Monthly Archives: November 2016

Achieve Success For Your Web Design With These Tips

When it comes to creating websites, whether for yourself or for your clients, success doesn’t come easy. To increase your productivity and keep your output looking fresh and modern, not to mention optimized for search engines and conversion rates, it’s essential that you’re always learning as many new tips and techniques as possible.
So, let’s explore a few different web design tips that can help you out in 2016.

1. Use Style Guides

Style guides are popular in the publishing world. They can come in the form of large books or documents that media publications follow to maintain uniform styles throughout their content. This can include everything from how states and countries are labeled to how numbers are written.
Web designers can create their own style guides to ensure the sites they build have uniform styles throughout. This is especially useful for designers who collaborate with other freelancers. A well-written style guide can help keep a disparate team on the same page.
The style guide Google produced for its own Material Design is a great example of a thorough, well-written style guide. If you’re looking for a more generic style guide or set of rules to apply to your work, be sure to check out our guide to the essential typography books for 2016.

2. Phase Out Sidebars

Sidebars create clutter. They were meant to improve the usability of a site by displaying additional navigational elements, such as links to recent posts and popular content.
Over time, it’s fair to say they’ve been hijacked by savvy marketers looking for a way to display email optin forms and other promotional content that doesn’t always offer much to the user experience.
While in theory sidebars containing links and other useful content should enhance the user experience, in reality, very few site visitors actually use them, at least according to heatmap tests conducted by ConversionXL. Therefore, compromising your site’s design in favor of a sidebar for marketing purposes may not deliver the results you desire.
Try phasing sidebars out in your designs, especially if a site doesn’t really need one. Make your content the most important element on a page by using designs that force readers to focus on it.
If the thought of abandoning sidebars altogether sounds a bit extreme, look for a theme that gives you the option of publishing full-width content, alongside more traditional layouts that feature an accompanying sidebar.
You can do a lot with the humble WordPress sidebar and one web design tip for 2016 is to get smarter with the way you do or don’t use them.

3. Start Your Designs Offscreen

Do you create code and designs on the screen at a rapid rate, without a care of how things will turn out as you know you’ll edit and clean things up later on? If so, why not try a new approach in 2016.
Instead of jumping right in and figuring things out as you go, why not turn to the trusty pencil and paper or use a whiteboard to plan an overall site layout offscreen first. Use this approach to get an idea of where you want specific elements to go, much like how an architect uses floor plans to plot out where windows, doors, and rooms should go.
If adopting a pen and paper doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of great wireframing and prototyping web design tools out there that can help you quickly get your ideas out of your head, before you get started in your development environment.

4. Use Larger Font Sizes

Big typography isn’t a new trend or aspect of design, but it’s still a great practice to follow in 2016. This is because it has the power to grab the reader’s attention and places the focus on your content.
Readability on smaller screens, such as mobile devices, has played a huge role in this trend’s rising popularity, but it also fits in nicely with the ever-popular minimalist and flat design trends.
One web design tip for 2016 is to try incorporating larger font sizes in your designs, such as a minimum font size of 18 points for body text, where it makes sense. This includes any text you place in header images or even the text on a homepage when using a large, hero image. Just make sure you focus on choosing a web-friendly typeface that scales well, rather than agonizing about which size to choose.

5. Create More Space

Don’t fear the whitespace – image by grop / shutterstock.om
Too much clutter can distract readers and make a site appear overly complicated. That’s one reason why phasing out sidebars is recommended. However, you should also try creating more space in general rather than trying to include as many elements as you can on a page. Again, it helps a reader focus on what’s important while giving you the opportunity to build better-looking designs.
This space is typically referred to as “whitespace” or “negative space,”. However, this space doesn’t always need to be white, especially if you’re building a website that uses large images on its homepage and headers.
Minimize the amount of clutter in your designs and include more space around and between elements to help guide your users through your site. Whitespace can make it clear where a reader’s attention should be focused.

6. Responsive Design isn’t Optional

Are you ready for mobile first design? – image by MPFphotography / shutterstock.com
Mobile device usage continues to grow, especially when it comes to accessing websites. This means that it’s never been more important to ensure your websites are mobile-friendly.
So one key web design tip for 2016 is to fully commit to responsive design. In the past, this simply meant checking off the responsive design box on your to-do list. However, as this technology matures, you need to start considering more than just fluid layouts. Think mobile optimized images, whether hamburger menus are the right choice, and much more.
For 2016, you might even want to embrace the concept of mobile-first web design.

