The Internet: Website Design: Thinking Simply

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
Steve Jobs in Business Week, 1998
The main reason visitors will come to your website is to see your art. Therefore making your art the central focus is the logical thing to do right? Not so fast. It takes some careful thinking and planning. You have to think simply. Some websites are about written content but your website should be about images and the best images possible in order to showcase your art. The design around your work should be simple. The temptation is to overpower it with bells and whistles or bright colors or large bold text is very compelling. Don’t succumb! A clean, professional looking website will help to bring you success in a very significant way.
The first step in planning a website is to think about the design of the actual pages. Most artists have an idea of what that should look like because they are focused on their mission. I would like to give you some help by outlining the components of a website page. If you’re doing your website by yourself this will help you tremendously. If you’re using a designer this will help you to direct them. Remember that in most cases a website designer is not a “designer.” They won’t know your art as well as you do and they may not be aware of what is needed for success in the art world. So you need to be a guide and have a strong vision. I will talk about what a visitor will see and the behind the scenes.
The components that are visible on a web page are:
• Banner or Header- the header/logo at the top of the page. This should appear in the exact same place on every page. A common standard is to have this clickable to the home page. More and more websites are doing this and it eliminates the need for a “home” button on your navigation bar. This will be created as an image or a .jpg and images are easily linkable.
• Navigation/Menu Bar – This is the set of links that enables visitors to find things on your website. It can appear at the top of the page under the banner or on the side. More and more websites have it at the top. There is something called Drop Down or Pop Up Menus. This can also be a huge help when categorizing your work.
**Tip: This is where wording and simplicity are all important. You want to be sure that people will click on your website, boosting your search engine optimization. I have seen navigation bars on artists websites that categorize the work by the year. I really, honestly feel that this is a huge cop out. The website probably has a very low search engine rating because the number of hits will be lower. How would a visitor know what to click on? There is probably also a large bounce rate. Visitors that come, see the site and leave without clicking. Categorizing your work by subject or media or something else will mean more to a visitor than almost anything else you do, with the exception of showcasing your art.
• Images – The actual photos of your work. They should always be 72dpi for two reasons. 1. It loads faster because .jpg’s are compressed (see the previous post on the different types of images) and 2. 72dpi prints out rather poorly and will be hard to reproduce, therefore protecting your copyright. Remember that visitors will have short attention spans. If an page takes more than 30 seconds to load they are likely to leave your website. The size is also important. I’ll talk about the gallery pages more in the next post and what your options for display are.
• Text – Words ARE important, see the previous posts on writing. The content of the home page is usually low on words but you can put a testimonial or a quote from an article written about you. You can also put a section of latest news on the home page: a quote from an article written about you, or an upcoming exhibition. Of course, you will also have pages with your artist statement, resume, bio, copyright, contact, links and press. (If you don’t have all of that yet there is no need to worry. Your art is the first reason people come to your website. You can add those pages later.) The fonts you choose are also important. The difference between type used for text, headlines, and banners are viewed differently so it’s important to think about it’s readability when you are thinking about placement. I’ll address design elements in another post.
• Footer – Those are the little words at the bottom of every website that are not necessarily in the navigation bar. They can include copyright, site map and email. These are important because they not only help your visitors but really help search engines to categorize your website. Especially if it leads to the site map.••Tip: One more thing you should add to the footer of every page. Social Networking Buttons. They allow visitors to share the website page they’re on, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. I am including a link to a website below that allows you to choose those buttons and get .html code that you can simply plug into the code of your website. I always add this complimentary, by default, to every website I create. You don’t want to miss any opportunity for exposure after all.

Favicon That’s the little image that appears to the left in the address/URL bar of the browser. If you go on www.starbucks.com for example you will see their logo right up there. This is a 16 pixel image that can be transferred into a favicon very easily. This can be static or it can move. It may be small but it makes your website look so professional. I always include it complementary when I design a website.
• Title – these are words at the top of the browser – above the address bar/navigation. This is helpful to your visitor because they will know what page they’re on and the content and extremely useful for search engines. In fact, titles rank in importance with meta-tagging and meta-descriptions.
If you right click on any website a menu should come up – this applies to both Mac’s and PC’s – and you’ll see “View Page Source.” Click on that and you’ll see the .html code that makes it possible for the website to be visible. You will see two sections. Head and Body. Sounds kind of anatomical in a way and it is. The anatomy of a website.
The Head text is the content you don’t see. It’s the instructions that will juristic the way the page looks overall. For example: the background color of the page, the default font your page will use, the code for the navigation bar, the alignment of the whole page. You can set these up overall. It will also show what type of code to use. html vs. Javascript, etc. This will also include the Meta Tags (keywords and descriptions) the favicon and the titles.
The Body Code is the part of the website that is visible. The actual words and images. The navigation bar, the footer, etc.
There is one more thing you should know about text and code. It’s called CSS which means Cascading Style Sheets. CSS can be used for much more than just text but this will help you speak to a designer tremendously. For changeable text in the body section of your website you should use CSS. Some programs like Dreamweaver will automatically set this up no matter what. So you can use any kind of text in the body/content area that you want to. However it’s best to cascade that so that if someone viewing your website doesn’t have that typeface on their computer they’ll still be able to see it. For example: if they don’t have Georgia, they may have Palatino and will definitely have Times Roman. A CSS for type looks like this in the code: Georgia, Palatino, Times, Serif.
I’m telling you this because I was once working with a web designer who told me I could only use Times or Helvetica for text. He was wrong. I was completing my first web design class at the time and told him that’s not true. I wanted to use Baskerville – because that’s what the organization used in their newsletters. I told him to use this Baskerville, Palatino, Times, Serif as a cascading style sheet. If I hadn’t been apprised of that I might have listened to him and the website would have been inconsistent with the organizations print materials.
If you remember simplicity and consistency in everything you do – on the internet and off the internet – you will have success.LINKS
Website to create favicons – http://favicon.htmlkit.com/favicon/