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Deadman Consulting

"Expertise in Web Services, Distributed Components, Telephony, Java, XML, Dynamic Behaviour and Data Mapping"

Why so plain?

Some people may be wondering, what's up with this site? Where's the fancy graphics? Where's the flash animation? What about frames and itty-bitty text I can't read and links I can't follow? Where's the sizzle, the wow, the blinking lights...?

Move along folks, nothing to see here...

Actually, the "plain" look of this site is a conscious decision that exemplifies the mindset of Deadman Consulting. We've all seen the "cool" graphic laden sites that taste like stale candy floss. Hard to navigate. Out-of-date content. Annoying "features". Since the emergence of the web, we've been building useful web sites for our clients as a side-effect of the information architecture work we do. We know what works, and what becomes very tiresome very quickly. In the end, content matters, as does clean design.

Here then, is a guide to the intentions behind this web site. Think of it as an insight into the thinking of Deadman Consulting, or simply as a gift to those setting out to build a new web site.

Know your audience?

Lots of web design software offer layout templates and packaged graphics. But before you get there, you have to answer a key questions:
  • Who is your audience?
If your site is intended as a community portal, you want a home page that is full or up-to-date, useful content. People like to go to one page for their daily fix on any topic. Repeat visitors will represent a high percentage of your hits, so you want to give them something useful each time they visit.

If your site is a PR/Information site, daily updates are less important than clean navigation, a "mission statement" that identifies what you are, and easy links to background material. The percentage of non-repeat visitors is much higher for this type of site, so if they have to figure out your "layout", they will get turned off and just move on. The rate at which your site changes is less important than how easily it can be navigated.
Other site profiles obviously exist, such as on-line sales, search engines, government services. In the end, they are all variations on the two types listed here. If you need help in analysing your sites needs, get hold of a good web designer who understands human-machine interface issues and is more than just a graphic artist/Html writer.

Keed your content Up-to-date

Did we say this before?

The year was 1994, the web was new, and Richard Deadman was working as a software  architect at Mitel Corporation. To facilitate systems design, Richard set up a web site on the brand-new company intranet to allow his team to share documents. The team loved it and the site became quite active. Rampant geekism even lead Richard to add a "jargon-writer" cgi script to spit out daily phrases such as "Reverse-engineering your object-oriented virtually-colocated paradigms".

Then management noticed and hired a co-op student to take over the site. At first, this was a relief to the team as they could spend more of their time on design and code. Cool graphics appeared on the site. Fonts were tweaked, frames added, colors changed. Managment loved it.

But the content got lost, and no one worried about how to make sure the new documents were added and existing ones were up to date. The sight became a beauty to behold. And nobody used it any more.

Content matters. Period.

Checklist of a good web site.

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Keep your content relevant.
  3. Provide clear navigation aids. See the "Home / Why so plain?" link at the top. Or the "index" on the left.
  4. Have a clear purpose and design philosophy. What do you want to convey? How would you like user's to use the site?

Warning signs

  1. Frames. They have their place, but building a whole web site from them makes it difficult to link into the web site.
  2. Flash. Occasionally useful for demonstrations, but often over-used in web site introductions.
  3. Unnecessary separation of the welcome page from the home page. Only really useful for multi-lingual sites.
  4. Browser (or OS) specific web sites. Sites should conform to the W3C specifications to ensure you don't alienate anybody. "Best viewed with" warnings indicate poor design or shoddy testing.
  5. Tiny text. Some web sites specify tiny font sizes that allow for a lot of unreadible content in a small space. This is a good thing? The user has set their default font sizes, why do you know better than them?
  6. Gratuitous graphics. Graphics should make a point or make the web site more pleasing. Large grahics that slow rendering may actually turn users off.
  7. Jarring colors.
  8. Excessive links. The web site should guide the user through information, but too many links within a paragraph can reduce the value of each link and confuse the user as to where you recommend they go next.
  9. Cookies. Unless you are tracking user sessions for a legitimate reason (shopping, log-in), do you really need to set a cookie on your user's computer.

© Deadman Consulting, Incorporated, 2006