Fix My Site

Does your site suck? Do you need professional advice? Do you not want to pay for this advice? Send me an email, and I'll take a look at your site and provide you with some real suggestions. By real, I mean real.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is Design Absolutely Necessary?

George, of, writes:
Hi Jason,
I've been following the Sitemaps Google Group for a few weeks and saw you post today. I'm always looking for constructive comment so here is my website related to being a stained glass and woodworking artist. Sites been up for over 4 years now.
How to approach the review of your site has made me do a bit of thinking. Clearly, the purpose of your site is not to wow visitors into buying your handiwork, which by the way, is fantastic from the pictures on your site. You are not a designer and/or programmer, but you know enough to get your message onto the web without falling into the trap of placing every animated .gif and DHTML snippet you come across. Will people still be compelled to listen to your message and view/purchase your product due to your apparent genuineness (yep, it's a word) and skill in your craft, or be repelled by the site's lack of any sort of formatting and design?

Honestly, I don't know, but I'm leaning towards yes, they may still be compelled. Personally, if I were looking for a piece of hand-made art, I would trust a guy who looks like he's running the show himself and hasn't hired some fancy-pants designer and coder to build him some wonderfully dynamic and automated site that once they cash their checks they want to have nothing to do with it and leave him to mess up the site himself due to lack of design and/or code knowledge. In short, if I came across this site and was looking for this product, I would be inclined to purchase. On the other hand, some people may interpret the lack of professionalism of the website as a lack of professionalism in the company and be deterred. I know that I am occasionally guilty of discrediting a business simply because their site is ugly and/or poorly structured or coded. But then again, I'm a website snob.

Basically, the site may be so bad design-wise that it is good. Your site is laden with content, which is, of course, the most important part of any site, so people and search engines have something to chew on. Your code, while antiquated (HTML 3.2, holy crap), tentatively validates. I've never seen a site tentatively validate before, but heck, W3C doesn't seem to mind, so I guess neither should I, aside from the fact that I would suggest you upgrade to XHTML 1.0 Transitional (at least) to prevent your site from becoming completely obsolete in the future. Your page titles and metadata are all solid and relevant. I would create some sort of persistant and obvious navigation so the user does not have to constantly go back to the home page to reach other areas of the site, but structurally overall, this site is sound.

I could tell you that the site sucks because you have no design and people would agree with me, but that's not necessarily true (and they're superficial bastards). While I think that a bit of design would help, with what I can infer about your level of graphical design and HTML skill, I think you may end up making the site worse, unless you have it done professionally. There's nothing worse on the web than someone who thinks they know what they are doing and tries to act upon their untrained notions. Part of the beauty of your site is that you've accepted the fact that you're not a web designer, but rather an artist skilled in other arts.

If you're looking to increase business, hire someone to overhaul your site with a shopping cart and try to get people to link to you (according to Google, I may become your only incoming link). If business is good, you can't really afford to hire anyone, and an influx of business would be too much, aside from the minor tweaks mentioned above, I wouldn't change anything.


At June 13, 2006 12:45 PM, Anonymous George McGinn said...

Thanks for your feedback. I will definately look into what is needed to go from HTML 3.2 to XMTL 1.0 transitional during my next not-to-busy period.

The shopping cart suggestion is not useful for my site in that 99% is custom stained glass. While I can give a price range based on some general design features a firm price quote is usually given only after many emails and a design sketch that the client are approved.

I believe W3C marks all my pages as tentatively validated due to the fact that I let the engine set the default character set. All pages, except one, verify at that level.

I agree I know nothing about web graphic design and this might hurt the site's appeal with some. For me the overriding fact is I want the site to be easy for me to add a new piece and cost nothing to maintain (except some of my eveningtime). My digital camera is a $99 refurbished HP product. I really find name brand refurbished products are a great buy.

I do have a general flow that I anticipated most users would follow based on the type of art glass they are interested in. The page "Information and Diagram", best found off the SiteMap shows the internal linkage. Sorry, this is from an old FORTRAN programmer and I suspect it shows. The site has grown over some 4 years but I have tried to keep to a 3 tier depth.

Your postings on other reviews and in some GOOGLE groups actually get me to add one item even before your review. One of your postings showed a simple SiteMap layout, for a fire safety company. It was a great model that I used to recently add the SiteMap page to my site. It has gotten some hits in the first week it was on my site.

Finally, yes I really am a single artist studio , it was our garage 7 years ago, and would never outsource any work. I believe my client's want to know they are ordering a handmade item and they whose hands did it. Thus my total work output is limited. I look to a few client's a month with interesting requests.

At June 13, 2006 2:34 PM, Anonymous Wÿrm said...

I have to DISAGREE with XHTML 1.0.

Stick to the HTML 4.01 strict instead if you can.

Why? Why not XHTML? Because you have to serve it as html/text (Because of Internet Explorer users) and you might cause some browsers to go in the quirks mode (emulate old bugs in rendering engine) if you use XML declaration. There are many others reasons WHY NOT, but I'm not gonna go for those... :)

By going to HTML 4.01 strict and using html semantically, close elements, etc. gives you all that you NEED.


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