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Monthly Archives: May 2014

For anyone who owns or runs a website, there is one fact that is certain- visitors no longer only visit from a PC.  Mobile devices like phones and tablets are quickly becoming the most important medium on the internet, and for web designers this is vital.  The majority of designers start their planning and designing by sitting at a desk in front of a nice big monitor to display their current web project.

But the reality for their visitors is something different, but it’s vital.  You see a website looks very different on a 30″ high resolution monitor than it does on a 4″ phone, or a 12″ tablet.  Which is of course vital, if you visit a site on your iPhone and it scrolls down on to 10 pages, or the sides overlap and are difficult to read – you will probably go to another site.

So what’s the solution? Well the primary importance is to make your website design look great on every devices, or at least make it look reasonable.  This is called responsive design and basically it just means that the web site will alter to suit the medium it is being viewed on.

That means that your display will narrow on a smart phone, the columns will adjust and the display switch depending on orientation of the device.   It may not be perfect viewing for a web site but the reality is that people are using these devices to visit sites in their millions.  It’s important, I once visited a site which streamed popular video and TV channels, all a bit dodgy but big business. The problem was that all these videos were set at specific resolution and set areas, which worked great on a pc monitor.  But try and access and watch ITV in Spain using this site on any other device and it was a nightmare, you had to scroll to the side to see most of the screen.

So dear readers, make sure your web site is responsive, if not thousands of your visitors will see a completely different website than you designed.

When we use images, obviously we’re trying to add something. After all, why use an image that’s irrelevant, badly constructed or simply pointless. For some people however it doesn’t matter so much about the composition simply that everything needs pictures especially online. There is some truth in this fact, images simply make text easier to read simply because it breaks up the page. If you’ve ever seen a forum or blog post where the author has basically ignored common punctuation and paragraphs – then you’ll appreciate just how difficult it is to make sense of a mass block of text.

Of course, it’s better for an image to add something to the text. If I’m writing a report or study on monkeys in Africa – casually just dropping in a picture of a penguin is going to look a bit stupid. Although you could argue it’s thought provoking and makes the reader take notice of the image. The graphic in this instance would merely add to the structure of the page and possibly make it more visually appealing.

Technology documents and pages can be extremely dull and graphics although probably not strictly necessary usually make it easier to follow. For example if I’m writing a blog post about how a UK VPN would work then adding a couple of relevant images can make the page much more interesting.

The image itself is not that important but the effect it has on the page is crucial.    Here’s a picture of a VPN server, for the reader trying to understand the concept it might make the difference.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right image to use in a page, but then use your imagination and just try and substitute something similar.  Obviously there’s only so many hardware pictures you can use in a technology post, but there are lots of related images that can make a page look more visually appealing.

Anything to do with networks or technology then you can break out the standard networking diagrams that you’ll find in many power point presentations.  The actual image doesn’t mean much but the page will look much brighter and easier to read.

Of course in some senses then you should be much more careful about the use of graphics and only use them in the right context.  A white paper or a serious research paper needs discipline and often every word is crucial, this is not the place for random lightning bolts implying the awesome speed of a computer network.   Explanations and blog posts though would look much sadder without them.  I often write posts about technology and facts, I have written many on how to bypass geo-blocks set up by media sites.  But I have found that a post which purports to explain how to watch BBC iPlayer abroad – like this one,  works much better with an image or video embedded in the text.

How do I know?  Well the beauty of web pages is that you can actually analyse what your readers are doing – metrics like how long they stayed, where they clicked off and if they pressed the back button are all readily available.  Through these you can see what works and what doesn’t and for technology posts you need images.

I’ve been hearing more and more about a Chinese company called Alibaba. Its in the news a lot now because the company is going to go public later this year and apparently it is a huge e-commerce site that makes tons of money. So I thought I’d check it out and to my surprise, it is a very plain and boring looking site with very basic design elements. 

Alibaba is similar to Amazon but I guess it is bigger and makes more money. The site is simple with few graphics on a white background. That teaches me something very important: simple is good for selling because people don’t get distracted by crazy graphics or pretty pictures. If customers trust the site, they will buy. So in the Internet sales world, trust is the most important thing you can have and a good looking website isn’t as necessary as I thought.

Jack Ma started Alibaba around 1998 in his apartment and now the company is said to be worth upwards of $150 billion dollars. That is quite an acomplishment and shows the power the Internet has and gives to just about anyone with brains where ever they live. To think that something so big could have been started at home just 15 or so years ago boggles my mind!