3.05.2011

better use google chrome...




Most browsers have too many (and often also completely unnecessary) tool bars, don't they? I mean, do you want to see the website or all those boxes which, at a small screen resolution, can easily take away up to a fifth of your web real estate? Big difference is google chrome where they have managed to place things beautifully all in one line. There is a separate bookmarks bar which you can make visible/invisible by doing a quick ctrl+shift+B. And everything else you may need is found under the little wrench icon on the top right. The rest of the screen goes to the actual site that you want to look at.

 (Tip:  One little nasty is that the default google chrome theme is a bit too flashy, which may also distract from the page content. Easily solved: Go to their theme gallery and select something less obtrusive.  ;-) 

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content issues: blog vs. website

As you are working on your content and your mind map one important decision to be made is whether you will have a blog or a regular website. While a standalone website is good for certain kinds of content (say, product sites or artists portfolios), when it comes to most web content my personal bias is in favor of blogs. I have this idea that blogs get a far better viewing response since they are open to social interaction. Yet another thing which makes blogs very attractive is that in their very nature blogs are updated very frequently through new posts. These posts see to it that a blog is structured quite differently from a regular website in that the home page of a blog consists of a post roll in which the latest post is displayed at the very top and things progress in counter-chronological order as you move downwards. 

The good news is that most blogging domains let you have the best of both worlds in that you can add pages to your blog which then make it work in a fashion very similar to a regular website with a home page and sub pages that can be reached from it either through a top bar or a page widget. While wordpress lets you have an unlimited number of pages and even lets you nest pages within pages (thus giving you the full hierarchy of a web architecture), blogspot is somewhat stingier in this regard and lets you have only 10 pages and no nested pages.

 (Tip:  What you can do however is create a secondary site at blogspot which has the exact same layout and design as the primary one. This is done very easily by exporting and then re-importing the blog once the structure of it is somewhat established. The secondary site you can then link to the main site and use custom created posts that you put on it as the sub-pages of your primary blog. 

Another type of combo which you can also consider is to attach a blog and a regular website. To give an example: At some point I intend to start a gallery on this site. For this I intend to do a perfectly straightforward thumbnail layout using Photoshop and Dreamweaver since it would be kind of silly to try to get that style to work within a blog format. This gallery I will then link to the blog with a separate link category or maybe even under a separate page where I have a bit of an explanatory text or something. Needless to say, the design of the gallery site (which is put together with Dreamweaver) and the actual blog will have to be consistent and this may end up being a bit of a design challenge to solve (but more on this type of stuff later...). And then the other thing to be aware of is that in terms of logistics, you need to either have your site externally hosted or run your own server so that you can access ftp, etc.

In terms of blogging domains, my favorite these days is blogspot. I used to be a die-hard wordpress person but the fully customizable template editor (wow - they even give you the code!) at blogspot has made me a convert. Of course, you are not bound by the user friendly services of public blogging domains - if you want to suffer you can also create your own blog from scratch or bust your chops by using wordpress technology embedded into your site and then spend long blissful hours configuring the CSS. ;-) :-)...


But one way or another, user friendly solutions or hard graft, in terms of the big decision - blog or website or combo platter - make your mind up pretty much now, I would say.

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3.04.2011

the mindmap/preliminary site plan


Once you decide upon the content of your site it is time to become more specific and also to start putting your material in some sort of a hierarchical order. A very good way of doing this is through mindmaps.

Now, you can conceivably draw a mindmap on a piece of paper or a whiteboard. The thing with analog means is that they do not allow for too many changes of mind - every time you want to make a change you have to painstakingly erase things and start all over since obviously there is no such thing as copy paste in the physical world. A website is a living, dynamic thing, subject to many changes as you progress, and so it is a good idea to use a software for this. Freemind is opensourced and fantastic.

The screenshot above is a preliminary site plan for this site and I have put it here to show you how Freemind basically works. Insert gives you a child node and enter gives you a sibling node. You can write as much or as little explanatory text into the nodes. You can link nodes up with arrows and also cluster nodes through clouds. And there is even more that you can do with this, such as that you can add images and hyperlinks also.

