Sean Connery’s 5 Design Elements That Make Sites Look Outdated

How do you know when your website looks outdated and needs a refresh? When your engagement metrics slide, that’s a pretty good indicator. Sometimes, it’s even more obvious than that.

Such is the case with the website of a well-known celebrity. It’s the perfect example of a digital public face in dire need of cosmetic surgery.  Or a car wreck you can’t turn away from. This, in a nutshell, is SeanConnery.com.

As a public service, I offer my observations to you and the beloved actor. In the interest of pure fun, each anecdote references a famous James Bond quote. Guess the movie and win a prize. (Mr. Connery, you don’t qualify).

Without further ado, I bring you the 5 design elements that make any site look outdated:

#1 Design Layout

“Well, one of us smells like a tart’s handkerchief.”Sean, I hate to be the one to break it to you but it’s you. The layout you’ve chosen is right out of the 1970’s. The design is anchored in the upper left corner. Its three column layout with two side gutters is positively nostalgic. That’s not a good thing, Sean. The type becomes very small and hard to read. The URL is in the header. I haven’t seen anything like it since the McCarthy hearings.

#2 It’s Not Responsive

“Good morning, gentlemen. ACME pollution inspection, we’re cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point.” – All the top Hollywood gossip sites are mobile friendly, which should tell you all you need to know about this audience’s behavior, Sean.  If I were assigned with ridding the internet of digital pollution, I’d start here.

#3 No Video

“Ejector seat? You’re joking!” – You’ve appeared in over 60 films, won an Academy Award and 3 Golden Globes. And yet Mr. Connery, you have no video on your site. You must be joking. Video drives engagement. You need the attention. You’re not exactly getting a lot of parts these days. Where’s the paparazzi when you need ‘em? Probably on YouTube.

#4 No Social Media

“Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead. – Celebrities thrive on attention. In this day and age, there are no better or more necessary channels than social media outlets such as Facebook, Twiiter, Snapchat and Pinterest. Hell, Pierce Bronsnan has a social media presence and he can’t act his way out of a paper bag.

#5 The Website Requires Flash

“Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.” – Yes, it’s a website with Flash. That’s the software Adobe will discontinue in 2020. ‘Nuff said.

 Just Say Dr. No.

If SeanConnery.com reminds you, dear reader, of your website, just say “no”. It’s time for a redesign. NOW. If you have any questions on anything above, wish to add a comment or contribute another example of web atrocities, please leave a comment or email me here.

Answer key to quotes above:

#1 Diamonds Are Forever

#2 Diamonds Are Forever

#3 Goldfinger

#4 Thunderball

#5 From Russia With Love

AJ Pope
William “A.J.” Pope joins Beacon with over 3 years of experience in web and UX design. Having earned his B.A. Degree in Media Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, A.J. enjoys spending time with his wife and their Pomeranians as well as playing video games and investigating new restaurants within the Triad.
By | 2017-11-08T13:28:06+00:00 November 29th, 2017|Creative Design|Comments Off on Sean Connery’s 5 Design Elements That Make Sites Look Outdated

Top 5 Accessibility Items to Review in a Website Redesign

Accessibility is a hot topic and an expansive one, too. I’ve been preparing for some upcoming speaking engagements with accessibility being the main focus. The first of these engagements is the eduWeb Digital Summit on August 6-10. This seems like a good time to share some thoughts regarding accessibility, WCAG guidelines and 508 compliance.

Additionally, I’d like to leave you with a list of 5 important accessibility items to review while in the midst of your next site redesign.

Accessibility Overview

Often, when administrators or oversight committees are asked to consider website accessibility while planning their institution’s website redesign, they think only in terms of addressing under-served users such as the elderly or visually disabled. Accessibility doesn’t simply address the needs of the disabled user. Adaptations and modifications made to address under-served users have broader implication, frequently enhancing the experience for all users. Designers and developers understand this and design with the idea that what is good for one is most often to the benefit of all.

Accessibility almost always enhances a website’s usability.

For example, incorporating design for those with diminished motor skills is always a good idea. It will enable all users to view your website without having to use a mouse. By doing so, you’ve also made it easier for any user to navigate the site and spend some time there. User engagement improves and, if you’re operating an online storefront, sales go up as well.

It goes without saying that any and all websites should factor accessibility into their design. To that end, WCAG recommendations and 508 standards have been established as guidelines to ensure a positive user experience for all. These guidelines have peripheral benefits, as they often overlap with best practices for mobile design and SEO. Still, there are many, many sites that remain inaccessible to a large number of users even today.

