All posts in Web

Finding your core as a creative professional – where subject, tone and medium meet

Tony Bourdain can teach us a lot about finding your core. And making the perfect beurre blanc. Photo: Sifu Renka

I once saw an interview with polymath academic George Steiner. He’s written on a range of topics and he was asked what field he thought he really belonged in. ‘Fields are for cows,’ he replied.

I too am suspicious of the idea that you have to specialise so thoroughly that you only do one thing. But how do we balance doing interesting work in a number of areas, without spreading ourselves too thin or presenting a confusing message to potential clients? Nobody wants to be seen as a jack of all trades, master of none.

The key is to find that core of your personality that remains consistent, however differently it gets expressed. Especially if we work in creative endeavours, this seems to me to be the real goal of our working life.

Read more…

Why the websites I’ve built have failed

I’ve built a lot of websites over the last 8 years of running a web design firm and working for other firms before that. The first professional website project I worked on was in 1995 – so let’s call it 75 sites since then, but it might be nearer a hundred. Most have been small and medium sites for small creative business and non-profits.

And when I look back at them and check out the ones that are still up, it’s clear that most of them have failed. They look fine (or better), the client’s have been satisfied (or happy), and there’s been no catastrophic disasters leading to law suits or even anything but a tiny amount of downtime.

But even though a lot more than half the work I do on the website side of things now is repeat business with long-standing clients it’s clear to me (if not always to the satisfied clients) that nearly all of the sites I’ve built could have done a lot more, and delivered more to justify the money and effort that went into them.

Not a technology challenge

Years ago, I was an early employee at the Dublin-based internet consultants iQ Content. Morgan McKeagney the boss would tell clients that building a successful website is not a technology problem as much as it’s a people and process problem. He was right then, and he’s even more right now. Setup a Squarespace account, or go for a one-click WordPress install with an off the shelf template and you’ve just launched a site that’s more robust, easy to use and attractive than 90% of websites out there.

It’s what’s happened before and what happens after that launch that will define whether or not your site actually ends up working for you. Solid technology won’t count for much when there’s not been an update for five months, or prospective clients can’t find what they’re looking for because management decided they would only put up sales fluff not detailed specifications.
Read more…

Make it Personal – Six Ways Non-Profits Can Connect with their Audience

One of the many strengths of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is that people get to meet the artists they’re helping with their donations and purchases of authentic folk art (such as Mireille Delismé from Haiti, shown above) . You can’t get much more personal than that, but there are ways to communicate this immediacy online and in print, too. Photo: David Moore.

Why one person’s story is better than all the pie charts in the world

I’ve worked with a range of non-profits on projects, and it would seem they have the perfect material for the content-rich, engaging type of web presence that really works.

But all too often, they can’t see the wood for the trees. How they explain what they do and its impact often sounds more like a briefing to market analysts than anything that will grab an audience and make them want to get involved.

Too often, it’s ‘We fund this many projects in this many countries, and every year we raise this much money to do it. Our average grant is this much, and this percentage of our donations goes directly to projects on the ground.’

This might be how to outline a rational case for why I should donate (along with PowerPoint slides containing some pie charts), and I certainly want your organization to be run on a rational basis, but reason alone isn’t going to make me want to help.

So how should non-profits articulate their purpose and results powerfully? You need emotion – harder to control, not quite so businesslike, but so much more effective. We support those causes we connect with emotionally.

Read more…

Communicating Compassion with a new site for Veterinary Cancer Care

I’m very happy to announce the launch of the website I worked on for Veterinary Cancer Care (VCC) – a veterinary oncology practice based in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The site is a great example of the sort of holistic approach I like to take to a client project – I worked on the web development, photography and multimedia work to bring it all together as a consistent whole.

Dr Jeannette Kelly of VCC is a devoted and caring vet, and  her practice has helped thousands of pets with cancer. Her website was out of date and didn’t really communicate the key message of the practice – that treating pets with cancer is completely different from treating humans with cancer.

The feel of the practice is warm and caring, and although it’s obviously a difficult time for clients, they were positive and grateful for the compassion and skill Dr Kellly and her staff showed to the pets under their care.

