153. Harsh

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: 10 harsh truths about your corporate website, Ryan reviews FreeAgent and Paul highlights the differences between print and the web.

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Consultancy Clinic

I wanted to followup on the consultancy clinic idea I mentioned a few episodes ago.

As you may remember I was toying with the idea of doing one-to-one chargeable skype calls for those who want my advice. I get so many people asking for help that I am unable to answer them all. After all, I have to work for a living!

A consultancy clinic would allow me to help people with their web strategy, while at the same time keeping the Headscape directors happy! Instead of having to commission a full blown consultancy project, you can just have a chat with me on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up again is because I have decided to go for the idea. I have launched a consultancy clinic website, where you can get more information and book an appointment.

However as well as wanting to pimp the service, I also wanted to mention the site itself. I decided to use this as a test case for the graded browser support I wrote about recently. I have therefore written a blog post outlining the approach I used on this site and how it worked in practice.

Even if you are not interested in the consultancy clinic, you maybe interested in how the site was built.

FreeAgent Discount

The guys over at FreeAgent are offering a 25% discount to all boagworld listeners until the end of Febuary. Just enter the code newfac when subscribing and the discount will apply for 6 months. Find a review of FreeAgent later in the show.

News and events

Feature fatigue

This week Gerry McGovern writes about what he calls the ‘Hidden power of content‘. In fact it is mainly a commentary on a Time Magazine column about buying habits.

You maybe wondering why I mention it here? Well for two reasons.

First, it is an interesting post for those of you who run ecommerce sites. It talks about how your product copy needs to focus on more than features, if you want to encourage long term satisfaction in your customers.

Second, he writes about the idea of feature fatigue. This is very relevant to all website owners and something I touched on recently in my post ‘5 options when website budgets get slashed‘.

We love to add more and more features to our websites, but that is not always the right decision. Users have become overwhelmed with features and are looking instead for simplicity and ease of use.

Read the post for yourself and ask how it applies to your site.

Striking font stacks

I am increasingly excited by typography on the web. Not because of the possibility of font embedding or techniques like sIFR. No, what really excites me is the work being done right now using font stacks.

The beauty of font stacks is that even if a user doesn’t have your preferred font, it can still display an alternative.

A lot of designers have been working hard to help us squeeze the most from the fonts installed on our machines. Huge amounts of research has been done on common fonts, as well as the best stack combinations. The trouble is this information is spread all over the web.

However, this week Paul discovered an excellent post that brings all of this research and best practice together. ‘Striking web sites with font stacks that inspire‘ is a great post that not only lists the latest thinking on font stacks, it also provides some incredibly inspiring examples of them in use.

If you are looking to become a great designer then understanding font stacks is essential. This post is an excellent place to start.

Tips for improving your HTML and content

Our final featured post this week is ‘5 Top Tips to Beautify Your HTML and Enrich Your Content‘ by Mike Brown over at Sitepoint.

HTML is a deceptive language. On the surface it is amazingly simple and anybody can be writing HTML in a few minutes. However, the longer you work with it the more you discover the variety of ways in which it can be implemented – some good, some bad.

This post shares some very basic best practice for working with HTML. Advice includes:

  • Using short URLs
  • Being consistent in your markup
  • Minimize uses of class and id attributes
  • Add title attributes and other metadata to enrich content
  • Use comments and whitespace to help readability and ease maintenance

All basic stuff but ideal for beginners and a useful reminder when the rest of us get sloppy.

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Feature: 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Websites

We all make mistakes running our websites. However the nature of those mistakes varies depending on the size of your website. As your site and organisation grow, the mistakes begin to change. This post addresses common mistakes in larger organisations. Read More

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Listeners feedback:

Review: FreeAgent

Way back in show 131, Stanton and myself answered a listeners question about project management and invoicing applications, and I mentioned FreeAgent in my line up of apps that I thought you listeners would be interested in.

