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Web Graphic Design for Small Businesses

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the make-it-pretty dept.

GUI 377

An anonymous reader writes "I'm a competent geek running a one-man-show for a small business. I do everything IT in this company; servers, email, desktop support, managing Ethernet switches, cash registers, inventory database, and the company website. My boss has asked me to 'punch up' the website to make it more appealing. Although I can hold my own with HTML, PHP and a couple SQL products, graphic design isn't one of my strengths. I'm looking for some advice on how to improve the site without making it overstimulating for the webophobic. It's also important that it conform to ADA accessibility guidelines. In particular, I'm looking for books or tutorial websites that teach the basics of good graphic design — how to make it more appealing without losing the ability to communicate effectively. Also, I would appreciate suggestions for tools to use to make this more efficient (Windows and Linux are both OK)."

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Get someone else (5, Insightful)

diskis (221264) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369630)

I'm a good geek of all arts. But when I try to dabble in graphical design, I always fail spectacularly.
Get someone with actual talent to do it.

Do really you think you can train a graphical designer to code with a few book and tutorials, and not get out results fitting for thedailywtf?

Re:Get someone else (3, Informative)

diskis (221264) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369678)

Oh, and if you decide to try, remember that you most likely are colorblind. All geeks are.
Steal what you can't do yourself.

As I can't color-coordinate my own socks, ready palettes are a godsend :) []

Re:Get someone else (2, Insightful)

Lord Apathy (584315) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369718)

This is my advice too. I'm good when it comes to technical shit. I can build a computer in my sleep from the parts I have in the box that my feet is propped on. I've coded in just about everything that compiles.

Now you need something on the back end of a webpage and I can do it, no problem. But I find some many geeks like myself have no talent in graphics arts. And that is what you need. A business webpage needs to run good and you sound like you have that covered. But it also needs to look good and be functional.

Hire someone that knows what they are doing.

Unify your online presence and Marketing programs. (4, Insightful)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369778)

Websites are MARKETING tools, and must be part of a unified Marketing Strategy.

You want a Marketing Pro, who can deliver the rain, handling the "Vision", while you can concentrate on the implementation.

Re:Get someone else (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369850)

Tell him to fuck off. Programming/sysadmin requrires a totally different mindset than graphic design. There are very few people who can do both. Most people who can run servers can design for shit and most people who can design can't program/sysadmin for shit.

Art Institute (5, Insightful)

hotsauce (514237) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369860)

Absolutely. Get someone from the local Art Institute of $yourCity to look at your current glossy brochures and do it. Grahpic design is as far from programming as grahpics are from the mechanics of the printing press.

And yeah, she'll probably be a she :) That's the bonus, you'll get to work with a creative, and see how the other half live (gender- and professionally-wise). Then actually follow through with what she designs for you, don't just cringe at the large grahpics and crazy layout.

Creative is not a noun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370262)

As someone in the creative industry it pisses me off every time I hear a person being called a "creative". If the person you're working with is actually competent - you won't be cringing at large graphics and a crazy layout. You'll be looking at it and thinking, "Wow! That actually looks good and organizes the content in a meaningful way".

Re:Art Institute (5, Insightful)

dgagley (468178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370274)

Local Art institutes do not teach reality in graphics. Especially graphics that does not clog the band width. I have to re create designers work for print and online on a monthly basis. You can seek design help but you my need to alter it to work at a clean and understandable form. Try some small web design firm that is willing to help on side projects. You may also be able to share codding projects with them and make some side money as well.

Agreed-hire an artist (3, Insightful)

LinDVD (986467) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369918)

I just got back from an Adobe Flash 3D (Papervision 3d) [] training approximately one week ago, and there were many designers who attended. There were also some coders, but all the larger companies hire full blown artists. For example, Starbucks currently has two artists who create the concepts, and then they have two Actionscript/PHP coders who translate the artists' vision, and they have a back end coder for database stuff and other heavy-logic items. If an artistic element is a requirement, you really should outsource/hire someone who actually has a true art background (with experience in visual design), because artists just think in very different ways than coders do, and most people can't bridge the gaps. Sure, you can make something that could be pretty good, but it will never have the actual "feel" of an art project.

One more thing-80% of the audience had MacBook pro's. Why? The majority of people felt that the workflow was more intuitive/refined than what Microsoft Windows has to offer.

Re:Agreed-hire an artist (1)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370398)

When you say "artist", I think you mean "designer".

CSS Zen Garden (4, Informative)

Xelios (822510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370018)

The CSS Zen Garden [] is a great place to get some ideas. No book will teach you creativity, you can learn some general rules or tips and tricks but good design ultimately comes down to experience. The best advice, in my opinion, is to keep it simple and clean. Most visitors will appreciate a clean, easy to navigate site more than fancy flash graphics or a Photoshop jungle.

Re:Get someone else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370102)

You may not be able to turn your IT magic into artistic magic overnight, but two quick solutions come to mind: (1) Research similar sites that already have the look and feel you're going for and peek under the hood, or (2) buy a template or CSS and modify it. Use your skills to your advantage rather than focus on what you can't do.

HTML is *NOT* Art (5, Insightful)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370126)

I run into this misunderstanding all the time, on both sides (geek and suit).

There is nothing about being a "geek" or knowing HTML, CSS, or javascript that magically grants someone designer chops. It's like expecting the guy who sets type and runs the printing press to be a novelist or journalist, or expecting the chemist who mixes the paint to also be a canvas artist.

This misunderstanding was prevalent back when the web was "new" (circa '94-95), but it's inexcusable today. In any case, it's a lot easier to teach HTML and CSS to a legitimate designer, than design to an HTML jockey.

