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Web Graphic Design for Small Businesses 377

Posted by Soulskill
from the make-it-pretty dept.
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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Web Graphic Design for Small Businesses

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  • Get someone else (Score:5, Insightful)

    by diskis (221264) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:06AM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by diskis (221264)
      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 :)

      http://www.colourlovers.com/ [colourlovers.com]
      • by liquidpele (663430) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:59AM (#22370546) Journal
        I second this. I had the same issue when doing a website for my wife's parents (they have their own business). I basically had them find a site they liked, and then just copied the site's layout, made color/font changes, and threw their logo on there. Why spend 2 weeks tweaking a layout when someone else has probably already done one you'd like better?
        • by piojo (995934) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @03:12PM (#22372352)
          Personally, I think it's nicer to search for a nice CSS/site template. I found one that I really liked for my home page. They are very easy to adapt, and you know what you are doing is legal. (I looked for ones that didn't require me to write anything really tacky at the bottom of the page. "design by [author]" is fine, "design by Free CSS Templates" is not.)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Honestly, I will never understand why people who identify as {geeks | techies | IT workers | etc} undervalue or often deliberately devalue creativity, as though it's useless, functionless, unimportant. It's true that it's hard and takes practice and work, but that's never stopped us before. If there is one thing I wish I could teach the world, it's that creativity is a good thing, and that it can be learned. But as long as so many people think of it as some kind of impregnable domain of "artists," instea
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lord Apathy (584315)

      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 a

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by NiK0laI (1012851)
        Could try out Open Source Web Design [oswd.org].
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Fozzyuw (950608)

        Hire someone that knows what they are doing.

        That's the easiest, but likely most costly, way out. But the original question was "how do I teach myself graphical design, particularly in the context of websites?"

        To answer that, I would suggest there's a lot of a) reading and b) practice involved. You don't have to go to school to learn web graphic design, but you do have work hard at learning it. But, taking a course will just make it a lot easier. "Art" stuff is harder to just pickup and do, unlike "tec

    • by mikelieman (35628) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:20AM (#22369778) Homepage
      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.

    • Art Institute (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hotsauce (514237) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:31AM (#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.
      • Re:Art Institute (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dgagley (468178) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:24AM (#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.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by spooje (582773)

          As I teach a web design class at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I know what you're saying is nonesense. There are plenty of "Institute of Art" schools who teach web design to n00bs based on good industry practice.

          You just need to check out the class before hand and talk to the instructor. Part of the problem the institutes have is that the pay is low compaired to doing actual design for the same amount of hours. If you want a class that's about clean and usable design tell the school, they always tak

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by macurmudgeon (900466)
        No. No. No. No. No.

        I've worked with a number of both pro graphic designers aand students. If they don't understand how web pages are built, then they will not create a modern and attractive web page. Period. Graphic designers don't understand how a web page is constructed anf so will either build a page that is very dumbed down or doesn't translate well to the web. I've worked collaboratively with some good print designers but have not found one who really understands web page design and I've worked with so
        • Re:Art Institute (Score:5, Informative)

          by oliderid (710055) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:06PM (#22371186) Journal
          I've worked with a number of both pro graphic designers aand students. If they don't understand how web pages are built,

          I second that. You need a web designer (or a designer with web experience) otherwise:
          1. They will use shiny fonts...It will work on their PC, but of course those exotics fonts won't be installed on the surfer PC.
          2. Pixel != DPI (you will find yourself with a web page width: 123345px)
          3. Impossible layout (things that look beautiful but you cannot translate into HTML)
          4. Layout with no flexibility (don't understand that a web page content may change)
          5. Content mixed with graphics (If you use FLASH no real problem...But with HTML...)
          6. Scroll down layout (big headers! beautiful ones...But the content remain invisible until you scroll down)
          7 Etc.

          But it certainly doesn't mean that a non designer should make the layout. It will be probably technically perfect but it will be usually plain ugly too.

