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Making Maps Work for your Web Design

Published on April 6, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

It might be hard to get an exact figure as to how many businesses make use of Google Maps on their websites, but one estimate from BuiltWith suggests that almost 800,000 websites are currently making use of the feature. Millions more individuals make use of the service too, and the growing popularity of the feature just goes to show how significant it is – and it can have a big impact on web design, too.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a few ideas for how maps can be integrated into website design in ways that are innovative and fun as well as serving a practical purpose.

Contact Us

Of course, if we’re talking about maps on business websites, we can’t ignore the very practical purpose that they play: helping your customers find where you are based. Often, simple works best, so embedding a clear and easy to read map on your ‘contact’ or other relevant webpage is one of the best ways to go.

If you want to make your map look more interesting and make it stand out a bit more then if you are using Google Maps, there are some customisation features that you can make use of. For example, the marker that highlights the destination on the map can be altered to an icon of your choosing – your company logo or a variation of it could be a good choice.

Points of Visual Interest

It isn’t just the basic map feature that you can make use of on your sites, either. Google Streetview may have caused a bit of controversy in some places, but it still offers a good way to provide more information to the people who use your website.

Let’s say you run a travel website and you want to write about an attraction on the other side of the world. You could just use static images for this – and they will always have their place – but a feature such as Streetview can add interactivity and interest very quickly, allowing people to explore different places.

Creating local networks

Map features can also be incorporated into your web design to help create local networks. For instance, if you run networking events, you could create a map highlighting the location of not just the events you run but also the participating businesses.

An alternative could be if, as an example, you run a hotel. A map could be created to pinpoint local areas of interest and attractions that people could explore when they come to stay with you. Maps help to make things more tangible and allow people to see exactly where things are, which can be much more persuasive than simply saying ‘there are lots of nearby attractions’.

Make your website more relevant

One of the best reasons to consider using maps on your website - as well as the other practical uses they have - is that they can help to boost site traffic and keep people on your website for longer. After all, if a web user has to leave your site and go and visit Google Maps in order to find something you’ve written about, that’s taking the traffic away from your site.

Maps on your website can help to make the site more relevant to the people who use it; if they are able to find everything they need on your site without having to look up extra details elsewhere, it is more likely to create a favourable impression and hopefully keep them coming back to more.

Add your own flare to it

Also, if you are thinking about putting maps on your website, you might want to think about the possibility of designing your own so that they really stand out and work for your brand. This is something that your web designer will be able to help you with.

There are some good design tools that can be used to create colour schemes for maps and also make sure that only the relevant content is emphasised, so not only are the maps as useful as possible for the people who look at them, but they also look great. Of course, you should never let the style completely take over the utility of a map, but there’s no reason you can’t put your own twist on it to make maps really work for your web design.

By Chelsey Evans

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Is HD Web Design the Next Big Thing?

Published on March 30, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

We’re always interested to hear about new trends and ways of working in web design, so we were intrigued to see the buzz on Twitter and other social networking sites about the possibility of HD web design. This article provides an interesting overview of the idea and many people in the world of web design seem to have latched onto it.

The idea of HD web design has been around for a while and for many web users, it might already seem as though it is here – improving technology and a wealth of new devices has dramatically improved the web browsing experience over the past few years. However, when you compare website design to, say, HD television, you can see where the discrepancies lie.

A lot of this is to do with pixel density: currently, most web devices have a fairly low density, which means that web developers have been able to use fairly low resolution graphics but still get good results. This has been beneficial for cost and speed, since once you start using higher quality images, the system slows down and the images start to cost more.

However, as web-enabled devices have improved, this has started to become something of an issue. Modern smartphones, tablets and other platforms have increasingly good resolutions and pixel density. In theory, this is great for the web browsing experience, but when you consider the fact that many images used in web design are fairly low resolution, this starts to become a bit of a problem. It means that images that look great on a desktop aren’t necessarily displaying properly on other platforms.

The article mentioned above uses the iPhone4 as an example. The Retina screen that garnered so much attention when the phone was first launched boasts a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch, which is wonderful – but it’s a much higher density than most images currently on the web.  Apple might currently have most of the market cornered when it comes to the quality of its screen displays, but it won’t be that long before other manufacturers catch up – and this means that something is going to have to change.

This means that web design is going to have to adapt to the new ways of viewing images. If it doesn’t, websites will slow down considerably and costs are likely to rise as a result of the need for increasing hi-res, top quality images. There doesn’t need to be a crisis, though. There will inevitably be a period of adaption, but just as tech companies are able to offer devices for brilliant viewing experiences, web design is also able to offer tools to help web users make the most of those devices.

We have written recently about HTML5 and CSS3 are increasing the possibilities for designers and making it easier to include more complicated graphics in websites. For example, utilising these tools properly means that when a web user zooms in on a particular aspect of a site, they are much less likely to see a drop in the quality of the image.

Photos are likely to continue to be an issue, but the article mentioned at the start of this piece offers some ideas for how to deal with this – at least for the time being. Essentially, since photos are different to other types of web graphic, they can’t always be manipulated using tools such as HTML5 and CSS3 in the same way that other graphics can. This means that designers are going to have to get used to using different versions of images for different types of screen so that the quality of the image – and speed at which it loads – is not detrimentally affected by the pixel density of the display.

Overall, it may have been a while coming, but as tech developments come thick and fast, it seems as though HD web design is a reality that we are all going to have to adapt to sooner or later. Just as responsive web design has recently burst onto the scene after bubbling away in the background for a while, HD web design seems to be an idea whose time has just about come. It will naturally present challenges, but we’ve seen what internet-enabled devices are capable of and we’ve seen how good they can be, so this is one challenge we’re looking forward to meeting.

By Chelsey Evans

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The UK: Leading the World on the Internet

Published on March 23, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

We have long been aware that the UK as a whole is a big fan of the internet. The country is the leading e-retail economy in Europe, with online sales hitting record levels in the past few years despite struggling businesses elsewhere. Now we know, however, just how addicted to the internet we are as a country.

Figures from the Boston Consulting Group suggest that the United Kingdom is more dependent on the World Wide Web for its economy than any other major country in the G20. In fact, around 8.3% of the country’s economy is down to the internet. This means that in 2010, the internet contributed around £121bn to the UK’s economy.

Also, the rate at which the country’s internet economy grows continues to speed ahead. The same study from BCG suggests that the UK internet economy will grow at a rate of 11% for the next four years. This is more than double the speed at which the US internet economy is expected to grow, and is significantly faster even than China.

This helps to demonstrate just how tech-reliant our lives are becoming and how much we rely on the internet not just for social media and Wikipedia, but for our businesses as well. Thousands of businesses are now focusing all of their work online, which is surely good news for web designers and developers who will be needed to created high quality, responsive sites for all of those companies.

It isn’t just business, either. We have discussed before about how much UK consumers spend online each year (according to IMRG figures, it was about £68.2bn in 2011). Figures vary as to the percentage of purchases we make online as opposed to offline, but most estimates put the amount safely in the double figures – and this is on the rise, too.

So what is the impact of all of this for the country? There has been concern for some time now that the UK’s existing infrastructure cannot handle what is being asked of it, and broadband speeds in some areas of the country are notably slow. This will undoubtedly continue to be a challenge, particularly as more people move towards the web. As a specific challenge, it is thought that the UK’s internet could struggle to handle the increased load it’s expected to be asked to bear during the 2012 Olympics, which suggests that it must currently be operating almost to capacity.

On this note, one of the measures that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his budget on 21st March 2012 was £100m aimed at connecting cities so they could access up to 100Mbps internet speeds. A further £50m was allocated for smaller cities, which suggests that the infrastructure issue is currently being addressed. There is a slight worry that the cities and other areas of the country that were not included in the funding might fall behind the major, connected urban hotspots in terms of development, but it’s still a welcome boost to reflect the importance of the tech industry to the UK economy.

Whatever the challenges may be in getting the country up to speed and providing sufficient measures to ensure the security of the internet economy, we cannot deny just how important all of this is and the benefits it can bring – and not just to web designers in London. Our internet economy is expected to be worth £220billion by 2016. And, while the UK might be out in front on this issue, the rest of the world is not exactly lagging behind, either. In four years’ time, the G20 internet economy is predicted to be worth $4.2 trillion – almost double what it’s worth now.

If we compare that to the countries of the world, it means that the internet would be in the top 5 globally. It would be bigger than Germany. Of course, the internet and countries might be hugely interconnected, but they are very different and so it’s hard to make a proper comparison between the sizes of their respective economies. However, it serves to highlight just how much the internet economy has grown and just how much it is worth, not just to the UK but to countries right around the world.

There might still be infrastructure issues to overcome, but as it stands, our country’s internet economy is well on the way to becoming a genuine world leader.

By Chelsey Evans

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Should Children Learn How to Code at School?

Published on March 16, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

If you have been following the technology and/or education news with any kind of regularity over the past few months, you will have seen one story cropping up several times. The UK Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced that he wants to get rid of ‘boring’ ICT lessons in schools and open up the curriculum, giving universities and leading industry figures more say in what gets taught in the classroom.

The idea behind this is that children are not currently leaving school with all the ICT skills they need in order to get by in an increasingly tech-reliant world. This isn’t just about teaching the next generation of web designers the tricks of the trade – it’s also about ensuring our children have the essential skills they need when they enter the adult world of work.

In one respect, the idea of teaching children more about code and how computers work is quite innovative – and in another way, it is also a return to traditional ICT teaching. This report from the BBC points out that back in the 1980s, computers weren’t as clever as they are now, and so an understanding of code was vital if you wanted to be able to operate one properly. Now we seem to have come full circle despite the fact computers are smarter than ever before.

The report mentioned above also provides an interesting insight into what children themselves think of their ICT lessons at the moment. 28% reportedly think that it makes sense to make changes to the curriculum, while 35% don’t think their current lessons are dull.

Arguably, one of the challenges involved with introducing a more innovative ICT curriculum into schools is the fact that not all ICT teachers are trained specialists. Nationally, only about a third of them are, which suggests there might be more reasons to explain why kids primarily learn about Word and Excel rather than coding their own websites than first meets the eye.