If the work of a real designer or design firm is simply not in the budget (which is crazy talk, because there are firms online that grind this stuff out now for chump change), than find some CSS book with a CD full of templates that grant license to modify. But please, for the sake of art, sanity, and all that's holy, keep IT out of web design!

Please note: Code is *not* poetry, and HTML is not code...

Re:HTML is *NOT* Art (1)

oktokie (459163) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370502)

This is a good sign that your employer does not really understand his own business's needs.

Do yourself a favor. Get a new job.


Re:Get someone else (1)

JoshuaDFranklin (147726) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370132)

Parent is right-on. And if you have a university in town, post a want ad in the art department, students are cheap and often very good. Otherwise, try a high school but be careful of under-18 hour restrictions. Most of them probably have "their own" copies of Dreamweaver and Photoshop, you probably want to buy or give them legit copies to use.

Re:Get someone else (2, Insightful)

ChadAmberg (460099) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370178)

Definitely farm it out. Bad graphics will kill a site, and good enough graphics no longer are good enough. Find a skilled professional. And I say this as someone who is absolutely horrible with graphics.
Since the guy is the one IT guy for a small business, I'm pretty sure the website doesn't have hundreds of pages, so it's not like this should be such a huge job and cost thousands.

Re:Get someone else (3, Informative)

Fr33thot (1236686) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370464)

You can hire all the talent you want, but if you don't better define the need, you'll likely fail. You need to know more about what "Punch it up" means. Beyond that, what other marketing venues are in play and how does the site complement these. Getting local talent, whether a student or a pro will be more effective if you know more about what they are looking for. Tell the boss that the entire marketing approach needs to be considered as a whole.

For ADA compliance, look at contrast, not using color to convey meaning (ex: red items are priority), alt tags on images (reduce your use of images where possible), jump tags to get to (or past) navigation areas, avoid animation. These will get you close to compliance though there are some coding conventions you must adopt. There is plenty of good advice for the google aware to find.

For the artwork, you need to consider color choice first. Get the book Color Harmony ahref= []> to help decide on a scheme that supports the image the business wants to convey. Once the colors are chosen, do not deviate from them frivolously. A portal or a good css design will make these things easier and if you haven't looked there, do. One good use of an art student is to have a nice logo designed. The art of logo design seems easy enough but trust me on this, you'll save headaches later if you get someone who is trained, especially if the business grows.

On tools, Adobe makes the best but there are some great OS alternatives like Gimp, Krita, Inkscape and Xara Xtreme that are nipping at Adobe's heals.

A good one... (3, Interesting)

Machitis (597087) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369640)

One of my favorite that really impacted that way I developed web sites: "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug [] .

Hire someone (4, Insightful)

Lord Apathy (584315) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369642)

I have a little bit of advice in this area from experience too. I was the IT department of a small company like that once. I was ask the samething. I can put together a home page but a business page is a whole different bowl of wax. You screw it up and you can lose customers.

My advice would be to scout some of the local talent first. You can find some really good artists and designers out of the local techschools. Most of them will work cheap, a good page might set you back 200 bucks.

Re:Hire someone (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369720)

I completely agree here. This is not your field. It may look like IT to those who don't do IT, but it's not. The maintenance of a website is IT, not the design.

Re:Hire someone (5, Insightful)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369840)

You guys aren't satisfactory geeks -- I think you've lost your geek roots. There's nothing IT-bound to geekdom. Instead, it's the simple notion of "screw it, I'll just figure it out myself". The entire computer geek world came about from having to learn something that no one else knows.

How can you advise someone capable of learning not to do so? No one's asking to become a professional marketting expert in ten days. The potser is asking to learn over a long period, and to start with something small.

That's certainly doable for someone clearly able to learn.

I seem to recal a book review on slashdot some year or six ago that proposed a web design book for programmers. It described basic colour and layout theory and such. I haven't the foggiest as to when or what, but certainly they do exist.

As a web developer myself -- I do handle both the programming and the design work. I shy away from the serious design work if only because it isn't worth my programming time, but the simple design work is easy and fun. Just sit there with the blank canvas and be patient. Many many iterations is the key. Just talk it out. Think about your design goals, break them down, try them out. It's really just pseudo-code and a paint-brush.

Re:Hire someone (2, Interesting)

jeillah (147690) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369928)

I think the book you are talking about is "The Principles of Beautiful Web Design" by Jason Beard. It is a decent basic overview of graphic design.

Re:Hire someone (3, Informative)

pgillan (1043668) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370024)

I suffer from all the same ailments that have been listed previously: no artistic ability, slight colorblindness, etc. I bought this book because it sounded like exactly what I needed. Even after reading through one night (it's not that long), I still feel that way, although I have yet to actually sit down attempt to "build a beautiful site." (I'm also lazy). The section on color palettes alone was almost worth the price of admission, what with the easy to understand color wheels and the definitions of "shade" and "tint".

Re:Hire someone (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369962)

The potser is asking to learn over a long period, and to start with something small.

That's the thing - from the sound of things, this job isn't small as it might seem. If it's a single page internet billboard for the company, then yes, do it yourself. But since he's asking about accessibility, that makes it sound like it's a fairly thorough site, which will have several different (but complementary) styles depending on the section the viewer is in. This is a job for a designer. Now, that said, work closely with the designer and try to learn what you can about design from them. Ask questions about placement of elements and color choices. If the designer is worth a damn, he should be able to explain the design theory behind his decisions.

Re:Hire someone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370016)

Same as other people, geeks like to learn because they like to do the things they learn. Someone who has absolutely no experience with graphics design probably isn't very interested in actually doing it ("wouldn't it be great if I could do that?" not withstanding.) Note that he asks for help because his boss told him to improve the web site, not because he himself noticed how awful the web site of the company is and how it could be improved.

