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Total posts: 25
Last post: February 25, 2019

Tips to Finish Your Website Project Faster and with Better Results

Tips to Finish Your Website Project Faster and with Better Results

By Dave on  February 25, 2019

Here's a dirty secret: If things aren't planned well, your website project likely isn't going to be finished within the original timeline...and everybody knows it before the project even starts.

I get it. The boss (or you, if you're the boss) wants to know how long this thing is going to take. Building or redesigning a website is not that different than say a typical home improvement project. They always take 50% longer than you thought and there are six extra trips to Home Depot, right? And those delays aren't necessarily anyone's fault, it's just what happens when you have any project with lots of moving parts and unforeseen issues that pop up.

The goal shouldn't be to plan to such an extreme level that you eliminate all uncertainty (that's not realistic), but rather to minimize as many risks and surprises as possible and be prepared to address and deal with those that remain.

While a good web design agency will help set expectations, manage timelines and project deliverables, there are plenty of ways that clients can make the project as successful as possible. Here's what you can do to help your website project.

Communicate your goals clearly to the entire project team.

What do you want to get out of this project? What does success look like to you? The key to knowing if the problem was solved is knowing what we're solving for.

Articulate who your target audience is and how your company solves problems for them.

That's the best way for your website team to translate that to the content, design, and features of your project. Who is using the website? What are they trying to do? How does your company help them do that?

Keep your internal team small.

More internal stakeholders = longer time to make everything happen. It's ideal to designate one person from your organization to be the lead and keep the decision makers list short; think 1-3 people tops.

Bonus Tip: Approach a website project with an open-mind and collaborative personalities. You may discover and identify designs, content or features that you hadn't even thought of.

Bring your best subject matter experts to the project interviews.

Having your internal subject matter experts share their knowledge of your company and industry are very valuable to the project team. Help them understand the expectations of their role within the project as a subject matter expert, not necessarily a designer or project manager. Keep them focused on sharing their knowledge of the business and customers.

Deliver feedback clearly and quickly.

A common challenge that companies run into early is losing valuable time by letting everyone in your company give their opinion. Feedback is one of the things that organization's can often overlook in terms of website design projects, and can be one of the foremost offenders of extending a project beyond it's original timeline. Plan time organizationally to review, provide feedback, and provide approvals and your project will move along at a good pace.

Also, consider the best way to deliver quality feedback to your design and development team. Telling the designer to 'make the logo bigger' or the developer to 'make it work like Amazon' doesn't give context as to why those requests are being made. Talk about why you feel the solution presented doesn't solve the problem, and ask what other ways it could be solved.

Make your website project part of your job.

We get it, you get pulled back into your regular job and let the website project site for a few days, weeks, or even months in some rare cases. This is another common issue that organizations have when approaching a redesign, is not allocating the appropriate resources internally to work with a web design partner. Instead, think about how you can assign a project lead within your organization, and quite literally make this project part of their job description for the duration of the engagement.

Be realistic with people's schedules.

It can be challenging to get everyone's calendars to align for a meeting. If it takes an extra three days to meet about something important, consider that those days get added to the project timeline. If scheduling conflicts are happen consistently and often, a project could be extended by multiple weeks.

Phase it out.

If you decide to wait to launch until every last little thing is 100% complete, those last couple of days can turn into a last couple of weeks or months. Instead, talk with your team about establishing an MVP (Minimally Viable Product) that you would feel comfortable launching, and tackle the rest in phased, future releases. Consider that your users don't know that you were planning a new leadership bios section. Roll that out next month and tout it as fresh, new content.

What else influences the timeline?

It's good to have an understanding of what determines a project timeline for a website design project. Here are some considerations:

Brand/identity Strength

There is a big difference in having an existing, professionally designed logo/identity and just handing your web designer a logo the marketing intern made herself in MS Word. The better and more defined the brand standards, the less work your web designer has to perform. With a well-defined brand and identity, web designers can dive right in; without it, you'll likely add a significant amount of time and even budget defining these items.

