Proto-what? How to Prototype Your First Website

By Jessica Ann
December 2, 2013

Introduction

Amateurs and professionals alike throw around the “web design” word all of the time. But if you’re going to set out to build your own company website, it’s a good idea to decide what web design means, and what sort of best practices you can use to ensure you’re not just spinning your wheels. You don’t want to become a student of a bunch of software without becoming a master of any of it.

So, what the bleep is web design?

Well, it isn’t something you can buy on a store shelf, and it’s not something you can click a single button to obtain. It’s a process, and like any process, you’ve got to start somewhere. And here you are, so get reading!

The why before the how

The first step in any good web design project comes before you even open up any software. You have to decide what it is you’re doing. The nature of your business and the kind of customers you work with will have a big influence on what kind of website you build. You’ll want to create a website that builds trust. But how do you do this?

Article3

To be clear, the biggest mistake you can make, unless you’re in a design class or a contest, is to design a website a certain way just because you like it. After all, websites are for the world wide web. If your opinion was the only one that mattered, you wouldn’t even need a website!

Once you have your business need for the website and its audience in mind, you can sit down and begin the task of designing. Don’t open any software yet, it’s still too early. New programs can be daunting, and you don’t want to deflate the pizzazz you’ll need to make your finished product truly shine. It all starts with some inspiration and vision, and if you move too quickly that vision could get lost.

Finally…time to design something!

Grab a piece of paper, you know, the white sheets made from dead trees and marked with ink? It may be oh-so-20th-century, but the hands-on feeling of sketching something out on paper focuses you on the big picture, which is where you need to start anyway.

If you’re a big fan of your iPad, Ink is a great app for making simple drawings. The basic version is free.

Go ahead and draw out a few simple ideas about how you want your home page to look. Is there something important you want to say about what your business does for your customers? Do you want to show off an image of your flagship product? Simplicity is important for web design. Use simple lines and shapes to illustrate what you want on your home page. It’s the first thing your visitors will see, and it helps set the priorities that will determine the rest of your site’s structure, so don’t be shy.

Decisions, decisions

We’ll save you some reading by telling you the next few steps involve doing that last one over again. Come up with a few alternatives and don’t be afraid to show them to colleagues, family or friends. It’s worth reminding you once again, this website isn’t for you, it’s for your visitors. Asking for opinions is a great way to keep your audience in mind and think outside the box. You can make the final decision yourself, but an informed decision is an effective decision, so get some feedback!

Next steps

Stay tuned, because in our next article we’ll discuss how to use your prototype to design your own blog!

How to Use Ideas to Fuel Web Design

By Jessica Ann
November 27, 2013

You can find inspiration for your web design just about anywhere. Whether you look to art, architecture, movie, television, or books, ideas are virtually (and physically) everywhere. But some days you don’t necessarily need more ideas. You’re already brimming with inspiration. You simply need to find a way to streamline. You need to find ways to put faith into all of your amazing ideas to fuel your web design, so that you can make the most impact with your business.

Business magnate and hip hop mogul Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH) says it best:

What holds most people back isn’t the quality of their ideas, but their lack of faith in themselves.

Both Russell Simmons (and singer George Michael) know that you’ve gotta have faith to make moves in your business. Here are some ideas to get faith in your ideas, and to fuel your web design:

  1. Start a design board on Pinterest

Pinterest is a visually stunning photo-sharing website where you can create and manage theme-based image collections. Why not create a board that will help you evolve your business in a strategic way? Sure, you can have some fun browsing recipes, clothing, and ways to organize too. But when you come across boards with beautiful and free fonts that you may want to use in your web design, you’ll have an easy and helpful reference to look at.

The point of starting a design board is to have a platform to organize your ideas in an efficient way. And while it’s great if you come up with new ideas, try not to get distracted. Distractions can be fun, but before you know it, you’ll reach the end of the Internet at 4am. But then you’ll realize that you’ll need to go to work the next day. That’s a problem you don’t want.

Pinterest can be that addicting if you let it. So, set a timer when you’re browsing and pinning photos. It’ll help you reign in any inspiration that goes overboard.

  1. Look to Nature

When 11 companies got rebranded as black metal bands, the designer said that his work is an extension of his interest in nature. Simplicity is important for web design, and nature is the perfect place to look.