Re:Hire someone (2, Insightful)

merreborn (853723) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370118)

How can you advise someone capable of learning not to do so?
Because we suspect that it's at best difficult to teach yourself aesthetic sensibilities. As an above poster mentioned, geeks are prone to being "colorblind" and aesthetically clueless -- I know my wife cringes every time I wear a blue shirt with brown pants.

If you reverse the situation -- say he was a graphic designer, and the boss asked him to write a little code -- you'd see the same sort of response here. Both programming and the arts really take years to get a good base understanding developed. Neither are the sort of thing where you can pick up a book and start producing something decent. You produce crap for years before you get it figured out.

Re:Hire someone (1)

dana340 (914286) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370516)

Geekdom is one thing, but artistic design typically falls out of the realm of geekdom. All my attempts at sites failed horribly, regardless of the medium chosen. Flash & HTML based. Knowing how to write a website's code doesn't mean he'd be able to make it more appealing. Color theory and basic wold of design type stuff can only go just so far, there are a lot of trends that need to be checked before continuing, such as what resolution are the majority of site visitors using, what platforms are being used, and so on. Then factor in the navigation and alt tag requirements for ADA, it really should START in the hands of someone who is more experienced, the site will overall look much better when done, and it will likely save a lot of self taught time (and payroll for the boss). If he really likes, he can have someone with graphic talent create a site and code the back end, or use one of the many templates that are already out there.

The graphic design area isn't a place to dabble with commercial sites, we can ALWAYS tell.

Re:Hire someone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370380)

I was ask the samething
bowl of wax

Still drunk from last night, are you?

Good luck getting help here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369656)

Prepare for 50 variations on the "Computer techs are not artists. You should pay someone." comment.

Shoot from the hip! It's the Slashdot way.

Re:Good luck getting help here (1)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370212)

re:"the slashdot way"

Have you seen the UI around here? I wouldn't be too proud myself. What's with the massive gap between the header and the comments for one...

Zen of CSS design? (4, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369658)

The Zen of CSS Design [] won great praise when it was released for its call for beautiful and natural graphical interfaces built on top of semantically meaningful and conformant (X)HTML. Perhaps you could take inspiration from that?

Re:Zen of CSS design? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369816)

Highly recommend this one for inspiration and the right way of doing things.

A list apart (1)

MacDork (560499) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370054) [] is my fav. It's code, it's style, it has explanations and step by step examples. I really enjoy reading that site. It focuses on making compliant code and code that works with the not so compliant browsers that people actually use, all at the same time.

Hire a designer (2, Interesting)

pjmidnight (712441) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369662)

It's easy for engineers to imagine that these types of things are the same as the mathematical equation required for coding. These tasks are more esoteric and require a sensitivity to process and inputs that can't be gleaned from a single information source.

If money is an issue I suggest mining the local college for design students.

Get a professional to do it (2, Insightful)

Nexum (516661) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369670)

Look, just because you're familiar with HTML, and server technologies doesn't mean that you can extend yourself into graphic design. Ask yourself - would you let a typical graphic designer manage those Ethernet servers, etc. that you currently maintain on your network? No! It works both ways.

Decent graphic design - especially accessibility etc. that your boss wants is a studied art, it will cost you a lot less just to go to the professionals, even if doing it yourself seems like it might save money and time. It won't.

The art of winning battles is knowing which ones to participate in, and which ones to sit out.

Re:Get a professional to do it (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369830)

Look, just because you're familiar with HTML, and server technologies doesn't mean that you can extend yourself into graphic design.

As a counterexample, though, Donald Knuth did go from mere legendary computer scientist to typesetting expert and designer of what is still one of the best-looking by default typesetting engines out there.

Knuth, the typesetting expert (1)

mariox19 (632969) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369932)

Knuth did go from mere legendary computer scientist to typesetting expert [...]

Yes, and in only 10 years. []

Re:Knuth, the typesetting expert (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370470)

and a few graduate students.

Of course, roff/nroff/troff were used for typesetting 10 years before that.

Re:Get a professional to do it (4, Insightful)

Pulzar (81031) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370292)

Ask yourself - would you let a typical graphic designer manage those Ethernet servers, etc. that you currently maintain on your network? No! It works both ways.

That's not a valid argument. To take it to an extreme, you'd never let a chef do brain surgery on you, but you might let a brain surgeon cook you a meal with some help from a cookbook. Just because one profession has little chance of succeeding in another, the opposite does not have to be true.

If the design requirements are small, a capable geek can read some books, look at some design ideas, and probably come up with something worthwhile for a small business web site.

Not a technical problem (1)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369672)

A good looking website isn't moving, blinking crap. Its good layout, color schemes and art. Hire a graphic designer. Good ones will have links to sites they've done, which makes it easy to choose one whose style matches the image your company wants to project. I did some research on this for a project and easily found breathtakingly good site designs on the web.

That said, what looks good isn't always the most functional. Site designers agree these days that you never want to force your visitors to go through too many links, so home pages tend to be a bunch of menus with 500 links on them. Not much room for good design.

Re:Not a technical problem (1, Interesting)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370328)

A good looking website isn't moving, blinking crap. Its good layout, color schemes and art. Hire a graphic designer.

Problem is, when you hire a graphic designer, what you get tends more towards moving, blinking crap, or pretty-looking but unusable pages where you can't figure out what's a link and what's not and that break in a browser different than what the designer uses, than it does towards good layout, color schemes and art.

A web site is not a magazine ad or a glossy brochure, but those are the roots of the field of "graphic design".

