Web Design Versus Web Development

meeting laptops

There are lots of ways to divide up the process of putting together a new website. I wrote elsewhere about some tips to streamline the phases of that process. But another way to divide the process is into the two primary tasks of web design and web development. They sound like they might just be two different ways to say the same thing, but there is a difference and it is an important distinction to make to a client.

Web development refers to building up the architecture of the website. This is when a developer is using code to create a functional site and get everything “technical” working properly.

But development doesn’t occur with the web design. In a larger company, these two tasks may not be done by the same people or even the same departments. The web designers are the people who determine what the website looks like, and how users will interact with it.

Small design firms might combine the tasks and a web designer might also work with some code, but designers focus more on appearance, layout, and usability. They are also often the “front office” that interacts directly with a client.

Web developers are primarily focused on turning an existing design into the proper code. They are often in the “back office” though they may sit in on client meetings in order to approve or disapprove ideas that a client would like to try.

Web Design ‘Mistakes’

GoDaddy.com posted a list of 15 website design “mistakes.” Of course, some mistakes are not mistakes in some situations.

Here is their list of 15 (details on the full post) which are certainly all things to take into consideration with you website’s design.

Above-the-fold.
Speed.
Responsiveness.
Intuitiveness.
Navigational simplicity.
Readability.
Scannability.
Cleanliness.
Elegance.
Branding.
Contact info.
Search.
Timeliness.
Annoyances.
Error handling.

It is pretty much accepted that having the name of your business and purpose of your website immediately visible on your landing page “above the fold” without scrolling is a rule. “Above the fold” is an old media term from newspaper publishing where that space was what was displayed when a newspaper was stacked on a newstand.

The author lists as annoyances pop-up menus, autoplay and using Flash, but you’ll still find situations where these features play an important role. A pop-ups can be used to capture newsletter signups, for example. But if users are blocking all of them, have you planned for an alternative?

Adobe Flash has gone from being the hot feature for animated banners and menus to being a web design negative. Why? Besides pressure from Apple devices not using it, it is a closed, proprietary system in an increasingly web of open standards. It also is often hacked and it is a heavy draw on mobile device batteries.

Internet Cookies Are Not Always Sweet

 

cookies

Cookies have been around about as long as the World Wide Web. They are small pieces of data, text files stored on your computer or other device when you load a website in a browser.

Back in the 1990s, lots of sources would tell you to delete the cookies on your computer. People treated them like a kind of spyware. They can be useful. They remember your email and information for forms. They remember passwords that you want remembered. They remember preferences and allow users to register and remain logged in.

As with the sweet and crunchy kind, there are different kinds. A cookie can be just for one visit to a site – a “session cookie” or for multiple visits – a “persistent cookie.”  First party cookies are set by the site that you are visiting, but there are also “third-party cookies” set by other websites who serve up content on that site.

The European Union is concerned about cookies. They have an  ePrivacy Directive (often referred to as the ‘cookie law’) which places requirements on website owners and operators to provide information about, and gain consent for their use of cookies. I have visitors from outside the United States, so I have added the option to this site to opt out of cookies from the site.

This site is hosted on WordPress.com and it makes use of cookies for a variety of different purposes. They offer users a widget to inform and allow consent for cookies. You probably saw that the first time you visited the site, but it might be useful to know more about those cookies are used.

One technical one is akm_mobile which stores whether a user has chosen to view the mobile version of the site.

If you are a registered WordPress.com user, then a twostep_auth cookie is set when you are logged in using two factor authentication. Another cookie – wp-settings-{user_id} is useful to me as a user because it allows my user wp (WordPress) admin configuration for the site.

Some cookies are pretty innocent, such as cookietest which checks if cookies are enabled, and  botdlang which tracks the language a user has selected.

Performance cookies collect information on how you interact with websites and WordPress says this analytical data is only used to improve how a website functions. An example is the ab cookie used for AB testing of new features.

Restricting or disabling cookies can limit the functionality of sites, or prevent them from working correctly at all. Still, people might not like the use of ones like advertising cookies that are used to display relevant advertising to visitors. They track details about visitors such as the number of unique visitors, number of times particular ads have been displayed, the number of clicks the ads have received, and are also used to measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns by building up user profiles.

Sites often use third-party applications and services such as social media platforms. When you use a Facebook or Twitter sharing button or embedded video from YouTube and Vimeo, cookies may be set by these third parties, and used by them to track your online activity. (I don’t have any direct control over the information that is collected by these cookies and either does WordPress.

You can choose to restrict the use of cookies, or completely prevent them from being set. Most browsers provide ways to control cookie behavior, such as the length of time they are stored.

To learn more about how to manage cookies, see aboutcookies.org. For more about advertising cookies and how to manage them, see youronlinechoices.eu (EU based), or aboutads.info (U.S.-based).

Thank You, Increased Bandwidth

Web design ideas that were once not under consideration because of slow page load times are now web trends because increased bandwidth and data compression means users won’t bounce from your site because of a dragging load time.