5 Accessibility Items to Review

With this in mind, I’ve comprised an abbreviated list of important accessibility items to consider when redesigning one’s website. Bear in mind that while I’ve listed 5 important accessibility items, this list is hardly complete and is meant only to provide a high level overview of what’s involved. Consider:

  1. Clear and Logical Design – This includes clear and intuitive navigation, contrast between text and backgrounds, proper use of color and more.
  2. CMS that Supports Accessibility – You’ve already considered functional requirements. Not all content management systems meet WCAG accessibility requirements. Know this from the start.
  3. Content Structure – Use headings and lists so as to clearly organize information. Use clear title attributes and page titles. Consider skip navigation for users of screen readers.
  4. Keyboard Accessible Functionality – Users with motor skill deficiency depend on keyboard accessibility to navigate your site. Other users benefit from added efficiency thanks to keyboard accessibility guidelines.
  5. Accessible Forms – Using JavaScript in forms often means that they are not accessible by keyboard alone. Testing your forms for keyboard accessibility is an imperative.

Once the items listed above have been fully considered and incorporated into the new design, the all-important testing phase begins.

Testing for Accessibility

Accessibility and usability are undeniably congruous. The benefits extend beyond just the user experience and into SEO and mobile performance. So take the time to test and test again. It’s time well invested. Fortunately, the WC3 provides a list of recommended web accessibility evaluation tools.

A Few Final Words

I look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming eduWeb conference in August. I’ll discuss the topic of accessibility in more detail at that time. In the meantime, please comment below. Share your thoughts and experiences. We’ll pick up where we left off at the conference. See you then.

Keana Lynch
Keana Lynch is the Director of UX Design & Development at Beacon where she has provided leadership and consultation for over 35 Higher Education projects. She specializes in the analysis, design, and implementation of websites. Keana is very passionate about design and development strategies focused on user experience, accessibility, multi-device interactions, and technical best practices. Outside of work Keana enjoys spending time with her three dogs, hiking, kayaking and volunteering with local animal rescue groups.
By | 2017-07-17T07:14:26+00:00 June 30th, 2017|Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Comments Off on Top 5 Accessibility Items to Review in a Website Redesign

What is UX and Why Does it Matter for Your Customers?

User experience (or UX) can be a little difficult to define because it describes not only a professional practice but also the results of that practice. The concepts behind user experience have been around for a very long time but the term itself has only been around since the 90s. In the mid 20th century Henry Dreyfuss wrote –

“when the point of contact between the product and people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed. On the other hand, if people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient – or just plain happier – by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”

mobile-hand

User experience puts science and research behind the design of products and services to improve the quality of the experience a user has with that product. Methods are used to discover what the user needs and to ensure that the final end product or service meets those needs in a manner the minimizes friction and maximizes pleasure. Deliverables are created through the UX process but they are not the end goal. It is more important to perform quality research to develop a true understanding of the needs of the user.

UX encompases a lot of factors including:

At Beacon, we always like to compare the web design and development process to building a house. User experience design is like creating the blueprints. First you have to find out what type of people will live in the building. You have to understand their needs and gather knowledge about them and about the neighborhood in order to get a better understanding of what type of house you should build. If you think of UX as the house plan, graphical design would be the equivalent of choosing the flooring, paint, and fixtures. Development is the ultimate construction process, and testing is the building inspection and walk through.

The most important skill of a UX researcher is knowing how to listen. There is no set of best practices that get robotically implemented – each project is unique and requires solutions that are reflective of the real needs and problems to be solved. The end result is the creation of a product that delights users and also functions well which can result in improved conversion rates, greater numbers of users, and ultimately a higher return on investment.

 

By | 2016-11-22T09:56:54+00:00 April 1st, 2015|Creative Design|Comments Off on What is UX and Why Does it Matter for Your Customers?

The Ripple Effect in the Design Process

When I learned to paint, my teacher would always emphasize the importance of working the entire canvas at the same time. A lot of people have the natural inclination to zero in on the small area they are currently working on, and really develop it before working out to the rest of the piece. The problem with this approach is that a lot of time will pass as you work from one end to the canvas to the other, and your style will change with time. You hand will tire and get looser, the colors in your palate may not be mixed quite the same way, and you may take a break here and there and when you return to your painting, your flow is just not quite the same. So what happens is, you get inconsistencies in style and feel across the canvas leading to a touch of disharmony. The solution to this is to work the canvas in it’s entirety from corner to corner at the same time. Lay in big chunks of underpainting, scatter those accent colors and highlights across the whole piece as needed when you have that perfect hue at hand, and keep your stroke styles consistent across the piece. This also allows you to plan out the space and layout better since you start to block in all the elements at the same time. As you work the canvas, you may add touches of a color in one area, and find that you need to carry that color across the whole painting in spots as needed to create unity and harmony.