When you combine two seemingly opposite things (web design and black metal bands), and the common grounding factor is nature, you know that there’s a whole lot more inspiration where that came from. Here are more tactical tips to use when you look to nature to fuel your web design:

• Find themes within nature. Do you like the long lines of trees or the translucence of raindrops? You can make your web design as literal or abstract as you wish. Just make sure that you jot down your jolts of inspiration with a notepad (either digital or physical notebooks work).

  1. Create a community

Russell Simmons and George Michael may be an opposite ends of the musical spectrum. And they may not have created their communities from a website. But they understand how to be personable to create communities in the real world. And from their communities comes faith in their business. Building a community, or involving yourself in a community of like-minded professionals can help fuel ideas for web design.  Or at the very least, give you the faith that you need to make an impact.

3 Web Design Options on a Budget

By Jessica Ann
November 25, 2013

Web design is a core component to your website. Your photos, the quality of the designs you choose, and your font choice speaks volumes about your business. You may think that in order to be a big player in the web design game, you’ll need lots of fancy (and expensive) tools. But sometimes simplicity with your web design means that you don’t need to be the biggest player, but rather the most resourceful one in the game.

Article1

Being resourceful means that you don’t need the full PhotoShop suite. Or even an outside editor when you sign up with a hosting plan. If you’re looking to doodle with delight but don’t want to dive into expensive options, here are some other alternatives:

1. A drag and drop site builder

FatCow’s drag and drop builder lets you build a professional-looking site that goes hand-in-hand with your business. You can select one of the professional themes as your foundation of your site, then easily integrate videos, pictures, maps and contact forms to make your unique look come together. It allows you to publish with ease, and the best part is that it’s free with your FatCow hosting plan. Plus, you don’t even need to know html.

2. WordPress

If you’ve been researching web design options, you’ve probably heard of WordPress. It’s an open source application where you can create your website, publish blog posts, and create new web pages. WordPress allows you to create a professional design with tons of themes that have flair and function. There are thousands of plugins that are available for WordPress, which is great if you’re looking for more advanced functionality.

3. PicMonkey

You’re not only partial to cows. And you realize that monkey’s are cool too. Especially when tools like PicMonkey allow you to be the most memorable animal in the zoo by editing your photos online. You can make photo collages, touch up a professional headshot, or enliven your information graphic. If you have tons of creativity, but no time to learn new software, PicMonkey is for you.

Whether you’re starting a new website from scratch or want to create a community, choosing the right web design options for your budget doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can be a resourceful business owner and have some fun. And if you do it right, you may wind up becoming the big player in the game, minus the big shot tools.

How to Find Inspiration for Your Web Design

By Jessica Ann
November 13, 2013

Inspiration for your web design can build trust…if you know where to find it and if it’s done right. In the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon stars as a fantastically intelligent but troubled young man trying to come to terms with his past with the help of his psychologist, Robin Williams.

In one inspirational scene, Robin Williams explains why knowledge is as much about experience as it is about theory. In one of the lines he says:

“…I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”

So here is a radical idea if you’re a web designer (or involved in launching a new website redesign): step away from your computer and look up. Look at your ceiling. Up at the sky. Or up into outer space. Don’t be nervous – your computer will still be here when you get back.

Ceiling

The benefits of stepping away are priceless. Take other areas where inspiration is needed for good design. For example, architects take inspiration from opera when designing buildings. Fashion designers take inspiration from architecture. And artists take inspiration from anything. Web design can benefit from the same sources and more.

And here is the trick: it must be offline. There’s no point reading about the opera or looking at pictures of buildings – you need to experience them in person.

Here are some other ideas:

  • Art – Let’s start with an obvious example. Looking at art is a great way to get your creative juices flowing but it’s more than that. It can also give you ideas about colors, formats and compositions.
  • The Printed World – This can include typography, magazine design or anything else that involves creative designers in print. Even business cards and billboards can give you ideas.
  • Architecture – Good architecture will give you ideas about form, structure and how different elements and materials can work together. It is also a great study of space and how it is used.
  • Television – It’s a bit old school, but some of the best creative minds in the world work in television. Everything from commercials to the atmosphere created in a drama can be helpful.
  • Books – Books can help you with ideas. But the most obvious benefit is they will help you to become a better writer – as long as you’re reading books by good writers.
  • Movies – Like television, movies are a goldmine for designers. Really good movies are a visual feast. The way stories are told in movies can also give you inspiration.
  • Technology – This is one of the more obvious examples, particularly given the beautiful and game-changing designs that have developed in recent years. The iPhone is a good example.
  • Nature – All other design disciplines take inspiration from nature and web designers should do the same.
  • Music – Music can influence your mood, which can have a positive effect on the designs you come up with. Composition, style and flow are also important.
  • Everyday Life – There are things around you every day that can be used in your designs. It could be a conversation, the shape of a car, or the design of the tables in a coffee shop.

Explore the many different places where you can pick up design ideas. There’s no magic tool or wonderful website that will deliver the same results as just opening your eyes and ears to what’s going on around you.

Be inquisitive and have a desire to learn. Read, watch, listen and experience, and the design ideas will come. Shutdown and explore to find the inspiration you need for your web design. If you can’t shutdown and explore, you can at least look up. You don’t need to be in the Sistine Chapel to learn that inspiration is everywhere.

What does Responsive Web Design Mean for Your Business?

By Jessica Ann
November 11, 2013

If you’re wondering what responsive web design can mean for your business, there’s no better place to start then…Blockbuster.

blockbuster

People of a certain age may remember trudging down to the local Blockbuster with your parents to rent a DVD – or before that a VHS video. It seems strange now given the technology we all have at our fingertips, but back then Blockbuster was fantastic. We marveled at our ability to exercise choice and take our entertainment back to the comfort of our living rooms.

But then we all moved on. We stopped going to Blockbuster, first to receive DVDs through the mail, and then to download content directly into our homes. Blockbuster took its eye off the ball and stopped giving its customers what they wanted. It didn’t take long for the implosion to start.

Let’s Get Back To Web Design Please

Okay, back to the Internet and web design. Your customers are increasingly using mobile devices to play, socialize, work, search and shop. To avoid the Blockbuster-trap and stay with them you need to remain relevant. And to be relevant you need to be available on the devices they’re using.

Here are some figures:

  • 43% of internet users use mobile devices as their primary method of sending or receiving emails
  • 46% of internet users use mobile devices as their primary method of accessing social media
  • 91% of mobile phone users and 88% of tablet users use their devices to search
  • Many websites now get significant amounts of traffic from users on mobile devices

And here is the big one:

Nine out of ten mobile searches results in a follow up action. This may be making a phone call or visiting a local shop, café or restaurant (for local businesses, communicating with your customers through mobile devices is now critical). It might also be telling someone else about the result or making a purchase.

You cannot ignore mobile devices. Your customers are becoming more comfortable using them. And this will eventually result in mobile devices becoming more and more common. You can’t go back in time (unless, of course you want to watch that B-rated Blockbuster).

Attractiveness And A Good User Experience

Now you might be thinking: “But I already have a really good website and it can be viewed on any device.” That is true, but web users are becoming much savvier these days and they demand more.

Forcing a user to scroll or resize in order to view your website is not a good user experience. A website that has been built with responsive design will display perfectly on any device, with graphics, the text and the layout adapting to fit the device. The result is that your website will look as good as it can on all devices.

With a responsive web design you’ll experience a higher conversion rate from users on mobile devices. Even if converting website viewers into customers isn’t your thing, you will still see benefits from responsive web design through increased time spent on your website and more interaction.

If your web design is more of a clunky block than a beautiful buster, consider a better user experience. Responsive web design is a realistic option. It’ll work to display your content in the best way on mobile devices, which will win your business into the hearts of your customers (who may or may not be watching your website from their living rooms).

 

Why Simplicity is Important for Web Design

By Jessica Ann
November 6, 2013

If you’re in the process of creating a new web design, you’re probably aware of the one thing there’s never a shortage of – ideas of what should go on the website. And right there is one of the biggest problems with web design: keeping things simple. Content is the centerpiece of good design. But too much of it leads to clutter. Simplify

Many websites are like that guy Gary who turns up at the high school reunion, and immediately starts explaining that he sells life insurance. And then he makes a sales pitch. Do you:

  1. Hang around and listen?
  2. Change the subject and pretend you invented the Post It (like Romy and Michele, of course) or…
  3. Run as fast as you can away from Gary.