So, next step: Download Freemind now and start putting together a preliminary site plan for your site.

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first things first: creating content!

Good content is something others (people who do not personally know you!) will be motivated to read/see, to benefit from to the extent where they will wish to pass on your URL to others. Certainly, good design helps, and that is what this place is all about in the end. However, not even the best design, with perfect visuals, great typography, fabulous coding, and so forth is going to make up for the absence of really good content.

And this does not have to be highfalutin, serious, earthshakinlgy important stuff either. One of the greatest sites that I know of, that I always go back to check on, is Monty Chan, which tells the story of Monty the cat through snapshots, often festooned with doodles and hand written notes by his owner. No fanfare, no major statements, no 'agenda' and yet a delight of a site which, just like me, many many people have bookmarked and keep checking on every so often.

So, you all have hobbies, right? Take a close look at them, see if they may not be really good material for a website that will interest others as well. Some of us love soccer, others love cats. Some of us collect stuff, while some are computer game freaks. Some of us are geeks, some are fashionistas. (And hey - some of us are both: Again an amazing site (contentwise) is Geekthreads. And a perfect example of what I mean by the fact that 'content' always overrides 'design' when it comes to really good websites. Geekthreads has its share of design problems (which I think I will actually discuss later, in a separate post). But, who really cares? Not even me - and I am a designer! ;-). The content is so captivating, there is so much humor in there, that I am more than willing to overlook a few alignment and hierarchy issues. Geekthreads makes me have a great time every time I go there - and at the end of the day, that is the only thing that really counts.

The thing to bear in mind is that you are creating content for people who do not know you. Which means that you have to be able to hold their attention through your content alone.Which means that you should be warm, sincere, open, funny and daring.Charismatic! Cheeky even! Or that you have content which is really useful to people (such as a specialized subject site, say in some research domain or a particular hobby or craft). Or... Or... In any case, in order to be able to pull this off you need to feel strongly and warmly about what it is that you want the site to be about. Which is why I am suggesting that you start out by looking at your own hobbies and little obsessions - be they your shoe collection or sharing your favorite junk food recipes...

A few ideas that I heard of in class are great by the way: As an example, Melis told me that she wants to create a "Usage Instruction Manual" on herself. Great! Now, the trick there of course is to make this thing so funny that someone coming by from Kenya or Indonesia or Canada - and who does not know Melis at all obviously - would still be ROTFL. Another really good one was the idea about putting together a food guide for Istanbul. In this case - why not with a twist? There are already quite a few "serious ones" out there, so how about a junk food guide for Istanbul? Then another good one that I heard is the frogman site. Well, if you have a hobby like that to talk about- you're half way there already, I would say...

So, really folks - this is the most important part of the job: Find some good content!

Go go go! ;-)

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3.03.2011

so, what is this all about then?

This blog is the course blog of the VA333 Web Design course which I am teaching at Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey. This is a multidisciplinary course in which art and design students come together with students from many other disciplines to do the same course work.

I am hoping that the content that I put her will help my students as they learn to create and design a website. Since quite a few of them are non-designers I have also given the blog a funny title. Designer and non-designer alike, we are aiming for sites that are rich in content, humorous, as well as attractive to look at. So, this blog will give them (and everyone else who wishes to join us) tips in how to create good content and good design.

I will try to share the web resources that I know of. These will cover all sorts of things, from stock image repositories and clip art places to typography sites to applications that can make life significantly easier for folk that are just starting out as designers. More and more intuitive (mostly online) platforms are being released every day and what used to be irksome tasks only a few years ago can be accomplished in minutes today - if you know where to look!

I am not a big believer in suffering. I do not think that toil and long hours of painstaking graft make for better design or help provide content. I certainly do not think that everything has to be made "by hand". What I do believe in is knowing where to look for fast, fun, pleasant solutions - in other words knowing all about resources! And then sharing what you encounter. Which, in the end, is what this site will be all about!

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