Do I Need a Responsive Design?

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.

Networking Graphics Which Stand Out

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.

Why I Set up VPNs on my Ipad2

Why would you want to do this I might hear you ask.  Well it’s mainly due to a practice called geotargeting and it’s extremely annoying.  You’ve probably come across it before – perhaps you’ve clicked on a particularly interesting video on Youtube, you click to play but just get a message about ’this video is not available in your area’.  Rubbish eh.  But there’s more – loads of web sites do it.  When I’m abroad I’ve been blocked from my online bank account as I’m in a different country, can’t access Hulu or Pandora on holiday as their US only.  Literally more and more incidents being blocked or filtered from websites I use to access without problem.

 

 

Now a VPN is a Virtual Private Network and it’s just a little tunnel between you and another computer.  So for example I could set up a VPN to a USA server, or an Australian proxy, check this out.  The beauty is that I now appear to be in the location of the VPN server not my actual physical location – so I can connect to  the country I need to access a particular website.

I’m actually quite lucky as the company I work for has lots of VPNs all across the world.  This means I am able to access the one I need at any given time.  The ones I use most are the UK one for BBC Iplayer (blocked outside UK) and the US one for when I’m travelling.  I really wish the web sites wouldn’t do this – it just seems against the spirit of the internet.  However as usual money making seems to have overtaken ideals once again.

A Simple Sort of Style

If you want to make an impression with your website one of the most important factors to consider is simplicity.  If your website is cluttered and full of text and content, it will simply look to difficult to read and your visitors will disappear with a click of the ’back button’.  I always remember one website I visited some years ago – it was a site about running PPC campaigns and making money, stuff like that – fairly boring.  But the reason I remember this site is that it was coded simply in very basic HTML – no graphics, adverts – just text in a plain style.   It was incredibly basic but it stood out simply because it was different.

Sometimes less can be more – look at the Apple web site:

 

Their focus is the new Ipad and it’s image speaks more that a hundred pages of text.  There’s no need to burden you home page with text when you have something as beautiful as the Ipad to look at.  Apple is selling style and an image transcends words in that department.

Sometimes very basic templates and design help you to focus on the content.  Blogs should generally have as little clutter as possible on them, the words are the important bit on the blog.  You can of course use relevant images – so stay on theme – this page uses graphics to demonstrate how to use an Ipad proxy to watch the BBC.  Notice how there’s very little in the borders which also helps speed up loading of a page as well.  Video works well on these sort of minimal sites too as they don’t distract from the video itself.

So don’t be tempted to overload your visitors, web surfers have extremely short attention spans – if your site looks too detailed and involved it will not draw the visitors in.