Gary may think he’s being personable, but it comes across pushy. And it can turn people away.

We all have an urge to sell ourselves. And if we’re honest, we do it more often than we should. We don’t want to miss an opportunity and we’re afraid that our users will not quite get it. So we add more and more to our websites with much of it being drivel.

And while we are doing that we’re not concentrating on what is really important – making the website easy to use and making it beautiful.

So here is a tip: If you’re designing a website (or you’re a business who is getting a website designed for you) put a post it on your desk with one simple word: Simplicity! When you see it each day, take a step back and consider – is this going to result in a simple website design? If the answer is no, then go back to the design board.

What Simple Web Design Means

Simple web design means no clutter, clear navigation, crisp fonts and simple logos. To get an understanding of this you only need to think of websites that you probably use every day. Some of the most popular websites in the world are Google, Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia. Securing a simple design is one thing they all have in common.

Simple design may look simple on the surface, but it’s not easy to execute. The late Steve Jobs once said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” He went on to say that the process is worth it because once you achieve simplicity you can “move mountains.”

Steve Jobs executed a vision of simplicity, and the results he achieved are now some of the most successful technological products in the world. His footsteps are good ones to follow so adding simplicity to your website should be your ultimate goal.

Working Hard For Simplicity

While your UX Designer won’t be the next Steve Jobs, here are some ways you can achieve a simple web design:

  • Choose a Truetype Font that’s simple. It’ll look crisp and clean on any screen
  • Keep the logo simple – it will be more memorable and versatile, and it will not age as quickly.
  • Keep everything user friendly – if the navigation is complex, change it.
  • Keep page sizes small so they load quicker.
  • Remove unnecessary decorative elements – they are so 2008!

You don’t need to be like Facebook or Google and spend hundreds of hours agonizing and debating over the weight and length of a box or line. Just keep your focus on that simplistic post-it. The result will be a website that combines pizzazz with a friendly interface, and beauty with efficiency. The only thing simpler than that, is quite possibly that post it.

What does Retina Display Mean for Web Design?

By Jessica Ann
November 4, 2013

There has been a lot of talk about Retina displays in the web design community recently, but what does it all mean. Here is a brief summary:

The Good: We can now see Robert Pattinson or Mila Kunis in all their glory.
The Bad: Those who don’t change their approach to web design risk being left behind.
And the Ugly: We’ll be able to see crystal clear pictures of that aunt or uncle in every family photo – you know the one: with hair where hair shouldn’t be and warts that look like a science experiment gone wrong.

touching screen on tablet-pc

Retina displays deliver a clearer, sharper and smoother picture. Apple first developed the technology and Retina is their brand name. But other device manufacturers are picking up the concept.

It works by doubling the number of pixels that are displayed. So a traditional one-pixel line is represented by two pixels on Retina displays. And because of the double density of pixels, users are unable to see them at normal viewing distances. The result is super-sharp images.

Why Should I Care?

This is a good question, particularly given the fact that high resolution Retina displays really only exist in any great quantity in the world of design professionals. But you should care, because the technology works and it delivers a better user experience.

That means more and more people will start using high-resolution screens over time (particularly when they see how good looking people like Robert Pattinson and Mila Kunis look on the tablet in their lap!)

If your website is not built with this in mind, your images will not display right. The device will scale them up (essentially doubling the number of pixels to display the image) but there will be no additional detail. This will make them fuzzy and while that might be okay for the family photos, it will not be okay for professional use.

That presents you with two choices. First, you can leave your websites as they are and live with the fact that they will not display well on Retina devices. Or you can take steps now to display your website properly on Retina and other high resolution screens.

Okay, Got It, But What Do I Do Now?

Your website design needs to become pixel agnostic. Here are some of the ways you can do that:

  1. Use the SVG image format, which resizes images without any degradation in quality. SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics, and you can learn more about this here.
  2. Upload an image twice the size as what you need and then resize it in HTML
  3. Use image replacement through CSS or JavaScript
  4. Use font icons

With a couple of simple steps you could be ready for the high-resolution revolution. It’s the wave of the screen technology future, and the time to start is now.

