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Website Design Features: The Good, The Bad, and The Irritating

Designing a website is part technical skill, part commercial understanding and part artistic flair. The really good websites, the ones that have visitors smiling in appreciation and recommending the site to their friends and contacts are the ones that have managed to achieve the magic blend of these three elements. Unfortunately, as with all things in life, not everyone is at the top of the profession and there are many competent, but not outstanding website designers out there. It can break your heart to see otherwise solid designs spoiled by just one or two features that are either overdone or just neglected. The real tragedy, of course, is the disservice done to the clients. A poor website will not encourage a visitor to buy the product or service on offer, hurting the clients business.

So what are the main offenders in website design that will annoy, repel and generally turn off the viewing public? Here are the main culprits:

1. Over Flashy Headers. A good Flash graphic as a page header can be the making of a website. However, if the images run too fast, change too often or are too bright, they actually be a distraction. They become too effective at attracting attention and constantly draw the eye away from the rest of the page, where the real message can be.

2. Over Use of Header Graphics. When the same Flash graphic is used on numerous pages it ceases to achieve the aim. Provided the visitor sees it on the home and/or main landing pages, and has been dazzled and impressed that once, the subsequent pages that are drilled down to can get on with the job of informing and persuading. Including the same header animation too often can actually start to irritate visitors.

3. Forgetting the Message. As a web designer it’s easy to get carried away with the creative process. All the fabulous colours, fonts and graphics at your fingertips can lead to the creation of a visual masterpiece that’s bound to win awards. But will it sell products? Will it excite the browsers about the service on offer and have them picking up the phone to place orders? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has looked at a webpage and thought “so what do you actually do?” The design should complement the commercial purpose of the website, not overpower it completely.

4. Inappropriate Music. For commercial websites, there aren’t many times when background music is appropriate. If the website is about music, or music media then it’s fine to go for it, but otherwise the designer should think about who will look at the website and where they’ll be when they do. If someone is at work, or surfing the net on a tablet or mobile device in public, they don’t want music to suddenly start blaring out just because they browsed on to your site. You might think a few bars of heavy rock is a great backing for a DIY website, but you can be pretty sure there are plenty of potential customers who won’t be impressed when the rest of the office is glaring at them while they’re looking for a new tools supplier for the warehouse.

5. Too Many Fonts. Mixing fonts can be an excellent way of gaining emphasis for text on a page. Headers or trigger words can be made to stand out and increase the impact of the message. But don’t overdo it. Using more than a couple of fonts, or font sizes, on a page can make it look really messy. Overdoing the size variation by mixing really large and small fonts, can also look bad.

6. Pop-Up Windows. Most people use pop-up blockers on their browsers nowadays, so any information contained in a pop-up probably won’t be seen by the majority of browsers. This has been the case for quite a while, so it is baffling that some web designers still insist on using them. There is no denying that pop-ups are often a really neat way of presenting information, but thanks to their overuse in spam advertising web surfers generally turn them off, and so miss out on what could be important information from that website. Web designers should be clever enough to simply present the information in other ways.

7. Overlapping Messages. Layers are often used to present what the web designer or website owner thinks are useful and/or important messages. If the layer overlaps other text, however, it can be really annoying. Just as the user is reading some text, the layer appears over the top forcing the user to read that first. Compare this with a child who butts in when adults are speaking because, as far as it’s concerned, what it has to say is far too important to wait. Again, any good web designer or copywriter will find a better way to get the message across.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and other people will probably have their own pet hates when looking at websites. The key to avoiding the majority of them is for website designers to test their creations on several of people before going live. Just because one person loves it, you can’t assume everyone will, and by canvassing a variety of opinions it is far more likely that irritants will be spotted. It may break the designers’ heart to have his pet graphic toned down or removed, but it will lead the website to far greater commercial success.

Go Where the Music Takes You – Inspiring Creativity In Your Design

Music is ‘soul food,’ it inspires us to let go and to feel. Music has no boundaries; it creates an atmosphere or sets a mood. Music is like an emotional playground. It is also particular to every individual. We all know what makes us feel good and we turn to music under all kinds of conditions.

Most people know exactly what song was popular when any major event happened in their life.

But, did you know… music opens the channels of creativity in your brain? The purpose of every self help in home design is to help each person find their own niche in creating a space that is perfect for them; not perfect for a designer, just perfect in their lives!

Everyone is creative; many people just don’t tap into that part of their mind. It is a closed door that music slowly opens! So, keep playing the music while you work!
I have to imagine this is where the ‘whistle while you work’ idea sprang from.

My mother had 6 children. She also maintained a perfectly clean house. Every Monday morning she faithfully removed the old wax from all the hardwood floors and applied new wax.

