Making a Stellar Website

making-stellar-website

You want to make a website but not sure where to begin. Or maybe you already have one, but have no idea how to make it better. Well my friends, there are 3 key elements in a stellar website: the design, the images, and the copy. 

Let’s talk about the design.

My top recommendation: have it professionally done! I’m not just saying that because its my job, I say it because it makes sense.

Today one of my friends mentioned she received a piece of furniture that she ordered online. She could have paid a little extra to have someone assemble it, but she decided to try it herself. After a long night of reading instructions, the piece is still not put together and she has war wounds to prove it. Sure, she’ll get it assembled at some point in time and it will work great, but, wouldn’t it just have been easier paying a little extra to have it done and have it built right? 

See where I’m going with that story? Yes, you can create a website on your own and I’m sure it will look great. But, will it be like my friend’s furniture piece and be built properly? Will you have taken every piece into consideration? And how long will it last before you realize you expected something more? 

A professional designer will have it done faster and better. Why? Because they do this for a living. They know the benefits to having a great home page design. Or having your H1s worded a certain way for SEO reasons. They have built that piece of furniture over and over again and know the ins and outs. 

If you’re yelling at me right now because you don’t have the funds or you really would just rather make something on your own, its ok! You can. You can get a theme from WordPress or Squarespace or Wix or where ever, and make something splendid. If you do want to create a site on your own, be sure to have amazing images.

Let’s talk about photography.

A website is only as great as its photography. Go to your favorite website and imagine it without the images. No graphics. No photos. Nothing. Not so awesome, right? Images MAKE a website! Spend time taking great pictures. Think about composition. You don’t have to hire a professional (although, it is highly recommended), you can do this on your own. Have an understanding of what makes a great photograph. Stop being the overly excited BFF with the disposable wind up camera and clicking at whatever looks fun. 

Stock photography is a great option for those that cannot afford a photographer, do not have time, or do not feel comfortable taking their own pictures. Stock photography sometimes gets a bad rap but, a stock photo is going to be better than anything your 2012 camera phone will produce. 

Insider Tip: Many times, it won’t cost very much to have a designer create an ad or a slideshow image.

Another option is to create something and have a designer give their critique. Some will do this at no cost to you, others may charge their time. Either way, cheaper than a full web design or professional photographer. 

On the same lines, if you have a slideshow or need an advertisement created or want to highlight an event or section on your website, spend time thinking about the design.

When a slide pops up on a website with neon letters in 5 different fonts, you’ve lost me as a user. Not only have you lost credibility, but you appear to have just discovered fonts in MS Word. Nothing against that program, but put a little thought in how you present yourself online. Would you wear rainbow socks, oversized 1980s graphic tee with a fancy suit to your high paying job? Having ridiculous graphics on your website gives off the same vibe. 

Let’s talk about copy.

People do not read everything that is posted on a website. They want important information in digestible chunks. This doesn’t mean you only need 1 sentence on every page, but more so that you need to organize it in a way that is quick and easy to read. You’re not writing a novel or a 5 page report.

  • Use Headings, Subheadings, bullet points, lists, etc. to organize your content.
  • Highlight the sections you really want people to read. 

Hit a return when you have a paragraph that might be too large. 

Users like reading simple copy. Get to the point. Think Twitter-style but do not use “tween speak.” Still present yourself the want you want to be seen. Maybe you’re edgy and like to use humor. Maybe you’re very professional and proper. Whatever your style, be sure to carry it through with the design, images and copy. 

Bottomline

If you want to make a website really awesome, make sure you have a decent design, great photographs, and informative copy. Everything needs to match your brand and how you want to be seen online. Its ok to use a template from WordPress or Squarespace, but put some thought into it. Learn about how to make a great layout. Learn how to write great web copy. And learn how to optimize for the web. If this is something you want to do on your own, spend some time learning about how web design works and why there are people that get paid to do it for a living.

Have other ideas? I’d love to hear them in the comment section!

The Non-HOW Design, HOW Design Conference Recap

2016 HOW Live Conference

Every year I count down the days until I am reunited with my crew. My people. My homeslice designers. Or more commonly known, my count down to the HOW Design Live Conference. But this year, I was watching from afar. I decided to take the year off due to the fact that I switched jobs and moved to a new city.

Remember what momma said, play nice

Its been a month since day 1 of the conference and I was able to soak up all the knowledge possible via Twitter. The main thing I took away from the stellar tweets: be nice to one another. Its amazing how many businesses have employees that feel like they need to throw their co-workers under the bus just to stay ahead. Or, employers that treat their employees as if they are only there to make sure the line on the profit chart continues to point north. When did the world get this way? Has it always been and we’re just now realizing how awful it really is? Yikes, guys. 

After being a HOW Live attendee for 6 conferences, and experiencing the genuineness of everyone, it makes me wonder…if everyone there is so awesome, where are all the people they complain about? Why are they not there learning? Why are there so many designers that struggle at their jobs? I realize not every attendee hates their job or has beef with their boss, but there are some that do. Anyone that has gone, knows that there are countless sessions that advise you to leave your job if you’re unhappy. Or change the environment. Of course, not everyone has such courage. There are those that have bills…families…mortgages…loans…etc, and paychecks make that part of life easier. But, as they say, life is short. Enjoy it.

