Pick Your Tools- Website Design Options

New to website design? There are a number of options available to first-timers and novices. From cracking the books to online site builders, a few of the most common are explained here.

The journey from first getting that spark of an idea for a website and the finished product can be long and difficult. This article will focus on the various means available to create a web site. Finding a suitable place to host it is another matter entirely. It is generally wise to, if not already have your site complete, have a very good idea of what the finished site will be before shopping for hosting.

Do-It-Yourself Options- Design Software

There are 2 kinds of “do-it-yourself” options, design programs and online site builders. Design programs can vary wildly in both scope and complexity. For simple, static sites, an easy-to-use editor with a limited feature set might be ideal. More complex sites may require more complex, and usually more expensive solutions. In an industry where highly varied personal preference is the most common factor in choosing a design program, it’s difficult to say there is an “industry standard” design package. Popular design programs include Dreamweaver from Macromedia/Adobe, and FrontPage, from Microsoft. Dreamweaver is a powerful and complex program with a reasonably steep learning curve. FrontPage is targeted more towards the beginner, but in doing so, compromises a great deal of quality in its resulting code.

Additionally, a number of web design programs can be found on the web as “freeware” and “shareware”. Searching various file repositories such as “download.com” will reveal a wealth of alternate choices, far too many to list here. Do research and test them out first before making a purchase, you may find one you enjoy and are comfortable using. If you wish to go the extra mile and learn HTML itself, your design software options may include something simple like a text editor. Many web designers swear by Notepad as their favorite design tool. Learning HTML may seem a little more daunting than learning a single web design program, but the benefits, even if you still choose to use a more advanced, graphical editor, will stick with you. Having an understanding of how the underlying tags work will make your design work much easier.

Do-It-Yourself Options- Templates

One additional option to consider if you wish to use a design program is a template. Website templates are, usually, complete sites with graphics and placeholder text that you can modify using most any kind of design software. Templates provide a kind of design ‘shortcut’, allowing the user to move almost directly into adding content to an already existing site. Be aware, that most templates require some knowledge of either HTML or skill with a design program in order to use effectively. Also, they may require a graphical editing program if you wish to change any graphic elements. Commonly this editor will be Adobe’s Photoshop, which, unlike design software, is the widely regarded “industry standard” in graphic editing. Though templates can be a short cut, they are more a short cut for intermediate to advanced users who can effectively exploit them.

Do-It-Yourself Options- Online Site Builders

Those looking for an alternative to the older method of design on a local machine and upload to the web server may want to consider online site building programs. These programs, of which there are a few, are generally provided by your hosting company and viewed through your web browser. They don’t require any information to be installed on your home computer. Everything they do is handled remotely, through the browser, so your site can be created then updated in “real time.” All site builders share a few common traits. First, they will all be template based. Not exactly the same kind of advanced template discussed above, but a general color and layout you will select from in the initial stages of the site builder’s setup. The bonus to online site builder templates is that you can change your template selection most any time and have your entire site change automatically and immediately, without losing any of the information you have uploaded to that point.

Second, most online site builders will have some kind of editing screen into which you will type your content. The exact method by which individual site builders accomplish this can vary. In all cases you will be able to add and delete paragraphs. More advanced site builders allow you to add items like additional graphics and tables. Finally there will be various “extras” and “features” you can add to your site. Again, what these features will be will vary according to the specific feature set of the site builder you use. They can include everything from rotating text to a full shopping cart. If you are interested in using a site builder, contact your prospective website hosting company and ask if they have demo of the site builder they use or where such a demo can be found. By their nature, most site builders have online demos to allow users to test drive the product before use.

Profession Design Solutions

Those unwilling or unable to learn either HTML or design software will need to seek professional assistance. Like the plethora of design software, there is an even greater assortment of design firms ready and willing to take your business. Even someone experienced in web design may know when their current project outstrips their personal skills and calls in some additional help. Certain types of sites simply lend themselves to a team rather than a single designer. Very large ecommerce sites are one such example. Professional developers can split their resources among coding the site, setting up the shopping cart, and entering the products. By having a professional team working on a site, the site can be completed faster and more efficiently than by a single individual.

Finding a web design firm can be as simple as web search or even a trip to your local yellow pages. This becomes a matter client preference. If you wish to meet the designers, have face to face discussions with them about the nature of your project, then you should confine your search to local firms. If you are comfortable with phone and electronic communication, then most any web design firm you track down on the web should be able to accommodate your needs. In many cases, online firms will have a kind of “Customer Relations Management” or CRM tool, that allows direct interchange of information and content between the client and the designers.

Custom Home Design Tips: Choosing the Right Designer

Whether or not you have already purchased a lot that your custom home plans must be designed around, following the tips we’ve gathered below will ensure that your custom home designs will produce the house of your dreams.

1. Establish excellent communication.

Poor communication can ruin a set of custom house plans. For instance, if your architect doesn’t really understand what you want in your custom home designs, you could end up with a custom built home that you don’t actually enjoy. Alternatively, you could be shocked to see your “custom” plan in a new housing development. (Some architects turn their best custom plans into generic, widely available floor plans.) Avoid both of these unsavory outcomes by clearly outlining what your custom home plans should include, and whether or not you’re comfortable with your custom design being tweaked into a universal house plan.

2. Choose a designer with experience working with similar properties.

If you’ve already purchased the land for your dream home, ensure that your designer has background in working with your type of property. For instance, while a steeply sloped lot often offers up the best views, it also poses unique design challenges.

3. Check that your architect has liability insurance.

Accidents do happen – that’s why insurance was invented. If something doesn’t come out right in your custom home design, liability insurance can cover rebuilding costs or other unanticipated expenses. Professional engineers and designers carry insurance to defend their customers against expensive errors. Make sure your custom home plans come from a designer with liability insurance.