How to Create Community from a Website

By Jessica Ann
November 3, 2013

You’ve probably heard a lot about creating online communities. This sometimes generates some strange mental images, like who is going to be the mayor, where the convenience store will be located, who is going to be the biggest local gossip, who are going to be your close friends, and who is the odd person who lives in number 53. In terms of your website, those odd images are closer to reality than you might think. Community

Your business, brand or website has to behave online in exactly the same way as you would behave in any other sort of community. All that’s different is the method.

You can join the FatCow Community Directory to get an invite to the community party.

And think of the community as being something that’s not about you. Instead it’s a place where people can meet, have conversations, have fun and gain knowledge.

Let’s look at this analogy in more detail:

  • The Mayor –that is you, but remember the best mayors are tuned into the people they represent. The listen, they participate, they get involved, they help, and they deliver.
  • The Convenience Store – that is your product or service. It needs to be there and it is very important. But communities are not centered on convenience stores. Instead, convenience stores are part of communities.
  • The Local Gossip – local gossips are the lifeblood of many communities, despite their (sometimes) tarnished reputation. At your website they’re the people who post frequently and engage most often. They will also talk to others about what you are doing. Used right, they are invaluable.
  • Your Close Friends – these are the other people in your niche. Sometimes they are competitors, but whoever they are, the best way to grow your community is to get them involved.
  • The Odd Person in Number 53 – the size of the community is not important. It’s the quality that counts. We will come back to this a bit later, but don’t chase quantity – chase quality. Not everyone has to be involved, but those that do should be engaged, interested and active. (and if you live in number 53 in the offline world, the number was picked at random and may or may not mean that you’re odd).

How do you do it? Let’s start with the elephant (or the odd person from number 53) in the room: this is not easy. It takes hard work over a long period of time. And you will probably not see results immediately. But if you follow the steps below you will get there.

Before You Start

Consider why you are doing this. What are your business objectives? What do you want to build? Who are you building it for? You will only get the answers to these questions by knowing and understanding your industry and your customers.

You also need to get into the right frame of mind and your team needs to be in the right frame of mind too. Everyone involved in the project needs to understand what they are trying to achieve, why they are doing it, and how they are going to measure success.

Create Content

The next step is to create great content. That is worth repeating again – the content has to be quality. After all, quality content is the centerpiece of good design. And remember, this means your content should not always be about what you’re doing, or about your products or services. When you’re creating content on social media or your blog, aim for 20 percent of your content to be about you, with 80 percent about stuff entirely focused on your community.

This can be hard sometimes, but don’t always try to sell. Even though you’re creating content 80 percent of the time, you’re not directly selling. And that’s ok. You’re indirectly self-promoting, which can be incredibly effective if done right.

The content you create should be very well researched and should be about what your community wants to read, watch or listen. Don’t forget your SEO principals and always remember to be personable.

Which leads us to our next step, communicating.

Be Human

To create an online community from your website you first need to be human. You need to find people and groups who are in your niche and start talking to them. Open up a dialogue, offer value, and ask questions. But don’t try to sell! This is about having a conversation.

This will attract others to the community you’re trying to create. Once they’re in your community you need to continue the process by participating in discussions, responding to comments, and answering questions. Most importantly, you need to listen and get to know them. And you need to show them that you appreciate them – give ‘em some love!

And remember: don’t try to sell when you are doing this. If you engage and talk to your community, the selling will be easier when the time is right.

Quality Over Quanity

Building an online community with a website is not a numbers game. You should strive to get quality participants who are involved and active. Doing this takes time and hard work, but it will be worth it. Here are some reasons why:

  • You can stop chasing the Google algorithm because you’ll have an engaged user base from which to grow
  • Adds monetary value to your business
  • Gives a purpose to your online strategy
  • Makes you stand out from your competitors
  • It will help to keep the focus on achieving your goals

Take the time, have a personality, and get involved. If you follow these steps, your website community will be a success.

Thank You For Going Pink with FatCow!

