Cheat Your Way to a Professional-Looking Web Project

Here’s a little secret many people don’t know about building projects for the web. You don’t have to do everything from scratch. There are so many tools out there that do the tricky stuff for you, that you really don’t have to be an HTML wiz to have a polished looking website.

Here are some excellent tools to help you fake web excellence:

Table Builders

Tables are the nemesis of many well-meaning web worker. They can be tricky to build from scratch, but no need with these.

Quackit HTML Table Generator

TableGen

Code-Generator.net HTML Table Generator

Color Palettes

Color theory is a practice that people spend years perfecting. But you can fake it pretty well with these tools that help you choose complimentary colors.

Color Scheme Designer

Color Schemer Online

Elvan Online

Image Generators

A few well-placed images can help bring your site to life. These three tools help you manage and create pictures to illustrate your pages.

PicMarkr lets you to add custom watermark to your images.

Digital Post It Note Generator

Create A Graph

Drupal 7: Ready for the Plunge?

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”740″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image size-medium wp-image-1493″,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”style”:””,”width”:”300″,”height”:”200″,”title”:”Drupal”,”alt”:”Ready to jump into Drupal 7″}}]]

Ready to jump into Drupal 7

One of the least exciting things to hear when you start on a new web project is, “Not yet.”

That’s just what we’ve been saying since Drupal 7 debuted in January 2011. True, it’s a robust and powerful system with excellent accessibility, and we’re using it for a few of our clients now, but not everybody.

Why not jump in? First of all, it’s not quite ready for everyone. Contributors to Drupal 7 are still busy finding and patching bugs and upgrading the features from earlier versions so they work on this new version.

Secondly, it can be a heavy expense. Upgrading from an earlier version of Drupal isn’t simply downloading a patch and refreshing your screen. It’s a whole new website. Any new website takes time to build, not even including moving over all the content (words and images) and testing. Time and complexity equal money, and an organization needs to have a strong case for upgrading before making that decision.

One exception is if you’re using a very old version of Drupal, such as version 5 or earlier. The Drupal community stopped supporting and patching version 5 last year, so they’re vulnerable to security breaches and should be updated as soon as possible.

Our advice? Absolutely pull on your swimsuit, but check with your developer (or just contact us) before plunging into an upgrade.

Communicate Better Through Imagery

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There’s a reason we learn to read with picture books rather than novels. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? We humans are very good at gathering meanings from pictures, even better than we are at interpreting words. Images carry powerful messages to which words can only aspire. You can gather a whole story from a picture (remember Life magazine?), but it’s easy to be distracted by just about anything while reading big blocks of text.

Using well-appointed pictures on your website, online course or other online initiative will not only help you tell your story better, but it can also help your visitors hear you.

Icons are quick informative hits, like this example from Mass Mentoring Partnership.

Favicons help you find the browser page you seek.

An evocative photo can earn a donation or volunteer, such as this stirring one from the Global Animal Foundation.

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”677″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image”,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”style”:””,”width”:”294″,”height”:”212″,”alt”:”japan_dog”}}]]

Here’s a quick test to see whether you’re using imagery effectively on your website: translate it into a language you don’t understand. Google has a good tool for this. Can you tell now what your site is about? Would it make sense to someone who had no background in your industry? If the answer is no, then you must think about what visual elements will help you to communicate your message better.

This issue of the Talance newsletter is all about imagery. Read on for tips and ideas to help you create and use graphics better. Here are a few articles from our blog to get you started:

Web Design Tips for Better Images

You’re Doing It All Wrong! How to Use Pictures on a Website

What Happens If You Go Bonkers for Pictures

20 Free Icon Sets for Non-Profits

The Good, The Bad, The Logo

Do you have any interesting stories about how you’re using imagery effectively? Send us your thoughts and suggestions, and we’ll feature them in an upcoming blog post.

Reader Question: How Do I Get Feedback on My New Website?

We’re getting ready to launch a new website, and I want to know how it’s doing. What’s the best way to get honest feedback?

Thanks,
Roslyn Kruchten

The fact you’re asking that question already puts you on the road to a better website. A new online project doesn’t end when it launches. That’s just the ending of the development. Hopefully, you’ve done your homework into what your audience wants and needs before the launch, because then you can focus on how well you’ve delivered after that.

Here are a few good ways to get feedback on a new website, although it’s a good idea to check how well an established website is doing too.

Issue a survey – the same one you offered before beginning.

It’s always a good idea to put out a survey before you begin any web project to see how you might improve. Its results will tell you what you should build into the site, but it will also set benchmarks. Keep those results, and then after your new website has launched, you can issue the same survey and compare results.

Here’s a free user survey you can print out or e-mail to your audience.

Ask the people you know.

Simply send a message to the people in your contacts lists, though e-mail, on Twitter, Facebook or your other social media accounts. Ask people who have nothing to do with your industry, because they’ll give you insight and help point out jargon. You can ask them to simply respond to your message, or you can create a submission form for them to add anonymous comments.

Ask the people you don’t know.

Set up a quick test with a user testing tool like FiveSecondTest. This service lets you create two designs of a website and test it on a random sampling of people. People who see it vote with their gut for the version they like better. Anonymous testing can reveal preferences and problems that you can’t discover from asking your friends.

Set up a usability test.

If you’ve got the time and budget, the best thing to do is set up a usability test. Ideally, you’d have a focus group with subjects and interviewers, seriously studying how they do on your site. The W3C has some excellent test scripts and interview questions you can use to model your own session.

[Have a question you’d like answered? Ask on the comments form at the bottom of this page, on Twitter @talance, or on Facebook. We’ll review your question before posting (don’t be shy about asking!) and get back to you with a response.]