Hire a graphic designer to make your logos and graphics, sure, and maybe rough-out a look; but unless they've had extensive training in user interfaces, HTML, and CSS, don't hand your whole site over to a graphic designer.

Get a web designer (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369682)

I understand it's a small business and money is tight, but one thing I've found is that you either have the "eye" or you don't. Geeks with no artistic eye make really horrible web sites. I have the same problem. I actually have taste; I can look at a web site and tell you if it's good or not, but taking a blank page and putting something tasteful (key word) on it is just something I can't do.

To quote Clint Eastwood: "A man has gotta know his own limitations."

Unfortunately, you're going to get terrible advice from this site ("Just make it black/white text! That's the best for readability, navigation, and accessibility"). Geeks all too typically have no appreciation for design, but it's critical for appealing to regular, everyday people (I'm assuming your site is not targeted at geeks).

If your boss wants a nice looking web site, get someone who knows what they're doing. There's more to design than just easy navigation.

Re:Get a web designer (1)

cmacb (547347) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369930)

("Just make it black/white text! That's the best for readability, navigation, and accessibility")

Are you nuts?!

Green text on black background is the only way to go!

Re:Get a web designer (2, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370108)

Green text on black background is the only way to go!

Nah, that's old school. Amber on a black background is what you want.

Re:Get a web designer (2, Insightful)

emilng (641557) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370182)

I found this study that found that green text on a yellow background is the easiest to read: []

They only tested for dark colors on light background and not light colors on dark background so I wonder if it really is the case that green on black is the best or if other color combinations are actually better. I know this doesn't have anything to bear on the aesthetic appearance of a website, but I thought it was interesting. I mean look at Jacob Nielson's site [] and how ugly a supposed usability expert's site is.

Re:Get a web designer (1)

smchris (464899) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370170)

I actually have taste; I can look at a web site and tell you if it's good or not, but taking a blank page and putting something tasteful (key word) on it is just something I can't do.

Tell me about it. I picked up most of an art history major. My wife is a BFA turned web designer. Sometimes it's best to sketch out some goals and let someone else do it.

Pay someone else (5, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369698)

Contract out to a professional.
You've already got a lot on your plate.

Re:Pay someone else (5, Insightful)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370130)

Geez I wish I had mod pts today. That's the biggest and most important argument. Philosophies aside (and I'm a designer and it's the early morning and I'm migrating files and reformatting a computer I'm selling at the moment and would normally be crankier than hell and could flame this to China) the most important consideration is TIME. Would it be worth it for him to put another item on the agenda which could be a timesink and still not come up to par - or could you save time (and a heap of money) using a professional?

The whole point of a service economy whether you're marketing, graphics or IT is getting a specialist who can knock your socks off and use their time to the fullest advantage. I'm getting bummed by the whole 'kitchen sink' fad because it's really not only lowering the bar - but it's really pandering to the jack of all trades master of none crowd. I know enough code so that my designs and templates will hook with the back end effectively and I can make revisions, but I put in big flashing neon when a recruiter or client comes calling because they see all the languages I have listed on my resume that it's not my passion, interest, or the best most effective use of their time to be mucking about with their systems or the back-end more than I should.

I came out of publishing, printing initally on the way to design & advertising - and it always was an advantage to be able to interface with the production directors and speak their language later on in my career and know that my stuff could get on and off the press with minimal fuss (not to mention having a better grasp of really cool things that could be added to the design). I never claimed to be a true dot-head who could read screen angles and see color through the seps exclusively (true side-story - the best color expert on one of the pre-press and high-end publishing campuses I worked with was actually color-blind. But GEEZ could he read film).

I always am quick to point out when a client is bogging themselves down timewise when they go outside of my usual skillset. Sure I could learn advance scripting for building new libraries to hook into - but is it really worth their time? And by worth I mean money.

Re:Pay someone else (1)

ACMENEWSLLC (940904) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370164)

I'm sort of in a simular boat -- I do a bit of everything. Programming PC's, Midrange systems, hardware, software, systems integration, routers, firewalls. Some areas require a lot of understanding, such as the firewall. Other's I'm just so-so on.

I agree with others - either you have the graphic eye, or you don't. I'm decent. I have previously sold works & have had some art published, so I do some of our web design too.

Time is short, so graphic tools are a must. I use things such as Xara ( to quickly build nice looking graphics for pages. has a large amount of scripts which I find valuable. You can search various sights such as for Creative Commons works - many which you can freely alter and use on your site.

I also outsource a lot of work. We use There are many developers from all over the world. I can often get web design, graphics work, and Flash done for next to nothing this way. I typically do the simple & fun things and outsource the rest.

Other great tools that are free --, Notepad++, NVU, FileZilla.

Re:Pay someone else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370480)

If the company the guy is working at has him doing all the responsibilities he mentioned for IT work, all by himself, then they are too cheap to pay for more people which would make contracting out to a professional a very unlikely thing that the boss would even allow.

It is hard to give you advice... (1)

an.echte.trilingue (1063180) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369706)

It is hard to give you advice if you don't point us to the site. That said, I am trying to do the same thing for my company's site [] ... it still has a long way to go.

The first thing I will tell you, though, is forget about trying to write it in html/php. Get a good, free content management system like typo3 [] or phpwebsite. Develop a good template and let the other employees fill in the content. That will save you a lot of time and enable your company's on line presence to continue to function once you leave/go on vacation.

As for what to put on your front page, why don't you just look at what other people in your niche are doing and try to improve on it?

Punch up (4, Insightful)

kylben (1008989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369726)

My boss has asked me to 'punch up' the website to make it more appealing.

Sounds like the project has already failed, then.

Seriously, start by asking questions, not offering answers. And I mean to him, not to slashdot. What is it the site is meant to communicate? What services does it provide? What values should it express? Why does he think it is not appealing now? Who is the audience? What are their values and expectations? Why are you worrying about this on Sunday?