There were mountains of laundry involved in a household that size. Dryers were not prevalent back then. My mother carried laundry out at 6:00 AM, even on the dark winter mornings, and cheerfully hung the clothes out to freeze dry.

I love homes. I love almost everything about them. I could not, however, understand why in the world anyone would work as hard as she did and never complain.

She made our clothes, taught Sunday school classes, directed the choir and finally went to work at a large newspaper and quietly and without telling us so, was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Journalism.

One day I finally asked her, “Why don’t you EVER complain?” It was not natural! I helped as much as I could, we all did, there was just too much to do and still, she did it.

Her response was so simple, “Instead of being resentful, I work for God and for my family that I love.”

She said she had never thought much about the volume of work, only that she was thankful to have a home that she could make her family comfortable in.

Maybe most of us feel that way about our parents or someone influential in our lives.

They seem to maintain standards that are always a beacon of light in the dark. My mother played music all the while she was sewing, cooking, canning and getting the next class ready or disciplining all of us children.

I swear it made her smile, and she was anything if not creative in her methods of making us look for a better way to handle the jobs she insisted we do.

We have all heard the axiom that the longest journey begins with the first step; I believe it is begins before that.

I believe that when something matters to us a lot, we harbor a dream, so dare to dream. The dream fans a tiny flame, a pilot light that ignites hope. Hope springs to life when we begin to believe that there might be a way to accomplish the dream. Once we believe in the dream, we begin to realize that dream.

It is then that the first step in a long journey begins. I appreciate your joining me on this realizing this dream. I hope your ‘Make It Mine’ experience has provided helpful ideas and information for you to live by and with.

Design or Copy? Which Should Do Your Heavy Sales Lifting?

You decide…

A large purchase contract for a new computer system linking its far-flung international operations will be awarded today in Peoria, Illinois by Caterpillar, Inc., the construction machinery manufacturer.

Bidding competition among integrated computer software and hardware firms is fierce, and ongoing… and for good reason. A record-breaking $850 million are up for grabs. Another $600 million in related service contracts are also on the table, just waiting to be snapped up.

The following is what occurred yesterday, as reported in the Wall Street Journal…

“…The top-producing sales rep for Hewlett-Packard, the last in a long line of computer system sales reps to visit CAT headquarters, strides with a quick and confident step into the high-ceilinged, wood-paneled office of CAT’s Chief Financial Officer.

Seated around an oval, dark-wood, highly-polished conference table are the CFO, his two assistants, the IT department head, his two assistants and a bevy of lesser known department heads.

Each one rises with a wane and tired smile, and extends a perfunctory handshake to the HP rep.

The CAT execs are pressed for time, and they’d like this meeting to end even before it begins.

For these harried MBA’s and engineers the entire three month long purchase process has been a painful exercise in perseverance, endurance and patience.

They’ve listened to sales rep after sales rep spew endless superlatives, guarantees and performance statistics that clearly test the limits of credibility.

Nonetheless, they’re eager to choose a system – if for no other reason than to finally move on to other far more pressing matters.

The HP rep understands this, he’s done his research. He’s read the bio’s of all the department heads, and he’s intimately familiar with CAT’s purchasing protocols and decision-making culture.

He also knows that if he can ink the deal – he’ll earn a princely six-figure commission.

He opens his briefcase and solemnly removes a stack of 8″X10″ photos, and without a word passes them around the table.

One photo shows a smiling, smartly dressed secretary working at her computer terminal. Another is a seemingly simple picture of a wireless keyboard and mouse. Another picture shows hundred dollar bills stacked chest-high atop a desk. And still another picture shows two men shaking hands in front of CAT’s Peoria headquarters.

The pictures are printed on heavy grade, high-gloss stock. Color, composition and the orchestration of light and shadow is artful and dramatic. These are photographic masterpieces, and were undoubtedly extremely expensive to produce.

The HP rep glances around the table and then quietly closes his briefcase. ‘Gentlemen, I have nothing else to say…?’”

SAY WHAT?

Yeah, exactly, say nothing – pass out pictures instead. Unbelievably, that was the HP rep’s entire sales presentation.

Wait a minute, you say. No salesman would ever do such a patently stupid thing.

Wanna bet? Most businesses do exactly that – every day.

For some odd reason – a distinctly Madison Avenue type reason – most businesses believe that to drive sales all they need do is literally – literally – present a pretty picture.

For their corporate website they’ll hire a web design company to create dramatic MTV-quality multi-media flash presentations that are extremely adept at selling… what else, the web design company.

Or they’ll load their web pages with graphics and fonts that dazzle and overwhelm if not permanently blind the eye – believing that “eye candy” alone will motivate their visitors to click the “Submit Order” button (if only they can find it).

Or they’ll hire an ad agency to design a full page ad – which will then organize an expedition to the top of Mt. Everest to photograph a smiling Sherpa using their client’s toilet bowl cleaner (while the company’s contact information will be at the bottom of the mountain, buried in the snow).

Or they’ll commission a 60-second TV spot of a digitally created woman running through a digitally created field of flowers with digitally created children and dogs in tow – believing this will prompt viewers to run to their phones to request an auto insurance quote – though no phone number is provided (after all, why ruin the effect.)

Sure, many people (though not necessarily those being targeted) will gush about how imaginative, entertaining, fun and creative these ads, websites or TV commercials are – and, ironically, they’ll win numerous coveted awards.

But the companies that commissioned these expensive misadventures… will quietly and quickly go bankrupt, because…

Pretty Ads, TV Commercials and Websites DO NOT Generate Sales!

You see, for most businesses, marketing and advertising is decoration, corporate ego aggrandizement – the thumping of chests and the hollow bellowing of achievement.

Copy, as in “words that sell”, is viewed as a crass intrusion by these purveyors and consumers of Madison Avenue style advertising. It’s low-brow – an embarrassment that cheapens and detracts from a company’s overall “image and effect”.

And yet, if some bonehead ad exec writes a headline or ditty that’s catchy, cute, indecipherable, and also rhymes – it’ll quickly become the company’s new tagline, though it’ll be roundly ignored by the audience it’s intended to attract.

Why? Because it won’t speak to their immediate needs and wants; suggests no understanding of their situation; implies no benefits, and asks for no action to be taken.

Sure, a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

But not when you’re trying to attract buyers and make a sale.

Don’t believe me? Then do what my imaginary HP rep did (yes, Virginia, I made up that whole HP rep, CAT, Wall Street Journal story). Mail a picture of your product to your customers – without any copy on it. Then, mail a sales letter – without any pictures or graphics on it – to those same customers, asking that they make a purchase.

Then tell me which mailing received more orders.

Am I suggesting that you remove all pictures, graphics, flash and dazzle from your marketing materials?

No, absolutely not.

Nevertheless…

Many Web Designers and Graphic Artists will be Outraged

Because their work, as professional, exceptional and artistic as it may prove to be, should not be the stars of your marketing and sales show.

“Design”, and all that it implies, should be subservient – as in supportive – of your sales copy, not the other way around.

The sole purpose of design is to help the copy sell – whether in a website, print ad, brochure or email.

It is there to simply direct the reader’s eye to the sales copy.

If design overwhelms or in anyway marginalizes or distracts the reader from your copy – your sales will suffer.

Because only words can sell – only words can persuade – only words can ask for the order.

So rather than rely on artificial artifice (overly indulgent design) to create a picture of you, your company, product or service – paint a picture of your product or service with words.

Talk to your customers.

Capture your customer’s patronage and loyalty with sincere, passionate and actionable words.

Tell Them Why They Should Buy!

Frame your sales message with design, and design your sales message with words. You’ll stay in business a lot longer, and make a lot more money than your competitors – who’ve been seduced and led astray by the dazzling dark side of design.

Add Smile Power to Your Life to Empower Your Relationships

everal years ago I was in a San Diego restaurant with my mother. While I paid the check, we both noticed an elderly woman waiting to be seated. As we left the restaurant, Mom asked, “Did you notice that woman with the wonderful smile?” I most certainly did. Her smile lit up the room. It was a smile to die for; one that would certainly win instant friends. It was a smile that you don’t often see in a stranger. And maybe Mom and I smiled back, I don’t remember. Mom later commented, “I wish I’d told her what a terrific smile she had.” But neither of us had. We’d both received a gift without saying thank-you.

Later, on my long drive home, I stopped at a fast-food restaurant for a quick bite. A 70ish woman waited by the condiment bar while her husband ordered. She glanced my way and smiled brightly. It was one of those smiles that broadcast, “I love life!”

I wasn’t going to let THIS opportunity pass. I was going to say SOMETHING. As I approached this woman from 30 feet away, her smile melted into a rather startled look; as if asking, “Did I do something wrong?” I walked over to her and simply said, “You have a wonderful smile!” Wow, did her face light up! And she responded with an enthusiastic, “Thank You”. My comment probably made her day, but it also made MY day. We truly exchanged gifts that afternoon.

SMILES: INSTANT FACELIFTS

Life’s lessons have taught me this: a smile is the number one feature that makes people attractive. It’s a welcome mat. It’s what makes folks approachable. People with a great smiles radiate a warmth that draws others to them instantly.