    • by LinDVD (986467)
      I just got back from an Adobe Flash 3D (Papervision 3d) [eventbrite.com] 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 sh
    • CSS Zen Garden (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xelios (822510) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:51AM (#22370018)
      The CSS Zen Garden [mezzoblue.com] 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.
      • The CSS Zen Garden is a great place to get some ideas.

        I respectfully disagree. CSS Zen Garden is a fascinating showcase of what is possible, but it's perhaps also a perfect example of "just because we can do something, that doesn't mean we should do it". The person asking this question is talking about a small business web site, not a personal blog-for-fun. Many of the tricks used in CSS Zen Garden entries, clever and attractive as they may be, are exactly the sort of thing you don't want in a usable, accessible, search-engine-friendly web site for a profess

    • HTML is *NOT* Art (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:03AM (#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...
      • by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp.freeshell@org> on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:18PM (#22371304) Homepage Journal

        There is nothing about being a "geek" or knowing HTML, CSS, or javascript that magically grants someone designer chops.


        And there's one other *extremely important* fact that I've learned: there's nothing that being a graphic designer learns that magically grants them webpage design chops.

        If the web was run by graphics designers, all the pages would be extremely pretty. Most would be stored as individual flash files, but some of the less important text would just be as represented as images. No text would actually be stored as text, and each page would contain roughly a sentence or two worth of actual text. To find anything meaningful would require somewhere in the neighborhood of eight clicks.

          In other words, they can make the web fluffy. Today, the place of the graphic artist is starting to be more and more just devoted to logos, banners, and advertisements - like they were before the web (mostly because the web used to be just those things for a lot of companies, and is now becoming a lot more than that). The usability people are taking up the task of writing pages, and those people are very much geeks. They're the ones who make new kinds of widgets that work the way that they do for desktop apps - with things like autocomplete, AJAX, unified designs, usage of CSS, etc, standard layout and standard widget usage. These are pretty much always two different groups. Usability people fight to make things look and work naturally, while graphic artists fight to make their pages stand out and work different from everyone else's. So you aren't likely to be both.

        So if I were in your position (and I actually am in my company), I'd focus on cognitive science usability studies and take my ideas of how to make things nicer from that. People who actually try to get information out of your site will appreciate it...whereas they mostly won't care much what it looks like for more than the first three seconds or so (for most companies, anyway. If you happen to sell something that's main feature is it's prettiness, then you might consider making a pretty site more important than one that you can find out about your business from).
      • Re:HTML is *NOT* Art (Score:5, Informative)

        by mysticgoat (582871) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:23PM (#22371346) Homepage Journal

        While parent post is not untrue, it comes across as a self-serving piece written by a graphics designer who needs to convince the world that he has much value to add to someone else's web site engineering. I don't know that is the case, but that is the appearance the words convey.

        Graphics design is not all about Mysterious Talent: there are some basic rules that can be learned and applied by anyone. Conforming to these rules will add "punch" to your web pages, whether you understand the reasons for them or not. Use of them will not of itself get you any artistic awards, but since they can be translated into your daily work with CSS on layout and color, they can be applied without increasing your operating expenses. Which appears to be what the boss wants. It seems very unlikely that the boss is going to add the cost of a contract with a graphics design artist to the company's overhead. The goal is clear: take what has been done and make it better. Don't throw it away and reconstruct with someone else's template. Grow what's already done into a more pleasing form.

        Google for "color theory" and "graphic composition": those are the two basic fields you need to look at.

        Under color theory, look for discussions of

        • the color wheel,
        • monochromatic color schemes,
        • tinted, shaded, and muddied colors (going toward browns or earth colors)
        • complementary colors,
        • use of contrasting colors,
        • color temperature (warm colors vs cool colors)
        • You'll come across other terms as you go through this material: check them out too

        Under composition, look for discussions of

        • basics of visual perception (how the eye scans an image) and how to guide that
        • rule of thirds
        • golden rectangles
        • use of circles
        • use of intersecting diagonals
        • active and passive shapes
        • check out the other terms you stumble upon as you go through this list

        What you probably want to do is to find some formula that will work for the web site, can be applied throughout it (helps with "branding" by providing the user with a constant, reliable theme), and can be followed pretty much as a recipe (without you needing to remember what the rules are or why this set of details works). A $20 set of watercolors, or even a box of crayons, can help in exploring and gathering comments on initial drafts of the presentation. The end result will probably be mostly CSS snippets you can treat as black boxes.

        Another excellent resource is an artist supply store that caters to newbies and hobbyists: it will have books on beginning watercolor or acrylic painting that will go over this material, and it should have a clerk or two who are helpful.

    • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ChadAmberg (460099)
      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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fr33thot (1236686)
      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
    • by simpl3x (238301)
      Of course I agree, I'm a graphic designer! But, I think that the larger point is that perhaps a lot of sites don't need an incredible amount of design. Look at something Like 37 Signals, or even the Barack Obama site with respect to typography and not the graphics per se.

      MAybe what you need is a set of solutions that work, and a range of graphics that can fit the designs. As with the Mezza Blue site which others are touting, a lot of the detail work is what counts. Pay somebody to come up with an acceptable
  • A good one... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Machitis (597087) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:08AM (#22369640)
    One of my favorite that really impacted that way I developed web sites: "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug [amazon.com].
  • Hire someone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Apathy (584315) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:08AM (#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.

    • 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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by holophrastic (221104) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:28AM (#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: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jeillah (147690)
        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: (Score:2, Informative)

          by pgillan (1043668)
          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 "
      • 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 close
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by merreborn (853723)

        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

      • Re:Hire someone (Score:4, Insightful)

        by JeffSh (71237) <jeffslashdot@m0[ ]org ['m0.' in gap]> on Sunday February 10, 2008 @12:41PM (#22370910)
        You are daft. your post is advocating both positions.

        1) do it all yourself
        2) but i only am a web developer, i do both the programming AND design work... but you shy away from serious design work. (not only that, but what about the networking, servers, login scripts, domain/ldap management, database management etc? you probably shy away from that too)

        The most important skill that I've found in people I work with is that they KNOW THEIR LIMITATIONS and have management that doesn't push them to know everything. For instance, I'd rather pay someone $125 an hour to do a job in 4 hours than waste my entire week on a project I know nothing about. It's irresponsible to the business to waste talents chasing stuff in this manner.

        This post is not insightful, it's contradictory. If this guy were a web developer and needed web developing help, your post would make sense, but he's not. He's a network admin doing graphic design. big mistake!
  • Zen of CSS design? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:09AM (#22369658) Homepage
    The Zen of CSS Design [amazon.com] 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?
  • Hire a designer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pjmidnight (712441)
    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.
  • by Nexum (516661) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:10AM (#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.
    • by CRCulver (715279)

      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.

    • by Pulzar (81031) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:26AM (#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.
  • 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 t
  • 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 a

    • by cmacb (547347)
      ("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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by emilng (641557)
        I found this study that found that green text on a yellow background is the easiest to read:
        http://hubel.sfasu.edu/research/AHNCUR.html [sfasu.edu]

        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 [useit.com] and
    • by smchris (464899)
      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:11AM (#22369698) Journal
    Contract out to a professional.
    You've already got a lot on your plate.
    • by mgabrys_sf (951552) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:04AM (#22370130) Journal
      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.
    • 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 (http:/
  • 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 [languesvivantes.com]... 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 [typo3.org] 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 lea
  • Punch up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kylben (1008989) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:15AM (#22369726) Homepage

    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.

  • by rgm3 (530335) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:17AM (#22369748) Homepage
    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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ugot2BkidNme (632036)

      Do you truly believe that Joomla Drupal or Wordpress Templates are generally accessible? Seriously?

