We’ve now been discussing for quite a long time the things you need to think about before you sit down to design your web site. If you’ve followed the whole discussion, and have answered all those 9 questions for yourself, then you now have a pretty good idea of what kind of site you want/need/can afford.
That all depends on you. It should be clear that there is no simple answer for everybody. There are a whole boatload of simple answers, each of which is great for some people and terrible for others.
But in a word, what comes next is design. “Design” is a process where you brainstorm up a good solution that meets all your requirements. Your requirements may be impossible. (For example, if you want a glitzy, database-driven site with lots of interaction, heavy graphics, and you want it yesterday at no cost, but you don’t want to do any of the work yourself, then you are in pipe-dream land. Can’t be done, although you might get most of that by just launching a blog.)
If your requirements are possible, then you need to sketch out the action plan to get from here to there. That’s your design. Only then should you start building the site (or getting someone else to do it).
A good design should take account of the possibility for change and make it as easy as possible to make changes across your whole site as quickly as possible. Let me give you two examples of that:
1) You may have noticed that I changed my little header strip just for today. (It’s the box above this blog that starts out “Successful Fiction Writing = Organizing + Creating + Marketing” and then has a bunch of products with links.) Just for today, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008, I added a little link in red that says “24 Hour Special (Feb. 21, 2008)”. I added one line in one file yesterday, and that change showed up on every page of my web site. Tonight at midnight, I’ll change that line in one file, and the new change will show up on every page of my web site. That’s good design. Many web site designs would require you to manually make that change in every page. If you have hundreds of pages, that could be a real nightmare. A good design lets you make changes quickly.
Good design uses something called “Cascading Style Sheets” to help set the look and feel for your web site. This is usually abbreviated “CSS” and it makes it easy to define the fonts, colors, background images, margins, paddings, and many other things EVERYWHERE on your site, just by changing one file. If you’ve ever had to change any of those manually on every page of a site, you know what a nightmare that is. Good design uses CSS for that. You can do most of your page layout using CSS, rather than using tables in HTML. That’s good design.
Good design is about being lazy — setting things up once, and letting the computer make sure that the same thing happens everywhere on your site. You may think this is obvious, but you’d be amazed how many sites have a terrible, wretched design. But I digress.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks. It’s time for questions. I can’t answer all possible questions, but I’ll make a stab at as many as possible. Ask what you want. We have some excellent web designers who read this blog, and some of them can likely answer questions that I can’t.
What would you like to know about designing your web site or blog? Post a comment here.
Claire Merle says
I’ve been following your blog for a while now and been trying to answer the nine questions about my requirements for setting up a website. Today I ran across Homestead. (www.homestead.com) Have you heard of them? They seem to suggest that using already formatted templates, they can help design a site with relative ease. Also, they only charge 5 dollars or something for hosting the site/ month. I remember you said these sites that charge little for hosting might not be ideal because they can’t redirect traffic if ever we want to change host. Is that right? I’d love your thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages to opting for something like Homestead. I’m pretty computer illiterate. I’m prepared to learn if it’s really necessary, but would prefer to spend the time writing and can’t afford to pay for someone to set up website at the moment.
Charlotte Babb says
I notice that most of the blogs I read regularly have a basically white page with mostly black writing, very clean and plain.
Has anyone done any testing or have any experience with the more “designed” blog templates–still with readable black text on white background, but with side colors, graphics, etc? I know this is back to the “pretty” question, but has anyone seen any different results?
I also wonder about the effectiveness of larger graphics at the top, and wonder if they could be put in other places, so that more of the text is on the first screen (above the fold as it were).
Mary DeMuth says
Charlotte, When I first started relevantblog (http://www.relevantblog.blogspot.com), I thought I’d be super cool and design is with a black background and white text. I messed with the html and added a really fun header, too. Problem was, I got an email from someone who said it was just too hard on her eyes to read. At first I recommended she subscribe using Bloglines (a feed service), which solved her problem, but then I realized I didn’t want to alienate folks by making my blog cool, but nearly unreadable.
It’s really important that you use a light-ish background with dark text. And be sure the text is sans serif, if you can. It’s proven to be easier on the eyes when you’re reading a screen.
Randy: I agree that design should be functional as well. Though I don’t work in the background with CSS, I do have CMS (Content Management System) that is WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get.) I can alter almost anything on my site because of it.
Another note: Understanding a basic level of HTML and CSS is very helpful, particularly when you’re designing a blog on an ancilliary site or tweaking your profile in Facebook.
Randy: You said you used WordPress to create your site. How did you get the links and other stuff at the top? I’m trying to create a blog using WrodPress, but using adaptive equipment is making it difficult. But, I wanted an introduction section at the top then links to go to other parts of the blog where I intend to keep articles for reference. I found the “instructions” at WordPress.com, but have no idea where to look for what I want. Is there a complete manual somewhere that I can download?
ML Eqatin says
I’m no expert, but after noodling with tables and getting my graphics squished, tiled, or otherwise messed up, I bit the bullet and learned to do frames on Dreamweaver. In frames, you don’t have to change every page, because each section of the screen is a separate ‘page’, meaning the title page never leaves the screen. I only have one frame, center front, that changes.
I think the blasted program set up CSS on me before I fully understood it, and as soon as I have the time to read that section of the book, I’m gonna make some changes in my styles.
I like the way Dreamweaver lets you do flashtext, a coolness with almost no cost in terms of viewer distraction.
This is off-topic and in reference to the ebook by Meredith Elfken you have offered to your subscribers. I had already purchased the two fiction CDs from you (and am still learning from them everyday), and now I just purchased the Writers Conference Survival Guide by Meredith Elfken. I am so pleased with what I have learned from this ebook that I wanted to post here and let you know. I am excited because this gives me, an inexperienced conference attendee, an actual road map to follow. It was worth every penny and more. Thanks so much for this, Randy!
Katie Hart says
This may be slightly off-topic, but is it good for writers to have more than one site? I have sites or have purchased domains for: my blog (currently on blogspot but well-linked), my “name” site (unfortunately .net), my brand site, a site for the newsletter I plan to start in the next few months, and a site for one aspect of writing in which I plan to become an expert. Is it wise to have these all as separate sites linked to each other, or should I combine them into one or more sites and simply forward the domains to the appropriate location?