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10 February 2014

Web Skills: Patience and Perseverance

Creating a world class website isn't a five minute activity. The best sites have pages and pages of interesting, informative, topical and captivating content; all interlinked into a cohesive, easy-to-navigate experience.

Building such a collection takes many months of creative effort. Even then there's no time to relax. The appeal of a static, unchanging website will soon dwindle.

A lively, topical, frequently refreshed website will entice visitors to return time and time again to discover what's new. Even spending just 15 minutes a day to update and refine your pages will give you the edge on rival websites.

Of course, at times building a great website can seem a little daunting to even the most patient and committed person. One way to provide encouragement is to regularly review search engine statistics. Noting how the audience swells as your website content expands in quantity and quality is a extremely motivational.

9 February 2014

Web Skills: Project Management

Self-motivation and drive is all well and good, but it's easy to become swamped by a mountain of important and urgent tasks.

With so many design, development, research and marketing activities to coordinate, prioritise and monitor, applying even a few project management techniques can make all the difference.

It isn't necessary to own a sophisticated tool or attend a training course. A simple prioritised paper-based list approach will work.

Even better, why not record each new activity on a separate card or post-it note. It's a fast way to capture a fleeting thought or idea, and offers a simple way to reorganise the task list.

The trick is to allocate a short period each day to review and maintain your task list.

7 February 2014

Web Skills: Page Design

A good eye for design is another important skill. Regardless of the content, no web surfer will stay long on a website with messy layouts, clashing colours, difficult to read fonts and humdrum images.

As you'd expect audience empathy is key. Bright, bold designs that works for one audience might be an instant turn-off for another. Equally, delivering a straight-to-the-point, business-like format might not be lively enough for some.

You'll need to visualise the complete site experience. Once the design is in your head, or sketched out, it's easier to harness the tools and languages and bring it to life.

Many designers prefer to create the layouts with advanced graphical-interface editors. Such a tool allows them to focus on the visual layout and flow aspects of the design, without getting bogged down in HTML or CSS specifics.

Adobe's range of tools are a firm favourite with many designers, even though the price may be prohibitive to some. However, there's plenty of free and open source alternatives, so give them a try and you'll learn a great deal about the mechanics and nuances of website design in the process.

Remember design is an ongoing process. Whether it's new ideas, audience feedback or interoperability with the latest techniques and technologies, there's always room for improvement and subtle refinement.

6 February 2014

Web Skills: Audience Empathy

You might consider empathy to be a rather peculiar skill for website creation, but that's not the case at all. Establishing an empathy with your prospective audience is at least as important as any technical prowess.

Any successful website will have a target audience in mind. It could be aimed at business people, sport-minded individuals, technology experts, bookworms or those with a social media addiction. Delivering a website with plenty of frequently updated, audience-specific content will give them reason to return to your site time and time again.

An empathic perspective enables you to determine who these people really are and what makes them tick. The trick is to understand what's likely to grab their attention and, just as importantly, what will turn them off. In effect you're attempting to detach yourself from the website technicalities and try to think like a visitor who is assessing the site for the first time.

There are many questions to ask...
• As a first-time visitor can you quickly determine what the site is about?
• Which elements immediately grab your attention?
• Is the content relevant, fresh and topical?
• Does the flow and navigation appear intuitive and consistent?
The more questions you ask the better your assessment will be, and the more successful your people-focussed changes will become.

5 February 2014

Web Skills: Image Management

Images are a critical ingredient to great looking websites. A typical site will incorporate numerous images in a wide range of sizes and formats. Each image file format (such as JPG, PNG and GIF) has it's own virtues and capabilities. For example GIF files can contain animations.

Today we have access to an assortment of professional-grade image manipulation products and tools, both free and commercial. At the very least your chosen image tool software should be able to crop, scale, rotate, resize and adjust the colour balance of an image. And be able to save it in a variety of image formats.

Applying advanced techniques such as colour fades and tints, rounded edges and shadows, blurs and soften effects, masks and layers, will add a touch of class and individuality to your page banners and inline images.

The ever popular Adobe Photoshop product range has many fans. Fans who have generated a wealth of web-located tutorials, in both written and video formats.

Photoshop isn't free, but there are many open source alternatives, including the immensely powerful GIMP editing tool. Version 2.8 sports a more intuitive single-window interface. It can be downloaded from the GimpShop website, where you can also see how it in action via these tutorial videos).