What image assets do you have?

Do you already have an extensive library of images that meet your brand standards? Or does your web design team have to hunt for stock images without much guidance? Do you need to hire a great photographer for a photo shoot first? Are those images clearly organized and labeled? Poor quality images or no images at all don't just affect the look, they affect the timeline.

What state is your content in?

More often than not, the content is the part that needs the most help. Creating good website content that is going to rank well on Google, but also convert visitors to leads takes skill and time, and everybody underestimates this part. Budget time for just dealing with your content - what you have, how much needs to be written and edited, etc. Then, double that estimate to be safe.

That's a lot of stuff.

You're right, it is. Nobody expects you to get the entire list 100% right. Shooting for 80% of the above will go along way towards success. Here's to your future website project happiness...

20 Years

By dave on  May 18, 2017

This May (2017) Aztek turned twenty years old.


I know, I know. There are companies that are much older so big deal, right? Yeah, but most of them aren't web design (and development, and digital marketing) agencies. In our industry, surviving for twenty years feels comparable to a hundred years. It's a whirlwind industry of constant change; where what you make and how you make it changes daily. Hell, 20 years ago, we were making websites that looked like this:

Screenshot of the first website they ever let me design and build.

This was literally the first site I ever designed and built. I've gotten better, I promise.

I started with Aztek 16 years ago, so I've been fortunate to witness how the Web and Aztek have grown and evolved since the very early days.

When I was hired on, there were only about eight of us, and we were barely adults. For many of us, the ink on our diplomas wasn't even dry yet. The Web was still a very new place. I didn't even know HTML yet, I learned right there on the job. We smoked cigarettes right in the office. We built websites in classic ASP using tables and Dreamweaver. eCommerce websites seemed like technology only aliens from an advanced civilization could master. People weren't really talking about web standards or accessibility yet. Heck, we didn't even know what CSS was, let alone use it. Nobody was really sure how to price this stuff. It was like the Wild, Wild West.

Fake it till you make it, right?

It's probably more accurate to repeat platitudes like, "Try, try, again", or "Never give up", "Experience is the best teacher", and so on. All of that rang true. We worked our butts off. There were countless late nights, Saturdays, Sundays, even a few "all-nighters" to make things happen. Of course, it was much easier to pull all-nighters when we were still in our twenties. This was just normal for nearly a decade (we eventually got a little smarter in our old age).

Very near our ten year anniversary, something critical happened. We moved our offices to downtown Cleveland. It was a big change for us. Previously, we had been in dreary, soul-sucking cube farm office spaces. In fact, I nearly turned around when walking in for my interview at the first office because of how ugly the hallway was. But not downtown. The downtown office was cool. Big open spaces, tall ceilings, we looked like a bonafide hip digital agency. And that feeling made us believe we really were. And not just us, our clients too. You could feel it in our work, in the kinds of people we hired, in the kinds of things clients started saying to us. It was transformative. Our entire culture began to change. We became more open minded, changing and adapting with greater ease. We took on new technologies with zeal, read countless articles, and attended conferences ravenously. We switched to Agile. The list goes on.

We grew mentally, professionally, and of course, in actual size. We have forged a culture that we can be proud of, and everyone else can be jealous of. We started breaking down barriers between disciplines and departments (if you've tried to get designers and developers together you can appreciate this) and spent a lot of time thinking about how we could work and communicate better together. It was not without a few bumps and bruises, but it worked.

The timing of moving downtown also fortuitously coincided with Cleveland's resurgence as a great city. When we moved in, we were surrounded by nearly empty buildings and the signs of urban decay. We got broken into a few times and there were a few moments that we questioned if Downtown was a good choice. But just a few and they were short lived.

Things started to change quickly. New buildings started going up around us. Old ones got revitalized. Aztek started working with organizations who were influencing the revitalization of our great city. Architects and hospitals, major art and cultural institutions, large and small companies who call Cleveland their home. As the city rose from its rust belt image (and from being the laughing stock of the rest of the country), we felt like we were not just seeing it reborn from the inside, but helping to push it along, even if only in our own small ways. We met and worked with many others who were in the thick of the action, and it was exhilarating.

