Thursday, July 06, 2006

Like Calling a Slide Show A Television Program

We’ve all seen them – sites that make us cringe. There are websites out there that actually make me squirm just looking at them, and last weekend I visited a few that drove me nearly mad.

This started with business cards. Yes, how on earth did I manage to forget until the end of June that I hadn’t ordered business cards yet? I have my engraved business card holder, I fully intended to have cards done in time for Harrogate Crime Festival. But somehow, in between all the other things going on, it slipped my mind.

Until I was rearranging things in my office and looked at my collection of cards I received last year at Harrogate.

Well, how hard can it be? I thought. I do desktop publishing – I used to work in that. I could make my own cards if need be, although Kevin was adamant that I not.

As he said, having a card with bumpy edges because you printed off a sheet of perforated cards and handing them out says cheap.

Now, I don’t think about stuff like that, because I don’t often exchange business cards. In Mr. Business Analyst and Software Developer’s world, they think about stuff like that. I think more about card stock and design – he thinks overall appearance of quality.

So, I decided to try looking at some designs online. I had a design I’d worked out on my computer, but I didn’t know if it would be feasible.

What did I discover? That, in order to have the privilege of shopping for business cards online through the retailers here, I had to register as a customer. I had to give them personal information.

Absofuckinglutely not.

I won’t give you “my right to privacy, part 2” but this was part of what got me about our government’s planned internet surveillance bill. I’m loathe to completely knock it and be 100,000% against it until I actually see the bill. Why so level-headed, so unusually restrained, Sandra? It’s simple. I also know the media can make a zit into a brain tumor. And our media have an anti-conservative bias, which means you can’t always take what they report at face value. I went through classes on covering politics, I know the subtle ways media manipulate readers to sway political favour. So, when it comes to stuff like this, I bear that in mind.

That said, I will not give out personal information in order to just look at a product online. It’s an absolute rule for me. And in cases like this, I’m tempted to write a company a letter and tell them how bad it looks, that a potential customer can’t even look at business card designs on the website in order to decide if they might take their business there. What, exactly, is the point of the website then?

Incidentally, if you go into the stores I’m referring to, they have a book on their print center counter with all their design choices. I’m not even asking for something that doesn’t exist, but there is no point having a website where people can shop from if you don’t let people browse through your products.

They lost a sale over those websites.

Instead, I went to a place in Calgary that designs on site, and yes, it was a bit of a headache for me. I had to drive in and place the order in person. Then, the next day, I had to drive back and approve the proof.

Now I have to drive back to Calgary and pick up my cards. And believe me, three trips to the city, 45 minutes each way, give or take, depending on traffic? I can think of better ways to spend my time, not to mention the gas money.

But that’s how strongly I feel about it.

What I really wish is that people who have websites, especially business websites, would realize how ridiculous they look sometimes. I debated on whether or not to pick on some sites, and figured I may as well. I’ve got to say that if you’re selling something, you should have an indication of your product on the site, preferably the front page. I don’t have a book cover myself yet, but that’s why my front page talks about my writing. Not perfect, but it’ll do for now.

This website is one of my least favourite publisher websites. The front page officially puts the site as being about nothing. Even worse, look at how they do the author listing page.

Do you see why it bugs me? You have to go a few clicks in to even start seeing book covers that way. I have no idea what this press is about from their website.

This of it this way. You have a very limited amount of time to persuade someone to look further and be interested in your site. If I was looking to buy a book, I'd be very frustrated by this site. I don't even know what kind of books they sell.

Crap, people, remember consumers fly by and if all they see is children's books, they'll think children's books. If all they see is mysteries... get it? If you publish a variety, indicate that right off the top. I look at the author listing and book listing pages and think, "I'd have to know somebody to be looking for their book here." That is NOT a site that appeals to consumers.

On the other hand, look at Crème de la Crime. Book covers, as well as a “who we are’ right on the front page. This is much better. It actually shows me that they publish books, and I can see the quality there of the designs. I’m far more interested in going deeper and looking around at titles on a site like this.

Another site that’s not doing itself any favours. Bland front page. No graphics.

Okay, I don’t want to see cheesy graphics and artwork that has nothing to do with books on a publisher’s site either. But is this a real press or what? Then show me a book cover!

This is one of the best. Crisp, clean, easy to navigate. Looks professional. Scroll down for recently reviewed and upcoming events, getting front page prominence. That tells me they’re paying attention to what happens with the books they put out and their authors.

Here are my basic rules for websites:

Show what you’re about. There is only one flaw to this otherwise perfect site, and I bet you don’t know what it is. It has nothing to do with site design, other than search engine optimization. Otherwise, this is a great author site. Atmospheric. Crisp and clean, easy to navigate. Easy to read.