      I build Accessible websites for a living and I am telling you flat out it is a lot more difficult to validate and have good accessible design. Almost all Templates you will find use tables even those that do not still the CMS's and modules generally put out bad or table formated output. Traveling down this path is a very bad way to go.

      This can be a very daunting task. But you can do it.

      Start by picking a Do

  • Mimicry (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    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, m
  • I would build the site on some simple CMS like CMS Made Simple, http://www.cmsmadesimple.org/ [cmsmadesimple.org] Then, I would add a ready-made CSS template from a site like http://www.oswd.org/ [oswd.org] 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 http://www.elance.com/ [elance.com] for starters.
    • 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 diffe
  • 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. Y
    • Seriously don't... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by emilng (641557) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:56AM (#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:
      http://pirated-sites.com/ [pirated-sites.com]

      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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Mr. Slippery (47854)

        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!"

        • by skiingyac (262641)
          thank you for helping set him straight
      • by skiingyac (262641)
        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 lis
        • by emilng (641557)
          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)

          mimic
          1. to imitate or copy in action, speech, etc., often playfully or derisively.
          2. to imitate in a servile or unthinking way; ape.
          3. to be an imitation of; simulate; resemble closely.

          I'm actually not accusing it of being a copyright violation. I'm saying following someone's else's design so closely that you can obviously tell that your desig

          • by skiingyac (262641)
            Except that a GPL violation isn't just being a jerk, it is an illegal copyright violation. So stop comparing the two. Patent trolling is intentionally inflicting monetary pain on someone else, which is not what I'm suggesting either, so stop comparing the two.

            My point is that the design of EVERYTHING is based on or mimics the design of one or more other things. It happens to everyone. Either write your congressman and get it outlawed, or deal with it.

            I'm not even suggesting copying some other website so
  • 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 workin
  • 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.
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:39AM (#22369926)
    You might want to take a look at Open Source Web Design [oswd.org], 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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phoenix666 (184391) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:42AM (#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: http://www.webdesignfromscratch.com/current-style.cfm [webdesignfromscratch.com]

    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.
    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bluesman (104513)
      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!
  • ...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 http://www.getacoder.com/ [getacoder.com] 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.
  • 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
    • by ItsIllak (95786)
      Templates are great, my personal favourite is Template Monster [templatemonster.com]. 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).
  • useful points (Score:5, Informative)

    by Doctor Crumb (737936) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:58AM (#22370086) Homepage
    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.
    * http://www.alistapart.com/ [alistapart.com]
    * http://www.csszengarden.com/ [csszengarden.com]

    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.
  • Good book (Score:3, Informative)

    by theeddie55 (982783) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:02AM (#22370112)
    I was pretty much in the same situation until somebody recommended to me "The Principles of Beautiful Web Design" By Jason Beaird http://www.amazon.com/Principles-Beautiful-Web-Design/dp/0975841963/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202658998&sr=8-1 [amazon.com] 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.
  • by clintp (5169) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:11AM (#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.

  • 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 [templatemonster.com] - 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..)
  • by foniksonik (573572) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:28AM (#22370306) Homepage Journal
    http://www.unmatchedstyle.com/ [unmatchedstyle.com]

    http://www.stylegala.com/ [stylegala.com]

    http://www.thefwa.com/ [thefwa.com] http://www.csszengarden.com/

    http://www.styletheweb.com/ [styletheweb.com]

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

  • You may find Th e Principles of Beautiful Web Design [amazon.com] 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'

  • by Frightened_Turtle (592418) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:57AM (#22370536)

    Push back a little on your boss. Have him scratch out some rough sketches of what he thinks he wants to see. The problem with artistic endeavors is that everyone is a critic. If you put in the extra effort to try and come up with some nice artwork, only to find your boss doesn't like it, you will become bogged down and eventually burn out. You need your client —your boss —to give you some artistic direction on what he wants. By engaging him like this, he'll be a little more aware of the amount of effort it is going to take you — a confessed non-artist —to "pretty things up".