Since most visitors to the site would be coming after receiving bad news from their primary care vet, it was important to dispel their misconceptions and make them more comfortable considering VCC.

It seemed to me that explaining the treatment options and the qualifications of the staff, while necessary, wouldn’t be enough to counter the potential client’s idea that veterinary oncology was going to mean suffering for their pet in a cold and unwelcoming environment. We were dealing with powerful emotions here, so an appeal only to reason – however much it made sense – wouldn’t be enough. An approach that also worked to calm fears and make an emotional connection was also important.

Having spent time at the practice, I knew that the atmosphere there was warm and positive, and the animals loved and cared for. Dr Kelly herself encapsulated this feeling that was so different from what you might expect when you think about cancer treatment – she’s bright, energetic and funny. When talking to owners, she’s often to be found on the floor at pet level, bonding with the animals.

I decided to use documentary photography to capture the authentic experience of the practice, and then record an interview with Dr Kelly about how approach and how she got started with veterinary oncology. You’d want a vet who was emotionally committed to this difficult side of medicine, and Dr Kelly’s story shows she has this in spades.

The audio from the interview would be packaged with some of the still images and background noise of life at the practice, and we would use that on the About page.

Meanwhile, the Amy, Megan and Jan from VCC started gathering useful information and resources so the site would make a compelling emotional case but then back it up with practical information for new clients who need to learn a lot in a hurry.

VCC already had a good graphic identity and color palette that they used for print materials, so that was foundation of the web design. We also wanted the design to be calming, warm and welcoming – the feelings you get walking into the practice. So the use of serif fonts and subtle shading and textures creates a site that is clean and simple to use without being austere.

Looking to photograph authentic moments of what happens in the practice takes a lot longer than just staging some shots with clients, vets (and animals) all smiling at the camera. You have to be there, in the right place to make strong images out of what really happens. A little exchange between staff member and owner, or a pet suddenly licking Dr Kelly’s face are situations that you can’t set up, and if you miss the shot, it’s not coming again. But I feel that people can tell what’s real and what’s fake, and real images have so much more force.

There are more photos from the project here.

The combination of a clear approach, good design, photography, multimedia and useful resources presents an authentic and positive view of Veterinary Cancer Care. And personally, it was one of the more rewarding projects I’ve worked on recently, as I got to see the great work that goes on there, and help them communicate what they do.

And the folks at VCC are also happy. Dr Kelly says,

‘We are delighted with our new site because it captures the essence of our practice and the hope we get from our patients every day.

‘David immersed himself in Veterinary Cancer Care for several days in order to capture the sights, sounds and perceptions of the clinic, and the website mirrors the feeling of our space and our philosophy perfectly.

The website design and photographs emulate the light, bright, welcoming feeling our patients and their people get when they come to see us, and our focus on hope and care is clearly the foundation for the design.’

You can find them at http://www.vetcancercare.com

Redesigned site for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

I’ve been working with the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for five years now – designing, building and maintaining their website, writing blog posts and photographing artists and their great work.

Their site for the last three markets had worked well, but it was built on an older content management system and needed some freshening of the design and more functionality before this year’s Market in mid-July.

Stronger images, easier to update

I worked with the Market on a new design, aiming for a cleaner look and a wider main column for displaying larger photographs. The Market has a deep library of excellent images that show the real people around the world that are helped by the Market (I’ve taken some of these images – that’s one of mine used on the bottom-left of the homepage –  but there’s a talented pool of other photographers who also contribute images). Being able to display photographs in a wide main column gives them more impact, and also gives more flexibility in wrapping text around images, especially for blog posts.

Another aim was that the site be easier to update. While I’ve written nearly all the blog posts in some years, this time round most were written by Clare Hertel Communications – the PR firm that’s also worked with the Market for many years precio de viagra en farmacia. Making the blog section of the site full-featured but also easy to use was very important.

Going custom

Once the new design was approved, I planned the move to WordPress from the older CMS – a job that was more involved than for a more straightforward  site.