If you want people to treat you like a serious business, act and present yourself like one. Here’s one I’ll give mixed reviews. I’m not sure I care what the outside of the store looks like. The cat is the mascot, otherwise I’d be wondering wth – and 2 pictures? But I suppose if you’re physically looking for the store, an external picture would help. Still, the link list is small, the titles are long, and it doesn’t put itself off as a place to shop right away.

Don’t run ads for other businesses, especially across the top of a page. If you’re going to do it, put it down the side or something. The top of the page is what grabs the eye first, and when I have to sort through ads for someone else, I’m put off. Here’s a good example of an ezine with sponsors, placing them at the bottom of the page. It doesn’t detract from the issue or what the ezine is about.

Less is more. Don’t overcrowd your site. The site I referenced above as doing ads well? It doesn’t do text so well. It’s too small, the colours I find visually distracting.

Simply put, you can’t be all things to everyone. But know what you’re about, and design your site to reflect that. Cornelia’s site is simple, understated and very effective. The uncluttered feel allows me to focus right in on who she is, what she’s about. She doesn’t have to say “author” because she has her book cover right there.

Yeah, I know, this is reading like Sandra’s rules of web design. Something to think about, though. I had a hard time designing my website at first, because I originally designed it before I had a book deal. Then I changed the whole design in a hurry.

I’ve been thinking about redoing it for a while now. I’m still thinking. And going around to some sites that drove me nuts on the weekend has made me think even more about my website.

In fact, I might know what I’m doing instead of sleeping next week.

Okay guys, I’m sure I’m not alone. Share your website pet peeves with me!


Bill Cameron said...

I have an opinion about this. Though, normally, I don't have opinions. (Really, I don't.)

Things I don't like in web sites are:

Sound. When I land on a web site in which involuntary sound begins, I click close almost instantly. I don't mind voluntary sound: "Click here to hear..." but don't surprise me.

Flash. Now, I happen to think Flash has a place on the web, primarily in the form of Strong Bad cartoons and Magical Trevor. What I hate is complicated whooshy interfaces that take a long time to load and just keep doing stuff all the time. Move your mouse a little bit and sproingy something happens there. Makes me crazy. The interface should NEVER be more important that the content.

There are exceptions to my Flash navigation rule -- sometimes elaborate Flash sites are cool in and of themselves, independent of the content.

Above the Fold. On the home page, everything important should be above the fold. But it shouldn't be crammed in so tight I'm looking at a wall of text/links/GIFs. Tell me what you're about, keep it simple and open, and then let me get to it. Once I click into your site, content may flow out the bottom of the page, but if I have to scroll to find anything on my first visit, I probably won't.

Now defining "above the fold" can be a bit tricky. For someone on a thirty-inch monitor, the browser window may be huge. But these days, you're safe to assume an average window area of 1024 x 768 pixels, and if your home page works within those dimensions, you're probably safe. And some stuff can appear below the fold -- less important stuff. But grab me with a single screenful, and give me access to everything critical from there. I'll love you for it.

Animation. This is similar to the Flash rule, which is that I don't want to see a lot of it. But a little is okay. And I do like feedback. If I mouse over something I can click I like it when something changes, color or shading.

Printer Friendly versions of pages are cool, but even the primary version of the page should at least acknowledge that someone might want to print it. Of course not everyone does a printer-friendly version of their pages, and for those, at least a tacit acknowledge that for long pages, folks might want to print it and read it offline is nice.

Poor Contrast. Grey text on dark grey? Yeah, it happens. Makes me cry. Light on dark, dark on light, I don't care about so much. Contrast is critical though.

I can go on and on and on and on. But out of courtesy to my host, I'll be quiet now.

I will, however, leave you with a link to the ultimate authority on web site design, Strong Bad.

Linda L. Richards said...

It's easy to deal with sites that require you to register in order to use them. Do what I do: just make shit up.

It's not like they're actually going to check or anything. I mean, you're right: it's invasive of a business to ask for information they don't need so that you can possibly shop with them. It makes no sense. So help our cause: next time it comes up, clutter up their database with useless information.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, you can rant all day! I don't mind! Your thoughts are more specific than mine. I know some people have major issues with flash and sound.

Linda, great idea. I just get so indignant, I move on to the next site. But lying? That never even occurred to me (and I call myself a crime writer!)

Steven said...

Okay, but on the subject of business cards for writers, do you have cover art yet? If so, I'd think about using that for the front of your card. Then email or other contact info on the other side.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I am so totally with Bill on the flash and the sound. I hate having music or talking heads pop from my speakers unexpectedly. DESPISE it. If I hear sound, and I didn't click on something to activate the sound, I'm gone.

Flash does have its place, but not on the front page. I don't like being confronted with LOADING... when I type in a URL. Same thing as the music: if the page immediately starts with the loading screen, I'm gone (unless it's a game site and I expect an interface to start up).

