Archive for the ‘website design’ Category

Why Maintaining Your Own Site Works

September 3, 2012

A few years ago, St. John’s Episcopal Church on Staten Island hired us to revamp their website. The original site was serviceable but, well, blue-ish and gray-ish, and not very welcoming. Here’s a screenshot, captured from the Wayback Machine:

St. John's website in 2008
St. John’s Episcopal Church website in 2008.

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How Unitarians Do a Website

December 26, 2011
Unitarian Church of Staten Island

Unitarian Church of Staten Island

Churches and other faith-based organizations often have wonderful websites, right up until the people who created them leave. Sometimes they move away; sometimes they burn out. In either case, the organization is left with a site that becomes more outdated every week, once a week.

The Unitarian Church of Staten Island was almost in this position. Their longtime webmaster was stepping down, but luckily, two members of the Communications Committee were willing to take on the job.

But let me digress for a moment: The Unitarian Church of  Staten Island, which was founded by abolitionists, has a long history of social activism. Their most famous member was Robert Gould Shaw, who led the 54th Massachusetts Regiment composed of freed slaves, in the fateful Civil War attack on Battery Wagner, Morris Island, SC. He was immortalized, along with his regiment, in the film Glory.

The 21st century members are no slouches either. Their Social Justice Committee is involved with the Staten Island Building Bridges Coalition and helped celebrate Food Day 2011. One of their Small Group Ministries has a fair trade coffee program, and the church itself shelters homeless men from Project Hospitality every night.

So it was obvious to us at Fast Smart Web Design that this group of people would have the intellectual, physical, and spiritual energy to maintain their own site. We showed one member how to use Adobe Contribute, and the other already knew how to use Adobe Dreamweaver. Between them, they’ve kept the site up to date and have solved most of the inevitable glitches on their own. Check out their Sunday Services and Upcoming Events pages to see how well they (as well as the church) are doing.

The web administrators said they’re willing to talk to other faith-based organizations about the process of redesigning  and then maintaining an organizational website. Not all the issues are technical, they point out — the team needs to be able to manage privacy, workload, and interpersonal issues as well. Contact us if you’d like to get in touch with them.

Designing Art in the Afternoon (fish in the morning)

December 26, 2011
Art in the Afternoon (fish in the morning)

Art in the Afternoon (fish in the morning)

Fast Smart Web Design has worked with Naima Rauam on her site, Art in the Afternoon (fish in the morning), through two design iterations. Both the first and current versions are notable for what’s not there: No colored backgrounds, no busy banner, no complicated navigational strategies. Instead, because the site is so simple, your eye is drawn to the paintings themselves.

Why is the site called “Art in the Morning (fish in the afternoon)”? Simple: When Naima started painting at the Fulton Fish Market, one of the fish mongers let her set up a gallery in his shop after the market closed at 11 a.m.

With Art in the Afternoon, we learned two things:

  • The more descriptions you include, the better search results you get. This is obvious, of course, but it’s time-consuming to write descriptions–and if you’re spending your time describing old pieces,  when do you get time to make new ones?  But as Naima adds more  text, her Google Analytics page shows more hits.
  • Simplicity is not for everyone. When we showed Naima’s site to Russians in our usability workshop in Moscow, they didn’t like it at all. But after we toured the Hermitage in St. Petersburg a few days later, we guessed why the minimalist style was so unpopular in Russia. If your ideal staircase looks like this, why would you like a plain white background?
Staircase at the Hermitage Museum

A staircase at the Hermitage Museum

What We Did for Meals on Wheels of Staten Island

December 26, 2011
Image

Meals on Wheels of Staten Island

As a Meals on Wheels (MOW) volunteer since 2001, Victor has been delivering meals every Wednesday to about twenty elderly clients. He noticed that the Meals on Wheels of Staten Island website hadn’t been updated for years, and when he asked, he found that MOW didn’t have much of a relationship with their web developers. They had trouble contacting anyone at the company and no one from the company tried to contact them.

Fast Smart Web Design offered to redo the website and set up the new version in such a way that the (extremely overworked) volunteer administrator could easily update the pages herself. She now regularly updates the newsletters and tweaks the pages when rules or procedures change.

In the redesign, we also

  • connected Meals on Wheels with PayPal for donations, memberships, and events
  • created volunteer and client application forms with reCAPTCHAs to reduce spam
  • added an SSL certificate to make sure that no one outside MOW could access clients’ information without their permission
  • added a translation widget to make it easier for multilingual clients to understand what was on the pages
  • included a widget that made the type larger (or smaller) to help older adults read the pages

Fixing a Site: Google Webmaster Tools

January 31, 2011

Ken Cybulska, a member of Staten Island Netpreneurs, sent around a link to an excellent Google webinar about the Google toolkits, “Google tools to turbocharge your website.”

Fast Smart Web Design was thrown up in a hurry a couple of years ago and then left to fester while we pursued actual work. (The shoemaker’s children have no shoes….) But it’s time to clean up the site, see what works, and kill off the rest.

The Google tools webinar provides a step-by-step approach to optimization, and we thought, “Hey, let’s see if this works, and if it does, we can follow the same process with our clients.”

So here’s the first step: Use Google’s webmaster tools to find out what Google sees when it indexes your site. (more…)

Make Your Website Multilingual in 5 Easy Steps

December 19, 2010
The starting website, Fast Smart Web Design

The starting website, Fast Smart Web Design, in English

On Staten Island, nearly every time I meet with food-pantry and soup-kitchen organizers, they mention that some new ethnic group has shown up at their doors. For example, the food program with which I’m associated expected to serve English and Spanish speakers. We do, but we also now serve Russian and Chinese speakers, and a nearby food pantry has had an influx of Albanians.

It’s hard, and expensive, to keep up with all the languages and cultures crossing our thresholds. How can you avoid spending money you don’t have on multiple translations of your materials, and yet help all the people who need your services?

There is a solution, and although it’s not perfect, it’s probably good enough: Follow a few rules for your text and then use Google Translate to create websites that can be translated on the fly into 54 different languages. (If you do mostly print materials, you can use the same techniques to translate your brochures into multiple languages. Just be sure to use a typeface like Lucida Sans Unicode that has letters in almost all known languages.)

Heres what to do:

  1. Change the text on your website so that it’s easy to translate. Use pictures and maps and reduce the text to captions wherever you can. Dont use synonyms—if client and customer mean the same thing, pick one term and stick with it. Spell out abbreviations—they dont get translated (and not everyone knows what they represent in English anyway). Check spelling and grammar carefully—errors dont translate well. (more…)

And Why the Internet Exists…

March 31, 2010

Neurosonics Live from Chris Cairns on Vimeo.

What You Wanted to Know about the Internet

March 31, 2010

Here’s everything you wanted to know, in just a few minutes:

JESS3 / The State of The Internet from JESS3 on Vimeo.

Obfuscate! How to Cut Down on Spam from Your Own Website

March 29, 2010

A July 2009 Technology Review article talks about the work of spam researchers from Indiana University. Some of key bits of information are:

  • Probably more than 90 percent of the email messages traversing the Internet are spam, according to MessageLabs.
  • Email addresses included in comments posted to popular websites were more likely to be picked up by spambots and to result in spam.

But also:

  • Using a simple obfuscation technique like replacing the @ with “-at-” works “surprisingly well” against email harvesting, according to researcher Craig Shue.
  • Submitting an email address to a legitimate website rarely resulted in spam. “If you go to less reputable sites, then you will get spam,” said Shue.

Fast Smart Web Design generally obfuscates emails on the websites we set up for our clients–what appears on the client’s Contact Us page, for example, is a mailto link on something like “emailname at hostname.com.”

Sometimes the client complains that the email doesn’t work (“You used ‘at’ instead of the @ sign!”). But after a little digging, we usually find that the person trying to use the link hasn’t chosen an email system with which to send an email from the web page. Each browser—Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox—has an option or preference for picking the email program you want to use.

For example, in Firefox, under the Tools menu, pick Options, then go to the Applications tab. Scroll down to “Mailto” and pick your favorite email program. Sometimes this solves the problem. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I don’t know why yet. (Anybody have any clues?)

Another way to get a cheap website…

December 22, 2009

I was poking around in the NYC Big Apps website looking at all the gorgeous applications created from NYC government data (yummy), when I saw this real-time traffic application for the iPhone.

It was developed by the Web Academy, which offers free, 100-percent-online web design classes and free website development for non-profits and small businesses.

It may be that you get what you pay for. However, many of my clients paid lots of money for sites that they didn’t like and that I had to help them redo later. Better to make all your mistakes for free, eh?