As the City grew, so did we. We added new services, which required new team members, which required new clients and projects. And as the Cavs brought a championship back to the City last year, we had the biggest team we'd ever had and some of the biggest and best clients and projects too. It was perfect.

We've also had some of the best coworkers along the way. Not everyone stayed for the entire trip, but everyone who came through contributed to our growth and evolution, even the folks who didn't leave willingly. I thank everyone who has ever worked here. I mean that. Everyone moved us forward in some capacity.

Working for this company has been one of the most rewarding efforts of my life. Back in art college, I thought I was going to draw comic books for a living; I had no idea (I don't think anybody did) how the Web would shape the future. A pleasant surprise to say the least. I love Web design. I love the challenge of a new project. I love seeing the results. I love hearing a client say: "This is awesome and you guys are so great to work with". Aztek (and Cleveland) has been such a great place to spend my career. Now that Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are upon us, I am even more excited about where our industry and city will go. When I tell my A.I. augmented brain to write my next anniversary blog post in 20 years, you may just consume it directly from my thoughts. Who knows?

Until then, I'd like to say thank you to every client, employee, and friend of Aztek.


Dave Skorepa

Chief Creative Officer

Why Do I Need Internal Site Search on My Website?

By dave on  April 24, 2017

As most web users know, today's websites are more complex than ever before and are getting more robust every day. Many websites contain an immense amount of information and features. Before a visitor to your site can purchase your product or contact you for more information, they need to be able to verify that you have what they are looking for. This may be difficult on a site that is loaded with information, data and special features. Large sites may overwhelm and even intimidate some users. Including an internal search function on your site can assist visitors in finding the information they seek and help them determine that your site is where they need to be.

Internal site search provides numerous benefits that help site visitors and can also assist in your marketing efforts. Outlined below are a few of the benefits and advantages of adding internal site search to your website.

Help visitors find exactly what they need more quickly.

Internal site search is one of the best ways to make it easy for visitors to find exactly what they need. Some users will get overwhelmed with complicated and large websites. This may cause them to quickly leave your site to find another more simplistic and easier to navigate website. Offering internal search will give users a way to find what they came for quickly and easily.

Most web users are already familiar with  "searching".

It is common knowledge that Google is used around the globe to find information, research products and much more. People have grown accustomed to searching for what they need on the Internet. Internal site search is an extension of this searching behavior. Users feel comfortable using search. Offering search on your own site offers users a way to find what they need in a way they are used to and comfortable with.

Internal site search caters to the "I want it now" attitude.

Web users expect, and even demand, quick and fast results. If they can't find what they need on your site, they will go to another. Websites need to cater to the many different types of users. These types of users may include: information seekers, prospective customers, long time/loyal clients, etc. Site search helps knowledge and product seekers find what they need, period. And this is the first step in turning a visitor into a customer.

Site search helps your marketing team gain valuable knowledge.

Analysis of internal site search data can provide valuable insight into how visitors use and navigate your website. This data can reveal insights into visitor intent and behavior. This data can include: what type of information was searched for, what pages were found, which searches were successful, which failed and what searches intrigued the user to stay on the site.

Site search can reveal new and important keywords.

The keywords and phrases that users type into your internal site search tool can provide insight into the keywords that should be used in your optimization strategy. These keywords can be used to improve the optimization of your site's pages and further improve and refine your content. These keywords can also be added to a search engine marketing program to widen the reach of the campaign and provide more opportunities for traffic. 

Site search can open the door to new products and services.

If users are constantly searching your site for a product and/or service that you don't currently offer, this could be a sign that you should be offering this product or service. If users to your site expect your company to offer certain products/services, this could be an opportunity to expand your offering and increase the amount of users that become customers.

Sites with an internal site search function offer users a quick, easy and effective way to navigate your site and find what they need. The main goal of any website is to turn a visitor into a customer. The first step in converting visitors into customers is verifying for the user that they are at the right place. If they are looking for a specific product, they need to be able to find it easily. If they seek information, this information should be readily available. Internal site search is one of the best ways to help visitors find what they want, make your site easy to use and keep people coming back regularly.

Help! I’ve been trapped by my web design agency and I can’t get out!

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Handcuffed by your web design agency?

It happens all too often. After selecting a (seemingly suitable) web design firm and committing to a project, you may find the company you picked was not a good fit and the relationship sours. Like an unhappy marriage, you want out -- and want to take what’s yours with you. You did after all, pay for your website.

Not so fast buddy.

Your contract says otherwise. That content management system you use that has ALL OF YOUR PRODUCT DATA in it? Yeah – you’re only leasing that from the web firm. That monthly fee you pay is for the rights just to use their “proprietary” CMS. Oh, I should mention that it’s written in a language that nobody else in town supports anymore. So even if you get out of your contract, good luck finding another firm to support the ancient technology. And just to put the icing on the cake, they bought your domain name for you (since you had never done it before) and you don’t actually own it! And you thought they were just nice guys looking to help you out back then!

So where does that leave you?

Sadly, it may leave you stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea. You can suck it up, and stay trapped in your dysfunctional relationship or you can cut your losses (as painful as it may be) and (pay to) redevelop the site from scratch with another web design firm. And after the money you just shelled out for the website you have, neither option sounds all that appealing.

How did I get here? If only somebody would have told me!

So your unfortunate pre-existing condition aside, what should you have looked out for? How can you avoid getting hijacked by your web design firm again in the future? As a client, you may be at a disadvantage because you may not possess the technical expertise to wholly understand how all the parts of a website work together and how that firm handcuffed you to their solution.

Here are some guidelines and recommendations to avoid being trapped by your web design firm in the future (or those of you who still have time to choose wisely).

  1. Make sure you own:
    1. the rights to your design files and images
      You may in the future, wish to have your new web designer do some layout updates. There is a good chance he or she will want the original design files. We’ve also seen clients who didn’t realize they didn’t own the rights to all the images used on their website until they got an invoice a year later to renew the rights…to the tune of $50,000.00. Whoops.
    2. the rights to your source files
      If your new developers are going to add/modify/delete functionality to your .NET site, they’re going to need the VB project (not just the compiled code)
    3. all your domain names
    4. Analytics accounts
      You can replace the one they set up for you, but it’s just easier to own it yourself.
  2. Make sure they’re going to develop your site in a modern technology (that’s going to be supported for a long time)
    For example, I only know of one firm still developing in ColdFusion. If you wanted to leave them, you either redevelop in a new technology or sit tight with the functionality “as is”. Using a more widely adopted technology such as Microsoft .NET will make it easier for you to find a new web developer who can step right in and help.
  3. Read the contract carefully
    More importantly, have your attorney read it first.
  4. A “Proprietary” CMS with recurring licensing fees? Red flag!
    Firms who develop proprietary stuff don’t want the competitor you are leaving them for to see how they built it and they aren’t going to let you just take it.
  5. Ask “What happens if I ever want to pack up my site and leave you?”
    Keep in mind the points above when listening to their answer.
  6. Ask for some references and do some digging of your own.
    If they’re going to try and trap you, they’ve probably already done it to some other clients. And those people are probably more than happy to tell you their horror story.

Some web design firms simply are not confident enough that good work and top notch customer service will retain their clients, so they may resort to business practices that enslave their clients’ website…A content management system that you can’t keep, or a domain that wasn’t put in your name, the list goes on and on.

It’s a shame, but it happens. Just don’t let it happen to you.