People that do this are called graphic artists for a reason, and art is communication and it has a vocabulary. Start with what you want to communicate and how it can/should be communicated, then find colors, shapes, symbols and relationships that express that.

Get a professional if you can, he's the one that knows to ask those questions, and how to execute the answers he discovers.

Edward Tufte (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369738) []

Edward Tufte has great ideas on graphic design in general. Most are not specifically directed at web graphics, but some of the topics in his Ask E.T Forum cover this. He responds to problems that include how to format a list properly, how much information to put on one screen, and the design of forms intended for user input.

Use a theme for a website engine (5, Informative)

rgm3 (530335) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369748)

Your best bet here is to start with a system like Wordpress, Joomla, or Drupal and theme it. You can start with one that has the basic layout you like and modify according to your GIMP skill level. Usually all the accessibility work is done for you with this approach.

Mimicry (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369758)

1: Find a site that has the usability level (and pretty interface) that you're after.

2: Mimic (with all the copyright-infringing energy you can muster) their their site layout.

3: Find a local college art student, and have him/her make some replacement graphics for you.
Art students generally work pretty cheap on art/design projects - mostly due to the lack of employment opportunities directly relating to their choice of major. Design jobs that bolster the resume are almost always welcomed. Besides, most of us will tolerate a few gaudy graphics if the site layout works well (i.e. we can find what we're looking for quickly).

HIRE a designer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369764)

You can get a professional design for $500 max online. Why waste your time and energy learning how to design a website when you can hire one for so cheap?

Use a template or buy the design + CSS (2, Interesting)

markholmberg (631311) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369768)

I would build the site on some simple CMS like CMS Made Simple, [] Then, I would add a ready-made CSS template from a site like [] Also, you could just suggest to your boss that you buy the design along with the CSS. There are tons of freelance designers on the web with excellent references available. Our company has bought some amazing designs for as little as 200$. Try a site like [] for starters.

Parent post is right! (1)

LinuxDon (925232) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369994)

If you want an affordable solution, purchase a ready-made template for a CMS.
You could then always hire someone to tweak it according to your wishes.

This leads to the following:
- Quick implementation time;
- Low costs;
- Someone non-technical can update the content so you don't have to do it.

As a technical person, I know I will never burn my fingers again on designing a website myself! Being good at PHP etc. is one thing, but designing a site or template that actually looks right is something completely different. It requires a skill that you either do, or do not have. In my experience, most technical people don't have them. :)

solution ... (0, Offtopic)

jest3r (458429) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369776)

It doesn't matter if you're a geek or not ... you should hire a web designer who's portfolio of websites is in line with what you are looking for. Unless of course you are a designer. Otherwise it doesn't matter how many books you read, the website will look bad. You need an artists touch. Someone who's got experience.

Hire a designer! (1)

NobleSavage (582615) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369780)

I've been in the same situation several times and I've come to the conclusion that it's best just to hire some one to do the design. If you you don't have an artistic sensibility you will just end up wasting a lot time, getting frustrated, and making something that looks like shit. Find a designer that does work that you like and have them just make the mockup image. Then you can take the image and slice it up and make the html/xhtml/css to your exact standards compliant specifications.

Follow someone else's example (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369798)

If you can't come up with a pretty design (I can't either), then more or less mimic someone else's design. If you mimic some non-popular website's look, and your website also isn't that popular, nobody will notice or care (not that you can get in trouble for this as far as I know). Or, hire a graphic designer at a small or one-man firm to create a mockup in photoshop of your new website design. This takes someone who is skilled in graphic design like an hour or so and shouldn't cost more than $50-100. You then write the html/css to actually implement their scheme, which isn't hard because you are basically just following their directions.

Seriously don't... (3, Insightful)

emilng (641557) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370068)

Copying someone's site design is bad policy in general.
I think the many people who either give the advice to copy or copy another site themselves risk ending up on this site: []

I graduated with a BFA and took my share of communication design courses.
I worked hard the past 7 years learning to be a competent developer so I've been on both sides of the boat.
It's just bad to have some douchebag steal the site design it actually took a design degree and years of experience to create.
Geek translation: It's like someone putting GPL code in closed source software.
You 're familiar with the geek outrage when that happens.
Well that's the same outrage that designers feel when you steal a site design.

Re:Seriously don't... (2, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370392)

Well that's the same outrage that designers feel when you steal a site design.

Excuse me? How in the world do you "steal" something as abstract as a site design?

It sounds sounds like Apple's ludicrous "look and feel" lawsuits.

"OMG! You thief! You used a three-column layout, a sans-serif font for headers, a menu across the top, and a gradient for a background! You stole my design!"

Re:Seriously don't... (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370520)

thank you for helping set him straight

Re:Seriously don't... (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370448)

First off, I'm not suggesting exact copying. I'm suggesting mimicking. Which I think is completely different from what you're accusing it of being (copyright violation)

REAL translation #1: LG's Voyager phone mimicking the iPhone
REAL translation #2: Openoffice's UI mimicking Microsoft Office
REAL translation #3: An artist recording & selling a song that is based on some song Y by another artist.
REAL translation #4: KDE/Gnome/etc. mimicking Windows UI, Gimp mimicking photoshop, and an incredibly long list of other open source programs mimicking very closely their non-free counterparts.

So my website has completely different HTML/CSS code (written without looking at your code), but looks quite similar to yours. How is this any different from anything else? If I'm not copying your logo, or trying to use your brand recognition to my benefit, or copying something which I am legally not allowed to copy, then TOO BAD.

