Summary: A guide to outstanding web design resources and tips.
Web design, likeEcological Systems Designin the physical world, consists of optimizing dozens or hundreds of interrelated, heterogeneous systems and their relationships with each other. The brain wiring required to excel at each is very similar.
On this page:
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Note: we don't get paid for the recommendations on this page; we took the time to post this because these providers are genuinely commendable...
What's ecological about the web? Several years before the advent of the web, I wrote (in the original edition ofLiving with Nature (book)) that "the one thing it makes sense to globalize is information, and that perhaps this could be done through a globally networked computer database..."
The web is an awesome tool for sharing information and promoting ecological and social good.
If you have or want to have a web presence, the resources below are outstanding in their categories and could save you hundreds of hours of research and false starts.
How do you know what goal post to head towards? Nothing I was hearing about web design "clicked" for me until I found Jakob Neilsen's web site. His design philosophy is based on what actually works in practice, based on usability testing (usability testing consists of watching actual users attempting to do things on the different versions of the site).
This resonates perfectly with my approach to design in the physical world: follow what's working.
His past columns archives amount to an excellent design course in web design. I spent several hours in one sitting reading articles off of his site. That this was even possible spoke volumes. Most web writing and formatting together make for a very fatiguing user experience. Have you ever been able to spend two hours absorbing information off of one site? I hadn't either.
I then read his book: Designing Web Usability (Amazon). This one I made copious notes in and on; it is the basis of almost all the web design I do. This is the one book to read on usability. If you hunger for more, try: Interest Group for Computer Human Interaction Listserv and web resources for usability, and Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed (Amazon).
Home page usability is narrowly focused on home pages. The examples show the truly sorry state of web design standards. If you think a 50 billion dollar a year companies wouldn't be making glaringly obvious mistakes on their home pages, guess again. It's relatively weak on what to do right (there isn't a single example of a page that's not demolished in the critique) but the point of what not to do does get across.
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (Amazon) More basic than Designing Web Usability.
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (Amazon) If you want an education in information architecture in one book, this is it.
More on information architecture:
The American Society for Information Science and Technology - lots of good web resources and a hyperactive, hyper-informative listserv.
Envisioning Information (Amazon) Edward Tufte
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward Tufte (Amazon)
Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind George Lakoff (Amazon)
Content Management Bible (Amazon)
The Content Management Bible explains how to approach the daunting task of coordinating the use of frequently updated and expanded content from multiple authors across multiple formats (web, print, e mails...). This is an exceedingly well-written book, which is eminently readable despite its imposing bulk. The clarity of thought behind it is very impressive.
When your site reaches 100 pages, read this book to prepare for the way you're going to have to do things when it is 500 or a thousand pages.
XML appears to be the preferred format for information going into a content management system or database. For an intro, check out this article on XML in Scientific American.
Pretty much everything you need to learn and apply search engine optimization can be found at searchenginewatch.com.
Our ISP Of choice is Impulse.net. They are locally owned and operated, humans answer the phone, and give competent technical support. Given the larger trends, to have an ISP with these attributes is increasingly rare; Impulse has proven to be a reliable breath of fresh air.
We were the first in our mountain neighborhood to get high speed internet in 2003, via an Impulse radio link. I think the connection was down once for a few hours the whole time they've been supplying us with our vital internet lifeline. I can't recommend them highly enough.
My typical technical support experience is writing an e mail, then getting a response three days later that makes it look like the tech didn't understand, perhaps even read the question.
Not so with Below $10 hosting. Within a half a day, sometimes within the hour, they have written back with: "We have solved your problem X on our server. To solve it yourself in the future, the procedure is..."
Their name makes them sound like the bargain basement option (they are among the most economical) but they are really outstanding. I recommend them highly.
We use Go daddy. Their service is awful, but they are cheap. I am planning to cut a bulk registration/hosting deal with Below $10 hosting (see above) and move my domains to them in the future. If I was to do it over again, I'd probably do all my registration and hosting through these guys.
We use UltraCart. Check out our updated review of their shopping cart service.
This industry seems to be dominated by the ethic of the used car salesman. I found the typical M.O. of merchant credit card providers to be pulling the wool over my eyes to obscure the true nature and extent of the fees I'd be paying.
Suggestion 1: Ask for full disclosure of every fee you could ever be assessed.
Once I finally understood all dozen or so common fees and found some places that were reasonable, I ran into a still more worrisome issue.
Suggestion 2: Read all the fine print on the contract(s) early, before getting too excited about a provider.
Some outfits wouldn't show me their contracts without collecting an inordinate amount of personal information first. Others sent them, except they were four page faxes of 5 point light grey type.
An amalgamation of some of the more outrageous provisions:
I did find a few institutions with relatively tolerable contracts:
Electronic Clearing House, Inc. Old fashioned and slow but low fees plus relatively tolerable contract
Authorizenet offers a pricey but fast and clean account through Wells Fargo; no minimum, no contract length.
UltraCart offers a flavor of the same Authorizenet/Wells Fargo service above, which has a three year contract length but lower fees.
At Last Fulfillment Denver, Colorado has been affordable and reliable for us. See full review of At Last Fulfillment.
We're looking at the moment--see Employment.
If you'd like help with the design of your site,E mail us a description of your project and your current URL. We are very particular about projects we take on (see our project filter). Because there are many qualified web designers and few ecological systems designers, we save most of our energy for those who need help in the latter realm.
The most likely form our help would take is a short consultation suggesting general direction for your site, a bunch of files showing examples of how the implementation could be done, and referrals for the bulk of the work.
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