The Pre-Project Website Design Checklist (for the Client)

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Beginning a new website project can be a daunting and intimidating task. There are so many moving parts it is easy to overlook some of them. This doesn’t just go for the web designer; it goes for the client as well. In an effort to help make the process a little less frightening, here is Aztek’s website project checklist for the client

  • Domain Names
    • Do you have a list of all relevant domain names?
    • Does your company own the domain(s) and have access to the domain registration info?
    • How many domains point to this website?
    • Would changing any of those domains impact other areas of your business such as company email?
  • Site Security
    • Does your website require an SSL?
    • Password protection?
    • Other?
  • Target Audience
    • What kind of audience will the site be developed for?
    • What kind of information are they looking for?
    • What kinds of actions should they be taking?
    • Is any usage or analytic data available for the web design team to review?
  • Keywords/SEO
    • Compile a list of keywords and key phrases you think your website should be targeting
    • Are these words the same as what your audience might use to search for your products or services? Be sure to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
    • Be sure to consider this list when auditing and compiling your website content
  • Audit Existing Content
    • How much is staying?
    • How much is being removed?
    • How much needs just minor editing?
    • How much new content needs to be generated?
    • Don’t forget to include logos, images and videos in this process
  • Site Structure
    • Does the site already have a sitemap to follow?
    • How will changes in your content impact the way the site is organized?
  • Creating New Content
    • Are you developing the content internally?
    • Do you need to enlist a copywriter for partial or full copywriting assistance?
  • Existing Site Assets and Functionality
    • Is there any data or functionality that needs to be carried over?
    • Do you already have a web analytics solution in place that should be retained?
  • New Functional Requirements
    • Is there any new functionality the new site should be capable of?
    • Does the site need to communicate with any backend systems?
    • How will ecommerce transactions be handled and processed?
    • Who with your organization should receive web form submissions and notifications?
  • Technology Requirements
    • What technology requirements (if any) does the new site have? For instance, should the site be developed on the Microsoft .Net platform, or .PHP?
    • Do you need a printable version of the site?
    • A mobile version?
  • Content Management
    • How much of the site’s content will you need to edit on a regular basis?
    • How often does the content change?
    • What kind of content changes will you be making?
      • Product data, simple text updates, adding/removing whole pages, and images to a gallery, etc.?
    • Who within your organization will be responsible for these updates?
    • Does content need to be approved by other in your organization before it goes live?
  • Hosting
    • Where will the site be hosted?
    • If switching to a new host, does the new host support the technology the new site will use?
  • Deadline
    • When does the new site need to launch?
    • What is the plan in the event there are any delays?
  • Budget
    • What is the budget available for this project?
    • If there is not adequate budget for this project, can some of the features and functionality be phased in?
  • Social Media
    • What social media does your company participate in?
    • How will social media be integrated into the new website?
    • Do you own and have control over all the usernames and passwords for those accounts?
    • Do you need to create them from scratch?
  • Marketing
    • How will you promote the site to your existing users and customers?
    • How will you attract new users and customers?
  • Project Management
    • Who will be the main point of contact during the project for your organization?
    • Who has the power to make decisions and approve project milestones?
    • Have you assigned tasks to other team members from your organization to assist with the project?
    • Do they understand their roles and responsibilities?

If you’ve never been responsible for a website design project before, we hope this list gives you some confidence and sets you in the right direction. If you want to learn more about your overall digital presence, learn more about our assessment.


4 Reasons Why It's Time to Hire a Copywriter

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Website content…It’s the most important part of your project, yet it is often treated with the least regard. You probably hired a professional web design firm to build you the site (because hey, you’re no web developer right?), but you plan to do the copy yourself…Later…When you can set some time aside.

Maybe you finally do, but nobody can make sense of it, the search engines aren’t particularly attracted to it and it took you five months to finally give to your web team.  

Maybe you don’t. Maybe your entire web redesign project goes up in flames over this “content stuff”. Maybe you wish you had called for help sooner. Here are some signs that it’s time to hire a copywriter.