ripple web design

A similar phenomenon happens during the design phase for websites. I like to call it “the ripple effect”. Typically you have a starting design that then goes through iterations. Often these iterations are based on client requests for design changes. Perhaps that blue was not quite right, and they want it to be more of an indigo. Maybe their marketing team has decided to revamp the logo towards the end of the homepage design process. All these design requests may seem like simple isolated changes, but they have a ripple effect that creates a need to change elements across the whole site design. This is because, just like the canvas, the design needs to be worked from corner to corner at the same time in order to ensure balance, harmony, and to maintain an appropriate visual hierarchy between elements. That simple header background color change may then effect the color of the navigation elements and the border and gradients of a newsletter sign-up box. Then subsequently, the footer navigation links will need to be changed for consistency. Perhaps that new logo is a more subtle and diffused style, and now everything else on the page seems to overpower it. The only solution is to take the elements on the page down a notch so that the logo doesn’t get lost.

It’s important for people to be open to these ripple effect changes throughout the design process and to also consider how their design change requests may impact the whole of the design. Because they have such a large impact the design, it is important to nail down things like your logo design and color palates early on in the design process to ensure that their style is carried over into all the elements throughout the site.

 

By | 2016-04-22T15:39:58+00:00 April 15th, 2014|Web Development, Creative Design|1 Comment

Placeholder Images – The easy button

Ever hate having to find various stock or other imagery to fill in example image placeholders in earlier design/development stages?

The easy button has arrived!

Placehold.it – http://placehold.it

No more saving and moving and uploading. In fact if the size changes you will never even open up image editing software!

All you have to do is define the src of the image using the following syntax:

http://placehold.it/widthxheight&text=whateveryouwant

So using this I can make an image with the following src and it appears like below: http://placehold.it/400x200&text=Image:400×200

Placeholder Image

This is also beneficial for the following uses:

  • keeping focus on layout not images
  • making image dimensions clear to an end user
By | 2016-11-29T14:21:44+00:00 April 8th, 2014|Web Development, Creative Design|Comments Off on Placeholder Images – The easy button

More Free Social Vector Icons! (flat icon set)

This is a new set to go along with:

You can download this set by right clicking on the below preview and using ‘Save Image As’.

This icon set includes the following flat icons:

social-media-icons-set2

  • Khan Academy
  • Aim
  • Quora
  • Kickstarter
  • CodeSchool
  • MongoDB
  • Backbone.js
  • Coderwall
  • HTML5
  • CSS3
  • Responsive Web Design
  • W3C
  • Codecademy
  • Yelp
  • IMDb
  • jsFiddle
  • Vevo
  • Codepen
  • Eventbrite
  • A List Apart
  • Instagram
  • Google Drive
  • GrubHub
  • Spotify
  • Dropbox
  • Vine
  • Paypal
By | 2016-11-22T18:23:43+00:00 January 24th, 2014|Web Development, Creative Design|1 Comment

Redesigning Without Frustrating Your Users

Your users rely on your website to get things done. They are used to doing it a certain way. So when things change, people get frustrated. Nevertheless, change is necessary. So the job of your web design and development team is to try to make the changes go over as smoothly as possible.

Communicate with Your Users

Testing is a valuable tool to help you figure out where the problem areas of your website are. Gathering information by polling or asking your users to give their feedback can be incredibly valuable. But, keep in mind that sometimes what a user tells you about their experience with your site may not exactly match what really happens when they are actually on the site. There may be inconsistencies with a users intent and their action because of the contextual factors involved. Every time someone uses your site, the situation is different and therefore the results are different. Monitoring and using things like Google Analytics metrics will give you facts to compare to your collected empirical data.

Types of Change

Design changes are more immediately noticed, while workflow changes may take time to be detected by your users. Dissatisfaction with design changes may not be enough to keep them from using the site, but if the functionality of the site is compromised users may be discouraged. Therefore it is vital to ensure that any workflow changes will benefit the user in the end. Workflow changes can bring short term user dissatisfaction but valuable long term gain. Ultimately people are able to learn and adapt to the changes within a few days, and as long as the benefits last longer than this relearning period, their experience will ultimately be positive.

When is change necessary?

Change is always necessary when it solves a problem or serves a specific purpose. Ease of use, being the ultimate goal. Increased and varied functionality is only valuable when truly needed. You also need to consider the types of users you are designing for. There is no need to hold back for a small portion of your users, while inhibiting the experience of most of your users. Maintaining core consistencies with your old site, such as keeping things in the same general location and using familiar visual cues, will assist your user with making a smooth transition to your new design.