I’m now going to discuss the app in more detail, as I’ve been really getting into it and using it to it’s full potential.

FreeAgent is a fully featured online accounting tool wrapped in a sleek, comprehensive and easy to use interface. It’s aimed at Sole Traders, Partnerships and Limited Companys, they offer a free 30 day trial to get you started and after that there’s a price plan ranging from £15 – £25 a month at the time of recording this review.

I’m a simple code monkey and the thought of managing my taxes and invoices sends shivers down my spine. So I love that FreeAgent just takes me by the hand and guides me through the whole process.

Accounting is project based, which doesn’t suite everyone, but that really depends on your personal preference.

You simply start off by creating a client, then you assign a project to that client, you add timeslips to the project and using your hourly rate FreeAgent tells you what you’ve earned and what you owe the tax man and the whole thing is pretty much that simple.

As I’ve said it’s fully featured, you can create invoices, manage expenses and mileage, upload and analyze your bank statements, create a login for your accountant, view real time profit and loss reports the list goes on and the guys are constant adding new stuff.

Even if you decide you don’t like using FreeAgent after you’ve signed up you have the option to export your data at any time and try something else, so there’s no fear of loosing anything.

This week sees the launch of a redesign to freeagentcentral.com and the FreeAgent app itself and I’ve been one of th
e luck ones to get a sneak peek behind the scenes and I can tell you that the guys have been putting a lot of effort into improving the general interface based on user feedback. They’ve refreshed the colour scheme to make things easier on the eye for long term use and restructured some of the navigation to make moving from projects, time tracking and invoicing much more intuitive.

In my opinion it’s definitely worth a look so if you want to know more about FreeAgent head over to freeagentcentral.com, watch the 2 minutes video introduction and take the tour. They’ve even got a number of demo’s so you can go in and play with the app before you sign up. Even more incentive to have a look would be the 25% discount the guys are offering to all boagworld listeners, just enter the code ‘newfac‘ when signing up for a free trial and the discount will last for 6 months once you subscribe.

The difference between print and web

Jake Knight asks a brilliant question, that I am amazed we have yet to address on the show.

Jake Knight: What are 5 things you would want any print graphic designer to know first and foremost about designing for the web?

So it is a top 5 list you want? You have been reading too much Smashing Magazine! Okay here goes – The top 5 things every print designer needs to know about the web…

  • Let go of pixel control – One of the hardest things for print designers (and marketeers for that matter) to accept that you do not have pixel perfect control on the web. Different browsers, resolutions, monitors, operating systems and video cards all alter the way your site is displayed. Add to this the users ability to change font sizes, colours and browser dimensions, and it becomes impossible to have the control you get in print.
  • Don’t be afraid of the code – Many print designers shy away from coding HTML. They rely instead on a ‘techie’ to handle this side of things. That is a mistake. To really get to grips with the web you need to understand how it works. HTML/CCS/Javascript all shape and influence design (for better or worse). Also, it really isn’t that hard. HTML in particular is a very simple language.
  • Web Typography is not so bad – Okay so you haven’t got the freedom of print, but typography on the web can be just as creative. By using font stacks, line spacing, and kerning you can create truly gorgeous typography. Also when you just have to have a particular font, there are techniques such as image replacement and sIFR. If you are a typography bluff and want to discover what is possible, check out Richard Rutter’s blog.
  • It is an interactive environment – One of the most common mistakes of print designers is to focus on aesthetics and forget usability. The web is interactive and web design has more in common with signage design than brochure design. Your job is to help users complete tasks, not just to produce attractive design.
  • Your skills are transferable – Everybody goes on so much about the differences between print and the web. It is easy to get demoralised and conclude you could never make the switch. However, in reality most of your skills are transferable. Layout, colour theory, typography and composition are just some of things that are universal no matter what the medium.
  • So there you go Jake, 5 nuggets of advice for anybody considering moving into the web from print.

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