In none of the cases I listed above does anyone have to pay anybody for use, nor are they breaking any laws.

You can't copyright a color scheme or a layout or whatever. Even if you wanted to, there are other people who have done it already, so whatever website I use for my inspiration has no doubt been inspired by someone else, so I'm not doing anything different than they did.

Re:Follow someone else's example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370250)

I too started out with very strong coding skills and very weak graphic design skills. The best way I found to improve my own graphical skills and get pretty quick results was to mimic the look of websites that already have it going on.

"graphic design isn't one of my strengths." (1)

jmichaelg (148257) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369804)

Therein lies your solution - tell your boss "graphic design isn't one of my strengths" and that if he wants someone to "punch it up," he'll be happier if he brings in a graphic artist/web designer. The person can be a consulting designer and not a permanent hire. Phrases like "punch it up" is a warning flag that your boss doesn't know what s/he wants. Web page design-by-boss can quickly suck up all your time and then some when he wonders why email quit working.

I once worked on a project that required working for a project manager who issued very vague directives about the software interface. After four or five tries, I ended up writing him a little tool that let him tweak all the parameters himself. It satisfied him and relieved me of chasing my tail. You can't do that with a web page so let him interact with someone whose strength is graphic design and all three of you will be happier.

Too easy to get wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369878)

If you don't have lots of experience, a natural talent or at least some training and a little experience, it's going to take a while to come up with something. The problem with that is: The longer you look at your design, the more you tweak it, the more you lose sight of what it looks like to someone who hasn't looked at it all day. It is very easy to go overboard with colors, bevels, shadows, gradients or whatever you like without realizing that you're not making a website to your own taste. Small businesses need functional, informative websites that don't look bad. Snazzy is for the big guys who can afford professional designers. Small websites tend to drift off into tackyness when the one man IT department tries out Photoshop for the first time. Good web design isn't just a trip to the library and a weekend with a "for dummies" book away.

First, understand what graphic design does. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369880)

" to make it more appealing without losing the ability to communicate effectively."

Graphic design is more about communicating effectively than just making it "more appealing". If all you succeed in doing is making it pretty, you didn't improve it.

Try looking at local art colleges. You might be able to find a student there that's willing to work cheaply and you'll still get quality work.

A CSS book, Inkscape & gimp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22369890)

If the business want "rebranding", you'd be best to hire a designer. If they already have a logotype and associated design elements, you should be fine reconstructing and tweaking these in inkscape/Xara (assuming you know how to use them).

As for the CSS, learning it is time consuming. Translating a mockup into CSS is time consuming. Debugging layouts cross browser is time consuming.

The fact you had to ask is telling; the prospects of getting a local designer to skin the site are probably looking attractive?

Use a CMS that supports Templates (1)

Khalid (31037) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369898)

Just use a CMS that supports templates, Joomla is a good choice imho, then buy a professional template that fits your needs. There are also many free templates around, try to a search in emule too.

Open Source Web Design (2, Informative)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369926)

You might want to take a look at Open Source Web Design [] , even if they do not have exactly what you want their templates will give you a good starting point for your layout and design.

A Contrarian View (4, Informative)

Phoenix666 (184391) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369954)

Good design is not black magic. There are rules and conventions just like there are for any other discipline. There are also trends and fashions like there are for any other discipline. You can learn them, if you want.

There are sites that serve as reference points for design professionals; There are many, but this is one: []

So look through the galleries of what design professionals themselves consider exemplary, then shamelessly copy; after all, that's exactly what design professionals do--they're constantly stealing from each other.

Beyond that, you only require finicky, anal attention to detail. If things don't look evenly spaced, measure it with the ruler tools. If the font renders fuzzy, use a better one. But chances are, if you're in I.T. you already possess the fine attention to detail required.

In sum, it's a different way of thinking, but not impossible or even that difficult to acquire. Fair warning, though, if you start wearing those glasses you may suddenly find yourself remarking how that women's shoes don't go with her outfit, or the stitching on his jacket is clumsy, or that the lines on the new Mazda give you an angular, cramped impression.

Re:A Contrarian View (1)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370106)

I was wondering if anybody was gonna post something other than, "oh noez! ur IT man, u cant do grafix!" It's not as if you must be some kind of artistic genius to be a designer--as you pointed out it's a job with skills that can be learned by almost anybody (at least enough to get by in a business setting). It just takes some effort. Thanks for the link, too; it seems quite helpful.

Re:A Contrarian View (1)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370176)

Ok - fine - let's talk about tools. Is he ready to dive into Photoshop CS3 and not stare at the screen like it's the flight deck of a 757? Asthetics, communication and a good eye is just one part of the battle. Lets talk tools and workflow. Want to stick your hand into that trap?

I wouldn't anymore than I would relish learning a shitload of server-side admin tools and custom version controlware in the middle of MY workflow process.

Re:A Contrarian View (2, Insightful)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370166)

Fair warning, though, if you start wearing those glasses you may suddenly find yourself remarking how that women's shoes don't go with her outfit. . .

Or how Steve Jobs is the hottest guy on the face of the earth, because he's a technical AND artistic genius. I mean, just LOOK at how well the Mac works and how beautiful it is!

Heresy! (1)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369982)

(Windows and Linux are both OK).
You must be new here.

If you must do it yourself amybe this book. (1)

COMICAGOGO (1055066) | more than 6 years ago | (#22369996)

Hi, I work as a graphic designer and I can tell you making a really good UI design is tough. Just try to keep it as simple as possible and make sure that absolutely everything on your page is there for a purpose.

I would go with the "pay a graphic design student to do it" route if you can (talk to the teachers at your local school. A lot of students will do this kind of work for free to help them complete course work.)

