Thanks to all those that attended the responsive web design webinar on Tuesday the 28th of August 2012. It was great to share our understanding and experience of responsive design, thanks for your questions and feedback. We’ll be incorporating some of them in an updated seminar.
Opportunity: Web Developer
Location: Wantage, Oxfordshire
You’re a talented and enthusiastic developer looking to join an ambitious and successful digital agency. You love solving creative, complex challenges with high quality, reliable development solutions. We are looking for a top-class coder who knows LAMP like the back of their hand. If you have the minerals to take a brief, question it, shape it and suggest ideas that can help the team deliver what the client expects then you’ll want to work with us.
Having an aesthetically pleasing website for your company is most definitely a satisfying feeling. However, a lot of websites suffer once you access the CMS (Content Management System) and realise that you need a degree in rocket science to use it. Frustrating in most cases, infuriating in others, your content management system is off putting and tiresome to use.
At Hutchhouse we believe the site administrator should have the ability to manage all of the content on all of the pages without the risk of breaking the site. This is a difficult balancing act between allowing clients the level of control they desire whilst delivering a site with a framework that can cope with most eventualities.
If you believe your site carries a lot of value at the front end and all you lack is the ability to manage the content via a good reliable backend CMS system – Hutchhouse can reverse engineer any website and provide you with a usable, intuitive system that will control the content on your site. We believe in giving clients the ability to make updates and additions as often as it’s required without compromising design or functionality.
With the emergence of mobile web in recent years, having a mobile site for your business or charity is becoming more important than ever. Here’s a couple of reasons why…
“There are currently 14 million mobile internet users in the UK. This figure is expected to rise to 17 million by 2012 and 19 million by 2013.”
“It’s estimated that by 2015 more people will be browsing the web via a mobile device than a desktop PC”
Source: Morgan Stanley
When you first set out employing an agency to design and build your website, there are many factors which come into play. We have tried to come up with a few pointers on choosing a web design agency and some warning signs to look out for.
Like most industries there are varying levels of competency and skill and – like much of the IT industry – web design and especially web development is scattered with jargon. There are definite pitfalls and signals which you should take heed of and certain traits that should be expected and applauded.
Good web design agency traits
- The project management team can answer your questions clearly
- Jargon and technical detail are kept to minimum and non-technical explanations
- The agency are upfront and transparent about their costs (both project costs and any ongoing costs)
- The web design process is clearly explained
- Clear milestones are provided with regard to the overall web design and development process
- The agency can quickly produce examples of work which is relevant to your project
- Any third party technology or input (if any) to the project is made clear
- The ongoing website support process is explained
- Hosting requirements are considered and options are discussed
- Clear points of contact are established
Poor web design agency behaviour to look out for
- Points made by the agency are littered with technical details and jargon and don’t make sense to you
- There are elements of the approach which lock you into using the web design agency (such as hosting agreements)
- Questions are not answered sufficiently or are skirted over
- The agency’s approach and processes are not explained
- The agency mask costs in technical jargon and do not explain the reasoning for them sufficiently (this can be especially true with regards to Search Engine Optimisation – there another blog post in the making on that one)
- You get the sense that the agency don’t understand your requirements. Each project is different and a ‘boiler plate’ (one size fits all) approach by the agency will make them money but won’t produce a site inline with your expectations.
What you should ask a web design agency
- Ask for examples of previous work including demonstrations if required
- Ballpark figures (or hunches) are easy enough to give with small amounts of information. These can easily rule out (or in) whether an agency will fit your budget and save time on both accounts
- Find out what the company recommends with regard to content management platforms (if applicable) and search engine marketing (social media, web copywriting, web page optimisation)
- Ask about the level of web accessibility the agency adhere to by default
- Discover the processes the agency will follow
- How much contact does the agency need from you?
- Find out about the key project milestones and what they mean in relation to any proposed timescales
Most of us will end up working with people we like, but that won’t guarantee a successful project. You should never be afraid to ask a question, even if your questions seem trivial. Any agency worth their salt will take their time to explain their proposal and make sure you fully understand their processes and approach, without using over complicated technical jargon. Just like any other industry, you are employing experts, so you need to trust their judgement, but beforehand, they need to earn your trust.
Having been limited to using the ‘web safe’ font set (Arial, Verdana, Courier, Georgia and Times New Roman) since the dawn of time, it’s been refreshing to see the emergence of several font rendering techniques over the past few years. Here’s a summary of the three most popular solutions.
Typekit is a very simple method to implement alternative type as it is provided via a web service. Typekit has a library of fonts which you can license by purchasing an annual subscription to the service (there is a free plan but this is restricted for use on one website with Typekit badge visible on the site). There’s a wide range of typefaces available and the Typekit website allows you to completely configure fonts, font weights and styles using an intuitive interface. However it’s not all plain sailing…
The fonts available on the Typekit Library rarely match with fonts you might have locally for use in Photoshop or Illustrator. Quite often you have to settle for a close match, and this is not good practice with regards to brand guidelines etc. Often takes a fair amount of explaining to the client which is never ideal.
Another issue is that although the fonts render smoothly in modern browsers on Mac OSX, rendering on Windows falls way short with most fonts options. The fonts end up rendering badly and anti-aliased. Although Typekit does provide a good comparison tool to view the fonts using the various operating systems and browsers, this doesn’t help when you’ve designed with a font that Typekit renders badly for the majority of your site users.
The major benefit of Typekit is the freedom to use the font sets available without worrying about licensing. The major drawbacks are the lack of availability of certain ‘standard’ fonts and the render failures in Windows which really let it down. If it wasn’t for these issues it would almost certainly be the perfect choice for most web designers and developers.
The beauty of Cufon is it’s limitations, or lack thereof, when it comes to which fonts it can render. The system works by rendering any specified text configured on the Cufon site. When the page loads the text is transformed using ‘Canvas’, a cross-browser element that looks and acts exactly as you specify in the website’s stylesheet. So far it sounds great doesn’t it.
Unfortunately – like most systems – there is a major drawback. It’s not a technical issue, it’s greyer than that and raises serious concerns over the legitimacy of using Cufon. Although Cufon can render any font using the Cufon configuration tool, site owners need to be assured that they have the right to use the font for this purpose (font embedding without Adobe Flash). Certain fonts require an extended license for this purpose, however it’s important to identify whether you can legitimately use the font or whether you would have to seek an additional license first.
@font-face is a system which actually permits the render of any font from your webserver. Simply add the font files and reference them using ‘@font-face’ syntax and the font will render as expected. There are issues with regard to cross browser compliance, however all the major browsers appear to be addressing this with Safari, Firefox and Chrome having already adopted this method natively. There are other issues around licensing, but these appear to have become less prevalent with the birth of freely available @font-face kits. Such kits can be found at Font Squirrel.
All the libraries mentioned here have their merits and all have their issues. There is, however, one clear winner. As the browser software companies adopt it, the @font-face method is likely to become the norm. That’s why we use it now and will continue until we find a reason not to.