By | 2017-06-16T13:05:30+00:00 August 9th, 2013|Web Development, Creative Design|Comments Off on Redesigning Without Frustrating Your Users

Considering Drawer Style Site Navigation

Lately we have been utilizing a drawer style navigation in our designs to provide a better user experience in our websites. The request for quite a bit of content in the drop downs themselves (mega drop downs that span the full width of the site no matter which tab you have clicked) in some of our more complex higher-ed sites also creates the problem of covering up the content of the site and proving tricky when the site responds to mobile screen sizes. Putting the navigation in a sliding drawer is proving to be a unique solution that translates beautifully to mobile in responsive design.

If you look on Mashable, a popular news article site, the nav drawer does not shift the page down, but is a full width mega drop down menu. Compare to the University of Wyoming, a site recently developed by Beacon, which has a drawer based nav.

Mashable mega drop down navigation

University of Wyoming drawer based navigation

Whether or not this is the right nav for your site will probably be based upon a lot of factors like what type of content is in your drop downs and what type on content is on your homepage. If you have a lot of content in your navigation it may be worth while to put that navigation in a slider so that the homepage remains visible, even when the navigation is open. Also, you need to think about what your navigation does on mobile devices and tablets and how to best integrate this with your drop downs. Mashable.com serves up a different navigation for it’s tablet users, for example, simplifying the menu, so they put it in a side drawer. On the higher ed sites we develop here at Beacon, we need to provide a consistent navigation for users on every type of device, so we might use a similar drawer on both mobile and desktop, but just change the navigation to stack taller on smaller devices and open and close subsections. This also can allow us to integrate deeper navigational tiers in the main nav on mobile devices so we can keep the content area cleaner and simpler.

This solution can be elegant and it even translates very well to touch devices that do not have the ability to open menus on-hover. This keeps the experience more consistent through all the screen sizes by utilizing an on-click drawer.

Ultimately decisions like these need to be made on a case by case basis.

By | 2016-05-27T10:13:29+00:00 April 22nd, 2013|Web Development, Creative Design|2 Comments

GIF wins Oxford’s ‘Word of the Year’

I really was looking for some nice serious techie news to blog about today, but this article was just too irresistible to ignore: GIF wins Oxford’s ‘Word of the Year’.  Despite the hilarious sub-title “JPG and PNG decline to comment“, I really did learn a lot  in the guts of the article.  For example, I didn’t realize that our friend the “GIF” (graphic interchange format) has been around for 25 years (almost as long as me!) and that nearly every Internet browser ever made supports it (and believe me, that’s A LOT of programs, cause we test our sites in most of them).  The acronym has also evolved from a noun to a verb (“Most recently many media outlets were live-GIFing the 2012 presidential  debates.”).  According to the article “it’s the easiest way to share a quick animation.”

And as a completely un-techie side note, who even knew that Oxford Dictionary selected a “USA Word of the Year“???

A GIF of GIF

A GIF of GIF

By | 2016-11-23T10:52:04+00:00 November 16th, 2012|Creative Design|Comments Off on GIF wins Oxford’s ‘Word of the Year’

On Hover Alternatives for Touch Devices

Even though touch screen devices make up only a small fraction of users that visit your site, the number of these devices hitting your site is only going to increase. This doesn’t just include mobile devices, but also tablets that are being served a full site version. Your site should take this into account and any mouse hover effects need to be rethought and accommodated by some other means.

Designers are trying to come up with clever ways to deal with this issue. But sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Especially in this case, where the user is expected to know how to use the site, it’s best to keep things clear and intuitive and not throw them any type of interaction with the site that is outside of the norm.

The simplest ways to deal with hover actions on a site are to replace them with:

Direct Action This removes the content from the hover and instead places it directly on the page itself. This makes sense for some things and not others, such as small bits of info or tooltips. This content can be integrated in the page itself as long as it doesn’t make the page awkward and cluttered but maintains and elegant usability.

On Tap Menus This is a quick and easy fix as long as the content of the hover menu makes sense to be presented to users with a tap and it doesn’t interfere with the use of the site.

Separate Pages This is a better solution for hovers that would present the user with extensive amounts of extra content. The content may be so much that it warrants it’s own separate page.

 

So this seems like a Sm, Med, Lg approach where how you serve up the hover content depends on the amount of the content, but the way in which the user will expect to use the site needs to be factored in as well so that usability is not compromised.

No matter which solutions are used, it’s important to remember throughout the design process that the devices that are being used to browse the web are becoming more and more varied and even though we don’t have to eliminate hover completely, we do have to accomodate devices that don’t allow this action.

By | 2016-05-31T16:50:39+00:00 July 9th, 2012|Web Development, Creative Design|Comments Off on On Hover Alternatives for Touch Devices
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