When I quit my job and moved to a city that I visited once, maybe twice, it was scary. I had to change everything. Where was my local grocery store? Or coffee shop? Who should I see if I’m sick? Will they have the same things that Ames had that I really enjoyed? No idea. Just go and see what happens. Leap blindly. It might just be exhilarating!

If you wait for the right time, you’ll never stop waiting

In Boston after HOW 2014, as I was waiting for my flight home, I took a moment and wrote a note to myself in the same notebook as my HOW Live notes. I told myself that in one year, something needed to change. I wanted a bigger city. I wanted more freedom at work. I wanted the option to be creative. And I wanted to try building my own business. I only looked at that note once since I returned from HOW, but it was always in the back of my mind. Happy to say, mission accomplished…and I survived. 

My current job is no longer a job, because I love coming into work and creating. The people are incredibly talented and want each other to succeed. They are personable and helpful and I couldn’t ask for a more engaging environment. They have fun and work hard. And the company is successful. This job is everything HOW talks about in the sessions. (They aren’t lying…utopia does exist!) I’m still trying to figure out why its not a normal working environment for so many creatives. Maybe I don’t have a head for business, but being nice and pushing each other seems like a pretty common sense way to achieve success. 

Twitter Gold

Usually I would go down the list of sessions I attended and recap each one with little design nuggets of inspiration and feel-goodness. But, since I wasn’t actually in any sessions, I will instead share some favorite tweets:

The reason I do what I do:

I agree! This is so perfect:

Looking Forward to 2015

kraydesign-christmas2014

It has been a few months in Kansas City and the holidays are here! The city looks amazing! So many lights, events, and great people. Even though my commute is about 30-45 minutes, I couldn’t be happier with where I live.

Love My New City

I have enjoyed my time here exploring the city and seeing new things. I love how much is happening all the time! Its exciting and has definitely been keeping me busy. My new full time job has been so great. The people are so creative and knowledgable – I learn something new every day! I’ve been thinking about different ways to set up websites and am trying different tricks. 

Being in a new place, getting lost and finding my way again, feeling excited when I know where I am, and learning so many new things about web design has been so refreshing and exhilarating. This is exactly the change I needed. While I still miss my office space downtown Ames, I know this is the place for me. There’s life and movement and people pushing design standards all around me. The feeling here isn’t as rushed like when I lived in Chicago or as slow paced as Ames, but something perfectly in the middle. 

Looking Forward

Moving forward with k.ray design, I think I am going to scale back how many projects I do at a time. I want more time to play and enjoy the city. I have projects that I am working on finishing up for 2014 and then will be off for Christmas and New Years. After the new year, I will be accepting at most 1 new project per month. This means new projects – not maintenance or updates. 

When I was in Ames, I put a lot of my time and effort into building my business because one day, I wanted to work for myself. While that idea is still appealing to me, my priorities have shifted. I want to continue designing things for great people, but I also would like more time to try new things and have new experiences. Now that I am in a city that allows me to do that, I feel as though I need to take full advantage! 

I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a great year! I wish you all the best during this holiday season. Spend time with your family and friends and enjoy every minute of it. You’ve earned it.

//

Making a Move

moving-kc-2014

As some of you may have seen, I am moving. 

I want to say thank you for an amazing first year! I have loved working with clients, meeting new people, and learning about different organizations. On November 1, 2013, I opened my doors downtown Ames. During that time I have explored the idea of working for myself and pushed my creativity. My business has become more organized and productive. So much so, that I don’t think I’ve had too many nights off from design! The risk I took by renting an office and making my design business official has worked out for the best. I couldn’t be happier with how far I have come with k.ray design.

Leaving my office space downtown is not going to be an easy thing. Ames has been my home for almost 10 years. I love my space. I love that I can have a space. And seriously, where am I going to put all my paper samples, design books, and pinball?! 

But, even though I might tear up a little bit and quite possibly will leave claw marks on the doorway as I get pulled out, I know this is the right thing to do. I have dreamed of living in a larger city for quite sometime and what better time than now? The new job will be more focused on web design – which is something I want to learn more about. I love print materials and branding, but really want to expand my web design skills. Plus, I can still do all those fun things with k.ray design. The beauty of my work is that it can be done from anywhere! 

What does this mean for k.ray design?

It means all of my clients will benefit from this change. I will learn more things. I will be inspired by completely different surroundings. Everything that comes with this move will be reflected in my design. If we have started a project together, or have talked about a project’s timeline, no worries! Everything will still remain on schedule. I made a promise to my clients and I will make sure I hold up my end of the bargin. I will still be in Ames until October 12, so if you would like to meet, please don’t hesitate to contact me. 

Once again, thank you for all of your support! I will be accepting new projects beginning November 1, 2014. 

Watch out, Kansas City! Here I come!