Here are two examples.

The trend to using more streamlined and minimal designs allow typefaces to be more dramatic – and perhaps less recognizable or complex. We don’t think of typefaces as bandwidth hogs, but it really is the lighter design trend that  allows for those typefaces.

Another trend that relies on better bandwidth is using background videos and animations. Of course, they can also be a distraction if used poorly. Moderation is key here.

This would seem a quite natural design element for a video or film company.

A lighter animation is a hover animation. Most users intuitively hover their cursor or finger over items, especially if they want more information.

And on this lightly animated home page for Spotify , we see the web trend of using carousels.

spotify

 

This simple but extensive use of video backgrounds comes from a company with a very simple URL http://y.co/, a luxury yacht company with large video footage as its background.

 

yacht

 

Carousels, Parallax and Hamburger Menus

 

Two trends that I see this year in web design have to do with layout and scrolling. One is the carousel scroll that goes right to left rather than up and down. This makes most or all of the site “above the fold” (to use an old newspaper term) so that the viewer doesn’t need to scroll down – not that scrolling left is so much easier.

The second trend gives us some very long pages that endlessly scroll where “pages” overlap each other and no clicking to other pages is necessary.

The parallax site allows the foreground and background content to scroll at different speeds, so there is sometimes an illusion of depth. It is a nice effect, but both of these trends have drawbacks. For example, parallax can be bad for you search engine optimization since they appear to search bots as being made up of one page and not all the content can be crawled by the search engines. This is exacerbated when text is embedded in graphics.

There are other trends becoming more prevalent this year, such as that series of short lines that have become known as a “hamburger” being used to indicate that a menu is linked there. This has become popular as the popularity of mobile devices grew and designers started simplifying navigation.

You can read more about these and other trends and some of the plusses and minuses of these design trends.

Social Media For Authors

It’s rare to find any published writers that don’t have their own website. Publishers usually create some kind of pages for their authors, but you really need your own place to promote yourself, your writing, your readings, workshops and appearances, and probably to share some samples of your work.

coben

Mystery writer Harlan Coben has a very good author site that is obviously professionally maintained. He has his own Facebook account, plus one for the books. He is on Twitter and he uses Instagram.  Harlan is a friend and former student of mine and I know that he does much of his own social media. His website points you to all his social media (including an old-fashioned email newsletter – know your audience – not all of them are on social media) and the social media points you to the website.

We are past the time of having to explain why a website is important, and are now pretty deep into the time when any writer – novelist, non-fiction writer or poet – also needs a social media presence.

You don’t necessarily need to be on all the social networks. In fact, even though it is advisable to take possession of your name real estate in all the big networks before someone else does, you probably can’t put out enough content to make all of them seem active unless you have help.

Besides having a truly personal account, having a closed or open Facebook group is a good way to share information, events, photos, reviews and press. Depending on target audience, the chances are much better that readers will check their Facebook – or other social networks – more frequently than your website. Those social posts may drive readers to more in-depth material on the website such as a book preview.

Instagram is the visual place to be, though some treat it in the same way as Twitter (which has also become more visual from its early days) with hashtags and short messages.

Of course, there’s also LinkedIn and Pinterest and plenty of others out there and on the horizon. But again, don’t over extend yourself. LinkedIn is a purely professional, yet still social network, and you would think a professional writer should be there. Yes, have a profile, but that’s not where your readers expect to find you. You would be spending you time better by being in GoodReads which is populated with readers and allows you to do things like offer free book giveaway promotions.

All of this might be handled by someone else – a publisher, agent, publicist – but for the majority of writers reading this, it’s all up to you.

I am still a believer that most social media needs to point to a website where more significant content is found.

My own predilection is for poetry, so I look at a lot of poet sites, both as a reader of their work and as a designer of websites. They range tremendously from simple, homegrown, self-maintained sites, to slickly designed sites. The latter type is often infrequently updated, which is not a good thing. A good test is to check their page for readings and other events.

I checked 7 poet sites in my bookmarks to see what’s new or updated.

Marie Howe‘s site is nicely designed, but hasn’t been updated in 3 years.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s website has up-to-date book information and a complete bio for others to use. Her event updates are on a complementary blog that is updated at least once a week with readings, workshops or her poetry.  (I know that because I’m the one who maintains the site and blog.)

Laura Kasischke has a good basic site, and Laura Boss has a simple, but clean and updated website.

taylormali.com has a very nice site but shows no “gigs” upcoming or in the recent past.

kevinyoungpoetry.com is a good, modern site and up to date in content, and so is the site for robertpinskypoet.com. The fact that their URLs are not kevinyoung.com and robertpinsky.com means someone else grabbed that very important piece of their identity real estate. That is often done as a business venture with the aim to resell it to the author or celebrity. A domain/URL will usually cost $15-25 a year, but resales frequently go for $5000 and up. Get it while you can…

Robert Hass has only a site done by his agent barclayagency.com/hass.html but no personal site – but roberthass.com is owned by someone – probably not the poet Robert Hass.