Blog

New Website

"If there are two barbers in town, you should go to the one with the worse haircut"

I've found myself saying this a bit too often lately, as I've explained to prospective clients why they should do business with me, a website builder whose own website is old, clunky and out-of-date.  While it's true that I've been busy working on other people's sites to the detriment of my own, I finally decided I'd just take a weekend and redo my own business site.  My art and music site is even more dated & I'll be revamping that one also in the next week or so.

So, here we have a shiny new Drupal 7 site that is really so simple that it only took me a few hours to build.  Most of that time was spent decided what content to keep from the old site.

I LOVE Drupal.

Working with your Website Builder

You've just contracted with a website builder to make a new website - hopefully it's me. Soon, you'll have a platform with which you can talk to the whole world. A professional builder will guide you through the process of developing your content, but ultimately it's up to you to decide what you want to say.  Most people find this difficult.

One of the mistakes that many people make is they think they have to decide on the front page first and then work their way down through the rest of the site.  That is a more difficult approach because the front page is more of a summary and inviting foyer to the rest of the site.  Start from the other direction.  Think about the various other pages and types of content you want and put those together first.  The front page will come together more easily when you have a clearer idea of those things.

The front page should be fairly low on text - bullet points and images about what you offer.  Put yourself in the chair of a visitor to the site and ask yourself, "What can this guy do for me?" or "How does the mission of this organization align with my values?" and answer that as succinctly as possible.  Put important logos, links, teasers of other parts of your site on the front page.

Make the navigation the same on everypage so visitors don't get lost.

A more detailed resume or mission statement should go on an 'About' page.  There you can have a lot of text.  Attention span is very low on websites, so the volume of text will probably make a bigger impression than the actual content of the words. 

Everywhere: Highlight important points with bold or color and break up the text w/ images as much as possible.

Give your builder lots of pictures to work with.  Let her pick ones that speak to your message and look nice with the colors of the theme.  Even pictures that are low quality might be helpful because they will help the builder know more about you.  With a bit of cropping and adjustment sometimes even low quality photos can salvaged.

Give links to external sites a target="_blank" so they open a new tab instead of leaving your site. Your builder will do this for you or show you how.

Embed video where ever you can. 

Pick a theme that complements your message.  It should be pleasing to the idea but also simple so it isn't distracting.

Be sincere.

A Gentle Lift

I've been theming a new website this week and was explaining my approach to the general aesthetic presentation of a site to my client. She seemed to find what I said interesting and helpful, so I decided to blog it here. First of all, when I say 'theming', I mean that I am building the aesthetic presentation for the site: the colors, fonts, background colors and textures, graphic design elements. In other words, the way the site looks. My biggest influence in doing this work is not a web or graphic designer at all, but my dear Friend, Christine O'Brien. Christine was a visual artist and also a person who was keenly aware of the aesthetics of her surroundings. For her, taking care of aesthetics was a way of showing love. Her home, Lizard Hall, in Gulfport Florida was a delight to visit. Using color, light, simple objects and imagination, she created a welcoming space that fostered a sense of creativity, good will, and peacefulness. She once explained to me, "When you step into a room you should get a gentle lift." That made a big impression on me and has become what I am for when theming a site. I break it down into a set of criteria:

  • Clean, uncluttered layout
  • Textures and colors that are pleasing to the eye and enhance the message of the site rather than distract from it
  • Harmony among the colors, fonts and graphics
  • Welcoming to visitors, with easy, intuitive navigation and easy to read text

How do I know when I've achieved the 'Gentle Lift'? One thing I do is step out of the room and back in again. I leave the site I'm working on and then pop back in. Do I feel that gentle lift myself? Does the site make my eyes happy? Then I ask the owner of the site to get involved, since what is pleasing to me might not be pleasing to everyone.

Getting Started with Drupal

Note: I wrote this a few years ago so you'll notice that references here are for Drupal 6.  Some of the books have been revised and re-released for Drupal 7.  I hope you'll look into them as you pursue learning Drupal.

Quite a few people have been talking to me lately about wanting to get started making websites with Drupal, so I thought I would share here some of most useful tools and resources that I've found:

1. The Drupal Community as found at drupal.org. This open source community is your source for everything from core source code and contributed modules and themes, to discussions, case studies and technical support.

2. Building powerful and robust websites with Drupal 6 by David Mercer. This book gives a great big-picture overview of Drupal, a lot of practical information, and hands-on exercises. This should be your first Drupal book.

3. Using Drupal by Jeff Robbins, Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Jeff Eaton, Nate Haug, James Walker. This book takes your Drupal to the next level, taking you step by step through case studies that illustrate how to integrate the most powerful Drupal modules. It will help you make sense of the dizzying number of modules found on drupal.org.

4. W3Schools Online Web Tutorials. Drupal is a powerful tool that leverages your knowledge of web programming, but it doesn't eliminate the need for it. You still need to be able to find your way around html, css, php, and to some degree SQL & jQuery. This website is a great resource if you need to look something up or remediate your skills.

5. Drupal 6 Themes by Ric Shreves. This book will give you the knowledge and best practices for making your site look the way you want it to look.

6. A daily walk. You need a healthy mind and body if you want to be productive and creative behind the computer. Get outside, breath some fresh air, see some beauty and get your pulse rate up. Your brain needs oxygen.

7. Firebug. This add-on to Firefox is a great tool for figuring out what code in which file is causing a behavior. It's also good for looking at other websites and seeing how things are done.

8. Pro Drupal Development second edition, by John VanDyk. This book delves into the nitty gritty of the technical details of the Drupal core and modules. It's not always necessary to get into this level, but it's very reassuring to have this book as a guide when you do.

These are the resources I've found most useful so far. I hope you find them helpful too. Let me know if I've missed your favorite!

Home from DrupalCon DC

I arrived home last night from DrupalCon DC and my brain will be busy digesting everything I learned for some time to come. The information was flowing fast and free. For the most part it was highly technical but there were parts that also delved into Drupal, the open source movement, and the web as a social phenomenon too. Drupal founder Dries Buytaert spoke of the way Drupal has continued to develop as the work of an community of volunteers who organize themselves to solve problems rather than do as they're told. "Coordination replacing planning." Regarding the current economic crisis, I learned that recovery.gov is running on Drupal. Also, there is an advantage to building on open source products because they are supported by communities of people rather than companies. One thing we are learning is that no company is immune from crisis and may not be around to support its products tomorrow. This concern does not apply to open source software. The following plenary address by philosopher David Weinberger, "Is Drupal Moral?" is not technical and may be of interest to my readers: