Your Website Sucks (and that’s okay)

Posted by | Biznez, Branding, Design | 10 Comments

When people enter into the creative process with violetminded, they usually have a pretty decent idea of the kind of website that they want. They have catchy words that they use — bold, dynamic, exciting — and amazing digital dreams for their online biz.

Their enthusiasm is contagious! And, me being me (enthusiastic to a fault sometimes — hello loud!), I want to know more about the business they’ve built over the last while. I’m curious about their Perfect People, their business model, their revenue, and their messaging.

Then, they tell me that they’ve just started their biz.

(Cue car screeching to a halt. Or a record scratch of disbelief. Or sad trombones. Whatever works for you.)

They’re concerned because their website is a mess (or they don’t have one) and they believe that in order to be taken seriously, they need the most badass website imaginable. They see what Big Budget Design does for the Big Names in the online world. (There’s that contagious enthusiasm again.)

But here’s where the whole thing comes apart: time and money.

Start-ups that aren’t funded by investment capital (and some that are) are on a tight budget and an even tighter timeline. Every penny is magnitudes of importance — it could be going to paying an engineer to produce the software or to the solo entrepreneur as she struggles to pay rent. Those pennies have emotional charge to them.

Lately, I’ve taken to saying:

“Listen, sweetpea. Your website? It sucks. I’m not going to deny that. But here’s the awesome thing about being brand new: that’s okay.”

Now why in the world would I tell potential clients that they’re not ready for me? (Yet.)

I follow the Agile Manifesto (read about that here), whose over-arching tenet is: get it shipped and improve as you go.

That’s what business — especially digital business — is about. And that’s why I send the newbies on a different quest: to get it “good enough” and get it out the digital door. Why invest thousands of dollars in a business website when your business isn’t sure what it is? (Yet.) Why spend anywhere from four months to a year getting a website polished and prepped when that could be time spent hustling your biz and getting money in your bank account?

Usually, there isn’t a good reason to invest in a website right out of the gate.

Here’s where you need to invest first:

  • Great branding, which includes solid messaging (and that’s where copywriters come in)
  • A technically oriented virtual assistant to get you set up with your online tools
  • A WordPress Security expert, to make sure that your installation is as bulletproof as it can be
  • A premium WordPress theme that you (or your new technically savvy VA) can customize fairly easily

A professionally designed (and gorgeous) website is the least useful thing for you until you…

  • have an established brand with products and services that make your people sing from the rooftops
  • know who your Perfect People are
  • have your messaging in place and can confidently articulate who you are, what you do, and why you do it

The exceptions are:

  • Community start-ups: if you’re building a business around building a community, then you need to invest in great web design AND development right out of the gate, or you’ll lose your Perfect People as soon as they land on your page
  • eCommerce: if your business is to sell a lot of physical products (not necessarily the stuff you can find in online marketplaces), then investing in solid web development will save you YEARS of headaches down the line. Do it right or don’t do it at all. If you build with the wrong backend, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

The tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version:

Before you invest in a high-touch, super customized online space, make sure that you’ve done your legwork beforehand. Showing up with a dream in your eye is amazing (omgenthusiasm!), but enthusiasm does not a sustainable business make. Once you’ve proven your concept — whether that concept is a product, service, or content — then you can move onto making sure that your content and your online space are aligned.

If your website sucks (and you’re brand new), don’t fret. There’ll be time for that.

If your website sucks (and you’ve been at it a while), then it’s time to make a change.


Keeping your website “youthful”

Posted by | Biznez, Design | No Comments

I spent the weekend immersed in nature, just outside of Whistler, BC. Part of the retreat was to spend an hour just wandering the grounds and finding somewhere to meditate. I searched for a while before coming upon this beautiful grove of trees, right next to a small brook.

As I sat on a mossy log, taking in the vitamin D (we don’t get enough sunshine around these parts), I thought about — you guessed it — your website. Well, not just your website but all websites.

Your website needs to be supple, flexible, and at the same time, firmly rooted.

Trees draw their strength from their roots — the very foundation of their being. Even the youngest and smallest of trees have to have strong roots if they’re ever going to reach maturity.

Be sure that you have strong roots — your business — before you start to grow your website.

If you’re lacking those roots, you’ll have a beautiful website that will net you… nothing. No sales. No dollars. Just wasted money. A website is your best marketing tool for your business, but it can neither replace nor replicate a solid business plan and model.

Your website, much like your business, needs to remain flexible and not get stuck doing (or being) the same thing.

Letting your website stagnate is one of the biggest and baddest concerns of a business — the minute you stop updating and creating content is the minute that you become entirely irrelevant to search engines and to the rest of the online world. By failing to innovate and create content in meaningful ways, your best people get bored, unsubscribe, and fail to take notice when things change for the better. Or, worse, they actively fight against it.

Finally, your website needs to remain supple and graceful.