7. Take Advantage of Google’s Material Design

Google’s Material Design is here to stay – image by Google
Google ramped up the use of the Material Design philosophy in 2014, and digital designers have been quick to follow suit.
If you’ve embraced the flat web design trend, then it’s probably time for you to jump on the Material Design bandwagon and update your style for 2016. The core concepts of this web design framework include using layers to create elegant shadows alongside the edges of elements, helping to add some much-needed style and depth to the minimal flat design trend.
If you want to get started, there are some great, free Material Design UI kits around that can help get you up to speed.

8. Expand and Reevaluate Your Toolkit

Are there tasks in your workflow you feel could be more efficient or at least, more enjoyable? Then one web design tips that can help you out is to do a little research and find out if there are any new tools that better meet your needs.
Just as new web design tips are emerging all the time, so too are new web design tools. From hot new free apps like Pixate, through to updates to industry favorites like the Adobe CC apps for web designers, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for something new that could help improve your workflow and enjoyment levels.

9. Simplify Navigation

Placing tons of links in your navigation menu, sidebar, blog posts, and even the homepage may seem like a great way to keep people on your site, but it can actually go the other way. Complicated navigation systems create way too many options for people, so much so that they may decide to leave your site altogether.
Placing fewer items in your navigation menus and eliminating sidebars are great ways to cut down on the amount of clutter that exists on your site. This can allow you to build better-looking designs without compromising user experience or conversion rate optimization.

10. Up Your Imagery Game

Upgrading the quality of the images you use in your work is a great web design tip for elevating your projects. Instead of simply using the free images that everyone else has access to, it might be time to invest in a premium stock image service.
The next level up could be to create or commission your own images from scratch, whether that’s going out and taking high-quality photographs, drawing them yourself, or a combination of the two. Combining typography with your chosen images can be another effective way to make them more original and assist you in delivering your message.
Choosing beautiful imagery for your website is a proven way to assist you in achieving your goals and help your content stand out from the crowd.

11. Phase Out Sliders

The decision between whether or not to use sliders is a highly-debated topic.
However, in most cases, they should really be phased out in 2016, especially if you want to decrease the amount of distractions on your site and make it easier for users to find their way around. Sliders don’t do either of those things. They’re very similar to sidebars. They create way too many options for your visitors to choose from, and very few people actually use them.
If it’s your homepage you’re concerned about, opt for a large header space that uses a unique, well-crafted static design that clearly defines your brand of that of your client. Again, play around with big typography to make static images more visually appealing and come up with better page designs that make sliders redundant.

12. Learn A/B Testing

A lot of these web design tips are general advice based on current and upcoming trends in the digital space. However, there’s no guarantee they’ll work for your site.
You also shouldn’t necessarily feel obligated to use or forego certain design elements simply because it’s a current trend or now an unpopular style. A/B testing is a skill you can learn to find out whether or not your designs are working or not.
Maybe you or your client want to use a slider or a busy sidebar and don’t want to give in to the conventional wisdom that states they’re outdated and ineffective. A/B testing is a great way to implement a new design and test its effectiveness yourself. Split testing is also an effective way to negotiate compromises between you and your clients, thanks to the evidence that can help back up your recommendations.

All things Need To Know About Build a Mobile Website

Mobile technology experts discuss which enterprises need a mobile presence, the important questions to ask when developing a mobile website, what pitfalls to avoid and what to expect to pay.
As of November 2011, 91.4 million people in the United States owned smartphones, according to comScore. That was an 8 percent increase over just a few months before. And if the trend continues, as most analysts and smartphone vendors believe it will, the number of individuals in the United States with a smartphone will be close to, if not exceed, 100 million by March 2012 — that’s nearly one out of three Americans. And that’s not including the number of people using iPads and tablet PCs, which was well over 15 million as of June 2011, per CTIA, the Wireless Association.

Who are these people and what are they doing with these mobile devices? They are your customers, your employees and your partners — and more than 40 percent of them are using their mobile devices to browse the web (and shop online) and download apps. And that percentage is expected to increase. However, a majority of businesses have failed to “mobilize,” that is, create a mobile version of their website, or a mobile app.

Does that mean that every business or organization needs a mobile website? No. But if you currently have a B2C or B2B digital presence and/or the people you do business with are mobile, it’s time you had a mobile strategy.

Do You Need a Mobile Website?

According to Ted Schadler, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research who covers enterprise issues, you can determine if your organization needs a mobile website by asking the following questions.