    Someone already beat me to suggesting CSS Zen Garden [htttp]. That's a very inspirational site for anyone who wants to blend esthetically pleasing with advanced technically functional. Being familiar with HTML, SQL, and PHP, adding CSS to the quiver will open up a new level of creative possibilities. My favorite approach was adding subtle variations depending on the season or holiday —even local changes to the weather. I would have the PHP output a slight variation in the colors of certain elements with inline CSS, depending on certain conditions laid out in the rules table I created in MySQL.

    You can do some very effective decorative touches using just CSS and minimal graphics elements. If nothing else, it will certainly increase the speed at which your site loads. Eric Meyers offers some simple (and not so simple) examples of what you can accomplish with just CSS. His Complex Spiral [meyerweb.com] demonstration is one of my favorites and was what really inspired me years ago to learn more about CSS.

    Definitely go to different web sites and look at the way they look and use that as inspiration for what you would like to accomplish. But as I stated in the opening, each revision, bring back to your boss and get his input. The more you involve him (her?), the more you are likely to end up with something that he wants, and the less work you will have to do.

  • I'm one of the fortunate rare few that is good at both, programming *and* design. And I can asure you that either - when done professionally - is extremely hard work until you get a routine.
    Since you are the Geek type that even *admits* he's bad at designing and you've got a full time job already doing all the stuff you mentioned, let me give you one advice for this particular situation you've just described: Stear clear of any design work what-so-ever. Don't even try to do it - you most certainly *will* fa
  • Colors come with a lot of meanings we geeks aren't wired to grasp. It's why corporate websites all look alike. There is a sort of detente with color meanings among the corps. Basically, you're blue and white or red and white, and some shades of gray and a few spot colors tossed in for good measure. Companies want to avoid conveying meanings.
  • Good sources for design by example:

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/ [edwardtufte.com]
    how to present quantitative information and get to the essence: less is more.

    http://www.garrreynolds.com/ [garrreynolds.com]
    many examples on messages and negative space

    http://www.websitesthatsuck.com/ [websitesthatsuck.com]
    intelligent checklists of what to do and stunningly great what not to do examples. Excellent walk through for "the boss" who might really, really, want to have that musical gif with the dog playing the banjo on the first page along side the waving flag/s

  • by slim (1652) <john@hart n u p.net> on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:16PM (#22371282) Homepage
    ... you need a web design geek.

    A graphic designer knows all about fonts and colour and layout, and could design you a beautiful logo, or ad, or book layout. But they won't know about usability, accessibility, browser independence, standards compliance, performance. This is how people end up with sites where every page is an image (or worse, a chopped up image, reassembled in a table).

    A typical IT geek knows about code and protocols, probably knows a well designed web site when he sees one, but often doesn't have the inclination to design something new and visually beautiful. I used to be pretty good at art and design at school, but now I class myself in this group -- if I pick two colours for a page, they'll either look hideous together, or conventional and dull.

    WHEREAS - a Web design geek doesn't necessarily understand the subtleties of protocols, nor necessarily have the best programming skills. But they'll know HTML and CSS inside out, and they'll have a passion for all those important webby things the graphic designer would neglect. They'll be full of attractive layout ideas, but will stay within the bounds of what CSS can do efficiently.

    You can still be involved. If there's dynamic content, you pick the CMS, you code up any new logic that's needed (learned RoR yet? Now's an opportunity!). Work with your Web design geek to agree on div classes they can write their CSS around.
  • Try Blueprint (Score:4, Informative)

    by jaaron (551839) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:41PM (#22371536) Homepage

    My first recommendation would be to try Blueprint [google.com] -- a set of reasonable CSS styles that make building grid-based layouts much easier. It's open source, designed by some great people and actively supported.

    If you're looking for full designs, try Open Source Web Designs [oswd.org]. There are also other [templatemonster.com] free template sites out there, so search around.

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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