Web Designer vs Web Programmer vs Web Developer.

  1. Does your website look amazingly slick and well designed but not perform exactly the way it’s supposed to?
  2. Does it look like a broken down site from the mid 90s and but yet function perfectly?
  3. Or does it look great AND do what it is supposed to?

If you answered yes to question 3, you can stop reading now. If you answered yes to questions 1 or 2, you may want to keep reading. Many of you maybe even have a site that neither works well nor looks good… in which case you should definitely continue reading.

Many sites out there for whatever reason have only been designed well OR only been programmed well. That’s because many pure designers get their hands on a copy of dreamweaver and declare they can do it all and just as many pure programmers get a copy of photoshop and declare they can do it all.

As a general guideline think of it in the following way:

Web Designer: Typically can create outstanding "wow effect" graphical layouts. Not really interested in web standards as long as the design stays as true as possible. Familiar with Adobe design suite and or other graphic tools. May know basic html/css but has no knowledge of server side or dynamic scripting. May or may not have a copy of dreamweaver that will only get them in trouble.

Web Programmer: Typically an expert in a server side language like PHP/MySQL, ASP.NET/SQL, etc. May be an expert as well with a client side language like javascript. Despite getting their hands on a copy of photoshop has no real eye for design. Can do "skeleton/plain" layouts at best and may or may not care about web standards.

Web Developer: Typically a true jack of all trades of sorts. They are a hybrid of both the Web Programmer and Web Designer and not just posing as one or the other. They care about standards, clean code, clean design, best practices, and latest trends in general web design, scripting and development.

So when you’re looking to have some web work done, a 2 person team consisting of a good web designer and good web programmer or 1 or more solid web developers would ensure that your site will look good AND function properly as well.

In conclusion look for web developers and avoid the pure designer or pure programmer unless their best friend/colleague is the other… my proof? Just click around the web… it’s full of sites that are non-designed and/or non-functioning.

Search Engine Friendliness vs. Search Engine Optimization

SEO-SEF

Often times clients come to us and say they want their website to be "search engine optimized". The site in question may have a lot of flash elements or image based text or bad markup. Which usually prompts me to give my long-winded spiel about how they might want to make their site "search engine friendly" first. This almost always raises the question, aren’t they the same thing? No, making a site SEF is not the same thing as optimizing a site for search engine performance.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "natural" or un-paid ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results. SEO is typically a long-term task that normally involves an ongoing commitment or contract carried out in the form of an "SEO Campaign".

A site is Search Engine Friendly (SEF) when its design, coding, menus/links, images, and other elements have been geared towards the express purpose of search engine exposure and/or indexing. Making a site SEF should be included in the cost of initially designing and building a site. For an existing site, it should be quoted as a one time project fee. As long as SEF guidelines are followed with regards to any subsequent general maintenance to a site, no other tasks or fees should be required.

Think of making a site SEF as the preparation before running a long race. Then the race itself would be the SEO campaign.

So despite being different they are obviously tied together. Many of the features which make a website SEF (using clean markup, using the proper tags for optimal indexing etc.) make a site more accessible to search engine bots which will then ultimately enhance any long term SEO undertaking.

At Strategic Insights we build all our sites to be SEF from inception and have no problem retrofitting older sites with more SEF technology. If your site is currently behaving unfriendly toward search engines… come see us and we’ll sort it out! Once it is SEF, then we’ll discuss SEO.

Should I update to OS X 10.6? Definitely maybe.

OS X 10.6

After installing Snow Leopard last week, I started having the infamous dreamweaver CS4 crashes among others that many in the blogosphere and various industry related forums are ranting about. I even followed Leander Kahney’s advice from his article over at Cult of Mac — How-To: Upgrade To Snow Leopard — The Right Way. It’s a great piece and I followed it to a T except one very important part that lead to me nearly going insane over the holiday weekend. Leander’s article explicitly states not to import any old user account/configuration files from the old system… I unfortunately chose to ignore that. I figured I wouldn’t migrate apps but I also didn’t feel like bringing over work files and folders plus passwords, preferences, etc. all by hand right? Little did I know that migrating these items from my old user account/previous system would later cause me to burn endless hours in troubleshooting at Adobe and Apple. My clean install wasn’t so clean after all… it was tainted by my migrating account folders that contained Libraries full of old App Settings and Preferences that in hindsight had definitely been the culprits.