If you do it yourself this book might help. "Homepage Usability 50 websites deconstructed" by Jakob Neilsen & Marie Tahir (ISBN: 0-7357-1102-x) It is a bit dated but goes into detail about how successful websites breakdown things like screen real estate and use of effective graphics.

Hope this helps a bit.

I've been in your situation too (1)

Toreo asesino (951231) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370034)

...and frankly, designing can be cool with the patience to try it, but in your case I expect that'll be at the expensive of literally everything else. Suggest either very very basic but clean designs that you can do quickly or outsource it to someone else.

Places like [] are good for outsourcing one-off projects, even for design. If design becomes a constant requirement, get someone full time.

That's the way forward.

Templates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370038)

think about design patterns and templates! (1)

ATL_gadget_grrl (1122351) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370044)

In the spirit of teaching a man to fish rather than handing him a fish, let me recommend that you check out design patterns and page templates. Here are some *great* resources: [] [] [] []

This will give you the basics on what needs to go on the page (interaction and information design). If you then skin these items with color palettes that are pleasing to you, you're pretty much good to go. Here are a couple of color palette resources: [] [] (this one is particularly interesting to me in theory - I have not used it, but it seems promising)

Buy a Template (1)

jafiwam (310805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370046)

Decent templates (including some flash, all the graphics, layout and sample menus) can be had for less than $100. Sometimes WAY less.

Just make sure the people who you need to please get a chance to help pick it out.

Then, add your ADA and whatnot BEFORE you start adding content.

If it's a small business, you don't need SQL and PHP (those just make it easier for security problems to creep in) just a set of flat HTML files and a plain text editor is all you need.

I have been down the same road you are on before, and it is much better and easier if you confine the project to what it really NEEDS to be, not what you think you can build.

Re:Buy a Template (1)

ItsIllak (95786) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370258)

Templates are great, my personal favourite is Template Monster [] . I find the best process to take is to take a brief, search through for some template options that are likely, print them out or Powerpoint a presentation of them to the customer. Let them choose from that subset (or send you off for more).

exact same situation - my $.02 (1)

in_ur_face (177250) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370048)

I'm in the same boat, I administer the family business website (now #1 in sales in USA for their product). As a SW developer I can program, but graphics and design, not so good. Either way, just keep trying. Approx every 2 years I'll refresh the site's graphics and design. Photoshop will be your friend. I don't think any books will really help, you need to try some trial/error. Also, look at other sites to get ideas, nothing wrong with tweaking an existing site that you like. You'll get better and learn on the way; even build your own portfolio. Or, you can hire out... but that's hard when you are a DIY'er

Templates (1)

reclusivemonkey (703154) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370062)

Do yourself a favour; find a template you like, make sure its got the appropriate license and use that. It will save you a lot of time and effort. You sound like you have enough on already!

Either you have it or you don't. (1)

Computershack (1143409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370074)

Either you have an artistic bent or you don't. You can be taught the techniques but unless you have the creative streak needed, it's not going to get you anywhere.
My missus designs signs and posters. I know far more about the gear and software she's using but give me a blank screen and I haven't a clue what to put on it.

Pay someone who does this for a living. It'll save you a lot of grief.

useful points (4, Informative)

Doctor Crumb (737936) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370086)

I've muddled through over the years, mostly by looking at what actual graphic designers have done and trying to learn their techniques. A few things to remember:

* a boring design is better than an ugly one. Don't try too hard.
* learn about negative space, colour theory, and usability. There's generally math behind them that you can learn and use.
* go find some attractive sites, try to figure out 2 or 3 elements that you like, and try to copy them.
* don't be afraid to rip off other sites; generally by the time you're done tweaking, your design won't look anything like the original. (Just don't steal their actual images or code)
* HTML naturally leads to boxy layouts; that's okay! Don't mangle your HTML trying to avoid it; you can de-boxify with CSS and images.
* find an artist friend and get them to critique your design; a few offhand comments from them can save you days!
* most of the neat effects on the web these days are clever images (3-column layouts, reflection effects, rounded corners), and most of the rest are clever CSS.
* you *can* get the same level of quality as a professional designer, it will just take you 100x as long.
* []
* []

That said, you probably don't want to be learning this stuff on the job while your servers catch on fire. It will be better for all involved if your boss hires someone who is already a talented designer; even an amateur designer will probably be faster than you. Design is definitely a time-money tradeoff; professional designers charge a lot because they do good work quickly. If you really want to learn this stuff, you probably don't want to do it under a deadline.

Hire someone (1)

mrbarkeeper (560018) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370092)

You won't like this answer but if I were you, I'd calculate my income versus the time it would take me to learn and do the design on my own and then hire someone for this budget. You can find great talent on [] and elsewhere.

If you insist on rolling your own, I'd start with this book: The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams. []

Quick and easy with a tutorial (1)

boocube (1236674) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370104)

The open source web design site, mentioned earlier, is a really great site to check out. If you use dreamweaver and are willing to learn as you apply a template then check out the project seven ( website. Each template cost, but you get a tutorial with them. The tutorials will help you with css, and section 508 compliance.

Good book (3, Informative)

theeddie55 (982783) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370112)

I was pretty much in the same situation until somebody recommended to me "The Principles of Beautiful Web Design" By Jason Beaird [] since then I've done several websites and got several contracts from people who've seen those sites. The book assumes you know stuff like HTML and CSS and just covers things like layout, color schemes and graphics.

Hire a Marketing and Design intern (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370124)

Hire a marketing intern, and a design intern, and between them they should know everything you need to know to complete a successful corporate site design. There aren't any opportunities for lots of bright graduates that are just sitting around getting data mined.