Some people naturally have a great smile. Others, analytical types like me, must work at it. One way to tell if you’re in my category is to recall picking up your developed photos. As you flipped through the pictures, you didn’t like the way you looked in most of them. But then…you discovered that one great picture of yourself. In it, you look friendly, you’re smiling broadly and your eyes twinkle. Now THAT picture looks like you!

I hate to say it, but ALL the pictures look like you, even those you dislike. Unfortunately, those “bad” photos, where your face doesn’t look its best, portray how you often appear. In fact, you might normally look even worse, since you were TRYING to look good for the camera. Usually you’re not even making that effort, and may appear even less inviting than you do in “bad” photos. And if you’re like me, you assume you’re not particularly photogenic and that your smile needs work. When you’ve mastered your smile, you’ll consistently look better in photos. Most important, though, you’ll be more attractive and approachable every day.

When you’re having a good time, does your face show it? You might be surprised. Years ago I dropped into a comedy club in Montgomery, Alabama. I was sitting in the front row, where one is typically fair game to be picked on by the comedian. But being the non-expressive, serious Norwegian that I am, I wasn’t giving the comic the jovial feedback he needed. I was enjoying the show, but in a straight-faced manner. About halfway through the show, the comic interrupted his routine to ask me point-blank, “Are you having a good time?” I responded, “I’m having a great time.” His comeback: “Well then, tell your face!” I was enjoying the program, laughing inside, even studying the performer’s humor and technique. BUT…not giving him any outward indication.

In everyday life the same concept applies. You might be enjoying your job, but fail to show it. You may want to meet someone, yet not give them a single, friendly clue. You can even be IN LOVE with somebody, and totally hide it. Your face should express what you feel when you wish to connect with others.

SMILE AEROBICS FOR EMOTIONAL HEALTH

One way to become better at smiling is increasing your awareness. Take notice of those you find warm and inviting. Is it their smile? Make an effort to LOOK for great smiles. Notice the appeal of people who smile with their EYES, not just their mouth. The whole face gets involved. Consider these people your models. Study yourself in the mirror. How do you look in the rest room, when shopping, and while passing a reflective window? Do you look friendly? Approachable? Do you really LIKE the image you’re projecting?

In fact, a mirror is ideal for your smile workout. Practice various smiles toward capturing that perfect look for the camera. Work on expressing your smile with your eyes. A tip: cut a paper rectangle that permits you to see only your eyes in the mirror. Practice smiling just with your eyes. Get used to the feel of your cheekbones as they lift to brighten your eyes. When you see how a great smile LOOKS, remember how it FEELS. When you can finally project your best smile, hold it. Turn away from the mirror. How does your face feel? What muscles are you using? Make an effort to develop muscle memory, so you can instantly recreate this smile at will.

THE SMILING REMINDER

Sometimes it’s life’s little reminders that help us focus on making self-improvements. I set out to find a “smile” lapel pin as a permanent token of my smile’s importance. After a fruitless one-year search, I commissioned the design and production of smile pins. Now when I encounter a total stranger with a million-dollar smile (not an everyday occurrence), I share the compliment, “You have a wonderful smile…thanks for brightening my day! I’d like you to have my golden smile pin.” Then I might add, “And someday, when YOU see a total stranger with a fantastic smile, you can pass on the pin to them.”

This little reminder has conditioned me to search out life’s glowing smiles, and not to allow them to pass unnoticed. I always carry “golden smile” pins. And when I spot a show-stopper smile, I always express my appreciation.

Other strategic pluses:

1. The pin reminds me never to leave home half-dressed: without my smile. Even while I’m running routine errands, it keeps me focused on smiles as life’s true blessings.

2. By shaping my focus, the pin increases awareness of my public appearance and attitude. For example, when in a grocery line, I don’t want the checker to glance up and think, “Why in heaven’s name is this sourpuss wearing a smile pin?” It forces me to wear a friendly face all day.

3. The pin encourages me to compliment others. When I fail to say a kind word about someone’s beautiful smile, I feel guilty. Now, that’s what I call constructive guilt! We’ve often been conditioned to feel shame because we’ve not lived up to what others expect, but isn’t it more positive to suffer guilt for failing our OWN expectations?

You needn’t search for a smile pin to remind you. You can choose another object, like a clown pin, that will program you to focus on smile power. Or consider something that nobody else sees, like whimsical underwear. In fact, you may discover that the sheer strength of just your awareness can create positive life changes. With practice you can focus on life’s smiles; and create your own relaxed, naturally warm smile. And THEN when you get back a roll of photos, you’ll like almost all of them! That’s certainly been my pleasant experience. And when you encounter customers, strangers, or loved ones, you’ll always be ready to pass on your award-winning smile!