After exhausting all troubleshooting resources I could find and working through various “tricks” and/or cache resets, preference/settings rebuilds, I thought I would go back and “start from scratch again” but this time not import anything as those who were saying they were having no problems all seemed to have that as a common thread. As daunting as that sounded I figured it had been a while since I watched the Alien Quadrilogy, so I started the slog on Labor Day monday as it was raining in NC anyway. To get around having to re-setup absolutely everything after the Snow Leopard reinstall, I iSynced my email, bookmarks, address book, calendar and keychains beforehand so atleast those things would be there and I could press on with app installs and back ups as I rebuilt my house of cards waiting at every turn for Dreamweaver to start crashing again. Funnily enough somewhere during the end of Aliens (Alien 2), I had reinstalled Snow Leopard from scratch as well as CS4 and was putting Dreamweaver through the rigors and I couldn’t get it to crash at all…. whereas it was crashing by simply breathing on it before. I did incremental time machine backups from there on until I had everything installed that I needed and then brought over files / folders by hand which helped trim some hard drive fat as well. I will say the only way any of this starting over madness was even possible was because I carbon copy cloned my old leopard system to a firewire 800 drive as per Leander’s tips… really saved me. Thanks again mate.

OK Granted, this shouldn’t have to be. Apple, Adobe and other software developers should run through all the user install scenarios and make sure they work including migrating old user accounts. However, that said, now that I have my pristine snappy new setup that has a much smaller footprint, I feel it was totally worth it and actually quite cathartic to rid myself of loads of files and apps that I hadn’t used in ages. So hopefully for those of you who really want to use Snow Leopard with CS4 this solution will help you and save your sanity. For those who want the ease of use of migrating everything over auto-magically and having it all work and not worrying about it? I would wait until for the next round of updates. Hope that helps.

I would love to hear any experiences anyone else out there has had with Snow Leopard good or bad. Thanks and cheers!

Alternative font use for the web.

Or as the title might read…

Alternative font use for the web.

Are you sick of the “web safe” fonts as much as I am? Well there are some options. Here is an interesting article about it by Ross Johnson called “8 FONTS YOU PROBABLY DON’T USE IN CSS, BUT SHOULD“.

Ross got his availability percentages from codestyle.org which I thought gave a good overview of which faces would be correctly rendered on windows, mac and linux.

If the 8 that Ross talks about aren’t enough for you and you just want to be able to use any face. You may have already heard of the alternative solutions that dynamically replace type on your webpage as the page loads.

Are you already from the sIFR school of thought? Perhaps a Cufón devotee? Maybe a Typeface.js groupie? A fan of FLIR?

They each have their strengths and weaknesses but I still feel that despite being slightly more complicated to set up, sIFR covers all the bases I need covered. And it does it without sacrificing accessibility, search engine friendliness, markup semantics or copying and pasting text out of the browser window which are all very important to our clients and their users.

However, I’d like to hear from people about their preferences and why and if there are other up and coming solutions I’ve left out.

Weigh in!

me David H. Ford // Director of Web Services // Strategic Insights

The Switch to Adobe CS4

Adobe CS4 will have been a whole year next month. I am still happily using CS3 despite hearing good things about the new version. If you’ve already made the jump to CS4 or on the brink of upgrading, share some of the benefits, why you upgraded or why you don’t feel an upgrade is necessary.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments to try and nudge me one way or the other.

me David H. Ford //  Director of Web Services  //   Strategic Insights

Full scale CMS systems vs “Light CMS” Trend

Light CMS Admin Area

Light CMS Admin Area

When Colony Tire approached us last year about redoing their web presence, we discussed the level of content management they were going to need. Initially DotNetNuke was kicked around as was joomla. But when it became clear they were only going to be editing a select few sections/pages, we knew a light CMS would indeed work for them. We told them that it would give them what they want, be less complicated, have an easy learning curve and cost less. Needless to say they were on board.