And those stupid cursor animations that follow the mouse around... ARGH! They won't go away!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh yeah, Bill: StrongBad rocks! (Just ask him!)

I actuallly have a link to somewhere on my website. :-)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sorry to say it Stephen, but no cover art. Otherwise, it would have been a definite plan. Margaret Murphy gave me her card last year, very nice job with the cover art. And yep, it made me go to the store and look for her book.

SW, I hear you. If there's something on a site I can't make stop, I'm likely gone.

anne frasier said...

cornelia's site is gorgeous.

i also hate sound and won't look at a site with sound/music.

JamesO said...

Oops. My site requires you to register before you can download any of my stories - and you don't really get any tasters either. It's actually something I've been thinking about for a while, but haven't got around to fixing, since I never get any hits anyway. I've a plan to use sessions to count a person's downloads, then when they've read three stories I'll prompt them to register before reading any more.

As to what bugs me most about site design. Apart from what's been said above, I hate complicated navigational structures. Three clicks to what you're looking for should be the aim.

And shopping carts that wait until you've reached the checkout before telling you the item's not in stock.

And people who charge £5 postage and packing for something that plainly cost 50p to send.

And... I'll stop now.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I can go either way on sound - it just depends on what the sound is. But Cornelia does have a great site, doesn't she Anne? Of course, it doesn't have the same atmosphere as Simon's, which I like.

James, you'd never make it as a con artist! LOL! Got to agree about those shopping carts!

Cornelia Read said...

Thank you for citing my site as a good one--I was just very very very lucky that Heidi Mack of was willing to take me on as a client. She's amazing, and I love all of her author sites, especially Louise Ure's.

DesLily said...

Being on dialup I agree with all above! Any animation/ sound etc adds so much to my upload that I give up on most. It's a shame they dont have a choice to pick from like they did for "frames or no frames" So you could either visit a "high tech" site or a "plain site" and get all the same information.

It's a shame they forget not everyone is on high speed. And many times it's because it's not an option where they live or they can't afford it.
A favorite site of mine is Stephen R Donaldson Author of two trilogies called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, his lates being The Runes of the Earth.

He has a good thing going there where he has a running dialogue with anyone who writes him a question. It can get very interesting at times! It might be an idea for you to toy with after the release of your book!!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Good point DesLily - we were stuck on dial up for a while when we first moved out here, so I know what you mean.

And I'll check out that idea, thanks!

Cornelia, your site is fantastic. I just hate sites where I can't find what I'm looking for, and your site is so well organized, I love it.

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

Sound, I don't like sound. Well let me qualify that. I don't like some sites that have some obnoxious song playing...usually sounding like it was recorded in a tin can. Bleah. Especially fun if you are up late at night and it blasts out at you...scares the crap out of me usually.

I did my own website and just recently this year did a whole redesign which I like better than the old website but someday I'd love to have a professional design it for me. But that cost $$ which I ain't got. :) So for now i plod away trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing. :) And I try to take into consideration people on dialup and different screen sizes.

I too hate sites that require registration just to view their product...they lose me too. Also sites that charge a huge amount for shipping turn me off... Ebay is rampant with that. A pair of earrings and shipping is $7.00. Puuulease!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, I hate it when a loud site scares the bejeebers out of you at night! Good point!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I hate sound, and heavily compressed pages. I'm on dialup also...sometimes I just give up and move on.

And the registering thing....It never occurred to me to lie!

Sandra Ruttan said...

What I'm trying to figure out is, how bad is it for us to lie under the circumstances, Bonnie!

Linda L. Richards said...

Guys, I didn't say to lie when you register. I said to make shit up. It's not the same thing at all. One is being untruthful. The other is creating a fiction. Maybe it's all in the place that you stand, but I'm standing on self-righteousness here (they shouldn't be asking me to register!) and it feels just fine.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay, well, when you put it that way... It's perfectly fine!

And you're right - they shouldn't be asking!!!

Amra Pajalic said...

I have to agree with Bill's points on the hate things. This is part of the reason why i still have no website designed. I'm not a visual person. While I know what I like and don't like, I have trouble articulating the why and how. I keep thinking that if I get published I'll have motivation to either create a website or pay a mate to come up with something and then learn enough to change it myself. For now I'll watch and learn.

PS Cornelia's website is so beautiful.

anne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anne frasier said...

sandra, i'm really looking forward to hearing all about harrogate.

the above delete was mine. i'd make a terrible spy. i can't keep track of all my identities.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Amra, if you read Cornelia's book, the little pictures even make sense!

Anne, LOL! Bad spy girl. Sounds like a Mike Meyers movie.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ooops, that would be Myers. But at least those googling won't find my site by accident.

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