  1. You’re not that great of a writer
    Most of us are good at the things we need to do to do our regular jobs…so unless you are a professional writer, it is doubtful writing is your strongest suit. And that’s okay.  I’m not ashamed to be less than proficient at say, biochemical engineering. Let’s just say there’s a good reason I went to Art School.
  2. You aren’t used to writing for the web
    Ok fine, you’re a great writer. Heck, maybe you even have an English degree. But does your experience include writing specifically for the Web? The Web is a different animal. It requires the understanding of how people read scan a page, how to break up the content for online viewing, how to be persuasive and lead to a conversion, and maybe most importantly - how to incorporate SEO tactics.
  3. You’re too close to the subject matter
    Lots of people mistakenly assume that certain basic things don’t need to be repeated or included in their web content, so they leave it out. Maybe they feel that the audience already knows it, or the audience simply won’t care about it. But oftentimes those types of things do matter to the audience, even if only to say “yes, this website is related to the widget industry, and I am looking for widgets”. Sometimes the audience is Google, who still needs to see those keywords even if you think they’re disposable.

    Perhaps you’ve just been doing whatever it is you do for too long and are no longer as passionate about it…Well, any copy you write yourself if going to sound about as uninterested as you feel.  A copywriter can bring a new perspective and refreshed enthusiasm for your industry and business. That’s the voice you want speaking to your visitors (I would hope).
  4. You don’t have time
    You’re a busy person. You have a job that already demands 50+ hours a week and then the boss strolls into your office and informs you that on top of your regular duties, you are now also in charge of the content for the new website. Oh boy.

    Weeks later the content still isn’t done (or maybe not even started). Your web design firm wonders why they haven’t heard from you, your boss wants to know why the project still isn’t done and your family wants to know where you got all those grey hairs from. It’s time to call in the cavalry.

It doesn’t matter if it’s because your writing skills leave a little to be desired, or if you don’t know how to achieve a good keyword density, you’re bored with your industry, or you just can’t squeeze eight days out of a seven day week. If you fall into any one or more of those categories, it’s time to call a copywriter to help finish your website content.


An Argument Against Justified Text Aligment in Web Design

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Justified text alignment is great for newspapers and magazines since they use smaller, defined columns and have a target area width that they can depend on. But the web is an entirely different beast, and it just doesn't work the same way as print-media.

The web isn't as restricted or defined as print-media because there isn't one specific way in which your content will be viewed. A user could be viewing your content through a mobile browser, a desktop browser, or on a tablet. And when on that chosen devise, they could be using Firefox, Chrome or another proprietary browser built specifically for that device. Each browser will apply styles by default that aid the user's ability to read your content. Browsers also allow the user to customize that look to fit their specific needs.

In the end, unlike a book, there is no way to control the experience a user has on the web.

On any particular site, there could be anywhere from 4-8 (generally speaking) different column widths. And each of those groups will have varying lengths in both characters per line and word amount in paragraphs. It would be more difficult to apply justified alignment without causing variation in word spacing. Those variations make it very difficult to read and understand, especially for the blind and viewers with conditions, like dyslexia.

In most cases, leaving text left-aligned is the right decision. It's what people are used to, it's what most content-heavy sites use, like Yahoo, CNN and Facebook, and it's flexible.

image of justified and non justified text

Yes, there are ways to force justified text to work better in a browser but it's just not built for it. One option is to bring in javascript to handle the implementation of soft hyphens. But, in a time when speed is an important factor for Google and overall usability, there is no reason to depend on the extra weight of javascript to handle things that it probably shouldn't. In this case, formatting text should be handled in the CSS and the individual browser itself.

This is why we argue against using justified text.

If you want even more information, here are some additional reading on the subject:



14 Design Resources We are Thankful For

By dave on  April 24, 2017

What is the design team thankful for?

The best thing about Thanksgiving dinner is the variety of food on the table. From sweet potato casserole, to cranberries to a deep fried turkey, everyone always has a favorite dish. It is no different here at Aztek. While each designer is different, all of us have resources that make our jobs a little easier or give us that extra boost of inspiration to help us produce websites that attract users and give them an experience that helps you accomplish your business objectives.

I asked the team here at Aztek to share some of their “go-to “ resources:

Design Resources We Love

  1. Adobe Photoshop:
    Even though there are some hardcore web designers to regularly call for the death of Photoshop (at least in the creation process of responsive web design), we still can't get through a day without Adobe's super powerful flagship product. People can say what they want about how static comps have no place in a responsive process, but I can "sketch" faster in Photoshop than I can on paper.
  2. Colour Lovers:
    The best starting point on the Web for color palettes and patterns. Even if you're not a designer.
  3. Creative Commons Search
    You can't steal images from a Google images search (it tends to violate copyright laws), so this is the next best thing. There are millions of good images out there that are free to use (with proper attribution of course). Creative commons helps you find them and stay out of legal trouble at the same time.
  4. Text Fixer:
    Forgive the goofy spelling because this tool will solve many of your common text woes. Easily change text from upper to lowercase, alphabetize it, remove extra spaces, get word counts, and even encode HTML characters. Free.
  5. jQuery:
    Most users never really notice, but on nearly any modern website you visit, JQuery is what's making it work so awesomely. JQuery makes JavaScript easy, fast, and powerful.
  6. Unheap:
    As if JQuery wasn't easy and awesome enough, Unheap takes it a step further and gives web designers a super powerful toolbox of JQuery based plugins for effects, interactive interfaces and more.
    Before web fonts, your web designer jumped through some pretty awful hoops to get your company's official font on your website, often with some terrible results in load time and search engine performance. Using web fonts means your website can come in more fonts than just Arial, Verdana, Times or Georgia.
  8. Smashing Magazine: Hands down the best industry magazine for anything web related; Code, design, even the business side of web design.
  9. Feedly: When Google Reader shutdown, Feedly became the haven for all those alienated RSS refugees. And it turns out Feedly is an awesome replacement for your old RSS reader. This is how we stay current with all our web and design industry topics. 
  10. Creattica: An impressive source of design freebies and inspiration, even for “non-web” types.
  11. Modernizr: Not all browsers can handle HTML5 and CSS3, but you really want to use it on your project. Modernizr help those old browsers kinda limp along with the new.
  12. Firebug:
    All projects have bugs to be squashed and Firebug makes finding them and squashing them faster, saving your project many valuable hours and ensuring a better outcome.
  13. Google Docs:
    Not satisfied with being the world's biggest and best search engine, Google had to offer their own free web based competitor to Microsoft Office. You can share documents to edit without worrying about changes being lost, missed or over-written. This example only scratches the surface of Google Docs' capabilities.
  14. Flat UI:
    There's no disputing that "flat design" has made a big splash this year and this site gives designers a starter kit to incorporate the flat look into a project.

Being web designers, we are constantly discovering new sites that inspire, help and push us to be better. We love finding new resources which will help us bring a new idea or solution to the table for your project.

With all these great resources, it’s time to kick back and enjoy the informational-overload equivalent of a food coma.  We wish you and yours' a very Happy Thanksgiving! 

What resources or websites inspire you? Comment below!

Stop trying to get everything above the fold. Seriously.

By dave on  April 24, 2017

This cat does not fit in this jar.

"You can't put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound sack" as they say (only the way I learned it, it wasn't sugar in the sack). Yet, over and over we see organizations fruitlessly trying to get every single message from every conceivable‎ internal stakeholder crammed into their homepages. Once they're all smushed in like an electronic clown car and the site launches, the client is right back in the same boat of wondering why they have an ineffective website with lousy bounce and conversion rates.

In feedback meetings you'll hear things like: "If people have to scroll, they'll never see this," "I don't want people to miss this," "These business units ALL need to be very prominent," "make everything stand out more," and so on, and so on. This logic is inherently flawed. Just because something is "above the fold" and on the homepage doesn't mean it will be seen or understood by the user. And if everything is bold, nothing is bold.

That's called the "Signal to Noise Ratio". Consider this statement from Web Syle Guide, which pretty well sums up my point:

"...The restricted space of the screen. Even with today’s larger monitors, the web page is a small space, especially when you have a lot to pack in, as on home pages. Crowding inevitably increases visual noise because it increases accidental associations among page elements and reduces the white space so crucial to visual organization."

