178. Bad Blogging

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: We look at the harsh truths of corporate blogging, ask how luxury products can be sold online and discuss whether it is the role of a web designer to challenge a client’s business model.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Dark Design

“Users will spend considerably less time viewing a website with a dark background than one with a light background” – When you hear statements like that you may dismiss the idea of using a dark design. However in reality, I believe there are a place for dark designs. Dark designs can look elegant and extremely striking. And although not always appropriate, there are times when they are the right solution for a site.

Screen shot from Trozo Gallery

The question therefore arises – how do you get a dark design right? How do you avoid dwell time plummeting? The answer lies in a post from Web Designer Depot entitled “The Do’s and Don’ts of Dark Design.”

The post identifies several techniques for ensuring that a dark site is both readable and appealing. These include:

  • Including more white space (or should I say dark space)
  • Ensuring text has ample kerning and leading
  • Getting the text contrast right
  • Choosing the right fonts
  • Using minimal colour schemes

The post also asks when a dark design is appropriate. The conclusion – if you require your site to appear elegant or creative. The author then goes on to show some stunning examples of both.

If you are considering using a dark design or do so already, this article is definitely worth a read.

The Content Conundrum

Sometimes I feel like a stuck record. On last week’s show I talked about Art Direction (again!) and I have also written about the importance of copy-writing many times before. This week I want to highlight a post from Boxes and Arrows entitled “The Content Conundrum.”

In some ways this article feels like a rehash of many previous posts and repeats the same old mantra:

  • Include copy editors from the beginning of a projects life cycle.
  • Do not use dummy Latin text.
  • Work closely with content providers.
  • Start treating content as important.
However, there are a couple of ways this post really stands out from the crowd.
The first is that it shows a brilliant example of where things can go wrong. It compares a signed off design comp with what was actually built. The difference is striking and one that will resonate with any designer. The amount of copy has doubled and the usability breaks down as a result.
A comparison between an approved page design and the final page live on the website
However, the most striking thing about this post is that instead of simply moaning about the state of art direction, it actually proposes some solutions that can be practically implimented by any designer. These include:
  • Look for ways to remove unnecessary content.
  • Endeavour to use information graphics and visualisations instead of copy.
  • Write some content yourself even if it isn’t perfect.
  • Seek ways to collaborate with content providers.
  • Use real content (even if it is not the final content) in visual mock-ups.

This article recognises that we are facing big challenges but instead of offering big solutions that cannot be practically implemented it suggests little changes that all designers can make to improve things.

So You’re Thinking About Becoming a Designer

I know a lot of those listening to this show aspire to be designers. If that is you check out “So you’re thinking about becoming a designer” that catalogues the responses of a number of designers, when asked to complete the following statement:

So you’re thinking about becoming a designer? If I could tell you only one thing about going into the field, my advice would be…

The answers really resonated with me and I would wholeheartedly agree with everything said in this post. They basically fall into three categories…

  • Focus on empathy and understanding problems
  • Embrace the unfamiliar to innovate
  • Be passionate

Each category is accompanied by some choice quotes and a short video from the person being quoted. My favourite quote is by Jennifer Bove who says:

Being empathetic helps designers create things that move people.

I think empathising with users is by far the most important skill any designer should have. Without it they may create something very pretty but it will serve no meaningful purpose.

Adobe AIR Apps for Designers

Our final news item in this very designer centric section is “18 Adobe AIR Apps for Designers.” As the name suggests this Sitepoint post lists 18 AIR applications that maybe useful when designing a site.

Unsurprisingly the list is dominated by tools to help with colour selection. From Kuler to ColourLovers it would appear every colour site has to have an AIR app.

Screen capture of Adobe Kuler

However, that is not the end of the list. There are also lots of other tools including:

  • Measuring tools that allow you to measure on screen elements
  • Flex tools
  • Vector editing programs
  • Image resizers
  • Image editors
  • Font tools
  • Icon generators
  • Screen capture tools

Its a great list and it is amazing to see what can be done with Adobe AIR.

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Feature: 10 Harsh Truths of Corporate Blogging

Every company in western civilization seems to have a blog these days. But are they worth it, and why are so many terrible?

Read the 10 Harsh Truths of Corporate Blogging

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Listeners feedback:

Business model advice

Ashley Hart writes:

As a web designer you come across a lot of start up companies, sometimes you can see that by altering their concept slightly they might be more successful. Is it your place to do so? would it help? or just annoy them?

Yes! Absolutely! We should be offering advice about business strategy. Clients are paying us for our knowledge of the web, not just our skills in Photoshop. That means we need to tell them if we think their business plan needs tweaking to work online.

It is also a great way of differentiating yourself during the pitch process. Clients tend to warm towards suppliers who are full of ideas and willing to work with them rather than just providing exactly what they ask for. In fact at Headscape we like to refer to ourselves as partners rather than suppliers. This gives extra value to our clients.

However, it is important to draw a line. Definitely offer advice, but ultimately it is down to the client to decide whether to accept that advice or not. Always remember that as the web designer you might not know all the fact. There can often be good reasons why a client chooses to ignore your advice and do things differently. And even if there isn’t its their business at the end of the day.

Does ecommerce work for luxury goods

Bruno writes:

Luxury brands reluctantly build online shops and are quite shy about investing in eCommerce since there don’t see any ROI. What more should they do to make real income from the internet?

The answer to this question very much depends on the product. For example, I maybe reluctant to buy a new bed online because I wouldn’t have been able to try it. However, I would happily buy a new macbook.

But it isn’t just about the product. Its also about the purchaser. Although I would happily buy a macbook online I know that my dad (who is about to buy his first) would not.

I think ultimately it is about risk. There is a higher risk buying a luxury product online because it comes with a higher price tag. There is more to lose if things go wrong. Equally, if you are missing key information about the product (like the comfort of a bed or the differences between a mac and a PC) then the risk is also higher.

Therefore selling luxury goods online is about two things – removing real risk and reassuring users who perceive false risk.

Removing real risk is relatively easy. Money back guarentees and detailed information will often do the trick. Making returns easy also makes a huge difference.

Reassuring users who perceive a false risk is trickier. Ultimately that is where the human touch comes in. Often with luxury goods it is neccessary to backup the online transaction process with human customer service. A 24 hour telephone help line is important as is email support and even live chat. Basically people need to be able to speak to a real human being to reassure themselves and get answers to their questions.

So, selling luxury goods online is not impossible. You just need to work that little bit harder.

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