By Jen Merry
November 1, 2013

On behalf of the entire Moo Crew, we just wanted to take a moment to thank you for supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month! The response was overwhelming: more than 300 of you shared a pink badge on your website, and many also shared your inspirational stories. No matter how you contributed, it made a big difference!

cure

We are pleased to announce that, as a result of your participation, we were able to donate $3000 to the American Cancer Society!

Though the donation period is over, we hope you continue to support this important cause. We’ll be keeping the www.fatcow.com/pink page live all year round – feel free to share a banner or badge at any time. You can also share banners to promote FatCow when you join our affiliate program: http://www.fatcow.com/affiliate/gettingstarted.bml
You’ll earn up to $150 when your customers are inspired to click on a banner and purchase our web hosting.

Thanks again for going pink with us!

Sincerely,

The Moo Crew

How to Create a Web Design that Builds Trust

By Jessica Ann
October 21, 2013

If Billy the Kid (the American outlaw who lived in the late 1800s) or others like him lived today they’d probably be spammers or malware spreaders instead of robbers and gunslingers. Why? The Internet is a lot like the Wild West of the 21st century. It’s a place with honest businesses, crooks, great brands and fraudsters alike all hanging out in the same Mid-Western saloon (the Internet). This can make it difficult to know whom to trust.

saloon

Your users are faced with these types of characters on a daily basis. To stand out, you’ll want a website design that’s personable and builds trust. You see, your website does not need to look like a Nigerian lottery scam for your visitors to click the back button after a few seconds on your website. People have many things competing for their attention. They’re selective who they engage and interact with, and rightly so.

Here are a few tips to create a web design that builds trust:

Be Human And Professional

You can do many things when designing your website that will build trust with your users. At the top of the list is to be human. People want to interact with and buy from other people, not from machines, so make sure this trait is reflected in your website design.

Here are a few ways to go about it:

  • Feature an “About Us” page that includes real photos of you and your team. It can be tempting to add stock photos of impossibly beautiful models in plush offices and boardrooms, but rethink this approach. First, you’re lovely the way you are! Showcase real headshots to bring out the lovely and unique you. And second, your audience will not buy it. They’ll figure out that those pictures are not of your business and they may trust you a little bit less as a result.
  • Feature a contact form on your website that genuinely encourages conversation and includes the best way to get in touch with you. All of this information and everything else on your website should be wrapped in an attractive and easy to use design. It should look professional and have all of the features that modern website users expect, such as safe and secure ordering.
  • If you do any affiliate marketing, make sure that the affiliates you choose reflect the core philosophies of your business. If you run a business that focuses on health or fitness, featuring a fast food affiliate may make people wonder about your intentions. Don’t turn your readers into skeptics. Be true to who you are, and don’t make decisions based on earning a few pennies. Any trust you’ve earned will quickly turn to rust if you’re not careful.

Reputation, Reviews and Comments

The Internet has become great at regulating itself. There are a host of signals that a website can give to show that it’s transparent and that others have had a good experience in the past. When a new visitor sees those signals they’re more likely to trust what you’re offering.

Here are some ways that these signals get conveyed:

  • The social media profiles of you, your company or your website are important for this reason. More Twitter followers may signal more trust. But make sure that you’re acquiring the right types of followers. If all of your Twitter followers are from spam accounts instead of real people, this won’t instill trust. Build a following on your social networks over time.
  • Allowing users to review your product or service says a lot about your company. But do not be afraid to include criticism. Criticism can actually add credibility, especially if your customer service team responds in a respectable fashion. Showing that you’re actually listening and responding to complaints or problems can go a long way in the eyes of your customers.
  • Testimonials from previous customers can be particularly effective if the brand giving the testimonial is trusted and familiar. (A testimonial from your mother or a review with lots of typos will have the opposite effect).
  • Feature media appearances your company or product has received. This can convey that your business is a trusted, reputable source.
  • Allow people to have open and public conversations with you and your company. That could mean a comment section on your website or through social media.

The Reward

Building trust for your customers may seem like a lot of work. And building a solid community in the virtual saloons of today does not happen overnight. But the good news is that you can let the modern day Billy the Kid sling his shadiness for all to see, while you sashay your way to more trust and sales over time. Trust the strategies that you set forth today will be well worth it over the long-term.