Does the organization currently have a website that is regularly used by customers?
Do the people you are trying to reach use smartphones or tablets on a regular basis?
Can mobile provide opportunities that a traditional web presence — or other channels — can’t or doesn’t do as well?
Would customers (or employees or partners) benefit from having information at the moment of decision?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you should probably (if not definitely) have a mobile presence (either a mobile website or a native app, or possibly both).

Think of mobile as “a system of engagement,” as a way to improve the way you engage with customers, employees and partners, explained Schadler. For example, let’s say you run a real estate company, or are a developer. Prior to mobile, if a customer wanted information about a house, she’d have to call the real estate agency or developer or look up the information on her computer. With mobile, however, you can provide prospective buyers with the information they need on their smartphones, when they are right in front of the house.

What to Look for in a Mobile Solution Provider

When selecting a mobile solution provider, “you should go through the same vetting and RFP process as you would for any other type of software,” says John Epperson, the CEO of Ruxter, a mobile marketing company. And part of the vetting process should include viewing and testing out several mobile websites (or apps) the mobile solution provider developed – on a variety of smartphones and tablets (not just the iPhone and/or the iPad).

“How is the user experience?” says Mike Craig, the co-founder and vice president of marketing at Ruxter. Does it have a good user interface (UI)? Are pages quick to load? Is the site easy to navigate? In addition, Craig recommended reaching out to organizations with mobile websites and/or apps you like and asking how many people visit the site — or have downloaded the app — and what the analytics are.

Equally if not more important, find out if the mobile solution provider can help you develop a mobile strategy, as opposed to just a mobile splash page or basic app, says Dan Liliedahl, the chief technology officer at TandemSeven, a mobile solution provider and user experience expert. Do they have both the front-end (i.e., design, user experience) and back-end (i.e., integration) expertise to make mobile truly successful for your enterprise?

How to Develop a Mobile Strategy

One of the biggest — if not the biggest — mistakes organizations make when developing a mobile website or app is making it a standalone project, say Schadler, Epperson, Craig, and Liliedahl. That is, not integrating your mobile website or app — i.e., your mobile strategy — into your broader marketing, sales and customer (or CRM) strategy.

Instead of just thinking mobile, “think in terms of multi-channel,” Liliedahl says, “where mobile is just one channel.”

That said, when developing a mobile website or app, “you need to understand your customers’ goals — and what devices they are using,” Schadler says. What looks good on a large monitor is not going to work on a smartphone. Similarly, don’t assume that what looks good on an iPad is going to look the same on an Android device or a BlackBerry.

Which leads to another critical point about mobile: Despite what Apple may tell you, it’s no longer an iPhone/iPad world. Indeed, as of November 2011, Google had nearly 20 percent more subscribers than Apple did, per comScore. So when creating your mobile website or app, make sure it looks good and is easy to navigate across a variety of mobile platforms (Google/Android, Apple/iOS, RIM/BlackBerry and Windows).

Unlike traditional websites, with mobile it’s all about streamlining information. So “figure out what are the five or six items that are the most vital to your customers,” advises Craig, and get rid of all the extraneous stuff that could slow them down or distract them (e.g., Flash, large graphics or pictures, audio).

Finally, make sure to test your mobile website or app before you release it publicly.

How Long It Will Take and What Will It Cost?

Depending on the amount of work that needs to done, and what you already have in place, it will likely take three to nine months to develop a good mobile website or native app. Three months if your enterprise already has a good service-oriented architecture in place and the mobile website or app is not too complex — “we’re talking a straight build out, HTML5 with a wrapped app,” Liliedahl says; nine months if there’s no real infrastructure in place — that is, you need to build a service-oriented architecture.

As for the cost, while there are sites out there that allow you to create free iPhone apps, expect to pay at least $20,000 to design and deploy a professional-looking, customized, native iPhone app, say both Liliedahl and Craig. Similarly, you can find designers who will create a basic mobile website, with a few pages, for a few hundred dollars. But if you want to create a multi-platform mobile presence that not only looks good on the front-end, but provides a positive user experience and integrates with and leverages your back end systems, expect to pay upwards of $200,000.

While $200,000 may seem like a lot of money, when you consider that there are more than 100 million smartphone and tablet users in the United States alone, and that that number is growing, the ROI can make mobile well worth it. Also, you don’t have to do everything at once. “Start with a small project,” Epperson suggests. “Find out how people are consuming your data.” Then build from there.