To demonstrate this, humor me by answering a few rhetorical questions.

First Question: What's easier to hear and comprehend; a single voice talking, or a noisy crowd all talking & shouting at once?

A single voice: 

Many voices at once:

Ding! Ding! Ding! That's right, the single voice!

Next Question: Take a look at these two rooms. Which room would you prefer to spend time in? Which room can be more easily walked through (navigated)?

Messy room


nicely designed, clean room

Easy choice right? The one that is clean, spacious, and uncluttered. You see where I'm going with this, but let's keep at it.

Question #3, just to drive my point home.

Here is our own home page with lots of content that has been laid out "properly").

Now here is that same page with all that same content packed in to fit "above the fold". 

Ugly isn't it? You can't read anything, you're not sure what's important and really, it just looks like a hot mess. There is no reason to do this to a website, especially when there is considerable data that proves users are very comfortable with scrolling.

So what's the solution? It's easy. Trust your designer's recommendations.

Your designer will help you, and together you will decide what is absolutely most important and what things the user can discover second, third, and fourth. Let that list of priorities guide the layout of your content. Give the content (and your user's eyes) room to breathe.

Design is not as subjective as you may think. There are rules and principles that contribute to a sucessful design solution. Contrast, visual hierarchy, white space, and legibility (to name a few) are all principles your designer is responsible for applying to your website design. You should no more tell your designer how to design then you should tell your mechanic how to fix your car. Unless you don't trust your designer, in which case, you might have a different problem to address on your project.

So here's the last question on our quiz:

Are you still telling your web designer to pack everything in above the fold? Tell us in the comments.

Images used under Creative Commons License:
Liquid Cat: Metro UK
Interior Design: Modern Homes Interior
Compulsive Hoarder: Wikipedia

Dan Mall (and Element Collages) to the Rescue!

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Recently, I tweeted to Dan Mall (superstar designer and professional nice guy) to let him know how much a blog post of his helped my design process. I was honored when he reached back out and asked if I'd share what I'd been doing.

Dan's blog post helped solve an issue we'd been wrestling with since making the transition to responsive web design; how to communicate visual direction.


For years the web design industry relied on time consuming and overly-specific things called "full comps" (also referred to as "concept designs", or "Photoshop mockups"). No matter what you called them, they all amounted to the same thing: a elaborate set of full web pages designed to the last excruciating pixel in Photoshop. Ones that the client then also expected the final website to the last excruciating pixel.

Not only is this time consuming and a poor use of a client's budget; but it sets the wrong expectation. Especially when doing a responsive website where hundreds of devices and screen sizes might display the website. A fixed pixel painting of a "full" or "desktop sized" website just isn't adequate anymore.

Lots of other smart folks have been trying to solve this issue of the design artifact (the thing we give to the client to communicate the design part). Samantha Warren's concept of "Style Tiles" ( were a huge step in the right direction, but we found them to still be a bit too loose and vague. Not only for our client, but also for our design process (Designers can be specific, control freak types). Even as I tried to embrace the changes necessary to be a good responsive web design practitioner, most of these new techniques left me longing in my own process.

Dan Mall to the rescue.

Dan published an article describing something called an "element collage" that struck the "Goldilocks Zone" for me as a designer who grew up making full comps. Not too specific, not too vague. Just the right amount of detail to establish a design language that could carry us forward in the project no matter the break points, no matter the device.

So we've started using them and the results so far have been tremendous.

  • We can iterate quickly, conserving valuable hours in the project budget
  • Clients understand what they are looking at. There is enough recognizable detail for them to complete a mental picture of what their responsive website might look and feel like, even early in the process
  • As designers the process is a more natural transition for how our brains work.

So Dan, here are two of my favorite recent "element collages". Those of you not familiar with element collages, notice that all the elements are recognizable "web page stuff" without being specific pages per se'. Just a proposal of visual styles and elements for the site. 

Element Collage 1
Element Collage 2


So far, so good.

Thanks Dan.

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