 8, 2012
Tags: Mobile Application Development

We have long known that smartphones are becoming more important in terms of internet share. Plenty of people now use their smartphones to access the web on a regular basis, and over the past couple of years we have seen huge levels of growth in the amount of attention web designers put into developing mobile sites. This has had the impact of improving the mobile web experience for millions of people.

We have also known for a while about responsive web design, which is where the same HTML code is used for all web devices, but CSS technology is used to tell that HTML how to display according to the device and browser that is being used to display it.

Now we have had confirmation from Google that it recommends responsive web design when creating websites for use on smartphones. The announcement came in a blog post detailing the configurations that are supported by Google for smartphone websites. There are three configurations that are supported in total, but responsive web design is highlighted as ‘Google’s recommended configuration’.

The other two configurations that are supported by Google are a separate mobile and desktop site, and sites that utilise different HTML and CSS according to the device that a web user is using. In the blog post, a couple of benefits of using responsive web design are highlighted, including that it keeps all relevant content on the same URL. This means that it’s not only easier for readers to use, but it’s also easier for Google to assign indexing properties to the content.

Another listed benefit of responsive web design for smartphone sites is that it allows Google to ‘discover your content more efficiently as we wouldn’t need to crawl a page with the different Googlebot user agents to retrieve and index all the content.’ This is obviously something to take note of if you are interested in SEO as it makes your content easier to find and read – and therefore, hopefully, boost your chances of doing well in relevant search rankings.

It also means that rather than having to manage multiple sites separately (one for smartphones, one for desktops, one for tablets and so on), a responsive web design can be managed as one entity. This is beneficial because it means there is just one set of links to be maintained, which is not the case if you have separate sites for different devices. Take Facebook likes as an example. You could have a desktop website that has got 50 likes of a particular page. By contrast, the mobile version of your site might only have 5 likes for that page. Not only would the mobile site be less likely to rank well, but those 5 likes could well have decreased the number of likes that went to the desktop site. A responsive web design that works across platforms helps to standardise this rather than assigning different links and likes to different platforms.

As well as the SEO benefits, a high quality responsive site that works on smartphones just as well as it does on desktops makes things much better for web users. Research suggests that if users visit a bad mobile site, a majority of them will not recommend the company, which just goes to show how important this aspect of the market has become.

However, Google has also acknowledged that responsive web design is not always an option for mobile sites, which is why other configurations are also supported. In the case of using device-specific HTML, Google recommends that designers make use of the Vary HTTP header. This is to signal that content might change depending on the device used. For example, it can send a signal that a particular version of the site might need to be scanned using the mobile Googlebot.

As well as the summary blog post outlining the supported smartphone configurations, Google has also released a longer article entitled ‘Building smartphone-optimised websites’, which developers can utilise to find out more about the different configurations and see which option might be the most appropriate for their site.

Multiple configurations still play a part and they are all important, but responsive web design has received something of a boost from Google’s recommendation and it seems increasingly clear that it is the future of design.


By Chelsey Evans

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Update on Cookie Law Implementation: Implied Consent

Published on June 1, 2012
Tags: Web Site Law

We have now passed the deadline of May 26th 2012 for websites to comply with the new EU Cookie Laws and it is thought that many sites are still in some ways breaching the law. However, there have also been some interesting updates from the Information Commissioner’s Office, in charge of the law in the UK, giving us more information on how the law might work in practice.

Notably, there has been an update to the policy guidance from the ICO. The new guidance says that websites are now able to assume ‘implied consent’ from web users. This means that there is not necessarily any need for websites to display options for users to choose from, as we discussed in our post last week, but rather they can assume that if a user continues to make use of a website, they are happy for cookies to be used.

However, this does not mean that websites do not need to comply with other aspects of the new Cookie Law and so it still pays for organisations affected to read through the policy guidelines from the ICO to find out their obligations. For example, they might have to carry out an audit of the cookies they are currently using on their websites and perhaps update their own site information to make it clear to users the cookies that are in operation on the website.

Also, the updated ICO guidelines say that: “While explicit consent might allow for regulatory certainty and might be the most appropriate way to comply in some circumstances this does not mean that implied consent cannot be compliant.” This suggests that the implied consent principle is only applicable in some situations; if a website cookie is collecting sensitive personal data on a web user, it is likely that they will still need to obtain specific consent from them as we have discussed in previous blog posts.

Another key point from the updated guidelines is that the concept of implied consent cannot be used as a “euphemism for ‘doing nothing’.” Action still needs to be taken so that consent can be inferred from the web user. For example, you may have seen some websites with messages at the top of the page stating that they use cookies and that by using the site, web users consent to those cookies being used. In short, this means that no matter how a site goes about implementing the cookie policy, at least some action will need to be taken so that web users are aware of the cookies being used.

It is important to remember that the ICO has the power to levy fines on websites that do not comply with the Cookie Law, so even though the concept of implied consent might take some of the heat off web operators, this is not the only aspect of the law. A recent study from KPMG found that 95% of firms still hadn’t implemented the new law. However in practice, the ICO has said fines are unlikely to be levied. This is because sites are unlikely to cause a serious data protection breach. Non-compliant sites may still be expected to show the progress they have made towards implementation, though.

One slight worry with the implied consent concept is that it has been suggested this could lead to the UK battling its interpretation of the Cookie Law in European Courts. However, others have noted that many other European countries have yet to take the law seriously and that it could make the UK less attractive in terms of business. Also, some non-EU businesses could in theory get around the Cookie Law in a way that EU businesses cannot, which, it is suggested, could put European online retailers and other businesses at something of a disadvantage.

Either way, the Cookie Law is now in force in the UK and so it makes sense for businesses to do what they can to comply with the laws. The implied consent component has been described as being more business-friendly and it will hopefully make it easier for many sites – particularly those that don’t collect sensitive user data – to comply with the law.

You can download the updated ICO guidance on the Cookie Law with the addition of implied consent here.

By Chelsey Evans

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