The oldest of trees are the hardiest, but they’re also the most susceptible to soil erosion and strong winds. If the elements push hard enough, they can knock down a strong, tall tree as though it were a sapling.

If you let your website become insular and it ignores the rest of the online world, it will weaken your brand. That’s why it’s important to go through website realignments every six months to make sure that all of the parts are working the way they’re intended, as well as providing support to the parts that need it. Without a check-in, your website will harden and become difficult to change. And when that happens, it’s only a matter of time until everything falls apart and you have to start from scratch anyway.

Remember: violetminded is actively taking on projects. Tell your friends. We’ll send you a unicorn. (Well, it might only be a plushy unicorn but those are still awesome.)


How I Became a Web Designer

Posted by | Design | No Comments

In the fall of 2000, I started talking with this girl online. She was a friend of a friend of mine — someone I’d met recently at the local summer band camp. (You can see why American Pie is not one of my favourite films.) We started talking over MSN and LiveJournal, passing our mutual nerdiness back and forth.

Towards winter, she inadvertently introduced me to web design.

Her stuff was incredible, even by today’s aesthetic standards. It was high-contrast, asymmetrical, and the typography was as exquisite as it could be on the web at the time. She used a lot of J-Rock photography — particularly of members of the J-Rock synth-rock group, Malice Mizer. (We had a shared love of everything Japanese. Made our small-town BC lives more exotic, somehow.)

When she showed me that website — in all of its high-contrast beauty — I thought to myself, “I’ve got to figure out how to do that.”

(PS. Hi Erin!)

It was an obsession that started off small.

I started making websites over on Geocities — y’know, with terrible scrolling marquees, blinking text, clashing colours, an animated background, and a sparkling trail that followed the mouse when you dragged it around the screen. As my first foray into web, I was hooked. Good ‘n hooked.

I moved away from Geocities shortly after starting up there. I attempted Angelfire, but found it clunky and useless. From there, I moved onto Homestead, where I spent a considerable amount of time learning how to use div layers and style using embedded CSS. My final resting ground before I started up my own domain in 2004 was Pita, where I migrated blogging from LiveJournal (and DeadJournal) into a platform that was easy to customize and tweak.

I moved in and out of the pixel art community (mostly as a doller), as I mainly taught myself pixel art using MS Paint. In fact, I stayed with the community all throughout high school and into my first two years of university. (From 1999-2006, actually.) Somewhere in 2002, I started using Photoshop 5 at my high school, where I would putter around and create graphics for our school newspaper and lay out the entirety of the newspaper itself in Corel. (Oh Corel.)

In 2003, I made my first professional website for a woman who sold her services as a garden landscaper. I used way too many filters and didn’t understand the first thing about how to properly lay out a page so that people could, y’know, read it.

I didn’t make another website professionally until 2007.

But I continued to hone my skills.

I wasn’t really sure if web design was something I wanted to do as a hobby or if I wanted to do it professionally, but I did know that I enjoyed it quite a bit. There was a lot of freedom in pixel craft and code — putting together lines of data to spit out a lovely website that looked somewhat like my feeble attempts at mockups.

Ultimately, web design is what drove me into an education in computers and technology. I tried my hand at software, which was genuinely fun and creative. But after my post-secondary education — usable and useful though it may have been — my heart has always been on the web, not on the desktop in Visual Studio.

The evolution into professional web designer

So when I kicked everything to the curb in 2008 (okay, well, I was fired), I knew that I wanted to try my hand at professional design. As it turned out, professional design school was not for me. My professors insisted that I didn’t have an eye for print design. And, in all fairness, they were right. (That’s why I stick to the web, people.)

Since the first time I saw my friend’s website in 2000 to this incarnation of violetminded in 2013, all I ever wanted was to play. I’ve always been extremely good at mucking about, playing around, and experimenting until I got the results I wanted. Even when I started violetminded in 2009 (almost ten years after my first website), I knew that I wanted to approach web design as something playful and enjoyable.

Now I want to give that playfulness back to you.

Sure, you can peek around violetminded’s corners and check out the irreverent Star Wars imagery, coupled with nerdery and the occasional photo of me grinning like a madwoman. (It happens.)

But what if you could bottle playfulness and unleash its potential each and every time you created something new? Often in business, we get so caught up in trying to be successful that we end up looking and feeling like everyone else. (Which is kind of the opposite of what designers do, mind you. We want you and your biz to look and feel like, well, you!)

Say hello to, “You Are So Damn Brilliant”.

You Are So Damn Brilliant is a free quarterly e-magazine that captures the playful and joyful things that business owners like you are doing, seeing, experiencing, and well, enjoying! It’s a celebration of collective creativity and brilliance throughout our various industries, with particular nods to design and technology.

More information will be available in the coming weeks, with the first issue of You Are So Damn Brilliant dropping in July.

So hey, if you want more info you’ll need to get your name on the A-List. Why?

Because you are so damn brilliant.

{Photo by JDHancock, as always}

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