Some Easy Ecommerce Shopping Carts for Small Business Websites

Looking to add an ecommerce shopping cart to your existing business website? Here are six fully-featured carts that will meet the needs of most SMBs.
An ecommerce shopping cart is the heartbeat of any online retail site. When shopping for a shopping cart, it’s important to choose one that can be customized to match your business and be flexible enough to grow with your business.

Shopping cart software serves a number of roles on a business website. It acts as an online store product catalog, provides the customer user interface, handles the ordering process and is the interface among the company website, the back-end inventory infrastructure and the payment gateway.

Some small business merchants, when venturing into the world of ecommerce, will start with hosted ecommerce software. These fully-featured and hosted platforms provide everything from domain name registration to the tools you need to build an ecommerce website, all from one vendor. While hosted ecommerce is easy and secure, it doesn’t give online retailers a lot of control, since most functions are managed by the ecommerce service provider.

If total control is what you want, an option for tech-savvy business owners is to integrate a standalone shopping cart to add ecommerce to a business website. These shopping carts are a good choice for small businesses that already host their own secure websites and have in-house technical expertise to configure and manage ecommerce operations.

Here are six fully-featured options for anyone investing in ecommerce shopping cart software for a small-to-midsize business (SMB). Most carts can be either integrated with existing websites or used to create a new site or storefront.

1. 3D Cart: Design Templates, Business Management Tools

3dCart shopping carts serve as ecommerce storefronts. If you already have a website, 3dCart can import the existing design or migrate your business from Yahoo Stores, Miva, X-Cart and others. 3dcart provides customizable design templates as well as business management tools for order processing, shipping, sales reporting and other business functions.

3dCart Pricing starts at $19.99 per month, which is suitable for low-traffic websites with up to 100 products. A Gold account for medium-traffic websites with up to 1,000 products will cost $49.99 per month. All accounts include free technical support.

2. AgoraCart: A Secure, Open-Source Shopping Cart

AgoraCart can support your own code base or can be built using a series of templates. AgoraCart features include customizable store designs, unlimited products, multiple tax rates, more than 10 payment gateways and PCI compliance. The free community edition (version 5.2.x) is supported only though online community forums. Meanwhile, the Gold Version of AgoraCart (6.x Gold) is available for $49.95 and provides additional features and support.

3. Avactis: The Visual Shopping Cart

The Avactis ecommerce shopping cart requires no programming skills to set up or manage— when designing or customizing your website, you use a visual CSS Editor and visual layout editor.

Avactis can be integrated with existing websites or used to create a new website and storefront. The shopping cart software offers a number of management tools and useful ecommerce features for merchants, including price-based discounting, customer reviews, and Facebook integration.

The free Avactis shopping cart software is PHP-based and is embeddable in existing PHP sites. You can upgrade to obtain additional features; one-time payments for Avactis shopping carts range from $249 to $449.

4. CubeCart: Reporting Options, Sage Integration

CubeCart gives small business owners many reporting and customer management options. The store administration dashboard lets you set product options, view sales and inventory data, manage customer accounts and view sales reports. The sales reporting tool, meanwhile, allows you to display and export custom sales reports for third-party spreadsheet software and integrates with Sage Accounting software.

CubeCart Lite is a free cart that can be used for up to 100 customers and 250 orders. The paid version, CubeCart Pro, offers all features with no limits and provides access to the code for a one-time payment of $180. Other services, including copyright removal and upgrade services, are also available.

5. ProductCart: Hundreds of Shopping Cart Features

EarlyImpact’s ProductCart is PCI compliant and features hundreds of ecommerce shopping cart options for design, functionality and back-end management. If you’re just getting started with ecommerce, you can use ProductCart’s design tools to create a new online store.

The license for ProductCart (Standard version) is $695. The Build to Order version, which includes a product configurator for more complex products and services, is $1,495. Other services for installation, technical support, hosting and mobile commerce are also available.

6. Zen Cart: Community-Contributed Additions
The open-source ecommerce shopping cart known as Zen Cart provides community-contributed additions to the software than can be applied to your shop. Plenty of documentation and help with your cart is readily available in the community forums, too.

Designed by shop owners, programmers, designers and consultants, this cart features a template-based system to select a design for your cart and to configure product categories, sales discounts and shipping and payment options. Nearly every piece of information about your products can be customized and managed within the Zen Cart Admin view.

Zen Cart v1.5.0 requires PHP 5.2.14, MySQL 4.1.3 and Apache 2.0 (or higher). It can run on Windows/IIS servers, but Linux/Apache servers are recommended. For those who need help with ZenCart, the product’s website provides a list of affiliated service providers.