We often get requests from clients wanting a full blown CMS like drupal or joomla. Don’t get me wrong, CMSs are great and systems like joomla and drupal do have their place. But for a large majority of sites out there, the level of content management that full scale systems offer is complete overkill and might even get you into trouble. Often times we hand over the keys to a full blown CMS and we end up doing the site maintenance anyway as it proves to be too challenging for the client.

Full scale systems that allow you to edit every single tiny detail on a page can leave you open to inconsistencies/anomalies on a site, things being accidentally/inadvertently changed and simply page layouts that break. In joomla, the steps required to add a menu item and then link it to a page would be too much for someone that isn’t tech savvy and doing this kind of thing every day.

Part of the problem is that the marketing behind these tools offers what seems to be a holy grail/silver bullet to solve all content and maintenance issues. We can now have our receptionist/intern update our site right?! Probably not. The reality is that most CMSs are for people who have a significant level of computer/web savvy. The bigger and more complex the system, the trickier they can be to use or learn for non technical people.

That’s why I am excited to see the emergence of a trend towards “Light CMS”. Light CMS is something that we’ve been recommending and implementing for our clients for years as illustrated above. What makes a “light” CMS light? Firstly, it should only edit areas of a site that need to be kept fresh ie news, testimonials, job postings etc and not interfere with static content that never/infrequently changes. Secondly, it should be flexible and easy to deploy. Thirdly, it should sufficiently abstract the content away from the markup to guard against breaking stuff ie the layout. And lastly, it should be easy to use and easy to learn. That’s it.

Hopefully this trend towards light CMS will have clients asking for it by name.

me David H. Ford  //  Director of Web Services  //   Strategic Insights  

Coming On Board at Strategic Insights

Funny how things work out. 2007 was supposed to be the year of Dave. Not to be confused with the summer of Dave. That was back in the mid 90s. What I mean is, I hadn’t been satisfied with my last couple agency posts and I was finally going to do it… Go completely out on my own.

I had worked at various ad agencies, startups and dot coms since 1996 as a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Web Producer/Developer and various combinations thereof in the US and abroad. Some of these shops are still around, some aren’t, some are just limping along a shadow of their late 1990’s selves. After having been through their ranks, occasionally downsized or made redundant (as they say in the UK), and having contracted for some limited stints as well, I decided it was time. I wanted to be the master of my own destiny, I had enough connections, I knew others who were successful doing it, this was the year.

Quite content and enjoying my new found freedom, I was getting out there and actually making a go of it. I was a freelancer and it felt good. When people (sometimes from shops for whom I was contracting) would ask me if I would ever consider going back to the agency world again, I would respond with a smile and a polite no, not likely… but if I did, it would have to be the perfect scenario with the right people, vision, direction etc. All the while thinking to myself how unlikely this was and that it would probably never happen.

So as I sent out an email to family, friends and former colleagues last month, announcing that I had just accepted an offer to go full time at an agency in Raleigh NC, called Strategic Insights, I was expecting a few surprised recipients to lecture me on never, saying never etc. or at the very least, some gentle ribbing. Funnily enough, most remembered my caveat and congratulated me saying, wow, you really must have found that elusive ideal scenario.

And it is. Strategic Insights is the perfect combination of award winning, very bright, very creative, driven people who fully embody the things that I think an agency should be.

They must be, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this…

Well that, plus they always make the “new guy” do a blog entry.

me David H. Ford  //  Director of Web Services  //   Strategic Insights  


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