There is also the argument that not everyone wants to learn more innovative ICT skills – and some students are perfectly happy with the current curriculum. Just like all the other subjects children learn about at school, ICT is something that some students like much more than others. Some people have a natural affinity for it, while for others it will always be a challenge, and not one they are guaranteed to be interested in learning to master.

This suggests that even though bringing more coding lessons into the classroom might be a great way to give kids more skills and it should undoubtedly benefit those students with a keen interest in say, web design, and what goes on inside the computers, for others there is a danger that it might disengage them from the subject even further.

Despite all this, on balance it is probably fair to say that it is a good idea to teach a more diverse, in-depth ICT curriculum. We use an increasing range of computer-based technology and we rely on it to do more and more for us – when we are putting so much trust in a machine, it makes sense to have at least a basic understanding of what that machine is doing. In a similar way that it helps us to have an understanding of how the oven works even if we’re not a professional chef, so it can be useful to have a good idea about our computers even if we’re not a professional coder.

Also, coding is a serious business, and if students are serious about making a career in technology, years of grounding in the discipline from school is sure to be welcomed. However, this does suggest that rather than making advanced coding courses compulsory for everyone, there should be options available for students to choose from so they can pick a course that is more relevant to their needs and interests. After all, there’s no better way to turn kids off a subject than by forcing them to do it when they really don’t want to.

Overall, we can conclude that, yes, to a certain extent, children probably should learn more about coding in school. However, it’s not as simple as changing the curriculum, because our children’s ability to learn about coding depends on the skills and knowledge of the adults teaching them, as well as their own interests. So, while we should welcome the trend towards more innovative ICT lessons, it’s also important to remember that they need to cater for a wide range of people and, just like every other lesson in school, we need to make sure that no one gets left behind.


By Chelsey Evans

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How Have Expectations Changed in Web Design?

Published on March 9, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Expectation is a fickle thing, and it can be hard to track, but one thing it seems safe to say is that the expectations of web users have grown in recent years. As technology has moved on and more and more web users have access to broadband and a range of internet-enabled devices, people increasingly expect more out of the web. This leads us to the question: what impact, if any, has this had on web design?

Arguably, one of the main impacts for web design is that websites are now required to do more than ever before. A single website could be expected to provide information, offer services or products for purchase, be interactive, and generally add value to a user’s online experience. We also need to consider the way web users expect websites to behave.

Take ecommerce web design as an example. If there is a ‘buy now’ button on an ecommerce website, a person who clicks that button might then expect to be taken straight to the page that allows them to buy the product in question. If, instead, that ‘buy now’ button simply updates the user’s online shopping basket, it has the potential to lead to confusion or frustration that the online experience has not worked as they thought it would. This might seem like a minor issue, but when there is such fierce competition on the web, even the slightest inconvenience has an effect on the success of a website.

This helps to illustrate how the expectations of the web user are bound up with the discipline of web design: web designers need to take account of the changing behaviour of users in order to keep up with their desires. We can also see this in the expectation of users in terms of website speed. We all remember a time, not very long ago (when we all had dial-up rather than broadband), when it wasn’t uncommon for us to wait long minutes for a single webpage to load.

Now, web users expect their websites to load instantly, meaning that web developers have to focus on speed more than ever before. After all, if a user doesn’t get what they are looking for, it is only too easy for them to hit that back button and get their information somewhere else. This is related to the issue of search: 92% of web searches in the UK are now done through Google, and web users are highly likely to find your website thanks to the results of an online search.

This means that content now has to be search friendly. It needs to be optimised for keywords, easy to read and find. It also needs to display well in a whole range of browsers; where web designers could once focus their attentions mainly on Internet Explorer as the dominant browser, the increasing diversity of the market is adding more challenges thanks to the growing expectation of choice.

The issues of speed and versatility can also be seen in the world of mobile web design. One study of mobile web users found that between 2009 and 2011, expectations of the mobile internet have changed significantly. In 2009, 58% of people expected a website to load as quickly on their mobile as it did on their desktop. By 2011, that figure had risen to 71% of people questioned.

Also, in 2009, only 20% of mobile web users would leave the page if it hadn’t loaded within 5 seconds. In 2011, 74% of users would leave in the same situation. This shows just how quickly expectations can change, and just how quickly web design can come under pressure to adapt to a changing environment. We shouldn’t forget that it’s really only been in the past couple of years that smartphones have really come into their own, so this goes some way to explaining just why mobile web expectations have altered so dramatically.

One bit of good news is that the survey mentioned above found that mobile web users were slightly less likely to experience problems using the internet on their phone in 2011 than they were two years previously, which suggests that web design is adapting – and recent developments such as responsive web design will hopefully help to bridge the remaining gap between expectation and current performance.

Overall, there is no doubt that the expectation of web users is growing – but so are the capabilities of web designers. Keeping up with user demand will always be a challenge, but with improving technology and a growing range of tools with which to do the job, this should be a challenge that we are fully equipped to meet.

By Chelsey Evans

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