4. Zoom in on the details.

A complete set of custom home plans will include enough information to facilitate construction. Contractors must be able to quickly find details on dimensions, materials, and building techniques. Unclear floor plans will bring all sorts of problems. Expensive errors often occur because contractors can’t read or find the necessary details on a set of custom home plans. The last thing you want is a carpenter or plumber making guesses as to what your custom home designs intend. Work with an architect that includes plenty of construction details on the home plans.

5. Ensure building code and state certification compliance.

Federal and local building legislation is always changing. If your custom home design doesn’t follow these building guidelines, city officials could reject it and you’ll face more expenses to bring your design “up to code.” Because this is such an important issue, be up-front about it with your designer. Ask about how they ensure code compliance, and check with previous customers to make sure the city approval process went off without a hitch. One final bit of due diligence: Check that your architect or designer is professionally certified with your state. If any red flags come up during this investigation, select a different architect. Otherwise, you could be stuck with home plans that can’t actually be built.

6. Select an architect whose style matches yours.

Doctors specialize in bodily systems; writers specialize in different types of communication; architects specialize in different design styles. Be sure that your designer has experience producing the type of home you prefer. For instance, if you like the Tudor style, you should choose a designer who has produced lovely custom houses in this design mode. Don’t expect a Frank Lloyd Wright lover to suddenly switch to a Tuscan approach.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Product Design

In the beginning…the design intent was clear and the project scope understood. But yea, soon the design begat a new design which then begat another which begat a whole new product and a darkness fell upon the faces of the design team. Lo, the prophets of marketing became anxious and waived their pre-printed brochures in distress. The disciples of sales called the design an abomination and wailed over commissions lost. The gods of management gnashed their teeth in anger as the budget runneth over and rained down a plague of interoffice memorandums upon the company.

Sound familiar? The design of a product is usually what defines it not only in functionality, but gives it its life, beauty, and meaning. However, sometimes during the design process something goes horribly wrong as if the product had become possessed by Murphy himself. Below are the Seven Deadly Sins of Product Design that should be avoided in order to keep your design from becoming a disaster of biblical proportions:

Tunnelvision: Meeting a need while creating another

Every good design meets a need or solves a problem. Sounds easy enough, but the catch is, you have to do it without creating another need or problem. Take, for example, a simple pair of pruning shears. Adding a safety lock definitely solves a potential problem. However, unless the user holds the shears a certain way, the lock slips into position and locks the shears, thus frustrating the user. Keep your eyes open for the effects of the design on the use of the product.

Superficiality: Beautiful design, costly or impossible to produce

Anyone who has any interest in product design loves pie-in-the-sky brainstorming, where creativity, spontaneity and fluid thinking abound. It is fun to dream about the future of a product line and all of the “what’s next” ideas. While this fun exercise is stimulating and thought provoking, you also have to keep your eye on the ball. Many product companies engage industrial design firms that are very successful with this approach, but have no engineering background or technical expertise. You end up spending your entire product development budget on great ideas that are either far too costly to bring to market or are not manufacturable as designed. Understand your resources and use them wisely.

Imperceptiveness: Failing to design for the user or need.

Products should be designed for the user. Consider ergonomics and human factors by studying how your product will be used in its intended environment. Do not assume you know what the user needs. Instead, talk to them to understand what works and what does not. Study how the user will interact with the product and note the amount of effort that may go into each use. This approach is particularly effective when redesigning a product or launching a competitive product to the market. The most successful product designs are the ones that the end user can admire for aesthetics, but not think to hard about how to use. Over-design will result in the consumer becoming frustrated and a product that is short lived. Keeping a design simple does not mean sacrificing creativity or coolness.

Safety: Blending in

Of course the world is full of knock off products, but if you are looking for the big win, make your product different. Give consumers something to tell their friends about. Before designing that new product, analyze the competition. Do some research to determine user likes and dislikes about the products they use and develop ways to make it better. Incorporate ideas and features from other industries to give your product a more innovative appeal. Look at industry trends and research to see how you can incorporate the “next big thing” into your product idea. Whatever you do, give the user a reason to choose your product over the competition.

Transience: Designing for the here and now

Designing a product for today is fine if you accept the status quo. But, think of the products that changed the world because they were designed not only for the need at hand, but for the future as well: Computers, Cell Phones, Automatic Drip Coffee Makers–the list is endless. To truly expect the most from a design, you have to look forward. Don’t limit yourself to how users interact with your product today, or the current environment in which your product is used. Think about five years from now–or longer. How will the user’s needs change? Where else will the product be used? Will the product be able to serve a new purpose? Will there be new technology that you should plan for in the new design?

Egomania: Designing for design’s sake

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what looks “cool” or how beautiful a design is, we begin the design process trying to hit those marks rather than solving the problem. Worry first about meeting the need or solving the problem. The design will come as the sketches and renderings are developed. While award winning designs equate to success in the industry, the true success of a product is measured by the extent to which it meets or exceeds the needs of its user.

Distraction: Solving the wrong problem

Given, product design is usually a fluidic, creative process. But, do not confuse fluidity with “out of control”. Often as a product design evolves, things are discovered and tangents emerge. This is a powerful part of the creative process–but use this power for good and not evil. Stay focused on the original scope and design intent. Do not allow your design to become a monster that controls the project and either solves the wrong problem or none at all. Go back to the root of why the design was needed to begin with. Take the new air actuated corkscrew, for example. The designers observed that the problem was not the original corkscrew design, but getting the cork out of the bottle. Rather than trying to redesign the cork screw, the designers developed the air pump corkscrew, a completely innovative design. In a nutshell, that is the kind of simplicity that encourages good design.