The Market sites includes a blog, a news section and a section containing hundreds of artists’ profiles categorized by the countries they’re from, and the years they’ve attended the Market. WordPress by default only supports two types of content – regular site pages and blog posts, so I devised an architecture based around using custom post types and custom taxonomies to cater for all the different types of content and classifications required.

This means that adding an artist lets you specify a country and years attended when you’re adding the content, and then displays the content in the right place on the site. I also implemented WordPress’ ‘featured image’ functionality to automatically generate thumbnails and associate them with blog posts, news releases and artists. So adding a new blog post for example, automatically places its title and thumbnail on the site’s homepage without any direct editing of the homepage.

Then we moved all the existing content to the new site, and then tested the new version prior to launch.

The WordPress framework for the site now makes it easier for the Market to updated the content themselves, and also allows us to use some of the wide range of plug-ins available to add extra functionality. This is seen in the front page slider which displays revolving selection of banners. It’s also search-engine friendly and easy to add updates and patches as the WordPress core is constantly updated.

The blog area now supports captions for images, embedding maps into posts, and auto-generated slideshows.

Good-looking and built to last

The result is a site that has a contemporary look, a solid custom-designed infrastructure and a framework that supports the range of content uses the Market needs.

The work was completed in time for the busy build-up to the Market, and the site made it much easier than in previous years to add this year’s new artists, blog posts, news releases and other content. It also held up well to the large amount of traffic it receives around the Market weekend – peaking this year at over 4000 visits and 15,000 page views a day.

As the Folk Art Market moves into its tenth year in 2013, their site is a key asset in good shape, and it’s ready to support new endeavours and requirements in the future. I’m proud to have been involved with such a great Santa Fe non-profit organization for the last few years, and look forward to continuing my work with them.

 

Teaching User Experience at Highlands University

As the new academic year begins, I’m happy to say I’m now an Adjunct Instructor in the Media Arts department at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas.

I’ll be teaching a course on Designing for User Experience to upper-level undergraduates and to postgrads, covering the basics of user experience, usability and user-centered design.

It’s a nice to be back teaching (in Dublin, I devised a delivered a series of one-day training workshops as part of the iQ Content Boot Camp series), and the students are a good group.

I’ll be posting PDF versions of my presentations when I get the chance, for those who are interested, and while they might not mean much without my explanations, you’re all more than welcome to follow along.

Memorial Day Update

A quick note on what’s been happening at MC Towers recently – I’ve been a little lax with the news, because there’s been so much of it.

Santa Fe Prep site launched

This was actually a while ago, but we’re still filling out the range of content, so it’s never clear exactly when the site’s due for an announcement. As well as the planning, design and construction of the new site for Santa Fe’s premier independent school, we designed and set up a new email newsletter system for them, to keep all the parents, students, alums and other interested parties informed. You can visit the site now, and I’ll post more detailed case study in a while, as it was a complex but rewarding project.

Breakthrough Santa Fe

In another project for Santa Fe Prep, we built a sister site for their great tuition-free program in which talented high school and college students teach middle school students with limited educational opportunities the academic, organizational and social skills they will need to succeed in competitive high schools.

Latest Articles

In my ongoing writing gig for Dublin-based web consultants iQ Content, I’ve recently looked at Irish political websites, and how your website reflects your corporate culture (whether you like it or not). Worth a quick look, and while you’re there, check out the always-illuminating group blog they run.

What’s in the pipeline?

It’s busy busy over here, as we do work for architects Ellis Browning and Richard Martinez, and law firm Simons and Slattery. The New Mexico Community Foundation are getting an update on a site they maintain, and right now I’m also doing some rush work for the International Folk Art Market. After that I’ll likely be working with a renowned photographer on his site, which I’m really looking forward to.

And in the fall, I’ll be heading back to the world of academe to teach a semester-long class on user-centered design approaches in the Media Arts department at NM Highlands University. More news (and possibly presentation material and the like) nearer the time.

Any time for sleeping?

Not much, but I did get to drop into the NM Adobe Users Group‘s inaugural Santa Fe meeting – cheers to Damien for organizing that. And I’ve been taking a lot of photos – one of which illustrates this post. You can see some of the better ones on my Flickr stream.