Designing A Web Site
You can't go through this without having something to share with others.  Here is some information I sure wish I had when I started this.
New! We have added a Postscript.

We made an early decision to develop this web site in-house instead of hiring an outside consultant:
  • We wanted to be able to update the web site frequently, easily, and inexpensively.
  • Being designers, we had definite ideas about what the web site should look like.
  • We wanted a somewhat unconventional web site, with more substance and less glitz than most.
  • We thought we would need to evolve the design and content of the site as we went along.

All of these points are good, but, as with most things having to do with computers,  the process was more time-consuming and frustrating than anticipated.  The manuals leave out a great deal, particularly the basic, practical stuff that you really need.  I offer the following tips for other non-computer geeks that are interested in developing the web site for their firm:

1.  It requires a major investment in time. Allow 5-10 times as much time as you think it will require.  It isn't just the web site itself.  We had a lot of good marketing material that we thought we could use, but we ended up revising much of the content material, and converting it to the HTML format for the web site isn't as simple as they tell you it is.

2.  Buy Poor Richard's Web Site, a book by Peter Kent with lots of great commonsense advice on building a web site.  It doesn't have the technical stuff, but it covers the more important big picture aspects very well.

3.  Use Microsoft FrontPage 98, but don't think that it will make it simple and easy.  It did make it easier than if we hadn't used it, particularly when it came to complex aspects such as discussion groups and feedback forms.

4.  Learn something about HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), the simple coding system used by computers to send information for web pages.  You're going to have to, if you care about the appearance of your site.   FrontPage can result in messy HTML codes, and converted spreadsheets and text documents are never right.  Check out Sizzling HTML for great, simple information.

5.  Here's one that would have saved me many hours.  We wanted to add color to our simple line art logo (the acanthus leaf), but the image editing programs kept coloring the whole rectangular area instead of just the leaf.  After much searching, and no help from the manuals or help screens, we found that the secret wasn't in the programs at all.  You save the file in a certain format (.GIF) and check the box for" transparent background" when you save it.   Then when you open the file again in the image editor you can color the line art.   I We call these WMNTY's-- "What Mother Never Told You's".

6.  The scanner is an important source of material for a web site, particularly if you are a design firm like us.  But it is tricky.  Scanning for a web site is very different from scanning material that will be printed.  One good source of information is Scantips.    We found that black & white material scanned best when we used 256 shades of gray, about 88 dpi, and adjusted the shadow/highlight histogram to maximize contrast.

7.  This one is more opinion than advice.  We decided to limit ourselves to the 216 web safe colors, the common fonts, the web features that were supported by older internet browsers (i.e. we didn't use style sheets), and we minimized the number and size of images so our web pages would load quickly.  This all fits with our basic philosophy of substance over glitz.

There was much more, of course, but these are the basics.  We will be glad to answer any questions regarding our web site development experiences.  Just use the Contact Us form.

It has been a couple of months since we launched our web site, and we have some additional thoughts:

1. The need to be able to update a web site easily, frequently, and inexpensively is even more important than we had thought. We update our web site several times per week, particularly the project web pages. The decision we made to learn to refine and update the web site ourselves, without the need to involve a consultant, was one of the best decisions we made.

2. One of the many benefits of using Microsoft FrontPage 98 software is the way it simplifies the updating process. We use an ISP, NECAnet, out in Storrs, CT, and when we update our web pages, we just click on "Publish" and FrontPage does the rest. It sends the updated web pages to NECA and even knows to delete pages when we no longer need them in the web site. Quick & easy.

3. The ability to have project web sites within our web site has been far more important than we had anticipated. It is an extremely effective way to make the key project information available to the entire project team. With a click of a button, they can see the latest schedule, team directory, plans, reports, etc. It is easier and quicker than sending or faxing paper copies. It allows more people to stay in touch with the project. It is easier than wading through files to find what you want. And you always know you have the latest version of everything. Our clients are loving it.

4. Launching the web site is just the beginning of the effort, not the end of the job. Don't forget to register with the directories and search engines. Send out announcements to everyone. Promote it in your correspondence and conversations. Our project web sites have proven to be an important promotional tool, because the project people always visit our web site. And we have built on that idea by making project web pages available to a couple of community groups.

5. In using our digital camera, we have found that we get a higher quality result if we take the pictures with the highest resolution possible and then use an image program (we use the Microsoft Image Composer that comes with FrontPage 98) to crop the image and reduce the pixels for the web page.

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Ambrose Design Group, Inc.,
99 Pratt Street, Hartford, CT 06103
Tel.- (860)727-8031   Fax.- (860)527-6444
Last Updated 3/17/99