Its a lot more than simply creating images that look nice, there are legal, user interface, and other important issues that go into a successful design.

hire someone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370136)

Hire someone. The results will be better than anything you can do! Plus it will likely be cheaper compared to the amount of time you'll have to put in to get a mediocre result.

Put up an ad in a local design school bulletin board and build a working relationship with a real (aspiring) designer.

In the auto industry... (2, Insightful)

clintp (5169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370184)

I've run into this a few times and it's easy to explain:

In the auto industry there are mechanics, powertrain engineers, and those guys that design bodies and interiors. (No bias from me at all!) You wouldn't want the guy picking paint colors and fabrics for the interiors to design your exhaust manifold; by the same token you don't want the guy who does the casting flow calculations for the engine block figuring out what the front grill should look like. These are not only different professions, but different kinds of professions.

Keep your nose out of the design business, please. If you're a good programmer or admin guy, you don't know much about marketing and have lousy taste. Admitting it is the first step.

Templates - the only answer (1, Insightful)

ItsIllak (95786) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370236)

Don't even consider trying to design yourself - in addition to rules and standards, there is a 'leap' you have to make to get a good design. If you customise a website with content, templates are cheap as you can use a non-unique one and have a great look for very little money. My personal favourite is Template Monster [] - It's got great designs, the possibility to buy sites unique if teh customer wants it, and delivered in all sorts of formats (including HTML, layered PSD etc..)

get college kids (1)

belligerent0001 (966585) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370280)

I am in a similar position as the poster and have been asked to do a couple of Websites for our various companies. My advice would be to go hit up the local community college or tech school, maybe even high schools, and see if you can get a student to do some pro-bono work for a resume bullet point and perhaps a letter of recommendation. Check with the instructors first, they will know who has the talent and who might be willing to work for free/little. You can also justify it to management by stating they have access to many more robust packages plus you are getting a fresher feel with better tech...etc. etc.

Look at sites that showcase good design... (3, Informative)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370306) [] [] [] []

These are all good directories of good web design you can get 'inspiration' from

Book Recommendations (1)

Selanit (192811) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370428)

You may find Th e Principles of Beautiful Web Design [] by Jason Beaird helpful. It's essentially a primer in basic graphic design intended for people exactly like you. Here's the paragraph from the introduction entitled "Who Should Read this Book?":

If you are squeamish about choosing colors, feel uninspired by a blank browser window, or get lost trying to choose the right font, this book is for you. In it, I take a methodical approach to presenting traditional graphic design theory as it applies to today's web site development industry. While the content is directed towards programmers and developers, it provides a design primer that will benefit readers at any level.

The table of contents in brief:

  1. Layout and Composition
  2. Color
  3. Texture
  4. Typography
  5. Imagery

The text is reasonably friendly, and has lots of illustrations to demonstrate what the author discusses. It won't turn you into a graphic design guru, but it will probably help you figure out where to start. In general, a good book. My one real criticism is that in his discussion of legitimate sources of images, the author doesn't discuss public domain or the Creative Commons, only doing it yourself, royalty-free (but copyrighted) images, hiring professionals, and obtaining rights-managed images.

Another good book, not specifically about web design but a mainstay of introductory design classes, is The Non-Designer's Design Book [] . In the second edition, it covered:

  1. Proximity
  2. Alignment
  3. Repetition
  4. Contrast
  5. Four chapters on typography

Note that I have linked to the third edition, which is scheduled for release later this month and may cover slightly different things. I don't know how much or even if it's been updated.

The same author puts out a book entitled "The Non-Designer's Web Book". I do not think that this book will be as helpful to you. It covers a lot of very basic material about building web sites (some basic HTML, acceptable image formats, and so on), and it sounds like you've already got that part of it.

Hope this helps.

Ease and speed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22370430)

Ease and speed make for the best web sites.
It's a tool. Customers use it to obtain info.
It should be simple, consistent, easy to use, and fast.

Here's a thought... (1)

ethicalBob (1023525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22370454)

How about hiring someone who knows how to properly create a good GUI design, like an experienced designer, or small design firm.

A good designer will not only be able to provide you with the extra visual elegance you are looking for, but should be able to assist you in the three areas that are most important in delivery to the viewer - Design, Usability, and Information Architecture.

Coders often think of design as being an afterthought, and "accessory" to the functionality of the site, but all of the elements are equally important.

Use the analogy of a house:

You are trying to sell or rent a home (get a user to want to use and stay on your website)

And it has the best heating, cooling, efficient economical electricity, good light, and is made of the finest materials - in many ways it is superior to any other house on the block in these regards (this is your good code)

No one is ever going to buy or rent it (visit it) if the doorknobs are 2 feet to high and the light-switches on the ceiling (Usability)

Or if the bathroom has poor ventilation and is situated next to the dining room and living room, and also has a swimming pool in the kitchen. (Info Architecture)

Or if the house has a combination of Grecian columns etched with daisies, windows of all different sizes, mis-matched shingles on the roof, and is painted pink and green. (Design)

A good GUI (and user experience) is the result of working with someone who knows these disciplines, and create a site so the user can appreciate and use the good code and applications "behind the curtain". A good User Interface Designer will also know about 503 compliance, how to make interface run quickly and efficiently.

But just like good code, good design will cost money (however, design usually costs only a fraction of the entire project) - this is definitely one of those "you get what you pay for" scenarios.

You don't have to hire a full-time designer; you can get a good contractor to do this work for you.

The note someone gave about finding a design student is bad advice - yes, they will likely work for cheap, but they will be less likely to know about usability and architecture issues, or have strong experience in these areas.

Get yourself an experienced contractor to do the work.

All too often good coders and good UX people don't appreciate the disciplines that the other group has to offer - but both are vital to the success of any website.
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